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Author Topic: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song  (Read 2403 times)

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Offline Pontius2000

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Has anyone ever asked or investigated if the "Elder Greene" from Charley Patton's song was an actual historical person or rather an inside joke on Charley's part? The reason I asked is this....

In my town (I live in South Carolina), there is a notoriously drunken old black woman. This morning she was hit and killed by a car, which is what got me to thinking about this.

Anyway, this drunken old black woman is known by everyone (black and white) is my town. She was very well educated (master's degree) and used to be a biology teacher. She simply fell into a life a sloppy drunkenness and it ruined her. So this woman's name was F------ M----- (I'll spare giving her name here unless somebody is just adamant about knowing it) but all the black people in my town referred to her as "Sister Greene". As far as I know, her name was never Greene and there's no real reason why she would've been referred to as "Sister Greene".

So in the Southern Baptist churches, we know "Sister" is of course the equivalent of "Brother" and these are the people who have been saved and are therefore "brothers and sisters in Christ". The old veteran brothers and sisters in the church are of course "Elders". And above the Elders are the Deacons (usually leadership positions elected by the Elders) and the Preacher (usually hired by the Deacons).

So my theory...rather than referring to any specific person named Greene, is it possible that it's sort of an unwritten tradition in the southern black community that "Sister Greene", "Brother Greene", or "Elder Greene" is a title given to someone who was thought to be a high standing or educated person who had since backslid or fallen into a life a debauchery? On the surface, "Elder Greene Blues" seems to be a collection of unrelated lyrics. But if there's any kind of accuracy in my theory, the whole song may have been actually telling a cohesive story. At the start, Elder Greene is telling his Deacon they should go down to the prayer meeting at the big association in New Orleans. By the end, he's talking about how he likes to get sloppy drunk and walk the streets all night. THAT fits the "Sister Greene" I knew...at one time she was a very respected woman (it's rare for a black woman her age to have a Masters Degree), but she later fell into getting sloppy drunk and walking the streets...that's literally how she died, walking the streets drunk and being killed by a car.

Just an interesting thought, maybe nothing to it. Btw, the "Sister Greene" I knew holds my county's arrest record. She was arrested over 450 times, almost all for drunkenness. But she was generally liked and was considered a nice lady, she was just a hopeless drunk.

Offline waxwing

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2017, 07:28:43 AM »
Why don't you ask an African-American person in your town why they called her that?

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Offline Pontius2000

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2017, 07:49:33 AM »
Why don't you ask an African-American person in your town why they called her that?

Wax

I already did. My closest black friend (approximately 50 years old) said he has no earthly idea why she was called Sister Greene, that's just what everybody called her. His father, who was close to Sister Greene's age was simply known by his name, Mr James. And he was NOT a drunk or anything like that. So if it's really is an unwritten tradition, most people in the 50ish age range don't know it now. The older ones who WOULD know it seem to be dying off or dead already. My friend is the oldest black person I know, so I wouldn't know anybody else to ask. If I'd thought about this before today, I would've asked her myself since I saw her rambling around the streets all the time.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #3 on: March 28, 2017, 09:15:24 AM »
My guess?and it?s just a guess?is that this is a case where a specific instance became a general reference. It?s the way lexical items (words and phrases) develop: From the specific to the general and from the concrete to the abstract. The source or origin was most probably someone surnamed Greene or Green who suffered from alcohol addiction and lack of self-control when intoxicated?and maybe when not. People who knew Greene or knew of Greene at some point began to refer to people who had the same problems as ?Greene??Elder, Brother, Sister, Cousin, Aunt, Uncle, etc.  (edited to add: And possibly to disassociate the person from other family members so as not cause shame, embarrassment, etc.--another guess.) It spread and became part of the lexicon. The original case is probably lost to history. Perhaps if we were to go through written records, such as stories, novels, songs, newspapers and periodicals we might be able to ID the earliest attested occurrence.

Edited to add: It also could have had an entirely separate origin and later been borrowed to refer to the kind of person described above.

A couple of examples from our current lexicon are ?McCarthyism? and ?witch hunt.?  Joe McCarthy has been dead for almost 60 years and people no longer hunt for witches, but the words are still with us, referring to more general phenomena.

Sorry to hear about Sister Greene. Unfortunately, she?s not the first person to die as a result of alcohol addiction and its complications. I?ve known a few people who spent most of their adult lives trying very hard to be the town drunk. Unfortunately, they succeeded and are no longer with us. Although many of us tried our best, it?s hard to be your brother?s or sister?s keeper.
« Last Edit: March 28, 2017, 05:43:34 PM by Stuart »

Offline Lignite

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2017, 06:12:16 AM »
Here's another song where our Elder Green is mentioned in the second to last verse. Could fit your theory or maybe not;

Offline oddenda

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2017, 05:51:25 PM »
Probably related to Sister Flutie! Those in the know will know what I'm talking about!

pbl

Offline Pontius2000

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #6 on: April 04, 2017, 06:41:10 PM »
Update: I saw my 50 year old black friend today and asked again if he has any idea why she was called "Sister Greene". His exact response to me: "it's got something to do with her being an Otis type." The "Otis" in this answer of course is a reference to drunken Otis from the Andy Griffith Show. That seems to fit the theory then. He again confirmed that he knows for sure she had never been married to anyone named Greene.

Offline mtzionmemorialfund

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2018, 12:28:10 AM »
Has anyone ever asked or investigated if the "Elder Greene" from Charley Patton's song was an actual historical person or rather an inside joke on Charley's part?

I have narrowed the potential suspects down to two different Elder Greens, both of whom were former USCT soldiers during the Civil War.  One of the men faked his own lynching to get out of a large debt to a Mississippi merchant, and the other Elder Green was a prominent church leader who moved to the South after the war, often lectured on Africa-related topics, and supported the colonization experiment in Liberia. 

The lyrics to the song are meant to denigrate a respected member of the black community in much the same way as Reconstruction-era black politicians were accused of corruption, rape, and all sorts of heinous crimes they never committed.   It should not surprise anyone to learn that this Jim Crow era song is simply perpetuating a host of stereotypes about black clergyman as drunks, womanizers, or otherwise reprobate preachers.  It has been quite effective in spreading this discourse on race, as this thread demonstrates.  I'm afraid that the search in which you are engaged is only a search for a stereotype.  This song is mere character assassination meant to demean the actual Elder Green.  I'm sure that drunk preachers existed in the world, but Elder Green was quite a respectable individual who never capitulated to an increasingly racist society in the early 1900s.

I will publish my findings once I narrow the field down a little bit more this summer.  I hope this answers your questions.
T. DeWayne Moore
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Offline Rivers

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #8 on: March 03, 2018, 06:46:07 AM »
The lyrics to the song are meant to denigrate a respected member of the black communitye this answers your questions.

True, if one were to assume the whole song is about Elder Green himself. I've always understood the narrative to switch between discussion of Elder Green (who is not the narrator), back to the actual narrator (Patton) telling us "I love to fuss & fight..." etc

I may of course be completely mistaken but that's the way I've always heard it. Your theory assumes Patton is reporting that Elder Green is saying he likes to "get sloppy drunk...". It's possible, but nothing in the lyric proves it either way.

The "dodgy clergyman" thing was a standing joke, there are numerous examples. I find them quite amusing and harmless fun. The clergy these days are not immune to straying either!

Offline Suzy T

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #9 on: March 03, 2018, 10:36:19 AM »
Pontius, I'm sorry to hear about Sister Greene's sad death and descent into alcoholism. I'm guessing there could be a very interesting back story there.

Here is what Stephen Calt wrote in "Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary".  I'm loving this book!  Not really sure whether to take everything at face value (some of it really seems like a put on to me!) but it is a GREAT read and highly recommended.

"Elder Green"
He cites the Charley Patton song.
"Most likely, the personification of a preacher or lay preacher, deriving from "green-apron", a term for a lay preacher of 17th century vintage (F&H, 1893) or "lady green", a thieve's term for a clergyman (F&H, 1896)"

Also (I'm sure you knew this already):
"Sister"
"In black Christianity, a female member of the congregation"

"Green" for a lay preacher makes complete sense to me, in the sense of "green" as being new or untrained. 

I always figured the verses in Elder Greene were somewhat random.  Love that song and love Henry Sims' fiddling on it too.




Offline mtzionmemorialfund

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #10 on: March 03, 2018, 01:21:51 PM »
True, if one were to assume the whole song is about Elder Green himself. I've always understood the narrative to switch between discussion of Elder Green (who is not the narrator), back to the actual narrator (Patton) telling us "I love to fuss & fight..." etc

To get to the truth of Elder Green, we have to acknowledge that the song is not original to Patton, and let me emphasize that by the time he begins performing his rendition, the originator's intended purpose--to obscure the actual facts of Elder Green's respectable life and career--had come to fruition and silenced nearly all memory of him.  So by the time Lemon Jefferson and Patton record the song, they have no idea who the actual person was and the character in the song has become part of black folklore during Jim Crow.  Below, I provide my initial survey of literature and song, and I forward one possibility. However, I now have reason to believe that a New Orleans man known as "Elder Green" is much more likely. Till the summer...

?Most likely,? contends Stephen Calt in Barrelhouse Words, the term ?Elder Green? is the ?personification of a preacher or lay preacher, deriving from green-apron, a term for lay preacher of 17th century vintage, or lady green, a thieves? term for a clergyman.?   For his lifelong endeavor to understand the meanings behind all of the slang used on blues records, Calt consulted John Farmer and W.E. Henley?s Slang and its Analogues, first published in seven volumes between 1890 and 1904.  Though neither of the London-based authors spent much time in the United States, they were leading lights in literary circles and provided relevant information for a host of terms later found in blues. Renowned blues scholar Paul Oliver, also from Britain, in his 1984 monograph Songsters and Saints, demonstrates that ?Elder Greene Blues? has close affinities to the version of ?Alabama Bound? collected by Gates Thomas, in which ?the wayward elder sheds his religious obligations to indulge in more worldly pleasures.?   The fictional Elder Green, in this sense, served as a tool for the blues singer to provide social commentary on the ?hypocrisy riddling the church,? and this interpretation of Patton?s ?Elder Green Blues? has been widely accepted over the years.  David Evans and Luigi Monge embrace the contentions of Oliver and take them a step further in suggesting that Elder Greene was in the pentecostal or ?sanctified? church, in which ministers known for their highly emotional style of worship and were often called ?Elder.?  Many folks in old-line churches ridiculed the ?saints? or ?holy rollers? and circulated all sorts of rumors about the pastors in these so-called cults.  Monge even locates an Elder Green living in Greenwood, Mississippi around 1909--when ?Alabama Bound? was first popularized.   He admits that there is no way to determine whether or not he is the subject of the folk song.

On a country blues message board, someone recently asked, ?Has anyone ever asked or investigated if the ?Elder Greene? from Charley Patton's song was an actual historical person??  At one time, some record collectors assumed that Patton had been to every town and known every character mentioned in his songs.  In an early article from 78 Quarterly, Stephen Calt takes on the persona of ?Jacques Roche? and explains that Son House suspected that ?the proper names which abound in Patton?s blues, right down to ELDER GREEN, were faked,? or invented.   Patton, however, ?would hardly have had to fake his ?Elder Green? piece,? as Bob Groom subsequently pointed out, because ?it was already in common use? at time of the blues singer?s October 1929 recording session in Grafton, Wisconsin.

The most intriguing research on the subject thusfar comes from the recorded interviews and research notes of Gayle Dean Wardlow.  In one 1968 interview in Greenwood with Booker Miller, Wardlow relays that some believed that Elder Green was a real-life preacher from Memphis, whose vice was games of chance.  To avoid encountering his congregation or family, Wardlow added, the supposed elder used to come down and take care of his gambling jones in the Delta.

While he offers a very unique tale, the much more interesting elements of the interview come in the reactions and responses of Miller.  As Wardlow speaks the words ?Elder Green,? Miller immediately recognizes the term and associates it with the repertoire of Blind Lemon Jefferson, who?like many other artists--did indeed record a song about the alleged reprobate preacher.   Miller, however, recalled it from somewhere else; it definitely rang a bell. ?That must have been before my time,? he admitted, ?I can hear my father and grandfather talk[ing] about something like that.?  He tried to tell him that he needed to look a bit deeper into the past, a bit deeper into the folk culture of earlier generations in the Delta.

Born into slavery in Virginia sometime between 1829 and 1841, Phillip Green was one of an estimated one million enslaved blacks sold into the flourishing domestic slave trade, which, according to historian Steven Deyle, not only contributed greatly to the emergence of the deep South, but also exacerbated tensions between the upper and lower South and helped push the country towards Civil War.   The speculators and traders who dominated the interregional slave traffic between the Upper and Lower South were practical and likely motivated by purely economic concerns when separating him by sale from his family and sending him to Issaquena County, Mississippi.   The internal trade in human property ?led to the creation of the Cotton Kingdom? and ?contributed to its eventual demise,? as the enslaved had simply become too valuable to surrender for the South.

In mid-1863, Union General Ulysses S. Grant laid siege to the city of Vicksburg and took control of the Mississippi River, a major turning point in the Civil War which crippled the South.  The United States War Department, in addition, had issued General Order Number 143 earlier that year on May 22, 1863, which established the Bureau of Colored Troops and actively recruited African-American soldiers for the Union.   According to his USCT service record, Phillip Green was still enslaved in ?Eseguena?[sic] County, Mississippi when he enlisted at ?Camp Hibben? on November 22, 1863 to serve three years in the 52nd Colored Infantry.   Standing five feet, three inches tall, the 22 year-old ?field hand? seems to have had an intermittent service record.  Rather than being mustered out of service, he?s noted as missing in action on July 4, 1864, perhaps having deserted from military service.  In any case, it seems Phillip Green made the decision to embrace his newfound freedom and return to Issaquena County, perhaps to find his wife Martha, to whom he is married later in 1870.  One census enumerator documents that he lived in the Issaquena town of ?Schola? with his wife, a five-year old son Tom, and a four year-old daughter Lucy.   By 1880, he had relocated his family to District 3 of Sharkey County, specifically near the town of Cary.   Over the next six years, he established a line of credit in Vicksburg with a merchant named Albert Formowski, who had immigrated from Danzig, Prussia and amassed considerable property and wealth.  Known as one of Sharkey County?s ?leading colored planters,? Phillip Green had managed to take advantage of the available tenant farming lands, the Delta?s rich soil, and the continuing demand for cotton during the 1880s.

Not until after the Civil War did the Mississippi Delta begin to open up the bottomlands, ninety percent of which remained undeveloped.  The great swamp attracted thousands of domestic migrants to the frontier of the old Southwest, many of whom hoped to clear enough land to eventually purchase some of it through the sale of lumber. Though both black and white settlers came to the region, an estimated two-thirds of the independent laborers in the Mississippi Delta were African American by the end of the century.  The low price of cotton caused many black folks who settled in the hill country to go deeply into debt, and some of them decided to steal away to test their fortunes in the Delta.  Some of them were given other incentives to leave their homes in the hills to come help on the large cotton plantations of the Delta.  On December 17, 1886, a special to the New Orleans Times Picayune from Edwards, Mississippi exclaimed that the ?negro exodus from this vicinity continues unabated.?  Every freight train, the special complained,

?carries off carloads of plunder and darkies, who go, not in single files, but in battalions?men, women, and children?victims of the immigration agent, leaving homes and unpaid accounts, for the Yazoo bottom, which has been painted to them as a veritable negro?s heaven, where crops can never fail and where money grows on trees.?

The community of Edwards signed a proclamation stating that since the emigration agents carried away the local labor force, all of the agents had to either desist or leave the community.  The town also appointed fifteen people to deal with, ?in a becoming style, all such agents who refuse or neglect to comply with our modest but earnest demand.?

The excitement created by the proclamation, its enforcers, and the accelerated emigration of black folks from the Mississippi hill country to the Yazoo Bottom created a potentially hostile environment in the Pine hills of southwest Mississippi.  The creation of a ?law and order? league in Edwards to deal with any labor agents who failed to desist certainly reflected the formation of a lynch mob.  Since the serious warnings at the Edwards meeting, therefore, labor agents generally started to work though black deputies.  Everyone realized that carrying out the duties of a labor agent was a very risky proposition.  Being one of the largest African American farmers near the town of Cary and bringing to Vicksburg well over a hundred bales of cotton each season, Elder Green regularly induced workers from around Gloster Station, in Amite County, to relocate for a while to the Delta.

In the second week of January, Elder Green took the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley south to Gloster Station.  According to him, he had to pay some workers for their help the previous year and arrange for their permanent transfer this year from the hills to the farm.  While he was sitting at the train depot if Gloster, a group of white men walked up and started to harass him.  Elder Green lit out for the woods as fast as possible with the mob on his heels.  He may have managed to escape from the men, but they returned to the train depot, warned a white planter, Col. T.J. Gibson, also of Sharkey County, against stealing away their hands, and explained that they would not stand for it.  Thus, Gibbons claimed that he had not come to Amite for any such reason, but rather to clear a few debts.  The men allowed Gibson to leave in peace, and Green managed to outrun the men and catch a train back to Vicksburg.

According to a special out of New Orleans to the New York Sun, Elder Green was terrified, yet decided to return to Gloster to arrange for the emigration of labor.   On the morning of January 8th, an unsigned dispatch was received in New Orleans from Gloster.  It read: ?If you want Elder Green you had better send a box for him.? The dispatch did not reveal any particulars about how Green met his death.  Robert Smith McLain, the mayor of Gloster Station, read about Elder Green?s terrible fate in the New Orleans Times Picayune, which prompted an investigation that failed to locate his body.   Thus, in his own dispatch to the Picayune, the mayor denied the reported murder of Elder Green and informed that his body was nowhere in the town.  ?I desire to state,? he opened, ?after investigation, that Elder Green visited Gloster at the same time as Col. Gibbons, but each of them left the city that evening.?  One dispatch from Vicksburg to New Orleans states that Elder Green was afterwards seen by Gibbons in Vicksburg, and the mayor of Gloster maintained that Elder Green never returned to Gloster. ?If Green has been foully treated,? the mayor concluded, ?it has been somewhere else and under different circumstances, and these bogus dispatches have been gotten up to mislead the public.
Notwithstanding the formal denial of Mayor McLain that Elder Green was not lynched and left in his town, reports in several newspapers still maintained such was the case.  The Leland Record, for example, forwarded a circumstantial version of events, though no names were mentioned. 

?A colored man, who was acting as a labor agent for Goodman & Company out of Cary, MS was found dead on the streets of Gloster, LA, where he had gone to pay off some balances due, by parties who expected to leave Wilkerson County and come to Sharkey He had all his money and pistols on when found. There were three or four gunshot wounds on his body, but little blood nearby.  He was evidently killed outside of town and his body brought to where it was found.  Of course no one there tried to find the dastardly murderers.?

The editor of the Vicksburg Evening Post asserted that there were ?more versions of this affair than of any similar incident that has happened in the State in many years.? At the time, all indicators suggested that the facts of the case would never be ascertained.   The last news items about Elder Green that January concerned his alleged burial.  Assuring that ?there is no question about the death of Green,? a planter from the Deer Creek section named John Hogan informed that Elder Green had been buried near the home of Colonel Gibbons at Cary, on the Louisville, New Orleans & Texas Railroad.   Other brevity?s forwarded the same general information with a new title, ?Elder Green Planted? at Cary.

Barely a month had passed since the people living at Gloster Station, in the hill country of Amite County, found themselves accused in the New Orleans newspapers of lynching labor agent Elder Green.  The mayor of the town refuted the assertion, but subsequent reports of his burial exacerbated the psychological interplay in his continued absence.  Since he had not been heard from in a month, Elder Greene?s wife and son-in-law ?give it out that he was dead? and set their minds to handling his affairs.  As a tenant farmer, Elder Green was indebted to the sum of about $1,000, secured by a deed of trust.  Not long after his reported burial, Elder Green?s son-in-law A.G. Washington came to the city, informed Albert Formowski of his death, and suggested that a visit to Cary Station was in order to take charge of the Elder?s effects.  The court appointed Frank Little, a local constable, as trustee to confiscate and dispose of the effects of Elder Green.  Having posted the required legal notice and seen it expire, the constable sold all of his five mules, three cows and three calves, the wagon used on the farm, for forty bushels of corn, which amounted to $750 towards his outstanding debt.  His wife, daughter, and son-in-law were relocated, along with the personal effects of Elder Green, to the farm of the constable about 12 miles outside Vicksburg. He provided them with two mules, one cow and one calf, a wagon, and enough supplies to last two months.   Although certainly not ideal, the arrangement gave Martha Green, her daughter, and her son-in-law some time to mourn and then get back on their feet.

It might have worked out well too, but the ?wily? Elder Green proved a lively corpse when he turned up in February at the farm of Albert Formowski.  He decided to turn up coincidentally at the same time that his creditor?s sister passed away.  Her death was reported on the same day reports of his reappearance surfaced, February 11, 1887.   According to the New Orleans Times Democrat, Elder Phil Green and his son-in-law wasted little time in moving away their effects.  Save for one mule, which he left behind for one of the farmhands recruited in Gloster, they took everything of value that had not been nailed down.  To give them time to escape, Green instructed the farmhand to wait a couple days and then ride the mule into town and tell Formowski about his resurrection and flight.  He followed instructions and refused to tell; the creditor anything else.  Formowski, however, was otherwise occupied with the funeral being at his home, so he sent his clerk with farmhand to look for the other mule and supplies, which he had furnished his family. On the way out of town, the clerk spotted ?Squire B.B. Bowie,? a justice of the peace, who forced the farmhand to reveal the location the creditor?s property.  Upon securing the information, Bowie went to the station at Redwood, about 12 miles away, where he found the creditor?s property, according to the Times.  Green?s son-in-law, soon after Bowie?s arrival, sent a telegram requesting that his effects be sent to north to Huntington, which sits above Greenville on the Mississippi River.  To end the matter, Bowie confiscated the creditor?s property, and the Times concluded:

?It now appears that Greene had become involved with his merchant and, being cunning, circulated a report of his murder in Gloster, where he had been recently recruiting workers, then he went to Arkansas in quest of a new field and a new merchant, intending to secure a place, come back, and spirit away his effects before Formowski suspected any wrongdoing.  Yet, he never let his son-in-law in on the subterfuge, and to make himself whole notified Formowski.?

On the same day the above report appeared in the New Orleans Times Democrat, however, the Vicksburg Herald featured a brevity based on the testimony of constable Frank Little, who reported that Elder Green had been found and positively identified.  He had accepted a position on a plantation near the Vicksburg & Meridian railroad in Warren County.   He couldn?t be working on a plantation outside Vicksburg and awaiting his effects up in Huntington.  It?s clear that no one really knew what happened.  On February 14, the Vicksburg Herald commented that ?the celebrated Elder Green?has turned up alive and vigorous.  There is no room to doubt that his alleged death was a subterfuge of his own invention.   Several days after that comment the Delta Democrat Times noted that he turned up in Warren County as well and declared, ?perhaps he thinks it is the right season for greens to turn up.?

Elder Green had returned to the Delta, and soon he and his family returned to Sharkey County.  Almost exactly two years later, Albert Formowski followed his sister to the grave, leaving the wily elder free from any potential debts.   Elder Green fell ill later in life and procured the services of a preacher to submit his military pension application.  The editor of the Vicksburg Herald, in a lengthy editorial on pension fraud, offers one last newspaper account in the life of Elder Phil Green.  In describing the crimes of a so-called pension agent named Rev. T.A. Young, he explains how the agent made an application for ?Phil Green, of Cary, a poor old negro ex-soldier,? in exchange for $1.50 cash.  Soon thereafter, the agent wrote to Elder Green saying that he had the desired pension document and needed another three dollars sent to him, ?which was done by express and received, as books? showed.  Elder Green, however, did not receive the document or any more information after the lapse of a year (nearly) and repeated efforts.  Someone agreed to help him and offered to procure a duplicate free of charge.  Once they made a claim on his pension, however, it came back refused on the grounds that the records showed the applicant listed as a ?deserter.?  His military record did indeed list him as a deserter.  At last realizing ?how such divinity had got him,? the editor asserted, Elder Green ?regretted he had ever seen a negro preacher.?
I obtained a copy of the application card for the military pension of Philip Green, and it was filed for him a few months later.  On March 6, 1891, an African American attorney and staunch supporter of the Republican Party named C.J. James submitted the application under ?invalid? status and secured the pension despite the notation that he deserted the USCT.  The following year, his attorney was shot four times by a man named Joe Chefus, who claimed that James was ?ruining his sister.?   James? death, however, did not impede Martha Green from applying to receive his pension on November 9, 1896, which was apparently required upon her husband?s death.  Martha Green is listed in both the 1900 and 1910 census as living in Beat 2 of Sharkey County, Mississippi.   It is not clear when she passes away exactly.  Nor is it clear at all where either Elder Green or his wife were buried.  The only thing that is clear is that Phillip Green was a man who knew exactly what he wanted most of the time, and he figured out how to go about obtaining it, even when unexpected obstacles got in his way.  He was able to keep white society either confused or in the dark as well as avoid any evident punishment.  He went to considerable trouble to reunite with his wife after the war, and he did not attempt to abandon his familial obligations through any of his fabrications.  While there may be no way to determine for certain whether or not he is the subject of the folk song, this article has gone to great lengths to suggest an alternative way of interpreting the lyrics.

« Last Edit: March 07, 2018, 06:34:09 AM by Slack »
T. DeWayne Moore
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Offline Rivers

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #11 on: March 03, 2018, 04:00:30 PM »
I seem to remember Lomax talking about this in The Land Where Blues Began. My copy is buried in a pile of boxes somewhere.

I would suggest that knocking the clergy is a sport that will never die. The schadenfreude is irresistible to all but the most hardcore 'organized religionistas' (my term). When one of the divinity's 'representatives on earth' is revealed to have feet of clay, and the suspicions of the sceptical are confirmed, the natural, and healthy, response is laughter. This is amplified many fold if said representative has accumulated a big pile of cash during their tenure! :)

That is what those songs are about. It is not a racist conspiracy.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2018, 04:03:11 PM by Rivers »

Offline mtzionmemorialfund

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #12 on: March 03, 2018, 04:25:04 PM »
Of course not, there were no byproducts of racism that scarred society so much that we still live with them today. I don't know what I was thinking.  Keep it real on the battlefield.

« Last Edit: March 07, 2018, 06:34:44 AM by Slack »
T. DeWayne Moore
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Offline Rivers

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #13 on: March 03, 2018, 05:07:38 PM »
No, Mt Z, take a chill pill. I may be mistaken, even though you would obviously never experience that state yourself, but I would suggest it's a natural human impulse for sceptics like me that when one's suspicions about the motivations of the 'holier than thou' crowd are confirmed, to laugh out loud. The same goes for the antics of politicians.

I will now stand down from further critiquing your overall thesis. Not to mention critiquing the annoying flaming text highlights and animated smileys. I prefer static smilies, personally. :P
« Last Edit: March 03, 2018, 05:15:32 PM by Rivers »

Offline Gumbo

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #14 on: March 03, 2018, 05:13:43 PM »
Thanks for posting this MtZionMemorialFund
Whether the intention of an artist was originally racist or 'just' derogatory, or satirical or even news, like a broadside, is pretty hard to judge from this distance, (and likely to be a mixture) but doesn't detract from the interesting research pointing to a possible answer to the original poster's question. Or at least something to speculate upon.

Fascinating to read that there is an Elder Green of some fame (and later possibly even infamy) to whom the line 'Elder Greene is gone' would fit very well. Interesting.
And great to be able to follow the story of this figure through. Thanks again.

Quote
To get to the truth of Elder Green, we have to acknowledge that the song is not original to Patton

this intrigued me - even though Papa Charlie's version was released in 1925 I hadn't made the connection, but you can hear the strains of Alabama Bound in Patton's song. And apparently Blind Lemon's is a version of Alabama Bound as well, though it hasn't been found. Is this still true? It hasn't turned up yet?
Patton also uses the line 'don't you leave me here' which was central to Jelly Roll Morton's version of the tune.

here's the article by David Evans and Luigi Monge from 2003
link to pdf

« Last Edit: March 03, 2018, 05:15:21 PM by Gumbo »

Offline Rivers

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #15 on: March 03, 2018, 05:43:33 PM »
Hmmm. Connecting songs by their bar format is often questionable, in my opinion. Alabama Bound and Elder Green have been connected in several places online to Baby Please Don't Go! The tunes bear some similarities but the lyrics do not. Every single strict 12 bar blues ever recorded, 13 billion and counting, is a good example. I just made that statistic up by the way, like all good statistics.

