“Love your work! Hope you can check out our music video:  
Eva Plays Dead (@EvaPlaysDead), Derby, England, November 11, 2013.

 

“The historical references in the 1st Blues book are great. Had no idea about most of it.”
 nora j mckiddie (@mckiddie_j), Michigan, USA, November 6, 2013.

BluesMuse42.

More by accident than design, the last two posts featured a fair share of duets. Last time we had a young Jules Holland and (quite) youthful Dr. John playing a barrelhouse duet in the fashion of those great 1940s boogie woogie duets, by Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, amongst others. 

Albert Ammons (1907-1949) & Pete Johnson (1904-1967)

In the post before that, Ella FitzGerald sang about cocaine with the Chic Webb Orchestra; and Lonnie Johnson and Victoria Spivey featured on Dope Head Blues. Links to all three clips are in the preceding posts should you be interested.

It was the 1927 song by Lonnie and Victoria, in particular, that got me thinking: why do so few men and women duet these days? For some strange reason, one of the rarest acts in popular music now seems to be the male and female double act. Apart from Sweden’s Roxette, I can’t think of any other man/woman duo to hit the international big time since The Eurythmics. Has it always been like this? 
A classic Ike & Tina Turner shot

There was Ike and Tina Turner and Sonny & Cher in the 1960s, the Carpenters in the 1970s and, perhaps, Ashford & Simpson through the 60s, 70s and 80s, although A&S were more songwriters for other artists than full time performers. Of course we’ve had one off duets like Dolly and Kenny, Diana and Lionel, etc. but since they were never permanent acts, they can’t count.
Compared to other musical combinations, the mixed twosome doesn’t come along that often. Yet the first blues ever published with vocals was the mainstay of one of the great black mixed double acts of the early twentieth century: Baby Seals and Baby Fisher. 

The first blues vocals ever published
 
The male of the duo was the irrepressible H. Franklin ‘Baby’ Seals from Mobile, Alabama, and Baby Fisher was Miss Floyd Fisher, a female entertainer also known as ‘The Doll of Memphis.
And even back then, an African-American newspaper report referred to a pianist they reviewed as the “cat on the piano”.
In 1909, in Texas, Seals and Fisher teamed up performing together as that ‘Klassey, Kooney, Komedy pair’.

 

First blues vocal published: in 1912

By 1911, they had cracked the notoriously difficult black theatres of York and Chicago and a year later, Baby Seals had his great blues
publishing hit, Baby Seal’s Blues’.
Released in August 1912, this was a significant milestone in blues
history, being the second blues ever published, the first published blues featuring vocals and the first published blues by a black composer. 

The first blues instrumental published, incidentally, was the instrumental Dallas Blues, released in Oklahoma City in March,1912, by a young white guy called Hart Wand, the son of German immigrants. You might have heard of blues published before then, but they were songs with the word ‘blues’ in the titles, published as ragtimes. (You can find much more about this in the second volume of How Blues Evolved, available on Amazon.) Dallas Blues is generally considered the first tune written and published as an actual blues.

But back to the second blues ever published. Between1912 and 1914, Baby Seal’s Blues’ was the biggest thing on the South’s black vaudeville circuit. Tellingly, the sheet music instructed the musicians to play the tune very slowly, just as Hart Wand’s sheet music had six months’ earlier.
Black vaudeville artists who performed Baby Seal’s Blues on stage around 1913 included mixed double act Daddy Jenkins and Little Creole Pet with Pet’s fellow Creole, Jelly Roll Morton, backing them on piano. For your interest, the lyrics of Baby Seal’s Blues are printed here. It’s interesting to see the first line of the first blues published goes, “Woke up this morning, ‘bout half part four, someone knocking on my door,” I think we’ve all heard similar lyrics to that countless times over the years.
 
Baby Seals Blues (1912)
Words and music by Baby F. Seals
Arranged by Artie Matthews
 
Woke up this morning ’bout half
past four, somebody knocking at my door
I went out to see what it was about, they told me my honey gal was gone
I said, Bub that’s bad news, so sing for me them blues
 
(She) Honey baby, mama do, she do, she double-do love you
(Spoken: YEAH HOO)
I love you baby don’t care what you do
(Spoken: SUEY)

(He) Oh sing’em sing’em sing them blues, ‘cos they cert’ly sound good to me
I got the blues, can’t be satisfied
today, I got’em bad, want to lay down and die
I’ve been in love these last three weeks, and it cert’ly is a misery
There ain’t but one thing I wish was right,
I wish my honey babe was here tonight

(She) Honey babe, mama’s coming back to you
(He) Come on babe, oh sing ’em, sing ’em, sing them blues
‘Cause they cert’ly sound good to me

Honey babe, pops ain’t mad with you today,
 I love you brown skin, don’t care what you do
Oh my baby told me just yesterday, she’d take her trunk and move away
I said, hon, I know what it is about. I know babe you just want to put me out
Now babe I’ll go insane, oh listen while I sing
(She) Honey baby, mama do she do she double do love you
(Spoken: YEAH HOO)
I Love you ba-a-be, don’t care what you do
(Spoken: SUEY)
(He) Oh sing ’em, sing ’em, sing them blues,
’cause they certainly sound good to me

I’ve been in love these last three weeks, and it cert’ly is a misery
There ain’t but one thing I wish was right,
I wish my honey babe was here tonight

(She) Honey babe, mama’s coming back to you
(He) Come on babe, oh sing ’em, sing ’em, sing them blues
‘Cause they certainly sound good to me.”
 
Baby Seals’ first publishing success, incidentally, was a ragtime number about a dice game called Shake, Rattle and Roll, released in 1910. Title sound familiar? Also touring America were another mixed double act, Gertrude Pridgett and Will Rainey better known as Ma and Pa Rainey.
Rainey & Rainey: Assassinators of the Blues, they billed themselves.

 The daughter of two African-American minstrel troupers, 14-year-old Gertrude Pridgett from Columbus, Georgia, made her debut as a singer and dancer with the Bunch of Blackberries review around 1900.
At 18, she met and married the dancer, singer and comedian, Will Rainey, and they went on the road as Ma and Pa Rainey.
Gertrude said she first heard what is now called blues in Missouri around 1902, when a girl started singing in a strange way about a man who had left her. 
The song was so haunting that Ma used it in her act with Pa in their Rabbit Foot Minstrels review with great success. 
A young star of the future was also in Ma’s troupe learning the ropes as a dancer: Bessie Smith.
From 1914, Gertrude and Will toured as Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the
Blues. What a great name!
Male and Females continued to tour together during the 1920s, namely Butterbeans and Susie; and the first blues guitarist ever recorded, Sylvester Weaver, with vocalist Sarah Martin. Now, there was a mixed double act I’d really like to have seen. See 14 May archive, “From Russia (and Ukraine) With Love”.

The two How Blues Evolved eBooks were later combined and significantly added to, making the BIG 390-page paperback, America’s Gift: the untold history of how blues evolved. This is its link: http://goo.gl/At5AZe

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