1930′s Blues


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Bukka WhiteI Am In The Heavenly WayBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteThe Panama LimitedBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteSic 'Em Dogs OnBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Freddie SpruellMilk Cow BluesMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Freddie SpruellMuddy Water BluesMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Freddie Spruell4A HighwayMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordHigh Lonesome HillMississippi - the Blues Lineage
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordTimes Is Getting HardDeep River Of Song - Mississippi: Saints & Sinners
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordFarmin' Man BluesMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Bukka WhiteWhen Can I Change My ClothesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhitePinebluff ArkansasBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteShake 'Em On DownBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordMississippi River BluesMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordLonesome Highway BluesMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Freddie SpruellTom Cat BluesThe Paramount Masters
Freddie SpruellLow-Down Mississippi Bottom ManThe Paramount Masters
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordPaydayMississippi - the Blues Lineage
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordStagolee Alan Lomax: Blues Songbook
Kid BaileyRowdy BluesMasters of the Delta Blues: Friends of Charlie Patton
Kid BaileyMississippi Bottom BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Willie BrownFuture BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Willie BrownM&O BluesBlues Images Vol. 3
Willie BrownMake Me A Pallet On The FloorScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Freddie Spruell Mr. Freddie's Kokomo BluesMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Freddie Spruell Let's Go RidingMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Bukka WhiteSleepy Man BluesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteParchman Farm BluesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteFixin' To Die BluesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Willie FordPaydayMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordStagolee Mississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Willie FordSanta Field BluesMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Bukka WhiteAberdeen Mississippi BluesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteBukka's Jitterbug SwingBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940

Show Notes:

TBukka Whiteoday's show is the third in a series of shows devoted to great early Mississippi blues artists, most little remembered today. Mississippi produced some of the most powerful blues singers and guitarists of the 1920's and 1930's although one could say that the intense interest in Mississippi has taken the spotlight away from other regions that have equally notable blues traditions. In the past I've devoted shows to Charlie Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson but I realized that there was still several major figures I hadn't featured in depth like Bukka White, Skip James, Sam Collins and Mississippi John Hurt. I'll be spotlighting these artists alongside several fine lesser known Mississippi artists. At a later date I'll be spotlighting the rediscovery records by some of these artists. Today's shows spans the years 1926 through 1941 featuring records by Bukka White, Freddie Spruell, Lucious Curtis and partner Willie Ford, Willie Brown and Kid Bailey.

Along with Son House and Skip James, Bukka White was one of the major Mississippi bluesmen to be re-discovered during the great blues revival of the 1960’s. His early recordings made between 1930 and 1940 are among the most creative and powerful blues ever recorded. As Keith Briggs wrote in the notes to Document's Bukka White: Aberdeen Mississippi Blues: "Booker’s unique sound was a combination of solid, rocking, rhythms interspersed with vigorous guitar breaks, his ability as a bottleneck slide guitarist and his gritty, heavy voice. He favored the steel bodied National guitar as it’s volume allowed him to be audible over the noise of a good-time crowd. His songs were almost always personal and are among the most creative and descriptive to found on blues records."

White said he was born about five miles south of Houston, Mississippi. Various documents list his birth date between 1900 and 1909, but census data suggests 1904. His father John White, a multi-instrumentalist who performed at local gatherings, gave him his first guitar and other local musicians taught him his signature bottleneck slide technique. Recording agent Ralph Lembo of Itta Bena arranged for White to record his first blues and gospel songs in 1930 in Memphis. Victor only saw fit to release four of the 14 songs Bukka White recorded that day. It is very likely that it is Memphis Minnie, listed as “Miss Minnie”, who lends her voice to two of the Victor titles. Low-Down Mississippi Bottom Man

In 1937 White recorded a minor hit, “Shake ‘Em On Down,” in Chicago, but that year he was also sentenced for a shooting incident to Parchman Penitentiary, where John Lomax of the Library of Congress recorded him. It was as "Washington Barrelhouse White" that White recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax at Parchman Farm in 1939. After his release White recorded twelve of his best-known songs at a Chicago session in 1940. Among the songs he recorded on that occasion were "Parchman Farm Blues", "Good Gin Blues," "Bukka's Jitterbug Swing," "Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues," and "Fixin' to Die Blues," all classic numbers.

During the war White settled in Memphis and worked at a defense plant. Bob Dylan recorded "Fixin' to Die Blues" on his 1961 debut Columbia album, and at the time no one in the music business knew who Bukka White was. Two California-based blues enthusiasts, John Fahey and Ed Denson in 1963 addressed a letter to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." By chance, one of White's relatives was working in the Post Office in Aberdeen, and forwarded the letter to White in Memphis. Things moved quickly from there and  by the end of 1963 Bukka White was already recording on contract with Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie. After he began to tour and record again in the 1960's White, still a skilled and energetic performer, became a popular figure on the folk music circuit and traveled as far as Mexico and Europe. He passed in 1977.

