Stealin' Stealin'

Memphis Jug Band, 1928

The original version was recorded by the Memphis Jug Band on Sept. 15, 1928 in Memphis, with Charlie Burse on guitar and lead vocal, Ben Ramey on kazoo and harmony vocal, Will Shade on harmonica and Jab Jones on jug.

The arrangement seems a bit unusual, with the jug dropping out during the vocals, leaving just the trio of Burse on guitar and vocal, Ramey on vocal and Shade on harp. However, this is the exact same arrangement as “A Black Woman Is Like a Black Snake,” recorded four days earlier without Jones.

Burse surprisingly holds the last note of each chorus for almost two measures. Ramey holds his note for almost as long, but doesn’t match Burse, perhaps because he’s getting ready to play his kazoo.

I’ve heard different opinions about Burse’s guitar chords on the “don’t believe I love you” part. I concluded here that he plays G C G C | G D7 G G on those two measures. The D7 in first position doesn’t sound very distinct from the C in the original mix, since both chords share the C note on the second string, but you can hear the open D string ringing through from the preceding G chord.

One could argue that the band moves from a C to a Cm on the fourth measure of the chorus (“me”) because Ben Ramey drops from a E to an Eb on that chord, but Burse doesn’t change his guitar chord there. However, in the unreleased second take, he does change to a Cm chord one time. Shade plays B and G notes on that chord, so that doesn’t help interpret their intentions.

Shade plays mostly single notes, but his occasional double notes are so consistent that they seem intentional, so I recorded them as he played them. This includes a consonant B+D on measure 5 or 7, beat 1 of some verses, and a dissonant A+B note on measure 5, beat 2 of every verse.

The band played through the verse, verse and chorus chords on the first instrumental break, so I expected them to use the same structure on the second break. Instead, they just played verse, verse before singing the last chorus. This decision seems to have taken Ramey and Jones by surprise, because they both play the first notes of the chorus before Ramey switches to singing (missing the first word) and Jones drops out. Perhaps Burse got the signal from the recording engineer that the band was running out of time. Or, given that the unreleased second take followed yet another structure (verse, verse, chorus, chorus on the first break), it could be that the band simply hadn’t worked out their arrangement well enough.

Documents: Instrument Notation


Voice 2


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