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Author Topic: SOTM January 2019: Cow Cow Blues  (Read 967 times)

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Online Johnm

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SOTM January 2019: Cow Cow Blues
« on: January 01, 2019, 03:20:32 PM »
Hi all,
For the January, 2019 Song of the Month I have selected Cow Cow Davenport's "Cow Cow Blues".  The song is unusual in that Davenport's instrumental version of it was used as the basis for other songs or instrumentals with altogether different names, as we shall see.

Here is the version recorded by Cow Cow Davenport, an Alabaman, himself:

Here is a souped-up version by Meade Lux Lewis:

Here's a version with vocal by the singer Dora Carr:

The very under-rated Mississippi pianist Louise Johnson did the song as "On The Wall".  Boy, it's great!

Here's an instrumental version by the Mississippi Mud Steppers, with Charlie McCoy playing what sounds to be a banjo-mandolin on "Jackson Stomp":

And here is Bo Carter incorporating Cow Cow's tune into the solo of his "Cigarette Blues", played in Vestapol:

Any other versions of "Cow Cow Blues" out there, or songs that stole Cow Cow's tune?

All best,
« Last Edit: November 26, 2019, 06:35:30 AM by Johnm »

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: January, 2019 Song of the Month: "Cow Cow Blues"--Cow Cow Davenport
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2019, 06:32:05 PM »
Memphis Slim recorded it several times, including this informal recording at the home of  British enthusiast Francis Wilford-Smith

And here's surprisingly successful harmonica version by Jed Davenport

« Last Edit: January 01, 2019, 07:07:08 PM by DavidCrosbie »

Offline Thomas8

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Re: January, 2019 Song of the Month: "Cow Cow Blues"--Cow Cow Davenport
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2019, 05:06:37 AM »
Arggh, beat me to Jed Davenport. Roosevelt Sykes did it a few times, though much like Pinetops boogie (Boot That Thing) he seems to claim the piece as his own and calls it "The Cannonball" which I've always found strange as the stories I've heard seems to paint him as a modest honest kind of fellow. I love his vocals on this, so laid back:


I also know how much my fellow Weenies ADORE the kazoo :P so here's something, ermmm, different :D

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: January, 2019 Song of the Month: "Cow Cow Blues"--Cow Cow Davenport
« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2019, 10:03:07 AM »

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: January, 2019 Song of the Month: "Cow Cow Blues"--Cow Cow Davenport
« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2019, 12:29:03 PM »
There's more to be heard of Charlie McCoy.

He seems to have liked the tune, but not the title. Here he is singing the song as That Lonesome Train Took My Baby Away in 1930 ? at the same time and place as the Mississippi Mud Steppers' Jackson Stomp.

Twelve years later, his brother Joe recorded the song under yet another name: It Ain't No Lie. It's now in a Chicago style accompanied by Chicago stalwarts Ransom Knowling and Washboard Sam. B&GR records list the mandolin player as 'probably Charlie McCoy'. Well, the style is different from 1930 Mississippi, and it's just possible that Joe got some Chicago musician to imitate his brother. But it seems much more likely that Charlie had moved with the times.

« Last Edit: January 02, 2019, 04:05:08 PM by DavidCrosbie »

Offline eric

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Re: January, 2019 Song of the Month: "Cow Cow Blues"--Cow Cow Davenport
« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2019, 05:00:07 PM »
Not pre-war, but I've always admired this arrangement by Duck Baker on his 1975 Kicking Mule release.

Offline iantonionni

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Re: January, 2019 Song of the Month: "Cow Cow Blues"--Cow Cow Davenport
« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2019, 03:59:34 AM »
Deford Bailey recorded Cow Cow Blues as The Davidson County Blues in 1928, although he seems to have always called it Cow Cow Blues. Here's a lovely recording made at his home in 1973.

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: January, 2019 Song of the Month: "Cow Cow Blues"--Cow Cow Davenport
« Reply #7 on: January 06, 2019, 07:30:21 PM »
As Max Haymes remarks in Railroading Some, Cow Cow Davenport recorded the song four times either as a pianist (solo or accompanying) or as a singer ? but never both on the same record.

Maybe the record company had a problem with the title, but when he sang it (with Sammy Price on piano and Teddy Bunn on guitar) he called it Railroad Blues. It's the same song as he recorded with Dora Carr, but with more verses, as he doesn't break for piano solos.

