By Gary: Tonight we present a very early artist of the Delta/Chicago Blues… His music is not only hard to obtain but some of it is over 80 years old. So for that purpose I will use some recordings that are only 55 years old, from the Folkways People.
Big Bill Broonzy
Born June 26, 1898 – Died August 14, 1958
Hey, Hey, Baby/recorded in 1957/ It’s Just Another Song from his earlier days.
Key to the Highway/November 14/56/Words by Bill Broonzy/Music Charlie Segar
C. C. Rider (also known as See See Rider) recorded/November 14/56/Bill claimed he heard it from Ma Rainey
Shuffle Rag/recorded May 57/ Bill had many rags in his earlier music
Hush, Somebody’s Calling Me/May 57/ (This one I use to sing when I was 10 or 12)
Black, Brown and White/November 14/56/Words and Music by Bill Broonzy
Key to the Highway/date Unknown/Not a Folkways recording (earlier)
Big Bill” was born William Lee Conley Broonzy in Scott County, Mississippi on June 26, 1893 or 1898 (the exact year is unclear). While Broonzy himself claimed to be born in 1893, another source claims that Broonzy had a twin sister named Lannie Broonzy who had proof they were born on June 26, 1898.
During this time, it was common for black men to add years to their actual age in order to get a job or join the military, which may very well have been Broonzy’s case as well. Regardless, Broonzy left Mississippi in 1924 and arrived in Chicago, where he met Papa Charlie Jackson, who taught him to play guitar (Broonzy had previously been a fiddler).
Broonzy first recorded as a self-accompanied singer in 1929, and continued to record in that style.
Around 1936, he became one of the first blues singers to use a small instrumental group, including “traps” (drums) and acoustic bass as well as one or more melody instruments (horns and/or harmonica).
These discs were usually issued as Big Bill and his Chicago Five. At that time, Broonzy was recording for the American Record Corporation on their line of less expensive labels (Melotone, Perfect Records, et al).
In 1939, ARC was acquired by CBS, and Broonzy then appeared on Vocalion (later Okeh) and, after 1945, on Columbia Records.
One of his best-known songs was written at that time, “Key To the Highway“.
More earlier recordings:
These probably go back to the forties, maybe earlier.
This See See Rider is just instrumental.
Baby Please Don’t Go – probably originated in the 1930’s but this version was the Folkways recording done around 1956. *
Sixteen Tons was a huge hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford in 55, but was written by Merle Travis in 46.
Listen to Midnight Special it sounds like the 30’s.
Now Going to Chicago, is from the Black,Brown & White Album.
Southern Flood Blues is much earlier and is from Warm, Witty & Wise.
So now you see the dilemma that we writing and research staff face. When you want to post music that spans 30 years, but ends in 58, “Huston we have a problem“! The documentation for the 30’s and 40’s is not great, so we need a raise! 😉
* Just for fun, by way of comparison, here is Broonzy’s Baby Please Don’t Go covered much later by Paul Revere and The Raiders: