1940’s Blues


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Skip James Devil Got My WomanComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Cypress Grove BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Little Cow And Calf Is Gonna Die BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Roamin' and Ramblin' BluesDelta Bluesman
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Water Coast BluesDelta Bluesman
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Spread My Raincoat DownDelta Bluesman
Skip James Hard Time Killin' Floor BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Drunken SpreeComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Cherry Ball BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Muddy Waters Country Blues (Number One)Muddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Muddy Waters I Be's TroubledMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Muddy Waters RosalieMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Skip James Illinois BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James How Long BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James 22-20 BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Fiddlin' Joe Martin Fo' Clock Blues Walking Blues
Fiddlin' Joe Martin Going to Fishing Walking Blues
Muddy Waters You Got To Take Sick And Die Some Of These DaysMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Muddy Waters Ramblin' Kid BluesMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Robert Lockwood Little Boy BlueWindy City Blues
Robert Lockwood Black Spider BluesWindy City Blues
Skip James Hard Luck ChildComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James If You Haven't Any Hay Get On Down The RoadComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Cherry Ball BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Hellatakin' BluesDelta Bluesman
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Wind Howlin' BluesDelta Bluesman
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards The Army BluesDelta Bluesman
Skip James I'm So Glad Complete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Special Rider BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Muddy Waters Take a Walk With MeMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Muddy Waters I Be Bound To Write To You (First Version)Muddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Robert Lockwood Take a Little Walk with MeWindy City Blues
Robert Lockwood I'm Gonna Train My BabyWindy City Blues

Show Notes:

Today's show is the fifth in a series of shows devoted to great early Mississippi blues artists. The bulk of the artists are relatively well known and on today's show we capture the recordings they made at the start of their career.  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. Today we feature early recordings by Skip James, Fiddlin' Joe Martin, Honeyboy Edwards, Muddy Waters and Robert Lockwood. The earliest recordings come from the remarkable 1931 session by Skip James while all the other recordings are from the early 40's. The sides by Fiddlin' Joe Martin, Honeyboy Edwards and Muddy Waters are from field recordings made by Alan Lomax while the Robert Lockwood sides were his first commercial recordings for Bluebird.

Skip James
The only photograph of Skip James in his youth


Skip  James
grew up at the Woodbine Plantation in Bentonia, Mississippi and as a youth learned to play both guitar and piano. The music of Skip James and fellow Bentonia guitarists such as Henry Stuckey and Jack Owens is often characterized as a genre unto itself. The distinctive approach is notable for its ethereal sounds, open minor guitar tunings, gloomy themes, falsetto vocals, and songs that bemoan the work of the devil. Stuckey learned one of the tunings from Caribbean soldiers while serving in France during World War I, and said that he taught it to James, who went on to become the most famous of Bentonia's musicians. Inspired by Stuckey, James began playing guitar as a child, and later learned to play organ. In his teens James began working on construction and logging projects across the mid-South, and sharpened his piano skills playing at work camp “barrelhouses.” In 1924 James returned to Bentonia, where he earned his living as a sharecropper, gambler and bootlegger, in addition to performing locally with Stuckey.

James traveled to Grafton, Wisconsin, for his historic 1931 session for Paramount Records, which included thirteen songs on guitar and five on piano. He was sent to Paramount by talent scout H.C. Speir who was impressed by James' audition, “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” alluded to the Great Depression, while the gun-themed “22-20 Blues” provided the model for Robert Johnson's “32-20 Blues,” and the haunting “Devil Got My Woman” was the likely inspiration for Johnson's “Hell Hound on My Trail.” As Tony Russell wrote of this session: "It would be difficult to hear them without some sense of awe, even if they were not quit as good as we might wish, but they are, in fact awesome in their singularity and aching beauty."

James’s records sold poorly, and later in 1931 he moved to Dallas, where he served as a minister and led a gospel group. He later stayed in Birmingham, Alabama, and in Hattiesburg and Meridian, Mississippi, occasionally returning to Bentonia. He returned to Bentonia in 1948 and sometimes played for locals at the newly opened Blue Front Cafe, although he did not earn his living as a musician. He later lived in Memphis and Tunica County, where he was located in 1964 by blues enthusiasts who persuaded him to begin performing again.  After his rediscovery James relocated to Washington, D. C., and then to Philadelphia to play folk and blues festivals and clubs. He recorded several albums and gained new renown from the rock group Cream’s 1966 cover of his song “I'm So Glad,” but the somber quality of much of his music and his insistence on artistic integrity over entertainment value limited his popular appeal. James died in Philadelphia on October 3, 1969.

Muddy Waters & Son Sims

I corresponded with record collector John Tefteller recently who had this to say regarding the rarity of James' 78's: "As far as Skip James Paramount's: There are about 20-25 that have survived, if you include the Champion release and 15 or less if you leave that one out. They are some of the rarest and most desirable 78 rpm records of all time. There are a couple of them for which only one or two copies in playable condition exist. Rarest one has to be "Hard Time Killin' Floor" with "Cherry Ball" a close second. Think about those numbers 15-25 copies TOTAL, that are still known to exist in this world. They are the stuff every collectors dreams are made of!"

Over eight decades Honeyboy Edwards knew or played with virtually every major figure including Charley Patton, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. He was probably best known, though, as the last living link to Robert Johnson. The two traveled together, performing on street corners and at picnics, dances and fish fries during the 1930s. Edwards had earlier apprenticed with Big Joe Williams. Unlike Williams and many of his other peers, however, Edwards did not record commercially until after World War II.

Field recordings he made for the Library of Congress under the supervision of the folklorist Alan Lomax in 1942 are the only documents of Edwards’s music from his years in the Delta. In an interview with Mary K. Lee he recalled his first recordings: "He recorded me in 1942 on a Monday in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He drove up to the house in a brand new '42 Hudson and I was there with my auntie. She had never seen no white folk with a big car like that, in '42. She said, "That man has a big car." He asked her, "David Edwards lived here?" She said, "I don't know. He stays here sometime." But she's scared to tell him yeah. He said, "Well I just want him to do some recording. I want him to make records for me and everything. I'm from Washington. D.C., from the Library of Congress and I want him to record for me." She then said, "Let me see if he's around here anywhere." She said, "There's a man out there in a big car." And I said, "That's the one I've been saying I expected. Tell him I'm here." She said, "Yeah, he's in here asleep. He'll be out in a few minutes though." I got up, put on my clothes and went out to the car. We went to Clarksdale, Mississippi on highways 49 and 61. I rented a room in a house there and he rented a place in a school for the recording. We started recording about eleven, but a storm came up around a little before twelve and broke up the recording. We had to stop mid-way in the recording. Came up like a tornado. We stopped for about an hour and when it blew over we started the recording again and got through the session. He gave me twenty dollars and that was more money than I had in a long time. At that time that was a lot of money. He'd recorded Muddy Waters and Son House the same week before he got to me. He was getting most of the black blues that he could find down through there then.."

Honeyboy Edwards
Silent color film  footage of David “Honeyboy” Edwards, shot by Alan Lomax for the Music Division in 1942

Commercial prospects for Edwards were scant, however — a 1951 78 for Artist Record Co., "Build a Cave" (as Mr. Honey), and four 1953 sides for Chess that laid unissued until "Drop Down Mama" turned up 17 years later on an anthology constituted the bulk of his early recorded legacy, although Edwards was in Chicago from the mid-'50s on.

The Muddy Waters recordings featured today were made as part of a joint field recording trip sponsored by the Library of Congress and Fisk University, whose John Work accompanied Alan Lomax on his trip and whose voice can be heard on portions of the interviews with Muddy. The songs that were recorded in the two sessions (in the summers of 1941 and 1942) were not all issued by the Library of Congress at the time. Lomax said "I was the editor of the first five-album set, and my opion of Muddy was so good that we included TWO of his songs. I think he was the only person – I couldn't make up my mind which of his two blues was the best, so we put them both in."

In the summer of 1941, Lomax went to Stovall, Mississippi on behalf of the Library of Congress to record various country blues musicians including a young Muddy Waters. "He brought his stuff down and recorded me right in my house," Muddy recalled in Rolling Stone, "and when he played back the first song I sounded just like anybody's records. Man, you don't know how I felt that Saturday afternoon when I heard that voice and it was my own voice. Later on he sent me two copies of the pressing and a check for twenty bucks, and I carried that record up to the corner and put it on the jukebox. Just played it and played it and said, 'I can do it, I can do it.'"Lomax came back in July 1942 to record Muddy again. The Library of Congress sessions were eventually released as Down On Stovall's Plantation on the Testament label.The complete recordings were re-issued on CD as Muddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings by Chess.

Fiddlin' Joe Martin learned guitar and trombone as a boy, later adding mandolin and bass fiddle. He switched to washboard and drums in the 40s after damaging his hands in a fire. He worked with many Delta blues singers, including Charley Patton, Willie ‘Hambone’ Newbern, Johnnie Temple, Memphis Minnie, Willie Brown and Son House, recording with the last two for the Library of Congress in 1941. Martin played drums for Howlin’ Wolf until Wolf moved north, but his most eRobert Lockwood: Take A Little Walk With Menduring association was with Woodrow Adams; he appeared on all Adams’ recordings, and they worked Mississippi juke joints together until Martin’s death. Martin also appears on the anthology High Water Blues, recordings made between 1965 and 1970, mainly in Louisiana and Mississippi by folklorist David Evans.

Born in 1915, Robert Lockwood was one of the last living links to Robert Johnson. When Lockwood's mother became romantically involved with Johnson in Helena, AR, Lockwood suddenly gained a role model and a close friend – so close that Lockwood considered himself Johnson's stepson. Robert Jr. learned how to play guitar very quickly with Johnson's help. By age 15, Lockwood was playing professionally at parties in the Helena area. He often played with his quasi-stepfather figure Robert Johnson as well as with Sonny Boy Williamson II and Johnny Shines. Lockwood played at fish fries, juke joints, and street corners throughout the Mississippi Delta in the 1930s. Lockwood played with Sonny Boy Williamson II in the Clarksdale, Mississippi area in 1938 and 1939. He also played with Howlin' Wolf and others in Memphis, Tennessee around 1938. From 1939 to 1940 he split his time playing in St. Louis, Missouri, Chicago, Illinois and Helena.

On July 1st 1941, Lockwood made his first recordings with Doctor Clayton for the Bluebird label in Aurora, Illinois and on July 30th he recorded the four songs which were released as the first two 78s under his own name: "Little Boy Blue" b/w Take A Little Walk With Me" (Bluebird B-8820) and "I'm Gonna Train My Baby b/w "Black Spider Blues" (Bluebird B-8877). These songs remained in his repertoire throughout his career. Also in 1941, Lockwood and Williamson began their influential performances on the daily King Biscuit Time radio program on KFFA in Helena. Lockwood would not get back on record again until 1951.

