By the Grace of God…

RosettaspreadVery happy that Sister Rosetta Tharpe – who we put on the cover of one of my first issues of MOJO – finally gets a full feature in this month’s magazine.

I enjoyed speaking to Rosetta’s friends, including writer and producer Anthony Heilbutt, plus Chris Barber, Val Wilmer, and others who knew her.

Hopefully the piece will inspire you to check out Rosetta’s famous appearance in Chorlton Cum Hardy. To complement that immortal show, here’s a list of some great tracks by the Sister’s peers and heroes.

Rev Utah Smith
Two Wings (1944, 55 etc)
One of Church of God In Christ’s biggest attractions, Utah was a huge draw in New Orleans, a rival to Guitar Slim and others. He wore large angel wings, and played a fiendish electric guitar. This, his most famous track, was re-recorded many times including for rock’n’roll label Checker. Every version is searing.

Blind Willie Johnson
Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground,
This wordless, haunting message from another dimension spawned its own soundtrack genre, from Paris Texas on, and is regularly namechecked by rock luminaries. But Willie, a travelling preacher, only ever recorded gospel music. In his travels, it’s likely he kept two wives.

Elder Charles Beck

Don’t Ride That Hellbound Train, circa 1946
The only pianist on this list, Elder Beck often worked with hotshot guitarist Elder Curry, from the early 30s. This solo song from later in his career has a soul-saving message – but a  proto-rock’n’roll delivery, with a souped-up Ray Charles-style riff.

Blind Roosevelt Graves
Woke Up This Morning, 1936
A beautiful example of early gospel’s early clash of influences; a joyous line “I woke up… with my mind standing on Jesus,” repeated over, to a perfectly-choreographed guitar counterpoint. Sounds like there’s two or three guitars, but it’s all Roosevelt, with brother Uaroy on tambourine.

Washington Phillips
Denomination Blues, 1927
A dream-like accompaniment, by a ziher-style instruments, trickles and flows in the background, under Washington’s beautifully-judged vocals, which decry the rivalry between different denominations. If only they’d listened. The song became a staple of Sister Rosetta’s repertoire.

Memphis Minnie
Kissing In The Dark, 1953
You could call Minnie Rosetta’s secular rival, except there was little overlap between material and audiences. But Minnie was a consummate, commercial powerhouse, like Rosetta. This late stomper  shows her mastery of the electric guitar, plus her trademark dirty lyrics, which reference venereal disease.

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