Pandaemonium

THE WEARY BLUES

langston hughes
.
I have lately been re-reading a lot of Langston Hughes, one of the great figures of the Harlem Renaissance. I had forgotten how much I liked his poem ‘The Weary Blues':
.
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
      I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
      He did a lazy sway. . . .
      He did a lazy sway. . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
      O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
      Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man’s soul.
      O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
      “Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
      Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
      I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
      And put ma troubles on the shelf.”
Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
      “I got the Weary Blues
      And I can’t be satisfied.
      Got the Weary Blues
      And can’t be satisfied—
      I ain’t happy no mo’
      And I wish that I had died.”
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.
.
(From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Copyright © the Estate of Langston Hughes.)
.

And rediscovering the poem was, I thought, a good excuse to pull out some of my favourite blues tracks. All these are traditional songs, mainly from the Delta or Chicago. It’s a personal collection, and some of the great names are missing (the Kings, for instance – BB  and Albert – neither of whom I find particularly engaging; if my house was burning down and I could collect only 20 blues albums, both would be consigned to the flames). There are others – such as Elmore James, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Sonny Boy Williams, Champion Jack Dupree and Leadbelly – who would have been been on this list if only I could have stretched 20 to more than 20. Vera Hall comes top of the list not because she is the greatest of blues singers but because of all the truly great singers she is the one that probably is least known.

The blues have moved on, of course, over the past half century, and I might curate a second collection of tracks beyond the boundaries of tradition. In the meantime, enjoy that tradition.The tracks are, from top down, Vera Hall, Death Have Mercy; Robert Johnson, Hellhound on My Trail; Muddy Waters, I Feel Like Going Home; Howlin’ Wolf, Killing Floor; Bessie Smith, Gimmie a Pigfoot; John Lee Hooker, Blues Before Sunrise; Lonnie Johnson, Too Late to Cry; Son House, Death Letter Blues; Blind Willie Johnson, Nobody’s Fault But Mine; Lightnin’ Hopkins, Found My Baby Crying; Mississippi John Hurt, Make Me a Palette on the Floor; Little Walter, My Babe; Blind Gary Davis, Death Don’t Have No Mercy; Blind Willie McTell, Lord, Send Me an Angel; Jimmie Witherspoon, Ain’t Nobody’s Business; Joe Turner, How Long Blues; JB Lenoir, Alabama Blues; Ma Rainey, Call Me Anything, But Call Me; Mississippi Fred McDowell, You Gotta Move; and Roy Brown, Hard Luck Blues.

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
About these ads

2 comments

  1. With original compositions like “I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)” and “Smokestack Lightning,” Howlin’ Wolf was one of the main links between the older, mostly acoustic strain of the Mississippi Delta blues and the more urbane and contemporary version that Willie Dixon spearheaded, composing, performing, and producing for Chess Records in the 1950s and ’60s.

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,660 other followers