Texas Blues


ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Andy BoyEvil BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Andy BoyChurch Street BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Walter 'Cowboy' Washington & Andy BoyIce Pick MamaThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Andy BoyHouse Raid BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Big Boy KnoxBlue Man BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Big Boy KnoxEleven Light City BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937
Son Becky Mistreated Washboard BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Son Becky Midnight Trouble BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksJack of All Trades BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksFannie Mae BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksShake the ShackSan Antonio Blues 1937
Thunder SmithSanta Fe BluesLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Thunder SmithLow Down Dirty WaysLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Leroy Ervin Rock Island BluesTexas Blues: Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings
Lee HunterBack To Santa FeTexas Blues: Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings
Sonny Boy DavisI Don't Live Here No MoreTexas Country Blues 1948-1951
Dr. HepcatI CriedHouston Might Be Heaven V
Dr. HepcatHattie GreenDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953: Texas
Dr. HepcatBoogie WoogieGiants Of Texas Country Blues Piano
Whistlin Moore AlexSometimes I Feel Worried From North Dallas To The East Side
Whistlin Moore AlexIf I Lose You WomanModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Whistlin Moore AlexNeglected WomanModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Buster PickensSanta Fe TrainEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Buster PickensJim NappyEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Buster PickensShe Caught The L & NEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Robert ShawHere I Come With My Dirty, Dirty Duckings On Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Robert ShawGroceries On My Shelf (Piggly Wiggly) Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Robert ShawThe Ma Grinder Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Grey GhostNobody Knows You When You're Down And OutGrey Ghost (Catfish)
Grey GhostWay Out On The DesertGrey Ghost (Spindletop)

Show Notes:

Back when I started this show in 2007 one of the first programs I did was one devoted to the pre-war Texas piano tradition. My interest in this was sparked again recently when I was doing research and writing the notes for a reissue of pianist Buster Pickens long out-of-print album for the Document label (just reissued  as Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions).  Pickens was an active member of the  'Santa Fe group' of pianists, knew all players but unlike some of them did not get the opportunity to record until the post-war era. In our two-part feature on Texas piano I'll be spotlighting the tradition in more depth that I did the first time out, surveying both  pre-war and post-war artists.

Pinetop Burks: Jack Of All Trades BluesThe Texas piano tradition flowered in the 1920’s and was at its peak during the 1930’s when a number of the tradition’s best players were recorded. Paul Oliver observed that “Texas was as rich in piano blues as Mississippi was in guitar blues” and “a cursory glance through the discographies will emphasize the fact that a remarkable number of blues pianists came from Texas." The pianists can be roughly grouped into schools; there was the remarkable Thomas family who made the bulk of their recordings between 1923 and 1928, one based around Dallas which included Whistlin Alex Moore, a regional style that developed around Shreveport and the so-called 'Santa Fe group' who were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie. In our second installment we spotlight members of the powerful Santa Fe group as well as a number of pianists who recorded in the post-war era.

The  'Santa Fe group' were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie.“ Mack McCormick noted that the “itinerant pack of pianists who came to be known loosely as 'the Santa Fe group,' partly because they favored that railroad and partly because a stranger asking for the name of a selection was invariably told 'That's The Santa Fe.' …They were known as The Santa Fe after the railroad that straddle Fort Bend County with a big triangle just Southwest of Houston, providing access westward to the high plains, cotton country, east to the piney-woods lumbering camps and north (pretty much following the old Chisholm Trail) to a string of cities and watering places. ”Here”, Oliver notes “was where the music thrived and pianists could be found like Pinetop Burks, Son Becky, Rob Cooper, Black Boy Shine, Andy Boy, Big Boy Knox, Robert Shaw, Buster Pickens and the singers who worked with them like Walter 'Cowboy' Washington and Joe Pullum.” Others associated with the group were Victoria Spivey and Bernice Edwards.

1937 was an outstanding year for the Santa Fe group of pianists: Andy Boy recorded in February for Bluebird, Big Boy Knox recorded for Bluebird in March, Black Boy Shine recorded in June for Vocalion and Son Becky and Pinetop Burks recorded at a shared session for Vocalion in October. Among the best of the Santa Fe group were Andy Boy of Galveston and Rob Cooper of Houston. Andy Boy had a rough, expressive voice offset with his sprightly blues piano laced with ragtime flourishes. He waxed eight sides in 1937 under his own name as well as backing singer Joe Pullum on eleven sides in 1935 and the obscure Walter 'Cowboy' Washington.

Little is known of Big Boy Knox who recorded four sides in 1937. Son Becky and Pinetop Burks recorded at a shared session for Vocalion in October 1937. Becky's real name was Leon Calhoun born in Wharton, Texas in 1910. He's remembered playing along the Piney woods border with Louisiana. He's backed by an unknown guitarist and washboard player oh his six titles. Conish 'Pinetop' Burks was born near Richmond, Texas in 1907. He possessed a formidable technique as he displays on the six titles he cut for Vocalion in 1937.

Thunder Smith: Santa Fe BluesAfter World War II the Texas piano tradition virtually evaporated. Several, however, did record in the post-war era including Wilson “Thunder” Smith. Smith plays piano behind Lightnin' Hopkins on his first two sessions for Aladdin in 1946 and 1947 and Hopkins backed Smith on a four song session for Aladdin in 1946 with Smith cutting one session apiece in 1947 for Gold Star and in 1948 for Down Town. He was murdered in Houston in 1963. His “Santa Fe Blues” indicates ties to the Santa Fe group.

Bill Quinn, owner of the Houston based Gold Star label, recorded two piano players: Leroy Ervin in 1947 and Lee Hunter in 1948. Another pianist from the older generation was Sonny Boy Davis who recorded two sides for the Talent label in 1949 backed by guitarist Rattlesnake Cooper.

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

In part one of our spotlight on Texas piano we played a pair of pre-war number by Whistlin Alex Moore, the best known Dallas pianist. Moore's career spanned from 1929 until 1988, recording in every decade except the 1970's. He was rediscovered by Chris Strachwitz in 1960, recording an album for Arhoolie and making his way to Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival by the end of the decade. Back in 1951 in Dallas he cut a few titles for the RPM label including two of which we spin today.

As Paul Oliver wrote: "Buster Pickens is a barrelhouse pianist who has played the sawmills, the turpentine camps and the oil 'boom' towns since his childhood. He has outlasted most of his contemporaries in their tough an often dangerous life and can lay good claim to be virtually the last of the sawmill pianists. Pickens lone album, for Heritage, the self-titled Buster Pickens, was recorded over several sessions in 1960 and 1961 and released in 1962, later reissued in 1977 on the Flyright label as Back Door Blues and now appears on CD for the first time courtesy of Document Records. Liner notes for the new reissue were written by your truly.

Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
 Read Liner Notes

Robert Shaw was born in Stafford, Texas in 1908 and in his mid-teens started playing with members of the Santa Fe Group and greatly influenced by his friend Black Boy Shine. Shaw wasn't recorded until 1963 when he was tracked down by Mack McCormick.

Roosevelt Williams, better know as the Grey Ghost, was born in Bastrop, Texas in 1903. He outlived his contemporaries passing at the age of 92 in 1996. He traveled to the area dances and roadhouses by riding empty boxcars. He would seem to appear out of nowhere and then disappear immediately after performing, which earned him the nickname, "Grey Ghost. He wasn't properly documented until 1965 when he was recorded by Tary Owens. Those recordings saw daylight in the late 80's, reviving Williams' career. Owens arranged for Williams to make a CD of new recordings at the age of 89, Which was released in 1992.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Hersal ThomasHersal BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Sippie WallaceMurder's Gonna be My CrimeThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Hociel ThomasWorried Down With The BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
George Thomas Fast Stuff BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Moanin' Bernice EdwardsLong Tall Mama The Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Bernice Edwards, Black Boy Shine & Howling SmithHot Mattress Stomp The Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937
Bert Mays Michigan River Blues Down In Black Bottom
Bert Mays You Can't Come In Down In Black Bottom
Fred Adams & Bilikin Johnson Frisco BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 15: Dallas 1927-1929
Texas Bill Day & Bilikin JohnsonElm Street Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Texas Bill Day Good Morning Blues The Piano Blues Vol. 15: Dallas 1927-1929
Hattie HudsonDoggone My Good Luck Soul Dallas Alley Drag
Jack RangerTP Window Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Jack RangerThieving Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Bessie TuckerThe Katy Dallas Alley Drag
Bessie TuckerPenitentiaryI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Ida May MackElm Street BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 15: Dallas 1927-1929
Ida May MackGoodbye Rider Barrelhouse Mamas
Whistlin Moore AlexHeart Wrecked Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Whistlin Moore AlexBlue Bloomer Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Whistlin Moore AlexIce Pick Blues Dallas Alley Drag
Black Ivory KingThe Flying CrowBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Duskey DaileyThe Flying CrowThe Piano Blues Vol. 10: Territory Blues 1934-1941
Frank TannehillRolling Stone BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 10: Territory Blues 1934-1941
Black Boy Shine Dog House BluesBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Black Boy Shine Ice Pick And Pistol Woman BluesBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Black Boy Shine Brown House BluesBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Joe PullumCows, See That Train Comin'Joe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Joe PullumMcKinney Street StompJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Rob Cooper West Dallas DragThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Joe PullumHard-Working Man BluesJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Joe PullumDixie My HomeJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935

Show Notes:

Back when I started this show in 2007 one of the first programs I did was one devoted to the pre-war Texas piano tradition. My interest in this was sparked again recently when I was doing research and writing the notes for a reissue of pianist Buster Pickens long out-of-print album for the Document label (just reissued  as Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions).  Pickens was an active member of the  'Santa Fe group' of pianists, knew all players but unlike some of them did not get the opportunity to record until the post-war era. In our two-part feature on Texas piano I'll be spotlighting the tradition in more depth that I did the first time out, surveying both  pre-war and post-war artists.

Hersal Thomas
Hersal Thomas

The Texas piano tradition flowered in the 1920’s and was at its peak during the 1930’s when a number of the tradition’s best players were recorded. Paul Oliver observed that “Texas was as rich in piano blues as Mississippi was in guitar blues” and “a cursory glance through the discographies will emphasize the fact that a remarkable number of blues pianists came from Texas." The pianists can be roughly grouped into schools; there was the remarkable Thomas family who made the bulk of their recordings between 1923 and 1928, one based around Dallas which included Whistlin Alex Moore, a regional style that developed around Shreveport and the so-called 'Santa Fe group' who were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie. Today’s show is part one of a two-part feature, spotlighting recordings made between 1925 and 1941.

As piano expert Francis Smith noted: “With the two major recording centers of New York and Chicago a thousand miles to the North, it was extremely fortunate that so many pianists of this important close knit Texas group were recorded—all three record companies of the time being involved.” The three companies were Columbia, Victor and Vocalion in addition to Bluebird and Okeh. These companies, either singularly or in various combinations, made field trips to Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio between 1927 and 1941.

The early Texas piano tradition was based around the remarkable Thomas family who made the bulk of their recordings between 1923 and 1928. The music sounds quite different from those who recorded in the 30's. As David Evans states: “It is likely that no family has contributed more personalities to blues history than the Thomas family of Houston, Texas, whose famous members included George W. Thomas, his sister Beulah “Sippie” Wallace, their brother Hersal Thomas, George’s daughter Hociel Thomas, and Moanin’ Bernice Edwards who was raised up in the family.”

Hersal, is described by Francis Smith: "That Hersal, the child prodigy, was a highly influential pianist among his peers there is no doubt; even though he left Houston in his very early 'teens he had established a reputation there which remains still in the folk memory."Hersal was busy between 1925 & 1926 cutting a dozen titles with Hociel, fifteen with Sippie and backing singers Lillian Mller and Sodarisa Miller. Hersal died tragically at the age of 16 in 1926 of food poisoning.

Hersal's older brother George also left behind a slim legacy; a few jazz titles with his Muscle Shoals Devils, some sides backing singer Tiny Franklin, a recording of "The Rocks" made in 1922 under the name Clay Custer and the coupling ""Don't Kill Him In Here" from 1929 and our selection “Fast Stuff Blues."

Moanin' Bernice Edwards possessed a beautiful, deep, lowdown voice and piano style  that fell within the Santa Fe school of pianists. Edwards waxed twelve sides for Paramount in 1928 and six more for Vocalion in 1935.

Whistlin  Alex Moore: West Texas WomanDallas was the home of a number of distinctive piano players and singers they accompanied. Among them were Texas Bill Day, Neal Roberts, Willie Tyson, Whistlin' Alex Moore and singer Billiken Johnson. The hub of the black community was an area known as Central Tracks, where honky-tonks 'saloons, beer-parlours and brothels were wedged between warehouses, furniture stores and places of entertainment like Ella B. Moore's Park Theatre, or Hattie Burleson's dance hall. In addition many railroads whose names are familiar to blues collectors had termini there. It's not surprising that the railroad figure prominently in the blues of Dallas.

Not much is known about several of the Dallas pianists. Pianist/singer Texas Bill Day cut six sides for Columbia. Tyson cut two solo piano numbers for Columbia in 1927 which went unissued. The next day he backed singer Hattie Hudson on “Black Hand Blues” and the classic “Doggone My Good Luck Soul.” Tyson also backed Gertrude Perkins, Bilikin Johnson and Lillian Glinn. Jack Ranger cut three songs for Okeh in Dallas in 1929. it's unknown if he accompanies himself on piano but he was a sensitive singer and songwriter.

Pianist K.D. Johnson became famous backing the outstanding Texas singers Bessie Tucker and Ida May Mack. Johnson backs them on their legendary session for Victor on August 29th and 30th 1928 in Memphis. He was remembered as '49' by Alex Moore and not only did Mack call him 'Mr. 49' during his solos, she even named a song after him called "Mr. Forty-Nine Blues."

The most famous of the Dallas pianists was Alex Moore. Of Moore, Paul Oliver wrote: "He is a true original, a folk blues singer of the city who can sit at the piano improvise endlessly piano themes and blues verses that are sometimes startling, sometimes comic, sometimes grim, and very often pure poetry." Moore began performing in the early '20s, playing clubs and parties around his hometown of Dallas. In 1929, he recorded his first sessions for Columbia Records and also accompanied several artists on record. Moore didn't record again until 1937, when he made a few records for Decca.

Around Shreveport another regional style flourished. Among the pianists who recorded from this region were Dave Alexander who recorded as Black Ivory King and Duskey Dailey. Both recorded in 1937 with Dailey cutting an additional session in 1939. Both men cut version of a regional railroad number called “The Flying Crow.”

Two pianists who fall outside the Texas piano schools are Bert Mays and Frank Tannehill. Mays recorded four titles for Paramount in Chicago in 1927. He cut a final ten sides in 1928 and 1929 for Vocalion although only two were released. Tannehill was born in Austin and made his debut backing Perry Dickson in 1932. Under his own name he recorded for Vocalion in Chicago in 1937, in 1938 for Bluebird in San Antonio and a final session in Dallas in 1941.

Joe Pullum: Dixie Is My HomeIn part two of our feature we'll be going more in depth into the recordings of the Santa Fe group but we do feature a number of songs today by men associated with that group. ARC Records made field recordings in 1936 in San Antonio where they recorded Harold Holiday, known as Black Boy Shine. He was one of the acknowledged leaders among the Santa Fe group of pianists. He recorded more prolifically then the rest; cutting 18 issued sides in 1936 and 1937.

Among the best of the Santa Fe group were Andy Boy of Galveston and Rob Cooper of Houston. Andy Boy had a rough, expressive voice offset with his sprightly blues piano laced with ragtime flourishes. He waxed eight sides in 1937 under his own name as well as backing singer Joe Pullum on eleven sides in 1935 and the obscure Walter 'Cowboy' Washington.

Rob Cooper was an accomplished pianist with strong links to ragtime and stride piano. He also recorded behind the popular singer Joe Pullum on three sessions in 1934, 1935 and 1936. He recorded two version of “West Dallas Drag”, his version of the seminal, technically complex Santa Fe number “The Ma Grinder.”

 

 

 

 

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 Document video for the release of
Edwin Buster Pickens – The 1959 to 1961 Sessions

 

I've been collaborating with Document Records since 2005 when they asked me to write the notes for the Robert Nighthawk collection Prowling With The Nighthawk. The next project was the series that grew into the three double disc sets of Blues, Blues Christmas. For years I had being doing an annual Christmas program on my blues show and pitched the idea of a vintage collection of blues and gospel Christmas songs to Document. This year Document issued the third volume of Blues, Blues Christmas, the most wide-ranging collection yet, jumping genres from blues, gospel, jazz, rock, doo-wop and country. Another idea I brought to Document was to resurrect some great long out-of-print blues records. One of the first records that came to mind was pianist Buster Pickens' lone album for Heritage (HLP 1008), the self-titled Buster Pickens, which was recorded over several sessions between 1960 and 1961 and released in 1962, subsequently reissued in 1977 on the Flyright label as Back Door Blues and now appears on CD first time as Edwin Buster Pickens – The 1959 to 1961 Sessions.

Texas Piano Part 1 Texas Piano Part 2

 

A couple weeks back I got a call from Gillian from Document asking me if I was interested in putting together some podcasts. With the release of the Buster Pickens and the Christmas CD we decided to do a couple revolving around the rich Texas piano tradition and one devoted to Christmas tunes. You can hear these on the new Document podcast page. While you're there check out the great podcasts on James Booker and Christmas songs from Edison Records.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Blind Lemon JeffersonOne Dime Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonMatchbox Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonRambler BluesThe Best Of
Down Home Boys (Papa Harvey Hull & Long "Cleve" Reed)Mama You Don't Know HowNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Big Joe WilliamsPeach Orchard Mama Big Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Blind Willie McTellLast Dime BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonSee That My Grave Is Kept CleanThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonBed Spring BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonPrison Cell Blues Mean & Evil Blues
Lightnin' Hopkins Reminiscences Of Blind LemonLightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian Folkways]
Lightnin' Hopkins One Kind FavorAll The Classics 1946-1951
Son HouseCounty Farm BluesBlues Images Vol. 4
Blind Lemon Jefferson Shuckin' Sugar BluesThe Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon Jefferson Corinna Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Rabbit Foot Blues If It Ain't One Thing, It'Rabbit Foot Blues
Ramblin' ThomasNo Baby BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Blind Boy Fuller Untrue BluesBlind Boy Fuller Remastered 1935-1938
Blind Lemon Jefferson Got The Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Long Lonesome Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Hot Dogs The Best Of
Leadbelly Blind Lemon (Song)Leadbelly Vol. 6 1947
Leadbelly Silver City Bound Leadbelly's Last Sessions
Blind Lemon JeffersonBad Luck Blues The Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlack Horse Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson That Crawlin' Baby Blues The Best Of
Hattie Hudson Doggone My Good Luck Soul Dallas Alley Drag
Thomas Shaw Jack Of Diamonds San Diego Blues Jam
Mance LipscombEasy Rider BluesCaptain, Captain: The Texas Songster
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlind Lemon's Penitentiary Blues The Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlack Snake Moan Great Blues Guitarists: String Dazzlers
Pete HarrisBlind Lemon's SongTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Rev. Emmett Dickenson The Death Of Blind LemonBlues Images Vol. 6
King Solomon Hill My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon Blues Images Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Today we spotlight Blind Lemon Jefferson and the enormous influence he had on his contemporaries and countless blues artist over the ensuing decades. Although he was not the first male country blues singer/guitarist to record, Blind Lemon Jefferson was the first to succeed commercially and his success influenced previously reluctant record companies to actively seek out and record male country blues players in the hope of finding a similar talent. Throughout the ’20s Lemon spearheaded a boom in ‘race’ record sales that featured male down-home blues singers and such was the appeal of his recordings that in turn they were responsible for inspiring a whole new generation of blues singers. Researcher Bruce Bastin, known for his extensive research in the Piedmont region, said of Jefferson… “…there can have been few nascent bluesmen outside Texas, let alone within the state, who had never heard his music. Among interviewed East Coast bluesmen active during Blind Lemon’s recording career, almost all recall him as one of the first bluesmen they heard on record.” Today we spotlight some of Lemon's best numbers as well as a those artists he inspired. Lemon's influence cast a long shadow among both black and white artists and today's show is in no way comprehensive but does give a snapshot of just how big Lemon's impact was.

