Sun 23 May 2010
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Goin' Back To Florida||Lightnin' Hopkins|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||I Growed Up With The Blues||Complete Prestige/Bluesville Recordings|
|Daddy Hotcakes||Strange Woman Blues||The Blues in St. Louis Vol. 1|
|Henry Townsend||Tired Of Being Mistreated||Tired Of Being Mistreated|
|J.D. Short||You're Tempting Me||The Sonet Blues Story|
|J.D. Short||So Much Wine||Blues from the Mississippi Delta|
|Billie and De De Pierce||Married Man Blues||Music of New Orleans Vol. 3|
|Edith Johnson & Henry Brown||Nickel's Worth of Liver||The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2|
|Edith Johnson & Henry Brown||Henry Brown Blues||The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2|
|Barrelhouse Buck||20th Street Blues||Backcountry Barrelhouse|
|Speckled Red||Uncle Sam's Blues||The Barrel-House Blues of Speckled Red,|
|Pink Anderson||You Don't Know My Mind||Carolina Medicine Show Hokum & Blues|
|Pink Anderson||That’s No Way to Do||Medicine Show Man|
|Baby Tate||See What You Done Done||See What You Done Done|
|Jesse Fuller||Red River Blues||Jesse Fuller's Favorite|
|Furry Lewis||Pearlee Blues||Furry Lewis|
|Furry Lewis||Kassie Jones||Furry Lewis|
|Memphis Willie B.||Uncle Sam Blues||Hard Working Man Blues|
|Robert Pete Williams||Come Here Sit Down on My Knee||Legacy of the Blues Vol. 9|
|Billy Boy Arnold||Two Drinks Of Wine||More Blues On The South Side|
|Homesick James||The Woman I'm Lovin'||Blues on the South Side|
|Buddy Guy||A Man And The Blues||A Man And The Blues|
|Otis Spann||Sometimes I Wonder||Chicago The Blues Today!|
|J.B. Hutto||Married Woman Blues||Chicago The Blues Today!|
|Junior Wells||Help Me||Chicago The Blues Today!|
|Otis Rush||It’s My Own Fault||Chicago The Blues Today!|
|Johnny Young||One More Time||Chicago The Blues Today!|
|Johnny Shines||Dynaflow||Chicago The Blues Today!|
|At Izzy young's Folklore Center, MacDougal Street, NYC,
l-r Sam charters, Izzy Young, Memphis Willie B., Furry
Lewis, and Gus cannon, 1964 (Photo by Ann Charters)
Samuel Charters played a central role in the folk revival of the 1950's and 1960's. His fieldwork, extensive liner notes, production efforts, and books served as an introduction to many who had never heard of artists like Lightnin' Hopkins and Robert Johnson. Charters was born in 1929 and graduated from Sacramento City College in 1949. In 1951, at the age of 21, he moved to New Orleans. After a two-year stint in the Army, he began to study jazz, but soon felt himself drawn to rural blues. Encouraged by fellow jazz researcher Frederic Ramsey, Charters began recording jazz and blues artists in 1955. The following year Folkways Records began issuing his recordings. Charters work as a field recorder and researcher would be poured into his first book in 1959, The Country Blues. "…The Country Blues was the first full-length treatment of the topic," wrote Benjamin Filene in Romancing the Folk, "and its evocative style inspired thousands of whites to explore the music." Unlike the more formal music histories written by Paul Oliver, Charters' book was a popular history designed to pass on his enthusiasm for the blues to others. A companion album, also titled The Country Blues, would simultaneously be released on Folkways' RBF reissue series for which Charters produced about twenty albums. His other claim to fame during this period was his re-discovery, after a lengthy search, of Sam Lightnin' Hopkins who he recorded for Folkways in 1959.
In the 60's Charters wrote several books including The Poetry of the Blues and The Bluesmen. A 1961 trip for Prestige Records yielded records by Furry Lewis, Memphis Willie B., Baby Tate and Pink Anderson. Charters visited St. Louis to do recording sessions in 1961 and 1962 resulting in several albums by Henry Townsend, Henry Brown and Edith Johnson, Dady Hotcakes, J.D. Short, Speckled Red and Barrelhouse Buck. In 1963 he was hired by Prestige as an A&R representative, and oversaw the Bluesville and Folklore series.
|Sam charters recording Sleepy John Estes,
Brownsville, TN, 1962 (Photo by Ann Charters)
Charters' Prestige recordings of Homesick James, Billy Boy Arnold, and Otis Spann were some of the first electric blues releases aimed at the revival market. He continued in this vein as an independent producer for Vanguard with the influential three-volume anthology Chicago: The Blues Today as well as solo albums by Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, James Cotton and Charlie Musselwhite.
