Today’s sides were recorded by Frances Faye in 1957 for an album called Sings Folk Songs. Faye was cabaret singer and pianist who began in showbiz at a young age. St. James Infirmary and John Henry are both traditional songs that came from a time long before songwriters got properly credited. I’ve enjoyed many versions of each over the years. Back in February, I wrote a little of the tale of John Henry in connection with a Buster Brown version. Faye’s renditions are fun, expressive and come with the full sound of a jazz big-band. Since her foray into folk jumped the gun on the impending folk revival by several years, this Bethlehem single wasn’t released until 1962.
Nappy Brown – The Right Time
The Right Time, or Night Time Is The Right Time in its extended form, is basically a traditional song. That is, no one alive today really knows who wrote it. The song out-dates recording technology. It probably came from the vaudeville tradition, which was a travelling variety-show type of entertainment, popular in North America a bit over a century ago. Roosevelt Sykes and Big Bill Broonzy both recorded blues versions in the 1930s. Today’s selection was released by Nappy Brown in 1957 and covered note for note by Ray Charles a year later. I actually prefer Charles’ take, mainly because of the backing vocals of original Raelette, Mary Ann Fisher.
Ben Branch – Motherless Child
Today’s offering of gospel funk comes from Ben Branch who began his career playing with B.B King. I generally try and stick to what it says on the record label when it comes to artist and track titles, but I figured Ben Branch & the Operation Breadbasket Orchestra & Choir was a bit much. And, it’s actually the SCLC Operation Breadbasket Orchestra & Choir who are joining Branch, a tenor saxophonist, on this version of the traditional spiritual, Motherless Child. SCLC is an acronym for Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organisation whose first president was Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Branch was an active member of SCLC and was also reportedly the very last person King spoke to before being assassinated. King’s last words were to ask Branch to perform the gospel tune Take My Hand, Precious Lord at an event he was due to attend, and to “play it real pretty”. Motherless Child, featuring Rev. Clay Evans on vocals, comes from an album recorded a little over a week after that fateful day. The album is called The Last Request and features an image of King on the cover.
Mahalia Jackson – Joshua Fit The Battle
Born in New Orleans in 1911, Mahalia Jackson became the most successful gospel singer of her time. She sang at JFK’s inaugural ball and at the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. She also sang at King’s funeral. On today’s selection, recorded in the mid 1950s, Jackson is backed by the Falls-Jones Ensemble. I’ve always enjoyed the Mildred Jones’ rollicking piano on this recording, taken from an EP released on the Philips label around 1960. Although I’m not generally a fan of EPs, I love Dutch pressings with their pretty picture sleeves.
Joshua Fit The Battle is, unsurprisingly, a biblical story and the song and is thought to have been composed by slaves early in the nineteenth century. The lyrics make more sense if you know that fit can mean fought to some folk. It’s about a fella named Joshua who led the Israelites in a battle for a place called Jericho. Rumour has it that the surrounding walls fell when Joshua’s army (which must have doubled as his marching band) encircled the city whilst blowing their trumpets. As with any religious tales, a hefty grain of salt is highly recommended. If it actually occurred, this battle happened many thousands of years ago, maybe three and a half, but, sadly, the area is still home to land related disputes.
Duane Eddy – House Of The Rising Sun
Speaking of Duane Eddy, and New Orleans, could there be a more appropriate song to post than his 1965 version of House Of The Rising Sun? Although it came off a record entitled Duane Does Dylan, Eddy’s instrumental version owes more to The Animals’ monster interpretation released just a year prior than it does to the one on Bob Dylan’s debut album. Although there are a few different theories, no one really knows who originally wrote this great song; it’s a traditional.
Dock Boggs – Sugar Baby
Frank Stokes – I Got Mine
Memphis Jug Band – On The Road Again
Parham–Pickett Apollo Syncopaters – Mojo Strut
Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra – Kater Street Rag
I was recently gifted a book of illustrations by the american cartoonist Robert Crumb. It packages together the Heros of Blues, Early Jazz Greats, and Pioneers of Country trading card sets that he created in the 1980s. If you are unfamiliar with R. Crumb’s work I suggest you seek out Terry Zwigoff’s incredibly fascinating documentary about him, his brothers and their world of comics, simpley called ‘Crumb’. Besides from that film he is probably best known for the album cover artwork of Big Brother and the Holding Company’s ‘Cheap Thrills’, the comic ‘Fritz the Cat’ and the phrase Keep on Truckin’. Crumb is also a purveyor of old time blues, jazz and country, a musician and a 78 rpm record collector. With the book comes a CD of music from 1927-31 selected and compiled by Crumb and it’s from that disc that today’s tunes come.
Moran Lee ‘Dock’ Boggs was a banjo player and singer/songwriter who hailed from Virginia and played in an old-timey Appalachian style. ‘Sugar Baby’ also features on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, which I will get round to blogging about one of these days.
Frank Stokes is the book’s cover star. He was born in Tennessee and was a popular entertainer in Memphis back in the day. I must admit I don’t know much of Stokes but I really enjoy ‘I Got Mine’, particularly the bit where he sings “I belong to the knock down society but… I got mine”.
The Memphis Jug Band were a collective of musicians centered around singer/guitarist Will Shade. They made many recordings and must be commended for employing the, in my opinion, under-utilized sounds of the jug and the kazoo. ‘On the Road Again’ isn’t the original version of the Canned Heat song of the same name but is equally spirited.
The instrumental ‘Mojo Strut’ could be my pick of the bunch. What a party starter; this track actually lives up to its name. It features ‘Tiny’ Parham on piano who, going by the illustration, was anything but.
Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra give us their tribute to Philadelphia’s Kater Street. Sounds like a fun place.
And, if you’re near London town this coming Thursday June 12 you may be interested in this flyer that’s “adapted” from some Crumb illustrations. It promotes a night a couple of mates and I are running at the 3 Blind Mice bar in Shoreditch. Do drop by.
Hambone Willie Newbern – Roll & Tumble Blues
Mississippi Joe Callicott – Roll and Tumble
Furry Lewis – Roll and Tumble Blues
R.L. Burnside – Rollin’ and Tumblin’
R.L. Burnside – Rolling & Tumbling
Baby Face Leroy – Rollin’ & Tumblin’
Muddy Waters – Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Part 1
Elmore James – Rollin’ And Tumblin’
Rosa Lee Hill – Rolled and Tumbled
Jessie Mae Hemphill – Rolling And Tumbling
Eddie ‘One String’ Jones – Rolling And Tumbling Blues
For today’s post I’m highlighting a number of versions of one of my favourite blues standards. A song about the restless sleep you have when your baby leaves you. It goes by a number of titles but they all generally involve some rolling and some tumbling.
Hambone Willie Newbern made the first known recording in 1929. Not much is known about Newbern, but I’ll take a punt and say that he used a ham bone to slide along the strings of his guitar.
The Mississippi Joe Callicott and Furry Lewis (pictured) versions were both recorded by George Mitchell in 1967. He also recorded R.L. Burnside doing the same song. R.L.’s version was original released on Arhoolie, but now Fat Possum has released several George Mitchell recordings, including those he made with these fine three. The second Burnside version, this time entitled Rolling and Tumbling, was recorded live in South Carolina in 1986. It features R.L. playing electric guitar and Jon Morris on harmonica.
Baby Face Leroy Foster was a drummer and sometimes guitarist in Muddy Waters’ band. His 1949 recording of Rollin’ and Tumblin’ for Parkway, which blatantly features Muddy on slide and back-up moans (and Little Walter on harmonica), got Muddy into some trouble with his label. Aristocrat, ran by the Chess brothers, forced Muddy to release his own version to kill off sales of Foster’s thrilling interpretation. Elmore James, who also released records on Chess, had a hit with the song ten years later for the New York City-based Fire label.
Rosa Lee Hill recorded her rendition of Rolled and Tumbled for Alan Lomax who had also previously recorded her father, fife and fiddle player, Sid Hemphill. Rosa Lee always encouraged her niece, Jessie Mae, to sing and play guitar. In 1990, she recorded her own version, which is featured on Feelin’ Good.
Last but by no means least is Eddie ‘One String’ Jones. Now, after hearing this piece, there’s no prizes for guessing how he got his moniker. At just over seven minutes, this is the longest and most raw version of the bunch. Jones accompanies himself on a “home-made African derived Zither-Monochord” and according to David Campbell, who wrote the liner notes to the CD reissue of this recording, “One day in 1960, he approached [folklorist and ethnic musicologist] Frederick Usher in the skid row section of Los Angeles. He was carrying a rough piece of timber, with a single broom wire stretched along it, and a tin can mounted over one end. He played it by sliding a half-pint bottle along the wire with his left hand, while striking it near the resonating can with a little whittled stick in his right hand.” The results are extraordinary and if you only have 10MB space left on your hard drive, I suggest you download this first…then delete something and download the rest.
Blind Willie Johnson – Dark Was The Night
Blind Willie Johnson – God Don’t Never Change
Blind Willie Johnson – If I Had My Way I’d Tear This Building Down
Blind Willie Johnson – John The Revelator
About ten years ago, I was at University trying hard to figure out what type of radio show I wanted to present on the campus station. One of the factors that helped me decide on a blues based programme was my incredulity at the fact that the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was not getting played on local blues radio. Another was that my friend’s father had a hefty collection of blues music. The third factor, of course, being that I had deep love and appreciation of the blues. I continued presenting blues based shows until I left Australia, and my Melbourne radio show, three years ago. With my collecting no longer defined by a weekly radio slot, I was able to explore different interests and venture deeper into other sounds, like psychedelic rock, soul, funk, sampled sources, moog and big band — basically all the tunes that I’ve posted on Diddy Wah since its inception. But I’ve missed the blues. So while back in Australia converting some of my collection into mp3s, they got priority. The reason I’m telling you all this is just to explain that over the next few weeks and months there will be a tad more deep down, dark and dirty, true blues on Diddy Wah, like this:
Blind Willie Johnson is one of those mysterious characters. I couldn’t really tell you where or when he was born, apart from that it was around the turn of the century somewhere in Texas. He wasn’t born blind but apparently lost his sight aged seven when his stepmother threw Lye — a caustic solution which is made from ashes — into his face as revenge for a beating his father had given her. Johnson also reportedly married twice, first to a woman he shared a name with, Willie, and then to a woman named Angeline. I believe he had a daughter with Willie but she has never claimed his estate. He died in 1945 but his burial place is unknown. One thing we know for sure is that, in the late twenties, he made a series of recordings for Columbia and, on these recordings, he demonstrates his devotion to the divine in an incredible, gruff voice with a sheer mastery of the slide guitar. However don’t ask me what he used as a slide as this too is in doubt.
Along with Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong, Bach and Beethoven, Blind Willie Johnson was included on the golden record that was sent into deep space in 1977 as part of the Voyager missions. What potential alien life forms might make of Johnson humming along to his slide guitar on “Dark Was The Night (Cold Was The Ground)” is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they, like I, would go “hey, that’s the music Ry Cooder played on Paris, Texas”. It’s an amazingly moving track in a way that’s hard to explain; it’s almost the sound of pure emotion. To paraphrase a Steve Martin line with regard to the golden record: “the first message from extraterrestrials has been received… ‘Send more Blind Willie Johnson’.”
Although the style he played was influenced by, and influential to, the sound we know as the blues, Johnson strictly sang spirituals. “God Don’t Never Change” features more fine slide and its lyrics have been the subject of etymological discussion. “If I Had My Way I’d Tear This Building Down” is the Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah, and Johnson once was arrested after singing it outside a courthouse because a policeman though he was trying to incite a riot.
“John The Revelator” is a call and response duet featuring Johnson’s first wife. Her clean tones beautifully highlight the rough timbre of Johnson’s growl. This deservedly made it into Harry Smith’s wonderful Anthology of American Folk Music.
Jessie Mae Hemphill – You Can Talk About Me
Jessie Mae Hemphill – Standing In My Doorway Crying
Jessie Mae Hemphill – Take Me Home With You, Baby
Jessie Mae Hemphill – Lord, Help The Poor And Needy
She Wolf – I’m So Glad You Don’t Know What’s On My Mind
I’ve wanted to do a Jessie Mae Hemphill post for a long time, so while I was in Australia and had access to my collection, her CDs were amongst the first I reached for. Her great-grandfather, grandfather, father, mother and aunties where all musicians playing fiddles, fifes, pianos, guitars and drums, so unsurprisingly Jessie Mae’s musical education began early. Though primarily a guitarist and singer, Jessie Mae, like many of her family, was a multi-instrumentalist. Her first gigs were playing bass and snare drums in a fife-and-drum band, perhaps her grandfather’s — Sid Hemphill was recorded by the Lomax’s in the 1940s and 50s. The deep fife-and-drum band rhythms permeate through Jessie Mae’s guitar playing, in a style which could be described as hill country trance blues. It’s similar to the methods employed by Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside and Fred McDowell, who all lived in areas of Mississippi near to Jessie Mae and all knew each other. Sometime on July 22, 2006, Jessie Mae joined them on stage at that big Juke Joint in the sky.
The first track posted ‘You Can Talk About Me’ is a live recording made at Junior Kimbrough’s Juke Joint in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1991. It’s taken from the soundtrack to the excellent documentary ‘Deep Blues’ named after the equally terrific book by musicologist Robert Palmer. What a smoking performance. This type of hypnotic music is best captured live and lo-fi complete with background chatter, hoops and hollers. Also, I vaguely remember reading or hearing that this recording was made when Jessie Mae was in the midst of a relationship breakdown, which goes someway to explaining her intensity.
From her first album, She-Wolf, recorded around 1980 and originally released on a French label, I’ve taken the two tunes ‘Standing In My Doorway Crying’ and ‘Take Me Home With You, Baby’. The former is a true blues tale about love lost, a feeling echoed by Bob Dylan on Time out of Mind. The latter, which features Jessie Mae playing a Diddley Bow, is more concerned with love lust.
Jessie Mae’s second album, and her first to be released in the US, Feelin’ Good, was recorded in 1990. It covers similar territory as She-Wolf and from it comes ‘Lord, Help The Poor And Needy’, a gospel tunes sung almost acappella with purely a tambourine keeping the beat.
Swamp Surfing In Memphis is the name of a compilation album of local Memphis based rockers that came out in 1986 (on Melbourne’s Au Go Go Records). Jessie Mae lived in Memphis for twenty years and her sound fitted in neatly with the rough and rhythmic garage blues of Tav Falco and the like. Under the moniker She Wolf, Jessie Mae contributed two tunes including ‘I’m So Glad You Don’t Know What’s On My Mind’.
Nina Simone – Sinnerman
Sonny Boy Williamson – Bring It on Home
Jimmy Scott – Sycamore Trees
Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps – Be-Bop-A-Lula
Ketty Lester – Love Letters
The other week I was lucky enough to catch a preview screening of the latest, and perhaps most twisted, David Lynch flick, Inland Empire, with the man himself talking and taking questions afterwards. As always, I enjoyed the film and can’t wait to see it again to unravel it’s mysteries further. It’s almost a Lynchian hallmark to include scenes where a specific song comes to the fore and his soundtracks are always excellent. For this post I’m highlighting some of those scene making songs and other Lynch soundtrack selections.
