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Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1 (1934-1936)

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Album Review

In 2000 the Document historical reissue label released three CDs believed to contain every record ever made by Chicago bluesman Jimmie Gordon. Volume 1 covers the years 1934-1936. The earliest recording known to have appeared under his name was a footnote to Bumble Bee Slim's Bluebird session of March 23, 1934. Serving as Slim's piano player, Gordon asked if he might make a record of his own then and there. What resulted was an adaptation of a humorous song (traced back to Peter Clayton and Red Mike Bailey of St. Louis) in which Gordon describes what it's like to subsist on a poor man's diet of pork neckbones. This plight assumes nightmarish proportions as he wakes up surrounded by neckbones in the bed and soon realizes that these byproducts of Chicago's meatpacking industry are curtailing his mobility and have taken over his life. Skeletal remnants also enter into the lyrics of his "Graveyard Blues" in the form of the poignant question: "If you didn't love my flesh, mama, how can you love my bones?" Gordon's singing voice, similar to that of Bumble Bee Slim, enabled him to become a Decca recording artist. This professional arrangement lasted from August 1934 through April 1941 and yielded 62 recordings, sometimes issued under interesting names. On tracks two, three, 16, and 17, for example, he is billed as "the Mississippi Mudder", while on tracks seven and eight he's listed as "Joe Bullum", a reference to the fact that "Black Gal Blues (What Makes Your Head So Hard)" was written by Texas bluesman Joe Pullum. "Drive Me Away Blues" is the first of 31 sides issued under the heading of Jimmie Gordon and His Vip Vop Band, a group that would involve various jazz players and members of the Chicago-based Harlem Hamfats. Musicians who participated in the records reissued on this compilation included guitarists Charlie McCoy, Carl Martin, and Scrapper Blackwell; pianists Dot Rice, Chuck Segar, and Horace Malcolm, as well as bassist John Lindsay. Backed by Bumble Bee Slim and his Rhythm Riffers, Gordon is the vocalist on ""I'll Take You Back"," an upbeat swing number very similar to what the Hamfats were putting out during the late '30s. Composed by Chicago pianist Eddie Miller, "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water" was a hit for Jimmie Gordon as well as the Cats & the Fiddle, and would become a favorite with Jimmy Witherspoon, Joe Williams, Lou Rawls, B.B. King, and Jay McShann. Stylistically, the barrelhouse tune "Little Red Dress (Mary Usta Wear)" lands somewhere between Tampa Red and Fats Waller, right down to the phrase "swing it on out there". Gordon's usual formula during this time, however, was that of the slow paced blues. If some of these tracks sound a lot alike, remember that these recordings were not necessarily intended to be heard all together in succession the way they appear here. The secret to enjoying this kind of blues is to regard each song as another movement in a potentially endless African-American oratorio based upon impressions and observations taken directly from real life.


Born: 1906

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '30s, '40s

As is the case with so many African-American musicians who were active during the first half of the 20th century, Chicago blues singer and pianist Jimmie Gordon languished in posthumous obscurity for years and was subsequently "rediscovered," which in his case meant having his legacy tangled up in erroneous and inconclusive information. He is believed to have been born in the year 1906, but the claim that he originated in St. Louis is almost certainly traceable to a fabricated reference stemming...
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Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1 (1934-1936), Jimmie Gordon
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