Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Spike Driver Blues" - Mississippi John Hurt


Set Three: Songs; Disc Two; Track Ten: "Spike Driver Blues" performed by Mississippi John Hurt. "Vocal solo with guitar." Recorded in New York on December 28, 1928. Original issue Okeh 8692 (W401488).

For biographical information on Mississippi John Hurt, see the entry for "Frankie."

For the ballad of John Henry and information on the historical John Henry, see the entry for "Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand."

Take this hammer and carry it to my captain. Tell him I'm gone.
Tell him I'm gone. Tell him I'm gone.
Take this hammer and carry it to my captain. Tell him I'm gone.
Just tell him I'm gone. I'm sure is gone.

This is the hammer that killed John Henry, but it won't kill me.
But it won't kill me. But it won't kill me.
This is the hammer that killed John Henry, but it won't kill me.
But it won't kill me. Ain't gonna kill me.

It's a long ways from east Colorado, honey, to my home.
Honey, to my home. Honey, to my home.
It's a long ways to east Colorado, honey, to my home.
Honey, to my home. That's where I'm gone.

John Henry he left his hammer layin' side the road.
Layin' side the road. Layin' side the road.
John Henry he left his hammer all over in rain.
All over in rain. That's why I'm gone.

John Henry was a steel drivin' boy but he went down.
But he went down. But he went down.
John Henry was a steel drivin' boy but he went down.
But he went down. That's why I'm gone.


"Spike Driver Blues" is the third of five work songs in a row. "Spike Driver Blues" is a song of protest. The worker in this song is throwing his hammer down and leaving the exhausting and dangerous work of driving steel spikes with a hammer (often between nine and twelve pounds). This song makes frequent references to the folkloric figure of John Henry, whose story is told is greater detail in the entry for the Williamson Brothers and Curry's recording of "Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand" on the "Ballads" volume of the Anthology. Here, Henry is invoked - not as a hero who raced the steam drill and won - but as a workingman's martyr. The speaker in this song has no interest in dying with his hammer in his hand. He's going home.

Work songs were often sung by convicts toiling in labor camps, so the fantasy of presenting the captain with their hammers and going home would be very appealing. Even when the workers were not actual convicts, many were simply prisoners of circumstance, lacking the economic independence to quit their back-breaking work.

As in the case of Hurt's performance of "Frankie," "Spike Driver Blues" is performed in a gentle, almost conversational tone. The guitar is beautifully played. This stands in stark contrast with the two raucous Uncle Dave Macon recordings that precede it.

The Shameless Plug Department: The sixth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is finally up! It's an all fiddle episode featuring fiddle tunes from both black and white artists, as well as three tracks from the Middle East! Also available on iTunes! Subscribe today so you don't miss a single episode. It's free and it doesn't hurt. Who can ask for more?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Remember that I host "Doin' The Thing," a weekly jazz program on KRML 1410 AM and 94.7 FM in Carmel, California. The show airs from 8 PM to 10PM (Pacific Time) on Sunday nights. You can also listen online by visiting the KRML website at 8 PM Pacific, 11 PM Eastern Time. Please tune in and give me feedback!

Here's Mississippi John Hurt himself in what appears to be a late '50s or early '60s television appearance (with Pete Seeger, no less) performing a version of "Spike Driver Blues."



Here's bryand79 performing a lovely and faithful version of "Spike Driver Blues."



Download and listen to Mississippi John Hurt - "Spike Driver Blues"

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Buddy Won't You Roll Down The Line" - Uncle Dave Macon


Set Three: Songs; Disc Two; Track Nine: "Buddy Won't You Roll Down The Line" performed by Uncle Dave Macon. "Vocal solo and banjo - guitar by Sam McGee." Recorded in Chicago on July 25, 1928. Original issue Brunswick 292.

For biographical information on Uncle Dave Macon, see the previous entry on "Way Down The Old Plank Road."

According to Smith's notes, "Buddy Won't You Roll Down The Line," along with the previous selection, "Way Down The Old Plank Road," and the three songs that follow, are classified as "work songs" because "they are structurally adapted to responsive chanting by gang workers." Smith notes that "the performances in the present set have been given accompaniments and somewhat 'refined', but the characteristic leader and chorus pattern survives."

Field recordings of work songs performed by laborers and prisoners were made by John and Alan Lomax (among many others) and are available on such releases as Prison Songs (Historical Recordings From Parchman Farm 1947-48), Vol. 1: Murderous Home.

Uh, oh! Comin' up hard!

Way back yonder in Tennessee, they leased the convicts out.
They worked 'em in the coal mines against free labor stout;
Free labor rebelled against it. To win it took some time.
But while the lease was in effect, they made 'em rise and shine.

Oh, buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Yonder come my darlin', comin' down the line.
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Yonder come my darlin', comin' down the line.

Every Monday morning they've got 'em out on time.
March 'em down to Lone Rock, said to look into that mine.
March you down to Lone Rock, said to look into that hole
Very last word the captain say, "You better get your coal."

Oh, buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Yonder come my darlin', comin' down the line.
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Yonder come my darlin', comin' down the line.

The beans they are half done, the bread is not so well.
The meat it is as burnt up and the coffee's black as heck.
But when you get your task done, you'll gladly come to call.
Anything you'd get to eat it taste good, done or raw.

Oh, buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Yonder come my darlin', comin' down the line.
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Yonder come my darlin', comin' down the line.

The bank boss is a hard man, a man you all know well.
And if you don't get your task done, he's gonna give you hallelujah!
Carry you to the stockade, and it's on the floor you'll fall.
Very next time they call on you, you bet you'll have your coal.

Oh, buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Yonder come my darlin', comin' down the line.
Buddy, won't you roll down the line
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Yonder come my darlin', comin' down the line.


The first verse of "Buddy Won't You Roll Down The Line" makes direct reference to the Coal Creek Rebellion of 1891. Beginning in the mid-19th century, it was common practice in the state of Tennessee to lease convicts to private companies as cheap labor, allowing the companies to pay for the care and feeding of the convicts. According to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture,

On July 14, 1891, miners launched a series of guerrilla attacks at Briceville in Anderson County. In the initial confrontation, three hundred miners surrounded the stockade, took charge of the forty prisoners, marched them and their guards five miles to Coal Creek (now Lake City), sealed them in boxcars, and shipped them to Knoxville. The miners requested the intervention of Governor John P. Buchanan to protect the rights of labor. Buchanan agreed to meet with the miners, but ordered three companies of state militia to restore order and return the convicts to Briceville. In his meeting with the miners, Buchanan advised them to seek justice through the courts. When the miners repeated their action on July 20, Buchanan agreed to call a special session of the legislature to consider the issue of convict leasing.

It wasn't until 1893 that the Tennessee legislature agreed to construct a new prison and put an end to the practice of convict leasing, once the lease expired in 1896.

The rest of the song is a description of convict life as the men are forced to work in the mines and submit to brutal discipline.

As on the previous selection, Macon plays a spirited banjo part and is joined by Sam McGee on guitar. McGee also sings on the choruses. Macon was fond of including both historic and topical references in his songs.

There are two references in the song to getting one's "pole," which I imagine is something commonly used in coal mining, although I haven't been able to find any confirmation of that.

One amusing detail in this song is Macon's reluctance to use the word "hell" in a song. In two verses, he sets up rhymes that lead the listener to believe that Macon is going to end the line with the word "hell," but Macon quickly (and humorously) substitutes another word ("heck" in one verse and "hallelujah" in another). This reminds me of a "play song" I heard in elementary school where swear words are substituted with innocuous sound-alike words. The only words I can remember are

...you son of a
Beech Nut chewing gum, five cents a pack.
If you do not like it, then shove it up your
Ask me no more questions, I'll tell you no more lies.


If anyone remembers this song or chant, or any variations thereon, please leave a comment below.

The Shameless Plug Department: The sixth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is finally up! It's an all fiddle episode featuring fiddle tunes from both black and white artists, as well as three tracks from the Middle East! Also available on iTunes! Subscribe today so you don't miss a single episode. It's free and it doesn't hurt. Who can ask for more?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Remember that I host "Doin' The Thing," a weekly jazz program on KRML 1410 AM and 94.7 FM in Carmel, California. The show airs from 8 PM to 10PM (Pacific Time) on Sunday nights. You can also listen online by visiting the KRML website at 8 PM Pacific, 11 PM Eastern Time. Please tune in and give me feedback!

Here's a video of guitarist Jody Stecher performing a version of "Buddy Won't You Roll Down The Line." He also teaches you how to play the song yourself!



Download and listen to Uncle Dave Macon - "Buddy Won't You Roll Down The Line"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Way Down The Old Plank Road" - Uncle Dave Macon


Set Three: Songs; Disc Two; Track Eight: "Way Down The Old Plank Road" performed by Uncle Dave Macon. "Vocal solo and banjo with guitar by Sam McGee." Recorded in New York on April 14, 1926. Original issue Vocalion B15321 (53).

David Harrison Macon, better known as Uncle Dave Macon or The Dixie Dewdrop, was born on October 7, 1870 in Smartt Station, Tennessee to Confederate Captain John Macon and Marsha Ramsey. In 1884, the family relocated to Nashville, Tennessee where Macon's parents ran the Old Broadway Hotel, a frequent stop for vaudeville and circus performers. In 1885, Macon learned to play the banjo from a circus comedian named Joel Davidson. In 1886, Macon's father was murdered outside the hotel. Macon's mother sold the hotel and moved the family to Readyville, Tennessee where she ran a stagecoach stop. Macon entertained passengers with his banjo on a home-made stage.

Macon married in 1889 and settled on a farm near Kittrell, Tennessee where he raised his family, which came to include six sons. Around 1900, Macon started his own business, a freight company called The Macon Midway Mule and Wagon Transportation Company which ran between Murfreesboro and Woodbury, Tennessee. Macon often sang and played banjo at stops along the way. In time, his sons joined the business, but competition from automobiles forced Macon to close down his business in 1920.

Macon began his professional musical career in 1921 when he played a local Methodist church benefit show. He was discovered by Marcus Loew in 1923 while performing for a group of Shriners in Nashville. Loew hired Macon to perform at a Loew's Theater in Alabama, which quickly lead to more bookings. At the age of 50, Macon embarked on a career as a touring entertainer.

On July 8, 1924, Macon cut his first records for Vocalion. The records proved popular, and Macon recorded prolifically into the late '30s. He also made recordings for Okeh and Bluebird. In 1925, Macon met guitarist Sam McGee who would become Macon's performing partner, and was also a member (along with brother Kirk McGee and Mazy Todd) of Macon's band The Fruit Jar Drinkers.

On December 26, 1925, Macon made his debut on the recently formed WSM radio station, soon to be home of the Grand Ole Oprey. Macon remained a regular presence on WSM and frequent guest on the Grand Ole Oprey for the next twenty-six years. In 1940, Macon appeared in the Republic Pictures film The Grand Ole Oprey, along with Oprey founder George D. Hay, Roy Acuff, and Macon's son Dorris, who was acting as Macon's accompanist at the time. The late 1940s found Macon touring with Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs, although Macon was not personally impressed with the new Bluegrass style.

Macon continued to perform regularly until March 1, 1952, when his health began to fail. He died on March 22, 1952 in Murfreesboro. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966 and his son, Dorris, along with Sam and Kirk McGee, continued to appear on the Grand Ole Oprey was the Fruit Jar Drinkers until the early '80s. A monument has been erected to Macon's memory, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee hosts "Uncle Dave Macon Days" each year, featuring contests of clogging, buck dancing, fiddling, singing, and banjo picking.

Macon is one of the oldest performers to be featured on the Anthology and is often cited as the link between old time folk and vaudeville music and modern country music.

"Way Down The Old Plank Road" is a song about life on a chain gang.


Hot dog, buddy let's go!

Rather be in Richmond in all the hail and rain,
Then for to be in Georgia, boys, wearing that ball and chain.

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Whoooo!

I went down to Mobile for to get on the gravel train.
Very next thing they heard of me, had on a ball and chain.

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Whoooooo!

Doney, oh dear Doney, what makes you treat me so?
Caused me to wear the ball and chain and now my ankles sore.

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Glory hallelujah, there!

Knoxville is a pretty place, Memphis is a beauty,
If you want to see them pretty girls, hop to Chattanoogie.

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Glory hallelujah, there!
Fare you well, I'm gone!

I'm going to build me a scaffold on the mountain high,
So I can see my Nora (?) girl as she goes riding by.

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Whooo!

My wife died a Friday night, Saturday she was buried,
Sunday was my courting day, Monday I got married.

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Kill yourself!

Eighteen pounds of meat a week, whiskey here to sell.
How can a young man stay at home, pretty girls look so well?

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Whooooo!
Fare you well!


