Thursday, November 6, 2008

#9: A Kick Against The Pricks: Songs By And About "Bad" Girls

Playlist for Sunday, November 9, 2008
Hosted by Greg Denton with guest Sorouja Moll

1. Wake Up Jacob - Prince Albert Hunt & His Texas Ramblers

2. Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad - Tammy Wynette
In 1952 Hank Thompson had a hit with 'Wild Side Of Life', a song of heartbreak dealt out to the male protaganist by an unfaithful honky tonk floozy. The lyrical hook was the line "I didn't know that God made honky tonk angels". In the same year Kitty Wells retorted with a reworking of the tune into the song 'It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels' blaming "married men who think they're still single" for causing "good girls to go wrong". While "wrong" didn't sound quite right, it was still a good punch and it helped to open the door for a number of country women artists, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette among them, to deliver songs that defied the country industry stereotype of submissive wives putting up with their husband's wayward freedoms. Tammy Wynette was no "good" girl by any stretch. Her own hard living ways led her through 4 tumultuous marriages (one lasting a mere 44 days), seventeen major operations "for an array of life-threatening internal ailments" [read substance abuse], death threats, a kidnapping and battering, a stint at the Betty Ford Clinic, and a body that gave out, in 1988, at the young age of 55. In 'Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad', Tammy makes reference to the Hank Thompson and Kitty Wells songs as she plays the role of a "good" girl taking a turn toward "the wilder side of life" with a bit of taunting relish.

3. I Been A Bad, Bad Girl (Prisoner Blues) - Ozella Jones
One of two songs by Ozella Jones recorded in a Florida State Prison Farm in 1936 by Alan Lomax and Zora Neale Hurston. I Been a Bad, Bad Girl is a loose reworking of 'Bad Boy' as recorded by an Alabama Bluesman, Barefoot Bill, in 1930. The "Bad Girl" in this song has, in my interpretation, been imprisoned for killing someone in an act of self-defense. She pleads to the judge to spare her life, but also makes it clear for the record: "I want to say to all you bad fellas that you are in the wrong". There's a montage of pictures of famous bad girls set to this recording on YouTube ( Unfortunately, beyond the Florida State Farm recordings, nothing is known about the life of Ozella Jones.

4. One Morning In May (The Bad Girl) - Texas Gladden
This song is a variant of the dying cowboy song 'Streets Of Laredo', the New Orleans' blues 'Saint James Infirmary', and an Irish ballad 'The Unfortunate Rake'. The "Bad Girl" protagonist in Texas' Gladden's version is a woman who's troubled life has led her through the alehouse, the jailhouse, and into the grave. She's now dying of syphillis. When she sings "my body's sal'vated" she's not refering to spiritual salvation but to the effects of the mercury that used to be administered as a treatment for venereal disease. There is also a suggestion, by some folklorists, that the dying woman wants roses on her coffin to cover the stench of her rotting flesh, mostly. Texas Gladden was born in Virginia in 1895 and grew up in a musical family that included her famous multi-instrumentalist brother Hobart Smith. Texas performed unaccompanied and is very important to the survival of the Virginia ballad singing tradition and repertoire. Though 'One Morning In May' is ostensibly a moralistic warning song, this version turns it into a deep lament of personal tragedy.

5. Ballad Of Yvonne Johnson - Eliza Gilkyson
Co-written by Eliza Gilkyson and Yvonne Johnson herself, after Eliza read Johnson's autobiography 'Stolen Life: The Journey of a Cree Woman'. This Governer General's Award winning book chronicled the cycle of incestuous rape that Johnson was submitted to starting at the shockingly young age of 2 and 1/2. Later in life, suffering dire substance abuse problems, encouraged and assisted by three others, she helped murder a man in Westaskawin, Alberta in 1989 when she was led to believe that the sanctity of her own children was at risk. She received a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, while her accomplices were given leniency. In January 2008, with a record of good behaviour, applying under the 'faint hope clause', she was granted day parole, after serving 17 years.

