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Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932

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Prof Scratchy:
I came upon this link over at another web discussion and wondered if anyone could identify the player/singers on the albums posted at this site? There is some extremely strong playing and singing. The selection entitled 'Nobody Knows my Name' is particularly intriguing, a real mix of CB figerstyle playing with the occasional 'fancy' jazz chord thrown in. Anybody know who these folk are? Are these uploads from commercially available albums?

Bunker Hill:

--- Quote from: Prof Scratchy on January 05, 2006, 11:21:39 AM --- 'Nobody Knows my Name' is particularly intriguing, a real mix of CB figerstyle playing with the occasional 'fancy' jazz chord thrown in.
--- End quote ---
Nobody Knows My Name was a limited issue LP by Bruce Bastin on his Heritage label (HT 304, 1984). It's subtitle is Blues From South Carolina & Georgia 1924-1932. They were 'field' recordings made by Lawrence Gellert of unnamed/documented singers; as is the case of those on the other collection. During the intervening years it has been discovered that the four songs said to have been recorded in 1924 were in fact of a slightly later vintage. I'll unearth it and scan the track list, the other one has been around in one form or another for nearly four decades, the details of which should quite easily be found via a Google search.

Prof Scratchy:
Thanks for the info. I've searched the album titles and came up with as much info as appears to exist on these artistes on Stefan Wirz's site. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

Bunker Hill:

--- Quote from: Prof Scratchy on January 05, 2006, 01:38:48 PM ---Thanks for the info. I've searched the album titles and came up with as much info as appears to exist on these artistes on Stefan Wirz's site. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.
--- End quote ---

What follows is a portion of Bruce Harrah-Conforth's notes to the Heritage LP which discuss the songs. Be warned it's long:

The album's earliest pieces; Pick and Shovel Captain, 6 Months Ain't A Sentence Down In The Chain Gang, and Nobody Knows My Name, were all recorded (according to Gellert's notes), in Greenville, South Carolina in the surprising year of 1924! The examples here are played in a style that is related to other East Coast guitarists, most notably Blind Blake. Yet, if we are to believe Gellert's notebooks, the "ragtime" oriented guitar techniques used by these musicians preceeds Blake's earliest recordings by a full two years. While not as clean or fluid as Blake in their playing style, it is no less impressive to find this musical element in such early recordings. If Gellert's dates are correct, then one can only assume that this style was common to the area and not picked up as a result of the spread of 78 rpm records. Moreover, it may have been Blake who was influenced by guitarists such as these.

It is not known whether any of these 4 recordings are of the same guitarist, but their approach to the guitar is extremely similar. Perhaps the sound is best captured on Pick and Shovel Captain, where the syncopated thumb roll that came to typify the East Coast school of blues guitarists is clearly audible. 6 Months Ain't A Sentence incorporates similar techniques while replying textually on a very traditional lyric;

6 months ain't no sentence, 12 months ain't no great long time.
6 months ain't no sentence 12 months ain't no great long time.
Well I'm on the chain gang, but I did not make 99.

Down In The Chain Gang, while displaying similar techniques, concentrates more heavily on a moveable bass figure than the previous examples. On Nobody Knows My Name, the guitarist displays a fine sense of compositional arrangement by taking the piece through a number of rhythmic modifications while never deviating from the essence of the style.lndeed,thesefourexamples are quite astonishing for 1924. There are no real examples of this technical ability or stylistic format from that era, and as such one can easily question the validity of that date. One needs to remember however that Gellert had a knack for recording what others could not. The major criticism of his protest material was that there were no other examples of these songs to be found, and therefore his must be fakes. We now know that to be untrue, and according to eyewitnesses Gellert was indeed recording in South Carolina in 1924. If Blind Blake began commercially recording his "ragtime" guitar in 1926 is it really so unreasonable to accept that Gellert was able to record similar styles two years earlier?

Chronologically, the next piece on the album is I Been Pickin' and Shovellin which Gellert has dated 1926 from Spartanburg, South Carolina. More chordally based, this piece easily fits into our image of 1920's era blues. The vocalist here provides a very strong counter to a more simplistic guitar style. It is interesting that this piece is documented as being from South Carolina for the sound is more typical of the Mississippi delta region. Gellert however, is not known to have visited Mississippi, and this piece stands as a testimony to the diffusive powers of the oral tradition of the blues.

