There’s not a whole lot out there about “Hambone” Willie Newbern – the story about him giving guitar tips to Sleepy John Estes and his temper – which may of led to his death in prison in 1947. Listening to his sides over the weekend, and pretty much all day today – I haven’t heard a more interesting and exciting blues musician for the first time in a very long time. Newbern’s got that hard, driving guitar that’s as steady as the railroad – and a great booming voice that must have been amazing to hear in person, and both of which make for a great blues musician and one that needs to be heard by everyone.
Newbern was born in Tennessee, and traveled as musician all across the South playing in medicine shows which shows in his vocal style and subject matter. I prefer his more personal material – his narrative about being arrested and thrown in jail is my personal favorite. These tracks were recorded in 1929 in Atlanta over two sessions for Okeh.
Hambone Willie Newbern – Shelby County Workhouse (1929)
Hambone Willie Newbern – Hambone Willie\’s Dreamy Eyed Woman\’s Blues (1929)
That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it. The delay of St. James has everything to do with the keeper of the bees, so blame her. Everything regarding St. James has been compiled and is ready to go, bees or not.
We celebrated in secret our 4 year anniversary here at Honey H.Q. last month – Casey Bill Weldon was played very loudly – much dancing followed. I think Casey’s guitar sound is my favorite outside of Son House – I also think Casey is served well with a piano backing it pops his guitar sound a lot more than when he’s backed by another guitarist.
Casey Bill Weldon – Someone Changed The Lock On My Door (1935)
I don’t really make apologies for posting mostly piano based music, but the sheer number of emails asking more guitar based blues tracks this week has given me pause.
Ed Andrew recorded a couple of sides in the early 20s for Okeh – the first of which is usually referred to as “the first country blues” record made. While I haven’t really done the research to state that claim without warning, It does appear that this is one of the earliest, but more importantly it’s one of the most solid examples of the genre that would sweet out of Georgia and and cover most of the non-delta South. Andrews is tired but plaintive on this side as he gives a overview of his life long blues. Andrews has a weird wobble on the end of his stanzas – I’m not sure if it’s from the recording of possible medicine show past – but it lends an element of weariness that the track benefits from I think.
Ed Andrews – Time Ain’t Gonna Make Me Stay (1924)
My computer is in tip top shape. Time Machine managed to scramble my password upon restore which didn’t make my life easier, I’ll say that.
If anyone has any information on the Folklore programs at Western Kentucky, Georgia State or UNC(Chapel Hill) let me know. Thanks!
Doom and Gloom is the latest pre-war related release on the Trikont label and like always it’s a fantastically researched and document release two things that almost never ever go together. The theme behind Doom and Gloom and pretty self explainartory – though War and Wrecks might be more clear – as most of the songs deal with wars and accidents and ships sinking (this is also the theme behind People Take Warning) more so than gloom per se. The set is also smartly bookended with two wonderful Blind Willie Johnson songs and features some real deep cuts from family faces like Charlie Poole, Big Bill Broonzy and Casey Bill Wheldon which is always refreshing. The two tracks I’m highlighting are a solid pre-war side from Big Bill Broonzy about the great flood of 1927, and I’ve sadly neglected Big Bill even though he is one of the finest blues guitar players of all time. The second side is the Sinking of the Titanic by Richard Rabbitt Brown who I hadn’t heard before – but according to the linear notes played mostly in brothels which makes me want to seek out the rest of his recordings.
update: apparently I have heard Richard Rabbitt Brown before, he’s on The Anthology as well as Goodbye, Babylon I’ve never really noticed him until now though. There is also a movement that says he might have recorded under Blind Willie Harris
Buy It Here!!!
Big Billy Broonzy – Southern Flood Blues (1937)
Richard Rabbitt Brown – Sinking of the Titanic (1927)
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)
Clifford Gibson worked mostly as a sessions man for musicians recording in St. Louis, he did record a bunch of wonderful sides for Victor in 1929 as part of that labels recording blitz of the city that netted such greats as Alice Moore and Roosevelt Sykes. Gibson never rose to that sort of fame, even though he was an extremely talented musician both lyrically and on the guitar which commands masterfully in both of these sides. Bad Luck Dice in particular shows off what an amazing talent he was – I heard it for the first time over the weekend and it just floored me – a perfect blend of Peetie Wheatstraw and Lonnie Johnson , and it really conveys the power of the blues. This would be great track to play for someone who has just heard Robert Johnson or Mississippi John Hurt for the first and wants to know where to go next.
Clifford Gibson – Don’t Put That Thing On Me (1929)
Clifford Gibson – Bad Luck Dice (1929)
I haven’t really posted any real down blues songs recently, blame the weather I guess. But this side from Slim Burton and Eddie Mapp, culled from the wonderful Georgia Blues 1928-33 disc from Document is as blue as it gets. A gut wrenching harmonica and vocal duet by these two country blues masters is slow and painful – and might be the song that Lonnie Johnson would sing while walking through Death Valley.
Slim Burton and Eddie Mapp – Wicked Treatin’ Blues (1929)
I have some great requests coming up on Friday, so be on the look out. Today we are still going through my backlog of field recordings I’ve been meaning to post for a few months now. These recordings come from a trip John and Ruby Lomax took the infamous Parchman State Prison in 1939. These recordings took place in the Sewing Room in the Woman’s area of the prison and all of the women Lomax would record show off an amazing talent pool that matches any of the female country blues artists on the Paramount or Columbia roster. My favorite out of the batch is Mattie May Thomas’ Dangerous Blues, an extremely insightful look at the duality of poverty and violence and the status of black females in the pre-war era.
Mary James – Make The Devil Leave Me Alone (1939)
Beatrice Tisdall – Workhouse Blues (1939)
Mattie May Thomas – Dangerous Blues (1939)
Annabelle Abraham – To Be Sho’ (Hey Logan) (1939)
The new movie Black Snake Moan does not come out until March 2nd (Friday!!), but here at Honey H.Q. we’ve gotten our hands on the soundtrack which features Samuel L. Jackson doing a few classic blues numbers. Jackson plays an aging bluesman in the movie – and I’m guessing sings these songs during the course – as there is a lot of ambient nosies and dialog in the background of these tracks, especially before Black Snake Moan where he tells a story about his own personal blues and how his wife the did him wrong. Jackson learned how to play guitar for the role and it comes off well, but the star of course his his voice which is perfectly suited for the blues.
Black Snake Moan is left more or less the same as when Blind Lemon Jefferson first sang it in 1927 but his take on Stagolee is a very loose take on the tale that doesn’t feature a gambling match, Stetson hat or any real reason for the murder. It’s sort of a mix between Snatch and the Poontangs and a R.L. Burnside telling of the song which isn’t my favorite by any stretch of imagination, but Jackson sells it a lot better than Burnside. For those keeping up with our ongoing Stagolee project, this Burnside number is new to the list. I’ve also posted a bunch of other takes on the classic Black Snake Moan, my favorites are either Lemon’s original or Rosa Henderson’s female take on the song.
R.L Burnside – Staggolee (2001)
Samuel L. Jackson – Stackolee (2007)
Samuel L. Jackson – Black Snake Moan (2007)
Blind Lemon Jefferson – That Black Snake Moan (1927)
Blind Lemon Jefferson – Black Snake Moan
Blind Lemon Jefferson – Black Snake Moan No. 2
Brownie McGhee – Black Snake Moan (1951)
Lead Belly – Black Snake Moan (1935)
Rosa Henderson – Black Snake Moan (1927)
Martha Copeland – Black Snake Moan (1927)
Cobb and Underwood – Black Snake Moan (1930)