FEATURED ARTIST / S
|Two Poor Boys (Joe Evans and Arthur McClain)|
Joe Evans, vocal, kazoo, guitar; Arthur McClain, kazoo, guitar.
(Also mandolin and guitar by either Evans or McClain)
Genres: Country Blues, Country Blues guitar, Tennessee Blues. Country Blues Duet.
Informative booklet notes by Chris Smith.
Joe Evans and Arthur McClain are reported to have come from Fairmount, in eastern Tennessee, a region where blacks were outnumbered twelve to one by whites, and this goes some way to explaining the evident hillbilly influences on their music. Otherwise, all we know about “The Two Poor Boys” is in the grooves of their 78s.
Of six masters cut in Birmingham, Alabama in 1927, only Little Son Of A Gun (Look What You Done) was issued, with Birmingham vocal group the Dunham Jazz Singers harmonizing a blues on the reverse. Little Son Of A Gun is a typical piece of ‘20s pop music, done as lively two guitar, two kazoo novelty.
Evans & McClain played blues, of course: Two White Horses In A Line is from Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Sitting On Top Of The World is the Mississippi Sheiks’ hit from the year before, done with violin in a manner imitative of the original version. The mandolin heard on Two White Horses is played with an impressively even touch on John Henry Blues, a song traversed the colour line.
Mill Man Blues and My Baby Got A Yo-Yo raise some intriguing questions, for the former song is verbally almost identical with a 1928 recording by Billy Bird, which itself has a guitar accompaniment virtually the same as that on My Baby Got A Yo-Yo. Evans & McClain’s other issued blues were piano-guitar duets like Mill Man Blues, the playing entirely consistent with contemporary black idiom. Black Bottom was the ghetto in Nashville, Tennessee, but these performances seem influenced by the styles of both Birmingham and St. Louis.
Blues was only a part of it, though: they parodied Darby & Tarlton’s hillbilly hit, “Birmingham Jail”; turned a 1927 pop song, “Who Cares What Somebody Said” into Take A Look At That Baby, with guitar, mandolin and two kazoos (but no violin, the standard discography notwithstanding); revived a sentimental coon song in Georgia Rose; and made immaculate transfers to mandolin and guitar of the white fiddle pieces Old Hen Cackle and Sourwood Mountain.
The effortless eclecticism of Joe Evans & Arthur McClain continues to challenge our notions of what “black music” was in those days.