Playlists


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Champion Jack DupreeReminiscin' With Champion JackChampion of the Blues
Champion Jack DupreeStoryville SpecialBoogie Woogie, Booze And Wild Women
Champion Jack DupreeDrive 'em Down SpecialTwo Fisted Piano From New Orleans: Blues Roots Vol. 8
Speckled RedI Had My FunBlues Masters 11: Speckled Red
Speckled RedFour O'Clock BluesBlues Masters 11: Speckled Red
Speckled RedEarly Morning Blues Blues Masters 11: Speckled Red
Lonnie Johnson & Otis SpannClementine BluesSwingin' with Lonnie: Blues Roots Vol. 5
Lonnie Johnson & Otis SpannSee See RiderSwingin' with Lonnie: Blues Roots Vol. 5
Sleepy John Estes with Hammie NixonDiving Duck BluesPortraits In Blues Vol. 10
John Henry BarbeeI Ain't Gonna Pick No More CottonI Ain't Gonna Pick No More Cotton
Sippie Wallace & Little Brother MontgomeryWoman Be WiseSippie Wallace Sings The Blues
Sippie Wallace & Little Brother MontgomeryI'm A Might Tight WomanSippie Wallace Sings The Blues
Big Joe WilliamsShake Them DownBig Joe Williams
Robert Pete WilliamsDoctor BluesRobert Pete Williams
Otis SpannT.B. BluesOtis Spann: I Have Had My Fun - Blues Roots Vol. 9
Otis SpannSpann's BoogieOtis Spann: I Have Had My Fun - Blues Roots Vol. 9
Big Bill BroonzyI Get The Blues When It RainsAn Evening With Big Bill Broonzy Vol. 2
Big Bill BroonzyBlack Brown And WhiteAn Evening With Big Bill Broonzy
Sunnyland SlimPrison Bound Blues Sunnyland Slim: Blues Roots Vol. 9
Roosevelt SykesThe Way I Feel Roosevelt Sykes: Portraits In Blues Vol. 11
Roosevelt SykesBoot That ThingMemphis Minnie Vol. 4 1938
Sonny Boy WilliamsonThe Sky Is CryingKeep It to Ourselves
Sonny Boy WilliamsonRebecca BluesPiano Blues
Little Brother MontgomeryI Must Get Mine In FrontDeep South Piano
Little Brother MontgomeryBob Martin BluesDeep South Piano
Sonny Terry with Brownie McGhee I'm Afraid Of FireWizard Of The Harmonica
Brownie McGhee My Last SuitThe Best Of Brownie McGhee
Memphis Slim This Is A Good Time To Write A Song Memphis Slim: Blues Roots Vol. 10

Show Notes:

Big Bill BroonzyOn today's program we spotlight a great batch of recordings from the Storyville label based in Copenhagen. Storyville managed to corral  many of the great blues performers who made their way to Europe staring in the latter end of the 1950's and which increased as the American Folk Blues Festival brought many more to European shores throughout the 1960's. I have always been impressed with the quality of the albums Storyville issued. Artists like Champion Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, for example, recorded prolifically for many labels often churning out less than inspired recordings in their later years but Storyville had a knack for eliciting great performances from even the most jaded artists and the fact is that the Storyville albums maintain a consistently high level of quality. In addition to the original recordings, Storyville also released albums of recordings by Harry Oster and Pete Welding.

The year was 1950 when a group of jazz enthusiasts/record collectors often met at the home of Karl Emil Knudsen. Among those present were Heinrich Breiling and the young clarinet phenomenon Henrik Johansen. The label was launched in Copenhagen in 1952 with Knudsen eventually taking over full responsibility of the label. Storyville originally sold imported American records but when American jazz artists began to tour in Europe and Scandinavia Knudsen seized every opportunity to record them for the label. The label's first releases were 78 rpm reissues featuring Ma Rainey, Clarence Williams Blue Five, and James P. Johnson, but Storyville soon began releasing original recordings. Looking back on the period of 1956 to 1964, and to a lesser extant into the early 70's, Storyville’s recorded quite a bit of blues. The first great blues singer to arrive in Copenhagen was Big Bill Broonzy in 1956 and recorded by the label. Many blues artists toured Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival, which originally ran for a decade between 1962 and the early 70's. Storyville recorded the artists in the wee hours after they had played the evening concert. The label recorded many of the bluesmen who settled down and lived and performed in Europe including Memphis Slim, Champion Jack Dupree and Eddie Boyd. The label seemed to have a special affinity for piano players, cutting several albums by Champion Jack Dupree plus sessions by Speckled Red, Little Brother Montgomery, Memphis Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim and Eddie Boyd. Others who recorded for the label include Robert Pete Williams, Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Sonny Boy Williamson and others. A good chunk of the material has been made its way to CD including the 7-CD set, The Blues Box. The Storyville discography can be a bit confusing as the label repackaged, and re-titled their albums through the years.

Champion Jack DupreeAs mentioned previously, there's a wealth of great piano blues recorded by the label.  Champion Jack Dupree moved to Europe in 1959, first settling in Switzerland and then Denmark, England, Sweden and, finally, Germany. He record prolifically for Storyville, British Decca, Blue Horizon, Sonet and others. Dupree moved to Europe in 1959, first settling in Switzerland and then Denmark, England, Sweden and, finally, Germany. He record prolifically for Storyville, British Decca, Blue Horizon, Sonet and others. Dupree cut 45's, EP's and several albums for Storyville including Champion of the Blues, The Best Of The Blues, Portraits in Blues Vol. 5, The Blues Of Champion Jack Dupree and several others.

Speckled Red first recorded in 1929, cutting his classic "The Dirty Dozens" among others. He did another session in 1930 and a final one in 1938. Charlie O'Brien, a St. Louis policeman and something of a blues aficionado had tracked down old bluesmen during the 1950s, including Speckled Red on December 14, 1954, who subsequently was signed to Delmark Records as their first blues artist. In 1960 he was booked to tour Europe. On June he toured Scandinavia where he recorded for Storyville.

Little Brother Montgomery saw his career pick up in the 1960's and he became a world traveler, visiting the UK and Europe on several occasions during the 1960's, cutting several albums there, while remaining based in Chicago. He cut one of his best latter day albums in 1972 for Storyville titled Deep South Piano. Montgomery can also be heard playing behind Sippie Wallace on the Storyville album Sippie Wallace Sings The Blues recorded in 1966 when when she was touring with the American Folk Blues.

Other piano players who recorded for Storyville were Otis Spann, Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim, Sunnyland Slim and Eddie Boyd. Roosevelt Sykes was recorded for Storyville while on tour for the 1964 American Folk Blues Festival. Memphis Slim first appeared outside the United States in 1960, touring with Willie Dixon, with whom he returned to Europe in 1962 as a featured artist in the first of the series of American Folk Festival concerts. in 1962. That same year, he moved permanently to Paris where he secured his position as one of the most prominent blues artists for nearly three decades. He recorded the album Traveling With The Blues for Storyville in 1960 plus some other scattered sides for the label. Otis Spann recorded an album for the label as well as backing Lonnie Johnson on a fantastic session. Both men were on tour for the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival at the time.

Sonny Boy Williamson: Portrait In Blues Vol. 4Big Bill Broonzy was the first blues singer to be recorded by Storyville. In 1951, Broonzy took his first tour of Europe, where he was met with enthusiasm and appreciation. His appearances in Europe introduced the blues to European audiences and were especially influential in London’s emerging skiffle and rock blues scene. Broonzy’s success also set the stage for later blues artists such as Sonny Boy Williamson II and Muddy Waters to play European venues. Broonzy toured Europe again in 1955, 1956 and 1957. Broonzy was recorded live at Club Montmartre in Copenhagen and these recordings were issued on Storyville as An Evening With Big Bill Broonzy Vol. 1 & 2.

Other blues singers recorded for the label include Sonny Boy Williamson II, Big Joe Williams, John Henry Barbee, Sleepy John Estes & Hammie Nixon, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Robert Pete Williams. Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon were recorded for Storyville while both were on tour for the 1964 American Folk Blues Festival while  Big Joe and Robert Pete Williams were recorded for Storyville while both were on tour for the 1972 Festival. Both Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry cut excellent albums in the early 70's for Storyville each accompanying each other. Sonny Boy Williamson first traveled to Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival in 1963 and joined the Festival again in 1964. He recorded a wonderful session for Storyville in 1963 backed by Matt Murphy, Memphis Slim and Billie Stepney.

John Henry Barbee cut an exceptional album for the label and has a fascinating but tragic story. Barbee recorded recorded for Vocalion in the early fall of 1938 where he made the trip to Chicago and recorded four titles. His initial record sold well enough to cause Vocalion to call on Barbee again, but by that time he had left his last known whereabouts in Arkansas. Barbee returned to the blues scene during the midst of the blues revival. His earliest sides are from 1963 recorded at the Chicago club the Fickle Pickle. n 1964 he joined the American Folk Blues Festival and was recorded several times that year: songs by him appear on a pair of albums on the Spivey label, several tracks were recorded while in Europe as well as a an excellent full-length album for Storyville issued as Portraits in Blues Vol. 9. and appears on John Henry Barbee & Sleepy John Estes: Blues Live. In a case of tragic circumstances, Barbee returned to the United States and used the money from the tour to purchase his first automobile. Only ten days after purchasing the car, he accidentally ran over and killed a man. He was locked up in a Chicago jail, and died there of a heart attack a few days later, November 3, 1964, 11 days before his 59th birthday.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Bo Carter Who's Been Here?Greatest Hits 1930-1940
Big Bill BroonzyGood Time TonightGood Time Tonight
Kokomo ArnoldGoin' Down in Galilee (Swing Along With Me)Kokomo Arnold Vol. 4 1937-1938
Merline Johnson & The Louisiana KidSeparation BluesMerline Johnson Vol. 2 1938-1939
Trixie SmithFreight Train BluesCharlie Shavers & The Blues Singers 1938-1939
Rosetta TharpeRock MeThe Original Soul Sister
Pete Johnson Roll 'EmPete Johnson 1938-1939
Meade Lux LewisHonky Tonk Train BluesFrom Spirituals To Swing
Joe Turner & Pete JonsonLow Down DogFrom Spirituals To Swing
Washboard SamYellow, Black And BrownWashboard Sam Vol. 2 1937-1938
Jazz Gillum Boar Hog BluesThe Bluebird Recordings 1934-1938
Blind John DavisJersey Cow BluesBlind John Davis 1938-1939
Shorty Bob ParkerThe Death of Slim GreenKid Prince Moore 1936-1938
Tampa RedLove with a FeelingThe Essential
Lonnie JohnsonBlue Ghost BluesLonnie Johnson Vol. 1 1937-1940
John Henry BarbeeSix Weeks Old BluesMemphis Blues 1927-1938)
Big Joe WilliamsPeach Orchard MammaBig Joe Williams Vol. 1 1935-1941
Blind Boy Fuller Funny Feeling Blues Blind Boy Fuller Remastered 1935-193
LeadbellyNoted Rider BluesLeadbelly - The Remaining LOCR Vol. 5 1938-1942
Monkey JoeNew York CentralMonkey Joe Vol. 1 1935-1939
Curtis JonesAlley Bound BluesCurtis Jones Vol. 2 1938-1939
Memphis MinnieGood BiscuitsMemphis Minnie Vol. 4 1938
Georgia WhiteThe Blues Ain't Nothin' But...???Georgia White Vol. 3 1937-1939
Speckled RedEarly In The MorningSpeckled Red 1929-1938
Peetie WheatstrawShack Bully StompThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportRailroad BluesThe Essential
Oscar WoodsJames Session BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star
Harlem HamfatsI Believe I'll Make A ChangeHarlem Hamfats Vol. 3 1937-1938
Jimmie GordonFast LifeJimmie Gordon Vol. 2 1936-1938
George CurryMy Last Five DollarsFrank ''Springback'' James & George Curry 1934-1938
Johnnie TempleGonna Ride 74Johnnie Temple Vol. 1 1935-1938
Son BondsOld Bachelor BluesSon Bonds & Charlie Pickett 1934-1941
Sleepy John EstesSpecial Agent (Railroad Police Blues)I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More 1929-1941
Sonny Boy WilliamsonDecoration BluesThe Bluebird Recordings 1937-1938
Yank RachelI'm Wild And Crazy As Can BeThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol.1

Show Notes:

 1938 Decca Cataloge
1938 Decca Catalog

Today’s show is the twelfth installment of an ongoing series of programs built around a particular year. The first year we spotlighted was 1927 which was the beginning of a blues boom that would last until 1930; there were just 500 blues and gospel records issued in 1927 and increase of fifty percent from 1926 a trend that would continue until the depression. To feed the demand other record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent, which included making trips down south with field recording units. The Depression, with the massive unemployment it brought, had a shattering effect on the pockets of black record buyers. Sales of blues records plummeted in the years 1931 through 1933. Things picked up again in 1934 with the companies recording full-scale again. During this period there was far less recording in the field during this period and in view of the popularity of Chicago singers there was less need. From 1934 until 1945 there were three main race labels, all selling at 35 cents: Decca, the Brunswick Record Corporation's Vocalion, and RCA-Victor's Bluebird. There were two other labels that featured a fair number of blues during this period; the store group Montgomery Ward, with a label of the same name, drew at various times on Gennett, Decca and Bluebird and Sears Roebuck used ARC material on its Conqueror label. Race record sales were up around 15 per cent in 1937. Sales were a bit down by 1938 with an average of eight race records a week, down from seven a week from the previous year.

From 1934 until 1945 there were three main race labels, all selling at 35 cents: Decca, the Brunswick Record Corporation's Vocalion, and RCA-Victor's Bluebird. There were two other labels that featured a fair number of blues during this period; the store group Montgomery Ward, with a label of the same name, drew at various times on Gennett, Decca and Bluebird and Sears Roebuck used ARC material on its Conqueror label. Race record sales were up around 15 per cent in 1937: Decca and Bluebird each put out around 120 items whilst BRC-ARC issued almost on Vocalion and another 100 on the dime-store labels.

According to John Godrich and Robert M.W. Dixon in their classic book Recording The Blues, the record companies "had three way of unearthing new talent: by placing advertisements in local newspapers, especially just before a field unit was due in a nearby town; by just relying on chance comments from singers, concerning other who might be good recording propositions; and by employing their own talent scouts, who carry out steady, systematic searches. The last method was intensively employed in the the thirties – Roosevelt Sykes, for instance, would find likely artists for Decca (or, sometimes, for Lester Melrose). But despite this, race catalogs in the thirties relied more heavily on a small nucleus of popular singers than they had in the twenties. It was the urban style of blues that now dominated the market – and as in the previous years it was artists such as Tampa Red, Spirituals to Swing ConcertKokomo Arnold, Washboard Sam, Jazz Gillum, Memphis Minnie, Big Bill Broonzy, Peetie Wheatstraw and the Harlem Hamfats who dominated the market. Tampa cut 26 sides, the Hamfats cut around numbers under there own name as well as backing other singers, Peetie Wheatstraw cut 17 sides, Washboard Sam cut over two-dozen sides, Jazz Gillum cut a dozen numbers and Broonzy cut around two-dozen sides. Several big name artists had their careers end during this period including Bumble Bee Slim who's last sides were cut in 1937 (he would record again in the 50's and 60's), while Kokomo Arnold and Casey Bill weldon cut their finals sessions in 1938.

We spin  a few tracks today from a groundbreaking concert held in New York City in 1938. From Spirituals to Swing was the title of two concerts presented by John Hammond in Carnegie Hall on 23 December 1938 and 24 December 1939. The event was dedicated to singer Bessie Smith, who died a year before in a car accident in Virginia. The concerts included performances by Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson, Helen Humes, Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, Mitchell's Christian Singers, the Golden Gate Quartet, James P. Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Terry. The idea was a history, starting with spirituals and leading up to big swing bands, involving African American performers. Hammond had difficulty gaining sponsorship for the event because it involved African American artists and an integrated audience. However, The New Masses, the journal of the American Communist Party, agreed to finance it. The boogie-woogie craze of the late 1930s and early 1940s dates from these concerts. Johnson and Turner, along with Lewis and Ammons, continued as an act after the concerts with their appearances at the Cafe Society night club, as did many of the other performers.

As in the previous year the blues market was dominated by Chicago singers but there several down-home singers recorded. wo down home singers who could hold their own in terms of popularity against the urban artists were Sleepy John Estes and Blind Boy Fuller. Fuller cut twenty-two sides in 1938 for Vocalion. Estes cut an eight song session on April 22, 1938 and at the same session Son Bonds cut one 78 backed by Estes. Other down-home singers featured today include Big Joe Williams, Leadbelly and John Henry Barbee.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Mickey Champion & Jimmy WitherspoonThere Ain't Nothing BetterBam a Lam: The R&B Recordings 1950-19622
Mickey ChampionI'm A Woman Bam a Lam: The R&B Recordings 1950-19622
Mickey ChampionGood For Nothin' ManBam a Lam: The R&B Recordings 1950-19622
Big Joe TurnerNobody In My MindHave No Fear, Big Joe Turner Is Here
Washboard SamBucket's Got A HoleWhen The Sun Goes Down
J.B. SmithPoor BoyOld Rattler Can't Hold Me: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 2
Bessie JonesJohn HenryGet In Union
Will Slayden Joe TurnerAfrican-American Bajo Songs From West Tennessee
Little Brother MontgomeryUp The CountryHome Again, Chicago
Roosevelt SykesMusic Is My BusinessMusic Is My Business
Lonesome SundownIt's Not True Bought Me A Ticket
Blue CharlieWatch That CrowRhythm 'n' Bluesin' By The Bayou
Boogie JakeEarly In The MorningBluesin' By The Bayou
The Four Blazes Women, WomenMary Jo
Goree CarterBack Home BluesThe Complete Recordings Vol. 1
Luke Jones & His OrchestraMama Oh MamaNo More Doggin' The RPM Records Story Vol. 1
King Perry & His OrchestraWelcome Home BabyNo More Doggin' The RPM Records Story Vol. 1
Alberta AdamsRememberChess Blues
Alberta AdamsMessin' Around With The BluesMen Are Like Street Cars...Women Blues Singers 1928-1969
Alberta AdamsSay Baby SayT.J. Fowler 1948-53
Leroy FosterLouella Rough Treatment: The J.O.B. Records Story
Floyd JonesSweet Talkin' WomanMasters Of Modern Blues Vol. 3
Johnny ShinesTwo Trains Runnin'Masters Of Modern Blues Vol.1
Otis Spann My Home Is On The DeltaThe Complete Candid Recordings
Lightnin' HopkinsAnother Fool In Town Jake Head Boogie
Sweet Papa StovepipeAll Birds Look Like Chicken To MeRare Paramount Blues 1926-1929
Sweet Papa StovepipeMama's Angel ChildRare Paramount Blues 1926-1929
McKinley Peebles & Bessie JonesYou Got to Reap Just What You Sow/Just a Little Talk with JesusGet In Union
Blind Lemon Jefferson'Lectric Chair BluesThe Best Of Blind Lemon Jefferson
William HarrisElectric Chair Blues (Jefferson Country Blues)Too Late, Too Late Blues Vol. 3
Mary ButlerElectrocuted Blues (Electric Chair Blues)Bo Carter Vol. 1 1928-1931
Bessie Smith Send Me to the 'Lectric ChairThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Dinah WashingtonSend Me to the 'Lectric ChairSings Bessie Smith

Show Notes:

Bessie JonesFor our final show of 2014 we have a diverse mix show spanning the 1920's through the 1970's and along the way we pay tribute to two blues ladies who recently passed; we end the year on a somber note with tributes to Detroit singer Alberta Adams and L.A. singer Mickey Champion. Also on deck today we spotlight tracks from a great recent collection of sides by singer Bessie Jones, we spin a batch of songs about the electric chair, some fine Chicago blues, a set of swamp blues, we also throw in some jump blues as well as some other odds and ends.

Detroit singer Alberta Adams died at the age of 97 on Christmas Day. Becoming a regular at clubs around Detroit in the 1940s, she eventually was discovered by Chess Records and cut several singles for the label in 1953 including "Messin' Around With The Blues b/w This Morning" and "Remember" and "No Good Man" the latter which was not released. She also briefly recorded with Berry Gordy's Thelma Records in 1962 cutting "I Got A Feeling b/w Without Your Love"and New Jersey's Savoy label where she cut “Say Baby Say” with T.J. Fowler's band in 1952. In the late 1990's and 2000's she record several albums.

Mickey Champion died last month at the age of 89. Discovered in L.A. by bandleader Johnny Otis, Champion recorded several impressive R&B sides in the 1950s and early '60s for West Coast-based labels including Aladdin, Dootone, Modern, RPM and King. The wife of bandleader Roy Milton until his death, Champion began recording again in 2000, releasing a pair of records on Tondef Records. In 2008 Ace Records issued her collected singles from the 1950's and 1960's under the title Bam a Lam: The R&B Recordings 1950-1962.

While I like looking at year end lists of music every year I'm not sure I purchase enough new music or even reissues to make my own list. If I were to compile a list I would certainly include Get In Union released on Tompkins Square Records. The 2-CD set is a collection sides by Bessie Jackson featuring sides with the Georgia Sea Island Singers, combined with many previously unavailable performances captured by Alan Lomax between 1959 Mickey Championand 1966. Bessie Jones was one of the most popular performers on the 1960s and ’70s folk circuit, appearing-usually at the helm of the Georgia Sea Island Singers-at colleges, festivals, the Poor People’s March on Washington, and Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. lan Lomax first visited the Georgia Sea Island of St. Simons in June of 1935 with folklorist Mary Elizabeth Barnicle and author Zora Neale Hurston. There they met the Spiritual Singers Society of Coastal Georgia, as the group was then called, and recorded several hours of their songs and dances for the Library of Congress. Returning 25 years later, Lomax found that the Singers were still active, and had been enriched by the addition of Bessie Jones who possessed a enormous repertoire of black music.  There's practically no blues on this collection but we do play Jones singing a fine rendition of "John Henry."

Also from the is collection we spin a track by an associate of Jones' named McKinley Peebles. Nothing is known about Alan Lomax’s meeting with Peebles, in New York City, in late 1961, in the midst of Alan’s sessions with Bessie Jones, although it’s presumed that they were introduced by Peebles’ friend and busking colleague, Reverend Gary Davis. Peebles was a native of Tide- water Virginia who had made a record for the Paramount label in 1926 under the name Sweet Papa Stovepipe.We play those sides as well today, "All Birds Look Like Chicken To Me b/w Mama's Angel Child." By the way Tompkins Square Records has been issuing some of the best reissues around including some tremendous gospel collections if your a fan of that music.

It appears the electric chair theme started the Bessie Smith's "Send Me To The 'Lectric Chair" recorded on March 3, 1927 and written by Fletcher Henderson. The following year several songs appeared using the theme: Blind Lemon Jefferson "'Lectric Chair Blues" (Feb. 1928), William Harris' "Electric Chair Blues (Jefferson Country Blues)" (Oct. 1928) Mary Butler's "Electrocuted Blues (Electric Chair Blues)" (Nov. 1928). Both Ruby Smith in 1938, the niece of Bessie, and Dinah Washington in 1958 covered Bessie's "Send Me To The 'Lectric Chair." Guitar Welch recorded "Electric Chair Blues" at Angola Prison in 1959.

