Essays

Blues Essays, Articles and Tales on the History of the Blues

Here you will find an eclectic mix of blues essays, articles and tales which will hopefully be of interest to you. They were mainly written by enthusiasts of the blues as amateur writers. All essays are copyright of the authors. Please do not reproduce or distribute them without their prior knowledge and permission. They are provided here for educational use only. Please note British Blues is covered separately – click the tab above.

If your interest is in Gospel music, check out the full list of Gospel Essays on the sister website www.earlygospel.com

Mural at Tutwiler, Mississippi

Inscription next to the mural

Tutwiler Depot, Mississippi

“Then one night at Tutwiler, as I nodded in the railroad station while waiting for a train that had been delayed nine hours, life suddenly took me by the shoulder and wakened me with a start.  A lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plunking a guitar beside me while I slept. His clothes were rags; his feet peeped out of his shoes. His face had on it some of the sadness of the ages. As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars. The effect was unforgettable. His song, too, struck me instantly: Goin’ where the Southern cross’ the Dog. The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard. The tune stayed in my mind. When the singer paused, I leaned over and asked him what the words meant. He rolled his eyes, showing a trace of mild amusement. Perhaps I should have known, but he didn’t mind explaining. At Moorhead the eastbound and the westbound met and crossed the north and southbound trains four times a day. This fellow was going where the Southern cross’ the Dog, and he didn’t care who knew it. He was simply singing about Moorhead as he waited”.
–  William C. Handy, Father of The Blues, Sidgwick & Jackson, London 1957

 

The following list of blues essays, articles and tales are registered here in order of publication (latest on top) – it’s just easier this way. Happy reading!!

The list is ‘in development’ with each essay being transcribed one at a time from the old Earlyblues.com History Section.

Please use this link if you want the full list on the old History Section : Temporary link to the full set of essays

For this new list click on the title to go to the full essay (if there’s no link the essay is currently being converted and will be available soon) ….

 

“A Clara Smith 78 Moan – No. 1 (Two-Way Influential Links Between Clara Smith & The Rural Blues)”
– by Max Haymes

The first of a series of short snippets from a forthcoming book on the life of Clara Smith.

Extract:  On  a wintry day in New York City during the month of November in 1926, Clara Smith stepped up to the microphone to record four songs, accompanied by the fine pianist Lemuel Fowler.  The second title of this session was Ease It  [Columbia 14202-D]A smouldering vocal as only she could deliver, this was an obviously risqué song cloaked in the subject of needing money from her man. This unfortunate individual was one of the black working men who had a regular day job; referred to derisively by early blues singers as ‘a monkey man’ (there were also monkey women).  Clara describes his  meagre wages as his “ones an’ twos” or counted in 1 or 2 dollar denominations  rather than tens and twenties.

 

“I Ain’t A Gamblin’ Woman, I Got Such-A Rowdy Ways (Raunchy Women’s Blues 1923-1937)”
– by Max Haymes

This is the full essay published in short form as the liner notes for ‘I Ain’t A Gamblin’ Woman I Got Such-A Rowdy Ways’ on JSP Records 4 CD boxed set.

Extract: On reflection I think I should amend my sub-heading for this 4-CD set to “raunchy and dangerous black women’s blues”.  Many of the selections are fraught with danger – of the terminal kind – whereas ‘raunchy’ usually conveys highly sexual/sensual material of which examples are here a-plenty …

 

“I’ve Got The Blues, But I’m Too Damn Mean To Cry (Protest in early blues & gospel)”
– by Max Haymes

Extract: The word ‘protest’ in the 21st century is often linked with, and refers to ‘political protest’. But this is really a tautology or two words strung together meaning the same thing. Erroneously, people refer to being political as involvement by a group, or party, retaining power of government or aspiring to acquire this power for themselves.

But politics is a much broader concept. It covers virtually everything in our daily lives from birth to death. Public health and safety, education, transportation, energy, agriculture, social and environmental issues, are major aspects governing the degree of quality we experience in our time on the planet. Indeed, for African Americans in the first 3 centuries of enslavement, politics and protest meant life itself. While the former spent much time talking of what could be achieved, the latter attempted to have this talk transformed into action….

 

Papa Charlie Jackson c. 1924

“Why Do You Moan, When You Can Shake That Thing? (a survey of Papa Charlie Jackson & Bo Weavil Jackson: 1924-1934)”
– by Max Haymes

This is the full essay published in short form as the liner notes for ‘Why Do You Moan, When You Can Shake That Thing?’ the JSP Records 4 CD boxed set.

Extract: One of the interesting facts to emerge from putting Papa Charlie Jackson and Bo Weavil Jackson together in a CD set, is the obvious different approaches they applied to the recently-arrived phenomenon – the country or rural blues.  Both artists were growing up in the South when the Blues were relatively young.  Still, there would seem to be little commonality between William Henry and James Jackson – presumed to be their respective given names. …

 

Martin Luther King Jr.

“Blues For Martin Luther King, Jr.”
– by Terry Messman

Extract: In the despairing days after Dr. King’s death, the nation was overcome by the blues, so it was fitting that the pre-eminent blues band in the land would play for the activists in Resurrection City.

 

‘Freedom Summer Murders’
State History Marker

“We’ll March on Resurrection Day”
– by Terry Messman

Extract: The final stanza is like a dream. Big Joe Williams looks down at Martin Luther King’s face, and vows to the slain civil rights leader that we’ll keep marching on – even unto Resurrection Day.

 

Voyager Golden Record

Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground
 – by Terry Messman

Extract: Dark was the night and cold was the ground on which Blind Willie Johnson was laid. Yet after his death, his music would streak to the stars on the Voyager and become part of the “music of the spheres.”

 

J.B. Lenoir Vietnam Blues

Blues From the Streets of ‘The Other America’
– by Terry Messman

Extract: J. B. Lenoir was one of the bravest political voices of his era. He sang against poverty, lynching, the Vietnam War, racism and police violence in Alabama and Mississippi.

 

Bessie Smith
by Carl Van Vechten

Cold Ground Was My Bed: The Blues and Social Justice
– by Terry Messman

Extract: A powerful torrent of “justice blues,” as deep and wide as the Mississippi itself, flows in an unbroken stream from the Depression-era blues of Bessie Smith and Skip James all the way to the 21st century blues of Otis Taylor and Robert Cray.

 

Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
– by Terry Messman

Extract: In “Hard Times Killing Floor Blues,” Skip James sings for the multitudes forced out of their homes and jobs — locked out of heaven itself and trapped on the killing floor of poverty.

 

Blind Willie McTell

Tracing The Origins Of Dying Crapshooters’ Blues Back To English And Irish Folksong In The Eighteenth Century
 – by Max Haymes

Extract: Blind Willie McTell’s first known recording of Dying Crapshooters’ Blues was in November 1940, and as part of his introduction to this version he states “I am gonna play this song that I made myself, originally this is from Atlanta”. This statement also has strong significance when tracing the path of Crapshooter’s origins …

 

 

Gulfport Island Road Blues (Nonsense & Robert Johnson)
 –
by Max Haymes

Extract: There has been, down through the years, a belief by many white people that blacks from the southern states often sang nonsense lyrics. From an otherwise very sympathetic Fanny Anne Kemble in the 1830s, on down to 1888 when another Englishwoman tracing the sea shanty, reports “The “chanty-men” have, to some extent, kept to the silly words of the negroes, and have altered the melodies to suit their purposes.” …

 

Mule, Get Up In The Alley (a Tribute to the Mule in the Blues)
 – by Max Haymes

Extract: The ‘lowly’ mule is a ubiquitous icon in the early blues and reaches back into slavery times.  This animal appears in many blues such as those by Coley Jones, Kokomo Arnold, Memphis Minnie, Billiken Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jazz Gillum, Texas Alexander, Julius Daniels, and Edna Winston …

 

Blues Jumped A Rabbit (an Englishman’s viewpoint on some background to the Rabbit Foot Minstrals of Port Gibson, Mississippi)
– by Max Haymes

Extract: The title I have used for this short piece comes from a verse in ‘Rabbit Foot Blues’ [Paramount 12454] by the great Blind Lemon Jefferson around December, 1926, at Paramount’s studios  in Chicago.  This was a reference to starvation which was so prevalent in black communities (and some white ones too) during the 1920s and ‘30s.  The rabbit’s foot was/is a popular lucky charm either worn round the neck or carried in a pocket.  A belief/superstition (like many others) that originated across the Atlantic in the British Isles.

 

Moorhead, Mississippi
“Where the Southern Crosses
the Yellow Dog

“This Cat’s Got the Yellow Dog Blues”  – Origins of The Term ‘Yellow Dog
– by Max Haymes

Extract: Railroads have always been an integral part of the blues; not only in inspiring the boogie rhythms of countless rural guitarists, barrelhouse pianists and harp blowers, but also the lyric content of the blues singer.  The earliest blues that has been noted featured one of the most famous railroads; Mississippi’s “Yellow Dog”.  In this article I shall be not only seeking out the origin of the term but I will also attempt to identify the railroad it refers to.

 

Slave coffle using wooden ‘chains’

Slave to the Blues – Coffles and the Auction Block
– by Max Haymes

This article is part of a far larger work (‘Slave To The Blues’) which seeks to focus on the secular roots of the Blues back in slavery times in the USA.

 

Alabama Blues
– by Billy Hutchinson … with contributions from Bob Eagle, Gayle Dean Wardlow, Don Kent, Alabama Blues Project’s Debbie Bond, Alabama Mike Benjamin, Roger Stephenson and Microwave Dave.

Extract: This is the land of tornadoes, thunderstorms, scorching summers, packed churches, magnolias, kudzu, pecans, cicadas, squirrels and chipmunks that outnumber the dogs and cats, trees that want to grow forever and soul food ….

 

Clara Smith ‘Queen of the Moaners’ c. 1923

I Need-A Plenty Grease In My Frying Pan (Roots and Influences of Vaudeville & Rural Blues: 1919-1940)
 – by Max Haymes

Extract: Black female singers in the first decades of the 20th Century -during which time the Blues had ‘arrived’- were generally part of their community at the lowest rung on the socio-economic ladder.    I am here, talking about the vast majority of black women and the female blues singers in particular, who sang and recorded the first blues on records; formerly ‘the classic blues’ and more correctly now the ‘vaudeville blues’.  

 

The Mississippi Delta: Birthplace of the Blues – “This Is Where the Soul of Man Never Dies.”
  – by Terry Messman

Extract: This is a story about how poverty, segregation and racial discrimination harm human beings. This is also a story about how beauty flowers from the fields of brutality. This is a story of the blues. “This is where the soul of man never dies,” as Sam Phillips said about Howlin’ Wolf. 

Click here for Spanish translation
(thanks to Rafael Reséndiz, professor at the National University of Mexico for the translation).

 

Blues At Sea
 – by Max Haymes

Extract: Although the sea-shanty is a form of work-song and the latter is a universal phenomenon in one form or another, the ‘shanty is never ascribed any origins from the African continent. For whatever reasons, the various versions of the beginnings of the shanty point to many a geographical birthplace – except Africa. In fact it is not until African slaves were forcibly removed from their homelands that they got involved with work-songs of the sea …

 

“I’m Gonna Hang This Mandolin Under My Shoulder”  (Mandolins in the Blues)
 – by Max Haymes

Extract: Although the blues on record started in 1920, it was not until 1924 when Willie Black was included on mandolin as part of Whistler and His Jug Band, from Cincinnati, in an ensemble role for a series of sides in September of that year.

 

British Superstitions and The Blues
 – by Max Haymes

Extract: ….. I maintain that many superstitions, beliefs and customs were transported from the British Isles over to southern USA in the nineteenth century, and earlier.

