Record Labels


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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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
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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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
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
Read Liner Notes

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
Read Liner Notes

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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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
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
Read Liner Notes

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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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Peter LowrySoutheast Blues
Blind Boy Fuller Truckin' My Blues AwayBlind Boy Fuller: Remastered 1935-1938
Peter Lowry1969/Buddy Moss
Buddy MossHey Lawdy MamaThe George Mitchell Collection Volumes 1-45
Peter Lowry1970/Back Down South
Eddie KirklandGoing Back To Mississippi The Complete Trix Recordings
Peter LowryBirth of Trix Records
Baby TateYou Can Always Tell Another Man Done Gone
Peter LowryMeeting Baby Tate
Baby TateBad Gasoline Another Man Done Gone
Peter LowryBaby Tate's Death
Peter LowryMeeting Willie Trice
Willie TriceTrying to Find My BabyBlue And Rag'd
Peter LowryPeg Leg Sam/The Last Medicine Show
Peg Leg SamHand Me DownThe Last Medicine Show
Peter LowryMore Peg Leg Sam
Peter LowryMeeting Henry Johnson
Henry JohnsonLittle Sally JonesThe Union County Flash
Peter LowryHenry Johnson/Chapel Hill Concerts
Henry JohnsonSittin' Down Thinkin'Carolina Country Blues
Peter LowryGuitar Shorty
Guitar ShortyNow Tell Me BabyAlone In His Field
Peter LowryMeeting John Cephas
John CephasNaylor RagUnreleased
Peter LowryBig Chief Ellis
Big Chief EllisAll Down BluesBig Chief Ellis
Peter LowryTarheel Slim
Tarheel SlimScreaming and CryingNo Time At All
Homesick James Live Life Over Goin' Back Home
Peter LowryHomesick James & Honeyboy Edwards
Honeyboy Edwards Ride With Me TonightI've Been Around
Peter LowryRobert Lockwood
Robert LockwoodForever On My MindThe Complete Trix Recordings
Peter LowryFollowing Leads/Roy Dunn
Roy Dunn Do That BoogieUnreleased
Cecil Barfield Sugar Coated LoveUnreleased
Turner FoddrellCrow JaneUnreleased
Ira Joiner Jr. Doin' The Natural ThingUnreleased

Show Notes:

Peter Lowry Peter Lowry
 Pete Lowry & Tarheel Slim 1970s. Photo by Valerie Vilmer.

 

Today’s show is a sequel, of sorts, to a show I did several years back focusing on the recordings made by Peter Lowry. Lowry did not go to Mississippi, did not discover long lost bluesmen from the 1920's but in his voluminous research, writing and recording has charted his own path, becoming the most renowned expert on the blues of the Southeast and is credited with coining the term Piedmont Blues. Between 1969 and 1980 he amassed hundreds of photographs, thousands of selections of recordings, music and interviews in his travels through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Lowry set up the Trix Records label in 1972 starting with a series of 45's with LP's being released by 1973. It lasted about a decade as an active label dealing mainly with Piedmont blues artists from the Southeastern states with seventeen albums. Other recordings were issued on the Flyright label, a label formed in 1970 by Mike Leadbitter, Simon Napier and Bruce Bastin. Lowry's issued recordings are just the tip of the iceberg with unreleased recordings far exceeding what was commercially released. Lowry estimates there could be enough material for eighty CD's. Today we spotlight Lowry's recordings as issued on Trix and Flyright, some unreleased material and interview I conducted with Peter a few weeks back (an edited version of the interview can be found below). The notes that follow come mainly from articles I've written previously on Peter's recordings.

Lowry refers to his recordings as "controlled field recordings", often done in hotel rooms or someone'ss home with an emphasis on getting the sound right at the start, there was not option of fixing it in the mix afterwards. In an article by Valerie Wilmer [Wilmer, Valerie. “Lowry’s Bag of Trix.” Melody Maker (13 Oct 1973)] she goes on to explain how Lowry operated in the field: "Lowry will be back from his third field trip in 12 months at the end of the year. He does all his traveling by Volkswagen bus, accompanied by a faithful hound and no less than eight guitars. One such trip lasted five months and netted enough material for 20 albums, all of which he will be processing himself. 'I said, 'Christ, I've got an awful lot of stuff here-there's no sense in farting around with other people, I'll do it myself.' The guitars are needed because often the people he encounters have not played for a while or else their existing instrument may be in bad shape, rattling or buzzing. 'I've always tried to keep a clean sound on my recordings unlike most of the so-called field work'… I'm not just an out-and-out field recorder, nor do I use a studio as such. I usually say that the best sound-quality stuff I do is sort of in a Holiday Inn recording studio in whatever town I happen to be staying. You know, if it's not too cool where they're living or something, we go back to the hotel room.'"

