Piano Blues


ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Andy BoyEvil BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Andy BoyChurch Street BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Walter 'Cowboy' Washington & Andy BoyIce Pick MamaThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Andy BoyHouse Raid BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Big Boy KnoxBlue Man BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Big Boy KnoxEleven Light City BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937
Son Becky Mistreated Washboard BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Son Becky Midnight Trouble BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksJack of All Trades BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksFannie Mae BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksShake the ShackSan Antonio Blues 1937
Thunder SmithSanta Fe BluesLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Thunder SmithLow Down Dirty WaysLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Leroy Ervin Rock Island BluesTexas Blues: Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings
Lee HunterBack To Santa FeTexas Blues: Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings
Sonny Boy DavisI Don't Live Here No MoreTexas Country Blues 1948-1951
Dr. HepcatI CriedHouston Might Be Heaven V
Dr. HepcatHattie GreenDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953: Texas
Dr. HepcatBoogie WoogieGiants Of Texas Country Blues Piano
Whistlin Moore AlexSometimes I Feel Worried From North Dallas To The East Side
Whistlin Moore AlexIf I Lose You WomanModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Whistlin Moore AlexNeglected WomanModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Buster PickensSanta Fe TrainEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Buster PickensJim NappyEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Buster PickensShe Caught The L & NEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Robert ShawHere I Come With My Dirty, Dirty Duckings On Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Robert ShawGroceries On My Shelf (Piggly Wiggly) Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Robert ShawThe Ma Grinder Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Grey GhostNobody Knows You When You're Down And OutGrey Ghost (Catfish)
Grey GhostWay Out On The DesertGrey Ghost (Spindletop)

Show Notes:

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.

Pinetop Burks: Jack Of All Trades BluesThe 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.

Thunder Smith: Santa Fe BluesAfter 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.

Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
 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.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Hersal ThomasHersal BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Sippie WallaceMurder's Gonna be My CrimeThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Hociel ThomasWorried Down With The BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
George Thomas Fast Stuff BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Moanin' Bernice EdwardsLong Tall Mama The Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Bernice Edwards, Black Boy Shine & Howling SmithHot Mattress Stomp The Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937
Bert Mays Michigan River Blues Down In Black Bottom
Bert Mays You Can't Come In Down In Black Bottom
Fred Adams & Bilikin Johnson Frisco BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 15: Dallas 1927-1929
Texas Bill Day & Bilikin JohnsonElm Street Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Texas Bill Day Good Morning Blues The Piano Blues Vol. 15: Dallas 1927-1929
Hattie HudsonDoggone My Good Luck Soul Dallas Alley Drag
Jack RangerTP Window Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Jack RangerThieving Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Bessie TuckerThe Katy Dallas Alley Drag
Bessie TuckerPenitentiaryI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Ida May MackElm Street BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 15: Dallas 1927-1929
Ida May MackGoodbye Rider Barrelhouse Mamas
Whistlin Moore AlexHeart Wrecked Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Whistlin Moore AlexBlue Bloomer Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Whistlin Moore AlexIce Pick Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Black Ivory KingThe Flying CrowBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Duskey DaileyThe Flying CrowThe Piano Blues Vol. 10: Territory Blues 1934-1941
Frank TannehillRolling Stone BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 10: Territory Blues 1934-1941
Black Boy Shine Dog House BluesBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Black Boy Shine Ice Pick And Pistol Woman BluesBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Black Boy Shine Brown House BluesBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Joe PullumCows, See That Train Comin'Joe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Joe PullumMcKinney Street StompJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Rob Cooper West Dallas DragThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Joe PullumHard-Working Man BluesJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Joe PullumDixie My HomeJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935

Show Notes:

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.

Hersal Thomas
Hersal Thomas

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. Today’s show is part one of a two-part feature, spotlighting recordings made between 1925 and 1941.

As piano expert Francis Smith noted: “With the two major recording centers of New York and Chicago a thousand miles to the North, it was extremely fortunate that so many pianists of this important close knit Texas group were recorded—all three record companies of the time being involved.” The three companies were Columbia, Victor and Vocalion in addition to Bluebird and Okeh. These companies, either singularly or in various combinations, made field trips to Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio between 1927 and 1941.

The early Texas piano tradition was based around the remarkable Thomas family who made the bulk of their recordings between 1923 and 1928. The music sounds quite different from those who recorded in the 30's. As David Evans states: “It is likely that no family has contributed more personalities to blues history than the Thomas family of Houston, Texas, whose famous members included George W. Thomas, his sister Beulah “Sippie” Wallace, their brother Hersal Thomas, George’s daughter Hociel Thomas, and Moanin’ Bernice Edwards who was raised up in the family.”

Hersal, is described by Francis Smith: "That Hersal, the child prodigy, was a highly influential pianist among his peers there is no doubt; even though he left Houston in his very early 'teens he had established a reputation there which remains still in the folk memory."Hersal was busy between 1925 & 1926 cutting a dozen titles with Hociel, fifteen with Sippie and backing singers Lillian Mller and Sodarisa Miller. Hersal died tragically at the age of 16 in 1926 of food poisoning.

Hersal's older brother George also left behind a slim legacy; a few jazz titles with his Muscle Shoals Devils, some sides backing singer Tiny Franklin, a recording of "The Rocks" made in 1922 under the name Clay Custer and the coupling ""Don't Kill Him In Here" from 1929 and our selection “Fast Stuff Blues."

Moanin' Bernice Edwards possessed a beautiful, deep, lowdown voice and piano style  that fell within the Santa Fe school of pianists. Edwards waxed twelve sides for Paramount in 1928 and six more for Vocalion in 1935.

Whistlin  Alex Moore: West Texas WomanDallas was the home of a number of distinctive piano players and singers they accompanied. Among them were Texas Bill Day, Neal Roberts, Willie Tyson, Whistlin' Alex Moore and singer Billiken Johnson. The hub of the black community was an area known as Central Tracks, where honky-tonks 'saloons, beer-parlours and brothels were wedged between warehouses, furniture stores and places of entertainment like Ella B. Moore's Park Theatre, or Hattie Burleson's dance hall. In addition many railroads whose names are familiar to blues collectors had termini there. It's not surprising that the railroad figure prominently in the blues of Dallas.

Not much is known about several of the Dallas pianists. Pianist/singer Texas Bill Day cut six sides for Columbia. Tyson cut two solo piano numbers for Columbia in 1927 which went unissued. The next day he backed singer Hattie Hudson on “Black Hand Blues” and the classic “Doggone My Good Luck Soul.” Tyson also backed Gertrude Perkins, Bilikin Johnson and Lillian Glinn. Jack Ranger cut three songs for Okeh in Dallas in 1929. it's unknown if he accompanies himself on piano but he was a sensitive singer and songwriter.

Pianist K.D. Johnson became famous backing the outstanding Texas singers Bessie Tucker and Ida May Mack. Johnson backs them on their legendary session for Victor on August 29th and 30th 1928 in Memphis. He was remembered as '49' by Alex Moore and not only did Mack call him 'Mr. 49' during his solos, she even named a song after him called "Mr. Forty-Nine Blues."

The most famous of the Dallas pianists was Alex Moore. Of Moore, Paul Oliver wrote: "He is a true original, a folk blues singer of the city who can sit at the piano improvise endlessly piano themes and blues verses that are sometimes startling, sometimes comic, sometimes grim, and very often pure poetry." Moore began performing in the early '20s, playing clubs and parties around his hometown of Dallas. In 1929, he recorded his first sessions for Columbia Records and also accompanied several artists on record. Moore didn't record again until 1937, when he made a few records for Decca.

Around Shreveport another regional style flourished. Among the pianists who recorded from this region were Dave Alexander who recorded as Black Ivory King and Duskey Dailey. Both recorded in 1937 with Dailey cutting an additional session in 1939. Both men cut version of a regional railroad number called “The Flying Crow.”

Two pianists who fall outside the Texas piano schools are Bert Mays and Frank Tannehill. Mays recorded four titles for Paramount in Chicago in 1927. He cut a final ten sides in 1928 and 1929 for Vocalion although only two were released. Tannehill was born in Austin and made his debut backing Perry Dickson in 1932. Under his own name he recorded for Vocalion in Chicago in 1937, in 1938 for Bluebird in San Antonio and a final session in Dallas in 1941.

Joe Pullum: Dixie Is My HomeIn part two of our feature we'll be going more in depth into the recordings of the Santa Fe group but we do feature a number of songs today by men associated with that group. ARC Records made field recordings in 1936 in San Antonio where they recorded Harold Holiday, known as Black Boy Shine. He was one of the acknowledged leaders among the Santa Fe group of pianists. He recorded more prolifically then the rest; cutting 18 issued sides in 1936 and 1937.

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.

Rob Cooper was an accomplished pianist with strong links to ragtime and stride piano. He also recorded behind the popular singer Joe Pullum on three sessions in 1934, 1935 and 1936. He recorded two version of “West Dallas Drag”, his version of the seminal, technically complex Santa Fe number “The Ma Grinder.”

 

 

 

 

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 Document video for the release of
Edwin Buster Pickens – The 1959 to 1961 Sessions

 

I've been collaborating with Document Records since 2005 when they asked me to write the notes for the Robert Nighthawk collection Prowling With The Nighthawk. The next project was the series that grew into the three double disc sets of Blues, Blues Christmas. For years I had being doing an annual Christmas program on my blues show and pitched the idea of a vintage collection of blues and gospel Christmas songs to Document. This year Document issued the third volume of Blues, Blues Christmas, the most wide-ranging collection yet, jumping genres from blues, gospel, jazz, rock, doo-wop and country. Another idea I brought to Document was to resurrect some great long out-of-print blues records. One of the first records that came to mind was pianist Buster Pickens' lone album for Heritage (HLP 1008), the self-titled Buster Pickens, which was recorded over several sessions between 1960 and 1961 and released in 1962, subsequently reissued in 1977 on the Flyright label as Back Door Blues and now appears on CD first time as Edwin Buster Pickens – The 1959 to 1961 Sessions.

Texas Piano Part 1 Texas Piano Part 2

 

A couple weeks back I got a call from Gillian from Document asking me if I was interested in putting together some podcasts. With the release of the Buster Pickens and the Christmas CD we decided to do a couple revolving around the rich Texas piano tradition and one devoted to Christmas tunes. You can hear these on the new Document podcast page. While you're there check out the great podcasts on James Booker and Christmas songs from Edison Records.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Pine Top Smith Pine Top BluesShake Your Wicked Knees
Pine Top Smith Pine Top's Boogie WoogieShake Your Wicked Knees
Jabo Williams Polock BluesJuke Joint Saturday Night
Jabo Williams Pratt City BluesJuke Joint Saturday Night
Lee Green Maltese Cat The Way I Feel
Lee Green 44 BluesThe Way I Feel
Lee Green Dud-Low Joe The Piano Blues Vol. 18: Roosevelt Sykes & Lee Green
Henry Brown Henry Brown Blues Twenty First St. Stomp
Henry Brown Stomp Em' Down To The Bricks Down On The Levee
Mary Johnson w/ Henry Brown Peepin' At The Risin' Sun Mary Johnson 1929-1936
Judson Brown You Don't Know My Mind Blues Piano Blues Vol 1 1927-1936
Mozelle Alderson w/ Judson Brown Tight In ChicagoBarrelhouse Mamas
Louise Johnson By The Moon And StarsJuke Joint Saturday
Louise Johnson On The WallJuke Joint Saturday
Pine Top Smith I'm Sober Now Shake Your Wicked Knees
Pine Top Smith Jump Steady Blues Shake Your Wicked Knees
Jabo Williams Fat Mama BluesJuke Joint Saturday
Jabo Williams Jab's BluesJuke Joint Saturday Night
Lee Green Pork Chop BluesLee Green Vol. 2 1930-1937
Lee Green The Way I Feel BluesThe Way I Feel
Lee Green Death Bell Blues The Way I Feel
Lee Green Memphis Fives The Way I Feel
Henry Brown Eastern Chimes Blues Down On The Levee
Henry Brown & Edith JohnsonNickel's Worth of Liver The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2
Henry Brown Deep Morgan Blues Down On The Levee
Madelyn James w/ Judson Brown Longtime BluesMemphis Blues 1927-1938
Jenny Pope w/ Judson Brown Tennessee Workhouse BluesMemphis Jug Band: Associates & Alternate Takes 1927-1930
Mary Johnson w/ Judson Brown Morning Sun BluesPiano Blues, Vol. 19: Barrelhouse Women 1925-1933
Mozelle Alderson w/ Judson Brown Tight WhoopeeThe Piano Blues Vol. 5: Postscript 1927-1935
Louise Johnson Long Ways From HomeMasters Of The Delta Blues
Louise Johnson All Night Long BluesJuke Joint Saturday Night
Henry Brown Papa Slick Head Henry Brown Blues
Henry Brown Henry Brown Boogie Henry Brown Blues

