Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Ice and Snow Blues"

I'm gonna build me a castle, out of the ice and snow
I'm gonna build me a castle, out of the ice and snow
So I can freeze these barefooted women 'way from
     around my door
That's the first chorus of Clifford Gibson's "Ice and Snow Blues," recorded in New York City on November 26, 1929. This lyric is one of the most striking blues conceits I know, a surreal image of the singer-guitarist in a frozen Xanadu. Barefooted women, keep out!

As I learned by chance this afternoon, the ice-and-snow conceit did not originate with Gibson. Pearl Dickson's "Twelve Pound Daddy" (recorded in Memphis, December 12, 1927) has it too. It happens that I have this song on Frank Stokes' Dream: The Memphis Blues, a compilation LP that I bought as a young blues fan, 35-or-so years ago:
I'm gonna build me a castle, out of ice and snow
Lordy, out of ice and snow
So when my blues come around, I can freeze them
     from my door
I wonder whether the weather in November 1929 inspired Clifford Gibson to make ice and snow the starting point for a new song. On Monday, November 25, 1929, the New York Times had an item with the charming title "Mercury to Rise Today: Bears Rake Leaves Into Den as Snow Falls in Palisades Park." The paper noted a Saturday "cold snap that sent New York into its heavy overcoats and covered much of the remainder of the country with snow and frost." Was Gibson making his way from St. Louis to New York during that cold snap? Did he get off the train in New York with this unusual blues conceit in mind? Did a recording engineer suggest doing a song about the weather?

Today's weather brought Clifford Gibson's song into my mind, as I'm typing in a house that's covered in ice and snow. There are no barefooted women outside though -- or inside either. My wife Elaine is here, and she's wearing socks. Happy Valentine's Day, Elaine!

[Above, a tree in the front yard.]

Clifford Gibson (1901-1963) was a brilliant guitarist. His 1929-1931 recordings are available on one CD: Complete Recorded Works, 1929-1931. (Included: A killer duet with Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman.)

Pearl Dickson's "Twelve Pound Daddy" can (still) be found on Frank Stokes' Dream: The Memphis Blues, 1927-1931 (Yazoo Records).

It was a page from Michael Gray's The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia that alerted me to the Pearl Dickson connection: Background on "Ice and Snow Blues" (Amazon Online Reader, Amazon account required).

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