West Coast Blues

Thunder SmithSanta-Fe Blues Texas Blues (Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings)
Thunder SmithLow Down Dirty Ways Lightnin' Special Vol. 2
Thunder SmithCan't Do Like You Used To Lightnin' Special Vol. 2
L.C. WilliamsStrike BluesTexas Blues (Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings)
L.C. WilliamsYou'll Never Miss the WaterTexas Blues (Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings)
L.C. WilliamsFannie MaeLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Manny NicholsWalking Talking BluesDown Home Blues Classics: Texas
Manny NicholsNo One to Love MeDown Home Blues Classics: Texas
Manny NicholsForgive Me Down Home Blues Classics: Texas
Ernest Lewis In My Girlish DaysDown Home Blues Classics: Texas
Ernest Lewis West Coast Blues Down Home Blues Classics: Texas
Ernest Lewis No More Lovin' Down Home Blues Classics: Texas
Little Son WillisSkin And BoneLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Little Son WillisNothing But The Blues Lightnin' Special Vol. 2
Little Son WillisBad Luck And Trouble Lightnin' Special Vol. 2
Thunder Smith Big Stars Are Falling Texas Blues (Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings)
Thunder SmithCruel Hearted Woman Lightnin' Special Vol. 2
Thunder SmithLittle Mama Boogie Lightnin' Special Vol. 2
L.C. WilliamsThe Lazy JLightnin' Special Vol. 2
L.C. WilliamsHole in the WallTexas Blues (Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings)
L.C. WilliamsBoogie All the Time Texas Blues (Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings)
Luther StonehamJanuary 11, 1949 BluesDown Home Blues Classics: Texas
Luther StonehamSittin' Here Wonderin' Down Home Blues Classics: Texas
James TisdomWinehead swingHollywood Blues
James TisdomThrow This Dog A Bone Down Home Blues Classics: Texas
J.D. EdwardsPlayboy BluesLightnin' Special Vol. 2
J.D. EdwardsHobo Lightnin' Special Vol. 2
Perry Cain All The Way From TexasTexas Blues (Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings)
Andy ThomasAngel ChildDown Home Blues Classics: Texas
Andy ThomasI Love My BabyTexas Country Blues 1948-1951
Sunny JamesPlease Mam Forgive Me Texas Country Blues 1948-1951
Sunny JamesExcuse Me Baby Texas Country Blues 1948-1951
Thunder SmithL.A. BluesCalifornia Blues 1940-1948
L.C. Williams Don't Like To Travel The Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story

Show Notes:

Big Stars Are FallingToday's show s a belated sequel to a series of shows we aired several years back spotlighting some fine West Coast artists that I wanted to feature in more depth. All of today's artists are from Texas, cutting sides for the myriad labels that popped up in Texas and California in the immediate port-war era. All of today's sides were recorded between 1946 and 1953 for small  labels that loom large in blues history such as Gold Star, Freedom, Elko, Swingtime  and Sittin' In With as well as bigger outfits like Aladdin, Imperial and Mercury. The shadow of Lightnin' Hokpkins looms large over these artists, both in style and association, although none garnered the success that Lightnin' would. Hopkins' makes appearances  on sides by Thunder Smith and L.C. Williams. In addition to recording on some of the same labels, some of today's artists intermingled musically such as guitarist Luther Stoneham who can be heard on records by Thunder Smith, Andy Thomas and Sunny James, Thunder Smith who also backed the latter two artists and Ernest Lewis who worked with Little Son Willis. Other artists featured today include Manny Nichols, Ernest Lewis, Little Son Willis, James Tisdom, J.D. Edwards and Perry Cain.

Married to a dentist, Lola Ann Cullum was instrumental in giving Lightning Hopkins his first opportunity as a recording artist for Aladdin Records. Born in Waimer, Texas,she was always interested in blues and knew a good thing when she saw it, in Lightning's case working on Dowling Street with singer Texas Alexander. The plan was to take the pair to Los Angeles, along with pianist Wilson' Thunder' Smith, to record for Aladdin. In the event, Mrs Cullum became wary of Texas Alexander and just took the other two west to California. There, it was she who christened Smith 'Thunder' for the loudness of his playing and Hopkins 'Lightning' for his proficiency as a guitarist her mind, Smith would be the star but turned out otherwise.

Thunder Smith plays piano behind Hopkins on his first two sessions for Aladdin in 1946 and 1947, never achieving the success that Hopkins did. Hopkins backed Smith on a four song session for Aladdin in 1946 with Smith cutting one session apiece in 1947 for Gold Star and in 1948 for Down Town. He reportedly died in Houston in 1965.

