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Author Topic: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues  (Read 978 times)

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Online Johnm

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Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« on: January 03, 2018, 09:46:21 AM »
Hi all,
The Song of the Month that I've selected is "Milk Cow Blues", which has been performed and recorded by a host of musicians, some of them really surprising.  Like some other oft-recorded blues numbers ("Red River Blues" comes to mind), it was recorded in several different versions that were musically and lyrically quite different from each other before the version was recorded that seemed to be the primary influence on subsequently recorded versions 

The earliest version by a Country Blues musician that I've been able to find is the one recorded by Freddie Spruell in 1926.  Freddie was a Mississippian who decamped to Chicago early on, and his version shows a bit of the "Hernando A" sound of Garfield Akers in his timing and phrasing.  I like Freddie's insistence that his milk cow is "real".  Freddie's lyrics can be found at:  https://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=3633.msg27931#msg27931 .  Here is his version:



Four years later, in 1930, Sleepy John Estes recorded his "Milk Cow Blues" with the backing of Yank Rachell on mandolin and Jab Jones on piano.  Sleepy John's version is notable insofar as the lyrics make no mention of a milk cow--perhaps Sleepy John normally sang a milk cow verse that didn't make it on to the recorded version.  The lyrics can be found at:  https://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=64.msg13619#msg13619 .  Here is his "Milk Cow Blues":



Four years after Sleepy John's version, Kokomo Arnold recorded his version of "Milk Cow Blues", which was to become the most influential version of the song on subsequent versions, though his slide approach was not copied, just his melody, lyrics and vocal phrasing.  It's not hard to see why other folks wanted to copy his version--what a vocal!  The lyrics to this version can be found at:  https://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=7145.msg93150#msg93150 .  Here is Kokomo Arnold's version:



Josh White's duet version with a pianist, from 1935, was clearly a cover of Kokomo Arnold's version, but re-worked the feel to suit Josh's strengths.  Here it is:



Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys had a big cross-over hit with "Milk Cow Blues" in 1946.  Tommy Duncan does the really nice lead singing, and Bob Wills did the lead talking and annoying.  Here is the Texas Playboys' version, still clearly based on Kokomo Arnold's version:



Elvis Presley converted the song, still recognizably based on Kokomo Arnold's version, into "Milk Cow Blues Boogie", in 1955.  Here is Elvis' version:



Bluegrass singer Red Allen did a nice version in the mid-60s, joined by Craig Winfield on dobro, Porter Church on banjo and a very young David Grisman on mandolin.  Here it is:



Any other versions of "Milk Cow Blues" out there that people like? 

All best,
Johnm


 
« Last Edit: February 25, 2018, 12:28:08 PM by Johnm »

Offline banjochris

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2018, 10:08:07 AM »
I think it's interesting how many covers it's had by white singers. Seems to me Wills did a "Brain Cloudy Blues" that has the same melody, too.

I always enjoyed this one (but I pretty much enjoy anything by these two):


Offline Stuart

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2018, 03:36:40 PM »
Wasn't there some discussion a while back about Sleepy John's "Milk Cow Blues" being mislabeled the first time around? --And that it was actually originally a song with another title? A quick search didn't turn up anything, but I swear I read about this somewhere.

Re: Chris' mention of "Brain Cloudy Blues"  reminded me that Dennis Lichtman's western swing band is called "The Brain Cloud" and is worth checking out.

https://www.dennislichtman.com/

Offline banjochris

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2018, 06:10:42 PM »
Wasn't there some discussion a while back about Sleepy John's "Milk Cow Blues" being mislabeled the first time around? --And that it was actually originally a song with another title? A quick search didn't turn up anything, but I swear I read about this somewhere.

Only mislabeled in the sense that Sleepy John Estes didn't get around to singing the title verse. On the Legend of Sleepy John Estes album in the '60s, it's the first verse he sings.