Show Notes:

Pine Top Smith: pinetop's BluesOn today's program we once again spotlight several fine forgotten piano men active in the 1920's and 30's,  a tremendously fertile period for piano blues.  We spotlight six superb blues pianists active in the 1920's and 30's who remain largely forgotten today. Perhaps the best known is Pine Top Smith who first recorded the classic “Pine Top's Boogie Woogie.” Jabo Williams’ legacy rests on only eight titles cut for Paramount in the depths of the depression and display a formidable technique. Louise Johnson was a barrelhouse pianist and girlfriend of Charlie Patton’s who went to Grafton, Wisconsin to make records for Paramount with Patton, Willie Brown and Son House. She cut four sides at that session, her sole recorded legacy. Judson Brown made one solo recording, sharing the B-side of his only 78 with Freddie "Redd" Nicholson and backed several singers. Lee Green was closely associated with Roosevelt Sykes and Little Brother Montgomery. He cut over forty sides between 1929 and 1937. Henry Brown is the only artist featured today who recorded after the war. He was fixture on the St. Louis scene recoding under his own name as well as backing several singers and waxed a couple of fine albums in the 1960’s.

Clarence "Pine Top" Smith first performed in public in Birmingham about the age of fifteen. He worked as a pianist at house parties in Troy, Alabama before moving on to Birmingham, where he sometimes worked with Robert McCoy. From around 1920 Smith was based in Pittsburgh, and the following years he traveled with minstrel and vaudeville shows as a dancer, singer and comedian.  He traveled throughout the south where he worked with artists such as Butterbeans & Susie and Ma Rainey. He began to devote more of his energies to playing piano and, at the urging of Charles "Cow Cow." In in interview with the Chicago Tribune pianist Cow Cow Davenport and Vocalion Records talent scout reported that he first saw Pinetop Smith in Pittsburgh  "I happened to hit in Pittsburgh at the Star Theater on Wylie Avenue. … I went with a friend of mine to the Sachem Alley, and there I found Pinetop Smith."

In an interview with Downbeat magazine in 1939, Smith’s wife Sarah Horton said that her husband first started playing "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" in Pittsburgh. Cow Cow Davenport recommended Smith to Mayo Williams of Brunswick/Vocalion records. Smith then moved with his family to Chicago in 1928. On December 29, 1928 Smith recorded his two breakthrough hits: "Pine Top Blues" and "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie." This was the first time the phrase "boogie woogie" appeared on record. On January 14 and 15, 1929 Smith recorded six more sides including "I'm Sober Now" and "Jump Steady Blues." On March 13, 1929 Pine Top made an unissued recording of "Driving Wheel Blues." Two days later, at age 25, Smith was accidentally shot by a man named David Bell during a fight that broke out in a dancehall.Lee Green: 44 Blues

Leothus Lee Green was an early contemporary of Little Brother Montgomery and a mentor to Roosevelt Sykes. Born in Mississippi around 1900, Green worked as a clothes presser in Vicksburg while perfecting his piano technique. Soon he was traveling and earning a living by playing piano. Montgomery knew him in Vicksburg, and claimed to have taught him the "44 Blues" in Sondheimer, LA, back in 1922. Sykes first heard Green in 1925. Green taught Sykes how to really play the blues and is usually credited with teaching the "44 Blues" to Sykes. All three men recorded the number;  Sykes and  Montgomery chose to record their versions of “44 blues” at their debut sessions, Sykes cutting it first in June 1929 as "Forty- Four Blues", Green as "number Forty-Four Blues" in August at his second session the same year and the following year by Montgomery as “Vicksburg Blues.”

Sykes and Green became traveling and gigging companions, circulating throughout the region for several years. Green made his first four recordings in Richmond, IN, for Gennett and Supertone on July 10, 1929, just weeks after Sykes cut his first sides for OKeh in New York. Excepting for a brief excursion to New York in August 1937, Green performed and recorded mainly in or near Chicago. He cut 24 sides for Vocalion in 1929 and 1930, and 14 titles for Decca between August 1934 and September 1937. His last records were made for the Bluebird label in Aurora, IL, on October 11, 1937.

Jabo Williams was a highly talented pianist/vocalist hailing from Birmingham, Alabama. In the early 1930s, north Alabama, including the mill towns of Birmingham and Huntsville, had a distinctive group of blues pianists including Walter Roland, Robert McCoy and Cow Cow Davenport.  It's not clear if he was discovered there or when he  relocated to St. Louis. In St. Louis he may have been  recommended to Paramount Records by local record store owner and talent scout Jesse Johnson. Paramount went out of business in 1932, the same year Williams recorded so his records were likely pressed in small quantities which makes them extremely rare.  In the only known photograph of Williams he's seen in a wide-brimmed hat and in the company fellow Birmingham pianist Robert McCoy. In St. Louis he was well remembered by pianist Joe Dean as a slim, medium-brown man who played piano in a pool hall on 15th and Biddle.

As pianist/researcher Bob Hall notes, Williams was a "forthright, two-handed pianist in the barrelhouse tradition, who used mostly eight-to-the bar boogie bass patterns and highly individual treble phrases, including a characteristic coda with which he ended many of his pieces. 'Ko Ko Mo Blues Parts 1 and 2' has similarities to the later 'Sweet Home Chicago' and is a medium boogie with a lazy, slurred vocal. 'Pratt City Blues,' which is a different tune from the Chippie Hill title, refers to a suburb of the Ensley District of Birmingham. Both this boogie and the stride ‘‘Jab Blues’’ are outstanding instrumental compositions with a relentless drive. 'My Woman Blues' and 'Polock Blues' revert to medium boogie tempo, the latter taking its name from a part of East St. Louis. Williams shared a disregard of bar lengths with his fellow Birmingham pianist Walter Roland, who subsequently recorded another of Williams’ songs, 'House Lady Blues.' 'Fat Mama Blues' is a bawdy house song having a lyrical piano melody and an unusual bass line, ending with a characteristic Williams coda." Some of Williams' records are in such rough shape, like "Ko Ko Mo Blues Parts 1 and 2", (only two known copies) they are virtually unplayable.

Henry Bown: Henry Brown BluesIn A Left Hand Like God: A Study of Boogie-Woogie Peter Silvester wrote: "Henry Brown was a living model for the qualities most apparent in the St. Louis boogie-woogie style. He employed an economic left hand of single notes or sparse chords for slow numbers and a rumbustious walking bass for faster ones." Brown learned to play the piano from the "professors" of the notorious Deep Morgan section of St. Louis. One of them went by the name of "Blackmouth," another was named Joe (or Tom) Cross. As Brown remembered him, "he was a real old time blues player and he'd stomp ‘em down to the bricks." "Deep Morgan Blues" was one of his signature pieces. By the age of sixteen Brown had acquired enough technique to be able to play the buffet flats in the 1920's and was soon in regular demand there. He was able to make enough money to survive, allowing him the sleep during the day and play all night. Brown worked clubs such as the Blue Flame Club, the 9-0-5 Club, Jim's Place and Katy Red's, from the twenties into the 30's. He recorded for Brunswick with Ike Rogers and Mary Johnson in 1929, for Paramount in ‘29 and ‘30, behind singer Alice Moore in 1929 and 1934 as well as backing others such singers as Jimmy Oden, Bessie Mae Smith and others.

Brown served in the army in the early 40's, then formed his own quartet to work occasional local gigs in St. Louis area from the 50's, and worked the Becky Thatcher riverboat in 1965. In addition to his pre-war recordings, he was recorded by Paul Oliver in 1960 (Henry Browm Blues, 77 Records and reissued on CD by Southland), by Sam Charters with Edith Johnson in 1961 (The Blues in St. Louis Vol. 2: Henry Brown and Edith Johnson), cut some sides for the Euphonic label in the 50's (some appear on the Delmark reissue Biddle Street Barrelhousin') and some final sides for Adelphi in 1969.

Louise Johnson was barrelhouse pianist and girlfriend of Charlie Patton’s who went to Grafton to make records with Patton, Willie Brown and Son House in 1930. She cut four sides at that session, her sole recorded legacy. From the book Preachin' The Blues Dan Beaumont writes: "North of Robinsonville, Patton directed Ford to visit the Kirby plantation where they picked up a young woman named Louise Johnson, who was one of Patton’s girlfriends. Johnson sang and played piano in a barrelhouse operated by a Liny Armstrong.  Willie Brown had heard her playing, and he then introduced her to Patton who soon found time for her.  House remembered her 'nice-lookin’…’bout twenty-three, twenty-four years old.'  And like her boyfriend Patton, she 'didn’t do nothin’ but drink and play music; she didn’t work for nobody…' Somewhere along the trip her and Patton had a fight and she became House's girlfriend. "Back in Mississippi, the foursome played in a barrelhouse on the Kirby plantation near Lula for a brief time, then went their separate ways.  According to[Stephen]  Calt and [Gayle] Wardlow, House saw Louise Johnson only once after 1930. He thought she had moved to Helena, Arkansas.  Another report had her playing in the 1930's on the King and Anderson plantation near Clarksdale.  Then she vanished from view."

Judson Brown only made one solo recording in 1930, "You Don't Know My Mind Blues", and had to share the b-side of his one and only 78 with Freddie "Redd" Nicholson performing his "Tee Roller's Rub". Brown did appear on some recordings by Mary Johnson for Brunswick the same year as well as backing singers Mozelle Alderson, Madelyn James, Charlie Nickerson and Jenny Pope. The singers he worked with suggest a Memphis background but according to researcher Bob Eagle he was from Georgia and merely passed through Memphis, ending up in Chicago, where he died in 1933. The pre-war Memphis piano scene is no well documented although a few pianists from Memphis appear on record such as Jab Jones who recorded with the Memphis Jug band and Yank Rachell and Sleepy John Estes  and Blind Clyde Church who waxed one 78 for Victor.

Related Reading:

-Henry Brown:Henry Brown Blues [PDF] (Liner notes by Paul Oliver)

-Pinetop Smith [PDF]  (Jazz Record, March 1962 by John Bentley)

-The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2: Henry Brown and Edith Johnson [PDF]  (Liner notes by Samuel Charters)

-The Piano Blues Vol. 18: Roosevelt Sykes/Lee Green 1929-1930 [JPG]  (Liner notes by Bob Hall and Richard Noblett)

