Sun 23 Nov 2008
|Champion Jack Dupree||God Bless Our New President||The Truman & Eisenhower Blues|
|Bobo Jenkins||Democrat Blues||The Truman & Eisenhower Blues|
|Otis Spann||Sad Day In Texas||Can’t Keep From Crying|
|James & Fannie Brewer||I Want To Know Why||Can’t Keep From Crying|
|Ronda Mitchell & Mrs. Lovell||J.F. Kennedy's Reservation||Blues Southside Chicago|
|Jack Kelly||President Blues||Jack Kelly 1933-1939|
|Harman Ray||President's Blues||The Truman & Eisenhower Blues|
|Big Joe Willimas||His Spirit Lives On||Big Joe & Stars Of Miss. Blues|
|Otis Jackson||Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt||Get Right With God|
|Memphis Slim||Four Years Of Torment||Rockin' This House|
|J.B. Lenoir||Eisenhower Blues||The Truman & Eisenhower Blues|
|Perry Tillis||Kennedy Moan||Kennedy's Blues|
|Son House||President Kennedy||Kennedy's Blues|
|Southern Bell Singers||The Tragedy Of Kennedy||Kennedy's Blues|
|Johnny Shines||Livin' In The White House||Evening Shuffle|
|Big Bill Broonzy||Just A Dream No. 2||Big Bill Broonzy Vo. 9 1939|
|Louisiana Red||Red's Dream||Kennedy's Blues|
|Percy Mayfield||I Don’t Want To Be President||His Tangerine & Atlantic Sides|
|Louis Jordan||Jordan For President||The Truman & Eisenhower Blues|
|Sleepy John Estes||President Kennedy||Boomer's Story|
|Little Walter||Dead Presidents||The Chess Years|
|Mary Ross||President Kennedy Gave His Life||Can’t Keep From Crying|
|Dixie Nightingales||Assassination||Kennedy's Blues|
|Angels Of Joy||Mr. President||Slow And Moody, Black And Bluesy|
|Roy C||Open Letter To The President||Sex & Soul|
|King Solomon||Please Mr. President||Does Anybody Know I'm Here?|
|Gatemouth Brown||Please Mr. Nixon||Gate's On The Heat|
|Big Joe Williams||Watergate Blues||Watergate Blues|
|Howlin’ Wolf||Watergate Blues||The Back Door Wolf|
|John Lee Granderson||A Man For The Nation||Can’t Keep From Crying|
|Brother Thruman Ruth||That Awful Day In Dallas||Kennedy's Blues|
|Big Boy Henry||The New Mr. President||Carolina Blues Jam|
Today's shown revolves around blues songs relating to presidents and politics. Overt political commentary was rare in recorded blues and gospel prior to the 1960's. Some of the most moving political songs were tributes for Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, who had great appeal to African Americans. One theme running through today's show is several songs dealing with the death of president Kennedy who was assassinated 45 years ago yesterday. There were also quite a number of gospel songs written on the topic, and although we normally don't play gospel we make an exception today. Roosevelt was considered the "poor man's friend" and the lyrical evidence suggests he was viewed "as a benevolent and powerful patron or ‘bossman'" while Truman was seen as much more fallible and "unresponsive to the economic plight of black people as well as their growing demands for equal rights." Kennedy's reputation, particularly in the early years, was rather ambivalent but his death, as the lyrical evidence makes clear, "virtually eradicated any criticism of his international or political policies and left him an unadulterated hero." These last quotes come from scholar Gudio Van Rijn who has written the books Roosevelt Blues, The Truman & Eisenhower Blues and Kennedy's Blues which analyze lyrics of blues and gospel songs that deal with topical issues. In addition each book has an accompanying CD, which is where many of today's songs come from. Several of the Kennedy songs come from the album Can't Keep From Crying: Topical Blues on the Death of President Kennedy on the Testament label.
I guess you can say I wear my sympathies my sleeve with the opening numbers; Champion Jack Dupree's "God Bless Our New President" and Bobo Jenkins' "Democrat Blues." "God Bless Our New President" was cut only a few days after Truman was sworn in following the death of FDR. The flip side was "F.D.R. Blues." The record was advertised in Billboard as a "new sensational timely blues record." In "Democrat Blues" cut in 1952 Jenkins is clearly not happy about Dwight Eisenhower who was the first Republican in the White House since 1933. If Jenkins was still with us he would clearly be a happy man.
A running thread throughout today's show is some remarkable songs on the death of President Kennedy. In the wake of John Kennedy's assassination, Pete Welding recorded over a dozen acoustic blues tributes to the late president for the compilation Can't Keep from Crying: Topical Blues on the Death of President Kennedy in late 1963 and early 1964. Several other songs come form Kennedy's Blues. Not surprisingly Kennedy’s assassination provoked an outpouring of memorial songs where “the deceased president emerges as a near-saint." As Rijn notes, “the blues and gospel singers’ president was in heaven now. Like Christ he had died for our sins.” Indeed Kennedy’s death is often compared to the crucifixion of Christ a theme hammered home in several gospel songs. Among the moving performances are Otis Spann's impassioned "Sad Day In Texas", his voice choked with emotion, Jim and Fannie Brewer's simply but deeply moving "I Want To Know Why" and Perry Tillis' "Kennedy Moan." There are several strong gospel performances including Ronda Mitchell & Mrs. Lovell magnificent "J.F. Kennedy's Reservation", The Southern Bell Singers' soaring "The Tragedy Of Kennedy" and the Dixie Nightinglaes' haunting "Assassination."
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president of the United States, thousands of black Americans, traditionally Republican, deserted the party of Lincoln and became Democrats. Roosevelt was immensely popular among blacks as evidenced in songs like Otis Jackson's two-part "Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt" and Big Joe Wiilliams' moving "His Spirit Lives On." While were practically no blues lyrics critical of Roosevelt, Truman was criticized explicitly early on. Expectations were high for post-war prosperity and Truman's inability to stem inflation made him ripe for criticism. It wasn't long for the sentiment expressed in Champion Jack Dupree's "God Bless Our New President" cut in April 1945 (Truman became President in January that year) became more pointed in songs like J.B. Lenoir's "Eisenhower Blues" and the "positively revolutionary" variation "Everybody Wants To Know:"
You rich people, listen, you better listen real deep
If we poor peoples get hungry, we gonna take some food to eat
While Rijn has yet to write his book on Nixon (I have no doubt he will) there were a number of songs about Nixon and as you would imagine they were not very flattering. Watergate is a topic taken up by Howlin' Wolf on "Watergate Blues" on his final album The Back Door Wolf while Big Joe is back with his "Watergate Blues." Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown addresses Nixon directly in "Please Mr. Nixon" to "Don't cut off your welfare line." Other songs that directly addressed the president were several songs that came along at the same time including Roy C's "Open Letter To The President" and his more explicit "Impeach The President, King Solomon's "Please Mr President" the Angels Of Joy's gorgeous plea "Mr President."
Today's show also features a trio of fantasy songs inspired by Big Bill Broonzy's "Just A Dream." The idea of a black man as a president was the stuff of fantasy as Big Bill relates:
Dreamed I was in the White House, sittin' in the president's chair.
I dreamed he's shaking my hand, said "Bill, I'm glad you're here"
But that was just a dream. What a dream I had on my mind
And when I woke up, not a chair could I find
Some fifteen years later Johnny Shines recorded his "Livin' In The White House:"
Now I'm livin' in the White House, just trying to help old Ike along (2x)
And tryin' to make an admendment, for things Harry left undone
I want to live in paradise, make servants out of kins and queens (2x)
Now, don't shake me, please, darling, this is one time I wanna finish my dream
Then there's Louisiana's Red surreal, hilarious "Red's Dream" where he goes "to the U.N. and set the whole nation right", threatens Castro with a "Georgia shave" (slit his throat) and is finally summoned to the White House by the President where he plans to install some "soul brothers" in the senate like Ray Charles, Lightnin' Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley and Big Maybelle! Then of course there's Louis Jordan's "Jordan For President." After announcing that he is ready to move "… from the phonograph record to the ‘Congressional Record'", Jordan promises to help listeners "… get straight on all the candidates" and "… make the proper selection in the coming election." Jordan's hoping you'll vote for the swing ticket: "For an administration that'll move you, groove you, and keep you fit" and "… to walk on the sunny side of the street with the candidate with the beat … vote for Jordan for President!" Jordan's electoral promises: "Every American will get his portion – after I get mine" and "… we'll all serve – time!." I Don’t Want To Be President” by the ever philosophical Percy Mayfield takes a Nixon era slant:
Now just suppose I had a girlfriend and called her, and she lived way across the lake
Why Congress would know the whole conversation because, you see, they’d have it on tape
Then they put me on the television to tell the whole world my private life
Hell I wouldn’t mind if people knowing but what about my wife