The other week the truecrimers read a neat little story about an execution at Sing Sing, written by Joseph Mitchell. He was a writer’s writer, and one of the prime movers in literary journalism.
“Sing Sing Prison Blues,” from Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues. That song was recorded 89 years ago, and it probably sounds it too. Prison seems like the kind of place that would inspire the blues.
Long Island’s gift to rock and roll, Sea Monster, performing Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” That may be the most famous prison song, although Cash never did anything more than a one night stand in jail. But here’s a song from real prisoners.
That was “Early in the Mornin’,” recorded by Allan Lomax at Parchman Farm prison. Hypnotic. Lomax travelled the country making field recordings of folk songs. That comes from a collections of songs recorded at Louisiana and Mississippi State Penitentiaries. Another singer of sorts who knows something about the inside of a prison is our old friend Flavor Flav
“Bridge of Pain,” from Public Enemy and featuring Flavor Flav on the lead. Personally I prefer Chuck’s songs, but what the hey. That one was about Riker’s Island, another New York prison like Sing Sing, where we started out. The executioner in Mitchell’s story was scheduled to make $600 for turning off four people, but one got his date delayed so he only got $450. $600 in 1934 is the equivalent of about $10,000 in today’s dollars. Not bad for a night’s work. The mode of execution they used was the electric chair
Metallica, with “Ride the Lightning,” a song about waiting to fry. Kinda like Mitchell’s fourth man. The protagonist in the songs asks, “How true is this?” which is something we can ask of any true crime tale. But let’s take the electrocution theme back to where we began.
Bessie Smith (Send Me To The Electric Chair, 1927) Jazz Legend
That was Bessie Smith once again, with “Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair.” And that may be the only time you will ever hear Bessie Smith back-to-back with Metallica. Interesting that she’s pleading with the judge to be sent to the chair. It’s not quite like Esther Rodgers who couldn’t wait to get to the gallows, but it does remind me of that Puritan mindset that we deserve damnation. And on that note, I’ll turn off for this week. Until next time, crime time radio.