Thursday, February 19, 2009

McMichen in Louisville


On the left is a photo circa 1948 of Pappy McMichen's place (click to enlarge).

I moved to Louisville in June 2008. The house I bought is on Spring St. just a few houses from the Spring St. Bar and Grill which was previously owned by Clayton McMichen.

Who was Clayton McMichen? Clayton, nicknamed Pappy, was from the Atlanta region. He was probably the all-time greatest fiddler in Country music. He was a founding member of the Skillet Lickers one of the most popular string bands in the 1920s.

Pappy moved to Louisville in 1932 and his bands featured some of the best musicians in the country including Merle Travis.

More later,


Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Art Site, MattesonArt Is Up


My new art site: MattesonArt is finally up and running. I'll be adding all my paintings eventually. All 14 of my Bluegrass Series paintings are on the site.

Now you can purchase them directly from me through PayPal with a creditcard.

Here's the link: Check it out!


Monday, February 9, 2009

Crow Jane Blues: Close-ups

(click to enlarge all images)
1) Is the full painting

2) Is the long barrell revolver with two empty shell casings on the grass.
3) Spirit of Crow Jane releasing a crow, symbolizing her spirit being released.
4) A crow looks at the body of Crow Jane.
5) A bluesman sings in front of his cabin where the Red River runs to his back door.

The History of Crow Jane Blues


In my last blog you can see my new painting of Crow Jane Blues, a traditional song dating back to the early 1900's (circa 1918). In this blog we'll look at the history of the song.


Crow Jane has roots in the Piedmont (North and South Carolina, Virginia) and the song is said to have been a favorite among the best bluemen. Certainly many early versions can be traced to the Greenville, SC area and was in the repertoire of Greenville bluemen Blind Willie Walker and Rev. Gary Davis both born in 1896.

Other Piedmont bluemen such as Josh White did the song as "Blood Red River" in 1933 and Blind Boy Fuller as "Bye Bye Baby Blues" in 1937. It's also been done by John Cephas (Cephas and Wiggins) and Skip James. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee later did versions.

Crow Jane Blues was first recorded in 1927 for Victor by Julius Daniels (b. November 20, 1901 in Denmark, South Carolina; d. October 18, 1947), a Piedmont bluesman originally from Greenville, SC. His song "99 Year Blues" appeared on the box set Anthology of American Folk Music and his "Can't Put the Bridal on this Mule," an early version of "This Morning, This evening Right Now" are important contributions to old-time country blues genre.

Although he only recorded a few tunes, Daniels plays an important role in the history of Piedmont blues. One of the first black artists to record in the Southeast, Daniels inspired future bluesmen with his mix of finger-picked blues, sacred and country music. Recording for the first time, in 1927, Daniels was accompanied by the guitarist Bubba Lee Torrence, with whom he shared billing. During his second recording session, Daniels was joined by the guitarist Wilbert Andrews.

Daniels lived in Pineville, in Berkeley County, between 1912 and 1930. Relocating to Charlotte, North Carolina in 1930, he lived the rest of his life there, working in a variety of jobs, including as a firefighter.

Another Piedmont blueman sometimes credited with writing Crow Jane is Virginia bluesman Carl Martin, who was born near Stone Gap, VA, on April 1, 1906 (died in Pontiac, MI, on May 10, 1979). His main instrument was mandolin but he also mastered the guitar and fiddle. Martin recorded Crow Jane Blues for Bluebird in 1933.

He performed solo, and also spent much of his career in a trio featuring Ted Brogan (guitar) and Howard Armstrong (violin). The trio enjoyed a career that spanned five decades and was known under several different monikers, including the Four Keys, the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, and the Wandering Troubadours. They traveled all over the south entertaining at medicine shows, county fairs, on the radio and would play for tips in local taverns. Around 1940 they went to Chicago and eventually broke up briefly reuniting in the early '70s fo the folk and blues festival circuit.

In "Guitar Styles of Brownie McGhee" by Happy Traum (1970) Brownie said he heard his father sing this song first, and lists only one verse of it: "Crow Jane, Crow Jane, don't hold your head so high, Remember Crow Jane, you gotta lay down and die." Here's a link:

RED RIVER- Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee

Which way, which way, that blood red river run?
Honey, from my back door to the risin' sun.(let me tell you, boy)

I hate to see that risin' sun go down.
Makes me feel just like I'm on my last go round.

Well that stomper, Oh Lord (What'd he say, boy?) will send me six foot of clay. (Why?)
Well that blood river rising six feet every day. (Let me tell you)

Willis run into the camp, tell my brother Bill,
Well the woman that he's loving, sure gonna get him killed. (What was her name boy?)

Crow Jane, Crow Jane, honey don't hold your head so high.
You realize darlin', you're gonna lay down and die. (Play me some blues there, boy)

(Harmonica break)(Do it one more time)(Harmonica break)
(Let me play a little guitar for ya) (guitar break)

Well I heard, heard a mighty rumblin', Sonny and then I looked around.
Well that Northern and the Southern, tearin' that old depot down.

If you see me comin' babe, honey Oh, put your man outdoor.
Honey I ain't goin' explain yo-- Sonny may have before.

(Brownie: Let me tell you somethin' 'fore I play this)
(Sonny: Go ahead, tell me now)

If you see, see me comin' babe (Sonny: yeah) heist your window high,
If you see me leavin' little girl, hang your head and cry.


Joe Williams was born in Crawford, Mississippi, on October 16, 1903. He remembered one of his early songs, "Crow Jane Blues," as being about a neighborhood woman named Jane Tripley.

Big Joe Williams was known for his characteristic style of guitar-playing, his nine-string guitar, and his bizarre, cantankerous personality. The song was part of his repertoire by 1920 when he began wandering across the United States busking and playing stores, bars, alleys and work camps. In the early 1920s he worked in the Rabbit Foot Minstrels revue and recorded with the Birmingham Jug Band in 1930 for the Okeh label.

In 1934 he was in St. Louis, where he met record producer Lester Melrose who signed him to a contract with Bluebird Records in 1935. He stayed with Bluebird for ten years, recording such blues hits as "Baby, Please Don't Go" (1935) and "Crawlin' King Snake" (1941), both songs later covered by many other performers. He also recorded with other blues singers, including John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, Robert Nighthawk and Peetie Wheatstraw.


Since no one is sure where the song originated but it clearly is traditional. The song is one of many 8 bar blues (Key to the Highway; Dryland Blues; Jim Lee Blues; How Long Blues) usually it's played in E with the chords: E B7 A A E B7 E B7. Etta Baker does a great instrumental version and you can listen to Skip James on YouTube: He uses a TAG at the end of each verse.

CROW JANE- Skip James 1967

Crow Jane, Crow Jane, Crow Jane Don't you hold your head high
Someday baby, you know You got to die
TAG: You got to lay down an - You got to die, you got to -

You know, I wanna buy me a pistol, Wants me forty rounds of ball
Shoot Crow Jane, just to see her fall
TAG: She got to fall, she got to - She got to fall, she got to-

That's the reason I begged, Crow Jane Not to hold her head, so high
Someday baby, you know You got to die
tAG: You got to lay down an -

When I dug her grave, With a silver spade
Ain't nobody gon' take, My Crow Jane place
TAG: You can't take her place, No, you can't take her -

That's the reason I begged, Crow Jane Not to hold her head, too high
Someday baby, you know You got to die
You got to lay down an -

You know, I let her down, With a golden chain
An ev'ry link I would call my, Crow Jane name
Crow Jane, Crow - Crow Jane, Crow -

You know I never missed my water, 'Till my well went dry
Didn't miss Crow Jane Until the day she died
'Till the day-ay-ay-ay she -

That's the reason I begged, Crow Jane Not to hold her head too high
Someday baby, you know you got to die
You got to lay down and - You got to die, you got to -

You know, I dug her grave, Eight feet in the ground
Didn't feel sorry, Until they let her down
They had to let her down Had-a - They had to let her down

That's the reason I begged, Crow Jane Not to hold her head too high
Someday baby, you know you got to die
You got to lay down and -

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Crow Jane


The next several posts will be looking at my new painting: Crow Jane Blues. An image of the painting is above (click to enlarge).

