Victoria Spivey was born in 1906 in Houston, Texas. Lonnie Johnson was
born in 1899 in New Orleans, Louisiana. This is a story about their reunion
at Gerdes Folk City in New York.
We usually went on Monday nights for the Hoots, as the the
open stage was called. I saw a number of firsts there. Brother John Sellers,
who was a blues and gospel shouter, acted as the M.C. He had a fresh-faced
boy up there one time. Two of them, in fact, because both of them were
young. I don't remember what the other one was called but the one I do
remember was called Bobby Dylan. First time I heard him I said to myself,
"He'll never make it! He only knows three chords and he sings through
'Mighty Times' these were, as the saying goes. People who were my neighbours got recording contracts. Hugh Romney, a sort of stand up comic, became Wavy Gravy of the Hog Farm and the psychedelic bus. Someone you were sitting next to in a coffee house could become a folk star by the next time you got around there.
I had an interview with John Court, who was Albert Grossman's right hand man. Grossman had Dylan, Odetta, Ian and Sylvia and Peter Paul and Mary under his management wing. My interview didn't come to anything in the end but for about two weeks most of my friends were kissing me off. I guess they figured I'd do the same to them once I got on the golden trail. Life's like that.
The Reunion of Victoria Spivey and Lonnie Johnson at Gerdes Folk City
Victoria Spivey was a remarkable woman. From Texas originally, she has
been the ingénue lead in the first talking, singing black movie,
"Hallelujah" I saw that movie double billed with "Birth
of a Nation".
Gerdes Folk City made the reunion of Victoria Spivey and Lonnie Johnson a big deal. Victoria and Lonie had performed together many years ago and were pals. I was there for the opening show. When she first came in Lonnie was already on stage, opening up. He was wearing a gold lamé jacket was was doing those wonderful things he did on guitar. He saw her and reached into what you might call the literature of the blues and said something like, "Big leg mama with the meat shaking on her bones" Vicky didn't take too kindly to the notion that she might be fat. She went into a pout and they had to send people to coax her on to the stage. Of course you couldn't have kept her offstage with a bulldozer but it was very dramatic at the time.
When she did come in to do her part of the set she was wearing a white satin gown. Her big hit had been the 'Black Snake Blues' - "Get that Black Snake out of my bed." As I said she was wearing a white satin gown and there was a big, velvet black snake with rhinestones and sequins across the front of that dress. It kind of wobbled when she walked. She made quite an impression with that. When she sat down at the piano it was the real thing and she swung into 'Black Snake Blues' and wowed us all. She did a whole bunch of other number and she and Lonnie sang together beautifully.
I remember especially a song of Lonnie's, not a blues but it stuck in my head,
"What a difference a day makes,
Sonia Fricker Brock 2005