Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The NRR Project: 'Black Snake Moan'/'Match Box Blues'

 


Black Snake Moan/Match Box Blues

Written and performed by Blind Lemon Jefferson

Recorded: March 13/14, 1927

Blind Lemon Jefferson was an early star among country bluesmen. He was born south of Dallas, Texas, in 1893, and learned the guitar growing up. Soon he was performing on the street – initially near his hometown, then in Dallas itself. His high, keening voice and intricate guitar work distinguished him from his rivals, and in 1926 he went to Chicago to start recording “sides”. This he did until his untimely death in 1929.

The recording cited in this entry was taken from his work for OKeh Records, a break from his initial commitment to Paramount Records. Of the eight sides he recorded for OKeh, only these two made it to the public – Paramount’s complaints about OKeh poaching him led to the other recordings being suppressed.

So what are these songs about? “Match Box Blues” is somewhat mystifying:

“How far to the river, mama, walk down by the sea

How far to the river, walk down by the sea

I got those tadpoles and minnows all in over me”

No idea. Blues singers used coded language to broach intimate or unsavory topics. Presumably, the lines above are a metaphor for something sexual. In “Black Snake Moan,” the reptile of the title is really a penis.

“Mmm, mmm, black snake crawlin' in my room

Mmm, mmm, black snake crawlin' in my room

Some pretty mama better come and get this black snake soon

 Indeed.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The NRR Project: Protesta per Sacco e Vanzetti/Sacco e Vanzetti

 


Protesta per Sacco e Vanzetti/Sacco e Vanzetti

Written by Frank Amodio/Lyrics by Ranzo Vampo, music by F. Pensiero

Performed by Compagnia Columbia/Raoul Romito

Recorded: 1927

The tragedy of Sacco and Vanzetti is dimly remembered and scarcely understood today. This unique recording commemorates their internationally protested imprisonment and sentencing to death for a crime they may or may not have committed.

The superb explanatory essay at the National RecordingRegistry by Joseph Sciorra does a detailed job of explication and analysis.

On April 15, 1920, in Braintree, Massachusetts, Slater and Morrill Shoe Company paymaster Frederick Parmenter and security guard Alessandro Berardelli were shot and killed during the course of a $15,000 payroll robbery. Two Italian immigrant working men who also happened to be anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were later arrested for the crime.

The two were convicted and sentenced to execution on July 14, 1921. From that time on, numerous unsuccessful appeals for retrial were rejected, even as popular opinion rose in support of the two men. It was broadly thought by liberals that the men were innocent and were being persecuted for their immigrant status and for their political orientation. Protests for Sacco and Vanzetti grew and became worldwide.

This recording dates from 1927, towards the end of the two’s imprisonment. It was enacted by the “Compagnia Columba,” an Italian-language dramatic group. Evidently spoken-language records concerning the events of the day were not unusual at the time. Here the action replicates a rally on Sacco and Vanzetti’s behalf. On the record’s other side is a sung ballad supporting them.

Despite the scope of protest in their favor, the two were executed on August 23, 1927. A preponderance of historical analysis suggests that Sacco was guilty but that Vanzetti was not. Still, their prosecution marks a huge symbolic uproar in America about prejudice against immigrant Americans and left-wing thinking.

This recording demonstrates a unique and little-known usage of the recording industry. The spreading of popular opinion using the media percolates up into society in a variety of ways.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: Blind Lemon Jefferson.

The NRR Project: 'Black Snake Moan'/'Match Box Blues'

  Black Snake Moan/Match Box Blues Written and performed by Blind Lemon Jefferson Recorded: March 13/14, 1927 Blind Lemon Jefferson wa...