Sun 29 Dec 2013
|Andy Boy||Evil Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937|
|Andy Boy||Church Street Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937|
|Walter 'Cowboy' Washington & Andy Boy||Ice Pick Mama||The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937|
|Andy Boy||House Raid Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937|
|Big Boy Knox||Blue Man Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929|
|Big Boy Knox||Eleven Light City Blues||The Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937|
|Son Becky||Mistreated Washboard Blues||San Antonio Blues 1937|
|Son Becky||Midnight Trouble Blues||San Antonio Blues 1937|
|Pinetop Burks||Jack of All Trades Blues||San Antonio Blues 1937|
|Pinetop Burks||Fannie Mae Blues||San Antonio Blues 1937|
|Pinetop Burks||Shake the Shack||San Antonio Blues 1937
|Thunder Smith||Santa Fe Blues||Lightnin' Special Vol. 2|
|Thunder Smith||Low Down Dirty Ways||Lightnin' Special Vol. 2|
|Leroy Ervin||Rock Island Blues||Texas Blues: Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings|
|Lee Hunter||Back To Santa Fe||Texas Blues: Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings|
|Sonny Boy Davis||I Don't Live Here No More||Texas Country Blues 1948-1951|
|Dr. Hepcat||I Cried||Houston Might Be Heaven V|
|Dr. Hepcat||Hattie Green||Down Home Blue Classics 1943-1953: Texas|
|Dr. Hepcat||Boogie Woogie||Giants Of Texas Country Blues Piano|
|Whistlin Moore Alex||Sometimes I Feel Worried||From North Dallas To The East Side|
|Whistlin Moore Alex||If I Lose You Woman||Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4|
|Whistlin Moore Alex||Neglected Woman||Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4|
|Buster Pickens||Santa Fe Train||Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions|
|Buster Pickens||Jim Nappy||Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions|
|Buster Pickens||She Caught The L & N||Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions|
|Robert Shaw||Here I Come With My Dirty, Dirty Duckings On||Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder|
|Robert Shaw||Groceries On My Shelf (Piggly Wiggly)||Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder|
|Robert Shaw||The Ma Grinder||Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder|
|Grey Ghost||Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out||Grey Ghost (Catfish)|
|Grey Ghost||Way Out On The Desert||Grey Ghost (Spindletop)|
Back when I started this show in 2007 one of the first programs I did was one devoted to the pre-war Texas piano tradition. My interest in this was sparked again recently when I was doing research and writing the notes for a reissue of pianist Buster Pickens long out-of-print album for the Document label (just reissued as Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions). Pickens was an active member of the 'Santa Fe group' of pianists, knew all players but unlike some of them did not get the opportunity to record until the post-war era. In our two-part feature on Texas piano I'll be spotlighting the tradition in more depth that I did the first time out, surveying both pre-war and post-war artists.
The Texas piano tradition flowered in the 1920’s and was at its peak during the 1930’s when a number of the tradition’s best players were recorded. Paul Oliver observed that “Texas was as rich in piano blues as Mississippi was in guitar blues” and “a cursory glance through the discographies will emphasize the fact that a remarkable number of blues pianists came from Texas." The pianists can be roughly grouped into schools; there was the remarkable Thomas family who made the bulk of their recordings between 1923 and 1928, one based around Dallas which included Whistlin Alex Moore, a regional style that developed around Shreveport and the so-called 'Santa Fe group' who were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie. In our second installment we spotlight members of the powerful Santa Fe group as well as a number of pianists who recorded in the post-war era.
The 'Santa Fe group' were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie.“ Mack McCormick noted that the “itinerant pack of pianists who came to be known loosely as 'the Santa Fe group,' partly because they favored that railroad and partly because a stranger asking for the name of a selection was invariably told 'That's The Santa Fe.' …They were known as The Santa Fe after the railroad that straddle Fort Bend County with a big triangle just Southwest of Houston, providing access westward to the high plains, cotton country, east to the piney-woods lumbering camps and north (pretty much following the old Chisholm Trail) to a string of cities and watering places. ”Here”, Oliver notes “was where the music thrived and pianists could be found like Pinetop Burks, Son Becky, Rob Cooper, Black Boy Shine, Andy Boy, Big Boy Knox, Robert Shaw, Buster Pickens and the singers who worked with them like Walter 'Cowboy' Washington and Joe Pullum.” Others associated with the group were Victoria Spivey and Bernice Edwards.
