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hard time killing floor blues

Big Al Whittle 20 Jan 18 - 07:57 AM
Vic Smith 20 Jan 18 - 08:23 AM
Vic Smith 20 Jan 18 - 08:39 AM
Dave Hanson 20 Jan 18 - 10:04 AM
Big Al Whittle 20 Jan 18 - 12:59 PM
meself 20 Jan 18 - 02:04 PM
GUEST,Hootenanny 20 Jan 18 - 03:42 PM
Big Al Whittle 20 Jan 18 - 10:24 PM
Vic Smith 21 Jan 18 - 05:59 AM
Big Al Whittle 21 Jan 18 - 06:37 AM
GUEST,Hootenanny 21 Jan 18 - 06:43 AM
Big Al Whittle 21 Jan 18 - 07:37 AM
Big Al Whittle 21 Jan 18 - 07:39 AM
Vic Smith 21 Jan 18 - 10:42 AM
GUEST,Hootenanny 21 Jan 18 - 11:17 AM
Vic Smith 21 Jan 18 - 02:04 PM
GUEST,Hootenanny 21 Jan 18 - 06:12 PM
Big Al Whittle 21 Jan 18 - 06:58 PM
GUEST,Hootenanny 22 Jan 18 - 05:26 AM
Big Al Whittle 22 Jan 18 - 10:59 AM
GUEST,Hootenanny 22 Jan 18 - 11:46 AM
Vic Smith 22 Jan 18 - 11:56 AM
Big Al Whittle 22 Jan 18 - 01:49 PM
keberoxu 22 Jan 18 - 02:22 PM
meself 22 Jan 18 - 02:31 PM
GUEST,keberoxu 22 Jan 18 - 03:19 PM
Gurney 22 Jan 18 - 10:31 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 26 Jan 18 - 05:01 AM
Johnny J 26 Jan 18 - 07:22 AM
Big Al Whittle 26 Jan 18 - 03:20 PM
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Subject: hard time killing floor blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 20 Jan 18 - 07:57 AM

I suppose like a lot of people I met the term 'killing floor' when Mike Bloomfield and the Electric Flag record a track called Killing floor and it featured on the popular CBS discount album, The Rock Machine Turns You On.

As several of you may recall, I was interested enough in Skip James to initiate a thread about Skip James's biography.
Can I ask you what you make of the lyrics of this much covered song. Is there a narrative - or an experience being described.

Hard time here and everywhere you go
Times is harder than ever been before
And the people are driftin’ from door to door
Can’t find no heaven, I don’t care where they go
Hear me tell you people, just before I go
These hard times will kill you just
dry long so
Well, you hear me singin’ my lonesome song
These hard times can last us so very long
If I ever get off this
killin’ floor
I’ll never get down this low no more
No-no, no-no, I’ll never get down this low no more
And you say you had money, you better be sure
‘Cause these hard times will drive you from door to door
Sing this song and I ain’t gonna sing no more
Sing this song and I ain’t gonna sing no more
These hard times will drive you from door to door


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Vic Smith
Date: 20 Jan 18 - 08:23 AM

I believe the song refers to the huge abattoirs in Chicago in the 19th and earlier 20th century when vast flocks of cattle were brought in by train from the Mid-West States. These slaughterhouses were largely staffed by black workers, many of whom had made the journey north from the poverty and discrimination of the southern states.
I have heard other explanations of its origins - for example that "Hard Times, Killing Floor" was a general name given to the Great Depression of the 1930s or that it refers to a specific killing of a woman by a man.
Certainly the words that Al quotes seem to refer generally to the depression, but for me the verse that clinches what it is referring to is the one that refers to the ghastly conditions and low status of the work. -
If I ever get off this killin' floor
I'll never get down this low no more
No-no, no-no, I'll never get down this low no more.

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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Vic Smith
Date: 20 Jan 18 - 08:39 AM

After posting it, I found this article on the internet, in which Herbert Sumlin gives his opinion about the significance of the lyrics -

The Language of the Blues: KILLING FLOOR

I think that jury is still out on the original meaning. It looks like saying someone is on the killing floor could be a metaphor for them being at a low point in their lives.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Dave Hanson
Date: 20 Jan 18 - 10:04 AM

Skip James's version is on YouTube.

It was sung in the film Oh Brother Where Art Thou by Chris Thomas King.


Dave H


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 20 Jan 18 - 12:59 PM

With Bloomfield I always felt he was singing about Death Row.
Now I recollect, the second person I heard sing it was the late Joanne Kelly, whose version more resembled Skip James.
I wonder if Joanne ever discussed the meaning of the piece with Woody Mann or anyone else on that album.

With Skip James I'm not sure of the meaning.

Its an eerie sounding piece with that falsetto, against a modal guitar.
But what is the killing floor?
What is all the business of going round from door to door?

it sounds more like a plague diary than anything.
The abattoir theory I've heard - but Skip never lived in cities - he spent most of his time in rural communities


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: meself
Date: 20 Jan 18 - 02:04 PM

I think it likely that 'killing floor' was originally that part of a slaughter-house, but became a kind of metaphor that spread into more general use - including into places far from the 'packing' industry.

"drifting door to door"? That's what we would call "couch-surfing" today. Or just begging and/or looking for work.

("dry so long": would seem a typo or error in transcription?)


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 20 Jan 18 - 03:42 PM

The term "dry so long" also turns up in the blues as "dry long so" ref. Blind Lemon Jefferson. It apparently means "for no good reason".

"On the Killing Floor" in extreme privation. Ref eg.Son House "Dry Spell Blues" 1930.

Both above from Stephen Calt's book Barrelhouse Words.

I don't feel that it was necessarily the depression that Skip was referring too as for many /(most?) people in the South it was always the depression.

I like the Sumlin story,especially the idea of Wolf having seven girlfriends and a touring bus when he lived in West Milford. If my memory is correct and without checking the biography I think he was still a cotton picker at that time.

Good to see some interest in the blues on this site, it doesn't happen too often


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 20 Jan 18 - 10:24 PM

Although I've played for fifty or so years - 47 of those years very intensively, I don't think of myself as a blues singer as such, or a blues artist.

Basically I find the blues guitar very attractive and the techniques something I feel a real affinity with and love for.

I am English, and I have never visited or wished to visit the part of the USA where blues comes from.

My songs are about the world I have inhabited, and I've gotten pretty fed up over the years of people telling me that my approach to folk music isn't 'real' folk music.

I never lived in a society where the the only mode of expression open to me was the tunes played by the local traditional musicians, and frankly I'm damn glad that was the case. I was free to choose music and techniques that excited me and entertained my audiences.

Nevertheless ones understanding of the circumstances in which Broonzy, or Skip, or Robert Johnson wrote and were trying to express can only aid our own attempts at self expression.

And so I thank you for exchanging with me your ideas about these songs.

Can I recommend a book to you. I have recently finished reading Elijah Walsh's Escape from the Delta I didn't find it a particularly easy read, unlike Wald's biography of Josh White , which I devoured at one sitting. Its a book with ideas, and frankly it left me with more questions than it answered.

One thing that did emerge from my reading was the fact that the blues was changing in a protean fashion. People were using it and understanding it in a much different way from its originators. Wald seemed to think this was a pity. I think it is inevitable. And I think its our right as artists to use the music as we need and wish.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Vic Smith
Date: 21 Jan 18 - 05:59 AM

frankly it left me with more questions than it answered.

I would think that a book that makes you think, makes you ask questions, challenges you is the very best sort of book. There was one published last year on English Folk Song......


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 21 Jan 18 - 06:37 AM

English folk Song....

a lost cause for me. no one in my family ever sung like that. I think it has captured the imagination of many talented musicians and composers. I can't see way in for anything I want to express.

I sing English folksongs for fun, but I'm not much good at it. I don't get it.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 21 Jan 18 - 06:43 AM

Al,

Is there anyone who is English and who does call himself a blues singer?

There are probably many who can play the music very well but sing it?

I have yet to meet or hear one. There have been some attempts a few of which can have a pleasant sound but they are still far from the real thing.

If you are looking for blues related books by authors other than Wald there are about a hundred to chose from.

Vic, I wish you hadn't mentioned that book here.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 21 Jan 18 - 07:37 AM

Mike Cooper always used to call himself a blues singer. He was in Reading when I first knew him( about 1965), but he became a photographer for Froots, and now he lives in Italy.
Mick Stuart of Coventry did.

I wonder if Ian Anderson did. Hot Vultures was very bluesy.
Alexis Korner did.
Long John Baldry.

probably some others...Joe Cocker maybe....


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 21 Jan 18 - 07:39 AM

Gerry Lockran!
Van the Man!


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Vic Smith
Date: 21 Jan 18 - 10:42 AM

English singer of the blues? One name is preeminent..... Jo Ann Kelly!


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 21 Jan 18 - 11:17 AM

To all of the above can I just say that there is a difference in singing blues and being a blues singer. Similar to singing folk songs and being a folk singer

There was another Mike Cooper who played blues slide guitar at which he was very proficient, He was a photographer by profession but sadly died in his 30's.

Re John Baldry; I knew him in his folk club days up until his "Steampacket" days with Rod Stewart and Julie Driscoll and worked with him for some years. He was a good singer and guitar player. Did rather well in the pop music field.

Gerry Lockran I also knew and used him at the club for which I handled bookings. Good singer and picker.

Alexis Korner I first heard in the late 50's and at various clubs in the 60's. Never was impressed.

Joe Cocker ? No. I took him to his audition at Decca when he was still a gas fitter. A success in the rock/pop world

Van Morrison??? Sorry nothing to say.

Jo Ann Kelly; Again a good singer and picker and her brother is no slouch on the guitar.

This is not a criticism. All of these people played and sang blues songs but that doesn't make them blues singers.

