Bessie Smith sang with a kind of heartfelt emotion and raw unfiltered passion that could only come from someone with first-hand experience of the deep dark shades of the blues. In her short but kaleidoscopic life Bessie knew poverty, fame, wealth, love, lust, and  the dangerous lure of liquor all too well. Enjoy an excellent compendium of Bessie’s finest work on this Rough Guide.

The opening track on this album is Bessie’s debut recording from 1923, ‘Down Hearted Blues’. An upbeat tinkling piano line underpins Bessie’s honeyed vocals that wind around the blues scale with ease. ‘Nobody Knows When You’re Down And Out’ is a lackadaisical slow-paced cover of the well known song. Bessie’s version is soaked in a thick and treacly half-hearted attitude that conveys the hopeless sentiment of the song perfectly. One of her most successful hits, ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’ is a growly lament, a bitter ode to good honest men, who Bessie tells us are increasingly ‘hard to find’. Continuing on the vein of unsatisfactory men, Bessie tackles cheeky double-entendres with an unmistakeably mischievous tone on ‘I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl’.

Her seminal version of ‘St Louis Blues’ featured here includes Louis Armstrong’s immortally strong cornet playing. The dream duo play in a perfectly anguished yet languorous mood. Bessie is also equally at home investing syrupy Tin Pan Alley songs with a deep level of emotion. ‘Muddy Water’ is transformed from a plodding simple song to a hazy bluesy masterpiece. Later in her career Bessie began to favour a soulful swing to a slow blues tempo. Husky and rasped vocal slides characterize the gently swinging ballad, ‘Gimme A Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer’.

This Rough Guide also features a bonus disc of those artists who were contemporaries with, and were influenced by, the legendary Bessie Smith.


CD1: The Rough Guide To Blues Legends: Bessie Smith

01          Bessie Smith: Down Hearted Blues (1923)
Musicians: Clarence Smith (piano) 

02          Bessie Smith: A Good Man Is Hard To Find (1927)
Musicians: Porter Grainger (piano), Lincoln Conoway (guitar)

03          Bessie Smith: I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle (1925)
Musicians: Louis Armstrong (cornet), Fred Longshaw (piano), Charlie Green (trombone)

04          Bessie Smith: Careless Love (1925)
Musicians: Louis Armstrong (cornet), Fred Longshaw (piano), Charlie Green (trombone)

05          Bessie Smith: Muddy Water (A Mississippi Moan) (1927)
Musicians: Joe Smith (trumpet), Fletcher Henderson (piano), Charlie Dixon (banjo), Jimmy Harrison (trombone), Coleman Hawkins (clarinet)

06          Bessie Smith: T’Aint Nobody’s Bizness If I Do (1923)
Musicians: Clarence Williams (piano) 

07          Bessie Smith: I Need  A Little Sugar In My Bowl (1931)
Musicians: Fred Longshaw or Clarence Williams (piano)

08          Bessie Smith: Send Me to The ‘Lectric Chair (1927)
Musicians: Joe Smith (cornet), Charlie Green (trombone), Fletcher Henderson (piano)

09          Bessie Smith: Gimme A Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer (1933)
Musicians: Frankie Newton (trumpet), Jack Teagarden (trombone), Chu Berry (tenor sax), Benny Goodman (clarinet), Buck Washington (piano), Bobby Johnson (guitar), Billy Taylor (bass)  

10          Bessie Smith: Empty Bed Blues (Part One) (1928)
Musicians: Charlie Green (trombone), Porter Grainger (piano)

11          Bessie Smith: Empty Bed Blues (Part Two) (1928)
Musicians: Charlie Green (trombone), Porter Grainger (piano) 

12          Bessie Smith: Back Water Blues (Part Two) (1927)
Musicians: James P. Johnson (piano)

13          Bessie Smith: The Yellow Dog Blues (1925)
Musicians: Joe Smith (trumpet), Charlie Green (trombone), Buster Bailey (clarinet), Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax), Fletcher Henderson (piano), Charlie Dixon (banjo), Bob Escudero (tuba), Kaiser Marshall (drums)

14          Bessie Smith: Me And My Gin (1928)
Musicians: Joe Williams (trombone), Porter Grainger (piano)

15          Bessie Smith: St Louis Blues (1925)
Musicians: Louis Armstrong (cornet), Fred Longshaw (harmonium)

16          Bessie Smith: Jazzbo From Memphis Town (1926)
Musicians: Fletcher Henderson (piano), Buster Bailey (clarinet)

CD2: Bonus CD: Female Blues Legends

01        Lucille Bogan: Coffee Grindin' Blues
Musicians: Not listed

02        Lil Johnson: My Stove's In Good Condition (1936)
Musicians: “Black Bob” Hudson (piano), Big Bill Broonzy (guitar)

03        Lil Green: Knockin’ Myself Out (1941)
Musicians: Simeon Henry (piano), Big Bill Broonzy (guitar), Ransom Knowling (bass) 

04        Memphis Minnie: Dirty Mother For You
Musicians: Not listed

05        Dinah Washington: Short John
Musicians: Clark Terry (trumpet), Eddie Chamblee (tenor sax), Junior Mance (piano), Jackie Davis (organ), Mickey Baker (guitar), Keter Betts (bass), Ed Thigpen (drums)

06        Victoria Spivey: Dope Head Blues (1927)
Musicians: Lonnie Johnson(guitar)

07        Merline Johnson: Love Shows Weakness
Musicians: Blind John Davis (piano), George Barnes (electric guitar)

08        Ella Fitzgerald: When I Get Low I Get High (1939)
Musicians: Chuck Webb & his Orchestra 

09        Trixie Smith: Jack I'm Mellow
Musicians: Not listed

10        Sippie Wallace: I'm A Mighty Tight Woman
Musicians: Not listed

11        Big Maybelle: One Monkey Don't Stop No Show
Musicians: Sam Taylor, Maurice Simon (tenor saxes), Leslie Johnakins (baritone sax), Ernie Hayes (piano), Mickey Baker (guitar), Norman Keenan (bass), Panama Francis (drums), Leroy Kirkland (conductor)

12        Ruth Brown: Oh What A Dream (1954)
Musicians: Ed "Tiger" Lewis (trumpet), Richard Harris (trombone), Arnett Cobb (tenor sax), Bu Pleasant (piano), Mickey Baker (guitar), Benny Moten (bass), Noruddin Zafer (drums), The Rhythmakers (vocal group)