I'm not sure what led me recently to go seek out different versions of one of the most mysterious blues songs ever recorded.
But diving into Geeshie Wiley's "Last Kind Words has its own rewards.
Who is this Lillie Mae "Geeshie" Wiley?
The New York Times Magazine in 2014 published a lengthy story John Jeremiah Sullivan, who was obsessed with Geeshie's "Last Kind Words" and another song recorded in 1930, Elvie Thomas' "Motherless Child Blues."
I have been fascinated by this music since first experiencing it, like a lot of other people in my generation, in Terry Zwigoff’s 1994 documentary Crumb, on the life of the artist Robert Crumb, which used “Last Kind Words” for a particularly vivid montage sequence....
... Geeshie’s “Last Kind Words,” a kind of pre-blues or not-yet-blues, a doomy, minor-key lament that calls up droning banjo songs from long before the cheap-guitar era, with a strange thumping rhythm on the bass string.
"Last Kind Words" reminds me of a Dadaist exhibition I saw at the Smithsonian a few years ago. It's
full of death and dread with that "German war" looming in the background. All sorts of references to corpses and deathbed wishes: If I get killed, please don't bury my soul /
Just leave me out, let the buzzards eat me whole."
Here's how Geeshie sang it:
Former New York Doll David Johansen sang the song in Searching for Wrong-Eyed Jesus.
Former Carolina Chocolate Drop Rhiannon Giddens does a moving version
The Dex Romweber Duo teamed up with Jack White for this one
Meanwhile "Last Kind Words" inspired The Mekons to record this song called "Geeshie" on their Ancient & Modern album a few years ago. A wise critic once wrote that Sally Timms "sings it sultry, like a temptress in a speakeasy near the gates of Hell."