Record Labels

Sticks McGhee One Monkey Don't Stop The ShowSticks McGhee 1947-1951
Jimmy "Babby Face" LewisLet's Get Together And Make Some Love Jimmy "Baby Face" Lewis 1947-1955
Lawyer Houston Lawyer Houston BluesTexas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A.
Lawyer Houston Dallas Bepop BluesTexas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A.
Lawyer Houston Western Rider Blues Texas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A.
Big Joe TurnerThe Chill Is On Rhythm & Blues Years
Big Joe TurnerBump Miss SusieRhythm & Blues Years
Jimmy YanceyMake Me A Pallet On The FloorChicago Piano Vol. 1
Jimmy YanceyMonkey Woman Blues Chicago Piano Vol. 1
Little Brother MontgomeryTalkin' BluesBlues Piano: Chicago Plus
Little Brother MontgomeryVicksburg Blues '51Blues Piano: Chicago Plus
Meade "Lux" LewisMr. Freddie's Blues Boogie-Woogie Interpretations
Meade "Lux" LewisRiff boogieBlues Piano: Chicago Plus
Frank 'Sweet' WilliamsSweet's Slow Blues Blues Piano: Chicago Plus
Sticks McGhee Meet You in the MorningSticks McGhee 1947-1951
Ray CharlesRoll With Me BabyPure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Ray CharlesJumpin' in the Mornin'Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Big Joe TurnerBaby, I Still Want YouClassic Hits 1938-1952
Big Joe TurnerSweet Sixteen Classic Hits 1938-1952
Chuck NorrisLet Me KnowMessing With The Blues
Chuck NorrisMessin' UpMessing With The Blues
Ray CharlesLosing HandPure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Ray CharlesMr. Charles BluesPure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Big Joe TurnerTV MamaRhythm & Blues Years
Big Joe TurnerMarried Woman Rhythm & Blues Years
Professor LonghairTipitina The Complete 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairBall The Wall The Complete 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
John Lee HookerGuitar Lovin' ManDetroit Special
John Lee HookerReal, Real GoneDetroit Special
John Lee HookerPouring Down RainDetroit Special
Little Johnny JonesChicago Blues Blues Piano: Chicago Plus
Little Johnny JonesDoin' The Best I CanBlues Piano: Chicago Plus
Little Johnny JonesHoy Hoy Blues Piano: Chicago Plus

Show Notes:

My two-part feature on Atlantic Records was partly inspired by a terrific reissue series that was originally issued in the early 1970's. In the early 70's Pete Lowry convinced Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun to reissue some classic and previously unissued blues from the vaults (read the article below for more background). The plan was to issue twelve albums although only six saw the light of day.I was first heard this series at my college radio station which luckily had the complete set and were much played. This was a great series featuring excellent recordings by Blind Willie McTell, Lawyer Houston, Professor Longhair, Little Brother Montgomery, Jimmy Yancey, T-Bone Walker and others. The albums had excellent liner notes and packaged with wonderful photos in a gatefold album. We feature a number of these recordings on today's programs as well as a wealth of great recordings from Atlantic's, early years spanning the years 1950 through 1953. Our second feature on Atlantic Records focuses less on R&B and more on blues: featured today are several artists that appeared on those Atlantic reissue albums including Lawyer Houston,  Jimmy Yancey, Little Brother Montgomery, Meade Lux Lewis, Frank 'Sweet' Williams, Professor Longhair and John Lee Hooker.

I first heard Lawyer Houston on an Atlantic LP Texas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A. Until recently nothing was known about him. Sometime before June 7th 1950, when Atlantic bought them, he recorded eight titles at Jim Beck's studio on Ross Avenue, Dallas. Beck was also from Marshall, so that may have been a factor. He cut another session in autumn 1953 in L.A. Two songs were issued from the Dallas session, the first as by Lawyer Houston, the second as by Soldier Boy Houston. In “Western Rider Blues” he sings “My name is Lawyer Houston and I'm a Private First Class” which turns out to be true.

Houston was born in Marshall, Texas in 1917. He was inducted into the army in 1941 and served until 1946. He re-enlisted two months later and served until 1961. His songs “In The Army Since 1941” and “Lawton, Oklahoma Blues” are loosely autobiographical accounts of his time in the Philippines and Fort Sill near Lawton. As writer Neal Slavin notes: “Apart from their unusually informative lyrics, Houston's songs are notable for the springy rhythms with which he accompanies himself. In essence, his style is close to that of Lil' Son Jackson… …Two further songs,'Out In California Blues' and 'Going To The West Coast', were prophetic; in the former, Houston announces his intention of going to Los Angeles' Central Avenue to stay at the Hotel Dunbar, after which 'I'm going out to Hollywood and become a movie star'. The move took place but the Army intervened. They needed him in Korea, where war broke out on June 25, 1950. At his second and Iast recording session, “Far East Blues” and “Leavin' Korea” indicate a familiarity with Korea and Japan which in this artist's case is virtual proof of his presence there." Circa 1953/1954 Houston cut eight sides for the Hollywood label in Los Angeles with the sessions purchased by King Records. The sides were never issued and have been reissued for the first time, this year on the 2-CD Hollywood Blues on the JSP label. Houston's military service ended in December 1961 and he spent the rest of his Iife in various Californian communities, ending up in Lancaster, where he worked as a custodian at the California State Museum. He died of pulmonary disease on December 3, 1999. Houston's life story can be found in Blues & Rhythm magazine issue 215 written by Guido Van Rijn and Chris Smith.

Suffering from diabetes later in life, Jimmy Yancey and his wife held parties and jam sessions at their South Side Chicago apartment to raise money. Those sessions were well attended by Chicago jazz fans, and Yancey returned to the recording studio to make new records for the Paramount label in 1950 and his final for Atlantic in 1951 with his wife, Estelle Mama Yancey handling some of the vocal chores. He died on September 17, 1951. His final sides appeared on the album Chicago Piano Vol. 1.

The album Blues Piano:-Chicago, Plus featured sides by Little Brother Montgomery , Frank 'Sweet' Williams and Little Johnny Jones. In the 1950's there was sporadic recording activity, for Little Brother Montgomery even if there were few issued records to show for it at the time: a 1951 session for Atlantic with drummer Frank ‘Sweet’ Williams, two 1953 sides for JOB and two sessions in 1954 and 1956 only four tracks were issued, on a ten-inch LP on the Winding Ball label and five rare sides cut for the Chicago label, Ebony, in 1956. Frank 'Sweet' Williams was a minor Chicago blues musician who's only recordings were two songs cut for Atlantic in 1951 which remained unissued until the issued on the anthology Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus. It is assumed he was brought to the studio by Montgomery. He may be the uncredited drummer on Montgomery's session recorded on the same day. Meade Lux Lewis cut an album for Atlantic in 1951 titled Boogie-Woogie Interpretations with "Riff Boogie" reissued  on Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus.

Best known for his rock steady accompaniment in Elmore James’ band, Little Johnny Jones,  he also backed just about everyone else worth mentioning on the Chicago scene. The handful of times he stepped in front as leader produced a number of excellent sides and more than a few classics. Jones last official stint as leader came in 1953 when Atlantic Records came through Chicago and teamed Elmore and the Broomdusters behind Big Joe Turner resulting in the classic "TV Mama." Once again he recorded a couple of sides at the tail end of a session resulting in four songs: "Chicago Blues", 'Hoy Hoy', "Wait Baby" and "Doin' the Best I Can (Up the line)." Jones was backed by the full Broomdusters plus Ransom Knowling on bass.

