Monday, October 17, 2011

Poor Boy Long Way From Home #5 – Booker White

Monday Morning Blues time, & we’re back with another installment in the Poor Boy Blues series!

Today’s version dates from 1939, 11 years after the 1928 Ramblin’ Thomas version posted a couple of weeks ago.  In fact, there was a 1935 field recording by one Rochelle French (the recording was made by Alan Lomax & Zora Neale Hurston), but there’s no YouTube version for that one.  However, this take on “Poor Boy” comes from another field recording, featuring the playing & singing of Booker White (AKA Bukka White.)  In 1939 White was in the notorious Parchman Farm Prison, where he was serving time on an what may have been an assault, manslaughter or murder rap (accounts vary widely; White claimed self-defense).  The field recording was made by that highly influential but oddly mismatched father & son team of John & Alan Lomax—in fact, you can faintly hear John Lomax’s voice at the beginning of the recording saying “let’s go,” & then adding “one more, one more” before the final verse.  The Lomaxes, who were making recordings for the Library of Congress, captured White singing “Poor Boy Long Way From Home” & “Sic ‘Em Dogs On” ; the recordings were not released, however.  At least one online source claims that these recordings were made at the wrong speed; the issue of fidelity based on the speed of early recordings comes up fairly often, with the most famous example being the folks who claim Robert Johnson’s recordings were made at too high a speed—in fact some claim up to 20% too fast.  I’ve heard videos of Johnson on YouTube slowed down 20% & they definitely sound like a 33 rpm record on 16 rpm (for those of you old enough to have performed that experiment as a kid!)  But I’d be more inclined to believe that the White recording is at least a tad too fast.

Booker White was an exceptional slide guitar player & vocalist, & he certainly demonstrates that here.  By 1939 he’d already made several professional recordings, starting with four 1930 recordings for Victor under the name of Washington White (his full name was Booker T Washington White.)  White also played baseball in the Negro Leagues as well as doing factory work, which was his employment when a letter from John Fahey & ED Denson of the “Blues Mafia” reached him in the early 1960s (White had been released from prison in 1940.)  Fahey & Denson had been inspired by the work on his old 78s (of course, Bob Dylan had also recently covered White’s “Fixin’ to Die”) &, based on White’s song “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues,” had sent him a letter addressed to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi."  By this time, White actually was living & working in Memphis, but as coincidence had it, one of his relatives was working at the Aberdeen Post Office & forwarded the letter to him.  As a result, White entered into a whole new musical career from the 1960s until his death in 1977.

Hope you enjoy the song!


  1. Ahhhh! Nice to hear from an old friend to start off the day. I listened to a lot of Bukka White back in the '60s. And I got to see him live - not too long before he passed away - at the old Salt club in Newport, a folk/blues/whatever club that used to be on Thames St. and where I also saw people like Odetta and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Ah, the good old days. Thanks for the memories, John!

  2. Hi Roy: Glad you liked it! Those sure sound like some great shows. I'd particularly have liked to seen Odetta.


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