I’m feel pretty under the weather today, which may interrupt my Halloween plans to see Phantom of the Opera (1925) with live organ accompaniment tonight, which will make me sad. Gambler’s Blues/Crapshooters’ Blues/St. John’s Infirmary etc has always been one of my favorite blues songs and this version by Mattie Hite is one of the best that I’ve heard. Fletcher Henderson plays piano and Hite has a strong and beautiful voice, unfortunately this version was all but forgotten when Cab Calloway’s came out a few months later.
There were a few requests in my inbox this morning for more Josie Miles, so I picked A To Z Blues, which she introduces but the song is taken over by Billy Higgins who doesn’t do her any favors by singing lead on this song. A to Z Blues is an interesting song because it might be the most violent of all the murder blues songs. It’s so gory in fact it’s almost comical and later versions of the song seem to follow that idea as they become more sing-songy rather than mean and forceful way Higgins sings the song. These are all the versions of the song that I have, are there any more? Josie Miles – A To Z Blues (1924) Blind Willie McTell – A To Z Blues (1949)
Josie Miles recorded around 50 sides for several different labels in the mid-1920s. She was all over the place topically, starting out with traditional vaudeville songs and country blues songs and moving into more traditional pop blues numbers. She finished her career in 1928 with a handful of gospel recordings and her whereabouts are unknown until the time of her death sometime in 1950 or early 1960s. In 1924 she recorded a few bizarre and incredibly dark blues numbers the best of which is Mad Mama’s Blues where her anger at her situation, erupts into her desire to destroy the whole city.
In 1935 Alan Lomax and Zora Neale Hurston took a trip to Hurston’s home town of Eatonville, Florida and recorded a handful of local blues singers for the Library Of Congress. My favorite of these recordings is a wonderful number by Rochelle French on guitar and vocals singing Po’ Boy. He’s an stellar guitar player and has a really strong blues voice. Someone should have thrown him a record deal. Rochelle French – Po’ Boy, Long Ways From Home (1935)
Even after doing this blog for over two years I’m still surprised by the artists I haven’t posted about. Ida Cox might be the most surprising one as I played her all the time on my old radio show and she general comes up in most of my discussions about the blues. These two songs were recorded in 1925 at the height of her popularity and show off what an amazing talent she was. The first song is the blues standard “How Long Daddy, How Long” and features Papa Charlie Jackson playing some amazing banjo. The second is a great blues song she co-wrote called “How Can I Miss You When I’ve Got Dead Aim” which might be the best blues title ever and it’s a pretty clever song all the way around. Ida Cox – How Long Daddy, How Long (1925) Ida Cox – How Can I Miss You Daddy When I’ve Got Dead Aim (1925)
Betty Gray recorded only two songs in late 1927 (and possibly two more as Kitty Waters later in the year) which is a shame, because despite her awful phrasing on the refrain on this track she shows a lot of promise and certainly deserved a few more trips to the recording studio, maybe with some better backing musicians. This track Loud and Wrong is a great murder ballad about a jealous husband. The way she sings “…baseball…bat” makes me extremely giddy.
The site was down for part of the afternoon because of my hosting company doing something with the mysql servers. In penance here is a blues song:
Clara Smith is one of the patron saints of Honey,Where You Been So Long? and for good reason, not only does she have one, if not the best, voices in pre-war blues, she takes a decidedly different point of view from most female blues singers. Her Independence from men, while it doesn’t allow her to escape the blues, allows her to treat men as they treat women and allows her some control of her life, an unusual topic in the blues.
The blues “line” on Kitty Brown is that she was an average singer, that was constantly overshadowed by her backing bands. And I mean some of that is true, she’s not a great singer, but she’s good enough to keep up with her spectacular band. This song is so so good, so very good in fact that I don’t even care that she didn’t do anything close to this with her other dozen songs, this is what I’ll remember Kitty Brown for. Of course I have this failure to judge any slow dirge like blues song, especially ones about family gossip, with any sort of objective merit. Kitty Brown – Family Skelton Blues (1923)