ARTISTSONGALBUM
Smiley Lewis Here Comes SmileyBeef Ball Baby
Dud Bascomb Somebody's KnockingDud and Paul Bascomb 1945-1947
The Four BluesThe Blues Can JumpVocal Groups: Classic Doo Wop
Cousin JoeIt's Dangerous To Be A HusbandCousin Joe Vol. 2 1946-1947
Cousin JoePhoney Woman BluesCousin Joe Vol. 2 1946-1947
Roy BrownSpecial Lesson No. 1Good Rockin' Brown
Roy BrownMiss Fanny BrownGood Rockin' Brown
Roy BrownWhose Hat Is ThatGood Rockin' Brown
Kirby Walker When My Love Comes Tumbling Down 78
Al Stomp Russell Trio Down The Road A Piece78
Paul GaytenHey Little GirlCreole Gal
Paul GaytenPeter Blue And Jasper TooCreole Gal
Paul GaytenYour Hands Ain't CleanCreole Gal
Dave BartholomewMr. FoolDave Bartholomew 1947-50
Dave BartholomewGirt Town BluesDave Bartholomew 1947-50
Dave BartholomewCountry BoyDave Bartholomew 1947-50
Chubby "Hip Shakin'" NewsomeChubby's ConfessionBeef Ball Baby
Chubby "Hip Shakin'" NewsomeBack-Bitin' WomanBeef Ball Baby
Little Miss Cornshucks Cornshucks' BluesLittle Miss Cornshucks 1947-1951
Annie LaurieAnnie's BluesJump 'N' Shout
Erline HarrisJump and ShoutJump 'N' Shout
King Perry Goin'To California BluesKing Perry 1945-1949
Eddie Gorman Telephone BluesBeef Ball Baby
Pee Wee HughesSanta FeJook Joint Blues
Pee Wee HughesCountry BoyDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
Fats Pichon (I'm Gonna Move) To The Outskirts Of Town Deep South Boogie
Sherman Williams Dusk TideSherman Williams 1947-1951
Roy BrownHard Luck BluesGood Rockin' Brown
Roy BrownLove Don't NobodyGood Rockin' Brown
Roy BrownBoogie At MidnightGood Rockin' Brown

Show Notes:

This series of shows revolves around three independent labels that issued some fine blues and R&B sides, among other music, in the 1940's and 50's. The labels are linked by the Braun brothers who first ran De Luxe, then formed the Regal imprint with Fred Mendelsohn, and Mendelsohn in turn formed the Herald label after Regal ended operations. In addition Mendelsohn was involved with De Luxe for a short time after it was picked up by King Records. De Luxe and Regal not surprisingly shared some of the same artists, in fact Regal picked up exactly where DeLuxe had left off on their numbering, at 3229. While Regal recorded several more down home blues artists, De Luxe's blues oriented recordings fall mainly into the R&B mold.

On this first show we start with recordings from the De Luxe vaults. In John Broven's Record Makers and Breakers he provides this snapshot of the label: “De Luxe Records was a pioneering label formed in 1944 by the Braun brothers, David and Jules, out of Linden, New Jersey, and it released everything from race music, gospel, and jazz to pop and polka. The biggest artist was Roy Brown, whose breakthrough hit, “Good Rocking Tonight” (No. 13 race in 1948), was covered lucratively by Wynonie Harris for King (No. 1 race); New Orleanians Paul Gayten and Annie Laurie were other good-selling 1940s acts. Before long, cash flow problems forced the Brauns into the arms of the wily Nathan, and after a troubled liaison, a bitter legal battle ensued. With the ubiquitous Jack Pearl leading the charge, Syd Nathan acquired full control of the De Luxe assets in 1951.” Many of the De Luxe masters were issued on King singles and albums. In the early 1950's, Syd Nathan revived the label with new releases as a subsidiary of King.

Tony Rounce noted that De Luxe "adopted a pan-American approach to building their catalog. Many of their early successes were recorded in New York City – a stone's throw from Linden – but by 1946 they were recording in many other locations, including Los Angeles and Charlotte, North Carolina. In February 1947 they went south to New Orleans for the first time…" Today's show will spotlight recordings made for De Luxe when the Braun brothers ran the label, and the show bounces through the catalog non-chronologically.

