1950’s Blues

LJ Thomas & His Louisiana PlayboysBaby Take A Chance With MeSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Dr. RossDr. Ross BoogieSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Howlin' WolfBaby Ride With Me (Ridin' In The Moonlight) The Complete Recordings 1951-1969
Jackie Boy & Little WalterSelling My WhiskeySun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Joe Hill LouisWe All Gotta Go SometimeThe Be-Bop Boy With Walter Horton & Mose Vinson
Albert WilliamsHoodoo Man Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Jimmy & WalterBefore Long Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Junior Parker Feelin' GoodMystery Train
Willie Nix Bakershop BoogieSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Walter BradfordReward For My BabyThe Complete Recordings 1951-1969
Walter HortonWest Winds Are BlowingThe Be-Bop Boy With Walter Horton & Mose Vinson
Houston StokesWe're All Gonna Do Some WrongSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Walter"Tang" SmithHi-Tone Mama Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Woodrow AdamsTrain TimeSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Honeyboy EdwardsSweet Home ChicagoSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Charlie BookerWalked All NightLet Me Tell You About The Blues: Memphis
Boyd GilmoreBelieve I'll Settle DownSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
D.A. Hunt Greyhound BluesFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Mose VinsonCome See Me (My Love Has Gone)Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Houston BoinesCarry My Business OnSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Rufus Thomas Walking In The Rain Tiger Man 1950-1957
Earl HookerMove On Down The Line Earl Hooker And His Blues Guitar
Billy EmersonHey Little GirlRed Hot
James CottonCotton Crop BluesMystery Train
Little MiltonHomesick For My BabySun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Coy "Hot Shot" LoveHarpin' On It Jook Joint Blues
Billy LoveHart's Bread BoogieSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Pat HareBonus Pay Mystery Train
Kenneth BanksHighSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Eddie SnowAin't That Right Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Rosco GordonTired of LivingI'm Gonna Shake It
Ike TurnerI'm Gonna Forget About You Baby (Matchbox)Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Frank FrostPocket Full of ShellsVery Best Of Frank Frost: Big Boss Man

Show Notes:

Sam Phillips at the console

In past shows we've spotlighted numerous small independent labels that specialized in blues and R&B. Today we finally get around to the remarkable music Sam Phillips conjured up in his small Memphis studio. We won't be talking about Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis or Johnny Cash today. Before those guys started recording for Sun, the label recorded a steady diet of blues between 1950 through 1954. Prior to launching Sun in 1952 he recorded blues that were leased to Modern, Chess, Gilt-Edge and 4 Star. Junior Parker, Little Milton, James Cotton all made their debuts for the label and artists like B.B. King and Howlin' were recorded by Phillips at the dawn of their careers although neither had a record issued on the label. There's also a slew of fabulous sides featured today by little remembered artists like Jimmy DeBerry, Walter Bradford, Woodrow Adams, Houston Stokes, Charlie Booker and Pat Hare among others. The bulk of the sides on today's program were issued on the Sun label while a few others were leased to other labels. Phillips recorded lots of material but had limited resources so many fine sides remained unissued at the time only to be issued decades later. Much of the material in today's notes come form the book Good Rockin' TonightSun Records And The Birth Of Rock 'N' Roll by Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins.

In October 1949 Sam Phillips signed the lease on a small strorefront property at the junction of union and Marshall Avenues, near the heart of downtown Memphis (706 Union). Working with the slogan "We Record Anything-Anywhere-Anytime," Phillips opened the doors of the Memphis Recording Service in January 1950. As for the equipment, Phillips, noted: "I had a little Presto five-input mixer board. It was portable and sat on a hall table. The mixer had four microphone ports, and the fifth port had a multiselctor switch where you could flip it one way and get a mike and flip it another to play your recordings back. That was my console." By 1954 Phillips had upgraded his equipment and installed two Ampex 350 recorders: one console model and another mounted on a rack behind his head for the tape delay echo, or "slapback", for which Sun became famous. By "bouncing" the signal from one machine to another, with a split-second lag between the two, he created his characteristic echo effect. He made the switch from acetates to magnetic tape in late 1951.

Recorded spring/summer 1950 at Memphis Recording Service.
300 copies pressed by Plastic Products on August 30, 1950.

"I opened the Memphis Recording Service", recalled Phillips, "with the intention of recording singers and musicians from Memphis and the locality who I felt had something that people should be able to hear. I'm talking about blues-both the country style and the rhythm style-and also about gospel or spiritual music and about white country music. I always felt that the people who played this type of music had not be given the opportunity to reach an audience. I feel strongly that alot of the blues was a real true story. Unadulterated life as it was. My aim was to try and record the blues and other music I liked and to prove whether I was right or wrong about this music. I knew, or felt I knew, that there was a bigger audience than just the black man of the mid-South. There were city markets to be reached, and I knew that whites listened to blues surreptitiously." At first Phillips recorded music in the hopes of it being leased to other record labels. The first deals he lined up were with 4-Star and Gilt Edge Records. Phillips' first foray with his own label was simply called Phillips and lasted just a few weeks in the summer of 1950. Joe Hill Louis' "Gotta Let You Go b/w Boogie In the Park" was the sole record issued on the label. Around this time Phillips began a relationship with the Bihari brothers who owned the Modern label out of Los Angeles. They began issuing Phillips produced records on their RPM subsidiary including five singles from a young B.B. King. Phillips also placed Joe Hill Louis with RPM/Modern. In 1953, after recording for Chess, Louis recorded a record issued Sun 178, "We All Gotta Go Sometime b/w She May Be Yours (But She Comes To See Me Sometime)."

On March 5, 1951 Ike Turner, a DJ on WROX in Clarksdale, Mississippi had driven up to Memphis with a band featuring his underage cousin Jackie Brenston. They had worked up a number called "Rocket 88" and wanted to audition it for Phillips. Phillips sent a dub to Chess who put it out in April 1951, hitting number one on the R&B charts by May. This caused a rift with Modern Record who were upset and not getting a chance to issue the record. Ike was also upset at not getting a chance to record under his won name and defected to Modern where he became a talent scout, cutting many sessions around Memphis. More trouble followed when Phillips place Roscoe Gordon's "Booted" with Chess, eventually hitting number one. Modern felt Gordon was still under contract for them and cut their own version for RPM. Eventually the problems were resolved with Modern getting Roscoe Gordon and Chess getting Howlin' Wolf.

After “Rocket 88” Turner and his band became session regulars around Memphis; they went on to back legendary bluesmen like Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Bobby Bland, Jr. Parker, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and a host of Sun artists . During the early '50s, Turner switched from piano to guitar, and also doubled as a talent scout for the Bihari Brothers' Los Angeles-based Modern Records, where he helped get early breaks for artists like Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King.  After leaving Memphis and cutting sides for Federal in '56 and '57, Turner self-produced recordings in St. Louis in 1958 and sold them to Sun which is where our selection, "I'm Gonna Forget About You Baby (Matchbox)" comes from. The vocalist is Tommy Hodge.

Still more problems arose when Phillips signed Howlin' Wolf to Chess. Soon after coming to West Memphis, Wolf secured steady work playing whorehouses, black baseball parks, and other spots that catered to country folk in search of a little diversion. Wold landed a spot on KWEM in 1950, Monday through Saturday a between 4:45 and 5:00 P.M. "A disc jockey from West Memphis told me about Wolf's show", recalled Sam Phillips to Robert Palmer. "“When Wolf sat down in that little old chair with his big feet sticking out and began to sing, this guy didn’t know anything was around him! I mean he was singing to exactly the thing that we all want to make contact with, and that is the ears of the world. Maybe that’s one person. Maybe it is everybody on the globe. But Wolf had nothing in mind but just to make sure that he conveyed everything that was in his mind, and in his heart, and in his soul when he opened his mouth to sing.…He was, boy, pouring out his soul! And I mean you could just see it in addition to feel it…He sung his ass off—and that was a big ass! …“I think that he had that honest sound and that heartfelt feeling that he gave with that unbelievably different, totally different, voice that the young people that I was looking for that didn’t have anything they could call their own would have heard this man and said, ‘Man, he is…telling it like it is.’ The freedom that he gave you and the truth that he told and felt in his songs were something to hear. And then to hear the way that he sang ’em, it is something that I just wish everybody could hear right now."Wolf recorded in Sun studio between Spring 1951 and October 1952.

By 1952 Phillips decided to start his own label. "I truly did not want to open a record label but I was forced into it by those labels [RPM & Chess] either coming to Memphis to record or taking my artists elsewhere. …Sun Records was forced on me but at the same time, it presented the opportunity  to do exactly as I wanted. …I honestly can say I know what it's like to have a baby. That's what Sun Records was to me."

The first record on Sun was to be number 174 by Walter Horton and Jack Kelly titled "Blues In My Condition b/w Selling My Whiskey" [billed as by "Jackie Boy and Little Walter"] but a negative reaction to samples circulated to radio stations persuaded Phillips not issue the record commercially. Sun 175 by Johnny London titled "Drivin' Slow" was the first record to appear in record stores. Other Horton tracks from Phillips’ studio appeared on the Modern and RPM labels under the name of “Mumbles.” He also backed Joe Hill Louis during this period. Horton traveled back to Memphis to record for Sun Records again in 1953, waxing his signature song "Easy" with guitarist Jimmy DeBerry in 1953. DeBerry had recorded some sides before the war and got a chance to record one more record for the Sun.

Pat Hare

A secret ingredient on many Sun sessions was the aggressive, feedback sound of guitarist Pat Hare. The earliest records of Hare's participation indicate that he was a member of Howlin' Wolf's first electric group in the late forties. In addition to working the Memphis circuit, this group played regular sessions on the local Arkansas radio station KWEM. Always on the lookout for talented sidemen, Phillips soon picked up on "the new guitarist with the angry, spine-tingling tone", and recruited Hare to play on James Cotton's debut session for the Sun. Other Sun artists to benefit from Hare's grating guitar included "Hot Shot" Love and Big Memphis Ma Rainey.  Some sources also indicate him as being the guitarist on legendary recordings such as "Love My Baby" by Little Junior's Blue Flames, and Roscoe Gordon cites Hare as the guitarist on several of his records. Hare also plays behind the fine but obscure singer Walter Bradford. Bradford's "Dreary Nights b/w Nuthin' But The Blues" (3rd Sun record issued) as yet to be found. Bradford cut four other records in 1952 for Sun but they were not issued at the time. But Hare also found time in May 1954 to record a couple of sides under his own name, both of which remained unissued in the Sun vaults till many years later: "Bonus Pay" (Sun 997), a fast-paced R&B romp, and the infamous "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby."

Mose Vinson was another important Sun session artist. Originally from Holly Springs, MS, Vinson worked as a clean-up man and part-time pianist for Sam Phillip's Sun label in Memphis. Between sessions, Vinson would sit at the piano and play "44 Blues" so often he eventually convinced Phillips to record him in 1954. In addition, he also appeared on records by James Cotton, Walter Horton, Joe Hill Louis and others, although his own Sun sides went unreleased for 30 years.

In 1951 Junior Parker formed his own band, the Blue Flames, with guitarist Pat Hare. Parker was discovered in 1952 by Ike Turner, who signed him to Modern Records. He put out one single on this record label, “You’re My Angel.” This brought him to the attention of Sam Phillips, and he and his band signed onto Sun Records in 1953. There they produced three successful songs: “Feelin’ Good” (which reached # 5 on the Billboard R&B charts), “Love My Baby,” and “Mystery Train” ,with Floyd Murphy (Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s brother) on guitar, later covered by Elvis Presley. For Presley’s version of “Mystery Train”, Scotty Moore borrowed the guitar riff from Parker’s “Love My Baby”.

Before the age of eighteen Roscoe Gordon had won the Talent Show at Beale Street's famed Palace Theater and was appearing on WDIA, America's first all black radio station. Through WDIA's owner James Mattis he was sent to see Sam Phillips who recorded him, leasing his sides to the Bihari Brother' RPM label out of L.A., charting for the first time with "Saddled The Cow (Milked The Horse) b/w Ouch! Pretty Baby" which went to #9 R&B in September of '51. Then Phillips sent two versions of the same master– Booted, one to RPM and a slightly different alternate take to Chess in Chicago. The Chess version hit #1 R&B in February of '52 kicking off a three way tug of war which ended up with RPM securing Gordon's contract.

Rufus Thomas was already a professional entertainer in the mid-’30s, when he was a comedian with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. He recorded music as early as 1941, but really made his mark on the Memphis music scene as a deejay on WDIA, one of the few black-owned stations of the era. He also ran talent shows on Memphis’ famous Beale Street that helped showcase the emerging skills of such influential figures as B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, Ike Turner, and Roscoe Gordon. Thomas had his first success as a recording artist in 1953 with “Bear Cat,” a funny answer record to Big Mama Thornton‘s “Hound Dog.” It made number three on the R&B charts, giving Sun Records its first national hit, though some of the sweetness went out of the triumph after Sun owner Sam Phillips lost a lawsuit for plagiarizing the original Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller tune. Thomas, strangely, would make only one other record for Sun, and recorded only sporadically throughout the rest of the 1950's.

A 1952-53 stint in the Air Force found Billy Emerson stationed in Greenville, MS. That’s where he met young bandleader Ike Turner, who whipped Emerson into shape as an entertainer while he sang with Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. Turner also got Emerson through the door at Sun Records in 1954, playing guitar on the Kid’s debut waxing “No Teasing Around.” Emerson’s songwriting skills made him a valuable commodity around Sun — but more as a source for other performers’ material later on. His bluesy 1955 outing “When It Rains It Pours” elicited a cover from Elvis a few years later at RCA, while Emerson’s “Red Hot” became a savage rockabilly anthem revived by Billy Lee Riley for Sun. After his “Little Fine Healthy Thing” failed to sell, Emerson exited Sun to sign with Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records in late 1955.

James Cotton began his professional career playing the blues harp in Howling Wolf‘s band in the early 1950s. He made his first recordings as a solo artist for the Sun Records label in Memphis,Tennessee in 1953. Cotton began to work with the Muddy Waters Band around 1955.

Honeyboy Edwards just passed on August 29, 2011 in Chicago. Prior to  recording a slashing version of "Sweet Home Chicago" fpr Sun (not issued at the time) he had been recorded for the Library of Congress by Alan Lomax in 1942 and cut a commercial 78 for ARC in 1950 as Mr. Honey.

Ike Turner, who was a talent scout for Sun Records introduced Little Milton to Sam Phillips, who signed him to a contract in 1953. With Ike Turner and band band backing him, Milton cut various Sun sides. Unfortunately, none of them were hits, and Milton's association with Sun was over by the end of 1954.

Billy Love did some session work for Phillips, backing Walter Horton, Rufus Thomas and Willie Nix, before he got the chance to cut his own record as a singer-pianist. This resulted in the storming drinking song "Juiced", probably cut on July 24, 1951. ove's next session took place in October or November 1951 and yielded three songs, two of which, "Drop Top" and "You're Gonna Cry" were issued as a Chess single (1508), this time credited to "Billy 'Red' Love and his orchestra". On January 19, 1954 Love returned to the Sun studio with a new band and cut five titles. One more session was recorded at the Sun studio, resulting in "Blues Leave Me Alone" and the promotional record "Hart's Bread Boogie" for the Hart's bakery in Memphis. He did session work for Sun as well, appearing on records by Pate hare, Roscoe Gordon and others.

Tim Schloe of St. Paul found “Greyhound Blues,” a 1953 single by Alabama bluesman D.A. Hunt, in a collection he bought in 2007. The recording sold for more than $10,000 on eBay to collector John Tefteller. The flipside is Lonesome Ole Jail."

Our final selection is from Frank Frost. Frost moved to St. Louis, Missouri when he was 15 and began his musical career as a guitarist. He toured in 1954 with drummer Sam Carr and Carr’s father, Robert Nighthawk. Soon after, he spent several years touring with Sonny Boy Williamson, who helped teach him to play harmonica. Around 1960, Frost moved with Carr to the Mississippi Delta. After he played a show with the guitarist Big Jack Johnson, they added him to their group. Together they attracted the interest of the record producer Sam Phillips. He produced the album Hey Boss Man for Phillips International in 1962.  In the 60's Phillips created two different subsidiary recording labels: Phillips International and Holiday Inn Records. Neither would match the success or influence of Sun.By the mid- 1960s, Phillips rarely recorded. He built a satellite studio and opened radio stations, but the studio declined and he sold Sun Records to Shelby Singleton in 1968.

John Lee HookerRoad TroubleThe Complete John Lee Hooker Vol. 2
John Lee HookerTalkin' BoogieThe Complete John Lee Hooker Vol. 2
Homesick James Farmer's Blues Chicago Slide Guitar Legend
Homesick James Whiskey Headed Woman Chicago Slide Guitar Legend
Jo-Jo AdamsDidn't I Tell YouJo-Jo Adams 1946-1953
Jo-Jo AdamsI 've Got A Crazy BabyJo-Jo Adams 1946-1953
Sunnyland SlimTrain Time (4 O'Clock Blues)Sunnyland Slim & Pals
Sunnyland SlimRoll, Tumble and Slip (I Cried) Sunnyland Slim & Pals
Little Walter That's Alright Chicago Boogie
Jimmy Reed High Lonesome Jimmy Reed: The Vee-Jay Years
Johnny WilliamsFat Mouth Chance Vintage Blues/R&B Crops Vol. 1
Big Boy SpiresWhich One Do I LoveChance Vintage Blues/R&B Crops Vol. 1
Big Boy SpiresMy Baby Left Me Chance Vintage Blues/R&B Crops Vol. 1
Big Boy SpiresAbout To Lose My MindDown Home Blues Classics Chicago
Homesick James WartimeChicago Slide Guitar Legend
Homesick JamesHomesick BluesChicago Slide Guitar Legend
Homesick JamesThe Woman I LoveChicago Slide Guitar Legend
Tampa RedBBaby Please Don't Throw Me DownTampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Tampa RedPlease Mr. Doctor Tampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Tampa RedBeat That Bop Tampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Homesick JamesLate Hours After MidnightChicago Slide Guitar Legend
Homesick James12th Street StationChicago Blues: The Chance Era
Willie Nix No More LoveDown Home Blues Classics Chicago
Willie NixNervous Wreck Downhome Blues Classics: Chicago
Willie NixJust Can't Stay Downhome Blues Classics: Chicago
Lazy Bill LucasI Had A DreamDown Home Blues Classics: Chicago
Lazy Bill LucasI Can't Eat, Can't SleepChicago Blues: The Chance Era
Lazy Bill LucasShe Got Me Walkin' Down Home Blues Classics: Chicago
J.B. Hutto & His HawksPet Cream ManDown Home Blues Classics: Chicago
J.B. Hutto & His HawksDim LightsDown Home Blues Classics: Chicago
J.B. Hutto & His HawksPrice Of Love Chicago Blues: The Chance Era
J.B. Hutto & His HawksCombination Boogie Down Home Blues Classics: Chicago

Show Notes:

Chance Records was a Chicago-based label founded in 1950 by Art Sheridan. Chance was one of many independent Chicago labels from this period with a slant towards blues; several labels we've spotlighted in previous shows like J.O.B.Mercury, United/States, Aristocrat, Vee-Jay plus a slew of others like Parrot, Opera, Blue Lake, Hy-Tone, Miracle and many others. The bulk of today's notes come from The Red Saunders Research Foundation website, a tremendous repository of information on the Chicago music scene in the post-war era.

Jo Jo Adams Billboard, Nov. 15, 1952

Homesick James Billboard, Feb. 28, 1953

Chance cut 362 known sides from September 1950 through October 1954. In addition, Chance purchased or licensed at least 42 sides. There was one release on its very short-lived tributary Meteor and nine on its later subsidiary Sabre. The bulk of Chance's output was in the R&B field, which reflected the knowledge amassed by the label's founder and owner, Art Sheridan. Sheridan (born July 16, 1925 in Chicago) had been running a distributorship and a pressing plant, where the preponderance of his work was with African-American oriented product. Chance specialized in blues, jazz, doo-wop, and gospel. Among the acts who recorded for Chance were The Flamingos, The Moonglows, Homesick James, J. B. Hutto, Brother John Sellers, and Schoolboy Porter. In addition, Chance released three singles by John Lee Hooker and made a coordinated issue of the first singles by Jimmy Reed and The Spaniels with the brand-new and still tiny Vee-Jay Records. At the beginning of 1953 Chance also formed a brief alliance with J.O.B. label. Sheridan would distribute and market both labels through the distribution channels he established. The company closed down at the end of 1954. Sheridan went on to became one of the financial backers of Vee-Jay. Below is some background on today's artists.

The first tracks to be leased or purchased by the Chance operation were six 1949 recordings by bluesman John Lee Hooker and released by Chance in 1951 and 1952. These were obtained Joe Von Battle in Detroit; featuring just Hooker's vocals and guitar, these were reportedly recorded in the back of Von Battle's record store and they certainly sound like it. They were issued on Chance as by John Lee Booker which I'm sure didn't fool anyone. We kick off today's program with Hooker's "Talkin' Boogie" and "Road Trouble."

Among the first Chicago blues artists the label released were Sunnyland Slim and Little Walter. For more than 50 years Sunnyland Slim rumbled the ivories around the Windy City, playing with virtually every local luminary imaginable and backing the great majority in the studio at one time or another. Today's tracks were originally issued on the Opera label in 1947 then purchased and issued on Chance under the moniker Delta Joe. In 1952 Art Sheridan snapped up two further blues releases from now-defunct Chicago independents. He resuscitated the two sides that Little Walter Jacobs had cut in 1947 for Ora Nelle, with Jimmy Rogers and Othum Brown in the back of a Maxwell Street record shop. As Mike Rowe wrote in seminal Chicago Blues "the record was obviously released in an attempt to cash in on the huge success  that Walter was enjoying with Checker." Both the Sunnyland and the Walter records were released by Chance in 1952.

On June 12, 1952 the company did its first recordings on a downhome bluesman, the bottleneck guitar player and singer James Williamson, who would become known as Homesick James. Williamson was born John William Henderson most likley in 1910, in Somerville, Tennessee. He claimed to have played in the 1930's with blues notables such as Memphis Minnie, Sleepy John Estes and Sonny Boy Williamson I, which may well have been true, and to have recorded in 1939 with the Memphis street singer, Little Buddy Doyle, which almost certainly was not. As the blues writer David Whiteis noted: "He was a bluesman of the old school, through and through – a trickster from his heart." He first moved to Chicago in 1937 and played some local clubs. He returned to Memphis during the war years, but in the early 1950's settled again in Chicago. Williamson played a bit on Maxwell Street, and toured with the Elmore James band. Also during the 1950's he played in the city's clubs, often with the harmonica player Snooky Pryor or with the pianist Lazy Bill Lucas, who accompanied him on his first recordings, "Lonesome Old Train" and "Farmer's Blues", for the Chance label. James cut thirteen sides for Chance including some unissued material. Williamson later recorded for Prestige, Delmark, Earwig, and lastly Icehouse (in 1997). He died December 13, 2006, in Springfield, Missouri.

November 1952 saw a session with flamboyant uptown blues singer Jo Jo Adams, backed by the band of bebop trumpeter Melvin Moore. Of his start, Adams told Living Blues magazine "I started playing the blues when I saw a man standing on the stage and he was getting big money. He had a red pocket hand'chief around his neck and coveralls and I said, 'That's not the way it's supposed to go'. I introduced color to the stage. My tailor-made tails that were 55 inches long – when I spun around you could shoot dice on them!" At the time of his Chance date, Adams and Moore were working at the Flame Show Bar, where the show was billed as "The Jo Jo Show, starring Dr. Jo Jo Adams, Bennie Pittman, Laura Watson, Melvin Moore's Band." Besides singing, Adams served as MC at the Flame. Adams was born in Alabama at an unknown date and died in Chicago in 1988. He broke in at the Club DeLisa and made his first recordings with Floyd Smith's group for the Hy-Tone label in December 1946. He followed up with six sides for Aladdin in 1947, recorded in Los Angeles with the Maxwell Davis band, and 6 more for Aristocrat Aristocrat, which were done in Chicago in 1947 and 1948. He would record just one more session, for Parrot in 1953.

Sheridan began working with Vee-Jay Records in 1953, which had just set up shop and had two releases, one by the the doowop group the Spaniels and one by the bluesman Jimmy Reed. The company was owned by two neophytes, Jimmy Bracken and Vivian Carter, who had no distribution and little knowledge of the business. When the Spaniels' record, "Baby It's You," started generating interest, Chance picked it up for national distribution and it became a top ten R&B record. Reed's "High and Lonesome" b/w "Roll and Rhumba," also saw some local action, and picked up national sales from Chance distribution.

Johnny Williams was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, on May 15, 1906. He was raised first in Houston and then in Belzoni, Mississippi. His uncle played with Charlie Patton, and Williams got to know Patton and other legendary Delta bluesmen. Williams began performing in the late 1920's, arriving in Chicago in 1938. During much of the 1940's Williams played house parties. After World War II, he fell into the Maxwell Street scene, performing most often with Johnny Young. His only recording, cut in 1953, "Silver Haired Woman b/w Fat Mouth" was not released until the 1970s'.

Arthur "Big Boy" Spires cut a handful of brilliant down home sides for Checker and Chance in the 1950's and unissued sides in the 1960's for Testament before arthritis cut his career short. Spires was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi in 1912 and was inspired by local musicians. Spires moved to Chicago in 1943 and in the late 1940's began playing the Southside clubs with Eddie El and Little Earl Dranes. The trio made some demo recordings and Spires was picked up by Chess Records. He first pairing was "Murmur Low b/w One of These Days" which was issued on Checker in 1952. In 1953 he cut a session for Chance resulting in one issued record: "About To Lose My Mind b/w Which One Do I Love." He cut four other Chance sides that were not issued at the time but released decades later on various collections. Around this time he formed his own band called the Rocket Four playing various clubs around town until giving up music around 1959. In 1965 Spires and Johnny Young cut a batch of sides for Testament that went unissued except for "21 Below Zero" which came out on a compilation on the Storyville label. After the Testament session he worked mainly outside music and passed away in 1990

In 1953 Chance cut six sides by veteran Tampa Red. Chance put out the Tampa Red releases as by Jimmy Eager and His Trio, as Tampa was still under contract with RCA Victor at the time. He further disguised his identity by giving all of the guitar work to Lefty Bates. However, the composer credits went to Hudson Whittaker (which was Tampa Red's real name). Chance held the "Jimmy Eager" material for the initial release on its new Sabre label. Bates plays some stunning guitar on these sides but sadly cut little under his own name. For many years he was a stalwart at Chicago blues clubs such as the legendary Theresa’s, and appeared in the second guitar position on many records by blues giants such as Tampa Red, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy. Bates can also be heard doing session work for Chicago labels like Vee-Jay, Chance and Club 51

Willie Nix made his first records in Memphis for RPM in 1951, and cut sides for Chess Records' Checker offshoot in 1952. Sam Philips signed him up as "the Memphis Blues Boy" for Sun in early 1953, as a singing drummer with a band. He landed at Chance in 1954. Chance carried on a heavy recording schedule in October, recording bluesman Willie Nix, guitarist Rudolph Spencer "Rudy" Greene, and Lazy Bill. On October 14th the label recorded "Just Can't Stay" b/w "All by Myself," which saw release in November on Sabre 104. The band consisted of Nix on drums, Eddie Taylor on guitar, Sunnyland Slim on piano, and Snooky Pryor on harmonica. The other two sides from the session were released on Chance 1163 in November 1954.  Rowe describes "Just Can't Stay" as "a brilliant updating of a traditional theme of unrequited love to the urban setting with its images of hustlers, whores, and easy money."

Piano player and vocalist, Lazy Bill Lucas, was born May 29, 1918, in Wynne, Arkansas, and came to Chicago in 1941 where he met Big Joe Williams and toured with John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson in the 40'’s. Lazy Bill also played piano on records by Homesick James, Little Willie Foster, Little Hudson, Snooky Pryor and Jo Jo Williams. He cut "She Got Me Walking b/w I Had A Dream" for Chance in 1953. Two other songs from the same session, "My Baby’s Gone b/w I Can’t Eat, I Can’t Sleep", were not issued until decades later. In 1955 he cut two sides for Excello with the group the Blue Rockers. He moved to Minneapolis in 1962 where he was active for close to two decades. He was the first host of the Lazy Bill Lucas Show on KFAI and cut three LP’s during the late 60's and early 70's. He remained active right up to his death on December 11, 1982. His "I Had A Dream" was an update of Sylvester Weaver's 1927 number "Devil Blues":

I had a dream I was sleeping, found myself way down below (2x)
I couldn't get to heaven, you know the place I had to go

The Devil had me cornered, stuck me with his old pitch fork (2x)
He put me in an oven, had me for roast pork

Lucas was a witty song smith as he further proved in "She Got Me Walking" as he name drops his blues buddies:

I don't want to see Snook, not even Homesick James
The way my baby left me, I really believe he's to blame

We close out with a quartet of tough sides by J.B. Hutto.  Slide guitarist J.B. Hutto was born in Blackville, South Carolina, on April 26, 1926. He came to Chicago with his family in 1949. Hutto had originally sung in a gospel group, and played drums, but after arriving in Chicago he taught himself guitar. He formed his band, the Hawks, with "Earring" George Mayweather on harp, Joe Custom on second guitar, and Eddie "Porkchop" Hines on drums or washboard. Hutto's first sides on Chance, recorded in either January or February, represent an extraordinary debut. One of our selections, "Price of Love", was unissued at the time and made a belated appearance on a Delta Swing LP in the 1970's. Hutto did not get on record again until 1965, when he was picked up by Vanguard for its Chicago Blues compilation series; he went on to make the classic Hawk Squat for Delmark in 1967.

Skoodle Dum Doo & SheffieldBroome Street Blues Rare Country Blues Vol. 2 1929-1943
Skoodle Dum Doo & SheffieldWest Kinney Street Blues New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
Alex Seward & Louis HayesBig Trouble Blues Downs BluesCarolina Blues NYC 1944
Alex Seward & Louis HayesUps And Carolina Blues NYC 1944
Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry Knockabout Blues (Carolina Blues) New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry Brownie's Blues (Lordy Lord)Rub A Little Boogie: New York blues 1945-1956
Sonny Terry Dangerous Woman (with a 45 in Her Hand)Rub A Little Boogie: New York blues 1945-1956
Gabriel Brown Good-Time Papa Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Gabriel Brown The Jinx Is On MeShake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Boy Green Play My Jukebox Play My Juke Box: East Coast Blues
Big Chief EllisDices DicesNew York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
Richard TriceBlood Red RiverCarolina Blues 1937-1945
Hank KilroyHarlem WomanPlay My Juke Box: East Coast Blues
Leroy DallasI'm Going Away New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
Ralph WillisNeighborhood Blues Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Ralph WillisMama, Mama Blues Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Dan PickettBaby How LongShake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Dan PickettRide to a Funeral in a V-8Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Little DavidShackles Round My BodyDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
Tarheel Slim You're a Little Too SlowEast Coast Blues
Dennis McMillonPaper Wooden DaddyNew York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
Curley WeaverSome Rainy Day The Post-War Years 1949
Curley Weaver Trixie The Post-War Years 1949
Blind Willie McTell Talkin' To You MamaThe Post-War Years 1949
Blind Willie McTell Talkin' To You MamaThe Post-War Years 1949
Carolina Slim Mama's Boogie Carolina Slim 1950-1952
Marilyn ScottI Got What My Daddy Likes New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
Guitar Shorty I Love That Woman Play My Juke Box: East Coast Blues
Champion Jack Dupree Stumbling Block BluesNew York & The East Coast States 1943-195
Julius KingMississippi Boogie A Shot in the Dark:Nashville Jumps
Robert Lee WestmorelandHello Central Please Give Me 209New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
Doug QuattlebaumDon't Be Funny BabyNew York & The East Coast States 1943-1953
Square Walton Bad Hangover New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953

Show Notes:

Today's is a sequel to a show we did a few weeks, Seaboard Stomp – East Coast Blues 1927-1941, devoted to East Coast blues from the 20's through the early 40's. Today's show takes the story through 1953. Today we emphasize the contribution to post-war blues made by singers from the Southeast and the Mid Atlantic states where many gravitated to New York. These performers tended to prefer a lighter and more melodic style than those from the Mississippi Delta who subsequently brought the blues to Chicago and Detroit. The bulk of these recordings, in fact, were recorded in New York. On today's program we spotlight well known artists like Blind Willie McTell, Brownie McGhee and Champion Jack Dupree as well as a slew of superb less remembered artists like Ralph Willis, Dan Pickett, Alec Seward and partner Louis Hayes among others. For an in-depth look at the Piedmont blues I recommend Bruce Bastin’s exhaustive study Red River Blues: The Blues Tradition in the Southeast which has been an invaluable resource for this show and its predecessor.

As on our first installment of East Coast Blues, the influence of the popular Blind Boy Fuller still looms large on many of these recordings. Fuller recorded his substantial body of work over a short, six-year span (1935-1941). Nevertheless, he was one of the most recorded artists of his time and by far the most popular and influential Piedmont blues player of all time. His influence can be heard in the music of today's featured artists such as Boy Green, Carolina Slim, Richard Trice and Julius King.

Boy Green cut one 78, "A and B Blues b/w Play My Jukebox", in 1944 for Regis. Nothing is known of Green who possessed a fine voice and was an excellent guitar picker.

Carolina Slim was a Piedmont blues guitarist from North Carolina whose style was shaped as much by Lightnin' Hopkins as it was by Blind Boy Fuller evidenced on tracks like "Shake Boogie" and "Rag Mama." He was born Edward Harris in Leasburg, North Carolina, near the Virginia border. In 1950, Harris was dubbed Carolina Slim when he recorded for Herman Lubinsky's Savoy group of labels. He moved to Newark, the home of Savoy, after his first session. He recorded for King as Country Paul in 1951-52 before returning to Savoy in 1953.

Willie Trice and his brother Richard became close friends with Blind Boy Fuller and Fuller took them up to New York where they cut six sides together (two unissued) for Decca in 1937. Richard Trice recorded after the war for Savoy in 1946 as Little Boy Fuller as well as a couple of sides in 1948 and 1952/53. Richard Trice was later recorded by Pete Lowry but those recordings remain unreleased.

As Paul Garon writes in the notes to Down Home Blues Classics: New York & The East Coast States 1943-1953: "Julius King (1915-1970) was born and died in Tennessee, but his heaviest stylistic influence was North Carolina's Blind Boy Fuller, both in vocal inflection and in guitar style. "I Want A Slice of Yo~ Pudding" features a kazoo, as well as a fondness for raggy, Fuller-style pieces, and hokum material played a significant role in King's repertoire.  "One O'Clock Boogie" seems to draw inspiration from Pinetop Slim who recorded in Atlanta in 1949, and possibly  even from John Lee who recorded in Montgomery in 1951. While  "Mississippi Boogie" features King's kazoo playing, it also echoes Barbecue Bob tonally, especially the latter's flood blues." King cut a lone four-son session for Tennessee in 1952.

Several of today's artists get twin spins including the duos of Skoodle Dum Doo & Sheffield, Alec Seward & Louis Hayes and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, plus Gabriel Brown, Blind Willie McTell, Curley Weaver, Ralph Willis and Dan Pickett.

Gabriel Brown was discovered in Florida by folk music researchers Alan Lomax and Zora Neal Hurston in the '30's and launched his recording career with sides for the Library of Congress. He began making commercial recordings, starting in 1943, for A&R man, record label owner, and record producer Joe Davis and worked for him through 1952.

Seth Richards, possibly from Virgina, recorded a couple tracks under his real name in 1928 ("Lonely Seth Blues b/w Skoodeldum Doo"), which would be his last recordings until he recorded four songs as Skoodle Dum Doo & Sheffield in 1943 for the Regis label.

Alec Seward was born in Charles City County, Virginia and relocated to New York in 1924. Seward befriended Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, and retained his Piedmont blues styling despite changes in musical trends. He met Louis Hayes (who later became a minister in northern New Jersey) and the duo performed variously named as the Blues Servant Boys, Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly, or The Back Porch Boys. The duo recorded sides in 1944 and another batch in 1947. During the 1940's and 1950's Seward played and recorded with Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, McGhee and Terry. Seward issued the album Creepin' Blues (1965, Bluesville) with harmonica accompaniment by Larry Johnson. Later in the decade Seward worked in concert and at folk-blues festivals. He died at the age of 70, in New York in May 1972.

Brownie McGhee worked in a partnership with Sonny Terry for most of his career and also recorded with many of today's featured artists including Leroy Dallas, Champion Jack Dupree, and Big Boy Ellis. McGhee began recording as Blind Boy Fuller No. 2, immediately after Fuller's death in 1941. He sung on one side from Fuller's last session, whereas Terry had been backing Fuller on and off since 1937. McGhee's manager, J. B. Long, suggested that Brownie take Sonny Terry to Washington DC where they played together at a concert with Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson. Afterwards, they recorded for the Library of Congress. They also recorded for Moe Asch, of Folkways, backing singers as diverse as Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, and in 1944 they began to record for Savoy. Wartime shellac restrictions had loosened and many small and independent labels were recording the new sounds of R & B, as well as the postwar blues. During the period of today's program, the 40's and 50's, the duo cut fine sides, both together and aprat, for Savoy, Gotham, Sittin' In With, Folkways, Capitol and others. McGhee can also be heard today backing Big Chief Ellis on "Dices Dices", Ellis and McGhee back Leroy Dallas on "I'm Going Away" and with Terry backing Champion Jack Dupree on "Stumbling Block Blues."

For years James Founty, known professionally as Dan Pickett, was a mystery man. Field trips in the early 90’s have solved most mysteries although most of the research remains unpublished. He recorded five singles for Gotham plus four unreleased tracks in 1949. Pickett's repertoire was derived almost exclusively from 30’s recordings synthesizing those styles into a unique sound of his own.

According to David Evans: "Around the end of 1949, or more likely early in 1950, Curley Weaver recorded four songs for the Sittin’ In With label. It’s not certain whether there were one or two sessions and whether the recordings were made in Atlanta or New York. Two tracks were not released until 1952 and may actually have been recorded that year." Weaver and McTell also cut a batch of records made in Atlanta for Regal Records in May 1950. Weaver's "Some Rainy Day" is a remake of "Some Cold Rainy Day" is a remake of a 1933 duet with Ruth Willis while "Trixie" is a rag version of the popular "Tricks Ain't Walking No More." Weaver can be heard again backing McTell on the bouncy, perfectly integrated "Talkin' To You Mama" while McTell takes it alone on

I want to say something about a few of the other artists featured on today's program including Big Chief Ellis, Leroy Dallas, Marylin Scott, Guitar Shorty and Doug Quattlebaum.

Big Chief Ellis was a barrelhouse pianist from Alabama who recorded behind many great Piedmont blues artists in the '40s and '50s in addition to making his own fine, if lesser-selling, records. Brownie McGhee got Ellis on record by phoning Bob Shad at Continental, who recorded Chief for the label and for the Sittin' In With label he later started. Ellis backed McGhee (and his brother Sticks) several times, including Sticks' one hit, "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee." Brownie backed Ellis on the latter's signature tune "Dices Oh Dices", a song about his lifelong profession as a gambler. Ellis became a fixture of New York's small blues scene, playing every weekend with Brownie and occasionally with Sonny Terry. He also recorded with/behind a large number of the city's R&B-flavored bluesmen, including Tarheel Slim, Leroy Dallas, Mickey Baker, and Ralph Willis. He cut his lone full-length album for the Trix label in the 70's.

Leroy Dallas was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1920 and moved to Memphis in 1924. Along his travels he played washboard behind Brownie McGhee and formed a band with James McMillan playing the streets and juke joints of Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee. McMillan taught Dallas guitar and the two went on to tour the southern states working with Frank Edwards who made recordings in1949 and Georgia Slim who made records in 1937. By 1943 Dallas settled in Brooklyn New York. He made his first records for Sittin’ In With in 1949 consisting of six songs. He was accompanied by Brownie McGhee who was instrumental in setting up the session. Dallas was rediscovered by blues researcher Pete Welding and made a few recordings in the 60’s.

Mary DeLoatch, also known as Mary DeLoach, was a Norfolk, VA-based gospel singer who used the name Marylin Scott or Marylyn Scott the Carolina Blues Girl when performing blues. When performing gospel she sounded quite a bit like Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She switched to exclusively religious material after 1950 and her final recording appears to have been made in 1967 when she was photographed playing an electric guitar while wearing evangelical robes. Bruce Bastin wrote that our track, "I Got What My Daddy Likes", "is one of the finest postwar blues from the Piedmont."

Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue) cut a pair of unissued sides for Savoy in 1952, the album Carolina Slide Guitar (Flyright, 1971) and his final album for Trix, Alone In His Field, before passing in 1975.

Born in South Carolina in 1927, Doug Quattlebaum came to Philadelphia in the early 1940's. In 1953 he cut three sides for Gotham records; two of them appeared on a Gotham 78, but the third was only rediscovered years later. In 1961 Pete Welding recorded Quattlebaum again, after hearing that he was still around. He was driving a Mr. Softee ice cream truck and performing for his patrons. Scheduled for issue on a Testament album, the sides remained unissued until the 90's. A few months later Welding recording him, few months later Quattlebaum recorded for Bluesville, the results issued on the marvelous Softee Man Blues with a picture of the artist in his ice cream uniform on the front cover.

Related Articles:

-Carolina Slim: Blues Go Away From Me album notes by Pete Lowry

-Guitar Shorty An Appreciation and Memory by Valerie Wilmer (Blues Unlimited 120 (1976), p. 20-21) ][PDF]

-Doug Quattlebaum By Paul Sheatsley (Record Research No. 42, March/April 1962, p.12) [PDF]

Elmore JamesIt Hurts Me TooVee-Jay: The Definitive Collection
Elmore JamesThe Twelve Year Old BoyKing Of The Slide Guitar
Elmore JamesComing Home King Of The Slide Guitar
Junior WellsTwo Headed Woman Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
G. DavyDid You Ever Love SomeoneBest Of Chief Records
Junior Wells Come On In This HouseMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Junior Wells Little By Little Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Lillian OffittWill My Man Be Home Tonight Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Lillian OffittOh MamaBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior WellsCalling All Blues Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Junior WellsMessing With The KidMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Elmore JamesKnocking At Your DoorKing Of The Slide Guitar
Earl HookerBlues In D NaturalBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior WellsI'm A StrangerMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Magic SamEvery Night About This Time Magic Sam: With a Feeling -The Cobra, Chief & Crash Recordings
Junior WellsSo TiredMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Junior WellsYou Sure Look Good To Me Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Earl HookerRockin' WildBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior Wellst Hurts Me Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Magic SamYou Don't Have To WorkMagic Sam: With a Feeling -The Cobra, Chief & Crash Recordings
Earl HookerThis Little Voice Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Ricky AllenRemember The Time Remember The Time
Ricky AllenYou'd Better Be SureRemember The Time
Earl HookerBlue Guitar Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Earl Hooker Swear To Tell The Truth Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior WellsPrison Bars All Around MeMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Elmore JamesCry For Me BabyKing Of The Slide Guitar
Ricky AllenOuch! Remember The Time
Ricky AllenCut You A-Loose Remember The Time
Earl Hooker That Man Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Jackie Brenston & Earl HookerWant You to Rock MeBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Earl Hooker The Leading BrandBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963

Show Notes:

Mel London (left) & Ricky Allen (right)

Melvin R. London was born in Mississippi on April 9, 1932. His initial interest in music led him to write R&B material, and he rapidly set up his own Melva Music  publishing firm. He began operations for Chief Records in 1957. In march of that year, twenty-five year old London was noted in the rhythm & blues trade press, which said "United Distrib's Mel London turned into a triple threat man with Chief's 'Man from The Island.' London penned the Calypso number, published it, and owns the label, not to mention he's the distributor's promotion man, too." They somehow failed to mention that he was the performer on the song as well. London set up Chief's offices at 1510W. Thirteenth St. in Chicago in April of 1957. Chief Records (together with its Profile and Age subsidiaries) was an independent record label that operated from 1957 to 1964. London served as producer and wrote several of the label's best-known songs.

In 1959 Earl Hooker teamed up with Junior Wells and producer Mel London. As Sebastian Danchin wrote in his superlative biography Earl Hooker – Blues Master: "The period between 1959 and 1963 was a productive one, both in terms of quality and quantity. Through Mel London, Hooker was involved in over a dozen recording sessions, and his playing was featured on some forty titles and twenty-five singles, a dozen of which were released under his own name, the rest being ascribed to Junior Wells, A.C. Reed, Lillian Offitt, and Ricky Allen." According to A.c. Reed "Hooker met London when I was on the road with Dennis Binder and 'em, because when I come back, he was already associated with Mel London and he got me into recordin' with Mel London. It was a studio band 'cause we's about the best musicians he had to record behind peoples. Everybody played on everybody's record. Anybody that would record, we'd play on it."

As Danchin wrote: "Earl didn't have a one-way relationship with London; his superlative guitar contributions played their role in the development of London's business, but at the same time it was through London that Hooker was able to bequeath future generations a testimony to his highly creative genius, in the form of blues classics like "Blue Guitar", "Blues in D Natural", "Little By Little", "Messin' With The Kid",  and "Will My Man Be Home Tonight."

In 1957, Junior Wells hooked up with producer Mel London, who owned the Chief and Profile logos. Wells was one of London's favorite blues artists. Wells hooked up with Earl Hooker after his last label,United/States, folded in 1957 and after his previous guitarist, Syl Johnson had left. The association resulted in many of Wells' most enduring sides, including "I Could Cry" and the rock & rolling "Lovey Dovey Lovely One" in 1957, the grinding national R&B hit "Little by Little" (with Willie Dixon providing vocal harmony) in 1959, and the R&B-laced classic "Messin' with the Kid" in 1960 (sporting Earl Hooker's immaculate guitar work). Wells' harp was de-emphasized during this period on record in favor of his animated vocals.“Little By Little' became a national hit, peaking at #23 on the R&B Billboard charts. The flip, “Come On In This House” also became a hit, played extensively on black radio stations in Chicago. Wells would continue to perform and record several of his Chief and Profile songs ("Messin' with the Kid," "Come on in This House," and "It Hurts Me Too") during his career.

Billboard Jan 23, 1961 Ad

1960-1961 was a high water point for the collaboration between Hooker and Wells with the two waxing some impressive material including "Calling All Blues", "Messin' With The Kid", "I'm A Stranger and "The Things I'd For You" among others. "Cut You Loose," another London composition, was a hit for Ricky Allen; the song reached #20 in 1963. Next to Wells, Allen had the most singles on the label (all on Age). A native of Nashville, Ricky Allen was influenced by Earl Gaines and Larry Birdsong before relocating to Chicago in 1960. There, he promptly became a part of Earl Hooker's musical circle, joining him on the roster of Mel London's Age imprint. Allen's local popularity was reflected in frequent visits to the recording studio – he cut over forty titles for labels including Age, USA, 4 Brothers, and Bright Star. Allen cut several local and national hits like "You Better Be Sure", "Ouch!" and "Cut You A Loose" which hit #20 on the R&B charts and #126 on the pop charts. After disbanding his band in the early 70's he drifted off into blues obscurity.