Luther Stoneham was born in Phelps, TX. on September 28, 1913. Relocating to Houston later he backed pianist Wilson "Thunder" Smith in 1947 for Gold Star Records. The next year he backed Andrew "Andy" Thomas & Sunny James on recordings and returned again as a sideman to Thunder Smith on discs for Down Town where he assumed the pseudonym of "Rockie". 1949 saw his last tracks as a sideman, playing on twJanuary 11, 1949 Blueso sides with Thomas on the tiny Swing With The Stars label, where he was billed as Luther Stoner. In 1951, he waxed three sides for Mercury under his own name, with one being unissued. Stoneham passed away in Houston on February 25, 1973.

L.C. Williams was a singer/tap dancer who also occasionally drummed behind Hopkins. He arrived in Houston in 1945 and was one of the many characters who hung around in Lightning’s orbit sitting on stoops drinking beer and wine, shooting the breeze with passers-by. He made his first record in 1947 for with Hopkins on piano and guitar. Hopkins plays guitar on a four-song session for Gold Star in 1948 with Williams making some final sides for Eddie’s and Freedom between 1948-1950. He died in Houston of TB in 1960.

Sometime in 1949, Manny Nichols cut just one session at Houston's ACA studios, initially for the tiny FBC label, located in Rosenberg, Texas, some fifty miles south-west of Houston. In the event,only "Walking Talking Blues" and "Tall Skinny Mama Blues" were released, although an acetate of "Walkin' Blues" and "Forgive Me Baby" also survived. The other four titles were sold to Imperial, who subsequently released them as two singles. Nichols was located in the 1970s, living on a farm in Victoria, Texas; a photograph appeared on an Arhoolie album cover but if he was interviewed at the time, nothing has appeared in print.

Ernest Lewis cut nine sides between 1949-1953 for several small labels, first in Texas and then in California. He also may have recorded as West Texas Slim. He backed Little Son Willis on two of his recordings.

Malcolm Willis was a blues singer and pianist from Fort Worth, TX. At sometime in his youth he made the trek to California to join the West Coast blues scene. He cut his first disc for J.R. Fullbright's Elko label in Los Angeles, CA. in 1951. In 1952 and 1953 he recorded eight more numbers for the Swingtime label billed as Little Son Willis. Willis owns a strong debt to the popular Doctor Clayton.

James Tisdom was born in Texas c. 1912. He seemed to live most of his life moving around from Corpus Christi to the Rio Grande valley. Tisdom never saw the inside of a Dallas or Houston recording studio, but he did travel to California to record three 78's. In 1950 he cut another single in San Benito, TX. for Original. The recordings were believed to be forever lost until a copy turned up four decades later. Tisdom also made recordings for Ideal in South Texas in 1951, but they were shelved since the label specialized in Hispanic music. The acetates were found in the 1990's by Arhoolie Records. Tisdom was known to have been residing and farming in Goliad, TX. in 1967.

GI Feel So Gooduitarist and singer Perry Cain was born in Waverly, TX in 1925 and was very active in the Houston blues scene during the late 1940's and 1950's, recording a number of singles in which pianist Buster Pickens shines throughout. During the 1960's, Perry was a noted DJ at KCOH's Houston. He died 24 April 1975 at his Houston's home.

Andrew Thomas may or not have been from Houston. He recorded two 78's for Bill Quinn's Gold Star label billed as Andy Thomas in 1948 and 1949. Later in '49 Quinn recorded two more songs by him, but instead of issuing them on his label, he leased the sides to a record label in Paris, Texas. Thomas was never heard from again.

Little is known about Sunny James, who was around 18 years old at the time of his first recordings in 1948. He had one follow up 78 for Sittin' In With in 1951, recording as Jesse James. He is believed to have died sometime in the early to mid 1950's. He is not to be confused with Jesse James who recorded for Decca in the 1930's.


