Happy Canada Day and Independence Day! (2022)

When it comes to music there is a lot we here in Canada share with our American cousins to the south. There is also much we don’t directly share but have eagerly adopted such as Blues, Jazz, R&R and of course R&B/Hip Hop. When comparing things between the two countries the multiple of ten times often comes up, as the US has approximately 331 million people and Canada has 38 million, which is closer to 8.7 but we tend to round numbers. So given the disparity in population, despite the great music from Canada the US has always and continues to have considerable influence. If you are a Country Singer and or Songwriter sooner or later, you end up in Nashville. If you really want to know about the Blues, you must travel even further south.
Perhaps we Canadians have a bit of an identity complex when it comes to music, and for than matter a few other things, as there is no denying we have adopted a lot of music/musical styles from the US. Having said that we have some unique and original music in Canada such as several forms originating from our only officially French speaking province of Quebec, First Nations and Métis peoples. And although Newfoundland has Irish, Celtic and British roots you won’t find music quite like it anywhere else.
Without dropping some more statistics we here in Canada think we pull our own weight in terms of representation of most any musical genre compared to the US. As most of my regular readers will know I am stuck in the past, but despite by anachronistic musical tastes I can read a music chart from 2021 and 2022. Enough so that I see names like Drake, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, and The Weeknd among the top artists in the USA/ World. Many will recognize names like Alessia Cara, Jessie Reyez and Ruth B, Daniel Caesar with producer extraordinaire Jordan Evans and speaking of producers there is a long list here as well. 
In past posts I talked about the iconic names known internationally to come out of Canada like Celine Dion, Leonard Cohen, Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morissette, Gordon Lightfoot, Rush, Shania Twain, Michael Bublé, Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Nickelback and going back a bit, Paul Anka. Many of these artists are still touring and making great music. Along the way I have likely missed mention of Avril Lavigne and Carly Rae Jepsen as well as dozens more, my point being Canada is not in the back seat when it comes to recognizable names. 
In truth, in popular music there’s no competing with the USA. However, it seems (from what I have read) that music is becoming much more international, in large part due to the accessibility via streaming and that silly app that sounds like a clock. Now, there is an argument that streaming has stifled the emerging artist and the traditional methods of touring small venues had all but dried up even before the global crisis. Having said that local music scenes continue to find a way to survive. But back to my point, if you are asked to name the most iconic names in music, your list will include Beyoncé, Bob Dylan, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Post Malone, Madonna, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, or Kanye West, all from the USA. 
When it comes to lists and birthplace, I often see names like Rihanna, who is Barbadian, Nicki Minaj (Trinidad and Tobago) and Drake, The Weeknd and Joni Mitchell, listed as American artists. While some have become US citizens many origins get lost in the big American pie. The same can be said in other parts of the entertainment industry with many actors like Jim Carrey, Stana Katic, Rachel McAdams, the two Ryan’s (Reynolds and Gosling), Kiefer Sutherland, William Shatner, all born in Canada. I don’t have room to list the great actors to come from the USA.
We do share much more however, as there are dozens of well known songs and groups that have a US and Canada mix. Many iconic songs were written by Canadian Robbie Robertson while in The Band, and we also have; Arcade Fire, The Mamas and The Papas, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Blood Sweat and Tears and anything that Neil Young has been in like Buffalo Springfield and CSNY. The LA based Rock band Steppenwolf was founded by Canadian artists Jerry Edmonton, Goldy McJohn and German-Canadian John Kay, they would add American guitarist Michael Monarch and bass player Rushton Moreve.
Here are a few songs that you may not know have a Canada/US connection and as I am wont to do, let’s go back in time a bit first.
“Red River Valley” is listed as a Traditional song and has been a hit for several Country artists over the years, although first recorded by American singers, Canadian Folklorist Edith Folke has uncovered evidence the origins can be traced to Western Canada before 1896. This predates recordings by a couple of artists I have mentioned in past posts, Carl T Sprague (as “Cowboy Love Song“) and Bascom Lamar Lunsford (as “Sherman Valley”) both recorded it in 1925. There are many different lyrics that follow the same theme and certainly the melody. More modern versions, if I can use that term, follow the name, “Red River Valley” as first recorded by Hugh Cross and Riley Puckett in 1927. Google search will give you this wonderful version from Marty Robbins, released in 1961. Including instrumentals there are 225 recordings of this song.
I have mentioned Shelton Brooks before, he is Canadian born and is of African descent. His family moved to Detroit when he was quite young. A talented musician and singer best remembered for writing the song “Some of these Days” (covered over 300 times) first recorded by Sophie Tucker in 1910, released in 1911 on cylinder and she did it again in 1927, released on 78 rpm. Serena Ryder (2006).
Bob Nolan (Clarence Roberts Noble) moved from his birthplace (April 13, 1908) of Winnipeg Manitoba to New Brunswick with his mother sometime after his parents’ divorce. After a couple more moves at age 13, he ended up in Tucson, Arizona to live with his father. Nolan would write “Tumbling Tumbleweeds“, first released in 1934 by The Sons of the Pioneers, a group he co-founded with Americans Leonard Slye (Roy Rogers) and Tim Spencer. In high school Nolan would write a poem, later it became a favorite Cowboy song titled “Cool Water” first recorded by Bob Atcher in 1940, followed by The Sons of the Pioneers in 1941. Nolans songs have been covered by Dan Blocker (Hoss on Bonanza), Patsy Montana, Pete Seeger, Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash, and a boodle of Hanks: Williams, Shizzoe,Thompson and in 1938, Hank the Yodelling Cowboy, also known as Hank Snow.
At age 17, Montreal born Alex Kramer’s first gig was playing piano at a silent movie theatre in 1920. He would later travel the US as a Vaudeville and Nightclub performer. His sideline as a Vocal Coach would lead to him marry one of his American students, Joan Whitney. The pair would write several notable songs such as “High on a Windy Hill” which was a hit for Gene Krupa (vocals by Howard Du Lany) in 1940, they also wrote “Candy” with Mack David (Baby It’s You). “Candy” has been recorded over 70 times but the original by Jo Stafford and Johnny Mercer remains the standout. Other artists that recorded their songs are Doris Day, Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, and the Andrews Sisters. They also co-wrote Jimmy Dorsey’s #1 hit song “My Sister and I” (vocals by Bob Eberly) with another well known composer, Hy Zaret who co-wrote “Unchained Melody”.
I have blogged about Buffy (Beverly) Sainte-Marie, who was born in Canada February 20, 1941, She is described as an Indigenous Canadian-American singer-songwriter and musician. Her other endeavors include social activism, educator, and visual artist. She has done much to help preserve first nations culture in Canada and the US. Oh, and she is also a composer, and has an Oscar to prove it. I was fortunate enough to see her perform at the Aeolian Hall in London, Ontario in November of last year. She is still in top form and it was an incredible experience. Here is a clip from her 2018 show.
Singer Bobby Curtola of “Fortune Teller” fame was born in Port Arthur Ontario but perhaps his most lasting legacy to Canada and the US is the jingle he wrote, composed and sang, “Things go better with Coca-Cola” in 1964.
