Blue Belle

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It makes sense that a blues singer named Bessie Mae Smith would want to find another name to record under. It is sort of the equivalent of being a singer/songwriter named "Bob McDylan." Bessie Mae Smith…
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It makes sense that a blues singer named Bessie Mae Smith would want to find another name to record under. It is sort of the equivalent of being a singer/songwriter named "Bob McDylan." Bessie Mae Smith carried things to extremes, however, recording not only as Blue Belle but under a variety of other made-up names, one of which was Bessie Mae Smith according to some branches of the blues detective society. That's right, Bessie Mae Smith might not have been the real name of this St. Louis singer from the '20s, either, but it does sound much more like a real name than some of the other names she used, such as St. Louis Bessie. Using a city in a stage name, song title, or even song lyric has sometimes helped archivists in various styles of music locate long-lost musicians, as did the St. Louis Bessie name, used on enough recording sessions to fill out an entire reissue album on its own.

Other names were used with less frequency. Streamline Mae didn't show up until early 1941, at which point it almost seemed like the singer was going to run out of blues topics. One of her songs was about her nickname, "Streamline Blues," while another streamlined things even further: "Blues Blues," a blues about the blues. Her recording career had begun some 14 years before, with the song "High Water Blues," cut for the Okeh label and released under the name of Blue Belle; resulting in the first and only instance of a blues singer's name becoming hopelessly confused with a strain of flower. Smith, or whatever the person's real name was, wrote songs prolifically and began having them published from the earliest recording sessions. As with her recordings, the publishing activities left behind a confusing trail. "Ghost Creepin' Blues" was copyrighted to Bessie A. Smith, "Good Feelin' Blues to Blue Belle, and "It's Heated Red Hot" to Bessie "Blue Belle" Smith. Writer Bruce Bastin came up with this wonderful detail that puts us up close and personal with St. Louis Bessie: copyright entry cards for these songs were "presumably typed on her typewriter for the ribbon carriage is worn and the writing is half in red and half in dark blue." She was identified as Bessie Martin in one record company file, but never wrote a "Typewriter Blues."

Her material was particularly evocative, and there are few singers who can boast to cutting tracks such as these all at the same session: "Creepin' Eel Blues," "Ghost Creepin' Blues," "Boa Constrictor Blues," "Dead Sea Blues," "Sneakin' Lizard Blues," and "My Daddy's Coffin Blues." It is about as close as a blues singer gets to being a Creature Features host, not counting Screamin' Jay Hawkins. She also masqueraded under the names of Mary Belle Smith and Mae Belle Miller. She kept good company in terms of fellow musicians, at least the players that accompanied her were willing to be known mostly under one name. The fine pianist De Loise Searcy played on many of her records, but she also has got keyboard directions from the one and only Roosevelt Sykes, as well as the guitar and fiddle expertise of Lonnie Johnson. She was also married for several years to the rambling, rowdy bluesman Big Joe Williams, and is referred to in his biographies under the name of Bessie Mae Smith.