There's little doubt that Lizzie Douglas was one of the greatest blues artists of the 20th century, but too often the accomplishments of the woman best known as Memphis Minnie are subtly diminished by references like "pioneering blues woman."
Which of course she was. But, gender aside, she was foremost a pioneering blues artist. Her songwriting, guitar playing and early adoption of electric guitar all speak to her many talents.
We don't hear enough of her music, and that's a shame. Maybe it's because blues men feel uncomfortable singing "women's" blues.
Really guys, all you have to do is change a pronoun here and there -- I'm thinking of how Chuck Berry took on "Me and My Chauffer Blues" (actually he called it "I Want to be Your Driver") and how Bonnie Raitt made a great hit out of Chris Smither's "Love You Like a Man."
But now we get to hear a little more of her music, thanks to a sparkling tribute album from Maria Muldaur -- "....First Came Memphis Minnie" (Stony Plain Records, released today).
Muldaur, who has created a series of fine albums in recent years that deal with fine old blues, has assembled a set of songs here that were either written by Minnie or one of her husbands, or performed by Minnie (she was married to Kansas Joe McCoy, which is the reason you might sometimes see her referred to as Minnie McCoy, and later to Ernest "Little Son Joe" Lawlers.
But no matter who wrote them, these songs belonged to Minnie. And you can hear some of them on this delightful CD. Some are re-releases of Muldaur recordings, and there are two excellent vintage tracks -- Koko Taylor's rollicking ("Black Rat Swing") and Phoebe Snow's delicious 1976 take on "In My Girlish Days."
There are also new tracks by Bonnie Raitt ("Ain't Nothin' in Ramblin'"), Rory Block "When You Love Me") and Ruthie Foster ("Keep Your Big Mouth Closed").
So this isn't exactly all brand-new blues. What it is, though, is a beautiful collection of some great blues, sung by five very talented vocalists, in a well-deserved tribute to one of the great artists of the blues.
By the way, Maria is touring to support the new album, and you can see her at Moondog's Sunday night (10.14). You should definitely make the effort. She's been making great music since the '60s, and I think the best of it has always been rooted in her love for the blues. And, best of all, she's still got it.
And yes, Sunday is also the Blues Goes Pink Divas Show at the Clarion Hotel, with Burgh blueswomen performing at a benefit for Adagio Health, and sponsored by the the Blues Society of Western Pa. With a little luck, and a good chauffeur, you can see most of these women.
Here are a couple audio/videos -- the first, Muldaur's recording of "Me and My Chauffeur Blues" on the bew CD, and next, a Memphis Minnie version: