ARTISTSONGALBUM
Bruce ConforthInterview
Unknown When Sun Go DownNegro Songs Of Protest
UnknownThirty Days in JailNobody Knows My Name
Unknown6 Months Ain't No SentenceNobody Knows My Name
UnknownBlack WomanNobody Knows My Name
UnknownBoogie Lovin'Nobody Knows My Name
UnknownCold Iron ShacklesNegro Songs Of Protest
UnknownDelia Cap'n You're So Mean
Texas Johnny BrownThere Goes The Blues Atlantic Blues: Guitar
Texas Johnny BrownThe Blues RockAtlantic Blues: Guitar
Roosevelt HoltsMy Phone Keeps Ringing Goin' Up The Country
Jack OwensI Won't Be Bad No More It Must Have Been the Devil
Houston Stackhouse & Carey Ditty MasonTraveling BluesBig Road Blues
Black Boy ShineWest Columbia WomanLeroy Carr & Black Boy Shine: Unissued Test Pressings & Alternate Takes 1934-1937
Pinetop BurksFannie Mae BluesSan Antonio 1937
Robert ShawPut Me In The AlleyThe Ma Grinder
Detroit JuniorThe Way I FeelHard Times, Chicago Blues Of The Sixties
Kitty StevensSleeping by YourselfChance Vintage Blues Vol. 4
Papa Charlie JacksonAll I Want Is A Spoonful Papa Charlie Jackson Vol. 1 1924-1926
Peg Leg HowellBanjo BluesAtlanta Blues
Charley JordanMy 'Lovin' Good' BluesCharley Jordan Vol. 1 1930-1931
LeadbellyDeath LetterThe Remaining ARC & LoCR Vol. 1

Show Notes:

African American Folksong and American Cultural PoliticsThe first hour of today's program is devoted to Lawrence Gellert and inspired by a new book by Bruce Conforth titled African American Folksong and American Cultural Politics: The Lawrence Gellert Story. We'll be chatting with Bruce today and playing some remarkable field recordings made by Gellert in the 30's. Gellert's life and recordings have been shrouded in a veil of mystery and secrecy and much of what we know of Gellert and his recordings are inaccurate. As Conforth writes: “Lawrence Gellert was one of the most misunderstood and overlooked folksong and folklore collectors of the 20th century.” Conforth does a fine job untangling Gellert's convoluted story and putting the music in its proper context. Gellert was among the first to make recordings in the field in the 1920's, although the issued recordings are all from the 1930's. It wasn't until the 70's that his recordings were finally issued: Rounder issued Negro Songs of Protest in 1973 and Cap'n You're So Mean in 1982 and another album of material was issued on the Heritage label in 1984 titled Nobody Knows My Name (the latter two produced by Conforth).

As anyone who's listened to this show knows, I have a long standing interest in field recordings and have always been fascinated by Gellert who's always been something of a shadowy figure. Conforth's book reads like a detective novel – complete with a twist ending, which I won't go into here. Gellert was basically his own worst enemy and his neglect mostly his own making. "In truth," Conforth writes "the fault of this misunderstanding  and omission was mostly his own. He began collecting African American material purely by happenstance only to find the songs he transcribed and recorded used by the American left and Communist Party of America in ways that would cause other trained collectors to question the veracity of virtually all of his published work.  Add to this the incredibly early date at which his collecting and recording commenced (the 1920s) and the criticism heaped upon him-some out of sheer jealousy, some from a misunderstanding of the scope of his work-that caused most scholars to ignore him, and today he is merely a footnote."

Conforth also makes clear that protest songs were only a small part of the songs Gellert collected.  "…the bulk of his material has similarities to almost every other African American folksong collection. He collected numerous traditional blues and spiritual tunes that help validate the authenticity of his collection. His blues recordings outnumber those deemed protest, and this latter group actually consists of traditional blues, misconstrued as protest by those who chose to use them for political purposes."

In the second hour of today's show we spin a mix of blues including two features that point the way to future shows; we feature a set of field recordings captured by David Evans in the 1960's with a whole show devoted to those recordings next week. We also spotlight a trio of fine Texas piano players which will be a multi-part show down later this year.  In addition we play two cuts by the recently departed Texas Johnny Brown.

Lawrence Gellert
Lawrence Gellert

Evans' field recordings from the 60's and 70's was a result of his  investigation into Tommy Johnson in the late 1960’s. Evans recorded many men who learned directly from Johnson including Roosevelt Holts, Boogie Bill Webb, Arzo Youngblood, Isaac Youngblood, Bubba Brown, Babe Stovall, Houston Stackhouse and Tommy’s brother Mager Johnson. The field recordings Evans collected have been issued on several albums, unfortunately almost all of them are out of print. I'll be spotlighting all of these albums next week and provide much more background on these recordings.

The last couple of weeks I've been working on liner notes for a reissue, to be released on the Document label, of Buster Pickens' self-titled album released originally on the Heritage label in 1962. Pickens was one of the last survivors of the "Santa Fe" group of Texas pianists. Mack McCormick noted that the “itinerant pack of pianists who came to be known loosely as 'the Santa Fe group,' partly because they favored that railroad and partly because a stranger asking for the name of a selection was invariably told 'That's The Santa Fe.' …They were known as The Santa Fe after the railroad that straddle Fort Bend County with a big triangle just Southwest of Houston, providing access westward to the high plains, cotton country, east to the piney-woods lumbering camps and north (pretty much following the old Chisholm Trail) to a string of cities and watering places. "Here", Oliver notes “was where the music thrived and pianists could be found like Pinetop Burks, Son Becky, Rob Cooper, Black Boy Shine, Andy Boy, Big Boy Knox, Robert Shaw, Buster Pickens and the singers who worked with them like Walter 'Cowboy' Washington and Joe Pullum.”

Texas Johnny Brown passed away July 1st at the age of 85 at his home in Houston, Texas. Brown moved from Mississippi to Houston in the 1940's, and by 1946 was performing at places like Shady's Playhouse. He hooked up with Amos Milburn and the Chickenshackers, playing with the band for about four years and getting his nickname from Milburn's manager. As "Texas" Johnny Brown and His Blues Rockers (featuring Milburn on piano), Brown recorded "There Goes the Blues"/"The Blues Rock" for Atlantic around 1949. After three years in the military Brown briefly relocated to Louisiana, working on the road with Milburn. By the mid-'50s he was back in Houston playing sessions with trumpeter/arranger Joe Scott at Peacock and Duke Records. Brown also regularly toured with acts like Parker and Bland, who were represented by the Buffalo Booking Agency. Brown was perhaps best known for writing "Two Steps From the Blues," the title track from Bland's landmark 1961 album. In the 60's Brown retired from music but returned in the 90's, cutting some acclaimed records and remained active until shortly before his death.

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