Louisiana Blues


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Jim BledsoeWorried BluesDown South Blues 1949-1961
Jim BledsoeHot Rod BoogieDown South Blues 1949-1961
Stick Horse Hammond Little GirlAlley Special
Stick Horse Hammond Alberta Down Home Blues Classics: Texas 1946-195
Eddie & Oscar Flying Crow BluesToo Late, Too Late Vol 4 1892-1937
Black Ivory King Flying Crow BluesPiano Blues: The Essential
Pete McKinley Shreveport BluesBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Pete McKinley Whistling BluesBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Lillian GlinnShreveport Blues Lillian Glinn 1927-1929
Three Fifteen & His SquaresSaturday Night On Texas AvenueRare 1930's Blues Vol. 2
Kid WestKid West BluesI Can Eagle Rock: Jook Joint Blues Library of Congress 1940-1941
Joe HarrisEast Texas BluesI Can Eagle Rock: Jook Joint Blues Library of Congress 1940-1941
Oscar "Buddy" WoodsSometimes I Get to Thinkin' I Can Eagle Rock: Jook Joint Blues Library of Congress 1940-1941
Jim BledsoeAvenue BreakdownRural Blues Vol. 1
Jim BledsoeOld River Blues Down Home Blues Classics: Memphis And The South
Jim BledsoeStormin' And Rainin' Rural Blues Vol. 3
Shreveport HomewreckersHome Wreckin' BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Oscar "Buddy" WoodsMuscat Hill Blues Texas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Stick Horse HammondToo Late BabyDown Home Blues Classics: Memphis And The South
Stick Horse HammondGamblin' ManDown Home Blues Classics: Texas 1946-195
Jim Bledsoe & Pete McKinleyDon't Want Me BluesBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Jim Bledsoe Philippine BluesJook Joint Blues
Ramblin ThomasSo Lonesome BluesCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
King Solomon HillThe Gone Dead TrainBlues Images Vol. 3
Jesse ThomasBlue Goose BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Lonnie WilliamsNew Road BluesJook Joint Blues Vol. 5
Lonnie WilliamsTears In My Jook Joint Blues Vol. 5
Stick Horse Hammond Truck 'Em On DownAlley Special
Clarence LondonGot a Letter This MorningBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Black AceTrifling WomanI'm The Boss Card In Your Hand
LeadbellyFannin StreetLeadbelly Vol. 1 1939-1940
Pine Bluff Pete A Women Acts FunnyBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Pine Bluff Pete Uncle Sam BluesBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Jim BledsoeSad And LonelyRural blues Vol. 3
Jim Bledsoe Dial 110 Juke Joints 3

Show Notes:

Shreveport, 1920

Shreveport, Louisiana lies in the tri-state region where Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas meet. Located in the northwest corner of Louisiana, Shreveport has had a thriving music scene for many decades. On the southwest edge of Shreveport's Central Business District is a area that has long been forgotten. Blue Goose is a enclave of a much larger neighborhood called Crosstown, which was destroyed in the 1960's for the construction of Interstate 20. The remnant of Blue Goose is the remaining portion of an area that is rich in history. Blue Goose takes its name from a speakeasy that operated during prohibition. In 1942 the structure was torn down and a one story juke joint called the Silver Slipper took its place. Then later, The Ebony club. In the pre-war era artists such as Ocar "Buddy" Woods, Leadbelly, Jesse Thomas, Ramblin Thomas and the Black Ace performed in the area. Many of the musicians ended up there because they were passing through Shreveport by rail and the area was close to the tracks and the station. During the height of the post-war era, courtesy of labels like Gotham, JOB (not the Chicago label but a  home-grown Shreveport label), Pacemaker (owned by country music star Webb Pierce), Imperial, and Specialty recorded some great blues in Shreveport in the early 1950s. Today we spotight these artists as well as a few songs who make reference to the city in song.

Country Jim Bledsoe

Jim Bledsoe was a street singer and guitarist, he recorded for PaceMaker (Webb Pierce's label) in 1949 under the name Hot Rod Happy and ended his recording career circa 1951/1952 with recordings for Specialty and Imperial under the name Country Jim. "Avenue breakdown and "Old River Blues" (the name of a lake near the city) and "Hollywood Boogie" with a reference to the black neighborhood of Shreveport's, Mooretown (which includes an artery called Hollywood) clearly shows that Bledsoe really was a resident of Shreveport and knew the city well. Bledsoe recorded some twenty sides circa 1951/1952 for Specialty, likely recorded at KWKH studios after hours. Theses sides were not released at the time, with some being issued decades later. Among the unreleased sides were “Travis Street Blues” and “Texas Street Blues” which were named after streets in downtown Shreveport and there was also some gospel sides recorded.

Stick Horse Hammond cut three 78's, six sides, for the JOB and Gotham labels in 1950. The sides Hammond cut for JOB (not the Chicago label of the same name) were issued by Ray Bartlett a former disc-jockey at Shreveport's KWKH station about and according to country artist Zeke Clements, who discovered Hammond, “they drove around for two or three days getting him drunk enough to record.” Hammond was born Nathaniel Hammond, April 1896, Dallas, Texas, and after playing around east and central Texas in the 30's before moved to Taylortown, Louisiana in the 40's. The nickname probably derives from the fact that he wore a peg-leg. He died in Shreveport in 1964 and was buried in Taylortown.

Eddie Schaffer teamed up with Oscar "Buddy" Woods and recorded one single for Victor in Memphis in 1930 billed as the "Shreveport Home Wreckers". Two years later they cut one more record in Dallas under their names. One of their numbers was "Flying Crow Blues." Several songs make reference to the Flying Crow, a train line connecting Port Arthur, Texas to Kansas City with major stops in Shreveport and Texarkana. Black Ivory King, Carl Davis & the Dallas Jamboree Jug Band, Dusky Dailey, Washboard Sam and Oscar Woods all recorded songs about the train. Today we also spin the version by Black Ivory King, perhaps the finest version of this song.

Oscar "Buddy" Woods was a Louisiana street musician known as "The Lone Wolf" and a pioneer in the style of lap steel bottleneck blues slide guitar. It is said that Woods developed his bottleneck slide approach to playing blues guitar after seeing a touring Hawaiian troupe of musical entertainers in the early 1920s. Not long after arriving in Shreveport, Woods began a long association with guitarist Ed Schaffer, and together they performed as the Shreveport Home Wreckers. Woods and Schaffer made their first two recordings as the Shreveport Home Wreckers for Victor in Memphis on May 31, 1930. Woods cut his last five selections for the Library of Congress in 1940. John Lomax wrote the following about the session: "Oscar (Buddy) Woods, Joe Harris and Kid West are all professional Negro guitarists and singers of  Texas Avenue, Shreveport…The songs I have recorded are among those they use to cajole nickels and dimes from the pockets of listeners." Woods died in 1956.

David “Pete” McKinley had two songs released in 1950 on Gotham. “Shreveport Blues” is the earliest post-war blues to mention the city. McKinley participated in the same March 12, 1952 session for Specialty that Jim Bledsoe was involved in. Several other sides were unissued until decades later. Art Rupe of Specialty Records came to Shreveport from California at the suggestion of Stan Lewis, renting out the Studios KWKH for an all-night marathon session which began when the station signed off at 2AM. In 1948, Lewis opened a record store, Stan's Record Shop, on Texas Street in Shreveport. Lewis became a one-stop operator (other record stores would buy from him) and distributor of independent records and began to write and produce R&B and rock and roll records. In 1963, Lewis founded the Jewel label and soon after the Paula and Ronn imprints.

Art Rupe remembered “Pine Bluff Pete” as a “very black man” who had been running errands during the session. Rupe said “when it was felt the other singers couldn't perform effectively any more because of alcohol , fatigue, or both, Pine Bluff Pete asked to record. He looked like he could use the recording fee, and everybody was feeling good, so we recorded him. We never actually intended to release the records, so we paid him outright, not even getting his full name.” The name “Pine Bluff Pete” was given to him by Barry Hansen who discovered the tap in the Specialty vaults. Two of the three songs he recorded credit Jim Bledsoe as the composer and he may be playing guitar on these sides.

Ramblin' Thomas spent time in both Dallas and Shreveport. His brother Jesse said “ He spend a good time in both of them. He's mostly get a room to hisself and play in the streets, in the barbershop, on a corner or even in the alley.” In Shreveport he hung out with Joe Holmes, who in 1932 recorded as 'King Solomon Hill' for Paramount. Holmes' ex-wife, Roberta Allums told researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow, “Joe had rather play with Thomas than any other singer.” In Dallas he spent time with Blind Lemon Jefferson. Thomas cut two sessions for Paramount in 1928 and a last session for Victor in 1932.

Jesse Thomas moved to Shreveport when he was fifteen. In 1927 he moved to Dallas to stay with his brother Willard. After meeting Lonnie Johnson he turned to the guitar playing house parties. Thomas recorded sporadically from the late 1920’s through the early 1990’s and despite his longevity didn’t achieve much in the way of success or recognition. In 1929, at 18, Thomas cut four excellent sides for Victor most notably, ”Blues Goose Blues” named after a Shreveport area where Thomas performed:

 I'm goin down in old Blue Goose, even if I lose
   When you go to Shreveport town
   You can find Blue Goose and they'll car' you down
   I'm goin' down in old Blue Goose, I don't care if I lose

King Solomon Hill's legacy is the six sides he cut for Paramount in 1932: "Whoopee Blues", "Down On My Bended Knee", "The Gone Dead Train", "Tell Me Baby", "My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon" and "Times Has Done Got Hard." The last two numbers were not found until 2002 by record collector John Tefteller. King was closely connected to Crying Sam Collins and Blind Lemon Jefferson and their influence are evident, to some degree, in Hill's style.

Babe Karo Lemon Turner AKA Black Ace grew up in a farm in Hughes Springs, Texas. He took up the guitar seriously when he moved to Shreveport in the mid-1930's and met Oscar Woods from whom he learned the local slide guitar style, playing the guitar flat across the knees. By 1936 he moved to Fort Worth where he secured a gig broadcasting on local station KFJZ between 1936-1941. As his reputation grew he toured and cut six sides for Decca in 1937 (two sides recorded for ARC in 1936 were never released). War service disrupted his career and he worked a variety of jobs outside of music. Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records and Paul Oliver ventured to Fort Worth in 1960 and recorded an album by him that year. Those recordings were originally issued the following year on Black Ace's only LP. Turner passed in 1972 showing no interest to get back in the music business after his Arhoolie session.

By 1903, Lead Belly was already a "musicianer", a singer and guitarist of some note. He performed for nearby Shreveport audiences in St. Paul's Bottoms, a notorious red-light district there. Lead Belly began to develop his own style of music after exposure to a variety of musical influences on Shreveport's Fannin Street, a row of saloons, brothels, and dance halls in the Bottoms. He celebrates the street in the powerful "Fannin Street" which we feature today:

My mama told me
My sister too
Said, 'The Shreveport women, son,
Will be the death of you

Said to my mama,
'Mama, you don't know
If the Fannin Street women gonna kill me
Well, you might as well let me go

In 1937, Three Fifteen and His Squares, a music group from Shreveport, Louisiana, traveled 200 miles north for a recording session in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The musicians, led by David “315” Blunson, recorded four songs released by Vocalion Records. The lyrics to Blunson’s “Saturday Night on Texas Avenue” pay a colorful tribute to Shreveport’s African American main drag during its heyday:

In a spot in my hometown, I’d like for you to go
And get woke up, and see a great show
We smoke weed, and we say hey-hey
We drink port wine until the break of day
Saturday Night on Texas Avenue

Walk all night from place to place
Shuckin’ and jivin’ trying to get our gait
Some be truckin’ and some be doin’ the Suzie-Q
And if you stay long enough, you’ll be truckin’ too
Saturday Night on Texas Avenue

Little is known of Lonnie Williams and Clarence London. Williams recorded four songs for the Sittin' In With label in 1951. In a 1968 interview label head Bob Shad recalled Williams was recorded at a Shreveport radio station, most likely KWKH. Clarence London was a Shreveport construction worker who had been hanging around Stan Lewis' record shop, begging Lewis to record him. When Art Rupe of Specialty Records came to town, Lewis obliged. London recorded three songs and never recorded again.

During the time period covered by this show, there were several songs that had Shreveport in the title. Today we spin "Shreveport Blues" sung  in 1928 by Lilillian Glinn which makes reference to Shreveport's Texas Avenue. A different song with the same title was recorded by Virginia Liston in 1923. Other songs include Little Brother Montgomery's "Shreveport Farewell", Jelly Roll Morton's "Shreveport" and "Shreveport Stomp", Clarence Williams' "Shreveport Blues" and Leadbelly's "Shreveport County Jail Blues" to name a few examples.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Lightnin' SlimBad LuckIt's Mighty Crazy
Schoolboy CleveI'm HimThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 5
Slim HarpoThis Ain't No Place For MeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 4
Lightnin' SlimTrip To Chicago The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 12
Lazy Lester Whoa Now I Hear You Knockin'!: The Excello Singles
Boogie JakeI Don't Know Why The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 42
Lightnin' SlimTom Cat BluesIt's Mighty Crazy
Slim HarpoI'm A King Bee The Excello Singles Anthology
Lazy LesterSugar Coated Love I Hear You Knockin'!: The Excello Singles
Jimmy DotsonI Wanna Know The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 3
Slim Harpo Don't Start Cryin' Now
The Excello Singles Anthology
Tabby ThomasHoodoo PartyThe Excello Story,Vol. 4: 1961-1975
Jimmy Anderson Naggin'The Excello Story,Vol. 4: 1961-1975
Sylvester BuckleyMumblin' Blues The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Lazy LesterA Word About Women I Hear You Knockin'!: The Excello Singles
Silas HoganI'm Going In The Valley Trouble: The Excello Recordings
Silas HoganDry Chemical BluesSwamp Blues
Arthur 'Guitar' KellyHow Can I Stay When All I Have Is GoneSwamp Blues
Clarence EdwardsCooling BoardSwamp Blues
Whisperin' Smith I Tried So Hard The Real Excello R&B
Jimmy Anderson It's Half Past Midnight The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 42
Silas Hogan Every Saturday NightTrouble: The Excello Recordings
Whisperin' SmithCryin' Blues The Real Excello R&B
Silas HoganDark Clounds Rollin'Trouble: The Excello Recordings
Jimmy AndersonRats And Roaches On Your MindDeep Harmonica Blues
Henry GrayShowers Of RainSwamp Blues
Whispering SmithCold Black MareSwamp Blues
Lazy lesterPoor Boy BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 16
Slim HarpoTip On In (Part 1) The Excello Singles Anthology
Silas HoganHoo Doo Man Blues Live In Baton Rouge At The Speakeasy
Guitar KellyI Got A Funny FeelingLouisiana Blues
Henry GrayCold ChillsLouisiana Blues

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

Jay Miller operated a small studio and record label (Feature) out in Crowley, Louisiana. He had been recording some regional music in the early fifties when he first heard Lightnin’ Slim at WXOK in Baton Rouge. Miller has said that Lightnin’s music “did something to me”, and he recorded Lightnin’s “Bad Luck” in the Spring of 1954.There was no way Miller could keep up with the demand for the record, and he hooked up with Ernie Young and worked out a deal that would lease the material he was recording back in Crowley to Excello Records for release and distribution. Soon Miller’s studio became ground zero for the sound known as “swamp-blues.” One of the regions Miller tapped into was the fertile Baton Rouge blues scene eighty miles to the East. Today we feature many of the great Baton Rouge artists Miller recorded including Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, Silas Hogan, Whisperin' Smith, Jimmy Anderson and several others.

Lightnin' Slim recorded for 12 years as an Excello artist, from 1954 to 1965, starting out originally on Miller's Feature label. Slim was born with the name Otis Hicks in St. Louis, MO, on March 13, 1913. After 13 years of living on a farm outside of the city, the Hicks family moved to Louisiana, first settling in St. Francisville where he took to the guitar.In 1946 he moved to Baton Rouge, playing on weekends in local ghetto bars, and started to make a name for himself on the local circuit. At the beginning of the 50's he was working with harmonica player Schoolboy Cleve in tow, Lightnin' and Schoolboy working club dates and broadcasting over the radio together. While riding on a bus sometime in the mid-'50s, Lazy Lester met guitarist Lightnin' Slim, who was searching for his AWOL harpist. The two's styles meshed seamlessly, and Lester became Slim's harpist of choice.  As the late '60s found Lightnin' Slim working and living in Detroit, a second career blossomed as European blues audiences brought him over to tour, and he also started working the American festival and hippie ballroom circuit with Slim Harpo as a double act. When Harpo died unexpectedly in 1970, Lightnin' went on alone, recording sporadically, while performing as part of the American Blues Legends tour until his death in 1974.

Read Liner Notes

In the large stable of blues talent that Jay Miller recorded for Excello, no one enjoyed more mainstream success than Slim Harpo. Researcher/Writer Bruce Bastin writes: "Slim Harpo was one of the finest bluesmen to achieve recognition from Jay Miller's recordings in Crowley, Louisiana and although he gained greater success after he had left Miller, he never made records of the same quality." He had been playing full-time as a musician since the late 1940's, calling himself Harmonica Slim and frequently playing around Baton Rouge with Lightning Slim.

Miller had used a number of harmonica players to back Lightning Slim and late in 1955 Lightning brought with him his own man, Harmonica Slim (Slim Harpo), for a session. Harpo’s first record, “I’m A King Bee”, became a double-sided R&B hit in 1957. Even bigger was “Rainin’ in My Heart,” which made the Billboard Top 40 pop charts in the summer of 1961. In the wake of the Rolling Stones covering “I’m a King Bee” on their first album, Slim had the biggest hit of his career in 1966 with “Baby, Scratch My Back” which made Billboard’s Top 20 pop charts. Follow-ups “Tip on In” and “Tee-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu,” were both R&B charters.

By the end of the 60’s Harpo contacted Lightnin’ Slim, who was now residing outside of Detroit, MI. The two reunited and formed a band, touring together as a sort of blues mini-package to appreciative white rock audiences until the end of the decade. The New Year beckoned with a tour of Europe (his first ever) all firmed up, and a recording session scheduled when he arrived in London. Sadly he died suddenly of a heart attack on January 31, 1970.

As Jay Miller recalled, "One day Lightnin' Slim walked into my studio to cut a record session, accompanied by a tall, slender young stranger, introduced to me as Leslie Johnson …I learned that Lightnin' had met Leslie on a bus to Crowley, but had not heard him sing or play. Having a few minutes before the session, I put Leslie in the studio and the rest of us went into the control room to listen. When I turned on the equipment and signaled him to begin, I was surprised by what I heard. It was so much more than what I expected. I was immediately convinced that this was an artist of great potential."

Lazy Lester recorded first in 1957 and fifteen Excello releases ensued over the next nine years until Miller found Lester too unreliable to use. Miller found that Lester was equally talented on guitar and drums, and he became a stalwart of Miller's session bands. Lester appeared on Miller-produced songs by Lightnin' Slim, Slim Harpo, Katie Webster, Lonesome Sundown and artists as varied as Nathan Abshire and Johnny Lano.

Lightnin' Slim

In 1962, at the ripe old age of 51, Silas Hogan was introduced by Slim Harpo to producer Jay Miller and his recording career finally began in earnest. Hogan recorded for Excello from 1962 to early 1965, seeing the last of his single releases issued late that year. As Ray Templeton wrote: "Outside of the big four – Lightning Slim, Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown and Slim Harpo – Silas Hogan is the most important of the downhome blues artists Jay Miller recorded, whether you measure importance in numbers of singles issued (Hogan had eight releases on Excello) or in terms of quality and consistency." Regarding his musical background, Hogan said: "…I'd been living in the country, there was some old people there picking guitar. And that's how I learned, following them. …They were real bluesmen, the old way-back stuff. When we were playing back yonder, we were playing them house parties, they didn't have as many juke joints as they have now. …I played all night for  for seventy-five cents." After performing with Guitar Kelly he started gaining prominence in the Baton Rouge are when he formed the Rhythm Ramblers in 1956. Also in the group was harmonica man Sylvester Buckley (Buckley recorded four sides circa 1962/63 for Jay Miller that were unissued). Buckley laid down sympathetic support on several of Hogan's Excello releases while Whispering Smith played harmonica on several others.

Jimmy Dotson was a small part of an active Baton Rouge blues scene of the 1950’s. Dotson cut sessions for Miller circa 1957 through 1960. Dotson said: "The Baton Rouge blues scene in the '50s was nice, we had a following, we played from club to club. I played drums for Lightnin' Slim for a while and with Slim it fluctuated, I was a kind of utility musician. If they needed a drummer I'd go play drums, if they needed a bass player, a guitar … I couldn't play any too good on any of them but I could fit in. But they had a tremendous following, Lightnin' Slim and Slim Harpo. They would go from club to club, sometimes we would play Sunday afternoon somewhere back over North Baton Rouge in the park area from two o'clock to six and the place would be full of people. OK then we would go across the river (to Port Allen) and they'd just line up in cars and follow us across the river! It was fantastic, it really was."

