Topical Blues

Champion Jack DupreeJunker Blues Cabbage Greens
Lil GreenKnockin' Myself Out Why Don't You Do Right? 1940-1942
Luke Jordan Cocaine Blues The Songster Tradition
Charley Jordan Just A Spoonful St. Louis Town 1929-1933
Memphis Jug Band Cocaine Habit BluesBest Of
Leadbelly Take A Whiff On Me Important Recordings 1934-1949
Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon Don't Drink It In Here How Low Can You Go: Anthology Of The String Bass
Doctor Clayton Ain't Gonna Drink No MoreDoctor Clayton & His Buddies 1946 & 1947
Clarence Williams Jerry The JunkerClarence Williams 1934
Harlem Hamfats Weed Smoker's Dream Harlem Hamfats Vol. 1 1936
Jo Jo Adams When I'm In My Tea Jo-Jo Adams 1946-1953
Buster BennettReefer Head WomanBuster Bennett 1945-1947
Cee Pee Johnson and His Band The G Man Got The T Man West Coast Jive
Josie Miles Pipe Dream Blues Gennett Jazz
Victoria Spivey Dope Head Blues Blues Images Vol. 4
Memphis Willie B.The Stuff Is Here Introducing Memphis Willie B
Carl MartinIf You're A ViperMartin, Bogan & Armstrong
Papa Charlie Jackson All I Want is a SpoonfulPapa Charlie Jackson Vol. 1 1924-26
Charlie Patton Spoonful Blues Images Vol. 12
Jazz Gillum Reefer Head Woman Roll Dem Bones 1938-1949
Curtis Jones Reefer Hound Blues Curtis Jones Vol. 2 1938-1939
Bumble Bee Slim Bricks In My PillowBumble Bee Slim Vol. 3 1934-1935
Doctor Clayton I Got To Find My Baby Doctor Clayton 1935-1942
Washboard Sam Bucket's Got a Hole in ItWhen The Sun Goes Down
Blue Lu Barker's Don't Make Me High Blu Lu Barker 1938-1939
Trixie SmithJack, I'm Mellow Trixie Smith Vol. 2 1925-1929
Leroy Carr Straight Alky Blues, Pt. 1Whiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Walter DavisSloppy Drunk Again Favorite Country Blues Guitar-Piano Duets 1929-1937
Kokomo Arnold I Can't Get Enough Of That Stuff Kokomo Arnold Vol. 2 1935-1936
Rev. Gary Davis Cocaine BluesBlues & Ragtime
Mance LipscombCocaine Done Killed My Baby Texas Songster Vol. 2
John Lee Hooker Whiskey and WimmenThe Vee-Jay Years Vol. 3
Tiny Grimes & JB SummersDrinking Beer House Party

Show Notes: 

Chicago Defender Ad, December 6, 1930

Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs pop up frequently as the subject of many blues. By far the subject of drinking comes up far more than any of the other topics with hundred upon hundreds of songs all facets of drinking. On our first two shows we spotlighted songs about booze, this time we broaden our reach, featuring songs about other illicit substances. While the topic of drugs shows up in some of the early recorded blues it seems to more associated with jazz, particularly songs about marijuana. The word dope came around during the 19th century opium craze. But by 1927, when Victoria Spivey recorded "Dope Head Blues" the term could apply to all kinds of drugs.

Today we survey a wide variety blues songs about drugs and drinking, the majority from the pre-war era. Many of today's songs were recorded between 1920 and 1933, the era of Prohibition and tightened restrictions on marijuana use, which didn't seem to have any effect on those trying to find those substances. Increased restrictions and labeling of marijuana began in many states from 1906 onward, and outright prohibitions began in the 1920's and by the mid-1930's it was regulated as a drug in every state. Local laws prohibiting cocaine appeared before the drug was banned outright in 1922. Just sixteen days after the Volstead act made Prohibition the law of the land federal agents made their first raid on a speakeasy in Chicago. By the middle of the 1920's bootlegging became a two billion a year industry in which half a million people were employed. Prohibition became the topic of songs and in 1919, even before the law came into effect, vaudeville tenor Irving Kauffman sang "Prohibition drives me insane" in the "Alcoholic Blues." More than any other music, the pleasures and pains of booze were a common topic in blues songs. Drinking was tied to blues culture with the blues thriving places known for drinking like brothels, lumber camps and juke joints.

Today's title comes from Washboard Sam's "Bucket's Got a Hole in It" recorded in 1938. The song is widely attributed to Clarence Williams, who obtained a copyright in 1933. The original melody evolved from the second theme of "Long Lost Blues" published in 1914. The "Long Lost Blues" theme was a variation of "Bucket's Got a Hole in It", a motif that appears in several versions of "Keep A-Knockin." This tune later became the basis for several versions of the song, "You Can't Come In" recorded by multiple artists. However, "Bucket's Got a Hole in It" has also been attributed to Buddy Bolden, which would date it before 1906. Hank Williams had a hit for MGM when his version reached #4 on the country chart in 1949 and Ricky Nelsom cut a tame version of the song in 1958. Washboard Sam's version had lyrics that don't appear in other versions (except for Lil Johnson who did an identical song the prior year):

Gonna start a new racket
Gonna start it out right
Gonna sell moonshine in the day
An peddle dope at night

In 1885 the U.S. manufacturer Parke-Davis sold cocaine in various forms, including cigarettes, powder, and even a cocaine mixture that could be injected directly into the user's veins with the included needle. The company promised that its cocaine products would "supply the place of food, make the coward brave, the silent eloquent and render the sufferer insensitive to pain." Stevedores along the Mississippi River used the drug as a stimulant, and white employers encouraged its use by black laborers. In early 20th-century Memphis, Tennessee, cocaine was sold in neighborhood drugstores on Beale Street, costing five or ten cents for a small boxful. The Memphis Jug Band's “Cocaine Blues”, featured today, dates from the turn of the century (also known as "Take A Whiff on Me"), when cocaine was both legal and endemic in Memphis, with Lehman's Drugstore on Union the main source as Hattie Hart sings:

Went to Mr Lehman's in a lope
Saw a sign on the window said no more dope
Hey, hey, honey take a whiff on me

Champion Jack Dupree - Junker BluesLuke Jordan cut "Cocaine Blues" ("I’m simply wild about my good cocaine") in 1929 which was covered by Dick Justice almost note for note  two years later. Rev. Gary Davis recorded a version much later that he says he learnt in 1905, his version introduced the “there’s cocaine all around my brain” lyric. Other cocaine related songs featured today include Leadbelly's "Take A Whiff On Me" plus songs by Charlie Patton and Papa Charlie Jackson. Patton recorded "Spoonful" for Paramount in 1929 which is related to "All I Want Is A Spoonful" by Papa Charlie Jackson from 1925 and "Cocaine Blues" by Luke Jordan. Charley Jordan cut "Just A Spoonful" in 1930. The lyrics relate men's sometimes violent search to satisfy their cravings, with "a spoonful" used mostly as a metaphor for pleasures, which have been interpreted as sex, love, or drugs. "Spoonful" is also the title of a Willie Dixon number first recorded in 1960 by Howlin' Wolf and related to the early versions.

 Cocaine is also referenced in Champion Jack Dupree's famous "Junker Blues" along with other substances. "Junker Blues" was first recorded in 1940 by  Dupree. It formed the basis of several later songs including "The Fat Man" by Fats Domino. The song also served as a template for the classic New Orleans number "Junco Partner."Dupree also sang about drugs on songs like "Weed Head Woman" and "Can't Kick The Habit."

They call, they call me a junker
Cause I'm loaded all the time
I don't use no reefer, I'll be knocked out with that angel wine

Six months, Six months ain't no sentence
And one year ain't no time
They got boys in penitentiary doing from nine to ninety-nine

I was standing, I was standing on the corner
With my reefers in my hand
Up stepped the sergeant took my reefers out of my hand

My brother, my brother used a needle
and my sister sniffed cocaine
I don't use no junk, I'm the nicest boy you ever seen

My mother, my mother she told me
and my father told me too
That that junk is a bad habit, why don't you leave it too?

My sister she even told me
And my grandma told me too
That using junk partner was going to be the death of you

Songs about "reefer" show up in many blues songs but the term seem more associated to jazz. In 1938 Jazz Gillum cut "Reefer Head Woman" ("Mens, please don't take her around/ She will get full of reefers, and raise sand all over this town") and Curtis Jones" waxed "Reefer Hound Blues" ("I'm high off of my reefer, I'm nothing but a reefer hound") while The Harlem Hamfats cut "Weed Smoker's Dream" in 1936. At some point another set of lyrics was attached to the melody that The Harlem Hamfats had recorded as "Weed Smoker's Dream" and fashioned into "Why Don't You Do Right?" Lil Green was the first to recortd the song under that title in 1941. One of the best-known versions of the song, Peggy Lee's, was recorded in 1942, in New York with Benny Goodman which sold over 1 million copies. Speaking of Lil Green, we spin her "Knockin' Myself Out" her 1941 ode to self medication:

Listen girls and boys I got one stick
Give me a match and let me take a whiff quick
I'm gonna knock myself out, I'm gonna kill myself
I'm gonna knock myself out, gradually by degrees

Other reefer related songs played today include Memphis Willie B's "The Stuff Is Here" and Carl Martin's "If You're A Viper." Back in 1936 Martin also cut the drug themed "That New Kind Of Stuff." "The Stuff Is Here And It's Mellow” was recorded by Clarence Williams in 1934 and the following year with lyrics by Cleo Brown. "If You're a Viper" is a jazz song composed by Stuff Smith and recorded by Smith and his Onyx Club Boys in 1936. The song was a hit for Smith and is one of the most frequently covered songs about marijuana. "Viper" was Harlem slang for a pot smoker. From the 1940's we spin Doctor Clayton's "I Gotta Find My Baby ("When my head starts to aching, I grab my hat and go/Cause cocaine and reefers can't reach my case no more") and "When I'm In My Tea" recorded in 1946 by Jo Jo Adams.

Memphis SlimBeer Drinking WomanBoogie After Midnight
Roosevelt SykesTrouble and WhiskeyThe Essential
Charlie SpandRock and RyeBooze & The Blues
Smoky BabeBad WhiskeyLouisiana Country Blues
Lil' Son JacksonBad Whiskey, Bad WomanDown Home Blues Classics: Texas
Sloppy HenryCanned Heat BluesAtlanta Blues
Big Bill BroonzyWhen I Been DrinkingBooze & The Blues
Blind Well McTellBell Street BluesThe Classic Years 1927-1940
Bo CarterLet's Get Drunk AgainThe Essential
Blind BlakeFighting The JugAll The Published Sides
Elder James BeckWine Head Willie Put that Bottle DownElder Charles Beck 1946-1947
Howlin' WolfDrinkin' C.V. WineMemphis Days Vol. 1
Roy Hawkins Wine Drinkin' WomanThe Thrill Is Gone
Papa George Lightfoot Wine, Women, WhiskeyRural Blues
James TisdomWinehead SwingTexas Down Home Blues 1948-1952
Bessie SmithMoonshine BluesThe Complete Recordings
Lucille BoganWhiskey Sellin' WomanLucille Bogan Vol.1 1923-1930
Harlem HamfatsLet's Get Drunk and TruckHarlem Hamfats Vol. 1 1936
State Street SwingersYou Drink Too MuchBooze & The Blues
Blind John DavisBooze Drinking BennyBlind John Davis 1938-1952
Sleepy John EstesDiving Duck BluesI Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
Black AceWhiskey and WomenTexas Slide Guitars: Oscar "Buddy" Woods & Black Ace 1930-1938
Yank RachelHaven't Seen No WhiskeyYank Rachel ?Vol. 2 1938-41
Gene PhilipsStinkin' DrunkDrinkin' & Stinkin'
Boogie Bill WebbDrinkin' And Stinkin'Roosevelt Holts And Friends
Tommy JohnsonAlcohol and Jake Blues Blues Images Vol. 6
Skip JamesDrunken SpreeBlues Images Vol. 2
Robert JohnsonDrunken Hearted Man The Centennial Collection
Champion Jack Dupree You've Been DrunkEarly Cuts
Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson When I Get DrunkThe Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story
Bill Gaither Moonshine By The KegBooze & the Blues
Peetie Wheatstraw Good Whiskey Blues Booze & the Blues
Leroy Carr Hustler's Blues Whiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave

Show Notes:

Sloppy Henry - Canned Heat BluesAlcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs pop up frequently as the subject of many blues. By far the subject of drinking comes up more than any of the other topics with hundred upon hundreds of songs written on all facets of drinking. Today we survey a wide variety blues songs about drinking, the majority from the pre-war era. Many of today's songs were recorded between 1920 and 1933, the era of Prohibition, which didn't seem to have any effect on those trying to find booze. Just sixteen days after the Volstead act made Prohibition the law of the land federal agents made their first raid on a speakeasy in Chicago. By the middle of the 1920's bootlegging became a two billion a year industry in which half a million people were employed. Prohibition became the topic of songs and in 1919, even before the law came into effect, vaudeville tenor Irving Kauffman sang "Prohibition drives me insane" in the "Alcoholic Blues." More than any other music, the pleasures and pains of booze were a common topic in blues songs. Drinking was tied to blues culture with the blues thriving in places known for drinking like brothels, lumber camps and juke joints.

Today's show title comes from Leroy Carr's number "Hustler's Blues" ("Whiskey is my habit, good woman is all I crave/And I don't believe them two things will carry me to my grave"). Between 1928 and 1935 Leroy Carr and his partner Scrapper Blackwell laid down a remarkably consistent body of work of hundreds of sides notable for the impeccable guitar/piano interplay. Carr sang numerous songs about booze including "Sloppy Drunk" which we featured last week, "Hard Times Done Drove Me To Drink", "Corn Licker Blues", "Papa Wants to Knock a Jug", and the prophetic "Straight Alky Blues Pt. 1-3" ('This alcohol is killing me/The doctor said if I don't quit it in a lonely graveyard I will be"). By the time of their final session together in February 1935, Carr's drinking was said to have made him practically unmanageable. He he sunk deeper and deeper into alcoholism which eventually cut his life short; he died in April 1935 just after his 30th birthday.

In the previous show we played Lonnie Johnson's "Drunk Again" in which he sings "People says drinkin' can help them, but drinkin' don't mean a thing/When you think you've drinked away your worries, and you find your fool self drunk again." In a similar sentiment we have Sloppy Henry's "Canned Heat Blues", Blind Willie McTell's "Bell Street Blues", Blind Blake's "Fighting The Jug" and the State Street Swingers "You Drink Too Much." Henry and McTelll echo similar complaints: Henry sings "Canned heat whiskey make you sleep all in your clothes, lay down in your clothes" while McTell sings that "This Bell Street whiskey, make you sleep all in your clothes." Blind Blake's "Fighting The Jug" has a sense of hopeless inevitability as he sings:

I can't sleep and I can't eat (2x)
The woman I love has drive me to drink

I'm deep in a hole somebody else has dug (2x)
Getting sick and tired of fighting that jug

From accounts of his life, Tommy Johnson faced a constant struggle with alcoholism which is reflected in his "Canned Heat Blues", featured last week, and his harrowing "Alcohol and Jake Blues" from 1929:

I drink so much of Jake, till it done give me the limber leg
(spoken: And that's sure to mess you up)
Drinking so much of Jake, till it done give me the limber leg
(spoken: Sure messes you up, boy, [there's no cure for] that)
If I don't quit drinking it every morning, sure gonna kill me dead (spoken: You ain't no lying man)

