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March 17, 2008

Sister Rosetta Tharpe - The Gospel of the Blues

While thinking about what to say and also looking for a picture of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, I found that another blog had done my work for me. Jason Chervokas of The Astounding Trickster! blog had this to say:

"If Sister Rosetta Tharpe had sung secular blues instead of the gospel music to which she devoted her prodigious performing career, she would be revered today as the greatest ever female rocker, an icon on par with contemporaries like Hank Williams and Robert Johnson.

But unlike Williams and Johnson, Tharpe had nothing going for her when it comes to the business of becoming a music legend. She didn't die very young (born in 1919 she died in 1973 after a long performing career). She was a woman. And, most of all, she sang gospel (sure Hank sang gospel too, but not exclusively).

But in the 1930s and 1940s no one was bigger or more influential that Sister Rosetta. And only Sister Ernestine Washington could top her for sheer power and spirit. If you care a whit about American music and you're unfamiliar with Sister Rosetta's best work your knowledge is incomplete.

Rosetta's records, though gospel, were juke box hits along the chitlin' circuit where they influenced everyone including Ray Charles (the best thing about Taylor Hackford's cliched Ray Charles biopic—besides Jamie Fox's spectacular performance—is its representation of the chitlin' circuit.). She began performing with her mother along the gospel highway as a teenager in the 1920s. In those noisy, unamplified rooms she developed a clear, bold voice that cut through the din like a great lead trumpet player with a smoking big band. And her guitar playing, Lord Almighty, was one of a kind. Playing in an open tuning she had a set of stock riffs and gestures on which she would rely. But her speedy runs and driving downstroke grinding riffs resounded all the way down to the guitar playing of Chuck Berry.

Rosetta took gospel to places it hadn't gone before (and some said it should never have been)-- sin-filled nightspots like the Cotton Club and Cafe Society--when she began performing as a featured singer with Lucky Millinder's big band in the early 40s. And in so doing she started the ball rolling on the fusion of spiritual and secular music that became rock and roll—especially audible in the tracks she cut in front of the trio of boogie woogie pianist Sam Price.

Her repertoire has bestowed rock a number of standard tropes and themes thanks to songs like like “This Train” (which Woody Guthrie adapted for “Bound for Glory,” Curtis Mayfield adapted for “People Get Ready,” and Bruce Springsteen adapted for “Land of Hopes and Dreams”), Thomas Dorsey's “Rock Me,” and “The Lonesome Road” (the only song I know that was recorded by Tharpe, Van Morrison, and Frank Sinatra!). Her 1941 version of the classic “Trouble in Mind” (first recorded in 1927 by Chippie Hill backed by Louis Armstrong), cut with Lucky Millinder, is damn near definitive. And her touchstone song, “I Looked Down the Line,” remains the greatest sinner's dream of redemption ever recorded."

And I must say I agree. A perfect match for Blind Willie Johnson and Chuck Berry, in terms of righteous power and rockingness. She was responsible for rock & roll as much as anyone.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe - The Gospel of the Blues
Year: 2003
Label: MCA/Decca
shout, sister, shout.
not my rip | mp3 192kbps | w/o cover | 65 mb


brokedownengine said...

Excellent stuff as always mr. pirate. R. Crumb post was a dandy too. Any chance at that 'Railroad Bill'?

The Irate Pirate said...

can do, in a few days. though you can get it at The Blues Club, if you'd like it sooner.

W said...

I've on;y just discovered your blog, but hats off to you - you've great taste.