Speaking of teen idols, again I have mentioned Paul Anka before and the fact that he wrote the theme song for The Johnny Carson show, but he also penned one of Buddy Holly’s most enduring songs “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore“. It became a hit soon after Holly died in the plane crash of 1959. Covered to great success by Linda Ronstadt in 1974 and Serena Ryder in 2006.  
Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” was the smash hit from the musical Hair. It spent six weeks at #1 in 1969. The lyrics were written by two Americans, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, and Canadian Galt MacDermot composed the music. It’s perhaps best known by the 1969 release by The 5th Dimension in 1969 in the medley format, “Aquarius” is the main song with “Let the Sunshine In” as an add on which has only been recorded once as a stand alone song.  Including instrumentals there are 180 versions of the song. The Original Cast recording of Aquarius is listed as Warren Burton and Company in 1967, first released recording was credited to the guy who actually sang the song in the play, Ronald (Ronnie) Dyson and Company.
An American band known as Blood, Sweat and Tears lost their lead singer Al Kooper so thanks to Folk music star Judy Collins they hired Canadian David Clayton Thomas. Their self-titled record released late 1968 contained the hit songs’ “Spinning Wheel”, “And When I Die” and “You Made Me So Very Happy”. It topped Billboards’ album chart for 7 of it’s of 109 weeks. The album won an unprecedented five Grammy awards in 1969/70. They were the first artists to have three U.S. gold singles on the same album. 
Montreal born Andy Kim moved to New York and the Brill Building to pursue a career in music. He had a hit covering the Ronettes song “Baby I Love You” in 1969.  Kim, along with American songwriting legend Jeff Barry wrote “Sugar, Sugar” that same year which was a hit for Don Kirshner’s studio creation of The Archies. The song featured Kim and Toni Wine backing up Ron Dante (The Cuff Links) on lead vocals. The song would hit #1 for four weeks and was the Song of the Year for Billboard Magazine for 1969. You will also know him from a song he wrote himself, “Rock Me Gently” which was a #1 Billboard hit in 1974.
Eddie Schwartz is a Toronto songwriter who wrote “The Doctor“, a #1 hit on the Mainstream Rock chart for the Doobie Brothers. He wrote “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” for Pat Benatar and many other songs recorded by International artists. The song title was featured on the Jeopardy clue title board the other day.
Well, that’s a good bit of the older stuff, there are many more American-Canadian collaborations in bands, songwriting and producing but perhaps another day.
Eddie Schwartz’ song “Don’t Shed a Tear” (with Rob Friedman) would become a hit for British singer songwriter Paul Carrack known for his lead vocals on “How Long” (Ace), “Tempted” (Squeeze) and “In the Living Years” (Mike + the Mechanics). In 1987 my wife and I were at Paul Carracks debut for the album One Good Reason in Toronto, I think it was the El Mocambo but not sure on that point. Anyway, when Carrack started into “Don’t Shed a Tear” the guy beside me happened to be the above mentioned Eddie Schwartz and he said “I wrote that song”, oh the brushes with fame I’ve had! Schwartz has had hit songs recorded by Donna Summer, Meatloaf and many more. Also, of note that evening, at least it was for me! Carrack’s voice started to crack, and he said just one word, “Nick” and without missing a beat, his bass player, the one and only Nick Lowe started into “Half a Boy and Half a Man” and the place nearly fell apart. Clearly full of Nick Lowe nerds like myself. He was a big supporter of Carrack and they have played together for years, the two shared back-up bands on several albums and tours. Look for Paul Carrack as the keyboard player in the video clip from 1984. Still going strong in 2022 Nick Lowe is making a tour stop opening for his protégé, Elvis Costello in Toronto in August, yes I will be there!

Boodle: Old Cowboy saying for a crowd of people.

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The 1970’s Pt. 3

Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic from 1975

I received some feedback on the first two 1970’s posts citing that there were “some forgotten songs mentioned, and yet they came back immediately in my head” which is all part of the fun.

Music of the 1970’s

Parts one and two focused on three major sources; the Billboard charts, Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs and from The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. A few other references were used and I will try not to repeat myself as I would like to give an overview of the decades music. It was a time of much social change and we saw the introduction of many new music styles that still impact the music of today.

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100 of the Greatest Cover Songs #76-100

Last but not least, 25 more of the Greatest Cover Songs

Ok here is the last of my list, I could go on and as a matter of fact I will, just not with another set of 25 plus “to infinity and beyond!” I have to say it was easy to come up with more songs to complete the total of 100 as this final list started at 43. But it was very difficult to decide which ones would make the cut, so these last 25 songs became a list with a number of great ones left for another day.

Downchild Blues Band
76. “Flip Flop and Fly” is a song by the same collection that brought us the classic “Shake Rattle and Roll” written by Jesse Stone (credited to his pseudonym Charles E. Calhoun) and Lou Willie Turner, sung by Big Joe Turner (1954). The first time I heard this song was at a club in my hometown I’ll say around 1979 or so, performed by the talented Canadian Blues band Downchild Blues Band(1973), later known as just ‘Downchild’. Still the best cover for me although I’ve heard many fine ones out of some over 70 versions, this is a standard blues song sung in venues around the globe. Have a listen and you’ll hear I’m not just being a homer, it really is a well made piece of music. I was fortunate there were a few places noted for booking blues artists like the amazing Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy and attending them with my buddies-for just the music you understand, got me hooked on the genre. I have to sneak in this version from the Geraint Watkins Band (1978) who is a real blast to see perform live.

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Ukrainian Music

The Ukraine is under siege and many around the world are witnessing the horrors of war in real time. Many of us are doing what we can be it financial contributions, political pressure or spiritual support. Some may debate whether we should be listening to music at this time but in truth life goes on for the rest of the world and if we keep the Ukraine and the people in our thoughts and prayers, that is at least something. I write a blog about Music and not that I think this post will change what is going on but for me personally the research itself gave me a new appreciation for the music of the Ukraine. Here in Canada we have a special relationship with the people as we are have the third largest population in the world of those with Ukrainian origin at approximately 1.4 million. For the most part I “stick to my knitting” in my choice of topics but today I felt compelled to go a bit beyond. For so many there is little time for music now, however as we all hope for the future of a free Ukraine, the spirit of the people will always remain and their songs will play a big part.

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The Mojo Triangle

The Mojo Triangle

Source: USA Today

Writer James L. Dickerson coined the brilliant term Mojo Triangle in 2005, before I learned of it I had referred to the area as the reverse Bermuda Triangle of music. This (among other things I’ll admit) is why I write a blog and he is the award winning author of Mojo Triangle: Birthplace of Country, Blues, Jazz and Rock ‘n’ Roll. I confess I haven’t gotten round to reading it yet but I’ve been itching to write about the area for some time and I have researched the names and places for several years now. The ‘triangle’ refers to the geographic region with Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans as the three corners. The states of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana are at the core. We know it as part of the “Deep South” and it’s been referred to by other music related terms that pre date the ‘Mojo’ handle such as “America’s Musical Triangle” and the “Americana Musical Triangle”. But quite appropriately adding the noun Mojo conjures up a mysterious and magical aura. Read More »

The Sea Shanty

Sea Shanties

I have had this topic as one of 21 ideas in my draft folder for some time and the plan was to release it for International Talk Like a Pirate Day Sept 19, 2020, but I never got around to writing it. I thought about getting to it after I saw the movie about the singing group Fisherman’s Friends as well. Now, sea shanties are making news thanks to Nathan Evans and Tik Tok, Youtube and other social media, so it’s time to jump on the bandwagon!
I have mentioned before I have a friend of Irish descent, and the classic Irish drinking songs are closely related to (if not a few of them considered) sea shanties themselves. Add to this that I’m half Newfoundlander on my mother’s side, also – my close friend from a Haven Port in the UK so I’m somewhat familiar with the genre.

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Isn't it Ironic

Isn’t it Ironic?

Sorry, I’m not talking about Alanis Morissette! But there are artists who have been eclipsed by their own songs. Many of them are amazing songwriters but, ironically, their chart-topping hits were written by someone else. As I pointed out in my series, I Write the Songs, many great songwriters are not well-known, yet their songs are easily recognized by most people. Today I will point out the contrasts in popularity for some singer/songwriters. When I say ironic, I mean that things turned out the opposite or in an unexpected way from what one might have expected.

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Piedmont is an area that runs to the east of the Appalachian region and Blue Ridge Mountains to the Atlantic Coast and extends from Alabama up through New York State. I have made some passing references to some of the artists from this area, in particular with my post on the adjacent Appalachia and Bluegrass. You may be surprised at Piedmont’s significant contributions to the Blues and other genres. 

