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Author Topic: Ida Cox Obituary  (Read 1475 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Ida Cox Obituary
« on: November 10, 2010, 09:18:50 AM »
I note that Ida Cox died this day in 1967 aged 78 and looking at her entry in Robert Ford's blues bibliography the following seems to be the only one of substance - and that failed to see the light of day for six months.

I wonder if Chris Albertson has any taped interviews with her which he may care to share. Or perhaps he was one of the many uncredited obituarists for Time, Down Beat, New York Times, etc. (hint, hint)


Ida Cox – Last Mile Blues
By J.C. Hillman
(Jazz Journal, June 1968 p. 9-10, less photo)

Ida Cox is dead. Many readers will no doubt be surprised to learn that she was still with us until so recently but it was so. But now alas it is too late to benefit from the fact, but it is an appropriate time to consider her greatness at a singer. I much regret knowing very little of her life and hope that some lovers of her music who were closer at hand may have spoken to her of her memories. The facts I know are few, common knowledge and possibly inaccurate. She was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1900 (or by some reports much earlier), became a popular recording artist in Chicago during the twenties and spent most of her professional career touring the southern and mid-western states. Her husband and often accompanist was Jesse Crump and on at least one tour she was accompanied by Billie and DeDe Pierce, She recorded again in New York in the late thirties and also appeared at that time at the Carnegie Hall, since when she has made but one more record, in 1961.

Since her death I have read of Ida Cox that she was not in the first rank, but that rather depends in which direction one in looking. Anyone interested in the activities of the Paramount company in Chicago during the years 1939 is bound to come across her singing regularly. With Ma Rainey she was the main attraction of the company in the race market, and indeed in Chicago it is hard to find anyone else who made half as many records as these two. Her reputation has probably suffered by comparison with Ma Rainey and she was also over shadowed by the New York recordings of Bessie Smith. These two are generally and rightly considered to be the twin pillars of the classic blues, at least as recorded, and to the purist, Ida Cox's more sophisticated singing is not as immediately satisfying as the more earthy and forceful work of her two renowned contemporaries. But Ida was apparently just as popular with her people, and close acquaintance with her singing at that time reveals a poise and artistry and also a power which, quieter and more thoughtful than that of Ma and Bessie, could be just as moving. When one's emotions are tired of being overpowered her more subtle and varied approach can still be very satisfying.

Ida Cox, more than any other recorded singer, seems to have been able to combine the pure feeling of the blues with the content, style and technique of the vaudeville artists, some of whom, despite the titles of their songs, never quite achieved blues status. In her early days she was lucky in some remarkably fine accompaniments by Lovie Austin's Blues Serenaders a band which included Tommy Ladnier on cornet and Jimmy O'Bryant on clarinet—the group also accompanied Ma Rainey and various other singers at this time. In the earliest recordings her voice is rich but rather lightweight, but she exudes a cynical confidence—an acceptance of her fate at the moment but also an assurance that she will be able. to turn things to her advantage in the near future: 'My best friend stole my man but I'll steal him back again'. In a later group of recordings with the Blues Serenaders where many people think that the clarinettist is Johnny Dodds, but who I think is O'Bryant (admittedly sounding very like Dodds) a rather more emotional approach begins to be evident, particularly in Death Letter Blues which has all the depth that this fine number requires. The mournful attitude continues in her last session with Ladnier early in 1925, where Black Crepe Blues again celebrates the death of a lover, but it is a wry bitterness, never as desperate or fatalistic as that of Rainey. Ladnier's collaboration with both these singers is everything that could be required, and Cox's integration into this and later groups is as much a result of her own artistry as of the obviously thorough organisation of the sessions. It is also evidence of the strength of her voice and personality that she sounds perfectly at home beside Ladnier's intense playing.

Also early in 1925 Ida Cox was accompanied by a group from the Henderson Orchestra, presumably in New York. She was able to blend her singing just as well with the smoother and more sophisticated playing of Joe Smith and Charlie Green on Mississippi River Blues, Georgia Hound Blues and Blue Kentucky Blues. Back in Chicago, Ida Cox continued to be the most regular singer with the Blues Serenaders during 1925 and 1926. Ladnier had left for Europe and been replaced by another fine blues cornettist whose identity has caused some confusion, but who I am fairly sure is Freddy Keppard showing a refinement and delicacy rather different from his better known extrovert qualities. The intimate relation between voice and backing is maintained on these sessions, and her performances reach a high point in two titles, Coffin Blues and Rambling Blues which although apparently part of a Blues Serenaders session have for accompaniment the same cornet player and an organist who is usually taken to be Jesse Crump (although there now seems no way of verifying this). The mournful ambience created by these two instruments provides a fitting setting for her deeply emotional but restrained singing. Other recordings from this period tend to her more cynical approach and continue the running battle between the sexes— a battle which she seems to have enjoyed. Of particular interest is the eloquent Long Distance Blues which includes a fine cornet solo. Take 2 of this has been reissued on Milestone, under the name of Dodds although O'Bryant is certainly still the clarinettist, but take I is slightly the more successful. Also at this time she did some lightweight but enjoyable bits of hokum with Papa Charlie Jackson.