 

Lil McClintock, Blues and Medicine Shows
– by Mike Ballantyne

Extract: The roots of the blues are many and varied. The two most prominent genres from which they sprang are Black folksongs, including both play-party songs and animal rhymes, and work songs. Many of these latter songs evolved from the singing of railroad track-lining gangs, sugarcane cutters, cotton pickers, road gangs, quarry and mine workers and the like, commonly within the prison systems of the American South and South West.

 

Death Letter Blues (a survey of possible origins)
– by Max Haymes

Extract: The first recordings of this title appeared in 1924 by vaudeville singers.  …

 

Blues Specialist Record Shops in the UK – 1960s
– by Max Haymes

Extract: A rough estimate of the number of record shops which specialised in blues in England during the 1960s, as far as I can recall, numbered about 10! This among many hundreds of record shops/stores in the UK.  There were no other outlets at that time.  Virtually all the rest did not include a ‘Blues’ section in their racks, although a very mixed ‘jazz’ section was included which was heavily slanted towards ‘modern jazz’ in most of its various (often disputed) forms …

 

Fat Man Blues – A ‘taster’ for a blues novel
– by Richard Wall

Extract: “Hobo John” is an English blues enthusiast on a pilgrimage to present-day Mississippi. One night in Clarksdale he meets the mysterious Fat Man, who offers him the chance to see the real blues of the 1930s. Unable to refuse this offer, Hobo John embarks on a journey through the afterlife in the company of Travellin’ Man, an old blues guitarist who shows him the sights, sounds and everyday life in the Mississippi Delta. Along the way, the Englishman discovers the harsh realities behind his romantic notion of the music he loves and the true price of the deal that he has made.

Check out the Recommended Books Section for more information.

 

Why Do You Moan, When You Can Shake That Thing?
(a survey of Papa Charlie Jackson & Bo Weavil Jackson: 1924-1934)   
– by Max Haymes

Extract: One of the interesting facts to emerge from putting Papa Charlie Jackson and Bo Weavil Jackson together in a CD set, is the obvious different approaches they applied to the recently-arrived phenomenon – the country or rural blues.  Both artists were growing up in the South when the Blues were relatively young.  Still, there would seem to be little commonality between William Henry and James Jackson – presumed to be their respective given names. …

 

History & Mystery (a long shot in early blues & gospel) – recordings of the Dixie Symphony Four
– by Max Haymes

Extract: Sometime ago in the mid-1930s, (or a few years earlier) an African American group known variously as the Dixie Symphony Four or Dixie Symphony Singers recorded six performances for a record company on a radio station in San Francisco, California.

 

Ida Cox c. 1924
From the collection of John Tefteller and Blues Images with permission, www.bluesimages.com

Ida Cox / Old Bingham Town & The Nickel Plate Road
– by Max Haymes

Extract: …  a very belated response to a query from Paul Garon, listed in ‘Words Words Words’, Blues & Rhythm magazine No. 188. April, 2004. After listening to Chicago Bound Blues by female singer Yack Taylor (1941), he said that the recording “begins with Yack singing that she wants to leave old Bingham town, or at least it sounds like that.  Heading for Chicago, of course.  But I can’t find a Bingham Town anywhere”.

 

Ghost Trains of Mississippi
– by Michael Gray

Extract: I’m travelling by train through Mississippi, accompanied by the ghosts of those who sang the blues here before I was born: those who migrated north to Chicago and elsewhere on these trains and those who stayed behind, in the little towns where the trains still stop. 

 

Roots of Blind Willie Johnson
– by Max Haymes

Extract: ….. there were indeed quite substantial number of songs and artists who influenced the Texas bottleneck guitar ace, forming an important factor in the roots of Blind Willie Johnson.

 

 

“Cherokee gourd booger dance mask ….”

Booger Rooger Blues
– by Max Haymes

Extract: The term came to light – for Blues fans – via the recording by Blind Lemon Jefferson on the very first reissue on the old Austrian Roots label (Roots RL 301 L.P. Blind Lemon Jefferson Vol.1. c.1965.  This was Booger Rooger Blues …..

