IDA COX sings the mean and moanin’ blues
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Accompanied by –
Tommy Ladnier (cnt) Jesse Crump (org) on #1,2 Chicago; 1925
Lovin Austin’s Blues Serenaders (#3,4) Ladnier (cnt) Jimmy O’Bryant (cl) Harris (ts) on #3 only, Austin (p) Chicago; 1924
Ida Cox and her Five Blue Spells (#5,6) Ladnier (or possibly Joe Smith (cnt) Charlie Green (tb) Buster Bailey (cl) Fletcher Henderson (p) Charlie Dixon (bj) Chicago; 1924
Unknown (cnt) (cl) (sax) (p) on #7,8 Chicago; 1928
1. Coffin Blues (3:17) (Taylor – Dickenson)
2. Rambling Blues (2:38) (McClure – Cox)
3. Mean Papa, Turn Your Key (2:59) (Ida Cox)
4. Ida Cox’s Lawdy Lawdy Blues (2:46) (Ida Cox)
5. Worn Down Daddy (2:36) (Davis – Cox)
6. You Stole My Man (2:39) (Ida Cox)
7. Misery Blues (3:12) (Ida Cox)
8. Blue Kentucky Blues (2:55) (Gene Burdette)
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 blues of IDA COX.
The very greatest of 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 tremendous qualities as a blues singer, and once past 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 most 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 other two: but the records also show 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.
Chicago, in the 1920s, was in many ways the hub of the Negro entertainment world. The great jazz artists and blues singers were to be heard in its theatres and cafes, and their records – made primarily for such “race” labels as Paramount – poured forth from that city in a steady stream that covered all of the South. The music that was created in Chicago was definitely a big city music; the blues had moved far from their original, primitive, rural form. They retained 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; they 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.” In a number like Worn Down Daddy, for example, the first two lines of each stanza are quite different; the only use of the traditional repetition is, uniquely, in the last line of each. And the music itself, in several cases, is clearly not in the standard 12-bar form.
But in the hands of a singer like Ida Cox, it is abundantly clear also that the spirit of the blues has not been violated. If anything this spirit 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 her delivery) can e found subtleties and ironies that are as different from the simple emotional statements of early blues as they are from the insipid rhythms of the latest popular song. Ida can sing with heartbreakingly naked tragedy, as in Coffin Blues (aided by a wonderfully funereal organ). She can sing mean and salty, with the mock-naivete of the repeated “I hope you won’t feel hurt” in the scathing Worn Down Daddy, or the bitter commentary on the limits of friendship that makes up You Stole My Man. 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, rather than that of unaided instinct, and therein lies its special force and appeal.
Ida Cox was usually most fortunate in her accompanists; here she can be heard backed by Lovie Austin’s Blues Serenaders, and by a Fletcher Henderson group. Both played for the best of them, and knew exceedingly well how to give this music the most effective background. The strong, beautiful (there is no more suitable word for it) horn of Tommy Ladnier, in particular, provides a support that underlines the mood with sure understanding. (It should be noted that, as is often the case with early jazz recordings, the discographies indicate doubt at times; and it is possibly Joe Smith on trumpet in some cases. Our personal guess is Ladnier; actually it matters little. Both men had the same firm knowledge of what the blues are all about; both were capable of the remarkable playing to be heard here.)
Daddy, oh Daddy, won’t you answer me please;
Daddy, oh daddy, won’t you answer me please;
All day I stood by your coffin, tryin’ to give my poor heart ease.
I rubbed my hands over your head, I whispered in you ear; (repeat)
And I wonder if you know that your mama is near,
You told me that you loved me, and I believed what you said; (repeat)
And I wished that I could fall here across your coffin head.
When I left the undertaker’s, I couldn’t help but cry; (repeat)
And it hurt me so bad to tell the man I love goodbye.
Worn Down Daddy:
The time has come for us to part;
I ain’t gonna cry, it won’t break my heart;
‘Cause I’m through with you and I hope you don’t feel hurt.
You’re like an old horseshoe that’s had its day;
You’re like an old horseshoe I must throw away;
I’m through with you and I hope you don’t feel hurt.
You’re like an old ship that’s sprung a leak;
You ain’t young no more and your lovin’ is weak;
Now you know I’m through with you, and I hope you don’t feel hurt.
Youain’t got no money, you’re down and broke;
You’re just an old has-been, like a worn out joke;
Say, I’m through with you and I hope you don’t feel hurt.
You Stole My Man:
Old pal, old pal, you stole my man away; (repeat)
But that’s all right. I’ll get him back some day.
You stole my man, between midnight and day: (repeat)
If I catch you old pal I sure will make you pay;
Why should you have a daddy of your own; (repeat)
Old pal, old pal, you’d better let m man alone,
Old pal, you said: “True friends should undertan’;” (repeat)
But that’s no sign we should take each other’s man.
Discographical note: These recordings were originally issued by Paramount, with the following label numbers:
Coffin Blues / Rambling Blues (12318); Mean Papa (12097); Worn Down Daddy / You Stole My Man (12704); Misery Blues / Blue Kentucky Blues (12258). Ida Cox’s Lawdy Blues (12064)
This material is 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 reproducing of tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Robert J. Lee
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, New York