|Son House||Preachin' The Blues||Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues|
|Charlie Patton||Prayer of Death||Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues|
|Bukka White||I Am In The Heavenly Way||Goodbye Babylon|
|Robert Wilkins||That's No Way To Get Along||Memphis Blues 1928-1935|
|Robert Wilkins||Holy Ghost Train||This Old World's In A Hell Of A Fix|
|Christina Gray||The Reverend Is My Man||Female Blues Singers Vol. 7 G/H 1922-1929|
|Bessie Smith||Preachin' The Blues||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Sister O.M. Terrell||The Bible's Right||Goodbye Babylon|
|Monkey Joe||Preach, Pray And Moan||Monkey Joe Vol. 1 1935-1939|
|Frank Stokes||You Shall||The Best Of|
|Sister Rosetta Tharpe||Trouble In Mind||The Original Soul Sister|
|Sister Rosetta Tharpe||Down By The Riverside||The Original Soul Sister|
|Arthur Anderson||If You Want To Make A Preacher Cuss||Field Recordings Vol. 9|
|Hambone Willie Newbern||Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does )||Don't Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice|
|Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe||Preachers Blues||Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 2 1929-1930|
|Rev Anderson Johnson||God Don't Like It||Get Right With God: Hot Gospel 1947-1953|
|Robert Johnson||Preachin' The Blues||The Centennial Collection|
|John Lee Hooker||Burnin' Hell||Burnin' Hell|
|Sylvester Weaver||Devil Blues||Sylvester Weaver Vol. 2 1927|
|Lonnie Johnson||She's Makin' Whoopee in Hell Tonight||The Original guitar Wizard|
|Roosevelt Graves||Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind on Jesus)||Blind Roosevelt Graves 1929-1936|
|Roosevelt Graves||New York Blues||Blind Roosevelt Graves 1929-1936|
|Blind Willie Johnson||You'll Need Somebody on Your Bond||Blind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists|
|Arizona Dranes||I Shall Wear A Crown||Vintage Mandolin Music|
|Rev. Utah Smith||God's Mighty Hand||Blind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists|
|Josh White||Pure Religion Hallilu||Josh White Vol. 1 1929-33|
|Rev. Gary Davis||You Got To Go Down||Meet You At The Station|
|Georgia Tom||How About You||The Essential|
|Georgia Tom||Maybe It's The Blues||The Essential|
|Luke Jordan||Church Bells||Don't Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice|
|Ben Curry||Adam And Eve In The Garden||Alabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924-1949|
|Mississippi Sheiks||He Calls That Religion||Blues images Vol. 3|
|Louis Jordan||Deacon Jones||Let The Good Times Roll 1938-1954|
|Harlem Hamfats||Hallelujah Joe Ain't Preachin' No More||Harlem Hamfats Vol. 2 1936-1937|
|Little Esther||The Deacon Moves In||Midnight At The Barrelhouse|
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
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 ain't gonna preach no mo'