Monday, March 24, 2014

The Wild Magnolias - Corey Died On The Battlefield (example & lyrics)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents a sound file and my transcription of the 1970s The Wild Magnolias' version of the song "Corey Died On The Battlefield". This post also presents information about the Mardi Gras Indians, information about The Wild Magnolias & their album, as well as information & comments about the "Corey Died On The Battlefield" song.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the composers & performers of this song. Thanks also to the publisher of this record on YouTube and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

"Mardi Gras Indians are African-American Carnival revelers in New Orleans, Louisiana who dress up for Mardi Gras in suits influenced by Native American ceremonial apparel.

Collectively, their organizations are called "tribes" , Mardi Gras Indian tribes also parade on the Sunday nearest to Saint Joseph's Day on March 19th ("Super Sunday") and sometimes also at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

There are about 38 tribes. They range in size from a half dozen to several dozen members. The tribes are largely independent, but a pair of umbrella organizations loosely coordinate the Uptown Indians and the Downtown Indians".

From "A Short History Of Mardi Gras Indians" by Willie W. Clark Jr. (11-16-1999)
"The Black Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans are a unique sub-culture of a highly diverse and complex group of the local population . The tradition of these masking Indians, dates back to the 1700's. The scholars that claim to know the origins of the Mardi Gras Indians (a two hundred year old tradition) sometimes conflict on the precise history. As a result of this lack of a solid path in the knowledge of Indian history, many theories abound, but this much is for certain, the Indians have preserved some of their culture and history in the guise of tradition, and that tradition at the time of Mardi Gras, is now an integral part of New Orleans. In the heart of New Orleans since the 1780's and perhaps earlier, this ancient colorful and artistic culture has been practiced. A culture, that be it known, exhibits all of that tradition, with some of the positive heritage, and is quite a unique history."...

"...One of the many peculiarities of New Orleans is that this tribe of Mardi Gras Indians [The Wild Magnolias] are black, working class, and play music far funkier than any Native American rhythms. The tribe has a long proud history, having been established in 1889 (seriously). (By comparison, the WildTchoupitoulas - who recorded in the '70s with such luminaries as Allen Toussaint , The Neville Brothers and The Meters - are novices, having been formed in 1967.) The origins of the Indian costumes lie in Native Americans' and blacks’ shared experience of slavery, and the resulting common cause between the two cultures.

During Mardi Gras, up to 20 neighborhood tribes of Indians take to the street, vying for attention and bragging rights. In the past, violent clashes between tribes were not uncommon, some even leading to fatalities; nowadays, rivalries are expressed more through costumes, music and dances. However, vestiges of that history are still to be found in songs such as “Meet The Boys (On The Battlefront)” - with its lyrics, “Meet the boys on the battlefront / the Wild Magnolias gonna bust a rump!” – and “Corey Died On The Battlefield.”...

Although not recorded until the 1970s, this music was a key ingredient of the distinctive New Orleans sound for decades before..."

From Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture By George Lipsitz
Page 245 [Google Books]

“Song lyrics also connect contemporary herorism to traditional figures. Thus the Wild Tchapatoulas’ *“Brother John” pay tribute to John “Scarface” Williams (a rhythm-and-blues singer and Mardi Gras Indian who died from a knifing shortly after carnival in 1972) by comparing him to “Cora” who “died on the battlefield”. An earlier song by Willie Turbington of the Wild Magnolias based on a chant by the Magnolia’s chief Bo Dollis, told the story of a rebellious slave named Cory. In the 1920s jazz musician Danny Barker recorded a song "Corrine Died on the Battlefield," a song which Paul Longpre of the Golden Blaze claims told the story of a woman named Cora Anne who masked as a queen of the Battlefield Hunters, but who died of gunshot wounds incurred when she got caught in the crossfire between the Hunters and the Wild Squatoolas. Cora thus refers to at least four people living more than one hundred years apart, three of them male, and one female. The story touches on the histories of at least five tribes and appeared in four separate songs. There is no one authentic Corey; the purpose of all this borrowing is precisely to fashion a collective narrative embracing a wide range of actual events and individual. No one lyricist or story-teller can control the narrative about Corey; it filters through the community, undergoing significant changes, yet retaining important continuities.”
"Corey Died On The Battlefield" is a standard Mardi Gras Indian song. Willie W. Clark Jr., the author who is quoted above mentions the song being recorded by The Wild Tcpatoulas and Google search also indicates that another Mardi Gras Indian group "Flaming Arrows" recorded a version of "Corey Died On The Battlefield", and this song may have also been recorded by other Mardi Gras Indian groups. However, I've not been able to find any Mardi Gras Indian sound file of this song but the one which was recorded by The Wild Magnolias.

