Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Blues

I’d never heard of Josh White until I bought this album. This only snuck into my collection because the cover jumped out at me and, at a single dollar, I couldn’t resist.  After reading the gatefold I feel that painting did a terrific job at capturing the man’s prodigious swagger.

Josh always had a great style, as a man and as a performer. He had a kind of imperiousness that used to make audiences shut up and listen. God, how he could stare an audience down! He was there to sing, and if people at the tables were talking, he’d hold a post, cigarette behind the ear, foot on the chair, guitar at the ready, and wait until his silence reached out like a living force and whammied the people to attention. Then he’d begin. He was a black man making his way in a white man’s world, he knew he had something everybody out to hear, and he was to be heard, on his own terms.

-Lee Hays & Don McClean

I’m going to do something I don’t know normally do and compose this post almost entirely of Wikipedia excerpts. Now, don’t click away just yet. This man’s story is immensely interesting and a true portrait of the (mostly losing) struggle for free speech in America. In these excerpts you’ll find Josh leading blind guitarists across the U.S. as a barefoot child, portraying Blind Lemon in the story of John Henry on Broadway, serenading the Roosevelts at the White House, and ultimately being blacklisted during the Red Scare.

Of course, in true blues fashion, the story ends with Josh White broken down, both in career and health, and in the grave before his time. He lived a hard life, made beautiful music, and is up there with Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, or any other musician who’s had his life turned into a feature-length film.

So, get comfortable, sit back, and breeze through the beautifully tragic life of Josh White and his sad, sad guitar.

Sorry, no song previews as of yet. Posting previews is getting more and more of a bitch because of electronic copy”right” protection.

Joshua Daniel White (February 11, 1914 – September 5, 1969), better known as Josh White, was an American singer, guitarist, songwriter, actor, and civil rights activist. He also recorded under the names “Pinewood Tom” and “Tippy Barton” in the 1930s.

White also became the closest African-American friend and confidant to president Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, White’s anti-segregationist and international human rights political stance presented in many of his recordings and in his speeches at rallies resulted in the right-wing McCarthyites assuming him a Communist. Accordingly, from 1947 through the mid 1960s, White became caught up in the anti-Communist Red Scare, and combined with the resulting attempt to clear his name, his career was damaged. White’s playing style influenced many future generations of guitarists, including Blind Boy Fuller, Brownie McGhee, Pete Seeger, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, Harry Belafonte, Lonnie Donegan, Eartha Kitt, Alexis Korner, Odetta, Elvis Presley, The Kingston Trio, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Merle Travis, Dave Van Ronk, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Eric Weissberg, Judy Collins, Mike Bloomfield, Danny Kalb, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Richie Havens, Don McLean, Roy Harper, Ry Cooder, John Fogerty, Eva Cassidy and Jack White.

Two months after his father’s death, Joshua left home with a blind, black street singer named Blind Man Arnold, who he had agreed to lead across the South to collect coins after performances. Arnold would then send White’s mother two dollars a week. Arnold soon realized that he could profit from this gifted boy who quickly learned to dance, sing, and play the tambourine. Over the next eight years, he rented the boy’s services out to 66 different blind street singers, including Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, and Blind Joe Taggart, and in time young Joshua quickly mastered the varied guitar stylings all his blind masters. In order to appear sympathetic to the onlookers tossing coins, the old men kept Joshua shoeless and in ragged short pants till he was sixteen years old. At night he would have to sleep in the cotton fields or in the horse stables, often on an empty stomach, while his master slept in a black hotel.

In February of 1936, he punched his left hand through a glass door during a bar fight, and the hand became infected with gangrene. White was advised by doctors to amputate the hand, and White repeatedly refused. Amputation was averted, but his chording hand was left immobile. Afterwords, he retreated from his recording career to become a dock worker, an elevator operator, and a building superintendent. During the time when his hand was lame, he squeezed a small rubber ball to try and revive it.

One night during a card game, White’s left hand was revived completely; and he immediately began practicing his guitar, and soon put together a group called “Josh White & His Carolinians” with his brother Billy and close friends Carrington Lewis, Sam Gary, and Bayard Rustin. They soon began playing private parties in Harlem. At one of these parties, on New Year’s Eve 1938, Leonard DePaur, a Broadway choral director, was intrigued by Josh’s singing. For the past six months, DePaur and the producers of the Broadway musical in development, John Henry, had been searching America for an actor/singer/guitarist to play the lead role of Blind Lemon, a street minstrel who would wander back and forth across the stage narrating the story in song. Their initial auditions with native New York singers proved to be unsuccessful, so they looked through previous race record releases to find a suitable artist. They eventually narrowed their search down to two people, “Pinewood Tom” and “The Singing Christian”, both used as pseudonyms by White.

