Memphis Blues

Robert WilkinsDo Lord Remember MeProdigal Son
Dick Spotswood Interview
Robert WilkinsThank You, Jesus Prodigal Son
Robert WilkinsFalling Down BluesMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert WilkinsIt Just Suits MeProdigal Son
Robert WilkinsOld Jim CanaanMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert WilkinsJesus Will Fix It Allright Prodigal Son
Robert WilkinsThat's No Way To Get AlongMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert WilkinsProdigal Son Prodigal Son
Robert WilkinsRollin' Stone (Part 1)Memphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert WilkinsI'll Go With Her BluesMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert Wilkins Losin' Out BluesMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Frank Stokes & Dane Sane'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do, Part 1Memphis Masters
Frank Stokes & Dane SaneMr. Crump Don't Like ItMemphis Masters
Frank Stokes & Dane SaneIt's A Good Thing Memphis Masters
Joe CalicottFare Thee Well BluesMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Garfield AkersCottonfield Blues (Pt. 1)ConversatioMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Garfield AkersDough Roller BluesMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Jim JacksonJim Jackson's Kansas City Blues Jim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Jim JacksonWhat A Time Jim Jackson Vol. 2 1928-1930
Jim JacksonHesitation Blues Jim Jackson Vol. 2 1928-1930
Minnie WallaceThe Cockeyed WorldRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 2: The Great Jug Bands

Show Notes:

Robert Wilkins: Prodigal Son Robert Wilkins: Memphis Gospel Singer
Read Liner Notes (preview) Read Liner Notes


Robert Wilkins cut one of the great albums of the blues revival, Memphis Gospel Singer recorded in 1964 for the Piedmont label and now finally issued issued on CD as Prodigal Son by Bear Family. Around 1964 Dick Spottswood, who had been instrumental in finding Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James a few before, set out to track down Robert Wilkins. After finding Wilkins he brought him up to Washington D.C. to record for his Piedmont label. Spottswood has written an excellent 28 page booklet for the new reissue and today we are joined by Dick as we spotlight this great album and chat about his old friend. We'll also be playing Wilkins' early classic sides: for Victor in 1928, Brunswick in 1929 and Vocalion in 1935. Wilkins was born in Hernando, Mississippi some twenty miles from Memphis and birthplace of an important group of musicians who helped establish Memphis as a major blues center in the 1920's. In addition to Wilkins these included Jim Jackson, Dan Sane, who was the partner of Frank Stokes and Garfield Akers and his partner Joe Calicott. We feature these artists in the second hour.

Wilkins was born south of Memphis in Hernando, Mississippi, in 1895. His father fled the area to avoid prosecution for bootlegging. In 1898 his mother remarried a farmer named Oliver, who helped raise Robert until he was fifteen. His earliest musical memories were of his grandfather's fiddle on the wall and the guitar-playing teenagers who came around at night to serenade his older sisters. "They would be playing in the front yard or on the porch," Wilkins told Pete Welding in Blues Unlimited. "They were dancing in the dust and up on the porches, and like that. Played the 'Buck Time' and all different things. One I never will forget is one called 'The St. Louis Buck.' And they would buck-dance off of that and cut so many different steps." By age nine Robert was playing music on a Jew's harp. Around 1911 after a neighbor broke a guitar over his wife's head, Robert's mother bought the remains of the instrument and had it reassembled for her son. The first song he learned, "I Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down," would remain in his repertoire for a half-century. He claimed tRobert Wilkins: Rolling Stone-Part 1hat watching others play enabled him him to pick his own tunes almost straight away. "The one I learned under, he's the only one I ever saw who picks with two fingers like I do. His name was Aaron Taylor but we all called him 'Buddy. Most of the old tunes I play, that's the way he played them-'Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down.' I got the 'Frisco Train' behind him, I got the 'St. Louis Buck' behind him, and 'Jesse James' behind him, and 'Casey Jones'- all those songs I played behind him. So many of them I can't remember 'cause he could play 'most anything you ever heard on guitar. Within the year Robert was playing at picnics and fish fries and serenading door to door.For white dances he played -"what you call a drag dance" music.

Every autumn Robert would play the traveling medicine shows. He recalled hearing a tenor banjo around 1912, when  Gus Cannon came through. "I played on a stage with him and Jim Jackson," Wilkins told Welding. "They would dance, blacken their face and crack a lot of funny jokes, and play the guitars. Within a few years Wilkins felt he had outstripped all other players in town. "I overran all the old musicians I learned under," he said. "I was mostly the leading songster and blues player there in Hernando."

Robert and his family moved to Memphis in 1915. In the mid·1920's he got a job with the Pullman service., traveling  around the country for three years until he got laid off. He met up with Son Joe Lawlars and then in his words, "I begin to play music for all occasions." He met the Rev. Lonnie McIntorsh on Third and Beale one day and McIntorsh asked if he was interested in making records. The pair went into a furniture store on the corner and Wilkins rehearsed some numbers for the manager. "They loved the music so well and my singing! When the recorder come, they recommended me to him. They set up in an auditorium on Main and Poplar Streets." This was for Victor, when I did 'I Told My Rider' [unissued] and 'Rolling Stone.' That was the one they issued-'Rolling Stone.' The second day they was there I did 'Jail House Blues' and 'I Do Blues.' That was in September, and about the first of November I heard 'Rolling Stone.' The release of "Rolling Stone" opened up musical doors: "We would just bust music all over town-at pig stands, sporting houses while they was having a good time, and all like that," he told Welding. "Hotels-the Claridge, Blackstone, the Medical Arts Building, Peabody just any place. I played for all occasions; they called me for everything."Robert Wilkins: That's No Way To Get along Ad

untitleduntitledIn late September 1929 Wilkins journeyed to the Peabody Hotel to record his classic "That's No Way to Get Along" for Brunswick, as well as "Falling Down Blues," the ragtimey "Alabama Blues," and downhome "Long Train Blues." At his final Brunswick session the following February, he cut "Nashville Stonewall Blues", Police Sergeant Blues", "Get Away Blues" and "I'll Go With Her Blues." Five years elapsed before, as Tim Wilkins, in the company of Son Joe and "Kid Spoons", he recorded five titles for Vocalion, including "New Stock Yard Blues" and "Old Jim Canan's."

The following spring Wilkins gave up playing guitar after witnessing unnerving violence at a house party. "I just hung it on the wall," he explained to Welding. "Said, 'I'm not going to play anymore.' It was just a sudden thing. Look like something appealed to me, and I heard it-said, 'Don't do it anymore.'" He married Ida Mae Harris and devoted himself to helping raise their five sons and two daughters. A family belief holds that in 1942 he promised God that he'd give up playing blues if his wife survived a life-threatening illness. With her recovery, Wilkins kept his promise and turned increasingly towards the church, becoming a minister of the Church pf God in Christ in 1950. The denomination's encouragement of music enabled him to perform gospel songs on electric guitar. While he no longer performed 12-bar blues, he remodeled his old blues arrangements into gospel songs: "Old Jim Canan's" was morphed into "I'm Going Home to My Heavenly King." "That's No Way to Get Along" metamorphosed into an epic retelling of the gospel of Luke entitled "Prodigal Son" while the guitar lines of "I'll Go With Her" echoed in "I'll Go With You."

Around 1964 Dick Spottswood launched a search for Wilkins. "I had gotten a tip that he was in Memphis," Spottswood explains. "I looked in the telephone book and found two Robert Wilkins there. I wrote a letter to each of them saying, 'Hey, if you're the Robert Wilkins who made 'Nashville Stonewall Blues' in the '20s, boy, would we like to hear from you.' A week or two later, the phone rang and the voice said, 'This is Rev. Wilkins.'" Dick arranged for Wilkins to come to Washington, D.C., to record his self-titled debut LP for the Piedmont label. The centerpiece of the album was his epic nine-minute plus "Prodigal Son" famously recorded by the Rolling Stones on their 1968 album  Beggars Banquet. The story goes that Wilkins was properly credited on the original graffiti-laden, bathroom-themed cover, but that credit was lost when the cover art was changed to an invitation-themed design. The credit later was restored in Wilkins’ name, but only after legal action was taken. Four additional songs from the Piedmont session appeared on the Biograph album This Old World's In A Hell Of A Fix and these also appear on the Bear Family reissue. Otherwise, Wilkins' post-war discography is slim with a full-length album released on Gene Rosenthal's Genes imprint in the 90's plus a handful of scattered live and studio sides on several different anthologies.

Robert Wilkins Newport 1964
Rev. Robert Wilkins, Newport, 1964

Rev. Wilkins hit the folk circuit, appearing at Newport in 1964 (two sides appear on Vanguard's Blues At Newport) and the Memphis Country Blues Festival in 1966 and 1968 (three tracks appear on the Blue Horizon record The 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival). Even after the Rolling Stones covered "Prodigal Son" Wilkins steadfastly refused to play the blues. "No, my conscience won't let me do it," he explained to Pete Welding. "It's something within. My children even, and all of my friends that know me, say: 'It looks like you could just go and play the blues, make two or three records of the blues.' 'If that was me,' they say, 'I wouldn't miss the money.' Well, it looks good, but then I have scripture say: 'What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?'" Rev. Wilkins never did return to blues and lived into his nineties, passing away on May 30, 1987.

Related Reading:

-Dick Spottswood Interview/Feature (68 min., MP3)

- Rev. Robert Wilkins (Blues Unlimited no. 13, Jul 1964 by Richard K. Spottswood) [PDF]

-Reverend Robert Wilkins: An Interview. Pt. 1. – 6 (Blues Unlimited no. 51-56, 1968 by Pete Welding) [PDF]

- Rev. Robert Wilkins (Victrola and 78 Journal no. 11, 1997: 8–13 by Jas Obrecht) [PDF]

Gus Cannon Poor Boy A Long Way From HomeMemphis Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-34
Gus Cannon InterviewAmerican Skiffle Bands
Blind Blake & Gus CannonHe's In The Jailhouse NowThe Best of Blind Blake
Donald Hill Interview
Gus CannonI Met Mr. Toad Recordings Provided By Don Hill
Gus CannonShow Me The Way To Go HomeRecordings Provided By Don Hill
Gus CannonWalk Right In Recordings Provided By Don Hill
Cannon's Jug StompersMinglewood BluesRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 1
Cannon's Jug StompersViola Lee BluesWhen The Sun Goes Dow
Cannon's Jug StompersPig Ankle Strut Gus Cannon Vol. 1 1927-1928
Cannon's Jug StompersGoing To Germany Gus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Noah LewisSelling The JellyGus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Gus CannonCan You Blame The Colored ManMasters of the Memphis Blues
Gus CannonInterviewAmerican Skiffle Bands
Gus CannonMy Money Never Runs OutGood for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-37
Cannon's Jug StompersMadison Street BluesBlues Images Vol. 5
Cannon's Jug StompersBig Railroad Blues Ruckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 1
Cannon's Jug StompersHeart Breakin' BluesGus Cannon Vol. 1 1927-1928
Cannon's Jug StompersFeather BedBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Memphis Willie B. & Gus CannonSitting Here ThinkingBlues: Music from the Documentary Film
Gus Cannon Make Me A Pallet On Your FloorWalk Right In
Gus Cannon Come On Down To My HouseWalk Right In
Cannon's Jug StompersFourth And BealeGus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Cannon's Jug StompersLast Chance Blues Ruckus Juice & Chitlins Vol. 2
Cannon's Jug StompersWalk Right In When The Sun Goes Down
Gus Cannon Goin' Back (To Memphis, TN)On The Road Again
Gus Cannon Salty DogWalk Right In
Cannon's Jug StompersTired Chicken BluesGus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Cannon's Jug StompersPrison Wall BluesGus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Gus Cannon Walk Right InWalk Right In

Show Notes:

Gus Cannon
Gus Cannon circa 1920

A remarkable musician, Gus Cannon bridged the gap between early blues and the minstrel and the pre-blues that preceded it. His band of the '20's and '30's, Cannon's Jug Stompers, along with contemporaries, The Memphis Jug Band, recorded the finest jug music of the era. On today's program we spin many of the classic Jug Stompers songs, songs Gus cut under his own name, sides he cut with others, a fascinating interview Cannon did in he 50's plus we talk to Don Hill who recorded Cannon in 1961. Much of the information for today's show come from the notes to Cannon's Jug Stompers The Complete Works 1927-1930 (issued first on Herwin then Yazoo) written by  Bengt Olsson. Olsson was a fine writer, an expert on Memphis blues and these notes notes are perhaps the best piece written on Gus Cannon.  A link to the notes is provided below.

Songs Cannon recorded, notably the raggy "Walk Right In," were staples of the folk repertoire decades later, and Cannon himself continued to record and perform into the 1970's. He learned early repertoire in the 1890's from older musicians, notably Mississippian Alec Lee. The early 1900's found him playing around Memphis with songster Jim Jackson and forming a partnership with Noah Lewis, whose harmonica wizardry would be basic to the Jug Stompers' sound. In 1914, Cannon began work with a succession of medicine shows that would continue into the 1940's. His recording career began with Paramount sessions in 1927 cut under the name Banjo Joe and also made sides with Blind Blake. In 1928 he began recording as Cannon's Jug Stompers, cutting over two-dozen sides with the group through 1930 for Victor. He returned in 1956 to make a few recordings for Folkways Records and made some college and coffee house appearances with Furry Lewis and Bukka White. In 1963 the Rooftop Singers had a hit with "Walk Right In" and in the wake of that recorded an album for Stax Records in 1963. He cut a few other scattered sides before his death in 1979.

Cannon's Jug Stompers
Cannon's Jug Stompers circa 1928

Cannon's first instrument was home-made but he soon ran away from home where he played banjo around work camps. "Gus grew up with banjo & fiddle songs – 'John Henry & all that mess' – all around him, as most of his brothers (nine in all & most older than Gus) played an instrument or two & would frequently get together with other musicians in the area." Around the turn of the century Cannon was in Clarksdale where he came under the influence of Alec Lee, 15 year his senior, who played with a knife on songs like "Poor Boy" and "John Henry." "Alec Lee was the first guy I heard playing on a Hawaiian guitar ..used a knife." About two years later Cannon recalled playing down by the Sunflower river. "..I was playing for Saturday night balls – that's when us colored folks had ourselves a time. Man I played the hell out of that banjo for $2.50 a night…" Cannon wasn't playing professionally at this time, still working different day jobs.

Cannon started out with medicine shows like Dr Hangerson's , Dr Stokey's, Dr Willie Lewis' and Dr W.B. Milton. From Virginia to Arkansas, billed as Banjo Joe, he worked for some ten years, 1914 -1928. He was accompanied by Hosea Woods, a longtime friends who could play guitar, violin and cornet and also sang. "I had to have a shot of liqueur before the show. If I didn't it seemed like I couldn't be funny in front of all them people. When I had one it seemed like all them people was one and I would throw up the banjo in the air and really put on a show." In 1916 Cannon moved North of Memphis to Ripley to work on a farm. There he teamed up with local musicians harmonica player Noah Lewis and guitarist Ashley Thompson. The trio played around the area until 1920. They would be reunited when Cannon formed his jug band in Memphis in 1928.

Back in Memphis, Will Shade had started the Memphis Jug Band. They became very popular in Memphis, often playing in Church Park, where Gus saw them. The Madison Rag AdMemphis Jug Band first recorded for Victor in February 1927 and over the next four years recorded 57 sides. By 1930 there were seven different jug bands active in Memphis. In 1928 Ralph Peer from Victor, who had previously recorded the Memphis Jug Band, returned to Memphis looking for other jug bands to record. Charlie Williamson, the manager of the Palace Theater, recommended Gus. By this time Gus had had a harness made for his jug so that he could wear it around his neck and play banjo at the same time. Gus called up Noah Lewis and Ashley Thompson and on Jan 30 1928 they recorded 4 sides in an old auditorium as Cannon's Jug Stompers.

The first recordings did well and in Sept 1928 an additional 10 sides were cut; 4 on Sept. 5 with Avery replacing Thompson, 2 more on Sept. 9 and then 4 more on Sept. 20 with Hosea Woods added on kazoo. The band’s major musician was Noah Lewis who demonstrated remarkable breath control, inventiveness, and mastery of his instrument. Lewis was born in Henning, Tennessee, and raised in the vicinity of Ripley. He played in local string bands and brass bands, and began playing in the Ripley and Memphis areas with Cannon. He cut seven sides under his own name at sessions in 1929 and 1930. Recording as Noah Lewis' Jug Band, he was backed on two numbers by Sleepy John and Yank Rachell with just Estes backing him on two other numbers cut a couple of days apart. Lewis died in poverty of gangrene brought on by frostbite in Ripley, Tennessee, in 1961.  As Cannon recalled: "Lawd, he used to blow the hell outa that harp. He could play two harps at the same time …Y'know he could curl his lips 'round the harp & his nose was just like a fist. Noah, he was full of cocaine all the time – I reckon that's why he could play sou loud and aw, he was good!"

After Cannon's Jug Stompers final sessions in 1930 Cannon would no record again for over two-decades. In 1957 he recorded a few sides for Sam Charters for Folkways which includes an interview which is featured on today's show. The recordings were issued on the album American Skiffle Bands. While recording in the South in the early 1960's, producer, writer Charters was inspired not only by the sound of Furry Lewis’s guitar, but by the patterns of movement in his hands and fingers as he played. Thus Charters decided to make a film that would document aspects of the blues that couldn’t be put on a phonograph record. In the summer of 1962, Charters journeyed through St. Louis, Memphis, Louisiana, and South Carolina to shoot the film The Blues and record this soundtrack. Artists featured in addition to Lewis are J.D. Short, Baby Tate,  Sleepy John Estes and Gus Cannon who performs "Sitting Here Thinking" with Memphis Willie B.

Gus Cannon
Gus Cannon listens to his first record album on Stax
Photo: Bob Williams/The Commercial Appeal files

In 1961 Dave Mangurian and Donald Hall recorded Gus Cannon, Will Shade and Laura Dukes over two days in Memphis. The recordings have been issued as bootlegs on Will Shade & Gus Cannon 1961 (Document) and  Memphis Sessions (1956 – 1961) (Wolf). It turns out that Donald Hill is a Professor at SUNY Oneonta, just a few hours from my house. I got in touch and Donald graciously made some time to talk about recording Gus and his friends over fifty years ago. Mangurian and Hall headed to Memphis after a spending time in Clarksdale where they recorded Wade Walton and spent time in jail on "suspicion" another word for "white outsiders." In Memphis they looked up Memphis Minnie and Son Joe and and managed to record Will Shade, Laura Dukes, and Gus Cannon in Shade's apartment on Fourth Street, just off Beale. "We recorded over two days. The musicians drank a lot as did some of the visitors who heard the music and joined us. We recorded a variety of configurations, including Shade on vocal, washtub bass, harmonica, and guitar; Laura Dukes, vocal and banjo-uke, Gus Cannon on vocal and banjo; and several others that came by to sing a tune or two. …Shade, Cannon and Dukes were real professionals."

In 1963, Cannon's vocals and banjo-playing were accompanied by Will Shade on jug and Milton Roby on washboard for this Stax Record release titled Walk Right In. It appears that he recorded at the Stax studio simply because he lived in the neighborhood. Only 500 copies of this album were pressed. Cannon was also featured in The Devil’s Music—A History of the Blues on BBC TV in 1976. Cannon passed in 1979, obituaries, including that published in Living Blues magazine, gave his age as ninety-six, although some reference sources give birth years of 1883 and 1885.

Related Reading:

-Cannon's Jug Stompers The Complete Works 1927-1930 [PDF] (Liner notes by Begnt Olsson)




Walter HortonAin't It A Shame King of the Harmonica Players
Walter HortonI Hate To The Sun Go Down King of the Harmonica Players
Walter HortonThat's Wrong Little MamaKing of the Harmonica Players
Tampa RedEvalena Blues Harmonica Giant: Classic Sides 1951-1956
Johnny ShinesEvening Shuffle (Take 1)Blues Harmonica Giant: Classic Sides 1951-1956
Willie NixTruckin' Little WomanMemphis & The South 1949-1954
Walter HortonBaby I Need Your Love Solo Harp: Private Recordings
J.B. Lenoir Slow Down Woman American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1965
Walter HortonThat Ain't ItAnn Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival Vol. 4
Walter HortonI Need My Baby BluesHave A Good Time…Chicago Blues
Johnny Young & Walter HortonStockyard BluesJohnny Young And His Chicago Blues Band
Walter Horton & Floyd JonesOverseas BluesDo Nothing Till You Hear From Us
Walter Horton & Floyd JonesTalk About Your Daddy Do Nothing Till You Hear From Us
Walter HortonGo Long WomanMouth Harp Maestro
Walter HortonLittle Walter's Boogie Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Walter HortonWe All Got To Go (Take 3)Blues Harmonica Giant: Classic Sides 1951-1956
Walter HortonHard Hearted WomanBlues Harmonica Giant: Classic Sides 1951-1956
Walter HortonWalking by MyselfBlues Harmonica Giant: Classic Sides 1951-1956
Victoria Spivey &Walter Horton Inter-Mission TasteSpivey's Blues Parade
Otis SpannCan't Do Me No Good The Blue Horizon Story 1965-1970
Sunnyland Slim & Walter HortonBlow Walter BlowSad And Lonesome
Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerryWorried, Wonderin' And GladBack
Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerryEverybody's Fishin' Back
Walter Horton Let's Have A Good TimeI Blueskvarter Vol. 2
Walter Horton You Don't Mistreat MeI Blueskvarter Vol. 1
Chicago Blues All StarsLittle Boy BlueLoaded With The Blues
Walter HortonIf It Ain't Me Johnny Shines with Big Walter Horton

Show Notes:

Big Walter Horton: King of the Harmonica PlayersSeveral years back I devoted a show to Walter Horton and Little Walter. I was listening to some of Horton's recordings again recently and thought I would do a sequel, spotlighting material not covered in the first show. Today's show spotlights a number of lesser known, rarer sides Horton recorded under his own name as well as great sides that find him in a supporting role. Horton ranks as one of the greatest blues harmonica artists yet never got quite the same acclaim as contemporaries like Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II due mostly to the fact that, as a rather shy, quiet individual, he never had much taste for leading his own bands or recording sessions. Horton was much more comfortable in a supporting role and as writer Neal Slavin wrote “was one of the few musicians capable of elevating the slightest material into something approaching a masterpiece.”

Horton was born in Horn Lake, Mississippi, in 1918. Horton got his first harmonica from his father when he five, and won a local talent contest with it. Shortly thereafter his mother moved to Memphis, then a hotbed of blues, and according to blues researcher Samuel Charters, Horton was playing with the Memphis Jug Band by the time he was nine or ten. He also may have recorded with them in 1927 as he himself claimed but many researchers doubt this assertion. During the thirties he played with Robert Johnson, Honeyboy Edwards, and others, and later gave pointers to both Little Walter and Rice Miller. Horton's first verifiable sides were done in 1939 backing guitarist Charlie "Little Buddy" Doyle on sessions for Columbia. Around the same time (according to Horton himself), he began to experiment with amplifying his harmonica, which if accurate may have made him the first to do so.

lWalter Horton & Jimmy DeBerry
Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerry

In the late forties he went to Chicago, but later returned to Memphis. From 1951 to 1953, Horton recorded as vocalist and harmonica virtuoso backed by small combos, which variously included Joe Willie Wilkins, Pat Hare, Jack Kelly, Joe Hill Louis, Willie Nix, Albert Williams, and others. Singles by ‘‘Mumbles’’ were released on Modern, RPM, and Chess. In Memphis in 1953, Horton and guitarist Jimmy DeBerry recorded the instrumental masterpiece ‘‘Easy’’ (Sun), based on Ivory Joe Hunter’s ‘‘Since I Lost My Baby.’’ Following the success of "Easy," Horton went back to Chicago to play with Eddie Taylor and cut a memorable session backing Tampa Red. But when Junior Wells got drafted, Horton took his place in Muddy Waters' band. It didn't last long, though-Horton showed up drunk at a rehearsal and Muddy fired him. He reunited with Muddy on the 1977 record I'm Ready.

Horton cut his best work as a sideman. Always described as shy and nervous, he preferred this role to that of a bandleader. His playing graces numerous records behind Johnny Shines, Jimmy Rogers, Muddy Waters, Johnny Young, Sunnyland Slim, Otis Rush, Koko Taylor, and others. He also taught a number of younger players, including Charlie Musselwhite and Carey Bell. In 1964, Horton recorded his first full-length album, The Soul of Blues Harmonica, for Chess subsidiary Argo. Two years later, Horton contributed several cuts to Vanguard's classic compilation Chicago/The Blues/Today! Vol. 3.