"Way Down The Old Plank Road" is a perfect introduction to the force of nature that was Uncle Dave Macon. Although in his 50s when he began his career as a professional performer, Macon performs with the verve and energy of a man half his age. Characteristic of Macon's style, along with his exuberant banjo picking, were shouts, asides and stomping feet. Indeed, Macon stands out as by far the greatest showman on the Anthology.

"Way Down The Old Plank Road" tells no story and only alludes to the chain gang (with references to "wearing the ball and chain") rather than being an explicit prisoner's lament (unlike several of the tracks which appeared earlier on this disc). Instead, Macon alternates references to the chain gang with unrelated floating verses. The fifth verse contains a similar lyric to that which opens Clarence Ashley's recording of "The Coo Coo Bird."

One of the best moments in this recording is Macon's cry of "Kill yourself!" following the humorous verse about the speaker's widowhood and rapid remarriage.

This is the first of two Uncle Dave Macon recordings in a row. Two more Uncle Dave Macon recordings appear on the "lost" fourth volume of the Anthology.

The Shameless Plug Department: The sixth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is finally up! It's an all fiddle episode featuring fiddle tunes from both black and white artists, as well as three tracks from the Middle East! Also available on iTunes! Subscribe today so you don't miss a single episode. It's free and it doesn't hurt. Who can ask for more?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Remember that I host "Doin' The Thing," a weekly jazz program on KRML 1410 AM and 94.7 FM in Carmel, California. The show airs from 8 PM to 10PM (Pacific Time) on Sunday nights. You can also listen online by visiting the KRML website at 8 PM Pacific, 11 PM Eastern Time. Please tune in and give me feedback!

Here's the Lost Mountain String Band performing a version of "Way Down The Old Plank Road."



Download and listen to Uncle Dave Macon - "Way Down The Old Plank Road"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"C'est Si Triste Sans Lui (It Is So Blue Without Him)" - Clemo Breaux with Joe Falcon and Ophy Breaux


Set Three: Songs; Disc Two; Track Seven: "C'est Si Triste Sans Lui (It Is So Blue Without Him)" performed by Clemo (Cléoma) Breaux with Joe Falcon and Ophy Breaux. "Vocal solo with accordion, guitar." Recorded in Atlanta on April 18, 1929. Original issue Columbia 40508F (W110551).

For biographical information on Cléoma Breaux, see the entry on "Le Vieux Soulard Et La Femme." For biographical informatiom on Joseph Falcon, see the entry on "Acadian One Step." For information on Ophy Breux (and the other Breaux brothers), see the entry for "Home Sweet Home."

"C'est Si Triste Sans Lui" is the last Cajun track on the original three volume Anthology.

Le seul homme j’aimais
Il m’a quitté moi toute seule.
Pour s’en aller avec une autre que moi.
Oh, moi j’prends ça si dur.
Moi j’prie jour et nuit pour il s’en revienne avec moi.

Moi j'vois pas quoi j'ai fait
Pour qu'il me quitte dans tous les chagrins.
Il m'a dit que j'l'avais perdu, ont jamais oublier.
J'ai tant prie jour et nuit pour lui s'en revienne avec moi.

Quand il a quitté la maison
Il m’a dit de l’observer.
Pourtant moi j'avais fait, pouvais donc jamais l'oublier.
Il m'a dit d'attacher le crepe noir sur la porte
Parce que lui il aurait jamais revenu.


The only man I have loved
He has left me all alone.
To go off with another than me
Oh, my great drama, it's so hard,
I pray day and night he'll return to me.

I don't know what I did
To make him leave me with all this grief.
He told me that I've lost him and he will never remember me.
I pray so much day and night that he will return to me.

When he left the house
He told me to look at him.
But I could never have forgotten.
He told me to tie a black crepe on the door
Because he will never return.


Hearkening back to the "unhappy love" theme of much of the previous disc, "C'est Si Triste Sans Lui" tells the story of a girl abandoned by her lover. The song's sentimental lyric is completely subverted by the raucous performance which features Cléoma Breaux on vocal and guitar, Joe Falcon on accordion, and Cléoma's brother Ophy on a barely audible fiddle (not listed on the original label, even though Ophy Breaux is credited). "C'est Si Triste Sans Lui" was recorded in Atlanta, Georgia on April 18, 1929, the day before Falcon and Breaux recorded "Acadian One Step."

