Ma Rainey – Vol.5 – The Complete 1928 Sessions
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Ma Rainey Vol.5 : The Complete 1928 Sessions
Featuring the recordings of:(Gertrude) Ma Rainey, vocal; accompanied by Her Tub Jug Washboard Band: Georgia Tom Dorsey, piano; Martell Pettiford, banjo; Herman Brown, kazoo / washboard on 1, 2, 5, 6, 7 / tub d on 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8; Carl Reid, jazzhorn on 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 / jug (except on 1); members of the band, moaning on 8, 9. Ma Rainey, vocal; accompanied by Georgia Tom Dorsey, piano; Tampa Red, guitar. Ma Rainey, vocal; accompanied by poss. Myrtle Jenkins, piano. Ma Rainey, vocal; accompanied by Georgia Tom, piano; Tampa Red, guitar. Ma Rainey and Papa Charlie Jackson, vocal duet; accompanied by Papa Charlie Jackson, banjo.+
Abridged from this album’s original booklet notes. When Gertrude Ma Rainey made Black Cat Hoot Owl Blues she was respected by everyone in her profession. She had recorded seventy-five titles in the previous four years, and she was a major star on the black theatre circuit run by the TOBA (the Theatre Owners Booking Agency, known to some of the troupers as “Tough on Black Artists”).
Recently she had bought herself a large bus to take her show on tour and doubtless she was preparing to get back on the road to catch the cotton-picking season when share-cropper’s pockets were full. When she married Will “Pa” Rainey in 1904 she was still in her teens, but she toured with him as “Ma and Pa Rainey, the Assassinators of the Blues”. There is a possibility that she taught the blues to Bessie Smith, who certainly worked with her at one time.
The younger, and beautiful Bessie Smith was her only serious rival, though there were many women blues singers like Ida Cox and Sippie Wallace, who became very popular. Bessie’s majestic style had earned her the name of “The Empress of the Blues“, but to rural Blacks the homely “Madame” Gertrude Rainey, as she styled herself, was “Ma”, the “Mother of the Blues“. They called her “the Paramount Wildcat” and now, when she had become famous and carried her wealth in gold dollars on a chain, the “Golden Necklace Woman of the Blues“.
This was the short, dark-skinned, wild-haired, bi-sexual woman who, unexpectedly, chose to record with a rough-house “jug band”. Though in 1926 she had sung with pianist Jimmy Blythe and the blues guitarist Blind Blake on a few recordings, by far the majority of her records were with her “Georgia Band“. Its fluctuating personal included musicians of the stature of Kid Ory, Charlie Green and Al Wynn on trombone, the clarinettists Johnny Dodds and Artie Starks, cornet players Joe Smith and Tommy Ladnier, even on one occasion, Louis Armstrong. But now, in her last year of recording, Ma Rainey reverted to more simple, raucous blues accompaniments.
Gertrude Ma Rainey
Mid-year 1928 saw her singing with her Tub Jug Washboard Band, a hokum group which exploited both the folk sounds and the comic potential of rural, home-made instruments. A washboard was scraped as a rhythm instrument, a wash-tub and broom-handle were made into a rudimentary one-string bass, while a “seven-gallon” jug or demi-john, when half-spat, half-blown into, could produce a resonant, tuba-like honk.
Any melody was taken on the jazzhorn – a kazoo with the bell of a trombone attached to amplify the sound. Deep Moaning Blues had the band humming like a church congregation with Ma singing against a banjo and jug stop chorus, while Travelling Blues offered opportunities for train imitations and Carl Reid‘s “talking” technique on the jazzhorn. But also in the session were some of Ma Rainey‘s most forthright blues. Hear Me Talking To You, for example, was on a sexual theme using both folk imagery and ironic jokes:
“Eve and Adam in the garden, taking a chance Adam didn’t take time to get his pants…”
But Prove It On Me Blues was a blatant statement of Ma’s own lesbianism:
“They say I do it, ain’t nobody caught me, they sure got to prove it on me. Went out last night with a crowd of my friends, they must’ve been women cause I don’t like no men,”A few months later she was accompanied by Georgia Tom, playing mellow piano in the background, and whining bottleneck guitar by Tampa Red. His use of a moaning technique on the strings beautifully complemented the slow blues Sleeping, Talking, while he played clearly and effectively on Black Eye Blues, this was something of a throwback to Ma’s earlier vaudeville days, a song which found humour in physical abuse “down in Hogan’s Alley”. Most of her 1928 records were twelve-bar blues though several endeavoured to match the success of other singers – Leaving This Morning was a version of the major hit that year, Kansas City, from where Ma was going “to bring Jim Jackson home”. Daddy, Goodbye similarly exploited a recent success – Leroy Carr‘s How Long, How Long Blues. Even in her last session, a couple of duets with the old-time medicine show entertainer Papa Charlie Jackson, she chose to make Victoria Spivey‘s 1927 hit, T. B. Blues into Ma and Pa’s Poor House Blues. “It’s too bad, too bad…” they sang and it seemed that they had read the signs that the vaudeville style of blues was over. When they sang Big Feeling Blues in sombre, resigned tones it marked both the end of Ma Rainey‘s recording career and the achievements of a new generation of blues singers who anticipated the trends of the 1930s. Paul Oliver . Copyright 1993: Document Records.DOCD-5156 Also Available