No announcement yet.

Cream of The Crate: Album # 196 - Ma Rainey: Ma Rainey


  • Cream of The Crate: Album # 196 - Ma Rainey: Ma Rainey

    "Her deep, almost-vibratoless contralto sounded rough and unsophisticated compared to other commercial blueswomen but she projected a great depth of feeling and was adored by audiences." (US Library of Congress
    "Ma Rainey was one of the first singers to popularize the style (the blues)." (Joe McGasko - Bio May 2015)
    When we listen to Ma Rainey, the recordings are very crude, but even so the power and mesmerism of her voice shows that pure talent and commitment to an audience makes Ma Rainey stand out even more today.
    " (This review)

    This is album review number One Hundred and Ninety Six in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.

    The series is called Cream of The Crate and each review represents an album that I believe represents significant musical value, either because of its rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production. The first fifty reviews were based on vinyl albums from my collection, with the following fifty on CD albums from my collection. Links to all these reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.

    This week I have pulled an absolute treat from my record crate - this double album not only features one of the greatest blues singers - ever . . . but one of the greatest female blues singers - ever!

    The artist is Ma Rainey and the double vinyl album is self-titled - Ma Rainey. It was released on the Milestone Records label in 1974 with the identifying code of M 47201.

    It is a 2-LP set in a gatefold format.

    I first became aware of the name Ma Rainey, well before I realised just what an amazing woman she was and why she really is entitled to be declared the "Mother of the Blues", when Bob Dylan mentioned her name in his 1965 track - Tombstone Blues, in which he said, " Where Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bedroll...."

    Now, I knew of Beethoven, but who was this Ma Rainey? So the journey of adventure began and as I looked, I listened, and as I listened my soul was fed by the magic of her songs.

    She was born Gertrude Malissa Pridgett in Columbus Georgia on April 26, 1886. We know her parents were in show business even though their exact contribution is a little hazy.

    From a very young age Gertrude demonstrated a talent for singing. She made her first appearance at the age of 12 at the Columbus opera house, as part of a school presentation. At the age of 18 she married William "Pa" Rainey who was not only a dancer, comedian and part-time (somewhat) singer, but was also considerably older than her.

    As newlyweds they formed an act together, and as he was known as "Pa", she became known as "Ma".

    "Pa" and "Ma" Rainey

    They performed as part of a "minstrel" show and it needs to be clarified, that the negative perception we have now of minstrel shows, comes from the "Mr. Bones" routines of the white artists who mimicked black artists. Now the shows Ma and Pa Rainey performed in were known as The "black minstrelsy", and were highly valued by the afro-americans, and certainly outlasted outlasted the Al Jolson "Mammy" type shows.

    When Ma Rainey started her professional career the blues were not yet part of the minstrelsy, but were seen as part of the rural folk music, which the "professional" black artists shied away from. How Ma Rainey came to sing the blues is quite fascinating. In the later part of her life she told the story, and it went something like this. She says that she was part of a tent-show that visited a small rural town, and she happened upon a young girl who was sitting just outside the tent, singing about the 'man' who had left her.

    Ma went onto say that the song was so strange and poignant that it really attracted her and she asked the visitor to teach it to her, and soon adapted both the song and the style into her act, where she would use it as an encore. The song, in turn, elicited such a strong and positive response from the audience that it then became a feature of her act. Many times people asked her what type of song it was, and the story she tells is, that she replied in a stroke of inspiration one day, "It's the blues."

    It would seem as though this was the first time the music had been so labelled and recorded in print as such when it appeared in the local newspaper. Sadly, the newspaper was destroyed in a fire and the mention of the term on a 1905 clipping was lost! As she moved further around she heard similar songs from folk in rural areas and so it was she picked them up, and adapted them.

    About the same time as Ma was becoming known, another wonderful black female artist was also singing the "blues", and that was the great Bessie Smith [See Cream of the Crate review #122]. Literary scholar of the day, Sterling Brown, once wrote of these two women - "Bessie was the greater blues singer . . . Ma really knew her people. She was a person of the folk, she was very simple and direct. The night we saw her she was having boy trouble. You see, she liked these young musicians, and in come John Work ( a young man accompanying Brown) and I - we were young to her (Both men were born 15 years after her and the encounter was in the early 30's). We were something sent down, and she didn't know which one to choose. Each of us knew we weren't choosing her; we just wanted to talk. But she was interested in other things. She was that direct. . . . She was the tops for my money. She would moan, and the audience would moan with her. She had them in the palm of her hand."

    It seems universally agreed to by those who actually saw Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith that Bessie was the greater singer but Ma, the greater performer. Yet she did this despite not having the physical beauty of Bessie. Ma was variously described in her day as having gold lined teeth, unruly hair and short, squat body. She was no match for Bessie Smiths ripe beauty, but she made up for it with tons of pure talent!

    By the time she had become known as a blues singer, she had long left "Pa" and in fact was often referred to as not "Ma" Rainey, but "Madam" Rainey, and was the only blues singer to be granted this honorific title.

    She made her first record in December of 1923 at the age of 37 and her last recording, just five years later! There are 94 tracks credited to her and all her original albums were recorded as 78rpm.

    Having "conquered" the South, she eventually ended up in Chicago, it was inevitable. The name of the theatre where she gave her first performance has been lost, but composer Thomas A. Dorsey noted that, "Ma had the audience in the palm of her hand. Her diamonds flashed like sparks of fire falling from her fingers. The gold piece necklace lay like a golden armour covering her chest."

    Ma Rainey meeting a fan

    He went on to note that, "When Ma had sung her last number and the grande finale, she took seven curtain calls."

    But Ma Rainey made a point of playing not just big theatres, but small, almost unnoticed clubs and theatres. An, at the time, teenaged Mary Lou Williams who lived in Pittsburg, kept a diary and in it she wrote, "The fabulous Ma Rainey came into a little theatre on Wiley Avenue. Some of the older kids and I slipped downtown to hear the woman who'd made blues history. Ma was loaded with real diamonds. . . . her hair was wild, and she had gold teeth. What a sight! To me, as a kid, the whole thing looked and sounded weird."

    Ma Rainey’s Wildcats Jazz Band, with Thomas Dorsey on piano

    Ma actually stopped recording before the Great Depression put an end to "Race Records", but continued to perform live in theatres and tents, but eventually the depression caught up, and these ceased.

    In 1933 her mother and sister died and she decided to go home and look after her brother. Her final years were spent very quietly in Columbus. her only singing was through a church choir she joined, where her brother was a deacon.

    Ma Rainey died on December 22, 1939 in her 59th year and is buried in the Portersdale cemetery in Columbus.

    Now this album has 32 memorable tracks on it. Many emphasis the "tragic" tone and delivery style she had, but others are full of vitality and humor, as exemplified by the track, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. It is in a gatefold presentation and the inner covers, both left and right hand sides, are full of information on Ma Rainey, along with the track listing, and recording details.

    Inner left hand cover

    Track listing from the LP cover

    LP 1 - SIDE 1

    On side 1 of this album Ma Rainey is variously accompanied by non other than "the" Louis Armstrong on Trumpet, Howard Scott on Cornett, Joe Sith on Cornett, Charlie Green on trombone, Buster Bailey on Clarinet, Coleman Hawkins on Bass Sax, Fletcher Henderson on Piano, Charlie Dixon on Banjo and Kaiser Marshall on Drums.

    Tracks 1 - 4 were recorded in October 1924 in New York, while the remainder of side 1 was recorded early December 1925.

    Side 1 track 2 is See See Rider Blues. This is a very popular track among black blues players, and later the white electric blues groups of the 1960's such as the Animals. Although Ma Rainey was the first to record it in 1924, it is generally considered to be a "traditional" piece of music with the exact composer long lost in history. The track is also called C.C Rider, and refers to an unfaithful over, and it is clear in the song, she also plans to make sure that if she can't have him, no other woman will.

    As the years go on the lyrics have changed, but here they are as she recorded the track. It's a fantastic example of her ability not only to sing the classic 12-bar blues, but "feel" the blues, and I just love the trumpet response from Louis Armstrong.

    I'm so unhappy,
    I feel so blue.
    I always feel so sad.
    I made a mistake
    Right from the start.
    Oh, it seems so hard to part.
    Oh, but this letter
    That I will write,
    I hope he will remember,
    When he receive' it.

    Seeee see, rider.
    See what you done done.
    Lawd, lawd, lawd.

    Made me love you,
    Now your girl done come.
    You made me love you,
    Now your gal done come.

    I'm go'n away, baby,
    Won't be back till fall.
    Lawd, lawd, lawd.
    Go'n away, baby,
    Won't be back till fall.
    If I find me a good man,
    I won't be back at all.

    I'm gonna buy me a pistol,
    Just as long as I am tall.
    Lawd, lawd, lawd.
    Gonna kill my man and,
    Catch the Cannonball.
    If he don't have me,
    He won't have no gal at all.

