Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I'm Going Down the Road to See Bessie

So The Band sang on "The Basement Tapes".

Bessie Smith died following a car accident in 1937, four years after her last recordings, still in demand throughout the 30s for live performances. The 20s were her heyday, though.
Today is the anniversary of her death. 70 years ago.

There is a good discography at Red Hot Jazz and you can listen to each track there, or at Jazz On Line which has a few extra tracks, albeit a slightly smaller selection. Either will keep you going for hours, though. (Both use the RealAudio Plugin).

CBS put out a ten(?) double LP set of her recordings many years ago which bizarely had the first recordings and the last recordings on the same double album and the recording sessions actually met up on the last LP of the set (being the middle of her career) if I understood the whole concept. I bought the first (and last ...) sessions LP and not having had access to it for a few years now I seem to remember that there were a few stunning standout tracks and the rest were not so memorable. It's a tribute to Bessie Smith's vocal prowess that as i sift through the Discographies looking for the songs I have, that I recognise and can put a tune to most of the tracks from that double album. Sometimes the material was below par, but Bessie's voice always connects.

I was wondering what to post of 160 recordings, and there are a couple of (to me) favourites, and her first single (which apparently sold 750,000 copies in the first year (1923). That's mind-boggling.

Then there is an oddity. let's start there.

Graveyard Dream Blues and Cemetery Blues were the two tracks recorded on the 26th of September 1923. Yep. Todays date. The anniversary of the day she died. Strange, huh? I went looking through the discography to see, and there are a couple of death related titles, but nothing so strikingly poignant. I'm not reading much into this. Just pointing out the oddity, and the way Graveyard Dream Blues finishes. It has a little more depth and power because of the circumstances as I look back on it, wondering if in some way she was looking forward. Weird.

Bessie's First single was Down Hearted Blues and it was a good choice. Beautiful.

Another track from 1923 is Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do - a strong contender for my favourite of all her recordings, as is Black Mountain Blues which popped up recently in a version by Nick Drake.

You can get all of these tracks on Quadromania at Amazon.co.uk which is 24-bit remastered and contains 65 tracks on 4 CDs.

But listen up to these and explore the discographies. Bessie Smith left an amazing legacy.


I was just browsing the Hype Machine and came across Lil Mikes excellent and tasty selection of musical morsels, including "Big Butter and Egg Man" By Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. But my ears won't have it. Who is that singing? Bessie surely didn't sing that high, ever? Well maybe on occaision, but ...

A bit of research: there are plenty of references on the web to Louis and Bessie doing this trackin 1926, but also ProperBox 93 contains the track and lists the vocalist as May Alix on a November 1926 session in Chicago.

Is this the track or is there really a Bessie Smith version of this track out there?

oo i love a good mystery ...

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Anonymous Fitzgerald said...

Nicely done and thanks for a great post and the many mp3s. A reader requested some Bessie Smith, I'll have to send them to this post.

2:54 AM  

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