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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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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Jazz GillumRoll Dem Bones Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Jazz GillumThe Blues What Am Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Tampa RedPlease Mr. DoctorTampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Tampa RedShe's DynamiteTampa Red Vol. 14 1949-1951
Big Bill BroonzyLeavin' DayRockin' In Chicago 1949-53
Big Bill BroonzyRambling BillThe War & Postwar Years 1945-49
Washboard SamYou Can't Make The GradeRockin' My Blues Away
Washboard SamRamblin' With That WomanWashboard Sam Vol. 7 1942-1949
Washboard SamShe's Just My SizeWashboard Sam Vol. 7 1942-1949
Sonny Boy WilliamsonWonderful TimeThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Sonny Boy WilliamsonPolly Put Your Kettle OnThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Sonny Boy WilliamsonApple Tree SwingThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Lonnie JohnsonMe And My Crazy SelfThe Original Guitar Wizard
Lonnie JohnsonNothin' Clicken' ChickenLonnie Johnson 1949
Lonnie JohnsonCan't Sleep AnymoreLonnie Johnson 1949-1952
Jazz GillumGonna Take My Rap Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Jazz GillumLook What You Are Today Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Big Bill BroonzyOld Man BluesThe War & Postwar Years 1945-49
Big Bill Broonzy I Can't WriteThe War & Postwar Years 1945-49
Tampa RedGot A Mind To Leave This TownTampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Tampa RedBig Stars Falling BluesTampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Jazz GillumTake One More Chance with Me Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Jazz GillumHand Reader Blues Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Jazz GillumYou Got to Run Me Down Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Lonnie Johnson It Was All In VainThe Original Guitar Wizard
Lonnie Johnson I Know It's LoveLonnie Johnson 1949-1952
Sonny Boy WilliamsonBetter Cut That OutThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Sonny Boy WilliamsonMellow Chick SwingThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Tampa Red EvalenaTampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Tampa Red Rambler's BluesTampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Big Bill BroonzyBig Bill's BoogieThe War & Postwar Years 1945-49
Big Bill BroonzyStop Lying WomanThe War & Postwar Years 1945-49
Washboard SamSoap And Water BluesRockin' My Blues Away
Washboard SamI Just Couldn't Help ItWashboard Sam Vol. 7 1942-1949

Show Notes:

Jazz GillumAs blues historian Paul Oliver noted, artists like Jazz Gillum, Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson, Washboard Sam and Sonny Boy Williamson, were "playing in the brash, confident manner of Chicago which had been developing through the 'thirties." Sam Charters characterized the sound as the "Bluebird Beat" or more unkindly as the "Melrose Mess" by Mike Rowe in his pioneering book Chicago Blues. As Rowe notes "it was a white businessman, Lester Melrose, who was really responsible for shaping the Chicago sound of the late 30's and 40's." Melrose had said "From March 1934 to February 1951 I recorded at least 90 percent of all rhythm-and-blues talent for RCA Victor and Columbia Records…" As Rowe further explains: "But Melrose had more than a large stable of blues artists under his control. Since only a few of them had regular accompanists most of them would play on each others records and thus Melrose has a completely self-contained unit… …The final stage of this musical incest was completed when they started recording each others songs." The result was a consistent, sometime cookie cutter sound, although the best artists would consistently transcend these limitations. The "Bluebird Sound" anticipated the Chicago blues of the post-war era featuring tight, smooth small band arrangements that were filled out with piano, bass drums and often clarinet or saxophone. I've always been a fan of the late period recordings by today's featured artists, in some cases a neglected or overlooked period, and today we spotlight recordings made between 1946 and 1953 which shows how their music evolved and how their sound led  to the rise of the electric Chicago blues sound of the 50's and the emergence of R&B..

Jazz Gillum is usually treated with indifference among blues critics, looked upon as a rather generic performer who typified the mainstream Chicago blues style of the 1930's and 40's. While there's some truth to this, Gillum's recordings were consistently entertaining throughout his sixteen-year recording career punctuated with a fair number of exceptional sides. Gillum was by no means a harmonica virtuoso but he was a very expressive, easygoing singer who penned a number of evocative songs backed by some of the era's best blues musicians. Gillum recorded 100 sides between 1934-49 as a leader in addition to session work with Big Bill Broonzy, Curtis Jones and the State Street Boys. Many of his records were characterized by strongly rhythmic support, credit for which must go largely to Big Bill Broonzy and later guitarist Willie Lacey.Washboard Sam

William McKinley Gillum was born in Indianola, Mississippi (B.B. King's birthplace as well) on September 11, 1904. He soon learned to play the harmonica. By 1918 he had a job in a drugstore in Greenwood, Mississippi and could often been seen on the streets playing music for tips. Five years later he migrated to Chicago. There he met guitarist Big Bill Broonzy and the two started working club dates around the city as a duo and would soon form an enduring recording partnership. Gillum made his recording debut for the Bluebird label in 1934 with "Early In The Morning" b/w "Harmonica Stomp." The records evidently didn't sell and Gillum didn't record again for two years. Gillum's recordings were very much in the Bluebird mold yet he often rose above the production line sound to record a fair number of high quality blues. Between 1934-1942 Gillum recorded 70 sides, every session featuring the fret work of Big Bill Broonzy. Gillum's most celebrated song during this period was "Key To The Highway" which he cut on May 9, 1940. Both Broonzy and Gillum claimed authorship of the song which was an enduring source of bitterness for Gillum. During World War II, there was a shortage of shellac and J.C. Patrillo, President of the American Federation of Musicians ordered a ban on all recordings. Gillum joined the Army in 1942 and served until 1945.

Gillum resumed recording in 1945 and in 1946 cut "Look On Yonder Wall" one of his most famous recordings. Starting in 1946 the brilliant William Lacey took over the guitar chores and his terrific electric work really adds a spark to Gillum's later recordings. Gillum made his last issued recordings as leader on January 25, 1949. Gillum would record once more on a 1961 date with Memphis Slim and Arbee Stidham. On March 29, 1966, during an argument, Gillum was shot in the head and was pronounced dead on arrival at Garfield Park Hospital in Chicago.

Washboard Sam recorded hundreds of records between 1935 and 1949 for the bluebird label, usually with backing by guitarist Big Bill Broonzy. Out of all the washboard players of the era, Sam was the most popular, which was due not only to his washboard talent, but also his skills as a highly imaginative songwriter and powerful, expressive vocalist. As an accompanist, Washboard Sam not only played with Broonzy, but also backed bluesmen like Bukka White, Memphis Slim, and Jazz Gillum. Sam added a phonograph turntable and a couple of cowbells to his washboard for added tone and his washboard playing is consistently driving and swinging.

