ARTISTSONGALBUM
James Brewer I’m So Glad Good Whiskey’s BackBlues From Maxwell Street

Daddy StovepipeThe Monkey And The BaboonBlues From Maxwell Street
Blind Arvella GrayA RoughneckConversation With The Blues
Blind Arvella GrayHave Mercy Mr. PercyBlues From Maxwell Street
Will ShadeDays of 1900/Newport News BluesConversation With The Blues
Boogie Woogie RedSo Much Good FeelingConversation With The Blues
Little Brother Montgomery Walking Basses/Dud Low Joe/The First Vicksburg BluesConversation With The Blues
Roosevelt Sykes They Call Him "Pork Chops"/Forty-Four BluesConversation With The Blues
Otis SpannOnly Places They Can Go/People Call Me LuckyConversation With The Blues
Sunnyland SlimGot The Blues About My BabyThe La Salle Chicago Blues Recordings Vol. 1
Robert Lockwood TalkingConversation With The Blues (vinyl)
Robert Lockwood Take A Little Walk With MeConversation With The Blues (vinyl)
Sunnyland SlimGot The Blues About My BabyLa Salle Chicago Blues Recordings Vol.1
J.B. Lenoir My Father's Style/So It Rocked On/Move to Kansas CityConversation Conversation With The BluesWith The Blues
Brother John SellersMove Back! For WhatConversation With The Blues
Robert Curtis SmithStella RuthI Have To Paint My Face
Robert Curtis SmithMost Reason I SingConversation With The Blues
Robert Curtis SmithI Hope One Day My Luck Will Change Conversation With The Blues
Sam ChatmonI Have To Paint My FaceI Have To Paint My Face
K.C. DouglasBig Road Blues I Have To Paint My Face
Jasper LoveThe SlopI Have To Paint My Face
Willie ThomasA Little Different Conversation With The Blues
Butch Cage & Willie ThomasOne Dime Blues I Have To Paint My Face
Big Joe WilliamsMarried Woman BluesLive at the Fickle Pickle
Jewel Long Frankie and AlbertRural Blues Vol. 2 1951-1962

Lil Son JacksonThe Onliest WayConversation With The Blues
Lil Son JacksonJohnnie MaeBlues Came To Texas
Buster Pickens To Have The Blues WithinConversation With The Blues
Buster Pickens Mountain JackBack Door Blues
Mance LipscombBlues In The BottleConversation With The Blues
Mance LipscombSugar Babe (It's All Over Now)Texas Sharecropper and Songster
Mance LipscombBig Boss ManTexas Sharecropper and Songster
Black Ace Black Ace InterviewBroadcasting The Blues
Black Ace I Am The Black AceI'm The Boss Card In Your Hand
Black Ace Golden SlipperI'm The Boss Card In Your Hand
Alex Moore Chock House Days/Come and Get MeConversation With The Blues
Alex Moore Going Back To Froggy BottomFrom North Dallas To The East Side
Henry TownsendWhat Have I Commited? Conversation With The Blues
Henry BrownHenry Brown BluesHenry Brown Blues
Stump johnsonStump Johnson InterviewBroadcasting The Blues
Henry BrownDeep Morgan Is Delmar NowHenry Brown Blues

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

At the time of the publication of Paul Oliver's first book, Blues Fell This Morning, Oliver hand not visited the United States. As Oliver notes: "Its publication prompted Berha Von Allman of the American Embassy to draw my attention to the Foreign Specialist grant program. With a small grant and modest royalties the trip was made possible …For an enthusiast in Europe who did not live in the United States and in fact, for a middle-class white American too, blues records provided virtually the prime source for enjoyment of the music and information on its performers and content. Many singers interested me greatly as performers and as blues poets – Whistling Alex Moore, Lightin Hopkins and J.B. Lenoir, who recorded respectively in the 20s, 40s and 50s, among them. It was important for me to try and seek out these singers and many others whose records I had enjoyed and knew by heart. …The opportunity before me was one where I could take a synchronic slice through the blues phenomenon. It might be the last occasion when such a cross-section in time, culture and tradition was possible, I believed. Without a doubt, it was imperative to make the trip."