Baby Tate
Baby Tate, photo by Pete Lowry.

As for the nature of field recording and researching  it's worthwhile to quote Bruce Bastin, author of the classic Red River Blues and running mate of Lowry's, on some of their experiences: "Armchair research can never replace the infectious pleasure of personal contact, or indeed the streetwise experiences of fieldwork at the very edges of existence. …Talk to Bengt Olsson about his times in Tennessee and Alabama. Talk to Pete Lowry about his (sadly unsuccessful) endeavors to record Buddy Moss… Talk also to us about our meeting with rednecks in Edgecomb County, North Carolina…or with Newton County, Georgia, police for 'consorting with blacks'… " On the other hand were plenty of positive experiences: "How do you replace memories of hearing Guitar Shorty perform at Chapel Hill's Endangered Species bar, packed with professors and 'kitty money'… Or watching a genuinely excited Buddy Moss play a stunning 'Chesterfield' on his battered guitar one hot August afternoon at his home? Or seeing Henry Johnson play slide guitar flat across his lap, Hawaiian style, at home and some time later stroll into Chapel Hill's TV station with a petrified Elester Anderson, casually watch a quartet finish playing Mozart and pack up, then settle down to back Elester (whom he'd never met before) on 'Red River Blues'… Or of tracing Floyd Council via the local cab company's switchboard? Or meeting the truly larger-than-life character Peg Leg Sam?"

It's useful to provide some background on Lowry's activities just prior to setting up Trix. Most of what follows is extracted from my correspondence with Lowry in response to questions I posed and by its nature is highly condensed. "I had not attempted field recording prior to 1970… Bastin and I hooked up in 1969 to look for 78's using my car as our transport in the SE (successfully)…and went back the next year. I figured that I should do more than just drive the car, so I purchased a tape recorder (Uher 4200, 1/2 track stereo, 5" reels). A series of pieces for Blues Unlimited came out of the '69 trip. …Bruce and I were focused in 1970 on collecting material for a book, as he had been asked to do one in the Studio Vista series off of our BU series of articles, resulting in Crying for the Carolines (the basis for Red River Blues). We WORKED for a solid month, doing library research (city directories were helpful, especially when there were back issues – in the old days, there was (c) after a name for 'colored', so that helped eliminate similar names. Then, vital statistics also were not so closed to non-family members – folks who helped us in the early years had to stop [legally] later on). Next-of-kin were often still findable. Those research tools were suggested by Gayle Dean Wardlow. We started with a copy of Godrich & Dixon and known names, likely 'home' locations of those who had made recordings pre-war, and worked from there. …There was NOBODY 'working' the SE when we attacked it, for Mitchell had wandered off to the sainted MS stuff, where the little work being done was being done. We broke 'new' ground, if you will, in part encouraged by BU editor Simon Napier. …Most of the info Bruce used for his books came from my/our work…"

While it may be impossible to quantify, the fact is there was quite a number of quality blues players to be found and quite a number of them in the Southeast region as Lowry optimistically stated  to Valerie Wilmer: "'I never really believed all that stuff about the blues being dead,'" he said, 'As with other celebrities who said 'my death has been greatly exaggerated', so the blues. I think it's been submerged beneath the overlay of modern black pop music, but hell-you go down through Georgia and the Carolinas and there's still country-suppers. Peg Leg Sam still goes around busking in the streets, blowing his harp and collecting quarters and dollars.'" What follows is some background on today's featured artists:

