Posts Tagged ‘Sonny Terry’

‘You May Be High . . .’

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

When the Rolling Stones recorded “You Got To Move” and released it on Sticky Fingers in 1971 (with the title offered as “You Gotta Move”), they credited the song to Fred McDowell, a Tennessee-based farmer and blues singer who’d somehow been given the name of Mississippi Fred McDowell. It was not an unreasonable decision, as McDowell had recorded the tune in 1965 for his second album on the Arhoolie label, which was released a year later and listed him as the song’s writer.

Here’s that version by McDowell:

(It’s worth noting that McDowell was an anomaly in the blues revival of the late 1950s and the 1960s: He’d never recorded before, while many of the blues artists celebrated during that revival had recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. Whether that made McDowell’s previously unrecorded music more “authentic” – as I’ve seen written in at least a couple of places – is for others to judge. It was certainly new to listeners, and, despite McDowell’s frequent use of an electric guitar, clearly linked to the Delta tradition.)

But McDowell did not write the song. Second Hand Songs lists the song as “traditional,” noting four recordings that predate McDowell’s 1965 recording. (McDowell’s 1965 recording is not listed at all; his 1969 live version with the Hunter’s Chapel Singers is listed, another reminder that as useful as the website is, it’s not complete.)

Those four earlier listed recordings came from the Willing Four in 1944, the Two Gospel Keys (Emma Daniels and Mother Sally Jones) in 1947, Elder Charles Beck & His Religion In Rhythm in 1949, and Blind Gary Davis with Sonny Terry in 1953. One can assume two things, I think: There were other recordings as well before McDowell recorded his 1965 version, and the song no doubt predates the Willing Four’s version. By how much, who knows?

And I’m going to make a third assumption: That crediting the song’s creation to McDowell on his 1966 album was an error by someone at Arhoolie. McDowell would certainly have known that he’d learned the song elsewhere, and everything I’ve read about McDowell tells me that he was an unassuming, almost humble man. I have my doubts that he’d have claimed the song as his.

(At Second Hand Songs, “You Got To Move” is called “traditional,” and on the CD version I have of Sticky Fingers, it’s credited to McDowell and Davis. I don’t know what credits there are on more recent versions of the CD or the LP.)

McDowell recorded the song at least a couple more times: The previously mentioned 1969 recording with the Hunter’s Chapel Singers for an album titled Amazing Grace, and in a 1971 performance in New York City that was released as a live album two years later.

There are, of course, other covers out there, some by artists I know and others by artists unfamiliar to me: The Party Boys, Mike Cooper & Ian A. Anderson, Mick Taylor, Herman Alexander, the Radiators, Corey Harris, Jorma Kaukonen, Townes Van Zandt, Cassandra Wilson, Aerosmith, and Koerner, Ray & Glover are just some of them.

Most of those are faithful to the Delta sound of McDowell’s version; some of them reach back to what I assume are the song’s Gospel origins; and some are hybrids. Here’s one of the latter, the version offered by Sista Monica Parker on her 2008 album Sweet Inspirations.

One From 12-29

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

As we did yesterday, we’re going to dig into the product of the search function of the RealPlayer today and find a track recorded on today’s date, December 29. And in doing so, we find ourselves in the Sugar Hill club in San Francisco’s North Beach district.

That’s where blues artists Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee spent the evening of December 29, 1961, offering an eighteen-song set that was recorded but seemingly went unreleased until 1999, when the entire performance was released on CD as Backwater Blues. (It’s entirely possible that an abridged version of the performance was released as an album or that individual tracks from the Sugar Hill performance were included on compilations of one sort or another in the thirty-eight intervening years.)

Here’s the tune that became the title track of that performance from fifty-five years ago, “Backwater Blues” (titled that even though McGhee introduces the song as “Backwater Rising”).