The time has come to pay tribute to the consummate blues woman Memphis Minnie, on the 120th anniversary of her birth.
Memphis Minnie came into the world as Lizzie Douglas, one of thirteen children born to Abe and Gerturde Douglas in Algiers, New Orleans, on June 3, 1897. She didn’t care for the name Lizzie, and took to using the name “Kid” Douglas, a nickname given by her parents, when performing. Before she was a teenager, she learned to play banjo and guitar, and ran away to Beale Street at thirteen. Taking to a life of music, she played street corners and toured the South with the Ringling Brothers Circus. In 1929, she was given the moniker of “Memphis Minnie” by a Columbia record man while making her first records with her second husband Joe McCoy, who was dubbed “Kansas Joe”. The next year saw the release of one of her most famous songs, “Bumble Bee”, of which she recorded a number of different versions. Minnie and Kansas Joe went on to make a series of records together for Vocalion and Decca before their divorce in 1935. Relocating to Chicago, Minnie became a staple of the nightclubs, joined Lester Melrose’s stable of blues artists, and beat Big Bill Broonzy in a cutting contest. In the late 1930s, Minnie married Ernest Lawlars, better known as Little Son Joe, another blues artist, and they performed together as she had with her previous husband. In 1941, she recorded some of her biggest hits, “Me and My Chauffeur Blues” and “Looking the World Over”. Minnie continued to perform and record into the 1950s, but ill health forced her to retire thereafter. Memphis Minnie died of a stroke, the last of several, on August 6, 1973.
Vocalion 03046 was recorded on August 22, 1935 in Chicago, Illinois. As the label would suggest, the instrumentation features Memphis Minnie on guitar, Black Bob Hudson on piano, and Bill Settles on string bass.
The identity of pianist “Black Bob” is surrounded by a great deal of uncertainty and confusion. He is known to have been a prolific sideman for Big Bill Broonzy, Washboard Sam, Memphis Minnie, and others, and he recorded extensively for Bluebird and the American Record Corporation between 1932 and 1942, yet his real name and identity are not verified. A number of names have been put forth, including Bob Hudson, boogie-woogie man Bob Call, Chicago pianist Bob Robinson, and others. The most likely candidate seems to be Hudson, who recorded with the Memphis Nighthawks on the same day as Black Bob’s session with Big Bill’s Jug Busters, and made one unissued side under his own name two days later, which is reported to match stylistically with Black Bob’s playing. Most sources, when a last name is given at all, identify Black Bob as Hudson.
First up, Minnie, Bob, and Bill beat out the swing number “Joe Louis Strut”, one of a number of tunes dedicated to the world heavyweight champion of the same name.
Another of those “number of tunes” is on the flip, on which Minnie sings solo on her tribute/plea for love to Louis, the classic “He’s in the Ring (Doing that Same Old Thing)”. This is take “2” of the song; I prefer the first take myself, but to my knowledge, it wasn’t released commercially on 78.