Black Ace - Whiskey and WomenWhen prohibition was on, people still needed a drink. Sometimes you could get bootleg alcohol, but sometimes you had to improvise from what you could get legally. There are quite a few prohibition-era songs about alcohol substitutes. One was Jamaica Ginger extract, known by the slang name "Jake," which was a late 19th-century patent medicine that provided a convenient way to bypass Prohibition laws, since it contained between 70-80% ethanol by weight. In 1930, large numbers of Jake users began to lose the use of their hands and feet. Some victims could walk, but they had no control over the muscles which would normally have enabled them to point their toes upward. Therefore, they would raise their feet high with the toes flopping downward, which would touch the pavement first followed by their heels. The toe first, heel second pattern made a distinctive “tap-click, tap-click" sound as they walked. This very peculiar gait became known as the jake walk and those afflicted were said to have jake leg, jake foot, or jake paralysis. The term "Jake" and "Canned Heat" turn up in other songs such as Will Shade's "Better Leave That Stuff Alone and  the Mississippi Sheiks' "Jake Leg Blues."Another alternative was Moonshine, the subject of numerous blues songs including Bessie Smith's "Moonshine Blues" from 1924 and Bill Gaither's "Moonshine By The Keg" featured today.

Back in the 1930's Elder Beck railed against booze in his song "Drinking Shine" and was back at in in the 1953 number "Wine Head Willie Put that Bottle Down" a novelty sketch that takes “Open the Door Richard” as its inspiration, pitting a minister against wayward sinner. Beck recorded some 60 recordings for a number of labels spanning the 1930's through the 1950's. In the pre-war era he recorded in 1930, 1937 and 1939. After the Second World War, with the rise of independent record labels, Elder Beck really hit his stride and between 1946 and 1956 he recorded for Eagle, Gotham, King, Chart and possibly other small labels. His final recording was a full-length live LP, Urban Holiness Service, made in December 1957 for Folkways.

Eleder Beck - Wine Head Willie Put That Bottle DownThere's no shortage of songs about whiskey, which seem to be the drink of choice when available although wine seems to be pretty popular as well. Peetie Wheatstraw's "Good Whiskey Blues" from 1935  is one of the few songs that mentions the repeal of the Prohibition act (in later years James Brewer revived the song as "I'm So Glad Good Whiskey's Back"). Other songs on the topic include Yank Rachel's "Haven't Seen No Whiskey", Sleepy John Estes' "Diving Duck Blues" ("Now if the river was whiskey, I was a divin' duck/I would dive on the bottom, never would come up"), Black Ace's "Women and Whiskey", Lucille Bogan's "Whiskey Sellin' Woman", Papa George Lightfoot's "Wine, Women, Whiskey", Lil Son Jackson's "Bad Whiskey Bad Women" ("It's bad whiskey and bad women, oh man, 'bout to take me down/I wake up in the mornin' and I feel like a country clown"), Smoky Babe's "Bad Whiskey" and Roosevelt Sykes' "Trouble and Whiskey." Sticks McGhee McGhee had a smash with "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" in 1949 which James Tisdom covers on "Winehead Swing" from 1950 while Howlin' Wolf sings about "Drinkin' C.V. Wine" and Roy Hawkins sings about his "Wine Drinkin' Woman."

Ma Rainey Booze and BluesMother of The Blues
Charlie Patton Tom Rushen BluesBlues Images Vol. 8
Mississippi SheiksBootlegger's BluesThe Best Of The Mississippi Sheiks
Willie Lofton Beer Garden BluesBlues Images Vol. 12
Pine Top Smith I'm Sober Now Shake Your Wicked Knees
Leroy CarrSloppy DrunkWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Big Bill Broonzy Good Liquor Gonna Carry Me DownMy Rough And Rowdy Ways Vol. 2
Casey Bill Weldon Give Me Another ShotCasey Bill Weldon Vol. 3 1937-1938
Washboard SamNo. 1 DrunkardWashboard Sam Vol. 7 1942-1949
Tommy McClennan Whiskey Headed WomanBluebird Recordings 1939-1942
Wynonie HarrisQuiet WhiskeyLovin' Machine
Lonnie "The Cat" I Ain't DrunkRhythm Rockin' Blues
Gabriel Brown I've Got to Stop Drinkin'Shake That Thing
Lonnie JohnsonDrunk AgainLonnie Johnson -1947-1948
Sonny Boy Williamson IWhiskey Headed BluesThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol.1
Sunnyland SlimEvery Time I Get to Drinkin’Sunnyland Slim 1949-1951
Forest City JoeDrink On Little GirlSounds Of The South
Rev. W.M. MosleyDrinking ShineRev. W.M. Mosley 1926-1931
Rev. Anderson JohnsonGod Don't Like ItGet Right With God: Hot Gospel 1947-1953
Bessie Smith Me and My GinThe Complete Recordings
Elizabeth Washington Whiskey BluesThe Sparks Brothers 1932-1935
Memphis MinnieDrunken Barrel House BluesMemphis Jamboree 1927-1936
Lillian MillerDead Drunk BluesI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Junior Parker Sittin', Drinkin,' Thinkin'The Duke Recordings Vol. 1
Amos Milburn Thinking And DrinkinThe R&B Hits of 1952
Peetie Wheatsraw Drinking Man BluesPeetie Wheatstraw Vol. 3 1935-1936
Tommy JohnsonCanned heat BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Bukka WhiteGood Gin Blues The Complete Bukka White
Lucille Bogan Drinkin' BluesThe Essential
Big Three Trio & Rosetta HowardWhen I Been Drinking Rosetta Howard 1939-1947
Merline JohnsonBad Whiskey BluesOKeh Chicago Blues
Tony HollisWine O WomanChicago Blues Vol. 1 1939-1951
Joseph 'Chinaman' Johnson and GroupDrinkin' That WineOld Rattler Can't Hold Me: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Booze and the BluesAlcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs pop up frequently as the subject of many blues. By far the subject of drinking comes up more than any of the other topics with hundred upon hundreds of songs written on all facets of drinking. Today we survey a wide variety blues songs about drinking, the majority from the pre-war era. Many of today's songs were recorded between 1920 and 1933, the era of Prohibition, which didn't seem to have any effect on those trying to find booze. Just sixteen days after the Volstead act made Prohibition the law of the land federal agents made their first raid on a speakeasy in Chicago. By the middle of the 1920's bootlegging became a two billion a year industry in which half a million people were employed. Prohibition became the topic of songs and in 1919, even before the law came into effect, vaudeville tenor Irving Kauffman sang "Prohibition drives me insane" in the "Alcoholic Blues." More than any other music, the pleasures and pains of booze were a common topic in blues songs. Drinking was tied to blues culture with the blues thriving in places known for drinking like brothels, lumber camps and juke joints.

Today's show title comes from Charlie Patton's 1929 number "Tom Rushen Blues" ("It takes boozy booze, lord, to carry me through/But each day seem like years in the jailhouse when there is no booze") which is modeled after Ma Rainey's “Booze and Blues” from 1924. An apparent arrest for drunkenness led Patton to write this number about the recently-installed high sheriff of Merigold, O.T. Rushing, who had assumed office in 1928 and would hold that position for the next four years.

