1960’s Blues


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."

 

Share
ARTISTSONGALBUM
Guitar Slim Little BoyGreensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim Worried BluesGreensboro Rounder
Lum Guffin Moaning And Groaning Blues Walking Victrola
Lum Guffin Railroad Blues Walking Victrola
Shortstuff Macon Moanin' Introducing Mr. Shortstuff
Shortstuff Macon Great Big LegsIntroducing Mr. Shortstuff
Maxwell Street Jimmy Me And My Telephone Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis
Maxwell Street Jimmy Drifting From Door To Door Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis
Maxwell Street Jimmy Crying Won't Make Me Stay
Modern Chicago Blues
Guitar Slim Penitentiary Moan Blues Greensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim War Service Blues Greensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim Lovin Home Blues Greensboro Rounder
Lum Guffin Johnny Wilson Walking Victrola
Lum Guffin Old Country BluesOld Country Blues
Shortstuff Macon Short Stuff's Corrina Hell Bound & Heaven Sent
Shortstuff Macon My Jack Don't Drink Water No More Hell Bound & Heaven Sent
Shortstuff Macon Tight Like ThatHell Bound & Heaven Sent
Maxwell Street Jimmy Make Some Love To You Chicago Blues Live At The Fickle Pickle
Maxwell Street Jimmy Long Haired Darlin' Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis
Guitar Slim Won't You Spread Some Flowers On My Grave Living Country Blues Vol. 8
Guitar Slim – Bad Luck Blues Living Country Blues Vol. 8
Lum GuffinOn The Road Again Walking Victrola
Lum GuffinJack Of Diamond Walking Victrola
Guitar Slim Come On In My Kitchen Living Country Blues USA: Introduction
Guitar Slim Lula's Back In Town Living Country Blues vol. 10

Show Notes:

 Guitar Slim: Greensboro Rounder
Read Liner Notes

I was talking last week on the air during our pledge drive about radio and how the landscape has changed with iTunes and services like Spotify and Pandora. What I tried to emphasize is that even with these services there is a vast amount of material that has never been digitized and hence you will never hear on these services. This is certainly the case with the blues. When CD's starting coming out many of us assumed everything would be made available but there remain many, many great albums that remain long out-of-print with little chance of ever getting reissued. If you look in the The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings, one of my favorite resources, there's a thousand pages listing blues CD's but one could come up with a hefty companion volume of all the recordings that have not made it onto CD and therefore not included in that book. Those recordings are featured regularly on this show and make up something of a forgotten history of the blues. There are many artists who's complete output remains unissued on CD, making their achievements virtually forgotten. With companies like Document and Yazoo, almost all of the pre-war materiel has been reissued. Similarly labels like Ace and Classics, among others, have done a good job covering the post-war era. The most glaring oversight is some of the great, little known bluesman who were captured in the 1960's and 70's, many of these field recordings, and issued almost exclusively on small labels. Our ongoing Forgotten Country Blues Heroes continues spotlighting these artists.

From the 1960's through the 80's there were folklorists, researchers and dedicated fans such as David Evans, Pete Welding, George Mitchell, Sam Charters, Chris Stratwichz, Mack McCormick, Bruce Jackson, Peter B. Lowry, Tary Owens, Art Rosenbaum, Pete Welding, Bengt Olsson, Kip Lornell, Glenn Hinson, Tim Duffy, and Axel Küstner who actively sought out and recorded rural blues. Some were hunting for the famous names who made records in the 1920’s and 1930’s, others were seeking to fill in biographical blanks regarding some of the older musicians coveted by collectors and then there were those who were seeking to document the blues tradition as it still existed in rural communities. Today's program spotlights a batch of superb, little known, artists who were recorded during this period, almost all of whose recordings remain out-of-print: Guitar Slim Stephens, Lum Guffin, Short Stuff Macon and Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis.

 Lum Guffin: Walking Victrola
Read Liner Notes

James “Guitar Slim” Stephens was born on March 10, 1915, near Spartanburg, South Carolina. He began playing pump organ when he was only five years old, singing spirituals he learned from his parents and reels he heard from his older brother pick on the banjo. Slim was so small that his feet would not even reach the organ pedals, so he had one of his brothers do the pumping while he practiced the keys. Within a few years, Slim was playing piano. When he was thirteen, Green began picking guitar, playing songs he heard at local “fling-dings,” house parties, and churches. A few years later he joined the John Henry Davis Medicine Show, playing music to draw crowds to hear the show master’s pitch; this took him throughout the southeastern Piedmont. It seems as if traveling was in Slim’s blood from that point on; for in the next twenty or so years, he moved throughout the eastern United States living in such cities as Richmond, Durham, Louisville, Nashville, and Waterbury, Connecticut. In 1953 he arrived in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he lived for the remainder of his life playing both guitar and piano–singing the blues at house parties and spirituals at church.

