Chapter III: The English
Music Hall and The Blues
If Lottie Collins owed it to U.S. black, folk origins for her most
famous song on the English halls in the 1890's, (see
Ch. II), it is
equally true that many black songs, including blues, have much to be
thankful for regarding English music hall. Although Oliver only gives
one exception when he states "few songs that pre-date the ragtime era of
the 1890's were recorded by black songsters"' (1), there were others;
and I will return to them shortly. But first, taking Ms. Collins' source
of inspiration for her "Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay" as being in St. Louis
(which on evidence seems more likely), there are some links with music
hall songs and blues recorded by singers based in that city.
As has been noted in the previous chapter, the earliest English music
hall artist to record in New York was Julian Rose, and he included "Ain't
Dat A Shame" issued on an Edison cylinder in 1903. Some 27 years later,
the gravelvoiced pianist, Peetie Wheatstraw recorded "Ain't It A Pity
And A Shame" for Vocalion. Wheatstraw was one of the most influential
Bluesmen in St. Louis in the 1930's and lived across the Mississippi
River in East St. Louis; a sprawling slum and the scene of one of the
most horrific race riots, in 1917. Another pianist, Sunnyland Slim,
recalled that in the early 1930's in St. Louis "....Peetie Wheatstraw
was raisin' sand. Him and Walter Davis was the big names then."(2). It
is Davis who would seem to be inspired by a Florrie Ford title from
1910, "Tis A Faded Picture". In 1940, he sang, to his own deceptively
simple, yet actually very complex piano accompaniment:
"Your picture has faded, mama, that hangs up on the wall,
Your picture has faded, mama, that hangs up on the wall.
It's bin hangin' there so long, I can't see your face at all."(3).
Over ten years later, an East Coast guitarist, Carolina Slim, was to
continue the theme, obviously based on the Davis title:
"Yes you know your picture done faded now, baby, darlin', you left
hangin' up on the wall;
Yes you know your picture done faded now, baby, darlin', you left
hangin' up on the wall.
You know it has faded, until now, baby, I can't see your face at
Though his version, "Your Picture Done Faded"', is slightly more
optimistic (or more ominous), as Slim sings "I'm gonna find that woman,
that caused me to weep an' moan".
One of the pre-ragtime songs, Oliver refers to, that did appear to
survive in the Blues, was "Christmas Day in the Workhouse" (1877)
"...written by G.R. Sims"(5). In 1929, Leroy Carr recorded his
"Christmas In Jail--Ain't That A Pain?", and early the following year
"Workhouse Blues". The latter was probably a belated cover of the Bessie
Smith record of the same name in 1924. Famous folk and blues singer,
Huddie Ledbetter ('Leadbelly'), was to cut his "30 Days In The
Workhouse"' in 1935. Meanwhile, back in England in 1930, Billy Bennett
had recorded "Christmas Day In The Cookhouse". Carr, as well as having
many beautiful Blues sides issued, also recorded other material
including vaudeville and pop songs. Intriguingly, one which remains
unissued is "Girl In Blue" in 1928. If this is indeed a version of "The
Dark Girl Dressed In Blue" (see
Ch. II), as seems likely, then it is
yet another example of a pre-ragtime music hall influence on the Blues.
The latter song was a hit for George Leybourne around 1865 and also for
Harry Clifton in the same period. "Workhouse Blues" was to reappear in
1935 by yet another pianist from St. Louis, one of the Sparks brothers,
calling himself "Pinetop". The title alone lending a decidedly Victorian
air to this particular blues.
Another St. Louis-based Blues singer in the 1930's, was guitarist
Charlie (or Charley) Jordan. A contemporary of Peetie Wheatstraw, with
whom he often played and recorded, Jordan cut a blues with the unlikely
title of "Twee Twee Twa", which he included in his last verse:
"Now she got these great big legs, an' also big whoppin' thighs,
She got these great big legs, an' also big whoppin' thighs.
She got somethin' in her twee twee twa, would make a blind man open
The phrase in question, here used in a frankly sexual context, entirely
in keeping with the Blues, appeared some five years earlier in 1932, by
Jack Payne and his Band in a humorous, "How Am I Doin'? (Hey Hey)", with
a British air of jollity so typical of the genre. This recording
features the phrase "twee twee twa" in a scat vocal setting; that is to
say, a meaningless group of words which are sung within the musical
framework of the song in question. The scat vocal had been popularised
by early American jazzmen in the 1920's. and in particular by the then
youthful Louis Armstrong.
Leaving St. Louis, we find themes, titles, and words from the English
music hall which reappeared in the Blues from singers all over the
southern states. Florrie Forde, once again, recorded "Easy Street" in
1905 and in 1928, Texas Bluesman Henry Thomas cut "Texas Easy Street
Blues" accompanying himself on guitar and reed-pipes in a very early
country manner. The very popular medicine-show entertainer, Jim Jackson
a resident of Memphis, recorded "I'm A Bad Bad Man" also in 1928, which
echoed a music hall hit of 1920 vintage "I'm A Bad, Bad Coon" by G.H.
Elliott. Another Elliott title, made some five years earlier, "All Girls
Look Alike In The Dark" was to reappear in Papa Charlie Jackson's first
ever record for Paramount in 1924, albeit in a different guise:
"I ain't crazy 'bout no yellers,
I ain't no fool about no brown.
'Cos you cain't tell the difference, mama, when the sun goes down."
Refrain: "Lawd, Lawd, Lawd."(7).
His lines containing references to a gradation of colour within black
society in the U.S. This colour-caste system ranged from 'black' through
brown to the lightest-skinned or 'yellers'' (yellows). Virtually nothing
is known of Jackson other than the 'fact' he died in Chicago in the late
1930's and that he was originally from New Orleans. Using a
guitar-picking approach to his banjo, most of his 60odd recordings
(1924-34) were more to do with the pre-blues scene and included comic
songs, as well as pop numbers, 'straight' blues and vaudeville tunes. A
duet he recorded with one of the finest of the vaudeville blues singers,
Ma Rainey, was in the latter vein. It invoked the workhouse theme again
which appeared in the title as "Ma And Pa Poorhouse Blues". As
Stewart-Baxter put it, this number "...is full of backchat and
music-hall hokum."(8). Describing her down and out condition,
Ma Rainey moans, as only she could, "Ohhhhh-ohh, here I am on my knees,"
Jackson cheerfully reassures her "Don't Worry Ma, I'll soon be down on
my knees wit ya."(9). In 1912, Jen Latona recorded "Your Daddy Did The
Same Things Fifty Years Ago" on a foggy November day in London. Some 18
years later, one of the greatest of all rural Blues singers, Memphis
Minnie adapted the title in a Chicago autumn:
Fig 1: The 1928 record by Rainey &
"Grandma, grandma, what make you love grandpa so?
Grandma, what make you love grandpa so?
He got the same pipe now, he had forty years ago."(10).
As Harry Fay's 1911 version of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" was covered by
one of the most famous vaudeville blues singers, Bessie Smith some
fifteen years later in 1927, it seems reasonable to assume (without
having access to the record in question), that Albert Whelan's 1906 song
"The Preacher And The Bear" was also the same as the one by Virgil
Childers in 1938. The latter was a guitarist from the Eastern seaboard,
possibly North Carolina. Bastin, on the strength of other recordings,
suggests that "Childers could well have been white,"(11).
Links between the English music hall and the Blues, of whatever shade,
can be seen in "My Meatless Day" by Ernie Mayne in 1917 and the lines in
Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Rabbit Foot Blues" of 1926 which refer to those
"meatless an' wheatless days". Jefferson was a primary
Bluesman and one of the most influential, from Wortham in Texas. Also
the English hit in 1923 "Yes We Have No Bananas" was recorded by
vaudeville blues artist Eva Taylor as "I've Got The Yes! We Have No
Banana Blues" (sic), later the same year in New York City. Back in
London in November of 1912, Mark Sheridan cut his "They All Walk The
Wibbly Wobbly Walk". It would seem he borrowed the latter part of the
title from a Marie Lloyd record made some five months earlier "Every
Little Movement Has A Meaning Of Its Own", in which the celebrated
singer included the 'wibble and wobble' phrase. Nellie Florence, a
'dirty-voiced' singer from Jacksonville, Florida, commences one of her
"Let me be your wibbler, until your wobbler come,
Let me be your wibbler, until your wobbler come.
If she beats me wibblin', she's got to wobble some."(12).
A 1904 title called "Encyclopedia Britannica" (The Woman Who Knows) by
Malcolm Scott uses the spoken format "Now we come to the letter L" etc.
This same format was picked up in Blues circles. Bessie Smith sings:
"Read on down to chapter nine,
'Women must learn how to take their time.'
Read on down to chapter ten,
" Takin' other women's men, you are doin' a sin. "'(13).
Mellers says Bessie .Smith, as a child "...worked in travelling
tent-shows and circuses, so she was a professional music-hall artist who
preserved some of the qualities of a folk-singer."(14).
The phenomenon of the 'laughing record' even spread across the Atlantic.
This phenomenon goes back to the earlier days of English music hall, as
Newton illustrates when discussing a popular comic from the 1860's,
"Jolly Nash". "Nash having cultivated a most infectious laugh--or series
of chuckles--became known as the "Laughing Comic",(15), and some of his
ditties lasted for years. "They included "I couldn't help laughing, it
tickled me so!", "The Little Fat Grey Man", and "Ho! Ho! Ho! He! He!
He!""(16). Following on in this vein was Charles Penrose who had
recorded a string of laughing records as early as 1911, some under the
pseudonym "Mr. Harry Happy". But his best remembered song comes from a
later session in 1922, entitled "The Laughing Policeman". Penrose went
on to re-record "Policeman" along with many 'sequels' up to as late as
On 7th March, 1923, vaudeville blues singer Viola McCoy recorded "Laughin'
Cryin' Blues", apparently a "dreadful 'novelty' number"(17). But with
her fine voice "Miss McCoy somehow manages to make the awful lyrics
bearable, and even her laugh in the middle section comes off, it is so
perfectly timed."(18). This opinion of the record notwithstanding, the
singer re-recorded it nearly three weeks later under the name 'Amanda
Brown' for a different company; both versions were issued. Some of the
1934 recordings of the Memphis Jug Band feature the raucous laugh of one
of its members, guitarist Charlie Burse, to be heard on "Take Your
Fingers Off It", "Little Green Slippers" and "Bottle It Up And Go",
amongst others. Charters observes that "The laugh, often in the same
rhythm as the accompaniment, seems to have come from the minstrel and
vaudeville stage and was very popular in the first years of the blues
recordings."(19). The 1934 titles are all in an up-tempo, good-time
blues, hokum style; but the laugh also appeared on some of the more
intense, introspective blues of a rural singer such as Charlie Lincoln,
a Georgia singer, who played a twelve-string guitar and prefaced some of
his blues with a sardonic cackle; as on "Jealous Hearted Blues" or "Hard
Luck Blues" from 1927. Charters refers, rather tongue-in-cheek I feel,
to Lincoln's "...distinctive "laughing" style..."'(20). The following
year, Lincoln was in the recording studio when Nellie Florence made her
"Jacksonville Blues" with Lincoln's younger brother, "Barbecue Bob" also
on a twelve-string guitar. On hearing the words:
"Men, they call me oven, they say that I'm red-hot,
Men, they call me oven, they say that I'm red-hot.
They say I got somethin' the other gals ain't got."(21).
Lincoln bursts into laughter that can best be described as maniacal!
This so amused Ms. Florence that she, almost inaudibly, requests him to
do "''nother" prior to repeating the verse near the end of her blues.
The rough-voiced Tommy McClennan from the Mississippi Delta who recorded
between 1939 and 1942, sometimes inserted a menacing chuckle into his
songs, which was entirely in keeping with the atmosphere he created with
his limited yet totally effective guitar playing. Even in the post-war
period (after 1943) an example cropped up in the Blues, which wars an
almost direct imitation of "The Laughing Policeman". Dan Pickett, an
excellent guitarist from Alabama, recorded "Laughing Rag" in August,
1949. His title shows a remarkable tenacity in the continuation of but
one facet of the Blues; that of the influence of the English music hall.
As I have already said, not only themes and songs crossed over from the
latter to the Blues, but also occasionally a word would make the same
journey. Taking one example, the word 'donah' (a woman/lover) flourished
in the East End of London in the nineteenth century, and this was
reflected in songs featured on the halls. 'Donah' transferred to the
U.S. and the Blues, though oddly appearing on record until the 1930's.
Before citing some examples, it is worth noting some definitions from
both sides of the Atlantic. Partridge lists "dons, donah, (mostly in
sense 2), donner, doney, rarely donnay. A woman; esp. the lady of the
house: from the 1850s: Cockney and Parlary."(22). The term 'Parlary'
refers to a mixture of languages as slang, the "vocabulary of
C.18-mid-19 actors and midC.19-20 costermongers and shoumen: (orig.
low) toll."(23). Interestingly, Partridge lists "dona Highland -flinger"
as pre-1909 rhyming slang for "A music hall singer:"(24). In terms of
the given social strata, the word sinks to its lowest level, from the
same period, as 'dona Jack' ,which describes "A harlot's bully:"(25).
Continuing on this level, Calt and Wardlow quote Mississippi Blues
singer Son House who says "a donnay" is "...a no-good woman."(26). This
is also the definition by a pianist, Jasper Love, also from Mississippi.
When Blues writer William Ferris asked him "What's a doney?" Love
replied "That's what we call a no-good woman."(27). Bob Groom thinks
doney "...apparently derives from the word 'donna'..." (28), and has
Spanish/Italian roots via England. This reflects back to Partridge's 'Parlary'.
As "donah", the word features in several English music hall songs. On
23rd. February, 1899, Gus Elen recorded "The Faifless Little Donah" and
"Never Introduce Yer Donah To A Pal" in London. Elen (b.1862) was a
comedian and singer and "probably the greatest of the select band of
coster comedians of the 1890's," (29). The latter song was one of Elen's
many hits. Around the same time, Vesta Victoria included in her
repertoire "All In A Day" composed by Joseph Tabrar. Part of one verse
"Bid me goodbye forever, Never come back no more.
Think of the 'eart you've gone and broke
Of the donah yer used to adore;"(30).
Albert Chevalier's 1898 record "The Future Mrs. 'Awkins" contains the
"I know a little doner, I'm about to own 'er,
She's a-goin' to marry me,"(31).
No doubt, causing feminists everywhere to gnash their teeth!! Further to
this, Chance Newton, himself a product of the London music hall from the
1860's, describes a young man about to pick up his girl-friend on the
way to the local sing-song, as a "dandy crook dressed up fit to kill,
and certainly to paralyse", his donah,"(32).
Across the Atlantic, the term was sometimes corrupted to 'dony'. The
word, in black parlance, c. early 1920's, often referred to a lover, as
a singer explained to sociologist, Howard Odum: "A girl was luvin' a
nigger, an' she thought he did not go to see any other girl;
she found out he did, an' she made a hole in the wall of her house so
she could watch an' see did her lover go to see any other nigger." The
lover makes a song:
"Dony got a hole in de wall,
Dony got a hole in de wall,
Dony got a. hole in de wall,
Oh, my Dony got a hole in de wall."(33).
Calt and co. acquired a. definition of 'donnay' as they transcribed the
archetypal Mississippi singer, Charlie Patton, singing in 1934:
"A donnay loves saltwater, she always wants a drink."(34)
What Patton actually sings is:
"Oh! my doner loves salt water, well she
always wants a drink."(35).
Over two years later, still with Mississippi, the 'tortured' Robert
Johnson, now a cult figure in the 1990's, sang:
"I don't want no woman wants every downtown man she meets,
I don't want no woman wants every downtown man she meets.
She's a no-good doney, they shouldn't allow her on the street."(36).
Almost the same verse was used more than fourteen years later, in the
early 1950's by Elmore James on his "Dust My Broom". A contemporary of
Muddy Waters, James was also one of the main idols in post-war Chicago
blues circles, and was originally from Canton, Mississippi. The later
style of Blues featured heavy electrification in the instruments and
stayed more closely to the 12-bar framework. This was the immediate
precursor of rhythm and blues, rock 'n roll, rock, heavy metal, etc. In
the 1960's, two more singers from the same state, Do Boy Diamond and R.L.
Burnside, both recorded "Long Haired Doney" for the American Arhoolie
label. Both of these performed Blues in the earlier rural style
accompanying themselves on guitars. Strangely, the term "doney/doner"
does not seem to crop up in any other Blues from the 1920's. Why it
should appear (or reappear?) in 1934 and on into the 1960's as the
domain of Mississipni singers, must, for the present, remain one of the
mysteries of the Blues.
As referred to earlier, Blues writer Paul Oliver mentions one exception
in the way of pre-1870 songs of the music hall being recorded by black
songsters. His example is "'..."Champagne Charlie", which dates from as
early as 1868..."(37). Although Pulling says George Leybourne "...made
his "Champagne Charlie" the rage when he first sang it in 1867."(38).
There were other exceptions, already noted, and "Sally" is a further one
to be dealt with shortly. Some of the original English version of
"The way I gained my title's
By a hobby which I've got
Of never letting others pay
However long the shot;
Whoever drinks at my expense
Are treated all the same,
From Dukes and Lords, to cabmen down,
I make them drink Champagne."
"For Champagne Charlie is my name,
Champagne Charlie is my game,
Good for any game at night, my boys,
Good for any game at night, my boys.
For Champagne Charlie is my game,
Good for any game at night, my boys,
Who'll come and join me in a spree?"
"From Coffee and from Supper Rooms,
From Poplar to Pall Mall,
The girls, on seeing me., exclaim
'Oh what a Champagne Swell!'
The notion 'tis of everyone
If 'twere not for my name,
And causing so much to be drunk,
They'd never make Champagne."
"For Champagne Charlie, etc."(39).
Leybourne was from a working-class background, like most of the music
hall artists, but he adopted the suave image of the upper-class 'swell'
with the greatest of ease. He had many other hit songs on the halls but
his name is synonymous with "Charlie". As one writer puts it "Leybourne's
hit song "Champagne Charlie" has never been forgotten and the wine
merchants at the time provided him with free champagne at a cost to them
of £20.00 per week."(40). (see Fig.2.).
The song soon travelled across the Atlantic where in New York it became
Americanised as Pulling has already claimed:
"The way I gain'd my title's By a fashion which I've got
Of never letting others pay, However longs the shot,
For whoe'er drinks at my expense, Is treated all the same,
"Fifth Avenue" or "Bowtry Style", I make them take Champagne."
"Champagne Charlie is my name, etc."(41).
In 1932 Blues guitar virtuoso, Blind Blake adapted the song once again,
for working-class black listeners. The incongruity of one of them
sipping Champagne in those Depression-torn times, would have great
appeal, causing many a sardonic smile:
"I went to see my true love, never been there before,
Her shoes an' stockings in her hand, And 'er feet all over the floor."
"Champagne Charlie is my name,
Champagne Charlie is my name,
Charlie is my name, by golly,
And rovin' an' stealin' is my game."
"I got drunk last night, an' all the night before,
An' I ain't gonna git
drunk no more--I ain't comin' back no more."
"Champagne Charlie etc."(42).
Fig 2: Promotion advert for "Charlie" c. 1868
The Blues singer's a-typical use of the early sounding 'rovin'
acknowledging perhaps the song's English origin. "Stealin '" is often used in black
speech to signify creeping away in the small hours from a married
woman's bed, implying a 'love 'em an' leave 'em' policy; thus belies the
reference to "true love" in the opening lines.
Another pre-1870 song which, if it did not reappear in its entirety in
the Blues, certainly contributed a lot of inspiration for the latter.
of this song is "Sally in our Alley" written by "Henry Carey
c.1687-I743"(43). The first verse of this song, runs:
"Of all the girls that awe so smart
There's none like pretty Sally,
is the darling of my heart
And lives in our alley.
There is no lady in the land
Is half so sweet as Sally,
She is the darling of my heart,
And lives in our alley."(44).
Lloyd tells us that Carey wrote "The ladies' case" "...a stage song of
1734,"(45), so it is possible he wrote "Sally in our Alley" around the
same time; also for the stage.
In any event, a version appeared in 1922, again for the stage-the music
hall stage this time, in the shape of a recording on the Regal label;
"Sally (The Sunshine Of Our Alley)" by Fred Barnes. But it was a song
about Sally, some nine years later, by Gracie Fields which, I contain,
spread its influence across Atlantic into the world of the Blues. The
future star was already making a big impression, not only in the North
of England but in London music halls as well. In 1928 "There was even a
trip to New York, to sing at the Palace."(46). Kennedy adds that
"'Sally' was a bit of a curiosity, since it sounds very like a song a
man should sing, yet
it was Gracie's signature tune. She sang it in her film debut "'Sally in
our Alley"(47). Busby elaborated a little: "While appearing at the
Metropolitan, Edgware Road, in
1931 she bought the song 'Sally' from composers Leo Towers, Bill; Haines
and Harry Leon. It became her signature tune, inseparable from her name
ever since."(48). So there would appear to be either two songs, "Sally"
and "Sally In Our Alley", or Towers and co. hijacked the older tune.
Whatever the truth of the situation "She made her first film, "Sally In
Our Alley", 1931, which led to a series of highly successful films made
both in England and Hollywood,"(49). In a medley of her hits, in 1934,
Gracie included a segment of her most famous song, first recorded a year
"Sally, Sally, don't ever wander far away from the alley, and me,
Sally, marry me Sally, and happy forever I'll be.
When skies are blue, you're beguiling,
And when they break you're still smiling, smiling.
Sally, Sally, pride
of our alley
You're more than the whole world to me."(50).
Since this song would have gained exposure in the U.S.A. from 1931 onwards; a logical appearance in the Blues (if there was going to be
around this time. In March the following year, sure enough, famous Blues
Big Bill Broonzy (recording as "Big Bill"), included the following verse
swinging "How You Want It Done?"
"Now you can put me in the alley, my gal is name is Sally,
You wake me up in the mornin', mama, I still got that old habit.
don't you tell me, how you want it done?
Lord, I'll give you satisfaction, now if it's all night long."(51).
Just over three years later, an older singer put his version on disc:
"Lord, I'm wild about her jelly,
She put me in the alley
'Cos my gal name is Sally,
An' I know she's got good jelly,
Tell me just how you want that rollin' done?
An' just as long as you like it, if it takes the whole night long."
Featuring the same fast accompaniment, but not as skillfully as Broonzy,
the Lasky item "...may in fact have been the parent piece."(53). Both
versions of course; are blatantly sexual; 'jelly' referring to the
female genitalia and by extension 'jelly roll' (thus 'rolling') meant
sexual intercourse. The Blues singer drawing on his environment for
imagery; in this case the sweet-meats and other confectionery to be
found at the baker's shop. Ms. Fields' recording manager would probably
have been horrified by such lyrics (and possibly Gracie too!).
In the previous year, 1934, a superbly sung Blues that reeks of danger
is delivered by another top-rate singer, Lucille Bogan, whose vocal can
best be described as 'smouldering'!
"They call me Pig Iron Sally, 'cos I live in Slag-Iron Alley, an'
evil an' mean as I can be,
Call me Pig Iron Sally, 'cos I live in Slag-Iron Alley, an'
I'm evil an'
mean as I can be.
An' I ain't goin' to let nobody put that doggone thing on me."(54).
Meanwhile back in 1935, another excellent guitarist recorded his "Alley
In this instance, Sally is a bootlegger of some potent booze:
"I wants to take a stroll up the alley, just to meet my friend,
I am goin' to take a stroll up the alley, just to meet my friend.
be full of Sally's corn liquor, partner, runnin' drunk again." (55).
It would seem to be certain that these examples in the Blues are not
just coincidence. They all cropped up on wax within four years of
Gracie's "Sally in our Alley" being shown in Hollywood. So far I have
not come across any 'alley-Sally' references in a blues record made
before 1931; during the course of the last thirty years! Although these
blues recordings seem to be inspired by the Gracie Fields song,
there is a clear, if indirect, link with Carey's composition in the
Date / Location
"Sally in our Alley"
Henry Carey (composer)
early 18th.c. London
"Sally (The Sunshine Of Our Alley)
Gracie Fields (soundtrack)
"How You Want It Done?"
29/3/32 New York City
"Pig Iron Sally"
31/7/34 New York City
Gracie Fields (in medley)
"How You Want Your Rollin' Done"
"Alley Sally Blues"
A song of more recent vintage is "Who Were You With Last Night?" written
by Fred Godfrey and Mark Sheridan in 1912. Although Sheridan was to put
his own version on record in November of that year, another music hall
artist beat him to the studio. Albert Whelan was there first, in
October. The chorus goes:
"Who were you
with last night?
Who were you with last night?
It wasn't your sister, it wasn't
Ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah!
were you with last night
Out in the pale moonlight?
Are you going to tell your Missus when
you get home,
Who were you with last
In the Blues it became a 'hokum' item. Or put another way,
good-time blues. In 1930,
Georgia Tom and Jane Lucas traded jibes and insults in their
"Where Did You Stay
Spoken: (Georgia Tom)
"What is it baby?"
''Where'd you stay last night?"
"Search me, what I know about it?"
"Must have stayed in the garage from the
way you look."
"I can't say, I don't know."
"You slept out in the potato-patch once."
"I don't know where I stayed."
"You can talk about me goin', push me to
Check up on my lovin', but you sure cant get it all."
"But where'd you stay last night?"
"I wouldn't know."
"Where did you stay last night?"
"I don't know."
"What I want to know, where did you stay last night?"
"Now you go out in the evening, stay out all night long,"
"I come back in the morning, you can't miss what's gone,"
"But where'd you stay last night?"
"Search me baby."
"Where did iyou stay last night?"
"I don't know."
"What I want to know, where did you stay last night?"(57).
Tom" (Thomas A. Dorsey) claimed authorship, and
he was a prolific writer, this song
was obviously very much influenced by the English music hall item. Once
more, the Blues has lyrics which are more
explicit; even the subtle title change from asking 'who you were with'
to 'where did you stay?' transforms the
song from a possibly 'naughty' evening out into
a very definite steamy, all-night love affair.
Dorsey, was to become a. major factor in the change of style in black
gospel music from the early 1930's onwards, composing such popular
titles as "Peace In The Valley" and "Precious Lord, Take My Hand";
versions often crossing the colour line. But before his total conversion
he recorded many vaudeville/music hall numbers, risque songs, and
blues, often in collaboration with ace slide guitarist, Tampa Red. "It's
Tight Like That" from 1928 being their best seller, and most recorded
song. Another music hall title interested him enough to make him want to
record it. In December, 1922 Norah Blaney and Gwen Farrer recorded
"Second Hand Rose" which commences "Father has a business, strictly
second-hand," and perpetuates the theme "I never get a thing that ain't
bin used"; even a plumber's amorous attentions, soon reveal that he was
married before! Picking up on the latter subject (of
love-relationships), Georgia Tom declared "Give me anything but
secondhand love." on his 1930 recording of "Second-hand Woman Blues".
Three years previously, Margaret Johnson had retained more of the
content of the Blaney and Farrer (who may have been American) number in
her "Second-Handed Blues", although the pianist, possibly Mike Jackson,
claims composition rights. Johnson transforms the opening line to "The man I got runs a second-handed store." But the
theme remains the same:
"The reason why I feel so bad,
The reason why I feel so bad.
Everything I get, somebody else done had."(58).
Margaret Johnson was one of the vaudeville-blues singers, albeit with
more than a hint of rural origins in her vocal and accompaniment. The
English music hall influence made itself felt in a more implicit way than
just a transfer of certain songs. But according to Stewart-Baxter it
would seem this influence was only too obvious and to the detriment of
the 'classic'/vaudeville-blues. This writer, often quite rightly,
complained of the scant coverage by Blues collectors of even the best of
the singers in this genre. "As they sing ballads and vaudeville songs
and are, more often than not, accompanied by jazz musicians, they are
condemned without trial...It is, I believe the vaudeville influence
which is the drawback, and both purist and modernist (Blues collectors
and fans) will ignore the very
idea of a music-hall based vocalist."(59). But as he adds "...it should
be realised that these women were performing for their own people: it
was for the black public they were singing."(60). Or more precisely, the
black working-class public. In much the same way as the music hall
singers performed, primarily, for the British working-classes across the
Although the latter were fast disappearing, as were the halls
themselves, by the time Mamie Smith made the historic first Blues record
"Crazy Blues" in 1920. The vaudeville-blues, as they are more correctly
called, have in their content "... a proportion of the worthless, the
mechanical, the contrived, but there is also
a gaiety, a vitality, a sense of good time!"(61), according to George
Melley, and this is summarised by Stewart-Baxter "In short, the classic
blues singer was a stage performer who came up with the glorious music
One of the pioneer singers and therefore a contemporary of Mamie
Smith, was Lucille Hegamin. Of whom it was said, "Lucille's clear, rich
voice, with its perfect diction, and its jazz feeling, was tall in the
vaudeville tradition and
her repertoire was wide. With all the music-hall overtones, she was
still an extremely good singer of jazz-based blues,"(63). Many of the
English music hall artists had vocal styles of similar qualities.
