DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (12)
February 5, 2023
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of favorite Country singles from the Sixties (1964–1973). Series edited by Josh Glenn. BONUS: Check out the DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM playlist on Spotify.
LINDA MARTELL | “BAD CASE OF THE BLUES” | 1970
What does it mean to claim a bottomless joy, even in the sorrow of Black girl life and loss? “Bad Case of the Blues” tells the story of a country girl gone to the city, seeking and finding a “barbed wire love” that’s hooked her, and running home to Mama for advice and comfort. This could have been a lonely song, a blues about The Great Migration, and all that you leave behind — home, Mama, friends, tobacco work and cotton-field work, the familiar homemade music of Saturday night dances and church. But this blues is not lonely. The brisk walking bassline delivers Linda right to her opening lines: “Livin’ and a-working in the city, I thought I was a big girl.” Her voice is smart, gum-cracking, with the jaunty pace and feel of a break-time coffee klatch at a city diner that hires small-town women for their warmth and their wit. “Aw, I felt so smart and that my life I could choose,” she sings, naming the promise that lured so many Black women from the South to the unknown North: a “life I could choose.” She tells us about her own foolish love, falling for the kind of no-good, two-timing man her mama warned her about. But as she sings a little ahead of the beat, she’s also enjoying telling us the story: “So Miss Smarty finds a city guy who one night tells her he loves her,” the fiddle performing a little sob, picking up on her tone of gentle self-mockery; “and the next night he leaves her sittin’ with a bad case of the blues.” Maybe between those two nights there was more than talk going on, sex being one of the freedoms of leaving your mama’s house. There is something carnal in her line “And he’s got me right down to the last square on the checkerboard,” and how she puts an emphasis so sharply on “square.” She’s been checked and checkmated.
When she calls herself “Miss Smarty” and “Little Country Girl,” there is a note of shame, but it’s cut by humor and what Katie Moulton has described as the “dissonance of self-knowledge.” And we can hear that knowledge coming into being in her yodel, that cry that may start out sad but opens up to boldness. Like the Mexican grito in rancheros, which Deb Vargas tells us is an expression that punctuates and has an element of improvisation, this yodel may not necessarily know where it’s going until it gets there. (The yodel, a sonic form with roots in Africa before it was hillbilly, is often used in that context as call and response.) Linda Martel’s yodels, the “ye-he-ye’s,” move from woe to the sheer joy of taking up sonic space, the testimony of a survivor. Maybe, those yodels suggest, the pleasure is worth a little sadness. And maybe there’s a little love left over for herself.
PS: See Katie Moulton’s “Bad Case of the Blues” (The Oxford American, Winter 2019) and Deborah Vargas’s “El Grito: The Errant Cries of Mexicanidad” (The Errant Voices: Performances Beyond Measure Conference, University of Chicago 4/29/22).
DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | David Cantwell on Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton’s WE FOUND IT | Lucy Sante on Johnny & June Carter Cash’s JACKSON | Mimi Lipson on George Jones’s WALK THROUGH THIS WORLD WITH ME | Steacy Easton on Olivia Newton-John’s LET ME BE THERE | Annie Zaleski on Tammy Wynette’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E | Carl Wilson on Tom T. Hall’s THAT’S HOW I GOT TO MEMPHIS | Josh Glenn on Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s BACK TO TENNESSEE | Elizabeth Nelson on Skeeter Davis’s I DIDN’T CRY TODAY | Carlo Rotella on Buck Owens’ TOGETHER AGAIN | Lynn Peril on Roger Miller’s THE MOON IS HIGH | Erik Davis on Kris Kristofferson’s SUNDAY MORNIN’ COMIN’ DOWN | Francesca Royster on Linda Martell’s BAD CASE OF THE BLUES | Amanda Martinez on Bobbie Gentry’s FANCY | Erin Osmon on John Prine’s PARADISE | Douglas Wolk on The Byrds’ DRUG STORE TRUCK DRIVIN’ MAN | David Warner on Willie Nelson’s WHISKEY RIVER | Will Groff on Tanya Tucker’s DELTA DAWN | Natalie Weiner on Dolly Parton’s IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS (WHEN TIMES WERE BAD) | Charlie Mitchell on Stonewall Jackson’s I WASHED MY HANDS IN MUDDY WATER | Nadine Hubbs on Dolly Parton’s COAT OF MANY COLORS | Jada Watson on Loretta Lynn’s DON’T COME HOME A DRINKIN’ (WITH LOVIN’ ON YOUR MIND) | Adam McGovern on Johnny Cash’s THE MAN IN BLACK | Stephen Thomas Erlewine on Dick Curless’s A TOMBSTONE EVERY MILE | Alan Scherstuhl on Waylon Jennings’s GOOD HEARTED WOMAN | Alex Brook Lynn on Bobby Bare’s THE WINNER. PLUS: Peter Doyle on Jerry Reed’s GUITAR MAN | Brian Berger on Charley Pride’s IS ANYBODY GOING TO SAN ANTONE.
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