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She had brains, but she was a little late everywhere else, if you know what I mean - Bukka White, about a U. of Chicago college student he had met. conversation at a party, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 7/24/1975

Author Topic: Brooks Berry - Bluesville  (Read 6965 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Brooks Berry - Bluesville
« on: May 05, 2006, 10:56:44 AM »
The following I've always wanted to hear ....
-Brooks Berry & Scrapper Blackwell: My Heart Struck Sorrow
In the late 60s Bluesville were being licensed in the UK by Transatlantic and they released on their budget label, Xtra, a good number of LPs. The Brooks Berry never made it despite the 'cognoscenti' doing their damnedest to get it reissued - pleas fell on deaf ears. Three and a half decades later and still no reissue. I've extracted a portion of Art Rosenbaum's notes to give a 'feel' to what she was all about. A handful of concert performances by her from 1959 can be heard on Document DOCD 5275:
 
Like most present day blues singers, Brooksie Berry has been exposed to many traditions and absorbed varied influences, but the old country blues from the South are the backbone of her singing. She was born in March, 1915, in the country town of Sturgis, near the Ohio River in western Kentucky. As a girl she heard the blues which had drifted up along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers from the Mississippi Delta country and recalls that the blues was the only music one could hear, with the exception of some string band dance music, outside of church; the young people would gather on some porch in the evenings and sing blues. Brook's mother taught her to play simple accompaniments on the guitar.

When she was in her middle teens Brooks moved up to Indianapolis, where she has lived ever since. She arrived in. Indianapolis during that city's heyday as a blues center; Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell were becoming famous as recording artists and were part of a large group of singers and musicians who could be heard at the house parties and gathering places around Indiana and Northwestern Avenues. Brooks learned the relaxed and ingrating blues that Leroy and his friends sang, blues with "that lonesome touch," as one singer put it, and these blended with the old country blues that she had grown up with, as well as with the very different jazz blues of the twenties that she had learned from the records of singers like Ida Cox and Bessie Smith.

Brooks met Scrapper shortly after she moved to Indianapolis and thus began B long though at times stormy friendship that was to end suddenly some fifteen months after the last of the present recordings were made. On October 6, 1962. Scrapper was shot to death in a back alley near his home. Brooks has been, during the four years  I have known her, reluctant to sing blues without her friend's sensitive guitar or piano playing behind her; and she will sing less and less now that he is gone.

Brooks life has been for the most part unhappy; in recent years most of her family and many of her old friends have died. She finds it hard to make a living?the only employment she can get is occasional housekeeping, or "day work." She has very seldom had the opportunity to earn money by singing. Beset by loneliness and trouble, she remains a patient and unembittered person. Although she sings infrequently one has .the feeling that her blues are a safety valve for the pressures of a hard life.

Singing blues is for Brooks not a social activity or a performance for others, although it once might have been, but rather a completely internal and personal expression. She sings with her eyes shut, swaying back and forth to her music, apparently unconscious of those around her. It is a deeply moving and often slightly awkward experience to listen to her sing?one sometimes feels that he is intruding or her most private thoughts and feelings. '

Brooks says that in order to sing the blues, "you have to get to studying about the blues, get the blues on your mind." This is important'-- her own esthetic demands that singing the Blues be a serious thing, that the emotion felt must be intense and completely engulf the singer; then the verses will fall into place and the sense of the song emerge. This is her only criterion for her own singing and for that of others. She will accept any sort of music that seems to have emotional validity 'That Ricky Nelson singing Lonesome Town, well, you can tell that boy's girl friend left him, and he got it on his mind to sing about it." However, she dislikes flamboyant, showy singing "I despise to hear records of the blues with all that whoopin' and hollerin'!" She's aware that she has "a plain, heavy voice," and feels that it serves her purposes well.

The blues which Brooks sings were recorded during the summer of 1961, with the exception of numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5 on side A. These were recorded on portable equipment in late December, 1959, and their sound quality is poorer than that of the more recent recordings. However, Brooks has not since matched the textual richness and the emotional power of these blues, and it was felt that they had to be included.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Brooks Berry - Bluesville
« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2006, 09:28:53 AM »
Thanks Bunker for for the Brooks Berry notes. Maybe one day I'll track down a reasonably priced copy of the LP. Also thanks Stefan for the Brooks Berry page:[urlwww.wirz.de/music/berryfrm.htm[/url]
As you'll observe by double-clicking the image of the reverse of that Bluesville sleeve I only posted that relevant to the discussion. Here is the remainder which is a track by track analysis which was a common feature of Bluesville liner notes (hope I've caught all scanning glitches):

MY MAN IS STUDYING EVIL, Brooks does not remember where she learned this remarkable song, although it may come from some recording of the twenties. Its melody is very different from the usual ' twelve-bar blues melodies. The verses are cryptic and starkly pessimistic:

My life is a weakness, it is a weaknss to you and me?

COLD-BLOODED MURDER was recorded in the thirties by Bumble Bee Slim; it is a close adaptation of Leroy Carr's Mean Mistreater.

