Essays – I’ve Got The Blues, But I’m Too Damn Mean To Cry

I’ve Got The Blues, But I’m Too Damn Mean To Cry
(Protest in early blues and gospel)

by Max Haymes

This is the full essay published in short form as the liner notes for ‘I’ve Got The Blues, But I’m Too Damn Mean To Cry’ on JSP Records 4 CD boxed set (see the Discography below). We hope you all enjoy it.


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.   

This 4-CD set is concerned with the broader concept.  Necessarily so, as blacks in the US were often denied access to ‘politics’, certainly into the 1950s.  Apart from a brief spell during Reconstruction after the Civil War until the Hayes Compromise in 1877, which resulted in returning power to whites in the South and the withdrawal of Federal troops; in exchange for the Southern vote in the coming presidential election.  By the turn of the 20th. century blacks were completely disenfranchised. Given the ever-present real danger in the racial set-up of ‘Jim Crow’, it is quite understandable that the earlier blues singers did not concern themselves too much with politics-even where they might have done. 

When the great Charley Patton sang “Every day seem like murder here” (1) he was quite likely referring not only to his home state of Mississippi but the whole of the USA as well!  By his inclusion of the following verse, he is protesting that he’s got the ‘Overseas Blues’ because he is unable to leave the US to go and live overseas in say France or England, which were far less concerned about the colour of a person’s skin and no doubt supported by glowing stories from returning black soldiers at the end of WW I.

Some people say them Overseas Blues ain’t bad.
Spoken:       Of course they are!
Some people say them Overseas Blues ain’t bad.
Spoken:       What was a-matter wid em?
It must not-a bin them Overseas Blues I had. (2)

Rare indeed, are the words appearing in the Memphis Jug Band’s version of He’s In The Jail House Now. [Victor 23256]. 

I remember last election; (Yeah!)
Jim Jones got in action. (Uh-huh!)
Said he’d vote for the man that paid the biggest price.

Next day at the poll;
He voted with heart an’ soul.
But instead of voting once, he voted twice.  (Uh-huh!)


He’s in the jailhouse now;
He’s in the jailhouse now.
Instead of him stayin’ at home;
Lettin’ these white folks’ business alone. (Why’s that, now?)
 He’s in the jailhouse now. (3)

This appears unique as an explicit protest against the white ruling political regime, in the whole of the pre-war blues era (1890-1943).  The Memphis Jug’s vocalist also has a dig at police corruption. 

You remember Henry Crew?
That sold that no-good booze.
He sold it to the police on the beat.
Now, Henry’s feelin’ funny;
Police give ’im marked money.
He’s got a ball an’ chain round ‘is feet.


He’s in the jailhouse now. etc,  (4)

Elsewhere in this song, Charlie Nickerson includes the lines: 

If he’s got a political friend;
Judge [‘s] sentence he will suspend.  (5)

The only reason the MJB got away with this song (I suspect) was due to their huge popularity with both blacks and whites in the Memphis area and even the city’s puritanical Mayor Crump who would check the group out, on Beale Street sometimes. 

More often than not, any protest in the early Blues was cloaked in one or more levels of meaning or aimed at ‘a substitute’ which ultimately attacked white people from whom many blacks received bad treatment.  This was generally a misbehaving partner in a failing relationship.  Or a member of a train crew who were blamed for ‘taking my baby away’, and sometimes the train or railroad itself became the target.  Like Charley Patton, the Mississippi Sheiks were also from the Magnolia State.  


Cover of Yazoo CD of Mississippi Sheiks. 1992. L: Lonnie Chatmon. R: Walter Vinson. By Frederick Carlson

Probably the most famous string band in the South, they usually recorded featuring two or more rarely three musicians.  Immensely popular with both black and white audiences alike, they cut  a lot of their sessions in the state of Texas.  Their brand of Blues was in complete antithesis to the harsh, deep-felt music of Charley Patton.  On their Jailbird Love Song [OKeh 8834] in 1930, Walter Vinson on vocal takes a gentle dig at the white old timey (otm) singers with a very creditable yodel.  More in-depth are the words in this song, accompanied by a second singer, Bo Carter.  Delivered in raffish manner, nevertheless the target is the injustice towards blacks by white police officers. In this case wrongful arrest, simply based on the fact the subject was black as well as being a stranger.  Not obviously, but protest all the same.

  1. When I was a rounder, I stopped in New Orleans;
    I was a great long way, the way from home; I didn’t know nobody that I seen.                                     
  1. I was walkin’ along the street one day. I didn’t mean no harm; 
    The police looked up an’ they seen me an’ they began to make their alarm.                                     

Ref:   Now, ain’t it hard? Ain’t it hard?
          Just lookin’ through the bars.
          The police looked an’seen me an’ they began to make their alarm.                                      

  1. They seen I was a stranger. They pulled down on my trail;
    Soon as they had me surrounded, they carried me to the city jail.                                     

Ref:   Now, ain’t it hard? Ain’t it hard?
          Just lookin’ through the bars.
          Soon as they had me surrounded, they carried me to the city jail. (6)

Even before the unfortunate kidnapped Africans arrived on American shores, music and protest ran hand-in-hand.  This involved a young woman “who was likely an Iglo speaker,”. (7)  So, it was related: “When the young woman came aboard the Liverpool slave ship the ‘Hudibras’ in Old Calabar in 1785, she instantly captured everyone’s attention.  She had beauty, grace, and charisma: ‘Sprightliness was in her every gesture, and good nature beamed in her eyes.’  When the African musicians and instruments came out on the main deck twice a day for ‘dancing’, the exercising of the enslaved, ‘she appeared to great advantage, as she bounded over the quarter-deck, to the rude strains of African melody,’ observed a smitten sailor named William Butterworth.  She was the best dancer and the best singer on the ship…Captain Evans gave her the name Sarah.”.(8)   

This is the first instance I have come across a definite reference to slaves on board with instruments and definitely the first time a particular slave found so much attention from white observers.  ‘Sarah’ becomes, just for a moment, a vibrant and very human being!  Rediker continued: “Sarah survived the Middle Passage [and] She was sold at Grenada, with almost three hundred others, in 1787…When she went ashore she carried African traditions of dance, song, and resistance with her.”. (9)  Sarah had become one of Captain Evans’ ‘favorites’ even though suspected of a bloody revolt whilst still on his ship.  It transpired that both Sarah and her mother (also on the ‘Hudibras’) “not only knew about the plot, they had indeed been involved in it.  Sarah had likely used her privileged position as a favorite, [probably via coerced sexual ‘favours’ to Captain Evans] and her great freedom of movement that this entailed, to help with planning and perhaps even to pass tools to the men, allowing the men to hack off their shackles and manacles.”. (10) 

Alan Lomax, writing in 1992, stated “the blues [is] the first satirical song form in the English language—mounted on cadences that have now seduced the world.”. (11)  He also claimed that the griots, ancestors of the blues singer, from West Africa such as “the virtuosic bards of Senegal, accompanying themselves on complex stringed instruments backed up by rhythm orchestras, still play a leading role in the life of many West African communities.  They are social satirists whose verses once on a time dethroned chieftans.”  [sic]  The bluesmen of the Delta continued this satiric tradition, depicting, as far as they dare, the ills and ironies of life in their caste-ridden society.”. (12)   

In Sam Charter’s pioneering book The Country Blues in 1959, he quoted lines of the most simple eloquence, with a hard-hitting punch, around the turn of the 20th. century when the Blues had only recently emerged as a recognizable form.  Indeed, an adaptation of these lines form the title of this set for JSP Records.

I got de blues,
But I’m too damn mean to cry. (13)

Lomax used a variation in his Land Where The Blues Began. 

I got the blues and I’m too damn mean to cry;
I got the blues and I just can’t be satisfied… (14)

These lines, slightly  toned down, appeared in the unlikely shape of an early vaudeville blues title in 1921.  This was I’ve Got The Blues But I’m Just Too Mean To Cry [Arto 9110] by Dorothy Dodds; one of only five recordings she made.  Yet as David Evans said, Ms. Dodds “shows that she was the equal of any of the other blues singers that recorded in 1921,” (15)  She includes a cool slice of early rap:

You all see tears in my eye;
I cry so much that I gone dry.
The way the boys give me the slip;
Someone would think I had the grippe.  [aka influenza]
A good man now, is hard to find;
But I’d be satisfied with any kind.
All night long I sit an’ fret;
I’m like a rainy day an’ that’s all wet.
Because I got the blues, but I’m just too mean to cry.  (16)

But sometimes frustration and anger at the powerless situation blacks had to endure under the ever-present racialist regime known as ‘Jim Crow’, in the first decades of the 20th. century, could not always be contained in symbolism or multi-layer of meaning.  This naturally led to violence in some lyrics of the Blues  and its forbears.  A well-known example occurs in the legend of a notorious black outlaw from the 19th.century, (in Alabama) known as ‘Railroad Bill’ (aka Morris Slater).  A variant reappeared in the mid-1950s in the British skiffle revival: 

I’ve got a .45 pistol on a .38 frame,
How can I miss when I’ve got dead aim.

The second line had appeared in a Butterbeans and Susie song ‘Bowlegged Papa’, and shortly after Ida Cox used these words as a title on Paramount in 1925.  Some 4 years later Will Bennett made the only black commercial recording of ‘Railroad Bill’. (see Vaudeville Blues. 4-CD set. JSP 77161 for these recordings.)   in the pre-war era. It contained another verse which was  not often used by the British skiffle heroes.

Buy me a gun just as long as my arm;
Kill everybody ever done me wrong.  (17)

This verse appeared in several other early blues, not related to ‘Railroad Bill’.  Although Will Bennett sings of taking a stand on a mountain top with a ‘.41 Derringer in my right an’ left hand’ his angry words seem almost benign in comparison to a vaudeville blues record called Mad Mama’s Blues [Edison 51477] where Josie Miles surely reflected the  pent-up feelings of rage and indignation experienced by blacks over many years of blatant oppression. [It is significant that in the earlier 20th. century nearly all the race riots in the  South were started by whites.  Until, in fact, the 1966 riot in Watts, California]. 

Gonna set the world on fire;
That is my one mad desire.
I’m a devil in disguise;
Got murder in my eyes.

Now, I could see blood runnin’ through the streets. (x 2)
Could see everybody layin’ dead at my feet.

The man invented war sure is my friend. (x 2)
Don’t believe that I’m sinkin’,
Just look what a hole I am in.

Give me gunpowder, give me dynamite. (x 2)
Yes! I’d wreck the city. Gonna blow it up tonight.

I took my big Winchester down off the shelf. (x 2)
When I get through shootin’ there won’t be nobody left. (18)

Ad. in Sears Roebuck cat. 1897

It might be that the great Texas bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson (see JSP 7706] was inspired by the Josie Miles song  to record his Dynamite Blues [Paramount 12739] some 5 years later.  But whereas Ms. Miles could ‘hide’ behind a claim of insanity, Lemon directs all his anger at the safer target of a woman who threw him down.

I feel like scrappin’, havin’ a great big row;
I said I feel like scrappin’, havin’ a great big row.
Because the woman I love said she don’t want me no how.

She swore that she love me. I know she doin’ me wrong;
An’ she swore that she love me, but I know she done me wrong.
I’m gonna start somethin’, man, an’ I’m tellin’ you it won’t be long.

The way I feel now, I could get a keg of dynamite;
I say, the way I feel now, I could get a keg of dynamite.
Put all in ‘er window an’ blow her up late at night.

I could swallow some fire, take a drink of gasoline. (x 2)
Throw it up all over that woman an’ let ‘er go up in steam.

I’m get in a cannon an’ let ‘em blow me out to sea;
I’m goin’ get in a cannon an’ let ‘em blow me out to sea.
Goin’ down with the whales, let the mermaids make love with me. (19)

It’s not hard to imagine that Lemon’s girl friend is actually a much safer substitute as a recipient for what many black people would like to do to whites who had treated them unjustly and often brutally.  

The near-white looking Bessie Tucker. 1928

But more often this ‘violent streak’ in the Blues appeared almost fleetingly like a thin pencil of a sun’s ray between fading dark clouds.  Fellow Texan, Bessie Tucker, with the power of Charlie Patton and the ‘field holler’ style of Texas Alexander; was apparently no stranger to the harsher elements of the Southern prison system, if her ‘Penitentiary’, ‘Mean Old Master Blues’, and ‘Black Name Moan’ are anything to go by.  On her ‘Key To The Bushes’ [Victor 23385] in 1929, the scene is part of the brutal convict-lease system still so prevalent, in the 1920s.  The ‘key’ she refers to is the Captain’s ‘big horse gun’ with which she intends to escape the prison gang, probably killing the white man in the process as revenge for the murder of her partner ‘Sal’.  As the sleeve note writer put it: “once you hear her voice … A somber, even somewhat dangerous aura comes immediately to the forefront.” (20). 

I got the key to the bushes an’ I’m rarin’ to go. (x 2)
I ought to leave here runnin’ but that’s most too slow. (21)

So she intends to take the dead Captain’s horse. 

Captain, Captain. Ha-aah-hahhh! What’s to [sic] matter with Sal?  (x 2)
You have worked my partner, [to death] you have killed my pal. (22)

Protesting the often vicious character of brutish white, armed guards or ‘overseers’. 

Captain got a big horse pistol. Ahhhh-hah! An’ he think he’s bad;
Captain got a big horse pistol. Hah-hahh! An’ he think he’s bad.
I’m gonna take it this mornin’ if he make me mad.  (23)

In 1933, Jack Kelly’s rasping vocal accompanied by some blues-drenched fiddle  from Will Batts, includes the threatening line ‘ I got a 32-20 shoot just like a .45’ and continues the ‘escape to the bushes’ theme.  Using the widespread term ‘Mr. Charlie’, for a white man. 

Ah! Mr. Charlie, you had better watch your men. (x 2)
They all goin’ to the bushes an’ they are goin’ in. (24)

The words of Bessie Tucker and Jack Kelly   refer to one of six general sectors of protest in early blues and gospel—being ‘on the inside’ or imprisoned.  Whether in a convict-lease railroad gang, on a prison farm, the state penitentiary, or in the jailhouse itself.  Blacks were routinely arrested by whites so as to use them for cheap labour and to control ‘their Negroes.’ Many fine field recordings made by John and Alan Lomax included more explicit protest from the Library of Congress archives.  One group of prisoners was led by Ernest Williams who were on the Central State Farm in Sugar Land, Texas, Fort Bend County.  In 1933 they performed the haunting chant Ain’t No More Cane On This Brazos [AFS 199 A1].  The Brazos River snakes its way through East Texas down in Brazoria County, emptying into the Gulf of Mexico; with a total length of 1050 miles.  The cane denotes the vast sugar cane plantations spreading across the Texas lowlands.

You ought to come on the river in nineteen-four;
You could find a dead man on ever’ turn row.
(Ohhh!-Ohhh!-Ohhh!) (25)

And supporting the scenario ‘painted’ by Bessie Tucker.

You ought to been on the river in nineteen-ten;
They rollin’ [working] the women, like they drive the men.
(Ohhh!-Ohhh!-Ohhh!)  (26)

Another aspect of the ‘prison sector’ of black protest concerned the often- invincible heroes such as Long John, “a legendary character who outran the police, the sheriff, the deputies with all their bloodhounds, and escaped from jail to freedom.” (27)  Celebrated by many singers, including Papa Charlie Jackson on his ‘Long Gone Lost John’ in 1928, (see JSP 77184) and the earliest on record by Stovepipe No.1 in August 1924 as ‘Lonesome John’; although the singer refers to ‘Lost John’. [For a more detailed discussion on ‘Long/Lost John’ see p.p.68-70. Songsters & Saints. Paul Oliver. [Cambridge University Press. Cambridge 1984]  Also in Texas, another prison group recording was made for the L of C, led by Washington (‘Lightning’), to the accompaniment of swinging axes.  This was Long John [LC:AAFS 13, AFSL 3 (L.P.)].  At least 9 verses not quoted from the Rounder CD notes, are on the recording; indicating that the song was far longer in live performance and indeed does fade out.  Some of which, due to space restrictions, only a few can be quoted here.  They include one featured on the famous 1956 ‘skiffle’  [Skiffle comes from the US back in the 1920s. Paramount issued a ‘Hometown Skiffle’ in 1929 featuring some of their  major blues artists doing parts of their recordings as a promotional disc, to boost sales of their output. British skiffle   was largely made up of home-made instruments, such as the tea-chest bass, washboard, etc. First used of course in early blues.] version cut by Lonnie Donegan in the UK.  Having refused good advice from his girl friend ‘Rosie’, Lightning ‘got to runnin’ around’ and ending up in the Darrington State Prison Farm. 

