Monday, November 3, 2014

Week 11: Country Blues: The Delta

Son House

Reading: Leroy Jones: Blues People Negro Music in America. Reader pps. 117-146. Reread this again to see how your understanding has changed. It's an important book. New reading: Blues from the Delta. William Ferris, Reader pps. 147-164. Two other books also apply, both in UC  Library: Mary Beth Hamilton, In Search of the Blues  (2008), and the classic, Robert Palmer, Deep Blues (1982). Also--John Swed covers Alan Lomax's blues fieldwork extensively at  various points in his biography. (See Son House references in his index, especially p. 192-3.) One of Lomax's later books is The Land Where the Blues Began. For a very different view on this theme of Blues, read Albert Murray's Stomping the Blues (1972).

Songs (in your tan songset, and on the original S&P CD): 
Corrina, Corrina
Careless Love
Sweet Home  Chicago (great song--but it's not really a sing-along)


For the next two weeks we'll do the Blues. For Week 11, concentrate on Delta Blues--and Country Blues in general. For Week 12, concentrate on Chicago and the city blues tradition.

It's a very broad topic--but generally speaking...

You can think of the Blues in terms of it's rural origins, in the early 1900s--from the Mississippi Delta and elsewhere in the South--East Texas, for example. There's also the Piedmont blues from the Carolinas, and blues styles from places like Memphis, Kansas City, St. Louis. Gradually the music was carried up the Mississippi River and by rail  to Chicago--where city blues took off. This shift followed emigration patterns--black southerners moving to northern cities for work beginning in the period of  WWI. Chicago blues came into its own during WWII and the post-war years. A very good book on this topic is Robert Palmer's Deep Blues. Note that the terms Country Blues, Delta Blues and Downhome Blues are used somewhat interchangeably.

Skip James

Key DELTA BLUES people include Charley Patton, Son House, Skip James, and slightly later, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters (in his very early years)--along with MANY others... Mississippi John Hurt is sometimes called a blues player (and he did record some key blues songs--his version of Stagger Lee is classic) but in many ways MJH represents an earlier Songster era. There's also the important early Texas blues player Blind Lemon Jefferson, whose recordings in the 1920s became widely popular. Other Texas players, from the next generation include Lighting Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb. And not to forget the early players Memphis Minnie... and singer Victoria Spivey. (Later came Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Big Mama Thornton...)

Note that the Delta Blues/Country Blues are very different from recordings by Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ida Cox and others--primarily women, whose songs were performed with jazz band accompaniment and in many ways represent an extension of the vaudeville tradition. Country Blues emphasizes the solo voice with a solo acoustic guitar. The two answer each other--and the power of the music comes from this. (Listen to Charley Patton, Son House,  Skip James, Robert Johnson...) The Delta style is unique in the way the guitar is linked to the voice...always expressive, always from within...

Robert Johnson (recently discovered photo)

When southern blacks began moving north--first to places like Memphis and St. Louis, then to Chicago and Detroit, what was in essence a rural (and acoustic) music took on the attributes of the city--amplifiers, for one. Muddy Waters is key here. (We'll concentrate on Chicago  next week.)

Here are the tracks on your download that correspond to the Country and Delta Blues:

34 Blues     Charley Patton  (1887?-1934)
Lonesome Road Blues    Sam Collins (1887-1949)
Cross Road Blues    Robert Johnson  (1911-1938)
Come On In My Kitchen    Robert Johnson
Milkcow's Calf Blues    Robert Johnson
I'm So Glad   Skip James  (1902-1969)
Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues   Skip James
Parchman Farm Blues    Bukka White  (1909-1977)

And some related early recordings, also on your download (moving beyond Delta Blues):

How Long, How Long Blues  Leroy Carr (1905-1935)  (Nashville, originally, and a smoother stylist)
The World Is Going Wrong   Mississippi Sheiks  (recorded 1930's)
Jet Black Snake    Roosevelt Sykes   (1906-1983)
Hoodoo Lady    Memphis Minnie   (1897-1983)
Caught Me Wrong Again   Memphis Minnie
Black Snake Blues    Victoria Spivey   (1906-1976)

Memphis Minnie

Here are some key YouTube recordings for the Country Blues /Delta Blues tradition. Some include film/video (made in more recent years, obviously, mostly from the 1960s).

YouTube - Charley Patton - Spoonful Blues (Delta Blues 1929) (audio only)
'Some These Days I'll Be Gone' CHARLEY PATTON, 1929 Delta Blues Guitar Legend (audio) 

▶ Son House - Field Recordings 1941 & 1942 - YouTube (Delta Blues, audio only)
▶ Son House "Death Letter Blues" - YouTube  (video of Son House performing, 1960's)
Skip James - Devil Got My Woman - YouTube   (video, early 1960's)
YouTube - Skip James sings "Crow Jane" (video early 1960's)

Blind Lemon Jefferson, record advertisement

▶ Black Snake Moan - Blind Lemon Jefferson - YouTube (Texas Blues, audio)
▶ Lightin' Hopkins - YouTube  (Texas Blues, next generation--video, 1960's)
▶ Mance Lipscomb - Jack of Spades - YouTube (Mance Lipscomb playing Texas blues, video. Originally a Blind Lemon Jerfferson song.)
Mance Lipscomb - Motherless Children - YouTube (from the Les Blank film, 1972, a beautiful video clip.)
and finally, a very early Muddy Waters audio recording, from his Mississippi beginning's (this from Alan Lomax fieldwork):
McKinley Morganfield - Burr Clover Farm Blues - YouTube

The young Muddy Waters, in Mississippi

Next week--we'll follow Muddy Waters north, to Chicago and City Blues...