Robert Nighthawk w/ Ernest LaneMy Sweet Lovin' WomanProwling With The Nighthawk
Ernest LaneLittle Girl, Little Girl The Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 1
Ernest LaneNeed My Help45
Ernest LaneLane ShuffleThe Blues Is Back!
Charlie PattonJim Lee Blues Part 1The Best Of
Clifford Gibson Whiskey Moan BluesClifford Gibson 1929-1931
Little Caesar Tried To Reason With You Baby Your On The Hour Man: The Modern, Dolphin And Downey Recordings 1952-1960
Mary Johnson Never Too LateLadies Sing The Blues
Little L. BoydDrinking BluesJuicy Harmonica Vol. 3
Robert Henry Old Battle AxJuicy Harmonica Vol. 2
Willie Nix Just One Mistake Juicy Harmonica Vol. 2
Alec SewardI Made A Mistake In LoveCreepin' Blues
Alec SewardSweet Woman
Creepin' Blues
Sonny Boy Williamson Nine Below Zero American Folk Blues Festival 1963
Floyd JonesPlayhouseFloyd Jones 1948-1953
Harmonica SlimYou Better Believe ItJuicy Harmonica
Johnny LittlejohnWhat In The World Kings Of The Slide Guitar
Hound Dog TaylorSittin Here AloneBlues Rarities: Rare And Unissued Recordings
L.C. Williams All Through My DreamsLet's Have Some Fun: The Freedom R&B Story
Mable FranklinUnhappy WomanStompin' Vol. 9
Billy BizorTell Me Where You Stayed Last NightBlowing My Blues Away
Whispering SmithEverybody Needs Love Over Easy
Ranie BurnetteLonseome Moon BluesGoing Down South
Johnny WoodsGoing Up the CountryGoing Down South
Tommie BradleyPlease Don't Act That WayTommie Bradley - James Cole Groups 1928-1932
Joe McCoyThe World Is A Hard Place To Live InThe McCoy Brothers Vol. 1 1934-1936
Big Joe WilliamsHouse Lady Blues Big Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Joe Thompson Careless LoveFamily Tradition
Joe Thompson Georgia BuckFamily Tradition
Joe Thompson Donna's Got A Rambling MindFamily Tradition

Show Notes:

We open the show on a sad note with the passing of pianist Ernest Lane. Usually when I talk about these guys there's not a personal connection but not so with Ernest. I probably first spoke with him close to ten years ago when I was writing the notes to the CD Prowling With The Nighthawk a collection of classic sides by Robert Nighthawk, a few of which featured Ernest. I talked with him several times over the years and got to hang out with him a bit when he began collaborating with my friend Steve Grills. In 2004 Ernest issued his belated debut, The Blues Is Back!, and I promptly interviewed him on my Bad Dog Blues radio show and had him back in the studio in 2008. In 2010 Steve put out the excellent  After Hours featuring Ernest which I was happy to write the notes for. Last year Ernest was the cover story for a Juke Blues profile and will be featured in the next  issue of Living Blues. I suspect that most are unfamiliar with Ernest so I'll give a brief outline.

Ernest Lane, Robert Nighthawk and Nighthawk's wife
Hazel McCollum circa late 1940's

