May 19, 2012
Critical writers on the blues have often disputed the difficult question of whether the "canon" of classic country blues recordings made between 1924 and, say, 1940 really represent the cream of the talent available at the time, or whether in fact those artists who found their way into the Paramount or Genntt recording studios were only the lucky few - the tip one might say of the blues ice-berg floating beneath the sea of white indifference and hostility.
Myself, I am such a believer in the power of the "almighty dollar" that I am convinced that, once the record companies had realized the profits to be made from the country blues singers, whom they had first ignored, they left singulary few stones unturned in their search for any artists with commercial potential.
However, of course, this does not mean that no fish slipped through the net; and names like Fred McDowell and Mance Lipscomb spring easily to mind. In fact, by the late fifties, a number of devoted researchers were combining the Southern country districts continually on the lookout for any folk musicians practising their art in out of the way corners.
In 1958 just such a man, Frederic Ramsay Jr., editor of a jazz magazine, was guided by a local sax-player of his aquaintance to a slum called Buckner's Alley deep in the negro suburbs of Natchez, Mississippi. There he was introduced to the artist whose work you can hear on this album. Known only by his nickname of Cat-Iron, he at first declined to record any blues at all, saying "Since I been converted, I sing the hymns." This he proceeded to do, and with just what fervour you can hear on side two of this record. However, fortunately for us, he later in the afternoon relented and risked damnation to extent of laying down the six folk blues that will delight you on side one.
As far as I know these are the only recordings Cat-Iron ever made, indeed I am afraid I do not even know if he is still alive; but, on this album, his voice stakes his claim for all time to the proud title of Bluesman. Mike Raven, July 1969
Cat-Iron is really William Carradine, and I presume the Cat-Iron comes from the way coloured slurred the name.
According to his wife, Fannie Carradine, who is still living in Buckner's Alley, he was born near Garden City, Mississippi. He died in 1958 and said he was 62 years old.
Apparently his blues singing consisted of songs about the history of Natchez, such as the tornado of 1840 and the dance hall fire in the thirties. He lived near a place called Tin Can Alley and apparently some of his songs were jokes about this. Elenora Gralow
Cat-Iron - Sings Blues And Hymns (Folkways, 1958)
Posted by Stiles