Female Singers


ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Victoria SpiveyMy DebtBuddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Hannah SylvesterBasket of BluesBuddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Lucille HegaminNumber 12Buddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Victoria SpiveyGrant SpiveyVictoria Spivey & Her Blues
Victoria SpiveyNew York MoanVictoria Spivey & Her Blues
John Henry BarbeeEarly In The MorningChicago Blues -A Bonanza All Star Blues
Homesick JamesQueen's RockChicago Blues -A Bonanza All Star Blues
Victoria SpiveyBrown SkinThree Kings And The Queen
Big Joe WilliamsNo Partnership WomanThree Kings And The Queen
Roosevelt SykesThis Is A New WorldThree Kings And The Queen
Lonnie JohnsonMr Johnson's Guitar TalksThree Kings And The Queen
Lonnie JohnsonFour Shots Of GinThree Kings And The Queen
Shortstuff MaconMoaninIntroducing Mr. Shortstuff
Shortstuff MaconGreat Big LegsIntroducing Mr. Shortstuff
Victoria SpiveyEvery Dog Had Its DayQueen and Her Knights
Victoria SpiveyWe Both Got To DieQueen and Her Knights
Victoria Spivey & Memphis SlimI'm A TigressQueen and Her Knights
Little Brother MontgomeryWest Texas BluesQueen and Her Knights
Otis Spann Ain’t Nobody’s BusinessThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
Victoria SpiveyTrouble HurtsThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
Luther JohnsonCreepin’ SnakeThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
George SmithLookout VictoriaThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
Roosevelt SykesDresser DrawersVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Victoria SpiveyBlack GalVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Smokey HoggBells Are ToningVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Walter HortonInter-Mision StateSpivey's Blues Parade
Sippie Wallace I'm A Mighty Tight WomanSpivey's Blues Parade
Victoria SpiveyJetSpivey's Blues Parade
Lonnie JohnsonLonnie's Traveling LightSpivey's Blues Parade

Show Notes:

 

Spivey LogoSpivey Records was a blues record label, founded by blues singer Victoria Spivey and her partner and jazz historian Len Kunstadt in 1961. The label was originally called Queen Vee Records, changing the name to Spivey records the following year. I believe only a couple of 45's were issued under the Queen Vee imprint. Spivey Records released a series of blues and jazz albums between 1961 and 1985. Most sessions took place at New York’s famous Cue Studios, some happened late at night at Victoria and Lenny's home studio while others took place at informal setting like hotel rooms or even at Willie Dixon's home in Chicago. Spivey put out some very eclectic records, with varying quality but through Spivey's connections she managed to get top notch artists to record for her including Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes, Otis Spann, Memphis Slim among many others. Spivey died in 1976 but the label continued until the death of Len Kunstadt in 1996. The whole catalog included some forty albums. Today is part one of our selective look at the Spivey label, focusing on the records and sessions done before Spivey passed away. The bulk of the Spivey catalog has never been issued on CD.

Spivey's companion Len Kunstadt was the editor and publisher of Record Research magazine, which he founded in the late 1950's and was Spivey's agent, manager and long time partner. In an interview with Norbert Hess he had this to say: "Victoria knew the musicians and scouted for new talent. This went on for 16 years. In my opinion, from 1961 up to her death in 1976, she was more creative than ever before. Her fantastic way of winning over Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters for our company, and her concern for Bob Dylan. Sometimes I thought she was crazy. I could tell a lot of stories. The musicians would have killed for her. At first, they didn't like her, but after a split second they became her fans up to the very end. She was sometimes a little difficult because she was a genius."

Spivey Records Adspivey-ad
One of the many ads featured in Record Research magazine. Spivey had a semi-regular column called Blues Is My Business.

Before summarizing today's featured albums it's worth giving some background on Spivey's career. Spivey learned to play piano and sing when she was quite small, and by age twelve she was performing at the Lincoln Theatre, until the manager discovered she couldn’t read music. She continued to play at house parties and clubs, learning from local musicians such as John Calvin, and occasionally sharing a gig with Blind Lemon Jefferson. By age twenty, she had moved to St. Louis, where she made her first record for OKeh, the legendary "Black Snake Blues." The year 1928 saw Spivey teaming up with Lonnie Johnson to record a number of double-entendre vocal duets that sold quite well, but she continued to write songs and record for OKeh until she took time off to appear in King Vidor’s film Hallelujah in 1929. When she returned to the recording studio in late 1929, she was under contract to Victor. Spivey continued to record throughout the 1930s, for both Decca and Vocalion, and as her recording career ended, she hit the road, traveling with the Olsen and Johnson’s "Hellzapoppin’" troupe, owning a club in East St. Louis, and finally retiring to work in the church. But in the 1960's she came out of retirement to appear at clubs such as Gerdes Folk City. Before forming her label she reunited with Lonnie Johnson appearing on his album Idle Hours for Bluesville in 1961, he in turn backed her on her album Woman Blues and she also appeared on Songs We Taught Your Mother alongside Alberta Hunter and Lucille Hegamin. There was also a session for Folkways in 1962. Beginning in 1962 Spivey wrote a semi-regular column in Record Research called Blues Is My Business.

Buddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Read Liner Notes

Buddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues, issued in 1962, was the first album on the Spivey label. As Len Kunstadt wrote in the liner notes: "This may well be the very first record company ever organized and owned by a Negro vintage blues queen." The album featured 1920's blues queens Hannah Sylvester, who first recorded in 1923 and Lucille Hegamin who in November 1920 became the second African-American blues singer to record, after Mamie Smith. This is an excellent album with all three ladies in fine form backed by a good band with a horn section that included Buddy Tate, Eddie Barfield and Dick Vance

Victoria Spivey & Her Blues is the second Spivey album, recorded in 1962, and featuring Spivey backed by Eddie Barfield and Pat Wilson who both appear on the previous record. According to the notes: "When Miss Spivey entered the recording studio in February of 1962 she demanded absolute freedom, 'to sing the way she damned please.' …She really had the blues that day and she wanted the recording engineer to capture all of it on tape. Without reservation, she was granted all her demands. This recording session was on the tail end of a tough year for Miss Spivey where sickness, disappointment (both personal and in business) and loneliness had taken its toll. She wrote hundreds of blues in 1961 because she really had them. These were not thought of as for commercial exploitation but were blues written as an escape mechanism for a troublesome world." The Queen is in excellent form on a set of very personal songs; "Grant Spivey" is a dedication to her father, "Talk About Moanin'" is about her early Texas mentor Robert Calvin while "Buddy Tate" is dedicated to her longtime musical friend.

Three Kings And The Queen
Read Liner Notes

According to the notes from Chicago Blues -A Bonanza All Star Blues: "All these blues sounds you will hear were luckily captured at a reunion in honor of Quenn Victoria Spivey by many of he old blues buddies at a real down-to-earth romping blues party with all the clamor of merriment, clinking glasses, shuffling feet, knocks at every door." The recordings were done in Chicago on Spivey's first visit to the city in 25 years and put together by Willie Dixon. The album features great artists like Homesick James, Willie Dixon, St. Louis Jimmy, Sunnyland Slim and others but suffers from poor recording.

The fourth Spivey album was Three Kings And The Queen featuring pianist Roosevelt Sykes, guitarists Lonnie Johnson , Big Joe Williams, and Victoria Spivey on four vocal selections apiece. With the exception of the closing "Thirteen Hours" (which has Spivey joining Sykes for a piano duet) and a pair of Big Joe Williams tracks (which feature the harmonica of Bob Dylan), all of the performances are unaccompanied. This is a strong outing with everyone in good form. This was not Dylan's first recording session as he had already recorded his debut album Bob Dylan for Columbia Records on March 19, 1962. In in 1965 column in Record Research Spivey recollected back to her first meeting with Dylan: "I was just thinking about little BOB DYLAN. The years flashed backed to 1961 when I furst met him at Gerde's Folk City in Greenwich Village, New York City. He was the sweetest kid you would ever want to meet. He would say Moms, this Moms, that Moms, always trying to get my attention. He was a doll. I was so proud of him then because he really had some talent which was just ready to explode. And did it! Just a couple of years later he was on his way to becoming a world idol in his field. …Bob knew about my little record company SPIVEY and my plans to record Big Joe, and he wanted 'in too.' What a sight as little Bob was carrying Big Joe's unusual guitar to the studio! And did they play well together! …Yes, this is Bob before Dame fortune was to reward him for his great talent."

Spivey Records AdMuddy, Victoria, SpannMuddy, Victoria, SpannSpann, Spivey, Muddy
Otis Spann, Victoria Spivey and Muddy Waters, 1964. Spann holds a copy of the Spivey album Chicago Blues.

Regarding Short Stuff Macon the liner notes to his Folkways album (Hell Bound And Heaven Sent) had this to say: "Short Stuff has now begun traveling the sparse and fickle concert circuit with Big Joe Williams, who, in a trip back to Mississippi, 'discovered' him, liked his 'deep down' music, remembered his father and mother, and decided to take him with him.” The same year those recordings were made they cut sides for the Spivey label which were issued on the album called Introducing Mr. Shortstuff. He appeared one final time on the album Goin’ Back to Crawford alongside Big Joe and others on a 1971 session.

Queen and Her Knights was the sixth Spivey release, issued in 1965, and features Spivey alongside Lonnie Johnson, Memphis Slim, Sonny Greer and Little Brother Montgomery. This is another strong album featuring Spivey in fine form particularly on the playfully risque "I'm A Tigress", a duet with Memphis Slim. Slim delivers a fine rendition of 'TB Blues" amd Lonnie and Little Brother are in typically good form.

The Muddy Waters band cut two albums for Victoria Spivey's Spivey label: The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band (1966) and The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 2 (1968). The Muddy Waters records are the only ones I know that have been issued on CD. These came out on the Japanese P-Vine label with several extra tracks. In a column in Record Research after Otis Spann died, Spivey had this recollection of the session: "One day I asked Otis if he would make an LP for my little company. And before I could catch my breath his answer was this, 'you are my mother and nobody better not try to stop me.' I was very happy so we set the date – and he got the band together. And the morning that the recording was to be, at 11 AM, I walked into the Go Go blub and there was my child sitting there with his little head on the table with his own coat over his shoulders. I heard he had been there all night long to make sure he would not disappoint me. Tears almost came to my eyes. We went to the studio with the rest of the boys. They gave me some session. Otis and the band were playing SOME blues and I mean THEY WERE PLAYING!"

Victoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo was the eleventh record on the Spivey label. The album comprises of sessions recorded at Willie Dixon home in Chicago in 1969 and sessions done in New York in 1970. Dixon is helped out by hs Blues All Stars which include Sunnyland Slim, Johnny Shines, Clifton James and Cryin’ Marie Dixon. Accoring to the notes there's big news: "ATTENTION: SMOKEY HOGG IS NOT DEAD!!" At least that's what Victoria Spivey thought when she "rediscovered" him in Brooklyn, N.Y. and what Len Kunstadt thought when he penned the liner notes for the album. Smokey actually passed in 1960. The imposter was Willie Anderson Hogg. who calimed to have recorded in the pre-war era but these sides for Spivey are his only know legacy.

Spivey's Blues Parade was the twelfth album on the Spivey label recorded in a variety of locations: the Walter Horton track was recorded in an informal session in a New York hotel room while the track featuring Sonny Boy Williamson was recorded in Germany during the 1963 AFBF.

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Ann Cook Mama Cookie Sizzling The Blues
Wilmer Davis Gut StruggleRichard M. Jones and the Blues Singers 1923-1938

Original Washboard Band & Julie Davis Geechie River Blues Johnny Dodds 1927-1928
Blanche Johnson Galveston BluesElzadie Robinson Vol. 1 1926-1928
Ida May MackMr. Forty-Nine Blues Texas Girls 1926-1929
Dorothy Everetts Macon BluesFemale Blues Singers Vol. 6: E/F/G 1922-1928)
Madlyn Davis & Her Hot Shots Kokola BluesFemale Blues Singers Vol. 5 C/D/E 1921-1928
Madlyn Davis & Her Hot Shots Winter BluesFemale Blues Singers Vol. 5 C/D/E 1921-1928
Bertha Ross Lost Man BluesBarrelhouse Woman Vol. 1 1925-1930
Dolly Martin All Men Blues St. Louis Barrelhouse Piano 1929-1934
Luella MillerFrisco BluesLuella Miller 1926-1928
Viola McCoy I Ain't Gonna Marry, Ain't Gonna Settle DownViola McCoy Vol. 2 1924-1926
Edith WilsonEvil BluesAin't Gonna Settle Down: The Pioneering Blues of Mary Stafford and Edith Wilson
Edna Winston I Got A Mule To RideLeona Williams & Edna Winston 1922-1927
Sylvester Hannah Michigan River Blues Fletcher Henderson & The Blues Singers 1923-1924
Margaret Carter I Want Plenty Grease In My Frying Pan Vaudeville Blues
Ora AlexanderRider Needs a Fast HorseFemale Blues Singers Vol. 1 A/B 1924-1932
Maggie Jones North Bound BluesMaggie Jones Vol. 1 1923-1925
Monette Moore House Rent BluesMonette Moore Vol. 1 1923-1924
Ruby Gowdy Florida Flood BluesFemale Blues Singers, Vol. 6: E/F/G 1922-1928
Rosie Mae Moore Staggering BluesI Can't Be Satisfied: Early American Blues Singers Vol. 1
Bessie Mae Smith Mean Bloodhound BluesSt. Louis Bessie & Alice Moore Vol. 1 1927-1929
Nellie Florence Jacksonville BluesChocolate To The Bone
Marie Grinter East and West BluesFemale Blues Singers Vol. 7 G/H 1922-1929
Martha CopelandPolice BluesMartha Copeland Vol. 1 1923-1927
Hattie Snow Make That Gravel FlyMeaning In The Blues
Elzadie Robinson Elzadie's Policy BluesParamount Jazz
Ida May Mack Elm Street BluesTexas Girls 1926-1929
Bessie TuckerThe KatyBessie Tucker 1928 - 1929
Bertha Henderson Black Bordered LetterParamount Jazz
Ora BrownJinx Blues Blues Images Vol. 9
Fanny May Goosby Fortune Teller BluesFemale Blues Singers 7 G/H 1922- 1929
Genevieve Davis Haven't Got A Dollar To Pay Your House Rent ManWhen the Sun Goes Down
Liza BrownPeddlin' BluesBessie Brown 1925-1929 & Liza Brown 1929

Show Notes:

Woman blues singers seem to get shortchanged when it comes to interest among blues fans or reissue companies. I'm not talking about heavy hitters like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, but the dozens and dozens of fine singers who recorded in their shadows during the 1920's and 30's. This show is dedicated to singers like Ida May Mack, Elzadie Robinson, Bessie Tucker, Madlyn Davis and others; in some cases they recorded dozens of sides or just a handful, some were quite popular in their day while other achieved little or no success yet they cut some exceptional blues records that, outside of collectors, remain all but forgotten today.

