North Carolina Blues

Little Boy Fuller (Richard Trice)Blood Red RiverCarolina Blues 1937-1947
Carolina SlimMama's BoogieCarolina Slim 1950-1952
Baby TateYou Can Always TellAnother Man Done Gone
Pink Anderson I've Got Mine Gospel, Blues and Street Songs
Rev. Gary DavisLord, I Feel Like Just Goin' OnHarlem Street Singer
Babe ReidOne DimeMusic from the Hills of Caldwell County
Cora PhillipsJohn HenryMusic from the Hills of Caldwell County
Elester AndersonOut On The FarmEight-Hand Sets & Holy Steps
George HiggsSkinny Woman BluesUnissued
Peg Leg Sam JacksonHand Me DownThe Last Medicine Show
Henry JohnsonWho's Going Home With YouUnion County Flash
Tarheel SlimThe Guy With A 45 Too Much Competition
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGheeMy Bulldog BluesSonny Terry & Brownie McGhee 1938-48
J.C. BurrisBlues Around My BedClassic Appalachian Blues from Smithsonian Folkways
Wilburt AtwaterGoin' Away Baby And I Sure Don't Want To GoOrange County Special
Jamie AlsonGoin' AwayAin't Gonna Rain No More
Joe & Odell ThompsonGoing Down The Road Feeling BadAin't Gonna Rain No More
Big Boy Henry I'm Not lying this TimeI'm Not Lying This Time
Doug Quattlebaum Don't Be Funny Baby East Coast Blues
Marylin Scott Straighten Him OutCarolina Blues & Gospel 1945-1951
Guitar Shorty Working Hard Alone In His Field
Guitar Slim StephensWorried Blues Greensboro Rounder
Willie TriceShine OnBlue & Rag'd
Algia Mae HintonChicken, Lord, LordEight-Hand Sets & Holy Steps
John Dee HolemanEarly Morning BluesThe Roots Of It All Acoustic Blues Vol. 4
Dink RobertsGeorgia BuckBlack Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia
John SnipesI Think I Heard The Chilly Wind BlowAin't Gonna Rain No More
Etta BakerNever Let Your Deal Go DownOne Dime Blues
Elizabeth CottonGoing Down the Road Feeling BadFreight Train & Other NC Folk Songs & Tunes
Lesley RiddleRed River BluesClassic Appalachian Blues from Smithsonian
Drink SmallYou Can Call Me CountryI Know My Blues are Different

Show Notes:

Mama's Boogie On last week's program we spotlighted the rich pre-war blues scene of the Carolinas. This week we move to the post-war era, featuring some fine commercial recordings made in the immediate post-war and large number of field recordings from the 1960's and 70's. Several pre-war recording artists made records in later years including Pink Anderson, Richard Trice, Rev. Gary Davis and of course the prolific duo, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. Several Carolina counties produced a number of fine blues artists such as South Carolina's Union County from which sprang Arthur “Peg Leg" Sam Jackson, Baby Tate and Henry Johnson. All three were recorded by Pete Lowry, who between 1969 and 1980 amassed hundreds of photographs, thousands of selections of recordings, music and interviews in his travels through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Some of the recordings saw release on his Trix label formed in the early 70's. Other artists featured today that Lowry recorded include Elester Anderson, George Higgs, Guitar Shorty and Willie Trice who recorded in the 30's and was an acquaintance of Blind Boy Fuller. Fuller still exerted an influence in the post-war years, evidenced in the music of Baby Tate, Carolina Slim and others. North Carolina's Orange and Caldwell counties yielded several fine blues artists who were recorded in the field including Wilburt Atwater, Jamie Alson, Dink Roberts, Etta Baker, Babe Reid and Cora Phillips among others. Much good field recording was one in the Carolinas, particularly in the 70's; in addition to Lowry, others who did fieldwork included Kip Lornell, Bruce Bastin, Danny McLean, Mike Stewart, Glen Hinson and major talents were still to be found such as Guitar Shorty and Guitar Slim Stephens. For an in-depth look at Carolina blues, and of the Southeast, check out Bruce Bastin's Red River Blues, the definitive book on the topic.

Blind Boy Fuller's influence extended into the post-war era either by those who worked with Fuller or were inspired by his records. Willie Trice and his brother Richard became close friends with Blind Boy Fuller and Fuller took them up to New York where they cut six sides together for Decca in 1937. Richard Trice recorded after the war for Savoy in 1946 as Little Boy Fuller as  well as a couple of sides in 1948 and 1952/53. Richard Trice was later recorded by Pete Lowry but those recordings remain  unreleased. Willie recorded the a full-length record for Pete Lowry Trix label in the early 70's, Blue & Rag'd with other sides on anthologies.

Carolina Slim's main role model seems to be Lightnin' Hopkins' but  Blind Boy Fuller was certainly an influence as evidenced on songs such as "Mama's Boogie" and "Rag Mamma." Carolina Slim was born Edward P. Harris in Leasburg, North Carolina. In 1950, he relocated to Newark, New Jersey, and made his recording debut for the Savoy label, billed as Carolina Slim. In 1951 and 1952, he recorded eight tracks for the King label in New York, this time using the name of Country Paul. In June 1952, Slim recorded four more tracks for Savoy, but these were to be his final sides. He passed away the following year at age 30.

The Blues of Baby Tate
Read Liner Notes

Another who knew Fuller was Baby Tate who was born Charles Henry Tate in Elberton, Georgia,and raised in Greenville, South Carolina. Tate started performing locally, after seeing Blind Blake in Elberton. He later formed a trio with Joe Walker (the brother of Willie Walker) and Roosevelt  "Baby" Brooks and, up to 1932. Relocating to Spartanburg, South Carolina, he performed solo before forming an occasional duo with Pink Anderson; a working relationship that endured through to the 1970's. At some point before Fuller died in 1940, the two ran together for a bit and he even dated Fuller's sister. Tate released his only album, Blues of  Baby Tate: See What You Done Done, in 1962, and twelve months later appeared in Sam Charters' documentary film The Blues. Utilizing harmonica player, Peg Leg Sam, or guitarists Baby Brooks or McKinley Ellis, Tate recorded nearly sixty tracks  in 1970 and 1971 for Pete Lowry, but the proposed album remained unreleased once Tate unexpectedly died in the  summer of 1972. A 45 was release of Tate on Trix circa 1970, "See What You Done Done b/w Late In The Evening."

Tate was active in Union County, South Carolina which boasted several fine bluesmen including Arthur "Peg Leg" Sam Jackson and Henry Johnson.  Sam was a member of what may have been the last authentic traveling medicine show, a harmonica virtuoso, and an extraordinary entertainer. Born Arthur Jackson in in Jonesville, South Carolina, he acquired his nickname after a hoboing accident in 1930. His medicine show career began in 1938, giving his last medicine show performance in 1972 in North Carolina, and was still in fine form when he started making the rounds of folk and blues festivals in his last years. Lowry captured Sam and Chief Thundercloud (the last traveling medicine show) on the Flyright album The Last Medicine Show. There's also some footage of the medicine show act in the film Born For Hard Luck. Sam delivered comedy routines, bawdy toasts, monologues, performed tricks with his harps (often playing two at once) and served up some great blues (sometimes with a guitar accompanist, but most often by himself). Lowry released one album by Sam, Medicine Show Man, and he recorded only once  more for Blue Labor in 1975 which was originally issued under the title Joshua and subsequently reissued as Early In The Morning and Peg Leg Sam with Louisiana Red.

Henry Johnson's recordings were the result of Peg Leg Sam pushing his good friend to record. "I feel Henry Johnson is the finest finger-picking blues artist to come along in a hell of a long time, and this album should demonstrate that with ease" Pete Lowry wrote in the notes to The Union County Flash!, his lone album. "It was Sam who introduced us (Bastin and I) to Henry…His musicianship was surpassed only by his magnificent voice – I have UNC concert tapes where he plays piano, Hawaiian guitar, and harp w. his guitar… he stuck it in his mouth and worked without a rack (like Harmonica Frank)!" Johnson died 19 1974, shortly after the record was released and there is enough material in the can for another release. Lowry wrote" His complete talent will never be heard by those who never saw him in person." Additional sides appear on the Flyright anthologies Another Man Done Gone and Carolina Country Blues.

Read Liner Notes

It's unclear how many counties or regions in the Carolinas boasted a unique musical subculture as most were not documented. Two counties that were researched were Orange and Caldwell. Orange County lies in Central North Carolina, a rural county in the arc of urban industrial towns like Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro. Bruce Bastin and Pete Lowry researched and recorded artists from this area, the results making up the album Orange County Special issued on Bastin's Flyright label in the early 70's. The music was a mix of blues, country dance tunes with a definite crossover influence from white music. Some of these artists are also featured on the album Ain't Gonna Rain No More: Blues And Pre-blues From Piedmont North Carolina. Caldwell County lies some 70 miles north of Charlotte and produced several fine traditional musicians  who were connected by marriage and intermarriage. Among those were Babe Reid, Cora Phillips and Etta Baker. Recordings from the region were documented on the album Music from the Hills of Caldwell County and several albums of recordings by Baker herself.

Blues in the Carolinas remained a vital tradition even in the 1970's. In addition to the aforementioned "Peg Leg" Sam Jackson and Henry Johnson, two other major talents recorded during this period were Guitar Shorty and Guitar Slim. Guitar Shorty was born John Henry Fortescue in the town of Belhaven, North Carolina. He cut a pair of unissued sides for Savoy in 1952, the long out-of-print album  Carolina Slide Guitar (Flyright, 1971) and an album for Lowry's Trix label, Alone In His Field, before passing in 1975. During his brief period of recording he played at the Chapel Hill Blues Festival and at coffee houses in the same town. Performances of him at the Chapel Hill Blues Festival can found on the Flyright albums Carolina Country Blues and Another Man Done Gone. James “Guitar Slim” Stephens was first recorded in the early 70's by Kip Lornell who recorded him on several occasions in 1974 and 1975. His first LP, Greensboro Rounder, was issued in 1979 on the Flyright label and are comprised of these recordings. Stephens also appears on the anthologies Eight Hand Sets & Holy Steps and on several volumes of the Living Country Blues USA series. He passed away in 1991.


Beans Hambone BeansGood for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-37
Willie WalkerSouth Carolina RagMama Let Me Lay It On You 1926-1936
Pink Anderson and Simmie DooleyEvery Day In The Week Blues Times Ain't Like They Used to Be Vol. 4
Pink Anderson and Simmie DooleyGonna Tip Out TonightGood for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-37
Robert Higgins Prison Blues (Cold Iron Bed) Field Recordings Vol. 2 1926-1943
UnknownI've Been Pickin' And Shovellin'Nobody Knows My Name: Blues From South Carolina & Georgia
UnknownNobody Knows My NameNobody Knows My Name: Blues From South Carolina & Georgia
Floyd CouncilI'm Grievin' And I'm Worryin' Carolina Blues 1937-1945
Floyd CouncilPoor And Ain't Got A DimeCarolina Blues 1937-1945
Lil' McClintock Sow Good SeedsBlues Images Vol. 10
Cedar Creek SheikI Believe Somebody's Been Ridin' My MuleBlind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Roosevelt Antrim I Guess You're Satisfied Blind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Julius DanielsRichmond Blues Trouble Hearted Blues 1927-1944
Julius DanielsNinety-Nine Year Blues When The Sun Goes Down
Richard & Willie TriceLet Her Go God Bless HerCarolina Blues 1937-1945
Richard TriceTrembling Bed Springs Carolina Blues 1937-1945
Blind Boy Fuller Three Ball BluesBlind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Blind Boy Fuller Baby You Gotta Change Your MindBlind Boy Fuller: Remastered 1935-1938
Blind Boy Fuller Funny Feeling BluesBlind Boy Fuller: Remastered 1935-1938
Lillie Knox Got the Keys to the KingdomDeep River Of Song: South Carolina - Got The Keys To The Kingdom
Blind Gussie NesbitPure Religion Guitar Evangelists Vol.2
Jack GowdlockRollin Dough BluesStuff That Dreams are Made Of
Sonny TerryForty-Four Whistle Blues Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee 1938-48
Sonny TerryThe Red Cross StoreSonny Terry & Brownie McGhee 1938-48
Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry Knockabout Blues (Carolina Blues)Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee 1938-48
Unknown6 Months Ain't No SentenceNobody Knows My Name: Blues From South Carolina & Georgia
Arthur AndersonIf You Want To Make A Preacher CussField Recordings Vol. 9
Wheeler Bailey & Preston FulpNever Let Your Deal Go DownField Recordings Vol. 9
Josh WhiteBlack & Evil Blues Josh White 1929-33
Josh WhiteGreenville Sheik Josh White 1929-33
Rev. Gary DavisI Saw The LightReverend Gary Davis 1935-1949
Rev. Gary DavisYou Got To Go Down Reverend Gary Davis 1935-1949
Sonny JonesWon't Somebody Pacify My MindBlind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Bull City RedBlack Woman & Poison BluesBlind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Brother George And His Sanctified SingersI Feel Like Shoutin' Blind Boy Fuller Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Willie Walker - South Carolina RagThe Carolinas had a rich pre-war blues tradition with several fine blues artists from South and North Carolina making commercial recordings plus some notable recordings made in the field. Today's show is the first of two-parts, with next week's program covering the post-war era. From South Carolina several bluesman emerged from Greenville. Greenville had a string band tradition before WWI out which of came superb guitarists Gary Davis and Willie Walker. Another fine guitarist from Greenville was Josh White. Some forty miles away was Spartanburg whose best known bluesman was Pink Anderson who first recorded in 1930. Some sixty miles away was Union County which boasted several fine bluesman, most who didn't record until the post-war era such as Arthur "Peg Leg" Sam Jackson, Baby Tate and Henry Johnson. One who did record in the pre-war era was Blind Gussie Nesbit who shared a session for Victor with local musician named Jack Gowdlock in Charlotte in 1931. Also recorded at this session was South Carolina born James Albert who recorded as Beans Hambone. The Cedar Creek Sheik was from South Carolina as well, and recorded in  Charlotte in 1936. Lil' McClintock was from Clinton, some forty miles from  Spartanburg. Charlotte became a major recording center for Victor/RCA with numerous recording sessions between 1927 and 1938. One local Charlotte artist who didn't record at these sessions was Julius Daniels. The most famous and influential Carolina artist was undoubtedly Blind Boy Fuller. In Durham he developed a local following which included guitarists Floyd Council and Richard Trice, as well as harmonica player Sonny Terry and washboard player/guitarist Bull City Red. In addition to commercial recordings, field recordings in the Carolinas were captured by Alan Lomax, Edwin Kirkland and Lawrence Gellert.