Others heard from today include John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles and Chuck Norris. Hooker recorded twelve sides for Atco Records in 1953 which was a  division of Atlantic Records. These sides were issued on the album Detroit Special in in 1972. Hooker is backed by Eddie Kirkland on this session.

In 1951, while performing with the Count Basie Orchestra at Harlem's Apollo Theater Big Joe Turner was spotted by Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün, who signed him to Atlantic Records. Turner recorded a number of successes for them that climbed the R&B charts including "Chains of Love", "Sweet Sixteen, "Boogie Woogie Country Girl", "Honey Hush" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll." I first heard many of these sides on an excellent double album called Big Joe Turner: Rhythm & Blues Years.

John Lee Hooker: Guitar Lovin' ManIn 1950, Ray Charles' performance in a Miami hotel would impress Henry Stone, who went on to record a Ray Charles. After that he joined Swing Time Records, he recorded two more R&B hits under the name "Ray Charles": "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand" (1951), which reached number five; and "Kissa Me Baby"(1952), which reached number eight. Swing Time folded the following year, and Ahmet Ertegün signed him to Atlantic Records.

Chuck Norris worked in Chicago until the mid-'40s, when he moved out to the West Coast. He soon became one of the in-demand musicians in Hollywood backing artists such as Ray Agee, Charles Brown, Floyd Dixon, Roy Hawkins, Duke Henderson, Helen Humes, Etta James, Pete Johnson, Little Willie Littlefield, Percy Mayfield, Johnny Otis, Johnny Watson, Jimmy Witherspoon and many others. From time to time he did sessions on his own for labels like Atlantic, Mercury, Imperial, Aladdin and others between 1947 and 1953.

Oddenda & Such No. 15 by Pete Lowry (Blues & Rhythm no. 138, Apr1l, 1999)

Joe Morris Mad MoonJoe Morris 1946-1949
Tiny Grimes Quintet Boogie Woogie BarbecueTiny Grimes 1947-1950
Tiny Grimes Quintet w/ Red Prysock Nightmare BluesTiny Grimes 1947-1950
Joe Morris Jax BoogieJoe Morris 1946-1949
Sticks McGhee And His BuddiesLonesome Road BluesNew York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Sticks McGhee And His BuddiesTall Pretty WomanNew York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Ruth Brown Rain Is A BringdownRuth Brown 1949-1950
Sticks McGhee And His BuddiesDrinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-DeeNew York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Tiny Grimes Quintet Rock The HouseTiny Grimes 1947-1950
Texas Johnny Brown There Goes The BluesAtlantic Blues Guitar
Frank Floorshow Culley Floor Show (How 'Bout That Mess) The Big Horn: Honkin' And Screamin' Saxophone
Jimmie LewisMailman BluesJimmy ''Babyface'' Lewis 1947-1955
Ruth BrownRocking BluesRuth Brown 1949-1950
Ruth BrownHey Pretty BabyRuth Brown 1949-1950
Blind Willie McTellDying Crapshooter's Blues Atlanta Twelve String
Blind Willie McTellThe Razor BallAtlanta Twelve String
Blind Willie McTellLittle Delia Atlanta Twelve String
Blind Willie McTellAin't It Grand To Live a ChristianAtlanta Twelve String
Blind Willie McTellKill It Kid Atlanta Twelve String
Professor LonghairHey Now Baby Tipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairShe Walks Right InTipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairMardi Gras In New Orleans Tipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairProfessor Longhair BluesTipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairHey Little GirlTipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairLoghair Blues Rhumba Tipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Sticks McGheeHouse Warmin' BoogieNew York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Sticks McGheeShe's Gone New York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Joe Morris & Annie TateAnytime, Any Place, AnywhereJoe Morris 1950-1953
Joe Morris & Annie TateCome Back Daddy, DaddyJoe Morris 1950-1953
Jimmie LewisAll The Fun's On MeJimmy ''Babyface'' Lewis 1947-1955
Frank Floorshow Culley & Arlene Little Miss TalleyLittle Miss Blues78
Ruth BrownR.B. Blues Ruth Brown 1949-1950
Ruth BrownTeardrops from My Eyes Ruth Brown 1949-1950

Show Notes:

My two-part feature on Atlantic Records was partly inspired by a terrific reissue series that was originally issued in the early 1970's. In the early 70's Pete Lowry convinced Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun to reissue some classic and previously unissued blues from the vaults. The plan was to issue twelve albums although only six saw the light of day.I was first heard this series at my college radio station which luckily had the complete set and were much played. This was a great series featuring excellent recordings by Blind Willie McTell, Lawyer Houston, Professor Longhair, Little Brother Montgomery, Jimmy Yancey, T-Bone Walker and others. The albums had excellent liner notes and packaged with wonderful photos in a gatefold album. We feature a number of these recordings on the next two programs as well as a wealth of great recordings from Atlantic's, early years spanning their founding in 1947 through 1952.

Brothers Nesuhin and Ahmet Ertegu were ardent fans of jazz and rhythm & blues music, amassing a collection of over 15,000 78rpm records. Atlantic Records was incorporated in October 1947 and was run by Herb Abramson (President), who put up the initial investment,  and Ertegun (vice-president in charge of A&R, production and promotion) while Abramson's wife Miriam ran the label's publishing company. Atlantic's first batch of recordings were issued in late January 1948. Atlantic Records was never into recording the blues in a big way, unlike other independents. One reason was its New York location, as Ahmet Ertegun told Charlie Gillet:  "You just couldn't find blues singers in Harlem or   Washington. They were all in Chicago, Texas, New Orleans, so we realised we had to go down south, both to find new artists and record them." This wasn't exactly true, as other New York and New Jersey independents such as Savoy, De Luxe, Manor and Sittin' In With had  New  York~based  artists under contract. The first artists signed by Atlantic were New York-based artists with jazz backgrounds, such as Joe Morris and Tiny Grimes, although their singles were marketed as R&B.

Among the recordings Lowry got reissued and featured today are sides by Blind Willie McTell, and Professor Longhair. In 1949 a 15-song session by Blind Willie McTell was cut for the newly formed Atlantic Records. Only two songs, "Kill It Kid" and "Broke Down Engine Blues," were ever issued on a failed single, and the session was forgotten until almost 20 years later.  Longhair began to take his playing seriously in 1948, earning a gig at the Caldonia Club in New Orleans. He debuted on wax in 1949, laying down four tracks (including the first version of his signature "Mardi Gras in New Orleans") for the Dallas-based Star Talent label. Union problems forced those sides off the market, but Longhair's next date for Mercury the same year produced his first and only national R&B hit in 1950, the hilarious "Bald Head." The pianist made great records for Atlantic in 1949 and 1950-1951, Federal in 1951, Wasco in 1952, and Atlantic again in 1953 plus other scattered small label sides through the 50's. Thirteen of his Atlantic sides were issued on the album  Professor Longhair: New Orleans Piano.

Sticks McGhee

As Pete recalled in a column years later: "It must have been 1969 when both Mike Leadbitter and Simon Napier (Simon’s only trip. I do believe) came the US leaving Blues Unlimited temporarily without an editor! …Leads had an appointment to see Tunc Erim at the offices of Atlantic Records and I tagged along with the two of them (Simon & Mike) out of curiosity – I’d never been close to a big operation like that! We were permitted to look through the various file books for additions to the post-war discography (Leadbitter/Slaven) and were amazed at the information that could be gleaned. They were efficient. So I elected myself as a party of one to go back after that initial contact to do more detailed copying than could be done that first time. Photocopiers had not yet taken over and I used a pen and notebook to transcribe it all. In doing so, something else came to the surface – the realization that somehow some of this stuff ought to be heard. Actually, it was when I realized that there were thirteen unreleased sides by Blind Willie McTell that I became fixated on this idea. One LP wouldn’t do the trick… I had to work out some sort of package, including the McTell, and try and get it published/released."

