By Bruce Sylvester
Moving back to the 1920s – the earliest decade of blues recordings – the devotees at Blues Images have just released the 2013 edition of their annual 12”x24” illustrated wall calendar. Each month includes some days’ significant events (blues heroes’ and heroines’ births or deaths) plus a 12” square reproduction of the original ad for a 78 RPM platter. The ads’ art is an obvious inspiration for vintage blues lover R. Crumb’s cartoons.
As ever, the calendar comes with a CD of the songs in the ads plus bonus tracks (nine this time). OK, songs’ audio varies from clean to scratchy. There are only two known copies of Harum Scarum’s jovial, alcohol-fueled “Alabama Scratch,” so we should be grateful to hear it at all, even with surface noise. Besides, Paramount Records – which produced much of the era’s most important blues discs – had little concern for audio quality, so some of the original 78s might not have sounded pristine even when new. By the way, Harum Scarum was Big Bill Broonzy, Mozelle Alderson and Georgia Tom (who later got religion and emerged as gospel composer Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey).
Fans with Blues Images’ earlier years’ CDs (all of which are still available at www.bluesimages.com) and calendars will recognize some consistencies in terms of musicians included on the 2013 version. This year, Charlie Patton is represented by “Frankie and Albert” (reportedly based on an 1899 love-gone-wrong slaying in St. Louis), while, among the bonus tracks, his previously unreleased first take of “Some Of These Days I’ll Be Gone” is followed by his released version from 1929 so we can compare them. From Blind Lemon Jefferson, we hear “Peach Orchard Mama.”
Blind William Davis’ two bonus tracks include a cousin the Rev. Robert Wilkins’ and the Rolling Stones’ “Prodigal Son.” Ardell Bragg’s “Pig Meat Blues” isn’t about ham, though the word “pork” might come to mind, especially after reading the calendar’s paragraph on the song. There wasn’t much that early blues folks wouldn’t sing about.
As for religion, December’s track, Rev. Emmet Dickenson’s “The Devil and God Meet at Church,” is a sermon with audience participation. Its accompanying art is impressive – not quite country’s Louvin Brothers’ “Satan Is Real” cover, but memorable nonetheless.
We also find Hi Henry Brown reliving the Titanic’s sinking and Blind Willie Johnson moaning “Dark Was the Night – Cold Was the Ground.” Guitar whiz Memphis Minnie, along with Kansas Joe McCoy, asks “What’s the Matter with the Mill?”
And, from 1929, Blind Blake raises the question that Sleepy John Estes, Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, Leon Redbone and others have subsequently been bringing up for decades: “I wish somebody would tell me what ‘diddie wa diddie’ means.”
Songs featured on the CD (by artist) include:
• "Dark Was the Night-Cold Was The Ground" by Blind Willie Johnson
• "Diddie Wa Diddie" and "Police Dog Blues" by Blind Blake
• "What's The Matter With The Mill?" by Memphis Minnie
• "Sow Good Seeds" by Lil McClintock
• "Peach Orchard Mama" by Blind Lemon Jefferson
• "Snatch It Back Blues" by Buddy Boy Hawkins
• "Pig Meat Blues" by Ardell Bragg
• "Alabama Scratch" Parts 1 and 2 by Harum Scarum
• "Frankie and Albert" and "Some These Days I'll Be Gone" takes 1 and 2, by Charley Patton
• "Ice and Snow Blues" by Clifford Gibson
• "The Devil and God Meet At Church" by The Rev. Emmet Dickenson
• "I Believe I'll Go Back Home" and "Trust In God And Do Right" by Blind Willie Davis
• "Titanic Blues" and "Preacher Blues" by Hi Henry Brown
• "Fancy Tricks" by Laura Rucker with Blind Blake
• "Ocean Blues" and "Y.M.V. Blues" by Freddie Spruell with Washboard Sam