We spotlight fine Greenville musicians including Gary Davis, Willie Walker and Josh White. Davis was an accomplished guitar player at an early age, supposedly playing in a string band at the age of fourteen in Greenville with legendary guitarist Willie Walker. By the late 20's Davis had moved to Durham. In 1935 storekeeper and talent scout J. B. Long, the manager of Blind Boy Fuller "discovered" Davis. "Oh, [Gary] could play the guitar up and down, any way in the world," he later recalled (from Bruce Bastin's Red River Blues). Davis exerted a considerable influence on Fuller. Davis and Fuller were among a group of Durham musicians Long escorted to New York City to record for ARC, the race music subsidiary of Columbia Records. Between July 23 and July 26 Davis recorded 15 sides (1 unissued): ten religious songs, and two blues numbers.

Blind Boy Fuller
Blind Boy Fuller

Little is known of Willie Walker who was born in South Carolina in 1896 and was playing in a string band with Gary Davis as early as 1911. Among his contemporaries like Pink Anderson, Gary Davis and Josh White, he was considered to be the finest guitarist in the region. He recorded only two sides in 1930 for Columbia, "South Carolina Rag b/w Dupree Blues."

Josh White was born in Greenville in 1914. White left home with a blind, black street singer named Blind Man Arnold and later worked with Blind Joe Taggart, and in time White quickly mastered the varied guitar stylings of all his blind masters. While guiding Taggart in 1927, White arrived in Chicago, Illinois. Mayo Williams, a producer for Paramount Records, recognized White's talents and began using him as a session guitarist. White was signed to ARC in 1930 and moved to NYC where he  began an extensive recording career.

Also from South Carolina we hear from Pink Anderson, Blind Gussie Nesbit, Jack Gowdlock, Lil' McClintock and James Albert AKA Beans. Pink Anderson, spent many years on the road with medicine shows and learned guitar from his early partner Simmie Dooley, and older musician who was born in 1881. They recorded four titles together in 1930 for Columbia. Anderson was born in South Carolina and toured throughout the Southeast mainly with William R. Kerr’s Indian Remedy, remaining with the show for some thirty years. He was employed not only as a musician and a singer but as a dancer and comedian. Anderson was extensively recorded by Sam Charters in 1961 resulting in three albums of material.Gussie Nesbit was a guitar evangelist from Spartanburg. His first recording session was in 1930 in Atlanta for Columbia. Four titles were recorded but only two were issued. Five years later he had his second and final session in New York City for Decca. Ten songs were recorded in one day, but only four made it onto shellac. Between his two sessions, Nesbit also recorded two duets with Jack Gowdlock for Victor in 1931. This was Gowdlock's only session, cutting four sides, two were unissued. Lil McClintock was from Clinton, SC, and traveled to Atlanta where he recorded four songs for Columbia on Dec. 4, 1930. Beans Hambone and his partner El Morrow cut one 78 in Charlotte, NC in 1931. His real name was James Albert who was born in South Carolina around 1880.

Performers traveled an informal circuit of cities across the Piedmont: Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia, Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina; Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; and others in between. They would take up residence in a city for several months until the area had been “played out,” and then move on. For several reasons, Charlotte became a key stop on this circuit. In 1927 Ralph Peer, executive of the Victor Talking Machine Company, began a series of southern recording trips that put his company at the forefront of pre­-war country, blues, and gospel recording. He first recorded in Charlotte on August 9, 1927, returning in 1931, 1936, twice in 1937, once in 1938 and again in 1939.

One local Charlotte artist who didn't record at these sessions was Julius Daniels. Daniels was born in Denmark, South Carolina and lived in Pineville, North Carolina, from 1912 to 1930, when he moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. He cut eight songs for Victor at two sessions in 1927 in Atlanta.

hqdefaultUnlike blues artists like Big Bill or Memphis Minnie who recorded extensively over three or four decades, Blind Boy Fuller recorded his substantial body of work over a short, six-year span. Nevertheless, he was one of the most recorded artists of his time and by far the most popular and influential Piedmont blues player of all time. Fuller could play in multiple styles: slide, ragtime, pop, and blues were all enhanced by his National steel guitar. Fuller worked with some fine sidemen, including Gary Davis, Floyd Council, Sonny Jones, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and washboard player Bull City Red. Initially discovered and promoted by Carolina entrepreneur J. B. Long, Fuller recorded for ARC and Decca. He also served as a conduit to recording sessions, steering fellow blues musicians to the studio.

Floyd Council was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and began his career playing in the streets of Chapel Hill in the mid-20s with musical brothers Leo and Thomas Strowd. Floyd occasionally worked with Blind Boy Fuller in the ‘30s, which may have led to his first recording sessions. In late January 1937 ARC Records scout John Baxter Long heard him, playing alone on a street in Chapel Hill. Long invited Floyd to join Fuller on his third trip to New York. Floyd agreed, and a week later the three traveled to the city. During his second visit to New York in December, Floyd was used as a second guitar only. His solo tracks were later issued under the name ‘Blind Boy Fuller’s buddy’. In all he cut six sides under his own name and seven backing Fuller.

Willie Trice and his brother Richard became close friends with Blind Boy Fuller and Fuller took them up to New York where they cut six sides together (two unissued) for Decca in 1937. Richard Trice recorded after the war for Savoy in 1946 as Little Boy Fuller as well as a couple of sides in 1948 and 1952/53. Richard Trice was later recorded by Pete Lowry but those recordings remain unreleased. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that Willie Trice recorded again. Blue And Rag’d, his sole album, was released on Pete Lowry's Trix label in 1973.

Sonny Terry was born in Greensboro, NC. He began traveling to nearby Raleigh and Durham, performing on street corners for tips. In 1934, he befriended Blind Boy Fuller who convinced Terry to move to Durham, where the two immediately gained a strong local following. Between 1937 and 1940 he backed Fuller on over two-dozen sides. A year later, Terry would be back in New York taking part in John Hammond's legendary Spirituals to Swing concert. Upon returning to Durham, Terry continued playing regularly with Fuller and also met his future partner, guitarist Brownie McGhee, who would accompany Terry off and on for the next two decades.

Lil McClintock
Lil McClintock Ad from John Teftteller's
2013 Blues Images Calendar

In late 1940 Brownie McGhee came into contact with washboard player Bull City Red who in turn introduced McGhee to J.B. Long. Long got him a recording contract with OKeh/Columbia in 1940; his debut session in Chicago produced a dozen tracks over two days. Long's principal blues artist, Blind Boy Fuller, died in 1941, precipitating Okeh to issue some of McGhee's early efforts under the alias of Blind Boy Fuller No. 2. McGhee cut a moving tribute song, "Death of Blind Boy Fuller," shortly after the passing. McGhee's third marathon session for OKeh in 1941 paired him for the first time with Sonny Terry.

Bull City Red, whose real name was George Washington, is best known as a sometimes sideman on washboard to the likes of Blind Boy Fuller, Sonny Terry, and Blind Gary Davis. Red led an otherwise blind group that included Fuller, Sonny Terry and, for a time, Blind Gary Davis as well, and with help from their manager, J.B. Long, landed a contract with Vocalion. At one point in their history, Red, Fuller, Terry, and guitarist Sonny Jones performed together as "Brother George and His Sanctified Singers," and made several recordings of gospel-themed material. Red cut more than a dozen sides showing off his skills as a singer and guitarist as well as on the washboard, between 1935 and 1939.

Those who recorded in the field in the Carolinas were Alan Lomax, Edwin Kirkland and Lawrence Gellert. Gellert was among the first to make recordings in the field in the 1920's, although the issued recordings are all from the 1930's. It wasn't until the 70's that his recordings were finally issued. Kirkland, and his wife Mary, made several hundred field recordings between 1935 and 1939 in Tennessee, the Carolinas, Kentucky and Georgia.


Ian Zack InterviewInterviewSay No to the Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis
Rev. Gary Davis Lord I Wish I Could See Rev. Blind Gary Davis 1935-1949
Rev. Gary Davis CocaineBlues & Ragtime
Rev. Gary Davis Samson and Delilah Harlem Street Singer
Rev. Gary Davis O, Glory Apostolic Studio Sessions
Rev. Gary Davis CrucifixionA Little More Faith
Rev. Gary Davis The Boy Was Kissing The Girl The Guitar And Banjo Of Reverend Gary Davis
Rev. Gary Davis Candy ManThe Blues & Salvation
Rev. Gary Davis Death Don't Have No Mercy Harlem Street Singer
Rev. Gary Davis Out On The Ocean Sailing Apostolic Studio Sessions
Rev. Gary Davis You Got To Go Down Rev. Blind Gary Davis 1935-1949
Rev. Gary Davis Lord, I Looked Down The Road Say No To The Devil
Rev. Gary Davis Goin' To Sit Down On The Banks of the River Harlem Street Singer
Rev. Gary Davis Get Right Church American Street Songs
Rev. Gary Davis Hesitation Blues Blues & Ragtime
Rev. Gary Davis I Belong To The BandHarlem Street Singer
Rev. Gary Davis I Heard The Angels Singing Demons & Angels
Rev. Gary Davis Fast Fox Trot aka Buck Rag The Guitar And Banjo Of Reverend Gary Davis
Rev. Gary Davis You Can Go HomeRev. Blind Gary Davis 1935-1949

Show Notes:

ISay No To The Devil Bookn Ian Zack's new book, Say No to the Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis, Zack calls Davis "arguably the greatest of all the blues-based guitarists to record before World War II" and the "…remained, up until the last years of his life, one of the world’s greatest, if not the greatest, of all traditional blues and ragtime guitarists." Davis ran with legendary bluesmen such as Willie Walker and Blind Boy Fuller down South, making his debut with fifteen sides cut in 1935 for the ARC label. In the 1940's he moved to New York where he recorded prolifically in the post-war years starting with a few scattered sides in the 1940's, more in the 1950's before really picking up steam in the 1960's. While he was never a star on the folk scene or blues revival, he attracted a flock of devoted mostly white followers who learned directly from him and many in turn became well known musicians in their own right ensuring that Davis' legacy was carried on. "Davis", Zack writes, "would come to regard many of his top students as his children, and he wanted them to carry on both his name and his music." Recent years have seen numerous posthumous releases, musical tributes, books and a movie. Say No to the Devil is a thoroughly researched and well written account of Davis' life and one of the better musical biographies in recent years.

I haven't played Davis all that much over the years on the show despite having many of his records. Reading the biography inspired me to dip back into those albums and rediscover many songs I'd half forgotten. Today we interview the author, Ian Zack, as well as playing a diverse selection of Davis' music spanning the 1930's through the 70's.

Davis was an accomplished guitar player at an early age, supposedly playing in a string band at the age of fourteen in Greenville with legendary guitarist Willie Walker (Walker recorded one 78 for Columbia in 1930, "Dupree Blue b/w South Carolina Rag"). By the late 20's Davis had moved to Durham. "For Davis", Zack writes, "the tension between the sacred and the secular world would reach a peak during his time in Durham, just when he might have been on the cusp of major success as a musician." During this period Davis described himself as a "blues cat."

In 1935 storekeeper and talent scout J. B. Long, the manager of Blind Boy Fuller "discovered" Davis. "Oh, [Gary] could play the guitar up and down, any way in the world," he later recalled (from Bruce Bastin's Red River Blues). Davis exerted a considerable influence on Fuller. Davis and Fuller were among a group of Durham musicians Long escorted to New York City to record for ARC, the race music subsidiary of Columbia Records. Between July 23 and July 26 Davis recorded 15 sides (1 unissued): ten religious songs, and two blues numbers. Sometime in the early thirties Davis had a religious awakening and by the end of the decade was an ordained minister. Long tried to get him to record again in 1939 but he declined likely because he refused to play blues. It was ten years before Davis made another record.

Rev. Gary Davis with the daughter of Alice
Ochs and Phil Ochs. Photo by Alice Ochs

In 1937 Davis married Annie Bell Wright, a woman as deeply spiritual as himself, and she looked after him devotedly until his death. In 1943 she moved to New York with Davis following in 1944. They soon moved to 169th Street in Harlem, where they lived for the next 18 years and where Davis preached in various storefront churches. During this time Davis also busked and preached on the streets: "dressed in a suit and tie, with a tin cup pinned to his overcoat or fastened to his guitar, and wearing dark aviator sunglasses over his eyes, he performed both spirituals and instrumental dance tunes-but no blues, unless he was asked to teach a song."

It didn't take Davis long to get involved with the fledgling New York folk scene. "Although folk music wouldn't hit the mainstream for more than a decade, New York already had an established folk music underground that included performers, record producers, and club owners." Davis eventually toured Europe and played at numerous folk festivals including the Cambridge and Newport Folk Festivals (1959, 1965, and 1968).

It didn't take him long to resume his recording career either. He made his first post-war sides in 1945, cut sides for Continental in 1949, recorded in 1950 with tracks appearing on the Folkways album Music in the Streets, in 1954 for the Stinson label and 1956 for Riverside. During this period the following albums were issued: The Singing Reverend w/ Sonny Terry and American Street Songs with songs split between Davis and Pink Anderson. Davis recorded in 1957 but these recordings were not released until 1963 when they were issued by the British 77 label as Pure Religion and Bad Company. His finest recordings during this period were the four he did for the Prestige label: Harlem Street Singer, Say No to the Devil, A Little More Faith and The Guitar and Banjo of Reverend Gary Davis.

A pleasant surprise in recent years are a number of unreleased Davis recordings that have surfaced. Among the notable ones include: If I Had My Way: Early Home Recordings, Demons and Angels: The Ultimate Collection (3 CD), Sun of Our Life: Solos, Songs, A Sermon, 1955-1957, Manchester Free Trade Hall 1964, Live at Gerde's Folk City (3 CD) and At Home and Church (3 CD), the latter two released by Davis ' student Stephan Grossman.

The Angel's Message To Me 78
Originally issued on ARC in 1935
then on the dime store label Melotone in 1936

Among folk revival guitar players of the 1950's and early '60s Reverend Gary Davis's finger picking style was legendary. One of the first to adopt it was Ramblin' Jack Elliott, who recorded "Cocaine Blues" and "Candyman." Dave Van Ronk studied with Davis and also covered many of his songs. Other aspiring folk guitarists and blues players swarmed to take lessons from him including Bob Weir, Stefan Grossman, Ernie Hawkins, Dion, Steve Katz, Janis Ian, Dave Bromberg, Ry Cooder, Roy Bookbinder, Larry Johnson, Jorma Kaukonen among others. As one of Davis' admirers, Terri Thal, recalled: "We worshiped him, musically. Because of Gary's musicianship-not his fame, he wasn't that famous-people were awestruck."

He "…never became an American cultural icon like Armstrong or Muddy Waters. Four decades after his death, his genius has gone largely unrecognized in the popular culture, even though he exerted a considerable influence on the folk scene of the sixties and on the early rock scene of the seventies." Undoubtedly his fame would have been greater had he chosen to focus on blues. "The business of saving souls", Zack writes, "is what occupied him, and fame didn't seem to motivate him. … It could be said that Davis turned Robert Johnson's legend on its head: he didn't sell his soul to the devil, as Johnson was rumored to have done, to acquire superhuman blues guitar chops. Rather, Davis renounced blues music in his prime and devoted his life to God as a preacher. When recording blues material might have opened doors or record producers wallets-and stamped an express ticket out of poverty-Davis refused again and again."

Ian Zack Interview [edited] (MP3, 37 min.)


Kip LornellInterview
Fats Jefferson Hard Luck Blues North Florida Fives
Elroy Hart North Florida Fives North Florida Fives
Fats Jefferson Married Woman North Florida Fives
Willie Morris Broke Down Blues Goin' Back To Tifton
Tom CarterSome Got 6 Months Goin' Back To Tifton
C.D. DobbsAberdeen WomanGoin' Back To Tifton
Blind Donald DawsonRack 'Em SlowGoin' Back To Tifton
Peg Leg Sam Hand Me DownThe Last Medicine Show
Peg Leg Sam Who's That Left Here Awhile AgoThe Last Medicine Show
Guitar Slim Worried Blues Greensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim War Service BluesGreensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim Come On Down To My HouseAin't Gonna Rain No More
Pernell CharityCome Back, Baby, ComeThe Virginian
Pernell CharityFind Me A Home Pernell Charity
Pernell CharityWoke Up On The HillThe Virginian
Irvin Cook & Leonard Bowles I Wish to the Lord I'd Never Been BornVirginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music
Turner Foddrell Railroad BillVirginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music
Lewis HairstonBile Them Cabbage Down Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music
Clayton HorsleyPoor Black Annie Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music
Carl Hodges Leaving You, MamaVirginia Traditions: Tidewater Blues
Corner MorrisGoing Down The Road Feeling GoodVirginia Traditions: Tidewater Blues
Jamie AlstonGoin' AwayAin't Gonna Rain No More
Wilbert Atwater Can't Get A Letter From Down The Road Ain't Gonna Rain No More
Jamie AlsonSix White Horses Ain't Gonna Rain No More
Joe & Odell Thompson Going Down The Road Feeling Bad Ain't Gonna Rain No More

Show Notes:

North Florida FivesFrom the 1960's through the 80's there were folklorists, researchers and dedicated fans such as David Evans, George Mitchell, Sam Charters, Chris Stratwichz, Mack McCormick, Bruce Jackson, Peter B. Lowry, Tary Owens, Art Rosenbaum, Pete Welding, Bengt Olsson, Glenn Hinson, Tim Duffy, Axel Küstner and Kip Lornell who actively sought out and recorded rural blues. Over the years we have featured many of them and today we spotlight the field recordings of Christopher “Kip” Lornell who captured some remarkable, undiscovered musicians in the 1970’s. Lornell was gracious enough to let me talk with him a couple of weeks back which I've edited for today's program.

Lornell began conducting blues research while still in high school. As an undergraduate in New York and North Carolina he interviewed and recorded local blues artists, resulting in articles in Living Blues and other periodicals and albums on the Flyright, Trix, and Rounder labels. Lornell served for four years as the staff folklorist at Ferrum College’s Blue Ridge Institute documenting music from Virginia on the groundbreaking Virginia Traditions series of albums which included some of his field recordings. Since 1992 Lornell has taught courses in American Music & Ethnomusicology at George Washington University and more recently works as a researcher at the Smithsonian Institution. In 1997 Lornell received a Grammy for his work on the boxed set The Anthology of American Folk Music for Smithsonian/Folkways. Lornell has published numerous articles, liner notes and books. His books include: Melody Man: Joe Davis and the New York Music Scene, The Life and Legend of Leadbelly (coauthored with Charles Wolfe), Shreveport Sounds in Black and White (Editor), Happy In Service Of Lord: African-American Sacred Vocal Harmony, Exploring American Folk Music, Virginia's Blues, Country, and Gospel Records, 1902-1943 among others. Our focus on today's program is Lornell's blues field recordings from the 1970's which include the following albums:  Pernell Charity: The Virginian (some tracks recorded by Pete Lowry), Ain't Gonna Rain No More: Blues And Pre-Blues From Piedmont North Carolina, Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music, Virginia Traditions: Tidewater Blues, Goin' Back To Tifton, North Florida Fives, Guitar Slim: Greensboro Rounder and The Last Medicine Show where he assisted Pete Lowry.

Peg Leg Sam Jackson: Born For Hard Luck

We open the program with selections from two long out-of-print records released on the Flyright label in 1974:  Goin' Back To Tifton and North Florida Fives. Lornell was just out of High School when he made these recordings following what would because a practice for him which is to look in your own backyard. He correctly assumed that since Albany had significant black population there would be some blues musicians. In hindsight he wishes he had done a similar exploration for religious singers but at the time it was blues that was his primary interest. Most of the musicians were probably rusty and didn't play much anywhere but there some fine performances including some piano players who were recorded far too infrequently during this period. Not all blues musicians from the south came to Chicago and in fact quite a number came to New York such as Sonny Terry, Brownie McGee, Rev. Gary Davis and others. It's not surprising some of them went farther into upstate New York.  The most famous, of course, is Son House who settled in Rochester in 1943.

Lornell eventually connected with Pete Lowry who was teaching at SUNY New Paltz. In his voluminous research, writing and recording Lowry has become perhaps the most renowned expert on the blues of the Southeast and is credited with coining the term Piedmont Blues. Between 1969 and 1980 he amassed hundreds of photographs, thousands of selections of recordings, music and interviews in his travels through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. He formed the Trix label in 1972 as an outlet to release his recordings. Around this time Lornell got an NEA Federal Youth Grant and hooked up with Lowry to do some field recording in the south. One of the artists Lornell recorded was Pernell Charity. Charity spent his whole life around Waverly, VA. The Virginian is his only album released on the Trix label. As Lowry told me: "Pernell is a Kip Lornell discovery, done during his Federal Youth Grant year – I was his mentor and supervisor for that! I did the first tapes for him, then got them back – then did a few sessions on my own later, when I got my NEA Folkarts grant." Lornell wrote the liner notes and noted that "the phonograph record has had an important effect in shaping the song repertoire of many blues musicians…such is the case with Pernell Charity… It was the records of Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, and Blind Lemon Jefferson that inspired Pernell to take up guitar."

 Guitar Slim: Greensboro Rounder
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Lornell was also involved with Lowry in recording one of the last medicine shows. The show was  presided over by Chief Thundercloud who was still hawking “Prairie King Liniment” from the tailgate of his station wagon at fairs and carnivals in the Southeast in the early 70’s. In his heyday he traveled will a full cast of comediennes, dancers, singers and musicians, numbering as many as sixteen. In later years his lone partner was Arthur “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson, a medicine show veteran who learned the ropes back in the 30’s from Pink Anderson. The duo was recorded and filmed by Pete Lowry and Kip Lornell in Pittsboro, North Carolina in 1972. The recordings issued on a 2-LP set of music and spoken word issued on the Flyright label titled The Last Medicine Show.

James “Guitar Slim” Stephens was first recorded in the early 70's by Lornell who recorded him on several occasions in 1974 and 1975. His first LP, Greensboro Rounder, was issued in 1979 by the British Flyright label and are comprised of these recordings. Green also appears on the anthologies Eight Hand Sets & Holy Steps and Ain't Gonna Rain No More: Blues And Pre-Blues From Piedmont North Carolina. Green's final recordings were made in 1980 by Siegfried Christmann and Axel Küstner for the Living Country Blues USA series of albums. Other songs from 1980 appear on the album Old Time Barrelhouse Blues which also includes sides by Memphis Piano Red. Green passed away in 1991.

The Virginia Traditions series consisted of nine albums issued between 1978 and 1988  by BRI Records, a label operated by the Blue Ridge Institute of Ferrum College. The recordings, made in various settings between the mid-1920's and the mid-1980's, range from African American work songs to Anglo American ballads to a cappella sacred music and stringband tunes. As the  Blue Ridge Institute's staff folklorist, Lornell was involved with the series, producing, writing liner notes and compiling tracks which included some of his own field recordings. He was most deeply involved in the volumes Non-Blues Secular Black Music and Tidewater Blues which is where we draw our selections form. Smithsonian Folkways has made the entire series available via their website.

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The final record we look at today is the anthology Ain't Gonna Rain No More: Blues And Pre-Blues From Piedmont North Carolina. The album includes performances recorded in North Carolina in the mid 1970's by Dink Roberts, Joe & Odell Thompson, Jamie Alston, Wilbert Atwater, John Snipes,and Guitar Slim and it contains a mixture of banjo and guitar numbers. It should be noted that during the interview both Kip and I were under the impression this had not been issued on CD but it appears that Rounder did reissue on CD about eight years ago.

Related Listening:

Kip Lornell Radio Feature (2 hours, 4 min., mp3)


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