Podcast 54: Memphis Minnie

In this Episode, we drop in on our New York-based sister spinoff show, DLS NYC, which returned to the KGB Bar’s Red Room after a long hiatus. DLS co-founder Florian Duijsens happened to be visiting from Berlin, and took to the stage to introduce the fabulous Memphis Minnie. 

Tobacco-chewing blues singer MEMPHIS MINNIE (1897–1973) ran away from home at the age of 13 and made a living off music from then on, from street performances supplemented by prostitution to hundreds of now classic recordings. It was said she never put her guitar down until she could no longer hold it in her hands, and she was known to use it as a weapon when required. Her songs were about the joys and hardships of everyday black life; according to the poet Langston Hughes, she played “music with so much in it folks remember, that sometimes it makes them holler out loud.” Largely forgotten for many years while white men covered her songs, she is now celebrated for her huge contribution to blues music and what came after. 

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Also available on Spotify, Apple PodcastsRadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, and Acast.

You can download the transcript, created by Annie Musgrove, here.

Show notes:

A short video about the sampling history of Led Zeppelin’s cover of Kansas Joe & Memphis Minnie’s “When the Levee Breaks”
Here’s Minnie on lead guitar, recorded at their very first recording session, June of 1929
Minnie singing about her wild youth

Written by Kansas Joe, this song was “popularized” by Peggy Lee in 1942, but recorded by Lil Green in 1941

Memphis Minnie started releasing edgier music
Minnie’s smile sparkled, also note the dice ring Langston Hughes mentions!
Minnie’s prized electric guitar
Minnie on divorce: “I decided I wasn’t married no more”
Minnie’s biggest success (and an instant winner at countless blues battles)
“I got so many chickens, can’t tell my roosters from my hens.”

Read more about Chicago’s gay scene at Windy City Times, and you can read Langston Hughes’ entire review on Memphis Minnie’s show here.

A short profile of Tiny Davis of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm (and lesbian bar Tiny and Ruby’s Gay Spot)
Also enjoy their classic “Diggin’ Dykes
Minnie’s gravestone in Walls, MS, paid for by Bonnie Raitt
Check out the silver-dollar bracelet!
Memphis Minnie recorded 10 different takes of this song, each with different guitar solos and ad libs, but we like Take 7 best.

These videos are a great way to get into Memphis Minnie, and Florian has also made a special playlist on Spotify, but If you want to know more about Memphis Minnie, read Woman with Guitar: Memphis Minnie’s Blues by Paul & Beth Garon, first published just after her death, and expanded in 2014.

DLS NYC is curated and hosted by Molly O’Laughlin Kemper, and was recorded by Jennifer Nulsen, all under the auspices of the KGB Bar’s Lori Schwarz. 

Our theme music is “Little Lily Swing” by Tri-Tachyon.

Thanks for listening! We’ll be back with a new episode next month.