Memphis Blues


ARTISTSONGALBUM
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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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Walter BradfordReward For My Baby Memphis Aggressive Guitars Vol. 1
Walter BradfordLove For My Baby Memphis Aggressive Guitars Vol. 1
Walter BradfordLucy Done MovedMemphis Aggressive Guitars Vol. 1
Rosco GordonWe're All Loaded (Whiskey Made Me Drunk)Let's Get High
Rosco GordonJust In From TexasLet's Get High
Big Memphis Ma RaineyCall Me Anything, But Call MeMemphis Aggressive Guitars Vol. 1
Big Memphis Ma RaineyBaby, No, No!Memphis Aggressive Guitars Vol. 1
Little Junior ParkerSittin', Drinkin' And Thinkin'Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950 - 1958
Little Junior ParkerPlease Baby Blues Mystery Train
Hot Shot LoveWolf Call Boogie
Memphis Blues: Important Postwar Blues
Kenneth BanksHighMemphis Aggressive Guitars Vol. 1
Billy LoveHart's Bread Boogie Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950 - 1958
Little Junior ParkerDirty Friend BluesThe Duke Recordings Vol. 2
Little Junior ParkerCan't Understand The Duke Recordings Vol. 2
Pat HareBonus Pay (Ain't Gonna Be That Way)Memphis Aggressive Guitars Vol. 1
Muddy WatersI Won't Go OnThe Complete Chess Recordings
Muddy WatersMeanest WomanThe Complete Chess Recordings
Muddy WatersGood NewsThe Complete Chess Recordings
Little Junior Parker BacktrackingThe Duke Recordings Vol. 2
Little Junior Parker I Wanna RambleLittle Junior Parker 1952-1955
Muddy WatersShe's Into SomethingThe Complete Chess Recordings
Muddy WatersWhen I Get to ThinkingThe Complete Chess Recordings
James Cotton Cotton Crop BluesSun Records: The Blues Years 1950 - 1958
James Cotton Hold Me In Your ArmsSun Records: The Blues Years 1950 - 1958
James Cotton Straighten Up, BabySun Records: The Blues Years 1950 - 1958
Junior ParkerThat's Allright The Duke Recordings Vol. 1
Bobby "Blue" BlandFarther Up The RoadThe Duke Recordings Vol. One
Muddy WatersI've Got My Brand On YouMuddy Waters at Newport 1960
Muddy WatersHey Hey The Songs of "Big Bill" Broonzy
Muddy WatersTell Me BabyThe Songs of "Big Bill" Broonzy
Pat Hare I'm Gonna Murder My Baby (Cheatin' And Lyin' Blues) Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950 - 1958

Show Notes:

In past shows we've featured great session guitarists like Larry Dale and Lafayette Thomas who spent most of their time out of the spotlight, making their presence known backing others. In that vein we shine the light on guitarist Pat Hare. Hare's aggressive, distorted guitar graced records in the 50's by up and coming Memphis artists like Rosco Gordon, Little Junior Parker, James Cotton, Bobby Bland as well as some fine lesser known artists. In the latter half of the 50's he was a member of the Muddy Waters band and his guitar work can be heard on several sessions and albums from this period. Hare cut just two sides under his own which were not issued until decades later.

Pat Hare was born Auburn Hare, December 20, 1930 in Cherry Valley, Arkansas. In 1940, the family moved to a farm near Parkin, Arkansas, and around the same time young Auburn, whose grandmother nicknamed him Pat, started playing guitar. In his teens he took lessons from Joe Willie Wilkins who played in Sonny Boy Williamson's band, appearing on Sonny Boy's King Biscuit Flour radio show. He also fell in with Howlin' Wolf, and played in Wolf's band on weekends around the Forrest City/West Memphis area while still in his teens. Howlin' Wolf used Hare for his own radio show that broadcast from West Memphis' KWEM, and Hare also appeared on the radio with James Cotton, Willie Nix, Joe Hill Louis and later on Memphis' all black WDIA playing behind his cousin Walter Bradford. It was around this period, on Christmas day 1949, five days after his nineteenth birthday, that Hare married a 13-year-old- girl and set up house in West Memphis.

Pat Hare made his recording debut backing up Bradford on a session held at Sam Phillips' Sun Studio in the spring of 1952. The record, "Dreary Nights b/w Nuthin' But The Blues” (Sun 176) is so rare that no one has actually ever seen a copy. Following his first session with Bradford, was a four-song June 14, 1952 date with Bradford with one track, "Lucy Done Moved", featuring the vocals of L.C. Hubert.

Hare had left Howlin' Wolf's band (or more likely, was fired) in 1952, and it was then he joined up with Little Junior Parker's band, staying with them until April of '53. Hare can be heard on eight sides of Parker's cut between 1954 and 1957. When not touring, he would return to the family farm, and play around Memphis working with various musicians including Johnny Ace, Rosco Gordon, Ike Turner, and James Cotton whose band became his most regular gig of the time. He also became the favorite session guitarist of producer Sam Phillips who had just opened his studio on the corner of Union and Marshall in Memphis.Phillips told Robert Palmer that Hare "had a Fender amp and a pretty good guitar. His pickup was powerful and I think he had a mismatch of impedance. It was a little more than his amp could stand, but it felt good." Colin Escott wrote, in his history of  the Sun label: "Hare became a fairly regular fixture at the studio, and his trademark sound – coarse, distorted, marked by aggressive fills and a fondness for playing them under the vocal lines – became something of an early Sun trademark as well." Among he artists he backed from Sun were Big Memphis Ma Rainey, James Cotton, Coy "Hot Shot" Love, Kenneth Banks and Billy Love.

At the age of 14 Willie Mae Glover AKA Big Memphis Ma Rainey ran away from home and joined a traveling medicine show operated by a man named Jim Hayden. She gave up performing in medicine shows in 1928 and settled in Memphis where she began performing in Vaudevillian productions. During these years, she performed with various itinerant blues musicians passing through the city. She befriended B. B. King during his early years and used to take care of him by cooking for him and she would frequently meet with him at local hamburger joints after performances.  She cut two sides, "Call Me Anything, But Call Me b/w Baby, No, No!",  for Sun in 1953.

At Sun Records Hare appeared on early James Cotton singles, among the best ever issued under Cotton's name,“My Baby b/w Straighten Up Baby” (Sun 199) and “Cotton Crop Blues b/w Hold Me In Your Arms” (Sun 206).

Coy "Hot Shot" Love lived on Gayoso Street in Memphis, an itinerant musician and sometime sign-painter who got his one moment of glory in the recording studio on January 8, 1954, when he entered Sam Phillips' Sun Studios to record "Wolf Call Boogie" b/w "Harmonica Jam," backed by Mose Vinson at the piano, Pat Hare on guitar, Kenneth Banks on bass, and Houston Stokes on the drums. Love did cut one more 45 recorded  by George Paulus of Barrelhouse Records at Steve LaVere's Shop in Memphis in mid August 1973. The songs are "Hot Shot Boogie", "Foxchase Boogie" and "Freight Train Blues" and issued under the  Mr. Bo Weevil imprint.

Kenneth Banks cut two sides, "High b/w Blue Man",  for Sun in 1954. Both these songs were recorded twice at separate session (on January 8, 1954 and January 11, 1954 with Ike Turner's band) both times feature Hare on guitar. Both sessions went unissued. Banks was a bass player who can be heard on sessions by Coy "Hot Shot" Love, James Cotton.

Billy Love did some session work for Sam Phillips, backing Walter Horton, Rufus Thomas and Willie Nix, before he got the chance to cut his own record as a singer-pianist. He did some sessions for Sun in 1951 and on January 19, 1954 Love returned to the Sun studio with a new band and cut five titles. One more session was recorded at the Sun studio, resulting in "Blues Leave Me Alone" and the promotional record "Hart's Bread Boogie" for the Hart's bakery in Memphis, both featuring Hare on guitar.

Hare is the listed guitarist on two songs by Clifton White cut for Sun in December 1953 with Billy Love, Kenneth Banks, Harvey Simmons and Houston Stokes. These songs were never issued. Hare is also on the unissued Sun June 1953 Sun number, "You Can't Love Two" backing Billy Gayles.

In addition to Sun, Hare was involved in several sessions with Duke Records, a label with Memphis roots. Duke Records was started in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1952 by David James Mattis (WDIA program director and DJ) and Bill Fitzgerald, owners of Tri-State Recording Company. After forming a partnership with Mattis in the summer of 1952, Don Robey (founder of Houston's Peacock Records) took control of Duke. Both labels then headquartered at his Bronze Peacock club at 2809 Erastus Street in Houston.

Junior Parker was at the center of a lawsuit in late 1955 against Don Robey and Duke Records. Sun Records charged that Robey induced Parker to break an exclusive contract with Sun to go to Duke and filed for damages. The judge ruled in favor of Sun Records and Robey was liable for unspecified damages to be paid to Sun. We hear Hare today backing Parker on several Duke sides: "Dirty Friend Blues, "Can't Understand", "Sittin', Drinkin' And Thinkin", "Please Baby Blues", "Backtracking",  "I Wanna Ramble" and "That's Allright."

Hare also appears on sides by Rosco Gordon and Bobby "Blue" Bland cut for Duke. Hare plays on Bobby "Blue" Bland's hit Further Up The Road (Duke 170) where his guitar is featured prominently. Hare went back on the road with Bland until he fired him sometime in 1957. Hare backs Gordon on a couple of sessions for Duke as well as on several sides cut for RPM and Modern.

In The Blues Discography 1943-1970 Hare is listed as possibly being the guitarist on a five-song Johnny Ace session cut for Duke in 1954. I've listened to these sides and I'm not convinced Hare is the guitarist.

Blues Unlimited: Little Jr. Parker, standing (far left), Bobby "Blue" Bland,
kneeling (far left), Pat Hare, standing (far right). South Carolina, 1952.

In May of '54, Sam Phillips decided to record Pat Hare under his own name. James Cotton was scheduled to play harmonica on the session but the two got into a fist fight that day, and Cotton disappeared. Instead, Hare is backed up by Israel Franklin on bass and Billy Love on piano on the two tunes. The first is a tough reading of Dr. Clayton's “Cheatin' & Lyin' Blues”, retitled on the tape box “I'm Gonna Murder My Baby” and “Bonus Pay” which is actually a cover of Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson's “Ain't Gonna Be That Way.” Phillips chose not to release Hare's disc which would not be heard until it slipped out on a bootleg on the Redita label in 1976, and later appeared on Charley Records' Sun Blues Box in the eighties. “I'm Gonna Murder My Baby” was a chilling, prophetic performance:

She used to have a mind to stay at home
At night she goes out and stays out all night long
I'm gonna murder my baby
(Spoken: she just doin' wrong, I can't stand it no more, judge, she just ain't no good.
I'm gonna do something to that woman, that's the reason I come to see you…)
She don't do nothing but cheat and lie

In 1957, James Cotton, who had joined Muddy Waters' band, brought Hare to Chicago to replace Jimmy Rogers. Hare became a regular member of the Muddy Waters band, appearing on the legendary Live at Newport album and numerous sessions backing Muddy between 1956 and 1960. At Newport 1960 showcases Muddy Waters live at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island on July 3. Muddy's band, minus Waters, also backed John Lee Hooker on the same date at Newport on five numbers.

He's also the guitarist on the album Muddy Waters Sings "Big Bill" from 1960 a tribute to Big Bill Broonzy who passed two years prior. Muddy would undoubtedly get Broonzy's approval. "Oh yeah, Muddy is a real singer for the Blues," Big Bill was heard to say early on in Muddy Waters' career. Full of confidence after a Best Of compilation released on the Chess label in 1959 and his legendary appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, Muddy set down his heartfelt tribute to Broonzy. The band features:  James Cotton, hca, Otis Spann, p; Pat Hare, g; Andrew Stephens, b; Francis Clay, dr. Hare did not get along with Leonard Chess and was not featured much on the Chess discs although his playing shines on a number of cuts. His trademark distorted sonic attack is replaced by a cleaner, low volume sound. Probably at Leonard Chess' insistence, trying to make him sound more like Jimmy Rogers who favored a more twangy sound.

Pat Hare (right) with James Cotton, 1959

By accounts Hare was mild when sober but drunk became violent and aggressive. Shortly after 1960 he was fired from Muddy's band for being drunk once too often. In '63 Hare returned to the family farm in Parkin,Arkansas and it was there that former Muddy Waters sidemen Mojo Buford and Jojo Williams tracked him down. They were starting a new band in Minneapolis and brought Harenorth to play with them. Soon they were gigging at Mattie's Bar-B-Q in South Minneapolis. On Sunday afternoon, Dec. 15, 1963 Hare spent the afternoon drinking wine with well known blues drummer S. P. Leary.Hare at the time was living with a married woman named Aggie Winje. Pat called a friend of Aggie's named Pat Morrow who drove him to a third friend's house where he drank a half pint of gin. When Hare got home he took a couple of potshots at Aggie. They continued to fight, soon, more shots were heard and the police were called. Officer James E. Hendricks, armed with a shotgun headed to Hare's apartment and was heard to say "Give me the gun", followed by three shots. When Office Langaard, a few steps behind his partner arrived to see Hendricks on the floor and Hare pointing a pistol at him. Aggie was on the couch with two bullet holes in her. Langaard shot Pat Hare twice and called for back up. Officer Hendricks died en route to the hospital and Aggie would die on January 22, 1964. The trial, held February 14, 1964 lasted all of one day and Pat Hare was found guilty of first degree murder of Officer Hendricks while at the same time pleading guilty to third degree murder in the case of Aggie Winje's shooting. He was sentenced to life in prison and was sent off to Stillwater State Prison