Brooks knows several blues songs which she has learned from recordings or elsewhere, and she sings some of them here. Most often, though, she improvises her blues as she sings from the great reservoir of traditional blues verses. In BLUES AND TROUBLE Brooks sings some of the most deeply moving lines from the old southern blues to Scrapper's piano accompaniment. Beginning With the familiar ironic personifications of the blues

Blues and trouble are my two best friends?
Early in the morning, blues knocked on my door,
Lord, and I jus, come here to worry you some more,

Brooks moves to the most trenchant of psychological insights:

Did you ever wonder what is on your min'?
Well the train is on time, but the track is all out of line.

Then come images of confusion, recklessness, weeping: Still, there remains the possibility that things may be better elsewhere:

I cried all night long, Lord, and the night before;
If you can't get no 'lief here, down the road you go.

SWEETEST APPLE ON THE TREE is a blues of tearing sexual longing, The blunt metaphor

You had a nail, and you drove it in the board
Lord, my daddy ain't here, but he's somewheres on the road,

is intensified later by a kind of incremental repetition:

I went to the bus station, and I looked up on the board,
Lord, and the bus ain't here, but it', further on down the road.

When people began to compose blues for records each blues song had to have a special point, described in the title and elaborated on more or less consistently in the verses?for example, the T. B. Blues, the Milk Cow Blues. Brooks, true to an earlier tradition, just "sings the blues," making no conscious attempt at consistency or coherence. And in a blues like SUN BURNT ALL MY COTTON, the rambling, spontaneous association of verses can be more telling than most composed blues. From thoughts of a burnt up cotton crop back South, the singer's mind drifts to the agony of an empty bed at night, to the blues knocking on her door, to the plea:

If you can't give me whiskey, please give me ice-cold wine?

Then from a bitter comment on the train that will "take your last dollar and blow black smoke on you," she goes to thoughts of a death room and flowers and finally to her utter aloneness in a world full of people. Brooks and Scrapper developed the two guitar sound heard here in the years after Leroy's death in 1935 when they occasionally played together in taverns on the west side of Indianapolis.

BAMA BOUND is a quite different sort of blues. Brooks learned it from Ida Cox's great early recording which is not to be confused with the better known barrel house piece, Alabama Bound.

CAN'T SLEEP FOR DREAMING is a blues that Brooks improvised as she sang it and again is dependent on the old blues stanzas. The fine line, "I can't sleep for dreaming, I can't laugh or cry," though, is Brooks' own.

LIFE AIN'T WORTH LIVING IF YOU CAN'T BE WITH THE ONE YOU LOVE The man Brooks had been with for many years was incurably sick and she made these recordings, and this song combines her profound concern over him with the desire to forget, to "go where they're drinking," and, in lines borrowed from Scrapper, to go "back South where the weather's warm the whole year round."

As if to show that a fine, strong blues can be created from material very different from the intense poetry of the old southern blues. Brooks bases BLUES IS A FEELING on a string of cliches like "my baby's left me beyond a shadow of a doubt," and "best of friends must part," singing to Scrapper's strident, marching piano.

I'VE HAD MY FUN is Brooks' version of St. Louis Jimmy's well-known blues of failing health, Going Down Slow.

HOW LONG was the first blues that Scrapper and Leroy recorded together, in 1928, and was the one that established their fame. Leroy had sung it for years at parties around Indianapolis before he re-recorded it, and Scrapper claims that it was derived from the old Coney Island Blues. It may well be the most widely known and sung of any blues. Brooks sings a random assortment of verses from the several versions that Scrapper and Leroy recorded.
Notes and Recordings by Art Rosenbaum
Produced by Kenreth S. Goldstein and Art Rosenbaum

Online Johnm

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Re: Brooks Berry - Bluesville
« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2006, 07:49:16 PM »
Hi all,
I don't know how many of you noticed it, but John D. posted the addition of the Brooks Berry/Scrapper Blackwell Bluesville album to the Juke in the last couple of days.  Brooks was a really fine singer, as Bunker Hill's posts suggest, and had a quality I particularly admire--she sounds like a true blues singer, and not a church singer singing blues.  Scrapper, of course, was sensational, arguably the sharpest-playing post-rediscovery bluesman until his murder soon after the recording was done.  Check this album out.  It is terrific.  Thanks to Bob West for making his copy available to put on the Juke.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Stefan Wirz

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Re: Brooks Berry - Bluesville
« Reply #3 on: March 31, 2009, 05:44:28 AM »
original photograph of Brooks Berry and Scrapper Blackwell as used on the Bluesville LP (and its negative!) is on eBay auction here

Of course I already used it to embellish my little Brooks Berry discography  >:D

« Last Edit: March 31, 2009, 05:46:30 AM by Stefan Wirz »

Offline jostber

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Re: Brooks Berry - Bluesville
« Reply #4 on: April 03, 2009, 01:54:33 AM »
I gotta check the Brooks Berry album with Scrapper Blackwell. Love this album:




Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Brooks Berry - Bluesville
« Reply #5 on: April 15, 2012, 03:16:22 AM »
Thought I'd give this a bump as it would have been her birthday. Well worth checking her out on the Juke by putting in a request.