Today I decided to declare it spring. I know it’s early, but I think we deserve it. The groundhog can go fuck himself.
If you’re reading this, congratulations! You made it to now. This is no small thing; give yourself a pat on the back. The future looks bright; I’m not saying you have to wear shades, but you can if you want to.
In the last installment of the Josh White story, he had saved up some money and gone home to his mom. This is a touching scene in the biopic in my head. And it does seem like the period that followed was something of an idyllic one, with Josh going to school, playing football, and exploiting the fact that he was a young, good-looking man with musical talent and a shady mystique.
Josh liked the ladies and the ladies liked him. When he broke his leg badly playing football and was hospitalized for months, he managed to have a good time anyway. “The nurses took a liking to me at that time,” he said. “I was big enough.”
After, when he was convalescing at home, he was approached and offered a recording contract by an A&R man from ARC Records. Josh wanted to accept it, but he needed his mother’s permission first. It’s not clear if this was because he was underage, or because he was the type of guy who did what his mama said; regardless, Mrs. White was consulted and, after praying on it, said that it would be OK — “providing he does nothing but spirituals.”
And so in April 1932 — not long after his 18th birthday — Josh went into a recording studio to cut his first solo sides. It does not appear that anyone involved ever had any intention of following Mama White’s instructions. Of the 20 or so songs he recorded that day — 8 of which eventually saw release — none were religious in nature. All eight can be found on the first volume of Document Records’ Josh White – Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, but they appear to have been sourced from well-used 78s and some are close to unlistenable. The best of the lot are “>Little Brother Blues — which, says Elijah Wald, is about “his trusty knife and the mayhem he will wreak if anyone tries to mess with him or his woman” — and the self-mythologizing “The Greenville Sheik”:
This feels very much like a springtime-type song to me — sap rising, a little swagger in your step. If you close your eyes you can smell the magnolia in the air. Not that I really know what magnolia smells like; but I know it smells good.
magnolia blossoms smell like lemons.