Country Blues > Country Blues Lyrics

Memphis Willie B. Lyrics

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Johnm:
Hi all,
Memphis Willie B. (Borum), born in 1911, was a musician who first recorded in the mid to late 1930s, I believe, and who earned a much-deserved reputation as a strong seconding guitarist. He was discovered in Memphis in 1961 by Samuel Charters, who soon got him into a recording studio and recorded two albums for the Prestige Bluesville label, "Introducing Memphis Willie B." and "Hard Working Man Blues--Memphis Willie B." on August 12, 1961.  The session was engineered by Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley's first lead guitarist, who also engineered the Charters-produced Furry Lewis sessions on Prestige Bluesville.
I've been listening to these albums recently, and they are really great.  Willie B. was an original lyricist, a strong emotive singer, and an excellent and original guitarist.  He sounds to be either flat-picking, or more probably using a thumb-pick like a flat-pick with occasional fingerpicking to round things out.  A song from the "Introducing Memphis Willie B." album that is a real stand-out is "Overseas Blues", that Mr. O'Muck alluded to over in the "Anti-War Blues" thread he started in the Main Forum, located at http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=60&topic=4792.0;all. 
"Overseas Blues" merits the over-used and usually inappropriate phrase commonly used to describe blues:  "intensely personal".  What's usually personal about the music is how it's made, not what it says, but in this instance, Memphis Willie B. is clearly telling his own story, and the song is all the more compelling for that.  His guitar part is a perfect match of accompaniment to text.  He plays worrying insistent single-string lines behind the opening of each verse, only resolving to a chordal accompaniment with the entrance of the refrain, along with the IV chord, coinciding with the word "No!".  Willie B. shows a great deal of comfort working out of D in standard tuning, a position altogether avoided by a reasonably high percentage of country Blues players.  As usual, a bent bracketed phrase indicates that I could use some help.  This is a strong one!  Here is "Overseas Blues":



   I was way overseas, I was way over in New Jerusalem, General Eisenhower say, "You         
   soldiers got to go over in Tokyo," say, "and do the best you can."  But I told him,
   REFRAIN:  "No, little Willie don't wanta go.  Say, I had so much trouble with them
   Germans, don't send me over in Tokyo."

   He said, "Germany done fell now.", say, "You soldier boys know what it's all about.", say,
   "You got to go way over near the island, get General MacArthur out.", but I told him,
   REFRAIN:  "No, little Willie don't wanta go.  Say, I had so much trouble with them
   Germans, don't send me over in Tokyo."

   You know, General Eisenhower and General MacArthur had a conference. They were talkin'
   about that atomic bomb.   He said, "Then do what I think now, you boys, so your
   mens won't have to come.", I said,
   REFRAIN:  "No, little Willie don't wanta go.  So I had so much trouble with them
   Germans, don't take me over in Tokyo."

   We was sittin' in the stagin' area, waitin' on the results of that atomic bomb.  Finally,
   MacArthur sent Eisenhowers a letter, sayin', "Your boys don't have to come."  I said,
   REFRAIN:  "I'm so glad, little Willie don't have to go.  Say, I had so much trouble with them
   Germans, don't take me over in Tokyo."

   SOLO

   I told him I had a sweet thing in the U.S.A., she is sweet as she can be.  She got a lot of   
   work she want did, it's to save the job for me, that's the reason I'm cryin',
   REFRAIN:  "No, little Willie don't wanta go.  I had so much trouble with them Germans,
   Don't send me over in Tokyo."

Edited 12/16, to pick up correction from dj.

All best,
Johnm 
     

dj:
Hi, John,

I just got the Memphis Willie B. CDs from the fantasy closeout sale, and I have to agree that they're well worth hearing.   The sound is little disconcerting on first listen - drenched in reverb, in "stereo" with the guitar on the left track and the vocal on the right.  But the performances are top-notch.

I think the line in question is: He said, "THEN do what I think NOW you boys, so YOUR MEN won't have to come."

Johnm:
Thanks so much, dj!  Talk about fast service.  I will make the correction.  The sense of the line is now perfectly clear.
All best,
Johnm

Mr.OMuck:
Great to see these lyrics John. I am wild about Memphis Willie B. and also about Scotty Moore's reverb on his and Furry Lewis' records. My thoughts on this wander to the idea that it may be too personally his for someone else to do.
I know a lot of songs are, but with a guy like him whose voice in particular is so much of a piece with the mood and feeling of the song, its really hard for me to imagine anyone delivering a compelling performance of it, though I'd be happy to be proven wrong. What are your thoughts?

Johnm:
Hi O'Muck,
I know precisely what you mean about the song being too personal for it to be covered in a musically and artistically effective way.  Part of it is Willie B.'s sound, certainly, his singing and the way he makes his notes, but I think it's also his way with words and how he expresses himself.  A line like, "We was sittin' in the stagin' area, waitin' on the results of that atomic bomb", was too hard-earned, in my opinion, to be blithely appropriated by some present-day performer.  I'm reminded of how I felt when I first heard Texas Alexander sing "Section Gang Blues", when I was transcribing his lyrics, basically, that without meaning to slam present-day performers or those of the future, I hope fervently never to hear that song covered.
All best,
Johnm   

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