The Legends of the Rocking Dutchman - episode 263

Legends Mix

This transcript of the radio show is an approximation of what I said in the show. The real spoken parts may differ slightly.

And welcome back to my show, my faithful listeners, for another hour of the best of Rhtythm & Blues, old-fashioned jazz and blues from the days when life was hard but oh, that music. And I promise you, there's some real special material in today's set. So keep your ears on the radio, while I introduce you to the female singer Dora Carr, in the early twenties the girlfriend and musical partner of Cow Cow Davenport. It's Charles Davenport who wrote this song that she recorded in January of 1924 for the Okeh label, and released from a session where she also done a few duets with her man.

This is still from the days of acoustical recordings. Here is Dora Carr with Bring It On Home.

01 - Dora Carr - Bring It On Home Blues
02 - Bessie Smith - St. Louis Blues

A monumental recording of Bessie Smith singing the St. Louis Blues in the musical short movie with the same name from 1929, and man, she can belt out the blues. In the movie she plays being stone drunk more hanging than standing at the bar - and that choir you heard in the call-and-response is the Hall Johnson Choir, the members of it sitting in the cafe as patrons, and the sparse instrumental backing comes from members of the orchestra of Fletcher Henderson and James P. Johnson on the piano - and also a string section.

It's unlike anything she done ever, and the sound mixing may be a bit poor - at times Bessie Smith is hard to hear - but she shows us why she's named the empress of the blues, shouting out her pain and sorrow for the man who left her for a woman from St. Louis with diamond rings, make-up and a wig - knowing that she can never compete with that woman's urban attitude.

I'm afraid I can't show you the movie - but it's easy to find on YouTube and I recommend you go and have a look - that is after this radio show is done of course, cause I'm getting you a lot more great stuff.

The composition is over a century old, W.C. Handy wrote and published it as sheet music in 1914. Handy wrote down the blues as he heard them while laboring in the South and by 1905 he made a journey along the Mississippi where he carefully studied the blues. He noticed the typical chord progression, the 12-bar scheme, the short sentences with a gap after it, often filled up with words like 'Oh Lord' or 'baby baby', and then the use of minor key notes on the thirds and sevenths in a generally major key - what we now call blue notes.

Using these ingredients he composed his own songs, and by publishing, they got a whole new target of musicians. The Delta bluesmen were unaware of Handy's doings, at first it were the white jazz bands noticing these blues, in a search for new and innovative repertoire. Later the black artists followed. The blues were not performed by just a singer and a banjo or guitar, instead, they were arranged for jazz combos or sung by blues singers like Bessie Smith accompanied by a piano and a horn - the trombone or a cornet.

Handy is often named the father of the blues. Now - he didn't invent them, but he first documented wat was essentially a regional style, and brought it to the big city - so father of the urban blues may be a better description. And the twenties proved to be formative years for the urban blues. In 1920 Mamie Smith made the first recording of an African-American singing the blues, from a published sheet music, and it was an unexpected and major success for the Okeh label. By '25 all record labels brought blues - and after the success of Mamie Smith, it were mostly from female singers. The men caught up later - and the urban blues constantly got new infusions from the South with the great migration of African Americans to the Northern cities, especially Chicago, St. Louis and New York.

In the urban setting, blues and jazz started influencing each other. The jazz had its own story, coming up with the migration of New Orleans musicians to Chicago and later New York, feeding the Harlem Renaissance, the first wave of African American awareness, black pride.

Next one of the outstanding musicians of that Harlem Renaissance. In the Cotton Club, he brought the African American jazz to an exclusively white audience. Here is from 1928 Duke Ellington with Take It Easy.

03 - Duke Ellington - Take It Easy
04 - Ed Bell - Rosca Mama Blues

(jingle)

05 - State Street Ramblers - Brown-Skin Mama
06 - Famous Hokum Boys - Double Trouble Blues

And that was a whole lotta music - after Duke Ellington you got the Rosca Mama Blues of guitarist Ed Bell, on several labels also credited as Sluefoot Joe or Barefoot Bill. Bell was from Alabama where he combined agricultural labor with the blues, and more and more he was able to support himself as a bluesman - touring the midwest, the east and the south and recording in Chicago, New York and Atlanta.

Somewhere during the Great Depression he quit music and became a minister in the Baptist church, eventually he made it to Moderator of the Southern Districts, one of the highest ranks within the church.

You got more - after the jingle that were, from 1928, the State Street Ramblers with a recording for the Gennett label, the Brownskin Mama. And finally you got the Famous Hokum Boys fronted by the mysterious Jane Lucas with the Double trouble blues, from an issue on the Champion label from 1931. This Jane Lucas also was recorded under the name of Hannah May and perhaps Kansas City Kitty was the same person as well. It's been suggested that Mozelle Alderson was this singer - but her singing style in nothing is similar to the haunting style of the blues she laid down for Gennett and Black Patti in 1927.

