ARTISTSONGALBUM
Son Sims Four Joe Turner Complete Plantation Recordings
Son Sims Four RosalieComplete Plantation Recordings
Nathan Frazier & Frank Patterson CorinneAltamont: Black Stringband Music
Sidney Hemphill, Lucius Smith, Will Head & Alec Askew John HenryThe Devil's Dream
*Son HouseWalking Blues Field Recordings Vol. 17: Son House 1941-1942
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Jelly Roll Country Negro Jam Session
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Brown Skin Woman Country Negro Jam Session
Clarence Edwards, Cornelius Edwards & Butch Stack O´DollarsCountry Negro Jam Session
Butch Cage & Willie B. Thomas Called For You Yesterday Country Negro Jam Session
Chicago String Band The Sun Is Sinking LowThe Chicago String Band
Chicago String Band Railroad BluesThe Chicago String Band
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage 44 Blues Folk Music Of The Newport Folk Festival 1959-60 Vol. 1
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Butch's Blues I Have To Paint My Face
Clarence & Cornelius Edwards & Butch Cage Goin' Back to New Orleans The Country Blues
Charles Henderson, Butch Cage & Willie Thomas Jesus On The Mainline Country Spirituals
Blind James Campbell I Am So Blue When It RainsBlind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band
Blind James Campbell I'm Crazy About You BabyBlind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Tomorrow Gonna Be My Trying Day Raise a Ruckus Tonight
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Raise a Ruckus Tonight Raise a Ruckus Tonight
The New Mississippi Sheiks Stop And ListenThe New Mississippi Sheiks
The New Mississippi Sheiks What is it Tastes Like Gravy The New Mississippi Sheiks
Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong In The Bottom That Old Gang Of Mine
Carl Martin State Street Pimp #2 Crow Jane Blues
*Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Sneaky Ways Old Time Black Southern String Band Music
*Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Bugle Call Blues Old Time Black Southern String Band Music
*Howard Armstrong; Tom Armstrong; Ted Bogan; Ikey Robinson Railroad BluesLouie Bluie
*Leonard Bowles and Irvin Cook I Wish To The Lord I'd Never Been Born Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music
*Joe Thompson Careless LoveFamily Tradition
*Odell & Joe Thompson Georgia Buck Eight-Hand Sets & Holy Steps
*Carolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson Goin' Down the Road Feeling BadCarolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson

Show Notes:

*Due to the pledge drive several tracks (marked with an asterisk) were not played today. We will play these tracks on next week's program.

As collector Marshall Wyatt wrote, “the violin once held center stage in the rich pageant of vernacular music that evolved in the American South… and the fiddle held sway as the dominant folk instrument of both races until the dawn of the 20th century.” Today, outside of a few exceptions, African-American music has mostly abandoned the violin and fiddle to white country performers. Many black musicians active during the 1920's and ’30s came from a string-band tradition, an era predating the blues when fiddles and banjos were the predominant instruments, and guitars a rarity. Black fiddlers and string bands were still common in the South throughout the 1920's, were not entirely ignored by the record industry, but were they were certainly under-represented. Some black string bands incorporated blues into their repertoires in order to keep abreast of trends such as the popular Mississippi Sheiks. As the record business began to rebound in the mid-1930s, musical trends became rapidly modernized due to the spreading influence of mass media, and black fiddlers found even fewer recording opportunities.

Butch Cage & Willie B. Thomas
Butch Cage & Willie B. Thomas (Front cover Conversation With The Blues, Decca LK 4664)


Several years back
we spotlighted some of the black string band who got on record in the 20's and 30's and today is a sequel of sorts, featuring the few string band who recorded from the early 1940's and throughout the post-war era. The black string band tradition mostly faded away during this period but today we play some  of the groups who got on record including excellent sides recorded by the Library of Congress in the 40's, a batch of sides by Butch Cage & Willie Thomas, Blind James Campbell, Carl Martin, Howard Armstrong, Joe Thompson and others.

We open the show with sides recorded for the Library of Congress in 1942. That year John Work, a folklorist at Nashville’s Fisk University, captured the music of fiddler Frank Patterson and banjoist Nathan Frazier and Alan Lomax recorded Son House, Muddy Waters and Son Sims.

Sons Sims was born in Anguilla, Mississippi and learned to play the fiddle from his grandfather. Sims went on to be the leader of the Mississippi Corn Shuckers, a rural based string ensemble and played with them for a number of years. In 1929 he went up to the Paramount studios in Grafton, Wisconsin with Charlie Patton where he cut four sides under his own name and backed Patton on several numbers like "Running Wild Blues" and "Elder Greene Blues."He backed Patton again in 1930 for Paramount. On August 28, 1941, Sims accompanied Muddy Waters on a recording session under the direction of Alan Lomax, as part of his recordings for the Library of Congress. In the 1940's Sims also accompanied Robert Nighthawk on several joint appearances, and continued a solo career in to the 1950's.

Lomax found Sid Hemphill in Senatobia, deep in Mississippi’s Hill Country. He’d driven across a crumbling bridge and approached a “sagging, unpainted door on a weathered-gray, warping house.” Before he could knock, Hemphill, then 65, swung it open. “No one had told me that Sid Hemphill was blind, but it was the last thing you’d recall about him,” Lomax explained. “His face blazed with inner light.” On August 15, 1942, Lomax committed 15 tracks by Hemphill and his backing band (Lucius Smith, Alec “Turpentine” Askew, and Will Head) to acetate disc.

Muddy Waters & Son Sims
Muddy Waters & Sons Sims, 1942

 

Lomax first recorded Son House for the Library of Congress in 1941. Lomax returned to the area in 1942, where he recorded House once more. Willie Brown, mandolin player Fiddlin' Joe Martin, and harmonica player Leroy Williams played with House on these recordings  including the rollicking six minute version of "Walking Blues" featured today.

Fiddler James "Butch" Cage was one of the last artists in the black string band tradition. Born on March 16, 1894, in Hamburg, MS, Cage's first real instrument was a cane fife. He moved to southwest Louisiana following the devastating Mississippi floods of 1927, eventually settling in Zachary, where he worked a succession of menial jobs while playing string band music at house parties and church functions, often in conjunction with guitarist Willie B. Thomas. Musicologist Harry Oster heard Butch Cage and Willie Thomas playing in Zachary in 1959 and recorded them extensively. The duo was also a huge hit at the 1960 Newport Folk Festival. The duo can be heard on several fine anthologies including: Country Negro Jam Sessions (Arhoolie), I Have To Paint My Face (Arhoolie), The Folk Music Of The Newport Folk Festival 1959-60 Vol. 1 (Folkways), Country Spirituals (Storyville), Country Blues (Storyville), Raise A Rukus Tonight (Flyright) and Old Time Black Southern String Band Music (Arhoolie).

Fiddler Joe Thompson died in 2012 at the age of 93. Born December 9, 1918 in Orange County, North Carolina, Thompson grew up in a family where fiddle and banjo music was heard on nights and weekends after farm work was completed. Joe’s father and uncle played fiddle and banjo and were sought after by neighbors, both African American and white, to provide music for local square dances. Joe has received many honors since the 1970s, when he began performing his music outside of his home community. Kip Lornell, then a graduate student in ethnomusicology, heard him perform in 1973 and urged them to look into performing at folk music festivals that were springing up. In 1989 Joe and Odell recorded Music for Global Village Music and Joe was featured on the album Family Tradition, released by Rounder Records in 2000. Folklorist Alan Lomax included the three Thompsons' in his American Patchwork documentary film series. His music is also included on various anthologies. The Carolina Chocolate Drops became Thompson’s most well known protégés, learning from him at his home in Mebane and eventually recording and performing with him at festivals like Merlefest and even local dances.

The Chicago String Band was a studio group put together by Pete Welding to emulate the old time string band sound. The group cut one self-titled album for Welding's Testament label featuring Big John Wrencher, hca,voc; John Lee Granderson, voc, g; Carl Martin, voc, vl, mand; Johnny Young, voc, mand; Bill Foster, g.

From left to right: Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong, Yank Rachell, Banjo Ikey Robinson,
Ted Bogan and Tom Armstrong.

 

Two original members of the Mississippi Sheiks, Sam Chatmon and Walter Vinson, partnered with two members of the string band Martin, Bogan and Armstrong to form The New Mississippi Sheiks. The group cut the album The New Mississippi Sheiks for Rounder in 1972.

Blind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band were a group of street musicians from Nashville, Tennessee who played a hybrid of hillbilly, jazz, blues, old time popular, skiffle, and jug band music. James Campbell, a Nashville native, on guitar and vocals is joined by Beauford Clay on fiddle, Bell Ray, on second fiddle and guitar, George Bell on trumpet, and Ralph Robinson on bass horn/tuba. This group was originally recorded in 1963. The band worked road houses, on the streets of Nashville, at parties, as well as other social functions. They recorded a self-titled album for Arhoolie issued in 1963.  The group members had links to an earlier group, called the Nashville Washboard Band, who were recorded for the Library of Congress by John Work.

Carl Martin's main instrument was mandolin but he also mastered the guitar, and according to those who saw him perform, could play anything with strings. Carl Martin not only performed solo, but also spent much of his career in a trio featuring Ted Bogan (guitar) and Howard Armstrong (violin). The trio enjoyed a career that spanned five decades and was known under several different monikers, including the Four Keys, the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, and the Wandering Troubadours. In the late '30s, they followed the great migration to Chicago where they would eventually go their separate ways, occasionally playing together. Martin cut sides under his own name in the 30's as well as backing Tampa Red,Bumble Bee Slim, Washboard Sam and others. He recorded again in the 60's for the Testament label, resulting his only full-length album. Following years of playing solo, Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong reunited in the early '70s and played the folk and blues festival circuit all over the country.

Howard Armstrong proved to be a true renaissance man, excelling in a variety of artistic endeavors during his amazing 80-career including storytelling, poetry and painting. He managed to conquer nearly every genre of music, learned to play multiple instruments and spoke several languages.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Doctor Clayton Roaming GamblerDoctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton Black Snake Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton '41 BluesDoctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Robert Junior Lockwood & Sunnyland Slim Doctor Clayton And MeConversation With The Blues
Doctor Clayton Pearl Harbor Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Walter BrownConfessin' the Blues Walter Brown 1945-1947
Doctor Clayton Confessin' the Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton Doctor Clayton BluesDoctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor ClaytonWatch Out Mama Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor ClaytonCheating And Lying Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Robert Nighthawk Cheating And Lying Blues And This Is Free
Pat Hare I'm Gonna Murder My Baby Mystery Train
Doctor Clayton Gotta Find My Baby Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Pete Franklin I Gotta Find My BabyGuitar Pete´s Blues
B.B KingGotta Find My BabyThe Vintage Years
Doctor Clayton Honey Stealin' Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton My Own Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton On the Killin’ Floor Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Willie Mabon I'm Hungry I Blueskvarter Vol. 1
Doctor Clayton Moonshine Woman Blues Doctor Clayton: 1935-1942
Doctor Clayton Moonshine Man Blues Doctor Clayton: 1935-1942
B.B KingThe Woman I LoveThe Vintage Years
Doctor Clayton Ain't No Business We Can Do Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton Angels In Harlem Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Little Son Willis Harlem Blues Down Home Blues Classics: California & The West Coast
Larry Davis Angels In HoustonAngels In Houston
Doctor Clayton I Need My BabyDoctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
B.B KingWalking Doctor BillThe Vintage Years
Doctor Clayton Copper Coloured MamaDoctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton Ain't Gonna Drink No More Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton Root Doctor Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Willie 'Long Time' Smith My Buddy Doctor Clayton Doctor Clayton & His Buddies 1946-1947

Show Notes: 


My buddy my buddy Doctor Clayton, he has been here and gone
But you know he waved his hand, and told me to carry on
We used to drink gin, beer and whiskey, and walk together all night long
But now he has passed away, and told me to carry on

(Willie "Long Time" Smith, My Buddy Dr. Clayton, 1947)

Doctor Clayton

Over 60 years after his untimely death the exceptional singer and masterful songwriter known as Doctor Clayton is little spoken of today. Clayton worked strictly as a vocalist (by some accounts he could play piano and ukulele), employing an impressive falsetto technique, later refined into a powerful, swooping style that was instantly recognizable. In addition he was an unparalleled songwriter, writing mostly original material with a rare wit, intelligence and social awareness. Clayton's vocal style was widely emulated and a number of his songs became blues standards. Despite the high esteem he was held in by fellow blues artists and his popularity during his lifetime Clayton's fine blues recordings remain largely ignored. On today's show we spotlight some of his best numbers and play covers by his many admirers. The title of today's show comes from the 1941 number "Slick Man Blues."

As Chris Smith wrote: "…Clayton was an artist of genuine stature and originality, and as a result a star in black entertainment circles. Sunnyland Slim, his piano player for a number of years on club dates, recalls that he toured extensively in a bus which featured his distinctly bespectacled, grinning face on its side, and was always welcomed by club owners for his crowd pulling abilities. …What makes Doctor Clayton's work so striking is that his singing was far more powerful, more passionate, and at the same time more humorous, than many of his fellow Bluebird artists."

Further, he noted,"Clayton, let us remember, was immediately disadvantageous, in the terms of American society, by being black, and thus having his horizons forcibly narrowed by institutionalized racism. …He created in his songs a fantasy world of success in the terms of the ghetto, as a gambler, pimp and master of success with women (though he also evinced (incredibly enough) a wry appreciation of the realities of life). He was also handicapped on the personal level, by his alcoholism and a lack of self-preservation; his projection in song of himself as a hustler supreme is thus even more poignant by virtue of the fact that he was quite incapable of attaining success even in the demeaning terms which were all that white America allowed blacks to consider."

Peter Joe Clayton was born April 19, 1898 in Georgia, by most reports, although claimed he was born in Africa and that he moved to St. Louis with his parents. In St. Louis he married and had four children, was employed as a factory worker and started his singing career. In 1937 tragedy struck when a fire burned down his house, killing his wife and children. He began drinking and living recklessly, a pattern that continued throughout his life. In his book Big Bill Blues Big Bill Broonzy reminisced about Clayton with obvious fondness: "Doctor Clayton was a good hearted boy. He wouldn't get a room, he wore tennis shoes in winter time and slept on pool tables and in alleys and basements, anywhere he could, because all the money he made from singing he would drink it up, or lose it in some kind of game." He certainly cut and odd figure usually sporting strange hats and oversized glasses sans the lenses. Robert Lockwood recalls coming back from St. Louis after recording with Clayton to find him in a sorry state of affairs: "When I got back here, Doctor Clayton didn't have no shoes! What happened was, after the recording session, the Doctor had taken the money he had made and bought everybody drinks and food at the club that night. …And when Doctor Clayton passed out, they stole his money and everything he had. They took his shoes off, took his coat. And when he woke up, he didn't have shit." Many of Clayton's songs deal with tough times and 1942's "On The Killing Floor" (the theme was used in Howlin' Wolf's 1964 song "Killing Floor" and Willie Mabon's "I'm Hungry" uses some lines from the song) seems to echo his reckless lifestyle:

"Please give me a match to light this short that I found
I know it looks bad for me, picking tobacco off the ground
I was in my prime not so very long ago
But high priced whiskey and woman done put me on the killin' floor
Lord it's zero weather and I ain't got a lousy dime
I'm walking from door to door and I can't find a friend of mine"

From the same session was another down-and-out tale, "Ain't No Business We Can Do":

I went down to Eli, got my suit out of pawn
Took the last little change I had left, and put some new shoes on
I took a real slow stroll, right down the avenue
A high yeller asked me, could she go 'long too
I said, "Hey good-lookin' have you got any cash on you?
'Cos if you broke like me, ain't no business we can do"

Prices goin' up every day, all kind of meat is too high
If you ain't rich or got a good job, neckbones is all you could buy
The best friend you got, will even tell you a lie
And let me tell you buddy, you better keep some kinda cash on you
'Cos when you broke, outdoors and hungry ain't no business you can do

But according to his sometime partner Blind John Davis there was another side to Clayton: "He was a brilliant fellow. He went to 52nd grade in school and he could sing opera, he could sing semi-classics, he could sing the blues and everything."

Clayton moved to Chicago with partner Robert Lockwood to pursue his musical career with the aid of Charley Jordan who had connections with the Columbia and Decca labels. Clayton was supposed to record for Decca but ended up hooking up with Lester Melrose of Bluebird. As Lockwood related later: "Doctor Clayton started singin', and Melrose had a baby. …He had to have Doctor Clayton! Yeah! Lester Melrose heard Doctor Clayton sing, and he went crazy." It has been suggested that a 1930 78 by Jesse Clayton, "Neckbone Blues b/w Station House Blues" may mask the first recording by Doctor Clayton.

He first recordings we are sure of were for Bluebird in 1935 cutting six sides, four of which went unissued, and he didn't record again until 1941. Between 1941-1942 he recorded four sessions for Bluebird and Okeh backed by pianist Blind John Davis with guitarist Robert Lockwood and bassist Ransom Knowling on some sides. Knowling also plays tuba on some sides as Clayton alternatley exhorts him to "Kill yourself, Mr.Ransom", "Blow your horn, Mr.Ransom", and "Toot your horn, Mr. Ransom". This period included many memorable sides including wartime numbers like "'41 Blues" and "Pearl Harbor Blues" (cut three months after the attack). In "'41 Blues" Clayton offers his solution to end hostilities:

War is raging in Europe, up on the water, land and in the air
If Uncle Sam don't be careful, we'll all soon be right back over there
This whole war would soon be over if Uncle Sam would use my plan
Let me sneak in Hitler's bedroom with my razor in my hand"

In "Pearl Harbor Blues" he had this to say:

"On December the seventh, nineteen hundred and forty one
The Japanese flew over Pearl Harbor, dropping bombs by the ton
This Japanese is so ungrateful, just like a stray dog on the street
Well he bite the hand that feeds em', soon as he get enough to feed

Doctor ClaytonClayton's "'41 Blues" was covered by Jazz Gillum as "Wartime Blues" recorded just two days before Pearl Harbor. Other numbers during this period include the oft covered "Cheating And Lying Blues" and "Gotta Find My Baby" plus memorable sides like "Watch Out Mama", "Moonshine Woman Blues" (covered by B.B. King in 1959 as "The Woman I Love" with an overdubbed version charting in 1968) and "Ain't No Business We Can Do." Slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk was recorded playing "Cheating And Lying Blues" in 1964 live on Maxwell Street which also combined the lyrics form "Ain't No Business We Can Do" and Pat Hare's 1954 "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby" was a direct descendant of "Cheating And Lying Blues" ("I'm gonna murder my baby if she don't stop cheating and lying/Well I'd rather be in the penitentiary than to be worried out of my mind").

After these sessions the Petrillo ban put a temporary ban on recording activity and Clayton was out of the studio for several years. Clayton got off to a bad start for a February 1946 session when all four numbers were rejected. His next session was in August 1946 with a small group led by "Baby Doo" Caston with all six sides issued. These sessions included the oft-covered "Angels in Harlem" (covered by Smokey Hogg and by Larry Davis as "Angels In Houston" and by Little Son Willis as "Harlem Blues"), "Hold That Train Conductor" (covered by B.B. King in 1961) and "I Need My Baby" (covered by Smokey Hogg in 1951 as "Walking Dr. Bill" and by B.B. King under the same title as Hogg's in 1960 and hitting number 23 on the R&B charts), "Root Doctor" and perhaps ironically "Aint Gonna Drink No More." Also cut during this period was "Copper Colored Mama" which King covered as "The Woman I Love" in 1954. "Root Doctor" was probably Clayton's theme song, and according to Sunnyland Slim, much bawdier when performed live. The song was a cover of Walter Davis' 1935 "Root Man Blues."