    See See Rider

    With track 7, it is actually credited as her singing with "Her Georgia Band" - which consisted on Armstrong, Smith, Green and Hawkins. This track came out of her experiences in Chicago and is titled Bessemer Bound Blues. In her book, Black Legacies and Black Feminism, Angela Davis writes, "Bessemer Bound Blues is another of Rainey's songs linking resistance to abusive treatment within a relationship with the return to the natal land. Bessemer, then a rural suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, is the destination of a woman who decides that experiencing the glitter of Chicago is not worth the trouble of being victimized by a mistreating man.
    Assertively informing her "papa" that I won't be your dog no more, she announces the news that mama's going home singing those Bessemer Bound Blues."

    Two things to mention, it is an apparent reference to being mistreated by her husband "Pa" Rainey, and the second, I love the way the horn section plays a drawn out "lifting" note that sounds like the representation of a train horn, on her journey home.

    Bessemer Bound Blues

    Turn the LP over to Side 2 and I have to stop at track 3 -
    Morning Hour Blues. According to Wikipedia it was recorded in November 1926, but in fact it was recorded in February of 1927, in Chicago and features Jimmy Blythe on piano, Jimmy Bertrand on Xylophone and none other than another blues legend, Blind Blake, on guitar.

    The opportunity of listening to a fine 12 bar blues with
    Blind Blake was just irresistible.

    Morning Hour Blues

    While there are so really magnificent tracks on the rest of side, in particular
    Blues Oh Blues, and Slow Driving Moan, one of the tracks where the audience would "moan" along with her, I am jumping to the second LP in the set because it has three tracks on side 1 I would like to share.

    LP 2 - Side 1

    Track 1 is
    Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, that I referred to earlier. The album liner notes say that little known about who accompanied her on this track which was recorded in December of 1927. The liner notes indicate that it is believed that Shirley Clay and Ike Rogers accompanied Ma on Cornet and Trombone respectively, but there is nothing to indicate who played Clarinet, Piano and Drums. Further research suggests strongly she was in fact supported by her "Georgia Band", the membership membership listed against track 7 - in this review (Bessemer Bound Blues). This highlights the problems in identifying musicians on tracks from this era when poor written records were kept.

    The track is a light-hearted track and is far more jazz oriented than blues.
    It really is a fantastic early example of her powerful vocal abilities, energetic disposition, majestic phrasing, and use of humor.

    In fact just this year the track title became the title of a 1982
    play inspired by this real-life Blues legend, and penned by August Wilson, who is a Pulitzer prize winner.

    Now, you heard the rest
    Ah, boys, I'm gonna show you the best
    Ma Rainey's gonna show you her black bottom

    Way down south in Alabamy
    I got a friend, they call dancin' Sammy
    Who's crazy about all the latest dances
    Black bottom stomps and the Jew baby prances

    The other night at a swell affair
    Soon as the boys found out that I was there
    They said, "Come on, Ma let's go to the cabaret"
    Where that band you ought to hear me say"

    I want to see that dance you call the black bottom
    I wanna learn that dance
    Don't you see the dance you call your big black bottom
    That'll put you in a trance

    All the boys in the neighborhood
    They say your black bottom is really good
    Come on and show me your black bottom
    I want to learn that dance

    I want to see the dance you call the black bottom
    I want to learn that dance
    Come on and show that dance you call your big black bottom
    It puts you in a trance

    Early last morning 'bout the break of day
    Grandpa told my grandma, I heard him say
    Get up and show your old man your black bottom
    I want to learn that dance

    Now I'm gonna show y'all my black bottom
    They stay to see that dance
    Wait until you see me do my big black bottom
    I'll put you in a trance

    Ah, do it ma, do it, honey
    Look it now Ma, you gettin' kinda rough here
    You gotta be yourself now, careful now
    Not too strong, not too strong, Ma

    I done shown y'all my black bottom
    You ought to learn that dance

    Ma Rainey's Back Bottom

    Track 2 is New Boweavil Blues and has Lil Henderson on piano and was recorded in Chicago in March of 1926. I love this track as it is so full of passion, mind you most of the tracks on this album are.

    Now as we probably know, the boll weevil [correct name] was the curse of the cotton farmers as it ate and destroyed the crop, so its no wonder that that Ma re-recorded this traditional song [Boweavil Blues] putting her own words into it, as she has used it to to reflect on the troubles that the boll weevil caused to tell her tale of her troubles with men. Ma was brilliant at using the elements around her to describe in turn the issues that men and women faced. We will never know but it seems to me that she may have deliberately used concrete issues that involved trouble, to describe the human condition so that the average person could relate.

    New Boweavil Blues

    There are some other great tracks on this side of the album, in particular track 5, with a jug backing.

    But I have gone through to track 6 - Prove It On Me Blues. As with the afore mentioned track 5, this track has Ma backed by the "Tub Jug Washboard Band" which consisted of "Georgia Tom" Dorsey on piano, Blues legend Tampa Red on Kazoo, and an unknown banjo and jug player. Recorded in June 1928, it makes not so indirect reference to lesbianism, and as we look deeper into her life it is clear that Ma is referring to her own life.

    They said I do it, ain't nobody caught me.
    Sure got to prove it on me.
    Went out last night with a crowd of my friends.
    They must've been women, cause I don't like no men

    Prove It To Me Blues

    I have turned the second LP over to side 2 for one final track - Leavin' This Morning. Side 2 features Ma with just "Georgia Tom" Dorsey on piano and Tampa Red on guitar and all tracks were recorded in September of 1928.

    I chose this track because it has Ma once again singing the blues in her wonderful style, but it also clearly features both Dorsey on piano and Tampa Red playing fantastic guitar which features his unique single-string slide style. It is also worth mentioning that Dorsey is often referred to as the "Father of black gospel music.

    Like with all great blues singers, it does get hard to chose one track over another, as they all deserve to be listened to and appreciated. but this is my choice.

    Leavin' This Morning

    In a period some 130 years after she was born and 93 years after her first recording we have all manner of technology at hand to "sweeten" a vocalists voice, to keep the pitch of the voice in tune, to harmonise, to do so much. So when we listen to Ma Rainey, the recordings are indeed very crude, but even so, the power and mesmerism of her voice shows that pure talent and commitment to her audience makes Ma Rainey absolutely stand out even more today. She was indeed a great blues singer and as Madam Rainey rightfully wears the title of the Mother of the Blues.

    This album, the self-titled Ma Rainey will be in very few music collections, either because she still remains relatively unknown except to blues aficionados. Any blues collector worth his or her weight is likely to have a Ma Rainey vinyl or re-release CD in their collection. This is a special album being a double gatefold, and it contains the best of her early recordings.

    There were three copies available on Discogs and were being offered at $20- $70 plus freight. There were no copies on Ebay.

    Click image for larger version

Name:	Ma-Rainey---Ma-Rainey-Album_Sml-Cover.jpg
Views:	3
Size:	45.7 KB
ID:	77583

    VIDEOS - There are no known film recordings of any live performance by Ma Rainey and we are certainly poorer for it

    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty vinyl albums reviewed, just click here

    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty (50) CD's reviewed, just click here

    If you are interested in checking out reviews 101 to 150 (Vinyl & CD) as reviewed, just click here


    Past album Reviews - Numbers 151 onward:

    Number 151 - The Shaggs: Philosophy Of The World

    Number 152 - The Animals: The Animals

    Number 153 - Omar Khorshid: Live in Australia 1981

    Number 154 - Alan Parsons Project: Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Edgar Allan Poe)

    Number 155 - Billy Thorpe: Tangier

    Number 156 - Aretha Franklin: The Best Of

    Number 157 - Big Bill Broonzy: Big Bill Blues [His 23 Greatest Songs]

    Number 158 - The Supremes: Where Did Our Love Go

    Number 159 - The Band: Stage Fright

    Number 160 - Ray Brown & The Whispers: Hits and More 1965 - 1968

    Number 161 - Guitar Junior: The Crawl

    Number 162 - Jimi Hendrix: Radio One

    Number 163 - Memphis Minnie: Queen Of The Blues

    Number 164 - Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)

    Number 165 - The Loved Ones: Magic Box

    Number 166 - Various Artists: On The Road Again [An Anthology Of Chicago Blues 1947 - 1954]

    Number 167 - Janis Joplin: Greatest Hits

    Number 168 - David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust

    Number 169 - Red Hot Chili Peppers: Californication

    Number 170 - Chain: Two Of A Kind

    Number 171 - Bob Marley and The Wailers - Legend

    Number 172 - Coco Taylor: What It takes

    Number 173 - Stevie Wonder: Original Musiquarium

    Number 174 - Various Artists: The Unissued 1963 Blues Festival

    Number 175 - Noeleen Batley: Little Treasure

    Number 176 - B.B. King: The Best Of

    Number 177 - Fleetwood Mac: Fleetwood Mac (The White Album)

