1920′s Blues


ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Little Hat Jones Bye Bye Baby BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Blind Willie Johnson You'll Need Somebody on Your BondBlind Willie Johnson And The Guitar Evangelists
Willie Brown Future Blues Friends Of Charlie Patton
Charlie Patton Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1Best Of
Blind Willie McTell Love Changing BluesBest Of
Sam Collins My Road Is Rough And Rocky (How Long, How Long?)Jailhouse Blues
Son House Walking BluesLegends of Country Blues
Henry Williams & Eddie AnthonyGeorgia CrawlFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Andy Boy House Raid BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Cannon's Jug Stompers Going To GermanyMemphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stompers
Lottie Kimbrough Rolling Log BluesThe Return Of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Weaver & Beasley Bottleneck BluesCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
BluesJim & Bob (The Genial Hawaiians) St. Louis BluesBottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37
Willie Harris Never Drive a Stranger from Your Door Jackson Blues: 1928-1938
Blind Joe Reynolds Ninety Nine BluesBlues Images Vol. 2
The Sparks Brothers Down On The Levee Down On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis 2
Pigmeat Terry Black Sheep BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Lee Green Memphis Fives The Way I Feel: The Best Of Roosevelt Sykes And Lee Green
Elizabeth Johnson Be My Kid Blues American Primitive Vol. II
Mattie Delaney Tallahatchie River Blues Blues images Vol. 3
Geeshie Wiley Pick Poor Robin CleanI Can't Be Satisfied Vol 1
Jim Jackson Hesitation Blues Jim Jackson Vol. 2 (928-1930
Mae Glover I Ain't Givin' Nobody NoneI Can't Be Satisfied Vol 1
King David's Jug Band Rising Sun BluesCincinnati Blues
Mattie May Thomas Dangerous BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Charlie Patton Tom RushenPrimeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs
William Harris Bull Frog Blues The Best There Ever Was
Sam Collins Lonesome Road BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Allen Shaw Moanin' The Blues Masters of the Memphis Blues
Shreveport HomewreckersFence Breakin' BluesBottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37

Show Notes:

Blind Willie McTell: The Early Years
Read Liner Notes

Today's show is a trip down memory lane for me. I've been going through a bout of nostalgia lately, hopefully not the onset of a mid-life crisis, although I have been eying the red Corvette! Anyway, I've been thinking about my favorite country blues tracks lately, most of which I first heard in my formative years of blues collecting. These are the songs that I never get tired of and ones that I find myself revisiting over the years. This is by no means a “best of” list, just songs that I find myself continuously going back to. Many are considered blues classics, many not, and many are most often not the songs by these artists that are considered their best. There's numerous artists that I revere like Bukka White, Frank Stokes, Henry Thomas, Mississippi John Hurt that are omitted simply for the fact that I can't nail down just one song that does it for me by those artists. As I said many of these tracks I first heard when I first started picking up blues records, over twenty-five years ago (that's a hard number to swallow!). And yes I was buying country blues records back then. It was a very short jump from buying my first blues record, B.B. King – Live At The Regal ($3.99 at Tower Records) to picking up, and almost wearing out the grooves of Blind Willie McTell – The Early Years on my beloved Yazoo label. In fact Yazoo was the label where I discovered many of my favorite country blues tracks on treasured compilations like Mississippi Moaners, Guitar Wizards, Bottleneck Blues Guitar Classics, Lonesome Road Blues and The Voice Of The Blues among others. I knew that the Yazoo office was in Manhattan and I often thought about going over there but I never did – I guess I never really knew what I'd do once I got there! Also hugely influential was the piano blues series on Magpie records which made me a lifelong fan of piano blues. Several tracks from that series can be found on today's show. Still, there are a number of songs that became favorites later, for example Blind Joe Reynolds “Ninety Nine Blues” which was only discovered a few years ago (the consensus seems to be that the “B” side, “Cold Woman Blues”, is the superior track, but for me “Ninety Nine Blues” just kills me). I never did go in for what the consensus says which I suppose is reflected in today's eclectic playlist of  all-time favorites.

I count myself lucky to be living where I was when the blues bug bit me. I lived in the Bronx and it was short hop to Manhattan where there was no shortage of great record stores. I fondly remember prowling  records stores like Finyl Vinyl on Second Ave., St. Marks Records, Venus Records, Bleeker Bob's, Footlight Records and the  Jazz Record Mart (still in business and even after buying records there since I was a teenager the same guy still refuses to cut me a deal!). Then there were the book/magazine shops like Hudson News and See Hear where I could find isues of the great British blues mags like Blues Unlimited (went under right when I discovered it!), Juke Blues and Blues & Rhythm.  Of course there were a number of fine left-of-the-dial radio stations that played plenty of blues. Anyway, below are few reminisces about some of today's selections.

Little Hat Jones cut ten sides at three sessions in 1929 and 1930. All his sides are worthwhile but “Bye Bye Baby Blues” is the best thing he ever did in my opinion. When I was coming up with today’s playlist this is one of the first songs I picked. I probably first heard it on the Yazoo compilation Don't Leave Me Here: The Blues of Texas, Arkansas, & Louisiana 1927-1932.

We spin a pair of my favorite Charlie Patton songs today, "Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1" and "Tom Rushen." I'm not sure exactly what it is with the former 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. I have to admit that I really fell under Patton's spell much later. I did own the Yazoo double LP Founder of the Delta Blues but the problem for me was that I couldn't get past the terrible sound of those records. Compare that record to the Best Of which came out just a few years back and the difference is like night and day.

I first heard “Love Changing Blues” on Blind Willie McTell – The Early Years on Yazoo. I played the hell out of this record and for whatever reason, it was this song that made a huge impression on me although, of course, I also loved the more famous “Statesboro Blues.” I distinclty remember my college roomate making fun of me for owing a record by a guy named Blind Willie McTell. I never did lecture him, just turned up the record really loud until it drive him out of the room.

Despite the fact that I’m featuring two Sam Collins cuts on today’s show, I can’t really say he’s one of my favorite artists. However the vocal performances on “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” and “Lonesome Road Blues” are magnificent. I first heard these on the Yazoo compilation Lonesome Road Blues: 15 Years in the Mississippi Delta 1926-1941. The song “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” made its first appearance on this compilation and I believed the title was given by Yazoo. How this song could be unreleased boggles my mind.

Country Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
Read Liner Notes

Yes I know, Son House's 1930 sides are acknowledged classics, and rightly so. His epic six minute version of “Walking Blues” from 1941, with a rocking band that included Willie Brown, Fiddlin' Joe Martin and Leroy Williams, is that song that floors me every time and one of my all time favorites.

I guess Texas pianist Andy Boy is an offbeat choice for favorites but his recordings really get to me. Andy Boy had a rough, expressive voice offset with his sprightly blues piano laced with ragtime flourishes. Andy Boy's songs are filled with vivid imagery, humor, clever wordplay and a times a deep pathos. Along with pianist Rob Cooper, Andy Boy plays prominently on the records of Joe Pullum, one of the era's most distinctive and imaginative vocalists. Andy Boy cut only eight sides under his own name as well as backing both Pullum and the obscure Walter 'Cowboy' Washington. I know I first him on Magpie’s The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937. I probably heard Joe Dean on one of the Magpie collections or possibly on Yazoo’s Barrelhouse Blues 1927-1936. I’m pretty sure I heard Cripple Clarence Lofton’s “Gang of Brownskin Women” on Yazoo’s Cripple Clarence Lofton & Walter Davis which sported a great photo of Lofton at the piano snapping his fingers with a huge grin on his face.

Sung by Noah Lewis who also plays the superb harmonica, "Going To Germany", is one of those dreamy blues that puts me in a trance every time I hear it. I'm guessing I first heard it on the double Cannon Jug Stompers album. I miss those great double albums that used to open up. Not quite the same experience with a CD. Lottie Kimbrough’ “Rolling Log Blues” has the same dreamy, haunting quality as “Going To Germany” and a song that always mesmerizes me.

The Yazoo compilation Bottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37 was an absolute killer. From that compilation comes Jim & Bob’s amazing “St. Louis Blues” as well as the Shreveport Homewreckers’ “Fence Breakin' Blues.”

