Cora Mae Bryant - Mark Austin
The daughter of Georgia guitar wizard Curley Weaver, Cora Mae Bryant carries on her father's memory in song, and in the blues "museum" she maintains in her home in Oxford, Georgia. Bryant has been an important figure on the Atlanta blues scene on many different levels. In addition to performing, she came up with the concept for a series of "Giving It Back" festivals at the city's Northside Tavern blues bar to honor her father and his contemporaries. And she is known as a frequent caller to area blues radio shows. She recorded her song McTell, Moss, and Weaver on an album by British guitarist Dave Peabody that was released on the Appaloosa label.
Only thing I can say about my grandmother [Savannah Shepard], I knowed her when I was real young, and I used to go spend the night with her. And I used to see her, you know, she had one of those large pianos. I'd see her play her piano, and I'd see her play a guitar across her lap. She used to come to see me when she could... She lived over there in Almon, Georgia. That's where his [Curley Weaver's] teachin' come from. You can say she taught him. But if God hadn't intended for them to learn, they wouldn't have learned it. It had to be for them, just like it was for me... When God give you a gift to do things you have to do it. He give me a gift to sew, sing, dance, anything... it come from God.
I was born out in Oxford, Route 1 [on May 1, 1926]. I started singing in church when I was six years old. At Walnut Grove, Georgia. At New Bethel Baptist Church... It was told to me, you supposed to sing one thing, but do you know, I said, well, God give me what he want me to sing, and I don't think that you should put anything in the Bible and don't take nothin' out. 'Cause it say make a joyful noise unto the Lord. All ye lands. It didn't say... blues is not in the Bible. How do they know blues from gospel? God made gospel, but who named blues? So, I don't pay it no mind... There's a person that, if he wasn't born with the blues, he don't know nothin' about no blues. If he learn how to play it he still don't know too much about it if he wasn't born with it... I come back from there where them blues was at. If you didn't come from back there where them blues at, you don't know 'em. You don't know no blues. You might have on your mind you know 'em, but you really don't know 'em... I likes the original. I wants to sing the way [my father] sung... Everybody hear me sing that knowed him: "You sing just like Curley." I didn't know I sung that much like him. And some of the songs that him and Blind Willie [McTell] sang together, well I sit and listen at 'em... and my daughter said, "Mama, that's you singin'?" And I said, "No, honey. I ain't never did no recording with Blind Willie. That's my daddy." She said, "Mama, that sounds just like you." My grandma could sing too. He sang just like his mama.I followed him around up until his illness. We'd always go to fish fries and barbecues and we'll sing together when we get there... Just different places, parties. Conyers, Loganville, and Covington, Oxford, we be around together... It's like people give fish fries, they sold fish and hot dogs. Wasn't no beer back there, you know. But plenty corn liquor. My daddy used to get to that party, everybody want to buy him up some liquor, to get in that chair and play. He'd say, "One at a time." "Mr. Curley, play me something." "Wait a minute. Wait a minute, now. What you want to hear, right there? What you want to hear? All right, I'm gonna get around to all y'all, now." [Laughs] They loved Curley Weaver. From here to Conyers, everybody around there, they know him... It'd be him and Buddy Moss, he come down some time and be with him. You get them two together, and there's a man in Atlanta, his name was Johnny Guthrie. He never did do no recording. You get them three guitars together: ooooweee. Boy, some music goin' on. And you couldn't hear nothin' on the floor but shoe heels, hittin' the floor. Folks be just a dancin'. Havin' a good time. Some of 'em, you know, would act sort of naughty, but he'll pick up his chair, he be sittin' out, he pick up his chair and his guitar and get on that corner, and say, "One monkey don't stop no show." Keep on playin'. He look around at 'em, he smile and keep a-playin'. Especially when them young women get to flirtin' at him, you know. He'll smile at 'em. I'll tell you about the time when he came down and stayed a while with his mother. That's when I went back to Atlanta with him. I was 16 years old. And we went up in Almon, Georgia, and he flagged the train down. He took his red pocket handkerchief out of his pocket and he held it up... train kept a brakin' down, slowed on down, and we got on the train. When we got on the train, a lot of soldiers was on the train. And they wanted him to play the guitar, and they gived him money, you know, and I'll never forget the song he started singin': I got the key to the highway. He started singin' that. And we went on to Atlanta and I stayed up there with him about two weeks. And that's when I met Blind Willie McTell.
