Martha CopelandI Ain't Your Hen Mister Fly...Martha Copeland Vol. 2
Bertha IdahoDown on Pennsylvania Ave.Female Blues Singers Vol. 10
Mary DixonYou Can't Sleep in My BedBlue Girls Vol. 2
Georgia WhiteThe Blues Ain't Nothin'...Georgia White Vol. 3
Clara SmithLow Land BluesClara Smith Vol. 6 1930-32
Mary JohnsonDeath Cell BluesMary Johnson 1929-1936
Alice MooreBlack and Evil BluesSt. Louis Woman Vol. 1
Hattie HartColdest Stuff In TownMemphis Blues 1927-1938
Mae GloverShake It DaddyI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Lillian MillerDead Drunk BluesI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Elizabeth JohnsonBe My Kid BluesI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Hattie BurlsonBye Bye BabyI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 2
Hattie BurlsonJim NappyI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 2
Lottie KimbroughWayward Girl BluesKansas City Blues 1924-1929
Lucille BoganPig Iron SallyLucille Bogan Vol. 3 1934-35
Bertha 'Chippie' HillSome Cold Rainy DayBertha 'Chippie' Hill Vol. 1
Bertha 'Chippie' HillCharleston BluesM. Taylor/F. Shayne 1929-1946
Ruth LadsonWindy City BluesChicago Blues Vol. 2 1939-1944
Mozelle AldersonTight In ChicagoBlue Girls Vol. 2
Margaret ThorntonJockey BluesBlue Girls Vol. 2
Elizabeth WashingtonRiot Call BluesBarrelhouse Mamas
Rosa HendersonRough House BluesRosa Henderson Vol. 4 1926-31
Christina GrayThe Reverend Is My ManFemale Blues Singers Vol. 7
Carrie EdwardsFattening Frogs For SnakesPiano Blues Vol. 5
Lizzie MilesToo Slow BluesJazzin' The Blues Vol. 5
Lizzie MilesA Good Man Is Hard To FindJazzin' The Blues 1943-1952
Mattie DelaneyDown The Big Road BluesI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Geechie WileyLast Kind Words BluesMiss. Blues Vol. 1 1928-1937
Geechie WileyPick Poor Robin CleanI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Lillian GlinnI'm A Front Door Woman...Lillian Glinn 1927-1929
Leola ManningThe Blues Is All WrongRare Country Blues Vol. 1
Monette MoorePlease Mr. BluesJazzin' The Blues Vol. 5

Show Notes:

Woman blues singers seem to get shortchanged when it comes to interest among blues fans or reissue companies. I'm not talking about heavy hitters like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey but the dozens and dozens of fine singers who recorded in their shadows during the 1920's and 30's. This show is dedicated to singers like Mary Johnson, Hattie Hart, Leola Manning, Alice Moore and others; in some cases they recorded dozens of sides or just a handful, some were quite popular in their day while other achieved little or no success yet they cut some exceptional blues records that, outside of collectors, remain all but forgotten today.

I'm A Front Door Woman With A Back Door ManThe "Classic Female Blues" era as it's generally called spanned from 1920 to 1929 with its peak from 1923 to 1925. The most popular of these singers were Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Ethel Waters, Ida Cox, Victoria Spivey, Sippie Wallace, Alberta Hunter, Clara Smith, Edith Wilson, Trixie Smith and Lucille Hegamin. It was singer Mamie Smith in 1920 who paved the way as Paul Oliver notes: "One of the records that helped launch the issue of so-called "Race Records"…was Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues." It was to the benefit of many other black woman singers that a black woman had at last broke into what had previously been an exclusively white market. During the decade after the release of this record, more than 200 women singers were recorded and their songs issued on Race Records. Several of them made more than a hundred titles each, and a great many made a few dozen. In addition, there were those who made just a handful of titles that were often of great interest, nonetheless." In 1921 blues singers such as Lillyn Brown, Lavinia Turner, Lucille Hegamin, Daisey Martin all made records. In January 1922 Metronome declared that "every phonograph company has a colored girl recording blues." Of course woman like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Ida Cox had been singing the blues for years, mainly in the South, in circuses like Miller's 101 Ranch, The Mighty Haag Circus, Vaudeville stages and minstrel shows like Sugar Foot Greene's Minstrel Show, Silas Green from New Orleans and the Rabbit Foot Minstrels.

On today's show we skip over these very early recordings which can be a bit tough slogging even for the most committed blues fan. While the recordings are interesting historically they pose a few problems as Tony Russell notes: "…Many of them belonged to a tradition of stage singing that has not appealed much to recent generations of blues enthusiasts. …Most of them are separated from us by the thick curtain of the acoustic recording process, which reduces all but the strongest voices to squeaks, and muffles their accompanists." You can be the judge as the Document label as seen fit to reissue all of these early singers and in fact a good chunk of today's songs come from the vast Document catalog. While the Document collections are invaluable sound quality is not always the best hence I've played several tracks from Yazoo's I Can't Be Satisfied vol. 1 & 2 and Barrelhouse Mamas. These are terrific collections with superior remastering.

Today's show features a number of early woman blues singers in the classic style who were quite popular in their day such as Martha Copeland, Clara Smith, Lizzie Miles and Rosa Henderson. Copeland's sassy "I Ain't Your Hen Mister Fly Rooster" gives today's show it's title. Copeland was saddled by Columbia with the nickname“everybody’s mammy” and was popular in her day but little is known about her life. She recorded close to two dozen sides between 1923 and 1928. Copeland often had interesting lyrics but, with a few exceptions, her singing is rather unexciting. "I Ain't Your Hen Mister Fly Rooster" finds her singing in top form backed by lively cornet from Bubber Miley and piano from J.C. Johnson plus some forthright lyrics:

I ain't your hen mister fly rooster, so don't crow in my back yard
Here's one chicken you ain't picking
The day you try you'll find it hard
You and I ain't never going to come to terms
Find some other chicken I don't need your worms
I ain't your hen mister fly rooster, so don't crow in my back yard

Rosa Henderson started out in carnival and tent shows around 1913 and moved to New York in 1923 where she made her recording debut. She recorded a hundred odd sides throughout the 1920’s and made her final record in 1931. She was a fine singer who suffered from some rather lackluster accompanists. There's no such problems on 1926's supremely confident and boisterous "Rough House Blues (A Reckless Woman's Lament)" as Henderson belts out the following challenge:

Everybody stand aside and let mad mama through
Because my feelings I can't hide
I'm hinkey, mean and blue
I'm gonna raise the roof up round this house tonight
I feel rough and ready, I wanna pick a fight

I want to shoot my pistol, I don't care who I hit
I feel like the devil 'cause my man done quit
I'm gonna drink my whiskey and get my habits on

Lizzie Miles was a fine classic blues singer from the 1920s who survived to have a full comeback in the 1950s. She started out singing in New Orleans during 1909-1911 with such musicians as King Oliver, Kid Ory, and Bunk Johnson. She recorded extensively between 1922-1930. She recorded in 1939 but spent 1943-1949 outside of music and in 1950 began a comeback recording for labels such as Circle, Cook, Capitol, Verve and others before retiring in 1959. From the very beginning Miles was a forceful singer with plenty of personality although early recordings suffer from poor sound and often bland material. Her late 20's and 30's recordings are superior and "Too Slow Blues" from 1930 is a prime example featuring some terrific guitar from Teddy Bunn. She was still a force to be reckoned with when in 1952 she cut "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" backed by Sharkey & His Kings of Dixieland.

A good chunk of today's selections are by women performing in a more down home vein. In the 1920's and 30's St. Louis was a vibrant blues town boasting some superb woman singers like Bessie Mae Smith, Alice Moore, Mary Johnson and Edith North Johnson. Bessie Mae Smith recorded variously as St. Louis Bessie, Blue Belle and Streamline Mae. Her 18 sides recorded between 1927-1930 showcase a strong singer who used some striking imagery in her songs. Mary Johnson was a fine singer with a clear, low, moaning style that came across well on record. She also wrote a number of moving songs, many filled with vivid violent and sexual imagery and an unrelenting bleak view of the world. Alice Moore was a superb and popular singer who's biggest hit was "Blue, Black and Evil," which she recorded several times.

It seems just about all the major cities boasted top flight woman singers and in addition to St. Louis. Today's show features singers hailing from Dallas, Kansas City, Memphis and Chicago. Hattie Hart was a marvelous, tough voiced singer who hailed from Memphis where she worked with the Memphis Jug Band before heading to Chicago and cut sides as Hattie Bolten. From Dallas we have big voiced Hattie Burleson who's backed by an outstanding band on these 1928 sides. She waxed only seven sides and it's a shame she recorded so little. Burleson discovered fellow Dallas singer Lillian Glinn while she was singing spirituals in church. Glinn briefly became a star before returning to the church. It's not hard to see why; she possessed a warm, strong, clear voice in the classic style as she shows on "I'm A Front Door Woman With A Back Door Man." Lottie Kimbrough was based in Kansas City and cut a half dozen rather unexceptional sides in 1924. Her 1928 sides for Gennett were a different story; backed by the driving, unorthodox guitar of Miles Pruitt she cut "Rolling Log Blues" and "Goin' Away Blues", two blues of haunting power featuring Kimbrough's penetrating, world weary vocals. From Chicago we play tracks by Mozelle Alderson (she also recorded as Kansas City Kitty, Hannah May and Jane Lucas) Georgia White and Ruth Ladson. Alderson's "Tight In Chicago" is her best record, a fine hard times blues number cut in the heart of the depression and in 1941 Ruth Ladsen found things just as tough as she recounts on "Windy City Blues" a tale of the temptations that lie in wait for a"green" young girl:

I met a Chicago woman, she said come and go with me
She asked me if I had any money but I was broke as I could be

She said look here young woman, you young and I am so old
And you're in dear old Chicago, where there's plenty of gold
You don't have to use your head to get it, there's easy ways I been told
When we got up to her house, up on the second floor
I saw the head of a man peeping from every door
I said you better get me out of here
Before it is too late, too late, too late
Just the sight of all these men gives me the bellyache

Bertha "Chippie" Hill was based in Chicago when she began her recording career in 1925. Backed by the the shimmering slide of Tampa Red she delivers the gorgeous "Some Cold, Rainy Day" from 1928 and while her voice is a bit rough around the edges she still sounded vivacious on the bawdy "Charleston Blues" from 1946:

I'm going back to the fish house baby, and get me some shrimp
I've got to feed baby, two or three hungry old pimps

Outside of Memphis Minnie and Sister Rosetta Tharpe there were very few guitar playing woman which makes the recordings of Geeshie Wiley and Mattie Delaney notable. Virtually nothing is known about Wiley who recorded four stunning blues for Paramount in 1930 and 1931 and then vanished like a cipher in the night. "Last Kind Word Blues" ranks as one of the most enigmatic, haunting country blues ever committed to wax. She cut some sides with Elvie Thomas including the bouncy, rag flavored duet "Pick Poor Robin Clean." Nothing is know about Mattie Delaney who cut one 78 in 1930. A fine guitarist and singer she cut "Down The Big Road Blues" a variation on Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues" and the topical "Tallahatchie River Blues."

Lucille Bogan

As evidenced so far these woman had plenty to say and weren't afraid to say it; they gave the business to those no good men, sang frankly about sex, hard times and the seedier side of life. Take Bertha Idaho's "Down on Pennsylvania Avenue" a vivid description of a particularly seedy street in Baltimore "where you can't tell the he's from the she's." Better known is Lucille Bogan who sang in a tough, boisterous manner, singing frankly about lesbianism, prostitution, drinking and drug use. "Pig Iron Sally" is a good example of her tough talking persona:

They call me Pig Iron Sally
'Cause I live in Slag Iron Alley
And I'm evil and mean as I can be

Among the many tough ladies we feature today include Lillian Miller on her "Dead Drunk Blues" as she opens up by proclaiming "I'm dead drunk today daddy" before singing: "You knowed I was drunk when I layed down across your bed/All the whiskey I drank it's gone right to my head." Then there's Mae Glover's provocative "Shake It Daddy" where she sings "You used to be sweet milk, but you done turned sour on me/If you want me to love you, hum like a honey bee."

A couple of other obscure ladies worth mentioning are Leola Manning, Carrie Edwards and Elizabeth Johnson. Manning, from Knoxville, Tennessee, is a performer who deserves more attention. Not only was she an excellent singer but she had some remarkable songs including the two very fascinating topical songs: "The Arcade Building Moan" is about the burning down of an important commercial building in Knoxville and the chilling "Satan Is Busy In Knoxville," which appears to be about a serial killer loose in Knoxville! On our selection, "The Blues is All Wrong", is sung with an almost religious zeal that leaps out of the scratchy grooves. Johnson cut four terrific sides in 1928 including "Be My Kind Blues" with a band listed as Her Turpentine Tree-O featuring the unusual, but effective, instrumentation of cornet, guitar and woodblocks. She has a high, keening voice that's very moving and one wishes she recorded more. Edwards cut four songs in 1932 including "Fattening Frogs for Snakes" that begins in resigned fashion before building steam to a sassy, testifying finish. Most folks probably know the song through Sonny Boy Williamson II who waxed a version in 1957. A version was first cut by Virginia Liston in 1925 and Edwards' version is the second to be recorded.

This is just a small sampling of the many great forgotten woman blues singers and I certainly plan on doing sequels in the future.