As advised elsewhere.
Detroit Blues Volume Two
Andrew Dunham HATTIE MAE*
Andrew Dunham SWEET LUCY*
Taylor & Dunham LITTLE BITTY WOMAN take 1
Andrew Dunham MAE LIZA take 2
Andrew Dunham I GOT A WOMAN
Sylvester Cotton UGLY WOMAN*
Andrew Dunham SHE LEFT ME
Andrew Dunham NEZEREE BLUES
Taylor & Dunham LITTLE BITTY WOMAN take 2
Sylvester Cotton BIG CHESTED MAMA BLUES take 1
Andrew Dunham I FOUND OUT
Sylvester Cotton WAY DOWN IN HELL
Sylvester Cotton SAK-RELATION BLUES *
Andrew Dunham MAE LIZA take 1
Andrew Dunham GENEVEE
All recorded in Detroit.
Sylvester Cotton vocal/guitar. December 28, 1948.
Andrew Dunham vocal/guitar. 1949.
Taylor vocal, Andrew Dunham guitar. Probably 1949.
Only those titles marked * have never been released before.
NOTE: Some titles have been dubbed with great care from seriously worn acetates.
The title of this compilation embodies a certain amount of poetic licence, for it cannot be stated with certainty that either of the two musicians featured along with Andrew Dunham was a friend of his; such are the obscurities and uncertainties of the Detroit blues scene in the late forties. What certainly links them is that Sylvester Cotton (who has an album of his own on Krazy Kat, KK 7422), Dunham and "Taylor" (which could be a given name or a surname, but is the only name we have for the vocalist on the takes of Little Bitty Woman") were recorded by Bernie Besman in 1948 and 1949. Where Cotton had three sides issued on 78 one of them, admittedly, credited to John Lee Hooker Dunham managed only a pair, in the shape of the first two titles on this album, which appeared on Sensation, to sink without trace. Dunham has a small measure of additional fame to his credit as the alleged accompanist to the inevitable Hooker on a number of recordings cut in 1951 and leased to Modern and Chess. It is possible that this was the case; I would observe only that there was a long gap between the recordings and the recollection of Dunham's presence on them, and that if it is indeed his guitar work, he seems to have acquired a great deal of discipline and comparative musical sophistication in a short time.
The compositions that appear here show Dunham to be a guitarist who infuses considerable aggression and tension into his music by means of heavy bass figures and the use of dissonant extensions in the treble register; he is well aware of the potential of amplification for adding to the effect. His singing, too, is energetic, often giving the impression of improvisation in melody and lyrics. The latter are overwhelmingly concerned with the man woman relationship, generally in a misogynistic vein, and often, one feels, with a good deal of suppressed violence lending weight.
The two issued titles can both be related to other commercial recordings, but could not be called cover versions. "Hattie Mae" bases itself on Johnny Temple's massive hit "Louise Louise Blues", but becomes characteristically Dunham's, the lyrics sounding like a plea composed spontaneously, and far away from the carefully crafted original. Dunham seems to be singing and playing to himself as much as to the departed Hattie Mae. "Sweet Lucy", on the other hand, is not a woman but a cheap brand of wine consumed by the "Sweet Lucy drinkin' woman" who is the song's subject. It relates loosely to Sonny Boy Williamson's "Whiskey Headed Blues" of 1938, incorporating also a verse of the Birmingham, Alabama theme "House Lady Blues", possibly originated by Jabo Williams, and recorded also by Walter Roland and Big Joe Williams (whose ramblings are known to have taken him to Birmingham around the early thirties). It may be that this represents a clue to Dunham's origins, although he could as easily have picked up the verse from records or elsewhere.
The two takes (if one can reasonably so describe two utterly different songs) of 'Little Bitty Woman" introduce us to the mysterious Taylor, who sounds rather nervous and short of verbal inspiration on the first version, a conventional boogie of the kind epitomised by Snooky Pryor and Moody Jones's "Boogie" recorded at about the same time. The second take is far removed from the first's good time dance music, with tense guitar runs on the treble strings and a strong lyric about a very edgy relationship. Andrew Dunham resumes the vocal duties for two fairly similar takes of "Mae Liza", a saga of lost love and infidelity, with powerful guitar - "Talk back to me!" says Dunham, seeking catharsis from the pounding bass figures and piercing treble. The line "What can I do to change your mind?" echoes, in both words and delivery, Big Maceo's "I Got The Blues", which he recorded in 1941. "I Got A Woman" maintains the atmosphere of sexual paranoia - "I sweep her yard when I'm leavin', there be no tracks around." Sure enough, there are footprints when he returns from work, the lover with whom his lady is cheating apparently not being a "tail dragger". "She Left Me" deals with one of the commonest subjects in blues, Dunham's woman having departed for Texas and being "high water bound", or possibly "Highwater bound", though the town is not on my map. "Nezeree" appears to be one of the few women Dunham gets on well with, being his friend when he has trouble with his regular girl, and renting him a room when he is evicted for arrears of rent. The song becomes rather confused, incorporating a hilarious address to "Corinne", and ends up with Andrew Dunham about to quit town in his turn, apparently because of problems with an underage girlfriend.
The staggeringly aggressive "I Found Out" attacks "Hastings Street women", the prostitutes of Detroit's black ghetto, with a quite extraordinary intensity that displays none of the understanding of William Moore's "One Way Gal"; but after all, that was originated by Mamie Desdoumes, "a blues singing poor gal" according to Bunk Johnson, who perhaps knew more about the whys and wherefores of the black prostitute's life than Andrew Dunham. The fairly lengthy, very introspective and surely autobiographical "Genevee" may contain a geographical reference to confuse the picture alongside those to West Virginia and South Carolina in "I Found Out", though whether I am correct in hearing him sing "Down in DekaIb in 1946" is uncertain. There are a number of DeKaIb Counties in the USA; in the light of the "House Lady" verse in "Sweet Lucy", it is interesting that one of them is about sixty miles northeast of Birmingham. Of rather more interest is the artistic impact of the song as a whole, which attempts to disguise under a layer of bravado a considerable amount of pain at separation from his son. The aggression of the accompaniment tells its own story, however.
A couple of other titles by Andrew Dunham exist, but were not included in this album. "I Only Want A Lover" is a version of Brownie McGhee and Buddy Moss's "Swing Brother Swing" (recorded in 1941), and an interesting choice of material, but of little musical merit, while "Drinkin' Wine" has severe surface noise and is not musically strong enough to justify an attempt to remaster it. The reported second take of "Nezeree Blues" is identical to the supposed first take.
The remaining tracks complete the issuing of the output of Sylvester Cotton. "Ugly Woman" was issued on 78, and one has to admit that stronger material was passed over. The song is interesting for its Piedmont feel, however, and together with "Cottonfield Blues" (see KK 7422) and the first take of "Big Chested Mama Blues", raises some (probably unanswerable) questions about whether Cotton travelled through that region, or picked up the style from records; my own feeling is for the latter, but it is largely a guess. The first attempt at a song in praise of larger women is pitched uncomfortably high, and for the second take (on KK 7422) Cotton changed key, tune and lyrics!
The tune of take two, interestingly, is the same as that used for "Sak-Relation Blues", also issued on 78, and like "Big Chested Mama" a vignette of Sylvester Cotton's sex life which might be considered to be the relaxed obverse, in its attitude to loose women, of "I Found Out". "Sak-Relation" displays some imaginative use of words - for a start, what is "sak-relation"? That's to say, while it's obvious what it's a euphemism for, is it Cotton's pronunciation of "sex relation", or a phonetic (mis)spelling of "sack relation", or simply part of a private language like Slim Gaillard's Vout? Don't think about it too hard; that way madness lies. The song is also notable for a wondrous pun on the sexual and normal meanings of "work":
I was with this woman a whole week, I couldn't work at all, (x 2)
Lord I was workin' so bad, I had to quit my job.
Finally, "Way Down in Hell", which may be an improvisation on a title suggested by the producer, deploys some original lyrics to the tune which, I have suggested in my notes to Cotton's album, seems to be reserved for his more improvisatory songs. It has been pointed out to me that the tune is closely related to that of "Come Back Baby", recorded by Walter Davis in 1940, and a sizeable hit at that time.
With these two albums, Krazy Kat has rescued twenty songs by Sylvester Cotton and eleven by or accompanied by Andrew Dunham from an unjustified obscurity. It has long been recognised that the postwar blues of Detroit were badly served on record at the time of their creation, and collectors and scholars have been labouring for many years to present the music which did find its way onto record. From now on, the picture of these two artists will look very different.
Chris Smith/August 1984.
Leslie Fancourt - John Lee Hooker, A Discography (Self published, 1982).
Dave Sax - Notes to United Artists UAS 29235 (nd).
Alan Lomax - Mister Jelly Roll (Cassell, 1952).
R.M.W. Dixon & J. Godrich - Blues & Gospel Records 1902-1943 (Storyville, 1982).
Mike Leadbitter and Neil Slaven - Blues Records 1943-1966 (Hanover, 1968).
Thanks to Alan Balfour and Bruce Bastin for instructive and constructive discussions.