Next one of Josh White, a soft-voiced blues singer with an early recording from 1932 on the ARC labels. White had endured a childhood full of the extremest poverty and abuse serving blind blues singers. In these years, he was recorded for the Paramount label and somehow the ARC company were determined to get him back in the studio in a time when the record industry was in deep trouble. They sent out two A&R men to find White, and they found him in Greenville, SC where he was with his mother recovering from a broken leg, and for ARC he recorded gospels as the Singing Christian, and later blues under his own name or Pinewood Tom - depending on which of the ARC labels he was released on.

White eventually worked himself up to the poshest club of New York, the Cafe Society, where he became a personal friend of Franklin and Elanor Roosevelt - getting himself to sing in the White House and discussing segregation matters with the president.

That was later - here he is with a 1932 recording So Sweet So Sweet.

07 - Josh White - So Sweet, So Sweet
08 - Willie 'Poor Boy' Lofton - It's Killin' Me

Willie Poor Boy Lofton with It's Killin' Me, from the first session for the Decca label that he done in 1934. Lofton is best remembered for his Dark Road Blues that he recorded for Bluebird, a record that failed to sell but with huge influence on later blues. Lofton returned to Jackson, MS, where he most likely was born, and nothing was heard of him since.

Next the great clarinettist Sidney Bechet with a song on a woman selling sweet patootie. Now there's a lot of words in the blues that all mean sex - and patootie is one of them. Just to make sure you know what this goodie is about. Here is Sidney Bechet.

09 - Sidney Bechet - Sweet Patootie
10 - Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit

The classic protest song Strange Fruit of Billie Holiday - describing the lynchings of African-Americans in the south. The lyrics were from a Jewish teacher, Abel Meeropol, and he was inspired to write them on a newspaper picture of a lynching in 1930, where two men were lynched and hanged and that drew a crowd of five thousand white people.

Billie Holiday performed it at the Cafe Society and later venues she performed, often for a white audiende. She done her regular, entertaining jazz and left this bitter song to end with. Bar service was closed, the lights went out but one spotlight on Billie Holiday when she performed this song - leaving the audience shocked and silent - followed by a roar of either approval or disapproval, while Holiday had left the stage. People left the place they gone to for a night of fun, with a burning heart full of anger and disgust and perhaps a night of bad sleep for the lesson they'd been taught.

Billie Holiday claimed the right to sing Strange Fruit in the contracts with the venues she sang, but only did the song when the atmosphere was right. When it came to recording the song, Columbia, the record label she was signed to, did not want their name on it, but they did grant her a one-session leave for the Commodore Record Shop label of Milt Gabler, and the record eventually sold a million copies, through the years.

Now - Billie Holiday ended her gigs with this, but I still just a bit over halfway the show so there's something I have to play after this, and it can only be something comepletely different. So here is, from 1942 on the Columbia label, the band of Count Basie with the Sugar Blues.

11 - Count Basie - Sugar Blues
12 - Jazz Gillum - You Got To Run Me Down

From 1947 on RCA Victor that was Jazz Gillum in a jump blues setting, with just a minor role for his harmonica playing skills. Gillum is best remembered for his pre-war recordings for the Bluebird label, and his version of Key To The Highway, an eight-bar adaptation of Charlie Segar's original.

For the next one, a recording of Buster Moten. He was the brother of Bennie Moten, the famous band leader and when Bennie died, Buster decided to take over the leadership of the band, but the pianist had different plans - Count Basie left and took most of the band members with him. Buster outlived his brother with some more than 20 years, but he never made a mark on the history of music. Moten played the accordion - an odd instrument for the jazz. In the late forties he did some recordings as Bus Moten and his men, and on the Capitol label, here he is with Baby You Messed Up.

14 - Bus Moten - Baby you messed up
15 - Wynonie Harris - Baby Look At You
16 - Andrew Tibbs - Mother's Letter

Mother's Letter of Andrew Tibbs - a typical blues in Tibbs style, and the dramatic delivery very much fits the subject of this blues, and before that from 1945 the band of Jack McVea fronted by blues shouter Wynonie Harris with Baby Look At You. It was recorded in Los Angeles for the Apollo label, just after Harris had quit the band of Lucky Millinder, after a dispute over money.

The release of the famous Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well, that he cut with Millinder in '44 was delayed due to a shortage of shellac, and when it became a hit in '45, Harris was free to choose from the record companies that offered him a contract. He recorded for Aladdin, Bullet and Apollo but his breakthrough was when he signed with the King label - and his hits included his famous cover of Roy Brown's Good Rocking Tonight that spawned a fad of rhythm & blues songs that all had a strong backbeat and seemed to need to have the words rock and roll in them.

And these two end this show - full of history and a few unique recordings and I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did. Well you can let me know - the e-mail address is rockingdutchman@rocketmail.com and you can leave all your feedback there - it's greatly appreciated. And then, all of today's story, it's on my website for you to read again, and you can also find out what's on for next week. Simply type Legends of the Rocking Dutchman in Google and it will show up first. Once in - this is show 263 in the list of episodes and you're gonna need that number.

That was all for today, so I hope to see you again, here on the Legends of the Rocking Dutchman!