1960’s Blues

B.B King Night Life Blues Is King
B.B King No Money, No Luck Blues Lucille
Otis Spann T'Ain't Nobody's Bizness The Blues Is Where It's At
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Flat Broke Blues Cherry Red
Jimmy Rushing You Can't Run Around (Blues) Everyday I Have The Blues
John Lee Hooker If You Miss 'Im...I Got 'Im... If You Miss 'Im...I Got 'Im...
John Lee Hooker The Motor City Is Burning Urban Blues
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee Just Usin' Me for a Convenience Long Way From Home
Jimmy ReedKnocking At Your Door Soulin'
Roy BrownHard TimesThe Blues Are All Brown
Earl Hooker Something You Ate Do You Remember The Great Earl Hooker
Earl Hooker Come To Me Right Away, Baby Simply The Best
Charles Brown Drifting Blues Simply The Best
Jimmy Witherspoon Parcel Post Blues Hunh!
Johnny "Big Moose" Walker FootraceRambling Woman
Sunnyland Slim Get to Hip to Yourself Sunnyland Slim Plays Ragtime Blues
Johnny Little John Lost In The JungleFunky From Chicago
Andrew Odom Don't Ever Leave Me All Alone Father On Down The Road
Snooky Pryor Miss Stella Brown BluesThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Lucille Spann Country GirlCry Before I Go
Johnny Young I Know She's Kinda Slick I Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping
Cousin JoeChicken A-La-Blues Cousin Joe Of New Orleans
Roosevelt Sykes Jookin' In New OrleansDirty Double Mother
Lee Jackson When I First Came to Chicago Lonely Girl
L.C. Robinson My Baby Crossed The Bay House Cleanin' Blues
Carey Bell Taking You DowntownLast Night

Show Notes:

ABC-Paramount formed the BluesWay subsidiary in 1966 to record blues music. The label lasted into 1974, with the last new releases coming in February, 1974. The label issued over 70 albums, numerous 45's plus several titles that remain unreleased. To give the new label legitimacy B.B. King, who was recording for ABC at the time, saw his releases put out on BluesWay (his Blues Is King was the label's first release). BluesWay seemingly signed every major bluesman available, including Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Otis Spann, Joe Turner, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Rushing, Jimmy Witherspoon, Charles Brown, Roy Brown, Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry among others. In addition to these seasoned performers the label issued records by deserving lesser knows, issuing the first LP's by Lee Jackson, Lucille Spann, Andrew Odom and L.C. Robinson. Legendary jazz producer Bob Thiele (he was the main producer at ABC/Impulse between 1961-69) was instrumental in getting the  BluesWay label started but entrusted day to day operations and producing to others. Early sessions were produced by Bill Syzmzyck, Ed Michel, Bob Thiele, with later sessions handled by Al Smith. Al Smith was Jimmy Reed's manager and bandleader, and after Vee-Jay folded in 1966, a producer of soul sessions for ABC and blues sessions for ABC BluesWay. Smith inked a 25-LP production deal with BluesWay in 1973. Twenty of these albums subsequently appeared. After the label folded all interests were bought by MCA who are now owned by Universal.

The label has been ill spottily reissued on CD, usually by labels other than the parent company MCA, and in many cases these CD's themselves are out of print. MCA has largely left the catalog to languish. The BluesWay label has a decidedly mixed reputation, cutting many very good records and many downright bad ones. Producer Al Smith has been the target of much of the animosity against the label summed up by writer Pete Lowry in a 1974 Living Blues review: "Finally I get a chance to take a swipe at Al Smith. Unfortunately, he is no longer able to enjoy it, but I'll go on anyway. Here was a strange man-I don't know if he was any kind of bass player, but he surely produced some screwed-up sessions. I won't go into artist "relations," but merely deal with the sessions; there have been some predictable characteristics. Lousy liner notes, replete with phonetic spelling (to be kind), incomplete or wrong personnel data, as well as often incomplete or disordered listings of the tunes… As for the records themselves, they varied from good to near disasters. The results of Al's Special Ninety Minute Album Sessions included inconsistent levels on instruments, as if the warm up/test stuff was mixed for release (as was most likely the case!), some strange sounding stuff (out-of-synch echo units), and just total lack of programming. Al seems to have assembled albums in the order recorded, with no concept of the album as a programmed whole. For an artist to survive this sort of "production" he had to be damn good, or be having a better than average day in the studio." No doubt Lowry is accurate in his assessment but to be fair, as he notes, the label issued quite a number of very good records that deserve a better fate than to languish in limbo. In this article we selectively trawl through the BluesWay catalogue spotlighting some of the releases featured on today's program. Hopefully MCA will see fit to to create a proper BluesWay reissue series but until then vinyl may be your only option (where known I'll try and list records which have appeared on CD – reissues have appeared on Charly in the late 80's as well as Off-Beat and One Way in the 90's although these now appear to be out of print. The BGO label has reissued several BluesWay records all of which appear to be in print).

The BluesWay label issued seven albums by B.B. King between 1966 and 1970. Hands down the best of the bunch was the first one, 1966's Blues Is King which ranks as one of King's best live recordings, perhaps just a notch behind the seminal Live At The Regal cut two years previously. Recorded at a Chicago club, B.B. turns in sizzling performances of "Tired Of Your Jive", "Don't Answer The Door" and a spectacular "Night Life." The rest of B.B.'s output during this period is very solid including 1967's Blues On Top of Blues with brassy arrangements of songs like "Paying the Cost to Be the Boss and "Worried Dream" while 1968's Lucille is sparser, most notable for the ten minutes of "Lucille." 1969's Completely Well was B.B.'s breakthrough album featuring "The Thrill Is Gone" while Live & Well is divided evenly between live and studio material and contains "Why I Sing The Blues" and was his first LP to enter the Top 100. His Best – The Electric B.B. King is not a "best of" but a collection of previously issued items as singles and studio leftovers and features strong material like "Don't Answer The Door" a #2 R&B hit, "Paying The Cost To Be The Boss" and "All Over Again." 1970's Back Alley was a "best of" collection. All of B.B.'s output from this period has been reissued on MCA with some titles on BGO.

In addition to B.B. King, BluesWay brought heavyweights Jimmy Reed and T-Bone Walker into the fold. With his contract for Vee-Jay over, Al Smith brought Reed over to BluesWay where he cut four albums for the label between 1966-1968; The New Jimmy Reed Album, Soulin', Big Boss Man and Down In Virginia. These records add little to Reed's reputation, finding him mostly singing his classic material and were guitar heavy featuring, in addition to Reed, Eddie Taylor, Lefty Bates and Wayne Bennett. A selection of BluesWay material appears on the CD Jimmy Reed Is Back issued on Collectables. Walker cut two records for the label, Stormy Monday in 1967 and Funky Town in 1968. These aren't essential T-Bone records, although quite credible, with Walker playing well featuring a sympathetic band, particularly pianist Lloyd Glenn with the two sounding particularly good together on "Going To Funky Town." Walker revisits a number of his early classics like "Cold Hearted Woman", "Stormy Monday" and "I'm In An Awful Mood", updating these numbers with some 60's styled funk that generally comes across well. Both records have been reissued on BGO.

Between recordings under his own name and session work, Earl Hooker was prolifically recorded by BluesWay in 1969 less than a year before he passed away. Hooker was on the West Coast recording for Blue Thumb when he began working club dates with his cousin John Lee Hooker. Hooker was working with BluesWay at the time which is how Earl Hooker's BluesWay association began. The first date was a session with John Lee Hooker which went so well that producer Ed Michel offered to make an album with Earl on the spot. Both the John Lee Hooker album If You Miss 'Im…I Got 'Im and Earl Hooker's Don't Have To Worry were recorded on May 29, 1969 with the same personnel, adding Andrew Odom to Earl's date since he was insecure about his vocals. Considering the quick, no nonsense nature of the recording the results came off exceptionally well. It's inexplicable why Don't Have To Worry hasn't been issued on CD in it's entirety (5 songs appeared on the anthology Simply The Best with one additional song on Blues Masters, Vol. 15: Slide Guitar Classics. Despite his vocal insecurities Hooker sounds confident on "You Got To Lose" and "Don't Have To Worry" (originally called "Do Right Baby" as recorded by Billy Gayles in 1956). Odom's robust, booming vocals are particularly good on "The Sky Is Crying" and "Come To Me Right Away, Baby" while Big Moose Walker takes the vocals on the remarkable "Is You Ever See A One-Eyed Woman Cry?" Hooker stretches out on the instrumentals "Hookin'" and adaptation of "Honky Tonk" and sounds even more inspired in an update of "Universal Rock" a song he first cut in 1960. If You Miss 'Im…I Got 'Im is a very strong outing with Earl and his crew giving a unique twist to Hooker's sound. Hooker's wah-wah is heard to good effect on on moody numbers like "Lonesome Mood", "I Wanna Be Your Puppy, Baby" and lays down some nice slide flourishes on the title track. This has been reissued on CD on the BGO label. BGO has also reissued the other John Lee Hooker BluesWay albums: Urban Blues, Simply The Truth and Live At Cafe Au-Go-Go. The other Earl Hooker album released was 1973's posthumous Do You Remember The Great Earl Hooker which were sides originally cut and released for the Cuca label in the early 60's. This has been reissued on CD by Catfish as There's a Fungus Amung Us but which is likely out of print itself.

