Sunday, August 2, 2009
Black ballads (5) : Crimes of passion
Mississippi John Hurt - Frankie (buy) (1928)
Leadbelly -Ella Speed (buy) (1944)
Man-to-woman murder, or the opposite, is very common in the blues, and it was the subject of ballads too : the two above, but also "Delia", sung by Willie McTell and brilliantly covered by Johnny Cash in 1994. What is more appealing and thrilling than passion and murder, treason and love gone mad ?
Of course the most famous of all is "Frankie and Albert", "Frankie and Johnny" or just "Frankie" in the Mississippi John Hurt version. You will find anything you need to know about it here in this Wikipedia article, and once again, at the Old Weird America, where you can download dozens of different versions of the song by blues, hillbilly, jazz and pop artists.
"Ella Speed" is based on the story of a New Orleans mulatto prostitute (an "octoroon") who was shot by Louis "Bull" Martin, a white man of Italian origin who was in love with her. She was married and had turned him down.
In Leadbelly's rendition, Bull Martin becomes Bill Martin. You can read more about the song story here in a post about the Mance Lipscomb version recorded by Chris Strachwitz in 1960. A good transition to my next post, as you will see in a few days.