Jefferson was born in September 1893. By 1912, he was working over a wide area of Texas, including East Dallas, Silver City, Galveston, and Waco. Jefferson was still a teenager when he moved into Dallas. The black community in Dallas were settled in an area covering approximately six blocks around Central Avenue up to Elm Street, the center of which was Deep Ellum, a bustling thoroughfare full of bars, clubs and brothels. Mance Lipscomb saw Jefferson playing there as early as 1917. Although Jefferson’s reputation was originally made as a singer of sacred songs, the percentage of blues in his repertoire greatly increased as the years progressed. In 1925 Jefferson was discovered by a Paramount recording scout and taken to Chicago to make his first records either in December 1925 or January 1926. Jefferson's first session produced "I Want To Be Like Jesus In My Heart" b/w "All I Want Is That Pure Religion" using the name Deacon L.J. Bates. It was the second session, however, that made Jefferson a star. He recorded four songs at that session: “Booster Blues” b/w “Dry Southern Blues’, came out in or around March 1926. "Got The Blues" b/w "Long Lonesome Blues" hadn't been on sale long in the spring of 1926 when Paramount asked him to record it again because of the huge demand for the record. This was unheard of for a male blues artist. Prior to Jefferson the blues had been recorded primarily by women backed by piano or bands

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Rambler Blues
Click to Enlarge

Tony Russell describes Jefferson's impact: "Jefferson offered instead blues sung by a man playing guitar – playing it, moreover, with a busyness and variety that showed up many of those pianists and bands as turgid and ordinary. The discovery that there was an audience for Jefferson's type of blues revolutionized the music business: within a few years female singers were out of favor and virtually all the trading in the 'race' market (jazz aside) was in men with guitars." Throughout 1926 there was a constant supply of new releases from Jefferson, "Black Horse Blues", "Jack O’ Diamond Blues" and "That Black Snake Moan" were among these classic numbers.

In 1927, when producer Mayo Williams moved to OKeh Records, he took Jefferson with him, and OKeh quickly recorded and released Jefferson's "Matchbox Blues" backed with "Black Snake Moan," which was to be his only OKeh recording, probably because of contractual obligations with Paramount. Jefferson's two songs released on Okeh have considerably better sound quality than on his Paramount records at the time. When he had returned to Paramount a few months later, "Matchbox Blues" had already become such a hit that Paramount re-recorded and released two new versions. In 1927, Jefferson recorded another of his now classic songs, the haunting "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (once again using the pseudonym Deacon L. J. Bates) along with two other uncharacteristically spiritual songs, "He Arose from the Dead" and "Where Shall I Be." Of the three, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" became such a big hit that it was re-recorded and re-released in 1928. Despite his success, which allowed him to maintain a chauffeur-driven Ford and a healthy bank balance, Jefferson’s lifestyle was little affected. While he spent time in Chicago, where most of his recordings were made, he continued to work as an itinerant performer in the South.

In addition to his frequent recording sessions in Chicago throughout the late '20s, Blind Lemon Jefferson still performed in Texas and traveled around the South. He played Chicago rent parties, performed at St. Louis' Booker T. Washington Theater, and even worked some with Son House collaborator Rev. Rubin Lacy while in Mississippi. In late September of 1929, Jefferson went to Paramount's studios in Richmond, IN, for a fruitful session that included two songs,"Bed Springs Blues" and "Yo Yo Blues", that were also issued on the Broadway label. Jefferson was back in Chicago in December of 1929 when, sadly, he was found dead following a particularly cold snowstorm.

Blind Lemon Jefferson: 'Lectric Chair Blues
Click to Enlarge

Jefferson died in Chicago at 10 am on December 19, 1929, of what his death certificate called "probably acute myocarditis" (Lemon's death certificate was found in 2010 and published in the Frog Blues and Jazz Annual #1). Paramount Records paid for the return of his body to Texas by train, accompanied by pianist William Ezell. Jefferson was buried at Wortham Negro Cemetery (later Wortham Black Cemetery). By 1996, the cemetery and marker were in poor condition, but a new granite headstone was erected in 1997. In 2007, the cemetery's name was changed to Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery and his gravesite is kept clean by a cemetery committee in Wortham, Texas.

Several blues singer/guitarists like Thomas Shaw and Mance Lipscomb thought Jefferson’s style almost impossible to imitate with any degree of success. But there were a few recordings made in the pre-war period that managed to do so, notably Issiah Nettles (The Mississippi Moaner), who covered Lemon’s "Long Lonesome Blues" as "It’s Cold In China Blues". Willard ‘Ramblin’ Thomas (probably a one time associate of Jefferson) had a number of songs in the the vein of Lemon. Jesse Thomas' 1948 number, "Double Due Love You" opens with lyrics also taken from the Blind Lemon' "Long Lonesome Blues." Thomas also recorded Lemon's "Jack of Diamonds" in 1951.

We feature several artists today who either covered Lemon's songs or who's records clearly bear the mark of Lemon's influence.  The Down Home Boys recording of "Mama, You Don't Know How", from 1927, has Long Cleve Reed, Papa Harvey Hull and Sunny Wilson re-working Lemon's "Black Snake Moan". Blind Boy Fuller was influenced by Lemon. The opening lick to his intro to "Untrue Blues" comes right out of "Rabbit's Foot Blues” while "Meat Shakin' Woman", derives its melody from "Bad Luck Blues". According to Son House’s recollection of his 1930 Paramount session, producer Art Laibley had asked the musicians if anyone could do a version of the song. Charlie Patton and Willie Brown passed but House went back to his room with Louise Johnson, worked half the night adding his own words to Lemon's melody, and the next day recorded "Mississippi County Farm." The song became a mainstay of House's repertoire, and he recorded it again for Alan Lomax in 1942. Hattie Hudson's 1927 song, "Doggone My Bad Luck Soul" was an "answer song" to Lemon's "Bad Luck Blues" issued in 1926, and has the repeated tag-line "doggone my bad luck soul."

Today we spotlight several artists who knew Lemon first hand such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Leadbelly, Thomas Shaw and King Solomon Hill. Lightnin' Hopkins offered different account of when he met Blind Lemon but it seems to have been sometime in the early to mid-20's. From 1959 we hear "Reminiscences Of Blind Lemon" and "One Kind Favor, his cover of Lemon's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean."

It was on the streets of Deep Ellum that Lemon met up with Leadbelly. Leadbelly, in later years, was understandably proud of his relationship with Lemon. They probably met up sometime after 1910, when Leadbelly and his wife Aletta moved into Dallas. Leadbelly would play guitar, mandolin or accordion behind Lemon and he remembered topically performing the number "Fare Thee Well, Titanic" (the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912) on the streets of Dallas with Jefferson and on other occasions, dancing while Lemon would play a guitar solo version of "Dallas Rag". As a team they traveled together on the railroads from town to town earning a reasonable living. In later years Leadbelly would recall how he and Lemon “was buddies” and how.. “we’d tear those guitars all to pieces”. Their partnership certainly ended by January 1918, when Leadbelly (using the alias Walter Boyd) was indicted on a charge of murder, found guilty and thereafter became a guest of the Texas penal system.

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Cannon Ball Moan
Click to Enlarge

Thomas Shaw had already been enthralled by Jefferson's early recordings of “Long Lonesome Blues” and “Matchbox Blues” when he met Jefferson on the town square of Waco in 1926 or 1927. At Blind Jefferson's urging he bought himself a guitar and learned Jefferson's “Long Lonesome Blues”. He learned many of Jefferson's songs from a combination of listening to the records and hearing him in person. Today we play his version of Lemon's classic "Jack Of Diamonds."

King Solomon Hill was closely connected to Crying Sam Collins and Blind Lemon Jefferson and their influence is evident, to some degree, in Hill's style. "My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon"is a heartfelt tribute to someone Hill clearly admired: "Hmmm then the mailman brought a misery to my head/When I received a letter that my friend Lemon was dead." Those lines echo the opening of Lemon's “Gone Dead On You Blues”: Mmmmmm, mailman's letter brought misery to my head. Mmmmm, brought misery to my head. I got a letter this morning, my pigmeat mama was dead.” Hill ran with Lemon for about two months after he passed through Minden. Hill's widow recalled that "he sung that song a whole lot 'bout Blind Lemon. Said he loved his buddy 'some way better than anyone I know.'" On one record, “Whoope Blues” b/w Down On My Bended Knees” the subtitle on the record says “Blind Lemon's Buddy.”

In 1930 , shortly after Lemon's death, Paramount issued a double sided tribute to Lemon: “Wasn't It Sad About Lemon” by the duo Walter and Byrd was on one side while the second side was the sermon “The Death Of Blind Lemon” by Rev. Emmett Dickenson. Leadbelly recorded a number of songs about Lemon after his passing. Today we spin his "Blind Lemon (Song)" from 1947 and the marvelous "Silver City Bound" from his last session in 1948.

-A Twist of Lemon by Paul Swinton  (Blues & Rhythm, No. 121)

-Blind Lemon And I Had A Ball by Victoria Spivey  (Record Research 76, May 1966 p.9)

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Pee Wee Crayton Central AvenueThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Louella BrownThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Texas HopThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Big Mama Thornton Cotton Picking Blues1950-1953
Big Mama Thornton Let Your Tears Fall Baby1950-1953
Big Mama Thornton They Call Me Big Mama1950-1953
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Motor Head Baby1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Half Pint of Whiskey1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson What's Goin' On1952-1955
Pee Wee Crayton Blues After HoursThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Change Your Way of Lovin'The Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Rockin' The BluesThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Big Mama Thornton Walking Blues1952-1955
Big Mama Thornton Hard Times1952-1955
Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson I Love to Love You 1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Hot Little Mama1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Too Tired1952-1955
Pee Wee Crayton The Telephone Is RingingTaste of the Blues, Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton When It Rain It PoursComplete Aladdin & Imperial Recordings
Big Mama Thornton Willie Mae's Blues1950-1953
Big Mama Thornton I Smell A RatHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama Thornton Rockaby BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Someone Cares for Me Hot Just Like TNT
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Don't Touch Me (I'm Gonna Hit the Highway)Hot Just Like TNT
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Those Lonely, Lonely NightsHot Just Like TNT
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Three Hours Past MidnightHot Just Like TNT
Big Mama Thornton Stop A-Hoppin' on Me Hound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Pee Wee Crayton Do Unto OthersComplete Aladdin & Imperial Recordings
Johnny "Guitar" Watson One Room Country ShackThe Original Gangster of Love: The Keen Records Sessions
Pee Wee Crayton Runnin' WildComplete Aladdin & Imperial Recordings
Big Mama Thornton Yes, BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Gangster of LoveThe Original Gangster of Love: The Keen Records Sessions
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Looking BackThe Original Gangster of Love: The Keen Records Sessions

Show Notes:

Pee Wee Crayton
Pee Wee Crayton

Today's show is the third of a series spotlighting some fine West Coast artists that I wanted to feature in more depth, the bulk form Texas and California, who cut sides for the myriad labels that popped up in the immediate port-war era. In California the blues thrived around around the Los Angeles, Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco Bay areas. Many of the artists were transplanted Texans who had come to California during the war year to find jobs in the booming defense industry in the Oakland-San Francisco Bay area. Connie Crayton was a transplanted Texan who relocated to Los Angeles in 1935, later moving north to the Bay Area. He signed with the Bihari brothers' L.A.-based Modern logo in 1948, and continued through the 50's cutting fine sides for Imperial and Vee-Jay. Big Mama Thornton was born in Alabama, spent several years singing with Sammy Green's Georgia-based Hot Harlem Revue before relocating to Houston in 1948. In Houston she recorded for the locally based Peacock label through the end of the 50's before settling in San Francisco. Johnny Watson was born in Houston and started playing the jule joints as a teenager, performing as a vocalist, pianist, and guitarist . He moved to Los Angeles around 1950 where he made his debut for Federal in 1952.

Connie Crayton was a transplanted Texan who relocated to Los Angeles in 1935, later moving north to the Bay Area. Crayton told interviewer John Breckow, "We got to be real good friends", speaking of T-Bone Walker. According to another Pee Wee interview, T-Bone "showed me how to string up the guitar to get the blues sound out of it. T-Bone was gonna try to help me learn how to play. My timing was real bad. T-Bone helped me with my timing. He would play the piano or the bass and show me how to play in time." The two went on to stage friendly battles, and when T-Bone's health problems interfered with his gigs late in life, Crayton was on call to fill in whenever he was available. Pee Wee was also influenced by Charlie Christian who he saw perform in 1941 and John Collins who worked with the Nat King Cole Trio. In 1946 he joined Ivory Joe Hunter’s band and appeared on a half-dozen recordings issued on the Pacific label.

Crayton signed with the Bihari brothers' L.A.-based Modern logo in 1948, quickly hit with the instrumental "Blues After Hours" , which topped the R&B charts in late 1948. "Texas Hop" trailed it up the charts shortly thereafter, followed the next year by "I Love You So." But Crayton's brief hitmaking reign was over soon over. After recording prolifically at Modern to no further commercial avail, Crayton moved on to Aladdin and, in 1954, Imperial. Under Dave Bartholomew's production, Crayton made some of his great waxings in New Orleans: "Every Dog Has His Day," "You Know Yeah," and "Runnin' Wild” among others.

In 1957 he hooked up with Vee-Jay in Chicago cutting some find sides, including one of his best, "The Telephone Is Ringing." The next decade brought Pee Wee his least glorious musical period as he mostly drove a truck and played locally. A fine LP he recorded didn't even credit him, appearing under the name of The Sunset Blues Band. Johnny Otis showcased Pee Wee in a memorable program at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival (issued on Epic), leading to a comeback LP on Vanguard (The Things I Used To Do), and Otis later recorded an LP by Pee Wee for his Blues Spectrum label. Pee Wee continued to record sporadically and added some prestigious festivals and international tours to his resume. Pee Wee's last two albums were recorded in Riverside, California for Murray Brothers, at the instigation of the label's A & R man, blues harpist Rod Piazza. Pee Wee passed in 1985.

Big Mama Thornton was born in Ariton, Alabama and her introduction to music started in a Baptist church, where her father was a minister and her mother a church singer. Thornton left Alabama at age 14 in 1941, following her mother's death. She joined Sammy Green's Hot Harlem Revue. She spent seven years with them in which she toured the South. In 1948, she settled in Houston, Texas, where she hoped to further her career as a singer She was also a self-taught drummer and harmonica player, and frequently played each instrument onstage. Thornton began her

Big Mama Thornton: I Smell  A Ratrecording career in Houston, signing a recording contract with Peacock Records in 1951.

While working with another Peacock artist, Johnny Otis, she recorded "Hound Dog," written by young songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as requested by Johnny Otis. The record was produced by Johnny Otis, and went to number one on the R&B chart. Although the record made her a star, she saw little of the profits. She continued to record for Peacock until 1957 and performed with R&B package tours with Junior Parker and Esther Phillips.

Her career began to fade in the late 1950's and early 1960's. She left Houston and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she mostly played local blues clubs. In the arly-'60s she cut 45s for West Coast labels like Irma, Bay-Tone, Kent, and Sotoplay. In 1966, Thornton recorded Big Mama Thornton With The Muddy Waters Blues Band and in 1968 the album Ball 'n' Chain. Thornton performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966 and 1968, and at the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1979. In 1965 she performed with the American Folk Blues Festival package in Europe. While in England that year, she recorded Big Mama Thornton in Europe and followed it up the next year in San Francisco with Big Mama Thornton with the Chicago Blues Band. Both albums came out on the Arhoolie label. She record through the 70’s, most notably for Vanguard, before passing in 1984. The funeral was led by her old friend, now Reverend Johnny Otis, and many artists paid tribute.

Johnny Watson was born in Houston on February 3, 1935. His father was a pianist who instructed his son in the rudiments of music, and at age 11 Watson was given a guitar by his grandfather, a preacher who disapproved of the blues and made the gift conditional on his never playing that most secular of musical forms. But "that was the first thing I played," Watson recalled in an interview. As a youth, Watson had heard the blues guitar of fellow Texan T- Bone Walker. He was also influenced by guitarist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Moving with his family to Los Angeles around 1950 and entered and won a variety of talent contests and shows. This exposure led to work as a sideman (sometimes still on piano) in various West Coast jump blues and jazz bands of the time, including those led by Chuck Higgins and Amos Milburn. Watson debuted on the Federal label in 1953, billed as "Young John Watson", cutting three sessions for the label through 1954.

After his session for the Federal label he hooked up with RPM, a subsidiary of Modern, cutting several sessions for the label through 1956. He scored his first hit in 1955 for RPM with a note-perfect cover of New Orleanian Earl King's two-chord swamp ballad "Those Lonely Lonely Nights." One day, Watson and company co-owner Joe Bihari went to see the 1954 Sterling Hayden film "Johnny Guitar," and Watson acquired the nickname that would stick with him for his entire performing career.Johnny Watson was born in Houston on February 3, 1935. His father was a pianist who instructed his son in the rudiments of music, and at age 11 Watson was given a guitar by his grandfather, a preacher who disapproved of the blues and made the gift conditional on his never playing that most secular of musical forms. But "that was the first thing I played," Watson recalled in an interview. As a youth, Watson had heard the blues guitar of fellow Texan T- Bone Walker. He was also influenced by guitarist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Moving with his family to Los Angeles around 1950 and entered and won a variety of talent contests and shows. This exposure led to work as a sideman (sometimes still on piano) in various West Coast jump blues and jazz bands of the time, including those led by Chuck Higgins and Amos Milburn. Watson debuted on the Federal label in 1953, billed as "Young John Watson", cutting three sessions for the label through 1954.

Those Lonely Lonely NightsWatson toured with such luminaries as Little Richard and acquired a reputation for exciting stage theatrics. "I used to play the guitar standing on my hands," he recalled in an interview. "I had a 1 50-foot cord and I could get on top of the auditorium–those things Jimi Hendrix was doing, I started that." During this period he also began to style himself as the "Gangster of Love," after the title of a 1957 single Watson cut for the Keen label. Watson scored a number six rhythm-and-blues hit with "Cuttin' In" on the King label in 1962. During the 1960s he also teamed frequently with vocalist Larry Williams, with whom he toured successfully in Britain as well as in the U.S. and recorded the much-covered "Mercy Mercy Mercy" in 1967.

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