Sun 22 Mar 2009
|John Cephas, Photo by Tom Pich for National Endowment of the Arts|
A somber note hangs over today's show as we pay tribute to the recently departed John Cephas and Snooks Eaglin. John Cephas, best known as the guitarist and singer with the duo Cephas & Wiggins died March 4th. He was 78. Both Cephas and Wiggins were born in Washington, D.C., although Wiggins was a quarter century younger than his partner; they met at a jam session in 1977, and both performed as regular members of Big Chief Ellis' band prior to Ellis' death. The duo had been recording since the early 80's, cutting records for Flying Fish, Rounder and most recently Alligator. The tracks featured today were the first by Cephas, cut in the mid-70's by Pete Lowry but never released at the time. Lowry has given me permission to play these cuts which are not available anywhere else. Lowry recorded Cephas & Wiggins extensively in 1980 and recorded Cephas in-depth in 1976.
Snooks Eaglin passed away on February 18th. In true New Orleans fashion he was given a full jazz funeral send off. I first encountered Snooks via his terrific Black Top Records of the late 1980's and 90's. After the label's demise Snooks only recorded one more album, The Way It Is, in 2001 which happens to be one of my favorites. Fans of Snooks' later electric records may be surprised that his earliest records (1958-1959) which are all acoustic. From that period we spin the charming "Country Boy Down In New Orleans" from the wonderful album of the same name on Arhoolie. We also play the soulful "By The Water" cut for Imperial in 1960 and "I Get The Blues When It Rains" from 1971's The Sonet Blues Story.
We do a bit of compare and contrast today by playing two versions of the classic "How Blue Can You Get?", one by Louis Jordan and the other by B.B. King. Johnny Moore's Three Blazer's cut the original version in 1949 which we played on the program a couple of weeks back. It was covered in 1951 by Louis Jordan which is where B.B. King first heard the song. King began using it in his live act at recorded it on his classic Live At The Regal album from 1963.
There's plenty vintage blues from the 1920's and 30's including a trio of sides from Atlanta artists Peg Leg Howell, Sloppy Henry and Barbecue Bob. Like Memphis, Atlanta was a staging post for musicians on their way to all points. It's not surprising then that the first country blues musician, Ed Andrews, was recorded there in 1924. The company that recorded him, Okeh, was one of many to send their engineers to Southern cities to record local talent. Companies like Victor, Columbia, Vocalion and Brunswick made at least yearly visits until the depression. Between 1927-1930 Atlanta was visited seventeen times by the record companies. Among the bluesmen to record in Atalanta in the 1920's, the first to arrive in the city was Joshua Barnes Powell, known as Peg Leg because of a shooting accident in 1916. We also hear Peg Leg in the company of singer Sloppy Henry. Henry cut sixteen between 1924 and 1929 for the Okeh label. Within a year or so of Howell's arrival in Atlanta, Robert Hicks came to the city. He learned guitar, as did his older brother Charlie, and their friend Curley Weaver from the latter's mother Savannah Weaver. Hicks earned his nickname from his day job as the chef of a barbecue restaurant and Columbia photographed him for their publicity material in his work apron. As Barbecue Bob he became the most heavily recorded Atlanta bluesman of the 1920's with his records selling steadily for Columbia until his untimely death in 1931.
We also feature some fine blues ladies including Susie Hawthorne, one half of the popular Butterbeans & Susie, Lucille Bogan and Bessie Smith. Butterbeans and Susie were a comedy duo that began touring with the Theatre Owners Booking Association (TOBA) and later moved to vaudeville before signing with Okeh Records. They cut close to 70 sides for the label between 1924 and 1930. Our track, "He Likes It Slow", from 1926 features Louis Armstrong on cornet. From the same year we play Bessie Smith's "Them 'Has Been' Blues." This cut comes form the the eight volume series on the Frog label that collects all of Bessie's recordings. Sound quality on this series is outstanding, noticeably better then Columbia's series, which is interesting since Columbia had the actual masters to work with. The Frog series is a testament to the skills of engineer John R.T. Davies and label owner David French, who commissioned collectors for the best available originals. Sadly Davies and French both passed before the completion of the series. From Lucille Bogan we spin her classic "Shave 'Em Dry." This of course is the clean version. The unreleased version is extremely explicit and if aired would surely be the end of my broadcasting career!
|Butterbeans & Susie|
We close out our show with a stunning version of "Prodigal Son" by Robert Wilkins recorded live at Newport in 1964. During the 1920's and 1930's, Tim Wilkins was one of the most popular blues artists associated with Beale Street. He left the blues world to become an ordained minister. When the Rolling Stones recorded Wilkins' "Prodigal Son" in the early '60s (originally titled "That's No Way To Get Along"), blues researchers found Wilkins at home in Memphis, ministering to the congregation at the Lane Avenue Church of God in Christ and performing gospel songs at street corner revivals. He returned to recording with the album Memphis Gospel Singer in 1964, a classic record that yet to make it to CD. He performed at several festivals including Newport in 1964 and the Memphis Country Blues Festival in 1968. He passed in 1987.