It doesn’t matter what your station is in life, we all have struggles and we all have joy and pain. We all have a story to tell. Spirituals and blues music tells this story and has the ability to resonate with people all over the world. There is a depth, an emotion that is conveyed through this music. Spirituals and blues are not somber pieces of music. There is an infectious joy to the music.
Where did this enduring music come from? Simply put, the spirituals are the Southern sacred folk songs created and sung by African Americans during slavery. Their original composers are unknown, and they have assumed a position of collective ownership by the whole community.
The lyrics of Negro spirituals were tightly linked with their lives of slavery. While work songs dealt only with their daily life, spirituals were inspired by the message of Jesus Christ and his Good News (Gospel) of the Bible, “You can be saved.” They are different from hymns and psalms because they were a way of sharing the difficult condition of being a slave.
Spirituals provided comfort and eased the boredom of daily tasks, but above all, they were an expression of spiritual devotion and a yearning for freedom from bondage.
Conventional wisdom divides African American music into secular and sacred, with the blues clearly falling into the secular category and spirituals into the sacred category. However, the reality is that this distinction may not be nearly as clear as this. Theologian James Cone argues in his book, “The Spirituals and the Blues,” that both the spirituals and the blues have important sacred dimensions. The blues, according to Cone, are very spiritual in the sense that they highlight the essential God-given humanity of Black people as they struggle to deal with the stresses of day-to-day living. Perhaps it’s just the venue in which the songs are performed that is secular, but the content—songs dealing with all the varieties of life—that is deeply spiritual.
An important distinction between the spiritual and the blues is that the blues grounds black hope in history, not in a plea for a better life after death. The blues affirm the selfhood of the individual, his self-reliance and his self-respect.
Beyond the idea of a sacred dimension to the blues, it is clear that as America’s first music, the spirituals have had a significant impact on the evolution of all subsequent American music genres, including the blues and jazz. Moreover, some spirituals, in form and style, previewed the lyrical and musical feel of the blues. The clearest example is the spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child:”
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long ways from home . . .
One recognizes instantly in this song the structure and style of emotional expression that would later be commonplace in the blues. “As I understand it, blues evolved out of spirituals,” observes Charlie Devore, cornetist with the Hall Brothers Dixieland band. “Spirituals developed as a music sung by African American slaves that appropriated Christian themes using African devices of intonation, vibrato, and most importantly, rhythms. A scale flatting the 3rd and 7th degrees lent an African expression to these vocal efforts.
“After Emancipation in 1863, spirituals gradually evolved into the blues using this same scale in a twelve-bar form. Many spirituals also used the twelve-bar form, but the blues had a basic pattern that consisted of four bar phrases sung twice with a concluding four-bar phrase summing up the two previous four-bar phrases.”
“Spirituals such as ‘Just A Little While To Stay Here’ reflected the African American philosophy, ‘cry at the birth, rejoice at the death,’ whereas blues comments on times being tough, but that ‘the sun’s going to shine in my back door someday’ right here on earth,” notes Devore. “No waiting around for the after life!!”
Soon this life will be all over and my sinful days will end
Soon we’ll take our heavenly journey be at home again with friends.
Heaven’s gates are standing open and waiting for our entrance there.
Just a little while to stay here, Just a little while to wait
Just a little while to labor on the path that’s always straight
Just a little more hard trouble in this low and sinful state
Then we’ll all go marching over Marching through the Pearly Gate.
More from Charlie: “Early New Orleans instrumentalists emulated the vocal quality of spirituals and blues through adroit use of vibrato and phrasing. Most of the African American musicians I knew talked about achieving a ‘singing’ tone through their instrument.
“In hearing many New Orleans bands over the years, I was always struck by the fact that the players used the same devices of intonation, vibrato, and phrasing interchangeably with spirituals and blues. Thus, in my own interpretation of this material, I have always tried to do the same.
“My background is different than Doc’s, but in listening to these pieces I observe that the mode of expression for Doc and his band is basically the same for both spirituals and the blues.”
In the 1920s, a new style of African American religious song called “Gospel” added a new dimension to the older, spiritual tradition. Thomas Dorsey, a Georgia bluesman who later moved to Chicago, coined the term “Gospel” and was the acknowledged leader of the gospel movement. The lyrics of these new songs dealt with praising the Lord, with personal improvement and with brotherly community life. Many of them were inspired by social problems: segregation, lack of love, drugs, etc.
“Just a Closer Walk With Thee” is one of the popular Gospel numbers to come out of this movement, although there is some debate as to its origin. It probably has its roots in the music of black plantation combos and brass bands of the mid-1800s, which later grew into Dixieland jazz.
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord,
none but Thee.
My father, Doc Evans, brought together some truly amazing musicians to record this music for you to listen to some 50 years later. “I feel that your dad and Knocky Parker were always the most historically informed of the musicians used in the Doc Evans bands,” DeVore comments. “True scholars who took a great deal of satisfaction in researching so many of these early jazz pieces and presenting them both in live performances and on recordings in a thoroughly professional manner.”
Hal Runyon, trombone, could be found on most of his recordings, as well as the bandstand night in, night out. A classy act through and through. Dick Pendleton, clarinet, had a great sense of humor. “Both Dick Pendleton and Hal Runyon reflected the high standards of musicianship set by Doc and Knocky,” comments DeVore. “They were excellent readers who had a good grasp of the idiom and responded well to the requirements of the clarinet and trombone parts in Doc’s arrangements and were also very able soloists.”