Eliza Gilkyson is a seasoned and tough Texas singer/songwriter who's own long career has led her from New Age spiritualism to hard-nosed political activism. Also from a noteworthy musical family, her father, Terry Gilkyson, penned among many others the Disney Jungle Book song 'Bare Necessities' and her brother, Tony, played guitar alongside Bad Girl Exene Cervenka in the punk band X. Eliza Gilkyson honours Yvonne Johnson, in this ballad, as a beacon of extraordinary hope and courage in overcoming a life of unfathomable despair and tragedy.

6. Riot In Cellblock #9 - Wanda Jackson with The Cramps
Interpreted as a Women's Prison song by the true Queen of rockabilly. After building an early reputation singing in Hank Thompson's band Wanda Jackson approached the band's label, Capitol, to put out recordings of her own and was initially told "Girls don't sell records". She persisted and Capitol changed their mind and signed her after she recorded for Decca. Jackson toured with Elvis (and dated him - he gave her his high school ring) but her audacious, wild and raunchy vocal style outstripped any of her male counterparts. She insisted on the hardest driving bands in her 1950s recordings and had a #1 hit with Fujiyama Mama in 1957. After a mid-career of country music (still with a defiant edge, "Big Iron Skillet" "This Gun Don't Care Who It Shoots") and having been sought out by fans and musicians influenced by her early career, she released an album, in 2003, of collaborations with the likes of Elvis Costello, Rosie Flories, Dave Alvin, and the punk/goth Shock-a-billy nasties The Cramps. When it was discovered, in 2005, that the Rock'n'Roll Hall of fame failed to induct her when she was nominated, an outrage ensued, headed by Elvis Costello who wrote in an open letter: "the whole thing risks ridicule and having the appearance of a being a little boy's club unless it acknowledges the contribution of one of the first women of rock and roll" citing the vast influence of her music while many male pioneers, who are inductees, have fallen into obscurity. Still rocking on the road in her 70s now, Wanda Jackson is nominated again this year, alongside The Stooges, and Metallica, as an inductee into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. This version of Cell Block #9 is from her 2003 album 'Heart Trouble' - one of two tunes with The Cramps as backing band.

7. The Rebel Girl - Hazel Dickens
Born in 1935, Hazel Dickens was the 8th in a family of 11 children born to a Mercer County, West Virginia coal mining family. She saw and experienced a lot of poverty, labour struggle, and sexism in her early years. When impoverishment forced her family to move to Baltimore, Maryland in her teens, she went to work in a Factory and became involved in agitations to establish labour unions there. She also started a bluegrass band in Baltimore with Alice Gerrard, notably being bluegrass bandleaders when the genre of music itself was still forming and women practitioners were not common on the performing circuit. Hazel Dickens quickly became reknowned for her heartfelt high and lonesome singing, but also for the feminist and labour activist content of her material. 'Rebel Girl' was written by early labour activist/songwriter Joe Hill (1879-1915). Hill was executed by firing squad after having been charged and tried for murder, many believe falsely. He maintained his innocence, but would never reveal the alibi that could have placed him elsewhere at the time of the murder since he was with a married woman, and to publicize this in 1914 would have destroyed her reputation and her life. He has since become a legendary figure and is the subject of many folk songs himself.