As researcher Don Kent wrote: "In the late 1890's, an amateur folklorist in Frankfort, Kentucky, heard a black woman in the county workhouse do a melancholy song called a 'jailhouse moan'. In 1902, traveling with a tent show, the young Ma Rainey heard a woman in Missouri do a 'strange and poignant' song (which Ma immediately incorporated in her act) that she later identified as a 'blues'. Nearly a decade passed before this style gained any real prominence, but Mamie Smith's first recording in 1920 showed record companies that black people were anxious and willing to buy music by their peers. Ironically, although Mamie Smith started the blues bandwagon, her repertoire was more indicative of black vaudeville and cabaret singers who included blues and pseud0-blues among their performance pieces."

Bertha-Henderson- Black-Bordered-LetterThe "Classic Female Blues" era as it's generally called, spanned from 1920 to 1929 with its peak from 1923 to 1925. The most popular of these singers were Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Ethel Waters, Ida Cox, Victoria Spivey, Sippie Wallace, Alberta Hunter, Clara Smith and Trixie Smith. As Paul Oliver notes: "One of the records that helped launch the issue of so-called 'Race Records'…was Mamie Smith's 'Crazy Blues.' It was to the benefit of many other black woman singers that a black woman had at last broke into what had previously been an exclusively white market. During the decade after the release of this record, more than 200 women singers were recorded and their songs issued on Race Records. Several of them made more than a hundred titles each, and a great many made a few dozen. In addition, there were those who made just a handful of titles that were often of great interest, nonetheless." In 1921 blues singers such as Lillyn Brown, Lavinia Turner, Lucille Hegamin, Daisey Martin all made records. In January 1922 Metronome declared that "every phonograph company has a colored girl recording blues." Of course woman like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Ida Cox had been singing the blues for years, mainly in the South, in circuses like Miller's 101 Ranch, The Mighty Haag Circus, Vaudeville stages and minstrel shows like Sugar Foot Greene's Minstrel Show, Silas Green from New Orleans and the Rabbit Foot Minstrels.

Several of today artists got their start in vaudeville, black theater or worked primarily fronting jazz bands.  In this category we hear from Viola McCoy, Edith Wilson, Ann Cook and Julia Davis.

In the early 1920s, Viola McCoy moved to New York City, where she worked in cabarets and appeared in revues at the Lincoln and Lafayette Theaters. She toured the Theater Owners Bookers Association vaudeville circuit, and made numerous recordings between 1923–1929 for various labels including Gennett, Vocalion, and Columbia Records.Author Derrick Stewart-Baxter wrote of McCoy: "She belongs to the great vaudeville tradition, but in all she does there is a strong jazz strain … Possessing a lovely contralto voice and fine diction, she was able to project herself through even the worst recording … It would be true to say that in the three years she was recording most prolifically she hardly ever made a bad record".Nellie Florence - Jacksonville-Blues

Edith Wilson was one of the stars of early African-American musical theater. After working in vaudeville with her pianist brother Danny Wilson, Edith rose to prominence in 1921 when she replaced Mamie Smith in Perry Bradford's musical revue "Put And Take". Bradford arranged for her to begin recording with Columbia in 1921. She was paired with Johnny Dunn's Jazz Hounds for a series of 17 recordings made in 1921 and 1922. Wilson would make few recordings in subsequent years until she made her comeback in the 1970s.

Nothing much is known about Ann Cook and Julia Davis other then they were exceptional singers who were recorded fronting jazz bands. We hear the great Johnny Dodds backing singer Julia Davis who cut one 78 for Paramount in 1924 and one final terrific record in 1928, "Jasper Taylor Blues b/w Geechie River Blues", backed by the Original Washboard Band featured washboard player Jasper Taylor.  Ann Cook was a New Orleans singer who recorded a couple of songs in 1927 backed by a band that included Louis Dumaine on Cornet, Willie Joseph on Clarinet, Leonard Mitchell on Banjo and Morris Rouse on Piano. Cook was recorded again in the 1940's.

Several of today's featured singers fall in the down-home blues category of singing. Among those are Madlyn Davis, Elzadie Robinson. Ida Mae Mack, Bessie Tucker, Bessie Mae Smith and Nellie Florence.

Madlyn Davis made ten recordings in Chicago, for Paramount Records, with her first session taking place in June 1927. In October 1928, Davis had her final recording stint, with her backing musicians including Georgia Tom Dorsey on piano and Tampa Red on guitar. Her most famous song was "Kokola Blues", obviously mistitled at the time. Scrapper Blackwell recorded it the following year as "Kokomo Blues". In 1934 Kokomo Arnold called his version "Old Original Kokomo Blues". Two years later Robert Johnson turned it in to "Sweet Home Chicago", and the rest is history.

Vocalist Elzadie Robinson hailed from Shreveport, Louisiana, but remained in Chicago, after going there to record. Her recordings span 1926-29, and during that time she worked with several pianists including Bob Call, and her regular accompanist and fellow Shreveport native, Will Ezell. Robinson chiefly recorded for the Paramount label, but also cut several sides for Broadway and used the aliases Bernice DRosie Mae Moore - Staggering Bluesrake and Blanche Johnson.

Ida May Mack was a Texas singer who traveled by train to Memphis, Tennessee in the summer of 1928 along with Bessie Tucker and Charlie Kyle to record. Mack made at least ten recordings with multiple takes of some, only six sides were issued by her at the time. Little is known about Bessie Tucker. Tucker had another session in Dallas the following year, once again backed by Johnson on piano as well as other area musicians. No one knows what happened to her after her recording sessions and unlike most of her peers of the day, one photo of her survives.

Little is known about Rosie Mae Moore except for the fact that she was Charlie McCoy's girlfriend during the time of her recordings that all took place in 1928. She recorded four sides for Victor in Memphis in the early part of the year. Later in December she recorded four more sides for Brunswick in New Orleans, backed by McCoy as well as Walter Vincson and Bo Chatman of The Mississippi Shieks. On her Brunswick releases she was billed as Mary Butler.

Bessie Mae Smith recorded variously as St. Louis Bessie, Blue Belle and Streamline Mae. Her 18 sides recorded between 1927-1930.

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Bessie SmithAggravatin' PapaThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Bessie SmithJailhouse BluesThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Bessie SmithAny Woman's BluesThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Sippie WallaceA Jealous Woman's BluesLouis Armstrong & the Blues Singers: 1924-1930
Sippie WallaceTrouble Everywhere I RoamI Can't Be Satisfied Vol 2
Sippie WallaceParlor Social De LuxeI Can't Be Satisfied Vol 2
Rosa HendersonDon't Advertise Your ManThe Essential
Rosa HendersonI'm A Good Gal (But I'm A Thousan' Miles From Home)The Essential
Rosa HendersonStrut Yo' Puddy Rosa Henderson Vol. 2 1924
Bessie SmithThe St. Louis BluesThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Bessie SmithCareless LoveThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Bessie SmithI Ain't Goin' To Play No Second FiddleThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Sippie WallaceLazy Woman BluesLouis Armstrong & the Blues Singers: 1924-1930
Sippie WallaceDead Drunk BluesLouis Armstrong & the Blues Singers: 1924-1930
Rosa HendersonBack Woods Blues Rosa Henderson Vol. 2 1924
Rosa HendersonDo Right BluesThe Essential
Rosa HendersonPoplar Bluff BluesThe Essential
Bessie SmithReckless Blues The Complete Recordings (Frog)
Bessie SmithSend Me To The 'Lectric ChairThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Bessie SmithTrombone ChollyThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Sippie WallaceI'm A Mighty Tight WomanWhen The Sun Goes Down
Sippie WallaceBedroom BluesAlbert Ammons: His Best Recordings 1936-1947
Rosa HendersonRough House Blues (A Reckless Woman's Lament) Rosa Henderson Vol. 4 1926-1931
Rosa HendersonChicago Policeman Blues Rosa Henderson Vol. 4 1926-1931
Rosa HendersonCan't Be Bothered With No Sheik The Essential
Bessie SmithA Good Man Is Hard To FindThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Bessie SmithI'd Rather Be Dead And Buried In My GraveThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Bessie SmithMe And My Gin The Complete Recordings (Frog)
Sippie Wallace Up The Country BluesWoman Be Wise
Sippie Wallace Woman Be WiseWoman Be Wise
Bessie SmithPoor Man's BluesThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Bessie SmithEmpty Bed Blues Part 1The Complete Recordings (Frog)
Bessie SmithGimme A Pigfoot The Complete Recordings (Frog)

Show Notes:

The Classic Female Blues era as it's generally called spanned from 1920 to 1929 with its peak from 1923 to 1925 and resulted in an impressive body of work that's often neglected. As Derrick Stewart Baxter wrote in 1968: "…It is unfortunate that this important side of jazz and blues has been neglected. I do not think that many people realise just how important this era was. It was from the music hall, the travelling show and the Negro circuits, such as T.O.B.A. that many of our jazz musicians sprang What a wealth of talent started in this way. Once you can accept the vaudeville style (and even Bessie Smith showed what she owed to vaudeville), you find yourself in a fascinating world of song and instrumental music. Some of the songs with their amusing titles, very blues based, have gone into the melting pot and influenced our music quite considerably."

Although officially introduced by Mamie Smith with her hit Okeh recording of "Crazy Blues" in 1920, vaudeville entertainers such as "coon shouter" Sophie Tucker and comedienne Marie Cahill anticipated some aspects of the style on record prior to World War I. Most of the women were from the South and toured on the TOBA booking circuit. In the past we've spotlighted many of the blues ladies but not in any real depth. I think it's hard for modern listeners to appreciate some of these early woman singers. The problem is twofold; the earliest records, before 1925, were recorded acoustically which doesn't make for a great listening experience and the other problem is that unless the singer was one of the big names, like Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey, the available recordings are usually presented in pretty rough shape, with little or no mastering done to spruce them up. Today's show is the first installment spotlighting some of the era's bigger names. None were bigger than Bessie Smith who we feature today. In addition we feature recordings by Sippie Wallace and Rosa Henderson.

"Bessie was a queen" said Ruby Walker, her niece by marriage. "I mean, the people looked up to her and worshiped her like she was a queen. You know, she would walk into a room or out on a stage and people couldn't help but notice her-she was that kind of woman, a strong, beautiful woman with a personality as big as a house. No hanging around in the corner, not Bessie! She'd let you know she was there, and she didn't have to open her mouth to do it:' As Bessie's biographer, Chris Albertson wrote in the notes to the groundbreaking The Complete Recordings: "Of course, Bessie took her commanding presence with her to the grave, but her artistry-captured on one 17-minute film and 160 3-minute recordings-has made her immortal. For decades, Bessie also lived on in the memories of those who knew her and heard her perform, but they are a dwindling number as this century draws to a close. 'I don't ever remember any artist in my long, long years who could evoke the response from her listeners that Bessie Smith did" said the late Frank Schiffman, who owned Harlem's Lafayette and Apollo theatres when Bessie was a headliner there. 'Whatever pathos there is in the world, whatever sadness she had, was brought out in her singing-and the audience knew it and responded to it."'

"It has been suggested that Ma Rainey was Bessie's mentor, the person from whom she learned everything she knew, but Bessie's style contradicts that theory, as do the recollections of people who heard her sing in those formative years. '[Ma Rainey] may have taught her a few dance steps, or showed her how to walk onstage,' said the late character actor Leigh Whipper, who first heard Bessie in 1913, when he managed Atlanta's "81" Theatre, 'but Bessie was born with that voice and she had a style of her own when I first heard her in Atlanta. She was just a teenager, and she obviously didn't know she was the artist she was. She didn't know how to dress, she just sang in her street clothes, but she was such a natural that she could wreck anybody's show. She onIy made ten dollars a week, but people would throw money on the stage, and the stagehands would pick up about three or four dollars for her after every performance, especially when she sang the 'Weary Blues'-that was her big number.' Ma Rainey probably]y helped to groom Bessie for life on the road, and she may have introduced her to the blues, but there is general agreement among those who experienced her performances that Bessie had her own style by 1913. Revered gospel composer and former Ma Rainey accompanist Thomas A. Dorsey sold soft drinks at Atlanta's "81" Theatre when Bessie first ventured out on her own. It was about  1913  or  1914" he recalled some fifty years later, 'and Bessie was already a star in her own right, but she really got  her start there at the 81 and I don't recall Ma Rainey ever having taken credit for helping her.'"

The major breakthrough for Bessie, and for the recording industry, came in 1923. Mamie Smith in 1920 had recorded "Crazy Blues" in 1920, which sold so well (against all expectations) that Columbia set up a separate division for "race" records. Frank Walker, in charge of the division, had been so impressed years earlier by Bessie’s singing, that he sent the pianist Clarence Williams to bring her to New York. As she arrived, Columbia was on the verge of bankruptcy. Her debut record, "Downhearted Blues" and "Gulf Coast Blues" , sold 780,000 copies in the six months after she recorded the pieces, and helped save Columbia. Over the years she made 160 recordings. At that stage Bessie was receiving an outright $125 per recording; at her height a few years later, she was receiving $2,000/week, and owned her own traveling railway car. During the following ten years she was the foremost recording artist in the world. A widely published contemporary newspaper account gives us some idea of her popularity:

"Streets blocked,  hundreds and hundreds and hundreds were unable to gain entrance to this performance…Bessie Smith with lrvin Johns at the piano before their own special drop opened full stage with 'Nobody's Bizness if I Do' with the  Gulf Coast Blues' following, which received heavy applause, leaving the house in a riot."

For some reason, many of Bessie’s recordings were accompanied by piano only, which was, presumably, to put all the focus on the voice. But although that might have worked in live performance, on records the results were often disappointing. Her career on record lasted ten years and later she recorded with some of the best musicians around—Louis Armstrong, James P. Johnson, Don Redman, Charlie Green, Coleman Hawkins, and many more—but many of the songs are in the popular form rather than blues. Columbia dropped her in 1931. She recorded once more in a John Hammond all-star session in 1933 with Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, and Chu Berry.

Bessie continued to perform in the South but in September 1937 was involved in a car accident close to Clarksdale, Mississippi. John Hammond claimed she bled to death because she was refused treatment because of racial prejudice but later admitted he was wrong. In fact, she was treated by a doctor on the spot and in hospital but was too badly hurt to survive.

Beulah "Sippie" Thomas grew up in Houston, Texas where she sang and played the piano in her father's church. While still in her early teens she and her younger brother Hersal and older brother George began playing and singing the Blues in tent shows that travelled throughout Texas. In 1915 she moved to New Orleans and lived with her older brother George. During her stay there she met many of the great Jazz musicians like King Oliver and Louis Armstrong who were friends of her brother George. During the early 1920s she toured the TOBA vaudeville circuit where she was billed as "The Texas Nightingale". In 1923 she followed her brothers to Chicago and began performing in the cafes and cabarets around town.

In 1923 Wallace recorded her first records for Okeh and went on to record over forty songs for them between 1923 and 1929. The sidemen who played on her recording sessions were always excellent and included the cream of New Orleans Jazz musicians, like King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Clarence Williams, Sidney Bechet and Johnny Dodds among others. Sippie moved to Detroit in 1929 and left show business in the early 1930s as the Blues craze ran its course. During the next forty years she was a singer and organ player at the Leland Baptist Church in Detroit. She occasionally performed over the years, but did little in the Blues until she launched a comeback in 1966 . Wallace's next album was called Sippie Wallace Sings the Blues for the Storyville label in 1966. Wallace suffered a stroke in 1970 but managed to keep recording and performing. With the help of Bonnie Raitt she landed a recording deal with Atlantic Records and recorded the album, Sippie, which featured Raitt, was nominated for a Grammy in 1983 and won a W.C. Handy Award for best blues album in 1984.

Rosa Henderson is the least known of today's featured blues queens but was quite popular in her day, cutting some one hundred sides. As Derrick Stewart Baxter wrote: "Her voice was strong, but at the same time possessed a sweet tone. The material she recorded varied from typical vaudeville numbers as He May Be Your Dog, But He's Wearing My Collar, and Hey, Hey, and He, He, I'm Charles ton Crazy to blues like Penitentiary Bound Blues and Back Wood Blues. Also many of her accompanists were of no mean status, including the complete Fletcher Henderson band, and such names as Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Green, Louis Metcalf, James P. Johnson, and countless others. Proof of her popularity with the record buying public was made clear by the number of titles released, and the only reason her recording career was cut short was the death of her husband Slim."

In 1963 Len Kunstadt tracked down Henderson and wrote a feature on her in Record Research: "She speaks glowingly of Fletcher Henderson who helped her out immeasurably with her recordings. She can still remember Fletcher busily scoring her music for her on a noisy subway train as they were studio bound. She remembers veteran pioneer P & B publisher, Joe Davis, musicians: Cliff Jackson, Louis Metcalf, Rex Stewart, Coleman Hawkins, Wendell Talbert, Bub Miley and James P. Johnson. She mentioned that she never feared the great Bessie Smith, professionally, but she had a great deal of respect for Mattie Hite.

"…She began her career about 1913 in her uncle's carnival show. She played tent and plantation shows all over the South with one long streak of 5 years in Texas. She sang nothing but the blues. During this period she married Slim Henderson, a great comedian and showman, and she became professionally, ROSA HENDERSON. Slim joined up with John Mason and from this association a troupe was born which included Rosa. They played the country from one end to the other. In the mid 20s the Mason Henderson troupe really began to hit big time with headline attraction billing in many of the larger theatres. Rosa also received star billing in some independent ventures. …From May 1927 through September 1927 Rosa Henderson was a top race blues recurring artist. She was on Victor, Vocalion, Ajax, Perfect, Pathe, Brunswick, Paramount, Emerson, Edison, Columbia, Banner, Domino, Regal, Oriole, English Oriole, Silvertone and others. Besides her own name she was Flora Dale on Domino; Mamie Harris and Josephine Thomas on Pathe and Perfect; Sally Ritz (her sister's name) on Banner; and probably Sarah Johnson and Gladys White on other labels….In 1927 Rosa was hitting her real stride as a single but just a year later Rosa quit in her prime due to the unexpected death of husband, Slim." She made her final recordings in 1931.

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Georgia WhiteSinking Sun BluesGeorgia White Vol. 2 1936-1937
Georgia WhiteGet 'Em From the Peanut Man (Hot Nuts) Sings & Plays
Georgia WhiteNew Dupree BluesGeorgia White Vol. 11930-1936
Lucille BoganJim TampaLucille Bogan Vol. 1 1923-1929
Lucille BoganCoffee Grindin' BluesThe Essential
Lucille BoganAlley BoogieThe Essential
Hattie HartWon't You Be Kind To Me?Memphis Masters: Early American Blues Classics
Hattie HartI Let My Daddy Do That Memphis Masters: Early American Blues Classics
Hattie HartI'm Missing That Thing Memphis Blues 1927-1938
Geeshie WileyLast Kind Word Blues The Best There Ever Was
Geeshie WileySkinny Legs Blues Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Georgia White Black Rider
Georgia White Vol. 2 1936-1937
Georgia WhiteRattlesnakin' Daddy Georgia White Vol. 1 1930-1936
Georgia White I'm So Glad I'm 21 TodayGeorgia White Vol. 2 1936-1937
Lucille BoganThey Ain't Walking No MoreThe Essential
Lucille BoganBaking Powder BluesThe Essential
Lucille BoganPig Iron SallyShave 'Em Dry: The Best of Lucille Bogan
Mattie Delaney Down The Big Road Blues I Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Mattie Delaney Tallahatchie River BluesMemphis Masters: Early American Blues Classics
Hattie HartColdest Stuff In TownMemphis Blues 1927-193
Hattie HartPapa's Got Your Water OnI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Hattie HartCocaine Habit Blues Blues Image Presents Vol. 4
Georgia WhiteWalking The StreetGeorgia White Vol. 2 1936-1937
Georgia WhiteAlley Boogie Sings & Plays
Georgia WhiteThe Blues Ain't Nothin' But???The Piano Blues Vol. 13
Lucille BoganReckless WomanShave 'Em Dry: The Best of Lucille Bogan
Lucille BoganShave 'em DryShave 'Em Dry: The Best of Lucille Bogan
Lucille BoganBarbecue BessShave 'Em Dry: The Best of Lucille Bogan
Geeshie WileyEagles On A Half I Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Geeshie WileyPick Poor Robin Clean I Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Hattie HartMemphis Yo Yo BluesMemphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stomper
Lucille BoganStew Meat BluesShave 'Em Dry: The Best of Lucille Bogan
Georgia WhiteLittle Red Wagon Georgia White Vol. 2 1936-1937

Show Notes:

On today's program we spotlight five tough blues ladies from the 1920's and 1930's; Lucille Bogan and Georgia White recorded extensively with Bogan cutting over sixty sides between 1923 and 1935, and White cutting over 80 sides between 1930 and 1941. Memphis singer Hattie Hart cut a handful of terrific sides under her own name and several with the Memphis Jug Band. We dip down to Mississippi to hear the only known record by mysterious guitar player Mattie Delaney and the equally shadowy, under-record and brilliant Geeshie Wiley.

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

In the 1982 liner notes to Georgia White: Sings & Plays the Blues (the first collection of White's recordings) Rosetta Reitz wrote: "Is Georgia White alive or dead? [she died in 1980] Nobody seems to know. If she is alive she is living in obscurity and would be 80 years old. If she is dead, her death went unnoticed for there were no obituaries. I checked and double checked with people who might know. I've been looking for her. I would like to tell her how important I think she is, important to to the history of American music (even though hardly anyone knows her name today)." Thirty years after these notes were written virtually nothing has changed, White is still forgotten and nothing of significance has been written about her in the intervening years. I suppose I should backtrack and mention that the Document label has issued her complete recordings spread over four volumes which is the source of several of today's recordings.

White reportedly moved to Chicago in the 1920's and began working as a singer in the nightclubs during the late '20s. She first recorded in May 1930 for the Vocalion label with Jimmie Noone's Apex Club Orchestra recording one song, "When You're Smiling, the Whole World Smiles With You."  After her initial session, White didn't return to the studios until 1935, but recorded regularly from then on through the early '40s for the Decca label (the label billed her as "the world's greatest blues singer"). In 1935, she also recorded a couple of songs, including "Your Worries Ain't Like Mine," under the alias Georgia Lawson. From her first sessions until the late '30s, White was accompanied by herself on piano then pianist Richard Jones, great bassist John Lindsay plus outstanding guitarists like Banjo Ikey Robinson, Les Paul, Teddy Bunn and Lonnie Johnson. White had a good repertoire of songs, many of which sold well and many risque such as I'll Keep Sitting on It, "Mama Knows What Papa Wants When Papa's Feeling Blue" and "Hot Nuts." She was also one of the blues' first revivalists, reaching way back to cover Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues", covering the like of Bessie Smith,  Ethel Waters, Sara Martin, Ma Rainey but more surprisingly are covers of Lucille Bogan's "Alley Boogie" and borrowing from Leadbelly ("Pigmeat Blues") and the obscure Joe Dean ("I'm So Glad I'm 21 Today").

Blues scholar Paul Oliver was on of the few others who wrote about White. In Jazz On Record published in 1968 he wrote: "Undeservedly neglected in recent years, Georgia White was one of the most popular of the recording blues singers in the thirties. She had a strong contralto voice with a keen edge to her intonation and was a capable pianist in the barrelhouse house tradition."

There was mention of White's passing in Arnold Shaw's Honkers And Shouters when he talks about Broonzy. White worked with Broonzy at the Bee Hive and another club in Chicago in a group called The Laughing Trio in 1949-1950. Shaw writes: "There was also Georgia White, a gorgeous Georgia Peach of a blues singer herself whom Big Bill credits with launching 'Trouble In Mind'"  (Bertha "Chippie" Hill cut the first version in 1926). Shaw quotes Broonzy: "When I say Georgia White", Big Bill murmurs, in introducing his version of 'Trouble In Mind', "she was a real nice-looking gal. All the musicians liked her. But there was no way of getting to her because her husband was always around. He was her valet-dressed her, brought her all of her food. Was no chance of anybody getting close to her."

Lucille Bogan, Circa 1933

In the late '40s, White formed an all-women band. She also worked with Big Bill Broonzy from 1949-50, and returned to singing in the clubs during the 1950's. Georgia Her last known public performance was in 1959, after which she retired from the music business.

Lucille Bogan got off to a rather shaky start on her two 1923 sessions. The feisty, boisterous singing she became known for came into much better focus when she returned to the studio in 1927 backed by papa Charlie Jackson on fine numbers like "Sweet Patinua", "Jim Tampa Blues" and "Cravin' Whiskey Blues." As Tony Russell writes in the Penguin Guide To Blues: "Over the next few years she constructed a persona of a tough-talking narrator – 'They call me Pig Iron Sally, 'cause I live in Slag Iron Ally, and I'm evil and mean as I can be,' she sings in 'Pig Iron Sally' – who knew the worlds of the lesbian and the prostitute. She reports from the former in 'Women Don't Need No Men' and 'B.D. Woman's Blues', and the latter in 'Tricks Ain't Walking no More' – best heard in the affectingly sombre version titled 'They Ain't Walking No More' …and 'Barbecue Bess.' Other notable recordings are 'Coffee Grindin' Blues' …and the first recording of  'Black Angel Blues,' which after a great change became a blues standard."  On these recordings she finds strong backing from pianists Will Ezell and Charles Avery. "…Thanks to the generally better sound quality and the ever sympathetic accompaniment of Walter Roland, her mid-30s recordings …are the most approachable. " Notable from this period are "Baking Powder Blues", "Reckless Woman", "Stew Meat Blues" and "Shave 'em Dry" which also exists in an extremely dirty version never intended for commercial release and one that can't be played on the air.

Bogan was born as Lucille Anderson in 1897 in Monroe county, Mississippi. In about 1914 she married Nazareth Bogan, Sr., a blues singer who also worked as a railroad man. The following year a son was born. In 1974 Bogan's son was interviewed by Bob Eagle (Lucille Bogan: Bessie Jackson, Living Blues no. 44, 1979) so quite a bit is known about her.

Bogan recorded for OKeh in 1923, for Paramount in 1927, and for Brunswick in 1928, 1929, and 1930. Although she had an uncommonly large Depression era output, she made no recordings at all in 1931 and 1932. When she switched to ARC for the 1933, 1934, and 1935 sessions, she had to use the pseudonym Bessie Jackson for contractual reasons. After the Second World War Bogan made some trial discs for a New York company. She was mad when the records were rejected and died shortly afterward in 1948.

Don Kent wrote in the notes to Mississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35: "Although Geeshie Wiley may well have been the rural South's greatest female blues singer and musician, almost nothing is known of her. …If Geeshie Wiley did not exist, she could not be invented: her scope and creativity dwarfs most blues artists. She seems to represent the moment when black secular music was coalescing into blues." Wiley recorded just two 78’s in 1930 and 1931, both highly sought after and worth a fortune to 78 record collectors. There are no known photographs and little is known about her. Ishman Bracey provides what little we know about her: "She lived 'round there on John Hart Street for a while. Charlie McCoy got her for his old lady. She could play on the guitar as good as on that record [Eagles On A Half, Pm 13074]. She said she was from Natchez; close by Natchez was her home. She didn't stay here long, couple of months and she done left." In the 1920's she spent three months in Jackson as a resident of John Hart Street; while there, she played in a medicine show. "She could play a guitar, but she had a guitar player with her," Bracey recalled. "She'd play a guitar, and a ukulele too." Wiley recorded "Last Kind Word Blues" and "Skinny Leg Blues" in Grafton, Wisconsin for Paramount Records in March of 1930, with Elvie Thomas backing her on second guitar. Thomas also recorded two songs for Paramount at the session, "Motherless Child Blues" and "Over to My House," Wiley, providing second guitar and vocal harmonies. In 1931 Wiley and Thomas returned to Grafton to record two more sides for Paramount, "Pick Poor Robin Clean" and "Eagles on a Half."

In Bengt Olsson's Memphis Blues and Jug Bands some light was shed on singer Hattie Hart: "Hattie Hart and Allen Shaw came together on record when they engaged in one memorable session in New York, in the late summer of 1934. Willie Borum was also present, playing guitar behind Shaw on some of the songs as well as singing four of his own. He and Shaw were new to the recording studio, but Hattie Hart had appeared on several of the Memphis Jug Band's discs in 1929 and 1939, singing the unforgettable 'Memphis Yo Yo Blues', 'Cocaine Habit Blues', 'Oh Ambulance Man, 'Papa's Got Your Bath Water On' and 'Spider's Nest Blues.'  Her voice was strong, sensual and moving. She was born, says Willie Borum, 'just around 1900.  She was dark skinned. She and her husband lived on Keil and Main …they were married as long as I knew them. Hattie used to throw lots of parties. " Borum recalled their New York session: "Hattie recorded just after Jack Kelly. She sang 'I Let My Daddy Do That'  and 'Travelin' Man' …but it was never out on record.  I went in the army from 1943 till 1946. When I came back Hattie had left town. I don't know what happened to her."

Her first recordings were made in Memphis for the Victor label in 1929. Three songs were recorded but only two were issued for her debut single. In 1934 she was recorded again in New York City in September of that year. In the course of four days she recorded some eighteen songs backed by guitarist Allen Shaw with the possibility of Willie Borum playing guitar on some of the cuts. Out of the eighteen songs, only four were issued giving Hattie two more records to her credit. It was also during these sessions that Shaw recorded his only issued sides. Hart may have moved Chicago where in in 1938 she cut sides as Hattie Bolten.

Mattie Delaney cut just one 78: "Down The Big Road Blues b/w Tallahatchie River Blues" for Vocalion on February 21, 1930 in Memphis, TN. Her name evoked no response from Son House or from any Delta resident when researcher Gayle Wardlow made a tri-county search of those towns which boarder the Tallahatchie. The song "Tallahatchie River Blues" was first issued on the Yazoo anthology Mississippi Blues 1927-1941 in 1968. Supposedly she was born Mattie Doyle in Tchula, MS 1905. Wardlow was the one who discovered the record: "But the prize was Mattie Delaney doing "Tallahatchie River Blues" (Vocalion 1480), a song that refers to a river flood in the Delta. My copy of this 1930 disc was the only one known to surface. I learned this from New York collectors eager for me to trade it away. " According to collector John Tefteller there are about five copies known to exist. Tefteller paid $3,000 for his copy which he says isn’t horrible but sure isn’t mint, either. He expects a like-new copy would draw $6,000 to $8,000.

Here's the two Lucille Bogan sides I couldn't play on the air and one by Walter Roland:

-Shave 'Em Dry (unreleased version)

-Till The Cows Come Home (unreleased)

-I'm Gonna Shave You Dry (unreleased)

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Bumble Bee Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 1 1929-1930
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe 'Frisco Town Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 1 1929-1930
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe She Put Me Outdoors Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 2 1930- 931
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe What's The Matter With The Mill The Essential
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Frankie Jean That Trottin' Fool The Essential
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Let's Go To Town The Essential
Kansas Joe When The Levee Breaks Roots Of Rock
Kansas Joe That Will Be Allright Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 1 1929-1930
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Too Late The Essential
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Drunken Barrel House Blues The Essential
Memphis Minnie Hustlin' Woman Blues Memphis Minnie Vol. 1 1935
Memphis Minnie Selling My Pork Chops Memphis Minnie Vol. 1 1935
Memphis Minnie I'm A Bad Luck Woman The Essential
Kansas Joe My Wash Woman's Gone Country Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
Kansas Joe Joliet Bound Tommy Johnson & Associates
Memphis Minnie Out In The Cold Memphis Minnie Vol. 2 1935-1936
Memphis Minnie Ice Man (Come On Up) The Essential
Memphis Minnie MoonshineMemphis Minnie Vol. 2 1935-1936
Memphis Minnie Living The Best I Can Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
Memphis Minnie Down In The Alley Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
Memphis Minnie Hot Stuff Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
Memphis Minnie Ma Rainey The Essential
Memphis Minnie Nothing In Rambling The Essential
Little Son Joe Black Rat Swing The Essential
Memphis Minnie I Am Sailin'Memphis Minnie Vol. 5 1940-1941
Memphis Minnie In My Girlish Days The Essential
Memphis Minnie Me And My Chauffeur Blues The Essential
Little Son Joe A Little Too Late Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953
Little Son Joe Ethel Bea Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953
Memphis Minnie World Of Trouble Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953
Memphis Minnie In Love Again Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953
Memphis Minnie Kissing In The Dark Memphis Minnie Vol. 3 1944-1953

Show Notes:

For nearly 30 years Memphis Minnie was, along with Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red, was one of the giants of the Chicago blues scene. Between 1929 and 1953 she recorded some 200 sides for a variety of labels. As Paul Garon and Beth Garon write in Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie's Blues: "Because Minnie began her recording career in 1929 and kept going for three decades, her presence  was written large across the whole history of recorded blues. Year after year, her style evolved, and by the time illness forced her to retire, she had recorded the country blues, the urban blues, the Melrose sound, the Chicago blues and the postwar blues." Unlike most female blues singers of the time, Minnie also wrote her own songs and played guitar. Starting in 1929, her records lead us through over twenty years of recorded blues and illustrate her life, as she moved from the rural South to urban Chicago.  Musically there were three basic phases to her style: the duet years with Kansas Joe, the "Melrose" band sound of the late thirties and early forties, and her later electric playing in the company of her third husband, guitarist Son Joe.

Many blues artists vividly recall their encounters with Memphis Minnie: Koko Taylor recalled: "the first blues record I ever heard was "Me An My Chauffeur Blues"by Memphis Minnie."Hound Dog Taylor, speaking of his early days in Chicago in 1943-1944, noted that "47th street was jumping on the South Side. When I first come up Memphis Minnie was playing at the old 708 club with her first husband." Baby Boy Warren recalled that "The other I admired the most respect was a woman-Memphis Minnie." And Bukka white reminisced "Memphis Minnie, Washboard Sam, Tampa Red, Big Bill they were my favorite 'cause they really would knock the cover off a house. They play in the nightclubs, would play house parties through the day." Johnny Shines recalled meeting Minnie and Joe: "It was an influence because I like what I heard, and I'd never heard anything like it before."

Born Lizzie Douglas in Algiers, Louisiana, Memphis Minnie was the eldest of Abe and Gertrude Wells Douglas’ 13 children. Throughout her childhood, her family always called her "Kid." When she was seven years old, the Douglas family moved to Wall, Mississippi, just south of Memphis. According to the authors of Minnie's biography she was "a wild youngster who never took to the farming life and she ran away from home at an early age. Her first guitar had been a Christmas present given to her in 1905 …She began to run away to Memphis' Beale Street with some regularity. When times were tough and nickels and dimes were hard to find, she returned to the farm to live, but rarely to work. …Minnie toured the South in the war years with a Ringling Brothers show she joined in Clarksdale, Mississippi." According to the authors of Minnie's biography she was "a wild youngster who never took to the farming life and she ran away from home at an early age. Her first guitar had been a Christmas present given to her in 1905 …She began to run away to Memphis' Beale Street with some regularity. When times were tough and nickels and dimes were hard to find, she returned to the farm to live, but rarely to work. "Guitarists Frank Stokes and Furry Lewis…both provided advice and inspiration to Minnie in her early days in Memphis. Minnie's duets with Kansas Joe drew as much inspiration from the guitar teamwork of Frank Stokes and Dan Sane, who recorded as the Beale Street Sheiks, as from her own early 'partnership' with Willie Brown." Robert Wilkins also recalled Minnie from these days and recalls teaching her a few things. On Beale Street she played with local musicians such as Jed Davenport, the Memphis Jug Band and Jack Kelly.

Her marriage and recording debut came in 1929, to and with Kansas Joe McCoy, when a Columbia Records talent scout heard them playing in a Beale Street barbershop in their distinctive 'Memphis style.' By around 1929 both Minnie and Joe were playing stell bodied National guitars. As Joe Calicott recalled:  "She and Tampa Red had the first steel boxes we ever saw." And Johnny Shines noted "…they all had the first steel guitars I had ever seen, they all had National steels. They was such pretty things." They went to New York City for their first recording sessions, and it was then that she changed her name to Memphis Minnie. The song "Bumble Bee" from their first session became a hit. It was supposedly a Columbia A and R man who gave the duo their names.The first side for Columbia, "That Will Be alright" b/w "When The Levee Breaks" had vocals by Joe alone. It was released in August or September and two months later "Bumble Bee" b/w "I Want That" was released. In upcoming sessions some numbers were rejected by the company but were eventually accepted and released even if they required several takes for an acceptable master.In 1930 Minnie recorded a pair of songs back by her friends, the Memphis Jug Band. She may also be on sides Jed Davenport and His  Beale Street Jug Band cut that year. Bukka White made his debut for Victor in 1930 and it may be Minnie's voice backing him on "I am In The Heavenly Way" b/ "Promise True And Grand." The duo's relationship with Vocalion began in February 1930 and would last nearly a decade with a few interruptions waxing dates for Okeh, Decca and Bluebird. Every two or three months Minnie and Joe would return to Vocalion studios to record; some session would result in sides by Kansas Joe issued under his own name, songs issued jointly or songs just issued under Minnie's name. Minnie and Joe would travel regularly to record in Chicago to record, finally moving there themselves in the early 30's. Between 1929 and 1934 Minnie and Joe cut around one hundred sides together. McCoy and Minnie recorded songs together and on their own for Decca Records until they divorced in 1934.

Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe McCoy
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe McCoy

Joe McCoy was born in 1905, in Raymond Mississippi, located in the southwestern part of the state, just west of Jackson a bit North of Crystal Springs. His younger brother Charlie was born in Jackson five years later. The McCoys were close to the Chatmans, who hailed from nearby Bolton, and recorded as the popular Mississippi Sheiks. The McCoys and the Chatmans often played together and like many Jackson area musicians, ther were influenced in varying degrees by Tommy Johnson. In addition to the Chatmons and Johnson, Jackson, in the 1920’s was a city with a vibrant blues scene, teeming with artists such as Walter Vincson, Ishman Bracey, Johnnie Temple, Skip James and Rube Lacey. McCoy recorded under various pseudonyms; Georgia Pine Boy, Hallelujah Joe, Big Joe McCoy and His Washboard Band, and The Mississippi Mudder. Other names he used from time to time included Hillbilly Plowboy, Mud Dauber Joe and Hamfoot Ham. During his time with Minnie he took the lead on several memorable numbers, most famously “When The Levee Breaks” as well as fine numbers like "Preachers Blues", "Shake Mattie", "My Wash Woman's Gone" and "Joliet Bound" among others. If  McCoy is often overshadowed by Minnie on their recordings, these records showcase a singer with warm vocal, a superb guitar picker and a fine lyricist. Several of the songs have strong stylistic ties to Jackson, including "My Wash Woman's Gone", featuring Casey Bill Wledon, and "Joliet Bound" with stroong echoes of Tommy Johnson and and the Skip James reworking, "Evil Devil Woman Blues." After Joe and Minnie separated Joe occupied himself in small bands, singing with the Harlem Hamfats, working as a songwriter and working with his brother Charlie. oe McCoy died of heart disease in Chicago, only a few months before his brother Charlie.

There's a famous anecdote from this period regarding a guitar contest between Minnie and Big Bill Broonzy. In 1933, when Big Bill Broonzy was very popular in Chicago, a blues contest between him and Memphis Minnie took place in a nightclub. As Broonzy tells the story, in his autobiography Big Bill Blues, a jury of fellow musicians awarded Minnie the prize of a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of gin for her performance of "Chauffeur Blues" and "Looking the World Over".

Before renewing her contract with Vocalion in 1934 she recorded twenty sides for Decca and eight for Bluebird, her last session for Bluebird accompanied by Casey Bill Weldon. Minnie and Joe recorded recorded for the last time together in September 1934. According to several reports, McCoy’s increasing jealousy of Minnie’s fame and success caused the breakup. Minnie toured a great deal in the '30s, mostly in the south. It was during this period that Bob Wills and some of his Texas Playboys saw her playing in Texas; they would later make her "What's The Matter With The Mill?" a part of their repertoires. By 1935 Minnie had settled in under the supervision of Lester Melrose and was able to easily handle the transition from rural-downhome blues to a more sophisticated sound. Back on her own, Minnie began to experiment with different styles and sounds. She recorded four sides for the Bluebird label in 1935 in August of that year, she returned to the Vocation label. Minnie had teamed up with manager Lester Melrose, the single most powerful and influential executive in the blues industry during the 1930s and 1940s. By the end of the 1930s, Minnie had recorded nearly 20 sides for Decca Records and eight sides for the Bluebird label.

As Mike Rowe notes “it was a white businessman, Lester Melrose, who was really responsible for shaping the Chicago sound of the late 30's and 40?s.” Melrose had said “From March 1934 to February 1951 I recorded at least 90 percent of all rhythm-and-blues talent for RCA Victor and Columbia Records…” As Rowe further explains: “But Melrose had more than a large stable of blues artists under his control. Since only a few of them had regular accompanists most of them would play on each others records and thus Melrose has a completely self-contained unit… …The final stage of this musical incest was completed when they started recording each others songs.” The result was a consistent, sometime cookie cutter sound, although the best artists would consistently transcend these limitations.

Minnie and Son Joe (Ernest Lawlars) got together sometime in the late 30's and were married in 1939. They first recorded together in February 1939 where Son cut six numbers under his own name and Minnie cut seven. As Moody Jones recalled: "Her husband Son was the onliest fella…that knew more about them chords then I did." Joe had joined the Barber Parker band in the mid-forties, traveling throughout the Delta with Parker, Willie Love, and G.P. Jackson, and Jackson remembers Son as not only an excellent guitarist, but as a washboard player as well.

In 1939, Minnie returned to the Vocation label. Her recordings with Son Joe are in duet style, with piano, bass or drums added on some sessions. Minnie and Little Son Joe also began to release material on Okeh Records in the 1940s. The couple continued to record together throughout the decade. In May of 1941 Minnie recorded her biggest hit, "Me And My Chauffeur Blues." A followup date yielded two more blues standards, "Looking The World Over" and Son's "Black Rat Swing (issued as by Mr. Memphis Minnie)." At the dawn of the 1940's Minnie and Joe continued to work at their "home club", Chicago's popular 708 club where they were often joined by Big Bill, Sunnyland Slim, or Snooky Pryor. They also played at dozens of the other better known Chicago nightclubs. The forties treated Minnie and Son Joe well and they performed both together and separately depending on finances, (they could make more money playing separate gigs). Minnie, presided over Blue Monday parties at Ruby Lee Gatewood's Tavern playing an electrified National arch top in front of a band that included bass and drums. The poet Langston Hughes saw her perform New Year's Eve 1942, at the 230 Club, and was thoroughly overwhelmed by her "scientific" (i.e. loud) sound. He described the sound of her electric guitar as "a musical version of electric welders plus a rolling mill".  Clearly she had by that time embraced the next phase of the blues.

As Minnie's biographer's note: "By the end of the 40's Minnie had made the leap to post-war blues., and several of her last pieces were excellent examples of powerful , 1950's Chicago-style blues. Minnie's voice was still strong and vibrant, and she might have become a fine, post-war (style) performer."  In 1949 Minnie cut a session for the Regal label with Jimmy Rogers and Sunnyland Slim. The session was never released at the time. In 1952, Minnie recorded a session for the legendary Chess label, when it was just two months old. One side even featured Little Walter on harmonica. Singles from the session included "Broken Heart" and a re-recording of "Me and My Chauffeur Blues." The following year, she released her last commercial recording after 24 years in blues music, "Kissing in the Dark" and "World of Trouble" on the JOB label. On the Regal and Chess sides Minnie sounds a bit ill at ease but not so on the JOB sides. For example "in 'World Of Trouble', one hears the raw power of the era, with each component at last firmly integrated, and with Minnie's strong and forceful vocal evocative in the extreme."

Within the next few years, Minnie’s health began to fail. She retired from her music career and returned to Memphis. She performed one last time at a memorial for her friend, blues artist Big Bill Broozny in 1958. Periodically, she would appear on Memphis radio stations to encourage younger blues musicians. As the Garon's wrote in Woman with Guitar, "She never laid her guitar down, until she could literally no longer pick it up." In 1960, Minnie suffered from a stroke and was bound to a wheelchair. The following year, Little Son Joe passed away. Minnie finally passed in 1973.

Share

Next Page »