1960’s Blues


ARTISTSONGALBUM
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.

Share
ARTISTSONGALBUM
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.

Share
ARTISTSONGALBUM
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.".

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

Show Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share
ARTISTSONGALBUM
Mississippi John Hurt Avalon Blues The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Got The Blues (Can't Be Satisfied) The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Richland Woman Blues Live!
Mississippi John Hurt Monday Morning Blues Library Of Congress Recordings Vol.2
Bukka White Sic 'Em Dogs On The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Aberdeen Mississippi Blues The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Poor Boy Long Ways From Home Legacy of the Blues
Bukka White Sad Day Blues Mississippi Delta Blues Jam in Memphis, Vol. 2
Bukka White Alabama Blues Sky Songs
Furry Lewis Billy Lyons And Stack O'Lee Masters Of Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Big Chief Blues Masters Of Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis The Medicine Shows Furry Lewis
Furry Lewis Pearlee Blues Furry Lewis
Joe Callicott Fare Thee Well Blues Mississippi Masters
Joe Callicott Traveling Mama Blues Broke, Black And Blue
Joe Callicott Laughing To Keep From Crying Ain't A Gonna Lie To You
Joe Callicott Let Your Deal Go Down Ain't A Gonna Lie To You
Mississippi John Hurt Louis Collins The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Ain't No Tellin' The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Trouble All My Day Library Of Congress Recordings Vol.1
Mississippi John Hurt Make Me A Pallet The Best Of Mississippi John Hurt
Bukka White Parchman Farm Blues The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Bukka's Jitterbug Swing The Vintage Recordings
Furry Lewis Kasie Jones Pt. 1Masters Of The Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Judge Harsh Blues Masters Of The Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Good Morning Judge Good Morning Judge
Furry Lewis Going Away Blues Party! At Home: Recorded in Memphis
Robert Wilkins Police Sergeant BluesMasters Of Memphis Blues
Robert Wilkins Falling Down Blues Masters Of Memphis Blues
Robert Wilkins Prodigal Son Memphis Gospel Singer

Show Notes:

Around 1960 a considerable interest for all folk sources for American music evolved among students in the Northeast, and soon spread to the whole country. While the blues revival is almost always tied to the 1960's it should be noted that white appreciation of the blues, or at least the folksier aspect of blues goes back further with considerable interest generated by Leadbelly in the late 30’s and 40's who attained success playing at concerts and benefits for an audience of leftist folk music aficionados mostly in New York City. Josh White and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee were also part of this scene and played alongside Woody Guthrie and a young Pete Seeger. At the start of the 1950's, Bill Broonzy became part of a touring folk music revue formed by Win Stracke called I Come for to Sing, which also included Studs Terkel and Lawrence Lane. Terkel called him the key figure in this group. The group had some success thanks to the emerging folk revival movement. The exposure made it possible for Broonzy to tour Europe in 1951 where Broonzy was greeted with standing ovations and critical praise wherever he played. The tour marked a turning point in his fortunes, and when he returned to the United States he was a featured act with many prominent folk artists such as Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and Leadbelly. In addition to Broonzy, who made many folk oriented record in the 50's, pre-war artists like Pink Anderson, J.D. Short, Rev. Gary Davis and Scrapper Blackwell among others were also recorded by the end of the 50's.

The blues revival doesn't refer to the rebirth of the music, the blues never went away, and certainly the electric brand of blues was still popular in urban centers like Chicago, but a new found interest in the music among young white listeners. In a addition there was a small band of enthusiasts who began to collect what information they could on the blues artists of the past. Writers like Samuel Charters and Paul Oliver wrote serious studies of the blues while other like Chris Strachwitz and John Fahey formed labels and tracked down these older blues artists. Many of these men would double as writers, producers, promoters and managers fueled by their passion for the music. At first limited to the traditional repertoire of American folk songs such as those gathered in the review Sing Out and expressing itself as the Newport Folk Festival, this movement soon became interested in other sources such as bluegrass, ragtime, and the blues, specifically acoustic country blues, which lost popularity after WW II.

The acoustic blues revival allowed numerous artists rediscovered on that occasion to begin a new career, in particular some blues giants of the 20's and 30's like Son House, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Rev. Gary Davis and too a lesser extent artists like Robert Wilkins and Joe Callicott. Other bluesmen whose careers were at a standstill, due to waning interest among black audiences, adapted their style to the times, including artists like Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Williams, Memphis Slim,  Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and even Muddy Waters for a brief spell. In addition several down-home artists who had not previously recorded were brought to light, most importantly Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell and Robert Pete Williams.  Several record companies sprang up to document the music, most importantly Prestige/Bluesville that released around a hundred albums between 1960 and 1964. Other labels included Arhoolie, Testament and Piedmont among others. The blues revival spread to Europe, most notably in the form of the American Folk Blues Festival, a remarkable traveling caravan that toured Europe through the 60's and beyond.  Although it should be noted that Muddy Waters had toured England in 1958 and Big Bill Broonzy had toured Europe starting as far back as 1951. By the mid-60's the blues revival began to encompass electric blues and labels like Delmark and Vanguard issued acclaimed records by several artists. Today's show, however, focuses on the early, still acoustic focused part of the blues revival and with all today's featured artists having recorded in the pre-war era. In part one we spotlight well known artists like Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Furry Lewis plus fine artists who  a lower profile during the revival like Joe Callicott and Robert Wilkins.

Mississippi John Hurt grew up in the Mississippi hill country town of Avalon, population under 100, north of Greenwood, near Grenada. He began playing guitar in 1903, and within a few years was performing at parties, doing ragtime repertory rather than blues. In the early '20s, he teamed up with white fiddle player Willie Narmour, playing square dances. Hurt was spotted by a scout for Okeh Records who passed through Avalon in 1927, who was supposed to record Narmour, and was signed to record after a quick audition. Of the eight sides that Hurt recorded in Memphis in February of 1928, only two were ever released, but he was still asked to record in New York late in 1928. Mississippi John Hurt might've lived and died in obscurity, if it hadn't been for the folk music revival of the late '50s and early '60s. A scholar named Tom Hoskins discovered that Mississippi John Hurt, who hadn't been heard from musically in over 35 years, was alive and living in Avalon, MS, and sought him out, following the trail laid down in Hurt's song "Avalon Blues." After his rediscovery a series of concerts were arranged, including an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, where he was greeted as a living legend. A tour of American universities followed as did a series of recordings: first in a relatively informal, non-commercial setting intended to capture him in his most comfortable and natural surroundings, and later under the auspices of Vanguard Records. Hurt took the opportunity, playing concerts and making new records of old songs as well as material he'd never before laid down. Vanguard got out a new album, Today!, in 1966, from his first sessions for the label. Additionally, the tape of a concert that Hurt played at Oberlin College in April of 1965 was released under the title The Best of Mississippi John Hurt. Hurt got in one more full album, The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt, released posthumously, and a record assembled from his final sessions, Last Sessions, also issued after his death. In addition Hurt was extensively recorded for the Library of Congress in 1963. These recordings have been issued by Fuel 200 on two double CD sets: D.C. Blues: Library of Congress Recordings 1 & 2.

In the notes to Bukka White – The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940, Keith Briggs writes that Bukka's "recordings made between 1930 and 1940 are among the most creative and dynamic blues ever recorded. These early sessions have always been revered as being among the finest in blues history with his last recording date being referred to as the last great pre-war country blues recording session. Booker’s unique sound was a combination of solid, rocking, rhythms interspersed with vigorous guitar breaks, his ability as a bottleneck slide guitarist and his gritty, heavy voice. He favoured the steel bodied National guitar as it’s volume allowed him to be audible over the noise of a good-time crowd. His songs were almost always personal and are among the most creative and descriptive to found on blues records."

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 recordings, singing a mixture of blues and gospel material under the name of Washington White. Victor only saw fit to release four of the 14 songs Bukka White recorded that day. As the Depression set in, opportunity to record didn't knock again for Bukka White until 1937, when Big Bill Broonzy asked him to come to Chicago and record for Lester Melrose. By this time, Bukka White had gotten into some trouble — he later claimed he and a friend had been "ambushed" by a man along a highway, and White shot the man in the thigh in self defense. While awaiting trial, White jumped bail and headed for Chicago, making two sides before being apprehended and sent back to Mississippi to do a three-year stretch at Parchman Farm. While he was serving time, White's record "Shake 'Em on Down" became a hit. It was as "Washington Barrelhouse White" that White recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax at Parchman Farm in 1939. After earning his release from Parchman Farm in 1940, he returned to Chicago with 12 newly minted songs to record for Lester Melrose. These became the backbone of his lifelong repertoire, and the Melrose  session today is regarded as the pinnacle of Bukka White's achievements on record. Among the songs he recorded on that occasion were "Parchman Farm Blues" Good Gin Blues," "Bukka's Jitterbug Swing," "Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues," and "Fixin' to Die Blues."These would be his last recordings for nearly a quarter century.

Two California-based blues enthusiasts, John Fahey and Ed Denson addressed a letter in 1963 to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." By chance, one of White's relatives was working in the Post Office in Aberdeen, and forwarded the letter to White in Memphis. Things moved quickly from the time Bukka White met up with Fahey and Denson; by the end of 1963 Bukka White was already recording on contract with Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie. White wrote a new song celebrating his good fortune entitled "1963 Isn't 1962 Blues” and swiftly recorded material for Fahey's Takoma label (Mississippi Blues) and sessions for Arhoolie (Sky Songs Vol. 1 & 2). He thrived on the folk festival and coffeehouse circuit of the 1960s. Big Daddy, was his final record cut for the Biograph label in 1974. He passed in 1977.

Walter "Furry" Lewis was born in Greenwood, MS, sometime between 1893 and 1900 — the exact year is in dispute, as Lewis altered this more than once. The Lewis family moved to Memphis when he was seven years old, and Lewis made his home there for the remainder of his life. Lewis' real musical start took place on Beale Street in the late teens, where he began his career. He also began playing traveling medicine shows during this period. Lewis' recording career began in April 1927, with a trip to Chicago with fellow guitarist Landers Walton to record for the Vocalion label, which resulted in five songs, also featuring mandolin player Charles Jackson on three of the numbers. In October of 1927, Lewis was back in Chicago to cut six more songs, this time with nothing but his voice and his own guitar. He made a lengthy session in 1928 and cut few final songs in 1929. Lewis gave up music as a profession during the mid-'30s, when the Depression reduced the market for country-blues.

Fortunately, Furry found work as a municipal laborer in Memphis during the '20s, and continued in this capacity right into the '60s. In the intervening years, he played for friends and relatives, living in obscurity. At the end of the '50s, however, folksong/blues scholar Sam Charters discovered Lewis and persuaded him to resume his music career. He first recorded Lewis for Folkways in 1959 on a self-titled album. Lewis returned to the studio under Charters' direction and cut two albums for the Prestige/Bluesville labels in 1961. Gradually, as the '60s and the ensuing blues boom wore on, Lewis emerged as one of the favorite rediscovered stars from the '30s, playing festivals, appearing on talk shows, and being interviewed. Furry Lewis became a blues celebrity during the '70s, following a profile in Playboy magazine and appearances on The Tonight Show, and managed a few film and television appearances. Lewis recorded extensively in the 50’s and 70’s, often in informal settings, with albums issued on Blue Horizon, Adelphi, Southland and with several posthumous recordings issued. Lewis died in Memphis in 1981.

Joe Callicott waxed a lone 78 in Memphis in 1929, “Fare Thee Well Blues b/w Traveling Mama Blues”, and a year later played second guitar on Garfield Akers’ “Cottonfield Blues Parts 1 & 2.” It was field recorder George Mitchell who found Callicott in Nesbit, Mississippi off Highway 51 not far from Hernando and short distance from Brights where Garfield Akers was supposedly born. Callicott’s “comeback” was about as short as his first recording career, lasting from the summer of 1967 through the summer of 1968; he recorded nineteen sides for Mitchell either late August or early September, four sides at the 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival and seventeen sides for Blue Horizon in 1968. As Paul Oliver wrote: “A wider recognition came almost too late but Joe appeared at the 1968 Memphis Blues Festival and was looking forward to a European trip. Back at his home, with the birds whistling and witnessed by his wife and their bellcow, he recorded his last testament; he died early in 1969 and with him went the last echoes of Mississippi country music of the earliest phase of the blues.”

Robert Wilkins was born in Hernando, a small town in northern Mississippi, which nonetheless managed to contribute such musicians as Frank Stokes, Jim Jackson, Garfield Akers and Joe Callicott to the story of the Blues. Wilkins worked in Memphis during the Roaring Twenties, sharing billing with Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie (whom he claimed to have tutored), Son House, and other musicians for local shows. He also organized a jug band to capitalize on the "jug band craze" then in vogue. His first sessions for the Victor label in 1928 yielded the droning, one-chord "Rolling Stone," whose title, if not structure, later inspired Muddy Waters. In September 1929, Wilkins recorded for the Brunswick label in Memphis's Peabody Hotel, where he waxed the notable "That's No Way To Get Along," a song he would record later as "The Prodigal Son." The recording industry was hit hard by the Great Depression and as sales slackened, so did recording opportunities. Wilkins continued to play Memphis during the early 1930s, with occasional stints in the medicine show wagon and an informal appearance at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. In 1935, he was offered an opportunity to record for the Vocalion label in Jackson, Mississippi, with Little Son Joe and "Kid Spoons." The output was a varied collection of song styles, including "Old Jim Canan's," a celebration of the gambling parlor formerly located at 340 Beale Street.

Wilkins quit music in 1936 and in 1950 became a minister in the Church of God in Christ. He was rediscovered in 1964, made a few recordings on scattered anthologies and played the festival circuit for the spell but stuck strictly to spiritual music. In 1964 he cut his lone album, the classic Memphis Gospel Singer, which has yet to be issued on CD. Wilkins passed in 1987.

Share

« Previous PageNext Page »