Green's was first recorded in the early 70's by Kip Lornell who recorded him on several occasions in 1974 and 1975. His first LP, Greensboro Rounder, was issued in 1979 by the British Flyright label and are comprised of these recordings. Green also appears on the anthologies Eight Hand Sets & Holy Steps and Ain't Gonna Rain No More from the 1970's. Green's final recordings were made in 1980 by Siegfried Christmann and Axel Küstner for the Living Country Blues USA series of albums. Other songs from 1980 appear on the album Old Time Barrelhouse Blues which also includes sides by Memphis Piano Red. Green passed away in 1991. I'll be spotlighting more sides by Slim on an upcoming show devoted to the field recordings of Kip Lornell.

Begnt Olsson recorded Lum Guffin between 1972 and 1974, with a few tracks appearing on anthologies and the rest on his only full-length album, Walking Victrola, issued on the Flyright label in 1973. Further field recordings were made in 1978 by Gianni Marcucci and issued on his Albatros label. Guffin performed as a street musician around Binghampton, Memphis during the depression with his sometime partner, mandolin player ‘Chunk’ McCullough or at home for various social gatherings, picnics, dances, etc. Guffin also performed in a fife and drum band during the time of these recordings. He passed in 1993.

 Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis
Read Liner Notes

Regarding Short Stuff Macon the liner notes to his Folkways album (Hell Bound And Heaven Sent recorded in 1964) had this to say: "Short Stuff has now begun traveling the sparse and fickle concert circuit with Big Joe Williams, who, in a trip back to Mississippi,'discovered' him, liked his 'deep down' music, remembered his father and mother, and decided to take him with him.” In 1964 Macon recorded for the Spivey label issued on the album called Introducing Mr. Shortstuff. He appeared one final time on the album Goin’ Back to Crawford alongside Big Joe and others on a 1971 session. Macon passed in 1973.

Maxwell Jimmy Davis was Born Charles W. Thompson on March 2, 1925 in Tippo, MS. He learned to play guitar from John Lee Hooker while still a teenager, developing an insistent single-chord technique similar to that of his mentor; Davis and Hooker regularly gigged together in Detroit throughout the '40s, with the former settling in Chicago early the next decade. There he became a fixture of the West Side's Maxwell Street marketplace area. Davis recorded for Sam Phillips in 1952 but those sides were never issued .Live tracks from 1963 at Chicago's Fickle Pickle have been issued on different albums and there were some sides cut for the Testament label circa 1964.65. In 1965 he recorded his only full-length album, Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis for Elektra. His last recordings were from the late 80's. He passed in 1995.

 

Share
ARTISTSONGALBUM
James "Pee wee" MadisonLast NightThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Otis SpannWonder WhyThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Muddy Waters BandBlues For SpiveyThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Otis SpannDiving MamaThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Otis SpannShe's My BabyThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Babe StovallMy Brown Is A MistreaterEncore! for the Chicago Blues
Big Joe WilliamsMove Your HandEncore! for the Chicago Blues
John Henry BarbeeSix Week Old BluesEncore! for the Chicago Blues
Olive BrownWoman's LamentEncore! for the Chicago Blues
J.B Lenoir Korea BluesEncore! for the Chicago Blues
Roosevelt SykesDirty Mother Fuyer Encore! for the Chicago Blues
Big Joe WilliamsDrifting BluesKings and the Queen Volume Two
Memphis SimEuropean BluesKings and the Queen Volume Two
Roosevelt SykesSleeping All Day BluesKings and the Queen Volume Two
Bukka White Brownsville Tennessee Spivey's Blues Cavalcade
Johnny Shines, Big Walter Horton & Sunnyland SlimNidnight DarlingSpivey's Blues Cavalcade
Buster BentonI Must Have A Hole In My HeadThe All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band
Carey BellOne Day You're Going To Get LuckyThe All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band
Larry JohnsonMy Hoodoo DoctorThe All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band
Victoria SpiveyI'm Taking OverThe All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band
Otis SpannI'm AccusedUp in the Queen's Pad
Otis SpannVicksburg BluesUp in the Queen's Pad
Sunnyland SlimBlues Drive Me Out Of My MindVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Cryin' Marie DixonThree O'Clock In The MorningVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Lonnie JohnsonBe CarefulKings and the Queen Volume Two

Show Notes:

Victoria Spivey
Victoria Spivey


Spivey Records was a blues record label, founded by blues singer Victoria Spivey and her partner and jazz historian Len Kunstadt in 1961. The label was originally called Queen Vee Records, changing the name to Spivey records the following year. I believe only a couple of 45's were issued under the Queen Vee imprint. Spivey Records released a series of blues and jazz albums between 1961 and 1985. Most sessions took place at New York’s famous Cue Studios, some happened late at night at Victoria and Lenny's home studio while others took place at informal setting like hotel rooms or even at Willie Dixon's home in Chicago. Spivey put out some very eclectic records, with varying quality but through Spivey's connections she managed to get top notch artists to record for her including Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes, Otis Spann, Memphis Slim among many others. Spivey died in 1976 but the label continued until the death of Len Kunstadt in 1996. The whole catalog included some forty albums. Today is part two of our selective look at the Spivey label, focusing on the records and sessions done before Spivey passed away. The bulk of the Spivey catalog has never been issued on CD. Below is a summary of today's featured albums.

