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Sun 1 Jan 2012
|Sparks Brothers||Louisiana Bound||The Sparks Brothers 1932-1935
|Sparks Brothers|| East Chicago Blues ||Twenty First. St. Stomp: The Piano Blues Of St. Louis
|Sparks Brothers||4-11-44 ||Twenty First. St. Stomp: The Piano Blues Of St. Louis
|Peetie Wheatstraw||Third Street's Going Down||The Essential
|Peetie Wheatstraw||Meat Cutter Blues|| Peetie Wheatstraw Vol. 3
|Peetie Wheatstraw||Shack Bully Stomp||The Essential
|Andy Boy||Evil Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
|Andy Boy||Too Late Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
|Andy Boy|| House Raid Blues ||The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
|Black Boy Shine||Sugarland Blues||Black Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
|Black Boy Shine||Dog House Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937
|Black Boy Shine||Back Home Blues||Black Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
|Jesse James||Southern Casey Jones||Piano Blues Vol. 1 192 -1936
|Jesse James||Sweet Patuni||Piano Blues Vol. 1 192 -1936
|Sparks Brothers||Down On The Levee||Down On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis Vol. 2
|Sparks Brothers||Chicago’s Too Much For Me ||Down On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis Vol. 2
|Sparks Brothers||Tell Her About Me||The Sparks Brothers 1932-1935
|Peetie Wheatstraw||Gangster's Blues|| Peetie Wheatstraw Vol. 7 1940-1941
|Peetie Wheatstraw||Working On the Project||The Essential
|Peetie Wheatstraw||Peetie Wheatstraw Stomp ||The Essential
|Andy Boy||Church Street Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
|Andy Boy||Jive Blues ||Joe Pullum Vol. 2 1935-1951
|Black Boy Shine ||Married Man Blues||Black Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-193
|Black Boy Shine ||Dallas Woman Blues||Leroy Carr & Black Boy Shine: Unissued Test Pressings & Alternate Takes 1934-37
|Black Boy Shine ||Brown House Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937
|Jesse James||Highway 61||Piano Blues Vol. 1 192 -1936
|Jesse James||Lonesome Day Blues||Piano Blues Vol. 1 192 -1936
|Sparks Brothers||I.C. Train Blues ||The Sparks Brothers 1932-1935
|Sparks Brothers||Everyday I Have The Blues||The Modern Recordings Vol. 2
|Joe Pullum w/ Andy Boy||Dixie My Home||Joe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
|Walter ''Cowboy'' Washington w/ Andy Boy||Ice Pick Mama||The Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937
On today's show we spotlight five superb blues pianists active in the 1930's and who remain largely forgotten today. Peetie Wheatstraw is by far the most well known artist featured today and one of the most popular and influential artists of the 1930's. Wheatstraw recorded in every year of the 1930's save 1933, cutting over one hundred and sixty sides. The Sparks brothers were based in St. Louis, Aaron on piano and Marion on vocals, and cut four sessions between 1932 and 1935. Andy Boy was a terrific pianist and expressive singer from Galveston, Texas who cut only eight sides under his own name as well as backing singers Joe Pullum and Walter 'Cowboy' Washington. Almost nothing is known of fellow Texas pianist Black Boy Shine, aka Harold Holiday, except that he was based in a section of Houston (which may have been his home) called West Dallas. In 1936 and 1937 he recorded for Vocalion in San Antonio and Dallas, and left behind 18 sides. Jesse James was a rough, two-fisted barrelhouse pianist probably based in Cincinnati. His legacy rest on four sides he cut in 1936.
Peetie Wheatstraw was born William Bunch and during his recording career was also know under the colorful sobriquets the Devil's Son-in-law and the High Sheriff from Hell. In fact he may have been one of the key links in the identification of the blues singer and the devil. He recorded over 160 songs, usually accompanied by his own piano and provided accompaniment on records to numerous others. Between 1930 and his death in 1941 he remained immensely popular for buyers of race records and was a fixture on the vibrant St. Louis blues scene of the 30's. St. Louis chronicler Henry Townsend emphasizes this point: "Around town he was pretty well busy; his name was ringing." Popularity is one thing but influence was another and his biographer Paul Garon makes no bones about Wheatstraw's enormous influence: "His style of blues singing was magnetically influential… It is no exaggeration to say that blues singing in the late 1930's bore the mark of Peetie Wheatstraw." Those cited as being influenced by Wheatstraw ("oooh, well, well" being his signature phrase) were a diverse lot including Robert Johnson, Champion Jack Dupree, Smokey Hogg and Big Joe Williams among others.
Wheatstraw died in 1941 when the car he was riding in slammed into a standing freight car. He was virtually ignored by blues researchers after his death (prior to Garon's book, The Devil's Son-In-Law: The Story Of Peetie Wheatstraw & His Songs, the only substantial writing on him was an article by Paul Oliver in Jazz Monthly from 1959) . Garon's insightful book makes an eloquent case for Wheatstraw' place in blues history. He was perhaps the most popular urban bluesman of his era and as Garon sums up "should be judged by the majesty of his own performances…"
Wheatstraw was a solid piano player who uses his playing to adorn his songs, usually not stretching out much outside of a few more boisterous pieces such as "Shack Bully Stomp" and "Peetie Wheatstraw Stomp", both featured today. On other numbers he gives plenty of room to his talented guitarists, most notably Kokomo Arnold and Lonnie Johnson. He was also an imaginative lyricist as we hear on some fine topical numbers such as "Working On The Project" and "Third Street's Going Down" (the street, which was being torn down, ran through a tough section of East St. Louis called the "Valley" known for its gambling houses, saloons and brothels and was also where Wheatstraw lived):
We used to have luck in the Vally, but the girls had to move out of town (2x)
Some moved in the alley, oooh, well, well, because Third Street is going down
The city hired Mr. Keeler to put a highway through that part of town (2x)
And the law told the girls to move, oooh, well, well, 'cause we're tearing Third Street down
Aaron and Marion (he changed his name to Milton in 1929) were twins born to Ruth and Sullie Gant in Tupelo, Mississippi. Soon after the twins were born Ruth married Carl Sparks. According to Cleveland Sparks, uncle of Aaron and Marion: "Piano player Aaron he learned how to play piano before he could holler and shout…it was a coloured fellow teaching him. He had a joint y'know selling bootleg whiskey back in the corner. He just had a crowd there all the time and he just learned to play." Henry Townsend, who often accompanied Marion, had this to say: "He just kept getting better and better and got to playing for illegal joints y'know. …Pinetop was doing a lot of house-party playing and uh 'cause this was a trend then. We would go from house-party to house-party and make some money to pay the rent. …Now at that time Milton wasn't singing, Pinetop was the star when it come to singing. And so just out of nowhere Milton decided he was going to sing and he'd start. …Aaron got the name Pinetop because "He was very good at the number that Smith made [Pinetop Smith's "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie"]. Yeah he was very good with that number and as most guys do he just started to call himself Pinetop himself y'know. The nickname "Lindberg", Townsend suggests, was probably due to Milton's prowess in dancing the Lindberg or Lindy Hop.
The brothers cut four sessions, the first for Victor and the other three for Bluebird, between 1932 and 1935. Milton cut two songs for Decca in 1934 under the name Flyin' Lindberg. Aaron backed a number of St. Louis artists at their second session: Elisabeth Washington, Tecumseh McDowell, Dorotha Trowbridge, James "Stump" Johnson and Charlie McFadden. The brothers' led rough and tumble lives reflected in songs that dealt with gambling, jail, alcohol, woman, hoboing and railroads. In spite of their lyrics and rough background, the music the brothers made was surprisingly tender and wistful. They excelled at thoughtful, mid-tempo blues such as "East Chicago Blues", "Down On The Levee" and "4X11=44" a reference to number combination for playing policy.
