Saturday, April 19, 2014

Pre Electric Chicago Blues Pt 3

This is a Multi Part Post.Route 66: Chicago: Blues: Pre Electric Chicago Blues
Pt. 1
Pt. 2
Pt. 3

Hello and welcome back to Old Highway Notes. Last time that we visited Route 66 we were in Chicago talking about the acoustic blues music that predated the electric blues that would later become Chicago's signature sound. To provide direction in our exploration of early Chicago blues, I have been using a list of musicians found in an article in TimeIsOnOurSide.Com:
Among the pre-eminent artists of this era and style are Tampa Red, Kokomo Arnold, Sonny Boy (John Lee) Williamson, Robert Nighthawk, Washboard Sam, Willie Dixon, Scrapper Blackwell, and, of course, Big Bill Broonzy.
We have already discussed Tampa Red, Kokomo Arnold, Sonny Boy (John Lee) Williamson, Robert Nighthawk, Washboard Sam, and Scrapper Blackwell. We will get back to Willie Dixon later, so that leaves us with Big Bill Broonzy.

Big Bill Broonzy


He was called Big Bill Broonzy because he was a big man in a muscular, not fat, way, The early details of Broonzy's life are a bit unclear and during his lifetime Broonzy did not help matters any as he tended to be the kind of guy who values a good story more than a factual one. He was born in either 1893 or 1903 in either Scott, Mississippi or Jefferson County, Arkansas. Regardless, it is known that he grew up in a family of 17 children in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. By 1915, Broonzy was married and working as a sharecropper. He was planning to give up sharecropping to become a preacher, but was offered 50 to play fiddle for four nights. Before he could reconsider to pursue his calling he spent the money and was obliged to perform. He was unsuccessful as a sharecropper and went bankrupt being forced to work at outside jobs until enlisting in the army in 1917 to serve in World War I.

After serving two years in the war, Broonzy was discharged and returned to Pine Bluff, Arkansas. When he returned he wasn't given a heroes welcome. Typical of the racial attitudes of the day, he was greeted with a racial epitaph and was told "hurry up and get his soldier uniform off and put on some overalls." Disgusted, Broonzy left Pine Bluff to live in Little Rock. He would be there for less than a year before relocating to Chicago in 1920.

In Chicago

In the booming Chicago of the 1920's Big Bill Broonzy would set down his fiddle and pick up a guitar. He would steadily improve at the instrument, playing house parties and social gatherings while working odd jobs as a Pullman porter, cook, foundry worker and custodian.

In early 1930's, Broonzy began to record for various labels with varying levels of minor success at best. In 1934 he began to record for the popular Bluebird label. It was then that fame struck. In 1938 He was asked to appear at Carnegie Hall For a production called Spirituals To Swing that featured many of the most respected black artists of that time. In addition to his own output on the Bluebird label, he was close friends with Tampa Red and was a half brother to Washboard Sam. He wrote many songs for both and was likely playing guitar on several of their recordings. Due to contractual obligations, Broonzy was careful to make sure that he was only listed as composed on the credits and not as a performer,

During the 1940's Broonzy continued to record as well as improving his writing chops. He wrote many songs that were picked up and used by the emerging 1940's electric blues artists. Broonzy was said to have a big heart worthy of his name and reportedly did a lot to help younger struggling blues musicians a foot up into the music business. He would begin preforming in combos that featured piano, drums and upbeat song structures, His biggest hit during this period was "Keys To The Highway", re popularized later by Eric Clapton. Big Bill Broonzy was building a bridge between the older styles of the Chicago blues and the electric version that was emerging on the horizon.

As the 1940's rolled on into the 1950's, the sound of blues music in Chicago had become more and more electric. Other blues men were taking the upbeat rhythms Broonzy had pioneered and working with new sounds that the electric instruments were capable of evolved into the popular Chicago blues sound we think of today. Big Bill Broonzy zigged when the others zagged. In the 1950's he adopted a spare stripped down acoustic style,

A Song About Race

In 1951, he recorded a song called "Brown, Black, and White" that seemed to recall his reception upon arrival home from World War I. It was an expression of the frustrations black Americans were feeling under Jim Crow as the civil rights movement began to take off. Here are the lyrics and a video:

    This little song that I'm singing about,
    Brother you know it's true.
    If you're black and gotta work for a living
    This is what they will say to you.


    They say if you's white, should be all right,
    If you's brown, stick around,
    But if you's black, well, brothers, get back, get back, get back.

    I was in a place one night,
    They was all having fun.
    They was all buyin' beer and wine
    But they would not sell me none.

    Me and a man was workin' side by side.
    This is what it meant:
    He was making a dollar an hour,
    They was paying me fifty cent.
    I helped build this country,
    I fought for it too.
    Now I guess you can see
    What a black man have to do

European Success At The End Of His Life

Also in 1951, Broonzy was toured Europe to great success with standing ovations in many places. This left him able to make a comfortable living from his music, traveling and recording extensively during the decade. Much of his success was in Europe. While in the Netherlands, Broonzy met and fell in love with a Dutch girl, Pim van Isveldt. Together they had a child named Michael who still lives in Amsterdam. In 1954, legendary journalist Studs Turkel took Broonzy to Circle Pines Center, a cooperative year-round camp in Hastings, Michigan where Broonzy had worked years before as a dishwasher. On July 4th, Pete Seeger joined Broonzy for a concert on the Center's lawn which was recorded by Seeger for the new fine arts radio station in Chicago, WFMT-FM. The following interview with Studs Turkel is likely from that appearance.

In 1955, with the assistance of Belgian writer Yannick Bruynoghe, Broonzy published his autobiography, entitled "Big Bill Blues". He would also undertake a worldwide tour that included Africa, South America, the Pacific region and Europe continuing into 1956. Sadly, in 1958, he passed away as the victim of throat cancer and is buried in Lincoln Cemetery, Blue Island, Illinois.

Route 66 Play List Additions

My music collection features a compilation Of Big Bill Broonzy;s output from his later period that is our first addition to the Route 66 play list this week.

Album: Trouble in Mind Big Bill Broonzy 2000
  • Hey, Hey, Baby 2:54 
  • Frankie And Johnny 2:09 
  • Trouble In Mind 3:19 
  • Joe Turner No. 2 (Blues Of 1890) 5:16 
  • Mule-Ridin' Blues 3:45 
  • When Will I Get To Be Called A Man 2:20 
  • Poor Bill Blues 3:15 
  • Key To The Highway 2:35 
  • Plough-hand Blues 3:27 
  • Digging My Potatoes 3:00 
  • When Things Go Wrong (It Hurts Me Too) 3:00 
  • C.C. Rider 2:35 
  • Saturday Evening Blues 3:35 
  • Shuffle Rag 2:07 
  • Southbound Train 4:51 
  • Hush, Somebody's Calling Me 4:01 
  • Louise 4:01 
  • Black, Brown, And White - (spoken introduction) 1:25 
  • Black, Brown, And White Blues - (sung) 2:44 
  • Willie Mae Blues 3:30 
  • This Train - (spoken introduction) 1:21 
  • This Train (Bound For Glory) - (sung) 3:02 
  • In The Evening - (spoken introduction) 1:05 
  • In The Evening When The Sun Goes Down 4:22 
I had no music from the 1930's and 1940's Broonzy so I turned to Archive.Org who once again gave me some new music for our play list. It did not disappoint. So to our play list we can add a group of 80 songs that aren't sorted by time, but rather alphabetically:

Album: Bill Broonzy-01-75 Big Bill Broonzy
  • All By Myself
  • All I Got Belongs To You
  • Boogie Woogie
  • All By Myself 1941
  • Baby, I Done Got Wise
  • Baby Please Don't Go
  • Banker's Blues
  • Big Bill Blues 1927
  • Big Bill Blues
  • Black, Brown and White
  • Black Widow Spider 1936
  • Blackwater Blues
  • Bull Cow Blues 1932
  • C. C. Rider
  • Cotton Choppin' Blues 1939
  • Don't You Be No Fool 1939
  • Frankie And Johnny
  • Friendless Blues 1934
  • Goin' Down This Road
  • Going to Chicago
  • Good Jelly
  • Good Liquor Gonna Carry Me Down 1935
  • Goodnight Irene Goodnight
  • Hattie Blues 1937
  • Hell Ain't But A Mile And A Quarter
  • Hey Hey Baby 1956
  • House Rent Stomp 1951
  • I Don't Want No Women (To Try and Be My Boss)
  • I Feel So Goody 1941
  • I'm Woke Up Now
  • It's a low down dirty shame
  • It's Your Time Now 1938
  • John Henry 1951
  • Just A Dream
  • Key to the Highway
  • Kind Hearted Woman Blues 1952
  • Little City Woman 1953
  • Lonesome
  • Long Tall Mama 1932
  • Midnight Special
  • Mule Riding Blues
  • Night Watchman Blues 1941
  • Old Man Blues 1946
  • Out With The Wrong Woman 1936
  • Pneumonia Blues 1936
  • Rockin' Chair Blues 1940
  • Rukus Juice Blues 1932
  • Saturday Evening Blues 1947
  • Saturday Night Rag 1930
  • Sittin' and Thinkin'
  • Southern Flood Blues 1937
  • Stack O' Lee
  • Starvation Blues 1934
  • Stove Pipe Stomp 1932
  • Stuff They Call Money
  • Summertime Blues 1947
  • Tell Me Baby 1942
  • The Southern Blues 1935
  • Three Spirituals
  • Tomorrow 1951
  • Too Too Train Blues
  • Trouble And Lying Woman 1938
  • Trouble In Mind
  • Trucking Little Woman 1938
  • Unemployment Stomp 1938
  • W.P.A. Blues 1936
  • W.P.A. Rag 1938
  • Water Coast Blues 1949
  • What Did You Do That 1945
  • What's Wrong With Me
  • When Did You Leave Heaven
  • When do I get to be called a man
  • When I Been Drinkin'
  • Willie Mae
  • You Do Me Any Old Way 1937
  • You Got The Best Go 1945
  • All By Myself (with Memphis Slim)
  • Life is Like That (with Memphis Slim)
  • Bright Eyes (With Washboard Sam)
  • Diggin My potatoes (With Washboard Sam)
That draws us to a close of this weeks Old Highway Notes. Thanks for stopping by. Join us in three weeks when we return to Chicago on Route 66 for more blues stories. Meanwhile, next week on old Highway 101 in San Diego County of Southern California we will continue our drive North checking out the sights along the way. In two weeks we will be back on Interstate 95 with more stories about hippies in Miami. Join us, wont you and tell a friend! Until we meet again, take good care of the Keys To The Highway.

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