10084 10104
Read Liner Notes Read Liner Notes

Spivey's companion Len Kunstadt was the editor and publisher of Record Research magazine, which he founded in the late 1950's and was Spivey's agent, manager and long time partner. In an interview with Norbert Hess he had this to say: "Victoria knew the musicians and scouted for new talent. This went on for 16 years. In my opinion, from 1961 up to her death in 1976, she was more creative than ever before. Her fantastic way of winning over Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters for our company, and her concern for Bob Dylan. Sometimes I thought she was crazy. I could tell a lot of stories. The musicians would have killed for her. At first, they didn't like her, but after a split second they became her fans up to the very end. She was sometimes a little difficult because she was a genius."

Victoria Spivey & Muddy Waters Band
Photo from Otis Spann's 1967 Bluesway session: l to r – Otis Spann, Lucille Spann, Len Kunstadt, Victoria Spivey and Muddy Waters (photo by Denns Chalkin).

Before summarizing today's featured albums it's worth giving some background on Spivey's career. Spivey learned to play piano and sing when she was quite small, and by age twelve she was performing at the Lincoln Theatre, until the manager discovered she couldn’t read music. She continued to play at house parties and clubs, learning from local musicians such as John Calvin, and occasionally sharing a gig with Blind Lemon Jefferson. By age twenty, she had moved to St. Louis, where she made her first record for OKeh, the legendary "Black Snake Blues." The year 1928 saw Spivey teaming up with Lonnie Johnson to record a number of double-entendre vocal duets that sold quite well, but she continued to write songs and record for OKeh until she took time off to appear in King Vidor’s film Hallelujah in 1929. When she returned to the recording studio in late 1929, she was under contract to Victor. Spivey continued to record throughout the 1930s, for both Decca and Vocalion, and as her recording career ended, she hit the road, traveling with the Olsen and Johnson’s "Hellzapoppin’" troupe, owning a club in East St. Louis, and finally retiring to work in the church. But in the 1960's she came out of retirement to appear at clubs such as Gerdes Folk City. Before forming her label she reunited with Lonnie Johnson appearing on his album Idle Hours for Bluesville in 1961, he in turn backed her on her album Woman Blues and she also appeared on Songs We Taught Your Mother alongside Alberta Hunter and Lucille Hegamin. There was also a session for Folkways in 1962. Beginning in 1962 Spivey wrote a semi-regular column in Record Research called Blues Is My Business.

Victoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo was the eleventh record on the Spivey label. The album comprises of sessions recorded at Willie Dixon home in Chicago in 1969 and sessions done in New York in 1970. Dixon is helped out by hs Blues All Stars which include Sunnyland Slim, Johnny Shines, Clifton James and Cryin’ Marie Dixon. Accoring to the notes there's big news: "ATTENTION: SMOKEY HOGG IS NOT DEAD!!" At least that's what Victoria Spivey thought when she "rediscovered" him in Brooklyn, N.Y. and what Len Kunstadt thought when he penned the liner notes for the album. Smokey actually passed in 1960 and this was Willie Anderson Hogg. He calimed to have recorded in the pre-war era but these sides for Spivey are his only know legacy.

Read Liner Notes

The Muddy Waters band cut two albums for Victoria Spivey's Spivey label: The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band (1966) and The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 2 (1968). The Muddy Waters records are the only ones I know that have been issued on CD. These came out on the Japanese P-Vine label with several extra tracks. Today we feature tracks from the second volume. Muddy Waters is listed as "Main Stream" for contractual reasons and probably doesn't play on all the tracks. These sessions were recorded after a 1966 date at New York's Cafe Au Go Go. The performance was written up by Len Kunstadt in Record Research 83 (1967) and concludes with "Victoria Spivey, perhaps their greatest fan, and a lucky devil, was fortunate to capture some of the sounds of Otis, George, Luther, Sammy and Francis for the latest release on the Spivey label." As Kunstadt wrote of their live performance: "There was a combustible spark in the atmosphere – and every time Muddy would hit the stand and tell the throng 'He Had Been Mistreated' or he was the 'Hootchie Cootchie Man' or he would confide in you about his 'Five Long Years' the audience exploded into applause and rapport. Muddy and his band were keyed to greatness. OTIS SPANN, Muddy's 'Little Brother', was the anchor man and cohesive agent of the group with his brilliant dominant blues piano."

Otis Spann appears on several Spivey albums including both volumes of the The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters albums, The Everlasting Blues vs. Otis Spann and Up In The Queen's Pad. As Spivey wrote in a column in Record Research magazine in 1970 shortly after Otis' passing: “He was like a son, a brother and what a pal. Otis came into my life in 1963 during that American Folk Blues Festival (same one with Lonnie!) that toured all over Europe. …The European tour was really fine but Otis and his crazy lovable ways made it wonderful.”

Read Liner Notes

Encore! for the Chicago Blues was the ninth album on the Spivey label and a sequel to Chicago Blues
A Bonanza All Star Blues LPreleased in 1964. According to the notes: "This album is a sequel anthology to Spivey LP 1003 which commentated Victoria Spivey's first visit to Chicago in over 25 years. An informal blues party was given by host Willie Dixon in which such colorful talented artists as Homesick James, St. Louis Jimmy, Sunnyland Slim, Washboard Sam, Koko Taylor, Evans Spencer, John Henry Barbee and Willie himself, Miss Spivey by recording for her youthful record company. …Most of the artists are back again. In addition bonus tracks from studio and field recordings by other fine performers supplement the 'regulars'."

Kings And The Queen Volume Two was issued in 1970 and a sequel to Three Kings And The Queen issued several years earlier. Some of these sessions are likely from the same as the first volume and others probably later. Once again Bob Dylan appears alongside Victoria and Big Joe on a couple of songs. Alos appearing are Lonnie Johnson, Memphis Slim and Roosevelt Sykes. Both volumes of have been reissued on the European Doxy label on 180 gram vinyl only releases.

Spivey's Blues Cavalcade was issued in 1970 and the fifteenth album on the Spivey label. This is a grab bag of tracks with some of these recorded in the 60's – leftover tracks from previous Spivey albums.

By the end of the 1960s, Willie Dixon was eager to try his hand as a performer again, a career that had been interrupted when he'd gone to work for Chess as a producer. He recorded an album of his best-known songs, I Am the Blues, for Columbia Records, and organized a touring band, the Chicago Blues All Stars, to play concerts in Europe. Among the albums he cut during this period was 1973's Victoria Spivey presents The All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band. This is a terrific outing spotlighting a great band that included Buster Benton, Carey Bell, Lafayette Leake and Larry Johnson.

Victoria Spivey began endorsing Otis Spann, telling the world of his genius – in her own inimitable way – via the pages of of her column in Record Research, and sporadically recording him for her Spivey Records label between 1967 and 1969. The sessions that comprise Up In The Queen's Pad were recorded in 1968 and 1969 at Spivey's home in Brooklyn backed by guitarist Sammy Lawhorn. The album was issued posthumously, possibly around 1980. One other song from this session appears on the album Spivey's Blues Showcase.

Share
ARTISTSONGALBUM
Victoria SpiveyMy DebtBuddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Hannah SylvesterBasket of BluesBuddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Lucille HegaminNumber 12Buddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Victoria SpiveyGrant SpiveyVictoria Spivey & Her Blues
Victoria SpiveyNew York MoanVictoria Spivey & Her Blues
John Henry BarbeeEarly In The MorningChicago Blues -A Bonanza All Star Blues
Homesick JamesQueen's RockChicago Blues -A Bonanza All Star Blues
Victoria SpiveyBrown SkinThree Kings And The Queen
Big Joe WilliamsNo Partnership WomanThree Kings And The Queen
Roosevelt SykesThis Is A New WorldThree Kings And The Queen
Lonnie JohnsonMr Johnson's Guitar TalksThree Kings And The Queen
Lonnie JohnsonFour Shots Of GinThree Kings And The Queen
Shortstuff MaconMoaninIntroducing Mr. Shortstuff
Shortstuff MaconGreat Big LegsIntroducing Mr. Shortstuff
Victoria SpiveyEvery Dog Had Its DayQueen and Her Knights
Victoria SpiveyWe Both Got To DieQueen and Her Knights
Victoria Spivey & Memphis SlimI'm A TigressQueen and Her Knights
Little Brother MontgomeryWest Texas BluesQueen and Her Knights
Otis Spann Ain’t Nobody’s BusinessThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
Victoria SpiveyTrouble HurtsThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
Luther JohnsonCreepin’ SnakeThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
George SmithLookout VictoriaThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
Roosevelt SykesDresser DrawersVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Victoria SpiveyBlack GalVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Smokey HoggBells Are ToningVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Walter HortonInter-Mision StateSpivey's Blues Parade
Sippie Wallace I'm A Mighty Tight WomanSpivey's Blues Parade
Victoria SpiveyJetSpivey's Blues Parade
Lonnie JohnsonLonnie's Traveling LightSpivey's Blues Parade

Show Notes:

 

Spivey LogoSpivey Records was a blues record label, founded by blues singer Victoria Spivey and her partner and jazz historian Len Kunstadt in 1961. The label was originally called Queen Vee Records, changing the name to Spivey records the following year. I believe only a couple of 45's were issued under the Queen Vee imprint. Spivey Records released a series of blues and jazz albums between 1961 and 1985. Most sessions took place at New York’s famous Cue Studios, some happened late at night at Victoria and Lenny's home studio while others took place at informal setting like hotel rooms or even at Willie Dixon's home in Chicago. Spivey put out some very eclectic records, with varying quality but through Spivey's connections she managed to get top notch artists to record for her including Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes, Otis Spann, Memphis Slim among many others. Spivey died in 1976 but the label continued until the death of Len Kunstadt in 1996. The whole catalog included some forty albums. Today is part one of our selective look at the Spivey label, focusing on the records and sessions done before Spivey passed away. The bulk of the Spivey catalog has never been issued on CD.

Spivey's companion Len Kunstadt was the editor and publisher of Record Research magazine, which he founded in the late 1950's and was Spivey's agent, manager and long time partner. In an interview with Norbert Hess he had this to say: "Victoria knew the musicians and scouted for new talent. This went on for 16 years. In my opinion, from 1961 up to her death in 1976, she was more creative than ever before. Her fantastic way of winning over Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters for our company, and her concern for Bob Dylan. Sometimes I thought she was crazy. I could tell a lot of stories. The musicians would have killed for her. At first, they didn't like her, but after a split second they became her fans up to the very end. She was sometimes a little difficult because she was a genius."

Spivey Records Adspivey-ad
One of the many ads featured in Record Research magazine. Spivey had a semi-regular column called Blues Is My Business.

Before summarizing today's featured albums it's worth giving some background on Spivey's career. Spivey learned to play piano and sing when she was quite small, and by age twelve she was performing at the Lincoln Theatre, until the manager discovered she couldn’t read music. She continued to play at house parties and clubs, learning from local musicians such as John Calvin, and occasionally sharing a gig with Blind Lemon Jefferson. By age twenty, she had moved to St. Louis, where she made her first record for OKeh, the legendary "Black Snake Blues." The year 1928 saw Spivey teaming up with Lonnie Johnson to record a number of double-entendre vocal duets that sold quite well, but she continued to write songs and record for OKeh until she took time off to appear in King Vidor’s film Hallelujah in 1929. When she returned to the recording studio in late 1929, she was under contract to Victor. Spivey continued to record throughout the 1930s, for both Decca and Vocalion, and as her recording career ended, she hit the road, traveling with the Olsen and Johnson’s "Hellzapoppin’" troupe, owning a club in East St. Louis, and finally retiring to work in the church. But in the 1960's she came out of retirement to appear at clubs such as Gerdes Folk City. Before forming her label she reunited with Lonnie Johnson appearing on his album Idle Hours for Bluesville in 1961, he in turn backed her on her album Woman Blues and she also appeared on Songs We Taught Your Mother alongside Alberta Hunter and Lucille Hegamin. There was also a session for Folkways in 1962. Beginning in 1962 Spivey wrote a semi-regular column in Record Research called Blues Is My Business.

Buddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Read Liner Notes

Buddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues, issued in 1962, was the first album on the Spivey label. As Len Kunstadt wrote in the liner notes: "This may well be the very first record company ever organized and owned by a Negro vintage blues queen." The album featured 1920's blues queens Hannah Sylvester, who first recorded in 1923 and Lucille Hegamin who in November 1920 became the second African-American blues singer to record, after Mamie Smith. This is an excellent album with all three ladies in fine form backed by a good band with a horn section that included Buddy Tate, Eddie Barfield and Dick Vance

Victoria Spivey & Her Blues is the second Spivey album, recorded in 1962, and featuring Spivey backed by Eddie Barfield and Pat Wilson who both appear on the previous record. According to the notes: "When Miss Spivey entered the recording studio in February of 1962 she demanded absolute freedom, 'to sing the way she damned please.' …She really had the blues that day and she wanted the recording engineer to capture all of it on tape. Without reservation, she was granted all her demands. This recording session was on the tail end of a tough year for Miss Spivey where sickness, disappointment (both personal and in business) and loneliness had taken its toll. She wrote hundreds of blues in 1961 because she really had them. These were not thought of as for commercial exploitation but were blues written as an escape mechanism for a troublesome world." The Queen is in excellent form on a set of very personal songs; "Grant Spivey" is a dedication to her father, "Talk About Moanin'" is about her early Texas mentor Robert Calvin while "Buddy Tate" is dedicated to her longtime musical friend.

Three Kings And The Queen
Read Liner Notes

According to the notes from Chicago Blues -A Bonanza All Star Blues: "All these blues sounds you will hear were luckily captured at a reunion in honor of Quenn Victoria Spivey by many of he old blues buddies at a real down-to-earth romping blues party with all the clamor of merriment, clinking glasses, shuffling feet, knocks at every door." The recordings were done in Chicago on Spivey's first visit to the city in 25 years and put together by Willie Dixon. The album features great artists like Homesick James, Willie Dixon, St. Louis Jimmy, Sunnyland Slim and others but suffers from poor recording.

