Big Bill Broonzy discusses the blues ; part 2
BROADCAST: Jul. 22, 1953 | DURATION: 00:09:08
Big Bill Broonzy discusses the blues and growing up in Arkansas with parents who were former slaves. He talks about the family dynamic and sings: "Willie Mae", "Crawdad song", "Going down this road feeling bad" and "John Henry".
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Big Bill Broonzy Because because they don't do that, see. It's the same as if there's something I want to tell a man that I didn't like, I'd tell him through a song. But I would never use his name, you know? It's the same thing if you loved a woman, you wouldn't, you wouldn't come out and say, the same as the song "Willie Mae." Now, to sing a song about Willie Mae, why, Willie Mae, you know, is
Big Bill Broonzy
Because because they don't do that, see. It's the same as if there's something I want to tell a man that I didn't like, I'd tell him through a song. But I would never use his name, you know? It's the same thing if you loved a woman, you wouldn't, you wouldn't come out and say, the same as the song "Willie Mae." Now, to sing a song about Willie Mae, why, Willie Mae, you know, is -- She could be anybody. That's it, see. You just take the name Willie Mae, but it might It means a woman that I'm A It -[content
Studs Terkel Willie Mae, or whatever her name might be. Bill, what other part of life haven't we dealt with? How about children? Now, I don't know if there are blues songs about them but there are songs about children that you do know, I know, with that guitar in your travels you've come across children, you've heard them sing, I guess you've heard mothers sing to children, perhaps you yourself
Big Bill Broonzy Yes, some of those, a lot of those old, old songs that a lot of people get them tangled up with different -- Well, same as a lot of people have told me in my traveling around the world that, all Negroes that sing, see, sings jazz. But to us, to us, I mean to me and all the Negroes that I've talked with, the jazz musicians and the ones that sing popular and ballads and things, they think it's different. They think, well, according to some of the people in the world that I've met since I've been traveling in Europe, they've told me that me and Mahalia sings the same thing. It's all the same.
Big Bill Broonzy Well, I know, I hope we, I hope to do some good for the, for the American Negro blues singers. That's what, that's -- Them the people I want to help because the people like Marian Anderson, they don't need no help.
Big Bill Broonzy Billy Eckstine and fellows like them, them people, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, all those people, they don't need no help. It's the blues singers is the one that's getting kicked in the face all the time, you know, because the blues, they're trying to, look like they're trying to get the real blues out of, out of circulation. They're trying to get to, more bop into it.
Studs Terkel You feel, in other words, that people are a little scared of the real thing, some-- In this world of ours today they get scared of something that's too real, and they shy away from it and they mess it up, is that what you mean?
Big Bill Broonzy Yes, my, it's my fourth trip. And they hire me and pay me a big salary to go all the way to Europe to play. And they said they don't want nothing but the real blues, and when I get there and the agent talk to me and send me out on the stage, he wants me to play "Frank and Johnny" and all, "Old Man Rivers
Big Bill Broonzy Well, we didn't really call it a children's song, but I known old people down there at, in my hometown down around there, they -- The first guy that I heard singing this thing was a guy they called Fast Black. He used to play with my uncle and also with this guy C.C. Rider.
Big Bill Broonzy He played a guitar that he made out of a good box and he used to play that and he used to travel around, and he told me that he'd been up in Kentucky and Tennessee and he worked in the coal mines and up in there and he come back with this new new song and they called it "Crawdads."
Studs Terkel "Crawdad."
Big Bill Broonzy Well, I've heared after after he stayed around and sung it, everybody liked it, and after that then the older women then used to, the women that had kids and I've hear them sing it and sing it as a lullaby, you know? So after we got to playing it round, we'd start it off as a lullaby or something like that, and then we'd jazz it up, you know?
Studs Terkel How
Studs Terkel That's great. Tremendous. I'm trying to think of a way now to wind up this little meeting, this get-together we're having here, Bill, and when I think of Bill Broonzy, I think of another pretty big man named John Henry. John Henry, the steel driving man. Now, we call you the king of blues singers, John Henry was the king of the steel drivers. When did you, how did you first come across John Henry?
Big Bill Broonzy When I was a kid, yeah. And those those songs like, they have, there's no end to songs like that, "Frank and Johnny" and "John Henry" and "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad," that's a song my uncle used to say and used to sing when they was really in trouble and they had to go to work at a place and they didn't want to work there. And they had to go anyway, and so they'd be going down the road, and maybe 50 or 60 of them lined up to go to this place to work, and they'd start singing that song. I'll play you a verse so you
Big Bill Broonzy sung Well, that's the way the Negroes used to sing it. My dad and my uncle, my dad would sing it, and my uncle used to play it on a banjo. I've heard him do that plenty of times until he joined church.
Big Bill Broonzy Well, I tried it, I tried it 'way back in the 1930s. I went to New York and I run up on Brownie McGhee and Josh White and Lead Belly and Pete Seeger and also Burl Ives, all of them and I'd hear, I'd hear different way they played it and I tried it but I couldn't play, I couldn't pick it, I wasn't good enough to pick it on a guitar. So I happened to get in a place and they wanted to hear me play it. And they kept wanting me to sing it. Well, I knowed the words, I had been knowing it for years, but I couldn't play it. You know, what on on my guitar. So I just decided, I said, "Well, everybody everywhere I go, they want to hear it, so I'm just going to play it my way, if they like it it's all right and if they don't like it it's all right.
Big Bill Broonzy So I just figured out me a way and I just play it just like we play a fast-time blues, you know? You get tired of playing slow, and we play fast, you know? So I just decided I'd learn how to play, I just play it the way that I play it.
Studs Terkel "A man ain't nothing but a man." That's that lyric in there, Bill. I think that's about as good a way as any as we can wind up this little talk we had here. Bill Broonzy, Big Bill Broonzy, so far as I'm concerned just about the greatest blues singer in the world. Just had a little talk with Big Bill Broonzy. Thanks very much, Bill, and I think your songs and your singing and your work and you're the man who will be remembered for a long, long time to come and I think you have contributed a great deal and an overwhelming richness to