Indianapolis Blues


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Naptown BluesSloppy Drunk
Bill GaitherNaptown StompBill Gaither Vol. 1 1935-1936
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Shady Lane BluesWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Alabama Women BluesSloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Midnight Hour BluesSloppy Drunk
Herve Duerson Naptown SpecialBarrelhouse Piano Blues and Stomps
Turner ParrishAin't Gonna Be Your Dog No More Down In Black Bottom
Bill GaitherPains in My HeartBill Gaither Vol. 1 1935-1936
Bill GaitherTired Of Your Line Of Jive Bill Gaither Vol. 1 1935-1936
Honey HillSet 'EmBill Gaither Vol. 3 1938-1939
Champion Jack DupreeBig Time MamaChampion Jack Dupree: Early Cuts
Jesse CrumpMr. Crump Rag Male Blues Of The Twenties Vol. 2 1923-1928
Montana Taylor Indiana Avenue StompShake Your Wicked Knees
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellHow LongMy Heart Struck Sorrow
Scrapper BlackwellLife of a MillionaireScrapper Blackwell Vol. 2 1934-1958
J.T Adams & Shirley GriffithMatchbox BluesIndiana Ave. Blues
Shirley Griffith River Line BluesSaturday Blues
Shirley Griffith Big Road Blues Saturday Blues
Pete FranklinDown Behind The Rise Tampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
James Easley, Pete Franklin, Raymond HollowayBig Leg Woman Indianapolis Jump
Pete Franklin I Got To Find My BabyGuitar Pete’s Blues
Shirley GriffithBye Bye BluesMississippi Blues
James Yank Rachel and Shirley GriffithPeach Orchard MamaArt of Field Recording Vol. I
Scrapper Blackwell Blue Day Blues The Virtuoso Guitar of Scrapper Blackwell
Scrapper Blackwell Blues Before Sunrise Mr. Scrapper's Blues
Scrapper Blackwell Little Boy Blue Scrapper Blackwell Vol. 2 1934-1958
J.T Adams & Shirley GriffithIn The EveningIndiana Ave. Blues
J.T Adams & Shirley GriffithIndianapolis JumpIndiana Ave. Blues
Bill GaitherI'm Behind The 8 BallBill Gaither Vol. 5 1940-1941
Bill GaitherBloody Eyed WomanBill Gaither Vol. 4 1939
Leroy Carr & Scrapper BlackwellI Believe I'll Make a Change Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper BlackwellBig Four BluesSloppy Drunk
Scrapper BlackwellMy Old Pal Blues (Dedicated to the Memory of Leroy Carr)Scrapper Blackwell Vol. 2 1934-1958

Show Notes:

Read Duncan Scheidt's Liner Notes

Indianapolis, Indiana had a vibrant blues scene both in the pre-war and postwar era, although the city's blues artists have been captured spottily on record. The most important blues artist to emerge from the city was Leroy Carr, one of the most popular blues artists of the 30's. Carr was born in Tennessee but move to Indianapolis, at a young age. It was there that he picked up the piano, influenced by many of the barrelhouse players on the city's west side. Carr eventually hooked up with guitarist Scrapper Blackwell who appears on the bulk of Carr's recordings as well as making sides under his own name.  Indeed, by all accounts, the city was a good piano town going back to the turn of the century when ragtime players were abundant. In the blues er many good piano players  got on record including Montana Taylor, Jesse Crump and strong evidence that Herve Duerson and Turner Parrish where also based in the city.  Guitarist Bill Gaither and his piano partner George “Honey” Hill were also based in Indianapolis. Gaither moved back and forth between there and his native Louisville. Gaither cut well over a hundred sides for Decca and OKeh between 1931 and 1941. Pianist Champion Jack Dupree settled in the city in 1940, cutting four sessions between 1940 and 1941 in the company of fellow Indianapolis musicians. Also in the pre-war era were recorded singers Nina Reeves, who cut "Indiana Avenue Blues" at her first session backed by Jesse Crump and Lulu Jackson. Bumble Bee Slim also settled in the city in 1928 and spent a few years there before heading to Chicago and a very successful recording career.

In the post-war era Scrapper Blackwell was rediscovered and had a short but productive comeback. Several other fine blues artists were in Scrapper's orbit; there was Shirley Griffith who moved to the city in 1928 and became friendly with Scrapper and Carr, Pete Franklin’ whose mother was good friend with Leroy Carr (he roomed at their house shortly before he passed in 1935), Jesse Ellery who appeared on Jack Dupree's first sessions and singer Brooks Berry who met Scrapper shortly after she moved to Indianapolis and recorded one album together. Other artists included Yank Rachell who moved to the city in 1958 and did some touring with Shirley Griffith and J.T. Adams who came up from Kentucky and became a faithful partner to Griffith. The city also became the adopted home of Leroy “Lefty” Bates after he’d left Chicago and where John Brim first landed in the early 40's when he left Kentucky.

Naptown is the nickname for Indianapolis and appears in a number of blues songs. The name Naptown was given to Indianapolis in the early 1900's with Indianapolis often referred to as a ghost-town with nothing to do. Indianapolis was known to shutdown the city early leaving very few places to go at night. The fact the word "nap" can be found in "Indianapolis" only made the name more suitable.