Lionel Hampton With Illinois Jacquet Flying HomeFlying Home
Duke Henderson w/ Wild Bill Moore Boogie Man BluesGet Your Kicks
Big Jay McNeelyCalifornia Hop Big Jay McNeely 1948-1950
Joe Liggins The HoneydripperJoe Liggins & the Honeydrippers
Little Willie JacksonThere'll Be Some Changes Made Jazz Me Blues
Joe Liggins Little Joe's Boogie Joe Liggins & the Honeydrippers
Jim Wynn West Coast LoverJim Wynn 1947-1959
Jim Wynn Wynn's BoogieJim Wynn 1945-1946
Buddy BanksBank's Boogie Buddy Banks 1945-1949
Buddy BanksFluffy's DebutBuddy Banks 1945-1949
Jack McVea Inflation BluesJack McVea: With Alton Redd and George Vann
Jack McVea Fightin' Mama Blues Jack McVea: With Alton Redd and George Vann
Jack McVea WinoJack McVea: With Alton Redd and George Vann
Big Joe Turner w/ Wild Bill Moore My Gal's A Jockey Have No Fear Big Joe Turner Is Here
Wild Bill Moore Rock 'N' Roll Let Me Tell You About The Blues; West Coast
Joe Houston Jay's Boogie Rockin' 'n' Boppin'
Chuck Higgins Motor Head Baby Blows His Wig
Chuck Higgins Wet Back Hop Honk! Honk! Honk!
Chuck Higgins Big Fat Mama Pachuko Hop
Johnny Otis w/ Big Jay McNeelyBarrelhouse Stomp Johnny Otis 1945-1947
Big Jay McNeely Roadhouse BoogieBig Jay McNeely
Jimmy Liggins & His Drops Of Joy Teardrop BluesJimmy Liggins and His Drops of Joy
Jimmy Liggins & His Drops Of Joy Cadillac BoogieJimmy Liggins and His Drops of Joy
King Perry King Perry BluesKing Perry 1945-1949
King Perry Going To California Blues King Perry 1945-1949
King Perry Everything's Gonna Be Alright King Perry 1950-1954
Little Willie Littlefield Happy Pay DayKat On The Keys
James Von StreeterChitlins Jumpin' the Blues
Joe Lutcher No Name Boogie Joe Lutcher 1947
Joe Lutcher Rockin' Boogie Joe Lutcher 1947
Joe Lutcher Joe Joe Jump Joe Lutcher 1947
Joe Houston All Night LongHonk! Honk! Honk!
Joe Houston Joe's Hot HouseRockin' at the Drive-In
Big Jay McNeely Nervous Man Nervous Big Jay McNeely 1953-1955

Show Notes:

Big Jay McNeely, Los Angeles, 1951


Today's show is a sequel to our tribute to L.A. sax blower/arranger Maxwell Davis who we spotlighted several weeks back. By the 1940's the saxophone was a well established and very popular instrument in both classical and jazz music. As the 40's brought more musical styles like jump blues, rhythm and blues and rock and roll the instrument would play a major roll in the new sound. Illinois Jacquet was a very good swing jazz player and like many others he was drawn to the new sounds. He was only 19 years old when he worked with Lionel Hampton's band and recorded his famous solo on "Flying Home" that jump started the era of the honkin' saxophone. One person he inspired was Big Jay McNeely who took the honkin' over the edge and made a show of it… laying on his back, strolling into the crowds and walking on top of bars. As McNeely said of "Flying Home:" "Every time we picked up our horns we were just elaborating on that, trying to make it bigger, wilder, give it more swing, more kick. If you want to know where rhythm and blues began, that's it brother." This new sound of the 40's rhythm and blues produced many honkin' saxophone stars. Today we spotlight several L.A. based sax blowers including Big Jay McNeely, Joe Houston, Chuck Higgins, Buddy Banks, Jack McVea, Joe Lutcher, Little Willie Jackson, Wild Bill Moore and others.

Cecil McNeely grew up in Los Angeles, where jazz reigned on Watts' bustling nightlife strip. Inspired by Illinois Jacquet and tutored by Jack McVea, McNeely struck up a friendship with Johnny Otis, co-owner of the popular Barrelhouse club. Ralph Bass, a friend of Otis, produced McNeely's debut date for Savoy Records in 1948. McNeely's raucous one-note honking on "The Deacon's Hop" gave him and Savoy an R&B chart-topper in 1949, and his follow-up, "Wild Wig," also hit big. From Savoy, McNeely moved to Exclusive in 1949, Imperial in 1950-1951, King's Federal subsidiary in 1952-1954 and Vee-Jay in 1955.

Wild Bill Moore was a honking tenor sax player, influenced by Chu Berry and Illinois Jacquet. He was first noticed in Chicago in 1944, the year he made his first recording with Christine Chatman (Decca). The next year he first recorded under his own name, for Apollo. He relocated to Los Angeles, where he gradually began to build a name for himself, recording with Jack McVea, Big Joe Turner, Helen Humes (Moore blows the solo on "Be-Baba-Leba"), Slim Gaillard, Dexter Gordon, and Wardell Gray.
Joe Houston Blows Crazy
Between 1943 and 1946, Joe Houston toured with King Kolax's band through Kansas City and Chicago and throughout the Mid-West. After World War II Houston returned to Texas, and recorded with the pianist Amos Milburn and singer Big Joe Turner. Initially playing alto sax, he switched to tenor in the wake of such "honking" saxophonists as Big Jay McNeely and others. Turner got Houston his first recording contract on Freedom Records in 1949. Houston moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and played with Betty Roche and Wynonie Harris. Eventually, Houston formed his own band The Rockets, and moved to Los Angeles in 1952. He scored his only two chart hit singles in 1952 with "Worry, Worry, Worry", and "Hard Time Baby." He recorded for many record labels, including Modern and Crown, and contributed vocals as well as saxophone on some of his records.

Chuck Higgins relocated from his birthplace of Gary, Indiana to Los Angeles in his teens. He penned the single "Pachuko Hop" (1952), which became popular among American Latinos on the West Coast. The "Pachuko Hop" single's B-side, "Motorhead Baby" featured vocals by Johnny "Guitar" Watson. He recorded for Aladdin Records, Caddy Records, Lucky Records, Specialty Records, and Dootone Records.

Born in Oklahoma, Jimmy Liggins moved to San Diego in 1932. He moved to Los Angeles in 1939 and played with various outfits. Liggins cut "The Honeydripper"for Leon René's Exclusive label which was an R&B chart-topper. Nine more hits followed on Exclusive over the next three years. In 1950, Joe joined his brother Jimmy at Specialty Records. More hits immediately followed: "Rag Mop," the number one R&B smash "Pink Champagne," "Little Joe's Boogie," and "Frankie Lee." During this period, the Honeydrippers prominently featured saxophonists Little Willie Jackson and James Jackson, Jr. Liggins stuck around Specialty into 1954, later turning up with solitary singles on Mercury and Aladdin. Little Willie Jackson cut some sides under his own name for the Bihari Brothers in 1947. Jackson's band was actually the Honeydrippers and Joe Liggins is believed to be featured on piano on several of these tracks. The Ace label has issued two-dozen of these sides on the CD Jazz Me Blues.

Inspired by the success of his brother Jimmy, Joe Liggins jumped into the recording field in 1947 on Art Rupe's Specialty logo. His "Tear Drop Blues" pierced the R&B Top Ten the next year, while "Careful Love" and "Don't Put Me Down" hit for him in 1949. His last his was "Drunk" in 1953. His roaring sax section at Specialty was populated by first-rate reedmen such as Harold Land, Charlie "Little Jazz" Ferguson, and Maxwell Davis. Liggins left Specialty in 1954, stopping off at Aladdin long enough to wax the classic-to-be "I Ain't Drunk" (much later covered by Albert Collins) before fading from the scene.

Jack McVea will always be most famous for his big hit "Open the Door, Richard." McVea mostly gigged in the Los Angeles area until joining Lionel Hampton in 1940 as a baritonist. He was with Hamp for three years and played with Snub Mosley, but McVea made a much stronger impression when he played on the first Jazz at the Philharmonic Concert. From 1944 on, McVea led his own group most of the time.

Chuck Higgins
Joe Lutcher

Buddy Banks played in Charlie Echols's band in Los Angeles from 1933 to 1937 and remained in the group after it was taken over by Claude Kennedy and then by Emerson Scott after Kennedy's death. The group then scored a gig at the Paradise Cafe, and Cee Pee Johnson became its leader; Banks played in Johnson's ensemble until 1945. Following this Banks led his own group. The ensemble played throughout southern California and recorded until 1949. Banks led a new group in 1950, but disbanded it quickly. In 1950 he began playing piano, and though he accompanied Fluffy Hunter on tenor saxophone in 1953, he spent most of the rest of his life on piano.

In 1945 King Perry went to Los Angeles, appearing in a show with Dorothy Donegan and Nat King Cole; while there he made his first recordings as a leader. He led a band called the Pied Pipers through the middle of the 1950s, making many records for labels such as Melodisc, United Artists, Excelsior, De Luxe, Specialty, Dot, RPM, Lucky, Unique, Look, and Hollywood during this period.

Taken as an infant to live in Los Angeles, Jim Wynn began he began playing piano and clarinet, switching to tenor sax in his early teens. By the mid 1930s, Wynn had formed his own band and was playing tenor sax at a Watts club called Little Harlem where he first met T-Bone Walker. Walker began sitting in with the Wynn band; the beginning of an association that was to last for over 17 years. Wynn, with his band made their first recordings in late 1945 for the 4Star and Gilt Edge Records, leaving to join the Bihari's Modern label the following year. The Wynn band recorded sporadically thereafter for Specialty, Supreme and Modern again, Peacock, Mercury and Recorded In Hollywood and Million recording a final single in 1959. By the late 1940s, Wynn's innovative performance style, involving dancing, stomping and other on-stage histrionics, was being widely copied by the next generation of L.A. tenor wild men and in an effort to maintain variety in his act he began playing the more cumbersome baritone saxophone. Wynn disbanded his regular combo in the mid 1950s', becoming an indispensable session saxophonist on many of the blues, r&b, pop and soul recordings commissioned by the myriad California independent labels through the late 1950's and 1960's. During the same period, Big Jim Wynn was also an integral part of Johnny Otis' big r&b revue band, a post he would maintain until the mid 1970's.

Joe Lutcher was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana and moved to Los Angeles joining his sister Nellie who had relocated there in the mid-1930s. He led the house band at the Look Café in Los Angeles, before relocating to the more prestigious Café Society, where his band were renamed The Society Cats. He also worked as a bandleader for Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr. and the Mills Brothers. In 1947 he was heard by Art Rupe, who signed him to his new record label, Specialty. However, Lutcher was unhappy with Rupe's request that he only record slow blues, and at the behest of his sister Nellie also recorded (as "Joe Lutcher's Jump Band") for Capitol Records. Lutcher's first hit was "Shuffle Woogie" on the Capitol label, which reached # 10 on the Billboard "Race Records" chart in March 1948. "Rockin' Boogie", on Specialty, reached # 14 in September 1948. In 1949 he signed with Modern Records, where he recorded his own composition, "Mardi Gras". Lutcher's version reached # 13 on the R&B chart, but the tune became better known in later modified versions by Professor Longhair and Fats Domino. He later recorded for Peacock Records in Houston, Texas, and for several smaller labels, but with diminishing success.


Maxwell Davis Bristol Drive Wailin' Daddy
Geechie Smith T-Town JumpWailin' Daddy
Helen Humes It's Better To Give Than ReceiveWailin' Daddy
Jo Jo AdamsWhen I'm In My Tea Jo Jo Adams 1946-1953
Clarence 'Gatemouth' BrownWithout My BabyWailin' Daddy
Effie SmithEffie's Boogie Wailin' Daddy
Maxwell Davis Belmont SpecialWailin' Daddy
Gene PhillipsRock BottomDrinkin' And Stinkin'
Lloyd GlennJumpin' With LloydWailin' Daddy
Betty Hall Jones The Same Old Boogie Wailin' Daddy
Little Miss CornshucksCornshuck's BluesWailin' Daddy
Jimmy LigginsHomecoming Blues Jimmy Liggins and His Drops of Joy
Jimmy WitherspoonMoney Eyes WomanJimmy Witherspoon 1947-1948
Big Joe TurnerRainy Weather BluesTell Me Pretty Baby
Maxwell Davis Boogie Cocktails Wailin' Daddy
Crown Prince WaterfordLove Awhile Wailin' Daddy
Felix GrossPeaceful Lovin' Wailin' Daddy
Amos MilburnI'm Gonna Tell My Mama The Complete Aladdin Recordings
Maxwell Davis Cool Diggin'Wailin' Daddy
Charles BrownSeven Long DaysThe Complete Aladdin Recordings
Joe LigginsGoing Back to New Orleans Wailin' Daddy
Percy MayfieldStrange Things HappeningPercy Mayfield 1947-1951
Peppermin Harris I Sure Do Miss My BabyI Got Loaded
Floyd Dixon Real Lovin' Mama Wailin' Daddy
Eddie JohnsonMr. Juice HeadWailin' Daddy
T-Bone WalkerAlimony BluesThe Complete Recordings of T-Bone Walker 1940-1954
Maxwell DavisThunderbirdWailin' Daddy
Little Willie Littlefield Real Fine MamaKat On The Keys
Mabel ScottWailin' DaddyWailin' Daddy
Calvin BozeBlow Man BlowJumpin' Like Mad
Ray Hawkins It's Hard Bad Luck Is Falling
Jimmy NelsonCry Hard LuckWailin' Daddy
Maxwell Davis Rocking With MaxieFather of West Coast R&B
Etta JamesCrazy FeelingThe Complete Modern and Kent Recordings 1955-1961
B.B. KingDark Is The NightThe Vintage Years

Show Notes:

Wailin' DaddyToday's show is inspired by Wailin' Daddy: The Best of Maxwell Davis 1945-1959 a great 3-CD compiled by Dave Penny for the Fantastic Voyage label a few years back. Several other sax themed shows will follow in upcoming weeks. Unsung hero is term often thrown around but in cases like Maxwell Davis it certainly fits. Outside of hardcore collectors he's little remembered today which I suppose is the fate of a musician who stayed largely in the background. Up until the Fantastic Voyage release he was not well served on reissues; there was the Ace release in the 80's, Father Of The West Coast R & B and Official issued Maxwell Davis and his Tenor Sax around the same time. Singles under his name were issued during his heyday, some released as a 10" in 1954, there were a couple of albums he did that paid homage to the big bands and the oddball 1966 album, Batman Theme (reissued in 2000 by BGP Records under the title Batman And Other Themes By Maxwell Davis). There has been little written about Davis as well, outside of a few Encyclopedia entries and it doesn't seem he was interviewed before his passing in 1970.

As legendary songwriter Jerry Leiber said: "I think Phil [Spector] made some good records, but I know a lot of people who made better records and more of them, and no one knows who they are! Maxwell Davis…I doubt if you’ve ever heard that name – but Maxwell Davis made records, he was the quiet producer/arranger for the Mesner brothers at Aladdin, the Bihari brothers at Modern and Art Rupe at Specialty. Maxwell Davis must have made a hundred hits, not 12 or 17. And nobody knows who Maxwell Davis is today!" Among those hits were Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love”, Joe Liggins’ “Pink Champagne”, Amos Milburn’s “Chicken Shack Boogie” and “Bad, Bad Whiskey” and Peppermint Harris' “I Got Loaded.” Davis' work as a saxophonist, bandleader, arranger and producer has earned him the title "Father of West Coast R&B." The labels with which Davis was associated represent a stunning role call of the major players in Post war R&B: legendary indies such as Aladdin/Philo, Modern/RPM, Imperial/Colony, King/Federal, Exclusive/Excelsior, Specialty, Down Beat/Swing Time and Black & White, as well as major labels like Capitol, Decca/Brunswick, Mercury and RCA Victor, and smaller operations like Supreme, Pacific, Miltone and Chesterfield. He can be heard on hundreds of records by artists such as Gatemouth Brown, Gene Phillips, Jimmy and Joe Liggins,  Amos Milburn, Charles Brown, Floyd Dixon, Etta James, B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Percy Mayfield and many, many others. Davis also cut some fine singles under his own name. Today's show focuses less on the well known songs, spotlighting more of the lesser known gems from Davis' vast catalog.

Maxwell Davis originally hailed from Independence, Kansas where he was born in 1916. By the age of twelve he was practicing hard on the saxophone having already tried the violin and piano. A few years later he had formed his own group and at the age of seventeen earned a berth in the territory band of Gene Coy. In 1937 he moved to Los Angeles and began working with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra before forming a small group for club gigs. As the war came to an end, the Los Angeles R&B scene boomed and Maxwell worked as a freelance musician and arranger for the numerous record companies which were springing up on the West Coast. Among his earliest sides on record are from 1945 where he backed artists like Helen Humes and Geechie Smith.

In 1948 he signed a contract with Aladdin Records which within a year became the top selling R&B label in the country. He recorded with Jo Jo Adams for Aladdin Records in 1946 on several numbers. Davis also recorded "Guitar In My Hands" and "Without Me baby" with Gatemouth Brown for Aladdin. Davis begins the year 1950 on the Swing Time Records label backing artists such as Felix Gross, Big Speed McDaniel, Lowell Father of West Coast R&BFulson and others. In January of 1951 Modern Records releases a Maxwell Davis record from the masters of Swing Time, the tunes "Belmont Special" and "Boogie Cocktails." In August of the year Peppermint Harris records with Maxwell Davis & His All Stars cutting "I Got Loaded" and "It's You Yes It's You" on Aladdin. "Loaded" became a huge hit and Davis became in high demand as a music arranger and session musician. During this time Modern records issued another two tunes under Davis' name:"Bristol Drive" and "Resistor."

In 1952 several Davis singles were released by Aladdinincluding "Glory Of Love" and "Blue Tango" and "Blue Shuffle" and "Popsicle." In October Swing Time released "Little White Lies" and "Don't Worry About Me." In 1955 Davis left Aladdin Records after almost five years and moved to Modern Records becoming musical director. In December 1952 Davis waxed two instrumentals,"Thunderbird" and "Bluesville" on Modern's RPM subsidiary.

As John Broven wrote in his book Record Makers and Breakers: "By now, Maxwell Davis was in charge of the Modern sessions and, with a coterie of high-caliber musicians, was giving the productions an indelible stamp of class. His arrangements owed much to the swing-band era sounds of Fletcher Henderson (for whom he played tenor saxophone), Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, and Artie Shaw. Recalled Joe Bihari, 'Maxwell had been in Florida where Louis Jordan had lost his book of songs, all his arrangements. So Louis called Maxwell to rearrange all his songs. When he came back, somebody rammed Maxwell’s car head-on. He was okay, but he was in [the] hospital for a while . . . not good for a black man in Georgia. It wasn’t his fault; he was all cut up. He needed a job, and that’s when I hired Maxwell. We had used him before. He did the arrangements for Gene Phillips [Modern] in the late ’40s, he did a lot of Amos Milburn things for Aladdin, and [he] played sax on Ray Anthony’s ‘Idaho’ on Capitol [in 1952]. Maxwell had a very definite sound with the saxophone, [a] great big sound. He was a very fine musician and a wonderful man, wonderful family.'

The value of Maxwell Davis to the Bihari organization cannot be overstated, even if at times, said Joe Bihari, he coasted lazily on his abundant talent and did tend to hit the bottle. But in assimilating rhythm and blues music with rock ’n’ roll, he was a black A&R man who was making as much creative impact as Henry Glover at King, Jesse Stone at Atlantic, and Dave Bartholomew at Imperial. B. B. King was Maxwell Davis’s premier assignment. 'He was so good at writing [arrangements], so good,' said King. 'I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody that could write a blues [song] like Maxwell Davis, before or since. He was unknown outside the industry, but he made a lot of records for a lot of people.'”

In the late sixties Davis was working on Modern’s re-activated Kent label, producing blues hits by Lowell Fulson, Z.Z. Hill and B.B. King. He was still working when he died of a heart attack in September 1970.



