Entries tagged with “Victoria Spivey”.

Lonnie JohnsonMan Killing BroadLonnie Johnson Vol. 1 1937-1940
Bill GaitherBloody Eyed WomanBill Gaither Vol. 4 1939
Whistlin' Alex MooreIce Pick BluesWhistlin' Alex Moore 1929-1951
Walter 'Cowboy' WashingtonIce Pick MamaTexas Seaport 1934-1937
Louisiana Red Sweet Blood CallSweet Blood Call
Lazy LesterBloodstains On The WallI'm A Lover Not A Fighter
Mary Johnson Death Cell BluesMary Johnson 1929-1936
Bessie SmithSend Me To The 'Lectric ChairThe Complete Recordings
Victoria Spivey Blood Thirsty BluesVictoria Spivey Vol. 1 1926-1927
Bama StackaleeParchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings 1947-1959
Skip James 22-20 BluesComplete Early Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Got The Blues (Can't Be Satisfied)Avalon Blues: The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Charles 'Speck' Petrum Gambler's BluesCharlie ''Specks'' McFadden 1929-1937
Blind Blake Playing Policy BluesAll The Published Sides
Doctor Clayton Roaming GamblerDoctor Clayton And His Buddy 1935-1947
Lucille BoganThey Ain't Walking No MoreBarrelhouse Mamas
Memphis MinnieDown In The AlleyMemphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
Sara Martin Down At The Razor BallSara Martin Vol. 3 1924-1925
Washboard SamRazor Cuttin' ManWashboard Sam Vol. 1 1935-1936
Blind Willie McTellRazor BallAtlanta Twelve String
Walter Roland45 Pistol BluesWalter Roland Vol. 2 1934-1935
Leroy CarrShinin' PistolWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Blind Boy FullerPistol Slapper Blues Remastered 1935-1938
Will Shade She Stabbed Me With An Ice PickMemphis Jug Band Associates & Alternate Takes 1927-1930
Black Boy Shine Ice Pick And Pistol Woman Blues Black Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Pat HareI'm Gonna Murder My BabySun Records - The Blues Years 1950-1956
Roy BrownButcher PetePay Day Jump: The Later Sessions
Geeshie WileySkinny Legs BluesMississippi Masters
Josie MilesMad Mama BluesJosie Miles Vol. 2 1924-1935
Jazz GillumGonna Be Some ShootingJazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-1949
Peetie WheatstrawGangster's BluesPeetie Wheatstraw Vol. 7 1940-1941
Georgia Tom & Tampa RedCrow Jane AlleyCome On Mama Do That Dance
Jim Jackson I'm A Bad Bad ManJim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Blind Willie McTell A To Z BluesThe Classic Years 1927–1940
Bertha IdahoDown On Pennsylvania AvenueFemale Blues Singers Vol. 10
Georgia WhiteI'll Keep Sittin' On It (If I Can't Sell It)Georgia White Vol. 2 1936-1937

Show Notes: 

Victoria Spivey Ad“The blues, contrary to popular conception, are not always concerned with love, razors, dice, and death," Richard Wright wrote in 1941. While that's certainly true, there are in fact a large number of blues songs that do deal with those topics.  Today we feature a wide range of songs about violence and vice. The blues emerged at the turn of the century in the midst of virulent racism and violent repression. Blues musicians of the 1920's and 30's existed in a violent culture where fights were common and it was often common to carry a weapon. In the places where the blues were regularly performed in the early days, the juke joints, there was a considerable amount of violence. Memphis Minnie said that at juke joints she and her husband played they would “have to run at night when they start cutting and shooting.” The south was a virtual apartheid society enforced by "Jim Crow" restrictions, with widespread violence, including lynchings. An increased presence of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920's contributed to an atmosphere of fear. In the South, mobs lynched many blacks for no other reason than their having acted outside the harsh social restrictions of Jim Crow. As writer Gary Buenett wrote: "The blues enabled Southern black to process the oppression they faced, but more than that, to affirm their humanity over against a system that denied that very fact. it enabled them to state the reality of the troubles, powerlessness, dread, and despair, but at the same time assert their essential humanness through expressions of rage, humor, courage, and of course, sexuality."

Today's lurid title is courtesy of Jazz Gillum from his 1949 number "Gonna Be Some Shooting." The song is a cover of Willie "61" Blackwell's 1941 song "Machine Gun Blues" and was modified and refashioned by Sunnyland Slim as "Johnson Machine Gun." Gillum had several songs filled with violent  imagery including "I'm Gonna Take My Rap" ("I'm gonna take my pistol/And cock it in my baby's face/Gonna let some graveyard, baby be your hiding place") and "Can't Trust Myself" ("I'm gonna buy myself a pistol/I'm gonna hang it to my side/I'm going to join the gangsters/People I'm gonna live a reckless life") among others. Gillum was himself a victim of violence. He was murdered in 1966  during a street argument.  Echoing Jazz Gillum, several decades later is the harrowing "Sweet Blood Call" by Louisiana Red:

I have a hard time missing you baby, with my pistol in your mouth
You may be thinking 'bout going north, but your brains are staying south

Today's show is filled with guns, knives, razors and even ice picks. One of the more famous gun songs is Skip James' "22-20 Blues" which may have been inspired by the success of the song “44 blues” recorded by Roosevelt Sykes in 1929 as "Forty- Four Blues" and the following year by Little Brother Montgomery as “Vicksburg Blues.” In 1936 Robert Johnson covered the song as “32-20 Blues.”

You talk about your forty-four-forty, buddy it'll do very well
But my thirty-two-twenty, Lord is a burning hell

Woman were the target of much of the violence as evidenced in numerous other songs including Leroy Carr's "Shinin' Pistol" ("I'm going to get me a shiny pistol with a long shiny barrel/I'm going to ramble this town over until I find my girl") and Blind Boy Fuller's "Pistol Slapper Blues" ("And I feel like snapping my pistol in your face/Let some brownskin woman be here to take your place"). Walter Roland's "45 Pistol Blues", on the other hand, is for protection when he heads down to a part of town that must be very close to the well known Tin Pan Alley or maybe Crow Jane Alley:

I'm going over to Third Alley, Lord but I'm going to carry my .45 (2x)
Because you know ain't many men go there and come back alive
They will shoot you and cut you, Lord they will knock you down
Lord, they will shoot you and cut you, Lord they will knock you down

And you can ask anybody ain't that the baddest place in town
Mens carry .38s, womens carry their razors too (2x)

Alex Moore - Ice Pick bluesRazors, despite Richard Wright's protest, crop up quite a bit in blues. There was Washboard Sam's "Razor Cuttin' Man",  Edith Wilson's "Rules and Regulations 'Signed Razor Jim'", Jazz Gillum's "Long Razor Blues", Perline Ellison's "Razor Totin' Mama", Helen Gross' "Bloody Razor Blues" as well as a school of related songs from the pre-blues era. Around the turn of the century there was the "bully song" or more formally "The Bully of the Town" or "Looking for the Bully." There were several songs published with 'Bully" in the title around this period. Paul Oliver noted that the song "reinforced the stereotypes of the razor-totin', watermelon-suckin', chicken-stealin' 'nigger' of that period." The core of the story is an altercation, usually with a razor, between the bully and a rival with the action usually happening at a dance or ball. In the blues era several songs drawn on these earlier sources including Sara Martin's "Down At The Razor Ball" (1925), Blind Willie McTell's "Razor Ball" (1930) and Washboard Sam's "Down At The Bad Man's Hall" (1941). The most famous related song, however, is the Willie Dixon penned "Wang Dang Doodle" (1960) which draws its inspiration from the Sara Martin number. Another razor song is "A To Z Blues" which has the protagonist literally carving the entire alphabet in the victim's body. The song was recorded by Butterbeans & Susie, Josie Miles, Blind Willie McTell and Charley Jordan under the title "Cutting My ABCs."

Ice picks are not something that immediately comes to mind as a weapon (does anybody gets ice delivered to their home anymore?) but they crop up in several songs: Whistlin' Alex Moore "Ice Pick Blues", Walter 'Cowboy' Washington "Ice Pick Mama" ("Every time I meet Roberta she's got an ice pick in her hand/And all frowned up, an wanna kill some poor, poor man"), Will Shade "She Stabbed Me With An Ice Pick" and Black Boy Shine "Ice Pick And Pistol Woman Blues."

Domestic violence is a common theme in many early blues. That being said, there were no shortage of woman who sang songs that turned the tables on the men. Among those featured today are Mary Johnson's  "Death Cell Blues" ("I killed my man last year, lord, the man I really love/He did not treat me right, now he's with the good lord above"), Victoria Spivey's "Blood Thirsty Blues" and Bessie Smith's "Send Me To The 'Lectric Chair":

Judge you wanna hear my plea
Before you open up your court
But I don't want no sympathy
'Cause I'm done, cut my good man's throat

Spivey had several lurid titles including “Blood Thirsty Blues”, “Murder in the First Degree” and “Blood Hound Blues.” Okeh Records  ran a a striking newspaper advertisement for "Bloodthirsty Blues."  The ad is laid out like an authentic news report with graphic illustration and eye-catching titles such as “I Have Killed my Man”, “Never Seen So Much Blood” and “Bloodthirsty Woman Confesses!” The lyrics are equally sensational:

Blood, blood, blood look at all that blood
Blood, blood look at all that blood
Yes I killed my man
A lowdown good for nothing cuss
I told him blood was in my eyes
And still he wouldn’t listen to me

Bill Gaither used similar imagery in his "Bloody Eyed Woman" cut more than a decade later. Spivey didn't have the market corned on that kind of imagery as evidenced in Geeshie Wiley's "Skinny Leg Blues":

I’m gonna cut your throat babe, gonna look down in your face (2x)
Aaaaaaaaa, gonna look down in your face
I’m gonna let some lonesome graveyard be your restin’ place

Josie Miles had an apocalyptic vision in "Mad Mama Blues" from 1924:

Wanna set the world on fire
That is my one mad desire
I’m a devil in disguise
Got murder in my eyes

Now I could see blood runnin’
hrough the streets (2x)
Could be everybody
ayin’ dead right at my feet

As Angela Y. Davis wrote: "The performance of the classic blues women-especially Bessie Smith-were one of the few cultural spaces in which a tradition of public discourse on male violence had been previously established. …The blues women of the 1920s…fail to respect the taboo of speaking on speaking publicly about domestic violence …Women's blues suggest emergent feminist insurgency in that they unabashedly name the problem of male violence and so usher it out of the shadows of domestic life where society had kept it hidden and beyond public or political scrutiny." Daphne Duval Harrison has noted that women's blues in the 1920s "introduced a new, different model of black women-more assertive, sexy, sexually aware, independent, realistic, complex, alive. …They saw a world that did not protect the sanctity of black womanhood, as espoused in the bourgeois ideology; only white white or middle or upper-class women were protected by it. They saw and experienced injustice as jobs they held were snatched away when white women refused to work with them or white men returned from war to reclaim them. They pointed out the pain of sexual and physical abuse and abandonment."

OthBlind Willie McTell - Razor Baller vices covered today include prostitution and gambling. The most well known prostitution song is probably "Tricks Ain't Walking No More." The song is a prostitute’s lament due to a dwindling supply of customers or "tricks." Lucille Bogan recorded this song three times during 1930 including today's version "They Ain't Walking No More." Curley Weaver, Buddy Moss, Kid Coley and Memphis Minnie, among others, recorded versions of the song. Othe songs sharing this theme include Memphis Minnie's "Down In Alley" ("Met a man, asked me did I want to pally/Yes, baby, let's go down in the alley"), Georgia White's " I'll Keep Sittin' On It (If I Can't Sell It)" and Bertha Idaho's "Down On Pennsylvania Avenue" about Baltimore’s seedy side where you "can’t tell the he’s from the she’s."

Now if you want good lovin’, and want it cheap
Just drop around about the middle of the week
When the broads is broke and can’t pay rent
Get good lovin’ boys for fifteen cents
You can get it every night on Pennsylvania Avenue

Gambling features in numerous songs with quite a few dealing with playing policy. Policy is an illegal numbers game that was hugely popular at the end of the nineteenth and in the first few decades of the twentieth century. Basically you'd pick three numbers and hope they hit. The name comes from the practice of allowing bettors to make an “insurance policy” bet on tomorrow's numbers to offset potential losses, a gambler could make a policy bet that his ticket would come up blank insuring he would get something back on a losing ticket. Eventually the entire game came to be called policy. "Numbers, numbers 'bout to drive me mad/Thinkin' about the money that I should have had" sings Blind Blake on "Playing Policy Blues."

While we don't touch on it much today, the blues has a number of "bad man" ballads about violent men and outlaws like John Henry, Railroad Bill, Frankie and  Stagolee. Recorded in Parchman Farm in 1959, we hear Bama sing "Stackalee." The song about the murder of Billy Lyons by "Stag" Lee Shelton in St. Louis, Missouri at Christmas, 1895. The song was first published in 1911, and was first recorded in 1923. Long Cleve Reed and Harvey Hull recorded "Original Stack O'Lee Blues" in 1927, Furry Lewis cut "Billy Lyons And Stack O'Lee" the same year and Mississippi John Hurt recorded a version in 1928.

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.

