Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Show 31 - Mississippi Road Trip



For this show, I thought we'd travel around Mississippi listening to songs that talk about various towns and parts of the state. We'll start in the small Delta town of Avalon in Caroll County a little north of Greenwood. It's the home of Mississippi John Hurt and this is the song that led to his return to playing music in the 1960s when researcher Tom Hoskins looked in Avalon to see if John Hurt was still in the hometown he sang about in 1928:

In New York this morning, just about half past nine
In New York this morning, just about half past nine
Thought of my mama in Avalon, couldn't hardly keep from crying

Avalon my home town, always on my mind
Avalon my home town, always on my mind
Pretty mamas in Avalon want me there all the time

When the train left Avalon throwing kisses and waving at me
When the train left Avalon throwing kisses and waving at me
Says come back daddy, stay right here with me

Avalon's a small town, have no great big range
Avalon's a small town, have no great big range
Pretty mamas in Avalon sure will spend your change

New York's a good town, but it's not for mine
New York's a good town, but it's not for mine
Going back to Avalon, stay there with pretty mama all the time
As he sang in Avalon Blues, John Hurt was clearly a Mississippi guy, but his playing often sounds more typical of an east coast musician from North Carolina or Virginia. But another Mississippi musician was a Mississippi guy all the way through. He sang like he was from Mississippi, played guitar like he was from Mississippi, and sang songs about Mississippi. It's Charley Patton, the greatest chronicler of Mississippi in blues song. In Stone Pony Blues from 1934, he sings about Vicksburg, Greenville, Lula, and Natchez.

I got me a stone pony and I don't ride Shetland no more
I got me a stone pony and I don't ride Shetland no more
You can find my stone pony hooked to my rider's door

Vicksburg's my pony, Greenville is my great mare
Vicksburg's my pony, Greenville is my great mare
You can find my stone pony down in Lula town somewhere

And I got me a stone pony, don't ride Shetland no more
Got a stone pony, don't ride Shetland no more
And I can't feel welcome, rider nowhere I go

Vicksburg's on a high hill and Natchez just below
Vicksburg's on a high hill, Natchez just below
And I can't feel welcome, rider nowhere I go
“Stone Pony” was an expression for anything good. Patton's uses the phrase as a metaphor for young women he has around Mississippi.

Big Bill Broonzy was one of the many who made the trek out of Mississippi to Chicago. But he never forgot the South. In Lowland Blues from 1936 he sings about Jackson, Greenwood, and anywhere in Mississippi being his true home.

When I get down in the lowland, I won't be mistreated no more
I'm going to Jackson, Greenwood is where I belong
I'm going to Jackson, Greenwood is where I belong
Anywhere in Mississippi is my native home
Bukka White sang about his troubled times with the women in Aberdeen, Mississippi.

I was over in Aberdeen on my way to New Orleans
I was over in Aberdeen on my way to New Orleans
Them Aberdeen women told me they will buy my gasoline

There's two little women that I ain't never seen
There's two little women that I ain't never seen
These two little women they're from New Orleans

I'm sitting down in Aberdeen with New Orleans on my mind
I'm sitting down in Aberdeen with New Orleans on my mind
Lord I believe them Aberdeen women going to make me lose my mind

Aberdeen is my home but the men don't want me around
Aberdeen is my home but the men don't want me around
They know I will take these women and take them out of town

Listen you Aberdeen women, you know I ain't got no dime
Listen you women, you know I ain't got no dime
They had the poor boy all hobbled down
New Orleans is over 300 miles away from Aberdeen. But that was nothing to many blues musicians willing to pick up and go for any reason. For Bukka White it was to get away from the Aberdeen women and to get to some new ones down in New Orleans. Like Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White returned to playing because of that song when a letter came addressed to Bukka White, Blues Singer, Aberdeen, Mississippi. It was from the great guitar player, John Fahey. And it resulted in White playing music across the country and the world.

The legendary Son House recorded a song about Clarksdale that was finally released last year, Clarksdale Moan:

Clarksdale's in the South, and lays heavy on my mind
Clarksdale's in the South, lays heavy on my mind
I can have a good time there, if I ain't got but one lousy dime

Clarksdale, Mississippi always gonna be my home
Clarksdale, Mississippi always gonna be my home
That's the reason you hear me sit right here and moan
...

Nobody knows Clarksdale like I do
Nobody knows Clarksdale like I do
And the reason I know it, I follows it through and through
Every blues fan should visit Clarksdale. It's not surprising that a student of Son House also sang songs about Missisippi. Indeed, the legend of Robert Johnson, can't be separated from his travels from Mississippi town to Mississippi town. He sang about it on Traveling Riverside Blues:

If your man gets personal, want to have your fun
If your man gets personal, want to have your fun
Just come on back to Friar's Point mama and barrelhouse all night long

I've got womens in Vicksburg, clean on into Tennessee
I've got womens in Vicksburg, clean on into Tennessee
But my Friar's point rider now, hops all over me

I ain't going to state no color, but her front teeth crowned with gold
I ain't going to state no color, but her front teeth is crowned with gold
She got a mortgage on my body and a lien on my soul

Lord I'm going to Rosedale, going to take my rider by my side
Lord I'm going to Rosedale, going to take my rider by my side
We can still barrelhouse baby, because it's on the riverside

The amount of blues talent that's emerged from Mississippi is staggering.
Sometimes it seems like every small town in the Delta, and other parts of the state, was home to some musician who made a great record. It's tough to say why and its at least probably because scouts for the record companies were more aware of Mississippi talent than they were of other regions. But the Mississippi Delta, dominated by cotton fields and harsh plantation labor has been called the most Southern place on earth, and it's not a coincidence that so much of this great Southern music came from Mississippi. I'm glad so many musicians recorded songs about its towns.
Songs:

Avalon Blues - Mississippi John Hurt
Stone Pony Blues - Charley Patton
Lowland Blues - Big Bill Broonzy
Aberdeen Mississippi Blues - Bukka White
Clarksdale Moan - Son House
Traveling Riverside Blues - Robert Johnson

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike, Thanks for your excellent podcasts over the past couple years. I find that it is an great way to get introduced to many artists that I have never heard of. I think old blues is finding a younger audience. I'm 27 and alot of my friends that I play this music for like it and want to find out more about it.
Cheers - Ken Regehr, Vancouver B.C.

chezztone said...

John Hurt does sound Mississippi through and through. He does not sound Delta, because he isn't from the Delta. He's from the Carroll County hill country, just 10 miles from the Delta, but that 10 miles makes a huge difference geographically, culturally and musically! His sound is unlike the Delta players (like Patton, whom you mention) but also unlike the East Coast players.

tommy said...

GREAT GREAT GREAT

GREETZ FROM BERLIN !!!

tommy