Monday, May 2, 2011

10 Essential Delta Blues Songs – Aberdeen Mississippi Blues

Ready for some Monday Morning Blues?  Great, because I’m kicking off a new series.  It’s called 10 Essential Delta Blues Songs, & it will appear on alternating Mondays thru the spring & summer.  If the series proves popular, I may consider future “Essential Blues Songs” series featuring other regions.

Before moving on to the first song, I want to make sure the ground rules I’m using are clear.  This series is not presented as THE Essential Songs—I don’t really believe in those types of lists.  I’m well aware that one could create any number of 10 song lists that would have as much right to be called essential as this one.  For my list, I wanted to include certain songs that were crucial to the “Delta” sound: there were a handful of prototype songs that were essentially re-worked by a number of performers, & I wanted to make sure these were well represented.  I wanted to make sure that the list not only included the musicians most associated with the “Delta sound,” such as Charlie Patton, Son House & Robert Johnson, but also performers from the Delta region who played in different styles.  To facilitate this, I made the arbitrary but useful rule of only one song per performer.  The songs will post in alphabetical order.

The first song is "Aberdeen Mississippi Blues," composed & performed by Booker White  (backed by Washboard Sam).  Booker White was born in Houston, Mississippi (which is near Aberdeen) in 1906, & got his musical start playing fiddle at dances.  He may or may not have known Charlie Patton—accounts differ on this—but he did live for a time in Clarksdale, Mississippi as a teenager when Patton was performing there.   

White’s first recordings were from a 1930s session for Victor in Memphis (recorded under the name of Washington White—his full name was Booker T Washington White), but the masters of some of these have been lost.  He recorded again in 1937 both for Vocalion under the name of Bukka White (this is a common variant, tho some sources claim he disliked the spelling) & as Barrelhouse White for Alan Lomax.  In 1940 he made a series of recordings in Chicago both for Vocalion & Okeh, & “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues” dates from that time.  In addition to being a professional musician, White at various times was a pitcher in the Negro Leagues & a professional boxer.  He also served time in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Prison Farm on a charge of assault.

Booker White’s slide style is vigorous, his voice—especially on the early recordings—relaxed & rich in tone, & his National Duolian guitar produces what could be considered the prototypical Delta blues sound (Son House also played a Duolian—amazingly enough, a relatively economical instrument in the 1930s, tho you’d never know it to see the prices on vintage Duolians these days.)  The lyrics (which appear below the video) tell a tale of sexual bravado mixed with longing in the sparse elliptical style common to many of the “country blues” songs.  There’s also a melodic similarity to White’s equally powerful song, “Parchman Farm Blues.” The 1940 recording of “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues” has a nice relaxed tempo, tho Washboard Sam’s percussive background lends excitement.  The stereotypical concept of the Delta blues musician is of a lone man with his guitar, but in fact playing in duos & larger combos was not at all unusual: Charlie Patton & Son House often played with Willie Brown on second guitar, & Robert Johnson performed as a duo with Johnny Shines; Big Joe Williams recorded with his first version of “Baby Please Don’t Go” with a fiddle back-up. 

Booker White was one of a number of southern African-American musicians who had a second career as a result of the 1960s folk revival.  In fact, it was this song that led to his “re-discovery.”  Guitarist John Fahey wrote a postcard addressed to “Bukka White, Old Blues Singer, c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Miss,” & the card was forwarded to Memphis, where White had re-located.  

As you can see from the leadoff photo (background info on the photo at the bottom of the post), the song has merited its own marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail.  Hope you enjoy it!

Aberdeen Mississippi Blues

I was over in Aberdeen
On my way to New Orlean
I was over in Aberdeen
On my way to New Orlean
Them Aberdeen women told me
Will buy my gasoline

Hey, two little women
That I ain't ever seen
They has two little women
That I ain't never seen
These two little women
Just from New Orlean

Ooh, sittin' down in Aberdeen
With New Orlean on my mind
I'm sittin' down in Aberdeen
With New Orlean on my mind
Well, I believe them Aberdeen women
Gonna make me lose my mind, yeah

Aberdeen is my home
But the mens don't want me around
Aberdeen is my home
But the men don't want me around
They know I will take these women
An take them outta town

Listen, you Aberdeen women
You know I ain't got no dime
Oh-oh listen you women
You know'd I ain't got no dime
They been had the po' boy
All up and down.

Photo Info: photo by Bill Parker (Flickr user slider5) from Wiki Commons but ultimately from his slider5's photostream on Flickr at this link.  The photo is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License (CC BY 2.0)


  1. Wow! Nice to hear Bukka White again! I remember first hearing his music back in the late '60s. Thsnks, John.

  2. Hi Roy: His stuff is great indeed! Thanks for stopping by!


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