Trouble In Mind

To my ears, Trouble in Mind has the sound of a traditional blues and for many years I assumed its origins had been lost to time. I was surprised, then, to find it attributed to one Richard M. Jones (shown right). A multi-instrumentalist best known for his piano playing, Jones was born to a musical family in New Orleans but departed the Big Easy in 1919 and moved to Chicago where, among other gigs, he managed Okeh's race records division. He recorded Trouble in Mind a number of times and our first clip below is one of the very earliest (1926), with Bertha "Chippie" Hill on vocals, Jones on piano and none other than Louis Armstrong on cornet.

Audio Clip: Bertha "Chippie" Hill, Richard M. Jones and Louis Armstrong launch Trouble in Mind, 1926

Just for fun, here's another early recording, this one featuring Jones himself on vocals. Backing him on this session is old-time New Orleans trumpeter Lee Collins:

Audio Clip: Richard M. Jones sings his song, Trouble in Mind

Ever since those early recordings, one country blues artist after another has left his or her unique stamp on the song. Here are two different approaches from that broad tradition. The first is a 1967 cut from the great Texas bluesman, Lightning Hopkins. Notice the monotonic bass he's thumping out with his thumb over which he picks melodic figures with his fingers. He's playing it in the same key as we are, so anything you can snag from his rendition will be plug 'n play!

Audio Clip: Lightning Hopkins with Trouble in Mind

And another country blues from the same era, this one from Sonny Terry (on harmonica) and Brownie McGhee (on guitar and vocals). They play the song in E as well, but use a slightly different chord progression than ours. Great ear training exercise to figure it out!

Audio Clip: Sonny and Brownie on Trouble In Mind

Although the song is most commonly played these days in blues circles, it is still covered occasionally by jazz musicians with a bluesy bent. When I first heard this last cut I was impressed by how much wax Mose Allison was allowing his trumpet player. Very generous, I thought, of the group leader and vocalist to let one of his sidemen stretch out that long. Turns out Mose himself—usually on piano—was playing the trumpet. Who knew? Ironically, this is from his 1959 release, Mose Allison Sings—which, he doesn't. But give a listen anyway to how one contemporary (give or take 50 years) combo updates this song from the earliest days of jazz.

Audio Clip: Mose Allison takes a turn on trumpet, Trouble In Mind, 1959