Monday, May 23, 2011

Any Woman’s Blues #10 - Elvie Thomas

Happy Monday, all.  I’m making this installment of Any Woman’s Blues short for two reasons—first, as I mentioned yesterday, I don’t have a reliable computer at this time, & the one I can use is powering off without warning; this rewards circumspection!  Second, there simply isn’t much known about today’s featured artist, Elvie Thomas.

What we do know about Elvie Thomas is that she is credited with two recordings, both made in Grafton, Wisconsin in March 1930.  Both of those recordings, “Motherless Child Blues” & “Over to My House” are found below in Youtube videos.

We also know that Thomas was accompanied on these recordings by Gereshie Wiley, another woman who sang the blues & played guitar.  In fact, based on their small recorded output, it seems likely that Wiley & Thomas were musical partners, as Thomas backed Wiley on the latter’s four extant recordings, two of which were made at the same Grafton session.

Based on this, I wondered if I should write up Thomas & Wiley in one post.  I decided against that based on the following rhetorical question: if I were writing up a series on men who played blues guitar, would I combine Charlie Patton & Willie Brown (or for that matter, Son House & Willie Brown) in one entry?  After all, Brown backed Patton on a number of recordings & only has two existing recordings of his own; in addition, not much is known about Willie Brown’s biography, despite his association with Patton, House & Robert Johnson.  But the fact is, Willie Brown is generally acknowledged as one of the best guitar players from the pre-War Delta region, & his two recorded songs are considered seminal.  Tho his reputation may be greater, I think that Thomas & Wiley deserve similar treatment, so next month’s featured artist on Any Woman’s Blues will be Geeshie Wiley; actually, a bit more is known about her biography than about Thomas’. 

There are various forms of “Motherless Child Blues,” from Thomas’ version to Barbecue Bob’s & Blind Willie McTell’s & on to the Carter Family’s.  The versions vary a lot both musically & lyrically.  In the case of Thomas’ rendition, the song is played in E in standard guitar tuning, tho with some unusual chord voicings.



  1. Another fine post and another fine introduction to a musician who I had never come across before.

  2. Huh! Delta Blues coming from the North Country in the '30s. I guess this would be more documentary evidence of the great northern migration during the Depression from the farms of the south to the factories of the north, especially the automotive industry gearing up around the Great Lakes region at the time. Good work, John!

  3. Hi Alan & Roy

    Alan: So glad you enjoyed this!

    Roy: Those folks traveled to Grafton, where Paramount had a studio. Probably the best known instances of this are the sessions Charlie Patton did in 1929, & the sessions Patton, Willie Brown, Son House & Louise Johnson did in 1930--so some of the most famous Delta recordings were made in Grafton--Patton's "Bird Nest Bound" & "Moon Going Down," Brown's "M&O Blues" & "Future Blues," House's "Dry Spell Blues," Preachin' the Blues," & "My Black Mama" (which later became "Death Letter Blues")

  4. Thanks for introducing her to me. I get exposed to such great music through your blog.

  5. Hi HKatz: You are so welcome. I'm really happy that this & other series here are bringing musicians like Elvie Thomas to people's attention!


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