String Bands



ARTISTSONGALBUM
Son House Walking Blues Son House 1941-1942
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Sneaky Ways Old Time Black Southern String Band Music
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Bugle Call Blues Old Time Black Southern String Band Music
Howard Armstrong; Tom Armstrong; Ted Bogan; Ikey Robinson Railroad Blues Louie Bluie
Leonard Bowles and Irvin Cook I Wish To The Lord I'd Never Been Born Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music
Leonard Bowles and Irvin Cook Momma Don't AllowBlack Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia
Joe Thompson Careless Love Family Tradition
Odell & Joe ThompsonGeorgia Buck Eight-Hand Sets & Holy Steps
Carolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad
Carolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson
Little Brother Montgomery Talkin' Blues Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus
Jimmy Yancey Tell 'Em About MeJimmy Yancey Vol. 1 1939 - 1940
Frank 'Sweet' Williams Sweet's Slow Blues Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus
Oscar "Preacher" Nelson And Newton "Hoss" Nelson Broke And Ain't Got A Dime Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
Green Paschal Trouble Brought Me DownGeorge Mitchell Collection Volumes 1-45
Big Joe Williams Back Home BluesBlues With A Message
Rev Nix It Was Tight Like ThatRev. A.W. Nix & Rev. Emmett Dickinson Vol. 2 1928-1931
Leadbelly Tight Like ThatLeadbelly's Last Sessions
McKinney's Cotton Pickers It's Tight Like That McKinney's Cotton Pickers Vol. 1
Roy Hawkins If I Had ListenedBad Luck Is Falling
T-Bone Walker Dream Girl Blues The Complete Recordings of T-Bone Walker 1940-1954
Tom Archia Downfall Blues (Whiskey)Tom Archia 1947-1948
William 'Do Boy' DiamondJust Want To Talk To YouGeorge Mitchell Collection Volumes 1-45
Fats Jefferson Love Me Blues Goin' Back To Tifton
Furry Lewis Longing BluesFurry Lewis
Mississippi Fred McDowell Dankin's FarmMy Home Is in the Delta
Willie Long Time Smith I Love You Baby BoogieGood Time Blues 1930-1941
Camille Howard The Boogie And The BluesCamille Howard Vol. 1

Show Notes: 

Chicago Piano: Chicago PlusLast week our feature was on Post-War Black String Bands but due to our pledge drive we ran of time to include all the tracks I intended to play. Today we open up with those tracks with background information to be found on the notes for last week's program. The rest of the show is mixed, featuring some great down home blues and field recordings, a few sets of fine piano blues, a set revolving around a classic blues song, a pair of tracks from a recent reissue and more.

As I was rummaging around my record collection I came across a great series of gate-fold albums that were issued in the early 70's spotlighting blues from the vaults of Atlantic Records. Theses albums feature both issued and unissued sides with excellent notes by Pete Lowry. I believe there were about a half-dozen of these including ones devoted to Blind Willie McTell, Professor Longhair, John Lee Hooker as well as anthologies based on piano blues and  Texas guitar. Today we feature sides from Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus. These sides were recorded in the early 50's, several of the sides not issued at the time of recording.  We spotlight a pair of tracks by Little Brother Montgomery, Floyd Dixon and Frank 'Sweet' Williams. Williams is the most obscure of the bunch and was a minor Chicago blues musician who's only recordings were two songs cut for Atlantic in 1951 which remained unissued until this anthology. It is assumed he was brought to the studio by Little Brother Montgomery. He may be the uncredited drummer on Montgomery 's session recorded on the same day.

We hear several other fine pianists including Willie "Long Time" Smith  and Camille Howard. Smith waxed ten sides at sessions in 1947 and  1954. Several of these sides do not seem to have been reissued, a shame as he was an exceptional vocalist  (a disciple of of the popular Dr. Clatyon for whom he recorded the tribute "My Buddy Doctor Clayton") and good piano player.

Howard was installed as the pianist for drummer Roy Milton & the Solid Senders sometime during World War II, playing on all their early hits for Art Rupe's Juke Box and Specialty labels. Rupe began recording her as a featured artist at the end of the year. Her biggest hit was the romping instrumental "X-Temporaneous Boogie" but she was also a very fine vocalist. She continued to record successfully in the early 1950's.

As we often do, we spin several superb field recordings captured in the 60's and 70's by George Mitchell, Kip Lornell and Tary Owens. We play two sides recorded by Mitchell who made some remarkable field recordings throughout the South over a twenty year period beginning in the early 1960's. What Mitchell recorded in the rural communities of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi in the 1960's amd 70's was a still thriving, if largely undocumented, blues culture. Mitchell had the passion and drive to seek out these folks, and unlike some folklorists didn't use the music to reinforce his own theories, he simply let the musicians speak for themselves and judging by the recordings they clearly responded to Mitchell's sincerity (being a southerner probably didn't hurt as well). Mitchell came along at the right time as he wrote: "As late as 1969 a country bluesman who at least occasionally played could be located in most small towns of Georgia. In 1976, there are very few active blues musicians left in the state! In the short span of seven years, one of the world's most vital and influential forms of music as it was originally performed has all but died out in Georgia, and probably in the rest of the South as well." Today we hear tracks by William "Do Boy" Diamond and Green Paschal.

William "Do Boy" Diamond was recorded in Canton, Mississippi in 1967. Diamond was a basic guitar player but possessed a great, relaxed voice. Born around 1927 in Georgia, Paschal started playing late in life, sometime in the 1950's. He was recorded by Mitchell in Talbotton, GA in 1969 and by that time had given up blues in favor of spirituals.

Kip Lornell has worked on music projects for the Smithsonian Institute, has a doctorate in ethnomusicology and is the author of several articles and books. He also did some field recordings in the in the Southeast in the 70's. Lornell recorded Fats Jefferson outside Albany, New York along with several other artists in the early 70's . These recordings were issued on the long out-of-print album Goin' Back To Tifton issued on the Flyright label in 1974.

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.” Funded by a Lomax Foundation grant in the 1960's, Owens traveled around Texas recording a variety of folk musicians, including guitarists Mance Lipscomb, Freddie King, and Bill Neely, as well as barrelhouse piano players Robert Shaw and Roosevelt T. Williams, also known as the “Grey Ghost.” Owens remained involved in the lives of these musicians for the next several decades and, in some cases, was largely responsible for helping rescue them from obscurity and resurrect their professional careers. Today we hear Oscar "Preacher" Nelson And Newton "Hoss" Nelson from a collection of Owen's field recordings called Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar.

We spotlight two numbers from a recent 2-CD, 50 song collection called Boogie Uproar: Gems From The Peacock Vaults. The Peacock label was founded by Don Robey in 1949 to promote his new artist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. The label was named after Robey's Bronze Peacock in Houston. Robey added the Duke label to his operation in 1952, gaining full control of the label in 1953. Today we play tracks by Bea Johnson and Elmore Nixon. I don't have any information on Johnson outside of eight sides she cut in 1949 backed by the Jim Wynn band with four of the sides going unissued. She possessed a strong, rich voice as evidenced on the moody lover's lament "No Letter Blues."

Boogie Uproar: Gems From The Peacock VaultsNixon's family moved to Houston in 1939, where he would remain until his death. By his early teens, he was already backing Peppermint Harris on his Gold Star debut. Thereafter he recorded with many Texas artists as a member of alto saxophonist Henry Hayes’ Four Kings, including Carl Campbell, Milton Willis, L.C. Williams, Hubert Robinson, Ivory Lee and Hop Wilson. His debut record, "Foolish Love", was made in 1949 for Sittin' In With. Other sessions followed for Peacock, Mercury Records, Savoy Records and Imperial Records, the latter in 1955. During the mid-60s, he worked with Clifton Chenier, recording on Chenier’s sessions for Arhoolie Records and with Lightnin’ Hopkins for Jewel. At other times he led his own band, working around Texas and Louisiana.

Tampa Red and Georgia had a huge hit in 1928 with "Tight Like That" which kicked started the hokum blues style which drew on jug band music and vaudeville for bouncy, rag- influenced songs that abounded with double entendres. On its release, the record was a massive hit, spawning several sequels by Tampa Red and Dorsey and countless imitations by other artists. Today we hear versions by McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Leadbelly and Rev. A.W. Nix. Nix's "It Was Tight Like That" is part of a tradition of popular blues topics that were turned into sermons such as Rev. J. M. Gates' "Dead Cat On The Line" (recorded by Tampa Red and Georgia Tom in 1934) and Rev. Emmett Dickinson's "Death Of Blind Lemon." Nix also recorded other blues based sermons including the two-part "The Dirty Dozen" and "How Long, How Long."

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

Show Notes:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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