As Duncan Scheidt wrote in the notes to Columbia's Blues Before Sunrise album: "Up and down Indiana Avenue the black and tan spots flourished. The Golden West, an upstairs club, was the most famous of all, and featured the team of Crump and Reeves and pianist Montana Taylor. Other places were the Paradise, run by Raymond"Dee" Davis, and the Blackstone, which was such a rough joint it terrified the fugitive ban robber John Dillinger, who was secretly taken there by some local friends for an evening out. Neighborhood taverns such as Boultons' at 17th and Northwestern and Ran Butler's place at 15th and Northwestern were the favorite haunts of the local blues men. Every Monday night was Blue Monday and you could find all the barrelhouse, boogie and blues pianists you would want at one place or the other." Mr. Scheidt was kind enough to let me chat with him recently but unfortunately there was a problem with the audio and I'm unable to air the interview.

Art Rosenbaum was involved in producing several albums for Bluesville in the early 1960’s including records by Indianapolis artists such as Scrapper Blackwell, Pete Franklin, Shirley Griffith, J.T.Adams and Brooks Berry. The following is taken from his notes:

Read Art Rosenbaum's Liner Notes

"Indianapolis sprawls in the middle of the flat Hoosier farmlands, with streets radiating in all directions from what John Gunter called the second ugliest monument in the U.S. halfway between Louisville, on the edge of the South, and Chicago. One of the spokes, running north-west, the direction of Chicago, is Indiana Avenue, the 'sport street' of the black population. One might begin to characterize their city's blues from the town's location as a way-station between south and north, between rural and urban – guitar Pete Franklin told me it was 'far enough north to have the feelin', far enough north to play it right, get the changes right.'

Indianapolis, Indiana is a good blues town, and in the sprawling neighborhoods of the Northwest side live many fine singers and instrumentalists who carry on the old blues traditions in that Midwestern city. There are singer like Scrapper Blackwell, Little Bill Gaither, Jesse Ellry, Clyde Robinson, and Guitar Pete, longtime residents who accompany their songs on the guitar in the distinctive 'Indianapolis style', Scrapper's refinement of the old Naptown picking played by men of the generation before him. There are piano players who prefer the lonesome blues of Leroy Carr to any others and who can point out the house near Fall Creek on Northwestern Avenue where Indianapolis' greatest blues singer died more then twenty-seven years ago. There are immigrants up from the border states of Kentucky and Tennessee where, in Guitar Pete's opinion, the best blues musicians come from. …Most of the Indianapolis blues singers know one another, and some of the southern singers have blended their primitive, emotional music with the more relaxed, wistful, and musically sophisticated Indianapolis blues. On the other hand, many of the older styles, local and southern, can still be heard in a fairly pure state. Blues singing has not been very remunerative for some time in Indianapolis and singers have not had the commercial pressures to keep up with the times that they might have been subjected to, say, in Chicago. The rhythm and blues bands with loud electric guitar, saxophone, and drums were never popular in Indianapolis as elsewhere."

As reissue producer and collector Francis Smith wrote of Leroy Carr, "He, perhaps more than any other single artist, was responsible for transforming the rural blues patterns of the ’20s into the more city-oriented blues of the ’30's." Carr met guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in Indianapolis in 1928 and the duo began performing together. Shortly afterward they were recording for Vocalion, releasing “How Long How Long Blues” before the year was finished. The song was an instant, surprise hit. For the next seven years, Carr and Blackwell would record a number of classic songs for Vocalion, including “Midnight Hour Blues,” “Blues Before Sunrise,” “Hurry Down Sunshine,” “When The Sun Goes Down,” and many others. Writer Elijah Wald wrote the following about Carr: “Carr was the most influential male blues singer and songwriter of the first half of the 20th century, but he was nothing like the current stereotype of an early bluesman. An understated pianist with a gentle, expressive voice, he was known for his natty suits and lived most of his life in Indianapolis. His first record, “How Long — How Long Blues,” in 1928, had an effect as revolutionary as Bing Crosby’s pop crooning, and for similar reasons. Previous blues stars, whether vaudevillians like Bessie Smith or street singers like Blind Lemon Jefferson, had needed huge voices to project their music, but with the help of new microphone and recording technologies, Carr sounded like a cool city dude carrying on a conversation with a few close friends. …Carr sang over the solid beat of his piano and the biting guitar of his constant partner Francis (Scrapper) Blackwell. The outcome was a hip, urban club style that signaled a new era in popular music.”

Montana Taylor 1951
photo by Jasper Woods

Little is know about pianists Herve Duerson and Turner Parrish but census records link both men to Indianapolis. This census information was uncovered by David Costa who posted his findings on the Blindman's Blues Forum. Duerson recorded four superb ragtime-influenced piano solos for Gennett in Richmond, Indiana in 1929 including  "Naptown Special", as well as recording accompaniments for various other people, such as Teddy Moss. Researcher Bob Hall states that he was remembered as a pianist with the DuValle Brothers Band in Indianapolis in the late 20's. A WWI draft card and a marriage record both link him to the city. Parrish recorded eight songs for Gennett/Champion in Richmond, Indiana at three different sessions, from 1929 to 1933. He covered Leroy Carr’s "My Own Lonesome Blues" and "Fore Day Rider" at his 1932 session although the record has never been found. He also backed up Teddy Moss in 1929, at the same session as Herve Duerson. Census records show him living in Indianapolis in 1920 and passing there in 1966.

