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kept recurring in Bogan’s blues too many times to be just coincidence or
‘imaginative borrowing’. Making “moonshine whiskey”, and
trains/railroads, for example (see Parts 1 & 2). It was the latter which
carried pig iron to northern industrial centres from Birmingham, Alabama;
Bogan’s base for much of her adult life. That city and the surrounding area,
was rich in coal and iron deposits. Local production was encouraged by the
Louisville and Nashville (L.& N.) who had “...helped underwrite the first
successful efforts...to make pig iron from Alabama ores with coke...”(1). That
was in 1876 and by the time Lucille Bogan recorded her self-deprecating “Pig
Iron Sally”, the manufacture of pig iron was a thriving industry.
she adopts a “mean an’ evil” persona with strong anti-social undertones;
drawing on her environment for imagery:
call me Pig Iron Sally, ‘cos I live in Slag-Iron Alley, an’ I’m evil an’
mean as I can be;
ain’t nothin’ but a mistreater, baby, an’ it ain’t no joke (x2)
superbly sung blues reeks of danger and Bogan’s vocal can only be described as
“smouldering”. The singer identifies with the toughness of pig iron and
living rough as a reject from white society (‘slag-iron’=scrap). Roland’s
doomy piano complementing her perfectly. Elsewhere in this blues she sings “I
bin evil every (sic) since I bin born” and “I got a head like a freight
train, an’ I walks just like a grizzly bear”. These lines epitomise the black
religious fraternity’s concept of the blues singer and the “Devil’ s
Music”. Bogan belonged to a small band of elite? blues singers who did not
include any sacred music in their recorded output. This group included Texas
Alexander, Bessie Tucker, Robert Johnson, Tommy McC1ennan, Blind Joe Reynolds
the last verse quoted above, Bogan implies a boast of her prowess when making
hove. This sexuality was another theme heavily featured in her recorded blues
out put. In 1930, the singer recorded 2 versions of “My Georgia Grind”.
Supposedly referring to a dance (see “Women’s Blues” Pt. 3), it is
obviously an advertisement for her sexual favours:
here, poppa, I don’t mean no harm,
you start to do it, it is a one-way plan,
you wanna learn, you got to pay,
like it slow, some like it fast,
goin’ back to Georgia, where I can have my fun,
this title was inspired by her visit to Atlanta in 1923 when she recorded her
first session. It is also likely she lived in that city for a while; being a
hive of blues activity in the 1920’s. It was also easily accessible by train
from Birmingham, Alabama.; on the Southern R.R. or the L. & N.
There seems to be little difference from the unissued version of “Grind” made a month or so earlier, except for a possible change of pianists. Maybe Ms. Bogan preferred Charles Avery, who backs her here. It is Avery who supplies the romping accompaniment to “Alley Boogie” from the same session. Again, at one level of meaning, this could refer to a dance. But I’m not convinced when she sings lines like these:
boogied all night, all the night before;
nine months later she bragged:
a big fat woman with the meat shakin’ on my bones,
Bogan declares “I’m drunk an’ disorderly an’ rowdy as I can be”,
entirely in keeping with the convictions of the black religious community, she
shifts her position when singing “Reckless Woman” 4 years later:
woman gets tired of one man all the time, Lord, Lord, Lord; (x2)
think you got a whole woman by yourself , Lord, Lord, Lord; (x2)
she ships back into the role of the ‘reckless woman’:
women like two mens, some womens they like three, Lord, Lord, Lord; (x2)
Bogan can also imagine the other side of the coin when her man falls prey to a
‘reckless woman’ when she appeals to the blues as an entity or person:
it’ s Blues, oh! Blues, Blues don’t you see?
doubly hard to bear her man’s betrayal when she finds out that he succumbed to
the charms of her best friend:
blues and trouble, they’ll walk hand-in-hand,
even in this situation, Ms. Bogan has confidence in her superior sexual powers
which will bring her partner back:
may have loved him one time, but that’ a one man she sure can’t hold. (x2)
Bogan might appear, on the recorded evidence so far, to be a tough and lusty
woman; culminating in one of the most explicit songs on a blues record which
got nipples on my titties big as the end of my thumb,
version of the song, whose title means making love without foreplay, remained
unissued until the 1960’s when Paul Oliver included it on his anthology
“Screening The Blues”; from the book of the same name. However, in a
relationship which Bogan obviously feels is “the real thing”, she becomes as
tender and full of sensitivity as only lovers can:
got a sweet black angel, I like the way he spread his wings. (x2)
credited to ‘Hudson Whittaker’ (Tampa Red) by at least one reissue label,
Red did not record “Black Angel” until four years later (1934), almost word
for word and omitting only one indistinct verse. This Lucille Bogan song would,
of course, be a big hit for post-war blues hero B. B. King.
married at least twice, her “black angel” could have referred to James
Spencer (see Part 2), possibly
blues/barrelhouse pianist Will Ezell (Part 2) or some other unspecified man. In
any event, some 3 years after her “Black Angel” she lost a man just as dear
to her in a savage cyclone, presumably in Alabama. A cyclone, or “twister”
in Southern parlance, flattens wood-constructed shacks/houses by shooting the
barometric pressure down thru’ the floor and then the huge funnel of whirling
wind approaches and whips the shattered pine boards up in the air (sometimes up
to 30 feet) before smashing them down to earth again.
Alabama c.1905 in Macon Co. Black sharecropper’s home; made of “undressed”
(i.e. not treated with wood preserves) pine boards. Some of these shacks had no
windows. Blacks would often live in similar houses in the black section of urban
centres like Birmingham, Alabama. or Atlanta, Ga.
an almost unique verse, Ms. Bogan berates God and blames him for her partner’s
death when the twister “broke my man’s back”:
down on my knees, and I raised my hand to God above.
hazards would follow, especially in towns and cities. Explosions caused by gas
pipes being ripped up would cause fires as the cyclone passed by. Pathetically,
the search for lost loved ones, begins:
I searched the ashes for twenty five miles around.
1. “Encyclopedia of North American Railroading”. Freeman Hubbard. McGraw-Hill Book Co. 1981. p.207.
“Pig Iron Sally”. Lucille Bogan as ‘Bessie Jackson’ vo.; Walter Roland
pno., speech. 31/7/34. New York.
“My Georgia Grind”. Lucille Bogan vo. Charles Avery pno. Late March, 1930.
“Alley Boogie”. Lucille Bogan vo., Charles Avery pno. Late March,1930.
“Struttin’ My Stuff”. Lucille Bogan vo.; Eddie Miller or prob. Frank
‘Springback’ James pno. c. mid-Dec. 1930. Chicago.
“Reckless Woman”. Lucille Bogan, as ‘Bessie Jackson’ vo., speech; Walter
Roland pno. 1/8/34. New York City.
“Man Stealer Blues”. Lucille Bogan vo. ,speech;Walter Roland pno. ;prob.
Josh White gtr. 7/3/35. New York.
“Shave ‘Em Dry”. Lucille Bogan vo.; Walter Roland pno., speech. prob.
5/3/35. New York City.
“Black Angel Blues”. Lucille Bogan vo.; Eddie Miller or prob. Frank
‘Springback’ James pno. c. mid-Dec. 1930. Chicago.
“Mean Twister”. Lucille Bogan, as ‘Bessie Jackson’ vo.; Walter Roland
pno. 20/7/33. New York City.
Copyright © 2001 Max Haymes.
All rights reserved.