ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Bumble Bee Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 1 1929-1930
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe 'Frisco Town Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 1 1929-1930
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe She Put Me Outdoors Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 2 1930- 931
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe What's The Matter With The Mill The Essential
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Frankie Jean That Trottin' Fool The Essential
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Let's Go To Town The Essential
Kansas Joe When The Levee Breaks Roots Of Rock
Kansas Joe That Will Be Allright Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 1 1929-1930
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Too Late The Essential
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Drunken Barrel House Blues The Essential
Memphis Minnie Hustlin' Woman Blues Memphis Minnie Vol. 1 1935
Memphis Minnie Selling My Pork Chops Memphis Minnie Vol. 1 1935
Memphis Minnie I'm A Bad Luck Woman The Essential
Kansas Joe My Wash Woman's Gone Country Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
Kansas Joe Joliet Bound Tommy Johnson & Associates
Memphis Minnie Out In The Cold Memphis Minnie Vol. 2 1935-1936
Memphis Minnie Ice Man (Come On Up) The Essential
Memphis Minnie MoonshineMemphis Minnie Vol. 2 1935-1936
Memphis Minnie Living The Best I Can Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
Memphis Minnie Down In The Alley Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
Memphis Minnie Hot Stuff Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
Memphis Minnie Ma Rainey The Essential
Memphis Minnie Nothing In Rambling The Essential
Little Son Joe Black Rat Swing The Essential
Memphis Minnie I Am Sailin'Memphis Minnie Vol. 5 1940-1941
Memphis Minnie In My Girlish Days The Essential
Memphis Minnie Me And My Chauffeur Blues The Essential
Little Son Joe A Little Too Late Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953
Little Son Joe Ethel Bea Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953
Memphis Minnie World Of Trouble Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953
Memphis Minnie In Love Again Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953
Memphis Minnie Kissing In The Dark Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953

Show Notes:

For nearly 30 years Memphis Minnie was, along with Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red, was one of the giants of the Chicago blues scene. Between 1929 and 1953 she recorded some 200 sides for a variety of labels. As Paul Garon and Beth Garon write in Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie's Blues: "Because Minnie began her recording career in 1929 and kept going for three decades, her presence  was written large across the whole history of recorded blues. Year after year, her style evolved, and by the time illness forced her to retire, she had recorded the country blues, the urban blues, the Melrose sound, the Chicago blues and the postwar blues." Unlike most female blues singers of the time, Minnie also wrote her own songs and played guitar. Starting in 1929, her records lead us through over twenty years of recorded blues and illustrate her life, as she moved from the rural South to urban Chicago.  Musically there were three basic phases to her style: the duet years with Kansas Joe, the "Melrose" band sound of the late thirties and early forties, and her later electric playing in the company of her third husband, guitarist Son Joe.

Many blues artists vividly recall their encounters with Memphis Minnie: Koko Taylor recalled: "the first blues record I ever heard was "Me An My Chauffeur Blues"by Memphis Minnie."Hound Dog Taylor, speaking of his early days in Chicago in 1943-1944, noted that "47th street was jumping on the South Side. When I first come up Memphis Minnie was playing at the old 708 club with her first husband." Baby Boy Warren recalled that "The other I admired the most respect was a woman-Memphis Minnie." And Bukka white reminisced "Memphis Minnie, Washboard Sam, Tampa Red, Big Bill they were my favorite 'cause they really would knock the cover off a house. They play in the nightclubs, would play house parties through the day." Johnny Shines recalled meeting Minnie and Joe: "It was an influence because I like what I heard, and I'd never heard anything like it before."

Born Lizzie Douglas in Algiers, Louisiana, Memphis Minnie was the eldest of Abe and Gertrude Wells Douglas’ 13 children. Throughout her childhood, her family always called her "Kid." When she was seven years old, the Douglas family moved to Wall, Mississippi, just south of Memphis. According to the authors of Minnie's biography she was "a wild youngster who never took to the farming life and she ran away from home at an early age. Her first guitar had been a Christmas present given to her in 1905 …She began to run away to Memphis' Beale Street with some regularity. When times were tough and nickels and dimes were hard to find, she returned to the farm to live, but rarely to work. …Minnie toured the South in the war years with a Ringling Brothers show she joined in Clarksdale, Mississippi." According to the authors of Minnie's biography she was "a wild youngster who never took to the farming life and she ran away from home at an early age. Her first guitar had been a Christmas present given to her in 1905 …She began to run away to Memphis' Beale Street with some regularity. When times were tough and nickels and dimes were hard to find, she returned to the farm to live, but rarely to work. "Guitarists Frank Stokes and Furry Lewis…both provided advice and inspiration to Minnie in her early days in Memphis. Minnie's duets with Kansas Joe drew as much inspiration from the guitar teamwork of Frank Stokes and Dan Sane, who recorded as the Beale Street Sheiks, as from her own early 'partnership' with Willie Brown." Robert Wilkins also recalled Minnie from these days and recalls teaching her a few things. On Beale Street she played with local musicians such as Jed Davenport, the Memphis Jug Band and Jack Kelly.

