Songlines: ‘Woke Up This Morning (My Baby She Was Gone)’ Part 1

Special thanks to Jimmy Dukes for bringing this to my attention –

Recorded in December of 1952, B.B. King’s ‘Woke Up this Morning (My Baby She Was Gone)’, was the first of four 78’s that he would release in 1953.  

B.B. King And His Orchestra

Released as the A-side of an RPM single, March 1953

Woke Up This Morning (My Baby She Was Gone) –

A swinging jump blues built around two different time signatures; King’s guitar is heard only briefly during the intro with the break taken by Bill Harvey on tenor saxophone.

Billing his band on the track as an “Orchestra” was not much of an exaggeration as the bass, drums, horns, congas and piano whip up a percolating mambo rhythm ready made for the dance floor.  King’s vocal soars above it all, effortlessly ascending to an exasperated high falsetto as the unfairness of his situation becomes too much bear. 

The number would go on to have an interesting “after-life”; the first cover came around two years later, released on the tiny Harlem-based label Atlas Records.  Credited to Emmet Davis and His Rockers, this arrangement supercharges the number replacing King’s guitar intro with percussion, then threading the guitar lines beneath the vocals throughout the number.  The highlight though is a stuttering guitar break that mirrors the “crash-boom-bang” drumming that opens the song.  (I have not been able to confirm which New York City session ace may have been the guitarist here)

Emmet Davis and His Rockers

Released as the B-side ofan Atlas 78 ‘You Know You Didn’t Want Me’ (1955)

Emmet Davis and His Rockers – Woke Up This Morning –

Big-band crooner Arthur Prysock also recorded the song that year for the Wing label.  The arrangement and Prysock’s too smooth baritone are a bit too tame for my tastes, though his brother Wilbert “Red” Prysock blows a fine solo on tenor saxophone solo. A link to the song can be found below*

Six years later, saxophonist King Curtis recorded a version (the arrangement was similar, but he did not adhere too closely to the lyrics, which I guess justified, in his own mind anyway, taking a writer’s credit; note he replaced King’s name with his own, but left the Bihari brother’s pseudonym, Taub, in place.  The number was released on his LP “Trouble in Mind”; Curtis sang the number but did not play on it.

In 1963, Etta James performed the song for a live LP recorded at the New Era Club, in Nashville, Tennessee, aptly titled “Rocks the House”. 

Etta James

Released on, Rocks the House (Argo 1963)

Woke Up This Morning

James’ band increases the tempo losing the Latin rhythm and after the singing the first verse and chorus, she and the band switch gears once more as James leads the audience in a call and response of the “hey-yeah, yeah, yeah” chorus from Joey Dee and The Starlighters’ ‘Peppermint Twist’ (a number one hit in 1962).  This in turns leads to a wonderful bit of scat singing from James before returning to the first verse once again during which the number is frustratingly faded out. 

In the second installment, we’ll take a look at how two of the biggest names in British Blues approached the number when it “crossed the pond”

*Arthur Prysock

Released as the B-side of Wing single, ‘Come Home’ (1955)

Arthur Prysock – Woke Up This Morning

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