Thursday, February 02, 2006

Show 12 - Living in a Violent World

Show 12 - Living in a Violent World -

Blues musicians of the 1920s and 30s existed in a violent world where fights were common and it was often common to carry a weapon and to keep an eye open for the quickest way to get out of the building from the stage. Some blues musicians still exist in this kind of world, and it’s common to other genres. Will Shade recorded “She Stabbed me with an Ice Pick” in 1928. It’s interesting how he sings about the attack on him as a way to reflect on how people feel about him. Though he didn’t see the attack coming, it’s a traumatic but logical occurrence in his world.

Bertha Henderson kills a woman who attacks her and it force her on the run. Her need to defend herself makes her life even more difficult as she has to hide from the authorities. To generalize, this can be seen as the blues position on violence. Forced into action by a violent world and suppressed by the powers that be, there’s little chance for escape from violence and oppression.

Lonnie Johnson’s take on violence in Mexico contains some amazing imagery along with his usual stellar guitar playing.

Carrying a gun was an essential part of life for many musicians dealing with rough crowds and tough situations. Skip James’ “22-20 Blues” was an attempt to capitalize on Roosevelt Sykes’ hit “44 Blues” by recording piano gun pieces.

The connection between violence and music is a frequent topic of debate. I see them as two separate parts of a shared culture. The source of both of the blues and violence is some of the same conditions in society. The same holds true for many types of music and art forms. Adam Gussow (the white harmonica-playing half of the great duo Satan and Adam) wrote about this in his book Seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition. He looks more at literature and biography than songs (with the exception of in-depth analysis of one particular line of Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues”). But he convincingly argues that violence is an irremovable part of blues culture.


She Stabbed Me With an Ice Pick - Will Shade
Terrible Murder Blues - Blind Blake and Bertha Henderson
Got the Blues for Murder Only - Lonnie Johnson
22-20 Blues - Skip James
44 Blues - Roosevelt Sykes
Ice Pick Mama - Walter Washington


Anonymous said...

Regarding the commentary immediately following Skip Jame's tune "22-20 Blues," you state that the song refers to "a caliber of weapon that doesn't actually exist." While I believe that it's true that there is no .2220 caliber (although I think that there is a .222 caliber rifle), I think it likely that the weapon the song refers to was an over & under rifle/shotgun combination comprised of a .22 caliber rifle barrel stacked on top of a 20 gauge shotgun barrel (similar to a shotgun with two barrels that are stacked vertically). These weapons, referred to as a ".22/20" (other rifle caliber/shotgun gauge combinations are vailable, as well), have either a switch or independent triggers which allows the shooter to choose whether to fire the rifle barrel or the shotgun barrel independently. I'm fairly certain that .22/20 models from several manufactures were in use in the southern U.S. in the early 1900s.

Mike Rugel said...

Thanks for clearing that up Scott. When I said that, I actually may have been thinking about the "32/20" that Robert Johnson sings about in his version of what's essentially the same song. Was that combination in use as well?

Unknown said...

The 32/20 was a popular cartridge in the 20's and 30's.

Unknown said...

The 32/20 was a popular cartridge in the 20's and 30's.

Unknown said...

The 32/20 was a popular cartridge in the 20's and 30's.

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