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Mr. James, do you think I'll ever be able to play the guitar the way you do?' And Skip James turns to him and he says, 'Son, Skip has been and gone from places you will never get to' - Greil Marcus, account of a conversation with a young acolyte in Skip's dressing room

Author Topic: SOTM - Nov. 21, 2015 - Looking for the Bully of the Town  (Read 1553 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM - Nov. 21, 2015 - Looking for the Bully of the Town
« Reply #15 on: November 25, 2015, 06:04:18 PM »
Hi all,
I really love this tune and thought it would be fun to give it a New Orleans kind of groove, with the "Spanish tinge".  Here goes, and Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
All best,

Offline frankie

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Re: SOTM - Nov. 21, 2015 - Looking for the Bully of the Town
« Reply #16 on: August 26, 2016, 03:39:21 AM »
That's a great take on this, John, and really puts it into new territory...  lots going on between and underneath the vocal!

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM - Nov. 21, 2015 - Looking for the Bully of the Town
« Reply #17 on: October 07, 2017, 05:19:59 AM »
I picked ?Bully of the Town? which had its start as a tin pan alley hit circa 1896.
Unusually, we can hear what this sounded like. May Irwin, who popularised the song, was still around in 1907 and had the right sort of voice for sound recording.

Like so many pre-blues, pre-jazz recordings from that time, it's performed by a white artist, and is replete with the n-word. But either you want to know the truth of history or you don't. My preference is for the truth. Besides, I don't believe these white singers were devoid of respect for blacks and their music. No doubt, they misunderstood. How could it be otherwise. And no doubt they accepted many stereotypes unquestionably. But they didn't know, and couldn't know what we know now.
« Last Edit: March 08, 2018, 06:14:47 AM by DavidCrosbie »

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM - Nov. 21, 2015 - Looking for the Bully of the Town
« Reply #18 on: March 07, 2018, 05:17:29 AM »
The book Nobody Knows Where the Blues Come From (a collection of writings by various authors discussing lyrics to early black songs) includes an interesting piece by Paul Oliver about "Lookin' for the Bully."

Oliver shows that the 'tin pan alley hit' was not an invention but a lifting from oral tradition.

He quotes WC Handy remembering how he wished to compose
Quote from: Handy
a down-home ditty fit to go with twanging banjos and yellow shoes
and recalling his time in St Louis in 1893
Quote from: Handy
Songs of this sort could be tremendous hits sometimes. On the levee at St Louis I had heard Looking for the Bully of the Town sung by roustabouts, which later was adopted and nationally popularized by May Irwin.

The explanation, Oliver relates, is that May Irwin happened to share a long train journey with a sports writer and horse-race judge called Charles Trevathan. He amused the people in the carriage by playing his guitar and performing a version of The Bully he'd picked up from some black singers in Tennessee. Irwin spotted a potential show-stopper and got Trevathan to write words for her.

At the same time that WC Handy was in St Louis, there was a grand 'sporting house' in the red-light district where the famous Tom Turpin played piano and the more obscure Mama Lou sang bawdy songs and more respectable numbers such as Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-Der-E, Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight, Who Stole the Lock and the bully song. [The clients probably paid more attention to the dancing girls with long skirts and no knickers dancing on a big mirror.]

Trevathan's song wasn't even the first version of the bully song to be published, but it was the most popular.

Some of this is repeated in the notes to this performance by somebody I previously knew as an author but not a performer: Elijah Wald

Wald reports some more recent research by Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff

Two cuttings from the Leavenwoth Herald
Quote from: November 1894
There are a great many Kansa City tramps called piano players in town.
Quote from: December 1894
Kansas City girls can't play anything on pianos except 'rags', and the worst kind of 'rags' at that. 'The Bully' and 'Forty Drops' are their favourites.

Abbott and Seroff add
Quote from: Out of Sight
This is the earliest-known printed reference to the word "rags" to indicate a particular type of music.

Trevathan's words for May Irwin seem to have been based on traditional lyrics. Oliver believes that the theme of a a black razor-wielding ruffian invading a dance continued in the Blues tradition as variations on the Razor Ball such as this song by Blind Willie McTell.

The tradition also leads to Howlin' Wolf

« Last Edit: March 08, 2018, 08:30:57 AM by DavidCrosbie »


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