Before we start, the answer is 131 sides. Roosevelt Sykes issued 131 sides on 66 singles between 1929 and 1942. One side was by another artist.
On May 29, 2022, an Arkansas blues historian shared these pictures on Twitter:
They are from the Heroes of the Blues card set by R. Crumb (texts by Stephen Calt).
Here’s a quote on blues pianist Roosevelt Sykes from the card above: “He […] produced nearly 125 sides between 1929 and 1942”. Hm. The cards are neat, but the person tweeting these images asked a very good question: What are we to make of the statement that Sykes recorded “nearly 125 sides”. I mean, this is obviously a clunky way to phrase it, right? (“Beethoven wrote nearly ten symphonies”).
I couldn’t sleep at night because of this, let’s look into it.
To clear up something half-obvious: a side in this context refers to one song on one side of a single disc. Singles were usually double-sided.
So how many sides by Sykes are there, from the beginnings (1929) to the end of the period mentioned on the Crumb-card (1942)? To find out, I first looked into what’s available nowadays. For this, it’s usually best to take a look at the series put out by the Document label. I then cross-referenced this with Stefan Wirz’ online-discography and the professional discography Blues and Gospel Records: 1890–1943 by Robert Dixon and John Godrich (Dixon/Godrich) to see what had been issued at the time, but might not be available today. Of course, I also wanted to know what had not been issued back then, but is issued now. Let’s see.
The Document-series: 125 sides
The Document-series of Roosevelt Sykes’ complete recordings in chronological order feature 165 tracks total from 1929 until 1943 (it’s the first seven volumes). 4 of these tracks (the last four on Vol. 7) were recorded in 1943, so the series features 161 tracks total from 1929 until 1942. 30 of these 161 tracks are credited to other artists, meaning the series features 131 tracks credited to Sykes for said period, 1929 until 1942.
Now, 4 of these 131 tracks appearing on the Document-CDs were never issued before, so they don’t belong among Sykes’ issued sides from the time. This takes the amount of sides published up until 1942 down and leaves us with 127 tracks on the Document-CDs as originally published sides.
However, two song titles, “Essie Mae Blues” and “Dirty Mother for You”, appear twice. The reason being that Sykes recorded numerous songs in nearly identical takes, for example “Essie Mae Blues”, matrix number 67469-A and 67469-B. This was common practice, of course. Sometimes, both takes were used as master takes for distributed singles, treated interchangeably, as identical tracks (which they assumably were, in the grander scheme of things and material music business). So a single would either feature take A or take B but have the same catalogue number, as the takes are virtually non-distinguishable. This is only problematic insofar as the Document-series in one of those cases gives you both of these near-identical takes as two individual tracks, while these were not, in fact, takes issued as different singles. They were used for the same single with the same catalogue number.
So subtract these two takes, and we arrive at 125 sides actually issued on singles findable on the Document-series.
Dixon/Godrich-discography: 131 sides
As the Document-series is neither necessarily complete, nor an indication of what had been issued nor what had been unissued at the time, let’s look at the catalogue-numbers culled from a professional discography.
The discography Dixon/Godrich lists 158 individual matrix-number-entries for this period. 25 of these are listed as originally unissued and can be subtracted, suggesting 133 sides issued.
However, commonly the discography lists the “identical takes” used for the same single (as described) above under one entry, like this: “67469-A-B”. This means both takes A and B had been used for the single of this catalogue number. The discography then skips this habit for the two takes of “Eight Ball Blues”, wich each get an entry (67466-A, and 67466-B, respectively), and for “Dirty Mother for You”. For the latter, actually three takes were used interchangeably for the single, and these three takes receive two entries. So there’s two entries for “Eight Ball Blues” and for “Dirty Mother for You” where there arguably should be only one for each. We deduct these entries, and this gets us to: 131 sides for actually issued singles.
Stefan Wirz’ discography: 131 sides
So far, so good. To use a further control mechanism, Stefan Wirz’ unique single-discography mentions 66 singles (132 sides) for this period, and since there is only one side by Sykes on Champion 50071 (the other side is credited to Jimmie LaRue), this gives us 131 sides.
(Technical note: Wirz lists the single Decca 7874 twice, so deduct those, and we arrive at 129. Yet since Wirz’ list in turn omits the two sides on Decca 7252 (“Driving Wheel Blues” / “Barrelhouse Man”), we can add them, and are back at 131 as the originally published sides credited to Sykes for the period 1929–1942.)
What the Document-series misses
The Document-series misses six tracks in total that are listed in the discographies (this makes sense: 125 + 6 = 131). 4 sides indicated in the discography by Dixon/Godrich as originally published do not appear on the Document-CD: A doubled-sided single that was never actually found, and two B-sides that simply weren’t reissued on CD.
This brings the number up to 129 originally published titles. And lastly, both the Dixon/Godrich-discography and the Wirz’-discography list the single Champion 16558, “Steady Grinding” / “I Can’t to Save My Life”, which also does not appear on the Document-series (presumably because it is credited to “Sykes & Johnson”, as in Mary Johnson). But I follow the discographies to include it: We’re back at 131 originally issued titles, 125 of which are nowadays available on Document.
How many sides where there, now?
131 sides. Well, we sort of reverse-engineered this by seeing what’s available nowadays on CD and then filling in the holes with discographical information about matrix-numbers, different takes, issued and unissed sides et cetera.
The whole thing gets a lot easier if we don’t ask about how many sides he recorded, but instead just count the different catalogue numbers of the published singles with different song titles on them. The answer is, as should be obvious by now, 66 singles, 131 sides of which are credited to Roosevelt Sykes from 1929 to 1942. (This disregards all his sideman work, but that was the premise).
Crumb’s “nearly 125 sides”
Now let’s try to make sense of the statement on the Crumb-card: Roosevelt Sykes recorded “nearly 125 sides”… what the hell is that supposed to mean? Why this oddest of phrases, as opposed to “about 125 sides” or “at least 124 sides” or something sufficiently vague? Here go my thoughts: The cards were made in 1980, before the Document-series, before the CD-era. So all expert Stephen Calt, who wrote the bios, had to go on were discographies, LP-compilations and, well, the real sides.
Here is my iffy guess: We established that Sykes had initially issued 131 sides. Sykes used a number of pseudonyms during his career. The most contested of these was “Dobby Bragg”. By 1980, it was already assumed that Dobby Bragg is Roosevelt Sykes, but it was not completely settled and uncontested in all corners of the galaxy. 8 sides are credited to Bragg (2 of which were lost to history, never found). So assuming they didn’t count the sides by Bragg, we end up at 123 sides credited to Sykes. Then give or take some confusion about attribution: Do we count the sides credited to Sykes & Johnson? Yes, we do. (But remember, the Document-series doesn’t). Then there’s another single credited only to Johnson, with Sykes accompanying her. Should we count that one, too? Because that would add two sides…
That would make it… well, nearly 125 sides.
I don’t know, but this is as far as this got me. I would have liked to take a look at the Dixon/Godrich edition from 1969 (the one available to Crumb and Calt in 1980), to see if there was less information available, less sides noted, or anything. But it isn’t available where I live.
I get so sad and emotional about these things. I get up, make coffee, and I just see the brown bubbles come up and disappear. I stand there, I get back pains.
For more info on Roosevelt Sykes‘ discography, check the list I made for his output here.
Rated as: Box Set
Album Status: Definite, Complete Recordings
Specific Genre: Folk Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Roots Rock, Country Rock
Main Genre: Rock, Psychedelia
Flow, River, Flow
Oh dear, it’s that rare beast: a practically perfect box set! How about that. This handily sized box collects the remastered bonus track–reissues of all Byrds albums put out by Columbia/Legacy. These reissues usually featured more than half a dozen bonus tracks each. The box thus contains, quoting AMG’s John Bush, „over 90-percent of their career, basically everything they released, all 12 albums (aside from their 1973 reunion album recorded for Asylum)“.
