Archive for the Skip JAMES Category

Skip JAMES – The Complete Early Recordings (1930) 1994

Posted in BLUES, Skip JAMES on December 23, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Skip JAMES – The Complete Early Recordings (1930) 1994


This collection contains all the Skip James tracks released by Paramount records in 1931 in chronological order.

THE COMPLETE EARLY RECORDINGS by Skip James is one of the most essential blues albums in existence. With a voice that sounds like wind carving away rock (he sings in a high, quavering falsetto ringed with knowledge and pain), James laid down some of the most chilling acoustic blues ever set to wax.

“Devil Got My Woman,” which opens this collection, is a case in point: a snaking siren song that leads down to the root of loss and mortal dread (if that description sounds like an exaggeration, listen to the track). James’s deft, fingerpicking is everywhere in evidence, especially on the uncharacteristically ebullient “I’m So Glad.” The surface noise of these old 78s is a distraction, but even that can’t dilute the unbelievable power of these performances.
The eighteen songs presented on this CD may, if allowed, cause the listener to re-define their standards of what personal expression in music might be. Skip James’ music has been called strange and idiosyncratic. If these terms are adequate to describe sound that resists all attempts to pigeonhole and categorize, than perhaps they apply. These surviving sides, recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin, in 1931 (not 1930 as the title of this disc would indicate, the only flaw in this otherwise perfect presentation) show James as someone who chafed against existing musical idioms. Rather than subscribe to a pat or pre-figured means of communication, Skip James created his own unique means of expression through sound, depicting a unique world-view in an equally unique series of sonic vignettes, each one full of beauty and terror.
We have come to regard James as a blues musician, although very little of this music fits into the conventional blues idiom. This music embodies the sense of pain and the desire to transcend that pain that most blues music supposedly (but seldom actually) expresses. The songs address living with an unabashed intensity. They speak of surviving economic hardship, lost love, reckless living, and travel. They sometimes aspire to salvation, although this salvation always seems distant or chimerical. The world they articulate is one suffused with pain, joy and the threat of violence. In this, James’ music is a very distant cousin to Guns n’ Roses Appetite For Destruction, another group of songs founded upon a desire to live life in spite of extreme self-loathing.

To critique the audible surface noise present on the 78 source records is a bit like dismissing a Vermeer painting because the paint has crazed slightly in the centuries since it was painted. In some cases, Yazoo has used the only surviving copy of an original 78 as source material. Given these parameters, this disc sounds wonderful, especially when compared with other versions of these same recordings that have been previously available .

Skip has sometimes been compared with Robert Johnson – but their similarities are superficial, and comparisons between them most often stem from their common apocalyptic imagery and use of the Devil as an overt lyrical presence. Robert Johnson was a dance musician. His arrangements prefigured the band-driven sound of postwar electric blues. Skip James’ music is not for dancing – his rhythms are frequently changing within songs and even within measures. It is impossible to imagine him recording with other musicians – the very private and exclusive essence of his expression precludes collaboration. His entire being, as evidenced in his sometimes ethereal, sometimes in-your-face guitar and piano playing, was devoted to finding a personal course of survival in a world plagued on all sides by hardships.

If you open yourself to this sound, you may find the most personal and private of rewards. If the music is not enough, I recommend reading Stephen Calt’s provocative and engrossing biography of Skip James, “I’d Rather Be The Devil: Skip James and the Blues”
By Francis Flannery.
With an unmistakable falsetto delivery, Skip James created some of history’s eeriest blues records. His blues sounds dark and mysterious, using odd tunings, structures, and rhythms, and exploring gloomy lyrical themes. Unlike other bluesmen of the day, James’s music was personal and bleak, played for his own emotional release and not for purposes of entertainment. “Devil Got My Woman,” “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues,” “Hard Luck Child,” and “Special Rider Blues” convey sorrow and misery like few others can. Uptempo numbers such as the classic “I’m So Glad” and “Drunken Spree,” which resembles the hillbilly traditional “Late Last Night,” showcase his forceful guitar picking while rags “Little Cow and Calf” and the jumpy “How Long ‘Buck'” feature his unique piano work. By Marc Greilsamer.
An influence to Robert Johnson Skip James recorded 17 selections for Paramount in 1931 ( not 1930 as the title of the disc would indicate). His surviving works of this time demonstrate a masterful and unique style on both guitar and piano. Skip’s haunting delivery was created by his falsetto singing over a rhythmic and erratic instrumental accompaniment. The Depression suppressed his record sales and left him in obscurity until rediscovered in 1964. Illness curtailed Skip James’ performing career in 1968 and he died of cancer on October 3, 1969. As excellent as Robert Johnson is, his music is easy listening music compared to this!
01. Devil Got My Woman 3:02
02. Cypress Grove Blues 3:13
03. Little Cow And Calf Is Gonna Die Blues 2:55
04. Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues 2:52
06. Cherry Ball Blues 2:51
07. Jesus Is A Mighty Good Leader 3:02
08. Illinois Blues 3:05
09. How Long Buck 2:54
10. 4 O’Clock Blues 2:52
11. 22-20 Blues 2:52
12. Hard Luck Child 3:05
13. If You Haven’t Any Hay Get On Down The Road 2:55
14. Be Ready When He Comes 2:55
15. Yola My Blues Away 3:13
16. I’m So Glad 2:51
17. What Am I Gonna Do Blues 3:03
18. Special Rider Blues 3:03
Continue reading


Mississippi John HURT & Skip JAMES – Live on Folkside 1964

Posted in BLUES, Mississippi John HURT, Skip JAMES on November 30, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Mississippi John HURT & Skip JAMES – Live on Folkside 1964
Folkside with Phil Spiro
Cambridge MA
October, 1964
With Al Wilson
Thx To the person who sent this to me.


This one’s been proving a hidden gem for me, Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James as guests on Phil Spiro’s Folkside program in October, 1964. Between talking with Spiro, both play a trio of tunes apiece, with Hurt backed by Canned Heat founding member Al Wilson on harp for two of them. The show concludes with a radio spot promoting the upcoming 1964 election between Johnson and Goldwater.
01. John Hurt intro 1:19
02. Louis Collins 5:04
03. Talking with Hurt (p.1) 0:53
04. Cow Hooking Blues 3:23
05. Talking with Hurt (p.2) 0:39
06. Trouble All My Days 3:51
07. Skip James intro 1:01
08. Cherry Ball Blues 4:45
09. Talking with James (p. 1) 5:22
10. Illinois Blues 3:47
11. Talking with James (P. 2) 0:40
12. I’m So Glad 2:27
13. Talking with James (p.3) 1:11
14. Public Services announcement. 1964 election 0:49

Continue reading

Skip JAMES – Hard Time Killing Floor Blues 1964

Posted in BLUES, Skip JAMES on November 20, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Skip JAMES – Hard Time Killing Floor Blues 1964
2003 Issue.


Hard Time Killing Floor Blues was the first session Skip James recorded following his rediscovery by John Fahey and Henry Vestine in the mid-’60s. Though he had not played the blues for more than 20 years, his skills were largely undiminished, and he turns in a fantastic set here. James was the pinnacle of the Bentonia (Mississippi) sound, which combines complex fingerpicking with falsetto vocals, resulting in somewhat spooky-sounding strain of blues. James reprises several of his 1931 Paramount sides on this session, as well as a couple new tunes that chronicle the illnesses of James’ latter days. Anyone with a passing interest in acoustic blues should own some James. This set would make a great starting point, especially for those who don’t take well to the surface noise that can accompany his ’30s sessions. The new mastering here sounds rich and warm. Highly recommended. [This set was previously released as Biograph 122, with a different running order.]
By Sean Westergaard, All Music Guide.
Nehemiah Curtis ‘Skip’ James is credited as the founder of the ‘Bentonia school’ of Delta blues. In reality, James was the full embodiment of this idiom, and Biograph’s ‘Greatest of the Delta Blues Singers’ is an excellent overview. The CD contains 12 songs James recorded in one sitting at Falls Church, VA, on December 16, 1964. These were the first recordings James had made since being ‘rediscovered’ in a Mississipi hospital earlier that year. On the track list are six works from the early days of Skip James’ career, including the classics ‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,’ ‘Devil Got My Woman,’ ‘Cherry Ball Blues,’ and ‘Cypress Grove Blues.’ The remaining songs are either reworked Delta standards or newer material written by James. The listener will not be disappointed; the digital transfer of this recording is as impressive as the performances. ‘Hardtime Killing Floor Blues’ is considered by some as the penultimate Depression era song, and James’ eerie performance here suggests what could be the lament of the downtrodden for all ages. His aged voice soars in a lonely falsetto against the backdrop of ominous bass string lines and nervous upper string picking. The guitar work throughout maintains this constant tension between low register anger and high-pitched fear. James’ voice sounds as if it seeks escape from theses dark extremes. Unlike other Delta artists, James did not use a slide. His was an elaborate finger-picking style more akin to Piedmont bluesmen like Brownie McGhee and Cephas & Wiggins. He was also fond of using drop E tuning and dissonant solos to heighten the tension of his music. ‘Sick Bed Blues,’ written after James was diagnosed with cancer, contains passages where his guitar intentionally gallops away off-key, dramatically suggesting the artist’s reaction to learning of his terminal illness. ‘Greatest of the Delta Blues Singers’ is not for the faint of heart. If genuine, painful blues is what the listener wants to experience, it doesn’t get more brazen than this. Skip James was not simply the purveyor of a unique style; his music in many ways reflects the darkest shades of human nature.
By Chuck Hicks.
This remastered edition of Skip James’ 1964 Biograph LP GREATEST OF THE DELTA BLUES SINGERS is a testament to how well his material as aged over the past four decades. James first recorded for Paramount in 1931 and then virtually disappeared until 1964 when (among others) John Fahey rescued him from obscurity. It had been nearly 20 years since James was convinced to perform at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. His reception prompted him to enter the recording studio for the first time in 30 years. The result is this amazing album. Twelve stellar songs featuring James’ haunting falsetto and stunning picking. There’s an eerie quality to James’ music that will give you chills. One listen will convince you. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
By Steve Vrana.
01. Hard Time Killing Floor Blues 3:27
02. Sick Bed Blues 3:39
03. Washington D.C. Hospital Center Blues 4:19
04. Devil Got My Woman 6:19
05. Illinois Blues 3:41
06. I Don’t Want A Woman To Stay Up All Night Long 4:45
07. Cherry Ball Blues 3:54
08. Skip’s Worried Blues 4:22
09. Cypress Grove Blues 4:08
10. Catfish Blues 3:32
11. Motherless & Fatherless 4:08
12. All Night Long 4:58

Continue reading

Skip JAMES – Today! 1965

Posted in BLUES, Skip JAMES on November 18, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Skip JAMES – Today! 1965
1988 Issue.


After Skip James laid down some of the spookiest, most resonant tracks of the first wave of Delta blues, he fell off the radar for years, but like many of his contemporaries, he was “rediscovered” in the ’60s by folk/blues historians and given a second phase of his career. The 1965 release TODAY! is perhaps the finest moment of James’s latter-day work. Incredibly, his haunted voice and hypnotic guitar style seem to have magically avoided the ravages of time. Hearing him revisit some of his greatest tunes, such as “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” and “Special Rider Blues” (and even a contemporary composition, “Washington D.C. Hospital Center Blues”), is like seeing a spirit long-gone revisiting the world to wail some ghostly plaint once more.
Skip James– Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Russ Savakus– Bass (on “How Long”)
01. Hard Times Killing Floor Blues  3:21
02. Crow Jane  2:57
03. Washington D.C. Hospital Center Blues  4:10
04. Special Rider Blues  5:08
05. Drunken Spree  2:47
06. Cherryball  4:24
07. How Long  2:55
08. All Night Long  5:00
09. Cypress Grove  4:18
10. Look Down The Road  3:14
11. My Gal  6:05
12. I’m So Glad  1:54

Continue reading

Skip JAMES – Studio Sessions Rare and Unreleased 1967

Posted in BLUES, Skip JAMES on November 15, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Skip JAMES – Studio Sessions Rare and Unreleased 1967
2003 Issue.