Willie Harris’ “Never Drive a Stranger from Your Door” is a great bottleneck number. First heard this one on Yazoo’s Jackson Blues 1928-1938.

In November 1929 at the Paramount Recording Studios in Grafton, Wisconsin, four songs were recorded at 78 rpm by a Louisiana street musician named Joe Sheppard who used the name Blind Joe Reynolds. The second record recorded in Wisconsin on that day, "Ninety Nine Blues" backed with "Cold Woman Blues" has been lost since it was first released in October of 1930. No copies in any condition were ever located until just a few years ago. The recorded was eventually bought and reissued on CD by John Tefteller. I guess I’m at odds with collectors Richard Nevins (owner of Yazoo) and Pete Whelan of 78 Quarterly fame who claim "Cold Woman Blues" as the masterpiece, because for me it’s the flip, "Ninety Nine Blues.” What do those guys know anyway!?

It was through the Magpie piano series that I became a lifelong fan of piano blues. I came to the series late, my first purchase was volume 20 and I must have been around 16. The album made a huge impression on me and I even remember exactly where I purchased it; it was at one of my favorite haunts, Tower Records on West 4th St., NYC (the blues section was on the top floor, tucked behind the jazz secton. Often I was the only one back threre, which for me was perfect!). I went back and picked up as many of the rest of the albums I could find and over the years completed the entire series. That particular volume was my introduction to the Sparks Brothers who are still favorites to this day. Milton’s Spark’s high pitched voice and Aaron sensitive piano work really struck a chord, particularly on “Down In The Levee”

Now the obscure Pigmeat Terry was anthologized on one of the Magpie albums although I’m positive I didn't hear his records until much later. Terry only cut one 78 in 1935, a great record, and possessed a high, whispery, moaning voice, a bit reminiscent of the popular Joe Pullum who made his debut the prior year. His "Black Sheep Blues" is a striking tune both vocally and lyrically:

My mother's gone to glory
My father died of drinking in his sins
My sister won't notice me, she's to proud to take me in
I'm a black sheep in my family, and how they dog me around
Someday I'll get lucky and won't be found around

Allen Shaw is another great bluesman cut only one78. He has a powerful voice, somewhat like Son House, and lays down some great slide. Shame he didn’t record more. Shaw also got together on record with Hattie Hart. They engaged in one memorable session in New York, in the late summer of 1934. I heard this side first on Sony’s Slide Guitar Bottles, Knives & Steel Vol. 2 back when the major labels would occasionally issue stuff like this. I’m pretty sure those days are gone.

“Have you ever woke up with them bullfrogs on your mind?” One of the more enigmatic opening blues lines I’ve ever heard and one of the best blues ever by the mysterious William Harris (not the same as the Willie Harris mentioned above).

The Voice Of The Blues
Read Liner Notes

There were very few recorded guitar playing women blues singers recorded in the pre-war era. Mattie Delaney and Geeshie Wiley are two of the few. Both their records are extremely rare and both woman barley left a trace behind as to who they were. Wiley’s “Last Kind Words” is a masterpiece there’s no doubt, but I find myself returning to her jaunty “Pick Poor Robin Clean” with partner Elvie Thomas.“ I’m not sure where I first heard this and like William Harris’ “Bullfrog Blues” I’m not really sure what the hell the song means.

Elizabeth Johnson is another mystery woman who cut four sides in 1928. “Be My Kid Blues b/w Sobbin’ Woman Blues” is great record.  She’s backed by a unique band (listed as Her Turpentine Tree-O) that consisted of woodblocks, clarinet and guitar.

Mattie May Thomas waxed three remarkable acapella numbers in 1939. They were recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in the woman's camp of the  notorious Parchman Farm. Thomas' “Dangerous Blues” is a haunting, violent and sad song that gives me shivers every time I hear it.:

You keep on talking 'bout the dangerous blues.
If I had a pistol I'd be dangerous too.
Say, you may be a bully, say but I don't know.
But I fix you so you won't give me no trouble in the world I know.
She won't cook no breakfast, she won't wash no clothes.
Say, that woman don't do nothin' but walk the road.
My knee bone hurt me, and my ankle swell.
Says, I may get better but I won't get well.
Say, Mattie had a baby, and she got blues eyes.
Say, must be the captain, he keep on hanging around.
He keep on hanging around, keep on hanging around.

I’m not a huge fan of Jim Jackson but at his very last session in 1930 he cut outstanding versions of “St Louis Blues” and “Hesitation Blues.” Many have covered ““Hesitation Blues” but to me Jackson’s version will always be the definitive one.

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Furry Lewis John Henry (The Steel Driving Man)Masters of Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Black Gyspy BluesMasters of Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Creeper's BluesMasters of Memphis Blues
Charlie McCoyIt Ain't No Good - Part 1Charlie McCoy 1928-1932
Charlie McCoyLast Time BluesCharlie McCoy 1928-1932
Speckled RedHouse Dance Blues Speckled Red 1929-1938
Speckled RedThe Dirty Dozen Speckled Red 1929-1938
Speckled RedWilkins Street Stomp Speckled Red 1929-1938
Walter VincsonYour Friends Gonna Use It Too - Part 1Walter Vincson 1928 1941
Walter VincsonOvertime BluesWalter Vincson 1928 1941
Garfield AkersCottonfield Blues (Pt. 1)
Mississippi Masters
Garfield AkersCottonfield Blues (Pt. 2)Mississippi Masters
Robert WilkinsThat's No Way To Get AlongMasters of Memphis Blues
Robert WilkinsAlabama BluesMasters of Memphis Blues
Robert WilkinsLong Train BluesMasters of Memphis Blues
Robert WilkinsFalling Down BluesMasters of Memphis Blues
Jenny PopeWhiskey Drinkin' BluesMen Are Like Street Cars
Jed DavenportHow Long, How Long BluesMemphis Shakedown
Joe CallicottFare Thee Well BluesFare Thee Well Blues
Joe CallicottTraveling Mama BluesBroke, Black And Blue
Madelyn JamesStinging Stake BluesMemphis Blues 1927-1938
Madelyn James Long Time BluesMemphis Blues 1927-1938
Tommy GriffinMistreatment BluesCountry Blues Collectors' Items
Tommy GriffinBell Tolling BluesCountry Blues Collectors' Items
Mattie DelaneyDown The Big Road BluesMississippi Masters
Mattie DelaneyTallahatchie River BluesMississippi Masters
Garfield AkersDough Roller BluesMississippi Masters
Garfield AkersJumpin' & Shoutin' BluesBroke, Black And Blue
Memphis Minnie & Joe McCoyMister Tango Blues Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 1 1929-1930
Memphis Minnie & Joe McCoyWhat Fault You Find of Me - Part 1 Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 1 1929-1930
Memphis Minnie & Joe McCoyCan I Do It For You Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 1 1929-1930
Memphis Minnie & Joe McCoyI Called You This Morning Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 1 1929-1930
Jim ThompkinsBedside BluesBroke, Black And Blue

Show Notes:

Today's show is the second installment spotlighting great recording sessions. In the first installment we spotlighted two sessions conducted by the Victor  label roughly a year-and-a-half apart, one in Chicago and one in New Orleans. Today we select four recording sessions by Brunswick cut in Memphis: two sessions on Sept. 22nd and 23 in 1929 and two sessions on February 20 and 21st in 1930. The Sept. 22 and 23rd, 1929 sessions were recorded at the Peabody Hotel. "The Mississippi Delta begins on the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends at Catfish Row in Vicksburg", David Cohn wrote in 1935. By the time the race market was picking up in popularity nearly every major recording company either made field trips to Memphis or attracted Memphis artists to their Northern studios. The records recorded at these sessions were issued on the Brunswick and Vocalion labels. Those recorded included great performances by Furry Lewis,Charlie McCoy, Speckled Red, Walter Vincson, Garfield Akers, Robert Wilkins, Jed Davenport,Jenny Pope, Joe Callicott, Madlyn James, Tommy Griffin, Mattie Delaney, Jim Thompkins, Garfield Akers, Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy.

Furry Lewis was born in Greenwood, MS and moved with his mother and two sisters to Brinley Avenue in Memphis when he was a youngster. Before he was ten he had fashioned a guitar from a cigar box and screen wire. His first guitar was supposedly given to him by W.C. Handy, a Martin that he used for decades. Lewis played around Beale Street in speakeasies, taverns, dance halls and house parties and worked the countryside at suppers, frolics and fish fries. In 1925 he got together with Will Shade, Dewey Thomas and Hambone Lewis to form an early version of the Memphis Jug Band and like Jim Jackson took to traveling with medicine shows. Vocalion talent scouts saw both men in 1927 but it was Lewis who went to Chicago first in April where he cut six sides. He and Jackson went up together in October the same year where Jackson cut his famous "Kansas City Blues" with Lewis cutting seven numbers including the unissued "Casey Jones." Just under a year later Victor recorded eight more titles by Lewis in Memphis and Vocalion brought him in the studio one last time in 1929, cutting four songs at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.

Brothers Charlie and Joe McCoy were close to the Chatmans, who hailed from nearby Bolton, and recorded as the popular Mississippi Sheiks. The McCoys and the Chatmans often played together and like many Jackson area musicians, ther were influenced in varying degrees by Tommy Johnson. In addition to the Chatmons and Johnson, Jackson, in the 1920’s was a city with a vibrant blues scene, teeming with artists such as Walter Vincson, Ishman Bracey, Johnnie Temple, Skip James and Rube Lacey. Joe McCoy recorded under various pseudonyms; Georgia Pine Boy, Hallelujah Joe, Big Joe McCoy and His Washboard Band, and The Mississippi Mudder among others. During his time with Memphis Minnie he took the lead on several memorable numbers, most famously “When The Levee Breaks." After Joe and Minnie separated Joe occupied himself in small bands, singing with the Harlem Hamfats, working as a songwriter and working with his brother Charlie. Joe McCoy died of heart disease in Chicago, only a few months before his brother Charlie.

Charlie McCoy ranked among the great blues accompanists of his era and his accomplished mandolin and guitar work can be heard on numerous recordings in a wide variety of settings from the late 1920's through the early 40's. His sides under his own name prove he could hold his own as a lead artist but he seemed most at home enhancing other artists' records.

According to the authors of Memphis Minnie's biography she was "a wild youngster who never took to the farming life and she ran away from home at an early age. Her first guitar had been a Christmas present given to her in 1905 …She began to run away to Memphis' Beale Street with some regularity. Guitarists Frank Stokes and Furry Lewis…both provided advice and inspiration to Minnie in her early days in Memphis. Minnie's duets with Kansas Joe drew as much inspiration from the guitar teamwork of Frank Stokes and Dan Sane, who recorded as the Beale Street Sheiks, as from her own early 'partnership' with Willie Brown." Robert Wilkins also recalled Minnie from these days. Her marriage and recording debut came in 1929, to and with Kansas Joe McCoy, when a Columbia Records talent scout heard them playing in a Beale Street barbershop in their distinctive 'Memphis style.' By around 1929 both Minnie and Joe were playing stell bodied National guitars. As Joe Calicott recalled. Between 1929 and 1934 Minnie and Joe cut around one hundred sides together.

Walter Vinson rarely worked as a solo act, seemingly much more at home in duets and trios; towards that end, during the 1920's he worked with Charlie McCoy, Rubin Lacy and Son Spand before forming the Mississippi Sheiks. Vinson cut three sides at the Sept. 22, 1929 session: "Your Friends Gonna Use It Too – Part 1 & Part 2" and "Overtime blues."

Pianist Speckled Red was born in Monroe, LA, but he made his reputation as part of the St. Louis and Memphis blues scenes of the '20s and '30s. In 1929, he cut his first recording sessions. One song from these sessions, "The Dirty Dozens," was released on Brunswick and became a hit in late 1929. In 1938, he cut a few sides for Bluebird. In the early '40s, Red moved to St. Louis, where he played local clubs and bars for the next decade and a half. Charlie O'Brien, a St. Louis policeman and something of a blues aficionado "rediscovered" Speckled Red on December 14, 1954, who subsequently was signed to Delmark Records as their first blues artist. Several recordings were made in 1956 and 1957 for Tone, Delmark, Folkways, and Storyville record labels.

Garfield Akers recorded just four sides. His most well-known song was his debut, "Cottonfield Blues", a duet with friend and longtime collaborator Joe Callicott on second guitar. Akers lived in Hernando, Mississippi most of his life, working as a sharecropper and performing during off-hours at local house parties and dances. He toured with Frank Stokes on the Doc Watts Medicine Show. Akers was reportedly active on the south Memphis circuit throughout the 1930's. Akers and Callicott played together for more than twenty years, parting in the mid-1940's. Blues historian Don Kent praised "Cottonfield Blues," saying "only a handful of guitar duets in all blues match the incredible drive, intricate rhythms and ferocious intensity."

Gayle Wardlow explained in his article, Garfield Akers and Mississippi Joe Callicott: From the Hernando Cotton Fields: "In the fall of 1929 Brunswick/Vocalion Records made its initial field trip to Memphis to record talent for its Vocalion 1000 and Brunswick 7000 Race series. The session at the Peabody Hotel was highlighted by the first recorded appearances of Garfield Akers, Mattie Delaney, and Kid Bailey, concomitantly with veterans Memphis Minnie and Tampa Red. Callicott recorded his lone 78, "Fare Thee Well Blues/Traveling Mama Blues", for Brunswick in 1930 at a second session in Memphis where Akers also recorded again ("Dough Roller Blues/Jumpin' and Shoutin'"). Callicott made a brief comeback, lasting from the summer of 1967 through the summer of 1968; he recorded sides in the field for George Mitchell, sides at the 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival and sides for Blue Horizon in 1968 all of which have made it onto CD.

Mattie Delaney cut just one 78: "Down The Big Road Blues b/w Tallahatchie River Blues" for Vocalion on February 21, 1930 in Memphis, TN. Her name evoked no response from Son House or from any Delta resident when researcher Gayle Wardlow made a tri-county search of those towns which boarder the Tallahatchie. Supposedly she was born Mattie Doyle in Tchula, MS 1905. Wardlow was the one who discovered the record: "But the prize was Mattie Delaney doing "Tallahatchie River Blues" (Vocalion 1480), a song that refers to a river flood in the Delta. My copy of this 1930 disc was the only one known to surface. I learned this from New York collectors eager for me to trade it away. " According to collector John Tefteller there are about five copies known to exist. Tefteller paid $3,000 for his copy which he says isn’t horrible but sure isn’t mint, either. He expects a like-new copy would draw $6,000 to $8,000/

Robert Wilkins was another prominent Memphis bluesman who, like Lewis, was originally born in Mississippi but made his fame in Memphis. Wilkins' early performing life included touring with small vaudeville and minstrel shows. In 1928, he met Ralph Peer of the Victor label and was invited to cut four songs. Vocalion recorded eight new songs the following year. In 1935 he cut four more sides for Vocalion and shortly afterwards joined the Church of God in Christ and became a minister. Wilkins was rediscovered in the 1960's and performed and recorded gospel material along with the blues. In 1964 he recorded the wonderful Memphis Gospel Singer for the Piedmont label which unfortunately has not been issued on CD.

Little is know about several of today's artists, all of whom recorded sparingly: Jenny Pope, Jed Davenport, Madelyn James, Tommy Griffin and Jim Thompkins. Pope was married to Will Shade leader of the famous Memphis Jug Band. Pope cut six sides at three sessions in 1929 and 1930. She may have recorded with the Memphis Jug Band under the name Jennie Clayton. Jed Davenport came from a tent show and medicine show background. Davenport cut around a dozen sides as leader between 1929-30. Madelyn James Cut one 78 at this February 20, 1930 session with one song possibly featuring Shade on jug. Tommy Griffin Griffin cut sixteen sides at two sessions in 1930 and 1936 for Vocalion and Bluebird. Jim Thompkin (credited in the Brunswick ledger as Peg Leg Jim Thompkins) cut two songs at this same session, “Bedside Blues” and “Down Fall Blues”, the latter never issued. When issued on 78 the flipside of “Bedside Blues” was "We Got To Get That Thing Fixed" by Speckled Red.

