Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020) - full transcript

Chicago, 1927. A recording session. Tensions rise between Ma Rainey, her ambitious horn player and the white management determined to control the uncontrollable "Mother of the Blues". Based on Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson's play.

Yeah, Ma!

Yeah, baby!

Testing, testing, one, two, three.

Testing, one, two, three.

- Testing, testing, one, two...
- Got that list?

Uh, I got it. Don't worry about it.

I'm holding you responsible.
You keep her in line.

I'm not putting up with any shenanigans.
You hear, Irv? Irv?



Not putting up with any Royal Highness,
Queen of the Blues bullshit.

Mother of the Blues, Mel.
Mother of the Blues.

Heh. You should've heard Levee
at the club last night, Toledo.

Trying to talk
to that gal Ma had with her.

You ain't got to tell me.
I know how Levee do.

Levee tried talking to her
and got his feelings hurt.

I want you to get her in here,

record those songs
on that list, and get her out.

Just like clockwork.

Like clockwork, Mel.

And that horn player,
the one who gave me those songs,

is he going to be here today?

- I want to hear more of that sound.
- How you boys doing, Cutler?

Fine, Mr. Irvin.

Where's Ma? She with ya?

I don't know.

She told us to be here at 1:00.
That's all I know.

Where's the, uh, horn player?

Levee's supposed to be here same as we is.
I reckon he'll be here in a minute.

Hey, hey, hey. Good morning, Chicago.

He ain't from 'round here now.

Come on in. I'll get you fed
and ready to make some music.


Right down the hall.

Where's Ma?
How come she isn't with the band?

Everything's under control, Mel.
I got everything under control.

Cutler, here's the list
of songs we're going to record.

Why isn't she here?
And where's that horn player?

What we got there, Toledo?

Eh, we got, uh…

Mmm. "Prove It on Me,"
"Hear Me Talking to You,"

"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom,"
"Moonshine Blues."

Oh. Them ain't the songs Ma told me.

I wouldn't worry about it if I was you.
Ma'll get it straightened out.

"Moonshine Blues."

That's one of them songs
Bessie Smith sang, I believes.

Eh, Slow Drag's right.
I wouldn't worry about it.

Levee know what time
he's supposed to be here?

Levee left the hotel
talking about he was gonna buy shoes.

Says it's the first time
he beat you shooting craps.

- I ain't thinking about no four dollars.
- Levee sure was.

Let me get a hit of that.

That four dollars
liked to burn a hole in his pocket.

He's supposed to be here at 1:00.

- That's some good Chicago bourbon.
- Look here, Cutler!

- I got me some shoes.
- Ooh!

Nigga, I ain't studying you.

How much you pay
for something like that, Levee?

Eleven dollars.
Four dollars of it belong to Cutler.

Ooh! Levee say if it wasn't for Cutler,
he wouldn't have no new shoes.

I ain't thinking about Levee or his shoes.

Let's get ready to rehearse.

I'm with you on that score.
Don't want to be here all night.

Ain't but four songs on the list.

Last time there was six songs.

Yeah. Now I'm ready.

I can play some good music now.

Damn! They done changed things around.

Don't never leave well enough alone.

Yeah, everything changing all the time.
Even the air you breathing change.

Yeah, you got, uh, monoxide,
hydrogen, changing all the time.

Skin changing.
Different molecules. Everything.

Nigga, what is you talking about?

I'm talking about the room,
I ain't talking about no skin and air.

I'm talking about something I can see.
I ain't talking about no molecules.

I know what you talking about.
You don't know what I'm talking about.

That door. You see that door?
That's what I'm talking about.

Door wasn't there before.

You wouldn't know your right from left.
And damn if that door wasn't there.

If you talking about
they done switched rooms, you right.

But don't go telling me
that door wasn't there.

Damn the door and let's do this.
I want to get out of here.

Toledo started all that about the door.
I'm just saying that things change.

What you think I was saying?
Things change. The air and everything.

Now you gonna say you was saying it.

You gonna fit
two propositions on the same track,

run them into each other,
and 'cause they crash,

you gonna say it's the same train?

Now this nigga talking about trains.

We done went from the air
to the skin to the door and now trains.

Toledo, I'd just like to be
inside your head for five minutes

just to see how you think.

You done got more shit
piled up and mixed up in there

than the devil got sinners.

You been reading too many goddamn books.

What you care about how much I read?

I'm gonna ignore you
'cause you're ignorant.

- Let's rehearse the music.
- All right.

You ain't gotta rehearse that.

Ain't nothing but old jug-band music.

They need one of them jug bands for this.

Don't make no difference to me,
long as we get paid.

That ain't what I'm talking about.
I'm talking about art.

What's drawing got to do with it?

Where you get this nigga from, Cutler?

He sound like one of them Alabama niggas.

It's Slow Drag, all right.

Just play the piece, nigga.

If you want to be one of them, uh,
what you call virtuosos or something,

you're in the wrong place.

You ain't no King Oliver or Buddy Bolden.

You're just an old trumpet player
come a dime a dozen.

Talking about art.

What is you?
I don't see your name in lights.

I just play the piece. Whatever they want.
I don't criticize other people's music.

I ain't like you, Cutler. I got talent.

- Oh, shit.
- Ooh.

Me and this horn, we's tight.

If my daddy had a knowed
I was gonna turn out like this,

he woulda named me Gabriel.

I'm gonna get me a band
and make me some records.

I done give Mr. Sturdyvant
some of my songs I wrote,

and he say he gonna let me
record them when I get my band together.

I just gotta finish
the last part of this song.

I knows how to play real music,
not this old jug-band shit.

I got style.

Oh, everybody got style.

Style ain't nothing but keeping
the same idea from beginning to end.

Everybody got it.

Everybody can't play like I do.

Everybody can't have their own band.

Until you get your own band
where you can play what you want,

play the piece and stop complaining.

I told you when you came on here,
this ain't none of them hot bands.

This is an accompaniment band.
You play Ma's music when you're here.

I got sense enough to know that.

I could look at y'all
and see what kind of band it is.

I could look at Toledo
and see what kind of band it is.

Oh, now Toledo ain't said nothing to you.
Don't get Toledo started now.

Is you all gonna
rehearse the music or ain't you?

How many times you done play them songs?

- What you gotta rehearse for?
- This a recording session.

I want to get it right the first time
and get on out of here.

Well, y'all go on and rehearse, then.

I'm going to finish this song
for Mr. Sturdyvant.

Levee, I don't want no shit.
You rehearse like everybody else.

You in the band just like everybody else.

Mr. Sturdyvant gonna have to wait.
It's the band's time.

I'm ready if you want to rehearse.
I said there ain't no point in it.

Ma ain't here. What's the point?

"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."
One, two, you know what to do.

No, no, no. No, no.
We ain't doing it that way.

We doing my version.
That's what Mr. Irvin told me.

Say it's on the list he gave.

Let me worry about what's on the list.

What sense it make
to rehearse the wrong version?

You supposed to rehearse
what you gonna play.

- That's the way they taught me.
- That's what I'm trying to say.

You trying to tell me
what we is and ain't gonna play,

and that ain't none of your business.

Your business is to play what I say.

Oh. I see now.

You done got jealous
'cause Mr. Irvin using my version.

What I got
to be jealous of you about?

The day I get jealous of you,
I may as well lay down and die.

Levee started all that
'cause he too lazy to rehearse.

Where's the paper?
Look at the paper. See what it say.

Gonna tell me I'm too lazy to rehearse.

We ain't talking about the paper.

We talking about
you understanding where you fit in here.

- You play what I say.
- I don't care what you play.

Mr. Irvin gonna straighten it up.
I don't care what you play.

You boys know what's keeping Ma?

Can't say, Mr. Irvin.
She'll be along directly, I reckon.

Well, you go ahead.

Mr. Irvin…
About these songs…

Whatever's on the list.

I'm talking about this "Black Bottom."

- It's on the list.
- Yes, sir, I know it's on the list.

But I just want to know which version.
We got two versions of that song.

Oh, Levee's version.
We're using Levee's arrangement.

Okay, got that straight.
Now about this "Moonshine Blues."

Yeah, we'll work it out with Ma, Cutler.

You boys just rehearse
whatever's on that list.

See, I told you!

It don't mean nothing when I say it.
You got to wait for Mr. Irvin to say it.

I told you the way it is.

The sooner you understand
it ain't what you say,

or what Mr. Irvin say,
it's what Ma say that count.

I don't care what you play.
Don't matter to me.

Mr. Irvin gonna straighten it up.
I don't care what you play.

Thank you. All right, let's, uh,
play this "Hear Me Talking to You"

till we figure out
what's going on with this "Black Bottom."

One, two, you know what to do.

Don't nobody say when it comes to Ma.
She gonna do what she wanna do.

Mr. Irvin the one putting out the record.

He gonna put out
what she want him to put out.

Levee confused about who the boss is.
He don't know Ma's the boss.

You know how many records
she sold in New York?

And you know what's in New York?
Harlem. Harlem's in New York.

So what
if they didn't sell in New York?

We packed them in
in Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta.

We ain't in Memphis. We in Chicago.
We in a recording session.

Mr. Sturdyvant and Mr. Irvin
say what's gonna be here.

You heard what the man told you.

"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."
Levee's arrangement.

There you go. That's what he told you.

I don't know why y'all want
to pick with me about it.

I'm with Slow Drag.
Let's go and get it rehearsed.

All right, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom,"
Levee's version.

How that first part
go again there, Lev?

It go like this.

That's to get the people's attention.

That's when you and Slow Drag
come in with the rhythm,

me and Cutler play on the breaks.

The man asked how the part go.
Ain't ask for all that.

"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

One, two, you know what to do.

Hey, hey, hey. Y'all gotta keep up now.
You playing in the wrong time.

Will you let us play this song?
We been playing before you was born.

Trying to tell us how to play.

All right. Let's try again.

Wait a minute. Let me fix this.

This string starting to unravel,

and you know
I want to play Levee's music right.

If you was any kind of musician,
you'd take care of your instrument.

Keep it in tip-top order.

If you was any kind of musician,
I'd let you be in my band.

- Shit.
- Damn!

Slow Drag, watch them
big-ass shoes you got.

Ain't nobody done nothing to you.

You done stepped on my shoes.

Then move them out the way.

You was in my way. I wasn't in your way.

Any man who takes a whole week's pay
and puts it on some shoes,

understand what I mean,

what you walk around
on the ground with, is a fool.

And I don't mind telling him.

What difference it make to you?

Ain't nothing wrong
with having nice shoes.

- Look at Toledo.
- Ooh!


What was that about Toledo?

Nigga got them clodhoppers. Old brogans.

He ain't nothing but a sharecropper.

Hey, Slow Drag.

Play something for me.

A man gotta have
some shoes to dance like this.

He can't dance like this
with them clodhoppers Toledo got.

That's the trouble with colored folks,
always looking to have a good time.

More niggas have got killed
trying to have a good time

than God got ways to count.

What the hell having a good time mean?
That's what I want to know.

Got to be more to life
than just having a good time.

If there ain't,
then this is a piss-poor life we're living

if that's all there is
to be got out of it.

Niggas been having
a good time before you was born,

and they gonna keep
having a good time after you gone.

Nobody talking about
making the lot for the colored man

better for him here in America.

Ain't nobody
thinking about what kind of life,

the world they gonna leave
for the young'uns.

It's just, "Show me a good time.
That's all I want."

Aw. It just makes me sick.

Good times is
what makes life worth living.

Hey, I know how to have a good time
as well as the next man.


I just said there's got to be
more to life than just having a good time.

I said, the colored man
ought to be doing more

than trying to
have a good time all the time.

Well, what is you doing, nigga?

You're talking all them highfalutin ideas

about making
a better world for the colored man.

What is you doing to make it better?

You playing the music and looking for
your next piece of pussy same as we is.

What is you doing?

It ain't just me, fool. I said everybody.

You think I'm gonna solve
the colored man's problem all by myself?

I said "we." You understand that?

We? That's every living
colored man in the world

got to do his share, got to do his part.

I ain't talking about
what I'm gonna do or you gonna do,

or Cutler, Slow Drag, anybody else.

I'm talking about
what all of us gonna do together.

That's what I'm talking about, nigga.

Well, why ain't you just say that then?

Toledo, I don't know
why you waste your time with this fool.

I ain't gonna be
too many more of your fools.

Ain't nobody studying you.

All right, I ain't nobody.
Don't pay me no mind.

Ain't nobody but the devil.

There you go. That's who I am.

I'm the devil.
I ain't nothing but the devil.

I know a man sold his soul to the devil.

Name of Eliza Cotter.
Lived in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama.

Devil came by
and he upped and sold him his soul.

Nigga, how you know
this man done sold his soul to the devil?

You talking some old-woman foolishness.

Everybody know. It wasn't no secret.

He went around working
for the devil and everybody knowed it.

Carried him a bag.
One of them carpet bags.

Folks say he carried
the devil's papers and whatnot

where he put
your fingerprint on the paper with blood.

Where he at now?
That's what I want to know.

He can have
my whole handprint if he want to.

Showed up one day all fancied out

in the finest clothes
you ever seen on a colored man.

Pocketful of money,
just living the life of a rich man.

Had him a string of women
he run around with

and throw his money away on.

One of the fellas
of them gals he was messing with

got fixed on him wrong
and Eliza killed him.

And laughed about it.

Sheriff come
and arrest him and let him go.

Trial come up. Judge cut him loose.

Cut him loose

and give him a bottle of whiskey.

Folks ask what done happened
to make him change,

and he tell them straight-out
he done sold his soul to the devil

and asked them
if they wanted to sell theirs, too,

'cause he could arrange it for them.

Hold on. What happened to this fella?
That's what I want to know.

Last I heard,
he headed up north with that bag of his,

handing out
$100 bills on the spot

to whoever wanted
to sign on with the devil.

Hmm. I sure wish I knew where he went.

He wouldn't have to convince me long.

Hell, I'd even help him sign people up.

Nigga, God gonna strike you down
with that blasphemy you talking.

Oh, shit. God don't mean nothing to me.

Let him strike me.
Here I am, standing right here.

What you talking about he gonna strike me?

Here I am.
Let him strike me. I ain't scared of him.

All right. You gonna be sorry.

You gonna fix yourself to have bad luck.

Ain't nothing gonna work out for you.

- Bad luck?
- Yeah.

What I care about bad luck?

You talking simple.

I ain't had nothing
but bad luck all my life.

Couldn't get no worse.
What the hell I care about bad luck?

I eat it every day for breakfast.

You dumber than I thought you was,
talking about bad luck.

All right, nigga.

You'll see.

Can't tell a fool nothing.

You'll see.

Oh. There you go.

Over there.


What are you doing?

Cutler, your boys' sandwiches are here.

- Cutler?
- Lady...

- This is a brand new car.
- Lady...

Ain't had but a ding.

- Okay, lady...
- What you gonna do?

- Ma!
- I'm talking...

I got eyes, you got eyes.
What are you gonna do?

- Listen to me...
- What happened?

Tell this man who I am. Get him straight.

Tell this man who he's messing with.

Officer, what's the matter?
What's the problem?

When I walked up
on the incident, this lady...

- Sylvester wrecked Ma's car.
- I… I did not. The man hit me.

You want it in a nutshell?

We got her charged
with assault and battery.

- Assault and what for what?
- Sylvester was driving...

I can tell you what happened
if you wanna know.

That's my nephew.
That's Sylvester. He was driving my car...

- We don't know whose car it is.
- That's Ma's car.

I bought and paid for that car.

That's what you say.
We gotta check it out.

What's the problem?

I was calling the paddy wagon

to haul them
to the station, sort everything out.

- She's aggressive with the other driver...
- He got ugly with me.

- I don't know why you tell that lie.
- You let me tell the story?

Well, if you gonna tell it, tell it right.

Like I said,
while I was waiting for the paddy wagon,

I turn to hear
this guy's side of the story.

She won't let him get a word in edgeways.

He steps in front of her
to tell his version of things,

she pushes him to the ground.

She ain't hit him. He just fell.

If that don't beat all to hell.
I ain't touched the man.

All right, Ma. Officer,
can I speak to you for a minute?

I got things to do.

He bumped into me and fell down.

Flopping on the ground like a rag doll.

I ain't touch the man.

All right, Ma.

Come on. Let's go. Move it out.

I got it all taken care of.

Clear it out. Come on. Let's go.

What's going on? What did you do?

Sturdyvant, get on away from me.

That's the last thing I need,
to go through your shit.

- Everybody move along.
- It's not the place.

Here, Ma.

Let me take your things.

- I don't believe we've met.
- Hi.

That's my nephew Sylvester,
and that there's Dussie Mae.

- Oh, hello.
- Everybody here?

They're in the band room.

- Ma, why don't you sit and relax?
- I ain't for no sitting.

- Where's the bathroom?
- Uh, down that hall.

Honey, call down there and see about
my car. I need my car fixed today.

Why y'all keep it so hot in here?

Y'all want to make records,
better get a fan on.

I got it, Ma.
I'll take care of everything.

She's late and already...

I talked to her last night.
Got everything straight.

You stay out of the way. Let me handle it.

You handled it last time, remember?

She marches in like she owns the place,
complains about the building being cold,

trips over a mic wire,
then threatens to sue me.

I ain't never been in a recording studio.

Where the band at?

They off somewhere rehearsing.

Come over here and let me see that dress.

That dress look nice.

I'm gonna take you tomorrow
to get you some things

before I take you down to Memphis.

They got some clothes up here
they ain't got in Memphis.

- I want you to look nice for me, hmm?
- Mmm-hmm.

You gonna travel with the show,
you gotta look nice.

I just need me some new shoes.
These hurt my feet.

Oh, don't you be messing around
with no shoes that pinch your feet.

Ma knows something about bad feet. Mmm.


Go on, get my slippers
out my bag over yonder.

I just want
some of them yellow ones.

About a half size bigger.

We'll get you whatever you need.
Sylvester too.

Sylvester, tuck your clothes in.

Straighten them up and look nice.
Like a gentleman.

Look at Sylvester with that hat on.

Take that hat off inside.
Come over here and leave that piano.

I ain't doing nothing
to the… piano. I'm… I… looking at it.

Baby, come over here and sit down.
Come on.

Soon as Mr. Irvin come back,

I'm gonna have him take you down,
introduce you to the band.

Cutler gonna show you how your part go.

When you get your money,
send some of it home to your mama.

- Let her know you're doing all right.
- Okay.

Ma, I called down
to the garage and checked on your car.

It's just a scratch, and they'll
have it ready for you this afternoon.

They'll send it over
with one of their fellows.

Better have my car fixed right.

I ain't going for that. Brand-new car.
They better fix it like new.

Irvin, what is that I hear?

I know they ain't rehearsing
Levee's "Black Bottom."

I know I ain't hearing that.

Ma, it's what I wanted
to talk to you about.

Levee's version, it really picks it up.

I ain't studying Levee nothing.
I know what he done to that song.

I don't like to sing it that way.
I'm doing it the old way.

That's why I brought my nephew
in here to do the voice intro.

That's what people want now, Ma.
They want something they can dance to.

Levee's arrangement
gives the people what they want.

It makes them excited,
forget about their troubles.

I don't care what you say, honey.
Levee ain't messing up my song.

If he got what the people want,
let him take it somewhere else.

I'm singing Ma Rainey's song,
not Levee's song.

Now that's all there is to it.

Carry my nephew on down there.
Introduce him to the band.

I promised my sister I'd look out for him,

so he's gonna do
the voice intro to the song my way.

We just figured...

Who's this "we"? What you mean "we"?
Come talking this "we" stuff. Who "we"?

Me and Sturdyvant. We decided...

You decided, huh?
I'm just a bump on a log.

I'm just gonna go
whichever way the river drift.

Is that it? You and Sturdyvant decided?

- No. We just thought...
- I ain't got no good sense.

I know nothing about music
or what a good song is or what ain't.

You know more about my fans than I do.

It's not that.
It's more of what the people want.

Tell you something, Irvin, and you can go
up there and you can tell Sturdyvant too.

What you all say
don't count with me, you understand?

Ma listen to her heart.
Ma listen to the voice inside her.

That's what count with Ma.

Carry my nephew on down there.

Tell Cutler he'll do the voice intro
to the "Black Bottom" song.

Levee ain't messing up my song.

If that don't set right
with you and Sturdyvant,

I can carry my black bottom
on back down South to my tour,

'cause I don't like it up here noways.

Okay, Ma.

I don't care.

- I just thought...
- Damn what you thought!

What you look like
trying to tell me how to sing my song.

That Levee and Sturdyvant shit,
I ain't going for it.

Sylvester, go introduce yourself.
I'm through playing with Irvin.

Uh… Where I go? Which way they at?

Come on. I'll carry you down there myself.

Can I go? I want to see the band.

No. Come on, Sylvester.

Okay, Ma. Have it your way,

but we'll be ready to go in 15 minutes.

We'll be ready to go when Madam says so.

That's the way it go around here.


Cutler, this here my nephew Sylvester.

He'll do the voice intro
on "Black Bottom" using the old version.

What? Mr. Irvin said
we're using my version.

I ain't studying you or Mr. Irvin.

Cutler, get him straightened out
on how to do his part.

I ain't thinking about Levee.

These folks done messed
with the wrong person.

Cutler gonna teach you how to do
your part. Go ahead and get it straight.

Don't worry about what nobody else say.

Hey, come on in, boy.
I'm Cutler.

That's Toledo, Levee,
and Slow Drag over there.

- Sylvester, huh?
- Sylvester Brown.

I wrote a version of that song,

what picks it up
and sets it down in the people's lap,

and here she come talking this.

You don't need that old circus bullshit.
I know what I'm talking about.

You gonna mess up the song,
Cutler, and you know it.

I ain't gonna mess up nothing. Ma say...

I don't care what Ma say!

I'm talking about
what the intro gonna do to the song.

The peoples in the North ain't gonna
go for that old tent-show nonsense.

- They wanna hear some music.
- Nigga.

I done told you time and again.
Ma say what to play, not you.

You ain't here to be doing no creating.
You play whatever Ma say.

I might not play nothing.
I might just quit.

Nigga, don't nobody care if you quit.
Whose heart you gonna break?

Levee ain't gonna quit.

He need to make money
to keep him in shoe polish.

I done told y'all you don't know me.
You don't know what I'll do.

I don't think nobody give a damn.
Sylvester, look here.

The band plays the intro,
and then you say,

"All right, boys, you done seen the rest."

"Now I'm gonna show you the best."

"Ma Rainey's gonna
show you her black bottom."

You got that? Heh. All right,
let me hear you do it one time.

All right, boys, you done s… s…

…seen the rest.

Now I'm gonna show you the best.

Ma Rainey's gonna show you
her black b… b… b…


All right, Cutler.
Let me see you fix that.

Straighten that out.

Slow Drag, whoo, you hear this shit?

How in the hell the boy
gonna do the part if he can't even talk?

Who… Who's you
to tell me what to do, nigga?

This ain't your band.
Ma tell me to d… do it, I'mma do it.

So you can go to hell…
n… n… nigga.

B… Boy, ain't nobody
studying you. Cutler, go on and fix that.

You fix that
and I'll shine your shoes for you.

Go on and fix that one.

You say, uh, you Ma's nephew?

Yeah, so what that mean?

Oh, I ain't meant nothing.
I was just asking.

Let's rehearse
so the boy can get it right.

I ain't rehearsing nothing.

Just wait till I get my band together.

I'm gonna record that song
and show you how it's supposed to go.

We can do it without Levee.
Sylvester, you remember your part?

Yeah, I… I remember pretty g… good.

Well, come on.
Let's do it then. All right?


Good, you boys are rehearsing, I see.

Yessir, we rehearsing.
We know them songs real good.

Good. Say, Levee,
did you finish that song?

Yessir, Mr. Sturdyvant.
I got it right here.

I wrote that other part
just like you say. It go like…

Then I wrote that part
for the other people to dance,

like you say, for them
to forget about their troubles.

Good. I'll see about your songs
as soon as I get the chance.

- I'll just take this.
- Yessir, Mr. Sturdyvant.

Soon as you get the chance.

You hear Levee?
You hear this nigga?

"Yessir, we's rehearsing, boss."

I heard him.
Seen him too. Shuffling them feet.

Yeah, well,
Levee can't help it none.

He's spooked up by the white man.
Ain't had time to study 'em.

I studies the white man,
I got him studied good.

The first time one fixes on me wrong,
I'm gonna show him just how much I study.

Come tell me
I'm spooked up by the white man.

You let one mess with me,
I'll show you how spooked up I am.

The man come in here, call you a boy,

tell you to get up
off your ass and rehearse,

and you ain't had
nothing to say except, "Yessir!"

I can say "yessir" to whoever I please.
What you got to do with it?

I know how to handle white folks.
I been handling them for 32 years.

You gonna tell me how to do it?

Just 'cause I say "yessir,"
don't mean I'm spooked up by him.

I know what I'm doing.
Let me handle him my way.

Well, go and handle it then.

Toledo, you always messing with somebody.

Always agitating somebody
with that old philosophy bullshit.

You stay out of my way
about what I do and say.

I'm my own person. Just let me alone.

All right, all right.
Levee, you right. I apologize.

Ain't none of my business
you spooked up by the white man.

See, that's the shit I'm talking about.

Y'all back up and leave Levee alone.

Oh, come on, Levee.
We was all just having fun.

Toledo ain't said nothing about you
he ain't said about me.

You just taking it all wrong.

I ain't meant nothing by it.

Levee got to be Levee!

He don't need nobody messing with him
about the white man!

'Cause you don't know nothing about me.
You don't know Levee.

You don't know nothing
about what kind of blood I got!

What kind of a heart I got beating here!

I was eight years old

when a gang of white mans
come into my daddy's house

and have to do with my mama
any way they want.

We was living in Jefferson County,
about eight miles outside of Natchez.

My daddy's name was Memphis.
Memphis Lee Green.

Had him near 50 acres of good
farming land. I'm talking good land.

Grow anything you want.

He done gone off of shares
and bought this land

from Mr. Hallie's widow woman
after he done passed on.

Folks called him a uppity nigger
'cause he done saved and borrowed

to where he could
buy this land and be independent.

It was coming on planting time,

and my daddy went into Natchez
to get him some seed and fertilizer.

Called me, say, "Levee,
you the man of the house now."

"Take care of your mama while I'm gone."

I wasn't but a little boy.

Eight years old.

My mama…

Was frying up some chicken
when them mans come in the house.

Must have been eight or nine of 'em.

She's standing there frying that chicken
when them mans come and took a hold of her

just like you take hold of a mule
and make it do what you want.

There was my mama…

With a gang of white mans.

She tried to fight 'em off.

I could see where
it wasn't gonna do her any good.

I didn't know what they was doing to her,

but I figured whatever it was,
they might as well do to me too.

My daddy had a knife he kept around there
for hunting and working and whatnot.

And I knew where he kept it.
I went and got it.

I'm gonna show you
how spooked up I was by the white man.

I tried my damnedest
to cut one of them's throat.

I hit him on the shoulder.

He reached back,
grabbed hold of that knife,

and whacked me across the chest with it.

That's what made them stop.

They was scared
I was gonna bleed to death.

My mama wrapped me in a blanket,

carried me two miles
down to the Furlow place

and they drove me up to Doc Albans.

He was waiting on a calf to be born,
and he say he ain't had time to see me.

They carried me to Miss Etta, the midwife,

and she fixed me up.

My daddy came back

and acted like he done accepted
the facts of what happened.

He got the names
of them mans from Mama.

He found out who they was,

and then we announced
we was moving out that county.

We said goodbye to everybody,
all the neighbors.

My daddy went and smiled
in the face of one of them crackers

who had been with my mama.

Smiled in his face…

And sold him our land.

We moved over with relations in Caldwell.

He got us settled in,

and then he took off one day.
I ain't never seen him since.

He sneaked back.

Hiding up in the woods,

laying to get them eight or nine men.

He got four of them before they got him.

They tracked him down in the woods.

Caught up with him, hung him…

Set him afire.

My daddy wasn't spooked up
by the white man. No, sir.

And that taught me how to handle them.

I seen my daddy go up
and grin in this cracker's face.

Smile in his face and sell him his land.

All the while,
he's planning how he's gonna get him

and what he's gonna do to him.

That taught me how to handle them.

So you all just back up
and leave Levee alone about the white man.

I can smile and say "yessir"
to whoever I please.

I got my time coming to me.

You all just leave Levee alone
about the white man.

Everybody come
from different places in Africa, right?

Different tribes and things.

Soon awhile they began
to make one big stew.

You had your, uh, carrots and your peas,

and your potatoes over here.

And over there,
you had your meat and nuts,

uh, okra, corn.

And you mix it up, cook it real good
to where the flavors flow through.

And then you got one thing.

You got a stew.

Now you take and you eat that stew.

You take
and you make your history with that stew.

But you look around
and you see some carrots over there,

and some peas over here.

And… that stew is still there.

Hmm. You done made your history
and it's still there.

You can't eat it all.

What you got?

You got some leftovers. That's what it is.

See, we's the leftovers.
The colored man, he is the leftovers. Huh.

What's the colored man
gonna do with himself?

That's what we're waiting to find out.

But first he's got to know
that he's a leftover.

Mr. Irvin.

I ain't got nothing to do with it, but…

The boy can't do the part.

He stutters right through it every time.

It's a whole different bottom, though.
It's a whole different style.

Relax and breathe,
and everything's gonna be all right.

I'm just gonna cue you in…

I know where the four is, man.
Don't got to tell me nothing.

You're gonna smile and say
the line. Then we gonna get goin'.

- Cutler.
- Ma'am?

I know it's on the four…

Levee got his eyes in the wrong place.
You better school him, Cutler.

Come on, Levee. Let's get ready to play.
Keep your mind on your work.

Okay, boys. Here we go.
Here we go. Here we go.

"Moonshine Blues" first.
"Moonshine Blues," Ma.

I ain't doing no moonshine nothing.
I'm doing "Black Bottom" first.

Come on, Sylvester.
Where's Sylvester's mic?

Irvin, get him a mic.

Uh… Ma, the boys say he can't do it.

Who? Who say he can't do it?
What boys say he can't do it?

The band, Ma. The boys in the band.

What band?

Band work for me.

He stutters, Ma.
They say he stutters.

I don't care if he do.

I promised the boy
he could do the part, so he gonna do it.

And that's all there is to it.
He don't stutter all the time.

Get a microphone down here for him.

We don't have time. We can't...

If you wanna make a record, find the time.

I ain't playing with you.
I could walk out of here right now.

Go back to my tour.
I don't need to go through all this.

Go get the boy a microphone.

Levee, I know you had something
to do with this. Watch yourself.

It was Cutler.

It was you.
You the only one…

The boy stutter. He can't do the part.

Can or can't, he gonna do it.

- You ain't got nothing to do with it.
- I don't care.

- He can sing the whole song.
- Well, all right. Thank you.

He's only getting one chance.
The cost of this...

Damn the cost.
You always talking about the cost.

I make more money for this outfit
than anybody else you got put together.

If he mess up,
he'll do it till he get it right.

Come on, baby. Come on. Come.

Stand right there. Hold your hands
like I told you to. Okay. Come on.

All right. Don't worry about messing up.

You mess up,
we'll do it till you get it right.

All right. Play it for him, Cutler.

All right.

One, two, you know what to do.

All right, boys,

you done seen the best.

Now I'm gonna show you the rest.

Ma Rainey's gonna
show you her b… b… b…

Black b… bottom.

That's real good, baby.
You take your time. You'll get it right.

Okay, Ma. We're ready to go.

- Where's my Coke?
- "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," boys.

Where's my Coke? I need a Coke.
Hot as it is. Shit. I need a Coke.

What's the matter, Ma?

Where's my Coke? I need a cold Coca-Cola.

Uh, Ma, look…

I forgot the Coke.

Let's do it without it, huh?
Just this one song. What say, boys?

Damn what the band say. You supposed
to have my Coca-Cola. You knew that.

I ain't doing nothing
without my Coca-Cola.

- Shit.
- Just a minute here, Ma.

You come in an hour late...

Get out my face.
Irvin, I told you keep him away from me.

I'm tired of her nonsense.
I'm not gonna put up with this.

Let me. Ma, listen.

I'll call down to the deli
and get you a Coke. But let's get started.

Sylvester's standing there ready to go,
the band's all set up.

Let's do this one song.

Too cheap to buy me a Coca-Cola.
I'll buy my own.

Slow Drag, Sylvester. Go on, baby.

Get me three bottles of Coca-Cola,
ice cold. Get y'all something too.

- Keep the change.
- Yes, ma'am.

Irvin, get away from me. Shit.

You can wait till I get my Coca-Cola.
Ain't gonna kill you.

Okay, Ma. Get your Coke.

Gentlemen, the band room.

Christ sakes, get your Coke.


Come here a minute. I need to talk to you.

What's all this shit about
"the boys in the band said"?

I tells you what to do.

I says what the matter is with the band.
I say who can and can't do what.

We just say 'cause the boy stutter.

I know he stutters.
Don't you think I know?

This is what gonna help him.

We thought it'd be easier...

He gonna do the part. I don't
wanna hear any more of this shit

about what the boys in the band says.

And I want you to find somebody
to replace Levee when we get to Memphis.

Levee ain't nothing but trouble.

Levee all right.

He plays good music
when he puts his mind to it.

- He know how to write music too.
- I don't care.

He ain't nothing but bad news.

Find somebody else.
He the ringtail leader.

I know it was his idea
who to say who can do what.

Dussie Mae! Sit your ass down
and stop flaunting yourself around.

I ain't doing nothing.

Just go somewhere and stay out of the way.

Hi. I just wanted to see
what it look like down here.

Well, come on in.

I don't bite.

I didn't know you could write music.

I just thought you was
jiving me at the club last night.

No, baby. I knows how to write music.

I done give some
of my songs to Mr. Sturdyvant.

He say he gonna let me record 'em.

I'm gonna have my own band.

Hey, Toledo. Ain't I give
Mr. Sturdyvant some of my songs I wrote?

Don't get Toledo mixed up in nothing.

You gonna have your own band, sure enough?

Levee Green and his Footstompers.

A man what's gonna get his own band
need to have a woman like you.

A woman like me need a man
to bring it and put it in my hand.

I don't need nobody
getting something for nothing

and leave me standing in my door.

That ain't Levee's style, sugar.
I knows how to treat a woman.

Buy her presents and things.
Treat her like she want to be treated.

That's what they all say till
it come time to be buying the presents.

When we get down to Memphis,
I'm gonna take you out,

show you a good time.

Show you Levee know how to treat a woman.


This "Moonshine Blues," that's one of them
songs that Bessie Smith sangs, I believe.

Bessie what?

I ain't thinking about Bessie.

Shit. I taught Bessie. Bessie ain't
doing nothing but imitating me.

What I care about Bessie?
I don't care if she sell a million record.

She got her people. I got mine.
I don't care what nobody else do.

Ma was the first. Don't you forget it.

Nobody said nothing about all that.

- I'm saying that's the song she sang.
- I've been doing this a long time.

Ever since I was a little girl.
I don't care what nobody else do.

Shoot. That's what
get me so mad with Irvin.

White folks try to be
put out with you all the time.

Too cheap to buy you a damn Coca-Cola.

I lets them know it, though.
Ma don't stand for no shit.


They wanna take your voice
and trap it in all them fancy boxes

with all them buttons and dials,
and then too cheap to buy you a Coca-Cola.

Don't cost but a nickel a bottle.

They don't care nothing about me.

All they want is my voice.

Well, I done learned that.

And they gonna treat me
the way I want to be treated

no matter how much it hurt 'em.

They back there right now
calling me all kinds of names.

Calling me everything but a child of God.

But they can't do nothing else 'cause
they ain't got what they wanted yet.

As soon as they get my voice down
on one them recording machines,

then it's just like I'd be some whore
and they roll over and put their pants on.

They ain't got no use for me then.

I know what I'm talking about. You watch.

And Irvin,
he right there with the rest of them.

He don't care nothing about me either.

He's been my manager for six years,
and the only time he had me over his house

was to sing for some of his white friends.

Huh. I know how they do.

Yeah. Shit, you colored
and you can make 'em some money,

then you all right with them,
otherwise you just a dog in the alley.

I done made them
more money from my records

than all them other
recording artists they got put together,

and then they wanna balk about
how much this session is costing them.

I can't see how
it's costing as much as they say.

Shit, it ain't.
I don't pay that kind of talk no mind.

- I already got my fellas picked out.
- Mmm-hmm.

I'm getting me some good fellas.
Know how to play real sweet music.

You get your own band,
we'll see about this stuff you talking.

I just wanna show you
I knows what the womens like.

They don't call me
Sweet Lemonade for nothing.

Stop it now. Somebody gonna come in here.

No, they ain't.

Look here, sugar.

What I wants to know is,

can I introduce
my red rooster to your brown hen.

You get your own band and we'll see
if your red rooster know how to crow.

Mmm. Damn, baby.

Now I know
why my grandpappy sat on the front porch

with a straight razor
when my grandma hung out the wash.

You crazy!


I bet you sound like
the midnight train to Alabama

when it crosses the Mason-Dixon Line.

How you get so crazy?

It's women like you that drive me so…

Good God.

Happy birthday to the lady with the cakes.

Sure done got quiet in here.

I never could stand no silence.

I always got to have some music
going on in my head somewhere.

It keeps things balanced.

Music will do that. It fills things up.

The more music you have
in the world, the fuller it is.

I can agree with that.
I got to have my music too.

White folk
don't understand about the blues.

They hear it come out,
but they don't know how it got there.

They don't understand
that that's life's way of talking.

You don't sing to feel better.

You sing 'cause
that's a way of understanding life.

The blues help you
get out of bed in the morning.

You get up knowing you ain't alone.

There's something else in the world.

Something's been added by that song.

This be an empty world without the blues.


I try to take that emptiness
and fill it up with something.


I ain't started blues way of singing.
Blues always been there.

But if they wanna
call me the Mother of Blues,

that's all right with me.
It don't hurt none.

Sure did take y'all a long time.
Sylvester, get Irvin.

Tell him we ready to go.

I'll grab Levee.

Ma got her Coke, Levee.
We about ready to start.

- Get this off me.
- Okay.

- Okay, gotta go.
- Just go!

Okay, boys.
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," take one.

Two, you know what to do.

All right, boys,
you… you… d… done…

Take two.

All right, boys,

you done seen the rest.
Now I'm gonna show you the best.

Ma Rainey's gonna show you her…
B… B… B…


Ma, can we just do it without the…

Take six.

Take seven.

All right, boys,

you done seen the rest.
Now I'm gonna show you the best.

Ma Rainey's
gonna show you her black bottom.

Okay, that's good, Ma.
That sounded great. Good job, boys.

See? I told you you could do it!

- He did good.
- All you gotta do is set your mind to it.

- He did better than I thought he would.
- My baby.

- Mwah. That's my baby.
- Hey, boy. Hey, boys, Ma.

- Yeah!
- Hey, let's do "Moonshine Blues" next?

"Moonshine Blues," boys.

Irv? Something happened
with the recording. Check that mic.

One, one, one, two, check, one...

No. The problem's with the kid's mic.

Oh, Christ Almighty!

- Ma, we didn't record the song.
- Shit!

What you mean you didn't record the song?

What were you
and Sturdyvant doing up there?

Levee must have
kicked the plug out.

I ain't kicked nothing.

If Levee had his mind
on what he was doing.

If it ain't one thing, it's another.
Straighten your black ass out.

Hell, it ain't my fault.
I ain't done nothing.

It's the cord, Mel.

The cord's all chewed up.
We need another cord.

- The most disorganized…
- Ma?

- Waste of my time.
- Where's she going?

- Shit.
- Ma? Ma!


If you walk out of this studio,
you're through. You're washed-up.

Christ sakes, Mel! Ma!

Ma, come back here! Ma, please!

Listen, Ma.

These records are gonna be hits.

They are gonna sell like crazy.

Hell, even Sylvester will be a star.

Fifteen minutes.

That is all I am asking, Ma.
Just 15 minutes.

Fifteen minutes.
You hear me, Irvin? Fifteen minutes.

Then I'm gonna carry my black bottom
on back down to Georgia, you hear me?

Fifteen minutes.

You boys go ahead
and take a break.

Fifteen minutes. We'll be ready to go.

Don't make
no difference to me if she leave.

I'm ready to get on outta here, anyway.

If I was Mr. Irvin,

I'd go on and get them cords
and things hooked up right.

If Levee kept his mind on his work,
we wouldn't be in this fix.

We'd be up there finishing up.

Now we gotta see
if that boy can get that part right.

He got one eye on the gal
and the other on his trumpet.

don't you know that's Ma's gal?

I ain't done nothing to her. I just
talk to her like I talk to anybody else.

Your ass gonna be out there
scraping the concrete, lookin' for a job,

you keep messing around with her.

I ain't done nothing to the gal.
I just asked her her name.

If you sayin' I can't do that,
Ma'll just have to go to hell.

I'm through with it.
Try talking to a fool.

Some mens got it worse than others.
Some mens is excited to be a fool.

I knows about it.
The excitement is something else.

I done experienced it.
Make you feel good to be a fool.

But it don't last long.

Over in a minute, then you
got to tend with the consequences.

That's the best sense you made all day,
talking about being a fool.

That's the only sensible thing
you said today, admitting you was a fool.

Oh, I admits it, all right.
Ain't nothing wrong with it.

I done been
a little bit of everything.

Gonna be a bit more things
before I'm finished with it.

But I ain't never been
the same fool twice.

That's where we part ways.

But you been a fool. That's what counts.

Talking about I'm a fool
for asking the girl her name,

and here you is one yourself.

I married a woman. A good woman.

To this day,
I can't say nothing bad about this woman.

I married her with all the good intentions
and graces of being hooked up,

bound to her for the rest of my life.

Looking for this woman
to put me in my grave,

but she went out and joined the church.

She got up there
and got to seeing them good Christian men

and wondering why I ain't like that.

Soon she figured
she hooked up to a heathen.

Couldn't live like that.

So she left.

I just sat down and I figured I was a fool

not to see that she needed
something that I wasn't giving her,

else she wouldn't have been
up there at the church.

So, yeah…

Toledo been a fool about a woman.

That's part of making life.

Toledo, what you call a fool

and what I call a fool
are two different things.

A fool is responsible
for what happen to him.

A fool cause it to happen. Like Levee.

He keep messing around with Ma's gal,
his feet be out there scraping the ground.

- That's a fool.
- Nothing gonna happen to Levee.

Levee ain't gonna let
nothing happen to him.

Better not let Ma see you ask her.
That's what the man's trying to tell you.

I don't need nobody to tell me nothing.

Toledo, all I'm saying is,
from the looks of it,

from your story,
I don't think life treated you fair.

Oh, life's fair.

Life ain't shit.

You can put it in a paper bag
and carry it around with you.

It ain't got no balls.

Now death? Death got some style.

Death will kick your ass
and make you wish you never been born.

That's how bad death is.

But you can rule over life.
Life ain't nothing.

Nigga talking about life is fair
and ain't got a pot to piss in.

All right.
Now I'm gonna tell you something.

A nigga gonna be dissatisfied
no matter what.

Niggas got a right to be dissatisfied.

Is you gonna be satisfied
with a bone somebody done throwed you

when you done
seen them eating a whole hog?

You lucky they let you be an entertainer.
You're lucky and don't even know it.

I'm talking about being satisfied
with a bone somebody done throwed you.

That's what's the matter with y'all,
you're satisfied sitting in one place.

Soon as I get my band together

and record them songs
Mr. Sturdyvant done told me I can make,

I'm gonna be like Ma and tell
the white man just what he can do.

Ma tell Mr. Irvin she leaving?

Mr. Irvin get down on his knees
and beg her to stay.

That's the way I'm gonna be.
Make the white man respect me.

The white man don't care nothing about Ma.

The colored folks made Ma a star.

The white folks don't care
nothing about who she is

or what kind of music she make.

Let her go to one of them
white folks hotel and see how big she is.

Hell, she can't even
get a cab up here in the North.

I'mma tell you something. Reverend Gates.

Slow Drag, you know
who I'm talking about. Reverend Gates.

Reverend Gates was, uh, coming up
from Tallahassee to Atlanta

to see his sister who was sick
at that time with the consumption.

The train come up
through Thomasville, then past Moultrie,

and then ended up
in this little town called Sigsbee.

You can stop telling that right there.

Ain't but one train come out
of Tallahassee headed north to Atlanta.

It don't stop at Sigsbee.

The only train
that stop at Sigsbee is the Santa Fe,

and you gotta transfer
at Moultrie to get it.

Maybe that's what he done. I don't know.

I'm just telling you
he got off at Sigsbee.

You telling it.
Tell it your way. Just make up anything.

Leave him alone and let him finish.

Go on, tell it your way.

Reverend Gates
got off this train in Sigsbee.

Figured he'd check the schedule

to make sure he arrived in time
for somebody to pick him up. All right?

While he's there, it come upon him
that he had to go to the bathroom.

Now, the only colored restroom they had

was an outhouse they had sitting way back,
200 yards or so from the train station.

While he's in the outhouse,
the train go off and leave without him.

Now, he don't know
where he is in this town.

In fact,
he ain't never heard of it before.

I heard of it,
and he ain't got off no train

coming outta Tallahassee in Sigsbee.

The man's standing there
trying to figure out what he gonna do,

where this train
done left him in this strange town.

It started getting dark.

He sees
where the sun's getting low in the sky,

and he's trying
to figure out what he gonna do,

when he noticed a couple of white fellas

standing across the street
from the station.

Just standing there, watching him.

Then two or three more fellas
come up and join the other one.

Now he look around the station.
He don't see no colored folks nowhere.

He don't know
what's getting into these fellas' minds,

so he commence to walking.

He don't know where he walking.
He walking down the railroad tracks

when he hear, "Hey, nigger."

Just like that.

"Hey, nigger."

He keep walking.

They call him some more. He kept walking.

Then he heard a gunshot.
Yeah. He stopped then, you know.

They crowded around him.

He's standing there,

cross around his neck,

and the little Bible
that he keep with him all the time.

They ask who he was.
He said he was Reverend Gates

and he was on his way to see his sister

who was sick,
and the train went off and left him.

And they said, "Yeah, nigger?"

"But can you dance?"

He looked at them

and commenced to dancing.

One of them reached up
and tore his cross off his neck,

said he was committing heresy
by dancing with a cross and a Bible.

Took his Bible and tore it up,

and had him dancing
till they got tired of watching him.

- That's the only way that man...
- What I wants to know is, he a man of God.

Where the hell was God
when all this was going on?

Why didn't God strike down them crackers

with some of this lightning
you talking about to me?

Levee, you gonna burn in hell.

Why didn't God strike
some of them crackers down? Tell me that.

That's the question. Don't come
telling me this burning-in-hell shit.

He a man of God,

why didn't God
strike some of them crackers down?

I'll tell you why.
I'll tell you the truth.

God ain't never listened
to no nigga's prayers.

God take the nigga's prayers
and throw them in the garbage.

God don't pay niggas no mind.
In fact, God hate niggas.

Hate them with all the fury in his heart.

Jesus don't love you, nigga.
Jesus hate your black ass.

Come talking that shit to me.
Talking about burning in hell.

God can kiss my ass.

You wanna blaspheme my God!
That's my God! My God, you worthless...

Let him go!

- You worthless!
- Let him go!

- That's my God! Blaspheme my God.
- Let it go! It don't mean nothing!

It don't mean nothing!

It's your God, huh? Is that right?

All right,
I'm gonna give your God a chance.

I'm gonna give your God a chance.

I'm gonna give him
a chance to save your black ass.

- Put that knife up!
- Stay out of this, Toledo.

- That's no way to solve nothing.
- Put that knife up!

I'm talking to Cutler's God! You hear me?

Cutler's God! I'm calling Cutler's God!

Come on and save this nigga.

Strike me down before I cut his throat.

- You gonna burn in hell, nigga.
- I'm calling your God.

I'm gonna give him a chance
to save you. I'm calling your God!

Cutler's God?

Come on and save this nigga.

Come on and save him like you did my mama.

Save him like you did my mama!

I heard her when she call you.

I heard her when she said,
"Lord have mercy. Jesus help me."

"Please, God, have mercy on me, Lord.
Jesus help me."

Did you turn your back?

Did you turn your back, motherfucker?

Did you turn your back?

Come on.

Come on and turn your back on me.

Turn your back on me!

Come on. Where is you?

Come on and turn your back on me!

Turn your back on me, motherfucker!
I'll cut your heart out!

Come on. What's the matter? Where is you?

Come on and turn your back on me.

Come on, what you scared of?

Turn your back on me! Come on!

Coward motherfucker!

Your God ain't shit, Cutler.

Your God ain't shit.

Wonderful. We got that, boys.


Good session, Ma.
We've got ourselves some winners!

