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Boys, I heard what you were doing up there, and I want you to keep playing those new notes - Comment from Bill Monroe to a youthful Russ Barenberg and John Miller, backstage at the Delaware Bluegrass Festival in 1973, after having heard the band they were in, Country Cooking, play a set

Author Topic: Political Country Blues?  (Read 4882 times)

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Offline Slack

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Re: Political Country Blues?
« Reply #15 on: October 27, 2005, 11:49:15 AM »
'He's in the Jailhouse Now' is about corrupt politicians (and other illegal activites: voting twice, bootlegging, bribery)

Offline dj

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Re: Political Country Blues?
« Reply #16 on: October 27, 2005, 01:02:06 PM »
Quote
Big Bill also recorded Just A Dream and Get Back (Black Brown And White), both of which openly addressed the plight of Blacks under Jim Crow, and both of which were first recorded before WWII, when Bill was recording for an African-American audience.  Big Bill is the only major pre-war artist I can think of who recorded such overtly political songs.

Hmmm...  I expressed myself very poorly in my previous post (quoted above).  What I meant to say was that I can't think of another major pre-war blues artist who recorded songs specifically commenting on the position of American blacks under the nation's Jim Crow laws and who did so while recording "race" records for a major label for the consumption of a black audience.  Both Josh White and Leadbelly recorded such songs at the time, but they recorded for a predominantly white, predominantly liberal audience.

norman

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Re: Political Country Blues?
« Reply #17 on: October 27, 2005, 01:30:44 PM »
Well I was very interested by this topic in part because I have, not too long ago, finished reading a book by James Scott called "Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts" (book that was discussed quite a bit in university circles I believe).  What I learned from that reading was, in fact, mostly methodological. When studying power and domination, you have to be really careful about the sources you use. 

The example used in the book was one closely linked to the music we all love, the black slaves in America. They were, in virtually all historical sources of the beginning of last century, described by nature and race as being disloyal and lazy.  But the obvious question is: why would they work hard? No reason.  The author encouraged researchers to use the ?hidden transcript?, songs being a big part of that whole portrait. 

I find it fascinating how the study of music recorded (or possibly censored as some of you mentioned) is such an integral part of serious historical, political and basically all social sciences studies.

Thanks for the ideas. I?ll give the juke a go and listen to a few of the examples you gave me.

Vincent

Offline a2tom

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Re: Political Country Blues?
« Reply #18 on: October 27, 2005, 03:12:44 PM »
I'm not 100% I'm getting the collective sense of opinions here.  There are counter examples being thrown out (the Broonzy "black get back" being a top example), but does anyone disagree that there is a discrepancy in the recorded pre-war blues?  One might reasonably expect the blues (!) of a decidely oppressed populace to be full of sociopolitical commentary, but on the large whole it is not, I don't think.  I'm not trying to say anything declarative here, just trying to understand if others agree that there is a glaring discrepancy between expectation and observation (even if there are many good reasons for the discrepancy).  Or am I just too simple-minded and distracted by all the sexual innuendo?

tom

Offline Chezztone

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Re: Political Country Blues?
« Reply #19 on: October 27, 2005, 04:08:14 PM »
A2tom -- Yes, there might be a discrepancy between recorded reality and expectation, but only for a naive person who has heard the word "blues" but not much of the music, has seen the Blues Brothers or other jokey acts, and thinks that "blue" in this context means "upset about things." And therefore that a politically and economically depressed and oppressed people ought to be upset, and singing about, political and economic injustice. Again, this is an understandable but naive viewpoint. The music really is about much deeper things than topical political matters or even economics. It's about love and relationships between men and women. And about detaching yourself and sardonically commenting on the ups and downs of love and other problems, and recognizing the cyclical nature of good and bad. People who write books and dissertations seeking political commentary or various other obscure themes in blues songs are examining the elephant's tail and missing the main part of the animal.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Political Country Blues?
« Reply #20 on: October 27, 2005, 05:33:50 PM »
Hi all,
Another category of political blues lyrics that deals with conditions/values within the African American community are those lyrics that express anti-clerical sentiment, whether in a humorous guise, like Frank Stokes's "You Shall", more hard-edged, like Hi Henry Brown's "Preacher Blues" or Joe Taggart and Josh White's "Scandalous and a Shame", or Son House's "Preaching Blues", or verging on blasphemy, like Cat Iron's "Jimmy Bell" or "Catfish Blues". 
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Political Country Blues?
« Reply #21 on: October 27, 2005, 11:57:39 PM »
Big Bill also recorded Just A Dream and Get Back (Black Brown And White), both of which openly addressed the plight of Blacks under Jim Crow, and both of which were first recorded before WWII....
I'm confused (not unusual). I can find no recorded version of Black Brown And White recorded before that in Paris for Vogue Records on 20 September 1951. What he says on p.57-8 of Big Bill's blues is that he wrote it in 1945 but nobody approached (RCA, Decca and Columbia) would record it. The first American recording I can locate is that for Mercury in Chicago on 6 November 1951 but wasn't released until after his death on a compilation entitled "Remembering Big Big". Perhaps Robert Riesmann's forthcoming BBB biography will enlighten us about all this?

Muddyroads

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Re: Political Country Blues?
« Reply #22 on: October 28, 2005, 06:30:29 AM »
While not acoustic country blues, Willie King is a master of protest and is a modern rural player whose music is typical of the northern hill country of Mississippi, although I believe he lives just across the line in Alabama.  Check out his song Terrorism .  That is real political and just might surprise you.

Muddy

Offline Rivers

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Re: Political Country Blues?
« Reply #23 on: October 28, 2005, 11:41:47 AM »
Frank Stokes reworked WC Handy's paen to Memphis's Mayor Crump. Stokes's Mr Crump Don't Like It morphed the song into a lampoon of the mayor and his support base. I seem to recall Crump was trying to close down the barrelhouses, somebody here will have the full story. That's political.

Offline dj

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Re: Political Country Blues?
« Reply #24 on: October 28, 2005, 11:58:04 AM »
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I can find no recorded version of Black Brown And White recorded before that in Paris for Vogue Records on 20 September 1951.

You're right, of course.  I was a few thousand miles from my reference library when I wrote that and, relying on my obviously faulty memory, I misremembered Bill's Mercury recording of that song as being a pre-war Columbia.  Dang!   :(

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Political Country Blues?
« Reply #25 on: October 28, 2005, 12:21:39 PM »
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I can find no recorded version of Black Brown And White recorded before that in Paris for Vogue Records on 20 September 1951.
You're right, of course.? I was a few thousand miles from my reference library when I wrote that and, relying on my obviously faulty memory, I misremembered Bill's Mercury recording of that song as being a pre-war Columbia.? Dang!? ?:(
It's ok I? know the 'faulty memory' syndrome only too well...
What it did do is made me give that Mercury LP a spin! (actually dated 1963, so "Get Back" waited 12 years? for Mercury to release it)

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