Playlists


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Michael SpörkeInterview
Big Mama ThorntonCotton Picking BluesThe Complete 1950 1961
Big Mama ThorntonI Smell A RatHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonRock-A-Bye BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonYes, BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonHound DogHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonMy StoryThe Complete 1950 1961
Big Mama ThorntonStop Hoppin' On MeHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonThey Call Me Big MamaThe Complete 1950 1961
Big Mama ThorntonOne More River Saved
Big Mama ThorntonBig Mama's Coming HomeThe Complete 1950-1961
Big Mama ThorntonLife Goes OnAll Night Long They Played The Blues
Big Mama ThorntonBall N' Chain Ball And Chain
Big Mama ThorntonLittle Red RoosterLive In Europe
Big Mama ThorntonMy Heavy Load Ball And Chain
Big Mama ThorntonSession BluesIn Europe
Big Mama ThorntonI'm Feeling Alright With The Muddy Waters Blues Band)
Big Mama ThorntonLooking The World OverIn Europe
Big Mama ThorntonEverybody's Happy But MeSassy Mama!
Big Mama ThorntonJailJail
Big Mama ThorntonThat Lucky Old SunLive At Ann Arbor 1970
Big Mama Thornton Unlucky GirlBall And Chain
Big Mama ThorntonRock MeGunsmoke Blues

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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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Charlie 'Dad' Nelson Michigan Shoe BluesRare Paramount Blues 1926-1929
Tommie Bradley Four Day BluesTommie Bradley - James Cole Groups 1928-1932
Harlem Hamfats Southern BluesHarlem Hamfats Vol. 1 1936
Smoky BabeShake, Shake MattieWay Back in the Country Blues
Herman E. Johnson Depression BluesLouisiana Country Blues
Curtis Jones Weekend BluesTrouble Blues
Cecil Gant My House Fell DownCecil Gant Vol. 7 1950-1951
Meade Lux Lewis Meade's BlueMeade Lux Lewis 1941-1944
Papa Charlie Jackson I'm Alabama BoundFat Mouth Blues
Papa Charlie JacksonUp the Way BoundFat Mouth Blues
Johnny Wright I was In St. LouisDevil's Jump: Important Indie Label Blues 1946-57
Joe Morris Midnight GrinderAnytime, Anyplace, Anyplace
Plas Johnson Worrying BluesHam Hocks and Cornbread
Sylvester Weaver Devil BluesSylvester Weaver Vol. 2 1927
Bo Weavil Jackson You Can't Keep No Brown Backwoods Blues 1926-1935
Blind Blake Guitar ChimesThe Best Of Blind Blake
Forest City Joe Memory Of Sonny BoyRobert Nighthawk / Forest City Joe: Black Angel Blues
Peck Curtis & the Blues Rhythm BoysThe Death Of Sonny Boy WilliamsonMississippi Delta Blues: Blow My Blues Away Vol. 1
Elmore Nixon, Henry Hayes & His Four Kings Alabama BluesBoogie Uproar: Gems From The Peacock Vaults
Bea Johnson & Jim Wynn & His Band No Letter BluesBoogie Uproar: Gems From The Peacock Vaults
Gus Jenkins Drift OnThe Flash Records Story
Sam Collins New Salty DogJailhouse Blues
Freddie Keppard's Jazz Cardinals w/ Papa Charlie Jackson Salty DogPapa Charlie Jackson Vol. 2 1926 - 1928
Kokomo ArnoldSalty DogsKokomo Arnold Vol. 3 1936-1937
Little Brother Montgomery Salty DogRare Chicago Blues 1962-68
Bill GaitherWintertime BluesBill Gaither Vol. 4 1939
Lightnin' Slim Wintertimes Blues Winter Time Blues
Jasper LoveDesert BluesI Have To Paint My Face
Otis Spann Beat-Up TeamOtis Spann Is the Blues
Cora Phillips John HenryMusic from the Hills of Caldwell County
Dewey Corley & Mose Vinson Rains All Night Tennessee Blues Vol. 1
Fred McDowell & Johnny Woods Fred's BluesMemphis Swamp Jam

Show Notes:

Charlie 'Dad' Nelson: Michigan Shoe BluesAn entertaining mix show for today featuring several tracks by Papa Charlie Jackson who was spotlighted in last week's show on blues banjo. In addition we spina set of sides revolving around the song Jackson made famous, "Salty Dog", a couple of songs revolving around both Sonny Boy's, plus we hear from several outstanding piano players, some fine jump blues, plenty of classic pre-war blues and more.

As Jas Obrecht wrote: "Launching his recording career in 1924, Papa Charlie Jackson was the first commercially successful male blues singer. A relaxed, confident crooner and seasoned 6-string stylist, he became one of Paramount's more popular artists, with 33 discs by 1 930. His classic versions of "Salty Dog," "Shake That Thing," "Alabama Bound" and "Spoon-ful" set the template for many covers that followed." In The Paramount Book of the Blues it claims that he came from New Orleans: "From the ancient-historical city of New Orleans, came Charlie jackson-a witty-cheerful-kind hearted man-who, with his joyous sounding voice and his banjo, sang and strummed his way into the hearts of thousands of people."  Jackson began recording in 1924 for the Paramount label, playing a hybrid banjo-guitar and ukulele. Jackson spent his teen years as a singer/performer in minstrel and medicine shows. He is known to have busked around Chicago in the early '20s, playing for tips on Maxwell Street, as well as the city's Westside clubs beginning in 1924. In August of that year, Jackson made his first record, "Papa's Lawdy Lawdy Blues" and "'Airy Man Blues," for Paramount. He followed this up a month later with "Salt Lake City Blues" and "Salty Dog Blues," which became one of his signature tunes. Most of his records during the next decade are self-accompanied blues (Paramount, 1924–1930; OKeh, 1934), but he also recorded with, or provided accompaniment for, Lottie Beaman, Blind Blake, Lucille Bogan, Bill Bronzy (1935, ARC unissued), Ida Cox, Amos Easton, Teddy Edwards, Hattie McDaniel, Ma Rainey, and Freddy Keppard’s Jazz Cardinals. Jackson supposedly died in Chicago in 1938.

The oldest recordings of "Salty Dog" is credited Papa Charlie Jackson who recorded the song in 1924. According to writer Jas Obrecht, "Old-time New Orleans musicians from Buddy Bolden’s era recalled hearing far filthier versions of 'Salty Dog Blues' long before Papa Charlie’s recording." In his Library of Congress interviews, Jelly Roll Morton recalled a three-piece string band led by Bill Johnson playing the number to great acclaim, probably before 1910. The song has been recorded by Papa Charlie Jackson (1924), Clara Smith (1926), Freddie Keppard’s Jazz Cardinals (1926), the McGee Brothers (1927), The Allen Brothers (1927, 1930, 1934), Sam Collins (1931), Kokomo Arnold (1937),  the Morris Brothers (1938, 1945), Flatt and Scruggs (1950), Blind Willie McTell (1956), Mississippi John Hurt (1963), and Johnny Cash among others.

We hear from a whole batch of fine pianists today including Curtis Jones, Cecil Gant, Meade Lux Lewis, Otis Spann and Jasper Love. Jones scored a huge hit in 1937 with “Lonesome Bedroom Blues.” In 1929, Curtis Jones left Dallas working his way through the Mid and Southwest via Kansas City, then traveling to New Orleans where he finally made his way to Chicago. Arriving there in 1936, he formed his own group and began playing at rent parties and in Southside joints or bars and was soon spotted by Vocalion talent scout Lester Melrose. Over the next five years Curtis Jones was in the studio on no fewer than twenty occasions, recording some hundred titles. is career picked up during the 60's blues revival where he cut several records and eventually moved to Europe where he remained until his death in 1971.

Papa Charlie Jackson: Fat Mouth Blues
Read Liner Notes

Cecil Gant was an army private who allegedly got his first break while performing for a war bond rally in 1944. He scored a massive hit the same year with “I Wonder” the first release on the new Gilt-Edge label. Gant was a first rate ballad singer in the vein of Nat King Cole and Charles Brown but he was also a superb bluesman who could lay down some storming boogie-woogie. Gant recorded prolifically for the L.A. labels Gilt-Edge and 4 Star and in Nashville, which was probably his hometown, for Bullet, Dot and Decca, meanwhile playing in nightclubs throughout the country. Between 1944 and 1951 he waxed over 150 sides before his untimely death in 1951 at the age of 38.

Pianist Jasper Love was recorded in Clarksdale in 1960 by Chris Strachwitz and recorded there again in 1968 by William Ferris. Over a dozen sides were recorded at the 1960 sessions but only two were issued on the anthology I Have To Paint My Face: Mississippi Blues 1960. The two later sides appear on the collection Bothered All The Time. Love was related to pianist Willie Love who cut sides for the Trumpet label in the 50's.

I've played Otis Spann often on the show and along with the less recorded, Little Johnny Jones, probably the finest of the post-war Chicago piano players. "Beat-Up Team" comes form Otis Spann Is The Blues, the first album I ever picked up by Spann and arguably his finest. I think this record captures the depth of his playing better than any other.

We spotlight some fine 50's blues including some jump blues, from Joe Morris, Plas Johnson, plus a pair of tracks from the vaults of Peacock Records.Alabama's Joe Morris began his career as a jazz trumpet player, working with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Earl Bostic, but his legacy rests with his 1950s work as leader of the more R&B-oriented Joe Morris Orchestra. Morris signed with the then fledgling Atlantic Records, and his "Anytime, Any Place, Anywhere" (with a fine vocal by Laurie Tate) put the new record company on the map when it soared to number one on the R&B charts in 1950. The Joe Morris Orchestra functioned as the unofficial house band for Atlantic in the early to mid-'50s, and several future Atlantic stars passed through its ranks, including Ray Charles and Lowell Fulson. In addition to working for Atlantic, Morris also recorded sides for Decca and Herald. He died in 1958.

Born in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, Plas Johnson and his pianist brother Ray first recorded as the Johnson Brothers in New Orleans in the late 1940s, and Plas then toured with R&B singer Charles Brown. After army service, he moved to Los Angeles and began session recordings as a full-time musician, backing artists such as B.B. King and Johnny Otis as well as scores of other R&B performers.

We spin two numbers from a recent 2-CD, 50 song collection called Boogie Uproar: Gems From The Peacock Vaults. The Peacock label was founded by Don Robey in 1949 to promote his new artist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. The label was named after Robey's Bronze Peacock in Houston. Robey added the Duke label to his operation in 1952, gaining full control of the label in 1953. We played tracks by Bea Johnson and Elmore Nixon. I don't have any information on Johnson outside of eight sides she cut in 1949 backed by the Jim Wynn band with four of the sides going unissued. By his early teens, Nixon was already backing Peppermint Harris on his Gold Star debut. Thereafter he recorded with many Texas artists as a member of alto saxophonist Henry Hayes’ Four Kings, including Carl Campbell, Milton Willis, L.C. Williams, Hubert Robinson, Ivory Lee and Hop Wilson. His debut record, "Foolish Love", was made in 1949 for Sittin' In With. Other sessions followed for Peacock, Mercury Records, Savoy Records and Imperial Records, the latter in 1955. During the mid-60s, he worked with Clifton Chenier, recording on Chenier’s sessions for Arhoolie Records and with Lightnin’ Hopkins for Jewel. At other times he led his own band, working around Texas and Louisiana.