Musical Styles

Music from this region is primarily known as the Piedmont Blues or the East Coast Blues. There is a significant difference in the style of Piedmont Blues music compared to the style found in the epicenter of the Blues, the Mississippi Delta. I’ve talked about the importance of Arnold Shultz in the development of Bluegrass and fingerstyle guitar; in Delta Blues I discussed many pioneers such as Broonzy, James and Leonard. For the Piedmont region, we look to artists of no less importance such as Blind Blake, Scrapper Blackwell, Kokomo Arnold, Elizabeth Cotten, Josh White and others that played not only the Blues, but Folk and Country hybrid styles as well.
Piedmont Blues comes down to the thumb style and frailing technique known as Ragtime Guitar. This type of music features guitar playing styles and songs that would shape future musicians beyond the Blues genre including both Rock and Folk. For the Blues genre it is a sound that is much more upbeat in nature resulting in a ‘happier’ sounding Blues compared to that of the Delta Region. The best way to describe it is to get to the artists themselves.

The Musicians

Blind Blake

Arthur Blake was born blind from either 1893 or 1896 and died in 1934 after succumbing to pulmonary tuberculosis. His recording career with Paramount Records only lasted from 1926 to 1932. Little is known about his life other than that he was an itinerant guitar player who traveled in Georgia and the Carolina regions. Ironically, one of his best-known songs is “West Coast Blues”. Blind Blake is the first person known to use the thumb picking guitar style, which was the basis for the region’s significance. With people’s penchant for giving monikers to musicians, I am surprised I never ran across a description of him as the ‘Father of the Piedmont Blues’ as his influence, it seems, was very significant. Some of his most popular songs are “Police Dog Blues“, “Rope Stretching Blues” and “Diddie Wa Diddie“.

Scrapper Blackwell

We know more about Blackwell than Blind Blake – he was born February 21,1903 and died October 7,1962. A native of the Carolinas, he produced some very important works as a solo artist but had the most success working with the influential Indianapolis singer and piano player Leroy Carr. During my research I discovered that Blackwell recorded the important song “Kokomo Blues” in 1928 and it seems he is often credited by music journalists, Blues music websites and various biographies as having written the song. See my notes below as I suggest a different story. Nevertheless, he and Carr toured the South and the Midwest and their songs, “Prison Bound Blues”, “Blues Before Sunrise” and especially “How Long, How Long Blues” became very popular and influenced the next generation of Blues artists.

Kokomo Arnold

James Arnold recorded the same song as Blackwell, “Kokomo Blues”, naming it “Old Original Kokomo Blues”, which led to the nickname Kokomo Arnold. Arnold was from Georgia and spent just a very short time in the music business recording for Decca from 1934 to 1938. He lived in Pittsburgh for a time then moved to Chicago and worked in a factory. However, he is an important part of this story. First, his version of the song came to the attention of famed Delta Bluesman, Robert Johnson, who wrote “Sweet Home Chicago” based on the same melody and some of the words as well. Secondly, Arnold wrote the song “Sagefield Woman Blues” from which Johnson took the line ‘dust my broom’  which later became one of his signature songs. Lastly, there is some more traceable influence on Johnson who took Arnold’s “Milk Cow Blues” and turned it into “Milkcow Calf Blues”.

Blind Boy Fuller

Fulton Allen was born sometime between 1904 and 1907. He slowly lost his eyesight due to untreated neonatal conjunctivitis and was completely blind by 1928. I mentioned in an earlier post that Pink Floyd took their name from Pinkney “Pink” Anderson and Floyd Council, fellow Carolinian/Piedmont Blues artists that were listed in the liner notes as playing on an album by Fuller. Like others in the region and for that time in history, Fuller had a short life, dying from sepsis among other problems in 1941. However, he was a prolific and popular artist and recorded over 120 songs. He was a student and later master of the Blind Blake guitar playing style and is best known for his influence on others and at least two significant songs. The first is “Truckin’ My Blues Away”: this song contains the line, ‘keep on truckin’’ and is the first known use of the phrase. The second song is “Get Your Yas Yas Out“, later adapted by the Rolling Stones for the name of their 1970 live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!
Brownie McGhee was Blind Boy Fuller’s protege and another fine guitar player with an even finer singing voice. After singing in groups and doing some solo recording he teamed up with the amazing harmonica player, Sonny Terry, who was also influenced by Fuller. Terry was blind by age 16 so he was forced to try and make a living as a musician. He ended up playing at Carnegie Hall in 1936 and is one of the legends of the Piedmont. 

