|Big Chief Ellis||Dices, Dices||Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56|
|Big Chief Ellis||Big Chief's Blues||Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56|
|Dan Pickett||Baby How Long||Shake That Thing! - East Coast Blues 1935-1953|
|Dan Pickett||99 1/2 Won't Do||Shake That Thing! - East Coast Blues 1935-1953|
|John Lee||Down At The Depot||Rural Blues Vol. 1 1934-1956|
|John Lee||Alabama Boogie||Rural Blues Vol. 1 1934-1956|
|Rich Amerson||Black Woman||Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1|
|Joe Brown||Mama Don't Tear My Clothes||Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1|
|Red Willie Smith||Kansas City Blues||Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1|
|Robert McCoy||Gone Mother Blues||Bye Bye Baby|
|Robert McCoy||Bye Bye Baby||Bye Bye Baby|
|Horace Sprott||Smoked Like Lightning||Music from the South Vol. 2|
|Philip Ramsey and Horace Sprott||I Feel Good Now, Baby||Music from the South Vol. 5|
|Albert Macon & Robert Thomas||Don't Nothing Hurt Me But My Back and Side||George Mitchell Collection Vol. 2|
|Albert Macon & Robert Thomas||Mean Old Frisco||Unissued Recording by Axel Künster|
|Perry Tillis||Kennedy Moan||On The Road Again|
|David Johnson||Let The Nation Be Free||Southern Comfort Country|
|Davie Lee||Meet Me in the Bottoms||Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 6|
|Vera Hall||Black Woman||Classic Blues from Smithsonian|
|J.W. Warren||Rabbit On A Log||Life Ain't Worth Livin'|
|J.W. Warren||Hoboing Into Hollywood||Unissued Recording by Axel Künster|
|Wild Child Butler||Axe and the Wind||Mr. Dixon's workshop|
|Jerry McCain||East of the Sun||Strange Kind Of Feelin'|
|East York School (Ala.)||I'm Goin' Up North||Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1|
|Willie Turner||Now Your Man Done Gone||Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1|
|Enoch Brown||Complaint Call||Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1|
|Moochie Reeves||Key To The Highway||The Rural Blues: A Study Of The Vocal And Instrumental Resources|
|Mobile Strugglers||Memphis Blues||Alabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924-1949|
|Johnie Lewis||Baby, Listen to Me Howl||Alabama Slide Guitar|
|Johnie Lewis||You Gonna Miss Me||Alabama Slide Guitar|
|Lonzie Thomas||Dragaround No. 1||The George Mitchell Collection Volumes 1-45|
|Jimmy Lee Harris||Don't The Moon Look Lonesome #1||George Mitchell Collection Vol. 5|
|Eddie Hodge||Sitting On Top of The World||The George Mitchell Collection Vols. 1-45|
|John Lee||Blind's Blues||Rural Blues Vol. 1 1934-1956|
|Dan Pickett||Ride to a Funeral in a V-8||Shake That Thing! - East Coast Blues 1935-1953|
Blues writer Chris Smith noted that “Alabama attracted many folklorists, from John Lomax on down, seeking the oldest styles of black music in a state which long had a reputation for backwardness, poverty and racism. …Despite flourishing gospel quartet and piano traditions, the state’s blues are comparatively under-represented on 'race' records.” And as Paul Oliver underscored: "…Alabama was largely neglected by the location recording units and even by the talent scouts…." In the post-war era the recording companies no longer recorded on location and most folklorists focused on nearby Mississippi rather than Alabama. Still, several fine Alabama artists made commercial records in the immediate post-war era including pianist Big Chief Ellis and exceptional guitarists such as Dan Pickett who cut records for Gotham in 1949 and John Lee who recorded for Federal in 1951. In later years a pair of harmonica players made their mark, Jerry McCain beginning in the 1950's and Wild Child Butler in the 60's. Some notable field recordings were made in the post-war era including recordings in the 1950's by Harold Courlander, Fredric Ramsey and Sam Charters. Begnt Olsson did some recording in Alabama in the 70's while George Mitchell recorded several fine Alabama bluesmen in the 80's. Axel Künster did some field recordings in the 90's and 2000's which have not been issued. I want to thank him for giving me permission to play a couple of these unissued sides.
Those who made commercial recordings made their recordings out of state including Big Chief Ellis, Dan Pickett and John Lee. A self-taught player, Big Chief Ellis performed at house parties and dances during the 1920's. He traveled extensively for several years, working mostly in non-musical jobs. After a three-year army stint from 1939–1942, Ellis settled in New York. He started recording for Lenox in 1945, and also did sessions for Sittin' In and Capitol in the 1940's and 50's, playing with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee for Capitol. Though Ellis reduced his performance schedule after moving from New York to Washington D.C., his career got a final boost in the early 1970's. He recorded for Trix and appeared at several folk and blues festivals until his death in 1977.
|Read Liner Notes (PDF)||Read Liner Notes (PDF)|
Dan Pickett did one recording session for the Philadelphia-based Gotham label in 1949. His real name was James Founty who was born in Pike County, Alabama on August 31, 1907. Five singles were issued by the label while the rest of the titles weren't unearthed until four decades later (with some alternate takes of some issued titles to boot). He passed away in Boaz, Alabama on August 16, 1967, a few days short of his 60th birthday. Decades after his death, Pickett a biographical mystery. Blues researcher Axel Künster went to Alabama in 1993 to see what he could dig up. He found Founty's surviving family, obtained the only known photograph that shows Founty and was able to piece together some information on his life. Künster published a two page teaser about the trip in Juke Blues where he wrote: "Until the whole story is published in Juke Blues, I'll just tell you this much: [Founty was] a classic rambler in the best blues tradition…"Künster wrote that over fifteen years ago and still no full article has been written. In 2010 John Jeremiah Sullivam wrote an article on Pickett for The Oxford American that published the Pickett photo, transcribed an interview with Künster and provided a bit more information on Pickett's life.
Alabama bluesman, John Lee was born May 24, 1915, in Lowdnes County, AL. He learned his distinctive knife slide guitar style from his uncle, Ellie Lee, and spent the 1930s playing jukes and house parties before settling in Montgomery in 1945. Federal's Ralph Bass auditioned him there, and impressed with what he heard, recorded five sides in 1951: "Down At The Depot", "Baby Please Don't Go", "Alabama Boogie", "Baby Blues" and "Blind's Blues." Two unreleased sides, "In My Father's House" and "Slappin' The Boogie" were issued a few years back on the JSP compilation Devil's Jump: Indie Label Blues 1946-1957. By 1960 John Lee had retired from active performing. It was blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow who tracked him down in 1973 after a three year search. Wardlow wrote his story in Blues Unlimited in 1975 (Down at the Depot: The Story of John Lee). He recorded the album Down At The Depot for Rounder Records in the early 70's. During his comeback John Lee performed at Boston's Down East Festival and the National Folk Festival in Washington.
|The "Mobile Strugglers" on the porch with neighbors, Mobile, Alabama, Sunday afternoon, July 18, 1954. Left to right: Moochie Reeves, Ollie Crenshaw, Tyler Jackson. From the book A Language of Song by Sam Charters.|
There has been some good field work done in Alabama, although it pales in comparison to nearby states such as Georgia and especially Mississippi. On his travels and through research grants, Harold Courlander pursued his interest in ethnohistory and folklore by collecting stories, making recordings, and writing books and articles about a variety of African cultures. The result of his travels and studies was the publication of more than thirty-five books and many sound recordings. Courlander also took numerous field trips to the south, recording folk music in the 1940s and 1950s. From 1947–1960, he served as a general editor of Ethnic Folkways Library and recorded more than 30 albums of music from different cultures. In 1950, he did field recordings in Alabama which resulted in the six album series, Negro Folk Music of Alabama for the Folkways label.
|Read Liner Notes (PDF)|
Another Folkways researcher was Frederic Ramsey. Perhaps his greatest discovery was Horace Sprott. Alabama songster and harmonica player Horace Sprott was born February 2, 1890, the son of former slave Bessie Ford, and his surname was taken from the Sprott Plantation where he was born. Ramsey encountered Sprott in Marion, AL, in 1954, and recorded him in seven sessions held in April and May of that year. Ramsey recorded in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana under a Guggenheim grant with the results issued on the ten album series, Music from the South released on Folkways.Two albums of the series were solely devoted to Sprott's recordings.
Sam Charters recorded Alabama artists Moochie Reeves and the Mobile Strugglers for Folkways. The Mobile Strugglers first recorded for Bill Russell's American Music label in 1949 and were recorded again by Sam Charters in 1954. Charters recorded one song by Moochie Reeves in Mobile, Alabama in 1954 of which he wrote: "The recording was done in a back-yard in Mobile, Alabama, late in the afternoon, with dozens of neighbors dancing to the music away from the microphone and the children keeping carefully quiet so they could sit behind the musicians' chairs while they were playing. It captures much of the easy going style of these small instrumental groups playing the rural blues." The song was issued on the Folkways anthology The Rural Blues: A Study Of The Vocal And Instrumental Resources and the compilation The Country Blues Vol. 2 which sports Reeves ' photo on the cover.
George Mitchell recorded prolifically in the field and did some recordings in Alabama. Among those he recorded from the state were J.W. Warren, Albert Macon & Robert Thomas, Jimmy Lee Harris, Lonzie Thomas and Eddie Hodge. One of he J.W. Warren cuts and one of the Albert Macon & Robert Thomas featured today are unissued recordings made by Axel Künster and used by permission (got late word from Axel that "Mean Old Frisco", featured today, has been issued on the recent Bear Family compilation, The Roots Of It All Acoustic Blues Vol. 4)
Bengt Olsson who first came to the United States in 1969, first to Chicago and then to Memphis were he made some recordings. Olsson was back in 1971, where he made recordings in Memphis and Alabama. He recorded several talented artists including Lum Guffin (his album Walking Victrola was issued on Flyright), Lattie Murrell, David Johnson and Bishop Perry Tillis, the latter two recorded in Alabama. Olsson record Tillis and Johnson (they were neighbors) in Coffee County, Alabama after randomly picking the place on the map. In addition to the Lum Guffin record, Olsson's recordings have been issued on three compilations on the Flyright label.
A couple of other artists worth mentioning are Robert McCoy and Johnie Lewis. McCoy was born in 1912 in Aliceville, AL but raised on Birmingham's North Side and by 1927 was a well-known local artist. Between March 3rd and April 7th 1937, ARC Company sent a mobile recording unit on a field trip firstly to visit Hot Springs, Arkansas and, then to Birmingham, Alabama in search of new talent. Sometime between 18th and 24th March the unit arrived in Birmingham and, over a two week period set about recording a number of gospel and blues musicians. Among those were Charlie Campbell, Guitar Slim and James Sherrill (Peanut The Kidnapper) all of whom were backed by the piano of Robert McCoy who did not record under his own name. In 1963 McCoy was recorded by Pat Cather, a teenaged Birmingham blues fan. Cather issued two albums on his Vulcan label: Barrelhouse Blues And Jook Piano and Blues And Boogie Classics. Some of these recordings were reissued on Delmark several years back.
Johnie Lewis was born on a farm near Eufaula, Alabama but spent much of his life playing at various small clubs around Chicago. He was recorded in Chicago in 1970 and 1971 resulting in the album Alabama Slide Guitar issued on Arhoolie.