Clayton’s records were steady sellers and he regularly appeared at Chicago clubs such as Sylvios working with Robert Lockwood and Sunnyland Slim and toured widely. Attesting to this popularity was Sunnyland Slim who recorded as "Doctor Clayton's Buddy" on his debut 1947 session and Willie Long Time Smith who in 1947 recorded the tribute, "My Buddy Doctor Clayton" written by Lester Melrose. Clayton died on January 7th 1947 in Chicago, of pulmonary tuberculosis at Chicago's Cook County Hospital. According to Big Bill only ten people attended Clayton's funeral including himself and Tampa Red. Echoes of his vocal style survived in the music Professor Longhair, Jimmy Witherspoon and particularly early B.B. King. King covered several of Clayton's compositions and offered this praise: "Well, Doctor Clayton was the man that I used to idolize; just about everything he did I used to sing along with it for hours."

Related Reading:

-I'm A First Class Root Doctor (Talking Blues 5, 6, 7 by Chris Smith, 1977) [PDF]

-Ain't Gonna Drink No More (Blues & Rhythm 24 by Tony Burke, 1986) [PDF]

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Blind Lemon Jefferson Match Box BluesBlues Images Vol. 12
Brother Son Bonds and Hammie Nixon I Want To Live So God Can Use MeBlues Images Vol. 12
Willie Lofton Trio Beer Garden BluesBlues Images Vol. 12
Grant 'Mr Blues' Jones They Call Me Mr Blues Jumpin' The Blues Vol. 2 Ace
Clay Braddy & Roy Mays New Kind Of Feelin' Jumpin' The Blues Vol. 1 Ace
Willie Brown People Don't Understand Me Jumpin' The Blues Vol. 3 Ace
Robert Pete Williams Hoodoo Blues Raise a Ruckus Tonight
Clarence Edwards Can't Stand to Be Your Dog Raise a Ruckus Tonight
Butch Cage and Willie ThomasMean Old Frisco Raise a Ruckus Tonight
Arizona Dranes He Is My StoryHe Is My Story
Chippie Hill w/ Freddie Shayne How Long Blues Montana Taylor 1929-1946
Cripple Clarence Lofton Salty Woman BluesCripple Clarence Lofton Vol. 2 1939-1943
Sonny Boy Williamson Don't Make A MistakeDon't Make A Mistake
Dixie Blues Boys My Baby Left TownModern Downhome Blues Vol. 3
Drifting Slim Take My Hand Somebody Done Voodoo The Hoodoo Man
Muddy Waters County JailComplete Chess Recordings
Tommy Johnson Alcohol and Jake Blues Blues Images Vol. 12
Bill Wilber My Babe My Babe Blues Images Vol. 12
Chocolate Brown with Blind Blake You Got What I Want Blues Images Vol. 12
Tampa Red & Georgia Tom Dead Cats On The Line Guitar Wizard
Blind Boy Fuller I'm a Good Stem Winder Remastered 1935-1938
Rev F W McGee Dead Cat On The Line Rev. FW McGee Vol. 2 1929-1930
Charles Henderson She Was a Woman Didn't Mean No GoodRaise a Ruckus Tonight
Smoky Babe and Sally Dotson Black Ghost The Country Blues
Butch Cage & Willie Thomas Bugle Call Blues The Country Blues
Clifford Hayes' Louisville Stompers Bye-Bye BluesClifford Hayes & The Louisville Jug Bands Vol. 3
Sippie Wallace w Clifford Hayes' Louisville Stompers You Gonna Need My HelpSippie Wallace Vol. 2 1925-1945
Faye Adams Crazy Mixed Up WorldFaye Adams 1952-1954
Christine Kittrell Sittin' Here Drinking Call Her Name: The Complete Recordings 1951-1965
Billie And Dede Pierce In The Racket Gulf Coast Blues
Georgia Tom Dorsey Don't Let Your Mouth Start Nothing Your Head Won't StandThe Essential

Show Notes

2015 Blues CalendarWe have a fine mix show lined up for the first week of October. We spotlight several albums including two sets from the new CD that accompanies record collector John Tefteller's new blues calendar, several fine sides featuring fiddler Butch Cage and friends from two long-out-of-print LP's and a set of jump blues from a series of albums from Ace records. Also featured are a few songs revolving around the phrase dead cat on the line, several fine blues ladies, excellent piano blues and a batch of strong harp blowers.

Every year around this time record collector John Tefteller, through his Blues Images imprint, publishes his Classic Blues Artwork Calendar with a companion CD that matches the artwork with the songs. The CD’s have also been one of the main places that newly discovered blues 78’s turn up. The 2015 calendar marks its twelfth year. This year's calendar includes songs from such artists as Memphis Minnie, Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tommy Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes, Garfield Akers, Willie Lofton, Gus Cannon and more. The calendar also includes never-before-seen-photos of Roosevelt Sykes, Willie Lofton and Son Bonds.

Last year record collector Tefteller bought Tommy Johnson's "Alcohol and Jake Blues b/w Riding’ Horse" for $37,100 on eBay. Both sides of the 78 have been remastered and are featured on the CD. One night, as he does every night, Tefteller was trawling eBay when he came across the record from a seller in South Carolina. The anonymous seller found the record at an estate sale years ago, and posted it on eBay with no knowledge of the record's true value. The record was set to sell at $16,800 when, minutes before the auction ended, it shot up to $37,000. This is one of the highest prices paid for a blues 78 although I get the impression Tefteller has paid more in private transactions.

Just to look ahead a bit, Tefteller's 2016 calendar will be a notable one as the CD will include a long lost J.D. Short 78. Paramount 13091, "Tar Road Blues b/w Flagin' It To Georgia" has been found recently in Tennessee. It turned up shoved into the back of an old Victrola record player cabinet along with a stack of other Blues records from the same time period," said Tefteller who purchased the record from "a local picker."

We spotlight a pair of terrific out-of-print albums that collect field recordings made in Louisiana in 1960 and 1961 by Harry Oster. The bulk of the tracks feature Butch Cage with guitarist Willie Thomas. Some of these sides were recorded at informal sessions in the homes of Butch Cage & Mabel Lee Williams near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Fiddler James "Butch" Cage was one of the last artists in the black string band tradition. Born on March 16, 1894, in Hamburg, MS, Cage's first real instrument was a cane fife. He moved to southwest Louisiana following the devastating Mississippi floods of 1927, eventually settling in Zachary, where he worked a succession of menial jobs while playing string band music at house parties and church functions, often in conjunction with guitarist Willie B. Thomas. Musicologist Oster heard the pair playing in Zachary in 1959 and recorded them extensively. The duo was also a huge hit at the 1960 Newport Folk Festival. The duo can also be heard on several fine anthologies including: Country Negro Jam Sessions (Arhoolie), I Have To Paint My Face (Arhoolie), The Folk Music Of The Newport Folk Festival 1959-60 Vol. 1 (Folkways), Country Spirituals (Storyville), Country Blues (Storyville), Raise A Rukus Tonight (Flyright) and Old Time Black Southern String Band Music (Arhoolie). In two weeks I'll be spotlighting more from the duo in a show devoted to Post-War String Bands.

Country Blues
Read Liner Notes

Dead cat on the line is a term used as a way of telling people that something suspicious is happening. A sermon with the title was recorded by Rev. J.M. Gates in 1929 and proved popular enough for him to record "Dead Cat On The Line No. 2" in 1930 and "New Dead Cat On The Line" in 1934. Tampa Red and Georgia Tom recorded "Dead Cats On The Line" in 1932 and Rev F.W. McGee recorded "Dead Cat On The Line" the same year. Blind Boy Fuller recorded "I'm a Good Stem Winder" which uses the term in 1935. Other versions were recorded by Elder Charles Beck and Sister Lillie Mae Littlejohn.

We hear from several fine piano players including the amazing Arizona Dranes. As Michael Corcan wrote in the extensive booklet to our featured collection, He Is My Story: "A singer sits at the piano and loses all inhibitions while in complete control of the instrument: Little Richard, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis. Although church singer Arizona Dranes does not come close to the stature of those icons, she set the mold for rockin' singer/ pianists in 1926 with six 'test records' that have stood the test of time." Until this collection, very "little has been correctly reported about Dranes other than the facts that she was blind, from Texas, had a piercing Pentecostal voice and was the first recording artist to play piano in the secular styles of the day, while singing words of deep praise." Corcoran spent years unearthing the details on the life of Dranes. The 50-page book includes a CD containing all 16 of Arizona Dranes' recorded tracks, expertly remastered from the original OKeh label 78 RPM records by Grammy-winning producer Christopher King.

From a three LP series by Ace called Jumpin' The Blues released in the early and mid-80's we hear a set of great jump blues. These albums collect jump blues from the Decca vaults of the late 40's early 50's. Ace has culled the material for the CD Jumpin' The Blues. None of our tracks are on the CD however.

We play a number of fine blues ladies spanning from the 1920's through the 1950's including Sippie Wallace, Faye Adams, Christine Kittrell and others. Sippie's "You Gonna Need My Help" finds her backed by Clifford Hayes' Louisville Stompers. Hayes was a violinist, but was more significant as a leader of recording sessions. He recorded with Sara Martin (1924), and often teamed up with banjoist Cal Smith in early jug bands including the Old Southern Jug Band, Clifford's Louisville Jug Band, the well-known Dixieland Jug Blowers (1926-1927), and Hayes' Louisville Stompers (1927-1929). Some of the other artists Hayes worked with included Sippie Wallace, Johnny Dodds and Earl Hines. Right before the Sippie track we hear Clifford Hayes' Louisville Stompers on the instrumental "Bye-Bye Blues."

Faye Adams, as Faye Scruggs (her married name), became a regular performer in New York nightclubs in the late 1940's and early 1950's. While performing in Atlanta, Georgia, she was discovered by singer Ruth Brown, who won her an audition with bandleader Joe Morris of Atlantic Records. Changing her name to Faye Adams, Morris recruited her as a singer in 1952, and signed her to Herald Records. Her first release was Morris's song "Shake aArizona Dranes: He Is My Story Hand", which topped the Billboard R&B chart for ten weeks in 1953, and made number 22 on the pop chart. In 1954, Faye had two more R&B chart toppers. In 1955 she appeared in the film Rhythm & Blues Revue, and in 1957 moved to Imperial Records, but her commercial success diminished. She continued to record for various smaller labels until the early 1960's and retired in 1963.

Christine Kittrell cut her first record, in 1951 and her first and biggest hit was 1954's "Sittin’ Here Drinking." Engaged as singer with Paul ‘Hucklebuck’ Williams’ band in December 1952, Billboard noted that the “five-foot-six chirp’ was the ‘blues find of the decade”. She made her west coast debut in 1954 with Earl Bostic and later Johnny Otis. Several releases on the Republic label at this time led to only regional success. In August 1954, Billboard announced her departure from the R&B field to sing with the Simmons Akers spiritual singers. In the early 60's she recorded for Vee-Jay and her song ‘I’m A Woman’ was covered by Peggy Lee. She re-recorded an old Republic song, ‘Call His Name’, in 1965, and spent the next few years touring army bases in south-east Asia entertaining US troops. Subsequently, she semi-retired to her Ohio home, playing the occasional local blues festivals and small clubs in the 90s.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Skip James Devil Got My WomanComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Cypress Grove BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Little Cow And Calf Is Gonna Die BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Roamin' and Ramblin' BluesDelta Bluesman
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Water Coast BluesDelta Bluesman
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Spread My Raincoat DownDelta Bluesman
Skip James Hard Time Killin' Floor BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Drunken SpreeComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Cherry Ball BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Muddy Waters Country Blues (Number One)Muddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Muddy Waters I Be's TroubledMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Muddy Waters RosalieMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Skip James Illinois BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James How Long BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James 22-20 BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Fiddlin' Joe Martin Fo' Clock Blues Walking Blues
Fiddlin' Joe Martin Going to Fishing Walking Blues
Muddy Waters You Got To Take Sick And Die Some Of These DaysMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Muddy Waters Ramblin' Kid BluesMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Robert Lockwood Little Boy BlueWindy City Blues
Robert Lockwood Black Spider BluesWindy City Blues
Skip James Hard Luck ChildComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James If You Haven't Any Hay Get On Down The RoadComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Cherry Ball BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Hellatakin' BluesDelta Bluesman
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Wind Howlin' BluesDelta Bluesman
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards The Army BluesDelta Bluesman
Skip James I'm So Glad Complete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Special Rider BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Muddy Waters Take a Walk With MeMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Muddy Waters I Be Bound To Write To You (First Version)Muddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Robert Lockwood Take a Little Walk with MeWindy City Blues
Robert Lockwood I'm Gonna Train My BabyWindy City Blues

