Last Kind Words

Tom Maxwell
6 min readOct 25, 2020

The Greatest Blues Song of Them All

This is a sister essay to my piece on Skip James, which can be found here.

L.V. Thomas late in life, already immortal

L.V. Thomas was born in Houston, Texas on August 7, 1891. “I started playing guitar when I was about 11 years old,” she told researcher Robert “Mack” McCormick. “There were blues even back then. It wasn’t so big a part of music as later but there were blues. I can’t hardly name them — I don’t know that those songs had a name. One song was, ‘Oh, My Babe Take Me Back,’ and another was ‘Jack O’ Diamonds.’”

Soon Thomas was backing Alger “Texas” Alexander and probably meeting Paramount Records’ big star, Blind Lemon Jefferson. “I remember one night was a big party,” she recalled, “when Sippie Wallace came back to town and all the songsters came together. It was like a contest of a kind. Everyone sang a number, and the audience would call for who they wanted to hear some more and I remember they pulled everyone out but me. Seem like they wanted to hear me most of all.”

In 1930, Thomas slipped into immortality. “The way I came to make records,” she told McCormick, “was that I went around a lot with a girl named Lillie Mae Wiley. She was called Geetchie Wiley. Mr. Laibly of the Paramount record company came to her house one time, and she carried him on over to see me. He listened to me play, and he listened to her, and then he said he’d like for us to go up North and make some records. We knew about his company. I think we both had some Paramount records, and we’d heard of others going up there. I was the older. I was about 38 or so then, so I said all right.” Wiley was probably in her early 20s.

In March, the two women traveled by segregated train up to Grafton, Wisconsin. There they were ensconced in a small, thickly-carpeted room “draped with burlap and blankets,” offered a little bootleg liquor, and began to play when the red light came on. One of the only six known songs the duo recorded was “Last Kind Words.” Wiley sang.

The last kind words I hear by daddy say

Lord, the last kind words I hear my daddy say

If I die, if I die in the German war

I want you to send my money

Send it to my mother-in-law

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Tom Maxwell

Tom‘s work has appeared in Longreads, The Oxford American, Bitter Southerner, Slate, Salon, and Southern Cultures, among others. He usually writes about music.