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Lane HardinI'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal YouModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Lane HardinKeep 'em DownModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Leroy Simpson & Lane Hardin13 HighwayModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Leroy Simpson & Lane HardinBluebird BluesModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
King Solomon HillMy Buddy, Blind Papa LemonBlues Images Presents Vol. 2
Blind Lemon JeffersonFence Breakin' Yellin' BluesBlues Images Presents Vol. 9
Tommy JohnsonLonesome Home Blues – Test Blues Images Presents Vol. 8
Jaybird ColemanSave Your Money – Let These Women GoBlues Images Presents Vol. 8
Furry LewisCannon Ball Blues – Alternate Take Blues Images Presents Vol. 8
Blind Joe ReynoldsNinety Nine BluesBlues Images Presents Vol. 2
Jenny PopeMr. Postman BluesBlues Images Presents Vol. 9
Blind Willie McTell & Mary Willis Talkin' to You Wimmen About the BluesBlues Images Presents Vol. 5
Teddy Darby Lawdy Lawdy Worried Blues Blues Images Presents Vol. 9
Charley Patton Jesus Is A Dying Bed MakerBlues Images Presents Vol. 9
John TeftellerInterview
Lane HardinCalifornia Desert Blues Blues Images Presents Vol. 9
Lane HardinHard Times Blues Blues Images Presents Vol. 9
Lane HardinCartey Blues Blues Images Presents Vol. 9
Papa Charlie JacksonPapa, Don't Tear Your PantsBlues Images Presents Vol. 9
Harum Scarum Come On In (Ain't Nobody Here)Blues Images Presents Vol. 9
Blind Joel TaggartPrecious LordBlues Images Presents Vol. 9
Blind Joel TaggartLittle Black TrainBlues Images Presents Vol. 9
Tampa RedMama Don't Allow No Easy Riders HereBlues Images Presents Vol. 9

Show Notes:

Today's program revolves around record collector John Tefteller who's record collection contains some of the rarest blues 78's in existence. We'll be chatting with John in the second hour who I've interviewed previously and each time I've found him to be extremely knowledgeable regarding blues from the 1920's with a keen insight into how the record companies operated and how they marketed blues records. According to his website he has the world's largest inventory of blues, rhythm & blues and rock & roll 78's with over 75,000 in stock. Every year around this time Tefteller, through his Blues Images imprint, publishes his Classic Blues Artwork Calendar with a companion CD that matches the artwork with the songs. The CD’s have also been one of the main places that newly discovered blues 78’s turn up. This year marks the ninth year of the calendar and CD's and once again Tefteller has turned up newly discovered sides which I'll be featuring today. Among those are newly discovered sides by the mysterious Lane Hardin (I'll be playing all of Hardin's records today), guitar evangelist Blind Joe Taggart and as well as other records found in the past few years. Several years ago Tefteller uncovered a huge cache of Paramount promotional material. Paramount marketed their "race records", as they were called, to African-Americans, most notably in the pages of the Chicago Defender, the weekly African-American newspaper, and sent promotional material to record stores and distributors. Tefteller bought a huge cache of this artwork from a pair of journalists who rescued them from the rubbish heap some twenty years previously and has been reprinting the artwork in his annual calendars.

For decades Lane Hardin has been one of those tantalizing, mysterious blues figures who cut a handful of brilliant, garnered much interest among collectors yet has remained a cipher, resistant to all research attempts.  Now seventy-five years after his debut we  get to hear a previously unknown Hardin side and a recently published article has given his life shape. For a long time it was thought his 1935 record, "California Desert Blues b/w Hard Time Blues" was the only record Hardin ever recorded. The record is very scarce with only five or six known copies. Tefteller purchased a copy at auction recently for $5,500. Unknown to most collectors Hardin cut a vanity record circa 1948 – the A-side is Hardin's “Cartey Blues” while the B-Side is by Hardin's stand up bass player (credited to Don Tempo). The record was found by collector Steve LaVere sometime in the 1990's in Los Angeles and purchased by Tefteller.

In around 1950 a group of artists sent in a batch of unlabeled acetates that were discovered at Modern in 1970. These recordings have remained a focal point for intense discussion ever since. When these sides were first issued on the Blues From The Deep South LP,  Arkansas Johnny Todd and Leroy Simpson were invented for two sides released. It turns out that Todd is actually Lane Hardin. We play both of those numbers today: "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You" and Keep 'em Down." Hardin also backs Leroy Simpson on "13 Highway" and "Bluebird Blues" which we also feature. The identity of Simpson remains a mystery. All these sides have been reissued on the CD Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4.

Only one person seems to have ever been interviewed about Hardin who actually knew him. That was Henry Townsend who remembered him from the 1930's St. Louis scene. As Townsend told Bill Greensmith in his autobiography, A Blues Life: "Now Lane Hardin was one of the least known (n) musicians around the city , because he had come into the city and hadn't exposed himself much. He had a job at Lewins Metal Company and hadn't been exposed by his music until he ran across (Peetie) Wheatstraw's buddy, Neckbones, who also worked over there. They got to  talking and found out about playing music, and that's how he got be discovered. They would meet at different houses and just do something for their own personal entertainment, but not for jobs that I know of. Lane Hardin also played out at McKnight's place in Kinloch. Lane could have been slightly older than me, but not by much. He lived on Biddle Street about Thirteenth or Fourteenth -they had built a little row of new houses, and he lived there."

In the August 2011 issue of Blues & Rhythm magazine Tony Russell published a lengthy article on Hardin, essentially reconstructing his life from public records. It's an impressive piece of research that traces Hardin's life from his birth in Kentucky to working as a deck hand on steamboats, to a residence in St. Louis from the late 1910's through the 30's (documentation includes  a lengthy police record), to a stint in Illinois and finally traces him to Los Angeles by the 40's. Hardin passed in 1975 and it's a shame no one ever tracked him down to document his story.

The other big find on Tefteller's new CD is the only existing copy of a crudely recorded acetate,  by pre-war gospel legend Blind Joe Taggart. The disc was found by collector Robert Buchholz shoved between some old 70's rock and roll records at what remains of Chicago's Maxwell Street Market. It was put on sale on ebay where it was purchased by Tefteller. Taggart made his first records for Vocalion in June 1927 then went to Paramount in 1928. He continued recording in the 30's but vanished after a final session for Decca in 1934. The new calendar also contains the only known photograph of Taggart, published for the first time.

We feature several other numbers from the latest CD including sides by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Jenny Pope, Teddy Darby, Charlie Patton, Papa Charlie Jackson and Harum Scarum. We round out the show with tracks from some of Tefteller's prior CD's including recently found sides by Tommy Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Joe Reynolds and others.

Jenny Pope was married to Will Shade leader of the famous Memphis Jug Band. Pope cut six sides at three sessions in 1929 and 1930. She may have recorded with the Memphis Jug Band under the name Jennie Clayton.

Teddy Darby recorded from 1929 until 1937 under the names of "Blind Teddy Darby", "Blind Darby", "Blind Blues Darby" and "Blind Squire Turner" for the Paramount, Victor, Bluebird, Vocalion and Decca labels. In 1960 he was "rediscovered" and recorded by Pete Welding of Testament Records, yet the recordings from this session were never released. In the late 1930s he gave up the blues and became an ordained deacon.

Papa Charlie Jackson was the first commercially successful male blues singer. Jackson is believed originally to have come from New Orleans before relocating to Chicago sometime in the early 1900's. He became a very successful street performer, especially on the Near West Side, where he routinely played at the famed Maxwell Street market. His popularity eventually led to him being signed by the Paramount label, where he waxed more than 60 sides between 1924 and 1929. Jackson also did session working backing artists such as Ida Cox, Lottie Beaman, Ma Rainey, Big Bill Broonzy and others.

Issued as Paramount 13104, Harum Scarum's "Come On In (Ain't Nobody Here) " was released in January 1931 and is extremely rare. No copy has been discovered on Paramount however the record was reissued on Varsity, a company from the 1930's that gathered up old masters they found interesting and issued them again. The Harum Scarums recorded four songs and consisted of Big Bill Broonzy, Georgia Tom and Mozelle Alderson.

King Solomon Hill signed to the Paramount label in 1932, soon traveling to Grafton, Wisconsin to record six tracks (two of them alternate takes). In 2002 Tefteller went to Grafton and discovered the long lost Hill 78 "My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon b/w Times Has Done Got Hard" in mint condition. Not much is known of Hill – whose real name was Joe Holmes. He was closely connected to Sam Collins and traveled with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Rambling Thomas. After his lone session, Hill returned to the juke joint circuit, eventually vanishing from sight; reputedly a heavy drinker, he died of a massive brain hemorrhage in Sibley, Louisiana in 1949.