Not an exact transcription, but:
Now, see my milk cow, say, hurry home,
Had no lovin' since she been gone
(twice, basically)

Chris

Offline Stuart

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2018, 06:55:26 PM »
Thanks, Chris. My recollection was vague, but I thought I'd post it just in case someone recalled a discussion. It's possible that it wasn't here, though. And it's also possible that it was about another song that didn't have the title mentioned in the song lyrics.

Offline blueshome

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2018, 01:59:06 AM »
Can't find a version around and only have it on an old EP, but "Jackson" Joe Williams "Ain't Seen No Whiskey" is a version of SJ Estes Milk Cow with the milk cow verse included. I suspect the red light went on before Sleepy John got to that verse.

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2018, 03:32:01 AM »
When I first heard it (last century!), I always thought it should have been titled "Sloppy Drunk Blues". Whatever the title, Yank Rachell's mandolin on that track is beyond outstanding.
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Offline JRO

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2018, 04:55:02 AM »
Can't find a version around and only have it on an old EP, but "Jackson" Joe Williams "Ain't Seen No Whiskey" is a version of SJ Estes Milk Cow with the milk cow verse included. I suspect the red light went on before Sleepy John got to that verse.


Yes blueshome, you are right. I was wondering the same yesterday evening but I couldn't get the title in mind. Someone has compared "Jackson" Joe Williams to Chuck Berrys You can't catch me in youtube, so here are both of them. .
"Jackson" Joe Williams is playing with Sonny Boy Williamson and Yank Rechell. It was recorded 17. June 1938.
« Last Edit: January 04, 2018, 09:42:43 AM by JRO »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2018, 08:45:10 AM »
Here's a different song with the same title by Gus Gibson. It's been discussed here before.



https://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=9521.0


« Last Edit: January 04, 2018, 09:05:52 AM by Johnm »

Offline banjochris

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2018, 11:28:08 AM »
Thanks, Chris. My recollection was vague, but I thought I'd post it just in case someone recalled a discussion. It's possible that it wasn't here, though. And it's also possible that it was about another song that didn't have the title mentioned in the song lyrics.


I'm pretty sure we discussed it here somewhere -- I think there's a thread of "Mystery Titles" -- it might have been in that. Viola Lee Blues is another one that got talked about.

When I first heard it (last century!), I always thought it should have been titled "Sloppy Drunk Blues". Whatever the title, Yank Rachell's mandolin on that track is beyond outstanding.

You'll get no argument from me on that one -- he is smoking!
Chris
« Last Edit: January 04, 2018, 11:29:27 AM by banjochris »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2018, 01:05:10 PM »
Since we're praising Yank, here's a reminder:

http://www.upress.state.ms.us/books/74

https://www.amazon.com/Blues-Mandolin-Man-Rachell-American/dp/1578063345/

It's almost five decades since I picked up RBF 8, so the little grey cells (or what's left of them) have seen better days and have confused and conflated many things along the way. But when I checked the liner notes, I saw that Sam Charters wrote that "Milk Cow Blues" had been incorrectly titled "Sloppy Drunk Blues" on the RBF "The Rural Blues" set. So when John mentioned that "Milk Cow" didn't appear in the lyrics, that rang a bell, although the wrong one. Thus, my vague and unclear recollection.

https://folkways-media.si.edu/liner_notes/folkways/FW0RBF8.pdf

https://folkways-media.si.edu/liner_notes/folkways/FWRF202.pdf

Here's Ry's take on "Milk Cow":



Offline harriet

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #11 on: January 05, 2018, 09:18:44 AM »
Thanks for the topic, I'll add ... (which was discussed in a thread https://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=6229.15).