In the summer of 1960 Paul Oliver came to the United States with the aid of a State Department grant and BBC field recorder with the idea, as he writes of “putting on tape the conversation and music of blues artists in the country and the cities, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. Some of the blues singers were famous, or had been, whilst others were unknown and destined to remain so. … The blues singers of the Mississippi Delta or East Texas Piney woods may have sung and played in different styles from those currently working in Chicago or Detroit but between them was a common bond of feeling and expression which lay at the root of the blues.” Oliver began his trip in the east hitting Detroit, Chicago, Memphis and St. Louis before joining forces with collector Chris Stratwichz who would found Arhoolie records, and researcher Mack McCormick. The trio, and Oliver’s wife Valerie, traveled through Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas where they record the Black Ace, Alex Moore, K.C. Douglas, Buster Pickens, Lil Son Jackson, Mance Lipscomb, Sam Chatmon and others. "Far from inhibiting the speakers the BBC field recorder excited genius interest as a piece of equipment and encouraged many a blues singer to summon his memories and address his observations with clarity and confidence." On his return to England Oliver produced BBC radio-documentaries on his experiences and compiled the conversations he had with blues singers in his groundbreaking book, Conversation with the Blues. Today we go back in time, traveling along with Oliver, tracing his route and playing the blues and conversation he recorded.

Oliver began his journey at Harvard where he interviewed Professors Raiford Logan and Sterling Brown, stopped briefly in Washington D.C. before spending a couple of days in New York City. There he interviewed Sam Price, Victoria Spivey and John Lee Hooker. On July 7th he was in Detroit where interviewed and taped performances by Boogie Woogie Red, Eddie Kirkland and Floyd Taylor. The only material issued from these encounters is an brief interview segment from John Lee Hooker and a performance by Boogie Woogie Red which we feature today. Boogie Woogie Red played piano on many records made by John Lee Hooker and he also recorded himself on the Fortune label.

Between July 9th and the 16th Oliver was in Chicago where he did recordings on Maxwell Street, his friend John Steiner's home at and at Muddy Waters' house. The Maxwell Street recordings resulted in the album Blues From Maxwell Street issued on the Heritage label on issued for the first time on CD on the Document label. In the liner notes Oliver wrote: ”The blues singers of Maxwell Street are many, and many are transitory figures, here today, hopping a freight train tomorrow. Amongst the best a familiar figures are Blind Grey, Blind Brewer, King David and Daddy Stovepipe, and these are the singers who are featured on this documentary of one of the most colorful Negro streets in the United States.”

James Brewer was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi on 1920 and moved to Chicago in the 1940's where he spent the latter part of his life busking and performing both blues and religious songs at blues and folk festivals, on Chicago's Maxwell Street and other venues. By the early 1950's he settled in St. Louis playing streetcars and taverns and also joined a washboard band for a spell. By the mid-50's he was back in Chicago where he married his wife Fannie. Brewer's new mother-in-law bought him an electric guitar and amplifier. Returning to Maxwell Street he devoted himself exclusively to religious music. In 1962, however, he was offered an opportunity to play blues at a concert at Northwestern University and also began a regular gig at the No Exit Cafe which lasted for two decades. He went on to play major festivals and clubs in the United States, Canada and Europe. He was recorded by Swedish Radio in 1964, cut sides for Testament plus cut the full-length albums Jim Brewer (Philo, 1974) and Tough Luck (Earwig, 1983).

Arvella Gray was born James Dixon in Somerville, Texas. He spent the latter part of his life performing and busking blues and gospel music at Chicago's Maxwell Street. In the '60s, he recorded three singles for his own Gray label. Gray's only album, 1973's The Singing Drifter was reissued on the Conjuroo record label in 2005. Gray died in Chicago in September 1980, at the age of 74.

Johnny Watson, alias Daddy Stovepipe was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 12th 1867 and died in Chicago, November 1st 1963. A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, he was in his late fifties when he became one of the first blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. He later recorded with his wife, Mississippi Sarah, in the 1930s and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings.

"I Met Sunnyland Slim in St. Louis Jimmy's basement rooms where he lived underneath's Muddy Water's house. We had a solid two-day session of blues there, with singers, guitarists and pianists wandering in, playing for a while until their places were taken by other visitors. My field recorder was working overtime as a veritable 'Who's Who' of Chicago blues took part in the music. …The liqueur flowed and so did the music. John Steiner recorded it 'as it came' with as little interference with the informality of the session as was possible; glasses were filled, emptied and filled again; jibes, shouts and comments went on tape with the music. The result was 'authentic blues' – the blues and boogie of Chicago as it was then and is today, played and sung by some of the best exponents, no holds barred, without fake or 'folk.'” Also rerecorded were Roosevelt Sykes who was taped at "John Steiner's Chicago home and at Muddy Water's, playing for me the 44 Blues and Jesse Bell's West Helena Blues."

July 17th found Oliver in New York again taping interviews and music with J.B. Lenoir and Brother John Sellers and in Philadelphia interviewing Lonnie Johnson. He was back in Chicago on the 18th to interview Eddie Boyd and Albert Wynn. It was then down to Memphis where between the 20th and 22nd he taped interviews and music by Gus cannon, Will Shade, Bo Carter, Dewey Corley and Robert Henry. Then it was down to Clarksdale from the 23rd through the 25th.

A chance meeting with Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, at Wade Walton's Big 6 Barber Shop in Clarksdale led to the discovery of an exceptional blues singer named Robert Curtis Smith. The following year Strachwitz recorded him again, resulting in the magnificent 1961 Bluesville album, Clarksdale Blues, his lone full-length album that has yet to be issued on CD. The record didn't seem to make much of an impact, sinking without a trace and over the year becoming highly collectible. His earliest sides from 1960 appear on the collection I Have to Paint My Face which we feature today as well as a short spoken piece by Smith. Smith disappeared from the blues world not long after these recordings but 30 years later he was rediscovered living in Chicago. He had given up blues in the passing years, but he continued to play in church and was recorded performing gospel numbers in 1990 on the anthology From Mississippi to Chicago. Smith passed in 2010.

Another notable discovery was pianist Jasper Love who was related to pianist Willie Love who cut some great records fro the Jackson base Trumpet label in the 50's. The recordings that comprise the collection I Have To Paint My Face stem from this trip and are available on Arhoolie Records. Among those recorded were Sam Chatmon, K.C. Douglas, Big Joe Williams, Butch Cage & Willie Thomas, Robert Curtis Smith and others. The Chatmon sides were his first post-war sides, and arguably his best, and he would record prolifically through the 70's and was quite active on the festival circuit.

Butch Cage & Willie Thomas were recorded in Louisiana where Olive found himself for a few days in the first week of August. He also interviewed Billie and Dede Pierce during this period. Between the 9th and 11th he was in Houston where interviews were done with Lightnin' Hopkins and Luke "Long" Gone Miles were conducted as well as interview and music from pianist Buster Pickens. As Oliver wrote in the liner notes to Buster Pickens sole album: "Buster Pickens is a barrelhouse pianist who has played the sawmills, the turpentine camps and the oil 'boom' towns since his childhood. He has outlasted most of his contemporaries in their tough an often dangerous life and can lay good claim to be virtually the last of the sawmill pianists." His solo album for Heritage, the self-titled Buster Pickens, was reissued in the 70's on Flyright as Back Door Blues but has never appeared on CD. The sessions were organized by Paul Oliver and the recording done by Mack McCormick and Chris Strachwitz.

By the second week of August Strachwitz, McCormick and Oliver were in Navasota, Texas. Oliver recalls the events vividly: "'Just wait. We've got something for you to hear that will set you back on your ears! Exasperatingly, Mack McCormick and Chris Stratchwitz would say very little else, about their new-found 'discovery' but their ill-suppressed excitement was assurance enough that we were soon to hear something special. It was August 1960. A few weeks before, Chris and Mack had been on a search for songsters and blues singers in East Texas. A man named 'Peg Leg' had told them that the best guitar picker around was Mance Lipscomb, an opinion that was confirmed by others in the area. …Much of the music that Mance played for them that evening was recorded and issued on Arhoolie F 1001 'Mance Lipscomb – Texas Sharecropper and Songster'; the balance of the record was taped when Mack and Chris took my wife and me to visit him on 11 August." Soon after Lipscomb's name quickly became well known among blues and folk music fans and he appeared at numerous festivals and coffeehouse and made several more recordings for Arhoolie. In the late 1960s. Lipscomb passed in 1976.

By the 14th they were in Fort Worth, Texas where they encountered B.K. Turner aka the Black Ace. The Black Ace was well known in the 30's and 40's, at least among black audiences, in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. He cut two sides for the ARC label in 1936 which were never issued but had better luck the following year cutting six sides for Decca in 1937 all of which were released. It was these sides that would later garner him notice among blues collectors and which led to a fleeting comeback. Comeback is probably not the right word as Turner had no interest in playing blues full time again although thankfully he was persuaded to record two sessions at his Fort Worth home which were issued as The Black Ace on Arhoolie (reissued on CD as Black Ace: I'm The Boss Card In Your Hand).