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Charlie Campbell w/ Robert McCoyGoin' Away Blues Uptown Blues: A Decade Of Guitar-Piano Duets
Guitar Slim w/ Robert McCoy Katie May - Katie May Alabama & The East Coast 1933-1937
Whistlin' Alex Moore West Texas Woman Dallas Alley Drag
Whistlin' Alex Moore Ice Pick Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Whistlin' Alex Moore Heart Wrecked Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Speckled Red Speckled Red’s BluesSpeckled Red 1929-1938
Speckled Red House Dance BluesSpeckled Red 1929-1938
Speckled Red Interview "They Was Real Bad Words..."Broadcasting The Blues
Speckled Red Dirty Dozen Mama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here
James Sherrill (Peanut The Kidnapper) w/ Robert McCoy Eight Avenue Blues The Piano Blues Vol. 10
James Sherrill (Peanut The Kidnapper) w/ Robert McCoy Suicide Blues Alabama & The East Coast 1933-1937
Whistlin' Alex Moore Blue Bloomer BluesDallas Alley Drag
Whistlin' Alex Moore Alex's RagFrom North Dallas To The East Side
Speckled Red Do The GeorgiaSpeckled Red 1929-1938
Speckled Red The Right String, But The Wrong Yo-YoWhen The Sun Goes Down
Speckled Red Wilkins Street Stomp Mama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here
Robert McCoy Let's Get Together Bye Bye Baby
Robert McCoy Gone Mother BluesBye Bye Baby
Robert McCoy Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye Baby
Whistlin' Alex Moore Sometime I Feel Worried From North Dallas To The East Side
Whistlin' Alex Moore Neglected Woman The Modern Down Home Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Whistlin' Alex Moore Lillie Mae Boogie The Modern Down Home Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Speckled Red Early In The MorningSpeckled Red 1929-1938
Speckled Red Specked Red Speaks Blues Masters Vol. 11
Speckled Red Four O'Clock Blues Blues Masters Vol. 11
Speckled Red Uncle Sam's Blues The Barrel-House Blues of Speckled Red
Robert McCoy You Got To Reap What You SowBye Bye Baby
Robert McCoy Church Bell Blues Bye Bye Baby
Robert McCoy Mr. Freddie BluesBye Bye Baby
Whistlin' Alex Moore If I Lose You Woman The Traveling Record Man
Whistlin' Alex Moore Going Back To Froggy Bottom From North Dallas To The East Side
Whistlin' Alex Moore You Say I'm A Bad Feller From North Dallas To The East Side

Show Notes:

On today's program we spotlight three fine piano players who recorded in both the pre-war and post-war eras. Robert McCoy spent virtually his whole life in Birmingham, Alabama where he participated in a 1937 session as an accompanist and cut two fine, very rare records in the early 60's. Speckled Red cut several sessions between 1929 and 1938 and was rediscovered living in St. Louis, cutting fine sessions in the 50's and 60's. Alex Moore got his start in Dallas and waxed several sessions in 1929 and 1937. In fact Moore recorded in almost every decade from the 20's through the 80's.

Between March 3rd and April 7th 1937, ARC (The American Record Company) sent a mobile recording unit on a field trip firstly to visit Hot Springs, Arkansas and, then to Birmingham, Alabama in search of new talent that could be recorded on location instead of transporting the artists to their New York studio. Sometime between 18th and 24th March the unit arrived in Birmingham and, over a two week period set about recording a number of gospel and blues musicians. Among those were Charlie Campbell, Guitar Slim (George Bedford) and James Sherrill (Peanut The Kidnapper) all of whom were backed by the lively piano of Robert McCoy who did not record under his own name. Sherrill  was heavily influenced by the then popular Peetie Wheatstraw.

McCoy was born in 1912 in Aliceville, AL but raised on Birmingham's North Side and by 1927 was a well-known local artist. Two of McCoy's six brothers, Johnny an Willie, played piano and used to run around with the great Jabo Williams. Cow Cow Davenport and Pinetop Smith played at McCoy's house whenever they were in town and had a profound influence on McCoy. In 1963 McCoy was recorded by Pat Cather, a teenaged Birmingham blues fan. Cather issued two albums on his Vulcan label: Barrelhouse Blues And Jook Piano and Blues And Boogie Classics. Both albums were cut in extremely small quantities and are very rare. Delmark has reissued some of this material on the CD Bye Bye Baby including some unreleased material. In 1964 Vulcan issued a couple of singles and the same year a couple of singles were issued on the Soul-O label (Robert McCoy and His Five Sins) with McCoy backed by an R&B band in an attempt to update his sound. In later years McCoy became a church Deacon. He passed in 1978. In 1983, McCoy was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

Of Alex Moore, Paul Oliver wrote: "He is a true original, a folk blues singer of the city who can sit at the piano improvise endlessley piano themes and blues verses that are sometimes startling, sometimes comic, sometimes grim, and very often pure poetry. …When I first heard his records, a dozen years ago, I was attracted by their unique quality and hoped that I one day meet the man whose memorable blues had so enriched the Columbia and Decca catalogs."

Alex Moore was born in Dallas in 1899 and died there in 1989. Moore began performing in the early '20s, playing clubs and parties around his hometown of Dallas; he usually performed under the name Whistlin' Alex. In 1929, he recorded his first sessions, which were for Columbia Records. He accompanied several artists including Perry Dixon, Blind Norris and Nick Nichols. The sides didn't gain much attention and Moore didn't record again until 1937, when he made a few records for Decca. Between his first and second sessions, he continued to play clubs in Dallas.

It was 1951 before Moore recorded again with RPM Records/Kent. Fortunately some sides from a session at Radio KLIF in Dallas in 1947 survived and have been issued by Arhoolie Records. Arhoolie Records recorded a self-titled album in 1960, and those subsequent recordings saw him obtain nationwide recognition. This album has been reissued on CD as From North Dallas To The East Side and includes the 1947 sides plues sides cut in Hamburg, Germany in 1968.  Throughout the 1960s, Moore played at clubs and festivals in America, as well as a small number of festivals across Europe. He toured with the American Folk Blues Festival in 1969, performing on the same bill as Earl Hooker and Magic Sam. The same year he recorded a session in Stuttgart, Germany, which led to the release of Alex Moore in Europe. He cut his final album for Rounder in 1988, passing away the following year.

Samuel Charters, who recorded Speckled Red for Folkways wrote the following about his performance style: "When he sits down at his piano, his shoulders hunch over the keys, and he turns to the audience to sing and seems to fill the room with his presence. He is an entertainer, expressing himself and his personality through his music. It's this personality, almost overwhelming when Red is in full cry, that sweeps his playing and singing past the occasional moments of erratic technique."

Speckled Red was given his name because he was a black albino with an almost white skin. His family moved from Louisiana to Georgia where he acquired a rudimentary piano technique by practicing on a church organ and eventually playing at church services. The family moved again to live in Atlanta and Red, who by this time had switched to the piano, was now playing at house parties at weekends. Red struck out on his own and left Atlanta for Detroit in 1924. Red played regularly at the Detroit clubs where he earned the name Detroit Red. Red drifted West where he played the barrelhouse circuits for some time, traveling in the boxcars on freight trains. Shortly after leaving the barrelhouse circuits, Red joined a traveling medicine show called the Red Rose Minstrels in Memphis. The owner of the show was Jim Jackson, who was a recording artist and also acted as talent scout for Brunswick Records and it was through him that Red first got on record in 1929. He recorded three numbers: "The Dirty Dozens", "Wilkins Street Stomp" and "Dance House Blues." "The Dirty Dozens" became a big seller. A second recording session for Brunswick occurred in Chicago on 8 April 1930.

Red was in Chicago for a brief time, in the late 1930s, where he recorded ten sides at the RCA studios in Illinois in 1938. The session was organized for him by Walter Davis, acting as talent scout for the Bluebird label. He also backed other Bluebird artists such as Robert Lee McCoy during this period. In 1941, still largely unregarded, he settled in St Louis, which became his adopted home until his death. It was during this period that Red's brother began recording for Victor under the name Piano Red.

Red owed his rediscovery to Charles O'Brien, a special officer with the St Louis Police Department, for during the 1950s this policeman and lover of blues and boogie-woogie music decided to trace some of the long-forgotten piano players in St Louis. Checking police records, O'Brien found Red was still living at the same address and, by chance, O'Brien visited a poolroom on 16th and Franklin near Red's home and found him there. After a brief conversation, which confirmed that he was speaking to Speckled Red, O'Brien took him to the Top Deck nightspot where, fuelled with a shot of whisky, Red played many of the old numbers he had recorded in the 1930s and 1940s. He eventually became the pianist at a club in the famous Gaslight Square, a noted St Louis jazz-club area. This was followed by a tour of Europe and Great Britain, in 1959, as part of a USA cultural programme. His recording career also took off once again with sessions for the Folkways, Delmark, Euphonic, Storyville and Tone labels. He passed in 1972.

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