Bertha Idaho

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The recording career of classic blues singer Bertha Idaho could not possibly be compared to the ample potato crop of her namesake state. Indeed, she cut only four songs in 1928 and 1929 with song titles…
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The recording career of classic blues singer Bertha Idaho could not possibly be compared to the ample potato crop of her namesake state. Indeed, she cut only four songs in 1928 and 1929 with song titles that, if arranged correctly, tell a story right out of a film noir. First, the stage is set "Down on Pennsylvania Avenue." Then, right to the action: "You've Got the Right Eye, But You're Peeping at the Wrong Keyhole" and "Move It on Out of Here," only to wind up with the ghoulish subject of "Graveyard Love," another piece of essential listening for social advocates who propose that rap, punk, and heavy metal artists have introduced objectionable concepts into pop music. In the late '20s, it was songwriters such as Tom Delaney who were cooking up this type of material, in his case perhaps to get even with society for years spent in run-down orphanages. He encouraged Idaho to set new lows for a prostitute's price of services "Down on Pennsylvania Avenue": "Now if you want good lovin' and want it cheap, just drop around about the middle of the week./When the broad is broke and can't pay rent, get good lovin' boys, for 15 cents." Delaney fed material of this ilk to his main collaborator, singer Ethel Waters, as well as the likes of Idaho, Alberta Hunter, and Bessie Smith. The pair of recording sessions that make up the entire Idaho discography represent in their skimpiness a logical explanation for why the name represents a mere hiccup in blues history when listed alongside the likes of Waters, Hunter, or any of the classic blues gals named Smith. It was probably this very level of deep obscurity, as well as the weird-sounding name, that inspired John Fahey to include Idaho in one of his greatest works of written historical fiction, the liner notes to his Blind Joe Death project. The impact of creative forces such as Idaho, whose musical statements continue to circulate slowly through reissues almost like ghosts haunting a house, is a classic element of the so-called positive existentialist outlook. But that might not explain in full why Fahey chose this particular singer as a subject for his tribute, plucked out of an apparently endless cast of obscure blues and old-time music characters. Possessing a "location" nickname or surname is in itself hardly rare in blues, a genre with so many of these types of monikers that AAA "triptych" planners sometimes find themselves staring idly at the blues section in record stores, mentally planning driving itineraries from Georgia Tom to Mississippi Fred McDowell to Bertha Idaho.