Sun 15 Dec 2013
|Hersal Thomas||Hersal Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929|
|Sippie Wallace||Murder's Gonna be My Crime||The Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929|
|Hociel Thomas||Worried Down With The Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929|
|George Thomas||Fast Stuff Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929|
|Moanin' Bernice Edwards||Long Tall Mama||The Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929|
|Bernice Edwards, Black Boy Shine & Howling Smith||Hot Mattress Stomp||The Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937|
|Bert Mays||Michigan River Blues||Down In Black Bottom|
|Bert Mays||You Can't Come In||Down In Black Bottom|
|Fred Adams & Bilikin Johnson||Frisco Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 15: Dallas 1927-1929|
|Texas Bill Day & Bilikin Johnson||Elm Street Blues||Dallas Alley Drag|
|Texas Bill Day||Good Morning Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 15: Dallas 1927-1929
|Hattie Hudson||Doggone My Good Luck Soul||Dallas Alley Drag|
|Jack Ranger||TP Window Blues||Dallas Alley Drag|
|Jack Ranger||Thieving Blues||Dallas Alley Drag|
|Bessie Tucker||The Katy||Dallas Alley Drag|
|Bessie Tucker||Penitentiary||I Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1|
|Ida May Mack||Elm Street Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 15: Dallas 1927-1929|
|Ida May Mack||Goodbye Rider||Barrelhouse Mamas|
|Whistlin Moore Alex||Heart Wrecked Blues||Dallas Alley Drag|
|Whistlin Moore Alex||Blue Bloomer Blues||Dallas Alley Drag|
|Whistlin Moore Alex||Ice Pick Blues||Dallas Alley Drag|
|Black Ivory King||The Flying Crow||Black Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937|
|Duskey Dailey||The Flying Crow||The Piano Blues Vol. 10: Territory Blues 1934-1941|
|Frank Tannehill||Rolling Stone Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 10: Territory Blues 1934-1941|
|Black Boy Shine||Dog House Blues||Black Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937|
|Black Boy Shine||Ice Pick And Pistol Woman Blues||Black Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937|
|Black Boy Shine||Brown House Blues||Black Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937|
|Joe Pullum||Cows, See That Train Comin'||Joe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935|
|Joe Pullum||McKinney Street Stomp||Joe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935|
|Rob Cooper||West Dallas Drag||The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937|
|Joe Pullum||Hard-Working Man Blues||Joe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935|
|Joe Pullum||Dixie My Home||Joe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935|
Back when I started this show in 2007 one of the first programs I did was one devoted to the pre-war Texas piano tradition. My interest in this was sparked again recently when I was doing research and writing the notes for a reissue of pianist Buster Pickens long out-of-print album for the Document label (just reissued as Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions). Pickens was an active member of the 'Santa Fe group' of pianists, knew all players but unlike some of them did not get the opportunity to record until the post-war era. In our two-part feature on Texas piano I'll be spotlighting the tradition in more depth that I did the first time out, surveying both pre-war and post-war artists.
The Texas piano tradition flowered in the 1920’s and was at its peak during the 1930’s when a number of the tradition’s best players were recorded. Paul Oliver observed that “Texas was as rich in piano blues as Mississippi was in guitar blues” and “a cursory glance through the discographies will emphasize the fact that a remarkable number of blues pianists came from Texas." The pianists can be roughly grouped into schools; there was the remarkable Thomas family who made the bulk of their recordings between 1923 and 1928, one based around Dallas which included Whistlin Alex Moore, a regional style that developed around Shreveport and the so-called 'Santa Fe group' who were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie. Today’s show is part one of a two-part feature, spotlighting recordings made between 1925 and 1941.
As piano expert Francis Smith noted: “With the two major recording centers of New York and Chicago a thousand miles to the North, it was extremely fortunate that so many pianists of this important close knit Texas group were recorded—all three record companies of the time being involved.” The three companies were Columbia, Victor and Vocalion in addition to Bluebird and Okeh. These companies, either singularly or in various combinations, made field trips to Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio between 1927 and 1941.
The early Texas piano tradition was based around the remarkable Thomas family who made the bulk of their recordings between 1923 and 1928. The music sounds quite different from those who recorded in the 30's. As David Evans states: “It is likely that no family has contributed more personalities to blues history than the Thomas family of Houston, Texas, whose famous members included George W. Thomas, his sister Beulah “Sippie” Wallace, their brother Hersal Thomas, George’s daughter Hociel Thomas, and Moanin’ Bernice Edwards who was raised up in the family.”
Hersal, is described by Francis Smith: "That Hersal, the child prodigy, was a highly influential pianist among his peers there is no doubt; even though he left Houston in his very early 'teens he had established a reputation there which remains still in the folk memory."Hersal was busy between 1925 & 1926 cutting a dozen titles with Hociel, fifteen with Sippie and backing singers Lillian Mller and Sodarisa Miller. Hersal died tragically at the age of 16 in 1926 of food poisoning.
Hersal's older brother George also left behind a slim legacy; a few jazz titles with his Muscle Shoals Devils, some sides backing singer Tiny Franklin, a recording of "The Rocks" made in 1922 under the name Clay Custer and the coupling ""Don't Kill Him In Here" from 1929 and our selection “Fast Stuff Blues."
Moanin' Bernice Edwards possessed a beautiful, deep, lowdown voice and piano style that fell within the Santa Fe school of pianists. Edwards waxed twelve sides for Paramount in 1928 and six more for Vocalion in 1935.
Dallas was the home of a number of distinctive piano players and singers they accompanied. Among them were Texas Bill Day, Neal Roberts, Willie Tyson, Whistlin' Alex Moore and singer Billiken Johnson. The hub of the black community was an area known as Central Tracks, where honky-tonks 'saloons, beer-parlours and brothels were wedged between warehouses, furniture stores and places of entertainment like Ella B. Moore's Park Theatre, or Hattie Burleson's dance hall. In addition many railroads whose names are familiar to blues collectors had termini there. It's not surprising that the railroad figure prominently in the blues of Dallas.
Not much is known about several of the Dallas pianists. Pianist/singer Texas Bill Day cut six sides for Columbia. Tyson cut two solo piano numbers for Columbia in 1927 which went unissued. The next day he backed singer Hattie Hudson on “Black Hand Blues” and the classic “Doggone My Good Luck Soul.” Tyson also backed Gertrude Perkins, Bilikin Johnson and Lillian Glinn. Jack Ranger cut three songs for Okeh in Dallas in 1929. it's unknown if he accompanies himself on piano but he was a sensitive singer and songwriter.
Pianist K.D. Johnson became famous backing the outstanding Texas singers Bessie Tucker and Ida May Mack. Johnson backs them on their legendary session for Victor on August 29th and 30th 1928 in Memphis. He was remembered as '49' by Alex Moore and not only did Mack call him 'Mr. 49' during his solos, she even named a song after him called "Mr. Forty-Nine Blues."
The most famous of the Dallas pianists was Alex Moore. Of Moore, Paul Oliver wrote: "He is a true original, a folk blues singer of the city who can sit at the piano improvise endlessly piano themes and blues verses that are sometimes startling, sometimes comic, sometimes grim, and very often pure poetry." Moore began performing in the early '20s, playing clubs and parties around his hometown of Dallas. In 1929, he recorded his first sessions for Columbia Records and also accompanied several artists on record. Moore didn't record again until 1937, when he made a few records for Decca.
Around Shreveport another regional style flourished. Among the pianists who recorded from this region were Dave Alexander who recorded as Black Ivory King and Duskey Dailey. Both recorded in 1937 with Dailey cutting an additional session in 1939. Both men cut version of a regional railroad number called “The Flying Crow.”
Two pianists who fall outside the Texas piano schools are Bert Mays and Frank Tannehill. Mays recorded four titles for Paramount in Chicago in 1927. He cut a final ten sides in 1928 and 1929 for Vocalion although only two were released. Tannehill was born in Austin and made his debut backing Perry Dickson in 1932. Under his own name he recorded for Vocalion in Chicago in 1937, in 1938 for Bluebird in San Antonio and a final session in Dallas in 1941.
In part two of our feature we'll be going more in depth into the recordings of the Santa Fe group but we do feature a number of songs today by men associated with that group. ARC Records made field recordings in 1936 in San Antonio where they recorded Harold Holiday, known as Black Boy Shine. He was one of the acknowledged leaders among the Santa Fe group of pianists. He recorded more prolifically then the rest; cutting 18 issued sides in 1936 and 1937.
Among the best of the Santa Fe group were Andy Boy of Galveston and Rob Cooper of Houston. Andy Boy had a rough, expressive voice offset with his sprightly blues piano laced with ragtime flourishes. He waxed eight sides in 1937 under his own name as well as backing singer Joe Pullum on eleven sides in 1935 and the obscure Walter 'Cowboy' Washington.
Rob Cooper was an accomplished pianist with strong links to ragtime and stride piano. He also recorded behind the popular singer Joe Pullum on three sessions in 1934, 1935 and 1936. He recorded two version of “West Dallas Drag”, his version of the seminal, technically complex Santa Fe number “The Ma Grinder.”