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Songs of Mississippi floods

Desert Dancer 18 May 11 - 09:36 PM
Desert Dancer 18 May 11 - 09:54 PM
Bettynh 18 May 11 - 10:15 PM
Desert Dancer 18 May 11 - 10:30 PM
Desert Dancer 19 May 11 - 10:41 PM
Mark Ross 19 May 11 - 11:19 PM
Desert Dancer 20 May 11 - 12:02 AM
GUEST,mike m 20 May 11 - 03:41 AM
Desert Dancer 20 May 11 - 11:20 AM
Bob the Postman 20 May 11 - 11:57 AM
Roger the Skiffler 21 May 11 - 05:35 AM
GUEST,mike m 21 May 11 - 01:19 PM
Desert Dancer 21 May 11 - 09:37 PM
Desert Dancer 21 May 11 - 09:54 PM
GUEST,Sam 18 Aug 11 - 01:31 PM
reggie miles 18 Aug 11 - 02:47 PM
Mavis Enderby 17 Aug 11 - 05:14 PM
Janie 17 Aug 11 - 07:12 PM
GUEST,mikeofnorthumbria (sans cookie) 15 Jul 17 - 02:34 PM
GUEST,henryp 07 Aug 17 - 03:58 AM
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Subject: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 18 May 11 - 09:36 PM

Today on All Things Considered they had an interview with Luther Brown, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University in Mississippi concerning songs that arose from the 1927 flood.

When The Levee Breaks: Ripples Of The Great Flood
NPR Staff
May 18, 2011

Along the mighty Mississippi River, rising waters carry musical echoes of the river's long history of floods. Many of those sonic tributaries reach back to perhaps the worst one in U.S. history: the Great Flood of 1927. That catastrophe shaped how future generations of farmers, families and even governments would cope with floods.

The history of the 1927 flood can be found in textbooks, but it comes to life in music. In an interview with Luther Brown, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University in Mississippi, All Things Considered host Michele Norris plays him Charley Patton's "High Water Everywhere, Part 1" from 1929.

"This song is a documentary about the flood," Brown says. "In Part 1, he includes the lyrics, 'I would go to the hill country, but they got me barred.' And the reason he says that is that he'd like to get out of the Delta and find higher ground, but he's not allowed to. Many of the African-Americans weren't allowed to leave and were forced to stay, although the white citizens were typically allowed to leave."

An Act Of God

The Great Flood meant great suffering and misery for blacks up and down the Mississippi River. But many also thought of the flood as a harbinger of hope.

"African-Americans viewed the flood as an act of God that liberated them," Brown says. "In the 1920s, the vast majority of that black population made their living by sharecropping. Everybody got by on credit. The flood made it obvious that there was not going to be a crop during that year, so they were not facing one year of barely breaking even or being able to pay off debt, but two full years. Some people turned the whole story on its head and said that the Lord had washed away the debt and liberated the black sharecroppers to move on to other employment. Many of them did. They left the Delta and participated in the Great Migration and headed north and went to Chicago or Detroit or some other metropolitan area and sought new employment."

The flood inspired not only the blues, but also other forms of roots music.

"Ethnomusicologists tell us that there were about two dozen blues songs that were written specifically about the flood in the couple years that immediately followed it," Brown says. "There was probably an equivalent number of gospel songs. And then some of those songs have been re-presented by more recent artists, so the ripples of the flood continue to be with us."

'They're Trying To Wash Us Away'

Charley Patton influenced musicians for decades to come. More than 70 years later, Patton's music about the Great Flood received a tribute from a musician who is legendary in his own right: Bob Dylan released "High Water (For Charley Patton)" in 2001. The rhythm of the music sounds like the constant churn of unrelenting water, a signature Patton sound.

Dylan paid tribute to another song from the Great Flood: 1929's "When the Levee Breaks," by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy. The song was also covered by Led Zeppelin in 1971 with the same words, but the band completely rebuilt the musical structure.

When these sentiments re-emerge, it's like old wine in a new bottle. When Randy Newman wrote "Louisiana 1927" in 1974, he reached back to the Great Flood.

"[Newman] says, 'They're trying to wash us away,' " Brown says. "And the reason he says that is that in 1927, the political elite decided that to save New Orleans, they would blow up the levee and basically destroy St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish. The people who lived there who were flooded out after the levee was blown were never compensated for their loss. They were washed away. 'They're trying to wash us away.' "

For Brown, Memphis Minnie's "When the Levee Breaks" remains the ultimate flood song. He says it has a "plaintive nature to it that if it keeps on raining, the levee's gonna break; there's nothing you can do about it."

