Field Recordings


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
Read Liner Notes

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
Read Liner Notes

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
Read Liner Notes

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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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Bruce ConforthInterview
Unknown When Sun Go DownNegro Songs Of Protest
UnknownThirty Days in JailNobody Knows My Name
Unknown6 Months Ain't No SentenceNobody Knows My Name
UnknownBlack WomanNobody Knows My Name
UnknownBoogie Lovin'Nobody Knows My Name
UnknownCold Iron ShacklesNegro Songs Of Protest
UnknownDelia Cap'n You're So Mean
Texas Johnny BrownThere Goes The Blues Atlantic Blues: Guitar
Texas Johnny BrownThe Blues RockAtlantic Blues: Guitar
Roosevelt HoltsMy Phone Keeps Ringing Goin' Up The Country
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
Detroit JuniorThe Way I FeelHard Times, Chicago Blues Of The Sixties
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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ARTISTSONGALBUM
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
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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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ARTISTSONGALBUM
J.B. Smith & Group Sure Makes A Man Feel BadI'm Troubled With A Diamond: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 1
Joseph 'Chinaman' Johnson & GroupDrop 'em DownOld Rattler Can't Hold Me: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 2
Houston Paige & GroupDown The LineOld Rattler Can't Hold Me: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 2
J.B. Smith Poor Boy Old Rattler Can't Hold Me: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 2
Johnny Jackson & Group Yellow GalI'm Troubled With A Diamond: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 1
Johnny Johnson & GroupIn The BottomWake Up Dead Man
Benny Richardson & GroupGrizzly Bear Wake Up Dead Man
Eugene Rhodes If She's Your WomanTalkin' About My Time
Eugene Rhodes Whosoever Will, Let Him ComeTalkin' About My Time
Eugene Rhodes Talkin' About My TimeTalkin' About My Time
Eugene Rhodes Don't Talk Me to DeathTalkin' About My Time
J.B. SmithI Got Too Much Time For the Crime I DoneEver Since I Have Been a Man Full Grown
Babe Stovall The Ship Is At The Landing Sorrow Come Pass Me Around
Robert “Nighthawk” JohnsonCan't No GraveSorrow Come Pass Me Around
Willard Artis “Blind Pete” Burrell Do Lord Remember Me Sorrow Come Pass Me Around
Chester Davis/Compton Jones/Furry LewisGlory Glory HallelujahSorrow Come Pass Me Around
Willie Menifee & Mance Lipscomb If I Get Lucky MamaRuff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
T.J. Jackson Out And DownRuff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
Mance Lipscomb Papa Lightfoot Angel Child Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
Nathaniel “Bill” Barnes Jack Of Diamonds Is A Hard Card To PlayRuff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
Babe Stovall Worried Blues Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
Grey Ghost Lonesome Traveler Grey Ghost
Grey Ghost A Good Gal Is Hard To FindGrey Ghost
Grey Ghost Hold That Train, Conductor Grey Ghost

Show Notes:

J.B. Smith: Ever Since I Have Been a Man Full Grown
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On today's show we spotlight some remarkable field recordings from the 1960's and 70's. During the first hour we play recordings made in Texas prisons in the 60's by scholar Bruce Jackson. Jackson is a professor in the University of Buffalo's Department of English and has written or edited more than 30 books in the fields of folklore, ethnography, sociology and photography. Several collections of his field recordings have been issued although the bulk are long out-of-print. In the second hour we feature selections from the albums Sorrow Come Pass Me Around, Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar and a collection of recordings made by pianist the Grey Ghost. Sorrow Come Pass Me Around is a collection of spiritual and gospel songs recorded between 1965-1973 by David Evans performed by active or former blues artists. Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar is a collection of Texas field recordings capture by Tary Owens. Owens also recorded the Grey Ghost in 1965, eventually issuing these recordings in the 1980's.

Bruce 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….Black convicts in Texas mostly called them 'river songs,' not 'worksongs.' That’s because all of the plantation prisons in Texas used to be located on the Brazos River or the Trinity River. Since I was interested in worksongs and since that tradition was already on the wane, I concentrated on prisons for long-term convicts and multiple recidivists, prisons populated by men who had been in for a long time or who had been in several times previously. I started out on the Ramsey farm, southwest of Houston, and visited Retrieve and Sugarland which aren’t far from the Ramsey. I also worked on Eastham, the Walls (the only prison in Texas with a wall around it), Wynne (at that time, a prison for physically infirm and geriatric inmates) and Ellis, all of them in or near Huntsville, which is 70 miles north of Houston. …The large plantations in the U.S. South were based on West African agricultural models and, with one major difference, the black slaves used worksongs in the plantations exactly as they had used them before they had been taken prisoner and sold to the white men. The difference was this: in Africa the songs were used to time body movements and to give poetic voice to things of interest because people wanted to do their work that way; in the plantations there was added a component of survival. If a man were singled out as working too slowly, he would often be brutally punished. The songs kept everyone together, so no one could be singled out as working more slowly than everyone else.”

Wake Up Dead Man
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J.B. Smith was recorded by Jackson in 1965 at Texas’s Ramsey Prison Farm. From the liner notes: "Smitty – J.B. Smith – is eleven years into a forty-five year sentence that begun in 1954; he is 48 years old. This is his fourth time in prison in Texas and he does not expect to be paroled for some time.” Jackson wrote in his  book Wake Up Dead Man that, when he met him, Smith had already been in prison three times on burglary and robbery by assault charges. At the time of the recording, he was back in for the murder of his girlfriend, an act Smith recalled being born of “insane jealousy mixed up with love “So many of us do that,” he told Jackson, referring to his crime. “Lot of fellas in here today on those same terms.” The murder, according to Jackson, brought Smith back to Ramsey with “a forty-five-year sentence, which, because of his age, looked pretty much like life.” Jackson did continue, parenthetically: “He was paroled in 1967, lived in Amarillo for a while and did some preaching. I heard recently (1972) that he’d returned to prison for a parole violation.”

J.B. Smith noted that “the oldtimers still sing. That is, if whoever is carrying (in charge of) the squad will let them. In some cases the boss won’t let them sing. …The young men don’t get a chance to work with the older men and they haven’t experienced working with older men. A lot of them have never been in the system before. And the crews they work with don’t even know the songs, the worksongs that they work by. But once they get to working with the older men, they learn the songs and they try to carry them on when they can. But like I said, in most cases they can’t because they’re not permitted."

Jackson recorded an entire album devoted to smith titled Ever Since I Have Been a Man Full Grown issued on Takoma in 1965. As far as I know this is the only LP devoted to a single unaccompanied singer of prison worksong. As Jackson wrote: “He had been a member of groups doing work songs I had recorded at Ramsey during the summers of 1964 and 1965, when I returned in November 1965 he offered to tap some of the songs when he was working alone picking cotton or cutting sugarcane. He knows all the group songs and their melodies – he used to sing lead back in the days when he was younger and worked lead hoe…” Other songs by Smith appear on the anthologies I'm Troubled With A Diamond: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 1 and Old Rattler Can't Hold Me: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 2. In addition to Smith, we spotlight several tracks from the latter collections; both of these were cassette only releases issued in 1990 with only 250 copies of each produced. We also spin two tracks from Wake Up Dead Man the companion to the book – "making it in Hell", says Bruce Jackson, is the spirit behind the sixty-five work songs gathered in this remarkable book.

Today we feature selections from all those albums that were issued of Bruce Jackson's recording except for one omission. I left off Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons (Elektra, 1965) which I did not locate until the show was already assembled. I will feature this on another field recording show at some point.

Sorrow Come Pass Me Around
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Jackson also recorded Eugene Rhodes who was doing a ten- to 25-year stretch at the Indiana State Prison, which was where the album Talkin' About My Time was recorded, 15 songs and a little talking that was eventually released on the Folk-Legacy label in 1963. In the '20s and '30s, Rhodes had traveled through the south as a one-man band, including a harmonica rack with a special mount on the side for a horn, a foot pedal powered drum, and of course, a guitar. He reportedly played in the Dallas area, where he claims to have met Blind Lemon Jefferson. He also crossed paths with Blind Boy Fuller in the Carolinas and Buddy Moss in Georgia.

At some point by the end of the year I plan to devote a show to the field recordings of David Evans. Today we spotlight Sorrow Come Pass Me Around 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.

Our show concludes with recordings made by Tary Owens. Shortly after the death of folklorist Tary Owens on September 21, 2003, Brad Buchholz, wrote that, “Tary Owens devoted most of his life to music, though only rarely to his own. The greater mission, to Owens, was to champion the music of forgotten or unsung Texas bluesmen—to put their songs on records, to place them on a stage, to encourage a larger public to celebrate their artistry.” Funded by a Lomax Foundation grant in the 1960's, Owens traveled around Texas recording a variety of folk musicians, including guitarists Mance Lipscomb, Freddie King, and Bill Neely, as well as barrelhouse piano players Robert Shaw and Roosevelt T. Williams, also known as the “Grey Ghost.” Owens remained involved in the lives of these musicians for the next several decades and, in some cases, was largely responsible for helping rescue them from obscurity and resurrect their professional careers.

Owens wrote:  "In 1962 and 1963 while a graduate student at Indiana University, I did some folklore and sociology research in prisons in Missouri and Indiana. I decided it might be interesting a southern prison system to see what had happened to the various traditions documented by John A. and Alan Lomax and Herbert Halpert in the 1930's." In the sixties Jackson received a four-year fellowship to Harvard Society of Fellows that gave him “the resources to work anywhere I wanted; that’s when I started working in Texas, mostly recording music and then looking at the prison cultural scene.”

Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
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From an article in National Geographic magazine: "He says he got the name Grey Ghost back when he was hired to play in various small towns. Someone would meet every arriving train or bus, but Williams was never aboard–yet mysteriously he would show up in time to perform. 'They said like a ghost I come up out of the ground, and then I was gone," he grinned. "I had come and gone by freight train. I would put overalls over my suit and tie, and that's the way I traveled.'" Williams was born in Bastrop, Texas and received only basic musical training when he was a teenager. He traveled to the area dances and roadhouses by riding empty boxcars. In 1940, author William A. Owens made a live recording of Williams singing "Hitler Blues," a song written by Williams. The song received mention in Time and was broadcast by BBC Radio on a program hosted by Alistair Cooke in 1940 about the American musical response to World War II. There's an entire chapter devoted to Grey Ghost in Owens's third volume of autobiography Tell Me A Story, Sing Me A Song; A Texas Chronicle. In 1965 Owens recorded several Grey Ghost songs. After decades of relative obscurity, Owens tracked down Grey Ghost again in the mid-1980s. Williams was long retired, but Owens not only issued the 1965 recordings on his Catfish Records label in 1987, but also convinced Williams, now 84, to start playing again and introduced him to a new generation of blues fans. Owens arranged for Williams to make a CD of new recordings at the age of 89. which was released in 1992 on Owens' Spindletop label. The City of Austin proclaimed December 7, 1987, as Grey Ghost Day, and he was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame in 1988. Williams performed regularly until the time of his death in Austin at the age of 92 in 1996.

Related Material:

-Tary Owens, Texas Folklorist and Musician A Life Remembered by Ruth K. Sullivan (Austin-American Statesman, March, 2000) [PDF]

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