Falcon and Breaux appear on more tracks than any other Cajun musician on the Anthology.

The Shameless Plug Department: The sixth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is finally up! It's an all fiddle episode featuring fiddle tunes from both black and white artists, as well as three tracks from the Middle East! Also available on iTunes! Subscribe today so you don't miss a single episode. It's free and it doesn't hurt. Who can ask for more?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Remember that I host "Doin' The Thing," a weekly jazz program on KRML 1410 AM and 94.7 FM in Carmel, California. The show airs from 8 PM to 10PM (Pacific Time) on Sunday nights. You can also listen online by visiting the KRML website at 8 PM Pacific, 11 PM Eastern Time. Please tune in and give me feedback!

Paul Daigle, Jesse Lege and friends play a dance at the 2007 Augusta Heritage Center's Cajun/Creole week in Elkins, WV.



Download and listen to Clemo Breaux with Joe Falcon and Ophy Breaux - "C'est Si Triste Sans Lui"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" - Blind Lemon Jefferson


Set Three: Songs; Disc Two; Track Six: "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" performed by Blind Lemon Jefferson. "Vocal solo with guitar." Recorded in Chicago in February, 1928. Original issue Paramount 12608B (20374-1).

For biographical information on Blind Lemon Jefferson, see the entry for "Rabbit Foot Blues."

Possibly the grimmest track on the Anthology, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" is a set of detailed burial instructions.

Well, there's one kind favor I'll ask of you.
Well, there's one kind favor I'll ask of you.
Lord, there's one kind favor I'll ask of you.
See that my grave is kept clean.

It's a long lane that's got no end.
It's a long lane that's got no end.
It's a long lane that ain't got no end.
It's a bad wind that never change.

Lord, there's two white horses in a line.
Well, there's two white horses in a line.
Well, there's two white horses in a line.
Well, they're taking me to my burying ground.

My heart stopped beating and my hands got cold.
My heart stopped beating and my hands got cold.
Well, my heart stopped beating, Lord, my hands got cold.
It's a long old story that the Bible told.

Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Then you know that the poor boy is in the ground.

Oh, dig my grave with a silver spade.
Well, dig my grave with a silver spade.
Well, dig my grave with a silver spade.
You may lead me down with a golden chain.

Have you ever heard them church bells toll?
Have you ever heard them church bells toll?
Have you ever heard the church bells toll?
Then you know that the poor boy's dead and gone.


Recorded a little over a year before Jefferson's death at his last recording session, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" is arguably Jefferson's masterpiece and is unquestionably his greatest contribution to the blues canon.

The first track since "Poor Boy Blues" to stray from the theme of the prison, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" is the epitome of a thread that runs through all three volumes of the Anthology. From the very first disc, many songs have dealt with the subject of death and several have featured instructions on the disposal of the body after death. Other songs that have included burial instructions or have referred to burial or internment are "Henry Lee," "Fatal Flower Garden," "The Butcher's Boy," "Old Dog Blue," "Le Vieux Soulard Et Sa Femme," and "Country Blues." None of these songs, however, are as detailed as "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean." Jefferson not only describes the manner in which he wants to be buried (grave dug with a silver spade, casket lowered with a golden chain), but also refers to the sound of the coffin being nailed shut and the death knell. The entire song is a memento mori, a reminder that we are all mortal and that death awaits us.

While such thoughts seem grim or morbid by today's standards (and edge dangerously close to Greil Marcus's fanciful interpretation of the Anthology as a wealth of the strange and uncanny), it should be remembered that in ages past death was far more commonplace. Before the advent of inoculation against such diseases as smallpox and polio, most individuals had experienced at least one death in their immediate family and likely many more in their circle of friends, acquaintances and neighbors. Once upon a time, graveyards with located right outside the local church and were a common sight on a daily basis. When Jefferson asks the listener if he's ever heard a coffin sound or a church-bell toll, it's a largely rhetorical question. Most people in Jefferson's audience would have indeed heard such things, and quite often, too. Death was a household figure, and its familiarity would have bred a relatively resigned attitude to it.

The Shameless Plug Department: The sixth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is finally up! It's an all fiddle episode featuring fiddle tunes from both black and white artists, as well as three tracks from the Middle East! Also available on iTunes! Subscribe today so you don't miss a single episode. It's free and it doesn't hurt. Who can ask for more?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Remember that I host "Doin' The Thing," a weekly jazz program on KRML 1410 AM and 94.7 FM in Carmel, California. The show airs from 8 PM to 10PM (Pacific Time) on Sunday nights. You can also listen online by visiting the KRML website at 8 PM Pacific, 11 PM Eastern Time. Please tune in and give me feedback!

Here's the king of New York City cool, Lou Reed hisself, performing a feedback drenched version of "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" from The Harry Smith Project.



Here's B.B. King performing a modern take on "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean."



Here's a version by Peter, Paul, and Mary (with Japanese subtitles).



This is a version performed by Mavis Staples...



Download and listen to Blind Lemon Jefferson - "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean"

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Prison Cell Blues" - Blind Lemon Jefferson


Set Three: Songs; Disc Two; Track Five: "Prison Cell Blues" performed by Blind Lemon Jefferson. "Vocal solo with guitar." Recorded in Chicago in February, 1928. Original issue Paramount 12622B (20388-2).

For biographical information on Blind Lemon Jefferson, see the entry for "Rabbit Foot Blues."

"Prison Cell Blues" is the last of four songs in a row to deal with prisons.

Getting tired of sleeping in this lowdown lonesome cell.
Lord, I wouldn't have been here if it had not been for Nell.

Lay awake at night and just can't eat a bite.
Used to be my rider but she just won't treat me right.

Got a red-eyed captain and a squabbling boss.
Got a mad dog sergeant, honey, and he won't knock off.

I'm getting tired of sleeping in this lowdown lonesome cell.
Lord, I wouldn't have been here if it had not been for Nell.

I asked the government to knock some days off my time.
Well, the way I'm treated, I'm about to lose my mind.

I wrote to the governor, please turn me a-loose.
Since I don't get no answer, I know it ain't no use.

I'm getting tired of sleeping in this lowdown lonesome cell.
Lord, I wouldn't have been here if it had not been for Nell.

I hate to turn over and find my rider gone.
Walking across my floor, Lordy, how I moan.

Lord, I wouldn't have been here if it had not been for Nell.
I'm getting tired of sleeping in this lowdown lonesome cell.


Magnificently performed a little over a year before Jefferson's untimely death, "Prison Cell Blues" is the straightforward lament of a convict. The only thing that requires explanation is the expression "rider." A "rider" was a girlfriend or sexual partner. "Riding" is one of the most common euphemisms for the sex act found in the blues of this period (others are "grinding" and "balling the jack").

In his notes, Smith points out that the long runs at the end of each line are typical of the Texas and Louisiana vocal style. He also notes that "the device used in this song of reversing the line order of the first verse to produce the final line" was still frequently employed by blues musicians in the early 1950s.

"Prison Cell Blues" is the second of three songs by Jefferson to appear on the Anthology and the first of two songs by Jefferson in a row. The next selection is perhaps Jefferson's most famous composition, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean."

The Shameless Plug Department: The sixth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is finally up! It's an all fiddle episode featuring fiddle tunes from both black and white artists, as well as three tracks from the Middle East! Also available on iTunes! Subscribe today so you don't miss a single episode. It's free and it doesn't hurt. Who can ask for more?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Remember that I host "Doin' The Thing," a weekly jazz program on KRML 1410 AM and 94.7 FM in Carmel, California. The show airs from 8 PM to 10PM (Pacific Time) on Sunday nights. You can also listen online by visiting the KRML website at 8 PM Pacific, 11 PM Eastern Time. Please tune in and give me feedback!

Unable to find a video featuring a performance of "Prison Cell Blues" (Steve Earle performs it in The Harry Smith Project, but it is not available online), we substitute a version of Jefferson's "One Dime Blues" performed by frankie12string.



Download and listen to Blind Lemon Jefferson - "Prison Cell Blues"

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Ninety-Nine Year Blues" - Julius Daniels


Set Three: Songs; Disc Two; Track Four: "Ninety-Nine Year Blues" performed by Julius Daniels. "Vocal solo with guitar." Recorded in Atlanta on February 19, 1927. Original issue Victor 20658B.

Little is known about Julius Daniels. He was born on November 20, 1901 in Denmark, South Carolina. Nothing is known of his early life or how he got involved in music. He is considered one of the pioneers of what later became known as the "Piedmont blues," a style of blues playing indigenous to the Southern states on the East Coast (ranging from Richmond, Virginia to Atlanta Georgia). It gets its name from the Piedmont Plateau, a geographical region that covers the Appalachian Mountains between New Jersey and Alabama. The Piedmont blues is characterized by a unique style of fingerpicking. As described on Wikipedia:

[T]he Piedmont fingerstyle...is characterized by a fingerpicking approach in which a regular, alternating thumb bass string rhythmic pattern supports a syncopated melody using the treble strings generally picked with the fore-finger, occasionally others. The result is comparable in sound to piano ragtime or later stride.


The term "Piedmont blues" was coined by folklorist and record producers Peter B. Lowry and Bruce Bastin. Other notable Piedmont blues artists include Blind Willie McTell, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Pink Anderson (after whom the band Pink Floyd was named), Blind Blake, Scrapper Blackwell, Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Boy Fuller, Bo Weevil Jackson, and Josh White, among others.

Julius Daniels recorded only a few sides during his short musical career. In 1930, he relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina where he spent the rest of his life. Among the jobs he worked in his later years, Daniels was a firefighter. He died on October 8, 1947 of unknown causes.

"Ninety-Nine Year Blues" tells the story of an unfortunate young man's experiences within the United States judicial system.

Ah, bring me my pistol, three rounds of ball.
Gonna kill everybody whipped the po' boy 'long.
Po' boy 'long, po' boy 'long, po' boy 'long.

On a Monday I was arrested, on a Tuesday I was tried.
Judge found me guilty and I hung my head and cried.
Lord and cried, Lord and cried, Lord and cried, Lord and cried.

"Judge, what'll be my fine?"
Says, "A pick and a shovel way down Joe Brown's coal mine."
Coal mine, coal mine, coal mine, coal mine, coal mine.

"Be light on me, judge, I ain't been here before."
"Give you ninety-nine years, don't come back here no more."
No more, no more, no more, no more, my Lord.

"Be light on me, judge, ain't been here before."
"Give you ninety-nine years, don't come back here no more."
No more, no more, my Lord.


A beautifully performed blues song, "Ninety-Nine Year Blues" is the third song in a row to deal with the theme of the prison. Of the three, it is the first to make crime and punishment the whole story of the song. It is a simple story: The speaker begins the song by describing a vengeance-fueled killing spree. Brought before the judge, the speaker is sentenced to ninety-nine years of hard labor in a coal mine. What makes this recording remarkable is not the story itself, but how the story is told: The beautifully complex fingerpicking (reminiscent of Mississippi John Hurt's version of "Frankie") and the gentle, almost conversational, manner in which Daniels sings the song.

In his notes, Smith points out several other song that deal "with the same images" as "Ninety-Nine Year Blues." Among them are Robert Johnson's "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" and Booker White's "Parchman Farm Blues," both of which appear on the "lost" fourth volume of the Anthology.

Smith also points out that Gus Cannon's song "Viola Lee Blues" (later covered by the Grateful Dead) has "some lines in common" with "Ninety-Nine Year Blues." Today, "Ninety-Nine Year Blues" is viewed as a possible source for "Viola Lee Blues."


The Shameless Plug Department: The sixth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is finally up! It's an all fiddle episode featuring fiddle tunes from both black and white artists, as well as three tracks from the Middle East! Also available on iTunes! Subscribe today so you don't miss a single episode. It's free and it doesn't hurt. Who can ask for more?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Remember that I host "Doin' The Thing," a weekly jazz program on KRML 1410 AM and 94.7 FM in Carmel, California. The show airs from 8 PM to 10PM (Pacific Time) on Sunday nights. You can also listen online by visiting the KRML website at 8 PM Pacific, 11 PM Eastern Time. Please tune in and give me feedback!

Here's a version of "Ninety-Nine Year Blues" performed by a group calling themselves Vegetablemen.



Download and listen to Julius Daniels - "Ninety-Nine Year Blues"

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"Country Blues" - "Dock" Boggs


Set Three: Songs; Disc Two; Track Three: "Country Blues" performed by "Dock" Boggs. "Vocal solo with banjo." Recorded in New York on March 9, 1927. Original issue Brunswick 131A (96).

For biographical information on Dock Boggs, see the entry for "Sugar Baby."


Come all you good time people,
While I've got money to spend,
Tomorrow might be Monday
And I'll neither have a dollar nor a friend.

When I had plenty of money, good people,
My friends were all standing around,
Just as soon as my pocket book was empty,
Not a friend on earth to be found.

Last time I seen my little woman, good people,
She had a wine glass in her hand;
She was drinking down her troubles
With a low-down sorry man.

Oh, my daddy taught me a-plenty, good people;
My mama, she taught me more.
If I didn't quit my rowdy ways,
Have trouble at my door.

I wrote my woman a letter, good people;
I told her I's in jail.
She wrote me back an answer
Saying "Honey, I'm a-coming to go your bail."

All around this old jailhouse is hainted, good people;
Forty dollars won't pay my fine.
Corn whisky has surrounded my body, poor boy,
Pretty women is a-troubling my mind.

Give me corn bread when I'm hungry, good people;
Corn whiskey when I'm dry;
Pretty women a-standing around me;
Sweet heaven when I die.

If I'd a-listened to my mama, good people,
I wouldn't have been here today;
But a-drinking and a-shooting and a-gambling,
At home I cannot stay.

Go dig a hole in the meadow, good people,
Go did a hole in the ground.
Come around all you good people
And see this poor rounder go down.

When I am dead and buried
My pale face turned to the sun,
You can come around and mourn, little woman,
And think the way you have done.



"Country Blues" is a variant of the song "Darling Cora." One version of the lyrics to "Darling Cora" is as follows:

Wake up, wake up, Darlin' Corey.
What makes you sleep so sound?
Them revenue officers a-commin'
For to tear your still-house down.

Well the first time I seen Darlin' Corey
She was settin' by the side of the sea,
With a forty-four strapped across her bosom
And a banjo on her knee.

Dig a hole, dig a hole, in the medder
Dig a hole, in the col' col' groun'
Dig a hole, dig a hole in the medder
Goin' ter lay Darlin' Corey down.

The next time I seen Darlin' Corey
She was standin' in the still-house door
With her shoes and stockin's in her han'
An' her feet all over the floor.

Wake up, wake up Darlin Corey.
Quit hangin' roun` my bed.
Hard likker has ruined my body.
Pretty wimmen has killed me mos' dead.

Wake up, wake up my darlin';
Go do the best you can.
I've got me another woman;
You can get you another man.
Oh yes, oh yes my darlin'
I`ll do the best I can,
But I`ll never take my pleasure
With another gamblin' man.

Don` you hear them blue-birds singin'?
Don` you hear that mournful sound?
They`re preachin' Corey`s funeral
In some lonesome buryin' groun'.


"Country Blues" is the second song in a row to make reference to prison. It is essentially a warning song. The speaker in this song describes himself as a "rounder" who drinks, shoots and gambles. He finds himself in prison and predicts a melancholy end to his dissolute existence. The biggest difference between "Country Blues" and "Darling Cora" is that in "Darling Cora," Cora (a gun-toting, moonshining woman) lives the dissolute life that leads to her death. In "Country Blues" it is the speaker himself. There are several lyrics in "Country Blues," however, that are clearly drawn directly from "Darling Cora."

The burial instructions in "Country Blues" are mirrored in several songs on the Anthology, including "Fatal Flower Garden," "The Butcher's Boy," and "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean."

Boggs is frequently cited as one of the first white performers to fully integrate the blues (a primarily black style in the early days of the 20th century) into his music. While "Country Blues" is certainly not an example of the traditional blues form, it does contain blues themes. One might even argue that by switching the song's point of view to a first person account of the speaker's troubles, Boggs transformed the song from a traditional mountain ballad into something more modern.

The Shameless Plug Department: The sixth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is finally up! It's an all fiddle episode featuring fiddle tunes from both black and white artists, as well as three tracks from the Middle East! Also available on iTunes! Subscribe today so you don't miss a single episode. It's free and it doesn't hurt. Who can ask for more?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Remember that I host "Doin' The Thing," a weekly jazz program on KRML 1410 AM and 94.7 FM in Carmel, California. The show airs from 8 PM to 10PM (Pacific Time) on Sunday nights. You can also listen online by visiting the KRML website at 8 PM Pacific, 11 PM Eastern Time. Please tune in and give me feedback!

Here's a version of "Country Blues" performed on ukulele.



Here's a version of "Darling Cora" performed on banjo.



Download and listen to Dock Boggs - "Country Blues"