Jimmy “Duck” Holmes sang “Devil Got My Woman” at his Mississippi Blues Project concert on October 22, 2012. At the beginning, he notes that he is unsure of the song’s origin, citing Nehemiah “Skip” James, Jack Owens, and Henry Stuckey. All three were from Bentonia, MS where Holmes has lived all of his life. Jack Owens, who sounded much like Skip James, was little known outside of Bentonia. Henry Stuckey, whom Holmes credits as the founder of the “Bentonia style” of blues, was never recorded, nor do we know who his influences were.
Skip James became known to the world of music in the 1960s during the folk revival. His 1931 recordings for Paramount Records had been very obscure; they sold very poorly and single copies are all that survive of some of them. “Devil Got My Woman” was one of these 1931 records. Johnnie Temple, who worked with James for a while, adapted the song for his “Evil Devil Blues.” Temple was one of the great Mississippi blues singers who migrated to Chicago in the 1930s, and, unlike Skip James and Robert Johnson, enjoyed great success in that decade. No doubt Johnson heard the recording by the successful Johnnie Temple, and probably also Joe McCoy’s take on the song “Evil Devil Woman Blues” in 1934, as well as Skip James’ 1931 original recording. Johnson revised the song with new, haunting lyrics (the melody was already a little haunting) into his “Hellhound On My Trail,” on which his guitar playing clearly owes a debt to Skip James.
Below, watch Jimmy “Duck” Holmes put his own spin on the song, followed by the Skip James version from the 1966 Newport Folk Festival.