Milton possessed a strong, nasal voice that is extremely appealing while Milton had a warm, sensitive vocal that occasionally dips into a mellow falsetto. Aaron was an exceptional and versatile piano player as Chris Smith appraises: "Aaron's playing features the steady chordal basses typical of St. Louis, and a very inventive right hand, endowed with melodic grace and propulsive energy. He was also a capable boogie player, with a singing line and a fondness for medium tempos." Aaron's fine abilities as an accompanist extend to his backing a trio of St. Louis ladies. Elisabeth Washington was an appealing, slightly nasal singer with a good sense of delivery; "Riot Call Blues" and "Whiskey Blues" (1933) are particularly tough blues with the latter opening with the line "Everyday I have the blues" a song that the brothers would debut two years later.
Andy Boy, from Galveston Texas, was part of a group of Texas pianists dubbed the Santa Fe group who acquired their name not only because they rode the Santa Fe from job to job, but also because, according to the Houston Pianist Robert Shaw, "anyone inquiring the name of a selection was invariably told, "that's the 'Santa Fe'." As blues scholar Paul Oliver wrote: "…There is a broad stylistic and thematic similarity in the music of the pianists who followed the Santa Fe through the barrelhouses of Ford Bend, Houston and Galveston counties, and down in the Brazos Bottoms. …Immediately recognizable with its rolling basses, its often ragtimey blues accompaniments, its anticipatory beat—this is the Santa Fe group." This group travelled the branches of the Santa Fe line to the lumber camps, oil fields and towns. In the cities "they were to be heard in the red light district of Galveston's Post Office Street or Church Street, on Houston's West Dallas Street or in Richmond's Mud Alley."
Among the best of the Santa Fe group were Rob Cooper of Houston, and Andy Boy of Galveston. Both men show the influence of Hersal Thomas and both men's style share strong ragtime elements. Stylistically, Oliver notes, "Andy Boy (Boy was his surname) and Rob Cooper were a few years older than Hersal Thomas" and "careful listening to the playing of Andy Boy reveals hints of the connection between them; in spite of the themes that he sang and played with their somewhat more modern sound, Galveston born Andy Boy was a pianist whose formative years were spent in the company of Hersal and his fellow pianists."
Andy Boy had a rough, expressive voice offset with his sprightly blues piano laced with ragtime flourishes. Andy Boy's songs are filled with vivid imagery, humor, clever wordplay and a times a deep pathos. Along with pianist Rob Cooper, Andy Boy plays prominently on the records of Joe Pullum, one of the era's most distinctive and imaginative vocalists. Andy Boy cut only eight sides under his own name as well as backing both Pullum and the obscure Walter 'Cowboy' Washington.
One of his most memorable numbers was the rollicking "House Raid Blues" (a close cousin to Little Hat Jones' "Kentucky Blues") as Andy Boy wittily describes a police break-in at Charlie Shiro's Galveston club: "
Then out the widow I did hop
Followed closely by a cop
Then around the corner I did run
I heard the shot from some law's gun
Said it ain't no use in shooting, ‘cause I ain't gonna be here long
Then I was long gone, from Kentucky, long gone
Got away lucky and I left so keen
I left like a submarine, couldn't hardly be seen
The vigorously sung "Church Street Blues" was perhaps his finest number where he evocatively sang: "Going down to the Gulf/Watch the waves come in . . ." and "I was born and raised in that good old seaport town/Where we all had fun and stomped The Grinder down." In the sombre "Evil Blues" he sang: "I got the evil blues, prejudicy on my mind" and was in quite a different frame of mind on the bouncy "Jive Blues" where he sings "Now the good book says thou shall not break the ten commandment law/I'm gonna break the ten commandments on you're jaw."
Harold Holiday, known as Black Boy Shine, was one of the acknowledged leaders among the Santa Fe group of pianists. He recorded more prolifically then the rest; cutting 18 issued sides in 1936 and 1937 as well as leaving a batch of unissued sides in the can. As Paul Oliver noted: "He played in a mellow style, with a subtler release than the sharp snap favoured by several of the piano men, and he sang in a slightly world-weary voice of the days when the "Chophouse" operated on West Dallas Street. It was a haven for pianists down on their luck, where the proprietor would prepare soup and sandwiches for them, and cook any rabbits they'd managed to club on the waste lots that still dotted the black wards of the city." He describes this vividly in one of his best numbers, "Dog House Blues: "
Well I'm going to the Dog House, down On West Dallas Street (2x)
When I get broke and hungry, I know I can get a feed
"When times were better", Oliver wrote, "and the barrelhouses were open again, Shine was to be found at Sugarland, near the sugar refineries and the State Farm Unit, or way out at Richmond. The latter is a run-down, predominately black township still, an unlovely place of old buildings fronting on the railroad tracks close to the Brazos River. Behind the tracks the roads fall back steeply for a couple of blocks to the old haunt of hustlers and whores, Mud Alley. There on Mud Alley was the Brown House, Shine's base when he wasn't travelling…" Both places feature in Shine's songs; In "Sugarland Blues" he sings "I dump sugar all day/Clean until broad daylight/I done everything for that woman/Still she don't treat me right" and in "Brown House Blues" he sings "Woke up this morning with the muddy alley blues/ I lost all my money and my alley shoes/I was playing boogie-woogie and having my fun" and then goes on describe a raid in detail, obviously a common occurrence in these kind of joints. In general his lyrics vividly reflect the harsher side of black life such as songs like "Hobo Blues" and "Ice Pick and Pistol Woman Blues.”
It was once believed that Jesse James was a convict, brought to the studio under guard to make his four recordings in 1936. This "information" was originally given to Paul Oliver by Sammy Price in 1960 who was a member of Decca's A&R staff in the 30s. This romantic idea probably came from the lyrics of "Lonesome Day Blues:"
I'm going to the Big House and, I don't even care
Don't you hear me talking to 'em, scolding to my death
I'm going in the morning and I don't even care
I might get four, five years, Lord and I might get the chair
Some got six months, some got a solid year
You hear me talking to ya buddy what made you stop by here
Some of them got six months partner, and some got a solid year
But I believe my partner, Lord got lifetime here
James was probably Cincinnati-based, as he accompanied titles by Walter Coleman on the same date as his own session, June 3, 1936. James was a rough, two-fisted barrelhouse pianist, with a hoarse, declamatory vocal delivery, equally suited to the anguished "Lonesome Day Blues", a robust version of "Casey Jones" as "Southern Casey Jones", "Highway 61" and the ribald "Sweet Patuni", which was issued much later on a bootleg party single.
Sun 3 Apr 2011
|Skoodle Dum Doo & Sheffield||Broome Street Blues ||Rare Country Blues Vol. 2 1929-1943
|Skoodle Dum Doo & Sheffield||West Kinney Street Blues ||New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
|Alex Seward & Louis Hayes||Big Trouble Blues Downs Blues||Carolina Blues NYC 1944
|Alex Seward & Louis Hayes||Ups And ||Carolina Blues NYC 1944
|Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry ||Knockabout Blues (Carolina Blues) ||New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
|Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry ||Brownie's Blues (Lordy Lord)||Rub A Little Boogie: New York blues 1945-1956
|Sonny Terry ||Dangerous Woman (with a 45 in Her Hand)||Rub A Little Boogie: New York blues 1945-1956
|Gabriel Brown ||Good-Time Papa ||Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
|Gabriel Brown ||The Jinx Is On Me||Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
|Boy Green ||Play My Jukebox ||Play My Juke Box: East Coast Blues
|Big Chief Ellis||Dices Dices||New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
|Richard Trice||Blood Red River||Carolina Blues 1937-1945
|Hank Kilroy||Harlem Woman||Play My Juke Box: East Coast Blues
|Leroy Dallas||I'm Going Away ||New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
|Ralph Willis||Neighborhood Blues ||Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
|Ralph Willis||Mama, Mama Blues ||Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
|Dan Pickett||Baby How Long||Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
|Dan Pickett||Ride to a Funeral in a V-8||Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
|Little David||Shackles Round My Body||Down Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
|Tarheel Slim ||You're a Little Too Slow||East Coast Blues
|Dennis McMillon||Paper Wooden Daddy||New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
|Curley Weaver||Some Rainy Day ||The Post-War Years 1949
|Curley Weaver ||Trixie ||The Post-War Years 1949
|Blind Willie McTell ||Talkin' To You Mama||The Post-War Years 1949
|Blind Willie McTell ||Talkin' To You Mama||The Post-War Years 1949
|Carolina Slim ||Mama's Boogie ||Carolina Slim 1950-1952
|Marilyn Scott||I Got What My Daddy Likes ||New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
|Guitar Shorty ||I Love That Woman ||Play My Juke Box: East Coast Blues
|Champion Jack Dupree ||Stumbling Block Blues||New York & The East Coast States 1943-195
|Julius King||Mississippi Boogie ||A Shot in the Dark:Nashville Jumps
|Robert Lee Westmoreland||Hello Central Please Give Me 209||New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
|Doug Quattlebaum||Don't Be Funny Baby||New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
|Square Walton ||Bad Hangover ||New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
Today's is a sequel to a show we did a few weeks, Seaboard Stomp – East Coast Blues 1927-1941, devoted to East Coast blues from the 20's through the early 40's. Today's show takes the story through 1953. Today we emphasize the contribution to post-war blues made by singers from the Southeast and the Mid Atlantic states where many gravitated to New York. These performers tended to prefer a lighter and more melodic style than those from the Mississippi Delta who subsequently brought the blues to Chicago and Detroit. The bulk of these recordings, in fact, were recorded in New York. On today's program we spotlight well known artists like Blind Willie McTell, Brownie McGhee and Champion Jack Dupree as well as a slew of superb less remembered artists like Ralph Willis, Dan Pickett, Alec Seward and partner Louis Hayes among others. For an in-depth look at the Piedmont blues I recommend Bruce Bastin’s exhaustive study Red River Blues: The Blues Tradition in the Southeast which has been an invaluable resource for this show and its predecessor.
As on our first installment of East Coast Blues, the influence of the popular Blind Boy Fuller still looms large on many of these recordings. Fuller recorded his substantial body of work over a short, six-year span (1935-1941). 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. His influence can be heard in the music of today's featured artists such as Boy Green, Carolina Slim, Richard Trice and Julius King.
Boy Green cut one 78, "A and B Blues b/w Play My Jukebox", in 1944 for Regis. Nothing is known of Green who possessed a fine voice and was an excellent guitar picker.
Carolina Slim was a Piedmont blues guitarist from North Carolina whose style was shaped as much by Lightnin' Hopkins as it was by Blind Boy Fuller evidenced on tracks like "Shake Boogie" and "Rag Mama." He was born Edward Harris in Leasburg, North Carolina, near the Virginia border. In 1950, Harris was dubbed Carolina Slim when he recorded for Herman Lubinsky's Savoy group of labels. He moved to Newark, the home of Savoy, after his first session. He recorded for King as Country Paul in 1951-52 before returning to Savoy in 1953.
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.
As Paul Garon writes in the notes to Down Home Blues Classics: New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953: "Julius King (1915-1970) was born and died in Tennessee, but his heaviest stylistic influence was North Carolina's Blind Boy Fuller, both in vocal inflection and in guitar style. "I Want A Slice of Yo~ Pudding" features a kazoo, as well as a fondness for raggy, Fuller-style pieces, and hokum material played a significant role in King's repertoire. "One O'Clock Boogie" seems to draw inspiration from Pinetop Slim who recorded in Atlanta in 1949, and possibly even from John Lee who recorded in Montgomery in 1951. While "Mississippi Boogie" features King's kazoo playing, it also echoes Barbecue Bob tonally, especially the latter's flood blues." King cut a lone four-son session for Tennessee in 1952.
Several of today's artists get twin spins including the duos of Skoodle Dum Doo & Sheffield, Alec Seward & Louis Hayes and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, plus Gabriel Brown, Blind Willie McTell, Curley Weaver, Ralph Willis and Dan Pickett.
Gabriel Brown was discovered in Florida by folk music researchers Alan Lomax and Zora Neal Hurston in the '30's and launched his recording career with sides for the Library of Congress. He began making commercial recordings, starting in 1943, for A&R man, record label owner, and record producer Joe Davis and worked for him through 1952.
Seth Richards, possibly from Virgina, recorded a couple tracks under his real name in 1928 ("Lonely Seth Blues b/w Skoodeldum Doo"), which would be his last recordings until he recorded four songs as Skoodle Dum Doo & Sheffield in 1943 for the Regis label.
Alec Seward was born in Charles City County, Virginia and relocated to New York in 1924. Seward befriended Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, and retained his Piedmont blues styling despite changes in musical trends. He met Louis Hayes (who later became a minister in northern New Jersey) and the duo performed variously named as the Blues Servant Boys, Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly, or The Back Porch Boys. The duo recorded sides in 1944 and another batch in 1947. During the 1940's and 1950's Seward played and recorded with Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, McGhee and Terry. Seward issued the album Creepin' Blues (1965, Bluesville) with harmonica accompaniment by Larry Johnson. Later in the decade Seward worked in concert and at folk-blues festivals. He died at the age of 70, in New York in May 1972.
Brownie McGhee worked in a partnership with Sonny Terry for most of his career and also recorded with many of today's featured artists including Leroy Dallas, Champion Jack Dupree, and Big Boy Ellis. McGhee began recording as Blind Boy Fuller No. 2, immediately after Fuller's death in 1941. He sung on one side from Fuller's last session, whereas Terry had been backing Fuller on and off since 1937. McGhee's manager, J. B. Long, suggested that Brownie take Sonny Terry to Washington DC where they played together at a concert with Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson. Afterwards, they recorded for the Library of Congress. They also recorded for Moe Asch, of Folkways, backing singers as diverse as Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, and in 1944 they began to record for Savoy. Wartime shellac restrictions had loosened and many small and independent labels were recording the new sounds of R & B, as well as the postwar blues. During the period of today's program, the 40's and 50's, the duo cut fine sides, both together and aprat, for Savoy, Gotham, Sittin' In With, Folkways, Capitol and others. McGhee can also be heard today backing Big Chief Ellis on "Dices Dices", Ellis and McGhee back Leroy Dallas on "I'm Going Away" and with Terry backing Champion Jack Dupree on "Stumbling Block Blues."
For years James Founty, known professionally as Dan Pickett, was a mystery man. Field trips in the early 90’s have solved most mysteries although most of the research remains unpublished. He recorded five singles for Gotham plus four unreleased tracks in 1949. Pickett's repertoire was derived almost exclusively from 30’s recordings synthesizing those styles into a unique sound of his own.
According to David Evans: "Around the end of 1949, or more likely early in 1950, Curley Weaver recorded four songs for the Sittin’ In With label. It’s not certain whether there were one or two sessions and whether the recordings were made in Atlanta or New York. Two tracks were not released until 1952 and may actually have been recorded that year." Weaver and McTell also cut a batch of records made in Atlanta for Regal Records in May 1950. Weaver's "Some Rainy Day" is a remake of "Some Cold Rainy Day" is a remake of a 1933 duet with Ruth Willis while "Trixie" is a rag version of the popular "Tricks Ain't Walking No More." Weaver can be heard again backing McTell on the bouncy, perfectly integrated "Talkin' To You Mama" while McTell takes it alone on
I want to say something about a few of the other artists featured on today's program including Big Chief Ellis, Leroy Dallas, Marylin Scott, Guitar Shorty and Doug Quattlebaum.
Big Chief Ellis was a barrelhouse pianist from Alabama who recorded behind many great Piedmont blues artists in the '40s and '50s in addition to making his own fine, if lesser-selling, records. Brownie McGhee got Ellis on record by phoning Bob Shad at Continental, who recorded Chief for the label and for the Sittin' In With label he later started. Ellis backed McGhee (and his brother Sticks) several times, including Sticks' one hit, "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee." Brownie backed Ellis on the latter's signature tune "Dices Oh Dices", a song about his lifelong profession as a gambler. Ellis became a fixture of New York's small blues scene, playing every weekend with Brownie and occasionally with Sonny Terry. He also recorded with/behind a large number of the city's R&B-flavored bluesmen, including Tarheel Slim, Leroy Dallas, Mickey Baker, and Ralph Willis. He cut his lone full-length album for the Trix label in the 70's.
Leroy Dallas was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1920 and moved to Memphis in 1924. Along his travels he played washboard behind Brownie McGhee and formed a band with James McMillan playing the streets and juke joints of Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee. McMillan taught Dallas guitar and the two went on to tour the southern states working with Frank Edwards who made recordings in1949 and Georgia Slim who made records in 1937. By 1943 Dallas settled in Brooklyn New York. He made his first records for Sittin’ In With in 1949 consisting of six songs. He was accompanied by Brownie McGhee who was instrumental in setting up the session. Dallas was rediscovered by blues researcher Pete Welding and made a few recordings in the 60’s.
Mary DeLoatch, also known as Mary DeLoach, was a Norfolk, VA-based gospel singer who used the name Marylin Scott or Marylyn Scott the Carolina Blues Girl when performing blues. When performing gospel she sounded quite a bit like Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She switched to exclusively religious material after 1950 and her final recording appears to have been made in 1967 when she was photographed playing an electric guitar while wearing evangelical robes. Bruce Bastin wrote that our track, "I Got What My Daddy Likes", "is one of the finest postwar blues from the Piedmont."
Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue) cut a pair of unissued sides for Savoy in 1952, the album Carolina Slide Guitar (Flyright, 1971) and his final album for Trix, Alone In His Field, before passing in 1975.
Born in South Carolina in 1927, Doug Quattlebaum came to Philadelphia in the early 1940's. In 1953 he cut three sides for Gotham records; two of them appeared on a Gotham 78, but the third was only rediscovered years later. In 1961 Pete Welding recorded Quattlebaum again, after hearing that he was still around. He was driving a Mr. Softee ice cream truck and performing for his patrons. Scheduled for issue on a Testament album, the sides remained unissued until the 90's. A few months later Welding recording him, few months later Quattlebaum recorded for Bluesville, the results issued on the marvelous Softee Man Blues with a picture of the artist in his ice cream uniform on the front cover.
-Carolina Slim: Blues Go Away From Me album notes by Pete Lowry
-Guitar Shorty An Appreciation and Memory by Valerie Wilmer (Blues Unlimited 120 (1976), p. 20-21) ][PDF]
-Doug Quattlebaum By Paul Sheatsley (Record Research No. 42, March/April 1962, p.12) [PDF]
Sun 14 Nov 2010
|Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe ||Bumble Bee ||Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 1 1929-1930
|Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe ||'Frisco Town ||Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 1 1929-1930
|Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe ||She Put Me Outdoors ||Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 2 1930- 931
|Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe ||What's The Matter With The Mill ||The Essential
|Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe ||Frankie Jean That Trottin' Fool ||The Essential
|Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe ||Let's Go To Town ||The Essential
|Kansas Joe ||When The Levee Breaks ||Roots Of Rock
|Kansas Joe ||That Will Be Allright ||Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 1 1929-1930
|Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe ||Too Late ||The Essential
|Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe ||Drunken Barrel House Blues ||The Essential
|Memphis Minnie ||Hustlin' Woman Blues ||Memphis Minnie Vol. 1 1935
|Memphis Minnie ||Selling My Pork Chops ||Memphis Minnie Vol. 1 1935
|Memphis Minnie ||I'm A Bad Luck Woman ||The Essential
|Kansas Joe ||My Wash Woman's Gone ||Country Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
|Kansas Joe ||Joliet Bound ||Tommy Johnson & Associates
|Memphis Minnie ||Out In The Cold ||Memphis Minnie Vol. 2 1935-1936
|Memphis Minnie ||Ice Man (Come On Up) ||The Essential
|Memphis Minnie ||Moonshine||Memphis Minnie Vol. 2 1935-1936
|Memphis Minnie ||Living The Best I Can ||Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
|Memphis Minnie ||Down In The Alley ||Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
|Memphis Minnie ||Hot Stuff ||Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
|Memphis Minnie ||Ma Rainey ||The Essential
|Memphis Minnie ||Nothing In Rambling ||The Essential
|Little Son Joe ||Black Rat Swing ||The Essential
|Memphis Minnie ||I Am Sailin'||Memphis Minnie Vol. 5 1940-1941
|Memphis Minnie ||In My Girlish Days ||The Essential
|Memphis Minnie ||Me And My Chauffeur Blues ||The Essential
|Little Son Joe ||A Little Too Late ||Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953
|Little Son Joe ||Ethel Bea ||Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953
|Memphis Minnie ||World Of Trouble ||Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953
|Memphis Minnie ||In Love Again ||Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953
|Memphis Minnie ||Kissing In The Dark ||Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953
For nearly 30 years Memphis Minnie was, along with Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red, was one of the giants of the Chicago blues scene. Between 1929 and 1953 she recorded some 200 sides for a variety of labels. As Paul Garon and Beth Garon write in Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie's Blues: "Because Minnie began her recording career in 1929 and kept going for three decades, her presence was written large across the whole history of recorded blues. Year after year, her style evolved, and by the time illness forced her to retire, she had recorded the country blues, the urban blues, the Melrose sound, the Chicago blues and the postwar blues." Unlike most female blues singers of the time, Minnie also wrote her own songs and played guitar. Starting in 1929, her records lead us through over twenty years of recorded blues and illustrate her life, as she moved from the rural South to urban Chicago. Musically there were three basic phases to her style: the duet years with Kansas Joe, the "Melrose" band sound of the late thirties and early forties, and her later electric playing in the company of her third husband, guitarist Son Joe.
Many blues artists vividly recall their encounters with Memphis Minnie: Koko Taylor recalled: "the first blues record I ever heard was "Me An My Chauffeur Blues"by Memphis Minnie."Hound Dog Taylor, speaking of his early days in Chicago in 1943-1944, noted that "47th street was jumping on the South Side. When I first come up Memphis Minnie was playing at the old 708 club with her first husband." Baby Boy Warren recalled that "The other I admired the most respect was a woman-Memphis Minnie." And Bukka white reminisced "Memphis Minnie, Washboard Sam, Tampa Red, Big Bill they were my favorite 'cause they really would knock the cover off a house. They play in the nightclubs, would play house parties through the day." Johnny Shines recalled meeting Minnie and Joe: "It was an influence because I like what I heard, and I'd never heard anything like it before."
Born Lizzie Douglas in Algiers, Louisiana, Memphis Minnie was the eldest of Abe and Gertrude Wells Douglas’ 13 children. Throughout her childhood, her family always called her "Kid." When she was seven years old, the Douglas family moved to Wall, Mississippi, just south of Memphis. According to the authors of Minnie's biography she was "a wild youngster who never took to the farming life and she ran away from home at an early age. Her first guitar had been a Christmas present given to her in 1905 …She began to run away to Memphis' Beale Street with some regularity. When times were tough and nickels and dimes were hard to find, she returned to the farm to live, but rarely to work. …Minnie toured the South in the war years with a Ringling Brothers show she joined in Clarksdale, Mississippi." According to the authors of Minnie's biography she was "a wild youngster who never took to the farming life and she ran away from home at an early age. Her first guitar had been a Christmas present given to her in 1905 …She began to run away to Memphis' Beale Street with some regularity. When times were tough and nickels and dimes were hard to find, she returned to the farm to live, but rarely to work. "Guitarists Frank Stokes and Furry Lewis…both provided advice and inspiration to Minnie in her early days in Memphis. Minnie's duets with Kansas Joe drew as much inspiration from the guitar teamwork of Frank Stokes and Dan Sane, who recorded as the Beale Street Sheiks, as from her own early 'partnership' with Willie Brown." Robert Wilkins also recalled Minnie from these days and recalls teaching her a few things. On Beale Street she played with local musicians such as Jed Davenport, the Memphis Jug Band and Jack Kelly.
Her marriage and recording debut came in 1929, to and with Kansas Joe McCoy, when a Columbia Records talent scout heard them playing in a Beale Street barbershop in their distinctive 'Memphis style.' By around 1929 both Minnie and Joe were playing stell bodied National guitars. As Joe Calicott recalled: "She and Tampa Red had the first steel boxes we ever saw." And Johnny Shines noted "…they all had the first steel guitars I had ever seen, they all had National steels. They was such pretty things." They went to New York City for their first recording sessions, and it was then that she changed her name to Memphis Minnie. The song "Bumble Bee" from their first session became a hit. It was supposedly a Columbia A and R man who gave the duo their names.The first side for Columbia, "That Will Be alright" b/w "When The Levee Breaks" had vocals by Joe alone. It was released in August or September and two months later "Bumble Bee" b/w "I Want That" was released. In upcoming sessions some numbers were rejected by the company but were eventually accepted and released even if they required several takes for an acceptable master.In 1930 Minnie recorded a pair of songs back by her friends, the Memphis Jug Band. She may also be on sides Jed Davenport and His Beale Street Jug Band cut that year. Bukka White made his debut for Victor in 1930 and it may be Minnie's voice backing him on "I am In The Heavenly Way" b/ "Promise True And Grand." The duo's relationship with Vocalion began in February 1930 and would last nearly a decade with a few interruptions waxing dates for Okeh, Decca and Bluebird. Every two or three months Minnie and Joe would return to Vocalion studios to record; some session would result in sides by Kansas Joe issued under his own name, songs issued jointly or songs just issued under Minnie's name. Minnie and Joe would travel regularly to record in Chicago to record, finally moving there themselves in the early 30's. Between 1929 and 1934 Minnie and Joe cut around one hundred sides together. McCoy and Minnie recorded songs together and on their own for Decca Records until they divorced in 1934.
|Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe McCoy
Joe McCoy was born in 1905, in Raymond Mississippi, located in the southwestern part of the state, just west of Jackson a bit North of Crystal Springs. His younger brother Charlie was born in Jackson five years later. The McCoys were close to the Chatmans, who hailed from nearby Bolton, and recorded as the popular Mississippi Sheiks. The McCoys and the Chatmans often played together and like many Jackson area musicians, ther were influenced in varying degrees by Tommy Johnson. In addition to the Chatmons and Johnson, Jackson, in the 1920’s was a city with a vibrant blues scene, teeming with artists such as Walter Vincson, Ishman Bracey, Johnnie Temple, Skip James and Rube Lacey. McCoy recorded under various pseudonyms; Georgia Pine Boy, Hallelujah Joe, Big Joe McCoy and His Washboard Band, and The Mississippi Mudder. Other names he used from time to time included Hillbilly Plowboy, Mud Dauber Joe and Hamfoot Ham. During his time with Minnie he took the lead on several memorable numbers, most famously “When The Levee Breaks” as well as fine numbers like "Preachers Blues", "Shake Mattie", "My Wash Woman's Gone" and "Joliet Bound" among others. If McCoy is often overshadowed by Minnie on their recordings, these records showcase a singer with warm vocal, a superb guitar picker and a fine lyricist. Several of the songs have strong stylistic ties to Jackson, including "My Wash Woman's Gone", featuring Casey Bill Wledon, and "Joliet Bound" with stroong echoes of Tommy Johnson and and the Skip James reworking, "Evil Devil Woman Blues." After Joe and Minnie separated Joe occupied himself in small bands, singing with the Harlem Hamfats, working as a songwriter and working with his brother Charlie. oe McCoy died of heart disease in Chicago, only a few months before his brother Charlie.
There's a famous anecdote from this period regarding a guitar contest between Minnie and Big Bill Broonzy. In 1933, when Big Bill Broonzy was very popular in Chicago, a blues contest between him and Memphis Minnie took place in a nightclub. As Broonzy tells the story, in his autobiography Big Bill Blues, a jury of fellow musicians awarded Minnie the prize of a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of gin for her performance of "Chauffeur Blues" and "Looking the World Over".
Before renewing her contract with Vocalion in 1934 she recorded twenty sides for Decca and eight for Bluebird, her last session for Bluebird accompanied by Casey Bill Weldon. Minnie and Joe recorded recorded for the last time together in September 1934. According to several reports, McCoy’s increasing jealousy of Minnie’s fame and success caused the breakup. Minnie toured a great deal in the '30s, mostly in the south. It was during this period that Bob Wills and some of his Texas Playboys saw her playing in Texas; they would later make her "What's The Matter With The Mill?" a part of their repertoires. By 1935 Minnie had settled in under the supervision of Lester Melrose and was able to easily handle the transition from rural-downhome blues to a more sophisticated sound. Back on her own, Minnie began to experiment with different styles and sounds. She recorded four sides for the Bluebird label in 1935 in August of that year, she returned to the Vocation label. Minnie had teamed up with manager Lester Melrose, the single most powerful and influential executive in the blues industry during the 1930s and 1940s. By the end of the 1930s, Minnie had recorded nearly 20 sides for Decca Records and eight sides for the Bluebird label.
As Mike Rowe notes “it was a white businessman, Lester Melrose, who was really responsible for shaping the Chicago sound of the late 30's and 40?s.” Melrose had said “From March 1934 to February 1951 I recorded at least 90 percent of all rhythm-and-blues talent for RCA Victor and Columbia Records…” As Rowe further explains: “But Melrose had more than a large stable of blues artists under his control. Since only a few of them had regular accompanists most of them would play on each others records and thus Melrose has a completely self-contained unit… …The final stage of this musical incest was completed when they started recording each others songs.” The result was a consistent, sometime cookie cutter sound, although the best artists would consistently transcend these limitations.
Minnie and Son Joe (Ernest Lawlars) got together sometime in the late 30's and were married in 1939. They first recorded together in February 1939 where Son cut six numbers under his own name and Minnie cut seven. As Moody Jones recalled: "Her husband Son was the onliest fella…that knew more about them chords then I did." Joe had joined the Barber Parker band in the mid-forties, traveling throughout the Delta with Parker, Willie Love, and G.P. Jackson, and Jackson remembers Son as not only an excellent guitarist, but as a washboard player as well.
In 1939, Minnie returned to the Vocation label. Her recordings with Son Joe are in duet style, with piano, bass or drums added on some sessions. Minnie and Little Son Joe also began to release material on Okeh Records in the 1940s. The couple continued to record together throughout the decade. In May of 1941 Minnie recorded her biggest hit, "Me And My Chauffeur Blues." A followup date yielded two more blues standards, "Looking The World Over" and Son's "Black Rat Swing (issued as by Mr. Memphis Minnie)." At the dawn of the 1940's Minnie and Joe continued to work at their "home club", Chicago's popular 708 club where they were often joined by Big Bill, Sunnyland Slim, or Snooky Pryor. They also played at dozens of the other better known Chicago nightclubs. The forties treated Minnie and Son Joe well and they performed both together and separately depending on finances, (they could make more money playing separate gigs). Minnie, presided over Blue Monday parties at Ruby Lee Gatewood's Tavern playing an electrified National arch top in front of a band that included bass and drums. The poet Langston Hughes saw her perform New Year's Eve 1942, at the 230 Club, and was thoroughly overwhelmed by her "scientific" (i.e. loud) sound. He described the sound of her electric guitar as "a musical version of electric welders plus a rolling mill". Clearly she had by that time embraced the next phase of the blues.
As Minnie's biographer's note: "By the end of the 40's Minnie had made the leap to post-war blues., and several of her last pieces were excellent examples of powerful , 1950's Chicago-style blues. Minnie's voice was still strong and vibrant, and she might have become a fine, post-war (style) performer." In 1949 Minnie cut a session for the Regal label with Jimmy Rogers and Sunnyland Slim. The session was never released at the time. In 1952, Minnie recorded a session for the legendary Chess label, when it was just two months old. One side even featured Little Walter on harmonica. Singles from the session included "Broken Heart" and a re-recording of "Me and My Chauffeur Blues." The following year, she released her last commercial recording after 24 years in blues music, "Kissing in the Dark" and "World of Trouble" on the JOB label. On the Regal and Chess sides Minnie sounds a bit ill at ease but not so on the JOB sides. For example "in 'World Of Trouble', one hears the raw power of the era, with each component at last firmly integrated, and with Minnie's strong and forceful vocal evocative in the extreme."
Within the next few years, Minnie’s health began to fail. She retired from her music career and returned to Memphis. She performed one last time at a memorial for her friend, blues artist Big Bill Broozny in 1958. Periodically, she would appear on Memphis radio stations to encourage younger blues musicians. As the Garon's wrote in Woman with Guitar, "She never laid her guitar down, until she could literally no longer pick it up." In 1960, Minnie suffered from a stroke and was bound to a wheelchair. The following year, Little Son Joe passed away. Minnie finally passed in 1973.
Tue 16 Dec 2008
In part one we followed Sylvester Weaver's career up through his April 1927 sessions. Up to that point Weaver had only sang lead on two numbers but in upcoming sessions would sing on several numbers. Weaver sang in a careful, deliberate manner which revealed a fine baritone. What wasn't evident was his lyric ability which displays a wicked wit and some very imaginative an unusual imagery. I'll be reprinting many of these lyrics and want to thank John M. and the folks at Weenie Campbell who have done a remarkable job transcribing Weaver's lyrics.
One of Weaver's duties for Okeh was apparently as talent scout. On April 27th April, 1927 he received the following Western Union cable from Tom Rockwell, OKeh's Director of Recording:
Report with Jug-band as soon as possible.
Wire me Chase Hotel when you leave and if quartet and girls is coming.
It's clear from this that Weaver was in charge of bringing talent to the OKeh studio in St. Louis for the session on April 29th and 30th. The jug band mentioned in the cable is Whistler and His Jug Band which had recorded for Gennet in 1924. The others taking part in the session were Helen Humes and the Kentucky Jubilee Four. The Kentucky Jubilee Four cut four religious sides on April 29th and Helen Humes made her debut the next day. Although Lonnie Johnson played on Humes' two issued sides, Weaver may have played on the session too since one of the unissued titles is "Stomping Weaver's Blues."
On August 30th Weaver accompanied Sara Martin for the last time in New York on a four song session and the following day cut six solo sides, two of which were unissued. Martin's sides are particularly strong and Weaver's playing is as tasteful and inventive as we've come to be expect. "Black Hearse Blues" is a commanding performance with dark, unique lyrics:
Old dead wagon, don't you dare stop at my door (2X)
You took my first three daddies, but you can't have number four
Smallpox got my first man, booze killed number two (2X)
I wore out the last one but with this one, I ain't through
Roll on, old black hearse, don't you dare to stop (2X)
My man ain't fit to die, he's a special liquor cop
Low-down bone orchard, call your corpse cart back (2X)
My daddy's engine still running on my double track
Black hearse, there ain't no use, you sure can't have my man
Black hearse, ain't no use, you sure can't have my man
I'm just using him up on the old installment plan
"Useless Blues" is sung in a lighter manner but showcases Martin singing from the viewpoint of a saucy, independent woman as she explains to her man:
Oh, hey, what's that I heard you say?
Hey, what's that I heard you say?
You are going away and leave me today
If you go away, and leave me today (2x)
Says, you can't come back, so you had better stay
Uh, here's a little lesson I want you to learn (2X)
That if you play with fire you are sure to get burned
Now, you know you used to love me just like a sheik (2X)
But now all you can do is to pat my cheek
So if you want to come back, papa, you've got to get some monkey glands (2X)
'Cause I don't want no cripple man hanging on my hands
The following day Weaver cut four vocal numbers: the instrumentals "Soft Steel Piston" and "Off Center Blues" with the latter two numbers unissued and no copy of "Off Center Blues" found. "Soft Steel Piston" first surfaced in the 1970's and like "Six String Banjo Piece", no file information exists on this number. It was first issued on the album Folk Music In America Vol. 14 – Solo And Display Music part of a 15 LP Library of Congress series to celebrate the Bicentennial in 1976. Both numbers were likely provided titles by Dick Spottswood who compiled and wrote the notes for the series. "Soft Steel Piston" is lovely, gentle mid-tempo number featuring Hawaiian style slide with Weaver accompanied by guitarist Walter Beasley. "Dad's Blues" is a beautiful twelve-bar blues as is "What Makes A Man Blue" with a musically similar approach. "Can't Be Trusted Blues" is languorously sung blues as Weaver delivers menacing lyrics quite at odds with his mellow vocals:
I don't love nobody, that's my policy (2X)
I'll tell the world that nobody can get along with me
I can't be trusted, can't be satisfied (2X)
The men all know it and pin their women to their side
I will sure back-bite you, gnaw you to the bone (2X)
I don't mean maybe, I can't let women alone
Pull down your windows and lock up all your doors (2X)
Got ways like the devil, papa's skating on all fours
"Penitentiary Bound Blues" is another mellow number given an exceptional lonesome sounding vocal performance as Weaver really inhabits the persona of a prisoner resigned to his fate:
Thought I was goin' to the workhouse, my heart was filled with strife (2X)
But I'm goin' to the penitentiary, judge sentenced me for life
There'll be rock walls around me, burnin' sand below
There'll be rock walls around me, burnin' land below
There forever, got no other place to go
Goodbye, here's the jailer with the key (2X)
Farewell to freedom, tain't no use to pity me
Gonna get my number, four-eleven forty-four (2X)
Soon be an inmate, steel upon my door
Killed my triflin' woman, folks, I done commit a crime (2X)
Nothin' will release me but old Father Time
Weaver was back in the studios for two sessions on November 26th and 27th. Walter Beasley appears alongside Weaver on all numbers and Helen Humes recorded eight numbers with the duo. In 1977 Jim O'Neal interviewed Humes (Living Blues No. 52, 1982) and she recalled Weaver and the circumstances behind these recordings:
LIVING BLUES: You made some records with Sylvester Weaver.
HELEN HUMES: Yes, he was the man, he had heard me play with a little band-we had a little Sunday school band and we would go out and play for little dances, you how, and play at the theater and what have you. And Mr. Weaver heard me and he brought Mr. Rockwell out to my house to hear me sing and play. I used to play the piano. So I played and sang for Mr. Rockwell, and he wanted me to come to St. Louis to make this tape. And so 1 went, he tool; my mother with me because I was a little young to travel by myself. So then after I made that, well, he wanted me to call my mother to ask her if I could join a show. And my mother told him no, I'd have to finish school first, and then after I finished school, than whatever I wanted to do, she would go along, you know, if it was something nice.
Was Sylvester Weaver involved with your work very much?
No, no, on that just that particular thing.
Did the producers or the A&R men give those songs to you, or did you have some songs already?
No, they gave 'em to me. Yeah. There, boy, here I am, a little 14-year-old, singing Do What You Did Last Night, [Laughs] and If Papa Has Outside Lovin', Mama Has Outside Lovin' Too. You know I didn't have that. [Laughs.] Yes
One year before her death Humes wrote writer Guido Van Rijn the following letter in response to an inquiry:
"We were playing a theater called The Palace, at 11th and Walnut and Mr. Weaver heard me, and came to me and introduced himself. I had heard of him, but had never met him before. He got my name, address and phone number, and the next time I saw him he was at my house Mr. Rockwell. He became very good friends with my mother and father, and when I made my second session in New York, my mother let me go with Mr. and Mrs. Weaver. He used to play the T.O.B.A. circuit and traveled the south. He was very well-known down there. …I've never heard no one say a bad thing about Mr. Weaver. All his Smoketown friends adored him. He was so nice + friendly and everybody in Ky. adored him."
The Humes recordings are marked by some terrific backing from Weaver and Beasley who, free from vocal duties, lay down some exciting, dramatic accompaniment . While Humes sounds young, she possesses a strong, bright voice with clear diction and really sings these numbers with conviction. The lyrics to many are quite unusual and I assume it was probably Weaver who wrote the numbers. Take "Cross-Eyed Blues" for example:
Got one superstition, that's the one I really prize (2X)
I don't like nobody who's got a pair of mean crossed eyes
Had a cross-eyed man, hateful as a man could be (2X)
Slept with his eyes open, always looking 'cross at me
Gee, but he was ugly, eyed me every way I turn (2X)
I could feel him lookin', Lordy, how his eyes did burn
Crossed eyes make me shiver, 'cause they're evil, low and mean (2X)
Hateful as the Devil, queerest eyes I've ever seen
Folks who's got them cross-eyes, says they see in vain
Folks who's got them cross-eyes, things they see is always wrong
That's why me and cross-eyes, never gonna get along
If I see a cross-eyed person I was about to meet (2X)
I'd just cross my fingers, then I'd walk across the street
"Alligator Blues" is a similarly strange and intriguing number with a cinematic quality:
Sleepin' in the swamps last night, down in the Everglades (2X)
Woke and found the alligators 'bout to make a raid
Heard 'em talkin' softly, said, "We're gonna have dark meat." (2X)
Gee, their mouths did water, thought that they was gonna eat
My flesh commenced to crawlin', my skin began to itch (2X)
It was time for travelin', but the swamp was dark as sin
Soon the moon was shinin' softly through the old cane brake (2X)
Got myself together for a dash I tried to make
The sweat it was a-popping, hair was standing on my head (2X)
I said, "Lord, have mercy, or that woman's gonna be dead
"Alligator Blues" was advertised in the January 14th, 1928 Chicago Defender as the flipside to "Everybody Does It Now." "Race Horse Blues" is a another humorous number featuring some exciting interplay between Weaver and Beasley and more marvelous wordplay; the third couplet's a real gem:
Went down to the race track, with my money in my hand (2X)
Bet on Chocolate Puddin', but he just an also-ran
On old Fleetfoot Suzy, I done and went and bet the most (2X)
She never did get started, the ponies left her at the post
Never seen a race horse like the one that broke my heart (2X)
Just a rippling has-been, he made my dough from me depart
Darn that lazy jockey, wouldn't do what he was told (2X)
Now I'm in the barrel, sweet papa's left in the cold
Bet on old Speeding Meter, sure thing and he couldn't lose (2X)
Now I'm broke and busted and cryin' with the race horse blues
Similar lyrical invention can be found in "Nappy Headed Blues" and the hilariously vivid ""Garlic Blues." Weaver takes the vocals on six numbers including fine narrative blues like "Chitlin' Rag Blues", "Railroad Porter Blues", the latter advertised in the Chicago Defender with its flipside "Polecat Blues", and more striking lyricism in "Me And My Tapeworm" and "Devil Blues." Dick Spottswood wrote the following regarding "Me And My Tapeworm:"
"This gourmand's confession is one of several intriguing and previously undocumented recordings which have emerged from the CBS archives. No information in their extensive files revealed its existence; a sample pressing was made to determine what the music was. Though we are certain about the performers' identities, the title of the song is taken from song's words."
The song first surfaced in the 1970's along with "Soft Steel Piston" and "Six String Banjo Piece" and, like those numbers appears as part of a 15 LP Library of Congress series to celebrate the Bicentennial in 1976 o the volume titled Folk Music In America Vol. 11 – Songs Of Humor And Hilarity. Why this number wasn't released is anybody's guess. The lyrics are truly remarkable and the numbers sports some marvelous bottleneck that really drive the song home:
Gee, I'm always hungry, can't get enough to eat
Gee, I'm hungry, can't get enough to eat
I'm just like a savage, I could eat a barrel of meat
Set down to the table, ate up everything I could found
Set down to the table, ate up everything I found
Would have ate the dishes if someone hadn't been around
Pot of ham and cabbage, ain't enough to fill mine (2X)
That just makes me peckish, I could eat a dozen fine
Saw my family doctor, said I had a big tapeworm
I saw my family doctor, said I had a big tapeworm
Said I had ate a cow, made me good and firm
Went to the country, broke into a chicken coop
I went to the country, broke into a chicken coop
Stole a dozen chickens, put 'em in a pot of soup
I'm a greedy glutton, eat fifty times a day (2X)
When I'm around a pigpen, they hide the slop away
Guess me and my tapeworm must go further down the road (2X)
'Cause we eat so much, won't nobody give us no board
"Devil's Blues" is another imaginative and humorous number:
Had a dream while sleeping, found myself way down below, my Lord,
I had a dream while sleeping, found myself way down below
Couldn't get to Heaven, Hell's the place I had to go
Devil had me cornered, stuck me with his old pitchfork (2X)
And he put me in an oven, thought he had me for roast pork
Hellhounds start to chasin' me and I was a runnin' fool
Hellhounds start to chase me and I was a runnin' fool
My ankles caught on fire, couldn't keep my puppies cool
Four thousand devils with big tails and sharp horns, my Lordy,
Saw a thousand devils with tails and sharp horns
Everyone wandered, tried to step on my corns
For miles around I heard men scream and yell, my Lord,
For miles around, heard men scream and yell
Couldn't see a woman, I said, "Lord, ain't this Hell?"
This number was surprisingly updated by Lazy Bill Lucas in 1954 for Chance as "I Had A Dream." The two day session was of a remarkably productive, high caliber with Weaver and Beasley proving an unbeatable team. Nothing is known of Beasley and when asked Humes did not remember him. The duo cut loose on two instrumentals: the breakneck masterpiece "Bottleneck Blues" and a gorgeous, seductive reading of "St. Louis Blues."
Weaver and Beasley were back in the studio for the final time on November 30th for a five song session. It was Beasley's turn to shine, taking the vocal on four numbers: "Georgia Skin", "Southern Man Blues", "Toad Frog Blues" and "Sore Feet Blues." "Georgia Skin" is named for the card game celebrated by Peg Leg Howell, Memphis Minnie and others. Beasley draws out his vocals slowly and surely, revealing a very expressive vocal style. The session features superb integration between bottleneck and the accompanying guitar, particularly on "Toad Frog Blues" and "Sore Feet Blues." There seems to be a a bit of conjecture as to who's playing the bottleneck and who's providing accompaniment. Once again we are treated to some imaginative lyrics as in "Toad Frog Blues" which touches on the surreal:
Tadpole in the river, hatchin' underneath of a log (2X)
He got too old to be a tadpole, he hatched into a natch'l frog
If a toad frog had wings, he would be flyin' all around (2X)
He would not have his bottom bumpin' thumpin' on the ground
Ever time I see a toad frog, Lord, it makes me cry (2X)
Make me think about my baby, when he (sic) roll her goo-goo eyes
The humorous "Sore Feet Blues" is another gem sporting a very droll delivery from Beasley:
I got two feet, keeps me with the blues (2X)
Got nineteen corns, can't wear nar' pair shoes
A peg-legged man, he's one lucky fool (2X)
Only got one feet to hurt, he kicks that like a mule
I can't walk, feets hurts me when I stand
I can't walk around, my feets hurts me when I stand
Got to take a lesson, learn to walk on my hands
'Black Spider Blues" is a solo number taken at Weaver's typically relaxed pace with some terrific superstitious imagery:
Saw a big black spider, creepin' up my bedroom wall (2X)
Finds out he was only goin' to get his ashes hauled
Say, if that black spider bit you, it would be "Too bad, Jim" (2X)
Give your heart to the devil and your hips would belong to him
I'm gonna get a black spider, put him in the bottom of your shoe (2X)
That's the only way I can get rid of a jade like you
A rattlesnake is dangerous, a black spider is worser still (2X)
A razor gun, a pistol, will kill you like a black spider will
I been workin' like a work ox, on Saturday night you got my pay (2X)
While you're in the black bottom dance hall, black bottomin' your
Black spider, black horses, black horses with the curtains down (2X)
Black gal, you and your black bottom be six feet in the ground
Sylvester Weaver's career came to an abrupt end after these recordings. It's unknown why he stopped recording as he appears to have still been quite popular. Of his post-recording career we know that Weaver went into the Chauffeur business. As the blues revival was picking up steam, Weaver died of carcinoma of the tongue on April 4th, 1960 at 2001 Old Shepardville Road in Louisville. It was only two years after his death hat blues researcher Paul Garon, at the prompting of Paul Oliver, spoke to Weaver's widow Dorothy who said she had never heard her husband play. Garon would later open up a Chicago book store named Beasley Books (wonder where he got that name?!) which remains active to this day. Fortunately Weaver's widow saved some of his old records and his scrapbook which has become a prime source of information about Weaver's recording activities. In 1992 the Kentucky Blues Society raised enough funds to place a headstone on the grave of Sylvester Weaver, and this same organization presents its Sylvester Weaver Award annually to "those who have dedicated their lives to presenting, preserving, and perpetuating the blues."
