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Why Do You Moan, When You Can Shake That Thing?
(a survey of Papa Charlie Jackson & Bo Weavil Jackson: 1924-1934)

by Max Haymes

This is the full essay (click on the links below) published in short form as the liner notes for 'Why Do You Moan, When You Can Shake That Thing?' the JSP Records 4 CD boxed set. We hope you all enjoy it.

Essay © Copyright 2014 Max Haymes. All rights reserved.
Website, page design and formatting © Copyright 2000-2015 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.


One of the interesting facts to emerge from putting Papa Charlie Jackson and Bo Weavil Jackson together in a CD set, is the obvious different approaches they applied to the recently-arrived phenomenon - the country or rural blues.  Both artists were growing up in the South when the Blues were relatively young.  Still, there would seem to be little commonality between William Henry and James Jackson - presumed to be their respective given names. Apart from sharing a (very common) surname and both coming from an earlier generation of singers, of the 19th. Century.  A further instance may be cited insofar they both accompanied themselves on stringed instruments.  Papa Charlie, in the words of Chris Smith “generally played the banjo-guitar, a hybrid instrument whose six strings were tuned and fingered like a guitar’s, but whose banjo body gave it a light, staccato sound.”. (1) 

Chris Smith attributes a birthdate for Papa Charlie Jackson as “c. 1885”. (2)  But up to the present time (26th. January 2014) no one has hazarded even an approximate year for the initial appearance on the planet of Bo Weavil Jackson.  Judging by some of his recorded repertoire and along with a solitary ‘head-shot’ picture, he would appear to be possibly a good ten years older than Charlie. This would make him a cotemporary of Henry Thomas (b.1874) and a date in the 1870s - maybe at the beginning of the decade, is my educated guess.  Unlike many early blues singers, Papa Charlie Jackson came from a city - New Orleans - or an otherwise large urban environment.  This is reflected in his recordings and their musical influences.  His affinity with early vaudeville blues singers [Footnote 1: See my 4-CD set Vaudeville Blues (Blues Links-Vaudeville & Rural Blues: 1919-1941) on JSP 77161, issued 2012.] would seem to support this.  He appeared on 7 sides with Ida Cox, Ma Rainey and Hattie McDaniel in 1925, 1928 and 1929, respectively.  Cutting 74 sides under his own name between 1924 and 1934, only 4 remain unissued.  Together with three with Ida Cox, two with Ma Rainey, and probably two with Hattie McDaniel, making 81 in total.   

Two of the most popular sides Papa Charlie cut were Salty Dog Blues [Paramount 12236] and Shake That Thing [Paramount 12281]  in 1924 and 1925 respectively. He became one of the very few blues artists in the pre-war era who recorded with jazz players. In 1926 he did a re-make of Salty Dog Blues [Paramount 12399] accompanied by Freddie Keppard And His Jazz Cardinals - significantly (?) Jackson did not play his banjo on this version.  Also recorded by several blues singers including the most memorable by Clara Smith and later Kokomo Arnold.  While Shake That Thing was covered by Ethel Waters who unsuccessfully tried to claim the song as her own, as well as versions including Kokomo Arnold, Viola McCoy and Eva Taylor.  Papa Charlie, like several others from an earlier generation of blues singers like Charlie Patton and Blind Lemon Jefferson, also cut four excellent gospel sides.   Three with some of the finest bottleneck guitar on record (as on some of his blues) and one played  in ‘standard’ or with the ‘naked fingers’ as some pundit once described it.  This latter song  I’m On My Way To The Kingdom Land [Paramount 12390] includes some heavy percussion or ‘stomping his box’ which may be seen as a precursor of style used by the great Blind Willie Johnson within a couple of years, on his Let Your Light Shine On Me in 1929.  Or ultimately from master Delta blues man Charlie Patton himself.  Indeed, Don Kent says of his Devil And My Brown Blues [Vocalion unissued] it is “imaginative in utilizing different melodies and guitar parts (much like Charlie Patton), rather than repeating the same riffs throughout the song with minor or no embellishments.”. (3 