Montana Taylor was born in Butte, Montana, where his father owned a club. The family moved to Chicago and then Indianapolis, where Taylor learned piano around 1919. Taylor cut his teeth playing in local joints like the Hole In the Wall, Goosie Lee's, Rock House and the Golden West Cafe. By 1929 he was back in Chicago, where he recorded a few tracks for Vocalion Records, including "Indiana Avenue Stomp" and "Detroit Rocks". Later he moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1936. He then disappeared from the public record for some years, during which he may have given up playing piano. However, in 1946 he was rediscovered by jazz fan Rudi Blesh, and was recorded both solo and as the accompanist to Bertha "Chippie" Hill. His final recordings were from a 1948 radio broadcast. Taylor died in 1954. Late Cleveland photographer Jasper Wood took the last know photograph of Taylor in 1951 and wrote: “You leave his small place, barely furnished where sometimes he sits in deep bitterness, not then able to play his heart out because his soul is tied in knots, and you know … that despite his extreme ‘scuffling’ for a living, he will every once in a while make music fit for kings.”

Jesse Crump was born in Dallas and came to Indianapolis in 1923. He played at the Golden West Cafe on Indiana Ave. and recorded "Mr. Crump's Rag b/w Golden West Blues" in 1923 for Gennett. As he recollected:"Lots of good piano players around Indianapolis when I was there. I can remember Russell Smith, Russell Williams, Frank Hines and Hanby … don't remember the rest of his name. That was a good town for piano players when I was at the Golden West." He also backed singers Nina Reeves and Billie McKenzie, later moving to Chicago to record and tour with Ida Cox.   He wrote many of the Ida Cox tunes, including "Death Letter Blues", "Black Crepe Blues", "Cherry Pickin' Blues", and Last Mile Blues."

Blues guitarist Bill Gaither cut well over a hundred sides for Decca and OKeh between 1931 and 1941. Gaither was close to the blues pianist Leroy Carr, and following Carr’s death in 1935, he recorded under the moniker Leroy’s Buddy for a time. A fine guitarist who possessed a warm, expressive voice, Gaither was also at times a gifted and inventive lyricist. He was often partnered with pianist George “Honey” Hill, and the duo patterned themselves after Carr and his guitarist, Scrapper Blackwell. Among Gaither’s many sides were tributes to Carr such as  “Life of Leroy Carr” and “After the Sun’s Gone Down.” In 1940 Gaither returned to Louisville where he ran a radio repair shop. Army service overseas in 1942-1945 left him with a nervous condition that prevented him from making music. He went back to Indianapolis where he worked in a cafe. He died in 1970. No information has been uncovered by Honey Hill who back Gaither on the bulk of his records, cut one solo piano record under his own name, "Boogie Woogie b/w Set 'Em", and backed Frank Busby and Bumble Bee Slim on record.

Sometime in the early 30's Champion Jack Dupree left New Orleans and eventually found his way to Indianapolis where he found work at the Cotton Club (named after the famous one in Harlem) who's resident bluesman was Leroy Carr. Although he died only months after their meeting he nevertheless had a profound impact on Dupree's playing. In November 1941 he cut two Carr numbers, 'Shady Lane b/w Hurry Down Sunshine" but they were unreleased at the time. On these early sessions local musicians including bassist Wilson Swain, guitarist Jesse Ellery and and on one 1940 track, "Gambling Man Blues", Bill Gaither appears on guitar. After Carr's death he decide to make Indianapolis his base from wherehe frequently traveled to Chicago to play house parties with musicians like Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy. By the close of the thirties he was a large enough attraction to merit the job of M.C. and headliner at the Cotton Club where, in early 1940, he was seen by Lester Melrose who signed him up to record for Okeh in Chicago. The result was two-dozen recordings for the label through 1941. His Indianapolis residency ended when he was drafted at the end of 1941 and after his discharge he settled in New York.

Guitarist Jesse Ellery recorded legacy rest solely wth his backing of Champion Jack Dupree at his first sessions and the last by Bill Gaither. John Brim remembered him fondly: "'Cause I been knowing Jack Dupree, …since '41.  …'Cause he used to play the midnight shows every week and jesse Ellery'd play guitar-he was a very good guitar player. …He played jazz and the blues, and I think Jesse come up under Scrapper some, but veterans like him and Pete Franklin could play anything-"Body and Soul", "I Surrender Dear"-anything, not just blues, all the way 'round."

John Tyler Adams was born in Western Kentucky and it was his father who started him out on guitar. In 1941 he went up North, eventually settling in Indianapolis. Adams became good friends with Shirley Griffith and at the time of his first recordings had been playing together for fifteen years. Adams recorded just one album, Indiana Ave. Blues (1964) on Bluesville with Griffith with other sides appearing on the album Indianapolis Jump issued on Flyright.

Read Art Rosenbaum's Liner Notes

Scrapper Blackwell began working with pianist Leroy Carr, whom he met in Indianapolis in the mid-1920’s. Carr convinced Blackwell to record with him for the Vocalion label in 1928; the result was “How Long, How Long Blues”, the biggest blues hit of that year. Blackwell also made solo recordings for Vocalion, including “Kokomo Blues” which was transformed into “Old Kokomo Blues” by Kokomo Arnold before being redone as “Sweet Home Chicago” by Robert Johnson. Blackwell cut just over two-dozen sides under his own name between 1928 and 1935. Blackwell and Carr toured throughout the American Midwest and South between 1928 and 1935 as stars of the blues scene, recording over 100 sides. Blackwell’s last recording session with Carr was in February 1935 for the Bluebird label. The recording session ended bitterly, as both musicians left the studio mid-session and on bad terms, stemming from payment disputes. Two months later Blackwell received a phone call informing him of Carr’s death due to heavy drinking and nephritis. Blackwell soon recorded a tribute to his musical partner of seven years (“My Old Pal Blues”) which concludes today's program. He backed several other artists on record including Georgia Tom, Bumble Bee Slim, Black Bottom McPhail and Josh White among several others. He retired from the music industry not long after Carr’s death. He returned to music in the late 1950’s where he was recorded first in 1958 and was next recorded by Duncan P. Schiedt in 1959 and 1960. These latter recordings were issued on the British 77 label as Blues Before Sunrise. Art Rosenbaum recorded him in 1962 for the Prestige/Bluesville label resulting in his finest latter day recording, the album Mr. Scrapper’s Blues which certainly ranks as one of the greatest blues revival records of the 60's. In 1963 Rosenbaum recorded him again for Bluesville, this time with singer Brooks Berry resulting in the marvelous My Heart Struck Sorrow that has yet to be issued on CD. Sadly Blackwell was shot and killed during a mugging in an Indianapolis alley in 1962. He was 59 years old.

Shirley Griffith was a deeply expressive singer and guitarist who learned first hand from Tommy Johnson as a teenager in Mississippi. Griffith missed his opportunity to record as a young man but recorded three superb albums: Indiana Ave. Blues (1964, with partner J.T. Adams), Saturday Blues (1965), both recorded by Art Rosenbaum for Bluesville, and Mississippi Blues (1973) cut for Blue Goose. Unfortunately all three albums have yet to be reissued on CD. In 1928 Griffith’s friend and mentor, Tommy Johnson, offered to help him get started but, by his own account, he was too “wild and reckless” in those days. In 1928 he moved to Indianapolis where he became friendly with Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr. It was Art Rosenbaum who was responsible for getting Griffith on record. “I recall one August afternoon”, he wrote in the notes to Saturday Blues, “shortly after these recordings were made; Shirley sat in Scrapper Blackwell’s furnished room singing the “Bye Bye Blues” with such intensity that everyone present was deeply moved, though they had all heard him sing it many times before. Scrapper was playing , too, and the little room swelled with sound. When they finished there was a moment of awkward silence. Finally Shirley smiled and said: ‘The blues’ll kill you. And make you live, too.” Griffith achieved modest notice touring clubs with Yank Rachell in 1968, performed at the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969 and appeared at the Notre Dame Blues Festival in South Bend, Indiana in 1971.

Read Art Rosenbaum's Liner Notes

Pete Franklin’s mother was good friend with Leroy Carr, who roomed at their house shortly before he passed in 1935. Pete Franklin eventually became proficient on piano and guitar. After getting discharged from the war Franklin found his way to Chicago where he backed St. Louis Jimmy on a 1947 record and made his debut under his own name for Victor in 1949 waxing “Casey Brown Blues b/w Down Behind The Rise.” In the late 1940’s and early 50’s he backed Jazz Gillum, John Brim and Sunnyland Slim. Art Rosenbaum recorded Franklin in 1961 which resulted in the Bluesville album Guitar Pete’s Blues. A few other recordings appear on the album Indianapolis Jump. Regarding his style John Brim offered the following: "Yeah, he'd play his style-and Jesse Ellery's. Play his style and ideas that he put a little more in it than Scrapper did."

Related Articles:

-The Death Of Leroy Carr
by Theodore F. Watts (Jazz Journal, 1960) [word doc]

-Scrapper Blackwell w/ Brooks Berry (1959-1960) Liner Notes
by Duncan P. Schiedt [PDF]

-Jesse Crump: Piano Behind The Blues
By Warren C. Huddleston (Record Exchanger March, 1952) [PDF]

-Rag Alley Blues
by Rudi Blesh (Jazz Record 54, April 1947) [PDF]

-Shirley Griffith & Yank Rachell Concert Review
by Len Kunstadt (Record Research 91, July 1968 )

Interview:

-Art Rosenbaum Interview/Feature
(edited, 58 min, MP3 – original air date 1/31/10)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell How Long, How Long Blues Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Prison Bound Blues Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Baby Don't You Leave Me No More Sloppy Drunk
Scrapper Blackwell Penal Farm Blues The Virtuoso Guitar Of
Scrapper Blackwell Kokomo Blues The virtuoso Guitar Of
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Tired Of Your Low Down Ways Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Straight Alky Blues Part 1 Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Naptown Blues Sloppy Drunk
Scrapper Blackwell Down And Out Blues Scrapper Blackwell Vol. 1 1928-1932
Scrapper Blackwell Blue Day Blues The virtuoso Guitar Of
Scrapper Blackwell Back Door Blues The virtuoso Guitar Of
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Long Road Blues Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Alabama Women Blues Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Memphis Town Sloppy Drunk
Georgia Tom & Scrapper Blackwell Gee, But It's Hard Georgia Tom Vol. 2 1930-1934
Bumble Bee Slim & Scrapper Blackwell You Gotta Change Your Way Bumble Bee Slim Vol. 3 1934-1935
Scrapper Blackwell No Good Woman Blues Scrapper Blackwell Vol. 3 1959-1960
Scrapper Blackwell Nobody Knows When You're Down And OutMr. Scrapper's Blues
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Sloppy DrunkWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Papa's On The House Top Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Gone Mother Blues Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Midnight Hour Blues Whiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell
Blues Before Sunrise Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Mean Mistreater Mama Whiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell I Ain’t Got No Money Now Sloppy Drunk
Scrapper Blackwell Blues Before Sunrise Mr. Scrapper's Blues
Scrapper Blackwell Little Boy Blue Mr. Scrapper's Blues
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell I Believe I'll Make a Change Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Barrelhouse Woman Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell When The Sun Goes Down Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Big Four Blues The Piano Blues Vol. 7: Leroy Carr 1930-1935
Leroy Carr Just A RagSloppy Drunk
Bill Gaither After The Sun's Gone Down Bill Gaither Vol. 1 1935-1936
Scrapper Blackwell My Old Pal Blues (Dedicated To The Memory Of Leroy Carr) Scrapper Blackwell Vol. 2 1934-1958

Show Notes:

Today's program spotlights the remarkable recordings of pianist Leroy Carr and his brilliant foil, guitarist Scrapper Blackwell. Between 1928 and 1935 the duo cut a remarkably consistent body of work of hundreds of sides notable for the impeccable guitar/piano interplay, Carr's profoundly expressive, melancholy vocals and some terrific songs. While it's impossible to do justice to to these recordings in the short space we have, I've tried to carefully choose some of the highlights and perhaps some less celebrated numbers. In addition we hear several sides under Blackwell's name, both pre-war and post-war, with a couple of numbers finding him superbly backing other artists.

A note on the recordings: There are no shortage of Leroy Carr collections on the market and I've tried to select the best sounding tracks for today's show. For my money the 2-CD Sloppy Drunk on Catfsh, carefully mastered from the original 78's, has the best overall sound. Runner up goes to Columbia's the 2-CD Whiskey Is My Habit Women Is All I Crave: Best of. The bulk of the recordings come from these collections. The early Blackwell sides come from the Yazoo album The Virtuoso Guitar Of and from two volumes on Document.

Teamed with the exemplary guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in Indianapolis, Leroy Carr became one of the biggest blues stars of his day, composing and recording almost 200 sides during his short lifetime. His blues were expressive and evocative, recorded only with piano and guitar, yet as author Sam Charters has noted, Carr was "a city man" whose singing was never as rough or intense as that of the country bluesmen, and as reissue producer and collector Francis Smith put it, "He, perhaps more than any other single artist, was responsible for transforming the rural blues patterns of the '20s into the more city-oriented blues of the '30's." Carr met guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in Indianapolis in 1928 and the duo began performing together. Shortly afterward they were recording for Vocalion, releasing "How Long How Long Blues" before the year was finished. The song was an instant, surprise hit. For the next seven years, Carr and Blackwell would record a number of classic songs for Vocalion, including "Midnight Hour Blues," "Blues Before Sunrise," "Hurry Down Sunshine," "When The Sun Goes Down," and many others.

Writer Elijah Wald wrote the following about Carr: “Carr was the most influential male blues singer and songwriter of the first half of the 20th century, but he was nothing like the current stereotype of an early bluesman. An understated pianist with a gentle, expressive voice, he was known for his natty suits and lived most of his life in Indianapolis. His first record, "How Long — How Long Blues," in 1928, had an effect as revolutionary as Bing Crosby's pop crooning, and for similar reasons. Previous blues stars, whether vaudevillians like Bessie Smith or street singers like Blind Lemon Jefferson, had needed huge voices to project their music, but with the help of new microphone and recording technologies, Carr sounded like a cool city dude carrying on a conversation with a few close friends. …Carr sang over the solid beat of his piano and the biting guitar of his constant partner Francis (Scrapper) Blackwell. The outcome was a hip, urban club style that signaled a new era in popular music.”

Chicago Defender Ad, February 22, 1930

Carr was born in Nashville, Tennessee  in either 1899 or 1905. As a teenager he spent time with a traveling circus, and, having lied about his age, a short stint in the army. He settled in Indianapolis during the mid-to-late 20's when he began playing the club and theater circuit. Blackwell, its been written, was born in Syracuse, North Carolina (a search for this reveals no evidence of this town) in 1903 and moved with his family to Indianapolis. He was a self-taught guitarist from a large musical family but devoted much of his energies to his bootlegging business. When asked iIn a latter day interview who played in his family, Blackwell noted: “Everybody. My sister plays, my brother-in-law plays. My brother plays now, Hawaiian. And my father was a lead violinist. I got a brother a drummer. And another one a singer. “

Blackwell had met with an English entrepreneur and storeowner simply remembered as Mr Guernsey. Guernsey was eager to break into the record business and, having heard both musicians, arranged for Blackwell and Carr to meet. From that first encounter in 1928, Guernsey was so impressed with this musical partnership that he suggested that he take the pair to Chicago to "make a record".  Blackwell refused to travel and a makeshift studio was set up in Indianapolis. Using the local W.F.B.M. radio station as a studio, the record company cut two titles including "How Long – How Long Blues" which became one of the biggest selling blues records of all time.  As Paul Oliver noted: “together they made an incomparable team, with a driving movement and lilting swing which was extremely infectious. Neither was at his best alone; it was their perfect timing and effortless mutual support which made them.” As for the songs, Oliver notes, “they were carefully composed and far from causally planned but they had a rare and simple poetry.”

