1950’s Blues

Lifting the Veil

Reverend Gary Davis recorded prolifically in the post-war years starting with a few scattered sides in the 1940's, more in the 1950's and really picking up steam in the 1960's. A pleasant surprise in recent years are the number of unreleased Davis sides that have surfaced. Among the notable ones include: If I Had My Way: Early Home Recordings, Demons and Angels: The Ultimate Collection a 3-CD set featuring many unreleased treasures, Sun of Our Life – Solos, Songs, A Sermon, 1955-1957 and Document's Reverend Gary Davis: Manchester Free Trade Hall 1964.

Now comes Lifting The Veil: The First Bluesmen – Rev. Gary Davis & Peers an eclectic collection from World Arbiter that gathers up six unreleased home recordings by Davis circa 1956-1957. In addition the liner notes include a fascinating excerpt from an unknown, unpublished oral history of Davis compiled in 1951 by Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold, the wife of Alan Lomax. Another treat are four previously unknown Leadbelly tracks from a 1941 radio broadcast, when he hosted a weekly radio show. Rounding the set out are 78's from the Harry Smith Collection including sides by Gus Cannon, Buddy Boy Hawkins, Edward Thompson, Leola Wilson, Big Bill Broonzy, Ramblin' Thomas, Rube Lacey, William Moore and Charlie Patton.

The Davis sides are generally well recorded and are a nice, if minor, addition to his recorded legacy. Five of the six songs are instrumentals as Davis displays his remarkable guitar style on the propulsive "Lost John", the stately "Soldier's Drill", "Mountain Jack", the lovely "Slow Blues In E" and a driving version of his "I Didn't Want To Join The Band." "Come Down To See Me Sometime" is a gorgeously sung folk number underpinned by Davis' complex, melodic finger picking. The four Leadbelly sides are well recorded and while short, are a nice addition to his voluminous recording legacy. The most interesting is "Sermon On Pancakes", and to be honest I don't even know what to say about this surreal, wonderful number that uses pancakes as a religious metaphor ("Now this is a sermon. Big stream of molasses up in heaven and a big stream of honey, a lot of flapjack") . Leadbelly also serves up terrific versions of the traditional "The Blood's Done Signed Your Name" and "Gallows Pole" and the powerful "Leaving Blues."

The remaining tracks are blues classics that have all been reissued many times before and in generally better sound than those presented here. Also I should note that the song listed on the back as "Goin'Crazy" by Ramblin' Thomas is actually his "Sawmill Moan." One nice touch is that lyric transcriptions are provided for all the songs. The oral history included is a fascinating document and stems from a 300+ page manuscript. Davis was a true philosopher who expounds on his early life, religion, racism and human nature. World Arbiter has made the entire booklet available on their website.

All in all an interesting an eclectic collection handsomedly packaged. This is obviously a set geared towards collectors and I would imagine that the combination of unreleased tracks and the oral history will provide a compelling reason to pick up this attractive collection.

Leadbelly – Sermon On Pancakes (MP3)

Rev. Gary Davis – I Didn't Want To Join The Band (MP3)



Juke Joint Blues Lightnin' Special

In previous posts I've spotlighted some of JSP's pre-war blues box sets but for the past couple of weeks I've been captivated by a pair of recent post-war ones; Juke Joint Blues: Good Time Rhythm & Blues 1946-1953 and Lightning Special: Volume 2 of the Collected Works. The music spans a fascinating period, roughly the first decade of post-war blues, when the blues was evolving into what would be called R&B and a short hop later to rock and roll. The music on these sets however is a throwback; this is rough and tumble down-home blues geared towards an audience that was still eager to hear earthy rural blues. Many of these listeners were still in the south while many other were transplanted southerners still eager to hear the older styles. These were exciting times with numerous small labels throwing their hat in the ring to try to cash in on the market. Some labels became famous like Sun, Modern, Excello, King and had a fair bit of success while others like Rockin', Miltone, Delta remain all but forgotten outside of hardcore collectors. And of course there were plenty of artists eager to give it a go with down-home artists like Lightning Hopkins, Li'l Son Jackson, John Lee Hooker and Smokey Hogg achieving a good amount of success while the vast majority toiled with little or no luck, cutting a handful of sides and drifting back into obscurity. Both these sets collect some exciting, rawboned music by the famous and forgotten making for a varied and immensely entertaining survey of the blues in the immediate post-war era circa 1946 to 1956. Neil Slaven's notes are typically informative with the Hopkins being particularly interesting. It should be noted that most of these sides have appeared elsewhere and potential buyers may have to way the sets' merits against what they already own. In a way JSP seems to be stepping on the toes of the Boulevard Vintage label which for the past few years has been issuing excellent, well annotated multi-CD sets of down-home blues divided into different geographic regions and there's much overlapping between the two labels (I'm far too lazy to actually count duplications but there’s quite a number).

Juke Joint Blues: Good Time Rhythm & Blues 1946-1953, there's a mouthful of a title, is perhaps a bit loose thematically but gathers together 212 tracks of vintage down-home blues from performers based all over the map, predominantly from the south. JSP has done a marvelous job compiling this box which boasts nary a dud in the bunch and generally quite good sound-wise. There's plenty of well known performers like down-home stalwart Lightning Slim who's somber blues are heard to fine effect on half a dozen tracks including downtrodden gems like "I Can't Live Happy" and "I Can't Be Successful" but rocks to good effect on "Bugger Bugger Boy" modeled on Muddy's "Hootchie Cootchie Man." Slim employed a number of fine harmonica partners, many of whom are featured here; there's Lazy Lester belying his name on the pounding "Lester's Stomp", there's the marvelous country tinged "Pebble In My Shoe", the only record by Wild Bill Phillips and terrific sides by the still active Schoolboy Cleve who blows some wild, wide toned harp on the torrid "She's Gone" and puts it way in the alley on "Strange Letter Blues" laying down some stunningly raw, over amped harmonica. Of course when it comes to raw, over amped harmonica nobody beats Papa Lightfoot who's vicious "Wine, Women, Whiskey" sounds like he's singing and playing from the bottom of a garbage can and who can resist a line like "come on baby talk some trash to me." His "Jump the Boogie" and the chugging "Mean Old Train" are almost as ferocious. There's quite a number of talented harp players including classic sides by the still active Jerry McCain including his blistering "Courtin' In a Cadillac" and the menacing "That's What They Want" ("They don't want no man ain't got no cash/They’ll tell you right quick they don't mess with trash/That's what they want/Money honey"). Lesser-known but first rate are the four sides Little Sam Davis cut for the Miami based Rockin' label in 1953 backed by a young Earl Hooker. Davis was an expressive singer who reminds me a bit of Baby Face Leroy and fine upper register harp player who shines on "Goin' Home To Mother" and the throbbing "1958 Blues. Hooker cut some sides under his own name at the same session which are collected here including wild instrumentals "Alley Corn" and "On the Hook", the bopping "Ride Hooker Ride" with a fine, unknown smoothed voiced singer while Hooker takes the vocals on the magnificent cover of "Sweet Black Angel" showing his mastery of Robert Nighthawk's style. Getting back to great harp men there's some marvelous tracks by the sparsely recorded Coy Hot Shot Love and Ole Sonny Boy who's style is reminiscent of Papa Lightfoot, even sparking conjecture that he might indeed be Lightfoot although my ears say no. In addition to Hooker there's also a passel of terrific guitarists like Johnny Lewis aka Joe Hill Louis who cooks on the Elmore James styled "Jealous Man", Lafayette Thomas who's moody instrumental "Deep South Guitar Blues" I believe is seeing the light of day for the first time, Wright Holmes who's "Good Road Blues" showcases a unorthodox guitarist who sounds like nobody I know and bottleneck ace John Lee who's 1951 Federal session has been justly celebrated, sounding like a date that could have been recorded fifteen years earlier. Speaking of which there's a few pre-war recording artists that make the cut including the last sides by the under appreciated Clifford Gibson, three numbers by Texas piano man Alex Moore including a pair of rippling boogies and Skoole-Dum-Doo & Sheffield which masks the identity of Seth Richard who first recorded back in 1929.

Most of the music on Lightning Special: Volume 2 of the Collected Works was recorded in Texas cities like Dallas and Houston with a batch also cut in the recording centers of New York and Los Angles. This set is a perfect compliment to the above set gathering up 106 sides of dusty, down-home Texas blues recorded between 1951 and 1956. This set is a sequel to JSP's Lightning Hopkins: All The Classics 1946-1951, which was issued a few years back. The title is something of a misnomer as it not only features Hopkins but also some of his associates and like minded peers such as Thunder Smith, Lil' Son Jackson, Soldier Boy Houston, Frankie Lee Sims, Manny Nichols, Ernest Lewis, L.C. Williams and J.D. Edwards. Hopkins is of the course the star and during the first decade of his career, 1946 to 1956, he laid down his greatest music for a myriad of small labels like Sittin' In With, Herald, Aladdin, TNT, Gold Star and several others. The tricky thing about Lightning is that he makes it sounds so easy as he pulls down a seemingly endless storehouse of tales and antidotes from his life and community and casually tosses off some amazing guitar licks. Much of it was improvisatory and rooted in the way he worked the local clubs as Chris Strachwitz noted on his first trip to Houston to see Lightning': " He would just improvise constantly, that whole evening. …He was simply the community poet who would tell people what they like(d) to hear. And he would argue with the woman in front of him, "Whoa, woman, you in the black dress!" And then he would just go into this musical tirade about her, and she would yell back at him! It was real two-way communication. It was like a church service in a totally non church atmosphere." Lightning's genius was the way he translated this to his studio recordings. Sure he would tell his interviewers: "It's people that move me. I don't like playing to the wall. …I need the amen. Like a preacher preaching, if he don't get the amen he can't do it. …They get me in that big room and they go watch me through the glass wall and I don't feel like nothing. Oh, course those records are good, 'cause everything I do is good – but they ain't the best. The best only happens when I'm feeling easy." Lightning must have been feeling pretty easy during this period maintaining an exceptionally high standard particularly on some remarkable sides for Herald such as ruminative numbers like "Shine On Moon", "Remember Me", "Lonesome in Your Home", "Life I Used to Live" plus stomping boogies like "Had a Gal Called Sal", "Moving On Out Boogie" and the wild "Hopkins Sky Hop." Also quite good are a pair of 1956 numbers he waxed for Chart before a three year absence from the studio and an interesting duet from 1954; "Walkin' the Streets" and "Mussy Haired Woman" are a perfect marriage of vocals and over-amped guitar while "That's Alright Baby" features the down-home vocals of Ruth (Blues) Ames is the only female duet that I think I've ever heard him perform.

There were a number of artists "who hung out in Lightning’s orbit" like drummer/singer/tap dancer L.C. Williams. Williams was a strong singer, often back by Lightning on guitar and piano, who cut a number of excellent sides between 1947 and 1951. Eight sides are collected here including moody down-home numbers like "Strike Blues", "The Lazy J" and boogies like "You Can't Take It with You Baby" and the bouncy "Boogie All the Time." When Lola Ann Cullum decided to take Lightning and pianist Thunder Smith to Los Angeles to record for Aladdin she had Smith in mind to be the star. Smith was a solid pianist and appealing singer, if not star material, as he displays on the half dozen sides here including the rollicking "Little Mama Boogie" and fine mid-tempo fare like "Big Stars are Falling" and "West Coast Blues" one of several numbers with Lightning on guitar. Frankie Lee Sims claimed to be a cousin of Lightning but the association helped him little on the charts. Sims possessed a wonderful gravelly voice and a powerful boogie guitar style. His four session 1948 debut for Blue Bonnet is included, and while solid, doesn't match the terrific sides he waxed for Specialty and Ace. Nothing is known of J.D. Edwards but Lightning backs him on pair of numbers including the stomping "Hobo" with Lightning unleashing some torrid over-amped guitar. One artist that's sadly overlooked is singer Luke "Long Gone" Miles a Lightning protégé who cut some fine sides for Smash and World Pacific in the early 1960's. Unfortunately Miles made his recordings a tad late to make it on to this set which, like all JSP sets, takes advantage of the European 50 year copyright law.

