Field Recordings


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Kip LornellInterview
Fats Jefferson Hard Luck Blues North Florida Fives
Elroy Hart North Florida Fives North Florida Fives
Fats Jefferson Married Woman North Florida Fives
Willie Morris Broke Down Blues Goin' Back To Tifton
Tom CarterSome Got 6 Months Goin' Back To Tifton
C.D. DobbsAberdeen WomanGoin' Back To Tifton
Blind Donald DawsonRack 'Em SlowGoin' Back To Tifton
Peg Leg Sam Hand Me DownThe Last Medicine Show
Peg Leg Sam Who's That Left Here Awhile AgoThe Last Medicine Show
Guitar Slim Worried Blues Greensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim War Service BluesGreensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim Come On Down To My HouseAin't Gonna Rain No More
Pernell CharityCome Back, Baby, ComeThe Virginian
Pernell CharityFind Me A Home Pernell Charity
Pernell CharityI'm Climbing On Top Of The Hill The Virginian
Irvin Cook & Leonard Bowles I Wish to the Lord I'd Never Been BornVirginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music
John CephasRailroad BillVirginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music
Lewis HairstonBile Them Cabbage Down Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music
Clayton HorsleyPoor Black Annie Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music
Carl Hodges Leaving You, MamaVirginia Traditions: Tidewater Blues
Corner MorrisGoing Down The Road Feeling GoodVirginia Traditions: Tidewater Blues
Jamie AlstonGoin' AwayAin't Gonna Rain No More
Wilbert Atwater Can't Get A Letter From Down The Road Ain't Gonna Rain No More
Jamie AlsonSix White Horses Ain't Gonna Rain No More
Joe & Odell Thompson Going Down The Road Feeling Bad Ain't Gonna Rain No More

Show Notes:

North Florida FivesFrom the 1960's through the 80's there were folklorists, researchers and dedicated fans such as David Evans, George Mitchell, Sam Charters, Chris Stratwichz, Mack McCormick, Bruce Jackson, Peter B. Lowry, Tary Owens, Art Rosenbaum, Pete Welding, Bengt Olsson, Glenn Hinson, Tim Duffy, Axel Küstner and Kip Lornell who actively sought out and recorded rural blues. Over the years we have featured many of them and today we spotlight the field recordings of Christopher “Kip” Lornell who captured some remarkable, undiscovered musicians in the 1970’s. Lornell was gracious enough to let me talk with him a couple of weeks back which I've edited for today's program.

Lornell began conducting blues research while still in high school. As an undergraduate in New York and North Carolina he interviewed and recorded local blues artists, resulting in articles in Living Blues and other periodicals and albums on the Flyright, Trix, and Rounder labels. Lornell served for four years as the staff folklorist at Ferrum College’s Blue Ridge Institute documenting music from Virginia on the groundbreaking Virginia Traditions series of albums which included some of his field recordings. Since 1992 Lornell has taught courses in American Music & Ethnomusicology at George Washington University and more recently works as a researcher at the Smithsonian Institution. In 1997 Lornell received a Grammy for his work on the boxed set The Anthology of American Folk Music for Smithsonian/Folkways. Lornell has published numerous articles, liner notes and books. His books include: Melody Man: Joe Davis and the New York Music Scene, The Life and Legend of Leadbelly (coauthored with Charles Wolfe), Shreveport Sounds in Black and White (Editor), Happy In Service Of Lord: African-American Sacred Vocal Harmony, Exploring American Folk Music, Virginia's Blues, Country, and Gospel Records, 1902-1943 among others. Our focus on today's program is Lornell's blues field recordings from the 1970's which include the following albums:  Pernell Charity: The Virginian (some tracks recorded by Pete Lowry), Ain't Gonna Rain No More: Blues And Pre-Blues From Piedmont North Carolina, Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music, Virginia Traditions: Tidewater Blues, Goin' Back To Tifton, North Florida Fives, Guitar Slim: Greensboro Rounder and The Last Medicine Show where he assisted Pete Lowry.

Peg Leg Sam Jackson: Born For Hard Luck

We open the program with selections from two long out-of-print records released on the Flyright label in 1974:  Goin' Back To Tifton and North Florida Fives. Lornell was just out of High School when he made these recordings following what would because a practice for him which is to look in your own backyard. He correctly assumed that since Albany had significant black population there would be some blues musicians. In hindsight he wishes he had done a similar exploration for religious singers but at the time it was blues that was his primary interest. Most of the musicians were probably rusty and didn't play much anywhere but there some fine performances including some piano players who were recorded far too infrequently during this period. Not all blues musicians from the south came to Chicago and in fact quite a number came to New York such as Sonny Terry, Brownie McGee, Rev. Gary Davis and others. It's not surprising some of them went farther into upstate New York.  The most famous, of course, is Son House who settled in Rochester in 1943.

Lornell eventually connected with Pete Lowry who was teaching at SUNY New Paltz. In his voluminous research, writing and recording Lowry has become perhaps 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. He formed the Trix label in 1972 as an outlet to release his recordings. Around this time Lornell got an NEA Federal Youth Grant and hooked up with Lowry to do some field recording in the south. One of the artists Lornell recorded was Pernell Charity. Charity spent his whole life around Waverly, VA. The Virginian is his only album released on the Trix label. As Lowry told me: "Pernell is a Kip Lornell discovery, done during his Federal Youth Grant year – I was his mentor and supervisor for that! I did the first tapes for him, then got them back – then did a few sessions on my own later, when I got my NEA Folkarts grant." Lornell wrote the liner notes and noted that "the phonograph record has had an important effect in shaping the song repertoire of many blues musicians…such is the case with Pernell Charity… It was the records of Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, and Blind Lemon Jefferson that inspired Pernell to take up guitar."

 Guitar Slim: Greensboro Rounder
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Lornell was also involved with Lowry in recording one of the last medicine shows. The show was  presided over by Chief Thundercloud who was still hawking “Prairie King Liniment” from the tailgate of his station wagon at fairs and carnivals in the Southeast in the early 70’s. In his heyday he traveled will a full cast of comediennes, dancers, singers and musicians, numbering as many as sixteen. In later years his lone partner was Arthur “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson, a medicine show veteran who learned the ropes back in the 30’s from Pink Anderson. The duo was recorded and filmed by Pete Lowry and Kip Lornell in Pittsboro, North Carolina in 1972. The recordings issued on a 2-LP set of music and spoken word issued on the Flyright label titled The Last Medicine Show.

James “Guitar Slim” Stephens was first recorded in the early 70's by Lornell who recorded him on several occasions in 1974 and 1975. His first LP, Greensboro Rounder, was issued in 1979 by the British Flyright label and are comprised of these recordings. Green also appears on the anthologies Eight Hand Sets & Holy Steps and Ain't Gonna Rain No More: Blues And Pre-Blues From Piedmont North Carolina. Green's final recordings were made in 1980 by Siegfried Christmann and Axel Küstner for the Living Country Blues USA series of albums. Other songs from 1980 appear on the album Old Time Barrelhouse Blues which also includes sides by Memphis Piano Red. Green passed away in 1991.

The Virginia Traditions series consisted of nine albums issued between 1978 and 1988  by BRI Records, a label operated by the Blue Ridge Institute of Ferrum College. The recordings, made in various settings between the mid-1920's and the mid-1980's, range from African American work songs to Anglo American ballads to a cappella sacred music and stringband tunes. As the  Blue Ridge Institute's staff folklorist, Lornell was involved with the series, producing, writing liner notes and compiling tracks which included some of his own field recordings. He was most deeply involved in the volumes Non-Blues Secular Black Music and Tidewater Blues which is where we draw our selections form. Smithsonian Folkways has made the entire series available via their website.

BRI00001 BRI00006
Read Liner Notes Read Liner Notes

The final record we look at today is the anthology Ain't Gonna Rain No More: Blues And Pre-Blues From Piedmont North Carolina. The album includes performances recorded in North Carolina in the mid 1970's by Dink Roberts, Joe & Odell Thompson, Jamie Alston, Wilbert Atwater, John Snipes,and Guitar Slim and it contains a mixture of banjo and guitar numbers. It should be noted that during the interview both Kip and I were under the impression this had not been issued on CD but it appears that Rounder did reissue on CD about eight years ago.

Related Listening:

-Kip Lornell Radio Feature (2 hours, 4 min., mp3)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Guitar Slim Little BoyGreensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim Worried BluesGreensboro Rounder
Lum Guffin Moaning And Groaning Blues Walking Victrola
Lum Guffin Railroad Blues Walking Victrola
Shortstuff Macon Moanin' Introducing Mr. Shortstuff
Shortstuff Macon Great Big LegsIntroducing Mr. Shortstuff
Maxwell Street Jimmy Me And My Telephone Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis
Maxwell Street Jimmy Drifting From Door To Door Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis
Maxwell Street Jimmy Crying Won't Make Me Stay
Modern Chicago Blues
Guitar Slim Penitentiary Moan Blues Greensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim War Service Blues Greensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim Lovin Home Blues Greensboro Rounder
Lum Guffin Johnny Wilson Walking Victrola
Lum Guffin Old Country BluesOld Country Blues
Shortstuff Macon Short Stuff's Corrina Hell Bound & Heaven Sent
Shortstuff Macon My Jack Don't Drink Water No More Hell Bound & Heaven Sent
Shortstuff Macon Tight Like ThatHell Bound & Heaven Sent
Maxwell Street Jimmy Make Some Love To You Chicago Blues Live At The Fickle Pickle
Maxwell Street Jimmy Long Haired Darlin' Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis
Guitar Slim Won't You Spread Some Flowers On My Grave Living Country Blues Vol. 8
Guitar Slim – Bad Luck Blues Living Country Blues Vol. 8
Lum GuffinOn The Road Again Walking Victrola
Lum GuffinJack Of Diamond Walking Victrola
Guitar Slim Come On In My Kitchen Living Country Blues USA: Introduction
Guitar Slim Lula's Back In Town Living Country Blues vol. 10

Show Notes:

 Guitar Slim: Greensboro Rounder
Read Liner Notes

I was talking last week on the air during our pledge drive about radio and how the landscape has changed with iTunes and services like Spotify and Pandora. What I tried to emphasize is that even with these services there is a vast amount of material that has never been digitized and hence you will never hear on these services. This is certainly the case with the blues. When CD's starting coming out many of us assumed everything would be made available but there remain many, many great albums that remain long out-of-print with little chance of ever getting reissued. If you look in the The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings, one of my favorite resources, there's a thousand pages listing blues CD's but one could come up with a hefty companion volume of all the recordings that have not made it onto CD and therefore not included in that book. Those recordings are featured regularly on this show and make up something of a forgotten history of the blues. There are many artists who's complete output remains unissued on CD, making their achievements virtually forgotten. With companies like Document and Yazoo, almost all of the pre-war materiel has been reissued. Similarly labels like Ace and Classics, among others, have done a good job covering the post-war era. The most glaring oversight is some of the great, little known bluesman who were captured in the 1960's and 70's, many of these field recordings, and issued almost exclusively on small labels. Our ongoing Forgotten Country Blues Heroes continues spotlighting these artists.

From the 1960's through the 80's there were folklorists, researchers and dedicated fans such as David Evans, Pete Welding, George Mitchell, Sam Charters, Chris Stratwichz, Mack McCormick, Bruce Jackson, Peter B. Lowry, Tary Owens, Art Rosenbaum, Pete Welding, Bengt Olsson, Kip Lornell, Glenn Hinson, Tim Duffy, and Axel Küstner who actively sought out and recorded rural blues. Some were hunting for the famous names who made records in the 1920’s and 1930’s, others were seeking to fill in biographical blanks regarding some of the older musicians coveted by collectors and then there were those who were seeking to document the blues tradition as it still existed in rural communities. Today's program spotlights a batch of superb, little known, artists who were recorded during this period, almost all of whose recordings remain out-of-print: Guitar Slim Stephens, Lum Guffin, Short Stuff Macon and Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis.

 Lum Guffin: Walking Victrola
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James “Guitar Slim” Stephens was born on March 10, 1915, near Spartanburg, South Carolina. He began playing pump organ when he was only five years old, singing spirituals he learned from his parents and reels he heard from his older brother pick on the banjo. Slim was so small that his feet would not even reach the organ pedals, so he had one of his brothers do the pumping while he practiced the keys. Within a few years, Slim was playing piano. When he was thirteen, Green began picking guitar, playing songs he heard at local “fling-dings,” house parties, and churches. A few years later he joined the John Henry Davis Medicine Show, playing music to draw crowds to hear the show master’s pitch; this took him throughout the southeastern Piedmont. It seems as if traveling was in Slim’s blood from that point on; for in the next twenty or so years, he moved throughout the eastern United States living in such cities as Richmond, Durham, Louisville, Nashville, and Waterbury, Connecticut. In 1953 he arrived in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he lived for the remainder of his life playing both guitar and piano–singing the blues at house parties and spirituals at church.

Green's was first recorded in the early 70's by Kip Lornell who recorded him on several occasions in 1974 and 1975. His first LP, Greensboro Rounder, was issued in 1979 by the British Flyright label and are comprised of these recordings. Green also appears on the anthologies Eight Hand Sets & Holy Steps and Ain't Gonna Rain No More from the 1970's. Green's final recordings were made in 1980 by Siegfried Christmann and Axel Küstner for the Living Country Blues USA series of albums. Other songs from 1980 appear on the album Old Time Barrelhouse Blues which also includes sides by Memphis Piano Red. Green passed away in 1991. I'll be spotlighting more sides by Slim on an upcoming show devoted to the field recordings of Kip Lornell.

Begnt Olsson recorded Lum Guffin between 1972 and 1974, with a few tracks appearing on anthologies and the rest on his only full-length album, Walking Victrola, issued on the Flyright label in 1973. Further field recordings were made in 1978 by Gianni Marcucci and issued on his Albatros label. Guffin performed as a street musician around Binghampton, Memphis during the depression with his sometime partner, mandolin player ‘Chunk’ McCullough or at home for various social gatherings, picnics, dances, etc. Guffin also performed in a fife and drum band during the time of these recordings. He passed in 1993.

 Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis
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Regarding Short Stuff Macon the liner notes to his Folkways album (Hell Bound And Heaven Sent recorded in 1964) 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.” In 1964 Macon recorded for the Spivey label 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. Macon passed in 1973.

Maxwell Jimmy Davis was Born Charles W. Thompson on March 2, 1925 in Tippo, MS. He learned to play guitar from John Lee Hooker while still a teenager, developing an insistent single-chord technique similar to that of his mentor; Davis and Hooker regularly gigged together in Detroit throughout the '40s, with the former settling in Chicago early the next decade. There he became a fixture of the West Side's Maxwell Street marketplace area. Davis recorded for Sam Phillips in 1952 but those sides were never issued .Live tracks from 1963 at Chicago's Fickle Pickle have been issued on different albums and there were some sides cut for the Testament label circa 1964.65. In 1965 he recorded his only full-length album, Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis for Elektra. His last recordings were from the late 80's. He passed in 1995.

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Arzo Youngblood Bye And Bye BluesGoin' Up The Country
Boogie Bill WebbDooleyville BluesGoin' Up The Country
Cornelius Bright My Baby's GoneGoin' Up The Country
Mager JohnsonBig Road BluesGoin' Up The Country
Isaiah ChattmanFound My Baby GoneGoin' Up The Country
Babe Stovall & Herb Quinn See See Rider South Mississippi Blues
Issac Youngblood & Herb QuinnHesitating BluesSouth Mississippi Blues
Eli OwensMuleskinner BluesSouth Mississippi Blues
Herb QuinnCaseySouth Mississippi Blues
Babe Stovall Candy ManSouth Mississippi Blues
Woodrow Adams & Fiddlin' Joe MartinPony BluesHigh Water Blues
Houston Stackhouse & Carey "Ditty" MasonTalkin' About YouHigh Water Blues
Charlie Taylor & Willie Taylor I Got The BluesHigh Water High
Isiah ChattmanCold In Hand BluesHigh Water High
L.V. Conelry High Water High High Water High
Willard Artis 'Blind Pete' BurrellDo Lord Remember MeSorrow Come Pass Me Around
Babe StovallThe Ship Is At The Landing Sorrow Come Pass Me Around
Robert “Nighthawk” Johnson Ain't No Grave Hold My Body Down Sorrow Come Pass Me Around
Dorothy Lee, Norma Jean & Shirley Marie JohnsonYou Give An Account Sorrow Come Pass Me Around
Chester Davis, Compton Jones & Furry LewisGlory Glory Hallelujah Sorrow Come Pass Me Around
Roosevelt HoltsThe Good Book Teach YouPresenting The Country Blues
Roosevelt HoltsMaggie Campbell BluesPresenting The Country Blues
Roosevelt HoltsDown The Big Road45
Roosevelt HoltsPackin´ Up Her Trunk Roosevelt Holts & Friends
Arzo YoungbloodMaggie Campbell BluesThe Legacy of Tommy Johnson
John Henry 'Bubba' Brown Canned Heat Blues The Legacy of Tommy Johnson
Boogie Bill WebbShow Me What You Got For SaleThe Legacy of Tommy Johnson
Houston Stackhouse & Carey Ditty Mason –Bye Bye BluesBig Road Blues
Houston Stackhouse & Carey Ditty Mason –Big Road BluesBig Road Blues
Jack Owens Jack Ain't Had No Water It Must Have Been the Devil
Jack Owens Cherry Ball It Must Have Been the Devil

Show Notes:

Goin' Up The County
Read Liner Notes (PDF)

Today's show spotlights field recordings made by David Evans in the 1960's and 70's. The recordings from this period were a direct result of Evans' investigation into Tommy Johnson in the late 1960’s. His research led to the book Tommy Johnson (Studio Vista, 1971) and Big Road Blues (1982). Evans recorded many men who knew or learned directly from Johnson including Roosevelt Holts, Boogie Bill Webb, Arzo Youngblood, Isaac Youngblood, Bubba Brown, Babe Stovall, Houston Stackhouse and Tommy’s brother Mager Johnson. The bulk of these artists had not been recorded previously. The field recordings Evans collected have been issued on several albums, unfortunately almost all of them are out of print. Today we feature selections from the following various artist albums: Goin' Up The Country, South Mississippi Blues, High Water Blues, Sorrow Come Pass Me Around and The Legacy of Tommy Johnson. In addition we feature tracks from the Roosevelt Holt albums Presenting The Country Blues Of, Roosevelt Holt and Friends, The Franklinton Muscatel Society plus the Jack Owens album It Must Have Been The Devil and a collection of sides by Houston Stackhouse and Carey Mason titled Big Road Blues.

Goin' Up The Country was the first collection of Evans' field recordings. All the recordings were made in 1966. As Evans wrote: “When I first made these recordings in 1966, interest in the blues in America was still largely an underground phenomenon. Britain was the center of interest and research. Consequently, I sent a tape of my best recordings to Simon Napier, the editor of the pioneering British magazine Blues Unlimited. He was sufficiently impressed with the music that he kindly arranged with Mike Vernon and Neil Slaven to have an album brought out on British Decca, Goin' Up The Country. The album was subsequently reissued and remastered on Rounder in 1975. These sides have not appeared on CD. Of these recordings, Evans wrote: “…in 1965 I began recoding and interviewing blues artists on my own, and in the summer of 1966 spent about five weeks in Louisiana and Mississippi taping older country blues styles. These fifteen performances are among the best I recorded there.” Among the performers, only a few had recorded previously: Boogie Bill Webb cut some sides for Imperial in the early 50's, Babe Stovall had recorded a full-length album and Isiah Chattman played rhythm guitar on some sides by Silas Hogan.

South Mississippi Blues
Read Liner Notes (PDF)

South Mississippi Blues collects songs recorded between 1965 and 1971 and was issued on Rounder in the mid-70's. Evans writes of this collection: “All nine performers heard here grew up and learned their music in the vicinity of Tylertown (Walthall Co.) Mississippi in the south-central part of the state near the Louisiana border. …All nine of these musicians know each other, and most have at one time or another, played together in various combinations.”

The recordings on High Water Blues were recorded between 1965 and 1970, mainly in Louisiana and Mississippi and issued on the Flyright label in 1974. Of this collection Evans writes: “ln the last ten years I've recorded hundreds of blues by dozens of performers in Mississippi and Louisiana and some of the other southern states. Some of these artists like Roosevelt Holts and Jack Owens, Iwas able to record extensively, and l have presented complete LP's of their work. But there were many others who only recorded a handful of good songs for me. …I've selected for this record the best blues from some of here artists that I met briefly some years ago.”

The Legacy of Tommy Johnson was issued on the Saysdic Mathbox label in 1972, a companion record to Evans' 1971 book titled Tommy Johnson. As Evans Writes: “The songs on this album, although they are created by twelve different musicians, were all at one time part of the repertoire of Tommy Johnson, perhaps the greatest and best remembered folk blues performer the state of Mississippi has ever produced. …Versions of Johnson’s songs derive exclusively from personal contact, though many of the artists undoubtedly heard Johnson’s records at one time or other.”

The Legacy of Tommy Johnson
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Sorrow Come Pass Me Around is a beautiful collection of spiritual and gospel songs performed in informal non-church settings between 1965-1973. Most are guitar-accompanied and performed by active or former blues artists. The songs were recorded between 1965 and 1973 . Evans writes: “Most records of black religious music contain some form of gospel singing or congregational singing recorded at a church service. This album, though, tries to present a broader range of performance styles and contexts with the hope of showing the important role that religious music plays in the Southern black communities and in the daily lives of individuals.” The album was originally issued on Advent in 1975 and has just been reissued on vinyl on the Dust-To-Digital label.

Roosevelt Holts was born in 1905 near Tylertown, Mississippi, and took up the guitar when he was in his mid-twenties. He started to get serious about music in the late 1930's when he encountered Tommy Johnson. Evans began recording Holts in 1965 resulting in two LP's (both out of print): Presenting The Country Blues (Blue Horizon,1966) and Roosevelt Holts and Friends (Arhoolie, 1969-1970) plus the collection The Franklinton Muscatel Society featuring his earliest sides through 1969 which is available on CD. In addition selections recorded by Evans appeared on the following anthologies (all out of print): Goin' Up The Country (Decca, 1968), The Legacy of Tommy Johnson (Matchbox, 1972), South Mississippi Blues (Rounder, 1974 ?), Way Back Yonder …Original Country Blues Vol. 3 (Albatros, 1979 ?), Giants Of Country Blues Vol. 3 (Wolf, 199?) and a very scarce 45 ("Down The Big Road b/w Blues On Mind") cut for the Bluesman label in 1969 that we feature today.

Houston Stackhouse's family moved to Crystal Springs, Mississippi in the mid-1920's, where he learned songs from Tommy Johnson and his brothers and took up guitar. In the early 1930's, he moved to Hollandale, Mississippi where his cousin, Robert Lee McCullum (later known as Robert Nighthawk) lived. In 1946, Houston moved to Helena, Arkansas where he played with Sonny Boy Williamson on The King Biscuit Time show, on KFFA Radio. He played with Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, Roosevelt Sykes and Earl Hooker. He continued to play, but less frequently after he married in the late 1950's. Periodically, he returned to the King Biscuit show. In 1967 he made his first recordings cutting field recordings for George Mitchell and shortly after for David Evans that same year.

High Water Blues
Read Liner Notes (PDF)

Jack Owens belonged to the pioneering generation of Bentonia bluesmen, which included Skip James and the unrecorded Henry Stuckey. Just as James’s recording career was nearing its end, Owens was beginning his, in 1966; his first album (It Must Have Been The Devil), produced by Evans, was not released until 1971 for the Testament label. The music of Owens and James, as Evans wrote, was distinguished by “haunting, brooding lyrics dealing with such themes as loneliness, death and the supernatural . . . Altogether it is one of the eeriest, loneliest and deepest blues sounds ever recorded.”

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UnknownThirty Days in JailNobody Knows My Name
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Texas Johnny BrownThe Blues RockAtlantic Blues: Guitar
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Jack OwensI Won't Be Bad No More It Must Have Been the Devil
Houston Stackhouse & Carey Ditty MasonTraveling BluesBig Road Blues
Black Boy ShineWest Columbia WomanLeroy Carr & Black Boy Shine: Unissued Test Pressings & Alternate Takes 1934-1937
Pinetop BurksFannie Mae BluesSan Antonio 1937
Robert ShawPut Me In The AlleyThe Ma Grinder
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Kitty StevensSleeping by YourselfChance Vintage Blues Vol. 4
Papa Charlie JacksonAll I Want Is A Spoonful Papa Charlie Jackson Vol. 1 1924-1926
Peg Leg HowellBanjo BluesAtlanta Blues
Charley JordanMy 'Lovin' Good' BluesCharley Jordan Vol. 1 1930-1931
LeadbellyDeath LetterThe Remaining ARC & LoCR Vol. 1

Show Notes:

African American Folksong and American Cultural PoliticsThe first hour of today's program is devoted to Lawrence Gellert and inspired by a new book by Bruce Conforth titled African American Folksong and American Cultural Politics: The Lawrence Gellert Story. We'll be chatting with Bruce today and playing some remarkable field recordings made by Gellert in the 30's. Gellert's life and recordings have been shrouded in a veil of mystery and secrecy and much of what we know of Gellert and his recordings are inaccurate. As Conforth writes: “Lawrence Gellert was one of the most misunderstood and overlooked folksong and folklore collectors of the 20th century.” Conforth does a fine job untangling Gellert's convoluted story and putting the music in its proper context. Gellert was among the first to make recordings in the field in the 1920's, although the issued recordings are all from the 1930's. It wasn't until the 70's that his recordings were finally issued: Rounder issued Negro Songs of Protest in 1973 and Cap'n You're So Mean in 1982 and another album of material was issued on the Heritage label in 1984 titled Nobody Knows My Name (the latter two produced by Conforth).

