50 “John The Baptist” by Rev. Moses Mason

5

January 23, 2011 by gadaya

Rev. Moses Mason’s World

Judging by the eight sides he recorded in 1928 in Chicago for Paramount Records, Rev. Moses Mason, from Leake Providence, Lousiana, must have been a real character, a kind of street vendor and preacher at the same time. Under the sobriquet of Red Hot Ole Mose he recorded two sides that are unique example on records of street cries or vendor shouts. In one he personifies the “Shrimp Man” and on the other the “Tamale man” (it was called erroneously “Molly Man” by the record company). On “Shrimp Man”, Mason plays what sounds like a loud guitar-banjo and on “Molly Man” a 12-string guitar (On his two other sides with musical accompaniment he plays a regular guitar).

“Shrimp Man” by Red Hot Ole Mose

“Molly Man” by Red Hot Ole Mose

The tamale street vendor (to learn about tamale, a latin-american dish, and how it was cooked in the South, click here) was a popular figure in the South back in the 1920’s and 1930’s and one we encounter many times in recordings of those times: The famous Delta Blues singer and guitar player Robert Johnson recorded “They’re Red Hot” in 1936 in Texas, a rare example in Johnson discography of his “Ragtime Blues” repertoire.

“They’re Red Hot” by Robert Johnson

In New-Orleans too, the tamale vendor inspired Jazz musicians. We even find the girl name Molly associated with tamales (maybe Paramount didn’t make a mistake after all…)

“Hot Tamale Molly” by The Goofus Five

“Here Comes the Hot Tamale Man” by Cookie’s Gingersnaps

All the other sides by Rev. Moses Mason are sacred, and they include four sermons and two songs. In all of his sermons, John Fahey ‘s favorite “phoney preacher” sounds really possessed by his subject,  seems to run out of breath with every phrase, his voice rising in an outburst of moan and groal. In one sermon he praises the work of the Red Cross after the 1927 Mississippi Great Flood:

“Red Cross, the disciple of Christ Today”

On his two religious songs, Mason sounds more like many other “Guitar Evangelists” of the time, yet his phrasing and vocals are really unique. In “Go Wash in that Beautiful Stream” he evokes the baptism in water so important to many Black Churches:

“Go Wash in that Beautiful Stream”

John The Baptist: The Variations


“John The Baptist” by Rev. Moses Mason

This song about the itinerant preacher that baptized Jesus in the river of Jordan seems to derive from an old Spiritual called “John Done Saw That Number”. John and Ruby Lomax recorded a version by Vera Hall and Dock Reed for the Library of Congress in 1939 and included a transcription of the performance in the book “Our Singing Country”.

“John Saw Dat Number” by Vera Hall and Dock Reed recorded in Sumter County, Alabama, 1939

Another recording on this theme was made by Rev. Johnny Blakey in the 1920’s:

“John Done Saw That Holy Number” by Rev. Johnny Blakey

In these performances, the singers alternate between  recitation of the verses and the singing of a chorus with a phrase “Way up in the middle of the air” which is found in another popular religious song called “Ezekiel Saw The Wheel”. The song was in the repertoire of many black vocal religious groups in versions quite similar to the two sides I’ve chosen here, recorded in the late 1920’s:

“Ezekiel Saw The Wheel” by The West Virginia Collegiate Singers

“Ezekiel Saw The Wheel” by The C & MA Gospel Singers

-Here are Rev. Moses Mason complete recordings (found on the Document cd: “Alabama: Black secular & religious music”) plus all the other tracks from this post:

  1. Shrimp Man Moses Mason
  2. Christ Is Coming Again Moses Mason
  3. The Horse Paweth In The Valley Moses Mason
  4. Judgment Day In The Morning Moses Mason
  5. Red Cross The Disciple Of Christ Today Moses Mason
  6. Go Wash In The Beautiful Stream Moses Mason
  7. Molly Man Moses Mason
  8. Hot Tamale Molly The Goofus Five Classic Jazz – The World’s Greatest Jazz Collection 1917-193
  9. Here Comes The Hot Tamale Man Cookie’s Gingersnaps Breaking Out Of New Orleans
  10. They’re Red Hot Robert Johnson The Complete Recordings [Disc 1]
  11. John The Baptist Moses Mason
  12. John Saw dat Number Vera Hall, Dock Reed John Lomax 1939 Recording Trip
  13. John Done Saw That Holy Number  Rev. Johnny Blakey Rev. Johnny Blakey & Rev. M.L. Gipson (1927-1929)
  14. Ezekiel Saw The Wheel C & M A Gospel Singers C and M A Gospel Singers
  15. Ezekiel Saw The Wheel West Virginia Collegiate Vocal Groups Vol. 8 (1926-1935)

Click here to download


5 thoughts on “50 “John The Baptist” by Rev. Moses Mason

  1. Martin Johansson says:

    This is just superb!!

  2. tad richards says:

    This continues to be the best blog on the Internet.

  3. […] the influential guitarist and defender of “old, weird America”. The song was written by Rev Moses Mason in tribute to the relief agency’s work helping victims of the 1927 Mississippi […]

  4. […] the influential guitarist and defender of “old, weird America”. The song was written by Rev Moses Mason in tribute to the relief agency’s work helping victims of the 1927 Mississippi […]

  5. […] the influential guitarist and defender of “old, weird America”. The song was written by Rev Moses Mason in tribute to the relief agency’s work helping victims of the 1927 Mississippi […]

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