1950’s Blues


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee My Baby Done Changed The Lock On The Door Newport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues 1959-1968
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee Long GoneNewport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues 1959-1968
Willie Thomas and Butch Cage 44 BluesThe Folk Music Of The Newport Folk Festival 1959-60 Vol. 1
John Lee Hooker TupeloNewport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues 1959-1968
John Lee Hooker Hobo BluesThe Newport Folk Festival 1960 Vol. 1
Mississippi Fred McDowellHighway 61The Blues at Newport 1964
Mississippi Fred McDowellIf The River Was Whiskey The Blues at Newport 1964
Sleepy John EstesDrop Down Mama Blues At Newport 1964
Robert Pete WilliamsOn My Way From TexasBlues At Newport 1964
Mississippi John HurtSliding DeltaBlues At Newport 1964
Mississippi John HurtTalking CaseyBlues At Newport 1964
Mississippi John HurtCoffee BluesNewport Folk Festival 1963: The Evening Concert Vol. 1
Skip James Going Back to the CountryDarling, Do You Remember Me?Going Back to the Country
Skip James Cypress Grove Blues Blues At Newport 1964
Skip James Devil Got My WomanBlues At Newport 1964
Lightnin' HopkinsBaby Please Don't GoLightnin' Hopkins At Newport
Wilie DossCoal Black Mare Blues At Newport 1964
Wilie DossHobo BluesBlues At Newport 1964
Son House Preaching Blues Blues With A Feeling
Son House Empire state Express Blues With A Feeling
Lafayette Leake & Willie DixonWrinklesBlues With A Feeling
Otis Spann Goodbye Newport BluesAt Newport 1960
Muddy WatersSoon Forgotten At Newport 1960
Muddy WatersI Got My Brand On YouAt Newport 1960
Robert Wilkins Don't You Let Nobody Turn You RoundBlues With A Feeling
Robert Wilkins The Prodigal SonThe Prodigal Son

Show Notes:

Mississippi John Hurt performs at the Newport Folk Festival in July, 1964

 

The Newport Folk Festival is an annual folk-oriented music festival in Newport, Rhode Island, which began in 1959 as a counterpart to the previously established Newport Jazz Festival. The Newport Folk Festival was founded in 1959 by George Wein, founder of the already-well-established Newport Jazz Festival, backed by its original board: Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, Pete Seeger and Albert Grossman. The festival in its initial guise ran from 1959 to 1970, with no festivals scheduled in 1961 or 1962. The festival was revived in 1985. The festival's beginning in 1959 parallel the blues revival period and all of the great rediscovered bluesman appeared at the festival. The first bluesmen to appear at the festival were Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in 1959. Others who performed at Newport include Muddy Waters, who issued a live album of their 1960 performance, John Lee Hooker, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Rev. Robert Wilkins, Sleepy John Estes, Robert Pete Williams, Lightnin' Hopkins and many others. Today is part one of or look at the great blues performances of Newport in particular chronological order.

All of the great rediscovered bluesman performed at Newport; John Hurt was tracked down in Avalon, Mississippi, Bukka White in Aberdeen, Mississippi, Skip James was found in Mississippi's Tunica Hospital while Son House was residing in Rochester, New York. Eric Von Schmidt recalled the scene when Skip James took to the stage in his book Baby Let Me Follow You Down: "Skip sat down, and put his guitar on his leg. He set himself down, doing a little finger manipulation with his left hand, then he set his fingers by the sound hole. Sighed and hit the first note of I'd Rather Be the Devil Than Be That Woman's Man. He took that first note up in falsetto all the way, and the hairs on the neck went up, and all up and down my arms, the hairs just went right up. It's such an eerie note. It's almost a wail. It's a cry. There was an audible gasp from the audience."

Skip James recorded a legendary session for Paramount Records in 1931 then vanished for 33 years leaving no trail to follow. Just another blues man who had come and gone. He was tracked down and found in the Tunica, MS, hospital and then brought north to appear at the 964 Newport Folk Festival.

In Baby Let Me Follow You Down Schmidt recalled his memories of the festival: "I was listening to Mississippi John Hurt sing Spike Driver Blues. It was unreal, John Hurt was dead. Had to be. All the guys on that Harry Smith Anthology were dead. But there was no denying that the man singing so sweet and playing so beautifully was the John Hurt. He had a face – and what a face. He had a hat that he wore like a halo."

In 1963, a folk musicologist, Tom Hoskins, supervised by Richard Spottswood, was able to locate Hurt near Avalon, Mississippi. While in Avalon, Hoskins convinced Hurt to perform several songs for him, to ensure that he was genuine. Hoskins was convinced, and seeing that Hurt's guitar playing skills were still intact, Hoskins encouraged him to move to Washington, D.C., and begin performing on a wider stage. His performance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival saw his star rise amongst the new folk revival audience.

 Skip James performs at the Newport Folk
Festival in July, 1964 (photo by Rick Staehling)

Robert Wilkins cut one of the great albums of the blues revival, Memphis Gospel Singer, recorded in 1964 for the Piedmont label but perhaps because he refused to play blues his part in the 60's revival is sometimes neglected. Wilkins hit the folk circuit, appearing at Newport in 1964 and the Memphis Country Blues Festival in 1966 and 1968. Even after the Rolling Stones covered "Prodigal Son" Wilkins steadfastly refused to play the blues. At the 1964 festival Wilkins delivered an epic nine minute version of "Prodigal Son", showing, that if anything, his playing was better than ever.

Other bluesmen weren't so much rediscovered as simply exposed; Mance Lipscomb was a gifted songster and slide guitarist who was born in 1895, who played at local functions around Navasota, Texas and did not make his debut recording until 1960. Lightin' Hopkins, another Texan had been recording since the 40's when he arrived at Newport. Mississippi McDowell was discovered by Alan Lomax in 1959 and recorded several albums before playing Newport in 1964. In 1956, Robert Pete Williams shot and killed a man in a local club and was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in  Angola prison. He served two years before being discovered by folklorists Dr. Harry Oster and Richard Allen. The pair recorded Williams performing several of his own songs and helped Williams receive a pardon in 1959. For the first five years after he left prison, Williams could only perform in Louisiana, but made several albums. In 1964, Williams played his first concert outside of Louisiana, at the Newport Folk Festival. The cuts recorded of Willie Doss at Newport in 1964 are the only recordings that were ever released of his music. Doss was born in Cleveland, Mississippi, but discovered living in Ashford, Alabama by folklorist Ralph Rinzler.

Successful urban bluesmen like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, faced with a diminishing market for blues in the black market, saw the festival as a way to attract a whole new audience. At Newport 1960 was released by Muddy Waters after his appearance. When Muddy’s band played the Newport Folk Festival in 1960, Otis Spann sang "Goodbye Newport Blues" which appeared on the subsequent live album. The song was written by poet Langston Hughes in response to a riot that happened at the festival the day before.

Performers were paid just $50 to appear at Newport, but careers were made on this main stage. Dick Waterman who became a booking agent and business adviser to many of the rediscovered bluesmen recalled: "It's important to remember that the record companies were well represented at the festival. You only had about fifteen minutes to play, but if you performed really well in those few minutes, as you turned from the microphone and left the stage, you just might be greeted by John Hammond of Columbia, or Maynard Solomon of Vanguard, or Jac Holzman of Elektra. There were no lawyers or middlemen involved. The guy who made the decision at the record company was there to make a deal."

 

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Champion Jack DupreeReminiscin' With Champion JackChampion of the Blues
Champion Jack DupreeStoryville SpecialBoogie Woogie, Booze And Wild Women
Champion Jack DupreeDrive 'em Down SpecialTwo Fisted Piano From New Orleans: Blues Roots Vol. 8
Speckled RedI Had My FunBlues Masters 11: Speckled Red
Speckled RedFour O'Clock BluesBlues Masters 11: Speckled Red
Speckled RedEarly Morning Blues Blues Masters 11: Speckled Red
Lonnie Johnson & Otis SpannClementine BluesSwingin' with Lonnie: Blues Roots Vol. 5
Lonnie Johnson & Otis SpannSee See RiderSwingin' with Lonnie: Blues Roots Vol. 5
Sleepy John Estes with Hammie NixonDiving Duck BluesPortraits In Blues Vol. 10
John Henry BarbeeI Ain't Gonna Pick No More CottonI Ain't Gonna Pick No More Cotton
Sippie Wallace & Little Brother MontgomeryWoman Be WiseSippie Wallace Sings The Blues
Sippie Wallace & Little Brother MontgomeryI'm A Might Tight WomanSippie Wallace Sings The Blues
Big Joe WilliamsShake Them DownBig Joe Williams
Robert Pete WilliamsDoctor BluesRobert Pete Williams
Otis SpannT.B. BluesOtis Spann: I Have Had My Fun - Blues Roots Vol. 9
Otis SpannSpann's BoogieOtis Spann: I Have Had My Fun - Blues Roots Vol. 9
Big Bill BroonzyI Get The Blues When It RainsAn Evening With Big Bill Broonzy Vol. 2
Big Bill BroonzyBlack Brown And WhiteAn Evening With Big Bill Broonzy
Sunnyland SlimPrison Bound Blues Sunnyland Slim: Blues Roots Vol. 9
Roosevelt SykesThe Way I Feel Roosevelt Sykes: Portraits In Blues Vol. 11
Roosevelt SykesBoot That ThingRoosevelt Sykes: Portraits In Blues Vol. 11
Sonny Boy WilliamsonThe Sky Is CryingKeep It to Ourselves
Sonny Boy WilliamsonRebecca BluesPiano Blues
Little Brother MontgomeryI Must Get Mine In FrontDeep South Piano
Little Brother MontgomeryBob Martin BluesDeep South Piano
Sonny Terry with Brownie McGhee I'm Afraid Of FireWizard Of The Harmonica
Brownie McGhee My Last SuitThe Best Of Brownie McGhee
Memphis Slim This Is A Good Time To Write A Song Memphis Slim: Blues Roots Vol. 10

Show Notes:

Big Bill BroonzyOn today's program we spotlight a great batch of recordings from the Storyville label based in Copenhagen. Storyville managed to corral  many of the great blues performers who made their way to Europe staring in the latter end of the 1950's and which increased as the American Folk Blues Festival brought many more to European shores throughout the 1960's. I have always been impressed with the quality of the albums Storyville issued. Artists like Champion Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, for example, recorded prolifically for many labels often churning out less than inspired recordings in their later years but Storyville had a knack for eliciting great performances from even the most jaded artists and the fact is that the Storyville albums maintain a consistently high level of quality. In addition to the original recordings, Storyville also released albums of recordings by Harry Oster and Pete Welding.

