Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Show 66 - Biographical Mysteries


The New York Times ran a fascinating story about Elvie Thomas where the author uncovered a lot of new biographical details and interviewed folks that knew her decades after she’d made blues records in 1930 or 1931. Elvie Thomas was found to be a Texan who’d left the blues for the church and who lived until the 1970s. Her life been considered a mystery though her recordings with Geeshie Wiley have been greatly loved. In a way it’s extraordinary that we know anything about folks that happened to make a handful of records 80 years ago. But the blues inspires such devotion that there’s been huge efforts from researchers to learn everything we can about these musicians. So in this show I’m going to present a few of the biographical mysteries of the blues. We’ll start with that classic from Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, Last Kind Words Blues:
The last kind words I heard my daddy say
Lord, the last kind words I heard my daddy say

If I die, if I die in the German war
I want you to send my body, send it to my mother-in-law

If I get killed, if I get killed, please don't bury my soul
I cry just leave me out, let the buzzards eat me whole

When you see me coming look across the rich man's field
If I don't bring you flour, I'll bring you bolted meal

I went to the depot, I looked up at the sun
Cried, some train don't come, Lord, be some walking done

My mama told me, just before she died
Lord, say to your daughter, don't you be so wild

The Mississippi river, you know it's deep and wide
I can stand right here, see my baby from the other side

What you do to me baby it never gets outta me
I may not see you after I cross the deep blue sea

Kid Bailey remains a mystery. Some assume that the name is a pure pseudonym. One theory if that Bailey is the same person as Willie Brown, the associate of Charley Patton, Son House, and Robert Johnson. Only a few of his records survive, recorded in 1929 at a famous session at Memphis’ Peabody Hotel. Mississippi Bottom Blues may tell something of his story.

Way down in Mississippi where I was bred and born
I believe that will forever be my native home

My poor mother’s old and her hair is turning gray
And my poor mother’s old now and her hair is turning gray
I know it would break her heart if she found out I was barrelhousing this way

I’m going where the water drinks like wine
I’m going where the water drinks like wine
Where I can be drunk and staggering all the time

And it ain’t but the one thing now, Lord, it worries my mind
And it ain’t but the one thing now, Lord, it worries my mind
That’s a house full of women, Lord, Lord, ain’t none of them mine

My baby passed me and she never said a word
And my baby passed me and she never said a word
Nothing I had did, but it was something she had heard

Was Willie Brown also known as Kid Bailey. Experts disagree. My thought… probably not. Future Blues is Brown's most famous song:
Can't tell my future and I can't tell my past
Lord, it seems like every minute sure gonna be my last

The minutes seem like hours and hours seem like days
The minutes seem like hours and hours seem like days
And it seems like my woman oughta stop her lowdown ways

The woman I love now she's five feet from the ground
I said, the woman I love now, Lord, is five feet from the ground
And she's tailor made and ain't no hand me down

Lord, and I got a woman now, Lordy, she's lightning when she
Lightnin when she…
I say, I got a woman
Lord, and she's lightnin when she smiles
Five feet and four inches and she's damn good looking size

Well, I know you see that picture, now, Lord, up on your mother's, up on your mother's, mama's shelf
I know you see that picture now, up on your mother's shelf
Well, you know about that, I'm getting tired of sleeping by myself

And it's T for Texas, now, it's T for Tennessee
And it's T for Texas, now, it's T for Tennessee
Lord, bless that woman, that put that thing on me

The intensity of the singing and playing on his song Gone Dead Train, made King Solomon Hill one of the biggest mysteries in the blues for decades. It’s now agreed that his real name was Joe Holmes and the name King Solomon Hill was taken from the community where he lived and probably assigned by someone at Paramount solely for the 8 sides he made there. Holmes was from McComb, Mississippi and is known to have spent some time traveling with Blind Lemon Jefferson. Decades of research from Gayle Dean Wardlow gave us his story.