In prison Hare joined AA and quit drinking,  he played in the prison band, Sounds Incarcerated, playing jazz, country, blues, and rock ' n 'roll to fellow inmates and later the band was allowed to travel outside the prison, appearing at public events, concerts, hospitals, and other venues. He was often allowed to leave the prison to perform music, even appearing with Muddy Waters at a local concert where Muddy was opening for Eric Clapton. He was filmed in 1980 for a local Minnesota TV show called PM Magazine, and was about to be given a medical pardon when he succumbed to cancer on September 26, 1980. By the time of his death, the ironic story of Pat Hare and "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby" had entered blues folklore. There was an interview with him, done in prison, that appeared in Living Blues magazine, and later a long feature about him in Juke Blues.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Howlin' Wolf How Many More Years Smokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960
Howlin' Wolf Getting Old And GraySmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960
Ike TurnerTroubles & HeartachesRocks The Blues
Ike TurnerLove Is A GambleRocks The Blues
Howlin' Wolf California BoogieSmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960
Howlin' Wolf Well That's AlrightSmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960
Sammy Lewis/Willie Johnson ComboGonna Leave You BabySun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Sammy Lewis/Willie Johnson ComboSo Long Baby Goodbye Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Howlin' WolfOh RedSmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960
Howlin' WolfHouse Rockin' Boogie Rides Again
Henry GrayI Declare That Ain't RightChes Blues
Henry GrayHow Can You Do It
Chicago Ain't Nothin' But A Blues Band
Howlin' Wolf Howlin' Wolf Talks 1 The Chess Box
Howlin' Wolf Smokestack Lightning Smokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960
Jody Williams You MayBlues Masters Vol. 2
Jody Williams Lucky LouChes Rhythm & Roll Vol. 2
Howlin' WolfHowlin Wolf Talks 2The Chess Box Set
Howlin' WolfLong Green StuffSmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960
Smokey SmothersYou're Gonna Be Sorry Sings The Backporch Blues
Little Johnnie JonesWorried Life BluesLive in Chicago with Billy Boy Arnold
Hubert SumlinNo Title BoogieAmerican Folk Blues Festival 1962-1965
Howlin' Wolf The Natchez Burning Smokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960
Howlin' Wolf Howlin Wolf Talks 3The Chess Box
Howlin' Wolf I’ve Been AbusedSmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960
Buddy GuyNo Lie Complete Chess Recordings
Buddy GuyMy Time After AwhileComplete Chess Recordings
Howlin' Wolf I Walked From Dallas Smokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960
Howlin' Wolf Shake For Me American Folk Blues Festival 1964
Eddie Shaw Blues For The West SideChicago Blues From C.J. Records Vol. 1
Detroit Junior Too Poor Chess Blues
Howlin' Wolf Meet Me In The Bottom Newport 1967
Howlin' Wolf Coon On The MoonThe Back Door Blues
Howlin' Wolf Little Red RoosterEbbets Field 1973

Show Notes:

Today's show spotlights the great Howlin' Wolf from his earliest recordings in the 50's through his final album in 1973. Along the way we'll hear some interview snippets from the Wolf himself, classic and lesser known sides, live cut plus we'll be spinning tracks from some of the talented musicians who passed through Wolf's band. Musicians such Ike Turner, Willie Johnson, Henry Gray, Jody Williams, Buddy Guy, Smokey Smothers, Little Johnny Jones, Hubert Sumlin, Eddie Shaw and Detroit Junior.

He was born in West Point, MS, and named after the 21st President of the United States (Chester Arthur). His father was a farmer and Wolf took to it as well until his 18th birthday, when a chance meeting with Delta blues legend Charley Patton changed his life forever.He never learned the subtleties of Patton's guitar technique, but did learn the growl of a voice and his talent for entertaining. The main source of Wolf's hard-driving harmonica style came when Aleck "Rice" Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson) married his half-sister Mary and taught him the rudiments of the instrument. He first started playing in the early '30s as a strict Patton imitator, while others recall him at decade's end rocking the juke joints with a neck-rack harmonica and one of the first electric guitars anyone had ever seen. After a four-year stretch in the Army, he settled down as a farmer and weekend player in West Memphis, AR, and it was here that Wolf's career in music began in earnest.

By 1948, he had established himself within the community as a radio personality. As a means of advertising his own local appearances, Wolf had a 15-minute radio show on KWEM in West Memphis. Wolf had put his first band together, featuring the explosive guitar work of Willie Johnson. Wolf finally started recording in 1951, when he caught the ear of Sam Phillips, who first heard him on his morning radio show. Phillips simultaneously leased the results to the Bihari Brothers in Los Angeles and Leonard Chess in Chicago. Suddenly, Howlin' Wolf had two hits at the same time on the R&B charts with two record companies claiming to have him exclusively under contract. Chess finally won him over and as Wolf would proudly relate years later, "I had a 4,000 dollar car and 3,900 dollars in my pocket. I'm the onliest one drove out of the South like a gentleman."

Howlin' Wolf, Jody Williams, Earl Phillips, Hubert Sumlin 1954

When Wolf entered the Chess studios in 1954, the violent aggression of the Memphis sides was being replaced with a Chicago backbeat and,and Hubert Sumlin joined tha band. He first appears as a rhythm guitarist on a 1954 session, and within a few years' time his style had fully matured to take over the role of lead guitarist in the band by early 1958. By 1956, Wolf was in the R&B charts again, racking up hits with "Evil" and "Smokestack Lightnin'." He remained a top attraction both on the Chicago circuit and on the road. His records, while seldom showing up on the national charts, were still selling in decent numbers down South. But by 1960, Wolf was teamed up with Chess staff writer Willie Dixon, and for the next five years he would record almost nothing but songs written by Dixon. The mid-'60s saw him touring Europe regularly with "Smokestack Lightnin'" becoming a hit in England some eight years after its American release. Certainly any list of Wolf's greatest sides would have to include "I Ain't Superstitious," "The Red Rooster," "Shake for Me," "Back Door Man," "Spoonful," and "Wang Dang Doodle," Dixon compositions all.

Willie Dixon and Wolf parted company by 1964 and Wolf was back in the studio doing his own songs. By the end of the decade, Wolf's material was being recorded by artists including the Doors, Led Zeppelin, the Electric Flag, the Blues Project, Cream, and Jeff Beck. The result of all these covers brought Wolf the belated acclaim of a young, white audience. Chess sent him over to England in 1970 to capitalize on the then-current trend of London Session albums, recording with Eric Clapton on lead guitar and other British superstars.

As the '70s moved on, the end of the trail started coming closer. By now Wolf was a very sick man; he had survived numerous heart attacks and was suffering kidney damage from an automobile accident that sent him flying through the car's windshield. His bandleader Eddie Shaw firmly rationed Wolf to a meager half-dozen songs per set. Occasionally some of the old fire would come blazing forth from some untapped wellspring, and his final live and studio recordings show that he could still tear the house apart when the spirit moved him. He entered the Veterans Administration Hospital in 1976 to be operated on, but never survived it, finally passing away on January 10th of that year.

Howlin' Wolf & Hubert Sumlin

After recording “Rocket 88”, Ike Turner became a session musician and production assistant for Sam Philips and the Bihari Brothers, commuting to Memphis from Clarksdale. He played piano on many sessions during this period. Wishing to utilize Turner's Delta music connections, Bihari contracted him as a talent scout, paying him to search out southern musicians who might be worth recording. Turner was contracted to the Bihari Brothers, but he continued to work for Sam Phillips at Sun Studios, where he was effectively the in-house producer. This sometimes created conflicts of interest. Turner cut two Howlin' Wolf tracks, "How Many More Years" and "Moanin' at Midnight," (Ike played piano) which Phillips sent to Chess Records. Turner then took Wolf across the state border, re-recorded the tracks without Phillips' or Chess's knowledge, and sent the results to Modern/RPM. Turner also plays piano behind Wolf on sessions in Sept. , Oct. 1951 and February 1952 session.

As the guitarist in Wolf's first band, Willie Johnson appeared on most of Wolf's recordings between 1951 and 1953, providing the slightly jazzy yet raucous guitar sound that was the signature of all of Wolf's Memphis recordings. Johnson also performed and recorded with other blues artists in the Memphis area, including pianist Willie Love, Willie Nix, Junior Parker, Roscoe Gordon, Bobby "Blue" Bland and others. When Wolf moved to Chicago in around 1953, he could not convince Johnson to join him. Johnson stayed on in Memphis for several years, playing on a number of sessions for Sun Records, including a 1955 collaboration with vocalist Sammy Lewis, "I Feel So Worried", released under the name Sammy Lewis with Willie Johnson. By the time Johnson relocated to Chicago, Wolf had already hired guitarist Hubert Sumlin as a permanent replacement. James Cotton later recalled that Wolf replaced Johnson because of his heavy drinking. Johnson occasionally performed and recorded with Howlin' Wolf after settling in Chicago, and also played briefly in the band of Muddy Waters, as well as a number of other local Chicago blues musicians, including J. T. Brown, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He made his living mainly outside of music for the rest of his life, only occasionally sitting in with the bands of his old friends around Chicago. His final recordings were made for Earwig Music in Chicago in the early 1990s. Johnson died in Chicago on February 21, 1995.

Henry Gray arrived in Chicago in 1946. He worked with Little Hudson's Red Devil Trio and guitarist Morris Pejoe before moving into extensive work as a session musician in the recording studio behind Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Billy Boy Arnold, Pejoe, Little Walter and Jimmy Rogers. In 1956, Gray joined Howlin' Wolf's band and was Wolf's main piano player for twelve years in performance and on recordings. Also during this time, Gray became a session player for numerous artists on recordings made by Chess Records. Gray cut some sides under his own name for Chess, Parrot and Atomic H in the 50's.

Jody Williams' first instrument was the harmonica, which he swapped for the guitar after hearing Bo Diddley play at a talent show where they were both performing. Diddley, seven years his senior, took Williams under his wing and taught him the rudiments of guitar. Williams cut his teeth gigging with a string of blues musicians, notably Memphis Minnie, Elmore James and Otis Spann. After touring with West Coast piano player Charles Brown, Williams established himself as a session player with Chess Records. At Chess, Williams met Howlin’ Wolf, recently arrived in Chicago from Memphis, Tennessee, and was hired by Wolf as the first guitarist in his new Chicago-based band. A year later Hubert Sumlin moved to Chicago to join Wolf's band, and the dual guitars of Williams and Sumlin are featured on Howlin’ Wolf’s 1954 singles, "Evil Is Going On", and "Forty Four", and on the 1955 releases, "Who Will Be Next" and "Come To Me Baby." Williams cut some fine singles; in 1955 for Blue Lake, some brilliant sides for Chess in 1957 plus some sides for tiny labels in the early 60's.

Smokey Smothers relocated to Chicago in 1946, and his debut stage performance occurred with Johnny Williams and Johnny "Man" Young. In the early part of the 1950s, Smothers played alongside his own cousin Lester Davenport, plus Arthur "Big Boy" Spires, Earl Hooker, Henry Strong, and Bo Diddley. In 1956 and 1957, Howlin' Wolf invited Smothers to play as his rhythm guitarist on several Chess tracks, including "Who's Been Talking," "Tell Me," "Change My Way," "Goin' Back Home," "The Natchez Burning," and "I Asked For Water." Smothers secured a recording contract with Federal Records in August 1960. With Sonny Thompson as his record producer, and Freddie King on lead guitar, Smothers saw the resultant album, Smokey Smothers Sings the Backporch Blues released in 1962.

Little Johnny Jones was born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1924. He arrived in Chicago, Illinois in 1945 in the company of Little Walter and "Baby Face" Leroy Foster, and soon replaced pianist Big Maceo Merriweather in Tampa Red's band after Merriweather suffered a stroke. He later backed Muddy Waters and recorded (on piano and vocals) with Waters for the Aristocrat label in 1949. From 1952 to 1956 he played and recorded with Elmore James, and in later years he worked with Howling Wolf, Billy Boy Arnold and Magic Sam, among others. He cut a handful of singles under his own name. Live in Chicago with Billy Boy Arnold was recorded in 1963 at Chicago's Fickle Pickle club.

In his teenage years Eddie Shaw played tenor saxophone with local blues musicians such as Little Milton and Willie Love At a gig in Itta Bena, Mississippi, when the then 20-year-old Shaw performed, Muddy Waters invited him to join his Chicago based band. Shaw more or less divided the tenor saxophone duties with A.C. Reed. In 1972 he joined Howlin' Wolf, leading his band, the Wolf Gang, and writing half the songs on Wolf's last album, The Back Door Wolf. Shaw cut a handful of singles in the 50's 60's for small labels.

Detroit Junior began his career in Detroit, Michigan, backing touring musicians such as Eddie Boyd, John Lee Hooker, and Amos Milburn. Boyd brought him to Chicago, Illinois in 1956, where he spent the next twelve years. In the early 1970s, Detroit toured and recorded with Howlin' Wolf. He waxed a number of singles through the 60's for labels like Bea & Baby, Chess, Foxy, Palos, CJ and USA.

Related Articles:

Howlin’ Wolf: "I Sing For The People" by Pete Welding (Downbeat, 1967)

-Howlin' Wolf by Simon A. Napier (R’NB Scene 2, August 1964)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Gus CannonOn The Road AgainOn The Road Again
Furry LewisGoing Away BluesParty! At Home: Recorded in Memphis 1968
Dewey CorleyDewey's Walkin' BluesThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1
Joe DobbinsBasin Street BluesThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1
Mose VinsonYou Ain't Too OldThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1
Sam ClarkSunnyland Train BluesThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1
Bukka WhitePoor Boy Long Ways From HomeLegacy Of The Blues Vol. 1
Bukka WhiteSad Day Blues Memphis Swamp Jam
Johnny MomentKeep Our Business To Yourself I Blueskvarter Vol. 3
Earl BellTravellin' ManI Blueskvarter Vol. 3
Rev. Robert WilkinsDo Lord Remember MeMemphis Gospel Singer
Rev. Robert WilkinsThank You, Jesus Memphis Gospel Singer
Gus CannonCome On Down To My House Walk Right In
Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Gus CannonGibson Hill On The Road Again
Dewey Corley & Johnny Woods Tri-State Bus Beale Street Mess-Around
Dewley Corley & Walter Miller Fishing in the DarkBlow My Blues Away Vol. 1
Memphis Piano RedMobile Blues Memphis Swamp Jam
Laura Dukes Bricks In My Pillow Tennessee Blues Vol. 1
Nathan BeauregardKid Gal Blues The 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival
Memphis Willie B.Overseas Blues Introducing Memphis Willie B.
Memphis Willie B.Stop Cryin' Blues Introducing Memphis Willie B.
Sleepy John Estes Need More Blues Memphis Swamp Jam
Sleepy John Estes/Yank Rachell/Hammie Nixon I Wanta Tear It All the TimeNewport Blues
Willie MorrisMy Good Woman Has Quit Me The Memphis Blues Again Vol. 2
Hacksaw HarneyHacksaw's Down South BluesThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 2
Walter MillerI Don't Care What You DoThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 2
Van Hunt & Mose Vinson Jelly Selling WomanThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 2
Furry LewisI'm Going To BrownsvilleShake 'Em On Down
Furry LewisKassie Jones and a Message from Furry Party! At Home: Recorded in Memphis 1968

Show Notes:

Liner Notes: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3 -
Pt. 4 - Pt. 5Pt. 6
Liner Notes: Pt.1Pt. 2 - Pt. 3
Pt. 4
Pt. 5Pt. 6

Today's program is devoted to the Memphis country blues recorded in the 1960's. Of course the heyday of the Memphis blues was in the 20's and 30's. Memphis is the capital city of the Mississippi Delta, which stretches out south and west of the city in the states of Mississippi and Arkansas. "The Mississippi Delta begins on the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends at Catfish Row in Vicksburg", David Cohn wrote in 1935. The Peabody also happened to be the location of several recording sessions by artists such as Furry Lewis, Charlie McCoy, Speckled Red, Robert Wilkins, Big Joe Williams, Jed Davenport, Garfield Akers, Jim Jackson and others. By the time the race market was picking up in popularity nearly every major recording company either made field trips to Memphis or attracted Memphis artists to their Northern studios. Consequently, many great blues records from this era were made in Memphis or by Memphis area musicians. Among those names were men like Furry Lewis, Frank Stokes, Robert Wilkins and the great jug bands the city was so famous for, such as the Memphis Jug band and Cannon's Jug Stompers.

During the first half of the century Beale Street was the center of blues activity in Memphis. Writing at the end of the 1960's, researcher Begnt Olsson wrote: “Some years ago Beale Street was a rough, tough, gambling, whoring, cutting, musical, living street. Money was spent on cards, woman and whiskey. The liqueur and the music flowed in the many dives along Beale; ambulances howled; men and women were killed. Expensive cars were parked outside the gambling houses.” By the 1960's urban renewal decimated Beale Street yet many old time musicians remained; veterans like Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Will Shade, Dewey Corley, Memphis Piano Red, Laura Dukes and Gus Cannon were still hanging on. During the blues revival of the 60's many went down to Memphis to record these old musicians with the results mostly issued on small specialty labels. Many of the resulting records are long out-of-print.

Among those long out-of-print albums is The Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1 & 2. The records were issued on the Adelphi label and recorded in Memphis in October, 1969 and at the Peabody Hotel in June, 1970. These are wonderful gatefold albums with excellent notes and photos. We spin  superb performances by Mose Vinson, Willie Morris, Hacksaw Harney and Van Hunt among others.

Read Liner Notes

Originally from Holly Springs, MS, Mose Vinson worked as a clean-up man and part-time pianist for Sam Phillip's Sun label in Memphis. Between sessions, Vinson would sit at the piano and play "44 Blues" so often he eventually convinced Phillips to record him in 1954. He also appeared on records by James Cotton, Walter Horton, Joe Hill Louis and others, although his own Sun sides went unreleased for 30 years. Other sides by Vinson appear on various anthologies while his first full-length CD wasn't released until 1997.

From the time he was fifteen Willie Morris began hoboing throughout the Delta playing with Delta musicians including Kokomo Arnold. He moved to Memphis in 1938 where he worked with Franks Stokes, Will Shade, Gus cannon and others. he made a few recordings in the 1960's.

When Hacksaw Harney was in his early 20's he and an elder brother worked for tips and as backing musicians in Memphis but after his brother was murdered in a juke joint, Harney took up piano tuning. Robert Lockwood Jr. claimed that Harney was well acquainted with Robert Johnson and was a major influence on him. Harney spent most of his life in relative musical obscurity but in the late 1960's he was traced by folklorists to Memphis where he made some recordings for the Adelphi label.

Van Hunt spent the 1920’s in minstrel shows and was involved in the early Memphis blues scene. She cut "Selling The Jelly" in 1930 with the Noah Lewis Jug Band which hear her reprise today backed by Mose Vinson. She made some field recordings in the 60's and 70's.

It's only fitting we open and close the show with Furry Lewis. Pete Welding wrote that Lewis' music, "engagingly direct and sincere, typifies the best that the Memphis blues has to offer. If any single performer can be said to stand as the living embodiment of the Memphis blues, a perfomer in whose music can be found the full span of that urban-rural polarity, that man is surley Furry Lewis."

Lewis was born in Greenwood, MS and moved with his mother and two sisters to Brinley Avenue in Memphis when he was a youngster. His first guitar was supposedly given to him by W.C. Handy, a Martin that he used for decades. In 1925 he got together with Will Shade, Dewey Thomas and Hambone Lewis to form an early version of the Memphis Jug Band and like Jim Jackson took to traveling with medicine shows. Vocalion talent scouts saw both men in 1927 but it was Lewis who went to Chicago first in April where he cut six sides. He and Jackson went up together in October the same year with Lewis cutting seven numbers. Just under a year later Victor recorded eight more titles by Lewis in Memphis and Vocalion brought him in the studio one last time in 1929, cutting four songs at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Thirty year would pass before Sam Charters came knocking in 1959 subsequently recordings him for Folkways that same year with two more albums following for Prestige in 1961. There was nothing rusty about his playing as he had never stopped performing for neighbors and friends. Lewis was recorded often through the 1960's, with a slew of informal recordings issued posthumously. Bob Groom wrote in his book The Blues Revival that his "return has been one of the most satisfying of the [blues] revival." He played regularly at festivals around Memphis, appeared with Burt Reynolds in the movie W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings, sang "Furry's Blues" on Johnny Carson and was the subject of a Joni Mitchell song (he didn't like it). During this period Lewis' apartment became a pilgrimage for many visitors to Memphis, from blues fans, musicians to celebrities. Lewis died in 1981 at the City of Memphis Hospital.

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

Several of the old time jug musicians were still in Memphis in the 1960's. Renewed interest drew several out if the woodwork to record including Will Shade, Gus Cannon and Dewey Corley.

Will Shade got his first taste of blues music in 1925 when he first heard recordings by the Dixieland Jug Blowers, a jug band from Louisville, Kentucky. He then convinced a few of the local musicians, though still reluctant, to join him in creating yhe Memphis Jug Band. Shade himself played the guitar, washtub bass and the harmonica.The Memphis Jug Band had a fluid membership during the nearly 40 years that it was active. Between 1927 and 1934, the Memphis Jug Band recorded over 100 sides All the while, though, Shade was the backbone of the group, as he was the one responsible for finding new members to keep the jug band alive.blues revivalists found Shade and his old cohorts still playing together into the early 1960s and released several field recordings. The band during this period usually included Shade's long time friend Charlie Burse, whom Shade had picked up in 1928 as a vocalist and tenor guitarist, and sometimes included old rival Gus Cannon. Shade also appeared as an accompanist on Cannon's "comeback" album, Walk Right In, recorded by Stax Records in 1963.

Gus Cannon's band of the '20s and '30s, Cannon's Jug Stompers, were one of the best jug bands of the era. Songs they recorded, notably the raggy "Walk Right In," were staples of the folk repertoire decades later. Cannon learned early repertoire in the 1890s from older musicians. The early 1900s found him playing around Memphis with songster Jim Jackson and forming a partnership with Noah Lewis, whose harmonica would be basic to the Jug Stompers' sound. In 1914, Cannon began work with a succession of medicine shows that would continue into the 1940s, and where he further developed his style and repertoire. His recording career began with Paramount sessions in 1927. He continued to record into the '30s as a soloist and with his incredible trio, which included Noah Lewis along with guitarists Hosea Woods or Ashley Thompson. (Side projects included duets with Blind Blake and the first ever recordings of slide banjo.) Often obliged to find employment in other fields than music, Cannon continued to play anyway, mostly around Memphis. He resumed his stalled recording efforts in 1956 with sessions for Folkways. Subsequent sessions paired him with other Memphis survivors like Furry Lewis.

