|Format 10" 78rpm single|
Length 3:07 + 2:40 = 5:47
Writer(s) Washington Phillips
|Genre Gospel blues|
Label Columbia 14333-D
|Recorded December 5, 1927; Dallas, TX|
"Denomination Blues" is a gospel blues song composed by Washington Phillips (1880–1954), and recorded by him (vocals and zither) in 1927. In 1972, Ry Cooder revived this almost-forgotten song on his album Into the Purple Valley.
In 1938, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915–73) recorded a gospel version of the song (vocals and guitar) under the title "That's All". She subsequently recorded several versions with orchestral accompaniment.
Phillips' song is in two parts, occupying both sides of a 78rpm single (it is over five minutes long, and could not have fitted on a single side because of technical limitations). In 1928, it sold just over 8,000 copies; a considerable number at a time when a typical single by Bessie Smith, "The Empress of the Blues", sold around 10,000.
The song is in strophic form: it consists of 17 verses sung to essentially the same music, all with a similar last line. In Part 1, Phillips gently mocks several Christian denominations for their particular obsessions (Primitive Baptists, Missionary Baptists, Amity Methodists, African Methodists, Holiness People, and Church of God); and in Part 2, several types of people he felt were insincere in their beliefs (preachers who want your money, preachers who insist that a college education is needed to preach the gospel, and people who "jump from church to church"). Phillips is known to have attended several churches of different denominations, and the lyrics likely reflect his personal experience. His own faith was uncomplicated, as these extracts from the lyrics show:
The song appears to have been thereafter completely neglected until 1972, when Ry Cooder included a version (with verses omitted and rearranged) on his album Into the Purple Valley. It has since been covered several times. Many cover versions omit some of, or rearrange, or add to, or rewrite, Phillips' words; perhaps for artistic reasons, or perhaps to support the artist's own beliefs; sometimes contradicting the message Phillips had tried to convey. Some cover artists, negligently or otherwise, have claimed the song to be their own composition.
In 1938, Sister Rosetta Tharpe recorded a version of the song entitled "That's All" for Decca Records. She recorded four songs that day, the first gospel songs recorded by Decca; all were immediate successes. The tune is similar to but not identical to Phillips'; the lyrics include some of Phillips' words (notably the striking phrase "educated fool", and the words "that's all" repeated at the end of each verse), but differ in several ways. That, and her choice of title, suggests that she may have learned the song through oral tradition rather than from Phillips' recording. In 1941, she re-recorded the song, accompanied by Lucky Millinder's Jazz Orchestra. She continued to perform it throughout her career.
Although Tharpe's "That's All" had gained an independent life, the recording history suggests that it and Phillips' "Denomination Blues" have merged back into a single stream following Cooder's 1972 cover of the latter song; for example, The 77s' 1982 version uses both titles.