Mississippi Blues

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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Show Notes:

Big Joe WilliamsAs protégé David "Honeyboy" Edwards described him, Big Joe Williams in his early Delta days was a walking musician who played work camps, jukes, store porches, streets, and alleys from New Orleans to Chicago. He recorded through five decades for Vocalion, Okeh, Paramount, Bluebird, Prestige, Delmark, and many others. Big Joe was born in Crawford, MS and settled in St. Louis by 1925 where he married blues singer Bessie Mae Smith and worked with Walter Davis, Robert Lee McCoy and Henry Townsend. Little is known of his early years although by he apparently began traveling young, supposedly running away from home to join the Rabbit Foot Minstrels.  Along the way he worked the lumber mills, levee camps, plantations, gambling dens and brothels. By the late 20’s he earned a considerable reputation in Mississippi. Honeyboy recalls his first sight of Big Joe: "…Big Joe Williams was playing at Black Rosie's dance. Joe wasn't wasn't nothing but a hobo then, running down the streets. I went over to Rosie's and there he was playing. He was in his thirties, had a red handkerchief around his neck, and he was playing a little pearl-necked Stella guitar; he was playing the blues. He played "Highway 49", and I just stood and looked at him. I hadn't heard a man play the blues like that! …Nine strings, he always had those nine strings on his guitar. That's something he invented himself. He bored holes at the top of the neck of the guitar and made himself a nine-string guitar. That's what he played all the time." …He was playing "Brother James", all of them old numbers like that. "Brother James", "Highway 49", Stack O' Dollars."  …'Baby Please Don't Go", Milkcow Blues."

In St. Louis it was Walter Davis who got Big Joe signed to Bluebird as well as Robert Lee McCoy. Bg Joe’s first session for Bluebird, on February 25, 1935, yielded 6 tunes. This initial session finds Joe playing solo except for  "Somebody's Been Borrowing That Stuff" with Henry Townsend on second guitar. Joe wouldn't be heard solo on record again for some time. As John Miller noted: "Big Joe's playing on these two sessions is quite amazing.  Everything is in Open G tuning, so a certain sameness of tonality and very pared back harmonic content results, but Joe's rhythmic imagination and ability to execute his ideas in the moment has never been equaled in this genre.  His right hand approach combines powerful thumb popping of bass notes and lines with vigorous runs in the treble and an array of strumming and brushing techniques that has to be heard to be believed." The second session, on October 31, 1935, resulted in four more tunes, and was done with a line-up of Joe joined by Dad Tracy on one-string fiddle and Chasey Collins on washboard. That second session included the first recorded version of “Baby Please Don’t Go.” Big Joe backed Chasey Collins on two numbers at the same date; "Atlanta Town" and "Walking Blues" are superbly sung blues with excellent playing by Joe and makes one wish Collins had recorded more.

Rootin' Ground Hog 78Sonny Boy I and Big Joe first recorded together May 5, 1937. This was a marathon recording session. Robert Lee McCoy cut six sides at this session with backing by Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Joe Williams. The May 5th sessions were also Sonny Boy Williamson's first and Nighthawk and Joe Williams backed him on this legendary session that produced such enduring classics as "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Blue Bird Blues" and "Sugar Mama". In addition Big Joe Williams recorded eight sides under his own name with Nighthawk and Sonny Boy backing him and Nighthawk also backed Walter Davis on an eight-song session. Big Joe backed Sonny Boy again for two sessions in March and June 1939 which yielded 18 sides.

In the 1940’s Sonny Boy backed Big Joe on sessions on March and June 1941. Big Joe and Sonny Boy reunited for a four-song session together on July 12, 1945 with Jump Jackson on drums and a twelve-song session on July 22 1947 with Ransom Knowling on bass and Judge Riley on drums. As Tony Russell noted about these sessions: "The half-dozen tracks they cut at a session in 12/41, including definitive interpretations of '[Baby] Please Don't Go', "Highway 49' and 'Someday Baby',  confirm them as one of the great blues partnerships. They continued recording together until 1947, the delicate architecture of their duets solidly buttressed by bass and drums. It isn't off said, but it seems likely that driving trio and quartet sides like 'Drop Down Blues' (1945) or 'King Biscuit Stomp' (1947) were listened to attentively by some of the younger musicians then finding their voice in Chicago's clubs or on Maxwell Street."

As Big Joe sailed into the 50's, recording opportunities weren't as plentiful probably due to the fact he did nothing to update his sound to the changing musical times. Among the most notable recordings was an eight-song session in 1951 cut for the Jackson, MS based Trumpet label. Joe is in terrific form on numbers like "Delta Blues", the evocative "Whistling Pines" and "Over Hauling Blues." In the 50’s he also recorded for Specialty and Vee-Jay. Just prior to the folk-blues boom, Big Joe recorded extensively for Delmark at sessions in 1958 and 1961. Piney Woods Blues and Stavin’ Chain are among his best from this period, both recorded at the beginning of 1958 and feature the excellent J.D. Short who was a cousin of Big Joe.

Piney Woods BluesBy the 1960's Joe was became much in demand as the blues revival picked up steam. He performed at festivals, clubs and coffeehouses through the country as well as playing overseas as part of the American Folk Blues Festival. He recorded prolifically during this period for labels such as Bluesville, Spivey, Storyville, Folkways, Testament, Takoma, Arhoolie, Adelphi among others.  Among his best albums from the 1960's  are Tough Times on Arhoolie which has been reissued on CD as Shake Your Boogie which adds some tracks from a 1969 session. He recorded songs like "Mean Stepfather" and "Brother James" before but rarely as powerful as these versions. We play several interesting sides from the 1960's including a pair from Blues Roots: The Mississippi Blues Vol. 1 on Storyville recorded circa 1964/65. These sides were recorded in St. Louis and Chicago by Pete Welding. Most of these men like Coot Venson and Arthur Weston were musical associates of Big Joe while Bert and Russ Logan were uncles of his.

Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Lightnin' Hopkins and Big Joe Williams were involved in a jam session for World Pacific cut in Los Angles in 1960. This material has been reissued under many titles including Down South Summit Meetin', First Meetin’, Southern Meetin’ among others. They also recorded together live at the Ash Grove in Hollywood in 1961 which was issued as Blues Hoot. From these sessions we spin "Ain’t Nothin’ Like Whiskey" and "Blues For Gamblers."

Also from this period we spotlight Big Joe's pal Shortstuff Macon. The liner notes to his Folkways album had this to say: "Short Stuff has now begun traveling the sparse and fickle concert circuit with Big Joe Wiilliams, who, in a trip back to Mississippi, 'discovered' him, liked his 'deep down' music, remembered his father and mother, and decided to take him with him. Since then, the two bluesmen have been making do with whatever work they could get—living from day to day, hour to hour, on the whims and generosity (sometimes curiosity) of friends interested in blues, college student aficionados, and the small, folk record companies." That comes from  the notes to Hell Bound And Heaven Sent in 1964 with backing from Big Joe. From that album we spin the excellent "Short Stuff's Corrina." The same year they cut sides for the Spivey label which were issued on a album called Mr. Shortstuff. He appears again on the album Goin’ Back to crawfor4Crawford from 1971. Goin’ Back to Crawford was produced by Big Joe in his hometown of Crawford, MS in 1971 by gathering talented relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances to hopefully present their songs to the wider world. Big Joe performs on seven of his own tracks and backs several of the artists including Shortstuff Macon who died two years after these recordings.

In the 1970's Big Joe continued to record for labels like Storyville, Sonet, Bluesway, L+R and others. By 1982 he was back in Mississippi where he passed in December of that year. Joe was buried in a private cemetery outside Crawford near the Lowndes County line. His headstone was primarily paid for by friends and partially funded by a collection taken up among musicians at Clifford Antone's nightclub in Austin, Texas, organized by California music writer Dan Forte, and erected through the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund on October 9, 1994. Joe's old pal Charlie Musselwhite, delivered the eulogy at the unveiling. Williams' headstone epitaph proclaims him "King of the 9 String Guitar."



Show Notes:

Elmore James

Elmore James was undoubtedly the most influential slide guitarist of the postwar period. Although his early death from heart failure kept him from enjoying the fruits of the '60s blues revival like his contemporaries Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf did, Elmore was hugely influential on a generation of guitar players. James always gave it everything he had, everything he could emotionally invest in a number. The fact is that over his twelve-year recording career it can be argued that he never really cut a bad performance. Between 1951 and 1963 James cut about 100 sides for labels like Trumpet, Modern, Chess, Chief, Meteor and Fire. Backing him was one of the greatest Chicago blues bands,the Broomdusters, named after James' big hit, and featuring Little Johnny Jones on piano, J.T. Brown on tenor sax and Elmore's cousin, Homesick James on rhythm guitar. This talented combo was often augmented by a second saxophone on occasion while the drumming stool changed frequently. On later recordings his band would include pianist Johnny "Big Moose" Walker, guitarist Eddie Taylor and Sam Myers on harp. In addition James backed a few artists, particularly in the early years, including Sonny Boy Williamson II, Willie Love and later bandmate Little Johnnie Jones. Today's show spotlights not only great sides James cut under his own name but several sides by his talented bandmates and associates.

With a few months left on his Trumpet contract, Elmore was recorded by the Bihari Brothers for their Modern label subsidiaries, Flair and Meteor, but the results were left in the can until James' contract ran out. In the meantime, Elmore had moved to Chicago and cut a quick session for Chess, which resulted in one single being issued and just as quickly yanked off the market as the Bihari Brothers swooped in to protect their investment. This period of activity found Elmore assembling the nucleus of his great band the Broomdusters and several fine recordings were issued over the next few years on a slew of the Bihari Brothers'owned labels with several of them charting.

Bledding HeartJames was born in Canton, MS on January 27, 1918. He came to music at an early age, learning to play bottleneck on a homemade instrument. By the age of 14, he was already a weekend musician, working the various country suppers and juke joints in the area. He would join up and work with traveling players coming through like Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson. By the late '30s he had formed his first band and was working with Sonny Boy until WW II broke out, spending three years stationed with the Navy in Guam. When he was discharged, he picked off where he left off, moving for a while to Memphis, working in clubs with Eddie Taylor and his cousin Homesick James. James was first recorded by Lillian McMurray of Trumpet Records in 1951 at the tail end of a Sonny Boy session doing his classic "Dust My Broom." Legend has it that James didn't even stay around long enough to hear the playback, much less record a second side. McMurray stuck a local singer (BoBo "Slim" Thomas) on the flip side and the record became the surprise R&B hit of 1951, making the Top Ten. James also backed Trumpet artists Willie Love and Tiny Kennedy the same year.

By the late 1950's James had established a beach-head in the clubs of Chicago as one of the most popular live acts and regularly broadcasting over WPOA under the aegis of disc jockey Big Bill Hill. In 1957, with his contract with the Bihari Brothers at an end, he recorded several successful sides for Mel London's Chief label, all of them later being issued on the larger Vee-Jay label.

In May of 1963, Elmore returned to Chicago, ready to resume his on-again off-again playing career — his records were still being regularly issued and reissued on a variety of labels — when he suffered his final heart attack. His wake was attended by over 400 blues luminaries before his body was shipped back to Mississippi.

Mississippi-born John T. Brown was a member of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels down south before arriving in Chicago. By 1945, Brown was recording behind pianist Roosevelt Sykes and singer St. Louis Jimmy Oden, later backing Eddie Boyd and Washboard Sam for RCA Victor. He debuted on wax as a bandleader in 1950 on the Harlem label, subsequently cutting sessions in 1951 and 1952 for Chicago's United logo as well as JOB. Brown backed Elmore James and pianist Little Johnny Jones on the Meteor and Flair lbels in 1952 and 1953. Meteor issued a couple of singles under Brown's own name. After a final 1956 date for United that laid unissued at the time, Brown's studio activities were limited to sideman roles. In January of 1969, he was part of Fleetwood Mac's Blues Jam at Chess album, even singing a tune for the project, but he died before the close of that year.

Johnny Jones arrived in Chicago from Mississippi in 1946 and was influenced greatly by pianist Big Maceo.Jones followed Maceo into Tampa Red's band in 1947 after Maceo suffered a stroke. In addition to playing behind Tampa Red from 1949 to 1953, he backed Muddy Waters on his 1949 classic "Screamin' and Cryin'" and later appeared on sides by Howlin' Wolf. It's Elmore James that he'll forever be associated with; the pianist played on James' classic 1952-56 Chicago sessions for the Bihari brothers' Meteor, Flair, and Modern labels, as well as dates for Checker, Chief, and Fire. James only had a few opportunities to record under his own name; Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, and Leroy Foster backed Jones on his 1949 Aristocrat label classic "Big Town Playboy", while Elmore James and saxist J.T. Brown were on hand for Jones's 1953 Flair coupling "I May Be Wrong"/"Sweet Little Woman." The rocking "Hoy Hoy," his last commercial single, was done in 1953 for Atlantic and also featured James and his group in support. Jones continued to work in the clubs (with Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Syl Johnson, Billy Boy Arnold, and Magic Sam, among others) prior to his 1964 death of lung cancer at the age of 40.

Something Inside Of MeJames "Homesick" Williamson was playing guitar at age ten and soon ran away from his Tennessee home to play at fish fries and dances. His travels took the guitarist through Mississippi and North Carolina during the 1920s, where he crossed paths with Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Boy Fuller, and Big Joe Williams. Settling in Chicago during the 1930s, Williamson played local clubs and cut his first sides in 1952-53 for Chance Records. Homesick also worked extensively as a sideman, backing harp great Sonny Boy Williamson and during the 1950s with his cousin, Elmore James. Homesick backs Elmore on sessions for Chief in 1957, Fire in 1959, Chess in 1960 and again for Fire in 1960 and 1961. Homesick's own recordings included 45s for Colt and USA in 1962, a fine 1964 album for Prestige, and four tracks on a Vanguard anthology in 1965. Homesick was recording and touring up until shortly before his death in 2006.

Eddie Taylor is best know for his guitar work on the great majority of Jimmy Reed's Vee-Jay sides during the 1950s and early '60s, and he even found time to wax a few classic sides of his own for Vee-Jay during the mid-'50s. But Taylor's records didn't sell in the quantities that Reed's did, so he was largely relegated to the role of sideman (he recorded behind John Lee Hooker, John Brim, Elmore James, Snooky Pryor, and many more during the '50s) not cutting his first full-length record until the early 1970's. Taylor backed Elmore on sessions in 1956 for Modern and for Chief in 1957.

During the ‘50s Johnny "Big Moose" Walker played with many local Greenville, MS bluesmen, joined Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm in Clarksdale and sat in with the King Biscuit Boys in Helena, Arkansas and worked the Mississippi juke joints with Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson. He traveled extensively with Earl Hooker. Walker's first studio date was with Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson, for Trumpet Records in Jackson, Mississippi that went unissued. In 1955 Ike Turner taped Moose in a Greenville club; two of those sides, credited to J.W Walker, appeared years later on the Kent Label. He cut his first 45, as Moose John, for Johnny Otis' Ultra label, also in 1955. Moose recorded even more after Sunnyland Slim brought him to Chicago. He backed Earl Hooker, Ricky Allen, Lorenzo Smith and others on local sessions. Willie Dixon took Moose to New York in 1960 to do some studio work for Prestige/Bluesville. Moose rejoined Elmore James at Silvio's on the West Side and went to New Orleans with Elmore to record for Bobby Robinson's Fire label. At another session for Robinson, Moose sang a few himself. He cut some singles during the ‘60s and waxed his first album in 1969 when he and Earl Hooker went to Los Angeles to record for ABC Bluesway. He remained active until the 1980's before suffering a stroke.

Sam Myers cut his first sides for Ace in 1957 and played both drums and harp behind slide guitar great Elmore James at a 1961 session for Bobby Robinson's Fire label in New Orleans. In 1960 he cut a single for Robinson's Fury label and another in 1961 backed by Elmore James and Big Moose Walker. Most listeners know Myers as the frontman for Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets, which lasted for some 20 years before Myers passed in 2006.


Scott Dunbar

Living far from prevailing blues currents near Woodville, Mississippi some fifteen miles from Lake Mary, Scott Dunbar was a musician of extraordinary and utterly singular ability who's small recorded output caused barley a ripple of interest upon release. There are certain musicians who's repertoire resides in the blues tradition yet who have developed a highly individual, singular style that sets them totally apart from their peers. Into that rarefied group are several men who recorded well after the heyday of commercial blues; men such as Cecil Barfield, CeDell Davis, Junior Kimbrough and Scott Dunbar. Dunbar passed away at the age of 90 in 1994 with his death largely unnoticed outside of a couple of obituaries in blues magazines and a recorded legacy of  nineteen issued sides.

Not that fame and fortune are what Dunbar sought. On the contrary, from all accounts he was supremely proud of his musical abilities and didn't need coffeehouse or festival audiences to tell him so. He lived a quit contented existence as a fisherman and river guide. In the notes to his sole album, From Lake Mary issued on the Ahura Mazda label in 1970, Karl Micheal Wolfe wrote that "Today Scott Dunbar is a fisherman and guide on Lake Mary, father of six, and resident blues singer of Woodville and rural Wilkinson County, Mississippi. There everyone knows old Scott. We hope this record will make him known to a wider audience." Dunbar never became a well known name although he has been highly regarded in collector circles. However he made no subsequent recordings, no festival appearances as far as I can tell and no overseas tour. As is often the case, his main recognition came from overseas blues aficionados with several articles appearing in Blues World and Blues Unlimited in 1971 and 1972. Prior to the recordings in 1970 Dunbar was recorded by Frederic Ramsey, Jr. in 1954 as part of field recordings done under a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Ramsey's recordings appeared on the ten volume series Music from the South on Folkways with four of Dunbar's recordings on Music From The South Vol. 5: Song, Play And Dance and one side on Music From The South Vol. 10: Been Here And Gone. Three more issued sides were recorded in 1968 which appeared on the album Blues From The Delta, the companion album to William Ferris' influential book of the same name.

Scott Dunbar

Ramsey wrote eloquently about Scott both in his memoir Been Here And Gone and in the notes to the Folkways albums.  From the notes to Music From The South Vol. 5: Song, Play And Dance he takes us into Dunbar's insular world: "In Southwestern Mississippi, and at the the very end of a trail that fords creeks and winds through high bluffs and under tall groves of cypress and swamp oak, Scott Dunbar lives in a cabin anchored by wires to nearby trees. The cabin is in a clearing, and at the edge of the clearing, the ground drops down sharp to the edge of Old River Lake. The lake used to be part of the Mississippi River; but a cut-out changed the course, and now the lake is a fisherman's paradise. Dunbar presides over it with all the knowing that years of experience  can bring. He makes his living by taking parties on the lake when the catfish are biting. If they're not biting, he simply won't go out; his word is rule. He is prognosticator and weather bureau all in one. At night, when the small fleet of outboard motors is tied up at lake's edge, Scott pulls out his guitar and 'touches it up.' His wife, Celeste, stands by, and his two daughters take their places on a bench pulled up alongside a table under a big swamp oak. In the tall, moss-textured cypresses overhead, cicadas are already singing, and from across the lake, a hollering of alligators booms a response. Working his way into a tune, Scot hums it along with the strings that begin to move under his fingers. His foot, pounding the caked mud, keeps time; the dry dirt comes up in clouds of dust, and soon the cake is patted smooth." And in Been Here And Gone he notes: "Perhaps because many older songs are too rough for visitors, he never sings about Sweet Mama Rollin' Stone unless asked by someone who knows him and his songs…..When the white folks have gone, the guitar takes up the older and franker strains of music. These have been passed on to Scott by outlaws roaming the levee backwaters, by escaped convicts (Old River Lake is just around the bend from Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary), by singers and players and wanderers now long dead."

Music From The South Vol. 5Living off the beaten path caused Dunbar to develop a highly individual style, while traditional, still far removed form other blues currents. His highly rhythmic guitar style, played in a variety of different tunings, emphasized by his stomping foot, creates a beautiful sound. Dunbar sings, hums, and chants along with the melody, at times singing the lyrics in straightforward fashion, other times wordlessly. It sounds at times if Dunbar may not know the actual lyrics, or perhaps only snatches, yet his wordless vocalizations are very much part of his overall sound. The music comes across as familiar yet wholly spontaneous, a full flowering of individual creativity.  Thus familiar songs like "Little Liza Jane", "Vicksburg Blues" and "That's Alright, Mama" retain their shape yet sound stunningly fresh as Dunbar interprets them in such an individual way as to utterly transform them, the mark of an artist of the highest caliber. Karl Micheal Wolfe describes Dunbar's style this way: "He does not know the names of any of the chords he uses because he cannot read music; he tunes the guitar differently for different songs. His playing is strong and loud, and he keeps time with a stomping boot-heel; this is an adaptation to a lifetime of playing not so much to or for as with among riotous, noisy audiences with unamplified instruments and voice. In addition to the vast repertoire of traditional songs Scott grew up with, he has 'made up' a score or so, and learned many more 'off the graftafome' during the twenties, thirties and forties. Since he cannot read, he has to keep his songs entirely in his head; often the words come out garbled or forgotten entirely. But to his native audiences this does not matter." It's this spontaneous, intimate feeling that comes across so wonderfully on From Lake Mary. It's a feeling and intimacy rarely caught on tape, almost impossible to capture in the studio, that comes across as Dunbar effortlessly reels out numbers like "Easy Rider", "Who Been Foolin' You", the gorgeous, driving "Memphis Mail" with Dunbar's wordless vocalizing, "Sweet Mama Rollin' Stone" (Say roll me with your belly/Feed me with your tongue") that collapses with Dunbar's infectious laughter as he calls it a "dirty song" and shows off a broader repertoire with versions of "Blue Yodel" and "Goodnight Irene." Four of the five numbers that appear on this album were recorded by Fredric Ramsey and remain virtually unchanged sixteen years later.

From Lake MaryIf songs like Blue Yodel" and "Goodnight Irene" hint at a broader repertoire that is true as Dunbar himself said: "I play anything you want, any kind of song, hymns on up." In his early years he played the juke joints with a band who's set would not only include blues but also numbers like "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Tennessee Waltz." He gave up the juke joints because they were too dangerous and in later years played primarily for whites. William Ferris wrote in Blues From The Delta that "I recorded thirty-seven songs during my visits with Dunbar and of these, two thirds were sung white style in the key of C. " The thirteen songs on From Lake Mary are mostly blues, likely selected to appeal to the blues revival market while the vast majority of recordings from this session have not been issued, forty-eight unissued sides in total.  At lengthy recording sessions n February, April and August of 1970 Dunbar proves to be a true songster, laying down songs like "Wabash Cannonball", "Sally Good'n", "Blue Heaven", "Tennessee Waltz" and  "You Are My Sunshine." In 1994 Fat Possum reissued From Lake Mary on CD with no additional tracks.

Nestled in his secluded Mississippi retreat the blues revival largely bypassed Dunbar which seemed to suit him just fine. As Karl Micheal Wolfe concludes in his notes: "Scott Dunbar is not an unknown artist struggling for recognition; being one of the most well-known men around Lake Mary has been enough for him. When you listen to this album you will hear a man who has lived a good life and is satisfied with it; his songs are neither a bid for money or fame, nor mournful cries from a suffering heart. I asked Scott once what his music meant to him, and he said: Well I'll tell you…if it feels good to the people it feels twice as good to me."

Memphis Mail [1954] (MP3)

Forty-Four Blues [1954] (MP3)

Easy Rider [1954] (MP3)

Little Liza Jane [1970] (MP3)

Vicksburg Blues [1970] (MP3)

Sweet Mama Rollin' Stone [1970] (MP3)

Memphis Mail [1970] (MP3)

Who Been Foolin' You [1970] (MP3)

Unissued Scott Dunbar Sides:

Lake Mary, Ms., Feb. 27, 1970

- You Are My Sunshine
- Wabash Cannonball
- When The Saints Go Marching In
- Done Laid Down (Do Remember Me)
- Filipena
- Home Sweet Home
- Just Because
- Never Been So Blue
- Goodnight Irene
- Goodbye My Lady Cindy
- My Old Shoe
- Sally Good'n
- Buffalo Gal
- Nobody's Darlin' But Mine
- Memphis Mail
- Vicksburg Blues
- Say That's Alright With You
- Filipena
- Baby Please Don't Go
- That's Alright Mama
- Have Mercy On My Soul
- Tennessee Waltz
- Careless Love
- Blue Heaven
- Lay That Pistol Down (Pistol Packin' Mama)
- Untitled Instrumental

Lake Mary, Ms., April 19, 1970

- Wabash Cannonball
- Who's Been Foolin You
- Sally Good'n
- You Are My Sunshine
- Want To See My Darlin'
- Little Liza Jane
- Hand
- Jaybird
- Baby Please Don't Go
- Lay That Pistol Down
- Just Because
- Filipena
- Have Mercy On My Soul
- Done Laid Around

Lake Mary, Ms., Aug. 6, 1970

- You Don't Know My Mind
- Want To See My Darlin'
- 44 Blues
- Richard Daley Blues
- Hymn
- Who Been Foolin' You
- Beautiful Brown Eyes
- Memphis Mail



Show Notes:

Robert Nighthawk, Maxwell Street 1964

Today's show is called Maxwell Street Blues in tribute to Mike Shea's legendary film on Chicago's Maxwell Street Market, And This Is Free, which at long last has been re-released by Shanachie Records. And This Is Free was filmed over the course of sixteen Sundays on Chicago's Maxwell Street in 1964. The Maxwell Street open air market was a seven- to ten-block area in Chicago that from the 1920s to the middle 1960's played host to various blues musicians — both professional and amateur — who performed right on the street for tips from passerbys. Maxwell Street is an east-west street that intersects with Halsted Street just south of Roosevelt Road. Although there were many fine stationary department stores located in it, the area's most notable feature was its open air market, precursor to the flea market scene in Chicago. One could almost buy anything there, legal and illegal. In need of jobs and quick cash, fledgling entrepreneurs came to Maxwell Street – many say it was the largest open-air market in the country – to earn their livelihood. In 1994, the Maxwell Street Market was moved by the City of Chicago to accommodate expansion of the University of Illinois at Chicago. It was relocated a few blocks east to Canal Street and renamed the New Maxwell Street Market.

Among those who got their start on Maxwell Street were Little Walter, Earl Hooker and Hound Dog Taylor among many others. Those that appear in the film include Robert Nighthawk, Johnny Young, Jim Brewer and Arvella Gray, all of whom were recorded performing live on the street. All the music recorded during the filming was issued domestically in 2000 on the Rooster label on the 3-CD set And This Is Maxwell Street and we will be hearing several of these cuts on today's program. We will also be playing a number of cuts from the Ora Nelle label which was run by Bernard Abrams from his Maxwell Street Radio and Record shop located at 831 Maxwell Street, tracks by Big John Wrencher, Maxwell Street Jimmy, John Lee Granderson and James Brewer (all long time fixtures on the Street) plus some pre-war sides that reference Maxwell Street. In addition we will be playing excerpts from an interview with Gordon Quinn who was the sound engineer on And This Is Free.