Although both Jacksons remain shadowy figures, in the case of Papa Charlie this became slightly less so on the publication of an excellent article by Paul Swinton in The Frog Blues & Jazz Annual No.2.  It is from this article we learn that Papa Charlie Jackson was “A neighbour and sometimes playing partner” (4) of another vaudeville blues singer, Laura Rucker.  Although they never recorded together, as far as we know.  But by approaching the subject with some caution, the odd little biographical snippet may be gleaned from some of his recordings.  For example on Look out Papa, Don’t Tear Your Pants [Paramount 12553] Jackson reveals he was the first-born in his family, implying of course the existence of at least one male sibling. He plays his usual banjo accompaniment and NOT guitar.  B.&G.R. to be adjusted accordingly.

scat vocal  
Spoken: Yessir! My pappy’s an old man.  Crazy about young girls.  By me bein’ the eldest son, That made me be crazy [about them] too.  Now, I’m gonna tell you all about my pappy getting’ over that fence.
Vocal: Look out, pappy gonna tear your pants; [trousers in UK]
I wants you to understand.
An old man can’t get over that fence.
Oh! Daddy, don’t tear your pants.
Refrain: A-gosh papa, don’t you tear your pants;
I want you to fairly understand.
You know you had a needle an’ you had some thread;
An’ you oughta done sewed them pants. (5)

This is the earliest version on record and in the following decade others appeared titled Don’t Tear My Clothes. Six to be precise, of which the Library of Congress side by Willie George Albertine King (1940) and the Red Nelson Don’t Tear My Clothes No.3 remain unissued.  The version by Billy and Mary Mack is unheard by me.  None of the three recordings I do have include the opening patter (not surprisingly) of Jackson’s song, or indeed the whole theme of his song.  Basically, an old man visiting a married woman at her home and being surprised by the return of an angry husband, makes a break for it across the back yard - tearing his clothes in his frantic haste.  Although Big Bill Broonzy (see JSP 7718, 7750 & 7767) on the State Street Boys 1935 recording - and the first ‘cover’ of the Jackson song - does close with a verse concerning himself and his ‘buddy’ fighting over another man’s wife which could easily lead to an incident of fence-leaping to escape!  But Bill omitted this verse some two years later when he re-recorded the song with the Chicago Black Swans in 1937.  This slavishly followed a 1936 disc by Washboard Sam.  So Charlie’s reference to being ‘the eldest son’ is almost certain to be a fact of his life.  From which of course we can say there was at least another male sibling in his immediate family.

Another biographical ‘glimpse’ into the background of Papa Charlie Jackson can be gleaned from the lyrics of his Coal Man Blues. [Paramount 12461]  Reinforced by a second banjo player who’s shouted comments add to the authenticity of the lyrics and the scenario they describe.  These comments are listed below as ‘speech’.

1.  P.C.J. I get up early in the mornin’;
  Speech: What for, papa?
  P.C.J. Sweet mama, then [go] over an’ curry my horse.*  (i.e. groom his horse)
    I get up early in the mornin’, sweet mama, then I go an’ curry my horse.
  Speech: What [a] job, a dirty job.
  P.C.J. ‘Cos I don’t want nobody for to be my boss.
2. P.C.J. Then I pull up to the coal pile;
  Speech: What do you do then, papa?
  P.C.J.  Get me a ton of bituminous coal.
    Then I pull up to the coal pile, get me a ton of bituminous coal.
  Speech: You certainly (?) will there, papa.
  P.C.J. Then I get on my wagon, then I go peddlin’ coal.
3. P.C.J. [I]  Oughta tell how (?) much [is] this coal; 
  Speech: How much is your coal?
  P.C.J. Thirty-five cents a bag.
    Oughta tell how much this coal, thirty-five cents a bag.
  Speech: Must be good coal. ??
  P.C.J. Then, if you wanna know my name, just look round my sack.
4. P.C.J. I climb on my wagon;
  Speech: What do you do then, papa?
  P.C.J.    Try my best to sell my coal.
    I climb on my wagon, try my best to sell my coal.
  Speech: Ah! Sell it, papa. Sell that coal.
  P.C.J. My baby’s back home, serving ‘er jelly roll.
5. P.C.J. Now, a lot of you women, some of you-all ought to be - put in jail; 
  Speech: What you want all those women locked up for, papa?
  P.C.J. Now, a lot of you women, some of you-all ought to be - put in jail.
  Speech: What are those women locked up, papa?
  P.C.J. From standing on the corner, tryin’ their best to sell keen tales. (?)  (6)

Papa Charlie then goes into a kind of chant-cum-rap with the unidentified second banjoist interjecting further comments. Probably invoking a traditional street cry.

  P.C.J. I got coal.
  Speech: Coal, man!
  P.C.J. I’m sellin’ coal.
  Speech: Deliverin’ that coal.
  P.C.J. I’m sellin’ coal.
  Speech: How much is your coal, now?
  P.C.J. I’m deliverin’ coal.
  Speech: Must be good coal.  ??
  P.C.J.   Bags are cheap.
  Speech: Hot coal.
  P.C.J. Bags are cheap.
  Speech: ?????
  P.C.J. I’ve got coal.
    I’ve got it sold (?)
  Vocal: Baby, baby, baby. Can’t you see your papa’s got coal?
    Doggone your soul.  (7)

Given the amount of fine detail that Papa Charlie Jackson offers to the listener, it would be readily apparent that at some stage he had indeed been a street vendor of coal; selling it from a horse-drawn wagon.  Also his reference to ‘bituminous coal’ would not be in generally familiar usage by working class African Americans at the time and is probably unique in the annals of recorded blues.  He even gives out an address on the Windy City’s famous Maxwell Street market (alas long demolished) which was a major centre for street singing blues artists into the early 1970s and ‘80s.  Blues was even heard for the last time (?) on Maxwell at the opening of the 21st. century according to a report on Wikipedia. 

Some two years previous to his Coal Man Blues, this address appeared on his Maxwell Street Blues [Paramount 12320]  which might be an actual address or where he intended to make his base for busking, with his eye  on the chance of garnering some more interest in his playing an singing, and rewarding him accordingly.  He was doing the rounds also on his wagon and ‘pushcart’ at this time taking in other likely markets as well (selling coal?). But apparently he’s not just after his daily bread!
  There’s Maxwell Street market, South Water Street market, too. (x 2)
  If you ain’t got no money, the women got nothin’ for you to do.
  Lord, I’m talkin’ about the wagon. Talkin’ about the push-cart, too. (x 2)
  ‘Cos the Maxwell Street [market] so crowded on a Sunday you can hardly [pass through.
  I live 624, mama, an’ I’m talkin’ to you;
  I live 624, Maxwell, mama an’ I’m talkin’ to you.
  ‘Cos that’s where I go a-walk, doodly-doodly, how are you? (8)

Text Box: South Water Street market, Chicago c. 1900. Hard to pass through 
some 20 years before Papa Charlie Jackson arrived on the scene.

As already noted Papa Charlie Jackson had recorded with some vaudeville blue singers including Ma Rainey.  There is also a much more nebulous link between the ‘Mother of the Blues’ (see JSP 7793) and Bo Weavil Jackson.  His very nom-de-plume derives from a 1923 recording she made titled Bo-
Weavil Blues [Paramount 12080]  and was one of her best known songs.  As well as including some of the traditional ‘weevil verses’, Jackson adapts two of Ma Rainey\s own:

        Hey, hey bo weevil, don’t sing them blues no more. (x2)
        Bo weevil here, bo weevils everywhere you go. 

        I don’t want no man to put no sugar in my tea. (x 2)
        Some of them’s so evil, I’m afraid they might poison me.(

Which Bo Weavil Jackson altered to:

        No gypsy woman. No gypsy woman can fry no meat for me;
        Lordy, mama.
        No gypsy woman can fry no meat for me.
        I ain’t scared, I’m skittish she might poison me.

