Friday, May 18, 2007

Memphis Minnie

Memphis Minnie's blues were rooted on the country but flowered in the vibrant pre war Chicago music scene, which is where she recorded the majority of over one hundred pre war releases. Her real name was Lizzie Douglas and she worked with a whole host of excellent Blues performers, which bears testament to her talent, she is even supposed to have beaten Big Bill Broonzy in a 'cutting' contest. Amongst those that recorded with her were, Joe McCoy her husband from the late 1920’s, the Jed Devenport Jug Band, Georgia Tom, Tampa Red, Black Bob, Blind John Davis and Little Son Joe. She also sat in with Little Son, Bumble Bee Slim and the Memphis Jug Band, as well as playing live with Big Bill, Sunnyland Slim and Roosevelt Sykes. By 1935 Minnie and Joe McCoy split and she married Little Son Joe a few years later.

Minnie was an early convert to the electric guitar which she used to good effect in her biggest hit 'Me and My Chauffeur Blues', recorded in 1941 with Little Son. The song, which used the same tune as 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl', became very influential . Koko Taylor said, “it was the first Blues record I ever heard.” Lightnin’ Hopkins even ‘answered’ Minnie with his 1960 song, Automobile Blues. Chuck Berry based his I Want to be Your Driver on the Chauffeur, while Jefferson Airplane adapted it as Chauffeur Blues on their 1966 debut album. Unfortunately Jefferson Airplane neglected to acknowledge Minnie’s recording, or pay her any royalties.

The longevity of Minnie’s career meant that her records cover a wide range of subject matter. Many of her songs, like Bumble Bee, Dirty Mother for You and Butcher Man, were openly sexual, all delivered in her confident way. Others like Ma Rainey and He’s in the Ring (Doing That Same Old Thing) were about celebrities. Ma Rainey was recorded just 6 months after her death, while the other was a 1935 tribute to the boxer Joe Louis. Minnie also tackled crime, voodoo, trains, health and the perennial blues subject - chickens! Minnie was constantly touring, playing jukes and fish fries, which certainly helped in maintaining her popularity. She stayed in touch with her audience, singing about what they both knew, and understood.

The lady who was at the forefront of transforming the Blues into ‘Pop Music’ continued to record up until 1954. By then her health was failing, both she and Little Son Joe retired to live in Memphis. Little Son died in 1961 and in 1973 the woman who was remembered by many of her musical contemporaries from Chicago as “a hard drinking women” had a stroke.