« Last Edit: January 05, 2018, 09:24:37 AM by harriet »

Offline alyoung

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #12 on: January 06, 2018, 02:30:20 AM »
Bob Wills has another bite of the apple.  The 1946 recording above is a radio broadcast transcription, made on March 25, 1946 (the reissue album on which I have it credits it to Kokomo Arnold). This  version, also with Tommy Duncan's lead vocal and interjections by Wills,  was recorded on September 5, 1946 for Columbia, which writer-credited the track "Wills - Duncan" on the original issue. As an aside, Bob Wills' brother, Johnnie Lee Wills, recorded Milk Cow Blues, for Decca in 1941; on the original 78 the track was credited to Kokomo Arnold (who also recorded for Decca).
   
« Last Edit: January 06, 2018, 02:56:40 AM by alyoung »

Offline alyoung

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #13 on: January 06, 2018, 03:21:07 AM »
But wait, there's more ... what I've seen described as the first western swing version of Milk Cow Blues was made by Cliff Bruner for Decca on February 5, 1937, two and a half years after Kokomo Arnold's recording (also for Decca). The writer credit on the original 78 was to "Arnold".

And back to blues ... Bumble Bee Slim made his version (for Bluebird) on February 27, 1935; it was issued as by "Amos" -- his first name (he was Amos Easton).  The writer credit on Slim's disc was to "Joe Williams"... which is interesting, as Jackson Joe Williams didn't record his Haven't Seen No Whiskey version until June 17, 1938. That was writer credited to J. Williams, and is not the same song as Slim's.  (This is a good old-fashioned Document reissue, so it's a a bit rough).

« Last Edit: January 06, 2018, 04:06:11 AM by alyoung »

Offline alyoung

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #14 on: January 06, 2018, 04:42:32 AM »
This one moves away from the Kokomo mold, but I think the origins are still there. And the last verse is certainly worth the price of admission. (The YouTube clip is more than 6min long, but the song takes up only the first four minutes; the rest is dead air.)


Online Johnm

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #15 on: January 08, 2018, 09:11:26 AM »
Hi all,
Given the realities of the recording business, it wouldn't have been natural for a company not to have an artist cover a hit as big as Kokomo Arnold's "Milk Cow Blues".  Sure enough, he also recorded "Milk Cow Blues #2", "Milk Cow Blues #3" and "Milk Cow Blues #4".  For "Milk Cow Blues #2", Kokomo Arnold eschewed the lyric break that was the dramatic high point of his original version of the song.  Here is "Milk Cow Blues #2", and I'm sorry for the dodgy re-mastering:



INTRO

Says, I woke up this mornin', with my milk cow on my mind
Says, I woke up this mornin', with my milk cow on my mind
I get to thinkin' 'bout my milk cow leavin', hee-ee, just couldn't keep from cryin'

Lord, Lord, please help me find my cow
Lord, Lord, please help me find my cow
Says, I wanna churn some milk and butter, I wants to churn that stuff right now

Says, she ain't no high yella', she's just a tall teasin' black
Says, she ain't no high yella', she's just a tall teasin' black
Says, she got that sweet milk and butter, hoo-ooo, that stuff I sure do like

Now you can pull down your window, pull down your window blind
Now you can pull down your window, pull down your window blind
Now, don't you let your next-door neighbor, hear you when you whine

Now, if you see my milk cow, buddy, please drive her home to me
Now, if you see my milk cow, buddy, please drive her home to me
Put a ticket on that heifer, and send her C.O.D.

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: January 08, 2018, 02:57:43 PM by Johnm »

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #16 on: January 19, 2018, 05:49:02 PM »
There's an interesting article on Milk Cow Blues as recorded for the Race Market and the Western Swing Market



The Many Faces of ?Milk Cow Blues?
A Case Study
Jean A. Boyd and Patrick Kelly

downloadable from here: https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0ahUKEwibgoWTnuXYAhWKAMAKHaa6ChAQFggpMAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fdigital.library.txstate.edu%2Fhandle%2F10877%2F5234&usg=AOvVaw03bt-dZs0bAuDw3Oob7Fxt.

