47,48,49 “Judgement” by Rev. Sister Mary Nelson, “He Got Better Things For You” by Memphis Sanctified Singers, “Since I Laid My Burden Down” by Elders McIntorsh & Edwards8
January 3, 2011 by gadaya
After the old sounds of Rev. Gates’s “lining hymns” and the shape-note singers, the Anthology moves on to some black religious singing by diverse Memphis artists who recorded at the end of the 1920’s. “Judgement” by Rev. Sister Mary Nelson is a unaccompanied vocal trio performance with the big roaring masculine voice of Sister Nelson with her son (or grandson) Clarence Nelson and John Davis joining her on the chorus. A member of the Pentecostal Church, owning possibly her own store-front church, she recorded 4 sides for Vocalion in 1927.
The B-side of “Judgement” was called “The Royal Telephone”, a then new trend in Gospel music: using contemporary images to speak of the Holy. On this track, the contrast between Sister Mary Nelson rough voice and the delicate and youthful voice of Clarence Nelson is particulary striking.
“The Royal Telephone”
The other record by Sister Mary Nelson coupled a powerful sermon (Isaiah LV) with another fine Gospel song (The Seal of God) sung in the same style as the two previous one.
“The Seal of God”
The Memphis Sanctified Singers were a Pentacostal church group led by mississippian Bessie Johnson, with Melinda Taylor and Sally Sumler on vocal and Will Shade on guitar. Shade was the leading member of The Memphis Jug Band, one of the finest Jug band of these years. Apparently, the sound of secular bands like Will Shade’s Memphis Jug Band could very well be mixed with Sanctified singing as many recordings from these years testified.
“He Got Better Things For You”
Here’s a nice quote from writer Grail Marcus concerning this side by Bessie Johnson’s Memphis Sanctified Singers:
“I went home and put the Anthology on. I had read somewhere that, in the Fifties, the photographer and film-maker Robert Frank used to listen to the twentieth song on the ‘Social Music’ discs, the Memphis Sanctified Singers’ 1929 ‘He Got Better Things for You’, over and over, as if there didn’t need to be any other music in the world. I’d tried to hear something of what he must have heard; I never could. But this day it was all there-as if, again, it had all been obvious.
Smith hadn’t credited the singers individually, no doubt because he couldn’t find their names. In the supplemental notes to the 1997 reissue by the folklorist Jeff Place, you find them: Bessie Johnson, leading, followed by Melinda Taylor and Sally Sumner, with Will Shade, of the Memphis Jug Band, on guitar. Johnson starts out deliberately, with small, measured steps. ‘Kind friends, I want to tell you,’ she says in a friendly way. Then her almost mannish vibrato deepens; it’s getting rougher, harder, with every pace. When she says ‘Jesus Christ, my saviour,’ he’s hers, not yours. Her throat seems to shred. With that roughness, and the roughness of the words that follow-‘He got the Holy Ghost and the fire’-right away it’s an angry God that’s staring you in the face. Uncle Dave Macon, agent of Satan? This is much scarier. But then, as the first verse is ending, the whole performance, the whole world, seems to drop back, to drop down, to almost take it all back, the threat, the rebuke, the condemnation. Every word is made to stand out starkly, right up to the point of the title phrase. ‘He got better things for you’-the phrase seems to slide off Bessie Johnson’s tongue, to disappear in the air, leaving only the suggestion that if you listened all the way into this song your life would be completely transformed.”
Will Shade playing the washtube bass
-Here are two other recordings by Bessie Johnson’s Memphis Sanctified Singers:
“No Room at the Hotel”
“The Whole World in His Hands”
The next selection is “Since I Laid my Burden Down” by Elders McIntorsh & Edwards, two musicians also from the Memphis area, who were members of The Church of God In Christ and recorded six sides at the end of the 1920’s. Bessie Johnson would participate also in this recordings. Lonnie Mc Intorsh would record also a few sides on his own, still with songs in a religious vein.
“Since I Laid My Burden Down”
Another recording by McIntorsh & Edwards (and Bessie Johnson) was about the Great Mississippi flood of 1927.
On all this recordings by Memphis artists, the exuberant and joyful atmosphere of the black church is greatly felt by the listener, with a spontaneous and vibrant quality usually heard only in field recordings.
