Monthly Archives: September 2020

Cajun interlude

Listening to the CDs that accompany American Epic, I was brought up short by “La Danseuse” by Delma Lachney & Blind Uncle Gaspard (1929)


I know that tune, I thought… it’s “Jeanine’s Dream” by the Holy Modal Rounders (Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber):

So of course I did a Google search, which landed me with this, from Last Forever’s 2013 album, No Place Like Home:




…and with a blog post from 2009 that I had forgotten (that link is worth clicking for the lyrics to “Jeanine’s Dream”). A bit more digging disclosed that the singer was Sonya Cohen, daughter of New Lost City Ramblers member John Cohen (and niece of Mike Seeger, Pete Seeger, Peggy Seeger). Alas, Sonya died in 2015.

So round and round we go, rediscovering forgotten music and being whirled into explorations of Cajun music. Another that nailed me is Blind Uncle Gaspard’s Sur Le Borde De L’Eau, of which Amanda Petrusich says

Whatever he’s communicating, it’s extra musical. It’s something in the tone of his voice, the way that he’s plays the guitar. It’s extraordinarily sad. When I try to imagine the circumstances that would lead someone to sing this way, it’s devastating.


And here’s Feufollet’s updated version, as full of sadness as the original.

diverted

Diverted

A lot of thought and experimenting has gone into the Finding Aids project lately, and I’m discovering how easily I can be diverted from the grander overall scheme of developing orderly summaries by things encountered along the way. Every Thing that one picks up has edges that potentially link to other Things, and I’m sometimes sidetracked by shiny somethings. A few days ago I started to explore the vastnesses of my American music holdings, and so I’m wrestling with the sliding panoply of genres that belong within “Music of the Nacirema” (blues, jazz, old timey, bluegrass, folk, etc. etc.). Pretty much every item spins out into another Story, a facet (or several) of the glorious complexity of a musical landscape that spans more than a century.

The epic of Stagolee is one such: a tale of Shakespearean scope and perennial fascination, based on an incident that took place in St. Louis in 1896, centered on a shooting over a John B. Stetson hat. There are hundreds of variants since the story was first published in 1911. Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians released an instrumental version in 1923, soon followed by Lovie Austin’s version with words in 1924, Ma Rainey’s (with Louis Armstrong’s cornet) in 1925, and Frank Hutchison’s in 1927. See the Wikipedia article for more detail, and enjoy the variety in these examples:

Hogman Maxey, Angola penitentiary, 1959:

Dr. John, 1972

Keb’ Mo’ from the film Honeydripper, 2008

Amy Winehouse, in Brazil 2011

Mikołaj Woubishet Wrocław, 2008

Grateful Dead, NY July 4, 1989


There are many possible readings of the story itself. See Bad-Ass Liberator, Singout!’s sanitized take, and a range of opinions via Mudcat.

Some of the quite different but similarly exemplary tunes that surfaced as I wandered in the Blues world are:

Bertha “Chippie” Hill’s “Pratt City” (Louis Armstrong, cornet) (1926):

Pratt City, is where I was born
Pratt City, is where I was born
If you get to there, you can get your water on

Get full of high‑powered liquor, it's bound to make him scream
Get full of high‑powered liquor, it's bound to make him scream
Going back to Pratt City, if it takes nice and mean

You walk Sandusky, keep your head hung down
You walk Sandusky, keep your head hung down
Don't worry hot papa, I'm driftrack bound

There’s a 1929 version on Spotify:

Pratt City, is where I was born
Pratt City, is where I was born
If you get to there, you can get your water on

Get full of high‑powered liquor, on eighteenth street
Get full of high‑powered liquor, on eighteenth street
Going back to Pratt City, get sick nice and neat

You walk Sandusky, keep your head hung down
You walk Sandusky, keep your head hung down
Don't worry hot papa, I'm driftrack bound

Pratt City girls should do treat you right
Pratt City girls should do treat you right
With those Birmingham girls, drink with you day and night


Hogman Maxey’s “Duckin’ and Dodgin'” (1959, recorded by Harry Oster in Angola penitentiary):

Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas’ “Last Kind Words” (1930):

The last kind words I heard my daddy say
Lord, the last kind words I heard my daddy say
If I die, if I die in the German war
I want you to send my body, send it to my mother, lord
If I get killed, if I get killed, please don't bury my soul
I p'fer just leave me out, let the buzzards eat me whole
When you see me comin' look 'cross the rich man's field
If I don't bring you flour I'll bring you bolted meal
I went to the depot, I looked up at the stars
Cried, some train don't come, there'll be some walkin' done
My mama told me, just before she died
Lord, precious daughter, don't you be so wild
The Mississippi river, you know it's deep and wide
I can stand right here, see my babe from the other side
What you do to me baby it never gets outta me
I may not see you after I cross the deep blue sea

…and see The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie (John Jeremiah Sullivan)


Lonnie Johnson’s “To Do This, You Got To Know How”

(see how it’s played by Josh Baum)

Ma Rainey’s “Prove It On Me Blues”

Went out last night, Had a bad big fight 
Everything seemed to go on wrong
I looked up, to my surprise
The gal I was with was gone.
Where she went, I don't know
I mean to follow everywhere she goes;
Folks say I'm crooked. I didn't know where she took it
I want the whole world to know.
They say I do it, ain't nobody caught me
Sure got to prove it on me;
Went out last night with a crowd of my friends,
They must've been women, 'cause I don't like no men.
It's true I wear a collar and a tie,
Makes the wind blow all the while
Don't you say I do it, ain't nobody caught me
You sure got to prove it on me.

Say I do it, ain't nobody caught me
Sure got to prove it on me.
I went out last night with a crowd of my friends,
It must've been women, 'cause I don't like no men.
Wear my clothes just like a fan
Talk to the gals just like any old man
Cause they say I do it, ain't nobody caught me
Sure got to prove it on me.

…and see more backstory

Skip James “Hard Times Killing Floor Blues” (original 1931, this version 1967)

Hard times is here and everywhere you go
Times are harder than ever been before
You know that people, they are are driftin' from door to door
But you can't find no heaven, I don't care where they go
People, if I ever can get up off of this old hard killin' floor
Lord, I'll never get down this low no more
When you hear me singin' this old lonesome song
People, you know these hard times can last us so long
You know, you say you had money, you better be sure
Lord, these hard times gon' kill you, just drag on slow

Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” goes around the world:

overpowering

Radie Peat of the Dublin band Lankum is a powerful singer in a matchless band:


Hares on the Mountain

What Will We Do If We Have No Money

Katie Cruel

Live at WGBH: Wild Rover, Rocky Road to Dublin, Bear Creek

Hunting the Wren


from the comments of viewers:

Wrens were desperate women of Ireland who during the famine had no other way to live besides prostituting themselves to English soldiers. They lived outdoors in literal burrows roofed over with gorse. They clubbed together as a band for protection because they were treated with such derision by everyone else.

Sharp is the wind
Cold is the rain
Harsh is the livelong day
Upon the wide open plain

By Donnelly's hollow
Under sod, gorse and furze
There lies a young wren oh
By the saints she was cursed

The wren is a small bird
How pretty she sings
She bested the eagle
When she hid in its wings

With sticks and with stones
All among the small mounds
They come from all over
To hunt the wren on the wide open ground

They flock round the soldiers
In their jackets so red
For barrack room favours
Pennies and bread

The soldier is rough
In anger or fun
And he causes much bloodshed
With his big musket gun
 
They’re birds of the earth
The beasts of the field
By spite and by fury
Are people revealed

Attacked in the village
Spat on in town
They come from all over
To hunt the wren on the wide open ground

The wren is a small bird
Though blamed for much woe
Her form is derided
Wherever she goes

With cold want and whisky
She soon is run down
Her body paraded
On a staff through the town

Her head for her ceiling
The sod was her floor
She chose the cold open plain 
Cold open plan o'er
The dark workhouse door

With two broken wings
And feathers so brown
They come from all over
To hunt the wren on the wide open ground