Sun 9 Aug 2009
Well I was planning to do a themed show today but I've fallen hopelessly behind so I've slapped together a mix show instead. Anyway, a wide ranging mix for today's program spanning the 1920's through the 1950's.
We kick things off with a trio of tracks revolving around the Mississippi Sheiks. The Mississippi Sheiks were one of the most popular string bands of the late '20s and early '30s with a repertoire that drew upon all facets of black and white rural music: blues, pop music, hokum, white country and traditional songs. Their rendition of "Sitting on Top of the World" has become an enduring standard. The group consisted of guitarist Walter Vinson and fiddler Lonnie Chatmon, with frequent appearances by guitarists Bo Carter and Sam Chatmon, who were also busy with their own solo careers. Bo Carter was one of the most popular bluesmen of the '30's, cutting over a hundred sides between 1928 and 1940. Vinson rarely worked as a solo act, seemingly much more at home in duets and trios; towards that end, during the 1920s he worked with Charlie McCoy, Rubin Lacy and Son Spand before forming the Mississippi Sheiks. While an active club performer during the early 1940s, 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. Hardening of the arteries forced Vinson into retirement during the early '70s; he died in Chicago in 1975.
Our opening track by Walter Vinson features harmonica by Robert Lee McCoy better known as Robert Nighthawk. Nighthawk's first instrument was harmonica and he played a good deal of it backing other artists on record during the 30s and 40s. As he noted: "When I left home I got right into it and I started blowing harmonica. I learnt that back in 24'. …boy named Johnny Jones, he's from Louisiana, …say he learn me so I did." Moving up to 1952 we hear Nighthawk on"You Missed A Good Man" a song Nighthawk likely picked up from Tampa Red who recorded the song in 1935. The basis of the song actually goes back much further being copyrighted by Clarence Williams in 1915 as "You Missed A Good Woman When You Picked All Over Me." The song was first recorded by Trixie Smith in 1922 and again in 1923 by Eva Taylor the wife of Clarence Williams. Tampa reworked the lyrics but the the tune and chorus are identical.
There's plenty of blues from the same era today including John Henry Barbee's "You'll Work Down to me Someday" from 1938 which is a reworking of a 1934 Mississippi Sheiks song of the same title. Barbee worked for a short time with John Lee Williamson (Sonny Boy Williamson I) then began playing with Sunnyland Slim. They made appearances across the Mississippi Delta. Barbee later moved to Chicago, where he recorded for Vocalion in 1938. He played with Moody Jones' group on Maxwell Street in the '40s, but then left the music business for several years. Barbee recorded for Spivey and Storyville in the mid-'60s, and toured Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival. Back in the US Barbee was involved in an auto accident in 1964, and suffered a heart attack while in jail waiting for the case to come to court. It was a sad end to a fine artist who who still a superb performer as evidenced on the excellent Blues Masters Vol. 3 recorded in 1964 for Storyville.
Form the same period we spotlight four fine blues ladies: Laura Smith, Lottie Kimbrough, Kansas City Kitty and Lucille Bogan. A fine forgotten blues singer of the 20's, Laura Smith made her debut in 1924 and recorded through 1927. She died in 1932. Our selection "The Mississippi Blues" was the flip of "Lonesome Refugee", both songs written about the tragic 1927 flood, one of the greatest natural disasters in US history. Numerous blues and gospel songs were written about the flood. Lottie Kimbrough also made her debut in 1924 but as Tony Russell notes "If her half-dozen 1924 sides on Paramount had been all Lottie Kimbrough recorded, she would probably be considered a singer of the second or third rank…" Lucky for her she met promoter Winston Holmes who got her a contract with Gennett Records. In the past of I've played "Rolling Log Blues" and "Goin' Away Blues", performances of "haunting beauty" Russell writes. Our track, "Blue World Blues" is from that session, a powerful number featuring an excellent but unknown cornet player. Kansas City Kitty was a pseudonym for Mozelle Alderson who confused researchers for years by recording under other names such as Hannah Mae and Jane Lucas. "How Can You Have The Blues?" is a fine, playful duet with Georgia Tom. Lucille Bogan made her debut in 1923 with some less than memorable sides before coming into her own with her next sessions in 1927. Bogan was simply one of the toughest, roughest woman to record in the 20's and 30's and her "Whiskey Sellin' Woman" is a good example as she opens the song with the now familar "Ah, I'm gettin' sloppy drunk today."
From the 1946 we spotlight thee veteran artists of the 1930's who were still at it, cutting some up-to-date material: Jimmie Gordon, Lee Brown and Johnnie Temple. These sides are from a rare 1946 session for King that were never released at the time and only issued decades later. Pianist Lee Brown cut 29 sides for Decca between 1937-40. Jimmie Gordon made his first record in 1934 for Bluebird before moving to Decca where he cut 60 sides through 1941. Originally from Mississippi, Johnnie Temple moved to Jackson, MS where he worked parties and juke joints with Skip James and Charlie McCoy. He moved to Chicago in 1932, making his debut in 1935 for Vocalion and cut 70 sides through 1941. Although he never achieved stardom, Temple's records, sold consistently throughout the late '30s and '40s and his records exerted an influence on numerous other artists. All these sides appear on the Proper Records collection Broke, Black & Blues.
We also spin a batch of great records from the 1950's including a cut by blues shouter Tommy Brown. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to see the 78 year old Brown in action and sounding great at the Pocono Blues Festival. "Remember Me" comes from a four song 1954 session where he was backed by Walter Horton. From 1952 we hear "Hoodoo Man" from Albert Williams on the Sun label (his only record) going under the name Memphis Al: "My name is Memphis Al and they call me the hoodoo man." The song is particularly notable for some terrific guitar by the great Joe Willie Wilkins. From the same year we hear the guitarist Calvin Frazier rip it up on T.J. Fowler's rocking "Back Biter." Speaking of guitar it's hard to beat T-Bone Walker who lays down some vicious licks on Roy Hawkins' "Doin' All Right" also from 1952.