Addie Spivey

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This blues vocalist from the late '20s and '30s worked under the pseudonym of Sweet Peas, giving shop owners the option of filing her product amongst the frozen foods. With the classic blues style's emphasis…
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This blues vocalist from the late '20s and '30s worked under the pseudonym of Sweet Peas, giving shop owners the option of filing her product amongst the frozen foods. With the classic blues style's emphasis on different types of food as a metaphor for sexual encounters, it only seems natural that a performer in the genre would provide themselves with an edible name, although the practice hasn't spread much beyond Addie Spivey. She is often confused with her sister, the more famous Victoria Spivey, both of whom grew up around music, as their father had his own string band. Sister Victoria's fatter discography of recordings under her own name was certainly enriched by her starting up one of the first musician-owned blues labels. Not so for Sweet Peas, whose few recordings and alternate takes are shrouded in obscurity, the backgrounds of some of her backup players unknown. It is also worth mentioning slight variations in the use of her pseudonym. She did her first recordings for Victor in 1929 as Sweet Peas, and of all her material this is often considered best due to classy backing by trumpeter Henry "Red" Allen. She recorded for Decca seven years later as Sweet Pease Spivey and cut for Bluebird as Sweet Peas Spivey the following year. Becoming the owner of this material, as her sister did, was hardly the case; in fact, these recordings seem to have entered the copyright zone known as "anything goes," resulting in her music being anthologized on blues compilations in several different countries. As a female blues performer, Addie Spivey is often in the good company of artists such as Sippie Wallace and Lizzie Miles on these sets.

Her obscurity also lends her certain status among would-be hipsters, such as a rock musician who, when asked to name some of his current listening faves for his own publicity hype, "admits little has impressed him aside from his Chet Baker, Lil Green, Addie Spivey, and Big Bill Broonzy records." If that hypothetical musician were so smart, he would have known to use the name she recorded under, in turn allowing him to run together several names into the quite appropriate "lil' green sweet peas." Oh well.

Victoria Spivey had another blues performing sister as well, Elton Spivey, who worked under the stage name of the Za Zu Girl, the "girl" probably there in case anyone got confused about the "Elton" part of her name. One would think that with Elton, Addie, and Victoria present and accounted for that life would be simple, but this is not the case. Further recordings by Addie Spivey and perhaps her sister Elton Spivey might be lurking, hidden under mysterious pseudonyms such as Jane Lucas and Hannah May. In the discussion amongst blues scholars over just who these latter two artists really are, some voice an opinion that it was Addie Spivey, although there are others who believe it was really Mozelle Alderson. Researchers agree that at one point singers recording under the names of Jane Lucas and Hannah May were actually the same person, with the same voice also responsible for some 1930 tracks under the name of Kansas City Kitty. Digging into the CBS files for "dead artists," information on the Vocalion material acquired by the corporation indicates that this so-called Jane Lucas was a Spivey, but Victoria, not Addie; something that was denied vehemently by Victoria Spivey, who was usually more inclined to take credit for things than decline, no matter what her participation was. (Her grandest achievement was "discovering" Bob Dylan.) The same records indicate that the Hannah May that recorded on Vocalion right around the same time was "Victoria Spivey's sister," which might mean an additional credit for the Sweet Peas girl, although it requires scotching the theory of Hannah and Jane being the same person. Unless the Vocalion files are confused, and the tracks are both done by the same sister. But which one? One blues expert testifies: "aurally she sounds like the Za Zu Girl...," meaning perhaps Elton Spivey should get the credit. The Blues Who's Who does very little to clear up this dilemma, claiming authoritatively that Hannah May was Addie Spivey. Other pundits have threatened to burn their copy of this tome in outrage, claiming that it was Victoria Spivey. One way of studying the dilemma is to hear them sing together, possible on the recording entitled "I Can't Last Long," which Victoria Spivey wrote and recorded in 1936, perhaps to describe her own participation in the ongoing debate about blueswomen's identities. The number was recorded under the name of Jane Lucas and the State Street Four with Sweet Peas coming in on the final verse.