Barrelhouse Women Vol 1 1925 – 1930
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When we think of women blues singers of the 1920’s, we generally think of cabarets, the vaudeville stage, and traveling shows as the normal context for their music. Yet recordings by the end of that decade revealed that there were a number of women like Memphis Minnie, Mattie Delaney, Geeshie Wiley, and Elvie Thomas who accompanied themselves on guitar and clearly held their own with their male counterparts in house parties, juke joints, and country picnics. There was yet a third group of women blues singers who were accompanied by a piano, sometimes played by themselves but more often by a male musicians. Some of these artists, like Ida Cox, worked primarily or exclusively in the vaudeville and cabaret circuit, but there were others who preferred or simply never had a chance to get out of the urban saloons, honky-tonks, and rent parties. The artists on this disc range in style from vaudeville to pure barrelhouse.
Here are four acts that brought the blues into their performances. Evelyn Brickey and Katherine Adkins single 78 outputs were typical of many female vaudeville performers of the day for whom jazz / blues were a part of their repertoire. Recorded evidence suggests that Bertha Ross, a possible pseudonym for Lucille Bogan and the duet; Clara Burston and Frances Wallace, were far more committed to the genre. With Bertha Ross we head south to the twin cities of Birmingham and Bessemer, Alabama, and enter barrelhouse blues territory. All four of her titles vocals are outstanding, particularly Lost Man Blues. The Bessemer Blues Pickers, who accompany her, seem to consist mainly of pianist Vance Patterson. There’s some excellent duet harmony whistling, but no additional picking, on Blues Rode Me All Night Long, while the great Jaybird Coleman pops in on harmonica during a break on My Jelly Blues. Patterson has a darting piano style like that of Walter Roland.
Clara Burton and Frances Wallace recorded under their own, individual names, helped out in accompanying each other and as a two-part duet. They both seem to be cut from the same cloth, though streetwise women who insult each other about the man that they share on Frankie And Clara. Wallace was aptly named Barrelhouse Frankie on one of her records. She sings in a tart voice somewhat like Alice Moore’s and contemplates murdering her man in Low Down Man Blues. Burston consistently takes the stance of a prostitute in her songs. C.P Blues gives a good insight into the world’s oldest profession. Her fine lyrics, tough singing style and outstanding accompaniment mark her as a blues singer of the first rank. Bertha, Clara and Frances sound like they were tough, good time girls and one wonders what their idea of a good night out would be. “If the phone rings tell them I’m staying in to comb my hair”.