Sung in the traditional black call and response form, where the group repeat the leader’s line, this makes powerful listening. 

First thing I know;
Well, I got in jail.
With a mouth poked out;
Well, now I’m in the pen.
An’ I can’t get out

Ref:     It’s Long John;
            He’s long gone. (x 3)

Well-a John made;
‘Is pair of shoes.
Well, the funniest shoes;
That was ever seen.
Had a heel in front;
An’ a heel behind.
Well, they didn’t know where;
That boy was gwine.  [aka  ‘going’]

Ref:     He Long John; etc.

Well, in two or three minutes;
Let me catch my wind.
An; in two or three minutes;
I’m gone again.

Ref:     Oh! Long John; etc.

Like a turkey through the corn;
Who’s [in] long corn. [aka ‘tall corn’]
Well, it’s John, John’;
Well, marble-eyed John.  [aka ‘hard-eyed’]
Well-a, tenderfoot John;
With a long coat on:
Just a-skippin’ through the corn.

Ref:     Ah! Long John; etc.

Well, you gonna tell;
What the Captain said.
Now, if you boys work;
Gonna treat pretty well.
 Now, if you don’t work;
Gonna give you plenty hell.

Ref:     Now, long gone; etc.  (28)

But generally, blues singers adopted a far less violent/extreme attitude.. Part of the African American culture included mythical locations which they could escape to, where no whites existed; both psychological and actual safe havens-or the ‘mythological sector’.  Probably, the most well-known in the Blues is a land of plenty –Diddy Wah-Diddy.  This featured endless wonders such as obliging ready-cooked chickens coming down the road who already have forks sticking in them saying “Eat me! Eat me!”, and endless lines of wagons filled with cotton, reaching right round the base of a mountain to keep the money rolling in.  Of course the recording by Blind Blake (see JSP 7714 ) has transformed this title into sexual symbolism-in itself a form of protest.   

Another such ‘land of plenty’ probably came into being after recorded blues had commenced, in 1920.  This was a form of ‘heaven’ yet to be constructed and appears in blues by both men and women singers-albeit with differing emphasis.  In 1930, erstwhile farmer-cum-preacher, Son House chose the path of the Blues and recorded one of the most raw-voiced sides in the Mississippi Delta style. (see JSP 7715).

Ohhh! I wished I had me a heaven of my own;
(Spoken):     Great God Almighty!
Yeahhhh! Heaven of my own.
Then I’d give all my women a long, long happy home.  (29)

In 1934, at his last pre-war recording session, in Texas, at Fort Worth, Texas, Alexander greatly extended this theme; stamping his secular credentials in indelible ink. 

Take me out of this [river] bottom before the high water rise. (x 2)
You know I ain’t no Christian, an’ I don’t wanna be baptized

I never been to Heaven, people but I’ve been told;
Says, I never been to Heaven, people but I’ve been told.
 Oh! Lord. It’s women up there got they mouth chock full of gold.

I’m gonna build me a heaven, have a kingdom of my own;
Gonna build me a heaven, have a kingdom of my own.
So these brownskin women can cluster around my throne. (30)

In 1924, Bessie Smith put out the very fine Work House Blues [Columbia 14032-D] which appears to be introducing this ‘heaven’ verse.  But her take differs markedly from her male contemporaries, Son House and Texas Alexander. [Other titles listed in B.&G.R.  as ‘Wash House’/’Work House Blues’ are different songs omitting the ‘heaven’ verse.] 

Say, I wish I had me a heaven of my own;
Say, I wish I had a heaven of my own.
I’d give all the poor girls, a long, old happy home. (31)

In the South these ‘poor girls’ would include prostitutes and the highly-exploited black domestic servants which makes up the 3rd. sector of early black protest in the Blues.  The latter found a  major source of employment in this occupation despite the long hours of endless drudgery, poor pay and racial abuses, often from their white female bosses.   Although again often more implied there were rarer instances when  a singer would tell it like it is. The ubiquitous black washerwoman was one who made some of her anger, despair, and disillusionment more obvious.  Bessie Smith, the ‘Empress of the Blues’, on another title Washwoman’s Blues [Columbia 14375-D] is but one example.

1.  All day long I’m slavin’. All day long I’m bustin’ suds. (x2)
Gee! My hands are tired washin’ out these dirty duds.

2.  Lord, I do more work than a 40-11 Gold Dust Twin; [a washing machine]
Lord, I do more work than 40-11 Gold Dust Twin.
Done my self a-achin’ from my head down to my chin.

3.   Sorry, I do washin’, just to make my livelihood. (x 2)
Oh! The wash woman’s life, it ain’t a bit of good.

4.   Rather be a scullion, cookin’ in white folk’s yard. ( x 2)
I could eat a-plenty, wouldn’t have to work so hard. (32)

Some wash women did this mind-destroying job in their own place, while others had to take a heavy basket down to the nearest muddy stream, using the humble washboard.

Me an’ my washboard sure do have some cares an’ woes. (x 2)
In the muddy water, wringin’ out these dirty clothes. (33)

A couple of years earlier, in 1926, Edna Winston painted a similar picture.

Just scrubbin’ the steps in my coat;
For a livin’, boy, I cut my throat.

Ref:     Got a pail in my hand;
On my knees all day long.

Ain’t got no chance to even be bad;
So full of ambition, sure makes me sad.
Lordy, Lord! What am I to do?  (34)

Ozie McPherson’s Down In The Bottom Where I Stay [Paramount 12362] is a neat, if grim, summation of the picture painted by these and other black female singers in this early period of the Blues. Two years earlier, in 1924, Clara Smith had referred to her ‘highest aspiration’ in The Basement Blues. [Columbia 14039-D]

For I was born low-down, way down in the low ground;
Every day I get low as a toad.
But my home ain’t here, it’s further down the road. (35)

The singer then breaks into some laid-back rap with Ernest Elliott playing ‘dirty’ clarinet. 

There’s people in Mississippi where my folks are at;
An’ colored folks don’t build much lower down than that.
My papa’s name is Low.
Mr. Below, if you please.
An’ he can kiss my mammy without bending his knees.
So, you keep your attic, take the roof or the air if you choose;
Just keep your attic. Take the air if you choose.
But my highest aspiration is ‘The Basement Blues’.  (36)

The sheer monotony of long hours of hard work with minimal pay, even drove some poor women to contemplate suicide.  In these early days of the blues, this ‘solution’ to an unbearable situation was much more common among white working classes than blacks.  In a rare blues, Helen Gross, proposes to ‘go out’ in a spectacular and grisly fashion which probably influenced a later recording by Leroy Carr (see JSP 77125) where he ‘did self-murder’.

A woman’s got to work so hard;
When she’s in the white folk’s yard.

Every day it’s just the same;
Lordy! It’s a needless shame.

I still keep on workin’ til the day I die. (x 2)
All day long I hang my head an’ cry.

Now, the road is rocky, won’t be rocky long. (x 2)
Soon there’ll be another gal gone wrong.

Gonna take a pistol an’ blow out my brains. (x 2)
Then you’ll see the last of my remains. (37)

However, generally singers were far more positive and drew strength from the Blues which are, after all, the basis of survival + quality.  In 1925, Hociel Thomas chose to sell illicit booze to supplement her meager wages on Wash Woman Blues [OKeh 8289].  Hattie Burleson on the other hand, sought to move out of her cramped circumstances and presumably get a similar servant’s job that also paid a little more. Her Sadie’s Servant Room Blues [Brunswick 7042] in 1928 is quite a unique expression in the annals of the early blues.

1. Mrs. Jarvis don’t pay me much;
They give me  just what they think I’m worth.

Ref:     I’m gonna change my mind;
 Yes! Gonna change my mind
‘Cos I keep them ‘Servant—Room Blues’ all the time.

2. I receive my company in the rear;
Still, these folks don’t want to see them here.

Ref:     Gonna change my mind; etc.

3. I’m gonna change this little room for a nice big flat;
Gonna let my friends know where I’m livin’ at.

Ref:      Gonna change my mind; etc.

4. They have a party at noon;
A party at night.
The midnight parties don’t ever break up right [also noisy and go on to the wee wee hours]

Ref:    Gonna change my mind; etc. (38)

The anger that Wilmer Davis obviously feels in her situation, graphically titled Gut Struggle [Vocalion 1034] spills over into her spoken comments during the break, where she is supported by attacking banjo played by Johnny St. Cyr and clarinet by Albert Nicholas who puts a sting in the tail.

Spoken:  Put ‘em in the alley, boys, where I belong. Play it, Mr. So-and-So. You don’t mean me no good.
Pass that liquor round, let’s all get drunk. See if I care. Tell ‘em about Miss Wilmer Davis, Lord.

1. When I get drunk who’s gonna take me home?
Papa, when I get drunk I don’t know right from wrong.

2. I’ve been in a struggle, folks, an’ it’s really true;
That’s why I’ve got those ‘Gut Struggle Blues’.

3. I’ve struggled hard here an’ I’ve struggled everywhere;
An’ I’ve got to take it for my share. (39)

Her closing shouted comment in the break was surely echoed by a great majority of African Americans in 1926, when she recorded Gut Struggle.

Spoken:   Oh! Dowdy. Yes, I’m rowdy. Blow it an’ you won’t know it. Play it, boys. You know I’m feelin’ crazy about you. An’ I am, too. Oh! Mess around with it , papa. I feel so unnecessary! (40)

While Gene Campbell, from Texas, unusually aware (for that time) at the debilitating repetitive drudgery endured by black female domestic servants, offers his wife another alternative. One to be taken only as a desperate last chance for survival. 

I’ve got somethin’ that stays on  my mind. ( x 2)
A woman ain’t nothin’ but a fool when wash an’ iron all the time.

I want to tell all you women, I want you-all to know. (x 2)
What’s the use of washing an’ ironing when there’ a better way to go?

I wouldn’t have a wash woman, I’ll tell you the reason why. (x 2)
All the money she can make washing won’t buy me a decent tie.

I’m sorry for you women, I know just how you feel. (x 2)
Before I’d have a wash woman, I’d hi-jack, rob an’ steal.  (41)

A situation in which one that Sippie Wallace-also from Texas-describes could be the only option. 

I want to get my washing off the line today;
What will become of me if I don’t get my pay?  (42)

But although some blues including those discussed above, referred to ‘struggling women’, surprisingly there were not as many recorded as might have been expected. This may have been because most female blues singers did not hire themselves out for domestic service.  As with their male contemporaries, they eschewed  the white, Protestant ‘work ethic’-at least the most exploitative situations.  Or a singer like Clara Smith would last for only a very short period doing such work, to suit her own requirements. As with Ms. Smith, leaving at the first opportunity when the first traveling show eased into town.  Of course she was fortunate in being blessed with a powerful singing voice which soon brought her national success. [See current book on Clara Smith (WIP) by Max Haymes which hopefully will be published sometime in 2018. Tentative title is ‘Got The Blues For The Queen Of The Moaners’ (A tribute and appreciation of the life and  songs of Clara Smith)]

Although Clara, along with Bessie Smith (no relation) Ida Cox, Ma Rainey Alberta Hunter, Edith Wilson and scores of other singers who recorded in the 1920s, were the exception rather than the rule.  For many other less fortunate women, the ‘oldest profession’ was a preferred option to underpaid  drudgery, exploitation and abuse. The great Lucille Bogan, reported to have been a sometime prostitute herself, as well as a bootlegger and a gangster, describes in a classic song how even here, income could dry up in the Great Depression. Her customers, or ‘tricks’, seem to have all but disappeared. 

Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down;
I can’t make my livin’ around this town.

Ref:     ‘Cos tricks ain’t walkin’;
Tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.
I said, tricks ain’t walkin’;
Tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.
An’ I’ve got to make my livin’, don’t care where I go.

I need shoes on my feet, clothes on my back.
Get tired of walkin’ these streets all dressed in black.

Ref:     But tricks ain’t walkin’; etc.

This way of livin’ sure is hard;
Duckin’ an’ dodgin’ the Cadillac Squad [aka the police]

Ref:     But tricks ain’t walkin’; etc. (43)

Some five years later, ‘Little ‘ Alice Moore who was based in St. Louis, Missouri, sang about the same problems as the Depression ground on inexorably. A hard-hitting singer who is accompanied here by fellow St. Louisan Peetie Wheatstraw -“High Sheriff From Hell” on piano, she refers to prostitutes and herself as a ‘daddy-calling mama’.

An’ I called me a daddy, just about half-past nine. (x 2)
An’ ‘e said “ No, no, lady. I ain’t got a dime.

An’ I called me another daddy, an’ he began to fall. (x 2)
He said “ Watch me make this old girl groan an’ havin’ three good balls.” [aka Pawn Shop sign]

If you is a daddy-callin’ woman, please take my advice. (x 2)
An’ stop callin’ sweet daddies, if you don’t feel they ain’t no dice.  [aka not a likely customer]

I used to stand on the corner, call every daddy that came along. (x 2)
But now that I have learnt better, I can sing this ‘daddy-callin’’ song. (44)

As well as protesting about wrongful arrest, the convict lease system, etc. blues singers often told of being in a prison cell  for however long, and this was a familiar situation for black citizens across the South and indeed in the more ‘liberated’ North. Even though the blues artist may not have experienced serious incarceration-as opposed to overnight stays after a drunken spree-they were fully aware that many of their original working class black audience did and still do, in 2015. (see classic example of ‘Mississippi Jailhouse Groan’ and a Rube Lacy interview by David Evans. In my “Meaning In The Blues” p.p.59-60. 4-CD set. JSP 77141D) An unshakeable solidarity existed between the blues singer and blues listener, and this goes back way into slavery days.  Clara Smith sings and moans her way through Waitin’ For The Evenin’ Mail [Columbia 13002-D]. Where she espies ‘a hard-luck brother moan’ standing at his narrow cell window appealing to a long gone lover down in Jacksonville, Florida, to send him bail.  He says it’s a year ago today and he is STILL ‘sitting on the inside looking on the outside” while protesting his innocence and hoping fruitlessly for the dinero to arrive on the evening mail train.

Four walls an’ a ceiling;
Lawdy! What a feeling.
Just a mean old low-down jail;
Separating me from everything but that evening mail. (45)

Blind Lemon Jefferson delivered a ‘holler-style’ Prison Cell Blues [Paramount 12622] in early 1928, where after planting the blame for his sentence firmly on a woman called Nell; he lays into the brutal prison staff from the ‘the captain’ on down.

Got a  red-eyed captain an’ a squabblin’ boss;
Got a mad-dog sergeant, an’ honey, an’ ‘e won’t knock off.
I’m getting’ tired of sleepin’ in this lowdown lonesome cell;
 Lord, I wouldn’t be here if it had not been for Nell.  (46)

Then he has a go at the ‘government’ and the prison governor. 

I asked the government to knock some days off my time;
But the way I’m treated I’m ‘bout to lose my mind.

I wrote to the governor to please turn me a-loose;
Just as I didn’t get no answer, I know it t’ain’t no use. (47)

But irony and an unbeatable sense of humour also feature in the Blues. The up-tempo rhythm by the rockin’ jazz outfit which includes Charlie Green and Coleman Hawkins accompanying Bessie Brown, belies the general ‘lot’ of the Southern black citizen in the earlier 20th. century.  Her line ‘Sing my song like I’m happy an’ gay’ says it all.