Dewey Corley was the leader of the Beale Street Jug Band from the '30s onward, and played jug, washtub bass and kazoo. In his later years, he also acted as an A&R man, helping record companies such as Adelphi scout out missing Memphis blues legends such as Hacksaw Harney and guitarist Willie Morris. Corley was influenced by Will Shade, joining Shade's Memphis Jug Band and was also a member of Jack Kelly's South Memphis Jug Band and also backed quite a few of the city's diverse bluesmen in duo and trio settings. His own Beale Street Jug Band was a most successful venture and became a fixture in Memphis for nearly three decades. He cut several fine sessions in the 60's and 70's.

Among the other big names residing in Memphis during this period were Bukka White, Robert Wilkins and Sleepy John Estes, all who had significant pre-war recording careers.

Read Liner Notes

The letter was addressed to: "Booker T. Washington White, (Old Blues Singer), C/O General Delivery Aberdeen , Miss." and forwarded to him by a relative. That was how John Fahey and Ed Denson found Bukka White in 1963 who was now living in Memphis. In 1930 Bukka White met furniture salesman Ralph Limbo, who was also a talent scout for Victor. White traveled to Memphis where he made his first recording. After a stint in Parchman Farm (he recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax there in 1939) he returned to Chicago cutting twelve sides in 1940. Then, Bukka disappeared dropped from the music scene, finding factory work in Memphis during World War II. Things moved quickly from the time Bukka White met up with John Fahey and Ed Denson; by the end of 1963 Bukka White was already recording on contract for Arhoolie Records. He recorded prolifically and thrived on the folk festival and coffeehouse circuit of the 1960s. He passed in 1977.

Like several of the former bluesmen turned gospel artists, Reverend Robert T. Wilkins recorded only sparingly in later years; he cut one full length album Memphis Gospel Singer in 1964 plus several sides on various anthologies. His early sessions for Victor in 1928, Brunswick in 1929 and Vocalion in 1935 are classics.

Sleepy John Estes was born in Ripley, Tennessee but was a longtime resident of Memphis. He made his debut in 1929 and made his last pre-war recording session taking place in 1941. Outside of a session for Sun in 1952 he was largely out of music until the 1960's.

We spotlight a number of fine little recorded Memphis artists who were recorded during this period. Among those are Earl Bell, Memphis Piano Red, Nathan Beauregard, Laura Dukes and Memphis Willie B.

Earl Bell was born in Hernando, MS, 22 miles from Memphis. He was recorded at the prompting of Dewey Corley. He made a handful of sides in the 60's, some with Corley and some with Memphis Sonny Boy.

John "Piano Red" Williams was born in Germantown, TN in 1905 and moved to Memphis with his family when he was nine. Red spent many years hoboing and met many roadhouse piano players. He recorded sparingly, with scattered sides on various anthologies.

During the folk and blues revival of the 1960s Nathan Beauregard was "discovered" in Memphis by Bill Barth, who convinced him to work as a musician again. It was widely advertised at the time that Beauregard was around one hundred year old but recent research suggests he was twenty years younger. In the short time between his "discovery" in 1968 and his death in 1970, he played at various folk and blues festivals and on a number of compilation albums on such labels as Blue Thumb, Arhoolie and Adelphi.

A lifelong Memphis musician, Laura Dukes was known as "Little Laura" or "Little Bit" for her diminutive stature. Her father, who played drums for W.C. Handy's band, put Dukes on the stage by the time she was five years old, where she proved to be a fine singer and performer. During the 1920's and 1930's, she performed for medicine shows, carnivals, and circuses. She also regularly performed on Beale Street during those years. Also during this time, she met the bluesman, Robert Nighthawk and the two spent several years traveling together and performing. She became a regular performer around Beale Street with the Memphis Jug Band, along with Will Shade and Will Batts. In 1961 she made some recordings with Will Shae and Gus Cannon (available on the out-of-print LP's Memphis Sessions 1956-1961 on Wolf and  Will Shade & Gus Cannon 1961 on Document), some unreleased sides in 1964, our selection which was recorded for the Albatross label in 1972 and appeared in the BBC-TV documentary The Devil's Music – A History of the Blues. Dukes passed in 1992.

Sam Charters recorded Memphis Willie B. through the help of Will Shade. "Usually I stop by Will's whenever I'm in Memphis, and over the years he's led me to other singers like Gus Cannon, Charlie Burse and Furry Lewis. …I stopped by in April 1961 …he mentioned that one of the blues singers he's known in the 1930s has stopped by his place a few weeks before. 'Charters recorded Borum at a session at the Sun studios for Prestige's Bluesville label, with one more session to follow. The albums were issued as Introducing Memphis Willie B. and Hard Working Man Blues. Borum, was a mainstay of the Memphis blues and jug band circuit. He took to the guitar early in his childhood, being principally taught by his father and Memphis medicine show star Jim Jackson. By his late teens, he was working with Jack Kelly's Jug Busters. This didn't last long, as Borum joined up with the Memphis Jug Band. Sometime in the '30s he learned to play harmonica, being taught by Noah Lewis, the best harp blower in Memphis and mainstay of Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers. Willie B. began working on and off with various traveling Delta bluesmen, performing at various functions with Rice Miller, Willie Brown, Garfield Akers, and Robert Johnson. He finally got to make some records in 1934 for Vocalion backing Hattie Hart and Allen Shaw, but quickly moved back into playing juke joints and gambling houses with Son Joe, Joe Hill Louis and Will Shade until around 1943, when he became a member of the U.S. Army. Memphis Willie B. passed in 1993.

Related Article:

-Willie, Furry & Gus by Jim Delehant , Jazz Journal 1965 ( PDF)

-Furry's Blues by Stanley Booth, Playboy 1970 (PDF)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
LJ Thomas & His Louisiana PlayboysBaby Take A Chance With MeSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Dr. RossDr. Ross BoogieSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Howlin' WolfBaby Ride With Me (Ridin' In The Moonlight) The Complete Recordings 1951-1969
Jackie Boy & Little WalterSelling My WhiskeySun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Joe Hill LouisWe All Gotta Go SometimeThe Be-Bop Boy With Walter Horton & Mose Vinson
Albert WilliamsHoodoo Man Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Jimmy & WalterBefore Long Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Junior Parker Feelin' GoodMystery Train
Willie Nix Bakershop BoogieSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Walter BradfordReward For My BabyThe Complete Recordings 1951-1969
Walter HortonWest Winds Are BlowingThe Be-Bop Boy With Walter Horton & Mose Vinson
Houston StokesWe're All Gonna Do Some WrongSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Walter"Tang" SmithHi-Tone Mama Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Woodrow AdamsTrain TimeSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Honeyboy EdwardsSweet Home ChicagoSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Charlie BookerWalked All NightLet Me Tell You About The Blues: Memphis
Boyd GilmoreBelieve I'll Settle DownSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
D.A. Hunt Greyhound BluesFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Mose VinsonCome See Me (My Love Has Gone)Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Houston BoinesCarry My Business OnSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Rufus Thomas Walking In The Rain Tiger Man 1950-1957
Earl HookerMove On Down The Line Earl Hooker And His Blues Guitar
Billy EmersonHey Little GirlRed Hot
James CottonCotton Crop BluesMystery Train
Little MiltonHomesick For My BabySun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Coy "Hot Shot" LoveHarpin' On It Jook Joint Blues
Billy LoveHart's Bread BoogieSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Pat HareBonus Pay Mystery Train
Kenneth BanksHighSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Eddie SnowAin't That Right Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Rosco GordonTired of LivingI'm Gonna Shake It
Ike TurnerI'm Gonna Forget About You Baby (Matchbox)Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Frank FrostPocket Full of ShellsVery Best Of Frank Frost: Big Boss Man

