Topical Blues


ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Alice mooreBlack and EvilSt. Louis Women Vol. 2 1934-1941
Ethel Waters(What Did I Do To Be So) Black & BlueEthel Waters 1929-1939
Hattie BurelsonSadie's Servant Room BluesTerritory Singers Vol. 2 1928-30
Big Bill BroonzyBlack, Brown, and WhiteBroadcasting The Blues
Otis SpannMoon Blues Sweet Giant Of The Blues
Howlin' WolfCoon On The MoonThe Back Door Wolf
Lillian GlinnBrown Skin BluesLillian Glinn 1927-1929
Barbecue BobChocolate To The BoneChocolate To The Bone
Andy BoyEvil BluesSan Antonio 1937
Robert WilkinsFalling Down BluesThe Original Rolling Stone
Tommy MclennanBottle It Up And GoThe Complete Bluebird Recodings
Bill & Mary MackBlack But Sweet, Oh God!Punch Miller & Albert Wynn 1925-1930
Furry LewisB-L-A-C-KThe Fabulous Furry Lewis
Ishman BraceySaturday BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Rosa HendersonI Have To Paint my FaceI Have To Paint my Face
Maggie jonesNorthbound BluesMaggie Jones Vol. 1 1923-1925
Cow Cow DavenportJim Crow BluesThe Essential
LeadbellyJim Crow BluesBourgeois Blues
Rev. J.M. GatesKinky Hair Is No DisgraceAre You Bound For Heaven Or Hell?
Albert HunterYou Can't Tell The Difference After DarkAlberta Hunter Vol. 4 1927-46
Louis JordanOfay & oxford Grey Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five - Chapter 4
J.B. LenoirBorn DeadAlabama Blues
John Lee HookerBirmingham BluesKennedy's Blues
Louisiana RedRide On Red, Ride OnThe Best of Louisiana Red
Dora Carr & Cow Cow DavenportBlack Girl Gets There Just The Same Cow Cow Davenport - Cow Cow Davenport: The Accompanist 1924-1929
Butterbeans & SusieBrown Skin GalButterbeans & Susie Vol. 1 1924-1925
Fats HaydenBrown Skin Gal Is The Best Gal After AllTeddy Bunn 1929-1940
Ruby SmithBlack GalSammy Price
And the Blues Singers
Juke Boy BonnerBeing Black and I'm ProudLife Gave Me A Dirty Deal
Champion Jack DupreeOh Lord What Have I DoneOh Lord What Have I Done

Show Notes:

Alice Moore: Black And Evil BluesToday's show is devoted to blues songs dealing with the topic of race. Blues of the segregation era are intrinsically tied to race but rarely do they deal with the topic of race itself. As the great blues scholar Paul Oliver wrote back in 1968: "Blacks in the United States are members of an underprivileged class, and it makes no difference if their standard of living is far higher than that of most people in Africa, India, or much of South America. For them, being below the poverty line in the world's richest nation means suffering. Ernest attempts to play the blues by white imitators notwithstanding, the blues is, inescapably, the music of the African American, and it seems undeniable that it is a cultural expression that relates back to circumstances of segregation. It's true that racial discrimination is seldom blatantly the theme of the blues-but it's never far away. …For the Black, whether he was purpled-hued or pink skinned, his color was his problem, both within the black community and in the community as a whole. It was this which determined that his whole social life should be different from his fellow Americans, for his color and his cast of feature were the outward indications of his ancestory." Today we play songs, both subtle and explicit, both humorous and serious, that deal with a variety of racial issues. Within black society there was a class system based on skin color – yellow, brown and black – and many songs deal with this topic. Other songs are more overt, dealing frankly about issues like Jim Crow and, particularly in the 60's, with the topic of civil rights. Other songs are more subtle, throwing in a interesting line or two, often hard to decipher without careful listening.

Alice Moore, Little Alice, as she was known, achieved a measure of success with her first record, "Black And Evil Blues" cut at her first session 1929 with three subsequent versions cut during the 1930's.

I'm black and I'm evil, and I did not make myself (2x)
If my man don't have me, he won't have nobody else
I've got to buy me a bulldog, he'll watch me while I sleep (2x)
Because I'm so black and evil, that I might make a midnight creep
I believe to my soul, the Lord has got a curse on me (2x)
Because every man I get, a no good woman steals him from me

Paul Oliver had this to say about the number: "At times the characteristics of African racial features and color have an ominous significance in the blues, which may hint that they are indirectly related to social problems. So the state of being 'blue' is associated with alienation, and is linked with an 'evil mind' or an inclination to violence. Both are coupled with the inescapable condition of being black." There's also, I think, a way of diffusing the negative "black" by owning it as Moore does, a way of empowering oneself by taking the negative associations of black and turning it around and even reveling in it. Moore's song was covered by Lil Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins and Leroy Ervin. Another song from the same period with a similar sentiment is "(What Did I Do To Be So) Black & Blues", originally written by Fats Waller in 1929, it was a hit for Ethel Waters in 1930. Like Moore's song this one too equates blackness with being "blue"but some of the lyrics give one an uneasy feeling:

I'm white inside, it don't help my case
'Cause I can't hide, what is on my face, oh!

I'm so forlorn, life's just a thorn
My heart is torn, why was I born?
What did I do to be so black and blue?

'Cause you're black, folks think you lack
They laugh at you, and scorn you too
What did I do to be so black and blue?

The title of today's show, Sam Chatmon's "I Have To Paint My Face", is another song tied into this theme. Chatmon's song paints being black in a negative light in contrast to being white. Chatmon's song is a bit more complicated with some of the language, it seems, drawing from the period before the blues when their was a wide variety of black music including ragtime, black vaudeville, minstrels, coon songs, work songs, dance tunes and more. Older musicians (Chatmon was born in the late 1890's), born in the 1860's through the 1880's, learned early forms of black music that they brought to their records when they had the opportunity to record in the 20's and 30's.

Say God made us all
He made some at night
That's why he didn't take time
To make us all white

I'm bound to change my name
I have to paint my face
So I won't be kin
To that Ethiopian race

Say now let me tell you one thing
That a Stumptown nigger will do
He'll pull up on young cotton
And he'll kill baby chickens too

Say when God made me
Say the moon was givin' light
I'm so doggone sorry
He didn't finish me up white

Say now when God made people
He done pretty well
But when he made a jet black nigger
He made them some hell

Say God took a ball of mud
When he got ready to make man
When he went to make you partner
I believe it slipped out his hand

Fats Hayden: Brown Skin Gal Is The Best Gal After All As mentioned above, within black society there was a class system based on skin color – yellow, brown and black – each hue having their own stereotypes. In Blues Fell This Morning, Paul Oliver had the following to say: "Blacks frequently aspired to the conditions of being white, as they saw the better jobs, the higher standard of living Whites enjoyed. Men spent large sums of money on hair-straightening  greases and combs that were supposed to remove the kinks in African hair. Woman dyed their hair to a brick-red, powdered their faces and applied artificial color in order to make their skins lighter and their complexions more 'white.' …This primitive distinction by color was passed on to Blacks themselves and their population was many times divided by grades of skin pigmentation. In the caste system that evolved from this arbitrary means of discrimination, the lighter skinned tended to be on a higher plane, whilst the extremely black-skinned mas was looked down on… To differentiate between their many shades of color they evolved many words which are applicable to certain shades: 'ashy black', 'chocolate-brown', 'coffee', 'sealskin-brown', 'brightskin', 'high yaller', 'lemon', and others… Blacks of one particular skin hue kept together and may certainly  have a had a preference for that color…" In her popular 1927 number, "Brown Skin Blues", Lillian Glinn stated her preference:

Now all high yellers you ought to listen to me
A yellow man's sweet, a black man's neat
A brownskin man will take you clear off your feet

Barbecue Bob's “Chocolate To The Bone” was an answer song cut in 1928:

So glad I'm brownskin, so glad I'm brownskin, chocolate to the bone (2x)
And I've got what it takes to make a monkey man leave his home

Black man is evil, yellow man's so low-down (2x)
I walk into these houses just to see these black men frown

I'm just like Miss Lillian, like Miss Lillian, I mean Miss Glinn, you see
I'm just like Miss Lillian, I mean Miss Glinn, you see
She said, 'A brownskin man is just all right with me'

In a similar vein was Fats Hayden's 1939 number "Brown Skin Gal Is The Best Gal After All" where he elaborates in detail to prove the song's title throwing quite a few disparaging comments on the other hues ("When a yellow gal gets old/She draw up like tripe"). Hayden's song is very similar to a number of earlier songs including Butterbeans & Susie's "Brown Skin Gal" from 1925 and Barbecue Bob's "Brown Skin Gal" from 1927. Bill & Mary Mack's "Black But Sweet, Oh God!" from 1925 has Bill asking for Mary's company and with the following reply: "Now listen hear man you too black and ugly, the type of man is out of my life." Then shes goes on about her "brown" who is "little an cute, chocolate to the bone." Jim Jackson recorded a song titled "Black But Sweet" which is likely the same song  although it was never issued. In the 1970's Furry Lewis recorded "a little jive" he claims to have made up called "B-L-A-C-K" which bears a striking resemblance to Bill & Mary Mack's number but Furry turns it around a bit:

Some people don't like their color, but I sure do like mine
I know I'm black and ugly, but gets along just fine
I was going down the street the other day, two high browns I did meet
Said ain't old Furry black but he sure looks good to me
I'm black but I'm sweet oh God

Earlier I quoted Paul Oliver mentioning that blacks tried to change their appearance to a more white aesthetic, that too is represented in songs featured today. In Ishman Bracey's "Saturday Blues" he sings:

Now, if you want yo' woman, to look like the rest
You buy her high-brown powder, Palmer's Skin Success

Cow Cow Davenport: Jim Crow BluesPalmer's Skin Success was the trade name of a popular skin bleach which claimed o be able to make you "one shade lighter." The product was advertised in black newspapers like the Chicago Defender probably not coincidentally on the same pages that advertised blues records. Then there's  Rev. J.M. Gates' "Kinky Hair is No Disgrace" which, despite the title, is more in a slapstick vaudeville vein than a black pride one. The 1960's saw a new found era in black pride with James Brown's "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud" from 1968 becoming an unofficial anthem of the Black Power movement. The same year Juke Boy Bonner cut "Being Black and I'm Proud" and Bee Houston recorded "Be Proud To Be A Black Man" in 1970. There were black pride sentiments in earlier songs like Ruby Smith on "Black Gal" from 1941. Chris Smith wrote that "it's a fascinating, uneasy mixture of self-abasement with early 'black is beautiful' ideology: "

If I had the choice of being white as a lamb
I would turn it down and stay, black as I am

'I'm just a black gal, insignificant me
But I'm just as happy as can be

I ain't seeking pity on account of being black
And if I've apologized I wanna take it back

…Furthermore, I don't believe in being what you ain't
That's why I don't lighten up with lots of chalk and paint.

Blues songs that speak directly to racial issues are relatively rare in early blues, while the 1960's saw more explicit songs dealing with the turbulent civil rights era. During the Jim Crow era, racial segregation laws were enacted between 1876 and 1965 at the state and local level that mandated racial segregation in all public facilities in Southern states. There were several songs that explicitly dealt with the topic. An early one from singer Maggie Jones, "Northbound Blues" from 1925, talks about heading away from Jim Crow:

Got my trunk and grip all packed
Goodbye, I ain't coming back
Going to leave this Jim Crow town
Lord, sweet pape, New York bound

Got my ticket in my hand
And I'm leaving dixieland

Going north child, where I can be free (2x)
Where there's no hardships, like in Tennessee

Going where they don't have Jim Crow laws (2x)
Don't have to work there, like in Arkansas

Cow Cow Davenport was another singer to make an overt statement about going North to escape Jim Crow. Accompanied by B.T. Wingfield on cornet, he recorded "Jim Crow Blues" for Paramount in 1927:

I'm tired of being Jim Crowed, gonna Leave this Jim Crow town
Doggone my black soul, I'm sweet Chicago bound

Rosa Henderson is sings about Jim Crow in "Back Woods Blues" from 1924 (Clara Smith recorded a version the same year):

Gonna see my folks, but its way too far
To ride in a dusty old Jim Crow car

Got the backwoods blues, but I don't wanna go back home
Got the backwoods blues, for a place way down in Bam
Got the blues, but I'm gonna stay right where I am

Gonna lay 'round here, where I'm at
Where there ain't no grinnin' and no snatchin' off my hat

Other songs on the subject include Josh White's "Jim Crow Train"and "Uncle Sam Says" and "Jim Crow Blues" and "Scottsboro Boys" by  Leadbelly. Jim Crow also existed in the military during both world wars and through part of the Korean war. Both Leadbelly and Josh White tackle the topic in "Uncle Sam Says", the topic also crops up in gospel songs by Blind Willie Johnson ("When the War Was On") and William And Versey Smith ("Everybody Help the Boys Come Home"). In Big Bill Broonzy's famous "Black, Brown, and White" and "I Wonder When I'll Get To Be Called A Man" he address the issue:

When Uncle Sam called me, I know'ed I'd be called a real McCoy
But I got none of this, they just called me soldier boy
I wonder when,
I wonder when,
I wonder when will I get to be called a man
Do I have to wait till I get ninety-three?
When I got back from overseas, that night we had a ball
Next day I met the old boss, he said 'Boy get you some overalls'

Howlin' Wolf - Coon On The MoonOvert political commentary became increasingly more common by the 1960's. Several blues and gospel numbers were recorded about Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. In "Birmingham Blues" John Lee Hooker forcefully sings about the Birmingham campaign which was a strategic effort by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to promote civil rights for black Americans. 1962's Louisiana Red's "Ride On Red, Ride On" is a civil rights themed blues mainly about leaving the racist south and its subject not far removed from Rosa Henderson's “Back Woods Blues” mentioned above.  Few bluesman were as outspoken and eloquent as J.B. Lenoir who cut some hard hitting topical numbers shortly before his untimely death in 1967. Here's his "Born Dead" from 1966:

Lord why was I born in Mississippi, when it's so hard to get ahead (2x)
Every black child born in Mississippi
You know the poor child is born dead

During the beginning of the space race in the early 1960's many songs appeared to cash in with space themed topics. With the landing on the moon in 1969 there were many more, but many, particularly by African Americans, took on a more political tone often contrasting the money and conditions of black people with the amount of money that went into the putting a man on the moon while ignoring the dire conditions at home. This is the topic of Gil Scott-Heron's "Whitey On The Moon" and Otis Spann's "Moon Blues." Howlin' Wolf was fascinated by space flight and asked his saxophonist Eddie Shaw to write a song on the subject. "Coon On The Moon" is more about how things have changed during Wolf's lifetime than an overt political statement. 35 years before it happened the song predicted the first black president:

You know, they called us ‘coons’—said we didn’t have no sense
You gonna wake up one morning, and a coon’s gonna be the President

Several songs featured today don't fall into any particular category but lyrically fit into the topic of today's show: There's Andy Boy who sings "I got the evil blues, prejudicy on my mind" on "Evil Blues" from 1937 and Robert Wilkins who on "Fallin' Down Blues" from 1929 sings:

If you don't believe, girl, I'll treat you right
Come and walk with me down to my loving shack tonight
I'll certainly treat you just like you was white
That don't satisfy you, girl, I'll take your life

Finally there's  Tommy McClennan who's "Bottle It Up And Go" is one of the songs most associated with him. According to Honeyboy Edwards, McClennan learned the song from Memphis Jug Band member Dewey Corley.  McClennan insisted on playing the song as he learned it in the South, ignoring Northern sensibilities when he sang the controversial lines: "Now the nigger and the white man playin' seven-up/Nigger beat the white man was scared to pick it up." Broonzy tells a story of McClennan singing these lines at a house party and being forcibly ejected, forced to leave via the window with parts of his guitar around his neck.

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Blind Willie McTell Just As Well Get Ready-You Got To Die-Climbing High Mountains-Tryin' To Get HomeThe Classic Years 1927-1940
Charley Patton You’re Gonna Need Somebody When You DieScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Son House Lord Have Mercy When I Come To DieThe Real Delta Blues
Brother Willie Eason I Want To Live (So God Can Use Me) Fire In My Bones
Furry Lewis When I Lay My Burden DownWhen I Lay My Burden Down
Henry Johnson Until I Found The Lord45
Leola Manning He Fans MeRare County Blues 1928-1957
Sister O.M. Terrell I'm Going To That CityGet Right With God: Hot Gospel 1947-1953
Rev. W.M. MosleyYou Preachers Stay Out Of Widow's HousesRev. W.M. Mosley 1926-1931
Hi Henry Brown Preacher BluesBlues Images Vol. 10
Big Bill Broonzy Preachin' the Blues Big Bill Broonzy
1937-1940 Vol. 2
Ralph Willis Amen BluesShake That Thing: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Papa Lightfoot When the Saints Go Marching Blues Harmonica Wizards
Julius DanielsSlippin' And Slidin' Up The Golden StreetAtlanta Blues
Skip James Jesus Is a Mighty Good LeaderBlues Images Vol. 6
Texas AlexanderJustice Blues Texas Alexander Vol. 3 1930-1950
Lightnin' Hopkins I'm Going To Build Me A Heaven Of My OwnThe Complete Prestige Recordings
Sam Collins Lead Me All The WayJailhouse Blues
Bukka WhiteThe Promise True And GrandMasters of the Delta Blues: Friends of Charlie Patton
Mother McCollum Jesus Is My Air-O-Plane Blues Images Vol. 11
Bessie SmuthOn Revival Day (A Rhythmic Spiritual)The Complete (Frog)
Lizzie MilesHold Me, ParsonLizzie Miles Vol. 3 1928-1929
Washington PhillipsDenomination Blues (Pt.1)I Am Born To Preach The Gospel
Champion Jack Dupree Deacon's PartyChampion Jack Dupree: Early Cuts
The Griffin BrothersDouble Faced DeaconBlues With A Beat
Rev. Anderson JohnsonDo You Call That Religion?Blind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists
Jaybird ColemanI'm Gonna Cross the River of Jordan - Some O' These DaysGoodbye, Babylon6
Robert Pete WilliamsChurch on Fire (No. 2)I'm Blue As a Man Can Be
Doctor Clayton Angels In HarlemAngels In Harlem
Roy BrownJudgement DayRoy Brown & New Orleans - R&B
Lloyd Price Lord, Lord, Amen!Lloyd Price 1952-1953
H-Bomb Ferguson Preaching The BluesRock H-Bomb Rock
Willie Mae Williams Where the Sun Never Goes DownFire In My Bones
Little Janice Scarred KneesWest Coast Guitar Killers Vol. 1

Show Notes:

I know blues singers don't go to heaven
'Cause Gabriel bars them out
(
Doctor Clayton, Angels In Harlem, 1946 )

Bukka White: I Am In The Heavenly WayToday's show is part two of our look at the intersection between blues and religious music. In the early 1900's, blues singing was associated with the brothel, juke joint, and the dregs of African-American society. Black church goers called it the "Devils' Music" as the following quote, told to Paul Oliver, reflects: "When she was singin' the blues I told her-she was pavin' her way to Hell," said Emma Williams of her daughter', the blues singer Mary Johnson…" This view was also shared by some former blues singers: "A man's who's singin' the blues- I think it's a sin because it cause other people to sin," said Lil Son Jackson" who gave up blues for the church. As Oliver notes, "Musically the blues and the spirituals, or the spirituals' successor, the gospel song, may have stemmed from common sources. But in the recording era, though they shared on occasion similar instrumentation and voices, they were separate and distinct."

Despite this divide, religious imagery is prevalent throughout blues music, particularly the blues of the 20's and 30's; songs talk about the devil, make fun of the preachers, deacons and reverends, use biblical imagery and speak of the afterlife, both heaven and hell in frank terms. In addition there's a slew of bluesman who struggled between blues and religion like Son House, blues artists who moonlighted by singing gospel like Charlie Patton, Blind Boy Fuller, Skip, James, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Lemon Jefferson, among many others and those bluesmen who eventually turned full time to religion like Robert Wilkins, Rev. Gary Davis, Georgia Tom, Rube Lacey, Ishman Bracey, Gatemouth Moore and many others. On the flipside are artists who straddled blues and gospel like Blind Roosevelt Graves, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and those artists who's musical language was similar to the blues artists, most notably the so-called guitar evangelists like Blind Willie Johnson, Rev. Edward Clayborn, Sister O.M. Terrell and others, plus sanctified singers and groups who's instrumentation drew from secular music like blues and jazz. We explore all this and more on today's program.

Today's title comes from one of my favorite singers, the influential Doctor Clayton. Clayton's vocal style was widely emulated and a number of his songs became blues standards. He first recorded for Bluebird in 1935 cutting six sides four of which went unissued, not recording again until 1941. Between 1941-1942 he recorded four sessions for Bluebird and Okeh. Clayton's final recordings were in February 1946 with a small group led by "Baby Doo" Caston with a final session in August 1946 which is where today's selection, "Angels In Harlem", comes from. The song was covered by Smokey Hogg, Peppermint Harris, Little Son Willis as "Harlem Blues" and by Larry Davis as "Angels In Houston." This is a good  example of a blues song using religious imagery. Another example is Texas Alexander's "Justice Blues" from 1934. The song has lyrical similarity to a number of songs:

I've cried, Lord, my Father, Lord, our kingdom come (2x)
Send me back my woman, then my will be done

I never been to Heaven, people, but I've been told
Says, I never been to Heaven, people, but I've been told
Oh Lord, it's womens up there got their mouths chock full of gold

I'm gonna build me a Heaven, have a kingdom of my own
Gonna build me a Heaven have a kingdom of my own
So these brownskin women can cluster around my throne

The song echoed a line from House' 1930 number "Preachin The Blues:"

Ooh, I wish I had me a heaven of my own (great Godawmighty)
Then I would give all my woman a long, long happy home

These lines would crop up in other blues songs through the years including Lightnin' Hopkins' "I'm Going To Build Me A Heaven Of My Own" which we play today .Also worth noting is Alexander's mockery of the Lord's prayer. This device shows up in a number of songs including John Byrd's mock sermon "The White Mule of Sin" as he has "Sister" Jones lead the prayer:

Our father who art in heaven
The white man owed me ten dollars and I didn't get but seven
Thy kingdom come Thy will be done
I took that or I wouldn't have got none

In our first installment we played "You Shall" by Frank Stokes which uses a similar refrain:

Oh well it's our Father who art in heaven
The preacher owed me ten dollars he paid me seven
Thy kingdom come Thy will be done
If I hadn't took the seven Lord I wouldn't have gotten none

There were slew of related songs that took a cynical, humorous view of the preacher. In our first installment we featured a number of these including Arthur Anderson's "If You Want To Make A Preacher Cuss", Hambone Willie Newbern's "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)", Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe's "Preachers Blues",  Mississippi Sheiks' "He Calls That Religion", Luke Jordan's "Church Bells", Christina Gray's "The Reverend Is My Man", Frank Stokes' "You Shall", Little Esther's "The Deacon Moves In" and Louis Jordan's "Deacon Jones."  We feature  a batch more today including Hi Henry Brown's "Preacher Blues", Champion Jack Dupree's "Deacon's Party" and  The Griffin Brothers' "Double Faced Deacon:"

Well let me tell you about a deacon, top hat long tail coat (2x)
Well he preaches his best while winking at the women folk
Well he preached against gambling, said it was a sin and a shame (2x)
Well he met me in the alley, shot seven for my watch and chain

On "Preacher Blues" from 1932 Hi Henry Brown echoes a similar sentiment:

Preacher in the pulpit, bible in his hand, sister in the corner crying that my man (2x)
Preacher come to your house asking to rest his hat, next hing he wanna know sister, where your husband at? (2x)

Criticism of the preacher and religion isn't confined  to secular artists. We hear a similar complaint from  Rev. Anderson today on "Do You Call That Religion?" and "Denomination Blues" by Washington Phillips:

You're fightin' each other, and think you're doing well
And the sinners on the outside are going to hell. And that's all

 Now the preachers is preachin', and think they're doing well
All they want is your money and you can go to hell. And that's all

 Then there was Reverend A.W. Mosley who delivers the no nonsense "You Preachers Stay Out Of Widow's Houses."

You jack-legged preachers – stay out of widow's houses
Some of the mornings – some of these nights
You goin' to some widow's house
Some grass widow, that you ain't got no business there
They gonna find your body there
But you won't find yo' head
Preacher – stay out of widow's houses

Bessie Smith: On Revival DayIn the heyday of  blues popularity, the late 20's and 30's, there was a marked increase in blues imagery in recorded sermons which were hugely popular during this period. There was F.W. McGhee railing against "Shine-Drinking" and "Women's Clothes (You Can't Hide)" while Rev. Emmett Dickinson  delivered sermons with titles like "Is There Harm In Singing The Blues" and "Sermon On Tight Like That."

 There were quite a number of blues artists who recorded both blues and gospel. I'm not sure if this was commercially driven or heartfelt religious sentiment. Certainly Son House was conflicted  between the blues and religious worlds.  In his younger days House became involved with the Baptist religion, and by the time he was twenty he was preaching in a church near Clarksdale. In his mid-twenties, House heard a guitar player named Willie Wilson (sometimes Willie Williams) playing bottleneck guitar and it changed his life. House bought a battered guitar, Wilson patched it up, put it in Spanish tuning, and soon House was accompanying him. Surprisingly enough, after becoming a bluesman, House continued to preach for awhile, an unlikely combination of careers that speaks of the conflict between religion and blues that would bedevil him the rest of his life. His  "Preachin the Blues", featured in part one, is a savage attack on organized religion—specifically in the form of the Baptist church. In his rediscovery years House recorded and performed religious materiel, sometimes even doing some preaching during his shows.

House's contemporary Charley Patton not only performed and recorded religious songs but for most of his life wrestled with what he thought was a calling to be a preacher. He cut several religious songs: "Prayer of Death" (Parts 1 & 2), "Lord I'm Discouraged", "I Shall Not Be Moved", "Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker", "Some Happy Day, "Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker", "You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Die" and "Oh Death."

Others featured today who recorded both blues and gospel were singer Leola Manning who's vocals seem straight out of the church. Our selection, "He Fans Me", is a religious number but bears a strong resemblance to  Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon's raunchy hit "Fan It." Then there was Crying Sam Collin who cut just a few gospel numbers although he did record several others that were not released. Similarly Julius Daniels cut a mix of blues and gospel as we feature him performing "Slippin' And Slidin' Up The Golden Street." Blind Willie McTell was another who cut a fair number of spiritual sides starting in 1933, some more in 1935 and several for the Library of Congress in 1940. He continued to cut a number of religious sides during his post-war recordings. Skip James, featured today on "Jesus Is a Mighty Good Leader" from his legendary 1931 session, continued to perform and record spiritual numbers during his rediscovery in the 1960's. At his first session in 1930 Bukka White cut two religious numbers and two blues and in advertisement in the Chicago  Defender was billed as the "Singing Preacher."

Unrelated to the Son House song, where several similarly titled songs such as Bessie Smith's "Preachin' The Blues", "Preaching The Blues" by H-Bomb Ferguson and Big Bill Broonzy's "Preachin' The Blues.” In many versions of his life, Broonzy speaks of becoming a preacher for awhile. Unlike the House song, these songs represented the blues singer delivering mock sermons. Ferguson's father was a Baptist preacher who paid for piano lessons for his son condition he learned sacred songs. But Ferguson had other ideas: "After church was over, while the people was all standing outside talking, me and my friends would run back inside and I'd play the blues on the piano." His father would not approve of his 1952 number:

Is all my bothers here, is everybody ready?
Well all you backsliders sit out there and say amen,
And when I get to preaching, you wish you had some gin
Now take old brother Johnson he says he's living right,
I saw him sneaking around with the deacon"s wife last night

Today's program features several so called guitar evangelists. There is only a slight difference between a street-corner blues singer and a sanctified street singer, since both need to hold a crowd and make a few bucks. Blind Willie Johnson is the most famous and greatest of the guitar evangelists. Others from this period include Edward W. Clayborn, A.C. & Blind Mamie Forehand, Blind Willie Brother Willie Eason: I Want To LiveHarris, Willie Mae Williams plus several who recorded slightly later like Rev. Utah Smith, Willie Eason and Sister O.M. Terrell.

In part one we spotlighted  a pair of cuts by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a tremendous guitarist and singer who did  blues sides in her early days but pretty much stuck to gospel for the rest of her lengthy recording career. It's interesting that in the early blues years there were very few guitar playing woman. The biggest name was Memphis Minnie with a few others like Mattie Delaney and Geeshie Wiley who cut a few sides. Tharpe must have been an influence in because on the gospel side there were several fine woman guitarists including Willie Mae Williams and  Sister O.M.  Terrell  both of whom are spotlighted today.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Ma Rainey Titanic Man Blues Mother Of The Blues
Virginia ListonTitanic BluesVirginia Liston Vol. 2 1924-1926
Bessie JonesTitanic Put Your Hand on Your Hip and Let Your Backbone Slip
Ida Cox Pink Slip BluesIda Cox Vol. 5 1939-1940
Guitar Slim & Jelly BellyWorking Man BluesCarolina Blues
Tony Hollins Stamp BluesChicago Blues Vol. 1 1939-1950
William and Versey Smith When That Great Ship Went Down American Primitive Vol. 1
Mance LipscombGod Moves on The WaterTexas Songster Vol. 2
Pink Anderson The Titanic Blues Of Pink Anderson: Ballad & Folksinger Vol. 3
J.B. Lenoir Alabama BluesAlabama Blues
Louisiana RedRide On Red, Ride OnThe Truman & Eisenhower Blues
Wee Bea Booze Uncle Sam Come And Get Him
Sammy Price and the Blues Singers Vol 2. 1939-1949
Snooky Pryor Uncle Sam Don't Take My ManSnooky Pryor and Friends: Pitch A Boogie Woogie
Bill JacksonTitanic BluesLong Steel Rail
Flora Molton & The Truth BandThe TitanicThe Introduction To Living Country Blues USA
Smokey HoggHigh Priced MeatThe Truman And Eisenhower Blues
Lucille SpannMeat Ration BluesCry Before I Go
Blind Willie Johnson God Moves On The WaterThe Complete Blind Willie Johnson
‘Hi’ Henry BrownTitanic BluesCharley Jordan Vol.2 1931-1934
LeadbellyThe TitanicLast Sessions
Roosevelt SykesBad NewsPresident Johnson's Blues
Otis Spann Moon BluesThe Nixon and Ford Blues
B.B. Odom & The EarbendersThe World's In TroublePresident Ford's Blues
Louis JordanYou Can't Get That No MoreRoosevelt's Blues
Cousin JoePost-War Future BluesThe Truman & Eisenhower Blues
Richard 'Rabbit' Brown Sinking Of The Titanic Times Ain't Like They Used To Be Vol. 1
Jim JacksonTraveling ManJim Jackson Vol. 2 1928-1930
Lonnie Johnson Broken Levee Blues The Original Guitar Wizard
Casey Bill WeldonFlood Water Blues No.1Casey Bill Weldon Vol .1 1935-1936
Cousin Joe What A Tragedy Relaxin' In New Orleans

Show Notes:

Much of today's notes and transcriptions have been based on Chris Smith's The Titanic a Case Study Of Religious and Secular Attitudes (see below for full article). The sinking of the Titanic on the night of 14th-5th April 1912 was the first characteristically 20th century transport disaster, the first of the age of mass intercontinental travel; its 1503 deaths dwarfed the losses from the train wrecks that were the typical large-scale accident of its time, and the figure still exceeds the largest toll from an air crash. It is a measure of the impression that was made by the sinking of the Titanic that it found its way into African American music. The Titanic became a topic for both religious and secular singers. Even before recording began, folk song collectors in Alabama, the Carolinas, Georgia and Mississippi were noting down songs about the Titanic from black informants as early as 1915.

Around 1913 there was a proto-blues about the Titanic sung by Butler "String Bean" May a star of African-American vaudeville.  As Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff describe in Ramblin' on My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues: "'Beans' was known throughout black America for his street-wise humor, contortive  vernacular dancing, and outrageous blues piano playing." He was popularly known as the "The Elgin Movements Man" and "some time before the end of 1913, String Beans combined his metaphor of 'Elgin movements' with the theme of the sinking of the Titanic to produce, his irreverent tour de force 'Titanic Blues'." W.C. Handy was an eyewitness to a performance with the following lyrics recalled:

I was on dat great Titanic
De night dat she went down
Ev'rybody  wondered
Why I didn't drown-
I had dem Elgin movements in ma hips,
Twenty years' guarantee !

A relatively small percentage of blues deals directly with overt protest but there were many more about community events; there were numerous songs about natural disasters such as floods, drought, storms and fire, songs about cultural figures like Joe Louis, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King and John Kennedy, songs about politics, war, urban renewal, prostitution and even racism and of course countless songs about the depression, hard times and welfare. Taken together these songs form an oral history of black America at a time when black Americans had few outlets for self-expression. On today's show we spin over a dozen songs related to the Titanic as well as a batch of topical numbers we haven't played on previous shows.

Ma Rainey’s “Titanic Man Blues” recorded in New York in December 1925, is the first documented blues that refers in any way to the sinking although, in true blues fashion, the song refers not to the actual disaster but to her lover who is compared to the Titanic: "Rig you up like a ship at sea/But you sunk an’ made a fool of me." “Titanic Blues” recorded by Virginia Liston in Chicago on the 29th of May 1926, was the next blues recorded about the Titanic. It was structured in much the same way as Ma Rainey’s song and it used a small part of that song’s chorus but it was more a ballad about the actual sinking. Leadbelly recorded his Titanic song on more than one occasion and it owes its structure as Ma Rainey's song. Our version, "The Titanic",  is from his last sessions in 1948. Leadbelly claimed he learned the song in 1912.

