Following Rev. Gary Davis, let's turn to the Delta bluesman from Bentonia, Mississippi, who was not only influential in his playing, but had a distinctive, almost ghostly voice that captures the fearful fragility of this Depression-era song. With a reputation for being moody and mercurial, Nehemiah Curtis "Skip" James (1902 - 1969) could play a variety of instruments as well as styles, from blues to spirituals to gospel. He began to be noticed in the early 1930s, then disappeared from the public eye until he was rediscovered for the last five years of his life in the mid-60s with the blues revival with white audiences. This song is from his 1931 recordings in Grafton, Wisconsin, for Paramount Records. Like Robert Johnson, he used the D-minor guitar tuning (D–A–D–F–A–D). Sadly the Great Depression killed the promise of commercial success. Few songs capture those times better than this. James is featured in the Wim Wenders documentary The Soul of a Man (the second part of The Blues, a series produced by Martin Scorsese), an excerpt from which is also below.
Hard time's is here
An ev'rywhere you go
Times are harder
Than th'ever been befo'
You know that people
They are driftin' from do' to do'
But they can't find no heaven
I don't care where they go
People, if I ever can get up
Off a-this old hard killin' flo'
Lord, I'll never get down
This low no mo'
Well, you hear me singin'
This old lonesome song
People, you know these hard times
Can't last us so long
Hm, hm-hm, oh Lord
You know, you'll say you had money
You better be sho'
But these hard times gon' kill you
Just drive a lonely soul
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