Clifton Chenier Yesterday (I Lost My Best Friend) Zodico Blues and Boogie
Dewey Corley Last NightOn The Road Again
Kansas City KittyDouble Trouble Kansas City Kitty 1930-1934
Famous Hokum BoysYou Can't Get Enough Of That StuffThe Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Vol. 2
Harum ScarumCome On In (Ain't Nobody Here) Blues Images Vol. 9
Scrapper BlackwellNobody Knows When You're Down And OutMr. Scrapper's Blues
Joe CallicottGreat Long Ways From HomeThe 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival
Henry JohnsonSittin' Down Thinkin'Carolina Country Blues
Lane Hardin Cartey BluesBlues Images Vol. 9
Wright Holmes Drove From Home BluesAlley Special
Smoky Babe Talkin' BabyThe Country Blues
Willie Nix Riding in the MoonlightSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Blind Leroy Garnett Frisco BoundThe Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Vol. 2
Buddy Boy Hawkins Snatch It And Grab ItBuddy Boy Hawkins And His Buddies
Carolina Peanut BoysYou Got Me Rollin'Vintage Mandolin Music
Geechie SmithThe Kaycee KidSwinging Small Combos Kansas City Style Vol. 2
Jo Jo Adams Jo-Jo's Troubles Jo-Jo Adams 1946-1953
Lavarda DurstI CriedHouston Might Be Heaven Vol. 1
Big Joe Turner Just A Travelin' ManBig Joe Turner: Classic Hits 1938-1952
Kid Prince Moore South Bound BluesKid Prince Moore 1936-1938
Willie Harris West Side BluesFavorite Country Blues Guitar: Piano Duets 1929-1937
Sylvester Weaver Bottleneck Blues Bottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-1937
D.C. BenderWoke Up This MorningIn The Alley: The Story of Ivory Records
Mabel Franklin w/ D.C. Bender Unhappy WomanStompin' Vol. 9
Bill GaitherRocky Mountain Blues Bill Gaither Vol. 2 1936-1938
Lightnin' HopkinsRocky Mountain The Complete Prestige / Bluesville Recordings
Big Chief EllisRocky Mountain BluesBig Chief Ellis
Jaybird ColemanMistreatin' MamaStuff That Dreams are Made Of
Sonny Boy WilliamsonMattie Mae BluesThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
AlexPrison BluesPrison Songs Vol. 1: Murderous Home
Little Son Willis Baby Come Back HomeDown Home Blues Classics: California & The West Coast 1948 -1954
Thunder SmithWest Coast BluesUnfinished Boogie: Western Blues Piano 1946-1952

Show Notes:

The last few weeks we've featured a pair of interesting interviews with another one ready to air shortly. We pause with the interviews this week with an interesting mix show today. On deck today are some fine hokum blues from a group of famous bluesmen who recorded under several different names, we have a couple of sets devoted to well known blues numbers, we play a couple of tracks featuring underrated guitarist D.C. Bender, we hear from some fine blues crooners and are usual mix of down-home and pre-war blues.

HarumScarum AdWe play a set of hokum blues by the groups the Famous Hokum Boys, Harun Scarum and a song credited to Kansas City Kitty. The Famous Hokum Boys "You Can't Get Enough Of That Stuff" is a typical good time hokum piece.The group was a loose-knit aggregation of blues singers that included Georgia Tom, Tampa Red, and Big Bill Broonzy. The Harum Scarums included Big Bill Broonzy, Georgia Tom Dorsey and Jane Lucas on vocals. This record was issued on Paramount in 1931 but no known copies of the Paramount record have been found. The record was issued by two other companies, Crown and Varsity which used the Paramount master. As record collector John Tefteller said: "I’ve had the ad for a long time, but there was no copy on Paramount anywhere I could find,” he said. “This last year, somebody said, 'Why aren’t you using that,' and I said, ‘Yeah, find me that record.’”"Double Trouble" is a fine straight blues numbers sporting some excellent piano work from most likely Eddie Morgan.

While the music is fairly straightforward, unraveling who Kansas City Kitty and who Jane Lucas were is much more complicated. Researcher/writer Howard Rye attempted to make sense of it all. "The only certainty  about "Kansas City Kitty" is that she never  existed. The pseudonym was applied by Vocalion in 1930/31  to a singer or singers who recorded mainly hokum material in duets with Georgia Tom Dorsey. In 1934, the name was re-used by Victor's Bluebird subsidiary for a solo vocal session with different accompaniment. … In the early 1960s and again in the mid-1970s, Thomas A. Dorsey, who should have known, if anyone still did, whose identity was concealed by 'Kansas City Kitty', told interviewers she was Mozelle Alderson. He also stated that Jane Lucas, who made a number of similar records in 1930 for Gennett's Champion label, was the same singer. As it is generally conceded that the singer who recorded in the same idiom earlier in 1930 for the American Record Company's labels as 'Hannah May' is the same person as Gennett's Jane Lucas, these would also be by Mozelle Alderson. …The Vocalion file cards for Kansas City Kitty's unissued session of 21 January 1931 (which are in the CBS filing) name the singer as Mozelle Alderson. Aurally, it seems quite possible that all the 1930/31 recordings by 'Kansas City Kitty', 'Hannah May' and 'Jane Lucas' are by the same singer and their style is consistent with Mozelle Alderson's 1930 recordings. …The Victor files and composer credits are said by Blues and Gospel Records 1902-1943 to 'tend to confirm' (whatever that means!) that Kansas City Kitty's real name was Thelma Holmes. This identification was given as a fact in a 1961 article by Paul Oliver (Jazz Monthly, November 1961) but no source is stated."

We spin a trio of 'Rocky Mountain Blues" songs. The oft covered “Rocky Mountain Blues” was first recorded by Bill Gaither in 1937. The song must have been popular as he recorded “New Rocky Mountain Blues” in 1939. The theme has been recorded many times over the years including versions by Lightnin' Hopkins (he cut the song in 1947 for Aladdin and again in the 60's for Prestige) , Champion Jack Dupree, Pete Franklin, Big Chief Ellis and others.

We also feature two songs based on Little Walter's classic "Last Night" which he cut in 1954. Walter told an English journalist "I made 'Last Night' after my best friend Henry Strong got killed …he was my best friend, so I made 'Last Night' as a tribute to him." The song was recorded a month after strong was stabbed to death by a jealous girlfriend . Strong was supposed to take the harmonica chair in Muddy Waters band but that ended up being filled by George "Harmonica" Smith. From 1995 we Clifton Chenier's "Yesterday (I Lost My Best Friend)" from 1955 and Dewey Corley's "Last Night" in 1972.

D.C. Bender, source: Blues Unlimited 148/149 (Winter 1987)

D.C. Bender used Houston as his base in the 1940's , playing alongside Lightnin’ Hopkins, Smokey Hogg, Wright Holmes and Luther Stoneham. He recorded for the Gold Star label as DC Washington in 1948, and, five years later, accompanied Big Son Tillis on a session recorded in Los Angeles for the Elko label. He did not record again until he backed Mabel Franklin on a single in 1964. The same year he also backed singer Calvin Johnson. By that time he had joined drummer Ivory Lee Semien’s band, with who he recorded a version of ‘Boogie Chillen’ in 1967 for Semien’s Ivory label. Other songs from that session were unissued. In 1967 he also backed singer Big H Williams on on record. Bender died in Houston in 1982.

Speaking of the aforementioned Wright Holmes, we play his "Drove From Home Blues" today. Holmes was based in Houston from 1930, by which time he was already a blues singer and guitarist, working in clubs on Dowling Street. His first recordings in 1947 for Gold Star were not issued because the producer felt he sounded too much like Lightnin’ Hopkins. Later that year others sides were issued by Miltone and Gotham. In all he only left three songs behind.

A couple of weeks back I interviewed Bill Greensmith. In the preface to Blues Unlimited: Essential Interviews from the Original Blues Magazine he wrote: "The Chicago R&B and jump music scene of the 1940s and '50s happily coexisted alongside the more celebrated and familiar down-home amplified style of Muddy Waters. Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter. …In 1974 Mike Leadbitter, in a column titled 'Chicago Flipside', was one of the first people to bemoan the fact that these artists, the clubs they performed in, and the companies who were recording them were largely undocumented." One of these artists was Jo Jo Adams heard today on the fine "Jo-Jo's Troubles." Adams was once quite a celebrity in the 1940s and 1950s Chicago music and entertainment circle. He was comedian/singer/dancer/emcee and leader of a successful revue. He first recorded in 1946 for the Melody Lane Record Shop label become Hy-Tone Records and the two Adams releases were reissued on the new label. During the summer of 1946, Adams was in Los Angeles, recording for Aladdin Records with the Maxwell Davis All Stars. By the end of the year, he was back in Chicago recording for Hy-Tone. In 1947 and 48, he recorded a sessions for Aristocrat Records with Tom Archia's All Stars. In 1952 he cut six sides for Chance Records and his last known release was issued the following year on Al Benson's Parrot label. His complete recordings have been collected on the Classics label.


Bill GreensmithInterview
Juke Boy BonnerB.U. BluesThings Ain't Right
Juke Boy BonnerWhere I LiveThings Ain't Right
Juke Boy BonnerCall Me Juke BoyGoin' Down To Louisiana
Joe DeanMexico Bound BluesDown In Black Bottom
Joe DeanI'm So Glad I'm Twenty-One Years Old Today Shake Your Wicked Knees
Dr. HepcatHattie GreenLyons Avenue Jive
Sparks BrothersLouisiana BoundSparks Brothers 1932-1935
Sparks BrothersTell Her About MeSparks Brothers 1932-1935
Juke boy BonnerYakin' in My Plans45, Blues Unlimited 101
Juke boy BonnerRunnin' Shoes 45, Blues Unlimited 101
Big Maceo Wintertime BluesBig Maceo with Tampa Red
Big Maceo Kid Man BluesBig Maceo Vol. 1 1941-1945
Big Maceo Detroit Jump Big Maceo Vol. 2 1945-1950
Big Maceo Chicago Breakdown Big Maceo Vol. 2 1945-1950
Louise Johnson By The Moon And StarsJuke Joint Saturday Night
Louise Johnson On The Wall Juke Joint Saturday Night
The Four Blazes w/ Red HollowayWomen, WomenMary Jo
Sunnyland Slimw/ Red HollowaySunnyland Slim 1952-1955

Show Notes:

Blues UnlimitedAs Bill Greensmith writes in the introduction to Blues Unlimited: Essential Interviews from the Original Blues Magazine: "Bexhill-on-Sea is a sleepy seaside town in East Sussex on the south coast of England., seemingly populated by old ladies and retired servicemen. …It was unquestionably the most unlikely of locations for the birthplace of Blues Unlimited, the world's first publication devoted solely to the blues. …Bexhill was home to both Simon Napier and Mike Leadbitter, Blues Unlimited's founding editors. …In April 1963, six months after the first AFBF [American Folk Blues Festival] toured Europe, the first issue of Blues Unlimited was published." The magazine was an outgrowth of The Journal of the Blues Appreciation Society formed in May 1962. The first issue was a success, selling out all 180 copies. By issue thirteen the run was up to one thousand and photos included for the first time. Greensmith wrote: "Researchers, discographers, and enthusiasts from Europe and the United States soon began to freely contribute articles, interviews, reviews, and information. …The early BU's managed to covey a wonderful sense of adventure; the enthusiasm was palpable. The early '60's saw the rediscovery of several artists who had recorded in the '20's and '30's, and Blues Unlimited was among the first to report the findings. …From today's vantage point it is sometimes easy to forget the time and context which BU began operating. Few blues artists had ever been the subject of an article or formal interview before appearing in BU. The magazine hit issue one hundred in 1973 and three issues later Simon Nappier stepped down with Mike Leadbetter taking sole ownership. Sadly, in November the next year Leadbitter died of meningitis at the age of 32. BU forged ahead with a five-person editorial committee talking over including Bill Greensmith. BU soldiered on until 1987 with a final double issue, 148/149.

I got into blues seriously when I was around sixteen and picked up my first Blues Unlimited right before the magazine went under. The magazine was a revelation and I even remember where I first picked it up – it was at tiny store called See Hear in the East Village that specialized in strange zines and other publications. Over the years I managed to pick up some of the back issues. The articles and reviews that appeared in the lengthy run of  Blues Unlimited are a treasure of information about the blues, much of the information remains unsurpassed, and locked away, more or less inaccessible unless you were picking up the magazine form the beginning. As far as I know you can't access back issues at any library and there is no archive online. This is why the new book is so valuable, even if it gives us just a brief look at the wealth found in those old BU's. Hopefully there will be a sequel.   On today's Show I air an interview I conducted with Bill Greensmith a few weeks back. Bill was a wonderful and knowledgeable interview. Even though we chatted for over an hour we only touched on a few of the artists (chosen by my interest) featured in the book and today's show revolves around those artists. Below is some background.

Juke Boy Bonner's musical career began as a child, singing in a gospel group and by the age of twelve he had taught himself the guitar. In 1947 he moved to Houston, winning first prize in a talent show at the Lincoln Theatre in the city. This success lead to regular gigs at lounges, bars and juke joints throughout the Houston area, however the chances to record were strictly limited and by the mid-fifties he headed for the West Coast. In 1957, Bonner made his recording debut for the Irma label, in Oakland, California cutting four sides. Just two sides were issued, "Rock With Me Baby"/"Well Baby." He returned to touring the South, frequenting bars and juke joints in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana, where he cut three sessions for Goldband Records in Lake Charles in 1960, billed as Juke Boy Bonner — The One Man Trio. Some of these sides found their way to a European release on a Storyville album and attracted attention from European blues enthusiasts. But the breaks didn't come Juke Boy's way until 1967, when sterling work primarily by editors of Blues Unlimited magazine led to recording opportunities for the small Flyright label and for an eventual European tour. During the late 60's, Bonner suffered from bouts of ill health and underwent major stomach surgery. He earned a meager living playing gigs in Houston.

Blues Unlimited raised enough money for Juke Boy to cut a 45 for the Blues Unlimited label in Houston in 1967. Chris Strachwitz, owner of Arhoolie Records, on a field trip to Texas heard the record and cut an album with him in December 1967. Further sessions followed for Arhoolie in Houston during 1967, 1968 and 1969. Passport difficulties prevented him from joining the 1968 Folk Blues Festival Tour. He found his way to Europe in 1969 where he cut the album Things Ain't Right for Liberty. Throughout the early and mid-seventies his popularity grew and he continued to tour Europe as well as playing dates in Houston, however he couldn't match his European popularity at home. He became dogged by ill health, divorced from his wife and living in a small rented 10ft by 10ft room in a rundown house in the heart of Houston's black ghetto. Bonner was reduced to unloading trucks and collecting aluminum cans to make a living. The frustration and bitterness are reflected in the comments made by a longtime friend to the Houston Chronicle: "He used to say he could go to Europe and earn $1000 dollars but he couldn't make $50 in his hometown." He died in 1978. The week of his death the Houston Chronicle ran the headline: “Weldon ‘Juke Boy’ Bonner, well known in Europe, dies alone in his hometown.”

Simon Napier and Mike LeadbitterAaron and Marion (he changed his name to Milton in 1929) were twins born to Ruth and Sullie Gant in Tupelo, Mississippi. The brothers cut four sessions as the Sparks Brothers, the first for Victor and the other three for Bluebird, between 1932 and 1935. Milton cut two songs for Decca in 1934 under the name Flyin' Lindberg. Aaron backed a number of St. Louis artists at their second session: Elisabeth Washington, Tecumseh McDowell, Dorotha Trowbridge, James "Stump" Johnson and Charlie McFadden. The brothers' led rough and tumble lives reflected in songs that dealt with gambling, jail, alcohol, woman, hoboing and railroads. In spite of their lyrics and rough background, the music the brothers made was surprisingly tender and wistful. They excelled at thoughtful, mid-tempo blues such as "East Chicago Blues", "Down On The Levee" and "4X11=44" a reference to number combination for playing policy.

Milton possessed a strong, nasal voice that is extremely appealing while Milton had a warm, sensitive vocal that occasionally dips into a mellow falsetto. Aaron was an exceptional and versatile piano player as Chris Smith appraises: "Aaron's playing features the steady chordal basses typical of St. Louis, and a very inventive right hand, endowed with melodic grace and propulsive energy. He was also a capable boogie playe r, with a singing line and a fondness for medium tempos." Aaron's fine abilities as an accompanist extend to his backing a trio of St. Louis ladies. Elisabeth Washington was an appealing, slightly nasal singer with a good sense of delivery; "Riot Call Blues" and "Whiskey Blues" (1933) are particularly tough blues with the latter opening with the line "Everyday I have the blues" a song that the brothers would debut two years later. Mike Rowe with help from Charlie O'Brien wrote the definitive pice on the Sparks Brothers in Blues Unlimited 144 published in 1983. The bulk of the information came from an interview with the brothers' uncle, Aaron Sparks.

Joe Dean recorded one great 78 in 1930: “I'm So Glad I'm Twenty-One Years Old Today b/w Mexico Bound Blues" for Paramount, who dubbed him ‘‘Joe Dean from Bowling Green.’’ Dean was born in St. Louis on April 25, 1908. Raised by his widowed mother, Dean began by playing house parties and small clubs. Dean worked in a steel mill, playing intermittently, until the 1950's. He remained musically active on a part-time basis into the 1960's. He eventually became the Rev. Joe Dean and died on June 24 1981. He was interviewed by Mike Rowe for Blues Unlimited 127 in 1977.

Lavada Durst, known as Dr. Hepcat, who was a disciple of Robert Shaw but who recorded infrequently. He worked in baseball for much of his life, training players and announcing games, and it was from the latter activity that he graduated to working as a DJ, broadcasting over KVET, a white station in Austin. There he developed the persona of Dr.Hepcat, with an extraordinary line in jive talk. He also made a few records of his own, but despite his high profile on radio, it appears that these can't have sold very well, as they are extremely rare, even one issued on the comparatively major independent label Peacock; the other two were on the local Uptown label, one issued under the pseudonym of Cool Papa Smith. He made a handful of latter day recordings before passing in 1995. Dr. Hepcat was interviewed in Blues Unlimited 129 in 1978.

Blues writer Chris Smith wrote the following about Big Maceo: “On both slow blues and boogies, Big Maceo played powerful, sometimes challengingly chromatic bass figures and anvil-sparkling right-hand flourishes and solos. He could be a jovial singer, but more typical were husky, plaintive, fatalistic accounts of trouble with women and the law.  …His playing and Tampa Red’s amplified guitar foreshadow the sound of postwar Chicago.” Maceo had a profound influence on postwar Chicago piano despite a relativley sparse discography; his short career spanned the years 1941 through 1950, where he recorded just over three dozen sides as well as backing partner Tampa Red on eighteen sides and providing session work behind Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jazz Gillum and John & Grace Brim.

Blues Unlimited Number OneMaceo's first session fielded 14 sides, with the first single becoming the most important of his career: "Worried Life Blues". At the conclusion of the war, Melrose immediately brought his stable of blues artists back to the studio. Maceo resumed his work with Tampa Red. Maceo recorded more sides in 1945 including his classic piano instrumental "Chicago Breakdown." Unfortunately, Big Maceo's career was cut short after he suffered a stroke in 1946 that left him almost completely paralyzed on his right side. Over the next few years, he would attempt to record several more times despite his handicap, and still remained a fine singer. Occasionally other pianists would play while he sang.

Louise Johnson was barrelhouse pianist and girlfriend of Charlie Patton’s who went to Grafton to make records with Patton, Willie Brown and Son House in 1930. She cut four sides at that session, her sole recorded legacy. From the book Preachin' The Blues Dan Beaumont writes: "North of Robinsonville, Patton directed Ford to visit the Kirby plantation where they picked up a young woman named Louise Johnson, who was one of Patton’s girlfriends. Johnson sang and played piano in a barrelhouse operated by a Liny Armstrong.  Willie Brown had heard her playing, and he then introduced her to Patton who soon found time for her.  House remembered her 'nice-lookin’…’bout twenty-three, twenty-four years old.'  And like her boyfriend Patton, she 'didn’t do nothin’ but drink and play music; she didn’t work for nobody…' Somewhere along the trip her and Patton had a fight and she became House's girlfriend. "Back in Mississippi, the foursome played in a barrelhouse on the Kirby plantation near Lula for a brief time, then went their separate ways.  According to [Stephen]  Calt and [Gayle] Wardlow, House saw Louise Johnson only once after 1930. He thought she had moved to Helena, Arkansas.  Another report had her playing in the 1930's on the King and Anderson plantation near Clarksdale.  Then she vanished from view." Bob Hall and Richard Noblet wrote the definitive piece on her in Blues Unlimited 115 in 1975. No additional information has turned up on her since.

Bill Greensmith writes to in the preface to the Red Holloway interview: "The Chicago R&B and jump music scene of the 1940s and '50s happily coexisted alongside the more celebrated and familiar down-home amplified style of Muddy Waters. Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter. …In 1974 Mike Leadbitter, in a column titled 'Chicago Flipside', was one of the first people to bemoan the fact that these artists, the clubs they performed in, and the companies who were recording them were largely undocumented." Red Holloway was very much part of this scene and Bill Greensmith conducted a wonderful. candid interview with him that was published in Blues Unlimited 117 and 118 in 1976. Today we close the show with  Holloway backing The Four Blazes and Sunnyland Slim.

Sam CollinsYellow Dog BluesSam Collins 1927-1931
Bo Weavil JacksonYou Can't Keep No BrownBottleneck Blues Guitar Classics
Andrew DunhamNezeree Blues Andrew Dunham & Friends: Detroit Blues Vol. 2
Andrew DunhamWay Down In Hell Andrew Dunham & Friends: Detroit Blues Vol. 2
George Guesnon Draw's Trouble BluesCreole Blues
Guitar Slim Green My MarieStone Down Blues (Ace)
Howlin' Wolf Ain't Goin' Down That Dirt Road #2The Roots Of It All: Acoustic Blues The 1960's & 1970's
Little Willie LittlefieldTrain Whistle BluesKat On The Keys
Big MaceoTexas Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 1941-1945
Eddie BoydI Got The BluesEddie Boyd Vol. 2 1951-1953
Al Miller 22-20 BluesAl Miller 1927-1936
Al Miller Got The Blues (Can't Be Satisfied)Al Miller 1927-1936
John DudleyJohn DudleySouthern Journey Vol.3: 61 Highway Mississippi
Fred McDowell, Miles Pratcher & Fanny DavisPlaying Policy BluesSouthern Journey Vol.3: 61 Highway Mississippi
Walter DavisM & O BluesFirst Recordings 1930-1932
Willie BrownM & O BluesThe Roots Of It All: Acoustic Blues The 1920's & 1930's
Georgia TomM & O Blues Part 1Georgia Tom Vol. 2 1930-1934
Manny Nichols Tall Skinny Mama BluesLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Lightnin' HopkinsBad Things on My MindLightnin' Special Vol. 2
James Brewer Good Morning BluesJames Brewer
Blind Willie JohnsonDark Was The Night - Cold Was The Ground Blues Images Vol. 10
Robert JohnsonCross Road Blues The Centennial Collection
Lonesome SundownSitting On Another Man's KneeGenuine Excello R&B
Floyd JonesYou Can't Live LongDrop Down Mama
Papa LightfootP.L. Blues Suckin' And Blowin'
Carl Martin Crow JaneThe Roots Of It All: Acoustic Blues The 1920's & 1930's
Little Hat JonesKentucky BluesMy Rough And Rowdy Ways Vol. 1
Famous Hokum BoysEagle Riding PapaFamous Hokum Boys Vol. 1 1930

Show Notes:

Al Miller 78Right now we are in the midst of out fall pledge drive, so due to the shortened time frame we have a mixed show for today. A varied set list today including twin spins by Al Miller and Andrew Dunham, a trio of songs revolving around a well known blues number, a few  tracks from from a great project by the Bear Family label, a set of piano blues and plenty more odds and ends.

Mandolinist Al Miller is not exactly a household name. As Howard Rye wrote of his music: "as a body of work, the music is not exactly blues and not exactly jazz. This failure to conform to the categories of record collectors has no doubt contributed to Miller's obscurity… However, this eclectic mixture of styles and material gave way to a heavy concentration on bawdry once he arrived at Brunswick and the series of recordings by his Market Street Boys. 'Somebody's Been Using That Thing 'was evidently his  big seller, generating five versions (three issued)." During the years 1927-1936 Miller cut twenty-six sides under his own name and under the names Al Miller's String Band, Al Miller and his Market Street Boys and  Al Miller and his Swing Stompers. He also sat in with pianist Cripple Clarence Lofton and singers Red Nelson , Luella Miller and Mozelle Alderson. After cutting his first sides for Black Patti records, Miller cut sides for Paramount and Brunswick.

A number of Miller's songs fell into the hokum genre which were characterized by a a bouncy, ragtime sound coupled with humor and risque subject matter. Hokum blues was propelled by Georgia Tom and Tampa Red's 1929 hit "It's Tight Like That." We hear more hokum from the Famous Hokum Boys, not to be confused by the group simply called the Hokum Boys. The Famous Hokum Boys were a loose-knit aggregation of blues singers that included Georgia Tom, Tampa Red, and Big Bill Broonzy.

Willie Brown M & O Blues Ad

Andrew Dunham was recorded by Bernie Besman in 1948 and 1949 in Detroit.Bessman operated the Sensation label which issued John Lee Hooker's first recordings including Hooker's smash "Boogie Chillen." Dunham may have also accompanied John Lee Hooker on a number of recordings cut in 1951 and leased to Modern and Chess. The Dunham sides, along with sides by Sylvester Cotton, were first issued on the LP Andrew Dunham & Friends 1948-1949 on the Krazy Kat label in 1984.At the time, Bessman only issued one 78 apiece by Dunham and Cotton. Several years back Ace issued most of these sides on the CD Blues Sensation: Detroit Downhome Recordings 1948-1949. Several of the tracks on the Krazy Kat album have not been issued on the Ace CD although the Ace contains some unreleased material. As Chris Smith wrote in the notes to the Krazy Kat release (he also wrote the notes to the Ace record)): "The compositions that appear here show Dunham to be a guitarist who infuses considerable aggression and tension into his music by means of heavy bass figures and the use of dissonant extensions in the treble register; he is well aware of the potential of amplification for adding to the effect. His singing too, is energetic, often giving the impression of improvisation in melody and lyrics. The latter are overwhelmingly concerned with the man-woman relationship. generality in a misogynistic vein and often, one feels, with a good deal of suppressed violence lending weight."

