Field Recordings


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Van HuntLonesome Road BluesBlues At Home Vol. 1
Van HuntCorinna Corrina Blues At Home Vol. 1
Sweet Charlene Sitting Here Drinkin Blues At Home Vol. 1
Sam ChatmonGo Back Old DevilBlues At Home Vol. 2
Sam ChatmonProwling Ground HogBlues At Home Vol. 2
Sam ChatmonOpen Your BookBlues At Home Vol. 2
Sam ChatmonStoop Down Baby, Let Your Daddy SeeBlues At Home Vol. 2
Eugene Powell Poor Boy Blues (Take 1)Blues At Home Vol. 3
Eugene Powell Discusses His MusicBlues At Home Vol. 3
Eugene Powell Old Home BluesBlues At Home Vol. 3
Eugene Powell Blues At Home Vol. 3Blues At Home Vol. 3
Memphis Piano Red Baby Please Come Back To MeBlues At Home Vol. 4
Memphis Piano Red I Need Love So BadBlues At Home Vol. 4
Memphis Piano Red Barrelhouse Blues (Take 2)Blues At Home Vol. 4
Alonzo BurksTrain I RideBlues At Home Vol. 5
Carey TateDiscusses The Meaning Of The BluesBlues At Home Vol. 5
Carey TateBlues All In My Bread (Take 2)Blues At Home Vol. 5
Big Jack Johnson Catfish Blues (Take 1)Blues At Home Vol. 6
Pinetop JohnsonSee What You Done DoneBlues At Home Vol. 6
Pinetop JohnsonTommy Dorsey Boogie Woogie (Take 2)Blues At Home Vol. 6
Bukka WhiteBooker T.'s Doctor BluesBlues At Home Vol. 7
Bukka WhiteI'm Getting Ready, My Time Done ComeBlues At Home Vol. 7
Bukka WhiteThe Aberdeen Blues Blues At Home Vol. 7
Dewey Corey Dresser Drawer BluesBlues At Home Vol. 7
Dewey Corey Fishing In The DarkBlues At Home Vol. 7
Laura DukesLittle Laura's BluesBlues At Home Vol. 7
Laura DukesBricks In My PillowBlues At Home Vol. 7
Jack Owens Cherry Ball (Take 2)Blues At Home Vol. 8
Jack Owens The Devil (Take 2)Blues At Home Vol. 8
Charlie Sangster Moaning Blues Blues At Home Vol. 9
Charlie Sangster The Dirty Dozen (Take 2) Blues At Home Vol. 9
Charlie Sangster Selling That StuffBlues At Home Vol. 9

Show Notes:

Blues At Home Vol. 1As anyone who's listened to this program knows, I have a huge interest in field recordings devoting several shows to the topic and interviewing several of the men who made the recordings.  The 70's and early 80's were a good period for field recordings with men like George Mitchell, David Evans, Pete Lowry, Begnt Olsson, Axel Kunster and others (all who have been featured on past programs) making recordings throughout the south.

In the early 70's through the early 80's Gianni Marcucci made five trips to the United States from Italy to document blues with several albums worth of material issued in the the 1970's. I've corresponded with Gianni regarding those albums and he wrote that these releases were "an abuse and an offense to my effort (10 years of field research, and 13 years of re-mastering and text editing), as well as an insult to the memory of the featured artists" and that his overall experience was a "nightmare." Furthermore, he wrote, "my research has been misunderstood with the result that I received some insults and defamation, both in Europe and USA, on magazines and books." The Blues At Home series is his "peaceful reply" to those critics. The recordings heard on this series were kept in Gianni's private archive. "In order to preserve these materials I transferred to digital those I thought were best, and by 2013 [2015]  the 16-volume Blues At Home CD collection was ready for release." The material is currently available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Apple Music and CD Baby for digital download and streaming. There are plans to make these available as physical CD's as well.

"In 1972, Gianni wrote, "I worked with Lucio Maniscalchi. In 1976 Vincenzo Castella, assisted me and took the photographs. Lucio Maniscalchi  worked with me for 11 days (20-31 December 1972); Vincenzo Castella in July-August 1976. Both Maniscalchi and Castella were not interested in my research and documentary project. They left the project after the 2 field trips were done. They just randomly worked with me on those occasions. Their name was erroneously featured and emphasized on the" original LP's, "especially the name of Vincenzo Castella. I was the only responsible of the recordings, archiving, and LP edition (including, of course, all the typos, mistakes, etc.). In 1972 and 1976 Hammie Nixon helped finding some of the performers in Tennessee. In 1976 Mary Helen Looper and Jane Abraham helped in the Delta. …On December 1972, with the help of the Blues At Home Vol. 3legendary harmonica player Hammie Nixon, using a professional portable equipment, I had the chance to start recording blues in Memphis. The documentary research continued in July 1976, ending in July 1982. A series of informal sessions was held during the course of my five trips through Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana, featuring well known, but also little known, and unknown musicians."

On today's program we spotlight recordings from the first nine Blues At Home collections featuring the following artists: Van Hunt, Mose Vinson, Sam Chatmon, Eugene Powell, Memphis Piano Red, Big Jack Johnson, Pinetop Johnson, Carey Tate, Alonzo Burkes, Bukka White, Dewey Corley, Laura Dukes, Jack Owens and  Charlie Sangster.

The first volume of the Blues At Home Collection features singer Van Zula Carter Hunt. Around the late 1910's, she moved to Memphis and began her professional musical activity, traveling for several years with minstrel shows. She played with local blues artists such as Sleepy John Estes, Frank Stokes, Gus Cannon, and Memphis Minnie. In November 1930, she recorded “Selling The Jelly” (issued under the name of the Carolina Peanut Boys) in Memphis for Victor Records. She also recorded some gospel sides as a chorus member with Rev. E.D. Campbell for Victor in 1927. Hunt is backed on a number of tracks by pianist Mose Vinson ,who was also recorded solo, as well as Hunt's daughter Sweet Charlene.

The second volume is devoted to Sam Chatmon the brother Bo Chatmon (a.k.a. Bo Carter) who made numerous popular records in the '30s. Before World War II. the Chatmon brothers and their associate Walter Vincent founded the string band called The Mississippi Sheiks. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, Chatmon recorded for a variety of labels, as well as playing clubs and blues and folk festivals across America.In 1972 he cut the album The New Mississippi Sheiks, reuniting with Walter Vinson, cut the excellent The Mississippi Sheik for Blue Goose in the early 70's as well as albums for Rounder and Flying Fish among others. Chatmon passed in 1983.

The third volume focuses on Eugene Powell. Born in 1908 in Utica, Mississippi, he took up the guitar at the age of seven and soon developed a formidable technique that won him the respect of contemporaries such as Charley Patton, Bo Carter, and Sam Chatmon. In 1936 he recorded six sides which were released on the Bluebird label under the name of Sonny Boy Nelson, including the original version of “Pony Blues” of which we Blues At Home Vol. 6hear an updated version on today's program.

The fourth volume features an underrated and under recorded pianist John Williams (a.k.a. Memphis Piano Red). In 1930 he moved to Memphis where he started his musical activity, playing often in Beale Street bars. He never had the chance to record 78 rpm race records, and was discovered in the late '60s during blues revival times. These recordings stem from two long sessions held in 1972 and 1978 at his home in Memphis.

The fifth volume features the totally unknown Carey Tate from Henning, Tennessee, a very prolific area from which several outstanding blues artists came such as Noah Lewis, Charlie Pickett, Sleepy John Estes and John Henry Barbee. Tate was born in Henning, Tennessee, in 1905, and was discovered in the summer of 1976 in Humboldt, Tennessee, through the help of Hammie Nixon, and two sessions were recorded at Tate’s home there. Less than one year later, Tate was murdered under obscure circumstances and the recordings presented on this collection remain his last testament. This collection also includes six tracks by Alonzo Burks, another unknown artist discovered in Flora, Mississippi, in the summer of 1978, through referral of William “Do Boy” Diamond’s nephew Eugene.

The sixth volume features an underrated piano blues musician from the Delta, Wallace Bilbo Johnson (a.k.a. Pinetop Johnson). As Gianni writes, "he was discovered there in the late ‘60s by researcher Bill Ferris, who included the transcription of the entire 1969 session in his book Blues From the Delta. Wallace “Pinetop” Johnson was recorded during two relaxed sessions held in the summers of 1976 and 1978, the latter at a local piano supply store, the Gate Piano Company, on Issaquena Avenue in the heart of Clarksdale, where a piano in perfect condition had been made available for the occasion. This CD features his 1978 complete recording session in chronological order, plus some additional material cut in Clarksdale in 1978 by Earnest Roy, Big Jack Johnson, and Wade Walton."

The seventh volume features Bukka White, one of the major Mississippi bluesmen to be rediscovered during the blues revival of the '60s. Gianni writes "this CD features the complete relaxed session recorded at his private home in Memphis on December 22, 1972, in the stately presence of Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon. …Also 107featured on this CD is some unusual material by former jug band members Dewey Corley on piano and Laura Dukes on ukulele, recorded on the same day, December 22, 1972."

The eighth volume features Jack Owens. In 1978, 1980, and 1982, Gianni writes, "I had the chance to meet Owens at his home in Bentonia and to record, during several informal sessions, the material finally released on this CD, which mostly had remained unreleased for over 30 years."

The ninth volume introduces Charlie Sangster , a little known artist of Brownsville, Tennessee. Belonging to a musical family, he learned how to play mandolin and guitar at the age of 12. His father, Samuel Ellis Sangster, was a blues guitarist who used to play with Sleepy John Estes and Hambone Willie Newbern; his mother, Victoria, was a gospel singer. Charlie played at the fish market and in other social situations with a circle of local musicians, including Charlie Pickett, Brownsville Son Bonds, Hammie Nixon, Yank Rachel, Sleepy John Estes, and Walter Cooper. He also knew and performed with Hambone Willie Newbern during the last part of Newbern’s life. Sangster was recorded at eight sessions between 1976 and 1980.

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Jimpson and Group Murderer’s Home Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
22 and Group It Makes A Long Time Man Feel Bad Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
FootsHollers Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
Josephine Parker I Got A Man In New Orleans Jailhouse Blues
Lucille Walker Shake 'em on Down Jailhouse Blues
Beatrice TisdallWorkhouse Blues Jailhouse Blues
Wade WaltonParchman Farm Shake 'Em On Down
Joe SavageJoe’s Prison Camp Holler Living Country Blues USA Vol. 9
The ConfinersHarmonica Boogie The Devil's Music
BamaStackalee Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
Tangle Eye Tangle Eye’s Blue Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
Floyd BattsLucky Song Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
Big Charlie Butler It's Better To Born LuckyMississippi: Saints & Sinners
Dobie Red & GroupRosie Mississippi: Saints & Sinners
Bukka White Parchman Farm Blues The Complete Bukka White
Bukka White When Can I Change My ClothesThe Complete Bukka White
BamaI’m Going Home Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
Clarence AlexanderDisability Boogie Woogie Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
John DudleyCool Drink of Water Blues Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
Eva WhiteNo Mo' Freedom Jailhouse Blues
Mattie May Thomas No Mo' Freedom American Primitive Vol. II
Mattie May Thomas Dangerous BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Charlie PattonSpoonful The Best of Charlie Patton
Ed LewisLevee Camp Holler / Interview Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
BamaLevee Camp Hollers Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
Clarence AlexanderPrison Blues Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
Beatrice Perry I Got a Man on the Wheeler (Levee Camp Blues) Jailhouse Blues
Hattie GoffOh Mr. Dooley, Don't 'Rest Me Jailhouse Blues
Group Of Women Prisoners If There's Anybody Here Wants to Buy Some Cabbage Jailhouse Blues
Bridges Lee Cole HollersParchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
BamaI Don't Want You BabyParchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
Grover Wells and Group RosieParchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
Son HouseCounty Farm BluesThe Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Franks EvansRed River BluesMississippi: The Blues Lineage
Bukka WhiteSic 'Em Dogs On Mississippi Blues and Gospel: Field Recordings 1934-1942
John Dudley Clarksdale Mill Blues Southern Journey, Volume 3: 61 Highway Mississippi
Henry Ratcliff Look for Me In LouisianaParchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
Ed Lewis & Prisoners I'll Be So Glad When the Sun Goes Down I'll Be So Glad When the Sun Goes Down
Mary JamesGo 'Way Devil Leave Me AloneJailhouse Blues
Five Woman Penitentiary Blues (Rickentiest Superintendent) Jailhouse Blues
Leroy MillerBerta, Berta Southern Journey, Volume 3: 61 Highway Mississippi
Floyd MillerDangerous BluesI'll Meet You On That Other Shore

Show Notes: 

Parchman

Today's show is inspired by by the recent release on Dust-To-Digital, Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959. The set collects sides recorded by Alan Lomax in the 40's and 50's at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. Much recording was done at Parchman beginning in the 1930's and the prison has inspired many songs. Today we feature some of those songs and recordings spanning 1930 through 1962.

For decades the prison operated essentially as a for-profit cotton plantation and harsh working and living conditions made Parchman Farm notorious. Folklorists Alan Lomax, his father John A. Lomax, Herbert Halpert, and William Ferris all made recordings at Parchman. The Lomax's first visited Parchman in 1933 and returned numerous times to record blues, work songs, spirituals, and personal interviews with inmates. Herbert Halpert made some remarkable recordings by female inmates recorded in the prison’s sewing room in 1939. Other notable recordings include a 1939 session with bluesman Bukka White while he was serving time. Alan Lomax went back to Parchman to record in 1947, 1948 and 1959. In the late 60's William Ferris made recordings at Parchman.

In 1958 Alan Lomax wrote: “A few strands of wire were all that separated the prison from adjoining plantations. Only the sight of an occasional armed guard or a barred window in one of the frame dormitories made one realize that this was a prison. The land produced the same crop; there was the same work for blacks to do on both sides of the fence. And there was no Delta black who was not aware of how easy it was for him to find himself on the wrong side of those few strands of barbed wire. … These songs are a vivid reminder of a system of social control and forced labor that has endured in the South for centuries, and I do not believe that the pattern of Southern life can be fundamentally reshaped until what lies behind these roaring, ironic choruses is understood.” A report in the New York Post in 1957 confirms Lomax's impression: "The state penitentiary system at Parchman is simply a cotton plantation using convicts as labor. The warden is not a penologist, but an experienced plantation manager. His annual report to the legislature is not of salvaged lives; it is a profit and loss statement, with the accent  on profit." Reform finally came in 1972 when federal judge William C. Keady found that Parchman Farm violated the Constitution and was an affront to "modern standards of decency."

Jailhouse Blues
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Regarding the recordings that make up the bulk of today's show, Bruce Jackson writes: "Black prisoners in all the Southern agricultural prisons in the years of these recordings participated in two distinct musical traditions: free world (the blues, hollers, spirituals and other songs they sang outside and, when the situation permitted, sang inside as well) and the work-songs, which were specific to the prison situation, and the recordings in this album represent that complete range of material, which is one of the reasons this set is so important: it doesn’t just show this or that tradition within Parchman, but the range of musical traditions performed by black prisoners. I know of no other album that does that."

In 1947-48 Alan Lomax made these remarkable recordings at Parchman Farm, armed with state-of-the-art technology, a cassette machine. These sides were originally issued as the LP Negro Prison Songs and reissued on CD as Prison Songs Vol. 1: Murderous Home by Rounder with a companion volume following later. The bulk of this material appears on the Dust-To-Digital collection and there are also some unreleased recordings. Lomax gathered the prisons best lead signers for these recordings, all simply known by their nicknames: men like Bama, 22, Alex, Bull, Dobie Red, and Tangle Eye. Returning to the United States in 1958 (after 10 years abroad), Lomax set out on two more long field trips through the American South which resulted in nineteen albums issued on the Atlantic and Prestige International labels in the early 1960's. He traveled from the Appalachians to the Georgia Sea Islands, from the Ozarks to the Mississippi Delta, recording blues, ballads, breakdowns, hymns, shouts, chanteys, and work songs. Among those recordings were more material recorded at Parchman Farm.

Both Alan and his father began recording in prisons as early as 1933. Through a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, John Lomax was able to set out in June 1933 on the first recording expedition under the Library of Congress' auspices, with Alan Lomax (then eighteen years old) in tow. In July 1933 they acquired a state-of-the-art, 315-pound acetate phonograph disk recorder and proceeded to tour Texas prison farms recording work songs, reels, ballads, and blues from prisoners. During the next year and a half, father and son continued to make disc recordings of musicians throughout the South, touring Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola where they found Leadbelly and made recordings at Parchman. The Lomax's recorded at Parchman throughout the 30's. One of the most famous bluesman they recorded was Bukka White. In 1937 White recorded a minor hit, “Shake ‘Em On Down,” in Chicago, but that year he was also sentenced for a shooting incident to Parchman, where John Lomax recorded him performing two numbers in 1939. After his release White recorded twelve songs at a Chicago session in 1940. Among the songs he recorded were two songs about his time in prison: "Parchman Farm Blues" and "When Can I Change My Clothes?."

Parchman farm

I've always been fascinated by the females who recorded at Parchman and whom I first heard on the album Jailhouse Blues on the Rosetta label. These recordings were made in May and June 1939 by Herbert Halpert in the sewing of the Woman's Camp in Parchman. Camp 13 was the woman's camp where white and black women occupied separate wards. The women's primary work was making clothes for the prisoners, mattresses and bedding. The woman also did canning and helped out in the fields. The Parchamn women were asked to sing a song, any song they chose. There were no restrictions about length or subject, but most of the songs were short and some merely fragments. The best of those singers is the remarkable Mattie May Thomas. Thomas was a senior member at Parchman for she had served twice before. She recorded four sides. One of the songs she sings, "Dangerous Blues", was also recorded by Parchman prisoner Floyd Batts and Joe Savage. John Lomax recorded some woman at Parchman in 1936.

There were a number of blues singers like Bukka White who did time at Parchman including Son House and Joe Savage, both featured today. After allegedly killing a man in self-defense, House spent time in prison in 1928 and 1929. According to Dan Beaumont in Preaching The Blues at "some point in possibly in 1927, but more likely in 1928 …at a boisterous 'frolic,' House shot and killed a man. …At the trial House claimed self-defense, but that defense failed and he was convicted and sentenced to time at the state prison, Parchman Farm." In 1930 House recorded "County Farm Blues" and recorded it again for Alan Lomax in 1942 for the Library of Congress.

Parchman 1959
Parchman Farm, September 1959

Joe Savage appears in the 1978 Alan Lomax documentary The Land Where the Blues Began. Savage spent several years in the Parchman State Penitentiary, and speaks on film about the brutality he faced while serving time. He was recorded in 1980 by Axel Küstner and Siegfried Christmann and issued as part of the Living Country Blues USA series of albums. From those recordings we play the powerful "Joe’s Prison Camp Holler."

Other Parchman related songs featured today included sides by Wade Walton and the Confiners. Clarksdale barber/musician Walton recorded the talking blues "Parchman Farm" on his long-out-of-print album, Shake 'Em on Down. On it he talks about bringing two white folk-song collectors (Dave Mangurian and Donald Hill) from California to the prison in 1958. In 1961, the Electro Record Company of Hattiesburg, MS released a single, the instrumental "Harmonica Boogie b/w Toss Bounce" by the Confiners a group of Parchman prisoners who were let out for public appearances.

 

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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
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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
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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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