Essays – Clara Smith 78 Moan No.1

A CLARA SMITH 78 MOAN-No. 1 (Two-Way Influential Links Between Clara Smith & The Rural Blues) – by Max Haymes

LISTENING Groove-A [3 titles]

On  a wintry day in New York City during the month of November in 1926, Clara Smith stepped up to the microphone to record four songs, accompanied by the fine pianist Lemuel Fowler.  The second title of this session was Ease It  [Columbia 14202-D]

A smouldering vocal as only she could deliver, this was an obviously risqué song cloaked in the subject of needing money from her man. This unfortunate individual was one of the black working men who had a regular day job; referred to derisively by early blues singers as ‘a monkey man’ (there were also monkey women).  Clara describes his  meagre wages as his “ones an’ twos” or counted in 1 or 2 dollar denominations  rather than tens and twenties.


  1. Red hot mama, had a monkey man;
    She called him ‘Sugar Plum’.
    He didn’t know how come.
    He was just as dumb.
  1. Every pay day when this dumb baby would collect his ones an’ twos;
    His red hot mama would find her dummy an’ sing these weary blues.
    Ref:        Ease it here, babe. Don’t hold it so long.
    Give me all, babe, or don’t give me none.
  1. There’s one thing I can’t live without;
    If you know what I am talking about.
    Ref:        Ease it here, babe. Don’t hold it so long.
    Ease it here, babe. Don’t hold it so long.
    Give me all, babe, or don’t give me none.  (1)

Then comes the sting in the tail as she tells how she uses the monkey man’s weekly wage to keep her outside lover, or ‘back door man’.

  1. Now, it’s ashes to ashes an’ sand to sand;
    Every married woman’s got a a back door man.
    Ref:        Ease it here, babe. Don’t hold it so long.   (2)

Some 2 years later, another female singer in a vaudeville blues style with rural undertones, sang on the same subject but called it Pay Day Daddy Blues [Paramount 12635].  This was the second of her two versions.  She gives more detail of how her monkey man keeps her ‘sweet man’, with a rather cruel irony and some surrealist humour.

  1. I call ‘im my monkey man, he got no sense at all. (x 2)
    He take care of my sweet man, people, an’ that ain’t all.
  2. My pay day daddy’s money irons my sweet man’s clothes. ( x2)
    He got two airplanes, my monkey man paid for those. (3)

And acknowledges the Clara Smith source with a fine moaned verse before concluding that her pay day daddy is unwittingly subsidising his wife’s lover.

  1. When Saturday come, my pay day daddy, he’s on time. (x 2)
    Who gives me his money to give to that sweet man of mine. (4)

The singer Elzadie Robinson, thought to be from the Shreveport area in Louisiana, cut this 2nd. version of Pay Day Daddy Blues in c. May 1928.  The initial one is listed in B. & G.R. as “c. April 1928.” (5)

Barbecue Bob from Georgia and based in Atlanta, probably picked up the Elzadie song, using Clara’s title and extending it.  On 21st. April 1928, he recorded  his Ease It To Me Blues    [Columbia 14614-D].  Bob makes his blues  a blatantly sexual one to a woman he desires; playing some driving 12- string guitar.

  1. Some people long to have plenty money, some want their wine an’ song;
    Some long to have-a plenty money, some want their wine an’ song.
    All I crave is my sweet mama that I dreams ‘bout all night long.
  1. Once I had a dove-sweet mama, I didn’t treat her right;
    Once I had a sweet mama, I didn’t treat her right.
    She did left this town with a teasin’ brown, an’ her name was Mandy White.
  1. Lord, I’m leavin’ town today;
    I’m leavin’ town today.
    When I find that gal, this is what I’m goin’ to say.
  1. I’ve got those ‘Slip It To Me-Ease It To Me-Mama, Don’t Hold It Back’;
    Lord. I’ve got those ‘Slip It To Me-Ease It To Me-Mama, Don’t Hold It Back.
    Let Me Have, Have Your Lovin’ Blues.’  (6)

LISTENING Groove-B [5 titles]

Barbecue Bob’s older brother, who recorded as ‘Charlie Lincoln’, also drew on an earlier Clara Smith song.  In fact it was her first release: Every Woman’s Blues [Columbia A3943].  She moans:

Well, there ain’t no love, there ain’t no getting’ along. (x 2)
My brown treats me so mean, sometimes I don’t know right from wrong. (7)

Charlie (or Charley) Lincoln matches Clara’s regal, slowed-down vocal style when he cut My Wife Drove Me From My Door [Columbia 14305-D] in 1927; his 12-string guitar moaning there along with him.

