1960′s Blues


ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Lightnin' SlimBad LuckIt's Mighty Crazy
Schoolboy CleveI'm HimThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 5
Slim HarpoThis Ain't No Place For MeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 4
Lightnin' SlimTrip To Chicago The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 12
Lazy Lester Whoa Now I Hear You Knockin'!: The Excello Singles
Boogie JakeI Don't Know Why The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 42
Lightnin' SlimTom Cat BluesIt's Mighty Crazy
Slim HarpoI'm A King Bee The Excello Singles Anthology
Lazy LesterSugar Coated Love I Hear You Knockin'!: The Excello Singles
Jimmy DotsonI Wanna Know The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 3
Slim Harpo Don't Start Cryin' Now
The Excello Singles Anthology
Tabby ThomasHoodoo PartyThe Excello Story,Vol. 4: 1961-1975
Jimmy Anderson Naggin'The Excello Story,Vol. 4: 1961-1975
Sylvester BuckleyMumblin' Blues The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Lazy LesterA Word About Women I Hear You Knockin'!: The Excello Singles
Silas HoganI'm Going In The Valley Trouble: The Excello Recordings
Silas HoganDry Chemical BluesSwamp Blues
Arthur 'Guitar' KellyHow Can I Stay When All I Have Is GoneSwamp Blues
Clarence EdwardsCooling BoardSwamp Blues
Whisperin' Smith I Tried So Hard The Real Excello R&B
Jimmy Anderson It's Half Past Midnight The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 42
Silas Hogan Every Saturday NightTrouble: The Excello Recordings
Whisperin' SmithCryin' Blues The Real Excello R&B
Silas HoganDark Clounds Rollin'Trouble: The Excello Recordings
Jimmy AndersonRats And Roaches On Your MindDeep Harmonica Blues
Henry GrayShowers Of RainSwamp Blues
Whispering SmithCold Black MareSwamp Blues
Lazy lesterPoor Boy BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 16
Slim HarpoTip On In (Part 1) The Excello Singles Anthology
Silas HoganHoo Doo Man Blues Live In Baton Rouge At The Speakeasy
Guitar KellyI Got A Funny FeelingLouisiana Blues
Henry GrayCold ChillsLouisiana Blues

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

Jay Miller operated a small studio and record label (Feature) out in Crowley, Louisiana. He had been recording some regional music in the early fifties when he first heard Lightnin’ Slim at WXOK in Baton Rouge. Miller has said that Lightnin’s music “did something to me”, and he recorded Lightnin’s “Bad Luck” in the Spring of 1954.There was no way Miller could keep up with the demand for the record, and he hooked up with Ernie Young and worked out a deal that would lease the material he was recording back in Crowley to Excello Records for release and distribution. Soon Miller’s studio became ground zero for the sound known as “swamp-blues.” One of the regions Miller tapped into was the fertile Baton Rouge blues scene eighty miles to the East. Today we feature many of the great Baton Rouge artists Miller recorded including Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, Silas Hogan, Whisperin' Smith, Jimmy Anderson and several others.

Lightnin' Slim recorded for 12 years as an Excello artist, from 1954 to 1965, starting out originally on Miller's Feature label. Slim was born with the name Otis Hicks in St. Louis, MO, on March 13, 1913. After 13 years of living on a farm outside of the city, the Hicks family moved to Louisiana, first settling in St. Francisville where he took to the guitar.In 1946 he moved to Baton Rouge, playing on weekends in local ghetto bars, and started to make a name for himself on the local circuit. At the beginning of the 50's he was working with harmonica player Schoolboy Cleve in tow, Lightnin' and Schoolboy working club dates and broadcasting over the radio together. While riding on a bus sometime in the mid-'50s, Lazy Lester met guitarist Lightnin' Slim, who was searching for his AWOL harpist. The two's styles meshed seamlessly, and Lester became Slim's harpist of choice.  As the late '60s found Lightnin' Slim working and living in Detroit, a second career blossomed as European blues audiences brought him over to tour, and he also started working the American festival and hippie ballroom circuit with Slim Harpo as a double act. When Harpo died unexpectedly in 1970, Lightnin' went on alone, recording sporadically, while performing as part of the American Blues Legends tour until his death in 1974.

Read Liner Notes

In the large stable of blues talent that Jay Miller recorded for Excello, no one enjoyed more mainstream success than Slim Harpo. Researcher/Writer Bruce Bastin writes: "Slim Harpo was one of the finest bluesmen to achieve recognition from Jay Miller's recordings in Crowley, Louisiana and although he gained greater success after he had left Miller, he never made records of the same quality." He had been playing full-time as a musician since the late 1940's, calling himself Harmonica Slim and frequently playing around Baton Rouge with Lightning Slim.

Miller had used a number of harmonica players to back Lightning Slim and late in 1955 Lightning brought with him his own man, Harmonica Slim (Slim Harpo), for a session. Harpo’s first record, “I’m A King Bee”, became a double-sided R&B hit in 1957. Even bigger was “Rainin’ in My Heart,” which made the Billboard Top 40 pop charts in the summer of 1961. In the wake of the Rolling Stones covering “I’m a King Bee” on their first album, Slim had the biggest hit of his career in 1966 with “Baby, Scratch My Back” which made Billboard’s Top 20 pop charts. Follow-ups “Tip on In” and “Tee-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu,” were both R&B charters.

By the end of the 60’s Harpo contacted Lightnin’ Slim, who was now residing outside of Detroit, MI. The two reunited and formed a band, touring together as a sort of blues mini-package to appreciative white rock audiences until the end of the decade. The New Year beckoned with a tour of Europe (his first ever) all firmed up, and a recording session scheduled when he arrived in London. Sadly he died suddenly of a heart attack on January 31, 1970.

As Jay Miller recalled, "One day Lightnin' Slim walked into my studio to cut a record session, accompanied by a tall, slender young stranger, introduced to me as Leslie Johnson …I learned that Lightnin' had met Leslie on a bus to Crowley, but had not heard him sing or play. Having a few minutes before the session, I put Leslie in the studio and the rest of us went into the control room to listen. When I turned on the equipment and signaled him to begin, I was surprised by what I heard. It was so much more than what I expected. I was immediately convinced that this was an artist of great potential."

Lazy Lester recorded first in 1957 and fifteen Excello releases ensued over the next nine years until Miller found Lester too unreliable to use. Miller found that Lester was equally talented on guitar and drums, and he became a stalwart of Miller's session bands. Lester appeared on Miller-produced songs by Lightnin' Slim, Slim Harpo, Katie Webster, Lonesome Sundown and artists as varied as Nathan Abshire and Johnny Lano.

Lightnin' Slim

In 1962, at the ripe old age of 51, Silas Hogan was introduced by Slim Harpo to producer Jay Miller and his recording career finally began in earnest. Hogan recorded for Excello from 1962 to early 1965, seeing the last of his single releases issued late that year. As Ray Templeton wrote: "Outside of the big four – Lightning Slim, Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown and Slim Harpo – Silas Hogan is the most important of the downhome blues artists Jay Miller recorded, whether you measure importance in numbers of singles issued (Hogan had eight releases on Excello) or in terms of quality and consistency." Regarding his musical background, Hogan said: "…I'd been living in the country, there was some old people there picking guitar. And that's how I learned, following them. …They were real bluesmen, the old way-back stuff. When we were playing back yonder, we were playing them house parties, they didn't have as many juke joints as they have now. …I played all night for  for seventy-five cents." After performing with Guitar Kelly he started gaining prominence in the Baton Rouge are when he formed the Rhythm Ramblers in 1956. Also in the group was harmonica man Sylvester Buckley (Buckley recorded four sides circa 1962/63 for Jay Miller that were unissued). Buckley laid down sympathetic support on several of Hogan's Excello releases while Whispering Smith played harmonica on several others.

Jimmy Dotson was a small part of an active Baton Rouge blues scene of the 1950’s. Dotson cut sessions for Miller circa 1957 through 1960. Dotson said: "The Baton Rouge blues scene in the '50s was nice, we had a following, we played from club to club. I played drums for Lightnin' Slim for a while and with Slim it fluctuated, I was a kind of utility musician. If they needed a drummer I'd go play drums, if they needed a bass player, a guitar … I couldn't play any too good on any of them but I could fit in. But they had a tremendous following, Lightnin' Slim and Slim Harpo. They would go from club to club, sometimes we would play Sunday afternoon somewhere back over North Baton Rouge in the park area from two o'clock to six and the place would be full of people. OK then we would go across the river (to Port Allen) and they'd just line up in cars and follow us across the river! It was fantastic, it really was."

Tabby Thomas is one of the best known blues musicians in Baton Rouge, and had, since the late 1970's, operated his own blues club there, Tabby's Blues Box. He was born in the city on January 5th, 1929. Thomas probably spans a longer recording history with Jay Miller than anyone else. He cut in 1954 for Miller's Feature label and cut a final session for Miller in 1980. His Feature disc didn't sell too well but he returned to make a number of discs there in the 1960's including his best-known number, "Hoodoo Party", a small southern hit in 1962.

Whisperin' Smith cut four singles for Excello in 1963-64 and backing Silas Hogan on records during the same period. He was introduced to Jay Miller by Lightnin' Slim. Smith was born in Mississippi and settled in Baton Rouge in 1957. He made more records in the 70's appearing on the Swamp Blues LP for Blue Horizon and cutting the album Over Easy in 1971 also for Blue Horizon. During this period he played in Europe appearing as part of the American Folk Blues Festival and at the Montreux Blues Festival.As John Broven noted: "Smith's best moments came when he played behind Lightnin' Slim in Europe. With arms flailing, body weaving, and legs ducking, his performance was animation itself, a throwback to the country dance juke joint workouts of yesteryear." Smith passed in 1984.

Slim Harpo

Harmonica player Jimmy Anderson modeled his sound on Jimmy Reed and cut all his sessions for Miller circa 1962 and 1964. As John Broven wrote: "Jimmy Anderson, a younger artist from Baton Rouge, was too much in jimmy Reed's shadow to succeed." Anderson quit recording In 1964, feeling that he was being gypped out of royalties. He continued to play for a few years , taking up the guitar, but when he appeared at the 1991 Utrecht Blues Estafette, Jimmy had been out of music for 20 years.

We spotlight several tracks from the album Swamp Blues, a fine sampling of the vibrant blues scene in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the summer of 1970. It was originally issued as a double LP in 1970 and has been reissued on CD by the Ace label. Recorded over the course of four hot August days, the sessions were produced by R&B monthly editor and Blue Horizon boss Mike Vernon. Swamp Blues isn't technically an Excello Records product, but many of the veteran blues artists included had strong ties to the label. Featured artists include Whispering Smith, Silas Hogan, Arthur "Guitar" Kelley', Clarence Edwards and Henry Gray.

Another swamp blues revival session was recorded in April of 1970,in Baton Rouge by Terry Pattison and Chris Strachwitz just a few months before the Swamp Blues session recorded for Blue Horizon. Pattison was actually instrumental in the above mentioned Swamp Blues session as well. Issued as Louisiana Blues on the Arhoolie label, the set features the same artists as well: Whispering Smith, Silas Hogan, Arthur "Guitar" Kelley',  Clarence Edwards and Henry Gray.

The same artists were also featured on the long out-of-print LP, Blues Live In Baton Rouge At The Speakeasy issued on Excello. Excello was still issuing records through the mid-70's. The album was recorded circa 1972 live at The Speak-Easy in Baton Rouge. From this album we spin Silas Hogan delivering a fine rendition of "Hoo Doo Blues."

 
Read Liner Notes: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2Pt. 3Pt. 4

Henry Gray was originally born in Alsen, Louisiana, outside of Baton Rouge. Gray became a stalwart of the Chicago blues scene, playing behind Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter before embarking on a twelve year stint with Howlin' Wolf. In 1968 he returned to Alsen to take care of his ailing father. He began playing the with a group called the Cats in local juke joints and made regular appearances at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  Outside of recording the above sessions, he didn't record again until 1977.

The Baton Rouge scene chugged along after these early 1970's sessions; artists like Lightnin' Slim and Whisperin' Smith continued to record sporadically in the 70's (Smith made his final single in 1983), Tabby Thomas recorded Baton Rouge artists for own label in the 70's and his popular juke joint, Tabby's Blues Box operated until 2004 and was a showcase for local players. Throughout the 90's Raful Neal remained active, performing and recording until passing in 2004. Nine of Neal's 11 children inherited his blues-playing prowess and play professionally, most famously Kenny Neal. Lazy Lester and Henry Gray have cut several albums over the years and both still remain active.

Related Items:

-Mike Vernon's Blues Super Session At Baton Rouge (Sounds, Oct 10, 1970, p.32)

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Gus CannonOn The Road AgainOn The Road Again
Furry LewisGoing Away BluesParty! At Home: Recorded in Memphis 1968
Dewey CorleyDewey's Walkin' BluesThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1
Joe DobbinsBasin Street BluesThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1
Mose VinsonYou Ain't Too OldThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1
Sam ClarkSunnyland Train BluesThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1
Bukka WhitePoor Boy Long Ways From HomeLegacy Of The Blues Vol. 1
Bukka WhiteSad Day Blues Memphis Swamp Jam
Johnny MomentKeep Our Business To Yourself I Blueskvarter Vol. 3
Earl BellTravellin' ManI Blueskvarter Vol. 3
Rev. Robert WilkinsDo Lord Remember MeMemphis Gospel Singer
Rev. Robert WilkinsThank You, Jesus Memphis Gospel Singer
Gus CannonCome On Down To My House Walk Right In
Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Gus CannonGibson Hill On The Road Again
Dewey Corley & Johnny Woods Tri-State Bus Beale Street Mess-Around
Dewley Corley & Walter Miller Fishing in the DarkBlow My Blues Away Vol. 1
Memphis Piano RedMobile Blues Memphis Swamp Jam
Laura Dukes Bricks In My Pillow Tennessee Blues Vol. 1
Nathan BeauregardKid Gal Blues The 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival
Memphis Willie B.Overseas Blues Introducing Memphis Willie B.
Memphis Willie B.Stop Cryin' Blues Introducing Memphis Willie B.
Sleepy John Estes Need More Blues Memphis Swamp Jam
Sleepy John Estes/Yank Rachell/Hammie Nixon I Wanta Tear It All the TimeNewport Blues
Willie MorrisMy Good Woman Has Quit Me The Memphis Blues Again Vol. 2
Hacksaw HarneyHacksaw's Down South BluesThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 2
Walter MillerI Don't Care What You DoThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 2
Van Hunt & Mose Vinson Jelly Selling WomanThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 2
Furry LewisI'm Going To BrownsvilleShake 'Em On Down
Furry LewisKassie Jones and a Message from Furry Party! At Home: Recorded in Memphis 1968

Show Notes:

Liner Notes: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3 -
Pt. 4 - Pt. 5Pt. 6
Liner Notes: Pt.1Pt. 2 - Pt. 3
Pt. 4
Pt. 5Pt. 6

Today's program is devoted to the Memphis country blues recorded in the 1960's. Of course the heyday of the Memphis blues was in the 20's and 30's. Memphis is the capital city of the Mississippi Delta, which stretches out south and west of the city in the states of Mississippi and Arkansas. "The Mississippi Delta begins on the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends at Catfish Row in Vicksburg", David Cohn wrote in 1935. The Peabody also happened to be the location of several recording sessions by artists such as Furry Lewis, Charlie McCoy, Speckled Red, Robert Wilkins, Big Joe Williams, Jed Davenport, Garfield Akers, Jim Jackson and others. By the time the race market was picking up in popularity nearly every major recording company either made field trips to Memphis or attracted Memphis artists to their Northern studios. Consequently, many great blues records from this era were made in Memphis or by Memphis area musicians. Among those names were men like Furry Lewis, Frank Stokes, Robert Wilkins and the great jug bands the city was so famous for, such as the Memphis Jug band and Cannon's Jug Stompers.

During the first half of the century Beale Street was the center of blues activity in Memphis. Writing at the end of the 1960's, researcher Begnt Olsson wrote: “Some years ago Beale Street was a rough, tough, gambling, whoring, cutting, musical, living street. Money was spent on cards, woman and whiskey. The liqueur and the music flowed in the many dives along Beale; ambulances howled; men and women were killed. Expensive cars were parked outside the gambling houses.” By the 1960's urban renewal decimated Beale Street yet many old time musicians remained; veterans like Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Will Shade, Dewey Corley, Memphis Piano Red, Laura Dukes and Gus Cannon were still hanging on. During the blues revival of the 60's many went down to Memphis to record these old musicians with the results mostly issued on small specialty labels. Many of the resulting records are long out-of-print.

Among those long out-of-print albums is The Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1 & 2. The records were issued on the Adelphi label and recorded in Memphis in October, 1969 and at the Peabody Hotel in June, 1970. These are wonderful gatefold albums with excellent notes and photos. We spin  superb performances by Mose Vinson, Willie Morris, Hacksaw Harney and Van Hunt among others.

Read Liner Notes

Originally from Holly Springs, MS, Mose 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. 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. Other sides by Vinson appear on various anthologies while his first full-length CD wasn't released until 1997.

From the time he was fifteen Willie Morris began hoboing throughout the Delta playing with Delta musicians including Kokomo Arnold. He moved to Memphis in 1938 where he worked with Franks Stokes, Will Shade, Gus cannon and others. he made a few recordings in the 1960's.

When Hacksaw Harney was in his early 20's he and an elder brother worked for tips and as backing musicians in Memphis but after his brother was murdered in a juke joint, Harney took up piano tuning. Robert Lockwood Jr. claimed that Harney was well acquainted with Robert Johnson and was a major influence on him. Harney spent most of his life in relative musical obscurity but in the late 1960's he was traced by folklorists to Memphis where he made some recordings for the Adelphi label.

Van Hunt spent the 1920’s in minstrel shows and was involved in the early Memphis blues scene. She cut "Selling The Jelly" in 1930 with the Noah Lewis Jug Band which hear her reprise today backed by Mose Vinson. She made some field recordings in the 60's and 70's.

It's only fitting we open and close the show with Furry Lewis. Pete Welding wrote that Lewis' music, "engagingly direct and sincere, typifies the best that the Memphis blues has to offer. If any single performer can be said to stand as the living embodiment of the Memphis blues, a perfomer in whose music can be found the full span of that urban-rural polarity, that man is surley Furry Lewis."

Lewis was born in Greenwood, MS and moved with his mother and two sisters to Brinley Avenue in Memphis when he was a youngster. His first guitar was supposedly given to him by W.C. Handy, a Martin that he used for decades. In 1925 he got together with Will Shade, Dewey Thomas and Hambone Lewis to form an early version of the Memphis Jug Band and like Jim Jackson took to traveling with medicine shows. Vocalion talent scouts saw both men in 1927 but it was Lewis who went to Chicago first in April where he cut six sides. He and Jackson went up together in October the same year with Lewis cutting seven numbers. Just under a year later Victor recorded eight more titles by Lewis in Memphis and Vocalion brought him in the studio one last time in 1929, cutting four songs at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Thirty year would pass before Sam Charters came knocking in 1959 subsequently recordings him for Folkways that same year with two more albums following for Prestige in 1961. There was nothing rusty about his playing as he had never stopped performing for neighbors and friends. Lewis was recorded often through the 1960's, with a slew of informal recordings issued posthumously. Bob Groom wrote in his book The Blues Revival that his "return has been one of the most satisfying of the [blues] revival." He played regularly at festivals around Memphis, appeared with Burt Reynolds in the movie W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings, sang "Furry's Blues" on Johnny Carson and was the subject of a Joni Mitchell song (he didn't like it). During this period Lewis' apartment became a pilgrimage for many visitors to Memphis, from blues fans, musicians to celebrities. Lewis died in 1981 at the City of Memphis Hospital.

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

Several of the old time jug musicians were still in Memphis in the 1960's. Renewed interest drew several out if the woodwork to record including Will Shade, Gus Cannon and Dewey Corley.

Will Shade got his first taste of blues music in 1925 when he first heard recordings by the Dixieland Jug Blowers, a jug band from Louisville, Kentucky. He then convinced a few of the local musicians, though still reluctant, to join him in creating yhe Memphis Jug Band. Shade himself played the guitar, washtub bass and the harmonica.The Memphis Jug Band had a fluid membership during the nearly 40 years that it was active. Between 1927 and 1934, the Memphis Jug Band recorded over 100 sides All the while, though, Shade was the backbone of the group, as he was the one responsible for finding new members to keep the jug band alive.blues revivalists found Shade and his old cohorts still playing together into the early 1960s and released several field recordings. The band during this period usually included Shade's long time friend Charlie Burse, whom Shade had picked up in 1928 as a vocalist and tenor guitarist, and sometimes included old rival Gus Cannon. Shade also appeared as an accompanist on Cannon's "comeback" album, Walk Right In, recorded by Stax Records in 1963.

Gus Cannon's band of the '20s and '30s, Cannon's Jug Stompers, were one of the best jug bands of the era. Songs they recorded, notably the raggy "Walk Right In," were staples of the folk repertoire decades later. Cannon learned early repertoire in the 1890s from older musicians. The early 1900s found him playing around Memphis with songster Jim Jackson and forming a partnership with Noah Lewis, whose harmonica would be basic to the Jug Stompers' sound. In 1914, Cannon began work with a succession of medicine shows that would continue into the 1940s, and where he further developed his style and repertoire. His recording career began with Paramount sessions in 1927. He continued to record into the '30s as a soloist and with his incredible trio, which included Noah Lewis along with guitarists Hosea Woods or Ashley Thompson. (Side projects included duets with Blind Blake and the first ever recordings of slide banjo.) Often obliged to find employment in other fields than music, Cannon continued to play anyway, mostly around Memphis. He resumed his stalled recording efforts in 1956 with sessions for Folkways. Subsequent sessions paired him with other Memphis survivors like Furry Lewis.

Dewey Corley was the leader of the Beale Street Jug Band from the '30s onward, and played jug, washtub bass and kazoo. In his later years, he also acted as an A&R man, helping record companies such as Adelphi scout out missing Memphis blues legends such as Hacksaw Harney and guitarist Willie Morris. Corley was influenced by Will Shade, joining Shade's Memphis Jug Band and was also a member of Jack Kelly's South Memphis Jug Band and also backed quite a few of the city's diverse bluesmen in duo and trio settings. His own Beale Street Jug Band was a most successful venture and became a fixture in Memphis for nearly three decades. He cut several fine sessions in the 60's and 70's.

