Monday, October 11, 2010


I have been exploring "the blues" on my organ. There are a lot of choices (I have the Prestige) and sometimes I just play the same piece in each of them to see what the differences are. It follows that I would begin to take an interest in W. C. Handy, the Father of the Blues.

W. C. Handy was the son of the pastor of a small church in Alabama. He was born in a log cabin which had been built by his grandfather, who after his emancipation became a an African Methodist Episcopal minister. That log cabin has been preserved in downtown Florence, Alabama. When W.C. brought his first guitar with money he saved by picking fruits and nuts, and making lye soap behind his father's back. When he brought the guitar into the home, his father asked him what possessed him to bring such a sinful thing into their Christian home. He made his son return the guitar and enrolled him in organ lessons. The organ lessons did not last. W.C. joined a teen band and purchased a cornet from a fellow band member. All of this he kept from his parents.

Handy worked in the "shovel brigade" at the McNabb furnace which produced iron ore. The workers would beat their shovels against the "iron buggies" and the scraping sounds of the shovels as they were thrust and pulled became music. Handy said ".....The effect was sometimes remarkable ...It was better to us than the music of a martial drum corps, and our rhythms were far more complicated." He also noted,
"Southern Negroes sang about everything....They accompany themselves on anything from which they can extract a music sound or rhythmical effect..." and noted that that became the material for the mood we now call "blues."

W. C. wrote a lot of pieces. A whole list is available over the internet, which if you are reading this, you do have access to. Soem of the ones I have worked with are
"Memphis Blues" which is political satire; "St. Louis Blues" ; "Beale Street Blues" which was his farewell to the old Beale Street of Memphis. As we all know, Beale Street did not go away and is still the cradle of the Blues. He also wrote "Yellow Dog Blues" which referenced the Southern Railway; "Loveless Blues" which was a complaint over modern synthetics - ("with milkless milk and silkless silk, we're growing used to soulless soul.") "Long Gone John" which was a tribute to a famous bank robber. "Chantez-Les-Bas" (Sing 'em Low) a tribute to the Creole culture of New Orleans. "Ole Miss Rag". There are probably others that are not listed here.

W. C. Handy went blind after a fall in a subway in New York. He was widowed twice;
his third wife was his secretary who, he said, had become his eyes. He wrote five books: Blues: And Anthology of Words and M of 53 Great Songs; Book of Negro Spirituals; Father of the Blues: And Autobiography; Unsung Americans Sing; Negro Authors and Composers of the United States.

W. C. Handy - 1873 - 1958.
Ref. Wikipedia (the free encyclopedia).

Play some blues. the Lowrey Organs have a variety of styles: Chicag0 Blues, Slow EZ Blues, Organ Blues, Sweet Rhythm, Texas Blues, Duke's Blues. Pick out a Handy blues piece, put in any rhythm and as you the song, change from one blues rhythm to another. You will get different instrumentation as well as different beats. Have fun with it. Personally, I alike Memphis Blues. But I think I might like some of the others if I could find them in Fake Book music.

If you know more about this interesting musical personality, put an answer on my blog or e-mail me at

Keep a song in your heart and keep the music playing.


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