Mississippi Blues


This past week Geva Theatre presented Journey to the Son: A Celebration of Son House a four-day festival that weaved together music, theatre, film, audio recordings, storytelling and lectures celebrating the life of Son House. Son lived in Rochester from 1943 through 1976 and was rediscovered here in 1964. There were fine performances by John Hammond, John Mooney, Chris Thomas King, Joe Beard, Steve Grills and others as well as musical workshops  and lectures. The biggest highlight for me was the dedication of an official Mississippi Blues Trail marker on Friday, August 28th on the corner of Clarissa and Grieg Street where Son House resided in the Corn Hill Neighborhood of Rochester. The marker is one of only a few above the Mason-Dixon line. Joining the celebration were Son's manager Dick Waterman, one of the men who tracked Son to Rochester in the summer of 1964, and Jim O'Neal founder of Living Blues magazine and research consultant for the Mississippi Trail marker project. Here's photos of both sides of the marker and a picture of Jim O'Neal and myself standing near the site of Son's apartment building which since been torn down.

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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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