Entries tagged with “Buster Pickens”.

Joel HopkinsGood Times Here, Better Down The RoadJoel & Lightnin' Hopkins
Joel HopkinsI Ain't Gonna Roll For The Big Hat Man No MoreJoel & Lightnin' Hopkins
Lightnin' HokinsLook Out Settegast, Here Me And My Partner ComeJoel & Lightnin' Hopkins
Lightnin' HokinsWhiskey, Whiskey Joel & Lightnin' Hopkins
Snooks Eaglin Give Me The Old Box-Car Message From New Orleans
Snooks Eaglin Every Day Blues Message From New Orleans
James BrewerI'm So Glad Good Whiskey's BackBlues From Maxwell Street
Arvella Gray Have Mercy Mister PercyBlues From Maxwell Street
Daddy StovepipeMonkey and the Baboon Blues From Maxwell Street
King David Fanny MaeBlues From Maxwell Street
The Black Ace'Fore Day Creep The Black Ace
The Black AceYour Legs' Too Little The Black Ace
Buster PickensJim Nappy Buster Pickens
Buster Pickens The Ma Grinder No. 2Buster Pickens
Joe Carter Treat Me The Way You Do Mean & Evil Blues
Big John Wrencher Special Rider BluesMaxwell Street Alley Blues
Blind Joe Hill Boogie In The Dark Boogie In The Dark
Jimmy s & Little Walter Little Store Blues (Take 1) Chicago Boogie
Sleepy Johnny EstesHarlem Hound Chicago Boogie
Billy BranchHoochie Koochie ManBring Me Another Half-A-Pint
Kansas City Red K.C. Red's In TownBring Me Another Half-A-Pint
Robert RichardMotor City BluesBanty Rooster Blues
Easy Baby So Tired Sweet Home Chicago Blues
Lyin' Joe Holley So Cold in the U.S.A. So Cold in the U.S.A.
Coy “Hot Shot” LoveHot Shot Boogie45
Boll Weevil Blues TrioThings Ain't What They Used To BeSouthside Screamers! Chicago Blues 1948-1958
Dixie Boy & His Combo One More DrinkSouthside Screamers! Chicago Blues 1948-1958
Birmingham Jones I'm GladBirmingham Jones / Kid Thomas: Blues! Harp! Boogie! 1957-1965
Wooddrow AdamsSeventh Son Down South Blues 1949-1961
Little SonnyI Hear My Woman Callin' Harp Suckers: Detroit Harmonica Blues 1948
Elder R. Wilson Better Get Ready Harp Suckers: Detroit Harmonica Blues 1948

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

Just about all the artists featured on this program have passed, so it's not often I do tributes of that kind anymore. Lately the notable passings have been the early generation of blues historians, writers, scholars, label owners, producers and promoters who added immeasurably to our knowledge of the blues. We have lost several such men recently including Mack McCormick and Steve LaVere who I paid tribute to last year. This time out we pay tribute to two more, Tony Standish who passed  December 17th of last year and belatedly, George Paulus who passed on November 14, 2014. I never had any interaction with either men, but their recordings on their respective labels were certainly and influence on me and have been featured on several past programs.

Standish ran the short-lived, but influential, Heritage label in the late 50's and early 60's. The label was groundbreaking in being one of the earliest reissues outfits, making available recordings by Papa Charlie Jackson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charlie Patton among others.  These recordings have been reissued countless times since and are not the ones we will feature today. Heritage was also groundbreaking in releasing some fantastic field recordings captured by Paul Oliver, Mack McCormick and Henry Oster and those are the recordings we will spin today.

George Paulus was a noted record collector who ran the Barrelhouse label from 1974 through the early 80's as well as it's successor, the St. George label which operated from the early 80's through the early 2000's and issued primarily modern blues and rockabilly. He also released a few bootlegs and one off labels that issued a single releases such as Delta Swing, African Folk Society, Floatin' Bridge and Negro Rhythm. All the labels had an emphasis on spotlighting unheralded Chicago and Detroit blues artists. Both Standish and Paulus were also writers (Standish was the assistant editor of Jazz Journal), not only writing the liner notes to their own releases, but contributing liners to others sets and articles in various periodicals. Some of their writings can be found at the bottom of today's show notes.

Heritage 1001, the first full-length album, was a self-titled split album between Joel Hopkins and Lightnin' Hopkins. The recordings were made by Mack McCormick in 1959 in Houston. Joel was Lightnin's older brother and first gave him a guitar. Joel traveled the south with tent shows and traveling caravans. Lightnin's other brother, John Henry also played guitar. The three were recorded together in Waxahatchie, TX in 1964. The results were issued on Arhoolie under the title Hopkins Brothers: Lightnin', Joel, & John Henry.