The Nic Nacs with Mickey ChampionGonna Have A Merry Xmas Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Mabel ScottBoogie Woogie Santa Claus Blues, Blues Christmas
Frankie ''Half-Pint'' JaxonChrist Was Born On Christmas Morn Blues, Blues Christmas
Titus Turner Christmas Morning BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Jimmy ButlerTrim Your TreeBlues, Blues Christmas
Cecil GrantHello Santa Claus Blues, Blues Christmas
Harman Ray Xmas Blues Blues, Blues Christmas
Champion Jack DupreeSanta Clause BluesBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 4
Jimmy McCracklinChristmas Time Part 1Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
Roy Milton & His Solid SendersNew Year's Resolution BluesBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Johnny Otis OrchestraHappy New Year, BabyBlues, Blues Christmas
Jimmy ButlerTrim Your Tree Blues, Blues Christmas
Big Joe TurnerChristmas Date BoogieBlues, Blues Christmas
Lil McClintockDon't Think I'm Santa Claus Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 4
LeadbellyChristmas Is CominBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
Leroy CarrChristmas In Jail (Ain't It A Pain)
Tampa RedChristmas & New Year's BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Rev. J.M. Gates Did You Spend Christmas Day In JailBlues, Blues Christmas
Rev. Edward ClaybornThe Wrong Way to Celebrate ChristmasBlues, Blues Christmas
Black AceChristmas TimeBlues, Blues Christmas
Lowell FulsonLonesome CBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2hristmas Part 1Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Hop WilsonNew Merry Christmas Baby Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
Charles BrownChristmas Blues Legend!
Goree Carter Christmas BluesBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 4
Lonnie JohnsonHappy New Year DarlingBlues, Blues Christmas
Robert NighthawkMerry ChristmasBlues Southside Chicago
Jimmy WitherspoonHow I Hate To See Christmas Come Around Blues, Blues Christmas
Larry DarnellChristmas Blues Blues, Blues Christmas
Butterbeans & SusiePapa Ain't No Santa ClausBlues, Blues Christmas
Mary Harris w/ Peetie Wheatstraw & Charlie JordanHappy New Year BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Julia LeeChristmas SpiritsBlues, Blues Christmas
Bukka WhiteChristmas Eve Blues Memphis Swamp Jam
Lightnin’ HopkinsMerry ChristmasBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Gatemouth Moore Gate’s Christmas BluesGreat Rhythm & Blues Oldies Vol. 7
Harry ''Fats'' Crafton w Doc Bagby Orchestra Bring That Cadillac BackBlues, Blues Christmas
J.B. SummersI Want A Present For ChristmasBlues, Blues Christmas
Fats WallerSwingin’ Them Christmas BellsBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Paramount Christmas Greetings Ad

I've been doing a Christmas blues show for many years and was always frustrated with the lack of a really good collection of early blues Christmas songs. In 2005 I hooked up with the Document label to put together a 2-CD, 52 track collection of blues and gospel songs from the 1920's to the 1950's called Blues, Blues Christmas. The record proved to be popular and a second volume was released in 2009,  a third volume in 2013 and this year sees the fourth volume. You can read the notes to these by visiting my writing page. Many of today's tracks come from those collections.

On October 30, 1889 banjoist Will Lyle made history by recording "Jingle Bells" – the very first Christmas record. Although no known copies of this recording survive, one of the earliest vocal examples of "Jingle Bells" does survive on an Edison brown wax cylinder entitled, "The Sleigh Ride Party." The first commercial Christmas blues record was cut by Bessie Smith. Her classic "At The Christmas Ball" inaugurated the Christmas blues tradition when it was recorded in November 1925 for Columbia. A year later, circa December 1926, the gospel Christmas tradition was launched when the Elkins-Payne Jubilee Singers recorded "Silent Night, Holy Night" for Paramount Records. After these recordings it was off to the races with numerous Christmas blues numbers recorded by singers of all stripes, a pace that continued as blues evolved into R&B and then rock and roll. It’s almost certainly the case that many of these songs were recorded at the prompting of the record companies. Like any business they were always looking for a new angle or gimmick to sell records and advertised these Christmas records boldly, often with full-page ads, in black newspapers like the Chicago Defender and magazines like Billboard.

Perhaps more than any other music, the blues is deeply enmeshed in a particular culture, entangled in the era of segregation, in the era of Jim Crow and in the era of slavery. In his classic Screening The Blues Paul Oliver wrote “for the Negro, Christmas has a deep-rooted significance beyond that of the religious meaning of the celebration itself; a more worldly one of which has none the less firmly established itself in his folkways. Since far back in slavery Christmas has signified a rest, a break in the year's routine which no other festival affords, proving an opportunity for a man to be with his family and, for a brief period at any rate, from the rigorous monotony of rural labor.” The annual Christmas Ball was something looked forward to all year and as Oliver astutely notes “there may have been a change of venue–a Harlem cellar dive for the 'quarters' and a jazz band instead of the fiddles, but there was probably little difference in kind and certainly in spirit at the Christmas Ball described by Bessie Smith…”


Among Paramount's biggest blues stars of the 1920's were Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake who made their debuts for the label several months apart – Jefferson in December 1925 or January 1926 and Blake around August of 1926. Paramount ramped up their blues and gospel recordings considerably in 1927 and a new Jefferson and Blake record appeared every month. Paramount resorted to several novel promotions for their big artists; In 1924 Ma Rainey's sixth release was labeled "Ma Rainey's Mystery Record" with prizes given to the best title while Charlie Patton's "Screamin' And Hollerin' The Blues" was listed as by The Masked Marvel with a corresponding advert that bore a drawing of a blindfolded singer – looking nothing like Patton – and the clue that he was an exclusive Paramount artist. Similarly, so successful was Jefferson, that a special yellow and white label was produced for Paramount 12650, "Piney Woods Money Mama" b/w ‘Low Down Mojo Blues" which bore his picture and the wording "Blind Lemon Jefferson's Birthday Record." In a similar vein Christmas records can be seen as just another promotional tool with ads for these records appearing annually in black newspapers every holiday season. Befitting his stardom, Lemon's lone holiday record "Christmas Eve Blues" b/w "Happy New Year Blues", was given a full-page advertisement in the December 12th, 1928 edition of the Chicago Defender. In Paramount's 1928 late fall Dealers' Supplement the label advertised scores of "CHRISTMAS, SPIRITUAL AND SERMON RECORDS THAT ARE DEPENDABLE SALES PRODUCERS" and warned that they "SHOULD BE IN YOUR STOCKS NOW." Blind Blake received the large sized treatment in the 1929 edition of the paper for his "Lonesome Christmas Blues," (also sharing the page was Leroy Carr's "Christmas In Jail – Ain't That A Pain?") his only Christmas record. The flip was "Third Degree Blues" – apparently Blake only had enough holiday spirit for one side!

Blind Blake wishes you a Merry X-mas

The trend continued with more frequency in the 30's. Here are a few notable songs: Butterbeans & Susie "Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus" (1930), Charlie Jordan "Santa Claus Blues" ["Christmas Christmas, how glad I am you are here/ Well I ain’t had a chicken dinner for this whole round year/Shiny bones and naked bones gleaming from around my plate/ …So pass me that chicken, the turkey, duck and the goose/Well all you birds gonna be one legged when I turn you-a-loose"] (1931) and "Christmas "Christmas Blues" (1935), Kansas City Kitty & Georgia Tom "Christmas Morning Blues" (1934), Verdi Lee "Christmas "Tree Blues" (1935), Tampa Red "Christmas And New Years Blues" (1934), Peetie Wheatstraw "Santa Claus Blues" (1935), Bumble Bee Slim's "Christmas And No Santa Claus and "Santa Claus Bring Me A New Woman" (1936), Black Ace "Christmas Time Blues (Beggin' Santa Claus)" (1937), Casey Bill Weldon "Christmas Time Blues" (1937), Bo Carter "Santa Claus" (1938), Walter Davis "Santa Claus" (1935), Sonny Boy Williamson I "Christmas Morning Blues" (1938).

Mary Harris, who cut two sides for Decca at an October 31, 1935 session is most certainly Verdi Lee who cut sides on the exact same date, also in the company of fellow St. Louis musicians Peetie Wheatstraw and Charlie Jordan. It was a holiday themed session with the group cutting "Christmas Tree Blues", "No Christmas Blues", "Happy New Year Blues", "Christmas Christmas Blues" and "Santa Claus Blues" (the latter two with vocals by Jordan and Wheatstraw respectively). Paul Oliver noted that "it would be pleasant to think that each singer was inspired by the others to create a blues on the same subject but at this date, with Christmas two months away, it is more likely that it was a deliberate promotional device by Rev. J.M. Gates: Will The Coffin Be Your Santa Claus[producer] Mayo Williams."

In the 40's there was of course more blues Christmas songs but there was a new music brewing called R&B. Evolving out of jump blues in the late '40's, R&B laid the groundwork for rock & roll. The era's biggest Christmas song was undoubtedly the immortal "Merry Christmas, Baby" cut by Charles Brown & The Blazers in 1947. This perennial classic has been covered numerous times including versions by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Lena Horne , Lou Rawls, Booker T. & the MG's, Otis Redding, James Brown and countless others. Charles Brown's smooth ballad style has become synonymous with Christmas ever since remaking "Merry Christmas, Baby" many times, cutting many other Christmas songs and full length albums including 1961's Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs and Cool Christmas Blues in 1994.

Notable blues and R&B songs from this period include: Champion Jack Dupree's "Santa Claus Blues" (1945), Gatemouth Moore "Christmas Blues" (1946) [recut in 1977 as "Gate's Christmas Blues"], Little Willie Littlefield "Merry Xmas" (1949), Mabel Scott "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" (1947), Harman Ray "Xmas Blues" ["Hold it, hold it man/Don’t play me no jingle bells the way I feel this Christmas/Only kind of bells I want to have anything to do with is some of them mission bells/Man, play me the blues long, loud and lowdown"] (1947), Boll Weavil "Christmas Time Blues" (1947), Big Joe Turner "Christmas Date Boogie "(1948), Thelma Cooper "I Need A Man (For Xmas)" (1948), Smokey Hogg "I Want My Baby For Christmas" (1949), Amos Milburn "Let's Make Christmas Merry Baby" (1949), Harry Crafton "Bring That Cadillac Back" ["I let you eat my turkey on Christmas morn/When I looked around you and my Cadillac was gone"] (1949), Felix Gross "Love For Christmas" ["You can have your turkey and your dressing/Sweet cakes and apple pie/Blue Champagne and Rock & Rye/Everything that money can buy"] (1949), J.B. Summers "I Want a Present For Christmas" (1949 ["Santa Claus, Santa Claus/Hear my plea/Open up your bag and give a fine brown baby to me/ …You can stop by my chimney/Drop her in the chute/ Leave your reindeer outside/Come in and get my loot"] .

One other song from this era is the downright odd "Junior's a Jap Girl's Christmas for His Santa Claus" (1942) a Library of Congress recording by Willie Blackwell that defies categorization. Other non-R&B Christmas songs from the 40's include a few by Leadbelly such as "Christmas Is A-Coming", "The Christmas Song", "On A Christmas Day", Sylvester Cotton "Christmas Blues" (1948), Washboard Pete [aka Ralph Willis] "Christmas Blues" (1948), Alex Seward & Louis Hayes "Christmas Time Blues" (1948), Walter Davis "Santa Claus" (1949).

Clyde Lasley: Santa Came Home DrunkThere was a time you could hit the charts with an instrumental as pianist Lloyd Glenn well knew, scoring big with "Old Time Shuffle Blues" which hit #3 on the R&B charts in 1950 and "Chica Boo" which hit #1 in 1951. He seemed to have a knack for being on hit records, accompanying T-Bone Walker on his 1947 hit "Call It Stormy Monday", and in 1949 he joined Swing Time Records as A&R man, recording a number of hits with Lowell Fulson, including "Everyday I Have The Blues" and the #1 R&B hit "Blue Shadows." In sunny Los Angeles on April 1951 he waxed the shuffling "(Christmas) Sleigh Ride." Glenn's distinctive piano work can also be found on a five-song session Jesse Thomas waxed for Swingtime also in April 1951 which included "Xmas Celebration." Glenn was also present when Lowell Fulson cut his classic two-parter, "Lonesome Christmas Pt. 1 & 2 "in 1951.

The 50's produced many more Christmas gems including: Lowell Fulson's oft covered ""Lonesome Christmas" (1950), Cecil Gant "It's Christmas Time Again" and "Hello, Santa Claus" (1950), Roy Milton "Christmas Time Blues" (1950), Johnny Otis & Little Esther Phillips "Far Away Blues" [also known as "Faraway Christmas Blues"] (1950), Jimmy Liggins "I Want My Baby For Christmas" (1950), The Nic Nacs with Mickey Champion "Gonna Have A Merry Xmas" (1950), Larry Darnell "Christmas Blues" (1950), Sonny Parker with Lionel Hampton "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" (1950), Lloyd Glenn "Sleigh Ride" (1951), Sugar Chile Robinson "Christmas Boogie" b/w "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1950), Titus Turner "Christmas Morning" (1952), Lightning Hopkins "Merry Christmas" (1953), Chuck Berry "Run, Rudolph, Run" (1958) and "Merry Christmas Baby" (1958), John Lee Hooker "Blues for Christmas" (1959).

The 60's, less so in the 70's, produced a number of strong Christmas blues songs including at least one blues classic, Little Johnny Taylor's "Please Come Home For Christmas" (1969) which has become an oft covered holiday classic. Other notable 60's songs include: Sonny Boy Williamson II "Santa Claus" (1960), Lightnin' Hopkins "Santa" (1960) and "Heavy Snow" (1962), Black Ace "Santa Claus Blues" (1960), B.B. King "Christmas Celebration" (1960), Hop Wilson "Merry Christmas, Darling" (1961), Robert Nighthawk "Merry Christmas Baby" (1964), Lowell Fulson "I Wanna Spend Christmas With You" (1967), Louis Jordan "Santa Claus, Santa Claus" (1968), Charles Brown "New Merry Christmas Baby" (1969) featuring Earl Hooker, Bukka White "Christmas Eve Blues" (1969). In the 70's: Jimmy Reed "Christmas Present Blues" (1970), Lee Jackson "The Christmas Song" (1971), Clyde Lasley "Santa Came Home Drunk (1971), Albert King "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" (1974) and "Christmas Comes But Once A Year" (1974), Eddie C. Campbell "Santa's Messin' with the Kid" (1977).

Freddy Ling: I Hear Jingle BellsThere seems to be a dearth of quality Christmas songs in the 70's and 80's. By the late 80's the rise of the CD caused the demise of the 45 record which was one of the main vehicles for putting out holiday songs. However in lieu of the 45 labels began releasing Christmas themed compilations and there have been a number of very good collections. Some of the best include: Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas (1989) from the Antone's label [reissued on Epic in 1986 and Sony in 2001], Alligator Records Christmas Collection (1992), Ichiban Blues At Christmas Vol. 1-4 (1991-97) [Best of Ichiban Blues at Christmas was issued 2002], Bullseye Blues Christmas (1995), Stony Plain's Christmas Blues (2000), Blue Christmas (2000) from the Dialtone label, Blue Xmas (2001) on Evidence. A number of artists issued Christmas themed records including Charles Brown, Huey "Piano' Smith, Johnny Adams, B.B. King and Etta James. Also with the dominance of the CD age labels went back into their vaults to put together compilations of classic Christmas blues.

