1930’s Blues


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Hattie HartWon't You Be Kind to Me?Memphis Masters
Hattie HartYou Wouldn't, Would You. Papa?Memphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stomper s
Memphis Jug Band w/ Hattie HartMemphis Yo Yo BluesThe Best Of Memphis Jug Band
Memphis Jug Band K.C. MoanThe Best Of Memphis Jug Band
Memphis Jug Band Cocaine Habit Blues The Best Of Memphis Jug Band
Memphis Jug Band Fourth Street Mess Around Ruckus Juice & Chitlins Vol. 1
Memphis Jug Band w/ Memphis MinnieMeningitis Blues Memphis Shakedown
Sleepy John EstesThe Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly HairI Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
Sleepy John EstesDivin' Duck Blues I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
Sleepy John EstesMilk Cow Blues I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
Sleepy John EstesWatcha Doin'?I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
Frank StokesSouth Memphis Blues The Best of Frank Stokes
Frank StokesBunker Hill Blues Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Frank StokesRight Now BluesThe Best of Frank Stokes
Blind Clyde ChurchNumber Nine BluesPiano Blues Vol. 1 1927-1936
Blind Clyde ChurchPneumatic BluesPiano Blues Vol. 1 1927-1936
Cannon's Jug Stompers Ripley BluesThe Best of Cannon's Jug Stomp
Cannon's Jug Stompers Viola Lee Blues The Best of Cannon's Jug Stomp
Cannon's Jug Stompers Last Chance BluesThe Best of Cannon's Jug Stomp
Memphis Sanctified SingersHe Got Better Things For You How Can I Keep From Singing Vol. 1
Cannon's Jug Stompers Noah's BluesThe Best of Cannon's Jug Stomp
Cannon's Jug Stompers Going To GermanyThe Best of Cannon's Jug Stomp
Noah Lewis Devil in the WoodpileWhen The Sun Goes Down
Bessie TuckerKey to the Bushes BluesBessie Tucker 1928-1929
Bessie TuckerT.B. Moan Bessie Tucker 1928-1929
Shreveport Home WreckersHome Wreckin' BluesTexas Slide Guitars: Oscar Woods & Black Ace
Shreveport Home WreckersFence Breakin' BluesBottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-1937
Kokomo ArnoldPaddlin' Madeline Blues Kokomo Arnold Vol. 1 1930-1935
Bukka WhiteI Am in the Heavenly WayAmerican Primitive Vol. 1
Bukka WhiteThe Panama LimitedWhen The Sun Goes Down
Memphis Minnie & Kansas JoeI Never Told A Lie Four Women Blues
Memphis Minnie & Kansas JoeDon't Want No WomanFour Women Blues
Memphis Minnie & Kansas JoeGeorgia Skin Four Women Blues

Show Notes:

Victor CatalogToday's show is the fourth installment spotlighting great recording sessions. The first spotlighted two sessions conducted by the Victor label in New Orleans in 1936 and 1937, the second was conducted by Brunswick in Memphis in 1929 and 1930, the third was recordings Columbia made in December 1927 and December 1928 and the fourth spotlighted Victor in Memphis in 1928 .

To feed the demand for blues and gospel records the record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent, which included making trips down south with field recording units. As Robert Dixon and John Godrich wrote in the seminal Recording The Blues book: "Victor was the only company systematically to exploit the gold mine of black talent in and around Memphis."  Today we spotlight Victor in Memphis again, this time between Sept. and Nov. 1929 and May through June of 1930. In 1929 Victor recorded Hattie Hart, the Memphis Jug Band, Cannon's Jug Stompers, Noah Lewis, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Clyde Church, Frank Stokes, Memphis Sanctified Singers and Bessie Tucker. In 1930 they recorded several of the same artists in addition to the Shreveport Home Wreckers, Kokomo Arnold, Kaiser Clifton, Bukka White and Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe.

According to Recording The Blues: "The record industry as a whole had not been in too healthy a state during the early twenties. After the boom year of 1921, in which for the first time 100 million discs were sold, sales declined slowly but steadily. Eventually even Victor began to feel the squeeze – their sales fell from $51 million in 1921 to $44 million in 1923, and then dropped to $20 million in 1925. Something had to be done, and one obvious move was for Victor to begin large scale production of race records, and compete for a market that had been growing an an enormous rate during the period when overall sales had been falling." After a not too promising start, "…Victor hired Ralph Peer who had been largely responsible for building up Okeh's fine race and hillbilly catalogs. Peer realized that Victor was several years too late to be able to get a substantial share of the classic blues market and decided to concentrate his efforts on the country blues field." Victor begin going in the field in a big way in 1927 stopping in Atlanta, Memphis and New Orleans.