 

Blind Lemon Jefferson (1890-1929)

British Colloquial Links and The Blues – an in-depth study
– by Max Haymes

Extract: Although, geographically and culturally, Africa is the place that is usually associated with the roots of the Blues, by the layman, this is acknowledged for the most part to be on a musicological basis, by the Blues writers and aficionados. Even then traces of Africa are only glimpsed momentarily, like the sun on a cloudy day. Some African words have been retained in black American culture, including that of the Blues singer, but they are exceptions rather than the rule.

 

A mix of White, Black and Choctaw

The Red Man and the Blues the link between the North American Indian and the Afro-American, an in-depth study
– by Max Haymes

Extract: The North American Indian and the Afro-American, including the Blues singer, are two of the largest ethnic minorities in the United States. The aim of this study is to point up a far stronger link between the two of them than has been supposed, or even considered in the past.

 

Jim Jackson

“I Heard The Voice of a Pork Chop”
– by Max Haymes

Extract: This seemingly humorous title actually has some dark undertones; as with many apparently comedic blues in the earlier era (1890-1943).  The title and first line were adapted from a religious song I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say  …..

 

The Titanic and The Blues
– by Mike Ballantyne

Extract: On April the 10th 1912 the Royal Mail Steamer Titanic sailed on her maiden voyage from Southampton. Shortly before midnight on the 14th of April she struck an iceberg and, a little over two and a half hours later, she sank with the loss of 1,517 passengers and crew. Considering the enormity of the disaster it is not surprising that a great number of songs were either written about the tragedy or referred to it in one form or another.

 

 

Hogan’s Heroes (a tale about not letting Best Bitter go bad)
– by Ray Smith

Extract: The gig at Rottcaster Miners Club had been a blinder. BrandySnap had played their socks off to a full clubhouse yet again, and put three more dates in their diary. The last one of which was two years away! Yes, it was definitely one of their favourites.

 

 

West Pennine Boogie Blues a tale about Champion Jack Dupree
– by Ray Smith

Extract: Beamer stopped dead in his tracks. Rubbed his eyes and shook his head. No, it couldn’t be, could it? Not here in Slackbottom, surely? But yes, there it was, as he slowly turned his head for another look at the garish poster that had caught his eye.

 

 

Only Maloney – a tale about how Only Maloney got his nickname 
– by Ray Smith

Extract: Just half a mile above Slacktop, where farmland gives way to moorland at the end of a rutted and stone littered track, lies the quiet hamlet of Slackscar. Built to house the workers who toiled at the nearby site of the former Squinting Cat drift mine, all that remains today is a tiny huddle of houses. Everything else has been demolished, filled in or carted away when the coal seam finally ran out and the mine closed at the end of the 1950’s.

 

Son House:
“blues is a low-down old achin’ chill”

Poetry and The Blues
– by Christine White

Extract: There are two words that are particularly difficult to define in the English language; ‘poetry’ and ‘blues’. To attempt to classify these two together is even more difficult yet a large number of blues critics claim that blues lyrics are poetry. This paper proposes to examine the definitions of ‘poetry’ and ‘blues’ and to consider the extent to which it is justified to link the two.

 

  An Introduction to Bob Dylan’s use of Pre-war Blues
– by Michael Gray

Extract: Because it’s so crackly on record, so lo-fi, so immured behind a white-noise wall, the black noise that is the pre-war blues can seem inaccessible, unreachable. To be put off by this would be to lose great riches. Sometimes it’s best to play it really loud (and maybe go into the next room): then you’ll hear all the joys and mysteries of esoteric vocals, guitar magic, sheer moody weirdnesses: all the synapse-crinkling giddy-hop that rock’n’roll gave you when you were thirteen.

 

Joe Willie Perkins
(Pinetop Perkins)

“Gettin’ a Handle on those Monickers”
– by Alan White

Extract: There are so many blues artists that had nicknames or had adopted alternate names that I thought it would be interesting to list some of them and identify where their nicknames came from.

 

 

“Crazy Blues” by Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds

I Woke Up This Morning – Introduction to Blues for the Newcomer
– by Max Haymes & Alan White

Extract: The Blues evolved from slavery times at the tail- end of the 19th. C. in the southern states of the USA.  The earliest candidates for its place of ‘birth’ are the Mississippi Delta (in the northwestern part of the state!) and the East Texas piney woods.  It was sung and played BY working-class blacks FOR working-class blacks. 

