Prison Work Song Recast as “Rock”

The Guerrillas‘ “Lawdy Rolla” is a King reissue of a European single on Polydor.

Points out the YouTube contributor who posted this audio clip:

“Traditional worksong recording [from] Alan Lomax’s Negro Prison Blues & Songs – ‘Early in the Mornin” http://youtu.be/lw6GFCupesI  US ish (issue) of a French Congo acoustic RnB/Jazz tune, has an amazing vibe and groove”

“Lawdy Rolla”      The Guerillas      1969

Alan Lomax would record a performance of “Early in the Mornin'” in 1947 at Mississippi State Penitentiary’s Parchman Farm, thus setting into motion a chain of events that would lead to this prison work song entering the realm of popular music.

Australia’s Purple Hearts would inject “Early in the Mornin'” with fresh energy in 1966, as would Christchurch, New Zealand’s The Chants (as noted here), no doubt using The Graham Bond Organization‘s more polite version from the previous year’s The Sound of ’65 album as a template.

King would release “Lawdy Rolla” in October, 1969.  Little to no information seems to exist about this obscure 45, which commands a respectable price at auction.  The Guerrillas would record these two songs at Studio CBE in Paris.

Polydor picture sleeve – Note the spelling variant of Guerrillas

Guerillas Polydor 45Lyrics to the original prison work song can be found here — for mature audiences only.

“Bilbo Is Dead”: Not the Hobbit

Joe’s Record Paradise – thankfully – is only moving up Georgia Avenue a few blocks.

Joe’s Record Paradise at dusk

Joe's Record Paradise-bb

On my last visit to Joe’s I picked up The Record Men:  The Chess Brothers and the Birth of Rock & Roll – the lone music history title in W.W. Norton’s Enterprise series that celebrates the virtues and achievements of Capitalism and Free Enterprise.  Rich Cohen, consequently, focuses on Leonard and Phil Chess and the immigrant experience in post-WWII America, as the two brothers carved out an entrepreneurial niche at a time when Chicago electrified the blues during the Second Great Migration.

The success of the Macomba Lounge and its reputation as an after-hours music hot spot (that drew the likes of Max Roach and Ella Fitzgerald) would give Leonard Chess the inspiration to try his hand at recording this new blues sound as a music label proprietor.  In 1947, Chess would buy a minority ownership stake in Aristocrat Records, the label that would become Chess three years later when Leonard and Phil acquired sole ownership of this independent musical enterprise.

Given the renown of Chess, surprisingly little seems to be known about the controversy around Leonard Chess’s first recording foray in September, 1947 with Andrew Tibbs.  Writes Cohen:

“The Tibbs record is a cautionary tale–it shows how everything can go wrong.  A few thousand were pressed.  Side A was ‘Union [Man] Blues,’ a song about the life of a union man, a flat song to everyone but the Teamsters, truckers, and box handlers, who found it offensive, and so–or so the story goes–refused to ship it, letting the records pile up in the warehouses.  Side B was “Bilbo Is Dead,” an attack on segregationist Senator Theodore Bilbo, who had just died.  In those parts of the South where the Teamsters let the record through, it was smashed by angry white mobs.  So started Leonard Chess in the music business:  he sent his record out into the whirlwind–and these things are really no more than totems of the people who make them–and it came back smashed up, and spat upon, and undelivered.”

Note:  1101A means that “Bilbo Is Dead” is the A-side, not “union Man Blues”

Andrew Tibbs 78-aAndrew Tibbs 78-b

Francis Davis in The History of the Blues additionally notes that “Union Man Blues” was a song “that voiced disgust over the exclusion of blacks from labor unions.  Angry truck drivers, upon hearing the content of the lyrics, destroyed mass quantities of this record.”  John Collis in The Story of Chess Records would refer to ‘the Tibbs record’ as the controversial release “which almost killed off Chess before it had even started.”

“Bilbo Is Dead”     Andrew Tibbs     1947

Andrew Tibbs (vocals)
with Dave Youngs Orchestra:
–  Dave Young (tenor sax)
–  AndrewGoonGardner (alto sax)
–  Pee Wee Jackson (trumpet)
–  Rudy Martin (piano)
–  Bill Settles (bass)
–  Curtis Walker (drums)

Robert L. Campbell (et al.)’s history of the Aristocrat label points out that “some of the composer credits on Aristocrat labels are demonstrably bogus.  For instance, ‘Bilbo Is Dead’ was co-written by Andrew Tibbs and Tom Archia.  But the label claimed credit for Chess-Aleta-Archia—whoever Aleta was.  Meanwhile the copyright records at the Library of Congress give Evelyn Aron and Mildred Brount as the copyright owners!”

2120 South Michigan Avenue – Chicago, IL

2120 South Michigan AveAn original copy of the “Bilbo Is Dead” 78 would fetch just under $100 in 2013.

Fifth Zero to 180 item tagged as Labor in Song.

“Jukebox Man”: The One Who Keeps ’em Dancin’

Nice deep country bass sounds on this YouTube stereo mix of Dick Curless’ mighty working man jukebox tale – “Jukebox Man” (#41 country hit) – that was released February, 1971 on the heels of trucker classic, “Drag ’em Off the Interstate Sock It To ’em J.P. Blues”

Guitar & Dobro:  Jerry Kennedy
Rhythm Guitar & Banjo:  Bobby Thompson
Rhythm Guitar:  Ray Edenton
Guitar:  Billy Sanford
Bass Guitar:  Harold Bradley
Steel Guitar:  Pete Drake, Weldon Myrick
Bass:  Roy Huskey
Drums:  Buddy Harman
Piano:  HargusPigRobbins
Recorded:
November, 1970 at Jack Clement Recording Studio in Nashville, Tennessee

Dick Curless 45

“Jukebox Man” was actually written by Hank Mills — pen name, of Samuel Garrett, who is also famous for having written “Girl on the Billboard” & “One Bum Town” (Del Reeves);  “My Big Truck Drivin’ Man” (Kitty Wells), and “White Lightnin’ Express” (Roy Drusky), among many others.

“Jukebox Man” is also the kick-off tune on 1971 Capitol LP, ‘Doggin’ It’Dick Curless 1971 LP

“Cajun Interstate”: Cajun-Built

Thanks to the bibliographic notes in 2003’s The Cajuns:  Americanization of a People by Shane K. Bernard, I was able to affirm that “Cajun Interstate” by Rod Bernard is, indeed, about the building of the highway that traverses the bottom of Louisiana – Interstate 10:

Atchafalaya Basin Bridge

Atchafalaya Basin Bridge

As Shane K. Bernard writes:

“South Louisianians were fascinated by the construction of I-10, particularly an eighteen-mile section known as the “Atchafalaya Expressway” [which opened in 1973].  The monumental elevated causeway cut directly through the Atchafalaya Basin, a vast, snake-infested wetlands that to many symbolized South Louisiana’s cultural isolation.

‘They said it couldn’t be done — building a highway over the swamps,’ mused a journalist.  The engineering feat so impressed one South Louisiana musician that he composed ‘Cajun Interstate,’ a rock ‘n’ roll paean to the structure that also manifested a growing grassroots ethnic pride movement.”

Here comes the superhighway,

That superhighway boss,

But it’s gonna take a Cajun crew

To get that road across…

Fifty mile of concrete,

Fifty miles of steel,

Louisiana sunshine,

Shining down on me.

Mama make a gumbo.

Tonight we’ll celebrate

And sing about your Cajun boy

That build that interstate.

Released on Shelby Singleton’s SSS International label in December 1970 — backed with “A Tear in a Lady’s Eyes.”  Both tunes were written by Rod Bernard (who, earlier in his career, helped pioneer a musical mix of New Orleans rhythm & blues, country, Cajun and black creole known as “swamp pop“), along with “E. Futch” — birth name of country singer/songwriter, Eddy Raven, who would later write a song also voicing praise for the Cajun work ethic, “Alligator Bayou,” on which he sang, “Working on a board road running through the swamp for a dollar and a half an hour / A Cajun man with a love for life and a whole lot of muscle power.”

Cajun Interstate 45

Thanks to Shane K. Bernard, who provided the back story on Eddy Raven (above) as well as the tip to Rod Bernard’s 1964 labor lament of working for the “Boss Man’s Son” – featuring the backing of Johnny and Edgar Winter:

“Part of the Union”: Rockers of the World, Unite

Zero to 180’s tribute to labor continues with The Strawbs’ unabashed and unequivocal anthem to The Working Man – everybody sing along now:

“Part of the Union” came within a hair of hitting the number 1 spot on the UK Singles Chart in 1973.  The song would see release as a single in South Africa, Australia, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, and the UK – but apparently (and unsurprisingly) not in the US.

Part of the Union 45

“Part of the Union”:   Pro-Union or Anti-Union?

As this BBC piece points out, “Although the lyrics could be read as satirical of the trade union movement, the band has frequently stated that that’s not the case at all.  In fact the song was picked up by the trade unions and became something of an unofficial anthem for them.”   A number of other web sources state that “Rick Wakeman, who was in the band from March 1970 to July 1971, and a strong supporter of the UK’s Conservative Party, has since claimed that the lyrics were meant to be sarcastic.”  More intriguing is the Free Online Library’s claim that the Conservative Party even “assembled Parliament to vote for banning the song.”

“Hard Times”: Working Man’s Blue(gras)s

The Osbourne Brothers point the way forward on 1967‘s Modern Sounds of Bluegrass.

Osborne Brothers LP

“Hard Times” – a working man’s blues dressed in modern bluegrass threads – speaks directly to the classic struggle between labor and management:

Hard Times – The Osborne Brothers

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Hard Times” by The Osborne Brothers.]

“Hard Times,” the A-side of a 45 (b/w “World of Unwanted”) released in June of 1966,   was written by Aaron “Double A” Allan — inveterate songwriter, radio personality and a longtime MC of Willie Nelson’s 4th of July picnics.

Hard Times 45 on Decca