Knocky Parker, piano, was a college professor, teaching English at Kentucky Wesleyan College. Knocky would make the trip north to record or to join the band for the sold-out Walker Art Center summer concerts. Knocky also recorded with New Orleanians Johnny Wiggs and Raymond Burke during the mid-‘50s.
George Tupper, tuba, and Bill Peer, banjo, brought together two talented journeymen to an already impressive rhythm section. Red Maddock was on drums and vocals for the Spirituals & Blues recording. Besides his impeccable drumming, his vocals capture the mood and the essence of the spiritual. Warren Thewis, drums on the AP-45 recording, was a stalwart in my father’s groups dating back to 1953.
Red’s driving beat and his heartfelt vocals bring him to the forefront on this recording. His personality and sense of humor have kept him in our hearts long after his passing. Red’s career ended on an upbeat note as he performed regularly with pianist Butch Thompson and bassist Bill Evans on the “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show.
From Charlie Devore, cornetist with the Hall Brothers Dixieland band: “George ‘Red’ Maddock, was my father’s best friend, and we all became huge fans of Red’s when he joined the Hall Brothers Band in 1979. Red was a magnificent drummer with an irresistible beat who took great pleasure in performing for the benefit of the band. He would swing like crazy back there creating an infectious atmosphere that was truly exhilarating.
“Red idolized Louis Armstrong and, to a lesser extent, Fats Waller. Red’s singing was absolutely terrific with wonderful jazz phrasing and it was always heartfelt. Like Louis and Fats, Red had an unerring sense of time and phrasing that was always musical and swinging at the same time. And there’s nothing he enjoyed more! I recall, as his roommate on a trip to St. Louis in 1979, Red getting up in the morning saying, ‘Aren’t we lucky? Another day to sing all these beautiful songs!’ Red’s vocal on ‘How Long Blues’ is very typical of what we used to hear him sing weekend after weekend.”
How long, how long baby, how long, has that evening sun been gone?
How long, baby, oh Baby how long?
I could see the green grass growing on yonder hill;
But I’d rather see the greenbacks on a dollar bill.
How long baby, come on, tell me how long
I can honestly say that Red has had a major impact on my life. From my mother, Doc Evans’ widow Eleanor (Evans) Hattery: “In the early ‘50s when I was attending Winona State Teachers College, a favorite weekend date was to go to La Crosse which was just across the river. I remember going into a club, where a black piano player (Bill Samuels) and a fabulous drummer who sang and told jokes, were playing. The drummer’s name was Red Maddock.
About a year later when I was working at Snyder’s drugstore on Eighth and Hennepin, on the 3:30 to midnight shift, a friend and I went into Williams Bar after work. We found this wonderful band, the Doc Evans Dixieland Band, and Red was playing drums. He recognized me or at least pretended to and later introduced us to Doc. As they say, the rest is history.”
As a young boy, going to hear my dad’s band play was a real treat. My brothers and I were always greatly entertained by Red’s antics. I still remember him leaning over in the middle of a tune and taking a bite out of a fake plant in the car dealership where the band was playing.
Many musicians have raved about Red’s sense of humor. More from Charlie: “Red was a marvelous comedian who could tell a joke, complete with dialects as needed, as well as anyone I ever heard live, on TV or the movies. We would cut Red loose with about ten minutes of his best stuff for our audiences some time during the middle of the night. We laughed harder than the audience and, as a result, always played loose and relaxed. Red had the same effect on your dad’s band too. I can recall many a night at the Rampart Street Club when Red had both the customers and the band rolling in the aisles. He had so many one-liners:
‘The way my wife cooks, we pray after the meal.’
‘I bought a suit with two pair of pants . . . Boy, was that hot.’
‘Johnny, if you fall out of that tree and break a leg, don’t come running to me.”
Butch Thompson had the privilege of playing alongside Red with both the Hall Brothers and on the “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show. “Red grew up with jazz. From his teens, he was tuned into Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. A natural performer, he was not only a first-class jazz drummer but a wonderful clown, dancer and singer. He had some formal training and could read a chart, but he was really an extremely gifted seat-of-the-pants performer. I once watched him play a complicated revue without having seen or heard any part of the score much less having any rehearsal under his belt. It was an amazing performance; he caught the majority of the complex dance moves and arrangements, covering any of the unavoidable slip ups with improvised flourishes and just plain chutzpah.
“Red was the spark plug of any band he was in. He had his own style. Although he was prone to mugging and stick-tossing acrobatics onstage, it was never at the expense of the music. That solid, swinging beat was always there. He was also a fine jazz singer; not a crooner, but a master of the kind of razor-sharp timing perfected by Armstrong and just a very few others. His voice was increasingly hoarse as he entered late middle age, but that was beside the point; the timing was everything.”
If I should take a notion
and jump into the ocean
Ain’t nobody’s business if I do.
If I soon go to church on Sunday
and a caberet on Monday
Ain’t nobody’s business if I do.
Butch continues, “Doc used Red because he was a fine player. Red’s mischievous streak would occasionally need to be monitored, but Doc wanted the best, and so he used Red as much as possible.”
“To play with him was like working with a big safety net— I always felt like I just couldn’t go wrong. If I had to put it into just a few words, I’d say that Red’s music was full of what can only be called heart.”
And in the end, that’s what the spirituals and blues is all about.