MA RAINEY (VOLUME 1)
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Eight selections by the first of the great blues singers
Accompanied by Tampa Red (g) and unknown (p) – and by The Tub Jug Washboard Band (on #3, 6 only) Chicago; 1927-28
Daddy, Goddbye Blues (3:16) (Para 12963)
Black Eye Blues (3:14) (Para 12963)
Deep Moanin' Blues (2:45) (Para 12706)
Runaway Blues (2:29) (Para 12902)
5.Leavin' This Morning (3:07) (Para 12902)
6.Travelling Blues (2:40) (Para 12706)
7. Sleep Talking Blues (3:12) (Para 12760)
8. Blame It On The Blues (3:05) (Para 12760)
GERTRUDE RAINEY, who was generally known as Madame Rainey and most often as "Ma", was unquestionable either the greatest or the second greatest of all the women who have sung in the magnificent blues tradition of the American Negro.
Bessie Smith, who was Ma's protege and learned much from her, is known to a vastly wider audience, of course. And it is still easy to get into endless and pointless argument as to which of the two had the more powerful voice, the richer tone or tore more effectively at the emotions with the passion and lament of the words she sang, and the way she sang them.
But whether none of the very many who followed or imitated Ma, or only one of them, can be rated her peer, should make very little difference. The fact is that Ma was a very great singer, that her throbbing, low contralto was a wondrous instrument. She was the dominant influence in the entire "school" of blues-singing that reached its peak in the jazz heyday of the 1920s. Possessing a voice of great, mellow richness and amazing power, a style that was direct and firmly undecorative, she should run the full range of emotions that belong to the blues - from rough humor to overwhelming sadness - with equal effectiveness.
One trait that marks the true artist is evident immediately in almost any record she made; the feeling of complete, quiet mastery, implying total confidence in her ability to make a song "behave" as she wanted it to. This is the sort of control, of relaxation, that usually is called "effortless," but that actually only comes with long effort - a combination of talent, love of the task at hand and strong identification with it, and a good deal of sheer experienced professionalism. It is the deceptive appearance of simplicity that masks great art.
Despite all this, Madame Rainey's name is today comparatively unknown. You might call it matter of bad thing. She was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1886 - which was not too long after the blues themselves fully came into being. Beginning her career at an early age - probably before 1902, she spent some 35 years as an entertainer, retired in 1935, and died four years later. She was immensely popular with Negro audiences in the South and Midwest, mostly in minstrel and tent shows and on the stages of the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit, and she made a great many records in Chicago. But she was a bit too early for nation-wide or lasting fame, too early to have the benefit-rate recording techniques, and she was never snapped up by a major record company. Very few of her records have ever been re-issued; her voice has lived, for the most part, on scarce Paramount originals jealously hoarded by jazz collectors.
Thus, surprisingly few of today's listeners have actually heard more than a handful of the many sides she recorded. Fewer still have any idea of how her voice sounded at its best. For many of those treasured collector's items are in woefully battered and worn condition. And mechanical inadequacies of the record industry in her day often produced discs that were almost unhearable even when new.
For such reasons there has sprung up a false myth. Along with the personal legends about Ma (about the necklace she always wore, the gleaming fold teeth, and such), there is the story that her fabulous voice was never adequately recorded, that it is as good as lost to us. There is often the same sort of head-shaking that you get from jazz-lovers who bemoan the sad fact that Buddy Bolden probably never made a record, nor Bunk Johnson in his youth.
Wee, Ma was an early jazz figure, but not that early, as the right selections on this LP amply testify. Reproduced by the best of modern techniques from some of the clearest of her originals sides, the voice shines through here in all of its deep strength and incredible beauty.
These eight numbers were recorded in the late 1920s, and they feature a backing that recalls their folk-blues origins. TAMPA RED, although he is still turning out what used to be called "race" records, remains a most obscure jazz figure. But is obvious that he is a fine blues guitarist, in the old tradition; he adds tremendously to the impact of these blues, and deserves to rank, as an accompanist, with any of the celebrated jazzmen who played behind Ma on her many record dates. (Outstanding examples of other accompaniments are the three Rainey selections included on Riverside RLP1001: Louis Armstrong Plays the Blues).
Tampa Red is heard on at least six of the selections here, along with a pianist. Travelling Blues and Deep Moanin' Blues feature the unrestrained skiffle-style sound of the Tub Jug Washboard Band, and Red may well be the kazoo player heard here along with a jug and washboard-bass. But like the piano man, those by the discographies, "unknown."
There is little point in attempting any specific analysis of these eight songs. All that really need be written about them is that these are The Blues, the real blues, the way they were played before they were slicked up and watered down for popular white consumption, the way the incomparable Madame Rainey sang them. Now listen...
The material is reissued by special arrangement with Paramount Records and John Steiner. For some of these selections, unplayed originals were made available through the courtesy of John Hammod, from his private collection. 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 more faithful reproduction of tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Album notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Robert J. Lee
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, N.Y.