The light, seductive voice of Annette Hanshaw has led me to a song whose history confirms, as well as any song of the 20th century, that music knows no borders of genre, tradition or colour. ‘I Get the Blues When It Rains’ is not a work of genius but it’s a great little number, with on a neat lyrical idea and and a catchy tune.
Pop? Jazz? Blues? Country? Male? Female?
Who knows? Who cares?
But, first, Annette.
It was a few years back that I came across Annette Hanshaw and fell in love with the wit, warmth and general sexiness of her voice. A star of the late 1920s and 1930s, she was notoriously shy and disliked show-business, in spite of which – rather strangely – her nickname was ‘the Personality Girl’. Considering how many hits she had there are very few clips of her singing.
Unlike most of her contemporaries, she was a singer whose style has not dated, and it’s no surprise to see on Spotify that several new collections of her songs have been released this century.
There had to be an Annette Hanshaw Friday Song, but which one? She does brilliant versions of two of my favourite sopngs of the late 1920s, ‘Wasting My Love On You’ and Fats Waller’s ‘I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling‘ (a previous Friday Song in Gene Austin’s Version). Her version of ‘Black Bottom’ is wonderfully skittish and ‘Fit as a Fiddle’ (Fit as a fiddle and ready for love/ I could jump over the moon up above‘) captures the emancipated sexiness of those years as well as any song.
In fact, there are very few Annette Hanshaw songs that I don’t like.
When I first heard her sing ‘I Get the Blues When It Rains’, I was a bit startled. Surely, I thought, this is a blues song. I had first heard Snooks Eaglin’ singing it. Then I came across a famous Big Bill Broonzy version.
Had Annette and her team been up to a bit of cultural appropriation?
The truth is more complicated and reminded me of Nick Tosches’ extraordinary – and incendiary – study of minstrel songs, country and the blues Where Dead Voices Gather (2002). ‘Blackface, white face, false face,’ Tosches wrote, describing how songs from minstrel and medicine shows, vaudeville, ragtime, jazz and eventually country were shared, borrowed and stolen, skipping easily across the racial divide in both directions.
‘In the last years of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth, the vaudeville-era Tin Pan Alley became the primary well of minstrelsy, and as blues and jazz, through the sagacious musical carpetbagging of men such as WC Handy and Clarence Williams, became an integral part of Tin Pan Alley, the circle of the uroboroswas complete: minstrelsy had flowed into the blues, the blues had influenced Tin Pan Alley, and Tin Pan Alley had become the voice of minstrelsy.’
All that was a bit before Marcy Klauber and Harry Stoddart wrote a song in 1928 called ‘I Get the Blues When It Rains’ for the popular white harmony duo Ford and Glenn – the Chas and Dave of the day.It caught on and, in the way of those times, was quickly being covered by anyone who fancied having a go at it.
Since then the song has roamed far and wide. The Three Peppers recorded it in the 1930s. The Ink Spots had a huge hit with it. Somewhere across town, Judy Garland was giving it a rather different, somewhat lachrymose treatment. It soon got its feet under the table in Nashville and became a country standard, being covered by, among many others, Jim Reeves and, in an instrumental version, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
At some point, it also became a blues song. The Broonzy version was recorded in in the 1950s before Snooks Eaglin had a go in 1971.
There’s nothing exceptional about the lyrics or tune of ‘I Get the Blues When It Rains’, and yet, when I’m noodling on the guitar, it’s often the song I play.
Annette Hanshaw’s version is characteristically swingy and flirty, with a couple of extra verses of her own
‘I get the blues when it rains
I lose my rouge when it rains
Each little drop puts a shine right on my nose
Each taxi cab splashes right on my silk hose
Nowhere to go in the rain
And card playing gives me a pain
I haven’t got a fellah, not even an umbrella
Oh, I get the blues when it rains.’
It’s just irresistible. And – to quote the sign-off phrase at the end of many of her songs: