Tuesday, January 19, 2010

delanceyplace.com 1/19/10 - shoot a policeman

In today's excerpt - the blues were born in
the harshest economic and social
circumstances. And so the earliest blues
songs dealt with the harshest
themes. The very first blues song to be
recorded was "Crazy Blues" in 1920:

"In 1920, "Crazy Blues," the first blues
recording by a black
singer, was released. The song was composed
by Perry Bradford,
a black songwriter, bandleader, and promoter
with a background
in vaudeville who had moved from Alabama to
New York, the
capital of America's entertainment,
music-publishing, and
recording industries. Bradford persuaded Okeh
Records, one of
the smaller companies, that there was a
market for blues in the
black community. He would supply the song and
the singer,
Mamie Smith - a Cincinnati-born vaudeville
veteran who performed a wide range of
material that included blues - and would
organize the Jazz Hounds to back her up.
'Crazy Blues' was
structured like a popular tune with an
introduction and multiple
strains, but one of them was in the
twelve-bar form; the lyrics
dealt with heartbreak, desertion, and
revenge, culminating with
the singer's vow to get high on dope and
shoot a policeman. The
record became a smash, and Bradford would
later claim it sold
more than a million copies. Whatever its
actual sales figures, it
made other record companies take notice and
begin to sign blues
singers from the ranks of female vaudeville
stars. The larger
Columbia Records even released a rival
recording of 'Crazy
Blues' sung by Mary Stafford. When Columbia's
lawyer asked
Bradford to waive his publisher's royalties
in return for making his song famous.
Bradford wrote back that he didn't 'waive'
anything but the American flag. ...

"One of the first great folk-blues performers
to be recorded came

from Texas. Singer, guitarist, and composer
Blind Lemon

Jefferson recorded nearly a hundred blues
songs between 1926 and
1929. Jefferson had a strong voice that
easily traversed his two-octave
range; he attacked his guitar with long
staccato runs of notes,
almost constantly improvising and varying his
performances. He
sang about railroads, liquor, jails,
violence, extreme poverty, and
wild women, displaying a gift for startling
themes and novel
imagery that seemed to belie his blindness.
Growing up in rural
poverty in Wortham, Texas, Jefferson
performed for tips on the
streets of Dallas; by the height of his
recording career, he was
around the South in a chauffeured sedan,
having become a
household name in much of black America.
Jefferson's success
opened the door for many other blues
singer/guitarists to record
in the late 1920s and on through the 1930s,
and he set an almost

unapproachable standard that raised the level
of performance
throughout the genre. Among the many
guitarists he influenced
was Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly), who
performed several of
Jefferson's songs throughout his career.
Jefferson's playing would
also amaze and inspire such solo performers
as Lightnin' Hopkins,
who would adapt a somewhat simplified version
of Jefferson's
guitar style to the electric guitar in the
1940s, and T-Bone Walker,
would add more complex, jazzy harmonies to
Jefferson's foundation, applying it to the
electric guitar as a lead instrument in a
blues band. As a youth, Walker had been
Jefferson's 'lead boy' in Dallas, and from
the 1940s onward, Walker directly or
indirectly influenced almost every lead
guitarist in a blues band."

Robert Santelli, Holly George-Warren, Jim
Brown, editors, American Roots Music, Abrams,
Copyright 2001 by Ginger Group Productions,
Inc., and Rolling Stone Press, pp. 42-45.


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