Memphis Minnie & Kansas JoeI'm Going Back HomeStuff Tha Dreams Are Made Of
Memphis Minnie & Kansas JoeWhat's The Matter With The Mil Blues Images Vol. 10
Ma Rainey & Papa Charlie JacksonBig Feeling BluesMother Of The Blues
Arnold & Irene WileyRootin' Bo Hog Blues Blues & Jazz Obscurities
Hezekiah & Dorothy JenkinsFare Thee Well Blues & Jazz Obscurities
Bobbie Cadillac & Coley JonesEasin' InTexas Girls 1926-1929
Buddy Burton & Irene SandersElectric Man W E ''Buddy'' Burton & Ed ''Fats'' Hudson 1928-1936
Mae Glover & John ByrdGas Man BluesMississippi Moaners
Ivy Smith & Cow Cow Davenport Mistreated Mamma Blues Ivy Smith & Cow Cow Davenport 1927-1930
Dora Carr & Cow Cow Davenport5th Street BluesCow Cow Davenport - The Accompanist 1924-1929
Blind Willie McTell & Mary Willis Talkin' to You Wimmen About the BluesBlues Images Vol. 5
Blind Willie McTell & Mary Willis Rough Alley BluesThe Classic Years 1927-1940
Blind Willie JohnsonYou're Gonna Need Somebody on Your BondBlind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists)
Eddie Head & FamilyDown On MeBlues Images Vol. 6
William & Versey SmithEverybody Help The Boys Come HomeAmerican Primitive Vol. I
Clara Smith & Lonnie JohnsonYou're Gettin' Old On Your JobClara Smith: The Essential
Victoria & Spivey & Lonnie JohnsonFurniture Man Blues - Part 1Victoria Spivey: The Essential
Victoria & Spivey & Lonnie JohnsonNew Black Snake Blues No.1Victoria Spivey Vol. 2 1927-1929
J. T. ''Funny Paper'' Smith & Dessa Foster Tell It To The Judge Part 1The Original Howling Wolf 1930-1931
J. T. ''Funny Paper'' Smith & Magnolia HarrisMama's Quittin' And Leavin' Part 1 The Original Howling Wolf 1930-1931
Lottie Kimbrough and Winston Holmes Lost Lover BluesBaby, How Can It Be?
Memphis Jug Band (Jennie Clayton & Will Shade) State of Tennessee Blues The Best Of Memphis Jug Band
Mississippi Sarah & Daddy StovepipeThe SpasmGood for What Ails You
Butterbeans & SusieCold Storage Papa (Mama's A Little Too Warm For You)Butterbeans & Susie Vol. 1 1924-1925
Butterbeans & SusieTimes Is Hard (So I'm Savin' for a Rainy Day)Classic Blues & Vaudeville Singers Vol. 5
Ruth Willis & Fred McMullenJust Can't Stand ItGeorgia Blues 1928-1933
Hattie HartColdest Stuff In TownMemphis Blues 1927-1938
Charley Patton and Bertha LeeTroubled 'Bout My MotherPrimeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs
Charley Patton and Bertha LeeOh DeathPrimeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs
Jane Lucas & Georgia Tom How Can You Have the BluesKansas City Kitty 1930-1934
Georgia Tom & Hannah MayCome On MamaFamous Hokum Boys Vol. 1 1930
Coot Grant & Wesley WilsonWhippin' the WolfCoot Grant & Wesley Wilson Vol. 3 1931-1938
Coot Grant & Wesley WilsonRasslin' 'till the Wagon ComesCoot Grant & Wesley Wilson Vol. 1 1925-1928

Show Notes:

Blind Willie McTell & Mary Willis - Talkin' to You Wimmen About the BluesToday's show is something of a sequel to a couple of  related shows I aired a couple of years back: Fence Breakin' Blues – Great Country Blues Guitar Duets and Play It It 'Till I Turn High Yeller – Great Guitar/Piano Duets. Today we spotlight some classic blues and gospel female/male duets spanning the years 1925 through 1938. Along the way we hear classic partnerships like Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe and Victoria Spivey and Lonnie Johnson, blues in the vaudeville tradition from Butterbeans & Susie and Coot Grant &  Wesley Wilson, some moving gospel performances, well known artists such as Blind Willie McTell and Charlie Patton and a slew of fine lesser known artists who left behind memorable recordings.

Before blues got on record the music was heard in variety of settings including vaudeville, musicals, minstrel shows and tent shows. Many of these performers made there way on record into the 1920's, perhaps most famously Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey (we hear Rainey today with Papa Charlie Jackson on "Big Feeling Blues"). Among those featured today, Butterbeans & Susie, Coot Grant & Wesley Wilson and Cow Cow Davenport all came out of that tradition.

