Monday, July 5, 2010

Emmett Miller

Emmett Miller with F.E. Miller, the math bit would later be adopted by Abott & Costello, and later by Bernie Maddoff.
There is little I can add to the subject of Emmett Miller that hasn't already been covered by Nick Tosches in his definitive volume Where Dead Voices Gather (Little, Brown & Co. 2001)
or in early pieces he wrote in Country: America's Biggest Music (Stein & Day, 1977, reprinted as C0untry: The Twisted Roots of Rock'n'Roll by DeCapo, 1996) or the long history of Miler he wrote for the Journal Of Country Music (can't remember which issue or volume and am too lazy to dig through the cellar for it), except for the above clips of Mr. Miller himself, segments from very rare films.
Miller, for the un-inititated is best remembered for recording the original version of Lovesick Blues, the tune that catapulted Hank Williams to stardom . A white man who sang in blackface,
he was an anachronism even in the late 20's when his records where originally released by Okeh, a throw back to the Minstrel Shows that became popular after the civil war. Other singers who performed in black face at some point in their careers were Jimmie Rodgers,
Al Jolson, even blues singer Furry Lewis. Back then every major record company had a section
of their catalog devoted to "coon songs", and judging by how many of these things still turn up, they must have been very popular. One can argue that the Rolling Stones are nothing but an updated version of a Minstrel show. In 1996 Sony's Legacy division issued a twenty song selection of Emmett Miller & his Georgia Crackers (actually studio musicians including the Dorsey Brothers and Eddie Lang), it's still available and Miller's music, although it may be an acquired taste, is well worth hearing. It falls between the cracks of country, blues and jazz, but his voice, with it's weird yodel was a wondrous instrument, and the original version of Lovesick Blues is one of the greatest records ever recorded. You can also find the complete works of Emmett Miller here if you want to sample before you buy (BTW, did anyone notice on page 11 of the booklet to the Legacy edition that the liner note writer claims that no copies of Miller's first record have ever turned up, but on page two of the booklet is a picture of the record! No great fact checkers those Sony people....). I'm not going to argue the political incorrectness of blackface, you can read Nick's book for that, but Miller's music was important, unique and great. The above footage is of historical interest not because it's funny (it's not funny at all, which almost makes it funny) but simply because it's the only look we have at a great and mysterious musician, a name from the past thought to be lost to time. Ah, the wonders of the internet.


Anonymous said...

Yowsah, desperate ould tyme shyne.

Anonymous said...

"One can argue that the Rolling Stones are nothing but an updated version of a Minstrel show"

Good point! I think Dr. John is another good example.

artbass said...

He was another important influence for Merle Haggard.

The Hound said...

"He was another important influence for Merle Haggard."

Haggard cut a tribute album to Miller cut live in New Orleans w/a horn section called I Love The Dixie Blues.

Richie1250 said...

I love this guy! Especially that record, 'the ghost of the st louis blues', and the one where he has the gag about "she walked in the store and asked me 'what is butter today', and I said 'well, butter is butter today'"... Never thought I'd get too see film of him. he's a lot pudgier than he sounds on record! Do you know if theres any footage in existence of him actually singing with the band? That would be something...

The Hound said...

"Do you know if theres any footage in existence of him actually singing with the band? That would be something..."

If so, it hasn't surfaced yet, these three clips seem to be all that existed at the moment, although it took almost thirty years before we even saw a photo of him, so I think it' pretty amazing even this stuff exists.

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