Chief was plagued by financial problems. First to be discontinued were the Chief and Profile labels; finally the Age label was discontinued in 1964 and the company went out of business. During its seven years of operation, Chief/Profile/Age released about eighty singles (including reissues) from approximately thirty-seven artists. Later, various singles (including reissues) by Chief artists would be released by All-Points Records, Mel/Mel-Lon Records, Bright Star Records, and Starville Records, but none had the impact of the originals.

By 1963 London had a role with the U.S.A. label, possibly as a producer. by the end of the decade he was working a s shipping clerk for United Record Distributors. Neil Slaven noted that London "most of the time drove a delivery truck. He was by no means bitter about this situation and retained fond memories of the artists he'd recorded and the record he'd made." In the early 70's London had some plans to reissue his earlier material but no longer had the original masters. London said in a 1973 interview: "hell, I never though there'd be a call for that stuff." London died of cancer in May 1975 at the age of forty-three.

The Chief label boasted a catalog of forty-one singles, the last one being reissues of items released at an earlier stage. Chief was an eclectic label that included efforts by pop and rockabilly artists, yet its best selling issues-with the exception of a minor rock 'n' roll hit by Tobin Matthews-were blues numbers featuring Earl Hooker's inventive playing. The liking that  that London took to Hooker's playing soon prompted him to use him as his "house" guitarist, using his band every time he set up and R&B session. However he never trusted Hooker's singing, never once issuing a vocal by him. Advertised in Cash Box from April 14, 1962, "Blue Guitar", was a record sold usually well for an instrumental blues side. Before the Spring was over, every band in the Chicago blues belt included the song in their repertoire. The song was then used as the instrumental backing to Muddy Waters' "You Shook Me."

To record, Mel London used Chicago's finest studio, Universal Recording. As Big Moose Walker noted "Somethin' like twenty years ago, that was the best studio in the city. …I'd say like nine or ten o'clock at night, we'd be done through by twelve, it depend on on how many we'd be cuttin'.  …Sometimes we go in there, I would do somethin' like one, and then maybe RickyAllen would do one, and maybe he might have junior Wells doin' one."

London was also running the Profile label at the same time which also folded around the same time. Chief was aimed at the R&B market while Profile aimed more towards pop. That same year London formed his Age label. The Age label issued twenty-five singles through 1964 by Ricky Allen, Earl Hooker and A.C. Reed among others while Profile issued fifteen singles.

London recorded five titles at his initial session with Elmore James. "Knocking At Your Door" was not released at the time because London had nothing to pair it with. Elmore was called back to the studio by London in the Fall, cutting "Cry For Me Baby" b/w "Take Me where You Go"featuring Syl Johnson on lead guitar. The number were released in December and reissued almost immediately on Vee-Jay. All in all, James cut seven sides for chief. James was among the first signed to the label, entering the studio in April, 1957. “The Twelve Year Old Boy” and “Coming Home” were the first songs recorded. These songs were paired for issue as Chief's second release. The single was distributed by bigger independent, Vee-Jay who also reissued the single on its own label. The next release was 'It Hurts Me Too” which Elmore had cut twice before and was originally recorded by Tampa Red in 1941.

Lillian Offit made her debut cutting a handful of sides for Excello in 1957 and 1958. By 1959 she was in Chicago where she teamed up with Earl Hooker. The group went in the studio in February 1959. “Will My Man Be Home Tonight” became one of Chief's best sellers and a local hit in Chicago. The group recorded again in May of the same year.

Other blues artists who cut sides for London included Magic Sam who cut eight sides for Chief across three sessions in 1960 and 1961, G. "Davy" Crockett and Hooker associates A.C. Reed, Big Moose Walker and Jackie Brenston of "Rocket 88" fame who fronts Hooker's band Want "You To Rock Me" b/w "Down In My Heart.".

Mississippi Fred McDowell St. Louis BluesFirst Recordings
Mississippi Fred McDowell Going Down the RiverFirst Recordings
Mississippi Fred McDowell Frisco Line You Got To Move
Robert Pete WilliamsSome Got Six Months I'm Blue As a Man Can Be
Robert Pete WilliamsWhen a Man Takes the Blues When a Man Takes the Blues
Robert Pete WilliamsPardon Denied AgainI'm Blue As a Man Can Be
Jesse Fuller Just Like a Ship on the Deep Blue SeaFrisco Bound
Jesse Fuller Cincinnati BluesFrisco Bound
Jesse Fuller 99 YearsJazz, Folk Songs, Spirituals & Blues
Mance LipscombSugar Babe (It's All Over Now)Texas Songster
Mance LipscombFreddieTexas Songster
Mance LipscombBig Boss ManTexas Songster
Mississippi Fred McDowell Trouble Everywhere I Go Mississippi Fred McDowell,
Mississippi Fred McDowell Good Morning, Little School I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll
Mississippi Fred McDowell Shake 'em On Down Mama Says I'm Crazy
Robert Pete Williams Just Tippin' inI'm Blue As a Man Can Be
Robert Pete Williams I've Grown So UglyFree Again
Jesse Fuller Raise A Ruckus Jazz, Folk Songs, Spirituals & Bluess
Jesse Fuller San Francisco Bay BluesSan Francisco Bay Blues
Mississippi Fred McDowell Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning Mississippi Delta Blues Jam In Memphis Vol. 1
Mississippi Fred McDowell You Got To MoveYou Got To Move
Mississippi Fred McDowell Write Me A Few LinesYou Got To Move
Mance LipscombJack O' Diamonds Texas Songster
Mance LipscombCaptain, Captain Captain, Captain
Robert Pete WilliamsI'm Going to Have Myself a Ball Legacy of the Blues, Vol. 9
Jesse Fuller John HenrySan Francisco Bay Blues
Mance LipscombTom Moore BluesTexas Songster Vol. 4: Live! At The Cabale

Show Notes:

Around 1960 a considerable interest for all folk sources for American music evolved among students in the Northeast, and soon spread to the whole country. The blues revival doesn’t refer to the rebirth of the music, the blues never went away, and certainly the electric brand of blues was still popular in urban centers like Chicago, but a new found interest in the music among young white listeners. In a addition there was a small band of enthusiasts who began to collect what information they could on the blues artists of the past. Writers like Samuel Charters and Paul Oliver wrote serious studies of the blues while other like Chris Strachwitz and John Fahey formed labels and tracked down these older blues artists. In addition several down-home artists who had not previously recorded were brought to light, most importantly Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell, Robert Pete Williams and Jesse Fuller. Unlike those who recorded back in the 1920's and 30's for the commercial record companies and black consumers, those who recorded in the 1960's and 70's were being recorded primarily for a new found white audience, with the records issued usually on tiny specialist labels. Men like George Mitchell, Davis Evans and Sam Charters undertook a different mission. They made field recordings during this era were a sort of a parallel undercurrent to the more famous artists. What they recorded in the rural communities of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi in the 1960’s was a still thriving, if largely undocumented, blues culture.

Fred McDowell was born in 1904 in Rossville, TN, and was playing the guitar by the age of 14 with a slide hollowed out of a steer bone. His parents died when Fred was a youngster and the wandering life of a traveling musician soon took hold. The 1920s saw him playing for tips on the street around Memphis, TN, the hoboing life eventually setting him down in Como, MS, where he lived the rest of his life. There McDowell split his time between farming and keeping up with his music by playing weekends for various fish fries, picnics, and house parties in the immediate area. This pattern stayed largely unchanged for the next 30 years until he was discovered in 1959 by folklorist Alan Lomax. Lomax set the scene in his The Land Where The Blues Again: "Fred was a quiet, sulky-voiced stoop-shouldered fellow, eager to record. That very evening he invited in a couple of neighbors to help out-one man to play second guitar, and his aunt, Fannie Davis, to provided the wind section by blowing on a fine-toothed comb wrapped in toilet paper. We recorded outdoors after dark, by flashlight. No wind was blowing, and the katydids were out of season, so we could take advantage of the living quiet of open air and the natural resonance of the earth and the trees. The mixer and the stereo had room for this multidimensional sound, with one mike for Fred's voice, one for his picking and its backup, and one for his aunt's humming and wheezing through the comb. The sound we captured made us all deliriously happy. …When we played his recording back to him, he stomped up and down on the porch, whooping and laughing and hugging his wife. He knew he had been heard and felt his fortune had been made."

