Country Blues > SOTM - Song Of The Month

SOTM 09OCT2015 Crow Jane

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Old Man Ned:
When I hear Crow Jane performed I just think of a 'folk' song from way back.  I don't know how far 'way back' may be but Rev Gary Davis recalls (Red River Blues, Bruce Bastin) Willie Walker playing numbers like Crow Jane.  Given Rev Gary Davis was recalling playing with the string band which included Walker in and around 1911 it's probably not too presumptious to think of this tune being around  some time before that.

Let's start with a brief recording by Jack Owens recalling his uncle playing Crow Jane and follow it with Sonny Terry from the 1959 album, "The Blues with Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee on Folkways Records giving up Crow Jane in response to Studs Turkell's request for a 'cradle blues'.

The first recording of the song titled 'Crow Jane' was by Julius Daniels, recording in Atlanta, late October, 1927.  However, Bo Weavil Jackson (Sam Butler) recorded 'Pistol Blues' in Chicago, August 1926.  These a very similar tunes, but the only similarity in the lyrics comes with the first verse:

Julius Daniels:
Crow Jane, Crow Jane,
Why'd you hold your head so high,
You must remember,
You got to lay down and die

Sam Butler:
Crow Jane, Crow Jane,
What makes you hold your head so high
Ought to get ???
Got to let the ?men die

Julius Daniels plays 8 bar verses and 12 bar breaks.  Sam Butler starts off with 8 bar verse then goes    off into 13+ (?) bars.

Here's the tunes:

Jack Gowdlock's 'Poor Jane Blues' 8 bar going on 9? verse version was recorded  in Charlotte, NC, May 1931

Carl Martin's 12 bar version was recorded in Chicago, July 1935.

I love Carl Martin's playing on this.  It just sounds so relaxed.

Jumping a head a few decades, we pick up Skip James' version from 1967 for Danish TV.  Skip didn't record Crow Jane at his session at Grafton, in February 1931, so we can only guess if it was in his repertiore then and he didn't record it or whether he picked it up at a later date.  Whichever, it's a wonderful version, with a  terrific intro.  Plus, we are lucky enough to have a live filmed recording of Skip playing.  Lyrics are also presented in the clip (singalong is optional).

Moving onto the 1970's and Crow Jane is still being played.  Rev Gary Davis recorded this on Biograph, ?From Blues to Gospel? and Henry Johnson recorded a version for Baby Tate music in 1973 which I picked up as a single 45 for 50p in a second hand record shop many years ago.  Unfortunately I've not been able to locate a recording of either one of these to post, so please add if you find one.  The Henry Johnson version has been discussed on WC in another thread I believe.

More recent recording's are by John Dee Holeman and Algia Mae Hinton, having a ball on the porch in 1983:

and right, bang up to date, Jontavious Willis performing Crow Jane at Ft Payne Opera House Sept 19th 2015, playing out of G

While looking into this I did start to wonder who Crow Jane was or what the term represented.  For those interested there's a link to what may have been the origins of the term Crow Jane at:

Georgia Tom recorded a 'Crow Jane Alley' and Ida Cox 'Crow Jane Woman' which is less than complementory to a 'Crow Jane Woman'  Suffice to say, she's probably not the type of lady you'd bring home to meet your mother.

Crow Jane is a song that I've always thought of as fairly standard with respect to the format of the tune (8 bar blues played out of E in standard tuning).  Looking into to this a bit deeper for 'Song of the Moment' however has made me aware of the trap I'd fallen into of making assumptions about 'standard' tunes that, in reality, bring with them a great deal of variety with each different performer.

I still tend to think of Crow Jane as an East Coast tune and assume it had it's origins there, but this is only based on the number of  performers, (Sonny Terry, Rev Gary Davis, Julius Daniels, Jack Gowdlock, Carl Martin)  from the East that played Crow Jane and tunes such as Red River Blues (Josh White), Bye Bye Baby Blues (Blind Boy Fuller),  share a lot of similarities  to Crow Jane and are also  performed by  East Coast musicians.  Acknowledging there are other musicians not from the East that performed Crow Jane (Big Joe Williams) or used the form (Bo Carter, Trouble Blues).

Is this a fair assumption?  Look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts on this.
Hope you enjoyed the post, please add or correct anything I may have missed.

Alexei McDonald:
I hear the Sam Butler lines as:-

Ought to just remember
Got to live so long and die

Great post. One modern group that get a lot out of this song is the New Orleans jazz band Tuba Skinny:

Thanks for your choice of topic and the great introduction to "Crow Jane", Old Man Ned.  The video here is from the Vestapol video, "Legendary Country Blues Guitarists", and Henry Johnson comes on playing "Crow Jane" at the 5:20 mark.  At the very front end of the clip is Blind Connie Williams, who is a treat, too.  Here is the clip:

All best,

One-Eyed Ross:
Love the Jontavious Williams rendition.  Another great song for the SOTM.  I'd never heard most of these before today....good stuff!


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