All my life I bin takin’ it;
All my life white folks takin’ it.
This old heart they just breakin’ it;
Ain’t gotta a thing to show what’ve I done done. (48)

Harking back to slavery times when the white boss insisted on the slaves not to use a slow rhythm when picking cotton, as he realized the speed of the song reflected the pace of their enforced work. So they applied the lowdown words describing their feelings about the whole horrendous system to a ‘jollier’ tempo. Another classic side on this theme is the sarcastic On Our Turpentine Farm [Columbia 14485-D] with deadly conditions in sub-tropical temperatures as the black workers were often waist-deep in malaria-infested swamp waters down in Georgia and North Carolina, as well as other states, to collect the tar and turpentine from the trunks of the longleaf pine, so essential to supplying naval stores in the South. Singing to a lone guitar about ‘their’ turpentine farm ‘where the work ain’t hard an’ the weather is warm’. 

Among the obviously tongue-in-cheek verses, appears one that strikes closer to home as the ‘bossman’ (usually white) becomes a target.

Our bossman is a lazy hound;
Chew ‘is tobacco, spits on the ground.
Smokes ‘is pipe an’ he lays in the shade;
Laziest man that ever was made.
On our turpentine farm (mm-mm)
On our turpentine farm. (mm-mm)
Where the work ain’t hard (mm-mm)
An’ the weather is warm. (49)

The early blues singers moaned and directed their anger and frustration at the whole unjust, moronic, and sometime downright inhumane and insane Jim Crow system that prevailed throughout their lives.  As George Carter in his haunting Rising River Blues [12750] states when  addressing the municipal authorities of the town he was in:

I got to move in the alley. I ain’t ‘llowed on your street. ( x2)  
These ‘Rising River Blues’ sure have got me beat. (50)

When he tries to flee the mounting high water of yet another disastrous flood. 

These singers employing symbolism, irony, and anti-establishment  lyrics which were often couched in an awful beauty of obvious feeling-and yes, often with a black humour (no pun intended). Not outright or in-your-face, You Got To Recognize Me [OK 8330] from Charles Tyus is unique in early black song.  Tyus, the male partner of the vaudeville duo Charles & Effie Tyus, making the black citizens’ case for equality with white society.  He praises early blues singers (in 1924) such as Mamie Smith, Sara Martin and Virginia Liston, along with Mamie’s cornet player Johnny Dunn.  These are likened in their importance to the scheme of things along with the ‘Underground Railroad’ hero, ex-slave Harriet Tubman and influential political black leader Booker T. Washington. 

In a different setting but almost on a par with the Charles Tyus song, is the totally anti-establishment offering by Charley Campbell, who like Leadbelly also recorded for the L. of C.  It is still not entirely clear whether this is the same man who recorded a couple of commercial sides for the Bluebird label in the same year, of 1937.  Campbell told Alan Lomax that this is a “ain’t workin’ song”, pre-empting the later Trouble And Whiskey [Decca 7862] by Roosevelt Sykes in 1941, where he sings: 

I’m gonna stop work, baby, an’ ramble from town to town;
I’m gonna stop work, kind mama, an’ ramble from town to town.
Because workin’ ain’t nothin’ but a habit, an’ I believe I’ll lay it down. (51)

And Martha Copeland sings her praises for anti-hero Hobo Bill.

Hobo Bill, he’s never got a dime;
He never goes to work ‘cos he’s never got the time.

Ref:     Ride on. Ride on, Hobo Bill. (52)

While Alberta Hunter got lucky as she relates her own experience, “an’ every word is true”, which she says could be some help to her black listeners.

I’ve been pushed an’ I’ve been driven, just drift from door to door. (x 2)
But Dame Fortune have smiled on me, an’ I won’t be pushed no more. (53)

Because luck (and her talents) or ‘Dame Fortune’ led Alberta to a highly successful and lengthy career singing and recording the Blues; bringing in much needed income. 

Poverty was of course one of the major causes for singing the Blues, linked with the great stumbling block of most African Americans on the bottom of the socio-economic ladder—the racialist regime run by whites known as ‘Jim Crow’. A rare detailed reference to this odious system appears on the excellent North Bound Blues [Columbia 14092-D] by Maggie Jones in 1925.  Some 18 months later, pianist Cow Cow Davenport was quite likely to have been inspired to cut his boldly-titled Jim Crow Blues [Paramount 12439].  This in turn might be a precursor of the L.of C. recording by Leadbelly, made some 12 years later in 1938.  This being his Bourgeois Blues [issued on Rounder CD 1045].  The latter being adapted by the earlier folk circle in New York City and the Civil Rights movement like, in the 1950s and 60s. 

Nor did the Blues have it all its own way.  Parody of gospel songs thinly veiled social protest as in G.Burns is Gonna Rise Again [OK 8577] which refers to resurrection as in the religious line ‘these bones gonna rise again’.  One very well-known ‘protest song’ in the sacred mode was also picked up by the Civil Rights and the folk singers: I Shall Not Be Moved [Vocalion 1243] by Rev. Edward Clayborn in 1928.  Also recorded by other singers including Charley Patton.  Preachers themselves were often a hotbed of protest on behalf of the black community, but very few appeared on  disc.  The hard-hitting Hitler And Hell [Bluebird B8851] by Rev. J.M Gates is exceptional.  Recorded in 1941, his ‘mini-sermon’ –the WWII references aside- is so relevant in war-torn countries across the globe here in the 21st. century. 

Protest not often very readily apparent but protest just the same! As will be seen when trawling through the remainder of this JSP set of essential blues and gospel recordings. The Blues is survival music: with QUALITY! 

From Lucille Bogan’s prostitute’s moan in They Ain’t Walking No More, through laid-back irony on The Panic Is On by Hezekiel Jenkins, via the international wartime protest Hitler And Hell from the prolific Rev. J.M. Gates, to the almost ‘throw-away’ spoken comment like ‘I feel so un-necessary’ by Wilmer Davis and Charley Patton’s sung line ‘Every day seem like murder here’ which says it all.  They had the blues but they sure were too damn mean to cry! 

Max Haymes
October 2015.




1.   ‘Down The Dirt Road Blues’

Charley Patton.

2.   Ibid.


3.   ‘He’s In The Jail House Now’

Memphis Jug Band.

4.   Ibid.


5.   Ibid.


6.   ‘Jail Bird Love Song’ 

Mississippi Sheiks.

7.   Rediker M. 

p.19. ((‘The Slave Ship’)   

8.   Ibid.


9.   Ibid.


10.  Ibid. 


11.  Lomax A.

p.xv. (‘The Land Where The Blues Began’)

12.  Ibid.


13.  Charters S. 

p.30. (‘Country Blues’)

14.  Lomax

Ibid. p.358.

15.  Evans David 

Notes to Female Blues Singers Vol.5
[Document CD. DOCD-5509] 1996.

16.  ‘I’ve Got The Blues But I’m Just Too Mean To Cry’

Dorothy Dodd.

17.   ‘Railroad Bill’   

Will Bennett.

18.   ‘Mad Mama’s Blues’ 

Josie Miles.

19.   ‘Dynamite Blues’ 

 Blind Lemon Jefferson.

20.   Misiewicz Roger

Notes to  Bessie Tucker 19281929.
[Document DOCD-5070] CD. 1991.

21.   ‘Key To The Bushes Blues’

Bessie Tucker.

22.   Ibid.


23.   Ibid.


24.   ‘Red Ripe Tomatoes’  

Jack Kelly.

25.   ‘Ain’t No More Cane On This Brazos’

Ernest Williams

26.   Ibid.


27.   Lomax Alan

Notes to The Library Of Congress Archive Of Folk Culture.
[Rounder 1510] CD. 1998.

28.   ‘Long John’  (L of C )  

Washington (‘Lightning’).

29.   ‘Preaching The Blues-Pt.1

Son House.

30.   ‘Justice Blues’

Texas Alexander.

31.    ‘Work House Blues’

Bessie Smith.

32.   ‘Washwoman Blues’

Bessie Smith.

33.   Ibid.


34.   ‘Pail In My Hand’ 

Edna Winston.

35.   ‘The Basement Blues’

Clara Smith.

36.   Ibid.


37.   ‘Workin’ Woman’s Blues’ 

Helen Gross.  