Pee Wee Crayton Central AvenueThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Louella BrownThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Texas HopThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Big Mama Thornton Cotton Picking Blues1950-1953
Big Mama Thornton Let Your Tears Fall Baby1950-1953
Big Mama Thornton They Call Me Big Mama1950-1953
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Motor Head Baby1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Half Pint of Whiskey1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson What's Goin' On1952-1955
Pee Wee Crayton Blues After HoursThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Change Your Way of Lovin'The Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Rockin' The BluesThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Big Mama Thornton Walking Blues1952-1955
Big Mama Thornton Hard Times1952-1955
Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson I Love to Love You 1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Hot Little Mama1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Too Tired1952-1955
Pee Wee Crayton The Telephone Is RingingTaste of the Blues, Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton When It Rain It PoursComplete Aladdin & Imperial Recordings
Big Mama Thornton Willie Mae's Blues1950-1953
Big Mama Thornton I Smell A RatHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama Thornton Rockaby BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Someone Cares for Me Hot Just Like TNT
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Don't Touch Me (I'm Gonna Hit the Highway)Hot Just Like TNT
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Those Lonely, Lonely NightsHot Just Like TNT
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Three Hours Past MidnightHot Just Like TNT
Big Mama Thornton Stop A-Hoppin' on Me Hound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Pee Wee Crayton Do Unto OthersComplete Aladdin & Imperial Recordings
Johnny "Guitar" Watson One Room Country ShackThe Original Gangster of Love: The Keen Records Sessions
Pee Wee Crayton Runnin' WildComplete Aladdin & Imperial Recordings
Big Mama Thornton Yes, BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Gangster of LoveThe Original Gangster of Love: The Keen Records Sessions
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Looking BackThe Original Gangster of Love: The Keen Records Sessions

Show Notes:

Pee Wee Crayton
Pee Wee Crayton

Today's show is the third of a series spotlighting some fine West Coast artists that I wanted to feature in more depth, the bulk form Texas and California, who cut sides for the myriad labels that popped up in the immediate port-war era. In California the blues thrived around around the Los Angeles, Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco Bay areas. Many of the artists were transplanted Texans who had come to California during the war year to find jobs in the booming defense industry in the Oakland-San Francisco Bay area. Connie Crayton was a transplanted Texan who relocated to Los Angeles in 1935, later moving north to the Bay Area. He signed with the Bihari brothers' L.A.-based Modern logo in 1948, and continued through the 50's cutting fine sides for Imperial and Vee-Jay. Big Mama Thornton was born in Alabama, spent several years singing with Sammy Green's Georgia-based Hot Harlem Revue before relocating to Houston in 1948. In Houston she recorded for the locally based Peacock label through the end of the 50's before settling in San Francisco. Johnny Watson was born in Houston and started playing the jule joints as a teenager, performing as a vocalist, pianist, and guitarist . He moved to Los Angeles around 1950 where he made his debut for Federal in 1952.

Connie Crayton was a transplanted Texan who relocated to Los Angeles in 1935, later moving north to the Bay Area. Crayton told interviewer John Breckow, "We got to be real good friends", speaking of T-Bone Walker. According to another Pee Wee interview, T-Bone "showed me how to string up the guitar to get the blues sound out of it. T-Bone was gonna try to help me learn how to play. My timing was real bad. T-Bone helped me with my timing. He would play the piano or the bass and show me how to play in time." The two went on to stage friendly battles, and when T-Bone's health problems interfered with his gigs late in life, Crayton was on call to fill in whenever he was available. Pee Wee was also influenced by Charlie Christian who he saw perform in 1941 and John Collins who worked with the Nat King Cole Trio. In 1946 he joined Ivory Joe Hunter’s band and appeared on a half-dozen recordings issued on the Pacific label.

Crayton signed with the Bihari brothers' L.A.-based Modern logo in 1948, quickly hit with the instrumental "Blues After Hours" , which topped the R&B charts in late 1948. "Texas Hop" trailed it up the charts shortly thereafter, followed the next year by "I Love You So." But Crayton's brief hitmaking reign was over soon over. After recording prolifically at Modern to no further commercial avail, Crayton moved on to Aladdin and, in 1954, Imperial. Under Dave Bartholomew's production, Crayton made some of his great waxings in New Orleans: "Every Dog Has His Day," "You Know Yeah," and "Runnin' Wild” among others.

