Archive for the ‘Bessie Smith’ Category

Big Maybelle

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Listen: I’m Getting ‘long Alright / Big Maybelle

I can not lie. I get weak around any Okeh single, particularly in it’s matching stock sleeve. This certainly must have something to do with purple foil and paper wrapped chocolate bars from that first trip to Ireland when only in my single digits. We spent the summer with my aunt and grandmother in the house where my Mom grew up. Ballymoney, County Antrim. I don’t recall much, except for getting caught dipping my hand into a neighbor’s purse. The result was most unpleasant, but I needed a Cadbury marzipan bar, a flavor long since discontinued. The experience dented my brain permanently.

This Big Maybelle single from 1954 still glistens as a true visual artifact of color and design, and it’s a frequent choice when flipping through the wall shelves looking for something to play.

As with Bessie Smith, I became smitten by Big Maybelle soon after discovering both Janis Joplin and Tracy Nelson. Big Brother & The Holding Company were just releasing their first singles on Mainstream Records then, with Mother Earth, Tracy Nelson’s band also based out of San Fransisco, doing the same on Mercury shortly thereafter. Given they repeatedly name checked Bessie Smith and Big Maybelle as inspirational influences, my curiosity ran high.

Big Maybelle singles were easy and inexpensive finds for years. Album culture was fully prevalent during the late 60′s so singles simply became passé to most music aficionados of the day. This presented me with great joy as the pickings were euphoric. Marked down 7″ records being commonplace meant you could acquire the most amazing titles for a nickel or a dime. This single was one such find.

Her voice, great. The sound quality of these recordings, great. The subject matter, wow. So many Big Maybelle singles just reeked of sex. And comically presented. Surprisingly, Janis Joplin never nicked the idea, or more likely, conservative Columbia Records wouldn’t allow it.

I have to believe a sausage lyric version exists somewhere, with this cleaned up chicken take recorded specifically for the single, given ‘I’m Getting ‘long Alright’ was it’s A side.

Listen: My Big Mistake / Big Maybelle

‘My Big Mistake’, being formula bar room blues, allowed her to stomp and bully through the song in presumably very few takes. I recall hearing Fred Perry and Harry Fagenbaum play this straight into Mother Earth’s ‘Down So Low’ on their overnight college radio show, when underground album rock began overtaking the FM dial. WAER, Syracuse University’s student station gave all night shifts to nocturnal speed freak students who thankfully proceeded to pollute our ears with the wildest and most eclectic records around.

I bought Mother Earth’s LIVING WITH THE ANIMALS album the very next afternoon, a Sunday. We made our weekly trip to the SU campus, hanging around Discount Records or Record Runner on Marshall Street for hours, juggling what to buy. It became my purchase choice that weekend. Once home I discovered Mother Earth had modeled the majority of the album after Big Maybelle’s delivery style on records like ‘My Big Mistake’. maybe even that very song.

Linda Hopkins

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Listen: Higher And Higher / Linda Hopkins

Today, Linda Hopkins turns 88.

Discovered by Mahalia Jackson at age 11, then seeing Bessie Smith at the New Orleans Palace Theatre one year later in ’36 sent her on a path full of so many accomplishments. Read MOTHERIN’ THE BLUES: LINDA HOPKINS – THE CONTINUING LEGACY OF THE BLUES WOMAN. Wow, I was riveted.

In the early 60′s, she cut several sides with Jackie Wilson for Brunswick, which lead to some solo singles of her own for the label as well.

Although ‘Little By Little’ preceded swampier soul by a few years, it still retains a traditional manic juke jump chaos. Her full voice overpowers any of the tracks lack of swing, and miraculously, that perfectly recorded snare drum gets some nice loud spikes in the mix.

Howlin’ Wolf

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Listen: Do The Do /Howlin’ Wolf

Blues. It’s a funny genre, almost extinct, possibly musical days gone forever.

I used to be okay with an LP side of the blues, and one day, my pal Phil Ward told me he hates the blues, and I swear, I’ve never been able to hear it the same since.

Now the occasional song or side of a single, if intriguing, still pushes my button. The dirtier the better. Some of Bessie Smith’s records are so filthy, they make Lil’ Kim sound as ass licking safe as Sheryl Crow.

Even the raunchiest of small town southern, chitlin circuit stations would not have touched ‘Do The Do’, hence it being banished to a Howlin’ Wolf B side status.

