Thursday, September 22, 2005

Show 3 - Lesbian Blues



Male guitar players get most of the attention in blues discussion. I thought I’d devote a little time to the women. Particularly to the women who like other women. There's a treasury of blues songs by and about lesbians. Lucille Bogan recording under the name Bessie Jackson, accompanied by pianist Walter Roland from 1935 recorded one of the best. She's talking about bull dykes or bull daggers with B.D. Woman’s Blues:



Comin' a time, B.D. women they ain't going to need no men
Comin' a time, B.D. women they ain't going to need no men
Cause they way treat us is a lowdown dirty sin

B.D. women, you sure can't understand
B.D. women, you sure can't understand
They got a head like a sweet angel and they walk just like a natural
man


B.D. women, they all done learned their plan
B.D. women, they all done learned their plan
They can lay their jive just like a natural man

B.D. women, B.D. women, you know they sure is rough
B.D. women, B.D. women, you know they sure is rough
They all drink up plenty whiskey and they sure will strut their stuff

B.D. women, you know they work and make their dough
B.D. women, you know they work and make their dough
And when they get ready to spend it, they know they have to go

Ma Rainey was the first superstar of the classic blues women. She was a married woman, of course married to Pa Rainey, but in the 1920s, her love of women was no secret. She was arrested in 1925 after a police raid at a party where several women including Ma were found together naked and having sex. In Prove It on Me while backed up by a sort of a jazz jug band that featured Thomas Dorsey she sings about the elusiveness of her sexuality and her feelings toward men and women.



Went out last night had a great big fight, everything seemed to go all wrong
I looked up, to my surprise, the gal I was with was gone
Where she went I don't know, I mean to follow everywhere she goes

Folks said I'm crooked, I didn't know where she took it, I want the whole world to know
They say I do it, ain't nobody caught me
Sure got to prove it on me
Went out last night with a crowd of my friends
They must have been women 'cause I don't like no men

It's true I wear a collar and a tie
Make the wind blow all the while
But they say I do it, ain't nobody caught me
They sure got to prove it on me

They say I do it, ain't nobody caught me
Sure got to prove it on me

I went out last night with a crowd of my friends
It must have been women 'cause I don't like no men.
Wear my clothes just like a fan
Talk to the gals just like any old man
'Cause they say I do it, ain't nobody caught me
Sure got to prove it on me
Ma Rainey’s most famous disciple was Bessie Smith, whose sexuality was equally tough to nail down. She openly slept with at least one female singer in her band and allegedly had a sexual relationship with a gay male piano player and songwriter named Porter Grainger in addition to a variety of men. Foolish Man Blues doesn’t reveal anything more about her sexuality but it does have some interesting takes on gender:


Men sure is deceitful and they's gettin' worser every day
Men sure is deceitful and they's gettin' worser every day
Act like a bunch of women, they's just-a gab, gab, gabbin' away
There's two things got me puzzled, there's two things I can't stand
There's two things got me puzzled, there's two things I can't stand
A mannish actin' woman and a skippin' twistin' woman actin' man

Gladys Bentley was an openly gay singer who was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. She dressed in a very masculine fashion, often in tuxedos. She once sent out announcements reporting that she’d married a white woman in New Jersey. By the 1950s, a more conservative social climate led her to recant her openness, and she claimed to have fixed her sexuality with a series of medical treatments. She married a man.
Singer Billy Mitchell was able to straddle the line between blues and vaudeville in a way similar to Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. He recorded a fun number Two Old Maids in a Folding Bed

Two old maids in a folding bed
One turned over to the other and said
I need some loving, that's just what I need

Two old maids in a folding bed
One turned over to the other and said
Kiss Me, Why not kiss me?

Two old maids in a folding bed
One turned over to the other and said
Oh you know you're driving me crazy
What can I do? What can I do for

Two old maids in a folding bed
One turned over to the other and said
Yes, yes, we have no bananas
We have no bananas for

Two old maids in a folding bed
One turned over to the other and said
Keep your sunny side up, just keep your sunny side up

...

Lesbians were common on the classic blues scene of the 1920s and 1930s with some of the singers I finished tonight and others like Alberta Hunter. They lived in an environment where their sexuality could at times be flaunted, at other times it had to be hidden. The songs reflect this. Their stage shows did even moreso. Whatever they were representing, most of these performers never stopped entertaining and good music.

Songs:
B.D. Woman’s Blues - Lucille Bogan
Prove It On Me - Ma Rainey
Foolish Man Blues - Bessie Smith
Bed Spring Poker - Gladys Bentley
Two Old Maids - Billy Mitchell

Show 2 - Poker Blues



Show 2 – Poker Blues
Poker Woman Blues - Blind Blake
Bad Luck Blues - Blind Lemon Jefferson
Darktown Gambling - Robert and Charlie Hicks
Bed Spring Poker - Mississippi Sheiks
Billy Lyons and Stack O’Lee - Furry Lewis

Show 1 - Cocaine Blues


The Memphis Jug Band recorded Cocaine Habit Blues with Hattie Hart on lead vocals in 1930.  That was towards the end of a cocaine craze and you can hear Hart mention that cocaine is going out of style:

Cocaine habit mighty bad
It's the worst old habit that I ever had
Hey, hey, honey take a whiff on me


I went to Mr Beaman's in a lope
Saw a sign on the window said no more dope
Hey, hey, honey take a whiff on me


If you don't believe cocaine is good
Ask Alma Rose at Minglewood
Hey, hey, honey take a whiff on me


I love my whiskey and I love my gin
But the way I love my coke is a doggone sin
Hey, hey, honey take a whiff on me


Since cocaine went out of style
You can catch them shooting needles all the while
Hey, hey, honey take a whiff on me


It takes a little coke to give me ease
Strut your stuff long as you please
Hey, hey, honey take a whiff on me

The drug was made illegal in the US in 1914 by the Harrison Narcotics Act.  So by 1930 it was recognized as a dangerous drug and was no longer commonly used like it was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when it was legal.  But coke was still around frequently enough to have quite a few songs written about it in the late 20s and early 30s.  So I wanted to play a few of those records.

Let’s get away from Beale Street in Memphis and head to my home state of Virginia.  Luke Jordan was from Lynchburg, Virginia, which is Jerry Falwell country now, but it was a different story back in 1927.  Here’s Luke Jordan with Cocaine Blues:

Oh come on gal, don't you take me for no fool
I'm not going to quit you pretty mama while the weather's cool
Around your back door says honey I'm going to creep
As long as you make your two and a half a week


Now I got a girl, she works in the white folk's yard
She brings me meal, I can swear she brings some lard
She brings me meat, she brings me lard
She brings everything I swear that she can steal


Now Barnum Bailey Circus came to town
They had a dancer looking good and brown
They didn't know it was against the law
But the monkey stopped at a Fine drugstore


Stepped around the corner just a minute too late
Another one sitting there at the big back gate
I’m simply wild about my good cocaine


I called my Cora, hey hey
She come on sniffing with her nose all sore
The doctor's gone going to sell no more
Say run doctor, ring the bell
The women in the alley
I’m simply wild about my good cocaine


Now the furniture man came to my house it was last Sunday morn
He asked me was my wife at home and I told she has long been gone
He backed his wagon up to my door, took everything I had
He carried it back to the furniture store and I swear I did feel sad


What in the world has anyone got dealing with the furniture man?
If you've got no dough, to stand up for sure, he certainly will drag you back
He will take everything from an earthly plant, from the skillet to a frying pan
If there ever was a devil born without any horns, it must have been the furniture man.


I called my Cora, hey hey
She come on sniffing with her nose all sore
Doctor swore gonna smell no more
Saying coke's for horses not women or men
The doctors say it'll kill you, but they didn't say when
I’m simply wild about my good cocaine


Now the baby's in the cradle in New Orleans, it kept a-whipping till it got so mean
It kept a-whipping had to fix it so
The joke with laughter, fell on more(??)
Saying, run doctor, ring the bell, the women in the alley
I'm simply wild about my good cocaine


I called my Cora, hey hey
She come on sniffing with her nose all sore
The doctor swore she's gonna smell no more
Saying, run doctor, ring the bell, the women in the alley
I'm simply wild about my good cocaine

That’s Luke Jordan – simply wild about his good cocaine.  Jordan recorded only 12 sides but he was very influential around Virginia and the East Coast.  One fan of his was a West Virginia coal mine worker by the name of Dick Justice.  In 1929, Justice recorded his own version of Cocaine Blues.  He might have seen Jordan play, but its clear from listening that Justice learned  the song from Jordan’s record.  It’s interesting to hear a white man sing the song and keep lyrics like “I’ve got a girl that works in the white folks yard.  She brings me meal I swear she brings me lard.  She brings everything that a girl can steal.”  

Charley Patton was the biggest blues musician in the Mississippi Delta in the 1920s.  He recorded his take on cocaine addiction in 1929 with A Spoonful Blues. Listen to how Patton uses the slide guitar to finish his vocal lines.  After the first line of the song, Patton never says the word spoonful with his voice.  He lets his guitar do the talking.  Charley Patton is a little less positive about cocaine than some of the other singers.  He really gets at the intensity of addiction in that song.  He sings “All I want in this creation is a spoonful.  Would you kill a man? Yes, I will kill just about a spoonful.”

(spoken: I'm about to go to jail about this spoonful)
In all a-spoon, about that spoonful
The women going crazy, every day in their life about a...


It's all I want, in this creation is a...
I go home (spoken: wanna fight!) about a...
Doctor's dying (way in Hot Springs)
About a...
These women going crazy every day in their life about a...


Would you kill a man dead? (spoken: yes, I will!) just about a...
Oh babe, I'm a fool about my...


(spoken: Don't take me long!) to get my...
Hey baby, you know I need my...
It's mens on Parchman (done lifetime) just about a...


Hey baby, (spoken: you know I ain't long) about my...
It's all I want (spoken: honey, in this creation) is a...
I go to bed, get up and wanna fight about a...


(spoken: Look-y here, baby, would you slap me? Yes I will!) just about a...
Hey baby,
(spoken: you know I'm a fool about my...
Would you kill a man?
(spoken: Yes I would, you know I'd kill him)
just about a...
Most every man (spoken: that you see is)
fool about his...


(spoken: You know baby, I need)
that old...
Hey baby,
(spoken: I wanna hit the judge about a)
About a...
(spoken: Baby, you gonna quit me? Yeah honey!)
just About a...
It's all I want, baby, this creation is a...
(spoken: look here, baby, I'm leaving town!)
just about a...
Hey baby, (spoken: you know I need)
that old...
(spoken: Don't make me mad, baby!)
Cause I want my...
Hey baby, I'm a fool about that...
(spoken: Look-y here, honey!)
I need that...


Most every man leaves without a...
Sundays mean (spoken: I know they are)
about a...
Hey baby, (spoken: I'm sneakin' around here)
and ain't got me no...
Oh, that spoonful, hey baby, you know I need my...
That transcription is based on the one in the Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues - The Worlds of Charley Patton box set by Dick Spottswood.

Charley Jordan recorded his version of the song for the Vocalion record label in 1930 with the title, Just a Spoonful
All I crave, this creation is a spoonful
Big fat mules, little plantation and a spoonful
I want some, just a spoonful
Just a spoonful, just a spoonful


I smacked the judge and I go to jail for a spoonful
I go to jail, I don’t want no bail for a spoonful
My baby says I couldn’t get that spoonful
I said “Look here gal, don’t you fool with me about my spoonful”


I walk the street all night long looking for my spoonful
Spoonful, for my spoonful
I said “Look here gal, don’t you fool with me about my spoonful”


It’s a spoonful, just a spoonful
My baby cried all night long for a spoonful
She thought that she wasn’t gonna get that little old spoonful


Police caught me, he knocked me down for a spoonful
I caught the train, I left the town for a spoonful
These songs marked the end of the cocaine era of the first few decades of the last century as other drugs grew in popularity, cocaine faded away not to be the popular drug until a reemergence in the 60s and full blown popularity in the seventies and eighties when we got songs like White Lines and the Eric Clapton/John Cale piece, Cocaine.  If you ask me, the Memphis Jug Band, Luke Jordan, Charley Patton and the others did a better job with the coke songs back in the late 20s and early 30s. 

Show 1 – Cocaine Blues
Cocaine Habit Blues - Memphis Jug Band
Cocaine Blues - Luke Jordan
Cocaine - Dick Justice
Spoonful Blues - Charlie Patton
Just a Spoonful - Charley Jordan

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