Memphis Minnie Vol. 1: Complete Recorded Works (1935)
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Memphis Minnie; vocal, guitar.
With contributions by; Black Bob, piano; Casey Bill Weldon, slide steel guitar, and others…
Genres: Country blues / early Chicago blues.
Informative booklet note by Howard Rye.
With her musical and personal relationship with Kansas Joe McCoy ended, new directions inevitably had to be sought for Memphis Minnie’s recording career. An air of experimentation can be detected in her first visits to the recording studio in 1935. The January 10th session is distinguished by a fine pianist whom she addresses as “Jimmie”, which is generally taken to indicate Jimmie Gordon. Two of the numbers recorded are stomping bawdy songs, Sylvester And His Mule is textually more interesting. Telling of a cotton-pickers’ (successful) appeal to President Roosevelt, it reflects optimism in the black community about the New Deal.
On 15 January she recorded two gospel titles under the monicker “Gospel Minnie”, even indulging in a spot of preaching. At her final Decca session in May, Minnie was alone with her guitar and her talents are displayed at their peak. Her mind was on travelling and she takes us south to Helena, Arkansas to meet Reachin’ Pete, an “all right” cop, who’s “the tallest man walks on Cherry Street”, and Down In New Orleans, “where I can get my rice an’ beans”.
When she returned to the studio in July Bluebird felt obliged to conceal her as “Texas Tessie”. The two-guitar accompaniment harks back to the duet sound.
August saw Minnie back with Vocalion. Ball And Chain Blues is her first recorded move into the band style of the late thirties. The mood is boisterous; the suicidal theme undermined by her derisive final aside, Ain’t It A Cryin’ Shame. Thereafter, Black Bob’s wonderful piano playing takes over completely to dominate two tributes to boxer Joe Louis, a contemporary hero of the black community. With songs about Louis on both sides, Vocalion 03046 became a paean of praise to the conquering hero. Minnie’s growling on He’s In The Ring links it musically to the Gospel Minnie sides.
It looks as though Vocalion didn’t put Minnie under contract, since she was able to return to Victor under her own name in October 1935, with a similarly lively set up. The first two sides are dominated by the steel guitar of Casey Bill Weldon, her partner in pre-recording days in Memphis. Hustlin’ Woman Blues presents her as a prostitute with pimp trouble and the memorable image, “I sit on the corner all night long, counting the stars one by one”.