In ’90, Betty Boo went to #7 in the UK with ‘Doin’ The Do’, an undeniably terrific pop single. But in the early 60′s, there was no chance of getting airplay on a song that, let’s be real, was all about oral sex. Yeah right, no one did it then……

All good, makes this one even more fun to have and hear. ‘Do The Do’ never made it to the box set, and God knows if it’s ever been included on a compact disc, as I believe they are called. I’m sure, as the majors scrape every last morsel to keep lights on in those corner offices, it’s been re-released.

But does it sound like the mono vinyl 7″ pressing above? No way.


Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Listen: Bloodstains On The Wall / Honeyboy
Bloodstains On The Wall / Homeboy

Blues singles are generally, well pretty similar. This coming from someone who has never claimed to study their intricacies, but more often, picked up on the ones that really caught my ear and enjoyed them in a different way. Essentially, getting lost in what life was truly like for the voice behind the recording became fascinating.

How did this guy live, and where, did he own a home, was it warm, what was the kitchen like, was it clean and have indoor plumbing, a record player, copies of his own records, did he have a family, did he love them, did they love him, how much could he really make touring, did he work odd jobs when off the traveling circuit, where, how much did his band make on tour, how the hell did they live when they got home, what type of vehicle did they all travel in, what were the hotels like, where did they do laundry, how often, where did they eat, what kind of food, did they stop at the Thruway restaurant near where I grew up, were they a mile or so away filling the tank with gas while I sat in my stroller or kindergarden class, did they drink, how the fuck did they feel the next day on long drives in uncomfortable smoke filled cars, did they get to shower often, see a dentist, ever meet Bessie Smith, was it all worth it?

Even more exotic is the answer to each and every one of those questions when it’s a female being listened to.

You see, suddenly the record can be filled with mystery and suspense. Try it sometime. Believe me, the blues will never sound the same again.

David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards is one of the last living beings that can answer every question above and more. He claims to have been present the night Robert Johnson drank that bad luck glass of poisonous liquor. Who can challenge that claim? Who would want to?

My guess is this guy has more stories than Marianne Faithfull. Imagine that.

In June, he’ll celebrate his 96th birthday. And guess what he’s doing to get ready for that. Touring:

Friday, January 28, 2011 – Regency Ballroom – San Francisco, CA
Saturday, January 29, 2011 – Renee & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall – Costa Mesa, CA
Sunday, January 30, 2011 – Anthology – San Diego, CA
Monday, January 31, 2011 – Campbell Hall at UCSB – Santa Barbara, CA
Tuesday, February 1, 2011 – TBA – Los Angeles, CA
Thursday, February 10, 2011 – Hill Auditorium – Ann Arbor, MI
Friday, February 11, 2011 – Orchestra Hall at CSO – Chicago, IL
Sunday, February 13, 2011 – MSU Riley Center – Meridian, MS
Thursday, February 17, 2011 – Music Center at Strathmore – North Bethesda, MD
Friday, February 18, 2011 – Berklee Performance Center – Boston, MA

No New York date? Road trip ahead.

Bessie Smith

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

bessie-smith-empty-us-a,bessie smith, janis joplin, columbia

Listen: Empty Bed Blues (Part 1) / Bessie SmithBessieSmithEmptyBed1.mp3

At the height of Janis Joplin’s popularity, Columbia realized they had the entire Bessie Smith catalog down in the basement of 51 W. 52nd Street just collecting dust. Janis had name checked her endless times in the press and on TV (Dick Cavett) as her primary influence. Us rabid fans couldn’t get hold of that first double reissue, ANY WOMAN’S BLUES, fast enough. I became obsessed with the first three songs on Side 2: ‘I’m Wild About That Thing’, ‘You Got To Give Me Some’ and ‘Kitchen Man’. They are primal and hilariously suggestive, just like Janis. I played them repeatedly. In fact, some of Janis’ vocal inflections are so similar – well it’s actually rather eerie. To my severe disappointment, none of the three made it to 7″ single, but just for fun (I’m assuming, as Columbia couldn’t possibly have thought a hit awaited), ‘Empty Bed Blues’ was indeed issued on the handy single format. Musically, the calamity of the noisy Salvation Army meets Dixieland band aside, it’s the voice that deserves close attention. Were Bessie Smith and Janis Joplin one in the same?