Lemme tell you about Lucille Bogan. Mississippi born and Alabama raised. She started her recording career in 1923, which makes her one of the first of the blues babes on wax. But she’s also one of the coolest. And definitely the boldest. Where other ladies of her era relied on creative innuendo to talk about sex, Lucille had no problem layin’ it right out. In fact, most of her songs are straight up nasty. Ms. Bogan recorded a number of classics. But she’s most famous for one track. Recorded in 1935. Called “Shave ‘em Dry.” A song so obscene, it would make most modern rap songs sound like something your grandma would like. I’ll play it for you now…
Just kidding. I’d have the FCC at my door so fast I can hear ‘em knockin’ just thinkin’ about it. I’ll let you find that one yourself. But what’s especially cool about all these songs I can’t play, is that they give you an idea of what blues singers really sounded like in after hours clubs, roadhouses and juke joints. It’s a style called hokum. There’s a lot that never got recorded, cause it was just too raunchy. That’s why we’re lucky to have Lucille. Here’s a nice hokum for you. Just dirty enough. Lucille Bogan and “Barbecue Bess.”
Lucille Bogan, née Anderson, was born in Amory, Mississippi on April 1, 1948. One of the very first blues singers to be recorded, Lucille began her recording career in 1923, cutting vaudeville tunes for Okeh Records in New York City. Later that year, she cut a song called “Pawn Shop Blues” in Atlanta, and in so doing became the first black blues singer to be recorded outside of New York or Chicago. It wasn’t until a 1927 recording session for Paramount Records that she nailed her first hit, a song called “Sweet Petunia.” Her songs would go on to be covered by the likes of Memphis Minnie, Blind Blake, B.B. King and countless more. Her session for Brunswick in 1930 produced the masterpiece “Black Angel Blues,” made famous by her collaborator Tampa Red.
By this point, Lucille’s songs began to focus almost exclusively on sex and drugs. Brought up in the juke joints and roadhouses in the 1920s, most of the tracks she recorded toward the end of her career contain thinly-veiled, if veiled at all, references to prostitution, her bisexuality, and wild nights at the bottom of the bottle. These songs provide an incredible record of the lyrics sung at the era’s after-hours clubs.
Bogan’s most famous track comes from her final session, cut with pianist Walter Roland under the pseudonym Bessie Jackson. 1935’s Shave ‘Em Dry is notorious for it’s risqué lyrics, and though she contributed greatly to the blues canon over her career, she’s probably best remembered for this hilarious bit of hokum.
Lucille retired as a professional musician shortly after that last session, becoming a manager for her son’s jazz band. She died in 1948 at age 51, and was buried in an unmarked grave.
WARNING: the following video contains sexually explicit lyrical content.