The remaining pieces all hail from Atlanta, Georgia and date from 1928 through 1932. Boogie Lovin' is the first of 8 pieces apparently played by the same guitarist. Gellert frequently travelled throughout the South with members of his informant network and it is not impossible that this guitarist may have travelled with him. Clearly there are different vocalists of varying quality on several of the pieces and at one point (following the 4th instrumental verse of Boogie Lovin') someone, probably the guitarist, can be heard to give the vocalist a cue to come in with the next verse of the song as he asks him to "sing it for me".

Very much in the Lonnie Johnson vein, this guitarist seems to be trying to translate jazz ensemble chording to the guitar. His ability to do so is limited, and he plays the same basic accompaniment on all the songs, regardless of lyric structure. He also seems to be quite fond of using a boogie-woogie bass pattern for a break. We hear it for the first time in the 3rd instrumental verse of Boogie Lovin', again in the traditional 30 Days in Jail, Prison Bound Blues and finally in Shootin' Craps and Gamblin'.

30 Days in Jail features the same guitarist teamed up with at least two other instrumentalists, neither of which appear to be near his level of competence. He seems to delight in overpowering them not only with volume but with technique. On Ding Dong Ring, the influence jazz had on this unknown guitarist is evident in his gratuitous use of chords. He does, however, create an extremely nice staggered rhythm effect on the last verse showing how much he owes to the idiosyncratic blues tradition.

On Hard Times, Hard Times he is his most relaxed and understated. It is on this song that we can most fully appreciate his attempt to blend the blues guitar styles of the times with more advanced jazz chords and structure. Prison Bound Blues incorporates parts of Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell's version of the same song as well as other traditional verses. Recorded in 1928, the same year as Carr? and Blackwell's version, this example is akin to the chicken and the egg question. Which came first is not really important. What does matter is the occurrence of the song in oral repertoire and its mixture with other lyrics, showing how blues songs were constantly in a state of change, being updated and localized to fill the need for a more immediate relevance for their audience. Gonna Leave From Georgia, which Gellert had labelled as being a string band again features this same guitarist in the company of several lesser talented musicians. The latest piece in the collection, Gonna Leave From Georgia, dates from 1932 and evidence to this fact can be found in the Iyric of the first verse when the vocalist mentions the W.P.A. which was begun that same year. The fact that this same guitarist shows up 4 years later in the same area in which he was originally recorded may indicate that he was in fact from Atlanta and therefore could have indeed been influenced by Lonnie Johnson. Georgia Chain Gang and Shootin'Craps and Gamblin', again from 1928 are the final pieces in which we encounter this musician.

Trouble Ain't Nothin' But A Good Man Feelin' Bad, again a piece whose lyric roots lie in oral tradition dates from Atlanta in 1929. With its companion piece Black Woman we are presented with a more direct approach to the blues structure. The guitar line revolves around the lyric in a more cohesive manner than in any of the other examples. When the guitar deviates from the melodic accompaniment it is only to augment it not to create a separate theme, as our other Atlanta guitarist seems fond of doing. In a sense these blues are almost ballad-like in format.

The blues collected by Lawrence Gellert and represented on this album are unique for reasons far more important than their musical or lyric qualities however, for they present us with a link to the past. Rarely is one provided with a glimpse into the inner working of an artistic genre. Most of our knowledge about the blues comes from commercial recordings. While valuable as a source of musical data, those recordings can only provide us with insights into the material that producers thought worthwhile in recording and that was produced by blues "stars". Lawrence Gellert recorded whatever came his way. Through his collection we get a chance to examine blues as they were performed within the Black community, as influenced by, and as influence to the "race record" industry. In all probability the people Gellert recorded never went on to become anything more than what they were, members of their community. As such, the music they made is really the folk blues: blues without the intervention of commercial urbanity.

This album was titled Nobody Knows My Name because right now we don't know who these musicians were, but we do know to whom the music belonged ... it belonged to everyone.

Prof Scratchy:
This is fascinating stuff. If only there'd been a photo or two of the musicians who played these sessions, or  a notebook with a name or two - still, it adds to the mystery of these amazing performances. I can't get over how 'recent' these recordings sound. On listening alone, I would have put them, at the earliest, somewhere in the 1940's. Yet these Georgia musicians were active in the twenties, playing all those jazz chords and boogie riffs. Thanks for taking the time to type those liner notes.


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