[3] His 1931 records are considered idiosyncratic among prewar blues recordings and formed the basis of his reputation as a musician. "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" Hard times are here and everywhere you go Times are harder than ever been before Ohh ohhh ahhh Ohh ohhh ahhh People are driftin' from door to door Can't find no heaven, I don't care where they go Ohh ohhh ahhh Ohh ohhh … His songs were not initially recorded as frequently as those of other rediscovered blues musicians. One night at the Ontario, he caused a scene when he saw her dancing with one of the beatniks, Ed Denson. Born in 1902, James was raised on a plantation on the edge of the Mississippi Delta, near a town called Bentonia. After auditioning in a Jackson record store, James earned a recording session with Paramount Records in Grafton, Wis. Fahey had grown up in Takoma Park; after Spottswood played him a Blind Willie Johnson 78, he was converted to country blues. "[2], James was born near Bentonia, Mississippi. James survived his misspent youth, and the story of his later years provides plenty more of the kind of misery that fueled his music. I would rather be the devil than to be that woman’s man. His songs have influenced generations of musicians and have been adapted by numerous artists. Well, no one came to visit him in his sickbed—no one except the strangers who’d driven 3,000 miles to worship him. In summer ’65, biographer Calt visited the couple’s apartment. Night had fallen by the time the car reached Virginia, and the riders lapsed into silence. Washington—the site of James’ supposed comeback—turned out to be just like any other town: a place for Skippy James to leave behind. The rest is history, or at least a footnote. In 1964, blues enthusiasts John Fahey, Bill Barth, and Henry Vestine found him in a hospital in Tunica, Mississippi. James had skipped out of Washington, leaving her for another woman. Spottswood, though, favored the older acoustic music made strictly by and for rural Southern blacks. (“I think it was really a love match after all,” says Louisa.) [9], In 2004, Wim Wenders directed the film The Soul of a Man (the second part of The Blues, a series produced by Martin Scorsese), focusing on the music of Blind Willie Johnson, J.B. Lenoir and James. Whether the work of these musicians constituted a "school", and whether James originated it or was a member of it himself, remain open questions. In a few weeks, Hurt had moved to D.C., where he stayed at Spottswood’s house in Arlington. Delta blues are some of the most emotional blues and this song is a perfect example. Hoskins convinced them all that he was no G-man, or civil rights worker, either—just a fan who’d come seeking his favorite musician. James, buoyed by the enthusiastic reception at Newport, now tried to accomplish the same. But just as James was on the brink of destitution, he began receiving royalties from his song “I’m So Glad,” covered by the British rock trio Cream on its debut album, Fresh Cream. As it turned out, Mable was right to worry. The old musician eased into his repertoire as though it were a comfortable pair of overalls. After Mardi Gras, the fugitives drove to Mississippi, arriving in Avalon one Friday at dusk. When Spottswood asked the newly enfranchised Hurt who he’d support in the ’64 election, the affable 72-year-old meekly replied that he didn’t want to anger anyone: “If I vote for Mr. Johnson, then Mr. Goldwater gonna be unhappy. Postal Service, which airbrushed the stamp portrait of Johnson to eradicate the cigarette that hung defiantly from his mouth. James would have preferred commercial success: “I can’t live on air puddings,” he told Calt. Other commentators have groped to describe James’ music. Hoskins fetched his guitar from the car and presented it to his hero. Newsweek and Time paid their respects. Intrigued by a macabre title—Hard Time Killing Floor Blues—he asked the shop’s owner to play a nearly pristine 78 with a Paramount label. He had gone north to seek fame once before. “I mean, we were young, and we thought, “Wow, mind over matter.’ ”. [3] As a youth, James heard local musicians, such as Henry Stuckey, from whom he learned to play the guitar, and the brothers Charlie and Jesse Sims. One accurate version. Naturally, the Washington blues coterie wondered what Meeks saw in the emasculated blues singer. One, struck by the “lovely contrapuntal lines and eccentric phrasing,” went so far as to claim that James’ melodies were “more like Elizabethan music than the blues.”. For example, "I'm So Glad" was derived from a 1927 song, "So Tired", by Art Sizemore and George A. Now he’d lost the ultimate proof of his manliness in the most ignominious way. The tumor grew, and that winter, James checked into D.C. General Hospital, which treated indigent patients. If the instrumental part of “22-20” was Elizabethan, the violent, homicidal lyrics hewed closer to the Jacobean period. Now it was Mable who was ill and depressed. Work Here But this time, his only visitors were Mable and Louisa Spottswood. “It made me think of some dark bayou with Spanish moss hanging off the trees, an eerie voodoo atmosphere….Skip’s music evoked thoughts in people that maybe they didn’t want to be thinking when they were out on the town trying to have a good time. It was the summer of 1964, and three California college students—led by Washington-born John Fahey—had ventured into the Deep South not as civil rights activists, but as blues fanatics in search of their hero. The Ontario audience was unprepared for James’ spectral presence, for his falsetto wailing and intricate, jazzlike instrumental breaks. Events: A heads up about City Paper events, from panels to parties. After that dead end, Fahey’s blues posse combed the upper Delta, coming up empty-handed at country shacks and deserted towns. Though he had not played the blues for more than 20 years, his skills were largely undiminished, and he turns in a fantastic set here. Little, recorded in 1928 by Gene Austin and by Lonnie Johnson (Johnson's version was entitled "I'm So Tired of Livin' All Alone"). The Great Depression struck just as James's recordings were hitting the market. He sounded like someone possessed, a one-man Southern Gothic drama. But he faced one problem. Tom Hoskins was the first of Spottswood’s followers to find one of the group’s disappeared idols—but that idol was not Skip James. But James’ next song, his disheartening chronicle of the Depression, “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” stunned the hushed audience, composed mostly of folkies more used to grooving to the warm sounds of songsters like Hurt. Writer Peter Guralnick, transfixed by the dramatic comeback, described the scene in his book Feel Like Going Home: Portraits in Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll: Skip James appeared, looking gaunt and a little hesitant, his eyes unfocused and wearing a black suit and a wide-brimmed flat-topped preacher’s hat that gave him as unearthly an appearance as his records had led us to suspect he had….As the first notes floated across the field, as the voice soared over us, the piercing falsetto set against the harsh cross-tuning of the guitar, there was a note of almost breathless expectation in the air. But before moving into their new abode, the couple spent an idyllic week at the Maryland farm—more a commune, really—where Talbot lived. Soon the fanatics began to wonder about the ghosts singing on those scratchy 78s. Calt’s exhaustive biography sheds light on James’ little-known early life, previously documented in only a few paragraphs of obscure anthologies’ liner notes. But instead of groveling or complaining, James cast himself as Satan, as a figure of darkness and power. The slow, mournful dirge hooked Spottswood. The Yazoo label released a CD of his 1931 classics, Complete Early Recordings; distributor Shanachie reports that it’s already sold several thousand copies. Film/TV [8] Only 15 copies of James' original shellac 78 recordings are still in existence, and have become extremely sought after by collectors like John Tefteller. “[I] found Mable alone, sitting in a darkened room,” Calt writes. That fall, James moved into an apartment on 19th Street NW, near Dupont Circle, and his wife, Mable, left Mississippi to care for him. a happy ending!—sparked other rediscoveries. “He was a middle-aged man with a rather unfriendly appearance, quite stern, and on the wall was a chart which had a map with astrological symbols,” she remembers. And she was selling whiskey on the side or something, so he threatened to get her thrown off the plantation. This time, James pictured himself as part of the nameless, mortal multitude, among “many a thousand trying to get home.”, Spottswood later found out that James died that afternoon. Fahey and two companions chased a lead turned up by a Southerner: that James’ hometown was Bentonia. A small but brawny man, he didn’t back down from confrontations; guns (like the Colt revolver he often carried) figured as prominently in his life as guitars. James' "22-20" inspired the name of the English group 22-20s. “It put you in mind of sitting in a corner on the backs of your heels, rocking back and forth, moaning,” says Talbot. [citation needed], James is sometimes associated with the Bentonia School, which is either a subgenre of blues music or a style of playing it. Even as James’ depression lifted, the ritual continued. Advertise with Us. Distrustful of the diagnosis back in the Mississippi hospital—the word “cancer” was whispered in a hushed tone—James had his own ideas about the bad mojo that was ailing him. During jam sessions, James spiked his playing with complicated riffs and chord changes in an attempt to sabotage Hurt, who dutifully tried to keep up. View credits, reviews, tracks and shop for the 1931 Shellac release of Cherry Ball Blues / Hard Time Killing Floor Blues on Discogs. Robert Johnson died young and became a blues legend. That summer, Berkeley student John Fahey embarked on his cross-country car trip to find James. During this period, James appeared at folk and blues festivals, gave concerts around the country, and recorded several albums for various record labels. James first recorded for Paramount Records in 1931, but these recordings sold poorly, having been released during the Great Depression, and he drifted into obscurity. To James, music meant ruthless, if not bloody, competition. “Avalon’s my hometown, always on my mind,” sang Hurt. Later that winter, he was finally discharged and continued his convalescence at home. Guitar Tabs Universe “ “I’m sick,’ she blubbered. “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” speaks so much to me in it’s simplicity and emotion. He received each answer with a nod of recognition. [14] The musicologist Dick Spottswood commented, "Skip James, you never knew. Download original Guitar Pro tab. His legendary 1931 recordings were some of the rarest of all the classic blues 78s, and their sublime artistry made them priceless. Brown played the part of the young James in the documentary. A former grocery store in Adams Morgan, the Ontario attracted a nearly all-white crowd of college students, professionals, and beatniks. He says, in a mock brag, “I bought Skip James for $200.”