Entries tagged with “Louis Jordan”.


ARTISTSONGALBUM
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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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Hazel MeyersI'm Every Man's Mama Hazel Meyers Vol. 1 1923-1924
Hazel MeyersMississippi BluesFemale Blues: The Remaining Titles 1921-1928
Boll Weavil Blues TrioThings Ain't What They Used To BeSouthside Screamers
Dixie Boy & His ComboOne More Drink Southside Screamers
Jack Kelly & His South Memphis Jug Band High Behind BluesMemphis Shakedown: More Jug Band Classics
Big Joe Williams Mellow Apples The Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol.2
Sister Rosetta Tharpe99 Half Won't DoSister Rosetta Tharpe Vol. 5 1953-1957
Sister Rosetta TharpeLet It ShineSister Rosetta Tharpe Vol. 5 1953-1957
Hound Dog Taylor Sitting Here AloneChess Blues Box
Big Walter HortonNeed My BabyBig Walter Horton: Blues Harmonica Giant
Johnny LittlejohnKeep On RunningSultans of Slide Guitar
Maggie Jones North Bound Blues Maggie Jones Vol. 1 1923-1925
Maggie Jones Box Car Blues Maggie Jones Vol. 1 1923-1925
Madlyn DavisWinter BluesFemale Blues Singers Vol. 5 1921-1928
Teddy Darby The Girl I Left BehindBlind Teddy Darby 1929-1937
Roosevelt SykesSouthern BluesRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 9 1947-1951
Boll Weavil Thinkin' BluesChicago Boogie! 1947
Sleepy John EstesHarlem BoundChicago Boogie! 1947
Cryin' Sam Collins It Won't Be Long Sam Collins 1927-31
Kokomo ArnoldDown and Out Blues Kokomo Arnold Vol. 2 1935-1936
Bumble Bee Sim12 O’clock Midnight Bumble Bee Slim Vol. 8 1937-1951
Larry DavisSweet Black AngelSweet Black Angel
Leroy Washington Don't Blame It On Me MamaWild Cherry
Jack Ranger T.P. Window Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Leroy CarrAlabama Women Blues Sloppy Drunk
Texas Bill Day Burn The Trestle Down Dallas Alley Drag
Walter Brown I'm Glad To Be BackWalter Brown 1945-47
Louis JordanOfay And Oxford GreyLouis Jordan & His Tympany Five: Chapter 4
David 'Honeyboy' EdwardsSpread My Raincoat DownBig Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Lightnin' HopkinsHouston BoundRemaining Titles: 1950-1961
Pete Johnson & Joe TurnerGoin' Away BluesRadio Broadcasts, Film Soundtracks, Alternate Takes 1939-1947
Pete Johnson Dive BomberRadio Broadcasts, Film Soundtracks, Alternate Takes 1939-1947

Show Notes:

Maggie Jones
Maggie Jones

A wide and diverse set of blues on tap today spanning the years 1924 through 1969. A bit of a running theme throughout today's show with several songs dealing with geography, some dealing with a sense of nostalgia for the South others taking the opposite view.  Along the way we'll hear from some fine blues ladies, a batch of excellent pre-war blues, some rare recordings courtesy of the St. George label, a pair of sides by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a pair of numbers featuring Pete Johnson, a set of vintage piano blues as well as some topical numbers.

It might be hard to believe to modern listeners but there were quite a number of blues songs that took a nostalgic view of the South.  In our opening set we spin two numbers by the obscure Hazel Meyers including "Mississippi Blues"from 1924 in which she sings:

Folks I'm feeling blue today
Gonna make my getaway
Down in Mississippi, that's where I long to be
Wanna wander there once more
'Long the Mississippi Shore
I miss Mississippi, Mississippi misses me

Meyers cut eighteen and a half 78's issued between 1923 and 1926, some of hem accompanied by major jazz figures, yet nothing seems to be known about her. Maggie Jones offers a similar sentiment in her wonderful "Box Car Blues" cut the same year:

 Every time I see a railroad track (2x)
Feel like riding, feel like going back
Catch a train that's headed for the South (2x)

In 1927 Madyln Davis and her Hot Shots cut "Winter Blues" which has Davis echoing the same sentiment: "I'm leaving Chicago but I'm not going to stay/I'm gonna back my trunk going back to Tennessee." Maggie Jones recorded thirty-eight songs between 1923 and 1926 and was billed as "The Texas Nightingale." In 1925 Jones cut "North Bound Blues" with very different view:

Got my trunk and grip all packed
Goodbye, I ain't coming back

Going to leave this Jim Crow town
Lord, sweet papa, 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

When I cross the Mason Dixon Line (2x)
Goodbye old gal, yon mama's gonna fly

We jump up to 1937 to hear "The Girl I Left Behind" by Teddy Darby featuring piano by Roosevelt Sykes, one of Darby's finest numbers, a wistful, nostalgic song:

One Monday night and I had just laid down (2x)
I heard Roosevelt Sykes say 'Darby you are Chicago bound'
He put me in a V-8, and it was fairly flying (2x)
He was at the mind on Chicago,  I had my mine on the girl I left behind
When we hit Springfield I did not have much to say (2x)
But the boys were singing about Chicago, I was thinking about the other way

Darby was born in Henderson, Kentucky March 2, 1906 and brought to St. Louis at seven years old. At 15 he had his first taste of trouble when he "cut a boy with a razor" and was sent to a correctional institution. Released after 14 months he found work in a barrel factory until he lost his sight through glaucoma, around 1926. Another cutting incident over a woman saw him incarcerated in the city workhouse where he learned to play guitar from one Jesse Riley – "I really worked on the guitar; not much else a blind man could do then", he said. Riley taught him "Lawdy Lawdy Worried Blues" while "My Leona" Darby composed for the girl he lost. On release he performed on the streets, at house-parties and at a gambling club. He first found his way into the recording studio in 1929, following with sessions in 1931, 1933, 1935 and 1937. After the Darby Song we move up to hear "Southern Blues" by Roosevelt Sykes cut in 1948: "

Well I'm going back down South
Where men are men, and woman are glad of it
Woh, woh I've got those Southern blues
Cotton prices going higher, and I got no time to lose
Chicago and Detroit, folks have you heard the news
Old Dixieland is jumping, I've got those Southern blues

Soutside ScreamersMoving up to the late 40's we spotlight two collections from the St. George label run by George Paulus (he also operated the Barrelhouse label): Southside Screamers and Chicago Boogie! 1947.These collections feature rare acetates, some made by Bernard Abrams who operated the Ora Nelle label. The Ora Nelle label which was founded in 1947 by Abrams who operated Maxwell Street Radio and Record shop located at 831 Maxwell Street. Two 78's were released; "I Just Keep Loving Her" (Ora Nelle 711) and "Money Taking Woman" (Ora Nelle 712). The label's name supposedly came from Walter's girlfriend. These were Walter's first recordings. Additional recordings were made by Jimmy Rogers (also his first), Boll Weavil, Sleepy John Estes, Johnnie Temple which were not released at the time. Boll Weevil (Willie McNeal) cut a pair of acetates for the label circa 1947-48, including "Christmas Time Blues" b/w "Thinkin' Blues" and as the Boll Weavil Blues Trio cut "Things Ain't What They Used To Be b/w Streamline Woman"  in 1956 for  the Club 51 label. A letter from Bill Greensmith to Blues & Rhythm magazine  #45 describes this Club 51 "metal dub" with the purple-on-white stick-on label carrying some typed information.

We feature a couple of topical numbers today by Louis Jordan and Walter Brown. The fascinating song "Ofay And Oxford Grey" was from a 1945 New York radio broadcast. Jordan sang this song at gigs at the time, but it was too controversial to be released on record. It was not publicly available until it appeared on a CD of Jordan's radio broadcasts in 1990. It was played live at the Hotel Zanzibar Nightclub and sent by wire to the radio station, and the radio station recorded it live on a 16 inch transcription disc. Jordan was well ahead of the curve on this number:

I'm a fella who wants to say
Discrimination has gone its way
So let's all smile and just be gay
There's no line between ofay and oxford grey
Now soon in the Wedgewood room
The band'll be jumpin' with a solid tune

If you hep to the jive
You know ofay means white
And oxford grey means colored they say
And believe me they're alright

Piano keys are black and white
They make the harmony that is right
So don't be square and don't delay
he blending of ofay and oxford gray

Teddy Darby: The Girl I Left BehindWalter Brown's 1945 number "I'm Glad To Back" is one of many numbers celebrating those just back from the war.

We pay tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe with a pair of of later period cuts from 1956 and 1957.  Tharpe has just gotten some mainstream exposure with a feature on the PBS American Masters Series called Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll. I haven't seen the feature yet but I'm a huge fan of Tharpe's. It wasn't all that long ago when she wasn't all that well served on reissues but now it seems most of her output is available. There's the excellent 4-CD set The Original Soul Sister on Proper which spans the years 1938 though 1949, the French Fremeaux & Associes label which to date has issued seven 2-CD collections that chart Tharpe's recordings through 1961 as well a a few live recordings available.

We close the program with two cuts featuring the great pianist Pete Johnson. Both tracks comes from the excellent Document collection Pete Johnson Radio Broadcasts, Film Soundtracks, Alternate Takes 1939 – c.1947. As Axel Zwingenberger writes in the notes: "This compilation, gives the overall impression of a player who had good knowledge of harmonic structures, great command of rhythm and plenty of experience of swinging along with high caliber Jazz musicians." Today we spin the radio broadcasts "Goin' Away Blues" featuring Big Joe Turner and the rollicking instrumental "Dive Bomber."

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Big John Wrencher Trouble Makin' Woman 45
Big John Wrencher Runnin' Wild 45
Mississippi SheiksStill I'm Traveling OnHoney Babe Let The Deal Go Down
Red Nelson Black Gal StompRed Nelson 1935-1947
Blind John Davis Jersey Cow Blues Blind John Davis 1938-1952
Thomas Shaw Born In TexasBorn In Texas
Thomas Shaw All Out And DownBorn In Texas
Muddy WatersStandin' Around CryinOne More Mile
Larry JohnsonFour Woman BluesFast & Funky
J.W. Warren Hoboing Into HollywoodLife Ain't Worth Livin'
Guitar Slim War Service Blues Greensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim Lovin Home BluesGreensboro Rounder
Blue Smitty Sad StoryDrop Down Mama
Floyd JonesPlayhouseDrop Down Mama
Howlin' Wolf Decoration DaySun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Mattie May ThomasBig Mac From MacamereAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Bessie Smith I've Got What It Takes (But It Breaks My Heart To Give It Away)The Complete Recordings (Frog)
Ruth Willis Man of My OwnCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
Shakey Jake HarrisA Hard Road to TravelFurther On Up The Road
T-Bone Walker You Don't Know What You're DoingT-Bone Blues
Fats JeffersonLove Me BluesGoin' Back To Tifton
Buddy DurhamBlues All Around My HeadGoin' Back To Tifton
Tiny BradshawKnockin' BluesBreakin' Up the House
Louis JordanBuzz Me Good Times Live 1948-49
Gatemouth BrownShe Winked Her EyeBoogie Uproar: Texas Blues & R&B 1947-54
Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerryElectrocution BluesBack
Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerryEverybody's Fishin'Back
Ramblin' ThomasSo LonesomeCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
Big Joe WilliamsMeet Me Around The CornerBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Brownie McGheeCholly BluesThe Folkways Years 1945-1959
Lucille SpannCountry GirlCry Before I Go

Show Notes:

Blues Unlimted 106 – Big John Wrencher Cover

Today's show is the first blues show of the fall membership drive and we hope to hear from our loyal blues listeners. On deck for today's mix show are a fine batch of Chicago blues from Big John Wrencher, Muddy Waters, Blue Smitty, Floyd Jones and Lucille Spann. We also spotlight twin spins by down-home bluesmen Guitar Slim (Stephens) and Thomas Shaw, rare latter day tracks by the duo of Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerry, a trio of tough blues ladies and more.

We open up with obscure 45 from the great one-armed harp blower Big John Wrencher. The sides were recorded by Big John in 1974 during his European tour  and I believe it's Eddie Taylor on guitar. They were released in 1979 in France as part of a six single Coca Cola Promo that covered various styles of popular music. Big John became a recognizable fixture  on Chicago's  Maxwell Street open air market which was  a seven-to ten-block area in Chicago that from the 1920's to the mid-'60s played host to various blues musicians, both professional and amateur, who performed right on the street for tips from passerby. Most of them who started their careers there (like Little Walter, Earl Hooker, Hound Dog Taylor, and others) and moved up to club work. Despite his enormous playing and performing talents, the discography on Wrencher remains thin. His first official recordings surfaced on a pair of Testament albums from the '60s, featuring him as a sideman role behind Robert Nighthawk. His only full album, Maxwell Street Alley Blues, surfaced in the early '70s on the Barrelhouse label. After years of vacillating between his regular Maxwell Street gig and a few appearances on European blues festivals, Wrencher decided to go back to Mississippi to visit family and old friends in July of 1977. There he died from a heart attack at the age of 54.

Claude "Blue Smitty" Smith allegedly taught Muddy Waters, already an accomplished slide guitar player in the 1940s, how to finger the fretboard of his instrument. Smitty cut just a few sides for Chess (under the name Blue Smitty & His String Men) in 1952 which were unissued at the time. From the session we play the doomy "Sad Story."

Jumping ahead twenty years we play a superb cut by Muddy Waters. "Standin' Around Cryin" comes from the 2-CD set One More Mile which includes 11 tracks from a 1972 Radio Lausanne broadcast featuring Muddy with Louis Myers on acoustic second guitar and Mojo Buford on harp. These are stunning performances and worth the price of this disc alone.

We close today's show with the track "Country Girl" from the wife of Muddy's long time pianist Otis Spann. Mahalia Lucille Jenkins began as a church gospel singer in Mississippi and continued to practice when her family moved to Chicago around 1952. She met Otis Spann in the 1960’s with the two beginning a musical collaboration and would later marry. Lucille and Otis performed regularly at college gigs and would record together until Otis passed in 1970. Lucille continued to work in music performing at the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival and making a few recordings before passing in 1994. Cry Before I Go was cut for Bluesway in 1973 and is her only full length album, never issued on CD. She also waxed a couple of 45's in the 70's.

The heyday of country blues was the 20's and 30's  when an incredible number of talented blues musicians got their shot at glory cutting records for the burgeoning race record market. The music eventually fell by the wayside, swept aside by changing musical trends. Yet the style never really went away and with a new found interest among white listeners came a number of men armed with portable equipment to document this music that still thrived in black communities. Roughly from the early 60's through the early 80's a prodigious amount of recording was done and issued on small specialty labels. Unfortunately a good amount of this material has never made it to the CD age. Today we spin some long out-of-print sides recorded by Kip Lornell as well as fine sides from this era by Tom Shaw and J.W. Warren.

Kip Lornell has worked on music projects for the Smithsonian Institute, has a doctorate in ethnomusicology and is the author of several articles and books. He also did some field notable field recording in the 70's. I want to thank Kip for making me a copy of the extremely hard to find Guitar Slim album. James “Guitar Slim” Stephens was born on March 10, 1915, near Spartanburg, South Carolina. He began playing pump organ when he was only five years old, singing spirituals he learned from his parents and reels he heard from his older brother pick on the banjo. Within a few years, Slim was playing piano. When he was thirteen, he began picking guitar, playing songs he heard at local house parties and churches. A few years later he joined the John Henry Davis Medicine Show, playing music to draw crowds. For in the next twenty or so years, he moved throughout the eastern United States living in such cities as Richmond, Durham, Louisville, Nashville, and Waterbury, Connecticut. In 1953 he arrived in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he lived for the remainder of his life playing both guitar and piano–singing the blues at house parties and spirituals at church. His lone LP, Greensboro Rounder, was issued in 1979 by the Flyright label and is a real lost gem. In 1980 he was recorded by Axel Kunster and Ziggy Christmann which was issued as part of the Living Country Blues series on the L&R label. Slim passed in 1989.

