Bessie Jones - vocals, percussion; Big John Davis - vocals, percussion; Henry Morrison - vocals, percussion; Emma Ramsay - vocals, percussion; Mable Hillary - vocals, percussion
This astonishing and very rare live recording of folk/gospel/blues icon Bessie Jones, made with her acclaimed vocal group, the Georgia Sea Singers, is truly an American treasure. Jones, who was discovered in 1959 by legendary archivist Alan Lomax, remained unknown until she and the singers made a trip to New York City in 1961, where they were warmly embraced by the growing folk and acoustic blues movement.
The show, which also features some previously unknown titles, is a testament to the historical importance of Jones' artistry. "I'm Gonna Lay Down My Life For My Lord," "I'm A Soldier In The Army Of The Lord," and "Read 'Em John" are seriously righteous Gospel gems, and Jones' soulful vocals drive their emotional weight deep into the heart of the listener.
The show concludes with "Come On And Go With Me To My Father's House," which is a prime example of the loose, powerful songs that Jones and her singers perform in such a special way. The song is quite open, which allows the singers to express themselves individually, though they keep it structured enough so they are all on the same page and contributing to the heart of the song. The balance that they strike is very difficult to attain.
Born in 1902 in Lacrosse, Florida, Jones learned to sing traditional folk, gospel, and blues songs from her grandfather, Jet Samson. Samson, who was born in 1836 and died at the age of 105 in 1941, was brought to the American South to work as a slave when he was a young boy. He taught her the bulk of her material from the spirituals he sang while working on the plantations of Virginia and Georgia. Jones founded the Georgia Sea Singers, whom she performed with for decades. Lomax decided to come to the cotton fields and industrial complexes of the South in the late 1950s to search out and archive traditional music. Among his findings was Jones, a passionate, powerful vocalist, whom he immediately took to. He recorded both her music and her life story (she later became an author) and helped launch her into the growing folk and blues circuit.
Jones' music was first released along side many other African-American southern artists on Lomax's 1960 collection titled Southern Journey. The collection features 12 volumes, and it contains a substantial amount of Jones' recorded work. Originally released by Prestige Records, Rounder Records re-released the collection in the late-'90s for improved public consumption.
In 2001, Rounder Records finally released the definitive collection of her recorded music: Put Your Hand on Your Hip, and Let Your Backbone Slip: Songs and Games From the Georgia Sea Islands. The 31-track collection features Jones performing emotive spirituals ("Amazing Grace" "Daniel In The Lion's Den"), as well as secular songs ("Shoo Turkey" and the seven-minute "Kindlin' Wood"). It is a great introduction to her musical world. Jones died in 1984 and was immortalized, in part, nearly two decades after her death when electronic pop artist Moby first sampled her Lomax recordings on his popular single, 1999's "Honey."
This recording of Bessie Jones was captured in June of 1963 at the historic Ash Grove club in Los Angeles. Between 1958 and 1973, the Ash Grove was known as a musical sanctuary for some of the greatest and most influential folk, blues, gospel, bluegrass, and rock 'n' roll acts ever to perform in the U.S.
Written by Alan Bershaw