Blind James Brewer and Gospel Group, Maxwell Street, 1964, Photo by Paul Oliver

Ira Berkow, who wrote the book Maxwell Street: Survival In A Bazaar, and contributes to the booklet, described Maxwell Street this way: "It was a carnival, it was a bazaar, it was, as some believed and perhaps with some credibility, a thieves' den; it was also home to snake charmers, a horse that could count with a clop of his hoof, an 'Indian chief' in war bonnet and penny loafers, honest businessmen, the ladies of the night (and morning and afternoon), Gypsies, Jews, Italians, Irish, Bohemians, Poles, Russians, Greeks, Latinos, blacks. As well as the birthplace of a number of prominent Americans. And this, more or less, just for starters." Hound Dog Taylor, a veteran of Maxwell Street, had this to say: "You used to get out on Maxwell Street on a Sunday Morning and pick you out a good spot, babe. Dammit, we'd make more money than I ever looked at. Put you out a tub, you know, and put a pasteboard in there, like a newspaper. I'm telling you, Jewtown was Jumpin' like a champ, jumpin' like mad on Sunday morning." Jewtown as the area was also known, was so named because, as Lori Grove writes in her excellent essay Historic Maxwell Street, the "Jewish immigrants were the largest and longest-standing ethnic group in the Maxwell Street neighborhood" who "established the old world marketplace and its reputation as a place where bargains could be found."

Back in 1960 Bjorn Englund and Donad R. Hill documented the blues on Maxwell street by recording some of the street's stalwarts including Arvella Gray, Daddy Stovepipe, king Davis and James Brewer. The recordings were issued in 1962 on the Heritage album Blues From Maxwell Street. The album is long out of print (i don't own this record so if anyone knows where I can get a copy let me know!) but the notes by Paul Oliver are worth quoting as they paint an evocative portrait of an era that has long passed. "At 1330 on South Halsted there is a minor intersection. The corners are crowded with people and temporary halls at anytime, but especially on Sunday, for the narrow road that cuts across Halsted is Maxwell and on Sunday morning the Maxwell Street Market is at its busiest. Maxwell Street is at once a sad an exciting place. The walls are blackened and the paint has peeled off the ill-fitting doors; garbage lies thick in the gutters and the narrow side alleys are littered with the refuse of years. To the West, the street loses its identity in the depressing anonymity of the bleak, poverty-struck roads that cross it; to the East it is an almost impassable market of stalls that suddenly give way to a vast, horizonless plain of mud and rubble and debris where an Expressway will sweep Southwards in the undated future. Amongst the rough-clad women who grope through the piles of discarded clothes and the tough, unsmiling men who pick their way through the wires, cables and electrical parts laid out haphazardly on the trestles – amongst the Blues From Maxwell Streetloiterers, the occasional sightseers and the pickpockets – are the beggars, as many as there are to be found in the shadows of the churches in a Southern Italian town, or along the shrouded streets of an "Arab Quarter." Beggars – but with one striking, exhilarating difference. These are not wheedling seekers after alms with cries of "baksheesh" or "Gawd Bless yer, guv" but proud men, creative artists, singers of the blues who accept the dimes and quarters as tokens of esteem for their paying and singing. If the blues in general has tended to become more sophisticated in recent years Maxwell Street exists as a living storehouse of the folk blues, the blues of the rambling man. And in its few hundred yards is pictured the life story of the blues singer of the streets, from the children who stand wide-eyed to the singers of  their to choice to the young men who are trying their luck and their talent on the critical audience of the market; from the tough music and manner of the street singer of many years to the fading abilities to the old men who have played in the street in all weathers for more years then they can count."

Today's program opens with a pair pf pre-war cuts. Papa Charlie Jackson is known to have busked around Chicago in the early 1920's, playing for tips on Maxwell Street, as well as the city's Westside clubs beginning in 1924. He cut some 70 sides between 1924-1934, most for the Paramount label. His "Mawell Street Blues" shows he was well aquintated with the seedier side of the street:

Because Maxwell Street's so crowded on a Sunday, you can hardly passed through
There's Maxwell Street Market, got Water Street Market too
If you ain't got no money, the women got nothing for you to do
I got the Maxwell Street blues, mama and it just won't pay
Because the Maxwell Street women, going to carry me to my grave
I live six twenty-four Maxwell, mama and I'm taking about you

Little is known about his background. Blind Percy was likely Joe Taggart who recorded mainly gospel but sound more worldly as he too sings about those Maxwell Street women on "Fourteenth Street Blues:"

Fourteenth Street women, don't mean a man no good
Go out and get full of liquor, wake up the whole neighborhood

Today's show features several tracks from the Ora Nelle label which was founded in 1947 by Bernard Abrams who operated Maxwell Street Radio and Record shop located at 831 Maxwell Street. Two 78's were released; "I Just Keep Loving Her" (Ora Nelle 711) and "Money Taking Woman" (Ora Nelle 712). The label's name supposedly came from Walter's girlfriend. These were Walter's first recordings. Additional recordings were made by Jimmy Rogers (also his first), Boll Weavil, Sleepy John Estes, Johnnie Temple which were not released at the time. All of the Ora Nelle recordings can be found on the CD Chicago Boogie 1947 on the P-Vine label, a reissue of an album originally issued on George Paulus' Barrelhouse label in the 1970's. Boll Weevil (Willie McNeal) cut a pair of acetates for the label circa 1947-48, including "Christmas Time Blues" b/w "Thinkin' Blues", and recorded once more in 1956 for another mom and pop label called Club 51.

