|Blind Willie McTell ||Just As Well Get Ready-You Got To Die-Climbing High Mountains-Tryin' To Get Home||The Classic Years 1927-1940
|Charley Patton ||You’re Gonna Need Somebody When You Die||Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
|Son House ||Lord Have Mercy When I Come To Die||The Real Delta Blues
|Brother Willie Eason ||I Want To Live (So God Can Use Me) ||Fire In My Bones
|Furry Lewis ||When I Lay My Burden Down||When I Lay My Burden Down
|Henry Johnson ||Until I Found The Lord||45
|Leola Manning ||He Fans Me||Rare County Blues 1928-1957
|Sister O.M. Terrell ||I'm Going To That City||Get Right With God: Hot Gospel 1947-1953
|Rev. W.M. Mosley||You Preachers Stay Out Of Widow's Houses||Rev. W.M. Mosley 1926-1931
|Hi Henry Brown ||Preacher Blues||Blues Images Vol. 10
|Big Bill Broonzy ||Preachin' the Blues ||Big Bill Broonzy
1937-1940 Vol. 2
|Ralph Willis ||Amen Blues||Shake That Thing: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
|Papa Lightfoot ||When the Saints Go Marching ||Blues Harmonica Wizards
|Julius Daniels||Slippin' And Slidin' Up The Golden Street||Atlanta Blues
|Skip James ||Jesus Is a Mighty Good Leader||Blues Images Vol. 6
|Texas Alexander||Justice Blues|| Texas Alexander Vol. 3 1930-1950
|Lightnin' Hopkins ||I'm Going To Build Me A Heaven Of My Own||The Complete Prestige Recordings
|Sam Collins ||Lead Me All The Way||Jailhouse Blues
|Bukka White||The Promise True And Grand||Masters of the Delta Blues: Friends of Charlie Patton
|Mother McCollum ||Jesus Is My Air-O-Plane ||Blues Images Vol. 11
|Bessie Smuth||On Revival Day (A Rhythmic Spiritual)||The Complete (Frog)
|Lizzie Miles||Hold Me, Parson||Lizzie Miles Vol. 3 1928-1929
|Washington Phillips||Denomination Blues (Pt.1)||I Am Born To Preach The Gospel
|Champion Jack Dupree ||Deacon's Party||Champion Jack Dupree: Early Cuts
|The Griffin Brothers||Double Faced Deacon||Blues With A Beat
|Rev. Anderson Johnson||Do You Call That Religion?||Blind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists
|Jaybird Coleman||I'm Gonna Cross the River of Jordan - Some O' These Days||Goodbye, Babylon6
|Robert Pete Williams||Church on Fire (No. 2)||I'm Blue As a Man Can Be
|Doctor Clayton ||Angels In Harlem||Angels In Harlem
|Roy Brown||Judgement Day||Roy Brown & New Orleans - R&B
|Lloyd Price ||Lord, Lord, Amen!||Lloyd Price 1952-1953
|H-Bomb Ferguson ||Preaching The Blues||Rock H-Bomb Rock
|Willie Mae Williams ||Where the Sun Never Goes Down||Fire In My Bones
|Little Janice ||Scarred Knees||West Coast Guitar Killers Vol. 1
I know blues singers don't go to heaven
'Cause Gabriel bars them out
(Doctor Clayton, Angels In Harlem, 1946 )
Today's show is part two of our look at 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 today's program.
Today's title comes from one of my favorite singers, the influential Doctor Clayton. Clayton's vocal style was widely emulated and a number of his songs became blues standards. He first recorded for Bluebird in 1935 cutting six sides four of which went unissued, not recording again until 1941. Between 1941-1942 he recorded four sessions for Bluebird and Okeh. Clayton's final recordings were in February 1946 with a small group led by "Baby Doo" Caston with a final session in August 1946 which is where today's selection, "Angels In Harlem", comes from. The song was covered by Smokey Hogg, Peppermint Harris, Little Son Willis as "Harlem Blues" and by Larry Davis as "Angels In Houston." This is a good example of a blues song using religious imagery. Another example is Texas Alexander's "Justice Blues" from 1934. The song has lyrical similarity to a number of songs:
I've cried, Lord, my Father, Lord, our kingdom come (2x)
Send me back my woman, then my will be done
I never been to Heaven, people, but I've been told
Says, I never been to Heaven, people, but I've been told
Oh Lord, it's womens up there got their mouths chock full of gold
I'm gonna build me a Heaven, have a kingdom of my own
Gonna build me a Heaven have a kingdom of my own
So these brownskin women can cluster around my throne
The song echoed a line from House' 1930 number "Preachin The Blues:"
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" which we play today .Also worth noting is Alexander's mockery of the Lord's prayer. This device shows up in a number of songs including John Byrd's mock sermon "The White Mule of Sin" as he has "Sister" Jones lead the prayer:
Our father who art in heaven
The white man owed me ten dollars and I didn't get but seven
Thy kingdom come Thy will be done
I took that or I wouldn't have got none
In our first installment we played "You Shall" by Frank Stokes which uses a similar refrain:
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
There were slew of related songs that took a cynical, humorous view of the preacher. In our first installment we featured a number of these including Arthur Anderson's "If You Want To Make A Preacher Cuss", Hambone Willie Newbern's "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)", Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe's "Preachers Blues", Mississippi Sheiks' "He Calls That Religion", Luke Jordan's "Church Bells", Christina Gray's "The Reverend Is My Man", Frank Stokes' "You Shall", Little Esther's "The Deacon Moves In" and Louis Jordan's "Deacon Jones." We feature a batch more today including Hi Henry Brown's "Preacher Blues", Champion Jack Dupree's "Deacon's Party" and The Griffin Brothers' "Double Faced Deacon:"