Lornell also made some recordings in the early 70's in Albany, NY of all places. These appeared on two Flyright LP's: Goin' Back To Tifton and North Florida Fives. Lornell also wrote a three part feature on the Albany blues scene in Living Blues magazine between 1973 and 1974. I don't have the latter record but we do spin two tracks from the former album.

Tom Shaw spent about five years on the Texas house party circuit in the 1920's and early 1930's before moving to San Diego in 1934. Shaw met many great Texas bluesmen including Smokey Hogg, T-Bone Walker, Mance Lipscomb, Blind Willie Johnson, Ramblin' Thoms, JT "Funny Papa" Smith and Blind Lemon Jefferson who he was clearly a disciple of. He met Jefferson in Waco, Texas in 1926 or 27. JT "Funny Papa" Smith offered to let Shaw play on one of his records in 1931 but Smith was sent to jail on a murder charge. In the 1960's and 70s he recorded for the Advent, Blue Goose and Blues Beacon labels before passing in 1977.

J.W. Warren was born in 1921 in Enterprise, AL. In a family of eleven children, he was the only one to take up music, starting at the age of fifteen or sixteen and was soon playing blues pieces at local juke joints and barbecues. . "I came up the hard way. I never had a break whatsoever. In other words, I never had a break in my life. I was born in the wrong part of the world and then again I didn't go any place else. …didn't do anything with the talent I had because I didn't have much education. When you got a back break like I had you doubt yourself, you know it's rough man!" Warren was recorded at his home in Ariton, AL in 1981, and 1982, by folklorist George Mitchell and made some sides in the 90's for Music Maker.

We spotlight a trio of tough blues ladies with tracks by Ruth Willis, Mattie May Thomas and Bessie Smith. Willis'  first session was for Columbia in Atlanta in October 1931, when she was accompanied by Blind Willie McTell on four tracks: "Rough Alley Blues", "Talkin' To You Wimmen About The Blues", "Experience Blues" and 'Painful Blues." The first two were issued as a single on the OKeh label, billed as by Mary Willis, accompanied by Blind Willie McTell; the other two tracks were issued as a Columbia single as by Ruth Day accompanied by Blind Sammie. A week later she made another OKeh single, "Low Down Blues b/w Merciful Blues", accompanied this time Curley Weaver, and issued as by Mary Willis. She had one more day in the studio in January 1933 where she cut "I'm Still Sloppy Drunk b/w Man Of My Own." Willis died the same year as Curley Weaver (1962), and three years after McTell.

Mattie May Thomas waxed three remarkable acapella numbers in 1939. They were recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in the woman's camp of the  notorious Parchman Farm.

Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerry Reunion in Memphis Aug 29 1972

Jimmy DeBerry and Walter Horton cut two very hard-to-find albums circa 1972-1973 in Memphis called Easy and Back. DeBerry cut some material in the pre-war era and some terrific sides for Sun in the 1950's, both solo and with Walter Horton including playing on Horton's classic "Easy." These albums are bit of a mixed bag but there are several great moments.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
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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Show Notes:

John Cephas
John Cephas, Photo by Tom Pich for National Endowment of the Arts

A somber note hangs over today's show as we pay tribute to the recently departed John Cephas and Snooks Eaglin. John Cephas, best known as the guitarist and singer with the duo Cephas & Wiggins died March 4th. He was 78. Both Cephas and Wiggins were born in Washington, D.C., although Wiggins was a quarter century younger than his partner; they met at a jam session in 1977, and both performed as regular members of Big Chief Ellis' band prior to Ellis' death. The duo had been recording since the early 80's, cutting records for Flying Fish, Rounder and most recently Alligator. The tracks featured today were the first by Cephas, cut in the mid-70's by Pete Lowry but never released at the time. Lowry has given me permission to play these cuts which are not available anywhere else. Lowry recorded Cephas & Wiggins extensively in 1980 and recorded Cephas in-depth in 1976.