Gaining fame far beyond Indiana, Carr and Blackwell appeared in various cities. They played a succession of clubs in St. Louis and appeared at the Booker T. Washington Theater. The year 1932 saw them both penetrating the Deep South and making a trip to New York City to record a fresh set of sides for Vocalion. By the time of their final session together in February 1935, Carr's drinking was said to have made him practically unmanageable. Their association with Vocalion had finished and, probably at the instigation of Tampa Red, they had moved to the Bluebird label. Although Blackwell was present for these last recordings, there were disagreements over a new contract and after the first four numbers the two separated, leaving Carr to finish the session in a solo capacity. Carr was in brilliant form on this session cutting top drawer sides like “Ain't It A Shame”, “ When The Sun Goes Down”, “Big Four Blues” and the exuberant “Just A Rag” showcasing Carr's piano work as it had rarely been heard before. Unfortunately he sunk deeper and deeper into alcoholism which eventually cut his life short – he died in April 1935 just after his 30th birthday.

In addition to several tracks from his final session, we feature tracks from all the other years he recorded. 1933 was the only year Carr did not make records. We open the show with his iconic smash "How Long – How Long Blues" and from the same year spin moving "Prison Bound", the bouncy "Baby Don't You Love Me No More" which owes perhaps more to the popular music of the day than blues, the harrowingly prophetic  "Straight Alky Blues Pt. 1" ('This alcohol is killing me/The doctor said if I don't quit it in a lonely graveyard I will be") and the buoyant "Naptown Blues" as Carr sings joyously about his hometown. Carr and Scrapper cut two lengthy sessions in 1930 resulting in some terrific material including the classic "Sloppy Drunk Blues", the lovely "Long Road Blues", "Low Down Dog Blues", which became a signature number of Big Joe Turner's and one of my favorite Carr numbers, the gorgeous, wistful slow blues of "Alabama Women Blues."

Unlike many artists, Carr continued to record steadily through the depression including two sessions the moving "Gone Mother Blues" and beautiful "Midnight Hour Blues" one of Carr's mot poignant performances, a masterpiece of mood and shadings. Carr stayed out of the studio in 1933 but came roaring back in 1934, waxing 36 issued sides including "Mean Mistreater Mama", "Shady Lane Blues" and "Blues Before Sunrise", all songs that would be revived by a variety of artists in the post-war era. As also, Scrapper makes his presence known particularity on "Barrel House Woman", "I Believe I'll Make A Change" and "Hustler's Blues" ("Whiskey is my habit, good woman is all I crave/And I don't believe them two things will carry me to my grave") aided by second guitarist Josh White.

While the preponderance of Carr's songs are slow to mid-tempo blues, he regularly cut a variety of songs with a mix of tempos and styles like the cheerful hokum flavored "Papa's On The House Top", "Papa Wants To Knock A Jug", the infectious vocal harmony of the bouncy "Memphis Town", a fine rendition of the bawdy "The Dirty Dozen" and continued in this vein in later numbers like 1934's "Bo Bo Stomp" and "Don't Start No Stuff." Also recurrent is songs in a more popular vein such as "Think Of Me Thinking Of You", "How About Me?" and songs that mixed blues and popular music like "I Know That I'll Be Blue", "I Ain't Got No Money Now", a variation on "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out" and "Don't Say Goodbye." In style and manner, Carr's crooning pints the way to post-war singers like Cecil Gant, Nat King Cole and Charles Brown.

Read Liner Notes

Blackwell cut just over two-dozen sides under his own name between 1928 and 1935. He backed several other artists on record including Georgia Tom, Bumble Bee Slim, Black Bottom McPhail and Josh White among several others. He retired from the music industry not long after Carr’s death. He returned to music in the late 1950’s where he was recorded first in 1958 and was next recorded by Duncan P. Schiedt in 1959 and 1960.  These latter recordings were issued on the British 77 label as Blues Before Sunrise. Art Rosenbaum recorded him in 1962 for the Prestige/Bluesville label resulting in his finest latter day recording, the album Mr. Scrapper’s Blues which certainly ranks as one of the greatest blues revival records of the 60's. In 1963 Rosenbaum recorded him again for Bluesville, this time with singer Brooks Berry resulting in the marvelous My Heart Struck Sorrow that has yet to be issued on CD. Sadly Blackwell was shot and killed during a mugging in an Indianapolis alley in 1962. He was 59 years old.

After his death several artists wrote tribute songs about Carr including Scrapper Blackwell, Bill Gaither and Bumble Bee Slim. As for his influence, Elijah Wald writes: “His followers dominated blues for more than 20 years and affected every aspect of the African-American pop scene. In Chicago, studios filled up with piano-guitar duos and Carr clones like Bumble Bee Slim and Bill Gaither (billed as "Leroy's Buddy"). In Mississippi, Muddy Waters recalled "How Long" as the first song he ever learned. In Kansas City, Count Basie recorded Carr's hits as piano solos. On the West Coast, T-Bone Walker and Charles Brown made Carr's smooth urbanity the hallmark of the L.A. style. In New York, vocal groups from the Ink Spots to the Dominoes harmonized on Carr compositions. Nat King Cole's first hit, "That Ain't Right," was a Carr-inflected blues, and the R & B historian Arnold Shaw traced soul ballad singing from Carr through Dinah Washington and Sam Cooke to Otis Redding and Jerry Butler.” Among other artists influenced by Carr and Blackwell, Paul Oliver cites the above plus Turner Parrish, Champion Jack Dupree, Rhinehart and Stubblefield and Mercy Dee Walton. “Not only is it a testimony to the esteem  with which they were held among other blues singers – it was also an indication of the potency of the recording medium”, wrote Oliver.

