As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve been on a bit of a secret theme the last few posts: guitar evangelists (Rev. Davis, Son House, Willie Johnson, Rosetta Tharpe), or similarly virtuosic religious music (Spence & co). They’re all from black rural musicians, and they all make the religious subjects their own. They live the music they sing, and so when they sing you really believe them (see also the post on Washington Phillips in the archives). And they all seem to be loved by blues-lovers, despite the fact that half of them never sang a blues song in their lives.
Well, this next one will complete the theme. It comes the closest to an actual religious service, and to judge by impassioned shouts and screams, it was one hell of an ecstatic experience. It’s called Memphis Sanctified Jug Bands, and collects the Complete Recorded Works of Elder Richard Bryant, Rev. E.S. (Shy) Moore, Brother Williams Memphis Sanctified Singers, & Holy Ghost Sanctified Singers (1929-1930). It’s a total wild ruckus, let me tell you. Very exciting, if you can get past the mountain of surface noise. This is the real lo-fi magic. A few of the tracks even feature sermons that gradually give way to hollering and screaming and music-making.
A glancing bit of research revealed that all these holy jug bands belonged to the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), an early Pentecostal incarnation. Apparently, ‘COGIC conjures up images of the expressive and emotionally intense, hand clapping, foot stomping, tongues speaking, bible toting, joyous singing, body healing, Jesus professing, God fearing, Spirit indwelling experience of a group of black religious folk, collectively known as the sanctified church.’
Allmusic has this to say:
Review by John Storm Roberts, Original Music
The “sanctified” Church of God in Christ (COGIC) was and is formative in African-American gospel music far beyond its numerical strength, in part because it drew heavily from secular instrumental music when other groupings disapproved of guitars pianos and the rest. These sensational recordings by a handful of groups are similar to the secular jugbands, but outswing most of them three to two.
In a long and ontological diatribe about the Catholic versus Protestant churches and the lack of religious folk music in the former, John Fahey had this to say:
“The nature of the Roman Catholic Church is to make the here-and-now Christ grow and be available to all. The nature of the Protestant Church is to communicate “cheap Grace” – which is no Grace at all – through emotional, exciting, provocative and stimulating entertainment, especially through the twin talismans of noise and rhythm.
Most of the records in this collection were made under the influence of Enthusiasm.
I submit that these recordings…demonstrate that we have here in the USA, both now and then, one very large side of a continuum of an ecstatic as opposed to contemplative religion, which calls itself “Christian.” There are other ecstatic religions in the world, or religions with the same continuum (Hinduism), but is Christianity really intrinsically ecstatic in this manner of hot enthusiasm? Are these tambourine players and guitar screamers inhabited by Christ? Do they know him?
I have to say that, Flannery O’Connor notwithstanding, underneath it all I hear pan pipes tooting and a cloven hoof beating time.” -from American Primitive Vol.1: Raw Pre-War Gospel
VA – Memphis Sanctified Jug Bands
Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order (1928-1930)
get the spirit in thee.
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ cover | 85mb
& see the COGIC blog for more contemporary fiery musical sermons.