And I'm going way down Winden
Lord, I'm gonna try to leave here today
Tell 'em I believe I'll find my way and that train is just that way

Gotta get on that train, I said I'd even broke my jaw
Boys, if you out and running around in this world this train will wreck your mind, your life too

Lord, I once was a hobo, I crossed many a point
But I decided I'd go down the fog traveling light
And take it as it comes

I reckon you know the fireman and the engineer would too

There are so many people have gone down today
And this fast train north and southern traveling light and clear

I wanna ride your train
I said, "Look here, engineer, can I ride your train?"
He said, "Look here, you oughta know this train ain't mine and you're asking me in vain"

Said, "You go to the Western Union, you might get a chance"
I didn't know the Western Union run no train

Said, "You go to the Western Union, you might get a chance"
You might get wire to some of your people and your fare will be sent right here
Hadn't thought that's the way it was

I wanna go home, and that train is done gone dead
I wanna go, that train is done gone dead
I done lost my wife and my three little children, and my mother's sick in bed

Please, help me win my fare
Cause I'm a traveling man, boys I can't stay here

Virginia harmonica player Blues Birdhead hasn't inspired the same kind of devotion and curiosity but his mystery is intriguing. We know his names was James Simons and he played around Norfolk, but that's it. He was clearly an extraordinary talent coaxing all kinds of notes out of that little diatonic harp. Mean Low Blues, his jazz trumpet influenced instrumental recorded with an unidentified pianist shows his skills. J.T. Funny Paper Smith made some fantastic records, but we know virtually nothing about him. It's still debated if his nickname was "Funny Paper" or "Funny Papa." "Funny Paper" is what appears on the records and I've never seen any evidence to show that's incorrect. He was also known as the Howlin' Wolf. One report is that he was a Texan who was once arrested for murder. If that's true, County Jail Blues, seems pretty autobiographical:

Come on all you people hear me tell my tale
Come on all you people hear me tell my sad tale
I’m through with all of my worries, and I don’t even want no bail
I killed my woman, I’m in a hurry, I’m going to the county jail

Judge, here I am this morning and here’s my .45
Judge, here I am this morning and here’s my .45
Here I am, Judge, this morning, and here is my .45
I shot my woman on the other corner and I don’t know whether she’s dead or live

Now don’t ask me no questions, Judge about how our troubles begin
Don’t ask me no questions, Judge, about how our troubles begin
Judge don’t ask me no questions about how our trouble begin
Just have it printed in your paper, little trouble between women and men

Mmmmm, Oh Lord, I heard that judge say 99
Mmmmm I heard that old judge say 99
Mmmmm, Oh Lord, I heard that old judge say 99
And it’s one thing I wish I had this morning and that’s that .45 of mine

Well I’m gonna lay down in jail like I used to lay down out on Calumet
(Well) I’m gonna lay down in jail like I used to lay down on Calumet
I’m gonna lay down like I used to lay down way out on Calumet
Maybe good luck to you cause I haven't forgot you yet

Friday, March 07, 2014

Show 65 - Snitcher's Blues




A few years back, the Stop Snitching movement received a lot of attention in the media with high profile rappers and athletes using songs and films to urge people not to cooperate with police investigating crimes. Of course, disdain for snitchers was nothing new and there have always songs about the problems with snitchers. Let’s start with one from 1928 that gives some history going back to 1894. It’s the Memphis Jug Band’s Snitchin' Gambler Blues:

People in this town, Lord, they ain't no friend to you
Oh, they'll do you a favor, go around and tell lies on poor you

If I only had me a brick house of my own
I wouldn't allow snitching and gambling people around my home
I hate a snitcher, worse than the good Lord hates the sin

If they ever give me any trouble, soon be on my way to the pen
If I only had me a shelter of my own

I wouldn't allow snitching and gambling people around my home
Now it's eighteen hundred, and it's ninety-one

That's when the snitching work, people, Lord, had just begun
Now it's eighteen hundred, and it's ninety-two

The snitchers in this town, Lord, they just won't do
Now it's eighteen hundred, and it's ninety-three

I got arrested off of Beale Street
I went before the judge, I said judge, what is my fine?

A hundred dollar fine, and do eleven twenty-nine
Now look-a-here, judge, can't you hold up off of that fine?

He said, go ahead on, nigger, that ain't no great long time
Oh, don't I hate a snitcher worse than the good Lord hates the sin

Now it's eighteen hundred and it's ninety-four
The white people rolled me in the workhouse door

It's eighteen hundred and it's ninety-five
These people in this town don't do nothing but tell dirty lies

Now it's eighteen hundred and it's ninety-six
That's when the snitchers got all-all their little snitching work fixed

It's nineteen-hundred and it's twenty-seven
They snitch so bad they're trying to snitch their way into heaven

It's nineteen-hundred and it's twenty-eight
I left the snitchers standing at the workhouse gate

Now, It's nineteen-hundred and it's twenty-nine
I left all the snitching people way behind

Oh, don't I hate a snitcher worse than the good Lord hates the sin


James Stump Johnson recorded Snitchers Blues singing about losing his friends and the police and the snitches around St. Louis:
When I had money, I had friends for miles around
When I had money, I had friends for miles around
Ain’t got no money, now my friends cannot be found