"Brother John" ("Brother John Is Gone" is another song that was composed about the stabbing of John "Scarface" Williams, once a vocalist for Huey "Piano" Smith in the 1950’s, and a Mardi Gras Indian in the 1960s. That song was composed by Cyril Neville and sung by the Neville Brothers (The Neville Brothers are closely connected to the Mardi Gras Indians as their uncle Bo Dollis was the founder and Big Chief of the Wild Tchapatoulas nation. Here's the verse of that "Brother John" song that mentions "Cora Died On The Battlefield":
"Oh, Cora he died on the battlefield (Brother John is gone)
And the rest of his gang they won't bow they won't kneel
He sang "Mighty goody fiyo* on Mardi Gras Day"
And whoever wasn't ready better get out of 'de way."
*"fiyo" = fire
Click this link to a page of my cultural website for a sound file and lyrics to "Brother John Is Gone" and more Mardi Gras Indians songs.

SHOWCASE EXAMPLE: Wild Magnolias - Corey Died On The Battlefield

john malkovitch, Uploaded on Feb 1, 2009
New Orleans Funk Top, Talk Box not a Vocoder :)
A "talk box" sounds to me like what is currently called "autotunes". Here are two comments from this sound file's viewer comment thread about this musical feature:
phillydisco, 2009
"I just noticed in your comment that you said it was vocoder, which I believe is incorrect. The vocoder was a synthesizer with microphone that you talked into and the musical notes were played out of the keyboard. With a talk box, the effect was achieve with a small hose connected to an amplifier speaker for a guitar or in this song's case, clavinet. The other end was up against the microphone, and the player put his mouth over it, making words out of his mouth as he played the instrument."

phillydisco, 2009
"This track features some of the best talk box ever used. Forget Peter Frampton! These guys were using it on their clavinets and guitars! And putting wah effect on the bass was an awesome touch."

(as recorded by the Wild Magnolias, 1974)
Corey died on the battlefield (3x) [voice box recording]

Well here’s a very sad tale bout this cat they call Corey Brown
People would stand from the street to the tent
to hear Corey get on down

He offered new life by an out of sight power
To everyone who did what he said
But by some trick of fate
Some people who knew only hate
He throw a knife
And took for the night
Corey died on the battlefield (3x)
A lot of folks know this story
And they won’t forget about his dream
Because love is the key
For both you and me
His dream will live endlessly
Corey died on the battlefield (5x)
[voice box recording]
Corey died on the battlefield
Corey died
Corey died on the battlefield
Corey died
Corey died on the battlefield

Was a brother
Who was aware
of his inner man
And at the direction
of the Cosmic
He lived
to reach the Promised Land

Corey died
on the battlefield
In search of his destiny
And it’s no different
for you or me
You must die
for what you believe

[Singing begins again]
mmm mmm mmm mmm
mmm mmm mmm mmm

[voice box recording]
Corey died on the battlefield
Corey died
Corey died on the battlefield
Corey died
Corey died on the battlefield
Transcription by Azizi Powell from The Wild Magnolias' record. I'm not certain about all of these words. Additions and corrections are welcome.

I wonder if the story about "Corey Brown" was meant to call to mind the stories of the assassinated African American leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Both of these leaders were known for their eloquent speaking abilities as was "Corey Brown" in the Wild Magnolia's song. Also, Martin Luther King Jr. is forever associated with his "I Have A Dream" speech (similar to Corey Brown's dream that is mentioned in that song). Also, perhaps coincidentally, Martin Luther King Jr's wife was named "Corretta", a form of the name "Corey".

And the more I think about it, maybe "Corey Brown" also stands for all Black and Brown brothers (males) who have died and continue to die on the urban streets battlefields, many of them before they had any real chance to achieve their dreams. Maybe that's a key reason why "Corey Died On The Battlefield" is a standard song among Mardi Gras Indians, that and the resolute determination that in spite of these ever present dangers, (to quote a standard phrase in Mardi Gras songs) "they won't bow/ they won't kneel".

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