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Hero. Legend. Good Bloke.
John Peel OBE, 1939 - 2004

Red Lick Records



"Spotlight on Lucille Bogan - Part 3"
by Max Haymes

Themes 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.

Here she adopts a “mean an’ evil” persona with strong anti-social undertones; drawing on her environment for imagery:

“They call me Pig Iron Sally, ‘cos I live in Slag-Iron Alley, an’ I’m 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.”

“I ain’t nothin’ but a mistreater, baby, an’ it ain’t no joke (x2)
An’ if you don’t believe I’m dirty, you can watch my bold girl’s stroke.” (2)

This 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 and Sonny Boy Williamson No.2 -- all had reputations for being tough and/or mean characters; hinting at just a shade of the Satanic!!

In 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:

“Look here, poppa, I don’t mean no harm,
I’m jest from Georgia to carry the good work on.
Everything I do it is mighty fine, an’ the mens is crazy ‘bout my Georgia Grind.”

“When you start to do it, it is a one-way plan,
I got to do my Georgia Grind like a natural man.
All you got to do is to fall in line,
Move your right hand up, an’ your left one behind;

If you wanna learn, you got to pay, 
‘Cos I ain’t gon’ give my good Georgia Grind away. 
If you do it once, you’ll do it twice,
And it’s mighty fine I tell ‘c you, if you do it right.
I’m talkin’ about my Georgia, Lord, I do mean Grind,
An’ it’s somethin’ ‘bout it, baby, to satisfy your worried mind.”

“Some like it slow, some like it fast,
But I like my Georgia Grind just half-an’-half.
Pass my house an’ hear me sigh in’, “Great God, daddy ,won’ t you take your time?”
‘Cos I’m crazy about my Georgia, I love my good Georgia Grind.”

I’m goin’ back to Georgia, where I can have my fun, 
‘Cos down in Georgia where I get my good grindin’ done. 
I’m talkin’ about my Georgia. I mean my good Georgia Grind; 
An’ it’s somethin’ about it baby, satisfy your worried mind.” (3)

Possibly 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:

“I boogied all night, all the night before;
When I woke up this mornin’ I wanna boogie some more.
Oh! Alley Boogie, only thing I crave;
I can do my Alley Boogie so many different ways.” (4)

Some nine months later she bragged:

“I’m a big fat woman with the meat shakin’ on my bones,
Every time I shimmy, a skinny woman lose her home.
Ref: ‘Cos I’m struttin’ my stuff, 
Yes I’m struttin’ my stuff. 
I’m struttin’ my stuff, struttin’ it in the rough.” (5)

Although 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:

“A woman gets tired of one man all the time, Lord, Lord, Lord; (x2)
An’ don’ t care what you give ‘er , you can’ t change her ramblin’ mind.”

Then she sings to the men:

“Don’t think you got a whole woman by yourself , Lord, Lord, Lord; (x2)
‘Cos it never was a woman, didn’ t love somebody else.”
Spoken: “Mmm-mmm-mmm. Don’ t you-all hear what that woman says? 
Course I ain’t like that myself.”

Then she ships back into the role of the ‘reckless woman’:

“Some women like two mens, some womens they like three, Lord, Lord, Lord; (x2)
But I like as many men I see is good to me .“ (6)

But 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:

“Oh! it’ s Blues, oh! Blues, Blues don’t you see?
I said Blues, oh! Blues, Blues don’t you see?
You are tearin’ me down, Blues you tryin’ to kill poor me.”

It’s doubly hard to bear her man’s betrayal when she finds out that he succumbed to the charms of her best friend:

“Now blues and trouble, they’ll walk hand-in-hand,
Spoken: Have mercy!
Blues an’ trouble, both walk hand-in-hand.
I never had these blues until my best friend loved my man.”

But even in this situation, Ms. Bogan has confidence in her superior sexual powers which will bring her partner back:

“She may have loved him one time, but that’ a one man she sure can’t hold. (x2)
‘Cos it’s done bin tested, that I cook the best jelly roll.” (7)

Lucille 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 commences:

“I’ve got nipples on my titties big as the end of my thumb, 
I got somethin’ between my legs make a dead man come.”(8)

This 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:

“I got a sweet black angel, I like the way he spread his wings. (x2) 
An’ I’m crazy about him, he spread so much joy an’ every­thing.”

True love suddenly makes her very vulnerable:
“If my black angel would leave me, I believe that I would die. (x2)
An’ if I see ‘im lookin’ at an­other woman I just scream an’ cry.”
“I love my black angel an’ I want ‘im by myself. (x2)
I don’t want him spreadin’ his wings over no one else.” (9)

Although 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.

Allegedly 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.

Rural 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.

In an almost unique verse, Ms. Bogan berates God and blames him for her partner’s death when the twister “broke my man’s back”:

“Fell down on my knees, and I raised my hand to God above. 
Say, you tore down my house, and you killed the man I love.”

Other 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:

“Lord, I searched the ashes for twenty five miles around. 
And my man’s body, Lord, could not be found.”(10)

Click here for Part 4


1. “Encyclopedia of North American Railroading”. Freeman Hubbard. McGraw-Hill Book Co. 1981. p.207.

2. “Pig Iron Sally”. Lucille Bogan as ‘Bessie Jackson’ vo.; Walter Roland pno., speech. 31/7/34. New York.

3. “My Georgia Grind”. Lucille Bogan vo. Charles Avery pno. Late March, 1930. Chicago.

4. “Alley Boogie”. Lucille Bogan vo., Charles Avery pno. Late March,1930. Chicago.

5. “Struttin’ My Stuff”. Lucille Bogan vo.; Eddie Miller or prob. Frank ‘Springback’ James pno. c. mid-Dec. 1930. Chicago.

6. “Reckless Woman”. Lucille Bogan, as ‘Bessie Jackson’ vo., speech; Walter Roland pno. 1/8/34. New York City.

7. “Man Stealer Blues”. Lucille Bogan vo. ,speech;Walter Roland pno. ;prob. Josh White gtr. 7/3/35. New York.

8. “Shave ‘Em Dry”. Lucille Bogan vo.; Walter Roland pno., speech. prob. 5/3/35. New York City.

9. “Black Angel Blues”. Lucille Bogan vo.; Eddie Miller or prob. Frank ‘Springback’ James pno. c. mid-Dec. 1930. Chicago.

10. “Mean Twister”. Lucille Bogan, as ‘Bessie Jackson’ vo.; Walter Roland pno. 20/7/33. New York City.

Copyright © 2001 Max Haymes. All rights reserved.

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