Alberta AdamsRegionally we feature sets of Chicago blues artists and Louisiana artists. From Chicago we hear the lovely "Louella" by Leroy Foster. Between 1948 and 1952 Baby Face Leroy Foster waxed a handful absolutely terrific sides under his own name for a number fledgling Chicago labels aided by some of the windy city's best blues musicians. We also hear from Floyd Jones and Johnny Shines from sessions they did for Pete Welding's Testament label.

Down in Louisiana we spotlight Charlie (Charlie Morris) from Lake Charles who cut sessions for Jay Miller in 1957 and 1958 (many unreleased), Boogie Jake who also worked with Jay Miller and backed Slim Harpo and Lazy Lester as well as cutting a few singles and Lonesome Sundown, there most prolific of the bunch, who also got his start through Miller and waxed a stack of great swamp number for Excello between 1956 and 1964. I've been listening to quite a bit of swamp blues lately courtesy of Ace Records who in the last few years has issue a trio of great collections that I would highly recommend:  Bluesin' By The Bayou, Rhythm 'n' Bluesin' By The Bayou: Rompin' & Stompin' and Bluesin' By The Bayou: Rough'n'Tough.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
The Nic Nacs with Mickey ChampionGonna Have A Merry Xmas Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Mabel ScottBoogie Woogie Santa Claus Blues, Blues Christmas
Frankie ''Half-Pint'' JaxonChrist Was Born On Christmas Morn Blues, Blues Christmas
Titus Turner Christmas Morning BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Jimmy ButlerTrim Your TreeBlues, Blues Christmas
Cecil GrantHello Santa Claus Blues, Blues Christmas
Harman Ray Xmas Blues Blues, Blues Christmas
Champion Jack DupreeSanta Clause BluesBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 4
Jimmy McCracklinChristmas Time Part 1Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
Roy Milton & His Solid SendersNew Year's Resolution BluesBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Johnny Otis OrchestraHappy New Year, BabyBlues, Blues Christmas
Jimmy ButlerTrim Your Tree Blues, Blues Christmas
Big Joe TurnerChristmas Date BoogieBlues, Blues Christmas
Lil McClintockDon't Think I'm Santa Claus Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 4
LeadbellyChristmas Is CominBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
Leroy CarrChristmas In Jail (Ain't It A Pain)
Tampa RedChristmas & New Year's BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Rev. J.M. Gates Did You Spend Christmas Day In JailBlues, Blues Christmas
Rev. Edward ClaybornThe Wrong Way to Celebrate ChristmasBlues, Blues Christmas
Black AceChristmas TimeBlues, Blues Christmas
Lowell FulsonLonesome CBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2hristmas Part 1Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Hop WilsonNew Merry Christmas Baby Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
Charles BrownChristmas Blues Legend!
Goree Carter Christmas BluesBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 4
Lonnie JohnsonHappy New Year DarlingBlues, Blues Christmas
Robert NighthawkMerry ChristmasBlues Southside Chicago
Jimmy WitherspoonHow I Hate To See Christmas Come Around Blues, Blues Christmas
Larry DarnellChristmas Blues Blues, Blues Christmas
Butterbeans & SusiePapa Ain't No Santa ClausBlues, Blues Christmas
Mary Harris w/ Peetie Wheatstraw & Charlie JordanHappy New Year BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Julia LeeChristmas SpiritsBlues, Blues Christmas
Bukka WhiteChristmas Eve Blues Memphis Swamp Jam
Lightnin’ HopkinsMerry ChristmasBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Gatemouth Moore Gate’s Christmas BluesGreat Rhythm & Blues Oldies Vol. 7
Harry ''Fats'' Crafton w Doc Bagby Orchestra Bring That Cadillac BackBlues, Blues Christmas
J.B. SummersI Want A Present For ChristmasBlues, Blues Christmas
Fats WallerSwingin’ Them Christmas BellsBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Paramount Christmas Greetings Ad

I've been doing a Christmas blues show for many years and was always frustrated with the lack of a really good collection of early blues Christmas songs. In 2005 I hooked up with the Document label to put together a 2-CD, 52 track collection of blues and gospel songs from the 1920's to the 1950's called Blues, Blues Christmas. The record proved to be popular and a second volume was released in 2009,  a third volume in 2013 and this year sees the fourth volume. You can read the notes to these by visiting my writing page. Many of today's tracks come from those collections.

On October 30, 1889 banjoist Will Lyle made history by recording "Jingle Bells" – the very first Christmas record. Although no known copies of this recording survive, one of the earliest vocal examples of "Jingle Bells" does survive on an Edison brown wax cylinder entitled, "The Sleigh Ride Party." The first commercial Christmas blues record was cut by Bessie Smith. Her classic "At The Christmas Ball" inaugurated the Christmas blues tradition when it was recorded in November 1925 for Columbia. A year later, circa December 1926, the gospel Christmas tradition was launched when the Elkins-Payne Jubilee Singers recorded "Silent Night, Holy Night" for Paramount Records. After these recordings it was off to the races with numerous Christmas blues numbers recorded by singers of all stripes, a pace that continued as blues evolved into R&B and then rock and roll. It’s almost certainly the case that many of these songs were recorded at the prompting of the record companies. Like any business they were always looking for a new angle or gimmick to sell records and advertised these Christmas records boldly, often with full-page ads, in black newspapers like the Chicago Defender and magazines like Billboard.

