Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Better Boot That Thing: 20's Women Blues Singers
Genres: Blues, Jazz, Special Interest, R&B
Yes, You Had Better Boot That Thing
Alfred Johnson | boston, ma | 02/08/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"February Is Black History Month. March Is Women's History Month
The ideas expressed in the first paragraph have been used elsewhere in this space in reviewing the works of other women of the early blues period.
One of the interesting facts about the development of the blues is that in the early days the recorded music and the bulk of the live performances were done by women, at least they were the most popular exponents of the genre. That time, the early 1920's to the 1930's, was the classic age of women blues performers. Of course, when one thinks about that period the name that comes up is the legendary Bessie Smith. Beyond that, maybe some know Ethel Waters. And beyond that-a blank.
I have tried elsewhere in this space to redress that grievance by reviewing the works of the likes of Memphis Minnie, Ida Cox and Ivy Anderson, among others. I also have scheduled a separate appreciation of one of the four women featured on this CD, Alberta Hunter. This CD format thus falls rather nicely in line with my overall intention to continue to highlight some of these lesser know women artists. Moreover, as fate would have it, this compilation included the work of Victoria Spivey, a singer that I have mentioned elsewhere and have wanted to discuss further. Finally, the conception of the producers here is enhanced by breaking up the CD into two parts-the urban blues part represented by Hunter and Spivey and the country blues part represented by Bessie Tucker and Ida May Mack. While both this trends have always shared some common roots and musicality they also represent two distinct trends in blues music as reflected in the increasing urbanization of the American black population in the 20th century.
Let's use the urban/country divide as a frame of reference. The smoother style of Hunter and Spivey obviously reflected the need to entertain a more sophisticated audience that was looking for music that was different from that country stuff down home. And that old laid back style was seemingly passé in the hectic urban world. Tucker and Mack reflect that old time country hard work on the farm, hard scrabble for daily existence found, as well, in the songs of their country blues male counterparts. What unites the two strands is the personal nature of the subject matter- you know, mistreating' men, cheatin' guys, two-timing fellas, money taking cads, squeakin' man-stealing women friends, the dusty road out of town, and just below the surface violence and mayhem, threaten or completed. And that is just an average day's misery.
So what is good here? I won't spend much time on Alberta because I have looked at her work elsewhere but please give a listen to "My Daddy's Got A Brand New Way To Love", the title tells everything you need to know about this song and is classic Alberta. Of course for Bessie Tucker you need, and I mean need, to hear the title track "Better Boot That Thing" and then you will agree that you best stay home and take care of business. As for Ida May I flipped when I heard her saga of a fallen woman as she moans out on "Elm Street Blues" and her lament on "Wrong Doin' Daddy". However, what you really want to do is skip to the final track and listen to "Good-bye Rider" which for the nth time concerns the subject of that previously mentioned advice about "not advertising your man".
Victoria is just too much on "Telephoning The Blues", again on that two timing man, wronged woman theme. "Blood Hound Blues" demonstrates that she was not afraid to tackle some thorny issues, including a reverse twist here about a women driven to kill her hard-hearted physically abusive man, was jailed, escaped and is on the lam as she sings this song. The song that knocked me out on these more socially-oriented theme is her "Dirty Tee Bee Blues" about the tragic suffering of a gal who went the wrong way looking for love and adventure and now must pay the price. Powerful stuff.
A special note on Victoria Spivey. I have mentioned, in a review of some film documentaries (four altogether) entitled "American Folk Blues Festival, 1962-1966" that were retrieved a few years ago by German Cinema and featured many of the great blues artist still alive at that time on tour in Europe, that Victoria Spivey had a special place in the blues scene not only as a performer and writer (of songs and goings-on in the music business) but that she was a record producer as well (Spivey Records). Back in the days when music was on vinyl (you remember them, right?) I used to rummage through a second hand- record store in Cambridge (talk about ancient history). One of my treasured finds there was a Spivey Records platter featuring Victoria, the legendary Otis Spann (of Muddy Waters' band), Luther "Guitar" Johnson, and a host of other blues luminaries. She, like her black male counterpart impresario Willie Dixon (who she occasionally performed with), was a pioneer in this business end of the blues business, a business that left more than its fair share of horror stories about the financial shenanigans done to `rob' blues performers of their just desserts. That, however, is a tale for another day.