Friday, April 10, 2015
Early this week I posted a collection of postwar risqué R&B called "Risky Blues". The two LPs presented here are contain more of the same type of ribald material, the bulk of it from the prewar era. Volume One and Volume Two were released on the Stash label in 1976 and 1984 respectively, and feature liner notes as reproduced below:
This album is a show piece in the blues continuum, described by Leroi Jones as moving from its birth in the post-Civil War period from a highly personalized amalgam of the work-shout and the spiritual through the country blues to the sophisticated evolvement of the city blues coincident with the great migration from the rural South to the urban North after World War I.
This olio of predominantly urban blues does not represent a focus on the tragic aspects of being black in America, but rather the strong counterforce of joy, uninhibited, unrestricted, to be found in sex . . . the one area of black life over which the ruling whites had no control. Raw, earthy, unabashedly direct and more explicit than innuendoed, these are the genre called the dirty blues.
The historic development of the blues, traces in music the social history of the Black American. Its evolution demonstrated more forcefully, perhaps, than any other phenomenon how a people are molded by environmental factors that override genetic influences.
That the direct sensuality expressed in these blues could be called “dirty” is a commentary on the sad quality of the lifeless puritanism of the Anglo- Saxon Protestant ethic against which American youth are moving today, but which Blacks rejected long ago, that is with the exception of upwardly striving Black bourgeoisie who wished to become carbon copies of the white masters. In fact, among the “respectables”, as St. Clair Drake points out in Black Metropolis, the blues was not even allowed in the house because it was considered lower class.
As Leroi Jones puts it, most succinctly the blues could not exist if the African captives had not become American captives” . . . song was a cushion against the chains of that captivity.
Here are rarities for the collector, not even mentioned in such anthologies and studies as Leroi Jones “Blues People”, Eric Sackheim’s “The Blues Line” and Phyl Garland’s “Soul Music”, they express no awareness of the artistry of Coot Grant, Johnny Temple and Lil Johnson, though all of them do note Tampa Red.
You can’t talk about the blues without the dancing. These songs came Out in a period when the dancing was as earthy as the music, if not more so. Rollin’ butt, dry fuckin’, the grind, dancin’ on a dime, the bump and the mess around — all names accurately describing the movements of the dance.
These songs bring to mind Small’s Paradise, dancing waiters, twirling their trays on one finger, Virgie At Dickie Wells, the after-hours joint, snatching rolled-up dollar bills off a table with her vaginal orifice — Amy Spencer was said to be able to pick a dime up with hers as the depression shortened the loot.
Much of the material on Harlem never saw the light of day. It was considered “too raw” for conservative tastes. Fortunately, realism and honesty, “telling it like it is”, “. . . or was” has opened the doors for depiction of a music coming from a background that was the backstage, back door and backseat of the U.S.A.
On SHAVE ‘EM DRY Lucille Bogan rolls out an unbowdlerized “stomp- down” whore-house song that makes the latest erotic limerick sound like the ladies finishing school poetry.
PREACHIN’BLUES opens with an unadulterated barrel-house piano that presages the boogie-woogie. Père Bechet (Pops), in his prime, slides in on the intro with his magnificent full-bodied soprano saxaphone. One almost wishes there’d be a full chorus of intro before the singer, Wilson Meyers, comes in and makes you forget the opening. Close listening will reveal the phenomenonally light, but distinctive and avant-garde touch, of the brushwork of Kenny “Kluke” Clarke who was later to join with Yardbird Parker and Diz Gillespie in creating BeBop.
DO YOUR DUTY is one all-around gas, with Bessie Smith vocalizing in top form against an all-star background. Integration (pardon the expression) was way out in front in music . . . Jelly Roll Morton had played with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in the Twenties and here Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden play in a mixed outfit in 1933 with the much underrated revolutionary trumpeter, Frankie Newton, lovingly haunted by the inspiration of “Pops”, the phenomenal and unique “Chu” Berry, a tenor sax tone as smooth as honey, Billy Taylor on string bass providing the background for Bessie and on this track it is clearly a labor of love.
DON’T YOU MAKE ME HIGH is worth listening to as a contrast to Maria Muldauer’s version with Benny Carter, the old pro, heading her back-up band. When it first came out in the late 30’s everybody in Harlem was singing the lyrics. Dig the little-known saxaphone of Buster Bennett and Big Bill Broonzy on guitar.
KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY MOJO brings to mind Timmy Roger’s saying, “Romance without Finance is a Nuisance” a witty short poem on the pursuit of alternative entrepreneurial modalities by folk barred from participation in mainstream society.
All the tracks deserve comment, but why not . . . dig it yourself on the rest?
Howard “Stretch“ Johnson
Howard Johnson, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Sociology at New Palz State University College, is intimately connected with the music and life of the 30’s. He, with his sister, Winnie, danced at the famous Cotton Club — described as the place where Broadway, Park Avenue, Hollywood and Harlem rubbed elbows . . . worked with Winnie and younger brother, Bobby in Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1936 and with Duke Ellington’s Revue in 1937.
1. Sidnet Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers-Preachin' Blues
2. Lil Johnson-Stavin' Chain (That Rockin' Swing)
3. Bessie Smith-Do Your Duty
4. Oscars Chicago Swingers-New Rubbin' On The Darned Old Thing
5. Lil Johnson-Press My Button (Ring My Bell)
6. Johnny Temple acc. by the Harlem Hamfats-Stavin' Chain
7. Merline Johnson (The YasYas Girl)-Don't You Make Me High
8. Lil Johnson-You Stole My Cherry
9. Bessie Smith-I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl
10. Coot Grant (Viola B. Wilson) and Kid Wesley Wilson-Get Off With Me
11. Tampa Red's Hokum Jug Band-My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)
12. Grant & Wilson-Keep Your Hands Off My Mojo
13. Jelly Roll Morton-Winin' Boy
14. Lucille Bogan (Bessie Jackson)-Shave 'Em Dry (second version, Unissued)
15. Bessie Jackson (Lucille Bogan)-Barbeque Bess
16. Georgie White-I'll Keep Sittin' On It (If I Can't Selll It)
Hayakawa, in his ground breaking essay on the nature of the blues, argues that mainstream popular songs tend to glamorize and idealize romance, while the lyrics of the blues deal with the subject on a much more realistic, down to earth level. However, in posing this polemic, Hayakawa overlooked what would have been the single biggest argument in his favor — the dirty blues, which describe the most basic aspect of human relations, intercourse itself, in a frank and open manner.
Even before the current rock era, wherein guitars serve as obvious phallic symbols and fornication is seemingly the sole subject of all lyricists, we find sexual subjects coming into popular music. The point of this album is to illustrate how sex, like drugs (see Stash ST1O1-106-117-118), was always part of the music scene. Until the ‘50s, however, one had to delve into the sounds of the various American subcultures to find these elements. But they were there all right, creeping up from the blues and into all other genres of the prerock era: dance music, personality and vocals, hillbilly and country music, and jazz.
An example of the latter, The Duck’s Yas-Yas opens this collection, much the same way it opened up the career of Duke Ellington’s fine trumpeter, Harold “Shorty” Baker. This track, like most on this album, is admittedly selected for it’s musical as much as it’s pornographic value. However, it’s metaphoric substitution of the term “Yas-Yas-Yas,” for an unmentionable part of the anatomy renders it suitable for inclusion. Again, like everything else on this album, it has never been issued on LP in this country (the one foreign LP it did turn up on being long out of print and our copy being a rare mint condition original 78).
From the metaphoric to the literal, Frankie and Johnny and Bye Bye Cherry are performed by an unknown singing cowboy who does a first rate impersonation of then rising western star Gene Autry (EDITOR'S NOTE, 2015: These recordings actually are Autry.). He performs these thoroughly filthy ballads with the heartfelt sincerity that was always Autry’s trademark, singing “bye bye” to his girlfriend’s “cherry” like a French soldier bidding “au revoir” to his “cherie.”
Next comes the first of two versions of the pornographic classic, Shave ‘Em Dry (aka I’m Gonna Shave You Dry). These provide the exact, 180 degrees opposite of the idealized love celebrated by tin pan alley tunesmiths. Usually, most performers of the erotic blues prefer to use humor and double entendres. For instance, the merchandise described in If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Keep Sittin’ on It, Before I Give It Away (heard on Stash 117) that turns out to be a chair (ha-ha!) and the “thing” that Ukelele Ike takes out in Take Out That Thing, turns out to be an insurance policy (take out a policy — get it?). On the other hand, Lucille Bogan and Walter Roland, the performers of both versions of both versions of Shave ‘Em Dry, and Claude Hopkins, their great jazz pianist, who leads his band through It’s Too Big Papa, prefer their entendres single, and explicitly so.