Perhaps more than any other music, the blues is deeply enmeshed in a particular culture, entangled in the era of segregation, in the era of Jim Crow and in the era of slavery. In his classic Screening The Blues Paul Oliver wrote “for the Negro, Christmas has a deep-rooted significance beyond that of the religious meaning of the celebration itself; a more worldly one of which has none the less firmly established itself in his folkways. Since far back in slavery Christmas has signified a rest, a break in the year's routine which no other festival affords, proving an opportunity for a man to be with his family and, for a brief period at any rate, from the rigorous monotony of rural labor.” The annual Christmas Ball was something looked forward to all year and as Oliver astutely notes “there may have been a change of venue–a Harlem cellar dive for the 'quarters' and a jazz band instead of the fiddles, but there was probably little difference in kind and certainly in spirit at the Christmas Ball described by Bessie Smith…”

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Among Paramount's biggest blues stars of the 1920's were Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake who made their debuts for the label several months apart – Jefferson in December 1925 or January 1926 and Blake around August of 1926. Paramount ramped up their blues and gospel recordings considerably in 1927 and a new Jefferson and Blake record appeared every month. Paramount resorted to several novel promotions for their big artists; In 1924 Ma Rainey's sixth release was labeled "Ma Rainey's Mystery Record" with prizes given to the best title while Charlie Patton's "Screamin' And Hollerin' The Blues" was listed as by The Masked Marvel with a corresponding advert that bore a drawing of a blindfolded singer – looking nothing like Patton – and the clue that he was an exclusive Paramount artist. Similarly, so successful was Jefferson, that a special yellow and white label was produced for Paramount 12650, "Piney Woods Money Mama" b/w ‘Low Down Mojo Blues" which bore his picture and the wording "Blind Lemon Jefferson's Birthday Record." In a similar vein Christmas records can be seen as just another promotional tool with ads for these records appearing annually in black newspapers every holiday season. Befitting his stardom, Lemon's lone holiday record "Christmas Eve Blues" b/w "Happy New Year Blues", was given a full-page advertisement in the December 12th, 1928 edition of the Chicago Defender. In Paramount's 1928 late fall Dealers' Supplement the label advertised scores of "CHRISTMAS, SPIRITUAL AND SERMON RECORDS THAT ARE DEPENDABLE SALES PRODUCERS" and warned that they "SHOULD BE IN YOUR STOCKS NOW." Blind Blake received the large sized treatment in the 1929 edition of the paper for his "Lonesome Christmas Blues," (also sharing the page was Leroy Carr's "Christmas In Jail – Ain't That A Pain?") his only Christmas record. The flip was "Third Degree Blues" – apparently Blake only had enough holiday spirit for one side!

Blind Blake wishes you a Merry X-mas

The trend continued with more frequency in the 30's. Here are a few notable songs: Butterbeans & Susie "Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus" (1930), Charlie Jordan "Santa Claus Blues" ["Christmas Christmas, how glad I am you are here/ Well I ain’t had a chicken dinner for this whole round year/Shiny bones and naked bones gleaming from around my plate/ …So pass me that chicken, the turkey, duck and the goose/Well all you birds gonna be one legged when I turn you-a-loose"] (1931) and "Christmas "Christmas Blues" (1935), Kansas City Kitty & Georgia Tom "Christmas Morning Blues" (1934), Verdi Lee "Christmas "Tree Blues" (1935), Tampa Red "Christmas And New Years Blues" (1934), Peetie Wheatstraw "Santa Claus Blues" (1935), Bumble Bee Slim's "Christmas And No Santa Claus and "Santa Claus Bring Me A New Woman" (1936), Black Ace "Christmas Time Blues (Beggin' Santa Claus)" (1937), Casey Bill Weldon "Christmas Time Blues" (1937), Bo Carter "Santa Claus" (1938), Walter Davis "Santa Claus" (1935), Sonny Boy Williamson I "Christmas Morning Blues" (1938).

Mary Harris, who cut two sides for Decca at an October 31, 1935 session is most certainly Verdi Lee who cut sides on the exact same date, also in the company of fellow St. Louis musicians Peetie Wheatstraw and Charlie Jordan. It was a holiday themed session with the group cutting "Christmas Tree Blues", "No Christmas Blues", "Happy New Year Blues", "Christmas Christmas Blues" and "Santa Claus Blues" (the latter two with vocals by Jordan and Wheatstraw respectively). Paul Oliver noted that "it would be pleasant to think that each singer was inspired by the others to create a blues on the same subject but at this date, with Christmas two months away, it is more likely that it was a deliberate promotional device by Rev. J.M. Gates: Will The Coffin Be Your Santa Claus[producer] Mayo Williams."

In the 40's there was of course more blues Christmas songs but there was a new music brewing called R&B. Evolving out of jump blues in the late '40's, R&B laid the groundwork for rock & roll. The era's biggest Christmas song was undoubtedly the immortal "Merry Christmas, Baby" cut by Charles Brown & The Blazers in 1947. This perennial classic has been covered numerous times including versions by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Lena Horne , Lou Rawls, Booker T. & the MG's, Otis Redding, James Brown and countless others. Charles Brown's smooth ballad style has become synonymous with Christmas ever since remaking "Merry Christmas, Baby" many times, cutting many other Christmas songs and full length albums including 1961's Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs and Cool Christmas Blues in 1994.

Notable blues and R&B songs from this period include: Champion Jack Dupree's "Santa Claus Blues" (1945), Gatemouth Moore "Christmas Blues" (1946) [recut in 1977 as "Gate's Christmas Blues"], Little Willie Littlefield "Merry Xmas" (1949), Mabel Scott "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" (1947), Harman Ray "Xmas Blues" ["Hold it, hold it man/Don’t play me no jingle bells the way I feel this Christmas/Only kind of bells I want to have anything to do with is some of them mission bells/Man, play me the blues long, loud and lowdown"] (1947), Boll Weavil "Christmas Time Blues" (1947), Big Joe Turner "Christmas Date Boogie "(1948), Thelma Cooper "I Need A Man (For Xmas)" (1948), Smokey Hogg "I Want My Baby For Christmas" (1949), Amos Milburn "Let's Make Christmas Merry Baby" (1949), Harry Crafton "Bring That Cadillac Back" ["I let you eat my turkey on Christmas morn/When I looked around you and my Cadillac was gone"] (1949), Felix Gross "Love For Christmas" ["You can have your turkey and your dressing/Sweet cakes and apple pie/Blue Champagne and Rock & Rye/Everything that money can buy"] (1949), J.B. Summers "I Want a Present For Christmas" (1949 ["Santa Claus, Santa Claus/Hear my plea/Open up your bag and give a fine brown baby to me/ …You can stop by my chimney/Drop her in the chute/ Leave your reindeer outside/Come in and get my loot"] .

One other song from this era is the downright odd "Junior's a Jap Girl's Christmas for His Santa Claus" (1942) a Library of Congress recording by Willie Blackwell that defies categorization. Other non-R&B Christmas songs from the 40's include a few by Leadbelly such as "Christmas Is A-Coming", "The Christmas Song", "On A Christmas Day", Sylvester Cotton "Christmas Blues" (1948), Washboard Pete [aka Ralph Willis] "Christmas Blues" (1948), Alex Seward & Louis Hayes "Christmas Time Blues" (1948), Walter Davis "Santa Claus" (1949).

Clyde Lasley: Santa Came Home DrunkThere was a time you could hit the charts with an instrumental as pianist Lloyd Glenn well knew, scoring big with "Old Time Shuffle Blues" which hit #3 on the R&B charts in 1950 and "Chica Boo" which hit #1 in 1951. He seemed to have a knack for being on hit records, accompanying T-Bone Walker on his 1947 hit "Call It Stormy Monday", and in 1949 he joined Swing Time Records as A&R man, recording a number of hits with Lowell Fulson, including "Everyday I Have The Blues" and the #1 R&B hit "Blue Shadows." In sunny Los Angeles on April 1951 he waxed the shuffling "(Christmas) Sleigh Ride." Glenn's distinctive piano work can also be found on a five-song session Jesse Thomas waxed for Swingtime also in April 1951 which included "Xmas Celebration." Glenn was also present when Lowell Fulson cut his classic two-parter, "Lonesome Christmas Pt. 1 & 2 "in 1951.

The 50's produced many more Christmas gems including: Lowell Fulson's oft covered ""Lonesome Christmas" (1950), Cecil Gant "It's Christmas Time Again" and "Hello, Santa Claus" (1950), Roy Milton "Christmas Time Blues" (1950), Johnny Otis & Little Esther Phillips "Far Away Blues" [also known as "Faraway Christmas Blues"] (1950), Jimmy Liggins "I Want My Baby For Christmas" (1950), The Nic Nacs with Mickey Champion "Gonna Have A Merry Xmas" (1950), Larry Darnell "Christmas Blues" (1950), Sonny Parker with Lionel Hampton "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" (1950), Lloyd Glenn "Sleigh Ride" (1951), Sugar Chile Robinson "Christmas Boogie" b/w "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1950), Titus Turner "Christmas Morning" (1952), Lightning Hopkins "Merry Christmas" (1953), Chuck Berry "Run, Rudolph, Run" (1958) and "Merry Christmas Baby" (1958), John Lee Hooker "Blues for Christmas" (1959).

The 60's, less so in the 70's, produced a number of strong Christmas blues songs including at least one blues classic, Little Johnny Taylor's "Please Come Home For Christmas" (1969) which has become an oft covered holiday classic. Other notable 60's songs include: Sonny Boy Williamson II "Santa Claus" (1960), Lightnin' Hopkins "Santa" (1960) and "Heavy Snow" (1962), Black Ace "Santa Claus Blues" (1960), B.B. King "Christmas Celebration" (1960), Hop Wilson "Merry Christmas, Darling" (1961), Robert Nighthawk "Merry Christmas Baby" (1964), Lowell Fulson "I Wanna Spend Christmas With You" (1967), Louis Jordan "Santa Claus, Santa Claus" (1968), Charles Brown "New Merry Christmas Baby" (1969) featuring Earl Hooker, Bukka White "Christmas Eve Blues" (1969). In the 70's: Jimmy Reed "Christmas Present Blues" (1970), Lee Jackson "The Christmas Song" (1971), Clyde Lasley "Santa Came Home Drunk (1971), Albert King "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" (1974) and "Christmas Comes But Once A Year" (1974), Eddie C. Campbell "Santa's Messin' with the Kid" (1977).

Freddy Ling: I Hear Jingle BellsThere seems to be a dearth of quality Christmas songs in the 70's and 80's. By the late 80's the rise of the CD caused the demise of the 45 record which was one of the main vehicles for putting out holiday songs. However in lieu of the 45 labels began releasing Christmas themed compilations and there have been a number of very good collections. Some of the best include: Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas (1989) from the Antone's label [reissued on Epic in 1986 and Sony in 2001], Alligator Records Christmas Collection (1992), Ichiban Blues At Christmas Vol. 1-4 (1991-97) [Best of Ichiban Blues at Christmas was issued 2002], Bullseye Blues Christmas (1995), Stony Plain's Christmas Blues (2000), Blue Christmas (2000) from the Dialtone label, Blue Xmas (2001) on Evidence. A number of artists issued Christmas themed records including Charles Brown, Huey "Piano' Smith, Johnny Adams, B.B. King and Etta James. Also with the dominance of the CD age labels went back into their vaults to put together compilations of classic Christmas blues.

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Michael SpörkeInterview
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Show Notes:

Big Mama ThorntonWillie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton is probably best remembered for two songs that became huge for Elvis and later Janis Joplin. "Hound Dog" held down the top slot on Billboard's R&B charts for seven weeks in 1953 and Elvis had an even bigger hit with it in 1956. Joplin covered "Ball and Chain" on her debut album which became a million seller. Thornton moved to Houston where she signed with Don Robey's cutting some terrific sides but no hits to match "Hound Dog." After Houston she settled in California where she cut a few singles and struggled playing small club dates. After new management she began to play festivals including the American Folk Blues Festival and cut some fine albums for Arhoolie. She cutting records for Mercury and Vanguard through the 70's and touring up until her death in 1984. Today we feature Big Mama's music and hear my interview with Michael Spörke who has written the biography Big Mama Thornton: The Life and Music.