This isn’t entirely accurate, as it’s only 11 albums – but 13 CDs. Bonus-CD 7 is comprised of early Gram Parsons‘ International Submarine Band tracks and alternate tracks from Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Add another bonus CD called Unissued (CD 11) which collects excellent bonus material from their original (Untitled) album. This includes unreleased studio tracks that didn’t make the album, the studio version of the album’s live „Lover of the Bayou“, an additional interesting Little Feat cover marking the band’s way into the swampy and southern areas of roots rock. Notably, Little Feat’s debut album wasn’t even published yet when the Byrds covered them on their album. This is really all you might want from a box set like this, the missing reunion album notwithstanding.
With boxes, I personally prefer if the original albums are left alone on a CD and the bonus material comes on separate CDs. But since this collects remastered reissues that already had bonus tracks on them, that wasn’t an option. Well, so be it. I especially enjoy that the liner notes are not just dedicated to the nostalgia of some prominent fan or an attempt at further mythologizing: Every track is listed with essential information, recording date, previous releases, writing credits, et cetera. While each of the album tracks get a short informative paragraph providing context, the information is a bit scarce concerning the alternate takes of the bonus CDs. A little more historiography would have been nice there: I mean, why are there alternate Sweetheart of the Rodeo-takes with Gram Parsons on lead vocals that had been overdubbed with vocals by Roger McGuinn for the published album? Why is there zero context provided about the previously unissed studio and live takes on bonus CD 11 (titled Unissued)? I know you can read all about these things elsewhere, but these boxes are the decentralized mini-archives to collect such lore.
The box comes in a minimalistic and nice (very affordable) package, sports vinyl replicas and fits in your shelf next to other CDs. Even if you’re not an absolute fan, this is the box to get – they are an extremely important band going through several interesting phases which make for a nice journey here: from sand-bleached, mellow pop folksters to psychedelic Westcoast rokoko to Creedence Clearwater Revival-inspired roots & desert rockers. All phases have stellar highlights. So: here it is, the quintessential psych-folk-roots-rock band represented in a near perfect setting, at least for box set standards.
Answer: Probably about five.
But aha! This is another update to my Complete Discography of Lead Belly recordings. This time, a contradiction was spotted by Bernard Sigaud.
My list used to have a take of „Easy Rider (See See Rider“ for the session of May 1944 (appearing on DOCD-5310 and SFW40045) and another take, „Easy Rider“, for June 1946 (appearing on DOCD-5311 and SFW40201). Bernard noticed that these two takes seem to be the exact same take.
And he’s right!
When I went throught the available documentation, there seems to be an uncertainty or a mistake for the May 1944-session (and its following documentation) that goes something like this:
The take certainly stems from some mid-1940s session Lead Belly made for Moses Asch – this much was always known, but the details of those sessions seemed to be unclear for a long time. The title „Easy Rider (See See Rider)-1“ does show up in the discography by Wolfe/Lornell (1992) for the session in May 1944, but this session does have the Wolfe/Lornell disclaimer „[It is uncertain if these selections were recorded at the same session]“. Wolfe/Lornell give the 1950-Folkways LP 4 (or 2034 or FP34) as the first appearance of this track. They note the title „Easy Rider-2“ for June 1946, with an non-label „Disc 5501“ as first source.
These two takes mentioned separately by Wolfe/Lornell are the same take in question.
The liner notes of the first big CD-reissue of Folkways FP34, which is SFW40045, follow Wolfe/Lornell and also note the „Easy Rider“ take as from May 1944.
The Document Records CD DOCD-5310 also reproduces this and puts the take at May 1944. Now, as Wolfe/Lornell noted, there was always doubt about the tracks of this May 1944-session: „[It is uncertain if these selections were recorded at the same session]“. As it turns out, the discography by Fancourt/McGrath (2006) does list a number of songs from FP34, but „Easy Rider“ is not to be found there. But the title „Easy rider (See see rider)-1“ does show up for June 1946, with „Disc 5501?, Fw FP 34“ as source. The later Folkways Collection SFW40201 notes „Easy Rider“ as from June 1946 with Folkways 2034 (FP34) as the first appearance.
So in both instances, this would be the take that Wolfe/Lornell had placed for May 1944. The Document Records DOCD-5311 simply works with this information and uses the take as from June 1946.
The mistake seems to be simple: Folkways mistakenly placed the take in 1944 for its first issue in 1950 and there was contradictory information in Wolfe/Lornell with an „Easy Rider“-take for May 1944 and for June 1946. As this turned out to be the same take, it was obviously concluded at some point (I don’t know anything about the specifics) that there was no „Easy Rider“-take for May 1944 after all.
The placement of the take on DOCD-5310 is therefore misplaced and outdated – at least that’s what the documents say now. It would be interesting to have a look at the documentation to find out when the knowledge arose that this mid-1940s Asch-recording of „Easy Rider“ wasn’t from 1944 but from 1946. But I have no idea.
Short take away:
- There is (as of now) no „Easy Rider“-take from May 1944.
- DOCD-5310 and SFW40045 mistakenly list an „Easy Rider“ -take from May 1944.
- DOCD-5311 contains the same take, listed for June 1946.
- SFW40201 contains the same take, listed for June 1946.
I deleted the „Easy Rider“-entry in my list for May 1944 and put a note for the version of June 1946.
Dieses Küchengespräch drehte sich darum, woher der schweizerische (eigentlich: insgesamt süddeutschsprachige) Ausdruck «Grind» (für: Kopf) stammt, und ob er etwas mit der Ortschaft Grindelwald (Berner Oberland) zu tun habe.
Sofort wurde von lokalbetroffener Seite anekdotisch eingeworfen, dass Grindelwald so heisse, weil dort grosse «Grinde» – runde Felsen – herumlägen, woran sich wiederum die Frage knüpfte, ob diese Felsen ihren Namen von runden «Grinden», Köpfen, hätten. Also gleich drei Fragen:
- Woher stammt das Wort «Grind» für Kopf?
- Gibt es eine Wortbedeutung «Grind» für Felsen?
- Was hat das bzw. hat das was mit Grindelwald zu tun.
Das lässt sich etymologisch alles einigermassen klar benennen:
- Der «Grind» bezeichnete laut DWDS ursprünglich eine Art räudigen Ausschlag, der wohl oft am Kopf auftrat, mit Haarausfall einherging und deshalb auch als «Kopfgrind» bezeichnet wurde. Dies übertrug sich dann in abwertenden Kontexten auf den Kopf als «Grind», «mit Ausnahme von einigen Gebieten, wo das W[ort] nicht eben als anstössig gilt» (so das Schweizerische Idiotikon). Der krustige, schorfige, eben «grindige» Ausschlag hat seinen Namen wegen seiner krustigen Beschaffenheit dann wiederum von älteren Wortformen grint, grind, grand, grund etc., die alle ungefähr Kies, Sand oder zermahlene Steine bedeuten (vgl. englisch to grind).
- Diese Ursprungsbedeutung wiederum führt ziemlich direkt zu der Bedeutung von Grind als Felsen bzw. «Felskopf, -kuppe, -vorsprung, isolierter, kleiner Felsen» etc., wie zumindest das Schweizerische Idiotikon als Bedeutung 2 (Kopf) unter Punkt c verzeichnet. Ob da ein faktischer Zusammenhang zu dem Kies von oben besteht, dazu äussert sich z.B. das DWDS nicht. Das Idiotikon führt wunderbar aus:
«Viell[eicht] beruht auch die im Text an 2c angeschlossene Bed[eutung] ‘kahle Stelle’ auf der nämlichen Anschauung, möglicherweise auch diejenige des mit vereinzelten Grasbüscheln (wie der grindbehaftete Kopf mit einzelnen Haarbüscheln) besetzten Felsabhanges».Schweizerisches Idiotikon: Grind
Immerhin ist die Anekdote von Grindelwalds Namensherkunft von den Felsköpfen her annähernd etymologisch begründbar. Wahrscheinlich ist sie aber falsch.
