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Society Bluesman, Josh White
September 14, 2007 11:22 PM   Subscribe

Somewhere along your musical journeys you might've heard something by Mr. Josh White (1914-1969). He was a bluesman, but one with the kind of smooth and polished delivery (and some charming novelty tunes) that made him a favorite on the wider, national pop/folk scene. He was pretty sexy, too. He didn't shy away from political/racial themes, either. Unsurprisingly, he ran afoul of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare years, and his name was placed on their Commie blacklist. Some few decades later his image graced a US postage stamp. Thanks for the music, Josh White.
posted by flapjax at midnite (24 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
And here's the website of his son (who performed alongside his dad as a child), musician Josh White Jr.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:23 PM on September 14, 2007


Josh White, the black pinko bluesman.
posted by Poolio at 11:39 PM on September 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


But seriously, nice post flapjax. :)
posted by Poolio at 11:40 PM on September 14, 2007


That was colorful comment, Poolio!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:44 PM on September 14, 2007


That was colorful comment, Poolio!

Not really... White's black-listed blackness pretty much negates the other colors.
posted by Poolio at 11:54 PM on September 14, 2007


I've known Josh White for a while. I know he was suffering from a skin disease - psoriasis - which was made worse by his playing the guitar, because I have the same kind of disease, but I never took the time to collect much more information about him, so thanks for your great post.
posted by nicolin at 3:19 AM on September 15, 2007


Josh was the greatest. I just can't see how his innocuous material could possibly have upset the powers that be:

Trouble

Well, I always been in trouble, ‘cause I’m a black-skinned man.
Said I hit a white man, locked me in the can
They took me to the stockade, wouldn’t give me no trial
The judge said, "You black boy, forty years on the hard rock pile."

Trouble, trouble, sure won’t make me stay,
Trouble, trouble, jail break due someday.

Wearin’ cold iron shackles from my head down to my knee
And that mean old keeper, he’s all time kickin’ me.
I went up to the walker and the head boss too
Said, "You big white folks, please see what you can do."
Sheriff winked at the policeman, said, "I won’t forget you nohow,
You better come back and see me again, boy, about 40 years from now."
Went back to the walker, he looked at me and said,
"Don’t you worry about 40, ‘cause in five years you’ll be dead."

Trouble, trouble, makes me weep and moan
Trouble, trouble, every since I was born.
Trouble, trouble, sure won’t make me stay,
Trouble, trouble, jail break due someday.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:19 AM on September 15, 2007


Thanks for those lyrics, FelliniBlank. Those are some damn good lyrics. But I don't think anyone ever indicated Jones was "innocuous"! Josh White didn't hold back! And yes, obviously his being labelled a Commie by Crazy Joe McCarthy would've had plenty to do with his being an "uppity" Negro...

BTW, can you cite your source for those lyrics?

Here's an article by White biographer Elijah Wald, which sheds more light on the activist/protest singer side of Josh White.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:36 AM on September 15, 2007


"God damn your eyes!" was the refrain of a song Josh White sang at a concert my lefty parents took me to -- had to be somewhere in the late 1950s, early 60s. I was shocked, not only at the language, but at the seeming laughter and acceptance of the middle class audience. Josh White was funny and warm and entertaining, but I couldn't figure it out: If it was all right for him to stand up there and sing "God damn your eyes," why couldn't I? The world got strange, right then...
posted by Faze at 5:49 AM on September 15, 2007


Oh yeah, and with postings on the Smothers Brothers and Josh White within a few days, I guess we're all down to celebrating the B and C list of 60s folkies. I don't know if that's good or not.
posted by Faze at 5:56 AM on September 15, 2007


I guess we're all down to celebrating the B and C list of 60s folkies.

Interesting comment. As an artist, I'd say that White belongs on nothing but the A list. But in terms of his fame and name recognition-factor today, I suppose he might be, sadly, on the B or C list. But lumping him in with the Smothers Brothers, well, I'm not sure what to say about that...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:04 AM on September 15, 2007


Furthermore, it's also shortsighted or just plain ignorant to simply classify White as a "60s folkie", as any number of links in this FPP will illustrate.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:08 AM on September 15, 2007


I guess we're all down to celebrating the B and C list of 60s folkies.

Flagged as noise.

Great links. Thanks for the post.
posted by RussHy at 6:16 AM on September 15, 2007


BTW, I don't know why I worte "Jones" in this comment. It was, obviously, supposed to be "Josh".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:20 AM on September 15, 2007


But I do know why I wrote "worte". Cause I need to go to sleep. Which I will do now. And I'm gonna have sweet dreams of lots of MeFiers discovering and enjoying the wonderful music of Mr. Josh White!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:37 AM on September 15, 2007


Greatness. I had never consciencely listened to Josh White, and now I must search him out. Wonderous post.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 7:43 AM on September 15, 2007


Josh White was a new discovery for me. thanks! Listening now. Good stuff.
posted by bashos_frog at 7:47 AM on September 15, 2007


Josh White was not a Sixties' Folkie. On the contrary, he was one of the first generation of recorded blues guitarists and singers, a contemporary of Son House and Big Bill Broonzy, among others.

The song with "God damn your eyes!" is an English execution ballad called "Sam Hall," a/k/a "Samuel Small." Josh's defiant convict sang:

My name it is Sam Hall, Samuel Hall (2X)
My name it is Sam Hall
And I hate you one and all
Your'e a bunch of bastards all
God damn your eyes!

Johnny Cash did his own cleaned up version of Josh's version of Sam Hall.
posted by rdone at 10:10 AM on September 15, 2007


Thanks for those lyrics, FelliniBlank. Those are some damn good lyrics. But I don't think anyone ever indicated Jones was "innocuous"!

I was being a tad facetious.

BTW, can you cite your source for those lyrics?

Whoops, sorry to omit the citation; it was early. I copy-pasted from Wald's "Josh White and the Protest Blues". A swell recording of the song is available on, oddly enough, The Gospel Tradition: The Roots and the Branches</em, Vol. 1 (Columbia, 1991) if you can find a copy. Lots of other fab stuff on that collection as well, including the toe-tapping anti-Darwin ditty "When God Made Me He Didn't Make a Monkey Man."
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:16 AM on September 15, 2007


In his early career as a recording artist, White recorded gospel music under the infelicitous nomme de guerre of "Pinewood Tom."
posted by rdone at 10:32 AM on September 15, 2007


Here, from 1935, is While The Blood Runs Warm In Your Veins - Joshua White. While that is a RealAudio stream, an mp3 zip file can be found here. It also can be found on the wonderful and likely out-of-print Columbia Legacy collection Preachin' The Gospel: Holy Blues--a truly must have collection, that--along with White's In My Time of Dying, a very fine slide guitar workout notably covered by Bob Dylan on his eponymous first album.
posted by y2karl at 12:39 PM on September 15, 2007


Oh, and, speaking of slide workouts, here, from 1933, is White's Jesus Is Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed, either another version of In My Time of Dying or the same song retitled.
posted by y2karl at 12:50 PM on September 15, 2007


Thanks for the post. I've not heard his work before, very enjoyable. I like the video where he puts his lit cigarette behind his ear before starting. A good blues man knows how to get a smile out of the crowd with little things like that.
posted by nola at 3:38 PM on September 15, 2007


A good blues man knows how to get a smile out of the crowd with little things like that.

One of the little bios included in the FPP mentions somewhere that that little bit was one of White's trademarks.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:53 PM on September 15, 2007


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