In the early 70's Charters moved to Sweden where he worked as a producer for Sonet. The twelve-volume series Legacy of the Blues resulted in a similarly titled book. He also recorded zydeco albums during this period by Clifton Chenier and Rockin' Dopsie.
On today's program we track recordings charters made from the late 1950's through the early 70's'. Much of the background on today's artists come from Charters' own writings, either taken from the original liner notes or Walking A Blues Road: A Blues Reader 1956-2004 a collection of his writings issued in 2004. The First half of the show is devoted primarily to acoustic blues artists. As Charters wrote: "In the first years of the blues rediscoveries there was a heady level of excitement just at finding that the blues was more than names on old phonograph records. For any of us who had come to the blues through our interest in classic jazz or through our involvement in the folk movement, the modern electric blues was considered with some wariness as an intrusion on the 'folk' spirit of the blues. For myself, there was also a sense of urgency. The younger blues artists in places like Chicago or Detroit could wait – whatever we thought of their style of the blues. The older blues artists who were still living in rented rooms or tenement apartments in cities like Memphis or Atlanta didn't have so many years ahead of them, and if we didn't save their stories and their music their rich legacy would slip away from us."
"My life as a record producer began with a duet session that I set up and recorded with Billie and Dee Dee [Pierce] in the spring of 1954. …The material from the session was released by Folkways as part of the series I recorded and complied with some tracks done by other field collectors in the city titled The Music of New Orleans. Billie and Dee Dee were included in Volume Three of the series, Music of the Dance Halls… …If you're interested in the old New Orleans jazz styles there are still a dozen places to hear bands, even if most of them don't have music every weekend, and you never know who's going to play unless one of the musicians calls you. What we knew about Luthjen's was that every night on the weekends Billie Pierce would be sitting on the bench of the place's much battered piano and singing the blues, and her husband Dee Dee Pierce would be sitting on an old kitchen chair beside her, adding the lyric trumpet fills that are an indispensable musical complement to the classic blues style." From the above mentioned album we play "Married Man Blues."
|Read Liner Notes (PDF)|
We spin a pair of cuts by Lightnin' Hopkins who Charters located after a lengthy period of not recordings. "On a windy winter morning in January 1959 I was driving along Dowling Street, in Houston, Texas. I stopped at a red light and a car pulled up beside mine. The window was rolled down, and a thin, nervous man, wearing dark glasses, leaned toward me.
'You lookin' for me?'
'Are you Lightnin'?'
'Lightnin", I said, 'I sure am.'
"I had been looking for lightnin' Hopkins, off and on, for the five years that had passed since I first heard him on record. …I was in and out of Houston for the next five years, recording, interviewing musicians, and asking about Lightnin' Hopkins. …When I finally found him he was anxious to begin recording again, and after I'd rented an acoustic guitar for him I carried the tape recorder I had in the trunk of my car into his shabby room on Hadley Street. He sang all afternoon, becoming more emotional and even more musically exciting as the hours passed." The results were issued on a self-titled album on Folkways. The results helped introduced his music to an entirely new audience. Soon after Hopkins went from gigging at back-alley gin joints to starring at collegiate coffeehouses, appearing on TV programs, and touring Europe. He was recording more prolifically then ever, laying down albums for World Pacific, Vee-Jay,Bluesville, Bobby Robinson’s Fire label, Candid, Arhoolie, Verve and, in 1965, the first of several LP’s for Stan Lewis’ Shreveport-based Jewel logo. During the 70's his recording activity slowed, cutting just a handful of sessions for verve and Sonet with several live collections issued. He was still touring widely and made trips to Mexico, Japan and Germany. After a final gig at Tramps in New York in November 1981 he returned to Houston where his health declined rapidly. He passed January 30, 1982.
|Read Liner Notes (PDF)|
Charters visited St. Louis to do recording sessions in 1961 and 1962 resulting in several fine albums of material. As Charters wrote: “I first visited St. Louis on the long research trip for The Country Blues in January 1959 …We were in the city again for two recordings trips, the first in May of 1961, and the second, to film J.D. Short for the documentary film The Blues, in the summer of 1962. Two of the albums, by Henry Townsend and Barrelhouse Buck, were released at the time of recording. One album, with J.D. Short, was released as part of the Legacy of the Blues series in 1973, and the other albums were released by Folkways in 1984.
George “Daddy Hotcakes” Montgomery was born in Georgia and came moved to St. Louis in 1918. He began singing the blues as a youngster and worked as an entertainer during the 1920’s. Sometime in the late 30’s he had an opportunity to record through blues artist and talent scout Charlie Jordan but the recording session fell through. He was still occasionally playing parties when Charters recorded him in 1961. These are his only recordings. As Charters wrote: "I am still also as surprised -when I listen to what we recorded in his room over the next two or threes days – at the complete, natural spontaneity of his blues. …Using his imagination and a store of familiar blues phrase to help him through occasional hesitations he simply made up the songs as he went along. I had some of the same experience when I recorded Lightnin' Hopkins and Robert Pete Williams but even as loose and free as they were with their blues I still could anticipate most of what they were going to do. With George, however, I never could be sure what might come next if I asked him to repeat anything." …The songs George recorded in his room – as far as I know these were his only recordings -made me conscious again of the haphazard circumstances that left their mark on what we knew of the blues. How many singers were there like George, who missed a recording trip because they didn't get the times right? How many were there who never were heard by anyone who knew where to send them to get their songs on record?" these recordings were issued on Folkways under the title The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 1: Daddy Hotcakes (originally planned to be issued on Bluesville).
|Read Liner Notes (PDF)|
While in St. Louis Charters cut an excellent album by veteran bluesman Henry Townsend backed his friend Tommy Bankhead. The results were issued on Bluesville as Tired of Being Mistreated and on Folkways as The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 3: Henry Townsend. Townsend was one of the only artists to have recorded in every decade for the last 80 years. He first recorded in 1929 and remained active up to 2006. "One of the things that was most intriguing for me about working with Henry was that this was the first time I'd ever recorded anyone playing an electric guitar. …The first blues they ran down together wiped out an lingering prejudices I had against electric instruments. It wasn't electric guitars that had changed the blues. It was the life in the African American ghettos, the new society, experiences of the people who created the blues that had changed, and it was the new instrument and their changes sound that expressed the new conditions of their lives."
Charters also recorded a fine session by Edith Johnson and Henry Brown. The results were issued on the album The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2: Henry Brown and Edith Johnson – Barrelhouse Piano and Classic Blues. Edith Johnson recorded eighteen sides in 1928/29 as “Edith North Johnson”, “Hattie North” and “Maybelle Allen.” Henry Brown worked clubs such as the Blue Flame Club, the 9-0-5 Club, Jim’s Place and Katy Red’s, from the twenties into the 30’s. Recorded for Brunswisck with Ike Rogers and Mary Johnson in 1929, for Paramount in Richmond and Grafton in ‘29 and ‘30. He served in the army in the early ’40s, then formed his own quartet to work occasional local gigs in St. Louis area from the ’50s, and worked the Becky Thatcher riverboat, St. Louis in 1965. In addition to his pre-war recordings, he was recorded by Paul Oliver in 1960 and by Adelphi in 1969.
J.D. Short recorded two sessions in the early ’30s for Paramount and Vocalion, then quickly faded into obscurity. Charters recorded Short at his transplanted home base of St. Louis in 1961. As Charters writes in the notes: “The recording that we did in his house that summer – mostly in the kitchen to get away from the noises in the street – was his last, but we didn’t have any idea of it. I was filming him for a sequence in The Blues and trying to get his ideas about the backgrounds and the aesthetics of the blues for The Poetry Of The Blues so we recorded a lot of music – new versions of songs he’d done before – new songs – and his own comments about the styles and the music.” Short unexpectedly passed away shortly after this session at the age of 60. Charters' recordings of Short can be found on the albums J.D. Short and Son House: Blues from the Mississippi Delta and album as part of The Legacy of the Blues series released in the 70's.
