Note: Williamson explains composing this song while working in a levee camp. He first recorded it for Bluebird in 1941. John Cowley believes it may be derived from “Black Name Moan,” a levee camp song Bessie Tucker recorded for Victor in 1928. The “line” referred to is the work line, or the line of the levee itself.
About the session: In 1947, using his own Presto disc recording machine, Alan Lomax recorded bluesmen Big Bill Broonzy (1893–1958), Memphis Slim (1915–1988), and Sonny Boy Williamson (1914–1948) at Decca Studios in New York City, after they had given a concert at Town Hall. In a session of candid oral history and song, the three artists explain the origin and nature of the blues. "They began with blues as a record of the problems of love and women in the Delta world," Lomax wrote. "They explored the cause of this in the stringent poverty of Black rural life. They recalled life in the Mississippi work camps, where the penitentiary stood at the end of the road, waiting to receive the rebellious. Finally, they came to the enormities of the lynch system that threatened anyone who defied its rules." The interviews were issued in a fictionalized form in Common Ground (1948) under the title "I Got the Blues," but they were deemed so controversial that their album release was delayed for ten years. When United Artists finally issued them on LP as "Blues in the Mississippi Night" in 1959, Alan used pseudonyms to protect the artists and their families.
The rights to the audio, photographic, and video materials contained within the Lomax Digital Archive are administered by various publishers, record labels, collectors, estates, and other rights holders. Any uses, commercial or not, must be cleared by the specific rights holders. For questions regarding the use of any material on the LDA, please contact Permissions.
Do you have something to add, or do you see an error in this record? We'd love to
hear from you.