Maxwell Street Alley BluesOne-Armed harmonica player Big John Wrencher was a recognizable fixture of Maxwell Street. Wrencher was a traveling musician, playing throughout Tennessee and neighboring Arkansas from the late 1940's to the early 1950's. In 1958 Wrencher lost his left arm in a car crash in Memphis. By the early 1960's he had moved North to Chicago and quickly became a regular fixture on Maxwell Street, always working on Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to nearly 3:00 in the afternoon. His first recordings surfaced on a pair of Testament albums from the 1960's, featuring Big John in a sideman role behind Robert Nighthawk. He cut the excellent Maxwell Street Alley Blues (recorded in 1969 and issued in 1978) for the Barrelhouse label (reissued on CD on the P-Vine label) and cut Big John's Boogie for the British Big Bear label in 1975. He also cut a 45 and we play "Memphis To Maxwell Street" from that record. Big John Wrencher passed in 1977.

Nighthawk's performances form the centerpiece of the recordings made on An This Is Maxwell Street. Nighthawk is present on 22 of the 30 selections. Nighthawk really stretches out on some of his old classics including the stunning medley of his two biggest hits "Anna Lee/Sweet Black Angel" as well as a storming reprise of his "Take it Easy Baby" which he first cut in 1937 for Bluebird. Nighthawk shows off his wide repertoire playing Big Joe Turner's "Honey Hush", Dr. Clayton's "Cheating and Lying Blues" and Percy Mayfield's "I Need Love So Bad." In an interview done by Mike Bloomfield, Nighthawk, reflected on what brought him back to Maxwell Street: "Lately I went back to Maxwell St.- I been playing off and on for 24 years now. Most all music more or less starts right off from Maxwell St. and so you wind up going back there. …See it's more hard to play out in the street than it is in a place of business, but you have more fun in the street, looks like. Well, so many things you can see, so many different things going on, I get a kick out of it, I guess."

Arvella Gray

We also play tracks by Maxwell Street stalwarts Arvella Gray, James Brewer, John Lee Granderson and Maxwell Street Jimmy. Arvella Gray made his first recordings in 1960 (released on the Decca and Heritage labels) and in early 1964 he made sides for his own Gray label, selling the 45's on the street. He was also recorded by a team from Swedish Radio the same year. He was regular performer on Maxwell Street on Sundays. Gray's only album, 1972's The Singing Drifter was reissued on the Conjuroo label in 2005. James Brewer aka Blind James Brewer ("My mother didn't name me ‘Blind', she named me ‘Jim'") was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi, moved to Chicago in the 1940s spending the latter part of his life busking and performing both blues and religious songs at blues and folk festivals, on Chicago's Maxwell Street and other venues. He too was recorded by Swedish Radio, cut sides for the Heritage label, Testament plus cut the full-length albums Jim Brewer for Philo and Tough Luck for Earwig. In addition to the full length Hard Luck John (issued posthumously in 1998), Tennessee bluesman John Lee Granderson cut sides on other Testament compilations with further sides appearing on various anthologies. Among those Granderson played with were Robert Nighthawk, Big Joe Williams and Daddy Stovepipe. Charles Thomas aka Maxwell Street Jimmy, wrote Pete Welding was "one of the finest and most expressive of blues performers who regularly work the street…In his dark, urgent, powerful singing and rhythmically incisive guitar playing are strong, pungent echoes of his youth in the Mississippi delta, that spawning ground of so many great bluesmen." Jimmy recorded little, his best being his lone album, his long out of print self-titled release for Elektra in 1965. Welding's liner notes to the album paint a vivid portrait of Maxwell Street in the 1960's:"Every Sunday morning from late spring to early autumn–whenever, in fact, the weather is warm and clement–the pungent, earthy sound of the traditional blues rings loudly through the streets of Chicago. In the city's bustling open-air Maxwell Street flea market area, where one can haggle for anything form high-button shoes to a winnowing machine, the cries of the hawkers and vendors mingle sharply with the acrid, pain-filled shouts of the blues singer and the fervent moans of the sidewalk evangelist. Through most of contemporary America, street singing is a fast disappearing folk art. Municipal legislation and the compulsory licensing of peddlers have seen to that in most large US cities, and the days of the itinerant sidewalk minstel seem sadly though inevitably numbered. Except, that is, in Chicago. If anything, the art appears to be thriving here. It's tied directly, or course, to the continued flourishing of the Maxwell Street market as a vigorous facet of Chicago culture that has refused to give up the ghost in the face of urban renewal, increasing cultural homogeneity and other aspects of modern 'progress'."

Carrie Robinson, Maxwell Street 1964

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