As Spörke writes: "Willie Mae moved in the house of relatives in Barbour County Alabama, and found herself a job washing and cleaning spittoons in the local tavern. One night the tavern's regular;r vocalist go drunk so Willie Mae convinced the tavern owner that she could do the job. She never looked back after that." As she related to writer Ralph Gleason: "I like my own old down home singing, with the feeling.I learned to sing blues by myself. …My singing comes from experience, my own feeling. I got my own feeling for everything. I never had no one teach me nothing. I never went to school for music or nothing. I stayed home to take care of my mother who was sick. I taught myself to sing and to blow harmonica and even to play the drums by watching other people. I can't read music but I know where I'm singing! If I hear a blues I like, I try to sing it in my own way. It's always best to have something of your own. I don't sing like nobody but myself." Her big break came through singer Diamond Teeth Mary who met Willie Mae when she was working on a garbage truck and  happened to hear her singing. Mary told her about a singing contest for Sammy Greens Hot Harlem Revue. At fourteen years old, she won the contest and began traveling with the Revue.

Thornton’s career began to take off when she moved to Houston in 1948.She made her debut in 1950 cutting "All Right Baby b/w Bad Luck Got My Man" for the tiny E&W label on Houston's Dallas Avenue. She signed a a five year recording contract with Don Robey's Peacock Records in 1951. Thornton played at Robey's Bronze Peacock club and toured the Big Mama Thornton AdChitlin' Circuit. Thornton cut some solid records before "Hound Dog", such as "Cotton picking Blues" and  "Let Your Tears Fall Baby" but nothing hit the charts. Robey negotiated a deal with Johnny Otis in which he would take some of Robey's artists on tour with the revue and that he would also record them. Sh was apparently a big hits as the Chicago Defender proclaimed that Thornton "stopped the show in the Tacoma, Oakland and Richmond auditoriums, as well as in Stockton, Sacramento, Bakersfield and the Elks Auditorium in Los Angeles." While on tour with Otis she cut "Hound Dog." The son was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller especially for Thornton. Otis brought Leiber and Stoller  to see her to see if they could come up with something for her. As Stoller recalled:  "we saw Big mama and she knocked me cold. she looked like the biggest, bad-ass, saltiest chick you would ever see. And she was mean, a 'lady bear' as they used to call 'em. She must have been 350 pounds and she had all these scars all over her face. I had to write a song for her that basically said 'Go fuck yourself' but how do you do it without actually saying it? ..She was a wonderful blues singer with a great moaning style, but it was as much her appearance as her blues style that influenced the writing of Hound Dog." The song went to number one on the R&B charts and was the biggest record Peacock ever had.

Unable to follow the success of  "Hound Dog" she left peacock in 1957 and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, playing clubs in San Francisco and L.A. but not recording again until 1961. In 1961 she waxed 45's for Irma and Bay Tone. During the latter session she cut "Ball and Chain" but was not released. Her fortunes took an upswing with new manager Jimmy Moore and "the big festivals and shows came back into Big Mama Thornton's life…" Her first big festival shows the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival which she would play again in 1966 and 1968. In 1965, she toured with the American Folk Blues Festival package in Europe. As Spörke writes: "Big Mama was always put on at the end of each show. She was the highlight." During the festival she got the chance to record an album for Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie label. Big Mama In Europe featured an all-star backing band that included Buddy guy, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Walter Horton, Eddie Boyd and others.

Back in the States after her European tour she cut a few singles for Sotoplay, Kent and the terrific "Life Goes On" for Galaxy. In 1966 she cut her second album for Arhoolie, Big Mama Thornton Vol. 2: The Queen at Monterey with the Chicago Blues Band. The album found her backed by a crack Muddy Waters band that included James Cotton, Sammy Lawhorn and Otis Spann among others. 1968 saw the release of the album Ball and Chain on Arhoolie.

While the black audience was turning away from the blues there was a growing appreciation for blues and roots music among white audiences that would benefit Thornton greatly. Between 1966 and 1969 she was in great demand in campuses, clubs, folk festivals and rock festivals. She played in places like the Fillmore and the Ash Grove, sharing the stage with rock bands like the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane. It was during this period she met Janis Joplin and members of Big Brother & the Holding Company. It was at a club that they heard her perform "Ball and Chain." As Joplin  said " she sings the blues with such heart and soul. I have learned so much from her and only wish I could sing as well as Willie Mae." Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company's performance of "Ball 'n' Chain" at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and release of the song on their number one album Cheap Thrills renewed interest in Thornton's career and was the song that made Joplin famous.

Big Mama Thornton at the 1965 American Folk Blues Festival

 

By 1969, she signed with Mercury Records. Mercury released her most successful album, Stronger Than Dirt, which reached number 198 in the Billboard Top 200 record chart. Thornton then signed a contract with Pentagram cutting a gospel album called Saved. Thornton's last albums were Jail and Sassy Mama for Vanguard Records in 1975. Thornton never stopped touring until her passing in 1984, including a return to Europe on 1972. As Spörke writes: "The newspapers, for the most part, wrote that she was found dead, alone in a boarding house, but her friends say  that this is not the truth. It seems more realistic that she had gathered together her old buddies one last time on July 25, 1984. Around six in the evening, rumor has it, she phoned her sister Mattie. She sang for her, her favorite song, 'That Lucky Old Sun.' Then she went to the sofa, drank some gin and milk, fell to sleep and never got up." As Johnny Otis said at her funeral: "Don't waste your sorrow on Big Mama. She's free. Don't fell sorry for Big mama. There's no more pain. No more suffering in a society where the color of skin was more important than the quality of your talent."

 

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