27 June, 2010

"Poor Boy Blues" - Ramblin' Thomas

Set Three: Songs; Disc Two; Track One: "Poor Boy Blues" performed by Ramblin' Thomas. "Vocal solo with guitar." Recorded in Chicago in November, 1928. Original issue Paramount 12722A (21020-4).

Willard "Ramblin'" Thomas was born in Logansport, Louisiana in 1902. He was one of nine children. His father was a fiddle player. Thomas learned to play guitar as a child, along with two of his brothers: Joe and Jessie. Jessie "Babyface" Thomas would go on to be a professional bluesman who would perform until his death in 1995.

Willard Thomas moved to the Deep Ellum district in Dallas, Texas at some point during the late 1920s where he fell under the influence of Lonnie Johnson. In 1928, Thomas journeyed to Chicago where he recorded several tracks for Paramount Records, including this version of "Poor Boy Blues." Thomas recorded twenty-six sides for Paramount between 1928 and 1932, all of which were recorded in either Chicago or Dallas. The Depression seems to have ended Thomas' recording career as it did those of countless other musicians.

There is some disagreement on where Thomas acquired his "Ramblin'" nickname. Some claim that it derives from the "rambling" style of his songwriting. Others claim that it was due to his itinerant lifestyle. Apart from traveling between Chicago and Dallas for recording sessions, Thomas was also known to have performed in San Antonio, St. Louis, and in parts of Oklahoma.

Thomas reportedly died of tuberculosis in 1945. His exact birth and death dates remain unknown.

"Poor Boy Blues" is a traditional blues song of unknown origin. It has been recorded by numerous artists over the years, including Furry Lewis, Mississippi John Hurt, Booker Washington White, Howlin' Wolf, John Fahey, and the Black Keys, among others.

Poor boy, poor boy.
Poor boy long ways from home.

I was down in Louisiana,
Doing as I please.
Now I'm in Texas.
I got to work or leave.

Poor boy, poor boy.
Poor boy long ways from home.

If your home's in Louisiana,
What you doing over here?
Say my home ain't in Texas
And I sure don't care.

Poor boy, poor boy.
Poor boy long ways from home.

I don't care
If the boat don't never land.
I'd like to stay on water
As long as any man.

Poor boy, poor boy.
Poor boy long ways from home.

Poor boy, poor boy.
Poor boy long ways from home.

And my boat come a rockin',
Just like a drunken man,
And my home's on the water
And I sure don't like land.

Poor boy, poor boy.
Poor boy long ways from home.

Ramblin' Thomas' recording of "Poor Boy Blues" is a classic Paramount blues performance. Thomas' vocal delivery is lazy and laconic. He performs his homesick lament (with autobiographical content, considering that Thomas really was from Louisiana and moved to Texas) with just the right mixture of detachment and pathos. His guitar is allowed to do most of the crying for him, as Thomas makes excellent and evocative use of the slide technique. It is interesting that Thomas was recruited by Paramount in the wake of Blind Lemon Jefferson's success, yet Thomas' technique and style have more in common with Delta blues musicians (such as Tommy Johnson and Charlie Patton) than with Jefferson.

According to Smith's notes, "Poor Boy Blues" "and the next four selections are probably facets of a single folk-lyric complex."

The first song on the last disc of the original three-volume Anthology set, "Poor Boy Blues" is the third blues track in a row.

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Here's YouTube user daddystovepipe performing a wonderful rendition of "Poor Boy Blues."

Here's the late, great John Fahey performing an instrumental version of "Poor Boy."

Download and listen to Ramblin' Thomas - "Poor Boy Blues"

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