Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Great Vintage Blues #13: Mance Lipscomb

Illustration for article titled Great Vintage Blues #13: Mance Lipscomb

Beau De Glen "Mance" Lipscomb (or Bowdie Glenn Lipscomb, depending on what online reference you want to believe) is one of the older artists I've featured so far in this series, and ironically one of the last to become a full-time professional musician. Born in 1895 in Navasota, Texas, Lipscomb learned the guitar as a child from his father, a violinist, but didn't record until 1960 when he was discovered during the early stages of the folk-blues revival. Like his predecessor Henry "Ragtime Texas" Thomas, Lipscomb's music drew a lot from the 19th-century folk styles that evolved into blues as much as it did from blues itself, though pretty much all the clips I've found online fall into his easygoing, genial fingerpicking blues mode. (Possibly because most of them come from the same recording session.) Here's "Jack Of Spades," originally written by Blind Lemon Jefferson (I've usually seen the title given as "Jack Of Diamonds," but with blues songs titles are often just loose guidelines, so maybe it's wrong and maybe it's just what he called the song that day):

Lipscomb spent most of his life as a farmer, later working at a lumber mill, playing music in bars on weekends (sometimes with Lightnin' Hopkins) but not, as far as I know, touring. In 1960 he was discovered by white blues enthusiasts and went into the recording studio for the first time. He went on to record about half a dozen albums and toured the folk-blues circuit extensively, though he apparently never made any serious money from it and died in poverty in Navasota in 1976.

From what I've read about Lipscomb, he seemed like a kind, good-natured guy. He was married to the same woman, Elnora, for 63 years, and had justice on his side in his few brushes with the law–once when he had to flee after defending his mother and wife from an abusive white farm foreman, and later when he was forced for his own safety to anonymously record "Tom Moore's Farm," a song about the infamous farm where the first incident had happened.

The next seven songs are from the same session, though I don't know when or where it was recorded. They're all pretty short, so I'll just post 'em all. This is "Sugar Babe":

Here's "Goin' Down Slow," played pretty well for a guy with what appears to be a plaster cast on his right ring finger:

"Baby Please Don't Go":

"Night Time Is The Right Time":

"You've Got To See Your Mama":

"Ella Speed":

"Can I Do Something":

Here he plays "Take Me Back" (which we saw Lightnin' Hopkins play a few weeks ago) and "Goin' Down Slow," from the DVD Mance Lipscomb In Concert.

More on Lipscomb from around the web: This website by Michael Birnbaum, who's now a psychology professor in California, talks about playing guitar with Lipscomb in the mid-1960s and includes scans of a couple of letters Lipscomb wrote to him, including a short autobiography. (It's also where I nabbed the picture at the top of this post.) In this audio clip from the early '60s, Lipscomb sits on his front porch sipping whiskey and talks about his early days. Here's a MySpace tribute page. And here's an exhaustive discography.


#12: John Lee Hooker

#11: Big Mama Thornton

#10: Lead Belly

#9: Lightnin' Hopkins

#8: Son House

#7: Furry Lewis

#6: Bessie Smith (and Bo Diddley)

#5: Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee

#4: Howlin' Wolf

#3: Bukka White

#2: Skip James

#1: Sister Rosetta


Share This Story

Get our newsletter