1937 was an outstanding year for the Santa Fe group of pianists: Andy Boy recorded in February for Bluebird, Big Boy Knox recorded for Bluebird in March, Black Boy Shine recorded in June for Vocalion and Son Becky and Pinetop Burks recorded at a shared session for Vocalion in October. Among the best of the Santa Fe group were Andy Boy of Galveston and Rob Cooper of Houston. Andy Boy had a rough, expressive voice offset with his sprightly blues piano laced with ragtime flourishes. He waxed eight sides in 1937 under his own name as well as backing singer Joe Pullum on eleven sides in 1935 and the obscure Walter 'Cowboy' Washington.
Little is known of Big Boy Knox who recorded four sides in 1937. Son Becky and Pinetop Burks recorded at a shared session for Vocalion in October 1937. Becky's real name was Leon Calhoun born in Wharton, Texas in 1910. He's remembered playing along the Piney woods border with Louisiana. He's backed by an unknown guitarist and washboard player oh his six titles. Conish 'Pinetop' Burks was born near Richmond, Texas in 1907. He possessed a formidable technique as he displays on the six titles he cut for Vocalion in 1937.
After World War II the Texas piano tradition virtually evaporated. Several, however, did record in the post-war era including Wilson “Thunder” Smith. Smith plays piano behind Lightnin' Hopkins on his first two sessions for Aladdin in 1946 and 1947 and Hopkins backed Smith on a four song session for Aladdin in 1946 with Smith cutting one session apiece in 1947 for Gold Star and in 1948 for Down Town. He was murdered in Houston in 1963. His “Santa Fe Blues” indicates ties to the Santa Fe group.
Bill Quinn, owner of the Houston based Gold Star label, recorded two piano players: Leroy Ervin in 1947 and Lee Hunter in 1948. Another pianist from the older generation was Sonny Boy Davis who recorded two sides for the Talent label in 1949 backed by guitarist Rattlesnake Cooper.
Lavada Durst, known as Dr. Hepcat, who was a disciple of Robert Shaw but who recorded infrequently. He worked in baseball for much of his life, training players and announcing games, and it was from the latter activity that he graduated to working as a DJ, broadcasting over KVET, a white station in Austin. There he developed the persona of Dr.Hepcat, with an extraordinary line in jive talk. He also made a few records of his own, but despite his high profile on radio, it appears that these can't have sold very well, as they are extremely rare, even one issued on the comparatively major independent label Peacock; the other two were on the local Uptown label, one issued under the pseudonym of Cool Papa Smith. He made a handful of latter day recordings before passing in 1995.
In part one of our spotlight on Texas piano we played a pair of pre-war number by Whistlin Alex Moore, the best known Dallas pianist. Moore's career spanned from 1929 until 1988, recording in every decade except the 1970's. He was rediscovered by Chris Strachwitz in 1960, recording an album for Arhoolie and making his way to Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival by the end of the decade. Back in 1951 in Dallas he cut a few titles for the RPM label including two of which we spin today.
As Paul Oliver wrote: "Buster Pickens is a barrelhouse pianist who has played the sawmills, the turpentine camps and the oil 'boom' towns since his childhood. He has outlasted most of his contemporaries in their tough an often dangerous life and can lay good claim to be virtually the last of the sawmill pianists. Pickens lone album, for Heritage, the self-titled Buster Pickens, was recorded over several sessions in 1960 and 1961 and released in 1962, later reissued in 1977 on the Flyright label as Back Door Blues and now appears on CD for the first time courtesy of Document Records. Liner notes for the new reissue were written by your truly.
|Read Liner Notes|
Robert Shaw was born in Stafford, Texas in 1908 and in his mid-teens started playing with members of the Santa Fe Group and greatly influenced by his friend Black Boy Shine. Shaw wasn't recorded until 1963 when he was tracked down by Mack McCormick.
Roosevelt Williams, better know as the Grey Ghost, was born in Bastrop, Texas in 1903. He outlived his contemporaries passing at the age of 92 in 1996. He traveled to the area dances and roadhouses by riding empty boxcars. He would seem to appear out of nowhere and then disappear immediately after performing, which earned him the nickname, "Grey Ghost. He wasn't properly documented until 1965 when he was recorded by Tary Owens. Those recordings saw daylight in the late 80's, reviving Williams' career. Owens arranged for Williams to make a CD of new recordings at the age of 89, Which was released in 1992.