The results of those first recordings were released as part of an American folk music series on the Atlantic label. McDowell, for his part, was happy to have some sounds on records, but continued on with his farming and playing for tips outside of Stuckey's candy store in Como for spare change. It wasn't until Chris Strachwitz, folk-blues enthusiast and owner of the fledgling Arhoolie label, came searching for McDowell to record him that the bluesman's fortunes began to change dramatically. Two albums, Fred McDowell Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, were released on Arhoolie in the mid-'60s which caused a huge stir among the blues revival scene. The success of the Arhoolie recordings suddenly found McDowell very much in demand on the folk and festival circuit, Working everything from the Newport Folk Festival to coffeehouse dates to becoming a member of the American Folk Blues Festival in Europe. McDowell was well documented on film, and by the end of the decade, he was signed to do a one-off album for Capitol Records (I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll) and his tunes were being mainstreamed into blues-rock by artists like Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones. Unfortunately McDowell was diagnosed with cancer while performing dates into 1971. His playing days suddenly behind him, he lingered for a few months into July 1972, finally succumbing to the disease at age 68.

Robert Pete Williams did some playing at house parties in the 30’s. In 1956, Williams shot and killed a man in a local club. Williams claimed the act was in self-defense, but he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was sent to Angola prison, where he served for two years before being discovered by Oster and Richard Allen. The pair recorded Williams performing several of his own songs, which were all about life in prison.Williams' first recording appeared on the anthology Angola Prisoners' Blues in 1959 and was issued by the Louisiana Folklore Society. Impressed with the guitarist’s talents, Oster and Allen pleaded for a pardon for Williams. The pardon was granted in 1959, after he had served a total of three and a half years. For the first five years after he left prison, Williams could only perform in Louisiana, but his recordings — which appeared on Folk-Lyric, Arhoolie, and Prestige, among other labels — were popular and he received positive word of mouth reviews. In 1964, Williams played his first concert outside of Louisiana — it was a set at the legendary Newport Folk Festival. Williams’ performance was enthusiastically received and he began touring the United States, often playing shows with Mississippi Fred McDowell. During the 60’s and 70’s he performed at several festival including the 1966 American Folk Blues Festival. He passed in 1980.

The almost free-form blues of Robert Pete Williams is quite different from the blues of his contemporaries as Tony Russell notes: "The typical Williams piece is a reflective blues underpinned by hypnotically repetitive guitar figures, generally in a modal structure. Sometimes  his source of inspiration fills him with a tense, nervous excitability, which which he acts out in frantic boogie playing. At other tomes he deserts the conventions of blues or boogie woogie and spins long free-form narratives or soliloquies." Peter Gurlanick wrote about seeing him for the first time in his book  Feel Like Going Home: "…It was difficult to approve the banalities of most blues singers after listening to Robert Pete Williams. More than anyone else, he shatters the conventions of the form and refuses to rely on any of the cliches, wither of music or of lyric, which bluesmen after bluesmen will invoke.

Born and raised in Georgia, Jesse Fuller began playing guitar when he was a child, although he didn't pursue the instrument seriously. In his early twenties, Fuller wandered around the southern and western regions of the United States, eventually settling down in Los Angeles. After spending a few years in Los Angeles, Fuller moved to San Francisco. While he worked various odd jobs around the Bay Area, he played on street corners and parties. Fuller's musical career didn't properly begin until the early '50s, when he decided to become a professional musician;  he was 55 years old at the time. Performing as a one-man band, he began to get spots on local television shows and nightclubs. However, Fuller's career didn't take off until 1954, when he wrote "San Francisco Bay Blues."The song was recorded by Rambling Jack Elliot who said in his opening monologue: "Oakland is right across the bay from San Francisco .That's where Jesse Fuller lives. Jesse Fuller plays the 12-string guitar. A livin' Leadbelly. Guitar and harmonica too. Electric. Also has a kinda 5-string …bass-like thing on the floor, that he plays with his foot. Called a foot-doola. And Jesse wrote this song. And I'll sing it to ya now, 'cause I sing it all day long."

The song helped him land a record contract with the independent Cavalier label, and in 1955 he recorded his first album, Folk Blues: Working on the Railroad with Jesse Fuller. The album was a success and soon he was making records for a variety of labels, including Good Time Jazz and Prestige.In the late '50s and early '60s Jesse Fuller became one of the key figures of the blues revival, helping bring the music to a new, younger audience. Throughout the '60s and '70s he toured America and Europe, appearing at numerous blues and folk festivals, as well as countless coffeehouse gigs across the U.S. Fuller continued performing and recording until his death in 1976.

Mance Lipscomb was born in Navasota, Texas, northwest of Houston, on April 9, 1895. Music ran in Lipscomb's family, and after his mother bought him a guitar when he was 11, he began accompanying his fiddler father at local dances. Before long, Lipscomb was in demand for "Saturday Night Suppers" in and around Grimes County, Texas. In addition to his family, Lipscomb picked up musical pointers from Texas blues singer Blind Lemon Jefferson. A traveling performer asked Lipscomb to go on tour in 1922, but Lipscomb said no, and until the 1960s he rarely left the area in which he was born. He worked as a tenant farmer (he disliked the term "sharecropper") for various employers, and most of his musical appearances were at local functions. One day in 1960 encountered music researchers Chris Strachwitz and Mack McCormick on a job site. They were looking for "Lightnin'" Hopkins, who had just left the area, but they agreed to listen to Lipscomb's music instead. Strachwitz was in the process of forming his California-based record company, Arhoolie, and a group of songs recorded around Lipscomb's kitchen table were put together on the album Mance Lipscomb: Texas Songster and Sharecropper, Arhoolie's debut release. Lipscomb's name quickly became well known among blues and folk music fans. He appeared at the Texas Heritage Festival in Houston in 1960 and 1961, then capitalized on his California connection and made appearances for three years running (1961-63) at the large Berkeley Folk Festival held at the University of California. In between festival appearances he appeared at folk coffeehouses in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, and he made several more recordings for Arhoolie.

What made Lipscomb stand out from the other Southern blues performers recorded during this period was the diversity of his repertory. As Paul Oliver wrote: "he was, and is, a 'songster'; in other words he did not restrict himself to a particular idiom as many blues singers have done but, coming from a generation of musicians who prided themselves on their versatility, embraced many forms, of which the blues was just one. Mance's life spans the history of the blues and the formative years of his musical development are well rooted the older traditions. At this point in time it is important to realize that this seventy-year young man is a living embodiment, and genuinely one of the last great exponents of the Southern Negro folk song forms before the blues, and the mass media which popularized it, swept them aside." His recordings provided examples of song and dance forms with both white and black roots–waltzes, two-steps, children's songs, jigs, reels, polkas and other styles. In the late 1960s, as interest in the blues mounted, Lipscomb experienced still greater success. He appeared at the Festival of American Folklife, held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1968 and 1970, and he performed at other large festivals, including the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1970 and the Monterey Jazz Festival in California in 1973. Among the many musicians who became Lipscomb fans was vocalist Frank Sinatra, who issued a Lipscomb recording, Trouble in Mind, on his Reprise label in 1970. He appeared that year in Les Blank's film and two years later was featured in a French blues documentary, Out of the Blacks Into the Blues. Lipscomb suffered from heart trouble in the mid-1970s and gradually retired from the stage. He passed in 1976.


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