1960’s Blues

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.



Show Notes:

Stan Lewis is the owner of the seminal blues/R&B/gospel/rock label Jewel-Paula-Ronn-Records. In 1948, Lewis opened a record store, Stan's Record Shop, on Texas Street in Shreveport, LA. Lewis became a one-stop operator (other record stores would buy from him) and distributor of independent record labels: Atlantic, Chess, Modern, Specialty, and Imperial. Lewis began a mail-order operation, advertising on John R's (and others) nightly blues/R&B show on Nashville's WLAC-AM, whose powerful clear channel nighttime signal was heard in most parts of the country. The record entrepreneur began to write and produce R&B and rock & roll acts. Fellow Louisianan Dale Hawkins' 1957 number 27 pop hit on Chess, "Susie Q," was written about Lewis' daughter Susan.  Lewis founded Jewel Records in 1963 in Shreveport, LA. He started off his new Jewel label with #728, which was his store's address (728 Texas Street in Shreveport, Louisiana), with a single by Louisiana singer/songwriter Bobby Charles. In all, Stan Lewis issued 13 singles on Jewel in 1964, were fairly forgettable. The next year, after moving some artists to the pop/country oriented Paula subsidiary, Lewis issued 14 more singles on Jewel, mostly blues-oriented material. He signed Ted Taylor, Peppermint Harris, Cookie and His Cupcakes, and Jerry McCain, among others. His first national chart record, though, was by the Carter Brothers, with "Little Country Boy" [Jewel 745], which reached #21 on the R&B charts in the summer. At the start of 1966, Stan Lewis moved into a new field with gospel.  Although Jewel's new gospel series only issued 6 singles in 1966, it would eventually include almost 300 singles. Jewel issued 21 singles in 1966 on the including blues by Frank Frost and "Wild Child" Butler. The year 1967 brought fifteen more singles and the start of an LP series. New artists included Ray Agee, Bobby Powell, Big Mac and blues Lightnin' Hopkins. Hopkins recorded the first album on Jewel, Blue Lightnin', and the next two as well. The Jewel Blues series only issued five singles in 1968, and nine in 1969. New artist signings for 1968- 69 included the Roman Carter (of the Carter Brothers), Little Joe Blue, and veteran Lowell Fulson. Over the next few years, Lewis would also sign blues veterans Charles Brown, Roosevelt Sykes, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, and others. The series lasted until Jewel 852 in 1977. The Jewel label had three subsidiary labels; Paula, Ronn and Sue. In later years he aquired and reissued 1950's blues recordings of defunct labels like JOB, Cobra and Chief.

Lightnin' Hopkins who was given the first album on Jewel, Blue Lightnin', and in fact the next two albums. Hopkins and Stan Lewis got along well (an instrumental on the second Jewel album was called "Mr. Stan, the Hip Hit Record Man"), and Lewis remarked that he probably recorded more songs by Hopkins than any other artist. In all Hopkins cut over 40 sides for the label between 1965 and 1969. All these sides were issued by Westside as the 2-CD set Fishing Clothes: The Jewel Recordings 1965-1969.

Texas R&B singer Peppermint Harris is best known for two early-'50s hits, the classic "Rainin' in My Heart" and "I Get Loaded." Harris arguably did his best work with Jewel Records. While he didn't have any huge hits between 1965 and 1971, the length of his stay at Jewel, Harris nonetheless produced some excellent sides. All of these are collected on Westside's Lonesome as I Can Be: The Jewel Recordings.

Wild Child Butler was gigging professionally as a bandleader by the late '50s, but his recording career didn't blossom until he moved to Chicago in 1966 and signed with Jewel Records (his sidemen on these sessions included bassist Willie Dixon and guitarist Jimmy Dawkins). He cut eight singles for the label in 1966 and 1967.

Buster Benton was a member of Dixon's Blues All-Stars for a while, and Dixon is credited as songwriter of Benton's best-known song, "Spider in My Stew." Its release on the Jewel label gave Benton a taste of fame; its follow-up, "Money Is the Name of the Game," solidified his reputation. He cut A 1979 LP for Jewel's Ronn subsidiary titled Spider in My Stew.

Little Joe Blues recorded for various labels, including Kent and Chess's Checker Records division during the early to mid-'60s. In 1966 when he racked up a modest hit in 1966 with the song "Dirty Work Is Going On," which has since become a blues standard. He had extended stints with Jewel Records and Chess from the late '60s into the early '70s, and recorded until the end of the 1980s. He died in 1990.

Jerry McCain cut a series singles between 1965-1968 for Jewel Records, including a tailor-made tribute to the company, "728 Texas (Where the Action Is)" (Jewel's address). These sides have been collected on Absolutely The Best – The Complete Jewel Singles 1965 – 1972.

Frank Frost moved to St. Louis in 1951, learning how to blow harp first from Little Willie Foster and then from the legendary Sonny Boy Williamson, who took him on the road — as a guitar player — from 1956 to 1959. Drummer Sam Carr, a longtime Frost friend, enticed Frost to front his combo in 1954 before hooking up with Sonny Boy. Frost and Carr settled in Lula, MS. Guitarist Jack Johnson came aboard in 1962. The three cut Hey Boss Man!, issued on Sun's Phillips International subsidiary as by Frank Frost and the Nighthawks. Elvis Presley's ex-guitarist Scotty Moore produced Frost's next sessions in Nashville in 1966 for Jewel Records.

The Carter Brothers recorded for Jewel Records, among other labels. Roman Carter (lead vocals, bass), Albert Carter (guitar), and Jerry Carter (vocals, piano) came from Garland, AL, and began recording in 1964 for producer/songwriter Duke Coleman's local label. Stan Lewis' Jewel Records licensed a pair of their singles, of which "Southern Country Boy" got to number 21 on the R&B charts nationally. They never cut an album, but before splitting up in 1967 the trio recorded more than a dozen single sides. Lead singer Roman Carter some cut solo singles for Jewel as well. All of the Jewel sides can be found on Westside's Blues on Tour: The Jewel Recordings 1965-1969.

Lowell Fulson cut sides for Jewel in 1969 and issued the LP In a Heavy Bag in 1969. Hooker released the LP I Feel Good in 1971, which featured Lowell Fulson on taking lead on most tracks.

Lewis was still active in the music business in the '90s, working with Southern soul singers Carl Sims and Vickie Baker. A Jewel Records boxed set was issued by Capricorn Records in 1993. Tiring of the rigors of trying to run a competitive independent record label in a major-label dominated industry, Lewis decided to offer Jewel for sale while still retaining control of his music publishing companies.



Show Notes:

Newspaper photo of Son House, and a July 14
Rochester Times-Union article about his comeback.

"I'm talking about the blues now, I ain't talkin' about no monkey junk"

Today's title come from a term Son House used often as his biographer Dan Beaumont explains: "House had an amusing phrase he would use when asked about the blues being played in the 1960's. It was a phrase he used to dismiss much of the blues music of that period. ‘It’s not the blues,’ he would say. ‘It’s just a lot of monkey junk.’ The blues so dominated House’s life-we have now established the price that he had paid for it-that a period in which he all but ceased playing it may well have seemed to him simply so much ‘monkey junk.’” As anyone who's listened to Son House knows, there was nothing frivolous or gimmicky about Son's blues. In his hands the blues were a gripping, all consuming feeling:

You know, the blues ain't nothin' but a low-down shakin', low-down shakin', achin' chill
I say the blues is a low-down, old, achin' chill
Well, if you ain't had 'em, honey, I hope you never will

Well, the blues, the blues is a worried heart, is a worried heart, heart disease
Oh, the blues is a worried old heart disease

(The Jinx Blues Part 1, 1942)

Today's show is our annual tribute to Son House who created some of the most visceral and gripping blues of the 1930's and 40's and who emerged after two decades to find himself bewilderingly hailed as a blues hero to young white audiences around the world. It's with a matter of pride that Son's comeback came in my adopted hometown of Rochester, NY. Over the years I met numerous people who fondly recalled Son House here in Rochester and when I started doing my yearly radio birthday tributes it brought even more people out of the woodwork who gladly shared their memories with me. So it’s puzzling that the city has never honored Son in anyway. For years myself and others thought someone should rectify this sorry state of affairs; a plaque, a statue or something to honor one of the pivotal figures in blues history. The sad fact is there is nothing tangible in this city that shows Son ever made this city his home for a good part of his life (1943-1976). It's worth noting that Son does have a plaque in Tunica, MS as part of the Mississippi Commission's Blues Trail.

2009 Hot Blues For The Homeless …A Tribute To Son House Poster

Next week marks the third Hot Blues For The Homeless concert I put on with several other dedicated folks.  Now billed as Hot Blues For The Homeless …A Tribute To Son House,  we had a fantastic turn out last year, raised a good deal of money for the Rochester homeless and hopefully raised some awareness about Son House. If you live in Rochester, live close by are just visiting on June 7th make sure to help us celebrate the memory of Son House.

On today's program we start out by playing the bulk of Son's legendary Paramount recordings. In 1930, Arthur Laibley who had produced Charlie Patton’s last session for Paramount, stopped in Lula to arrange another session with Patton. Patton was famous throughout the Delta and had already recorded close to forty sides for the label. Patton told Laibley about House and about two other musicians Willie Brown and Louise Johnson, setting the stage for one of the blues most legendary recording sessions. The group headed to the Paramount studios in Grafton, WI, where House recorded six songs at the session, three of which were long enough to fill both sides of a 78: "Dry Spell Blues," "Preachin’ The Blues," and "My Black Mama." Two songs, "Clarksdale Moan" and "Mississippi County Farm Blues" were issued as a 78, with a lone copy surfacing just recently. In September 2005, a collector announced he had obtained the lost "Clarksdale Moan" 78 in reasonably decent condition. The details of this discovery are not known to the public as the collector has chosen to remain anonymous. On April 4, 2006, both "Clarksdale Moan" and "Mississippi County Farm Blues" were released on the collection The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of from Yazoo Records. While "Clarksdale Moan" is a previously unknown song, "Mississippi County Farm Blues" is an earlier (and faster) version of a song Son House later recorded at his Library of Congress recording session in 1941. The unissued test of "Walking Blues" we spin was not found until 1985.

Rochester Times-Union article about Son House from July 6, 1964. This is the first article written about Son's rediscovery.

Despite the disappointing sales of his records, for House the Grafton experience marked the beginning of a long musical friendship with Willie Brown. For much of the 30’s House reverted to his former pattern of preaching and then going back to the blues, usually at the prompting of Brown. He and Brown played all over the Delta as well as Arkansas and Tennessee for the rest of the 1930’s. In August of 1941 the folklorist Alan Lomax found House working as a tractor driver on a plantation near Robinsonville. House took Lomax a few miles north to Lake Cormorant where Willie Brown lived. They rounded up two other musicians, Fiddlin’ Joe Martin and Leroy Williams. Behind Clack’s general store, House recorded five songs for Lomax. The next summer in July, House recorded, unaccompanied, ten more songs for Lomax.

A year after the Library of Congress sides House vanished, or did the next best thing which was to move to Rochester, NY. More than two decades would pass before he would resurface. On June 23rd of 1964, Dick Waterman, Phil Spiro and Nick Perls found House living on 61 Grieg Street in Rochester, NY. Waterman became Son’s manager and the following year he was signed to Columbia and played the Newport Folk Festival. Son had several good years on the comeback trail; he toured the US playing folk festivals and the coffeehouse circuit and he did tours of Europe as well. He also performed locally in Rochester. From these later years we spin several tracks for his superb comeback album Father Of The Delta Blues plus several live cuts.

Also on today's program is my good friend Dan Beaumont. University of Rochester professor Dan Beaumont discusses  his forthcoming book, Preachin' the Blues: The Life And Music Of Son House. This is the first full-length biography of Son House and will be published by Oxford University Press in 2010. Dan will also be reading excerpts from the book at the workshop component of the Hot Blues event. in addition we also play a couple of clips of Dick Waterman talking about Son from an interview I conducted with Dick several years ago and who was a guest at last year's event.



Show Notes:

For today's show we continue with our ongoing series I call Forgotten Blues Heroes. For this installment we spotlight four great bluesmen who didn't get the opportunity to record until the 1960's and 1970's: Scott Dunbar, Bill Williams, Babe Stovall and Frank Hovington. As the blues historian Paul Oliver wrote: "Throughout the Sixties, it seemed there was one 'discovery' or 'rediscovery' of a blues singer after another; a succession of methodical searches, happy accidents and dramatic events which brought not only a number of legendary figures to life, but also revealed that the wealth of talent in the black traditions had been even greater than might have been supposed."

All of today's featured artists were old enough to have been recorded earlier but opportunity passed them by until the blues revival of the 1960's. In addition to the resurrection of the legendary artists of the past like Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White and Skip James there were a slew of older artists uncovered who got a chance to make some recordings such as Mississippi Fred McDowell, Robert Pete Williams and Mance Lipscomb to name a few. 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. The benefit wasn't in sales of records so much as it was the fact that these recordings would be an entry way into the festival and coffeehouse circuit. Unfortunately many of these small labels never lasted into the CD era and hence many great albums remain long out of print. The bulk of today's recordings fall into that category.

Scott Dunbar

In the notes to his sole album, From Lake Mary issued on the Ahura Mazda label in 1970, Karl Micheal Wolfe wrote that "Today Scott Dunbar is a fisherman and guide on Lake Mary, father of six, and resident blues singer of Woodville and rural Wilkinson County, Mississippi. There everyone knows old Scott. We hope this record will make him known to a wider audience." Prior to the recordings in 1970 Dunbar was recorded by Frederic Ramsey, Jr. in 1954 as part of field recordings done under a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Ramsey's recordings appeared on the ten volume series Music from the South on Folkways with four of Dunbar's recordings on Music From The South Vol. 5: Song, Play And Dance and one side on Music From The South Vol. 10: Been Here And Gone. Three more issued sides were recorded in 1968, which appeared on the album Blues From The Delta, the companion album to William Ferris' influential book of the same name.

Dunbar gave up the juke joints because they were too dangerous and in later years played primarily for whites. William Ferris wrote in Blues From The Delta that "I recorded thirty-seven songs during my visits with Dunbar and of these, two thirds were sung white style in the key of C. " The thirteen songs on From Lake Mary are mostly blues, likely selected to appeal to the blues revival market while the vast majority of recordings from this session have not been issued, forty-eight unissued sides in total.  At lengthy recording sessions n February, April and August of 1970 Dunbar proves to be a true songster, laying down songs like "Wabash Cannonball", "Sally Good'n", "Blue Heaven", "Tennessee Waltz" and  "You Are My Sunshine." In 1994 Fat Possum reissued From Lake Mary on CD with no additional tracks.Dunbar passed away at the age of 90 in 1994 with his death largely unnoticed outside of a couple of obituaries in blues magazines and a recorded legacy of  nineteen issued sides.

Bill Williams, was a 72-year old bluesman from Greenup, Kentucky, when he made his debut for Blue Goose in the early 1970's. Stephen Calt wrote that "The previously unrecorded Williams ranks among the most polished and proficient living traditional bluesmen, and has a large repertoire embracing ragtime, hillbilly, and even pop material. He is also the only known living associate of Blind Blake, his own favorite guitarist. …Disbelief is the inevitable reaction to incredible Bill Williams, a former partner of Blind Blake who is without doubt the most technically accomplished living country blues guitarist. …While living in Bristol, Tennessee in the early 1920's Bill met the peerless Blind Blake who was then living with an elderly woman (perhaps a relative) in a desolate nearby country area. For four months Bill worked as Blake's regular second guitarist…" Williams cut just two LP's, both for Blue Goose: Low And Lonesome and The Late Bill Williams 'Blues, Rags and Ballads plus had one song on the anthology These Blues Is Meant To Be Barrelhoused.

From the notes to The Late Bill Williams 'Blues, Rags and Ballads, Stephen Calt wrote: "For a guitarist of such uncommon ability Bill Williams enjoyed an all-too brief period of public recognition. Within fifteen minutes of the time he first picked up an instrument in 1908 he was accomplished enough to play a song, but he was still completely unknown beyond his home town of Greenup, Kentucky before Blue Goose recorded him in the fall of 1970 and issued an album (Low and Lonesome) that brought him unqualified acclaim as a 73-year old folk find. A brief series of concert engagements (notably at the Smithsonian Institution and the Mariposa Folk Festival) followed, along with an extended recording session in New York, before a heart ailment brought about his musical retirement. In October of 1973, nearly three years to the day of his recording debut, he was fatally stricken in his sleep. This memorial album and its soon to be released sequel will constitute the remainder of Bill's musical legacy."

Jewell "Babe" Stovall was a Mississippi-born songster who was born in 1907 in Tylertown, MS, Babe was the youngest of 11 children, most of them musicians. Stovall learned guitar when he was around eight years old, and was soon playing breakdowns, frolics, and parties in the area, even meeting and learning "Big Road Blues" from Tommy Johnson. He moved to Franklinton, LA, in the 1930s, and split his time between there and Tylertown for several years, picking up whatever work he could as a farmhand. In 1964 he moved to New Orleans, where he was "discovered" working as a street singer in the French Quarter, his act featuring crowd-pleasing antics like playing his National Steel guitar behind his head and shouting out his song lyrics in a voice so loud that it carried well down the street. He recorded an LP for Verve in 1964, simply titled Babe Stovall (re-released on CD by Flyright in 1990), and did further sessions in 1966 released on Southern Sound as The Babe Stovall Story and with Bob West in 1968 (which form the basis of The Old Ace: Mississippi Blues & Religious Songs, released on Arcola in 2003), and became active on the folk and blues college circuit, as well as holding down a house gig at the Dream Castle Bar in New Orleans. Stovall died in 1974 in New Orleans.

Bruce Bastin called Frank Hovington or Guitar Frank as he was also known, "one of the finest singers to have been recorded during the 1970's…steeped in a tradition which is as much part of him as is the countryside about him." Bastin and Dick Spotswood recorded Frank in 1975, issuing the album Lonesome Road Blues on the Flyright label (reissued in 2000 as Gone With The Wind with several additional tracks). Frank was still in fine form when he reluctantly agreed to perform for Axel Küstner and Siegfried Christmann in 1980. The results were issued as part of their remarkable Living Country Blues series. Hovington started on ukulele and banjo as a child and teamed with Willliam Walker in the late '30s and '40s playing at house parties and dances in Frederica, Pennsylvania. Hovington moved to Washington D.C. in the late '40s, and backed such groups as Stewart Dixon's Golden Stars and Ernest Ewin's Jubilee Four. Hovington moved to Delaware in 1967 where he passed in 1982.


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