House of Bummers

mojo mojo@KOPOWER.COM
Wed Nov 27 22:51:15 EST 1996

Just FYI here: Tom had earlier mentioned that David Cohn was the writer who
gave the world the line, "The Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel
and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg." Cohn, who lived in the Mississippi
Delta -- Greenville, to be specific -- also wrote a book about the evolution
of the now-defunct Sears Big Book. It was published in 1940 and was titled,
(cough, another cough) "The Good Old Days." An introduction is provided by
Sinclair Lewis, who once worked for Sears.
   Among the very first things Cohn writes about is Sears' selling of
records containing minstrel show songs, which were extremely popular
throughout the nation and, he says, showed a false understanding of black
culture. A whole group of records was called "Negro Shouts," he writes, and
1905 catalog ad copy described them as including: "Songs with laughing and
whisling choruses. A characteristic representation of the Alabama negro of
the slave days."
   He mentions earlier, however, that the store was selling gamboozles of
guitars and harmonicas around the same time, and sticks this paragraph in
the middle of his discussion of the harmonica. It was from an article he
wrote for The Atlantic Monthly in 1939.
  "Joe Moss is a harp-blowing black man. When he bears down hard on his
two-bit harmonica he can make trouble leave your weary mind, set your tired
feet to stompting, bring Sweet Jesus to your backsliding soul. Joe Moss is a
one-harp, two-harp, three-harp-blowing man. Sometimes on hot nights in
summer when folks are sitting out on the front porch catching air, talking
or sleeping on a matress stuck in the front doorway to get the benefit of
the draft blowing through the open back door and at the same time keep the
dog from leaving the house, Joe takes a stand on the corner of Redbud Street
and Cately Avenue. He draws a harp out of the belt that holds up his red
corduroy trousers and slowly eases up on the blues just like a lonesome man
sliding up to talk to a lady who has a mean and jealous husband."
   Sure others can expound upon how many blues people bought their
instruments from this merchandiser. I have no idea.

"Things are more like they are now than they ever were before."
   --Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower

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