Well, it t’ain’t no love. Sure ain’t no getting’ along;
Well, it t’ain’t no love, mama. Sure ain’t no gettin’ along.
Says, my brown treat me so mean that I don’t know right from wrong. (8)

Yet another Georgia blues singer, Kokomo Arnold, adapted a further verse from Every Woman’s Blues for his famous Milk Cow Blues  some 11 years later.  Her words ran in part:

You can read your hymn book.
Read your bible.
Read your history.
An’ your Speller, on down. (9)

Kokomo adapted this verse  and shaped his initial issue for Decca in 1934 including his superb falsetto and mesmerising bottleneck guitar.

Now, you can read out your hymn book;
Preach out your bible.
Fall down on your knees an’ pray;
The good Lord to help you.
‘Cos you gon’ NEED, you gon’ NEED my help some day. (10)

Clara’s song also included the lines:

Don’t never let no one man worry your mind. (x 2)
Just you suit four an’ five, messed up all the time. (11)

This amoral (or immoral, depending on your own beliefs) approach to relationships was to appear in the early rural blues  by the mid 1920s. Calling themselves The Beale Street Sheiks, Frank Stokes and Dan Sane-twin guitar wizards- recorded It’s A Good Thing [Paramount 12518] and picking up on Clara’s suggestion with a vengeance. Proceeding at a frantic pace Frank Stokes punches out his rap with the speed of  machine gun fire.

Ain’t it a good thing.
Ain’t it a good thing.
Ain’t it a good thing, to have more than one.

Now, when I was-a young gotten in my prime.
Six days, different women all the time.
Had a woman, God, her name was Lou.
Take God Almighty tell what the woman would do.

Another woman, God, her name was Jenny.
Talk to white folks, black folks, she wouldn’t choose any.
Another woman, God, her name was Mattie.
She’s a-slippin’ an’ a-dartin’  in-a some dark alley.

I get drunk an’ love to have my fun.
Most all the women got more than one.

Ain’t it a good thing.
Ain’t it a good thing.
Ain’t it a good thing.
To have more than one.
One woman never do. (12)

Meanwhile, yet another Georgia man, Willie Baker, put his take on record in 1929. A great singer and 12-string guitarist, he abandoned the fast rap  approach of Frank Stokes and slowed the song right down in tempo in an attempt  no doubt to emulate the low-down moaning atmosphere as featured by Clara Smith.  After a short spoken introduction he proceeds in his rich and gritty vocal accompanied by ringing bottleneck guitar.

Spoken: Yes! I’m always have more than one.

When I was young, in my prime;
I kept a gang of women all the time. (13)

On another earlier session, Clara  recorded Down South Blues [Columbia A 3961] which included these lines:

Goin’ back South if I wear out 99 pair of shoes;
I’m goin’ back South if I wear out 99 pair of shoes.
‘Cos I’m broken hearted and got these ‘Down South Blues’. (14)

Two other versions were made of this title which also included the ’99 shoes’ verse. These were by vaudeville blues singers: Rosa Henderson and Hannah Sylvester. The Lena Wilson disc remains undiscovered.  Henderson had cut her side slightly before Clara’s. (see Table 1). And this had just been preceded by the earliest on record by Alberta Hunter.  But although  on the same theme, Ms. Hunter’s has almost entirely different lyrics and excludes the ’99 shoes’ verse, at least on 3 of the 4 takes that have been found. This latter title is much more of a vaudeville-cum popular song  as opposed to Clara’s low-down blues atmosphere.  Indeed, this is also true of the offerings by Rosa Henderson and Hannah Sylvester, to some extent, even though singing the Clara Smith song.


Table 1




Alberta Hunter (Tk.-1,-2,-3,-4)
Rosa Henderson
Clara Smith
Hannah Sylvester
Lena Wilson
Coletha Simpson
Scrapper Blackwell
Sleepy John Estes
Willie (Boodle It) Right
Jazz Gillum
May 1923. N.Y.C.
c. 28th. June 1923. N.Y.C.
Friday, 27th. July. 1923. N.Y.C.
c. 21st. September 1923. N.Y.C.
c. November 1923. N.Y.C.
Monday, 15th./ April 1929. Chicago
Tuesday, 24th. November 1931. Richmond. Indiana.
Tuesday, 9th. July 1935. Chicago.
Moday,7th. October 1940. Chicago.
Friday,5th. December 1941

 Apparently the initial ad. for a Clara Smith recording in the black press: p.20, Pittsburgh Courier. 20th. October 1923. Note the reference to her moaning style and “the mean minors she moans this month.”

