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Dead Wagon Blues

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Dead Wagon Blues

John Lee Hooker, master bluesman and undisputed father of boogie, recorded for more than 30 labels over a span of nearly 50 years. Raised in the birthplace of the blues, he developed an interest in music at an early age and even built a one-stringed instrument as a boy. His mother's second husband, Will Moore, was a popular local musician, and Hooker learned how to play guitar from his stepfather.

Dead Wagon Blues

Hooker, barely in his teens, left home in the early 1930s. "Where I came from in Mississippi was hell," he told the New York Times. Memphis was the first stop on his trip north, and Hooker found his way to Beale Street, the nucleus of the blues universe.

Hooker arrived in Detroit in the 1940s. By day he worked as a janitor and by night he played the blues. In the late ’60s, Hooker’s audience began to include white fans. Hooker achieved legendary status, and went on to make a series of albums.

John Lee Hooker

 

The late '70s were not a particularly creative period for him. The 1979 live Hooker album - The Real Blues: Live in Houston - is short at under 40 minutes, but what a great performance!

The Real Blues: Live in Houston

 

It's really only an album that Hooker fanatics will find essential, even though it emerges as one of the best records of this period of his career. Long, mesmerizing versions of "Dead Wagon Blues" is worth any price you pay for this album. This one tune is John Lee Hooker exposing his soul.

Yes, yes, yes. Dead Wagon Blues is a real blues, real sad blues.

Dead Wagon Blues is not original idea by Hooker. The blues was recorded during 1935 session by Mississippi Sheiks.

The Mississippi Sheiks

 

The Mississippi Sheiks were one of the most popular string bands of the late '20s and early '30s. Formed in Jackson around 1926, the band blended country and blues fiddle music.

The Mississippi Sheiks consisted mainly of the Chatmon family, who came from Bolton, Mississippi and were well known throughout the Mississippi Delta. The father of the family had been a "musicianer" during slavery times, and his children carried on the musical spirit. Their most famous member was Armenter Chatmon - better known as Bo Carter - who managed a successful solo career as well as playing with the Sheiks, which may have contributed to their success.

Bo Carter

 

When the band first recorded in 1930, the line-up consisted of Carter with Lonnie and Sam Chatmon, and Walter Vinson. Charlie McCoy played later, when Bo Carter and Sam Chatmon ceased playing full time. It was Lonnie Chatmon and Vinson who formed the real center of the group.

The writer of the liner notes, Chris Smith thinks that Walter Vinson is probably not present at the 1935 session, giving most of the vocal and guitar credits to Bo Carter. On this song, Lonnie Chatmon is identified as the singer.

Their last recording session as the Mississippi Sheiks was in 1936. Bo made a few more sessions on his own, but by 1938 he too was dropped. When the band dissolved, the Chatmon brothers gave up music and returned to farming.

Sam Chatmon

 

Dead Wagon Blues by Mississippi Sheiks

spoken: [Yikes], what is that?

spoken: That’s the ambulance

I hear the dead wagon rolling
It’s something going on wrong, sweet baby
I hear the dead wagon rolling
It’s something going on wrong
It must be carrying my baby
Eeee, from my happy home

Once that wagon rolls
It’s something going on wrong, sweet baby
When the wagon rolls
It’s something going on wrong
That will be my sweet mama
Eeee, left my happy home

spoken: Oh, play it man

The wagon is busy
As busy as it can be, good Lordy
The wagon is busy
As busy as it can be
Now the reason I know it
Eeee, took my woman from me

When they took my baby
I couldn’t do nothing but cry, good Lordy
They took my baby
I couldn’t do nothing but cry
That will be alright
Eeee, I’ll see you by and by

The Mississippi Sheiks

 

To my knowledge there exist only those two versions of this blues. Which is very surprising.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 18 March 2015 15:03)

 

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