As anyone who's listened to this show knows, I have a long standing interest in field recordings and have always been fascinated by Gellert who's always been something of a shadowy figure. Conforth's book reads like a detective novel – complete with a twist ending, which I won't go into here. Gellert was basically his own worst enemy and his neglect mostly his own making. "In truth," Conforth writes "the fault of this misunderstanding  and omission was mostly his own. He began collecting African American material purely by happenstance only to find the songs he transcribed and recorded used by the American left and Communist Party of America in ways that would cause other trained collectors to question the veracity of virtually all of his published work.  Add to this the incredibly early date at which his collecting and recording commenced (the 1920s) and the criticism heaped upon him-some out of sheer jealousy, some from a misunderstanding of the scope of his work-that caused most scholars to ignore him, and today he is merely a footnote."

Conforth also makes clear that protest songs were only a small part of the songs Gellert collected.  "…the bulk of his material has similarities to almost every other African American folksong collection. He collected numerous traditional blues and spiritual tunes that help validate the authenticity of his collection. His blues recordings outnumber those deemed protest, and this latter group actually consists of traditional blues, misconstrued as protest by those who chose to use them for political purposes."

In the second hour of today's show we spin a mix of blues including two features that point the way to future shows; we feature a set of field recordings captured by David Evans in the 1960's with a whole show devoted to those recordings next week. We also spotlight a trio of fine Texas piano players which will be a multi-part show down later this year.  In addition we play two cuts by the recently departed Texas Johnny Brown.

Lawrence Gellert
Lawrence Gellert

Evans' field recordings from the 60's and 70's was a result of his  investigation into Tommy Johnson in the late 1960’s. Evans recorded many men who learned directly from Johnson including Roosevelt Holts, Boogie Bill Webb, Arzo Youngblood, Isaac Youngblood, Bubba Brown, Babe Stovall, Houston Stackhouse and Tommy’s brother Mager Johnson. The field recordings Evans collected have been issued on several albums, unfortunately almost all of them are out of print. I'll be spotlighting all of these albums next week and provide much more background on these recordings.

The last couple of weeks I've been working on liner notes for a reissue, to be released on the Document label, of Buster Pickens' self-titled album released originally on the Heritage label in 1962. Pickens was one of the last survivors of the "Santa Fe" group of Texas pianists. Mack McCormick noted that the “itinerant pack of pianists who came to be known loosely as 'the Santa Fe group,' partly because they favored that railroad and partly because a stranger asking for the name of a selection was invariably told 'That's The Santa Fe.' …They were known as The Santa Fe after the railroad that straddle Fort Bend County with a big triangle just Southwest of Houston, providing access westward to the high plains, cotton country, east to the piney-woods lumbering camps and north (pretty much following the old Chisholm Trail) to a string of cities and watering places. "Here", Oliver notes “was where the music thrived and pianists could be found like Pinetop Burks, Son Becky, Rob Cooper, Black Boy Shine, Andy Boy, Big Boy Knox, Robert Shaw, Buster Pickens and the singers who worked with them like Walter 'Cowboy' Washington and Joe Pullum.”

Texas Johnny Brown passed away July 1st at the age of 85 at his home in Houston, Texas. Brown moved from Mississippi to Houston in the 1940's, and by 1946 was performing at places like Shady's Playhouse. He hooked up with Amos Milburn and the Chickenshackers, playing with the band for about four years and getting his nickname from Milburn's manager. As "Texas" Johnny Brown and His Blues Rockers (featuring Milburn on piano), Brown recorded "There Goes the Blues"/"The Blues Rock" for Atlantic around 1949. After three years in the military Brown briefly relocated to Louisiana, working on the road with Milburn. By the mid-'50s he was back in Houston playing sessions with trumpeter/arranger Joe Scott at Peacock and Duke Records. Brown also regularly toured with acts like Parker and Bland, who were represented by the Buffalo Booking Agency. Brown was perhaps best known for writing "Two Steps From the Blues," the title track from Bland's landmark 1961 album. In the 60's Brown retired from music but returned in the 90's, cutting some acclaimed records and remained active until shortly before his death.

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Stephen WadeInterview
Kelly PaceRock Island Line The Beautiful Music All Around Us
LeadbellyRock Island Line Leadbelly Vol: 4 1944
Nashville Washboard Band Soldier's JoyThe Beautiful Music All Around Us
Nashville Washboard Band Kohoma Blues Too Late, Too Late Vol. 10 1926-1951
Blind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band Buffalo GalBlind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band
Vera Hall Another Man Done GoneThe Beautiful Music All Around Us
Willie TurnerNow Your Man Done Gone Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1: Secular Music
Big Joe Williams Please Don't Go Big Joe Williams Vol. 1 1935-41
Baby Doo Caston I'm Gonna Walk Your LogChicago Blues Vol. 2 1939-1944
Leadbelly & Golden Gate Quartet Alabama BoundAlabama Bound
Dennis Gainus You Gonna Look Like A Monkey A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Grover Dickson & Group Grizzley Bear A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Dudley Alexander and Washboard Band Baby, Please Don't Go A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Joel HopkinsBetter Down The Road A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Jack Jackson & Lightnin' Hopkins The Slop A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Mance Lipscomb Tom Moore's Farm A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 2
R.C. Forest & Gozy Kilpatrick Tin Can Alley A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 2
R.G. WIlliams & Group Hammer RingA Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Prisoners Chopping In The New Ground Negro Prison Camp Worksongs
Prisoners Go Down Old HannahNegro Prison Camp Worksongs
Jesse "G.I. Jazz" Hendricks and groupRattlerNegro Folklore from Texas State Prisons
Johnny Jackson & Group Raise 'Em Up Higher Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons

Show Notes:

The Beautiful Music All Around UsOn today’s program we spotlight some great field recordings captured between the 1930’s through the 1960’s. In the first hour we talk with Stephen Wade about his new book The Beautiful Music All Around Us which presents the fascinating back stories of thirteen performances captured on Library of Congress field recordings between 1934 and 1942. Through prodigious research, Wade sought out the performers on these recordings, their families, fellow musicians, and others who remembered them and reconstructs their lives and how the music was tied to the larger community. Wade is also known for his long-running stage performances of Banjo Dancing and On the Way Home. He also produced and annotated the Rounder CD collections A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings and Black AppalachiaIn the second hour we spotlight field recordings made by Mack McCormick and others around Houston plus recording made Texas prisons  by Bruce Jackson in the 1960’s and  Pete & Toshi Seeger, John Lomax Jr., Chester Bower and Fred Hellerman in 1951.

Through the dilegence of a relatively small number of dedicated researchers we know an amazing amount of information about early blues musicians. I'm no expert on country music but I imagine the case is similar. For all our knowledge there are many gaps; a fair number of the blues artists were itinerant musicians, traveling from town to town, or state to state and the other factor comes down to the fact that the white establishment wasn't all that concerned with documenting African-Americans, and if they were listed on census records, court documents, etc. that information is often inaccurate. The artists and songs Wade covers in The Beautiful Music All Around Us were biographical blanks, leaving leaving behind little of their origins, and seemingly impervious to discovery after so many decades. Through dogged research Wade has been able to flesh out the lives of folks like Bozie Sturdivant, Ora Dell Graham and Kelly Pace and find the origins and stories behind iconic songs such as "Rock Island Line" and "Another Man Done Gone." Our show has always focused on African-American music but Wade's book covers much wider territory, and illustrates the cross pollination there was between white and black music. Our focus for the first hour plus is some of the African-American artists covered in Wade's book: Kelly Pace, Nashville Washboard Band and Vera Hall.

In October 1934 John Lomax set up his recording equipment at Cummins State Prison in Little Rock, Arkansas  and recorded a group led by Kelly Pace singing "Rock Island Line." The story of that song and its singer is one of my favorite chapters in Wade's book, fleshing out Kelly from those who knew him, he comes across as fascinating, talented man who simply could not stay out of trouble, spending half his life behind bars. "My brother," said Kelly's brother Lawrence, "was a songster. He sang all sort of songs – songs of the church, of the blues, dance songs, work songs …You couldn't beat him working. He didn't wait till the dew is off. He'd say 'I'm going to get 400 pounds of cotton.' And when you was done half-way, he done cut out and coming back. …Kelly, he was something else.'"

Handbill
Handbill from lecture given at the Library of
Congress (click to enlarge)

Wade also unlocks the origins of that famous song: 'Rock Island Line' begin its journey in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the repair shops of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Based on a traditional form and arising within a commercial setting, the song, like a trunk line whose branches radiate across the countryside, soon moved beyond this work site making new stops, shifting its contents, and streamlining its load. It migrated from a gospel quartet that the Arkansas prisoners performed to a rhythmic fable that Huddie Ledbetter created as he traveled with John Lomax as chauffeur, auto mechanic, and musical demonstrator. Eventually the song reached an incalculable number of players, singers, and listeners via skiffle, rock and roll, country, pop, and the folksong revival."

John Work IV recalled to Wade when his father, John Work III, welcomed a quartet of street musicians called the Nashville Washboard Band into his home in 1942. As Wade writes "the musicians faced them in a row, seated side by side, lodged between the Works' radio set on one end and their Steinway parlor grand on the other. One band member chorded his banjo-mandolin, and another the guitar, but Work IV fixed most on the string bass a third member of the band had cobbled together from a length of laundry wire, a broomstick, and a lard can. …[T]he band's fourth member, who was blind, sat between, who was blind, set between two washboards mounted on a sawhorse and hinged in the shape of a V. He had attached to them an assemblage of frying pans, tin plates, and a metal bell, each registering different tones. Wearing sewing thimbles on his fingers, he tapped, clocked, and hammered this clattering array of stove-top resonators and corrugated surfaces." John Work IV recollected "These people were the music. …They could just play on and on, and the house would reverberate." Twenty years after a group calling themselves Blind James Campbell And His Nashville Street Band were recorded by Chris Strachwitz for Arhoolie Records. The group members knew the earlier group, linking the two in a long, if largely undocumented, tradition of black street bands.