Both Tommy Johnson's "Canned Heat Blues" and the Mississippi Sheiks' "Bootlegger's Blues" were recorded during Prohibition and deal with two different ways to get booze in this dry time. In 1928 Johnson made his first recordings for Victor Records which included "Canned Heat Blues."Canned heat was a term for the cans of sterno or other portable heating fuels. People drink it, usually strained through a sock or some kind of cloth. It will get you drunk and also maybe kill you or cause you to go blind. The song features the refrain "canned heat, mama, sure, Lord, killing me." The blues group Canned Heat took their name from this song. Bootlegging was a risky business as the Sheiks make clear:

Ever since that state went dry
The bootleggers have to stand shy
They gonna keep out the way of the sheriff if they can

There were  plenty of good time songs about drinking including several featured today like Willie Lofton's jaunty "Beer Garden Blues", Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "Half Pint of Whiskey" and Wynonie Harris' "Quiet Whiskey." On the flip side were songs more acutely aware of the perils of drinking like Gabriel Brown's " I've Got to Stop Drinkin'" ("I'm gonna stop drinkin' to make myself again"), Tommy McClennan's "Whiskey Headed Woman" ( "She's a whiskey headed woman and she stays drunk all the time/Baby, and if you don't stop drinking I believe gonna lose yo' mind") and Peetie Wheatstraw's"Drinking Man Blues" from 1936:

I been drinking that stuff, and it went to my head (2x)
It made me hit the baby in the cradle, ooh well, well, and kill my papa dead

It made me hit the policeman and knock him off his feet (2x)
Taken his pistol and his star, ooh well, well, and walking up and down his beat

While Peetie's tale may be a bit fanciful (I hope),  his sometime partner Lonnie Johnson penned "Drunk Again" in 1947 a song that has an insightful, realistic approach to alcohol:

I've been drinkin' all night long, I've started again today (2x)
I'm just tryin' my best, to drink these blues away

People says drinkin' can help them, but drinkin' don't mean a thing (2x)
When you think you've drinked away your worries, and you find your fool self drunk again

Friends, I drink to keep from worryin', and I smile just to keep from cryin' (2x)
I try to cover my troubles, so the public don't know what 's on my mind

My brains is so cloudy, the world seems upside down (2x)
Yes, I would feel so much better, if was no liquor around

Love has caused so many men to drink and gamble, and stay out all night long (2x)
Love will drive a man into places, friends, where he don't belong

Willie Lofton - Beer Garden BluesSeveral of today's' singers are acutely aware of the ill effects of booze but seemingly powerless against it's grip such as Big Bill Broonzy's "Good Liquor Gonna Carry Me Down", Washboard Sam's "No. 1 Drunkard" ("I'm a number one drunkard and I don't care who knows"), Lucille Bogan's "Drinkin' Blues" ("Blues has got me drinkin', trouble's got me thinkin', and it's goin' to carry me to my grave") and Merline Johnson's" Bad Whiskey Blues", the latter which appear to be autobiographical. Johnson was one of the most prolific female artists of the 30's, with 70 issued sides, the bulk of her recordings were made between 1937 and 1940 with a last, unissued session, in 1947. Blind John Davis said of her: "…Big Bill would have to take her home so his wife could watch her so she wouldn’t go and get drunk. But when she hit that microphone, though, boy, she was on her way." Despite the efforts of her family in Milwaukee to keep her under control, John says, "She’d get to thinkin’ about Chicago, they’d wake up the next morning and Merline'd be in Chicago. She used to call me up and just cuss and laugh. "…She didn’t like good whiskey," Davis laughs. "You could go out there in Jewtown and get moonshine and still hear it foamin’ in the glass. It was still fermenting. She was crazy about it. But she was a nice person."

If you were looking to find someone to rail against the evils of booze you would have to turn to the preachers. They recorded prolifically in the 1920's and 30's dealing with all manner of social ills in their recorded sermons including drinking. We spin Rev. W.M. Mosley's "Drinking Shine" from 1927 which was widely recorded under several titles including "God Don't Like it." Rev. Mosley was an Atlanta minister whose recording career started in 1926 and lasted through 1931. From 1953 we hear Rev. Anderson's "God Don't Like It."  Anderson cut some blistering sides in the 1950's for labels such as Glory and DeLuxe. Elder Charlie Beck recorded his version of "Drinking Shine" in 1930 and also the colorful "Wine Head Willie Put That Bottle Down" in 1953 which we will spin in part two.

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.


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