Freddie Spruell recorded ten tracks for OKeh, Paramount, and Bluebird between 1926 and 1935. Spreull could well be considered the first Delta blues performer to record when he cut "Milk Cow Blues" in Chicago on June 25, 1926. He recorded two more sides in 1928, including "Tom Cat Blues," and five tracks (under the name Mr. Freddie) on April 12, 1935, a session that yielded perhaps his best song, the rag-inspired "Let's Go Riding," which featured second guitar from Carl Martin. Spruell also backs Washboard Sam on "Ocean Blues b/w Y.M.V. Blues", Sam's d 1935 debut recording for Bluebird. The only known copy of this record recently turned up. 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.

M&O Blues

Little is known for certain of the man whom Robert Johnson called "my friend-boy, Willie Brown" ("Cross Road Blues"). Brown is heard with Patton on the Paramount sessions of 1930 and cut "M & O Blues and" and "Future Blues" at that date. Brown's "Kickin' In My Sleep Blues" b/w "Window Blues" (Paramount 13001) and "Grandma Blues" b/w "Sorry Blues" (Paramount 13099) have yet to surface. As Dan Beaumont wrote in  Preachin' the Blues:  The Life and Times of Son House: "“M&O Blues” and “Future Blues,” are based respectively on Patton’s “Pony Blues” and “Maggie,” and show Patton’s enduring influence on Brown, which, by and by, would be another channel for Patton’s influence on House." In 1941 Alan Lomax recorded Brown with Son House, Fiddlin' Joe Martin and Leroy Williams. Brown played second guitar on three performances by the whole band, and recorded one solo, "Make Me A Pallet On The Floor." Brown died in Tunica, Mississippi in 1952 at the age of 52.

Nothing is known of Kid Bailey outside of his lone 78 "Mississippi Bottom Blues b/w Rowdy Blues." These were recorded on September 25, 1929 at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Research by Dr. David Evans, professor of music at Memphis State University, has concluded that Kid Bailey may have been a pseudonym for Willie Brown. Son House on hearing this recording instantly recognized his partner Willie Brown. Others dispute that Brown and Bailey are the same person. Gayle Dean Wardlow has said that he "found 5 different source who all saw Kid Bailey in person in Mississippi–3 of them on taped interviews including [Ishman] Bracey who saw him across the river from Jackson and talked to him in person." It seems Wardlow changed his view because in The Life And Music Of Charle Patton he and his co-author, Stephen Calt, point out that  no one interviewed in the post-war period ever knew Kid Bailey well enough to know his real name or where he was from. When Gayle Dean Wardlow and Stephen Calt were doing research in Mississippi in the 1960's, these were some of the reactions when Kid Bailey's "Rowdy Blues" was played:

Rowdy BluesMandy Wigham:  "That sounds just like Willie…  Ain't Willie makin' music on there?  I think that's Willie makin' music."

Elizabeth Moore:  "Him (meaning Willie Brown) and Son could both make that introduction on their music…  sounds like that music and that voice – pretty close there if it ain't him (Brown)."

Confusingly Wardlow also had the following memory from Moore: "Elizabeth Moore who lived in Tunica County on a plantation near Robinsonville and knew Willie Brown and Son House and Robert saw Kid and Willie Brown playing together there in a juke in Robinsonville for a few weeks together. Willie told her they had made a record together but she doubted it as she never saw it. Willie only called him "Kid." Brown is the second guitar but sounds like the lead on "Rowdy Blues" but is barely audible on the other side. That's the connection. She made those comments after she listened to the Kid Bailey record. She said that's Willie's music and it sounded like the way he played– "Rowdy Blues". She also saw Willie and Robert together on many occasions playing together. Bailey played mainly from Leland over to Moorhead and was raised up near Leland at the Triplett community just outside Leland on Highway 82. Booker Miller saw him in Moorhead. But he was only called Kid Bailey–probably a childhood nickname."

In October 1940 John Lomax and his wife came to Natchez, Mississippi from Baton Rouge to look for musicians to record. During that trip they recorded Lucious Curtis, Willie Ford and George Bolwdin. Between Curtis and Ford ten songs were recorded. "'Like I foretold you, I ain't much of a player.'" When Lucious Curtis was there, Willie "followed after" him, but he did it skillfully, watching the leader carefully." So reads the first paragraph of John Lomax's notes for the recording session. He wen on to write that "Lucious Curtis is a honky-tonk, guitar picking Negro, living on a precarious income from pick-ups at dance halls. His 'complementer" Willie Ford has a regular job at a big saw mill but had a 'sad-day' off."Curtis claimed to have made commercial records with Bo Carter but this can't be verifed.

Related Reading:

-"…Ramblin' (Blues Revue Quarterly 8, Spring 1993, p14-17) [PDF]

-Death of a Delta giant (Melody Maker of July, 1971)  [PDF]

-Mississippi Bottom Blues (Mamlish S-3802,  notes byDon Kent & Mike Stewart, 1973) [PDF]

-Willie Brown: Fare Thee Well (Bernard Klatzko, 78 Quarterly no. 2, 1968, 47–50.) [PDF]

-Mississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1 (Flyright-Matchbox SDM 230, notes by John Cowly, 1973) [PDF]

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Show Notes:

ARTISTSONGALBUM
Ishman BraceySaturday BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Ishman BraceyLeft Alone Blues Ishman Bracey & Charlie Taylor 1928-1929
Ishman BraceyBrown Mama Blues Vintage Mandolin Music
Sam CollinsRiverside BluesJailhouse Blues
Sam CollinsYellow Dog BluesJailhouse Blues
Sam CollinsThe Jail House BluesJailhouse Blues
Otto Virgial Little Girl in RomeAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Otto Virgial Bad Notion Blues American Primitive Vol. II
Willie LoftonPoor Boy BluesBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Willie LoftonIt's Killin' MeBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Willie LoftonDirty MistreaterBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Ishman Bracey Trouble Hearted BluesTrouble Hearted Blues
Ishman Bracey The Four Day BluesJackson Blues: 1928-1938
Sam CollinsDevil In The Lion's DenJailhouse Blues
Sam CollinsPork Chop BluesJailhouse Blues
Sam CollinsHesitation BluesJailhouse Blues
The Mississippi MoanerMississippi MoanMississippi Moaners
The Mississippi MoanerIt's Cold In ChinaAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Rube LaceyMississippi Jail House GroanCountry Blues: The Essential
Rube LaceyHam Hound and GravyChasin That Devil Music
Ishman BraceyLeavin' Town BluesIshman Bracey & Charlie Taylor 1928-1929
Ishman BraceyWoman Woman BluesThe Return Of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Sam CollinsMy Road Is Rough And Rocky (How Long, How Long?)Sam Collins 1927-31
Sam CollinsLonesome Road Blues Before The Blues Vol. 1
Otto VirgialGot The Blues About Rome When the Levee Breaks
Otto VirgialSeven Year Itch Mississippi Blues Vol. 4: Delta Blues Goin' North
Willie LoftonDark Road BluesBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Willie LoftonBeer Garden BluesBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Sam CollinsSlow Mama SlowSam Collins 1927-31
Sam CollinsNew Salty DogJailhouse Blues

Today's show is the first of a series of shows devoted to great early Mississippi blues artists, most little remembered today. Ishman Bracey, Rube Lacey and Willie Lofton hailed from the fertile Jackson, MS region. Little is known of Lofton who cut eight titles in 1934 and 1935. Despite cutting only one 78 Lacey was a well-known blues performer in the Jackson area and the Delta until 1932 hen he put his guitar down and became a preacher. Crying Sam Collins was raised around McComb, Mississippi and recorded relatively extensively between 1927 and 1931. Virtually nothing is know of the obscure Otto Virgial and Isiah Nettles, who went by the moniker The Mississippi Moaner.

Ishman Bracey
 Ishman Bracey

"A rare combination of braggart, entertainer, musician, showman and eventually an ordained minister" is how Gayle Dean Wardlow, who interviewed him many times, chose to describe him in Blues Unlimited (No. 142). By Ishmon Bracey's own account to Dave Evans, he was a fighter too, "mixing it" with Saturday night drunks and the jealous lovers who came after his friend Tommy Johnson. It seems that he had always held strong religious sentiments, and had been a member of the Baptist church as a child in Byram, Mississippi. So his eventual ordination as a preacher, which was a personal relief after his "wicked ways" and life "in the world", was not so surprising.

Ishman Bracey was born in Byram, about ten miles south of Jackson, in January 1899, according to census records. He learned guitar from locals Louis Cooper and Lee Jones and moved to Jackson in the late 1920s after encountering Tommy Johnson. Bracey soon became one of the most popular musicians in the Jackson area’s vital blues scene, which consisted largely of musicians who were likewise born in small communities in the area. Jackson blues in the 1920s had a lighter feel than its counterpart in the Delta and sometimes featured the mandolin and the fiddle. Bracey and other musicians often played at dances for both black and white audiences, performing waltzes and ragtime numbers, and otherwise serenaded passersby on the busy streets of Jackson. Bracey’s music came to broader attention after he auditioned for recording agent H. C. Speir, who operated a furniture store on North Farish Street. Speir arranged for Bracey and Tommy Johnson to make their debut recordings at a session for Victor in Memphis in February of 1928. At that session and another for Victor later that year, Bracey was accompanied on guitar and mandolin by Charlie McCoy.

Crying Sam Collins Ad
Black Patti advertisement in the Chicago Defender July 2, 1927

Bracey recorded in more of a jazz mode in late 1929 and early 1930 for the Paramount label in Grafton, Wisconsin, backed by the New Orleans Nehi Boys (Charlie Taylor on piano and “Kid” Ernest Moliere on clarinet, an instrument rarely heard on Mississippi blues recordings). By the mid-‘30s many of the musicians in Bracey’s circle had left the area, and his musical partnership with Tommy Johnson ended. In later city directories he is listed as a laborer or painter. In 1963, when blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow met and interviewed him in Jackson, Bracey had been a Baptist minister for over a decade, and, although he would no longer play blues, he provided important information on the early blues scene in Jackson. He died on Feb. 12, 1970.

When Sam Collins made his recording debut in April, 1927, he was not far short of his fortieth birthday; born in Louisiana in August, 1887, he was raised, according to acquaintances located by Gayle Dean Wardlow, in McComb, Mississippi, just over the border from his native state. lt's not known when he started out in music, but by 1924 he was performing in local barrelhouses at weekends. By this time he had formed a loose and partnership with Joe Holmes from Sibley, La., who recorded for Paramount in 1932 as King Solomon Hill. Collins made his debut in 1972 cutting fives, four issued on the Black Patti label who advertised them as by "Crying Sam Collins and his Git·Fiddle." It seems likely that Collins Iearned his repertoire around the turn of the century, when he was,in his Iate teens and early twenties, for it incorporates a wide spectrum of music from that era and earlier. He cut  close to two-dozen issue sides between 1927-1931 for Black Patti, Gennett, Banner and ARC. Collins left behind a large number of unreleased sides. It's reported that Collins moved to Chicago where he died in 1949.

Rubin Lacy was one of the most talented and influential artists in Mississippi blues during his short career. He was a well-known blues performer in the Jackson area and the Delta until 1932, when he put his guitar down and became a preacher. Lacy played in an elite circle that included Son Spand, Ishmon Bracey, Tommy Johnson, Charlie McCoy, and Walter Vinson. He later moved to the Delta, where he formed his own group, performed with Charley Patton, and inspired artists including Son House, Tommy McClennan, and Honeyboy Edwards. Lacy made four recordings for Columbia Records at a session in Memphis in December 1927, but none were released. The following March he traveled to Chicago, where he recorded two songs for the Paramount label, “Mississippi Jail House Groan” and “Ham Hound Crave." In 1966 blues scholar David Evans located Lacy in Ridgecrest, California, and recorded him preaching and performing gospel songs together with members of his congregation. Lacy died in 1969.

Willie Lofton is a virtual biographical black hole who made four records in the fifteen months between August 1934 and November  1935.It seems he came from Jackson, Miss., where he worked as a barber before journeying to Chicago. He returned south in  1942 and died in Jackson twenty years later.

Big Joe Williams once recalled that Otto Virgil (or Virgial) was from the area of Columbus, MS., and could usually be found playing with another native by the name of Tom Turner. Virgial had a community in Sunflower County on Halloween Day of 1935 on his mind when he recorded four songs that also included "Got The Blues About Rome". He was probably living in Chicago at the time of his one and only session.

Mississippi Jail House Groan

The Mississippi Moaner was the name used by Isaiah Nettles when he recorded five sides for Vocalion Records in Jackson, MS, on October 20, 1935. Only one 78 from the session was ever officially released, "Mississippi Moan" b/w "It's Cold in China Blues" (a version of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Long Lonesome Blues"). A credible singer and a fine guitar player, Nettles lived in Carlisle, MS (in Claiborne County), as late as 1936, but his trail vanishes after that date.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Sonny Boy WilliamsonBlue Bird BluesThe Bluebird Recordings: 1937-1938
Big Joe Williams Brother JamesBig Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Black Ivory KingThe Flying CrowSan Antonio 1937
Son Becky Mistreated Washboard BluesSan Antonio 1937
Pinetop BurksJack Of All Trades BluesSan Antonio 1937
"Roosevelt" Antrim Station Boy BluesBlind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Blind Boy FullerTruckin' My Blues Away Blind Boy Fuller: Remastered 1935-1938
Floyd 'Dipper Boy' CouncilI'm Grievin' & I'm Worryin'Blind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Bill GaitherIn The Wee Wee Hours Bill Gaither Vol. 2 1936-1938
Peetie WheatstrawWorking On The ProjectThe Essential