Other artists recorded in Texas included Lil Son Jackson, Alex Moore and Jewell Long.  Since quitting the music business Jackson had been working for an auto parts shop and did not want to be disturbed and bothered by music related people. As Chris Stratwitchz writes: “That July o f1960 Lil' Son Jackson recalled many of his earlier recordings, once I had brought in some of his Gold Star 78s, which I had just found in Ft. Worth. He also came up with a few more personal and traditional songs which he had not previously recorded.” The results were issued on a self-titled album on Arhoolie.

Of Alex Moore, Oliver wrote: “When I first heard his records, a dozen years ago, I was attracted by their unique quality and hoped that I one day meet the man whose memorable blues had so enriched the Columbia and Decca catalogs. After pursuing many false leads and encountering a number of setbacks I finally found him seated on the screened porch of a small bar situated scarcely a hundred yards from the street where he was born in North Dallas, Texas.” After finding a piano, Oliver writes, “a few moments were all that was necessary to prove that Alex Moore was a finer blues player than, on the evidence of his records, at any time in his life.”

Regarding Jewel Long, Oliver wrote he "lived in the tough, unlovely, racially tense little community of Sealy, Texas." Of himself, Long said "I been playin' guitar, little piano most of my life.I come up, under John Thomas, used to play a twelve string here. And my brother, he was a ragtime player, pianist in these parts. He was a noted muscianer, my brother and I learned a bit of piano from him. I used to play for country suppers in the Brazos Bottom, play for jukes and like that. Frankie and Albert, Ella Speed – those old songs, and them old cotton-patch blues."

From August 24th through the 29th Oliver was in St. Louis conducted interviews with Edith Johnson, Mary Johnson, Walter Davis, Henry Townsend, Speckled Red, Henry Brown and others. As Oliver writes of his trip to St. Louis: “A mile and a half from the river there is a large open triangle on Franklin where a number of roads meet and where the rectilinear monotony of the street planning is broken. It is a crowded, bustling forum where colored children dart around the knots of laughing, chattering people in the hot, dusty street. Less than a block away on Easton lives a legendary figure in the story of blues piano, Henry Brown. To find him in this maze of streets would require the skill of a detective – and did, for his whereabouts were traced by Charlie O'Brien of the Police Department, a few years ago. Charlie and I again went in search of him. Finally interrupting him in a game of pool in a joint on the corner of Easton and Garrison.”The recordings Oliver taped were issued originally on the 77 label and have since been issued on CD. The session was recorded at Pinkey Boxx's Beauty Parlor in St. Louis. Brown worked clubs such as the Blue Flame Club, the 9-0-5 Club, Jim’s Place and Katy Red’s, from the twenties into the 30’s. Recorded for Brunswisck with Ike Rogers and Mary Johnson in 1929, for Paramount in Richmond and Grafton in ‘29 and ‘30.

The bulk of today's notes come from the liner notes Oliver wrote for the recordings released during the trip, as well as from the book Conversation With The Blues. As Oliver notes: "Some of the experiences and results of research were worked into articles and record sleeve notes. A selection was published in my book  Blues Off  The Record: Thirty Years of Blues Commentary. Less evidently, perhaps, a great deal of the information gathered was Incorporated into The Story of The Blues."

There has been a fair bit of material that Oliver recorded in 1960 that has been released. Here is a list of the albums and CD's where this material can be found:

Conversation with The Blues (issued on LP as a companion to the book and also as a CD to the 1997 reprint of the book. Some tracks on the LP are not on the CD)

Broadcasting The Blues (a companion to the book of the same name, this contains several of Oliver's interviews from the 1960 trip)

Blues From Maxwell Street (originally issued on the Heritage, this has just been issued on CD by the Document label)

Sunnyland Slim and Little Brother Montgomery: Chicago Blues Session  (originally issued on the 77 label and subsequently issued on Wolf, Polydor and Southland)

Henry Brown: Henry Brown Blues  (originally issued on the 77 label and subsequently issued on CD by Southland)

Alex Moore (issued on CD as From North Dallas To The East Side)

I Have To Paint My Face  (issued on CD by Arhoolie)

Lil Son Jackson (issued on CD by Arhoolie as Blues Come To Texas)

The Black Ace (issued on CD by Arhoolie as I'm The Boss Card In Your Hand)

Buster Pickens (first issued on Heritage then in the 70's as Back Door Blues on Flyright but not available on CD)

Mance Lipscomb: Texas Sharecropper and Songster (issued on CD by Arhoolie)

Rural Blues Vol.  2 1951-1962 (contains the Jewell Long sides recorded during Oliver's trip)

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