Mississippi Blues


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Skip James Devil Got My WomanComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Cypress Grove BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Little Cow And Calf Is Gonna Die BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Roamin' and Ramblin' BluesDelta Bluesman
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Water Coast BluesDelta Bluesman
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Spread My Raincoat DownDelta Bluesman
Skip James Hard Time Killin' Floor BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Drunken SpreeComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Cherry Ball BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Muddy Waters Country Blues (Number One)Muddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Muddy Waters I Be's TroubledMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Muddy Waters RosalieMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Skip James Illinois BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James How Long BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James 22-20 BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Fiddlin' Joe Martin Fo' Clock Blues Walking Blues
Fiddlin' Joe Martin Going to Fishing Walking Blues
Muddy Waters You Got To Take Sick And Die Some Of These DaysMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Muddy Waters Ramblin' Kid BluesMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Robert Lockwood Little Boy BlueWindy City Blues
Robert Lockwood Black Spider BluesWindy City Blues
Skip James Hard Luck ChildComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James If You Haven't Any Hay Get On Down The RoadComplete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Cherry Ball BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Hellatakin' BluesDelta Bluesman
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards Wind Howlin' BluesDelta Bluesman
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards The Army BluesDelta Bluesman
Skip James I'm So Glad Complete 1931 Recordings
Skip James Special Rider BluesComplete 1931 Recordings
Muddy Waters Take a Walk With MeMuddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Muddy Waters I Be Bound To Write To You (First Version)Muddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings
Robert Lockwood Take a Little Walk with MeWindy City Blues
Robert Lockwood I'm Gonna Train My BabyWindy City Blues

Show Notes:

Today's show is the fifth in a series of shows devoted to great early Mississippi blues artists. The bulk of the artists are relatively well known and on today's show we capture the recordings they made at the start of their career.  Mississippi produced some of the most powerful blues singers and guitarists of the 1920's and 1930's although one could say that the intense interest in Mississippi has taken the spotlight away from other regions that have equally notable blues traditions. Today we feature early recordings by Skip James, Fiddlin' Joe Martin, Honeyboy Edwards, Muddy Waters and Robert Lockwood. The earliest recordings come from the remarkable 1931 session by Skip James while all the other recordings are from the early 40's. The sides by Fiddlin' Joe Martin, Honeyboy Edwards and Muddy Waters are from field recordings made by Alan Lomax while the Robert Lockwood sides were his first commercial recordings for Bluebird.

Skip James
The only photograph of Skip James in his youth


Skip  James
grew up at the Woodbine Plantation in Bentonia, Mississippi and as a youth learned to play both guitar and piano. The music of Skip James and fellow Bentonia guitarists such as Henry Stuckey and Jack Owens is often characterized as a genre unto itself. The distinctive approach is notable for its ethereal sounds, open minor guitar tunings, gloomy themes, falsetto vocals, and songs that bemoan the work of the devil. Stuckey learned one of the tunings from Caribbean soldiers while serving in France during World War I, and said that he taught it to James, who went on to become the most famous of Bentonia's musicians. Inspired by Stuckey, James began playing guitar as a child, and later learned to play organ. In his teens James began working on construction and logging projects across the mid-South, and sharpened his piano skills playing at work camp “barrelhouses.” In 1924 James returned to Bentonia, where he earned his living as a sharecropper, gambler and bootlegger, in addition to performing locally with Stuckey.

James traveled to Grafton, Wisconsin, for his historic 1931 session for Paramount Records, which included thirteen songs on guitar and five on piano. He was sent to Paramount by talent scout H.C. Speir who was impressed by James' audition, “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” alluded to the Great Depression, while the gun-themed “22-20 Blues” provided the model for Robert Johnson's “32-20 Blues,” and the haunting “Devil Got My Woman” was the likely inspiration for Johnson's “Hell Hound on My Trail.” As Tony Russell wrote of this session: "It would be difficult to hear them without some sense of awe, even if they were not quit as good as we might wish, but they are, in fact awesome in their singularity and aching beauty."

James’s records sold poorly, and later in 1931 he moved to Dallas, where he served as a minister and led a gospel group. He later stayed in Birmingham, Alabama, and in Hattiesburg and Meridian, Mississippi, occasionally returning to Bentonia. He returned to Bentonia in 1948 and sometimes played for locals at the newly opened Blue Front Cafe, although he did not earn his living as a musician. He later lived in Memphis and Tunica County, where he was located in 1964 by blues enthusiasts who persuaded him to begin performing again.  After his rediscovery James relocated to Washington, D. C., and then to Philadelphia to play folk and blues festivals and clubs. He recorded several albums and gained new renown from the rock group Cream’s 1966 cover of his song “I'm So Glad,” but the somber quality of much of his music and his insistence on artistic integrity over entertainment value limited his popular appeal. James died in Philadelphia on October 3, 1969.

Muddy Waters & Son Sims

I corresponded with record collector John Tefteller recently who had this to say regarding the rarity of James' 78's: "As far as Skip James Paramount's: There are about 20-25 that have survived, if you include the Champion release and 15 or less if you leave that one out. They are some of the rarest and most desirable 78 rpm records of all time. There are a couple of them for which only one or two copies in playable condition exist. Rarest one has to be "Hard Time Killin' Floor" with "Cherry Ball" a close second. Think about those numbers 15-25 copies TOTAL, that are still known to exist in this world. They are the stuff every collectors dreams are made of!"

Over eight decades Honeyboy Edwards knew or played with virtually every major figure including Charley Patton, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. He was probably best known, though, as the last living link to Robert Johnson. The two traveled together, performing on street corners and at picnics, dances and fish fries during the 1930s. Edwards had earlier apprenticed with Big Joe Williams. Unlike Williams and many of his other peers, however, Edwards did not record commercially until after World War II.

Field recordings he made for the Library of Congress under the supervision of the folklorist Alan Lomax in 1942 are the only documents of Edwards’s music from his years in the Delta. In an interview with Mary K. Lee he recalled his first recordings: "He recorded me in 1942 on a Monday in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He drove up to the house in a brand new '42 Hudson and I was there with my auntie. She had never seen no white folk with a big car like that, in '42. She said, "That man has a big car." He asked her, "David Edwards lived here?" She said, "I don't know. He stays here sometime." But she's scared to tell him yeah. He said, "Well I just want him to do some recording. I want him to make records for me and everything. I'm from Washington. D.C., from the Library of Congress and I want him to record for me." She then said, "Let me see if he's around here anywhere." She said, "There's a man out there in a big car." And I said, "That's the one I've been saying I expected. Tell him I'm here." She said, "Yeah, he's in here asleep. He'll be out in a few minutes though." I got up, put on my clothes and went out to the car. We went to Clarksdale, Mississippi on highways 49 and 61. I rented a room in a house there and he rented a place in a school for the recording. We started recording about eleven, but a storm came up around a little before twelve and broke up the recording. We had to stop mid-way in the recording. Came up like a tornado. We stopped for about an hour and when it blew over we started the recording again and got through the session. He gave me twenty dollars and that was more money than I had in a long time. At that time that was a lot of money. He'd recorded Muddy Waters and Son House the same week before he got to me. He was getting most of the black blues that he could find down through there then.."

Honeyboy Edwards
Silent color film  footage of David “Honeyboy” Edwards, shot by Alan Lomax for the Music Division in 1942

Commercial prospects for Edwards were scant, however — a 1951 78 for Artist Record Co., "Build a Cave" (as Mr. Honey), and four 1953 sides for Chess that laid unissued until "Drop Down Mama" turned up 17 years later on an anthology constituted the bulk of his early recorded legacy, although Edwards was in Chicago from the mid-'50s on.

The Muddy Waters recordings featured today were made as part of a joint field recording trip sponsored by the Library of Congress and Fisk University, whose John Work accompanied Alan Lomax on his trip and whose voice can be heard on portions of the interviews with Muddy. The songs that were recorded in the two sessions (in the summers of 1941 and 1942) were not all issued by the Library of Congress at the time. Lomax said "I was the editor of the first five-album set, and my opion of Muddy was so good that we included TWO of his songs. I think he was the only person – I couldn't make up my mind which of his two blues was the best, so we put them both in."

In the summer of 1941, Lomax went to Stovall, Mississippi on behalf of the Library of Congress to record various country blues musicians including a young Muddy Waters. "He brought his stuff down and recorded me right in my house," Muddy recalled in Rolling Stone, "and when he played back the first song I sounded just like anybody's records. Man, you don't know how I felt that Saturday afternoon when I heard that voice and it was my own voice. Later on he sent me two copies of the pressing and a check for twenty bucks, and I carried that record up to the corner and put it on the jukebox. Just played it and played it and said, 'I can do it, I can do it.'"Lomax came back in July 1942 to record Muddy again. The Library of Congress sessions were eventually released as Down On Stovall's Plantation on the Testament label.The complete recordings were re-issued on CD as Muddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings by Chess.

Fiddlin' Joe Martin learned guitar and trombone as a boy, later adding mandolin and bass fiddle. He switched to washboard and drums in the 40s after damaging his hands in a fire. He worked with many Delta blues singers, including Charley Patton, Willie ‘Hambone’ Newbern, Johnnie Temple, Memphis Minnie, Willie Brown and Son House, recording with the last two for the Library of Congress in 1941. Martin played drums for Howlin’ Wolf until Wolf moved north, but his most eRobert Lockwood: Take A Little Walk With Menduring association was with Woodrow Adams; he appeared on all Adams’ recordings, and they worked Mississippi juke joints together until Martin’s death. Martin also appears on the anthology High Water Blues, recordings made between 1965 and 1970, mainly in Louisiana and Mississippi by folklorist David Evans.

Born in 1915, Robert Lockwood was one of the last living links to Robert Johnson. When Lockwood's mother became romantically involved with Johnson in Helena, AR, Lockwood suddenly gained a role model and a close friend – so close that Lockwood considered himself Johnson's stepson. Robert Jr. learned how to play guitar very quickly with Johnson's help. By age 15, Lockwood was playing professionally at parties in the Helena area. He often played with his quasi-stepfather figure Robert Johnson as well as with Sonny Boy Williamson II and Johnny Shines. Lockwood played at fish fries, juke joints, and street corners throughout the Mississippi Delta in the 1930s. Lockwood played with Sonny Boy Williamson II in the Clarksdale, Mississippi area in 1938 and 1939. He also played with Howlin' Wolf and others in Memphis, Tennessee around 1938. From 1939 to 1940 he split his time playing in St. Louis, Missouri, Chicago, Illinois and Helena.

On July 1st 1941, Lockwood made his first recordings with Doctor Clayton for the Bluebird label in Aurora, Illinois and on July 30th he recorded the four songs which were released as the first two 78s under his own name: "Little Boy Blue" b/w Take A Little Walk With Me" (Bluebird B-8820) and "I'm Gonna Train My Baby b/w "Black Spider Blues" (Bluebird B-8877). These songs remained in his repertoire throughout his career. Also in 1941, Lockwood and Williamson began their influential performances on the daily King Biscuit Time radio program on KFFA in Helena. Lockwood would not get back on record again until 1951.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Bukka WhiteI Am In The Heavenly WayBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteThe Panama LimitedBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteSic 'Em Dogs OnBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Freddie SpruellMilk Cow BluesMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Freddie SpruellMuddy Water BluesMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Freddie Spruell4A HighwayMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordHigh Lonesome HillMississippi - the Blues Lineage
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordTimes Is Getting HardDeep River Of Song - Mississippi: Saints & Sinners
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordFarmin' Man BluesMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Bukka WhiteWhen Can I Change My ClothesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhitePinebluff ArkansasBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteShake 'Em On DownBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordMississippi River BluesMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordLonesome Highway BluesMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Freddie SpruellTom Cat BluesThe Paramount Masters
Freddie SpruellLow-Down Mississippi Bottom ManThe Paramount Masters
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordPaydayMississippi - the Blues Lineage
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordStagolee Alan Lomax: Blues Songbook
Kid BaileyRowdy BluesMasters of the Delta Blues: Friends of Charlie Patton
Kid BaileyMississippi Bottom BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Willie BrownFuture BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Willie BrownM&O BluesBlues Images Vol. 3
Willie BrownMake Me A Pallet On The FloorScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Freddie Spruell Mr. Freddie's Kokomo BluesMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Freddie Spruell Let's Go RidingMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Bukka WhiteSleepy Man BluesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteParchman Farm BluesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteFixin' To Die BluesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Willie FordPaydayMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordStagolee Mississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Willie FordSanta Field BluesMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Bukka WhiteAberdeen Mississippi BluesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteBukka's Jitterbug SwingBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940

Show Notes:

TBukka Whiteoday's show is the third in a series of shows devoted to great early Mississippi blues artists, most little remembered today. Mississippi produced some of the most powerful blues singers and guitarists of the 1920's and 1930's although one could say that the intense interest in Mississippi has taken the spotlight away from other regions that have equally notable blues traditions. In the past I've devoted shows to Charlie Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson but I realized that there was still several major figures I hadn't featured in depth like Bukka White, Skip James, Sam Collins and Mississippi John Hurt. I'll be spotlighting these artists alongside several fine lesser known Mississippi artists. At a later date I'll be spotlighting the rediscovery records by some of these artists. Today's shows spans the years 1926 through 1941 featuring records by Bukka White, Freddie Spruell, Lucious Curtis and partner Willie Ford, Willie Brown and Kid Bailey.

Along with Son House and Skip James, Bukka White was one of the major Mississippi bluesmen to be re-discovered during the great blues revival of the 1960’s. His early recordings made between 1930 and 1940 are among the most creative and powerful blues ever recorded. As Keith Briggs wrote in the notes to Document's Bukka White: Aberdeen Mississippi Blues: "Booker’s unique sound was a combination of solid, rocking, rhythms interspersed with vigorous guitar breaks, his ability as a bottleneck slide guitarist and his gritty, heavy voice. He favored the steel bodied National guitar as it’s volume allowed him to be audible over the noise of a good-time crowd. His songs were almost always personal and are among the most creative and descriptive to found on blues records."

White said he was born about five miles south of Houston, Mississippi. Various documents list his birth date between 1900 and 1909, but census data suggests 1904. His father John White, a multi-instrumentalist who performed at local gatherings, gave him his first guitar and other local musicians taught him his signature bottleneck slide technique. Recording agent Ralph Lembo of Itta Bena arranged for White to record his first blues and gospel songs in 1930 in Memphis. Victor only saw fit to release four of the 14 songs Bukka White recorded that day. It is very likely that it is Memphis Minnie, listed as “Miss Minnie”, who lends her voice to two of the Victor titles. Low-Down Mississippi Bottom Man

In 1937 White recorded a minor hit, “Shake ‘Em On Down,” in Chicago, but that year he was also sentenced for a shooting incident to Parchman Penitentiary, where John Lomax of the Library of Congress recorded him. It was as "Washington Barrelhouse White" that White recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax at Parchman Farm in 1939. After his release White recorded twelve of his best-known songs at a Chicago session in 1940. Among the songs he recorded on that occasion were "Parchman Farm Blues", "Good Gin Blues," "Bukka's Jitterbug Swing," "Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues," and "Fixin' to Die Blues," all classic numbers.

During the war White settled in Memphis and worked at a defense plant. Bob Dylan recorded "Fixin' to Die Blues" on his 1961 debut Columbia album, and at the time no one in the music business knew who Bukka White was. Two California-based blues enthusiasts, John Fahey and Ed Denson in 1963 addressed a letter to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." By chance, one of White's relatives was working in the Post Office in Aberdeen, and forwarded the letter to White in Memphis. Things moved quickly from there and  by the end of 1963 Bukka White was already recording on contract with Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie. After he began to tour and record again in the 1960's White, still a skilled and energetic performer, became a popular figure on the folk music circuit and traveled as far as Mexico and Europe. He passed in 1977.

Freddie Spruell recorded ten tracks for OKeh, Paramount, and Bluebird between 1926 and 1935. Spreull could well be considered the first Delta blues performer to record when he cut "Milk Cow Blues" in Chicago on June 25, 1926. He recorded two more sides in 1928, including "Tom Cat Blues," and five tracks (under the name Mr. Freddie) on April 12, 1935, a session that yielded perhaps his best song, the rag-inspired "Let's Go Riding," which featured second guitar from Carl Martin. Spruell also backs Washboard Sam on "Ocean Blues b/w Y.M.V. Blues", Sam's d 1935 debut recording for Bluebird. The only known copy of this record recently turned up. Spreull's Social Security file indicates he was born on December 28, 1893, and although he is generally considered a Mississippi bluesman, it appears he moved to Chicago with his parents as a small boy, and his ties to the Delta are more stylistic than geographical.

M&O Blues

Little is known for certain of the man whom Robert Johnson called "my friend-boy, Willie Brown" ("Cross Road Blues"). Brown is heard with Patton on the Paramount sessions of 1930 and cut "M & O Blues and" and "Future Blues" at that date. Brown's "Kickin' In My Sleep Blues" b/w "Window Blues" (Paramount 13001) and "Grandma Blues" b/w "Sorry Blues" (Paramount 13099) have yet to surface. As Dan Beaumont wrote in  Preachin' the Blues:  The Life and Times of Son House: "“M&O Blues” and “Future Blues,” are based respectively on Patton’s “Pony Blues” and “Maggie,” and show Patton’s enduring influence on Brown, which, by and by, would be another channel for Patton’s influence on House." In 1941 Alan Lomax recorded Brown with Son House, Fiddlin' Joe Martin and Leroy Williams. Brown played second guitar on three performances by the whole band, and recorded one solo, "Make Me A Pallet On The Floor." Brown died in Tunica, Mississippi in 1952 at the age of 52.

Nothing is known of Kid Bailey outside of his lone 78 "Mississippi Bottom Blues b/w Rowdy Blues." These were recorded on September 25, 1929 at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Research by Dr. David Evans, professor of music at Memphis State University, has concluded that Kid Bailey may have been a pseudonym for Willie Brown. Son House on hearing this recording instantly recognized his partner Willie Brown. Others dispute that Brown and Bailey are the same person. Gayle Dean Wardlow has said that he "found 5 different source who all saw Kid Bailey in person in Mississippi–3 of them on taped interviews including [Ishman] Bracey who saw him across the river from Jackson and talked to him in person." It seems Wardlow changed his view because in The Life And Music Of Charle Patton he and his co-author, Stephen Calt, point out that  no one interviewed in the post-war period ever knew Kid Bailey well enough to know his real name or where he was from. When Gayle Dean Wardlow and Stephen Calt were doing research in Mississippi in the 1960's, these were some of the reactions when Kid Bailey's "Rowdy Blues" was played:

Rowdy BluesMandy Wigham:  "That sounds just like Willie…  Ain't Willie makin' music on there?  I think that's Willie makin' music."

Elizabeth Moore:  "Him (meaning Willie Brown) and Son could both make that introduction on their music…  sounds like that music and that voice – pretty close there if it ain't him (Brown)."

Confusingly Wardlow also had the following memory from Moore: "Elizabeth Moore who lived in Tunica County on a plantation near Robinsonville and knew Willie Brown and Son House and Robert saw Kid and Willie Brown playing together there in a juke in Robinsonville for a few weeks together. Willie told her they had made a record together but she doubted it as she never saw it. Willie only called him "Kid." Brown is the second guitar but sounds like the lead on "Rowdy Blues" but is barely audible on the other side. That's the connection. She made those comments after she listened to the Kid Bailey record. She said that's Willie's music and it sounded like the way he played– "Rowdy Blues". She also saw Willie and Robert together on many occasions playing together. Bailey played mainly from Leland over to Moorhead and was raised up near Leland at the Triplett community just outside Leland on Highway 82. Booker Miller saw him in Moorhead. But he was only called Kid Bailey–probably a childhood nickname."

In October 1940 John Lomax and his wife came to Natchez, Mississippi from Baton Rouge to look for musicians to record. During that trip they recorded Lucious Curtis, Willie Ford and George Bolwdin. Between Curtis and Ford ten songs were recorded. "'Like I foretold you, I ain't much of a player.'" When Lucious Curtis was there, Willie "followed after" him, but he did it skillfully, watching the leader carefully." So reads the first paragraph of John Lomax's notes for the recording session. He wen on to write that "Lucious Curtis is a honky-tonk, guitar picking Negro, living on a precarious income from pick-ups at dance halls. His 'complementer" Willie Ford has a regular job at a big saw mill but had a 'sad-day' off."Curtis claimed to have made commercial records with Bo Carter but this can't be verifed.

Related Reading:

-"…Ramblin' (Blues Revue Quarterly 8, Spring 1993, p14-17) [PDF]

-Death of a Delta giant (Melody Maker of July, 1971)  [PDF]

-Mississippi Bottom Blues (Mamlish S-3802,  notes byDon Kent & Mike Stewart, 1973) [PDF]

-Willie Brown: Fare Thee Well (Bernard Klatzko, 78 Quarterly no. 2, 1968, 47–50.) [PDF]

-Mississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1 (Flyright-Matchbox SDM 230, notes by John Cowly, 1973) [PDF]

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Mississippi SheiksSitting On Top Of The World No. 2Mississippi Sheiks Vol. 1 1930
Mississippi SheiksBootleggers BluesStop And Listen
Jackson Blue BoysHidin' On MeCharlie McCoy 1928-1932
Mississippi Mud SteppersThat Lonesome Train Took My Baby AwayCharlie McCoy 1928-1932
Mississippi Mud SteppersJackson StompCharlie McCoy 1928-1932
Bo CarterEast Jackson BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Bo CarterShe's Your Cook But She Burns My Bread SometimesBo Carter Vol. 1 192 -1931
Ishman BraceyWoman Woman BluesThe Return Of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Ishman BraceySaturday BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Tommy JohnsonCool Drink Of Water BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Tommy JohnsonMaggie Campbell BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton
Walter VincsonOvertime BluesWalter Vincson 1928-1941
Leroy Carter (Walter Vincson)Black Widow SpiderWalter Vincson 1928-1941
Slim Duckett & Pig NorwoodWhen the Saints Go Marching InAlabama Black Secular & Religious Music 1927-1934
Rube LaceyHam Hound CraveScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton
Arthur PettisTwo Time BluesJackson Blues 1928-1938
Mississippi SheiksBaby Keeps Stealin' Lovin' on MeMississippi Sheiks Vol. 1 1930
Chatman Brothers (Lonnie And SamIf You Don't Want Me Please Don't Dog Me AroundBo Carter & The Mississippi Sheiks
Charley McCoyMississippi I'm Longing For YouCharlie McCoy 1928-1932
Charley McCoyYou Gonna Need MeCharlie McCoy 1928-1932
Joe McCoyLook Who's Coming Down The RoadCharlie & Joe McCoy Vol. 1 1934-1936
Skip JamesHard Time Killin' Floor BluesTimes Ain't Like They Used To Be Vol. 5
Johnnie TempleLead Pencil Blues (It Just Won't Write)The Essential
Willie LoftonDark Road BluesBig Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Luther Huff1951 BluesMemphis & The South 1949-1954
Luther HuffBulldog BluesMemphis & The South 1949-1954
Arthur "Big Boy" CrudupI WonderThe Ace Records Blues Story
Arthur "Big Boy" CrudupMy Baby Boogies All the TimeThe Ace Records Blues Story
Sam MyersSleeping In The GroundBlues Harmonica Wizards
Sam MyersMy Love Is Here To StayBlues Harmonica Wizards
Tommy Lee ThompsonHighway 80 BluesPackin' Up My Blues
Carey Lee SimmonsDoodleville BluesHigh Water Blues
John Henry BrownRed Cross StoreBig Foot Country Girl

Show Notes:

As writer Scott Barretta wrote in an article on Jackson blues: "Intersected by I-55 about halfway between Memphis and New Orleans, Jackson, the state capital of Mississippi, arguably has as grand a blues heritage as those cities and the Delta to its northwest." Jackson, Mississippi in the 1920’s was a city with a vibrant blues scene, teeming with artists such as Tommy Johnson, Walter Vincson, Ishman Bracey, Johnnie Temple, the Chatmon Brothers (Bo, Lonnie and Sam were the most prominent) Skip James and Rube Lacey. In the post-war years the city was home to artists such as Otis Spann, Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), Elmore James, Sam Myers and others. The city has also been at the cutting edge of blues recording since the 1920's, when Jackson’s H.C. Speir worked as an talent agent for Paramount and other labels that documented early Mississippi artists. The years 1927-1931 saw the first commercial recordings of many of the Jackson musicians. Most of the Jackson artists recorded elsewhere but there were several important session recorded at in Jackson at the King Edwards hotel. On today's program we we spotlight the early Jackson blues artists and feature some of the post-war artists as well.

Chicago Defender, Mississippi Sheiks Ad, March 28, 1931

Featured today are several recordings recorded at the King Edwards Hotel. Constructed in 1923 and renamed the King Edward Hotel in 1954, the Edwards Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi was the site of temporary studios set up by OKeh Records in 1930 and the American Record Corporation in 1935 to record blues artists Bo Carter, Robert Wilkins, Joe McCoy, Isaiah Nettles, the Mississippi Sheiks, and others. The Mississippi Sheiks also performed at the hotel, and Houston Stackhouse recalled that he played here together with fellow bluesman Robert Nighthawk and country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers. Its role as a recording studio stemmed from the fact that prior to World War II all major recording companies were located in the North, and Southern-based artists often had to travel hundreds of miles to record. An occasional solution was setting up temporary facilities at hotels, and in Jackson the OKeh and ARC companies turned to H. C. Speir, a talent scout who operated Speir Phonograph Company on nearby North Farish Street.

The Mississippi Sheiks recorded two sessions in 1930 at the hotel on December 15th and 19th. The Mississippi Sheiks were the most commercially successful black string band of the pre-war era and made close to one hundred records between 1930 and 1935. At the group’s core was fiddler Lonnie Chatmon and singer/guitarist Walter Vinson and often joined on their recording dates by Lonnie’s brothers Bo Chatmon (who recorded solo as Bo Carter) and Sam Chatmon. Along with Charlie McCoy, this group of musicians also recorded in a few different instrumental combinations and under several different names including the Mississippi Blacksnakes, the Mississippi Mud Steppers, Chatmon’s Mississippi Hot Footers, the Jackson Blues Boys among others names. As the Mississippi Mud Steppers the group cut six sides for Okeh also on December 15th, 1930. Also on this date and the following day, Charlie McCoy cut side together with Bo Carter and with the addition of Walter Vinson as the Mississippi Hot Footers. In 1928 McCoy, Carter and Vinson cut "Hidin' On Me b/w Sweet Alberta" in New Orleans under the name the Jackson Blue Boys. Also recorded in New Orleans were Lonnie Chatman and Sam Chatman, recorded as the Chatman Brothers in 1936 for Bluebird cutting twelve sides.

Chicago Defender, Bo Carter Ad, May 9, 1931

Charlie McCoy ranked among the great blues accompanists of his era and his accomplished mandolin and guitar work can be heard on numerous recordings in a wide variety of settings from the late 1920's through the early 40's. Between 1928-1931 he played on a variety of sides, many string band related, in the company of Walter Vincson and Bo Carter. Between 1929-1936 Charlie McCoy cut scattered sides under his own name or as lead in various bands.

Joe McCoy was well known for his association with his wife Memphis Minnie where he played the part of Kansas Joe. After they separated he occupied himself in small bands, singing with the Harlem Hamfats, working as a songwriter and working with his brother Charlie.

Bo Carter made his recording debut in 1928, backing Alec Johnson. Carter soon was recording as a solo artist and became one of the dominant blues recording acts of the 1930's, recording over 100 sides. He also played with and managed the family group, the Mississippi Sheiks, and several other acts in the area. Under his own name, backed by Walter Vinson, he cut six sides at the King Edwards hotel on December 15th, 1930.

Also during these sessions, on December 16th, 1930, Slim Duckett & Pig Norwood were recorded. Luceen (Slim) Duckett and One Leg Sam (Norwood) were residents in Jackson, Mississippi at the time of their session at the King Edward Hotel in 1930. They recorded four songs at that sessions, all spirituals. Both men were musically active in Jackson and often performed with Tommy Johnson.

Under the pseudonym, Leroy Carter, Walter Vinson cut eight sides at two session at the King Edward Hotle on October 10th and 18th, 1935 backed by pianist Harry Chatmon. Vinson rarely worked as a solo act, seemingly much more at home in duets and trios; towards that end, during the 1920's he worked with Charlie McCoy, Rubin Lacy and Son Spand before forming the Mississippi Sheiks.

For someone who recorded so little Tommy Johnson’s influence was unusually vast and long lasting; his output only consists of six issued sides for Victor in 1928 and six issued sides for Paramount in 1929. In recent years has been the discovery of several recordings of unissued material. Once Johnson's family moved to Crystal Springs in 1910, Tommy picked up the guitar, learning from his older brother, LeDell. By age 16, Johnson had run away from home to become a "professional" musician, largely supporting himself by playing on the street for tips. By the late teens-early '20s, Tommy was frequently playing the company of rising local stars Charley Patton, Dick Bankston and Willie Brown. Johnson spent most of the '20s playing in the company of Rubin Lacy, Charley McCoy, Son Spand, Walter Vincent, and Ishmon Bracey.

Ishman Bracey was born in Byram, about ten miles south of Jackson, in January 1899. He learned guitar from locals Louis Cooper and Lee Jones and moved to Jackson in the late 1920s after encountering Tommy Johnson. Bracey soon became one of the most popular musicians in the Jackson area’s vital blues scene. Bracey’s music came to broader attention after he auditioned for recording agent H. C. Speir, who operated a furniture store on North Farish Street. Speir arranged for Bracey and Tommy Johnson to make their debut recordings at a session for Victor in Memphis in February of 1928. At that session and another for Victor later that year, Bracey was accompanied on guitar and mandolin by Charlie McCoy. Bracey recorded again in 1929 and early 1930 for the Paramount label. In 1963, when blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow met and interviewed him in Jackson, Bracey had been a Baptist minister for over a decade, and, although he would no longer play blues, he provided important information on the early blues scene in Jackson.

Rube Lacey was a well-known blues performer in the Jackson area and the Delta until 1932, when he became a preacher. Lacy played in a circle that included Son Spand, Ishmon Bracey, Tommy Johnson, Charlie McCoy, and Walter Vinson. He later moved to the Delta, where he formed his own group, performed with Charley Patton, and inspired artists including Son House, Tommy McClennan, and Honeyboy Edwards. Lacy made four recordings for Columbia Records at a session in Memphis in December 1927, but none were released. The following March he traveled to Chicago, where he recorded two songs for the Paramount label, “Mississippi Jail House Groan” and “Ham Hound Crave."

Arthur Pettis recorded only six sides. He is thought to have been born around 1900, possibly in the Jackson area. He recorded two sides for Victor Records in Memphis in 1928, and in 1930 in two separate sessions in Chicago he recorded four further sides for Brunswick Records.

Johnny Temple as part of a vibrant the 1920’s Jackson scene. Often, he performed with Charlie and Joe McCoy and also worked with Skip James. Temple moved to Chicago in the early 30’s, where he quickly became part of the town’s blues scene. He made his debut in 1935. Although he never achieved stardom, Temple’s records sold consistently throughout the late 30’s and 40’s.

Willie Lofton is a virtual biographical black hole who made four records in the fifteen months between August 1934 and November 1935.It seems he came from Jackson, Miss., where he worked as a barber before journeying to Chicago. He returned south in 1942 and died in Jackson twenty years later.

We jumped up to the 50's and 60's to spotlight several fine performers based in Jackson including Luther and Percy Huff, Tommy Lee Thompson, Arthur Crudup, Sam Myers and some field recordings made by David Evans in the late 60's. Luther Huff and his and younger brother Percy learned how to play guitar from an older brother and a cousin. Soon they were playing at fish fries and picnics with their older relatives. Luther bought himself a mandolin in 1936 and taught himself how to play it. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 and after being discharged moved to Detroit. Percy stayed in Jackson where he was employed as a taxicab driver. On a visit to Jackson in 1950, Luther ran across Sonny Boy Williamson (II), and told him he needed train fare to get back to Detroit. Sonny Boy hooked Luther and Percy up with Trumpet Records where they recorded four sides in January & February of 1951.

Sam Myers: Sleeping In The GroundAfter his long stint with Victor began winding down, Arthur Crudup did some moonlighting in 1952, recording for no less than three independent labels. All these sessions took place in Jackson, Mississippi and at the time Arthur was fanning back home in Forest and finding times pretty tough.

Sam Myers cut “Sleeping In The Ground b/w My Love Is Here To Stay” for Ace in 1957 with Tommy Lee Thompson on guitar. Thompson himself cut two sides for the Delta label in Jackson, MS in 1953 and three unissued sides for Ace the same year also in Jackson.

David Evans made some fine field recordings in the late 60's. The recordings from this period were a direct result of Evans' investigation into Tommy Johnson. His research led to the book Tommy Johnson (Studio Vista, 1971) and Big Road Blues (1982). Evans recorded many men who knew or learned directly from Johnson including Roosevelt Holts, Boogie Bill Webb, Arzo Youngblood, Isaac Youngblood, Bubba Brown, Babe Stovall, Houston Stackhouse and Tommy’s brother Mager Johnson. Evans found John Henry Brown in California in 1967 and wrote that "he was one of the best and most modern guitarists in Jackson, Ms, in the 1930's and 1940's. He son was the jazz and blues guitarist Mel Brown and plays on Brown's Big Foot Country Girl album. Evans also recorded Carey Lee Simmons who was a Jackson associate of John Henry Brown. His song ”Doodleville Blues” refresh to a section of Jackson that Simmons lived in.

 

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Show Notes:

ARTISTSONGALBUM
Ishman BraceySaturday BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Ishman BraceyLeft Alone Blues Ishman Bracey & Charlie Taylor 1928-1929
Ishman BraceyBrown Mama Blues Vintage Mandolin Music
Sam CollinsRiverside BluesJailhouse Blues
Sam CollinsYellow Dog BluesJailhouse Blues
Sam CollinsThe Jail House BluesJailhouse Blues
Otto Virgial Little Girl in RomeAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Otto Virgial Bad Notion Blues American Primitive Vol. II
Willie LoftonPoor Boy BluesBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Willie LoftonIt's Killin' MeBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Willie LoftonDirty MistreaterBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Ishman Bracey Trouble Hearted BluesTrouble Hearted Blues
Ishman Bracey The Four Day BluesJackson Blues: 1928-1938
Sam CollinsDevil In The Lion's DenJailhouse Blues
Sam CollinsPork Chop BluesJailhouse Blues
Sam CollinsHesitation BluesJailhouse Blues
The Mississippi MoanerMississippi MoanMississippi Moaners
The Mississippi MoanerIt's Cold In ChinaAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Rube LaceyMississippi Jail House GroanCountry Blues: The Essential
Rube LaceyHam Hound and GravyChasin That Devil Music
Ishman BraceyLeavin' Town BluesIshman Bracey & Charlie Taylor 1928-1929
Ishman BraceyWoman Woman BluesThe Return Of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Sam CollinsMy Road Is Rough And Rocky (How Long, How Long?)Sam Collins 1927-31
Sam CollinsLonesome Road Blues Before The Blues Vol. 1
Otto VirgialGot The Blues About Rome When the Levee Breaks
Otto VirgialSeven Year Itch Mississippi Blues Vol. 4: Delta Blues Goin' North
Willie LoftonDark Road BluesBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Willie LoftonBeer Garden BluesBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Sam CollinsSlow Mama SlowSam Collins 1927-31
Sam CollinsNew Salty DogJailhouse Blues

Today's show is the first of a series of shows devoted to great early Mississippi blues artists, most little remembered today. Ishman Bracey, Rube Lacey and Willie Lofton hailed from the fertile Jackson, MS region. Little is known of Lofton who cut eight titles in 1934 and 1935. Despite cutting only one 78 Lacey was a well-known blues performer in the Jackson area and the Delta until 1932 hen he put his guitar down and became a preacher. Crying Sam Collins was raised around McComb, Mississippi and recorded relatively extensively between 1927 and 1931. Virtually nothing is know of the obscure Otto Virgial and Isiah Nettles, who went by the moniker The Mississippi Moaner.

Ishman Bracey
 Ishman Bracey

"A rare combination of braggart, entertainer, musician, showman and eventually an ordained minister" is how Gayle Dean Wardlow, who interviewed him many times, chose to describe him in Blues Unlimited (No. 142). By Ishmon Bracey's own account to Dave Evans, he was a fighter too, "mixing it" with Saturday night drunks and the jealous lovers who came after his friend Tommy Johnson. It seems that he had always held strong religious sentiments, and had been a member of the Baptist church as a child in Byram, Mississippi. So his eventual ordination as a preacher, which was a personal relief after his "wicked ways" and life "in the world", was not so surprising.

Ishman Bracey was born in Byram, about ten miles south of Jackson, in January 1899, according to census records. He learned guitar from locals Louis Cooper and Lee Jones and moved to Jackson in the late 1920s after encountering Tommy Johnson. Bracey soon became one of the most popular musicians in the Jackson area’s vital blues scene, which consisted largely of musicians who were likewise born in small communities in the area. Jackson blues in the 1920s had a lighter feel than its counterpart in the Delta and sometimes featured the mandolin and the fiddle. Bracey and other musicians often played at dances for both black and white audiences, performing waltzes and ragtime numbers, and otherwise serenaded passersby on the busy streets of Jackson. Bracey’s music came to broader attention after he auditioned for recording agent H. C. Speir, who operated a furniture store on North Farish Street. Speir arranged for Bracey and Tommy Johnson to make their debut recordings at a session for Victor in Memphis in February of 1928. At that session and another for Victor later that year, Bracey was accompanied on guitar and mandolin by Charlie McCoy.

Crying Sam Collins Ad
Black Patti advertisement in the Chicago Defender July 2, 1927

Bracey recorded in more of a jazz mode in late 1929 and early 1930 for the Paramount label in Grafton, Wisconsin, backed by the New Orleans Nehi Boys (Charlie Taylor on piano and “Kid” Ernest Moliere on clarinet, an instrument rarely heard on Mississippi blues recordings). By the mid-‘30s many of the musicians in Bracey’s circle had left the area, and his musical partnership with Tommy Johnson ended. In later city directories he is listed as a laborer or painter. In 1963, when blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow met and interviewed him in Jackson, Bracey had been a Baptist minister for over a decade, and, although he would no longer play blues, he provided important information on the early blues scene in Jackson. He died on Feb. 12, 1970.

When Sam Collins made his recording debut in April, 1927, he was not far short of his fortieth birthday; born in Louisiana in August, 1887, he was raised, according to acquaintances located by Gayle Dean Wardlow, in McComb, Mississippi, just over the border from his native state. lt's not known when he started out in music, but by 1924 he was performing in local barrelhouses at weekends. By this time he had formed a loose and partnership with Joe Holmes from Sibley, La., who recorded for Paramount in 1932 as King Solomon Hill. Collins made his debut in 1972 cutting fives, four issued on the Black Patti label who advertised them as by "Crying Sam Collins and his Git·Fiddle." It seems likely that Collins Iearned his repertoire around the turn of the century, when he was,in his Iate teens and early twenties, for it incorporates a wide spectrum of music from that era and earlier. He cut  close to two-dozen issue sides between 1927-1931 for Black Patti, Gennett, Banner and ARC. Collins left behind a large number of unreleased sides. It's reported that Collins moved to Chicago where he died in 1949.

Rubin Lacy was one of the most talented and influential artists in Mississippi blues during his short career. He was a well-known blues performer in the Jackson area and the Delta until 1932, when he put his guitar down and became a preacher. Lacy played in an elite circle that included Son Spand, Ishmon Bracey, Tommy Johnson, Charlie McCoy, and Walter Vinson. He later moved to the Delta, where he formed his own group, performed with Charley Patton, and inspired artists including Son House, Tommy McClennan, and Honeyboy Edwards. Lacy made four recordings for Columbia Records at a session in Memphis in December 1927, but none were released. The following March he traveled to Chicago, where he recorded two songs for the Paramount label, “Mississippi Jail House Groan” and “Ham Hound Crave." In 1966 blues scholar David Evans located Lacy in Ridgecrest, California, and recorded him preaching and performing gospel songs together with members of his congregation. Lacy died in 1969.

Willie Lofton is a virtual biographical black hole who made four records in the fifteen months between August 1934 and November  1935.It seems he came from Jackson, Miss., where he worked as a barber before journeying to Chicago. He returned south in  1942 and died in Jackson twenty years later.

Big Joe Williams once recalled that Otto Virgil (or Virgial) was from the area of Columbus, MS., and could usually be found playing with another native by the name of Tom Turner. Virgial had a community in Sunflower County on Halloween Day of 1935 on his mind when he recorded four songs that also included "Got The Blues About Rome". He was probably living in Chicago at the time of his one and only session.

Mississippi Jail House Groan

The Mississippi Moaner was the name used by Isaiah Nettles when he recorded five sides for Vocalion Records in Jackson, MS, on October 20, 1935. Only one 78 from the session was ever officially released, "Mississippi Moan" b/w "It's Cold in China Blues" (a version of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Long Lonesome Blues"). A credible singer and a fine guitar player, Nettles lived in Carlisle, MS (in Claiborne County), as late as 1936, but his trail vanishes after that date.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Bo Carter Corinne Corrina Bo Carter Vol. 1 1928-1931
Bo Carter East Jackson Blues Violin, Sing The Blues For Me
Bo Carter Twist It, Baby Bo Carter Vol. 2 1931-1934
Mississippi Sheiks Alberta Blues Mississippi Sheiks Vol.1 1930
Mississippi Sheiks Sitting On Top Of The World Blues Images Vol. 2
Mississippi Sheiks Still I'm Traveling On Mississippi Sheiks Vol.2 1930-1931
Walter Vincson Overtime Blues Walter Vincson 1928-1941
Walter Vincson Gulf Coast Bay Walter Vincson 1928-1941
Sam Chatmon I Have To Paint My FaceI Have To Paint My Face
Sam Chatmon God Don't Like Ugly I Have To Paint My Face
Bo Carter I Want You To Know Bo Carter Vol. 2 1931-1934
Bo Carter The Law Gonna Step On You Bo Carter Vol. 2 1931-1934
Bo Carter Tellin' You ‘Bout It Bo Carter Vol. 2 1931-1934
Mississippi Sheiks Honey Babe Let the Deal Go Down Honey Babe Let the Deal Go Down
Mississippi Sheiks Stop And Listen Blues Stop And Listen Blues
Mississippi Sheiks Baby Keeps Stealin' Lovin' on Me Mississippi Sheiks Vol.1 1930
Mississippi Blacksnakes Blue Sky BluesMississippi String Bands & Associates
Mississippi Blacksnakes Grind So Fine Mississippi String Bands & Associates
Sam Chatmon Last Chance Shaking In The Bed With Me The Mississippi Sheik
Sam Chatmon Stretching Them Things The Mississippi Sheik
Bo Carter When Your Left Eye Go To JumpingBo Carter Vol. 3 1934-1936
Bo Carter Mashing That Thing Bo Carter Vol. 3 1934-1936
Mississippi Sheiks Dinner BluesStop And Listen
Mississippi Sheiks I've Got Blood in My Eyes For You Honey Babe Let The Deal Go Down
Mississippi Sheiks She's A Bad Girl Mississippi Sheiks Vol.2 1930-1931
Bo Carter All Around Man Bo Carter Vol. 3 1934-1936
Bo Carter Cigarette Blues Bo Carter Vol. 4 1936-1938
Bo Carter Who's Been Here Bo Carter Vol. 5 1938-1940
Sam Chatmon Go Back Old Devil 1970-1974
Sam Chatmon 'P' Stands For Push Sam Chatman's Advice
Mississippi Sheiks The World Is Going Wrong Honey Babe Let The Deal Go Down
Mississippi Sheiks Lazy Lazy RiverStop And Listen
Mississippi Sheiks He Calls That Religion Blues Images Vol. 3
Mississippi Sheiks Sales Tax When The Sun Goes Down
Mississippi Sheiks It's Done Got Wet Mississippi Sheiks Vol.3 1931-1934
Texas Alexander Seen Better DaysTexas Alexander Vol. 2 1928-1930
Bo Carter Arrangement For Me - Blues Bo Carter Vol. 5 1938-1940

Show Notes:

The Mississippi Sheiks were the most commercially successful black string band of the pre-war era and made close to one hundred records between 1930 and 1935. Their repertoire drew upon all facets of black and white rural music: hard-edged blues, pop music, hokum, white country and traditional songs. At the group’s core was fiddler Lonnie Chatmon and singer/guitarist Walter Vinson and often joined on their recording dates by Lonnie’s brothers Bo Chatmon (who recorded solo as Bo Carter) and Sam Chatmon. Along with Charlie McCoy, this group of musicians also recorded in a few different instrumental combinations and under several different names including the Mississippi Blacksnakes, the Mississippi Mud Steppers, Chatmon’s Mississippi Hot Footers, the Jackson Blues Boys among others names. They also backed other artists like Texas Alexander, Alec Johnson  and backed Bo Carter on a few of his recording dates.

The Mississippi Sheiks grew out of a string band formed by members of the highly musical Chatmon family, who resided on the Gaddis and McLaurin plantation just outside the small town of Bolton, Mississippi. The father of the family was Henderson Chatmon, a sharecropper of mixed racial origins who had been a fiddler since the days of slavery. With his wife Eliza, he reportedly had thirteen children, eleven of which were sons who all played musical instruments. From around 1910 until 1928, seven of them formed a string band known as the Chatmon Brothers, and they performed at country dances, parties and picnics. As Sam Chatmon related to Paul Oliver in 1960: "We started out from our parents-it's just a gift that we had in the family.  …I played bass violin for them, and Lonnie, he played lead violin and Harry he played second violin. And my brother Larry, he beat the drums. And my brother Harry, he played the piano you see. And my brother Bo he played the guitar too and he even used to play tenor banjo. And I played guitar. We just pick up and play any instrument and play one to another. We came from Bolton, Mississippi, we were raised up there; and so, many of us played some numbers and some played others, so we named ourselves the Mississippi Sheiks."

It's been stated that the Chatmon clan also included two half-brothers; one named Ferdinand and the other Charlie Patton. It's claimed in an interview with Sam Chatmon that he claimed Ferdinand recorded under the name Alec Johnson. Johnson recorded six sides for Columbia in 1928 backed by Bo Carter, Charlie McCoy and Joe McCoy. As for Patton the source is again Sam Chatmon and this is discussed at length in the biography King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton. There's no question that Patton knew the family well; Sam claimed that his father, Henderson, had had an affair with Annie Patton and so was also Charlie's father. The Patton family members interviewed said no, and the book advances the theory that one of Patton's brothers was more likely an illegitimate Chatmon than Charlie was. The authors  seem to think that Sam Chatmon was just trying to boost himself with the Patton story. Sam Chatmon also mention a brother named Edgar who he said recorded under the name Leroy Carter. A Leroy Carter did cut two sides in 1935 (six sides went unissued) and its always been assumed that this was a pseudonym for Walter Vinson.

The central figure of the group was Lonnie, an accomplished fiddler who played a variety of musical styles. By the time of World War I, he had learned to read music and was purchasing sheet music in nearby Jackson and teaching popular tunes to his brothers. The Chatmon Brothers gained wide popularity among both black and white audiences. Around 1921, Lonnie recruited the Chatmon's neighbor, Walter Vinson, to play with the group. By 1928 the seven-piece Chatmon Brothers had dissolved and Lonnie and Walter began performing regularly as a duo.

In February 1930 the OKeh field unit called at Shreveport, Louisiana, to do some recording at  the request of a local radio station. While there, they recorded  a small black group (Bo Carter was with the duo at the time ) who called themselves the Mississippi Sheiks. The group cut their two biggest hits at this session: “Sitting On Top Of The World” which spawned many cover versions and “Stop And Listen” derived from Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues." Showing their versatility, two numbers, “The Sheik Waltz” and “The Jazz Fiddler” were listed in Okeh’s hillbilly catalog and marketed to white listeners. Their records went down so well that OKeh recorded 14 more numbers in San Antonio in August. In December 1930, they were in Jackson ,Mississippi, near to home, when the Okeh field unit came by and recorded a further 16 selections. The Sheiks remade their two hits, "Sitting On Top Of The World" and "Stop And Listen" and the depression themed  "Times Done Got Hard." Chris Smith suggests that "Honey Babe Let The Deal Go Down" may have been prompted by a record company request for a version of  "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down Blues", the Charlie Poole song widely known in the Southeastern states by both blacks and whites from Poole's 1925 recording.

In October 1931, the Sheiks and Bo Carter were on the road again, traveling to Atlanta for a session which Bo remembered as one of the rare occasions on which he got drunk along with the others. In October 1931, over the course of two days in Atlanta, the Sheiks waxed 14 sides including several we feature today: the bleak "The World Is Going Wrong",  the bouncy hokum of  "She's A Bad Girl" plus other notable songs including the dark and powerful  "Livin' In A Strain" which was unissued at the time and the gorgeous popular styled "Lazy Lazy River" sporting some tremendous fiddle from Lonnie.

The Mississippi Sheiks wrapped up their two days in Atlanta with four titles which show off Walter Vinson's guitar playing to particular advantage, as well as including some clever lyrics like "Bed Spring Poker" and "I've Got Blood In My Eyes For You" which was one of four titles from these sessions issued on Columbia, the parent company of Okeh, which by 1932 was releasing material by popular Okeh artists like the Sheiks and Lonnie Johnson in an attempt to stave off the catastrophic fall in sales induced by the Depression. The gambit failed and Columbia's race series ended in October 1932. As Chris Smith notes: "Around the time Columbia 14660-D was released, in June 1932, the Sheiks were recording for Paramount, which was in turn to terminate its 12/13000 race series towards the end of that year. The last two discs issued were both by the Missjssippi Sheiks; all through the Depression they had been favourites with black record buyers, and it's not surprising that they were Paramount's last throw of the dice." Most of the material the group cut for Paramount were remakes and rewrites. There were some notable exceptions including the piano/guitar duet "I'll Be Gone, Long Gone", some flat out  terrific playing by Walter and Lonnie on "She's Crazy About Her Lovin'" and "He Calls That Religion", a stinging attack on the clergy:

Well, the preacher used to preach
To try to stay atoned
But now he's preachin' just to buy jellyroll

Well, he calls that religion
Yes, he calls that religion
Well, he calls that religion
But I know he's goin' to hell when he dies

Even in the depths of the depression in 1933 the popular Sheiks cut an 8 song session for Columbia but only two numbers were issued including the excellent "Show Me What You Got." The Sheiks wrapped up their recording career with two sessions in San Antonio in March of 1934 that yielded 14 sides and a final 8 sides in New Orleans in January 1935 with all of these tracks seeing release.  While the Sheiks sales were declining they were still cutting superb music including "It's Done Got Wet" a joyful celebration noting the end of prohibition, Walter Vinson singing convincingly on the dark  "I Am The Devil", and  the topical numbers "Sales Tax" and "I Can't Go Wrong."

On April 9th 1934 Texas Alexander was backed by the Mississippi Sheiks on eight numbers. The lineup featured Bo on violin, Sam Chatman and Walter Vinson on guitars. Lonnie seems to be absent from this session. Highlights include “Seen Better Days”, “Texas Troublesome Blues”, “Last Stage Blues” and “Frost Texas Tornado Blues”, a topical blues dealing with a  tornado which destroyed the tiny town of Frost, Texas on May 6, 1930 leaving 41 dead.

Bo Carter made his recording debut in 1928, backing Alec Johnson. Carter soon was recording as a solo artist and became one of the dominant blues recording acts of the 1930's, recording over 100 sides. He also played with and managed the family group, the Mississippi Sheiks, and several other acts in the area. Bo Carter specialized in double entendre songs, recording dozens of risqué songs like "Banana in Your Fruit Basket," "Pin in Your Cushion", "Your Biscuits Are Big Enough for Me", "The Ins And Outs Of My Girl" and "Ram Rod Daddy" among many others.

As John Miller made clear, Carter was a also a superb guitarist: "He played with absolute facility in a variety of tunings and keys and his harmonic sense was unique in the Country Blues. …Whatever you may think of the “single entendre” aspect of some of his lyrics, when you really listen to what Bo Carter was doing, it become perfectly obvious that he was one of the great masters of Country Blues, and a player of unusual versatility, subtlety and imagination. As with other players of his generation, the origins of Bo’s music are shrouded in mystery, and it is very unlikely we’ll ever find an explanation for the harmonic richness of his music, so different from other musicians of his region. Bo’s right hand approach was different, too, picking with all fingers and moving fluidly between alternation, thumping and runs with his thumb." Miller teaches the songs of Carter on the DVD's the Guitar of Bo Carter and wrote some of the liner notes to the three  Bo Carter anthologies issued on Yazoo in the late 60's and early 7o's.  These albums, I imagine, played a major role in enhancing Carter's reputation.

While several of Bo's double entendre songs are featured today, we also spin a number of his other songs including "Corinne Corrina", the first recording of this standard, and "East Jackson Blues" both featuring Bo on violin backed by Charlie McCoy and Walter Vinson. Bo had a knack for penning incredibly catchy, melodic numbers including featured tracks like "I Want You To Know",  "Twist It, Baby", "The Law Gonna Step On You", "Who's Been Here"  and "Tellin' You 'bout It" backed by Lonnie's wailing fiddle.

On his landmark trip to the United States in 1960, Paul Oliver came across Bo Carter and recounted the following in Conversation With The Blues: "Sharing a corner in the bare, shot-gun building on South 4th Street where Will Shade lived, was an ailing, blind, light-skinned man whom the occupants knew only as Old Man. By a lucky hunch I guessed he might be Bo Carter and the sick man brightened to hear his name. At first he could hardly hold down the strings of his heavy steel guitar with its worn fingerboard. But he slowly mastered it and in a broken voice, that mocked the clear and lively singing on his scores of recordings under his own name and with the Mississippi Sheiks, he recalled incidents from his varied life and some of the songs that had made him one of the most famous of blues singers. Baby When You Marry he had recorded nearly thirty years before (OK 8888) in 1931 and in the years since he had worked on medicine shows, farmed and begged."

As Carter related: "Well, we called us the Mississippi Sheiks, all of us Chatmons, cause my name's Bo Chatman only they called me Bo Carter. We toured with the band right through the country; through the Delta, through Louisiana down to New Orleans… …Tell ya, we was the Mississippi sheiks and when we went to make the records in Jackson, Mississippi, the feller wanted to show us how to stop and start the records. Try to tell us when we got to begin and how we got to end. And you know, I started not to make 'em! I started not to make 'em 'cause he wasn't no muscianer, so how could he tell me to stop and start the song? We was the Sheiks, Mississippi Sheiks and you know we was famous."

Bo Carter, 1960, Photo By Paul Oliver

Sam Chatmon survived to begin performing and recording again in the1960's. Chatmon began playing music as a child, occasionally with his family’s string band, as well as the Mississippi Sheiks. Sam launched his own solo career in the early ’30s. While he performed and recorded  on his own, he would still record with the Mississippi Sheiks and with his brother Lonnie. Throughout the ’30s, Sam traveled throughout the south, playing with a variety of minstrel and medicine shows. He stopped traveling in the early ’40s, making himself a home in Hollandale, Mississippi, where he worked on plantations. For the next two decades, Chatmon was essentially retired from music and only worked on the plantations. When the blues revival arrived in the late ’50s, he managed to capitalize on the genre’s resurgent popularity. In 1960, he signed a contract with Arhoolie and he recorded a number of songs for the label. The earliest of these were recorded in 1960 and issued on the album I Have To Paint My Face. As Mack McCormick wrote in the liner notes: "With Bo (who is credited with composing Corrine Corrina) ailing and feeble in Memphis, and the other brothers dead or scattered, Sam Chatman lives in a shotgun house across the tracks in Hollendale, Mississippi, working variously as a yard man, day laborer and truck driver. Adding the scarce but vital element of the near-forgotten minstrel songs to this collection, these are Chatman's only recordings in the past 25 years."

Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, he recorded for a variety of labels, as well as playing clubs and blues and folk festivals across America.In 1972 he cut the album The New Mississippi Sheiks, reuniting with Walter Vinson, cut the excellent The Mississippi Sheik for Blue Goose in the early 70's as well as albums for Rounder, Albatros and Flying Fish among others. Chatmon passed in 1983.

Walter Vinson rarely worked as a solo act, seemingly much more at home in duets and trios; towards that end, during the 1920's he worked with Charlie McCoy, Rubin Lacy and Son Spand before forming the Mississippi Sheiks. While Vinson, by his own testimony this is the correct spelling, variations on his records include Walter Jacobs, Walter Vincent and Walter Vincson. In 1929 he recorded with Bo Carter and Charlie McCoy as Chatman's Mississippi Hot Footers with the most interesting number being the solo "Overtime Blues" displaying his prodigious guitar talents. A 1930 session was listed under Walter Jacobs And The Carter Brothers backed by Bo and Lonnie while a two 1936 sessions found him in the company of pianist Harry Chatman on a four song session and possibly backed by Little Brother Montgomery on two sides including "Rats Been On My Cheese", certainly a novel metaphor for adultery. Vinson concluded his pre-war work with a four-song 1941 session for Bluebird backed by Robert Lee McCoy (Nighthawk) on harmonica which is notable for the lovely, beautifully sung  "Gulf Coast Bay."

While an active club performer during the early 1940's, by the middle of the decade he had begun a lengthy hiatus from music, which continued through 1960, at which point he returned to both recording and festival appearances. He made some recordings for the Riverside label in 1961 and a decade later teamed up with Sam Chatman plus Carl Martin and Ted Bogan to record an album called The New Mississippi Sheiks issued on Rounder in 1972. Hardening of the arteries forced Vinson into retirement during the early ’70s; he died in Chicago in 1975.

Sam Chatmon, The Mississippi Sheik, Blue Goose Records

As mentioned earlier, members of the Sheiks recorded under several different names between 1928 and 1931 including the Mississippi Blacksnakes, the Mississippi Mud Steppers, the Jackson Blues Boys and backed artists Sam Hill and Alec Johnson. The bulk of these sides can be found on the Document collection Mississippi String Bands & Associates. Between 1928-1931 Charlie McCoy played on a variety of sides, many string band related, in the company of Walter Vinson and Bo Carter. In November 1928 Carter, McCoy and an unknown pianist backed singer Alec Johnson on four of six sides. In November of the same year Carter, Vinson and McCoy backed singer Mary Butler on four numbers. Butler may in fact be Rosie Mae Moore who McCoy backed in February of the same year. With Walter Vinson they cut sides as the Mississippi Mud Steppers, with the addition of guitarist Sam Hill (plus Bo Carter and Sam Chatmon on one track) as the Mississippi Blacksnakes and with Carter and Vinson as the Jackson Blue Boys. With the Mississippi Blacksnakes McCoy's robust mandolin is heard on the bawdy “Grind So Fine” and the country tinged “Blue Sky Blues” both boasting terrific vocals from Vinson. Two days after the first Blacksnakes session the group recorded again with Bo Carter as the vocalist and either McCoy or Sam Hill on guitar. This is a bluesier session with McCoy again on mandolin/banjo with his mandolin heard in fine form on “It Still Ain’t No Good (New It Ain’t No Good)” and “Easy Going Woman Blues.” One more song by the group, “Bye Bye Baby Blues”, was cut the following day featuring fine slide from McCoy. The two tracks cut as the Jackson Blue Boys are interesting for featuring singing from Carter, Vinson and McCoy in unison and taking solo turns with McCoy playing mandolin.

In 1935 Pianist Harry Chatman cut ten songs across three sessions, two in New Orleans and a final one in Jackson, Mississippi. Bo Carter appears on the two song first session while Walter Vinson backs Harry on the four song second session. The final session was done solo. His second session was his strongest, turning in solid numbers like "Hoo Doo Blues" and "Deep Blue Ocean Blues ", a fine rendition of  "Nobody's Business." Harry also backed Leroy Carter on two sides in 1935 (six sides went unissued), a likely  a pseudonym for Walter Vinson.

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