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March 31, 2008

Memphis Sanctified Jug Bands 1928-1930

As you may or may not have noticed, I've been on a bit of a secret theme the last few posts: guitar evangelists (Rev. Davis, Son House, Willie Johnson, Rosetta Tharpe), or similarly virtuosic religious music (Spence & co). They're all from black rural musicians, and they all make the religious subjects their own. They live the music they sing, and so when they sing you really believe them (see also the post on Washington Phillips in the archives). And they all seem to be loved by blues-lovers, despite the fact that half of them never sang a blues song in their lives.

Well, this next one will complete the theme. It comes the closest to an actual religious service, and to judge by impassioned shouts and screams, it was one hell of an ecstatic experience. It's called Memphis Sanctified Jug Bands, and collects the Complete Recorded Works of Elder Richard Bryant, Rev. E.S. (Shy) Moore, Brother Williams Memphis Sanctified Singers, & Holy Ghost Sanctified Singers (1929-1930). It's a total wild ruckus, let me tell you. Very exciting, if you can get past the mountain of surface noise. This is the real lo-fi magic. A few of the tracks even feature sermons that gradually give way to hollering and screaming and music-making.

A glancing bit of research revealed that all these holy jug bands belonged to the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), an early Pentecostal incarnation. Apparently, 'COGIC conjures up images of the expressive and emotionally intense, hand clapping, foot stomping, tongues speaking, bible toting, joyous singing, body healing, Jesus professing, God fearing, Spirit indwelling experience of a group of black religious folk, collectively known as the sanctified church.'

Allmusic has this to say:
Review by John Storm Roberts, Original Music

The "sanctified" Church of God in Christ (COGIC) was and is formative in African-American gospel music far beyond its numerical strength, in part because it drew heavily from secular instrumental music when other groupings disapproved of guitars pianos and the rest. These sensational recordings by a handful of groups are similar to the secular jugbands, but outswing most of them three to two.

In a long and ontological diatribe about the Catholic versus Protestant churches and the lack of religious folk music in the former, John Fahey had this to say:

"The nature of the Roman Catholic Church is to make the here-and-now Christ grow and be available to all. The nature of the Protestant Church is to communicate "cheap Grace" - which is no Grace at all - through emotional, exciting, provocative and stimulating entertainment, especially through the twin talismans of noise and rhythm.

Most of the records in this collection were made under the influence of Enthusiasm.

I submit that these recordings…demonstrate that we have here in the USA, both now and then, one very large side of a continuum of an ecstatic as opposed to contemplative religion, which calls itself "Christian." There are other ecstatic religions in the world, or religions with the same continuum (Hinduism), but is Christianity really intrinsically ecstatic in this manner of hot enthusiasm? Are these tambourine players and guitar screamers inhabited by Christ? Do they know him?

I have to say that, Flannery O'Connor notwithstanding, underneath it all I hear pan pipes tooting and a cloven hoof beating time." -from American Primitive Vol.1: Raw Pre-War Gospel

VA - Memphis Sanctified Jug Bands
Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order (1928-1930)
Year: 1994
Label: Document
get the spirit in thee.
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ cover | 85mb

& see the COGIC blog for more contemporary fiery musical sermons.


Uncle Gil said...

You done a great job !
Good stuff, here!

westwardwall said...

Once again a beautiful garden of detailed research, information and visuals that spark my curiosity like fleeting fireflies blinking, that is, each post offering just enough light to show the path and move me to work the keys learning more along the way. Musics! ones that I never imagined that I might enjoy. I am never disappointed. You sir are a master wizard of combinations that open the locks on rusty gates that lead to new paradises. I thank you good navigator.

The Irate Pirate said...

you're a fine wordsmith yourself, westwardwall! thanks for your comments; i always appreciate it when folks note my wizardliness.

Anonymous said...

great blog i.p.! thanks for your review of this as encouraged me to check it out. anyone who can mention joseph spence and willie johnson in the same breath must be o.k. Look for Goodbye Babylon Vol. 6 - might have it here - see links are dead - if yer into hellfire and damnation that is... also a film called "Say Amen Somebody" - there is an OST - I thikn it's a lot of the COGIC crowd in live concert with the author of 'precious lord" Thomas A Dorsey -

see you round SFRP - a place one cannot live without.

BTW, have you ever heard this:

Stuart, Alice. All the Good Times, Arhoolie 4002, LP (1964)

Had it when I was a kid. She's still around and playing - would dearly love to hear this again.

The Irate Pirate said...

thanks psb. Goodbye Babylon is a great set; i've got all 6 vols. Never heard of Alice Suart though. One of the many holes in my arhoolie hoard.

Anonymous said...


Sam said...

Please reup. Thanks

Mingusmonk0 said...

Any chance of a reup? Thanks in advance!