Early in 1926 Ida Cox recorded four items with a larger group, still under the Austin leadership. This band is rather mysterious but I think that Bernie Young, Preston Jackson and O'Bryant can be heard on cornet, trombone and clarinet. Despite some sombre material the singer and musicians, greatly helped by Jasper Taylor who was the regular Blues Serenaders drummer, give bouncy affirmative performances. This was probably O'Bryant's last recording as he is thought to have died soon afterwards. Later in the year he was replaced by Dodds who together with, I think Keppard not Ladnier, Jackson and the vigorous banjoist Eustern Woodfork backed Ida in two titles which must be the most cynical and confident of all her recordings, Scottle-De-Doo and particularly Don't Blame Me where she lectures a rival whose man she has attracted away—'Don't blame me if I've got what will satisfy him—see if the trouble is the way you are built'.

During 1927 Ida Cox recorded several sessions accompanied by Jesse Crump on piano and I have not had the fortune to hear any of these yet, but in 1928 she made a group of eight titles which from the four that I have heard seem to represent the artistic peak of her recording career. Here her manner, especially in Tree Top Tall Papa and Bone Orchard Blues, contains more resigned humility than usual, but the intensity and atmosphere are correspondingly greater. The cornettist here has been thought to be King Oliver or his nephew Dave Nelson, but Theodore 'Wingie' Carpenter has claimed to have recorded with her, and by comparison with his one known early blues accompaniment (Black Bottom Blues by Baby Bonnie) I think it is likely that this might be Carpenter. Whoever it is plays a great part in the success of the session with his sombre and well-timed playing. If Tree Top Tall Papa shows a rather starry-eyed Ida Cox, the next session Worn Down Daddy, with apparently the same cornettist, and an added reed player returns to her more matter-of-fact but still convincing approach. Her last date for Paramount, in 1929 with a trombonist who to my ears can only be Ike Rodgers, again shows her at near her thoughtful best.

In 1939, while in semi-retirement, Ida Cox made some recordings with an all-star group including Hot Lips Page and J. C. Higginbotham. These are well worth hearing, but in trying to match the forcefulness of the band she seems to have sacrificed some poise and subtlety and the flavour of her best recordings is missing. However in 1961, as a very old lady, she was discovered and persuaded to record again some of her favourite tunes on Riverside RLP 374. Despite a certain amount of slurring and stumbling the voice on these is instantly recognisable and the timing as assured as ever. Roy Eldridge and Coleman Hawkins in the accompanying group provide a good restrained backing, but Ida dominates everything, providing further evidence of the artistry and lasting qualities of a great blues singer, who learnt her art in the hard school and carried it with her to the end. The modern recording adds point to the lyrics, most of which are her own, and to her inimitable delivery. Her material was never more than simple musically, and the words were not particularly heroic, but they suited her and aided by some fine and sympathetic playing she sang them into immortality.

From Hard Time Blues:—

'I may be old and up in years (repeat)
But I can still climb a hill without shifting my gears

'I'm a big fat mama, got the meat shaking on my bones (repeat)
And every time I shake some skinny girl loses her home.'

Discographical note:

Ida Cox's recordings, apart from the 1961 date, are listed in 'Blues & Gospel Records' by Dixon and Godrich. Many of the accompanying personnels are still open to question and I have been unable to resist making a few suggestions. I hope to publish some fuller views on these and other Paramount sessions in due course.
« Last Edit: November 10, 2010, 10:45:42 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline dj

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Re: Ida Cox Obituary
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2010, 09:38:53 AM »
However in 1961, as a very old lady, she was discovered and persuaded to record again...

She was 65!

Thanks for posting that, Bunker Hill.  One of the things I love about Weenie Campbell is that forum posts like this so often take my listening in unexpected directions.  It looks like this will be an Ida Cox afternoon!

Offline Richard

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Re: Ida Cox Obituary
« Reply #2 on: November 10, 2010, 10:49:41 AM »
Thanks for that BH, I have always liked her as singer. I think at the38 Spirit to Swing concert she was almost as loud as the backing band! Great stuff.
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Ida Cox Obituary
« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2010, 10:59:29 AM »
One of the things I love about Weenie Campbell is that forum posts like this so often take my listening in unexpected directions.  It looks like this will be an Ida Cox afternoon!
I did much the same myself and gave a spin to two Fountain LPs from 1976 in lavishly produced gatefold sleeves containing in-depth sleeve notes.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Ida Cox Obituary
« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2010, 11:15:48 PM »
I thought that Ida Cox was born in Toccoa, Georgia?
Mea culpa. I should have prefaced it with my usual rider about knowledge then and knowledge now.

That was the received wisdom of the time.

Offline TonyGilroy

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Re: Ida Cox Obituary
« Reply #5 on: November 11, 2010, 02:20:02 AM »
Ida Cox features in Earl Palmer's autobiography. He and his mother toured with her in the 30s.

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