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MMD > Archives > January 2001 > 2001.01.22 > 05Prev  Next

"Boll Weevil Blues" played by Eubie Blake
By Robbie Rhodes

Larry Norman writes in 010121 MMDigest:

> I am getting my next music roll auction ready and one of the rolls
> that I found without a box is Melodee roll number 4259 called "Boll
> Weevil Blues", composed by Hess.  I wonder if anyone can tell me who
> the pianist is that plays this roll.  It is great and if it has never
> been recut, I am thinking of having it done.

The roll is played by Eubie Blake, recorded early in 1921, and I think
it's one of the all-time greatest!  It's a favorite of Ed Sprankle's,
and in October 1988 he generously loaned his rare original copy to me
for recutting.  The sheet music says the composer is Cliff Hess.

Ed told me that Cliff Hess was a white man who played piano on the
Mississippi as a kid and wrote some neat blues songs.  He later got a
law degree and left music.  This song, "Boll Weevil Blues", most likely
_is_ composed by Hess, but the sheet music is unusually big and full.
I think that ol' Eubie fell in love with the tune and recorded it,
perhaps even before Hess published the song, and I believe that Eubie's
piano roll performance heavily influenced Hess's sheet music manuscript
(it's relatively difficult to play).

The piano roll arrangement is exquisite -- it's Eubie at his lyrical
best.  The strong counter-melody appears in the sheet music, and in my
opinion it was created by Eubie.  I can imagine Eubie writing another
set of words, for two singing voices.

I surmise that Eubie made a hand-played recording at Universal (Duo-Art),
and then added the counter-melodies by "playing over" a perforated draft
roll.  Then an entranced editor spent hours editing the piece so it
sounds just like Eubie.

Robbie Rhodes
Etiwanda CA

 [ MMDer Warren Trachtman contributed an MP3 file which plays the last
 [ chorus of the piano roll.  The player piano is emulated by his
 [ process which employs sampled sounds from a real Steinway piano.
 [ Hear "Boll Weevil Blues" at and learn
 [ about Warren's sound technology at  and
 [   -- Robbie

(Message sent Mon 22 Jan 2001, 03:54:59 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Blake, Blues, Boll, Eubie, played, Weevil

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