Are we saying that all 12 bar blues are from the same root? Of course not. So why should an 8 bar blues be from the same root?
« Last Edit: March 03, 2018, 05:47:30 PM by Rivers »

Offline Gumbo

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #16 on: March 03, 2018, 05:48:31 PM »
I was going by the similarities in the melodies, amongst other things. I hadn't checked the bar format.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #17 on: March 03, 2018, 05:54:03 PM »
Bar format limits the melody possibilities. Which is why 8 bar and 12 bar blues tend to sound somewhat similar. For proof, in the realm of 8 bars, see Alabama Bound / Elder Green / Baby Please Don't Go.Entirely different songs that sound similar melodically.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2018, 05:55:37 PM by Rivers »

Offline Gumbo

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #18 on: March 03, 2018, 06:02:44 PM »
So Key to the Highway should sound similar, melodically. But the rhythmic movement of the words is different. Alabama Bound and Elder Green sound similar to my ear, both melodically and in the rhythm of the words. So your proof seems more like a theory to me :)

Offline Rivers

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #19 on: March 03, 2018, 06:16:57 PM »
I'll extend your argument Gumbo, Trouble In Mind is another one.

You make a good point, within the 8 bar format we have multiple possibilities. The same goes for 12 bars, 16 bars, and so on. That does not mean that songs with melodies within each 'bar group' are related, other than by having been invented/heard and/or stolen, and then refactored for a new song. The fewer the bars, the fewer the melody permutations available.

It might be interesting to try and come up with a brand new melody in 8 bars, or 12 or 16 for that matter. Probably not possible, which is why we are attracted to broken bar formats based on feel rather than strict changes in country blues. Just my opinion.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2018, 06:38:17 PM by Rivers »

Offline mtzionmemorialfund

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #20 on: March 03, 2018, 09:23:53 PM »
No, Mt Z, take a chill pill. I may be mistaken, even though you would obviously never experience that state yourself, but I would suggest it's a natural human impulse for sceptics like me that when one's suspicions about the motivations of the 'holier than thou' crowd are confirmed, to laugh out loud. The same goes for the antics of politicians.

I will now stand down from further critiquing your overall thesis. Not to mention critiquing the annoying flaming text highlights and animated smileys. I prefer static smilies, personally. :P

Not one element of the argument I forward is done so outside of the historical context of the period.  Thusfar, based on the historical scholarship of the period, it is quite a reasonable argument.  I never say anything is a "conspiracy," because only conspiracy theorists believe in such nonsense, especially in regards to the social construction of race and how it operates in society.  Moreover, my arguments carry no political agenda.  Historical accuracy, at one time, was not a partisan endeavor and truth knew no political party.  It seems even the simple search for the man's identity can now be enough to brand someone as carrying a "holier than thou" political agenda. 

The outright denial of the very reasonable possibility without a subsequent justification for that denial suggests you may be the one tainted with sentimentality, and your denial is quite a contrast to the spirited nature of the debate over the lengths of bars in a song as an apt determinant.  Maybe one day you will be able to approach both subjects from an objective point of view that is not colored by your politics.

The New Orleans Massacre of 1900 inspired a blues song, The Robert Charles Blues, which over time became too dangerous to perform and was lost.  Jelly Roll Morton recalled the song but not its melody or lyrics.  Here is an article that a friend writes in summary of William Ivy Hair's book Carnival of Fury.  So it has happened in history.  You just have to step outside of the bubble and open your eyes..

http://www.mtzionmemorialfund.org/2018/02/robert-charles-sold-his-soul-for-blood.html
T. DeWayne Moore
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Offline Stuart

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #21 on: March 04, 2018, 12:54:15 AM »
Thanks for doing the research about Phillip Green and posting what you have so far, DeWayne. It fills in some details about the person who was one historical Elder Green. Definitively tracing the line of transmission (in reverse) back from Charley's song to the specific Elder Green, and including all the steps in that line of transmission, is another matter, of course.

I listened to the song a couple of times and read what the box set had for lyrics. I think that it's open to a few interpretations, depending on what one hears re: "voice." To me it sounds like there are unrelated verses in it, although I also understand how it could be interpreted differently. The question is, "What specifically did Charley have in mind when he put his version together (if, in fact, he did) and sung it?"

Sometimes songs are just songs and sometimes there was a "break" between the actual historical person and what was recorded in a song.

I'm looking forward to what you have to share with us this summer.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2018, 01:08:30 AM by Stuart »

Offline Gumbo

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #22 on: March 04, 2018, 03:07:59 AM »
And apparently Blind Lemon's is a version of Alabama Bound as well, though it hasn't been found. Is this still true? It hasn't turned up yet?
Patton also uses the line 'don't you leave me here' which was central to Jelly Roll Morton's version of the tune.

here's the article by David Evans and Luigi Monge from 2003
link to pdf

Ah the Blind Lemon version (Elder Green's In Town) looks like it was one of the six unissued sides from the Okeh session in 1927

Offline Rivers

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #23 on: March 04, 2018, 08:21:45 PM »
Mount Zion,

My politics? Too funny, I've been a screaming proud liberal my whole 66 years. How about you, Mr Mount Zion Memorial Fund?

Sentimentality? I have zero clue what sentimentality has to do with any of this but I feel sure you will attempt to enlighten us.

My bubble? The irony is spectacular! I am so sorry to have to burst yours. I recommend you stick to the facts. It pains me to say it but a lot of what you posted was interesting and informative. Facts are different from opinions and your dismissive slights to previous posters, not to mention the world at large, was what motivated me to dish it right back at you. Normally I refrain from responding to such tosh but that was worthy of, um, comment.