 

Promotional advert for
‘Champagne Charlie’

The English Music Hall Connection
– by Max Haymes

Extract: Of all the subjects in these studies, the music hall is probably the farthest away from Africa. Or put another way, it is the link with the Blues which can be considered the most ‘non-African’. … The phenomenon of the music hall was originally a peculiarly English institution of the working-classes which seems to have been centered in London and from there spread to other towns and cities throughout the British Isles.

 

Background of Recorded Blues: No. 1 – Pea Vine Blues (Charlie Patton)
– by Max Haymes

Extract: A term such as `peavine’ came to be known as general railroad slang for any winding branch line. White Mississippian Betty Carter noted that “mules by the carlot were delivered to sidings of the peavine railroads that followed the meandering contour lines through the river-built land”. The name derived from the twisting and turning; of this particular crop, which adorns the edges of the 1929 Paramount ad.

 

 

Jazz Gillum

Background of Recorded Blues: No. 2 – Mobile and Western Line (State Street Boys)
– by Max Haymes

Extract: Like No. 1, this is a blues about a railroad and features a small group in the 1930s led by, on this occasion, William McKinley `Jazz’ Gillum. The latter was the first harmonica player in Chicago to record. Indeed, he had been in the Windy City more than a decade prior to the arrival of John Lee `Sonny Boy’ Williamson.

 

 

Peg Leg Howell and his Gang

Background of Recorded Blues: No. 3 – Beaver Slide Rag (Peg Leg Howell And His Gang)
– by Max Haymes

Extract: One of the most important links between pre-blues and the early, fully-realized form, Peg Leg Howell here presents one of the most infectious and `rowdy’ string band sides, with his `Gang’, which of course is not a blues in the strictest sense. Yet in the gravelly comments and responses along with Eddie Anthony’s often dirty-toned fiddle there is the spirit and feel of the Blues.

 

 

Ishmon Bracey with Charley Taylor and the New Orleans Nehi Boys

Background of Recorded Blues: No. 4 – P. C. Railroad Blues (Charlie Taylor & The New Orleans Nehi Boys)
 – by Max Haymes

Extract: If most explorations in the background of early blues has, by definition of the time­scale, to include varying degrees of speculation; then this title is totally speculative! Unique in this series insofar as although issued by Paramount (Para 13121) this side has never been found. B. & G.R. (“Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943”) give no matrix no. although they note that on the reverse of 13121 is alleged to be “You’ve Got What I Want” by Irene Scruggs.

 

 

Background of Recorded Blues: No. 5 – Nut Factory Blues (Hi Henry Brown)
 – by Max Haymes

Extract: In 1992, Chris Smith wrote that ‘Hi’ Henry Brown “was an unmistakeable musician… with a vinegary voice, and – in song, at least – a correspondingly sour disposition, which he turned on pimps, prostitutes, preachers, and even the passengers on the Titanic; (1). In the case of the prostitutes I would suggest he has the wrong slant on what Brown is singing about. In fact this side is more of a protest against mis­treatment of black women and the general situation (in 1932) where many were paid such a low wage (or “nothin’ at all”) that they were forced on to the streets -a sad and very familiar scenario down through the ages in all societies.

 

 

Background of Recorded Blues: No. 6 – Big Ship Blues (Kokomo Arnold)
– by Max Haymes

Extract: In the early recorded Blues era (1890-1943) there are many references to working/travelling in boats on the rivers in the South – “big boat’s up the river”, “I went down to the landing to see if my boat was there”, “the boat’s in deep water on a bank of sand”, depth soundings by lead callers (from whence Mark Twain derived his pen name), as well as particular steamboats such as the Jim Lee. But it seems that songs about ships are a rare species.