A welcome surprise in recent years has been the discovery of several Tommy Johnson recordings of unissued material. In 1985 an untitled Tommy Johnson test pressing was found and issued on Document as "Boogaloosa Woman"/"Morning Prayer." Yazoo has issued "Morning Prayer" with the title "Button Up Shoes." In around 2001 yet another important batch of records came to light. A box of unissued Paramount and QRS test pressings (the QRS material likely obtained by Paramount from Art Satherley in 1930/31) has been found by an antique dealer in Wisconsin. Tefteller purchased the Tommy Johnson test pressing of "I Want Someone To Love Me" for over $12,000. The record has since been issued on the CD that accompanies the 2004 calendar. Today's featured track,is a test pressing of "Lonesome Home Blues" which was issued on the CD that accompanies the 2010 calendar.

In November 1929 at the Paramount Recording Studios in Grafton, Wisconsin, four songs were recorded at 78 rpm by a Louisiana street musician named Joe Sheppard who used the name Blind Joe Reynolds. Within a year, the four songs were released on two records. Neither record sold well, but almost 40 years later, one of the two attracted the attention of Eric Clapton who heard the song "Outside Woman Blues" on a reissue album. In 1967, Clapton and his Cream bandmates Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce recorded a more modern day version of "Outside Woman Blues" on their classic LP Disraeli Gears. The second record recorded in Wisconsin on that day, "Ninety Nine Blues" backed with "Cold Woman Blues" has been lost since it was first released in October of 1930. No copies in any condition were ever located until just a few years ago. The recorded was eventually bought and reissued on CD by John Tefteller.

In 2007 John Tefteller issued what is apparently the only known copy of Blind Willie McTell & Mary Willis' "Talkin' To You Wimmen' About The Blues." The track and it's flip side, "Merciful Blues", was issued on the CD that accompanies Tefteller's 2008 blues artwork calendar. To quote Tefteller: "the record…apparently has not been heard by anyone since its release back in the late fall of 1931. I have had this record in my collection for almost ten years. I had no idea that it was potentially a one-of-a-kind record! …Late last year, legendary Blues reissue producer Larry Cohn called me about his upcoming Blind Willie McTell box set. He told me he would like to borrow certain records from my collection …I sent him a list of what I had. To my amazement, he called immediately with the comment, "I've never heard the Mary Willis record!" Apparently, there is no master in the Columbia vaults. Cohn is aware of no other copy of the record anywhere. Finding this hard to believe, I started calling "all the usual suspects" and sure enough, none of them had the record or had ever heard it."

-John Tefteller Interview/Feature (edited, 53 min, MP3)

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Henry ThomasRun, Mollie, RunTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasOld Country StompTexas Worried Blues
Gus Cannon My Money Never Runs OutGood for What Ails You
William Moore Ragtime MillionaireBroadcasting The Blues
Luke Jordan Pick Poor Robin CleanBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Texas Alexander Levee Camp MoanBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Andrew & Jim Baxter Bamalong BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Bogus Ben Covington Adam And Eve In The GardenAlabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924 - 1949
Frank Stokes Chicken You Can Roost Behind The MoonBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Frank Stokes I Got MineThe Best of Frank Stokes
Peg Leg Howell Beaver Slide RagViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Henry Williams & Eddie Anthony Georgia CrawlFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Daddy Stovepipe & Mississippi Sarah The SpasmGood For What Ails You
Bo Chatman Good Old Turnip Greens Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Beans Hambone & El Morrow BeansGood For What Ails You
Cannon's Jug Stompers Feather BedBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Jim Jackson I Heard the Voice of a PorkchopGood For What Ails You
Jim Jackson Bye, Bye, PolicemanGood For What Ails You
Richard ''Rabbit'' Brown Never Let The Same Bee Sting You TwiceNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Papa Harvey Hull Hey! Lawdy Mama -The France BluesNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Pink Anderson & Simmie Dooley Gonna Tip Out, TonightGood For What Ails You
Mississippi John Hurt Stack O'Lee Blues Avalon Blues - 1928 Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Spike Driver’s BluesAvalon Blues - 1928 Recordings
Furry Lewis Kassie JonesBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Joe Evans & Arthur McClain John HenryBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Alec Johnson Next Week SometimeMississippi Strings Bands & Associates
Hambone Willie Newbern Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Stovepipe #1 & David Crockett A Chicken Can Waltz the Gravy AroundGood For What Ails You
Crying Sam Collins Lonesome Road BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Charlie Patton Elder GreenScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Mississippi Sheiks He’s In The Jailhouse Now Mississippi Sheiks Vol. 2 1930-1931
Blind Blake Champaign Charlie Is My Name The Best of Blind Blake
Hezekiah Jenkins Shout, You CatsGood For What Ails You

Show Notes:

This show originally aired 11/7/10

The blues emerged around  1900, rapidly became very popular and was widespread by the teens. When recording started, there were still musicians around who performed material from the older traditions – men generally called songsters. Originally a 'songster' was a songbook but the term was adapted by African-Americans to mean a singer, as Howard Odum noted in  1911: "In general 'songster' is used to denote any Negro who regularly sings or makes songs: 'musicianer' applies often to the individual who claims to be expert with the banjo or fiddle." In the 1920's and 30's when black music first came on record blues scholar Paul Oliver noted that "for a dozen years a remarkable documentation of black vocal traditions was purchasable on commercial releases. …The diversity of singers, entertainers, jazz bands, preachers and other black artists represented on these records was remarkable.” Prior to the blues, reaching back to the nineteenth century there was a variety of black music before it got on record; there was ragtime, black vaudeville, minstrels, coon songs, work songs, dance tunes, medicine show entertainers, sheet music that found its way into black music and emphasis on banjo and fiddle music among other types. Songs were spread by traveling songsters, black road troupes, minstrel shows, tent shows and medicine shows. Although this music was not captured on record when it was in vogue many of these forms found their way onto records when blues was being recorded. Older musicians, born in the 1860's through the 1880's, learned early forms of black music that they brought to their records when they had the opportunity to record in the 20's and 30's. Some of it was shaped to fit the blues, the popular music of the day, while other songs remain more or less intact as performed by blacks decades prior. This was the  music of men like Henry Thomas, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, Daddy Stovepipe, Papa Charlie Jackson, the music of the jug and string bands and the music of the songsters and ballad singers. The records these men, and to a lesser extent women, recorded gives us a fascinating glimpse of the era before the rise of the blues. These older styles didn't disappear but remained parallel to the blues. An example of this is that as late as the mid-1910s the term "up-to-date coon shouter" was routinely applied to the likes of Clara Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith; but around 1916 they were redefined as "blues singers." Eventually these older styles were eclipsed by the popularity of blues although these older styles were still being performed in black communities into the 60's, 70's and beyond.

I've long been fascinated by this, for lack of a better term, pre-blues material and today's program will be the first installment of a multi-part feature. I'm far from an expert on the black musical styles before the blues but luckily I was able to draw on some excellent books, several of which have been published in recent years. In addition to these books, I finally got around to reading Paul Oliver's excellent Songsters And Saints published in 1984 and a valuable resource for today's program. Since then several superb books have been published; Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, "Coon Songs", and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz, Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 and Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America, 1850-1920. In addition there are several fine anthologies of pre-blues recordings. Among those featured today are Before The Blues Vol. 1-3 on Yazoo, Document's 3-CD set Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice: Blues, Ballads, Rags And Gospel In The Songster Tradition plus several on Old Hat including the 2-CD Good For What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-1937, Folks He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!: Vintage Fiddle Music 1927-1935 and Violin, Sing The Blues For Me: African-American Fiddlers, 1926-1949. Below is some background on some today's artists and songs.