Among the other big names residing in Memphis during this period were Bukka White, Robert Wilkins and Sleepy John Estes, all who had significant pre-war recording careers.

Read Liner Notes

The letter was addressed to: "Booker T. Washington White, (Old Blues Singer), C/O General Delivery Aberdeen , Miss." and forwarded to him by a relative. That was how John Fahey and Ed Denson found Bukka White in 1963 who was now living in Memphis. In 1930 Bukka White met furniture salesman Ralph Limbo, who was also a talent scout for Victor. White traveled to Memphis where he made his first recording. After a stint in Parchman Farm (he recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax there in 1939) he returned to Chicago cutting twelve sides in 1940. Then, Bukka disappeared dropped from the music scene, finding factory work in Memphis during World War II. Things moved quickly from the time Bukka White met up with John Fahey and Ed Denson; by the end of 1963 Bukka White was already recording on contract for Arhoolie Records. He recorded prolifically and thrived on the folk festival and coffeehouse circuit of the 1960s. He passed in 1977.

Like several of the former bluesmen turned gospel artists, Reverend Robert T. Wilkins recorded only sparingly in later years; he cut one full length album Memphis Gospel Singer in 1964 plus several sides on various anthologies. His early sessions for Victor in 1928, Brunswick in 1929 and Vocalion in 1935 are classics.

Sleepy John Estes was born in Ripley, Tennessee but was a longtime resident of Memphis. He made his debut in 1929 and made his last pre-war recording session taking place in 1941. Outside of a session for Sun in 1952 he was largely out of music until the 1960's.

We spotlight a number of fine little recorded Memphis artists who were recorded during this period. Among those are Earl Bell, Memphis Piano Red, Nathan Beauregard, Laura Dukes and Memphis Willie B.

Earl Bell was born in Hernando, MS, 22 miles from Memphis. He was recorded at the prompting of Dewey Corley. He made a handful of sides in the 60's, some with Corley and some with Memphis Sonny Boy.

John "Piano Red" Williams was born in Germantown, TN in 1905 and moved to Memphis with his family when he was nine. Red spent many years hoboing and met many roadhouse piano players. He recorded sparingly, with scattered sides on various anthologies.

During the folk and blues revival of the 1960s Nathan Beauregard was "discovered" in Memphis by Bill Barth, who convinced him to work as a musician again. It was widely advertised at the time that Beauregard was around one hundred year old but recent research suggests he was twenty years younger. In the short time between his "discovery" in 1968 and his death in 1970, he played at various folk and blues festivals and on a number of compilation albums on such labels as Blue Thumb, Arhoolie and Adelphi.

A lifelong Memphis musician, Laura Dukes was known as "Little Laura" or "Little Bit" for her diminutive stature. Her father, who played drums for W.C. Handy's band, put Dukes on the stage by the time she was five years old, where she proved to be a fine singer and performer. During the 1920's and 1930's, she performed for medicine shows, carnivals, and circuses. She also regularly performed on Beale Street during those years. Also during this time, she met the bluesman, Robert Nighthawk and the two spent several years traveling together and performing. She became a regular performer around Beale Street with the Memphis Jug Band, along with Will Shade and Will Batts. In 1961 she made some recordings with Will Shae and Gus Cannon (available on the out-of-print LP's Memphis Sessions 1956-1961 on Wolf and  Will Shade & Gus Cannon 1961 on Document), some unreleased sides in 1964, our selection which was recorded for the Albatross label in 1972 and appeared in the BBC-TV documentary The Devil's Music – A History of the Blues. Dukes passed in 1992.

Sam Charters recorded Memphis Willie B. through the help of Will Shade. "Usually I stop by Will's whenever I'm in Memphis, and over the years he's led me to other singers like Gus Cannon, Charlie Burse and Furry Lewis. …I stopped by in April 1961 …he mentioned that one of the blues singers he's known in the 1930s has stopped by his place a few weeks before. 'Charters recorded Borum at a session at the Sun studios for Prestige's Bluesville label, with one more session to follow. The albums were issued as Introducing Memphis Willie B. and Hard Working Man Blues. Borum, was a mainstay of the Memphis blues and jug band circuit. He took to the guitar early in his childhood, being principally taught by his father and Memphis medicine show star Jim Jackson. By his late teens, he was working with Jack Kelly's Jug Busters. This didn't last long, as Borum joined up with the Memphis Jug Band. Sometime in the '30s he learned to play harmonica, being taught by Noah Lewis, the best harp blower in Memphis and mainstay of Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers. Willie B. began working on and off with various traveling Delta bluesmen, performing at various functions with Rice Miller, Willie Brown, Garfield Akers, and Robert Johnson. He finally got to make some records in 1934 for Vocalion backing Hattie Hart and Allen Shaw, but quickly moved back into playing juke joints and gambling houses with Son Joe, Joe Hill Louis and Will Shade until around 1943, when he became a member of the U.S. Army. Memphis Willie B. passed in 1993.

Related Article:

-Willie, Furry & Gus by Jim Delehant , Jazz Journal 1965 ( PDF)

-Furry's Blues by Stanley Booth, Playboy 1970 (PDF)

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Baby Tate See What You Done Done See What You Done Done
Pink AndersonYou Don't Know My MindCarolina Medicine Show Hokum And Blues
Doug Quattlebaum You Is One Black RatSoftee Man Blues
James Henry DiggsPoor Boy Long Way From HomeSouthwest Virginia Blues
Eddie Lee Jones & FamilyWhich Way Does The Blood Red River FlowYonder Go That Old Black Dog
Buddy MossCome On Around To My HouseAtlanta Blues Legend
Elizabeth Cotten I'm Going Away Shake Sugaree
John JacksonBear Cat Blues Don't Let Your Deal Go Down
Cliff Scott Long Wavy Hair Georgia Blues
Nyles Jones (Guitar Gabriel) Southland Welfare Blues
Guitar ShortyGoin' Down in Georgia Carolina Slide Guitar
Willie Trice Shine OnBlue & Rag'd
Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong In The BottomMartin, Bogan & Armstrong
Henry JohnsonWho's Going Home With YouUnion County Flash
Frank HovingtonLonesome Road Blues Lonesome Road Blues
Cecil Barfield I Told You Not To Do That South Georgia Blues
Peg Leg SamWalking Cane Classic Appalachian Blues Smithsonian Folkways
Jimmy Lee Williams Have You Ever Seen PeachesHoot Your Belly
John Lee Ziegler If I Lose, Let Me Lose George Mitchell Collection Vol. 6
Willie Guy RaineySo SweetWillie Guy Rainey
Archie Edwards The Road Is Rough And RockyClassic Appalachian Blues Smithsonian Folkways
Guitar Slim Worried BluesGreensboro Rounder
James Davis Instrumental #4The George Mitchell Collection Vols. 1 - 45
George Higgs & Elester Anderson Skinny Woman Blues Unreleased
Pernell CharityWar Blues Virginia Traditions; Tidewater Blues
Carl HodgesLeaving You, MamaVirginia Traditions; Tidewater Blues
Turner Foddrell Slow Drag Western Piedmont Blues
Lewis "Rabbit" MuseJailhouse BluesWestern Piedmont Blues
John Tinsley Red River BluesWestern Piedmont Blues
Cephas & Wiggins Richmond BluesLiving Country Blues Vol. 1
Clayton Horsley Don't The Moon Look PrettyWestern Piedmont Blues

Show Notes:

Today's show is the third in series of spotlights on East Coast Blues. In previous shows we spanned the year 1927 through 1953 and today we take the story up to the end of the 1970's. The music to be found on today's program is generally classified as Piedmont Blues, a term that refers to a style and geographic region. Piedmont Blues refers to a regional of centered on musicians of the southeastern United States; from the foothills of the Appalachians west of the tidewater region and Atlantic coastal plain stretching roughly from Richmond, VA, to Atlanta, GA. Musically, Piedmont blues describes the shared style of musicians from Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, as well as others from as far afield as Florida, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. The Piedmont guitar style employs a complex fingerpicking method in which a regular, alternating-thumb bass pattern supports a melody on treble strings. The guitar style is highly syncopated and connects closely with an earlier string-band tradition, integrating ragtime, blues, and country dance songs. The result is comparable in sound to ragtime or stride piano styles. Recording artists such as Blind Blake, Josh White, Buddy Moss, and Blind Boy Fuller helped spread the style on the strength of their sales throughout the region. It was a nationally popular with the African-American audience for about twenty years from the mid-1920s through to the mid-1940s. By the 1960's and 70's the Piedmont style was no longer commercially viable, aided by the decline in popularity of the blues among black audiences and pushed aside by soul and electrified blues. Much of the recording done during this period were field recordings. There was much significant recording done by men like Sam Charters, Glenn Hinson, Kip Lornell, George Mitchell, Peter B. Lowry, Bruce Bastin and others. These recordings appeared mainly on small specialist blues labels geared to a predominately white audience. Many of the albums have not made it to the CD era.

Pink Anderson

The title of today's program comes from a song by Eddie Lee Jones from Georgia. Just about very southeastern bluesman sang a "Red River Blues": Josh White in 1932, Buddy Moss 1933, Virgil Childers 1938 among many others. The title a also nod to Bruce Bastion's book of the seam name, the definitive history of southeastern blues.

Samuel Charters played a central role in the folk revival of the 1950's and 1960's. His fieldwork, extensive liner notes, production efforts, and books served as a blues introduction to many. A 1961 trip for Prestige Records yielded records by Furry Lewis, Memphis Willie B., Baby Tate and Pink Anderson. Todat we spin tracks by the latter two artists.

Born in Georgia, Baby Tate grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. By the age of 14, he had taught himself to play guitar; shortly thereafter he began appearing alongside Blind Boy Fuller, from whom he picked up the basics of the blues. A few years later, Tate began performing with Roosevelt Brooks and Joe Walker in clubs and bars around Greenville. In 1932 he djoined the Carolina Blackbirds. They played numerous shows for the radio station, WFBC. During the 1930s, Tate played at local parties, medicine shows, and celebrations, and he continued performing as a mere hobby. Serving in the U.S. Army in the late 1930s and early '40s, Tate entertained in local pubs and dances while stationed in Europe. In 1942, he returned to Greenville, held a series of odd jobs, and took up music again in 1946. In the early 1950's, Tate moved to Spartanburg SC, performing by himself as well as with Pink Anderson. The two remained a duo until the 1970s. Tate recorded his first and only album, See What You Done Done, in 1961. He was featured in Samuel Charters' documentary film, The Blues the very next year. Peter B. Lowry recorded him extensivley in 1970 but these were never released. He passed in 1972.

After being raised in Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina, Pink Anderson joined Dr. Frank "Smiley" Kerr of the Indian Remedy Company in 1914 to entertain the crowds. In 1916 in Spartanburg, Anderson met "Blind Simmie" Dooley, from whom he learned to be a blues singer. When Anderson was not traveling with Dr. Kerr, he and Dooley would play to small gatherings in Greenville, Spartanburg, and other neighboring communities, as well as recording four tracks for Columbia Records in Atlanta in April, 1928. After Dr. Kerr retired in 1945, Anderson stayed more close to home in Spartanburg. He still "went out" annually when he could with Leo "Chief Thundercloud" Kahdot and his medicine show, often with harmonica-player Arthur "Peg Leg Sam" Jackson. In May 1950, Anderson was recorded by folklorist Paul Clayton at the Virginia State Fair. Heart problems eventually forced Anderson to retire from the road in 1957. He was once recorded extensively in the early 60's by Samuel Charters with the material issued on several albums on the Bluesville label. A stroke in the late 1960s curtailed his musical activity. Attempts by folklorist Peter B. Lowry in 1970 to get Anderson on tape were not successful. He died in October 1974.

Read Liner Notes

Between 1969 and 1980 Peter B. Lowry amassed hundreds of photographs, thousands of selections of recordings, music and interviews in his travels through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. He formed the Trix label as an outlet to release his recordings. Lowry set up the Trix Records label in 1972 starting with a series of 45’s with LP’s being released by 1973. It lasted about a decade as an active label dealing mainly with Piedmont blues artists from the Southeastern states. In addition to the seventeen issued Trix albums there is sufficient material for another 40 to 50 CD’s. We play several of Lowry's recordings including tracks by Willie Trice, Henry Johnson and George Higgs & Elester Anderson.

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 for Decca in 1937. Unlike many of his fellow musician friends, Trice always had a day job and it wasn't until the 1970's that he recorded again. Blue And Rag'd , his sole album, was released on Trix in 1973.

Henry Johnson was born in Union County, S.C.in 1908. He was inspired to play guitar by local musicians and the records of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake & Blind Boy Fuller. Around 1933 he also took up playing the piano. All of these influences made him a multi-instrumentalist playing finger-picking as well as slide guitar styles, piano and he also picked up harmonica along the way. A buried treasure, he wasn't heard until early white blues enthusiasts chanced upon him in the early 1970's. Johnson recorded a full-length album for Trix in 1973, and a few live recordings by him were later released on a Flyright Records LP compilation. Johnson passed away in Union in February of 1974.

George Mitchell who made some remarkable field recordings throughout the South over a twenty year period beginning in the early 1960's. Many of these recordings have appeared on specialist labels like Southland, Revival, Flyright, Arhoolie and Rounder but are long out of print now. Several years ago the Fat Possum label acquired the Mitchell archive and has been reissuing the recordings through a variety of formats including CD, 7-inch record and digital download. We feature several of Mitchell's recordings by artists such as Cliff Scott, Cecil Barfield, Jimmy Lee Williams, John Lee Ziegler and James Davis.

Cliff Scott lived in Dranesville, Georgia, and learned a good deal about music from his neighbor Dixon Hunt. Approximately 40 years old in when he was recorded by George Mitchell in 1969.

Read Liner Notes

Cecil Barfield was discovered in 1976 by George Mitchell, who was touring the state for field research. He was living outside a tiny farm town on a meager disability check (in fact, the original LP was released under the name William Robertson, because Barfield was scared that he would lose his disability benefits if he released the record under his own name. the album was called South Georgia Blues and originally issued on the Southland label (since reissued in 2009 by Big Legal Mess Records). Mitchell recorded Barfield extensively and many of these recordings were unissued until recently mad available by Fat Possum as digital downloads. Barfield was also recorded by Art Rosenbaum and Pete Lowry.

Born in 1925 in Polan in Worth County, GA, guitarist Jimmy Lee Williams lived his whole life in the area, working as a farmer. He learned to play guitar in 1941, and was soon spending his weekends playing for all-night frolics in the area's juke joints. Musicologist George Mitchell recorded Williams at two sessions in 1977 and 1982.

John Lee Ziegler legacy rests on just a handful of recordings made by George Mitchell in the late 1970's and some sides made in the 1990's for the Music Maker organization.

