Friday Five: Songs About Prohibition

Ken Morton, Jr. | February 17th, 2012

On this date back in 1933, the Blaine Act was passed, initiating the repeal of the prohibition of alcohol by the United States Government. From 1920 to 1933, the United States population had to either be dry or find their spirits through underhanded means. Big cities had big crime syndicates take the lead and quench the thirst of folks in all kinds of backdoor barrooms. Out in the countryside, home distilleries became popular (here’s a moonshine playlist from The 9513 archives). As Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners rakes in big viewers this season, it’s clear that this tradition is still continuing today in the rolling hills of the Smoky Mountains and beyond. This Friday, we thank Wisconsin Senator John J. Blaine, the man who made it easier for us to get lit 79 years ago today, with a little playlist about Prohibition and bootleggers.

5. Billy Murray – “Alcoholic Blues (Prohibition Song)”

Billy was a vaudeville actor and singer in the first quarter of the 20th century. He sang a variety of different styles; this here is one of his comic tunes where he sings backed by an orchestra. “I’ve got the alcoholic blues/ No more beer, my heart to cheer/ Goodbye whiskey, you used to make me frisky/ So long, highball, so long, gin/ Oh, tell me when you comin’ back again.”

 

4. Nora Bayes – “Prohibition Blues”

Like Murray, Nora Bayes was a vaudeville singer who lamented the loss of “Old Man Alcohol.” Bayes liked to drink, evidently. Perhaps that need was caused by being married five times between 1908 and 1928.

 

3. Jim Jackson – “Bootlegger’s Blues”

Jim Jackson was born way back in 1884, and he became one of the earliest African-American recording stars. He covered blues, gospel, vaudeville numbers, and, as was the custom of the day, many different traditional tunes that now are most closely associated with early country music.

 

2. Sara Petite – “Bootleggers”

San Diego native and Americana artist Petite puts her own spin on one of the earlier forms of home delivery.

 

1. Lowe Stokes – “Prohibition is a Failure”

Although not one of the founding members, Stokes was a member of The Skillet Lickers, one of the earliest country bands ever recorded. And if you’re licking skillets, you probably need something strong to wash down the taste.

  1. Rick
    February 17, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Interesting fare Ken. As a non-drinker I regret that Prohibition wasn’t kept on the books! If it had concerts in clubs would be a whole lot more enjoyable these days (although come to think of it, very few would likely be in business.)

    Although Sara Petite now resides in San Diego, she grew up in a mountainous region of north central Washington State. The way she describes it it wasn’t all that different from a holler in West Virginia…

  2. luckyoldsun
    February 18, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    I’m going to admit that you’ve pulled up a topic where I have not heard of a single one of the artists or a single one of the songs! I wonder if anyone else will admit that.

    I’ll try to listen to them.

  3. Paul Dennis
    February 19, 2012 at 6:09 am

    Billy Murrray was familiar to me – according to Joel Whitburn’s POP MEMORIES 1890-1954, he was the #1 recording artist of the period 1900-1919. He also had many hits as a memeber of the Hayden Quartet and the American Quarter, two of the leading vocal groups of the time

  4. Barry Mazor
    February 19, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Here’s one more. you may or may not have heard of, Prohibition Blues by the greta country fiddler Clayton McMichen. It was a demo for Jimmie Rodgers, who actually recorded it, but that was never released and the one copy of it was, gulp, dropped and broken by Ernest Tubb later, so nobody’s heard Jimmie’s version past a few back then–or ever will:
    ttp://www.myspace.com/claytonmcmichen/music/songs/prohibition-blues-album-version-28197218

  5. Barry Mazor
    February 19, 2012 at 3:40 pm
  6. Jon
    February 19, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    McMichen might have objected to being called a country fiddler ;-).

    The omission of Uncle Dave Macon’s “Governor Al Smith” is unforgiveable. See http://theanthologyofamericanfolkmusic.blogspot.com/2010/11/governor-al-smith-uncle-dave-macon.html .

  7. Barry Mazor
    February 20, 2012 at 10:24 am

    True on most days, Jon; McMichen certainly preferred to talk about his jazz side, or at least, about the jazzy the Wildcats, to going back into Gid Tanner stories..But he seemed not to mind the Rodgers-related talk..in the interviews I’ve heard. (I’ve spoken with his daughter, but missed out on him, myself.)

  8. Jon
    February 20, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Which begs the question of whether he saw Rodgers as a country artist; maybe he saw him as more of a, shall we say, southern pop artist? I’ve always thought whoever came up with that description hit a pretty good lick ;-).

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