Butterbeans and Susie were a comedy duo made up of Jodie Edwards and Susie Edwards. Edwards began his career in 1910 as a singer and dancer. The two met in 1916 when Hawthorne was in the chorus of the Smart Set show. They married on stage the next year. The two did not perform as a comic team until the early 1920s. heir act, a combination of marital quarrels, comic dances, and racy singing, proved popular on the TOBA tour. They later moved to vaudeville and appeared for a time with the blackface minstrel troupe the Rabbit's Foot Company. They cut over sixty sides between 1924 and 1930.

Coot Grant was the main stage name of Leola B. Pettigrew, a  blues singer from Alabama whose legal name became Leola Wilson following her marriage to performing partner Wesley Wilson. The pair met and began performing together in 1905 and were wed in 1913. Coot had been involved in show business  since she was a child, beginning as a dancer in vaudeville. Her husband, who played both piano and organ, was performing as early as 1905. He performed under a variety of stage names including Catjuice Charlie in a duo with Pigmeat Pete, as well as Kid Wilson, Jenkins, Socks, and Sox Wilson. The husband and wife, billed as Grant & Wilson, Kid & Coot, and Hunter & Jenkins, cut over sixty sides between 1925 and 1938, often backed with top jazz artists.Lottie Kimbrough and Winston Holmes - Lost Lover Blues

In his early years Cow Cow Davenport toured TOBA with an act called Davenport and Company with Blues singer Dora Carr and they recorded together in 1925 and 1926. The act broke up when Carr got married. Davenport briefly teamed up with Blues singer Ivy Smith in 1928. Smith and Davenport cut some two-dozen sides together between 1927 and 1930.

Victoria Spivey and Lonnie Johnson did several duets together that have vaudeville feel to them.  Johnson backed Spivey on numerous recordings in 1926 and 1927 and they made several duets together  in 1928 and 1929 including "New Black Snake Blues Part 1 & 2", "Toothache Blues Part 1 & 2 and "You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now Part 1 & 2 ."

More in down-home vein were recordings by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe, J. T. "Funny Paper" Smith and Blind Willie McTell with different partners. Memphis Minnie's marriage and recording debut came in 1929, to and with Kansas Joe McCoy, when a Columbia Records talent scout heard them playing in a Beale Street barbershop. It was supposedly a Columbia A and R man who gave the duo their names. Between 1929 and 1934 Minnie and Joe cut around one hundred sides together. McCoy and Minnie recorded songs together and on their own for Decca Records until they divorced in 1934.

Mary Willis recorded with several Atlanta artists including Blind Willie McTell, Curley Weaver and Buddy Moss. McTell also recorded with singer Ruby Glaze and Kate McTell who are likely the same person. One of the featured tracks, "Talkin To You Wimmen' About The Blues",  was not issued until just a few years ago.  The track and it's flip side, "Merciful Blues", was issued on the CD that accompanies Tefteller's 2008 blues artwork calendar. To quote Tefteller: "the record you see in the center of this page [Talkin' To You Wimmen About The Blues] apparently has not been heard by anyone since its release back in the late fall of 1931. I have had this record in my collection for almost ten years. I had no idea that it was potentially a one-of-a-kind record! …Late last year, legendary Blues reissue producer Larry Cohn called me about his upcoming Blind Willie McTell box set. He told me he would like to borrow certain records from my collection …I sent him a list of what I had. To my amazement , he called immediately with the comment, "I've never heard the Mary Willis record!" Apparently, there is no master in the Columbia vaults. Cohn is aware of no other copy of the record anywhere. Finding this hard to believe, I started calling "all the usual suspects" and sure enough, none of them had the record or had ever heard it."

Between 1930 and 1931 J. T. "Funny Paper" Smith had recorded some twenty issued sides. Among those were a pair of fine duets we feature today: "Tell It To The Judge Part 1 & 2" with Dessa Foster and Mama's Quittin' And Leavin' Part 1 & 2" with Magnolia Harris.

Mississippi Sarah & Daddy Stovepipe - The SpasmAlso on tap today are several fine gospel performances by Blind Willie Johnson, Charlie Paton, Eddie Head and William & Versey Smith . Johnson  may have married Willie B. Harris who sang accompaniment with Johnson on some of his recordings for Columbia Records between 1927 and 1930. Today we feature one of my favorites, "You're Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond."

Bertha Lee met Charlie Patton in 1930 and remained his wife until his death in 1934. During this time, she sang on several of Patton's recordings, which resulted in the recording of three of her own songs, "Yellow Bee", "Dog Train Blues" (unissued), and "Mind Reader Blues". Patton accompanied her on guitar on these records.

William Smith and his wife recorded four songs for Paramount in 1927 while Eddie Head cut the same number for Columbia in 1930.