Category Archives: Classic Blues Songs

Classic Songs: How a St. Louis murder led to the traditional “Frankie and Johnny”

There is something special about the city of St. Louis in music history. It is the songs and the musicians who created history. We all know the legendary St. Louis Blues by W.C. Handy, and don’t forget the great St. Louis Jimmy Oden who wrote the Blues classic “Goin ‘Down Slow”

Murder in St. Louis as inspiration

Well, I heard a song called Frankie and Johnny multiple time through Leadbelly and Sam Cooke, who both made in their own way made beautiful soulful versions of it. Also, Elvis has an album titled Frankie and Johnny which was part of the movie with the same name where he performed the song. But behind this great song, there is a story.

According to the Smithsonian Folkways, “In October 1899, a murder took place in a St. Louis apartment (St. Louis murders have inspired multiple ballads, such as “Duncan and Brady”).

Frankie and Albert

Frankie Baker (1876–1952) killed her lover Al “Albert” Britt in a jealous rage after he went to a dance with another woman”,  In some lyrics, Frankie was a prostitute and Al, her pimp.” They also say that The shooting occurred in Britt’s room at 212 Targee Street. You can find multiple investigational stories about the murder online.

Continue reading Classic Songs: How a St. Louis murder led to the traditional “Frankie and Johnny”

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Classic Blues Songs Howlin’ Wolf: “I Walked From Dallas”

Classic Blues Songs Howlin’ Wolf: “I Walked From Dallas”

Howlin’ Wolf released the single “I Walked From Dallas” in 1965 along with B-side  “Don’t Laugh At Me”.  Like you hear in more work from Howlin’  Wolf mostly his later work, he mixes guitar, bass and drum with saxophone accents to create an ultimate groove. Complemented with his deep gritty voice Howlin’ Wolf brings true unique blues!

Howlin’  Wolf Album and TV Appereance in 1965

In 1965 Howlin’ Wolf also released the great Real Folk Blues album with killer songs like “Killing Floor”, “Taildragger” and “Built for Comfort”.  And also made his appearance on the American misic TV show Shandig. The Rolling Stones had the opportunity to invite one of their idols and chose Wolf.

I Walked From Dallas
Tell Me What I’ve Done
Don’t Laugh At Me
Ooh Baby (Hold Me)

Continue reading Classic Blues Songs Howlin’ Wolf: “I Walked From Dallas”

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Classic Blues and Gospel songs: Reverend Gary Davis

Classic Blues and Gospel Songs: Reverend Gary Davis

There is something special about the guitar tune of “I’m The Light Of The World”, it represents the guitar skills of Reverend Gary Davis brilliantly . This classic song is one of my favorite Ragtime gospel blues songs. For an eighty plus year old song it somehow surprises me that every aspect of songwriting is perfect.

Rev. Davis was an icon in the East Coast School of Ragtime guitar. His talent inspired musicians Including Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma KaukonenBob Dylan and Taj Mahal

Origins Rev. Gary Davis

The Rev. was born on April 30, 1896, in Laurens County, south of Spartanburg, in the Piedmont section of upstate South Carolina. At a young age Davis started playing harmonica and guitar. He teamed up with some ragtime musicans around 1910 or 1911 and since that day Reverend Blind Gary Davis performed a lot in the streets.

Blues Street performer


Gary Davis was a street performer, according to his official biography.  His repertoire consisted Blues, Gospel and Ragtime, and he switched often between those styles “to make it harder for the police to interrupt him”. (Bruce Eder, All-Music Guide)

He began taking the gospel material more seriously, and in 1937 he became an ordained minister. After that, he usually refused to perform any blues.

Harlem, New York Days – Reverend Gary Davis

During World War II Davis moved to New York , and began preaching and playing on streetcorners in Harlem. About his  Harlem Days Trevor Laurence & Simeon Hutner made a fantastic film-documentary called “Harlem Street Singer”  The film traces Davis’s journey out of poverty in the Deep South to his iconic status in the folk and rock scene in 1960s New York. Watch the trailer below.

Harlem Street Singer trailer

Rediscovery by the Folk Revival Movement

During the fifties and sixties in New York folk and blues had a huge revival movement. Son House, Big Bill Broonzy and many others experienced the impact. Also Reverend Gary Davis was “rediscovered” by the folk revival movement, and after some initial reticence, he agreed to perform as part of the budding folk music revival.

He also teached guitar during this period including David Bromberg and the Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen (who later recorded Davis’s “I’ll Be Alright” on his acclaimed solo album Quah!).

