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Just living long enough if you can carry a tune you will be able to sing the blues. Because the world is going to provide you with a blues to sing - Josh White Jr, Frets magazine

Author Topic: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time  (Read 586 times)

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Offline David Kaatz

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SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« on: August 09, 2017, 04:29:01 PM »
Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
A very widely recorded song in the folk/blues/spiritual genre. It carries a message that still rings true today, hence its continued popularity.
Not to be confused with the song Motherless Child.

This website: http://www.keeponliving.at/song/motherless_children.html claims several composer/copyright holders. The site also has a discography.
The Carter Family recording lists A.P. Carter/traditional as the composer.
According to an internet site, https://archive.org/details/Mother, written by Blind Willie Johnson. I found this:
"it is reputed that Johnson was blinded as a child by his stepmother in a fit of anger after she was discovered in bed with another man by Johnson's father, who then beat her." This seems to be hearsay, I could not find any source for that claim.
Recorded December 3, 1927 for Columbia Records. Johnson's is the earliest known recording.
Most recordings list the composer as traditional, and categorize it as "Traditional Black Spiritual/Traditional"
Considered a spiritual by many writers, but many versions have no religious references.
Noted references are "Jesus will be a father to you, when your mother is dead", and "God said, if you pray and do right, you can walk with him in white".
I transcribed several versions, below their respective YouTube links. Couldn't understand one word in Rev. Gary Davis' version - marked in brackets.

Mentioned here in Weenie Cambell (sometimes only in passing reference) regarding recordings by:
The Carter Family
Rev. Gary Davis
Son House
Herman E Johnson
Blind Willie Johnson
Mance Lipscomb
Blind Willie McTell
Blind Gussie Nesbitt (comes close to a Blind Willie Johnson vocal delivery, but instrumentally falls short, basically making this a somewhat tuneless one chord-er)
Napoleon Strickland
Josh White plays a very slick version.
Robert Pete Williams
Ella Mae Wilson, Lillie B. Williams, and Richard Williams
   

The Carter family version is probably the country music source. Gillian Welch certainly borrows melody, feel, and subject in her song No One Knows My Name

Some choice YouTube links:
Starting with the earliest known source, then alphabetically pretty much.
Blind Willie Johnson


Well, well well
I...

Hey, Motherless children have a hard time
Motherless children have a hard time, Mother's dead
They don't have anywhere to go,
Wandering around from door to door
Have a hard time

Nobody on earth can take a Mother's place when, when Mother is dead lord
Nobody on earth can take Mother's place when, mother is dead
Nobody on earth take Mother's place, memory starting to fade away
Nobody treat you like Mother will when

Your wife your husband may be good to you when Mother is dead
May be good to you, Mother's dead
Your wife your husband may be good to you, but better than nothing else prove untrue
Nobody treat you like mother will when, when Mother is dead, lord

Lord, lord
Ehhhh, eh well
Ahhh

Well some people say that sister will do, when Mother is dead
That sister will do, when Mother is dead
Some people say that sister will do, but
Soon as she marries she'll turn her back on you
Nobody treat you like Mother will

Hey, Father will do the best he can, when Mother is dead lord
Well the best he can, when Mother's dead
Father will do the best he can,
So many things Father can't understand,
Nobody treat you like Mother will

Hey, Motherless children have a hard time, when Mother is dead lord
Motherless children have a hard time, Mother's dead
They don't have anywhere to go,
Wandering around from door to door
Have a hard time


The Carter Family:


Motherless children sees a hard time when the mother is dead
Motherless children sees a hard time when the mother is dead
They are driven out in the cold, God knows where to go
Motherless children sees a hard time when the mother is dead

Orphaned children sees a hard time in this world,
Orphaned children sees a hard time in this world
Sister does the best she can, but she really don't understand,
Orphaned children sees a hard time in this world

