Lyrics & Story
The Story Behind The Songs
My grandmother was Candy (real name Candice Child) – she was born in Crystal Springs Mississippi in 1905 and grew up as one of ten children in a shack situated between the New Orleans-Jackson railroad and the Pearl River. Her nickname was derived both from her own first name and the fact she worked for a while at the sweet-counter of the main store in Crystal Springs; her grandparents worked the Cherry Grove tomato plantation and her father worked on the railroad whilst her mother worked at the Cherry Grove plantation house.
In 1923 she met Tommy Johnson and would sing with him when he played locally. Candy’s love of Delta Blues began to wane as she heard more of the Chicago Blues that was developing in the north. Two disastrous crop failures in 1926 and 1927 together with Tommy’s increasing drunkenness resulted in Candy ending their relationship (Tommy was already married, but ‘not together’) and she persuaded her parents to move to Chicago (as did many others in those years), where her father got a job in the stockyards and her mother worked as a cleaner.
She’s a Lady
Candy’s good looks helped get her a job as a waitress at the Sunset café (a ‘Black & Tan’ jazz club where there was no segregation) and this encouraged her dreams of becoming a singer. Within six months of Candy leaving Crystal Springs Tommy, together with his brother LeDell went to Chicago to try and persuade Candy to go back to Crystal Springs and re-start their relationship.
By then Candy had caught the eye of Policy KingTeddy Roe (who ran the numbers racket in south Chicago and whom she called ‘The Fat Man’ when he wasn’t around). Roe ‘arranged’ for her to have a regular spot at the Sunset Café and that was why Candy turned Tommy away. It was at that point LeDell told Candy the story of why they were there – and that Tommy’s newfound ability with the guitar came about as a result of a mysterious stranger he met at midnight at a crossroad in Crystal Springs who ‘tuned’ his guitar for him – and then told Tommy to go to Chicago and get Candy back! In fact LeDell had taught Tommy to play many years earlier.
Sometimes When I’m Dreaming
LeDell also told later told me Tommy had asked to watch Candy’s set before he left and she arranged for him to be served gasoline instead of water to go with his Bourbon, something which inspired Tommy to write ‘Cool Drink of Water Blues’ in 1928 and joke that Candy’s voice ‘burn like squeeze in my head’. LeDell also said that Tommy’s song ‘I Want Someone To Love Me’ was written as a consequence of that trip to Chicago and Candy’s reply was to write some lyrics for a song called ‘Sometimes When I’m Dreaming’ and hand them to Papa Charlie McCoy (who sometimes performed with Tommy) with a request to create the music – a request that was never met….until now
In 1931 she met Roscoe Smith – they married within six months and returned to Crystal Springs. By the time the US entered the second world war they had three children – Maggie (my mother – born 1932) and the twins Audrey and Barbara (born 1934). Roscoe was drafted in early 1942 and died in the terrible bus and train accident that took place at the
railroad crossing at Railroad Avenue, Crystal Springs in August 1942, leaving Candy with three young children and hardly any
In an eerie connection it was at the crossroads of Georgetown Street and Railroad Avenue in Crystal Springs that LeDell had said Tommy met the mysterious stranger who had tuned his guitar. During the later war years, Candy started singing again and this inspired Maggie’s boyfriend Kenny to take up music.
So Kenny became one of the first rock n’ rollers. His son was me (born 1950) and I take the music on to the present day. In 1959 Maggie falsely implicated Kenny in a local robbery and he served 7 years at Lincoln County Jail. When Kenny was away Maggie’s love of fast cars led to a lot of debt and she died in a hot-rod drag-race in 1963 trying to win a $100 bet – at
which point I went to live with my grandmother Candy, who, that Christmas, gave me my first guitar.
Child of the Back Streets
The following summer when school ended, Candy packed my stuff up and, without telling me anything, loaded up her old pink Cadillac, told me to get in and we drove for over two hours, ending up at an old house on the Dockery plantation, where I met LeDell, who had become a preacher. As I shook hands with LeDell, the thing that struck me was that this 72-year old was wearing snake-skin sneakers! Candy’s first words to him were ‘I want you to teach this boy how to play, the same way you taught Tommy’ – after an hour she gave LeDell $50 and left, telling me she’d pick me up to start school again that fall and I was to ‘help out and don’t eat too much’.
My Love Was Always True
Later that evening when Tommy asked me to play for him he burst out laughing – ‘boy, you’re doing things hard’ he said – ‘you’re a leftie and your guitar’s strung for a right-hand player’ and he took my guitar, re-strung it for a left-handed player and tuned in for me – he was the stranger who tuned my guitar and the original story suddenly came to mean a great deal to me.
Over the next 4 years I spent each summer vacation with LeDell and both he and Candy told me all about their adventures with Tommy and Candy’s life in Chicago and LeDell showed me some of the guitar moves he’d taught Tommy; he also filled in some of the more colorful details of Tommy’s life that Candy had censored.
So three generations takes the music from 1923 to the present day. There are more songs in the story to follow, including ‘HeartBreaker’, ‘Witchcraft’ and ‘Just Another Suicide’.