The period of the Great Depression, which was roughly the 30’s of the last century, produced some remarkable music in a whole slew of styles. But one thing about almost all of this music was that it denied the realities of what was happening to the USA at that time. However, there were two songs that in their differing ways did describe the realities of what was happening to so many people in that financial crash.
And it is the the first of these two songs I shall be looking at in this post, the second (Brother Can You Spare A Dime) I shall look at in the next post. and here is the link to that one. (Click here)
1: No One Knows You When You Are Down And Out.
Even though I am relating this song to the Great depression, it was in fact written in 1923, by a blues guitarist called Jimmy Cox, and had nothing to do with financial crashes on a national level, but was all about what happens when you go from being very rich to very poor – Obviously a very different situation to the total financial collapse of an entire country, but there are obvious parallels to be seen in the basic idea of this song and the Great Crash of 1929.
The first known recording of this song was by Bobby Leecan with the South Street Trio in 1927.
As you have heard, his version is a bit different to the one we all know and love, but it is actually the original version, and as such, it deserves to be recognised and played. And to be honest, I like its simplicity and straightforward Blues approach to the idea.
Blind Bobby Baker, another moderately obscure blues singer also recorded it in the late 20’s (1927 to be exact), but he changed the words to emphasise the depressing side of the song’s message rather more forcibly.
So here is his version, played on a very old 78 as you can see.
I rather think that the title on the video, which refers to “nobody nees you” didn’t mean nobody knees you, but needs you. Though when you think about it, both would work in the context of the song.
But if you listened carefully to the words, you will have seen what I mean about this version being truly depressing.. a real blues thus!
The first recording of the version we know, was – of course – the version recorded by Bessie Smith in 1929. This is considered to be the definitive version of this rather depressing song, though there are a couple of other versions that I shall be offering you in a minute or two. So here goes, The Great Madam Herself… Bessie Smith.
What can one say about that? Perfection, simple perfection. I could, and have, listened to Bessie Smith for hours on end, such a way with a song, and such a feeling for the whole idea in any song she sang.
Anyhow, this has now become the recognised “correct” version of this song, which continues to be recorded by almost every sort and type of musician you can imagine., and its essential message, which is that wealth is a very uncertain thing, and the realities of being wealthy or poor are very hard indeed.
OK, so now we move from the sublime real blues versions to some differing interpretations of this classic Great Depression Song… First we have a very amazing version by an enormously fat American who goes by the name of Popa Chubby who takes the song to pieces and puts it splendidly back together again with an extraordinary and wonderful guitar solo…..
That was something, wasn’t it? I really enjoyed that one, not sure I enjoyed watching him though.. probably better to listen with shut eyes and thus simply enjoy his great voice and superb guitar playing…
And next we have an odd version from a Dutch singer/artist called Herman Brood, a sort of Dutch version of Lou Reed I suppose. His interpretation of this song is entirely different to any others I have heard, and I have to confess, I like it as well… Sort of grows on me as it goes along. Anyhow, I shall be interested to hear your thoughts on this very different version of the song.
And now for yet another interpretation, we have a version played on something called a Chapman Stick… Not quite sure what that is, but it sounds rather fine…. See what you think.
And to round this sampling of this song, here is Janis Joplin’s take on it..
Nothing I can add to what she sang.. She was simply the best there was. Can you imagine what she would have been doing today if she hadn’t gone and killed herself (silly woman!!!)?
Obviously this song has been recorded by hundreds of singers and musicians over the years, but this small selection I have offered you gives a fair idea of how the song can be interpreted, and also demonstrate what a sad and bleak song it truly is. Such a depressing view of the value of friendship is hard to accept I feel, but sadly it is obviously true… And also the connection to the situation of a lot of people during the great depression is reflected horribly well in this song.
So there you go, a variety of differing versions of this standard song about pain and grief…