        A boll weevil here, a boll weevil there. Hittin’ farmers everywhere;
        The preacher said we got boll weevils here, boll weevils everywhere.
        I get my dream last night it was all in your flour barrel. (

Although the phrase used by Ma Rainey ‘put sugar in my tea’ could be construed as sexual symbolism on occasion, in this instance it is far more likely to refer to the all-pervading world of hoodoo.  To ‘poison’ somebody in the Deep South during the opening decades of the 20th. century was to put a spell on them or otherwise ‘fix’ them.  Several popular Southern dishes, which included red beans and rice for example, could include a sample of a woman’s menstrual blood as part of a mojo hand to ensure her partner does not stray.  Usually by rendering the potentially wayward male as temporarily impotent, and therefore unable to succumb to the charms of another woman as his ‘nature was bound to fall’.  In Bo Weavil Jackson’s verse his inclusion of the ‘gypsy woman’ not to fry meat for him clearly has this danger of being fixed, in mind.  Even though I cannot call to mind the male equivalent in this case!  Although New Orleans and Louisiana generally, are the most well-known regions in the blues world today; other locations also had very strong hoodoo reputations.  Particularly Beaufort in South Carolina (home of at least one Dr. Buzzard) and down in Georgia and Alabama.  Tentative stabs at placing Jackson’s home-base have been stated over the years to be ‘Carolina’ and Mobile or Birmingham in Alabama.  Ma Rainey herself recorded several titles alluding to superstition and hoodoo from the beginning of her recording career to the final sessions in 1928.  As well as the aforementioned Bo-Weavil Blues (and its re-make in 1928), these included Lucky Rock Blues and Toad Frog Blues both from 1924, Louisiana Hoo-Doo Blues in 1925, plus three from 1928: Black Cat Hoot Owl Blues , Screech Owl Blues and Black Dust Blues . 

It was on the streets of Birmingham (‘Magic City’) that Paramount’s talent scout Harry Charles found Bo Weavil Jackson playing for nickels and dimes, in the mid-1920s.  As indeed, where he found another rural guitarist Buddy Boy Hawkins who would record in the following year of 1927.  This was during the cross-over from acoustical to electrical recordings and apparently Charles had trouble with both these artists in front of the ‘new-fangled’ microphone-both performers “ ‘had difficulty standing still in front of the microphone ...We had to tie him [Hawkins] up to the mikes.  He walked off.  And I put headphones on and it took us all day to make three or four records’.  About Jackson, Charles said, ‘You couldn’t hold him to the mike. He’s be so far from it all the time’.”  (11)  The microphone apparently “ ‘scared a lot of them, even quartets’.” (12)  One of the mainstays of black recordings in Birmingham was the multitude of excellent a capella quartet groups in the 1920s.

Whichever his place of origin, Bo Weavil Jackson extended his hoodoo theme on Devil And My Brown Blues [Vocalion unissued] which was his initial recording for his second and last session on 30 September, 1926, about a month after his stint for Paramount; as ‘Sam Butler’.  As one of the four major themes in early blues, hoodoo had evolved from the ancient vodou/voodoo from West Africa and via Haiti had arrived in the US by 1900.  Although its earlier forms were abundant in the slavery era.  One of the main roles in the African diaspora of gods and spirits was the trickster.  Whilst the crossroads lwa or voodoo spirit Papa Legba (reappearing as the ‘devil’) and later Brer Rabbit are more familiar to blues fans, another one who belongs in the same group as Papa Legba is the spider trickster Ananse/Anansi (both spellings are used).  But although his name is omitted (the Hausa call him Gizo (in this case he survives in the blues more or less as a he was known to the Ashanti and throughout the Sudanic region in West Africa).  Jackson includes a lyric prevalent in the blues and can be seen as a floating verse, albeit his answering line (whatever he says at the beginning of it!) is unique to this singer.