Ernest has had his own bands throughout the years although he's probably best known for his work with folks like Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker and his life long pal Ike Turner. Unfortunately Ernest hasn't gotten in the studio all that often; he cut his first record under his own name for Blues & Rhythm in 1952 (an off shoot of Modern), "What's Wrong Baby" b/w "Little Girl, Little Girl", plus a pair of singles in L.A. in the early sixties, "What Kind Of Love" b/w "Sliced Apples" for M.J.C. and "What's That You Got" b/w "Need My Help" for Sony. Ernest wasn't even aware that the Blues & Rhythm sides were issued but does recall the session which was setup by Ike Turner who was acting as a talent scout for Modern. As for his session work, Ernest appears on on the July 1949 Robert Nighhawk session and it was either him or Sunnyland Slim on the September 1948 session. The titles include: "Down The Line", "Handsome Lover", "Return Mail Blues", "My Sweet Lovin' Mama", "She Knows How To Love A Man", "Black Angel Blues ( Sweet Black Angel)", "Anna Lee Blues (Anna Lee)", "Return Mail Blues" and "Sugar Papa." Ernest played for a spell with Jimmy Nolen and appears on the following 1959 session for Fidelity: "Swingin' Peter Gunn Pt. 1", Swingin' Peter Gunn Pt. 2" and "Blues After Hours." In 1961 Nolen's band, with Ernest, backed George "Harmonica" Smith on a session for Sotoplay: "Sometimes You Win When You Lose", "Come On Home", "You Can't Undo What's Been Done" and "Rope That Twist." Ernest also recalls playing on the Earl Hooker's 1969 album Sweet Black Angel even though Ike Turner is listed as the pianist. In 1969 he did some studio work with Canned Heat which can be found on The USA Sessions – Classic Recordings from 1969. 1969 was also the year he toured with the Monkees whom he backed as a member of Sam & The Goodtimers. More recently he's appeared on records by Eddie Clearwater and Ike Turner. In the early 1980's he cut a session for Rooster Records but only one 45 was issued, "Doggin' No More" b/w "Little Girl." After he cut his album debut, The Blues Is Back!, he followed it up with Born With The Blues and 72 Miles from Memphis.

Quit a number of harp players are featured on today's mix show plus our usual mix of prime pre-war blues, a set of Houston blues and twin spins by Alec Seward and we close with trio of sides by recently departed fiddler Joe Thompson.

We spin one of my favorite Charlie Patton songs today, "Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1." I'm not sure exactly what it is with this song that I find so striking, it's not one often cited when talking about Patton's best, yet I find it incredibly compelling. Patton's vocals on this are magnificent. The 2-part  number celebrates a Mississippi river boat that plied between Vicksburg and Memphis. There were no known copies until about 1990 when blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow went to John Steiner's (he bought Paramount Records in the late 40's) house in Milwaukee, armed with some rare Jazz 78's that he knew Steiner would find hard to resist. He told Steiner that he could have the Jazz 78's if he, Wardlow, could search through Steiner's collection of Paramount's and select whatever he wanted in trade. Steiner agreed and in the collection Wardlow found the E+ copy of "Jim Lee No.1." Record collector John Tefteller bought it from Wardlow in 2002 and told me "it is going to remain in my collection for a very long time." Around that time, 2002, another copy that was clean but badly cracked showed up in Virginia. That copy is currently owned by researcher Kip Lornell. Hands down the best sounding version of the song can be found on Yazoo's Patton collection, Best Of, which to my ears is the best mastered Patton collection to date. As with many Patton songs, there are passages that are tough to decipher but the below transcription (I found this on YouTube of all places) comes very close.

I went away up the river, some forty mile or mo'
I think I heard that big Jim Lee blow

She blow so lonesome, like she wasn' gon' blow no mo'
It blowed just like my baby gettin' on board

I'm a po' old boy and a long way from home
An' she's callin' me to leave my plumb good home

My mama is dead an' my father well could be
I ain' got nobody to feel an' care for me

If you don' want me, jus' give me your han'
Mmm, I'll get a woman sweet as you can a man

I got a (key on a) wheeler, got a (bowser) on the plow (?)
Got a plumb good man bringing down the Johnson bayou (?)

I lay my head in a 'ceitful woman's arms
An' she lay her nappy head in mine

When I got arrested, what do you reckon was my fine?
Say, they give all coons 'leven twenty nine

(Big boys n' shines) don't pay me no mind
Cause I (do) not let no coons in (mine)

Well that big Jim Lee, keep a-backin' up an' down
She sand bar struck, man and she water bound

Billy Bizor with his cousin Lightnin' Hopkins
at ACA Studios Houston 1968

Lots of good harp blowers today including heavyweights like Little Walter and Walter Horton, Whispering Smith, Johnny Woods, Harmonica Slim and Bill Bizor among others. Walter Horton blows up a storm on Willie Nix's "Just One Mistake" cut for Sun in 1952 while Little Walter is in prime form on Floyd Jones' "Playhouse" from the same year. Jones was right there when the postwar Chicago blues hit its stride, cutting a batch of great records with harpist Snooky Pryor for Marvel in 1947, pianist Sunnyland Slim for Tempo Tone the next year (where he cut his classic "Hard Times"), JOB and Chess in 1952-53, and Vee-Jay in 1955.

Whispering Smith came late to the Swamp blues scene, cutting his first singles for Excello in 1963-64 and backing Silas Hogan on records during the same period. He made more records in the 70's appearing on the Swamp Blues LP for Blue Horizon and cutting the album Over Easy in 1971 also for Blue Horizon. During this period he played in Europe appearing as part of the American Folk Blues Festival and at the Montreux Blues Festival. He passed in 1984.

Johnny Woods was born in a small Mississippi town called Looxahoma and his harmonica playing first gained notoriety in the 1960's as a duet partner Mississippi Fred McDowell. They recorded together first for George Mitchell in 1967 and then on scattered sides issued on Arhoolie. After McDowell's death in July 1973, Woods faded away until George Mitchell paired him again with R. L. Burnside. Together they appear on the Swingmaster albums, Going Down South and So Many Cold Mornings. Woods passed in 1990.

Born in Centerville, Texas in 1917, Billy Bizor dwelled in almost total obscurity prior to the 1960's. In the early 60's he backed his cousin Lightnin' Hopkins on several recordings. Between 1968 and 1969, Bizor cut his only solo session in Houston with producer Roy Ames which was eventually issued as Blowing My Blues Away, the end result went unreleased for several years; tragically, Bizor himself never saw the recordings come to light, passing April 4, 1969.

In addition to Bizor, we hear from Houston based artists L.C. Williams, Mabel Franklin and D.C. Bender. Williams was a singer/tap dancer who also occasionally drummed behind Lightnin' Hopkins. He arrived in Houston in 1945 and was one of the many characters who hung around in Lightning’s orbit sitting on stoops drinking beer and wine, shooting the breeze with passers-by. He made his first record in 1947 with Hopkins on piano and guitar. Hopkins plays guitar on a four-song session for Gold Star in 1948 with Williams making some final sides for Eddie’s and Freedom between 1948-1950. He died in Houston of TB in 1960.

Mabel Franklin cut a few  singles in 1965 and 1967 in Houston backed by D.C. Bender on guitar who really cuts loose on our track, "Unhappy Woman." Bender was an active session guitarist on the Houston scene, cutting just a few sides under his own name, but backing artists such as Franklin, Big Son Tillis, Calvin Johnson and others.

One of the more elusive records I've finally hunted down is Alec Seward's Creepin' Blues released by Bluesville in 1965 and never issued on CD. Seward was born in Charles City County, Virginia and relocated to New York in 1942 where he befriended Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. He met Louis Hayes and the duo performed variously named as the Blues Servant Boys, Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly, or The Back Porch Boys. The duo recorded sides in 1944 and another batch in 1947. During the 1940's and 1950's Seward played and recorded with Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, McGhee and Terry. Creepin' Blues (with harmonica accompaniment by Larry Johnson) is a terrific album and today we spotlight two fine cuts. Later in the decade Seward worked in concert and at folk-blues festivals. He died at the age of 70, in New York in May 1972.

Fiddler Joe Thompson died on Feb. 20th at the age of 93. Born December 9, 1918 in Orange County, North Carolina, Joe Thompson grew up in a family where fiddle and banjo music was heard on nights and weekends after farm work was completed. Joe’s father and uncle played fiddle and banjo and were sought after by neighbors, both African American and white, to provide music for local square dances. Joe has received many honors since the 1970s, when he began performing his music outside of his home community. Kip Lornell, then a graduate student in ethnomusicology, heard him perform in 1973 and urged them to look into performing at folk music festivals that were springing up. In 1989 Joe and Odell recorded Music for Global Village Music and Joe was featured on the album Family Tradition, released by Rounder Records in 2000. Folklorist Alan Lomax included the three Thompsons' in his American Patchwork documentary film series. His music is also included on various anthologies. The Carolina Chocolate Drops became Thompson’s most well known protégés, learning from him at his home in Mebane and eventually recording and performing with him at festivals like Merlefest and even local dances.