. And if I vote for Mr. Goldwater, then Mr. Johnson’s gonna be unhappy.” When someone asked James the same question, he snapped, “I’m voting for Skip.”. However, the British rock band Cream recorded "I'm So Glad",[2] providing James with $10,000 in royalties, the only windfall of his career. For a while, he rarely left the apartment. And then there was James’ eerie voice, sliding back and forth between a keening falsetto and heart-slain soprano. Even journalist Edward R. Murrow took time off from the Cold War to nod his approval. Such was James’ life: a mixture of humiliation, high drama, and bad timing. During the two-day session, James would record two dozen other songs, including the salacious “Special Rider Blues,” the morbid “Little Cow and Calf Is Gonna Die Blues,” and the apocalyptic “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” which were eventually issued as Paramount 78s. “Unlike Hurt, he wasn’t a happy person, and when he drank he would become vicious.”. Once there, he chafed at medical opinion. His record collection attracted fellow students, aspiring musicians, and budding beatniks, all of whom hung out at Spottswood’s house in Takoma Park, analyzing the guitar playing on obscure 78s and arguing about who was the best bluesman. But in early 1965, James surrendered. Illinois Blues #7. Download our mobile app now. The summer before, Fahey had located Bukka White simply by mailing a postcard to the bluesman’s hometown. But residents, if they remembered James at all, said he’d left years ago. Very few original copies of James's Paramount 78 rpm records have survived. Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues #1. “If I got caught, I’d just have to depend on her to explain that I was deceived.” (She later did.). City Desk The British post-rock band Hope of the States released a song partially about the life of James, entitled "Nehemiah", which reached number 30 on the UK Singles Chart. But in July, the trio got a break. Mumble Sauce, About Us The householders would rummage about excitedly, then announce, “We got a gang of ’em.”. Contact Us To James, the blues were an incantation, a way to cast a spell. Music Hard Time Killing Floor Blues #2. Despite poor health, James recorded several LPs from 1964 to 1969, mostly revisiting his 1931 sides, traditional music, and spirituals, but also including a handful of newly written blues meditating on his illness and convalescence. Gone were the dark suit and preacher’s hat. By 1964, the childless couple had settled in northwest Mississippi, where James drove a tractor. A few days after arriving in Washington, James went further north, this time to the Newport Folk Festival, for his first major performance since his rediscovery. It seemed inappropriate somehow that this strange haunting sound which had existed ’til now only as a barely audible dub from a scratched 78 should be reclaimed so casually on an overcast summer’s day at Newport….As the song came to an end, the field exploded with cheers and whistles. BY CHRIS THOMAS KING GUITAR TUNING Dm (LOW TO HIGH) D A D F A D Dm7 Am F Dm F/C Dm 1. [3] Several photographs by the blues promoter Dick Waterman captured this performance, James's first in over 30 years. James improvised the words on the spot after the engineer requested a “gun song.” Those lyrics still pack a wallop, even by the standards of gangsta rappers: All the doctors in Wisconsin sure won’t help her none. Like rabid jazz collectors before them, some of the younger blues converts road-tripped throughout the South, canvassing black neighborhoods for old 78s. A handful of these white suburban oddballs organized their lives around country blues. An elfin old man answered, and his wide, good-natured grin turned sour when he saw the white stranger. Sales were poor as a result, and he gave up performing the blues to become the choir director in his father's church. At one point, he even joined his long-lost father, who’d become a Baptist minister. James began playing the organ in his teens. Only 8 left in stock - order soon. Except for Fahey, the pilgrims worshiped James; the young discoverer’s relationship to James stood in stark contrast to that of Hoskins and Hurt. They provided directions down a gravel road that led to a shack. If a mere party picker like John Hurt could find fortune in the big city, how could a genius like Skip James be denied his proper deserts? “He was suffering from pain, but he was very vague about the location and the nature of it. Now an author, researcher, and musicologist, Spottswood is best known for his WAMU-FM show of music made before World War II. “I don’t think he had a lot more use for git-along Southern blacks than he did for the white oppressors,” says Spottswood. This song is a cover of "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" by Skip James. When it began to bother him again and he was in considerable pain, he went to a man he called a “witch doctor’ in Washington. Furthermore, James saw D.C. as a place where he could be healed. This item: Hard Time Killing Floor Blues by Skip James Audio CD $9.98. Robert Wilkins, another rediscovered bluesman who now sang his old tunes with Christian lyrics. He began playing the guitar in open D-minor tuning.