Scrapper BlackwellBlues Before SunriseMr. Scrapper's Blues
Scrapper BlackwellLittle Boy BlueMr. Scrapper's Blues
Shirley GriffithSaturday BluesSaturday Blues
Shirley GriffithMaggie Campbell BluesSaturday Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithBlind Lemon's BluesIndiana Ave. Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithNaptown BoogieIndiana Ave. Blues
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellBama BoundMy Heart Struck Sorrow
Pete FranklinI Got To Find My BabyGuitar Pete's Blues
Neal PatmanKey To The HighwayArt of Field Recording: Vol I
Cecil BarfieldGeorgia Bottleneck BluesArt of Field Recording: Vol I
Art Rosenbaum Interview
Yank Rachel & Shirley GriffithPeach Orchard MamaArt of Field Recording: Vol. I
Scrapper BlackwellNobody Knows When Your Down...Mr. Scrapper's Blues
Shirley GriffithRiver Line BluesSaturday Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithBig Road BluesIndianapolis Jump
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellBrook's BluesArt of Field Recording: Vol. I
Tony BryantBroke Down EngineArt of Field Recording: Vol. II
J. Easley, P. Franklin and Ray HollowayBig Leg WomanIndianapolis Jump

Show Notes:

Mission statement released after
United had been in existence for one year

The United Record Company was launched in July 1951, by Leonard Allen and Lew Simpkins, a veteran record man who had worked for the Miracle and Premium Records and brought many of their former artists to the new label. A news item in the trade press dated July 21, 1951, announces the formation of the United Recording Company. "The guiding force behind this new company is a Chicago area entertainment entrepreneur by the name of Lewis Simpkins. He had previous experience with the local Miracle and Premium labels in the Chicago areas. Simpkins is unique because he is one of the very few Black record company owners producing this music that is largely by and for the Black community. He joins the Rene Brothers in California (Excelsior and Exclusive) and soon to be executives Vivian Carter and James Bracken in nearby Gary Indiana with the Vee-Jay label."

United enjoyed early success, scoring hits by Tab Smith, Jimmy Forrest, and the Four Blazes; during its first year it was outdoing its local rival Chess on the charts. The United label took off impressively, scoring two number one R&B hits among its first ten releases: Tab Smith's "Because of You," and Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train." United formally opened for business with a long recording session on July 12, 1951. The company was able to expand and open a new imprint called States in May 1952. United and States recorded a substantial roster of jazz artists. The company also recorded a substantial amount of blues including artists like Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim, J. T. Brown, "Big" Walter Horton, J. T. Brown, Robert Nighthawk, Junior Wells and others. The label also recorded a fair bit of gospel and vocal harmony groups.During its first 2 1/2 years of operation, the company recorded 463 masters. The death of Lew Simpkins, who died suddenly on April 27, 1953, was a serious blow; Leonard Allen was left to run the enterprise with limited help until the label's demise in 1957. While the company remained fairly healthy during 1954, activity dropped off sharply after that. Of the 281 sides that the company cut during this period, 130 were done in 1954. By the end of 1956 Leonard Allen was reduced to selling off half of the house music publishing company to pay his tax bill. Too many years without hits finally brought United and States down after the company's Christmas releases in 1957. Bob Koester of Delmark Records acquired most of the label's masters in 1975 and has reissued the bulk of this material on LP and CD. I want to thank the folks at Delmark for sending me several titles that made this show possible. Below is some background on some of today's featured artists, most of which comes from the The Red Saunders Research Foundation website.

Roosevelt Sykes, like Nighthawk, was recorded on United’s first day of sessions on July 12, 1951. He cut two additional sessions in August 1951 and March 1953. There is speculation that Nighthawk plays guitar on the first Sykes session. Robert Nighthawk was recorded by United on their very first day of sessions and two of United's first five releases were by Robert Nighthawk and his Nighthawks Band. Sales never took off and Nighthawk headed back south and wouldn't record again until 1964. Leonard Allen scoffed: "Robert Nighthawk? I didn't think nothin' of him. I didn't go into those joints where they were playing. Lew knew him- he had Robert Nighthawk in mind for the first session. So after he cut the session it did nothin'." Nighthawk recorded two sessions for United, one on July 12, 1951 and one on October 25, 1952 for its subsidiary States. His complete recordings for the label are collected on the CD Bricks in My Pillow.

Memphis Slim cut around 30 sides for United at sessions in 1952, 1953 and two in 1954. This was a particularly inspired period for Slim who added his first permanent guitarist, Matt Murphy to his band. These recordings have been reissued on the Delmark CD’s Memphis Slim U.S.A. and The Come Back. Memphis Slim had been recording since 1940. Based in Chicago during this phase of his career, he had been a mainstay at three postwar independents: first Hy-Tone, then Miracle, and finally Miracle's successor entity Premium. After Premium collapsed in the summer of 1951, Slim cut three sessions for Mercury in Chicago. Lew Simpkins, who knew Slim from the days when he was moving 78's for Miracle and Premium, brought him to United as soon as he could.

J.T. Brown also recorded during United's first day – and his "Windy City Boogie" was credited by United proprietor Leonard Allen with "saving our first money." J.T. is best remembered for the accompaniments he provided for Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Roosevelt Sykes, Johnny Shines, and J.B. Lenoir. In his liner notes for the United reissues on Delmark, Jim O'Neal remarked that he "was a bluesman. By jazz standards, he was not a great instrumentalist. His lack of sophistication, subtlety, and tonal variations prevented him from moving into more 'progressive' circles." Brown first performed as a member of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels in the South before moving to Chicago in the early 1940's.

One of the top R&B records of 1952, "Mary Jo" provided a moment in the national spotlight for one of Chicago's hottest vocal combos, The Four Blazes. The single moved rapidly to the top, displacing Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" as the #1 R&B song in the nation at the end of August. Bassist Tommy Braden was the main lead singer while all members provided backup harmony vocals. "Jelly" Holt was the founder and drummer in the group, while Floyd McDaniel and "Shorty" Hill played guitars. The Four Blazes formed in 1940 and made their recording debut with a few sides for Aristocrat in 1947 before landing at United in 1952.

In what was likely a response to Chess' success with Little Walter, United signed harp ace Junior Wells. After a youthful apprenticeship in the Aces and then the Muddy Waters band (when Little Walter went out on his own he took over the Aces, while Junior moved into his chair in Muddy's band, and appeared on one of Muddy's sessions for Chess), he was ready to make his first sides as a leader for the States subsidiary.  Down Beat's Pete Welding wrote "In their power, directness, unerring taste and utter consistency of mood, these may well be the most perfectly distilled examples of Wells' music ever recorded, taking their place alongside of those of Waters, Walter, Wolf and other masters of the period." These historic sessions also feature Louis and Dave Myers, Willie Dixon, Johnnie Jones, Fred Below and Odie Payne Jr. Recorded by United Records in 1953 and 1954 at Universal Studio in Chicago, eight sides were issued on the subsidiary States label.

Walter Horton moved to Chicago in the late 1940's, but during 1951-54 made frequent trips to Memphis to record for Modern, behind other artists and under the name Mumbles. He also made sideman appearances for Chicago-based labels, with Muddy Waters for Chess (January 1953) and Johnny Shines for JOB (the same month). He recorded under the name Big Walter Horton for the first time when he signed with United in 1954. Horton also backed singer Tommy Brown the same year. Brown's United session on August 26 featured an all-star lineup of Walter Horton (harmonica), Harold Ashby (tenor sax), Memphis Slim (piano), Lee Cooper (guitar), and Willie Dixon (bass); the drums are unknown. Brown remains an active performer.

Leonard Allen  recorded blues artists Morris Pejoe and Big Boy Spires in Al Smith's basement (5313 South Drexel). Although the Pejoe session was interesting enough to justify putting matrix numbers on it, Allen eventually backpedaled, most likely because of the less-than-professional sound quality. Neither saw release until Delmarkr put them out on an album in 1989. Pejoe was born Morris Pejas in Louisiana, and began his music career on the violin. After moving to Beaumont, Texas, in 1949, he switched to guitar. In 1951 he was in Chicago, performing with pianist Henry Gray. During 1952-53 he recorded three sessions for Checker, accompanied by Gray among others. The United session was held in December 1954.