In 1957 he hooked up with Vee-Jay in Chicago cutting some find sides, including one of his best, "The Telephone Is Ringing." The next decade brought Pee Wee his least glorious musical period as he mostly drove a truck and played locally. A fine LP he recorded didn't even credit him, appearing under the name of The Sunset Blues Band. Johnny Otis showcased Pee Wee in a memorable program at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival (issued on Epic), leading to a comeback LP on Vanguard (The Things I Used To Do), and Otis later recorded an LP by Pee Wee for his Blues Spectrum label. Pee Wee continued to record sporadically and added some prestigious festivals and international tours to his resume. Pee Wee's last two albums were recorded in Riverside, California for Murray Brothers, at the instigation of the label's A & R man, blues harpist Rod Piazza. Pee Wee passed in 1985.

Big Mama Thornton was born in Ariton, Alabama and her introduction to music started in a Baptist church, where her father was a minister and her mother a church singer. Thornton left Alabama at age 14 in 1941, following her mother's death. She joined Sammy Green's Hot Harlem Revue. She spent seven years with them in which she toured the South. In 1948, she settled in Houston, Texas, where she hoped to further her career as a singer She was also a self-taught drummer and harmonica player, and frequently played each instrument onstage. Thornton began her

Big Mama Thornton: I Smell  A Ratrecording career in Houston, signing a recording contract with Peacock Records in 1951.

While working with another Peacock artist, Johnny Otis, she recorded "Hound Dog," written by young songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as requested by Johnny Otis. The record was produced by Johnny Otis, and went to number one on the R&B chart. Although the record made her a star, she saw little of the profits. She continued to record for Peacock until 1957 and performed with R&B package tours with Junior Parker and Esther Phillips.

Her career began to fade in the late 1950's and early 1960's. She left Houston and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she mostly played local blues clubs. In the arly-'60s she cut 45s for West Coast labels like Irma, Bay-Tone, Kent, and Sotoplay. In 1966, Thornton recorded Big Mama Thornton With The Muddy Waters Blues Band and in 1968 the album Ball 'n' Chain. Thornton performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966 and 1968, and at the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1979. In 1965 she performed with the American Folk Blues Festival package in Europe. While in England that year, she recorded Big Mama Thornton in Europe and followed it up the next year in San Francisco with Big Mama Thornton with the Chicago Blues Band. Both albums came out on the Arhoolie label. She record through the 70’s, most notably for Vanguard, before passing in 1984. The funeral was led by her old friend, now Reverend Johnny Otis, and many artists paid tribute.

Johnny Watson was born in Houston on February 3, 1935. His father was a pianist who instructed his son in the rudiments of music, and at age 11 Watson was given a guitar by his grandfather, a preacher who disapproved of the blues and made the gift conditional on his never playing that most secular of musical forms. But "that was the first thing I played," Watson recalled in an interview. As a youth, Watson had heard the blues guitar of fellow Texan T- Bone Walker. He was also influenced by guitarist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Moving with his family to Los Angeles around 1950 and entered and won a variety of talent contests and shows. This exposure led to work as a sideman (sometimes still on piano) in various West Coast jump blues and jazz bands of the time, including those led by Chuck Higgins and Amos Milburn. Watson debuted on the Federal label in 1953, billed as "Young John Watson", cutting three sessions for the label through 1954.

After his session for the Federal label he hooked up with RPM, a subsidiary of Modern, cutting several sessions for the label through 1956. He scored his first hit in 1955 for RPM with a note-perfect cover of New Orleanian Earl King's two-chord swamp ballad "Those Lonely Lonely Nights." One day, Watson and company co-owner Joe Bihari went to see the 1954 Sterling Hayden film "Johnny Guitar," and Watson acquired the nickname that would stick with him for his entire performing career.Johnny Watson was born in Houston on February 3, 1935. His father was a pianist who instructed his son in the rudiments of music, and at age 11 Watson was given a guitar by his grandfather, a preacher who disapproved of the blues and made the gift conditional on his never playing that most secular of musical forms. But "that was the first thing I played," Watson recalled in an interview. As a youth, Watson had heard the blues guitar of fellow Texan T- Bone Walker. He was also influenced by guitarist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Moving with his family to Los Angeles around 1950 and entered and won a variety of talent contests and shows. This exposure led to work as a sideman (sometimes still on piano) in various West Coast jump blues and jazz bands of the time, including those led by Chuck Higgins and Amos Milburn. Watson debuted on the Federal label in 1953, billed as "Young John Watson", cutting three sessions for the label through 1954.

Those Lonely Lonely NightsWatson toured with such luminaries as Little Richard and acquired a reputation for exciting stage theatrics. "I used to play the guitar standing on my hands," he recalled in an interview. "I had a 1 50-foot cord and I could get on top of the auditorium–those things Jimi Hendrix was doing, I started that." During this period he also began to style himself as the "Gangster of Love," after the title of a 1957 single Watson cut for the Keen label. Watson scored a number six rhythm-and-blues hit with "Cuttin' In" on the King label in 1962. During the 1960s he also teamed frequently with vocalist Larry Williams, with whom he toured successfully in Britain as well as in the U.S. and recorded the much-covered "Mercy Mercy Mercy" in 1967.


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