Show Notes:


Sam Phillips at the console

In past shows we've spotlighted numerous small independent labels that specialized in blues and R&B. Today we finally get around to the remarkable music Sam Phillips conjured up in his small Memphis studio. We won't be talking about Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis or Johnny Cash today. Before those guys started recording for Sun, the label recorded a steady diet of blues between 1950 through 1954. Prior to launching Sun in 1952 he recorded blues that were leased to Modern, Chess, Gilt-Edge and 4 Star. Junior Parker, Little Milton, James Cotton all made their debuts for the label and artists like B.B. King and Howlin' were recorded by Phillips at the dawn of their careers although neither had a record issued on the label. There's also a slew of fabulous sides featured today by little remembered artists like Jimmy DeBerry, Walter Bradford, Woodrow Adams, Houston Stokes, Charlie Booker and Pat Hare among others. The bulk of the sides on today's program were issued on the Sun label while a few others were leased to other labels. Phillips recorded lots of material but had limited resources so many fine sides remained unissued at the time only to be issued decades later. Much of the material in today's notes come form the book Good Rockin' TonightSun Records And The Birth Of Rock 'N' Roll by Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins.

In October 1949 Sam Phillips signed the lease on a small strorefront property at the junction of union and Marshall Avenues, near the heart of downtown Memphis (706 Union). Working with the slogan "We Record Anything-Anywhere-Anytime," Phillips opened the doors of the Memphis Recording Service in January 1950. As for the equipment, Phillips, noted: "I had a little Presto five-input mixer board. It was portable and sat on a hall table. The mixer had four microphone ports, and the fifth port had a multiselctor switch where you could flip it one way and get a mike and flip it another to play your recordings back. That was my console." By 1954 Phillips had upgraded his equipment and installed two Ampex 350 recorders: one console model and another mounted on a rack behind his head for the tape delay echo, or "slapback", for which Sun became famous. By "bouncing" the signal from one machine to another, with a split-second lag between the two, he created his characteristic echo effect. He made the switch from acetates to magnetic tape in late 1951.

Recorded spring/summer 1950 at Memphis Recording Service.
300 copies pressed by Plastic Products on August 30, 1950.

"I opened the Memphis Recording Service", recalled Phillips, "with the intention of recording singers and musicians from Memphis and the locality who I felt had something that people should be able to hear. I'm talking about blues-both the country style and the rhythm style-and also about gospel or spiritual music and about white country music. I always felt that the people who played this type of music had not be given the opportunity to reach an audience. I feel strongly that alot of the blues was a real true story. Unadulterated life as it was. My aim was to try and record the blues and other music I liked and to prove whether I was right or wrong about this music. I knew, or felt I knew, that there was a bigger audience than just the black man of the mid-South. There were city markets to be reached, and I knew that whites listened to blues surreptitiously." At first Phillips recorded music in the hopes of it being leased to other record labels. The first deals he lined up were with 4-Star and Gilt Edge Records. Phillips' first foray with his own label was simply called Phillips and lasted just a few weeks in the summer of 1950. Joe Hill Louis' "Gotta Let You Go b/w Boogie In the Park" was the sole record issued on the label. Around this time Phillips began a relationship with the Bihari brothers who owned the Modern label out of Los Angeles. They began issuing Phillips produced records on their RPM subsidiary including five singles from a young B.B. King. Phillips also placed Joe Hill Louis with RPM/Modern. In 1953, after recording for Chess, Louis recorded a record issued Sun 178, "We All Gotta Go Sometime b/w She May Be Yours (But She Comes To See Me Sometime)."

On March 5, 1951 Ike Turner, a DJ on WROX in Clarksdale, Mississippi had driven up to Memphis with a band featuring his underage cousin Jackie Brenston. They had worked up a number called "Rocket 88" and wanted to audition it for Phillips. Phillips sent a dub to Chess who put it out in April 1951, hitting number one on the R&B charts by May. This caused a rift with Modern Record who were upset and not getting a chance to issue the record. Ike was also upset at not getting a chance to record under his won name and defected to Modern where he became a talent scout, cutting many sessions around Memphis. More trouble followed when Phillips place Roscoe Gordon's "Booted" with Chess, eventually hitting number one. Modern felt Gordon was still under contract for them and cut their own version for RPM. Eventually the problems were resolved with Modern getting Roscoe Gordon and Chess getting Howlin' Wolf.

After “Rocket 88” Turner and his band became session regulars around Memphis; they went on to back legendary bluesmen like Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Bobby Bland, Jr. Parker, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and a host of Sun artists . During the early '50s, Turner switched from piano to guitar, and also doubled as a talent scout for the Bihari Brothers' Los Angeles-based Modern Records, where he helped get early breaks for artists like Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King.  After leaving Memphis and cutting sides for Federal in '56 and '57, Turner self-produced recordings in St. Louis in 1958 and sold them to Sun which is where our selection, "I'm Gonna Forget About You Baby (Matchbox)" comes from. The vocalist is Tommy Hodge.

Still more problems arose when Phillips signed Howlin' Wolf to Chess. Soon after coming to West Memphis, Wolf secured steady work playing whorehouses, black baseball parks, and other spots that catered to country folk in search of a little diversion. Wold landed a spot on KWEM in 1950, Monday through Saturday a between 4:45 and 5:00 P.M. "A disc jockey from West Memphis told me about Wolf's show", recalled Sam Phillips to Robert Palmer. "“When Wolf sat down in that little old chair with his big feet sticking out and began to sing, this guy didn’t know anything was around him! I mean he was singing to exactly the thing that we all want to make contact with, and that is the ears of the world. Maybe that’s one person. Maybe it is everybody on the globe. But Wolf had nothing in mind but just to make sure that he conveyed everything that was in his mind, and in his heart, and in his soul when he opened his mouth to sing.…He was, boy, pouring out his soul! And I mean you could just see it in addition to feel it…He sung his ass off—and that was a big ass! …“I think that he had that honest sound and that heartfelt feeling that he gave with that unbelievably different, totally different, voice that the young people that I was looking for that didn’t have anything they could call their own would have heard this man and said, ‘Man, he is…telling it like it is.’ The freedom that he gave you and the truth that he told and felt in his songs were something to hear. And then to hear the way that he sang ’em, it is something that I just wish everybody could hear right now."Wolf recorded in Sun studio between Spring 1951 and October 1952.

By 1952 Phillips decided to start his own label. "I truly did not want to open a record label but I was forced into it by those labels [RPM & Chess] either coming to Memphis to record or taking my artists elsewhere. …Sun Records was forced on me but at the same time, it presented the opportunity  to do exactly as I wanted. …I honestly can say I know what it's like to have a baby. That's what Sun Records was to me."

The first record on Sun was to be number 174 by Walter Horton and Jack Kelly titled "Blues In My Condition b/w Selling My Whiskey" [billed as by "Jackie Boy and Little Walter"] but a negative reaction to samples circulated to radio stations persuaded Phillips not issue the record commercially. Sun 175 by Johnny London titled "Drivin' Slow" was the first record to appear in record stores. Other Horton tracks from Phillips’ studio appeared on the Modern and RPM labels under the name of “Mumbles.” He also backed Joe Hill Louis during this period. Horton traveled back to Memphis to record for Sun Records again in 1953, waxing his signature song "Easy" with guitarist Jimmy DeBerry in 1953. DeBerry had recorded some sides before the war and got a chance to record one more record for the Sun.