Show Notes:

Today's show is the fifth in a series of shows devoted to great early Mississippi blues artists. The bulk of the artists are relatively well known and on today's show we capture the recordings they made at the start of their career.  Mississippi produced some of the most powerful blues singers and guitarists of the 1920's and 1930's although one could say that the intense interest in Mississippi has taken the spotlight away from other regions that have equally notable blues traditions. Today we feature early recordings by Skip James, Fiddlin' Joe Martin, Honeyboy Edwards, Muddy Waters and Robert Lockwood. The earliest recordings come from the remarkable 1931 session by Skip James while all the other recordings are from the early 40's. The sides by Fiddlin' Joe Martin, Honeyboy Edwards and Muddy Waters are from field recordings made by Alan Lomax while the Robert Lockwood sides were his first commercial recordings for Bluebird.

Skip James
The only photograph of Skip James in his youth


Skip  James
grew up at the Woodbine Plantation in Bentonia, Mississippi and as a youth learned to play both guitar and piano. The music of Skip James and fellow Bentonia guitarists such as Henry Stuckey and Jack Owens is often characterized as a genre unto itself. The distinctive approach is notable for its ethereal sounds, open minor guitar tunings, gloomy themes, falsetto vocals, and songs that bemoan the work of the devil. Stuckey learned one of the tunings from Caribbean soldiers while serving in France during World War I, and said that he taught it to James, who went on to become the most famous of Bentonia's musicians. Inspired by Stuckey, James began playing guitar as a child, and later learned to play organ. In his teens James began working on construction and logging projects across the mid-South, and sharpened his piano skills playing at work camp “barrelhouses.” In 1924 James returned to Bentonia, where he earned his living as a sharecropper, gambler and bootlegger, in addition to performing locally with Stuckey.

James traveled to Grafton, Wisconsin, for his historic 1931 session for Paramount Records, which included thirteen songs on guitar and five on piano. He was sent to Paramount by talent scout H.C. Speir who was impressed by James' audition, “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” alluded to the Great Depression, while the gun-themed “22-20 Blues” provided the model for Robert Johnson's “32-20 Blues,” and the haunting “Devil Got My Woman” was the likely inspiration for Johnson's “Hell Hound on My Trail.” As Tony Russell wrote of this session: "It would be difficult to hear them without some sense of awe, even if they were not quit as good as we might wish, but they are, in fact awesome in their singularity and aching beauty."

James’s records sold poorly, and later in 1931 he moved to Dallas, where he served as a minister and led a gospel group. He later stayed in Birmingham, Alabama, and in Hattiesburg and Meridian, Mississippi, occasionally returning to Bentonia. He returned to Bentonia in 1948 and sometimes played for locals at the newly opened Blue Front Cafe, although he did not earn his living as a musician. He later lived in Memphis and Tunica County, where he was located in 1964 by blues enthusiasts who persuaded him to begin performing again.  After his rediscovery James relocated to Washington, D. C., and then to Philadelphia to play folk and blues festivals and clubs. He recorded several albums and gained new renown from the rock group Cream’s 1966 cover of his song “I'm So Glad,” but the somber quality of much of his music and his insistence on artistic integrity over entertainment value limited his popular appeal. James died in Philadelphia on October 3, 1969.

Muddy Waters & Son Sims

I corresponded with record collector John Tefteller recently who had this to say regarding the rarity of James' 78's: "As far as Skip James Paramount's: There are about 20-25 that have survived, if you include the Champion release and 15 or less if you leave that one out. They are some of the rarest and most desirable 78 rpm records of all time. There are a couple of them for which only one or two copies in playable condition exist. Rarest one has to be "Hard Time Killin' Floor" with "Cherry Ball" a close second. Think about those numbers 15-25 copies TOTAL, that are still known to exist in this world. They are the stuff every collectors dreams are made of!"

Over eight decades Honeyboy Edwards knew or played with virtually every major figure including Charley Patton, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. He was probably best known, though, as the last living link to Robert Johnson. The two traveled together, performing on street corners and at picnics, dances and fish fries during the 1930s. Edwards had earlier apprenticed with Big Joe Williams. Unlike Williams and many of his other peers, however, Edwards did not record commercially until after World War II.

Field recordings he made for the Library of Congress under the supervision of the folklorist Alan Lomax in 1942 are the only documents of Edwards’s music from his years in the Delta. In an interview with Mary K. Lee he recalled his first recordings: "He recorded me in 1942 on a Monday in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He drove up to the house in a brand new '42 Hudson and I was there with my auntie. She had never seen no white folk with a big car like that, in '42. She said, "That man has a big car." He asked her, "David Edwards lived here?" She said, "I don't know. He stays here sometime." But she's scared to tell him yeah. He said, "Well I just want him to do some recording. I want him to make records for me and everything. I'm from Washington. D.C., from the Library of Congress and I want him to record for me." She then said, "Let me see if he's around here anywhere." She said, "There's a man out there in a big car." And I said, "That's the one I've been saying I expected. Tell him I'm here." She said, "Yeah, he's in here asleep. He'll be out in a few minutes though." I got up, put on my clothes and went out to the car. We went to Clarksdale, Mississippi on highways 49 and 61. I rented a room in a house there and he rented a place in a school for the recording. We started recording about eleven, but a storm came up around a little before twelve and broke up the recording. We had to stop mid-way in the recording. Came up like a tornado. We stopped for about an hour and when it blew over we started the recording again and got through the session. He gave me twenty dollars and that was more money than I had in a long time. At that time that was a lot of money. He'd recorded Muddy Waters and Son House the same week before he got to me. He was getting most of the black blues that he could find down through there then.."

Honeyboy Edwards
Silent color film  footage of David “Honeyboy” Edwards, shot by Alan Lomax for the Music Division in 1942

Commercial prospects for Edwards were scant, however — a 1951 78 for Artist Record Co., "Build a Cave" (as Mr. Honey), and four 1953 sides for Chess that laid unissued until "Drop Down Mama" turned up 17 years later on an anthology constituted the bulk of his early recorded legacy, although Edwards was in Chicago from the mid-'50s on.

The Muddy Waters recordings featured today were made as part of a joint field recording trip sponsored by the Library of Congress and Fisk University, whose John Work accompanied Alan Lomax on his trip and whose voice can be heard on portions of the interviews with Muddy. The songs that were recorded in the two sessions (in the summers of 1941 and 1942) were not all issued by the Library of Congress at the time. Lomax said "I was the editor of the first five-album set, and my opion of Muddy was so good that we included TWO of his songs. I think he was the only person – I couldn't make up my mind which of his two blues was the best, so we put them both in."

In the summer of 1941, Lomax went to Stovall, Mississippi on behalf of the Library of Congress to record various country blues musicians including a young Muddy Waters. "He brought his stuff down and recorded me right in my house," Muddy recalled in Rolling Stone, "and when he played back the first song I sounded just like anybody's records. Man, you don't know how I felt that Saturday afternoon when I heard that voice and it was my own voice. Later on he sent me two copies of the pressing and a check for twenty bucks, and I carried that record up to the corner and put it on the jukebox. Just played it and played it and said, 'I can do it, I can do it.'"Lomax came back in July 1942 to record Muddy again. The Library of Congress sessions were eventually released as Down On Stovall's Plantation on the Testament label.The complete recordings were re-issued on CD as Muddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings by Chess.

Fiddlin' Joe Martin learned guitar and trombone as a boy, later adding mandolin and bass fiddle. He switched to washboard and drums in the 40s after damaging his hands in a fire. He worked with many Delta blues singers, including Charley Patton, Willie ‘Hambone’ Newbern, Johnnie Temple, Memphis Minnie, Willie Brown and Son House, recording with the last two for the Library of Congress in 1941. Martin played drums for Howlin’ Wolf until Wolf moved north, but his most eRobert Lockwood: Take A Little Walk With Menduring association was with Woodrow Adams; he appeared on all Adams’ recordings, and they worked Mississippi juke joints together until Martin’s death. Martin also appears on the anthology High Water Blues, recordings made between 1965 and 1970, mainly in Louisiana and Mississippi by folklorist David Evans.

Born in 1915, Robert Lockwood was one of the last living links to Robert Johnson. When Lockwood's mother became romantically involved with Johnson in Helena, AR, Lockwood suddenly gained a role model and a close friend – so close that Lockwood considered himself Johnson's stepson. Robert Jr. learned how to play guitar very quickly with Johnson's help. By age 15, Lockwood was playing professionally at parties in the Helena area. He often played with his quasi-stepfather figure Robert Johnson as well as with Sonny Boy Williamson II and Johnny Shines. Lockwood played at fish fries, juke joints, and street corners throughout the Mississippi Delta in the 1930s. Lockwood played with Sonny Boy Williamson II in the Clarksdale, Mississippi area in 1938 and 1939. He also played with Howlin' Wolf and others in Memphis, Tennessee around 1938. From 1939 to 1940 he split his time playing in St. Louis, Missouri, Chicago, Illinois and Helena.

On July 1st 1941, Lockwood made his first recordings with Doctor Clayton for the Bluebird label in Aurora, Illinois and on July 30th he recorded the four songs which were released as the first two 78s under his own name: "Little Boy Blue" b/w Take A Little Walk With Me" (Bluebird B-8820) and "I'm Gonna Train My Baby b/w "Black Spider Blues" (Bluebird B-8877). These songs remained in his repertoire throughout his career. Also in 1941, Lockwood and Williamson began their influential performances on the daily King Biscuit Time radio program on KFFA in Helena. Lockwood would not get back on record again until 1951.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Alfoncy & Bethenea HarrisThat Same CatGeorge Williams & Bessie Brown Vol. 2 1925-1930
Alfoncy & Bethenea HarrisI Don't Care What You SayGeorge Williams & Bessie Brown Vol. 2 1925-1930
Cannon's Jug StompersMinglewood BluesRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Volume 1: The Great Jug Bands
Cannon's Jug StompersBig Railroad BluesRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Volume 1: The Great Jug Bands
Cannon's Jug StompersMadison Street RagBlues Images Vol. 5
Lonnie McIntorshSleep On Mother Sleep OnHow Can I Keep From Singing Vol. 1
Lonnie McIntorshThe Lion and the Tribes of JudahBlind Willie Johnson And The Guitar Evangelists
Frank StokesRight Now BluesBest Of
Frank StokesDowntown BluesBest Of
Frank StokesBedtime Blues Best Of
Frank StokesWhat's The Matter BluesBest Of
Jim JacksonOld Dog BlueJim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Tommy JohnsonCool Drink Of WaterWhen The Sun Goes Down
Tommy JohnsonBig Road BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton
Rosie Mae MooreStaggering BluesFour Women Blues
Rosie Mae MooreHa Ha BluesFour Women Blues
Rosie Mae MooreSchool Girl BluesFour Women Blues
Rosie Mae MooreStranger BluesFour Women Blues
Ishman Bracey Saturday BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Ishman Bracey Left Alone BluesIshman Bracey & Charlie Taylor 1928-1929
Tommy Johnson Bye-Bye BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton
Tommy JohnsonMaggie Campbell BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton
Ishman Bracey Trouble Hearted BluesTommy Johnson And Associates
Ishman Bracey The Four Day Blues Ishman Bracey & Charlie Taylor 1928-1929
Memphis Jug BandPeaches In The SpringtimeMemphis Jug Band Vol. 4 1927-1928 & 1934
Arthur Petties Two Time BluesWhen the Levee Breaks
Arthur Petties Out on Santa Fe Blues When the Levee Breaks
Jim JacksonWhat A TimeJim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Elder Richard BryantHe Shut The Lion's MouthMemphis Sanctified Jug Bands Vol. 1 1928-1939

Show Notes:

Victor CatalogueToday's show is the fourth installment spotlighting great recording sessions; The first spotlighted two sessions conducted by the Victor label roughly a year-and-a-half apart, one in Chicago and one in New Orleans in 1936 and 1937, the second was conducted by Brunswick in Memphis in 1929 and 1930 and the third  spotlighted sessions recorded in Dallas by Columbia in 1927 and 1928. 1927 was the beginning of a blues boom that would last until 1930; there were just 500 blues and gospel records issued in 1927 and increase of fifty percent from 1926 a trend that would continue until the depression. To feed the demand other record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent, which included making trips down south with field recording units.  Between 1927-1930 Atlanta was visited seventeen times, Memphis eleven times, Dallas eight times, New Orleans seven times and so on.