Well let me tell you about a deacon, top hat long tail coat (2x)
Well he preaches his best while winking at the women folk
Well he preached against gambling, said it was a sin and a shame (2x)
Well he met me in the alley, shot seven for my watch and chain
On "Preacher Blues" from 1932 Hi Henry Brown echoes a similar sentiment:
Preacher in the pulpit, bible in his hand, sister in the corner crying that my man (2x)
Preacher come to your house asking to rest his hat, next hing he wanna know sister, where your husband at? (2x)
Criticism of the preacher and religion isn't confined to secular artists. We hear a similar complaint from Rev. Anderson today on "Do You Call That Religion?" and "Denomination Blues" by Washington Phillips:
You're fightin' each other, and think you're doing well
And the sinners on the outside are going to hell. And that's all
Now the preachers is preachin', and think they're doing well
All they want is your money and you can go to hell. And that's all
Then there was Reverend A.W. Mosley who delivers the no nonsense "You Preachers Stay Out Of Widow's Houses."
You jack-legged preachers – stay out of widow's houses
Some of the mornings – some of these nights
You goin' to some widow's house
Some grass widow, that you ain't got no business there
They gonna find your body there
But you won't find yo' head
Preacher – stay out of widow's houses
In the heyday of blues popularity, the late 20's and 30's, there was a marked increase in blues imagery in recorded sermons which were hugely popular during this period. There was F.W. McGhee railing against "Shine-Drinking" and "Women's Clothes (You Can't Hide)" while Rev. Emmett Dickinson delivered sermons with titles like "Is There Harm In Singing The Blues" and "Sermon On Tight Like That."
There were quite a number of blues artists who recorded both blues and gospel. I'm not sure if this was commercially driven or heartfelt religious sentiment. Certainly Son House was conflicted between the blues and religious worlds. 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. His "Preachin the Blues", featured in part one, is a savage attack on organized religion—specifically in the form of the Baptist church. In his rediscovery years House recorded and performed religious materiel, sometimes even doing some preaching during his shows.
House's contemporary Charley Patton 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: "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."
Others featured today who recorded both blues and gospel were singer Leola Manning who's vocals seem straight out of the church. Our selection, "He Fans Me", is a religious number but bears a strong resemblance to Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon's raunchy hit "Fan It." Then there was Crying Sam Collin who cut just a few gospel numbers although he did record several others that were not released. Similarly Julius Daniels cut a mix of blues and gospel as we feature him performing "Slippin' And Slidin' Up The Golden Street." Blind Willie McTell was another who cut a fair number of spiritual sides starting in 1933, some more in 1935 and several for the Library of Congress in 1940. He continued to cut a number of religious sides during his post-war recordings. Skip James, featured today on "Jesus Is a Mighty Good Leader" from his legendary 1931 session, continued to perform and record spiritual numbers during his rediscovery in the 1960's. At his first session in 1930 Bukka White cut two religious numbers and two blues and in advertisement in the Chicago Defender was billed as the "Singing Preacher."
Unrelated to the Son House song, where several similarly titled songs such as Bessie Smith's "Preachin' The Blues", "Preaching The Blues" by H-Bomb Ferguson and Big Bill Broonzy's "Preachin' The Blues.” 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. Ferguson's father was a Baptist preacher who paid for piano lessons for his son condition he learned sacred songs. But Ferguson had other ideas: "After church was over, while the people was all standing outside talking, me and my friends would run back inside and I'd play the blues on the piano." His father would not approve of his 1952 number:
Is all my bothers here, is everybody ready?
Well all you backsliders sit out there and say amen,
And when I get to preaching, you wish you had some gin
Now take old brother Johnson he says he's living right,
I saw him sneaking around with the deacon"s wife last night
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, Willie Mae Williams plus several who recorded slightly later like Rev. Utah Smith, Willie Eason and Sister O.M. Terrell.
In part one we spotlighted a pair of cuts by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a tremendous guitarist and singer who did blues sides in her early days but pretty much stuck to gospel for the rest of her lengthy recording career. It's interesting that in the early blues years there were very few guitar playing woman. The biggest name was Memphis Minnie with a few others like Mattie Delaney and Geeshie Wiley who cut a few sides. Tharpe must have been an influence in because on the gospel side there were several fine woman guitarists including Willie Mae Williams and Sister O.M. Terrell both of whom are spotlighted today.