Freddie Keppard's Jazz Cardinals w/ Papa Charlie Jackson - Salty Dog We spin a pair of songs dealing with the death of Sonny Boy Williamson I and II. In the history of the blues there were a number of tributes to those blues who passed: Rev. Emmett Dickenson's "The Death Of Blind Lemon", King Solomon Hill's "My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon", Scrapper Blackwell's "The Death of Leroy Carr", Bill Gaither's "Life Of Leroy Carr", Memphis Minnie's "Ma Rainey", Brownie McGhee's "Death Of Blind Boy Fuller", Booker T. Washington's "Death Of Bessie Smith", Robert Pete Williams' "Goodbye Slim Harpo", Forest City Joe' "Memory Of Sonny Boy" and Peck Curtis & the Blues Rhythm Boys' "The Death Of Sonny Boy Williamson."

Forest City Joe was raised in the area around Hughes and West Memphis, AR, and even as a boy played the local juke joints in the area. He hoboed his way through the state working road houses and juke joints during the 1940s, and late in the decade hooked up with Big Joe Williams, playing with him around St. Louis, MO. Beginning in 1947, he also began working the Chicago area, and a year later had his one and only session for the Chess brothers' Aristocrat label. He also appeared with Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy "Rice Miller" Williamson (aka Sonny Boy II) on radio shows in the West Memphis area. He recorded for Atlantic Records in 1959 and the same year f in Hughes, AR by Alan Lomax. He was still performing until his death in 1960, in a truck accident while returning home from a dance.

Peck Curtis worked on the Biscuit Time show for about twenty-five years in Helena. Robert Jr. Lockwood claims to have bought Peck his first set of drums shortly after Lockwood and Williamson hired him, in early 1942. During his tenure on King Biscuit Time, Peck also played jukes and nightclubs with Houston Stackhouse, Joe Willie Wilkins, Driftin’ Slim, and others in Arkansas and Mississippi. Curtis and fellow King Biscuit entertainer Robert "Dudlow" Taylor recorded in Helena for the Modern label in 1952. Folklorist George Mitchell also recorded Peck reciting the story of "The Death of Sonny Boy Williamson" and singing a few more songs with Houston Stackhouse and Robert Nighthawk in 1967.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Papa Charlie JacksonAll I Want Is A SpoonfulPapa Charlie Jackson Vol. 1 1924-1926
Papa Charlie JacksonI Got What It Takes But It Breaks My Heart To Give It AwayPapa Charlie Jackson Vol. 1 1924-1926
Papa Charlie JacksonPapa, Don't Tear Your PantsBlues Images Vol. 9
Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon w/ Banjo IkeyRock Me MamaFrankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon Vol. 1 1926-29
Banjo IkeyYou're Bound To Look Like A Monkey When You Get OldBanjo Ikey Robinson 1929-1937
Banjo IkeyGet Off Stuff Banjo Ikey Robinson 1929-1937
Gus CannonPoor Boy, Long Ways from HomeMaster of Memphis Blues
Gus CannonCan You Blame The Colored ManMaster of Memphis Blues
Gus CannonMy Money Never Runs OutGood for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-37
Jimmie StrothersI Thought I Heard My Banjo SayField Recordings Vol. 1: Virginia 1936-1941
Jimmie StrothersGoin' To RichmondField Recordings Vol. 1: Virginia 1936-1941
Gus CannonBring It With You When You ComeRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 2: The Great Jug Bands
Gus CannonMadison Street RagBlues Images Vol. 5
Papa Charlie JacksonLong Gone Lost JohnBroadcasting The Blues
Papa Charlie JacksonDrop That SackPapa Charlie Jackson Vol. 1 1924-1926
Papa Charlie JacksonSkoodle-Um-SkooBlues Images Vol. 3
Whistler & His Jug BandLow Down BluesThe Jug and Washboard Bands - Vol. 1 1924-1931
Whistler & His Jug BandJug Band SpecialRuckus Juice & Chitlins Vol. 2
Sylvester Weaver Six-String Banjo PieceSylvester Weaver Vol. 1 1923-1927
Sidney StriplingSeassafool (Sebastopol) Deep River of Song: Georgia
Earl McDonald's Original Louisville Jug BandRocking Chair BluesClifford Hayes & The Louisville Jug Bands Vol. 2 1926-1927
Earl McDonald's Original Louisville Jug BandShe's In The African-American Folk Songs From West Tennessee
Will SlaydenSpoonfulAfrican-American Folk Songs From West Tennessee
Will SlaydenSo Glad Living Country Blues USA: Introduction
Rev. Gary Davis Mister Jim aka Walkin' Dog BluesThe Guitar and Banjo of Reverend Gary Davis
Frank Hovington You Rascal YouLonesome Road Blues
Bill WilliamsBanjo Rag Low and Lonesome
Howard Armstrong; Tom Armstrong; Ted Bogan; Ikey Robinson My Four ReasonsLouie Bluie
Dink RobertsGeorgia BuckBlack Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia
Dink RobertsHigh SheriffBlack Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia
Joe Thompson and Odell ThompsonJohn HenryBlack Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia
Irvin Cook and Leonard BowlesMomma Don't AllowBlack Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia
John JacksonGoin' up NorthBlack Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia
Elizabeth CottonMedley: Here Old Rattler Here/Sent for My Fiddle Sent for My ...Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs
Etta BakerGoing Down The Road Feeling BadOne Dime Blues
Papa Charlie Jackson
Papa Charlie Jackson

For sometime it seems that guitar has eclipsed every other instrument to be the the one most commonly associated with the blues. It wasn't always the case and if one looks at the history of black music it's littered with pianos, harmonicas, violins, mandolins, jugs and other instruments. The banjo has a long history in African culture with early depictions dating back to the 1770's and in much of the nineteenth-century minstrel tradition the banjo was identified with black music. The earliest recordings of black banjo music date back to the 1890's. By the 1920's, at the time of the first blues recordings, the banjo was in decline largely replaced by the guitar. The two principal blues banjoists to record in the 1920's were Papa Charlie Jackson and Gus Cannon. Banjo from this era can also be heard in some jug bands and field recordings. The banjo declined even further in the post-war era with scattered recordings, mostly non-commercial, through the decades. If there was a revival of the banjo in the post-war era it was in folk music, propelled by Pete Seeger. There were a few black folk artists whose recordings blurred boundaries with the blues including artists featured today like Elizabeth Cotton, Etta Baker and others. On today's show we follow a somewhat chronological path of blues banjo on record from the 1920's through the 1970's.

Little is known of Papa Charlie Jackson's background. In the 1924 The Paramount Book of the Blues (which is the source of Jackson’s best known photograph) it claims that he came from New Orleans. Jackson began recording in 1924 for the Paramount label, playing a hybrid banjo-guitar (six strings tuned like a guitar but with a banjo body that gave it a lighter resonance) and ukulele. Jackson spent his teen years as a singer/performer in minstrel and medicine shows. He is known to have busked around Chicago in the early '20s, playing for tips on Maxwell Street, as well as the city's Westside clubs beginning in 1924. In August of that year, Jackson made his first record, "Papa's Lawdy Lawdy Blues" and "'Airy Man Blues," for Paramount. He followed this up a month later with "Salt Lake City Blues" and "Salty Dog Blues," which became one of his signature tunes. Most of his records during the next decade are self-accompanied blues (Paramount, 1924–1930; OKeh, 1934), but he also recorded with, or provided accompaniment for, Lottie Beaman, Blind Blake, Lucille Bogan, Bill Bronzy (1935, ARC unissued), Ida Cox, Amos Easton, Teddy Edwards, Hattie McDaniel, Ma Rainey, and Freddy Keppard’s Jazz Cardinals. Jackson supposedly died in Chicago in 1938.

Jackson’s most important impact probably lies in the fact that he paved the way for other male blues artists, not least his Paramount mates Blind Blake and Blind Lemon Jefferson, at a time when the business was dominated by female singers. As Stephen Calt wrote: "Jackson was an entertainer and one of the first blues recording artists to rely primarily on his own material, and the first blues singer to record happy-go lucky, up-tempo music that made him popular among the black record-buying public."

A remarkable musician, Gus Cannon bridged the gap between early blues and the minstrel and the pre-blues that preceded it. His band of the '20's and '30's, Cannon's Jug Stompers, along with contemporaries, The Memphis Jug Band, recorded the finest jug music of the era. He learned early repertoire in the 1890's from older musicians, notably Mississippian Alec Lee. The early 1900's found him playing around Memphis with songster Jim Jackson and forming a partnership with Noah Lewis, whose harmonica wizardry would be basic to the Jug Stompers' sound. In 1914, Cannon began work with a succession of medicine shows that would continue into the 1940's.

Cannon's recording career began with Paramount sessions in 1927 cut under the name Banjo Joe and also made sides with Blind Blake. In 1928 he began recording as Cannon's Jug Stompers, cutting over two-dozen sides with the group through 1930 for Victor. He returned in 1956 to make a few recordings for Folkways Records and made some college and coffee house appearances with Furry Lewis and Bukka White. In 1963 the Rooftop Singers had a hit with "Walk Right In" and in the wake of that recorded an album for Stax Records in 1963. He cut a few other scattered sides before his death in 1979.

Gus Cannon
Gus Cannon circa 1920

Another early musician to record with the banjo was Ikey Robinson. Robinson was an excellent banjoist and singer who recorded both jazz and blues from the late '20s into the late '30s. After working locally, Robinson moved to Chicago in 1926, playing and recording with Jelly Roll Morton, Clarence Williams, and Jabbo Smith during 1928-1929. He led his own recording sessions in 1929, 1931, 1933, and 1935. His groups included Ikey Robinson and his Band (w/ Jabbo Smith), The Hokum Trio, The Pods of Pepper, Windy City Five, and Sloke & Ike. Robinson also accompanied blues singers such as Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon, Georgia White, Eva Taylor and Bertha "Chippie" Hill among others. In addition to a pair of early songs we also spin him revisit a song he did with Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon, "My Four Reasons", this time with a group consisting of Howard Armstrong, Tom Armstrong and Ted Bogan.

Banjo was featured in blues bands and seems well suited for  jug bands and today we hear from Whistler & His Jug Band and Earl McDonald's Original Louisville Jug Band. Whistler & His Jug Band was a long-lasting and popular group that recorded for several labels from the mid-'20s through the early '30s, and influenced many of the jug bands that followed. They first entered the recording studios in September, 1924 when they traveled to Richmond, IN to cut several sides for the Gennett label. The second recording trip took them to St. Louis in April, 1927 recording ten sides for Okeh. They cut their final sides in 1931.

