Thursday, December 17, 2009
Blues Standards : Ain't Nobody's Business
Bessie Smith - T'ain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do (buy) (1923)
Jimmy Witherspoon - Ain't Nobody's Business (buy) (1947)
Here's one of these blues standards that was sung by almost everybody.
If you think it's by Eric Clapton, you're wrong (again)...
The theme of this song is universal and holds in the title : it's a song of freedom. Freedom from the universal "what will the neighbors say ?".
That's the reason why it became so popular among the public but also among the artists, whose private lives are so often threatened and scrutinized.
According to French scholar Gerard Herzhaft's Encyclopédie du blues, the song has a blackface/vaudeville origin and the first influential version was recorded by Bessie Smith in 1923, and composed by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins. It seems that a few other "classic blues" lady singers waxed it around 1922-23 (Sara Martin and Alberta Hunter).
According to the Traditional Ballad Index, this song dates back to 1911 and shouldn't be confused with another one that was recorded by African American Black entertainer Bert Williams in 1919, and which is about a preacher trying to protect his own private life. The lyrics of William's version are different, but the subject is the same.
But "Nobody's Business" was really made famous by Jimmy Witherspoon when he recorded it with Jay McShann orchestra in late 1947. The song was a #1 hit for Spoon in 1949 and became one of his signature tunes, that he recorded many times. I posted the original version (parts 1 & 2), but there's a Chess recording from 1958 that is excellent too.
Spoon's rendition became the reference for a lot of covers in the 1950s and afterwards (Billie Holiday, BB and Freddie King, Ike and Tina Turner among others).
But there's another version, more rural, less urban, that was recorded many times in the 1920's and after by both black and white artists, with a different melody.
Here are the Earl Johnson (hillbilly fiddler from Georgia)and Frank Stokes (Memphis bluesman) versions :
Earl Johnson - Ain't Nobody's Business (buy) (1927)
Frank Stokes - 'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do (buy) (1928)
This different, folky version was also sung by Mississippi John Hurt (before Stokes, in february 1928), country singer Riley Puckett (several recordings between 1935 and 1941), and by Piedmont blues singer John Jackson in 1965. Taj Mahal recorded a similar version in 1976.