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I love women but I'm not crazy about them - Sam Chatmon, sharing his personal views on relationships with a young John Miller

Author Topic: SOTM 01April2019 Big Road Blues  (Read 1162 times)

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Offline Old Man Ned

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SOTM 01April2019 Big Road Blues
« on: April 01, 2019, 09:16:29 AM »
For this months SOTM I've chosen Big Road Blues. Probably most associated with the great Delta musician Tommy Johnson whose long been a favourite of mine. First recorded by Tommy Johnson early 1928, I've posted this and a few other versions. I'm sure there are more out there. Please add and enjoy the different versions of this classic blues.

Here's Tommy Johnson's version

and an excellent clip of Sam Chatmon doing his own version. A similar accompanyment was used for the Mississippi Shieks 'Stop and Listen Blues' and there is another version, 'Stop and Listen Blues 9Brownskin Woman' out there on you Tube by Sam Chatmon

Close to the tommy Johnson and Sam Chatmon versions is K C Douglas

A couple of different approached from Big Maceo and Tampa Red

and Fred McDowell

Houston Stackhouse
on lead guitar & vocals, also with Robert Nighthawk on guitar was recorded
by George Mitchell in Dundee (Miss) 1967

I also came across this version by Mattie Delaney whom I know absolutely nothing

and finishing off with Babe Stovall's version which moves into a version of Careless Love

Hope you enjoy these version and find some more to add.

All the best,
Old Man Ned.

Offline Norfolk Slim

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Re: SOTM 01April2019 Big Road Blues
« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2019, 09:43:31 AM »
Thanks Ned. 

I first came across this song via Rory Block, maybe 20 years or more ago.  I hadn't at that stage, got very far in tracing things back to scratchy old records.   Been trying to play it badly ever since.

Here's a more recent video of Rory's very rhythmic version.

Offline lindy

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Re: SOTM 01April2019 Big Road Blues
« Reply #2 on: April 01, 2019, 10:00:42 AM »
Shirley Griffith recorded the song at least three times:

On this video Big Road starts at 2:56:

« Last Edit: April 01, 2019, 10:08:45 AM by lindy »

Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM 01April2019 Big Road Blues
« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2019, 10:00:56 AM »
Thanks, Old Man Ned, for your Song of the Month choice and the initial post.  Those are some great versions you put up there.  I think my favorite version is the very dynamic one from Willie Lofton, "Dark Road Blues".  Here it is:

All best,

Offline lindy

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Re: SOTM 01April2019 Big Road Blues
« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2019, 10:07:26 AM »
Also, Stefan Grossman's Guitar Video just today announced the release of a new instructional video of Tommy Johnson tunes, taught by David Evans ...

« Last Edit: April 01, 2019, 10:09:51 AM by lindy »

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM 01April2019 Big Road Blues
« Reply #5 on: April 02, 2019, 05:53:53 PM »
David Evans has written a short book on Tommy Johnson and a much longer book with the subtitle Tradition and Creativity in the Folk Blues. The book steadily narrows from blues to traditional blues to the tradition of the Delta town of Drew and the area nearby ? which includes Dockery's Plantation. Finally he narrows down to one song, the favourite of Tommy Johnson, which he makes the title of the book: Big Road Blues.

In his chapter on the song, Evans discusses Johnson's recordings, some commercial records influenced by him, and a number of field recording he made of family, friends, associates and others in that local 'Drew' tradition.

Of commercial recordings based on Johnson's song, the most popular was the Mississippi Sheiks' Stop and Listen. Although completely different in lyrics and mood, it was based on Tommy's tune and partly on his guitar accompaniment.

Sam Chatmon's Brownskin Woman (posted by Old Man Ned) is, according to Evans, a neat stitching together of the mood of Stop And Listen in the first verses with that of Big Road Blues as a contrast at the end.

There's a strange story that Tommy accepted money from the Sheiks at the time of their recording. If true, they might have acted out of gratitude or pity or fear that he might sue for royalties. Whatever the reason, it left Tommy (so the story goes) with the idea that he'd signed away his rights to record ever again.

Many of the singers that Evans recorded included verses from Stop and Listen when performing Big Road Blues ? in some cases claiming that they were singing just asTommy had performed it.

Some singers included verses from the version that John posted ? Willie Lofton's Dark Road Blues. And some verses were taken from Lofton's record Dirty Mistreater, which was not a copy of Big Road Blues but was clearly influenced.

Another commercial record of the time was by Mattie Delaney. At the time of writing, at least, Evans knew no more about her than Old Man Ned does. But he speculated that she may have been familiar with the 'Drew singers' in view of the odd similarity with Charlie Patton and Willie Brown songs and licks, and that the Tallahatchie River that she sang of flows only fifteen miles away from Drew. She recorded in Memphis.

Evans also cites JD Short's Sliding Delta, which shared one verse of Tommy Johnson's Sliding Delta ?  but to the tune of Big Road Blues.

« Last Edit: April 02, 2019, 06:26:19 PM by DavidCrosbie »

Offline taft

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Re: SOTM 01April2019 Big Road Blues
« Reply #6 on: April 05, 2019, 04:40:33 AM »
Tommy might have taken the "big road" line from Victoria Spivey's Arkansas Road Blues, recorded the previous year.

[don't know how to attach a sound file--maybe someone can help me on this]

Offline Thomas8

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Re: SOTM 01April2019 Big Road Blues
« Reply #7 on: April 05, 2019, 04:56:08 AM »
Nice catch, Taft! Lovely song as well.

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM 01April2019 Big Road Blues
« Reply #8 on: April 07, 2019, 07:31:39 AM »
David Evans was sure that the big road verse, like all the others, was traditional. He cites several other records, but none of them as early as the Victoria Spivey one.

The first thing that struck me on hearing Arkansas Road Blues is that the opening is the same distinctive tune as and similar words to the Jazz and Vaudeville standard Arkansas Blues. Victoria recorded this as an old lady, but it was one of the first tunes she learned on the piano before she was a teenager ? or for that matter a blues singer. In The Blues Come to Texas (expensive but worth it) she's quoted as telling Mack McCormick that she discovered the blues at age eleven or thereabouts when she heard Bessie Smith's  Gulf Coast Blues on a door-to-door salesman's gramophone. Her mother wouldn't let her buy a machine, so she taught herself Wang Wang Blues and Arkansas Blues from a neighbour's pianola. The she learned to play and sing in the Texas moaning style from a family friend.

Arkansas Road Blues sounds to me like clever combination of bits from other songs. The opening is like the chorus of Arkansas Blues.

The big road verse is similar in tune as well as text to the last verse of Texas Alexander's Farm Hand Blues.

According to Ishman Bracy, Tommy Johnson told a story of how he came to invent the big road verse at the end of a party when a girl wouldn't let him take her home. Implausible, but a useful way to connect with an audience.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2019, 05:07:01 PM by DavidCrosbie »


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