 

 

Blind Gary Davis

Blues Artists & Their Instruments
– by Dai Thomas

Extract: This started as a list of acoustic or acoustic-based blues artists with an informed (mostly) guess at the make of the instruments they used during the “Acoustic Era”, i.e. prior to The Second World War. The list now has almost 200 artists!!

 

  Jumpin’ The Blues
– by Steve Pilkington

Extract: Jump blues – it’s a term you hear more and more of these days, but what exactly is it? Like many classic American musical forms, jump blues is a hybrid – an inspired mix of blues, swing and jazz. The end result is an intensely exciting, buoyant music which noted music writer, Billy Vera sums up like this, “Marked by a front line of horns (heavy on the saxophones), backed by a strong rhythm section and propelled by a strong ‘back beat’ on drums, the jump combos were long on danceability and short on subtlety.” 

 

Survey of Black Preachers in the South – before 1940
– by Max Haymes

Extract: This article is an initial ‘testing the water’ on a subject in earlier African American song which has rarely been considered in print up to this point in time.  – the preacher in the late 19th. and early 20th. centuries.  …  Although intended as a larger work (possibly a book) I will here, be concentrating mainly on the origins of rap together with some early background to the importance of the preacher in early black communities; especially from the blues and gospel vantage point.  I will also be considering a particular theme which gets tangled up with the well-known ‘Dry Bones In The Valley’, much-recorded in the pre-war era by black preachers and quartets alike

 

Got the Blues for Chattanooga
– by Max Haymes

Extract: This article was inspired by a  poetic and far-sighted verse recorded by a blind blues singer in the late 1920s!  Twelve-string maestro, Blind Willie McTell recorded his beautiful “Drive Away Blues” for Victor Records in 1929.

 

Tommy McClennon

Catfish Blues (Origins of a Blues)
– by Max Haymes

Extract:  … McClennan’s rasping vocal veering between the menacing and the sensual, in the familiar dark melodic strains that have become associated with this famous blues. His spoken self-encouragement might refer to the fact he featured slide for the only time on a record, or that this was his most popular number in the jukes and barrelhouses in the Delta.

 

Back to the Land of California – Robert Johnson & “Sweet Home Chicago”
– by Max Haymes

Extract: Robert Johnson’s phrase “back to the land of California to my sweet home Chicago”, (the latter three words of which give the title to his Vocation record from 1936) has in the past, been queried by Blues writers as to his geographical sanity!! But as I maintain that the Blues singer rarely sang lyrics which were meaningless, Johnson had a reason for singing such a line. This article is an attempt, if you like, to ‘justify’ Johnson’s apparent nonsensical phrase.

 

“Katy’s at the Station, Santa Fe is in the Yard”
(on the rail trail of Bessie Tucker – Queen of the Texas Moaners)
– by Max Haymes

Extract:  Despite being one of the finest rural or downhome female blues singers ever to record, along with Lucille Bogan, Memphis Minnie, and Pearl Dickson, we know precious little about Bessie Tucker.

 

“Worry Blues”– an in-depth study of Tom Dickson’s recorded output
 – by Max Haymes

Extract: ….Virtually nothing is known about Tom Dickson, apart from a remembrance by Mississippi’s Joe Calicot, who said he played “…around Memphis,”(1). The unidentified sleeve-note writer/s tentatively suggests an Alabama origin by the singer’s use of the word “mamlish”. Obviously making connections with Alabamian Ed Bell’s “Mamlish Blues”.

 

Big Joe Williams

Baby Please Don’t Go (Origins of a Blues)
– by Max Haymes

Extract: ”Baby Please Don’t Go” was first recorded by Mississippi’s Poor/Big Joe Williams in the autumn of 1935 for Victor’s cheap-priced Bluebird label. This was William’s second session on record, having cut a largely solo one in the early part of the same year, But here he is backed by Chasey Collins on fiddle and “Kokomo” on washboard to give a decidedly rural and ‘archaic’ feeling to the piece.

 

 

Playing banjo for the white dances at the ‘Big House’

Blues Where You From?
– by Max Haymes

Extract: The Blues originated in the Southern states of the U.S.A. as sung by working-class African Americans. The term ‘blues’ was first applied to a style of music in the closing decades of the 19th. Century, but older blues singers ‘rediscovered’ in the 1960s claimed the blues has been going “for centuries an’ centuries”.

 

 

Mississippi John Hurt

Got The Blues For Mean Old Stack O’ Lee
– by Max Haymes

Extract: Stack O’ Lee of course, is the notorious badman who attained legendary status around the turn of the century, and who has been much eulogised and sung about in black folklore; especially in the world of the Blues.

 

Blind Lemon Jefferson (1890-1929)

Lemon’s Hoodoo Moan (Hoodooism and the Blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson)
– by Max Haymes

Extract: While I have always been aware of hoodoo in the blues, via references to ‘mojos’, ‘black cat bones’ etc., I didn’t realize just how many more obscure (or less obvious) allusions existed within the genre.

 

Robert Johnson, His Life, His Music, His Legacy
– by Alan White

Extract: Information on the events of Robert Johnson’s life is rather scarce.  From birth to his still-disputed burial place, his life has remained shrouded in mystery for more than half a century. Indeed, some early blues researchers encountered a difficult time finding any information about him, even in the years immediately after his death.

 

Lucille Bogan

Spotlight on Lucille Bogan
– by Max Haymes

Extract: One of the recurring subjects in Bogan’s blues was prostitution. The most famous of these being “Tricks Ain’t Walking No More”. Mistaken by U.S. black feminist writer, Michele Russell in 1982, as a moral stand on the part of the singer, who refuses to further degrade herself even though she’s ‘broke an’ hungry’; in fact “Tricks” is clearly a prostitute’s lament because of a dwindling supply of customers or ‘tricks’. Poor blacks were hit by the Great Depression long before it became ‘official’

 

Ma Rainey

Some Blues Roots of Rock ‘N Roll Music
– by Max Haymes

Extract: Ever since the middle 1950’s when rock ‘n roll hit the sound waves, Western music, and particularly the U.K./U.S. scene, have been irrevocably altered. Many titles have passed into near legendary status, such as “Rock Around The Clock”, by Bill Haley, “Be-Bop-A-Lula” by Gene Vincent and “Blue Suede Shoes” by Elvis Presley.

 

Hoboes and Their Constant Struggle with Railroad Workers
– by Alan White

Extract: For southern Blacks the appeal of the railroads has always been both a real and a symbolic one. Way back in slavery periods, when black slaves were unable to travel between districts without written ‘bonds’ from their owners, the sight of powerful locomotives thundering past, with clouds of black smoke billowing into the air, created an awe which remains even today.
 

 

One Way / Country Rock Blues
– by Max Haymes

Extract: Ever since the reissue of two titles on Origin in the early 1960s, by East Coast bluesman and sometimes barber William Moore, there has been speculation as to whether in fact these two sides featured the different “vocalists”. The titles were “Old Country Rock” (on OJL.2-”Really The Country Blues”) and “One Way Gal” (on OJL.8-”Country Blues Encores”).

 

 

Model of Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin

Background to the Blues
– by Max Haymes

Extract: The reality of life for working-class blacks in the Southern states of the USA – putting the lyrics of the early blues into perspective. 

 

The Birds and The Blues
– by Max Haymes

Extract: Blues singers have always drawn on their environment for inspiration in their lyrics as well as in the sound of their instruments. Unlike the traditional folk singer who will often sing of events that happened many years previous to their own experience -sometimes referring to events spanned by centuries. Such is the case with the execution ballads of Captain Kidd from the l7th. Century for example. It is true there are a handful of “blues ballads” such as “John Henry”, “Stack 0’ Lee” or Frankie & Albert/Johnnie”, which have persisted in black song but they are the exception to the rule – the vast majority of blues reflected their surroundings in the “here and now”.

 

 

Blues Essays in Spanish (Ensayos sobre el Blues, en español)
– translations by Argentinian Andres Magallanes                   

Extract: a series of blues essays originally published on Earlyblues.com and now translated into Spanish by Argentinian blues guitarist and early pre-war blues fan Andres Magallanes.