  Spider, spider. Spider, spider, crawlin’ on the wall;
  Spider, spider. Now, crawlin’ on the wall.
  Cryin’ he’s taxed (?) but ‘e’s crazy about ‘is alcohol.
  I heard a mighty rumblin’ down under the ground;
  Lord, mama.
  Mighty rumblin’ way down under the ground.
   The boll weevil an’ the devil was stealin’ somebody’s brown. (13)

Ananse (the Ashanti word) like many gods/demigods was a shape changer including adopting the form of a bird.  “Ananse is free to modify his own bodily parts and those of others and to shift them around according to whim and need.”. (14)  So it is an easy interpretation where he transforms into the boll weevil and meets the Devil down in Hell.  Ostensibly to share stolen sexual pleasures along with the Devil in having their way with a brownskin woman.

  Daddy was low an’ squatty, daddy was [sic] got to see;
  Lordy, mama.
  Low an’ squatty, daddy was got to see.
  Said he had everythin’ that a poor boll weevil need. (15)

Ananse “is both fooler and fool, maker and unmade, wily and stupid, subtle and gross, the High God’s accomplice and his rival.”. (16)  And “The stories remain bawdy and to everyday sensibilities, outrageous.  Ananse is still a liar and a lecher [while being] at once creator of order and lawless fool.”. (17)  This High God is Nyame (God of the Sky) and is responsible for “the creation of human existence [and Ananse] in fact is the agent of Nyame himself.”. (18

Yet another blues by Bo Weavil Jackson includes a reference to a belief in hoodoo which involved the Carolinas.  His first recording of You Can’t Keep No Brown [Paramount 12389] which is an entirely different song to his Vocalion version, has one verse running:

   I’m gon’ write a letter, mail it in the air;
  I gon’ write a letter, gon’ mail it in the air.
  ‘Cause [when] the March wind blow, blow news everywhere.  (19)

Variants of these lines appeared a little later in blues including those of Garfield Akers and Noah Lewis with Cannon’s Jug Stompers.  Invoking a folk tale from the 1930s, which described how 2 young black men having no jobs and success at gambling as a substitute, left their town in North Carolina and headed south across the State line to the seaport of Beaufort to visit Dr. Buzzard, an eminent hoodoo doctor.  In reply to their request for a mojo hand to give them a long winning streak at the gambling tables, Dr. Buzzard said it would cost them $10.00.  As the boys were both broke, he instructed them on how to pay him once they started accumulating sufficient money.  When they could afford the $10.00 they were to stand and face the rising sun and put the bill in a sealed envelope.  Then they were to throw this up in the air.  After they had done what the hoodoo doctor said, the envelope immediately disappeared.  A few days later the boys heard from Dr. Buzzard thanking them for the $10.00 payment. 

The world of  hoodoo crops up in Papa Charlie Jackson’s very first recording Airy Man Blues [Paramount 12219] in 1924.  Part of the refrain runs:

  You can get yourself together;
  You can ride with the weather.
  I’m a mean old hairy man. (20)

This invokes a biblical reference from Genesis, (xxv.25) where Rebekah (the woman at the well) married Isaac and gave birth to Esau (the ‘hairy man’) and Jacob.  “Rebekah gave birth to twins.  The first born was red and had a hairy body, so they named him Esau.  (The Hebrew word for ‘hairy’ sounds like Seir, the region of the Edomites, Esau’s descendants.” . (21)  As a young man, and Rebekah’s favourite, “ Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man.”. (xxvii.11) 

Esau’s physical appearance may have inspired the following folk tale collected by the WPA Writers’ Project in 1941.  Coming from the shores of the Tombigbee River in Alabama,  this is titled ‘Wiley and the Hairy Man’.  “Wiley’s pappy was a bad man and no-count.  He stole watermelons in the dark of the moon, slept while the weeds grew higher than the cotton, robbed a corpse laid out for burying, and worst than that, killed three martins and never even chunked at a crow [i.e. threw a stone to scare the crow off the field] So everybody thought that when Wiley’s pappy died he’d never cross Jordan because the Hairy Man would be there waiting for him.  That must have been the way it happened, because they never found him after he fell off the ferry boat at Holly’s where the river is quicker than anywhere else…And they heard a big man laughing across the river and everybody said, ‘That’s the Hairy Man’.  So they stopped looking.”. (22)   

Wiley was warned by his ‘mammy’ that the Hairy Man would soon come after him, too.  She was “from the swamps by the Tombigbee and knew conjure.” (23)  

This Hairy Man was a shape-changer and he was “hairy all over.  His eyes burned like fire and spit drooled all over his big teeth.”. (24)  He also had feet like a cow.  After Wiley and his mother (with her conjure powers) were successful in fooling the Hairy Man on two occasions, they managed to defeat him for good at the third attempt.  Wiley’s mother told him “ ‘That old Hairy Man c’ain’t ever hurt you again.  We done fooled him three times.’  Wiley went over to the safe and got out his pappy’s jug of shinny [moonshine] that had been lying there since the old man fell in the river. ‘Mammy’, he said.  ‘I’m goin’ to get hog-drunk and chicken wild’.  ‘You ain’t the only one chile.  Ain’t it nice yo’ pappy was so no-count he had to keep shinny in the house?’” (25) 

Another Ma Rainey ‘link’ with Bo Weavil Jackson occurs in some of the lyrics from her Cell Bound Blues [Paramount12257] in 1924, and which featured in Jackson’s You Can’t Keep No Brown [Vocalion unissued] some two years later.  Ma Rainey sang:

   I’ve got a mother an’ father lives in a cottage by the sea;
  Got a mother an’ father livin’ in a cottage by the sea,
  Got a sister an’ brother, wonder do they think of poor me. (26)

Sandra Lieb, author of the definitive book on Ma Rainey, observed that the cottage reference “seems archaic and outside the blues idiom” .(27)  Yet a dip into Partridge’s dictionary of underworld slang might suggest otherwise.  Although no entry for ‘cottage’, the heading ‘shack’ runs: “ ‘a hut, a very small and humble cottage built of wood.” (28

Although probably unique in the Blues via Ma Rainey’s verse, a jazz standard springs to mind called Cottage For Sale, a Willard Robison song from 1930 with lyrics by Larry Conley was published.  This had over 100 versions including those by Jack Teagarden, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Julie London as well as Robison’s original in 1930.  Even appearing in the worlds of r ‘n b and rock ‘n roll by singers such as Charles Brown,  Little Willie John, and Chuck Berry.  It is possible Robison was familiar with Rainey’s song.  However widespread in North America, the word ‘cottage’ was replaced in 1926 by Bo Weavil Jackson. Otherwise his verse runs along identical lines to Ma Rainey’s:
  I got a mother an’ father, live close to the sea;
  Got a mother an’ father, live close to the  sea.
  Got a brother an’ a sister, wonder do they think of poor me. (29)

It’s tantalizing to think he was referring to actual siblings and possibly younger ones at that. However, this verse (in 2014) is like a flicker of a dying candle in the dark mystery cloud which surrounds personal details of James ‘Bo Weavil’ Jackson. 

Papa Charlie Jackson had arrived on an I.C. train from his native New Orleans around the beginning of the 1920s.  But he was not the first in the Windy City.  Alberta Hunter (see Vaudeville Blues. Ibid) was there earlier but by the time Jackson was getting off his train she had moved east to New York City where by 1923 some of her most popular contemporaries like Clara Smith resided. 

Like many early rural singers, Bo Weavil Jackson had a great respect for the vaudeville blues singers who had preceded him into the recording studios. (Vaudeville Blues. Ibid.) This would include Papa Charlie who was after all mainly seen as drawing on the vaudeville and minstrelsy traditions.  Ethel Waters and Clara Smith were just 2 who cut versions of his repertoire.   Another was Sara Martin who had started making records in 1922.  In November 1923, she cut Roamin’ Blues [OKeh 8104] with just Sylvester Weaver on guitar.  One verse ran:

  Some would scream ‘high yellows’, some screamin’ ‘my brown an’ black’;
  Some would’ve scream ‘high yellows’, but give me my brown an’ black.
  I say, the only colored man that I really like. (30)