Kip Lornell has worked on music projects for the Smithsonian Institute, has a doctorate in ethnomusicology and is the author of several articles and books. He also did some field recordings in the in the Southeast in the 70's. Among those we feature tracks by James “Guitar Slim” Stephens, Pernell charity and Carl Hodges. Some of Lornell's field recordings appear on the Virginia Traditions series issued by the Blue Ridge Institute for Appalachian Studies at Ferrum College in Ferrum, Virginia. They released a series of eight LPs in the late '70s and early '80s. From those albums we play fine sides by Turner Foddrell and Lewis "Rabbit" Muse among others.

I want to thank Kip Lornell for send me a copy of the extremely hard to find Guitar Slim album. 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. Within a few years, Slim was playing piano. When he was thirteen, he began picking guitar, playing songs he heard at local house parties and churches. A few years later he joined the John Henry Davis Medicine Show, playing music to draw crowds. 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. His lone LP, Greensboro Rounder, was issued in 1979 by the Flyright label. In 1980 he was recorded by Axel Kunster and Ziggy Christmann which was issued as part of the Living Country Blues series on the L&R label. He passed in 1989.

Read Liner Notes: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3 - Pt. 4

Virginia guitarist Carl Hodges recorded for Pete Welding in 1961, he was also recorded by folklorist Kip Lornell in 1979. Hodges had quit his music in more recent years, but began playing again after Music Maker Foundationprovided him with a guitar and booked him some gigs. Hodges passed away earlier this year

Born in 1908 in Franklin County, VA, Lewis "Rabbit" Muse performed for white and black audiences from the 1920's until the '80s. A consummate entertainer, he played, sang and danced at medicine shows and folk festivals. He recorded a pair of hard to find albums, Muse Blues and Sixty Minute Man, for Rocky Mount's Outlet Records label in the 1970's. He passed in 1982.

We spotlight several cuts today from the recently release Classic Appalachian Blues From Smithsonian Folkways, a terrific collection spanning the late 50's through the early 80's. Particularly interesting  are the tracks recorded between 1971-1982 which have been recently digitized thanks to a preservation grant from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and were made at Smithsonian's Festival of American Folklife. From that festival we spotlight songs by Virginian blues artist Archie Edwards and North Carolina's Peg Leg Sam Jackson.

Archie Edwards was born on a farm near Union Hall in rural Virginia in 1918. He would play along to some of his favorite records by Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Boy Fuller, and Blind Lemon Jefferson.  When he was twelve, his older brother would go to house parties and brag to the musicians and other people at the party about how good Archie was.  He would then go home and wake up Archie, who would then go play at the party and be just as good if not better than the older musicians playing there. In the 1930s, he and his brother got a job at a near by sawmill. Archie played guitar in his spare time and went home on weekends to play for parties. After serving in the the war, he went to Richmond, Virginia, to become a barber. He set up a barbershop in Washington D.C. His barbershop became a musical hangout spot for many local musicians. Through the barbershop, Edwards met Mississippi John Hurt. The two started playing together and joined up with Skip James and played around the city for the new white audience. He died in 1998. His first recordings appeared on Living Country Blues Vol. 6 and he cut albums for Northern Blues and Mapleshade.

Peg Leg Sam Jackson made his living busking on the street and performing in medicine shows. Hem gave his last medicine-show performance in 1972 in North Carolina, but continued to appear at music festivals in his final years. Born For Hard Luck was a documentary about his life in 1976. He cut a coupe of albums in the 70's before passing in 1977.

Among other notable recordings today include tracks by Buddy Moss, Elizabeth Cotton, John Jackson, Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue) , Frank Hovington, Turner Foddrell  and Eddie Lee Jones.

Buddy Moss playing guitar in the
Green County Convict Camp, 1941.

A talented harmonica player in his teens, Buddy Moss took up 6-string guitar after he moved to Atlanta in 1928 and began associating with Barbecue Bob, Charley Lincoln, and Curley Weaver. He advanced quickly on the instrument and within a few years was one of the Southeast’s foremost blues performers. By the mid 1930s, his output of 78s rivaled that of Blind Willie McTell, with whom he occasionally performed. ust as he was poised to become one of the Southeast’s most important bluesman, Moss was convicted of a major crime. Pete Lowry explained, “Roger Brown has seen official documentation of Moss having killed his girlfriend because he thought she was fooling around with another.” With the death of Blind Boy Fuller in 1941, J.B. Long, a record company talent scout who’d worked with Fuller, helped secure Moss’ release. Five weeks after this session, Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States entered World War II. With it came a ban on most recordings, and Moss’ session work came to a halt. He was never able to regain the momentum he’d had in the 1930s.

John Jackson was born in Woodville, Virginia into a musical family, he learned to play as a boy before moving in his twenties to Fairfax, where he had a day job as a gravedigger, one of many jobs he performed. In the early 1960's he cut several albums for Arhoolie. He visited Europe several times, played at folk festivals, and also recorded for Rounder and Alligator Records. Jackson died in 2002.

Frank Hovington was from Pennsylvania but lived in Delaware. He was recorded by Dick Spottswood & Bruce Bastin in the summer of 1975 at Frank’s home, using a tape recorder on loan from the Library of Congress. It was released by the British Label Flyright Records in 1976 as Lonesome Road Blues. He was recorded again in 1980 for the Living Country Blues series. He disliked travel and did not play away from his Delaware home, afraid that he would lose his welfare support payments, and so did not get the publicity from music festival appearances that his talent deserved.

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 album long out-of-print Carolina Slide Guitar (Flyright, 1971) which is where our selection comes from and a final album for Lowry's Trix label, Alone In His Field, before passing in 1975.

Robert Lewis Jones, known as both Guitar Gabriel and Nyles Jones, was influenced by artists such as Blind Boy Fuller and Reverend Gary Davis. After hearing of Guitar Gabriel from the late Greensboro, North Carolina blues guitarist and pianist, James "Guitar Slim" Stephens, musician and folklorist Tim Duffy located and befriended Gabriel, who was the inspiration for the creation of the Music Maker Relief Foundation. His father, Sonny Jones recorded for Vocalion Records in 1939 in Memphis, accompanied by Sonny Terry and Oh Red. In 1935, Gabriel's family moved to Durham, North Carolina, where he began playing guitar on the streets. Between the ages of 15 and 25, Gabriel traveled the country playing the guitar in medicine shows. In 1970, Gabriel went to Pittsburgh and recorded a single, "Welfare Blues," as well as an album My South, My Blues with the Gemini label under the name Nyles Jones. Tim Duffy found him in 1990 and teamed up with and several albums were released in the 90's. He passed in 1996.

Elizabeth Nevills (Cotton) was born in Carrboro, North Carolina, at the border of Chapel Hill, to a musical family. By her early teens she was writing her own songs. After getting married she gave up guitar for 25 years, except for occasional church performances. It wasn't until she reached her 60's that she began recording and performing publicly. She was discovered by the folk-singing Seeger family while she was working for them as a housekeeper.

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. Discovered in the 1970s', the Foddrells became a regular fixture at the annual Blue Ridge Folklife Festival at nearby Ferrum College and were also featured at many other festivals including some in Europe. The Foddrell Brothers recorded albums on Swingmaster and Outlet, and also appeared alongside more famous traditional musicians on a number of recorded anthologies. Both brothers have since passed away. Lowry recorded them extensively in 1979 but none of these recordings were ever issued.