Tabby Thomas is one of the best known blues musicians in Baton Rouge, and had, since the late 1970's, operated his own blues club there, Tabby's Blues Box. He was born in the city on January 5th, 1929. Thomas probably spans a longer recording history with Jay Miller than anyone else. He cut in 1954 for Miller's Feature label and cut a final session for Miller in 1980. His Feature disc didn't sell too well but he returned to make a number of discs there in the 1960's including his best-known number, "Hoodoo Party", a small southern hit in 1962.

Whisperin' Smith cut four singles for Excello in 1963-64 and backing Silas Hogan on records during the same period. He was introduced to Jay Miller by Lightnin' Slim. Smith was born in Mississippi and settled in Baton Rouge in 1957. He made more records in the 70's appearing on the Swamp Blues LP for Blue Horizon and cutting the album Over Easy in 1971 also for Blue Horizon. During this period he played in Europe appearing as part of the American Folk Blues Festival and at the Montreux Blues Festival.As John Broven noted: "Smith's best moments came when he played behind Lightnin' Slim in Europe. With arms flailing, body weaving, and legs ducking, his performance was animation itself, a throwback to the country dance juke joint workouts of yesteryear." Smith passed in 1984.

Slim Harpo

Harmonica player Jimmy Anderson modeled his sound on Jimmy Reed and cut all his sessions for Miller circa 1962 and 1964. As John Broven wrote: "Jimmy Anderson, a younger artist from Baton Rouge, was too much in jimmy Reed's shadow to succeed." Anderson quit recording In 1964, feeling that he was being gypped out of royalties. He continued to play for a few years , taking up the guitar, but when he appeared at the 1991 Utrecht Blues Estafette, Jimmy had been out of music for 20 years.

We spotlight several tracks from the album Swamp Blues, a fine sampling of the vibrant blues scene in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the summer of 1970. It was originally issued as a double LP in 1970 and has been reissued on CD by the Ace label. Recorded over the course of four hot August days, the sessions were produced by R&B monthly editor and Blue Horizon boss Mike Vernon. Swamp Blues isn't technically an Excello Records product, but many of the veteran blues artists included had strong ties to the label. Featured artists include Whispering Smith, Silas Hogan, Arthur "Guitar" Kelley', Clarence Edwards and Henry Gray.

Another swamp blues revival session was recorded in April of 1970,in Baton Rouge by Terry Pattison and Chris Strachwitz just a few months before the Swamp Blues session recorded for Blue Horizon. Pattison was actually instrumental in the above mentioned Swamp Blues session as well. Issued as Louisiana Blues on the Arhoolie label, the set features the same artists as well: Whispering Smith, Silas Hogan, Arthur "Guitar" Kelley',  Clarence Edwards and Henry Gray.

The same artists were also featured on the long out-of-print LP, Blues Live In Baton Rouge At The Speakeasy issued on Excello. Excello was still issuing records through the mid-70's. The album was recorded circa 1972 live at The Speak-Easy in Baton Rouge. From this album we spin Silas Hogan delivering a fine rendition of "Hoo Doo Blues."

 
Read Liner Notes: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2Pt. 3Pt. 4

Henry Gray was originally born in Alsen, Louisiana, outside of Baton Rouge. Gray became a stalwart of the Chicago blues scene, playing behind Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter before embarking on a twelve year stint with Howlin' Wolf. In 1968 he returned to Alsen to take care of his ailing father. He began playing the with a group called the Cats in local juke joints and made regular appearances at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  Outside of recording the above sessions, he didn't record again until 1977.

The Baton Rouge scene chugged along after these early 1970's sessions; artists like Lightnin' Slim and Whisperin' Smith continued to record sporadically in the 70's (Smith made his final single in 1983), Tabby Thomas recorded Baton Rouge artists for own label in the 70's and his popular juke joint, Tabby's Blues Box operated until 2004 and was a showcase for local players. Throughout the 90's Raful Neal remained active, performing and recording until passing in 2004. Nine of Neal's 11 children inherited his blues-playing prowess and play professionally, most famously Kenny Neal. Lazy Lester and Henry Gray have cut several albums over the years and both still remain active.

Related Items:

-Mike Vernon's Blues Super Session At Baton Rouge (Sounds, Oct 10, 1970, p.32)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Silas HoganI'm A Free-Hearted ManThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Rockin' DupseeThings I used To DoThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 30
Slim HarpoHarpo's BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 31
Sylvester BuckleyShe Treats Me So EvilThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Joe JohnsonAlimonia BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Mr. CalhounThey Call Me Mr. CalhounThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 3
Blue CharlieDon't Have No FriendsThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 3
Lazy LesterWhoa NowThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 7
Jimmy AndersonDraft Board BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 42
Buddy GuyI Hope You Come Back HomeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 55
Ramblin' Hi HarrisI Haven't Got A HomeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 55
Lonesome SundownIf You See My BabyThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 52
Fernest & The ThundersMother's LoveThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 57
Jimmy DotsonI Wanna KnowThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 3
Boogie JakeEarly Morning BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Lightnin' SlimNothin' But The DevilThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 12
Silas HoganMy Baby Walked OutThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Tabby ThomasHmmm I Don't CareThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 38
Bobby PriceMean Mean WomanThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 57
Lonesome SundownDon't GoThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 29
Leroy WashingtonYou Can't Trust NobodyThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 25
Clarence GarlowYou Gonna Get Old Some DayThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 28
Lazy LesterPoor Boy BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 16
Katie WebsterI Feel So LowThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 9
Lightnin' SlimI Can't Live HappyThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 27
Clarence LocksleyIf You See My Little WomanThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 55
Wild Bill PhillipsPebble In My ShoeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 55
Jimmy AndersonKeep On Naggin'The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 49
Leroy WashingtonI've Been To This PrisonThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 25
Lonesome SundownIt's Not TrueThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 8
Guitar GableLong Way From HomeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 36
Henry GrayCold ChillsThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 42
Slim HarpoThings Gonna ChangeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 4
Charles SheffieldI Would Be A SinnerThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 43
Clifton ChenierHey Ma MaThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 37