Ed Michel was so impressed with results that additional sessions were set the following week for Big Moose Walker and Andrew Odom. For the Odom date Michel backed him with jazz veterans Panama Francis on drums and Jimmy Bond on stand-up bass. Hooker for his part was asked to play it straight, without slide or wah-wah. Odom is in fine form and the chemistry between Hooker is faultless with Hooker getting plenty of room to cut loose. The album was released as Farther On Down The Road. Among the highlights are the moody "Stormy Monday", the bouncing "Don't Ever Leave Me All Alone" and a crackling version of "Farther Up The Road" (2 songs appear on Simply The Best). The record wasn't treated well by the critics as Mike Leadbitter clearly expressed in a 1973 edition of Blues Unlimited: "What a bitter disappointment! Muffled sound, endless boring songs and total lack of variation. What have BluesWay done to my heroes?" The album was finally released in 1973 and virtually sank without a trace. Despite Leadbitter's assessment this is a worthwhile release and well worth resurrecting on CD. On the other hand Leadbitter gave a rave write up to Johnny "Big Moose" Walker's Rambling Woman (recorded five days after the Odom session) in the January 1971 issue of Blues Unlimited: "He plays piano with the sort of boogie-woogie drive you just don't hear anymore, and has a nice husky voice-this is an exceptionally good blues album." Walker delivers fine originals including the witty "Footrace" (originally cut in 1961 as "Footrace To a Resting Place" and in 1967), the organ driven "Rambling Woman" (originally cut in 1967), "Baby Talk" with everybody stretching out on instrumentals "Moose Huntin'" and "Moose Is On The Loose." The session is slightly marred by Otis Hale's electric tenor sax. Hale was a guy Walker picked up in the park after hearing him play and disappeared after this session to (thankfully) never record again.

In the summer of 1969 Ed Michel signed up Charles Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon and the duo Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee. Brown and Witherspoon usually worked with pick-up units and Hooker was selected to worked with them as well as backing Sonny & Brownie following Michel's idea of putting their sound in an urban blues context. Jimmy Witherspoon was recorded first with the album released shortly after Hooker's death under the title Hunh!. The record is decidedly mixed, basically a long jam session, featuring Mel Brown, Jimmy Bond and Charles Brown. This is a laid back affair with some solid jams including "Bags Under My Eyes", "You Can't Do A Thing When You're Drunk" and the 12 minute plus of "Pillar To Post." Witherspoon had also recorded an earlier album for BluesWay in 1969 titled Blues Singer. Tracks from these albums together with several unreleased recordings from the same sessions were released as Never Knew This Kind of Hurt Before – The BluesWay Sessions on the UK-based Charly label in 1989. Hooker, Brown and Bond were brought back the next day, with the addition of drummer Ed Thigpen, tenor Red Holloway and singer Dottie Ivory for Charles Brown's session which was titled Legend! when released. Again a jam session atmosphere prevailed but this time the results were much better, in fact the album is a remarkable one, and ranks as one of the finest BluesWay dates. Brown reworks his old classics in a more modern context resulting in terrific new versions of "New Merry Christmas Baby", "Drifting Blues" and the stunning "I Want To Go Home" all featuring some beautiful and thoughtful playing from Hooker and superb tenor from Holloway. This record has been issued on CD on the Off-Beat imprint. As for Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, their playing and singing are as good as ever but the record never really gels. Michel was obviously not pleased with the results, with the record issued only four years later as I Couldn't Believe My Eyes. The record was chiefly notable for being Hooker's last studio appearance. This has been reissued on CD by the BGO label.

One of the things BluesWay should be applauded for is giving lesser known deserving bluesmen an opportunity to record. It was on BluesWay that artists such as L.C. Robinson, Lee Jackson, Lucille Spann, Cousin Joe and the aforementioned Big Moose Walker and Andrew Odom recorded their first full length records. On the short list of truly great BluesWay recordings one would have to place L.C. Robinson's House Cleanin' Blues. Robinson was an immensely talented steel guitar player, strong vocalist and fiddle player who had only one single from 1954 and a handful of tracks on a 1968 World Pacific LP to his credit. House Cleanin' Blues is a flawless set featuring Robinson's distinctive steel guitar on the blazing title track plus a batch of equally potent originals like "Separation Blues", "My Baby Crossed The Bay" and some outstanding fiddle on the brooding "Summerville Blues." Sadly Robinson recorded only once more for Arhoolie. Lee Jackson was a distinctive Chicago guitarist who had waxed a handful of singles in the 50's and 60's for Cobra, C.J. and Bea and Baby as well as appearing on records by Willie Dixon, Little Walter, St. Louis Jimmy, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim and others. His Lonely Girl is a very solid Chicago blues outing – although it could probably have been better with more rehearsal – featuring his slightly reverberated, jazzy guitar on fine cuts like the title track, "Juanita" (first cut by him in 1961) and "When I First Came To Chicago." The band is solid with Carey Bell being a real standout. Lucille Spann had made a handful of recordings with husband Otis and after his death in 1970 and cut a fine tribute to him immortalized on the out of print Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1972. Her lone album, 1972's Cry Before I Go, was quite good, spotlighting her strong, raspy, gospel vocals (she sang in church in Mississippi and Chicago) backed by a terrific Chicago ensemble of Detroit Junior, Mighty Joe Young, Eddie Taylor and Willie Smith. Highlights include the title cut, the hard luck "Meat Ration Blues" and the superb "Country Girl" which evolves into an impassioned tribute to her late husband. New Orleans singer/pianist Pleasant Joseph was introduced to Al Smith through Roosevelt Sykes who was acting as a talent scout for the label. Between 1945 and the early 50's he cut a slew of of swinging sides with top drawer session men that highlighted his witty wordplay and made him a big draw on the New York scene. If you want to know where Dr. John found his inspiration look no further than Cousin Joe. Joe hadn't record in nearly a decade when he made the exceptionally good Cousin Joe Of New Orleans, backed by a sympathetic combo that finds Joe in energetic and humorous form as he updates his classic numbers like "Beggin' Woman", "Chicken A-La-Blues" and "Evolution Blues."

In addition to Cousin Joe, BluesWay recorded a number of piano players including the above mentioned Roosevelt Sykes plus two dates by Otis Spann and one session by Sunnyland Slim. Sykes was one of the great blues piano men who made his debut back in 1929 and recorded prolifically for numerous labels up until his death in 1983. On the surface his lone BluesWay date, Dirty Double Mother, would be just another brief pause in a long career and one would expect a typically professional outing if nothing else. Sykes, however, was clearly inspired turning in an exuberant performance backed by the same band as Cousin Joe plus the great sax of Clarence Ford. Ford was a veteran who's worked graced countless records by artists like Amos Milburn, Fats Domino, Snooks Eaglin, Ear King, Little Richard, Guitar Slim and many others. Ford is terrific here as is Sykes who's witty way with a lyric is heard to fine effect on "May Be A Scandal", "Double Breasted Woman" as well as stomping boogies like "Jookin' In New Orleans" and "Dooky Chase Boogie." From New Orleans BluesWay went to Chicago where they recorded two albums by Otis Spann, The Blues Is Where It's At and The Bottom of the Blues, in 1966 and 1967. The first was recorded before a small studio audience, the second featuring the debut of Spann's wife Lucille with both sessions backed by Muddy Waters and his band. Spann is in commanding form on tracks like "My Home Is In The Delta", "T'ain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do", "Heart Loaded With Trouble" and "Doctor Blues." Both records have been reissued on the MCA CD Down To Earth: The BluesWay Recordings, which seems to be out of print, and as individual CD's on BGO. The other Chicago piano player recorded was Sunnyland Slim who's oddly titled Plays The Ragtime Blues was released in 1972. Despite the title this is an exceptionally strong, well recorded set of Chicago blues finding Sunnyland backed superbly by Carey Bell and The Aces (Louis Myers, Dave Myers and Fred Below). "Get Hip To Yourself" is a terrific tough times tale with sizzling guitar from Myers with other highlights including "Mr. Cool" and the jazzy "Canadian Walk."

Alongside Otis Spann and Sunnyland Slim, Al Smith produced sessions by other Chicago artists including Carey Bell, Homesick James, Snooky Pryor, Johnny Littlejohn and Johnny Young. These sessions are definitely a mixed bag. Carey Bell's Last Night is his second album having cut a record for Delmark in 1969. The BluesWay LP is a superior outing finding Bell turning in a very strong Chicago blues record filled with plenty of inspired harp work on tracks like "Last Night", "Tomorrow Night" and instrumental showcases like "Rosa, I Love Your Soul" and "Freda." Bell receives excellent support from Pinetop Perkins, Dave Myers, Eddie Taylor and Willie Smith. This has been reissued on CD on the One Way label. With the addition of Snooky Pryor the same band backs Homesick James on his Ain't Sick No More. This is a very solid, relaxed outing with James in fine form on songs like "Buddy Brown", "Fayette County Blues" and " Money Getter." Snooky Pryor hadn't recorded in over a decade, having become disgusted with the record business, when he cut the lukewarm Do It If You Want To. It was Homesick James who directed Al Smith to his pal Snooky Pryor. Like the Cousin Joe and Roosevelt Sykes, this record was cut in New Orleans featuring some of the same band members. Pryor's brand of Chicago blues doesn't find sympathetic backing from the band and only a few songs like "The One I Crave To See" and "Do It If You Want To" rise to the occasion. Johnny Littlejohn was a fine slide player and singer who unfortunately was ill served on record so perhaps we can't totally blame Al Smith for the tepid Funky From Chicago. While Littlejohn turned in a sterling performance on his 1968 debut Arhoolie record, this one lacks the former's excitement. Littlejohn sounds muted on this recording with few tracks that stand out despite backing from a band that included Eddie Taylor, Dave Myers and Fred Below. Sadly Littlejohn's subsequent records weren't much better. Johnny Young's I Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping was Young's final recording, passing not long after this superb date. Young is in top form playing mandolin on all cuts backed by a tough band featuring stellar guitar work from Louis Myers and the debut by harp man Jerry Portnoy who is uncredited. Young energetically romps through first rate numbers like "Deal The Cards", "I Know She's Kinda Slick", and "No. 12 Is At The Station" among others. This is one of Young's best dates outside of his fine late 60's Arhoolie session.

The BluesWay label cast a wide net pulling in several classic blues shouters and those in a similar vein, cutting albums by veterans such as Jimmy Rushing, Eddie Cleanhead Vinson, Roy Brown and Big Joe Turner. It may have been relatively late in Jimmy Rushing's career when he recorded two albums for BluesWay, Every Day I Have the Blues and Livin' the Blues, but he was still in prime singing voice. Joined by a terrific cast of old pals like trombonist Dickie Wells, trumpeter Clark Terry, and tenor saxophonist Buddy Tate, Rushing puts across his distinctive brand of jazzy blues on tunes like "Berkeley Campus Blues," "Blues in the Dark," "I Left My Baby," "Sent for You Yesterday," "We Remember Prez" and "Evil Blues", the latter benefiting from Shirley Scott's organ and the guitar of Kenny Burrell. The end results are two fine swinging sets of vintage Jimmy Rushing. Both albums have been reissued on the Polygram CD Every Day I Have The Blues. Like Rushing, Vinson was well into a long illustrious career when he cut 1967's Cherry Red, his first recording after a five year hiatus from the studio. Backed by the fine small combo of Buddy Lucas on tenor/harmonica, Patti Brown on organ and Mike Bloomfield on guitar, Vinson turns in a marvelous session revisiting past glories like "Cherry Red", "Alimony Blues", "Somebody's Got To Go" as well as newer gems like 'Cadillac Blues" and "Flat Broke Blues." Bloomfield's playing is a real stand out. This album has been reissued on the One Way label. Big Joe Turner's 1967 album Singing The Blues and 1970's Turns On The Blues find the veteran shouter in fine form featuring ace tenor man Buddy Lucas and terrific blowing from George "Harmonica" Smith. The former album has been reissued on CD on the Mobile Fidelity label. Roy Brown cut 1973's Hard Times: The Classic Blues Of Roy Brown which  features the fine title track but the remainder is a bit lackluster.

BluesWay lists several albums that were unissued. The following list is taken from the ilpopolodelblues website: Roy Brown: Brown on Blues, Rocky & Val: I Stopped & Looked at the World , John Lee Hooker: Untitled Album, Jimmy Reed: Untitled Album, Little Andrews 'Blues Boy' Odom: Take Me Back to St.Louis and Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry: Untitled Album.

In closing, the BluesWay label has an uneven track record due primarily it seems to the quickie recording sessions and lack of rehearsals among musicians who in many cases hadn't play together much. Producers such as Bill Syzmzyck, Ed Michel, Bob Thiele did an admirable job considering these conditions but certainly Al Smith deserves much of the criticism leveled at him. Still there were many good records that deserve a better fate than languishing in the out of print bin. Even those that have been reissued on CD on One Way and Off-Beat in the early 90's all appear to be out of print. The BGO BluesWay reissues do appear to all be in print. Many of the LP's can be found easily on ebay although there are a few elusive ones. Hopefully MCA will see fit to due a proper reissue program of the BluesWay catalog as they did of the better known Chess catalog. At the very least they should reissue some of the better albums in there entirety like the Charles Brown, Earl Hooker, Johnny Young, L.C. Robinson and Sunnyland Slim to name a few. A very credible BluesWay box set could also be assembled, a 3 or 4 CD set say, cherry picking the best of the label. Major labels are usually indifferent about their blues holdings so I won't hold my breath but certainly the BluesWay catalog deserves a better fate.

Stay tuned for a part two somewhere down the road. That show will more tracks by the more prolific BluesWay artists like B.B. King and John Lee Hooker plus records we couldn't get to this time out including albums by Big Joe Williams, Bobby Bland, Gatemouth Moore, Ray Charles and George "Harmonica" Smith among others.

Larry DalePlease Tell MeRock With A Sock
Cootie WilliamsThree O'Clock in the MorningJazz At Midnight
Bob GaddyOperatorHarlem Blues Operator
Bob GaddyBicycle BoogieBob Gaddy & Friends
Bob GaddyNo HelpBob Gaddy & Friends
Paul WilliamsShame, Shame, ShamePaul Williams Vol. 3 1952-1956
Paul WilliamsThe Woman I Love Is DyingPaul Williams Vol. 3 1952-1956
Larry DaleNo Tellin' What I'll DoHerald/Ember Blues & Gospel Masters Vol. 1
Cootie WilliamsRinky DinkCootie Williams in Hi Fi
Bob GaddyBlues Has Walked In My RoomBob Gaddy & Friends
Big Red McHoustonStranger BluesRock With A Sock
Larry DaleMidnight HoursRock With A Sock
Larry DaleI'm TiredRock With A Sock
Larry DaleWhere Is My HoneyRock With A Sock
Champion Jack DupreeThe UpsShake Baby Shake
Champion Jack DupreeDown The LaneShake Baby Shake
Champion Jack DupreeStory Of My LifeShake Baby Shake
Champion Jack DupreeYou're Always Cryin' The BluesShake Baby Shake
Larry DaleYou Better Heed My WarningRock With A Sock
Larry DaleBig MuddyHy Weiss Presents Old Town Records
Larry DaleDown To The BottomRock With A Sock
Bob GaddyPaper LadyHarlem Blues Operator
Bob GaddyOut Of My NameHarlem Blues Operator
Bob GaddyRip And RunHarlem Blues Operator
Larry DaleLet Your Love Run To MeOld Town Blues Vol. 2
Larry DaleLet The Doorbell RingHy Weiss Presents Old Town Records
Larry DaleDrinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-DeeMidnight Ramble Tonight Vol. 2
Champion Jack DupreeJunker's BluesBlues From The Gutter
Champion Jack DupreeGoin' Down SlowBlues From The Gutter
Champion Jack DupreeT. B. BluesBlues From The Gutter
Champion Jack DupreeEvil WomanBlues From The Gutter
Cootie WilliamsBoomerangCootie Williams in Hi Fi
Larry DaleFeelin' Allright45

Show Notes:

Blues & Rhythm Magazine Cover Number 34

I received the sad news of the passing of Larry Dale who died on May 19th. Outside of die hard collectors, who hold Dale's recordings in high esteem, he never broke out to a large audience despite cutting some potent blues and R&B sides under his own name and some knockout session guitar backing artists like Mickey Baker, Champion Jack Dupree, Bob Gaddy, Paul Williams and Cootie Williams. I became an immediate fan of Dale's after grabbing a copy Still Groove Jumping! from my favorite record store, Finyl Vinyl on New York's Second Ave., an anthology of sides cut for the Groove label including a trio of gritty blues by Dale. It was also about this time that I was a regular reader of  the British Juke Blues magazine when they published an article entitled Larry Dale: The New York Houserocker (Juke Blues # 9, 1987 – read below). To my surprise I found out that Dale and I both lived in the Bronx but unfortunately I never got a chance to see him perform. Over the years I've picked up just about all of Dale's recordings and today we pay tribute to Dale and his New York friends who's records he played on.

New York City has never had a big reputation as a blues town, compared to Chicago and L.A. It did however have a very lively postwar R&B scene. The R&B scene had its peak between 1945 and 1960 and has always been closely associated with the local jazz scene. There were nationally important clubs like the Apollo and Savoy and numerous other spots for live entertainment.  The recording scene was dominated by a group of small but enterprising independent companies like: Apollo, DeLuxe, Fire/Fury, Herald, Baton, Joe Davis, Old Town and in particular, Atlantic and Savoy. There was also out of town companies that recorded local talent like Federal and RCA’s Groove and Vik subsidiaries. Literally hundreds and hundreds of R&B recordings were made, aimed at the black market with occasional cross over success

Born in Texas, Dale had moved to New York City in 1949 and quickly fell into the local blues scene as he explained: "It's kinda funny how I learned to play the guitar. Brownie McGhee would let me come up on his bandstand and sit in the back and playing all kind of bad notes until I learned where the changes were. And then I got so where I could play pretty good. And I could always sing good, If I could sing and leave the guitar alone I was good, but if I tried to play the guitar …Bobby Schiffman told me 'You just sing, leave the guitar alone. you'11 make it'. But he didn't know I was determined to learn the guitar. So I bought B.B King records, people that played guitars; and I learned how to play. Then Mickey Baker he taught me a lot. …Well before then Mickey taught me a lot about guitar. And then it's a funny thing, after Mickey taught me then I had to teach him how to play the blues!"

Larry Dale's House Rockers: Matt Gray, sax; Larry Dale, guitar;
Bob Gaddy, piano; poss Gene Brooks, drums.