Other early Atlantic artists featured today include Joe Morris, Tiny Grimes, Sticks McGhee, Ruth Brown, Frank Floorshow Culley, Jimmy "Baby Face" Lewis and Texas Johnny Brown. Joe Morris began his career as a jazz trumpet play but his legacy rests with his 1950s work as leader of R&B-oriented Joe Morris Orchestra. After working with Lionel Hampton, Morris signed with tAtlantic Records, and his "Anytime, Any Place, Anywhere" (with vocal by Laurie Tate) put the new record company on the map when it hit number one on the R&B charts in 1950. The Joe Morris Orchestra functioned as the unofficial house band for Atlantic in the early to mid-'50s, and several future Atlantic stars passed through its ranks, including Ray Charles and Lowell Fulson. In addition to working for Atlantic, Morris also recorded sides for Decca and Herald. He died in 1958.

In 1938, Tiny Grimes started playing electric guitar, and two years later he was playing in a popular jive group, the Cats and the Fiddle. During 1943-1944, Grimes was part of a classic Art Tatum Trio. In September 1944, he led his first record date, using Charlie Parker." He also recorded for Blue Note in 1946, and then put together an R&B-oriented group, the Rockin' Highlanders, that featured the tenor of Red Prysock during 1948-1952 where he recorded for Atlantic. Later sessions were for Prestige/Swingville, Black & Blue, Muse, and Sonet.

Sticks McGhee may have not been as prolific or celebrated as his brother Brownie, but guitarist Stick McGhee cut some great blues and R&B from 1947 to 1960. McGhee's Ruth Brownfirst recorded version of his classic  "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" for thes Harlem logo made little impression in 1947, but a 1949 remake for Atlantic (as Stick McGhee & His Buddies) proved a massive R&B hit. After one more smash for Atlantic in 1951's "he moved along to Essex, King, Savoy, and Herald before passing in 1960.

They called Atlantic Records "the house that Ruth built" during the 1950's. Ruth Brown's hitmaking reign from 1949 to the close of the '50s helped establish the label's predominance in the R&B field. Brown made her debut in May 1949, waxing t"So Long" which proved to be her first hit. After an even two-dozen R&B chart appearances for Atlantic that ended in 1960 she faded from view. Brown's nine-year ordeal to recoup her share of royalties from all those Atlantic platters led to the formation of the nonprofit Rhythm & Blues Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping others in the same frustrating situation. In 1993 Brown was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She passed in 2006.

Johnny Brown's career started in a band called the Aladdin Chickenshackers, who regularly backed Amos Milburn.He recorded with Milburn, and also backed Ruth Brown on her earliest cuts for Atlantic. Through this work, in 1949 although not issued at the time, Brown was able to record some tracks of his own for Atlantic. Brown's recording career continued in the mid 1950s, when he was utilized mainly as a sideman for both of the affiliated Duke and Peacock record labels. Brown toured as Bland's lead guitarist in the 1950s and 1960s.

Frank Culley formed his own R&B group in the mid-40s, recording for the Lenox label in NYC and backing Wynonie Harris on King. In 1948, he was signed by the fledgling Atlantic label and led its first house band, backing the early stars of R&B as well as recording some thirty tracks under his own name. After leaving Atlantic in 1951, Culley recorded for RCA Victor, Parrot, Chess and Baton without success.

Jimmy "Baby Face" Lewis cut nearly thirty sides between 1947 and 1955 for Aladdin, Atlantic, Savoy and other labels. Lewis was a fine smooth voced singer and excellent guitarist who's material  alternated between Charles Brown styled ballads and jump blues.His entire output has been issued on CD by Blue Moon as Jimmy Baby Face Lewis: Complete 1947-1955.


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.


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
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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.

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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.”

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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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