Ramblin' on My Mind

Ramblin' on My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues

EDITED BY DAVID EVANS
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 440
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xck91
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  • Book Info
    Ramblin' on My Mind
    Book Description:

    This compilation of essays takes the study of the blues to a welcome new level. Distinguished scholars and well-established writers from such diverse backgrounds as musicology, anthropology, musicianship, and folklore join together to examine blues as literature, music, personal expression, and cultural product. Ramblin' on My Mind contains pieces on Ella Fitzgerald, Son House, and Robert Johnson; on the styles of vaudeville, solo guitar, and zydeco; on a comparison of blues and African music; on blues nicknames; and on lyric themes of disillusionment. _x000B__x000B_Contributors are Lynn Abbott, James Bennighof, Katharine Cartwright, Andrew M. Cohen, David Evans, Bob Groom, Elliott Hurwitt, Gerhard Kubik, John Minton, Luigi Monge, and Doug Seroff._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09112-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)
    DAVID EVANS

    The years since the late 1950s have seen a dramatic growth in scholarly and popular literature about blues music. Blues was certainly mentioned in print before this time, but previous writers had almost universally viewed it as either simply a type of folk music, more or less anonymous and unchanging, or a “root” form of jazz, worthy of a chapter or two at the beginning of any study of that genre. While it was recognized that blues had been popularized and commercialized, folklorists generally viewed this process with alarm, equating commercialization with a decline in artistic quality and cultural relevance....

  4. 1 Bourdon, Blue Notes, and Pentatonism in the Blues: AN AFRICANIST PERSPECTIVE
    (pp. 11-48)
    GERHARD KUBIK

    On the afternoon of August 1, 1997, David Evans, Moya Aliya Malamusi, and I set out to visit the blues singer and guitarist Robert “Wolfman” Belfour at his home in Memphis (Fig. 1.1). Moya, who had intensively studied the music and lyrics of blues-likebangwe(board zither) playing minstrels in his home area in southeast Africa during the 1980s and 1990s,¹ and I had long wished to make the Wolfman’s personal acquaintance. For some time I had played to students in various parts of the world his recordings released on the CDThe Spirit Lives On,² including “Poor Boy Long...

  5. 2 “They Cert’ly Sound Good to Me”: SHEET MUSIC, SOUTHERN VAUDEVILLE, AND THE COMMERCIAL ASCENDANCY OF THE BLUES
    (pp. 49-104)
    LYNN ABBOTT and DOUG SEROFF

    The era of popular blues music was not suddenly set into motion by Mamie Smith’s 1920 recording of “Crazy Blues.” By the time Mamie Smith was allowed to walk into a commercial recording studio, the blues was an American entertainment institution with an abounding legendary and a firmly established father figure, W. C. Handy. The history of the commercial ascendancy of the blues is partially preserved in sheet music and, although this field has been well plowed, new insights still crop up in the furrows. A more important but far less explored platform for the blues’ commercial ascendancy was the...

  6. 3 Abbe Niles, Blues Advocate
    (pp. 105-151)
    ELLIOTT S. HURWITT

    One day in the spring of 1925 a young Wall Street attorney walked into the Times Square office of Handy Brothers Music Company. He had an appointment to interview W. C. Handy, the fifty-one-year-old songwriter who had penned a string of blues hits between 1912 and 1922. The lawyer’s name was Abbe Niles, and he was visiting Handy not on a business matter but out of curiosity and for his own pleasure. Handy, who had enjoyed a period of great prosperity half a decade earlier, was now struggling to rebuild a company that lay in ruins. Any publicity a journalist...

  7. 4 The Hands of Blues Guitarists
    (pp. 152-178)
    ANDREW M. COHEN

    In this paper I contend that there was regional clustering to the ways that African American folk and blues guitar players from the early part of the twentieth century held their picking hands and that these postures facilitated certain musical patterns while inhibiting others. The player’s picking hand posture therefore serves as an important determinant of the elusive quality called “style.” If there is such a thing as regional style, we should see it expressed in visual images showing how different players held their hands, even as we hear it expressed on their recordings.

    I constructed a sample based on...

