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1926: Victoria Spivey


This week I'm thinking about Victoria Spivey's debut record, "Black Snake Blues," recorded in 1926.

Obviously, I'm thinking about it because I really wanted to write it up for Just One Song More, but there was just not enough room. It's an amazing record, hushed and intimate, just Spivey and a pianist going through a molasses-slow blues about leaving a bad situation in Texas and being under the control of a "mean black snake," a metaphorical synecdoche for a seducing man with an obvious sexual connotation that censors (to the degree there were any in the high-volume, rapid-turnover world of early electrical recordings) might easily have missed. Spivey was nineteen years old when she made this record, but she sounds decades older and wiser. She wrote the song (guitarist and Okeh recording artist Lonnie Johnson is co-credited), one of the few early blues women to receive writing credit; and of course when the very popular Blind Lemon Jefferson, with whom she had performed in Dallas before moving to St. Louis, recontextualized it as "Black Snake Moan" later that year, making the sexual metaphor even more explicit, it became fixed as his song in the popular imagination and in the heroic male-centered narratives of blues and rock for generations to come.

Jonathan BogartVernacular Pop