The year was 1950 when a group of jazz enthusiasts/record collectors often met at the home of Karl Emil Knudsen. Among those present were Heinrich Breiling and the young clarinet phenomenon Henrik Johansen. The label was launched in Copenhagen in 1952 with Knudsen eventually taking over full responsibility of the label. Storyville originally sold imported American records but when American jazz artists began to tour in Europe and Scandinavia Knudsen seized every opportunity to record them for the label. The label's first releases were 78 rpm reissues featuring Ma Rainey, Clarence Williams Blue Five, and James P. Johnson, but Storyville soon began releasing original recordings. Looking back on the period of 1956 to 1964, and to a lesser extant into the early 70's, Storyville’s recorded quite a bit of blues. The first great blues singer to arrive in Copenhagen was Big Bill Broonzy in 1956 and recorded by the label. Many blues artists toured Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival, which originally ran for a decade between 1962 and the early 70's. Storyville recorded the artists in the wee hours after they had played the evening concert. The label recorded many of the bluesmen who settled down and lived and performed in Europe including Memphis Slim, Champion Jack Dupree and Eddie Boyd. The label seemed to have a special affinity for piano players, cutting several albums by Champion Jack Dupree plus sessions by Speckled Red, Little Brother Montgomery, Memphis Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim and Eddie Boyd. Others who recorded for the label include Robert Pete Williams, Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Sonny Boy Williamson and others. A good chunk of the material has been made its way to CD including the 7-CD set, The Blues Box. The Storyville discography can be a bit confusing as the label repackaged, and re-titled their albums through the years.

Champion Jack DupreeAs mentioned previously, there's a wealth of great piano blues recorded by the label.  Champion Jack Dupree moved to Europe in 1959, first settling in Switzerland and then Denmark, England, Sweden and, finally, Germany. He record prolifically for Storyville, British Decca, Blue Horizon, Sonet and others. Dupree moved to Europe in 1959, first settling in Switzerland and then Denmark, England, Sweden and, finally, Germany. He record prolifically for Storyville, British Decca, Blue Horizon, Sonet and others. Dupree cut 45's, EP's and several albums for Storyville including Champion of the Blues, The Best Of The Blues, Portraits in Blues Vol. 5, The Blues Of Champion Jack Dupree and several others.

Speckled Red first recorded in 1929, cutting his classic "The Dirty Dozens" among others. He did another session in 1930 and a final one in 1938. Charlie O'Brien, a St. Louis policeman and something of a blues aficionado had tracked down old bluesmen during the 1950s, including Speckled Red on December 14, 1954, who subsequently was signed to Delmark Records as their first blues artist. In 1960 he was booked to tour Europe. On June he toured Scandinavia where he recorded for Storyville.

Little Brother Montgomery saw his career pick up in the 1960's and he became a world traveler, visiting the UK and Europe on several occasions during the 1960's, cutting several albums there, while remaining based in Chicago. He cut one of his best latter day albums in 1972 for Storyville titled Deep South Piano. Montgomery can also be heard playing behind Sippie Wallace on the Storyville album Sippie Wallace Sings The Blues recorded in 1966 when when she was touring with the American Folk Blues.

Other piano players who recorded for Storyville were Otis Spann, Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim, Sunnyland Slim and Eddie Boyd. Roosevelt Sykes was recorded for Storyville while on tour for the 1964 American Folk Blues Festival. Memphis Slim first appeared outside the United States in 1960, touring with Willie Dixon, with whom he returned to Europe in 1962 as a featured artist in the first of the series of American Folk Festival concerts. in 1962. That same year, he moved permanently to Paris where he secured his position as one of the most prominent blues artists for nearly three decades. He recorded the album Traveling With The Blues for Storyville in 1960 plus some other scattered sides for the label. Otis Spann recorded an album for the label as well as backing Lonnie Johnson on a fantastic session. Both men were on tour for the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival at the time.

Sonny Boy Williamson: Portrait In Blues Vol. 4Big Bill Broonzy was the first blues singer to be recorded by Storyville. In 1951, Broonzy took his first tour of Europe, where he was met with enthusiasm and appreciation. His appearances in Europe introduced the blues to European audiences and were especially influential in London’s emerging skiffle and rock blues scene. Broonzy’s success also set the stage for later blues artists such as Sonny Boy Williamson II and Muddy Waters to play European venues. Broonzy toured Europe again in 1955, 1956 and 1957. Broonzy was recorded live at Club Montmartre in Copenhagen and these recordings were issued on Storyville as An Evening With Big Bill Broonzy Vol. 1 & 2.

Other blues singers recorded for the label include Sonny Boy Williamson II, Big Joe Williams, John Henry Barbee, Sleepy John Estes & Hammie Nixon, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Robert Pete Williams. Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon were recorded for Storyville while both were on tour for the 1964 American Folk Blues Festival while  Big Joe and Robert Pete Williams were recorded for Storyville while both were on tour for the 1972 Festival. Both Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry cut excellent albums in the early 70's for Storyville each accompanying each other. Sonny Boy Williamson first traveled to Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival in 1963 and joined the Festival again in 1964. He recorded a wonderful session for Storyville in 1963 backed by Matt Murphy, Memphis Slim and Billie Stepney.