Thus contributing to the socially damaging caste system so prevalent in the black community which was reflected in the Blues at the time. [Footnote 2: See Meaning In The Blues (p.p.25- 30.Notes. JSP 77141. 4-CDs + 80 page booklet). On one of the earliest titles, in the spring of  1922, by the Excelsior Quartette included the line ‘My  honey, ain’t  you  glad  you’re brownskin, chocolate to the  bone’; which 12-string guitarist  Barbecue Bob recorded as Chocolate To The Bone in 1928.]  Some 9 months later in 1924, Papa Charlie Jackson included a rare ambivalence to this caste system on his first record.  As he sang on Papa\s Lawdy Lawdy Blues [Paramount 12219]:

  I ain’t crazy about no yellers, I ain’t no fool about no brown;
  ‘Cos you can’t tell the difference, mama, when the sun goes down. (31)

In 1926, Bo Weavil Jackson used Sara Martin’s verse and part of it became his title-Some Scream High Yellow [Paramount12423].  In April the following year Sara Martin re-made her recording, again with Sylvester Weaver, as Gonna Ramble Blues.  A couple of months later Clara Smith-Queen of the Moaners-adapted Martin’s lines for her own individual blues which she introduced with a rare spoken comment.

 (Spoken)       Some of ya runs around here.  An’ talks about the good-lookin’ high yallers.
                     An’ some of you raves about the sealskin browns. Huh!  I’m gonna tell you
                      about these good-lookin’ women, now. (

Whereas Clara Smith used part of a jazz outfit for her musical accompaniment, Sara Martin’s disc was one of the first vocal and guitar recordings.  Although it was Bo Weavil Jackson’s much harder approach which illustrated the early rural blues so admirably, featuring something of the Mississippi Delta sound.

  Some screamin’  ‘high yaller’ I screams ‘[I] like a brown’;
  Some scream ‘high yaller’, scream ‘like a brown’.
  A yellow may mistreat you but a black won’t turn you down. (33)

Jackson also employed the moan a la Clara Smith after another verse which was picked up by rock ‘n roll star Chuck Berry some 32 years later on his Reelin’ And Rockin’. 

  Sometime I think I will.  Then I think that I won’t. (x2)
  Sometime I think I do so, then I think that I don’t.
  Mmmmmm-mmmm.  Mmmmmmm-mmmm. (x 2)
  Sometime I think I will, an’  then I think that I won’t. (34)

The Clara Smith influence is even stronger on Jackson’s Why Do You Moan? [Paramount 12423], which was his ‘cover’ of Clara’s Awful Moanin’ Blues from 1923.   

The main influential two-way stream seems to be three major vaudeville blues singers-Clara Smith, Ma Rainey and Sara Martin- and both Jackson’s involvement with hoodoo. Of course these factors are not peculiar to these singers.  Both Charlie Patton and Charley Lincoln recorded Rainey songs and Bessie Smith along with Ma Rainey did sides by Papa Charlie Jackson. The latter was originally from New Orleans and Bo Weavil Jackson has often been cited as from ‘Carolina’.  Along with the South Carolina Sea Islands, these locations were known to feature (and probably still do) some of the strongest hoodoo traditions in the US.  Baby, why do you moan, when you can shake that thing? 

