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337 Notes Introduction 1. See the appendix for this list. All the lyrics cited in this study are my own transcriptions of the recordings in question. With a handful of better-­ known artists, including Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Peetie Wheatstraw, and Robert Johnson, I was assisted in this pursuit by one or more previously published versions of a particular lyric; in many other cases, I began with the lamentably error-­ filled versions found on and similar user-­ generated websites, along with the somewhat more precise renderings offered by Harry’s Blues Lyrics Online and Michael Taft’s concordance/anthology of prewar blues lyrics. In all cases, these sources were merely the first step in the arduous process of playing, replaying, transcribing, deliberating, and adjudicating familiar to any blues researcher. 2. In a 2004 interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show, for example, in which he was promoting his album Me and Mr. Johnson, Clapton said of Johnson, “Someone had his (first) album and played it to me and that was it. And I was I was completely bowled over.” “Eric Clapton: Talkin’ about His Inspiration.” See also Bockris, Keith Richards, 43; and Dylan, Chronicles, 282. 3. Finn, The Bluesman, 215. 4. Floyd, The Power of Black Music, 73. 5. As I note below, Spencer harshly criticizes Oliver and Garon for their views. See notes 10, 11, and 12. 6. Evans, “Report on Adam Gussow, Beyond the Crossroads.” 7. See, for example, “Willie Foster Sings Highway 61.” 8. Quoted in Lomax, The Land Where the Blues Began, 460–61. 9. O’Neal, Wisner, and Nelson, “Snooky Pryor,” 11. 10. Spencer, Blues and Evil, xii, xxi. 11. Oliver, Blues Fell This Morning, 117–18, 255. 12. Garon, Blues and the Poetic Spirit, 148. 13. J. T. “Funny Paper” Smith, “Fool’s Blues” (1931). 14. Spencer, Blues and Evil, xxii. 15. Quoted in Alyn, I Say Me for a Parable, 52. 16. Young, Woke Me Up This Morning, 4. 17. Sarah Martin, “Death Sting Me Blues” (1928). 18. Sunnyland Slim, “The Devil Is a Busy Man” (1954). 19. Big Wheeler, “Hell Bound Man” (1993). 20. Humphrey, “Prodigal Sons,” 168. 21. Bessie Smith, “Moan, You Moaners” (1930). 338 Notes to Pages 8–12 22. The claim I am making here for the importance of the devil in the blues tradition is a counterstatement to Evans’s claim that “the devil and Mister Blues, and even the Christian God and Santa Claus who also make occasional appearances in traditional blues texts, are hinderers and helpers of the blues singer but are not the main subject of the songs.” In certain specific songs, such as the Mississippi Sheiks’ “I Am the Devil” (1934), Evans’s assertion is literally untrue, but in many other songs, including Clara Smith’s “Done Sold My Soul to the Devil” (1924), Lightnin’ Hopkins’s “The Devil Jumped the Black Man” (1962), and Chris Thomas King’s “Mississippi KKKrossroads” (2002), the devil is the singer’s principal antagonist and is in that sense clearly the main subject, or one of the two main subjects, of the song. See Evans, “Traditional Blues Lyric and Myth,” 22–23. 23. Bessie Smith, “Black Mountain Blues” (1930). 24. In his otherwise cogent article, Evans errs when he characterizes the views of Spencer and Floyd as a form of romantic Afrocentrism that he calls “putting robes on the blues.” African American intellectuals and musicologists, he argues, seek to “cast off the trappings of Western cultural influence” from blues singers and “counter the stereotyped images of ‘naked’ Africans found in Tarzan movies and National Geographic magazines.” This romantic distortion of the blues’ African inheritance, in Evans’s view, occurs when scholars insist on comparing African American blues players to two heroic African figures: the robed griot “singing epic songs of ancient heroes and kings” and a robed “African priest of some ‘crossroads’ trickster deity such as Eshu or Legba”: When a blues singer sings about “me and the devil,” supposedly he or she is really singing about one of these African deities whose identity is disguised through syncretism with the devil of Christianity. The blues singer performing “the devil’s music” is thus a cultural descendant of priests or worshippers of these African deities. Although Spencer and Floyd do indeed argue for Legba’s persistence on black southern terrain, neither scholar compares bluesmen with griots—Spencer doesn’t even mention griots in the book cited by Evans—and neither scholar argues that blues singers are...


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