Treasury of Field Recordings Vol. 1 Treasury of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Read Liner Notes Pt.1 / Pt. 2

In 1940, in Livingston, Alabama, Vera Hall sang "Another Man Done" twice into John Lomax's recording machine. The song became Hall's signature number and when Alan Lomax included the number for one of the Folk Archive's first releases the song entered the mainstream, recorded by Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, John Mayall, Odetta and numerous others. In the chapter on Vera Hall, Wade provides background on Hall, the conditions she grew up in and the meaning behind the song. "When Vera recorded "Another Man Done" she told John Lomax that she learned it from her guitar-playing husband. …When writer-collector Harold Courlander came to Livingston in February 1950, he recorded both Vera singing 'Another Man Done,' as well as someone she knew: Willie Turner, a twenty-seven-year-old  confined at Camp Livingston. With his two fellow inmates, he sang and recorded 'Now Your Man Done Gone,' a piece they otherwise sang on the county road gang. …Two days before Courlander recorded Willie Turner at Camp Livingson, he stopped forty miles away in Marion, Mississippi. There he recorded a singer identified in his notes "only as Cora, who sang 'Baby Please Don't Go' . . . the same song, but with some variance in the lyrics." That song was first recorded commercially by Big Joe Williams in 1935. These songs "fit within a larger family of songs that "fit within a larger family of songs that include 'I'm Alabama Bound,' 'Don't Ease Me In,' 'Don't Leave Me Here,' and 'Elder Greene's in Town.' This network of songs that arises by the late nineteenth century uses a consistent verse pattern and, largely, a recurring subject matter."

There is a connection between the albums featured in the second hour: A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1 & 2, Negro Prison Camp Worksongs and Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons. As Mack McCormick writes in the notes to A Treasury Of Field Recordings: "The various collecting projects which have funneled into this final selection were initiated in 1951 when Pete Seeger visiting Houston, bringing together Ed Badeaux, John Lomax Jr., Chester Bower and Harold Belikoff, resulting in the founding of the Houston Folklore Group. At that time recordings were made at two of the Texas prison farms." The recordings McCormick is talking about resulted in the album Negro Prison Camp Worksongs with some songs from that session appearing on A Treasury Of Field Recordings. The recordings Bruce Jackson made over a decade later for the album Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons were recorded at the same Texas prisons and it's likely some of the same prisoners were recorded.

Negro Prison Camp Worksongs
 Read Liner Notes

A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1 & 2 were compiled by Mack McCormick and issued on the British 77 label in 1960. Sponsored by the Houston Folklore Group and the Texas Folklore Society, these Fields recordings were collected around Houston by McCormick and other collectors like Ed Bradeux, Pete Seeger, John Lomax and others. The 36 selections contained in this set were drawn from over 400 items recorded over a nine year period. The original recordings are housed at the University of Texas and the Library of Congress. As the notes state it portrays "A panorama of the traditions around Houston – the city and its neighboring bayous, beaches, prisons, plantations, plains and piney woods…” And as John Lomax writes about this collection “This is one good, long look at the guts of America – songs sung by those who make them up and pass them along, showing the character of themselves, the flavor and spirit of their lives.” Below is information on some of the albums' performers.

Joel Hopkins was Lightnin's older brother and first gave him a guitar. Joel traveled the south with tent shows and traveling caravans. Lightnin's other brother, John Henry also played guitar. The three were recorded together in Waxahatchie, TX in 1964. The results were issued on Arhoolie under the title Hopkins Brothers: Lightnin', Joel, & John Henry .

As Mack McCormick writes in the notes: "When his wife is away at church, Jack Jackson will sit down at his piano and sing "sinful" songs. Sometimes when she has an evening prayer meeting he'll invite someone like Lightnin' over to 'kick it around.' Lightnin' has ceased working with pianists (though he stills plays primarily in jook joints (for dancing) and Jack has established himself in business on the corner of Milam and Prarie in Houston's downtown business district."

Tom Moore was a powerful plantation owner who farmed land along the Brazos river in Texas. Asked about the song, sung on this collection by Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins, he replied: "They're happy people – they don 't always mean what they sing. He laughed deprecatingly, 'Only I best never catch one of them singing that song.'" As McCormick notes: “In order to protect him [Mance Lipscomb] and his family, his name is withheld from his recording of 'Tom Moore's Farm'. …The simple fact is that the singer and Tom Moore are neighbors, the one a poor laborer, the other a powerful and vindictive man who has long felt the song to be a thorn in his side.”

Recorded by Pete & Toshi Seeger in the winter of 1951 at two Texas prison farms, Negro Prison Camp Worksongs, released on the Folkways label, represents some of the oldest and most traditional work songs found among African American prison communities in the southern United States. In 1951, when Pete Seeger as one of the successful Singing group, The Weavers, was booked to appear at a Houston hotel ballroom, he wrote John Lomax, Jr. suggesting that he ask permission for them to visit the nearby prison farms with recording equipment. The governor granted permission and the group, with Chester Bower providing the tape machine and assisting, visited Ramsey and Rechine farms on consecutive Sunday afternoons.

Negro Folklore From Texas State Prisons
 Read Liner Notes

A couple of months back we devoted half a show to recordings made by Bruce Jackson in the 60's at Texas prisons. Today we feature selections from Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons (Elektra, 1965) which I omitted last time. Jackson wrote: “I started recording in Texas prisons in July 1964. I think Texas had about 12,000 prisoners in 14 prisons back then …My primary interest in Texas was the black convict worksongs, which seemed to me to be part of an unbroken musical tradition going back to West Africa….”

-Stephen Wade Interview/Feature  (75 min,. mp3)

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