[4]. But “Devil” and “22-20” were his most popular. He softly rasped the lyrics to “Sick Bed Blues,” in which he envisioned a “thousand people standing by my bedside.”. In the apartment, he often played the piano the Spottswoods had loaned him. Listen to your favorite songs from Hard Time Killing Floor Blues by Skip James Now. James subsequently recorded for Takoma Records, Melodeon Records, and Vanguard Records and performed at various engagements until his death from cancer in 1969. He reportedly learned this tuning from his musical mentor, the unrecorded bluesman Henry Stuckey,[15] who in turn was said to have acquired it from Bahamian soldiers during the First World War,[16] despite the fact that his service card shows he did not serve overseas. James could barely afford medical treatment. Hard Time Killing Floor Blues was the first session Skip James recorded following his rediscovery by John Fahey and Henry Vestine in the mid-'60s. It’s Louisa.’ And he’d pull off the sheet and be friendly and chat.”, James slowly came to accept his condition, and even began to joke about it. He’d heard about the “International Man,” a root doctor in Washington who could break the evil spell. Accordingly, Duck is called the "last of the Bentonia Bluesmen."[17]. His signature songs, including “Candyman,” were light party numbers. He mostly practiced the guitar, and often spent time in the kitchen, hunched over a small antique piano handed down by Spottswood’s grandmother. “Skip’s got mean things on his mind.’ ” Then she asked Calt to buy her a bottle of Scotch, which he did. We started the year with 302 members. Skip James, like most of the bluesmen, had left behind few traces. And if she gets unruly and gets so she won’t do. Housing Complex Calt asserts these writers failed to see that in the case of Bentonia bluesman Jack Owens, "the 'tradition' he bore primarily consisted of musical scraps from James' table". He married Lorenzo Meeks on his deathbed. These five prolific years have not been thoroughly documented: recordings, outtakes, and interviews not released on James's LPs (which have been repeatedly cannibalized and reissued) are scattered among many compilations released by small labels. Mable’s stories fascinated Talbot; he especially remembers a confession she made as her husband napped on the porch. Now he had a second chance at the acclaim that had eluded him. [4] Several other recordings from the Grafton session, such as "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues", "Devil Got My Woman", "Jesus Is a Mighty Good Leader", and "22-20 Blues" (the basis of Robert Johnson's better-known "32-20 Blues"),[5] have been similarly influential. Whiskey helped James ease the pain of his cancer and settle into his new surroundings. “He pissed all over me trying to get out of the car,” remembers Fahey. Doctors forbade any commotion for the ailing man, but James nevertheless began working out a brand-new song. James had courted his new girlfriend, a Philadelphia widow named Lorenzo Meeks, during his frequent stopovers in that city. [Hurt] was alive and he still had it. District Line Daily: Our news, politics, arts, food, and sports coverage in one email every weekday. Find helpful customer reviews and review ratings for Hard Time Killing Floor Blues at Amazon.com. Theirs was our finest and oldest native-born music, the blues, country-style, pure and personal, always one Negro and a guitar lamenting misery, injustice, but still saying yes to life.”. “The pain just got too bad,” explains Louisa. 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Sick Bed Blues #2. “Skippy expected hero worship, which he pretty much got from most everybody, but Fahey was a pretty arrogant person.”, Fahey laughs sarcastically, remembering that James couldn’t pay his hospital or rent bills. James’ intricate guitar work was rivaled only by his near-surreal piano playing, and no other major bluesman had mastered two instruments. The young men would knock on doors, ready with their pitch: “Buying up old gramophone records, paying a dime apiece for ’em, cash money!” An elderly voice might shout back, “We used to have ’em, but the children took ’em out in the cornfield and made flying saucers out of ’em.” But sometimes the searchers would strike gold. [4] In July 1964, James and other rediscovered musicians appeared at the Newport Folk Festival. Not long afterward, James’ illness worsened. Calt’s book traces the next three decades of James’ “lost years,” an extraordinary odyssey throughout the Deep South. Cherry Ball Blues #9. He sang of death and betrayal to a crowd weaned on Cub Scout campfire stories. He wanted to learn the technique from the master. James drew his baroque vocabulary from the Old Testament, and peppered his speech with jargon from his father’s collection of theological books. Gene Rosenthal, a young latecomer to the blues cult, hosted the session in his parents’ basement. Devil Got My Woman #5. Theater, Football They’d found Skip James in a Mississippi hospital, long forgotten by his own community. “He didn’t suffer fools or take no kind of shit.”, James stood in stark contrast to Hurt, Washington’s—and the nation’s—most famous rediscovered bluesman. There, the first song he performed was “Devil Got My Woman,” partly inspired by a girlfriend who’d deserted James for his best friend. An unreleased session tape reveals James angrily pounding the piano to drown out Hurt’s earnest—if ludicrously out-of-sync—accompaniment. 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