14 April 2013

Post 45: 'CRAZY BLUES' - FROM MAMIE SMITH TO TUBA SKINNY

My friend Jan, who lives in Holland, is a keen gardener and also a fan of Tuba Skinny. He is particularly fond of Erika's wonderful singing. He likes to work in his garden, with Erika singing to him.

Jan has told me how much he likes Crazy Blues - a 2014 addition to Tuba Skinny's repertoire. Jan admires the way Erika sings almost continuously through the entire 4½-minute performance. He says he considers it a 'masterpiece' because of the the beauty of the song, the way Erika conveys the emotions and the perfect cooperation of the band in supporting Erika - without any instrumental solos. Jan suggested I should write about the performance and its structure.

Crazy Blues was composed in 1920 by 27-year-old Perry Bradford, who at the time was the musical director of the great early blues singer Mamie Smith. She recorded it that year with her Jazz HoundsIt was a hugely successful recording and is now considered by jazz and blues scholars to have been an important milestone in the history of our music.

Tuba Skinny model their version very closely on Mamie Smith's. They use the same Introduction and structure. The only significant difference is that - after the long vocal - Tuba Skinny add an instrumental ensemble once through the Section I shall call (C). I suppose that, on the Mamie Smith 1920 version, limitations of available recording time prevented the band from doing anything other than rounding the tune off very quickly.

It is indeed a tour de force by Erika. I don't know how she memorises so many songs of this type and sings them so well, apparently with no loss of voice. And at the most emotional moments in this song, she has to hit high Ebs, which are probably at the top of her vocal range.
It's a curiously structured song, though typical of its time, I suppose. You can think of it as having 40 bars of 'Verse' leading into a 16-bar 'Chorus' (let's call the Chorus C) - making 56 bars in all. But the  performers break down the  'Verse' into two parts of 28 bars (let's call that A) and 12 bars (let's call that B) respectively. Tuba Skinny plays the song entirely in the key of Eb and the structure (Introduction plus three themes) seems to me to be:

(Intro) Band Intro: 4 bars.
(A) Erika: 28-bar theme, starting at I can't sleep at Night; I can't eat a bite.... and ending at My love for that man will always be.
(C) Erika: CHORUS 16 bars Now I Got The Crazy Blues......and ending with I ain't had nothin' but bad news; now I got the Crazy Blues. Note how the band again uses the motif from the Introduction at the end of this.
(B) Erika: 12-bar blues theme, starting at Now I can read his letters but I sure can't read his mind., ending now I see my poor love was blind.
(B) Erika: 12-bar blues melody again, but with a different set of words, starting at I went to the railroad.
(C) Erika: CHORUS 16 bars Now I Got The Crazy Blues.
(C) Band: CHORUS 16 bars ensemble to round it off.

As so often, we must thank the great digitalalexa for filming this performance so brilliantly. Watch it by clicking here. And more recently, kassiniru posted a performance filmed at The Dew Drop Hall. You can watch it by clicking here. As at March 2016, Erika has not recorded this song on any of the band's CDs.

Jan - the gentleman in Holland who first contacted me about this song - has also kindly sent me the words:
Crazy Blues

I can't sleep at night.
I can't eat a bite
'Cause the man I love
He don't treat me right.
He makes me feel so blue.
I don't know what to do.
Sometime I sit and sigh
And then begin to cry
'Cause my best friend
Said his last goodbye.

There's a change in the ocean, Change in the deep blue sea, my baby.
I'll tell you, folks,  There ain't no change in me.
My love for that man will always be!

Now I got the crazy blues
Since my baby went away.
I ain't got no time to lose.
I must find him today.
Now the doctor's gonna
do all that he can,
But what you're gonna need
is an undertaker man.
I ain't had nothin' but bad news.
Now I got the crazy blues.

Now I can read his letters--
I sure can't read his mind.
I thought he's lovin' me.
He's leavin' all the time.
Now I see my poor love was blind.

I went to the railroad [to]
Hang my head on the track.
Thought about my daddy--
I gladly snatched it back!
Now my babe's gone
And gave me the sack.

Now I've got the crazy blues
Since my baby went away.
I ain't had no time to lose.
I must find him today.

I'm gonna do like a Chinaman, Go and get some hop--
Get myself a gun, and shoot myself a cop.
ain't had nothin' but bad news
Now I've got the crazy blues.