Washboard Sam (born Robert Brown) was the illegitimate son of Frank Broonzy, who also fathered Big Bill Broonzy. Sam was raised in Arkansas, working on a farm. He moved to Memphis in the early '20s to play the blues. While in Memphis, he met Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon and the trio played street corners, collecting tips from passerby's. In 1932, Sam moved to Chicago. Initially he played for tips, but soon he began performing regularly with Big Bill Broonzy. Within a few years, Sam was supporting Broonzy on the guitarist's Bluebird recordings. Soon, he was supporting a number of different musicians on their recording sessions, including pianist Memphis Slim, bassist Ransom Knowling, and a handful of saxophone players, who all recorded for Bluebird. In 1935, Sam began recording for both Bluebird and Vocalion Records. Throughout the rest of the '30s and the '40s, Sam was one of the most popular Chicago bluesmen, selling plenty of records and playing to packed audiences in the Chicago clubs. In 1953, Washboard Sam recorded a session for Chess Records and then retired. In the early '60s, Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim tried to persuade Sam to return to the stage to capitalize on the blues revival. Initially, he refused, but in 1963 began performing concerts in clubs and coffeehouses in Chicago; he even played a handful of dates in Europe in early 1964. He cut his last sides in 1964 before passing in 1966.

Sonny Boy Williamson I
Sonny Boy Williamson I

Easily the most important harmonica player of the pre-war era, John Lee Williamson almost single-handedly made the harmonica a major instrument, leading the way for the amazing innovations of Little Walter and others who followed. Already a harp virtuoso in his teens, he learned from Hammie Nixon and Noah Lewis and ran with Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell before settling in Chicago in 1934. Sonny Boy signed to Bluebird in 1937. He recorded prolifically for Victor both as a leader and behind others in the vast Melrose stable (including Robert Lee McCoy and Big Joe Williams, who in turn played on some of Williamson's sides). Sonny Boy cut more than 120 sides in all for RCA from 1937 to 1947. John Lee was popular enough that by the 1940s, another blues harp player, Aleck/Alex "Rice" Miller, who was based in Helena, Arkansas, began also using the name Sonny Boy Williamson.

His first recording session was supported by the great Big Joe Williams, at the beginning of his distinguished career playing delta blues guitar. After this session Sonny Boy alternated between guitar and piano backups, occasionally using both at the same session. His most frequent accompanists were Big Bill Broonzy and the record company's "house" piano player Blind John Davis. Other famous accompanists over the years were Eddie Boyd, Yank Rachel, Big Maceo and Willie Dixon. But some say the best accompanist was Joshua Altheimer, a piano player who played on the seven numbers of a 1940 session and then died the next year. Writer Pete Welding noted that the only significant difference between Big Joe Williams and Sonny Boy and those of say Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf is the matter of electric amplification. Othewise all the ingredients are the same: guitar, harp, bass and drums. He continues, "Big Joe and John Lee stand as vital, connecting links between the older Mississippi style and those of the postwar years." Sonny Boy Williamson wouldn't live to reap any appreciable rewards from his inventions. He died at the age of 34, while at the zenith of his popularity (his romping "Shake That Boogie" was a national R&B hit in 1947 on Victor), from a violent bludgeoning about the head that occurred during an apparent mugging on the South side. "Better Cut That Out," another storming rocker later appropriated by Junior Wells, became a posthumous hit for Williamson in late 1948. Williamson's style had a profound influence on those who followed including Billy Boy Arnold, Junior Wells, Little Walter, and Snooky Pryor among many others.

Lonnie Johnson's place in blues history would have been immortalized if even if he had never recorded past the 1930's. It certainly would have made blues critics life easier who generally tend to dismiss Johnson's later recordings. Unfortunately, for them, Johnson persisted hooking up with the King label in the late 1940's, enjoying the biggest commercial success of his career and after a fallow period in the 1950's made a full fledged comeback in the 1960's before passing in 1970.

In latter years Lonnie Johnson couldn't win with blues or jazz fans. In the 1960's the blues and folk audience looked away in embarrassment when he sang "How Deep Is the Ocean," "My Mother's Eyes," or "Red Sails in the Sunset." The jazz crowd dismissed him as a relic. Supposedly Duke Ellington, with whom Johnson recorded with in 1928, declined to appear with this "old blues guy" when he guest-starred with Ellington's band at Town Hall in 1961. The New York Daily News caught the flavor of the moment with the headline "The Janitor Meets the Duke." As singer Barbara Dane noted: "…He was a very sophisticated player in a moment when the world was looking for the rough and earthy Delta players."

Lonnie Johnson
Lonnie Johnson

Today we spotlight sides waxed during Johnson's stint with King records which ran from 1947 through 1952 and resulted in close to seventy issued sides. When Johnson signed with King in 1947 his music and music in general was changing. By 1947 he had switched to electric guitar, was incorporating more ballads into his repertoire while the music was in transition from blues to R&B. It is true that Johnson reworked several of his earlier songs and perhaps over relied on a few signature guitar phrases during this period. Still, while many were unprepared for the changing musical times, Johnson seamlessly sailed into the new era not only achieving commercial success but also cutting music of a consistently high artistic caliber.