"M & O Blues" was first recorded in 1930 by Walter Davis for Vctor. The song was a hit and Davis cut sequels to the songs. Willie Brown cut a song with the same title for Paramount the same year but it's a different song. Paramount may having been trying to cash in on the popularity of Davis' song and they did create an ad promoting the song. Several blues artists reinterpreted the song, most notably Robert Johnson who used the melody for "Rambling On My Mind" in 1936. Georgia Tom covered the song as a two-part 78 in 1932 and we feature part one today.

Blues Sensation
Read Liner Notes

Bear Family has recently issued  four 2- CD  sets called The Roots Of It All: Acoustic Blues spanning the 1923 through the 2012. From these discs we spin tracks by Carl Martin, Willie Brown and Howlin' Wolf. This can be seen as a complement to their sets of electric blues sets of a few years back, this time chronologically covering the history of acoustic blues. Each of these sets comes with excellent booklets and the selections seem thoughtfully well chosen. In the 20's and 30's the blues was a commercial product catering to a sizable black audience. In the immediate post-war numerous independent labels sprouted with similar intent. The folk scene and the blues revival came in the 50's and ramped up in the 60's with much good material recorded. The 60's was the death knell for commercial acoustic blues but a good deal of excellent acoustic blues was recorded. The 70's and 80's were an under appreciated period for acoustic blues but a good deal of great music was recorded, much of it in the field and issued on tiny labels. This period is particularly important as many of these performances are from albums long out-of-print, featuring artists who are virtually forgotten like Shirley Griffith, Robert Curtis Smith, James Brewer, Baby Tate, Frank Hovington, Guitar Slim Stephens and many others that have been long touted on this show. Sound quality is excellent throughout, particularly on the early 78's which come from very clean copies.

Other odds and ends includes songs by diverse artists such as George Guesnon and Blind Willie Johnson. Creole George Guesnon was a New Orleans banjoist, guitarist and singer. He played in bands by Papa Celestin and Sam Morgan among others. In 1936 he moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where he played and recorded in a band led by Little Brother Montgomery. He did two tours with the show Rabbit Foot Minstrels, then returned to New Orleans in 1938, but found little work there and moved to New York City. He worked with Jelly Roll Morton and Trixie Smith, and recorded four pieces for Decca Records in April 1940. In 1959 he cut the album Creole Blues on the Icon which is where this song comes from.

Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was The Night – Cold Was The Ground, featured today, has the distinction of being one of twenty-seven samples of music included on the Voyager Golden Record, launched into space in 1977 to represent the diversity of life on Earth. Francis Davis, author of The History of the Blues wrote: "In terms of its intensity alone—its spiritual ache—there is nothing else from the period to compare to Johnson's 'Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground', on which his guitar takes the part of a preacher and his wordless voice the part of a rapt congregation."

Lonnie JohnsonMan Killing BroadLonnie Johnson Vol. 1 1937-1940
Bill GaitherBloody Eyed WomanBill Gaither Vol. 4 1939
Whistlin' Alex MooreIce Pick BluesWhistlin' Alex Moore 1929-1951
Walter 'Cowboy' WashingtonIce Pick MamaTexas Seaport 1934-1937
Louisiana Red Sweet Blood CallSweet Blood Call
Lazy LesterBloodstains On The WallI'm A Lover Not A Fighter
Mary Johnson Death Cell BluesMary Johnson 1929-1936
Bessie SmithSend Me To The 'Lectric ChairThe Complete Recordings
Victoria Spivey Blood Thirsty BluesVictoria Spivey Vol. 1 1926-1927
Bama StackaleeParchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings 1947-1959
Skip James 22-20 BluesComplete Early Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Got The Blues (Can't Be Satisfied)Avalon Blues: The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Charles 'Speck' Petrum Gambler's BluesCharlie ''Specks'' McFadden 1929-1937
Blind Blake Playing Policy BluesAll The Published Sides
Doctor Clayton Roaming GamblerDoctor Clayton And His Buddy 1935-1947
Lucille BoganThey Ain't Walking No MoreBarrelhouse Mamas
Memphis MinnieDown In The AlleyMemphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
Sara Martin Down At The Razor BallSara Martin Vol. 3 1924-1925
Washboard SamRazor Cuttin' ManWashboard Sam Vol. 1 1935-1936
Blind Willie McTellRazor BallAtlanta Twelve String
Walter Roland45 Pistol BluesWalter Roland Vol. 2 1934-1935
Leroy CarrShinin' PistolWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Blind Boy FullerPistol Slapper Blues Remastered 1935-1938
Will Shade She Stabbed Me With An Ice PickMemphis Jug Band Associates & Alternate Takes 1927-1930
Black Boy Shine Ice Pick And Pistol Woman Blues Black Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Pat HareI'm Gonna Murder My BabySun Records - The Blues Years 1950-1956
Roy BrownButcher PetePay Day Jump: The Later Sessions
Geeshie WileySkinny Legs BluesMississippi Masters
Josie MilesMad Mama BluesJosie Miles Vol. 2 1924-1935
Jazz GillumGonna Be Some ShootingJazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-1949
Peetie WheatstrawGangster's BluesPeetie Wheatstraw Vol. 7 1940-1941
Georgia Tom & Tampa RedCrow Jane AlleyCome On Mama Do That Dance
Jim Jackson I'm A Bad Bad ManJim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Blind Willie McTell A To Z BluesThe Classic Years 1927–1940
Bertha IdahoDown On Pennsylvania AvenueFemale Blues Singers Vol. 10
Georgia WhiteI'll Keep Sittin' On It (If I Can't Sell It)Georgia White Vol. 2 1936-1937

