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I'm Thinkin' about the year of 19 and 29 - Happy New Year Blues, Lemon Jefferson

Author Topic: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro  (Read 6098 times)

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RadWinters

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This is my inaugural post on the weenie juke forum! My name is Rebecca and I am from western Colorado, where I have long been known as a troublemaker in the "blues revival" and music scene.

My background in the blues goes back to high school when I became obsessed with the 1960s revivalist band Canned Heat and proceeded to explore their origins. If anyone is into Canned Heat and that kind of thing, look out, because I'll babble about those dudes for a long time when set off! My favorite prewar blues man is Charley Patton. I am not a purist in that some of my favorite recordings can technically be considered ragtime. I also really like gospel music.

I'll kick things off by talking about one of my favorite songs, "Pick Poor Robin Clean", recorded by Elvie Thomas and Geechie Wiley. It was also recorded by Luke Jordan. The only "revivalist" to tackle it has been Larry Johnson.

Does anyone know who was the first to record the song? Has it been recorded by anyone else, perhaps in some other permutation? Who was the actual composer? Or does it come from the "collective folk tradition"?

I would also be interested to hear about other songs which listeners think might be related, musically or lyrically.

From a topical standpoint, it sounds like this is about being forced to survive by feeding one's family on small birds. There is also mention of hustlin', perhaps another desperate means of survival?

Thomas & Wiley are awesome!! I wish we knew more about these ladies.

Offline Slack

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Re: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro
« Reply #1 on: November 14, 2006, 07:46:04 AM »
Welcome Rebecca!

Here is a reference from our old website, posted by Frontpage.  Not sure where this ocmes from (anyone?) but makes refernce to the song as a gambling song.

---snip---
Luke Jordan
b. c.1890, possibly either Appomattox or Campbell county, Virginia, USA, d. c.1945, Lynchburg, Virginia, USA. The blues scene in pre-war Virginia was poorly documented at the time and few of its members managed to record. Post-war research by Bruce Bastin reveals that Luke Jordan was a prime-mover in the blues enclave centered around Lynchburg. It seems that he did not work outside music but relied on his talent and local fame to see him through. Victor Records discovered him in 1927 and he recorded for them in Charlotte, North Carolina, in August of that year. Jordan's records sold well enough to justify transporting him to New York for a further two sessions in November 1929. Of the total of 10 tracks that he recorded, eight saw release, although only six have been located. The extant sides present a high pitched singer given to a fast delivery backed by a niftily picked Gibson guitar. From the evidence of his records it would seem that a large part of his repertoire was made up from vaudeville songs, though the gambling song Pick Poor Robin Clean may have its roots in the folk tradition. His masterpiece was Church Bell Blues, a bravura performance forever associated with him in local tradition, while Cocaine Blues became an early ‘crossover’ when it was recorded by white bluesman Dick Justice in 1929.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro
« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2006, 07:55:03 AM »
Welcome to Weenie Campbell, Rebecca.

Paul Oliver has a half page or so devoted to Pick Poor Robin Clean in his book Songsters and Saints. I don't actually have time this second to summarize and will get back to it later, but if you have the book, take a look at page 126. No specific reference there to it being a gambling song, and he deals with it more as a comment on the situation of blacks at the time.

I suspect some of the lyrics have stopped revivalists from taking on this great tune. You'd definitely have to rework them a little. Though I know I have heard an excellent recorded version by Neil Harpe and his daughter, Erin (or maybe that's Erin and her father Neil).

UB

Offline waxwing

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Re: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro
« Reply #3 on: November 14, 2006, 08:13:43 AM »
I was gonna mention Neil's recording myself. Slight correction, tho'. That's Eleanor Ellis sharing the vocals and guitar with him on the cut. I think Erin was up in Boston doing her own musical thing when he was recording the CD. I think Neil should be known more for his playing than for his "catch and release" guitar collecting.

Welcome to Weenie Campbell, Rad. I thought I'd mention that, barring a copy of Blues and Gospel Records, a good way to look up songs and artists is to visit the Document Records site and use their search function.

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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https://www.facebook.com/WaxwingJohn

Willie Brown's Liquor at CD Baby

Offline Stefan Wirz

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Re: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro
« Reply #4 on: November 14, 2006, 08:52:00 AM »
the first take of LJ's PPRC (the second take had been released by Victor) was first issued on the 1970 album 'Travellin' This Lonesome Road
" (RCA International (Camden) INT 1175), then (first time on CD) next on Document DOCD 5045. I'll check the LP for the alternative verse(s?)
Stefan
and would you *please* stop calling me 'Mr. Wirz' ;-)

Offline Stefan Wirz

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Re: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro
« Reply #5 on: November 14, 2006, 09:31:38 AM »
just have a look at my avatar (that's me some three years ago) - nothing to be scared of (or is it?)!!!
and 'your old friend' - I don't even remember his call (might be dementia prae(?)cox) - nothing to feel guilty for !!!
Stefan

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro
« Reply #6 on: November 14, 2006, 11:18:23 AM »
His masterpiece was Church Bell Blues, a bravura performance forever associated with him in local tradition
Ralph Willis recorded it twice, one as a solo perfomance in 1948/9 the other accompanied by Brownie McGhee and a bassist in 1951. I think both performances are indicative of his having learnt the song from the Jordan record rather than via personal contact. IMHO they are both superlative renditions.

