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Monday, August 6, 2012

Bo Carter: Complete Recorded Works Vol. 1 (1928-1931)


1) Good Old Turnip Greens; 2) Bungalow Blues; 3) Mary Blues; 4) Electrocuted Blues (Electric Chair Blues); 5) Cor­rine Corrina; 6) East Jackson Blues; 7) I'm An Old Bumble Bee; 8) Mean Feeling Blues; 9) I've Got The Whole World In My Hand; 10) She's Your Cook But She Burns My Bread Sometimes; 11) Same Thing That The Cats Fight About; 12) Time Is Tight Like That; 13) My Pencil Won't Write No More; 14) Banana In Your Fruit Basket; 15) Pin In Your Cushion; 16) Pussy Cat Blues; 17) Ram Rod Daddy; 18) Loveless Love; 19) I Love That Thing; 20) Back­ache Blues; 21) Sorry Feeling Blues; 22) Baby, When You Marry; 23) Boot It; 24) Twist It, Baby.

Armenter Chatmon, better known as Bo Carter, was hardly what you could call a great blues sin­ger. He had a typical blueswailer's voice, standard professional phrasing, and an undisputed feel­ing for the music, but no individuality whatsoever — where a Charlie Patton or a Blind Willie McTell, or maybe even a Leroy Carr are always recognizable through their unique tones, modes, and tricks, Bo Carter is just a «generic» singing bluesman.

Moreover, Armenter Chatmon was hardly what you could call a great blues player. He certainly knew his fair share of chords, and he could play lead lines well enough over rhythm chords for the listener not to get too annoyed, but he mostly played slow and steady, and when he played fast, he was no match for the likes of Blind Blake, Lonnie Johnson, or even Blind Willie McTell. He did know how to play it closer to the blues ideal (for black audiences), or to the country stan­dards (for white ones), but his limits in both directions seem pretty obvious.

Furthermore, Armenter Chatmon did relatively little to advance any of the genres that he perused. Of the 24 songs on this first volume, for instance, maybe only about four or five follow distinctly different melodies, and not a single one goes one step beyond simple formulaic entertainment. Try as you might, you will not find the «pain and anguish and suffering of the oppressed black minorities» in this man's music: most of his recording life, he just worked for his money and seemed to be quite happy and content when he could get some. (Major exception on his earliest recordings: ʽGood Old Turnip Greensʼ is an old folk song that deals precisely with the issue of se­gregation and social injustice. But it is funny how quickly he went from that to... er...).

So why did he get it? How come did Bo Carter become one of his era's most famous, most pro­lific (over 100 sides cut in about 10 years), most publicly beloved performers? The answer is sim­ple: Bo Carter was a really dirty, salacious, innuendo-scattering son-of-a-bitch. As popular as all those double entendres were on the blues market, Bo Carter had everybody else eating from the palm of his hand in that department. From "let me put my banana in your fruit basket, then I'll be satis­fied" to "let me stick my pin in your cushion, 'cause your cushion's so soft and warm" to the less joyous "the lead's all gone, this pen­cil won't write no more", this Man (with a big M) meant so much business that buying his records must have been the next best thing for those who couldn't lay their hands on a smuggled copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Okay, so other than that, Bo had his merits. He played with the Mississippi Sheiks, for black and white audiences alike, which earned him extra popularity. He recorded the original ʽCorrine, Cor­rinaʼ, accompanied by Papa Charlie McCoy on fiddle and vocals, back in 1928 (although he cer­tainly did not write the song — just copyrighted it). And he was capable of authentic melancholy blues as well (ʽSorry Feeling Bluesʼ). And he could even yodel in a credible fashion (ʽBaby, When You Marryʼ).

So there may be occasional reasons other than «historic snicker» to listen to this stuff. But not a lot of them. The main reason are the words — you'll have to search high and low to find that many sexual innuendos crammed on one disc. It is hard to tell just how many of them were inven­ted by Bo in person (I think he started out with the traditional stuff, then took off on an individual flight with all the references to pencils, pins, and ram rods), but this was definitely an area where he could be both an avid collector and an ardent inventor at the same time.

Check "Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1" (MP3) on Amazon

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