Baxter classifies two rough categories of the vaudeville blues singers:
"those who lean very heavily on the music-hall, vaudeville and cabaret
for their inspiration,...and the more blues-based rural singers..."(64).
However, he admits that "...every so-called Classic singer showed, to a
greater or lesser degree, the debt she owed to the music hall and
cabaret."(65). It is interesting to note, in passing, that the
vaudeville blues was essentially a female preserve.
Intriguingly, it was the vaudeville blues that had the strongest
affinity with the English music hall, via the women singers. Singers
like Marie Lloyd, Gertie
Gitana, Ella Retford and Hetty King often portrayed vocal styles,
depending on the song, of similar sounding material to that of Mamie
Smith, Edith Wilson or Lucille Hegamin. All these singers come into
Baxter's first 'rough category' of music hall inspired artists. "I'm
Going Away" by Hetty King, in May 1909, in style of vocal delivery and
song formula, pre-dates the great Ma Rainey who was to start recording
some 14 years later. Although Ms. King's voice can in no way be likened
to the great Blues singer's. In 1915, Ada Reeve recorded "Nobody Knows,
Nobody Cares". The first part of this record is sung in almost a Blues
context, with Ada employing falsetto (a popular Blues-singing vehicle)
in places. She also includes the essentially Blues line: "my heart achin' and almost breakin'". Around 12 years earlier, Vesta Victoria's
"Riding On A Motor Car", in feeling, and with lines of double
entendre like "now Jim
has a broken limb, and I haven't had me honeymoon yet", has parallels
with many vaudeville blues made
more than twenty years later.
we have seen, the male artists on the English
music hall circuit impressed the Blues via their material and lyrics,
that the black singers incorporated either in part or sometimes in their
entirety. The influence of the English music hall can now be seen in a
far more positive light than has been perceived by Blues collectors and
writers in the past, and must be counted as one of the major ingredients
in the rich recipe that was and is the Blues of the American,
working-class, black citizen.
1.Oliver.P. "Songsters etc. ibid, p,p,47-48.
5,Pulling. ibid. p,125.
8,Stewart- Baxter. ibid. p,43.
9. Rainey. M.
14.Mellers. W. p.294.
15.Newton. ibid. p.p.102-103,
17.Stewart-Baxter. ibid. p.94.
19.Charters.S.M The Rural Blues". p.5.
20.----"------ "The Atlanta
21.Florence. N. ibid.
26.Calt. S. &co, p.287.
27.Ferris. W. p,78.
28.Groom. B. p,18.
29.Busby. ibid. p.48,
30,MacInnes. C. p,127.
31.Marshall. M. po?
32.Newton. ibid. p,24.
33.Odum. H.&co. p.152.
37.Oliver. ibid. p,48.
38,Pulling. ibid. p.183.
39.Amis.K.&co. ibid. p.213.
40.Harrowven. J. p.261.
43,Amis&co. ibid. p.111.
45.Lloyd.A .ibid. p.181.
48,Hatby. ibid, p,56,
53.Calt&co. "The Young etc.
56.Amis&co. ibid. p.248.
59.Stewart-Baxter. ibid. p.7.
64.Stewart-Baxter."Ma Rainey etc. L.P.
Fig.1. Stewart-Baxter. ibid. p.43.
Fig.2. Manders &
Mitchenson. ibid. Pic.No.25.
All Blues transcriptions by Max Haymes. 1991. Except item by Georgia Tom.
Dr, Hans R. Rookmaaker. 1963. Also "Preachin' The Blues" by Bessie Smith.
Paul Oliver. 1968.
Transcription to the website by Alan White