Monday, April 15, 2013

Memphis Minnie

This one was put together and written by my friend Unky Cliff.
 Memphis Minnie's success isn't always a blessing when it comes to reissues of pre-war blues material. The ego of a collector, the folks who pushed the reissue boom in the 1960s, can motivate a desire for the obscure. Some performers, Leroy Carr comes to mind, recorded so much and their 78s were so common that they were frequently ignored.

Memphis Minnie, who recorded more than 200 sides before 1940, suffers from the other bane of the popular artist. The glut of reissues, some 35 CDS by my count, makes it hard for a novice to get a toe-hold.

One of the few blues women to achieve the popularity of male performers Minnie was described by Big Bill Broonzy as 'playing guitar like a man'. Born Lizzie Douglas in Algiers LA she grew up in the Memphis TN area. Her first release 'Bumble Bee' was a big hit and the model for Muddy Waters 'Honey Bee'. Led Zeppelin took 'When The Levee Breaks' from the same session. Other recordings she made over the years became blues standards ('Me And My Chauffeur' 'Black Rat Swing').

Much of the time Minnie recorded in the company of a second guitarist, frequently with husband Kansas Joe McCoy. Although she recorded in many different styles and was a pioneer both in the prewar and post-war band styles, her most lasting contribution was made in the intricate two guitar style of Memphis.

Two vinyl reissues from the early 1960s on Blues Classics provide a perfect introduction to Minnie. The first emphasizes the commercial side of Minnie's recordings with some fine small band accompaniment. Much of Vol.2 comes from the early years of her career featuring duets with Kansas Joe.

"Born June 3, 1897, in Algiers, Louisiana, Lizzie Douglas was raised on a farm before moving in 1904 to Walls in northern Mississippi. The following year Douglas was given a guitar for her birthday and quickly learned to play. A child prodigy, she began playing local parties as "Kid" Douglas before running away from home to play for tips at Church's Park ( the current W.C. Handy Park) on Beale Street in Memphis. During the 1910s and early 1920s, Douglas adopted the handle of Memphis Minnie and toured the South, playing tent shows with the Ringling Brothers Circus.

During the late 1920s Minnie began playing guitar with a variety of ad hoc jug bands during Memphis's jug band craze. Minnie also began a common law marriage with Kansas Joe McCoy, a musician with whom she had begun playing and would soon record. Their very first session yielded the hit song "Bumble Bee" (later recorded by Muddy Waters as "Honey Bee"), and McCoy would be her musical partner for the next six years. Within a year of her first recording date, Minnie had logged a half-dozen more sessions, including a reprise of "Bumble Bee" with the Memphis Jug Band. Bukka White claimed that Minnie sang backup on his 1930 gospel recordings. By the time the effects of the Great Depression had shackled the recording industry, Minnie had
recorded fifty sides that showcased her powerful voice and energetic guitar picking. She affected wealth as her idol Ma Rainey had done, traveling to shows in luxury cars and wearing bracelets made of silver dollars on her wrists.
During the 1930s, Minnie moved to Chicago where she set the musical style by taking up bass and drum accompaniment, anticipating the sound of the 1950s Chicago blues. After her breakup with Kansas Joe, Minnie married Ernest Lawlars, known as "Little Son Joe," and continued to record into the early 1950s. Poor health prompted her to return to Memphis and forsake the musician's life in 1958. Memphis Minnie was the greatest female country blues singer, and the popularity of her songs made her one of the blues most influential artists.

Memphis Minnie died August 6, 1973, in Memphis, Tennessee, and is buried in New Hope Cemetery in Walls, Mississippi."


KingCake said...

Feilimid O'Broin said...

I cannot thank you and Unky Cliff enough for finding and posting this one. I also greatly appreciate the focus on the women of the music and have been so busy listening, I haven't had the opportunity to comment on every post. Thanks for making your way through my ponderous request and responding to it. All these posts have been wonderful and I cannot get the image of Big Mama Thornton, with murder in her heart, chasing Little Richard for a night because he, of all people, mocked her sexuality. Ironies abound and it's one of the stories that makes the comments with each post so interesting, informative, and entertaining.

flatspin said...

These Memphis Minnie Blues Classics on vinyl - particularly Vol.2 - were a big part of turning me on to pre-war country blues. Thanks for the digital update.

Anonymous said...

any possibility of a new link to vol 1
I really would like to hear this one again, bought it God knows how long ago. Could it be thirty years or more.

Post a Comment