We featured some 1951 recordings which are complimented by tenor saxophonists Ray Felder and Wilbur "Red" Prysock: "It Was All in Vain" and "Me and My Crazy Self" are sublime blues ballads featuring some of Johnson's best vocal performances plus some nice guitar and tenor echoing off each other beautifully. Johnson concluded his King stint with a four song session in June 1952. Here Johnson is backed by trumpet, three tough saxes, and a kicking rhythm section headed by pianist Todd Rhodes. Backed by a wailing, full bodied band Johnson croons mightily on "I'm Guilty", "You Can't Buy Love" and the soaring "Can't Sleep Any More" the only number on which he solos for any length.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Little Son Willis Nothing But The Blues Down Home Blues Classics: California & The West Coast 1948-1954
Alex Moore Neglected Woman Whistling Alex Moore 1929-51
Dr. Hepcat Hattie Green Houston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Wright Holmes Good Road BluesDown Behind The Rise 1947-1953
Jesse ThomasDouble Due Love You Down Behind The Rise 1947-1953
Junior BrooksLone Town Blues Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 1
Jimmy DeBery Before LongDeep South Blues Piano 1935-1937
Manny NicholsNo One To Love MeDown Home Blues Classics: Texas 1946-1954
Blind Willie McTellEast St. Louis Blind Willie McTell & Curley Weaver: The Post War Years
Johnny Beck You Gotta Lay Down Mama Down Home Blues Classics: Texas 1946-1954
Dennis McMillon Paper Wooden Daddy New York City Blues 1940-1950
Schoolboy Cleve She's GoneDown Home Blues Classics Vol.5: Memphis & The South 1949-1954
Pee Wee Hughes Country Boy Jook Joint Blues
Papa Lightfoot Wine, Whiskey & Women Blues Harmonica Wizards
Goldrush All My Money GoneRural Blues Vol. 1 1934- 1956
Leroy Ervin Blue, Black and Evil Texas Blues ( Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings)
Big Charlie Bradix Numbered Days The Travelling Record Man
Pete Franklin Down Behind the Rise Down Behind The Rise 1947-1953
Walter Bradford Reward For My Baby Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Charley BookerWalked All NightSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Frank Edwards Gotta Get Together Jook Joint Blues
Henry Hill & Doctor Ross That Ain't Right Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Joe Hill LouisWe All Gotta Go SometimeSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
John Lee Down At The Depot Rural Blues Vol. 1 1934- 1956
Dan Pickett 99 1/2 Won't Do Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Pinetop Slim Applejack Boogie Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Big Boy SpiresAbout To Lose My Mind Chicago Slickers 1948-1953
Otis HintonWalking Downhill Black Cat Trail
Frankie Lee SimsWalking With Frankie 4th & Beale And Further South
Luther HuffBulldog Blues Down Home Blues Classics Vol.5: Memphis & The South 1949-1954
Lane HardinKeep 'em Down The Modern Down Home Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Boyd Gilmore Ramblin' On My Mind The Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 1
Baby Face Turner Blue Serenade The Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 2
Willie NixLonesome BedroomThe Traveling Record Man

Show Notes:

Down Behind The Rise
Read Liner Notes

In the immediate post-war era the music was rapidly changing, R&B was on the rise and and older blues styles were falling out of fashion. Yet for awhile at least, there was still a market for rural down home blues as evidenced by the popularity of artists like Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker and Smokey Hogg. Between 1944 and 1964, more than 600 record companies tried their hands at recording blues. Many failed or had limited success while others grew and became major players. Paul Vernon wrote that this was “the last grand hurrah of local blues recorded for, and often by, local entrepreneurs, neither folkloric nor college oriented, but music for the culture from which it grew." Today we spotlight some of my down home blues favorites spanning the years 1947 through 1957.

A good number of today's tracks come from two album series that made a big impression on me; one was on the Nighthawk label which issued a series of great anthologies in the late 70's. I discovered these a bit later at my college radio station which had the entire series. I was particularly drawn to Down Behind The Rise 1947-1953 which introduced me to Jesse Thomas, Wright Holmes and Johnny Beck, all of whom are featured today. All of these sides have since been reissued on many different collections. The other series was Kent's Anthology of Blues, a twelve volume set of albums, some spotlighting single artists, others anthologies of great down home blues. I discovered numerous great artists from that series including Willie Nix, Pinetop Slim, Charlie Bradix, Baby Face Turner, Junior Brooks, Boyd Gilmore and Charley Booker, all artists featured today. The series was resurrected in grand fashion by Ace Records over the course of six CD's with terrific notes by Jim O'Neal and loads of additional tracks.

I should also mention the Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1956, a nine LP box set that I picked up back in High School at Bleeker Bob's in Greenwich Village. I have played this set endlessly over the years and today spin several tracks from that box including Walter Bradford, Charley Booker, Henry Hill & Doctor Ross and Joe Hill Louis. Below is is some information on a few of today's featured performers.

Wright Holmes: Good Road BluesWright Holmes was born in Hightower, TX. on July 4, 1905. In 1930 he moved to Houston where he started playing in clubs on Dowling Street and also broadcasted on KTRH. In 1947 he made two recordings for Bill Quinn's Gold Star label but Quinn didn't issue the recordings because he thought that Holmes sounded too much like Lightnin' Hopkins who was his top selling blues artist. Later that year, another man named Abe Conley recorded four songs by him at his studio. Conley sold the masters to Miltone. Two of the songs were issued on Miltone. Miltone was later bought out by Gotham who reissued the two songs and issued one other with another song never issued.

Jesse Thomas recorded sporadically from the late 1920's through the early 1990's and despite his longevity didn't achieve much in the way of success or recognition. In 1929, at 18, Thomas cut four excellent sides for Victor.By the post-war era Thomas had developed a brilliant, highly individual style unlike anyone else. Between 1948-1958 Thomas cut sides for nine different West Coast labels. Thomas' "Double Due Love You" was a song made a big impression when I first heard it on Down Behind The Rise.

Modern Records' partner Joe Bihari had made his first field trip to the South around September 1951 following the breakdown in relations with Sam Phillips. This was after Rocket "88" by Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner ended up on Chess instead of Modern, and became a #1 R&B smash hit. Until then Phillips had been recording Modern's Memphis-area artists including B.B. King, Joe Hill Louis and Rosco Gordon. Following the split with Phillips, Bihari hit paydirt with B.B. King's "3 O'Clock Blues," thus encouraging Bihari to authorize further trips in the South. The Biharis launched a new label for these field recordings, Blues & Rhythm, in February 1952. The first major reissue of this material was in 1969 and 1970, issued as the Anthology Of The Blues 12-volume LP series on Kent. In later years Joe Bihari said: "I was a gutsy kid who wasn't afraid of anything, traveling during a period where there was immense segregation and discrimination against African Americans. Indeed, I am proud of myself for doing what I could to resist this horrific prejudice. Looking back, I think I made major contributions to this rich music that we have all over America – and all my hard work paid off as this blues music is now recognized worldwide."

As Joe Bihari remembers, it was on a trip to Atlanta in 1949 that he conducted his first on-the-road session after he just happened to hear a guitarist playing on the street there. The bluesman he discovered was Pine Top Slim. "I took him right into our distributor's office and I recorded him at the local radio station where Zeas Sears was the top jock" "Applejack Boogie b/w I'm Gonna Carry On" were released on a short-lived Modern subsidiary called Colonial in 1949. The Biharis shelved the rest of the Pine Top Slim session, and it was only when Frank Scott and Bruce Bromberg compiled the historic Kent Anthology of the Blues LP series  that the rest of the material resurfaced.

Blues From The Deep SouthFor a long time it was thought Lane Hardin's 1935 record, "California Desert Blues b/w Hard Time Blues" was the only record he ever recorded. Unknown to most collectors Hardin cut a vanity record circa 1948. The record was found by collector Steve LaVere sometime in the 1990's in Los Angeles and purchased by Tefteller and has since been reissued. In around 1950 a group of artists sent in a batch of unlabeled acetates that were discovered at Modern in 1970. These recordings have remained a focal point for intense discussion ever since. When these sides were first issued on Kent's Blues From The Deep South LP, Arkansas Johnny Todd and Leroy Simpson were invented for two sides released. It turns out that Todd is actually Lane Hardin.

Junior Brooks (nicknamed "Crippled Red") was from Pine Bluff, AR. He worked the local club scene with his fellow musicians Baby Face Turner, Elmon "Driftin' Slim" Mickle, and Sunny Blair. The Bihari brothers held two sessions in Little Rock in 1951 and '52 to record some of the local talent. Brooks made four recordings at the 1951 sessions. He died shortly afterward. Also from this session we feature tracks by Baby Face Turner and Boyd Gilmore.

Years ago, I don't remember where, I picked up a record on Arhoolie's Blues Classic series called Juke Joint Blues. There were  some great sides on that record but the one I played over and over was Dr. Hepcat's rollicking, humorous "Hattie Green", a totally unique rendition of this classic Texas blues  number. Born in Austin, Texas, January 9, 1913, as Lavada Durst he  learned to play the piano as a child and emulated the styles he heard growing up. "I was self-taught," he recalls "I used to slip across the street to the church house and one-finger that piano. From Robert Shaw (Arhoolie CD 377), Durst learned the rudiments of what is now referred to as the Texas barrelhouse piano style. He worked part time as a disc jockey from 1948 to 1963 on KVET radio in Austin. On the air, he used the call name “Dr. Hepcat,” and during his show, which featured primarily rhythm and blues and jazz, he used to jive talk to pique the interests of his listeners in making introductions to records, public service announcements, and commercials. He cut a handful of sides in 1949 and latter day sides.

Now I remember exactly where I snagged a copy of Dan Pickett: 1949 Country Blues. I was at my favorite record shop, Finyl Vinyl, on New York's Second Avenue in the Village and they had the album displayed on the wall reserved for notable new records. Most times I walked in there without a plan, just poking around and always leaving with some albums tucked under my arm. This time I had been looking for this album after reading an intriguing review in Juke Blues magazine. Dan Pickett did one recording session for the Philadelphia-based Gotham label in 1949. His real name was James Founty who was born in Pike County, Alabama on August 31, 1907. Five singles were issued by the label while the rest of the titles weren't unearthed until four decades later (with some alternate takes of some issued titles to boot). No one is certain what he did after his one and only session as far as his life. He passed away in Boaz, Alabama on August 16, 1967, a few days short of his 60th birthday.

Jess Thomas: D Double Due Love YouIn strange twist I became friends decades later with Axel Küstner who played a big part in unraveling the mystery behind Pickett. Küstner went from his home in Germany to Alabama in 1993 to see what he could dig up. He found Founty's surviving family and also the lawyer's son, who had his father"s papers, though Founty's file was missing. He obtained the only known photograph that shows Founty and some information on his life. Künster published a two page teaser about the trip in Juke Blues where he wrote: "Until the whole story is published in Juke Blues, I'll just tell you this much: [Founty was] a classic rambler in the best blues tradition…"Künster wrote that over fifteen years ago and still no full article has been written. I've been trying to gently prod him into writing the full article – maybe someday! In 2010 John Jeremiah Sullivam wrote an article on Pickett for The Oxford American that published the Pickett photo, transcribed an interview with Künster and provided a bit more information on Pickett's life.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Mary Johnson w/ Tampa RedDeath Cell Blues Twenty First. St. Stomp: The Piano Blues Of St. Louis
James Stump Johnson w/ Tampa RedJones Law BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 2 - Brunswick 1928-30
Texas Alexander w/ Lonnie JohnsonLong Lonesome DayTexas Alexander Vol. 1
Mooch Richardson w/ Lonnie JohnsonHelena BluesA Richer Tradition: Country Blues and String Band Music 1923-1942
Peetie Wheatstraw w/ Lonnie JohnsonTruckin' Thru TrafficPeetie Wheatstraw Vol. 5
Lil Green w/ Big Bill BroonzyJust Rockin'Lil Green -1940-1941
Charlie Spand w/ Big Bill Broonzy Rock And RyeRoots N' Blues: Booze & The Blues
Cripple Clarence Lofton w/ Big Bill BroonzyBrownskin GirlsThe Piano Blues Vol. 9: Lofton/Noble 1935-1936
Bumble Bee Slim w/ Casey Bill WeldonThis Old Life I'm Living Bumble Bee Slim Vol. 5 1935-1936
Memphis Minnie w/ Casey Bill WeldonWhen The Sun Goes DownFour Woman Blues
Leroy Henderson w/ Casey Bill WeldonGood Scuffler BluesCharley Jordan Vol.3 1935-1937
Dorothy Baker w/ Roosevelt SykesSteady Grinding BluesBarrelhouse Mamas
Teddy Darby w/ Roosevelt Sykes The Girl I Left BehindBlind Teddy Darby 1929-1937
Napoleon Fletcher w/ Roosevelt Sykes – She Showed It AllGrass Cutter BluesShe Showed It AllRoosevelt Sykes: The Essential
Alice Moore w/ Kokomo ArnoldGrass Cutter BluesKokomo Arnold Vol. 3 1936-1937
Roosevelt Sykes w/ Kokomo ArnoldThe Honey DripperRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 4 1934-1936
Peetie Wheatstraw w/ Kokomo ArnoldWorking On The Project Broadcasting the Blues
Robert Lee McCoy w/ Sonny Boy Williamson ITough LuckProwling With The Nighthawk
Yank Rachel w/ Sonny Boy Williamson II'm Wild And Crazy As Can Be Yank Rachell Vol. 1 1934-1941
Ma Rainey w/ Tampa RedBlack Eye BluesMother of the Blues
Victoria Spivey w/ Tampa RedDon't Trust Nobody Blues Victoria Spivey Vol. 3 1929-1936
Bessie Mae Smith w/ Lonnie JohnsonMy Daddy's Coffin Blues St. Louis Bessie & Alice Moore Vol. 1 1927-1929
Victoria Spivey w/ Lonnie JohnsonDope Head BluesBlues Images Vol. 4
Georgia White w/ Lonnie Johnson Alley BoogieGeorgia White Vol. 3 1937-1939
Mary Johnson w/ Roosevelt SykesRattlesnake BluesMary Johnson 1929-1936
Charlie McFadden w/ Roosevelt SykesGambler's BluesCharlie ''Specks'' McFadden 1929-1937
Washboard Sam w/ Big Bill BroonzyLife Is Just A BookWashboard Sam Vol. 6 1941-1942
Washboard Sam w/ Big Bill BroonzyMy Feet Jumped SaltyRockin' My Blues Away
Big Joe Williams w/ Sonny Boy Williamson IPlease Don't Go Big Joe Williams Vol. 1 1935-1941
Speckled Red w/ Sonny Boy Williamson IYou Got To Fix ItSpeckled Red 1929-1938
Big Bill Broonzy w/ Papa Charlie JacksonAt The Break of DayAll The Classic Sides 1928-1937
Lucille Bogan w/ Papa Charlie JacksonJim Tampa BluesLucille Bogan Vol. 1 1923-1929
Big Boy Teddy Edwards w/ Papa Charlie Jackson & Big Bill BroonzyLouise Big Boy Teddy Edwards 1930-1936
Washboard Sam w/ Big Bill Broonzy & Roosevelt SykesRiver Hip MamaRockin' My Blues Away

Show Notes:

Tampa Red
Tampa Red

A few months back I did a show called “Sideman Blues” where we shined the light on some superb session musicians who backed blues artists in the pre-war era. On today's sequel to that show we focus on some of the stars of the pre-war blues era who were also active session artists. Artists featured today include some of the era's big names such as Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red, Roosevelt Sykes, Kokomo Arnold, Sonny Boy Williamson I and others who were also very active backing others on record. Bluesmen such as Big Bill, Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson and Roosevelt Sykes in particular, backed dozens of artists, both well known and obscure on record. Many of these artists also acted in the role as talent scouts for the labels.

During his heyday in the 1920's and 30's, Tampa Red was billed as "The Guitar Wizard," and his stunning slide work on steel National or electric guitar shows why he earned the title. His 25 year recording career produced hundreds of sides: hokum, pop, and jive, but mostly blues (including classic compositions "Anna Lou Blues," "Black Angel Blues," "Crying Won't Help You," "It Hurts Me Too," and "Love Her with a Feeling"). Jim O'Neal neatly summed up Tampa's place in blues history when he wrote the following in 1975: "Few figures have been as important in blues history as Tampa Red; yet no bluesman of such stature has been so ignored by today's blues audience. As a composer, recording artist, musical trendsetter and one of the premier urban blues guitarists of his day, Tampa Red remained popular with black record buyers for more than 20 years and exerted considerable influence on many post-World War II blues stars who earned greater acclaim for playing Tampa's songs than Tampa himself often did."

Tampa was a very busy session guitarist mainly in the early years of his career, circa 1928-1929. Among those he backed include Big Maceo, Lucille Bogan, Bertha "Chippie" Hill, Lil Johnson, Frankie Jaxon, Victoria Spivey, Romeo Nelson, Ma Rainey, Mary Johnson and many others. Tampa's work behind underrated singer Mary Johnson has always been among my favorites. Johnson cut six sides at two sessions in 1930. The April 8, 1930 was outstanding do in large part to the shimmering slide guitar of Tampa and the excellent piano of the under recorded Judson Brown. The two work beautifully behind Johnson on the mournful "Three Months Ago Blues" with Tampa shinning on "Dawn Of Day Blues" and the magnificent "Death Cell Blues."

Lonnie Johnson was a true musical innovator who's remarkable recording career spanned from the 1920's through the 1960's. During that time his musical diversity was amazing: he played piano, guitar, violin, he recorded solo, he accompanied down home country blues singers like Texas Alexander, he played with Louis Armtrong's Hot Fives, recorded with Duke Ellington, duetted with Victoria Spivey and cut a series of instrumental duets with the white jazzman Eddie Lang that set a standard of musicianship that remains unsurpassed by blues guitarists. In Johnson's single-string style lie the basic precedents of such jazz greats as Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, while being a prime influence on bluesman as diverse as Robert Johnson, Tampa Red and B.B. King. Thus Johnson enjoys the rare distinction of having influenced musicians in both the jazz and blues fields. Like Tampa, Johnson backed dozens of artists on record including Texas Alexander, Jimmie Gordon, Merline Johnson, Alice Moore, Victoria Spivey, Peetie Wheatstraw, Johnnie Temple and a host of others.

Big Bill Broonzy
Big Bill Broonzy

As Bob Riesman wrote in his biography of Big Bill Broonzy: "…Bill's recording career took off in this era, and his prodigious output was nearly unmatched among blues musicians. From 1934 until 1942, when the combination of a musicians’ union ban and the diversion of shellac to the war effort halted virtually all recording for two years, Bill averaged better than thirteen double-sided 78 rpm records each year as a featured artist. In addition, he played on an average of forty-eight sides each year as a sideman. In other words, for nearly a decade, he averaged one new Big Bill record a month, and he appeared on two more as a studio guitarist. …As 'Big Bill,' he was one of the most productive and popular artists in the business, with a name that was familiar to his audiences and reinforced by his easily recognized singing style. At the same time, he became the first-call studio guitarist for dozens of recording sessions that Lester Melrose organized for several record companies, particularly Bluebird. In that capacity, he was an integral part of the distinctive sound of numerous musicians, including some of the most popular artists of the era. Two artists whose careers were interwoven with Bill’s were Washboard Sam and Jazz Gillum. Bill played guitar on a most every one of the more than 150 recordings that Sam made over a period of twenty years, as well as on many of the sides that Gillum recorded."

Broonzy's 40's work with Washboard Sam really hit a high point with Big Bill laying down some lengthy, swinging amplified guitar on featured tracks like "Life Is Just A Book", "My Feet Jumped Salty" and "River Hip Mama." Washboard Sam recorded hundreds of records between 1935 and 1949 for the bluebird label, usually with backing by guitarist Big Bill. In 1932, Sam moved to Chicago, initially he played for tips, but soon he began performing regularly with Broonzy. Within a few years, Sam was supporting Broonzy on the guitarist's Bluebird recordings. Soon, he was supporting a number of different musicians on their recording sessions, including pianist Memphis Slim, bassist Ransom Knowling, and a handful of saxophone players, who all recorded for Bluebird. In 1935, Sam began recording for both Bluebird and Vocalion Records. Throughout the rest of the '30s and the '40s, Sam was one of the most popular Chicago bluesmen, selling plenty of records and playing to packed audiences in the Chicago clubs.

Broonzy was also prominent on the recordings of Lil Green who's "Just Rockin'" we feature today. Her professional career was launched around 1940, when the manager of a Chicago club hired her on the spot after a group of her friends had arranged for a bandleader to call her up from the audience to sing.By May 1940 Green had come to the attention of Lester Melrose, who brought her into the studio to record on the Bluebird label. He assigned a trio of musicians to back her, including Big Bill, Simeon Henry on piano, and New Orleans veteran Ransom Knowling on bass. That session produced her first hit, "Romance in the Dark." As Broonzy noted in his autobiography: "I played for Lil Green for two years as her guitar player. I wrote some songs for her, like "My Mellow Man" and "Country Boy," "Give Your Mama One More Smile" and some more that I fixed up for her.

Roosevelt Sykes
Roosevelt Sykes

In 1929 Roosevelt Sykes met Jesse Johnson, the owner of the Deluxe Record Shop in St. Louis. Sykes, who at the time performed at an East St. Louis club for one dollar a night, quickly accepted Johnson's invitation to a recording session in New York. In the early 1930s, Sykes moved to Chicago. During the Depression years, he recorded for several labels under various pseudonyms. For the Victor label, he recorded as Willie Kelly on the classic 1930 side "32-20 Blues." Two years later, he cut his popular number "Highway 61 Blues" for Champion, the subsidiary label of Gennett Records. During the 1930's, Sykes served as a back-up pianist for more than thirty singers including Mary Johnson and James "St. Louis Jimmy" Oden. Through the recruiting efforts of Mayo "Ink" Williams, Sykes signed with Decca Records in 1934. His 1936 Decca side "Driving Wheel Blues" emerged as a blues classic. Sykes settled in Chicago in 1941 and, within a short time, became a house musician for the Victor/Bluebird label. Although the label marketed him as the successor to Fats Waller, who recorded on the same label and died in 1943, Sykes found success as the creator of his own style and remained active as a session man.

Sonny Boy Williamson was already a harp virtuoso in his teens. He learned from Hammie Nixon and Noah Lewis and ran with Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell before settling in Chicago in 1934. Sonny Boy signed to Bluebird in 1937. Henry Townsend recalled driving Sonny Boy, Robert Nighthawk, Walter Davis and Big Joe Williams to Aurora, Illinois, in his 1930 A Model Ford for their 1937 sessions: "I transferred them to Aurora, Illinois. There was about eight or nine of us …we stacked them in the car like sardines." This led to a marathon recording session resulting in six songs by 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. Sonny Boy recorded prolifically for Victor both as a leader and behind others in the vast Melrose stable (including Robert Lee McCoy and Big Joe Williams, who in turn played on some of Williamson's sides). Sonny Boy cut more than 120 sides in all for RCA from 1937 to 1947

Kokomo Arnold was born in Georgia, and began his musical career in Buffalo, New York in the early 1920's. During prohibition, Kokomo Arnold worked primarily as a bootlegger, and performing music was a only sideline to him. Nonetheless he worked out a distinctive style of bottleneck slide guitar and blues singing that set him apart from his contemporaries. In the late 1920's, Arnold settled for a short time in Mississippi, making his first recordings in May 1930 for Victor in Memphis under the name of "Gitfiddle Jim." Arnold moved to Chicago in order to be near to where the action was as a bootlegger, but the repeal of the Volstead Act put him out of business, so he turned instead to music as a full-time vocation. From his first Decca session of September 10, 1934 until he finally called it quits after his session of May 12, 1938, Kokomo Arnold made 88 sides.Arnold also did session work backing Peetie Wheatstraw, Roosvelt Sykes, Alice Moore, Mary Johnson and others.

Papa Charlie Jackson
Papa Charlie Jackson

"Papa" Charlie Jackson was a six-string banjo player who was one of the earliest and most successful of the solo blues singer/instrumentalists. Jackson settled in Chicago on the famed Maxwell Street around 1920 where he began earning a living by playing on street corners and at house parties. In 1924 he cut his first solo sides "Papa's Lawdy Blues" and "Airy Man Blues" for the Paramount label. During this period Jackson also became a sideman with many of the hot groups in and around Chicago. He also recorded with Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Bumble Bee Slim, Big Bill Broonzy and others before his subsequent death around 1938.

Despite several busy years in the recording studio and a couple of medium-sized hits ("Somebody Changed The Lock On My Door" and "We Gonna Move (To The Outskirts of Town)"), very little is known about Casey Bill Weldon. It was assumed he was the Will Weldon who played with the Memphis Jug Band but that remains in dispute. Between 1927 and 1935 he cut just over 60 sides for Victor, Bluebird and Vocalion. He was also an active session guitarist, appearing on records by Teddy Darby, Bumble Bee Slim, Memphis Minnie, Peetie Wheatsraw and others.

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