If you look up Volume 1 of Josh White’s Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, the first thing you’ll hear is a song from 1929 called “Wang Wang Harmonica Blues.” I have no idea why it’s called that; “Wang Wang” sounds like the name of a panda, or… actually, you know what, let’s not pursue that line of thought any further; there are too many ways it can go wrong. Most likely it has something to with the sound of the song itself, which Josh recorded in Richmond, Indiana with “a white hillbilly band called the Carver Boys,” according to Elijah Wald’s Josh White: Society Blues.
It’s a true fact that, especially in the realm of old-timey music, the line between what we call country and what we call blues is not always a clear one. Which side of the line a particular piece of music gets put on often has more to do with the race of the performer than anything else. Attributed to Josh White, “Wang Wang” is classified as blues; replace his name with the Carver Boys’, and it would be filed under country.
You can draw a direct line from there to Booker T and the MG’s, an interracial quartet whose music is lamely called “R&B” but is really an unclassifiable amalgam of all the streams of great American music. But that’s another topic for another time.
Anyway… in the year since “Scandalous and a Shame,” Josh White had begun to acquire some independence, thanks in part to a Paramount Records employee who “was bothered by the fact that [Blind Joe] Taggart was not paying the boy for the recording work and ‘horrified’ to find that Josh had not been able to attend school.”
But it doesn’t appear that he ever did get much schooling; he himself said he had a sixth-grade education. Instead, as a seasoned 15-year-old he set out on life as a freelance musician. Says Wald,
Josh continued to perform with Taggart and seems to have added harmony vocals on Taggart’s records through late 1929. By then, though, Josh had proved that he could make it on his own, and he could congratulate himself that his days as a lead boy were over. “At the end of the summer he came to the Paramount office in a new suit,” the Paramount man recalled. “He told me he had saved some money and was going home to his mother.”
And that brings us to the end of Chapter 2 of Society Blues, as well as the “Early years” section of the Wikipedia page. I’m probably going to have to speed this up a bit if we’re ever going to get back to what this thread is nominally about, but for the time being I’m quite content to be just drifting, Mrs. Robinson.