Previously on Old Time Blues, we took a look at one of the earliest records made by the illustrious Big Bill Broonzy, featuring the two rambunctious rags “Saturday Night Rub” and “Pig Meat Strut”. Now that the time to pay birthday tributes to Mr. Broonzy has rolled around yet again, we turn our attention to another piece of work dating to one month earlier in Big Bill’s long and extensive career.
After his first 1927 and ’28 Paramount records brought little commercial success, Big Bill took a hiatus from recording. Come 1930 however, he made his triumphant return, sitting in on an American Record Corporation session on April 8th, backing Frank Brasswell on two characteristic blues sides, then joining with the “Famous Hokum Boys”, under the auspices of founding member Georgia Tom Dorsey, to cut a re-do of the classic “Somebody’s Been Using That Thing” and three hot guitar rags. The following day, Bill got his own time in the limelight—after a fashion—when he recorded three solo efforts of his own, “I Can’t Be Satisfied”, “Grandma’s Farm”, and “Skoodle Do Do”, all released under the pseudonym “Sammy Sampson”. Bill continued to record under that name—excluding the results his three or four excursions to Richmond, and one to Grafton—until 1932, when the ARC (and Bluebird, for a time) finally decided to start putting out his records under his own name, albeit without his last name credited, which didn’t make it onto labels until he started recording for Mercury in 1949 (save for composer credits, which were often attributed to “Willie Broonzy” of “Williard Broonzy”).
Romeo 5025 was recorded on April 9 and 10, 1930 in New York City. “Sammy Sampson” is, of course, a pseudonym for Big Bill Broonzy. It was also issued on Oriole 8025 and Jewel 20025, and side “A” also appeared on Perfect 157 backed with “Skoodle Do Do”. The 78 Quarterly speculated “more than thirty [copies] on all labels,” making it perhaps not quite rare, but rather scarce nonetheless (if we’re going to split hairs), while the Perfect issue was estimated at “less than fifteen”.
On his outstanding “I Can’t Be Satisfied”, Big Bill is accompanied by his usual partner in his early days, the flatpicking Frank Brasswell, on second guitar. To be frank, Big Bill’s earliest works were sometimes rather hit or miss; this one’s a hit—enough of one that it was covered by Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys about six years later. It’s like rock ‘n’ roll twenty years early, only better—one of Bill’s best recordings, in my opinion.
On the flip-side, Georgia Tom Dorsey sings “Mama’s Leaving Town” in a characteristic style much in the same vein as his “Grievin’ Me Blues”—in fact, the two have very similar melodies. He is accompanied by Broonzy on guitar. If the song was a little peppier and hokumier, it probably would’ve been credited to the “Famous Hokum Boys”.