29 March 2020

It's A Good Thing! – Podwireless Country Blues Classics


(This playlink is to Mixcloud streaming:  you can also download the podcasts from Podomatic )

If you’re a gnarly old blues mouldye fygge you’ll know and love all this music anyway (though you might enjoy having this couple of hours strung together to save you doing the shelf work). This isn’t really for you though. It started as a private cassette (!) compilation that I put together back in the last century when I realised that this music was falling off the radar of some younger friends, especially those going to UK folk clubs where country blues which had been a major element in the 1960s had virtually vanished off the radar. Then about a decade back I reassembled it all for a couple of CDRs to keep in the car.
So what is this that you’ll hear through the surface noise of ancient scratchy 78rpm records? It’s folk music but it’s also pop music, often dance music (artists like Charlie Patton could reputedly entertain dancing revellers all night, without amplification), mostly made for the African-American population in the southern USA between the mid 1920s and the onset of WWII – with the greatest concentration in the few years from 1927 to ’30 when the Great Depression slowed the fledgling recording industry. These were commercial records – often released on what were classified as ‘Race Records’ – of a newly emerged art form. Some of them were by older artists like Henry Thomas or Frank Stokes (sometimes classed as ‘songsters’) whose core repertoire harked back to earlier days in the previous century.

It’s mostly played on guitars, mostly by men (with the exception of Memphis Minnie, Lottie Kimbrough and Geeshie Wiley here), mostly by black men (other than Dock Boggs, Dick Justice and Frank Hutchison here) and it’s also music of the first generation who could be influenced by records and the radio as well as hearing other musicians in person. It’s the roots of later artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, who in turn became the inspiration for even later white ones like The Rolling Stones, Cream and ever onwards. It’s the deep roots of much rock music of the later 20th century and onwards.

On a personal note, you’ll hear loads here that profoundly influenced English folk club musicians of the 1960s generation – not just us blues boomers like myself, Jo Ann Kelly, Dave Kelly, Mike Cooper and all, but everybody through Davy Graham, Wizz Jones, John Renbourn and on to the people who created the classic English folk guitar styles like Martin Carthy (who always credits Big Bill Broonzy as a major influence on his thumb work). We were really lucky that quite a few of the original artists like Son House, Skip James, Bukka White, Big Joe Williams, Sleepy John Estes and more were still alive and came to the UK on tour so we could – sometimes literally – sit at their feet.

If you know my own repertoire down the years, you’ll hear lots of tunes, riffs, lines and verses, slapped strings, syncopation, foot pounding and bottleneck ideas that have entered my music by osmosis, even though the songs are no longer country blues in form and my accent stopped being a bad attempt at a southern US one way back in the early 1970s (full credit to our national folk treasure Shirley Collins for inspiring that change). “Cultural appropriation” hadn’t been invented as a Bad Thing back then: we just absorbed things which we heard, loved and struck a (loud, often open G!) chord.
Here’s hoping this opens a few more ears and is a tiny blow against the 21st Century English folk music occasional tendency towards twee!
And yes, it’s alphabetical. For some strange cosmic reason, it works!

1. Garfield Akers : Cottonfield Blues, Pt. 1 (1929)
2. Texas Alexander : Work Ox Blues (1928)
3. Kid Bailey : Rowdy Blues (1929)
4. Blind Blake : Georgia Bound (1929)
5. Barbecue Bob : Going Up The Country (1928)
6. Dock Boggs : Down South Blues (1927)
7. Big Bill Broonzy : Long Tall Mama (1932)
8. Willie Brown : Future Blues (1930)
9. Sleepy John Estes : Everybody Oughta Make A Change (1939)
10. Blind Boy Fuller : Lost Lover Blues (1940)
11. Bobby Grant : Nappy Head Blues (1928)
12. William Harris : Bullfrog Blues (1928)
13. Son House : My Black Mama, Part 1 (1930)
14. Peg Leg Howell : Skin Game Blues (1928)
15. Mississippi John Hurt : Spike Driver's Blues (1928)
16. Frank Hutchinson : Worried Blues (1926)
17. Skip James : Devil Got My Woman (1931)
18. Blind Lemon Jefferson : That Crawlin' Baby Blues (1929)
19. Robert Johnson : Terraplane Blues (1936)
20. Tommy Johnson : Big Road Blues (1928)
21. Blind Willie Johnson : It's Nobody's Fault But Mine (1927)
22. Little Hat Jones : Bye Bye Baby Blues (1930)
23. Dick Justice : Old Black Dog (1930)
24. Lottie Kimborough : Rolling Log Blues (1928)
25. Robert Lockwood Jr : Little Boy Blue (1941)
26. Tommy McClennan : Whiskey Head Woman (1939)
27. Blind Willie McTell : Searching The Desert For The Blues (1932)
28. Memphis Minnie : Nothing In Rambling (1940)
29. William Moore : Old Country Rock (1929)
30. Hambone Willie Newburn : Roll And Tumble Blues (1929)
31. Charley Patton : It Won't Be Long (1929)
32. Frank Stokes : It's A Good Thing (1929)
33. Johnnie Temple : New Louise Louise Blues (1937)
34. Henry Thomas : Don't Leave Me Here (1929)
35. Willie Walker : South Carolina Rag (1931)
36. Bukka White : Bukka's Jitterbug Swing (1940)
37. Geeshie Wiley : Last Kind Words Blues (1930)
38. Robert Wilkins : That's No Way To Get Along (1930)
39. Big Joe Williams : Baby Please Don't Go (1941)
40. Oscar Woods : Lone Wolf Blues (1936)

Many of these tracks are available in different combinations on multiple re-issue compilation CDs: check the catalogues of labels like Document, Yazoo, World Music Network, Indigo, Catfish. Particular thanks to the Origin Jazz Library re-issue LPs of the early 1960s which, after the legendary Folkways Harry Smith anthology, opened the ears of my generation to all this music. Really! The Country Blues.

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