Take Out That Thing also illustrates how the “party” (meaning dirty) record market used superstar talent on it’s way up (such as an unnamed cowboy heard elsewere in this collection) and down, meaning Cliff Edwards. The once major vaudeville headliner and movie star was in fact reduced to recording pornography inbetween comebacks (in one of which he supplied the voice of “Jimminy Cricket,” in Walt Disney’s Pinnochio) to pay for his divorces and drugs.
We can’t be sure which of the great philosophers was the first to use the familiar felis catus as a code-word for the female sex organ, but Benjamin Franklin, who said “All cats are grey at night,” has to be somewhere in the running. In songwriting then, a surefire way to keep your audience amused is to gravitate between referring to the animal and the orifice. George Gershwin penned a tune late in his life called “Here Pussy Pussy Pussy Pussy . . .“ (supposedly Gertrude Stein’s pet name for Alice B. Toklas) in which he clearly means the house cat. But the Light Crust Doughboy’s Pussy Pussy Pussy, is open to either interpretation as is packed with great jazz solos besides. On the other hand, Pussy, by the up and coming British bandleader, Harry Roy, utilizes a strictly sexual connotation of the term (Roy being a sort of British alloy of Ted Lewis and Cab Calloway who not only jumped around a lot in front of his band, but played clarinet and alto, sang loudly and tap-danced). Not included in this album is Duke Ellington’s classic instrumental feature for Johnny Hodges, ultimately renamed Warm Valley but with an original title that listeners should be able to infer by now.
Somebody’s Been Ridin’ My Black Gal and She Squeezed My Lemon are by the under-recorded Chicago bluesman Art(hur) McKay, and further demonstrate the use of the substitution of an ambiguous slang term for a four letter word. Art could, in fact, be referring to any number of anatomical members as his “lemon.” The phrase “riding,” means “love making,” thereby giving new significance to the ‘30s movie gangster cliche “Take him for a ride!”
Clara Smith’s It’s Tight Like That (the phrase “tight” conveying a delightfully succinct reference to either sex, drugs or money) and the Hokum Boys’ It Feels So Good are variations on the same theme, the latter actually being more of a paraphrase of the former, which was a big race-record hit as recorded by Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Noone and others. Clara Smith is often described as having the nicest voice of all the Smith girls as well as the most interesting jazz accompaniments, and It Feels So Good spotlights the great jazz and blues guitar pioneer Lonnie Johnson and the composer of the popular standard I Ain’t Got Nobody, Spencer Williams.
A Bird In The Hand (as it was renamed on a later party-label records issue) depicts musically an X-rated male-female encounter set in a doctor’s office It’s very much a period piece (no pun intended) that uses then-prevalent radio techniques to paint a mental picture of such a scene. All in all, it reminds me of a story told by the mother of a friend of mine, who remembered, growing up in the ‘30s, the village idiot, who would read “girlie” magazines (referred in those innocent times as “f. .k Books”) to himself while chanting over and over “oh boy! oh boy! oh boy . .
We end with a second version of Shave ‘Em Dry, perhaps the single most explicit tune ever put on vinyl. The main thrust of the late ‘50s rock revolt to take this brand of material, performed with considerably less excitement, and move it out of the ghetto subculture and into the dominant children’s pop music scene — where it has remained ever since.
—Will Friedwald, 1983
1. Eddie Johnson and his Crackerjacks-The Duck's Yas Yas
2. unknown cowboy-Frankie And Johnny (dirty parody)
3. possibly Walter Roland; Lucille Bogan, aka Bessie Jackson-I'm Gonna Shave You Dry
4. Cliff Edwards, aka ''Ukelele Ike''-Take Out That Thing
5. The Light Crust Doughboys-Pussy, Pussy, Pussy
6. Art McKay-Somebody's Been Ridin' My Black Gal
7. The Clovers-Darktown Strutter's Ball (dirty parody, The Rotten C...S..ker's Ball)
8. Claude Hopkins and his Band-It's Too Big Papa
9. The Hokum Boys, Lonnie Johnson and Spencer Williams-It Feels So Good
10. unknown cowboy-Bye Bye Cherry (dirty parody of Bye Bye Blackbird)
11. Harry Roy and his Bat Club Boys-Pussy
12. Art McKay-She Squeezed My Lemon
13. possibly Butterbeans and Susie Edwards-A Bird In The Hand (real title unknown)
14. Clara Smith-It's Tight Like That
15. Bessie Jackson-Shave 'Em Dry