Henry Thomas, billed as "Ragtime Texas", was born in Big Sandy, Texas in 1874, and began his musical career as an itinerant songster, and recorded twenty-three songs from 1927 to 1929. He accompanied himself with the guitar and the quills, a folk instrument made from cane reeds. “Flailing his guitar”, Tony Russell writes, “in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpies, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend.” The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 to 1929 provides, Russell notes, “a wholly absorbing picture of black-country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues.” Thomas embodied the term songster, cutting blues, rags, country stomps, refashioned coon songs and square dance numbers. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him from a former railroad conductor, “Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I’d always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was a regular hobo, but I’d carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket.”

The song "Pick Poor Robin Clean" has shadowy origins but it likely dates to the turn of the century. The song was picked up by songster Luke Jordan who recorded the number in 1927. The song was also recorded by Elvie Thomas & Geechie Wiley in 1931. Jordan was born January 28, 1892 , possibly either Appomattox or Campbell county, Virginia he died June 25, 1952, Lynchburg, Virginia. The blues scene in pre-war Virginia was poorly documented at the time and few of its members managed to record. Post-war research by Bruce Bastin reveals that Jordan was a key figure in the blues enclave centered around Lynchburg. Victor Records discovered him in 1927 and he recorded for them in Charlotte, North Carolina, in August of that year. Jordan's records sold well enough to justify transporting him to New York for a further two sessions in November 1929.

Frank Stokes and partner Dan Sane recorded as The Beale Street Shieks, 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 while “Chicken You Can Roost Behind The Moon” has its roots in a song published in 1899. “Chicken” was a Coon song, a genre of music popular primarily in the 1880’s and 1890’s, that presented a racist and stereotyped image of blacks that were sung by both whites and blacks.

”My Money Never Runs Out” also 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. ”My Money Never Runs Out” was advertised, with a short extract on the back cover by another piece by Irving Jones called “Ragtime Millionaire.” The song may be one of the earliest to make reference to the blues. We hear the song today as recorded by William Moore who recorded the number for Paramount in 1928. A resident of Tappahannock, Virginia, Moore recorded sixteen sides for Paramount in 1928.

Peg Leg Howell was born in 1888, arrived in Atlanta in 1923 and was recorded by Columbia in November 1926. The first session featured Howell solo and are certainly appealing but it’s the rough, exciting stringband music he recorded with His Gang that really grabs attention. The gang consisted of Henry Williams on guitar and the infectious alley fiddle of Eddie Anthony. Williams and Anthony recorded together without Howell on “Georgia Crawl” b/w “Lonesome Blues” on April 19, 1928. Unfortunately the trio only made a handful of recordings as Williams apparently died in jail in January 1930 while serving time for vagrancy and Anthony passed in 1934, after which Howell gave up music. Many of Howell’s blues verses date to shortly after the turn of the century. “Georgia Crawl” may be related to a song published in 1913 as the 'Georgia Grind", a later done by pianist Jimmy Blythe with the song picked up by several bands and singers including Duke Ellington's Washingtonians and Louis Armstrong. It's impossible to say where the duo picked up the tune.

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. Anderson was born in South Carolina and toured throughout the Southeast with a variety of medicine shows during 1915-1945, picking up work wherever he could. 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. From the notes to the compilation Good For What Ails You, Marshall Wyatt gives us some background on the medicine show: " Medicine shows flourished in the years following the Civil War when America's patent medicine industry was booming, and governmental regulations were few. Often called "med shows" for short, or simply "doctor shows," they were also extolled as "psysic operas" and their route was known as the "kerosene circuit" for the fuel that illuminated their stages at night. Whatever the name, music was always a crucial ingredient. Onstage, musicians served up a variety of 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 as jazz and blues, were added to the mix. …Such noted bluesmen as Sleepy John Estes, Sonny Terry, and Big Joe Williams spent time with the med shows, as did a whole constellation of Memphis singers and jug-band musicians, including Will Shade, Jim Jackson, and Frank Stokes.

Born in the 1880’s, Jim Jackson was an experienced medicine show performer and occasional street singer. The Mississippi born Jackson had one of the biggest blues hits of the 20’s with his “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues.”  His recordings represent one of the richest veins of pre-blues music to be issued on record. Among these are songs like “I’m A  Bad Bad Man” which draws on a composition from 1894 and “I’m Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own” which dates to 1901. Barrelhouse pianist Speckled Red shared the stage with Jim Jackson in 1928 while touring through Mississippi and Alabama with the Red Rose Minstrels & Medicine Show. Red remembered Jackson as "a big fat feller, weighed about 235 pounds. Tall, stately feller too, and he danced, sang, played git-tar, cracked jokes." Jackson's long career with traveling shows began in 1905, and much of his repertoire was rooted in the 19th century. "Bye, Bye Policeman" quotes the chorus of Ernest Hogan's "La Pas Ma La", published in 1895.

Born circa 1880, Richard "Rabbit"  Brown spent much of his life in New Orleans where he was reported to have worked as a street singer and singing boatman on Lake Ponchartrain.  Our selection, “Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice” was based on a song published in 1900. On March 11, 1927, Brown cut six sides for the recording pioneer Ralph Peer. Brown was a very much the songster and his recordings are an interesting mix of original blues, pop covers and "event" songs like his "Sinking Of The Titanic."

Born in Teoc, Mississippi in 1893, John Hurt moved to the town if Avalon at the age of two which remained his home for the rest of his life. Hurt cut two sessions in 1928 for the Okeh label and would not record again until 1963. Hurt’s repertoire includes blues from when he was growing up as well as ballads like “Stack O’ Lee” and  “Spike Driver Blues”, which references John Henry, and “Louis Collins” and “Frankie.”

Furry Lewis was a Memphis singer who was born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1893. He joined Jim Jackson on a medicine show as early as 1906 and worked such shows regularly for the next fifteen years. Prior to honing his musical skills he worked the shows as a comedian, sold corn medicine and liniment oils, or did vaudeville sketches, often in blackface. In 1927, Lewis made two trips to Chicago alongside his old friend Jim Jackson, with the purpose of cutting records for Vocalion. The sessions produced five sides in April and another six later in October of that year. Over the next two years, a total of 23 sides in all were recorded by Lewis for both the Vocalion and Victor labels.

Johnny Watson, alias Daddy Stovepipe was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 12th 1867 and died in Chicago, November 1st 1963. A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, he was in his late fifties when he became one of the first blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. He later recorded with his wife, Mississippi Sarah, in the 1930s and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings.

Daddy Stovepipe, Gennett Records Studio, 1924
Photograph From Talking Machine World

Hambone Willie Newbern had just one session, in Atlanta in 1929, at which he immortalized himself by making the first recording of "Roll And Tumble Blues". He was born about 1899, so John Estes, to whom Newbern gave some guitar tips believed. They met in Mississippi, working on medicine shows, and songs like "She Could Toodle.Oo", "Way Down In Arkansas" and "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)" come from that background. Newbern was also capable of writing very personal blues like "Dreamy·Eyed Woman", and "Shelby County Workhouse Blues."

Crying Sam Collins was born in 1887, his stomping ground the Mississippi-Louisiana border region with a style similar to King Solomon Hill and Ramblin Thomas who were from the same region. Collins’ music draws from the era of minstrel and medicine show tradition reflected in songs like ‘Yellow Dog Blues”, “Salty Dog”, “Hesitation Blue’ and the first recorded version of “The Midnight Special.” His masterpieces, “Lonesome Road Blues” was a version of “In The Pines” which dates back to the 1870’s, and “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” which is a version of ”Long Gone.”

Born in 1891, Charlie Patton was older than the other Delta musicians who recorded during the golden age of the 1920s and 1930s, and he seems to have developed many of the themes that are now considered basic to the Delta blues repertoire. Remembered by history as a blues musician, Patton had grown up in the pre-blues era, and he played the full range of music required of a popular rural entertainer. Even though his recording career was sparked by the blues craze, only about half of his roughly fifty records can reasonably be considered part of that then-modern genre. The others are a mix of gospel and pre-blues music like “Runnin’ Wild Blues”, "Elder Greene" and “Prayer Of Death.”

Alec Johnson and Ben Covington were two other artists who's repertoire drew on a pre-blues song book. While nothing is know of Johnson’s background, the six sides he cut in 1928 strongly reflect the minstrel and coons songs just before the turn of the century; songs like “Next Week Sometime” which was published in 1905 while “Mysterious Coon” harks back to an even earlier period. Covington worked in minstrel shows and earned his name for pretending to be blind to help him earn extra money. According to bluesman Big Joe Williams, Covington toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, as well as various medicine shows and carnivals, and even worked as a sideshow attraction known as "The Human Pretzel." He recorded about a dozen sides between 1928 and 1932,  playing harmonica, banjo and mandolin.

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
J.T. Smith Howling Wolf Blues No. 1 The Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
J.T. Smith County Jail BluesThe Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
J.T. Smith Honey Blues The Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Texas AlexanderDeep Blue Sea BluesTexas Alexander Vol. 1927-1928
Texas AlexanderThe Risin' SunTexas Alexander Vol. 1927-1928
Texas AlexanderSabine River Blues Texas Alexander Vol. 1927-1928
Henry ThomasTexas Worried Blues Texas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasCottonfield BluesTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasRailroadin' SomeTexas Worried Blues
Gene Campbell Somebody's Been Playin' PapaGene Campbell 1929-1931
Gene Campbell Robbin' and Stealin' BluesGene Campbell 1929-1931
Gene Campbell Overalls Papa BluesGene Campbell 1929-1931
Blind Lemon JeffersonOne Dime BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonMatch Box BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonThat Crawlin' Baby Blues The Best Of
J.T. SmithSeven Sisters Blues Part 1The Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
J.T. SmithFool's BluesJ. T. ''Funny Paper'' Smith 1930-1931
J.T. SmithHoppin' Toad FrogThe Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Texas Alexander Boe Hog BluesTexas Alexander Vol. 1927-1928
Texas Alexander Johnny Behren's BluesTexas Alexander Vol. 2 1928-1930
Texas Alexander Seen Better Days Texas Alexander Vol. 2 1928-1930
Henry ThomasWoodhouse BluesTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasDon't Ease Me InTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasBull Doze BluesTexas Worried Blues
Gene Campbell "Toby'' Woman BluesToo Late Too Late Vol. 2
Gene Campbell Face to Face Blues Gene Campbell 1929-1931
Gene Campbell Wedding Day Blues Gene Campbell 1929-1931
Blind Lemon Jefferson'Lectric Chair BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonSee That My Grave Is Kept CleanThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonRambler BluesThe Best Of
Henry Thomas Bob McKinneyTexas Worried Blues
Texas AlexanderTell Me Woman Blues Texas Alexander Vol. 2 1928-1930
Blind Lemon JeffersonLong Lonesome BluesThe Best Of

Show Notes:

To quote Tony Russell from the Penguin Guide To Blues: "All the companies involved in the blues business in the '20s and '30s made frequent recording trips to Dallas and San Antonio, and the music they collected and issued is a rich, colorful mixture of theatre and club artists, street singers and pianists circuit-riding the logging camps." In the 1920's Dallas became a recording center primarily because it is a geographical hub. The major race labels, those catering to a black audience, held regular sessions in Dallas. Okeh, Vocalion, Brunswick Columbia, RCA, and Paramount sent scouts and engineers to record local artists once or twice a year. Quite a number of sessions were also recorded in San Antonio with a few others cut in Fort Worth. Today we spotlight five of those artists: J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith, Texas Alexander, Henry Thomas, Gene Campbell and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

As Stephen Calt And Woody Man wrote in the notes to Funny Papa Smith: The Original Howling Wolf 1930-1931: "J.T. Smith ranks among the most significant Texas blues guitarists of the Twenties, along with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Little Hat Jones. His works are decidedly less offbeat than those of of the latter musicians; instead, they are practically definitive of what is known as Texas blues-playing. although Smith himself lived in Oklahoma at the time of his recording sessions. What little is known of him points up the possibility that he a pioneer of this very style, for he is believed to have been born more than a decade before the turn of the century. …Smith's lyrics were no less extraordinary than the variety of his blues-playing, and he remains one of the few recorded bluesman who could not only claim originality for his efforts but who made a real art of blues composition.

Smith was a minstrel who wandered about the panhandle region, performing at fairs, fish fries, dances and other community events (often in the company of figures including Tom Shaw, Texas Alexander and Bernice Edwards). Any lasting recognition Smith might have earned from a wide blues audience was undercut by a Depression recording debut and a recording career that  was short-circuited after the artist (an avid gambler) murdered a man in a gambling fracas. Between 1930 and 1931 he had recorded some twenty issued sides, more than any Texas artist of the period besides the even more obscure Gene Campbell. Evidently Smith's commercial billing as "Funny Paper Smith" was a gaffe on the part of record company officials. When Texas bluesman Tom Shaw met in Wickoffs, Oklahoma – a small town in the southwest corner of the state, between Grandfield and Frederick – te name "Funny Papa Smith"  was plainly stitched on his stovepipe hat and the work-overalls he customarily wore as the overseer of a local plantation. He was better known simply as Howling Wolf", the title of his debut recording. "That;s the one that made him famous," Shaw says of the song, which Smith recorded in two two-part versions.

…Shaw dates the killing episode to the latter part of 1930, but it more likely occurred the following year, as the first phase of Smith's recording career continued until the spring of 1931. In 1935 he recorded some eighteen sides (including Life In Prison Blues) but none of the works were released. A Fort Worth bluesman known as "Little Brother" who accompianed him on that date afterwards did a postwar version of Howling Wolf as Willie Lane." It's though smith passed away in 1940.

Texas Alexander was a Texan through and through, born in Jewett, Texas in 1900, passing in 1954 in Richards some seventy miles south (both towns lie about halfway between Dallas and Houston) and who was vividly remembered by fellow Texas bluesmen such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Lowell Fulson, Buster Pickens and Frankie Lee Sims. Alexander didn't play an instrument, although he did carry a guitar around in case their was a guitarist around who could accompany him when he sang on city streets or bars. Alexander's songs had a distinctly rural, southern viewpoint as evidenced in song titles such as "Corn-Bread Blues", "Levee Camp Moan Blues", "Farm Hand Blues", "Bantam Rooster Blues", "Bell Cow Blues", "Work Ox Blues", "Rolling Mill Blues" and "Prairie Dog Hole Blues" among others. "To the renters and 'croppers", Oliver wrote, "who had left the farms and bottom land plantations for the city, the voices of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Rambling Thomas or Texas Alexander were singing for them, sharing their own experiences and predicament. Crowds would cluster round them on Central Tracks and the coins would clatter-nickels and dimes-in their hats and tin cups." Alexander's lyrics are consistently interesting, often drawing on traditional motifs but stamped forcefully with his own personality, many of which finding their way into common blues parlance. Throughout his songs there is a frankness about sexuality that goes beyond the stock double entendre as well as strong anti-religious streak.Alexander was popular and prolific, cutting sixty-four issued sides between 1927 and 1934, first for Okeh and then for Vocalion. He had he good fortune to work with superb accompanists such as guitarists Little Hat Jones, Lonnie Johnson, Eddie Lang, Carl Davis, Willie Reed to the string band blues of the Mississippi Sheiks and the jazz bands of King Oliver and the mysterious His Sax Black Tams. Alexander didn't fare well in the post-war era; he was supposedly passed over by an Aladdin talent scout in favor of his then partner Lightnin' Hopkins (a demo tape was purportedly made) and made one final, rather unsatisfactory record for the Freedom label in 1950 before passing in 1954.

Alexander made his greatest records in the company of Lonnie Johnson at six sessions cut for Okeh between August 1927 and November 1928 at recording dates in San Antonio and New York City. Alexander's erratic sense of timing made him a challenge to work with as Lonnie Johnson related to Paul Oliver: "He was a very difficult singer to accompany; he was liable to jump a bar, or five bars, or anything. You just had to be a fast thinker to play for Texas Alexander. When you been out there with him you done nine days work in one! Believe me, brother, he was hard to play for."

All of Texas Alexander's recordings have been reissued on three volumes on the Matchbox label with good notes from Paul Oliver but rather uneven mastering. Unfortunately there is no single CD collection of Alexander's since Catfish's 98° Blues has been deleted. Also worth noting is the LP Texas Troublesome Blues on Agram which contains a very detailed booklet on Alexander's life and music. The Agram booklet written by Guido Van Rijn incorporated most of Lawrence Brown's 1981 research conducted with friends and relatives in Richards, Texas (Alexander's last residence 1951-54) which may be the only source where that information can found.