Slow Drag,
where you learn to play that bass at?

I heard it singing. I heard you.

You had that bass
jumping all over the place.

I was following Toledo.

Nigga got them long fingers
striding all over the piano.

- I was trying to keep up with him.
- That's what you supposed to do.

- Play the music.
- Cutler, you hear Slow Drag

on that bass
spanking like you spank a baby?


Levee, what were you doing?
Why you playing all them notes?

Playing ten notes for every one you
supposed to play. Don't call for all that.

You're supposed to improvise
on the theme. That's what I was doing.

You're supposed
to play the song like I sing it.

The way
everybody else play it.

I was playing the song the way I felt it.

I'm trying to sing my song
and you messing up my ear.

- You call that playing music?
- Hey, I know what I'm doing.

Y'all back up and leave me alone
about my music.

I done told you it ain't about your music.
It's about Ma's music.

That's all right. I told you what to do.

What I care about what you and Cutler do?

Y'all gonna fire me. I don't care.
I'll go get my own band anyway.

- You keep messing with me...
- Nobody studying you.

All right, nigga. You fired.

You think I care about being fired?
I don't care.

- You doing me a favor.
- Cutler, Levee's out.

- He ain't playing in my band no more.
- I'm fired? Good!

Best thing that ever happened to me.

I don't need this shit.


Mel will be out with your money
in a minute.

That's cash money. I don't want no check.

I'll see what I can do.
I can't promise you nothing.

As long as it ain't no check.
I ain't got no use for a check.

Listen, Ma.
I talked to Sturdyvant, and he said…

Now I tried to talk him out of it,

but he said the best he can do
is take $25 of your money

and give it to Sylvester.

Take what and do what?

If I wanted the boy to have
$25 of my money, I'd give it to him.

He's supposed to have his own money.

He's supposed to get paid
like everybody else.

You go on up there,
and you tell Sturdyvant

that he better pay the boy his own money.

- Yeah, I talked to him...
- Talk to him again.

Tell him if he don't
pay the boy his own money,

he'll never make another record
of mine again. Tell him that.

You supposed to be my manager.
Always talking about sticking together.

Start sticking.

- Get the boy his money!
- Okay.

I'll see what I can do.

Hey, Ma.

Is there something wrong?

Is there a problem?

I want you to pay the boy his money.

Sure, Ma. I got it right here.

It's, uh, 200 for you
and 25 for the kid, right?

Irvin misunderstood me.

It was all a mistake.
It was all a mistake.

- A mistake, huh?
- Sure, Ma. Made a mistake.

But he's paid, right?

The only mistake…

Was when you found out
I hadn't signed the release forms.

That was a mistake.

Come on. Sign the forms, huh?

- Dussie Mae, Sylvester, come on.
- Ma, sign the forms.

Irvin, where's my car?

It's right out front.
I got the keys right here.

Come on and sign these forms, huh?

Irvin, give me my keys.

Sure, Ma. Just… sign these forms.

Send them to my address.
I'll get around to 'em.

Come on, Ma.
I took care of everything, didn't I?

I straightened everything out.



And you tell Sturdyvant,

any more mistakes
and I can make my records some place else.

I ain't gonna stand for it.
Ain't gonna bring me no check down here.

Man give me a check last time.
What happened?

We had to go
all over Chicago to get it cashed.

See a nigga with a check,
first thing they think is he stole it.

I ain't had no trouble cashing mine.

I don't visit no whore houses.

You don't know my business,
so don't start nothing.

I'm tired of you as it is. I ain't
but two seconds off your ass, noway.

Don't y'all start nothing now.

What the hell I care what you're tired of?
I wasn't talking to you.

- I was talking to this man.
- Boys, I've got your pay.

Mr. Irvin told me you boys prefer cash,
and that's what I have for you.

That was a good session you boys put in.

There's 25 for you.

Yes, sir, you boys really know
your business. Twenty-five for you.

We're gonna get you
back in here real soon. Twenty-five.

And have another session,
so you can make some more money.

And 25 for you.

Uh, Mr. Sturdyvant, sir?

About them songs I give you?

Oh, yeah. Oh, Levee.
Uh, I thought about it.

I don't think that people will buy them.

They're not the type of songs
we're looking for.

Mr. Sturdyvant, sir.
I done already got my band picked out.

I got some real good fellas.
They know how to play real good music.

I know if the peoples
hear the music, they'll buy it.

Uh, Levee, I'll be fair with you.
They're not the right songs.

Mr. Sturdyvant, peoples
is tired of hearing jug-band music.

The people in the big city?
They want something with some fire to it.

Harlem, Detroit, DC.

Okay, I'll tell you what.
I'll give you $5 apiece for 'em.

I don't want $5, Mr. Sturdyvant.
I wants to record them songs like you say.

Like I say, they're not
the kind of songs we're looking for.

Mr. Sturdyvant,
you asked me to write them songs.

Why didn't you tell me that
when I first give them to you?

You told me you was
gonna let me record them.

What's the difference
between then and now?

- I'll pay you for your trouble.
- What's the difference?

That's what I wanna know.

I had my fellas play your songs.

When I heard them, they didn't sound
like the kind I'm looking for right now.

You got to hear me play them.

You ain't heard me play them.
That's what's gonna make them sound right.

Levee, I don't doubt that.

It's just that, I don't think
they'd sell like Ma's records.

But I'll take 'em off your hands for you.

Mr. Sturdyvant, sir.

I don't know what fellas
you had playing them songs,

but if I could play them,
I'd set them down in the people's lap.

Now, you told me
I could record them songs.

There's nothing I can do about that.

Like I say, it's $5 apiece.
That's what I'll pay ya.

I'm doing you a favor.

If you write any more, I'll help
you out and take 'em off your hands.

The price is $5 apiece. Just like now.

Hey, watch it, now.

Shit. You stepped on my shoe.

Excuse me there, Levee.

Look at that.

Nigga, you stepped on my shoe.

- What you do that for?
- Said I'm sorry.

You gonna step on my goddamn shoe.
You done fucked up my shoe.

Look at what you done to my shoe, nigga.

I ain't step on your shoe.
What you wanna step on my shoe for?

Man said he was sorry.

How the hell he gonna be sorry
when he done ruined my shoe?

Come talk about sorry.

Nigga, you stepped on my shoe,
you know that?

- See what you done done?
- I said, "Excuse me." Now it's over.

- What you want me to do, huh?
- Wanna go and fuck up my shoe like that.

I ain't step on your shoe.
Huh? Look at this.

- Okay, come on, now.
- Naw, naw. Look at what you done.

Look at that. That's my shoe.

You did it. You did it!

You fucked up my shoe.

You stepped on my shoe
with them raggedy-ass clodhoppers.

Ain't nobody studying
about you and your shoe.

I said, "Excuse me."

If you can't accept that,
then the hell with it.

What you want me to do?

You stepped on my shoe.

He… He stepped on my shoe. He did.

Honest. Cutler, he stepped on my shoe.

What he do that for?
Toledo, what you do that for?

Cutler, help.

He stepped on my shoe.


It's okay, Toledo. I'll help you.

Come on, Toledo.

Oh, no.


Don't look at me like that.

Don't look at me like that.