Baby Tate spent the bulk of his life as a sideman, playing with musicians like Blind Boy Fuller, Pink Anderson, and Peg Leg Sam. As a teenager he began playing with Blind Boy Fuller. In the early 1950's, Tate moved to Spartanburg, SC, where he performed both as a solo act and as a duo with Pink Anderson. Tate and Anderson performed as duo into the 1970's. In 1962, Tate recorded his first album, See What You Done, for Bluesville. Tate was one of Lowry's closest musician friends. Lowry said, "My plan…was to really record him in depth. He was just an incredible person and a wonderful person to deal with. I can't say I'm satisfied with what I've got on tape because I know he could do three times more and a lot better. But just having been around him and dealt with him and lived with him, there's a degree of satisfaction. …The first person to be recorded by me in 1970, a wonderful informant, and a very good friend – he came up to New Paltz to perform at a Spring festival in '72, partly w. Larry Johnson. He also played a coffee house near Albany, NY that same weekend thanks to Kip Lornell. He had a great time – then he died that summer. That made me a man possessed; 'do as much as you can before they all die off' took a hold of me! The rest is history." Peter recorded Tate extensively in 1970 but, outside of one 45 and a couple of tracks issued on anthology, this material remains unissued.

Read Booklet (PDF)

"Recording is an accident, isn't it?! Had it not been for me, Henry Johnson and Peg Leg Sam would have been unheard…" Lowry notes. Peg Leg Sam was a member of what may have been the last authentic traveling medicine show, a harmonica virtuoso, and an extraordinary entertainer. Born Arthur Jackson, he acquired his nickname after a hoboing accident in 1930. His medicine show career began in 1938, giving his last medicine show performance in 1972 in North Carolina, and was still in fine form when he started making the rounds of folk and blues festivals in his last years. Lowry captured Sam and Chief Thundercloud (the last traveling medicine show) on the Flyright album The Last Medicine Show. There's also some footage of the medicine show act in the film Born For Hard Luck. Sam delivered comedy routines, bawdy toasts, monologues, performed tricks with his harps (often playing two at once) and served up some great blues (sometimes with a guitar accompanist, but most often by himself). Lowry released one album by Sam, Medicine Show Man, and he recorded only once  more for Blue Labor in 1975 which was originally issued under the title Joshua and subsequently reissued as Early In The Morning and Peg Leg Sam with Louisiana Red.

The sessions by Henry Johnson, his first recording, was a result of Peg Leg Sam pushing his good friend to record. "I feel Henry Johnson is the finest finger-picking blues artist to come along in a hell of a long time, and this album should demonstrate that with ease" Lowry wrote in the notes to The Union County Flash!, his lone album. "It was Sam who introduced us (Bastin and I) to Henry…His musicianship was surpassed only by his magnificent voice – I have UNC concert tapes where he plays piano, Hawaiian guitar, and harp w. his guitar… he stuck it in his mouth and worked without a rack (like Harmonica Frank)!" Johnson died 19 1974, shortly after the record was released and there is enough material in the can for another release. Lowry wrote" his 'compleat' talent will never be heard by those who never saw him in person."

Roy Dunn was one of the last links to the rich Atlanta pre-war blues scene; he had played with Curley Weaver., Buddy Moss and Blind Willie McTell. Know'd Them All is his only album. "This, his only album", Lowry wrote, is as complete a representation of the talents of Roy S. Dunn (a/k/a James Clavin Speed) as could be compiled, and his talents deserve another listening." Dunn passed in 1988.

Willie Trice and his brother Richard became close friends with Blind Boy Fuller and Fuller took them up to New York where they cut six sides together (two unissued) for Decca in 1937. Richard Trice recorded after the war for Savoy in 1946 as Little Boy Fuller as well as a couple of sides in 1948 and 1952/53. Lowry recorded him but those recordings remain unreleased. Unlike many of his fellow musician friends, Willie always had a day job and it wasn't until the 1970's that he recorded again. Blue And Rag'd , his sole album,  was released on Trix in 1973. "Willie Trice", Lowry wrote" was one of those special people – not just in my life, but in the lives of most everyone who chanced to meet him. We had some sort of special, almost mystical connection… I would irregualry just appear unannounced at the door of his mother's house and he'd be sitting there waiting for me. He would tell me that he had dreamed of me that night and therefore knew that I was going to be there to see him the next day."

Big Chief Ellis
Read Liner Notes

"Homesick" James Williamson was playing guitar at age ten and soon ran away from his Tennessee home to play at fish fries and dances. His travels took the guitarist through Mississippi and North Carolina during the 1920s, where he crossed paths with Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Boy Fuller, and Big Joe Williams.Settling in Chicago during the 1930's. Homesick made some of his finest sides in 1952-53 for Art Sheridan's Chance Records (including the classic "Homesick" that gave him his enduring stage name). He also worked extensively as a sideman, backing harp great Sonny Boy Williamson in 1945 at a Chicago joint called the Purple Cat and during the 1950's with his cousin Elmore James who he also recorded with. Homesick's own output included 45's for Colt and USA in 1962, a fine 1964 album for Prestige plus albums for Bluesway, Big Bear, Earwig and Fedora among others. He cut the solo Goin' Back Home for Trix of which Lowry said "I think that ‘my' solo album is the best thing he ever did."

Born in Alabama, Eddie Kirkland headed to Detroit in 1943. There he hooked up with John Lee Hooker five years later, recording with him for several firms as well as under his own name for RPM in 1952, King in 1953, and Fortune in 1959. In 1961-62 he cut his first album for Tru-Sound Records. Leaving Detroit for Macon, GA, in 1962, Kirkland signed on with Otis Redding as a sideman and show opener not long thereafter. By the dawn of the 1970's, Kirkland cut two albums for Trix label; Front And Center and The Devil And Other Blues Demons (issued together as The Complete Trix Recordings on the 32 Blues label).

A self-taught player, Big Chief Ellis performed at house parties and dances during the 1920's. He traveled extensively for several years, working mostly in non-musical jobs. After a three-year army stint from 1939 – 1942, Ellis settled in New York. He started recording for Lenox in 1945, and also did sessions for Sittin' In and Capitol in the 1940's and 50's, playing with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee for Capitol. Though Ellis reduced his performance schedule after moving from New York to Washington D.C., his career got a final boost in the early 1970's. He recorded for Trix and appeared at several folk and blues festivals until his death in 1977. His self-titled Trix album features John Cephas, Tarheel Slim, and Brownie McGhee. He also backed Tarheel Slim on his Trix album.

While still in North Carolina during the early 1940's, Tarheel Slim worked with several gospel groups. He broke away with Thurman Ruth and in 1949 formed their own group, the Jubilators. During a single day in New York in 1950, they recorded for four labels under four different names, One of those labels was Apollo, who convinced them to go secular. That's basically how the Larks, one of the seminal early R&B vocal groups, came to be. He cut two sessions of his own for the firm in 1952 under the name of Allen Bunn. As Alden Bunn, he encored on Bobby Robinson's Red Robin logo the next year. He also sang with another R&B vocal group, the Wheels and the Lovers. As Tarheel Slim he made his debut in 1958 with his wife, Little Ann, in a duet format for Robinson's Fire imprint. He cut a pair of rockabilly raveups of his own, "Wilcat Tamer" and "No. 9 Train." After a few years off the scene, Tarheel Slim made a bit of a comeback during the early 1970's, with an album for Trix, his last recording. He died in 1977. Lowry wrote that "Tarheel Slim was one of the finest voices to appear appear in the blues and R&B world, as this collection will solidly demonstrate. …Slim was a consummate artist and a great gentleman: this recording gives the world at-large at least a partial glimpse of his talent."

Guitar Shorty
Guitar Shorty, photo by Kip Lornell.

Robert Lockwood cut two albums for Trix,  Does 12 and Contrasts, (issued together as The Complete Trix Recordings on the 32 Blues label) which rank among his best recordings. The crack band features the great sax player Maurice Reedus who played with Lockwood for 35 years and passed away just recently. Lowry was planning to issue an album by Reedus but it was never released. As Lowry told me: "Words fail me… I was truly a 'Fortunate Son' to have known and worked with this man, a true gentleman and a noble/regal being. All of 'Contrasts' was recorded in his living room in Cleveland (band sides) or Roger Brown's place!"

Lowry called Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue) "One of the most spontaneous musicians around; right up there with Lightnin' Hopkins, maybe more so." He cut a pair of unissued sides for Savoy in 1952, the album Carolina Slide Guitar (Flyright, 1971) and his final album for Trix, Alone In His Field,  before passing in 1975.

Related Material:

-Peter Lowry Interview (edited, 30 min., MP3)

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