After months of rehearsals and out-of-town productions in Philadelphia and Boston, John Henry opened on Broadway on January 10, 1940, with Paul Robeson as John Henry and Joshua White as Blind Lemon. Although the musical did not have long run, it helped jumpstart his career. Soon thereafter, Josh began working with Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Burl Ives, and The Golden Gate Quartet in a CBS radio series Back Where I Come From, written by folk song collector Alan Lomax and directed by Nicholas Ray.

Josh and Libby frequently requested the War Department to send them overseas during World War II to give USO concert performances for the troops. However, despite a Letter of Recommendation from Eleanor Roosevelt, they were constantly rejected as “too controversial”, considering that the U.S. Armed Forces were still segregated throughout World War II.

Throughout the 1940s, as a major matinée idol with magnetic sexual charisma and a commanding stage presence, White not only was an international star of recordings, concerts, nightclubs, radio, film, and Broadway, he also achieved a unique position for an African-American of the segregated era by becoming accepted and befriended by white society, aristocracy, European royalty, and America’s ruling family, The Roosevelts.

In January 1941, Josh performed at the President’s Inauguration. Upon completing that first White House Command Performance, the Roosevelts invited White up to their private chambers, where they spent more than three hours talking about Josh’s life story of growing up in Jim Crow South, listening to his songs written about those experiences, and drinking Café Royale (coffee and brandy).

At one point during that evening, the President said to Josh, “You know Josh, when I first heard your song `Uncle Sam Says,’ I thought you were referring to me as Uncle Sam….Am I right?” White responded, “Yes Mr. President, I wrote that song to you after seeing how my brother was treated in the segregated section of Fort Dix army camp. . . However that wasn’t the first song I wrote to you. . . In 1933, I wrote and recorded a song called `Low Cotton,’ about the plight of Negro cotton pickers down South, and in the lyrics I made an appeal directly to you to help their situation.”

The President, interested and impressed at the candor of his response, then asked Josh to sing those songs to him again. A friendship developed, five more Command Performances would follow, in addition to two appearances at the Inaugurations of 1941 and 1945; and the Josh White family would spend many Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with the Roosevelts at their Hyde Park, New York mansion .

Josh White had reached the zenith of his career when touring with Eleanor Roosevelt on a celebrated and triumphant Goodwill tour of Europe. He had been hosted by the continent’s prime ministers and royal families, and had just performed before 50,000 cheering fans at Stockholm’s soccer stadium. Amidst this tour, while in Paris in June, 1950, White received a call from Mary Chase, his manager in New York, telling him that Red Channels (who had been sending newsletters to the media since 1947 about White and other artists who they warned as being subversive), had just released and distributed a thick magazine with subversive details regarding 151 artists from the entertainment and media industries who they labeled as Communist Sympathizers. White’s name was prominent on this list. There never had been an official blacklist—until now. White immediately went to discuss the situation with Mrs. Roosevelt—to ask her advice and help. With great empathy, she told him that her voice on his behalf would hinder his efforts to clear his name. She explained that if she wasn’t the widow of the president they would also be crucifying her. She continued that the Right Wing press had been calling her a “pinko”, citing her social activism and friendships with non-whites. That night, White called his manager back and alerted her that he would be flying back to America the next day so that he could clear his name. Upon arriving at New York’s Idlewild Airport, the FBI met him, took him into a Customs holding room, began interrogating him, and held him for hours while waiting word from Washington as to whether Josh White, who was born in America, would be deported back to Europe.

In 1961, White’s health began a sharp decline as he experienced the first of the three heart attacks and the progressive heart disease that would plague him over his final eight years. As a lifelong smoker he also had progressive emphysema, in addition to ulcers, and severe psoriasis in his hands and calcium deficiency in his body that would cause the skin to peel off of his fingers and leave his fingernails broken and bleeding with every concert. During the last two years of his life, as his heart weakened dramatically, his wife Carol would put him in the hospital for four weeks after he completed each two-week concert tour. Finally, the doctors felt his only survival option was to attempt a new procedure to replace heart valves. The surgery failed.

He died on the operating table on September 6, 1969 at the North Shore Hospital in Manhasset, New York.