Jorma Kaukonen Jefferson Airplane

Jorma Kaukonen, the guitarist of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, recorded a beautiful version of “I’m The Light of This World” on his 1974  Quah album.  He took lessons from Gary Davis an Rolling Stone magazine ranked him #54 on its list of 100 Greatest Guitarists.

Reverend Gary Davis passed away in may 1972 of a heart attack.

Jorma Kaukonen – I’m The Light Of This World – 5/20/1978

Photo: Jefferson Airplane on who Rev gary Davis had a big influence Credit By KRLA/Beat Publications-page 1 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Tommy Tucker’s 60s Hit record- Hi Heel Sneakers

Tommy Tucker’s 60s Hit record- Hi Heel Sneakers

He released his biggest hit “Hi-heel Sneakers in 1964 and sold more than a million copies of it! Tommy Tucker was for some time a big shot in the world of blues. He toured alongside Ray Charles and Dionne Warwick and spent some time in Europe. 

Cover Versions Tommy Tucker

When Tommy Tucker recorded “Hi-Heel Sneakers for Checker Records back in 1963 I guess he could never expect the influence of this song. It was covered by many musicians including Tom Jones, Junior Wells, John Lee Hooker and  Jerry Lee Lewis.

After retirement from the music industry in the late sixties Tommy Tucker woked as a real-estate agent and wrote for a local newspaper.

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The fight for freedom: “Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho”

The fight for freedom: “Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho”

My old friend Eddy told me last Friday in the local bar how he won “the battle of Jericho” against the local water company in a lawsuit. The local water company had
threatened him for a few months with bills, but he fought back. They claimed they would close the water connection to his house down, again he fought back. He wrote the courthouse a few times and this last Friday he told me while drinking a couple of beers that he won the lawsuit in style.

His adventure at the courthouse reminded me of the gospelblues song “Jericho”. Although it is not to be compared with the struggle for freedom many of the “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho” singers had back in the day, for Eddy it felt just like that.

The traditional “Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho” was recorded by the greatest in Rock ‘n Roll, Blues and Gospel. A favorite version of “Jericho” was difficult to find because the list of “Jericho” singers contains artist like Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Hugh Laurie and they all made a masterpiece of this classic blues song in a different era.

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho
Jericho, Jericho
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho
And the walls come tumblin’ down, that mornin’

Roots of The Battle of Jericho

5196992332_edbbdeda3d_b (1)
Credit feature picture: Luiz Fernando Reis on Flickr Elvis Presley cor 05 via photopin (license)

The lyrics allude to the biblical story of the Battle of Jericho, in which Joshua led the Israelitesagainst Canaan (Joshua6:15-21). However, like those of many other spirituals, the words may also be alluding to eventual escape from slavery – in the case of this song, “And the walls came tumblin’ down.”[4] The lively melody and rhythm also provided energy and inspiration.[5] (Wikipedia Jericho)

In the Blues and Gospel tradition “Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho is a well-known African-American spiritual and believed to have been composed by slaves in the first half of the 19th century. Even today this song is heard in churches around the world every sonday.

When I told my friend Eddy about Jericho, he remembered the version of Mahalia Jackson. She was a stateful woman and one of the best Gospel singer around. The most beautiful Mahalia version of this song, was her performance as she appeared in 1957 singing on the Nat King Cole show.

Fit The Battle Of Jericho-Mahalia Jackson

Elvis Presley Cover of Jericho

Elvis Presley recorded “Jericho ” on october 30, at the RCA studio in Memphis. It was first released on “His Hand In Mine” album later that year. Presley’s voice is great in this song while the backgound singers bring a great melancholy to the song.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe cover and Bluesy Remix

You should also listen tot Sister Rosetta Tharpe singing “Jericho”. I’ll bet she would still make a hit record out of “Jericho” today and that must have been the reason for French DJ duo C2C to cover and remix this blues song in 2013. C2C used a killerbeat to accentuate the hip hop groove in Sister Rosetta’ singing.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Jericho

Sister Rosetta Tharpe Jericho (C2C Remix)

The most bluesy version is made by British musician and actor Hugh Laurie who turned it into a slightly New Orleans blues song. Of all songs on this page Laurie turned it into the slowest version.

Credit feature picture:By Dave Brinkman (ANEFO) (GaHetNa (Nationaal Archief NL)) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Library congress LC-USZ62-91314

Delta Rhythm Boys – Joshua Fit De Battle Of Jericho

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