In February 1947 the Brauns headed south to New Orleans for the first time cutting sessions sessions by veteran singer/pianist "Fats" Pinchon and the Cajun band of Luderin Darbone. They were aided by local singer/pianist Paul Gayten, who they later signed as an artist in his own right, and placed in charge of thier local R&B A&R activity. Gayten, a seminal figure in New Orleans rhythm & blues, led a varied career in the music business as a bandleader, producer, label owner, and one-time overseer of the West Coast operation of Chess Records. A nephew of blues-piano legend Little Brother Montgomery, Gayten once led one of the top bands of New Orleans, but he gave up the performing life in 1956 to turn his attention to production and eventually to his own California-based Pzazz label. Gayten wrote Larry Darnell's 1949 classic "For You My Love" and recorded a few Top Ten hits of his own for De Luxe and Regal (1947-1950), some of them with vocalist Annie Laurie.

De Luxe's biggest New Orleans success was Roy Brown. Born in the Crescent City, Brown grew up all over the place: Eunice, LA (where he sang in church and worked in the sugarcane fields); Houston, TX; and finally Los Angeles by age 17. His seminal 1947 DeLuxe Records waxing of "Good Rockin' Tonight" was immediately ridden to the peak of the R&B charts by shouter Wynonie Harris and subsequently covered by Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many more early rock icons. Roy Brown didn't have to wait long to dominate the R&B lists himself. He scored 15 hits from mid-1948 to late 1951 for DeLuxe.

Other notable New Orleans artists include Dave Bartholomew and Smiley Lewis. Bartholomew was a bandleader, trumpet player, songwriter, producer, arranger, talent scout, businessman, and more. Bartholomew is most famous for having discovered and produced Fats Domino, with whom he produced and wrote songs for through the Fifties and beyond. But he’s worked with a who’s-who of New Orleans R&B figures: Smiley Lewis, Lloyd Price, Shirley & Lee, Earl King, Roy Brown, Huey "Piano" Smith, Chris Kenner, Robert Parker, Frankie Ford, James Booker, Jewel King, James "Sugar Boy" Crawford, Tommy Ridgley and more. In the late 40s, he formed his own band, which became one of the most popular and accomplished in the city. Between 1947 and the early 60’s Bartholomew recorded prolifically under his own name mostly for Imperial but also for Deluxe, Aladdin, Specialty, King and Jax. His records featured the cream of New Orleans musicians.

Music historian Tony Russell wrote that Smiley "Lewis was the unluckiest man in New Orleans. He hit on a formula for slow-rocking, small-band numbers like 'The Bells Are Ringing' and 'I Hear You Knocking' only to have Fats Domino come up behind him with similar music more ingratiatingly delivered. Lewis was practically drowned in Domino's backwash. Lewis formed a trio with the drummer Herman Seals and painist Tuts Washington. The trio was invited by David Braun to record a session with his De Luxe Records in 1947, which produced Lewis's debut record, "Here Comes Smiley" with the single "Turn On Your Volume" a local jukebox hit. Despite the hit, DeLuxe let Smiley sign on with Imperial to great success.

Cousin Joe had success in New York before returning to his hometown of New Orleans were DeLuxe found him. Growing up in New Orleans, Cousin Joe began singing in church before crossing over to the blues. Guitar and ukulele were his first axes. He eventually prioritized the piano instead, playing Crescent City clubs and riverboats. He moved to New York in 1942, gaining entry into the city's thriving jazz scene (where he played with Dizzy Gillespie, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, and a host of other luminaries). He recorded for King, Gotham, Philo (in 1945), Savoy, and Decca along the way, doing well on the latter logo with "Box Car Shorty and Peter Blue" in 1947. After returning to New Orleans in 1948, he recorded for De Luxe and cut a two-part "ABC's" for Imperial in 1954 as Smilin' Joe under Dave Bartholomew's supervision. But by then, his recording career had faded.

Among the fine lesser knowns,  we feature fine sides by The Four Blues, Kirby Walker, Al Stomp Russell, Chubby "Hip Shakin"' Newsome and Erline Harris. The Four Blues formed circa 1939-1940 and started recording for Decca in 1940. In 1945 they signed on with DeLuxe and after made sides sides for Apollo in the late 40's. Kirby Walker, was a vocalist/pianist who was based in New York City. In 1946 he made two records with Leonard Feather's group for De Luxe. In 1949 he manned his own piano and cut two more singles for Columbia with his own group. Pianist Al Stomp Russell recorded for several labels in the 40's such as Coast, Excelsior, 20th Century, Sapphire, Queen, Apollo, King and three records for De Luxe in 1947. Chubby Newsome was originally from Detroit but found recognition in New Orleans where she was a regular performer in the late 1940's. She was discovered by Paul Gayten at the famous Dew Drop Inn. She was soon signed to the De Luxe label where she recorded her signature tune "Hip Shakin' Mama", and also "He May Be Your Man" with Gayten's band. Newsome signed with Regal in 1949 cutting several sessions for the label in the early 50's. Erline Harris signed with De Luxe Records in February 1949 and recorded several singles for the record label with some sides appearing later on Regal.

Share


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Larry JohnsonFour Women BluesFast & Funky
Larry JohnsonTake These Blues Off My MindA New Generation
Larry JohnsonPut It All In thereThe All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon
Tampa RedYou Got to Reap What You SowThe Essential
Furry Lewis Somebody Put Bad Luck On MeFurry Lewis (Folkways)
Willie Baker Goin' Back Home TodayJuke Joints Vol. 3
Lightnin' HopkinsWar Is Starting AgainLightnin' Strikes Back
Dennis McMillon Goin' Back HomeDown Home Blues Classics: New York & The East Coast States
Ollie Rupert Ain't Goin' to Be Your Lowdown DogMemphis Blues 1927-1938
Memphis MinnieI Am Sailin'Memphis Minnie Vol. 5 1940-1941
Mary JohnsonI Just Can't Take ItMary Johnson 1929-1936
Teddy ReynoldsHeart's Full of MiserySuicide Blue
Roosevelt Sykes My Baby Is GoneRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 9 1947-1951
Jimmy Nolen Slow Freight Back HomeMonte Easter Vol. 2 1952-1960
Gene Phillips Women, Women, WomenDrinkin' and Stinkin'
Guitar GableLife ProblemCool, Calm, Collected
Guitar GableLong Way From HomeCool, Calm, Collected
Guitar GableCongo Mambo Cool, Calm, Collected
Pinetop Burks Aggravation' Mama BluesSan Antonio 1937
Kid Stormy Weather Short Hair BluesDeep South Blues Piano 1935-1937
Pinetop SparksTell Her About MeThe Sparks Brothers 1932-1935
Dr. HepcatI Cried Texas Blues Vol. 1: Houston Hotshots
Dr. HepcatHattie Greene Juke Joint Blues
Dr. HepcatHepcat's BoogieDown South Blues 1949-1961
Charlie Patton When Your Way Gets DarkScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Blind Joe Reynolds Third Street Woman BluesMississippi Masters
Barbecue Bob Yo Yo BluesChocolate To The Bone
Son HouseDeath LetterJohn The Revelator
Son HouseInterview Pt. 1John The Revelator
Son HouseDon't You Mind People Grinnin' In Your FaceJohn The Revelator
Larry JohnsonTroubles Just BegunPresenting The Country Blues
Larry JohnsonUp North BluesFast & Funky
Larry JohnsonHear The Angels SingingHarlem Blues

Mix Show:

Read Liner Notes

A varied set of blues today as we take a breather from our usual theme shows. On a sad note we mark the passing of Larry Johnson and Guitar Gable. Also featured today are sets by Son House from a new compilation, a set spotlighting the wonderful Dr. Hepcat, some excellent piano blues, a batch of sides from some fine down home blues ladies, and our usual mix of classic pre-war blues and more.

Larry Johnson was born in Wrightsville, Georgia in 1938. His father was a preacher who traveled extensively. This led to Johnson being exposed to blues records by Blind Boy Fuller, who inspired Johnson to learn the rudiments of guitar playing. He served in the Navy between 1955 and 1959, before relocating to New York City. After his befriending Brownie and Stick McGhee, Johnson found session work backing Big Joe Williams (Blue for 9 Strings and Studio Blues), Alec Seward (Creepin' Blues) and Rev. Gary Davis (The Apostolic Studio Sessions). Johnson became a student of Rev. Gary Davis playing live dates with him during the 60's. His first album shared the billing with Hank Adkins, titled A New Generation and issued on Prestige in 1966. After Prestige he recorded for Blue Horizon, was featured on a couple of anthologies and in 1974 issued what many consider his finest outing, Fast And Funky issued on the Blue Goose label. He appeared on some anthologies on the Spivey label, a couple of low key albums appeared in the 1980's, before Johnson received more regular live work in the 1990's, particularly in Europe. He had made it to Europe previously, appearing at the 1983 American Folk Blues Festival. His latter output included Railroad Man (1990) and the terrific Blues for Harlem (1999). His last studio album was Two Gun Green in 2002. Sadly there has been no obituaries yet and supposedly Johnson died back in the summer of 2016 with word only just getting out.

Guitar Gable was born Gabriel Perrodin in 1937 in the Bellevue community near Opelousas, Louisiana. Gable was influenced by the music of Guitar Slim, and was self-taught in playing the guitar by his mid-teens. He soon teamed up with King Karl and formed the Musical Kings. Introduced to the record producer J. D. "Jay" Miller, the Musical Kings eventually became the heart of Miller's studio band. They backed musicians such as Lazy Lester, Classie Ballou, Skinny Dynamo, Bobby Charles and Slim Harpo. Gable and the Musical Kings had earlier recorded their own debut single for Excello in 1956. His first track was the instrumental "Congo Mombo." The A-side of the single was "Life Problem", which featured King Karl's vocals. The follow-up release included the swamp pop classic, "Irene." Subsequent releases followed a similar pattern with Gable's Caribbean-laced instrumentals such as "Congo Mombo," "Guitar Rhumbo" and "Gumbo Mombo," pitched against rock and roll tracks including "Cool, Calm, Collected" and "Walking in the Park." It was the blues influenced ballads including "Irene," "Life Problem" and "This Should Go On Forever" (which reached the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958) that caused most interest. In the 1990's, Guitar Gable was tempted back to the performing stage by C.C. Adcock. Gable died in hospital at Opelousas on January 28, 2017.

Read Liner Notes

We spin a trio of Son House tracks which come from a new 2-CD set on the Devil's Tunes label titled John The Revelator. The set includes a reissue of his 1970 John the Revelator album recorded live at London's 100 Club in 1970 with some bonus tracks, a 1965 radio session with Studs Terkel with songs and an interview and BBC radio recordings from 1970.

We also hear three from Dr. Hepcat. Lavada Durst, known as Dr. Hepcat, was a disciple of pianist Robert Shaw but 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. Dr. Hepcat was interviewed in Blues Unlimited 129 in 1978 (reprinted in Blues Unlimited: Essential Interviews from the Original Blues Magazine).

We check in with several fine piano players today including Pinetop Burks, Kid Stormy Weather and Aaron "Pinetop" Sparks. 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.'" 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. Burks left behind eight superb sides. Kid Stormy Weather recorded two songs in 1935, and was a local legend around New Orleans. He was an influence on Professor Longhair. We have featured the Sparks Brothers many times and today we spin a side by Aaron Sparks featuring Henry Townsend on guitar.

Several excellent blues ladies are featured today, the most famous being Memphis Minnie.We play Minnie's tough "I Am Sailin", a 1941 effort that was unissued at the time. The poet Langston Hughes has left a vivid account of Minnie’s music a year later after this (Chicago Defender, January 9th 1943). "The electric guitar is very loud, science having magnified all its softness away… the rhythm fills the 230 Club with a deep and dusky heartbeat that overrides all modern amplification. The rhythm is as old as Memphis Minnie’s most remote ancestor… She grabs the microphone and yells “Hey now!” then she hits a few deep chords at random, leans forward ever so slightly over her guitar… and begins to beat out a good old steady down-home rhythm…"

Compared to Minnie, none of the other ladies came anywhere near her success. Mary Johnson was the most prolific, making her debut in 1929, cutting just shy of two dozen songs, achieving modest success but never recorded again after 1936 despite living until 1983. Ollie Rupert recorded one 78 in Memphis on February 28, 1927 possibly backed by Will Weldon and Will Shade of the Memphis Jug Band. Anna Bell left behind six sides backed by Clarence Williams' band.

 

Share


ARTISTSONGALBUM
John Lee Hooker I Tried HardThe Complete
John Lee Hooker Walkin' This HighwayThe Complete John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker Graveyard BluesDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Baby Boy Warren Hello StrangerDeep Harmonica Blues
Baby Boy Warren Somebody Put Bad Luck On MeDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Baby Boy Warren Stop Breakin' DownBlues From The Motor City 1938-54
Washboard WillieWashboard Blues Pt. 2Detroit Blues Rarities Vol. 3
Brother Will HairstonThe Alabama Bus Part 1 & 2Detroit Blues Rarities Vol. 3
Detroit Count Detroit Boogie Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Harvey Hill Jr She Fool MeDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Big Jack Reynolds Pitch A Boogie Woogie Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
L.C. GreenGoing Down To The River Blues Detroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954
L.C. GreenWhen The Sun Is ShiningDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Calvin FrazierGot Nobody To Tell My Troubles ToLet Me Tell You About The Blues: Detroit
Calvin FrazierLillie Mae 78
Bobo JenkinsBaby Don't You Want To GoDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Bobo JenkinsTen Below ZeroDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Bobo JenkinsNothing But Love Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Sylvester Cotton Sak-Relation BluesBlues Sensation: Detroit Downhome Recordings 1948-1949
Sylvester Cotton Ugly Woman BluesBlues Sensation: Detroit Downhome Recordings 1948-1949
Henry Smith Dog Me BluesDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Louisiana Red Sugar Cane HighwayDetroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954
Robert Henry Something's Wrong Down Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
Earl Chatman Loving You BabyDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Johnny Wright I Was in St. Louis Battle Of Hastings Street
Eddie BurnsNotoriety Woman Down Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
Eddie BurnsBiscuit Baking MamaDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Todd Rhodes w/ Emmit SlayBeulahTodd Rhodes 1950-1951
Todd RhodesThat Ain't RightTodd Rhodes 1950-1951
Little SonnyHastings Street After Hours Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Little Sonny I Hear My Woman Callin' (Alternate)Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Gip Roberts No Monkey Goin' to Run My ShowLet Me Tell You About The Blues: Detroit
Joe Weaver Soft PillowBaby I Love You So

Show Notes:

My first eye-opener to Detroit Blues came after picking up the album Detroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954 part of a fantastic series of regional anthologies issued on the Nighthawk label. Later on I picked up earlier anthologies like Detroit Blues: The Early 1950s on Blues Classics, Detroit Blues on Kent and Detroit Special on Atlantic. As Leroy Pierson wrote in the notes to the Nighthawk album: “Though never really a blues recording center, by the mid twenties Detroit boasted a sizable black community attracted from the South by auto industry employment. Some like Charlie Spand and Big Maceo traveled to Chicago to record, but it was not until the late forties that local bluesmen had a chance to record on their own ground. A number of small time entrepreneurs began mastering titles in their record shop basements either for lease to established companies or for release on their own obscure labels which more often than not, found their only distribution outlet on the upstairs counter. Most Detroit artists were destined for the same commercial failure that eventually overcame such operations as Staff, Sampson, JVB and Von.” John Lee Hooker was the only artists to achieve long-lasting commercial success. Success of course didn't necessarily equate to quality a case in point being the impressive output of Eddie Kirkland and Eddie Burns, both firmly in Hooker's orbit, who can be heard on some of his recordings, as well as waxing fine sides under their own names. There were others like Baby Boy Warren and Bobo Jenkins who's output should have garnered them greater fame, then there was a slew of of tough down-home bluesmen like Sylvester Cotton, L.C. Green, Walter Mitchell and Robert Richard and others as well as more uptown artists such as T.J. Fowler, Todd Rhodes and Calvin Frazier. Today's notes will cover some of the artists not discussed in last week's show notes. We'll be bouncing around non-chronologically between 1948 and 1962 with most of the recordings, not all, recorded in the Motor City.

In addition to the ones listed above, there have been many collections of Detroit blues over the years, and most recently the 3-CD set Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special an immaculately compiled set by blues historian Mike Rowe. The set was a big inspiration for this three-part series and many tracks will be featured over the course of the programs. The set features a terrific booklet filled with great photos and the track list is filled with iconic performances and some incredible rarities. Mike was also very gracious when I reached out to him at his London home and consented to sit down for a chat about Detroit blues, the results of which will be featured throughout this series of programs. Mike also sent me a batch of articles he wrote about the Detroit scene for Blues & Rhythm magazine.

Bobo Jenkins moved to Detroit in 1944. He was befriended by John Lee Hooker, who helped Jenkins get his first song recorded with Chess Records — "Democrat Blues" in 1954. After Chess he recorded two songs for the Boxer label in Chicago and a few for Fortune Records in Detroit. In Detroit he formed a band which worked regularly at the Apex Bar on Oakland, the Club Caribbe on East Jefferson and the Black Velvet in Mt. Clemens, to name a few. The first record released on Jenkins' Big Star label was his own: "You"ll Never Understand" and "Tell Me Where You Stayed Last Night." He was living in the area of Detroit that was known as "Black Bottom" and on the weekends, his house was "open" and was filled with musicians playing the blues all night long. He issued several LP's in the 70's and toured Europe in the 80's.

Calvin Frazier ran with Robert Johnson and Johnny Shines in the mid-30's. In 1938 Frazier was recorded by Alan Lomax. In the post-war era Frazier played with almost every blues or R&B act in Detroit and his guitar playing developed a more "modern" style, very influenced by the rising Californian guitar stars like T-Bone Walker. During 1946-47, Frazier toured with the Jungle Five Revue and played up to New York and Montreal. He is also worked during this period with Baby Boy Warren, T.J. Fowler's band, the Jimmy Millner's Rhythm Band and  taught the guitar to Bobo Jenkins. Early in 1954, he bought himself a Stratocaster, probably one of the very first bluesman to play this type of guitar. Despite all this, Frazier recorded only sporadically under his own name and only for very small local Detroit or Toledo labels with poor distribution like Fortune, Alben and JVB.

Aaron Willis AKA Little Sonny moved to Detroit in 1953. In 1958, Sonny made his blues recording debut, cutting for both Duke ("I Gotta Find My Baby") and local entrepreneur Joe Von Battle, who leased Little Sonny's "Love Shock" to Nashville's Excello imprint. He cut some side in the 60's on his own Speedway label. He signed with Stax's Enterprise label in 1970 cutting three albums.

William Paden Hensley AKA Washboard Willie, as he became known, did not take up music until his thirties. By 1948 he had relocated to Detroit. Working full-time washing cars for a living, he decided to name his own musical ensemble, Washboard Willie and the Super Suds of Rhythm, working off of the name of a once-popular laundry detergent. He graduated from just playing the washboard to incorporate a bass drum and snare. In 1956 he made his debut, "Cherry Red Blues" with "Washboard Shuffle;" and then "Washboard Blues Pt. 1 & 2." His recording career continued until 1962 utilizing Boogie Woogie Red on piano accompaniment. The recordings were not issued until later on Barrelhouse Records.

As Guido Van Rijn wrote: "Nicknamed 'The Hurricane of the Motor City,' Brother Will Hairston was a remarkable gospel singer because of the consistently topical and political nature of his songs. In the period from 1955 to 1972 he recorded gospel songs about Emmett Till, the Alabama bus boycott, President Kennedy, Little Rock Central High, the march to Montgomery, the war in Vietnam, and Martin Luther King at a time when most recording artists did not dare to speak out on these issues." He cut over two-dozen sides between 1955 and 1972, most on his own labels with some issued on the JVB label.

Sylvester Cotton was a contemporary of John Lee Hooker (one of the Cotton sides was actually credited to Hooker when issued), and, like Hooker, performed solo with their guitar. The sides were cut in Detroit in 1948 and 1949 by recorded by Bernie Besman who ran the Sensation label. All of his recordings, along with contemporary Andrew Dunham, can be found on the Ace label's Blues Sensation: Detroit Downhome Recordings 1948-1949.

Todd Rhodes left his stint with McKinney's Cotton Pickers in 1934, and lived and played in Detroit from then on. He formed his own small group in 1943, expanding it into the Todd Rhodes Orchestra by 1946. The first recordings were cut for for Sensation Records in 1947. Turning more towards rhythm and blues music, the band became known as Todd Rhodes & His Toddlers, and their recordings were distributed by the Vitacoustic label. His instrumental "Blues For The Red Boy" reached number 4 on the R&B chart late in 1948, and the following year "Pot Likker", made number 3 on the R&B chart. After signing with King Records in 1951, he also worked with Hank Ballard, Dave Bartholomew, and Wynonie Harris. Vocalist/guitarist Emmit Slay was a member of Todd Rhodes' Orchestra, where he recorded two records with Rhodes in Detroit in 1950. Slay launched a solo career in 1953 recording ten sides for Savoy. Two sides for an unknown label were never issued in 1957. Eight recordings were made for Checker in 1958, but only two were released. Slay's final two recordings were made for JVB in 1959.

Share


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Detroit CountHastings Street Opera Pt 2Detroit Blues Rarities Vol. 4: Hastings Street Blues Opera
John Lee Hooker Have Mercy On MeDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
John Lee Hooker Henry's Swing Club The Complete John Lee Hooker Vol.1
John Lee Hooker w/ Eddie Kirkland Guitar Lovin' Man Detroit Special
T.J. Fowler w/ Alberta AdamsSay Baby SayT.J. Fowler 1948-1958
T.J. Fowler Red Hot Blues T.J. Fowler 1948-1958
Baby Boy WarrenBaby Boy BluesDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Baby Boy WarrenSanafee Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Johnny Howard Natural Man BluesDetroit Blues Rarities: Blues Guitar Killers Vol. 1
Howard Richard Lover Blues Battle Of Hastings Street
Grace Brim Strange ManA Fortune Of Blues Vol. 1
John BrimBus DriverDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Walter Mitchell Stop Messing AroundDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
L.C. Green Remember Way BackDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
Robert Richard Cadillac WomanDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
Eddie KirklandNo ShoesDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Eddie KirklandDone Somebody WrongDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Eddie KirklandI Mistreated A WomanBattle Of Hastings Street
Isaiah 'Doctor' RossCat Squirrel Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Isaiah 'Doctor' RossIndustrial BoogieDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Henry Smith Lonesome BluesDetroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954
Henry Smith Good Rockin' MamaDetroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954
Eddie BurnsWhere Did You Stay Last Night? John Lee Hooker/Eddie Burns: Detroit Blues
Eddie BurnsGangster Blues Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
James Taylor & Andrew DunhamLittle Bitty WomanBlues Sensation: Detroit Downhome Recordings 1948-1949s
Andrew DunhamShe Don't WalkBlues Sensation: Detroit Downhome Recordings 1948-1949
James Walton Papa DooDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
James Walton If You Don't Believe I'm LeavingBattle Of Hastings Street
Joe Weaver & His Blue NotesI Got The Blues For My BabyBattle of Hastings Street

Show Notes:

My first eye-opener to Detroit Blues came after picking up the album Detroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954 part of a fantastic series of regional anthologies issued on the Nighthawk label. Later on I picked up earlier anthologies like Detroit Blues: The Early 1950s on Blues Classics, Detroit Blues on Kent and Detroit Special on Atlantic. As Leroy Pierson wrote in the notes to the Nighthawk album: “Though never really a blues recording center, by the mid twenties Detroit boasted a sizable black community attracted from the South by auto industry employment. Some like Charlie Spand and Big Maceo traveled to Chicago to record, but it was not until the late forties that local bluesmen had a chance to record on their own ground. A number of small time entrepreneurs began mastering titles in their record shop basements either for lease to established companies or for release on their own obscure labels which more often than not, found their only distribution outlet on the upstairs counter. Most Detroit artists were destined for the same commercial failure that eventually overcame such operations as Staff, Sampson, JVB and Von.” John Lee Hooker was the only artists to achieve long-lasting commercial success. Success of course didn't necessarily equate to quality a case in point being the impressive output of Eddie Kirkland and Eddie Burns, both firmly in Hooker's orbit, who can be heard on some of his recordings, as well as waxing fine sides under their own names. There were others like Baby Boy Warren and Bobo Jenkins who's output should have garnered them greater fame, then there was a slew of of tough down-home bluesmen like Sylvester Cotton, L.C. Green, Walter Mitchell and Robert Richard and others as well as more uptown artists such as T.J. Fowler, Todd Rhodes and Calvin Frazier. Today's notes will cover some of the artists not discussed in last week's show notes. We'll be bouncing around non-chronologically between 1948 and 1962 with most of the recordings, not all, recorded in the Motor City.

In addition to the ones listed above, there have been many collections of Detroit blues over the years, and most recently the 3-CD set Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special an immaculately compiled set by blues historian Mike Rowe. The set was a big inspiration for this three-part series and many tracks will be featured over the course of the programs. The set features a terrific booklet filled with great photos and the track list is filled with iconic performances and some incredible rarities. Mike was also very gracious when I reached out to him at his London home and consented to sit down for a chat about Detroit blues, the results of which will be featured throughout this series of programs. Mike also sent me a batch of articles he wrote about the Detroit scene for Blues & Rhythm magazine.