I also had the opportunity to work with and meet a number of people who were the real thing. You are comparing chalk with cheese.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Vic Smith
Date: 21 Jan 18 - 02:04 PM

Vic, I wish you hadn't mentioned that book here.
It will only matter if the person who brings a nasty edge with his every post gets here.... and I don't think the title of this thread will attract him.

And I take what you say about blues singers. In fact I'd take it further and say I don't think that any contemporary Afro-American could bring to the blues what Robert Johnson did - much as I admire Corey Harris.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 21 Jan 18 - 06:12 PM

Vic

I agree wholeheartedly re contemporary performers.

There are undoubtedly some very musically talented people around Jerron 'Blind Boy' Paxton is one, someone who really impressed me. Not only does he put across some excellent guitar blues he also plays old time fiddle and banjo, harmonica and bones.

I believe he grew up in California but has been able to absorb a number of styles of traditional music and perform them convincingly.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 21 Jan 18 - 06:58 PM

i suppose it makes a change - saying 'its not really blues' as opposed to 'its not really folk'.

a bit weird though....


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 22 Jan 18 - 05:26 AM

Al, I don't understand what is weird?

Blues is part of American folk music. Some British people can do an excellent job of copying the instrumental side of it but when it comes to vocals it's a pale imitation. And I don't mean just the accent.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 22 Jan 18 - 10:59 AM

maybe...but its not really an imitation. someone like John Martyn or Eric Clapton or (on the folkscene) Kevin Brown takes it to another place.

I think even someone like Hamish Imlach wasn't imitating Blind Lemon Jefferson when he played Matchbox Blues - he was making something else quite unique. i learned from white guys - koerner, van ronk, dylan, mike cooper, grossman, brmstone, lockran. Of the black folk blues guys - only Josh White really registered with me.

And i repeat i am English and by and large English people understand what i do and what my songs are about.

can you say the same for all the names fawned upon in your book?


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 22 Jan 18 - 11:46 AM

Al,

I don't understand why you have brought the subject of your nationality up?

"by and large English people understand what i do and what my songs are about".

What does that mean? What has that to do with blues singers?

"can you say the same for all the names fawned upon in your book?"

What names? I haven't written a book but have made small contributions to a few.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Vic Smith
Date: 22 Jan 18 - 11:56 AM

can you say the same for all the names fawned upon in your book?

I may be getting this wrong, Al, but the only book that I can see mentioned here is the Roud book that I mentioned. If it is the one that you are referring to then you are pretty wide of the mark. Steve Roud is writing about the songs, their origins, how they entered the tradition, how the process of the oral tradition seems to have worked and the central importance of the printed versions. The individual singers are hardly mentioned at all and the very few that are are not "fawned upon".
Apologies if I have misinterpreted your reference.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 22 Jan 18 - 01:49 PM

yes it was a gross and impertinent comment on my part.
i apologise.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: keberoxu
Date: 22 Jan 18 - 02:22 PM

don't mind me, here.
it's just that when I think of something haunting,
this is the one.

Peter Green singing "Jumping At Shadows"


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: meself
Date: 22 Jan 18 - 02:31 PM

Thanks for that, Keb.... I'm not a huge electric-guitar fan - but that is amazing.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: GUEST,keberoxu
Date: 22 Jan 18 - 03:19 PM

Agreed, Mudcatter meself.

It is almost operatic
and I mean that as a high compliment.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Gurney
Date: 22 Jan 18 - 10:31 PM

There is a NZ song on a similar theme, hating the job in the meatworks. It's called Gutboard Blues, and there is a rendition on Youtube if anyone is interested.
My favourite cover is by the late Marcus Turner, where he takes it at a little faster tempo.


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 26 Jan 18 - 05:01 AM

"I believe the song refers to the huge abattoirs in Chicago in the 19th and earlier 20th century when vast flocks of cattle were brought in by train from the Mid-West States. These slaughterhouses were largely staffed by black workers..."

Newspapers.com has 1,329 hits for "killing floor" "cattle" from 1880-1949.

"any contemporary Afro-American" I definitely like Buddy Guy's blues singing better than Robert Johnson's. I'd rather listen to Tracy Chapman sing "Gimme One Reason" than to Johnson, although I think he was an excellent singer. Agree that Jerron Paxton is talented.

"they are still far from the real thing" Skip James didn't sing like Charlie Patton, Patton didn't sing like Frank Stokes, Stokes didn't sing like Willie McTell, Jimmy Witherspoon didn't sing like any of them, Freddy King sang another way, etc. But the measure of Jack Bruce is whether he sang like... who?


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Johnny J
Date: 26 Jan 18 - 07:22 AM

The Electric Flag version featured LBJ, as I recall.
:-)))


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Subject: RE: hard time killing floor blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 26 Jan 18 - 03:20 PM

me using some blues techniques to tell a story


https://soundcloud.com/denise_whittle/the-ballad-of-herbert-leonard-mills


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