Her marriage and recording debut came in 1929, to and with Kansas Joe McCoy, when a Columbia Records talent scout heard them playing in a Beale Street barbershop in their distinctive 'Memphis style.' By around 1929 both Minnie and Joe were playing stell bodied National guitars. As Joe Calicott recalled:  "She and Tampa Red had the first steel boxes we ever saw." And Johnny Shines noted "…they all had the first steel guitars I had ever seen, they all had National steels. They was such pretty things." They went to New York City for their first recording sessions, and it was then that she changed her name to Memphis Minnie. The song "Bumble Bee" from their first session became a hit. It was supposedly a Columbia A and R man who gave the duo their names.The first side for Columbia, "That Will Be alright" b/w "When The Levee Breaks" had vocals by Joe alone. It was released in August or September and two months later "Bumble Bee" b/w "I Want That" was released. In upcoming sessions some numbers were rejected by the company but were eventually accepted and released even if they required several takes for an acceptable master.In 1930 Minnie recorded a pair of songs back by her friends, the Memphis Jug Band. She may also be on sides Jed Davenport and His  Beale Street Jug Band cut that year. Bukka White made his debut for Victor in 1930 and it may be Minnie's voice backing him on "I am In The Heavenly Way" b/ "Promise True And Grand." The duo's relationship with Vocalion began in February 1930 and would last nearly a decade with a few interruptions waxing dates for Okeh, Decca and Bluebird. Every two or three months Minnie and Joe would return to Vocalion studios to record; some session would result in sides by Kansas Joe issued under his own name, songs issued jointly or songs just issued under Minnie's name. Minnie and Joe would travel regularly to record in Chicago to record, finally moving there themselves in the early 30's. Between 1929 and 1934 Minnie and Joe cut around one hundred sides together. McCoy and Minnie recorded songs together and on their own for Decca Records until they divorced in 1934.

Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe McCoy
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe McCoy

Joe McCoy was born in 1905, in Raymond Mississippi, located in the southwestern part of the state, just west of Jackson a bit North of Crystal Springs. His younger brother Charlie was born in Jackson five years later. The McCoys were close to the Chatmans, who hailed from nearby Bolton, and recorded as the popular Mississippi Sheiks. The McCoys and the Chatmans often played together and like many Jackson area musicians, ther were influenced in varying degrees by Tommy Johnson. In addition to the Chatmons and Johnson, Jackson, in the 1920’s was a city with a vibrant blues scene, teeming with artists such as Walter Vincson, Ishman Bracey, Johnnie Temple, Skip James and Rube Lacey. McCoy recorded under various pseudonyms; Georgia Pine Boy, Hallelujah Joe, Big Joe McCoy and His Washboard Band, and The Mississippi Mudder. Other names he used from time to time included Hillbilly Plowboy, Mud Dauber Joe and Hamfoot Ham. During his time with Minnie he took the lead on several memorable numbers, most famously “When The Levee Breaks” as well as fine numbers like "Preachers Blues", "Shake Mattie", "My Wash Woman's Gone" and "Joliet Bound" among others. If  McCoy is often overshadowed by Minnie on their recordings, these records showcase a singer with warm vocal, a superb guitar picker and a fine lyricist. Several of the songs have strong stylistic ties to Jackson, including "My Wash Woman's Gone", featuring Casey Bill Wledon, and "Joliet Bound" with stroong echoes of Tommy Johnson and and the Skip James reworking, "Evil Devil Woman Blues." After Joe and Minnie separated Joe occupied himself in small bands, singing with the Harlem Hamfats, working as a songwriter and working with his brother Charlie. oe McCoy died of heart disease in Chicago, only a few months before his brother Charlie.

There's a famous anecdote from this period regarding a guitar contest between Minnie and Big Bill Broonzy. In 1933, when Big Bill Broonzy was very popular in Chicago, a blues contest between him and Memphis Minnie took place in a nightclub. As Broonzy tells the story, in his autobiography Big Bill Blues, a jury of fellow musicians awarded Minnie the prize of a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of gin for her performance of "Chauffeur Blues" and "Looking the World Over".

Before renewing her contract with Vocalion in 1934 she recorded twenty sides for Decca and eight for Bluebird, her last session for Bluebird accompanied by Casey Bill Weldon. Minnie and Joe recorded recorded for the last time together in September 1934. According to several reports, McCoy’s increasing jealousy of Minnie’s fame and success caused the breakup. Minnie toured a great deal in the '30s, mostly in the south. It was during this period that Bob Wills and some of his Texas Playboys saw her playing in Texas; they would later make her "What's The Matter With The Mill?" a part of their repertoires. By 1935 Minnie had settled in under the supervision of Lester Melrose and was able to easily handle the transition from rural-downhome blues to a more sophisticated sound. Back on her own, Minnie began to experiment with different styles and sounds. She recorded four sides for the Bluebird label in 1935 in August of that year, she returned to the Vocation label. Minnie had teamed up with manager Lester Melrose, the single most powerful and influential executive in the blues industry during the 1930s and 1940s. By the end of the 1930s, Minnie had recorded nearly 20 sides for Decca Records and eight sides for the Bluebird label.

As Mike Rowe notes “it was a white businessman, Lester Melrose, who was really responsible for shaping the Chicago sound of the late 30's and 40?s.” Melrose had said “From March 1934 to February 1951 I recorded at least 90 percent of all rhythm-and-blues talent for RCA Victor and Columbia Records…” As Rowe further explains: “But Melrose had more than a large stable of blues artists under his control. Since only a few of them had regular accompanists most of them would play on each others records and thus Melrose has a completely self-contained unit… …The final stage of this musical incest was completed when they started recording each others songs.” The result was a consistent, sometime cookie cutter sound, although the best artists would consistently transcend these limitations.

Minnie and Son Joe (Ernest Lawlars) got together sometime in the late 30's and were married in 1939. They first recorded together in February 1939 where Son cut six numbers under his own name and Minnie cut seven. As Moody Jones recalled: "Her husband Son was the onliest fella…that knew more about them chords then I did." Joe had joined the Barber Parker band in the mid-forties, traveling throughout the Delta with Parker, Willie Love, and G.P. Jackson, and Jackson remembers Son as not only an excellent guitarist, but as a washboard player as well.

In 1939, Minnie returned to the Vocation label. Her recordings with Son Joe are in duet style, with piano, bass or drums added on some sessions. Minnie and Little Son Joe also began to release material on Okeh Records in the 1940s. The couple continued to record together throughout the decade. In May of 1941 Minnie recorded her biggest hit, "Me And My Chauffeur Blues." A followup date yielded two more blues standards, "Looking The World Over" and Son's "Black Rat Swing (issued as by Mr. Memphis Minnie)." At the dawn of the 1940's Minnie and Joe continued to work at their "home club", Chicago's popular 708 club where they were often joined by Big Bill, Sunnyland Slim, or Snooky Pryor. They also played at dozens of the other better known Chicago nightclubs. The forties treated Minnie and Son Joe well and they performed both together and separately depending on finances, (they could make more money playing separate gigs). Minnie, presided over Blue Monday parties at Ruby Lee Gatewood's Tavern playing an electrified National arch top in front of a band that included bass and drums. The poet Langston Hughes saw her perform New Year's Eve 1942, at the 230 Club, and was thoroughly overwhelmed by her "scientific" (i.e. loud) sound. He described the sound of her electric guitar as "a musical version of electric welders plus a rolling mill".  Clearly she had by that time embraced the next phase of the blues.

As Minnie's biographer's note: "By the end of the 40's Minnie had made the leap to post-war blues., and several of her last pieces were excellent examples of powerful , 1950's Chicago-style blues. Minnie's voice was still strong and vibrant, and she might have become a fine, post-war (style) performer."  In 1949 Minnie cut a session for the Regal label with Jimmy Rogers and Sunnyland Slim. The session was never released at the time. In 1952, Minnie recorded a session for the legendary Chess label, when it was just two months old. One side even featured Little Walter on harmonica. Singles from the session included "Broken Heart" and a re-recording of "Me and My Chauffeur Blues." The following year, she released her last commercial recording after 24 years in blues music, "Kissing in the Dark" and "World of Trouble" on the JOB label. On the Regal and Chess sides Minnie sounds a bit ill at ease but not so on the JOB sides. For example "in 'World Of Trouble', one hears the raw power of the era, with each component at last firmly integrated, and with Minnie's strong and forceful vocal evocative in the extreme."

Within the next few years, Minnie’s health began to fail. She retired from her music career and returned to Memphis. She performed one last time at a memorial for her friend, blues artist Big Bill Broozny in 1958. Periodically, she would appear on Memphis radio stations to encourage younger blues musicians. As the Garon's wrote in Woman with Guitar, "She never laid her guitar down, until she could literally no longer pick it up." In 1960, Minnie suffered from a stroke and was bound to a wheelchair. The following year, Little Son Joe passed away. Minnie finally passed in 1973.

Share