1950’s Blues



ARTISTSONGALBUM
James RussellI Had Five Long YearsPrison Worksongs
Robert Pete WilliamsSome Got Six MonthsAngola Prisoner's Blues
Hogman MaxeyStagoleeAngola Prisoner's Blues
Otis WebsterBoll Weevil BluesCountry Negro Jam Session
Smokey Babe & Sally DotsonYou're Dice Won’t PassCountry Negro Jam Session
Butch Cage & Willie ThomasJelly RollCountry Negro Jam Session
Billie & DeDe PierceNobody Knows When You're Down And OutGulf Coast Piano
Billie & DeDe PierceJelly RollGulf Coast Piano
Speckled RedEarly In The MorningPrimitive Piano
Snooks EaglinCountry Boy Down New OrleansCountry Boy Down New Orleans
Robert Pete WilliamsJust Tippin' InI'm Blues As A Man Can Be
Smokey BabeI’m Goin' Back To MississippiHottest Brand Goin'
Emanuel DunnWorking on the Levee, Pt. 1Prison Worksongs
Guitar WelchHighway 61Angola Prisoner;s Blues
Robert Pete WilliamsMississippi Heavy Water BluesCountry Negro Jam Session
Snooks EaglinMama Don't You Tear My ClothesCountry Boy Down New Orleans
Smokey BabeOcean BluesHottest Brand Goin'
Herman E. JohnsonI Just Keep Wanting YouLouisiana Country Blues
Rev. Rogers, Big Louisiana, & Jose SmithStewballPrison Worksongs
Guitar WelchFast Life WomanAngola Prisoner's Blues
Clarence EdwardsSmokestack Lightnin’Country Negro Jam Session
Robert Pete WilliamsPardon Denied AgainI'm Blues As A Man Can Be
Otis WebsterThe Boss Man BluesCountry Negro Jam Session
Butch Cage & Willie ThomasBugle Call BluesOld-Time Black Southern String Band Music
Odea MatthewsThe Moon Is RisingAngola Prisoner's Blues
Roosevelt CharlesWasn't I Lucky Blues, Prayer, Work & Trouble Songs
Clarence EdwardsYou Don't Love MeCountry Negro Jam Session
A Capella GroupAngola BoundAngola Prisoner's Blues

Show Notes:

oster-thomas-cage
Willie B. Thomas, Harry Oster, and Butch Cage 1960 (photographer: David Gahr)

Harry Oster was teaching at Louisiana State University a well-received lecture on Old World traditional ballads prompted a colleague to suggest that he apply for a grant to collect local folklore. "Before long," he recalled, "I found a profusion of unusual material – ancient French ballads, Cajun dance music, Afro-French spirituals… I got the idea that I should issue with my own funds a long-playing record to be called A Sampler of Louisiana Folk Songs." This and succeeding records such as Folk Songs of the Louisiana Acadians, the first LP of Cajun music, appeared under the auspices of the Louisiana Folklore Society, which Oster created with a couple of friends. Later recordings were on his own label, Folk-Lyric. Oster's greatest discovery came on a trip to the state penitentiary at Angola. Oster found many impressive blues singers, among them Robert Pete Williams. The singer's intense improvised narratives about prison life and the events that had brought him there, were presented to the world on the 1959 album Angola Prisoner's Blues. Oster was also the first to record Snooks Eaglin, the fiddle-and-guitar duo Butch Cage and Willie Thomas, blues guitarist Smokey Babe and Georgia street musician Reverend Pearly Brown. Oster left Louisiana in 1963 to teach at the University of Iowa, where he remained until his retirement in 1993, working on the American Dictionary of Folklore and pursuing his passion of making and disseminating records. His Folk-Lyric catalogue was acquired by Arhoolie Records and has largely been transferred to CD.

jgn10034[1]
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Oster formed his Folk-Lyric label in 1959 and in an interview described the label’s genesis: “Eventually I heard that RCA had a customs pressing plant in Indianapolis and I started sending stuff to them and getting stuff professionally printed. I would send out review copies to major newspapers like New York Times, Down Beat Magazine, Saturday Review, and some newspapers. They gave them good attention and I got in touch with some distributors. My label was essentially one-man operation. I would find performers, record them, edit the tapes, take photographs, write liner notes, etc. I would generally press about 300 copies. I borrowed $5,000 from a bank to subsidize the operation. I also did some assignments for other companies, and that helped finance it also. I did one record for Elektra which was eventually sold to Folkways. I did some for Prestige Bluesville and Prestige International.”

