Out Of The Past
I'm Going Away - Lottie Kimbrough's most famous song was "Rolling Log Blues," but this tune, recorded in 1930, is my favorite of hers. She was billed as the Kansas City Butterball and, like many singers and musicians of her day was a veteran of the vaudeville and cabaret circuits. Joe and Darren turned this primitive country blues solo tune into something completely different and wonderful - kind of what Mose Allison calls "Rhumboogie."
Meet Me Where They Play The Blues - Jack Teagarden has been one of my idols since I saw him on television when I was a young boy. He was from Vernon, Texas. His hot trombone playing and wonderful singing style made a really big impression on me and continue to inspire me today. In the early 1920's he played with the mythic early Galveston, Texas, jazz band - Peck Kelly's Bad Boys. He was a mainstay of the late 1920's New York jazz scene. From 1947 to 1951 he was a sideman with the Louis Armstrong's All-Stars. In my opinion, he was one of the few really great early white jazz singers. He died in Los Angeles in 1964 at the age of 58. The headstone on his grave reads "Where There Is Hatred, Let Me Sow Love."
St. James Infirmary - My British brother, Arnie Cottrell, taught me this tune when we played as a duo in folks clubs in England and Wales in the mid-1970's. Later I discovered the great Dave Van Ronk's version called "Gambler's Blues." This tune's history is tied to a cycle of ballads going back three or four centuries concerning what ethnomusicologists refer to as the "Unfortunate Rake." This story has taken innumerable forms through history. In the United States, this version of the song developed in the African-American community. In the white community, it became "The Streets of Laredo."
I Never Cried (Built Right On The Ground) - From Henderson, Kentucky, Theodore Roosevelt "Blind Teddy" Darby recorded this tune in Chicago on September 29, 1931, for the Victor record label. A great example of Jim, Joe and David bringing their musical sensibilities to a very primitive solo tune and transforming it beautifully.
Crazy Blues - It is commonly accepted that Mamie Smith made the first recording of a blues song in 1920 with her version "Crazy Blues" on Okeh Records. The record was a wild success, selling over a million copies in less than a year, and finally ending up selling over two million copies. After its success record companies realized that there was a lot of money to be made selling what were then called "race records" to various minority groups in big cities. It was a very important record, because it opened the doors of the recording industry to African-Americans, whether they were blues, jazz or popular singers or musicians. Smith herself really was not that much of a blues singer. She was more of a vaudeville performer, although she included blues and jazz numbers as part of her act which included trapeze acts, dancing, comedy, lavish costumes and jewelry, as well as music. Smith continued to record for Okeh until 1923, setting the standard for female blues singers who followed in her footsteps. Nearly every other Classic Blues singer of the 1920's borrowed something from her act or styled themselves to achieve her success.
When It's Sleepy Time Down South - This was Louis Armstrong's theme song for a large part of his career. It is a wonderful tribute to the "Southland" and one of my favorite examples of the traditional jazz genre. This one is for my mom.
Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now) - Previously recorded by Ry Cooder, Leon Redbone, Merle Haggard, and even Van Halen, for heaven's sake. Emmett Miller was a white minstrel performer who had the good fortune to have top-notch jazz musicians assigned to his Okeh Records sessions in the late 1920s. His records made between June of 1928 and September of 1929 where under the name of Emmett Miller and his Georgia Crackers. He recorded "Big Bad Bill" in December of 1928. This is my tribute to married men everywhere.
Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams (And Dream Your Troubles Away) - This song was a big hit for Bing Crosby reaching #4 in the pop charts in 1931. I think the advice offered in this song is priceless and worth referring to often.
Church Bell Blues - Luke Jordan recorded this tune on August 16, 1927, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jordan was an important figure in and around Lynchburg, Virginia, highly regarded for his skillful, cleanly-picked guitar playing indicative of the East Coast style. I love this funny little song and its "after everything I've done for you" take on the politics between men and women.
Moon Going Down - Charlie Patton was arguably the most powerful blues recording artist of all time, considered by many to be the single most important figure in the history of traditional blues. Patton spent most of his life in the Delta region of northwestern Mississippi and was the Delta's first blues celebrity. From about 1900 he was often based at Dockery's plantation in Sunflower county. My mother grew up about 75 miles east of there in Ashley County, Arkansas. He spent most of his career playing blues and ragtime-based popular songs for dancers at rural parties and barrelhouses, where his singing and clowning made him a popular entertainer. He made nearly seventy recordings between 1929 and 1934. The mystery contained in his coarse, strained, sometimes unintelligible singing and heavily percussive guitar accompaniment has always intrigued me. This song was originally recorded for Paramount in Grafton, Wisconsin, in June of 1930.
Bye Bye Blackbird - Anyone who has spent an extended period of time far from home, alone and isolated from those who care for you, understands this great old standard from 1926. I always imagine that the lyrics are sung to the blackbird who hangs around outside your window all winter when you are somewhere far away and you are leaving to finally go home where it is warm and someone you love waits for you.
I've Found A New Baby - Ethel Waters recorded this song in 1926 before she started her career as a gospel singer ("His Eye Is On The Sparrow" and others). I've always been a big fan of Benny Goodman's small group recordings, particularly the ones featuring Charlie Christian. The Benny Goodman Sextet did an awesome version of this tune in the late 1930's. To me, this song epitomizes the traditional jazz genre - part jazz, part ragtime, part blues.
Bob McKinney - I have always been interested in songs about bad men. This one has its roots in the history of rural East Texas at the turn of the century. Henry Thomas (aka Ramblin' Henry Thomas aka Ragtime Texas) lived in and performed around Gladewater and Big Sandy, Texas, beginning his career in the 1890's and recording well into the 1920's. His style of playing was very much rooted in the 19 th century traditions of the itinerant troubadour. He played several different styles of music and performed to predominately white audiences. His songs have been done by Taj Mahal ("Fishin' Blues") and the Grateful Dead ("Don't Ease Me In"). Canned Heat's 1967 hit recording of "Going Up The Country" is almost a direct recreation of Thomas' "Red River Blues." The second half of this medley, "Make Me Down a Pallet On Your Floor," was popularized as the chorus of the 1895 Tin Pan Alley hit - "The New Bully".
Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans? - I have always thought this is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It just drips with the feeling of New Orleans for me. I associate this song with Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden, who performed it for years as a staple of their shows.
Stack O'Lee - Another song about an archetypal bad man. The legend of Stack O'Lee (a/k/a "Stag" Lee a/k/a Stackerlee a/k/a Staggerlee) goes back to the male-only African-American social and political clubs in St. Louis. According to a St. Louis Globe Dispatch report from 1895, a carriage driver named Lee Sheldon murdered William Lyons, a levee hand, when, during an argument about politics, Lyons grabbed Sheldon's hat. As could be expected when someone messes with a man's hat, Sheldon promptly shot Lyons, who subsequently died. This story traveled down the river to New Orleans and Mississippi where its variations have, of course, grown into a mythic tale. Mississippi John Hurt's version has been my favorite since I first heard it in the early 1960's.
Blue Skies - Irving Berlin is arguably the finest songwriter and composer of the twentieth century. This evergreen from 1927 is one of my favorite tunes of all time. Berlin's first hit was in 1910 with "Alexander's Ragtime Band." He continued to turn out incredible songs for another five decades including: "How Deep Is the Ocean," "White Christmas," " There's No Business Like Show Business," "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody," "Easter Parade" and his tribute to his beloved country, "God Bless America." Unlike the typical upbeat and sometimes almost trite versions of this tune often done in the past, I see this song from the perspective of someone who has been down for a long time and is finally seeing the clouds parting.
My Mind Gets To Ramblin'
Steady Rollin' Man - Nobody should need an introduction to Robert Johnson. His contribution
to blues and rock and roll has been and continues to be profound. His music represents the
synthesis of a body of great playing that went before him and, in his hands, reached an
incredible level of focus and performance. This has always been one of my favorites from his
Louise - Mississippi Fred McDowell has often been referred to as one of the Delta Blues slide guitarists/singers but actually embodied more of the North Mississippi style with clearer African
roots. I have always loved Fred McDowell's raw sound and have particularly loved this song for
many years. A wonderful blues story with great imagery.