All of these 19 songs, not released until 2003, come from a 1967 recording session. That might make it the last studio work Skip James did before his death in 1969, although the liner notes, frustratingly, offer virtually no specific details about the session and why it wasn’t released for 35 years. This wouldn’t rate among James’ better recordings, as his voice, material, and instrumental skills weren’t as sharp here as they were on some of his other releases (from both the 1930s and 1960s). It’s OK, however, if not that exciting. James stuck to traditional songs for this set, and some listeners might be surprised or disappointed to find that much of the material is spiritual/gospel in nature. Too, he played guitar only about half the time, moving to piano for the remainder of the tracks. His trademark high, haunting voice was still intact; in fact, on songs like “Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep” and “One Dime Was All I Had” it’s so high as to almost sound like it’s a cloud of smoke dissipating into space. That high voice is the factor that elevates this above routine traditional blues, since the songs aren’t James’ best and aren’t all that diverse. An unidentified woman sings faint duet vocals with James on “Walking the Sea,” her name being another detail that escapes the annotation on this disc.
By Richie Unterberger.
Vanguard gave us a magnificent gift this year,with this issue of a complete unknown session by the very great Nehemiah “Skip” James (1902-1969),the most original master of the country blues.
Born in Bentonia (like Jack Owens),Skip gave to the blues some of its greatest masterpieces: “Hard time killing floor blues”,”Cherry ball blues”,”Devil got my woman”,”Cypress grove blues”.
At this time,a very long time ago,these guys,who were often born in the same area,used to play in a totally fifferent style from their neighbours.Skip James,Bukka White,Fred McDowell,Ishman Bracey,Rubin Lacey,Son House,Bo Carter,Charley Patton,John Hurt,Robert Pete Williams,just to name a few,they all play and sing the blues,but they all do it with their own style.Seems like the most important thing was to sound different from the others.Among these guys,Skip James certainly was the most original of them all.He played piano,and guitar,not in the usual tuning but always in his own minor tuning,and sang with a strange falsetto voice.
In this “new” record,you won’t listen to Skip’s well known tunes;he never recorded another version of most of these tunes.
You’ll listen to James P.Johnson’s “backwater blues”,Brownie McGhee’s “sportin’ life blues”,a milestone in the blues history,the traditionnal “bumble bee” or “Mary,don’t you weep”,some great blues by Skip,like “my last boogie” or “Omaha blues”,a bunch of gospels,like the very great “walking the sea”,in which Skip sings with his wife,Lorenzo,and even…an Hoagy Carmichael tune,”lazy bones”,which was also recorded by Louis Armstrong.
And even if some of the most amazing blues tunes don’t figure here (hard times,cherryball,cypress grove…),it’s a real delight to hear one of the greatest blues artists playing and singing these unknown tunes.This session was recorded in 1967 for Vanguard;James commited two albums for this label,”Devil got my woman” and the fantastic “Skip James today”,which is one of the most magnificent,amazing,incredible,superlative blues records ever done.Skip James’ voice is just like Billie Holiday’s or Jimmy Scott’s: just like an octopus;when it takes you in its arms,you can’t leave it.And Skip’s guitar style is one of the most fascinating ones with Robert Pete Williams’;he was a Master of the 20th century music.One of the most essential ones,like Duke,Coltrane,Monk,Robert Johnson or Charley Patton.You,american citizens,you ahve the privilege to belong to a country that gave to the world dozens of musicians who will always be among the absolute geniuses of music.Hope you won’t forgive them.Among these geniuses was Nehemiah James;and this guy never recorded between 1931 and 1964.Neither did Mississippi John Hurt,or Bukka White,or Son House.
I hope you’ll be fascinated by this incredible music;of course,Skip’s blues aren’t the easier to listen to;it’s as astonishing as listening to Monk for the first time;nobody never played guitar that way (“bumble bee”,”Jack o’diamonds”).Totally fascinating and hypnotyzing,incredibly beautiful.Jump into Skip James’ musical world !!!
By Jean-Marie Juif.
Considering the impact he had on the blues, as a primary, if not the primary, exponent of the Bentonia School guitar style, a pianist with a distinctive touch reflecting ragtime and boogie influences and a singer whose uncanny falsetto is invariably described as “haunting,” Nehemiah “Skip” James is surprisingly undocumented in recordings. A couple dozen tracks recorded for Paramount in 1931 and a couple albums recorded after his re- introduction at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival have comprised the James canon. On the basis of that relatively meager output, James was an influence on blues artists ranging from Robert Johnson to Eric Clapton.
This collection of 19 previously unreleased tracks from a 1967 session for Vanguard Records can only enhance James’ already formidable reputation. At 65, just two years before his death, James was in full command of his talents, and he displays the full range in these tracks, accompanying himself on piano and guitar. This isn’t just an important historical release. It’s just as significant to today’s music as those 1931 sides were to the young blues players and archivists of the early 1960’s. The difference is that we can hear them on a beautifully re-mastered 20-bit recording instead of some ancient 78s.

Vanguard’s role as a faithful custodian of this music deserves your support. Spending some money on and some time with this album would be the perfect way to give it.
By Shaun Dale.
Wow, it is amazing what people find in storerooms! This is a great compilation of Skip James music that supposedly has never been released until now. I enjoy the album very much, Skip is a master of the Delta Blues. The music is soulfull and presented in a way that can only be acheived by Skip. My one dissappointment was that I didn’t hear much of his wonderful guitar work on this release. It is primarily a piano album. The recording quality is pretty good for that era, though not up to todays standards.
That said, I recommend newcomers get his Complete Recorded Works first for the best intro into Skip James’ music. However, if you have that and other recordings already, get this to complete your collection and satiate that Skip fix.
By Kort Kramer.
01. Backwater Blues 3:06
02. Everybody Ought To Live Right 3:16
03. I Want To Be More Like Jesus 3:52
04. Jack Of Diamonds 2:44
05. My Last Boogie 3:42
06. Lazy Bones 3:09
07. Let My Jesus Lead You 3:01
08. My Own Blues 4:23
09. Oh, Mary Don’T You Weep 1:53
10. Omaha Blues 2:06
11. Bumble Bee 4:42
12. One Dime Was All I Had 2:24
13. Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning 2:47
14. Somebody Gonna Wish They Had Religion 2:33
15. Somebody Loves You 2:46
16. Sorry For To Leave You 2:21
17. Sporting Life Blues 2:25
18. They Are Waiting For Me 4:49
19. Walking The Sea 3:43

Continue reading

Skip JAMES – Devil Got My Woman 1967

Posted in BLUES, Skip JAMES on November 15, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Skip JAMES – Devil Got My Woman 1967
Recorded on  22nd,24th, of March, 1967 in New York City
VSD 79273


I’d rather be the devil, to be that woman man
I’d rather be the devil, to be that woman man
Aw, nothin’ but the devil, changed my baby’s mind
Was nothin’ but the devil, changed my baby’s mind

I laid down last night, laid down last night
I laid down last night, tried to take my rest
My mind got to ramblin’, like a wild geese
From the west, from the west

The woman I love, woman that I loved
Woman I loved, took her from my best friend
But he got lucky, stoled her back again
And he got lucky, stoled her back again
Skip James made his original reputation with 17 recordings that he cut during February 1931, when he was 28. Although fluent on both the guitar and (to a lesser extent) the piano, James was most notable for his storytelling lyrics, his haunting high-pitched voice, and his distinctive interpretations of the Delta blues. James was rediscovered 33 years after his early recordings, in time to appear at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. He was quite active during 1964-1966, making the music on this solo album (his last record) three years before his death in 1969. One can easily hear the influence that Skip James’ music had on the then flourishing folk music movement, and he still sang his country blues with great intensity.
By Scott Yanow, All Music Guide.
Skip James was a Baptist preacher, not a professional musician, so aside from an incredible recording he made for Paramount Records in 1931, he wasn’t widely sought out as a performer until the blues revival of the late ’50s and early ’60s. By that time, his voice and style had mellowed and aged (like most good musicians and all good wine) and while for some unkwown reason several *cleavers* think this is a fault, James made a very impressive appearance at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, which is recorded on this disc. The CD features newer arrangements of several songs from James’ 1931 Paramount recording, like the well-known title track “Devil Got My Woman”. There are also some jazzier songs for piano here like the “22-20 Blues” and “Careless Love”.
While I know this is “the blues” and there’s a certain amount of mellowness going on, after listening to about five tracks of Skip James accompanying himself on the guitar, you’ll probably be in the mood for something more upbeat — which is exactly why the tracks of Skip James accompanying himself on the piano come in like a slippery kiss from your cute girlfriend. Great disc! Recommended.
By Stephan Taylor.
A1. Good Road Camp Blues
A2. Little Cow, Little Calf Blues
A3. Devil Got My Woman
A4. Look at the People Standing at the Judgement
A5. Worried Blues
A6. 22-20 Blues
B1. Mistreating Child Blues
B2. Sickbed Blues
B3. Catfish Blues
B4. Lorenzo Blues
B5. Careless Love
B6. Illinois Blues

Continue reading