The final scene of Inland Empire, as the credits roll, is a joyous occasion for Lynch fans. Nina Simone’s ten minute rapturous rhythmic version of the traditional ‘Sinnerman’ is heard during a room scene of choreographed dancing and spirited attempts at lip syncing. Also in the room are characters from, or allusions to, some of his other films. ‘Sinnerman’ was originally a part of the ‘Pastel Blues’ album, recorded in New York and released in the mid sixties.
Sonny Boy Williamson aka Rice Miller is a Mississippi blues mystery man. No one is quite sure of his real name or date of birth, but it’s widely accepted that despite his claims to the contrary, he was not the original Sonny Boy Williamson. The original John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson was a well known harmonica player and recording star before the Interstate Grocery Company appropriated his name. They placed it alongside an image of Miller, also a harmonica player and radio personage, in order to sell more sacks of King Biscuit Flour. Having already played with many of the delta blues greats, including Robert Johnson and Elmore James, Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson II) would outlive his chosen namesake and go on to record with some of the rising stars of the British blues his death in 1965. ‘Bring It On Home’, a song Willie Dixon wrote, features in the Mulholland Drive scene that sees Billy Ray Cyrus get punched out by a large mobster.
Jimmy Scott was born in 1925 with Kallmann’s syndrome. This syndrome prevents the onset of puberty, explaining his soprano voice and why he’s less than five feet tall. He used to be known as ‘Little’ Jimmy Scott, a nickname coined by Lionel Hampton, the bandleader with whom Scott began his recording career. To say his voice is unique, although true, doesn’t fairly emphasis the tremendous ability he, like Nina Simone, has to interpret songs and extract every last drop of real emotion from them. He has what Ray Charles called “soul”. Other famous fans include Billie Holiday, Lou Reed and Madonna. After a long absence from recording music, in the early nineties Scott returned. In 1991 he was in the final episode of Twin Peaks, singing ‘Sycamore Trees’, a song with lyrics by David Lynch and music by regular collaborator, Angelo Badalamenti. It’s a bewilderingly unnerving and emotionally intense performance. You can find it on the soundtrack to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
Like ‘Bring It On Home’, Lynch uses ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ in Wild At Heart to lyrically emphasis an idea. This literal approach helps in movies that contain so much figurative symbolism. ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ is used in a passionate lovemaking scene between Laura Dern’s character ‘Lula’ and Nic Cage’s ‘Sailor’ that is arguably even more viscerally pleasurable than watching Mr. Achy Breaky Heart getting whacked. A rock’n’roll and rockabilly classic, it was Gene Vincent’s first and biggest hit in 1956.
When ‘Love Letters’ is played in ‘Blue Velvet’ the lyrics definitely reverberate. Earlier in the film Dennis Hopper’s manic, sadistic and sociopathic character ‘Frank Booth’ has explained to Kyle MacLachlan’s ‘Jeffrey Beaumont’, “You know what a love letter is? It’s a bullet from a fucking gun, fucker! You receive a love letter from me, and you’re fucked forever!” It’s played towards the end of the movie as Jeffrey is discovering a couple of folk who have recently received love letters from Frank. Ketty Lester’s sweet and soulful cover of Dick Haymes’ ‘Lover Letters’ was also her biggest smash. The year was 1962.
An Aquarium Drunkard
Be Bop Wino
The B Side
Carlos Rene's Scene64
Derek's Daily 45
The Devil's Music
Flea Market Funk
Frankie Bundle's Mazzetta78
Home Of The Groove
Jester Wild Show
Kogar's Jungle Juice
La Dimension De Trastos
Liam Large's Rekkids
Mean Mojo Mathias
Night Beat Records
So Many Records, So Little Time
You Got Good Taste