Lightning's personal connection to the other artists are tenuous outside of a similar style; Lil' Son Jackson recorded for Gold Star and was right up there in sales with Lightning', Manny Nichols was a powerful, rough voiced singer who brings to mind Tommy McLennan, Ernest Lewis worked in a similar vein although "In My Girlish Days" finds him backing a marvelous, mysterious singer who went by the handle singer Miss Country Slim. I found myself quite captivated by Soldier Boy Houston's (Lawyer Houston was his real name) eight sides. I first heard him on an Atlantic LP years ago and he's a very appealing singer with a light tenor voice backing himself with some springy guitar work. His songs are captivating tales packed with loads of descriptive detail, much seemingly based on his real life experiences: "In the Army Since 1941", "Lawyer Houston Blues" ("My name is Lawyer Houston and I'm a private first class/It seem like everywhere I go I got to have a special privilege pass'), "Lawton, Oklahoma Blues" (When I re-enlisted in the Army/They send down to Fort Sill/We'll I learned that the women in Lawton will get a good soldier killed").


Schoolboy Cleve – Strange Letter Blues [From Juke Joint Blues] (MP3)

Earl Hooker – Ride, Hooker, Ride [From Juke Joint Blues] (MP3)

Lightning Hokins – Walking The Streets [From Lightnin' Special] (MP3)

J.D. Edward – Hobo [From Lightnin' Special] (MP3)




Rocks The Blues
RIP 1931 – 2007


Show Notes:

By now everyone knows that Ike Turner has passed. Just about every notable publication had an obituary or opinion on Ike and not surprisingly many focused on his well publicized troubles instead of his musical legacy. Serious blues and rock fans know that well before Tina, Ike was a major player on the R&B and blues scene of the 1950's.

Ike and his Kings of Rhythm were right in the thick of things when blues and R&B was coalescing into rock and roll. Ike made his mark as rock solid boogie piano player and was also a distinctive guitarist with a biting tone who was one of the first to make the whammy bar an integral part of his sound. Growing up in Clarksdale Ike's first inspiration was pianist Pinetop Perkins who also inspired Ike's life long friend Ernest Lane. "Anyway", he recalled, "we started talkin' to Pinetop and he started teaching us different little boogie-woogie things. And from there, that started my musical life." It should be noted that Lane was still touring with Ike at the time of death and remains a fine piano player in his own right, and is one of the last who plays in the rock ribbed, boogie based style.

I'm Lonesome Baby 78As a teenager talked himself into a DJ slot on the local radio station, where he played everything from the jump blues of Louis Jordan to country & western. He formed his first band while still in high school, and by the late '40s had assembled an outfit dubbed the Kings of Rhythm. After “Rocket 88” Turner and his band became session regulars around Memphis; they went on to back legendary bluesmen like Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Bobby Bland, Jr. Parker, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and a host of Sun artists . During the early '50s, Turner switched from piano to guitar, and also doubled as a talent scout for the Bihari Brothers' Los Angeles-based Modern Records, where he helped get early breaks for artists like Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King. For many years Turner was the linchpin of Modern, working as a talent scout for Joe Bihari, a go-getter, a good pair of hands in the studio, and a fine musician to boot. On today's program we feature sides by Howlin' Wolf, Charley Booker, Elmore James, Driftin' Slim and Baby Face Turner all featuring Ike's piano.

Ike TurnerAlso featured today are many sides Ike cut with the mighty Kings of Rhythm, some of which came were issued variously as Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm, Ike Turner and His Orchestra and other variations. The Kings of Rhythm employed several fine vocalists including Jackie Brenston, Billy Gayles, Billy Emerson, Dennis Binder, Clayton Love, Lonnie "The Cat", Johnny Wright. Many of these sides were issued under the singer's name and we feature a number of these sides on today's show. In addition we feature many of Ike's many scorching instrumentals. Ike’s ferocious whammy-bar and ultra-aggressive string-bending solos were way ahead of their time from the mid-1950s onwards. He always considered himself foremost a boogie pianist who picked up electric guitar during the early 1950s because he had difficulty finding a reliable axeman for his band. "It sounds like I was a guitar player," said Ike. "But I'm not." We counter that claim by playing a number of Ike's jaw dropping guitar workouts like "Loosely (The Wild One)," "Go To It (Stringin' Along),""Prancing, "The New Breed" among others.

King CobraIke relocated to St. Louis in he late 50's frontong one of the hottest live acts in the area. The late 50's were leaner times for Ike cutting an unissued session for Sun, scattered 45's for Cobra/Artistic in Chicago (backing Otis Rush, Betty Everett, Buddy Guy in addition to cutting thier own material). Though his hitmaking activities with Tina began to relegate Ike's wild guitar to the background from 1960 on, he found time to cut an instrumental album for Sue in 1962 called Dance With Ike & Tina Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. Ike Turner Rocks The Blues was issued on Crown in 1963 and was a collection of his 50’s sides. Ike and Tina did cut a couple of solid blues based albums for Blue Thumb in 1969; Outta Season and The Hunter which actually featured an uncredited Albert Collins on guitar. Also in 1969 when he was out on tour in 1969 with his regular gig, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, Ike Turner cut the instrumental album A Black Man's Soul which was reissued by Funky Delicacies in 2003 with bonus cuts. Strange Fruit was another instrumental outing cut in 1972 for United Artists and the aptly titled Blues Roots was also cut for United Artists in 1972.

Ike has been well served on CD reissues. Among those featured on today's show include: Traiblazer (Charly) a collection of late 50's sides for Federal, Ike Turner: 1958-1959 (reissued by Fuel 2000 as King Cobra: The Chicago Sessions) a collection of his Cobra sides, Rhythm Rockin' Blues a collection of early-'50s sessions with the Kings of Rhythm, Ike's Instrumentals, Blues Kingpins a 18-track collection drawn from the vaults of RPM, Modern, Crown, and Sue. InRhythm Rockin' Blues addition Ike's role as talent scout is meticulously documented on the 4-CD Ace label series Modern Downhome Blues Session which collects sides Joe Bihari and Ike Turner recorded in the deep South for Modern between 1951 and early 1952. Notewriter Jim O'Neal sets the scene for these recordings: "The tale of their [the Bihari brothers] exploits in the land of cotton has all the elements of a Dixie docu-drama, complete with an indignant Southern heroine [Lillian McMurry of Trumpet Records], a double-dealing native talent scout [Ike Turner], small town sheriffs and police, subterfuge, disguise, raiders, traitors, spies, and clandestine operations. But no shots were fired in these skirmishes, and the only casualties were in lost record sales revenue, broken contracts, violated trusts, and one unfortunate blues artist's shattered career. The Biharis' battle wagon was a flashy new Cadillac, their artillery a four-channel Magnecord tape recorder, and their ammunition reels of magnetic tape and rolls of cash."

Ike Before Tina

Ike Turner New York Times Obit

Ike Turner Discography



Show Notes:

Blues ConsolidatedFrom late 1958 into the early 60s, Junior Parker toured the country with a show called Blues Consolidated with long time running mate Bobby Bland and Willa Mae Thornton with a combo led by Duke Records veteran Joe Scott. Today's show spotlights both of the remarkable singers who rose to prominence in the early 1950's on the fertile Memphis blues scene.

