Sun 7 Apr 2013
|Peter Lowry||Southeast Blues|
|Blind Boy Fuller||Truckin' My Blues Away||Blind Boy Fuller: Remastered 1935-1938|
|Peter Lowry||1969/Buddy Moss|
|Buddy Moss||Hey Lawdy Mama||The George Mitchell Collection Volumes 1-45|
|Peter Lowry||1970/Back Down South|
|Eddie Kirkland||Going Back To Mississippi||The Complete Trix Recordings|
|Peter Lowry||Birth of Trix Records|
|Baby Tate||You Can Always Tell||Another Man Done Gone|
|Peter Lowry||Meeting Baby Tate|
|Baby Tate||Bad Gasoline||Another Man Done Gone|
|Peter Lowry||Baby Tate's Death|
|Peter Lowry||Meeting Willie Trice|
|Willie Trice||Trying to Find My Baby||Blue And Rag'd
|Peter Lowry||Peg Leg Sam/The Last Medicine Show|
|Peg Leg Sam||Hand Me Down||The Last Medicine Show|
|Peter Lowry||More Peg Leg Sam|
|Peter Lowry||Meeting Henry Johnson|
|Henry Johnson||Little Sally Jones||The Union County Flash|
|Peter Lowry||Henry Johnson/Chapel Hill Concerts|
|Henry Johnson||Sittin' Down Thinkin'||Carolina Country Blues|
|Peter Lowry||Guitar Shorty|
|Guitar Shorty||Now Tell Me Baby||Alone In His Field
|Peter Lowry||Meeting John Cephas|
|John Cephas||Naylor Rag||Unreleased|
|Peter Lowry||Big Chief Ellis|
|Big Chief Ellis||All Down Blues||Big Chief Ellis|
|Peter Lowry||Tarheel Slim|
|Tarheel Slim||Screaming and Crying||No Time At All|
|Homesick James||Live Life Over||Goin' Back Home|
|Peter Lowry||Homesick James & Honeyboy Edwards|
|Honeyboy Edwards||Ride With Me Tonight||I've Been Around|
|Peter Lowry||Robert Lockwood|
|Robert Lockwood||Forever On My Mind||The Complete Trix Recordings|
|Peter Lowry||Following Leads/Roy Dunn|
|Roy Dunn||Do That Boogie||Unreleased|
|Cecil Barfield||Sugar Coated Love||Unreleased|
|Turner Foddrell||Crow Jane||Unreleased|
|Ira Joiner Jr.||Doin' The Natural Thing||Unreleased|
|Pete Lowry & Tarheel Slim 1970s. Photo by Valerie Vilmer.|
Today’s show is a sequel, of sorts, to a show I did several years back focusing on the recordings made by Peter Lowry. Lowry did not go to Mississippi, did not discover long lost bluesmen from the 1920's but in his voluminous research, writing and recording has charted his own path, becoming the most renowned expert on the blues of the Southeast and is credited with coining the term Piedmont Blues. Between 1969 and 1980 he amassed hundreds of photographs, thousands of selections of recordings, music and interviews in his travels through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Lowry set up the Trix Records label in 1972 starting with a series of 45's with LP's being released by 1973. It lasted about a decade as an active label dealing mainly with Piedmont blues artists from the Southeastern states with seventeen albums. Other recordings were issued on the Flyright label, a label formed in 1970 by Mike Leadbitter, Simon Napier and Bruce Bastin. Lowry's issued recordings are just the tip of the iceberg with unreleased recordings far exceeding what was commercially released. Lowry estimates there could be enough material for eighty CD's. Today we spotlight Lowry's recordings as issued on Trix and Flyright, some unreleased material and interview I conducted with Peter a few weeks back (an edited version of the interview can be found below). The notes that follow come mainly from articles I've written previously on Peter's recordings.
Lowry refers to his recordings as "controlled field recordings", often done in hotel rooms or someone'ss home with an emphasis on getting the sound right at the start, there was not option of fixing it in the mix afterwards. In an article by Valerie Wilmer [Wilmer, Valerie. “Lowry’s Bag of Trix.” Melody Maker (13 Oct 1973)] she goes on to explain how Lowry operated in the field: "Lowry will be back from his third field trip in 12 months at the end of the year. He does all his traveling by Volkswagen bus, accompanied by a faithful hound and no less than eight guitars. One such trip lasted five months and netted enough material for 20 albums, all of which he will be processing himself. 'I said, 'Christ, I've got an awful lot of stuff here-there's no sense in farting around with other people, I'll do it myself.' The guitars are needed because often the people he encounters have not played for a while or else their existing instrument may be in bad shape, rattling or buzzing. 'I've always tried to keep a clean sound on my recordings unlike most of the so-called field work'… I'm not just an out-and-out field recorder, nor do I use a studio as such. I usually say that the best sound-quality stuff I do is sort of in a Holiday Inn recording studio in whatever town I happen to be staying. You know, if it's not too cool where they're living or something, we go back to the hotel room.'"
|Baby Tate, photo by Pete Lowry.|
As for the nature of field recording and researching it's worthwhile to quote Bruce Bastin, author of the classic Red River Blues and running mate of Lowry's, on some of their experiences: "Armchair research can never replace the infectious pleasure of personal contact, or indeed the streetwise experiences of fieldwork at the very edges of existence. …Talk to Bengt Olsson about his times in Tennessee and Alabama. Talk to Pete Lowry about his (sadly unsuccessful) endeavors to record Buddy Moss… Talk also to us about our meeting with rednecks in Edgecomb County, North Carolina…or with Newton County, Georgia, police for 'consorting with blacks'… " On the other hand were plenty of positive experiences: "How do you replace memories of hearing Guitar Shorty perform at Chapel Hill's Endangered Species bar, packed with professors and 'kitty money'… Or watching a genuinely excited Buddy Moss play a stunning 'Chesterfield' on his battered guitar one hot August afternoon at his home? Or seeing Henry Johnson play slide guitar flat across his lap, Hawaiian style, at home and some time later stroll into Chapel Hill's TV station with a petrified Elester Anderson, casually watch a quartet finish playing Mozart and pack up, then settle down to back Elester (whom he'd never met before) on 'Red River Blues'… Or of tracing Floyd Council via the local cab company's switchboard? Or meeting the truly larger-than-life character Peg Leg Sam?"
It's useful to provide some background on Lowry's activities just prior to setting up Trix. Most of what follows is extracted from my correspondence with Lowry in response to questions I posed and by its nature is highly condensed. "I had not attempted field recording prior to 1970… Bastin and I hooked up in 1969 to look for 78's using my car as our transport in the SE (successfully)…and went back the next year. I figured that I should do more than just drive the car, so I purchased a tape recorder (Uher 4200, 1/2 track stereo, 5" reels). A series of pieces for Blues Unlimited came out of the '69 trip. …Bruce and I were focused in 1970 on collecting material for a book, as he had been asked to do one in the Studio Vista series off of our BU series of articles, resulting in Crying for the Carolines (the basis for Red River Blues). We WORKED for a solid month, doing library research (city directories were helpful, especially when there were back issues – in the old days, there was (c) after a name for 'colored', so that helped eliminate similar names. Then, vital statistics also were not so closed to non-family members – folks who helped us in the early years had to stop [legally] later on). Next-of-kin were often still findable. Those research tools were suggested by Gayle Dean Wardlow. We started with a copy of Godrich & Dixon and known names, likely 'home' locations of those who had made recordings pre-war, and worked from there. …There was NOBODY 'working' the SE when we attacked it, for Mitchell had wandered off to the sainted MS stuff, where the little work being done was being done. We broke 'new' ground, if you will, in part encouraged by BU editor Simon Napier. …Most of the info Bruce used for his books came from my/our work…"
While it may be impossible to quantify, the fact is there was quite a number of quality blues players to be found and quite a number of them in the Southeast region as Lowry optimistically stated to Valerie Wilmer: "'I never really believed all that stuff about the blues being dead,'" he said, 'As with other celebrities who said 'my death has been greatly exaggerated', so the blues. I think it's been submerged beneath the overlay of modern black pop music, but hell-you go down through Georgia and the Carolinas and there's still country-suppers. Peg Leg Sam still goes around busking in the streets, blowing his harp and collecting quarters and dollars.'" What follows is some background on today's featured artists:
Baby Tate spent the bulk of his life as a sideman, playing with musicians like Blind Boy Fuller, Pink Anderson, and Peg Leg Sam. As a teenager he began playing with Blind Boy Fuller. In the early 1950's, Tate moved to Spartanburg, SC, where he performed both as a solo act and as a duo with Pink Anderson. Tate and Anderson performed as duo into the 1970's. In 1962, Tate recorded his first album, See What You Done, for Bluesville. Tate was one of Lowry's closest musician friends. Lowry said, "My plan…was to really record him in depth. He was just an incredible person and a wonderful person to deal with. I can't say I'm satisfied with what I've got on tape because I know he could do three times more and a lot better. But just having been around him and dealt with him and lived with him, there's a degree of satisfaction. …The first person to be recorded by me in 1970, a wonderful informant, and a very good friend – he came up to New Paltz to perform at a Spring festival in '72, partly w. Larry Johnson. He also played a coffee house near Albany, NY that same weekend thanks to Kip Lornell. He had a great time – then he died that summer. That made me a man possessed; 'do as much as you can before they all die off' took a hold of me! The rest is history." Peter recorded Tate extensively in 1970 but, outside of one 45 and a couple of tracks issued on anthology, this material remains unissued.
|Read Booklet (PDF)|
"Recording is an accident, isn't it?! Had it not been for me, Henry Johnson and Peg Leg Sam would have been unheard…" Lowry notes. Peg Leg Sam was a member of what may have been the last authentic traveling medicine show, a harmonica virtuoso, and an extraordinary entertainer. Born Arthur Jackson, he acquired his nickname after a hoboing accident in 1930. His medicine show career began in 1938, giving his last medicine show performance in 1972 in North Carolina, and was still in fine form when he started making the rounds of folk and blues festivals in his last years. Lowry captured Sam and Chief Thundercloud (the last traveling medicine show) on the Flyright album The Last Medicine Show. There's also some footage of the medicine show act in the film Born For Hard Luck. Sam delivered comedy routines, bawdy toasts, monologues, performed tricks with his harps (often playing two at once) and served up some great blues (sometimes with a guitar accompanist, but most often by himself). Lowry released one album by Sam, Medicine Show Man, and he recorded only once more for Blue Labor in 1975 which was originally issued under the title Joshua and subsequently reissued as Early In The Morning and Peg Leg Sam with Louisiana Red.
The sessions by Henry Johnson, his first recording, was a result of Peg Leg Sam pushing his good friend to record. "I feel Henry Johnson is the finest finger-picking blues artist to come along in a hell of a long time, and this album should demonstrate that with ease" Lowry wrote in the notes to The Union County Flash!, his lone album. "It was Sam who introduced us (Bastin and I) to Henry…His musicianship was surpassed only by his magnificent voice – I have UNC concert tapes where he plays piano, Hawaiian guitar, and harp w. his guitar… he stuck it in his mouth and worked without a rack (like Harmonica Frank)!" Johnson died 19 1974, shortly after the record was released and there is enough material in the can for another release. Lowry wrote" his 'compleat' talent will never be heard by those who never saw him in person."
Roy Dunn was one of the last links to the rich Atlanta pre-war blues scene; he had played with Curley Weaver., Buddy Moss and Blind Willie McTell. Know'd Them All is his only album. "This, his only album", Lowry wrote, is as complete a representation of the talents of Roy S. Dunn (a/k/a James Clavin Speed) as could be compiled, and his talents deserve another listening." Dunn passed in 1988.
Willie Trice and his brother Richard became close friends with Blind Boy Fuller and Fuller took them up to New York where they cut six sides together (two unissued) for Decca in 1937. Richard Trice recorded after the war for Savoy in 1946 as Little Boy Fuller as well as a couple of sides in 1948 and 1952/53. Lowry recorded him but those recordings remain unreleased. Unlike many of his fellow musician friends, Willie always had a day job and it wasn't until the 1970's that he recorded again. Blue And Rag'd , his sole album, was released on Trix in 1973. "Willie Trice", Lowry wrote" was one of those special people – not just in my life, but in the lives of most everyone who chanced to meet him. We had some sort of special, almost mystical connection… I would irregualry just appear unannounced at the door of his mother's house and he'd be sitting there waiting for me. He would tell me that he had dreamed of me that night and therefore knew that I was going to be there to see him the next day."
|Read Liner Notes|
"Homesick" James Williamson 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 1930's. Homesick made some of his finest sides in 1952-53 for Art Sheridan's Chance Records (including the classic "Homesick" that gave him his enduring stage name). He also worked extensively as a sideman, backing harp great Sonny Boy Williamson in 1945 at a Chicago joint called the Purple Cat and during the 1950's with his cousin Elmore James who he also recorded with. Homesick's own output included 45's for Colt and USA in 1962, a fine 1964 album for Prestige plus albums for Bluesway, Big Bear, Earwig and Fedora among others. He cut the solo Goin' Back Home for Trix of which Lowry said "I think that ‘my' solo album is the best thing he ever did."
Born in Alabama, Eddie Kirkland headed to Detroit in 1943. There he hooked up with John Lee Hooker five years later, recording with him for several firms as well as under his own name for RPM in 1952, King in 1953, and Fortune in 1959. In 1961-62 he cut his first album for Tru-Sound Records. Leaving Detroit for Macon, GA, in 1962, Kirkland signed on with Otis Redding as a sideman and show opener not long thereafter. By the dawn of the 1970's, Kirkland cut two albums for Trix label; Front And Center and The Devil And Other Blues Demons (issued together as The Complete Trix Recordings on the 32 Blues label).
A self-taught player, Big Chief Ellis performed at house parties and dances during the 1920's. He traveled extensively for several years, working mostly in non-musical jobs. After a three-year army stint from 1939 – 1942, Ellis settled in New York. He started recording for Lenox in 1945, and also did sessions for Sittin' In and Capitol in the 1940's and 50's, playing with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee for Capitol. Though Ellis reduced his performance schedule after moving from New York to Washington D.C., his career got a final boost in the early 1970's. He recorded for Trix and appeared at several folk and blues festivals until his death in 1977. His self-titled Trix album features John Cephas, Tarheel Slim, and Brownie McGhee. He also backed Tarheel Slim on his Trix album.
While still in North Carolina during the early 1940's, Tarheel Slim worked with several gospel groups. He broke away with Thurman Ruth and in 1949 formed their own group, the Jubilators. During a single day in New York in 1950, they recorded for four labels under four different names, One of those labels was Apollo, who convinced them to go secular. That's basically how the Larks, one of the seminal early R&B vocal groups, came to be. He cut two sessions of his own for the firm in 1952 under the name of Allen Bunn. As Alden Bunn, he encored on Bobby Robinson's Red Robin logo the next year. He also sang with another R&B vocal group, the Wheels and the Lovers. As Tarheel Slim he made his debut in 1958 with his wife, Little Ann, in a duet format for Robinson's Fire imprint. He cut a pair of rockabilly raveups of his own, "Wilcat Tamer" and "No. 9 Train." After a few years off the scene, Tarheel Slim made a bit of a comeback during the early 1970's, with an album for Trix, his last recording. He died in 1977. Lowry wrote that "Tarheel Slim was one of the finest voices to appear appear in the blues and R&B world, as this collection will solidly demonstrate. …Slim was a consummate artist and a great gentleman: this recording gives the world at-large at least a partial glimpse of his talent."
|Guitar Shorty, photo by Kip Lornell.|
Robert Lockwood cut two albums for Trix, Does 12 and Contrasts, (issued together as The Complete Trix Recordings on the 32 Blues label) which rank among his best recordings. The crack band features the great sax player Maurice Reedus who played with Lockwood for 35 years and passed away just recently. Lowry was planning to issue an album by Reedus but it was never released. As Lowry told me: "Words fail me… I was truly a 'Fortunate Son' to have known and worked with this man, a true gentleman and a noble/regal being. All of 'Contrasts' was recorded in his living room in Cleveland (band sides) or Roger Brown's place!"
Lowry called Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue) "One of the most spontaneous musicians around; right up there with Lightnin' Hopkins, maybe more so." He cut a pair of unissued sides for Savoy in 1952, the album Carolina Slide Guitar (Flyright, 1971) and his final album for Trix, Alone In His Field, before passing in 1975.
Related Material: -Peter Lowry Interview (edited, 30 min., MP3)
-Peter Lowry Interview (edited, 30 min., MP3)