Entries tagged with “Washboard Sam”.

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.

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

Show Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doc Wiley Big House Blues Blues & Gospel Kings, Vol. 2 1945-50
Walter Brown & Skip Brown's OrchestraSusie May Blues & Gospel Kings, Vol. 2 1945-50
Charles "Crown Prince" Waterford Time To BlowBlues & Gospel Kings, Vol. 2 1945-50
Alice Moore New Blue Black And Evil BluesSt. Louis Women Vol. 2 1934-1941
Josh WhiteBlack And Evil BluesJosh White: Blues Singer 1932-1936
Leroy ErvinBlue Black And Evil Texas Blues:Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings
Lennie Lewis & His Orchestra (vcl. Harold Tinsley) Mean, Bad And Evil Blues Blues & Gospel Kings, Vol. 2 1945-50
Lightnin' Hopkins Black and EvilTexas Blues
Blind Joe Reynolds Outside Woman BluesBlues Images Vol. 5
Marshall OwensTry Me One More TimeBlues Images Vol. 4
Willie Harris Never Drive a Stranger from Your DoorJackson Blues 1928 -1938
John Lee Hooker Don't You Remember Me?I'll Go Crazy: The Federal Records Story
Lightnin' Hopkins Darling, Do You Remember Me?Soul Blues
Clifford Gibson (R.T. Hanen Vcl) She's Got The Jordan River In Her Hips Clifford Gibson 1929-1931
Washboard Sam Rive Hip MamaRockin' My Blues Away
Sammy Lewis & Willie Johnson So Long Baby Goodbye Sun Blues box
Sammy LewisYou Lied To Me Blow By Blow - An Anthology of Harmonica Blues
Peg Leg Howell Moanin' and Groanin' BluesFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Mississippi Sheiks Your Good Man Caught The Train and GoneHoney Babe Let The Deal Go Down: The Best Of The Mississippi Sheiks
Mobile Strugglers Memphis BluesAfrican American Fiddlers 1926-1949
Muddy Waters Too Young To KnowThe Complete Chess Recordings
Louisiana RedCatch Me A Freight TrainForrest Cty Joe/Rocky Fuller: Memory Of Sonny Boy
Sonny Boy Williamson IIBorn BlindThe Chess Years Box Set
Blind Lemon Jefferson Stocking Feet BluesMeaning In The Blues
Blind Lemon Jefferson That Crawlin' Baby BluesBest Of Blind Lemon Jefferson
Otis Spann Hotel LorraineMartin Luther King’s Blues
Big Joe Williams The Death Of Dr. Martin Luther KingMartin Luther King’s Blues
Brother Will Hairston The Alabama Bus Parts 1 & 2Martin Luther King’s Blues
Chocolate Brown with Blind Blake You Got What I WantBlues Images Vol. 12
Mamie SmithKansas City Man BluesCrazy Blues: The Best of Mamie Smith
Lucille BoganTired as I Can BeShave 'Em Dry: The Best of Lucille Bogan

Show Notes:

Alice Moore: Black And Evil BluesWhile I do theme shows most weeks, these mix shows often contain some short themes from set to set and we certainly explore a few on today's program. On deck today we spotlight several songs that revolve around the lyric "black and evil, first popularized by singer Alice Moore, we showcase a trio of songs revolving around Martin Luther King, we play several sides from the King Records anthology Blues & Gospel Kings, Vol. 2, we hear twin spins from Blind Lemon Jefferson and Sammy Lewis, plus a whole batch of great pre-war blues and more.

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. Our version, "New Black And Evil Blues" was recorded in 1937.

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. Several other artists used the "black and evil" theme including Josh White and Lennie Lewis & His Orchestra, both who are featured today.

Blues & Gospel Kings Vol. 2Today we spotlight several songs from the second volume of an anthology that collects early sides from the legendary King label titled Blues & Gospel Kings, Vol. 2 1945-50. Founded by Syd Nathan in 1943, King Records was one of the most influential independent labels of the 1940s and 1950s. By the end of the latter decade, it had become the nation's sixth largest record company. The label originally  specialized in country music and." King advertised, "If it's a King, It's a Hillbilly – If it's a Hillbilly, it's a King." The company also had a "race records" label, Queen Records (which was melded into the King label within a year or two) and most notably (starting in 1950) Federal Records which launched the singing career of James Brown. In the 1950s, this side of the business outpaced the hillbilly recordings.

Although he was not the first male country blues singer/guitarist to record, Blind Lemon Jefferson was the first to succeed commercially and his success influenced previously reluctant record companies to actively seek out and record male country blues players in the hope of finding a similar talent. Throughout the ’20s Lemon spearheaded a boom in ‘race’ record sales that featured male down-home blues singers and such was the appeal of his recordings that in turn they were responsible for inspiring a whole new generation of blues singers. There's no shortage of great Lemon songs and today we spin "Stocking Feet Blues" and "That Crawlin' Baby Blues", the latter with the devastating lines:

Some woman rocks the cradle, and I declare she rules her home
Woman rocks the cradle, and I declare she rules her home
Many a man rocks some other man's baby and the fool thinks he's rockin' his own

I did not do a new show last week but I did want to play a few songs in honor of Martin Luther King. I did, however, see the movie Selma which was quite powerful. Overt political commentary was rare in recorded blues and gospel prior to the 1960’s but became increasingly more common afterwords. Several blues and gospel numbers were recorded about Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in Alabama. In "Alabama Bus Pts. 1 & 2" Brother Will Hairston sings bout the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Dr. King and ignited by Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat to a white man. Several blues singers paid tribute to the death of Martin Luther King including Champion Jack Dupree, Big Joe Williams and Otis Spann. All three tracks played today come from the CD Martin Luther King's Blues on the Agram label, a companion to the book President Johnson’s Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on LBJ, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Vietnam 1963-1968 by Guido Van Rijn.

Sammy Lewis
Sammy Lewis (Photo from the Charly Sun Blues Box)

Harmonica blower Sammy Lewis and guitarist Willie Johnson recorded for Sun Records in 1955 cutting "I Feel So Worried b/w  So Long Baby Goodbye." The third song from this session, "Gonna Leave You Baby" was not issued at the time. Lewis continued working in Memphis after Johnson moved north, working with an assortment of bands. He went on to cut a 45 for the West Memphis 8th Street label in 1977. He was thought to have died until he was rediscovered in 1970, still playing in West Memphis. The 8th street sides were collected on the anthology Blow By Blow – An Anthology of Harmonica Blues on the Sundown label.

We play several classics from the pre-war era and as always I try to drawn from the best sounding reissues I can find. Tracks like Blind Joe Reynolds' "Outside Woman Blues", Marshall Owens' "Try Me One More Time" and Chocolate Brown (Irene Scruggs) with Blind Blake come from the CD's that accompany record collector John Tefteller's annual blues calendars.  The 78's are expertly remastered by Richard Nevins of Yazoo Records from the best possible copies. Other tracks like Peg Leg Howell's "Moanin' and Groanin' Blues" and Blind Lemon Jefferson's "That Crawlin' Baby Blues" come from some of the best reissue labels, Old Hat and Yazoo, A few others like Mamie Smith's "Kansas City Man Blues", Lucille Bogan's "Tired as I Can Be" and the Mississippi Sheiks' "Your Good Man Caught The Train and Gone" come from major label reissues, sometimes from the original masters, back when the majors occasionally reissued pre-war blues. So if you're not a 78 collector but are collecting pre-war blues pay attention to companies like these if you want to hear these old blues records at their best.