Today we spotlight some great blues and gospel captured by Victor in Memphis in 1928. As Robert Dixon and John Godrich wrote in the seminal Recording The Blues:" Victor was the only company systematically to exploit the gold mine of black talent in and around Memphis. Their second there, in January and February 1928, yielded three times as much material as the initial visit in early '27 – and again black artists outnumbered white hillbilly performers. Besides more titles by the Memphis Jug Band, Victor recorded the Cannon Jug Stompers, Vocalion's popular artist Jim Jackson and a fine group of Mississippi blues singers – Tommy Johnson, Ishman Bracey and Frank Stokes. Stokes was an oldish man, his voice had a pronounced vibrato and his style of singing and guitar playing were distinctly archaic. His Downtown Blues and Bedtime Blues on Victor 21272 sold well and when Victor returned to Memphis in August 1928 they recorded ten further selections by Stokes. The August visit was Victor's most extensive to date. Between Monday August 27th and Monday 24 September they recorded 189 titles, three quarters of them by race artists. All of the singers they had tried out in February were recorded again. The autumn trio to Memphis now became an annual event for Victor – it was here that they recorded most of their race material." Other artists recorded during these sessions included Alfoncy & Bethenea Harris, Lonnie McIntorsh, Rosie Mae Moore, Bessie Tucker, Ida May Mack, Furry Lewis, Robert Wilkins, Charlie Kyle, Elder Richard Bryant, Bethel Quartet and Will Shade.

According to Recording The Blues: "The record industry as a whole had not been in too healthy a state during the early twenties. After the boom year of 1921, in which for the first time 100 million discs were sold, sales declined slowly but steadily. Eventually even Victor began to feel the squeeze – their sales fell from $51 million in 1921 to $44 million in 1923, and then dropped to $20 million in 1925. Something had to be done, and one obvious move was for Victor to begin large scale production of race records, and compete for a market that had been growing an an enormous rate during the period when overall sales had been falling." After a not too promising start, "…Victor hired Ralph Peer who had been largely responsible for building up Okeh's fine race and hillbilly catalogs. Peer realized that Victor was several years too late to be able to get a substantial share of the classic blues market and decided to concentrate his efforts on the country blues field." Victor begin going in the field in a big way in 1927 stopping in Atlanta, Memphis and New Orleans.

Jug bands are synonymous with Memphis and Victor recorded two of the greatest groups: Memphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stompers. The Memphis Jug Band became very popular in Memphis, often playing in Church Park, where Gus Cannon saw them. The Memphis Jug Band first recorded for Victor in February 1927 and over the next four years recorded 57 sides. By 1930 there were seven different jug bands active in Memphis. In 1928 Ralph Peer, who had previously recorded the Memphis Jug Band, returned to Memphis looking for other jug bands to record. Charlie Williamson, the manager of the Palace Theater, recommended Gus. By this time Gus had had a harness made for his jug so that he could wear it around his neck and play banjo at the same time. Gus called up Noah Lewis and Ashley Thompson and on Jan 30 1928 they recorded 4 sides in an old auditorium as Cannon's Jug Stompers. They over two-dozen sides with the group through 1930 for Victor.

As Chris Smith wrote int he notes to Frank Stokes The Complete Victor Recordings 1928-1929: "With nearly forty songs issued on record, some of them in two parts, Frank Stokes was one of the most extensively recorded of the Memphis blues singers of the 1920s; only Jim Jackson's total of recordings is comparable, and many of Jackson's were remakes of 'Kansas City Blues.' Like Jackson, Stokes blends blues with songs from the medicine shows and from the ragtime days of his childhood. Not only was his repertoire one of the most interesting of its time, it was superbly sung, and backed, whether solo, in partnership with Dan Sane, or with Will Batts, by some of the most accomplished and appropriate blues and ragtime playing on record." By most accounts Stokes was already playing the streets of Memphis by the turn of the century, about the same time the blues began to flourish. As a street artist, he needed a broad repertoire of songs and patter palatable to blacks and whites. A medicine show and house party favorite, Stokes was remembered as a consummate entertainer who drew on songs from the 19th and 20th centuries with equal facility.

Born in the 1880’s, Jim Jackson was another experienced medicine show performer and occasional street singer. He had one of the biggest blues hits of the 20’s with his “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues.” Barrelhouse pianist Speckled Red shared the stage with Jim Jackson in 1928 while touring through Mississippi and Alabama with the Red Rose Minstrels & Medicine Show. Red remembered Jackson as "a big fat feller, weighed about 235 pounds. Tall, stately feller too, and he danced, sang, played git-tar, cracked jokes." Jackson's long career with traveling shows began in 1905, and much of his repertoire was rooted in the 19th century. He recorded close to forty sides between 192 and 1930.

Frank Stokes Ad

For someone who recorded so little Tommy Johnson exerted an influence that was unusually  vast and long lasting; after all his recorded output only consists of six issued sides for Victor in 1928 and six issued sides for Paramount in 1929. t was Johnson’s Victor sides that were the most influential and oft covered: “Cool Drink of Water Blues”, “Big Road Blues”, “Bye-Bye Blues”, “Maggie Campbell Blues”, “Canned Heat Blues” and “Big Fat Mama.” Unlike the Paramount records these sold fairly well and were apparently the songs Johnson sang most often in person. As David Evans wrote: “For about thirty years Tommy Johnson was perhaps the most important and influential blues singer in the state of Mississippi.”

Ishman Bracey was born in Byram, about ten miles south of Jackson, in January 1899. He learned guitar from locals Louis Cooper and Lee Jones and moved to Jackson in the late 1920s after encountering Tommy Johnson. Bracey soon became one of the most popular musicians in the Jackson area’s vital blues scene. Bracey’s music came to broader attention after he auditioned for recording agent H. C. Speir, who operated a furniture store on North Farish Street. Speir arranged for Bracey and Tommy Johnson to make their debut recordings at a session for Victor in Memphis in February of 1928. At that session and another for Victor later that year, Bracey was accompanied on guitar and mandolin by Charlie McCoy. Bracey recorded again in 1929 and early 1930 for the Paramount label.

Little is known about Rosie Mae Moore except for the fact that she was Charlie McCoy's girlfriend during the time of her recordings that all took place in 1928. She recorded four sides for Victor in Memphis in the early part of the year. Later in December she recorded four more sides for Brunswick in New Orleans, backed by McCoy as well as Walter Vincson and Bo Chatman of The Mississippi Shieks. On her Brunswick releases she was billed as Mary Butler.

Memphis may be better known for blues but it was an important center for black gospel music. Memphis was the home of the holiness denomination, the Church of God in Christ. Lonnie McIntorsh recorded two sessions in 1928, one in Memphis and one in Chicago and a final unreleased session in 1930. Elder Richard Bryant led churches in Holendale and Moorehead Mississippi. He cut sides for Victor and Okeh at three sessions in 1928.

 

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