Antonio Maggio – First Published Blues Song in 1908

Antonio Maggio was a fascinating man best known as an early creator of blues music. His song “I Got the Blues,” which became a hit in New Orleans in 1908, was the first published 12-bar blues with “blues” in the title. The dramatic events of his life, besides showing the context of his musical imagination, illustrate the unique process of becoming a New Orleanian during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in Cefalu, Sicily in 1876, Maggio came
to the city as a teenager, and like his father and his brothers, he was a consummate musician and multi-instrumentalist.

Though he worked at his brother’s barbershop, he was said to spend more time playing music in the streets, and was a contemporary of other notable New Orleans music pioneers; in the mid-1890s, he was playing in a string band at Poydras Market, just a couple of blocks away from Charlie Galloway’s barbershop frequented by Buddy Bolden. By the time he was 25, he had led a brass band, played background music for wild animal shows, and toured the United States with an opera company. Then, the major shattering event of his life happened: President McKinley was felled by an assassin’s bullet, and Maggio, due to his loudly proclaimed sympathies for both socialism and anarchism, was detained without trial as a suspect. Several months passed before he was released, then he returned to New Orleans to resume his musical career. For years, he was playing several gigs around town, including at Fabacher’s Restaurant, when a chance encounter on the levee changed music history. He stopped to listen to an African American man playing a guitar, and growing curious, Maggio asked the man what song he was playing, and he replied, “I got the blues.”

Maggio then went home and composed a song based on what he had heard—as he explained in an interview towards the end of his life in the 1950s—and he had not intended this as a serious composition, but nonetheless, it took off like wildfire in the city, becoming a favorite song requested by audiences in multiple venues. Led by curiosity, trusting his ear, and acting on instinct, Maggio made a contribution to perhaps the most significant musical idiom to emerge from the Deep South, the blues. The genesis of “I Got the Blues” encapsulates the long story of complex interactions between European and African American musicians, and by paying close attention to historical context, we can begin to understand how New Orleans has provided an environment where such interactions take place.

Shane Lief wrote his MA in Musicology thesis at Tulane University: “Staging New Orleans: The Contested Space of Congo Square.” He is currently at work on a PhD in Linguistics, focusing on multilingualism in New Orleans and how Native American, African, and European traditions have influenced the linguistic and musical landscape of the city. Read the full story in Vol. XXV of Jazz Archivist

John Mellencamp’s Return to Roots

John Mellencamp has returned to roots music once again on ‘Sad Clowns and Hillbillies.’ It is the Rock Hall of Famer and co-founder of Farm Aid’s 23rd release. Read more here:

Blind Blues Musicians

Racism, hunger, oppression, random bouts of syphilis — the life of a typical 1920s blues guitarist was not exactly a barrel of laughs. So just imagine how much worse it was being blind. Back then, a great many of them were: Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Lemon Jefferson…in fact, just scroll down the Blues Hall of Fame list and every third musician seems to be preceded with the word “blind.”

John Lee Hooker, Centennial release on Concord

John Lee Hooker Centennial this year celebrated with a new career-spanning release

John Lee Hooker was born near Clarksdale, Mississippi on August 22nd, 1917. After running away from home at age 14, he made his way to a factory job in Detroit, Michigan, via Memphis, and Cincinnati. It was there, in 1948, his first recording, “Boogie Chillun,” was made, selling over a million copies.

To begin the centennial celebration of Hooker’s birth year, Vee-Jay Records, a division of Concord Bicycle Music, will release Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest, on March 31st. The multi-label compilation features songs from Hooker’s Vee-Jay, Specialty, Riverside and Stax Records releases, and includes many of the bluesman’s most iconic songs.

Jontavious Willis on a Cigar Box – Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)

Jontavious Willis at The New Orleans Cigar Box Guitar Festival with a revision of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)” a 1928 release that was “a national phenomenon and generated an excitement and record-buying frenzy that no-one could have predicted” (Wikipedia). Rodgers is widely considered the father of country music, meanwhile Jontavious is getting known as a 20 year-old blues phenom, who told me that he’s more than a little bit country. He will be opening for Taj Mahal in March.

Save the Blues’ exclusive interview with Jontavious coming soon…

Dr. Jazz

Pioneering New Orleans cornet player Joe “King” Oliver wrote “Doctor Jazz”  in 1926.  The song has remained popular since the 1920s. Chris Barber and Harry Connick Jr. have covered it, but Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers achieved definitive heights of improvisation and collective counterpoint in this 1926 version: