Snippet from 1941 film Blood of Jesus featuring music of the Black Ace

I am the Black Ace, I'm the boss card in your hand
But I'll play for you mama, if you please let me be your man

So were the words that drifted from the airwaves of station KFJZ out of Fort Worth, Texas in the late 1930's and early 1940's. Following in the long line of dramatic blues persona like Pettie Wheatstraw's High Sheriff From Hell or The Devil's Son-In-Law, Oscar Woods' Lone Wolf or Robert Nighthawk's Prowling Night-Hawk was the Black Ace who's real name was the equally prosaic Babe Kyro Lemon Turner. "I throwed the 'Lemon' away", he told Paul Oliver, "and just used the initials of Babe Kyro – B.K. Turner." During this period the Black Ace was well known, at least among black audiences, in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. 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. It was these sides that would later garner him notice among blues collectors and which led to a fleeting comeback. Comeback is probably not the right word as Turner had no interest in playing blues full time again although thankfully he was persuaded to record two sessions at his Fort Worth home in 1960 which were issued as The Black Ace on Arhoolie (reissued on CD as Black Ace: I'm The Boss Card In Your Hand which includes his 1937 sides plus a few other tracks that appeared on Arhoolie compilations). He was also captured on film for the 1962 documentary The Blues.

I've long been a fan of the Black Ace but what prompted this article was a 1941film called the The Blood Of Jesus. I've always been intrigued by this film because in every biography of the Black Ace it's noted that he plays a role in the film. I finally got a chance to view this fascinating film (I've uploaded a snippet to YouTube which can be viewed above) but as far as I can tell the Black Ace doesn't actually appear on camera, however we do get to hear a wonderful performance by him which he would later record on the Arhoolie album as "Golden Slipper", an evocative portrait of a good time joint:

Come on mama let's truck on down, to the Golden Slipper and break 'em down
913 on Taylor Street, they got good whiskey and plenty pigmeat
But watcha gonna do, when they break the Golden Slipper up
You won't have no where to go and get drunk and truck
The Golden Slipper bar is the best I know, you go here once you get a woman for sure
You don't want her don't you be no clown, drink your good whiskey and don't break down

They got green river whiskey and the price is right
We ain't gonna fuss and we ain't gonna fight
Get at a table and sit right down, drink good whiskey but we ain't gonna clown
But watcha gonna do, when they break the Golden Slipper up
You won't have no where to go and get drunk and truck

Blood of Jesus PosterRegarding the film I'll quote the Wikipedia entry: "The Blood of Jesus was the first film directed by Spencer Williams, who was one of the few African American directors of the 1940s. Williams began his career in the 1920s as an extra, and was later able to move up into writing scripts for all-black short comedies produced by the Al Christie studio. In 1939, he wrote two screenplays for the race film genre, the Western Harlem Rides the Range and the horror-comedy Son of Ingagi, and he also acted in these films. Williams was invited by Alfred N. Sack, president of the Dallas, Texas-based production/distribution company Sack Amusement Enterprises, to write and direct a series of all-black films that would be released to the U.S. cinemas catering to African American audiences. The Blood of Jesus was produced in Texas on a budget of $5,000. …The Blood of Jesus was screened in cinemas and in black churches.The film's commercial success enabled Williams to direct and write additional feature films for Sack Amusement Enterprises, including two films with religious themes: Brother Martin: Servant of Jesus (1942) and Go Down, Death (1944). For years, The Blood of Jesus was considered a lost film until prints were discovered in the mid-1980s in warehouse in Tyler, Texas."

The Black Ace from the 1962 film The Blues

While the Black Ace recorded little his small body of work is all one needs to fully appreciate a thoroughly unique performer; a man passionate and serious about his blues who played guitar in a masterful, complex and  improvisatory manner, accomplished in a style that few committed to posterity. As Oliver concluded in the notes to the Arhoolie album, he was one "of the few exponents of the flat Hawaiian guitar blues style who have been recorded, Oscar Woods is dead, and Kokomo Arnold – whom Black Ace resembles – has long since retired with no desire to play or sing again. These recordings of a great blues singer have the added importance that they may well be the last to be made of a style of blues which has all but vanished." Oliver elaborates on on Ace's style which he picked up from Oscar "Buddy" Woods but which he had honed to eventually eclipse his older mentor. Using a National steel-bodied Hawaiian guitar he at first "played this with a bottleneck in the traditional manner of the knife and bottleneck blues guitarists, but soon saw the possibilities of extending the range of the instrument by using a small medicine bottle to stop the strings at the frets. Holding this in the left hand and picking the strings finger-pick style but with the guitar placed horizontally, he could block whole cords in 'Sevastpol', tuning or stop individual notes by using both the sides and corners of the bottle. In this way he could play the open strings in a range of keys; and as he developed he devised a number of original tunings and unusual rhythmic patterns."

Black Ace LPHis resulting Arhoolie album is a real gem of the blues revival era all the more remarkable perhaps because he had long retired from blues and, as Oliver writes, his steel-bodied National "was gathering dust in the attic." Ace's remarkable technique is notable throughout although he never indulges in mere technique and even instrumental workouts like "Bad Times Stomp" and the gentle "Ace's Guitar Blues" have the unerring swing of his vocal numbers. Comparing these recordings with his earlier ones shows nary a trace of deterioration as his warm, vibrato heavy vocals deliver fine updates to his older numbers such as "New Triflin' Woman", "I Am The Black Ace" plus examples of his repertoire that were previously unrecorded including the stately "'Fore Day Creep", "Santa Fe Blues", the automotive double entendres of "Hitchhiking Woman" and the bouncy "Your Legs' Too Little." For some reason the moving "Farther Along" has been left off the CD which is a shame but doesn't detract from an album that should find its place in the library of all traditional blues fans. The Back Ace passed on November 7th, 1972 and as far as I can tell his last performance was that in the above mentioned 1962 documentary The Blues.

Bad Times Stomp [1960] (MP3)

'Fore Day Creep [1960] (MP3)

Golden Slipper [1960] (MP3)

Black Ace [1937](MP3)

Trifling Woman [1937] (MP3)

Whiskey and Women [1937] (MP3)

Black Ace Interview With Paul Oliver [1960] (MP3)

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