The Moanin’, Groanin’ Blues: IDA COX
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
Accompanied by -
Lovie Austin and Her Blues Serenaders: Tommy Ladnier (cnt) Jimmy O’Bryant (cl) Lovie Austin (p)
(Side 1, #1, 2 – recorded in Chicago; July, 1923; side 1, #3, 4) – March, 1924
Tommy Ladnier (cnt) Jesse Crump (org) (Side 1, #5, 6 – September, 1925)
Ida Cox and her Five Blue Spells: Joe Smith (cnt) Charlie Green (tb) Buster Bailey (cl) Fletcher Henderson (p) Charlie Dixon (bj) (Side 2, #1, 2 – December, 1924)
Joe Smith (cnt) Johnny Dodds (cl) unknown (p) Kaiser Marshall (drs) (Side 2, #3 – August, 1925)
Joe Smith (cnt) Charlie Green (tb) Buster Bailey (cl) Lovie Austin (p) Kaiser Marshall (drs) (Side 2, #4, 5) – January, 1926)
unknown (cnt) (possibly King Oliver) Arthur Campbell (p) unknown (bj) (Side 2, #6 – 1927)
Moanin’ Groanin’ Blues (2:39) (Ida Cox)
Ida Cox’s Lawdy Lawdy Blues (2:43) (Ida Cox)
Cherry Picking Blues (3:13) (Ida Cox)
Mean Papa, Turn in Your Key (2:56) (Ida Cox)
Rambling Blues (2:35) (McClure – Cox)
Coffin Blues (3:15) (Taylor – Dickerson)
Misery Blues (3:09) (Ida Cox)
Blue Kentucky Blues (2:52) (Gene Burdette)
Mistreatin’ Daddy Blues (3:05) (Ida Cox)
Do Lawd Do (2:43) (Jesse Crump)
Night and Day Blues (2:41) (Earl B. Westfield)
Fogyism (2:49) (Jesse Crump)
The blues can often come very close to true poetry, a virtue that is often overlooked in the usual emphasis on the rich, powerful voices of the most celebrated of blues singers. This quality of the lyrics is vividly in evidence in the recordings of IDA COX.
The very greatest of the blues singers were Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith; there should be no argument about that. Ida Cox did not have the impressively rich voice of either of these two immortals. She lacked the tremendous tonal impact that can tear your heart out with a few notes, regardless of what the words might be. But this negative approach should not be carried very far: Ida has other major qualities as a blues singer, and once pat Ma and Bessie you have to rank her close behind – very close indeed, and without many others worthy of being mentioned in the same breath.
What is probably Ida Cox’s mot remarkable attribute seems to stem directly from her comparative (but only comparative) weakness. Ida’s records indicate that she did not have the sheer vocal majesty of the others two; but these records also show that there is good reason to give her perhaps a slight edge as a performer. No one could deliver the blues quite like Ida Cox, no one had such command of the bite and the pathos they can possess as did this Southern girl – she was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1889 – who became a very vital factor in the Chicago jazz-and-blues scene of the e1920s.
Chicago in those years was in many ways the hub of the Negro entertainment world. The great jazz artists and blues singers were to be heard in its theaters and cafes, and their records – made primarily for such “race” labels as Paramount – poured forth from that city in a steady stream that covered most of the midwest and south. The music created in Chicago was definitely a big-city music; the blues had moved far from their original, primitive, rural form. They did retain, during those years, their validity as a folk-music, still played and sung primarily for and by Negroes. But increasingly they became an urban music; the woes and joys they noted tended to be specifically those of big-city life. The blues became a form of entertainment, rather than an instinctive moan; in both the lyrics and the musical construction there was a growing sophistication. That is why it must be noted that, in terms of rigid definitions, much of the material used by singers like Ida Cox should more properly be called “blues songs.” The music itself, in several cases, is clearly not in the standard 12-bar form.
But in the hands of singer like Ida, it is also abundantly clear that the spirit of the blues has been strengthened. Particularly in the words she sings (some of them written by her; all of them given perceptive twists of meaning and insight by her delivery) can be found subtleties and ironies that are as different from the simple emotional statements of early blues as they are from the insipid rhymes of the latest popular song. Ida can sing with heartbrakingly naked tragedy, as in Coffin Blues (aided by some wonderfully funereal organ played by her husband, Jesse Crump). She can sing mean and salty, as in that most practical saga of faithless love, Mean Papa, Turn in Your Key (“ … you don’t live here no more”); or with deadpan mockery, as in the astute analysis of superstition and “sings” called Fogyism. (When your man come home evil, tells you, you are getting’ old; That’s a true sign he’s got someone else bakin’ his jelly roll,”)
In any mood, the combination of what she sings and how she sings it has an almost frighteningly vivid impact. It is the impact of artistry coupled with a tremendous natural feeling for the blues, which is a combination considerably more effective (and rarer by far) than mere unaided instinct, and therein lies its special force and appeal.
Ida Cox was usually most fortunate in her instrumental support. Here she can be heard backed by a group led by Lovie Austin, certainly the foremost female blues accompanist of her day, and by units largely derived from the Fletcher Henderson band. (As is often the case with early recordings, discographies indicate some doubt as to exact personnel is some cases – notably the often-argued point as to whether or not King Oliver was part of the session at which Fogyism was recorded – but the listings given above are undoubtedly largely accurate.)
In particular, there can been heard behind Ida the strong and truly beautiful horns of two of the most sensitive and moving jazz artists of all times. Tommy Ladnier (who is featured throughout Side 1 here) was from New Orleans; Joe Smith (heard on the first five selections on Side 2) was born in Ohio. On the positive side, both shared a magnificent feeling for the blues, and were of inestimable value to the singers they so often backed. On the negative, both were vastly under-appreciated talents and both died long before their time.
A discographical note:
All of these recordings were originally issued on Paramount, with the following label numbers and (in parentheses) master numbers: Moain’, Groanin’ (1493) and Lawdy Lawdy (1488) were Paramount 12064; cherry Picking (1841) was on Paramount 12228; Mean Papa (1708) on Paramount 12097; Rambling (2294).Coffin (2293) were Paramount 12318; Misery (1999)/Blue Kentucky (2003) were Paramount 12258; Mistreatin’ Daddy (2242) was on Paramount 12298; Do Lawd Do (2443)/Night and Day (2445) were Paramount 12353; and Fogyism was on Paramount 12690.
Ida Cox selections are included in –
GREAT BLUES SINGERS: Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Chippie Hill (RLP 12-121)
Other outstanding vocal blues albums in the Riverside “Jazz Archives” series include –
MA RAINEY: Classic Blues (RLP 12-108)
Barrel House Blues: MA RAINEY, Vol. 2 (RLP 137)
BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON, Vol. 1 (RLP 12-125) and Vol. 2 (RLP 136)
And the work of a present-day singer in the old blues traditional can be heard on –
The Country Blues of JOHN LEE HOOKER (RLP 12-838)
That’s My Story: JOHN LEE HOOKER (RLP 12-321)
(The surface noise audible on this LP is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.)
LP produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS and BILL GRAUER
Notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Reissued by special arrangement with Paramount Records and John Steiner.
Cover designed by KEN DEARDOFF
Remastered, 1960, by JACK MATTHEWS (components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, N.Y.