This song, although not a bluegrass song, sure could be adapted. I've played it in different styles from uptempo bluegrass to fingerstyle blues.

It was originally a Delta blues and uses a standard 8 bar format. Several versions use a tag (added measure or two) by repeating the last line once or twice similar to skip James version.

There aren't many good lyric versions and the song itself is fairly obscure (although Derek Trucks did a slide version). I love the second verse which as I remember is from Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee but is found earlier in different versions from many of Piedmont bluesmen in the 1920 and 1930s.

Here are my lyrics (from traditional sources):

Crow Jane Blues

CHORUS: Crow Jane, Crow JaneDon't you hold your head so high,
Cause someday baby, you know you’re gonna die.

Which way, which way, Does that blood red river run?
From my back door, to the Risin' Sun.

I'm gonna buy me a pistol, Long as I am tall,
Shoot Crow Jane just to see her fall.

I dug that woman’s grave Eight feet in the ground,
Didn’t feel sorry, ‘til I laid her down.

I dug her grave, With a silver spade,
Ain't nobody, gonna take my Crow Jane’s place.

They laid her down, With a golden chain
And every link would cry Crow Jane’s name.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Little Maggie Close-Ups


Here are the close-ups of Little Maggie (Click to enlarge):

1) Full painting

2) Close-up of Little Maggie with a dram glass in her hand. She is standing on a deck, courtin' an unseen man.

3) Close-up of the sky, Little Maggie's face and eyes (stars), quoting this verse: "How can I ever stand it? For to see those two blue eyes, They're shinin' like the diamonds, Like the diamonds in the skies."

4) Close-Up of "marching down to the station."

5) Close-up of the lyrics

Hope you enjoy it. Reproductions are now on sale for only $40- with foamcore backing- ready to hang on the wall, no frame needed.

Email me or you can buy them with a credit card on ESTY.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Little Maggie: History of the song


Here's some information about the history of "Little Maggie." See my painting in my last post.

“Little Maggie” is part of the “Darling Cory/Corey” family of “white blues” songs that include “Country Blues/Husling Gamblers” which were found in the Appalachian region in the late 1800’s.

“Darling Corey” shares words with "Country Blues" as well as “Little Maggie”. Dock Boggs recorded 'Country Blues' in 1927 and had learned it from Homer Crawford of Tennessee probably about 1914 under the title "Hustling Gamblers." Boggs added verses of his own. In his notes to the Revenant reissue of Boggs' complete early recordings, Barry O'Connell suggests that this "lyric and tune family" (Hustling Gamblers, Darling Corey, Country Blues etc)"has been around in the southern mountains for over a century." He went on to say: "The family of tunes probably originates late in the 19th century and belongs to the then developing tradition of white blues ballads.”

The melody of Little Maggie is distintly different from "Darlin Corey" though the mixolydian mode and chord progression are sometime played the same: G G F F G D G G.

“Listening to the Shelton version (of “Darling Cory”) again, it is interesting that, early in the song, 'highway robbers' are coming to 'tear the stillhouse down' - 'revenue officers' only make an appearance later in the narrative. 'Highway robbers' seems more of an English than an American idiom - another instance of an English survival in a mountain song? If so, that may be another reason for believing it is quite old.”

“Little Maggie” was recorded by the Stanley Brothers in 1946, when their music was more old-time than bluegrass in style. Mt. Airy, North Carolina, fiddler Tommy Jarrell remembered the tune "going around" the Round Peak area (where he grew up) around 1915 or 1916, and became quite popular with the younger folk. A tragedy occurred about the same time when his 14 year old cousin, Jullie Jarrell, was tending a fire in the kitchen stove and, thinking it was out, poured kerosene over the wood to renew it which suddenly caused flames to flare and severely burn her. Tommy related:

I was coming from the mill on horseback carrying a sack of cornmeal and all at once I saw the smoke and heard the younguns come running towards me crying, 'Jullie's burnt up and the house is a-fire.' I jumped off the horse and ran as fast as I could to the house--later I though about how much faster I could have gotten there by throwing the meal off and riding the horse, but you don't think clear at times like that. When I reached the door I saw Aunt Susan kneeling on the floor above Julie, weeping, her hands all blistered from beating out the fire with a quilt. Jullie was laying there crying, but there wasn't much we could do for her so we ran to the spring for water to put out the fire in the house. They put Jullie to bed right away--her whole body was burned up to her chin, and at first she cried in pain but after a while she didn't feel anything at all. That evening as she was laying there she asked me to get my banjo and sing "Little Maggie" for her. That was the only thing she wanted to hear--it had just recently come around and everyone seemed to take to it. I expect I played it the best I ever had in my life, with the most feeling, anyway. It seemed to comfort her and pick up her spirits a little, but by the following morning she was dead. (from Richard Nevins)

The song also titled "Little Maggie With a Dram Glass In Her Hand" appears to have been played in neighboring Grayson County, Virginia, a generation earlier, according to Richard Nevins, which points out how isolated the mountainous regions were around the turn of the century.

Here are the lyrics to “Little Maggie” from the earliest recording by Grayson and Whitter in 1928:

LITTLE MAGGIE Grayson and Whitter

(Fiddle Intro)

Oh yonder stands little Maggie,
With her dram glass in her hand.
She's passing by her troubles,
An’ a courtin' some other man.

How can I ever stand it?
For to see those two blue eyes,
They're shinin' like a diamond
Like a diamond in the skies.

(Fiddle break; Spoken: Little Maggie)

Now march me down to the station,
With my suitcase in my hand.
I’m goin' away for to leave you, little girl,
I’m goin' to some far distant land.

(Fiddle break; Spoken: yee-hoo)

I would rather be in some dark holler,
Where the sun could never shine
Than to know you’re another man’s darling,
And no longer a darling of mine.

(Fiddle break;)

Sometimes I have a nickel,
And sometimes I have one dime.
Sometimes I've got ten dollars
Just to pay little Maggie's fine.

Pretty flowers were made for bloomin'
Pretty stars was made for to shine
Pretty girls were made for boys to love
Surely Maggie was made for mine.

(Fiddle Break; Spoken: I hope so anyway)

(Extended Fiddle solos)

Little Maggie


After the ice storm here in Louisville I finally got my painting of Little Maggie done. (click to enlarge)

It's the first night painting in the Bluegrass Series and we really need some close-ups to see some of the details.

Here are the lyrics:

Little Maggie

Oh yonder stands little Maggie,
With a dram glass in her hand.
She's passing away her troubles,
And a-courting some other man.

How can I ever stand it?
For to see those two blue eyes,
They're shining just like diamonds
Like the diamonds in the skies.

Now march me down to the station,
With my suitcase in my hand.
I’m going away for to leave you, little girl,
I’m going to some far distant land.

Pretty flowers were made for blooming
Pretty stars was made for to shine
Pretty girls were made for loving
Little Maggie was made for mine.

Go away, go away little Maggie
Go and do the best you can.
I’ll get me another woman;
You can get you another man.

The lyrics are basically the standard lyrics from the 1920s while the last verse is a more recent addition.

Next blog I'll go into the history of the painting.

Till we meet again,