Doc Watson

While Arthel Lane Watson, as I noted in my post on Bluegrass often played in that flatpicking style he was born and bred in the Piedmont region on March 3, 1923 in Deep Gap, North Carolina. Watson also died (May 29, 2012) in North Carolina where he lived most all his life. Blind by the age of two, Arthel acquired his nickname after a live radio performance where the host thought Arthel was an odd name and someone yelled out “call him Doc”, it’s assumed after the Sherlock Holmes sidekick. While he mostly played in the thumbpicking style of Blind Blake he would find influence in the music of the country superstars of the Carter Family and the “Father of Country Music” Jimmie Rodgers. Known for his ability to play fiddle tunes on his electric guitar, he was a handy guy for a square dance. But around 1960 on the advice of musicologist and mandolin player Ralph Rinzler, he switched almost exclusively to acoustic guitar and banjo. His career took off and in my opinion he has a place as one of the finest guitarists of all time.
Watson played with many other artists including his own family and still  produced hundreds of solo recordings. Here he is with a traditional rendition of “Tom Dooley” that he learned from his grandmother who actually knew at least one of the people named in the song. This North Carolina Folk song is about the 1866 murder of Laura Foster and the condemned man named Tom Dula, pronounced Dooley. It’s listed as a traditional song because the author’s name is in dispute, and it was first recorded in 1929 by the grandson of Col. James Grayson who employed and eventually helped capture Dula. This is the original Tom Dooley by Grayson and Whitter , released May 2, 1930. It became a number one hit for The Kingston Trio in 1958. Watson recorded another well-known Piedmont tune several times; this version of “Black Mountain Rag” is with his son Merle.  Originally for the fiddle, it is based on the song “Lost Child” and written by Virginian Leslie Keith. It has become a favorite of Country artists and Fingerstyle guitar players. This clip of “Deep River Blues shows some great closeups of those amazing hands. Here is a great demonstration of his banjo playing on “Hiram Hubbard“.
There are many other important and influential artists such as Buddy Moss, Blind Willie McTell, Barbecue Bob, Etta Baker and Curly Weaver. And while I have talked about the artists who are the pioneers of the Piedmont Blues sound, there are two more people who deserve a lot of credit for shaping both Folk and Rock music. They are Elizabeth Cotten and Josh White.

Elizabeth Cotten

Elizabeth Cotten: Master of American folk music | American folk ...
Elizabeth Cotten was born January 5, 1893 and she died on June 29, 1987. Though she was from the Piedmont she was well known beyond that for both her songwriting and guitar playing styles. Cotten wrote “Freight Train” at age 11 and was most certainly an influence in the Bluegrass, Folk, Blues, Country and Rock genres. This influence really came after her rediscovery by the iconic musical family of Ruth Crawford Seeger and her husband Charles Seeger in the 1950s. Cotten had retired from playing and after a chance meeting with the Seegers she worked briefly as their housekeeper. When they realized her talents, one of the children, Mike Seeger, began recording her songs. This inspired Cotten to continue performing, write more songs and earn a good living, eventually winning a Grammy in 1984. Here she is singing “Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie/Old Woman Keeps Tellin’ Her Lies On Me“. 
To generalize a bit, Black musicians played a more Blues-oriented sound typified by the Delta and Piedmont Blues subgenres. But Cotten would be categorized as more of a Folk artist. The self taught Elizabeth Cotten – like Kokomo Arnold – played the right-handed guitar left-handed, which is more unusual than you think as most left-handed people are forced to learn to play it right-handed for lack of a left-handed instrument. Just think about it, the guitar is upside down for the left-handed player; the base string is now at the top, not to mention everything else about it is for right handers. While the left-handed guitar was invented perhaps as early as 1915, it was quite rare and it was very hard to get a hold of one and apparently still is in some parts. More compositions by Elizabeth Cotten: “Shake Sugaree“, “Spanish Flang Dang“. 

Josh White

White was born February 11,1914 and died in New York at age 55 on September 5,1969. There is so much to this remarkable man that I can only tell a brief bit of his story today.  His father was taken away to a mental institution after an altercation with a bill collector so his mother was forced to sell him into servitude at age eight for a fee of two dollars a week. Two years later, he left his Greenville South Carolina home to tour with Blind Man Arnold and became a recording artist. He has left a mark on not only American music but on stage, film, activism and race relations. He returned home at age 10 only to be lured away to record more records. As to his singing and guitar playing, he recorded Christian Music, mainstream Stage Productions, as well as Country Blues and Folk. He did sessions with other Piedmont artists such as Buddy Moss and the aforementioned Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr.
While he could read and write music, he his best known for his adaptations of several songs. His biggest hit was a reworking of an 1855 song called “The Lone Fish Ball”. It was later titled, “One Meatball”, written by the famed Hy Zaret (Unchained Melody) and Lou Singer. He would reword and change the music to several songs but most notably was “House of the Rising Sun”, which he recorded twice, in 1942 with a frequent co-performer and collaborator Libby Holman, and in 1944. The 1944 arrangement set the baseline for others who recorded the song such as Leadbelly and The Animals
Here he is with a Roosevelt Sykes song “D.B.A. Blues” recorded in 1935 under the name of Pinewood Tom. It’s hard to believe it’s the same artist. Here is one of his songs, “I Got a Home in That Rock”, billed as Josh White (The Singing Christian). Josh White, a close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, spread influence across many different genres, from Folk singers like Pete Seeger, Peter Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan, to Folk Rock with The Byrds and David Crosby, and Blues singers such as Blind Boy Fuller and even Elvis Presley. His rendition of the Blues classic “St. James Infirmary” is a standout among hundreds of versions.

More about Kokomo Blues

The first known recording of this song was printed as “Kokalo Blues” due to a misprint by the record manufacturer. Madlyn Davis’s 1927 recording of the song predates Scrapper Blackwell’s by about one year which dispels, in my mind, the likelihood that he wrote it, and as far as I can tell, no one knows who did. Unlike some of the sites specializing in Blues music history say, “Kokomo Blues” is not about a brand of coffee, but it’s in reference to the City of Kokomo Indiana. In fact, as far as I can see and hear, none of the versions mention coffee at all, yet the word “city” is right in the lyrics. Not only that but I found nothing on the internet about a brand of coffee from that time period. It doesn’t mean there wasn’t one, but again, it seems very unlikely. There is however a Kokomo Coffee shop in town that opened fairly recently – go figure!
So why all the fuss about this tune you may ask? Well this little-known piece has persisted in cover songs and the melody is one of the most famous songs in Blues history. Let’s circle back to Madlyn Davis for a moment: I can’t find anything about her other than she recorded this and a few other songs in Chicago around 1927/28. I found some reference to her having composed Kokomo Blues but was not able to corroborate it. Where she was from originally is anyone’s guess, so I can’t say she is from the Piedmont area. But Scrapper Blackwell was from the Piedmont, as is the singer who got his name from the song. As mentioned, Kokomo Arnold’s version inspired Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago”. There is certainly no dispute that that song is very important to Blues Music, but it also speaks to the perception of Robert Johnson. Johnson is someone who – while being exceedingly talented – has been elevated to a status far above his contemporaries, in my opinion. These contemporaries deserve more credit than they get, at least from what I’ve read and seen so far.
Here is a sampling of other artists that belong to the Piedmont/East Coast Blues and Folk styles: Big Ron Hunter, Ry CooderPrecious Bryant, Valerie and Ben Turner and the duo of Warner Williams and Jay Summerour.
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