Oster explained to an interviewer his approach to field recording: “I actually operated rather differently than some of people who've found old time blues singers. Usually they track down someone who recorded in '20s or 0s and disappear from sight for a while. I sort of went about it in a quite different way, which in fact produced some interestingly different results, more offbeat performances and more unusual repertoire. Anyhow, I talked to a psychologist who'd done some research in a prison and he suggested I go see the head of institutions for the state and get his permission to get access to the prison and ask him to spell out the specific privileges that I wanted to have, lot of which should be the right to call out a specific convicts, in other words, to get someone excused from work for the day or afternoon so he could be interviewed and recorded by me. The head of institution was quite cooperative and friendly, probably influenced by the fact that I was teaching in a state university. He wrote to the warden and asked him to cooperate with me. The warden was cooperative too and he suggested the good way to proceed would be to start with the recreational director and go down from there. They had a choir of black singers who did spirituals and he said that would be a good place to make contacts. I started there and they gave me some leads on prison work songs and I started going into the different camps. These camps were not maximum security camps and people worked in fields in in daytime.”

robertpete-bluesas
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The recordings on Angola Prisoner’s Blues were recorded in 1959 and 1960 at Camp H in Louisiana’s Angola Prison. An impromptu studio was set up in the tool room. Oster uncovered many fine bluesman like Hogman Maxey, Guitar Welch, Otis Webster, Roosevelt Charles and most importantly Robert Pete Williams. Roosevelt Charles was classified a habitual criminal and spend most of his adult life in prison. Charles was recorded extensively by Oster both in Agola and on the outside in 1959 and 1960. A full album of his recordings appeared on Vanguard which is long out of print with other cuts showing up on various anthologies. Many of his sides remain unissued. Oster considered Charles one of his most gifted finds. Another talented performer was Robert Welch, called “Guitar” and “King of the Blues” by the other convicts and was born in Memphis in 1896. He learned from the records of Lonnie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson and played in bands starting in the late 30’s.

Robert Pete Williams, however, was in a class by himself as Oster wrote in the liner notes: “The blues of Robert Pete Williams are more original, more directly personal, and more evocative in their expression of love, frustration, and despair.” Williams did some playing at house parties in the 30’s. In 1956, Williams shot and killed a man in a local club. Williams claimed the act was in self-defense, but he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was sent to Angola prison, where he served for two years before being discovered by Oster and Richard Allen. The pair recorded Williams performing several of his own songs, which were all about life in prison. Impressed with the guitarist's talents, Oster and Allen pleaded for a pardon for Williams. The pardon was granted in 1959, after he had served a total of three and a half years. For the first five years after he left prison, Williams could only perform in Lousiana, but his recordings — which appeared on Folk-Lyric, Arhoolie, and Prestige, among other labels — were popular and he received positive word of mouth reviews. In 1964, Williams played his first concert outside of Louisiana — it was a set at the legendary Newport Folk Festival. Williams' performance was enthusiastically received and he began touring the United States, often playing shows with Mississippi Fred McDowell. During the 60’s and 70’s he performed at several festival including the 1966 American Folk Blues Festival. He passed in 1980.

The album Prison Worksongs focuses on recordings of worksongs recorded in Agola Prison and on the outside between 1959 and 1963. By this point the prison worksong was a dying tradition but Oster managed to record some fine material. "I’'ve always been fascinated with black worksongs, “ Oster recalled, “group work songs, and I had heard that they were essentially extinct in the regular world because of mechanization of farming, and the only place to find them would be in southern prison farms. I decided it would be a good idea to do some recordings in the prison camp in Angola, and I made my first trip there in 1957.”

