With Rev. Billy C. Wirtz off for the holidays, we looked through some of our favorites of his “Slipped Discs” columns from the year. This column first ran on July 6. We enjoyed looking back at it and thought you would, too.
Mayberry After Dark
By Rev. Billy C. Wirtz
Each week Rev. Billy C. Wirtz tells us about artists, albums, and music that we need to know about.
Okay, for one hundred dollars and a trip to Mt. Airy, North Carolina, name the first comic to record a “blues” album.
This forgotten volume featured songs by Leadbelly, Leroy Carr, Joe Turner, and the Golden Gate Quartet.
Not only did the comic cover these classic tunes, he enlisted the aid of blues legends Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
As a result of the session, he and Brownie became close personal friends and the artist then used his influence to land Brownie a cameo in the movie A Face In The Crowd. This cameo led to Sonny and Brownie appearing in several other films, most notably the notorious Baby Doll. (That film also featured “Shame, Shame. Shame” by Smiley Lewis in a mild bondage sequence involving Eli Wallach, a rocking horse, and a fly swatter.)
Too busy looking up the scene in Baby Doll?
Andy Griffith Shouts the Blues and Old Timey Songs
In 1959, the year before he would begin his career as the sheriff of Mayberry, Andy Griffith recorded an album of blues and traditional folk songs.
The role of Andy Taylor became a career-defining role for the young man from western Carolina, however, listen to this album, rent a copy of Face In The Crowd and you’ll another side of Opie’s father.
Five years after Brown v. Board of Education, the South is still experiencing it’s greatest upheaval since the Reconstruction Compromise of 1877. Along with social integration, there is, for the first time, an integration of cultures. Whites are now openly expressing an affinity for black music and style. In the Carolinas, what would later become known as “Beach Music” ( a code word for Black R&B) is played on the jukebox at The Pad in Myrtle Beach. Prior to 1954, R&B could only be heard in black clubs or in juke joints like The Tijuana Inn in Carolina Beach, North Carolina.
There is a new school of “hip” comics working the nightclubs and showrooms. Unlike Minnie Pearl and other “rube” acts,they speak in dialect and hipster jargon; a former drummer from Jackson, Tennessee, named Brother Dave Gardner is the Lenny Bruce of the South.
One example of his new style is delivered on an album, recorded in Dallas, circa 1960:
Young Lady: “Honey, this place is a drag. Let’s blow this joint.”
Boyfriend: “Naw, leave it for the waitress.”
The joke gets one laugh out of audience of several hundred.
Brother Dave parodied the southern preacher, and also created characters later “modified” by other comics, the most famous being Geraldine by Flip Wilson.
Although Gardner enjoyed fleeting national fame on the Jack Parr Show, his personal life and extremely right wing politics would bar him from future success. To this day, however, mention his name to any southern male between the ages of sixty and eighty and they’ll begin to recite one of his routines.
Andy Griffith’s first character was likewise based on the southern preacher.
Billed as “Deacon Andy Taylor,” his forte was the retelling of classic literature (Cleopatra and Andy) and performances like “Swan Lake.”
Griffith and Garner were the first (and unfortunately the last) cerebral southern comics for nearly thirty years and both featured blues and “folk songs” in their acts. Along with his records, Griffith stars in two movies:
In No Time For Sergeants he plays a genteel country boy for whom the indignities of boot camp are cause for daily celebration.
Hee Haw meets Full Metal Jacket.
In the other film, he’s cast in the deeply disturbing role of Lonesome Roads in A Face In the Crowd.
This dark and chilling picture depicts the rise of a ruthless, amoral populist hero in the early days of television. Griffith plays a truly vile misogynist, rivaling Robert Mitchum’s Henry Powell in Night Of the Hunter as a personification of pure evil.
There is an eerie quality to Griffith’s character, foreshadowing the rise of such modern-day “commentators” as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Former MSNBC commentator Keith Oberman often made frequent references to Griffith, even nicknaming Beck “Lonesome Roads.”
When Griffith recorded Blues and Old Timey Songs, he was a rising star and a somewhat controversial one at that.
Andy Griffith Shouts The Blues and Old Timey Music
Although I knew of this album, I hadn’t really listened to all of the tracks until yesterday; I was in for more than a couple of WTF moments.
Here it is, song by song:
1) “The Preacher And the Bear”
Griffith abbreviates this story/song by The Golden Gate Quartet. Unlike the original,his tongue-in-cheek version begins with “Can I get an amen?” He follows with two semi-blue jokes.
2) “Midnight Special”
It begins with a banjo and an “authentic” Dixieland arrangement, while Griffith sings it in dialect. Example: “Well she gonna see da gubna, she gonna free her man.” Otherwise, pretty true to Leadbelly’s original version.
3) “The House Of The Rising Sun”
This features a harmonica solo by Sonny Terry with changes to the gender of the original, but otherwise a faithful rendering. Griffith also borrows a verse from “In The Pines” by the Louvin Brothers. I find it difficult to imagine Andy Griffith as a young, male prostitute, but, whatever…
4) “How Long Blues”
Leroy Carr as performed by Blaze Starr’s house band. Classic Blues with a stripper beat?? A heartfelt vocal performance with a blistering guitar solo by Brownie Mcghee.
5) “The Crawdad Song”
Uses the intro to “Mystery Train.” A very hip version of the “You get a line and I’ll get a pole” standard. Once again, a fabulous guitar line against Griffith’s (more than adequate) vocals. Utilizes a hambone rhythm played on someone’s thighs, that goes on unaccompanied for eight bars at the end of the song.
6) “Good Mornin’ Blues”
“These are called ‘The Good Mornin” Blues that I learned from my good friend Brownie Mcghee who you hear playin’ the guitar.” Cool! Griffith aknowldeges his debt to Brownie, but then proceeds to engage in scolding someone named “Lucy” throughout the song. Although Griffith would be horrified to be accused of such, unfortunately, it smacks of a musical head rub. Unintentional P.C. violations aside, this is a really well played song by all the musicians, and includes a smokin’ piano solo.
7) “Police Department Blues”
Begins with an Albert Ammons piano figure. Griffith credits it to someone “back home.” A basic “Everyday I Have The Blues” twelve-bar shuffle with another great guitar solo. Griffith comps a few standard blues verses. At 1:02, during the piano solo, Griffith tells a joke about women’s menstrual cycles. I kid you not.
8) “Little Maggie”
“Here’s a song I learned from a guy named Jeff Pack in the Blue Ridge Mountains.” A bluegrass standard about an alcoholic girlfriend with fidelity issues. Griffith bemoans his inablity to obtain closure.
9) “Careless Love”
Another song about multiple dysfunctional relationships. Once again, Brownie provides a five-star guitar solo.
10) “Molly Darlin’”
Folk song meets Broadway show tune. Includes a solo on the spoons.
11) “I Want A Little Girl”
Griffith proceeds to tell us how his current significant has dietary issues, and isn’t particularly attractive. He then spends the rest of the song wishing for someone “smaller than me.”
12) “Pick A Bale Of Cotton”
I guess any album of “authentic” blues back then had to include at least one song about picking cotton. Actually he and Brownie sing a duet with pretty good results. Andy mentions turnip greens, fatback, etc.
While Andy Griffith Shouts the Blues, featuring Brownie McGhee, may not be recognised as one of music’s great collaborative efforts, it deserves consideration. As the first entry in the “Actors as Blues Singers” genre, it stands up well against later releases.
In the course of twelve songs there are several great solos and some decent vocal performances. Deacon Andy tells a couple of pretty funny (and raunchy) jokes. And, perhaps most important, unlike subsequent efforts, Capitol T1105 didn’t spawn a generation of fedora-clad frat boys deconstructing the musical legacy of Joe Turner and Robert Johnson.
Rev. Billy C. Wirtz is a weekly columnist at BluesWax. Each week he finds artists, albums, and music that you should know about. He also plays piano. His radio show, Rev. Billy’s Rhythm Revival, is available in podcast. To hear the latest, go to Rev. Billy C. Wirtz’ page on Facebook and look for the link.
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