"When That Great Ship Went Down" was heard sung by African-Americans as early as 1915 or 1916. It was William and Versey Smith who made the first recording of "When That Great Ship Went Down" in 1927:

On a Monday morning, just about nine o'clock.
Great Titanic began to reel and rock;
Children weepin' and cry,
"Yes, I'm going to die!"

Wasn't it sad when that great ship went down?
Sad when that great ship went down (2x)
Husbands and wives. Children lost their lives.
Wasn't it sad when that great ship went down?

When that ship left England, making for the shore,
The rich had declared that they would not ride with the poor.
Put the poor below,
Where first they had to go.

African Americans expressed their sympathy with the dead but they saw the disaster as God's punishment for the supposed boast of the ship's builders that God could not sink it. For many singers, the disaster was a kind of modern “tower of Babel”, God punishing man’s arrogance, especially among black singers who saw in the disaster God’s punishment for the segregationist policies of the boat’s company (Black were not allowed on board). "God Moves on The Water” is the other religious song about the Titanic. The song was collected by folklorist Dorothy Scarborough and published in 1919, but first issued on record in a 1929 by Blind Willie Johnson. We play another version today by songster Mance Lipscomb who learned the song from Johnson.

Another early song about the Titanic was by Richard "Rabbit" Brown who was most likely born around 1880 in or near New Orleans, Louisiana. On March 11, 1927, Brown waxed six sides for Victor. "Sinking of the Titanic" brought Rabbit Brown a form of recognition seldom given to a songster in his time. Abbe Niles noted the song in his music column in The Bookman for July, 1928. The entire text of the song was reproduced and a meager biography, courtesy of Ralph Peer, also accompanied the lyrics. Brown "sang to his guitar in the streets of New Orleans, and he rowed you out into Lake Pontchartrain for a fee, and sang to you as he rowed." In 1929 a Blind Willie Harris recorded one 78 and it's been suggested this was a pseudonym for Brown.

A year later Jim Jackson cut "Traveling Man" which had verses about the Titanic:

He run and jumped on this Titanic ship,
And started up that ocean blue;
He looked out and spied that big iceberg,
And right overboard he flew:
All the white ladies on the deck of the ship
Said that man certainly was a fool,
But when that Titanic ship went down
He's shootin' craps in Liverpool

The earliest collected version of "Traveling Man" is from North Carolina in 1919. The song was recorded by numerous performers (not all with the Titanic lyrics) such as Coley Jones, Luke Jordan, Pink Anderson as well as by several white country artists.

In 1932, the St. Louis guitarist 'Hi' Henry Brown accompanied by Charley Jordan, recorded  'Titanic Blues. "This song, Chris Smith writes, is notable for having been, until recently, the only 12 bar blues on the subject.

We hear later Titanic songs by Bill Jackson, Flora Molton, Johnny Otis and Cousin Joe. Bill Jackson's "Titanic Blues" comes from his lone album, Long Steel Rail, recorded in Philadelphia, in 1962 by Pete Welding and issued on the Testament label. Flora Molton And The Truth Band recorded "The Titanic" in 1980. Molton began preaching at the age of 17, not taking up guitar until 1943, when she moved to Washington DC. Virtually blind, she supported herself by playing in the streets. From 1963, she made appearances on the folk circuit, and was later visited Europe in 1987. She released self-produced singles in the 70's and had an album's worth of material issued on the L+R label that was recorded by Axel Kunster and Ziggy Christmann as part of the Living Country Blues series in 1980. A couple of other full-length albums appeared in the late 80's.

One version we won't be playing today (I've included it below) is the x-rated "Hey Shine" by Delmar Evans backed the Johnny Otis band cut in 1970. As Chris Smith notes: "For an unambiguous Titanic-based song about relations between the races, we must turn to another alter ego of the Traveling Man, Shine. 'Shine & The Titanic' is by and for blacks; usually, it is a 'toast', or narrative poem, relentlessly obscene like almost all toasts…"

We conclude the show with a Titanic song by Cousin Joe from his final album, Relaxin In New Orleans. Chris Smith writes: "In 1985, the New Orleans singer and pianist Cousin Joe recorded his last album. On it, no doubt in response to Bob Ballard's location of the wreck, he included what will probably be the last black song about the Titanic, 'What A Tragedy'":

Now a rich man asked me to save his life,
He would give me half his wealth;
I said, 'I'm very sorry, mister,
But I've really got to save myself'

When I jumped in the water,
Everybody said, 'Look at that fool ;'
But when that Titanic ship hit the bottom,
I was in Harlem shootin' pool.

Oh what a tragedy, when the Titanic ship went down (2X),
I used strategy during the tragedy; that's why I was nowhere around.

I'm not going to talk about today's other topical numbers but I do want to mention that several of the tracks come from the companion CD's to books written by Guido Van Rijn. Rijn has written a series of important books on topical blues: Roosevelt's Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on FDR, The Truman and Eisenhower Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs 1945-1960, Kennedy's Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on JFK, President Johnson's Blues: African American Blues and Gospel Songs on LBJ, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Vietnam 1963-1968 and The Nixon and Ford Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on Vietnam, Watergate, Civil Rights and Inflation 1969-1976.

Related Items:

-The Titanic a Case Study Of Religious and Secular Attitudes by Chris Smith (Saints and Sinners; Religion, Blues and Devil in African-American Music and Literature Proceedings of the Conference held at the Universite of Liege, October 1991 [SLGM, Liege, 1996 p. 213-227] [PDF]

-Delmar Evans with Johnny Otis – Hey Shine ( Snatch and the Poontangs, 1969) [MP3]

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Son HousePreachin' The BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Charlie PattonPrayer of DeathScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Bukka White I Am In The Heavenly WayGoodbye Babylon
Robert Wilkins That's No Way To Get AlongMemphis Blues 1928-1935
Robert Wilkins Holy Ghost TrainThis Old World's In A Hell Of A Fix
Christina GrayThe Reverend Is My ManFemale Blues Singers Vol. 7 G/H 1922-1929
Bessie SmithPreachin' The BluesThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Sister O.M. TerrellThe Bible's RightGoodbye Babylon
Monkey JoePreach, Pray And MoanMonkey Joe Vol. 1 1935-1939
Frank Stokes You ShallThe Best Of
Sister Rosetta TharpeTrouble In Mind The Original Soul Sister
Sister Rosetta TharpeDown By The Riverside The Original Soul Sister
Arthur AndersonIf You Want To Make A Preacher CussField Recordings Vol. 9
Hambone Willie NewbernNobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does )Don't Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Memphis Minnie & Kansas JoePreachers BluesMemphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 2 1929-1930
Rev Anderson JohnsonGod Don't Like It Get Right With God: Hot Gospel 1947-1953
Robert JohnsonPreachin' The BluesThe Centennial Collection
John Lee Hooker Burnin' HellBurnin' Hell
Sylvester WeaverDevil BluesSylvester Weaver Vol. 2 1927
Lonnie JohnsonShe's Makin' Whoopee in Hell TonightThe Original guitar Wizard
Roosevelt GravesWoke Up This Morning (With My Mind on Jesus)Blind Roosevelt Graves 1929-1936
Roosevelt GravesNew York BluesBlind Roosevelt Graves 1929-1936
Blind Willie JohnsonYou'll Need Somebody on Your BondBlind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists
Arizona DranesI Shall Wear A CrownVintage Mandolin Music
Rev. Utah SmithGod's Mighty HandBlind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists
Josh WhitePure Religion HalliluJosh White Vol. 1 1929-33
Rev. Gary DavisYou Got To Go Down
Meet You At The Station
Georgia TomHow About YouThe Essential
Georgia TomMaybe It's The BluesThe Essential
Luke JordanChurch BellsDon't Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Ben CurryAdam And Eve In The GardenAlabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924-1949
Mississippi SheiksHe Calls That ReligionBlues images Vol. 3
Louis JordanDeacon JonesLet The Good Times Roll 1938-1954
Harlem HamfatsHallelujah Joe Ain't Preachin' No MoreHarlem Hamfats Vol. 2 1936-1937
Little EstherThe Deacon Moves In Midnight At The Barrelhouse

Show Notes:

Today's show examines the intersection between blues and religious music. In the early 1900's, blues singing was associated with the brothel, juke joint, and the dregs of African-American society. Black church goers called it the "Devils' Music" as the following quote, told to Paul Oliver, reflects: "When she was singin' the blues I told her-she was pavin' her way to Hell," said Emma Williams of her daughter', the blues singer Mary Johnson…" This view was also shared by some former blues singers: "A man's who's singin' the blues- I think it's a sin because it cause other people to sin," said Lil Son Jackson" who gave up blues for the church. As Oliver notes, "Musically the blues and the spirituals, or the spirituals' successor, the gospel song, may have stemmed from common sources. But in the recording era, though they shared on occasion similar instrumentation and voices, they were separate and distinct." Despite this divide, religious imagery is prevalent throughout blues music, particularly the blues of the 20's and 30's; songs talk about the devil, make fun of the preachers, deacons and reverends, use biblical imagery and speak of the afterlife, both heaven and hell in frank terms. In addition there's a slew of bluesman who struggled between blues and religion like Son House, blues artists who moonlighted by singing gospel like Charlie Patton, Blind Boy Fuller, Skip, James, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Lemon Jefferson, among many others and those bluesmen who eventually turned full time to religion like Robert Wilkins,  Rev. Gary Davis, Georgia Tom, Rube Lacey, Ishman Bracey, Gatemouth Moore and many others. On the flipside are artists who straddled blues and gospel like Blind Roosevelt Graves, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and those artists who's musical language was similar to the blues artists, most notably the so-called guitar evangelists like Blind Willie Johnson, Rev. Edward Clayborn, Sister O.M. Terrell and others, plus sanctified singers and groups who's instrumentation drew from secular music like blues and jazz. We explore all this and more on the first installment of a two-part feature on blues and religion.

Today's title takes its name from the famous 1930 Son House recording, "Preachin the Blues", a savage attack on organized religion—specifically in the form of the Baptist church:

Oh, I'm gonna get me religion, I'm gonna join the Baptist Church (2X)
Oh, I'm gonna be a Baptist preacher and I sure won't have to work

I'm gonna preach these blues an' I want everybody to shout
Oooo…oh, I want everybody to shout
I'm gonna do like a prisoner, I'm gonna roll my time out

Oh, in my room, I bow down to pray (2X)
But the blues came along and blowed my spirit away

Oooh, I'd've had religion on this very day (2X)
But the womens and whiskey well they would no let me pray

In his younger days House became involved with the Baptist religion, and by the time he was twenty he was preaching in a church near Clarksdale. In his mid-twenties, House heard a guitar player named Willie Wilson (sometimes Willie Williams) playing bottleneck guitar and it changed his life. House bought a battered guitar. Wilson patched it up, put it in Spanish tuning, and soon House was accompanying him. Surprisingly enough, after becoming a bluesman, House continued to preach for awhile, an unlikely combination of careers that speaks of the conflict between religion and blues that would bedevil him the rest of his life. In 1936 Robert Johnson would do his version of the number. However, in 1934, Texas Alexander cut "Justice Blues" where he sang:

I'm Gonna build me a Heaven, have a Kingdom of my own (2x)
Where these brownskin woman can cluster round my throne

The song echoed a line from House' earlier number:

Ooh, I wish I had me a heaven of my own (great Godawmighty)
Then I would give all my woman a long, long happy home

These lines would crop up in other blues songs through the years including Lightnin' Hopkins' "I'm Going To Build Me A Heaven Of My Own." House also addresses the afterlife in "My Black Mama" recorded at the same session:

Yeah it ain't no heaven now, and it ain't no burning hell
Say where I'm going when I die, can't nobody tell

In 1948 John Lee Hooker cut "Burnin' Hell", derived from the House song and featured on today's show:

Everybody talking about that burning Hell
Ain't no Heaven, ain't no burnin' Hell
When I die, where I go, can't nobody tell

Unrelated to the House song where several similarly titled songs featured today such as Bessie Smith's "Preachin' The Blues", "Preaching The Blues" by H-Bomb Ferguson and Big Bill Broonzy's "Preachin' The Blues" which we played a couple of weeks back. In many versions of his life, Broonzy speaks of becoming a preacher for awhile. Unlike the House song, these songs represented the blues singer delivering mock sermons. As Oliver notes, "If the preacher could preach his sermon for God and his congregation, the blues singer could preach the blues for the Devil and those who aligned themselves against the Church. Most preaching parodies were in comic imitation of church sermons, rather than attempts at blues parallels to religious sermons."

The criticism of the preacher in House' song is reflected in a slew of related songs that took a cynical, humorous view of the preacher: Arthur Anderson's "If You Want To Make A Preacher Cuss", a field recording captured by Lawernce Gellert, Hambone Willie Newbern's "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)", Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe's "Preachers Blues", Hi Henry Brown's "Preacher Blues", Bob Robinson's "The Preacher Must Get some Sometimes", Mississippi Sheiks' "He Calls That Religion", Luke Jordan's "Church Bells", Christina Gray's "The Reverend Is My Man", Frakn Stokes' "You Shall", Little Esther's "The Deacon Moves In" and Louis Jordan's "Deacon Jones." The Mississippi Sheiks deliver a litany of problems with the preacher in "He Calls That Religion" which opens:

Well the preacher used to preach to try and save our souls
But now he preaches just to buy jelly roll
Well he calls that religion, but I know he's going to hell when he dies

and concludes:

Old Deacon Johnson was a preachin' king
they caught him round the house tryin' to shake that thing
Well he calls that religion, but I know he's going to hell when he dies

The subject of many of these songs was the preacher doing the very things he was railing against in his sermons, namely reveling in liqueur and sex as the Sheiks refer to it with the common blues term, "jelly roll." In "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)" Newbern sings:

Nobody knows what the good deacon's doing
I declare when the lights go out

While Luke Jordan sang:

And that lowdown dirty deacon
Stole my girl and gone

There was another song of this type that has roots in a widely known song that dates from before the turn of the century, called "Po' Mourner" or "You Shall Be Free." An early stanza went:

Some folks say a nigger won't steal
But I caught two in my cornfield

This was transposed to "preacher" in blues songs as in "You Shall" by Frank Stokes:

Oh well it's our Father who art in heaven
The preacher owed me ten dollars he paid me seven
Thy kingdom come Thy will be done
If I hadn't took the seven Lord I wouldn't have gotten none

Oh well some folks say that a preacher won't steal
I caught about eleven in the watermelon field Just a cutting and a slicing got to tearing up the vine
They's eating and talking most all the time

Oh well you see a preacher lay behind the log
A hand on the trigger got his eye on the hog
The hog said mmm he gun said zip
Jumped on the hog with all his grip

Now when I first went over to Memphis Tennessee
I was crazy about the preachers as I could be
I went out on the front porch a walking about
Invite the preacher over to my house

He washed his face he combed his head
And next thing he want to do was slip in my bed
I caught him by the head man kicked him out the door
Don't allow my preacher at my house no more

In the first verse Stokes uses the Lord's Prayer to make fun or the preacher. A variation of this also turns up in a Texas Alexander song "Justice Blues" which was mentioned earlier. The line "some folks say that a preacher won't steal" is one that also appears in another of today's featured songs, "Preacher's Blues", by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy. The caricature of the lecherous deacon persisted as evidenced by Louis Jordan's 1943 send up "Deacon Jones" (selected verses):

Who gets all the chicken breast
And leaves all the gizzards for the rest?
Deacon Jones, yes yes yes

And when a sister's feeling blue,
Who's always there to woo?
Deacon Jones, oh yeah

And before any of the church money is spent,
Who takes out his usual ten percent?
You guessed it … Deacon Jones

There was also  Little Esther's "The Deacon Moves In" from 1951:

Look out there Deacon
Do you really think I'm gonna weaken
Well now, sister pigeon
If you really want that true religion
You betta do what I say and see things my way

Later in the song one of the band members announces that "prayer meeting is downstairs." Also from 1953 was Wynonie Harris' "The Deacon Don't Like It." The latter song is related to the song "God Don't Like It" which was recorded by Blind Willie McTell in 1935, Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1939 and Rev.Anderson Johnson in 1953 which is the one we feature today. The song starts by railing against drinking:

So many people say they done cut whiskey out, just let them have a little wine
Lord they get sorta drunk every once in awhile, they must been drinking moonshine
But God don't like it (I don't either), sin ain't it a shame

And later takes takes a jab at the preacher, similar to the blues songs mentioned above:

Well the preacher went to the sister's house, she asked him to rest his hat
Now he began to laugh and grin said sister tell me where your husband at
But God don't like it (I don't either), sin ain't it a shame

Johnson cut two sessions in the 50's playing remarkable steel guitar gospel for the labels Angel and Glory. He began preaching as a child and in later years became noted for his folk art murals. He passed in 1998.

Today's program features several so called guitar evangelists. There is only a slight difference between a street-corner blues singer and a sanctified street singer, since both need to hold a crowd and make a few bucks. Blind Willie Johnson is the most famous and greatest of the guitar evangelists. Others from this period include Edward W. Clayborn, A.C. & Blind Mamie Forehand, Blind Willie Harris plus several who recorded slightly later like Rev. Utah Smith, Willie Eason and Sister O.M. Terrell.  Also worth mention is pianist Arizona Dranes who's playing has strong affinities to blues. Smith,Terrell and Dranes are all represented today.

Smith first was a traveling evangelist out of the Churches Of God In Christ before he settled in New Orleans. There he founded the Two Wings Temple and the song "Two Wings" became his theme song. Smith oftentimes used two wings while singing this song. Even before he came to New Orleans he played an electric guitar. He toured the South and was famous for this particular song. Smith recorded "Two Wings" first in 1944, but the 1953 recording is the more famous one. Sister Rosetta Tharpe stated Smith being one of the great "old" guitar players in gospel music.

Terrell was an itinerant "Holy Ghost Preacher" who recorded six sides for Columbia Records in 1953, and never recorded again. From the Depression years of the 1930's to the'50s, Sister Terrell lived the life of an itinerant evangelist and supported herself with her music.

Arizona Dranes is the most important performer for introducing 'hot' piano style to African American gospel music," says blues historian David Evans. Dranes had been living in Dallas when she was discovered by a traveling Okeh talent scout in early 1926. At the time, most gospel performances were vocal only or accompanied by guitar, but Dranes stood out with her boogie-woogie piano. Her inaugural session featured the vocals of blues singer Sara Martin. Dranes became Okeh's biggest gospel star. She began recording in 1926 with OKeh Records, first as a solo artist and later with choirs and various other artists and groups. Although she last recorded in 1928, she continued touring through the 1940s.

Everyone knows the story of Robert Johnson and the crossroads and his songs like "Hellhound On My Trail" and Me And The Devil" but devil references in blues songs were common in the 30's and 40's. Clara Smith sung "Done Sold It To The Devil" as early as 1924. Artists like Peetie Wheatstraw (who went by the nicknames The Devil's Son-In-Law and The High Sheriff of Hell), Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson, Sippie Wallace, Bessie Smith, Sylvester Weaver and others all used devil imagery in their songs. We play a trio of such songs today as performed Weaver, Lonnie Johnson (a prime influence on Robert Johnson) and Washboard Sam.

Several artists started off as blues artists and only to renounce the music for the spiritual world like Robert Wilkins, Rube Lacey, Ishman Bracey, Gatemouth Moore and others while others seem to have a foot in both worlds like Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Roosevelt Graves among others. There were also many blues singers who recorded the occasional gospel sides, sometimes under their own name but often under a pseudonym, such as Charlie Patton, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Willie McTell, Skip James, Son Bonds and numerous others. Then there were the gospel artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe who flirted with blues and gospel.

Charlie  Patton for instance, not only performed and recorded religious songs but for most of his life wrestled with what he thought was a calling to be a preacher. He cut several religious songs (some as Elder J.J. Hadley): "Prayer of Death" (Parts 1 & 2), "Lord I'm Discouraged", "I Shall Not Be Moved", "Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker", "Some Happy Day, "Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker", "You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Die" and "Oh Death."

Two months after his father's death, Josh White left home with a blind, black street singer named Blind Man Arnold, who he had agreed to lead across the South to collect coins after performances. Over the next eight years, he rented the boy's services out to different blind street singers, including Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, and Blind Joe Taggart (Taggart cut close to three-dozen sides, all religious, except for two most likely cut by him under the pseudonym Blind Percy & His Blind Band). While guiding Taggart in 1927, White arrived in Chicago. Mayo Williams, a producer for Paramount Records, recognized White's talents and began using him as a session guitarist. He backed up many artists for recordings before recording his first popular Paramount recording as well as recording with Taggert.Late in 1930, New York's ARC Records sent two A&R men to find Joshua White. They found him at his mother's home in Greenville, NC. After promising Mrs. White that they would not record the "Devil's Music", and only have Josh record religious songs, she finally agreed to sign a contract for $100. White moved to New York City, billed as "Joshua White – The Singing Christian". Within a few months, after recording all of his religious repertoire, ARC explained to White that he could make more money if he also recorded the blues repertoire he had learned, in addition to working as a session man for other artists. White, at 18 and still underage, signed a new contract under the name "Pinewood Tom" in 1932 and began cutting blues.

Early musical experiences at Center Raven Baptist Church in Gray Court, South Carolina, were at the core of strong religious convictions that helped Gary Davis cope with blindness, and in 1937 he was ordained as minister of the Free Baptist Connection Church in Washington, North Carolina. For years he toured as a singing gospel preacher and also sang on the streets, mostly in Durham. During this period he crossed paths and eventually recorded with Blind Boy Fuller and other "Piedmont style" musicians, including Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. By 1940 Reverend Davis had found his way to New York City, where he was ordained minister of Missionary Baptist Connection Church. Here his recording career began in earnest, cutting numerous albums for a variety of labels.

"Georgia Tom" Dorsey first gained recognition as a blues pianist in the 1920s and later became known as the father of gospel music for his role in developing, publishing, and promoting the gospel blues. He registered his first religious piece in 1922 and became director of music at New Hope Baptist Church, where he fused sacred music with his blues technique. Dorsey continued playing the blues as well, and in 1924 Ma Rainey chose him to organize and lead her Wild Cats Jazz Band. However, Dorsey's greatest blues success came in 1928 when "Tampa Red" brought him the lyrics to a song called "It's Tight like That," and the two had an instant, hit. Under the name "Georgia Tom," Dorsey recorded more than sixty sides with Tampa Red, in addition to accompanying many famous blues performers, including Scrapper Blackwell, Big Bill Broonzy, Frankie Jaxson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Memphis Minnie, and Victoria Spivey. In 1932 he renounced blues music. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Dorsey worked extensively with Mahalia Jackson, establishing Jackson as the preeminent gospel singer and Dorsey as the dominant gospel composer of the time.

Not long after Robert Wilkins made his final blues sessions in 1935 his philosophy of life went through a radical switch, the catalyst being the casual violence and sleazy atmosphere of one of the typical house party gigs that he played. Apparently, it was enough to make him believe this music really was an instrument of the devil. Shortly after he joined the Church of God in Christ. He recorded only sparingly in later years; he cut one full length album Memphis Gospel Singer in 1964 plus several sides on various anthologies. He reworked "That's No Way To Get Along" on his 1964 album, Memphis Gospel Singer, into the gospel song "Prodigal Son" which was covered by the Rolling Stones on their 1968 Beggars Banquet album.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is widely acclaimed among the greatest Sanctified gospel singers of her generation. She was a flamboyant performer whose music often flirted with the blues and swing, she was also one of the most controversial talents of her day, shocking purists with her leap into the secular market—by playing nightclubs and theaters, pushing spiritual music into the mainstream. Tony Heilbut, in his book The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times, wrote that Tharpe "could pick blues guitar like a Memphis Minnie." He added that "her song style was filled with blues inversions, and a resonating vibrato. She bent her notes like a horn player, and syncopated in swing band manner. Above all, she had showmanship. … And, starting in 1938, she triumphed as no gospel singer has done since."

Roosevelt Graves hailed from southeastern Mississippi, born in 1909 without the ability to see. By his teens, he was a 12-string guitar playing street musician performing with his half-blind brother and guide Aaron (not Uaroy, as has often been reported), who backed him on tambourine and harmony vocals. H.C. Spier, the talent broker from Jackson, apparently played a role in securing recording sessions for "Blind Roosevelt Graves and Brother," as they were dubbed, first with Paramount in 1929 and later with ARC in 1936. The duo recorded both blues and religious music.

Joe McCoy is probably best know for the many sides he recorded with wife Memphis Minnie and later sang lead for the popular Harlem Hamfats. He seemed to have a short lived conversion and recorded several sermons as Hallelujah Joe. Within a year of cutting his sermons he he cut " Hallelujah Joe Ain't Preachin' No More" with the harlem Hamfats:

Hallelujah Joe (Hallelujah Joe responses throughout)
Ain't preachin' no mo'
Everybody though he was true
When he preach that song about What You Gonna Do?
Hallelujah Joe, ain't preachin' no mo'
He's swinging now so he a
in't gonna preach no mo'

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Blind Lemon JeffersonSunshine SpecialThe Complete Classic Sides
Black Ivory KingThe Flying CrowBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Jack RangerT.P. Window BluesDallas Alley Drag
Kelly PaceRock Island LineField Recordings Vol. 2
LeadbellyMidnight SpecialAlabama Bound
Bukka WhiteStreamline SpecialThe Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Cripple Clarence LoftonStreamline TrainCripple Clarence Lofton Vol. 1 1935-1939
Henry ThomasRailroadin' SomeGood For What Ails You
Leroy CarrMemphis TownSloppy Drunk
Charlie McCoyThat Lonesome Train Took...Charlie McCoy 1928-1932
Furry LewisKassie JonesBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Jesse JamesSouthern Casey JonesPiano Blues Vol. 1 1927-1936
Two Poor BoysJohn HenryAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Lucille BoganT& NO BluesLucille Bogan Vol. 2 1930-1933
Sparks BrothersI.C. Train BluesThe Sparks Brothers 1932-1935
Little Brother MontgomeryA. & V. Railroad BluesLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Eddie MillerFreight Train BluesDown On The Levee
Hound Head HenryFreight Train SpecialCow Cow Davenport - The Accompanist 1924-1929
Trixie SmithFreight Train BluesTrixie Smith Vol. 2 1925-1939
Martha CopelandHobo BillMartha Copeland Vol. 1 1923-1927
Will BennettRailroad BillSinners & Saints 1926-1931
Sam CollinsYellow Dog BluesWhen The Levee Breaks
Robert JohnsonLove In VainThe Road to Robert Johnson
Willie BrownM&O BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Roosevelt SykesThe Train Is ComingRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 5 1937-1939
Cow Cow DavenportRailroad BluesCow Cow Davenport Vol. 2 1929-1945
Sylvester WeaverRailroad Porter BluesSylvester Weaver Vol. 2
Sleepy John EstesSpecial Agent (Railroad Police Blues)I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
Billiken JohnsonSun Beam BluesDallas Alley Drag
Andrew and Jim BaxterKC Railroad BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
George NobleThe Seminole BluesChicago Piano 1929-1936
Pink Anderson & Simmnie DooleyC.C. and O. BluesA Richer Tradition
Blind Willie McTellTravelin' BluesThe Classic Years 1927-1940

Show Notes:

When a woman get the blues, she goes to her room and hides (2x)
When a man gets the blues, he catches a freight train and rides
(Trixie Smith, Freight Train Blues)

For southern Blacks the appeal of the railroads has always been both a real and a symbolic one. For them the train was a symbol of power, of freedom and escape.  As blues historian Paul Oliver wrote: “In the slavery periods when they were unable to travel between districts without written ‘bonds’ from their owners, the snorting engines, with brilliant furnaces traces their progress and clouds of black smoke that hung in the still air above the tracks long after the screaming whistles had died away, inspired them in awe which their descendants still retain.” This image carried on, in the hard times of the 1920's and 1930s', when the southern Blacks struggled to make a living and saw the northern cities as their saviors, where work was plentiful and a better life was to be had. As the blues developed, the railroad featured prominently in the songs. Numerous songs were sung about individual trains such as the Flying Crow, the Sunshine Special and the Panama Limited, many simply abbreviated like the C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio), T&P (Texas Pacific) or the L&N (Louisville and Nashville), many songs dealt with the hobos who rode the rails, others dealt with working for the railroad while other songs retold the famous railroad ballads of John Henry, Railroad Bill and Casey Jones. Today’s show will spotlight all of these types of railroad blues.

The title of today's program comes from the song by Henry Thomas. Thomas, nicknamed “Ragtime Texas”, was born in 1874 in Big Sandy, Texas. The 1874 date marks him as one of the eldest-born blues performers on record. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him from a former railroad conductor, “Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I’d always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was a regular hobo, but I’d carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket.” Speaking of his famous “Railroadin’ Some”, William Barlow calls it the most “vivid and intense recollection of railroading” in all the early blues recorded in the 1920’s.

Among the famous railroad songs featured today are two associated with Leadbelly, "Rock Island Line" and 'Midnight Special", and the folk ballads Casey Jones, John Henry and Railroad Bill. John Lomax recorded "Rock Island Line" at the Cummins State Prison farm, Gould, Arkansas, in 1934 from its convict composer, Kelly Pace. Leadbelly, who was with Lomax at the time, rearranged it in his own style, and made commercial recordings of it in the forties. The song refers to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Lyrics appearing in the "Midnight Special" were first recorded in print by Howard Odum in 1905. The song was first commercially recorded on the OKeh label in 1926 as "Pistol Pete's Midnight Special" by Dave "Pistol Pete" Cutrell and the following year by bluesman Sam Collins. In 1934 Lead Belly recorded a version of the song at Angola Prison for John and Alan Lomax, who mistakenly attributed it to him as the author. Leadbelly recorded at least three versions of the song, including the one we feature with the Golden Gate Quartet.

John Luther "Casey" Jones was an American railroad engineer from Jackson, Tennessee who worked for the Illinois Central Railroad. On April 30, 1900, he alone was killed when his passenger train collided with a stalled freight train at Vaughan, Mississippi on a foggy and rainy night. His dramatic death trying to stop his train and save lives made him a folk hero who became immortalized in a popular song. We spin two versions on today's program: "Kassie Jones Pt. 1" by Furry Lewis and "Southern Casey Jones" by Jesse James.

John Henry is an American folk hero, notable for having raced against a steam powered hammer and won, only to die in victory with his hammer in his hand. He has been the subject of numerous songs, stories, plays, and novels. The truth about John Henry is obscured by time and myth, but one legend has it that he was a slave born in Missouri in the 1840s and fought his notable battle with the steam hammer along the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in Talcott, West Virginia. On today's show we play a version by the duo The Two Poor Boys.

The legend of Railroad Bill arose in the winter of 1895, along the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad line in southern Alabama. Based loosely on the exploits of an African American outlaw known as "Railroad Bill," tales of his brief but action-filled career on the wrong side of the law have been preserved in song, fiction, and theater. He has been variously portrayed as a "Robin Hood" character, a murderous criminal and a nameless victim of the Jim Crow South. He was never conclusively identified, but L&N detectives claimed he was a man named Morris Slater. Today we spin  "Railroad Bill" by Will Bennett.

Featured today are several songs about specific trains or railroad lines. Our opening track "Sunshine Special" by Blind Lemon Jefferson refers the train of the same name which was inaugurated by the Missouri Pacific Railroad on December 5, 1915, providing service between St. Louis, Little Rock, and destinations in Texas. The Sunshine Special served as the flagship of Missouri Pacific Railroad's passenger train service. Several songs make reference to the Flying Crow, a train line connecting Port Arthur, Texas to Kansas City with major stops in Shreveport and Texarkana. Black Ivory King, Carl Davis & the Dallas Jamboree Jug Band, Dusky Dailey, Washboard Sam and Oscar Woods all recorded songs about the train. Other songs dealing with specific trains featured today include Jack Ranger's "T.P. Window Blues" ( Texas Pacific Railroad), Lucille Bogan's "T& NO Blues" (Texas and New Orleans Railroad), Sparks Brothers' "I.C. Train Blues" (Illinois Central Railroad), Little Brother Montgomery's "A. & V. Railroad Blues" (Alabama & Vicksburg Railroad), Willie Brown's "M&O Blues" (Mobile and Ohio Railroad), Billiken Johnson's "Sun Beam Blues" (Sunbeam was a named passenger train operated from 1925 to 1955 between Houston and Dallas by the Texas and New Orleans Railroad), Andrew and Jim Baxter's "K C Railroad Blues" (Kansas City Southern Railway), George Noble's "The Seminole Blues" (Seminole Gulf Railway), and Pink Anderson & Simmnie Dooley's "C.C. and O. Blues" (Chesapeake and Ohio). Sam Collins' "Yellow Dog Blues" seems to refer to two trains. In 1903 W.C. Handy related how he heard a lean, raggedy, black guitarist in Tutwiler’s railroad depot, singing of going to where the "Southern cross the Yellow Dog." The “Southern” was the Southern Railway which began operations in 1894.“The Dog” was the Yellow Dog, a name for the Yazoo Delta Railroad which opened in 1897.

Several songs like Bukka White's " Special Streamline" and Cripple Clarence Lofton's "Streamline Train" refer to streamliners. A streamliner is any vehicle that incorporates streamlining to produce a shape that provides less resistance to air. The term is most often applied to certain high-speed railway trainsets of the 1930's to 1950's. For a short time in the late 1930s, the ten fastest trains in the world were all American streamliners.

Other trains immortalized in blues songs will be featured in the sequel to today's show; trains such as the Cannon Ball (an Illinois Central passenger train routing between Chicago and New Orleans, now known as the City of New Orleans), the Santa Fe (Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway), the Seaboard (The Seaboard Coast Line Railroad), the Katy (the Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Texas line), the Big four (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad ) and the New York Central among others.

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