Show Notes:

Producer Jay Miller in his Crowley, Louisiana studio

Jay Miller operated a small studio and record label (Feature) out in Crowley, Louisiana. In addition to Feature, he had other small labels such as Fais Do-Do and Feature, Rocko (originally Rocket) and Zynn. He had been recording some regional Cajun and Country music in the early fifties when he first heard Lightnin’ Slim at WXOK in Baton Rouge. Miller has said that Lightnin’s music “did something to me”, and, with the help of disc jockey Diggy-Doo, he recorded Lightnin’s “Bad Luck” in the Spring of 1954. There was no way Miller could keep up with the demand for the record, and he decided to travel to Nashville for a record convention in 1955. Miller met with Ernie Young and worked out a deal that would lease the material he was recording back in Crowley to Excello Records for release and distribution. Soon Miller’s studio became ground zero for the sound known as “swamp-blues” issuing records by Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, Silas Hogan, Lonesome Sundown and many others. Of his unique sound, Miller said: “It wasn’t technical as far as audio but I had a sense of something. Maybe that was the best thing that could have happened. I didn’t know too much about it, I didn’t go by the book, because I went by these two things – my ears!!! I’ve had so many compliments about the sound I got.” He further explained: "I ran all my sessions myself. I gave them as much leeway from a 'feel' standpoint (as I could) but from a professional standpoint I took over there. In other words, I didn't want my artists to sing a song like I wanted it sung, as long as they had the feel, but if they didn't have the feel I was either gonna change songs or try to explain to them what we needed."

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It was Miller who gave most of his artists their nicknames as he recalled in a 1981 radio interview: "I always tried to pick one that suited the artist's personality, like Lazy Lester (laughs). And Lightnin' Slim; he was just so slow in anything he did …Lonesome Sundown, well Lonesome Sundown …didn't come in too early most of the time he was around. He'd come in late, or rather, he's come in early and take off and come back late, and there was something that struck me that Sundown was just the right pseudonym for him."

Miller recorded way more material then he could issue hence many recordings were never released. In the 70’s the Flyright label, with the assistance of Miller, began a series called the The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions to issue these unissued sides. The series ran to over fifty volumes. All the tracks from today's show come from those LP’s. Much of this music has not been reissued on CD. Below is some background on today's featured artists, most of the information gleaned from the liner notes. Additional information comes from John Broven's classic book South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous which goes into great detail about Miller and the artists he recorded.

It's worth quoting Bruce Bastin from his introduction to the series: "Close to South Louisiana bayou country, Crowley is the home of J.D. Miller's studio, responsible as much as any other factor for the sound we now know as the moody, loping blues of the Louisiana swamps. Many completely unknown artists found fleeting fame through Miller's recordings  and through the Excello issues of his recordings, he helped support one of the most consistent blues labels of the 1950's. Some of the finest of Miller's recordings were issued, often on his own labels – but not all! His present studio contains an awe-inspiring and perplexing array of masterpieces, many containing superb and unissued recordings. These are just a few of those…"

Miller scored his first big R&B hit on Excello with Guitar Gable’s infectious instrumental “Congo Mombo” in 1956, followed closely by the swamp-pop standard “Irene”, sung by Gable’s vocalist King Karl. For the next three years Guitar Gable and King Karl had regular singles on the Excello label, culminating in “This Should Go On Forever” which provided a top 20 hit for swamp-popper Rod Bernard. Not only this but Gable’s band was used as Miller’s session group, recording everything from swamp-blues to rock’n'roll. Gable’s and Karl's sides are collected on Cool Calm Collected – The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 36. As Bastin notes: "Miller reckoned Gable's band to be the most reliable R & B band at that time and he used it for a number of sessions, most notably Slim Harpo's first . Half dozen releases emerged on Excello over two years but Gable recorded many more tracks and as is typical with unreleased titles found in Miller's vaults, they were the equal of – and often
superior as blues – to many which were released."

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In the large stable of blues talent that Jay Miller recorded for Excello, no one enjoyed more mainstream success than Slim Harpo. Bastin writes: "Slim Harpo was one of the finest bluesmen to achieve recognition from Jay Miller's  recordings  in  Crowley, Louisiana and although he gained greater success after he had left Miller, he never made records of the same quality. James Moore first came to Miller's studio in 1955. He had been playing full-time as a musician since the late 1940's, calling himself Harmonica Slim and frequently playing around Baton Rouge with Otis Hicks – Lightning Slim. Miller had used a number of harmonica players to back Lightning and late in 1955 Lightning brought with him his own man, Harmonica Slim, for a session " Harpo’s first record, “I’m A King Bee”, became a double-sided R&B hit. Even bigger was “Rainin’ in My Heart,” which made the Billboard Top 40 pop charts in the summer of 1961. In the wake of the Rolling Stones covering “I’m a King Bee” on their first album, Slim had the biggest hit of his career in 1966 with “Baby, Scratch My Back” which made Billboard’s Top 20 pop charts. Follow-ups “Tip on In” and “Tee-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu,” were both R&B charters. By the end of the 60’s  Harpo contacted Lightnin’ Slim, who was now residing outside of Detroit, MI. The two reunited and formed a band, touring together as a sort of blues mini-package to appreciative white rock audiences until the end of the decade. The New Year beckoned with a tour of Europe (his first ever) all firmed up, and a recording session scheduled when he arrived in London. Sadly he died suddenly of a heart attack on January 31, 1970. Volumes 4, 20 and 31 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  are all devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Harpo's recordings.

Clifton Chenier hired Lonesome Sundown, whose’ real name was Cornelius Green, as one of his two guitarists (Phillip Walker being the other) in 1955. As Sundown recalled "After hearing about Jay Miller I brought a demo tape to his studio; you shoulda seen that studio. It was like a repair shop and studio combined. So closely combined you couldn't hardly tell which was which. Jay Miller asked me to bring the band by. We recorded a couple songs for him, but we soon split up." By 1956 he was back in Miller's studio and began recording fairly regularly." Over the next eight years, Sundown’s lowdown Excello output included a host of memorable swamp classics. In 1965 he retired from the blues business to devote his life to the church. It was 1977 before Sundown could be coaxed back into a studio to cut the excellent blues LP Been Gone Too Long. Sundown passed in 1994. Volumes 8, 29 and 52 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  are all devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Sundown's recordings.

Regarding Lightnin' Slim, Bruce Bastin wrote: "One of the few bluesmen whose nicknames were acquired before coming to Miller, Lightning had only been playing 6 years when he came to Miller's notice and became the second black artist that he recorded (Richard King of Crowley was the first). Lightning changed the whole focus of Miller's recordings. Following the success of the first blues releases on Miller's own Feature label, the emphasis of his recordings became directed towards blues and r'n b, and the pattern of Black Louisiana music on record emerged for the first time." Slim recorded for 12 years as an Excello artist, from 1954 to 1965, starting out originally on Miller’s Feature label. Between Feature and Excello Slim released some sixty tracks. As the late ’60s found Lightnin’ Slim working and living in Detroit, a second career blossomed as European blues audiences brought him over to tour, and he also started working the American festival and hippie ballroom circuit with Slim Harpo as a double act. When Harpo died unexpectedly in 1970, Lightnin’ went on alone, recording sporadically, while performing as part of the American Blues Legends tour until his death in 1974. Volumes 5, 12, 27 and 47 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  are all devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Slim's recordings.

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While riding on a bus sometime in the mid-’50s, Lazy Lester met guitarist Lightnin’ Slim, who was searching for his AWOL harpist. The two’s styles meshed seamlessly, and Lester became Slim’s harpist of choice. As Miller recalled, "One day Lightnin' Slim walked into my studio to cut a record session, accompanied by a tall, slender young stranger, introduced to me as Leslie Johnson …I learned that Lightnin' had met Leslie on a bus to Crowley, but had not heard him sing or play. Having a few minutes before the session, I put Leslie in the studio and the rest of us went into the control room to listen. When I turned on the equipment and signaled him to begin, I was surprised by what I heard. It was so much more than what I expected. I was immediately convinced that this was an artist of great potential." Lester recorded first in 1957 and 15 Excello releases ensued over the next 9 years until Jay found Lester too unreliable to use. Miller found that Lester was equally talented on guitar and drums, and he became a stalwart of Miller's session bands. Lester appeared on Miller-produced songs by Lightnin' Slim, Slim Harpo, Katie Webster, Lonesome Sundown and artists as varied as Nathan Abshire and Johnny Lano. Volumes 7 and 16 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  are all devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Lester's recordings.

In 1962, at the ripe old age of 51, Silas Hogan was introduced by Slim Harpo to producer Jay Miller and his recording career finally began in earnest. Hogan recorded for Excello from 1962 to early 1965, seeing the last of his single releases issued late that year. As Ray Templeton wrote: "Outside of the big four – Lightning Slim, Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown and Slim Harpo – Silas Hogan is the most important of the downhome blues artists Jay Miller recorded, whether you measure importance in numbers of singles issued (Hogan had eight releases on Excello) or in terms of quality and consistency." Volume  32 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions is devoted to Hogan's recordings and one of the tracks gives today's show its title.

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Jimmy Dotson was a small part of an active Baton Rogue blues scene of the 1950’s. Miller documented many of these artists including Lazy Lester, Slim Harpo and Jimmy Anderson Dotson cut sessions for Miller circa 1957 through 1960. Dotson said: "The Baton  Rouge blues scene in the '50s was nice,  we  had a following, we played from club to club. I played drums for Lightnin' Slim for a while and with Slim it fluctuated, I was a kind of utility musician. If they needed a drummer I'd go play drums, if they needed a bass player, a guitar … I couldn't play any too good on any of them but I could fit in. But they had a tremendous following,  Lightnin' Slim and Slim Harpo. They would go from club to club, sometimes we would play Sunday afternoon somewhere back over North Baton Rouge in the park area from two o'clock to six and the place would  be full of people.  OK then we would go across the river (to Port Allen) and they'd just line up in cars and follow us across the river! It was fantastic, it really was."

