Texas Blues

Leroy DallasI'm Down Now But I Won't Be Down Always Ralph Willis & Leroy Dallas Vol. 2
Leroy DallasI’m Going Away Ralph Willis & Leroy Dallas Vol. 2
Lil' Son Jackson Gambling Blues Down Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
Smokey Hogg You Won't Stay HomeGood Morning Little School Girl
Brownie McGee & Sonny Terry My Bulldog Blues Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee 1938-48
Curley Weaver Some Rainy Day Blind Willie McTell & Curley Weaver: The Post War Years
Curley Weaver TrixieBlind Willie McTell & Curley Weaver: The Post War Years
Johnny Beck Locked In Jail Blues Rural Blues Vol. 1 1934-1956
Johnny Beck You've Gotta Lay Down Mama Rural Blues Vol. 1 1934-1956
Peppermint Harris Rainin' In My Heart Sittin' In With
Peppermint Harris My Blues Have Rolled Away Sittin' In With
Lightnin' Hopkins You Caused My Heart To Weep All The Classic Sides 1946-1951
Lightnin' HopkinsNew York Boogie All The Classic Sides 1946-1951
Ray Charles I Found My Baby Ray Charles Collection Vol. 2
Clarence Jolly Baby Take A Look At MeHot Fish! - Downhome Rhythm and Blues 1951-1955
Arbee Stidham Bad Dream BluesArbee Stidham Vol. 2 1951-1957
Jesse James Forgive Me Blues Down Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
The Sugarman Which Woman Do I LoveTexas Down Home Blues 1948-1952
Sam "Suitcase" Johnson Sam's BoogieRural Blues Vol. 2 1951-1962
L.C. Williams The Lazy J Lightnin' Special
L.C. Williams Fannie MaeLightnin' Special
James Wayne Junco PartnerTravelin' From Texas To New Orleans
James Wayne Travelin' From Texas To New OrleansTravelin' From Texas To New Orleans
Bob Gaddy Blues Has Walked In My Room Bicycle Boogie
Elmore NixonI Went To See A Gypsy Texas Blues Vol. 2 - Rock Awhile
James "Widemouth"” Brown Boogie Woogie Nighthawk Boogie Uproar - Texas Blues & R&B 1947-54
Brownie McGhee & His Jook Block Busters A Letter To Lightnin' Key To The Highway
Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry Pawnshop Blues Key To The Highway
Brownie McGhee & His Jook Block Busters Meet You In The Morning Key To The Highway
Brownie McGhee & His Jook Block Busters Worryin’ Over You Key To The Highway
James "Widemouth" Brown Boogie Woogie Nighthawk Boogie Uproar - Texas Blues & R&B 1947-54
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee Ease My Worried Mind Key To The Highway
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee Key To The Highway Key To The Highway
Sonny Terry Dangerous Woman (with a .45 in her hand) Sittin' In With Harlem Jade & Jax Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Today's program spotlights the New York based Sittin' In With label which, despite its short life, issued some terrific blues recordings. The label was founded by Morty and Bob Shad in New York City in 1948. The label specialized in Southern blues and R&B, which was a departure from most Eastern labels up to that time. In fact a quite a number of the label's artists were based out of Houston. Competition among independent record labels in Houston was intense with local labels like  Macy’s, Freedom, and Peacock all vying for talent. As for Shad's connection to Houston, author Roger Wood related the following to me: "As for Bob Shad, all I know (mainly from the late Teddy Reynolds) is that he came to Houston and recorded a bunch of folks over the course of about a year or so, then disappeared.  Teddy said that he rented an old house in one of the wards and used it to audition (and sometimes recorded there) the talent he discovered."

More information on Shad's activities can be gleaned in an interview he did with author Arnold Shaw in his seminal Honkers And Shouters: "Started my own label after I left National; it was called Sittin' In With. And I did all the early Charlie Venturas, Stan Getz, Wardell Gray. It was strictly jazz at the beginning-Gerry Mulligan, Buddy Stewart, Benny Green. But ther was no money in jazz. Used to sell seven to eight thousand. That's when the blues thing hit me and I bought a Magnecord, which was probably the first portable tape recorder. Went down South and did a lot of recording with Peppermint Harris, Lightnin' Hopkins, Smokey Hogg. Recorded in Texas, mostly Houston. But I did some up in Tyler; also Shreveport, Louisiana. The big problem with on-location recording was finding a piano that was in tune. I would go to the black quarter of town and ask the disk jockeys. I would tie up one musician and find a blue singer. One bluesman would tell you about another-it's a whole family-everybody sings blues. I did Curley Weaver, Big bill Broonzy, Memphis Slim, Mel Walker with the Johnny Otis Band, Little Esther."

Bob Shad was an outstanding jazz producer, but also supervised several major blues, pop, rock and R&B dates. Shad started his production career with Savoy in the '40s, producing jazz sessions for Charlie Parker and blues and R&B albums for National. The labels earliest recordings were primarily jazz, featuring artists such as Chu Berry, Charlie Ventura and Stan Getz before cutting a blues recording by Brownie McGhee. After that release the label's catalog mixed blues, vocal group  and jazz before blues became the label's dominant sound. Soon Shad was issuing records by Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Smokey Hogg, Peppermint Harris, Bob Gaddy,  Curley Weaver, Elmore Nixon, Teddy Reynolds, James Wayne and Arbee Stidham among others. In 1951 Shad sold the label to Mercury although it appears releases on Sittin’ In With were released through 1953. Jade and Jax were subsidiary labels operated by Shad during the course of  Sittin’ In With. After Sittin' In folded, Morty Shad continued the Jax label and later formed the Harlem label in 1953. Bob Shad went to Mercury Records in 1951 and in the spring of 1953 joined Decca. When Shad left Mercury in the 1960’s he founded Mainstream Records which, in addition to new material, recycled some of the Sittin' In With recordings. Today's program runs roughly chronologically and below you'll find some background on today's featured artists.

Leroy Dallas was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1920 and moved to Memphis in 1924. Along his travels he played washboard behind Brownie McGhee and formed a band with James McMillan playing the streets and juke joints of Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee. McMillan taught Dallas guitar and the two went on to tour the southern states working with  Frank Edwards who made recordings in1949 and Georgia Slim  who made records in 1937. By 1943 Dallas settled in Brooklyn New York. He made his first records for Sittin’ In With in 1949 consisting of six songs. He was accompanied by Brownie McGhee who was instrumental in setting up the session. Dallas was rediscovered by blues researcher Pete Welding and made a few recordings in the 60’s. Dallas gives a moving performance on "I'm Down Now But I Won't Be Down Always" an picks up the pace on the rocking boogie "I'm Going Away."

The two songs by Lil' Son Jackson, "Gambling Blues b/w Homeless Blues",  were issued on Sittin' In With but originally came out on Houston’s Gold Star label. In 1948 Jackson became one of many blues singers to record for Gold Star. In 1946, Jackson shipped off a demo to Bill Quinn, who owned Houston based Gold Star Records. Jackson scored a national R&B hit, “Freedom Train Blues,” in 1948. It would prove Jackson’s only national hit, although his 1950-1954 output for Imperial Records must have sold consistently, judging from how many sides the L.A. firm issued.

Smokey Hogg was a down-home bluesman who scored a pair of major R&B hits in 1948 and 1950 (“Long Tall Mama” and “Little School Girl”) and cut prolifically for a slew of labels including Exclusive, Modern, Bullet, Macy’s, Sittin’ in With, Imperial, Mercury, Specialty, Fidelity, Combo, Federal, and Showtime). Smokey’s cousin John Hogg also played the blues, waxing six sides in 1951.

According to David Evans: "Around the end of 1949, or more likely early in 1950, Curley Weaver recorded four songs for the Sittin' In With label. It's not certain whether there were one or two sessions and whether the recordings were made in Atlanta or New York. Two tracks were not released until 1952 and may actually have been recorded that year."  Weaver and McTell also cut a batch of records made in Atlanta for Regal Records in May 1950.

After first moving to Houston in 1943, Peppermint Harris started to play blues professionally in 1947, at such venues as the Eldorado Ballroom. It was his friend Lightnin' Hopkins who go him the opportunity to record for Gold Star circa 1947/48. A subsequent session in 1949 or 1950 for the Sittin' In With label produced his, and the label's, first hit record, the song "Rainin' in My Heart" which is one of two numbers featured today. He cut some two-dozen sides for the label. He went on to record for over a dozen labels through the 60's including Aladdin, Money, Dart, Duke, and Jewel.

Teddy Reynolds, blues pianist, songwriter, and singer, was born in Houston on July 12, 1931. Reynolds recorded numerous tracks but is most famous among blues aficionados for his studio work and touring with some of the top Texas-based artists of his generation, including Bobby Bland, Texas Johnny Brown, Johnny Copeland, Grady Gaines, Clarence Green, Peppermint Harris, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, B. B. King, and Phillip Walker. In 1950 he cut ten tracks for the Sittin' In With label including our selection, the moody "Right Will Always Win."

Among T-Bone’s legion of disciples was Houston’s Goree Carter, whose big break came when he signed to Houston’s Freedom Records circa 1949. For his first couple of side he was billed as “Little T-Bone.” Freedom issued plenty of Carter records over the next few years, and he later recorded for Imperial/Bayou, Sittin’ in With, Coral, Jade, and Modern without denting the national charts. From his handful of cuts for Sittin’ in With we spin the atmospheric instrumental  "Bull Corn Blues."

Sittin' recorded several Houston based artists but in one way or the other they all revolved around Lightnin' Hopkins who cut a staggering number of sides for numerous labels as well as encouraging many artists, including several featured today. Hopkins cut some tw0-dozen sides for Sittin’ In With, and related labels Harlem and Jax, in 1951 with about half the sessions cut in New York and the others in Houston. Today's featured Hopkins tracks include the poignant "You Caused My Heart To Weep" and one of Hopkins' patented boogies, "New York Boogie" which gives our show its title. Shad had this say about Hopkins: "When we picked him up and talked a recording date, he wouldn't sign a contract. He wouldn't accept a royalty deal. He had to be paid in cash. Not only that, he had to be paid after each cut. …He didn't know the lyrics from one song to another, but made them up as he went along …Whatever hit his mind, he sang and recorded."

