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Author Topic: When the Levee Breaks  (Read 2104 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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When the Levee Breaks
« on: December 17, 2011, 06:25:36 AM »
Really good. Jim O'Neal and Paul Garon are among those who contribute. Not too sure about the "cheeky chappie" cockney presenter but he seems to have been well briefed.....

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0183t4v/When_the_Levee_Breaks/

Mark Lamarr looks at the little-known story of Memphis Minnie, known for her guitar skills, her rowdy ways and the song 'When the Levee Breaks' a musical celebration of a key moment in Blues history.

'Levee', later made famous by Led Zeppelin and Dylan, was released in 1929, long before guitars found amplification, in reference (like many blues songs of the time), to the great Mississippi flood of 1927.

The flood was a huge factor in the Migration of African Americans into what would become the great RnB and Blues towns of Detroit, Memphis & Chicago. When the Levee Breaks is its most famous telling.

Neither born in Memphis nor called Minnie, the musician who wrote and recorded it travelled that now well worn blues journey both physically and musically in the first wave of blues musicians emerging from the Delta in the late 20s.

When the Levee Breaks was one of over two hundred songs written by Minnie during her lifetime, many are blues classics. Though her story has been largely ignored when compared to Robert Johnson, Leadbelly and other Blues artists of the time.

In a journey that starts along the banks of the Mississippi in a post Katrina New Orleans and ends in the promised land of the Blues, Chicago, Mark Lamarr explores her story, the flood itself and the development of the Blues that emerged around the Great Migration.

Offline dj

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2011, 07:55:59 AM »
That was a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning.  Thanks for posting.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2011, 10:40:51 AM »
That was a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning.  Thanks for posting.
It's a bit more substantial than the 15 minutes BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour program gave Minnie in 2008.   ;)

Offline uncle bud

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2011, 11:39:33 AM »
Thanks for the link. It's impressive that 30 minutes on radio would be devoted to Minnie. Not sure that would occur in her home country.

I have to admit that I wasn't crazy about the whole "Minnie as shit-kicking prostitute guitar player" angle myself. The gleeful recounting of beating Son Joe on stage, and the repeated mention of her prostitution without any detail, context and analysis of why that might have occurred. Seemed simply prurient. Also not sure about the genteel old lady in her later days stuff. Didn't she die pretty miserable, a stroke victim confined for years to a home and completely forgotten?

Also, isn't When the Levee Breaks pretty much a Kansas Joe song? Is there any actual evidence this was composed by Minnie? They go on about how isn't it ironic that her most famous song doesn't feature her on vocals. Well maybe it's not her song? It's not like Joe didn't write songs. The lyrics for Levee are certainly written from a male perspective as well.

Don't get me wrong, I love Minnie, she deserves all the praise she gets and more, but Kansas Joe always seems to get the shaft.  :P

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2011, 11:56:16 AM »
I have to admit that I wasn't crazy about the whole "Minnie as shit-kicking prostitute guitar player" angle myself. The gleeful recounting of beating Son Joe on stage, and the repeated mention of her prostitution without any detail, context and analysis of why that might have occurred. Seemed simply prurient.
In the past decade there have been three MM BBC Radio "features" and each one focuses on this aspect - which I guess is what the BBC hope will entice folk to switch on and listen. The program they put out ten years ago actually achieved that with one of my then work colleagues who heard it whilst driving. I loaned him the Garon book (which he said went way above his head) and a BH compiled CD. He found it to "samey"! Just can't win. ::)

Offline unezrider

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2011, 12:32:35 PM »
thanks bunker! i enjoyed that.
her recordings with kansas joe are some of my favorites. (i also agree with the point uncle bud was making :P)
"Be good, & you will be lonesome." -Mark Twain

Offline dj

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2011, 01:56:43 PM »
Quote
Also, isn't When the Levee Breaks pretty much a Kansas Joe song?

At least they acknowledge that Joe sang it.  At one point, Paul Garon does say that Minnie "probably wrote it".  This is based, I believe, on an interview Garon did with Minnie's sister-in-law Ethel:

"When we lived on the levee, right near Walls, [Minnie] and her oldest brother lived with us then.  The levee did break, and we left from there.  I'm sure that's what she was singin' about 'when the levee broke'..."   (Woman With Guitar, p. 26) 

« Last Edit: December 18, 2011, 04:21:07 AM by dj »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #7 on: December 17, 2011, 08:38:41 PM »
Thanks for that info, dj. Certainly seems like a leap, given Minnie wasn't singing anything.

Offline Rivers

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #8 on: December 17, 2011, 08:52:49 PM »
Sounds like Ethel was as confused as us as to who's singing on those records sometimes, per the MM lyrics thread.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #9 on: December 18, 2011, 07:55:35 AM »
Joe McCoy has a very distinctive voice. I can't think of any songs where he might be mistaken for Minnie. Son Joe on the other hand is practically a Minnie impersonator.

Offline blueshome

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #10 on: December 18, 2011, 09:43:54 AM »
Son Joe was billed as "Mr.Memphis Minnie" on the label of Black Rat Swing!

Offline Rivers

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #11 on: December 18, 2011, 09:55:55 AM »
I think they both sound like MM, as I mentioned on the lyrics thread.

Offline Rivers

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #12 on: December 18, 2011, 12:01:21 PM »
I loaned him the Garon book (which he said went way above his head) and a BH compiled CD. He found it to "samey"! Just can't win. ::)

Interesting discussion. Let's face it a lot of Minnie's stuff is less than stellar, but everything is interesting to us who are deeply into the genre, period and personalities. And the standout material is simply that, some of the greatest vernacular music ever recorded IMHO. I can understand your friend's comment though. What did you put on the CD, do you still have a list?

Paul Garon I have been reading lately, Blues and the Poetic whatnot. It's pretty weird in that he makes many connections that just seem a tad fatuous, almost as if he's hoping to land on some stable bedrock from which to explain a whole raft of phenomena, and thereby probably write more books! Not fair, I know. I plod on through, take the best, leave the rest.

He's also BTW generally down on white boys and girls playing country blues, which is an existential issue for me, having done it pretty much my whole life. Thank you Mr Garon for your opinion, which we will just continue to ignore. I haven't read the Minnie book but will try to snag a copy.

Offline doctorpep

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #13 on: December 20, 2011, 02:31:23 PM »
it seems to me that Kansas Joe is the one who wrote the tune in question. It's too bad that Memphis Minnie is not well known for songs like my butcher man, with its absolutely outrageous sexual metaphors, or the jazz blues of dragging my heart around and I'm waiting. Also, broken heart blues and my girlish days are two of the best records that she ever did, the former of which seems to have greatly influenced Jimmy Rogers.I'm now off to Amazon.com to buy the Lizzie Douglas biography.

The entire book seems to be available for free on Google books. As it is featured on such a well-known website for free, I doubt that giving you all the link would constitute theft or anything illegal. If the webmaster okays it, I can post the link here. Don't want to get in trouble with you fine blues loving folk.
« Last Edit: December 20, 2011, 02:37:52 PM by doctorpep »
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

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Offline uncle bud

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Re: When the Levee Breaks
« Reply #14 on: December 21, 2011, 06:12:23 AM »
Post away Doctor.

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