RLP-1045 MA RAINEY (VOLUME 3)
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Accompanied by – The Georgia Band (on #1 and #2): Joe Smith (tp) Charlie Green (tb) Buster Bailey (cl) Fletcher Henderson (p) Charlie Dixon (bj) ; Chicago, 1926
The Georgia Band (on #3 and #5): unknown personnels: Chicago; 1926-28
Wringing and Twisting Blues (2:55) (Paul Carter)
Chain Gang Blues (3:08) (Parker – Dorsey)
Misery Blues (2:38) (Gertrude Rainey)
Dead Drunk Blues (2:51) (Gertrude Rainey)
Sissy Blues (3:11) (Gertrude Rainey)
Broken Soul Blues (2:52) (H. S. “Tiny” Parham)
Moonshine Blues (2:57) (Gertrude Rainey)
New Boweavil Blues (2:53) (Lovie Austin)
This is the third Riverside collection devoted entirely to some of the many magnificent blues recordings of GERTRUDE TAINEY (most often billed as ”Madame” or “Ma” Rainey), who was very probably the greatest blues singer of them all – or at least the only one who can be considered the equal of Bessie Smith. Three other riverside LPs also include Rainey selections.
Thus it can e hoped that, by now, Ma Rainey has begun to receive something approximating proper recognition. Her being neglected is primarily attributable to the fact that these have been virtually the first reissues of any of her records, all of which were made in the 1920s for Paramount, a once-celebrated Chicago jazz label. Since that company failed to survive the Rainey herself has been dead since 1939, it is not surprising that she had long been no more than a legend, even to the majority of followers of jazz. There were a few scarce original recordings, most of them well-worn, jealously hoarded by collectors. Those who might have been her perform someplace in the South with her Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels, or on the stage of the Negro T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit, had fading memories to cherish. Otherwise, there were – before these reissued – few indeed who had even an indication of the majesty of her rich contralto and the throbbing emotional impact of her interpretations of the blues.
As the Rainey myth then had it, she belonged to the distant beginnings of jazz and was as dim and legend-built a figure as say, Buddy Bolden. The only really well-known fact (and even this may, just possibly, have become a bit embellished over the years) is that she came across a girl named Bessie Smith in Tennessee, recognized the vast promise in her voice, and started her on a path that was to lead to equal stature with Ma as a blues singer – and far greater fame.
According to the myth, even though Ma had made records, they survive only as wheezy relics. Even if you could get to hear one, it would give no accurate conception of her fabulous voice. The known facts and semi-statistics about her life seemed to support such a view. Born Gertrude Pridgett, in Columbus, Georgia, in 1886, she married Will Rainey when she was probably no more than fifteen and joined the minstrel show with which he was traveling. She was, therefore, singing the blues professionally from just after the turn of the turn of the century.
But of course hers is not a “lost” sound, and one important purpose of these LPs of Ma Rainey’s blues is to do away with this misconception. Even though it’s true that the bulk of her records were made by the early “acoustical” process (which involved quite possible to reproduce them with considerable clarity and fidelity, through the use of the best of modern reprocessing techniques. When this is done, a voice of amazing power, richness and beauty bursts through. By any standards it is a great voice: direct and firmly undecorative in style; full of the relaxation that denotes complete (and thoroughly justified) confidence in her mastery of her art. She commanded every fact of the blues, from rough humor to deep sadness, from the simplest 12-bar laments to the more complex and sophisticated special material written for or by her. She could sound wild and uninhibited, or could display a majestic dignity. From all accounts she lived well and had material success; yet she sang with full and unmistakable sincerity of the often harsh and frustrated life most of her audience knew all to well.
Her appearances and records were entirely for a Negro public. Yet today, many years after she first sang these blues, it is clear that they are capable of stirring and holding listeners of any race or back ground. This surely means that her work has passed one key test of enduring art.
The selections included here are from the latter half of her recording career. The name |Georgia Band” was used for several different groups that backed her in various sessions: on Wringing and Twisting (master number 2375) and Chain Gang (2372), both originally issued on Paramount 12338, the accompaniment has been identified as being by members of Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra. On Dead Drunk (733), issued on Para 12508, the pianist is known, but on Misery (734) – which was the other side of that record – an don the other four numbers here, the backing is by unknown musicians. One theory is that these may have been drawn from the groups that accompanied her on vaudeville and tent-show tours. Certainly they sound far more unified, rehearsed and musically knowledgeable than a local pick-up group could be expected to have been. Neither do they sound like any of the regular Paramount “house” ands, such as those of Lovie Austin and Jimmy Blythe, so often used in support of blues singers. The master and original-label numbers of the four selections of Side 2 here are: Sissy (2628) / Broken Soul (2629), Para 12384; Moonshine (20234) / New Boweavil (20233), Para 12603.
This material reissued by special arrangement with Paramount Records and John Steiner. The slight 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.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover art by Robert J. Lee; typographical design by Gene Gogerty
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.