By Susan Sliwicki
It isn’t often a blues Collector like John Tefteller is at a loss for information about an artist. But when it comes to Mattie Delaney, Tefteller finds himself with far more questions than he has answers.
Here’s what he does know: Mattie Delaney wrote and recorded “Tallahatchie River Blues,” with guitar, for the Vocalion label in the early 1930s. He feels it’s the better song of the two sides she put down. After that, he’s hoping other collectors, fans, readers or even Mattie’s family might have some answers to share.
Tefteller, who owns Blues Images and Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records, has even challenged a researcher friend of his to find out more about Mattie Delaney, to no avail.
“It’s like one of the ultimate blues mysteries,” Tefteller said. “She was a totally obscure person that nobody knew anything about, and all of a sudden, she had a record out.”
And what a record it is.
“I don’t even know how to describe it than to say it speaks for itself, and it’s an incredible record that comes from such a young girl who’s singing and playing the guitar. She had it so polished and so down,” Tefteller said. “As far as I know, that song has never been covered by anyone, and actually, it should be.”
The blues revival of the 1960s helped unearth many long-lost blues musicians.
Unfortunately, Delaney wasn’t among them. At best, the trail leading back to her is long since cold. To date, there’s no advertisement for the record that Tefteller has found. Beyond a side note that Delaney was born in 1905 — no date or city — the entire article about Delaney at allmusic.com, written by Joslyn Layne, reads as follows: “Mattie Delaney was an obscure blueswoman of the 1930s who accompanied herself on guitar and sang topical songs, both rare attributes for a woman performer at that time.”
Tefteller hopes someone will find out more about Delaney.
“There’s a lot of things in blues that have just fallen through the cracks to the point that I don’t know the real truth about who she was will ever come out,” Tefteller said.
Delaney’s “Tallahatchie River Blues” was inspired by severe flooding in the region, and it is typical of blues records from the period, Tefteller said.
“It was very, very obscure,” Tefteller said. “It was a small, targeted audience of African-Americans. I don’t think that anybody outside of the Mississippi area would probably have wanted to buy this record, because it’s talking about a flood that happened in Mississippi. Unless you were in that flood or had relatives in that flood, you might not have even known it was out there.”
Delaney’s record is the type of rarity that only the hardest of hard-core blues collectors know about, and it’s incredibly tough to find.
“There are about five copies known to exist,” Tefteller said. That tally includes Tefteller’s copy; the copy Yazoo Records used when it created the CD “Mississippi Masters Early American Blues Classics 1927-1935”; a battered copy believed to be in Ohio; and the possibility of one in Europe.
And then, of course, as in any good collecting story, there is the rumored Holy Grail.
“There’s this legendary one kicking around in nice shape in Philadelphia, Penn.,” Tefteller said.
It’s believed that a collector has had Delaney’s record for quite some time, and that the collector was hoping to get a good trade for some rock and roll records. Tefteller hopes the mysterious owner might come forward and be willing to part with the record.
Tefteller paid $3,000 for his copy of “Tallahatchie River Blues,” which he says isn’t horrible but sure isn’t mint, either. He expects a like-new copy would draw $6,000 to $8,000.
Though it’s darn tough to get your hands on Delaney’s 78, you can still enjoy both “Tallahatchie River Blues” and the flip side of the 78, “Down The Big Road Blues,” as both appear on the “Mississippi Masters” CD from Yazoo Records. The CD also features performances by Garfield Akers, William Harris, Otto Virgial, Geeshie Wiley, Joe Calicott, William Harris, John D. Fox, Elvie Thomas, Blind Joe Reynolds and King Solomon Hill.
“It’s one of the essential CDs in blues,” Tefteller said. “If I had to pick 10 CDs to take with me to a desert island, that particular CD would be one of the 10. It’s an incredible compilation.”
For related items that you may enjoy in our Goldmine store: