Thursday, January 26, 2012

Boney Eyes McGee (1899-1952)

Boney Eyes McGee (1899-1952) was born in Moscow, Alabama, the fourth of seven children. After his parents died in a mule accident, Boney lived with his father's fourth wife in Lea, Mississippi. It was his stepmother who originally taught him the ukelele, which he would play on Sundays outside of the church where the rest of his family worshipped. Since he worked six days a week (sometimes seven) as a cotton farmer, he never thought of making music his career.

However, after he spent two years in prison for killing his stepsister's lover, Boney came to the attention of Frederick C. Watkins III, an audio historian from the Smithsonian who made the first field recordings of Boney. This resulted in a recording contract with Mortimer Zehnder's Field Sweetheart Records. While Boney recorded several sides for the label, Zehnder never paid him, citing business difficulties, and Boney eventually died penniless in Brooklyn.

While his talents were appreciated in northwest Alabama and among post-doctoral musicologists, he remained unknown to the world at large until Rebecca Black sampled Boney's song "That Woman Can't Cook" as part of Black's comeback single "I Want to Dance All Spring." The resulting royalties were paid to a descendant of Mortimer Zehnder, an unidentified woman who reportedly lives in Mississippi.

Musicologists agree that the early version of "That Woman Can't Cook," recorded by Watkins, is superior to the subsequent commercially released version. The original lyrics went as follows:

Oh that woman, she burned the corn
Oh that woman, she sleeps all morn
When that woman done cooked the hog
It tasted worse than a mossy log
No that woman can't cook at all
But she treats me fine

For some unknown reason, Watkins' recording ended in mid-song.

P.S. Regrettably, this item originated from a private Google+ share, so I cannot point you to the source that inspired this biography. However, I can direct you to a public posting of the "What's Your Blues Name?" calculator. And if you read the biography very closely, you may be able to figure out who let me know about this particular calculator...
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