Arthur "Big Boy" Spires was born in Natchez, Mississippi; he started playing guitar only in the late 1930s. Spires came to Chicago in 1943, and played house-rent parties during the decade. It was not until 1950 or 1951 that he graduated to nightclubs. He first recorded for Checker in 1952 (which produced his best known record, "Murmur Low"), and did a strong session for Chance in January 1953. In December 1953, Big Boy Spires and His Rhythm Rocking Three was advertised as the feature act in the grand opening celebration of the Palace Inn (the ad failed to list an address). The date of the Spires session for Leonard Allen seems to be December 1954 or shortly thereafter.

The most down-home blues session ever recorded by Leonard Allen featured harmonica player Alfred "Blues King" Harris and drummer James Bannister. Bannister got the vocals on "Blues and Trouble" and "Gold Digger," which were the only titles to be released from the session at the time; States 141 is a very rare record. Harris sang on the rest, which did not see issue until they appeared on a Delmark LP many years later. Bannister had made unissued recordings for Sun in Memphis and for Chess before cutting this session for States. Harris, who could sing in the B. B. King manner and often billed himself as Blues King, made one track for Modern in Memphis. He was booked into the Be-Bop Club for 6 months in 1954 when Allen recorded him. He waxed five sides for United that same year. In the late 1950's, Harris put out a single on J. Mayo Williams' low-circulation Ebony label. He dropped off the Chicago scene after 1959 and his later movements are untraced.

Other performers featured today include Jimmy Coe, Eddie Chamblee, Arbee Stidham, L.C. McKinley and Ernie K-Doe among others. United recorded several fine sax players who's music straddled the line between R&B and jazz. Many are featured on Delmark's three volume Honkers & Bar Walkers series including Jimmy Coe and Eddie Chamblee. From 1941 to 1946 Chamblee worked as a musician in Army bands; after his discharge he put together his own combo. His first notable work was on the Miracle label, particularly on the huge hit "Long Gone" by Sonny Thompson, which recorded for 1947. After Chamblee went out on his own in 1948, his records for Miracle and Premium sold well, and Lew Simpkins no doubt remembered him. In addition to putting out sides under his own name he also played on many sides backing the Four Blazes. On our selection, "La! La! La! Lady", Chamblee also takes the vocal. Arbee Stidham was the last blues artist to record for Leonard Allen, and was responsible for the very last release on States. He came to Chicago in the 1940s and his first recording for RCA Victor in 1947 produced a number one R&B hit on the Billboard race chart, "My Heart Belongs To You." Subsequently he cut sides for Victor, Checker, Sittin' With and Abco before signing with States in 1957. Only rone record was issued featuring the guitar of Earl Hooker. L. C. McKinley was T-Bone Walker disciple who made from Mississippi to Chicago in 1951. In the early 1950's he was a regular headliner at the famed 708 Club. In 1951 and 1952, he recorded as a sideman with pianist Eddie Boyd for JOB, appearing on Boyd's biggest hit, "Five Long Years." He first recorded as a leader in 1953 for the Parrot label, but Al Benson chose not to release his session. McKinley signed with States around the beginning of 1954 and cut four sides for the label. In 1955 United became the first to record Ernie K-Doe, who was living and performing in Chicago at the time under his real name, Ernest Kador. K-Doe spent nearly his entire life in New Orleans, but in 1953, after winning several singing and dancing competitions back home, he came to Chicago for a brief time to live with his mother. He met the Four Blazes at the Crown Propeller Lounge; the Blazes introduced him to A&R man Dave Clark, who was doing some work for United at the time and supervised the session. In early November he was singing at the Apex Country Club in Robbins, Illinois (13624 Claire Blvd) as "Ernest Kado." The Chicago Defender ad (12 November) was already billing him as "United Recording Artist."