Horton became a regular on Willie Dixon's Blues All Stars package tours during the 70's, which made their way through America and Europe over the '60s and '70s. He also played the AmericaWalter Horton: The Deep Blues Harmonica Ofn-The-Deep-Blues-Ha-539120n Folk Blues Festival in 1965. In 1973 he cut an album with Carey Bell for Alligator. After that he became a mainstay on the festival circuit, and often played at the open-air market on Chicago's legendary Maxwell Street, along with many other bluesman. In 1977, he joined Johnny Winter and Muddy Waters on Winter's album I'm Ready, and during the same period recorded some material for Blind Pig, which later found release as the albums Fine Cuts and Can't Keep Lovin' You. Horton appeared in the Maxwell Street scene in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers, accompanying John Lee Hooker. He died of heart failure on December 8, 1981.

We spotlight a number of less well known recordings by Horton. Among those are several from the 1970's: King of the Harmonica Players issued on the Delta label and collects sides recorded in 1966 with Johnny Young and in 1970 with Floyd Jones, Do Nothing Till You Hear From Us with Floyd Jones issued on the Magnolia label  in 1975, The Deep Blues Harmonica of Walter Horton issued on JSP and pair of albums issued on Crosscut with Jimmy DeBerry. The Delta album has recently been issued on CD with some additional vintage tracks while the Magnolia album has not been issued on CD. A few years back the JSP label  issued the 3-CD set Big Walter Horton – Blues Harmonica Giant: Classic Sides 1951-1956. The third disc contains tracks issued on the album The Deep Blues Harmonica of Walter Horton likely recorded Jan. 1973 in Cambridge, MA.

Horton recorded some fine material in 1964 that we feature today. Blues Southside Chicago is a collection of Chicago blues recorded by Willie Dixon in 1964 and originally issued on UK Decca and reissued by Flyright in 1976. Additional sides from this session appeared on Have A Good Time – Chicago Blues issued in 1970 on the Sunnyland label which is also out of print. Both LP's feature sides by Horton as leader and in a session role and both albums have not been issued on CD.

Walter Horton & Folyd Jones: Do Nothing Til You Hear From UsJimmy DeBerry and Walter Horton cut two very hard-to-find albums circa 1972-1973 in Memphis called Easy and Back for the Crosscut label. DeBerry cut some material in the pre-war era and some terrific sides for Sun in the 1950's, both solo and with Walter Horton including playing on Horton's classic "Easy." These albums are bit of a mixed bag but there are several fine moments.

In 1964 Olle Helander and Lars Westman of Swedish Radio were on a trip to the US to document blues and jazz in Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans and San Francisco. They reached Chicago May 23rd and recorded Johnny Young accompanied by Slim Willis, Otis Spann and Robert Whitehead. In the afternoon they recorded Walter Horton with Robert Nighthawk. These recordings were aired in the context of radio documentaries with interviews of the artists. Unfortunately Nighthawk and Horton were not interviewed. Most of this material has  been released in excellent sound on the double disc sets I Blueskvarter: Chicago 1964, Vol. 1 and I Blueskvarter: Chicago 1964, Vol. 3 which is the first authorized release of these recordings

We also spotlight several fine live performances including a great performance with Horton backing J.B. Lenoir at the 1965 American Folk Blues Festival, live at the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival and a solo performance recorded in Dortmund, West Germany in 1965.

Related Articles:

Sonny Boy Williamson IIMr. Down ChildCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Joe Willie WilkinsMr. Down ChildJoe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys
Sonny Boy Williamson IICool, Cool BluesCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IIEyesight To The BlindCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IIWest Memphis Blues Cool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Albert WilliamsHoodoo ManSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Albert WilliamsRhumba ChillenSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Honeyboy EdwardsSweet Home ChicagoSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Willie NixSeems Like A Million YearsSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Willie NixBakershop Boogie Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Joe Willie WilkinsMe & The Devil BluesJoe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys
Joe Willie WilkinsSad LetterJoe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys
Sonny Boy Williamson IIStop Crying Cool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IICome Back HomeCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IINine Below ZeroCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Joe Willie WilkinsWalkin' Blues/Feel Like Goin' HomeJoe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys
Joe Willie WilkinsIt's Too BadJoe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys
Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup Gotta Find My BabyCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Willie Love Everybody's Fishing Cool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson III Cross My HeartCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IIStop NowCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IIPontiac BluesCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Roosevelt Sykes She's Jailbait Roosevelt Sykes Vol .10 1951-1957
Roosevelt Sykes Sputnik BabyRoosevelt Sykes Vol .10 1951-1957
Houston StackhouseCrying Won't Help YouMemphis Blues Caravan Vol. I
Charlie BookerNew Moonrise BluesMemphis Blues Caravan Vol. II
Sonny Boy Williamson IICat HopCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IIShe Brought Life Back To The DeadCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Houston Stackhouse Cool Drink Of Water The Devil's Music
Houston Stackhouse Mean Red SpiderThe Devil's Music
Joe Willie WilkinsHucklefingerJoe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys

Show Notes:

Joe Willie Wilkins
Joe Willie Wilkins, Ann Arbor, 1973. Photo by Sandy Sutherland.

Joe Willie Wilkins spent the majority of his career in the shadows as a session guitarist, playing behind Sonny boy Williamson II, Willie Love, Will Nix among others and off record with bluesmen such as Robert Lockwood Jr., Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, Walter Horton and others. Through his studio contributions, his time broadcasting on King Biscuit Time on KFFA and out of West Memphis on WDIA, and the sheer number of bluesman he worked with throughout the Delta, Wilkins exerted a sizable influence despite never cutting records under his own name until the 70's. Those who cite him as an influence include Pat Hare, Little Milton, Jimmy Rogers and Brewer Phillips. He stepped out of the shadows in the 70's performing at festivals, making television appearances and a long overdue full-length album. As Luigi Monge wrote in the Encyclopedia of the Blues: “Wilkins incorporated in his playing the intensity of downhome blues, the elegance of jazz, and the power of urban sounds. His achievement transcends the quantity of recordings he left and has more to do with quality and originality.” And as his supporter Jim O'Neal wrote: “One of the greatest blues guitarists Memphis has ever known”-

The only child of Frank Wilkins, an accomplished bottleneck guitarist, Joe Willie became interested in music at a very early age.Wilkinswas born just southwest of Clarksdale in a tiny spot known as Davenport, Mississippi. Wilkins taught himself harmonica and often played with his father at local parties and dances in the Bobo, Mississippi, area, where his family had moved in 1933 to work on a farm. After being taught some fiddle by "Fiddlin’" Sam Harris and accordion by Walter "Pat" Rhodes, Wilkins learned guitar from his father, the members in his band, and phonograph records so well that he was nicknamed "The Walking Seeburg" after a brand of jukebox). His musical education was also enhanced by meeting several musicians around Clarksdale including Muddy Waters, Robert Lockwood and Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller).

After playing in the Mississippi streets and barrelhouses with Sonny Boy Williamson II (Aleck Miller) and Robert Lockwood, Wilkins briefly served in the U.S. Navy. From 1942 he regularly participated with his mentors and other fellow musicians in the famous radio program King Biscuit Time over KFFA in Helena, Arkansas, and with Robert Nighthawk (whose sister he married) in the Bright Star Flour show. At the end of the decade Wilkins often toured the South with a group known as the Four Aces (Sonny Boy Williamson II, Willie Love, Willie Nix). Wilkins moved to West Memphis in 1948 where he played with local musicians and met B.B. King whom broadcast with.

King Biscuit Time

Wilkins first entered a studio as late as 1951, when he played guitar on the first recordings Sonny Boy Williamson II made for Lillian McMurry’s Trumpet Records in Jackson, Mississippi, where Wilkins acted as house guitarist for two years. Wilkins backed Sonny Boy on ten sides in 1951, four sides in 1952 and final three sides in 1953. One of the songs was “Mr. Down Child” a Robert Johnson composition that he never recorded. It was Robert Lockwood who transposed the song and taught it to Sonny Boy who recorded it on December 4th 1951. Lockwood recorded his version in 1973. It seemed to be a favorite of Wilkins' who cut the song as the b-side of his first 45 for the Mimosa label in 1973, another version was cut for Wilkins' debut album and another version appears on the soundtrack fro the BBC TV series The Devil's Music.

During the 50's Wilkins backed several artists at Sun studios including Willie Nix, Honeyboy Edwards and Albert Williams. The Edwards and Williams sides were unissued at the time. Wilkins said he tried a session of his own for the label but lacked confidence and nothing ever materialized.  Nix's "Seems Like A Million Years b/w Baker Shop Boogie" was issued as a 78 by the label. Nix toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels Shows as a dancing comedian in the 30's and during the early '40s, performed on streets and parks around Memphis. In 1947, Nix appeared with Robert Lockwood, Jr. on a Little Rock radio station and subsequently worked with Sonny Boy Williamson II, Willie Love and Joe Willie Wilkins as the Four Aces. Nix joined B.B. King and Joe Hill Louis for appearances on Memphis radio, and worked with The Beale Streeters during the late '40s. He made his first records in Memphis for RPM in 1951, and cut sides for Chess Records' Checker offshoot in 1952. Sam Philips signed him up as "the Memphis Blues Boy" for Sun in early 1953, as a singing drummer with a band, and he later cut sides for the Chance label in Chicago.

Willie Nix & Joe Willie Wilkins
Joe Willie Wilkins & Willie Nix from Blues
Unlimited #120, courtesy Steve La Vere

In 1959 Wilkins' father died and Joe Willie moved from West Memphis to Memphis, where he worked mostly outside music until about 1970. Despite bad health, Wilkins took up guitar again as a result of his wife Carrie’s encouragement and of blues writer and promoter Jim O’Neal’s support, often playing with Houston Stackhouse. Wilkins formed his King Biscuit Boys group featuring the ever present Stackhouse and a changing line up that included harp players Boy Blue and Sonny Blake and guitarist Clarence Nelson. Wilkins made appearances at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, the Memphis River City Blues Festival and worked as part of the Memphis Blues Caravan, a traveling show made up of first generation bluesmen such as Sleepy John Esets, Bukka White, Furry Lewis and others. Performances appear on the albums Memphis Blues Caravan Vol. I & II.

In 1973 Steve LaVere’s Mimosa label released Wilkins’s first recordings under his own name, a 45, “It's Too Bad b/w "Mr. Downchild.” A full-length album titled Joe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys was released by Adamo that included some live performances and studio recordings. In 1976 Wilkins also played the Monterrey Jazz Festival and appeared in the BBC Television series The Devil’s Music: A History of the Blues. Wilkins passed March 28, 1979 in Memphis.

Related Articles:

-Joe Willie Wilkins Obituary by Cilla Huggins (Blues Unlimited 134, March/June 1979) [PDF]

Memphis Jug BandSun Brimmers BluesMemphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Memphis Jug BandKansas City BluesMemphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Will WeldonTurpentine Blues Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Vol StevensBaby Got The Rickets (Mama's Got The Mobile Blues) Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Memphis Jug BandI'll See You In The Spring, When The Birds Begin To SingMemphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Memphis Jug BandBeale Street Mess AroundMemphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Memphis Jug BandStealin' Stealin' Best of the Memphis Jug Band
Memphis Jug BandWhitewash Station Blues Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Memphis Jug BandA Black Woman Is Like A Black SnakeBest of the Memphis Jug Band
Charlie Burse & his Memphis MudcatsBrand New Day BluesMemphis Shakedown: More Jug Band Classics
Will ShadeHe Stabbed Me With An Ice-PickMemphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Will ShadeBetter Leave That Stuff Alone
Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Minnie Wallace The Old Folks Started ItMemphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Minnie Wallace Dirty Butter Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Memphis Jug BandK.C. MoanBest of the Memphis Jug Band
Memphis Jug BandOn The Road AgainBest of the Memphis Jug Band
Hattie HartWon't You Be Kind?Memphis Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-34
Hattie HartMemphis Yo Yo Blues Best of the Memphis Jug Band
Hattie HartPapa's Got Your Water OnI Can't Be Satisfied: Early American Blues Singers Vol. 1
Charlie Bozo NickersonWhat's the Matter Now? Part 3Memphis Blues 1927-1938
Memphis Jug BandCave Man Blues Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Memphis Jug BandFourth Street MessRuckus Juice & Chitlins Vol. 1
Memphis Jug BandGoing Back To Memphis Best of the Memphis Jug Band
Memphis Jug BandHe's In The Jailhouse Now Best of the Memphis Jug Band
Memphis Jug BandYou May Leave But This Will Bring You BackBest of the Memphis Jug Band
Memphis Jug BandCocaine Habit BluesBest of the Memphis Jug Band
Memphis Minnie Bumble Bee Blue Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Kaiser CliftonFort Worth & Denver Blues Memphis Shakedown: More Jug Band Classics
Picaninny Jug BandI Got Good Taters Memphis Shakedown: More Jug Band Classics
Memphis Jug BandAunt Caroline Dyer Blues Best of the Memphis Jug Band
Memphis Jug BandYou Got Me Rollin'Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Memphis Jug BandTear It Down, Bed Slats And AllMemphis Shakedown: More Jug Band Classics

Show Notes:

The Memphis Jug Band was one of the most popular musical groups of the late 1920's and early 1930's and arguably the most important jug band in the history of the blues. Born in Memphis in 1894, Will Shade (also known as Son Brimmer) was the founder of the Memphis Jug Band. He learned guitar from Tee Wee Blackman, a sometime member of the band and also played harmonica. After performing around Memphis and touring with medicine shows for a few years, Shade formed the group in the mid-1920's after being inspired by the records of the influential Louisville jug band, the Dixieland Jug Blowers. Furry Lewis was in the early incarnation of the band (probably around 1925) as he recalled: "After we moved to Memphis , I just got with the boys, and just got us a little old band they called a jug band. In my jug band the fellow that blowed the jug Will Shade. There was me and Will Shade, Dewey Thomas and Ham."

The Memphis Jug Band, from a Victor catalog of 1930

The band's repertoire, as Tony Russell wrote, drew "from a book that included blues, ragtime tunes, comic songs, breakdowns, waltzes, old Southern country songs, and glee-club quartet numbers: altogether one of the most varied and fascinating repertoires in the history of African-American music. …The MJB's primary colors were harmonica, kazoo, and a couple of guitars (the jug, of course, was a given)…" Although this remained the group's core instrumentation, "Shade frequently tinkered with the prototype, adding Milton Roby's violin, Jab Jones' piano or Vol Stevens' mandolin, and experimenting with different lead singers, replacing his doleful, phlegmy  voice or Will Weldon's rather plain one with the more expressive Jones or Charlie Burse, or the effervescent Charlie Nickerson…"  The group also worked with several female singers including Shade's wife, Jennie Clayton, Minnie Wallace, Memphis Minnie and the magnificent Hattie Hart.

The band initially played in the city's parks, streets and taverns. As their fame spread they performed at political rallies, store openings and other civic affairs. Memphis was a wide open town in the late twenties and clubs like Pee Wee's, The Monarch and The Hole In The Wall catered to crap-shooters and policy players with bootleg whiskey. "There was so much excitement down there on Beale Street", Will Shade told Paul Oliver, "It'd take me a year and a day to tell you about (it) …Aw we used to have a rough kind of crowd."

The lineup of the Memphis Jug Band changed constantly throughout its career, both inside and outside the recording studio. Between 1927 and 1934, the Memphis Jug Band made over some 80-odd sides for Victor, Champion, and OKeh, achieving considerable fame and commercial success. In addition to the sides cut under the Memphis Jug Band name, we also play sides by those who worked with the band, cutting sides under their own name but usually backed by members of the band. So today we also spin sides cut under the names of Will Shade, Vol Stevens, Hattie Hart, Will Weldon, Minnie Wallace, Charlie Burse, Charlie Nickerson and others.

With success of the Memphis Jug Band other jug bands followed so by the 30's the city boasted six different jug groups including the Beale Street Jug Band, Jack Kelly and His South Memphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stompers. The jug bands were enjoyed by whites and blacks, and at times found their employment almost entirely at white parties. Mr. Crump – Boss Crump, the biggest man in Memphis at the time, often hired these groups to play for his own entertainments.  That didn't stop the band from making some pointed comments in their rendition of  of the medicine show staple, "He's In The Jailhouse Now" from 1930:

I remember last election
Sam Jones got in action
Said he'd vote for the man who paid the biggest price
The next day at the polls
He voted with heart and soul
But instead of voting once he voted twice

He's in the jailhouse now (2x)
Instead of staying at home
Leaving the white folks' business alone
He's in the jailhouse now

 In February 1927 Ralph Peer of Victor Records went to Memphis to audition talent. His first discovery was the Memphis Jug Band who consisted of Shade, Ben Ramsey, Will Weldon and Charlie Polk. The band cut four sides which were so successful the band was summoned to Chicago in June for four more sides. In October 1927 the band went to Atlanta to record with Shade's wife Jennie Clayton as singer and Vol Stevens who played guitar, mandolin and fiddle. Stevens takes the vocal on two band numbers: “Beale Street Mess Around” and “I'll See You In The Spring, When The Birds Begin To Sing” (better known as "Fare Thee Honey"). The following day solo sides were cut by Stevens and Weldon, each backing the other on his session. We spin Weldon's "Turpentine Blues" and Steven's colorfully titled "Baby Got The Rickets (Mama's Got The Mobile Blues)." Whether Will is the Casey Bill Weldon who recorded prolifically in Chicago throughout the 30's has been the object of much speculation. Current evidence suggests they are two different performers. Weldon played guitar on some twenty sides with the Memphis Jug Band between 1927 and 1928.

Chicago Defender Ad, December 6, 1930

All the Memphis musicians used to hang out in PeeWee's on Beale street and it was there that Will Shade met guitarist Charlie Burse on September 9th, 1928 and invited him to join a recording session two days later. Burse and Shade would become lifelong associates and continued playing together for nearly four decades (one of their last recording efforts together was the wonderful Beale St. Mess Around album on Rounder). Shade and Burse duet on “A Black Woman Is Like A Black Snake.” “Stealin' Stealin'” was cut four days later and is one of the band's best known numbers. In 1939, Burse put together his own band, the Memphis Mudcats who cut a batch of sides for Vocalion.

