The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Second Edition, 1989, edited by Donald Clarke) defines a tribute album as an album “of various artists paying tribute to another artist.”
Given my fondness for a good cover, you’d think I would have more tribute albums in my music collection. I do have a few, but there’s really only one that I take down off the shelf and listen to with any frequency.
That album is Things About Comin’ My Way: A Tribute to the Music of the Mississippi Sheiks.
The idea for this album was formulated one day by Steve and Alice Dawson while sitting in their kitchen listening to The Mississippi Sheiks. Steve is an award-winning record producer and truly extraordinary guitarist from Vancouver, Canada. About a year and half after conception, the couple released Things About Comin’ My Way on October 20, 2009, through their now Nashville-based record company, Black Hen Music.
Who or what was The Mississippi Sheiks?
The Mississippi Sheiks was the most prominent and successful African-American string band of the 1930s. They have proven to be the most important and influential string band from that era – Black or White – as well.
During the course of their five year recording career, The Sheiks recorded in the neighborhood of 70 original tunes. Their biggest hit was “Sitting on Top of the World.” This commonly “borrowed from” and frequently covered song is a certified American Roots Music classic and was a 2008 inductee into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
None other than Muddy Waters once said: “I knowed the Mississippi Sheiks. Yessir. Walked ten miles to see them play. They was high-time… making’ them good records, man.”
The performing version of the band was made up from the various members of the Chatmon Family from Bolton, Mississippi: siblings Sam, Lonnie, Edgar, Harry, Fred, Josie, Willie, Bert, Laurie and Armenter, along with their father, Henderson and mother, Eliza.
On record, however, The Mississippi Sheiks were most often just violinist Lonnie Chatmon and singer/guitarist Walter Vinson. The first time this duo recorded was on February 17, 1930, in Shreveport, Louisiana for OKeh Records.
On June 12, 1930, Lonnie and Walter recorded again for OKeh, this time in San Antonio, Texas. One of the songs they cut was called “Bootlegger’s Blues.”
On Things About Comin’ My Way, one of the best of the 17 totally outstanding tracks is a rousing and robust rendering of “Bootlegger’s Blues” by Oh Susanna.
Here’s that recording. Give a listen. You’ll be glad you did!
Oh Susanna is the stage name of Canadian singer/songwriter Suzie Ungerleider. Ms. Ungerleider launched her career in 1996 with the release of a self-produced 7-song cassette album. Eight full-length albums later, she is a multiple award-winning and internationally-acclaimed performer and recording artist.
Accompanying Oh Susanna on “Bootlegger’s Blues” were:
- Steve Dawson – National Tricone Guitar, Weissenborn Guitar
- Keith Lowe – Bass
- Matt Chamberlain – Drums
- Jesse Zubot – Violins and Violas
- Peggy Lee – Cellos
- Cam Giroux – Backup Vocals
- Van Dyke Parks – String Arrangement
(Bonus points to whoever thought of adding backup vocals and making the chorus call-and-response!)
Finally, for comparison purposes and your listening pleasure, here is the original 1930 recording of “Bootlegger’s Blues” by The Mississippi Sheiks. It comes from the 2004 Columbia Records CD Honey Babe Let The Deal Go Down: The Best Of The Mississippi Sheiks.
The musicians on that recording were:
- Walter Vinson – Guitar & Vocals
- Lonnie Chatmon – Violin
As I always say, “Good music doesn’t get old.”
As The Mississippi Sheiks said, “You got to make it to the woods, if you can.”
Still a good idea.