Junior Parker was an extraordinary blues singer and harmonica player who laid down some superb material over the course of a twenty-year career (1952-1971) before his life was cut short just prior to his fortieth birthday. It’s inexplicable, then, why he has such a low profile among blues aficionados. He hit the charts a fair bit through the 1960’s for Duke, retained a strong following among the black club audience but failed to break through to a wider audience. As such he was virtually ignored by the new white blues audience of the 1960’s. If Parker is mentioned at all these days it’s usually in association with his 1953 number “Mystery Train” which was picked up by Elvis.Parker learned his initial harmonica style from Sonny Boy Williamson II and gigged with the Howlin' Wolf while still in his teens. Like so many young blues artists, Little Junior (as he was known then) got his first recording opportunity from talent scout Ike Turner, who brought him to Modern Records for his debut session as a leader in 1952. It produced the lone single "You're My Angel" b/w "Bad Woman, Bad Whiskey" with Turner on piano and Matt Murphy on guitar. Parker and his band, the Blue Flames (including Floyd Murphy, Matt's brother, on guitar), landed at Sun Records in 1953 and promptly scored a hit with their rollicking "Feelin' Good." Later that year, Parker cut "Love My Baby" and "Mystery Train."Before 1953 was through, Junior Parker had moved on to Don Robey's Duke label in Houston. It took a while for the harpist to regain his hitmaking momentum, but he scored big in 1957 with the "Next Time You See Me." Parker developed a horn driven sound (usually the work of trumpeter/Duke-house-bandleader Joe Scott) that added power to his vocals and harp solos. Parker's updated remake of Roosevelt Sykes's "Driving Wheel" was a huge R&B hit in 1961, as was "In the Dark."

Junior Parker

Parker continued to hit the charts through the 60’s with a mix of blues and R&B scoring with songs like “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Annie Get Your Yo-Yo”, “Man Or Mouse”, “Someone Somewhere.” Once Parker split from Robey's employ in 1966 the hits began to wane. From 1966-1968 he recorded for Mercury and its Blue Rock subsidiary and cut sides for Capitol in 1970. Parker died in November 1971 during an operation for a brain tumor. Before he passed he sailed into the 1970’s in promising fashion cutting a pair of terrific albums; “You Don’t Have To Be Black To Love The Blues” circa 1970/1971 for Groove Merchant and “I Tell Stories Sad And True” for United Artists which was released in 1972. In 2001, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

For all his promise, Bland's musical career started slowly. He was a founding member of the Beale Streeters, the famous Memphis aggregation that also included B.B. King and Johnny Ace. He cut singles for Chess in (produced by Sam Phillips) and Modern in 1951 that failed to catch on. Bland hooked up with Duke in 1952 cutting a few singles before entering the army. Bland always had a great voice but his early sides were a bit rough around the edges. But his progress upon his 1955 return was remarkable; with saxist Bill Harvey's band providing support, Bland sounded much more assured.

Most of Bland's sides during the mid- to late '50s featured the slashing guitar of Clarence Hollimon, notably "I Smell Trouble," "I Don't Believe," "Don't Want No Woman," "You Got Me (Where You Want Me)," the torrid "Loan a Helping Hand" and "Teach Me (How to Love You)." But the guitar riffs guiding Bland's first national hit, 1957's "Farther Up the Road," were contributed by Pat Hare. Later, Wayne Bennett took over on guitar, his fret work prominent on Bobby BlandBland's Duke waxings throughout much of the '60s. "Farther Up the Road” was a #1 R&B hit, the first of more than 20 R&B top ten records. During this period Bland toured the Southern chitlin circuit incessantly. Joe Scott steered Bland into smoother material as the decade turned; a mixture of blues, R&B, and soul on numbers like"I Pity the Fool," "I'll Take Care of You," and "Two Steps From the Blues" which were tremendously influential. Scott's brass arrangements provided the perfect backing on Bland's rockers like "Turn on Your Love Light" in 1961 and "Yield Not to Temptation" the next year.

In 1973, Don Robey sold his labels to ABC Records, and Bland was part of the deal. Without Joe Scott and his familiar surroundings to lean on, Bland's releases grew less consistent although "His California Album" in 1973 and 1974's "Dreamer" had some nice moments. Bland re-teamed with his old pal B.B. King for a couple of mid-'70s albums. Since the mid-'80s, Bland has recorded Malaco Records. His last album was "Blues At midnight" in 2003.


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