Related Articles (word docs):

-The Death Of Leroy Carr by Theodore F. Watts (Jazz Journal, 1960)

-Blues Before Sunrise by Duncan P. Schiedt (Blues Before Sunrise Album Notes, 1962)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Scrapper BlackwellBlues Before SunriseMr. Scrapper's Blues
Scrapper BlackwellLittle Boy BlueMr. Scrapper's Blues
Shirley GriffithSaturday BluesSaturday Blues
Shirley GriffithMaggie Campbell BluesSaturday Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithBlind Lemon's BluesIndiana Ave. Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithNaptown BoogieIndiana Ave. Blues
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellBama BoundMy Heart Struck Sorrow
Pete FranklinI Got To Find My BabyGuitar Pete's Blues
Neal PatmanKey To The HighwayArt of Field Recording: Vol I
Cecil BarfieldGeorgia Bottleneck BluesArt of Field Recording: Vol I
Art Rosenbaum Interview
Yank Rachel & Shirley GriffithPeach Orchard MamaArt of Field Recording: Vol. I
Scrapper BlackwellNobody Knows When Your Down...Mr. Scrapper's Blues
Shirley GriffithRiver Line BluesSaturday Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithBig Road BluesIndianapolis Jump
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellBrook's BluesArt of Field Recording: Vol. I
Tony BryantBroke Down EngineArt of Field Recording: Vol. II
J. Easley, P. Franklin and Ray HollowayBig Leg WomanIndianapolis Jump

Show Notes:

I was a fan of Art Rosenbaum's recordings without actually knowing much about him. Among my favorite records of the 1960's are a pair on the Bluesville label; Scrapper Blackwell's Mr. Scrapper's Blues and Shirley Griffith's Saturday Blues. Rosenbaum, like his contemporaries who went  into the field, men such as George Mitchell, Pete Lowry, David Evans, Sam Charters, Pete Welding, mostly stayed in the background. It wasn't until recently when a couple of recent well praised reissues put him in the spotlight. Those included two 4-CD box sets on the Dust-To-Digital label, the Art Of Field Recording I & II. The first volume won a Grammy for 2008 Best Historical Album. While Rosenbaum recorded a wide variety of roots music, our focus today will be on his blues recordings. In addition we talk to Art near the end of the first hour.

Art Rosenbaum is a painter, muralist, and illustrator, as well as a collector and performer of traditional American folk music. His folk music field work in the South and Midwest has resulted in over 14 recordings, several of which are on Smithsonian-Folkways; he wrote and illustrated two books, Folk Visions and Voices: Traditional Music and Song in North Georgia (1983), and Shout Because You're Free: The African American Ring Shout Tradition on the Coast of Georgia (1998). A performer on a variety of folk instruments, he has appeared at numerous folk festivals both solo and with groups. His field recordings have been collected on two 4-CD box sets on the Dust-To-Digital label called the Art Of Field Recording. Rosenbaum was also involved in producing several albums for Bluesville in the early 1960’s including records by Indianapolis artists such as Scrapper Blackwell, Pete Franklin, Shirley Griffith, J.T.Adams and Brooks Berry.

Scrapper Blackwell began working with pianist Leroy Carr, whom he met in Indianapolis in the mid-1920’s. Carr convinced Blackwell to record with him for the Vocalion label in 1928; the result was "How Long, How Long Blues", the biggest blues hit of that year. Blackwell also made solo recordings for Vocalion, including "Kokomo Blues" which was transformed into "Old Kokomo Blues" by Kokomo Arnold before being redone as "Sweet Home Chicago" by Robert Johnson. Blackwell and Carr toured throughout the American Midwest and South between 1928 and 1935 as stars of the blues scene, recording over 100 sides. Blackwell's last recording session with Carr was in February 1935 for the Bluebird label. The recording session ended bitterly, as both musicians left the studio mid-session and on bad terms, stemming from payment disputes. Two months later Blackwell received a phone call informing him of Carr's death due to heavy drinking and nephritis. Blackwell soon recorded a tribute to his musical partner of seven years ("My Old Pal Blues") before retiring from the music industry. Blackwell returned to music in the late 1950’s where he was recorded first  in June 1958 by Colin C. Pomroy. He was next recorded by Duncan P. Schiedt  in 1959 and 1950. These recordings appeared on on the album Blues Before Sunrise on the 77 label. Rosenbaum recorded him in 1962 for the Prestige/Bluesville Records label resulting in his finest latter day recording, the album Mr. Scrapper’s Blues. In 1963 Rosenbaum recorded him again for Bluesville, this time with singer Brooks Berry resulting in the album My Heart Struck Sorrow which has yet to be issued on CD. Sadly Blackwell was shot and killed during a mugging in an Indianapolis alley in 1962. He was 59 years old.