Policy Blues - Armenter "Bo Carter" Chatmon has been referred to as the master of the "single entendre" because of his penchant for incorporating "blue" material into his tunes, which were at times pretty bawdy even for the country blues. His solo work from the late 1920's to the early 1940's is based upon often stunning guitar work, weaving multiple bass and treble parts simultaneously. He was the half-brother of blues legend Charlie Patton and a member and manager of the Mississippi Sheiks considered by many to be the premier Mississippi string and jug-band. In 1928, he recorded the original version of "Corrine Corrina," which later became a standard in several musical genres. Bo Carter and the Sheiks often played for whites, playing the pop hits of the day and white-oriented dance material, as well as for blacks, using a bluesier repertoire. He died in Memphis 1964.
All My Friends Are Gone - Turn of the century news reports reveal that Delia Green, age 14, was shot and killed by Moses Houston, age 16, in the poor, black and violent Yamacraw section of Savannah, Georgia, at about 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, 1900. She died early Christmas morning in her bed at her home. Supposedly, she had been receiving Moses' attentions for several months, but when Moses claimed her as "his girl" she denied it. This allegedly enraged Moses, who shot her without saying another word. Moses is often Curly or Curtis in different versions of the song. Leadbelly, Willie McTell, Blind Blake, Rev. Gary Davis, Bob Dylan, David Bromberg, Johnny Cash, Martin Simpson and Woody Gutherie have all played different takes on this tune. I learned the basic arrangement of the tune on this record from a performance by Stefan Grossman when I was playing folk clubs Great Britain and have always been captivated by the haunting movement of the music as the backdrop for this tragic tale.
I Can't Be Satisfied - This was the "A" side of Leonard Chess' first single release by Muddy Waters. Released in 1948, this tune was a big hit among big city African-Americans, particularly in Chicago, who had immigrated to the city to find work after World War II largely because it keyed into their feelings of separation from the rural South. I had the opportunity to shake Muddy Waters' hand and visit with him for a little while in 1974 and found him to be a very gracious gentleman who seemed genuinely appreciative of the adoration of his fans.
Ain't Nothin' In Ramblin' - Memphis Minnie McCoy, whose real name was Lizzie Douglas, was frequently billed as "The Woman Who Plays Guitar Like A Man." Surely many of her male contemporaries wished they could have played guitar like Memphis Minnie.
Mississippi Blues - This composer of this tune is not the "friendboy" of Robert Johnson who is mentioned in Johnson's "Crossroad Blues," but the more obscure William Brown of Sadie Beck's Plantation, Arkansas, who recorded this tune and two others under his own name for the Library of Congress on July 16, 1942. This tune imitates blues piano playing of the 1920's. It is a classic. It is the graduation piece for blues fingerpickers. It is often played as an instrumental, but Willie Brown played the verse as backing to his singing. I wanted to remind folks that this tune has a great lyric, as well as being a wonderful fingerstyle guitar piece.
Prodigal Son - Although the songwriting credit for this tune on the Rolling Stones' "Beggars Banquet" LP in 1968 represented that this song was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, it is actually the work of the Rev. Robert Wilkins who recorded a secular version of this song in September 1929 for the Brunswick label in Memphis's Peabody Hotel as "That's No Way To Get Along." Upon his conversion and ordination as a minister, he later recorded it as "The Prodigal Son," basing the lyric on the parable from the Book of Luke.
Dirty Deal Blues - Rev. Wilkins recorded this tune in 1935 in Jackson, Mississippi, for the Vocalian label. I first heard this song first as "Dirty Deeds" by the great John Miller.
Windy & Warm - I learned this tune from listening to the playing of Chet Atkins and Doc Watson. It was written by John D. Loudermilk, the great Nashville songwriter who penned such great tunes as "Tobacco Road," "Abilene" and "Break My Mind."
Ain't You Sorry? - Mance Lipscomb was a sharecropper from Navasota Texas, who was, to me, one of the finest of all the country blues "songsters," a tradition I try to stay plugged into. Texas produced several of the great country blues "songsters" who had a very diverse songbook and did songs from several musical eras. I highly recommend the film about Mance entitled "A Well Spent Life" and the annual festival dedicated to him in Navasota.
Joshua F'it The Battle Of Jericho - This is probably the third song I ever learned as a little boy after "Jesus Loves Me" and "The Ballad Of Davy Crockett." I've always loved classical literature and put the heroic tradition in the Old Testament right up there with The Illiad. I associate this tune closely with Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the great Golden Gate Quartet.