It wasn't no clubs in Atlanta nobody was playin' in then, not as I know of... I went with [my father] down in an alley one time, he played down there. Out in somebody's yard. And he played at a big house there on Butler Street. I never did see him play around no clubs... [People were having parties] at their house. Everybody gathered up and just played... They was drinkin' their liquor there, though... I remember he told me, said it was him and Buddy Moss and I don't know who all was down somewhere in an alley, and they was singing "Come around to my house, baby, ain't nobody here but me." And he said the cops walked in there, said, "Goddamn, we here tonight." Carried 'em all down, locked 'em all up... And then he told me, said him and my cousin Zeb, they got locked up in McDonough, Georgia. I don't know whether they drunk or not, but anyway, they locked both of 'em up. And how they got out, my daddy played the guitar and Zeb danced. [Laughs] They played their way out of jail.He stayed around Atlanta mostly, but when he did come there to Almon to stay with his mother, I think it was 1950... They was pickin' cotton and he'd be on the cotton truck. [The truck would] go around to pick up a lot of peoples over there in Almon, you know, around Conyers, and come on by our house, we'd get on the truck.... get off that truck and go on out there on the end of the field by ourself, you know, and pick cotton. And I had some liquor, you know. I brought him liquor there about every day. He always called me Baby. He said, "Baby, what you got in that sack?" I said, "Yassir. You know your pint of liquor in there." I'd get that pint of liquor, boy, hand it to him, he'd take the top off, hand it back to me, I'd get me a little sip. Put it back in his sack. Throw his sack on his back. He'd sing, "Your day now brownskin woman. Be mine some day." Folks'd get on out there then. [Laughs]
[My father is] still taken advantage of. 'Cause I see his CDs and they sellin' 'em, but that's not me doin' this. But you know what you do in the dark, it gonna be brought to the light. If you sellin' his CDs and not lettin' me know nothin', I'm not gettin' nothin' out of it, you still robbin' him. And his daughter too... 'Cause when I got the Atlanta Blues [LP], my father was dead, that Atlanta Blues album. And Buddy Moss say he didn't have no turntable to play it. He said, "Cora Mae, play that doggone thing, let me see how it sounds."
I don't write [songs]. When they come to me, I already know 'em. I don't get no pencil and write 'em. I write 'em in my head... One song, we was sittin' up there just talkin', me and my granddaughter, and I said, "Yeah, if you got anything in layaway, you better get it out." And I made a song of that... You know a lot of people say, "How in the world you write them songs?" "I don't know. When them songs come to me they already written. Whatsomever I be speakin' is already written on my tongue, but it's time for me to speak." That was written on me when I was born... I ain't never believed a teacher could teach me anything. I never believed in school, now. What you gettin' out of these books, what you gonna do with it? Where you gonna carry it too? It ain't nothin' there. But in this book right here [the Bible], you gonna get something out of this. That teacher ain't learnin' you nothin'. 'Cause the teacher don't know no more than what God give her... A Jehovah Witness came here. I said, "I ain't to be taught." Boy, she throwed up that little Bible and jumped off the porch, got in that car. She ain't been back here since. I don't need her... Only thing is teachin' right from wrong, and know how to treat peoples. That brought me this far, 71 years, but I don't know how long. But I told 'em, I didn't come here to shorten my days. God put me here, I prolong my days. Live. And I just about know how to.