prison-worksongs
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The songs on the album Country Negro Jam Session were recorded in Southwestern Louisiana between 1959 and 1962, some in Angola Prison, others at house parties around Baton Rouge (the remaining 5 titles on CD reissue were recorded by Chris Strachwitz and Paul Oliver in 1960). In it's earliest incarnation, the first 14 tracks of the 25 title program were released on Dr. Oster's now-defunct Folk Lyric label, and then re-released on Arhoolie intact after Chris Strachwitz purchased the Folk Lyric catalog. Oster did a series of field recordings, informal jams with a group of obscure blues men and women, only one of whom, Robert Pete Williams, won fame. Otis Webster was recorded extensively by Oster in 1959 and 1960 all in Angola Prison. Many of the sides remain unissued. Willie B. Thomas (vocal & guitar) and James ‘Butch' Cage (vocal & fiddle) make up a good part of Country Negro Jam Session. The duo’s string band music is reminiscent of Peg Leg Howell and his gang and the two play not only blues but also pop, and religious music. They also back singer/guitarist Clarence Edwards on several numbers. Butch Cage was born in 1894 near Meadville, MS, and whom Oster describes aptly in the liner notes as "a great representative of the now virtually extinct 19th century black fiddle tradition", while Willie B. Thomas was born near Lobdell, LA in 1912.

Born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, Robert Brown AKA Smoky Babe had found his way to Scotlandville, Louisiana by the age of 20. It was there that Oster recorded him on several occasions between 1959-1961 with material appearing on the labels Folk-Lyric, Storyville and Bluesville. As Oster wrote in the liner notes to his Bluesville album: “In February 1960 I was present at a jam session in Scotlandville at the house of the sister of Robert Pete Williams, Mable Lee. …Smoky, who lives a short distance from Mable Lee Williams, swaggered in – a muscular wiry man of about 5’ 8”, wearing a hat tilted at a rakish angle. His guitar was in pawn so I loaned him mine. As soon as he played a few bars, rich, full, resonant, and excitedly rhythmic, I knew here was an outstanding bluesman.” Nothing is know about his later life.

New Orleans pianist and singer Billie Pierce played jazz and blues with her cornetist husband Dede. The two recorded and toured extensively in the 1950’s and 60’s. Oster issued an LP of them titled Gulf Coast Blues with some other titles appearing on the anthology Primitive Piano that also has tracks by Bat Robinson and Speckled Red. Billie Pierce was a marvelous blues, ragtime, and jazz pianist and a very expressive singer who grew up in Florida where she accompanied Bessie Smith at a Pensacola theatre in the early 1920s. She later moved to New Orleans where she played professionally in honky tonks and later spent much time working for Preservation Hall and touring all over the world with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Her husband, De De Pierce was one of the most joyful and powerful New Orleans trumpeters as well as a superb vocalist specializing in the unique, regional Creole French patois.

countrynegro
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Blind from boyhood, Snooks Eaglin played everything he heard on records and the radio, be it jazz, blues, pop or country. When not playing R&B in the New Orleans clubs, Eaglin busked with an acoustic guitar, which is how Harry Oster first encountered him. Besides issuing an LP of Eaglin’s on his Folk-Lyric label, Oster licensed material to other companies with material appearing on labels like Storyille and Bluesville. In an interview Oster recalls how he came across Eaglin: “I heard of him through Richard B. Allen who was first associate curator and then curator of the Jazz Archive in the Tulane University. He had encountered Snooks Eaglin who was young blind man singing on the porch of his house. Snooks Eaglin was different than performers like Robert Pete Williams for example. He actually was not a real specialist in blues, he was a popular performer and he wanted to be more popular. And he was. But he could do a lot of blues and he had a wonderful memory. His father said that he didn't really make up songs. He was like a mockingbird, he had everybody's song but his own.”

Other artists featured today include Herman E. Johnson of Scotlandville who was recorded in 1961 and Clarence Edwards. Johnson's tracks appeared on the LP Louisiana Country Blues alongside sides by Smoky Babe. Born near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Clarence Edwards began playing blues in the area in his teens. He was taped by Oster between 1959 and 1962 and by Chris Strachwitz for Arhoolie in 1970. He quit music for a stretch and cut his debut album in 1990. He did festival appearances in the US and Europe before his death in 1993.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Sticks McGhee One Monkey Don't Stop The ShowSticks McGhee 1947-1951
Jimmy "Babby Face" LewisLet's Get Together And Make Some Love Jimmy "Baby Face" Lewis 1947-1955
Lawyer Houston Lawyer Houston BluesTexas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A.
Lawyer Houston Dallas Bepop BluesTexas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A.
Lawyer Houston Western Rider Blues Texas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A.
Big Joe TurnerThe Chill Is On Rhythm & Blues Years
Big Joe TurnerBump Miss SusieRhythm & Blues Years
Jimmy YanceyMake Me A Pallet On The FloorChicago Piano Vol. 1
Jimmy YanceyMonkey Woman Blues Chicago Piano Vol. 1
Little Brother MontgomeryTalkin' BluesBlues Piano: Chicago Plus
Little Brother MontgomeryVicksburg Blues '51Blues Piano: Chicago Plus
Meade "Lux" LewisMr. Freddie's Blues Boogie-Woogie Interpretations
Meade "Lux" LewisRiff boogieBlues Piano: Chicago Plus
Frank 'Sweet' WilliamsSweet's Slow Blues Blues Piano: Chicago Plus
Sticks McGhee Meet You in the MorningSticks McGhee 1947-1951
Ray CharlesRoll With Me BabyPure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Ray CharlesJumpin' in the Mornin'Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Big Joe TurnerBaby, I Still Want YouClassic Hits 1938-1952
Big Joe TurnerSweet Sixteen Classic Hits 1938-1952
Chuck NorrisLet Me KnowMessing With The Blues
Chuck NorrisMessin' UpMessing With The Blues
Ray CharlesLosing HandPure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Ray CharlesMr. Charles BluesPure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Big Joe TurnerTV MamaRhythm & Blues Years
Big Joe TurnerMarried Woman Rhythm & Blues Years
Professor LonghairTipitina The Complete 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairBall The Wall The Complete 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
John Lee HookerGuitar Lovin' ManDetroit Special
John Lee HookerReal, Real GoneDetroit Special
John Lee HookerPouring Down RainDetroit Special
Little Johnny JonesChicago Blues Blues Piano: Chicago Plus
Little Johnny JonesDoin' The Best I CanBlues Piano: Chicago Plus
Little Johnny JonesHoy Hoy Blues Piano: Chicago Plus

Show Notes:

My two-part feature on Atlantic Records was partly inspired by a terrific reissue series that was originally issued in the early 1970's. In the early 70's Pete Lowry convinced Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun to reissue some classic and previously unissued blues from the vaults (read the article below for more background). The plan was to issue twelve albums although only six saw the light of day.I was first heard this series at my college radio station which luckily had the complete set and were much played. This was a great series featuring excellent recordings by Blind Willie McTell, Lawyer Houston, Professor Longhair, Little Brother Montgomery, Jimmy Yancey, T-Bone Walker and others. The albums had excellent liner notes and packaged with wonderful photos in a gatefold album. We feature a number of these recordings on today's programs as well as a wealth of great recordings from Atlantic's, early years spanning the years 1950 through 1953. Our second feature on Atlantic Records focuses less on R&B and more on blues: featured today are several artists that appeared on those Atlantic reissue albums including Lawyer Houston,  Jimmy Yancey, Little Brother Montgomery, Meade Lux Lewis, Frank 'Sweet' Williams, Professor Longhair and John Lee Hooker.

I first heard Lawyer Houston on an Atlantic LP Texas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A. Until recently nothing was known about him. Sometime before June 7th 1950, when Atlantic bought them, he recorded eight titles at Jim Beck's studio on Ross Avenue, Dallas. Beck was also from Marshall, so that may have been a factor. He cut another session in autumn 1953 in L.A. Two songs were issued from the Dallas session, the first as by Lawyer Houston, the second as by Soldier Boy Houston. In “Western Rider Blues” he sings “My name is Lawyer Houston and I'm a Private First Class” which turns out to be true.

Houston was born in Marshall, Texas in 1917. He was inducted into the army in 1941 and served until 1946. He re-enlisted two months later and served until 1961. His songs “In The Army Since 1941” and “Lawton, Oklahoma Blues” are loosely autobiographical accounts of his time in the Philippines and Fort Sill near Lawton. As writer Neal Slavin notes: “Apart from their unusually informative lyrics, Houston's songs are notable for the springy rhythms with which he accompanies himself. In essence, his style is close to that of Lil' Son Jackson… …Two further songs,'Out In California Blues' and 'Going To The West Coast', were prophetic; in the former, Houston announces his intention of going to Los Angeles' Central Avenue to stay at the Hotel Dunbar, after which 'I'm going out to Hollywood and become a movie star'. The move took place but the Army intervened. They needed him in Korea, where war broke out on June 25, 1950. At his second and Iast recording session, “Far East Blues” and “Leavin' Korea” indicate a familiarity with Korea and Japan which in this artist's case is virtual proof of his presence there." Circa 1953/1954 Houston cut eight sides for the Hollywood label in Los Angeles with the sessions purchased by King Records. The sides were never issued and have been reissued for the first time, this year on the 2-CD Hollywood Blues on the JSP label. Houston's military service ended in December 1961 and he spent the rest of his Iife in various Californian communities, ending up in Lancaster, where he worked as a custodian at the California State Museum. He died of pulmonary disease on December 3, 1999. Houston's life story can be found in Blues & Rhythm magazine issue 215 written by Guido Van Rijn and Chris Smith.

Suffering from diabetes later in life, Jimmy Yancey and his wife held parties and jam sessions at their South Side Chicago apartment to raise money. Those sessions were well attended by Chicago jazz fans, and Yancey returned to the recording studio to make new records for the Paramount label in 1950 and his final for Atlantic in 1951 with his wife, Estelle Mama Yancey handling some of the vocal chores. He died on September 17, 1951. His final sides appeared on the album Chicago Piano Vol. 1.

The album Blues Piano:-Chicago, Plus featured sides by Little Brother Montgomery , Frank 'Sweet' Williams and Little Johnny Jones. In the 1950's there was sporadic recording activity, for Little Brother Montgomery even if there were few issued records to show for it at the time: a 1951 session for Atlantic with drummer Frank ‘Sweet’ Williams, two 1953 sides for JOB and two sessions in 1954 and 1956 only four tracks were issued, on a ten-inch LP on the Winding Ball label and five rare sides cut for the Chicago label, Ebony, in 1956. Frank 'Sweet' Williams was a minor Chicago blues musician who's only recordings were two songs cut for Atlantic in 1951 which remained unissued until the issued on the anthology Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus. It is assumed he was brought to the studio by Montgomery. He may be the uncredited drummer on Montgomery's session recorded on the same day. Meade Lux Lewis cut an album for Atlantic in 1951 titled Boogie-Woogie Interpretations with "Riff Boogie" reissued  on Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus.

Best known for his rock steady accompaniment in Elmore James’ band, Little Johnny Jones,  he also backed just about everyone else worth mentioning on the Chicago scene. The handful of times he stepped in front as leader produced a number of excellent sides and more than a few classics. Jones last official stint as leader came in 1953 when Atlantic Records came through Chicago and teamed Elmore and the Broomdusters behind Big Joe Turner resulting in the classic "TV Mama." Once again he recorded a couple of sides at the tail end of a session resulting in four songs: "Chicago Blues", 'Hoy Hoy', "Wait Baby" and "Doin' the Best I Can (Up the line)." Jones was backed by the full Broomdusters plus Ransom Knowling on bass.

Others heard from today include John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles and Chuck Norris. Hooker recorded twelve sides for Atco Records in 1953 which was a  division of Atlantic Records. These sides were issued on the album Detroit Special in in 1972. Hooker is backed by Eddie Kirkland on this session.

In 1951, while performing with the Count Basie Orchestra at Harlem's Apollo Theater Big Joe Turner was spotted by Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün, who signed him to Atlantic Records. Turner recorded a number of successes for them that climbed the R&B charts including "Chains of Love", "Sweet Sixteen, "Boogie Woogie Country Girl", "Honey Hush" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll." I first heard many of these sides on an excellent double album called Big Joe Turner: Rhythm & Blues Years.

John Lee Hooker: Guitar Lovin' ManIn 1950, Ray Charles' performance in a Miami hotel would impress Henry Stone, who went on to record a Ray Charles. After that he joined Swing Time Records, he recorded two more R&B hits under the name "Ray Charles": "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand" (1951), which reached number five; and "Kissa Me Baby"(1952), which reached number eight. Swing Time folded the following year, and Ahmet Ertegün signed him to Atlantic Records.

Chuck Norris worked in Chicago until the mid-'40s, when he moved out to the West Coast. He soon became one of the in-demand musicians in Hollywood backing artists such as Ray Agee, Charles Brown, Floyd Dixon, Roy Hawkins, Duke Henderson, Helen Humes, Etta James, Pete Johnson, Little Willie Littlefield, Percy Mayfield, Johnny Otis, Johnny Watson, Jimmy Witherspoon and many others. From time to time he did sessions on his own for labels like Atlantic, Mercury, Imperial, Aladdin and others between 1947 and 1953.

Oddenda & Such No. 15 by Pete Lowry (Blues & Rhythm no. 138, Apr1l, 1999)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Joe Morris Mad MoonJoe Morris 1946-1949
Tiny Grimes Quintet Boogie Woogie BarbecueTiny Grimes 1947-1950
Tiny Grimes Quintet w/ Red Prysock Nightmare BluesTiny Grimes 1947-1950
Joe Morris Jax BoogieJoe Morris 1946-1949
Sticks McGhee And His BuddiesLonesome Road BluesNew York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Sticks McGhee And His BuddiesTall Pretty WomanNew York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Ruth Brown Rain Is A BringdownRuth Brown 1949-1950
Sticks McGhee And His BuddiesDrinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-DeeNew York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Tiny Grimes Quintet Rock The HouseTiny Grimes 1947-1950
Texas Johnny Brown There Goes The BluesAtlantic Blues Guitar
Frank Floorshow Culley Floor Show (How 'Bout That Mess) The Big Horn: Honkin' And Screamin' Saxophone
Jimmie LewisMailman BluesJimmy ''Babyface'' Lewis 1947-1955
Ruth BrownRocking BluesRuth Brown 1949-1950
Ruth BrownHey Pretty BabyRuth Brown 1949-1950
Blind Willie McTellDying Crapshooter's Blues Atlanta Twelve String
Blind Willie McTellThe Razor BallAtlanta Twelve String
Blind Willie McTellLittle Delia Atlanta Twelve String
Blind Willie McTellAin't It Grand To Live a ChristianAtlanta Twelve String
Blind Willie McTellKill It Kid Atlanta Twelve String
Professor LonghairHey Now Baby Tipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairShe Walks Right InTipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairMardi Gras In New Orleans Tipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairProfessor Longhair BluesTipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairHey Little GirlTipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairLoghair Blues Rhumba Tipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Sticks McGheeHouse Warmin' BoogieNew York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Sticks McGheeShe's Gone New York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Joe Morris & Annie TateAnytime, Any Place, AnywhereJoe Morris 1950-1953
Joe Morris & Annie TateCome Back Daddy, DaddyJoe Morris 1950-1953
Jimmie LewisAll The Fun's On MeJimmy ''Babyface'' Lewis 1947-1955
Frank Floorshow Culley & Arlene Little Miss TalleyLittle Miss Blues78
Ruth BrownR.B. Blues Ruth Brown 1949-1950
Ruth BrownTeardrops from My Eyes Ruth Brown 1949-1950

Show Notes:

My two-part feature on Atlantic Records was partly inspired by a terrific reissue series that was originally issued in the early 1970's. In the early 70's Pete Lowry convinced Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun to reissue some classic and previously unissued blues from the vaults. The plan was to issue twelve albums although only six saw the light of day.I was first heard this series at my college radio station which luckily had the complete set and were much played. This was a great series featuring excellent recordings by Blind Willie McTell, Lawyer Houston, Professor Longhair, Little Brother Montgomery, Jimmy Yancey, T-Bone Walker and others. The albums had excellent liner notes and packaged with wonderful photos in a gatefold album. We feature a number of these recordings on the next two programs as well as a wealth of great recordings from Atlantic's, early years spanning their founding in 1947 through 1952.

Brothers Nesuhin and Ahmet Ertegu were ardent fans of jazz and rhythm & blues music, amassing a collection of over 15,000 78rpm records. Atlantic Records was incorporated in October 1947 and was run by Herb Abramson (President), who put up the initial investment,  and Ertegun (vice-president in charge of A&R, production and promotion) while Abramson's wife Miriam ran the label's publishing company. Atlantic's first batch of recordings were issued in late January 1948. Atlantic Records was never into recording the blues in a big way, unlike other independents. One reason was its New York location, as Ahmet Ertegun told Charlie Gillet:  "You just couldn't find blues singers in Harlem or   Washington. They were all in Chicago, Texas, New Orleans, so we realised we had to go down south, both to find new artists and record them." This wasn't exactly true, as other New York and New Jersey independents such as Savoy, De Luxe, Manor and Sittin' In With had  New  York~based  artists under contract. The first artists signed by Atlantic were New York-based artists with jazz backgrounds, such as Joe Morris and Tiny Grimes, although their singles were marketed as R&B.

Among the recordings Lowry got reissued and featured today are sides by Blind Willie McTell, and Professor Longhair. In 1949 a 15-song session by Blind Willie McTell was cut for the newly formed Atlantic Records. Only two songs, "Kill It Kid" and "Broke Down Engine Blues," were ever issued on a failed single, and the session was forgotten until almost 20 years later.  Longhair began to take his playing seriously in 1948, earning a gig at the Caldonia Club in New Orleans. He debuted on wax in 1949, laying down four tracks (including the first version of his signature "Mardi Gras in New Orleans") for the Dallas-based Star Talent label. Union problems forced those sides off the market, but Longhair's next date for Mercury the same year produced his first and only national R&B hit in 1950, the hilarious "Bald Head." The pianist made great records for Atlantic in 1949 and 1950-1951, Federal in 1951, Wasco in 1952, and Atlantic again in 1953 plus other scattered small label sides through the 50's. Thirteen of his Atlantic sides were issued on the album  Professor Longhair: New Orleans Piano.

Sticks McGhee

As Pete recalled in a column years later: "It must have been 1969 when both Mike Leadbitter and Simon Napier (Simon’s only trip. I do believe) came the US leaving Blues Unlimited temporarily without an editor! …Leads had an appointment to see Tunc Erim at the offices of Atlantic Records and I tagged along with the two of them (Simon & Mike) out of curiosity – I’d never been close to a big operation like that! We were permitted to look through the various file books for additions to the post-war discography (Leadbitter/Slaven) and were amazed at the information that could be gleaned. They were efficient. So I elected myself as a party of one to go back after that initial contact to do more detailed copying than could be done that first time. Photocopiers had not yet taken over and I used a pen and notebook to transcribe it all. In doing so, something else came to the surface – the realization that somehow some of this stuff ought to be heard. Actually, it was when I realized that there were thirteen unreleased sides by Blind Willie McTell that I became fixated on this idea. One LP wouldn’t do the trick… I had to work out some sort of package, including the McTell, and try and get it published/released."

Other early Atlantic artists featured today include Joe Morris, Tiny Grimes, Sticks McGhee, Ruth Brown, Frank Floorshow Culley, Jimmy "Baby Face" Lewis and Texas Johnny Brown. Joe Morris began his career as a jazz trumpet play but his legacy rests with his 1950s work as leader of R&B-oriented Joe Morris Orchestra. After working with Lionel Hampton, Morris signed with tAtlantic Records, and his "Anytime, Any Place, Anywhere" (with vocal by Laurie Tate) put the new record company on the map when it hit number one on the R&B charts in 1950. The Joe Morris Orchestra functioned as the unofficial house band for Atlantic in the early to mid-'50s, and several future Atlantic stars passed through its ranks, including Ray Charles and Lowell Fulson. In addition to working for Atlantic, Morris also recorded sides for Decca and Herald. He died in 1958.

In 1938, Tiny Grimes started playing electric guitar, and two years later he was playing in a popular jive group, the Cats and the Fiddle. During 1943-1944, Grimes was part of a classic Art Tatum Trio. In September 1944, he led his first record date, using Charlie Parker." He also recorded for Blue Note in 1946, and then put together an R&B-oriented group, the Rockin' Highlanders, that featured the tenor of Red Prysock during 1948-1952 where he recorded for Atlantic. Later sessions were for Prestige/Swingville, Black & Blue, Muse, and Sonet.

Sticks McGhee may have not been as prolific or celebrated as his brother Brownie, but guitarist Stick McGhee cut some great blues and R&B from 1947 to 1960. McGhee's Ruth Brownfirst recorded version of his classic  "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" for thes Harlem logo made little impression in 1947, but a 1949 remake for Atlantic (as Stick McGhee & His Buddies) proved a massive R&B hit. After one more smash for Atlantic in 1951's "he moved along to Essex, King, Savoy, and Herald before passing in 1960.

