Fantastic article in today’s Sunday New York Times on the search for 1930s blues singers ‘Geeshie Wiley’ and ‘Elvie’ Thomas.
Below the excerpt are the songs the two women recorded in 1930 for Paramount Records.
John Jeremiah Sullivan writes:
IN THE WORLD of early-20th-century African-American music and people obsessed by it, who can appear from one angle like a clique of pale and misanthropic scholar-gatherers and from another like a sizable chunk of the human population, there exist no ghosts more vexing than a couple of women identified on three ultrarare records made in 1930 and ’31 as Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley. There are musicians as obscure as Wiley and Thomas, and musicians as great, but in none does the Venn diagram of greatness and lostness reveal such vast and bewildering co-extent. In the spring of 1930, in a damp and dimly lit studio, in a small Wisconsin village on the western shore of Lake Michigan, the duo recorded a batch of songs that for more than half a century have been numbered among the masterpieces of prewar American music, in particular two, Elvie’s “Motherless Child Blues” and Geeshie’s “Last Kind Words Blues,” twin Alps of their tiny oeuvre, inspiring essays and novels and films and cover versions, a classical arrangement.
Yet despite more than 50 years of researchers’ efforts to learn who the two women were or where they came from, we have remained ignorant of even their legal names.
Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, “Last Kind Word Blues”:
Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, “Motherless Child Blues”: (1930)
Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, “Skinny Leg Blues”:
Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas,” Pick Poor Robin Clean”:
Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, “Come On Over To My House”:
Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, “Eagles On A Half”:
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Found this great YouTube post. Tons of Delta blues tracks.
Delta Blues — 2 hours of Blues, 41 great tracks, the greatest stars of the Delta: Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Bo Carter, Son House, Elmore James, Robert Lockwood, Charley Patton, Mississippi John Hurt and many more!
00:00 – Elmore James – I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You
02:16 – Johnny Shines – Ramblin’
04:49 – Muddy Waters – Long Distance Call
07:31 – Charly McCoy – Motherless Blues
10:45 – Robert Lockwood – Little Boy Blues
14:00 – Robert Johnson – Milkcow’s Calf Blues
16:37 – Son House – My Black Mama
22:59 – Bo Carter – Banana In Your Fruit Basket
26:08 – Helen Humes – They Raided the Joint
28:34 – Bo Carter – The Law Is Gonna Step On You
31:17 – Charley Patton – Stone Pony Blues
34:10 – Mississippi Joe Calicott – Travelin’ Mama Blues
37:24 – The Mississippi Moaner – Mississippi Moan
39:53 – Ishmon Bracey – Trouble Hearted Blues
43:18 – Big Joe Williams – Stack O’ Dollars
46:33 – Big Joe Williams – Please Don’t Go
49:21 – Mississippi John Hurt – Stack O’ Lee
52:21 – Leadbelly – Duncan and Brady
56:28 – Memphis Minnie – He Is In the Ring
59:17 – Memphis Minnie – Me and My Chauffeur
01:02:25 – Mississippi Fred McDowell – Good Morning Little School Girl
01:05:04 – J.B. Lenoir – Mama Talk to Your Daughter
01:07:39 – Jimmy Dawkins – I Feel So Bad
01:12:51 – Mississippi Johnny Waters – Baby Don’t Treat Him This Way
01:15:06 – Robert Lockwood – Mean Mistreater
01:17:16 – John Lee Hooker — Landing Blues
01:20:44 – Elmore James – Standing At the Crossroads
01:23:33 – Big Joe Williams – Rootin’ Ground Hog
01:26:35 – Ishman Bracey – Trouble Hearted Blues
01:30:01 – Tommy Johnson – Canned Heat Blues
01:33:40 – Son House – Walkin’ Blues
01:40:21 – Robert Lockwood Jr – Little Boy Blue
01:43:26 – Blind Willie McTell – Stomp Down River
01:46:35 – Big Bill Broonzy – Mississippi River Blues
01:49:20 – Robert Johnson – Hellhound On My Trail
01:51:59 – Tommy Johnson – Cool Drink of Water Blues
01:55:35 – Sleepy John Estes – Hobo Jungle Blues
01:58:32 – Tommy McClennan – Highway 51
02:01:23 – Skip James – Devil Got My Woman
02:04:24 – Arthur Crudup – Black Pony Blues
02:07:48 – Bo Carter – My Pencil Won’t Write No More
Sonny Boy Williamson II performs “Nine Below Zero” at the American Folk Blues Music Festival in 1963. Introduced by Memphis Slim, with Otis Spann (piano), Matt Murphy (guitar), Willie Dixon (bass) and Billy Stepney (drums).
Led Zep singer and solo artist Robert Plant says he intends to start his own independent record label, which he will call YamYam345, according to an interview with The Telegraphwhich has been posted on Plant’s own website.
In Birmingham, England they call the folks who live in the nearby Black Country, “yam yams.” Plant is from the Black Country.
“I’m just having a laugh kicking ass,” Plant said of the label, without offering any information about it.
Plant remains a huge blues fan. “The blues was a formative thing for me,” he said during his interview with The Telegraph. “It’s a very commodious condition because everybody feels it from time to time. It’s still in the way I sing, just throwing it on a different canvas, I think. It’s an affliction, the flattened third. Thank God it is. I’m 65, I’m loaded with it.” Plant has a poetic turn of phrase that is a delight to listen to in his soft, just faintly perceptible Black Country accent. “The blues is a genre that’s now mostly something of a memory, really, in performance and artistry. But it carries on, it flickers through, it has its moments.”
Plant has started a new feature on his website, Robert Recommends, a playlist of music that Robert digs that you can listen to on his site.
The first playlist includes songs by Fairport Convention, Oum Kalthoum, Charlie Rich, PJ Harvey, John Lee Hooker, Colexico and others.
John Tefteller makes his living buying and selling records. In September he paid the most anyone has ever paid for a 78 RPM blues record. The record he bought was Tommy Johnson’s “Alcohol and Jake Blues.”
Why did he pay so much for an old blues 78?
“These original Paramount delta blues records have attained such a mythic status over the years, and there are loads of people who would love to buy one of these things, that it just becomes so legendary,” Tefteller told Fuse. ” When you actually see one for sale, which happens once or twice in a lifetime, you have to make a decision.
“It’s also historically extremely important because there are no masters on these records,” he continued. ” You think of modern-day records and there are master tapes that you can go back to and make new copies of. When you go back to these 1920s and ’30s blues recordings, this is it. The masters were destroyed years ago and there’s no way to recover them. The only way anyone is able to hear this stuff now is to search out an [original] commercial pressing. So when you find one of these blues records in really super nice condition, that’s an earth-shaking event in the record collecting world.”
Blind Willie Johnson had a voice that could burn the skin off your back. When he sang he might as well been gargling with rocks. He made Howlin’ Wolf sound like Frank Sinatra. His gospel recordings are legendary. Most famous, perhaps, is “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground,” or maybe “John The Revelator.”
“Johnson’s music was charred with purgatorial fire — more than sixty years later, you can still smell the smoke on it,” wrote Francis Davis in his book, “The History of the Blues.”
Now a tribute album is in the works. Tom Waits is contributing covers of two songs: “Soul of a Man” and the amazing “John The Revelator.” Lucinda Williams checks in with “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” the Cowboy Junkies recorded “Jesus Coming Soon,” and there are contributions from the Blind Boys of Alabama, Luther Dickinson, Rickie Lee Jones, Sinead O’Connor and more.
To fund the project, producer Jeffrey Gaskill is using Kickstarter. For more of the story, or if you’re interested in checking out what you get for what you give, head to this Kickstarter page.