Some give me a nickel, some give me a lousy dime
Some give me a nickel, some give me a lousy dime
Some people say that old dunce ain’t no friend of mine

Be with me when I’m down, I’ll be the same when I rise
Be with me when I’m down, I’ll be the same when I rise
These St. Louis women, they think they are too wise

She cook good cabbage and she called them turnip greens
Oh, she cooked good cabbage, she called them turnip greens
Now she’s the best old woman, the best I’ve ever seen

Called my babe way down in Pollock town
mmmm, babe way down in Pollock town
Well the police and these snitches they have tore my playhouse down

Take me to Kirkwood, I’ll make St. Louis all by myself
Mmmm,, St. Louis by myself
When I get there, I hope you haven’t got nobody else
George Hannah recorded another version of the same song as The Snitches Blues:
When I had money, I had friends for miles around
When I had money, I had friends for miles around
Ain’t got no money, my friends cannot be found

Some give me a nickel, some give me lousy dime
Some give me a nickel, some give me lousy dime
Some let me know that they ain’t  no friend of mine

Be with me when I’m down, I’ll be the same way when I rise
Be with me when I’m down, I’ll be the same when I rise
These St. Louis women, they really are too wise

She cook good cabbage, she called them turnip greens
She cooked good cabbage, she called them turnip greens
She’s the best old woman, the best I’ve ever seen

Called my babe way down in Pollock town
Called my babe way down in Pollock town
The police and these snitches tore my playhouse down

Take me to Kirkwood, I’ll make St. Louis by myself
Take me to Kirkwood, St. Louis by myself
When I get there,babe, I hope you ain’t got nobody else

In 1937, Big Joe Williams took some elements of the Snitcher's Blues and recorded I Won't Be in Hard Luck No More talking about the police and the snitches trying to tear his reputation down.
 
 I said goodbye baby, oh yes I got to go
 I said goodbye baby, oh yes I got to go
 I don't want to be way in the South, ooh well mistreated for Mister so‑and‑so

 I stayed in hard luck and trouble every old place I go
 I stayed in hard luck and trouble most every old place I go
 I believe somebody put bad luck on me, ooo well I believe now it's time to go

I had money baby, I even had friends for miles around
When  I had money babe, I even had friends for miles around
Well all the money gone,  ooo well and my friends cannot be found

I started down, I started down in Pollock Town
I started down, baby, I started down in Pollock Town
Seem like the snitches and the police is trying to tear poor Joe's reputation down

Now you can hear me when I'm down, be the same way when I rise
you can hear me when I'm down, be the same way when I rise
I got a gal in East St Louis she lives down in Polack Town

Blind Boy Fuller's 1935 hit Rag, Mama, Rag has a good time feel, but some threatening lyrics directed at the woman who hollered murder:
Says I'm going uptown hat in my hand
Looking for the woman ain't got no man
Just as well be looking for a needle in the sand
Looking for a woman ain't got no man

Oh, rag Rag.
Rag Said do that rag

Oh, rag
Oh, rag
Rag
Said do that rag

Says I wouldn't have thought my gal would treat me so
Love another man stay at my back door
Mind, mama, what you sow
You got to reap just what you sow

Oh, rag
Rag, now
Rag, baby
Rag, mama
Said do that rag

Oh, rag
Do it a long time
Rag
Said do that rag

Now if you'll get you one woman, better get you two
One for your buddy other one for you
Got me a wife and a sweetheart too
Wife don't love me, my sweetheart do

Oh, rag
Rag, baby
Rag
Rag, mama,
Said do that rag
Oh, rag
Rag
Rag, baby
Said do that rag
Oh, rag
Oh, rag, baby
Rag, mama
Said do that rag
Oh, rag
Oh, rag, baby
Rag, mama
Said do that rag
Now rag, baby
Oh, rag
Oh, rag
Rag, mama
Said do that rag

Said my gal hollered murder I ain't raised my hand
Pistol in my pocket, blackjack in my hand
Took my gal under the willow tree
Ought to hear her hollering, "Don't murder me!"