Read Liner Notes

After releasing a series of EP's devoted to reissuing artists like Papa Charlie Jackson, Memphis Minnie and Charlie Patton, Heritage issued new recordings by Snooks Eaglin; there was an EP titled Snooks Eaglin's New Orleans Blues with all these track appearing on the full-length album, Message From New Orleans. These were field recordings  made by Harry Oster circa 1961 in New Orleans. As far as I know these recordings have never been reissued on LP or CD since.

Heritage 1004 was titled Blues From Maxwell Street. Back in 1960 Bjorn Englund, Donad R. Hill and John Steiner documented the blues on Maxwell street by recording some of the street's stalwarts including Arvella Gray, Daddy Stovepipe, King David and James Brewer. The sessions were organized by Paul Oliver who wrote the notes to the original album. The recordings were reissued a few years back on the Document label.

Heritage 1006 was titled The Black Ace with these sessions stemming from two sessions at his Fort Worth home in 1960.The recordings were subsequently issued on Arhoolie. The Ace's real name was Babe Kyro Lemon Turner. "I throwed the 'Lemon' away", he told Paul Oliver," and just used the initials of Babe Kyro – B.K. Turner." Back in the the 1930's and 40's he was well known, at least among black audiences, in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma for his regular slot on station KFJZ out of Fort Worth. 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.

In the summer of 1960 Paul Oliver came to the United States with the aid of a State Department grant and BBC field recorder to record blues. As Oliver's journey progressed west he teamed up with Chris Strachwitz and Mack McCormick who had been roaming around Texas looking for blues singers. The recording of Buster Pickens was a result of this collaboration. Pickens lone album for Heritage, the self-titled Buster Pickens, was recorded over several sessions in 1960 and 1961 and released in 1962. It was reissued on album by the Flyright label in 1977. Three years ago I persuaded Document Records to reissue the album (Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961) and I had the pleasure of writing the liner notes.

Read Liner Notes

George Paulus released the first two Barrelhouse albums in 1974: Washboard Willie's Whippin' That Board and Big John Wrencher's Maxwell Street Alley Blues. By the mid 1940's Wrencher had arrived in Chicago and was playing on Maxwell Street and at house parties with Jimmy Rogers, Claude "Blue Smitty" Smith and John Henry Barbee. In the 1950's he moved to Detroit. In 1958 Wrencher lost his left arm as a result of a car accident outside Memphis, Tennessee. By the early 1960's he had settled in Chicago, where he became a fixture on Maxwell Street Market. During the 1960's Wrencher recorded for the Testament label backing Robert Nighthawk, and as part of the Chicago String Band. In 1969 he was recorded by George Paulus and Dick Shurman, backed by guitarist Little Buddy Thomas and drummer Playboy Vinson, who formed his Maxwell Street band of the time resulting in his Barrelhouse debut.

One of the truly great unsung heroes of the Chicago club scene of the 1950's, Joe Carter was a slide-playing disciple of Elmore James. Arriving in Chicago by 1952 it was Muddy Waters who lent Carter the money to purchase his first electric guitar. Shortly thereafter, Joe started up his first group with guitarist Smokey Smothers and Lester Davenport on harmonica, quickly establishing himself as a club favorite throughout Chicago. Carter didn't end up being documented on record until he returned to active playing in the '70's, recording his lone solo album, Mean & Evil Blues, for Barrelhouse in 1976.

Robert Richard learned the guitar and the harmonica with his uncle. Like a lot of other southerners, came to work in the automobile industry in 1942. With his brother Howard he began playing the  Hastings Street clubs. He recorded with Walter Mitchell and pianist Boogie Woogie Red in 1948, then as a sideman on many Detroit recording sessions, particularly with Bobo Jenkins. He waxed some sides under his name for Chess in Chicago but those titles were never issued. Richard gave up music but was rediscovered by George Paulus who recorded him in 1975 and 1977 for the album Banty Rooster.

Alex “Easy Baby” Randle was born in Memphis in 1934. Both his grandmother and uncle were harmonica players. Easy Baby began playing professionally around Memphis as a teenager while doing odd jobs. Playing in the gambling houses and juke joints he befriended Howlin' Wolf, James Cotton, Joe Hill Louis and others. In 1956 he moved to Chicago and throughout the 50's, 60's and 70's played all over the Windy City while working as a mechanic. Easy Baby’s first recording appeared on the anthology Low Blows: An Anthology of Chicago Harmonica Blues with another track appearing on the anthology Bring Me Another Half-A-Pint. His full-length debut was Sweet Home Chicago issued on  Barrelhouse in 1977 (another full-length, Hot Water Cornbread and Alcohol, recorded for St. George in the late 90s, was never released).

Read Liner Notes

We featured a pair of tracks from the aforementioned Bring Me Another Half-A-Pint by the under-recorded Kansas City Red and early cut by Billy Branch. Also featured are some fine sides by little known artists such as Nate Armstrong, Sonny Boy McGhee and Earl Payton.

Blind Joe Hill was a one-man-band who recorded two albums under his own name: one on Barrelhouse (Boogie In The Dark) and one on the L+R label. Hill was part of the 1985 American Folk Blues Festival touring Europe.

There were two tantalizing albums that were titled with cover art completed by Robert Crumb but were never issued: Unknown Detroit Bluesmen Vol. 1 (BH-003) and Ain't No Stopper On My Faucet, Mama! Unknown Detroit Blues (BH-006).

Paulus had  a massive record collection (currently up for auction) filled with rare pre-war and post-war blues. Some of these rarities were issued on Barrelhouse and St. George. In 1969 Paulus, who had been a regular customer at Maxwell Street Record and Radio for several years, bought the surviving lacquers from the Bernard Abrams and his family. He subsequently released all 14 sides on an LP on his Barrelhouse label (in 1974) as Chicago Boogie, then, in improved sound, on his St. George label (1983). In the 1990's, P-Vine licensed the material for release in Japan, leading to an LP and a CD. There were also four albums of rare Detroit blues and gospel form the vaults of record producer Joe Von Battle that were issued on Barrelhouse, St. George and P-Vine..

In 1977-78 Paulus issued four various artist compilations on four different labels: After Midnight: Chicago Blues 1952-1957 (Delta Swing), Down South Blues 1949-1961 (African Folk Society), Birmingham Jones/Kid Thomas Blues! Harp! Boogie! 1957-1965 (Floatin' Bridge) and Going To Chicago: Blues 1949-1957 (Negro Rhythm). In addition there were also some similar unofficial recordings Paulus issued including an unnamed and unnumbered LP of Muddy Waters rarities that became the basis of Vintage Muddy Waters issued on Sunnyland in 1970, an album of Baby Boy Warren's complete recordings (BBW 901) and a 45 by Coy "Hot Shot" Love recorded  at Steve LaVere's Record Shop in Memphis in mid August 1973 ("Hot Shot Boogie, Foxchase Boogie b/w Freight Train Blues" issued as a 45 under the  Mr. Bo Weevil imprint). One other record Paulus produced was by Lyin' Joe Holley in 1977 titled So Cold In The USA issued on the JSP label with four other tracks from the sessions appearing on the JSP anthology Piano Blues Legends.

Related Articles

-Standish, Tony. “Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.”Jazz Journal 11, no. 6 (Jun 1958): 1–5.

-Standish, Tony. “Muddy Waters in London. Pt. 2.” Jazz Journal 12, no. 2 (Feb 1959): 3–6.

-Standish, Tony. Speckled Red: The Dirty Dozen. Denmark: Storyville SLP-117, c1960; Denmark: Storyville SLP 4038, 1985.

-Standish, Tony. “Champion Jack Dupree Talks to Tony Standish.” Jazz Journal 14, no. 4 (Apr 1961): 6–7, 40.

-Paulus, George. “Motor City Blues & Boogie.”Blues Unlimited no. 85 (Oct 1971): 4–6.

-Paulus, George. “Will Hairston: Hurricane of the Motor City.” Blues Unlimited no. 86 (Nov 1971): 21.

-Paulus, George. Robert Richard: Banty Rooster Blues. USA: Barrelhouse BH-010, 1977.

-Paulus, George. Blues Guitar Killers: Detroit 1950s. USA: Barrelhouse BH-012, 1977.

-Paulus, George. Easy Baby and His Houserockers: Sweet Home Chicago. USA: Barrelhouse BH-013, 1978; Japan: P-Vine PCD-5206, 1997.

-Paulus, George. Harp Suckers! Detroit Harmonica Blues 1948. USA: St. George STG-1002, 1983.

-Paulus, George. Southside Screamers: Chicago, 1948–58. USA: St. George STG 1003, 1984.

-Paulus, George. “Late Hours with Little Walter.” Blues & Rhythm no. 133 (Oct 1998): 10–12.


Lightnin' Hopkins Look out Settegast Here Me and My Partner Come Blues from East Texas
Jack Johnson & Lightnin' HopkinsThe SlopTreasury of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Texas Alexander ? Boar Hog BluesThe Unexpurgated Folk Songs Of Men
Buster PickensYou Got Good BusinessThe Unexpurgated Folk Songs Of Men
Lightnin' Hopkins Tim Moore's Farm Treasury of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Mance LipscombTim Moore's Farm Treasury of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Lightnin' HopkinsHello England The Rooster Crowed In England
Lightnin' HopkinsBeggin' Up And Down The Street The Rooster Crowed In England
Lightnin' HopkinsChildren's BoogieThe Rooster Crowed In England
Henry ThomasTexas Worried BluesTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasDon't Ease Me InTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasRailroadin' SomeTexas Worried Blues
Joel HopkinsI Ain't Gonna Roll For The Big Hat Man No MoreRural Blues Vol. 2 1951-1962
Joel HopkinsGood Times Here, Better Down The RoadTreasury of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Robert ShawPeople, PeopleTexas Barrelhouse Piano
Robert ShawPut Me In The Alley Texas Barrelhouse Piano
Robert ShawThe Ma Grinder Texas Barrelhouse Piano
Mance Lipscomb Jack O' DiamondsTexas Sharecropper & Songster
Mance Lipscomb FreddieTexas Sharecropper & Songster
Mance Lipscomb Big Boss ManTexas Sharecropper & Songster
Gozy Kilpatrick Goin' To The River Treasury of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Dennis GainusYou Gonna Look Like A MonkeyTreasury of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Jealous James StanchellAnything From A Foot Race To A Resting PlaceTreasury of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Lightnin' Hopkins That Gambling LifeAutobiography in Blues
Lightnin' Hopkins Baby!Country Blues
Buster PickensSanta Fe TrainEdwin 'Buster' Pickens - 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Buster PickensJim NappyEdwin 'Buster' Pickens - 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Buster PickensThe Ma Grinder No 2Edwin 'Buster' Pickens - 1959 to 1961 Sessions

Show Notes:

Mack McCormick, 1986. Photo: Carlos Antonio Rio

The blues, particularly the early history, has an air of mystery and myth that's accrued over the years and is a big part of what draws people to the music. You need look no further than the mythic status attained by Robert Johnson. Johnson was also one of the subjects pursued by Mack McCormick, to be the subject of his decades-in-the-making book, Biography of a Phantom (in 1977 McCormick's said the manuscript was 12 chapters and a 150,000 words). McCormick has also been long in the possession of the third Robert Johnson photo which he got from Johnson's relatives. That project along with numerous others were started and never completed leaving McCormick's legacy frustratingly incomplete. One bright spot is his book on the history of Texas blues, done in collaboration with Paul Oliver, will finally be released after decades in limbo. “Da Vinci never finished his paintings,” he told The Houston Press in 2008. “He got bored by the time he got to the corners.”

That title to the Robert Johnson book can also been seen as metaphor for McCormick himself, a man wrapped in a myth of his own. Robert Burton "Mack" McCormick passed away on Nov. 18 at the age of 85, remaining something of an enigma to the end. As Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records said: "Mack is one of the most important Texas vernacular-music historians. McCormick discovered and recorded living musicians, like Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins, and re-imagined the lives of dead ones, like Robert Johnson. He’s written dozens of magazine articles and album liner notes. He’s worked for the Smithsonian Institution." Writer Peter Guralnick noted that "Mack set out to live his life on his own terms with all the passion of someone who has made a vocation of his avocation. He pursued it in territories where there were no maps and no rules.”

McCormick's fame, or infamy depending on who you ask, to tied to his massive archive of blues research amassed after a lifetime of mostly lone research. It's an archive few have seen. In 1977 McCormick wrote an open  letter to Blues Unlimited in which he said as much: "…I realized that there is a general feeling, particularly in England, that Mack McCormick is sitting on top of a mountain of material that he won't publish. I learned too that I'm regarded with some grumpiness. To reply to this, let me first of all admit that it is true. In 1958 when I began serious documentary recording and field research it was not my plan to acquire such a mountain." And as Michael Hall wrote in in Texas Monthly in 2002: "McCormick calls his archive the Monster, a term of both affection and fear. Inside the Monster are secrets—on the origin of the blues, on the story of Texas music, and on the lives of some of the greatest musicians in American history. …Much of the archive sits in storage in Houston, much more at a place McCormick owns in the mountains of Mexico. And it’s in danger. The pages are fading, the tapes need restoring, and McCormick is sufficiently hoary to worry about dying suddenly with no home for it all." Now that McCormick's gone, blues collectors are once again asking what's to become of his life's work. As of now that question is very much up in the air.

Treasury of Field Recordings Vol. 1 Treasury of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Read Liner Notes Pt.1 / Pt. 2 (PDF)

Today's show is one that I had planned for awhile but kept putting it off hoping that I would get around to interview McCormick. Unfortunately hat never happened. While we don't know what recordings lie in McCormick's vast archives there's a sufficient amount of material he did release which is what I've drawn on for this program,  a good chunk from long-out-of-print albums.

Among the earliest recordings McCormick released were two anthologies: two volumes that comprise A Treasury Of Field Recordings and The Unexpurgated Folk Songs of Men. Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1 & 2 were compiled by McCormick and issued on the British 77 label in 1960. Sponsored by the Houston Folklore Group and the Texas Folklore Society, these field recordings were collected around Houston by McCormick and other collectors like Ed Bradeux, Pete Seeger, John Lomax and others. The 36 selections contained in this set were drawn from over 400 items recorded over a nine year period. The original recordings are housed at the University of Texas and the Library of Congress. As the notes state it portrays "A panorama of the traditions around Houston – the city and its neighboring bayous, beaches, prisons, plantations, plains and piney woods…” And as John Lomax writes about this collection “This is one good, long look at the guts of America – songs sung by those who make them up and pass them along, showing the character of themselves, the flavor and spirit of their lives.”

From the the A Treasury Of Field Recordings we spin two versions of the song "Tom Moore's Farm" by Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins. Tom Moore was a powerful plantation owner who farmed land along the Brazos river in Texas. Asked about the song, sung on this collection by Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins, he replied: "They're happy people – they don 't always mean what they sing. He laughed deprecatingly, 'Only I best never catch one of them singing that song.'" As McCormick notes: “In order to protect him [Mance Lipscomb] and his family, his name is withheld from his recording of 'Tom Moore's Farm'. …The simple fact is that the singer and Tom Moore are neighbors, the one a poor laborer, the other a powerful and vindictive man who has long felt the song to be a thorn in his side.”

The Unexpurgated Folk Songs of Men
Read Liner Notes (PDF)

The anthology The Unexpurgated Folk Songs of Men was collected and recorded by McCormick. The contents were described in the notes as "…An informal song-swapping session with a group of Texans, New Yorkers, and Englishmen exchanging bawdy songs and lore, presented without expurgation…" The album was originally issued in a generic white cover without any printing. Song titles are listed on the disc labels, but none of the many performers are credited anywhere on the release. Included inside the cover sleeve was a large, 14-page booklet explaining the history of the songs, as well as a large disclaimer presenting the recorded material as a scholarly document which, along with the generic white sleeve and anonymous performers, were evidently measures taken against possible charges of obscenity. Some of the performers have been ostensibly identified by researchers. The album was later reissued with a cover as Raglan R 51.

In Alan Govenar's book Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues, he writes: "Lightnin’ Hopkins first met Mack McCormick around 1950 through McCormick’s mother, who was then working as an X-ray technician at the Telephone Road office of a doctor whose patients included Bill Quinn of Gold Star Studios. …During the fall of 1958, [Sam] Charters heard about McCormick from Frederic Ramsey at Folkways, who suggested that Charters contact McCormick in Houston and Asch in New York about recording Lightnin’. …McCormick was interested in getting to know Charters and invited him to stay at his house in January 1959. Together they went looking for Lightnin’." Recordings were made in Hopkins' apartment with the recordings released on Folkways in August of that year. "Once Charters left Houston, McCormick went and recorded Hopkins himself. Between February 16 and July 20, 1959, McCormick, somehow overcoming the difficulty Charters had encountered, recorded forty-six songs with Lightnin’ in six different informal sessions." Around twenty sides remain unissued. The recordings from these sessions resulted in four albums released in early 1960: Country Blues and Autobiography In Blues issued on the Tradition label, Blues from East Texas was issued on Heritage (a split LP with Joel Hopkins on one side and Lightnin’ on the other) and The Rooster Crowed In England issued on the British 77 Records label. As McCormick wrote in the notes to the latter album: “This album was prepared with the frank intention of arousing interest among the public and agencies who govern the European concert halls. …Until only a few months before making these recordings, Sam Lightnin' Hopkins knew of England only vaguely as a place 'over across the water' …a place he'd heard of thru friends who visited there while in the army. He was startled and dubious when I told him that some of the greatest enthusiasm for the blues was centered in places 'over across that water.'” Apparently this issued on a Document CD circa 1998 which was strictly limited edition of 100 copies, never sold, but given away at Document wrap party in Vienna. That release was titled Lightnin' Hopkins 1954 & 1959 with extra tracks from other places. McCormick also wrote the notes and produced several of Hopkins' Bluesville albums.

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

McCormick also recorded Lightnin's brother, Joel. Joel was Lightnin's older brother and first gave him a guitar. Joel traveled the south with tent shows and traveling caravans. Lightnin's other brother, John Henry also played guitar. The three were recorded together in Waxahatchie, TX in 1964. The results were issued on Arhoolie under the title Hopkins Brothers: Lightnin', Joel, & John Henry. Joel was first recorded in 1959 by McCormick.

In the summer of 1960 Paul Oliver came to the United States with the aid of a State Department grant and BBC field recorder to record blues. As Oliver's journey progressed west he teamed up with Chris Strachwitz and Mack McCormick who had been roaming around Texas looking for blues singers. The recording of Buster Pickens was a result of this collaboration. Pickens lone album for Heritage, the self-titled Buster Pickens, was recorded over several sessions in 1960 and 1961 and released in 1962. Two years ago I persuaded Document Records to reissue the album (Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 ) and I had the pleasure of writing the liner notes.

In August 1960 Chris Strachwitz, Mack McCormick and Paul 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. …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." Other recordings McCormick made of Lipscomb appear on the album Trouble On Mind on the Reprise label.

Also during this trip Robert Curtis Smith met by chance Paul Oliver and Chris Strachwitz in Wade Walton's Big Six barber shop in Clarksdale, Mississippi. This led to him recording some tracks that year and in 1961, which in turn saw the release of The Blues of Robert Curtis Smith: Clarksdale Blues in 1963 for the Bluesville label. Liner notes were written by Mack McCormick. Curtis also appeared on an anthology of recording that Strachwitz and Oliver made in Mississippi during this trip originally titled I Have To Paint My Face: A Random Collection Of Mississippi Delta Blues and issued on Arhoolie. Original notes were by McCormick but these were replaced by notes by Strachwitz when this was issued on CD in 1995 with the title I Have To Paint My Face: Mississippi Blues.

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

One of McCormick's lesser-known accomplishments involved the documenting and recording of barrelhouse Texas piano players. In 1963 McCormick recorded a pianist by the name of Robert Shaw in Austin and released Shaw's Texas Barrelhouse Piano album on McCormick's short-lived Almanac label. Shaw came from Houston and his style was not only a Houston style but a specifically Fourth Ward style, one similar to but distinct from the Fifth Ward style. Through dogged interviews, research, and a little luck, McCormick was able to piece together how this style began. In 1960 McCormick took a job as a census taker in Houston, asking to be put in the Fourth Ward. During this assignment, he discovered more than 200 professional barrelhouse piano players, all of whom, he learned, got their chops from a man named Peg Leg Will.

As some point McCormick became obsessed with Henry Thomas, known as Ragtime Texas, and one of the oldest singers recorded, having been born in 1874. McCormick thinks he may have met Thomas in downtown Houston in 1949 although he was well past his prime. Thomas' music gives us a glimpse of black music before the blues. Thomas cut 23 sides between 1927 and 1929 for Vocalion. By visiting the towns mentioned in a railroad song of Thomas’s, "Railroadin’ Some," and analyzing his accent, Mr. McCormick found his way to Upshur County, Thomas’s birthplace, and, interviewing people who had known him, put together a rich, evocative history of his life and times. The research formed the liner notes he wrote for Henry Thomas Completed Works 1927 to 1929 issued by Herwin in 1974. The album's booklet includes an authoritative biography on Thomas and complete lyrics for all of the songs. These notes rank among the all-time best in the field of blues research.

Related Articles

Mack McCormick Bibliography (excerpted from A Blues Bibliography Second Edition by Robert Ford) (PDF)

A Who's Who of the Midnight Special (By Mack McCormick, Caravan 19, 1960) (PDF)

Lightnin' Hopkins: Blues (By Mack McCormick, Jazz Review 3, no. 1, Jan 1960, 14–17) (PDF)

The Houston Record Men (By Chris Strachwitz, Jazz Report 2, no. 8, May 1960, 9–10) (GIF)

Liner Notes (Mance Lipscomb: Texas Sharecropper and Songster, Arhoolie, 1960)

Liner Notes (I Have To Paint My Face: A Random Collection Of Mississippi Delta Blues, Arhoolie, 1960))

Liner Notes (Lightnin’ Hopkins: Country Blues, Tradition TLP 1035)

-Liner Notes (Lightnin’ Hopkins: Autobiography in Blues, Tradition TLP 1040, 1960) (PDF)

Liner Notes (Mance Lipscomb: Trouble In Mind, Reprise, 1961) (GIF)

-The Sound of Houston (By Pete Welding,  Saturday Review 44, Jan 14, 1961, 54–55) (PDF)

L.C. Williams (By Paul Oliver and Mack McCormick, Jazz Monthly 7, no. 1, Mar 1961,  15) (PDF)

Liner Notes (Robert Curtis Smith: Clarksdale Blues, Bluesville, 1961) (GIF)

Liner Notes (Lightnin’ Hopkins: Walkin’ This Road by Myself, Bluesville BV-1057, 1962) (PDF)

Liner Notes (Robert Shaw: Texas Barrelhouse Piano, Almanac, 1963) (PDF)

The Damn Tinkers (By Mack McCormick, American Folk Music Occasional no. 1,1964: 5–13) (PDF)

An Open Letter from Mack McCormick (By Mack McCormick, Blues Unlimited 117 Jan./Feb., 1976, p.17) (PDF)

A Case of the Blues (By Gregory Curtis, Texas Monthly May, 1977) (PDF)

The Search for Robert Johnson (UK television documentary film, 1991  – features Mack McCormick) (link)

Mack McCormick Still Has the Blues (By Michael Hall, Texas monthly, April, 2002) (PDF)

Mack McCormick Interview (By Andrew Brown, Jan., 2006) (PDF)

The Collector: Mack McCormick's Huge Archive of Culture and Lore (By John Nova Lomax , Houston Press, Nov. 19, 2008) (PDF)

The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie (By John Jeremiah Sullivan, New York Times, April 13, 2014) (link)

Finding Mack McCormick (Lecture by Alex LaRotta, 2014) (link)

Mack McCormick, Student of Texas Blues, Dies at 85 (By William Grimes, New York Times, Nov. 25, 2015) (link)

Remembering Mack McCormick (Observer, Nov. 25, 2015) (link)

Historian Mack McCormick Made an Impact on Texas Blues (By Andrew Dansby, Houston Chronicle, November 27, 2015 ) (link)


Andy BoyEvil BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Andy BoyChurch Street BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Walter 'Cowboy' Washington & Andy BoyIce Pick MamaThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Andy BoyHouse Raid BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Big Boy KnoxBlue Man BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Big Boy KnoxEleven Light City BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937
Son Becky Mistreated Washboard BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Son Becky Midnight Trouble BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksJack of All Trades BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksFannie Mae BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksShake the ShackSan Antonio Blues 1937
Thunder SmithSanta Fe BluesLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Thunder SmithLow Down Dirty WaysLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Leroy Ervin Rock Island BluesTexas Blues: Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings
Lee HunterBack To Santa FeTexas Blues: Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings
Sonny Boy DavisI Don't Live Here No MoreTexas Country Blues 1948-1951
Dr. HepcatI CriedHouston Might Be Heaven V
Dr. HepcatHattie GreenDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953: Texas
Dr. HepcatBoogie WoogieGiants Of Texas Country Blues Piano
Whistlin Moore AlexSometimes I Feel Worried From North Dallas To The East Side
Whistlin Moore AlexIf I Lose You WomanModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Whistlin Moore AlexNeglected WomanModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Buster PickensSanta Fe TrainEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Buster PickensJim NappyEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Buster PickensShe Caught The L & NEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Robert ShawHere I Come With My Dirty, Dirty Duckings On Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Robert ShawGroceries On My Shelf (Piggly Wiggly) Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Robert ShawThe Ma Grinder Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Grey GhostNobody Knows You When You're Down And OutGrey Ghost (Catfish)
Grey GhostWay Out On The DesertGrey Ghost (Spindletop)

Show Notes:

Back when I started this show in 2007 one of the first programs I did was one devoted to the pre-war Texas piano tradition. My interest in this was sparked again recently when I was doing research and writing the notes for a reissue of pianist Buster Pickens long out-of-print album for the Document label (just reissued  as Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions).  Pickens was an active member of the  'Santa Fe group' of pianists, knew all players but unlike some of them did not get the opportunity to record until the post-war era. In our two-part feature on Texas piano I'll be spotlighting the tradition in more depth that I did the first time out, surveying both  pre-war and post-war artists.

Pinetop Burks: Jack Of All Trades BluesThe Texas piano tradition flowered in the 1920’s and was at its peak during the 1930’s when a number of the tradition’s best players were recorded. Paul Oliver observed that “Texas was as rich in piano blues as Mississippi was in guitar blues” and “a cursory glance through the discographies will emphasize the fact that a remarkable number of blues pianists came from Texas." The pianists can be roughly grouped into schools; there was the remarkable Thomas family who made the bulk of their recordings between 1923 and 1928, one based around Dallas which included Whistlin Alex Moore, a regional style that developed around Shreveport and the so-called 'Santa Fe group' who were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie. In our second installment we spotlight members of the powerful Santa Fe group as well as a number of pianists who recorded in the post-war era.

The  'Santa Fe group' were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie.“ Mack McCormick noted that the “itinerant pack of pianists who came to be known loosely as 'the Santa Fe group,' partly because they favored that railroad and partly because a stranger asking for the name of a selection was invariably told 'That's The Santa Fe.' …They were known as The Santa Fe after the railroad that straddle Fort Bend County with a big triangle just Southwest of Houston, providing access westward to the high plains, cotton country, east to the piney-woods lumbering camps and north (pretty much following the old Chisholm Trail) to a string of cities and watering places. ”Here”, Oliver notes “was where the music thrived and pianists could be found like Pinetop Burks, Son Becky, Rob Cooper, Black Boy Shine, Andy Boy, Big Boy Knox, Robert Shaw, Buster Pickens and the singers who worked with them like Walter 'Cowboy' Washington and Joe Pullum.” Others associated with the group were Victoria Spivey and Bernice Edwards.

1937 was an outstanding year for the Santa Fe group of pianists: Andy Boy recorded in February for Bluebird, Big Boy Knox recorded for Bluebird in March, Black Boy Shine recorded in June for Vocalion and Son Becky and Pinetop Burks recorded at a shared session for Vocalion in October. Among the best of the Santa Fe group were Andy Boy of Galveston and Rob Cooper of Houston. Andy Boy had a rough, expressive voice offset with his sprightly blues piano laced with ragtime flourishes. He waxed eight sides in 1937 under his own name as well as backing singer Joe Pullum on eleven sides in 1935 and the obscure Walter 'Cowboy' Washington.

Little is known of Big Boy Knox who recorded four sides in 1937. Son Becky and Pinetop Burks recorded at a shared session for Vocalion in October 1937. Becky's real name was Leon Calhoun born in Wharton, Texas in 1910. He's remembered playing along the Piney woods border with Louisiana. He's backed by an unknown guitarist and washboard player oh his six titles. Conish 'Pinetop' Burks was born near Richmond, Texas in 1907. He possessed a formidable technique as he displays on the six titles he cut for Vocalion in 1937.

Thunder Smith: Santa Fe BluesAfter World War II the Texas piano tradition virtually evaporated. Several, however, did record in the post-war era including Wilson “Thunder” Smith. Smith plays piano behind Lightnin' Hopkins on his first two sessions for Aladdin in 1946 and 1947 and Hopkins backed Smith on a four song session for Aladdin in 1946 with Smith cutting one session apiece in 1947 for Gold Star and in 1948 for Down Town. He was murdered in Houston in 1963. His “Santa Fe Blues” indicates ties to the Santa Fe group.

Bill Quinn, owner of the Houston based Gold Star label, recorded two piano players: Leroy Ervin in 1947 and Lee Hunter in 1948. Another pianist from the older generation was Sonny Boy Davis who recorded two sides for the Talent label in 1949 backed by guitarist Rattlesnake Cooper.

Lavada Durst, known as Dr. Hepcat, who was a disciple of Robert Shaw but who recorded infrequently. He worked in baseball for much of his life, training players and announcing games, and it was from the latter activity that he graduated to working as a DJ, broadcasting over KVET, a white station in Austin. There he developed the persona of Dr.Hepcat, with an extraordinary line in jive talk. He also made a few records of his own, but despite his high profile on radio, it appears that these can't have sold very well, as they are extremely rare, even one issued on the comparatively major independent label Peacock; the other two were on the local Uptown label, one issued under the pseudonym of Cool Papa Smith. He made a handful of latter day recordings before passing in 1995.

In part one of our spotlight on Texas piano we played a pair of pre-war number by Whistlin Alex Moore, the best known Dallas pianist. Moore's career spanned from 1929 until 1988, recording in every decade except the 1970's. He was rediscovered by Chris Strachwitz in 1960, recording an album for Arhoolie and making his way to Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival by the end of the decade. Back in 1951 in Dallas he cut a few titles for the RPM label including two of which we spin today.

As Paul Oliver wrote: "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. Pickens lone album, for Heritage, the self-titled Buster Pickens, was recorded over several sessions in 1960 and 1961 and released in 1962, later reissued in 1977 on the Flyright label as Back Door Blues and now appears on CD for the first time courtesy of Document Records. Liner notes for the new reissue were written by your truly.

Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
 Read Liner Notes

Robert Shaw was born in Stafford, Texas in 1908 and in his mid-teens started playing with members of the Santa Fe Group and greatly influenced by his friend Black Boy Shine. Shaw wasn't recorded until 1963 when he was tracked down by Mack McCormick.

Roosevelt Williams, better know as the Grey Ghost, was born in Bastrop, Texas in 1903. He outlived his contemporaries passing at the age of 92 in 1996. He traveled to the area dances and roadhouses by riding empty boxcars. He would seem to appear out of nowhere and then disappear immediately after performing, which earned him the nickname, "Grey Ghost. He wasn't properly documented until 1965 when he was recorded by Tary Owens. Those recordings saw daylight in the late 80's, reviving Williams' career. Owens arranged for Williams to make a CD of new recordings at the age of 89, Which was released in 1992.

 Document video for the release of
Edwin Buster Pickens – The 1959 to 1961 Sessions


I've been collaborating with Document Records since 2005 when they asked me to write the notes for the Robert Nighthawk collection Prowling With The Nighthawk. The next project was the series that grew into the three double disc sets of Blues, Blues Christmas. For years I had being doing an annual Christmas program on my blues show and pitched the idea of a vintage collection of blues and gospel Christmas songs to Document. This year Document issued the third volume of Blues, Blues Christmas, the most wide-ranging collection yet, jumping genres from blues, gospel, jazz, rock, doo-wop and country. Another idea I brought to Document was to resurrect some great long out-of-print blues records. One of the first records that came to mind was pianist Buster Pickens' lone album for Heritage (HLP 1008), the self-titled Buster Pickens, which was recorded over several sessions between 1960 and 1961 and released in 1962, subsequently reissued in 1977 on the Flyright label as Back Door Blues and now appears on CD first time as Edwin Buster Pickens – The 1959 to 1961 Sessions.

Texas Piano Part 1 Texas Piano Part 2


A couple weeks back I got a call from Gillian from Document asking me if I was interested in putting together some podcasts. With the release of the Buster Pickens and the Christmas CD we decided to do a couple revolving around the rich Texas piano tradition and one devoted to Christmas tunes. You can hear these on the new Document podcast page. While you're there check out the great podcasts on James Booker and Christmas songs from Edison Records.