I have a vague memory of hearing some older guys — they were probably all of 16 or 17 — playing guitars on the steps of the Woods Hole Community Hall, and one of them sang this, and it sounded familiar, so I went home and found it… but I can’t remember if I found it in a songbook or on a record, or which songbook or record it would have been… and the whole memory may be wrong anyway.
In any case this was one of the first blues songs I learned, so long ago that I don’t remember the details. I do remember seeing the composer’s name attached to it fairly early, Richard M. Jones, and not having the faintest idea who he was for a good many years after that.
That’s not surprising, because I was into folk or country blues, and Jones was very much an urbanite and a businessman. After playing piano with various groups around New Orleans, he moved to Chicago in 1919 to work as a music publisher and then as a record producer, in charge of the local wing of OKeh records “race” division, where he had the idea of bringing Louis Armstrong into the studio as leader of a small group, the legendary “Hot Five.”
Jones also made dozens (maybe hundreds) of records with various female blues singers, accompanying them on piano and often providing material, most famously “Trouble In Mind,” which he first recorded in 1924 with Thelma La Vizzo (an otherwise unknown singer) and again in 1927 with Bertha “Chippie” Hill singing and Armstrong playing cornet. Though he recorded it in Chicago, the lyric places it in Louisiana with the reference to the 219 train, which ran from New Orleans into Texas.
The song has been recorded by hundreds of artists, from blues singers like Victoria Spivey and Georgia White to Bob Wills, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, and the Everly Brothers. I probably had Big Bill Broonzy’s version fairly early, and certainly had Otis Spann doing it on his Archive of Folk Music LP — though I can’t remember ever listening to the Spann record, since I was totally into guitar, except for Memphis Slim — and probably had the Brownie and Sonny LP in that series as well… but I’m guessing a more likely candidate was, once again, Cisco Houston. I have no recollection of his version, but find that he recorded it on an album that I listened to a lot in my distant youth.
In any case, “Trouble in Mind” would have been my introduction to the golden age of blues as black pop music, along with “In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down” — though I would have been horrified if anyone had described it that way, because I thought of it as an old folk blues, the sort of thing guitarists played outside their rural shacks… which it was, too, because guitarists all over the South picked up songs from the urban recording stars and both of those songs quickly became ubiquitous in country and city alike.