After studying piano at home and at the Detroit Conservatory of Music, T.J. Fowler began providing musical entertainment for patrons at his father's pool hall. Fowler assembled his own hot little group in 1947 and accompanied saxophonist Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams on that artist's first recordings for the Savoy label. T.J. Fowler began making records as a leader in 1948, beginning with small labels like Paradise and Sensation and landing his own contract with Savoy in 1952, sometimes featuring singers Freddie Johnson, Alberta Adams, and Floyd "Bubbles" McVay. Fowler's ensemble was also used to back vocalist Varetta Dillard and guitarist Calvin Frazier. Near the end of 1953 Fowler took his act to Chicago to wax what are believed to have been the only recordings he ever made outside of Detroit. Back in Detroit, Fowler and his men served as the backing band for T-Bone Walker and spent the next few years gigging around the Motor City and southeastern Michigan. By the end of the 1950's, Fowler was living in the industrial city of Ecorse where he ran his tiny independent Bow record label and led a jazz organ combo. Hired in 1959 by the relatively inexperienced Berry Gordy, Fowler applied his music industry know-how and managerial expertise to help Gordy create and establish the Motown record label.

After cutting some great sides in Chicago in the 1940's Big Maceo's career was cut short after he suffered a stroke in 1946 that left him almost completely paralyzed on his right side. Over the next few years, he would attempt to record several more times despite his handicap, and still remained a fine singer. Occasionally other pianists would play while he sang, and other pursuits found him sharing the keyboards with a second performer working the right side of the piano for him. In 1950 Maceo cut some sides for Fortune, some featuring the vocals of John and Grace Brim. One of those couplings, "Strange Man b/w Mean Man Blues" was John Brim's debut recording.

One of Maceo's admirers was Boogie Woogie Red: "My style is somethin' after Macey's style. He was playin' at Brown's club on Hastings for six years straight and I learn a lot from him." In 1946, Red returned to Detroit from a stint in Chicago and for the next fourteen years played with John Lee Hooker. Red also worked for a long spell with Baby Boy Warren and appears on some of his recordings.

Guitarist L.C. Green came to Detroit in the late forties according to his one time partner, Woodrow Adams, who grew up with L.C. in Minter City, Mississippi. Green waxed six songs songs  that saw release on Dot in 1952 and also recorded for Joe Von Battle, with only sone ide appearing on the Von label. Several other Green sides recorded by Battle saw release decades later on the Barrelhouse label. Mike Rowe noted that his "musical career was very much played out below the radar and whose only associates were harpists Walter Mitchell and the shadowy Sam Kelly.

Boogie Woogie Red
Boogie Woogie Red, photo by Peter Yates & Jerry Del Giudice

Walter Mitchell came to Detroit with his mother in 1926. He hoboed around the South during the 1930's playing and singing the blues. Drafted in 1942, Walter was wounded in the leg on the Pacific and discharged in 1944. He settled in Detroit, making a living from his music, frequently in company of his cousin, L.C. Green. Although he had been in the Detroit studios as a sideman, he made only two sessions under his name, first in 1948 with Robert Richard and another in 1954.

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.

Born Charles Isaiah Ross on October 21, 1925 in Tunica, Mississippi. Upon his release from the military, Ross settled in Memphis, where he became a popular club fixture as well as the host of his own radio show on station WDIA. During the early '50s, Ross recorded his first sides for labels including Sun and Chess; in 1954 he settled in Flint, Michigan, where he went to work as a janitor for General Motors, a position he held until retiring. He recorded some singles for his own DIR label and for Fortune Records during this period. In 1965 he cut his first full-length LP, Call the Doctor, and that same year mounted his first European tour.

Little is known about a handful of fine artists featured today including Andrew Dunham, Henry Smith, Johnny Howard and Howard Richard. Andrew Dunham cut a batch of sides for the Sensation label in 1949. Dunham is also joined on two of his sides by an individual, whom previous releases of some of this material have identified only as "Taylor" and who would appear to be James Taylor. Johnny Howard cut eight sides in 1954, the bulk which were not released. Howard Richard was the brother of bluesman Robert Richard. Richard also played on a coupling by his brother.

Baby Boy Warren
Baby Boy Warren

Others heard from today include James Walton and Joe Weaver. The side included here are his first, recorded in Joe Von Battle's basement. Singer and harp player James Douglas "Little Daddy" Walton was a popular figure of the Detroit clubs. He cut a handful of sides for small Detroit labels like Fortune, its subsidiary Hi-Q and Big Star. Joe Weaver learned to play the piano from age nine. While at Northwestern High School he teamed up with fellow student Johnnie Bassett to form Joe Weaver and the Blue Notes. In 1953, Joe Von Battle recorded their instrumental "1540 Special", which ended up being released by De Luxe Records. Weaver and his band later became session musicians for Fortune Records.

 

Share

Next Page »