It was Mack McCormick who uncovered just about all we know about Henry Thomas which was published in the notes to Henry Thomas – "Ragtime Texas": Complete Recorded Works – 1927 to 1929 in Chronological Order on the Herwin label (read the entire notes below). McCormick's quest for information on Thomas began with an an encounter of a man he met in Houston in 1949 that he later became convinced was Henry Thomas. he even made a wire recording of the man which is now buried somewhere in McCormick's vast archive. As McCormick wrote: "As more of those old recordings came to light it became apparent that Henry Thomas was a singular and important figure. He left behind a total of 23 issued selections which represent one of the richest contributions to our musical culture. it"s goodtime music reaching out from another era: reels, anthems, stomps, gospel songs, dance calls, ballads, blues and fragments compressed in a blurring glimpse of black music as it existed in the last century. It's the songs that came out of the shifting days when freedmen and their children were remaking their lives in a hostile nation."Furthermore, "Ragtime Texas" was apparently the nickname by which he was known by other transients who rode the rails. McCormick explains, It's a hobo moniker. It isn't so much a musical designation as it is an assumed title of the same order as "Chicago Red" and "T-Bone Slim" and other such celebrities. It's a name to be written on water towers and box cars. Moreover it's a moniker remembered in parts of Oklahoma and Louisiana and Texas, but known best along a 150-mile strip of East Texas. This is the area he came from and it's here that fragments of his story have turned up."

Henry Thomas, nicknamed "Ragtime Texas", was born in 1874 in Big Sandy, Texas by most accounts, a town which lies roughly between Dallas and Shreveport. The 1874 date marks him as one of the eldest-born blues performers on record."Flailing his guitar", Tony Russell writes, "in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpies, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend." The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 to 1929 provides, Russell notes, "a wholly absorbing picture of black-country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues." Thomas embodied the term songster, cutting blues, rags, country stomps, refashioned coon songs and square dance numbers. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him from a former railroad conductor, "Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I'd always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was a regular hobo, but I'd carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket." Speaking of his famous "Railroadin' Some", William Barlow calls it the most "vivid and intense recollection of railroading" in all the early blues recorded in the 1920's. As for his guitar, Stephen Calt ranked his work "with the finest dance blues ever recorded…its intricate simultaneous treble picking and drone bass would have posed a challenge to any blues guitarist of any era." The pan pipes also linked him to an earlier era and are most evocative in perhaps his best-known composition, "Bull Doze Blues", a song reworked by Canned Heat as "Going Up The Country", some 40 years after the original. After making his final recordings in Chicago in 1929, Henry Thomas disappeared completely from sight. Befitting his near-mythic stature some reports claim to have seen him perform as late as the mid-1950's on Texas street corners. It is believed that he most likely passed away sometime during this period. All of Thomas' recordings can be found on Texas Worried Blues on Yazoo and Henry Thomas ('Ragtime Texas') 1927-1929 on Document with little difference in sound quality although the Yazoo features detailed notes by Stephen Calt.


The following was extracted from Paul Swinton's A Twist Of  Lemon in issue 121 of Blues & Rhythm magazine (read the entire article below): "Although he was not the first male country blues singer/guitarist to record, Blind Lemon Jefferson was the first to succeed commercially and his success influenced previously reluctant record companies to actively seek out and record male country blues players in the hope of finding a similar talent. Throughout the’20s Lemon spearheaded a boom in ‘race’ record sales that featured male down-home blues singers and such was the appeal of his recordings that in turn they were responsible for inspiring a whole new generation of blues singers." Jefferson was the most heavily advertised blues artist, just behind Lonnie Johnson and Bessie Smith, with forty-four ads appearing in the Chicago Defender between 1926 and 1930.During the course of his career recorded 110 sides including alternate takes.

Jefferson was still a teenager when he moved into Dallas. The black community in Dallas were settled in an area covering approximately six blocks around Central Avenue up to Elm Street, the centre of which was Deep Ellum, a bustling thoroughfare full of bars, clubs and brothels. In its heyday, guitarists like Little Hat Jones and Funny Papa Smith were among the numerous blues artists seen on these streets. …Jefferson continued to travel far and wide, followed the cotton crops and visited most of the major cities in the South. …Occasionally he would have a young man to ‘lead’ for him (both the young Josh White and Aaron ‘T Bone’ Walker were both employed in this capacity at one time) and as he moved from state to state, he would occasionally hitch up with other musicians.

By 1925 Paramount Records was doing good business with its ‘race’ series. It mainly consisted of big-selling female vaudeville blues singers like Ida Cox and Ma Rainey, banjo player ‘Papa’ Charlie Jackson and various Jazz outfits. They had managed to set up some unique distribution arrangements, being the first company to instigate a mail order service and also to secure major southern wholesalers for their ‘race’ records. The majority of their affairs were handled in either Port Washington, Wisconsin, by Art Liably, whose official title was ‘recording director’, but who mainly took charge of sales, or in Chicago by Mayo Williams (the first ever coloured executive in a white recording company), who had control of Artists & Repertoire. Liably had secured a deal with Dallas record store manager R. T. Ashford to sell Paramount records. Soon after, either Ashford or possibly pianist Sam Price (who at this time was working as a salesman under Ashford), contacted Liably with the suggestion that they record a local celebrity. In due course Jefferson was bought to the studio in Chicago and one of the most successful recording careers of the pre-war era began. Jefferson’s first release, ‘Booster Blues’ & ‘Dry Southern Blues’, came out in or around March 1926. It captured the imagination of black record buyers and became a massive hit. …Throughout 1926 there was a constant supply of new releases from Jefferson, ‘Black Horse Blues’, ‘Jack O’ Diamond Blues’ and ‘That Black Snake Moan’ were among these classic numbers. At times there was a near perfect harmonic and rhythmic counterpoint between voice and guitar and after the delivery of each line, instead of a repetitive fill, Jefferson produced a staggering array of original licks and single string runs. …So popular were Jefferson’s releases, that on more than one occasion the masters that pressed a particular 78 became so overused and worn out that Jefferson would have to return to the studio to re-make the title.

The continuing successful sales of Jefferson’s records and the resulting increase in his fame would seem to have guaranteed large attendances for the personal appearances that he made throughout the country and especially in his home state. …Although Jefferson is said to have remained a resident of Dallas, Texas, he traveled north on so many occasions, it is not surprising that current research by Chris Henderson suggests that Jefferson spent some time resident in South Calumet Avenue, on Chicago’s South Side12 and a recent interview with the son of Paramount founder/ president Otto Moeser revealed that BLJ would stay at the Moeser residence on Grand Avenue, Port Washington, Wisconsin. In the last year of his life Jefferson was as popular as ever and still traveling extensively." Lemon's last recording session was on Tuesday 24th September 1929. Swinton notes that drawing from various sources, "it seems reasonable to conclude that BLJ probably died of a heart attack on or around the 18/19th December 1929. …After BLJ’s death, none of the northern newspapers printed the news of his demise, in fact for a couple of months, Paramount continued to issue records and accompanying advertisements as if nothing had happened."

Virtually nothing is known about vocalist-guitarist Gene Campbell other than the fact he recorded 24 solo selections (two songs are lost). Campbell recorded on five sessions in Dallas and Chicago within a 14-month period between 1929 and 1931. What happened to him after the final Jan. 23, 1931 record date is not known. Tony Russell wrote the following about Campbell: " Many echoes in his vocal and instrumental phrasing and tone reveal Campbell as a student of the work of Lonnie Johnson – not only Johnson's own records but also his accompanists to Texas Alexander ….There are also fleeting similarities in Campbell's guitar playing to that of Little Hat Jones and, in 'Robbin' and Stealin' Blues', Carl Davis. …There is something striking about his work -and in this respect it is impossible not to be reminded of J.T. Smith, a contemporary and fellow Texan who recorded for the same company – namely, his literacy and his ability to stay focused on the subject of the subject of a song and not fall back on formulaic verses."

-A Twist Of  Lemon by Paul Swinton,  Blues & Rhythm No. 121 (PDF)

-Henry Thomas – "Ragtime Texas": Complete Recorded Works notes by Mack McCormick (PDF)
(you may have to magnify and rotate to read this but it's well worth the effort)

Share

« Previous PageNext Page »