Record Labels


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Alfoncy & Bethenea HarrisThat Same CatGeorge Williams & Bessie Brown Vol. 2 1925-1930
Alfoncy & Bethenea HarrisI Don't Care What You SayGeorge Williams & Bessie Brown Vol. 2 1925-1930
Cannon's Jug StompersMinglewood BluesRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Volume 1: The Great Jug Bands
Cannon's Jug StompersBig Railroad BluesRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Volume 1: The Great Jug Bands
Cannon's Jug StompersMadison Street RagBlues Images Vol. 5
Lonnie McIntorshSleep On Mother Sleep OnHow Can I Keep From Singing Vol. 1
Lonnie McIntorshThe Lion and the Tribes of JudahBlind Willie Johnson And The Guitar Evangelists
Frank StokesRight Now BluesBest Of
Frank StokesDowntown BluesBest Of
Frank StokesBedtime Blues Best Of
Frank StokesWhat's The Matter BluesBest Of
Jim JacksonOld Dog BlueJim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Tommy JohnsonCool Drink Of WaterWhen The Sun Goes Down
Tommy JohnsonBig Road BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton
Rosie Mae MooreStaggering BluesFour Women Blues
Rosie Mae MooreHa Ha BluesFour Women Blues
Rosie Mae MooreSchool Girl BluesFour Women Blues
Rosie Mae MooreStranger BluesFour Women Blues
Ishman Bracey Saturday BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Ishman Bracey Left Alone BluesIshman Bracey & Charlie Taylor 1928-1929
Tommy Johnson Bye-Bye BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton
Tommy JohnsonMaggie Campbell BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton
Ishman Bracey Trouble Hearted BluesTommy Johnson And Associates
Ishman Bracey The Four Day Blues Ishman Bracey & Charlie Taylor 1928-1929
Memphis Jug BandPeaches In The SpringtimeMemphis Jug Band Vol. 4 1927-1928 & 1934
Arthur Petties Two Time BluesWhen the Levee Breaks
Arthur Petties Out on Santa Fe Blues When the Levee Breaks
Jim JacksonWhat A TimeJim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Elder Richard BryantHe Shut The Lion's MouthMemphis Sanctified Jug Bands Vol. 1 1928-1939

Show Notes:

Victor CatalogueToday's show is the fourth installment spotlighting great recording sessions; The first spotlighted two sessions conducted by the Victor label roughly a year-and-a-half apart, one in Chicago and one in New Orleans in 1936 and 1937, the second was conducted by Brunswick in Memphis in 1929 and 1930 and the third  spotlighted sessions recorded in Dallas by Columbia in 1927 and 1928. 1927 was the beginning of a blues boom that would last until 1930; there were just 500 blues and gospel records issued in 1927 and increase of fifty percent from 1926 a trend that would continue until the depression. To feed the demand other record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent, which included making trips down south with field recording units.  Between 1927-1930 Atlanta was visited seventeen times, Memphis eleven times, Dallas eight times, New Orleans seven times and so on.

Today we spotlight some great blues and gospel captured by Victor in Memphis in 1928. As Robert Dixon and John Godrich wrote in the seminal Recording The Blues:" Victor was the only company systematically to exploit the gold mine of black talent in and around Memphis. Their second there, in January and February 1928, yielded three times as much material as the initial visit in early '27 – and again black artists outnumbered white hillbilly performers. Besides more titles by the Memphis Jug Band, Victor recorded the Cannon Jug Stompers, Vocalion's popular artist Jim Jackson and a fine group of Mississippi blues singers – Tommy Johnson, Ishman Bracey and Frank Stokes. Stokes was an oldish man, his voice had a pronounced vibrato and his style of singing and guitar playing were distinctly archaic. His Downtown Blues and Bedtime Blues on Victor 21272 sold well and when Victor returned to Memphis in August 1928 they recorded ten further selections by Stokes. The August visit was Victor's most extensive to date. Between Monday August 27th and Monday 24 September they recorded 189 titles, three quarters of them by race artists. All of the singers they had tried out in February were recorded again. The autumn trio to Memphis now became an annual event for Victor – it was here that they recorded most of their race material." Other artists recorded during these sessions included Alfoncy & Bethenea Harris, Lonnie McIntorsh, Rosie Mae Moore, Bessie Tucker, Ida May Mack, Furry Lewis, Robert Wilkins, Charlie Kyle, Elder Richard Bryant, Bethel Quartet and Will Shade.

According to Recording The Blues: "The record industry as a whole had not been in too healthy a state during the early twenties. After the boom year of 1921, in which for the first time 100 million discs were sold, sales declined slowly but steadily. Eventually even Victor began to feel the squeeze – their sales fell from $51 million in 1921 to $44 million in 1923, and then dropped to $20 million in 1925. Something had to be done, and one obvious move was for Victor to begin large scale production of race records, and compete for a market that had been growing an an enormous rate during the period when overall sales had been falling." After a not too promising start, "…Victor hired Ralph Peer who had been largely responsible for building up Okeh's fine race and hillbilly catalogs. Peer realized that Victor was several years too late to be able to get a substantial share of the classic blues market and decided to concentrate his efforts on the country blues field." Victor begin going in the field in a big way in 1927 stopping in Atlanta, Memphis and New Orleans.

Jug bands are synonymous with Memphis and Victor recorded two of the greatest groups: Memphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stompers. The Memphis Jug Band became very popular in Memphis, often playing in Church Park, where Gus Cannon saw them. The Memphis Jug Band first recorded for Victor in February 1927 and over the next four years recorded 57 sides. By 1930 there were seven different jug bands active in Memphis. In 1928 Ralph Peer, who had previously recorded the Memphis Jug Band, returned to Memphis looking for other jug bands to record. Charlie Williamson, the manager of the Palace Theater, recommended Gus. By this time Gus had had a harness made for his jug so that he could wear it around his neck and play banjo at the same time. Gus called up Noah Lewis and Ashley Thompson and on Jan 30 1928 they recorded 4 sides in an old auditorium as Cannon's Jug Stompers. They over two-dozen sides with the group through 1930 for Victor.

As Chris Smith wrote int he notes to Frank Stokes The Complete Victor Recordings 1928-1929: "With nearly forty songs issued on record, some of them in two parts, Frank Stokes was one of the most extensively recorded of the Memphis blues singers of the 1920s; only Jim Jackson's total of recordings is comparable, and many of Jackson's were remakes of 'Kansas City Blues.' Like Jackson, Stokes blends blues with songs from the medicine shows and from the ragtime days of his childhood. Not only was his repertoire one of the most interesting of its time, it was superbly sung, and backed, whether solo, in partnership with Dan Sane, or with Will Batts, by some of the most accomplished and appropriate blues and ragtime playing on record." By most accounts Stokes was already playing the streets of Memphis by the turn of the century, about the same time the blues began to flourish. As a street artist, he needed a broad repertoire of songs and patter palatable to blacks and whites. A medicine show and house party favorite, Stokes was remembered as a consummate entertainer who drew on songs from the 19th and 20th centuries with equal facility.

Born in the 1880’s, Jim Jackson was another experienced medicine show performer and occasional street singer. He had one of the biggest blues hits of the 20’s with his “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues.” Barrelhouse pianist Speckled Red shared the stage with Jim Jackson in 1928 while touring through Mississippi and Alabama with the Red Rose Minstrels & Medicine Show. Red remembered Jackson as "a big fat feller, weighed about 235 pounds. Tall, stately feller too, and he danced, sang, played git-tar, cracked jokes." Jackson's long career with traveling shows began in 1905, and much of his repertoire was rooted in the 19th century. He recorded close to forty sides between 192 and 1930.

Frank Stokes Ad

For someone who recorded so little Tommy Johnson exerted an influence that was unusually  vast and long lasting; after all his recorded output only consists of six issued sides for Victor in 1928 and six issued sides for Paramount in 1929. t was Johnson’s Victor sides that were the most influential and oft covered: “Cool Drink of Water Blues”, “Big Road Blues”, “Bye-Bye Blues”, “Maggie Campbell Blues”, “Canned Heat Blues” and “Big Fat Mama.” Unlike the Paramount records these sold fairly well and were apparently the songs Johnson sang most often in person. As David Evans wrote: “For about thirty years Tommy Johnson was perhaps the most important and influential blues singer in the state of Mississippi.”

Ishman Bracey was born in Byram, about ten miles south of Jackson, in January 1899. He learned guitar from locals Louis Cooper and Lee Jones and moved to Jackson in the late 1920s after encountering Tommy Johnson. Bracey soon became one of the most popular musicians in the Jackson area’s vital blues scene. Bracey’s music came to broader attention after he auditioned for recording agent H. C. Speir, who operated a furniture store on North Farish Street. Speir arranged for Bracey and Tommy Johnson to make their debut recordings at a session for Victor in Memphis in February of 1928. At that session and another for Victor later that year, Bracey was accompanied on guitar and mandolin by Charlie McCoy. Bracey recorded again in 1929 and early 1930 for the Paramount label.

Little is known about Rosie Mae Moore except for the fact that she was Charlie McCoy's girlfriend during the time of her recordings that all took place in 1928. She recorded four sides for Victor in Memphis in the early part of the year. Later in December she recorded four more sides for Brunswick in New Orleans, backed by McCoy as well as Walter Vincson and Bo Chatman of The Mississippi Shieks. On her Brunswick releases she was billed as Mary Butler.

Memphis may be better known for blues but it was an important center for black gospel music. Memphis was the home of the holiness denomination, the Church of God in Christ. Lonnie McIntorsh recorded two sessions in 1928, one in Memphis and one in Chicago and a final unreleased session in 1930. Elder Richard Bryant led churches in Holendale and Moorehead Mississippi. He cut sides for Victor and Okeh at three sessions in 1928.

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
James "Pee wee" MadisonLast NightThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Otis SpannWonder WhyThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Muddy Waters BandBlues For SpiveyThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Otis SpannDiving MamaThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Otis SpannShe's My BabyThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Babe StovallMy Brown Is A MistreaterEncore! for the Chicago Blues
Big Joe WilliamsMove Your HandEncore! for the Chicago Blues
John Henry BarbeeSix Week Old BluesEncore! for the Chicago Blues
Olive BrownWoman's LamentEncore! for the Chicago Blues
J.B Lenoir Korea BluesEncore! for the Chicago Blues
Roosevelt SykesDirty Mother Fuyer Encore! for the Chicago Blues
Big Joe WilliamsDrifting BluesKings and the Queen Volume Two
Memphis SimEuropean BluesKings and the Queen Volume Two
Roosevelt SykesSleeping All Day BluesKings and the Queen Volume Two
Bukka White Brownsville Tennessee Spivey's Blues Cavalcade
Johnny Shines, Big Walter Horton & Sunnyland SlimNidnight DarlingSpivey's Blues Cavalcade
Buster BentonI Must Have A Hole In My HeadThe All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band
Carey BellOne Day You're Going To Get LuckyThe All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band
Larry JohnsonMy Hoodoo DoctorThe All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band
Victoria SpiveyI'm Taking OverThe All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band
Otis SpannI'm AccusedUp in the Queen's Pad
Otis SpannVicksburg BluesUp in the Queen's Pad
Sunnyland SlimBlues Drive Me Out Of My MindVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Cryin' Marie DixonThree O'Clock In The MorningVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Lonnie JohnsonBe CarefulKings and the Queen Volume Two

Show Notes:

Victoria Spivey
Victoria Spivey


Spivey Records was a blues record label, founded by blues singer Victoria Spivey and her partner and jazz historian Len Kunstadt in 1961. The label was originally called Queen Vee Records, changing the name to Spivey records the following year. I believe only a couple of 45's were issued under the Queen Vee imprint. Spivey Records released a series of blues and jazz albums between 1961 and 1985. Most sessions took place at New York’s famous Cue Studios, some happened late at night at Victoria and Lenny's home studio while others took place at informal setting like hotel rooms or even at Willie Dixon's home in Chicago. Spivey put out some very eclectic records, with varying quality but through Spivey's connections she managed to get top notch artists to record for her including Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes, Otis Spann, Memphis Slim among many others. Spivey died in 1976 but the label continued until the death of Len Kunstadt in 1996. The whole catalog included some forty albums. Today is part two of our selective look at the Spivey label, focusing on the records and sessions done before Spivey passed away. The bulk of the Spivey catalog has never been issued on CD. Below is a summary of today's featured albums.

