Category Archives: Lonnie Johnson

THE NARCOTIC WRECK QUINTET—PART 1: FEEL LIKE A FIGHTING ROOSTER, FEEL BETTER THAN I EVER FELT

            Victoria Spivey was born on October 15, 1906, in Houston, Texas, and died at the age of 69 on October 3rd, 1976 in New York City. She was one of eight children born to part-time musician and flagman for the railroad, Grant Spivey, and nurse, Addie Smith Spivey; they themselves both being the children of ex-slaves. After Victoria’s father was killed in an accident, it became financially necessary for her to utilize her musical talents for more than mere entertainment and pocket money, and so as a young teenager she and a brother began playing regularly in local bordellos and music halls. Throughout the 1920s, she would also occasionally perform alongside “Father of the Texas Blues,” the incredible Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Moving to St. Louis in 1926, Spivey signed to the Okeh label, and recorded her signature hit “Black Snake Blues.” Over the next two years she would record roughly once a month, often accompanied by Jazz greats like Lonnie Johnson, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, and Clarence Williams. Moving to Chicago as the record business collapsed along with all other industry during the Depression of the 1930s, Spivey expanded her career by playing vaudeville musical revues, such as the Hellzapoppin’ Revue in New York City, and she even appeared as “Missy Rose” in director King Vidor’s first sound film, Hallelujah!

Retiring from the stage in 1952—becoming an organist for a church in Brooklyn—Spivey would return to her career in the ’50s and ’60s during the folk and blues revival of that era, and she would even set up her own record label.

—In fact, if any of you ever wondered who’s that woman seated at a piano alongside a baby-faced Bob Dylan on the back cover of his 1970 album New Morning, it’s Ms. Spivey herself! In March 1962 (just a few days prior to the release of his eponymous debut) Dylan contributed harmonica and back-up vocals for Spivey Records’ Three Kings And The Queen, which featured Roosevelt Sykes, Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, and “The Queen” Victoria Spivey. In a 2001 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Dylan said of the experience: “I think one of the best records that I’ve ever been a part of was the record made with Big Joe Williams and Victoria Spivey. Now that’s a record that I hear from time to time and I don’t mind listening to it. It amazes me that I was there and had done that.”—

Whether it be a song that was concerned with the circumstances of hard-living or one about the bawdy delights of intercourse, Spivey would write them with a sly intelligence, hip attitude, and deliver them in her distinctive “tiger moan.” A fine example is “Dope Head Blues” recorded on October 28, 1927 in New York City. With a fine and insightful wit this song tackles the paranoia and “top-of-the-world” delusions that come with drug addiction (which was brilliantly expressed by Christian Bale’s performance as has-been boxer Dicky Eklund in a film I just saw yesterday—David O. Russell’s The Fighter).

Perfectly put over by Lonnie Johnson’s drowsy, bumbling guitar work, here’s Victoria Spivey with “Dope Head Blues.”

Like it? Buy it.

Dope Head Blues

Just give me one more sniff of, another sniff of that dope

Just give me one more sniff of, another sniff of that dope

I’ll catch a cow like a cowboy, and throw a bull without a rope

Doggone, I’ve got more money than Henry Ford or John D. ever had

Doggone, got more money than Henry Ford or John D. ever had

I bit a dog last Monday and forty doggone dogs went mad

Feel like a fighting rooster, feeling better than I ever felt

Feel like a fighting rooster, feel better than I ever felt

Got double pneumonia and still I think I got the best health

Say, Sam

Go get my airplane and drive it up to my door

Aw, Sam, go get my airplane and drive it to my door

I think I’ll fly to London, these monkey men makes mama sore

The president sent for me, the Prince of Wales is on my trail

The president sent for me, the Prince of Wales is on my trail

They worry me so much, I’ll take another sniff and put them both in jail

——————————————–Bobby Calero

Ref:

Commire, A. (Ed.) (2002). Spivey, Victoria (1906–1976). Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. pps. 655-657. Detroit: Yorkin Publications. Retrieved February 6th, 2012 from http://go.galegroup.com.queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu:2048/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CCX2591308746&v=2.1&u=cuny_queens&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w

Spivey, V. (1927). Dope Head Blues. [recorded by Victoria Spivey & Lonnie Johnson] On Victoria Spivey Volume 1: 1926-1927. [CD] Okeh. (1927). Document. (2000)

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