The origins of jug bands can be traced to Louisville, Kentucky around the turn of the century. It was Earl McDonald who took the reins from the Cy Anderson Jug Band. McDonald formed his own band and proved himself a shrew promoter, headlining dates in New York and Chicago. Also based in Louisville was Clifford Hayes who took up the violin at an early age and joined Earl McDonald’s Louisville Jug Band in 1914. Both men backed singer Sara Martin on ten sides in 1924 listed as Sara Martin and Her Jug Band. The two men had a falling out and thereafter led separate bands. Among the bands Hayes worked with were the Dixieland Jug Blowers and the Old Southern Jug Band.

A number of the banjo tracks heard today were made as field recordings including sides by Jimmie Strothers, Sidney Stripling, Will Slayden, Frank Hovington and several tracks from the album Black Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia. Jimmie Strothers was a blind banjo and guitar player from Virginia who recorded 15 tracks for Alan Lomax and Harold Spivacke in 1936. Biographical details are sketchy, but Strothers was apparently a medicine show entertainer for a time before going to work in the mines, where an explosion took his eyesight, forcing him to earn a living as a street singer. Things changed even more drastically when he was convicted of murdering his wife with an axe and was sent to the state penitentiary in Lynn, VA, which was where Lomax and Spivacke, working on a field recording project for the Library of Congress, found him.

Sidney Stripling cut ten sides accompanied by his own banjo in 1941 at Fort Valley State College in Georgia. He was recorded by John Wesley Work III for the Library of Congress.

In 1952, Charles McNutt was a young anthropology student in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was also a student of the banjo, and he developed an interest in the instrument’s African (and African-American) roots. Influenced by the field recordings of John and Alan Lomax, McNutt set out to locate and record an African-American banjo player near his home of Memphis, Tennessee. His journey led him to Will Slayden, a sharecropper in his 60s who had given up the instrument when he became a Christian some two decades prior. McNutt rented a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder, loaned Slayden an $8 banjo, and captured an afternoon of history using a hand-held microphone.

Black Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia is a collection of artists recording songs on the banjo and captured  between 1974 and 1997. From this collection we hear fine tracks from Dink Roberts, Joe Thompson and Odell Thompson, Irvin Cook and Leonard Bowles and perhaps most famously John Jackson.

Black Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And VirginiaWe conclude the show with two wonderful female guitarists, Elizabeth Cotton and Etta Baker who's music falls somewhere between folk and blues. Cotton was among the most influential guitarists to surface during the roots music revival. Cotten was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the early weeks of 1895. After first picking up the banjo at the age of eight, she soon moved on to her brother's guitar. By the early '40s, Cotten had relocated to Washington, D.C., where she eventually began working for the legendary Charles Seeger family and caring for children Pete, Peggy, and Mike.When the Seegers learned of Cotten's guitar skills a decade later, they recorded her for Folkways, and in 1957 she issued her debut LP, Folksongs and Instrumentals. The track "Freight Train," written when she was 12, became a Top Five hit in the U.K. She recorded several other album for Folkways.

Etta Baker was born Etta Lucille Reid in Caldwell County, North Carolina, of African American, Native American, and European American heritage. She played both the 6-string and 12-string forms of the acoustic guitar, as well as the five-string banjo. Baker played the Piedmont Blues for ninety years, starting at the age of three when she could not even hold the guitar properly. She was taught by her father, Boone Reid, who was also a longtime player of the Piedmont Blues on several instruments. Etta Baker was first recorded in the summer of 1956. She recorded several albums for Rounder and Music Maker.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Son House Walking Blues Son House 1941-1942
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Sneaky Ways Old Time Black Southern String Band Music
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Bugle Call Blues Old Time Black Southern String Band Music
Howard Armstrong; Tom Armstrong; Ted Bogan; Ikey Robinson Railroad Blues Louie Bluie
Leonard Bowles and Irvin Cook I Wish To The Lord I'd Never Been Born Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music
Leonard Bowles and Irvin Cook Momma Don't AllowBlack Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia
Joe Thompson Careless Love Family Tradition
Odell & Joe ThompsonGeorgia Buck Eight-Hand Sets & Holy Steps
Carolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad
Carolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson
Little Brother Montgomery Talkin' Blues Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus
Jimmy Yancey Tell 'Em About MeJimmy Yancey Vol. 1 1939 - 1940
Frank 'Sweet' Williams Sweet's Slow Blues Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus
Oscar "Preacher" Nelson And Newton "Hoss" Nelson Broke And Ain't Got A Dime Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
Green Paschal Trouble Brought Me DownGeorge Mitchell Collection Volumes 1-45
Big Joe Williams Back Home BluesBlues With A Message
Rev Nix It Was Tight Like ThatRev. A.W. Nix & Rev. Emmett Dickinson Vol. 2 1928-1931
Leadbelly Tight Like ThatLeadbelly's Last Sessions
McKinney's Cotton Pickers It's Tight Like That McKinney's Cotton Pickers Vol. 1
Roy Hawkins If I Had ListenedBad Luck Is Falling
T-Bone Walker Dream Girl Blues The Complete Recordings of T-Bone Walker 1940-1954
Tom Archia Downfall Blues (Whiskey)Tom Archia 1947-1948
William 'Do Boy' DiamondJust Want To Talk To YouGeorge Mitchell Collection Volumes 1-45
Fats Jefferson Love Me Blues Goin' Back To Tifton
Furry Lewis Longing BluesFurry Lewis
Mississippi Fred McDowell Dankin's FarmMy Home Is in the Delta
Willie Long Time Smith I Love You Baby BoogieGood Time Blues 1930-1941
Camille Howard The Boogie And The BluesCamille Howard Vol. 1

Show Notes: 

Chicago Piano: Chicago PlusLast week our feature was on Post-War Black String Bands but due to our pledge drive we ran of time to include all the tracks I intended to play. Today we open up with those tracks with background information to be found on the notes for last week's program. The rest of the show is mixed, featuring some great down home blues and field recordings, a few sets of fine piano blues, a set revolving around a classic blues song, a pair of tracks from a recent reissue and more.