Dale made his start with Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams’ band in the early 50’s and plays on one four song session cut in 1952 for Jax, taking the vocals on  "Shame, Shame, Shame" and "The Woman I Love Is Dying." These records can be found on Blue Moon's Paul Williams Vol. 3 1952-1956.  Saxophonist and bandleader Paul Williams scored one of the first big hits of the R&B era in 1949 with "The Hucklebuck which topped the R&B charts for 14 weeks and was one of three Top 10 and five other Top 20 R&B instrumental hits that Williams scored for Savoy in 1948 and 1949. He was later part of Atlantic Records' house band in the '60s and directed the Lloyd Price and James Brown orchestras until 1964.

Both as a session man and featured recording artist, pianist Bob Gaddy made his presence known on the New York blues scene during the 1950's. Dale had high praise for Gaddy: "Bob Gaddy as a musician? Well, he kept me in the business I would say, he was that good …Bob was one of the best nightclub entertainers I ever worked with." Gaddy was drafted in 1943, and that's when he began to take the piano seriously. He picked up a little performing experience in California clubs while stationed on the West Coast before arriving in New York in 1946. Gaddy gigged with Brownie McGhee and guitarist Larry Dale around town, McGhee often playing on Gaddy's waxings for Jackson (his 1952 debut, "Bicycle Boogie"), Jax, Dot, Harlem, and from 1955 on, Hy Weiss' Old Town label. There Gaddy stayed the longest, waxing the fine "I Love My Baby," "Paper Lady," "Rip and Run," and quite a few more into 1960. Both Gaddy and Dale remained active on the New York scene for decades after. Dale is featured on many Gaddy recordings including four sides for Jax and Harlem in 1952, for Dot in 1954, for Harlem in 1955 and for Old Town between 1956 and 1958. Dale's Old Town sides can be found on several Ace collections including Bob Gaddy: Harlem Blues Operator, Old Town Blues Vol. 2 – The Uptown Sides and Harlem Hit Parade: Old Town Blues Vol. 2.

Dale is also the vocalist on the rousing "I'm Tired" b/w "Where Is My Honey" by Big Red McHouston (alias Mickey Baker) on Groove. In 1954 he had the first release under his own name. A session for RCA's Groove subsidiary on June 21, 1954, produced four tracks, including the menacing  "You Better Heed My Warning", which came out on Groove b/w "Please Tell Me". The two other songs from this fruitful session, "Down To the Bottom" and "Midnight Hours", were originally unissued. Also from this session is "I'm Tired" and "Stranger Blues" also featuring Baker. These tracks can be found on the Bear Family CD Mickey Baker: Rock With A Sock. In the early and mid-'50s, Baker did countless sessions for Atlantic, King, RCA, Decca, and OKeh, playing on such classics as the Drifters' "Money Honey" and "Such a Night," Joe Turner's "Shake Rattle & Roll," Ruth Brown's "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean," and Big Maybelle's "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On." He also released a few singles under his own name. Baker was also recorded as half of the duo Mickey & Sylvia.

His next vocal session was for Herald in 1955, yielding one single release, again backed by Baker. The next year rock 'n' roll exploded on the music scene and inevitably, Dale tried his hand at the genre, with "Rock 'n' Roll Baby" b/w "Hoppin' and Skippin'for Ember. For the next four years, Dale worked the New York club circuit with his lifelong friend, pianist Bob Gaddy and was much in demand as a session player. Particularly impressive is his playing on Champion Jack Dupree's recordings from this period, especially the Atlantic LP Blues From the Gutter. Blues From The Gutter, cut for Atlantic in 1958 (in stereo), is Dupree's finest album of his  prolific career and Dale's playing is brilliant. His playing on that album supposedly inspired Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. Dale also backed Dupree on over a dozen excellent sides in 1956 and 1957 for the Vik and Groove labels. These sides have been collected on the excellent album Shake Baby Shake.

Also in 1957 Dale also did several sessions with Cootie Williams for RCA, where he was given an occasional chance to sing. As Dale recalled: "One night we were playing at the Sportsman's Lounge and Cootie Williams came in and he was in the audience, I didn't know he was there. So Cootie dug what we was doing. The next day he called me, 'I was up to listen to you last night'. I said, 'Oh yeah, who is this'. He said, 'Cootie Williams. I wonder if you want to  come with my band?'. l said, 'No I don't think so, l got my own band, my name's up top' (laughs) but started to think about it,  Cootie's big. Maybe we can get some recordings. Maybe I can get a name out there. …So. I stayed with Cootie about three years. 1956, '57 and early '58." As a member of the Cootie Williams Orchestra he traveled all over the U.S. and Europe. Cootie Williams was one of the finest trumpeters of the 1930's. He played for a short time with the orchestras of Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson before joining Duke Ellington in February 1929, staying until 1940. He would rejoin Ellington from 1962 through 1974, but led his own bands prior to that.

In 1960, Dale did another vocal session, for the Old Town subsidiary Glover in New York City, resulting in two fine singles, "Big Muddy" and "Let the Door Bell Ring" which hit the R&B charts. The next year he was signed by Atlantic, but of the five tracks recorded in November 1961, only "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" b/w "Keep Getting Up" was issued. Singles on Ram (1968) and Fire (1969) rounded out Dale's recording career as a vocalist. None of his recordings charted nationally, but Dale continued to perform for several decades and garnered a strong fan base in Europe, performing at Blues Estafette in 1987 .Dale's final recordings included a 45 issued by the Juke Blues magazine in 1987 and a few live sides backed by the European blues combo,the Mojo Blues Band, recorded in 1993.

"Larry Dale: The New York Houserocker" (Juke Blues # 9, 1987 by John Broven) (zip)

Lightnin' HopkinsGoin' Back To FloridaLightnin' Hopkins
Lightnin' HopkinsI Growed Up With The BluesComplete Prestige/Bluesville Recordings
Daddy HotcakesStrange Woman BluesThe Blues in St. Louis Vol. 1
Henry TownsendTired Of Being MistreatedTired Of Being Mistreated
J.D. ShortYou're Tempting MeThe Sonet Blues Story
J.D. ShortSo Much WineBlues from the Mississippi Delta
Billie and De De PierceMarried Man BluesMusic of New Orleans Vol. 3
Edith Johnson & Henry BrownNickel's Worth of LiverThe Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2
Edith Johnson & Henry BrownHenry Brown BluesThe Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2
Barrelhouse Buck20th Street BluesBackcountry Barrelhouse
Speckled RedUncle Sam's BluesThe Barrel-House Blues of Speckled Red,
Pink AndersonYou Don't Know My MindCarolina Medicine Show Hokum & Blues
Pink AndersonThat’s No Way to DoMedicine Show Man
Baby TateSee What You Done DoneSee What You Done Done
Jesse FullerRed River BluesJesse Fuller's Favorite
Furry LewisPearlee BluesFurry Lewis
Furry LewisKassie JonesFurry Lewis
Memphis Willie B.Uncle Sam BluesHard Working Man Blues
Robert Pete WilliamsCome Here Sit Down on My KneeLegacy of the Blues Vol. 9
Billy Boy ArnoldTwo Drinks Of WineMore Blues On The South Side
Homesick JamesThe Woman I'm Lovin'Blues on the South Side
Buddy GuyA Man And The BluesA Man And The Blues
Otis SpannSometimes I WonderChicago The Blues Today!
J.B. HuttoMarried Woman BluesChicago The Blues Today!
Junior WellsHelp MeChicago The Blues Today!
Otis RushIt’s My Own FaultChicago The Blues Today!
Johnny YoungOne More TimeChicago The Blues Today!
Johnny ShinesDynaflowChicago The Blues Today!

Show Notes:

At Izzy young's Folklore Center, MacDougal Street, NYC,
l-r Sam charters, Izzy Young, Memphis Willie B., Furry
Lewis, and Gus cannon, 1964 (Photo by Ann Charters)

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 an introduction to many who had never heard of artists like Lightnin' Hopkins and Robert Johnson. Charters was born in 1929 and graduated from Sacramento City College in 1949. In 1951, at the age of 21, he moved to New Orleans. After a two-year stint in the Army, he began to study jazz, but soon felt himself drawn to rural blues. Encouraged by fellow jazz researcher Frederic Ramsey, Charters began recording jazz and blues artists in 1955. The following year Folkways Records began issuing his recordings. Charters  work as a field recorder and researcher  would be poured into his first book in 1959, The Country Blues. "…The Country Blues was the first full-length treatment of the topic," wrote Benjamin Filene in Romancing the Folk, "and its evocative style inspired thousands of whites to explore the music." Unlike the more formal music histories written by Paul Oliver, Charters' book was a popular history designed to pass on his enthusiasm for the blues to others. A companion album, also titled The Country Blues, would simultaneously be released on Folkways' RBF reissue series for which Charters produced about twenty albums. His other claim to fame during this period was his re-discovery, after a lengthy search, of Sam Lightnin' Hopkins who he recorded for Folkways in 1959.

In the 60's Charters wrote several books including The Poetry of the Blues and The Bluesmen. A 1961 trip for Prestige Records yielded records by Furry Lewis, Memphis Willie B., Baby Tate and Pink Anderson. Charters visited St. Louis to do recording sessions in 1961 and 1962 resulting in several albums by Henry Townsend, Henry Brown and Edith Johnson, Dady Hotcakes, J.D. Short, Speckled Red and Barrelhouse Buck. In 1963 he was hired by Prestige as an A&R representative, and oversaw the Bluesville and Folklore series.

Sam charters recording Sleepy John Estes,
Brownsville, TN, 1962 (Photo by Ann Charters)

Charters' Prestige recordings of Homesick James, Billy Boy Arnold, and Otis Spann were some of the first electric blues releases aimed at the revival market. He continued in this vein as an independent producer for Vanguard with the influential three-volume anthology Chicago: The Blues Today as well as solo albums by Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, James Cotton and Charlie Musselwhite.

In the early 70's Charters moved to Sweden where he worked as a producer for Sonet. The twelve-volume series Legacy of the Blues resulted in a similarly titled book. He also recorded zydeco albums during this period by Clifton Chenier and Rockin' Dopsie.

On today's program we track recordings charters made from the late 1950's through the early 70's'. Much of the background on today's artists come from Charters' own writings, either taken from the original liner notes or Walking A Blues Road: A Blues Reader 1956-2004 a collection of his writings issued in 2004. The First half of the show is devoted primarily to acoustic blues artists. As Charters wrote: "In the first years of the blues rediscoveries there was a heady level of excitement just at finding that the blues was more than names on old phonograph records. For any of us who had come to the blues through our interest in classic jazz or through our involvement in the folk movement, the modern electric blues was considered with some wariness as an intrusion on the 'folk' spirit of the blues. For myself, there was also a sense of urgency. The younger blues artists in places like Chicago or Detroit could wait – whatever we thought of their style of the blues. The older blues artists who were still living in rented rooms or tenement apartments in cities like Memphis or Atlanta didn't have so many years ahead of them, and if we didn't save their stories and their music their rich legacy would slip away from us."

"My life as a record producer began with a duet session that I set up and recorded with Billie and Dee Dee [Pierce] in the spring of 1954. …The material from the session was released by Folkways as part of the series I recorded and complied with some tracks done by other field collectors in the city titled The Music of New Orleans. Billie and Dee Dee were included in Volume Three of the series, Music of the Dance Halls… …If you're interested in the old New Orleans jazz styles there are still a dozen places to hear bands, even if most of them don't have music every weekend, and you never know who's going to play unless one of the musicians calls you. What we knew about Luthjen's was that every night on the weekends Billie Pierce would be sitting on the bench of the place's much battered piano and singing the blues, and her husband Dee Dee Pierce would be sitting on an old kitchen chair beside her,  adding the lyric trumpet fills that are an indispensable musical complement to the classic blues style." From the above mentioned album we play "Married Man Blues."

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

We spin  a pair of cuts by Lightnin' Hopkins who Charters located after a lengthy period of not recordings. "On a windy winter morning in January 1959 I was driving along Dowling Street, in Houston, Texas. I stopped at a red light and a car pulled up beside mine. The window was rolled down, and a thin, nervous man, wearing dark glasses, leaned toward me.

'You lookin' for me?'
'Are you Lightnin'?'
'Lightnin", I said, 'I sure am.'

"I had been looking for lightnin' Hopkins, off and on, for the five years that had passed since I first heard him on record. …I was in and out of Houston for the next five years, recording, interviewing musicians, and asking about Lightnin' Hopkins. …When I finally found him he was anxious to begin recording again, and after I'd rented an acoustic guitar for him  I carried the tape recorder I had in the trunk of my car into his shabby room on Hadley Street. He sang all afternoon, becoming more emotional and even more musically exciting as the hours passed." The results were issued on a self-titled album on Folkways.  The results helped introduced his music to an entirely new audience. Soon after Hopkins went from gigging at back-alley gin joints to starring at collegiate coffeehouses, appearing on TV programs, and touring Europe. He was recording more prolifically then ever, laying down albums for World Pacific, Vee-Jay,Bluesville, Bobby Robinson’s Fire label, Candid, Arhoolie, Verve and, in 1965, the first of several LP’s for Stan Lewis’ Shreveport-based Jewel logo. During the 70's his recording activity slowed, cutting just a handful of sessions for verve and Sonet with several live collections issued. He was still touring widely and made trips to Mexico, Japan and Germany.  After a final gig at Tramps in New York in November 1981 he returned to Houston where his health declined rapidly. He passed January 30, 1982.

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

Charters visited St. Louis to do recording sessions in 1961 and 1962 resulting in several fine albums of material. As Charters wrote: “I first visited St. Louis on the long research trip for The Country Blues in January 1959 …We were in the city again for two recordings trips, the first in May of 1961, and the second, to film J.D. Short for the documentary film The Blues, in the summer of 1962. Two of the albums, by Henry Townsend and Barrelhouse Buck, were released at the time of recording. One album, with J.D. Short, was released as part of the Legacy of the Blues series in 1973, and the other albums were released by Folkways in 1984.

George “Daddy Hotcakes” Montgomery was born in Georgia and came moved to St. Louis in 1918. He began singing the blues as a youngster and worked as an entertainer during the 1920’s. Sometime in the late 30’s he had an opportunity to record through blues artist and talent scout Charlie Jordan but the recording session fell through. He was still occasionally playing parties when Charters recorded him in 1961. These are his only recordings. As Charters wrote: "I am still also as surprised -when I listen to what we recorded in his room over the next two or threes days – at the complete, natural spontaneity of his blues. …Using his imagination and a store of familiar blues phrase to help him through occasional hesitations he simply made up the songs as he went along. I had some of the same experience when I recorded Lightnin' Hopkins and Robert Pete Williams but even as loose and free as they were with their blues I still could anticipate most of what they were going to do. With George, however, I never could be sure what might come next if I asked him to repeat anything." …The songs George recorded in his room – as far as I know these were his only recordings -made me conscious again of the haphazard circumstances that left their mark on what we knew of the blues. How many singers were there like George, who missed a recording trip because they didn't get the times right? How many were there who never were heard by anyone who knew where to send them to get their songs on record?" these recordings were issued on Folkways under the title The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 1: Daddy Hotcakes (originally planned to be issued on Bluesville).

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

While in St. Louis Charters cut an excellent album by veteran bluesman Henry Townsend backed his friend Tommy Bankhead. The results were issued on Bluesville as Tired of Being Mistreated and on Folkways as The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 3: Henry Townsend.  Townsend was one of the only artists to have recorded in every decade for the last 80 years.  He first recorded in 1929 and remained active up to 2006. "One of the things that was most intriguing for me about working with Henry was that this was the first time I'd ever recorded anyone playing an electric guitar. …The first blues they ran down together wiped out an lingering prejudices I had against electric instruments. It wasn't electric guitars that had changed the blues. It was the life in the African American ghettos, the new society, experiences of the people who created the blues that had changed, and it was the new instrument and their changes sound that expressed the new conditions of  their lives."

Charters also recorded  a fine session by Edith Johnson and Henry Brown. The results were issued on the album The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2: Henry Brown and Edith Johnson – Barrelhouse Piano and Classic Blues. Edith Johnson recorded eighteen sides in 1928/29 as “Edith North Johnson”, “Hattie North” and “Maybelle Allen.” Henry Brown worked clubs such as the Blue Flame Club, the 9-0-5 Club, Jim’s Place and Katy Red’s, from the twenties into the 30’s. Recorded for Brunswisck with Ike Rogers and Mary Johnson in 1929, for Paramount in Richmond and Grafton in ‘29 and ‘30. He served in the army in the early ’40s, then formed his own quartet to work occasional local gigs in St. Louis area from the ’50s, and worked the Becky Thatcher riverboat, St. Louis in 1965. In addition to his pre-war recordings, he was recorded by Paul Oliver in 1960 and by Adelphi in 1969.

J.D. Short recorded two sessions in the early ’30s for Paramount and Vocalion, then quickly faded into obscurity. Charters recorded Short at his transplanted home base of St. Louis in 1961. As Charters writes in the notes: “The recording that we did in his house that summer – mostly in the kitchen to get away from the noises in the street – was his last, but we didn’t have any idea of it. I was filming him for a sequence in The Blues and trying to get his ideas about the backgrounds and the aesthetics of the blues for The Poetry Of The Blues so we recorded a lot of music – new versions of songs he’d done before – new songs – and his own comments about the styles and the music.” Short unexpectedly passed away shortly after this session at the age of 60. Charters' recordings of Short can be found on the albums J.D. Short and Son House: Blues from the Mississippi Delta and album as part of  The Legacy of the Blues series released in the 70's.

St. Louis was always a good piano blues town, and in addition to recording Henry Brown, Charters also captured Barrelhouse Buck and Speckled Red. Barrelhouse Buck McFarland cut his final session for Folkways and an unissued session in 1961 that was belatedly released a few years back on Delmark. The recordings Charters made were released on Folkways as Backcountry Barrelhouse. He died shortly afterward. McFarland was born in Alton, Illinois in 1903 in the same area as two other exceptional piano players, Wesley Wallace and Jabbo Williams, all three of which made names for themselves on the bustling St. Louis blues scene. McFarland got his shot in the recording studio waxing ten sides; two for Paramount in 1929, two for Decca in 1934 and four more for Decca in 1935, which were not issued. Speckled Red (born Rufus Perryman) was born in Monroe, LA, but he made his reputation as part of the St. Louis and Memphis blues scenes of the ’20s and ’30s. In 1929, he cut his first recording sessions. One song from these sessions, “The Dirty Dozens,” was released on Brunswick and became a hit in late 1929. In 1938, he cut a few sides for Bluebird. In the early ’40s, Red moved to St. Louis, where he played local clubs and bars for the next decade and a half. Charlie O’Brien, a St. Louis policeman and something of a blues aficionado “rediscovered” Speckled Red on December 14, 1954, who subsequently was signed to Delmark Records as their first blues artist. Several recordings were made in 1956 and 1957 for Tone, Delmark, Folkways, and Storyville record labels. The recordings Charters made were issued on Folkway under the title The Barrel-House Blues of Speckled Red.

Charters also spent time in Memphis getting to know and record some of the city's pre-war blues recording artists. "Will Shade, the guitar and harmonica player who had organized the Memphis Jug Band for victor Records in 1927, had remembered Furry in a conversation in February 1959. …I looked out the window,  over the roofs toward Beale Street, and said to him, thinking out loud as much as anything else, 'I certainly would like to have heard some of those old blues singers, Jim Jackson, Furry Lewis, John Estes, Frank Stokes…' Will leaned out of his chair and called to his wife, Jennie Mae, who was working in the kitchen. 'Jennie Mae, when was the last time you saw that fellow they call 'Furry'?' '…Furry Lewis you mean? I saw him just last week.'" Charters eventually found Furry: "He no longer had a guitar and he hadn't played much in twenty years, but when I asked him if he could sing and play he straightened and said, 'I'm better now than I ever was.'"  Lewis returned to the studio under Charters' direction, first cutting a self-titled album for Folkways in 1959 and then two albums for the Prestige/Bluesville label in 1961.

"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. 'His name's Willie B. I don't know what all his name is, but that's what we call him. Willie B. He's one of those real hard blues singers like you're always asking about. …He"ll sing the real old hard blues for you.'" 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.

Read Liner Notes

In South Carolina Charters made important recordings by Pink Anderson and Baby Tate. Anderson was born in South Carolina and early on sang in the streets for pennies. He was self-taught as a guitarist and toured throughout the Southeast with a variety of medicine shows during 1915-1945, picking up work wherever he could. He was employed not only as a musician and a singer but as a dancer and comedian. Anderson recorded four titles in 1928 with his partner Simmie Dooley but did not make another record until 1950 for Riverside, sharing an album with Rev. Gary Davis. Anderson continued to work at parties, street fairs, and medicine shows during the first half of the 1950s before retiring for a time due to ill health. But in 1961 the Bluesville label sent Charters to record him. He recorded three albums of unaccompanied performances by Anderson, documenting him in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Carters also recorded one album by Anderson that was issued on Folkways as Carolina Medicine Show Hokum And Blues. Anderson stayed active on a part-time basis up until the time of his death in 1974.

Guitarist Baby Tate recorded only a handful of sessions, spending the bulk of his life as a sideman, playing with musicians like Blind Boy Fuller, Pink Anderson, and Peg Leg Sam. When he was 14 years old, Tate taught himself how to play guitar. Shortly afterward, he began playing with Blind Boy Fuller, who taught Tate the fundamentals of blues guitar. For most of the '30s, Baby played music as a hobby, performing at local parties, celebrations, and medicine shows. Tate picked up music again in 1946, setting out on the local blues club circuit. In the early '50s, Baby moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he performed both as a solo act and as a duo with Pink Anderson. In 1962, Charters recorded Tate for the album, See What You Done Done for Bluesville. The following year, he was featured in Charters' documentary film, The Blues. For the rest of the decade, Baby Tate played various gigs, concerts, and festivals across America. With the assistance of harmonica player Peg Leg Sam, Baby Tate recorded another set of sessions in 1972. Pete Lowry recorded him extensively in 1970 but theses sides remain unreleased. He died on August 17, 1972.

Charters first foray into recording Chicago electric blues were a batch of albums for Prestige/Bluesville including sessions by Otis Spann, Homesick James and Billy Boy Arnold. Born in Chicago, Billy Boy was gravitated who was a big influence. Still in his teens, Arnold cut his debut 78 for the obscure Cool logo in 1952. "Arnold made an auspicious connection when he joined forces with Bo Diddley and played on the his two-sided 1955 debut smash "Bo Diddley"/"I'm a Man" for Checker. That led, in a roundabout way, to Billy Boy's signing with rival Vee-Jay Records. Arnold's "I Wish You Would," utilizing that familiar Bo Diddley beat, sold well and inspired a later famous cover by the Yardbirds. Thhe group also took a liking to another Arnold classic on Vee-Jay, "I Ain't Got You." Other Vee-Jay standouts by Arnold included "Prisoner's Plea" and "Rockinitis," but by 1958, his tenure at the label was over. Other than an excellent Samuel Charters-produced 1963 album for Prestige, More Blues on the South Side, Arnold retained a low profile until signing with Alligator in the 90's.

Homesick James was playing guitar at age ten and soon ran away from his Tennessee home to play at fish fries and dances. His travels took the guitarist through Mississippi and North Carolina during the 1920s, where he crossed paths with Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Boy Fuller, and Big Joe Williams.Settling in Chicago during the 1930s, Williamson played local clubs. Williamson made some fine sides in 1952-53 for Chance Records. James also worked extensively as a sideman, backing harp great Sonny Boy Williamson in 1945 at a Chicago gin joint called the Purple Cat and during the 1950s with his cousin, Elmore James. He also recorded with James during the 1950s. Homesick's own output included 45's for Colt and USA in 1962, and the album for Blues On The South Side produced by Charters.

"I came to Chicago for the first time in the winter of 1959, as part of the long research trip for the book The Country Blues. …For the next few years I was in and out of Chicago – and after so many nights down on the south side listening to the  bands, I was becoming more and more impatient to go into a recording studio to document some of the unforgettable music I was hearing. But the companies I was involved with – Folkways and Prestige – either didn't have the money for the sessions, or they weren't ready to record the electric blues." Fortunately Charters  hooked up with Vanguard Records who were more receptive to the idea.

In early 1966, Vanguard issued three-volume set, Chicago/The Blues/Today!. Every artist on the three volumes had recorded before (some, like Otis Rush and Junior Wells, had actually seen small hits on the R&B charts), but these recordings were largely their introduction to a newer — and predominately white — album-oriented audience. This series accurately portrayed a vast cross section of the Chicago blues scene as one could hear it on any given night in the mid-'60s. Rather than record full albums (which Charters had neither the budget nor the legal resources to pull off), each artist simply came in for a union-approved session of four to six songs, with each volume featuring three different groupings. Other notable records Charters cut for Vanguard include Buddy Guy's A Man And The Blues,the guitarist's first album away from Chess and Junior Wells' It's My Life Baby, a mix of studio recordings and live tracks recorded at Pepper's Lounge in Chicago.

Charters and his family moved to Sweden in1971 and began working with a local record company called Sonet. He was eventually asked to do a blues series for the label. The series, Legacy of the Blues, ran to twelve albums with Charters producing the series as well as writing extensive liner notes for each. The notes were expanded for a book of the same name which was published in 1975. The entire series has been reissued on CD by Verve in 2006. As was often the case, Charters was able to coax some exceptional performances resulting in some  excellent albums by Memphis Slim, Robert Pete Williams and Snooks Eaglin.

Lightnin' HopkinsKatie Mae BluesAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 1.Introduction
Lightnin' HopkinsShort Haired WomanAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 2.Early Years
Lightnin' HopkinsPolicy BluesLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Lightnin' HopkinsAutomobileAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 3.More Early Years
Lightnin' HopkinsNeeded TimeJake Head Boogie
Lightnin' HopkinsI'm Wild About You BabyLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Lightnin' HopkinsGoin' Back And Talk To MamaAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 4.Prison & Hard Times
Lightnin' HopkinsThat Gambling LifeAutobiography in Blues
Lightnin' HopkinsThey Wonder Who I AmAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 5.Blind Lemon Jefferson
Lightnin' HopkinsBlack CatComplete Candid Otis Spann/Lightin' Hopkins Sessions
Lightnin' HopkinsMojo HandMojo Hand Anthology
Interview Pt. 6.Houston
Lightnin' HopkinsThe War Is OverLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Lightnin' HopkinsHighway BluesLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Interview Pt. 7Early Recordings
Lightnin' HopkinsNo EducationMojo Hand Anthology
Interview Pt. 81950's Recordings
Lightnin' HopkinsI'm Going To Build Me A Heaven...Complete Prestige/Bluesville Recordings
Lightnin' HopkinsBurnin' In L.A.Po' Lightnin'
Interview Pt. 9Rediscovery
Lightnin' HopkinsMr. Charlie (Part 1 & 2)Mojo Hand Anthology
Interview Pt. 10Blues Revival
Lightnin' HopkinsGoin' To DallasEverest Records Collection Vol. 1
Lightnin' HopkinsBud Russell BluesTexas Blues
Interview Pt. 111960's Recordings
Lightnin' HopkinsTwisterLive At Swarthmore College
Lightnin' HopkinsWalkin' The StreetsLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Lightnin' HopkinsCoffee BluesAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 12More 1960's
Lightnin' HopkinsBlack And EvilTexas Blues
Interview Pt. 13Legacy
Lightnin' HopkinsMeet You At The Chicken ShackTexas Blues
Lightnin' HopkinsBad Luck And TroubleJake Head Boogie
Lightnin' HopkinsHenny Penny BluesAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 14Last Decade/Closing
Lightnin' HopkinsMoving On Out BoogieLightnin' Special Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Lightnin' Hopkins, Berkley, CA, mid-1960's. Photo by Chris Strachwitz

Today's program is our second devoted to Lightnin' Hopkins. The first, Lightnin' Hopkins & Pals, featured mainly singles Hopkins waxed for black audiences between 1946 and 1954 plus cuts by many of his musical buddies. Today the spotlight is on Hopkins alone as we spin records by him from the 40's up through the 60's, when he was cutting a staggering number of albums, mostly geared to the folk and blues revival audience. We also celebrate the release of the first Hopkins' biography, Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues, by noted writer Alan Govenar who I've interviewed for today's show. Govenar's book is a superb portrait of a true blues giant, from his early years running with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander to his brilliant singles in the 40's and 50's for a slew of small labels to worldwide acclaim in the 60's and 70's. Hopkins was one of the most recorded bluesmen of all time so assembling a show devoted to him is always a daunting task. On today's program I've pulled together a wide range of well known and lesser known gems from the 40's through the 60's that will hopefully give a good portrait of Hopkins' talent and his tremendous appeal with both white and black audiences. Today's notes are primarily drawn from the new book including the following from the introduction.

"Sam Lightnin Hopkins, at the time of his death in 1982,may have been the most frequently recorded blues artist in history. He was a singular voice in the history of Texas blues, exemplifying its country roots but at the same time reflecting its urban directions in the years after world War II. His music epitomized the hardships and aspirations of his own generation of African Americans, but it was also emblematic of the folk revival and its profound impact on a white audience.

Lightnin' Hopkins, Gold Star Publicity Photo

What distinguished Lightnin Hopkins was his virtuosity as a performer. He soaked up what was around him and put it all into his blues. He rambled on about anything that came to his mind: chuckholes in the road, gossip on the street, his rheumatism, his women, and the good times and bad men he met along the way. In his songs he could be irascible, but in the next verse he might be self-effacing. He prided himself on his individuality, even if it meant he was full of inconsistencies. He often poured out his feeling in his songs with a heart wrenching pathos, but it could be hard to tell if he was truly sincere. He peppered his lyrics with few actual details of his own life, but he was at once raw, mocking, extroverted, sarcastic and deadly serious. Most of the time, Lightnin' appeared to trust no one, yet he knew how to endear himself to the audience. While he voiced the hardships, yearnings, and foibles of African Americans in the gritty bump and grind of the juke joints of Third Ward Houston, he could be cocky and brash in his performances for white crowds at the Matrix in San Francisco, or at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, or at a concert hall in Europe, where he was in complete control and adored. …At its best, his blues were a seamless dialogue  between words and guitar, a largely improvised conversation not only between him  and his instrument, but also between him and those who were listening."

Hopkins career began in the 1920’s and stretched all the way into the 1980’s. His earliest blues influence was the legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson who he met around 1920, of whom Hopkins recalled "When I was just a little boy I went to hanging around Buffalo, Texas Blind Lemon he’d come and I’d just get alongside and start playing ." Throughout the ’20s and ’30s he traveled around Texas, usually in the company of recording star Texas Alexander. The pair was playing in Houston’s Third Ward in 1946 when talent scout Lola Anne Cullum came across them. She cut Alexander out of the deal and paired Hopkins with pianist Wilson “Thunder” Smith, getting the duo a recording contract for the Los Angles based Aladdin label. They recorded as “Thunder and Lightnin’”, a nickname Sam was to use for the rest of his life. A load of other labels recorded Hopkins after Aladdin, both in a solo context and with a small rhythm section: Modern/RPM (his “Tim Moore’s Farm” was an R&B hit in 1949); Gold Star (where he hit with “T-Model Blues” that same year); Sittin’ in With ("Give Me Central 209" and “Coffee Blues” were national chart hits in 1952) and its Jax subsidiary; the major labels Mercury and Decca; and, in 1954, some of his finest sides for the New York based Herald label. During this period Hopkins cut close to 200. Hopkins’ stopped recording for a five year stint in the late 50’s although singles by him were still being released. Fortunately, folklorist Sam Charters and Mack McCormick rediscovered the guitarist, who they presented as a folk-blues artist. Pioneering musicologist Sam Charters produced Hopkins in a solo context for Folkways Records in 1959, cutting an entire LP in Hopkins’ tiny apartment (on a borrowed guitar). The results helped introduced his music to an entirely new audience.

Lightnin' Hopkins at Sierra Sound,  Berkley, CA, 1961.
Photo by William Carter

By the early 1960’s Hopkins went from gigging at back-alley gin joints to starring at collegiate coffeehouses, appearing on TV programs, and touring Europe. He was recording more prolifically then ever, laying down albums for World Pacific, Vee-Jay, Bluesville, Bobby Robinson’s Fire label, Candid, Arhoolie, Verve and, in 1965, the first of several LP’s for Stan Lewis’ Shreveport-based Jewel logo. During the 70's his recording activity slowed, cutting just a handful of sessions for verve and Sonet with several live collections issued. He was still touring widely and made trips to Mexico, Japan and Germany.  After a final gig at Tramps in New York in November 1981 he returned to Houston where his health declined rapidly. He passed January 30, 1982.

As Govenar sums up: "In the end, regardless of the myths, and the inevitable mix of fact and fiction, Lightnin' was happy that his music had reached such a wide audience." And as Lightnin' close friend David Benson related: "I don't think that in his younger days he even imagined that there would be so many young people, so many white people,  who would have such a genuine appreciation of his sound.  He thought it was naive, but it was genuine. …he knew that the people who bought his records and came to hear him play genuinely cared." And as Govenar concludes: "When asked once about what made him different than anyone else, Lightnin' replied, 'A bluesman is just different from any other man that walks the earth. The blues is something that is hard to get acquainted with. Just like death. The blues dwell with you everyday and everywhere.'"

-Listen to the Alan Govenar interview (edited, MP3, 29 min.)

-Read an excerpt from the Lightnin' Hopkins biography

-Lightnin' Hopkins Obituary (New Musical Express, Alan Balfour, 1982)

Silas HoganI'm A Free-Hearted ManThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Rockin' DupseeThings I used To DoThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 30
Slim HarpoHarpo's BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 31
Sylvester BuckleyShe Treats Me So EvilThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Joe JohnsonAlimonia BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Mr. CalhounThey Call Me Mr. CalhounThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 3
Blue CharlieDon't Have No FriendsThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 3
Lazy LesterWhoa NowThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 7
Jimmy AndersonDraft Board BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 42
Buddy GuyI Hope You Come Back HomeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 55
Ramblin' Hi HarrisI Haven't Got A HomeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 55
Lonesome SundownIf You See My BabyThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 52
Fernest & The ThundersMother's LoveThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 57
Jimmy DotsonI Wanna KnowThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 3
Boogie JakeEarly Morning BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Lightnin' SlimNothin' But The DevilThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 12
Silas HoganMy Baby Walked OutThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Tabby ThomasHmmm I Don't CareThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 38
Bobby PriceMean Mean WomanThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 57
Lonesome SundownDon't GoThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 29
Leroy WashingtonYou Can't Trust NobodyThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 25
Clarence GarlowYou Gonna Get Old Some DayThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 28
Lazy LesterPoor Boy BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 16
Katie WebsterI Feel So LowThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 9
Lightnin' SlimI Can't Live HappyThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 27
Clarence LocksleyIf You See My Little WomanThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 55
Wild Bill PhillipsPebble In My ShoeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 55
Jimmy AndersonKeep On Naggin'The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 49
Leroy WashingtonI've Been To This PrisonThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 25
Lonesome SundownIt's Not TrueThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 8
Guitar GableLong Way From HomeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 36
Henry GrayCold ChillsThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 42
Slim HarpoThings Gonna ChangeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 4
Charles SheffieldI Would Be A SinnerThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 43
Clifton ChenierHey Ma MaThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 37

Show Notes:

Producer Jay Miller in his Crowley, Louisiana studio

Jay Miller operated a small studio and record label (Feature) out in Crowley, Louisiana. In addition to Feature, he had other small labels such as Fais Do-Do and Feature, Rocko (originally Rocket) and Zynn. He had been recording some regional Cajun and Country 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, with the help of disc jockey Diggy-Doo, 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 decided to travel to Nashville for a record convention in 1955. Miller met 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” issuing records by Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, Silas Hogan, Lonesome Sundown and many others. Of his unique sound, Miller said: “It wasn’t technical as far as audio but I had a sense of something. Maybe that was the best thing that could have happened. I didn’t know too much about it, I didn’t go by the book, because I went by these two things – my ears!!! I’ve had so many compliments about the sound I got.” He further explained: "I ran all my sessions myself. I gave them as much leeway from a 'feel' standpoint (as I could) but from a professional standpoint I took over there. In other words, I didn't want my artists to sing a song like I wanted it sung, as long as they had the feel, but if they didn't have the feel I was either gonna change songs or try to explain to them what we needed."

Read Liner Notes

It was Miller who gave most of his artists their nicknames as he recalled in a 1981 radio interview: "I always tried to pick one that suited the artist's personality, like Lazy Lester (laughs). And Lightnin' Slim; he was just so slow in anything he did …Lonesome Sundown, well Lonesome Sundown …didn't come in too early most of the time he was around. He'd come in late, or rather, he's come in early and take off and come back late, and there was something that struck me that Sundown was just the right pseudonym for him."

Miller recorded way more material then he could issue hence many recordings were never released. In the 70’s the Flyright label, with the assistance of Miller, began a series called the The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions to issue these unissued sides. The series ran to over fifty volumes. All the tracks from today's show come from those LP’s. Much of this music has not been reissued on CD. Below is some background on today's featured artists, most of the information gleaned from the liner notes. Additional information comes from John Broven's classic book South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous which goes into great detail about Miller and the artists he recorded.

It's worth quoting Bruce Bastin from his introduction to the series: "Close to South Louisiana bayou country, Crowley is the home of J.D. Miller's studio, responsible as much as any other factor for the sound we now know as the moody, loping blues of the Louisiana swamps. Many completely unknown artists found fleeting fame through Miller's recordings  and through the Excello issues of his recordings, he helped support one of the most consistent blues labels of the 1950's. Some of the finest of Miller's recordings were issued, often on his own labels – but not all! His present studio contains an awe-inspiring and perplexing array of masterpieces, many containing superb and unissued recordings. These are just a few of those…"

Miller scored his first big R&B hit on Excello with Guitar Gable’s infectious instrumental “Congo Mombo” in 1956, followed closely by the swamp-pop standard “Irene”, sung by Gable’s vocalist King Karl. For the next three years Guitar Gable and King Karl had regular singles on the Excello label, culminating in “This Should Go On Forever” which provided a top 20 hit for swamp-popper Rod Bernard. Not only this but Gable’s band was used as Miller’s session group, recording everything from swamp-blues to rock’n'roll. Gable’s and Karl's sides are collected on Cool Calm Collected – The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 36. As Bastin notes: "Miller reckoned Gable's band to be the most reliable R & B band at that time and he used it for a number of sessions, most notably Slim Harpo's first . Half dozen releases emerged on Excello over two years but Gable recorded many more tracks and as is typical with unreleased titles found in Miller's vaults, they were the equal of – and often
superior as blues – to many which were released."

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. 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. James Moore first came to Miller's studio in 1955. 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 Otis Hicks – Lightning Slim. Miller had used a number of harmonica players to back Lightning and late in 1955 Lightning brought with him his own man, Harmonica Slim, for a session " Harpo’s first record, “I’m A King Bee”, became a double-sided R&B hit. 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. Volumes 4, 20 and 31 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  are all devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Harpo's recordings.

Clifton Chenier hired Lonesome Sundown, whose’ real name was Cornelius Green, as one of his two guitarists (Phillip Walker being the other) in 1955. As Sundown recalled "After hearing about Jay Miller I brought a demo tape to his studio; you shoulda seen that studio. It was like a repair shop and studio combined. So closely combined you couldn't hardly tell which was which. Jay Miller asked me to bring the band by. We recorded a couple songs for him, but we soon split up." By 1956 he was back in Miller's studio and began recording fairly regularly." Over the next eight years, Sundown’s lowdown Excello output included a host of memorable swamp classics. In 1965 he retired from the blues business to devote his life to the church. It was 1977 before Sundown could be coaxed back into a studio to cut the excellent blues LP Been Gone Too Long. Sundown passed in 1994. Volumes 8, 29 and 52 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  are all devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Sundown's recordings.

Regarding Lightnin' Slim, Bruce Bastin wrote: "One of the few bluesmen whose nicknames were acquired before coming to Miller, Lightning had only been playing 6 years when he came to Miller's notice and became the second black artist that he recorded (Richard King of Crowley was the first). Lightning changed the whole focus of Miller's recordings. Following the success of the first blues releases on Miller's own Feature label, the emphasis of his recordings became directed towards blues and r'n b, and the pattern of Black Louisiana music on record emerged for the first time." Slim recorded for 12 years as an Excello artist, from 1954 to 1965, starting out originally on Miller’s Feature label. Between Feature and Excello Slim released some sixty tracks. 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. Volumes 5, 12, 27 and 47 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  are all devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Slim's recordings.

Read Liner Notes

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 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." Lester recorded first in 1957 and 15 Excello releases ensued over the next 9 years until Jay 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. Volumes 7 and 16 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  are all devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Lester's recordings.

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." Volume  32 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions is devoted to Hogan's recordings and one of the tracks gives today's show its title.

Read Liner Notes

Jimmy Dotson was a small part of an active Baton Rogue blues scene of the 1950’s. Miller documented many of these artists including Lazy Lester, Slim Harpo and Jimmy Anderson 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."

Local guitarist Ashton Savoy took Katie Webster under his wing, sharing her 1958 debut 45 for the Kry logo with her. Webster rapidly became an invaluable studio musician for Miller in Crowley and Eddie Shuler in Lake Charles. She played on sides by Guitar Junior (Lonnie Brooks), Clarence Garlow, Jimmy Wilson, Lazy Lester, and many others. She also waxed some terrific sides of her own for Miller from 1959 to 1961 for his Rocko, Action, and Spot labels. As Bruce Bastin writes: "Katie Webster is best known as Jay Miller's most frequently used session pianist, backing a diversity of artists from blues to rockabilly and pop. …As an accompanying pianist, she has few peers in postwar blues but the musical legacy that she left with Miller is broader than might at first be expected." Volumes 48, and 49 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  are devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Webster's  recordings.

Read Liner Notes

Tabby Thomas probably spans a longer recording history with 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." As Ray Templeton writes: "Tabby Thomas holds a unique record in relation to the Jay Miller operation at Crowley, Louisiana.  He is the only artist to have had his work issued on Miller's own labels Feature, Rocko and Zynn, as well as on Excello…" Volume 56 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  is devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Tabby's  recordings.

Little is known about Leroy Washington, who recorded several sessions between 1957 and 1961 for Miller. He was recalled by Miller as perhaps his favorite blues guitarist.  He only released a handful of sides, however, he had recorded a considerable legacy of material for Miller, which had lain unissued until this series. As Bruce Bastin writes: "Like another fine Miller guitarist, Guitar Gable,  Leroy Washington was from Opelousas.  …Washington's polite, easy-going nature and keenness to record made him a highly suitable artist for Miller, who carefully built up his artist's sessions, in order to create a satisfactory potential "hit' record. Three couplings submitted by Miller to Ernie Young of the Nashboro Record Co. saw release on his Excello label in 1958-59 but Miller clearly submitted material which did not find favor." Volume 25 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  is devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Washington's  recordings.

Clarence Garlow waxed his first sides for the Macy’s label in 1949, scoring a minor hit with “Bon Ton Roula.” Garlow next session was for Miller’s Feature label in 1951, cutting further sessions for Miller in 1954 and 1958. Garlow's sides for Miller are collected on The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 28.

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 fro Baton Rogue, was too much in jimmy Ree'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. Ten tracks by Anderson appear across several volumes of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions.

Henry Gray was born in Kenner, Louisiana, in January, 1925, but raised near Baton Rouge at Alsen. He headed to Chicago where he appeared on many definitive Chicago blues sessions of the 1950's backing artists like Jimmy Rogers, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and others. In 1956, he joined Howlin' Wolf"s band and was Wolf's main piano player for twelve years in performance and on recordings. He returned to Louisiana in 1968 and within a few years cut some sides for Miller in 1970.

Read Liner Notes

Miller was involved in recording several Zydeco sessions which are collected on Zydeco Blues – The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 14 and Zydeco Blues Vol. 2 – The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 37 and Rockin' With Dupsee – The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 30. In addition to  Rockin’ Dupsee, who recorded sessions for Miller between 1970 and 1974, Miller also recorded Clifton Chenier (1958-1959), Fernest Arceneaux, Marcel Dugas and Joseph Bo. Miller was one of the earliest producer to record Chenier and issued three couplings on his own Zynn label having found no interest shown by Nashville's Excello label.

Miller recorded several fine bluesman who remain little known but cut some superb music. Featured today are cuts by singer/harmonica player Sylvester Buckley who played on some sides by Lazy Lester and Silas Hogan. He recorded four sides circa 1962/63 that were unissued. There was Monroe Vincent who recorded as Mr. Calhoun for Miller and as Vince Monroe. He moved to New Orleans where he recorded as Polka Dot Slim for Instant. Charles Sheffield was a fine big voiced singer from Lake Charles who cut sessions released on Rocko in 1959 and Excello in 1961. Also from Lake Charles was Blue Charlie(Charlie Morris) who cut sessions for Miller in 1957 and 1958 with many titles unreleased. There were the tough guitar blues of the mysterious Ramblin' Hi Harris who waxed just three sides for Miller and Joe Johnson who cut a handful of strong sides for Miller in 1966 and 1967. There was fine down-home players like harmonica blower Wild Bill Phillips who backed Lightnin' Slim on some sessions and on his brilliant cover of Boozoo Chavis'  "Pebble In My Shoe" and guitarist Clarence Locksley who's backed on percussion by Lazy Lester with Miller himself playing guitar on one cut. Miller recalled of  Locksley: "He thought a meter was something you put a nickel in." Also worth mentioning is a track supposedly by Buddy Guy, "I Hope You Come Back Home." The track was found in 1978 on a tape box marked Lonesome Sundown. It is known that on at least one occasion Guy traveled to Crowley to back Lightnin' Slim and Miller could have auditioned and recorded Guy.


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