They called Atlantic Records "the house that Ruth built" during the 1950's. Ruth Brown's hitmaking reign from 1949 to the close of the '50s helped establish the label's predominance in the R&B field. Brown made her debut in May 1949, waxing t"So Long" which proved to be her first hit. After an even two-dozen R&B chart appearances for Atlantic that ended in 1960 she faded from view. Brown's nine-year ordeal to recoup her share of royalties from all those Atlantic platters led to the formation of the nonprofit Rhythm & Blues Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping others in the same frustrating situation. In 1993 Brown was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She passed in 2006.

Johnny Brown's career started in a band called the Aladdin Chickenshackers, who regularly backed Amos Milburn.He recorded with Milburn, and also backed Ruth Brown on her earliest cuts for Atlantic. Through this work, in 1949 although not issued at the time, Brown was able to record some tracks of his own for Atlantic. Brown's recording career continued in the mid 1950s, when he was utilized mainly as a sideman for both of the affiliated Duke and Peacock record labels. Brown toured as Bland's lead guitarist in the 1950s and 1960s.

Frank Culley formed his own R&B group in the mid-40s, recording for the Lenox label in NYC and backing Wynonie Harris on King. In 1948, he was signed by the fledgling Atlantic label and led its first house band, backing the early stars of R&B as well as recording some thirty tracks under his own name. After leaving Atlantic in 1951, Culley recorded for RCA Victor, Parrot, Chess and Baton without success.

Jimmy "Baby Face" Lewis cut nearly thirty sides between 1947 and 1955 for Aladdin, Atlantic, Savoy and other labels. Lewis was a fine smooth voced singer and excellent guitarist who's material  alternated between Charles Brown styled ballads and jump blues.His entire output has been issued on CD by Blue Moon as Jimmy Baby Face Lewis: Complete 1947-1955.

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
B.B. King LucilleLucille
B.B. King You Done Lost Your Good ThingMy Kind of Blues
B.B. King Walking Dr Bill My Kind of Blues
B.B. King Boogie Rock (aka House Rocker) The Soul Of B.B. King
B.B. King Night Life Blues Is King
B.B. King The JungleThe Jungle
B.B. King Don't Let It Shock You The Soul Of B.B. King
B.B. King My Own Fault My Kind of Blues
B.B. King Love, Honor and Obey The Soul Of B.B. King
B.B. King The Letter The Soul Of B.B. King
B.B. King Woke Up This Morning Singin' The Blues
B.B. King Woman I Love B.B. King Wails
B.B. King How Blue Can You Get?Live At The Regal
B.B. King When My Heart Beats Like A HammerThe Vintage Years
B.B. King Sweet Sixteen (Parts 1&2) The Vintage Years
B.B. King Sweet Little Angel Live At The Regal
B.B. King Why Does Everything Happen To MeThe Best of the Kent Singles
B.B. King That Ain't The Way To Do ItThe Vintage Years
B.B. King Baby Get Lost Blues Is King
B.B. King We Can't Make ItB.B. King Wails
B.B. King Gamblers Blues Blues Is King
B.B. King Shut Your Mouth More
B.B. King (Ain't That) Just Like a Woman More
B.B. King B.B. Boogie Ladies & Gentlemen ... Mr. B.B. King
B.B. KingSave A Seat For MeSings Spirituals

Show Notes:

The king of the blues, B.B. King, died on May 14th. My first blues album was B.B.'s Live At The Regal which I picked up for $3.99 at Tower Records in NYC. After that I started picking up those great reissue albums put out by Ace Records which collected his 50's sides. I'll be focusing on B.B.'s 50's and 60's sides today. Jazz 90.1 will honor B.B. King with a special 12 hour music vigil. Following my show, Jim McGrath (The Blues Spectrum), Derrick Lucas (The Soul Spectrum) and Paul Conley (Jazz Horizons) will all pay tribute to B.B. on their programs today beginning at 5 p.m. through Monday morning at 6 a.m. With the news of B.B.'s passing I did not have time to put together show notes.

B.B. King

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