Charlie Pickett Down The Highway Son Bonds & Charlie Pickett 1934-1941
Sleepy John EstesFloating BridgeI Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
Black Boy ShineWest Columbia WomanLeroy Carr & Black Boy Shine: Unissued Test Pressings & Alternate Takes 1934-1937
Andy Boy Church Street BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Jazz GillumBirmingham BluesBill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 1 1936-38
Washboard SamI Drink Good WhiskeyWashboard Sam Vol. 2 1937-1938
Alice MooreNew Blue Black And Evil BluesSt. Louis Bessie & Alice Moore Vol. 2 1934-1941
Memphis MinnieLiving The Best I CanMemphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
Victoria SpiveyOne Hour MamaThe Essential
Robert JohnsonStones In My PasswayAlberta Hunter Vol. 4 1927-46
Mose Andrews Young Heifer BluesMississippi Blues Vol.1 1928-1937
Bukka WhiteShake 'Em On DownThe Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Scotte Nesbitt Deep, Deep In The GroundRare Jazz and Blues Piano 1927-1937
Charley WestRollin' Stone BluesRare 1930s & '40s Blues Vol. 3 1937-1948
Roosevelt SykesNight Time Is the Right TimeRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 5 1937-1939
Lonnie JohnsonHard Times Ain't Gone No WhereLonnie Johnson Vol. 1 1937-1940
Tampa RedSeminole BluesYou Can't Get that Stuff No More
Casey Bill WeldonLady Doctor BluesThe Essential
Lee GreenThe Way I Feel Lee Green Vol. 2 1930-1937
Charlie Campbell Goin' Away BluesAlabama & The East Coast 1933-1937

Show Notes:

Bukka White: Shake 'Em On DownToday’s show is the eleventh installment of an ongoing series of programs built around a particular year. The first year we spotlighted was 1927 which was the beginning of a blues boom that would last until 1930; there were just 500 blues and gospel records issued in 1927 and increase of fifty percent from 1926 a trend that would continue until the depression. To feed the demand other record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent, which included making trips down south with field recording units. The Depression, with the massive unemployment it brought, had a shattering effect on the pockets of black record buyers. Sales of blues records plummeted in the years 1931 through 1933. Things picked up again in 1934 with the companies recording full-scale again. During this period there was far less recording in the field during this period and in view of the popularity of Chicago singers there was less need.

From 1934 until 1945 there were three main race labels, all selling at 35 cents: Decca, the Brunswick Record Corporation's Vocalion, and RCA-Victor's Bluebird. There were two other labels that featured a fair number of blues during this period; the store group Montgomery Ward, with a label of the same name, drew at various times on Gennett, Decca and Bluebird and Sears Roebuck used ARC material on its Conqueror label. Race record sales were up around 15 per cent in 1937: Decca and Bluebird each put out around 120 items whilst BRC-ARC issued almost on Vocalion and another 100 on the dime-store labels.

According to John Godrich and Robert M.W. Dixon in their classic book Recording The Blues, the record companies "had three way of unearthing new talent: by placing advertisements in local newspapers, especially just before a field unit was due in a nearby town; by just relying on chance comments from singers, concerning other who might be good recording propositions; and by employing their own talent scouts, who carry out steady, systematic searches. The last method was intensively employed in the the thirties – Roosevelt Sykes, for instance, would find likely artists for Decca (or, sometimes, for Lester Melrose). But despite this, race catalogs in the thirties relied more heavily on a small nucleus of popular singers than they had in the twenties. It was the urban style of blues that now dominated the market – and as in the previous years it was artists such as Tampa Red, Kokomo Arnold, Casey Bill Weldon, Memphis Minnie, Big Bill Broonzy, Bumble Bee Slim, Peetie Wheatstraw and the Harlem Hamfats who dominated the market. Tampa cut 18 sides, Arnold , Weldon and the Hamfats cut around two-dozen sides apiece, Minnie cut 16 sides, Broonzy cut around 30 sides, Slim some 20 sides (a number unissued) and Wheatstraw a 14 sides.Pinetop Burks: Jack of All Trades

Two down home singers who could hold their own in terms of popularity against the urban artists were Sleepy John Estes and Blind Boy Fuller.  Estes made his debut for Victor in 1929 while Fuller made his debut for Vocalion in 1935. Unlike blues artists like Big Bill or Memphis Minnie who recorded extensively over three or four decades, Blind Boy Fuller recorded his substantial body of work over a short, six-year span. Nevertheless, he was one of the most recorded artists of his time and by far the most popular and influential Piedmont blues player of all time. Fuller made his debut in 1935 and over the next five years he made over 120 sides. He cut around 50 sides in 1937.

One of Fuller's associates, Floyd Council, also recorded this year. Council occasionally worked with Fuller in the ‘30s, which may have led to his first recording sessions. In late January 1937. ACR Records scout John Baxter Long heard him, playing alone on a street in Chapel Hill. It was Long who had first brought Fuller to NYC to record in July 1935. Long invited Floyd to join Fuller on his third trip to New York. Floyd agreed, and a week later the three traveled to the city. During his second visit to New York in December, Floyd was used as a second guitar only. His solo tracks were later issued under the name ‘Blind Boy Fuller’s buddy’. In all he cut six sides under his own name and seven backing Fuller.