Can't Be Trusted Blues (MP3)
Penitentiary Blues (MP3)
Soft Steel Piston (MP3)
Me And My Tapeworm (MP3)
Devil Blues (MP3)
Alligator Blues (MP3)
Race Horse Blues (MP3)
Bottleneck Blues (MP3)
St. Louis Blues (MP3)
Toad Frog Blues (MP3)
Sore Feet Blues (MP3)
Thu 29 May 2008
Listening to the music of Texas Alexander, like fellow Texan Henry Thomas, transports the listener back to a time before the blues, a time when the unaccompanied sounds of the field holler and work song rang out all over the south. Alexander's style was described by Paul Oliver as "a personal, tweed-textured holler which did not employ falsettos but moaned in long, sad cadences." While Paul Garon astutely noted that "Alexander's style, so often consisting of lengthy moans and hums, often drawn out over unevenly spaced measures, sounds very close to the field holler. Indeed, combining a field holler with the shouts of the section gang caller-where Alexander once worked-and tailoring it into a recordable blues song would produce a sound very similar to Alexander's."
Alexander was a Texan through and through, born in Jewett, Texas in 1900, passing in 1954 in Richards some seventy miles south (both towns lie about halfway between Dallas and Houston) and who was vividly remembered by fellow Texas bluesmen such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Lowell Fulson, Buster Pickens and Frankie Lee Sims. Alexander didn't play an instrument, although he did carry a guitar around in case their was a guitarist around who could accompany him when he sang on city streets or bars. Alexander's songs had a distinctly rural, southern viewpoint as evidenced in song titles such as "Corn-Bread Blues", "Levee Camp Moan Blues", "Farm Hand Blues", "Bantam Rooster Blues", "Bell Cow Blues", "Work Ox Blues", "Rolling Mill Blues" and "Prairie Dog Hole Blues" among others. "To the renters and 'croppers", Oliver wrote, "who had left the farms and bottom land plantations for the city, the voices of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Rambling Thomas or Texas Alexander were singing for them, sharing their own experiences and predicament. Crowds would cluster round them on Central Tracks and the coins would clatter-nickels and dimes-in their hats and tin cups." Alexander's lyrics are consistently interesting, often drawing on traditional motifs but stamped forcefully with his own personality, many of which finding their way into common blues parlance. Throughout his songs there is a frankness about sexuality that goes beyond the stock double entendre as well as strong anti-religious streak.
Alexander was popular and prolific, cutting sixty-four issued sides between 1927 and 1934, first for Okeh and then for Vocalion. He had he good fortune to work with superb accompanists such as guitarists Little Hat Jones, Lonnie Johnson, Eddie Lang, Carl Davis, Willie Reed to the string band blues of the Mississippi Sheiks and the jazz bands of King Oliver and the mysterious His Sax Black Tams. Alexander didn't fare well in the post-war era; he was supposedly passed over by an Aladdin talent scout in favor of his then partner Lightnin' Hopkins (a demo tape was purportedly made) and made one final, rather unsatisfactory record for the Freedom label in 1950 before passing in 1954.
Alexander made his greatest records in the company of Lonnie Johnson at six sessions cut for Okeh between August 1927 and November 1928 at recording dates in San Antonio and New York City. Alexander's erratic sense of timing made him a challenge to work with as Lonnie Johnson related to Paul Oliver: "He was a very difficult singer to accompany; he was liable to jump a bar, or five bars, or anything. You just had to be a fast thinker to play for Texas Alexander. When you been out there with him you done nine days work in one! Believe me, brother, he was hard to play for. He would jump–jump keys, anything. You just have to watch him, that's all." Johnson's approach is a thing of beauty; he plays almost no chords, just melodic, single string lines achieving a gorgeous tone, answering and underscoring Alexander's magnificent vocals, his moans and hums with a subtle delicacy and empathy. In the notes to the Matchbox series, which collect Alexander's entire output, Oliver writes: "Johnson alone is completely at ease, anticipating and elaborating with astonishing fluency; this was the period of his most remarkable guitar solos and he seems to be at the peak of his abilities." The very first song they recorded, "Range In My Kitchen Blues", sets the template, a beautiful number with Johnson's opening and closing the number in elegant fashion. Songs from these sessions find Alexander at his most primal; "Levee Camp Moan Blues", 'Section Gang Blues" and "Penitentiary Blues" show, as many have written, that Alexander likely had intimate knowledge of the Texas penal system. In "Levee Camp Moan Blues" he sings:
Lord, they accused me of murder, murder, murder, I haven't harmed a man
Lord, they accused me of murder, I haven't harmed a man
Oh, they have accused me of murder and I haven't harmed a man.
Mmmm, they have 'cused me of forgery and uhh I can't write my name
Lord, they have accused me of forgery and I can't write my name.
"Section Gang Blues" is something of a companion piece and like the above song harks back to the era of the unaccompanied work song and field holler:
I'm been workin' on the Section, Section 32
I'll get a dollar and a quarter, I won't have to work hard as you
Lord, I'll get a dollar and a quarter, I won't have to work hard as you
Oh, nigger licks molasses, and the white man licks 'em, too
I wonder what in the world is the Mexicans gonna do?
Lord, the nigger licks molasses, the white man licks 'em too
Waterboy, waterboy, bring your water 'round
If you ain't got no water, set your bucket down
Waterboy, waterboy, bring your bucket 'round
"Oh, Captain, Captain, what time of day?"
Oh, he looked at me and he walked away
"Penitentiary Blues" is a particularly vivid prison number with Alexander making reference to Bud Russell who brought convicts to the Texas prisons:
Spoken: If I had-a listened, Mama, when you was tellin' me these things, I wouldn't have to worry with these old rusted chains
I wonder what's the matter with poor Annie Lee?
Lord, the Captain whupped here and she ain't been seen
Lord, the Captain whupped her and she ain't been seen
Oh, if it hadn't've been for the red mule's head
Lord, the Captain'd killed ol' Annie dead
Lord, the Captain killed ol' Annie dead
If you get buggy want to see Red River red
Lord, Bud Russell will take you and you won't be dead
Lord, Bud Russell will take you and you won't be dead
As Oliver notes "the ominous words refer to washing in river water after being beaten with the 'Black Betty' leather strap used by Russell."
As mentioned earlier Alexander's took a particularly frank view of sex in his songs. A wonderful example is "Boe Hog Blues" a song full of surprising imagery and a remarkably poignant conclusion:
Oh, tell me, mama, how you want your rollin' done. (2x)
Set your face to the ground and your noodle up to the sun
She got little bitty legs, gee, but them noble thighs (2x)
She's got somethin' under yonder, works like a boe hog's eye
Wanta be your doctor, and I'll pay your doctor bill
I'll be your doctor, pay your doctor bill
Says, if the doctor don't cure you, I've got somethin' will
Mmmm, Mmmm, Lawdy, Lawdy, Lawd
I say if the doctor don't cure you, I've got somethin' will
Says, I looked up at the Good Lord in the sky
Says, I looked up at the Good Lord's in the sky
Says, I heard a keen voice, says, "Papa, please don't die."
Particularly rich are "Work Ox Blues" and "The Risin' Sun" cut on November 15, 1928. featuring the addition of the brilliant white guitarist Eddie Lang. The rapport between him and Johnson is extraordinary as they weave a rich tapestry around Alexander's strong vocals. It's a shame they didn't back Alexander on more numbers. Six months later Lang and Johnson would record the first pair of a series of landmark duet instrumentals.
*Thanks with lyric transcriptions to John M and the members of Weenie Campbell
Levee Camp Moan Blues (MP3)
Bell Cow Blues (MP3)
Penitentiary Blues (MP3)
Work Ox Blues (MP3)