Lucille Bogan - Biography
BY J Poet
Lucille Bogan, who also recorded as Bessie Jackson, was an early blues pioneer, a singer and songwriter best known for her sexually explicit lyrics. Her most infamous song, “Shave ‘em Dry,” includes the lines: “I got nipples on my titties as big as my thumbs and I got somethin’ ‘tween my legs that’ll make a dead man come…” She also sang openly about being a lesbian on the song “B. D. Woman’s Blues,” BD being slang for bulldyke or bulldagger. Her songs about pimping, prostitution, lesbianism, drugs, drinking, and sex made her infamous, but jazz critics say her singing was on a par with Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. In the late 30s, as Bessie Jackson, she recorded about 100 singles for the American Record Corporation as Bessie Jackson with Walter Roland on piano. She stopping performing around 1935 and moved to Los Angeles where she died in 1948.
Lucille Bogan was born Lucille Anderson in Amory, Mississippi and moved to Birmingham, Alabama in 1915 when she was 18. She married Nazareth Bogan when she was 19 and had a son, Nazareth, Jr. She was a popular blues singer in Birmingham and made her first records in 1923 for the OKeh label in New York City and Atlanta. The records didn’t sell and she moved on to Chicago; she didn’t record again until 1927. In Chicago she made records for Paramount including the lesbian themed “Women Don’t Need No Man,” “Cravin’ Whiskey Blues,” and the major hit “Sweet Petunia,” which was covered by Vance Dixon, Blind Blake, Willie Baker, and Curley Weaver. In 1930 she started writing and recording her famous sexually explicit songs for Brunswick backed by players like Tampa Red and Thomas Dorsey, before he started writing gospel songs. The records included “Sloppy Drunk Blues,” “Alley Boogie,” “My Georgia Grind,” “Black Angel Blues,” later adapted by B.B. King as “Sweet Little Angel,” and “Tricks Ain't Walkin' No More.”
Bogan moved to Birmingham with her second husband in 1934 and recorded for Banner, a division of the American Record Corporation, which eventually became Columbia Records. Under the name Bessie Jackson, with pianist Walter Roland, she had hits with “Seaboard Blues,” “Troubled Mind,” “Groceries On The Shelf,” “Superstitious Blues,” “Sweet Man, Sweet Man,” “Down In Boogie Alley,” “B. D. Woman’s Blues,” and the infamous “Shave 'Em Dry.” She had a session with ARC in 1937, but nothing was released and the sides may be lost or gathering dust somewhere in the Sony archives.
She stopped performing around the same time, and managed her son’s jazz band Bogan’s Birmingham Busters. In 1948, she sold her home in Birmingham and moved to LA. She wrote “Gonna Leave Town” for Smokey Hogg, but she died before he recorded it for Specialty in 1949. Britain’s blues archive specialists Document Records collected Bogan’s recordings for various labels on Lucille Bogan: Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1 (1994 Document UK), Lucille Bogan: Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 2 (1930 – 1933) (1994 Document UK), and Lucille Bogan: Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 3 (1934-1935) (1994 Document UK.) Shave 'Em Dry: The Best of Lucille Bogan (2004 Sony Legacy) collects 20 her latter day recordings for ARC. Lucille Bogan and Walter Roland: The Essential Recordings (2002 Classic Blues) covers the same ground more extensively with 36 tracks on two CDs, spanning a unique and storied career.