Shirley Griffith was a deeply expressive singer and guitarist who learned first hand from Tommy Johnson as a teenager in Mississippi. Griffith missed his opportunity to record as a young man but recorded three superb albums: Indiana Ave. Blues (1964, with partner J.T. Adams), Saturday Blues (1965), both recorded by Art Rosenbaum for Bluesville, and Mississippi Blues (1973) cut for Blue Goose. Unfortunatley all three albums have yet to be reissued on CD. In 1928 Griffith’s friend and mentor, Tommy Johnson, offered to help him get started but, by his own account, he was too “wild and reckless” in those days. In 1928 he moved to Indianapolis where he became friendly with Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr. It was Art Rosenbaum who was responsible for getting Griffith on record. “I recall one August afternoon”, he wrote in the notes to Saturday Blues, “shortly after these recordings were made; Shirley sat in Scrapper Blackwell’s furnished room singing the “Bye Bye Blues” with such intensity that everyone present was deeply moved, though they had all heard him sing it many times before. Scrapper was playing , too, and the little room swelled with sound. When they finished there was a moment of awkward silence. Finally Shirley smiled and said: ‘The blues’ll kill you. And make you live, too." Griffith achieved modest notice touring clubs with Yank Rachell in 1968, performed at the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969 and appeared at the Notre Dame Blues Festival in South Bend, Indiana in 1971.

John Tyler Adams was born in Western Kentucky and it was his father who started him out on guitar. In 1941 he went up North, eventually settling in Indianapolis. Adams became good friends with Shirley Griffith and at the time of this recording had been playing together for fifteen years. Adams recorded just one album, Indiana Ave. Blues on Bluesville with Griffith with other sides appearing on the album Indianapolis Jump issued on Flyright.

Neal Pattman was born in Madison County, GA. and at age seven he lost his right arm in a farming accident. His father taught him to play harmonica soon after. His playing and soulful vocals made him something of a local legend but he remained unknown to the blues world at large until 1989, when he performed at New York City's Lincoln Center and immediately thereafter was flooded with invitations to tour internationally. In 1991, he met Timothy Duffy, head of the Maker Relief Foundation — Duffy teamed Pattman with some of the other acts supported by the organization, most notably singer/guitarist Cootie Stark, with whom he mounted the 48-city Blues Revival Tour in support of Taj Mahal. A 1995 date at London's 100 Club alongside British guitarist Dave Peabody was the subject of Pattman's long-awaited debut LP, Live in London. Three years later, Duffy's Music Maker label released the follow-up, Prison Blues. Pattman died of cancer on May 4, 2005, a few months after contributing to Kenny Wayne Shepherd's 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads. Today's selection, "Key To The Highway", comes from the Art Of Field Recording I.

Ceci Barfiled was first recorded by George Mitchell who called Barfield “probably the greatest previously unrecorded bluesman I have had the pleasure of recording during my 15 years of field research.” Using the name William Robertson, in fear of endangering his welfare checks, he cut the LP South Georgia Blues for Southland in the mid-70’s with several other tracks appearing on Flyright’s Georgia Blues Today. He was also recorded by Pete Lowery and Art Rosenbaum. Today's selection, "Georgia Bottleneck Blues", comes from the Art Of Field Recording I.

Pete Franklin’s mother was good friend with Leroy Carr, who roomed at their house shortly before he passed in 1935. Franklin eventually became proficient on piano and guitar. After getting discharged from the war Franklin found his way to Chicago where he backed St. Louis Jimmy on a 1947 record and made his debut under his own name for Victor in 1949 waxing “Casey Brown Blues b/w Down Behind The Rise.”  In the late 1940’s and early 5o’s he backed Jazz Gillum, John Brim and Sunnyland Slim. Art Rosenbaum recorded Franklin in 1961 which resulted in the Bluesville album Guitar Pete’s Blues. A few other recordings appear on the album Indianapolis Jump.

Brooks Berry moved to Indianapolis in her early teens. As Art Rosenbaum wrote: “She met Scrapper shortly after she moved to Indianapolis and thus began a long though at times stormy friendship that was to end suddenly some fifteen months after the last of the present recordings were made. On October 6, 1962. Scrapper was shot to death in a back alley near his home. Brooks has been, during the four years I have known her, reluctant to sing blues without her friend's sensitive guitar or piano playing behind her; and she will sing less and less now that he is gone.”  As Rosenabum observed: "Singing blues is for Brooks not a social activity or a performance for others, although it once might have been, but rather a completely internal and personal expression. She sings with her eyes shut, swaying back and forth to her music, apparently unconscious of those around her. It is a deeply moving and often slightly awkward experience to listen to her sing—one sometimes feels that he is intruding or her most private thoughts and feelings." Rosenbaum recorded the duo in 1961 resulting in the Bluesville album My Heart Struck Sorrow. Berry was also recorded live with Blackwell at a 1959 concert which are available on the Document CD Scrapper Blackwell with Brooks Berry 1959 – 1960.

Several track were omitted due to the length of the interview. I've included those tracks below plus the interview:

Scrapper Blackwell Brooks Berry – Blues And Trouble (MP3)

Shirley Griffith-Yank Rachell – Mandolin Stomp (MP3)

Cliff  Sheats – Got the Blues So Bad (MP3)

Guitar Pete Franklin – How Long Blues (MP3)

Art Rosenbaum Interview (MP3)

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