Papa Charlie Jackson
Complete Recorded Works c. August 1924 – c. November 1934
Vol. 1: 1924 to February 1926
Papa Charlie Jackson, vocal / banjo. Ida Cox And Papa Charlie Jackson, vocal duet; accompanied by Charlie Jackson, banjo. Ida Cox, vocal. Accompanied by Papa Charlie Jackson, banjo. Papa Charlie Jackson, vocal / banjo; unknown, 2nd banjo. Papa Charlie Jackson, vocal, banjo, guitar
Genres: Blues, Banjo, Country Blues, Songster, Louisiana Blues, New Orleans Blues, Chicago Blues, Female Blues, Blues Guitar, Hokum
Abridged from this album’s original booklet notes. As the first solo, self-accompanied male blues singer to be a record star, Papa Charlie Jackson paved the way for the likes of Blind Blake and Blind Lemon Jefferson on his own label, and for all their successors; but his music was from a different tradition. For one thing, he generally played the banjo-guitar, a hybrid instrument whose six strings were tuned and fingered like a guitar’s, but whose banjo body gave it a light, staccato sound. For another, Jackson’s songs were those of a vaudeville entertainer, with a background in tent, theatre and medicine shows. Airy Man Blues (correctly “Hairy Man Blues”) contains the first of his many references to Chicago landmarks, in this case State Street. Salt Lake City Blues, by Gertrude Davis, was a mildly daring joke at the expense of the Mormons, not known for their tolerance of blacks. Its flipside, Salty Dog Blues, was that song’s debut on disc, and its sales established Papa Charlie Jackson as a star. Takes 1, 2 and 3 are variously shown in the wax of surviving copies, though they are in fact identical, like all “alternate” takes that could be examined for this album, suggesting that repressing from the original master is indicated, rather than the use of different takes. The Cats Got The Measles, credited to Murphy and Smiley, is largely a collection of traditional verses; its double entendre flipside, unrelated except in its opening line to the Clarence Williams composition later recorded by Bessie Smith, is a woman’s song, which Papa Charlie doesn’t bother to amend. Shave ‘Em Dry had been previously recorded by Ma Rainey, and was probably an attempt to generate further sales; Coffee Pot Blues, on the reverse, starts with traditional verses, but surprisingly becomes a murder ballad. By this time, Papa Charlie Jackson was a big enough name to be coupled in duet with Ida Cox, Paramount’s other female star alongside Ma Rainey, but it was with Shake That Thing that his career really took off. This light-hearted dance tune was the forerunner of the late 20s hokum craze, was widely covered, and is part of the blues to this day: “Old Uncle Jack, the jelly roll king” gave his name to Frank Frost‘s band. When Paramount produced a two-part promotional record in 1929, featuring brief performances by their stars, Papa Charlie Jackson and Shake That Thing opened and closed the Hometown Skiffle. The Faking Blues, on the reverse of Shake That Thing, is largely made up of traditional verses, and uses “faking” as an intensifier, rather like “mamlish” in other contexts. I’m Alabama Bound and Drop That Sack feature two banjos, the unknown duettist often drowning out Jackson’s playing with his excellent flatpicking; to hear that there are, indeed, two banjos, listen to the break just before the last verse of Drop That Sack, where Jackson’s characteristic fast bass runs come through clearly. Alabama Bound is, again, the song’s debut on record. The 12-bar Hot Papa Blues was backed with the cheerful eight-bar insult song Mama Don’t You Think I Know?. Similarly, the traditional Take Me Back Blues was coupled with a remarkable rewrite of the jazz warhorse Mama Don’t Allow, which turns the song into a tale of a country girl coming to town and being entrapped by a pimp. This topic continues on Maxwell Street Blues, as Jackson asks the desk sergeant to release his girl, arrested for soliciting at the famous Sunday market. That song’s reverse was yet another first recording of a famous song, All I Want Is A Spoonful, like Salty Dog an obscurely sexual lyric. Paul Carter‘s I’m Going Where The Chilly Winds Don’t Blow, on the other hand, was an original lyric in an unusual 12- bar verse plus 16-bar chorus format, and has affinities with hillbilly music (compare Earl Johnson‘s All Night Long). On Texas Blues, Jackson plays guitar, although he achieves an unusual sound, allegedly by using a banjo g’ string, an octave higher than the guitar’s normal third string. Intriguingly, Jackson’s Blues features a piano walking bass on guitar; equally intriguing is its lyric, praising the ability of a Chicago ward heeler, coincidentally named Palmer Jackson, to get people out of jail and look after their rights (a sadly rare word in blues).
Chris Smith Copyright 1991 & 2007 Document Records