Rowdy Blues - Kid Bailey recorded two sides, one of which was this song, for the Brunswick record label on September 25, 1929, at Peabody Hotel, Memphis. He is one of the mysterious figures of the blues who appeared to record two pieces of pure genius and then disappeared, presumably to return to his rural Mississippi home. I love the hypnotic rhythm pattern in this tune and the cycle of the story from out of love, into love, and back to swearing off of love.
Since I Saw You Last
Downtown Blues (Frank Stokes) - Frank Stokes was another country bluesman who played a wide variety of music in the songster tradition in the Memphis, Tennessee. A blacksmith by trade, he also paid a lot of dues in vaudeville and minstrel shows. I first heard this tune done by the great Geoff Muldaur when he was in the Jim Kewskin Jug Band and have loved it ever
Acadian Lullaby (Jim Mize) - Jim Mize is a wonderful songwriter and performer from Conway, Arkansas, who is a buddy of mine. To me this tune illustrates cross pollination that goes on between Louisiana and Texas. When Louisiana women want to run off, they seem to come to Texas and vice versa. Ever shall it probably remain.
Red Cadillac & A Black Moustache (L. May and W.B. Thompson) - This tune was first recorded by Warren Smith on Sun Records in 1957. It has been covered through the years by such artists as Robert Gordon, Bob Dylan, and Brian Setzer. It was a staple of East Texan Bob Luman's rockabilly years. I have done this tune for years in different settings and particularly wanted to include it here due to the fact that Joe Osborn played it when he was in Luman's band in the late 1950's.
Farmer John (Don Harris and Dewey Terry) - Don and Dewey recorded some great rock and roll in California in the late 1950's and early 1960's. They wrote some great songs but never had a hit under their own name. The Premiers' version of this song reached #19 in 1964 after having been covered The Searchers a year earlier. It has also been done live off and on for years by Los Lobos.
Charley James (Mance Lipscomb) - This is my favorite Mance Lipscomb song. I've always been an enormous fan of his repertoire and his wonderful fingerstyle guitar playing. Being an East Texan, I've always appreciated the legacy of the songsters who have come out of this region. Mance, who was a sharecropper from Navasota, Texas, is truly one of the greatest in that tradition.
I Won't Cry (Joseph Ruffino and Dorothy Labostries) - The first version of this tune that I heard was by the great Johnny Adams, but as soon as I heard Doug Sahm's version, I knew I had to learn it.
Wild About My Lovin' (Traditional) - Jim Jackson did the earliest version of this tune that I am familiar with. I first heard it in the mid-sixties by The Jim Kweskin Jug Band and The Lovin' Spoonful.
Since I Fell For You (Woodrow "Buddy" Johnson) - Buddy Johnson recorded several hits in the years just before and during World War II that he performed with his nine-piece jump blues orchestra. This tune was originally recorded by his sister Ella, but did not become a hit until it was recorded by Lenny Welch in the early 1960's. To me, it is the epitomy of an R&B-inflected torch song.
Easy Rider Blues (Public Domain) - Blind Lemon Jefferson from Wortham, Texas, was one of blues music's first commercially successful recording artists, recording almost one hundred titles between 1926 and 1929, most of them on the hugely influential Paramount label. During that period he became one of the most popular male blues singers in black America. He spent a good deal of time in the Deep Ellum section of Dallas, where he played on street corners for spare change. Although known primarily as a bluesman, he also sang and played hymns, spirituals, work songs, and folk tunes in the tradition of a Southern songster. Jefferson's guitar style had a huge impact on his contemporaries and future generations of bluesmen. He died in December 1929, after most likely suffering a heart attack during a Chicago snowstorm.
Crawlin' King Snake (John Lee Hooker and Bernard Besman) - This tune has been in my repertoire for a long time. I have always loved the Freudian imagery it evokes.
Little Red Hen (Taj Mahal) - I have been playing this tune for years and have always loved the barnyard allegory around which it is based. Of course, Taj Mahal is "The Man." To me, this song perfectly shows how little difference there is between man and beast.
Ready For The River (Gus Kahn and Neil Moret) - This is a great old Gus Kahn tune from the 1920's. It first appeared in the Metro Movietone Revue, a short musical comedy featuring film of several vaudeville acts, in 1930. I have been playing this song for going on thirty five years and I never get tired of its mix of blues and humor. Great versions of this song have also been done by Duck Baker and Guy Van Duser.