L.C. Williams was a singer/tap dancer who also occasionally drummed behind Hopkins. He arrived in Houston in 1945 and was one of the many characters who hung around in Lightning’s orbit, sitting on stoops drinking beer and wine, shooting the breeze with passers-by. He made his first record in 1947 with Hopkins on piano and guitar. Hopkins plays guitar on a four-song session for Gold Star in 1948 with Williams making some sides for Eddie’s and Freedom between 1948-1950 and four songs for Sittin' In in 1951 featuring Hopkins on guitar. He died in Houston of TB in 1960. Williams and Hopkins deliver gripping, intense performances on "The Lazy J" and "Fannie Mae."

James Waynes was credited with that name on his earliest recordings. Later it became James Wayne and from 1955 onwards, Wee Willie Wayne. He was discovered in Texas by Sittin' In With boss Bob Shad. It was for this label that Wayne made his first recording (in Houston) and his only hit: "Tend To Your Business", which reached # 2 on the Billboard R&B charts in 1951. Shad next recorded Waynes at the WGST studio in Atlanta, Georgia. Among the five songs recorded there was the all-time classic "Junco Partner", which became a local hit and one of the two numbers we spotlight today. He was then signed by Imperial, who recorded him in New Orleans and the cut sides for Aladdin and Old Town and returned to Imperial in 1955 and recorded "Travelin' Mood" and others in 1955. Both "Junco Partner" and "Travelin' Mood" became standards in the repertoire of many New Orleans musicians, like Dr. John, Professor Longhair, James Booker and Snooks Eaglin. Further records appeared on the Peacock and Angletone labels, before he was signed by Imperial for a third time in 1961.

Elmore Nixon was a Houston pianist who was a sideman on labels such as Gold Star, Peacock, Mercury, Savoy and Imperial between 1949 and 1955. In the 1960’s he backed Lightnin’ Hopkins and Clifton Chenier on sessions. He also cut over two-dozen sides under his own name between 1949 and 1952 for labels like Sittin’ In With, Peacock, Mercury Savoy and Imperial.

Brownie McGhee & His Jook Block Busters featured Sonny Terry and Bob Gaddy, with the group cutting a dozen sides for the Jax label in 1952. As the Jook House Rockers (sans Sonny Terry) the group cut for Morty Shad's Harlem label in 1954. Sonny Terry and His Buckshot 5, featuring Bob Gaddy and Brownie McGee, cut one 78 for the Harlem label in 1954. Brownie McGhee's combo cut some potent R&B and we spin two sets worth of tunes including the good natured "A Letter To Lightnin' Hopkins", tough blues like "Pawnshop Blues", a majestic "Key To The Highway" and the romping "Meet You In The Morning." Sonny Terry's "Dangerous Woman (with a .45 in her hand)" is every bit as tough as the title suggests.

There were quite a number of artists who cut just one or a handful of sides for the label. The most famous is Ray Charles who cut a couple of sides for Sittin’ In With in 1951 and would go on to much greater success a few years later with Atlantic. Then there was James “Widemouth” Brown, Gatemouth Brown’s brother, who cut one 78 for the Jax label 1952. Our cut, "Boogie Woogie Nighthawk", is a swinging big band blues showing  Gate's brother to be a fine singer and impressive guitarist. He died in 1971. Clarence Jolly was a fine blues shouter in the vain of Roy Brown who cut four sides for Sittin’ In With in 1951 and two for Cobra in 1957. Several artists cut just a lone 78 for the label including several superb down home bluesmen like Johnny Beck who cut one 78 in 1949 in Houston, Jesse James who cut one 78 for the label in1950 and one for Down Town in 1948, The Sugarman who cut one 78 for the label in 1951 and Sam "Suitcase" Johnson cut a lone 78 for the label, the bouncy "Sam's Boogie" , in 1951.

Lightnin' HopkinsTim Moore's FarmAll The Classic Sides
Interview Pt. 1 Overview
Lightnin' HopkinsZolo GoAll The Classic Sides
Thunder SmithBig Stars Are FallingLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Interview Pt. 2Blues Recordings
Leroy ErvinRock Island LineTexas Blues ( Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings )
L.C. WilliamsBoogie All The TimeLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Conrad JohnsonFisherman's Blues78
Interview Pt. 3Quinn, Hopkins, Blues & More
Henry HayesBowlegged Angeline78
Perry CainAll The Way From TexasTexas Blues ( Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings )
Lee HunterBack To Santa FeTexas Blues ( Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings )
Lil' Son JacksonHomeless BluesLil' Son Jackson Vol. 1 - Rockin' And Rollin' (1948-1950
Interview Pt. 4Evolution of Texas Blues Guitar
Lil' Son JacksonCairo BluesLil' Son Jackson Vol. 1 1948-1950
Joe HughesI Can't Go On This Way45
Interview Pt. 51950’s Blues/Kangaroo Records
Albert CollinsThe FreezeKangaroo Shuffle
Johnny CopelandDown On Bending KneesWorking Man's Blues
James DavisBad DreamsAngels In Houston
Bobby BlandDriftin' BluesThat Did It! The Duke Recordings Vol. 3
Interview Pt. 6Duke/Peacock
Jimmy McCracklinThinkI Had To Get With It
Junior ParkerMan Or MouseDuke Recordings Vol. 2
Junior ParkerCryin For My BabyDuke Recordings Vol. 1
Clifton ChenierI Am Going HomeClifton Chenier: The Anthology
Albert CollinsSnow-Cone IITruckin' With Albert Collins
O.V. WrightFed Up With The BluesTreasured Moments: The Backbeat Singles Collection
Interview Pt. 7Huey Meaux
Bobby BlandThis Time I'm Gone For GoodThe California Album

Show Notes:

Gold Star/SugarHill Studios is a Houston-based sound engineering and recording facility that started in 1941 and is still operating today. Over the years its founder and subsequent engineers have produced a multitude of influential hit records and classic tracks for numerous labels in a diverse range of popular genres. The inspiration for today's program is the book House of Hits: The Story of Houston's Gold Star/SugarHill Recording Studios written by Andy Bradley and Roger Wood. In addition to the music we also hear an interview that I conducted with Wood a few weeks ago.

Among the hundreds of Gold Star/SugarHill-affiliated artists, a brief sampling includes blues giants (ranging from Lightnin' Hopkins to Albert Collins to Bobby Bland), country legends (from George Jones to Willie Nelson to Roger Miller), early rockers (from the Big Bopper to Roy Head to Sir Douglas Quintet), seminal figures in Cajun and zydeco (from Harry Choates to Clifton Chenier), architects of R&B (from O. V. Wright to Junior Parker), pioneers of psychedelia (from 13th Floor Elevators to Bubble Puppy), the phenomenal Freddy Fender, song-crafters (from Guy Clark to Lucinda Williams), gospel greats (such as the Mighty Clouds of Joy) up to contemporary pop icons. Today’s program will of course focus on the studio's blues recordings.

From humble origins as Quinn's Radio Repair shop around 1940, studio founder Quinn built a recording studio and a record pressing plant, during the latter part of the WWII years. After a year or two of experiments and failures, he succeeded in getting the Gulf label off the ground in 1945, to be followed by the much greater success of the Gold Star label the following year. In 1948 “Lil’ Son” Jackson, became one of many blues singers to record for Gold Star. In 1946, Lil’ Son Jackson shipped off a demo to Bill Quinn, who owned Houston based Gold Star Records. Jackson scored a national R&B hit, “Freedom Train Blues,” in 1948. It would prove Jackson’s only national hit, although his 1950-1954 output for Imperial Records must have sold consistently, judging from how many sides the L.A. firm issued.

Quinn recorded several fine  blues artists who's records are largely forgotten including Conrad Johnson, Henry Hayes, L.C. Williams, Wilson “Thunder” Smith, Leroy Ervin, Perry Cain, and the most famous of the Gold Star blues artists, Lightnin’ Hopkins. While most of these artists are in a down home vein, notable exceptions include by Conrad Johnson's "Fisherman's Blues" and Henry Hayes' "Bowlegged Angeline" performed in an upbeat, fully orchestrated style. I want to thank Roger for send me these tracks which are taken from the original Gold Star 78's.

Hopkins’ first decade of recording (1946-1956), was a prolific period which found him cutting close to 200 sides geared for the black market on a variety of different labels. Between 1946 and 1950 Hopkins recorded primarily for the L.A. based Aladdin label and the Houston based Gold Star label.  Hopkins scored some hits for Gold Star including “Tim Moore’s Farm” which was an R&B hit in 1949, hitting #4 on the charts and the year before he hit with “T-Model Blues” which peaked at #8. Hopkins recorded some 50 sides for the Gold Star label between 1947 and 1950. Even after the Gold Star label went under, Hopkins continued to record at the studio, the results issued on a a number of other labels. Throughout the ’20s and ’30s Hopkins traveled around Texas, usually in the company of recording star Texas Alexander. The pair was playing in Houston’s Third Ward in 1946 when talent scout Lola Anne Cullum came across them. She cut Alexander out of the deal and paired Hopkins with pianist Wilson “Thunder” Smith, getting the duo a recording contract for the Los Angles based Aladdin label. They recorded as “Thunder and Lightnin’”, a nickname Sam was to use for the rest of his life. Thunder Smith plays piano behind Hopkins on his first two sessions for Aladdin in 1946 and 1947, never achieving the success that Hopkins did. 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 reportedly died in Houston in 1965.

Bill Quinn at Gold Star Studios, 1960 (Photo by Chris Strachwitz)

The Gold Star label went under in 1951 when the IRS sued for back taxes. Quinn soldiered on, engineering for other labels that rented his studio, most notably Starday, Duke/Peacock, and D, and an endless number of smaller ones. Quinn sold the studio around 1963, and it eventually wound up being purchased by the infamous International Artists label. The label issued a number of notable psychedelic and rock recordings before going under in 1971

Of the Houston-based independent labels, Peacock emerged as the most prominent. Houston businessman Don Robey  founded Peacock Records in 1949. Robey expanded his recording interests by acquiring the Memphis label Duke Records. Through this acquisition Robey secured the rights to the stable of musicians who were then under contract to Duke. During the 1950's, Robey’s Duke-Peacock sound rose to national prominence, but by the mid-1960s, his business started to wane. The authors of House of Hits note that "few if any writers have noted that Robey conducted numerous recording sessions at Gold Star studios." Among the Duke artists who recorded at Gold Star were Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, Buddy Ace and  Ernie K-Doe among others. Duke's subsidiary label, Back Beat, also saw sessions recorded at Gold Star by artists such as Joe Hinton, O.V. Wright and Roy Head among others.

