Mark Frauenfelder at 11:41 am Mon, Feb 8, 2010
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Skip James plays "Crow Jane" in 1967. (After watching this video, I had to go back and watch one of my favorite YouTube videos ever, "Inflatable tube man dances to Cream's 'Glad.'") (Via Tinselman)
The song is a reference to Jim Crow laws…Jim Crow…Crow Jane…someday they’ll have to end/die…
Don’t get me wrong – this is great music. But the violence against women in the lyrics is interesting and disturbing. Long before gangsta rap.
more on the history of the tune here:
THIS > the sum of all eukelele videos ever posted on this site. twice over.
I could have sworn this was posted years ago when I first saw it, but no matter… It’s worth exposing this music to a new audience. Been a big fan of Skip for a while now, he’s my favourite blues man.
For what it’s worth, this is from one of the “Martinï»¿ Scorsese presents the Blues” doco’s.
I love Skip James, some other interesting covers of this song are Holly Golightly’s version from her “You Can’t Buy A Gun When You’re Crying” album, and the Two Gallants version from their album “The Throes”. The Gallants’ version in particular is extremely different but still a fantastic song.
I was just going to say the same thing about the Holly Golightly version of this song.
Literally beat me to it by 1 minute, haha!
Their version and the elpee that it is on are amazing, even more so when you are listening to it while driving across country through all of the old western mining towns.
Going back to the conversation about royalties, it is a testament to the times they lived in- the white label owners and studio heads not giving the artists creating the sound they’re dues. So many ended up in the gutter when all was said and done. I recently watched Cadillac Records, about Leonard Chess and Muddy Waters, and Chess would just buy them new cars or homes whenever they had a hit record. But Muddy and Walter didn’t have access to their royalties at all. I don’t know how technically accurate the movie was, but it gives us something to think about.
Wow, Mark! Thanks for posting this.
I auditioned at a Charles Street coffee house in Boston in 1965 on a night when Skip James was the actual talent. The audience was remarkably patient with me, and I was terrified. The owner gave me a latte to calm me down(!) and introduced me to Mr. James, who was, in my circle, rightfully revered as a blues great. I stayed for his sets, which were warmly received by a small but enthusiastic audience. This was a couple of years before this 1967 tape, which is really *nice*.
At the time, I was aware I was in the presence of a major Depression-era delta blues singer: I was already familiar with his work. I thought he was a charming and and courtly old man. Looking at the tape now, I’m thinking, hmmm, he doesn’t look as old as I remember. Checking his stats, I realize that he was a little younger then than I am now.
Thank, McProf for a great blog link!
Anonymous | #4
crow jane – plantation owner/ owner’s wife? just guessing.
i love this song… i was first introduced to mr. james via nick cave and the bad seeds’ cover of this song on the legendary album “murder ballads”.
i recall an old interview with ice cube, where he mentioned that johnny cash’s immortal verse “i shot a man in reno just to watch him die” was the most gangster lyric he’d ever heard.
This is my all-time favorite Skip James song, and I hadn’t seen the video. Thanks for posting!
Not that the Jim Crow/plantation owner interpretation of the song is incorrect, but it’s my understanding that “crow jane” is slang for a dark-skinned woman (as opposed to “yellow jane”.)
Well, “violence against women in the lyrics”… If one listens closely, it seems more complicated: the song is from the point of view of a man who fantasize about shooting and burying a woman (probly his wife or girlfriend), but when she really dies, he feels loss and sadness, even though he hadn’t believed he would. And it gets him to think about human frailty (“one day you got to die”). I’d say it’s definitely about a messed up relationship, but not out and out misogyny.
so johnny cash lifted lyrics/basic story for Reno from crow jane song it seems?Hmm…
I love johnny.C but Reno is not that original after all the hype.No credit ever given to original writer?
That’s not exactly true. If it weren’t for major American festivals like the Newport Folk Festival, Skip James and others would never have gone to festivals like the ’67 Folk and Blues festival above.
Skip James in particular was only “discovered” by audiences, including those in Europe, at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. Even most those who had heard his music didn’t know he was still alive.
But I won’t question the notion that European love for old American blues is what led in no small part to it’s resurgence.
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