From the opening notes of the introduction, “Crazy Blues” sounds like a Jazz record.
But when Mamie Smith starts to sing, the music takes a turn. “I can’t sleep at night, I can’t eat a bite because the man I love, he don’t treat me right.” 32 bars in and the first line of the chorus clarifies everything: “Now I’ve got the crazy blues, since my baby went away.”
This is not a Jazz record.
Listen for yourself!
“Crazy Blues” was recorded by Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds in New York City on August 10, 1920 for OKeh Records. Ralph Peer, the recording director for OKeh in New York, supervised the session.
It was the first Blues recording by an African/American singer.
The vocalist, Mamie Smith, was 37 years old when she recorded “Crazy Blues.” She had sung and danced and played piano on the Vaudeville circuit since she was 10.
The song was written by African-American composer Perry Bradford in 1912. Originally called “Nervous Blues,” he changed the title to “Crazy Blues” for its original sheet music publication in 1915.
The members of the Jazz Hounds who accompanied Mamie Smith on this session were: Perry Bradford, piano; Ernest Elliott, clarinet; Dope Andrews, trombone; Johnny Dunn, cornet; and Leroy Parker, violin.
Today, this type of Blues is referred to as “Classic Blues:” a female vocalist with at least a piano for accompaniment, all instrumentalists playing in the Jazz style of the times.
In 1920, however, this was something new and the success of “Crazy Blues” [b/w “It’s Right Here For You (If You Don’t Get It, ‘Taint No Fault Of Mine)”] by Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds took everyone by surprize. OKeh records sold 75,000 copies of the 78-rpm disc – #4169 – in the first month after its release and 1,000,000 before six months had passed.
The success of “Crazy Blues” proved that there was a very real market for music by African-American artists. American record companies began recording and releasing such records in earnest. The door to a recording career opened for such established performing artists as Bessie Smith (“Empress of the Blues”), Alberta Hunter, Sara Martin (“The Blues Sensation of the West”), Ma Rainey (“Mother of the Blues”) and Victoria Spivey. In 1924, OKeh recorded the first male Blues singer, singer/guitarist Ed Andrews. By the late 1920’s, five different record companies competed for sales in the category that had become known as “race records.”
A few years after the release of “Crazy Blues,” Metronome magazine boldly proclaimed: “Blues are here to stay!”
As I always say, “Good music doesn’t get old.”