Have there ever been more innocent times? Your grandparents told you there were yet Getintothis’ Andy Holland discovers that they were all lying.
The original blues age was responsible for some of the dirtiest songs ever recorded, some of which would still struggle to get past the censor even now. Our ancestors obviously loved a filthy record as much as we do nowadays. A more innocent age? Obviously not as it turns out.
There is an explanation for many of these records. Black Americans of the era were encouraged to record songs like this by white audiences who had very specific ideas about how they perceived them. These were violently racist times and white American was very repressed, they loved fantasise about black Americans living loose and lascivious lives. It was all part of their prejudiced attitude, but however much white America hated black America, it were increasingly fascinated by its culture and envied it too.
Black musicians were usually very adept at a wide range of musical styles but the record companies of the time told them to focus on the blues because that was what they could sell. Performers were also persuaded into singing the lewdest material they knew. It was all part of the package. They became known as race records and they were usually adorned sleeves featuring racist caricatures.
It remains an extremely interesting part of popular music history and there are still shadows of it around today. For your perusal, we have assembled a list of ten of the rudest blues classics we could find. If anybody can alert us to any more of examples we would be really grateful if you can recommend them.
In the meantime, happy listening!
1) Clara Smith – It’s Tight Like That (1929)
Early blues records were recorded by women, Mamie Smith being the absolute first. No relation of Mamie or Bessie Smith, Clara was referred to Queen Of The Moaners in her day – it was meant as a compliment. Clara had a lighter, sweeter vocal style than most of her contemporaries, which makes the words she sang on this sound even more shocking.
2) Bessie Smith – I Need A Little Sugar For My Bowl (1931)
The most popular and renowned female blues singer of her time (1920s-30s) is rather specific about what she is missing in her life on this track. Bessie Smith was an imposing figure; a hugely gifted, loud, hard-living bi-sexual woman who once scared off a whole gang of the Ku Klux Klan entirely on her own. This wasn’t the only record she made that was risqué.
3) Harry Roy – My Girl’s Pussy (1931).
Does this count as a blues song? I’ve included it because it’s hilarious either way. The censors in the thirties well and truly knew what this record was about so they banned it straight away. It was still popular at parties, though.
4) Bo Carter – Banana In Your Fruitbasket (1931)
Now, we’re in country blues terrain. Bo Carter was famous for recording double-entendre laden songs with titles like Please Warm My Weiner, What’s That Smells Like Fish, etc. The truth was that the ruder the titles got, the more likely white audiences were to buy the records.
5) The Hokum Boys – Caught Us Doin’ It (1936)
The Hokum Boys were a project dreamed up by Tampa Red, who played bottleneck guitar, and Thomas A. Dorsey on piano. They teamed up and recorded fifty songs with similar risqué themes and they were popular during the late twenties to early thirties.
6) Lil Johnson – Let’s Get Drunk And Truck (1929)
Lil Johnson was based in Chicago but little is known about her other than that. It’s a pity because she recorded some really good tracks, notably the first version of Keep A-Knockin’, which Little Richard would cover years later and turn it into a smash hit.
7) Blind Boy Fuller – Sweet Honey Hole (1937)
Blind Boy Fuller was quite prolific and many of his songs had quite racey subject matter, This one is no exception. He is now regarded as one of the great blues and ragtime guitarists of his time.
8) Butterbeans and Susie – I Want A Hot Dog For My Roll (1927)
This one has to be heard to be believed. Butterbeans and Susie were a popular husband and wife vaudeville act whose career stretched well into the 1960s. This is typical of their style. Bessie Smith also recorded this song.
9) Maggie Jones – Anybody Here Want To Try My Cabbage (1924).
Maggie Jones worked with many of the jazz greats, including Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson. She was originally from Texas but little is known about her since by 1926 she had cut her last record. Unusually for a female black singer, particularly one of her stature, she addressed the topic of the Jim Crow laws on one of her songs, Northbound Blues.
10) Blu Lu Barker – Don’t You Feel My Leg (1938)
Blu Lu Barker was based in New Orleans. She often worked with her husband Danny Barker. Her biggest hit was A Little Bird Told Me which got as high as No 4 in the Billboard Chart.
11) Lucille Bogan – Shave ‘Em Dry (1935)
We’ve left this one till last because nothing can really follow it.
In fact, it almost belongs in a category of its very own. Lucille Bogan was a very popular singer in her day, she was among the ‘Big Three’ including Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.
Bogan wrote all of her own material and the vast proportion of it was about drinking, sex, and prostitution. Nothing unusual in that as we’ve seen. However, what separated her from the rest is that she didn’t bother with double entendres, she just came right out and said it.
This is generally considered to be the most explicit record she ever recorded. It was written by the legendary piano player James Yancey and Bogan actually corpses at one point due to the content of the lyrics. Once heard, this record is never easily forgotten. In fact, it would be a challenge to find a more explicit record than this from any era and the rest of her repertoire isn’t much cleaner.