---

These two blues and two other new items are also listed in the article:

Charley Patton's "High Water Everywhere, Part 1" from 1929.

Bob Dylan's "High Water (for Charley Patton)"

Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927"

1929's "When the Levee Breaks," by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy, with a cover by Led Zeppelin

---

So, for the 1927 flood, there are 2 dozen blues songs, and a similar number of gospel, plus the late 20th century look back.

How many of these and other Mississippi flooding songs can we collect in this thread?


---

As one might assume, there's also Charley Patton's "High Water Everywhere, Part 2"

Down in the BS section (Flooding along the Mississippi Basin), Bessie Smith's "Back Water Blues" was linked. Lonnie Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy also covered this one.

More?

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 18 May 11 - 09:54 PM

In the DT: Mighty Mississippi, recorded by The New Lost City Ramblers; originally from Ernest Stoneman; it's originally "The Story of the Mighty Mississippi" (Ballad Index link). I don't find this one on YouTube.

I don't find anything else that quite fits "Mississippi + flood" in the DT. Might be more in the Forum.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Bettynh
Date: 18 May 11 - 10:15 PM

Johnny Cash "Five Feet High and Rising"
(Was that the Mississippi??)

William Elliott Whitmore "Lee County Flood" (Iowa).


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 18 May 11 - 10:30 PM

"Mississippi Heavy Water Blues", by Barbecue Bob, 1927

"Mississippi Low-Levee Blues" also by Barbecue Bob, 1927 (or so)

"Big River" by Zachary Richard (zydeco) (lyrics only, at the link), late 20th century

Eric Bibb, "Flood Water" - I can't find more on this one, also late 20th century.

(thanks for tips from the Wikipedia article on the 1927 flood)


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 19 May 11 - 10:41 PM

refresh


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Mark Ross
Date: 19 May 11 - 11:19 PM

STORY OF THE MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI was originally sung by Kelly Harrel I believe.


Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 20 May 11 - 12:02 AM

You're right Ross, that's what the Ballad Index entry says. The DT says the NLCR got it from Ernest Stoneman, but it was Harrell who wrote it.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: GUEST,mike m
Date: 20 May 11 - 03:41 AM

Backwater Blues Version 1
soundclip


by Bessie Smith
recording of February(?) 17 1927, New York City
from The Complete Recordings, Vol. 3 (Columbia/Legacy C2K-47474),
copyright notice

When it rains five days and the skies turn dark as night
When it rains five days and the skies turn dark as night
Then trouble's takin' place in the lowlands at night

I woke up this mornin', can't even get out of my door
I woke up this mornin', can't even get out of my door
There's been enough trouble to make a poor girl wonder where she want to go

Then they rowed a little boat about five miles 'cross the pond
Then they rowed a little boat about five miles 'cross the pond
I packed all my clothes, throwed them in and they rowed me along

When it thunders and lightnin' and when the wind begins to blow
When it thunders and lightnin' and the wind begins to blow
There's thousands of people ain't got no place to go

Then I went and stood upon some high old lonesome hill
Then I went and stood upon some high old lonesome hill
Then looked down on the house were I used to live

Backwater1 blues done call me to pack my things and go
Backwater blues done call me to pack my things and go
'Cause my house fell down and I can't live there no more

Mmm, I can't move no more
Mmm, I can't move no more
There ain't no place for a poor old girl to go

__________
Note: This was one of her most successful records; it was recorded just before the catastrophic great Mississippi flood of 1927;
Note 1: backwater, mostly old river beds which are left to take the excess flood water to relieve pressure on the levees (embankments). As the height of the water is excessive, however, breaches in the levee walls are deliberately made at certain points to allow particular areas to flood and thus lessen the pressure of water. These are the "backwaters," which occur in the St. Francis Basin to the west of the river between Memphis and Helena, in the great Yazoo-Mississippi Delta north of Vicksburg, in the Tensas Basin west of Natchez, and at other selected points.


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 20 May 11 - 11:20 AM

Guest,mike m, thanks for the lyrics to Backwater Blues, presumably from blueslyrics.tripod.com.

