ARTISTSONGALBUM
Elizabeth JohnsonEmpty Bed Blues Part 1Clarence Williams & The Blues Singers Vol. 1 1923-1928
Elizabeth JohnsonSobbin' Woman BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Elizabeth JohnsonBe My Kid Blues I Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
George ToreyLonesome Man Blues Memphis Blues 1927-1938
George ToreyMarried Woman BluesBlues Images Vol. 3
Frenchy's String Band Sunshine SpecialThe Frog Blues & Jazz Annual No. 1
Frenchy's String Band Texas and Pacific Blues How Low Can You Go: Anthology Of The String Bass
Edward ThompsonSeven Sister Blues A Richer Tradition
Edward ThompsonShowers Of Rain BluesThe Rise & Fall of Paramount Records Vol. 2 1928-1932
Edward ThompsonWest Virginia Blues The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records Vol. 2 1928-1932
Leola Manning Satan Is Busy In Knoxville Barrelhouse Mamas
Leola Manning The Blues Is All Wrong Favorite Country Blues Guitar: Piano Duets 1929-1937
Pigmeat TerryMoaning the Blues American Primitive Vol. II
Pigmeat TerryBlack Sheep BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Dan Stewart New Orleans BluesDown In Black Bottom
Lonnie ClarkDown In TennesseeDown In Black Bottom
Lonnie ClarkBroke Down engineDown In Black Bottom
Bobby GrantLonesome Atlanta BluesMississippi Moaners
Bobby GrantNappy Head BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Margaret ThorntonTexas Bound BluesBarrelhouse Mamas
Margaret ThorntonJockey BluesBarrelhouse Mamas
Blind Leroy GarnettLouisiana GlideMama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here
Blind Leroy GarnettChain 'em DownMama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here
Johnnie HeadFare Thee Well - Part IThe Rise & Fall of Paramount Records Vol. 2 1928-1932
Johnnie HeadFare Thee Well - Part IIThe Rise & Fall of Paramount Records Vol. 2 1928-1932
Hattie BurlesonJim NappyI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 2
Hattie BurlesonSadie's Servant Room BluesTerritory Singers Vol. 2
Hattie BurlesonBye Bye BabyI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 2
Marshall OwensTexas BluesBlues Images vol. 4
Marshall OwensTry Me One More TimeBlues Images vol. 4
Hattie Hudson Doggone My Good Luck Soul Dallas Alley Drag
Hattie Hudson Black Hand BluesI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Leola ManningThe Arcade Building Moan Rare Country Blues Vol. 1
Leola ManningLaying in the Graveyard Rare Country Blues Vol. 1

Show Notes:

Elizabeth Johnson - Empty Bed BluesAll the artists featured today recorded from one to eight titles and all left behind barley a trace of biographical information. We hear from several outstanding blues ladies including Elizabeth Johnson, Leola Manning, Margaret Thornton, Hattie Burleson, and Hattie Hudson. In addition we spotlight  several other excellent bands, singers, guitarists and pianists including George Torey, Frenchy's String Band, Edward Thompson, Pigmeat Terry, Lonnie Clark, Dan Stewart, Johnnie Head, Bobby Grant, Blind Leroy Garnett and Marshall Owens.

"Rainin' here, rainin' here, rainin' here, rainin' here, stormin' on the sea" sings Elizabeth Johnson in mesmerizing fashion on her masterpiece "Be My Kid Blues." Johnson is a mystery woman who cut four sides in 1928. “Be My Kid Blues b/w Sobbin’ Woman Blues” finds her backed by a unique band (listed as Her Turpentine Tree-O) that consisted of woodblocks, clarinet and guitar. She's backed by the great King Oliver on cornet on the two-part “Empty Bed Blues.”

An East Knoxville cafeteria worker and aspiring evangelist of 25, Leloa Manning was struggling with a troubled marriage when she recorded at the St. James Hotel in Knoxville, TN; once  on Aug. 28, 1929, and once on April 4, 1930. Six numbers were cut between the two sessions, all were issued. The first couple of sides she cut were religious songs, "He Cares For Me b/w He Fans Me", the latter sounding more like a blues number than a religious one. The previous year Frankie 'Half-Pint' Jaxon cut the risque "Fan It." When she returned to the studio she had a batch of utterly unique songs such as "Satan Is Busy In Knoxville" which seems about a real-life serial killer, "The Blues Is All Wrong" an up-tempo boogie-woogie piece, "Laying in the Graveyard" and the topical "The Arcade Building Moan" about a tragic fire that occurred in Knoxville just fifteen days prior:

It was on one Thursday morning, March the 20th day
I think it was about two a.m., I believe I can firmly say
The women and the children was screaming and crying
Not only that, they was slowly dying
Oh, listen, listen, how the bell did ring
When the Arcade Building burnt down.

Hattie Burleson recorded four tracks in Dallas, TX, for Brunswick Records in October 1928. Two years later she recorded three sides in Grafton, WI, for Paramount Records. Little else is known about her life, save that she lived in the famed Deep Ellum area of downtown Dallas, where she operated a dancehall for a time. Her song "Jim Nappy" became a favorite among the Santa Fe group of pianists. According to Paul Oliver it was about her real life lover who managed the traveling shows she put together.  Her "Sadie’s Servant Room Blues" is a rare protest song dealing with domestic service.

I receive my company in the rear
Still these folks don't want to see them here
Gonna change my mind, yes change my mind
Cause I keep the servant room blues all the time

Burleson was also responsible for discovering Lillian Glinn singing in a Dallas church and encouraged her to pursue a musical career. Pianist Willie Tyson cut two solo piano numbers for Columbia in 1927 which went unissued. The next day he backed singer Hattie Hudson on “Black Hand Blues” and the classic “Doggone My Good Marshall Owens - Try Me One More TimeLuck Soul" her only 78 cut for Columbia records.

Margaret Thornton cut one great 78 for Black Patti backed by great pianist Blind James Beck, "Texas Bound Blues b/w Jockey Blues." Beck also backed singer Mozelle Alderson.

Most of today's male blues guitarists are as mysterious as their female counterparts. George Torey, Johnnie Head, Bobby Grant, Frenchy's String Band, Dan Stewart, Lonnie Clark and Pigneat Terry left behind a sole 78. George Torey had only two titles released, both recorded at a session in Birmingham, Alabama on April 2, 1937.  The two tracks, "Married Woman Blues" and "Lonesome Man Blues" were included on an early Yazoo anthology, Ten Years in Memphis. There is no other evidence that Torey was from Memphis, and none of the Memphis musicians questioned about him in the late '60s and '70s could remember him. One other song from the session, "Delta Blues" was unissued and may hint at his origins.

Johnnie Head cut one 78 for Paramount in 1928, the two-part "Fare Thee Well."

Bobby Grant was  recorded early in 1927 and whose driving slide guitar showpieces "Nappy Head Blues" and "Lonesome Atlanta Blues" denote a possible Mississippi background. I first heard him on the Yazoo compilation Mississippi Moaners.

Frenchy's String Band cut "Sunshine Special b/w Texas And Pacific Blues" in 1928. Polite "Frenchy" Christian was one of the New Orleans jazzmen who ventured westward in the 1920's, settling in Dallas. With a line-up here consisting of cornet, banjo, guitar and bowed bass, "Texas and Pacific Blues" gives an inkling of music played around New Orleans when a string band line up was used.

Pigmeat Terry only cut one 78, for Decca "Black Sheep Blues b/w Moaning The Blues" in 1935 and possessed a high, whispery, moaning voice, a bit reminiscent of the popular Joe Pullum who made his debut the prior year.

My mother's gone to glory, my father's dyin' of drinkin' in his sin (2x)
My sister won't notice me, she's too proud to take me in
I'm a black sheep in my family and how they dog me around (2x)
Someday I'll get lucky and won't be found around

Edward Thompson was a native of Alabama, and he may have known and played with Ed Bell and Pillie Bolling at some point in his life. He traveled to New York City in 1929 and cut six songs in one session. All of these were issued over three records. The recordings were mastered by Gennett, and either sold or leased to Paramount. This recording had Thompson billed as "Tenderfoot Edwards". Nothing else about him is known.

Marshall Owens cut  two 78 s 'for Paramount in 1932, "Texas Blues b/w Try Me One More Time" and one 78 which has never been found, "Texas Blues – Part II b/w Seventh St. Alley Strut."

Dan Stewart cut only one side of a 78 for Brunswick in 1929. The flipside was Jim Clarke's “Fat Fanny Stomp.”

Lonnie Clark only left behind two recordings that were made in 1929 for Paramount, "Down In Tennessee b/w Broke Down Engine." Bob Hall wrote of him "his heavy expressive voice on "Broke Down Engine" is accompanied by a rocking two-handed chorded piano played in a rather primitive style and nicely offset by a neat mandolin obbligato."

Leroy Garnett's recorded legacy only consisted of two sides, "Louisiana Glide b/w Chain 'Em Down", waxed in 1929 for Paramount. He is believed to have been from Fort Worth, TX. He also recorded behind singer James 'Boodle It' Wiggins. As Bob Hall and Richard Noblett wrote: "Garnett's two solos reveal his as a pianist of considerable technique. 'Chain 'Em Down', a superb barrelhouse piece has echoes of the Alabama pianist Cow Cow Davenport …'Louisiana Glide' has strong ragtime influence and the air of a set composition rather than an improvised performance"

 

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Jimmy And Mama Yancey Monkey Woman Blues Chicago Blues Piano Vol. 1
Otis Spann It Must Have Been The Devil Genesis: Beginnings Of Rock Vol. 3
Al Winter Boogie 88 Hollywood Boogie: Obscure Piano Blues & Boogie Woogie From Los Angeles
Mable Hillery Lonesome Road It's So Hard To Be A Nigger
Mable Hillery Mr. President It's So Hard To Be A Nigger
Jimmy WitherspoonBig Family Blues 1950s R&B From Dolphin's Vol. 2; Toast Of The Coast
Tony AllenYou're A Mean And Evil Woman 1950s R&B From Dolphin's Vol. 1; On With The Jive
Lucille Bogan and Papa Charlie Jackson Jim Tampa Blues Papa Charlie Done Sung That Song
Laura DukesBricks In My PillowTennessee Blues Vol. 1
Elmore James Strange Angels Something Inside Of Me
Wild Jimmy Spruill Hard GrindScratchin': Wild Jimmy Spruill Story
Guitar Gable Long Way from HomeRhythm 'n' Bluesin' By The Bayou: Mad Dogs, Sweet Daddies & Pretty Babies
Pee Wee CraytonRockin the Blues Texas Blues Jumpin' In Los Angeles: The Modern Music Sessions 1948-51
John Lee Hooker I Don't Be Welcome HereThe Complete1948-51 Vol. 3
Blind Joe Hill Highway 13 First Chance
Jimmy Reed I'm Just Trying To Cop A Plea Soulin'
Tampa Red I Still Got California On My MindThe Bluebird Recordings 1934-1936
Lane HardinCalifornia Desert Blues Blues Images Vol. 9
Jesse Thomas Gonna Move to California Jesse Thomas 1948-1958
Lawyer Houston Out In CaliforniaLightning Hopkins: Lightning Special Vol. 2
Howlin' WolfCalifornia BoogieSmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters
Johnny WoodsSo Many Cold MorningsSo Many Cold Mornings
John Tinsley Cotton Picking BluesCountry Blues Roots Revisted
Walter Davis Strange Land BluesWalter Davis 1930-1932
Roy HawkinsStrange LandBad Luck Is Falling
Roger (Burn Down) GarnettLighthouse BluesThe Frog Blues And Jazz Annual No. 1
Dorothy Everetts Macon Blues The Frog Blues And Jazz Annual No. 1
Irene Wiley Bo Hog BluesThe Frog Blues And Jazz Annual No. 1
Jimmy RushingSomebody's Spoiling These WomenBlues & Gospel Kings Vol. 4

Show Notes:

ctf10024 (1)
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A wide ranging mix show today  including songs a pair of sides by singer Mabel Hillery, sets of piano blues, some heavy duty guitar slingers, a pair of sets revolving around specific lyrical themes, music from the vaults of King Records and west coast record man John Dolphin and a batch of outstanding early pre-war blues sides.

Shortly after the death of folklorist Tary Owens on September 21, 2003, Brad Buchholz, wrote that, “Tary Owens devoted most of his life to music, though only rarely to his own. The greater mission, to Owens, was to champion the music of forgotten or unsung Texas bluesmen—to put their songs on records, to place them on a stage, to encourage a larger public to celebrate their artistry.” Owens operated the Catfish and Spindletop labels issuing some fine recordings of neglected Texas artists. We spotlight two tracks from Texas Piano Professors by little recorded piano men Dr. Hepcat, Grey Ghost and Erbie Bowser. I want to thank Gerrit Robs for making this album available to me.

We spin a trio of tracks from the Frog Blues And Jazz Annual No. 1, which I recently picked up along with the second and third issues. The magazine does a great job filling the hole left by the late lamented 78 Quarterly. The Annuals are something between a magazine and a softbound book, roughly 8.5 inches by 11.75 inches with 178 pages. They are edited (and  contributed to) by Paul Swinton, owner of Great Britain’s Frog Records, one of the  premier prewar jazz and jazz/blues reissue record companies. Each Annual comes with a companion CD featuring 26 cuts that reflect the articles in the Annual.  Most of the blues tracks have appeared on other collections, but Roger Garnett's marvelous "Lighthouse Blues" (recorded for the Library of Congress in 1939) and Irene Wiley's fantastic "Bo Hog Blues" (with a probable late 1940's recording date) have not been issued before. We also spin Dorothy Everetts terrific "Macon Blues" from her lone 1928 78 record.

A member of The Georgia Sea Island Singers (she joined in 1961), Mable Hillery was less known than leader, Big John Davis or Bessie Jones, who also had her own performing career. Between 1961 and 1965 she toured the college circuit of campuses, coffee houses, church basements, and festivals, from Berkeley to Philadelphia, from the Ash Grove in Los Angeles to the Café à Go-Go in New York City. Hillery was very active in civil rights issues during the 60's. In 1968, after touring in England, where she did TV and concert dates, Hillery made a her only album for the record label Xtra, It's So Hard To Be A Nigger, which has never been issued on CD. This is a (The Frog Blues And Jazz Annual No. 1)wonderful record and Hillery was a tremendously expressive singer. The acapella title track sounds like a lost field recording by the Lomax's or Lawrence Gellert. A few other sides by her appear on various anthologies. She died at the age of 46 in 1976. 

We spin several songs with lyrical themes including several revolving around "California" and several using the title "Strange Land." In 1936 Robert Johnson famously sang the lines "But I'm cryin' hey baby, Honey don't you want to go/Back to the land of California, to my sweet home Chicago." This line always seemed a bit confusing too me but I think many blues singers viewed California as an idyllic, almost mystical place far from the Jim Crow south. From 1934 we spin Tampa Red's jaunty "I Still Got California On My Mind", Lane Hardin's "California Desert Blues" ("When I reach old Los Angeles, Californy, you oughta heard me jump and shout"),  Jesse Thomas' "Gonna Move to California", Howlin' Wolf's "California Boogie" and "Out In California" by Lawyer Houston:

Well I'm going out on Central
Going to get me a room at the hotel Dunbar
And then I'm going out to Hollywood to become a movie star

"Way out in California, that's where I long to be" sings Walter Davis in "Strange Land Blues." Roy Hawkins cut the doomy "Strange Land" in 1948 and updated it 1961.

We spin three tracks from the series Blues & Gospel Kings which spotlight early blues and gospel from King records. There are four volumes in the series spanning the years 1945 through 1952. Founded by Syd Nathan in 1943, King Records was one of the most influential independent labels of the 1940s and 1950s. By the end of the latter decade, it had become the nation's sixth largest record company. The label originally specialized in country music and." King advertised, "If it's a King, It's a Hillbilly – If it's a Hillbilly, it's a King." The company also had a "race records" label, Queen Records (which was melded into the King label within a year or two) and most notably (starting in 1950) Federal Records which launched the singing career of James Brown. In the 1950s, this side of the business outpaced the hillbilly recordings.

We also feature tracks from west coast record man John Dolphin and King Records. The legendary John Dolphin, also known as Lovin’ John, was one of the first and most well respected, black business man who made his way in the music business of Los Angeles in the 1940s and 50s. Dolphin first entered the music business as a retailer where in 1948, when he opened Dolphin’s of Hollywood, a record store on Vernon Avenue that would stay open 24 hours a day.The store featured deejays broadcasting on the local station of KRKD, in front of the huge, glass window. In 1950, John Dolphin mounted his own label, Recorded In Hollywood, eventually selling the label to Decca. Dolphin launched follow-up labels including Lucky, Money and Cash. In 1958 Dolphin was shot and killed by a disgruntled songwriter. The Ace label has issued two volumes of recordings made by Dolphin: On With The Jive! 1950s R&B From Dolphin's Of Hollywood Vol. 1 and Toast Of The Coast: 1950s R&B From Dolphin's Of Hollywood Vol. 2.

Mabel Hillery
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We play a set of guitar heavy hitters today, most from some recent reissues. The track by Wild Jimmy Spruill comes from a great 2-CD set, Scratchin’: The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story. After arriving in New York in 1955 Spruill went on to play guitar on a staggering number of records notably for Bobby and Danny Robinson’s group of labels, including Fire, Fury, Enjoy, Everlast and Vim. He also cut some terrific sides under his own name. Our Pee wee Crayton cut comes from Texas Blues Jumpin' In Los Angeles: The Modern Music Sessions 1948-51, the third CD on the Ace label of Crayton's Modern sides. "Long Way From Home" by Guitar Gable comes from another recent Ace reissue, Rhythm 'n' Bluesin' By The Bayou: Mad Dogs, Sweet Daddies & Pretty Babies the tenth volume in the “By The Bayou” series, pulling sides from the  vaults of J.D. Miller’s Crowley studio.

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Interview Pt. 1Jeff Place
Leadbelly Black GirlThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly Been So Long (Bellevue Hospital Blues) The Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 2Jeff Place
Leadbelly Irene (Goodnight Irene)The Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly CottonfieldsThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 3Jeff Place
Leadbelly Fannin StreetThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 4Jeff Pace
Leadbelly Noted RiderThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 5Jeff Place
Leadbelly Silver City BoundThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly One Dime BluesThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly & The Golden Gate Quartet Alabama BoundAlabama Bound
Interview Pt. 6Jeff Place
LeadbellyWNYC- Folk Songs of America ProgramThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 7Jeff Pace
LeadbellyRock Island LineThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
LeadbellyShorty GeorgeLeadbelly: The Remaining LOCR Vol. 3 1935
Interview Pt. 8Jeff Place
Leadbelly The TitanicThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly Jim Crow BluesThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly The Bourgeois BluesThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 9Jeff Place
Leadbelly & Josh WhiteMother's Blues (Little Children Blues)Leadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-49
LeadbellyDiggin' My PotatoesThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 10Jeff Place
Leadbelly I'm On My Last Go-RoundLeadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-49)
Leadbelly Don't You Love Your Daddy No More Leadbelly & Josh White (Reamaining Titles) 1937-1946
Leadbelly When a Man's a Long Way from HomeLeadbelly Vol. 5 1944-1946

Show Notes:

Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways CollectionToday's program is our first show devoted to Lead Belly who I haven't played all that much on the show over the years. I remember picking up my first Leadbelly album back in High School. It was a self-titled album on Columbia collecting some of his 1930's blues sides. For whatever reason the album didn't make much of an impression on me. It was only years later, after picking some of the collections on Document that I got a better appreciation of the sheer breadth of his repertoire and talent. Today's show is inspired by a recent 5-CD box set on the Smithsonian Folkways label, The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, that serves as an excellent career retrospective and has an informative booklet with essays by Robert Santelli and Jeff Place. We play a number of tracks from the box set plus chat with producer Jeff Place, who I spoke with a couple of weeks back.

Lead Belly's recording career began with recordings made in 1933 by John and Alan Lomax at Angola prison and after his release from prison he recorded prolifically right up until his death in 1949. Lead Belly never had much success among black audiences, his commercial blues recordings did not sell, but he found success among the folk music audience. He became a fixture in New York City's folk music scene befriending and performing with Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Woody Guthrie, and a young Pete Seeger. Lead Belly was also the first blues musician to see success in Europe when he traveled there in 1949. He died later that year in New York City.

As Robert Santelli writes in the notes: "Lead Belly was a man of contradiction and complexity. It was hard to truly know him, said the people who tried, and it was next to impossible to place him in a particular music style or form and have him remain there for long. He was a folk musician who also played the blues. He knew his share of work songs and field hollers, having sung them while picking cotton and doing farm chores. He learned prison songs while incarcerated, and he sang them like a man who had seen life’s underbelly. Spirituals and gospel tunes came naturally to him. He gave new life to old ballads whose origins were buried in the past. He could sing children’s songs when kids were present. And at house parties and local fish fries, if someone wanted to hear a few standards or a pop hit of the day, he could sing and play them too. Lead Belly moved through American music genres and song circles naturally and effortlessly, never seeing the boundaries and categories that were created for commodity’s sake by men with bow ties and clean suits. He was the very definition of a 'songster,' an old-time, old-school human jukebox of a performer and recording artist who never quite realized just what an American music treasure he had become in his life."
LeadBelly
Huddie Ledbetter was born January 15, 1888, in the Caddo Lake District near Mooringsport in the northwest corner of Louisiana, near the Texas and Arkansas lines. Two of Huddie’s uncles, Bob and Terrell, were musicians and introduced him to new songs. His uncle Terrell gifted him a small accordion when was seven years old. He would acquire a guitar around 1903. Huddie had become adept at all sorts of musical styles, and found that he could pick up a few extra cents playing at local country dances, or “sukey jumps." By the time Huddie left Mooringsport in 1906, he had fathered two children out of wedlock and had a bad reputation locally. After some rambling to New Orleans and other places, he landed in Shreveport. Along the way he had learned all types of songs, including popular songs of the early 1900s. Around 1910, a now-married Huddie moved to Dallas, Texas. According to Charles K. Wolfe and Kip Lornell in The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly: "Sometime during his wanderings – probably late in 1910, when he was living near Dallas – Huddie acquired his first twelve-string guitar." Leadbelly told may tales of how he picked up the instrument. One of the less fanciful stories is recounted in the book: 'I saw one of those old 12-string Stellas sitting in the window of a Dallas store. The year before I heard a man play it in one of those traveling medicine shows where they sold a cure-all for fifty cent a a bottle.' Captivated by the loud, ringing sound of the instrument, Leadbelly  had spent the rest of the night hanging around the medicine show tent listening to the man play. Shortly, thereafter, when he finally saw one of the twelve-strings for sale; 'the price of the guitar was $12', he recalled, 'I had to have it.'" In 1912, he met and started playing as a duo with Blind Lemon Jefferson who in the 1920's would become one of the best-selling blues artists in the country.

In June 1915, Huddie was involved in an altercation and was sentenced to 30 days on a chain gang. Huddie escaped and fled to New Orleans, and then back to Mooringsport. He could not stay there, and so, traveling with his wife, he began going by the name Walter Boyd and went to live with relatives in DeKalb, Texas. In December 1917, Lead Belly found himself in a confrontation, a gun was fired, and Will Stafford lay dead. 78-rpm-rare-blues-leadbelly-record-alabama-bound-on-hmv-mh-160-must-see-ee_5789957Huddie claimed it was self-defense but was sentenced to between 7 and 30 years in a Texas prison. He began at the Shaw State Prison and later was transferred to the notorious Sugarland Prison. He was released in 1925.

He would be free for just five years; in 1930 another fight landed him in Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison for six to ten. Lead Belly became known around the prison for his singing and guitar playing. John and Alan Lomax arrived at Angola on July 16. Lead Belly was suggested to them as a good singer to record, and they realized they had really made a “find.” The Lomaxes made 12 recordings and returned the following July to record 15 more songs. He had a special one prepared, “Governor O.K. Allen.” He asked if John Lomax would deliver a recording of the song to Allen’s office. Lead Belly had previously written asking for a pardon as well. It is not known whether Allen listened to the song, but Lead Belly was officially granted a pardon on July 25, 1934.

He returned to Shreveport and began to lobby John Lomax for a job. Alan was suffering from an illness, and John needed a driver. In the fall, performing this role, Lead Belly took off with them on a recording trip. He would sometimes warm up the prisoners by singing his songs and showing them the kinds of things Lomax wanted. Lomax was anxious to present his new discovery to a meeting of the Modern Language Association in Philadelphia, which launched the flurry of sensationalism that accompanied Lead Belly’s arrival on the scene. Finally it was the big move to New York. In 1935, the Lomaxes had lobbied for Lead Belly to sign a recording contract with the American Recording Corporation (ARC). Of the 43 songs Lead Belly recorded for ARC, only six saw the light of day.

In breadth and number, the greatest collection of songs Lead Belly ever recorded were the hundreds he did for the Library of Congress. The two Lomaxes were acting as his managers and took two thirds of the cut. Eventually there was a falling out and Leadbelly moved to Shreveport then Dallas. He eventually decided to give New York City another try. During the same time period, Lead Belly was being introduced to singers in New York who came from a strong protest song background. In April 1939, Lead Belly recorded a session for the small Musicraft Records and the following year for the Library of Congress. Throughout 1941 and early 1942, Lead Belly had a weekly show on WNYC’s The American School of the Air called Folk Songs of America. He also made recordings for RCA in 1940, some backed by the Golden Gate Quartet.

The commercial labels that recorded Lead Belly didn’t know how to market his music. For better or worse, Lead Belly’s strongest audience turned out to be the music fans involved in the folk revival, mainly in New York. City. Around this time Leadbelly Leadbelly Columbia Albumbegan recording for Moe Asch and his Asch label. Lead Belly recorded mainly for Asch for the rest of his life. In 1945, Asch Records went out of business and was followed by Asch’s second label, Disc Recordings of America. Lead Belly continued to record for Disc. During that time and for years to come Lead Belly’s apartment at 414 East 10th Street was a hub of musical activity. His niece Tiny Robinson remembers “it being like a friendly hotel that would receive musical guests like Sonny and Brownie, Bill Broonzy, Burl Ives, Eartha Kitt, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Harry Belafonte."

In 1948 Lead Belly was recorded extensively  by Fredric Ramsey. These sides were eventually released by Smithsonian Folkways as a 4-CD set titled Lead Belly's Last Sessions. In the late 1940's, Lead Belly began to feel something was physically wrong. In 1948, at a show in Paris during his trip to Europe, he found he could not continue playing his guitar. He was taken to a Parisian doctor who diagnosed Leadbelly with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He died in New York at Bellevue Hospital a little over a year later on December 5, 1949.

Over the next few years, a series of memorial LP's honoring Lead Belly were released by both the new Folkways label and Stinson Records, and many of Lead Belly’s numerous friends took part in memorial concerts. The band the Weavers, featuring Pete Seeger, celebrated Lead Belly’s music on stage, recording “Rock Island Line,” “Silvy,” and “Goodnight Irene” (among others). "Goodnight Irene” became a huge hit in 1950.

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Little Brother Montgomery Louisiana Blues Little Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Little Brother Montgomery Out West Blues Little Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Little Brother Montgomery Walking Basses/Dud Low Joe/FirstVicksburg Blues Conversation With The Blues
Little Brother Montgomery The 44 (Vicksburg) Blues Deep South Piano (Storyville)
Little Brother Montgomery Hesitatin' Blues Deep South Piano (Storyville)
Little Brother Montgomery Bob Martin Blues Deep South Piano (Storyville)
Little Brother Montgomery I Keep DrinkingAmerican Folk Blues Festival '66
Little Brother Montgomery Something Keeps Worrying Me Tasty Blues
Little Brother Montgomery Michigan Water Blues Chicago: The Living Legends
Adam CatoOld Barrelhouse BluesDeep South Piano (Agram)
Little Brother Montgomery Dudlow Joe Deep South Piano (Agram)
Little Brother Montgomery West Texas Blues Little Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Little Brother Montgomery Crescent City Blues Little Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Little Brother Montgomery I Don't Feel Welcome Here (Stingaree Blues)Farro Street Jive
Little Brother Montgomery L&N Boogie Blues
Little Brother Montgomery Mama, You Don't Mean No Good I Blueskvarter Vol. 2
Little Brother Montgomery InterviewI Blueskvarter Vol. 2
Little Brother Montgomery Pleadin' Blues Rare Blues
Little Brother Montgomery Talkin' BoogieAtlantic Blues: Piano
Little Brother Montgomery Cow Cow Blues Little Brother Montgomery: Vocal Accompaniments & Early Post-War Recordings 1930-1954
Irene Scruggs Must Get Mine in Front Little Brother Montgomery: Vocal Accompaniments & Early Post-War Recordings 1930-1954
Annie TurnerWorkkhouse BluesLittle Brother Montgomery: Vocal Accompaniments & Early Post-War Recordings 1930-1954
Little Brother Montgomery Farish Street JiveLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Little Brother Montgomery Loomis Gibson Blues Deep South Piano (Agram)
Roosevelt SykesThe Way I Feel BuesDeep South Piano (Agram)
Little Brother Montgomery Woman That I LoveLittle Brother Montgomery: Vocal Accompaniments & Early Post-War Recordings 1930-1954
Little Brother Montgomery A&B Blues Little Brother Montgomery: Vocal Accompaniments & Early Post-War Recordings 1930-1954
Little Brother Montgomery No Special Rider Blues Blues Piano Orgy
Little Brother Montgomery Cooney Vaughn's Tremblin' BluesDeep South Piano (Storyville)
Little Brother Montgomery Up The Country BluesBajez Copper Station

Show Notes:

Deep South PianoLittle Brother Montgomery ranks among the greatest blues pianists of the 20th century who had unusually long and prolific career. Montgomery's biographer, Karl Gert zur Heide, called Montgomery "probably the greatest all-round piano player of his time in the Deep South." He was born in 1906, passed away in the early 1980's and began his recording career in 1930. Like his contemporary, Roosevelt Sykes, both men chose to record their versions of “44 blues” at their debut sessions; Sykes cutting it first in 1929 as "Forty- Four Blues" and following year by Montgomery as “Vicksburg Blues.” Montgomery recorded steadily through the decades although never became a star like his contemporary, Sykes who cut hundreds of commercial sides for the black record buying public. Montgomery was recorded much more sparingly, cutting some two-dozen sides in the 30's, without a doubt his greatest recordings, barely recorded in the 40's and 50's but saw ample recording opportunities starting with the blues revival of the 1960's and continuing through the 1970's.

This is our second show devoted to Montgomery, with the first also spotlighting Roosevelt Sykes. Today's show was inspired by the recent 3-CD set on the Agram label, Deep South Piano: The Music of Little Brother Montgomery, his Family, Friends and Peers.  These recordings stem from a trip to  the United States by Karl Gert zur Heide in 1968 and 1972 to seek out piano blues players. During that trip he recorded Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, Sweet Williams, Lafayette Leake, Roosevelt Sykes and others. This collection serves as a belated companion to Heide's long-out-of-print book, Deep South Piano: The Story of Little Brother Montgomery which came out in 1970 (I recently tracked down a copy of this fascinating book). Today's show is inspired by another album I've been listening to quite a bit lately, also titled Deep South Piano and cut for the Storyville label in 1972. The more I listen to this record the more I feel this is one of his finest; perfectly recorded, the album finds Montgomery at his peak and in a nostalgic mood as he remembers those piano men who influenced him but never record on such songs as "Willie Anderson's Blues", "Vanado Anderson Blues", "Bob Martin Blues", "Cooney Vaughn's Tremblin' Blues", "Miles Davis Blues" and an extended reworking of his classic, "The 44 (Vicksburg) Blues." Montgomery knew a staggering number of piano players and absorbed a vast musical knowledge from them. Indeed, Montgomery knew a huge number of songs although he had a smaller number of favorites he recorded often throughout the years.

Crescent City Blues
Farrish Street Jive

Eurreal Montgomery was the fifth of ten children, born to Harper and Dicy Montgomery. The family home was in Kentwood, Louisiana where Harper ran a honky-tonk where logging workers gathered on weekends to drink, dance, gamble and listen to music. Most all of the Montgomerys were musical. Harper played clarinet, and Dicy played accordion and organ. Eurreal’s brothers and sisters all learned to play piano to one degree or another. Little Brother taught himself to play simple "three finger blues", as he called them, on a piano his father bought the family. From then on," he told his biographer Karl Gert zur Heide, "I just created simple things on my own until later I got large enough and went to hear older people play.… like Rip Top, Loomis Gibson, Papa Lord God." Montgomery had plenty of opportunity to hear older musicians. Most of them passed regularly through Kentwood and played at his father’s honky-tonk. Eventually, he told Heide,  "…I ran away from home at about the age of eleven and played piano for a living."

Little Brother, along with a group of other players, developed a piano piece that was unlike any other, and they revelled not only in its originality, but also in its sheer difficulty. He described it as “the hardest barrelhouse of any blues in history to play because you have to keep two different times going in each hand”. This remarkable composition developed over a period of years and was inevitably picked up by other players. One of these (“a feller… (who) always used to be hangin’ around us tryin’ to get in on it”) was Lee Green. Later, in St.Louis, Green would teach it to Roosevelt Sykes, who in turn, was the first to put it on a record, for Okeh in New York in 1929, under the title "44 Blues."

Montgomery played his way through Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. He eventually moved to New Orleans. In the mid-1920's, Montgomery toured Louisiana with a variety of bands, his own and others. In 1928, Montgomery was hired by Clarence Desdune’s Dixieland Revelers, a dance band. At the end of 1928, Montgomery quit the Revelers and moved up to Chicago. He made a name for himself playing rent parties—house parties put on in black neighborhoods to raise money to pay the rent. As Heide writes: "It seems impossible to lay down a reliable chronology of Brother's movements in he mid-1920s. He traveled extensively in the areas round Louisiana and Mississippi… He probably bought his first car when he was eighteen years old. Thus he could traverse the country playing 'one-nighters.'"

In late 1930, Montgomery accompanied Minnie Hicks and on two songs, Irene Scruggs on four and recorded “No Special Rider blues” and "Vicksburg Blues" for Paramount. The latter song was one of the most popular blues of its day, widely imitated by bluesmen. In 1931 he cut one 78 for Melotone, "Louisiana Blues b/w Frisco Hi-Ball"and cut two 78's for Bluebird in 1935. His next recording opportunity was in October 1936 in New Orleans where he waxed a remarkable 18 song session. He also backed fifteen year old singer Annie Turner on four numbers. The recordings Montgomery laid down were undoubtedly the pinnacle of Deep South Piano Bookhis career, an astonishing profusion of piano technique, originality and depth of feeling that mark these as one of the finest bodies of piano blues recorded in the era. As Chris Smith writes he was "adept at blues, jazz, stride, boogie and pop which he synthesized into a personal style that ranged easily from the bopping earthiness of "Frisco Hi-Ball" to the pearl-stringing elegance of "Shreveport Farewell." His high voice and bleating vibrato are unmistakable, especially on his signature piece, "Vicksburg Blues", a polyrhythmic  showcase for his acute but never pedantic timing. it's also an example of Brother's poetry of geography; many of his songs, and even the titles of his instrumentals, are rich evocations of places he knew and the railroads that carried him between them."

Around the time World War II started Montgomery moved north to Chicago where he remained for the rest of his career. After the war, he began playing "old-time jazz" with musicians such as Baby Dodds and Lonnie Johnson. In 1948, he took part in a Carnegie Hall reunion concert by the Kid Ory Band and He played the Chicago club circuit regularly. Montgomery, like many others, saw himself as more than just a bluesman. From quite early on, too, Montgomery had played in jazz bands, and based in New Orleans in the 1920's, he worked with many of the great musicians in that city. It was in a jazz band that he would appear on his first issued recordings of the post-war era, together with New Orleans musicians Lee Collins (trumpet) and Oliver Alcorn (sax) and a Chicago rhythm section, in 1947 for Century. Also from the 1940's were unissued sides for Savoy in 1949.

In the 1950's there was sporadic recording activity, even if there were few issued records to show for it at the time: a 1951 session for Atlantic with drummer Frank ‘Sweet’ Williams, two 1953 sides for JOB and two sessions in 1954 and 1956 only four tracks were issued, on a ten-inch LP on the Winding Ball label and five rare sides cut for the Chicago label, Ebony, in 1956.

As electric post-war blues took hold in Chicago, Montgomery was an active session musician. He toured briefly with Otis Rush in 1956. His fame grew in the 1960's, and he continued to make many recordings. He appeared on some of the influential mid-fifties record made by Otis Rush, and played piano on one of Buddy Guy’s first big hits, his 1960 remake of Montgomery’s "First Time I Met The Blues."

Deep South Piano
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As momentum to Montgomery’s career picked up in the 60's and he became a world traveler, visiting the UK and Europe on several occasions during the 1960's, cutting several albums there, while remaining based in Chicago. He cut some excellent albums during this period including Tasty Blues for Bluesville featuring sympathetic support from guitarist Lafayette Thomas, two exceptional records for Folkways (Blues and Farro Street Jive), the aforementioned Storyville album, a fine live recording in Amsterdam (Bajez Copper Station) plus band recordings with Edith Wilson and the State Street Ramblers (He May Be Your Man… But He Comes To See Me Sometime!), an album with the State Street Swingers (Goodbye Mr. Blues), recordings made for his own FM label among several others. Other notable recordings were made in 1964 for the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation (I Blueskvarter Vol. 2) and in 1960 when Montgomery visited England where he was recorded extensively by piano expert Francis Wilford Smith (issued on Magpie as These Are What I Like: Unissued Recordings Vol. 1 and Those I Liked I Learned: Unissued Recordings Vol. 2.). He continued performing and recording practically right up to his death on September 6, 1985 of congestive heart failure.

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Just a quick note that on our 3/15 show I will have my friend and bluesman Steve Grills down in the studio to help out on the pledge drive. Steve will be bring down some records to spin and I'll bring down some  as well. There will be no show notes for this show.

The Jazz90.1 spring membership campaign is underway with a goal of $50,000 to keep the great jazz, blues and specialty programs on the air. If you're a listener of the show please help support us if you can. You can call at 966-JAZZ, 966-5299 or toll-free 1-800 -790-0415. You can also pledge online by clicking here.

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