St Louis Girls – Various Artists – Complete Recorded Works (1927 – 1934)
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St. Louis Girls
The Complete Recordings (1927 1934)
Featuring the recordings of:
Katherine Baker, vocal; accompanied by (collective personnel – instrumentation used is interchangeable) Henry Johnson, violin; James Johnson, piano / celeste; Henry Moon, George Thomas (one of them is actually Lonnie Johnson using a pseudonym), guitar. Lizzie Washington, vocal; accompanied by (collective personnel – instrumentation used is interchangeable) as above. Lizzie Washington, vocal; accompanied by Eddie Miller, piano. Elizabeth Washington, vocal; accompanied probably by Pine Top (Aaron Sparks) or possibly Stump Johnson, piano on 22; “Bell”, piano on 23. Johnnie Strauss, vocal; accompanied probably by Henry Brown, piano; unknown, violin; unknown, guitar added on 25.
Genres; Blues, Rural Blues, Country Blues, St. Louis, St. Louis Blues, Missouri, Missouri Blues, Urban Blues, City Blues, Female Blues, Blues Guitar, Blues Violin, Blues Piano, Bottleneck-slide Guitar, Texas Blues,
Abridged from this albums original booklet notes. We know nothing about many of the obscure singers who recorded for Gennett in the late twenties, and in this respect Katherine Baker and Lizzie Washington are typical. We know only a little more about their sidemen because the majority of sides in this collection are accompanied by Henry Johnson and His Boys, a 4-person group consisting of two guitarists – one of which was Lonnie Johnson (heard in fine form on Don’t Think That You Got Your Man All By Yourself) – a piano and celeste player, and a violinist. A slide guitar is even in evidence on My Man Left Me, and on this track, Baker’s lyrics are exceptionally appealing:It’s hard to love a man belongs to someone else (2x) You are happy when the sun is shining, but at night you walk by yourself.
Her Mistreated Blues is noteworthy for its violin and celeste accompaniment, a rare combination in the blues. Wild Woman Blues contains the boast, “you talk about your brick house, you oughta see my frame”, and it’s accompanied by a spritely piano reminiscent of Cow Cow Davenport‘s work, as well as of the vaudeville stage and the silent movie accompanists. Baker’s voice is strong and outstanding on Daddy Sunshine Blues, by far her best piece, and perhaps her most comfortable key:I can sit right here, look across the sea (2x) I can’t see nobody that looks like my daddy to me.
Like Katherine Baker, Lizzie Washington was a muted, low key singer, but her lyrics were richer, and she often sang of the street life of the prostitute and her pimp (Working Man Blues, Fall Or Summer Blues, Sport Model Mamma Blues). My Low Down Brown is accompanied by guitar and celeste, the latter of which takes two solos, and Washington’s delivery is reminiscent of Texas with its first verse moaned instead of sung. St. Louis was an important stopping place for Texas migrants, and many stylistic traits of the Texas blues are evident in St. Louis performances. The song also contains this unusual verse:My baby’s long, my baby’s tall, built just like a radio line (2x) He keeps a good wave length, I can tune in all the time. In the up-tempo Fall Or Summer Blues, the prostitute pleads with her pimp who has told her to hit the streets at 3 a.m.: Daddy it’s cold and raining, don’t send your mama outdoors (2x) Cause I haven’t got any shoes, you tore up all my clothes. So won’t you give me until Summer and I will bring you all my change (2x) Now, daddy, won’t you hear my plea, don’t treat me like some trifling Jane.
In Sport Model Mamma Blues, the automobile is used as a metaphor for the singer’s body as she touts her wares, while Daddy Threw Me Down Blues is a minor key lament. Washington’s voice is far more powerful on her 1933 session, recorded as “Elizabeth Washington“. While this latter singer is not the one who recorded with the Dixieland Jug Blowers, it must be admitted that she may not be Lizzie Washington either. Her voice is at once different and the same, and perhaps the gap in years between her first session in 1927 and her last in 1933 is enough to explain the differences. Riot Call Blues and You Put That Thing On Me are among the strongest performances in this collection. We don’t know whether “Johnnie” was Johnnie Strauss’ given name or one she gave herself. Nonetheless, St. Louis Johnnie Blues, with its “the man that I’m loving, Frankie have left this town” and its “Oh, Mr. Hearseman, Hearseman, please drive that black man slow”, sounds like a reprise of Frankie And Johnny, and this may provide a clue to her name.Paul Garott Copyright 1993: Document Records.