ARTISTSONGALBUM
Teddy Moss Easy PapaBarrelhouse Piano Blues and Stomps 1929-1933
Earl McDonald's Original Louisville Jug BandRocking Chair BluesClifford Hayes & The Louisville Jug Bands Vol. 2
Tiny ParhamJim Jackson's Kansas City Blues Tiny Parham 1926-1929
Jimmy WitherspoonPast Forty BluesThe Blues Is Now
Arbee StidhamStandin' In My WindowA Time For Blues
Junior ParkerI Just Got To KnowBlues Man
Rev. Gary Davis If I Had My WayIf I Had My Way: Early Home Recordings
Rabbit MuseRocking Chair BluesMuse Blues
Lovey Williams Baby, Let Me Ride in Your AutomobileThe Blues Are Alive And Well
Jack Owens with Bud SpiresCan't See, BabyIt Must Have Been the Devil
Jack Owens with Bud SpiresHard TimesIt Must Have Been the Devil
Clara SmithWanna Go HomeThe Essential
Baby Benbow Don't Blame MeFemale Blues Singers Vol. 2 1920-1928
Edith Wilson & Johnny DunnHe Used To Be Your Man But He's My Man NowJohnny Dunn Vol. 2 1922-1928
Sloke & IkeChocolate Candy BluesBanjo Ikey Robinson 1929-1937
Walter G. PichonDoggin' That Thing Teddy Bunn 1929-1940
Lonnie JohnsonFour Shots Of GinThree Kings And The Queen
Roosevelt Sykes & Victoria SpiveyThirteen HoursThree Kings And The Queen
Blind Lemon JeffersonRising High Water BluesBlues Images Vol. 1
Kokomo ArnoldThe Mule Laid Down And Died Vaudeville Blues 1919-1941
Washboard SamYellow, Black And BrownWashboard Sam Vol. 2 1937-1938
Junior Parker Feelin' GoodMystery Train
Junior Parker Love My BabyMystery Train
Little Brother Montgomery Chinese Man Blues Little Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Charlie McCoyLet My Peaches BeCharlie & Joe McCoy Vol. 1
Gatemouth MooreHey Mr GatemouthHey Mr. Gatemouth
Gatemouth MooreI Come To The Garden And I'm Going ThroughAfter Twenty One Years
Mary JamesGo 'way Devil Leave Me Alone, Pt. 1-2Field Recordings Vol. 8: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississipi
Florence WhiteCold Rocks Was My PillowFemale Blues Singers Vol. 14 1923-1932

Show Notes:

All kinds of interesting records on deck today including a couple of sets devoted to guitarist Floyd Murphy and harmonica blower Bud Spires who recently passed. We spin quite a number of tracks from some great out-of-print records, a twin spin of Gatemouth Moore, some fine early harmonica blues, a batch of great blues ladies and more.

Jack Owens & Bud Spires
Jack Owens & Bud Spires photo by David Evans circa 1969-1970

Bud Spires passed away March 20th. Bud Spires is the son of Arthur “Big Boy” Spires who recorded for Chess Records during the 1950's and 60's. Bud was born May 20th, 1931 just north of Bentonia in Anding, MS. He played with his good friend Jack Owens for over 30 years, from 1967 until Jack passed away in 1997. In the book The Land Where the Blues Began, Alan Lomax describes Spires: "Bud was a one-man, red-hot singing orchestra, accompanying himself o the harmonica, putting rough, bluesy chords after some lines and squealed comments to underscore the sexiest images. Sometimes his instrument almost disappeared in his mouth as he both blew and sucked notes out of its metal reeds." He and Owens were first recorded in 1970 by David Evans the results issued on Testament's It Must Have Been the Devil. In more recent years he recorded behind Jimmy "Duck" Holmes of Bentonia.

Floyd Murphy passed away on March 27. Floyd was the brother of Matt Murphy and worked with many Memphis greats like James Cotton, Junior Parker, Rufus Thomas, Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, Johnny Ace, Willie Nix, Bobby Blue Bland and many others. Murphy recorded classic sides with singer/harmonica player Junior Parker and The Blue Flames for Sam Phillips' including "Feelin' Good" and "Mystery Train." He also recorded with Rufus Thomas and Eddie Snow. In the early 60's, Murphy recorded the VeeJay Records release of Birdlegs and Pauline's tune "Spring" which rose to number 18 on the R&B charts. For the next 30 years Murphy has continually performed throughout the Midwest. In 1990 Floyd collaborated with his brother Matt "Guitar" Murphy on the CD Way Down South for Antoine's Records.

Rabbit Muse: Muse Blues
Read Liner Notes

My shows are always littered with great blues records that are long out-of-print and today we spotlight some excellent ones by Rabbit Muse, Lovey Williams, Junior Parker, Arbee Stidham and some recordings from the Spivey label. Rabbit Muse, was in born 1908 and learned soprano ukulele from a childhood friend before transferring to baritone and setting out on a career that spanned seven decades. Despite this long career he recorded only two albums: Muse Blues in 1976 and Sixty Minute Man in 1977 both on the Outlet label.

The Lovey Williams track comes from The Blues Are Alive And Well, a collection of sides recorded by William Ferris in 1968 and includes sides by James "Son" Thomas and Lee Kizart. Ferris wrote the following about Williams: "Lovey Williams has led the most isolated life of the three singers on this record, having never been over fifty miles away from Morning Star, his birthplace and present home. Lovey lives in a sharecropper's home with his wife and ten children and performs his blues in the homes of friends. …Lovey learned to 'blow the blues' from his father who was also a sharecropper." A couple of spoken pieces and performances appear on the album Bothered All The Time which are from the same session. As far as I can tell these are the only recordings he made.

Junior Parker was an extraordinary blues singer and harmonica player who laid down some superb material over the course of a twenty year career (1952-1971) before his life was cut short just prior to his fortieth birthday. Before he passed he sailed into the 1970's in promising fashion cutting a pair of terrific albums; You Don't Have To Be Black To Love The Blues circa 1970/1971 for Groove Merchant and I Tell Stories Sad And True for United Artists which was released in 1972. One record I don't think I've played before is Blues Man cut for the Minit label in 1969. Parker is backed by a great uncredited band and delivers a superb performance on Jimmy McCracklin's "I Just Got To Know" featured today.

Arbee Stidham is held in rather low opinion among the blues collecting community. The truth is that Stidham's music isn't, for the most part, all that exciting but A Time For Blues is a terrific outing with Stidham backed by the swinging Ernie Wilkins Orchestra. Stidham cut sessions for Victor, Sittin' In, Checker, Abco, Prestige/Bluesville, Mainstream, and Folkways in the 50's and 60', and appeared in the film The Bluesman in 1973. Stidham also made many festival and club appearances nationwide and internationally. He did occasional blues lectures at Cleveland State University in the 70's. He passed away in 1988.

Three Kings And The Queen
Read Liner Notes

I've been threatening to do a feature on the Spivey label for years and this year I'm finally getting around to it – really! Spivey Records was a blues record label, founded by blues singer Victoria Spivey and her partner and jazz historian Len Kunstadt in 1961. Spivey Records released a series of blues and jazz albums between 1961 and 1985. The label recorded a wide variety of blues musicians who were friends of Spivey and Kunstadt, including Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Memphis Slim, Little Brother Montgomery and many others. Spivey died in 1976. The label became dormant after the death of Len Kunstadt in 1996. Today's track come from the 1962 album Three Kings And The Queen probably most famous for having a young Bob Dylan backing Big Joe Williams.

I've always had a soft spot for the larger-than-life Gatemouth Moore who summed his talents as a blues singer this way: "I am one of the ultra-men blues singers. I am not accustomed and don't know nothing about that gut-belly stuff in the joints…I put on tuxedos, dressed up, sang intelligent…Without a doubt, and I'm not being facetious, I'm the best blues singer in the business with that singing voice. Now I can't wiggle and I can't dance, but telling a story, I don't think them other boys are in my class." Often labeled a blues shouter,with his perfect diction and huge, mellow, enveloping voice he was more accurately a blues crooner of the highest order. His heyday as a blues career was short lived, cutting a couple of dozen sides between 1945 and 1947 that saw release on Gilmore's Chez Paree, Savoy, National with his final records cut for King at the very end of 1947. s blues career came to a close in 1949 when he had a religious conversion on stage at Chicago's Club DeLisa. After walking off stage he eventually became a preacher, gospel disc jockey and gospel recording artist. Gatemouth cut two LP's in the 70's: for Bluesway he cut the gospel record After Twenty One Years and for Johnny Otis' Blues Spectrum label he cut the blues album Great Rhythm & Blues Oldies Vol. 7 in 1977 both long out-of-print.

We hear from several fine blues ladies today including Edith Wilson, Clara Smith, Minnie Wallace, Florence White and Mary James. Edith Wilson and Johnny Dunn deliver a rousinng version of "He Used To Be Your Man But He's My Man Now." Wilson and trumpet player Johnny Dunn first worked together in the musical revue "Put And Take" in 1921 and then went on to perform in Lew Lesile's Plantation Revue in 1922. The group toured the TOBA vaudville circuit in 1921. Perry Bradford set up the recording sessions at Columbia for Wilson to compete with the Okeh's Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds records. Instrumental records were also released without Wilson under the name of Johnny Dunn and his Original Jazz Hounds. Dunn had also been a member of Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds.

Mary James LOC

I've written about Clara Smith before and she gives a mesmerizing performance on backed by just a reed organ giving the recording a haunting quality. Florence White was a powerful singer who cut one fine 78 in 1927 backed the  superb piano of Simeon Henry who would ably back singer Lil Green in the 1940's. Mary James was recorded in the Sewing Room at Parchman Farm Penitentiary in 1939. She's featured today on the spine chilling "Go 'way Devil Leave Me Alone" backed by "four girls." Minnie Wallace was a known associate of the Memphis Jug Band and on 1936's ebullient "Field Mouse Stomp" she's backed by a blues super group that includes Will Shade, Robert Wilkins and Harry Chatman.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
George And Ethel McCoyMary Early In The Morning
George And Ethel McCoy'Way Down SouthEarly In The Morning
George And Ethel McCoyMiss Baker's BluesEarly In The Morning
Johnny Shines; Sunnyland Slim; Backwards Sam FirkTwo Long Freight TrainsReally Chicago Blues
Walter Horton; Honeyboy Edwards; Johnny Shines Way Cross TownReally Chicago Blues
John Lee Granderson; Big Joe Williams; Backwards Sam FirkStop Breaking DownReally Chicago Blues
Sunnyland Slim; Johnny Shines; Backwards Sam FirkCuttin' OutReally Chicago Blues
Sunnyland Slim; Big Joe Williams; Johnny Shines; Backwards Sam FirkBye Bye BabyReally Chicago Blues
Furry Lewis Why Don't You Come Home BluesOn The Road Again
Furry Lewis On The Road AgainOn The Road Again
Bukka WhiteGibson HillOn The Road Again
Rev. Gary DavisOut On The Ocean SailingO, Glory - The Apostolic Studio Sessions
Rev. Gary DavisRight NowO, Glory - The Apostolic Studio Sessions
Mose VinsonBullfrog Blues The Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 1
Sam ClarkSunnyland Train BluesThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 1
Dewey CorleyDewey's Walkin' BluesThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 1
Willie Morris My Good Woman Has Quit MeThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 2
Hacksaw HarneyHacksaw's Down South BluesThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 2
Van Hunt & Mose VinsonJelly Selling WomanThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 2
Sleepy John Estes Drop Down MamaThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 2
Arthur Weston & George RobersonHighway 49Things Have Changed - Anthology of Today's Blues from St. Louis
Clarence JohnsonBaby Let Me Come Back HomeThings Have Changed - Anthology of Today's Blues from St. Louis
Henry BrownHenry's JiveThings Have Changed - Anthology of Today's Blues from St. Louis
Henry TownsendBiddle Street BluesHenry T. Music Man
Henry TownsendCairo BluesHenry T. Music Man

Show Notes:

Liner Notes: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3 -
Pt. 4 - Pt. 5Pt. 6
Liner Notes: Pt.1Pt. 2 - Pt. 3
Pt. 4
Pt. 5Pt. 6

I've been meaning to get around to the Adelphi label, a fine label that issued a small batch of excellent blues albums in the late 60's and early 70's. I was looking through Stefan Wirz's discography of the label and realized I had in fact all the albums so I figured now was the time. Not to mention that several have been long out-of-print which gives me an opportunity to make these heard by a wider audience. Our show will stick to the albums  by the black blues artists, omitting the records by white artists, which is has always been the focus here on Big Road Blues. In the late 1990's and early 2000's Adelphi issued a number of unreleased recordings from the 60's on CD marketed as the Blues Vault Series and due to time constraints I'll been spotlighting those on a future show.

Adelphi was founded by siblings Gene and Carol Rosenthal, who were country blues enthusiasts. The Adelphi crew made extensive field recordings in 1969, from Chicago to St. Louis, Memphis, and the Mississippi Delta, in search of prewar blues artists. A few of these were released as compilations representing talent recorded at each major stop: Really Chicago’s Blues, The Memphis Blues Again, and Things Have Changed, which featured the artists from St. Louis. Individual albums by Little Brother’ Montgomery, George and Ethel McCoy, and Furry Lewis with Bukka White and Gus Cannon were released in the early 1970's, as were recordings by folk artists, including Roy Book Binder, Paul Geremia, and Chris Smither.

George & Ethel McCoy
George & Ethel McCoy photo by Joel Slotnikoff

 

Some of the label's most interesting recordings are on the three regional anthologies.  The Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1 & 2 were  recorded in Memphis in October, 1969 and at the Peabody Hotel in June, 1970. By the 1960's urban renewal decimated Beale Street yet many old time musicians remained; veterans like Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Will Shade, Dewey Corley, Memphis Piano Red, Laura Dukes and Gus Cannon were still hanging on. During the blues revival of the 60's many went down to Memphis to record these old musicians with the results mostly issued on small specialty labels like Adelphi. Things Have Changed was recorded in East St. Louis, Illinois and St. Louis in 1969 and is an anthology of St. Louis artists including Henry Townsend, George & Ethel McCoy, Henry Brown, Arthur Weston and others. The 2-LP set Really Chicago Blues is a collection of informal acoustic blues featuring Johnny Shines, Honeyboy Edwards, Big Joe Williams, John Lee Granderson and Sunnyland Slim performing in different configurations. Both The Memphis Blues Again and Really Chicago Blues albums have been reissued on the Echo Music label but not on CD.

Really Chicago Blues
Read Liner Notes

All of the individual artists record have been reissued on CD except for the exceptional Early In The Morning by the under-recorded George and Ethel McCoy. George and Ethel McCoy were a brother and sister duo who lived in St. Louis and who's aunt was Memphis Minnie. From the Adelphi website: "The Adelphi crew were enchanted with the pair's music style, the result of a lifetime of playing together, but it was not until Ethel performed "Meningitis Blues" that the dots were connected. Mike Stewart asked if Ethel had learned the song from one of Memphis Minnie's 78 records and was stunned by Ethel's reply: 'No. She taught us the song. She was our Auntie.'" Early In The Morning is their first album and the duo was recorded again in 1981 with the results issued on Swingmaster.

Thirty years would pass after his last recording session before Sam Charters came knocking on Furry Lewis' door in 1959 subsequently recordings him for Folkways that same year with two more albums following for Prestige in 1961. There was nothing rusty about his playing as he had never stopped performing for neighbors and friends. Lewis was recorded often through the 1960's, with a slew of informal recordings issued posthumously. Bob Groom wrote in his book The Blues Revival that his "return has been one of the most satisfying of the [blues] revival."Furry appears on the album On The Road Again alongside Bukka White who returned to performing in the early 60's. The letter was addressed to: "Booker T. Washington White, (Old Blues Singer), C/O General Delivery Aberdeen , Miss." and forwarded to him by a relative. That was how John Fahey and Ed Denson found Bukka White in 1963 who was now living in Memphis and made his last recordings in 1940. Also on the record is Gus Cannon and Dewey Corley. Corley was the leader of the Beale Street Jug Band from the '30s onward, and played jug, washtub bass and kazoo. In his later years, he also acted as an A&R man, helping record companies such as Adelphi scout out missing Memphis blues legends such as Hacksaw Harney and guitarist Willie Morris.

The Reverend Gary Davis was one of the most renowned practitioners of the East Coast school of ragtime guitar; 35 years later, despite two decades spent playing on the streets of Harlem in New York, he was still one of the giants in his field and an inspiration to dozens of modern guitarist/singers including Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and Jorma Kaukonen, Larry Johnson, David Bromberg, and Ry Cooder, who studied with Davis. Davis recorded prolifically in the post-war years starting with a few scattered sides in the 1940's, more in the 1950's and really picking up steam in the 1960's. O, Glory – The Apostolic Studio Sessions was recorded in 1969 and features Davis wife Annie and his Harlem neighbor and pupil Larry Johnson on harmonica.

Things Have Changed
Read Liner Notes

Henry Townsend, who has died aged 96 in 2006, had been the last blues musician who could trace his recording career back to the 1920s, having sat down before a recording microphone in November 1929 to sing his "Henry's Worried Blues" for Paramount. He recorded steadily, if not prolifically, through the decades cutting fine sides with Walter Davis through the 50's, a superb record for Bluesville in the 60's and in 1980 one of his finest records, Mule for the Nighthawk label. The Adelphi record, originally titled Henry T. Music Man and reissued on CD as Cairo Blues, was his second full-length album. The album also features Backwards Sam Firk (Mike Stewart), Henry Brown and Vernell Townsend.

Out of all the Adelphi albums the weakest is Little Brother Montgomery's No Special Rider recorded in 1969. Montgomery was an exceptional pianist and vocalist who first recorded in 1930 cutting"No Special Rider Blues b/w Vicksburg Blues" for Paramount. Montgomery's not at his best on this session and vocalist Jeanne Carroll is not a compelling blues singer.

 

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Robert WilkinsDo Lord Remember MeProdigal Son
Dick Spotswood Interview
Robert WilkinsThank You, Jesus Prodigal Son
Robert WilkinsFalling Down BluesMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert WilkinsIt Just Suits MeProdigal Son
Robert WilkinsOld Jim CanaanMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert WilkinsJesus Will Fix It Allright Prodigal Son
Robert WilkinsThat's No Way To Get AlongMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert WilkinsProdigal Son Prodigal Son
Robert WilkinsRollin' Stone (Part 1)Memphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert WilkinsI'll Go With Her BluesMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert Wilkins Losin' Out BluesMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Frank Stokes & Dane Sane'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do, Part 1Memphis Masters
Frank Stokes & Dane SaneMr. Crump Don't Like ItMemphis Masters
Frank Stokes & Dane SaneIt's A Good Thing Memphis Masters
Joe CalicottFare Thee Well BluesMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Garfield AkersCottonfield Blues (Pt. 1)ConversatioMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Garfield AkersDough Roller BluesMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Jim JacksonJim Jackson's Kansas City Blues Jim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Jim JacksonWhat A Time Jim Jackson Vol. 2 1928-1930
Jim JacksonHesitation Blues Jim Jackson Vol. 2 1928-1930
Minnie WallaceThe Cockeyed WorldRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 2: The Great Jug Bands

Show Notes:

Robert Wilkins: Prodigal Son Robert Wilkins: Memphis Gospel Singer
Read Liner Notes (preview) Read Liner Notes

 

Robert Wilkins cut one of the great albums of the blues revival, Memphis Gospel Singer recorded in 1964 for the Piedmont label and now finally issued issued on CD as Prodigal Son by Bear Family. Around 1964 Dick Spottswood, who had been instrumental in finding Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James a few before, set out to track down Robert Wilkins. After finding Wilkins he brought him up to Washington D.C. to record for his Piedmont label. Spottswood has written an excellent 28 page booklet for the new reissue and today we are joined by Dick as we spotlight this great album and chat about his old friend. We'll also be playing Wilkins' early classic sides: for Victor in 1928, Brunswick in 1929 and Vocalion in 1935. Wilkins was born in Hernando, Mississippi some twenty miles from Memphis and birthplace of an important group of musicians who helped establish Memphis as a major blues center in the 1920's. In addition to Wilkins these included Jim Jackson, Dan Sane, who was the partner of Frank Stokes and Garfield Akers and his partner Joe Calicott. We feature these artists in the second hour.

Wilkins was born south of Memphis in Hernando, Mississippi, in 1895. His father fled the area to avoid prosecution for bootlegging. In 1898 his mother remarried a farmer named Oliver, who helped raise Robert until he was fifteen. His earliest musical memories were of his grandfather's fiddle on the wall and the guitar-playing teenagers who came around at night to serenade his older sisters. "They would be playing in the front yard or on the porch," Wilkins told Pete Welding in Blues Unlimited. "They were dancing in the dust and up on the porches, and like that. Played the 'Buck Time' and all different things. One I never will forget is one called 'The St. Louis Buck.' And they would buck-dance off of that and cut so many different steps." By age nine Robert was playing music on a Jew's harp. Around 1911 after a neighbor broke a guitar over his wife's head, Robert's mother bought the remains of the instrument and had it reassembled for her son. The first song he learned, "I Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down," would remain in his repertoire for a half-century. He claimed tRobert Wilkins: Rolling Stone-Part 1hat watching others play enabled him him to pick his own tunes almost straight away. "The one I learned under, he's the only one I ever saw who picks with two fingers like I do. His name was Aaron Taylor but we all called him 'Buddy. Most of the old tunes I play, that's the way he played them-'Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down.' I got the 'Frisco Train' behind him, I got the 'St. Louis Buck' behind him, and 'Jesse James' behind him, and 'Casey Jones'- all those songs I played behind him. So many of them I can't remember 'cause he could play 'most anything you ever heard on guitar. Within the year Robert was playing at picnics and fish fries and serenading door to door.For white dances he played -"what you call a drag dance" music.

Every autumn Robert would play the traveling medicine shows. He recalled hearing a tenor banjo around 1912, when  Gus Cannon came through. "I played on a stage with him and Jim Jackson," Wilkins told Welding. "They would dance, blacken their face and crack a lot of funny jokes, and play the guitars. Within a few years Wilkins felt he had outstripped all other players in town. "I overran all the old musicians I learned under," he said. "I was mostly the leading songster and blues player there in Hernando."

Robert and his family moved to Memphis in 1915. In the mid·1920's he got a job with the Pullman service., traveling  around the country for three years until he got laid off. He met up with Son Joe Lawlars and then in his words, "I begin to play music for all occasions." He met the Rev. Lonnie McIntorsh on Third and Beale one day and McIntorsh asked if he was interested in making records. The pair went into a furniture store on the corner and Wilkins rehearsed some numbers for the manager. "They loved the music so well and my singing! When the recorder come, they recommended me to him. They set up in an auditorium on Main and Poplar Streets." This was for Victor, when I did 'I Told My Rider' [unissued] and 'Rolling Stone.' That was the one they issued-'Rolling Stone.' The second day they was there I did 'Jail House Blues' and 'I Do Blues.' That was in September, and about the first of November I heard 'Rolling Stone.' The release of "Rolling Stone" opened up musical doors: "We would just bust music all over town-at pig stands, sporting houses while they was having a good time, and all like that," he told Welding. "Hotels-the Claridge, Blackstone, the Medical Arts Building, Peabody just any place. I played for all occasions; they called me for everything."Robert Wilkins: That's No Way To Get along Ad

untitleduntitledIn late September 1929 Wilkins journeyed to the Peabody Hotel to record his classic "That's No Way to Get Along" for Brunswick, as well as "Falling Down Blues," the ragtimey "Alabama Blues," and downhome "Long Train Blues." At his final Brunswick session the following February, he cut "Nashville Stonewall Blues", Police Sergeant Blues", "Get Away Blues" and "I'll Go With Her Blues." Five years elapsed before, as Tim Wilkins, in the company of Son Joe and "Kid Spoons", he recorded five titles for Vocalion, including "New Stock Yard Blues" and "Old Jim Canan's."

The following spring Wilkins gave up playing guitar after witnessing unnerving violence at a house party. "I just hung it on the wall," he explained to Welding. "Said, 'I'm not going to play anymore.' It was just a sudden thing. Look like something appealed to me, and I heard it-said, 'Don't do it anymore.'" He married Ida Mae Harris and devoted himself to helping raise their five sons and two daughters. A family belief holds that in 1942 he promised God that he'd give up playing blues if his wife survived a life-threatening illness. With her recovery, Wilkins kept his promise and turned increasingly towards the church, becoming a minister of the Church pf God in Christ in 1950. The denomination's encouragement of music enabled him to perform gospel songs on electric guitar. While he no longer performed 12-bar blues, he remodeled his old blues arrangements into gospel songs: "Old Jim Canan's" was morphed into "I'm Going Home to My Heavenly King." "That's No Way to Get Along" metamorphosed into an epic retelling of the gospel of Luke entitled "Prodigal Son" while the guitar lines of "I'll Go With Her" echoed in "I'll Go With You."

Around 1964 Dick Spottswood launched a search for Wilkins. "I had gotten a tip that he was in Memphis," Spottswood explains. "I looked in the telephone book and found two Robert Wilkins there. I wrote a letter to each of them saying, 'Hey, if you're the Robert Wilkins who made 'Nashville Stonewall Blues' in the '20s, boy, would we like to hear from you.' A week or two later, the phone rang and the voice said, 'This is Rev. Wilkins.'" Dick arranged for Wilkins to come to Washington, D.C., to record his self-titled debut LP for the Piedmont label. The centerpiece of the album was his epic nine-minute plus "Prodigal Son" famously recorded by the Rolling Stones on their 1968 album  Beggars Banquet. The story goes that Wilkins was properly credited on the original graffiti-laden, bathroom-themed cover, but that credit was lost when the cover art was changed to an invitation-themed design. The credit later was restored in Wilkins’ name, but only after legal action was taken. Four additional songs from the Piedmont session appeared on the Biograph album This Old World's In A Hell Of A Fix and these also appear on the Bear Family reissue. Otherwise, Wilkins' post-war discography is slim with a full-length album released on Gene Rosenthal's Genes imprint in the 90's plus a handful of scattered live and studio sides on several different anthologies.

Robert Wilkins Newport 1964
Rev. Robert Wilkins, Newport, 1964

Rev. Wilkins hit the folk circuit, appearing at Newport in 1964 (two sides appear on Vanguard's Blues At Newport) and the Memphis Country Blues Festival in 1966 and 1968 (three tracks appear on the Blue Horizon record The 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival). Even after the Rolling Stones covered "Prodigal Son" Wilkins steadfastly refused to play the blues. "No, my conscience won't let me do it," he explained to Pete Welding. "It's something within. My children even, and all of my friends that know me, say: 'It looks like you could just go and play the blues, make two or three records of the blues.' 'If that was me,' they say, 'I wouldn't miss the money.' Well, it looks good, but then I have scripture say: 'What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?'" Rev. Wilkins never did return to blues and lived into his nineties, passing away on May 30, 1987.

Related Reading:

-Dick Spottswood Interview/Feature (68 min., MP3)

- Rev. Robert Wilkins (Blues Unlimited no. 13, Jul 1964 by Richard K. Spottswood) [PDF]

-Reverend Robert Wilkins: An Interview. Pt. 1. – 6 (Blues Unlimited no. 51-56, 1968 by Pete Welding) [PDF]

- Rev. Robert Wilkins (Victrola and 78 Journal no. 11, 1997: 8–13 by Jas Obrecht) [PDF]

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Bobo JenkinsBad Luck and TroubleJuicy Harmonica
Bobo JenkinsTen Below ZeroA Fortune Of Blues Vol. 1
Bobo JenkinsBaby Don't You Want To GoA Fortune Of Blues Vol. 1
Baby Boy WarrenMy Special Friend BluesDetroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
Baby Boy WarrenNervy Woman BluesDetroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
T.J. Fowler Got Nobody To Tell My TroublesT.J. Fowler 1948-53
T.J. Fowler Yes I KnowT.J. Fowler 1948-53
T.J. Fowler Red Hot Blues T.J. Fowler 1948-53
Bobo JenkinsWhen I First Left Home The Life of Bobo Jenkins
Bobo JenkinsI Love That WomanThe Life of Bobo Jenkins
Bobo JenkinsYou Will Never Understand The Life of Bobo Jenkins
Baby Boy WarrenSanafeeDetroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
Baby Boy WarrenHello Stranger Detroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
Baby Boy WarrenChuck-A-LuckDetroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
T.J. FowlerLittle Baby ChildT.J. Fowler 1948-53
T.J. FowlerBack BiterT.J. Fowler 1948-53
Calvin FrazierGot Nobody To Tell My TroublesVintage Toledo Blues 1950-1980
Calvin FrazierRock House The Travelling Record Man
Calvin FrazierSweet Bread Baby Gerard Herzhaft's Blog
Boogie Woogie RedSo Much Good FeelingConversation With The Blues
Boogie Woogie RedBlues For My BabyDetroit After Hours - Vol. 1
Bobo JenkinsWatergate BluesHere I Am A Fool In Love Again
Bobo JenkinsHere I Am A Fool In Love AgainHere I Am A Fool In Love Again
Baby Boy WarrenBaby Boy Blues Detroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
Baby Boy WarrenSomebody Put Bad Luck On MeDetroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
Baby Boy WarrenStop Breakin' DownDetroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
T.J. Fowler Say Baby SayT.J. Fowler 1948-53
T.J. Fowler Wine CoolerT.J. Fowler 1948-53
Calvin FrazierLillie MaeVintage Toledo Blues 1950-1980
Calvin FrazierWashboard Blues Pt 1Blues Rarities Vol. 3
Calvin FrazierSpecial I & IIGerard Herzhaft's Blog
Boogie Woogie RedHooty Blues Live At The Blind Pig
Boogie Woogie RedGot To Find My BabyLive At The Blind Pig
Boogie Woogie RedRed's BoogieLive At The Blind Pig

Show Notes:

Bobo JenkinsDuring and after World War II a second wave of migration took place with many people leaving the South to work in the industrial North, and Detroit became the home to many fine blues artists. While earlier artists such as Big Maceo Merriweather had to travel to Chicago to record, new record companies such as Sensation, Holiday, JVB, and Fortune had established themselves in Detroit. They became important by recording Detroit blues artists but often leased material to other labels in order to gain distribution. Today we spotlight a quintet of excellent Detroit artists who aren't particularly well known: Calvin Frazier, Bobo Jenkins, Baby Boy Warren, Boogie Woogie Red and T.J. Fowler. These artists were active from the late 40's through the 70's and all these artists worked together in different combinations over the years. Calvin Frazier played in every blues or R&B act in Detroit, playing behind today's featured artists Baby Boy Warren and T.J. Fowler and taught guitar to Bobo Jenkins. Jenkins, Warren cut scattered sides for numerous labels in the 40's, 50's and 60's, after scattered singles Jenkins formed his own label and issued his own records in the 70's. Pianist Boogie Woogie record backed Baby Warren and Clavin Frazier on record among others but recorded sparingly under his own name until the 70's when he cut two full-length albums.

Bobo Jenkins had sung in a gospel quartet and played harmonica in Mississippi, and after serving in the army decided to move to Detroit in 1944. He was befriended by John Lee Hooker, who helped Jenkins get his first song recorded with Chess Records—the politically themed "Democrat Blues" of 1954. After Chess he recorded two songs for the Boxer label in Chicago and a few for Fortune Records in Detroit but vowed that one day he would have his own recording studio, and in time, he did. “Democrat Blues” did establish him as a member of the Detroit blues scene, and he formed a band which worked regularly at the Apex Bar on Oakland, the Club Caribbe on East Jefferson and the Black Velvet in Mt. Clemens, to name a few. In addition, he played in shows along with such great national artists as Illinois Jacquet, Jimmy Reed, Mahalia Jackson, Lionel Hampton, and Louis Jordan. The first record released on Jenkins' Big Star label was his own: "You"ll Never Understand" and "Tell Me Where You Stayed Last Night." He was living in the area of Detroit that was known as "Black Bottom" and on the weekends, his house was "open" and was filled with musicians playing the blues all night long.

Baby Boy Warren
Baby Boy Warren

In 1970, Jenkins promoted the first Detroit Blues Festival on the steps of the Rackham Building stretching onto the lawn of the Detroit Art Institute. In 1972 he put out his first album on his Big Star label called The Life of Bobo Jenkins. The 1973 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival featured a special Detroit Blues Review and Jenkins was one of the stars. The next album by Jenkins came out in 1974, called Here I Am a Fool in Love Again on Big Star. In 1977 he issued an album called Detroit All Purpose Blues. In 1982, he went to Europe for his first tour, but due to poor health he returned home after the first concert. A long illness ultimately led to his death on August 14, 1984.

Born in  Lake Providence. Louisiana in August  1919, Baby Boy Warren (Robert Henry Warren) was one of eight children. Before he was one, the family moved to Memphis. His brothers Jack and Willie were good guirarists and  before he was ten Baby Boy himself showed aptitude.The brothers went to Church's (later Handy's) Park on Beaie Street to join the musicians who met up there." When I was a little kid, the man I most admired was a midget fellow," he told Mike Leadbitter and Mike Rowe. "'They called him Little Buddy Doyle. I got most of my style from  him. I admired him so much." Warren would take a train to Helena.Arkansas. to meet with the likes of Robert Lockwood, Willie Love, Peck Curris and Calvin Frazier. He a|so met Sonny Boy Williamson: "He was a hard guy to get along with: that's why Robert (Lockwood)  pulled out. Me and Peck and Sonny Boy. He'd wear the big belt with the harmonicas and when he'd get to blowing he'd have a big bath towel tied round his head…he'd perspire so much."

Baby Boy cut four records for Staff and one for Sampson (run by Idessa Malone's man, Sam Taylor, who ran Sam's Record Shop on Hastings) after which was a four year hiatus. Then in 1954, Baby Boy cut a momentous session for Joe Von Battle. Sonny Boy put on an ultimate demonstration of harmonica technique on "Chicken" (also titled "Chuck-A-Luck"). The same year, Baby Boy re-cut "Hello Stranger" as "Mattie Mae" and "Santa Fe" for Parrot subsidiary Blue Lake with the same band minus Sonny Boy and then "Somebody Put Bad Luck On Me" and Robert Johnson's "Stop Breaking Down" for the obscure Drummond label. But he was tiring of record companies: "I got messed up and screwed round and see my records changed round. I've had some tough 1uck." He quit music in 1961, partly because of a second marriage. His new wife Carrie took in the children from his first but with seven young mouths to feed, his General Motors job was more important. He belatedly toured Europe in 973 and died of a heart attack at his home on Yacama Street four years later.

T.J. FowlerAfter studying piano at home and at the Detroit Conservatory of Music, T.J. Fowler began providing musical entertainment for patrons at his father's pool hall. Fowler assembled his own hot little group in 1947 and accompanied saxophonist Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams on that artist's first recordings for the Savoy label. T.J. Fowler began making records as a leader in 1948, beginning with small labels like Paradise and Sensation and landing his own contract with Savoy in 1952, sometimes featuring singers Freddie Johnson, Alberta Adams, and Floyd "Bubbles" McVay. Fowler's ensemble was also used to back vocalist Varetta Dillard and guitarist Calvin Frazier. Near the end of 1953 Fowler took his act to Chicago to wax what are believed to have been the only recordings he ever made outside of Detroit. Issued on the States label, these sides were presented as by "T.J. Fowler and the Band That Rocks the Blues." Back in Detroit, Fowler and his men served as the backing band for T-Bone Walker and spent the next few years gigging around the Motor City and southeastern Michigan. By the end of the 1950's, Fowler was living in the industrial city of Ecorse where he ran his tiny independent Bow record label and led a jazz organ combo. Hired in 1959 by the relatively inexperienced Berry Gordy, Fowler applied his music industry know-how and managerial expertise to help Gordy create and establish the Motown record label. Fowler continued gigging with his jazz band but eventually ceased performing altogether, operating a landscaping service and settling into semi-retirement as a businessman in Detroit, where he passed away on May 22, 1982.

Boogie Woogie Red
Boogie Woogie Red, photo by Peter Yates & Jerry Del Giudice

 

Boogie Woogie Red was born Vernon Harrison in Rayville, Louisiana in October of 1924, and his family moved to Detroit when he was very young. Under the influence of local musicians Big Maceo and Dr. Clayton, Red taught himself piano, developing his keyboard style. "My style is somethin' after Macey's style. He was playin' at Brown's club on Hastings for six years straight and I learn a lot from him." At age 18, he was drawn to the blues scene in Chicago, where he jammed with Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red, and Memphis Slim. In 1946, Red returned to Detroit and for the next fourteen years played with John Lee Hooker. When the Motown sound took over and dried up the blues gigs, Red decided to give up performing. But in 1971 he did a well-received European tour and began performing regularly in the Detroit area, with occasional tours overseas. He recorded two albums for Blind Pig, both of which are now out of print: Live At The Blind Pig and Red Hot in 1977. A few other recordings appear scattered on various anthologies. He died in Detroit, in July 1992, at the age of 66.

The Frazier family. consisting of brothers Calvin and Lonnie, parents Van and Belie,arrived in Detroit from Memphis sometime late in 1936 (or early 1937). One of their cousins was Johnny Shines. Calvin met up with Robert Johnson in the mid-30's in Helena, Arkansas and, along with Shines, played and perhaps traveled around Arkansas with him. In 1938 Frazier was recorded by Alan Lomax and his playing bears the strong influence of Johnson.

FRAZIERCalvin-couv
Calvin Frazier

In the post-war era Calvin Frazier played with almost every blues or R&B act in Detroit and his guitar playing developed a more "modern" style, very influenced by the rising Californian guitar stars like T-Bone Walker. While associated with Big Maceo, Frazier should have recorded in Chicago for the Bluebird label but was ill and unable to make the trip. During 1946-47, Frazier toured with the Jungle Five Revue and played up to New York and Montreal. He is also worked during this period with Baby Boy Warren, T.J. Fowler'sband, the Jimmy Millner's Rhythm Band and  taught the guitar to Bobo Jenkins. Early in 1954, he bought himself a Stratocaster, probably one of the very first bluesman to play this type of guitar. Despite all this, Frazier recorded only sporadically under his own name and only for very small local Detroit or Toledo labels with poor distribution like Fortune, Alben and JVB. He died at the young age of 57 from a massive heart attack on September 23d, 1972, a well respected musician, with a strong reputation among his peers but largely unknown to the world.

Frazier has not been well served on record, there is no one collection of his recordings which are scattered on numerous anthologies and some have not been reissued at all. Blues scholar Gerard Herzhaft has done a great service on his blog by collecting all of Frazier's recordings in one place and is the source of some of today's featured sides.

 

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Sonny Boy WilliamsonBlue Bird BluesThe Bluebird Recordings: 1937-1938
Big Joe Williams Brother JamesBig Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Black Ivory KingThe Flying CrowSan Antonio 1937
Son Becky Mistreated Washboard BluesSan Antonio 1937
Pinetop BurksJack Of All Trades BluesSan Antonio 1937
"Roosevelt" Antrim Station Boy BluesBlind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Blind Boy FullerTruckin' My Blues Away Blind Boy Fuller: Remastered 1935-1938
Floyd 'Dipper Boy' CouncilI'm Grievin' & I'm Worryin'Blind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Bill GaitherIn The Wee Wee Hours Bill Gaither Vol. 2 1936-1938
Peetie WheatstrawWorking On The ProjectThe Essential

Charlie Pickett Down The Highway Son Bonds & Charlie Pickett 1934-1941
Sleepy John EstesFloating BridgeI Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
Black Boy ShineWest Columbia WomanLeroy Carr & Black Boy Shine: Unissued Test Pressings & Alternate Takes 1934-1937
Andy Boy Church Street BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Jazz GillumBirmingham BluesBill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 1 1936-38
Washboard SamI Drink Good WhiskeyWashboard Sam Vol. 2 1937-1938
Alice MooreNew Blue Black And Evil BluesSt. Louis Bessie & Alice Moore Vol. 2 1934-1941
Memphis MinnieLiving The Best I CanMemphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
Victoria SpiveyOne Hour MamaThe Essential
Robert JohnsonStones In My PasswayAlberta Hunter Vol. 4 1927-46
Mose Andrews Young Heifer BluesMississippi Blues Vol.1 1928-1937
Bukka WhiteShake 'Em On DownThe Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Scotte Nesbitt Deep, Deep In The GroundRare Jazz and Blues Piano 1927-1937
Charley WestRollin' Stone BluesRare 1930s & '40s Blues Vol. 3 1937-1948
Roosevelt SykesNight Time Is the Right TimeRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 5 1937-1939
Lonnie JohnsonHard Times Ain't Gone No WhereLonnie Johnson Vol. 1 1937-1940
Tampa RedSeminole BluesYou Can't Get that Stuff No More
Casey Bill WeldonLady Doctor BluesThe Essential
Lee GreenThe Way I Feel Lee Green Vol. 2 1930-1937
Charlie Campbell Goin' Away BluesAlabama & The East Coast 1933-1937

Show Notes:

Bukka White: Shake 'Em On DownToday’s show is the eleventh installment of an ongoing series of programs built around a particular year. The first year we spotlighted was 1927 which 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. The Depression, with the massive unemployment it brought, had a shattering effect on the pockets of black record buyers. Sales of blues records plummeted in the years 1931 through 1933. Things picked up again in 1934 with the companies recording full-scale again. During this period there was far less recording in the field during this period and in view of the popularity of Chicago singers there was less need.

From 1934 until 1945 there were three main race labels, all selling at 35 cents: Decca, the Brunswick Record Corporation's Vocalion, and RCA-Victor's Bluebird. There were two other labels that featured a fair number of blues during this period; the store group Montgomery Ward, with a label of the same name, drew at various times on Gennett, Decca and Bluebird and Sears Roebuck used ARC material on its Conqueror label. Race record sales were up around 15 per cent in 1937: Decca and Bluebird each put out around 120 items whilst BRC-ARC issued almost on Vocalion and another 100 on the dime-store labels.

According to John Godrich and Robert M.W. Dixon in their classic book Recording The Blues, the record companies "had three way of unearthing new talent: by placing advertisements in local newspapers, especially just before a field unit was due in a nearby town; by just relying on chance comments from singers, concerning other who might be good recording propositions; and by employing their own talent scouts, who carry out steady, systematic searches. The last method was intensively employed in the the thirties – Roosevelt Sykes, for instance, would find likely artists for Decca (or, sometimes, for Lester Melrose). But despite this, race catalogs in the thirties relied more heavily on a small nucleus of popular singers than they had in the twenties. It was the urban style of blues that now dominated the market – and as in the previous years it was artists such as Tampa Red, Kokomo Arnold, Casey Bill Weldon, Memphis Minnie, Big Bill Broonzy, Bumble Bee Slim, Peetie Wheatstraw and the Harlem Hamfats who dominated the market. Tampa cut 18 sides, Arnold , Weldon and the Hamfats cut around two-dozen sides apiece, Minnie cut 16 sides, Broonzy cut around 30 sides, Slim some 20 sides (a number unissued) and Wheatstraw a 14 sides.Pinetop Burks: Jack of All Trades

Two down home singers who could hold their own in terms of popularity against the urban artists were Sleepy John Estes and Blind Boy Fuller.  Estes made his debut for Victor in 1929 while Fuller made his debut for Vocalion in 1935. Unlike blues artists like Big Bill or Memphis Minnie who recorded extensively over three or four decades, Blind Boy Fuller recorded his substantial body of work over a short, six-year span. Nevertheless, he was one of the most recorded artists of his time and by far the most popular and influential Piedmont blues player of all time. Fuller made his debut in 1935 and over the next five years he made over 120 sides. He cut around 50 sides in 1937.

One of Fuller's associates, Floyd Council, also recorded this year. Council occasionally worked with Fuller in the ‘30s, which may have led to his first recording sessions. In late January 1937. ACR Records scout John Baxter Long heard him, playing alone on a street in Chapel Hill. It was Long who had first brought Fuller to NYC to record in July 1935. Long invited Floyd to join Fuller on his third trip to New York. Floyd agreed, and a week later the three traveled to the city. During his second visit to New York in December, Floyd was used as a second guitar only. His solo tracks were later issued under the name ‘Blind Boy Fuller’s buddy’. In all he cut six sides under his own name and seven backing Fuller.

For his third session the Decca label brought Sleepy John Estes to New York City to record in 1937 and again in 1938 where he cut eighteen songs, laying down some of his most enduring songs. He was backed by Charlie Pickett on guitar and Hammie Nixon on harmonica. Pickett cut four sides for Decca in 1937 backed by Hammie Nixon and Lee Brown.  Pickett also played guitar behind Estes on 19 numbers at sessions in 1937 and 1938. He or Estes may have played guitar behind pianist Lee Green at a 1937 session.

1937 saw a number of notable recording sessions including two by Bluebird, one in Chicago and one in San Antonio, and one by ARC in Birmingham by ARC. In Chicago on May 5, 1937 Bluebird cut a marathon recording session resulting in six songs by Robert Nighthawk (as Robert Lee McCoy), six by Sonny Boy Williamson I, four by Big Joe Williams and eight sides by Walter Davis. It was Sonny Boy's songs, especially, "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Bluebird Blues" and "Sugar Mama Blues" which were the biggest hits.

The Texas pianists known as the 'Santa Fe group' were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie.“ Mack McCormick noted that the “itinerant pack of pianists who came to be known loosely as 'the Santa Fe group,' partly because they favored that railroad and partly because a stranger asking for the name of a selection was invariably told 'That's The Santa Fe.' 1937 was an outstanding year for the Santa Fe group of pianists: Andy Boy recorded in February for Bluebird, Big Boy Knox recorded for Bluebird in March, Black Boy Shine recorded in June for Vocalion and Son Becky and Pinetop Burks recorded at a shared session for Vocalion in October. Just a few days after Black Boy Shine was recorded in Dallas, ARC recorded Robert Johnson who recorded thirteen sides adding to the previous year's sixteen sides.

1296536396_GW48006aBetween March 3rd and April 7th 1937, ARC (The American Record Company) sent a mobile recording unit on a field trip firstly to visit Hot Springs, Arkansas and, then to Birmingham, Alabama in search of new talent that could be recorded on location instead of transporting the artists to their New York studio. Sometime between 18th and 24th March the unit arrived in Birmingham and, over a two week period set about recording a number of gospel and blues musicians. Among those were Charlie Campbell, Guitar Slim (George Bedford) and James Sherrill (Peanut The Kidnapper) all of whom were backed by the lively piano of Robert McCoy who did not record under his own name. McCoy wouldn't record again until 1963 when he was recorded by Pat Cather, a teenaged Birmingham blues fan. Cather issued two albums on his Vulcan label: Barrelhouse Blues And Jook Piano and Blues And Boogie Classics.

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