Blues songs from the 1930s are just as relatable today

By Susan Sliwicki

In January 1931, the United States was in the vindictive grip of the Great Depression. The stock markets — and in some cases, the depressed brokers themselves — had made a thud when they crashed in 1929. Banks had failed, and hard times were everywhere and hit pretty much everyone.

Flash forward 80 years, and, sadly, America is pretty much in the same boat. Except this time, the banks, automakers and Wall Street got bailed out, and homeowners were the ones who crashed the hardest once the housing bubble burst.

Harum Scarum Come on In advertisement

This vintage ad shows the cost of buying the Harum Scarums’ record featuring “Come on In (Ain’t Nobody Here)” as 50 cents — a fortune, really, at the time it was released in 1931. Courtesy Blues Images.

Now imagine you’re a blues musician recording what are known as race records in 1931. Your target audience, poor black Americans, are not exactly in a position to buy your records. There are those pesky things like food and shelter to worry about — and if you can cover those, you’re lucky. This, in turn, leaves you up a pretty big creek without a paddle. Which is pretty much where The Harum Scarums were, having just released their hokum blues record “Come on In (Ain’t Nobody Here)/ “Where Did You Stay Last Night” on Paramount 13104.

Today, you aren’t going to see a lot of sales of this record, either, but for an entirely different reason, according to John Tefteller of Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records.
“I’ve had the ad for a long time, but there was no copy on Paramount anywhere I could find,” he said. “This last year, somebody said, ‘Why aren’t you using that,” and I said, ‘Yeah, find me that record.’”

That was no small task.

“There was no Paramount. There is a copy of it on Crown in a collection in The Netherlands,” he said. “What I finally wound up using was a label called Varsity that came out in the mid-’40s, and one of the things they did was go back to the older masters that no one was using.”

Besides the Varsity pressings, Tefteller only knows of one copy of The Harum Scarums’ “Come on In” on the Crown label. There are no known copies on Paramount. Although he knows the record is incredibly rare, he’s holding out hope he may be able to acquire a copy on Crown, or that a copy may turn up on Paramount, which would be his first choice.

As for the Harum Scarums, they had another record: “Alabama Scratch” No. 1 and 2 (Paramount 13054). But you may know the individuals who comprised The Harum Scarums better than the group: future blues great Big Bill Broonzy played guitar, Georgia Tom Dorsey played piano and Mozelle Alderson (believed to be Jane Lucas) on vocals.

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