10084 10104
Read Liner Notes Read Liner Notes

Spivey's companion Len Kunstadt was the editor and publisher of Record Research magazine, which he founded in the late 1950's and was Spivey's agent, manager and long time partner. In an interview with Norbert Hess he had this to say: "Victoria knew the musicians and scouted for new talent. This went on for 16 years. In my opinion, from 1961 up to her death in 1976, she was more creative than ever before. Her fantastic way of winning over Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters for our company, and her concern for Bob Dylan. Sometimes I thought she was crazy. I could tell a lot of stories. The musicians would have killed for her. At first, they didn't like her, but after a split second they became her fans up to the very end. She was sometimes a little difficult because she was a genius."

Victoria Spivey & Muddy Waters Band
Photo from Otis Spann's 1967 Bluesway session: l to r – Otis Spann, Lucille Spann, Len Kunstadt, Victoria Spivey and Muddy Waters (photo by Denns Chalkin).

Before summarizing today's featured albums it's worth giving some background on Spivey's career. Spivey learned to play piano and sing when she was quite small, and by age twelve she was performing at the Lincoln Theatre, until the manager discovered she couldn’t read music. She continued to play at house parties and clubs, learning from local musicians such as John Calvin, and occasionally sharing a gig with Blind Lemon Jefferson. By age twenty, she had moved to St. Louis, where she made her first record for OKeh, the legendary "Black Snake Blues." The year 1928 saw Spivey teaming up with Lonnie Johnson to record a number of double-entendre vocal duets that sold quite well, but she continued to write songs and record for OKeh until she took time off to appear in King Vidor’s film Hallelujah in 1929. When she returned to the recording studio in late 1929, she was under contract to Victor. Spivey continued to record throughout the 1930s, for both Decca and Vocalion, and as her recording career ended, she hit the road, traveling with the Olsen and Johnson’s "Hellzapoppin’" troupe, owning a club in East St. Louis, and finally retiring to work in the church. But in the 1960's she came out of retirement to appear at clubs such as Gerdes Folk City. Before forming her label she reunited with Lonnie Johnson appearing on his album Idle Hours for Bluesville in 1961, he in turn backed her on her album Woman Blues and she also appeared on Songs We Taught Your Mother alongside Alberta Hunter and Lucille Hegamin. There was also a session for Folkways in 1962. Beginning in 1962 Spivey wrote a semi-regular column in Record Research called Blues Is My Business.

Victoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo was the eleventh record on the Spivey label. The album comprises of sessions recorded at Willie Dixon home in Chicago in 1969 and sessions done in New York in 1970. Dixon is helped out by hs Blues All Stars which include Sunnyland Slim, Johnny Shines, Clifton James and Cryin’ Marie Dixon. Accoring to the notes there's big news: "ATTENTION: SMOKEY HOGG IS NOT DEAD!!" At least that's what Victoria Spivey thought when she "rediscovered" him in Brooklyn, N.Y. and what Len Kunstadt thought when he penned the liner notes for the album. Smokey actually passed in 1960 and this was Willie Anderson Hogg. He calimed to have recorded in the pre-war era but these sides for Spivey are his only know legacy.

Read Liner Notes

The Muddy Waters band cut two albums for Victoria Spivey's Spivey label: The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band (1966) and The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 2 (1968). The Muddy Waters records are the only ones I know that have been issued on CD. These came out on the Japanese P-Vine label with several extra tracks. Today we feature tracks from the second volume. Muddy Waters is listed as "Main Stream" for contractual reasons and probably doesn't play on all the tracks. These sessions were recorded after a 1966 date at New York's Cafe Au Go Go. The performance was written up by Len Kunstadt in Record Research 83 (1967) and concludes with "Victoria Spivey, perhaps their greatest fan, and a lucky devil, was fortunate to capture some of the sounds of Otis, George, Luther, Sammy and Francis for the latest release on the Spivey label." As Kunstadt wrote of their live performance: "There was a combustible spark in the atmosphere – and every time Muddy would hit the stand and tell the throng 'He Had Been Mistreated' or he was the 'Hootchie Cootchie Man' or he would confide in you about his 'Five Long Years' the audience exploded into applause and rapport. Muddy and his band were keyed to greatness. OTIS SPANN, Muddy's 'Little Brother', was the anchor man and cohesive agent of the group with his brilliant dominant blues piano."

Otis Spann appears on several Spivey albums including both volumes of the The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters albums, The Everlasting Blues vs. Otis Spann and Up In The Queen's Pad. As Spivey wrote in a column in Record Research magazine in 1970 shortly after Otis' passing: “He was like a son, a brother and what a pal. Otis came into my life in 1963 during that American Folk Blues Festival (same one with Lonnie!) that toured all over Europe. …The European tour was really fine but Otis and his crazy lovable ways made it wonderful.”

Read Liner Notes

Encore! for the Chicago Blues was the ninth album on the Spivey label and a sequel to Chicago Blues
A Bonanza All Star Blues LPreleased in 1964. According to the notes: "This album is a sequel anthology to Spivey LP 1003 which commentated Victoria Spivey's first visit to Chicago in over 25 years. An informal blues party was given by host Willie Dixon in which such colorful talented artists as Homesick James, St. Louis Jimmy, Sunnyland Slim, Washboard Sam, Koko Taylor, Evans Spencer, John Henry Barbee and Willie himself, Miss Spivey by recording for her youthful record company. …Most of the artists are back again. In addition bonus tracks from studio and field recordings by other fine performers supplement the 'regulars'."

Kings And The Queen Volume Two was issued in 1970 and a sequel to Three Kings And The Queen issued several years earlier. Some of these sessions are likely from the same as the first volume and others probably later. Once again Bob Dylan appears alongside Victoria and Big Joe on a couple of songs. Alos appearing are Lonnie Johnson, Memphis Slim and Roosevelt Sykes. Both volumes of have been reissued on the European Doxy label on 180 gram vinyl only releases.

Spivey's Blues Cavalcade was issued in 1970 and the fifteenth album on the Spivey label. This is a grab bag of tracks with some of these recorded in the 60's – leftover tracks from previous Spivey albums.

By the end of the 1960s, Willie Dixon was eager to try his hand as a performer again, a career that had been interrupted when he'd gone to work for Chess as a producer. He recorded an album of his best-known songs, I Am the Blues, for Columbia Records, and organized a touring band, the Chicago Blues All Stars, to play concerts in Europe. Among the albums he cut during this period was 1973's Victoria Spivey presents The All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band. This is a terrific outing spotlighting a great band that included Buster Benton, Carey Bell, Lafayette Leake and Larry Johnson.

Victoria Spivey began endorsing Otis Spann, telling the world of his genius – in her own inimitable way – via the pages of of her column in Record Research, and sporadically recording him for her Spivey Records label between 1967 and 1969. The sessions that comprise Up In The Queen's Pad were recorded in 1968 and 1969 at Spivey's home in Brooklyn backed by guitarist Sammy Lawhorn. The album was issued posthumously, possibly around 1980. One other song from this session appears on the album Spivey's Blues Showcase.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Victoria SpiveyMy DebtBuddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Hannah SylvesterBasket of BluesBuddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Lucille HegaminNumber 12Buddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Victoria SpiveyGrant SpiveyVictoria Spivey & Her Blues
Victoria SpiveyNew York MoanVictoria Spivey & Her Blues
John Henry BarbeeEarly In The MorningChicago Blues -A Bonanza All Star Blues
Homesick JamesQueen's RockChicago Blues -A Bonanza All Star Blues
Victoria SpiveyBrown SkinThree Kings And The Queen
Big Joe WilliamsNo Partnership WomanThree Kings And The Queen
Roosevelt SykesThis Is A New WorldThree Kings And The Queen
Lonnie JohnsonMr Johnson's Guitar TalksThree Kings And The Queen
Lonnie JohnsonFour Shots Of GinThree Kings And The Queen
Shortstuff MaconMoaninIntroducing Mr. Shortstuff
Shortstuff MaconGreat Big LegsIntroducing Mr. Shortstuff
Victoria SpiveyEvery Dog Had Its DayQueen and Her Knights
Victoria SpiveyWe Both Got To DieQueen and Her Knights
Victoria Spivey & Memphis SlimI'm A TigressQueen and Her Knights
Little Brother MontgomeryWest Texas BluesQueen and Her Knights
Otis Spann Ain’t Nobody’s BusinessThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
Victoria SpiveyTrouble HurtsThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
Luther JohnsonCreepin’ SnakeThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
George SmithLookout VictoriaThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
Roosevelt SykesDresser DrawersVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Victoria SpiveyBlack GalVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Smokey HoggBells Are ToningVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Walter HortonInter-Mision StateSpivey's Blues Parade
Sippie Wallace I'm A Mighty Tight WomanSpivey's Blues Parade
Victoria SpiveyJetSpivey's Blues Parade
Lonnie JohnsonLonnie's Traveling LightSpivey's Blues Parade

Show Notes:

 

Spivey LogoSpivey Records was a blues record label, founded by blues singer Victoria Spivey and her partner and jazz historian Len Kunstadt in 1961. The label was originally called Queen Vee Records, changing the name to Spivey records the following year. I believe only a couple of 45's were issued under the Queen Vee imprint. Spivey Records released a series of blues and jazz albums between 1961 and 1985. Most sessions took place at New York’s famous Cue Studios, some happened late at night at Victoria and Lenny's home studio while others took place at informal setting like hotel rooms or even at Willie Dixon's home in Chicago. Spivey put out some very eclectic records, with varying quality but through Spivey's connections she managed to get top notch artists to record for her including Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes, Otis Spann, Memphis Slim among many others. Spivey died in 1976 but the label continued until the death of Len Kunstadt in 1996. The whole catalog included some forty albums. Today is part one of our selective look at the Spivey label, focusing on the records and sessions done before Spivey passed away. The bulk of the Spivey catalog has never been issued on CD.

Spivey's companion Len Kunstadt was the editor and publisher of Record Research magazine, which he founded in the late 1950's and was Spivey's agent, manager and long time partner. In an interview with Norbert Hess he had this to say: "Victoria knew the musicians and scouted for new talent. This went on for 16 years. In my opinion, from 1961 up to her death in 1976, she was more creative than ever before. Her fantastic way of winning over Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters for our company, and her concern for Bob Dylan. Sometimes I thought she was crazy. I could tell a lot of stories. The musicians would have killed for her. At first, they didn't like her, but after a split second they became her fans up to the very end. She was sometimes a little difficult because she was a genius."

Spivey Records Adspivey-ad
One of the many ads featured in Record Research magazine. Spivey had a semi-regular column called Blues Is My Business.

Before summarizing today's featured albums it's worth giving some background on Spivey's career. Spivey learned to play piano and sing when she was quite small, and by age twelve she was performing at the Lincoln Theatre, until the manager discovered she couldn’t read music. She continued to play at house parties and clubs, learning from local musicians such as John Calvin, and occasionally sharing a gig with Blind Lemon Jefferson. By age twenty, she had moved to St. Louis, where she made her first record for OKeh, the legendary "Black Snake Blues." The year 1928 saw Spivey teaming up with Lonnie Johnson to record a number of double-entendre vocal duets that sold quite well, but she continued to write songs and record for OKeh until she took time off to appear in King Vidor’s film Hallelujah in 1929. When she returned to the recording studio in late 1929, she was under contract to Victor. Spivey continued to record throughout the 1930s, for both Decca and Vocalion, and as her recording career ended, she hit the road, traveling with the Olsen and Johnson’s "Hellzapoppin’" troupe, owning a club in East St. Louis, and finally retiring to work in the church. But in the 1960's she came out of retirement to appear at clubs such as Gerdes Folk City. Before forming her label she reunited with Lonnie Johnson appearing on his album Idle Hours for Bluesville in 1961, he in turn backed her on her album Woman Blues and she also appeared on Songs We Taught Your Mother alongside Alberta Hunter and Lucille Hegamin. There was also a session for Folkways in 1962. Beginning in 1962 Spivey wrote a semi-regular column in Record Research called Blues Is My Business.

Buddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Read Liner Notes

Buddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues, issued in 1962, was the first album on the Spivey label. As Len Kunstadt wrote in the liner notes: "This may well be the very first record company ever organized and owned by a Negro vintage blues queen." The album featured 1920's blues queens Hannah Sylvester, who first recorded in 1923 and Lucille Hegamin who in November 1920 became the second African-American blues singer to record, after Mamie Smith. This is an excellent album with all three ladies in fine form backed by a good band with a horn section that included Buddy Tate, Eddie Barfield and Dick Vance

Victoria Spivey & Her Blues is the second Spivey album, recorded in 1962, and featuring Spivey backed by Eddie Barfield and Pat Wilson who both appear on the previous record. According to the notes: "When Miss Spivey entered the recording studio in February of 1962 she demanded absolute freedom, 'to sing the way she damned please.' …She really had the blues that day and she wanted the recording engineer to capture all of it on tape. Without reservation, she was granted all her demands. This recording session was on the tail end of a tough year for Miss Spivey where sickness, disappointment (both personal and in business) and loneliness had taken its toll. She wrote hundreds of blues in 1961 because she really had them. These were not thought of as for commercial exploitation but were blues written as an escape mechanism for a troublesome world." The Queen is in excellent form on a set of very personal songs; "Grant Spivey" is a dedication to her father, "Talk About Moanin'" is about her early Texas mentor Robert Calvin while "Buddy Tate" is dedicated to her longtime musical friend.

Three Kings And The Queen
Read Liner Notes

According to the notes from Chicago Blues -A Bonanza All Star Blues: "All these blues sounds you will hear were luckily captured at a reunion in honor of Quenn Victoria Spivey by many of he old blues buddies at a real down-to-earth romping blues party with all the clamor of merriment, clinking glasses, shuffling feet, knocks at every door." The recordings were done in Chicago on Spivey's first visit to the city in 25 years and put together by Willie Dixon. The album features great artists like Homesick James, Willie Dixon, St. Louis Jimmy, Sunnyland Slim and others but suffers from poor recording.

The fourth Spivey album was Three Kings And The Queen featuring pianist Roosevelt Sykes, guitarists Lonnie Johnson , Big Joe Williams, and Victoria Spivey on four vocal selections apiece. With the exception of the closing "Thirteen Hours" (which has Spivey joining Sykes for a piano duet) and a pair of Big Joe Williams tracks (which feature the harmonica of Bob Dylan), all of the performances are unaccompanied. This is a strong outing with everyone in good form. This was not Dylan's first recording session as he had already recorded his debut album Bob Dylan for Columbia Records on March 19, 1962. In in 1965 column in Record Research Spivey recollected back to her first meeting with Dylan: "I was just thinking about little BOB DYLAN. The years flashed backed to 1961 when I furst met him at Gerde's Folk City in Greenwich Village, New York City. He was the sweetest kid you would ever want to meet. He would say Moms, this Moms, that Moms, always trying to get my attention. He was a doll. I was so proud of him then because he really had some talent which was just ready to explode. And did it! Just a couple of years later he was on his way to becoming a world idol in his field. …Bob knew about my little record company SPIVEY and my plans to record Big Joe, and he wanted 'in too.' What a sight as little Bob was carrying Big Joe's unusual guitar to the studio! And did they play well together! …Yes, this is Bob before Dame fortune was to reward him for his great talent."

Spivey Records AdMuddy, Victoria, SpannMuddy, Victoria, SpannSpann, Spivey, Muddy
Otis Spann, Victoria Spivey and Muddy Waters, 1964. Spann holds a copy of the Spivey album Chicago Blues.

Regarding Short Stuff Macon the liner notes to his Folkways album (Hell Bound And Heaven Sent) had this to say: "Short Stuff has now begun traveling the sparse and fickle concert circuit with Big Joe Williams, who, in a trip back to Mississippi, 'discovered' him, liked his 'deep down' music, remembered his father and mother, and decided to take him with him.” The same year those recordings were made they cut sides for the Spivey label which were issued on the album called Introducing Mr. Shortstuff. He appeared one final time on the album Goin’ Back to Crawford alongside Big Joe and others on a 1971 session.

Queen and Her Knights was the sixth Spivey release, issued in 1965, and features Spivey alongside Lonnie Johnson, Memphis Slim, Sonny Greer and Little Brother Montgomery. This is another strong album featuring Spivey in fine form particularly on the playfully risque "I'm A Tigress", a duet with Memphis Slim. Slim delivers a fine rendition of 'TB Blues" amd Lonnie and Little Brother are in typically good form.

The Muddy Waters band cut two albums for Victoria Spivey's Spivey label: The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band (1966) and The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 2 (1968). The Muddy Waters records are the only ones I know that have been issued on CD. These came out on the Japanese P-Vine label with several extra tracks. In a column in Record Research after Otis Spann died, Spivey had this recollection of the session: "One day I asked Otis if he would make an LP for my little company. And before I could catch my breath his answer was this, 'you are my mother and nobody better not try to stop me.' I was very happy so we set the date – and he got the band together. And the morning that the recording was to be, at 11 AM, I walked into the Go Go blub and there was my child sitting there with his little head on the table with his own coat over his shoulders. I heard he had been there all night long to make sure he would not disappoint me. Tears almost came to my eyes. We went to the studio with the rest of the boys. They gave me some session. Otis and the band were playing SOME blues and I mean THEY WERE PLAYING!"

Victoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo was the eleventh record on the Spivey label. The album comprises of sessions recorded at Willie Dixon home in Chicago in 1969 and sessions done in New York in 1970. Dixon is helped out by hs Blues All Stars which include Sunnyland Slim, Johnny Shines, Clifton James and Cryin’ Marie Dixon. Accoring to the notes there's big news: "ATTENTION: SMOKEY HOGG IS NOT DEAD!!" At least that's what Victoria Spivey thought when she "rediscovered" him in Brooklyn, N.Y. and what Len Kunstadt thought when he penned the liner notes for the album. Smokey actually passed in 1960. The imposter was Willie Anderson Hogg. who calimed to have recorded in the pre-war era but these sides for Spivey are his only know legacy.

Spivey's Blues Parade was the twelfth album on the Spivey label recorded in a variety of locations: the Walter Horton track was recorded in an informal session in a New York hotel room while the track featuring Sonny Boy Williamson was recorded in Germany during the 1963 AFBF.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
George And Ethel McCoyMary Early In The Morning
George And Ethel McCoy'Way Down SouthEarly In The Morning
George And Ethel McCoyMiss Baker's BluesEarly In The Morning
Johnny Shines; Sunnyland Slim; Backwards Sam FirkTwo Long Freight TrainsReally Chicago Blues
Walter Horton; Honeyboy Edwards; Johnny Shines Way Cross TownReally Chicago Blues
John Lee Granderson; Big Joe Williams; Backwards Sam FirkStop Breaking DownReally Chicago Blues
Sunnyland Slim; Johnny Shines; Backwards Sam FirkCuttin' OutReally Chicago Blues
Sunnyland Slim; Big Joe Williams; Johnny Shines; Backwards Sam FirkBye Bye BabyReally Chicago Blues
Furry Lewis Why Don't You Come Home BluesOn The Road Again
Furry Lewis On The Road AgainOn The Road Again
Bukka WhiteGibson HillOn The Road Again
Rev. Gary DavisOut On The Ocean SailingO, Glory - The Apostolic Studio Sessions
Rev. Gary DavisRight NowO, Glory - The Apostolic Studio Sessions
Mose VinsonBullfrog Blues The Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 1
Sam ClarkSunnyland Train BluesThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 1
Dewey CorleyDewey's Walkin' BluesThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 1
Willie Morris My Good Woman Has Quit MeThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 2
Hacksaw HarneyHacksaw's Down South BluesThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 2
Van Hunt & Mose VinsonJelly Selling WomanThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 2
Sleepy John Estes Drop Down MamaThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 2
Arthur Weston & George RobersonHighway 49Things Have Changed - Anthology of Today's Blues from St. Louis
Clarence JohnsonBaby Let Me Come Back HomeThings Have Changed - Anthology of Today's Blues from St. Louis
Henry BrownHenry's JiveThings Have Changed - Anthology of Today's Blues from St. Louis
Henry TownsendBiddle Street BluesHenry T. Music Man
Henry TownsendCairo BluesHenry T. Music Man

Show Notes:

Liner Notes: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3
Pt. 4 - Pt. 5Pt. 6
Liner Notes: Pt.1Pt. 2 - Pt. 3
Pt. 4
Pt. 5Pt. 6

I've been meaning to get around to the Adelphi label, a fine label that issued a small batch of excellent blues albums in the late 60's and early 70's. I was looking through Stefan Wirz's discography of the label and realized I had in fact all the albums so I figured now was the time. Not to mention that several have been long out-of-print which gives me an opportunity to make these heard by a wider audience. Our show will stick to the albums  by the black blues artists, omitting the records by white artists, which is has always been the focus here on Big Road Blues. In the late 1990's and early 2000's Adelphi issued a number of unreleased recordings from the 60's on CD marketed as the Blues Vault Series and due to time constraints I'll been spotlighting those on a future show.

Adelphi was founded by siblings Gene and Carol Rosenthal, who were country blues enthusiasts. The Adelphi crew made extensive field recordings in 1969, from Chicago to St. Louis, Memphis, and the Mississippi Delta, in search of prewar blues artists. A few of these were released as compilations representing talent recorded at each major stop: Really Chicago’s Blues, The Memphis Blues Again, and Things Have Changed, which featured the artists from St. Louis. Individual albums by Little Brother’ Montgomery, George and Ethel McCoy, and Furry Lewis with Bukka White and Gus Cannon were released in the early 1970's, as were recordings by folk artists, including Roy Book Binder, Paul Geremia, and Chris Smither.

George & Ethel McCoy
George & Ethel McCoy photo by Joel Slotnikoff

 

Some of the label's most interesting recordings are on the three regional anthologies.  The Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1 & 2 were  recorded in Memphis in October, 1969 and at the Peabody Hotel in June, 1970. By the 1960's urban renewal decimated Beale Street yet many old time musicians remained; veterans like Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Will Shade, Dewey Corley, Memphis Piano Red, Laura Dukes and Gus Cannon were still hanging on. During the blues revival of the 60's many went down to Memphis to record these old musicians with the results mostly issued on small specialty labels like Adelphi. Things Have Changed was recorded in East St. Louis, Illinois and St. Louis in 1969 and is an anthology of St. Louis artists including Henry Townsend, George & Ethel McCoy, Henry Brown, Arthur Weston and others. The 2-LP set Really Chicago Blues is a collection of informal acoustic blues featuring Johnny Shines, Honeyboy Edwards, Big Joe Williams, John Lee Granderson and Sunnyland Slim performing in different configurations. Both The Memphis Blues Again and Really Chicago Blues albums have been reissued on the Echo Music label but not on CD.

Really Chicago Blues
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All of the individual artists record have been reissued on CD except for the exceptional Early In The Morning by the under-recorded George and Ethel McCoy. George and Ethel McCoy were a brother and sister duo who lived in St. Louis and who's aunt was Memphis Minnie. From the Adelphi website: "The Adelphi crew were enchanted with the pair's music style, the result of a lifetime of playing together, but it was not until Ethel performed "Meningitis Blues" that the dots were connected. Mike Stewart asked if Ethel had learned the song from one of Memphis Minnie's 78 records and was stunned by Ethel's reply: 'No. She taught us the song. She was our Auntie.'" Early In The Morning is their first album and the duo was recorded again in 1981 with the results issued on Swingmaster.

Thirty years would pass after his last recording session before Sam Charters came knocking on Furry Lewis' door in 1959 subsequently recordings him for Folkways that same year with two more albums following for Prestige in 1961. There was nothing rusty about his playing as he had never stopped performing for neighbors and friends. Lewis was recorded often through the 1960's, with a slew of informal recordings issued posthumously. Bob Groom wrote in his book The Blues Revival that his "return has been one of the most satisfying of the [blues] revival."Furry appears on the album On The Road Again alongside Bukka White who returned to performing in the early 60's. The letter was addressed to: "Booker T. Washington White, (Old Blues Singer), C/O General Delivery Aberdeen , Miss." and forwarded to him by a relative. That was how John Fahey and Ed Denson found Bukka White in 1963 who was now living in Memphis and made his last recordings in 1940. Also on the record is Gus Cannon and Dewey Corley. Corley was the leader of the Beale Street Jug Band from the '30s onward, and played jug, washtub bass and kazoo. In his later years, he also acted as an A&R man, helping record companies such as Adelphi scout out missing Memphis blues legends such as Hacksaw Harney and guitarist Willie Morris.

The Reverend Gary Davis was one of the most renowned practitioners of the East Coast school of ragtime guitar; 35 years later, despite two decades spent playing on the streets of Harlem in New York, he was still one of the giants in his field and an inspiration to dozens of modern guitarist/singers including Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and Jorma Kaukonen, Larry Johnson, David Bromberg, and Ry Cooder, who studied with Davis. Davis recorded prolifically in the post-war years starting with a few scattered sides in the 1940's, more in the 1950's and really picking up steam in the 1960's. O, Glory – The Apostolic Studio Sessions was recorded in 1969 and features Davis wife Annie and his Harlem neighbor and pupil Larry Johnson on harmonica.

Things Have Changed
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Henry Townsend, who has died aged 96 in 2006, had been the last blues musician who could trace his recording career back to the 1920s, having sat down before a recording microphone in November 1929 to sing his "Henry's Worried Blues" for Paramount. He recorded steadily, if not prolifically, through the decades cutting fine sides with Walter Davis through the 50's, a superb record for Bluesville in the 60's and in 1980 one of his finest records, Mule for the Nighthawk label. The Adelphi record, originally titled Henry T. Music Man and reissued on CD as Cairo Blues, was his second full-length album. The album also features Backwards Sam Firk (Mike Stewart), Henry Brown and Vernell Townsend.

Out of all the Adelphi albums the weakest is Little Brother Montgomery's No Special Rider recorded in 1969. Montgomery was an exceptional pianist and vocalist who first recorded in 1930 cutting"No Special Rider Blues b/w Vicksburg Blues" for Paramount. Montgomery's not at his best on this session and vocalist Jeanne Carroll is not a compelling blues singer.

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Shirley GriffithRiver Line Blues Saturday Blues
Shirley GriffithSaturday BluesSaturday Blues
Shirley GriffithBig Road BluesSaturday Blues
Alec SewardEvil Woman BluesCreepin' Blues
Alec SewardBig Hip WomanCreepin' Blues
Alec SewardMade A Mistake In LoveCreepin' Blues
Robert Curtis SmithSunflower River Blues Clarksdale Blues
Robert Curtis SmithPut Your Arms Around MeClarksdale Blues
Wade WaltonParchman FarmShake 'Em On Down
Wade WaltonShake 'Em On DownShake 'Em On Down
Brooks Berry & Scrapper Blackwell'Bama BoundMy Heart Struck Sorrow
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellCan't Sleep For Dreaming My Heart Struck Sorrow
Henry TownsendCairo Is My Baby's Home Tired Of Being Mistreated
Henry TownsendTired Of Being MistreatedTired Of Being Mistreated
J. T. Adams & Shirley Griffith Matchbox Blues Indiana Ave. Blues
J. T. Adams & Shirley Griffith Oh Mama How I Love You Indiana Ave. Blues
J. T. Adams & Shirley Griffith Bright Street JumpIndiana Ave. Blues
Shirley GriffithBye Bye BluesSaturday Blues
Shirley Griffith Left Alone BluesSaturday Blues
Shirley GriffithShirley's Jump Saturday Blues
Robert Curtis SmithCouncil Spur BluesClarksdale Blues
Robert Curtis SmithCan You Remember MeClarksdale Blues
Robert Curtis SmithI Hate To Leave You With Tears In Your EyesClarksdale Blues
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellLive Ain't Worth LivingMy Heart Struck Sorrow' Blues
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellBlues Is A FeelingMy Heart Struck Sorrow
Brooks Berry & Scrapper Blackwell Asked Her If She Loved MeMy Heart Struck Sorrow
Henry TownsendI Asked Her If She Loved Me Tired Of Being Mistreated
Henry TownsendI Got Tired Tired Of Being Mistreated
Henry TownsendAll My Money Gone Tired Of Being Mistreated
J. T. Adams & Shirley GriffithDone Changed The Lock On My DoorIndiana Ave. Blues
J. T. Adams & Shirley GriffithBlind Lemon's BluesIndiana Ave. Blues

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

From 1949 through 1971, Prestige Records, owned and run by Bob Weinstock, was among the most famous and successful of the independent jazz labels. By the late 50's the company was looking to branch out and new categories were created within the Prestige catalog. There was the Folklore series, there was Moodsville, Swingsville and then there was Bluesville. An important factor was the release in 1959 of Samuel Charter's ground breaking book The Country Blues. In 1961 Charter's hooked up with the label and played a important role getting talent for the label and did much of the producing. In addition to Charters there were a number of others including Mack McCormick of Houston who provided a slew of Lightnin' Hopkins records,Chris Strachwitz who would form Arhoolie Records, Art Rosenbaum who recorded Indianapolis artists Scrapper Blackwell, Shirley Griffith and J.T. Adams and Chris Albertson who was instrumental in getting Lonnie Johnson back in the studio. Bluesville's roster grew quickly including artists such as Reverend Gary Davis, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Roosevelt Sykes, Big Joe Williams, Jimmy Witherspoon and Memphis Slim among numerous others. A number of older artists such as Tampa Red and particularly Lonnie Johnson found a new home at Bluesville in which to revitalize their careers. In addition the label also caught some important artists on record for the first time or who recorded very little including Pink Anderson (except for two sides cut in the 20's), Baby Tate, Wade Walton and Doug Quattlebaum to name a few. The bulk of of Bluesville's catalog has been issued on CD except for a handful of excellent records we spotlight today.

Shirley Griffith was a deeply expressive singer and guitarist who learned first hand from Tommy Johnson as a teenager in Mississippi. Griffith missed his opportunity to record as a young man but recorded three superb albums: Indiana Ave. Blues (1964, with partner J.T. Adams), Saturday Blues (1965) and Mississippi Blues (1973). All thee records are long out of print. Born in 1907 near Brandon, Mississippi Griffith was certainly old enough to have made records in the 1920's and 30's and in fact had at least two opportunities to do so. In 1928 his friend and mentor, Tommy Johnson, offered to help him get started but, by his own account, he was too "wild and reckless" in those days. In 1928 he moved to Indianapolis where he became friendly with Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr. In 1935 Carr offered to take Griffith to New York for a recording session but Carr died suddenly and the trip was never made. It was Art Rosenbaum who was responsible for getting Griffith on record and produced Griffith's Bluesville albums. Griffith did achieve modest notice touring clubs with Yank Rachell in 1968, performed at the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969 and appeared at the Notre Dame Blues Festival in South Bend, Indiana in 1971. He passed away in 1974

John Tyler Adams was born in Western Kentucky and it was his father who started him out on guitar. In 1941 he went up North, eventually settling in Indianapolis. Adams became good friends with Shirley Griffith and at the time of his first recordings had been playing together for fifteen years. Adams recorded just one album, Indiana Ave. Blues (1964) on Bluesville with Griffith with other sides appearing on the album Indianapolis Jump issued on Flyright.

J.T. Adams & Shirley Griffith: Indiana Ave. Blues
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Alec Seward was born in Charles City County, Virginia and relocated to New York in 1942 where he befriended Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. He met Louis Hayes and the duo performed variously named as the Blues Servant Boys, Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly, or The Back Porch Boys. The duo recorded sides in 1944 and another batch in 1947. During the 1940's and 1950's Seward played and recorded with Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, McGhee and Terry. Creepin' Blues (with harmonica accompaniment by Larry Johnson) was released by Bluesville in 1965 and never issued on CD. Later in the decade Seward worked in concert and at folk-blues festivals. He died at the age of 70, in New York in May 1972.

One of Clarksdale's most talented and renowned blues musicians, Wade Walton (1923-2000) chose to pursue a career as a barber rather than as a professional entertainer. Walton never lost his love for blues, however, and often performed for customers and tourists at his barbershops. Walton came to the attention of the international blues community after two California college students in search of folk and blues musicians, Dave Mangurian and Don Hill, visited him in 1958. Walton went with the pair to Parchman, where their request to record prisoners' songs were declined and became the topic of a song Walton composed after the encounter. On a return trip in 1961, the students were jailed, but after concluding that they were indeed in town to record blues, not to agitate for civil rights, the case was dismissed. They then traveled with Walton to New Jersey for the recording of his album for Bluesville Records, Shake 'Em On Down.

Brooks Berry was born in March, 1915, in western Kentucky and when she was in her middle teens moved up to Indianapolis, where she lived ever since. As producer Art Rosenbaum wrote: "Brooks met Scrapper shortly after she moved to Indianapolis and thus began a long though at times stormy friendship that was to end suddenly some fifteen months after the last of the present recordings were made. On October 6, 1962. Scrapper was shot to death in a back alley near his home. Brooks has been, during the four years I have known her, reluctant to sing blues without her friend's sensitive guitar or piano playing behind her; and she will sing less and less now that he is gone." Her lone album under her own name was My Heart Struck Sorrow with Blackwell. Some additional sides by Berry and Blackwell appear on the collection Scrapper Blackwell with Brooks Berry 1959 – 1960 on Document and recorded live at 144 Gallery in Indianapolis, Ind in 1959.

Henry Townsend, who has died aged 96 in 2006, had been the last blues musician who could trace his recording career back to the 1920s, having sat down before a recording microphone in November 1929 to sing his "Henry's Worried Blues" for Paramount. He was born in Shelby, Mississippi, but grew up in St Louis. In his late teens he became interested in playing the guitar and began to infiltrate a circle of musicians that included Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes and Peetie Wheatstraw. He recorded steadily, if not prolifically, through the decades cutting fine sides with Walter Davis through the 50's, a superb record for Bluesville in the 60's and in 1980 one of his finest records, Mule for the Nighthawk label. Townsend's Bluesville album has also been issued on Folkways as The Blues In St. Louis Vol. 3.

Wade Walton: Shake 'em On Down
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A chance meeting with Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, at the Big 6 Barber Shop in Clarksdale led to Robert Curtis Smith's the lone album, Clarksdale Blues, recorded in 1961. The record didn't seem to make much of an impact, sinking without a trace and over the year becoming highly collectible. In the liner notes Mack McCormick wrote: "Robert Curtis Smith is a hard working farm laborer in upper Mississippi. He supports a wife and eight children by driving a tractor ($3 a day top) during the farming season, by hunting rabbits in the winter. He has a borrowed guitar with which he sings of women he has loved, lost, discarded, or found worthy of erotic praise. …The status quo in his world is to sap the strength and exploit the weakness of Negroes. It is a far more vicious crime than the occasional lynching since the end result is the massive weakening of a strong people. Ideas of inferiority are fed to him hand-in-hand with conditions that patently are inferior. Badly deprived of constitutional privilege and the minimum wage, and lacking the know-how to correct his situation, Smith’s way of life is astonishingly out of step with modern times." A few other tracks by Curtis appear on various anthologies including some excellent 1960 numbers on the Arhoolie collection I Have to Paint My Face: Mississippi Blues 1960. Smith disappeared from the blues world not long after these recordings but 30 years later he was rediscovered living in Chicago. He had given up blues in the passing years, but he continued to play in church and was recorded performing gospel numbers in 1990 on the anthology From Mississippi to Chicago. Eventually Wade Walton became aware of Smith's whereabouts; this led to his appearance at the 1997 Sunflower River Blues Festival in Clarksdale. By one account it was an uncomfortable performance and I'm not sure if Smith did any follow-up concerts.Smith passed in 2010.

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