Stovepipe #1 & David Crockett A Chicken Can Waltz the Gravy AroundGood For What Ails You
Beale Street Sheiks Chicken You Can Roost Behind The MoonBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Jim JacksonBye Bye PolicemanGood For What Ails You
Jim JacksonI Heard The Voice of a PorkchopGood For What Ails You
Chief ThundercloudSpoken Word The Last Medicine Show
Peg Leg SamWho's That Left Here Awhile AgoThe Last Medicine Show
Pink Anderson & Simmie DoleyPapa's 'bout to Get MadGood For What Ails You
Pink Anderson & Simmie DoleyGonna Tip Out, TonightGood For What Ails You
Beans Hambone & El Morrow BeansGood For What Ails You
Alec Johnson Mysterious CoonGood For What Ails You
Ben CovingtonAdam & Eve in the GardenGood For What Ails You
Chief ThundercloudSpoken Word The Last Medicine Show
Peg Leg Sam JacksonGreasy GreensThe Last Medicine Show
Gus CannonMy Money Never Runs Out Good For What Ails You
Cannon's Jug Stompers Bring It with You When You ComeRuckus Juice & Chitlins Vol. 2
Memphis SheiksHe's in the Jailhouse, NowThe Best Of
Frank Stokes I Got MineThe Best Of
"Big Boy" George Owens The Coon Crap GameSinners & Saints 1926-1931
Lil McClintockFurniture ManBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Henry ThomasRailroadin' SomeTexas Worried Blues
Hezekiah Jenkins Shout, You CatsGood For What Ails You
Peg Leg Sam JacksonBorn For Hard LuckThe Last Medicine Show
Peg Leg Sam JacksonHand Me DownThe Last Medicine Show
Papa Charlie JacksonScoodle Um SkooGood For What Ails You
Blind Willie McTellAtlanta StrutGood For What Ails You
Daddy Stovepipe & Mississippi Sarah The SpasmGood For What Ails You
Pink AndersonTravelin' ManMedicine Show Man
Peg Leg Sam JacksonJohn HenryThe Last Medicine Show

Show Notes:

Pink Anderson & Arthur "Peg Leg Sam" Jackson

Medicine shows flourished in the years following the Civil War when America’s patent medicine industry was booming and governmental regulations were few. They were called “med shows” or “doctor shows” and music was always a crucial part of the act. Onstage musicians served up comic songs, parodies, popular favorites, novelties, folk songs, dance tunes and instrumental specialties. In the early decades of the 20th century new musical forms such as jazz and blues were added to the mix. The musical acts were designed to draw a crowd before the “doctor” would step up and offer a remedy to cure the ailments of the crowd. The medicine show acts incorporated much from the minstrel shows, which by the 1840’s, were hugely popular. By the dawn of the 20th century the medicine shows were less extravagant, often including a lecturer-manager, a song-and-dance man, a blackface comedian, a string band and perhaps a comedian or ventriloquist, traveling by truck from one obscure town to the next during the spring and summer months, playing in rented lots or an open field. Many noted bluesmen spent time on these shows including artists like Frank Stokes, Jim Jackson, Gus Cannon, Howard Armstrong and Pink Anderson. Some of the medicine show veterans made records in the 20’s and 30’s and some of their recorded output gives us a glimpse of the type of music played on these shows. Today’s show features many of these artists and the songs they performed on the medicine show circuit. The bulk of these songs and much of the notes come from the fantastic 2-CD Old Hat release, Good For What Ails You, which comes with a 72-page color booklet detailing the history of the medicine shows with a profusion of rare photographs and previously unseen photos and illustrations.

In addition we spin music and spoken word from the last traveling medicine show featuring musician Arthur "Peg Leg Sam" Jackson and Chief Thundercloud. This was one of the last true medicine shows presided over by Chief Thundercloud (Leo Kahdot) who was still hawking “Prairie King Liniment” from the tailgate of his station wagon at fairs and carnivals in the Southeast in the early 70’s. In his heyday he traveled will a full cast of comediennes, dancers, singers and musicians, numbering as many as sixteen. In later years his lone partner was Arthur “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson, a medicine show veteran who learned the ropes back in the 30’s from Pink Anderson. The duo was recorded and filmed by Pete Lowry in Pittsboro, North Carolina in 1972. A subsequent, now very rare,  2-LP set of music and spoken word was issued on the Flyright label titled The Last Medicine Show.

Doctor Franklin Street's Washaw Indian Medicine Show, Hot Springs, AK, 1919.
Onstage, in blackface, are Jim Jackson (left) and Gus Cannon (right).

From the notes to Good For What Ails You, Marshall  Wyatt writes: "A performance usually commenced at sundown, on a wooden platform framed with striped canvas and lit with kerosene torches, or possibly a string of electric lights powered by a portable generator„ As the crowd, or "tip" gathered, the banjoist might render a medley of familiar tunes, tapping time with his feet and blowing a rack-held mouth harp. Next came a rapid-fire exchange of jokes and patter between Jake and a straight man, then more music and dancing, followed by the Professor's first pitch of the evening, often for an inexpensive product like soap or candy to soften customers for things to come. The entertainment continued with specialty acts, such as mind-reading or magic, alternating with comic songs, contests, and slapstick. The doc would probably deliver three lectures at crucial intervals during the course of a two-hour show, each promoting a different remedy. Florid oratory was entertainment in itself, and many a skillful pitchman followed the advice of Fred Foster Bloodgood: "Never use one word, when four will suffice." Showmen knew that a buying fervor was best cultivated in an atmosphere of sustained excitement. Typically, as the pitchman completed his harangue, entertainers dashed into the crowd, brandishing bottles of the doctor's elixir, while a contingent of musicians remained on the platform to strike up a raucous tune. If the doctor's pitch had "turned the tip" then such calculated chaos would cement the deal. Performers, rapidly exchanged their bottles for dollar bills, and created a sense urgency with cries of  "S·o-o-ld Out, Doc!" as they rushed back to the stage to replenish their supply. The evening's performance closed with an afterpiece, often a stock comedy routine or perhaps a promised special attraction, such as snake handling or sharp shooting, saved for last in order to discourage early departures. On the final day in town, a "blow off" was not uncommon, that is, high-pressure selling used to liquidate remaining stock before moving on."

Peg Leg Sam was a member of the last authentic traveling medicine show, a harmonica virtuoso, and an extraordinary entertainer. All of today's tracks by him have been extracted from The Last Medicine Show album. Born Arthur Jackson, he acquired his nickname after a hoboing accident in 1930. His medicine show career began in 1938 and ended in the early 70's "Peg" delivered comedy routines, bawdy toasts, and monologs; performed tricks with his harps (often playing two at once); and served up plenty of blues. He cut some albums in the 70's and was the subject of the film, Born for Hard Luck which was produced by Tom Davenport in 1976. Jackson died in in 1977.

Peg Leg Sam Jackson: Born For Hard Luck

Sam's mentor, Pink Anderson, spent many years on the road with medicine shows and learned guitar from his early partner Simmie Dooley, and older musician who was born in 1881. They recorded four titles together in 1928, one of which gives today's show its title. Anderson was born in South Carolina and toured throughout the Southeast mainly with William R. Kerr’s Indian Remedy, remaining with the show for some thirty years. He was employed not only as a musician and a singer but as a dancer and comedian. Anderson was extensively recorded by Sam Charters in 1961 resulting in three albums of material.

A whole constellation of Memphis artists performed on the medicine show circuit including Jim Jackson, Gus Cannon, Will Shade and Frank Stokes. Jim Jackson, who was taught guitar by his father, and was singing, dancing, and strumming the strings to attract crowds for peddlers of patent medicine as early as 1905. By 1915, Jackson was spending more and more time on the road with minstrel shows. Tall and weighing in at 235 lbs, he commanded attention with his booming voice, a knack for telling jokes, and his friendly, and a way of putting a song across. He toured with the Red Rose, Silas Green, and Rabbit's Foot Minstrel companies, sometimes in the company of Gus Cannon, guitarists Furry Lewis, and Will Shade, and pianist Speckled Red. Jackson traveled to Chicago in October 1927 to make his first phonograph record. "Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues" which was a huge seller. Jackson made further records in 1928, 1929 and his final ones in 1930 before passing in 1937.

Read Booklet (PDF)

"My Money Never Runs Out” has roots from the turn of the century and was composed by Irving Jones and published in 1900. Jones published songs as early as 1892, several of which found their way onto race records in the 1920’s. Today we hear the song as performed by Gus Cannon who recorded the song thirty years later with his band Cannon’s Jug Stompers. Cannon launched his medicine show career in 1914 when he joined Doc Stokey of Clarksdale, Mississippi. He later joked that Stokey's tonic sold "one bottle for a quarter, or three for a dollar!" A tour with Doc Benson's show took Cannon to Chicago in 1927, where he auditioned for Paramount Records and recorded a session with ace guitar picker Blind Blake.

The origins of the song "He's In The Jailhouse Now" aren’t clear but it was performed as early as 1919 by Marshall & Davis, a black vaudeville team and became a favorite of black traveling shows and jug band in the 1920’s. The song was recorded by Jim Jackson, Gus Cannon, Whistler’s Jug Band, Blind Blake among others. Will Shade, leader of the Memphis Jug Band cut his teeth in medicine shows as did members of his band and today we spin their version of the song.

Frank Stokes and partner Dan Sane recorded as The Beale Street Sheiks, a Memphis answer to the musical Chatmon family string band, the Mississippi Shieks. By most accounts Stokes was already playing the streets of Memphis by the turn of the century, about the same time the blues began to flourish. As a street artist, he needed a broad repertoire of songs and patter palatable to blacks and whites. A medicine show and house party favorite, Stokes was remembered as a consummate entertainer who drew on songs from the 19th and 20th centuries with equal facility. Solo or with Sane and sometimes fiddler Will Batts, Stokes recorded 38 sides for Paramount and Victor. Of today's featured songs, “I Got Mine” was published by a white composer in 1901 and taken up by black songsters. Big Boy Owens’ "The Coon Crap Game" is a variation of the same song.