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The Traditional Delta and Country Blues

Joe Pullum

b. c.1900 in Houston, TX, USA, d. 1964 in Los Angeles, CA. Active in Houston, Texas, from the early 30s, Pullum sang the blues in a high and clear voice that brought added texture to his material. He appealed to contemporary blues audiences of the mid- to late 30s and signed to Victor Records, but unfortunately made only a few recordings for their Bluebird Records subsidiary. In 1934 he recorded his own ‘Black Gal What Makes Your Head So Hard?’, a song so popular that he went on to record other versions of it, including ‘Black Gal No. 3’ and ‘Black Gal No. 4’. The song was also recorded around the same time by Leroy Carr and others, although Pullum’s version was the most popular, so much so that Jimmie Gordon recorded the song for release as by ‘Joe Bullum’. The song was covered in later years by artists such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Robert Shaw, Clifton Chenier, Mance Lipscomb and, especially, Victoria Spivey who recorded it more than once. Spivey is reported as stating that Pullum wrote the song about a decade before he recorded it although the 1934 recording contains contemporary references, notably to the bonus marchers, which suggests that either Spivey was in error or, more likely, that just as he would change the lyrics after 1934, Pullum had also changed them to suit that date. He also performed ‘Bonus Blues’, indicating a continuing interest in social and political matters of the era.

Among Pullum’s other songs are ‘Mississippi Flood Blues’, ‘Joe Louis Is The Man’, ‘Blues With Class’ and ‘Dixie My Home’. On record, Pullum was often accompanied by pianists Robert Cooper or Andy Boy. The latter is with Pullum on, for example, ‘House Raid Blues’, ‘Yellow Gal Blues’, ‘Ice Pick Mama’ and ‘Too Late Blues’. In the 40s Pullum relocated to California where, in 1948, he recorded for Swing Time Records, sometimes with accompaniment from pianist Lloyd Green. Some of the work with Green has been released on compilations under the pianist’s name, Honky Tonk Train (1983) and Chica Boom (1988). Not long after his California sessions, the last of which was in 1951, Pullum sank to a level of obscurity even deeper than that which had surrounded his earlier life.