In 1965 folklorist Bill Koon was out for a walk near Lexington, GA, when he happened across Eddie Lee "Mustright" Jones playing guitar on a porch. Intrigued, Koon walked up and introduced himself, quickly realizing that Jones' archaic song repertoire, which bounced between old black spirituals, early blues, and interpretations of fiddle dance tunes, was something special. He returned with a reel-to-reel recorder and taped several hours of Jones singing and playing, often with interjections and unsolicited vocals from Jones' family and friends. The results were released on Pete Welding's Testament label. Little else is known about Jones.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Mance LipscombFreddieTexas Songster
Big Joe WilliamsMean Step Father Tough Times
Robert Curtis SmithDon't Drive Me AwayArhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Sam ChatmonI Have To Paint My Face I Have To Paint My Face
Lil Son JacksonI Walked From DallasBlues Come To Texas
Black Ace Golden Slipper I'm The Boss Card In Your Hand
Mercy Dee Lady LuckArhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Alex MooreBoogieing In StrasbourgArhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Lightnin' Sam Hopkins I Got a Brother in WaxahachieThe Hopkins Brothers
Lightnin' Sam Hopkins Meet You At The Chicken ShackTexas Blues
John JacksonBear Cat BluesDon't Let Your Deal Go Down
Bukka WhiteAlabama Blues Sky Songs
Fred McDowellWrite Me a Few LinesArhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Clifton ChenierI'm A Hog For You60 Minutes With The King Of Zydeco
Blind James CampbellBaby Please Don't GoAnd His Nashville Street Band
Juke Boy BonnerGoin' Back To The Country Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Johnny LittlejohnDreamSlidin' Home
Johnny Young Wild, Wild Woman Johnny Young And His Chicago Blues Band
Earl Hooker Earl's Blues The Moon Is Rising
L.C. RobinsonUps And DownsUps And Downs
Big Mama ThorntonLittle Red Rooster In Europe
Bee HoustonThings Gonna Get BetterThe Hustler
Henry GrayThe Blues Won't Let Me Take My RestLouisiana Blues
Johnnie LewisHobo BluesAlabama Slide Guitar
Piano Red You Ain't Got A ChanceArhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
David AlexanderSuffering With The Lowdown BluesThe Dirt On The Ground
Big Joe DuskinCincinnati StompCincinnati Stomp
K.C. DouglasYou're Crying Won't Make Me StayMercury Blues
J.C. Burris One Of These Mornings (I'm Checkin' Out)Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Furry LewisJudge Boushay BluesMemphis Swamp Jam

Show Notes:

Mr. Strachwitz in Arhoolie's record vault.
Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Arhoolie Records is celebrating its 50th year and I thought it would be a good opportunity to do a spotlight on the label who's records have been heard often on my show. Today's feature will obviously focus on the label's blues recordings. While the label reissued many vintage recordings and issued recordings made by others, most notably folklorist Harry Oster, today's focus will be on the recordings made specifically for the Arhoolie label itself. There's of course no way to do justice to the label in a two-hour show and I'll likely do a second installment down the road. The bulk of the Arhoolie catalog has been reissued on CD, almost always with bonus or unreleased tracks with the CD's often having a different title than the original LP's, sometimes combing multiple LP's onto one CD. On a related note I recently picked up a copy of the new Arhoolie 4-CD box set, Hear Me Howling!, which contains dozens of unreleased recordings and I'll be featuring cuts from this collection on an upcoming show.

Arhoolie Records was founded in 1960 and has issued some 400 albums and recorded more than 6,500 songs,the vast majority of which were captured by founder Chris Strachwitz himself. His field recordings have helped popularize numerous branches of Americana roots music, from Tex-Mex and Cajun to blues and folk. Strachwitz did many of his most important recordings with down home artists such as Texas bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins and zydeco king Clifton Chenier on field trips through the South beginning 50 years ago. It was during his summer vacation of 1959 that Strachwitz used this trip as a pretense for his pilgrimage to see personal hero, Lightnin' Hopkins, in Houston. Seeing the legendary Texas bluesman on his home turf at watering holes such as Pop's Place and the Sputnik Club inspired him to begin his own label in earnest, although, ironically, he would not be able to record Lightnin' himself for a couple of years because he was "unaffordable." Arriving in Houston in the summer of 1960 for his second visit, he was disappointed that Hopkins, was back in California at a folk festival. Fortunately during the trip, with the aid of Mack McCormick,  he stumbled upon songster Mance Lipscomb. Lipscomb was recorded virtually on the spot, in his house. Texas Songster and Sharecropper became Arhoolie's first release as #1001 (the first of five volumes devoted to Lipscomb). Over the years the label has recorded a wide range of bluesmen such as Big Joe Williams, Black Ace, Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Johnny Young, L.C. Robinson, Earl Hooker, Big Mama Thornton and many others. Strachwitz's interest in recording blues waned by the late 60's and early 70's as he reflected: "I just found it didn't kick me in the ass like the old stuff did. I just found it formulaic." There were some later blues records including late 70's records by Charlie Musselwhite and The Charles Ford Band, a 1985 record by Katie Webster and a 1991 recording by pianist Dave Alexander.

Mance Lipscomb
Mance Lipscomb
Credit: Chris Strachwitz
 

Lipscomb was born April 9, 1895 to an ex-slave father from Alabama and a half Native American mother. Lipscomb spent most of his life working as a tenant farmer in Texas and was "discovered" and recorded by Mack McCormick and Chris Strachwitz in 1960. 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. 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. Lipscomb passed in 1976.

Strachwitz finally managed to record Hopkins for his Arhoolie label in 1961 and recorded him sporadically through 1969. By the 60's Hopkins music was increasingly geared towards the new white audience that was embracing blues and this is reflected in the nearly dozen LP's he cut for the Bluesville label. His Arhoolie recordings from this period, however, hark back to the raw sound of his early records that first captured Strachwitz's attention. Hopkins cut several fine albums for Arhoolie including the self-titled Lightnin' Sam Hopkins, an album featuring one with Hopkins' brothers and the other with Barbara Dane, The Texas Bluesman, Lightning Hopkins in Berkeley and Po' Lightning.

In addition to Lipscomb and Hopkins, another major down home blues artist Strachwitz recorded was Fred McDowell.  In September, 1959, Alan Lomax encountered Fred McDowell, the greatest discovery of his famous "Southern journey." 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 Strachwitz came searching for McDowell to record him that the bluesman’s fortunes began to change dramatically. He recorded McDowell between 1964 and 1969 resulting in the albums Mississippi Delta Blues, Fred McDowell Vol. 2, Fred McDowell And His Blues Boys and  Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning.

It was through Lightnin' Hopkins that Strachwitz met Clifton Chenier, who would become the label's most recorded artist. "Ay Yi Yi"/"Why Did You Go Last Night?" was the initial single and in 1965 Arhoolie issued Chenier's full-length debut, Louisiana Blues and Zydeco. Although they continued to work together until the early '70s, Chenier and Strachwitz differed artistically. While Chenier wanted to record commercial-minded R&B, Strachwitz encouraged him to focus on traditional zydeco. The label issued over a dozen albums by Chenier including 1976's Bogalusa Boogie, with his new group, the Red Hot Louisiana Band which eventually garnered the album an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Chenier reached the peak of his popularity in the '80s. In 1983, he received a Grammy award for his album, I'm Here!, recorded in eight hours in Bogalusa, LA. The following year, he performed at the White House. Chenier passed in 1987.

