splash
send me the bill
the stray birds
locals
amazingly life-like
guns
video
archives
the blame
sporting hill ramblers
joe ellis
woggi noggi
kenny gross
tascam porta-two repair
kurzweil key fix
robert bobby
eagles n' flags
squire amp buzz fix
sponster
3/24/15

Stop and say hello to some old friends- ball, tire, and the rest of the Amazingly Life-Like gang!
3/8/15

Following on from last month, a contemporary of Valerie and Vivienne, Marion Harris is said to have been the first white woman to sing the blues on record, from around about 1917.

Here she is as I saw her in a clip from 1930 called Gems from M-G-M. I was asleep on the sofa when her voice awakened me. Without my glasses, peering blearily at the screen, she was hard to make out- well, the picture wasn't too clear, either.

funny that way

funny that way

funny that way

funny that way

funny that way

funny that way

funny that way

She first made a hit of I Ain't Got Nobody, but by 1920 she had left her record company and moved to another because she hadn't been allowed to record St. Louis Blues there. I suppose this was because the suggestive lyrics of blues and "jass" songs weren't considered proper. For some, jass and blues were too hot.

But it wasn't only sex. Lots of improprieties were turning up in lyrics- murder, drug use, alcoholism, misogyny- and even popular subjects of parlor music, such as unrequited love and loneliness, were being addressed more directly than before. Emotions ran strong and deep in this music.

When asked why she chose to sing the blues, Marion reportedly said that she felt it was more sincere. Over time she altered her delivery from belter to crooner as improvements in recording technology made it possible to sing more intimately. By the time this clip was made she had developed a performance style suited for the close-up. After years on theatre stages, this displays terrific insight into the nature of the media. Here's a link to the clip on YouTube.

I wouldn't dare call this corny. It's all about the things she doesn't do here, rather than the soulful looks and the hands clasped upon her breast. She had been billed as a comedianne in vaudeville. She could have been playing those gestures for laughs, but I think there was more than that- she's using them to put across a complicated story.

The song was originally called She's Funny That Way, and it was written for a man to sing about a woman who loves him despite his failings. But here we're looking from the other side. It is up to the woman to say what she feels, as coward at best, she is even prepared to follow him West. Her being "funny that way" now has several meanings, not least of which is her being amused at herself. So much going on here!

Her delicate voice drew me from sleep, but what sold it were those low, gutteral notes, the almost spoken words she skillfully drops in at places that express the blues in her. I'm thankful that this performance has been preserved- it was never released as a record.

And yet... there's more to her story. Mary Ellen Harrison revealed little of herself to the public. Everything from her birthplace and date to the number of times she married is unclear today. Unlike outsider artists Vivian Maier and Henry Darger, she had been a popular entertainer, with a career spanning decades, yet like them, no one knew who she was. She met her end in a fire which she accidentally set herself, and took her secrets, her motivations, and her deepest feelings with her.

There are more than a hundred of her recordings available at the Internet Archive. You can hear her style evolve from I Ain't Got Nobody Much through several versions of The St. Louis Blues up to My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes.