When the Great Depression rolled in, along with it came the blues. People had been singing the blues since times untold, yes, but the hard times surely gave them something to sing ’em about. Unfortunately for us today, the Depression also nearly killed the recording industry, so recordings of blues from the early 1930s are rather scarce, deep country blues even more so. These two 1933 sides by Alabama or Mississippi musician Sonny Scott are among the few, and offer an opportunity to hear the real blues of the Great Depression afflicted South.
Not much is known about the life and times of blues guitarist and singer Sonny Scott. In the early 1930s, he reportedly resided in Quitman, Mississippi, and he presumably had some ties to neighboring Alabama, as he was an associate of pianist Walter Roland. Scott’s friend and student Gress Barnett from Quitman related to researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow that Sonny’s surname was Scarborough, and that he was also known as “Babe”. “Scott”, presumably, was a corruption of “Scarborough”, if not his given name. In the Summer of 1933, Scott traveled with Roland to New York City, where they were recorded by the American Record Corporation. It has been suggested that Scott and Roland had both arrived in Birmingham only recently when they ventured to New York. From the seventeenth to the twentieth of July, 1933, Scott cut a total of seventeen released sides, eleven solo and six in duet with Walter Roland. He also participated in the Jolly Two and Jolly Jivers recordings with Roland and Lucille Bogan, resulting in a further eight sides. The musical content of these recordings ranged from the deep blues of “Hard Luck Man” to upbeat hokum numbers like “Hungry Man’s Scuffle”. In those recordings, Scott revealed himself to be a competent guitarist. While Roland continued to record for some time thereafter, frequently accompanying Bogan, Scott went home, never to record again, fading into total obscurity. Barnett reported that Sonny Scott had died in Shubuta, Mississippi—where his sister was said to have lived—a short time before World War II.
The two sides of Vocalion 02614 were recorded in New York City on July 20 and 18, 1933, respectively. It is the last issued of Scott’s recordings. Sonny Scott accompanies himself on guitar. In their “Rarest 78s” column, the contributors to 78 Quarterly estimated fewer than ten copies of it to exist, with this particular copy listed as having belonged to the late Mr. Steve LaVere.
First, Scott starts in with a snappy little bit, but segues into singing a song of Great Depression misery, “Red Cross Blues No. 2”. Scott and Roland must have been particularly proud of this number, for they each recorded separate versions of “Red Cross Blues” and “Red Cross Blues No. 2”, and in later years the song was covered by Lead Belly, who presented it as a draft-dodging song from the First World War. Scott’s and Roland’s versions of this song reference a particular Red Cross Store on Third Avenue in Birmingham, Alabama.
He sings an archetypal country blues song on the back, though among the more philosophical ones—”Fire-Wood Man”—with some rather profound lyrics: “Lord, a man come in this world, and he have but a few minutes to stay; lawd his head is full of nonsense, and his feet’s all full of clay.”