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I saw Son House in the early 70s. He looked at one of the ladies in attendance and said, "I may be an old man, but I have young ideas" - Stuart

Author Topic: Joe Turner  (Read 3138 times)

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Offline Slack

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Joe Turner
« on: July 13, 2005, 08:53:49 PM »
Hi All,

We have an archive of the old Weenie email list dating from August of 1997 to about December of 2000.  We've posted a few threads from the old list and I'm going to try to periodically post more threads.  I'll edit out most of the noise (unless there is some humor value there) and that way we can add some value from the old list to our current database and also have an opportunity for the current group to extend, expand and expound on it....

...which brings us to Joe Turner.  Mark (aka Rivers) claims he is still wondering about Joe Turner.

Cheers,
slack

---snip---

Date: Tue, 7 Sep 1999 10:49:34 +1200
From: "Mark Herman"
Subject: Joe Turner

Weeners,

Folklore trivia question. I was listening to Big Bill Broonzy last night and got to wondering again about Joe Turner. Broonzy portrays him as a folk hero who helped the poor and suffering after a big flood in 1892. But... Mississippi John Hurt's Joe Turner (same tune, different words) is exactly the opposite. Hurt sings "Joe Turner is a man I despise..." and the song is all about what a rat Joe Turner was. Different Joe Turners?

I know that the bad Joe Turner was Joe Turney, a prison guard in Tennessee notorious for entrapping young blacks in crap games in the Antebellum period. So why does Broonzy portray him as a hero, "helping both blacks and whites alike"?

I've also got versions of the song by Ed Young \ Hobart Smith (Southern Journey Vol Cool and it's on Muddy Waters Plantation Recordings. All the Joe Turners in these songs are clearly the bad prison guard. Only Broonzy portrays him as a saint. Was it just Bill getting things mixed up like he did sometimes? If so who was he really singing about d'you suppose? Were there two Joe Turners? I guess it's a pretty common name.

Anyone know?

Mark.


Date: Mon, 6 Sep 1999 20:37:14 -0400
From: "Randall S. Bott"
Subject: RE: [BWC] Joe Turner

There is a good Joe Turner on Tom Rush's Blues and Ballads.  Helped the poor I seem to remember.

Randy

Date: Tue, 7 Sep 1999 00:25:52 -0600
From: Bill Roggensack
Subject: RE: [BWC] Joe Turner

Mark:
Here's what I've been able to find (so far) .....

JOE TURNER

They tell me Joe Turner's come and gone
They tell me Joe Turner's come and gone(Oh, Lordy)
Got my man and gone.

He come with forty links of chain
He come with forty links of chain (Oh, Lordy)
Got my man and gone.

Probably the oldest known Blues. W.C. Handy called it the "grand-daddy of the blues" In 'Big Bill Blues', Bill Broonzy relates the story of a song he recorded called 'Blues in 1890' which he says was sung before he was born. It came to him from an uncle, and deals with a mythical 'Joe Turner' dating back to the time of slavery - kind of a Santa Claus character who anonymously doled out human kindness that was otherwise missing from the lives. According to Big Bill, the good things came from the master who did not want his slaves to
know it was him. His good deeds were carried out by and elderly black man - 'Old Joe' - who could move about without attracting attention. He was finally revealed upon his death. It's a pretty long story, and probably not the result of any confusion on Bill's part, but the chorus in Bill's tune is a verbatim reprise of the opening line of the old folk song lyric above.
They tell me Joe Turner been here and gone Lord, they tell me Joe Turner been here and gone, They tell me Joe Turner been here and gone. In Lomax's book  "The Land Where the Blues Began' (p. 55), he relates an interview with a Charles Haffer who remembers the first blues he ever heard, which originated from a sheriff named Joe Turner who was said to be a bad man, perhaps because effective at tracking felons (and escaped slaves?) down. That story fits with the first set of lyrics above, and would be about the right time relative to W.C. Handy's account. I haven't heard/read the prison guard story, but John Hurt probably sings about the sheriff/guard manifestation of Joe Turner. It is probably entirely coincidental that the two very different semi-mythical persona have the same name. However, my meagre library of arcane blues information clearly has its limits!
Cheers,
BillR

Date: Wed, 8 Sep 1999 19:04:26 +1200
From: "Mark Herman"
Subject: Re: [BWC] Joe Turner

Big Bill Roggensack writes:

: Here's what I've been able to find (so far) .....
: Probably the oldest known Blues. W.C. Handy called it the "grand-daddy of
: the blues"
: In 'Big Bill Blues', Bill Broonzy relates the story of a song he recorded
: called 'Blues in 1890' which he says was sung before he was born.

That's what I was listening to, recorded in the late 50s in France, Vogue Records CD title 'Big Bill's Blues'. The track is called 'Blues In 1890' right enough. Nice CD. He introduces Joe Turner as a wonderful saviour of the common folks, sings the same tune as Hurt and the rest. Every time I hear it I wonder what's going on...

It came to
: him from an uncle, and deals with a mythical 'Joe Turner' dating back to the
: time of slavery - kind of a Santa Claus character who anonymously doled out
: human kindness that was otherwise missing from the lives.

It's weird... this JT is not the same one as all the other guys were singing about. Maybe Bill mis-heard the song, improvised the lyrics, missed the point... wouldn't have been the first time... he mistook Lemon for Blind Blake and generally came up with plenty of stuff that turned out to be wildly inaccurate.

FYI and to add to the record, here are the liner notes and lyrics to Joe Turner from Southern Journey #8, Velvet Voices, Ed Young & Hobart Smith (fife and 4-str banjer respectively):

"The songs lyrics... tell a story that dates from a later period. 'Joe Turner' is one of the prototypical blues songs of the post bellum South. WC Handy copyrighted his version in 1915, and a version similar to Ed Young's was collected in Mississippi in 1909. The melody, on the other hand, may well be older: it is widely diffused and is akin to such well known songs as "Going Down The Road Feeling Bad".

"In real life Joe Turner was Joe Turney, a prison officer, notorious in 1890s Tennessee for entrapping young black men in crap games to replenish the convict labor pool at Nashville Penetentiary. After one of his sweeps, anyone inquiring about a missing black man would likely be told: "They tell me Joe Turner come and gone". As is apparent from Hobart Smith's interjection ("Joe Turner was a bad man"), Turney's infamy, which transcended racial lines, long outlived him"
The lyrics are:

Well they tell me Joe Turner is done come (3x)

When he come he brought three hundred links of chain (3x)

Well baby you go and bring my gun,
Oh baby you go and bring my gun,
I'm gonna shoot Joe Turner, gonna shoot him when he come.

Well they tell me Joe Turner is done come (3x)

Well baby, my Sunday clothes is in pawn (3x)

So what was Broonzy on about?
Mark.

Date: Wed, 8 Sep 1999 01:08:39 -0600
From: Bill Roggensack
Subject: RE: [BWC] Joe Turner

MarkH wrote:
>So what was Broonzy on about?
Dunno, and we can't ask him either cuz he beez dead. The story of the 'kind' Joe Turner goes on for about 3 pages in 'Big Bill Blues' - Bill's sort of biography. you're right - I think he just made stuff up when he ran out of things to talk about. And what about the guitar playing sheriff named Joe Turner? Must be a common name in the south. Then there was Big Joe Turner, the Kansas City shouter, no relation to any of your Joes.
Cheers,
BillR
« Last Edit: July 13, 2005, 08:55:28 PM by Slack »

Offline Richard

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Re: Joe Turner
« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2005, 12:38:37 PM »
I heard also something the other day that had a 'good' Joe Turner in it, but that's not a lot of help as I can't remember who  :-\

It's the thought that counts  ;)
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline a2tom

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Re: Joe Turner
« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2005, 12:57:42 PM »
for the CB remedial (like myself) I'm just thrilled to learn who the BAD Joe Turner was.  I could never figure out why everyone hated the guy so much...

tom

lebordo

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Re: Joe Turner
« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2005, 02:51:05 PM »
Here's an interesting site which discusses 3 versions of Joe Turner -- W.C. Handy's, Mississippi John Hurt's, and Big Bill's:

http://www.bluegrassmessengers.com/master/joeturner4.html

The discussion of the Broonzy version includes excerpts from an interview he did, describing the origin of his "Joe Turner" -- actually 2 people, the shopkeeper Turner and the black man Joe.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Joe Turner
« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2005, 07:15:26 PM »
Now it's starting to make sense.

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