Although Alberta recorded the first version of this title it is not the same song as the one recorded by Clara, Rosa, and Hannnah, and does not include the ’99 shoes’ verse.  Initially, it was reported that she and Fletcher Henderson were its composers; according to a jazz source on the internet.  However, checking through her excellent biography, Alberta refers to both Henderson and vaudeville blues singer Ethel Waters.  Apparently both of the latter had at some stage attempted to stake a ‘claim’ in Alberta’s song.  But subsequently her biographers stated:  “Ethel had written another letter, as did Fletcher Henderson, saying that they had not participated in writing the lyrics or music of   Alberta’s ‘Down South Blues’…listed on a royalty contract dated August 23 1923, that Alberta Hunter later acquired and hung on to as proof of this hanky panky.” (15)  So the first Down South Blues composer credits should read ‘Alberta Hunter’.

However, Rosa Henderson recorded the second disc of this title which is lyrically identical to Clara’s own version, except for one additional verse, and a different song to Alberta Hunter’s; even if the theme remained the same. The date given for Rosa’s song is listed as “c. 28. June 1923”   in Blues & Gospel Records (B. & G.R.).  The ‘c’ in the Henderson date could imply it was a few weeks later-say 28th. July.  The day after Clara recorded her song.  Or Rosa saw her in live performance but got to the studio first.  The elusive Lena Wilson issue is almost certain to be the last of the four discs  featuring the ’99 shoes’ verse, also recorded in 1923, which I believe was introduced by Clara Smith.  The remaining 5 titles in Table 1 are different songs even from each other.

But in 1928, Peg Leg Howell, again from Georgia, utilised the ’99 shoes’ verse in his unrelated Walkin’ Blues [Columbia  14456-D]:

I’m goin’ down South, wear 99 pair o’ shoes;
I’m goin’ down South, mama, wear 99 pair o’ shoes.
I’m gonna keep-a walkin’ ‘til I lose these blues. (16)


1. ‘Ease It’ Clara Smith vo.; Lemuel Fowler pno. Tuesday,23rd. November 1926. New York City, New York. (143141-3)
2. Ibid.
3.   ‘Pay Day Daddy Blues’ Elzadie Robinson vo.,speech, moaning; Johnny Dodds clt.; Blind Blake gtr., whistle; prob.Jimmy Blythe pno. May 1928. Chicago, Illinois.(20584-1,-2)
4. Ibid.
5.   Dixon R.M.W. J.Godrich. H.Rye p.763.
6.   ‘Ease It To Me Blues’ Barbecue Bob vo.gtr. Saturday, 21st. April 1928. Atlanta, Georgia. (148173-2)
7.   ‘Every Woman’s Blues’ Clara Smith vo.; Fletcher Henderson pno. mid or late June 1923. New York City, New York.(81060-5)
8.   ‘My Wife Drove Me From My Door Charley Lincoln vo.gtr., speech.  Friday, 4th. November 1927. Atlanta, Georgia.(145106-1)
9.  ‘Every Woman’s Blues’ Ibid.
10. ‘Milk Cow Blues’ Kokomo Arnold vo.gtr., Monday, 7th. September 1934. Chicago, Illinois.(C-9428-B)
11. ‘Every Woman’s Blues’ Ibid.
12.  ‘It’s A Good Thing’ Beale Street Sheiks: Frank Stokes vo.gtr.; Dan Sane gtr.September 1927. Chicago, Illinois.(20044-1,-2)
13.  ‘Ain’t It A Good Thing’ Willie Baker vo.gtr., speech. Monday, 11th. March 1929. Richmond, Indiana.(14893-A)
14.  ‘Down South Blues’ Clara Smith vo,; Fletcher Henderson pno.Friday, 27th. July 1923. New York City. New York.(81151-3)
15.  Dixon & Co. Ibid. p.380.
16.  ‘Walkin’ Blues’ Peg Leg Howell vo.gtr. Tuesday, 30th. October 1928. Atlanta, Georgia.(147345-2)


‘Mississippi’ Max Haymes

6th. August 2017.

[a fairly brief preview to ‘Queen of the Moaners’ (survey of the life and recordings of Clara Smith. (wip)