Bobby Bland cut singles for Chess in 1951 and Modern the next year bombed and in 1952 for Duke. Bland entered the Army in late 1952 and his progress upon his 1955 return was remarkable. By now, Duke was headed by Don Robey, who provided top-flight bands for his artists. Most of Bland's blues sides during the mid- to late '50s featured the slashing guitar of Clarence Hollimon. Bland's first national hit was 1957's "Farther Up the Road." Later, Wayne Bennett took over on guitar, his fretwork prominent on Bland's Duke waxings throughout much of the '60s. Bland hit the charts often during this period with numbers like "Little Boy Blue", "Cry Cry Cry", "I Pity The Fool"and "Turn On Your Love Light" to name a few.

Junior Parker was an extraordinary blues singer and harmonica player who laid down some superb material over the course of a twenty-year career (1952-1971) before his life was cut short just prior to his fortieth birthday. Before 1953 was through, Junior Parker had moved on to Don Robey’s Duke label in Houston. It took a while for the harpist to regain his hitmaking momentum, but he scored big in 1957 with the “Next Time You See Me.” Parker developed a horn driven sound (usually the work of trumpeter/Duke-house-bandleader Joe Scott) that added power to his vocals and harp solos. Parker’s updated remake of Roosevelt Sykes’s “Driving Wheel” was a huge R&B hit in 1961, as was “In the Dark.” Parker continued to hit the charts through the 60’s with a mix of blues and R&B scoring with songs like “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Annie Get Your Yo-Yo”, “Man Or Mouse”, “Someone Somewhere.”

As the authors note, "a few of the hit records made at Gold Star studios by artists linked to Robey ended up being released on labels that he did not control. A prime example of that seemingly unlikely scenario is the song "Think", written and performed by Jimmy McCracklin. Released in 1965 on the California based Imperial Records, it went to number seven on the R&B charts and number ninety-five in the pop category. …"Think" was actually recorded independently by McCracklin in Houston, where he made use of both Robey's in-house studio on Erastus Street and the Gold Star facility across town."

Lightnin' Hopkins inside Gold Star Studios, 1961

Concurrent with the growth of Peacock Records, a new generation of Houston-bred rhythm-and-blues musicians began their careers, but were not recorded by Don Robey. Houston was homebase to a remarkable cadre of blues guitarists during the 1950’. These musicians included Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Joe Hughes, Clarence Green and Pete Mayes. Playing at the Club Matinee, Shady’s Playhouse, the Eldorado Ballroom, and other nightspots around Houston, these musicians emulated the music of T-Bone Walker and eventually developed their own distinctive performance styles.

Joe Hughes crossed paths with Johnny Copeland’s circa 1953 when the two shared vocal and guitar duties in a combo called the Dukes of Rhythm. Hughes served as bandleader at a local blues joint known as Shady’s Playhouse from 1958 through 1963, cutting a few scattered singles of his own in his spare time. In 1963, Hughes hit the road with the Upsetters, switching to the employ of Bobby “Blue” Bland in 1965. He also recorded behind the Bland for Duke and Al “TNT” Braggs from 1967 to 1969. Hughes cut the numbers "I Can't Go On This Way" b/w "Make Me Dance Little Ant" at Gold Star for the tiny Kangaroo label. The label was formed in the late 50's by the above mentioned Henry Hayes with label doing their recording at Gold Star.

In addition to Hughes, Albert Collins also made his debut for Kangaroo. Collins started out taking keyboard lessons but by the time he was 18 years old, he switched to guitar, and hung out and heard his heroes, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, T-Bone Walker and Lightnin’ Hopkins in Houston-area nightclubs. Collins  soon began performing in these same clubs. He led a ten-piece band, the Rhythm Rockers, and cut his first single in 1958 , “The Freeze” b/w “Collins Shuffle.” “The Freeze” became a regional hit and went on to serve as Collins' signature song throughout his career. Collins  returned to Gold Star in April 1965 for at least two sessions. The same year Collins’ first album was released, The Cool Sounds of Albert Collins, a collection of singles (the album was reissued later as Truckin’ With Albert Collins). To fill out the album at least three new numbers were recorded at Gold Star including our selection "Snow-Cone II."

Clarence Green was a versatile guitarist and a stalwart of the Houston scene who fronted a number of popular bands, the most famous being the Rhythmaires, between the early 1950's and his death. He started out around 1951 or 1952 in a group that called itself Blues For Two. Throughout the next decade the band’s personnel changed often; some of the more well-known members, at various times, included fellow guitarists Johnny Copeland and Joe Hughes. Green also did regular session work as a guitarist at various studios, the most notable being Duke Records, where he backed artists such as Bobby Bland, Joe Hinton, and Junior Parker. Green cut two singles for Duke at Gold Star in 1965 and 1966.

In 1964 Lightnin’ Hopkins took Chris Strachwitz to see his cousin, Clifton Chenier perform. Strachwitz agreed to record Chenier and they went to Gold Star in February to record. The session resulted in the first 45 for Strachwitz’s new label, Arhoolie and the following year he recorded a whole album of material. The session yielded the album Louisiana Blues and Zydeco with many of the songs also issued as 45’s.

Record hustler Huey P. Meaux, who had recorded the Sir Douglas Quintet's "She's About a Mover" at Gold Star in '65, bought and refurbishing the studio in 1972, naming the studio SugarHill. SugarHill became Meaux's home base for his Crazy Cajun Music label where careers of Texas legends Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm and many more were launched.

Listen to the Roger Wood interview (edited, MP3, 45 min)

Lightnin' HopkinsKatie Mae BluesAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 1.Introduction
Lightnin' HopkinsShort Haired WomanAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 2.Early Years
Lightnin' HopkinsPolicy BluesLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Lightnin' HopkinsAutomobileAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 3.More Early Years
Lightnin' HopkinsNeeded TimeJake Head Boogie
Lightnin' HopkinsI'm Wild About You BabyLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Lightnin' HopkinsGoin' Back And Talk To MamaAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 4.Prison & Hard Times
Lightnin' HopkinsThat Gambling LifeAutobiography in Blues
Lightnin' HopkinsThey Wonder Who I AmAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 5.Blind Lemon Jefferson
Lightnin' HopkinsBlack CatComplete Candid Otis Spann/Lightin' Hopkins Sessions
Lightnin' HopkinsMojo HandMojo Hand Anthology
Interview Pt. 6.Houston
Lightnin' HopkinsThe War Is OverLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Lightnin' HopkinsHighway BluesLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Interview Pt. 7Early Recordings
Lightnin' HopkinsNo EducationMojo Hand Anthology
Interview Pt. 81950's Recordings
Lightnin' HopkinsI'm Going To Build Me A Heaven...Complete Prestige/Bluesville Recordings
Lightnin' HopkinsBurnin' In L.A.Po' Lightnin'
Interview Pt. 9Rediscovery
Lightnin' HopkinsMr. Charlie (Part 1 & 2)Mojo Hand Anthology
Interview Pt. 10Blues Revival
Lightnin' HopkinsGoin' To DallasEverest Records Collection Vol. 1
Lightnin' HopkinsBud Russell BluesTexas Blues
Interview Pt. 111960's Recordings
Lightnin' HopkinsTwisterLive At Swarthmore College
Lightnin' HopkinsWalkin' The StreetsLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Lightnin' HopkinsCoffee BluesAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 12More 1960's
Lightnin' HopkinsBlack And EvilTexas Blues
Interview Pt. 13Legacy
Lightnin' HopkinsMeet You At The Chicken ShackTexas Blues
Lightnin' HopkinsBad Luck And TroubleJake Head Boogie
Lightnin' HopkinsHenny Penny BluesAll The Classics 1946-1951
Interview Pt. 14Last Decade/Closing
Lightnin' HopkinsMoving On Out BoogieLightnin' Special Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Lightnin' Hopkins, Berkley, CA, mid-1960's. Photo by Chris Strachwitz

Today's program is our second devoted to Lightnin' Hopkins. The first, Lightnin' Hopkins & Pals, featured mainly singles Hopkins waxed for black audiences between 1946 and 1954 plus cuts by many of his musical buddies. Today the spotlight is on Hopkins alone as we spin records by him from the 40's up through the 60's, when he was cutting a staggering number of albums, mostly geared to the folk and blues revival audience. We also celebrate the release of the first Hopkins' biography, Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues, by noted writer Alan Govenar who I've interviewed for today's show. Govenar's book is a superb portrait of a true blues giant, from his early years running with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander to his brilliant singles in the 40's and 50's for a slew of small labels to worldwide acclaim in the 60's and 70's. Hopkins was one of the most recorded bluesmen of all time so assembling a show devoted to him is always a daunting task. On today's program I've pulled together a wide range of well known and lesser known gems from the 40's through the 60's that will hopefully give a good portrait of Hopkins' talent and his tremendous appeal with both white and black audiences. Today's notes are primarily drawn from the new book including the following from the introduction.

"Sam Lightnin Hopkins, at the time of his death in 1982,may have been the most frequently recorded blues artist in history. He was a singular voice in the history of Texas blues, exemplifying its country roots but at the same time reflecting its urban directions in the years after world War II. His music epitomized the hardships and aspirations of his own generation of African Americans, but it was also emblematic of the folk revival and its profound impact on a white audience.

Lightnin' Hopkins, Gold Star Publicity Photo

What distinguished Lightnin Hopkins was his virtuosity as a performer. He soaked up what was around him and put it all into his blues. He rambled on about anything that came to his mind: chuckholes in the road, gossip on the street, his rheumatism, his women, and the good times and bad men he met along the way. In his songs he could be irascible, but in the next verse he might be self-effacing. He prided himself on his individuality, even if it meant he was full of inconsistencies. He often poured out his feeling in his songs with a heart wrenching pathos, but it could be hard to tell if he was truly sincere. He peppered his lyrics with few actual details of his own life, but he was at once raw, mocking, extroverted, sarcastic and deadly serious. Most of the time, Lightnin' appeared to trust no one, yet he knew how to endear himself to the audience. While he voiced the hardships, yearnings, and foibles of African Americans in the gritty bump and grind of the juke joints of Third Ward Houston, he could be cocky and brash in his performances for white crowds at the Matrix in San Francisco, or at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, or at a concert hall in Europe, where he was in complete control and adored. …At its best, his blues were a seamless dialogue  between words and guitar, a largely improvised conversation not only between him  and his instrument, but also between him and those who were listening."

Hopkins career began in the 1920’s and stretched all the way into the 1980’s. His earliest blues influence was the legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson who he met around 1920, of whom Hopkins recalled "When I was just a little boy I went to hanging around Buffalo, Texas Blind Lemon he’d come and I’d just get alongside and start playing ." Throughout the ’20s and ’30s he traveled around Texas, usually in the company of recording star Texas Alexander. The pair was playing in Houston’s Third Ward in 1946 when talent scout Lola Anne Cullum came across them. She cut Alexander out of the deal and paired Hopkins with pianist Wilson “Thunder” Smith, getting the duo a recording contract for the Los Angles based Aladdin label. They recorded as “Thunder and Lightnin’”, a nickname Sam was to use for the rest of his life. A load of other labels recorded Hopkins after Aladdin, both in a solo context and with a small rhythm section: Modern/RPM (his “Tim Moore’s Farm” was an R&B hit in 1949); Gold Star (where he hit with “T-Model Blues” that same year); Sittin’ in With ("Give Me Central 209" and “Coffee Blues” were national chart hits in 1952) and its Jax subsidiary; the major labels Mercury and Decca; and, in 1954, some of his finest sides for the New York based Herald label. During this period Hopkins cut close to 200. Hopkins’ stopped recording for a five year stint in the late 50’s although singles by him were still being released. Fortunately, folklorist Sam Charters and Mack McCormick rediscovered the guitarist, who they presented as a folk-blues artist. Pioneering musicologist Sam Charters produced Hopkins in a solo context for Folkways Records in 1959, cutting an entire LP in Hopkins’ tiny apartment (on a borrowed guitar). The results helped introduced his music to an entirely new audience.

Lightnin' Hopkins at Sierra Sound,  Berkley, CA, 1961.
Photo by William Carter

By the early 1960’s Hopkins went from gigging at back-alley gin joints to starring at collegiate coffeehouses, appearing on TV programs, and touring Europe. He was recording more prolifically then ever, laying down albums for World Pacific, Vee-Jay, Bluesville, Bobby Robinson’s Fire label, Candid, Arhoolie, Verve and, in 1965, the first of several LP’s for Stan Lewis’ Shreveport-based Jewel logo. During the 70's his recording activity slowed, cutting just a handful of sessions for verve and Sonet with several live collections issued. He was still touring widely and made trips to Mexico, Japan and Germany.  After a final gig at Tramps in New York in November 1981 he returned to Houston where his health declined rapidly. He passed January 30, 1982.

As Govenar sums up: "In the end, regardless of the myths, and the inevitable mix of fact and fiction, Lightnin' was happy that his music had reached such a wide audience." And as Lightnin' close friend David Benson related: "I don't think that in his younger days he even imagined that there would be so many young people, so many white people,  who would have such a genuine appreciation of his sound.  He thought it was naive, but it was genuine. …he knew that the people who bought his records and came to hear him play genuinely cared." And as Govenar concludes: "When asked once about what made him different than anyone else, Lightnin' replied, 'A bluesman is just different from any other man that walks the earth. The blues is something that is hard to get acquainted with. Just like death. The blues dwell with you everyday and everywhere.'"

Listen to the Alan Govenar interview (edited, MP3, 29 min.)

-Read an excerpt from the Lightnin' Hopkins biography

Lightnin' Hopkins Obituary (New Musical Express, Alan Balfour, 1982)



Show Notes:

The music on today's program spans a fascinating period, roughly the first decade of post-war blues, when the blues was evolving into what would be called R&B and a short hop later to rock and roll. Today's however is a throwback; this is rough and tumble down-home blues geared towards an audience that was still eager to hear earthy rural blues. Many of these listeners were still in the south while many other were transplanted southerners still eager to hear the older styles. These were exciting times with numerous small labels throwing their hat in the ring to try to cash in on the market.  Our spotlight is on the Texas variety of down-home blues. Some of today's artists achieved a measure of success such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Lil Son Jackson and Smokey Hogg while those like Lawyer Houston, Ernest Lewis, Manny Nichols, Stickhorse Hammond, Sonny Boy Holmes, Johnny Beck and others cut fine sides but remain utterly obscure outside of hardcore collectors. Between 1944 and 1964, more than 600 record companies tried their hands at recording blues. Many failed or had limited success while others grew and became major players. This was "the last grand hurrah of local blues recorded for, and often by, local entrepreneurs."

By the early 1950’s, competition among independent record labels in Texas was intense. Macy’s, Freedom, and Peacock (as well as Bob Shad’s New York-based Sittin-In-With) were all involved in recording local and regional blues musicians. In Houston there were fewer opportunities for recording than in Dallas until after World War II, when several independent labels were started. The earliest to record blues was Gold Star, founded by Bill Quinn in 1946 as a hillbilly label to record Harry Choates. In 1947 Quinn decided to enter the "race" market by recording Lightnin' Hopkins. Today's program features several Gold Star artists including Lil Son Jackson, Leroy Ervin, Andy Thomas, Lee Hunter and Perry Cain who gives us the title for today's show. Among the Dallas labels we spin tracks form Blue Bonnet and (Star) Talent. Blue Bonnet Records was formed by Herb Rippa in 1947 in Dallas as a hillbilly label but near the end of Blue Bonnet's three-year existence Rippa began recording a handful of blues artists, most notable being Frankie Lee Sims. Pianist Charlie Braddix cut two sides for the label in 1948. Both Willie Lane and Rattlesnake Cooper cut sides for (Star) Talent, a Dallas label owned by father and daughter Jesse and Louise Erickson. The label recorded blues, country and gospel and cut the sides first sides by Rufus Thomas and Professor Longhair.

Frankie Lee Sims: Cross country Blues

The spirit of Lightnin' Hopkins looms over many of these recordings and we play tracks by some who were in Hopkins orbit. Thunder Smith played piano behind Hopkins on his first two sessions for Aladdin in 1946 and 1947, never achieving the success that Hopkins did. 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 reportedly died in Houston in 1965. L.C. Williams was a singer/tap dancer who also occasionally drummed behind Hopkins. He arrived in Houston in 1945 and was one of the many characters who hung around in Lightning’s orbit, sitting on stoops drinking beer and wine, shooting the breeze with passers-by. He made his first record in 1947 with Hopkins on piano and guitar. Hopkins plays guitar on a four-song session for Gold Star in 1948 with Williams making some final sides for Eddie’s and Freedom between 1948-1950. He died in Houston of TB in 1960. Frankie Lee Sims claimed to be a cousin of Lightnin’ Hopkins. Sims cut his first 78's for Blue Bonnet Records in 1948 in Dallas, but didn’t taste anything resembling regional success until 1953, when his "Lucy Mae Blues" did well down south.  Sims recorded fairly prolifically for Los Angeles-based Specialty into 1954, then switched to the Ace label in 1957 to cut great rockers like "Walking with Frankie" and "She Likes to Boogie Real Low." He recorded for Bobby Robinson in late 1960 but these sides were unreleased and didn’t surface until decades later when they were released on the British Krazy Kat label. Robinson ran the NYC based labels Fire, Fury and Enjoy. Sims died at age 53 in Dallas of pneumonia.

Mercy Dee Walton was a Texas émigré, who had played piano around Waco from the age of 13 before hitting the West Coast in 1938. He debuted on record in 1949 with "Lonesome Cabin Blues" for the tiny Spire logo, which became a national R&B hit. Those sides were cut in Fresno, but Los Angeles hosted some of the pianist's best sessions for Imperial in 1950 and Specialty in 1952-53. After a lengthy layoff, Walton returned to the studio in a big way in 1961, recording prolifically for Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie label. He died the following year in December 1962.

In 1946, Lil' Son Jackson shipped off a demo to Bill Quinn, who owned Houston based Gold Star Records. Jackson scored a national R&B hit, "Freedom Train Blues," in 1948. It would prove Jackson's only national hit, although his 1950-1954 output for Imperial Records must have sold consistently, judging from how many sides the L.A. firm issued. He gave up the blues during the mid-'50s after an auto wreck, resuming work as a mechanic. Arhoolie Records boss Chris Strachwitz convinced Jackson to cut an album in 1960. Jackson died May 30, 1976, in Dallas, TX, from cancer.

Smokey Hogg was a down-home bluesman who scored a pair of major R&B hits in 1948 and 1950 ("Long Tall Mama" and "Little School Girl") and cut prolifically for a slew of labels including Exclusive, Modern, Bullet, Macy's, Sittin' in With, Imperial, Mercury, Specialty, Fidelity, Combo, Federal, and Showtime). Smokey's cousin John Hogg also played the blues, waxing six sides in 1951.

One of the last of the old-time Texas barrelhouse pianists, Alex Moore was an institution in Dallas, his lifelong home. Moore had one of the longest recording careers in blues history. Moore began performing in the early '20s, playing clubs and parties around his hometown of Dallas; he usually performed under the name Whistlin' Alex. In 1929, he recorded his first sessions, for Columbia Records. Moore didn't record again until 1937, when he made a few records for Decca. Moore didn't record again until 1951, when RPM/Kent had him cut several songs. Arhoolie Records signed the pianist in 1960, and those records helped make him a national name. For the rest of the '60s, he played clubs and festivals in America, as well as a handful of festival dates in Europe. He continued to perform until his death in 1989. The year before his death, he recorded a final album titled Wiggle Tail.

Among the great unknowns are artists such as Manny Nichols, Son Tillis, Laywer Houston,  Nathaniel "Stickhorse" Hammond, Wright Holmes, Lee Hunter, Sonny Boy Holmes, Luther Stoneham and Dr. Hepcat among others. Manny Nichols cut nine sides between 1949-1953 for several small labels, first in Texas and then in California. He also recorded as West Texas Slim. In addition he backed the mysterious Miss Country Slim on one record. J.R. Fullbright, owner of Elko Records, first brough Son Tillis in the studio in Longview, Texas but these were unreleased. He then brought him over to Gold Star where he cut several sides. Interviewed in 1968, Fullbright though Tillis was in the penitentiary for life for murder. Nathaniel "Stickhorse" Hammond is one of the oldest performers featured, having been born in Dallas in 1896. Laywer Houston cut an eight-song session for Atlantic in 1950 and another eight-song session circa 1953/54 that was never issued. Lavada Durst AKA Dr.Hepcat was the first black disc jockey in Texas on Austin‘s KVET. He published The Jives of Dr.Hepcat based on his outlandish radio patter. He cut early records on Peacock, Uptown and later recordings on Documentary Arts. Wright Holmes had only three sides issued in 1947, with several unissued. He was rediscovered and interviewed by Blues Unlimited magazine but had turned to relgion and was no longer playing blues. Lee hunter was the brother of the more famous Ivory Joe Hunter and cut a lone 78 for Gold Star in 1948.


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