Q: In "She Caught the Katy" (see "Medley for David") is "Katy" the name of a railroad train? A train named Katherine?
A: The Katy was a short nickname for M- K-T, or the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. On a map of the U.SA. you can find these other two states near Texas. At http://www.katyrailroad.org there is a lot of information about this particular railroad, which is still in existence. There are large detailed maps of the routes, which include, of course the states of Missouri, Kansas, Texas and a few other central and southern states as well. Below: a generic map of US States: KS=Kansas, MO= Missouri, TX= Texas OK = Oklahoma
Q: Is there any information available for the name 219 and the 217? Do we know where these trains ran, roughly and when?
The Two Nineteen (2:19) would have been any train leaving at that hour, and could have been going anywhere. The song was a New Orleans standard, recorded by Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton among many others. Morton called it "Mamie's Blues," and explained that it was the theme song of a singer named Mamie Desdumes in the 1890s. Janis sings ""The Two Seventeen will bring him back some day..." (probably the same train, with a two minute stop?)
Q: Why are train songs and trains so important in blues music, and in Negro culture of the early 20th century?
Poor people, in the early 1900's did not own cars, and buses did not become common until the 1930's. For poor farmers, negro and white alike,trains served a one-time need for a particular trip, since trains did not have large purchase prices, maintenance or gasoline costs, or require insurance. Riding a train in the blues sense usually meant making an escape, rather than going for a pleasurable vacation. The "lonesome" whistle of a train, has always held a romantic appeal, whether or not one is traveling to faraway places, romance and adventure, or stuck at home on the farm. Someone, somewhere is getting away from something, or perhaps going up to the big cities to earn more money when that whistle blows, and perhaps the listener wished he were doing the same. Since the blues era was also the peak period of black migration to the northern states to escape from southern poverty, trains could be seen by individuals as a forces taking their loved ones away. The subject of leaving home on a train has always been very much on everyone's mind in poor rural areas and cities alike in the US.
Q: What does Winin' (Winding) Boy mean? In the same song, what is a Staving Chain? Picking it up and shaking it?
Both Win(d)ing Boy and Staving Chain were nicknames suggesting sexual prowess. Winin' Boy, the song, comes again from Jelly Roll Morton, the same session at which he recorded Mamie's Blues. From http://tafkac.org/songs/what_is_a_jellyroll_more.html (Graphic language on this site. Be careful) The Windin' Boy is a boy who can execute deft motions with his pelvis, (sounds like Elvis Presley...). See also the discussion of "Jellyroll," the first song on Steve's "Live and Pickin'" CD. This would seem like a man"s song, but Janis Joplin had no problem singing it as well. Just a great bragging, bluesy tune. "Stavin' Chain" (or more properly "Stave 'n' Chain") was a legendary (possibly real) late 19th century strong man who worked on the railroad and was known for his large "stave." (This from the same site above, which is apparently not on the world-wide web, but is on the internet.
Q: What about Janis Joplin's singing; what made her style stand out, long after the original lady blues singers were gone?
Janis Joplin was among the few young, white women singers of the 1960s to try to get a deep, black, blues sound. Most of the women were singing pretty, a la Joan Baez, or popular songs, a la all sorts of people, but Janis had the churchy, gospel sound of the black soul singers who were revolutionizing American music. She was also hanging out with people on the folk blues scene, who were turning her on to Bessie Smith and Jessie Fuller and people like that, making her pretty much the only singer in America who could sing 1920s blues and also the latest soul styles. But what really set her apart was the way she put her body and soul into every line. For a white singer, she was an extraordinarily emotional and powerful performer.
(Most of the above information is from a well-known blues writer who claims that he may be of greater use to Steve Mann as a reviewer of his CD rather than as contribution to his liner notes. He thus declines to be recognized, but we thank him for his interesting and informative remarks).
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