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Mary Johnson

PostPosted: Mon May 25, 2015 6:01 pm
by alister prince
I'm not sure if this is an old chestnut or not. Listening to Big Joe Williams doing Baby Please Don't Go, I'm reminded that the Blues Who's Who tells us it was written by Mary 'Signifying' Johnson, not Big Joe. The BWW says Big Joe States this too. I've never seen the song credited to her on a record. Is there a recording of her version, or even other info?

Re: Mary Johnson

PostPosted: Mon May 25, 2015 6:58 pm
by john poole
Interesting, I'd not heard that before. Wikipedia suggests that Big Joe W. sometimes said that his wife Bessie Mae Smith aka "Blue Belle" wrote the song, but it does not seem that either Bessie (or Mary Johnson) recorded the song,_Please_Don%27t_Go

Mary Johnson (married Lonnie Johnson in 1925)

Blue Belle / Bessie Mae Smith ... /biography

Re: Mary Johnson

PostPosted: Mon May 25, 2015 10:45 pm
by alister prince
Thanks John, yes Mary Johnson was married to Lonnie for 8 years. They had 6 children together. I'm a devotee of the Blues Who's Who - it's by Sheldon Harris and was first published in '79. My edition is from 1992. It's amazingly thorough and well researched. It took him 20 years to compile and he only includes verified information, or something he is very sure about. That's why I'm so interested in BPDG's origins, Sheldon's usually such a reliable source. I'll do more digging on Bessie Mae Smith too, your links are really interesting.

Re: Mary Johnson

PostPosted: Tue May 26, 2015 4:33 am
by Alan Balfour
I bought the 1979 hard back from Foyles as soon as it was published and cost me £18.50p, there wasn't a paperback until later. The dust jacket was covered in strong, thick polythene which still serves its purpose today.

Here's a review from Acoustic Music 32, February 1981, p6.

Searching For Blind Lemon’s Death Cert
Karl Dallas

IT SOUNDS grisly, even ghoulish, but Sheldon Harris has to spend a long time looking for death certificates. Harris is the man who dedicated 18 years of his life to researching and compiling his mammoth 775-page "Blues Who's Who" which lists over 100,000 facts about the lives and deaths of 571 blues singers. There's still some confusion about Robert Johnson's death, for instance, which has yet to be cleared up. Was he shot or stabbed . . . or poisoned ?

Blues Who's Who says he was "reportedly poisoned (or stabbed) and died in ambulance on way to hospital" —possibly because, in this case, Harris had to rely on printed sources. In his book on Johnson (Oak, 1973), Sam Charters points out that the death certificate wasn't even signed, and gave an unlikely birth place, though this is the place cited by Harris.

Harris is still looking for Blind Lemon Jefferson's death certificate.

"That was an expensive business, but I was determined to find Blind Lemon's death certificate. I tried writing in and around the Chicago area and then I tried Illinois on the theory that perhaps he was out of town when he died, perhaps in Michigan.

"There were stories that he had just done a Paramount recording in Michigan and he was on his way back. Then there were States all the way from Illinois to Texas; I tried all those because his body was sent back to Texas.

''I spent an awful lot of money trying to get some kind of death certificate based on a variance of names, Lemon Jefferson, Blind Lemon, Blind Jefferson, B.L. Jefferson, L. Jefferson.

"Every time you write for another certificate it's more money. I got a lot of responses saying 'No we don't have that person for the month of December 1929 or January 1930, 'because I had nailed it down to that. Actually if you say December 1929 they'll give you the whole year. So I was settled on December 1929." While he was working at Dr. Marshall Sterns Institute of Jazz Studies, Sheldon was already collecting together any and every scrap of information that he came across.

"I was gathering information for a purpose other than a book. In 1960 when I had enough of it gathered, I saw it was valuable, that it would serve a need in book form. At that point I started to seriously gather material and really go back and research.

"Before then I was catching the facts as they came through the air, then I started going to libraries checking all relevant printed matter, newspapers from 1910 up to the present day.

"I began finding the blues singers and interviewing them from 1960 to around 1978 and then it took the publisher a whole year to put it together."

The fascinating result of Sheldon Harris' endeavours can be obtained from Collets Folk Record Shop, 180 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2 8JS price £14.50 plus £1.50 P&P.

Re: Mary Johnson

PostPosted: Tue May 26, 2015 9:49 am
by NormanD
I've posted your query on the "Real Blues Forum" Facebook page, Aly. If they can't answer I'm not sure who can.

Re: Mary Johnson

PostPosted: Tue May 26, 2015 11:29 am
by Alan Balfour
If they don't there's a short chapter on her in Dean Alger's 2014 Lonnie biography or, if lucky, you maybe able to read it courtesy of Amazon UK.

Re: Mary Johnson

PostPosted: Tue May 26, 2015 12:41 pm
by alister prince
Thanks Alan and Norman. The review is interesting. My copy is paperback, but well bound and surviving my regular flips through it over the last 20 years. I had a feeling you'd got hold of it soon after publication Alan! What I love about.books like BWW is the way one item leads to another, or your eye falls upon something in the index. It's a never ending voyage of discovery!