Quote from: Railroad Blues
Lord, I woke up this morning, my gal was gone
Fell at my bedside, hung my head and moaned
Went down the street, Lord, I couldn't be satisfied
I had those railroad blues, but I was just too mean to cry

Some say she left on that Seabord, some said it was the W&A
I don't care what train it was carried my gal away
Starch my jumper, iron up my overalls
I'm gonna ride that train, boy  they call the Cannonball

She leaves Cincinnati 'bout five o'clock
Y' ought to see that fireman get those boilers hot
First time she blows she blows in Bowling Green
Next time she blows, get ready to stop in New Orleans

She blows in Louisville half past seven
Blows in Decatur 'bout half past eleven;
Blows in Birmingham just about half past four
At five o'clock you see me, knocking at my best gal's door

She says come in here Daddy, where you been so long?
Baby, I've been in Cincinnati doing that Sally Long
Sally Long me and Eagle Rock me too
Ain't nobody been here can rock me like Papa Cow Cow do

As I read it there are three railroad journeys ? two of which may be the same.
  • his gal's journey on an unknown line to an unknown(?) destination
  • a journey (same as 1?) via Bowling Green to New Orleans
  • the long journey from Cincinnati to Birmingham

The structure is one of two-couplet verses to fit the sixteen bar melody. This means that the text can be shortened by taking couplets from different verses.

Dora Carr does this so that she can omit the fireman couplet and omit Louisville and Decatur from her journey. Her last verse is the Sally Long me couplet followed by

Mamma thinks I'm crazy, my daddy knows I'm wild
Everybody in town knows knows I'm mama 's favouritest child

And, of course, the male and female roles are reversed.

Nora Lee King  also recorded the song with Davenport's text adapted to a woman's point of view. Again, the pianist was Sammy Price. But the title was changed again ? to Cannon Ball.

Roosevelt Sykes sings verses consisting of one couple followed by the  Starch my jumper couplet as a chorus ? whence his title The Cannon Ball. When he recorded it for Francis Wilford Smith (issued on the same CD as Memphis Slim's Cow Cow Blues), he shouted
Quote from: Roosevelt Sykes
Some people call these Cow Cow Blues, but I call them The Cannon Ball

Two of his verses are based on Davenport couplets verses based on Daventport's:

Quote from: The Cannon Ball
Now wake up little girl let me tell you where I been so long
Over in Cincinnati doing that Sally Long
You better Iron my jumper, rub out them overalls
I'm going to ride (the) train they call the Cannon Ball

First time they make a stop in sweet Bowling Green
Next time it blow it blow in New Orleans
You better...

Otherwise uses his own couplets. My favourite is the delightfully silly

Quote from: The Cannon Ball
Mary had a little baby, she called him Jim, Jim, Jim
Throwed him in a spittoon and told him to swim, swim, swim.

Country music fans will recognise the Starch my jumper couplet as the start of a blues  by the Carter Family recorded as The Cannonball or Cannon Ball Blues. It's to a different tune ? one shared with Charlie Poole's White House Blues.

Like Sykes, Charlie McCoy has lyrics which start by echoing Davenport's:

Quote from:  That Lonesome Train That Took My Baby Away
Woke up this morning, found something wrong
My loving babe had caught that train and gone
Now won't you search my jumper, iron my overalls
I'm gonna ride  that train that they call The Cannon Ball

He continues with verse on the same theme ? actually creating a more coherent text than Davenport's.

One performer who copies both Cow Cow's playing and his text (or rather Dora Carr's shortened version)  is Little Brother Montgomery:

Paul Oliver wrote in Story of the Blues that Davenport took the name Cow Cow from this piece, and that the piece itself was adapted from the Texas standard The Cows. I've only heard two versions of The Cows, and Cow Cow Blues sounds like neither.

Oliver points out that Davenport alternates between emphasising the right hand and emphasising the left. He calls this 'simple', which I think is rather unfair.

Max Haymes writes at length on Blind Willie McTell's Statesboro Blues, which he composed using scraps from various Vaudeville blues. From Cow Cow Blues he seems to have borrowed the fireman idea in a two-couplet verse. (The rest of the song is either three-line twelve bar verses or an unstructured string of relatives telling each other.)

Quote from: Statesboro Blues
Big Eighty left Savannah, Lord and did not stop
You ought to saw that coloured fireman when he got them boiler hot
You can reach over in the corner, mama, and hand me my travelin' shoes
You know by that I've got them Statesboro blues

One of his more conventional verses echoes the final couplet sung by Dora Carr.
Quote from: Statesboro Blues
My mother daddy left me reckless, my daddy daddy
Mother daddy left me reckless, my daddy daddy left me wild, wild, wild
No I'm not good looking but I'm some sweet woman's angel child
« Last Edit: January 06, 2019, 07:47:39 PM by DavidCrosbie »

Offline equalrice

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Re: January, 2019 Song of the Month: "Cow Cow Blues"--Cow Cow Davenport
« Reply #8 on: February 27, 2019, 03:58:12 PM »
Heard this in many different forms. Always takes me back to this Cripple Clarence Lofton song from about 1935.    


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