38.   ‘Sadie’s Servant Room Blues’ 

Hattie Burleson.

39.   ‘Gut Struggle’

Wilmer Davis.

40.   Ibid.


41.   ‘Wash And Iron Woman Blues’

Gene Campbell.  

42.   ‘Sud-Bustin’ Blues’

Sippie Wallace.  

43.   ‘They Ain’t Walking No More’ 

Lucille Bogan.

44.   ‘Daddy Calling Mama’ 

Alice Moore.

45.   ‘Waitin’ For That Evenin’ Mail’

Clara Smith.

46.   ‘Prison Cell Blues’    

Blind Lemon Jefferson.

47.   Ibid.


48.   ‘Song From A Cottonfield’

Bessie Brown.

49.   ‘On Our Turpentine Farm’  

“Pigmeat Pete & Catjuice Charlie”.

50.   ‘Rising River Blues’  

George Carter.

51.   ‘Trouble And Whiskey’     

Roosevelt Sykes.

52.   ‘Hobo Bill’  

Martha Copeland.

53.   ‘Experience Blues’ 

Alberta  Hunter.





1.   Internet


2.   Yazoo CD  [2006] 1992..


3.   1897 Sears Roebuck Catalogue.


4.   Author’s collection.


5.   Author’s collection.


6.   Rounder CD [1510] 1998.


7.   Document [DOCD-5523] 1997.


8.   Document [DOCD-5477] 1996.








1.   Rediker Marcus 

The Slave Ship (A Human History)
[John Murray. London] 2008. 1st. pub. 2007.

2.   Lomax Alan

The Land Where The Blues Began
[Methuen. London] 1994. 1st. pub. 1993.


Discography – CD 1

1.    Jailbird Love Song

Mississippi Sheiks: Walter Vinson vo.gtr.yodelling; prob. Lonnie Chatman vln.; Bo Chatman vo.gtr. Thursday, 12th. June 1930. San Antonio, Texas. (404145-B)

2.    No Job Blues Ramblin’ Thomas vo.gtr., speech. February 1928. Chicago, Illinois. (20343-2)
3.    Down To (sic) The Bottom  Where I Stay

Ozie McPherson vo. speech; acc. Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra: Joe Smith cor.; Charlie Green tbn.;  Buster Bailey clt.; prob. Coleman Hawkins bsx; Fletcher Henderson pno.; Charlie Dixon bjo. February 1926. Chicago, Illinois. (2422-4)

4.    Gut Struggle Wilmer Davis vo., speech; Albert Nicholas clt.; Richard M. Jones pno.; Johnny St. Cyr bjo. Saturday, 29th. May 1926. Chicago, Illinois. (C-375/*/7; E-3184/85*/86W)
5.    Trouble And Whiskey

Roosevelt Sykes vo.pno.; Sidney Catlett dms. Thursday, 21st. February 1941. Chicago, Illinois. (93519-A)

6.    Raise R-U-K-U-S Tonight

Norfolk Jubilee Singers (as “Norfolk Jazz Quartet”): J. ‘Buddie’ Archer ten. vo.; Otto Tutson lead vo.;  Delrose Hollins bari. vo.; Len Williams bs. vo./manager; unacc. April 1923. New York City. New York. (1370-2)

7.    Raise A  Rukus Tonight

Birmingham Jubilee Singers (as “Birmingham Quartet”): Charles Bridges lead vo.; Leo ‘Lot’ Key ten. vo.; Dave Ausbrooks bari. vo.; Ed Sherrill bs. vo.; unacc. Thursday ,6th. October 1927. New York City, New York. (144828-2)

8.    Landlady’s Footsteps

Madlyn Davis vo.; unk. kaz.; poss. Cassino Simpson pno.; unk.bjo. September 1927. Chicago, Illinois. (4802-2)

9.    Get On Board

Clara Smith vo.; moaning; speech; Porter Grainger pno.; Ethel Grainger, Odette Jackson (as “Sisters White & Wallace”) vo., speech, shouts, moaning. Tuesday, 23rd November 1926. New York City, New York. (143143-1)

10.   I’m Goin’ Home

Charley Patton vo.gtr., speech. Friday, 14th. June 1929. Richmond, Indiana. (15227–)

11.   Old Rattler (L of C)

Mose ‘Clear Rock’ Platt & James ‘Iron Head’ Baker vo.; unk. dog imitations; one or two unk. convicts vo.; unacc. Prob. May 1934. Central State Farm, Sugar Land, Texas. (208-B-1)

12.   Ain’t No More Cane OnT his/The Brazos  (L of C)

Ernest Williams vo. prob. speech;  James ‘Iron Head’ Baker & convict group moaning; Alan Lomax speech; unk. male speech. December 1933. Central State Farm, Sugar Land, Texas. (199-A-1)

13.   The Prisoner’s Blues

Sara Martin vo.; acc. Clarence Williams Blue Five: Unk. cor.; unk. tbn.; poss. Otto Harwick or Don Redman alt.; Clarence Williams pno.; unk. bjo.; poss. Cyrus St. Clair bbs. Thursday, 25th. March 1926. New York City. New York. (74073-A)

14.   Penitentiary Bound Blues

Rosa Henderson vo.; prob. Jake Frazier tbn.; Bob Fuller clt.; Louis Hooper pno. Thursday, 19th. February 1925. New York City, New York. (E-382//3/4/W)

15.   Wash And Iron Woman Blues

Gene Campbell vo.gtr. c. May 1930. Chicago, Illinois. (C-5703-)

16.   I’ve Got The Blues But I’m Just Too Mean To Cry

Dorothy Dodd vo.; unk. tpt.; unk. tbn.; unk. ten. sax.; c. October 1921. New York City. New York. (no matrix given)

17.   Rising River Blues

George Carter vo.gtr. c. February 1929. Chicago, Illinois. (21153-2)

18.   Song From A Cotton Field

Bessie Brown (as “Original Bessie Brown”) vo.; poss. Rex Stewart or Bobby Stark tpt.; Charlie Green tbn.; Harvey Boone clt.; Coleman Hawkins ten. sax.; Fletcher Henderson or poss. Porter Grainger pno.; Clarence Holiday bjo.; poss. Del Thomas bbs. c. 29th. March 1929. New York City, New York. (E29531-)

19.   They Ain’t Walking No More

Lucille Bogan vo.; Charles Avery pno. late March 1930. Chicago, Illinois. (C-5349-)

20.   Long John    (L of C)  

Washington (as “Lightnin’”) vo. acc. unk. convict group, (prob. 2) vo., axe cutting.  December 1933. Darrington State Farm. Sandy Point, Texas.  (183-A-2)

21.   Another Man Done Gone (L of C)

Vera Hall vo. unacc. Thursday, 31st. October 1940. Livingston, Alabama. (AFS 4049-A4)

22.   Black Evil Blues

Alice Moore (Little Alice from St. Louis) vo., speech; Ike Rodgers tbn.; Henry Brown pno. Saturday 18th. August 1934. Chicago, Illinois. (C-9317–,-A)

23.   Richmond Blues – TK.1

Julius Daniels vo.gtr. Monday, 24th. October 1927. Atlanta, Georgia. (40348-1)

24.   Bessie’s Moan

Bessie Tucker vo., moaning; K.D.Johnson pno. Wednesday 29th. August 1928. Memphis, Tennessee. (45436-2)

25.   Rock Pile Blues

Sylvester Weaver vo.gtr.; Walter Beasley gtr. Sunday, 27th. November 1927. New York City, New York. (81877-B)

26.   Highway 51 Blues

Curtis Jones vo. pno.; Willie Bee James gtr.; Washboard Sam wbd. Tuesday,25th. January 1938. Chicago, Illinois. (C-2081-1)


Discography – CD 2

1.    Down The Dirt Road Blues

Charley Patton vo.gtr., speech. Friday, 14th. June 1929. Richmond, Indiana. (15215–)

2.    Po’Mo’ner Got A Home at Last

Fisk Jubilee Singers: John Work II 1st. ten.vo.; James Andrew Myers 2nd. ten. vo.; Leon P. O’Hara bari. vo.; Noah Walker Ryder bs. vo. unacc. Friday, 10th. February 1911. Camden, New Jersey. (9923-3)

3.    That White Mule Of Sin

John Byrd (as “Rev. George Jones And Congregation:”) John Byrd preaching, gtr.vo.; Mae Glover (as “Sister Jones”) vo. chanting, moaning;  unk. female vo.; unk. male vo., speech. Monday, 29th. July 1929. Richmond, Indiana. (15394–)

4.   You’ve Got To Recognise Me

 Charles Tyus chanting, vo., speech; Effie Tyus pno. c. 11th. July 1924. New York City, New York. (72666-A)

5.    I’m All Out And Down (L of C)

Leadbelly vo.gtr., chanting, speech. March 1935. Wilton Connecticut. (144-A)

6.    Prison Cell Blues   

Blind Lemon Jefferson vo.gtr. c. February 1928. Chicago, Illinois. (20388-2)

7.    Moaning Blues

Moanin’ Bernice Edwards vo. moaning, pno. c. February 1928. Chicago, Illinois. (20371-1)

8.    On Our Turpentine Farm

Pigmeat Pete & Catjuice Charlie: Wesley Wilson vo.; Harry McDaniels vo.gtr. Monday, 7 October 1929. New York City, New York. (149105-3)

9.    Good Old Turnip Greens

Bo Carter (as “Bo Chatman”) vo. prob. vln.; Charlie McCoy mand.; prob. Walter Vinson gtr. c. November 1928 New Orleans, Louisiana. (NOR-756-)

10.   Two White Horses Standing In Line  (L of C)

Smith Casey vo.gtr. Dormitory, Clemens State Farm. Brazoria,Texas. (3552-A-1)

11.   Jim Crow Blues  

Cow Cow Davenport vo.pno.; B.T. Wingfield cor. c. January 1927. Chicago, Illinois. (4085-3)

12.   Am I Right Or Wrong  (L of C)

Son House vo.gtr. Friday, 17th. July 1942. Robinsonville, Mississippi. (6607-B-2)

13.   It Makes A Long Time Man Feel Bad   (L of C) 

Kelly Pace vo.; unk. group of convicts vo. unacc. c. 5th. October 1934. Camp No.5. Cumins State Farm. Gould, Arkansas. (248-B-1)

14.   Waitin’ For The Evenin’ Mail 

Clara Smith vo., moaning; Fletcher Henderson pno. Monday, 1st. October 1923. New York City, New York. (81250-2)

15.   I Shall Not Be Moved

Rev. Edward Clayborn vo,gtr. Saturday, 21st. January 1928. Chicago, Illinois. (C-1627/28*,E-7055/56*W)

16.   Toadfrog Blues

Ma Rainey vo. acc. her Georgia Jazz Band: Howard Scott cor.; Charlie Green tbn.; Don Redman clt.; Fletcher Henderson pno.; Charlie Dixon bjo.; unk. perc. effects.15th. October 1924. New York City, New York (1923-2-)

17.   Squinch Owl Moan   

Too Tight Henry vo. prob. gtr., falsetto ‘owl’ imitations; unk. gtr.; prob. Jed Davenport hca. 2nd. October 1930. Chicago, Illinois. (C-6416-)

18.   Daddy-Calling Mama 

Alice Moore vo.; Peetie Wheatstraw pno. Wednesday, 17th. July 1935. Chicago, Illinois. (90178-A)

19.   Mean Old World  

Heavenly Gospel Singers: Roosevelt Fenoy lead vo.; Fred Whitmore ten. vo.; Henderson Massey bari. vo.; Jimmy Bryant bs. vo. unacc.  Wednesday, 7th. August 1935. Atlanta, Georgia.

20.   Cow Cow Blues  

Dora Carr vo.; Cow Cow Davenport pno. Thursday, 1st. October 1925. New York City, New York. (73667-A)

21.   Last Fair Deal Gone Down

Robert Johnson vo.gtr. Friday, 27th. November 1936. San Antonio, Texas. (SA-2631-1)

22.   Chain Gang Bound

Bumble Bee Slim vo.; poss. own gtr. or unk. c. October 1931. Grafton, Wisconsin.. gtr.  (L-1122-2)

23.   These Hard Times Are Tight Like That 

Rev. J.M. Gates preaching, speech; Sister Jordan speech; Sister Norman speech; Deacon Leon Davis speech; unacc. Friday, 12th. December 1930. Atlanta , Georgia. (404685-B)

24.   The Panic Is On

Hezekiah Jenkins vo. prob. gtr. Friday, 16th. January 1931. New York City, New York. (151219-2)

25.   Preachin’ The Blues-Pt.1

Son House vo.gtr. speech. Wednesday, 28th. May 1930. Grafton Wisconsin. (L-410-1)


Discography – CD 3

1.    Starvation Farm Blues

Bob Campbell vo.gtr. Wednesday, 1st. August 1934. New York City, New York. (15503-2)

2.    No Place To Go

Walter Davis vo. pno. Friday, 12th. July 1940. Chicago, Illinois. (049315-1)

3.    One Dime Blues  

Blind Lemon Jefferson vo.gtr. c. October 1927. Chicago, Illinois. (20075-2)

4.    Blue Harvest Blues 

Mississippi John Hurt vo.gtr. Friday, 28th. December 1928. (40187-A)

5.    Fool’s Blues

Funny Paper (as “Funny Paper Smith”—The Howling Wolf) vo.gtr. Friday, 10 July 1931. Chicago, Illinois. (VO-167-A)

6.    Boll Weevil Blues (The Boll  Weevil Holler)  (L of C)  

Vera Hall vo. unacc. Thursday 31st. October 1940. Livingston Alabama. (4049-B-3)

7.    Mississippi Bo Weavil Blues

Charley Patton vo.gtr, speech. Friday, 14th. June 1929. Richmond, Indiana. (15211–)

8.     Hopali(Hop-A-Lee)  (L of C)

8 unknown girls vo. unacc. c. October 1934. Kirby Industrial School, Atmore, Alabama. (88-B-3)

9.    Experience Blues  

Alberta Hunter vo.; acc. Her Paramount Boys: Tommy Ladnier cor.; Jimmy O’Bryant clt.; prob. Lovie Austin pno. October 1923. Chicago, Illinois. (1528-1)

10.   Broken Levee Blues 

Lonnie Johnson vo.gtr. Tuesday, 13th. March 1928. San Antonio, Texas. (400492-A)

11.   Eighteen Hundred And Ninety One (Ain’t Working Song)  (Lof C)

Charley Campbell chanting, speech; unk. dock workers laughing, shouts; Alan Lomax speech. Wednesday, 28th. July 1937. Mobile, Alabama. (1336-B-2)

12.   Bank Failure Blues

Martha Copeland vo.; Porter Grainger pno. Friday, 6th. January 1928. New York City, New York. (14578-1)

13.   Hammer Ring  (L of C) 

Jess Bradley vo.; unk. convict group vo., shouts; with 10 lb two-headed hammers around 2 inches diameter-spike driving railroad ties. unk. male speech.* Wednesday, 21st. November 1934. State Penitentiary, Huntsville, Texas. (219-A-2)

14.   The Escaped Convict

George ‘Bullet’ Williams speech, screams through hca. c. May 1928. Chicago, Illinois. (20593-2)

15.   I’m Having So Much Trouble

Bumble Bee Slim vo. speech; prob. Albert Ammons pno. unk.gtr. Wednesday, 27th. January, 1937. Chicago, Illinois. (C-17778-1)

16.   Worried Blues  (L of C)   

Tom Bell vo.gtr. Saturday, 3rd. November 1940. Livingston, Alabama. (4067-A-1)**

17.   Workhouse Blues   

Leroy Carr vo. pno.; Scrapper Blackwell gtr. Thursday, 2nd. January 1930. Chicago, Illinois. (C-5076-)

18.   The Sure Route Excursion To Hell-Pt.1

Rev. F.W. McGee  preaching; mixed group of 4 or 5 ‘congregation’ shouted responses, moaning; unacc. Wednesday, 16th. July 1930. New York City, New York. (62354-2)

19.   Black Hearse Blues 

Sara Martin vo.; Sylvester Weaver gtr. Tuesday, 30th. August 1927. New York City, New York. (81294-B)

20.   Washwoman’s Blues

Bessie Smith vo.; Bob Fuller alto sax.; Ernest Elliott ten. sax./clt.; Porter Grainger pno. Friday 24th. August 1928. New York City, New York. (146893-2)

21.   Sud Bustin’ Blues

Sippie Wallace vo.; acc. Clarence Williams’ Harmonizers: Tom Morris cor.; Charlie Irvis tbn.; poss. Ernest Elliott clt.; Clarence Williams pno.; Buddy Christian bjo. c. 6th. June 1924. New York City, New York. (72606-B)

22.   Hitler And Hell 

Rev. J.M. Gates preaching, vo.; unk female & unk. male chanting, speech, shouts, vo.; unacc. Thursday, 2nd. October 1941. Kimball Hotel, Atlanta, Georgia. (071084-1)

23.   Don’t Mess With Me  

Mamie Smith vo.;  acc. her Jazz Hounds: prob. Bubber Miley tpt.; unk. tbn.; poss. Ernest Elliott or Garvin Bushell clt/alto sax.; Herschel Brassfield alto sax.; Coleman Hawkins ten. sax.; unk. pno. c. 6th. December 1922. New York City, New York. (71080-B)

24.   My Daddy’s Calling Me  

Irene Scruggs vo.;Clarence Williams pno. c. 1st. May 1924. New York City, New York. (72498-B)

25.   I Heard The  Voice Of A Pork Chop

Jim Jackson vo.gtr., speech. Monday, 30th. January 1928. Memphis Auditorium. Memphis, Tennessee. (418021-1) 

26.   G. Burns Is Gonna Rise Again

Johnson-Nelson-Porkchop Saturday,  17th. February 1928. Memphis, Tennessee. (400259-A,-B)

27.   The Bourgeois Blues (L of C) 

Leadbelly vo.gtr., speech.; unk. white male speech. Monday, 26th. December 1938. Havers Studio, New York City, New York. (2502-B-2)

* see Rounder CD 1517. in 1999, for more details of the spike drivers’ hammering method.
**Listed on CD 1517 as ‘Worried Blues’ but appears in B.&GR as ‘I’m Worried Now But I Won’t Worried Long’. Tom Bell actually sings ‘I’m worried now an’ I won’t be worried long.’


Discography – CD 4

1.    Hobo Bill

Martha Copeland vo.; Porter Grainger pno.; Buddy Christian bjo.; unk. vo. train effects. Tuesday, 9th. August, 1927. New York City, New York. (144538-2)

2.    Dyin’ Crap-Shooter’s Blues

Martha Copeland vo.; Ernest Elliott, Bob Fuller clt.; Porter Grainger pno. Thursday, 5th. May. New York City, New York. (144097-3)

3.    Dying Crap Shooter’s Blues***  (Lof C)   

Blind Willie McTell vo.gtr., speech. Tuesday, 5th. November 1940. Atlanta, Georgia. (4070-B-1)

4.    Sarah Jane 

Jazz Gillum vo. hca.; Big Bill Broonzy gtr. speech; unk. bs. Sunday, 5th. April 1936. Chicago, Illinois. (100311-1)

5.    North Bound Blues

Maggie Jones vo.; Charlie Green tbn.; Fletcher Henderson pno. Thursday, 16th. April 1925. New York City, New York. (140534-2)

6.    Go Down Old Hannah (L of C)

James ‘Iron Head’ Baker vo.; Will Crosby, R.D. Allen, Mose ‘Clear Rock’ Platt vo. unacc. Prob. December 1933. Central State Farm. Sugar Land, Texas. (195-A-2)

7.    I Been Drinkin’ (Lof C)

Vera Hall vo. unacc. Friday, 23rd. July 1937. Livingston, Alabama. (1323-B-3)

8.    Po’ Laz’us  (L of C) 

Vera Hall vo. unacc. Thursday, 31st. October 1940. Livingston, Alabama. (4050-A-1)

9.    Cotton Seed Blues

Tampa Red vo.gtr.; Georgia Tom pno. Tuesday, 10th. February 1931. Chicago, Illinois. (VO-121-A)

10.   I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray

Paramount Jubilee Singers: mixed vo. group; unk. conductor; unacc. mid-November 1923. New York City, New York.  (1570-2)

11.   He’s In The Jailhouse Now

Memphis Jug Band: Charlie Nickerson vo.; Will Shade hca.; Vol Stevens bjo.-mand.; Charlie Burse gtr., poss. harmony vo.; Jab Jones jug. Friday, 21st. November 1930. Memphis, Tennessee. (62990-2)

12.   Railroad Bill 

Will Bennett vo.prob.gtr. Wednesday, 28th. August 1929. WNOX Studios. St. James Hotel. Knoxville, Tennessee. (K-127-)

13.   Mad Mama’s Blues

Josie Miles vo.; acc. Kansas City Five: prob. Bubber Miley cor.; prob. Jake Frazier tbn.; prob. Bob Fuller clt.; unk. pno.; prob. Elmer Snowden bjo. Friday, 21st. November 1924. New York City, New York. (9862-)

14.   Dynamite Blues   

Blind Lemon Jefferson vo.gtr. c. January 1929. Chicago, Illinois. (21096-1)

15.   Key To The Bushes Blues

Bessie Tucker vo.; K.D. Johnson pno. Jesse Thomas gtr. Thursday, 17th. October 1929. Dallas, Texas. (56404-2)

16.   Red Ripe Tomatoes    

Jack Kelly vo.gtr. acc. His South Memphis Jug Band: prob. Dan Sane gtr.; Will Batts vln.; D.M. “Doctor” Higgs jug. Tuesday,1st. August 1933. New York City, New York. (13714-2)

17.   Justice Blues

Texas Alexander vo.; poss. Willie Reed gtr.; unk. gtr. Saturday, 29th. September 1934. Fort Worth, Texas. (FW-1130-1)

18.   Nobody Knows The Way I Feel Dis Mornin’

Clara Smith vo.; Louis Armstrong cor.; Charlie Green tbn.; Fletcher Henderson pno. Wednesday, 7th. January 1925. New York City, New York. (140226-1)

19.   Pail In My Hand   

Edna Winston vo.; TomMorris cor.; Charlie Irvis tbn.; Bob Fuller clt.; Mike Jackson pno.; Buddy Christian bjo. New York City, New York. (36960-3)

20.   The Basement Blues  

Clara Smith vo.; Ernest Elliott clt.; Charles A. Matson pno. Saturday, 20th. September 1924. New York City, New York. (140052-1)

21.   Workin’ Woman’s Blues

Helen Gross vo. acc. Choo Choo Jazzers: Rex Stewart cor.; Bob Fuller clt.; Louis Hooper pno. c. December 1924. New York City, New York. (31759)

22.   Broke Man Blues 

Sylvester Palmer vo.pno., moaning. Friday, 15th. November 1929. Chicago, Illinois. (403305-B)

23.   Sadie’s Servant Room Blues 

Hattie Burleson vo.; Don Albert tpt.; Siki Collins sop. sax.; Allen Vann pno.; John Henry Bragg bjo.; Charlie Dixon bbs. c. October 1928. Dallas, Texas. (DAL-745-A)

24.   Red Cross Man  

Lucille Bogan (as “Bessie Jackson”) vo.; Walter Roland pno. Monday, 17th. July 1933. New York City, New York. (13548-1)

25.   Life is Just A Book

Washboard Sam vo.wbd.; Memphis Slim pno.; Big Bill Broonzy gtr.; William Mitchell im. bs. Thursday, 26th. June 1941. Chicago, Illinois. (064477-1)

***see 10,000 word dissertation by Max Haymes (1992) tracing the roots of McTell’s ‘Dying Crapshooter’s Blues’ back to mid-18th. century on  website.

Discographical details from Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943. Robert M.W.Dixon. John Godrich. Howard Rye.
[Clarendon Press. Oxford] 1997.

All corrections/additions/transcriptions by Max Haymes.

Converted to web format by Alan White. 

Published on March 2016.

Essay © Copyright 2015 Max Haymes. All rights reserved.