Cousin Joe: Blues From New Orleans Cousin Joe: Blues From New Orleans


Pleasant "Cousin Joe" Joseph
and Harriet J. Ottenheimer

The University of Chicago Press, 1987
cover photo by Holly Miller

"I'm hotter than a plate of red beans, 'cause I'm Cousin Joe from New Orleans"

No one knows the blues - and those experiences - better than Pleasant "Cousin Joe" Joseph, noted New Orleans bluesman. In this lively autobiography, Cousin Joe takes us on a journey through his life and career. A remarkable blend of history and drama emerges as Joe offers colorful portrayals of family and fellow musicians, friends and lovers. Along the way Joe documents with style and wit more than half a century of changing relationships between blacks and whites, men and women, musicians and audiences.

As Cousin Joe tells us what it was like growing up on a rice plantation, attending the Baptist Church and constantly scrapping for a living, we also learn how he developed as a musician; what the relationships were between nightclub owners, patrons, and performers; and about his many dealings with the women who are ubiquitous in the blues scene and necessary to Joe's survival in it. Throughout Joe's story, anecdotes of performances, tours, shared lodgings, and card games provide intimate glimpses of such legendary blues figures as Billie Holiday and Muddy Waters. Especially revealing is Joe's account of his successes and his difficulties on recent European tours. His candid remarks underscore the role of economic necessity in the performing musician's life and correct some prevailing stereotypes.

An extraordinary life history, "Cousin Joe" resulted from Harriet Ottenheimer's piecing together more than fifteen years of tape-recorded conversations with Cousin Joe. Ottenheimer, speaking for herself only in an epilogue, allows Joe to hold center stage throughout. The result is an authentic and moving portrait of a fascinating individual--a true American original. Cousin Joe's story, as told in his unforgettable voice, gives life to a special side of the American experience; at the same time, it offers valuable insights into the relations between New Orleans blues and the development of jazz, the pop entertainment world in general, and Afro-American culture in this century.

Born in 1907 in Wallace, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans, Cousin Joe became a professional entertainer during the 1920's, progressing from impromptu street performances to gigs at the Famous Door and other local clubs to recording sessions in New York City. At various times he associated with Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, and Leonard Feather; he shared billings with Cleanhead Vinson, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and B.B. King; he toured or recorded with Muddy Waters, Gatemouth Brown, Jimmy Dawkins, Earl Bostic, Sidney Bechet, Danny Barker, and many others. In 1972 his album "Bad Luck Blues" was named "Blues Album of the Year" in France.

"Cousin Joe: Blues From New Orleans"
 Table of Contents

  1. Country Boy
  2. When the Roll Be Called in Heaven
  3. When Your Mother's Gone
  4. Barefoot Boy
  5. Hard Times
  6. Fly Hen Blues
  7. Death House Blues
  8. Box Car Shorty and Peter Blue
  9. Little Eva
  10. Messin Around
  11. Make Me Strong as Sampson
  12. Bad Luck Blues
  13. Lonesome Man
  14. Come Down Baby
  15. You Ain't So Such a Much
  16. Driving My Engine to the Roundhouse
  17. Beggin Woman
  18. Chicken a la Blues
  19. Life's a One-Way Ticket
  20. Cousin Joe

Cousin Joe: Additional Info & Links

Harriet J. Ottenheimer is professor of Anthropology and Director of American Ethnic Studies
at Kansas State University.

Copyright © Irene Joseph and Harriet J. Ottenheimer
All rights reserved
Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form

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