8. Four Women - Nina Simone
Nina Simone, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tyron, North Carolina in 1933, was also known as the High Priestess of Soul. As a child she was a classical piano prodigy, and while giving her debut recital at the age of 10, her parents were forced to give up their front row seats to white people and moved to the back of the concert hall. When Simone learned of this, she was outraged and refused to perform until her parents were returned to their seats. It was an awakening to race politics that fueled her career as both musician and activist. Her piano talents took her to Juilliard in NY, where she took a job performing in a night club to help fund her classical studies, though she was told she had to sing as well to get the job. She took on the stage name of Nina Simone to hide the fact that she was performing "the devil's music" from her mother. When she applied to the Curtis Institute to further her piano study and was rejected, she believed it was because she was black and a woman. Her nightclub act, however, garnered attention and she soon began a recording career, also gaining a reputation for being difficult, ferocious and bold in her contract negotiations, and just about every other aspect of her career. She was incredibly versatile and diverse in her performing style, moving from blues, to gospel, to jazz, and to folk idioms abruptly combined with heart-stopping changes in emotion and attitude at the same time. When she moved to the Dutch Phillips label in the early 1960s, her interest in civil rights moved frankly to the forefront of her recorded material, having already been a staple of her performances for some time. Her first album for the Phillips label featured her own song "Mississippi Goddamn!", written in response to the murder of Medger Evers and the deaths of four black children in the bombing of an Alabama church, and was promptly banned from airplay in the southern states on its release. Her voice was deep for a female, near baritone, and she used it with astounding power, emotion, and drama.

Nina Simone left the United States for Barbados in the early 1970s after her marriage to her husband and manager broke up, she lost control of her finances, and was under threat for prosecution due to unpaid taxes. She recorded infrequently, living in Barbados, Liberia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, before finally settling in France in 1992. She published an autobiography in 1993, 'I Put A Spell On You' and passed away after a long fight with breast cancer in 2003. She was cremated and had her ashes scattered in various locations throughout Africa. It was revealed in 2004 that she had been diagnosed with bi-polar syndrome in the mid 1960s, something that was kept secret throughout her life.

Written by Nina Simone and recorded on September 30, 1965 'Four Women' - Aunt Sarah, Saffronia, Sweet Thing, and Peaches - explores 4 portraits of women of colour with terse, biting irony, brutality, and rage.

9. Rolled And Tumbled - Rosalie Hill
Recorded by Alan Lomax in Como, Mississippi on September 23, 1959. From the liner notes to the 'Alan Lomax Blues Songbook': "Rosalie Hill (1910-1968) was the daughter of blind fiddler and fife player Sid Hemphill (ca. 1876-1963)...She is said to have learned this type of music from her father, although Sid Hemphill never recorded blues material in this style...Opportunities for women to perform this sort of blues were rare, as the typical environment at "country suppers" was rather rough, with the music largley the domain of young males. A woman blues singer usually had to have a male accompanist or sponsor in order to survive for very long in these settings. But Rosalie Hill makes no compromises, and her string bending is as deep as the blues ever gets in the hands of male performers."

10. Katie Cruel - Karen Dalton
When Bob Dylan arrived on the Greenwich Village folk scene in New York in 1961, one of the first performers he saw when he entered the Cafe Wha? was Karen Dalton. He says in his autobiographical 'Chronicles', "My favourite singer in the place was Karen Dalton. She was a tall white blues singer and guitar player, funky, lanky and sultry...Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday's and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed and went all the way with it. I sang with her a couple of times." She indeed had a striking and odd voice, and is generally understood to have had a decisive influence over the young Bob Dylan's sense of vocal timing and phrasing. She herself had come from Oklahoma, born Karen J. Cariker, in 1937. Her mother was Cherokee. She played 12 string guitar and a long neck banjo, and sang traditional songs rather than write her own, though whatever she sang became very much hers through distinctive and powerful interpretation. She was very well known, respected, and revered on the folk scence, though she was stage shy and preferred the living room jam situation to the formal audience/performer set up. Her first album 'It's So Hard To Tell Who's Going To Love You The Best' was actually recorded on the sly, when she was invited to a jam during another artist's recording session and the tape was left rolling while she went through some typical repertoire with a band gathered there. It was recorded in the mid 1960s, but not released until the end of the decade. Her second and final album 'In My Own Time' was recorded in Woodstock in 1971. Her records received critical acclaim, had a profound influence on the contemporary folk scene, and have established a strong and enduring cult and cognoscenti audience with later country and even punk audiences. But the eccentricity of her voice along with her stage & personal anxieties kept her from developing more than a small audience in her time. Drug addictions and alcohol took her even further away, until she was destitute and living on the New York streets in the early 1990s, in and out of rehab and battling with AIDs. She died there in 1993, at the age of 55. Both her albums were re-released on CD in November 2006. 'Katie Cruel' is an old American folksong of Scottish origin, but it's most famous version is the one done by Karen Dalton:

When I first came to town
They called me the roving jewel
Now they've changed their tune
They call me Katie Cruel...

11. I Been Drinkin' - Vera Ward Hall
Vera Ward Hall's voice, if not her name, is best known from electronica artist Moby's late 1990s sampling/appropriation of her 1937 performance of 'Trouble So Hard' for his song 'Natural Blues'. Vera Ward Hall was a Piedmont (literally foothill, between the Atlantic coast and the Appalachian mountains) blues artist. Her recordings are mostly known to us through folklorist field recordings rather than commercial record labels. 'I Been Drinkin' is from the same July 1937 Livingston, Alabama session as 'Trouble So Hard', recorded by John Lomax. Though Vera Ward Hall sang a mix of Gospel and Secular songs, this is decidedly of the later group. She recieved a lot of disapproval from her church for singing the "Devil's Music". 'I Been Drinkin' is perhaps typical of the "recreational" repertoire of many secular singers, to be enjoyed in private. Much thanks to Vera Ward Hall for recording it.

12. Dope Head Blues - Victoria Spivey
Born in Houston, Texas in 1906, Victoria Spivey got her musical start playing in a stringband with her father, who was a part-time musician and railroad worker. She got some jobs on her own too. At the age of 12 she worked in Dallas, playing piano to accompany films in the theatres and from there moved on, still in her teens, to a circuit of bars, nightclubs, and whorehouses - a raunchy life for a young girl in that era, and clearly an audience that she knew how to play to. In 1926 she went to St. Louis where Okeh records was scouting new acts to record. She was already writing her own material and recorded 'Black Snake Blues' and 'Dirty Woman Blues' for Okeh, and they became hits and established a career footing for her as a recording artist, cutting tracks for all the major blues and jazz labels over the ensuing years. Her savvy for diversification led her into film work when the opportunity presented itself, which along with writing and publishing, managed to sustain her career while the depression did many others in. Her songwriting was unapologetically bawdy in nature, dealing with disease, violent crime, drugs, alcohol, and frank sexuality. She retired from show business at the end of the 1940s and worked mostly as a church organist and choir leader. But when the folk and blues revival hit in the early sixties she started performing at festivals, and took the opportunity to start her own label, Spivey Records, to promote blues and blues related music, as well as her own recordings. The label launched in 1962 with Bob Dylan, notably, playing harmonica on her first recording. She died in October of 1976 at the age of 69. "Dope Head Blues showed the false illusions of grandeur that made the drug [cocaine] desirable to those with little," claims Diane Holloway in her book 'American History In Song'. Victoria Spivey recorded it for the Okeh label in New York on October 28, 1927.

Just give me one more sniffle
Another sniffle of that dope
I'll catch a cow like a cowboy
And throw a bull without rope
Doggone I've got more money
Then Henry Ford or John D ever had
I bit a dog last Monday
And forty doggone dogs went mad

13. Let's Have A Party - Wanda Jackson
"I never kissed a bear, I never kissed a goon, but I can shake a chicken in the middle of the room, Let's Have a Party!" - Nasty voiced Wanda at her 1958 prime! She makes Little Richard look like a piece of candy.

14. Shave 'Em Dry - Lucille Bogan
Born Lucille Anderson in Mississippi in 1897, Lucille Bogan has been grouped with Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey as one of "The Big Three of the Blues". She cut her musical teeth in some of the rowdier juke joints of the 1920s, usually run down shacks that cropped up to serve "emancipated" field workers and sharecroppers as a place to "relax" after a weeks labour, especially since Jim Crow segregation laws banned them from the white night clubs. She started recording for Okeh in 1923, moved to Paramount in 1927, and later to Brunswick Records. Her work, after 1930 particularly, is reknowned for it's bold, raunchy, and in your face take on sex and alcohol. A lot of material she wrote herself: 'Stew Meat Blues'; 'Skin Game Blues'; 'Reckless Woman'; 'Man Stealer Blues'; 'Till The Cows Come Home' ("Every time I fuck them men I give them the godamn clap"); 'Coffee Grindin' Blues'; 'B.D. (Bull Dyke) Woman' ("comin' a time B.D. Woman ain't gonna need no men"); 'My Georgia Grind'; 'Mr Screw Worm in Trouble'; 'Sloppy Drunk Blues'. In the mid 1930s, she retired from performing and recording and spent her time managing her son's Jazz band 'Bogan's Birmingham Busters'. She died in Los Angelas in 1948 at the age of 51. Her final recordings took place in New York on Tuesday March 5, 1935 and included two takes, accompanied by Roland White on piano, of the bawdy 'Shave 'Em Dry' , one of which has an alternate set of lyrics that give a peek into the likely carrying-ons of the late night, after hours adult clubs. Bad to the bone, the recording is way over the top, audacious to the hilt, as raunchy as it gets, and filled with extraordinary glee. Here, for your cultural edification, are the entire lyrics:

SHAVE 'EM DRY (unexpurgated version)

I got nipples on my titties, big as the end of my thumb,

I got somethin' between my legs'll make a dead man come,

Oh daddy, baby won't you shave 'em dry?

Aside: Now, draw it out!

Want you to grind me baby, grind me until I cry.

(Roland: Uh, huh.)

Say I fucked all night, and all the night before baby,

And I feel just like I wanna, fuck some more,

Oh great God daddy,

(Roland: Say you gonna get it. You need it.)

Grind me honey and shave me dry,

And when you hear me holler baby, want you to shave it dry.

I got nipples on my titties, big as the end of my thumb,

Daddy you say that's the kind of 'em you want, and you can make 'em come,

Oh, daddy shave me dry,

(Roland: She ain't gonna work for it.)

And I'll give you somethin' baby, swear it'll make you cry.

I'm gon' turn back my mattress, and let you oil my springs,

I want you to grind me daddy, 'til the bell do ring,

Oh daddy, want you to shave 'em dry,

Oh great God daddy, if you can't shave 'em baby won't you try?

Now if fuckin' was the thing, that would take me to heaven,

I'd be fuckin' in the studio, till the clock strike eleven,

Oh daddy, daddy shave 'em dry,

I would fuck you baby, honey I'd make you cry.

Now your nuts hang down like a damn bell clapper,

And your dick stands up like a steeple,

Your goddam ass-hole stands open like a church door,

And the crabs walks in like people.

Aside: Ow, shit!

(Roland: Aah, sure enough, shave 'em dry?)

Aside: Ooh! Baby, won't you shave 'em dry

A big sow gets fat from eatin' corn,

And a pig gets fat from suckin',

Reason you see this whore, fat like I am,

Great God, I got fat from fuckin'.

Aside: Eeeeh! Shave 'em dry

(Roland: Aah, shake it, don't break it)

My back is made of whalebone,

And my cock is made of brass,

And my fuckin' is made for workin' men's two dollars,

Great God, round to kiss my ass.

Aside: Oh! Whoo, daddy, shave 'em dry

1 comment:

randy sutherland said...

Thank you Mr Denton and Ms Möll for a bad bad show. So nice to hear Nina Simone and Karen Dalton - and thanks for intoducing me to Lucille Bogan. Excellent notes on the blog!!