John Henry Barbee cut an exceptional album for the label and has a fascinating but tragic story. Barbee recorded recorded for Vocalion in the early fall of 1938 where he made the trip to Chicago and recorded four titles. His initial record sold well enough to cause Vocalion to call on Barbee again, but by that time he had left his last known whereabouts in Arkansas. Barbee returned to the blues scene during the midst of the blues revival. His earliest sides are from 1963 recorded at the Chicago club the Fickle Pickle. n 1964 he joined the American Folk Blues Festival and was recorded several times that year: songs by him appear on a pair of albums on the Spivey label, several tracks were recorded while in Europe as well as a an excellent full-length album for Storyville issued as Portraits in Blues Vol. 9. and appears on John Henry Barbee & Sleepy John Estes: Blues Live. In a case of tragic circumstances, Barbee returned to the United States and used the money from the tour to purchase his first automobile. Only ten days after purchasing the car, he accidentally ran over and killed a man. He was locked up in a Chicago jail, and died there of a heart attack a few days later, November 3, 1964, 11 days before his 59th birthday.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Michael SpörkeInterview
Big Mama ThorntonCotton Picking BluesThe Complete 1950 1961
Big Mama ThorntonI Smell A RatHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonRock-A-Bye BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonYes, BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonHound DogHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonMy StoryThe Complete 1950 1961
Big Mama ThorntonStop Hoppin' On MeHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonThey Call Me Big MamaThe Complete 1950 1961
Big Mama ThorntonOne More River Saved
Big Mama ThorntonBig Mama's Coming HomeThe Complete 1950-1961
Big Mama ThorntonLife Goes OnAll Night Long They Played The Blues
Big Mama ThorntonBall N' Chain Ball And Chain
Big Mama ThorntonLittle Red RoosterLive In Europe
Big Mama ThorntonMy Heavy Load Ball And Chain
Big Mama ThorntonSession BluesIn Europe
Big Mama ThorntonI'm Feeling Alright With The Muddy Waters Blues Band)
Big Mama ThorntonLooking The World OverIn Europe
Big Mama ThorntonEverybody's Happy But MeSassy Mama!
Big Mama ThorntonJailJail
Big Mama ThorntonThat Lucky Old SunLive At Ann Arbor 1970
Big Mama Thornton Unlucky GirlBall And Chain
Big Mama ThorntonRock MeGunsmoke Blues

Show Notes:

Big Mama ThorntonWillie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton is probably best remembered for two songs that became huge for Elvis and later Janis Joplin. "Hound Dog" held down the top slot on Billboard's R&B charts for seven weeks in 1953 and Elvis had an even bigger hit with it in 1956. Joplin covered "Ball and Chain" on her debut album which became a million seller. Thornton moved to Houston where she signed with Don Robey's cutting some terrific sides but no hits to match "Hound Dog." After Houston she settled in California where she cut a few singles and struggled playing small club dates. After new management she began to play festivals including the American Folk Blues Festival and cut some fine albums for Arhoolie. She cutting records for Mercury and Vanguard through the 70's and touring up until her death in 1984. Today we feature Big Mama's music and hear my interview with Michael Spörke who has written the biography Big Mama Thornton: The Life and Music.

As Spörke writes: "Willie Mae moved in the house of relatives in Barbour County Alabama, and found herself a job washing and cleaning spittoons in the local tavern. One night the tavern's regular;r vocalist go drunk so Willie Mae convinced the tavern owner that she could do the job. She never looked back after that." As she related to writer Ralph Gleason: "I like my own old down home singing, with the feeling.I learned to sing blues by myself. …My singing comes from experience, my own feeling. I got my own feeling for everything. I never had no one teach me nothing. I never went to school for music or nothing. I stayed home to take care of my mother who was sick. I taught myself to sing and to blow harmonica and even to play the drums by watching other people. I can't read music but I know where I'm singing! If I hear a blues I like, I try to sing it in my own way. It's always best to have something of your own. I don't sing like nobody but myself." Her big break came through singer Diamond Teeth Mary who met Willie Mae when she was working on a garbage truck and  happened to hear her singing. Mary told her about a singing contest for Sammy Greens Hot Harlem Revue. At fourteen years old, she won the contest and began traveling with the Revue.

Thornton’s career began to take off when she moved to Houston in 1948.She made her debut in 1950 cutting "All Right Baby b/w Bad Luck Got My Man" for the tiny E&W label on Houston's Dallas Avenue. She signed a a five year recording contract with Don Robey's Peacock Records in 1951. Thornton played at Robey's Bronze Peacock club and toured the Big Mama Thornton AdChitlin' Circuit. Thornton cut some solid records before "Hound Dog", such as "Cotton picking Blues" and  "Let Your Tears Fall Baby" but nothing hit the charts. Robey negotiated a deal with Johnny Otis in which he would take some of Robey's artists on tour with the revue and that he would also record them. Sh was apparently a big hits as the Chicago Defender proclaimed that Thornton "stopped the show in the Tacoma, Oakland and Richmond auditoriums, as well as in Stockton, Sacramento, Bakersfield and the Elks Auditorium in Los Angeles." While on tour with Otis she cut "Hound Dog." The son was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller especially for Thornton. Otis brought Leiber and Stoller  to see her to see if they could come up with something for her. As Stoller recalled:  "we saw Big mama and she knocked me cold. she looked like the biggest, bad-ass, saltiest chick you would ever see. And she was mean, a 'lady bear' as they used to call 'em. She must have been 350 pounds and she had all these scars all over her face. I had to write a song for her that basically said 'Go fuck yourself' but how do you do it without actually saying it? ..She was a wonderful blues singer with a great moaning style, but it was as much her appearance as her blues style that influenced the writing of Hound Dog." The song went to number one on the R&B charts and was the biggest record Peacock ever had.

Unable to follow the success of  "Hound Dog" she left peacock in 1957 and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, playing clubs in San Francisco and L.A. but not recording again until 1961. In 1961 she waxed 45's for Irma and Bay Tone. During the latter session she cut "Ball and Chain" but was not released. Her fortunes took an upswing with new manager Jimmy Moore and "the big festivals and shows came back into Big Mama Thornton's life…" Her first big festival shows the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival which she would play again in 1966 and 1968. In 1965, she toured with the American Folk Blues Festival package in Europe. As Spörke writes: "Big Mama was always put on at the end of each show. She was the highlight." During the festival she got the chance to record an album for Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie label. Big Mama In Europe featured an all-star backing band that included Buddy guy, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Walter Horton, Eddie Boyd and others.

Back in the States after her European tour she cut a few singles for Sotoplay, Kent and the terrific "Life Goes On" for Galaxy. In 1966 she cut her second album for Arhoolie, Big Mama Thornton Vol. 2: The Queen at Monterey with the Chicago Blues Band. The album found her backed by a crack Muddy Waters band that included James Cotton, Sammy Lawhorn and Otis Spann among others. 1968 saw the release of the album Ball and Chain on Arhoolie.

While the black audience was turning away from the blues there was a growing appreciation for blues and roots music among white audiences that would benefit Thornton greatly. Between 1966 and 1969 she was in great demand in campuses, clubs, folk festivals and rock festivals. She played in places like the Fillmore and the Ash Grove, sharing the stage with rock bands like the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane. It was during this period she met Janis Joplin and members of Big Brother & the Holding Company. It was at a club that they heard her perform "Ball and Chain." As Joplin  said " she sings the blues with such heart and soul. I have learned so much from her and only wish I could sing as well as Willie Mae." Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company's performance of "Ball 'n' Chain" at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and release of the song on their number one album Cheap Thrills renewed interest in Thornton's career and was the song that made Joplin famous.

Big Mama Thornton at the 1965 American Folk Blues Festival

 

By 1969, she signed with Mercury Records. Mercury released her most successful album, Stronger Than Dirt, which reached number 198 in the Billboard Top 200 record chart. Thornton then signed a contract with Pentagram cutting a gospel album called Saved. Thornton's last albums were Jail and Sassy Mama for Vanguard Records in 1975. Thornton never stopped touring until her passing in 1984, including a return to Europe on 1972. As Spörke writes: "The newspapers, for the most part, wrote that she was found dead, alone in a boarding house, but her friends say  that this is not the truth. It seems more realistic that she had gathered together her old buddies one last time on July 25, 1984. Around six in the evening, rumor has it, she phoned her sister Mattie. She sang for her, her favorite song, 'That Lucky Old Sun.' Then she went to the sofa, drank some gin and milk, fell to sleep and never got up." As Johnny Otis said at her funeral: "Don't waste your sorrow on Big Mama. She's free. Don't fell sorry for Big mama. There's no more pain. No more suffering in a society where the color of skin was more important than the quality of your talent."

 

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Doctor Clayton Roaming GamblerDoctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton Black Snake Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton '41 BluesDoctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Robert Junior Lockwood & Sunnyland Slim Doctor Clayton And MeConversation With The Blues
Doctor Clayton Pearl Harbor Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Walter BrownConfessin' the Blues Walter Brown 1945-1947
Doctor Clayton Confessin' the Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton Doctor Clayton BluesDoctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor ClaytonWatch Out Mama Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor ClaytonCheating And Lying Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Robert Nighthawk Cheating And Lying Blues And This Is Free
Pat Hare I'm Gonna Murder My Baby Mystery Train
Doctor Clayton Gotta Find My Baby Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Pete Franklin I Gotta Find My BabyGuitar Pete´s Blues
B.B KingGotta Find My BabyThe Vintage Years
Doctor Clayton Honey Stealin' Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton My Own Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton On the Killin’ Floor Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Willie Mabon I'm Hungry I Blueskvarter Vol. 1
Doctor Clayton Moonshine Woman Blues Doctor Clayton: 1935-1942
Doctor Clayton Moonshine Man Blues Doctor Clayton: 1935-1942
B.B KingThe Woman I LoveThe Vintage Years
Doctor Clayton Ain't No Business We Can Do Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton Angels In Harlem Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Little Son Willis Harlem Blues Down Home Blues Classics: California & The West Coast
Larry Davis Angels In HoustonAngels In Houston
Doctor Clayton I Need My BabyDoctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
B.B KingWalking Doctor BillThe Vintage Years
Doctor Clayton Copper Coloured MamaDoctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton Ain't Gonna Drink No More Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Doctor Clayton Root Doctor Blues Doctor Clayton: Angels In Harlem
Willie 'Long Time' Smith My Buddy Doctor Clayton Doctor Clayton & His Buddies 1946-1947

Show Notes: 


My buddy my buddy Doctor Clayton, he has been here and gone
But you know he waved his hand, and told me to carry on
We used to drink gin, beer and whiskey, and walk together all night long
But now he has passed away, and told me to carry on

(Willie "Long Time" Smith, My Buddy Dr. Clayton, 1947)

Doctor Clayton

Over 60 years after his untimely death the exceptional singer and masterful songwriter known as Doctor Clayton is little spoken of today. Clayton worked strictly as a vocalist (by some accounts he could play piano and ukulele), employing an impressive falsetto technique, later refined into a powerful, swooping style that was instantly recognizable. In addition he was an unparalleled songwriter, writing mostly original material with a rare wit, intelligence and social awareness. Clayton's vocal style was widely emulated and a number of his songs became blues standards. Despite the high esteem he was held in by fellow blues artists and his popularity during his lifetime Clayton's fine blues recordings remain largely ignored. On today's show we spotlight some of his best numbers and play covers by his many admirers. The title of today's show comes from the 1941 number "Slick Man Blues."

As Chris Smith wrote: "…Clayton was an artist of genuine stature and originality, and as a result a star in black entertainment circles. Sunnyland Slim, his piano player for a number of years on club dates, recalls that he toured extensively in a bus which featured his distinctly bespectacled, grinning face on its side, and was always welcomed by club owners for his crowd pulling abilities. …What makes Doctor Clayton's work so striking is that his singing was far more powerful, more passionate, and at the same time more humorous, than many of his fellow Bluebird artists."

Further, he noted,"Clayton, let us remember, was immediately disadvantageous, in the terms of American society, by being black, and thus having his horizons forcibly narrowed by institutionalized racism. …He created in his songs a fantasy world of success in the terms of the ghetto, as a gambler, pimp and master of success with women (though he also evinced (incredibly enough) a wry appreciation of the realities of life). He was also handicapped on the personal level, by his alcoholism and a lack of self-preservation; his projection in song of himself as a hustler supreme is thus even more poignant by virtue of the fact that he was quite incapable of attaining success even in the demeaning terms which were all that white America allowed blacks to consider."

Peter Joe Clayton was born April 19, 1898 in Georgia, by most reports, although claimed he was born in Africa and that he moved to St. Louis with his parents. In St. Louis he married and had four children, was employed as a factory worker and started his singing career. In 1937 tragedy struck when a fire burned down his house, killing his wife and children. He began drinking and living recklessly, a pattern that continued throughout his life. In his book Big Bill Blues Big Bill Broonzy reminisced about Clayton with obvious fondness: "Doctor Clayton was a good hearted boy. He wouldn't get a room, he wore tennis shoes in winter time and slept on pool tables and in alleys and basements, anywhere he could, because all the money he made from singing he would drink it up, or lose it in some kind of game." He certainly cut and odd figure usually sporting strange hats and oversized glasses sans the lenses. Robert Lockwood recalls coming back from St. Louis after recording with Clayton to find him in a sorry state of affairs: "When I got back here, Doctor Clayton didn't have no shoes! What happened was, after the recording session, the Doctor had taken the money he had made and bought everybody drinks and food at the club that night. …And when Doctor Clayton passed out, they stole his money and everything he had. They took his shoes off, took his coat. And when he woke up, he didn't have shit." Many of Clayton's songs deal with tough times and 1942's "On The Killing Floor" (the theme was used in Howlin' Wolf's 1964 song "Killing Floor" and Willie Mabon's "I'm Hungry" uses some lines from the song) seems to echo his reckless lifestyle:

"Please give me a match to light this short that I found
I know it looks bad for me, picking tobacco off the ground
I was in my prime not so very long ago
But high priced whiskey and woman done put me on the killin' floor
Lord it's zero weather and I ain't got a lousy dime
I'm walking from door to door and I can't find a friend of mine"

From the same session was another down-and-out tale, "Ain't No Business We Can Do":

I went down to Eli, got my suit out of pawn
Took the last little change I had left, and put some new shoes on
I took a real slow stroll, right down the avenue
A high yeller asked me, could she go 'long too
I said, "Hey good-lookin' have you got any cash on you?
'Cos if you broke like me, ain't no business we can do"

Prices goin' up every day, all kind of meat is too high
If you ain't rich or got a good job, neckbones is all you could buy
The best friend you got, will even tell you a lie
And let me tell you buddy, you better keep some kinda cash on you
'Cos when you broke, outdoors and hungry ain't no business you can do

But according to his sometime partner Blind John Davis there was another side to Clayton: "He was a brilliant fellow. He went to 52nd grade in school and he could sing opera, he could sing semi-classics, he could sing the blues and everything."

Clayton moved to Chicago with partner Robert Lockwood to pursue his musical career with the aid of Charley Jordan who had connections with the Columbia and Decca labels. Clayton was supposed to record for Decca but ended up hooking up with Lester Melrose of Bluebird. As Lockwood related later: "Doctor Clayton started singin', and Melrose had a baby. …He had to have Doctor Clayton! Yeah! Lester Melrose heard Doctor Clayton sing, and he went crazy." It has been suggested that a 1930 78 by Jesse Clayton, "Neckbone Blues b/w Station House Blues" may mask the first recording by Doctor Clayton.

He first recordings we are sure of were for Bluebird in 1935 cutting six sides, four of which went unissued, and he didn't record again until 1941. Between 1941-1942 he recorded four sessions for Bluebird and Okeh backed by pianist Blind John Davis with guitarist Robert Lockwood and bassist Ransom Knowling on some sides. Knowling also plays tuba on some sides as Clayton alternatley exhorts him to "Kill yourself, Mr.Ransom", "Blow your horn, Mr.Ransom", and "Toot your horn, Mr. Ransom". This period included many memorable sides including wartime numbers like "'41 Blues" and "Pearl Harbor Blues" (cut three months after the attack). In "'41 Blues" Clayton offers his solution to end hostilities:

War is raging in Europe, up on the water, land and in the air
If Uncle Sam don't be careful, we'll all soon be right back over there
This whole war would soon be over if Uncle Sam would use my plan
Let me sneak in Hitler's bedroom with my razor in my hand"

In "Pearl Harbor Blues" he had this to say:

"On December the seventh, nineteen hundred and forty one
The Japanese flew over Pearl Harbor, dropping bombs by the ton
This Japanese is so ungrateful, just like a stray dog on the street
Well he bite the hand that feeds em', soon as he get enough to feed

Doctor ClaytonClayton's "'41 Blues" was covered by Jazz Gillum as "Wartime Blues" recorded just two days before Pearl Harbor. Other numbers during this period include the oft covered "Cheating And Lying Blues" and "Gotta Find My Baby" plus memorable sides like "Watch Out Mama", "Moonshine Woman Blues" (covered by B.B. King in 1959 as "The Woman I Love" with an overdubbed version charting in 1968) and "Ain't No Business We Can Do." Slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk was recorded playing "Cheating And Lying Blues" in 1964 live on Maxwell Street which also combined the lyrics form "Ain't No Business We Can Do" and Pat Hare's 1954 "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby" was a direct descendant of "Cheating And Lying Blues" ("I'm gonna murder my baby if she don't stop cheating and lying/Well I'd rather be in the penitentiary than to be worried out of my mind").

After these sessions the Petrillo ban put a temporary ban on recording activity and Clayton was out of the studio for several years. Clayton got off to a bad start for a February 1946 session when all four numbers were rejected. His next session was in August 1946 with a small group led by "Baby Doo" Caston with all six sides issued. These sessions included the oft-covered "Angels in Harlem" (covered by Smokey Hogg and by Larry Davis as "Angels In Houston" and by Little Son Willis as "Harlem Blues"), "Hold That Train Conductor" (covered by B.B. King in 1961) and "I Need My Baby" (covered by Smokey Hogg in 1951 as "Walking Dr. Bill" and by B.B. King under the same title as Hogg's in 1960 and hitting number 23 on the R&B charts), "Root Doctor" and perhaps ironically "Aint Gonna Drink No More." Also cut during this period was "Copper Colored Mama" which King covered as "The Woman I Love" in 1954. "Root Doctor" was probably Clayton's theme song, and according to Sunnyland Slim, much bawdier when performed live. The song was a cover of Walter Davis' 1935 "Root Man Blues."

Clayton’s records were steady sellers and he regularly appeared at Chicago clubs such as Sylvios working with Robert Lockwood and Sunnyland Slim and toured widely. Attesting to this popularity was Sunnyland Slim who recorded as "Doctor Clayton's Buddy" on his debut 1947 session and Willie Long Time Smith who in 1947 recorded the tribute, "My Buddy Doctor Clayton" written by Lester Melrose. Clayton died on January 7th 1947 in Chicago, of pulmonary tuberculosis at Chicago's Cook County Hospital. According to Big Bill only ten people attended Clayton's funeral including himself and Tampa Red. Echoes of his vocal style survived in the music Professor Longhair, Jimmy Witherspoon and particularly early B.B. King. King covered several of Clayton's compositions and offered this praise: "Well, Doctor Clayton was the man that I used to idolize; just about everything he did I used to sing along with it for hours."

Related Reading:

-I'm A First Class Root Doctor (Talking Blues 5, 6, 7 by Chris Smith, 1977) [PDF]

-Ain't Gonna Drink No More (Blues & Rhythm 24 by Tony Burke, 1986) [PDF]

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Dusty Brown Will You Forgive Me BabyBandera Blues And Gospel From The Bandera
Dusty Brown Well You Know (I Love You)Bandera Blues And Gospel From The Bandera
Jimmy Lee RobinsonAll My LifeBandera Blues And Gospel From The Bandera
Jimmy Lee RobinsonTimes Is HardBandera Blues And Gospel From The Bandera
Grover Pruitt Mean TrainBandera Blues And Gospel From The Bandera
Bobby DavisHype You Into Selling Your HeadBandera Blues And Gospel From The Bandera
George & His House RockersYou Don't Love MeChicago Ain’t Nothin’ But a Blues Band
Sunnyland SlimRecession BluesChicago Ain’t Nothin’ But a Blues Band
Henry GrayHow Can You Do ItChicago Ain’t Nothin’ But a Blues Band
Eddy ClearwaterNeckbones EverydayChicago Ain’t Nothin’ But a Blues Band
Eddy ClearwaterA Minor Cha ChaChicago Ain’t Nothin’ But a Blues Band
Morris PejoeLet's Get HighChicago Ain’t Nothin’ But a Blues Band
Jimmy RogersI'm A Lucky Lucky ManChicago Ain’t Nothin’ But a Blues Band
Jo Jo WilliamsAll Pretty WomanChicago Ain’t Nothin’ But a Blues Band
Jo Jo WilliamsYou Can't Live In This Big World By YourselfChicago Ain’t Nothin’ But a Blues Band
Lonnie BrooksFigure HeadThe USA Records Blues Story
Mighty Joe YoungTough TimesThe USA Records Blues Story
Fenton RobinsonDirectly From HeartThe USA Records Blues Story
Fenton RobinsonSay Your Leavin'The USA Records Blues Story
Willie MabonSometimes I Wonder The USA Records Blues Story
Willie MabonJust Got SomeThe USA Records Blues Story
J.B. LenoirI Feel So GoodThe USA Records Blues Story
J.B. LenoirI Sing Um The Way I Feel Mojo Boogie
Jesse FortuneGood ThingsThe USA Records Blues Story
Jesse FortuneToo Many CooksThe USA Records Blues Story
Homesick JamesCrossroadsThe USA Records Blues Story
Hound Dog TaylorYou Don't Love MeChicago Blues from C.J. Records
Earl Hooker Wild MomentsChicago Blues from C.J. Records
Eddie ShawBlues For The West SideChicago Blues from C.J. Records
Big Moose WalkerThe Things I Used To DoChicago Blues from C.J. Records
Little Mac Simmons Come BackChicago Blues from C.J. Records
William Carter Goin' Out WestChicago Blues from C.J. Records
Lee Jackson JaunitaChicago Blues from C.J. Records
Jimmy RogersBlues FallingC.J.'s Roots Of Chicago Blues Vol. 2
Jimmy RogersBroken HeartC.J.'s Roots Of Chicago Blues Vol. 2

Show Notes:

jimmy Lee Robinson: All My LifeToday's show is the first part of our look at small Chicago blues labels in the 1950's and 1960's. Over the course of today's program we spotlight four small Chicago labels that issued some great records: Bandera, Atomic-H, C.J. and USA. Atomic-H was run by Rev. Houston. H. Harrington who operated the label between the mid-50's up until 1961. The tiny Bandera label was formed in 1958 and run on a shoestring by the mother and son team of Violet Muszynski and Bernie Harville. C.J. Records was run by singer/songwriter Carl Jones who waxed some fine sides in the early 60's. The USA label was operated by Paul Glass who cut some excellent records during the 60's. The four labels recorded singles by artists such as Detroit Junior, Hound Dog Taylor, Little Mack Simmons, Homesick James, Eddy Clearwater, Jimmie Lee Robinson and Earl Hooker – great Chicago artists who all recorded numerous singles for Chicago's small labels, few of which made any noise outside of Chicago. Many of these artists hopped from label to label, rarely staying long at one place while others were snapped up by larger labels like Chess and Vee-Jay.

All-State Record Distributing head Paul Glass began the USA label in Milwaukee in 1959 in partnership with deejay Lee Rothman. By 1961 Glass had taken complete control of USA and had moved it to Chicago. Initially, most of the artists were blues performers, notably Willie Mabon, Junior Wells, Ko Ko Taylor, Ricky Allen, and Fenton Robinson. Other USA bluesmen were Andrew Brown, Eddy Clearwater, A. C. Reed, Jesse Fortune, Jimmy Burns, and Homesick James. Producers on these records included Willie Dixon, Al Perkins, Al Smith, and Mel London. Most of the artists only stuck around fo a single or two before trying their luck elsewhere. Beginning in 1966, the label began concentrating on rock acts. However, occasional blues and hard soul acts continued to be released, such as Mighty Joe Young and Bobby Jones. USA closed down in 1969. During the early 1970's, the USA label was briefly revived under different ownership, releasing singles by Lonnie Brooks and Jackie Ross, Eddie Shaw: Blues From The West Sideamong others.

CJ. Records was owned by a black entrepreneur named Carl Jones and was essentially a boutique operation run from his home. Carl and Cadillac Baby carved out a niche  for themselves by working and helping to establish homegrown talent, many who went on to build nice careers  for themselves with a few like Hound Dog Taylor and Betty Everett who achieved national recognition. Jones was a musician himself (banjo and trumpet) in the 1930s, and in 1945 he recorded two sides for Mercury. In 1956 Jones founded the C.J. label, eventually followed by subsidiary imprints Colt and Firma. Although he recorded some country and some gospel, the bulk of his output was in the blues field, having recorded Earl Hooker, Mack Simmons, Hound Dog Taylor, Homesick James, Betty Everett, and Detroit Junior. Jones’s record company had no distribution during its last two decades of existence.

The tiny Bandera record label was launched in 1958 in Chicago, where it was over-shadowed by the Windy City's giant indie labels Chess and Vee-Jay. The label was run on a shoestring by the mother and son team of Violet Muszynski and Bernie Harville. They never had an office but ran the label from their home at 2437 West 34th Place. Muszynski was an ardent talent spotter and hung out in many of the clubs on the south side of Chicago where she was a well-known figure. On Chicago's 'Record Row', Violet was known as "Vi the record lady". Bernie recalls that she was a great hustler, into PR and record promotion and very good at schmoozing. Her greatest discovery was the Impressions, at the time when Jerry Butler was lead vocalist. She signed the Impressions to a recording contract and got them leased to Vee-Jay. Bernie recalls, "That got us the money to set up Bandera and paid for recording sessions at RCA in Nashville for my newest discovery, Bob Perry". Bernie hit on a name for their new label, Bandera, taking it from one of Slim Whitman's early hits "Bandera Waltz.." Many of the recording sessions for Bandera were held at small Chicago recording studios such as Hall and Balkan, while studios in Memphis and Nashville were also utilized. Vi and Bernie also set up a couple of subsidiary labels: Laredo and the gospelFenton Robinson: Say You're Leavin'label, Jerico Road.

Atomic-H Records was a tiny label that recorded blues and gospel but only issued a few 45s. It was owned and operated by Rev. Houston H. Harrington who was also Eddy Clearwater's uncle and was responsible for Eddy making his way to Chicago from Alabama. Houston began recording his fellow musicians in the 40's on a portable disc-cutting machine while living in Mississippi although none of these were issued. After he settled on Chicago's West Side in the early 1940s, and started his short-lived record label in the 1950s and revived it briefly in the early 1970s. The first Atomic  single  (the  H  came  later). cut in  Iate  1953  in Harrington's basement studio  at  1651  S.  Trumbull  and  likely  Issued sometime  in 1955, was credited to "Jick & His Trio" (actually Homesick James). Around 1958 he grew more serious about recording, cutting singles over the next few years by Jo Jo Williams, Mighty Joe Young, Jimmy Rogers, Eddy Clearwater, Morris Pejoe and others. Most of Atomic-H's singles were limited to 500 pressings making them extremely rare. Delmark’s 1972 Atomic-H collection, Chicago Ain’t Nothin’ But a Blues Band, may have been the first time any of these tracks were widely heard and has since been issued on CD with additional tracks.

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