Label: Document Records
Release Date: August 15, 1993
Releases: June 2, 1994; September, 2000; April 12, 2005
Recording Time: 74 minutes
Recording Date: July 30, 1928 - July 11, 1937
Styles: Country Blues, Delta Blues, Pre-War Blues, Regional Blues
Featured Artists: Mississippi Caldwell Bracy, Mattie Delaney, Louise Johnson, Mose Andrews, Isaiah Nettles, 'Big Road' Webster Taylor, Elvie Thomas, Uncle Bud Walker, Geechie Wiley
Countless musicians recorded during the apex of the early country blues boom in the 1920s and 1930s, and for every Robert Johnson or Skip James there are a dozen more artists whose 78s never made much of a mark, whose studio time may have been limited to one visit, one session. History has sorted out the giants and geniuses from the ordinary players and also-rans, but that process has been built in part by sheer happenstance, as scholars and collectors often went door to door in the South asking to look at old 78s stored in attics, basements, and garages, and what lost and hidden gems are stuck in a closet behind a stack of old magazines is anybody's guess. Which is why Document Records is such a godsend. With a stated goal of locating and releasing in a digital format every 78 it can get its hands on, Document has been tireless in its mission to bring some of these old, lost voices back to life. Mississippi Blues (this is volume one of two, but there will undoubtedly be more volumes) collects the complete known recorded works of Uncle Bud Walker, "Big Road" Webster Taylor, Mattie Delaney, Louise Johnson, Mississippi Bracy (Caldwell Bracy), Geeshie Wiley (spelled Geechie here), Elvie Thomas, the Mississippi Moaner (Isiah Nettles), and Mose Andrews. Most of these artists only put out a single 78 before vanishing into the thin ether of blues history. With the exception of Wiley's stunning and atmospheric "Last Kind Word Blues," nothing here has much of a chance to deeply change your world, but there are some pleasant little gems and discoveries to be found, including Taylor's melismatic moans (which approximate yodels) on his only two known tracks, "World in a Jug" and "Sunny Southern Blues." Delaney turns in a spunky version of Charley Patton's "High Water Everywhere" called "Tallahatchie River Blues," while Bracy's "You Scolded Me and Drove Me from Your Door" and Nettles' "It's Cold in China Blues" are also a cut above the normal blues fare for the era. The real treasure here, though, is Wiley's "Last Kind Word Blues," one of six sides she and Thomas recorded for Paramount Records in 1930 and 1931. It is one of the most harrowing and transcendent performances in country blues history, and that it has survived the dismissive nature of time and distance into the 21st century is a tip of the hat to the gambler's prayer of good luck and good fortune.
by Steve Leggett
Document Records: DOCD-5157 Mississippi Blues Vol. 1 (1928-1937)
This collection brings together the complete recordings of a handful of obscure musicians associated with the Mississippi Delta. . . through their musical style, biographical information, or both. The music on this disc shows that African-American men, typically thought of as solely responsible for the Delta tradition, were only one - albeit vital - piece of the puzzle. The contributions of individuals on the periphery of blues, specifically women, and to a lesser degree, whites, have been largely ignored. Essentially nothing is known about “Big Road” Webster Taylor, making his recorded legacy, as well as his race, rather perplexing. Originally credited “The Mississippi Mule Skinner”, this yodeller’s two titles were intended for Vocalion’s 5000 hillbilly series. Paul Oliver attributes his odd vocal style to the influence of Jimmie Rodgers, but maintains that Taylor was black. Mattie Delaney, Geeshie Wiley, Elvie Thomas, and Louise Johnson are fascinating in that they managed to record at all. Few women who truly represented the rural sound of the Delta ever made commercial recordings, so the samples offered here deserves special attention. Especially striking is the fact that three of these singers accompany themselves on guitar. Add to that the piano playing and singing of Louise Johnson, and this collection represents quite forcefully the legacy of Mississippi blues women. Perhaps paying greater attention to Delaney, Thomas, and Wiley will dismiss the persistent tendency of blues fans to imagine Memphis Minnie as the only female guitarist in pre-war secular blues. Louise Johnson is the subject of a controversy generated by the divergent memories of Son House and Cripple Clarence Lofton, centring on who played piano behind Johnson’s vocals. Johnson was a member of the historic blues caravan that made the trip from Mississippi to Grafton, Wisconsin, to record for Paramount in May, 1930. The group consisted of Charley Patton, Son House, Willie Brown, and Louise Johnson. Louise Johnson was credited at the time with vocals and piano, but Clarence Lofton, who did not record until 1935, claimed late in life that he had accompanied Johnson’s vocals, and that these Paramount sessions were actually his first records. Son House, on the other hand, consistently credited Johnson as pianist, as did Paramount. What shouldn’t be obscured by these competing claims is the raucous energy and amazing depth that Johnson creates with her piano and voice. Though Son House and Willie Brown had other opportunities to record later in life, Louise Johnson’s output was limited to that one day in 1930. Despite having only four titles to her credit, Louise Johnson is one of the most electrifying pianists of the period. Mississippi Bracy’s four songs were recorded at the same time as four unreleased gospel titles which were credited to Caldwell Bracey and Wife. The available information leads one to assume that Mississippi Bracy was in fact Caldwell Bracey. Isaiah Nettles, “The Mississippi Moaner”, was yet another discovery of talent scout H. C. Speir, who had previously brought Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson before the microphone. Nettles recorded at the same session with Robert Wilkins and Will Shade and would reportedly embellish his live performances with barefoot tap-dancing. There is little or nothing known for certain about most of the artists here. Perhaps it is these mysterious figures who best fit into the shadowy Delta mythology.
Personnel: Uncle Bud Walker - vocals, guitar; “Big Road” Webster Taylor - vocals, guitar; Mattie Delaney - vocals, guitar; Louise Johnson - vocals, piano; Mississippi Bracy (Caldwell Bracey) - vocals, guitar; Geechie Wiley - vocals, guitar; Elvie Thomas - vocals, guitar; The Mississippi Moaner (Isaiah Nettles) - vocals, guitar; Mose Andrews - vocals, guitar.
Informative Notes by John Henry Vanco.
Credits: Mose Andrews - primary artist; Mattie Delaney - performer, primary artist; Louise Johnson - composer, performer, primary artist; The Mississippi Moaner - primary artist; Elvie Thomas - composer, performer, primary artist; Uncle Bud Walker - performer, primary artist; Geeshie Wiley - performer, primary artist.
Tracks: 1) Look here mama blues - Uncle Bud Walker; 2) Stand up suitcase blue - Uncle Bud Walker; 3) World in a jug - 'Big Road' Webster Taylor; 4) Sunny southern blues - 'Big Road' Webster Taylor; 5) Down the big road blues - Mattie Delaney; 6) Tallahatchie River blues - Mattie Delaney; 7) All night long blues (take 1) - Louise Johnson; 8) Long ways from home - Louise Johnson; 9) On the wall - Louise Johnson; 10) By the moon and stars - Louise Johnson; 11) You scolded me and drove me from your door - Mississippi Bracy (Caldwell Bracy); 12) Cherry Ball - Mississippi Bracy (Caldwell Bracy); 13) Steered girl - Mississippi Bracy (Caldwell Bracy); 14) I'll overcome someday - Mississippi Bracy (Caldwell Bracy); 15) Last kind words blues - Geechie Wiley; 16) Skinny leg blues - Geechie Wiley; 17) Motherless child blues - Elvie Thomas; 18) Over to my house - Wiley and Thomas (Elvie Thomas and Geechie Wiley); 19) Pick poor Robin clean - Geechie Wiley; 20) Eagles on the half - Wiley and Thomas (Elvie Thomas and Geechie Wiley); 21) Mississippi moan - The Mississippi Moaner (Isaiah Nettles); 22) It's cold in China blues - The Mississippi Moaner (Isaiah Nettles); 23) Ten pound hammer - Mose Andrews; 24) Young heifer blues - Mose Andrews.