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The story of W.C. Handy first hearing the blues in Tutwiler, Mississippi, in 1903:
Headed (presumably) to Clarksdale, Handy's train was several hours late. He was trying to catch some shuteye when he noticed that a "lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plucking a guitar beside me while I slept."
As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of a guitar in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who use steel bars. The effect was unforgettable. His song, too, struck me instantly.
"Goin' where the Southern cross' the Dog"
The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard. The tune stayed in my mind. When the singer paused, I leaned over and asked him what the words meant. He rolled his eyes, showing a trace of mild amusement.
Perhaps I should have known, but he didn't mind explaining. At Moorhead, the east and west bound met and crossed the north and south bound trains four times a day. This fellow was going where the Southern railroad crossed the Yazoo Delta railroad, (nicknamed the "Yellow Dog"), and he didn't care who knew it.
In Tutwiler... where the Blues was born
The photo and text immediately above are from vividpix.com, and are reproduced here, with thanks, in accordance with their guidelines for photo usage. Their website also features numerous excellent shots of Tutwiler and other blues-related images.
Where the Southern cross' the Dog:
Presentation of the text is paraphrased from The History of the Blues
by Francis Davis. Used by permission.
Text copyright 1941, renewed 1969, Handy Bros. Music, New York, NY. Used by permission.
From "Father of
the Blues" by W. C. Handy
Text includes lyrics from the song
"Yellow Dog Blues" by W. C. Handy.
Published by Handy Brothers Music Co., Inc., New York, NY
International Copyright Secured
EMI Music Publishing Co., LTD.
For further information on W. C. Handy
contact Handy Brothers Music Co., Inc. New York, NY