Many of today's initial sides come from a fruitful meeting with blues historian Paul Oliver. As Strachwitz writes: "In the summer of 1960 I met up with British blues aficionado, author, and vernacular architecture scholar, Paul Oliver and his wife Valerie at the legendary Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN. Paul was making this trip, his first to the USA, to produce a series of radio programs to be broadcast by the BBC and interviewing historic blues musicians at the source was a major goal of his trip. Paul had sent me in advance a list of names of blues singers who had recorded in Dallas and Fort Worth in the 1920s and ’30s, hoping I would perhaps do a little research on my way to Texas from the West Coast. Driving with Bob Pinson (now of the Country Music Foundation Library) into Texas, we both made many inquiries which led to meeting Lil’ Son Jackson and Black Ace, a singer who accompanied himself on a National steel guitar. With Mack McCormick I was fortunate to meet and record the remarkable Mance Lipscomb and later on the return trip to the West Coast with Paul, we also met Alex Moore in Dallas, an extraordinary character and pianist from the early era in blues history, as well as many other artists in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

In addition to the above mentioned Alex Moore, Strachwitz recorded several fine pianists over the years like Mercy Dee Walton, Piano Red, Dave Alexander (who later changed his name to Omar Sharriff) and Big Joe Duskin. Walton was from Texas who had played piano around Waco from the age of 13 before hitting the coast in 1938. Once there, the pianist gigged up and down the length of the Golden State before debuting on record in 1949 with "Lonesome Cabin Blues" for the tiny Spire logo, which became a national R&B hit. He cut sessions for Imperial in 1950 and Specialty in 1952-53. After a lengthy layoff, Walton returned to the studio in 1961, recording prolifically for Arhoolie (some of this material ended up on the Bluesville album A Pity And A Shame). Walton passed in 1962.

Piano Red was Willie Perryman, the much younger, brother of Rufus Perryman aka Speckled Red. His career started with a bang when he sold an alleged million copies of "Red's Boogie/'Rockin' With Red" in 1951. He hit a second time with "Dr. Feelgood" and he took the name for his own. Strachwitz pried Red loose from his band and recorded him alone at the piano in 1972 resulting in the album Piano Red: "Dr. Feelgood" All Alone With His Piano.

Omar Shariff is a Texas-born pianist who moved to the San Francisco area in the '60s. He made two excellent albums in the 70's for Arhoolie in 1972 as Dave Alexander (The Rattler and The Dirt On The Ground), then  disappeared from the recording world for twenty years. Alexander (now as Omar Shariff) made a final recording for the label in 1991 titled The Raven which contains seven tracks form his earlier Arhoolie albums.

In his younger days Joe Duskin performed in clubs in Cincinnati and across the river in Newport, Kentucky. While serving in the US Army in World War II, he continued to play and, in entertaining the US forces, met his idols Johnson, Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. In the early 1970's Duskin began playing the piano at festivals in the US and across Europe. By the late 70's,  with the reputation for his concert playing now growing, his first recording, Cincinnati Stomp, was released on Arhoolie Records featuring recording sessions done in 1977 and 1978. He recorded several more albums before passing in 2007.

Strachwitz made some superb urban blues records in the late 60's and early 70's. As he  wrote: "As Back in 1968, I told Buddy Guy, who was playing in a Berkeley club, that I was interested in recording his favorite neglected giants of Chicago Blues. I had met Buddy in Europe while touring with the American Folk Blues Festival and found him to be a tasteful and exciting player (and one of the nicest people I ever met). Buddy's prompt response was: Earl Hooker and John Littlejohn! " Hooker was recorded in 1968 and 1069 resulting the excellent Two Bugs And A Roach featuring Freddie Roulette, Louis Myers, Pinetop Perkins, Carey Bell and Andrew Odom. The posthumous Hooker and Steve (recorded in 1969)  came out in 1975 featuring keyboardist Steve Miller. In 1998 Arhoolie issued the CD The Moon Is Rising which contained the entirety of Hooker and Steve plus some unreleased live recordings. Johnny Littlejohn's discography is frustratingly inconsistent but hands down his Arhoolie album, 1968's John Littlejohn's Chicago Blues Stars (issued on CD as Slidin' Home), is his best outing.

Strachwitz also recorded Chicago bluesman Johnny Young. He was recorded at two sessions in '65. Producer Pete Welding surrounded him with the best that Chicago had to offer, including two thirds of the then Muddy Waters Band of 1965: Otis Spann, SP Leary, Jimmy Cotton with Jimmy Lee Morris on bass, and for a '67 session, Walter Horton, Jimmy Dawkins, Lafayette Leake, Ernie Gatewood on bass and Lester Dorsie on drums. The sessions resulted in the albums Johnny Young And His Chicago Blues Band and Johnny Young And Big Walter: Chicago Blues. The CD Johnny Young – Chicago Blues contains the entirety of the former and most of the latter album.

Also recorded were a some tough West Coast artists: L.C. Robinson,  Bee Houston and Big Mama Thornton. Robinson was born and raised in east Texas, and later relocated to California. Robinson played guitar and fiddle, but he was really known for his incredible steel guitar style. On one of his Arhoolie sessions he is backed by the Muddy Waters band, on another by his own trio issued on the alum Ups And Downs (issued on CD as Mojo In My Hand which includes an unissued radio performance). His only other full length session was House Cleanin' Blues for the Bluesway label in the early 70's.

Texas born, Los Angeles blues guitarist Bee Houston became known as Big Mama Thornton's guitarist during the waning years of her career. He cut his lone album, The Hustler,  for Arhoolie in the 70's. The CD version contains not only the entire LP but also most of a second, earlier but unissued session.

Big Mama Thornton was recorded on October 20, 1965, at Wessex Studio in London, England resulting in the album In Europe (the CD version contains six extra sides) featuring Eddie Boyd, Buddy Guy, Big Walter Horton, Fred Below and Jimmy Lee Robinson. Big Mama Thornton Vol. 2: The Queen At Monterey (reissued on CD as Big Mama Thornton – With the Muddy Waters Blues Band, 1966 with seven extra cuts)was recorded in 1966 backed by the Muddy Waters band: James Cotton,  Otis Spann,  Muddy Waters, Sammy Lawhorn, Luther Johnson and Francis Clay.

Some of the other Arhoolie artists featured today include John Jackson, James Campbell, K.C. Douglas and J.C. Burris. For much of his life, John Jackson played for country house parties in Virginia, or around the house for his own amusement. Then in the ’60s he encountered the folk revival, becoming the Washington, D.C. area’s best-loved blues artist. He made his debut in 1965 for Arhoolie with Blues and Country Dance Tunes From Virginia followed by Country Blues & Ditties and John Jackson In Europe.

A bluesy group of street musicians from Nashville, Tennessee, James Campbell and his group played a hybrid of hillbilly, jazz, blues, old time popular, skiffle, and jug band elements. This assemblage of street musicians was originally recorded in 1963 and issued on the album as Blind James Campbell And His Nashville Street Band. The band worked road houses, on the streets of Nashville, at parties, a well as other social functions.

Born and raised on a family farm near Sharon, MS, K.C. Douglas was deeply influenced by the 1920's recordings of Delta bluesman Tommy Johnson. Relocating to Vallejo, CA, in 1945, Douglas found employment in the naval shipyards. Within a couple of years, he gravitated to the San Francisco/Oakland blues scene. His first recordings were issued on the Oakland-based Downtown label in 1948.He cut some of his best sides for Bluesville in the 60's as well as scattered sides for Arhoolie. In 1974 he the album The Country Boy for the label and issued on CD in 1998 as Mercury Blues with many unreleased tracks.

The nephew of Sonny Terry, Johnny "J.C." Burris was also a blues harmonica player, though he didn't record too much. Burris did some performing in New York in the 1950's and worked on recording sessions with Terry, Sticks McGhee, and other artists on Folkways Records. At the end of the decade, he relocated to California, finding some work in folk clubs in San Francisco before a stroke in 1966 robbed him of his use of his right side. Several years later, he regained his mobility on his right side, and in 1973, he began performing again, recording some solo unaccompanied material in 1975-1976 that appears on Arhoolie's Blues Professor album. He continued playing at schools, clubs, and festivals until his death in 1988.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
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.".

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