Monday, April 11, 2011

Any Woman’s Blues #8 – Mattie Delaney

A happy Monday, all!  I’m hoping to get back on a more regular posting schedule.  This isn’t being helped by a bout of fatigue that laid me up much of Sunday, but I’m forging ahead with this week’s Any Woman’s Blues.

Very little is known about this week’s featured artist, Mattie Delaney; in fact, she is only known to recorded two songs during her career, “Tallahatchie River Blues” & “Down the Big Road Blues.”  These were issued on a 78 that’s extremely rare—apparently a mint condition copy of this record would be worth about $6,000 to $8,000 on the collector’s market. 

We do know that Delaney was born in Tchula, Mississippi & that she made the two Vocalion recordings in 1930.  It’s also true that around this time the effects of the Great Depression began to have a profound effect on the recording industry & that field recordings were sharply curtailed. 

As things stand, Delaney is an enigmatic figure.  While there were many women who became big stars as blues singers—in fact, in the early 20s all the blues recording stars were women singers—very few women in the blues were also “guitar slingers.”  There was Memphis Minnie, of course, but she was associated with the city sounds of Memphis & Chicago, while Delaney is very much a “country blues” performer.

My suspicion is that Delaney was not alone; that there were other talented women guitarists playing the country blues in the “classic period” just as there are today.  It’s important to remember that what we have on record from the 1920s & 1930s (& beyond) was largely determined by the tastes & biases of the men who were setting up the sessions & making the recordings.

Rory Block has covered both of Delaney’s songs, recording “Down the Big Road Blues” as “Travelin’ Blues” (on her High-Heeled Blues & Best Blues & Originals, both on Rounder); her version of “Tallahatchie Blues” appears on both When a Woman Gets the Blues & Gone Woman Blues, also both on Rounder.  Lucinda Williams covered “Down the Big Road Blues” on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road from Mercury.

Hope you enjoy this rare & wonderful piece of music!


  1. An interesting bit of music history. I can see why she never caught on as the others did, though; I get no "personality" from this piece. Women like Memphis Minnie had strong musical personalities that molded the music that came out of them, whereas Mattie Delaney does a much more impersonal, straightforward piece of work.

  2. Hi Roy: Thanks! I would say that her "Tallahatchie River Blues" is the more powerful of the two recordings, but there's only a cover version of that on YT (& not Rory Block's cover, which is of course amazing). I just want to find one of those 78s in mint condition!

  3. Her voice is strong, and there's an underlying shiver to it - don't know if that's deliberate or something in the recording.

  4. Hi HKatz: I agree--you needed a strong voice as a performer then, of course, since most performance situations would have been unamplified. I think the vibrato in her voice is intentional! Thanks.

  5. I have to confess that I "read" the post forwards and backwards. Having got to the end and listened to the stunning recording I had to go back to the beginning again and read about her life. Thanks.

  6. Hi Alan: Glad you enjoyed it! Unfortunately, there really isn't any biographical info to speak of about Mattie Delaney--I think the one piece of info I left out of the post is she was born in 1905. Nothing is known about her life after the 1930 recording session.


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