Brother won't treat you like Mother will, when Mother is dead,
Brother won't treat you like Mother will, when Mother is dead
You may ask for a piece of bread, you are told to go to bed,
Motherless children sees a hard time when the mother is dead

Orphaned children sees a hard time in this world,
Orphaned children sees a hard time in this world
Sister does the best she can, but she really don't understand,
Orphaned children sees a hard time in this world

Friends won't treat you like Mother will, when Mother is dead,
Friends won't treat you like Mother will, when Mother is dead
They will tell you what to do, but they'll turn their back on you
Motherless children sees a hard time when the mother is dead

Orphaned children sees a hard time in this world,
Orphaned children sees a hard time in this world
Sister does the best she can, but she really don't understand,
Orphaned children sees a hard time in this world

Rev. Gary Davis - RGD really makes this his own with a different feel and melody than the BWJ version most of us are probably familiar with.
Also this is the most religious set of lyrics I have transcribed.


Now motherless child sees a mighty hard time when the Mother is gone, oh Lord
Motherless child, sees a mighty hard time, when  Mother is gone, oh Lord shes gone
She don't have no where to go, on a walk from door to door
Motherless child, sure do have it hard, God knows, when the Mother is gone, oh Lord she gone

Nobody want to, like that woman would do you, God knows when the momma is gone, oh Lord
Nobody want to, like that woman would do you, oh when the Mother gone, whoooo Lord she gone
They all stand around, talk about what they'll do,
Soon as that woman is gone, they'll all turn their back on you,
Motherless child, sure do have it hard, God knows, when the Mother is gone, oh Lord my Lord shes gone

Your wife won't do, like that Mother would do you,
(spoken)-She have another man on her mind- when the momma is gone, oh Lord shes gone
Your wife won't treat you, like that woman would treat you, child when the Mother is gone
whoooo Lord Lord shes gone
Your wife would get tired of you, won't want you round here no more,
But Mother won't turn her child from her door
Motherless child, sure do see it hard, God knows when the momma is gone, oh Lord when she is gone

Father won't do, like that Mother will treat you, God knows when the momma is gone, oh Lord shes gone
Father won't treat you, like that Mother will treat you, oh when the Mother is gone
He may do, the very best he can, whoa and there is something that old man can't understand
Whoa Motherless child, sure do see it hard, God knows when the momma is gone, oh Lord she is gone

God says, he'll be a Mother for the child, God knows when the momma is gone, oh Lord shes gone
God said, he'll be a Mother for the child, oh when the Mother gone, whoooo Lord she gone
God said, if you pray and do right, you can walk with him in white
Whoa Motherless child, sure do see it hard, God knows when the momma is gone, oh Lord she is gone

Motherless child, sure do see it hard, oh when the momma is gone, oh Lord my mama's gone
Motherless child, sure do see it hard, oh when the momma is gone, oh Lord when momma's is gone
I don't have nowhere to go, [??] to walk, from door to door
Motherless child, sure do have it hard, God knows, when the Mother is gone

When mother is gone
When mother is gone
When mother is gone
When mother is gone
When mother is gone
When mother is gone
   
Blind Arvella Gray - I hadn't heard of Arvella, a street singer from Chicago, so I'll include his version here, guessing few other Weenies are familiar with him:


Son House


Herman E Johnson - I don't know anything of Johnson, but he gets a nice slide tone and adds some lyrics outside the norm.


Motherless children has a hard time when the Mother is dead
Motherless children has a hard time when the Mother is dead, oh Lord
Father may do the best he can, so many things he doesn't understand,
Motherless children has a hard time when the Mother is dead

Motherless children has a hard time when the Mother is dead
Sometime pleasures, and sometime fun,
Sometime food and sometime none,
Motherless children has a hard time when the Mother is dead

Yes Mother told child some day I'll meet you, after we are dead
Mother told child some day I'll meet you, after we are dead, oh lord
Come and shake my hand goodbye,
Some days you will laugh and some days you will (guitar lick)
You know a motherless child has a hard (guitar lick) when the Mother's dead

Yes motherless (guitar lick) when the mother is dead
Motherless children has a hard time when the Mother is (guitar lick), oh Lord
Sometime pleasures, and sometime (guitar lick),
Sometime food and sometime (guitar lick),
Motherless children has a (guitar lick) when the Mother is dead

You know
guitar break...

Yeah Motherless children has a hard time
Motherless children has a (guitar lick) when the Mother is dead,
Father may do the best he can, so many things he don't under,
You know, Motherless children has a (guitar lick) when the Mother is (guitar lick)


Mance Lipscomb:


Blind Willie McTell:


Blind Gussie Nesbitt:


Ralph Stanley with a cool droning violin:


The Staple Singers, from the 1960's:

I'm trying to indicate on the lyrics where Pops sings and where the daughters sing - female part marked with red.

Motherless children have a hard time Mother is gone, oh she gone on home when the Mother is gone
Motherless children have a hard time when the Mother is gone, hey gone on home, when the mother is gone
Motherless children, hard timeall of that weepingall that crying
Motherless children have a hard time when the Mother is gone, when the Mother is gone
Oh she gone on home, when the Mother is gone

People say, sister will do, when the Mother is gone
Oh gone on home, when the Mother is gone
Some people say, sister will do when when the Mother is gone
Oh gone on home, when the Mother is gone
People say, sister will do, she'll get married, and turn her back on you
Motherless children have a hard time when the Mother is gone, when the Mother is gone
Oh the Mother is gone when the Mother is gone

Hush little baby, don't you cry, I know your mother is gone Oh she gone on home, I know your mother is gone
Hush little baby, don't you cry, I know your mother is gone Oh yes she's gone, I know your mother is gone
Hush little baby, don't you cry, you'll see Mother, bye and bye
Motherless children have a hard time when the Mother is gone, when the Mother is gone
Oh she gone on home, when the Mother is gone

Motherless children has a hard time the Mother is gone, oh the Mother is gone when the Mother is gone
Motherless children have a hard time when the Mother is gone, oh she's gone on home, when the mother is gone
They don't have no place to go, some gotta run from from door to door
Motherless children have a hard time when the Mother is gone, when the Mother is gone
Oh the Mother is gone when the Mother is gone

Father will do the very best he can, the Mother is gone, oh the Mother is gonewhen the Mother is gone
Father will do the very best he can, when when the Mother is gone, oh she gone on home, when the Mother is gone
Father will do the best he can, so many things you don't understand
Motherless children have a hard time when the Mother is gone, when the Mother is gone
Oh she gone on home when the Mother is gone

Motherless children have a hard time when the Mother is gone,
oh the Mother is gone when the Mother is gone
Motherless children have a hard time when the Mother is gone, oh the mother is gone, when the mother is gone
Motherless children, hard timeall of that weepingall that crying
Motherless children have a hard time when the Mother is gone, when the Mother is gone
Oh the Mother is gone, when the Mother is gone

fade out...


Napoleon Strickland


Josh White:


INTRO SOLO

Motherless children have a hard time when the mother is dead
Motherless children have a hard time when the mother is dead
They don't have nowhere to go, got to go from door to door
Motherless children have a hard time when the mother is dead

Friends can't treat you like your mother do, when your mother is dead
Friends can't treat you like your mother do, when your mother is dead
Friends can't treat you like your mother do, cause your friends don't understand
Motherless children have a hard time when the mother is dead

SOLO

Your dad don't treat you like your mother do, when your mother is dead
Your dad can't treat you like your mother do, when your mother is dead
Dad can't treat you like your mother do, 'cause your dad don't understand
Motherless children have a hard time when the mother is dead

Oh, motherless children have a hard time when the mother is dead
Motherless children have a hard time when the mother's dead
(Guitar finishes refrain)

Oh, motherless children have a hard time when the mother is dead
Motherless children have a hard time when the mother is dead
They don't have nowhere to go, got to go from door to door
Motherless children have a hard time when the mother is dead

Blind Connie Williams - on accordian to give a unique take:


Robert Pete Williams:


Elder Roma Wilson sings and plays harmonica. Sorry, the link won't play in much of Europe, S.America, Africa, and Asia. England, France, Australia should be OK.
I can't find another copy.


Modern/famous interpreters, all available on YouTube include the likes of
Bob Dylan
Rosanne Cash
Dave Van Ronk
Taj Mahal - wordless vocal and handclap version on the soundtrack for the movie Sounder.
Odetta - who makes it into a medley, changing to "This Train" after one verse, then "Dig My Grave with a Silver Spade", before returning to the title refrain.
White Strypes (pretty awful in my opinion)
Delaney and Bonnie with Duane Allman on slide, so widely known by fans of that guitar hero. Probably was the first version I was familiar with.
David Crosby w/several Grateful Dead members.
Guy Davis
Lucinda Williams
Clapton
Blind Boys of Alabama on a recent tribute album to Blind Willie Johnson, good enough for me to include the video. There is also a promotional video about the making of the Blind Boys version, in which
Jimmy Carter of the Blind Boys says that they were influenced by the Golden Gate Quartet's version. I couldn't find a version by the GGQ, I think Jimmy is confusing MCHAHT with the distinctly
different Motherless Child, which the GGQ had a hit with.
https://youtu.be/w5lA4EiWJsc?t=14m54s
Still doesn't sound like a gospel tune's lyrics to me, though.
« Last Edit: August 26, 2017, 12:51:51 PM by Johnm »

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« Reply #1 on: August 10, 2017, 12:02:23 AM »
A great choice, David,  and many versions here that were new to me. Thanks for posting, and for bringing forward your choice at short notice.


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Offline blueshome

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Re: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« Reply #2 on: August 10, 2017, 04:41:23 AM »
The Rev. Leon Pinson has a great version. I've ben unable to upload just now but others may have more luck.

Offline harriet

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Re: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« Reply #3 on: August 10, 2017, 05:27:27 AM »
Thanks for the topic and the many versions of this...

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« Reply #4 on: August 10, 2017, 05:44:15 AM »
Great choice for SOTM. Here's one more from Roscoe Holcomb:




Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« Reply #5 on: August 10, 2017, 05:56:58 AM »
Thanks for your Song of the Month choice, Dave, and for doing all of the research to prepare your initial post.  I look forward to listening to all of the versions.
All best,
Johnm

Offline David Kaatz

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Re: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« Reply #6 on: August 10, 2017, 02:47:35 PM »
A great choice, David,  and many versions here that were new to me. Thanks for posting, and for bringing forward your choice at short notice.

Thanks! Many were new to me, too. Short notice was no problem, I had started shortly after agreeing to October! Wanted to give myself plenty of time.  :D

Offline Stuart

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Re: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« Reply #7 on: August 10, 2017, 05:14:50 PM »
The Rev. Leon Pinson has a great version. I've been unable to upload just now but others may have more luck.



Offline Stuart

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Re: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« Reply #8 on: August 10, 2017, 05:16:13 PM »
Excellent choice, Dave. It's always been one of my favorites.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« Reply #9 on: August 11, 2017, 08:48:29 PM »


Regarding Gary Davis' version:
Quote
God says, keep your Mother for the child, God knows when the momma is gone, oh Lord shes goneGod said, keep your Mother for the child, oh when the Mother gone, whoooo Lord she goneGod said, if you pray and do right, you can walk with him in whiteWhoa Motherless child, sure do see it hard, God knows when the momma is gone, oh Lord she is gone



I hear it as, "God says HE'LL BE A MOTHER TO THE CHILD" not "keep your Mother for the child" . I have no idea what that could even mean? ;)
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« Reply #10 on: August 11, 2017, 08:58:44 PM »
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline David Kaatz

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Re: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« Reply #11 on: August 13, 2017, 10:16:43 AM »


Regarding Gary Davis' version:
Quote
God says, keep your Mother for the child, God knows when the momma is gone, oh Lord shes goneGod said, keep your Mother for the child, oh when the Mother gone, whoooo Lord she gone
God said, if you pray and do right, you can walk with him in white
Whoa Motherless child, sure do see it hard, God knows when the momma is gone, oh Lord she is gone



I hear it as, "God says HE'LL BE A MOTHER TO THE CHILD" not "keep your Mother for the child" . I have no idea what that could even mean? ;)

I had to listen a couple of times more, but yes, that sounds right. I'll fix it. Any idea on the lyric I couldn't make out?

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« Reply #12 on: September 27, 2017, 11:12:31 AM »
The source of the story of Willie Jonson's blinding is Sam Charters' 1959 The Country Blues.



I'm inclined to believe it as Charters' source was a long interview with Angeline, Johnson's widow. This is how he begin the chapter:
Quote
The country is dry in central Texas-ragged, dusty country, with narrow creeks running through twisted sandstone channels and a rough growth of trees and brush. Blind Willie was born on a farm outside of Marlin, Texas, a small town east of the Brazos River. His father was a farmer named George Johnson. When Willie was three or four years old, about 1905, his mother died and his father married again. About the time he was seven years old, his father caught his second wife with another man and beat her. To get even with Willie's father she threw a pan of lye water in the little boy's face, blinding him. For Willie, a blind boy in poor farming country, there was the same choice that the blues singer, Blind Lemon Jefferson, had faced, to become some kind of beggar.
Charters uncovered some inept marketing. The record label gave the title Mother's Children Have A Hard Time.
And the adverts read
Quote
A very popular artist sings a wonderful song of mother love.
Everyone who loves mother will love this record...

Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM - August 2017 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time
« Reply #13 on: October 24, 2017, 04:30:11 PM »
Hi all,
Roscoe Holcomb's version of this song, which can be listened to a few posts back in this thread, has a number of interesting qualities.  Firstly, he fingerpicked it out of his customized version of Spanish tuning, in which the fifth and sixth strings are tuned to a unison:  GGDGBD.  Secondly, he sings "mother little children" rather than "motherless children".  Here are his lyrics:

INTRO

It's, mother little children sees a hard time when the mother's dead and gone
Mother little children sees a hard time when the mother when the mother's dead and gone
They go hungry, they go cold, they go beggin' from door to door
It's, mother little children sees a hard time when the mother's dead and gone

It's, father will do the best he can, when the mother, she is gone
It's, father will do the best he can, when the mother, she is gone
Father will do the best he can, but he don't really understand
It's mother little children sees a hard time, when the mother's dead and gone

It's, mother little children sees a hard time when the mother, she is gone
It's, mother little children sees a hard time when the mother's dead and gone
They go hungry, they go cold, they go beggin' from door to door
It's, mother little children sees a hard time when the mother's dead and gone

It's, sister will do the best she can, when the mother's dead and gone
It's, sister will do the best she can, when the mother's dead and gone
Sister will do the best she can, but she really understand
It's, mother little children sees a hard time when the mother's dead and gone

SOLO

It's, mother little children sees a hard time when the mother's dead and gone
Mother little children sees a hard time when the mother when the mother's dead and gone
They go hungry, they go cold, they go beggin' from door to door
It's, mother little children sees a hard time when the mother's dead and gone

It's, brother will do the best he can when the mother, she is gone
It's, brother will do the best he can when the mother's dead and gone
Brother will do the best he can, but he don't really understand
It's, mother little children sees a hard time, when the mother is dead and gone

OUTRO

All best,
Johnm
 





 

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