Local guitarist Ashton Savoy took Katie Webster under his wing, sharing her 1958 debut 45 for the Kry logo with her. Webster rapidly became an invaluable studio musician for Miller in Crowley and Eddie Shuler in Lake Charles. She played on sides by Guitar Junior (Lonnie Brooks), Clarence Garlow, Jimmy Wilson, Lazy Lester, and many others. She also waxed some terrific sides of her own for Miller from 1959 to 1961 for his Rocko, Action, and Spot labels. As Bruce Bastin writes: "Katie Webster is best known as Jay Miller's most frequently used session pianist, backing a diversity of artists from blues to rockabilly and pop. …As an accompanying pianist, she has few peers in postwar blues but the musical legacy that she left with Miller is broader than might at first be expected." Volumes 48, and 49 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  are devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Webster's  recordings.

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Tabby Thomas probably spans a longer recording history with Miller than anyone else. He cut in  1954 for Miller's Feature label and cut a final session for Miller in 1980. His Feature disc didn't sell too well but he returned to make a number of discs there in the 1960's including his best-known number, "Hoodoo Party." As Ray Templeton writes: "Tabby Thomas holds a unique record in relation to the Jay Miller operation at Crowley, Louisiana.  He is the only artist to have had his work issued on Miller's own labels Feature, Rocko and Zynn, as well as on Excello…" Volume 56 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  is devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Tabby's  recordings.

Little is known about Leroy Washington, who recorded several sessions between 1957 and 1961 for Miller. He was recalled by Miller as perhaps his favorite blues guitarist.  He only released a handful of sides, however, he had recorded a considerable legacy of material for Miller, which had lain unissued until this series. As Bruce Bastin writes: "Like another fine Miller guitarist, Guitar Gable,  Leroy Washington was from Opelousas.  …Washington's polite, easy-going nature and keenness to record made him a highly suitable artist for Miller, who carefully built up his artist's sessions, in order to create a satisfactory potential "hit' record. Three couplings submitted by Miller to Ernie Young of the Nashboro Record Co. saw release on his Excello label in 1958-59 but Miller clearly submitted material which did not find favor." Volume 25 of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions  is devoted to unissued or alternate takes of Washington's  recordings.

Clarence Garlow waxed his first sides for the Macy’s label in 1949, scoring a minor hit with “Bon Ton Roula.” Garlow next session was for Miller’s Feature label in 1951, cutting further sessions for Miller in 1954 and 1958. Garlow's sides for Miller are collected on The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 28.

Harmonica player Jimmy Anderson modeled his sound on Jimmy Reed and cut all his sessions for Miller circa 1962 and 1964. As John Broven wrote: "Jimmy Anderson, a younger artist fro Baton Rogue, was too much in jimmy Ree's shadow to succeed." Anderson quit recording In 1964, feeling that he was being gypped out of royalties. He continued to play for a few years , taking up the guitar, but when  he  appeared  at the  1991 Utrecht Blues Estafette,   Jimmy had been out of music for 20 years. Ten tracks by Anderson appear across several volumes of The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions.

Henry Gray was born in Kenner, Louisiana, in January, 1925, but raised near Baton Rouge at Alsen. He headed to Chicago where he appeared on many definitive Chicago blues sessions of the 1950's backing artists like Jimmy Rogers, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and others. In 1956, he joined Howlin' Wolf"s band and was Wolf's main piano player for twelve years in performance and on recordings. He returned to Louisiana in 1968 and within a few years cut some sides for Miller in 1970.

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Miller was involved in recording several Zydeco sessions which are collected on Zydeco Blues – The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 14 and Zydeco Blues Vol. 2 – The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 37 and Rockin' With Dupsee – The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 30. In addition to  Rockin’ Dupsee, who recorded sessions for Miller between 1970 and 1974, Miller also recorded Clifton Chenier (1958-1959), Fernest Arceneaux, Marcel Dugas and Joseph Bo. Miller was one of the earliest producer to record Chenier and issued three couplings on his own Zynn label having found no interest shown by Nashville's Excello label.

Miller recorded several fine bluesman who remain little known but cut some superb music. Featured today are cuts by singer/harmonica player Sylvester Buckley who played on some sides by Lazy Lester and Silas Hogan. He recorded four sides circa 1962/63 that were unissued. There was Monroe Vincent who recorded as Mr. Calhoun for Miller and as Vince Monroe. He moved to New Orleans where he recorded as Polka Dot Slim for Instant. Charles Sheffield was a fine big voiced singer from Lake Charles who cut sessions released on Rocko in 1959 and Excello in 1961. Also from Lake Charles was Blue Charlie(Charlie Morris) who cut sessions for Miller in 1957 and 1958 with many titles unreleased. There were the tough guitar blues of the mysterious Ramblin' Hi Harris who waxed just three sides for Miller and Joe Johnson who cut a handful of strong sides for Miller in 1966 and 1967. There was fine down-home players like harmonica blower Wild Bill Phillips who backed Lightnin' Slim on some sessions and on his brilliant cover of Boozoo Chavis'  "Pebble In My Shoe" and guitarist Clarence Locksley who's backed on percussion by Lazy Lester with Miller himself playing guitar on one cut. Miller recalled of  Locksley: "He thought a meter was something you put a nickel in." Also worth mentioning is a track supposedly by Buddy Guy, "I Hope You Come Back Home." The track was found in 1978 on a tape box marked Lonesome Sundown. It is known that on at least one occasion Guy traveled to Crowley to back Lightnin' Slim and Miller could have auditioned and recorded Guy.

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