Between 1927 and 1929 Washington Phillips recorded the mere 18 songs that comprise his entire body of work - six of those were the first and second parts of three long songs, four were unreleased at the time and two are lost altogether. 'Denomination Blues' originally stretched to over five minutes in length, so was divided into two separate recordings issued across either side of a 78rpm single in 1928 and is, amongst other things, a plea for tolerance and respect across religious divides. 'Well denominations have no right to fight, they ought to just treat each other right, that's all.' Nearly 90 years on, the more things change the more they stay the same.
I first heard 'Denomination Blues' in the late 1980's, via Andy Kershaw's Radio 1 show, though it took me a few years to track down 'I Am Born to Preach the Gospel', a compilation of Phillips' recordings, released on the Yazoo label. A more recent Yazoo collection, 'The Key To The Kingdom', is the one to go for these days.
'Denomination Blues Part 1' - Washington Phillips
'Denomination Blues Part 2' - Washington Phillips
The song has been covered many times over the years, most notably in 1972 by Ry Cooder on 'Into the Purple Valley'. Sister Rosetta Tharpe used significant elements of 'Denomination Blues' in the two versions of 'That's All' she cut in 1938 and 1941. Here's a fantastic live performance of it from the 1940's.