St. Louis was always a good piano blues town, and in addition to recording Henry Brown, Charters also captured Barrelhouse Buck and Speckled Red. Barrelhouse Buck McFarland cut his final session for Folkways and an unissued session in 1961 that was belatedly released a few years back on Delmark. The recordings Charters made were released on Folkways as Backcountry Barrelhouse. He died shortly afterward. McFarland was born in Alton, Illinois in 1903 in the same area as two other exceptional piano players, Wesley Wallace and Jabbo Williams, all three of which made names for themselves on the bustling St. Louis blues scene. McFarland got his shot in the recording studio waxing ten sides; two for Paramount in 1929, two for Decca in 1934 and four more for Decca in 1935, which were not issued. Speckled Red (born Rufus Perryman) was born in Monroe, LA, but he made his reputation as part of the St. Louis and Memphis blues scenes of the ’20s and ’30s. In 1929, he cut his first recording sessions. One song from these sessions, “The Dirty Dozens,” was released on Brunswick and became a hit in late 1929. In 1938, he cut a few sides for Bluebird. In the early ’40s, Red moved to St. Louis, where he played local clubs and bars for the next decade and a half. Charlie O’Brien, a St. Louis policeman and something of a blues aficionado “rediscovered” Speckled Red on December 14, 1954, who subsequently was signed to Delmark Records as their first blues artist. Several recordings were made in 1956 and 1957 for Tone, Delmark, Folkways, and Storyville record labels. The recordings Charters made were issued on Folkway under the title The Barrel-House Blues of Speckled Red.
Charters also spent time in Memphis getting to know and record some of the city's pre-war blues recording artists. "Will Shade, the guitar and harmonica player who had organized the Memphis Jug Band for victor Records in 1927, had remembered Furry in a conversation in February 1959. …I looked out the window, over the roofs toward Beale Street, and said to him, thinking out loud as much as anything else, 'I certainly would like to have heard some of those old blues singers, Jim Jackson, Furry Lewis, John Estes, Frank Stokes…' Will leaned out of his chair and called to his wife, Jennie Mae, who was working in the kitchen. 'Jennie Mae, when was the last time you saw that fellow they call 'Furry'?' '…Furry Lewis you mean? I saw him just last week.'" Charters eventually found Furry: "He no longer had a guitar and he hadn't played much in twenty years, but when I asked him if he could sing and play he straightened and said, 'I'm better now than I ever was.'" Lewis returned to the studio under Charters' direction, first cutting a self-titled album for Folkways in 1959 and then two albums for the Prestige/Bluesville label in 1961.
"Usually I stop by Will's whenever I'm in Memphis, and over the years he's led me to other singers like Gus Cannon, Charlie Burse and Furry Lewis. …I stopped by in April 1961 …he mentioned that one of the blues singers he's known in the 1930s has stopped by his place a few weeks before. 'His name's Willie B. I don't know what all his name is, but that's what we call him. Willie B. He's one of those real hard blues singers like you're always asking about. …He"ll sing the real old hard blues for you.'" Charters recorded Borum at a session at the Sun studios for Prestige's Bluesville label, with one more session to follow. The albums were issued as Introducing Memphis Willie B. and Hard Working Man Blues. Borum, was a mainstay of the Memphis blues and jug band circuit. He took to the guitar early in his childhood, being principally taught by his father and Memphis medicine show star Jim Jackson. By his late teens, he was working with Jack Kelly's Jug Busters. This didn't last long, as Borum joined up with the Memphis Jug Band. Sometime in the '30s he learned to play harmonica, being taught by Noah Lewis, the best harp blower in Memphis and mainstay of Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers. Willie B. began working on and off with various traveling Delta bluesmen, performing at various functions with Rice Miller, Willie Brown, Garfield Akers, and Robert Johnson. He finally got to make some records in 1934 for Vocalion backing Hattie Hart and Allen Shaw, but quickly moved back into playing juke joints and gambling houses with Son Joe, Joe Hill Louis and Will Shade until around 1943, when he became a member of the U.S. Army. Memphis Willie B. passed in 1993.
|Read Liner Notes|
In South Carolina Charters made important recordings by Pink Anderson and Baby Tate. Anderson was born in South Carolina and early on sang in the streets for pennies. He was self-taught as a guitarist and toured throughout the Southeast with a variety of medicine shows during 1915-1945, picking up work wherever he could. He was employed not only as a musician and a singer but as a dancer and comedian. Anderson recorded four titles in 1928 with his partner Simmie Dooley but did not make another record until 1950 for Riverside, sharing an album with Rev. Gary Davis. Anderson continued to work at parties, street fairs, and medicine shows during the first half of the 1950s before retiring for a time due to ill health. But in 1961 the Bluesville label sent Charters to record him. He recorded three albums of unaccompanied performances by Anderson, documenting him in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Carters also recorded one album by Anderson that was issued on Folkways as Carolina Medicine Show Hokum And Blues. Anderson stayed active on a part-time basis up until the time of his death in 1974.
Guitarist Baby Tate recorded only a handful of sessions, spending the bulk of his life as a sideman, playing with musicians like Blind Boy Fuller, Pink Anderson, and Peg Leg Sam. When he was 14 years old, Tate taught himself how to play guitar. Shortly afterward, he began playing with Blind Boy Fuller, who taught Tate the fundamentals of blues guitar. For most of the '30s, Baby played music as a hobby, performing at local parties, celebrations, and medicine shows. Tate picked up music again in 1946, setting out on the local blues club circuit. In the early '50s, Baby moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he performed both as a solo act and as a duo with Pink Anderson. In 1962, Charters recorded Tate for the album, See What You Done Done for Bluesville. The following year, he was featured in Charters' documentary film, The Blues. For the rest of the decade, Baby Tate played various gigs, concerts, and festivals across America. With the assistance of harmonica player Peg Leg Sam, Baby Tate recorded another set of sessions in 1972. Pete Lowry recorded him extensively in 1970 but theses sides remain unreleased. He died on August 17, 1972.
Charters first foray into recording Chicago electric blues were a batch of albums for Prestige/Bluesville including sessions by Otis Spann, Homesick James and Billy Boy Arnold. Born in Chicago, Billy Boy was gravitated who was a big influence. Still in his teens, Arnold cut his debut 78 for the obscure Cool logo in 1952. "Arnold made an auspicious connection when he joined forces with Bo Diddley and played on the his two-sided 1955 debut smash "Bo Diddley"/"I'm a Man" for Checker. That led, in a roundabout way, to Billy Boy's signing with rival Vee-Jay Records. Arnold's "I Wish You Would," utilizing that familiar Bo Diddley beat, sold well and inspired a later famous cover by the Yardbirds. Thhe group also took a liking to another Arnold classic on Vee-Jay, "I Ain't Got You." Other Vee-Jay standouts by Arnold included "Prisoner's Plea" and "Rockinitis," but by 1958, his tenure at the label was over. Other than an excellent Samuel Charters-produced 1963 album for Prestige, More Blues on the South Side, Arnold retained a low profile until signing with Alligator in the 90's.
Homesick James was playing guitar at age ten and soon ran away from his Tennessee home to play at fish fries and dances. His travels took the guitarist through Mississippi and North Carolina during the 1920s, where he crossed paths with Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Boy Fuller, and Big Joe Williams.Settling in Chicago during the 1930s, Williamson played local clubs. Williamson made some fine sides in 1952-53 for Chance Records. James also worked extensively as a sideman, backing harp great Sonny Boy Williamson in 1945 at a Chicago gin joint called the Purple Cat and during the 1950s with his cousin, Elmore James. He also recorded with James during the 1950s. Homesick's own output included 45's for Colt and USA in 1962, and the album for Blues On The South Side produced by Charters.
"I came to Chicago for the first time in the winter of 1959, as part of the long research trip for the book The Country Blues. …For the next few years I was in and out of Chicago – and after so many nights down on the south side listening to the bands, I was becoming more and more impatient to go into a recording studio to document some of the unforgettable music I was hearing. But the companies I was involved with – Folkways and Prestige – either didn't have the money for the sessions, or they weren't ready to record the electric blues." Fortunately Charters hooked up with Vanguard Records who were more receptive to the idea.
In early 1966, Vanguard issued three-volume set, Chicago/The Blues/Today!. Every artist on the three volumes had recorded before (some, like Otis Rush and Junior Wells, had actually seen small hits on the R&B charts), but these recordings were largely their introduction to a newer — and predominately white — album-oriented audience. This series accurately portrayed a vast cross section of the Chicago blues scene as one could hear it on any given night in the mid-'60s. Rather than record full albums (which Charters had neither the budget nor the legal resources to pull off), each artist simply came in for a union-approved session of four to six songs, with each volume featuring three different groupings. Other notable records Charters cut for Vanguard include Buddy Guy's A Man And The Blues,the guitarist's first album away from Chess and Junior Wells' It's My Life Baby, a mix of studio recordings and live tracks recorded at Pepper's Lounge in Chicago.
Charters and his family moved to Sweden in1971 and began working with a local record company called Sonet. He was eventually asked to do a blues series for the label. The series, Legacy of the Blues, ran to twelve albums with Charters producing the series as well as writing extensive liner notes for each. The notes were expanded for a book of the same name which was published in 1975. The entire series has been reissued on CD by Verve in 2006. As was often the case, Charters was able to coax some exceptional performances resulting in some excellent albums by Memphis Slim, Robert Pete Williams and Snooks Eaglin.