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When I'd go see him he says 'Whenever I get up, if I live to get up, me and you gonna put out nothin' but gospel music... I done joined the church and don't wanna play no more blues.' I told him 'Okay' but I wasn't lookin' for him to get up - Sam Chatmon, on Lonnie's conversion

Author Topic: Sawmill Moan, Barrelhouse Man  (Read 280 times)

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Offline Thomas8

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Sawmill Moan, Barrelhouse Man
« on: September 13, 2020, 02:22:13 AM »
I was listening to Elzadie Robinson and couldn't help thinking about Ramblin' Thomas when I heard this song. I had it in my mind that "'Sawmill Moan" was a song we could never quite place as to where it came from. I think Ramblin' Thomas had this record because "Barrel House Man" sounds like "Sawmill Moan"  and on the other side of the record there's a track called "Sawmill Blues". I had never really made much of a comparison between Elzadie Robinson and Ramblin' Thomas vocally until now. Now I hear it in every song she sings!

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Sawmill Moan, Barrelhouse Man
« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2020, 09:10:49 AM »
My Gast is flabbered! Ramblin' really did nick the song from Elzadie, right down to his guitar accompaniment! Great performances both!

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sawmill Moan, Barrelhouse Man
« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2020, 12:18:07 PM »
That is some great musical detective work on your part, Thomas--thanks for that! You are certainly right. It's interesting to me that despite Ramblin' Thomas having pretty carefully copped most of the main musical ideas from the Elzadie Robinson performance, his performance sounds so much more exotic and weird. I suspect its because the harmonic sophistication of Elzadie's pianist accompanist (know who it is?) tends to smooth things out, as compared to Thomas' much more jagged and eccentric-sounding accompaniment. Interesting too, that he sounds to be most likely flat-picking and doing a little hybrid picking, or relying primarily on a thumb pick in his picking hand, doing all downstrokes, in any event. To paraphrase Prof Scratchy, my gob is smacked!
All best,

Offline Thomas8

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Re: Sawmill Moan, Barrelhouse Man
« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2020, 01:59:07 PM »
Why thank you :D Will Ezell's on piano. He also recorded it as an instrumental, and I found Roosevelt Sykes did it as well, though added his own set of lyrics making him the barrelhouse man I'm assuming he heard the Ezell recording and not Elzadie Robinson's but who knows.

Offline CF

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Re: Sawmill Moan, Barrelhouse Man
« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2020, 11:00:18 AM »
Great find and no surprise at this point. How many examples of these early acoustic blues numbers being reworkings of recently recorded "Classic Blues" titles are there and how many more to be detected? It's always interesting to hear these examples though, good ears!
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline jharris

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Re: Sawmill Moan, Barrelhouse Man
« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2020, 12:08:04 PM »
I'm actually doing a feature on Ezell for an upcoming radio show so this is very interesting. I'm guessing "Sawmill Moan" has something to do with the places Ezell and Robinson played at in the early years:

Ezell started playing in barrelhouses as an itinerant pianist in the early to mid-1910's. His June 1917 draft record places Ezell in New Orleans working as a self-employed musician. Over the next few years he continued to work at gin mills, rent parties and various labor venues, most notably the river sawmill camps of Louisiana and East Texas. These camps contained the origin of the barrelhouses, usually a shack made from a railroad box car that used barrels for tables. Such places also functioned as brothels and gambling dens, and the presence of a pianist also made it into a dance hall of sorts. I was during these wanderings in the early 1920's that Ezell reportedly teamed up on occasion with blues singer Elzadie Robinson. She came originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, and had performed through Eastern Texas and Louisiana, even up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, Missouri.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Sawmill Moan, Barrelhouse Man
« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2020, 06:30:57 PM »
This is a very cool connection, Thomas, thanks!

It occurs to me this is another musical relative of "Sloppy Drunk" must have been one of those themes like "44" that circulated among many piano players.



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