Oh, rag, shh...
Oh, rag
Rag, now, baby,
Rag
Said do that rag

Oh, rag
Oh, rag, baby
Rag again
Said do that rag

Joe McCoy recorded a similarly threatening song in 1935, Something Gonna Happen to You:

I'm going to ask my old buddy now how come he shares
Won’t fool around if he’s has to go to the electric chair
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

I have bought me a pistol, shotgun and some shells
Start some stuff to show them, raise some hell
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

Yes you talked about me all through the neighborhood
Told everybody that I was no good
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

Yes you called on the old law and he brought his ball and chain
Accused me of murder, I never harmed a man
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

Yes my mother she told me, my daddy sat down and he cried
Someday son you’ve got to lay down and die
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
When I done everything that a poor boy could do

There'll be one of these mornings, you going to jump and shout
Open the jailhouse door and you come walking out
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

I used to have so many women, I didn't know who I loved
Used to gather around me like the angels above
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

Songs:
Snitchin' Gambler Blues - Memphis Jug Band
Snitchers Blues - James Stump Johnson
The Snitches Blues - George Hannah
I Won't Be in Hard Luck No More - Big Joe Williams
Rag, Mama, Rag - Blind Boy Fuller
Something Gonna Happen to You - Joe McCoy

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Show 64 - Where the Weather Suits My Clothes


I think I'm going back down South where the weather suits my clothes. Variations on that line appear in a lot of blues songs. In the context of the great African-American migration to the North, leaving Chicago or Detroit to return South for the better weather can be a metaphor for a few things. The longing for friends and family and the life you grew up with or the more troubling flip side which suggests its too hard for a black man to make it in the North. Or maybe sometimes it wasn't a metaphor at all and the singer just didn't like the cold. Lee Green seems to get at all these varieties while singing about his final resting place in Death Bell Blues from 1930.
I hate to hear that lonesome death bell toll
I hate to hear that lonesome death bell toll
But it reminds me of my dear mother, I mean that’s dead and gone
I can’t stay here, Lord, I can’t stay nowhere
Lord, I can’t stay here, Babe, I can’t stay nowhere
Lord I’ve been to the Nation, sweet woman I couldn’t stay there
From St. Louis to the river, river to the deep blue sea
From St. Louis to the river, from the river to the deep blue sea
If I don’t get woman that I’m loving, I don’t care what becomes of me
It’s so cold in Chicago, the birds can’t hardly sing
It’s so cold in Chicago, the birds can’t hardly sing
It’s so cold in East St. Louis, that these women can’t make a doggone thing
But my babe, she done quit me and I don’t even care
I mean my babe done quit me and I don’t even care
I believe that lonesome death bell will take me away from here
In the end Lee Smith is so empty without his woman, he longs for death to take him away from the cold Northern cities.

Clara Smith was one of the earlier recorded blues singers. In Down South Blues from 1923, she wants to hop on a train to head down south away from the men who've mistreated her in that cold weather:

I think of the ones down there, down South is my Southern home
I realize my life has been driftwood, like some kind of rolling stone
But I’ve learned my lesson, I mean it, I am through and folks I am not joking when I sing these Down South blues
I'm going to the station and catch the fastest train back home
I'm going to the station and catch the fastest train back home
I'm going back South where the weather suits my clothes
Because my mama told me and my daddy told me too
I say my mama told me and my daddy told me too
Don't go North and let them men make a fool out of you
Because their love's like water, it turns off and on
Because their love's like water, it turns off and on
Time you think you've got them, it’s turned off and gone
I'm going back South, if I wear out ninety‑nine pairs of shoes
I'm going back South, if I wear out ninety‑nine pairs of shoes
Because I'm broken-hearted, got those Down South blues
Ida Cox Southern Woman's Blues is from 1925:

Takes a southern woman to sing this southern song
Takes a southern woman to sing this southern song
Lord, I'm worried now but I won't be worried long
When I was downtown, I wouldn't take no one's advice
When I was downtown, I wouldn't take no one's advice
But I ain't going to let that same bee sting me twice
Because I'm going back down where the weather suits my clothes
Yes, I'm going back down where the weather suits my clothes
Down where there ain't no snow and the chilly wind never blows
I don't want no northern yellow, no northern black nor brown
I don't want no northern yellow, no northern black nor brown
Southern men will stick by you when the northern men can't be found
If you ever been South, you know just what I meanIf you ever been South, you know just what I mean
Southern men are all the same from Kentucky to New Orleans
I'm going back south where I can get my hambone boiled
I'm going back south where I can get my hambone boiled
These northern men are about to let my poor hambone spoil

