Covered by many, yet understood by few, “Midnight Special” was traditionally a folk song which originated among prisoners. The country-blues version, sung by Bill Cox, hums along like a freight train, encouraging the light of the powerful locomotive to inspire those out of their destitution.
Several decades before Bob Dylan recorded his breakthrough “Highway 61 Revisited” album, the folk-blues song “Highway No. 61” was interpreted by numerous blues singers including Charlie Pickett, Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy, The Sparks Brothers and others. Jack Kelly & His South Memphis Jug Band recorded this classic version with fiddler Will Batts on vocal duties. According to Dylan, when he told his record label the title of his new album in 1965, they didn’t understand it, and only agreed to let him call the record what he wanted after to he went all the way “up the fucking ladder” to insist on it. The rest is history.
The Mississippi Sheiks from Bolton, Mississippi were a popular band in their time, and their recorded songs have been covered by an impressive list of artists that includes Howlin’ Wolf, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Harry Belafonte and Bob Dylan. Three of the Sheiks were brothers Lonnie, Sam, and Armenter Chatmon, the latter of whom is famously known as Bo Carter, who enjoyed a successful solo career while he managed and was a part time member of the band. This recording of “Please Baby” captures their distinct blend of country, folk, and blues.
The lyrics and music that Son House put down in the 1920’s and early 30’s left an indelible mark on blues, country, rock, RnB, and just about every genre of American music. His classic “My Black Mama (Part 1)” has been covered and reinterpreted by a who’s-who of blues legends including Robert Johnson, who recorded it as “Walkin’ Blues.” John Lee Hooker called his post-war version “Burnin’ Hell,” based on the lines “Ain’t no heaven, ain’t no burnin’ hell, where I’m goin’ when I die, can’t nobody tell.” This amazing solo vocal and guitar performance has lost none of its power over nearly a century since it was released on 78 RPM discs.
Recorded shortly before Charley Patton’s death, “Mind Reader Blues” is a song he performed with his common-law wife, Bertha Lee. In her magnificent voice, Lee scolds Patton for his womanizing even as he lovingly accompanies her on guitar. The lyrics are auto-biographical: “I remember a day when I were livin’ at Lula town, I remember a day when I were livin’ at Lula town, my man did so many wrong things ’til I had to leave the town.” Bertha Lee hailed from Lula, Mississippi, and Patton lived there with her for a time. What exactly he did so they had to leave, one can only wonder! This is a clean transfer from 78RPM platter from 1934.