And by the way, this website is devoted to the discussion of country blues. As such I really feel zero need to apologise for any musical analysis included in my posts. Do you actually play anything? Kazoo maybe?

in other news, I see yet another high ranking clergyman is in court in Oz tonight.

« Last Edit: March 04, 2018, 08:33:31 PM by Rivers »

Offline alyoung

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #24 on: March 05, 2018, 04:05:44 AM »
Now you boys play nicely together, or you'll both go to bed without your supper.

Offline big joe weems

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #25 on: March 05, 2018, 08:05:19 AM »
Doubtful that these lyrics have anything to do with race.
« Last Edit: March 05, 2018, 08:57:27 AM by big joe weems »

Offline Gumbo

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #26 on: March 05, 2018, 09:00:07 AM »
Who will be the next to bring it back on topic?  ???

Offline Stuart

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #27 on: March 05, 2018, 09:33:53 AM »
I'm waiting for more specific information about the historical Elder Green who can be identified as the inspiration for the song, the specific facts regarding the original composition of the song (--including the context in which, and also the circumstances under which, it was composed--) as well as the various stages (steps) in the process of the transmission of the song and the information surrounding it (the line of transmission) from one individual (or individuals) to another (or to others), what Lemon and Charley knew about the origin of the song (evidence for and against any specific knowledge on their parts) and what people who sung the song had in mind each and every time they sung their respective versions. This should tell us something.

Hopefully this is not too much to ask.

Offline Slack

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #28 on: March 05, 2018, 10:19:18 AM »
Just a friendly reminder of a core Weenie value... which I'll repeat from the "About Weenie" page.  "The name Weenie Campbell is also a reminder that, no matter how much of an enthusiast one might be, it is difficult to adopt an overly serious attitude if you call yourself a Weenie."  Thanks all.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #29 on: March 05, 2018, 10:22:59 AM »
Exactly.

Offline Gumbo

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #30 on: March 05, 2018, 11:56:18 AM »
Thank you Slack :)

As interesting as the discussion of the 8 bar format has been, it seems to be a red herring in relation to the topic. Elder Green and Alabama bound sound melodically similar, to my ear. There is also a similarity in the rhythm of the words.

Also Blind Lemon Jefferson (or more likely Mayo Williams) filed a copy of his unissued recording 'Elder Green's In Town' in 1927, two years before Patton's recording (and two years after Charlie Jackson).

As MtZion points out, Paul Oliver connects the two songs (Patton's and Alabama Bound) in Saints and Sinners.

The lyrics of Blind Lemon's version, from the pdf  previously linked, use both phrases!!


Elder Green?s in town,
Elder Green?s in town,
He?s got it printed all over his old automobile,
he?s Alabama bound.

Don?t worry me,
don?t worry me
When I get drunk and all down and out,
don?t worry me.

I?ve got a high brown,
and she?s long and tall,
Lawd, lawd, lawd, lawd, boys,
she?ll make a panther squall.

Elder Green don?t care,
Elder Green don?t care,
He?s gonna tear down the old Church of God and build a barrelhouse there.

And the lyrics of Papa Charlie Jackson's version

Elder Green's in town,
and he's going around
And he's telling all the sisters and the brothers he meets,
he's Alabama bound

I find it hard to believe they are not related.

Edited to add Jackson's verse.
« Last Edit: March 05, 2018, 12:29:59 PM by Gumbo »

Offline big joe weems

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #31 on: March 05, 2018, 12:20:10 PM »
Another song that is related (though much later), and seems to be yet another take on the general theme, is Cat Iron's "Jimmy Bell."
« Last Edit: March 05, 2018, 12:42:24 PM by big joe weems »

Offline Rivers

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #32 on: March 05, 2018, 05:07:49 PM »
The recent weather and accompanying power outages have put us behind schedule here. So I deeply regret I will be too busy to contribute any further to this discussion. I'm sure you will all be devastated by this news.  :P

Offline mtzionmemorialfund

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Re: Question and thoughts about the "Elder Greene" in Patton's song
« Reply #33 on: March 07, 2018, 01:50:59 AM »
Thanks for doing the research about Phillip Green and posting what you have so far, DeWayne. It fills in some details about the person who was one historical Elder Green. Definitively tracing the line of transmission (in reverse) back from Charley's song to the specific Elder Green, and including all the steps in that line of transmission, is another matter, of course.

I listened to the song a couple of times and read what the box set had for lyrics. I think that it's open to a few interpretations, depending on what one hears re: "voice." To me it sounds like there are unrelated verses in it, although I also understand how it could be interpreted differently. The question is, "What specifically did Charley have in mind when he put his version together (if, in fact, he did) and sung it?"

Sometimes songs are just songs and sometimes there was a "break" between the actual historical person and what was recorded in a song.

I'm looking forward to what you have to share with us this summer.
« Last Edit: March 07, 2018, 06:32:44 AM by Slack »
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