    Number 178 - Memphis Slim: I Feel So Good

    Number 179 - Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Live Budapest

    Number 180 - Flowers: Icehouse

    Number 181 - Joe Tex: The Best of

    Number 182 - Chicago [Transit Authority]: Chicago Transit Authority

    Number 183 - Deep Purple: The Deep Purple Singles

    Number 184 - The Doobie Brothers: Best of the Doobie Brothers

    Number 185 - Dig Richards: Jive After Five

    Number 186 - Stereo MC's: Connected

    Number 187 - Ricky Nelson: All My Best

    Number 188 - Frank Frost: Jelly Roll King

    Number 189 - Lonnie Mack: Memphis Wham

    Number 190 - Madder Lake: Still Point

    Number 191 - Carol K and the Hitmen: California Creamin'

    Number 192 - Dion and The Belmonts: Everything You Always Wanted To Hear

    Number 193 - The Beatles: Rubber Soul

    Number 194 - Sleepy John Estes: Jailhouse Blues

    Number 195 - Rob E.G. : All His Hits [The Festival File Volume 3]
    Attached Files
      Posting comments is disabled.



    Latest Articles


    • Listen To Older Voices: Bob Bright - Part 4
      by Rob Greaves
      Welcome to Listen To Older Voices, a program produced Rob Greaves for Wesley Mission Victoria and podcast through the Toorak Times.

      Listen To Older Voices presents the stories, views and opinions of our older citizens. It is predominantly in a life & times format, with interviewees reflecting upon their lives from earliest memories. An underlying principal of the program is to promote the concept of positive ageing, reinforcing the principle that older people have & continue to make a valuable contribution to both their local & wider community.

      11 September 2016, 08:48 AM
    • Cream of The Crate: Album # 200 - Australian Compilation: The Complete Havoc Singles (1971 - 1973]
      by Rob Greaves
      "A really stunning & great looking digi-pack from Aztec Records, compiling all the singles from the Australian Havoc Records label in the 70's." (Record Heaven)
      An excellent collection of early 70's Australian Rock / Pop/."
      (Rock On Vinyl)
      Aztec Music prides itself on preserving Australia's rich music history and with this release, they do it with class and style."
      (This review)

      This is album review number Two Hundred in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.
      26 August 2016, 10:32 AM
    • Cream of The Crate: Album # 199 - Lightning Hopkins: The Gold Star Series Vol 1
      by Rob Greaves
      "The blues is born with you. When you born in this world, you were born with the blues. (Lightnin’ Hopkins, 1967)
      Sam (Lightnin') Hopkins, one of the great country blues singers and perhaps the greatest single influence on rock guitar players." (New York Times Obituary, Feb 1, 1982 )
      "These are not necessarily the best known Lightnin' Hopkins tracks, but in many ways that makes this CD even more valuable."
      (This review)

      This is album review number One Hundred and Ninety Nine in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.
      19 August 2016, 10:24 AM
    • Cream of The Crate: Album # 198 - John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band
      by Rob Greaves
      "The reality of Plastic Ono Band is that it contains eleven of Lennon’s most accessible and gorgeous melodies and riffs." (Gerry Mullholand - BBC review 2010)
      "An album that will be as much analysed as Sgt. Pepper over the years." (Billboard - 1971)
      It remains one of the most audacious, iconoclastic albums in all of rock and roll." (Guitar World 2016)
      The album certainly shows that he had yet to work through many unresolved matters, and that he still had much anger in him. However he was a brilliant man and knew how to channel these elements in such a way to create some brilliant, memorable and haunting tracks." (This review)

      11 August 2016, 12:14 PM
    • Cream of The Crate: Album # 197 - Sam and Dave: The Best Of
      by Rob Greaves
      "Sam Moore and Dave Prater's string of soul and pop hits made them the '60s' most successful black vocal duo." (The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001)
      "Sam & Dave created some of their century's most enduring music in the pop form." (Stylus Magazine January 2007)
      There can be no argument that as a duo, Sam and Dave introduced the previously successful sound of the black church music, so successfully to pop music." (This review)

      This is album review number One Hundred and Ninety Seven in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.
      5 August 2016, 08:52 AM
    • Cream of The Crate: Album # 196 - Ma Rainey: Ma Rainey
      by Rob Greaves
      "Her deep, almost-vibratoless contralto sounded rough and unsophisticated compared to other commercial blueswomen but she projected a great depth of feeling and was adored by audiences." (US Library of Congress
      "Ma Rainey was one of the first singers to popularize the style (the blues)." (Joe McGasko - Bio May 2015)
      When we listen to Ma Rainey, the recordings are very crude, but even so the power and mesmerism of her voice shows that pure talent and commitment to an audience makes Ma Rainey stand out even more today.
      " (This review)

      This is album review number One Hundred and Ninety Six in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.
      29 July 2016, 10:18 AM