By Susan Sliwicki
They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
That adage appears to hold true for The Mississippi Sheiks, at least in terms of collectibility of the group’s Paramount-label issues. The blues group hit its popular peak with the release of “Sitting On Top Of The World” on Okeh. But in 1932, The Sheiks produced a six-pack of records with Paramount that are very hard to find today.
“They’re all very collectible, because you almost never see them,” said John Tefteller of Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records. “I saw a very whipped copy of one of the Paramounts sell for $400 or $500 on eBay. Clean ones are going to be around $2,000 or more. The Okehs are much easier to find, and they’re much easier to find in nice condition.”
The Mississippi Sheiks literally sold millions of records for Okeh, particularly with their big hit, “Sitting On Top Of The World,” but the group’s contract went dormant in 1932. At that same time, Paramount was in severe financial trouble, just hanging on by the skin of its teeth, Tefteller said.
“They were desperate to find something that would sell. Everything they were putting out, as good as it was, was just not selling, because in 1932, very few people had money to buy records, let alone poor African-Americans,” Tefteller said. “Well, Paramount, I guess, from what I can speculate, snapped them up and said, ‘Come to Grafton; we’d like you to come here, we’ll give you some money and put some more records out on you and keep your legacy and keep your ability to keep jobs at juke joints.’”
The Sheiks headed to Wisconsin for a July 1932 recording session that produced six records: “The New Sittin’ On Top Of The World” / “New Stop And Listen” (Paramount 13134); “Shooting High Dice” / “He Calls That Religion” (Paramount 13142); “The New Shake That Thing” / “Isn’t A Pain To Me” (Paramount 13143); “Go ’Way Woman” / “Don’t Wake It Up” (Paramount 13152); “Please Baby” / “I’ll Be Gone, Long Gone” (Paramount 13153); and “She’s Crazy About Her Loving” / “Tell Me To Do Right” (Paramount 13156). The collaboration between The Sheiks and Paramount proved to be the end of the line for the record label. Paramount 13156 was the last official Paramount release that resembles its previous blues recordings.
“There’s a lot of speculation as to when Paramount actually folded, because there were bankruptcy papers drawn out in ’33, and then they were producing some very strange issues with different number series thereafter,” Tefteller said. “It’s sad, but The Depression killed them. For The Sheiks, it was almost their last gasp, too, because when they finished with Paramount, Columbia picked them up a again, and then they went to Bluebird and did a few more things, and then they disappeared.”
When recording for Paramount, the group shook up its style.
“‘I’ll Be Long Gone,’ which is another variation of ‘Sitting On Top Of The World,” is done with a different singer and a whole different way of doing it — no violin on it, and that was their trademark,” Tefteller said. “As with everything that came out of Paramount, they sound different than everywhere else. You can still tell it’s the Mississippi Sheiks … They did do a little bit more adventuresome type songs at Paramount that are not quite following the same formula as the Okehs.”