Song Of The Day 6/30/2015: Chris Bouchillon – “Born in Hard Luck”

Talkin' Talkin' Blues Blues Week: The invention of the talking blues is widely credited to Chris Bouchillon, “The Talking Comedian of the South.” Bouchillon grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, where he started working in the iron foundry with his father and two brothers. The family would temporarily shelve that promising career on the weekends, when he and his brothers Urias (alternately spelled Uris) and Charley played hillbilly string music. The gang caught the ear of slick businessmen with jangling pockets and started recording sides for Okeh and Columbia Records in the mid–1920’s.

The Bouchillons played light, down-home country, drawing inspiration from medicine show musicians and black folksongs of the late 19th century. Chris sang lead vocals. The story goes that at a 1926 recording session in Atlanta, the “recording director” approached Chris about some technical details. He felt that Chris’s voice, to use the parlance of the times, kinda sucked. (Whether or not this story is true, I personally think Chris’s singing on recordings like “Hannah” is just fine, certainly comparable to other folk recordings of the era.) The director, seeking ways to maximize everyone's natural gifts, loved how Chris told stories. He suggested Bouchillon just speak his lyrics rather than sing them. So Chris spoke-sang “Talking Blues” with Urias on guitar. The single was released in February 1927 and sold like gangbusters, or what passed for gangbusters in the pre-Depression marketplace.

“Born in Hard Luck,” which veers from the standard A-A-B-B-? talking blues format we discussed yesterday, was the follow-up single, also recorded in Atlanta and also a considerable success. It became a pillar of country comedy and found perhaps inevitable favor with a lot of folks during the Depression. Bouchillon withdrew from the performing life, managed a Greenville dry-cleaning establishment and died in Florida in 1968. “Born in Hard Luck” is still a charming and witty piece, and even if his singing was bad enough to gag a maggot, his verbal skills were slicker than a hot knife through butter.
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