Jug bands are synonymous with Memphis and Victor recorded two of the greatest groups: Memphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stompers. The Memphis Victor CatalogJug Band first recorded for Victor in February 1927 and over the next four years recorded 57 sides. Hattie Hart had appeared on several of the Memphis Jug Band's discs in 1929 and 1930, singing the unforgettable "Memphis Yo Yo Blues", "Cocaine Habit Blues", "Oh Ambulance Man", "Papa's Got Your Bath Water On" and "Spider's Nest Blues." Her first recordings were made in Memphis for the Victor label in 1929. Three songs were recorded but only two were issued for her debut single. In 1934 she was recorded again in New York City in September of that year. She moved Chicago where in in 1938 she cut sides as Hattie Bolten.

In 1928 Ralph Peer, who had previously recorded the Memphis Jug Band, returned to Memphis looking for other jug bands to record. Charlie Williamson, the manager of the Palace Theater, recommended Gus Cannon. Gus called up Noah Lewis and Ashley Thompson and on Jan 30 1928 they recorded 4 sides in an old auditorium as Cannon's Jug Stompers. They recorded over two-dozen sides with the group through 1930 for Victor.

Noah Lewis was born in Henning, Tennessee, and raised in the vicinity of Ripley. He played in local string bands and brass bands, and began playing in the Ripley and Memphis areas with Gus Cannon. When jug bands became popular in the mid-1920's, he joined Cannon's Jug Stompers. He cut seven sides under his own name at sessions in 1929 and 1930. Recording as Noah Lewis' Jug Band, he was backed on two numbers by Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell with just Estes backing him on two other numbers cut a couple of days apart.

When the Victor recording company sent a field recording unit to Memphis in September 1929, Estes recorded several sides backed by the Three J's, with Jones playing piano instead of the jug. . He was invited to record again for Victor in May 1930. This session yielded the up-tempo "Milk Cow Blues," a tune Robert Johnson would later record as "Milkcow Calf Blues." In all the group cut fifteen sides, three were unissued, over the course of eight session in 1929 and 1930.

Frank Stokes was first recorded by Victor in 1927 with his "Downtown Blues" and "Bedtime Blues" selling well and when Victor returned to Memphis in August 1928 they recorded ten further selections. In 1929, Stokes and Sane recorded again for Paramount, resuming their 'Beale Street Sheiks' billing for a few cuts. In September, Stokes was back on Victor to make what were to be his last recordings, this time without Sane, but with Will Batts on fiddle.

catalog24Among the major artists recorded by Victor during these sessions were Bukka White, Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe and Kokomo Arnold. In 1930 Bukka White met furniture salesman Ralph Limbo, who was also a talent scout for Victor. White traveled to Memphis where he made his first recordings, singing a mixture of blues and gospel material under the name of Washington White. Victor only saw fit to release four of the 14 songs Bukka White recorded that day.

Memphis Minnie's 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 1930 Minnie recorded a pair of songs back by her friends, the Memphis Jug Band. She may also be on sides Jed Davenport and His Beale Street Jug Band cut that year.

Bukka White made his debut for Victor in 1930 and it may be Minnie's voice backing him on "I am In The Heavenly Way" b/ "Promise True And Grand."

Kokomo Arnold made his debut in 1930 although would not record again until he was in Chicago in 1934 where he recorded prolifically through 1938.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Elizabeth JohnsonEmpty Bed Blues Part 1Clarence Williams & The Blues Singers Vol. 1 1923-1928
Elizabeth JohnsonSobbin' Woman BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Elizabeth JohnsonBe My Kid Blues I Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
George ToreyLonesome Man Blues Memphis Blues 1927-1938
George ToreyMarried Woman BluesBlues Images Vol. 3
Frenchy's String Band Sunshine SpecialThe Frog Blues & Jazz Annual No. 1
Frenchy's String Band Texas and Pacific Blues How Low Can You Go: Anthology Of The String Bass
Edward ThompsonSeven Sister Blues A Richer Tradition
Edward ThompsonShowers Of Rain BluesThe Rise & Fall of Paramount Records Vol. 2 1928-1932
Edward ThompsonWest Virginia Blues The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records Vol. 2 1928-1932
Leola Manning Satan Is Busy In Knoxville Barrelhouse Mamas
Leola Manning The Blues Is All Wrong Favorite Country Blues Guitar: Piano Duets 1929-1937
Pigmeat TerryMoaning the Blues American Primitive Vol. II
Pigmeat TerryBlack Sheep BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Dan Stewart New Orleans BluesDown In Black Bottom
Lonnie ClarkDown In TennesseeDown In Black Bottom
Lonnie ClarkBroke Down engineDown In Black Bottom
Bobby GrantLonesome Atlanta BluesMississippi Moaners
Bobby GrantNappy Head BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Margaret ThorntonTexas Bound BluesBarrelhouse Mamas
Margaret ThorntonJockey BluesBarrelhouse Mamas
Blind Leroy GarnettLouisiana GlideMama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here
Blind Leroy GarnettChain 'em DownMama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here
Johnnie HeadFare Thee Well - Part IThe Rise & Fall of Paramount Records Vol. 2 1928-1932
Johnnie HeadFare Thee Well - Part IIThe Rise & Fall of Paramount Records Vol. 2 1928-1932
Hattie BurlesonJim NappyI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 2
Hattie BurlesonSadie's Servant Room BluesTerritory Singers Vol. 2
Hattie BurlesonBye Bye BabyI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 2
Marshall OwensTexas BluesBlues Images vol. 4
Marshall OwensTry Me One More TimeBlues Images vol. 4
Hattie Hudson Doggone My Good Luck Soul Dallas Alley Drag
Hattie Hudson Black Hand BluesI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Leola ManningThe Arcade Building Moan Rare Country Blues Vol. 1
Leola ManningLaying in the Graveyard Rare Country Blues Vol. 1

Show Notes:

Elizabeth Johnson - Empty Bed BluesAll the artists featured today recorded from one to eight titles and all left behind barley a trace of biographical information. We hear from several outstanding blues ladies including Elizabeth Johnson, Leola Manning, Margaret Thornton, Hattie Burleson, and Hattie Hudson. In addition we spotlight  several other excellent bands, singers, guitarists and pianists including George Torey, Frenchy's String Band, Edward Thompson, Pigmeat Terry, Lonnie Clark, Dan Stewart, Johnnie Head, Bobby Grant, Blind Leroy Garnett and Marshall Owens.

"Rainin' here, rainin' here, rainin' here, rainin' here, stormin' on the sea" sings Elizabeth Johnson in mesmerizing fashion on her masterpiece "Be My Kid Blues." Johnson is a mystery woman who cut four sides in 1928. “Be My Kid Blues b/w Sobbin’ Woman Blues” finds her backed by a unique band (listed as Her Turpentine Tree-O) that consisted of woodblocks, clarinet and guitar. She's backed by the great King Oliver on cornet on the two-part “Empty Bed Blues.”

An East Knoxville cafeteria worker and aspiring evangelist of 25, Leloa Manning was struggling with a troubled marriage when she recorded at the St. James Hotel in Knoxville, TN; once  on Aug. 28, 1929, and once on April 4, 1930. Six numbers were cut between the two sessions, all were issued. The first couple of sides she cut were religious songs, "He Cares For Me b/w He Fans Me", the latter sounding more like a blues number than a religious one. The previous year Frankie 'Half-Pint' Jaxon cut the risque "Fan It." When she returned to the studio she had a batch of utterly unique songs such as "Satan Is Busy In Knoxville" which seems about a real-life serial killer, "The Blues Is All Wrong" an up-tempo boogie-woogie piece, "Laying in the Graveyard" and the topical "The Arcade Building Moan" about a tragic fire that occurred in Knoxville just fifteen days prior:

It was on one Thursday morning, March the 20th day
I think it was about two a.m., I believe I can firmly say
The women and the children was screaming and crying
Not only that, they was slowly dying
Oh, listen, listen, how the bell did ring
When the Arcade Building burnt down.

Hattie Burleson recorded four tracks in Dallas, TX, for Brunswick Records in October 1928. Two years later she recorded three sides in Grafton, WI, for Paramount Records. Little else is known about her life, save that she lived in the famed Deep Ellum area of downtown Dallas, where she operated a dancehall for a time. Her song "Jim Nappy" became a favorite among the Santa Fe group of pianists. According to Paul Oliver it was about her real life lover who managed the traveling shows she put together.  Her "Sadie’s Servant Room Blues" is a rare protest song dealing with domestic service.

I receive my company in the rear
Still these folks don't want to see them here
Gonna change my mind, yes change my mind
Cause I keep the servant room blues all the time

Burleson was also responsible for discovering Lillian Glinn singing in a Dallas church and encouraged her to pursue a musical career. Pianist Willie 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 Marshall Owens - Try Me One More TimeLuck Soul" her only 78 cut for Columbia records.

Margaret Thornton cut one great 78 for Black Patti backed by great pianist Blind James Beck, "Texas Bound Blues b/w Jockey Blues." Beck also backed singer Mozelle Alderson.

Most of today's male blues guitarists are as mysterious as their female counterparts. George Torey, Johnnie Head, Bobby Grant, Frenchy's String Band, Dan Stewart, Lonnie Clark and Pigneat Terry left behind a sole 78. George Torey had only two titles released, both recorded at a session in Birmingham, Alabama on April 2, 1937.  The two tracks, "Married Woman Blues" and "Lonesome Man Blues" were included on an early Yazoo anthology, Ten Years in Memphis. There is no other evidence that Torey was from Memphis, and none of the Memphis musicians questioned about him in the late '60s and '70s could remember him. One other song from the session, "Delta Blues" was unissued and may hint at his origins.

Johnnie Head cut one 78 for Paramount in 1928, the two-part "Fare Thee Well."

Bobby Grant was  recorded early in 1927 and whose driving slide guitar showpieces "Nappy Head Blues" and "Lonesome Atlanta Blues" denote a possible Mississippi background. I first heard him on the Yazoo compilation Mississippi Moaners.

Frenchy's String Band cut "Sunshine Special b/w Texas And Pacific Blues" in 1928. Polite "Frenchy" Christian was one of the New Orleans jazzmen who ventured westward in the 1920's, settling in Dallas. With a line-up here consisting of cornet, banjo, guitar and bowed bass, "Texas and Pacific Blues" gives an inkling of music played around New Orleans when a string band line up was used.

Pigmeat Terry only cut one 78, for Decca "Black Sheep Blues b/w Moaning The Blues" in 1935 and possessed a high, whispery, moaning voice, a bit reminiscent of the popular Joe Pullum who made his debut the prior year.

My mother's gone to glory, my father's dyin' of drinkin' in his sin (2x)
My sister won't notice me, she's too proud to take me in
I'm a black sheep in my family and how they dog me around (2x)
Someday I'll get lucky and won't be found around

Edward Thompson was a native of Alabama, and he may have known and played with Ed Bell and Pillie Bolling at some point in his life. He traveled to New York City in 1929 and cut six songs in one session. All of these were issued over three records. The recordings were mastered by Gennett, and either sold or leased to Paramount. This recording had Thompson billed as "Tenderfoot Edwards". Nothing else about him is known.

Marshall Owens cut  two 78 s 'for Paramount in 1932, "Texas Blues b/w Try Me One More Time" and one 78 which has never been found, "Texas Blues – Part II b/w Seventh St. Alley Strut."

Dan Stewart cut only one side of a 78 for Brunswick in 1929. The flipside was Jim Clarke's “Fat Fanny Stomp.”

Lonnie Clark only left behind two recordings that were made in 1929 for Paramount, "Down In Tennessee b/w Broke Down Engine." Bob Hall wrote of him "his heavy expressive voice on "Broke Down Engine" is accompanied by a rocking two-handed chorded piano played in a rather primitive style and nicely offset by a neat mandolin obbligato."

Leroy Garnett's recorded legacy only consisted of two sides, "Louisiana Glide b/w Chain 'Em Down", waxed in 1929 for Paramount. He is believed to have been from Fort Worth, TX. He also recorded behind singer James 'Boodle It' Wiggins. As Bob Hall and Richard Noblett wrote: "Garnett's two solos reveal his as a pianist of considerable technique. 'Chain 'Em Down', a superb barrelhouse piece has echoes of the Alabama pianist Cow Cow Davenport …'Louisiana Glide' has strong ragtime influence and the air of a set composition rather than an improvised performance"

 

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Interview Pt. 1Jeff Place
Leadbelly Black GirlThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly Been So Long (Bellevue Hospital Blues) The Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 2Jeff Place
Leadbelly Irene (Goodnight Irene)The Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly CottonfieldsThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 3Jeff Place
Leadbelly Fannin StreetThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 4Jeff Pace
Leadbelly Noted RiderThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 5Jeff Place
Leadbelly Silver City BoundThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly One Dime BluesThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly & The Golden Gate Quartet Alabama BoundAlabama Bound
Interview Pt. 6Jeff Place
LeadbellyWNYC- Folk Songs of America ProgramThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 7Jeff Pace
LeadbellyRock Island LineThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
LeadbellyShorty GeorgeLeadbelly: The Remaining LOCR Vol. 3 1935
Interview Pt. 8Jeff Place
Leadbelly The TitanicThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly Jim Crow BluesThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly The Bourgeois BluesThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 9Jeff Place
Leadbelly & Josh WhiteMother's Blues (Little Children Blues)Leadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-49
LeadbellyDiggin' My PotatoesThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 10Jeff Place
Leadbelly I'm On My Last Go-RoundLeadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-49)
Leadbelly Don't You Love Your Daddy No More Leadbelly & Josh White (Reamaining Titles) 1937-1946
Leadbelly When a Man's a Long Way from HomeLeadbelly Vol. 5 1944-1946

Show Notes:

Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways CollectionToday's program is our first show devoted to Lead Belly who I haven't played all that much on the show over the years. I remember picking up my first Leadbelly album back in High School. It was a self-titled album on Columbia collecting some of his 1930's blues sides. For whatever reason the album didn't make much of an impression on me. It was only years later, after picking some of the collections on Document that I got a better appreciation of the sheer breadth of his repertoire and talent. Today's show is inspired by a recent 5-CD box set on the Smithsonian Folkways label, The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, that serves as an excellent career retrospective and has an informative booklet with essays by Robert Santelli and Jeff Place. We play a number of tracks from the box set plus chat with producer Jeff Place, who I spoke with a couple of weeks back.

Lead Belly's recording career began with recordings made in 1933 by John and Alan Lomax at Angola prison and after his release from prison he recorded prolifically right up until his death in 1949. Lead Belly never had much success among black audiences, his commercial blues recordings did not sell, but he found success among the folk music audience. He became a fixture in New York City's folk music scene befriending and performing with Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Woody Guthrie, and a young Pete Seeger. Lead Belly was also the first blues musician to see success in Europe when he traveled there in 1949. He died later that year in New York City.

As Robert Santelli writes in the notes: "Lead Belly was a man of contradiction and complexity. It was hard to truly know him, said the people who tried, and it was next to impossible to place him in a particular music style or form and have him remain there for long. He was a folk musician who also played the blues. He knew his share of work songs and field hollers, having sung them while picking cotton and doing farm chores. He learned prison songs while incarcerated, and he sang them like a man who had seen life’s underbelly. Spirituals and gospel tunes came naturally to him. He gave new life to old ballads whose origins were buried in the past. He could sing children’s songs when kids were present. And at house parties and local fish fries, if someone wanted to hear a few standards or a pop hit of the day, he could sing and play them too. Lead Belly moved through American music genres and song circles naturally and effortlessly, never seeing the boundaries and categories that were created for commodity’s sake by men with bow ties and clean suits. He was the very definition of a 'songster,' an old-time, old-school human jukebox of a performer and recording artist who never quite realized just what an American music treasure he had become in his life."
LeadBelly
Huddie Ledbetter was born January 15, 1888, in the Caddo Lake District near Mooringsport in the northwest corner of Louisiana, near the Texas and Arkansas lines. Two of Huddie’s uncles, Bob and Terrell, were musicians and introduced him to new songs. His uncle Terrell gifted him a small accordion when was seven years old. He would acquire a guitar around 1903. Huddie had become adept at all sorts of musical styles, and found that he could pick up a few extra cents playing at local country dances, or “sukey jumps." By the time Huddie left Mooringsport in 1906, he had fathered two children out of wedlock and had a bad reputation locally. After some rambling to New Orleans and other places, he landed in Shreveport. Along the way he had learned all types of songs, including popular songs of the early 1900s. Around 1910, a now-married Huddie moved to Dallas, Texas. According to Charles K. Wolfe and Kip Lornell in The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly: "Sometime during his wanderings – probably late in 1910, when he was living near Dallas – Huddie acquired his first twelve-string guitar." Leadbelly told may tales of how he picked up the instrument. One of the less fanciful stories is recounted in the book: 'I saw one of those old 12-string Stellas sitting in the window of a Dallas store. The year before I heard a man play it in one of those traveling medicine shows where they sold a cure-all for fifty cent a a bottle.' Captivated by the loud, ringing sound of the instrument, Leadbelly  had spent the rest of the night hanging around the medicine show tent listening to the man play. Shortly, thereafter, when he finally saw one of the twelve-strings for sale; 'the price of the guitar was $12', he recalled, 'I had to have it.'" In 1912, he met and started playing as a duo with Blind Lemon Jefferson who in the 1920's would become one of the best-selling blues artists in the country.

In June 1915, Huddie was involved in an altercation and was sentenced to 30 days on a chain gang. Huddie escaped and fled to New Orleans, and then back to Mooringsport. He could not stay there, and so, traveling with his wife, he began going by the name Walter Boyd and went to live with relatives in DeKalb, Texas. In December 1917, Lead Belly found himself in a confrontation, a gun was fired, and Will Stafford lay dead. 78-rpm-rare-blues-leadbelly-record-alabama-bound-on-hmv-mh-160-must-see-ee_5789957Huddie claimed it was self-defense but was sentenced to between 7 and 30 years in a Texas prison. He began at the Shaw State Prison and later was transferred to the notorious Sugarland Prison. He was released in 1925.

He would be free for just five years; in 1930 another fight landed him in Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison for six to ten. Lead Belly became known around the prison for his singing and guitar playing. John and Alan Lomax arrived at Angola on July 16. Lead Belly was suggested to them as a good singer to record, and they realized they had really made a “find.” The Lomaxes made 12 recordings and returned the following July to record 15 more songs. He had a special one prepared, “Governor O.K. Allen.” He asked if John Lomax would deliver a recording of the song to Allen’s office. Lead Belly had previously written asking for a pardon as well. It is not known whether Allen listened to the song, but Lead Belly was officially granted a pardon on July 25, 1934.

He returned to Shreveport and began to lobby John Lomax for a job. Alan was suffering from an illness, and John needed a driver. In the fall, performing this role, Lead Belly took off with them on a recording trip. He would sometimes warm up the prisoners by singing his songs and showing them the kinds of things Lomax wanted. Lomax was anxious to present his new discovery to a meeting of the Modern Language Association in Philadelphia, which launched the flurry of sensationalism that accompanied Lead Belly’s arrival on the scene. Finally it was the big move to New York. In 1935, the Lomaxes had lobbied for Lead Belly to sign a recording contract with the American Recording Corporation (ARC). Of the 43 songs Lead Belly recorded for ARC, only six saw the light of day.

In breadth and number, the greatest collection of songs Lead Belly ever recorded were the hundreds he did for the Library of Congress. The two Lomaxes were acting as his managers and took two thirds of the cut. Eventually there was a falling out and Leadbelly moved to Shreveport then Dallas. He eventually decided to give New York City another try. During the same time period, Lead Belly was being introduced to singers in New York who came from a strong protest song background. In April 1939, Lead Belly recorded a session for the small Musicraft Records and the following year for the Library of Congress. Throughout 1941 and early 1942, Lead Belly had a weekly show on WNYC’s The American School of the Air called Folk Songs of America. He also made recordings for RCA in 1940, some backed by the Golden Gate Quartet.

The commercial labels that recorded Lead Belly didn’t know how to market his music. For better or worse, Lead Belly’s strongest audience turned out to be the music fans involved in the folk revival, mainly in New York. City. Around this time Leadbelly Leadbelly Columbia Albumbegan recording for Moe Asch and his Asch label. Lead Belly recorded mainly for Asch for the rest of his life. In 1945, Asch Records went out of business and was followed by Asch’s second label, Disc Recordings of America. Lead Belly continued to record for Disc. During that time and for years to come Lead Belly’s apartment at 414 East 10th Street was a hub of musical activity. His niece Tiny Robinson remembers “it being like a friendly hotel that would receive musical guests like Sonny and Brownie, Bill Broonzy, Burl Ives, Eartha Kitt, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Harry Belafonte."

In 1948 Lead Belly was recorded extensively  by Fredric Ramsey. These sides were eventually released by Smithsonian Folkways as a 4-CD set titled Lead Belly's Last Sessions. In the late 1940's, Lead Belly began to feel something was physically wrong. In 1948, at a show in Paris during his trip to Europe, he found he could not continue playing his guitar. He was taken to a Parisian doctor who diagnosed Leadbelly with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He died in New York at Bellevue Hospital a little over a year later on December 5, 1949.

Over the next few years, a series of memorial LP's honoring Lead Belly were released by both the new Folkways label and Stinson Records, and many of Lead Belly’s numerous friends took part in memorial concerts. The band the Weavers, featuring Pete Seeger, celebrated Lead Belly’s music on stage, recording “Rock Island Line,” “Silvy,” and “Goodnight Irene” (among others). "Goodnight Irene” became a huge hit in 1950.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Blind Willie McTellDark Night BluesThe Classic Years 1927-1940
Blind Willie McTellLoving Talking BluesBest Of
Blind Willie McTellMama, Let Me Scoop For YouBest Of
Seth RichardsLonley Seth BluesRare Country Blues Vol. 1 1928-1937
Seth RichardsSkoodeldum BluesRare Country Blues Vol. 1 1928-1937
Ed Andrews Time Ain't Gonna Make Me Stay A Richer Tradition
Julius Daniels Ninety-Nine Year BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Willie BakerNo No BluesCharley Lincoln 1927-1930 & Willie Baker 1929
George CarterGhost Woman BluesBlues Images Vol. 11
George CarterWeeping Willow BluesBlues Images Vol. 11
Freddie SpruellMilk Cow BluesMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Charlie KyleKyle's Worried BluesRare Country Blues Vol. 1 1928-1937
Uncle Bud WalkerStand Up Suitcase BlueMississippi Moaners
Charlie HicksDepot BluesCharley Lincoln 1927-1930 & Willie Baker 1929
Charlie HicksMama, Don't Rush MeCharley Lincoln 1927-1930 & Willie Baker 1929
Too Tight HenryThe Way I Do Rare Country Blues Vol. 3 1928-1936
Too Tight HenryCharleston Contest pt 1 Rare Country Blues Vol. 3 1928-1936
Barbecue BobHow Long Pretty MamaThe Essential
Barbecue BobBarbecue BluesChocolate To The Bone
Barbecue BobGoing Up The CountryChocolate To The Bone
Winston Holmes & Charlie TurnerKansas City Dog WalkKansas City Blues 1924-1929
Louis LaskyHow You Want Your Rollin' DoneBlues Images Vol. 3
John Byrd & Washboard WalterBilly Goat BluesRare Country Blues Vol. 2 1929-1943
John Byrd & Washboard WalterOld Timbrook BluesRare Country Blues Vol. 2 1929-1943
Mae Glover & John ByrdI Ain't Givin' Nobody NoneI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Leadbelly The Bourgeois BluesLeadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-49
Leadbelly New York CityLeadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-49
Leadbelly Noted Rider BluesThe Remaining LOCR Vol. 5 1938-1942
Blind Willie McTellSearching The Desert Blues Best Of
Barbecue BobCalifornia BluesChocolate To The Bone
Lonnie Johnson & Eddie LangMidnight Call Blues Lonnie Johnson Vol. 5 1929-1930
Lonnie JohnsonUncle Ned, Don't Use Your HeadLonnie Johnson Vol. 7 1931-1932

Show Notes:

Kings of the Twelve StringToday's show was inspired by a query from a listener who asked me about an album called Kings of the Twelve String. The album was in the catalog of the Piedmont, Gryphon, and Chesapeake labels in the 1960's and was then reissued twice by Flyright, first in 1973 and then again in 1978. I have the latter copy on Flyright and there was apparently a twelve page booklet which unfortunately my copy does not have. So on today's program we spotlight some great 12-string blues performances from the pre-war era, featuring several tracks from the Kings of the Twelve String album.

In the he 19th and early 20th century twelve-strings were regarded as “novelty” instruments. It was not till the 1920's and the 1930's that 12-string guitars became a major part of blues and folk music, where their sound made them ideal as solo accompaniment for vocalists such as Lead Belly and Blind Willie McTell. According to Charles K. Wolfe and Kip Lornell in The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly: "The twelve-string in general was introduced into the United States from Mexico and Latin America, which had a long and complex history of double-stringed instruments. By 1900 a company a company called Lyon and Healy was producing them for sale in the states, and a 1928 catalog listed five different models under various brand names." The first recording of a male country blues singer seems to have been by a twelve-string guitarist called Ed Andrews who was recorded for Okeh in Atlanta in March or April 1924. However, in the history of the blues, artists who played the 12-string as their primary instrument were relatively few. For some reason Atlanta was the home of several 12-string players including Blind Willie, Barbecue Bob, Charlie Hicks, Julius Daniels, Willie Baker and George Carter. Other 12-string players featured today include Freddie Spruell, Uncle Bud Walker, Too Tight Henry, John Byrd and some exceptional performances by Lonnie Johnson among others.

Today we play several sides by Blind Willie McTell and the music of his fellow Atlanta bluesmen, just about all who were inspired by McTell. Like Memphis, Atlanta was a staging post for musicians on their way to all points. It’s not surprising then that the first country blues musician, Ed Andrews, was recorded there in 1924. The company that recorded him, Okeh, barbecue bob 2was one of many to send their engineers to Southern cities to record local talent. Companies like Victor, Columbia, Vocalion and Brunswick made at least yearly visits until the depression. McTell was born in Thomson, Georgia, near Augusta, and raised near Statesboro. He played a standard six-string acoustic until the mid-'20s, and never entirely abandoned the instrument, but from the beginning of his recording career, he used a 12-string acoustic in the studio almost exclusively. He was A major figure with a local following in Atlanta from the 1920's onward, he recorded dozens of sides throughout the 1930s' under a multitude of names — all the better to juggle "exclusive" relationships with many different record labels at once — including Blind Willie, Blind Sammie, Hot Shot Willie, and Georgia Bill, as a backup musician to Ruth Mary Willis. Willie's recording career began in late 1927 with two sessions for Victor records, eight sides including "Statesboro Blues." He recorded prolifically through the 1930's a did a session for the Library of Congress in 1940 under the supervision of John Lomax. The newly founded Atlantic Records took an interest in Willie and cut 15 songs with him in Atlanta during 1949. The one single released from these sessions, however, didn't sell, and most of those recordings remained unheard for more than 20 years after they were made. In 1950, along with his friend Curley Weaver, he cut sides for Regal. McTell cut his final sides for record store owner Ed Rhodes in 1956, who had begun taping local bluesmen at his shop in Atlanta in the hope of releasing some of it. These turned out to be the only tapes he saved, out of all he'd recorded.

Barbecue Bob was the name given by Columbia Records talent scout Don Hornsby to Atlanta blues singer Robert Hicks. Hicks is widely credited as being the singer who more than any helped to popularize Atlanta blues in its formative period. Born to a family of sharecroppers in Walnut Grove, GA, Robert Hicks and his brother, Charley "Lincoln" Hicks relocated with them to Newton County. There the Hicks brothers came in contact with Savannah "Dip" Weaver and her son, Curley Weaver. With the Weavers, the Hicks boys learned to play guitar and sing. Robert Hicks was the first of this group to "break out"; Hicks' first Columbia record, "Barbecue Blues," recorded in Atlanta on March 25, 1927 and was a big hit. Over the next three years he made 62 sides for Columbia. Hicks died in 1931 of pneumonia. He was only 29. His brother, Charley, cut a total of twelve sides between 1927 and 1930.

Among the other Atlanta artists featured are Willie Baker, George Carter, Julius Daniels and Ed Andrews. Baker was a contemporary of the Hicks brothers and cut nine sides in 1929.  He was remembered to play around Patterson, Georgia, and it is possible that he saw Robert Hicks play in a medicine show in Waycross, Georgia. Other than tOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhat, nothing further is known. Nothing is known of George Carter other then he cut four sides for Paramount in 1929. Bruce Bastin related that when Edward "Snap" Hill, a boyhood friend of Curley Weaver and the Hicks brothers was played a tape of one of Georg Carter's songs it prompted him to say: "He's from Atlanta" although he knew nothing about him. Julius Daniels cut eight songs for Victor at two sessions in 1927. The aforementioned Ed Andrews left behind two songs in 1924, "Barrel House Blues b/w Time Ain't Gonna Make Me Stay."

Unlike Atlanta there were few Mississippi artist who recorded on the 12-string. Among those featured today are Uncle Bud Walker, Freddie Spruell and transplanted Mississippian John Byrd. Walker cut one 78, "Look Here Mama Blues" b/w "Stand Up Suitcase Blues", recorded on July 30, 1928, in Atlanta, GA, and released by OKeh Records. Freddie Spruell recorded ten tracks for OKeh, Paramount, and Bluebird between 1926 and 1935. Spruell could well be considered the first Delta blues performer to record when he cut "Milk Cow Blues" in Chicago on June 25, 1926. Spruell also backs Washboard Sam on "Ocean Blues b/w Y.M.V. Blues", Sam's 1935 debut recording for Bluebird. Spreull's Social Security file indicates he was born on December 28, 1893, and although he is generally considered a Mississippi bluesman, it appears he moved to Chicago with his parents as a small boy, and his ties to the Delta are more stylistic than geographical.

John Byrd was born in Mississippi around the 1890's era. At some time in his youth he relocated to Louisville, Kentucky. It may have been in Louisville where he became friends with "Washboard" Walter Taylor. He made his debut recordings in 1929 as a solo gospel artist cutting one record for Gennett as "Rev. George Jones and his Congregation". That record was issued but during the same period other recordings by him or as a member of "Washboard Walter's Trio" were unissued. Byrd and Taylor moved on to Paramount Records where Byrd cut his only solo 78 in 1930. He also found session work as a guitarist backing singer Mae Glover.

According to Charles K. Wolfe and Kip Lornell in The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly: "Sometime during his wanderings – probably late in 1910, when he was living near Dallas – Huddie acquired his first twelve-string guitar." Leadbelly told may tales of how he picked up the instrument. One of the less fanciful stories is recounted in the book: 'I saw one of those old 12-string Stellas sitting in the window of a Dallas store. The year before I heard a man play it in one of those traveling medicine shows where they sold a cure-all for fifty cent a a bottle.' Captivated by the loud, ringing sound of the instrument, Leadbelly  had spent the rest of the night hanging around the medicine show tent listening to the man play. Shortly, thereafter, when he finally saw one of the twelve-strings for sale; 'the price of the guitar was $12', he recalled, 'I had to have it.'"

v20658b4Others featured artists include Seth Richards, Charlie Kyle, Too Tight Henry, Louis Lasky, Winston Holmes and Charlie Turner and Lonnie Johnson. Seth Richards recorded a couple tracks under his real name in 1928, which would be his last recordings until he recorded as Skoodle Dum Doo and Sheffield in 1943. Kyle was said to have been from Texas and may have traveled to Memphis in 1928 along with female blues singers Bessie Tucker and Ida Mae Mack to record. Six of his songs were recorded, only four were issued resulting in two 78's. Born in Georgia in 1899 'Too Tight' toured extensively during the 1920's as with both Blind Blake and Blind Lemon Jefferson. In Memphis he worked with Jed Davenport. He was considered at the time as a master of the 6 and 12-string guitar. He recorded one 78 in 1928 and one in 1930. In the early 1940's he became a popular and regular performer on a Memphis based radio show. Lasky cut fives sides in 1935 as well as backing Anna Lee Chisholm, Big Bill, Memphis Minnie and Washboard Sam. It's been suggested he was a influence on Big Bill's guitar style. Nothing is known about Lasky's background but his style suggests a older musician. Turner played rack harmonica and guitar, and was an accomplished player of blues and ragtime and Holmes sang, and played guitar. Holmes backed Kansas singer Lottie Kimbrough at a 1926 session and cut six sides with Charlie Turner at a 1928 session. 12-string guitar was not Lonnie's primary instrument but he did play it on his historic duets with Eddie Lang ("Midnight Call Blues" – my favorite of the duets and a the favorite of Lonnie biographer Dean Alger) and to dazzling effect on his 1931 classic, "Uncle Ned, Don't Use Your Head", both featured today.

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