Complete Recorded Works c. mid-June 1930 – 2 November 1937
Vol. 1: June 1930 to 17th March 1931
Featuring recordings by:
Charley Jordan, vocal / guitar. St. Louis Bessie (Bessie Mae Smith), vocal; accompanied probably by Peetie Wheatstraw or possibly Eddie Miller, piano; Charley Jordan, guitar. Charely Jordan, vocal / guitar; Peetie Wheatstraw, piano.
Genres: St Louis Blues, Country Blues, Country Blues Guitar, Blues Piano, Female Blues
Abridged from this albums original booklet notes. Charlie Jordan is one of the many major figures in the blues of whom we know surprisingly little. He was born in Arkansas, around 1890, and is reported to have led a hobo’s life after service in the US Army during World War I. By 1925, he was living in St. Louis, which was to be his home for the rest of his life. He was already a guitarist by this time, and it’s a good bet that his wanderings had taken him to Memphis and the Mississippi Delta, for the guitar styles of the city and the repertoire of the Delta are both evident at his first recording session. He played in a clean, confident three-finger style that owed a good deal to ragtime, but more to his own extraordinary sense of rhythm. The steady pulse that underlies his playing and singing is often a long way removed from the accenting of the guitar part; what Bernard Klatzko calls “inexact timing (that is exact)”. Jordan’s first session revealed a wide range of song styles, and some intriguing possible connections. Dollar Bill Blues bears a surprising resemblance to Leadbelly‘s “Little Children’s Blues”, as well as to the “Lost Lover Blues” recorded by Blind Boy Fuller and Sam Collins, while his stunning version of Just A Spoonful surely owes something to Charley Patton, though whether from personal encounter or through records is not known. Exposure to recordings of “T. B. Blues” probably accounts for the melody of Raidin’ Squad Blues, but the lyrics are very much Jordan’s own. Even when he performs songs from tradition, like Stack O’Dollars, Jordan embellishes them with lines of his own; his verbal originality is always in evidence, as on the extended metaphor of Gasoline Blues and the double meanings of Hunkie Tunkie Blues and Keep It Clean, a heavily self-censored song that seems to have been Jordan’s most popular number on record, and of which he made several versions. In September 1930, Charlie Jordan had accompanied the pianist / vocalist Peetie Wheatstraw on a couple of titles, and it’s probably he and Wheatstraw behind Bessie Mae Smith on Sugar Man Blues. (Eddie Miller has been suggested as the pianist, which is possible; I think Henry Brown can be ruled out.) In November 1930, Charlie Jordan made the first of many recordings with Wheatstraw accompanying him on piano. Peetie’s piano was rather subdued at first on Jordan’s records, and the duo sound is initially an odd one, for Jordan sustains his individual approach to rhythm, and Wheatstraw’s playing often sounds semi-improvised in response to the guitar part – rather like what Lonnie Johnson had to do behind Texas Alexander. Their duetting became more regularized on later recordings, but was always interesting, with Jordan seeming to bring out the inventive in Wheatstraw. Just as inventive were Jordan’s lyrics; like so many of the St. Louis singers (compare Walter Davis, Lonnie Johnson, or indeed Peetie Wheatstraw) he was an original chronicler of city life, hard times and infidelity; his lyrics invariably repay attention. Tight Haired Mama Blues has some witty comments on the fashion for straight hair: Tough Times Blues is a particularly fine combination of the traditional and the original:
You can take the Rock Island, baby, you can ride to the end of the line, But you won’t find nothing, baby, but a tough, tough time.
I said tough time here, baby, and it’s a tough time everywhere, Well I would go home, but it seem like a tough time there.
Days Of The Weeks Blues shows Charlie Jordan‘s capacity for working within an extended structure without overloading it; the song’s chronicle of the effects of the Depression achieves a remarkable cumulative force. By March 1931, Jordan was an established recording artist; he was to continue to be sought after by the record companies despite the catastrophic downturn in sales induced by “a tough time everywhere”.
Chris Smith Copyright 1992 Document Records