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On the Road with Bessie Smith

Ruby Walker was Bessie Smith's niece by marriage. You may have noticed several posts on this blog containing excerpts from the interviews I conducted with her in 1971, as I was preparing to write her aunt's biography. Without Ruby and her remarkable memory, I would not have been able to write the book. We had known each other for a relatively short while, but we clicked from the time we first met, in John Hammond's office. If you wish to read about that, here is a link.

When Sol Stein, the publisher, called and asked me if I would be interested in writing Bessie's biography, I told him that I felt there was a need for a comprehensive book, but that I would only agree if Ruby allowed me to interview her. Obviously, she did and what you hear in this post is the first of many interviews that led to the book. It was recorded 41 years ago, on February 7, 1971, and I am seated at my computer, entering this text in the very spot where Ruby faced my microphone. How she would have marveled at today's technology! She would also have loved to see herself portrayed by a white actress in an off-the-beaten-path play I caught in Stockholm a few years back.

I should mention that all the previously posted segments from these interviews duplicated material previously issued on a Columbia CD in connection with a 5-box Bessie Smith release. What you hear from now on will almost entirely new to you—there are raw spots, both technically and and as far as content goes, but I removed some of the former (change of cassette, phone call, etc.). When you hear Ruby talk to/about her "soul brother," she is addressing Mingus, my doberman pinscher (I would later acquire another dobie and name her Bessie).

Notice the Parental Advisory label.
This part of the interview runs about 45 minutes and starts with Ruby talking about her first meeting with Bessie, who came to the Walker house on West 132nd Street to rehearse with Clarence Williams for her first recording. You will also hear her recall going to a drag ball at Harlem's Rockland Palace, where Bessie had drinks with Jack Dempsey and Bing Crosby, and she talks about her brother, Leroy, and how he wrote a blues to get out of jail ten years early. The continuation of the first day's interview is ready to go, so I will post it in a couple of weeks—and there is more coming. 

1 comment:

  1. Just finished listening to your book on nAdinle dot com. Great job! Fantastic writer. I felt like I knew all of these people by the end of the book...esp Ruby more than Bessie. Great job and thank you for all of y