Sunday, January 15, 2012

Show 55 - News of the World




Most blues songs tend to focus on the local. Songs often address issues at home. But like everyone else, blues singers live in the world and are aware of the world beyond their hometowns. So I thought we’d take a look at some songs that talk about what’s going on overseas and news from around the world.

Maybe the best song of this type is Minnie Wallace’s The Cockeyed World. Recorded in 1935, the song’s about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The bravery of the Ethiopian soldiers fighting against an army with vastly superior weapons became a point of pride for African-Americans. Newspapers like the Chicago Defender reported on the war frequently and Minnie Wallace recorded this song just nine days after the invasion of October 3rd:
I woke up this morning feeling mighty sadI woke up this morning feeling mighty sadWas the worst old feeling that I ever had
It's war on Ethiopia and mama's feeling blue
It's war on Ethiopia and mama's feeling blue
I tell the cockeyed world I don't know what to do

They say that Ethiopia is a long ways from here
They say that Ethiopia is a long ways from here
They trying to steal my man and hurry him over there

I love my man, tell the cockeyed world I do
I love my man, tell the cockeyed world I do
It's coming the time that he'll sure love me too

This old cockeyed world will make your good man treat you mean
This old cockeyed world will make your good man treat you mean
He will treat you just like a poor girl he never seen

It's war on Ethiopia and my man won't behave
It's war on Ethiopia and my man won't behave
I tell the cockeyed world I'll spit in my baby's face

It's war on Ethiopia baby please please behave
It's war on Ethiopia please please behave
I tell the cockeyed world I'll follow you to your grave
Wallace sees the war in Ethiopia as an example of screwed up nature of the world. It’s the same thing that makes her man mistreat her at home. Several years later, Georgia’s Frank Edwards also looked at war with an eye towards how it affected things at home. He recorded We Got to Get Together in May of 1941, seven months before he U.S. would enter the war, but he was already seeing the effect of the War in Europe on the men at home that Uncle Sam would soon need:

Hitler cutting the world gotten disturbed
Uncle Sam better decide and gotten blood in his eye

You got to get together, you got to get together
Got to closen up together, join one hand in hand
Mussolini jumped back up in the sack
Hitler kicked him out so he couldn't get back
We got to get together
We got to get together
Got to closen up together, join one hand in hand
Uncle Sam called the men down name by name
He ain't together but they ready just the same
You got to get together
We got to get together
Got to closen up together, join one hand in hand
Uncle Sam need a champ, he rang the bell
A well trained man when you leave Camp Shelby

We got to get together
We got to get together
Got to closen up together, join one hand in hand

Say I left my woman standing in the door
Crying Lord have mercy they mustn't let him, please don't go
We got to get together
We got to get together
Got to closen up together, join one hand in hand
When King Edward VIII chose to give up the throne for the love of a divorced American woman in 1936, he became  a symbol of love for romantics all over the world. That included Blind Willie McTell who recorded King Edward Blues in 1940.
Tell me honey, now tell me please
Is my lover now hard to please?
I’m getting groggy in my knees
Baby and it must be love

A funny feeling reaches up my spine

My head like cherry wine
Makes me think the world’s allmine
Baby and it must be love

I hear church bell ringing, I see visions clear
I hear the birdies singing
I know darn well that no bird is there

I don’t like your shirts and ties, they don’t seem to harmonize
They don’t match those big brown eyes
Baby and it must be love

Can be a rich man, a poor man, a beggar man king
It will make you give up everything
Every time you feel that sting, honey, it must be love

Make a preacher lay his bible down
Made a rabbit hug a hound
Made King Edward give up his crown
Baby and it must be love

I hear church bell ringing, I see visions clear
I hear the birdies singing
I know darn well that no bird is there

I don’t like your shirts and ties, they don’t seem to harmonize
They don’t match those big brown eyes
Mama and it must be love
Baby and it must be love
We know Kokomo Arnold traveled a lot across the United States, from the descriptive storytelling in Big Ship Blues he may have made a trans-Atlantic voyage as well:

Now this big ship is rocking and my body's filled with aches and pains
Now this big ship is rocking and my body's filled with aches and pains
Now if I get across the Atlantic Ocean, good people I will not live to Spain
Now the big tide is rising, you better lower your anchors down
Now the big tide is rising, you better lower your anchors down
Now if we don't make the circle, we never will get back to New York town

Now why don't you people quit laughing? I feel mighty sad in my mind
Now why don't you people quit laughing? I feel mighty sad in my mind
Said this big fog gone to rising and a cyclone is right behind

Now I feel bad, nobody seems to want to go my way
Now I feel bad, nobody seems to want to go my way
Said this big ship going to leaking, right between midnight and day

Now I see something shining, daylight is breaking all around
Now I see something shining, daylight is breaking all around
Soon as we make a few more notches, I will be right back in New York town
Arnold’s story brings to mind the many great songs telling the story of the sinking of the Titanic including Rabbit Brown’s amazing Sinking of the Titanic from 1928:

It was on the 10th of April on a sunny afternoon
The Titanic left Southampton, each one as happy as bride and groom
No one thought of danger or what their fate may be
Until a gruesome iceberg caused 1500 to perish in the sea
It was early Monday morning, just about the break of day
Captain said call for help from the Carpathia and it was many miles away
Everyone was calm and silent, asked each other what the trouble may be
Not thinking that death was lurking there upon that northern sea
The Carpathia received the wireless SOS redistress
Come at once, we are sinking, make no delay and do your best
Get the lifeboats all in readiness 'cause we're going down very fast
We have saved the women and the children and tried to hold out to the last
Now at last they called out all the passengers, told them to hurry to the deck
Then they realized that the mighty Titanic was about to be a wreck
They lowered the lifeboats one by one, taking women and children from the start
The poor men were left to care for themselves but they sure played a hero's part 
You know they stood out on that sinking deck and they was all in great despair
You know accidents may happen most anytime and we know not when and where
The music played as they went down on that dark blue sea
And you could hear the sound of that familiar hymn, singing 'Nearer my God to Thee'
Nearer my God to thee
Nearer my God to thee
Nearer my God to thee
Nearer to thee
Though like a wanderer as the sun goes down
Darkness be over me just when the Titanic went down

Rabbit Brown recorded that in 1928 and the Titanic sunk in 1912, so Brown was retelling a legend more than commenting on the news.  When the Memphis Jug Band recorded Lindberg Hop that same year they were talking about more recent news, Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight of the year before:

I know they’re gonna write to me
When they get across the sea, every chance when that Washington lands in France

How you say it, for now, sugar baby

Now mama, don’t you weep and moan,
Uncle Sam’s got your man and gone,
Now he’s doing that Lindbergh across the sea.

Now mama how can it be, you went way across the sea,
Just to keep from doing that Lindybird with me
Oh babe now I done told you

If I had my uniform on, I could live it — just as sure as you born
Then I’ll do that Lindbergh across the sea

She asked me for a bottle of Kaye Ola
I said, “Mama, let me play it on your Victrola,

Then I’ll do that Lindybird with you. ”
How you say it, for now, sugar baby?


I asked her for a piece of banana
She said, “Jab, play the blues on your piano,
Then I’ll do that Lindybird with you."


Songs:
The Cockeyed World - Minnie Wallace
We Got to Get Together - Frank Edwards
Kings Edward Blues - Blind Willie McTell
Big Ship Blues - Kokomo Arnold
Sinking of the Titanic - Rabbit Brown
Lindberg Hop - Memphis Jug Band

3 comments:

FroguetteMiNote said...

Thanks for this very rich and evocative entry. I just discoverd your very nice blog and podcast. I hope to visit the museum when i make the trip from France.

In the meantime, a smaller wish: is there a way to have your microphone (or compression software, or encoder) record your pauses? Pauses are as intrinsic to speech as rests are to music, and right now the tools you are using transform each pause between sentences or words into a zero data digital "silence" which is very annoying to the ear.)

barbad said...

great show...

i liked the choices - atomic bomb blues [1947] by homer harris is a pretty good example too

Anonymous said...

I just found this podcast and I love it! Thanks so much for putting it out!

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