On his solo recordings Lonnie McIntorsh sound almost like a primitive african minstrel, with his unique phrasing and monochord guitar:
“Sleep on Mother Sleep on”
“The Lion and the tribes of Judah”
-All the recorded works of these Memphis artists were compiled on a Document CD called “Memphis Gospel 1927-1929). It includes all the sides by Rev. Sister Mary Nelson, Bessie Johnson and The Memphis Sanctified Singers, Elders McIntorsh & Edwards, Lonnie McIntorsh and Rev. Johnny Blakey.
|Rev. Sister Mary Nelson|
|01 – The royal telephone|
|02 – Judgment|
|03 – The seal of God|
|04 – Isaiah-LV|
|05 – Sleep on, mother sleep on|
|06 – The lion and the tribes of Judah|
|07 – Arise and shine|
|08 – How much I owe|
|Elders McIntorsh & Edwards|
|09 – What kind of man Jesus is|
|10 – Since I laid my burden down|
|11 – The 1927 flood|
|12 – The latter rain is fall|
|13 – Take a stand|
|14 – Behold! the king shall reign|
|Rev. Johnnie Blakey|
|15 – King of kings|
|16 – Jesus was here on business|
|17 – Warming by the devil`s fire|
|18 – The devil is loose in the world|
|19 – No room at the hotel|
|20 – Key to the kingdom|
|21 – One day|
|22 – The whole world in his hand|
|23 – The great reaping day|
|24 – He got better things for you|
“Since I Laid My Burden Down”
I “collected” some versions I love of this song, known as “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” or “When I Lay My Burden Down” a very popular spiritual found in the repertoire of many Bluesmen and African-American songsters, usually played with a bottleneck/slide guitar arrangement. It was of course heard a lot in the repertoire of Gospel singers of all kind and entered also the New-Orleans Jazz canon. I included some versions by white Country and Western Swing musicians and a great version by Bahamas guitar player Joseph Spence. One may notice that some sing the song as “When I lay my burden down” and others as “Since I laid my burden down” giving to the performances a rather sad or a joyful feeling. Anyway,all great Gospel songs are usually a combination of both melancholy and joy!
- Glory Glory Hallelujah Plantation Singers (Black Vocal Groups Vol. 9 1929-1942)
- Glory, Glory Hallelujah Since I Laid My Burden Down Blue Spring Mississippi Baptist Delegation (Wade in the Water, Vol. 2)
- When I Lay My Burden Down Roy Acuff (King Of The Hillbillies, Vol. I, CD C)
- When I Lay My Burden Down The Lapsey Band (Music from the South, Vol. 1: Country Brass Bands)
- When I Lay My Burden Down Cat Iron (Cat-Iron Sings Blues and Hymns)
- Since I Laid My Burden Down The Golden Echoes (Golden Age Gospel Quartets: Volume One (1947 – 1954)
- When I Lay My Burden Down Turner Junior Johnson (The Land Where the Blues Began – Alan Lomax Collection)
- When I Lay My Burden Down Annie and Mississippi Fred McDowell (You Gotta Move)
- Glory, Glory When I Lay My Burden Down Joseph Spence (The Complete Folkways Recordings, 1958)
- When I Lay My Burden Down Robert Wilkins (When I Lay My Burden Down)
- When I Lay My Burden Down Furry Lewis (When I Lay My Burden Down)
- When I Lay My Burden Down Mississippi Fred McDowell (When I Lay My Burden Down)
- When I Lay My Burdens Down The Stanley Brothers (True Bluegrass Gospel)
- Since I’ve Laid My Burden Down Mississippi John Hurt (Immortal)
- Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Mother McCollum (The Guitar Evangelists, Vol. 2, [Disc 4])
- Wake Service: As I Lay My Burden Down Magnificent Sevenths (Authentic New Orleans Jazz Funeral)
- When I Lay My Burden Down The Maddox Brothers and Rose (America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band – Vol. 1)
- When I lay my burden down Rev Edward Clayborn (The Guitar Evangelist)
- Since I Layed My Burden Down Buge Cage & Willie B. Thomas (Old Time Black Southern String Band Music)
- When I Lay My Burden Down Robert Pete Williams (Angola Prison Spirituals)
- Glory Glory Hallelujah Soul Stirrers (The Soul Stirrers)
- Glory, Glory Odetta (Let My People Go)
I hope that you’ll enjoy
all this “soul-lifting” music…
A great way to start a new year!
Best wishes to all,