Coal Miner Blues
Posted in Honey on 10.22.07

Continuing the trip through my past I stumbled upon this compilation of county and blues songs about Coal Mines produced by the Lonesome Pine Office of Youth, a community group located in Southwest Virginia (Wise, Lee and Scott counties.) I lived in Wise, Va for a time best known as the birthplace of George C. Scott, Dock Boggs and that they shot a few scenes of Coal Miner’s Daughter at the Wise Inn (that was closed the entire time I was there). The surrounding areas produced such country legends as the Carter Family and Ralph Stanley.

This set is Music of Coal: Mining Songs from the Appalachian Coalfields a two disc set of songs about coal mining and the effects it had on the people and land. Disc one is a collection of traditional songs recorded pre-1950 (or around there, I don’t have the set yet) and the second disc is more contemporary takes on the coal mining song. I’m particularly impressive of the inclusion of a blues number by Trixie Smith, the only blues song about the coal mining condition that i know of, and the number of field recordings and lost takes the researcher was able to pull together. This track is by Orville Jenks, the most noted writer of coal mining songs – who sings in a plaintive Irish ballad voice that’s one of the best I’ve heard. Trixie Smith I’ve posted about a few times(1,2), this song is a nice departure from the risqué and abusive blues she’s known for singing. I still think Trixie belongs on the short list with Bessie Smith, Victoria Spivey and Sara Martin, though I might be in the minority on that one.

Buy it here !

Orville Jenks – Sprinkle Coal Dust on My Grave
Trixie Smith – Mining Camp Blues

A Short Life Of Trouble
Posted in Country on 10.17.07

One of the only good memories I have of living near the West Virginia/East Kentucky border is of the wonderful public radio station/education center AppalShop. This summer the released a disc of remastered Buell Kazee sides that is quickly making its way to my house as we speak. The Appalshop is wonderful center dedicated to preserving the rich country and bluegrass traditions that are quickly being erased in popular culture. Their site has videos and albums they’ve put together as well as live links so you can listen to their radio shows online. If you haven’t heard Buell Kazee before you are in for a treat – his voice is one of those you’ll never forget – perfect and true – and he’s pretty stellar on banjo also.

Buy the Buel Kazee disc here!

Visit the AppalShop here !

Buell Kazee – Short Life of Trouble
Buell Kazee – Roving Cowboy

How Can I Be Your “Sweet Mamma?”
Posted in 1920s,Female Blues on 10.16.07

Today’s update isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I honestly love the early female blues vaudeville voice. It’s nasally and not quite blues, but not jazz either – it reminds me jazz club scenes in cartoons, which maybe is the reason I love it so much . Warnings aside, Lavina Turner has one of the best examples of this style voice – and one I think will appeal to those who normally hate this style of blues. This song is sort of awkwardly titled “How Can I Be Your “Sweet Mamma” When You are “Daddy” To Someone Else” which might be the longest title for a blues song. The double entendres come quick in this song, though they aren’t as well developed as what would come later on in female blues.

Lavina Turner – How Can I Be Your “Sweet Mamma” When You are “Daddy” To Someone Else (1922)

I’m Still Sloppy Drunk
Posted in 1930s,Country Blues,Piedmont Blues on 10.07.07

Ruth Willis might be my favorite female country blues singer. Of course Memphis Minnie gets all the mainstream press and the cool kids and their overpriced reissues love Geeshie Wiley (though its hard to fault them for that) but Ruth Willis gets my heart. Best known for her fantastic work with Blind Willie McTell she also recorded a handful tracks with Fred McMullen (himself a lost Georgia blues treasure) that I think are even better than her work with McTell. Willis is backed on this track by McMullen and Curley Weaver (or perhaps Buddy Moss) but it’s Willis’ vocal ability that really sells this track – driving each word into your heart with incredible precision.

Ruth Willis – I’m Still Sloppy Drunk (1933)

No Fool No More
Posted in Post-War on 10.01.07

I meant to post this on Sunday as it doesn’t really have anything to do with blues – but it’s a great great song and should be number 1 ! on everyone’s playlist by weeks end. Charles Walker only recorded this one single for Nashville label Champion before moving to NYC and forming the somewhat famous (Little) Charles and the Sidewinders under the wing of Lloyd Price. But this one singe, I think, is much better than his later material and really one of the best Rhythm And Blues songs of all time. At two minutes in length, Charles Walker rips through the song at a almost proto-punk speed – leaving his patched together backing vocalists little time to catch up. What it would be like to have seen him preform live during these years…

Charles Walker and the Daffodils – No Fool No More