Offline dj

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Re: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro
« Reply #7 on: November 14, 2006, 01:26:45 PM »
I've always assumed that Pick Poor Robin Clean was a comment on hunger.  Mance Lipscomb talks about hunting robins in "I Say Me For A Parable".

RadWinters

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Re: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro
« Reply #8 on: November 14, 2006, 04:16:53 PM »
I've always assumed that Pick Poor Robin Clean was a comment on hunger.  Mance Lipscomb talks about hunting robins in "I Say Me For A Parable".

I'll have to check that out... I have the book but haven't read it for a long time.

I suspect some of the lyrics have stopped revivalists from taking on this great tune. You'd definitely have to rework them a little.

yah... I only recently found a transcription of the Luke Jordan version on the Internet. Had been trying to decipher the Thomas & WIley version for years. I must admit, I was startled by the line "a hustlin' coon, that's just what I am". In my blitzed-out mind, not accustomed to this kind of terminology, I used to think the Thomas version was something like "my husband cooed".

I'm also interested in Wiley's "Come on over to my house", which includes the "you can shake it, you can break it" etc. verse that could be considered the "core" of "Shake it and Break it", as recorded by Patton. Sadly I have never been a guitarist; thus I am severely hindered in my musicological analysis of song patterns, and have focused more on lyrical studies.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro
« Reply #9 on: November 14, 2006, 11:53:05 PM »
I'm also interested in Wiley's "Come on over to my house", which includes the "you can shake it, you can break it" etc. verse that could be considered the "core" of "Shake it and Break it", as recorded by Patton. Sadly I have never been a guitarist; thus I am severely hindered in my musicological analysis of song patterns, and have focused more on lyrical studies.
Cripple Clarence Lofton later used the phrase in his first recording of "I Don't Know" in 1938. Don't apologise for being primarily focused on the lyrics, I been that way since first reading Paul Oliver's Blues Fell This Morning in 1963.  ;D

Offline Rivers

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Re: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro
« Reply #10 on: November 16, 2006, 04:50:07 AM »
I have a feeling Luke Jordan recorded a couple of versions of Pick Poor Robin Clean in his first Victor sessions in 1927 but only one was released, whereas Thomas and Wiley first recorded it around '31 ...

BTW both Luke Jordan takes are on the most excellent Document CD Songster Tradition 1927 - 1935 CD

Offline uncle bud

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Re: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro
« Reply #11 on: November 16, 2006, 06:54:09 AM »
I have a feeling Luke Jordan recorded a couple of versions of Pick Poor Robin Clean in his first Victor sessions in 1927 but only one was released, whereas Thomas and Wiley first recorded it around '31 ...

BTW both Luke Jordan takes are on the most excellent Document CD Songster Tradition 1927 - 1935 CD

Which is only available as a download now, and not likely to come back in print, since all the material on it is now available as part of the 3-CD set Never Let the Same Bee Sting You Twice DOCD-5678. Claims are this is remastered, but there is little aural evidence of that, especially on the John Hurt. Don't buy this one for the John Hurt. Nonetheless, a set I snapped up, since it had the two Luke Jordan titles not on the Songster disc, as well as the Hambone Willie Newbern stuff I was missing, Virgil Childers, etc...  Great music from all.

Offline Mr.Natural

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Re: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro
« Reply #12 on: November 16, 2006, 12:53:49 PM »
Hi,
For completists: Koerner, Ray & Glover have their version on the cd ONE FOOT IN THE GROOVE.
Ed
don't mess with the Natch - he flosses with razorblades

Offline Alexei McDonald

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Re: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" - Origins & History, plus RadWinters intro
« Reply #13 on: August 08, 2009, 10:31:01 AM »
I was just rooting around wikipedia today, when I found a reference to this piece of music :

https://jscholarship.library.jhu.edu/handle/1774.2/12748

It's called Gimme Ma Money and credited to Nathan Bivins.   It's a coon song of 1898 and the interesting thing about it (from my perspective anyway) is the refrain.   It looks like the source of the "hustling coon" verse in Pick Poor Robin Clean.   Apologies if this has been mentioned before and I missed it, of course.

Alexei

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