3. Grindelwald hat seinen Namen eher nicht von «Grind» genannten Felsen, wahrscheinlicher ist laut den einschlägigen Quellen eine Verbindung zum in Flurnamen hier und da anzutreffenden «Grindel» oder «Grendel», das einen Schlagbaum, Holzriegel oder Holzzaun bezeichnet, der etwas absperrt (s.u. Friedli 1908). Im Althochdeutschen schon als grintil, grintel, grindel usw. vorhanden, und in der Form «Grindel» scheint das laut Duden sogar noch ein (landschaftlich) heute in dieser Bedeutung gebrauchtes Wort zu sein. Who knew! Die Version, dass sich Grindelwald von Felsköpfen herleitet, wird, wie ich erfahren durfte, von einigen Einheimischen hartnäckig hochgehalten (mit Ausschmückungen, dass z.B. die Grindelwalder den Talboden hinaufzogen, um oberhalb von bestimmten «Grinden» aka Felsköpfen zu wohnen, falls diese herunterrollen sollten usw.), aber neben den Fachquellen präferiert sogar die kommerziell-lokalpatriotische Webseite Wir Grindelwalder die verbuchte grintil-Version. Und ausführlich dargestellt ist diese in einer frühen Quelle, nämlich: Friedli, Emanuel: Bärndütsch als Spiegel bernischen Volkstums. Zweiter Band: Grindelwald. Bern: Francke 1908, 192f.
Digitales Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache: Grind: https://www.dwds.de/wb/Grind
Digitales Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache: Grindel: https://www.dwds.de/wb/Grindel
Duden: Grindel: https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Grindel
Friedli, Emanuel: Bärndütsch als Spiegel bernischen Volkstums. Zweiter Band: Grindelwald. Bern: Francke 1908, 192f.
Schweizerisches Idiotikon: Grind: https://digital.idiotikon.ch/idtkn/id2.htm#!page/20759/mode/1up
wir grindelwalder: https://www.wir-grindelwalder.ch/index.php?id=90
Fundort: Burger, Hermann: Die künstliche Mutter.
Frankfurt/M.: Fischer 1982. S. 166.
Pluralis sanitatis, also die Verwendung der ersten Person Plural in Sätzen wie „Wie geht es uns denn heute?“ oder „Hatten wir Stuhlgang?“ – toll, habe ich zuerst bei Hermann Burger gesehen und ihm automatisch auch sofort die Urheberschaft zugeschrieben, da es zu seinen anderen poeto-grammatischen Spielereien passt, etwa den konjunktivischen Substantiven („Töd“ als möglicherweise eintretender Tod in Schilten und derlei).
Ich wurde belehrt: Das scheint ein bekanntes linguistisches Konzept zu sein, ganz analog dem bekannteren Pluralis majestatis. Der Duden beschreibt ihn auch als „Krankenschwesternplural„, erwähnt dazu noch den Pluralis modestiae, wenn jemand „wir“ statt „ich“ sagt, um die eigene Person etwas zurückzunehmen – ungefähr, wenn eine Politikerin eine Stichwahl gewinnt und dann „Wir waren von Anfang an zuversichtlich und haben das jetzt geschafft“ sagt.
Der Pluralis modestiae wird oft mit dem Pluralis auctoris ungefähr gleichgesetzt. Das ist die im Deutschen langsam aussterbende Angewohnheit, „wir“ in (vor allem) akademischen Texten zu verwenden („In diesem Kapitel werden wir zeigen“, „Damit wären wir am Schluss unserer Ausführungen“), die sich im Französischen meiner Erfahrung nach aber noch beinahe selbstverständlicher Verwendung erfreut…
Daran angelehnt gibt es noch einen Pluralis societatis, wie mir der dritte Teil des Buches Sprachgeschichte (Hg. Werner Besch, Anne Betten, Oskar Reichmann, Stefan Sonderegger) mitteilt. Das ist, wenn eine Rednerin oder Autorin bei ihren Ausführungen das Publikum mit einbezieht. Das Buch benennt darüber hinaus auch den Pluralis reverentiae, 2. Person Plural („Eure Majestät“).
Ich bin neulich wieder auf diesen Plural gestossen, in Elio Pellins verspieltem Kurzroman Der Himmel als Abgrund über euch. Pellin fügt den genannten noch eine weitere Mehrzahl hinzu, den Pluralis praegnationis (13. Kapitel):
Das ist eine Neuschöpfung, soweit ich sehe, und es geht ungefähr darum, ob die hier sprechende Salomé von Erlach, da sie schwanger ist, mit grösserer Berechtigung einen der anderen hier disktuierten Plurale verwendet.
Wie dem auch sei: Pluralis sanitatis, wunderbar, nicht von Burger erfunden und auch nicht der einzige kuriose Plural.