The notes say "it was recorded just before the catastrophic great Mississippi flood of 1927", however, although the peak of the flooding came in April and May of 1927, the flood process originated with heavy rains in the summer and fall of 1926 so that the levees were at capacity by the start of the year -- and so the effects were undoubtedly felt in the backwaters by then.
Wikipedia
PBS "The Fatal Flood" - there's lots of good background on the effects of the 1927 flood here.

This Mississippi Public Broadcasting article on the current flood describes the process of seepage underneath the levees which also fills the backwaters.

This article says

"'Back-Water Blues', composed by Bessie Smith and recorded by her on 17 February 1927, has long been associated in the popular mind and even by some writers with the great flood of the lower Mississippi River and its tributaries that occurred that year. This is historically problematical because that flood began two months after Smith recorded her song. Through an examination of Smith's touring itinerary, the testimony of fellow entertainers who toured with her, newspaper reports, and other documents, it can be shown that the song was composed about a flood of the Cumberland River that struck Nashville, Tennessee, on Christmas morning, 1926."

Yeah, technically it's before the April catastrophic levee break at Mounds Landing, Mississippi, but certainly it's associated with the flooding in the Mississippi River system of that season. The popularity of the song undoubtedly exploded as it was associated with more people's experience as the flood expanded.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Bob the Postman
Date: 20 May 11 - 11:57 AM

Red Foley "1936 Flood" Conqueror 8676

Arthur Fields "Terrible Mississippi Flood"

Al Craver "The Mississippi Flood"


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 21 May 11 - 05:35 AM

Thanks to Becky et al for this fascinating thread. I've posted elsewhere how Leadbelly and Lonnie J. both credit themselves as authors of their versions of Backwater Blues despite their later recording dates and not changing the lyrics from the female voice. I love all three but Bessie is the queen (or should I say, Empress!).

RtS


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: GUEST,mike m
Date: 21 May 11 - 01:19 PM

Thanks Becky

for the information and the links.
the link to the American Experience site it is really interesting.
and with the floods , and the flooding it seems that nothing ever changes


Mike m England


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 21 May 11 - 09:37 PM

O.k., had some time on my hands and went looking for gospel examples, but have come up pretty dry. But, here's an assortment of stuff from my Googling about --

This chapter by David Evans: "High Water Everywhere: Blues and Gospel Commentary on the 1927 Mississippi River Flood" (in Nobody Knows Where Blues Come From: Lyrics and history, edited by Robert Springer, Univ. Press of Mississipi, 2006) is said to be the authoritative thing to read. Unfortunately, Google Books (which I linked) doesn't give the whole chapter and happens to quit just as he's getting into the meat of it. However, the cultural/political background is there and is quite interesting, and it does get to a list of items he says are not from the 1927 flood -- but that's o.k. for us!

Here's what there was:

"The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago"
Norfolk Jubilee Quartet, 1927 (Paramount 12499)

In refugee camps, whites sang "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" while blacks sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"

The Mississippi Flood (mentioned above as sung by Vernon Dalhart, was written by Carson Robison)

L'Eau Haute (High Water Waltz) (Victor 22562) Bartmon Montet and Joswell Dupuis (1929)

Southern High Water Blues (1929, Gennett 7101) Ivy Smith
Rising RIver Blues (1929, Paramount 12750) George Carter (=Charlie Hicks?)
Tallahatchie River Blues (1930, Vocalion 1480) Mattie Delaney
Mississippi Flood Blues (1935, Bluebird B5844) Joe Pullum
Rising River Blues (1937, Vocalion 03473) Bumble Bee Slim
Southern Flood Blues (1937, ARC 7-04-68) Big Bill Broonzy
Terrible Flood Blues (ditto, B-side)
Wild Water Blues (1937, Decca 7285) Kokomo Arnold
Floating Bridge (1937, Decca 7442) Sleepy John Estes
Flood Water Blues (1937, Decca 7397) Lonnie Johnson
South Bound Backwater (1938, Decca 7461) Lonnie Johnson
Where Were You When the Archeta River Went Down? (1959) Roosevelt Charles

---

In the PBS American Experience item I linked above, there is a page specifically on the blues: click.

---

The University of Mississippi Libraries has this page: 1927 Mississippi River Flood: Music Resources

Experts may quibble with defining all of these as specifically relating to the 1927 flood, but...

Big Bill Broonzy. Big Bill's Blues. New York: Epic, 1968. LP record which includes "Southern Flood Blues." Call Number: Epic EE22017.

Vernon Dalhart. The Wreck of the Old 97 and Other Early Country Hits. Brighton, Michigan: Old Homestead, 1985. LP record which includes the song "The Mississippi Flood." Call Number: Old Homestead OHCS 167.

Joe Hoover's Mississippi Flood Song. Words and music by Joe Hoover. New York: Max Kortlander, 1927. Sheet music. Call Number: M1658 M6 H6 1927.

In the Spirit of No. 2. Berkeley, CA: Origin Jazz, 1968. LP record which includes McIntorsh and Edwards' "The 1927 Flood." Call Number: Origin OJL-13.

The Mississippi Flood Song. Words by Jed Hopkins, music by Sarah A. Westcott. New York: Ager, Yellen & Bornstein, circa 1927. Sheet music. Location: Sheet Music Collection. Finding aid available online at http://purl.oclc.org/umarchives/MUM00409/.

People Take Warning!: Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs, 1913-1938. Tompkins Square, 2007. Compact disc which includes W.A. Lindsey and Alvin Condor's "The Flood of 1927." Call Number: Tompkins Square TSQ 1875 [Oversized CD location]. [This is a transcription error of theirs (I sent a note): the song is by Elders McIntorsh & Edwards. Lindsey and Condor do the previous track on the cd, "Boll Weavil".]

Robert Springer. Nobody Knows Where the Blues Come From: Lyrics and History. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006. Contains David Evans' essay "High Water Everywhere: Blues and Gospel Commentary on the 1927 Mississippi River Flood." Call Number: ML3521 N63 2006.

The Story of the Blues. Produced and directed by Jordi Vall Escrui. Canada: Quantum Leap, 2004. DVD recording which includes Bill Bill Broonzy's "The Flood." Call Number: ML3521 S86 2004.

Texas Seaport 1934-1937. Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex: Magpie, 1978. LP record includes Joe Pullum's "Mississippi Flood Blues." Call Number: Magpie PY 4408.

Muddy Waters. Vintage Muddy Waters. London: Sunnyland, 1970. LP record which includes "Flood." Call Number: Sunnyland KS-100.

---

Big Road Blues (blog), "Chicago Defender Blues Advertisements: 1927 Flood" --

As well as mentioning several songs we've already got, the text lists

- Lonnie Johnson "Low Land Moan"
- Lonnie Johnson "The New Fallin' Rain Blues"
- Lonnie Johnson "Broken Levee Blues"
- Blind Lemon Jefferson "Rising High Water Blues"


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 21 May 11 - 09:54 PM

Shoot, I was still editing that and hit submit without the "Preview" checked. Oh well, everything's there.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: GUEST,Sam
Date: 18 Aug 11 - 01:31 PM

I just stumbled across this forum and thread searching for information on songs to do with floods and disasters on the Mississippi for my University dissertation I'm about to begin. Thank you to everyone who has posted, you have unknowingly provided me with a great start to my research (and a good few songs I didn't already know and love) and I know the directions in which to go in for my paper. I'm not sure I can thank you all enough!
Sam


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: reggie miles
Date: 18 Aug 11 - 02:47 PM

The only thing that I've recorded close to the subject of flooding was, "Katrina Blues". I borrowed one of Barbecue Bob's (Robert Hick's) prominent lines from his "Mississippi Heavy Water Blues" as my first and last and added the rest to fill out my response, in song, to one of our nations worst natural disasters.

Katrina Blues by Reggie Miles


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Mavis Enderby
Date: 17 Aug 11 - 05:14 PM

John Lee Hooker's Tupelo about the 1936 flood


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: Janie
Date: 17 Aug 11 - 07:12 PM

I wrote my own version of Little Sally Walker regarding Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans. The lyrics are posted on this thread -reference post from Janie 19 Apr 06 - 11:23 pm.


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: GUEST,mikeofnorthumbria (sans cookie)
Date: 15 Jul 17 - 02:34 PM

There's a song about an even earlier Mississippi flood (in 1892) on Big Bill Broonzy's Last Sessions (vol 1)LP -

"They tell me Joe turner been here and gone..."

Wassail!


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Subject: RE: Songs of Mississippi floods
From: GUEST,henryp
Date: 07 Aug 17 - 03:58 AM

WNYC Great Flood

In the conversation above, Morrison talks about his film and shares some songs new and old inspired by the flood. But below, we've got even more songs about the event -- and so we present our Damp Dozen: Twelve Great Songs About The Great Flood.


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