John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson was a Jackson, Tennessee native and long time Chicago resident. In Down South from 1938, he talked about heading back to warmer weather:
Now I’m going back down South, man, where the weather suits my clothes
Now I done fooled around in Chicago, Lord, I done almost froze
Now that I done fooled around in Chicago, Lord, I done almost froze
Lord, my baby, my baby, she don’t treat me good no more
Now I know the reason she don’t love me, she’s wild about Mr. so and so
Now I know the reason she don’t love me, she’s wild about Mr. so and so
Now I know my baby, I know Ms. Lacy gonna want to see me now
Because my baby she didn’t want me to come way back up here no how
Lord, my baby she didn’t want me to come way back up here no how
Guitar great Scrapper Blackwell was an Indianapolis native, so his Down South Blues clearly isn't autobiographical. He sings about wondering if his baby is waiting for home in dear old sunny Tennessee. He's accompanied here by his famous piano playing partner Leroy Carr:
I'm just sitting here thinking of dear old sunny Tennessee
I'm just sitting here thinking of dear old sunny Tennessee
And wondering if my baby is waiting there for me
I'm going where the Monon crosses the L and N
I'm going where the Monon crosses the L and N
And catch me a freight train and go back home again
I'm going back South where it's warm the whole year round
I'm going back South where it's warm the whole year round
I'll be so glad when my train pulls up in town
In 1936, Victoria Spivey recorded Detroit Moan. More than any other song, it tells the story of someone who just can't make it financially in the cold cold place of Detroit.

Detroit's a cold cold place and I ain't got a dime to my name
Detroit's a cold hard place and I ain't got a dime to my name
I would go to the poorhouse but Lord you know I'm ashamed
I been walking Hastings Street, nobody seems to treat me right
I been walking Hastings Street, nobody seems to treat me right
I can make it in the daytime, but Lord these cold cold nights
Well I'm tired of eating chili and I can't eat beans no more
Yes, I'm tired of eating chili and I can't eat beans no more
People it hurts my feelings, Lord, from door to door
I've got to leave Detroit if I have to flag Number 94
I'm gonna leave Detroit if I have to flag Number 94
And if I ever get back home, I ain't never coming to Detroit no more
Memphis Jug Band showed their affinity for the warmth in their hometown in Going Back to Memphis
I'm leaving here, mama, don't you wanna go
I'm leaving here, mama, don't you wanna go
Because I'm sick and tired of all this ice and snow
When I get back to Memphis, you can bet I'll stay
When I get back to Memphis, you can bet I'll stay
And I ain't gonna leave until that judgment day
I love old Memphis, the place where I was born
I love old Memphis, the place where I was born
Wear my box-back suit, and drink my bottle of corn
I wrote my gal a letter, way down in Tennessee
I wrote my gal a letter, way down in Tennessee
Told her I was up here hungry, hurry up and send for me
I'm gonna walk and walk 'til I walk out all my shoesI'm gonna walk and walk 'til I walk out all my shoes
Because I've got what they call them leaving here blues
Blind Blake recorded Georgia Bound in 1929. It's a poetic take on returning to his native state and the agricultural lifestyle replacing the ice and snow:
Packing up my duffel, gonna leave this town
Packing up my duffel, gonna leave this town
And I'm gonna hustle to catch that train southbound 
I got the Georgia blues for the plow and hoe
I got the Georgia blues for the plow and hoe
Walked out my shoes over this ice and snow 
Tune up the fiddle, dust the catgut bow
Tune up the fiddle, dust off the catgut bow
Put on the griddle, and open up the cabin door 
I thought I was going to the Northland to stay
I thought I was going to the Northland to stay
South is on my mind, my blues won't go away 
Potatoes in the ashes, possum on the stove
Potatoes in the ashes, possum on the stove
You can have the hash, but please leave me the clove(?) 
Chicken on the roost, babe, watermelon on the vine
Chicken on the roost, babe, watermelon on the vine
I'll be glad to get back to that Georgia gal of mine

"I’ll be glad to get back to that gal of mine." That seems to be the most common theme in the songs about getting away from the cold North to return home to the South. The economic opportunities and escape from Jim Crow brought many African-American north, but knowing loved ones were still down South must have presented a constant lure to return home where it’s warm.

Songs:

Lee Green - Death Bell Blues
Clara Smith - Down South Blues
Ida Cox - Southern Woman's Blues
Sonny Boy Williamson - Down South
Scrapper Blackwell - Down South Blues
Victoria Spivey - Detroit Moan
Memphis Jug Band - Going Back to Memphis
Blind Blake - Georgia Bound

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Show 63 - Drink Brands



Some blues singers were clearly paid to advertise products. In later years, b.b. king sang songs to famously sold peptikon and sonny boy williamson king biscuit flour. Were gonna take a look at some early songs that may be ads or may just be folks singing about products they enjoy.


J.T "Funny Paper" Smith's 1930 Vocalion recording Good Coffee Blues talks about brands in some interesting ways in classic blues double entendre song:

I Heard you say this morning, mama, that your head was throbbing through and through
Heard you say this morning that your head was throbbing through and through
Come on let me make you some coffee, let me show you what my coffee will do
Pull off your house shoes, mama and lay down on the bed
Pull off your house shoes, mama lay down on the bed
I won't be but a few minutes but I will kill that old headache dead.
Don't rush, take your time lady, go down easy and slow
Don't rush, take your time lady, go down easy and slow
Then when you have a headache again, come back to me, baby, and I'll give you some more.
Your coffee-grinding papa's in town, Lord that good coffee

Now Folger makes coffee, Maxwell makes coffee, White Swan makes coffee, Arbuckle he makes coffee
But I make coffee so good, it will make you bite your tongue
Been all over the world grinding coffee mama, come on let me grind you some
Now when your friend want coffee, please send all your friends to me
When your friend want coffee, send your friends to me
I swear I give them good coffee and won't give them no rotten tea
Memphis Minnie sang about a place to get coffee and something to eat in what sure sounds like a paid advertisement from 1930. North Memphis Blues:
I tell all you people, you can rest and eat You don't have to worry about cooking, go to North Memphis Cafe and eat I tell all you people, you can rest and eat Because the North Memphis Cafe got everything that you really need
I don't buy no wood, even buy no coal
I go to North Memphis cafe and eat and don't be a dope
I tell all you people, you can rest and eat
You don't have to worry about cooking, go to North Memphis cafe and eat
I will tell y'all something, I don't change like the wind
If you go to North Memphis Cafe, eat, you'll go back again
I tell all you people, you can rest and eat
Because the North Memphis cafe got everything that you really need
Now listen to me, good people, I don't aim to make you mad
You go to North Memphis Cafe and get something you never had
I tell all you people, you can rest and eat
Because the North Memphis Cafe got everything that you really need
The Nugrape Twins were Georgia natives Mark and Matthew Little. They recorded a few blues and gospel records and also hosted a radio show sponsored by Nugrape soda. They recorded two songs about that sweet drink including I Got Your Ice Cold Nugrape in 1926:
I got a NuGrape nice and fine
The rings around the bottle is a ginger wine
I got your ice-cold NuGrape
I got a NuGrape nice and fine
There’s plenty imitation but there’s none like mine
I got your ice cold NuGrape
Way down yonder in the Promised Land
Oh, run and tell you mama, “Here the NuGrape man”
I got your ice cold NuGrape
Little children in the backyard playing in the sand
Oh, run and tell you mama, “Here the NuGrape man”
I got your ice cold NuGrape
When you feeling kind of blue, do not know what ailing you
Get a NuGrape from the store, then you’ll have the blues no more
I got your ice cold NuGrape
What’s that makes your lips go flippity flop?
When you drink a NuGrape you don’t know when to stop
I got your ice cold NuGrape
If from work you come home late, rolling pin waits at the gate
Smile and bribe her with NuGrape
Then you see you're in good shape
I got your ice cold NuGrape
Sister Mary has a beau, says he’s crazy and love her so
Buys a NuGrape every day, know he bound to win that way
I got your ice cold NuGrape
Tampa Red's Hokum Jazz Band recorded Good Gordon Gin. The musicians seem to be having a great time and singer Frankie "Hal-fpint" Jaxon seems to be singing about a product he loves when he starts chanting: "A little more of the Gordon gin, I’m talking about good Gordon gin." Big Bill Broonzy also pronounced himself a fan of Gordon Gin in his 1941 song I Feel So Good:
I got a letter, it come to me by mail
My baby says she’s coming home
And I hope that she don’t fail
You know I feel so good
Yes I feel so good
Now I feel so good
Baby, I feel like balling the jack
I feel so good, I hope I always will
I feel just like a Jack out with a Jenny
Well behind the hill
I feel so good
Yes, I feel so good
I feel so good
Baby, I feel like balling the jack
I’m going down to the station, just to meet a train
I'd like to see my baby
You know I’ve got dead aim
You know I feel so good
Yes, I feel so good
I feel so good
I just feel like balling the jack
I love my tea, crazy about my Gordon gin
When I get high now baby
Feel like floating around in the wind
You know I feel so good
Yes, I feel so good
I feel so good baby
I feel like balling the jack
Memphis Slim's Old Taylor probably wasn't a paid ad for the bourbon, but the folks at the distillery were probably pretty glad to hear the song:
Now I love to sing that good Old Taylor blues I love to sing that good Old Taylor blues When we want another drink I swear we just can't lose
Now you see, Mr. Melrose, standing in the floor Oh, I see that man that's standing in the floor He gonna give us a little drink Now, just before he goes
Now we want Old Taylor, Lord We want, Old Taylor now We want, Old Taylor now We want, Old Taylor now We want, Old Taylor Bring it on, bring it on, bring it on
Now, you'll say what's fine and mellow You'll say what's fine and mellow Oh, you'll say what's fine and mellow You'll say, what's fine and mellow Now, you'll say what's fine and mellow Bring it on, bring it on, bring it on
You'll say, was twenty years old You'll say, was twenty years old Now you'll say, was twenty years old You'll say, was twenty years old Now, you'll say was twenty years old Bring it on, bring it on, bring it on
Now, is he popping? Yeah, man Now, is he popping? Yeah, man I believe he's popping Yeah, man I believe he's popping Yeah, man I believe he's popping Yeah, man Pop on, pop on, pop on
Memphis Slim singing mentions Mr. Melrose’s is gonna give him a drink referring to Lester Melrose who ran Bluebird Records. It’s one of many songs where a blues singer sang about a brand he liked. That one’s probably not a paid endorsement, but I’m sure the folks at the Old Taylor distillery would have been thrilled to hear it. Musical inspiration can come from many sources including products on the shelf. Whether a cup or coffee or a glass of bourbon it resulted in some pretty good blues songs.

Songs:
Good Coffee Blues - Funny Paper Smith
North Memphis Blues - Memphis Minnie
I Got Your Ice Cold Nugrape - Nugrape Twins
Good Gordon Gin - Tampa Red's Hokum Jazz Band
I Feel So Good - Big Bill Broonzy
Old Taylor Blues - Memphis Slim

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Show 62 - Historical Figures and the Law



Many blues songs feature real historical figures. Some are figures who operate on both side of the law, sometimes straddling that divide. These are all folks from Memphis, North Mississippi and Arkansas. We'll start with a song about a man Jim Kinane, the man who ran the Memphis underworld including club’s featuring live music including Beale Street’s Monarch Club which might be the place Robert Wilkins is singing about. It was a gambling hall where you could find whiskey, drugs, and women. Old Jim Canaan’s was recorded in 1935:
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I'd stand on the corner and wave my hand
And if you don't believe that I'm a drinking man
Just baby stop by here with your beer can
I wish I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
I'm going uptown, buy me coke and beer
Coming back and tell you how these women is
They drink their whiskey, drink their coke and gin
When you don't play the dozens they will ease you in
Still I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
The men and women running hand in hand
Going to and fro to old Jim Canan's
Drinking their whiskey sniffing cocaine
That's the reason why I wished I was back at Jim Canan's
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's

E.H. Crump acted as political boss in Memphis running the machine that operated the city. In this time that meant understanding what was happening on both sides of the divide between the law abiding and those that wanted the city wide open. When the Memphis Sheiks recorded it, this was probably already an old song, but Crump would continue to run Memphis for several decades. Mr. Crump Don’t Like It:

If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
No barrelhouse women, God and drinking no beer
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
I saw the Baptist sister jumped up and began to shout
I saw the Baptist sister jumped up and began to shout I saw the Baptist sister jumped up and began to shout
But I'm so glad that that whiskey vote is out
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
I saw the Methodist sister jumped up and they had a fit
I saw the Methodist sister jumped up and they had a fit
I saw the Methodist sister jumped up and they had a fit
She was doggone sorry wasn't king corn here
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here I saw the Presbyterian sister turn around and began to grin
I saw the Presbyterian sister turn around and began to grin
I saw the Presbyterian sister turn around and began to grin
Lord I believe I'll start out to barrelhousing again
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here I saw the deacon look around sister why in the world don't you hush
I saw the deacon look around sister why in the world don't you hush
I saw the deacon look around sister why in the world don't you hush
I'd rather see you get drunk than wear this awful skirt You don't like my peaches don't shake my tree
You don't like my peaches don't shake my tree
You don't like my peaches don't shake my tree
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
No barrelhouse women, God and drinking no beer
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
I saw the Baptist sister jumped up and began to shout
I saw the Baptist sister jumped up and began to shout
I saw the Baptist sister jumped up and began to shout
But I'm so glad that that whiskey vote is out
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
I saw the Methodist sister jumped up and they had a fit I saw the Methodist sister jumped up and they had a fit
I saw the Methodist sister jumped up and they had a fit
She was doggone sorry wasn't king corn here
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here I saw the Presbyterian sister turn around and began to grin
I saw the Presbyterian sister turn around and began to grin
I saw the Presbyterian sister turn around and began to grin
Lord I believe I'll start out to barrelhousing again
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
I saw the deacon look around sister why in the world don't you hush
I saw the deacon look around sister why in the world don't you hush
I saw the deacon look around sister why in the world don't you hush
I'd rather see you get drunk than wear this awful skirt
You don't like my peaches don't shake my tree
You don't like my peaches don't shake my tree
You don't like my peaches don't shake my tree
Don't like my fruit, let my orange juice be
Mr. Crump don’t allow now...
Don't like my fruit, let my orange juice be
Mr. Crump don’t allow now...  

Mississippi legend Charley Patton was no stranger to run-ins with the law and he recorded the names of several real-life law enforcement figures in his songs. Tom Rushen Blues recalls Deputy Sheriff Tom Rushing of Cleveland, Ms. The song walks the difficult line of describing the difficulties of dealing with the law as a black man in Mississippi in 1929 while perhaps trying to simultaneously get in good favor with the lawman by immortalizing him in song. Tom Rushen Blues:

I lay down last night hoping I would have my peace
I lay down last night hoping I would have my peace
But when I woke up, Tom Rushen was shaking me 
When you get in trouble, there's no use of screaming and crying
When you get in trouble, there's no use of screaming and crying
Tom Rushen will take you back to Cleveland flying 
It was late one night, Holloway was gone to bed
It was late one night, Holloway was gone to bed
Mr Day brought the whiskey taken from under Holloway's head 
It takes booze and booze, Lord, to carry me through
It takes booze and booze, Lord, to carry me through
Thirty days seem like years in the jailhouse where there is no booze 
I got up this morning, Tom Day was standing around
I got up this morning, Tom Day was standing around
If he lose his office now, he's running from town to town 
Let me, tell you folksies just how he treated me
I'm going to tell you folksies just how he treated me
Ah he brought me here and I was drunk as I could be 

The song also describes Merigold, Ms. town marshal Tom Day. Five years later when Patton was back in the recording studio, he had a whole new set of lawmen to sing about. The record company producer had reportedly found Patton locked up in Belzoni, Ms. in Humphreys County where John D. Purvis was sheriff and R. Carlos Webb was his deputy. High Sheriff Blues:

Get in trouble in Belzoni, ain't no use to screaming and cry
Get in trouble in Belzoni, ain't no use to scream and cry
Mr. Webb will take you back to Belzoni jailhouse flying 
Let me tell you folks how he treated me
Let me tell you folks just how he treated me
And he put me in a cellar, it was dark as it could be
It was late one evening, Mr Purvis was standing around
It was late one evening, Mr Purvis was standing around
Mr. Purvis told Mr. Webb to let poor Charley down
It takes booze and booze, Lord to carry me through
It takes booze and booze, Lord to carry me through
Thirty days seem like years in a jailhouse where there is no booze
I got up one morning feeling mmm
I got up one morning feeling mighty bad
And it must not have been them Belzoni jail I had, blues I had
When I was in trouble it ain't no use to scream and cry
When I was in prison, it ain't no use to scream and cry
Mr. Purvis the only man who can ease that pain of mine 

Let’s head across the Mississippi River to Helena, Arkansas where Memphis Minnie sang about the baddest copper ever to walk a beat. I don’t have his real name, but he seems to be a historical figure that the locals called Reachin’ Pete. It’s another one that walks the thin line between explicitly stating how tough the local police were on black people without offending the people you mention and causing even more trouble for yourself. Reachin’ Pete:

When you go to Helena stop on Cherry Street
When you go to Helena stop on Cherry Street
And just ask anybody to show you Reaching Pete
He's the tallest man walks on Cherry Street
He's the tallest man walks on Cherry Street
And the baddest copper ever walked that beat
He met me one sunny morning just about the break of day
Lord, he met me one sunny morning just about the break of day
I was drinking my moonshine he made me throw my knife away
Well he taken my partner, carried her to the jail
Well he taken my partner, carried her to the jail
After he locked her up he turned and went her bail
Reaching Pete's all right but his buddy Old Buzzell
Reaching Pete's all right but his buddy Old Buzzell
Every time he meet you he's ready for plenty hell
Somebody get out of the way too
What you say about it, partner?
Aw, it’s good to me
Looks like to me, you can’t take it

Songs:
Old Jim Canaan's - Robert Wilkins
Mr. Crump Don't Like It - Beale Street Sheiks
Tom Rushen Blues - Charley Patton
High Sheriff Blues - Charley Patton
Reachin' Pete - Memphis Minnie