Monday, November 2, 2009

The M&O Blues

Hey, how’s about a little Monday morning blues? In the video below it’s yours truly singing Willie Brown’s “M&O Blues” (lyrics slightly emended by me).

As I mention in the video, Willie Brown was a highly-regarded Mississippi delta blues guitarist & singer, who performed at least from the 1920s until 1952. He was usually played “second guitar,” & as such he accompanied such notables as Son House, Charlie Patton & Robert Johnson, who mentioned him by name in his famous song “Cross Road Blues.” Brown did record at least a couple of songs in which he performed solo; these were “M&O Blues” & “Future Blues,” both recorded at the famous 1930 Grafton, WI session also involving Charlie Patton, Son House & Louise Johnson. It’s also pretty certain that a 1941 Alan Lomax field recording of a Willie Brown playing & singing “Make Me a Pallet for Your Floor” is the same man. There are also a couple of other recordings that may or may not be Brown singing under a pseudonym, which was a common practice: Willie McTell, for instance, recorded under at least eight separate names!

Tho not crucial to an understanding of the song, the M&O was the Mobile & Ohio line, which ran from Mobile, Alabama to St. Louis (with a later branch down into Florida). Interestingly, by the time Willie Brown recorded this song, the line was in serious economic hardship, with a $1,000,000,000 deficit on the books. After going into receivership in 1932, the line eventually merged with the Gulf, Mobile & Northern Railroad, & the new entity became the Gulf, Northern & Ohio Railroad.

Hope you enjoy this small snippet of blues (& railroad) history, & that you enjoy the song.


  1. Fun post... I like the M & O Blues & you performing it and that is a beautiful guitar you're playing.
    By the way, this Saturday on Weekend Edition on NPR there was an interview with William Ferris who back in the 60's & 70's drove up and down HWY 61 (The Blues Highway) in Mississippi interviewing and recording the blues. This is a link to the interview and I know you will want to hear it:
    His book is "Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues which includes a CD and DVD.
    I'd like to know what you think of the interview. Blues is probably my favorite genre of music.
    Thanks for all your good posts on the subject! :-} Lizzy

  2. Hi Lizzy: Thanks! The interview is great, & the book sounds interesting: the cd & dvd are a real bonus. I'm definitely intrigued by the experience of folks who traveled to the rural south in the 40s-60s to learn about & record music; or learn to play, as Rory Block & others did. If you're interested in Highway 61, check back next Monday!

  3. I always enjoy your video clips, John. WT's grandfather was a conductor on the Union Pacific out of Kansas City.

  4. Hi Willow: That's cool about WT's father. I do love old railroad lore. Thanks for supporting the videos too!

  5. I always enjoy your performances, John. I went to YouTube, where the sound seemed a little better for some reason. The music to this one is really pretty on its own, and the performance is great!

    My husband's grandfather was a RR conductor, too. We have the stopwatch he used; it has an image of a train etched on the back.

  6. Hi Karen: What a wonderful memento, the train watch. So glad you liked it--funny about the sound; maybe has to do with embedding. The webcam mic is pretty so-so.

  7. John, I'll for sure be back Monday! I may have to make a Hwy 61 trek one day just for fun!

  8. John, I somehow stumbled on or was visited by Sid Smith at Sid Smith's Postcards from the Yellow Room. I think you would enjoy his blog. He is a freelance writer from North East England and does Podcasts of various music. The one I'm listening to now is from June 5, 2009 and thought you'd enjoy it especially since it features Koko Taylor's Wang-Dang-Doodle. Hope you enjoy this; unfortunately Sid has not done a podcast since June. Here's the link to the podcast:


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