The fourth Spivey album was Three Kings And The Queen featuring pianist Roosevelt Sykes, guitarists Lonnie Johnson , Big Joe Williams, and Victoria Spivey on four vocal selections apiece. With the exception of the closing "Thirteen Hours" (which has Spivey joining Sykes for a piano duet) and a pair of Big Joe Williams tracks (which feature the harmonica of Bob Dylan), all of the performances are unaccompanied. This is a strong outing with everyone in good form. This was not Dylan's first recording session as he had already recorded his debut album Bob Dylan for Columbia Records on March 19, 1962. In in 1965 column in Record Research Spivey recollected back to her first meeting with Dylan: "I was just thinking about little BOB DYLAN. The years flashed backed to 1961 when I furst met him at Gerde's Folk City in Greenwich Village, New York City. He was the sweetest kid you would ever want to meet. He would say Moms, this Moms, that Moms, always trying to get my attention. He was a doll. I was so proud of him then because he really had some talent which was just ready to explode. And did it! Just a couple of years later he was on his way to becoming a world idol in his field. …Bob knew about my little record company SPIVEY and my plans to record Big Joe, and he wanted 'in too.' What a sight as little Bob was carrying Big Joe's unusual guitar to the studio! And did they play well together! …Yes, this is Bob before Dame fortune was to reward him for his great talent."

Spivey Records AdMuddy, Victoria, SpannMuddy, Victoria, SpannSpann, Spivey, Muddy
Otis Spann, Victoria Spivey and Muddy Waters, 1964. Spann holds a copy of the Spivey album Chicago Blues.

Regarding Short Stuff Macon the liner notes to his Folkways album (Hell Bound And Heaven Sent) had this to say: "Short Stuff has now begun traveling the sparse and fickle concert circuit with Big Joe Williams, who, in a trip back to Mississippi, 'discovered' him, liked his 'deep down' music, remembered his father and mother, and decided to take him with him.” The same year those recordings were made they cut sides for the Spivey label which were issued on the album called Introducing Mr. Shortstuff. He appeared one final time on the album Goin’ Back to Crawford alongside Big Joe and others on a 1971 session.

Queen and Her Knights was the sixth Spivey release, issued in 1965, and features Spivey alongside Lonnie Johnson, Memphis Slim, Sonny Greer and Little Brother Montgomery. This is another strong album featuring Spivey in fine form particularly on the playfully risque "I'm A Tigress", a duet with Memphis Slim. Slim delivers a fine rendition of 'TB Blues" amd Lonnie and Little Brother are in typically good form.

The Muddy Waters band cut two albums for Victoria Spivey's Spivey label: The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band (1966) and The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 2 (1968). The Muddy Waters records are the only ones I know that have been issued on CD. These came out on the Japanese P-Vine label with several extra tracks. In a column in Record Research after Otis Spann died, Spivey had this recollection of the session: "One day I asked Otis if he would make an LP for my little company. And before I could catch my breath his answer was this, 'you are my mother and nobody better not try to stop me.' I was very happy so we set the date – and he got the band together. And the morning that the recording was to be, at 11 AM, I walked into the Go Go blub and there was my child sitting there with his little head on the table with his own coat over his shoulders. I heard he had been there all night long to make sure he would not disappoint me. Tears almost came to my eyes. We went to the studio with the rest of the boys. They gave me some session. Otis and the band were playing SOME blues and I mean THEY WERE PLAYING!"

Victoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo was the eleventh record on the Spivey label. The album comprises of sessions recorded at Willie Dixon home in Chicago in 1969 and sessions done in New York in 1970. Dixon is helped out by hs Blues All Stars which include Sunnyland Slim, Johnny Shines, Clifton James and Cryin’ Marie Dixon. Accoring to the notes there's big news: "ATTENTION: SMOKEY HOGG IS NOT DEAD!!" At least that's what Victoria Spivey thought when she "rediscovered" him in Brooklyn, N.Y. and what Len Kunstadt thought when he penned the liner notes for the album. Smokey actually passed in 1960. The imposter was Willie Anderson Hogg. who calimed to have recorded in the pre-war era but these sides for Spivey are his only know legacy.

Spivey's Blues Parade was the twelfth album on the Spivey label recorded in a variety of locations: the Walter Horton track was recorded in an informal session in a New York hotel room while the track featuring Sonny Boy Williamson was recorded in Germany during the 1963 AFBF.

Share
ARTISTSONGALBUM
James "Son" ThomasHighway 61 Blues Give My Heart Ease
James "Son" ThomasCrawling KingsnakeThe Blues Are Alive And Well
James "Son" ThomasBottle 'Em Up And GoMississippi Delta & South Tenessee Blues
Turner FoddrellCrow Jane Unreleased/Pete Lowry
The Foddrell BrothersPatrick County RagPatrick County Rag
The Foddrell BrothersBoogie In The MorningPatrick County Rag
Cecil BarfieldI Woke Up CryingThe George Mitchell Collection
Cecil BarfieldHooks In The WaterSouth Georgia Blues
Cecil BarfieldTrue Love South Georgia Blues
Guitar ShortyMy Mind Never ChangedCarolina Slide Guitar
Guitar ShortyI'm Going HomeCarolina Slide Guitar
Guitar ShortyGoin' Down in GeorgiaCarolina Slide Guitar
James 'Son' ThomasCairo BluesLiving Country Blues: Vol. 5 Mississippi Delta Blues
James 'Son' ThomasMama Don't Low No Guitar Playing Round HereLiving Country Blues: Vol. 10 Country Boogie
James 'Son' ThomasCatfish BluesLiving Country Blues: Vol. 5 Mississippi Delta Blues
The Foddrell BrothersHaunted HousePatrick County Rag
The Foddrell BrothersI Got A WomanClassic Appalachian Blues From Smithsonian Folkways
Cecil BarfieldLonesome House Blues The George Mitchell Collection
Cecil BarfieldI Told You Not To Do ThatThe George Mitchell Collection
Cecil BarfieldHoochie Coochie ManUnreleased/Axel Künster
Guitar ShortyDon't Cry Baby Alone In His Field
Guitar ShortyWorking Hard Alone In His Field
Guitar ShortyHold On BabyCarolina Country Blues
James "Son" ThomasAfter The WarGateway To The Delta
James "Son" ThomasTrain Fare BluesGateway To The Delta
James "Son" ThomasHigh Brown Son Thomas Plays And Sings Delta Blues
The Foddrell BrothersLonesome Country Boy BluesThe Original Blues Brothers
The Foddrell BrothersGoing Up The CountryThe Original Blues Brothers
The Foddrell BrothersSlow DragThe Original Blues Brothers

Show Notes:

Son Thomas
James "Son" Thomas, photographed by Bill Ferris in Leland, Mississippi, 1968

The days of finding country blues performers still playing in their local communities seems to be a thing of the past and with that so too are the days of field recording.  These days hardly anyone one undertakes field recording and the sad fact is that blues has largely disappeared as integral part of African-American rural communities; most of the old timers have passed on and few of the younger generation are interested in blues, particularly traditional blues. From the 1960's through the 80's there were folklorists, researchers and dedicated fans such as David Evans, George Mitchell, Sam Charters, Chris Stratwichz, Mack McCormick, Bruce Jackson, Peter B. Lowry, Tary Owens, Art Rosenbaum, Pete Welding, Bengt Olsson, Kip Lornell, Glenn Hinson, Tim Duffy, and Axel Küstner who actively sought out and recorded rural blues. Some were hunting for the famous names who made records in the 1920’s and 1930’s, others were seeking to fill in biographical blanks regarding some of the older musicians coveted by collectors and then there were those who were seeking to document the blues tradition as it still existed in rural communities. What they recorded in the rural communities of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas and Mississippi during this period was a still thriving, if largely undocumented, blues culture. As George Mitchell wrote: "As late as 1969 a country bluesman who at least occasionally played could be located in most small towns of Georgia. In 1976, there are very few active blues musicians left in the state! In the short span of seven years, one of the world's most vital and influential forms of music as it was originally performed has all but died out in Georgia, and probably in the rest of the South as well." I would say that even up through the early 1980's were still some fine players still active. Today's program spotlights  a batch of superb artists from this period,: the Foddrell Brothers, James "Son" Thomas, Cecil Barfield and Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue).

Marvin and Turner Foddrell
Read Liner Notes

Born in the Yazoo County community of Eden on October 14, 1926, James "Son"Thomas made his first recordings for folklorist Bill Ferris in 1968 (earliest sides appear on the compilations Blues From The Delta and The Blues Are Alive And Well). He later traveled throughout the United States and Europe to perform at blues concerts and exhibit his artwork. Thomas died in Greenville on June 26, 1993.

Thomas was one of the most recognized local musical figures in Mississippi during the 1970s and ’80s. He performed throughout the state at nightclubs, festivals, private parties, government social affairs, colleges, and juke joints. He also toured and recorded several blues albums in Europe, and his folk art was featured at galleries in New York, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Thomas learned guitar as a youngster after hearing his grandfather, Eddie Collins, and uncle, Joe Cooper, at house parties in Yazoo County. He later saw the two blues legends he regarded as his main influences, Elmore James and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, as well as Bentonia bluesman Jack Owens.

Thomas' performances had been confined to juke joints and house parties until he met Bill Ferris, who began recording and filming Thomas and other local bluesmen in 1968. The Xtra and Matchbox labels released the first recordings of Thomas, who later made albums for the Mississippi-based Southern Culture, Rustron, and Rooster Blues labels as well as companies in France, Holland, and Germany. He also appeared in several documentary films. Among his best recordings were made by Axel Küstner and Ziggy Chrismann in 1980 and issued as the Living Country Blues USA series on the German L&R label. By 1980 Thomas was a regular on the festival circuit but had recorded little, just a handful of sides scattered on obscure anthologies. After 1980 he toured Europe, recorded prolifically, including several very strong albums.

Marvin and Turner Foddrell were born into a musical family near Stuart in the Virginia Piedmont and for the major parts of their lives played regularly only at community gatherings, never professionally. Marvin and Turner were sons of a regionally renowned mult-instrumentalist, Posey Foddrell, who was proficient on fiddle, mandolin, piano, banjo, and guitar and played both with black and integrated groups. The family had lived in the Stuart area for several generations and they rarely ventured any significant distance from their home, where Turner ran a grocery store on Highway 8, and where the brothers were "discovered" by a local deejay during one of their impromptu jams. Discovered in the 1970s', the Foddrells became a regular fixture at the annual Blue Ridge Folklife Festival at nearby Ferrum College (the college's Blue Ridge Institute recorded the brothers extensively) and were also featured at many other festivals including some in Europe. The Foddrell Brothers recorded only two commercial records: The Original Blues Brothers (1981) on Swingmaster and Patrick County Rag (1983) on Outlet. They also appeared alongside more famous traditional musicians on a number of recorded anthologies. Both brothers have since passed away. Pete Lowry recorded them extensively in 1979 but none of these recordings were ever issued. Turner’s son Lynn joined the brothers on the 1982 and 1983 performances at the Celebration of Traditional Music. After Marvin’s death, Turner had continued to perform with Lynn. With Turner succumbing to lung cancer on Jan 31, 1995, the baton was passed onto Lynn.

South Georgia Blues
Read Liner Notes

One of the the most striking musicians recorded by George Mitchell was Cecil Barfield, and I agree with Mitchell’s assessment that he was some kind of genius. Mitchell called him "probably the greatest previously unrecorded bluesman I have had the pleasure of recording during my 15 years of field research." …Cecil was illiterate, but he was a genius. He couldn't read or write, but he was a highly intelligent person. I would stay up for hours, just talking to Cecil. …People from Germany and Italy wanted to have him come play, but he was not going anywhere." He began playing blues at five years old, using a cooking oil can he had rigged up with a neck and one string. He took up guitar at 12, and started playing rag and dance pieces before developing his distinctive bottleneck style. As Mitchell recalled: "We were recording Cecil in this tiny sharecropper's shack in some guy's plantation." Needless to say the plantation owner was not happy who called the sheriff on Mitchell.

Using the name William Robertson, in fear of endangering his welfare checks, he cut the LP South Georgia Blues for Southland in the mid-70's with several other tracks appearing on Flyright’s Georgia Blues Today (reissued by Fat Possum). I imagine Barfield is an acquired taste but to me he is simply mesmerizing; his music, with his droning, lightly distorted electric guitar coupled with his powerful mushed mouth, nasal singing, is hypnotic. Barfield has some originals but his genius is in the way he transforms well known songs by Frankie Lee Sims ("Lucy Mae Blues"), Lightnin’ Hopkins ("Mojo Hand"), J.B. Lenoir ("Talk To Your Daughter") and others into something startlingly original. Mitchell recorded Barfield extensively and there were a couple of digital collections available at one point. Art Rosenbaum and Axel Küstner also record Barfield. Barfield was born in 1922 and was farmer all his life until a back injury forced him to retire.  On how he came up with his songs he told Art Rosenbaum "your heart feels a certain way, then your mind follows, then you hands follow that."

Pete Lowry called Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue) "One of the most spontaneous musicians around; right up there with Lightnin' Hopkins, maybe more so." He cut a pair of unissued sides for Savoy in 1952, the long out-of-print album  Carolina Slide Guitar (Flyright, 1971) and an album for Lowry's Trix label, Alone In His Field, before passing in 1975. During his brief period of recording he played at the Chapel Hill Blues Festival and at coffee houses in the same town. Performances of him at the Chapel Hill Blues Festival can found on the Flyright albums Carolina Country Blues and Another Man Done Gone.

Guitar Shorty
Guitar Shorty, photo by Kip Lornell.

As Lowry wrote: "Born John Henry Fortescue in the town of Beihaven, N.C. at an unknown ttme, Shorty is possibly in his early forties. I am convinced that Shorty has no idea how old he is, and isn't of major importance. He now lives in Elm City. N.C. a very small town between Rocky Mount and Wilson – he lives in poverty in a house next to one of the fields he often works in…  the white man across the way owns it all. Life is hardly romantic, unless one is masochistic and likes starving, getting drunk, and waking in jail on occasions. When not working, he drinks, plays in the streets (that's how McLean met him the first time), or often in a church on Sunday (with his wife Lena)." As Danny McClean recalled: "I first met Shorty in the summer of 1970. There he was, just walking down the street playing guitar with Lena tagging along behind him. Shorty didn't sound like Blind Boy Fuller or Gary Davis or pick like Elizabeth Cotton. He played better when I first met him than he has since. He played really beautiful slide – weird things like maybe only Robert Johnson could have done. All the best things I heard him do never got on to tape it seems. They happened riding to his house in my car or on a visit when I didn't bring a tape recorder. He isn't nervous when he plays to a tape but it's never as good."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Next Page »