They note Sarah Martin's use of the milk cow metaphor in Mean Tight Mama (recorded 1928)
Quote
Now my hair is nappy and I don?t wear no clothes of silk,
Now my hair is nappy and I don?t wear no clothes of silk,
But the cow that?s black and ugly has often got the sweetest milk.
A closer parallel is in Son Houses' My Black Mama Part 1 (recorded 1930).
Quote
Well, you see my milk cow, tell her to hurry home,
I ain?t had no milk since that cow been gone,
If you see my milk cow, tell her to hurry home,
Yeah, I ain?t had no milk since that cow been gone.



Rather like the Johnny Shines song, don't you think?

Kokomo Arnold's record was such a hit in 1934 that it was covered under the same title by Josh White and Bumble Bee Slim ?  as we've seen ? and also by Big Bill.



And Clarence Williams recorded a band version.



Under different titles came songs with not-so-different lyrics, tunes, arrangements:

Big Joe Williams' Wild Cow Blues (1935)



Casey  Bill Weldon's What's The Matter With My Milk Cow? (She Won't Stand Still) (1935)



Memphis Minnie's Jockey Man Blues (1935)



and, of course, Robert Johnson's Milkcow's Calf Blues (1937)



In the Western Swing idiom, it's the Bob Wills/Johnnie Lee Wills version that became standard. I like this switched-gender version by Rose Maddox (1947).



And derived from the Western Swing tradition is this laid-back version by Doc Watson:



The old-time singer-musician Roscoe Holcomb does interesting things on the banjo with one of the tunes from the Western Swing version. This link doesn't work here in Britain, but may work elsewhere:

« Last Edit: January 19, 2018, 07:05:21 PM by DavidCrosbie »

Online Johnm

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #17 on: January 19, 2018, 08:21:24 PM »
Thanks for posting the different versions of "Milk Cow Blues", David.  Here is one from a couple of years back, when Martin Grosswendt performed it at Blues Week at Augusta.  Some of you have attended camps where Martin has taught, including Euro BluesWeek the past couple of years.  He certainly is a fine and versatile musician and strong singer.  Here goes:



All best,
Johnm

Offline Rivers

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #18 on: January 20, 2018, 08:13:38 PM »
I have never, ever understood the milk cow metaphor, and/or why it became such a hit. So thanks for getting this going Johnm, great choice.

I will listen to all the examples and try to get my head further around it. Milk Cow Blues always seems like some kind of weird gender reversal to me. I really dunno what they're talking about, and I've milked a lot of lactating ruminants!

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #19 on: January 21, 2018, 05:18:32 PM »
In case it helps, Rivers, this is what Boyd and Kelly say:
Quote
Broonzy?s ?Milk Cow Blues? reinforced the theme established by Sara Martin that a woman who is like a milk cow requires a substantial degree of devotion and maintenance but rewards her partner(s) with ?rich? love and devotion in return.
Other singers concentrate on the loss rather than the reward. Kokomo Arnold ? and many singers who copied him ? challenges his lost love, and predicts that she will regret things in the end.

Note that when Memphis Minnie ? prompted by the commercial success of Arnold's record ? wanted to sing about an analogous loss, she chose the metaphor of a jockey.

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #20 on: January 24, 2018, 05:50:15 PM »
I really dunno what they're talking about, and I've milked a lot of lactating ruminants!
The people who reacted so strongly to Kokomo Arnold's record and the rest were largely from a background where they ? or their parents or grandparents before them at least ? milked and owned just the one cow, not as a business but as the sole source of dairy nourishment.

There was a Central European curse: May you eat bought bread! That Southern or ex-Southern audience would know of a time when it was a dreadful thing to buy milk and butter. You'd really miss that cow of yours!

Offline Rivers

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Re: Song of the Month, January, 2018: Milk Cow Blues
« Reply #21 on: January 29, 2018, 06:59:19 AM »
Thanks David, it makes much more sense to me now.

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