-Wikipedia

*

>>>Click here to download Disc 1

>>>Click here to download Disc 2

*

Tracklist

A1. Free and Equal Blues

A2. Where Were You, Baby

A3. You Don’t Know My Mind

A4. Sam Hall

A5. Run, Mona, Run

A6. Timber

A7. Takin’ Names

A8. St. James Infirmary

B1. One Meat Ball

B2. Peter

B3. Jelly, Jelly

B4. Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed

B5.  Halleleu

B6. Prison Bound Blues

C1. Midnight Special

C2. Told My Captain

C3. Going Home, Boys

C4. Trouble

C5. Silicosis Blues

C6. Southern Exposure

C7. Empty Bed Blues

D1. The Story of John Henry

Click here for a random Rebuilt Tranny post

*download below*

I have to say that I love bluegrass.  The whirwind of banjo, guitar, and maybe a XXX moonshine jug thrown in there somewhere always feels like the song’s about to run off the rails but somehow just keeps pluggin away into backwoods party mode.  It tickles just the right spot in my tum tum and summons the most hilllbilly YEEHAW! imaginable–scaring the cats every time.  Which is exactly why it’s such a bummer that bluegrass has never taken off as much as it should have in Cincy.  You’d think that Cincinnati would be the perfect place for bluegrass music to flourish seeing how it’s on the corner of Ohio, Indiana, and The Home of Bluegrass: Kentucky.  However, this woefully isn’t the case.

We do have a spattering of bluegrass every now then,  though mostly entwined rather curiously with dreadlocks and patchwork pants.  This city is infected by two dominating tribes: transplanted Applachian hillbillies attempting to cover their redneck pasts, a la Ben Folds,  and an alarmingly large number of GO CUBBIES FANS that are about as bland as vanilla flavored wallpaper.  Both, teamed together in some unholy white person’s culture-smashing union, turn the sensical into the nonsensical.  We  fail miserably at realizing our geographic potential and continue to imbibe all of the half-authentic, corny-ass country music and butt rock we can handle.  Heaven help us.

Anyway, Side F continues on with the The Folk Box’s tradition of reaching deep down into the microgenres of Folk and pulling out the gooey goodies–this time ripping out the Blues from the heart of a Louisianna mudpuppy.  It starts out with a harmonica being thrown, no coughed, no hum-cough-uppercuted directly into your right temple.  I watched a show on PBS this week about the Jazz movement in Paris in the 1920s titled “Harlem In Montmartre” (which was surprisingly sponsored in part by a large donation from Hugh Hefner) that gave an anecdote about a US Army marching band comprised of black soldiers who played an expo of some sort in Paris after WWI.  Apparently the conductor of the French marching band demanded to see their instruments because the black musicians made sounds the French thought impossible.  It was as if they were making their instruments sing instead of playing within the confines of notes or scale or pitch .  Their trumpets, clarinets, and maybe even their tubas were talking to the Parisians.  I kind of feel that this is what the show was describing with Sonny Terry’s demonic harmonica possession entitled Lost John. It’s just bonkers.  The most bonkers, dirty-ass joke you ever heard.  Also, don’t miss Leadbelly’s Black Snake Moan. He might be playing a smooshed bloodhound instead of a guitar–I haven’t been able to confirm yea or nay yet though.

Don’t forget to check out Disc 1 Disc 2 and Disc 4

Side E: Country Music – From Ballads to Bluegrass

1. Willy Clancy – Sligo Reel and Mountain Road

2. Eric Weissberg – Old Joe Clark

3. Clarence Ashley – Coo-Coo Bird

4. Tom Paley – Shady Grove

5. Eric Weissberg and Marshall Brickman – Flop-Eared Mule

6. Jean Ritchie – Nottamun Town

7. Doc Watson and others – Amazing grace

8. Doc Watson and others- Cripple Creek

9. The Dillards – Pretty Polly

10. George Pegram and Walter Parham – Yellow Rose of Texas

11. Green Corn  – Dián and the Greenbrian Boys

12. The Dillards – Old Man at the Mill

Side F: Nothing But The Blues

1. Sonny Terry – Lost John

2. Big Bill Broonzy – I Wonder When I’ll Get To Be Called A Man

3. Leadbelly – Black  Snake Moan

4. Blind Lemon Jefferson – See That My Grave Is Kept Clean

5. Hally Wood – House of the Rising Sun

6. Mark Spoelstra – France Blues

7. New Lost City Ramblers – Carter Blues

8. Dave Ray – Slappin’ On My Black Cat Bone

9. Dave Van Ronk – Don’t Leave Me Here

10. Josh White – Southern Exposure