As I was rummaging around my record collection I came across a great series of gate-fold albums that were issued in the early 70's spotlighting blues from the vaults of Atlantic Records. Theses albums feature both issued and unissued sides with excellent notes by Pete Lowry. I believe there were about a half-dozen of these including ones devoted to Blind Willie McTell, Professor Longhair, John Lee Hooker as well as anthologies based on piano blues and  Texas guitar. Today we feature sides from Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus. These sides were recorded in the early 50's, several of the sides not issued at the time of recording.  We spotlight a pair of tracks by Little Brother Montgomery, Floyd Dixon and Frank 'Sweet' Williams. Williams is the most obscure of the bunch and was a minor Chicago blues musician who's only recordings were two songs cut for Atlantic in 1951 which remained unissued until this anthology. It is assumed he was brought to the studio by Little Brother Montgomery. He may be the uncredited drummer on Montgomery 's session recorded on the same day.

We hear several other fine pianists including Willie "Long Time" Smith  and Camille Howard. Smith waxed ten sides at sessions in 1947 and  1954. Several of these sides do not seem to have been reissued, a shame as he was an exceptional vocalist  (a disciple of of the popular Dr. Clatyon for whom he recorded the tribute "My Buddy Doctor Clayton") and good piano player.

Howard was installed as the pianist for drummer Roy Milton & the Solid Senders sometime during World War II, playing on all their early hits for Art Rupe's Juke Box and Specialty labels. Rupe began recording her as a featured artist at the end of the year. Her biggest hit was the romping instrumental "X-Temporaneous Boogie" but she was also a very fine vocalist. She continued to record successfully in the early 1950's.

As we often do, we spin several superb field recordings captured in the 60's and 70's by George Mitchell, Kip Lornell and Tary Owens. We play two sides recorded by Mitchell who made some remarkable field recordings throughout the South over a twenty year period beginning in the early 1960's. What Mitchell recorded in the rural communities of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi in the 1960's amd 70's was a still thriving, if largely undocumented, blues culture. Mitchell had the passion and drive to seek out these folks, and unlike some folklorists didn't use the music to reinforce his own theories, he simply let the musicians speak for themselves and judging by the recordings they clearly responded to Mitchell's sincerity (being a southerner probably didn't hurt as well). Mitchell came along at the right time as he wrote: "As late as 1969 a country bluesman who at least occasionally played could be located in most small towns of Georgia. In 1976, there are very few active blues musicians left in the state! In the short span of seven years, one of the world's most vital and influential forms of music as it was originally performed has all but died out in Georgia, and probably in the rest of the South as well." Today we hear tracks by William "Do Boy" Diamond and Green Paschal.

William "Do Boy" Diamond was recorded in Canton, Mississippi in 1967. Diamond was a basic guitar player but possessed a great, relaxed voice. Born around 1927 in Georgia, Paschal started playing late in life, sometime in the 1950's. He was recorded by Mitchell in Talbotton, GA in 1969 and by that time had given up blues in favor of spirituals.

Kip Lornell has worked on music projects for the Smithsonian Institute, has a doctorate in ethnomusicology and is the author of several articles and books. He also did some field recordings in the in the Southeast in the 70's. Lornell recorded Fats Jefferson outside Albany, New York along with several other artists in the early 70's . These recordings were issued on the long out-of-print album Goin' Back To Tifton issued on the Flyright label in 1974.

Shortly after the death of folklorist Tary Owens on September 21, 2003, Brad Buchholz, wrote that, “Tary Owens devoted most of his life to music, though only rarely to his own. The greater mission, to Owens, was to champion the music of forgotten or unsung Texas bluesmen—to put their songs on records, to place them on a stage, to encourage a larger public to celebrate their artistry.” Funded by a Lomax Foundation grant in the 1960's, Owens traveled around Texas recording a variety of folk musicians, including guitarists Mance Lipscomb, Freddie King, and Bill Neely, as well as barrelhouse piano players Robert Shaw and Roosevelt T. Williams, also known as the “Grey Ghost.” Owens remained involved in the lives of these musicians for the next several decades and, in some cases, was largely responsible for helping rescue them from obscurity and resurrect their professional careers. Today we hear Oscar "Preacher" Nelson And Newton "Hoss" Nelson from a collection of Owen's field recordings called Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar.

We spotlight two numbers from a recent 2-CD, 50 song collection called Boogie Uproar: Gems From The Peacock Vaults. The Peacock label was founded by Don Robey in 1949 to promote his new artist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. The label was named after Robey's Bronze Peacock in Houston. Robey added the Duke label to his operation in 1952, gaining full control of the label in 1953. Today we play tracks by Bea Johnson and Elmore Nixon. I don't have any information on Johnson outside of eight sides she cut in 1949 backed by the Jim Wynn band with four of the sides going unissued. She possessed a strong, rich voice as evidenced on the moody lover's lament "No Letter Blues."

Boogie Uproar: Gems From The Peacock VaultsNixon's family moved to Houston in 1939, where he would remain until his death. By his early teens, he was already backing Peppermint Harris on his Gold Star debut. Thereafter he recorded with many Texas artists as a member of alto saxophonist Henry Hayes’ Four Kings, including Carl Campbell, Milton Willis, L.C. Williams, Hubert Robinson, Ivory Lee and Hop Wilson. His debut record, "Foolish Love", was made in 1949 for Sittin' In With. Other sessions followed for Peacock, Mercury Records, Savoy Records and Imperial Records, the latter in 1955. During the mid-60s, he worked with Clifton Chenier, recording on Chenier’s sessions for Arhoolie Records and with Lightnin’ Hopkins for Jewel. At other times he led his own band, working around Texas and Louisiana.

Tampa Red and Georgia had a huge hit in 1928 with "Tight Like That" which kicked started the hokum blues style which drew on jug band music and vaudeville for bouncy, rag- influenced songs that abounded with double entendres. On its release, the record was a massive hit, spawning several sequels by Tampa Red and Dorsey and countless imitations by other artists. Today we hear versions by McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Leadbelly and Rev. A.W. Nix. Nix's "It Was Tight Like That" is part of a tradition of popular blues topics that were turned into sermons such as Rev. J. M. Gates' "Dead Cat On The Line" (recorded by Tampa Red and Georgia Tom in 1934) and Rev. Emmett Dickinson's "Death Of Blind Lemon." Nix also recorded other blues based sermons including the two-part "The Dirty Dozen" and "How Long, How Long."

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Son Sims Four Joe Turner Complete Plantation Recordings
Son Sims Four RosalieComplete Plantation Recordings
Nathan Frazier & Frank Patterson CorinneAltamont: Black Stringband Music
Sidney Hemphill, Lucius Smith, Will Head & Alec Askew John HenryThe Devil's Dream
*Son HouseWalking Blues Field Recordings Vol. 17: Son House 1941-1942
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Jelly Roll Country Negro Jam Session
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Brown Skin Woman Country Negro Jam Session
Clarence Edwards, Cornelius Edwards & Butch Stack O´DollarsCountry Negro Jam Session
Butch Cage & Willie B. Thomas Called For You Yesterday Country Negro Jam Session
Chicago String Band The Sun Is Sinking LowThe Chicago String Band
Chicago String Band Railroad BluesThe Chicago String Band
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage 44 Blues Folk Music Of The Newport Folk Festival 1959-60 Vol. 1
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Butch's Blues I Have To Paint My Face
Clarence & Cornelius Edwards & Butch Cage Goin' Back to New Orleans The Country Blues
Charles Henderson, Butch Cage & Willie Thomas Jesus On The Mainline Country Spirituals
Blind James Campbell I Am So Blue When It RainsBlind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band
Blind James Campbell I'm Crazy About You BabyBlind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Tomorrow Gonna Be My Trying Day Raise a Ruckus Tonight
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Raise a Ruckus Tonight Raise a Ruckus Tonight
The New Mississippi Sheiks Stop And ListenThe New Mississippi Sheiks
The New Mississippi Sheiks What is it Tastes Like Gravy The New Mississippi Sheiks
Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong In The Bottom That Old Gang Of Mine
Carl Martin State Street Pimp #2 Crow Jane Blues
*Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Sneaky Ways Old Time Black Southern String Band Music
*Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Bugle Call Blues Old Time Black Southern String Band Music
*Howard Armstrong; Tom Armstrong; Ted Bogan; Ikey Robinson Railroad BluesLouie Bluie
*Leonard Bowles and Irvin Cook I Wish To The Lord I'd Never Been Born Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music
*Joe Thompson Careless LoveFamily Tradition
*Odell & Joe Thompson Georgia Buck Eight-Hand Sets & Holy Steps
*Carolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson Goin' Down the Road Feeling BadCarolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson

Show Notes:

*Due to the pledge drive several tracks (marked with an asterisk) were not played today. We will play these tracks on next week's program.

As collector Marshall Wyatt wrote, “the violin once held center stage in the rich pageant of vernacular music that evolved in the American South… and the fiddle held sway as the dominant folk instrument of both races until the dawn of the 20th century.” Today, outside of a few exceptions, African-American music has mostly abandoned the violin and fiddle to white country performers. Many black musicians active during the 1920's and ’30s came from a string-band tradition, an era predating the blues when fiddles and banjos were the predominant instruments, and guitars a rarity. Black fiddlers and string bands were still common in the South throughout the 1920's, were not entirely ignored by the record industry, but were they were certainly under-represented. Some black string bands incorporated blues into their repertoires in order to keep abreast of trends such as the popular Mississippi Sheiks. As the record business began to rebound in the mid-1930s, musical trends became rapidly modernized due to the spreading influence of mass media, and black fiddlers found even fewer recording opportunities.

Butch Cage & Willie B. Thomas
Butch Cage & Willie B. Thomas (Front cover Conversation With The Blues, Decca LK 4664)


Several years back
we spotlighted some of the black string band who got on record in the 20's and 30's and today is a sequel of sorts, featuring the few string band who recorded from the early 1940's and throughout the post-war era. The black string band tradition mostly faded away during this period but today we play some  of the groups who got on record including excellent sides recorded by the Library of Congress in the 40's, a batch of sides by Butch Cage & Willie Thomas, Blind James Campbell, Carl Martin, Howard Armstrong, Joe Thompson and others.

We open the show with sides recorded for the Library of Congress in 1942. That year John Work, a folklorist at Nashville’s Fisk University, captured the music of fiddler Frank Patterson and banjoist Nathan Frazier and Alan Lomax recorded Son House, Muddy Waters and Son Sims.

Sons Sims was born in Anguilla, Mississippi and learned to play the fiddle from his grandfather. Sims went on to be the leader of the Mississippi Corn Shuckers, a rural based string ensemble and played with them for a number of years. In 1929 he went up to the Paramount studios in Grafton, Wisconsin with Charlie Patton where he cut four sides under his own name and backed Patton on several numbers like "Running Wild Blues" and "Elder Greene Blues."He backed Patton again in 1930 for Paramount. On August 28, 1941, Sims accompanied Muddy Waters on a recording session under the direction of Alan Lomax, as part of his recordings for the Library of Congress. In the 1940's Sims also accompanied Robert Nighthawk on several joint appearances, and continued a solo career in to the 1950's.

Lomax found Sid Hemphill in Senatobia, deep in Mississippi’s Hill Country. He’d driven across a crumbling bridge and approached a “sagging, unpainted door on a weathered-gray, warping house.” Before he could knock, Hemphill, then 65, swung it open. “No one had told me that Sid Hemphill was blind, but it was the last thing you’d recall about him,” Lomax explained. “His face blazed with inner light.” On August 15, 1942, Lomax committed 15 tracks by Hemphill and his backing band (Lucius Smith, Alec “Turpentine” Askew, and Will Head) to acetate disc.

Muddy Waters & Son Sims
Muddy Waters & Sons Sims, 1942

 

Lomax first recorded Son House for the Library of Congress in 1941. Lomax returned to the area in 1942, where he recorded House once more. Willie Brown, mandolin player Fiddlin' Joe Martin, and harmonica player Leroy Williams played with House on these recordings  including the rollicking six minute version of "Walking Blues" featured today.

Fiddler James "Butch" Cage was one of the last artists in the black string band tradition. Born on March 16, 1894, in Hamburg, MS, Cage's first real instrument was a cane fife. He moved to southwest Louisiana following the devastating Mississippi floods of 1927, eventually settling in Zachary, where he worked a succession of menial jobs while playing string band music at house parties and church functions, often in conjunction with guitarist Willie B. Thomas. Musicologist Harry Oster heard Butch Cage and Willie Thomas playing in Zachary in 1959 and recorded them extensively. The duo was also a huge hit at the 1960 Newport Folk Festival. The duo can be heard on several fine anthologies including: Country Negro Jam Sessions (Arhoolie), I Have To Paint My Face (Arhoolie), The Folk Music Of The Newport Folk Festival 1959-60 Vol. 1 (Folkways), Country Spirituals (Storyville), Country Blues (Storyville), Raise A Rukus Tonight (Flyright) and Old Time Black Southern String Band Music (Arhoolie).

Fiddler Joe Thompson died in 2012 at the age of 93. Born December 9, 1918 in Orange County, North Carolina, Thompson grew up in a family where fiddle and banjo music was heard on nights and weekends after farm work was completed. Joe’s father and uncle played fiddle and banjo and were sought after by neighbors, both African American and white, to provide music for local square dances. Joe has received many honors since the 1970s, when he began performing his music outside of his home community. Kip Lornell, then a graduate student in ethnomusicology, heard him perform in 1973 and urged them to look into performing at folk music festivals that were springing up. In 1989 Joe and Odell recorded Music for Global Village Music and Joe was featured on the album Family Tradition, released by Rounder Records in 2000. Folklorist Alan Lomax included the three Thompsons' in his American Patchwork documentary film series. His music is also included on various anthologies. The Carolina Chocolate Drops became Thompson’s most well known protégés, learning from him at his home in Mebane and eventually recording and performing with him at festivals like Merlefest and even local dances.

The Chicago String Band was a studio group put together by Pete Welding to emulate the old time string band sound. The group cut one self-titled album for Welding's Testament label featuring Big John Wrencher, hca,voc; John Lee Granderson, voc, g; Carl Martin, voc, vl, mand; Johnny Young, voc, mand; Bill Foster, g.

From left to right: Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong, Yank Rachell, Banjo Ikey Robinson,
Ted Bogan and Tom Armstrong.

 

Two original members of the Mississippi Sheiks, Sam Chatmon and Walter Vinson, partnered with two members of the string band Martin, Bogan and Armstrong to form The New Mississippi Sheiks. The group cut the album The New Mississippi Sheiks for Rounder in 1972.

Blind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band were a group of street musicians from Nashville, Tennessee who played a hybrid of hillbilly, jazz, blues, old time popular, skiffle, and jug band music. James Campbell, a Nashville native, on guitar and vocals is joined by Beauford Clay on fiddle, Bell Ray, on second fiddle and guitar, George Bell on trumpet, and Ralph Robinson on bass horn/tuba. This group was originally recorded in 1963. The band worked road houses, on the streets of Nashville, at parties, as well as other social functions. They recorded a self-titled album for Arhoolie issued in 1963.  The group members had links to an earlier group, called the Nashville Washboard Band, who were recorded for the Library of Congress by John Work.

Carl Martin's main instrument was mandolin but he also mastered the guitar, and according to those who saw him perform, could play anything with strings. Carl Martin not only performed solo, but also spent much of his career in a trio featuring Ted Bogan (guitar) and Howard Armstrong (violin). The trio enjoyed a career that spanned five decades and was known under several different monikers, including the Four Keys, the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, and the Wandering Troubadours. In the late '30s, they followed the great migration to Chicago where they would eventually go their separate ways, occasionally playing together. Martin cut sides under his own name in the 30's as well as backing Tampa Red,Bumble Bee Slim, Washboard Sam and others. He recorded again in the 60's for the Testament label, resulting his only full-length album. Following years of playing solo, Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong reunited in the early '70s and played the folk and blues festival circuit all over the country.

Howard Armstrong proved to be a true renaissance man, excelling in a variety of artistic endeavors during his amazing 80-career including storytelling, poetry and painting. He managed to conquer nearly every genre of music, learned to play multiple instruments and spoke several languages.

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