As mentioned the Memphis Jug Band worked with several fine female singers. Jennie Clayton was the first, and shares vocals on"I Packed My Suitcase and "State of Tennessee" and solos on "Bob Lee Junior." On September 23, 1929 the band was in the studio to back singer Minnie Wallace on two numbers, "The Old Folks Started It b/w Dirty Butter." Shade backed Wallace on her next session cut in 1935. By this point Vol Stevens was out of the band, replaced by violinist Milton Roby. Roby had followed the medicine shows circuit and like Shade, learned guitar from Tee Wee Blackman.  In Bengt Olsson's Memphis Blues and Jug Bands (view PDF below) some light was shed on singer Hattie Hart: "Hattie Hart and Allen Shaw came together on record when they engaged in one memorable session in New York, in the late summer of 1934. Willie Borum was also present, playing guitar behind Shaw on some of the songs as well as singing four of his own. He and Shaw were new to the recording studio, but Hattie Hart had appeared on several of the Memphis Jug Band's discs in 1929 and 1930, singing the unforgettable 'Memphis Yo Yo Blues', 'Cocaine Habit Blues', 'Oh Ambulance Man, 'Papa's Got Your Bath Water On' and 'Spider's Nest Blues.' "Cocaine Habit" is probably Hart's greatest performance; the song dates from the turn of the century (known as "Take A Whiff on Me"), when cocaine was both legal and endemic in Memphis, with Lehman's Drugstore on Union the main source:

Cocaine habit mighty bad
It's the worst old habit that I ever had
Hey, hey, Honey take a whiff on me

I went to Mr Lehman's in a lope
Saw a sign on the window said no more dope
Hey, hey, Honey take a whiff on me

At a session in 1930 Will Shade, Ham Lewis and Charlie Burse were joined by Memphis Minnie who was at the beginning of her career. Minnie had occasionally worked with the band in Handy's Park in Memphis. The session yielded “Bumble Bee Blues” and “Meningitis Blues.”

In 1930 Victor was back in Memphis, recording the band on nine separate occasions, six times in one month for a total of twenty titles. Singer/pianist Charlie Nickerson had joined the band in 1929. He takes the vocals on several numbers including “Cave Man Blues”, "Fourth Street Mess" and leads the whole band on “ Going Back To Memphis”:

I love ol' Memphis, where I was born
Wear my boxback suit and drink my pint of corn

Nickerson and is also heard to good effect on the boozy "fourth Street Mess:"

Somebody tell me, what makes this jug band drink? (2x)
They get you whipping these blues, and they begin to think

About that Fourth Street mess around
Originated by that jug band from Memphis town
Go down Fourth until you get to Vance, ask anybody about that brand new dance
The gals will say You’re going my way, it’s right here for you, here’s your only chance
Then ease down Vance until you get to Main
Turn around, beat it back again

Excuse us, stranger, for being bold this morn, but would you knock the jug band another drink of corn
While we play that Fourth Street mess around

Nickerson cut a handful of side under his own name over the course of three sessions in 1930, several were unissued. We feature his "What's the Matter Now? Part 3" on today's show.

The Memphis Jug Band recorded under several names on various recording labels. Alternate names found on record labels include the Picaninny Jug Band, Memphis Sanctified Singers, the Carolina Peanut Boys, the Dallas Jug Band and the Jolly Jug Band. As the Picaninny Jug Band (Will Shade, harmonica; Jab Jones, jug; Charlie Burse, vocal, tenor guitar, Vol Stevens, vocal, mandolin, Otto Gilmore, drums) they cut ten sides for Gennett in 1932. From that session we play the raucous and rough "I Got Good Taters."

The Memphis Jug Band’s music at their final 1934 session (now recording for Okeh) had changed radically since their Victor days, in an effort to keep up with changing fashions. There is a considerable infusion of jazz, and Charlie Pierce’s virtuoso fiddle playing draws heavily on white country music. By the mid-1930s the popularity of jug band music had begun to wane considerably as the Great Depression drastically diminished record sales and as newer and more urbane musical styles emerged.The band waxed some exciting music at their swansong including "Jazzbo Stomp", "Gator Wobble" and our selection, "Tear It Down, Bed Slats And All." One of their last numbers was an affecting tribute to the jug band sound in the song "Jug Band Quartett:"

You know, way down yonder in Memphis Tennessee
Jug band music sounds sweet to me
Because it sounds so sweet
Oh you know they're hard to beat
You know the jug band's music certainly was a treat to me

Eventually the Memphis Jug Band’s live engagements became less frequent, and the group could no longer get recording dates after 1934. Still, the group occasionally performed in and around Memphis for years after that, and in 1956, Will Shade and Charlie Burse made a few recordings for the Folkways label (credited as the Memphis Jug Band). In 1963 Shade recorded one last time with another Memphian, 79-year-old Gus Cannon, former leader of Cannon’s Jug Stompers. They recorded the album Walk Right In, on Stax Records, a result of The Rooftop Singers having made Cannon's "Walk Right In" into a number one single. Will Shade on jug and former Memphis Jug Band member Milton Roby on washboard perform a series of thirteen traditional songs, plus Cannon's great hit "Walk Right In." Shade recorded a handful of songs for other labels in the early 1960's before his death in 1966.

Other songs we play today are by Kaiser Clifton and both sides of the 1928 78 Will Shade cut under his own name, "She Stabbed Me With An Ice-Pick b/w Better Leave That Stuff Alone." Although recorded in Memphis (four sides cut in 1930), Kaiser Clifton was almost certainly from further south, as “Fort Worth and Denver Blues” (which includes a mention of the Sunshine Special that Blind Lemon Jefferson sang about) and references to his home in Texas in “Cash Money” suggest. Will Shade plays guitar and Ham Lewis is on jug.

There's speculation that the Memphis Jug Band was the group who recorded in Memphis on a February 21, 1930 date resulting in four gospel and two secular sides. As the the Holy Ghost Sanctified Singers on "Thou Carest Lord, For Me ", "Jesus Throwed Up A Highway For", "Sinner I'd Make A Change", "When I Get Inside The Gate" and backing singer Madelyn James on "Stinging Snake Blues" and "Long Time Blues."

Related Articles:

-Memphis Blues and Jug Bands by Begnt Olsson (Studio Vista, 1970) [PDF]


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