Show Notes: 

Victoria Spivey Ad“The blues, contrary to popular conception, are not always concerned with love, razors, dice, and death," Richard Wright wrote in 1941. While that's certainly true, there are in fact a large number of blues songs that do deal with those topics.  Today we feature a wide range of songs about violence and vice. The blues emerged at the turn of the century in the midst of virulent racism and violent repression. Blues musicians of the 1920's and 30's existed in a violent culture where fights were common and it was often common to carry a weapon. In the places where the blues were regularly performed in the early days, the juke joints, there was a considerable amount of violence. Memphis Minnie said that at juke joints she and her husband played they would “have to run at night when they start cutting and shooting.” The south was a virtual apartheid society enforced by "Jim Crow" restrictions, with widespread violence, including lynchings. An increased presence of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920's contributed to an atmosphere of fear. In the South, mobs lynched many blacks for no other reason than their having acted outside the harsh social restrictions of Jim Crow. As writer Gary Buenett wrote: "The blues enabled Southern black to process the oppression they faced, but more than that, to affirm their humanity over against a system that denied that very fact. it enabled them to state the reality of the troubles, powerlessness, dread, and despair, but at the same time assert their essential humanness through expressions of rage, humor, courage, and of course, sexuality."

Today's lurid title is courtesy of Jazz Gillum from his 1949 number "Gonna Be Some Shooting." The song is a cover of Willie "61" Blackwell's 1941 song "Machine Gun Blues" and was modified and refashioned by Sunnyland Slim as "Johnson Machine Gun." Gillum had several songs filled with violent  imagery including "I'm Gonna Take My Rap" ("I'm gonna take my pistol/And cock it in my baby's face/Gonna let some graveyard, baby be your hiding place") and "Can't Trust Myself" ("I'm gonna buy myself a pistol/I'm gonna hang it to my side/I'm going to join the gangsters/People I'm gonna live a reckless life") among others. Gillum was himself a victim of violence. He was murdered in 1966  during a street argument.  Echoing Jazz Gillum, several decades later is the harrowing "Sweet Blood Call" by Louisiana Red:

I have a hard time missing you baby, with my pistol in your mouth
You may be thinking 'bout going north, but your brains are staying south

Today's show is filled with guns, knives, razors and even ice picks. One of the more famous gun songs is Skip James' "22-20 Blues" which may have been inspired by the success of the song “44 blues” recorded by Roosevelt Sykes in 1929 as "Forty- Four Blues" and the following year by Little Brother Montgomery as “Vicksburg Blues.” In 1936 Robert Johnson covered the song as “32-20 Blues.”

You talk about your forty-four-forty, buddy it'll do very well
But my thirty-two-twenty, Lord is a burning hell

Woman were the target of much of the violence as evidenced in numerous other songs including Leroy Carr's "Shinin' Pistol" ("I'm going to get me a shiny pistol with a long shiny barrel/I'm going to ramble this town over until I find my girl") and Blind Boy Fuller's "Pistol Slapper Blues" ("And I feel like snapping my pistol in your face/Let some brownskin woman be here to take your place"). Walter Roland's "45 Pistol Blues", on the other hand, is for protection when he heads down to a part of town that must be very close to the well known Tin Pan Alley or maybe Crow Jane Alley:

I'm going over to Third Alley, Lord but I'm going to carry my .45 (2x)
Because you know ain't many men go there and come back alive
They will shoot you and cut you, Lord they will knock you down
Lord, they will shoot you and cut you, Lord they will knock you down

And you can ask anybody ain't that the baddest place in town
Mens carry .38s, womens carry their razors too (2x)

Alex Moore - Ice Pick bluesRazors, despite Richard Wright's protest, crop up quite a bit in blues. There was Washboard Sam's "Razor Cuttin' Man",  Edith Wilson's "Rules and Regulations 'Signed Razor Jim'", Jazz Gillum's "Long Razor Blues", Perline Ellison's "Razor Totin' Mama", Helen Gross' "Bloody Razor Blues" as well as a school of related songs from the pre-blues era. Around the turn of the century there was the "bully song" or more formally "The Bully of the Town" or "Looking for the Bully." There were several songs published with 'Bully" in the title around this period. Paul Oliver noted that the song "reinforced the stereotypes of the razor-totin', watermelon-suckin', chicken-stealin' 'nigger' of that period." The core of the story is an altercation, usually with a razor, between the bully and a rival with the action usually happening at a dance or ball. In the blues era several songs drawn on these earlier sources including Sara Martin's "Down At The Razor Ball" (1925), Blind Willie McTell's "Razor Ball" (1930) and Washboard Sam's "Down At The Bad Man's Hall" (1941). The most famous related song, however, is the Willie Dixon penned "Wang Dang Doodle" (1960) which draws its inspiration from the Sara Martin number. Another razor song is "A To Z Blues" which has the protagonist literally carving the entire alphabet in the victim's body. The song was recorded by Butterbeans & Susie, Josie Miles, Blind Willie McTell and Charley Jordan under the title "Cutting My ABCs."

Ice picks are not something that immediately comes to mind as a weapon (does anybody gets ice delivered to their home anymore?) but they crop up in several songs: Whistlin' Alex Moore "Ice Pick Blues", Walter 'Cowboy' Washington "Ice Pick Mama" ("Every time I meet Roberta she's got an ice pick in her hand/And all frowned up, an wanna kill some poor, poor man"), Will Shade "She Stabbed Me With An Ice Pick" and Black Boy Shine "Ice Pick And Pistol Woman Blues."

Domestic violence is a common theme in many early blues. That being said, there were no shortage of woman who sang songs that turned the tables on the men. Among those featured today are Mary Johnson's  "Death Cell Blues" ("I killed my man last year, lord, the man I really love/He did not treat me right, now he's with the good lord above"), Victoria Spivey's "Blood Thirsty Blues" and Bessie Smith's "Send Me To The 'Lectric Chair":

Judge you wanna hear my plea
Before you open up your court
But I don't want no sympathy
'Cause I'm done, cut my good man's throat

Spivey had several lurid titles including “Blood Thirsty Blues”, “Murder in the First Degree” and “Blood Hound Blues.” Okeh Records  ran a a striking newspaper advertisement for "Bloodthirsty Blues."  The ad is laid out like an authentic news report with graphic illustration and eye-catching titles such as “I Have Killed my Man”, “Never Seen So Much Blood” and “Bloodthirsty Woman Confesses!” The lyrics are equally sensational:

Blood, blood, blood look at all that blood
Blood, blood look at all that blood
Yes I killed my man
A lowdown good for nothing cuss
I told him blood was in my eyes
And still he wouldn’t listen to me

Bill Gaither used similar imagery in his "Bloody Eyed Woman" cut more than a decade later. Spivey didn't have the market corned on that kind of imagery as evidenced in Geeshie Wiley's "Skinny Leg Blues":

I’m gonna cut your throat babe, gonna look down in your face (2x)
Aaaaaaaaa, gonna look down in your face
I’m gonna let some lonesome graveyard be your restin’ place

Josie Miles had an apocalyptic vision in "Mad Mama Blues" from 1924:

Wanna set the world on fire
That is my one mad desire
I’m a devil in disguise
Got murder in my eyes

Now I could see blood runnin’
hrough the streets (2x)
Could be everybody
ayin’ dead right at my feet

As Angela Y. Davis wrote: "The performance of the classic blues women-especially Bessie Smith-were one of the few cultural spaces in which a tradition of public discourse on male violence had been previously established. …The blues women of the 1920s…fail to respect the taboo of speaking on speaking publicly about domestic violence …Women's blues suggest emergent feminist insurgency in that they unabashedly name the problem of male violence and so usher it out of the shadows of domestic life where society had kept it hidden and beyond public or political scrutiny." Daphne Duval Harrison has noted that women's blues in the 1920s "introduced a new, different model of black women-more assertive, sexy, sexually aware, independent, realistic, complex, alive. …They saw a world that did not protect the sanctity of black womanhood, as espoused in the bourgeois ideology; only white white or middle or upper-class women were protected by it. They saw and experienced injustice as jobs they held were snatched away when white women refused to work with them or white men returned from war to reclaim them. They pointed out the pain of sexual and physical abuse and abandonment."

OthBlind Willie McTell - Razor Baller vices covered today include prostitution and gambling. The most well known prostitution song is probably "Tricks Ain't Walking No More." The song is a prostitute’s lament due to a dwindling supply of customers or "tricks." Lucille Bogan recorded this song three times during 1930 including today's version "They Ain't Walking No More." Curley Weaver, Buddy Moss, Kid Coley and Memphis Minnie, among others, recorded versions of the song. Othe songs sharing this theme include Memphis Minnie's "Down In Alley" ("Met a man, asked me did I want to pally/Yes, baby, let's go down in the alley"), Georgia White's " I'll Keep Sittin' On It (If I Can't Sell It)" and Bertha Idaho's "Down On Pennsylvania Avenue" about Baltimore’s seedy side where you "can’t tell the he’s from the she’s."

Now if you want good lovin’, and want it cheap
Just drop around about the middle of the week
When the broads is broke and can’t pay rent
Get good lovin’ boys for fifteen cents
You can get it every night on Pennsylvania Avenue

Gambling features in numerous songs with quite a few dealing with playing policy. Policy is an illegal numbers game that was hugely popular at the end of the nineteenth and in the first few decades of the twentieth century. Basically you'd pick three numbers and hope they hit. The name comes from the practice of allowing bettors to make an “insurance policy” bet on tomorrow's numbers to offset potential losses, a gambler could make a policy bet that his ticket would come up blank insuring he would get something back on a losing ticket. Eventually the entire game came to be called policy. "Numbers, numbers 'bout to drive me mad/Thinkin' about the money that I should have had" sings Blind Blake on "Playing Policy Blues."

While we don't touch on it much today, the blues has a number of "bad man" ballads about violent men and outlaws like John Henry, Railroad Bill, Frankie and  Stagolee. Recorded in Parchman Farm in 1959, we hear Bama sing "Stackalee." The song about the murder of Billy Lyons by "Stag" Lee Shelton in St. Louis, Missouri at Christmas, 1895. The song was first published in 1911, and was first recorded in 1923. Long Cleve Reed and Harvey Hull recorded "Original Stack O'Lee Blues" in 1927, Furry Lewis cut "Billy Lyons And Stack O'Lee" the same year and Mississippi John Hurt recorded a version in 1928.


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