Pat Hare

A secret ingredient on many Sun sessions was the aggressive, feedback sound of guitarist Pat Hare. The earliest records of Hare's participation indicate that he was a member of Howlin' Wolf's first electric group in the late forties. In addition to working the Memphis circuit, this group played regular sessions on the local Arkansas radio station KWEM. Always on the lookout for talented sidemen, Phillips soon picked up on "the new guitarist with the angry, spine-tingling tone", and recruited Hare to play on James Cotton's debut session for the Sun. Other Sun artists to benefit from Hare's grating guitar included "Hot Shot" Love and Big Memphis Ma Rainey.  Some sources also indicate him as being the guitarist on legendary recordings such as "Love My Baby" by Little Junior's Blue Flames, and Roscoe Gordon cites Hare as the guitarist on several of his records. Hare also plays behind the fine but obscure singer Walter Bradford. Bradford's "Dreary Nights b/w Nuthin' But The Blues" (3rd Sun record issued) as yet to be found. Bradford cut four other records in 1952 for Sun but they were not issued at the time. But Hare also found time in May 1954 to record a couple of sides under his own name, both of which remained unissued in the Sun vaults till many years later: "Bonus Pay" (Sun 997), a fast-paced R&B romp, and the infamous "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby."

Mose Vinson was another important Sun session artist. Originally from Holly Springs, MS, Vinson worked as a clean-up man and part-time pianist for Sam Phillip's Sun label in Memphis. Between sessions, Vinson would sit at the piano and play "44 Blues" so often he eventually convinced Phillips to record him in 1954. In addition, he also appeared on records by James Cotton, Walter Horton, Joe Hill Louis and others, although his own Sun sides went unreleased for 30 years.

In 1951 Junior Parker formed his own band, the Blue Flames, with guitarist Pat Hare. Parker was discovered in 1952 by Ike Turner, who signed him to Modern Records. He put out one single on this record label, “You’re My Angel.” This brought him to the attention of Sam Phillips, and he and his band signed onto Sun Records in 1953. There they produced three successful songs: “Feelin’ Good” (which reached # 5 on the Billboard R&B charts), “Love My Baby,” and “Mystery Train” ,with Floyd Murphy (Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s brother) on guitar, later covered by Elvis Presley. For Presley’s version of “Mystery Train”, Scotty Moore borrowed the guitar riff from Parker’s “Love My Baby”.

Before the age of eighteen Roscoe Gordon had won the Talent Show at Beale Street's famed Palace Theater and was appearing on WDIA, America's first all black radio station. Through WDIA's owner James Mattis he was sent to see Sam Phillips who recorded him, leasing his sides to the Bihari Brother' RPM label out of L.A., charting for the first time with "Saddled The Cow (Milked The Horse) b/w Ouch! Pretty Baby" which went to #9 R&B in September of '51. Then Phillips sent two versions of the same master– Booted, one to RPM and a slightly different alternate take to Chess in Chicago. The Chess version hit #1 R&B in February of '52 kicking off a three way tug of war which ended up with RPM securing Gordon's contract.

Rufus Thomas was already a professional entertainer in the mid-’30s, when he was a comedian with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. He recorded music as early as 1941, but really made his mark on the Memphis music scene as a deejay on WDIA, one of the few black-owned stations of the era. He also ran talent shows on Memphis’ famous Beale Street that helped showcase the emerging skills of such influential figures as B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, Ike Turner, and Roscoe Gordon. Thomas had his first success as a recording artist in 1953 with “Bear Cat,” a funny answer record to Big Mama Thornton‘s “Hound Dog.” It made number three on the R&B charts, giving Sun Records its first national hit, though some of the sweetness went out of the triumph after Sun owner Sam Phillips lost a lawsuit for plagiarizing the original Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller tune. Thomas, strangely, would make only one other record for Sun, and recorded only sporadically throughout the rest of the 1950's.

A 1952-53 stint in the Air Force found Billy Emerson stationed in Greenville, MS. That’s where he met young bandleader Ike Turner, who whipped Emerson into shape as an entertainer while he sang with Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. Turner also got Emerson through the door at Sun Records in 1954, playing guitar on the Kid’s debut waxing “No Teasing Around.” Emerson’s songwriting skills made him a valuable commodity around Sun — but more as a source for other performers’ material later on. His bluesy 1955 outing “When It Rains It Pours” elicited a cover from Elvis a few years later at RCA, while Emerson’s “Red Hot” became a savage rockabilly anthem revived by Billy Lee Riley for Sun. After his “Little Fine Healthy Thing” failed to sell, Emerson exited Sun to sign with Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records in late 1955.

James Cotton began his professional career playing the blues harp in Howling Wolf‘s band in the early 1950s. He made his first recordings as a solo artist for the Sun Records label in Memphis,Tennessee in 1953. Cotton began to work with the Muddy Waters Band around 1955.

Honeyboy Edwards just passed on August 29, 2011 in Chicago. Prior to  recording a slashing version of "Sweet Home Chicago" fpr Sun (not issued at the time) he had been recorded for the Library of Congress by Alan Lomax in 1942 and cut a commercial 78 for ARC in 1950 as Mr. Honey.

Ike Turner, who was a talent scout for Sun Records introduced Little Milton to Sam Phillips, who signed him to a contract in 1953. With Ike Turner and band band backing him, Milton cut various Sun sides. Unfortunately, none of them were hits, and Milton's association with Sun was over by the end of 1954.

Billy Love did some session work for Phillips, backing Walter Horton, Rufus Thomas and Willie Nix, before he got the chance to cut his own record as a singer-pianist. This resulted in the storming drinking song "Juiced", probably cut on July 24, 1951. ove's next session took place in October or November 1951 and yielded three songs, two of which, "Drop Top" and "You're Gonna Cry" were issued as a Chess single (1508), this time credited to "Billy 'Red' Love and his orchestra". On January 19, 1954 Love returned to the Sun studio with a new band and cut five titles. One more session was recorded at the Sun studio, resulting in "Blues Leave Me Alone" and the promotional record "Hart's Bread Boogie" for the Hart's bakery in Memphis. He did session work for Sun as well, appearing on records by Pate hare, Roscoe Gordon and others.

Tim Schloe of St. Paul found “Greyhound Blues,” a 1953 single by Alabama bluesman D.A. Hunt, in a collection he bought in 2007. The recording sold for more than $10,000 on eBay to collector John Tefteller. The flipside is Lonesome Ole Jail."

Our final selection is from Frank Frost. Frost moved to St. Louis, Missouri when he was 15 and began his musical career as a guitarist. He toured in 1954 with drummer Sam Carr and Carr’s father, Robert Nighthawk. Soon after, he spent several years touring with Sonny Boy Williamson, who helped teach him to play harmonica. Around 1960, Frost moved with Carr to the Mississippi Delta. After he played a show with the guitarist Big Jack Johnson, they added him to their group. Together they attracted the interest of the record producer Sam Phillips. He produced the album Hey Boss Man for Phillips International in 1962.  In the 60's Phillips created two different subsidiary recording labels: Phillips International and Holiday Inn Records. Neither would match the success or influence of Sun.By the mid- 1960s, Phillips rarely recorded. He built a satellite studio and opened radio stations, but the studio declined and he sold Sun Records to Shelby Singleton in 1968.

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