  8. 5 From Bumble Bee Slim to Black Boy Shine: NICKNAMES OF BLUES SINGERS
    (pp. 179-221)
    DAVID EVANS

    During his fieldwork in the Mississippi Delta in 1967, folklorist William Ferris was impressed by the importance of nicknames of blues singers in their communities. He wrote, “Nicknames such as ‘Pine Top,’ ‘Cairo,’ and ‘Poppa Jazz’ are more important than surnames and often when I inquired after actual names no one recognized the person.”¹ In my own fieldwork in the Delta and other regions of the South during the 1960s and 1970s I encountered my share of blues singers with nicknames, including Uncle Snapper, Fiddlin’ Joe, Shake ’Em On Down, Peck, Dink, Nig, Babe, Little Sister, Tiny, and Blind Log....

  9. 6 Preachin’ the Blues: A TEXTUAL LINGUISTIC ANALYSIS OF SON HOUSE’S “DRY SPELL BLUES”
    (pp. 222-257)
    LUIGI MONGE

    Oh, I’m gon’ get me religion, I’m gon’ join the Baptist Church,

    Oh, I’m gon’ get me religion, I’m gon’ join the Baptist Church,

    I’m gon’ be a Baptist preacher and I sure won’t have to work.

    Oh, I’m gon’ preach these blues now, and I want everybody to shout,

    Mmmmm, I want everybody to shout,

    I’m gon’ do like a prisoner, I’m gonna roll my time on out.

    Oh, in my room, I bowed down to pray,

    Oh, I was in my room, I bowed down to pray,

    Said the blues come ‘long and they drove my spirit away....

  10. 7 Some Ramblings on Robert Johnson’s Mind: CRITICAL ANALYSIS AND AESTHETIC VALUE IN DELTA BLUES
    (pp. 258-280)
    JAMES BENNIGHOF

    The issue of aesthetic value implicitly informs most studies of the blues, as it does most studies of other musics. Fundamental decisions about which pieces are worthy of study and about the nature of their importance depend on judgments about the manner in which they are better or worse than others. Such value judgments are generally tacit, but not because they do not merit examination; indeed, we should continually examine them so as to specify assessments and criteria in the clearest possible terms.¹

    The degree to which such conclusions admit scrutiny and discussion depends on the analysis that supports them....

  11. 8 “Guess These People Wonder What I’m Singing”: QUOTATION AND REFERENCE IN ELLA FITZGERALD’S “ST. LOUIS BLUES”
    (pp. 281-327)
    KATHARINE CARTWRIGHT

    Ella Fitzgerald (1917–96), the celebrated jazz singer, was not known as a singer of the blues.¹ In fact, her blues have generally been dismissed by jazz writers on grounds they lack such attributes as “primitive guts,” “raw ring,” “primal” emotion, and “gruff hoarse passion.”² As historian Albert Murray reminds us, blues singing is not “a species of direct emotional expression in the raw,” but “an artful contrivance,” most often one that makes us feel like dancing.³ Nonetheless, this is no small slight. With the blues widely considered to be the foundation of jazz—along with improvisation, asine qua...

  12. 9 Beyond the Mushroom Cloud: A DECADE OF DISILLUSION IN BLACK BLUES AND GOSPEL SONG
    (pp. 328-349)
    BOB GROOM

    The commercial issuing of African American blues and gospel recordings effectively began in 1920 (a very few religious recordings were made before that date).¹ Although the gospel songs mostly stressed the devotional element in their lyrics, and many were in fact traditional spirituals, there was an increasing trend toward reflecting social issues. Some of the powerful and popular singing preachers (notably Rev. J. M. Gates and Reverend A. W. Nix) commented on all sorts of issues, from women’s hairstyles and the length of their skirts to the risks of flying in airplanes. Similarly, although the majority of blues song lyrics...

  13. 10 Houston Creoles and Zydeco: THE EMERGENCE OF AN AFRICAN AMERICAN URBAN POPULAR STYLE
    (pp. 350-398)
    JOHN MINTON

    “Play ‘Jole Blon’!”

    It’s Saturday afternoon at Pe-Te’s Cajun Bar-B-Que House, a tavern and dance hall in the South Houston suburb of Pasadena. Under the aegis of Cajun entrepreneur, music promoter, and disc jockey Les “Pe-Te” Johnson, L. C. Donatto and the Slippers (Fig. 10.1), one of the Bayou City’s premier zydeco bands, are holding their weekly matinee for a mixed crowd of Creoles and Cajuns. This particular request comes from a young lady among the latter.

    “All right!” L. C. responds, pumping his accordion. “Somebody wanted ‘Jole Blon.’”

    Of course, I don’t know what she talking about; I’m not...

  14. Contributors
    (pp. 399-402)
  15. Index
    (pp. 403-430)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 431-432)