For his third session the Decca label brought Sleepy John Estes to New York City to record in 1937 and again in 1938 where he cut eighteen songs, laying down some of his most enduring songs. He was backed by Charlie Pickett on guitar and Hammie Nixon on harmonica. Pickett cut four sides for Decca in 1937 backed by Hammie Nixon and Lee Brown.  Pickett also played guitar behind Estes on 19 numbers at sessions in 1937 and 1938. He or Estes may have played guitar behind pianist Lee Green at a 1937 session.

1937 saw a number of notable recording sessions including two by Bluebird, one in Chicago and one in San Antonio, and one by ARC in Birmingham by ARC. In Chicago on May 5, 1937 Bluebird cut a marathon recording session resulting in six songs by Robert Nighthawk (as Robert Lee McCoy), six by Sonny Boy Williamson I, four by Big Joe Williams and eight sides by Walter Davis. It was Sonny Boy's songs, especially, "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Bluebird Blues" and "Sugar Mama Blues" which were the biggest hits.

The Texas pianists known as the 'Santa Fe group' were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie.“ Mack McCormick noted that the “itinerant pack of pianists who came to be known loosely as 'the Santa Fe group,' partly because they favored that railroad and partly because a stranger asking for the name of a selection was invariably told 'That's The Santa Fe.' 1937 was an outstanding year for the Santa Fe group of pianists: Andy Boy recorded in February for Bluebird, Big Boy Knox recorded for Bluebird in March, Black Boy Shine recorded in June for Vocalion and Son Becky and Pinetop Burks recorded at a shared session for Vocalion in October. Just a few days after Black Boy Shine was recorded in Dallas, ARC recorded Robert Johnson who recorded thirteen sides adding to the previous year's sixteen sides.

1296536396_GW48006aBetween March 3rd and April 7th 1937, ARC (The American Record Company) sent a mobile recording unit on a field trip firstly to visit Hot Springs, Arkansas and, then to Birmingham, Alabama in search of new talent that could be recorded on location instead of transporting the artists to their New York studio. Sometime between 18th and 24th March the unit arrived in Birmingham and, over a two week period set about recording a number of gospel and blues musicians. Among those were Charlie Campbell, Guitar Slim (George Bedford) and James Sherrill (Peanut The Kidnapper) all of whom were backed by the lively piano of Robert McCoy who did not record under his own name. McCoy wouldn't record again until 1963 when he was recorded by Pat Cather, a teenaged Birmingham blues fan. Cather issued two albums on his Vulcan label: Barrelhouse Blues And Jook Piano and Blues And Boogie Classics.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Hersal ThomasHersal BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Sippie WallaceMurder's Gonna be My CrimeThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Hociel ThomasWorried Down With The BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
George Thomas Fast Stuff BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Moanin' Bernice EdwardsLong Tall Mama The Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Bernice Edwards, Black Boy Shine & Howling SmithHot 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 BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 15: Dallas 1927-1929
Texas Bill Day & Bilikin JohnsonElm Street Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Texas Bill Day Good Morning Blues The Piano Blues Vol. 15: Dallas 1927-1929
Hattie HudsonDoggone My Good Luck Soul Dallas Alley Drag
Jack RangerTP Window Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Jack RangerThieving Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Bessie TuckerThe Katy Dallas Alley Drag
Bessie TuckerPenitentiaryI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Ida May MackElm Street BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 15: Dallas 1927-1929
Ida May MackGoodbye Rider Barrelhouse Mamas
Whistlin Moore AlexHeart Wrecked Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Whistlin Moore AlexBlue Bloomer Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Whistlin Moore AlexIce Pick Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Black Ivory KingThe Flying CrowBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Duskey DaileyThe Flying CrowThe Piano Blues Vol. 10: Territory Blues 1934-1941
Frank TannehillRolling Stone BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 10: Territory Blues 1934-1941
Black Boy Shine Dog House BluesBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Black Boy Shine Ice Pick And Pistol Woman BluesBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Black Boy Shine Brown House BluesBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Joe PullumCows, See That Train Comin'Joe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Joe PullumMcKinney Street StompJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Rob Cooper West Dallas DragThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Joe PullumHard-Working Man BluesJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Joe PullumDixie My HomeJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935

Show Notes:

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.

Hersal Thomas
Hersal Thomas

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.

Whistlin  Alex Moore: West Texas WomanDallas 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.

Joe Pullum: Dixie Is My HomeIn 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.”

 

 

 

 

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Ann Cook Mama Cookie Sizzling The Blues
Wilmer Davis Gut StruggleRichard M. Jones and the Blues Singers 1923-1938

Original Washboard Band & Julie Davis Geechie River Blues Johnny Dodds 1927-1928
Blanche Johnson Galveston BluesElzadie Robinson Vol. 1 1926-1928
Ida May MackMr. Forty-Nine Blues Texas Girls 1926-1929
Dorothy Everetts Macon BluesFemale Blues Singers Vol. 6: E/F/G 1922-1928)
Madlyn Davis & Her Hot Shots Kokola BluesFemale Blues Singers Vol. 5 C/D/E 1921-1928
Madlyn Davis & Her Hot Shots Winter BluesFemale Blues Singers Vol. 5 C/D/E 1921-1928
Bertha Ross Lost Man BluesBarrelhouse Woman Vol. 1 1925-1930
Dolly Martin All Men Blues St. Louis Barrelhouse Piano 1929-1934
Luella MillerFrisco BluesLuella Miller 1926-1928
Viola McCoy I Ain't Gonna Marry, Ain't Gonna Settle DownViola McCoy Vol. 2 1924-1926
Edith WilsonEvil BluesAin't Gonna Settle Down: The Pioneering Blues of Mary Stafford and Edith Wilson
Edna Winston I Got A Mule To RideLeona Williams & Edna Winston 1922-1927
Sylvester Hannah Michigan River Blues Fletcher Henderson & The Blues Singers 1923-1924
Margaret Carter I Want Plenty Grease In My Frying Pan Vaudeville Blues
Ora AlexanderRider Needs a Fast HorseFemale Blues Singers Vol. 1 A/B 1924-1932
Maggie Jones North Bound BluesMaggie Jones Vol. 1 1923-1925
Monette Moore House Rent BluesMonette Moore Vol. 1 1923-1924
Ruby Gowdy Florida Flood BluesFemale Blues Singers, Vol. 6: E/F/G 1922-1928
Rosie Mae Moore Staggering BluesI Can't Be Satisfied: Early American Blues Singers Vol. 1
Bessie Mae Smith Mean Bloodhound BluesSt. Louis Bessie & Alice Moore Vol. 1 1927-1929
Nellie Florence Jacksonville BluesChocolate To The Bone
Marie Grinter East and West BluesFemale Blues Singers Vol. 7 G/H 1922-1929
Martha CopelandPolice BluesMartha Copeland Vol. 1 1923-1927
Hattie Snow Make That Gravel FlyMeaning In The Blues
Elzadie Robinson Elzadie's Policy BluesParamount Jazz
Ida May Mack Elm Street BluesTexas Girls 1926-1929
Bessie TuckerThe KatyBessie Tucker 1928 - 1929
Bertha Henderson Black Bordered LetterParamount Jazz
Ora BrownJinx Blues Blues Images Vol. 9
Fanny May Goosby Fortune Teller BluesFemale Blues Singers 7 G/H 1922- 1929
Genevieve Davis Haven't Got A Dollar To Pay Your House Rent ManWhen the Sun Goes Down
Liza BrownPeddlin' BluesBessie Brown 1925-1929 & Liza Brown 1929

Show Notes:

Woman blues singers seem to get shortchanged when it comes to interest among blues fans or reissue companies. I'm not talking about heavy hitters like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, but the dozens and dozens of fine singers who recorded in their shadows during the 1920's and 30's. This show is dedicated to singers like Ida May Mack, Elzadie Robinson, Bessie Tucker, Madlyn Davis and others; in some cases they recorded dozens of sides or just a handful, some were quite popular in their day while other achieved little or no success yet they cut some exceptional blues records that, outside of collectors, remain all but forgotten today.

As researcher Don Kent wrote: "In the late 1890's, an amateur folklorist in Frankfort, Kentucky, heard a black woman in the county workhouse do a melancholy song called a 'jailhouse moan'. In 1902, traveling with a tent show, the young Ma Rainey heard a woman in Missouri do a 'strange and poignant' song (which Ma immediately incorporated in her act) that she later identified as a 'blues'. Nearly a decade passed before this style gained any real prominence, but Mamie Smith's first recording in 1920 showed record companies that black people were anxious and willing to buy music by their peers. Ironically, although Mamie Smith started the blues bandwagon, her repertoire was more indicative of black vaudeville and cabaret singers who included blues and pseud0-blues among their performance pieces."

Bertha-Henderson- Black-Bordered-LetterThe "Classic Female Blues" era as it's generally called, spanned from 1920 to 1929 with its peak from 1923 to 1925. The most popular of these singers were Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Ethel Waters, Ida Cox, Victoria Spivey, Sippie Wallace, Alberta Hunter, Clara Smith and Trixie Smith. As Paul Oliver notes: "One of the records that helped launch the issue of so-called 'Race Records'…was Mamie Smith's 'Crazy Blues.' It was to the benefit of many other black woman singers that a black woman had at last broke into what had previously been an exclusively white market. During the decade after the release of this record, more than 200 women singers were recorded and their songs issued on Race Records. Several of them made more than a hundred titles each, and a great many made a few dozen. In addition, there were those who made just a handful of titles that were often of great interest, nonetheless." In 1921 blues singers such as Lillyn Brown, Lavinia Turner, Lucille Hegamin, Daisey Martin all made records. In January 1922 Metronome declared that "every phonograph company has a colored girl recording blues." Of course woman like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Ida Cox had been singing the blues for years, mainly in the South, in circuses like Miller's 101 Ranch, The Mighty Haag Circus, Vaudeville stages and minstrel shows like Sugar Foot Greene's Minstrel Show, Silas Green from New Orleans and the Rabbit Foot Minstrels.

Several of today artists got their start in vaudeville, black theater or worked primarily fronting jazz bands.  In this category we hear from Viola McCoy, Edith Wilson, Ann Cook and Julia Davis.

In the early 1920s, Viola McCoy moved to New York City, where she worked in cabarets and appeared in revues at the Lincoln and Lafayette Theaters. She toured the Theater Owners Bookers Association vaudeville circuit, and made numerous recordings between 1923–1929 for various labels including Gennett, Vocalion, and Columbia Records.Author Derrick Stewart-Baxter wrote of McCoy: "She belongs to the great vaudeville tradition, but in all she does there is a strong jazz strain … Possessing a lovely contralto voice and fine diction, she was able to project herself through even the worst recording … It would be true to say that in the three years she was recording most prolifically she hardly ever made a bad record".Nellie Florence - Jacksonville-Blues

Edith Wilson was one of the stars of early African-American musical theater. After working in vaudeville with her pianist brother Danny Wilson, Edith rose to prominence in 1921 when she replaced Mamie Smith in Perry Bradford's musical revue "Put And Take". Bradford arranged for her to begin recording with Columbia in 1921. She was paired with Johnny Dunn's Jazz Hounds for a series of 17 recordings made in 1921 and 1922. Wilson would make few recordings in subsequent years until she made her comeback in the 1970s.

Nothing much is known about Ann Cook and Julia Davis other then they were exceptional singers who were recorded fronting jazz bands. We hear the great Johnny Dodds backing singer Julia Davis who cut one 78 for Paramount in 1924 and one final terrific record in 1928, "Jasper Taylor Blues b/w Geechie River Blues", backed by the Original Washboard Band featured washboard player Jasper Taylor.  Ann Cook was a New Orleans singer who recorded a couple of songs in 1927 backed by a band that included Louis Dumaine on Cornet, Willie Joseph on Clarinet, Leonard Mitchell on Banjo and Morris Rouse on Piano. Cook was recorded again in the 1940's.

Several of today's featured singers fall in the down-home blues category of singing. Among those are Madlyn Davis, Elzadie Robinson. Ida Mae Mack, Bessie Tucker, Bessie Mae Smith and Nellie Florence.

Madlyn Davis made ten recordings in Chicago, for Paramount Records, with her first session taking place in June 1927. In October 1928, Davis had her final recording stint, with her backing musicians including Georgia Tom Dorsey on piano and Tampa Red on guitar. Her most famous song was "Kokola Blues", obviously mistitled at the time. Scrapper Blackwell recorded it the following year as "Kokomo Blues". In 1934 Kokomo Arnold called his version "Old Original Kokomo Blues". Two years later Robert Johnson turned it in to "Sweet Home Chicago", and the rest is history.

Vocalist Elzadie Robinson hailed from Shreveport, Louisiana, but remained in Chicago, after going there to record. Her recordings span 1926-29, and during that time she worked with several pianists including Bob Call, and her regular accompanist and fellow Shreveport native, Will Ezell. Robinson chiefly recorded for the Paramount label, but also cut several sides for Broadway and used the aliases Bernice DRosie Mae Moore - Staggering Bluesrake and Blanche Johnson.

Ida May Mack was a Texas singer who traveled by train to Memphis, Tennessee in the summer of 1928 along with Bessie Tucker and Charlie Kyle to record. Mack made at least ten recordings with multiple takes of some, only six sides were issued by her at the time. Little is known about Bessie Tucker. Tucker had another session in Dallas the following year, once again backed by Johnson on piano as well as other area musicians. No one knows what happened to her after her recording sessions and unlike most of her peers of the day, one photo of her survives.

Little is known about Rosie Mae Moore except for the fact that she was Charlie McCoy's girlfriend during the time of her recordings that all took place in 1928. She recorded four sides for Victor in Memphis in the early part of the year. Later in December she recorded four more sides for Brunswick in New Orleans, backed by McCoy as well as Walter Vincson and Bo Chatman of The Mississippi Shieks. On her Brunswick releases she was billed as Mary Butler.

Bessie Mae Smith recorded variously as St. Louis Bessie, Blue Belle and Streamline Mae. Her 18 sides recorded between 1927-1930.

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