Snooks Eaglin passed away on February 18th. In true New Orleans fashion he was given a full jazz funeral send off. I first encountered Snooks via his terrific Black Top Records of the late 1980's and 90's. After the label's demise Snooks only recorded one more album, The Way It Is, in 2001 which happens to be one of my favorites. Fans of Snooks' later electric records may be surprised that his earliest records (1958-1959) which are all acoustic. From that period we spin the charming "Country Boy Down In New Orleans" from the wonderful Snooks Eaglin: The Sonet Blues Storyalbum of the same name on Arhoolie. We also play the soulful "By The Water" cut for Imperial in 1960 and "I Get The Blues When It Rains" from 1971's The Sonet Blues Story.

We do a bit of compare and contrast today by playing two versions of the classic "How Blue Can You Get?", one by Louis Jordan and the other by B.B. King.  Johnny Moore's Three Blazer's cut the original version in 1949 which we played on the program a couple of weeks back. It was covered in 1951 by Louis Jordan which is where B.B. King first heard the song. King began using it in his live act at recorded it on his classic Live At The Regal album from 1963.

There's plenty vintage blues from the 1920's and 30's including a trio of sides from Atlanta artists Peg Leg Howell, Sloppy Henry and Barbecue Bob.  Like Memphis, Atlanta was a staging post for musicians on their way to all points. It's not surprising then that the first country blues musician, Ed Andrews, was recorded there in 1924. The company that recorded him, Okeh, was one of many to send their engineers to Southern cities to record local talent. Companies like Victor, Columbia, Vocalion and Brunswick made at least yearly visits until the depression. Between 1927-1930 Atlanta was visited seventeen times by the record companies. Among the bluesmen to record in Atalanta in the 1920's, the first to arrive in the city was Joshua Barnes Powell, known as Peg Leg because of a shooting accident in 1916. We also hear Peg Leg in the Barbecue Bob: Chocalate To The Bonecompany of singer Sloppy Henry. Henry cut sixteen between 1924 and 1929 for the Okeh label. Within a year or so of Howell's arrival in Atlanta, Robert Hicks came to the city. He learned guitar, as did his older brother Charlie, and their friend Curley Weaver from the latter's mother Savannah Weaver. Hicks earned his nickname from his day job as the chef of a barbecue restaurant and Columbia photographed him for their publicity material in his work apron.  As Barbecue Bob he became the most heavily recorded Atlanta bluesman of the 1920's with his records selling steadily for Columbia until his untimely death in 1931.

We also feature some fine blues ladies including Susie Hawthorne, one half of the popular Butterbeans & Susie, Lucille Bogan and Bessie Smith. Butterbeans and Susie were a comedy duo that began touring with the Theatre Owners Booking Association (TOBA) and later moved to vaudeville before signing with Okeh Records. They cut close to 70 sides for the label between 1924 and 1930. Our track, "He Likes It Slow", from 1926 features Louis Armstrong on cornet. From the same year we play Bessie Smith's "Them 'Has Been' Blues." This cut comes form the the eight volume series on the Frog label that collects all of Bessie's recordings.  Sound quality on this series is outstanding, noticeably better then Columbia's series, which is interesting since Columbia had the actual masters to work with. The Frog series is a testament to the skills of engineer John R.T. Davies and label owner David French, who commissioned collectors for the best available originals. Sadly Davies and French both passed before the completion of the series. From Lucille Bogan we spin her classic "Shave 'Em Dry." This of course is the  clean version. The unreleased version is extremely explicit and if aired would surely be the end of my broadcasting career!

Butterbeans & Susie
Butterbeans & Susie

We close out our show with a stunning version of "Prodigal Son" by Robert Wilkins recorded live at Newport in 1964.  During the 1920's and 1930's, Tim Wilkins was one of the most popular blues artists associated with Beale Street. He left the blues world to become an ordained minister. When the Rolling Stones recorded Wilkins' "Prodigal Son" in the early '60s (originally titled "That's No Way To Get Along"), blues researchers found Wilkins at home in Memphis, ministering to the congregation at the Lane Avenue Church of God in Christ and performing gospel songs at street corner revivals. He returned to recording with the album Memphis Gospel Singer in 1964, a classic record that yet to make it to CD. He performed at several festivals including Newport in 1964 and the Memphis Country Blues Festival in 1968. He passed in 1987.

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