Rated as: Archival / Live
Album Status: Must for Fans
Specific Genre: Krautrock
Main Genre: Experimental Rock, Rock
Undertones: Ambient, Free Improvisation, Psychedelic Rock
Label: Spoon 40SPOON6/7
[Disc 1: 1.1 Paperhouse 1.2 Mushroom 1.3 Oh Yeah 1.4 Halleluhwah 1.5 Aumgn 1.6 Peking O 1.7 Bring Me Coffee or Tea]
Disc 2: 2.1 Mushroom 2.2 Spoon 2.3 Halleluhwah
Love me! You gotta love me!
Tago Mago is – at least in recurring intervals – my favourite album. But let’s talk about the live bonus material from the 40th-anniversary edition. The bonus CD with the live material contains three tracks from a live performance in 1972. Unsurprisingly, the sound quality isn’t quite up to snuff – aside from being murky, especially Karoli’s guitar suffers from being buried in the mix, sounding as if he played from down the hallway. Well, we do with what we can get. I’ll go into the details, but what you get it is what you want and expect: Anxious, extremely rhythm-driven nightmares, amazing examples of free form tension-and-release, some chaotic nonsense, irresistible grooves: bleak, hypnotic, riveting. Well, it’s Can. What did you expect?
Two main points: The rather murky sound quality doesn’t really damage the enterprise, because it fits the claustrophobic, future-noir sound. But besides a riveting second track and an at least interesting mini-version of „Halleluhwah“, there is nothing to learn about Can here that can’t be experienced as good or better on other available live material. Secondly: The reason to get this is the 30-minute second track „Spoon“ which features everything you want in a Can jam: disorientation, paranoia, exploration and a beautiful, ethereal ending in an ambient-style hinting at 1973’s Future Days. Only half of this jam is available on The Lost Tapes (as is the less interesting opener „Mushroom“, a rare jam where they lose focus and decide to run the thing into the ground). The third track is a brief nine-minute „Halleluhwah“, in an interesting version where everything happens slightly too fast, it plays like a one-act-version of the epic original and fades out before the climax – I can only assume due to some technical error or scrambled tapes.
PS. The cover art hasn’t been changed. The photograph you see on the cover is a detachable carton sleeve to protect the gatefold vinyl replica inside, featuring the famous original head and is very nicely done all in all. Complete with several interesting liner notes by fawning fellow musicians but little historical information, it is a beautifully made reissue, less informative than it could be.
Rated as: Album
Album Status: Genre Classic
Specific Genre: Free Jazz, Spiritual Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz, Avant-Garde Jazz
Undertones: Experimental Big Band
1 Ascension (Edition II)
Bonus Tracks: 2 Ascension (Edition I)
Like a seagull thrown around by the tides
This is Coltrane’s „free jazz“-album which might alienate people who mainly go for his 1950s hard bop and ballads. Up to this point, Coltrane already had been flirting and entangled with avant-garde here and there, but this is the wedding announcement. If you listen to free jazz at all, I’d say this is the second record you should pick up (you can figure out the first for yourself). And, to exactly no one’s surprise, it’s great. The energy is amazing, makes you feel like a seagull thrown around by the tides, waves and winds, and I regularly find myself having gone through these 40 minutes without really noticing in the best way – this record sort of suspends my sense of time.
While free jazz shouldn’t make you „tune out“ mentally, you really don’t have a lot of listening „work“ to do here: The sheer, frenzied soul displayed by the very unusual set-up just carries you right through the piece. The performance of the (large) collective is so good it makes your brain forget that this is, at least supposedly, „cerebral“ music. It is also a very different approach compared to Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz: While that album was more of a thoroughly collective effort, Ascension follows a pretty tight structure that has ensemble and soloists alternating every few minutes in a specific order (everyone involved gets one solo, except Garrison and Davis on the double-basses get a duet). That’s not better or worse than Coleman’s stress on collective dynamics of development, but it does give you slightly more to hold on to structurally when you’re starting out in the genre. As the record that announced Coltrane‘s complete take-off into the stratosphere, it’s pretty bold and astounding in terms of full realisation – no „transitional“ aspects here.