Max Haymes

1.   Smith Chris    Notes to Papa Charlie Jackson Vol.1 1924-1926
  Document CD. [DOCD-5087] 1991.
2.   Smith C. p.301.
3.  Kent Don Notes to Times Ain’t Like They Used To Be-  Vol.7.
  [Yazoo CD  YA 2067] 2003.
4.  Swinton P.  p.45.
5.  ‘Look Out Papa Don’t Tear Your Pants’ Papa Charlie Jackson vo. bjo., speech.
c. October 1927. Chicago, Illinois.
6.   ‘Coal Man Blues’ Papa Charlie Jackson vo. bjo.; unk. bjo., speech.
  c. May 1927. Chicago, Illinois.
7.   Ibid.  
8.   ‘Maxwell Street Blues’  Papa Charlie Jackson vo.bjo.
c. September 1925. Chicago, Illinois
9.  ‘Bo-Weavil Blues’  Madame ‘Ma’ Rainey acc. by Lovie Austin & Her
  Blues Serenaders: Ma Rainey vo.; Tommy Ladnier
  cnt.; Jimmy O’Bryant clt.; Lovie Austin pno.
  December 1923. Chicago, Illinois.
10. ‘Devil And My Brown Blues’    Bo Weavil Jackson vo.gtr.
Thursday, 30th. September 1926. New York City.
11.  Tuuk van der A.  p.119.
12.  Ibid.  
13.  ‘Devil And My Brown Blues’ Ibid.
14.  Pelton R.D. p. 35.
15.  ‘Devil And My Brown Blues’ Ibid.
16.  Pelton Ibid. p.p.27-28.
17.  Ibid.  p.37.
18.  Ibid. p.47.
19.  ‘You Can’t Keep No Brown
Bo Weavil Jackson vo.gtr.
c. August, 1926. Chicago, Illinois..
20.   ‘Airy Man Blues’  Papa Charlie Jackson vo.bjo.
  c. August 1924. Chicago, Illinois. 
21.  Baldock J. p.34. 
22.  Botkin B.A.  p.682.
23.  Ibid.  
24.  Ibid. p.683.
25.  Ibid.  p.p.686-687.
26. ‘Cell Bound Blues’ Ma Rainey acc. Her Georgia Jazz Band: Tommy Ladnier cnt.;
  Jimmy O’Bryant clt.; Lovie Austin pno.
  c. November 1924. Chicago, Illinois.
27.  Lieb S. p.119.
28.  Partridge E. p.610.
29.  ‘You Can’t keep No Brown’ (Vocalion) Bo Weavil Jackson vo.gtr. (as ‘Sam Butler’)
Thursday, 30th. September 1926. New York City
30.  ‘Roamin’ Blues’  Sara Martin vo. Sylvester Weaver gtr.
  Friday, 2nd. November 1923. New York City.
31.  ‘Papa’s Lawdy Lawdy Blues’   Papa Charlie Jackson vo.bjo.
  c. August 1924. Chicago, Illinois.
32.  ‘Black Woman’s Blues’ Clara Smith vo., speech; Bob Fuller alto.; Porter Grainger pno.
  Wednesday, 1st. June 1927. New York City.
33.  ‘Some Scream High Yellow’ Bo Weavil Jackson vo.gtr.
  c. August 1926. Chicago, Illinois.
34.  Ibid.  


1.   Baldock John Women In The Bible(Miracle Births, Heroic Deeds, Bloodlust And Jealousy)
  [Capella. London] 2006.
2.   Botkin B.A. (Ed.) A Treasury Of American Folklore 
  [Crown Publishers. New York] 1944.
3.   Lieb Sandra Mother Of The Blues (A Study Of Ma Rainey)
  [The University Of Massachusetts Press. Amherst] 1981
4.   Partridge Eric A Dictionary Of The Underworld
  [Wordsworth Editions. Ware, Hertfordshire] 1989
 Rep. 1st. pub. 1950.
5.   Pelton Robert D. The Trickster In West Africa (A Study of Mythic
  Irony And Sacred Delight)
  [University of California Press. Berkeley. Los Angeles. London] 1980.
6.   Smith Chris. Tony Russell. The Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings.
  [Penguin Books. London] 2006.
7.   Swinton Paul  The Frog Blues & Jazz Annual No.2.
  [Frog Records Limited. Fleet, Hampshire] 2011.
8.   Tuuk van der Alex Paramount’s Rise And Fall( A History 0f The
  Wisconsin Chair Company And Its Recording Activities)
  [ Mainspring Press. Denver, Colorado] 2003.

Discographical details from Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943. Robert M.W.Dixon. John Godrich. Howard Rye.
[Clarendon Press. Oxford] 1997.

All corrections/additions by Max Haymes.

Transcriptions by Max Haymes.                          

20th. March 2014.


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