Sun 14 Mar 2010
|Clifford Gibson||Don't Put That Thing On Me||Clifford Gibson 1929-1931|
|Lonnie Johnson||Away Down in the Alley Blues||Lonnie Johnson Vol. 3 1925-1932|
|Charley Jordan||Hunkie Tunkie Blues||Charlie Jordan Vol. 1 1930-1931|
|Henry Brown||Henry Brown Blues||Twenty First. St. Stomp|
|Roosevelt Sykes||The Honey Dripper||Roosevelt Sykes Vol. 4 1934-1936|
|Alice Moore||Riverside Blues||St. Louis Bessie & Alice Moore Vol. 2 1934-1941|
|Mary Johnson||Peepin' At The Risin' Sun||Mary Johnson 1929-1936|
|Edith North Johnson||Good Chib Blues||I Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 2|
|Henry Townsend||Henry's Worry Blues||St. Louis Country Blues 1929-1937|
|Lane Hardin||California Desert Blues||Backwoods Blues 1926-1935|
|J.D. Short||It's Hard Times||St. Louis Country Blues 1929-1937|
|---------------------------||Kevin Belford Interview||---------------------------|
|Big Joe Williams||Baby Please Don't Go||Devil At The Confluence|
|Peetie Wheatstraw||What More Can A Man Do?||Peetie Wheatstraw Vol. 5|
|Sparks Brothers||Everyday I Have The Blues||The Sparks Brothers 1932-1935|
|Elizabeth Washington||You Put That Thing on Me||St. Louis Girls 1929-1937|
|St. Louis Jimmy||Going Down Slow||St. Louis Jimmy Oden Vol. 1 1932-1944|
|James ''Stump'' Johnson||The Duck Yas-Yas-Yas||James ''Stump'' Johnson 1929-1964|
|Barrelhouse Buck McFarland||I Got To Go Blues||Devil At The Confluence|
|Blind Teddy Darby||Lawdy Lawdy Worried Blues||Blind Teddy Darby 1929-1937|
|Walter Davis||Tears Come Rolling Down||Walter Davis Vol. 7 1946-1952|
As blues historian Paul Oliver wrote: "For some reason St. Louis has never had its due as a centre for the blues. …With its ragtime background St. Louis was a Mecca for blues pianists like Speckled Red and Henry Brown, Sylvester Palmer and Roosevelt Sykes, Peetie Wheatstraw, Barrelhouse Buck McFarland and Wesley Wallace. But it was discovered early by the guitarists too, Sylvester Weaver and Lonnie Johnson, Clifford Gibson and Charley Jordan, J.D. Short and Big Joe Williams among them. There were plenty of women singers too, like Mary Johnson and Edith Johnson, Alice Moore or St. Louis Bessie Mae Smith. And while there were big name recording stars like Walter Davis there were many very good but lesser know ones: St.Louis Jimmy, Blind Teddy Darby, Aaron "Pine Top" Sparks, Lawrence Casey, Oscar Carter and many others." And as write Don Kent noted: "The blues men who took St. Louis to be their home are responsible for some of the most magnificent country music to be recorded during the twenties. Inexplicably, the plethora of musical wealth has been left unpublicized and, blueswise, St. Louis has scarcely been tapped for all the information it could yield."
Today’s program features many of these artists and in addition, in the second hour, we interview author Kevin Belford who’s Devil At The Confluence is deeply researched and illustrated history of the pre-war St. Louis blues scene. Devil At The Confluence is a gorgeous coffee table sized book, beautifully illustrated by Belford who stuffs the book with drawings of the artists, vintage blues advertisements, label shots and other blues ephemera. The book also features much new information and corrects errors that have persisted for decades. As Belford states on his blog: "Nearly all of the information in Devil At The Confluence on the hundreds of names that I found who had recorded from St Louis in the pre-war blues period is new and unpublished information."
As he explained to me: The St Louis blues are a wider and deeper catalog of blues music. The reason that St Louis has been historically overlooked is because as interest in the blues developed, the general knowledge of blues became narrowly defined and mostly-arbitrarily categorized. Southern, Delta, primitive music. The original blues that the audience bought and craved was not just that, but the later research into the blues was limited to that. St Louis had more artists selling the most records for the longest period than any other Pre-war area. St Louis' blues cannot be contained in a simplified catch-all category. St Louis had it's roots music, uninfluenced by other areas, and the artists were known for mixing it and creating innovative new styles. Creative progress, hybrid and merging is what makes the arts evolve. This is the central concept that I realized when researching and why I decided to do the book. St Louis' artists are often misunderstood and disregarded when the definition of the blues of the 20s and 30s is limited to transient Southern musicians playing a simple, backward style. My profiled artists are not transients through the city. They started their careers in the city, spent significant time in the city, worked amongst the other St Louis artists and in most cases lived in St Louis for the greatest part of their lives."
The second half of the show features a varied set of recordings selected by Belford while the first part is tracks I've selected. Below is some background on today's featured artists. Since it's impossible to cover the St. Louis blues scene in one show I'll be doing a sequel sometime down the road.
Lonnie Johnson moved to St. Louis from his native New Orleans in 1925, making his debut the same year. As writer Don Kent noted: "In a city with many musical influences, few wielded as strong an influence as Lonnie Johnson. If St. Louis could be said to have a dominant figure, it was undoubtedly Lonnie. His impeccable guitar style impressed Clifford Gibson and Henry Townsend, as well as exerting a tremendous stylistic influence on the field as a whole…”
Clifford Gibson was born in Louisville, KY and moved to St. Louis in the 1920's where he was discovered, as was nearly all the city's talent, by Jesse Johnson of the DeLuxe Music Shop on Market Street. He recorded 8 sides for QRS and another 12 for Victor in 1929, all in New York. He was recorded as an accompanist in Louisville in 1931 on two sides with R.T. Hansen (probably J.D. Short) and one, (Let Me Be Your Sidetrack) with country artist Jimmie Rodgers. He was a familiar figure on the streets of St. Louis, playing for tips with his performing dog as a crowd puller, almost up to his death on December 21, 1963. He recorded two 45's for St. Louis' Bobbin label in 1960.
Charlie Jordan came from Helena, Arkansas, and was said to have been a bootlegger in the twenties. He acted as a talent scout for Decca in the thirties and ran a rehearsal studio for local talents" He is reputed to have been shot to death on Ninth St. in 1954. He recorded around 40 sides between 1930 and 1936 for Vocalion, Victor, Decca And ARC.
Henry Townsend arrived in St. Louis just before the '20s began. By the end of the '20s, he had landed a record contract with Columbia and two years later made some recordings for Paramount. During this time, Townsend began playing the piano, learning the instrument by playing along with Roosevelt Sykes records. During the '30s, Townsend was a popular session musician, performing with many of the era's most popular artists. By the late '30s, he had cut several tracks for Bluebird. During the '40s and '50s, Townsend continued to perform and record as a session musician, but he never made any solo records. In 1960, he led a few sessions, but they didn't receive much attention. Toward the end of the '60s, Townsend became a staple on the blues and folk festivals in America, which led to a comeback. He cut a number of albums for Adelphi and he played shows throughout America.Townsend had become an elder statesmen of St. Louis blues by the early '80s, recording albums for Wolf and Swingmaster and playing a handful of shows every year. During the late '80s, Townsend was nearly retired, but he continued to play the occasional concert until his death in 2006.
St. Louis had a number of very talented woman blues singers although they rarely seem to get their due. Woman like Mary Johnson, Alice Moore, Bessie Mae Smith, Edith North Johnson, Irene Scruggs, among others, cut some superb records during the 1920's and 30's.
Alice Moore ranks with Mary Johnson as one of the two best female blues singers in St. Louis during the pre-war period. Alice Moore's recording career can be divided into two time periods (1927-29 and 1934-37). The first set of recordings was made for Paramount and the latter ones were made for Decca. The Paramount recordings feature accompaniments by Henry Brown on piano and Ike Rodgers' gut-bucket trombone. The first Decca recordings feature Brown and Rodgers, but most of the Decca recordings feature her boyfriend, Peetie Wheatstraw, and some of the best have Wheatstraw with Kokomo Arnold.
Mary Johnson (sometimes billed as “Signifying Mary”)made her debut in 1929, cut just shy of two dozen songs, achieved modest success and never recorded again after 1936 despite living until 1983.
Edith Johnson recorded eighteen sides in 1928/29 as "Edith North Johnson", "Hattie North" and "Maybelle Allen." In 1961 she recorded with Henry Brown for Sam Charters, released on Folkways.
Little is known about Lane Hardin whose one coupling for Bluebird “ Hard Time Blues/California Desert Blues” was recorded in Chicago July 28, 193. According to Henry Townsend, Lane Hardin was a "metalworker" probably inferring he worked in a steel mill. Townsend further states that Hardin was "from down South." Hardin was recorded after the war as "Leroy Simpson, cutting some sides for the Modern label.
St. Louis had an abundance of talented blues pianists including Henry Brown, Peetie Wheatstraw, Roosevelt Sykes, Lee Green, Aaron "Pinetop" Sparks, Walter Davis among many others. Henry Brown worked clubs such as the Blue Flame Club, the 9-0-5 Club, Jim's Place and Katy Red's, from the twenties into the 30's. Recorded for Brunswisck with Ike Rogers and Mary Jonhson in 1929, for Paramount in Richmond and Grafton in '29 and '30. He served in the army in the early '40s, then formed his own quartet to work occasional local gigs in St. Louis area from the '50s, and worked the Becky Thatcher riverboat, St. Louis in 1965. In addition to his pre-war recordings, he was recorded by Paul Oliver in 1960, by Sam Charters with Edith Johnson in 1961 and by Adelphi in 1969.
Pianist Speckled Red (born Rufus Perryman) was born in Monroe, LA, but he made his reputation as part of the St. Louis and Memphis blues scenes of the '20s and '30s. In 1929, he cut his first recording sessions. One song from these sessions, "The Dirty Dozens," was released on Brunswick and became a hit in late 1929. In 1938, he cut a few sides for Bluebird. In the early '40s, Red moved to St. Louis, where he played local clubs and bars for the next decade and a half. Charlie O'Brien, a St. Louis policeman and something of a blues aficionado "rediscovered" Speckled Red on December 14, 1954, who subsequently was signed to Delmark Records as their first blues artist. Several recordings were made in 1956 and 1957 for Tone, Delmark, Folkways, and Storyville record labels.