Texas Blues


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.



Show Notes:

In Houston, African Americans settled mostly in three segregated wards: the Third, Fourth, and Fifth. It was in the Third Ward where guitarist Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins accompanied his cousin Texas Alexander in the late 1920's, and where Hopkins returned by himself in the 1940's to play on Dowling Street. 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. By the early 1950's, competition among independent record labels in Houston was intense. Macy's, Freedom, and Peacock (as well as Bob Shad's New York-based Sittin-In-With label) were all involved in recording local and regional blues musicians such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Gatemouth Brown, Goree Carter, Lester Williams, Peppermint Harris and Big Walter Price. 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 1950s, Robey's Duke-Peacock sound rose to national prominence, but by the mid-1960s, his business started to wane. 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. 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.

Today's show covers much ground and naturally two hours isn't long enough to devote to the vibrant Houston blues scene of the 40's, 50's and 60's. Future shows will take a more in-depth look at Houston labels like Duke-Peacock, Freedom, Macy's, Sittin' In With and Gold Star.

Hopkins cut some 50 sides for the Gold Star label between 1947 and 1950. Producer Bill Quinn opened Gold Star Studios in October 1941 in Houston. Originally, Quinn had called it Quinn Recording and focused primarily on country music artists, but, by 1950, he had rechristened it Gold Star Studios. In 1948, Melvin Jackson, better known as "Lil' Son" Jackson, became one of many blues singers to record for Gold Star. In addition to L.C. Williams, Wilson "Thunder" Smith, Leroy Ervin, and Perry Cain, the most famous of which was Lightnin' Hopkins. Hopkisn also cut around two dozen sides for the Sittin' In With label and its Jax subsidary in 1951.

By the time he was in his early twenties, Peppermint Harris then known as Harrison Nelson, Jr. was lucky enough to have found a mentor and friend on the Houston blues front in the form of Lightnin' Hopkins. When Harris was deemed ready, Lightnin' accompanied him to Houston's Gold Star Records. Nothing came of that trip, but Harris eventually recorded his debut 78 for the company in 1948 (as Peppermint Nelson).B ob Shad's Sittin' in With label was the vehicle that supplied Harris' early work to the masses, including his first major hit, "Raining in My Heart," in 1950. Sittin' in With was founded in 1948 by Bob Shad and was operated in NYC. The label recorded a number of Houston bluesmen in addition to Harris including Lightnin' Hopkins, Goree Carter and Elmore Nixon. Jade and Jax were subsidiaries of the label and also issued blues and R&B.

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 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. Eventually, he left music behind altogether. Eddie's and Freedom were two intertwined labels; Eddie's was founded in 1947 in Houston while Freedom was founded the next year and distributed Eddie's releases. Artists on the labels included Little Willie Littlefield, L.C. Williams, Goree Carter, Big Joe Turner, Joe Houston among others.

Texas Johnny Brown began his professional career as an original member of the great Amos Milburn band known as the Aladdin Chickenshackers. Brown's picking is killer on early Aladdin recordings by both Milburn as well as Ruth Brown's first Atlantic sides. Atlantic allowed Brown to make a few recordings of his own in 1949. He didn't cut his first full-length record until 1998.

Lester Williams grew up infatuated with the sound of T-Bone Walker, whose style he emulated; after serving in World War II, he formed his own combo, and in 1949 signed on with the Houston-based Macy's Records. Macy's was founded by Macy and Charles Henry and was active from 1949 through 195, releasing records by Lester Williams, Smokey Hogg, Hubert Robinson, Clarence Garlow and others. Williams' debut single "Winter Time Blues" became a regional hit, although subsequent efforts were less successful. Williams moved to Specialty records and scored his biggest hit in 1952 with "I Can't Lose with the Stuff I Use." Williams' follow-ups failed to catch on, however, and by 1954 he was regularly performing on Houston station KLVL and touring throughout the South. He later recorded on Duke before one final date for Imperial in 1956. In the years to follow he remained a staple of the Houston club circuit, touring Europe prior to his death on November 13, 1990.

Clarence Garlow is best known for his 1950 hit "Bon Ton Roula" (French for "Let the Good Times Roll"), a rhythm & blues-laced zydeco song that helped introduce the Lousiana music form to a national audience. Garlow was born in Louisiana but raised in nearby Beaumont, Texas. In 1949 he put together a band, began playing jukes and dances in the Houston area, and signed a recording contract with Macy's Records. After Macy's demise, Garlow moved from one label to the next but never could repeat his former success.

Elmore Nixon was a Houston pianist was acted as a sideman for labels like Gold Star, Peacock, Mercury, Savoy and Imperial between 1949-1955. In the 1960's he backed Lightnin' Hopkins and Clifton Chenier on record. He cut close to two-dozen sides under his own name for labels like Sittin' In With, Peacock, Mercury, Imperial and Savoy.

In 1947, Gatemouth Brown's impromptu fill-in for an ailing T-Bone Walker at Houston entrepreneur Don Robey's Bronze Peacock nightclub convinced Robey to assume control of Brown's career. After two singles for Aladdin stiffed, Robey inaugurated his own Peacock label in 1949 to showcase Gatemouth on record. Gate stayed with Peacock through 1960. Assisted by business partner Evelyn Johnson, Peacock's roster grew with both blues and gospel artists. By the end of 1952 they had released singles by over fifty different artists. It was this year that Robey acquired Duke Records.

James 'Wide Mouth' Brown was Gatemouth Brown older brother. He cut his only record, "A Weary Silent Night" b/w "Boogie Woogie Nighthawk", in 1952 issued on the Jax label.

Big Walter Price was born in Gonzales, Texas in 1914, pianist Big Walter started he music career in 1954, recording for labels like T-N-T, Peacock, Goldband and others.

Slide guitar blues with an Elmore James flavor played on an eight-string table (non-pedal) steel guitar was the trademarked sound of Houston blues legend Hop Wilson. Strictly a local phenomenon, Wilson recorded fitfully and hated touring. After his discharge from the Army, he decided to pursue a serious career as a blues musician, performing with Ivory Semien's group in the late '50s. Wilson and Semien recorded a number of sides for Goldband Records in 1957. Hop Wilson didn't lead his own sessions until 1960, when he signed with the Ivory record label. Wilson only recorded for the label for two years — his final sessions were in 1961. After 1961, Wilson concentrated on playing local Houston clubs and bars. He continued to perform in Houston until his death in 1975.

Teddy Reynolds, blues pianist, songwriter, and singer, was born in Houston on July 12, 1931. He debuted in 1950 for the Sittin' In With label and cut sides for Mercury in 1958. Reynolds's did his most prolific and enduring studio work as a regular session player at Duke and Peacock Records. Starting in 1958 and lasting into the mid-1960s, he played piano or organ on classic sides by Bobby Bland and Junior Parker, with whom he toured constantly in a popular twin-bill revue for almost three years.

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 1950s 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. he cut his own sides for labels such as C & P, All Boy, Aquarius, Bright Star, Lynn, Pope, and Golden Eagle.

Houston was homebase to a remarkable cadre of blues guitarists during the 1950's among whom was Joe Hughes. He 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.

Albert 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 began soon began performing in these same clubs. He led a ten-piece band, the Rhythm Rockers, and cut his first single in 1958 for the Houston-based Kangaroo label, "The Freeze." The single was followed by a slew of other instrumental singles. All of these singles brought Collins a regional following. After recording "De-Frost" b/w "Albert's Alley" for Hall-Way Records of Beaumont, TX, he hit it big in 1962 with "Frosty," a million-selling single. He recorded for other small Texas labels in the 1960's, including Great Scott, Brylen and TFC.

Johnny Copeland's first gig was with his friend Joe "Guitar" Hughes. Soon after, Hughes "took sick" for a week and the young Copeland discovered he could be a front man and deliver vocals as well as anyone else around Houston at that time. Copeland and Hughes fell under the spell of T-Bone Walker, whom Copeland first saw perform when he was 13 years old. As a teenager he played at locales such as Shady's Playhouse — Houston's leading blues club, host to most of the city's best bluesmen during the 1950s — and the Eldorado Ballroom. Copeland and Hughes subsequently formed The Dukes of Rhythm, which became the house band at the Shady's Playhouse. After that, he spent time playing on tour with Albert Collins during the 1950's. He began recording in 1958 for Mercury, and moved between various labels during the 1960s, including All Boy and Golden Eagle in Houston, where he had regional successes with "Please Let Me Know" and "Down on Bending Knees," and later for Wand and Atlantic in New York.

Pete Mayes played guitar with greats like Junior Parker and Bill Doggett.  He has fronted his own band, the Houserockers, for 40 years. Mayes owned and maintained the historic Double Bayou Dancehall, which once served as a regular venue for Amos Milburn, Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Joe Turner, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and scores of others.  It was there that Mayes, then just 16 years old, first heard T-Bone Walker who became a major influence. During the next 20 years, he often worked with Walker and made the acquaintance of many other bluesmen who would later come to fame, most prominently Joe Hughes.  Mayes' discography is slim with just three full-length albums and cut just a handful of singles in the 1960's.

Juke Boy Bonner caught a break in 1947 in Houston, winning a talent contest that led to a spot on a local radio outlet. He journeyed to Oakland in 1956, cutting his debut single for Bob Geddins's Irma imprint before jumping to Goldband Recordsin 1960. He cut his best work during the late '60s for Arhoolie Records, accompanying himself on both guitar and racked harmonica as he weaved extremely personal tales of his rough life in Houston. A few European tours ensued, but they didn't really lead to much. Toward the end of his life, he toiled in a chicken processing plant to make ends meet. Bonner died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1978.

Blind Lemon Jefferson - Rambler Blues

Rambler Blues (MP3)

As we continue to reprint the blues ads that appeared in the Chicago Defender we turn to Blind Lemon Jefferson, one of the biggest male blues artists of the 1920's. He was also the most heavily advertised blues artist, just behind Lonnie Johnson and Bessie Smith, with forty-four ads appearing in the Chicago Defender between 1926 and 1930. Today we spotlight "Rambler Blues" recorded September 1927 and "Hot Dogs" from June 1927.

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. Though he was not the first country blues singer/guitarist, or the first to make commercial recordings, Jefferson was the first to attain a national audience. His extremely successful recording career continued until 1929 when he died under mysterious circumstances. He recorded 110 sides including alternate takes. 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. "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. This was reflected in the ads in the Chicago Defender which featured women almost exclusively, women such as Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Lucille Hegamin, Clara Smith and Bessie Smith among others. 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."

Blind Lemon Jefferson - Hot Dogs

Hot Dogs (MP3)

By all accounts a good portion of Jefferson's large repertoire consisted of reels or dance songs. "Hot Dogs" is a buck-dance tune as Jefferson plays some formidable ragtime flavored guitar over mostly spoken patter with a few snatches of singing. And yes, that's Jefferson tap dancing during the song a fact that's prominently mentioned in the accompanying ad. The style is strongly similar to the style of his fellow Paramount star Blind Blake. "Rambler Blues" is a straight blues and one of my favorites by Jefferson with its seamless marriage between vocal and guitar:

Well, it's train time now, and the track's all out of line (2x)
And I come here soon, I wanna catch that Number Nine

I am worried and bothered, don't know what to do (2x)
Reason I'm worried and bothered, it's all on the 'count of you

When I left my home, I left my baby cryin' (2x)
She keeps me worried and bothered in the mind

Now, don't your house look lonesome, when your baby pack up and leave (2x)
You may drink your moonshine, but, baby, your heart ain't free

If you take my rider, I can't get mad with you (2x)
Just like you're takin' mine, I'll take someone else's too

I got a girl in Texas, I've got a brown in Tennessee (2x)
Lord, but that brown in Chicago have put that jinx bug on me

New Two Sixteen Blues

New Two Sixteen Blues (MP3)

Two String Blues (MP3)

In our ongoing series of Chicago Defender blues ads we feature a pair by Texas guitarist George "Little Hat Jones." Okeh placed four ads in the newspaper on the following dates: September 7th 1929, June 21st 1930, June 28th 1930 and October 18th 1930. Jones was brought in for three sessions in San Antonio between 1929 and 1930 resulting in ten songs. At his first session he also backed Texas Alexander on eight sides. Jones was a fine guitarist who's playing is distinguished by fast rhythms and boogie runs. He was also an expressive, confident singer with a declamatory style that bears more than a passing likeness to Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Cross The Water Blues

Cross The Water Blues (MP3)

Cherry Street Blues (MP3)

What we know about Jones stems from the 1960's when Thomas Craig  interviewed Jones in 1962 and subsequently wrote a short article about him for the Texas Monitor for whom he worked as a reporter. Craig interviewed Jones later that year with the tape eventually ending up in the possession of Roy Book Binder. The contents of which were never transcribed or published. Knowledge of its existence came to light during a conversation between Robert Tilling and Book Binder in the 1970's. In 1998 Tilling wrote an article about Jones titled Long Gone And Got Away Lucky in the British Blues & Rhythm magazine.

The following is gleaned from Tilling's article. Little Hat was born in Bowie County, Texas in 1899. He earned his nickname while working construction in Garland, Texas. He states that he had a hat that he wore to work that had about half the brim cut off and the boss man started calling him "Little Hat", even making out his pay checks to "Little Hat" Jones. In addition to his documented sessions Jones also claims Okeh Records called him to New York, but there is no record of further recordings. During the interview, he states that he played with T. Texas Tyler and with Jimmie Rodgers. On the interview tape Jones plays a version of Rodgers' "Waiting for a Train." He also stated that he played in New Orleans, Galveston, Austin, and on one occasion went down to Mexico to play. By 1937 Jones was settled in Naples, married to Janie Traylor, his second wife. Of his work, he stated "I farmed a little bit, worked in the State Department some, railroads, sawmills, big chicken ranch, from that to janitor, working at old folks homes." His obituary states that he worked for many years at Red River Army Depot. Jones died in March 1981 at the Linden Municipal Hospital, and is buried in the Morning Star cemetery in Naples.



Show Notes:

 Black Snake Moan Ad

Today's show is a sequel to a show I did about a year ago on the early Texas piano players. Today's program is wider ranging look at the early Texas blues scene.  The title  comes from Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Got The Blues" recorded in 1926. To quote Tony Russell from the Penguin Guide To Blues: "All the companies involved in the blues business in the '20s and '30s made frequent recording trips to Dallas and San Antonio, and the music they collected and issued is a rich, colorful mixture of theatre and club artists, street singers and pianists circuit-riding the logging camps."

In the 1920's Dallas became a recording center primarily because it is a geographical hub. The major race labels, those catering to a black audience, held regular sessions in Dallas. Okeh, Vocalion, Brunswick Columbia, RCA, and Paramount sent scouts and engineers to record local artists once or twice a year. Quite a number of sessions were also recorded in San Antonio with a few others cut in Fort Worth. Engineers came into the city, set up their equipment in a hotel room, and put the word out. As a result of Jefferson's commercial success, blues singers from around the south flocked to Dallas with the hope of being recorded. In addition to Blind Lemon Jefferson, there were other important blues musicians, who recorded in Dallas during the heyday of Deep Ellum and Central Tracks. These included Lillian Glinn, Little Hat Jones, Texas Alexander, Jesse Thomas, Ramblin Thomas, Sammy Hill, Otis Harris, Willie Reed, Oscar "Buddy" Woods, Black Ace and the young T-Bone Walker.

Blind Lemon Jefferson's records sold thousands of copies to blacks in the urban ghettos of the North, but in Dallas Jefferson was recognized primarily as street singer who performed daily with a tin cup at the corner of Elm Street and Central Avenue. Despite his limited commercial success in Dallas, he had a great influence on the development of Texas blues. Leadbelly credited him as an inspiration, as did T-Bone Walker. What distinguishes Jefferson from the other blues performers of his generation was his singular approach to the guitar, which established the basis of what is today known as the Texas style. Little is known about Jefferson's early life. He must have heard songsters and bluesmen, like Henry "Ragtime Texas" Thomas and "Texas" Alexander. Both Thomas and Alexander traveled around East Texas and performed a variety of blues and dance tunes. Legends of his prowess as a bluesman abound among the musicians who heard him, and sightings of Jefferson in different places around the country are plentiful. By his teens, he began spending time in Dallas. About 1912 he started performing in the Deep Ellum and Central Track areas of Dallas, where he met Leadbelly. The two became musical partners in Dallas and the outlying areas of East Texas. Jefferson was known to perform almost daily at the corner of Elm Street and Central Avenue in Dallas. In 1925 Jefferson was discovered by a Paramount recording scout and taken to Chicago to make records. Though he was not the first blues singer-guitarist, or the first to make commercial recordings, Jefferson was the first to attain a national audience. His extremely successful recording career began in 1926 and continued until 1929. He recorded 110 sides. Jefferson is widely recognized as a profound influence upon the development of the Texas blues tradition and the growth of American popular music. His significance has been acknowledged by blues, jazz, and rock musicians, from Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and T-Bone Walker to Bessie Smith. Jefferson died in Chicago on December 22, 1929.

Henry Townsend 78Evidence suggests Henry Thomas was an itinerant street musician, a musical hobo who rode the rails across Texas and possibly to the World Fairs in St. Louis and Chicago just before and after the turn of the century. Most agree he was the oldest African-American folk artist to produce a significant body of recordings, supposedly born in 1874. Thomas's repertoire bridged the 19th and 20th centuries, providing a compelling glimpse into the pre-blues era. The 23 songs he cut for Vocalion between 1927 and 1929 include a spiritual, ballads, reels, dance songs, and blues.On many of his pieces, he simultaneously played the quills or panpipes, a common but seldom-recorded African-American folk instrument indigenous to Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. His lead-in on "Bull Doze Blues" was reworked 40 years later by Canned Heat in their version of "Going Up the Country."

Texas Alexander was well known in the Texas Brazos River bottomlands when he started recording in 1927. Unable to play himself, Alexander used a variety of accompanists including Little Hat Jones, Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang to the string band blues of the Mississipi Sheiks and the full on jazz of King Oliver's New Orleans band. Alexander's performing and recording career continued into the '30s with sessions for Vocalion. In 1940, he was sent to the state pen at Paris, TX, for killing his wife. After his release in 1945 he spent time in Houston, joining his cousin Lightnin' Hopkins for live shows and recording for the Freedom label with pianist Buster Pickens. By 1954 he was back in the bottomlands where he died of syphilis.

Oscar "Buddy" Woods was a Louisiana street musician known as "The Lone Wolf" and a pioneer in the style of lap steel bottleneck blues slide guitar. Not long after arriving in Shreveport, Woods began a long association with guitarist Ed Schaffer, and together they performed as the Shreveport Home Wreckers. Woods and Schaffer made their first two recordings as the Shreveport Home Wreckers for Victor in Memphis on May 31, 1930. From this first session up until his last, a field recording for the Library of Congress made on October 8, 1940, Oscar "Buddy" Woods was involved in the making of no less than 35Black Ace sides. The impact of Oscar "Buddy" Woods on the development of bottleneck slide playing was crucial; one musician he took under his wing around 1930 was Texas native Babe Lemon Karo Turner, who later assumed the name Black Ace. The Black Ace honed his skills playing at community functions during the '20s, then worked with Smokey Hogg at dances in Greenville, TX in the '30s. Hogg and Buddy Woods were frequent partners for Turner. Turner had a show on Fort Worth radio station KFJZ from 1936 – 1941. He recorded for Decca in 1937. After a stint in the army during the early '40s, Turner's jobs were mostly non-musical. He did make a 1960 LP for Arhoolie. Turner took his nickname from the 1936 recording "Black Ace."Rambling Thomas was the brother of Jesse Thomas. Thomas was discovered by recording scouts playing in Dallas, but prior to that had performed in San Antonio and Oklahoma. Thomas cut 16 sides for Paramount in 1928 and four sides for Victor in 1932.

J.T. "Funny Paper" Smith was a pioneering Texas blues guitarist who was also a gifted composer and singer. A contemporary of such legends as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Dennis "Little Hat" Jones, next to nothing concrete is known of his life; assumed to have been born in East Texas during the latter half of the 1880s, he was a minstrel who wandered about the panhandle region, performing at fairs, fish fries, dances and other community events (often in the company of figures including Tom Shaw, Texas Alexander and Bernice Edwards). Smith settled down long enough to record some 22 songs between 1930 and 1931, among them his trademark number "Howling Wolf Blues, Parts One and Two"; indeed, he claimed the alternate nickname "Howling Wolf" some two decades before it was appropriated by his more famous successor, Chester Burnett. His career supposedly came to an abrupt end during the mid-'30s, when he was arrested for murdering a man over a gambling dispute; Smith was found guilty and imprisoned, and is believed to have died in his cell circa 1940.

Little Hat Jones
Little Hat Jones

George "Little Hat" Jones was born October 5, 1899, in Bowie County, TX. He was a well-known street singer in San Antonio in the mid-'20s, and made his first recordings there on June 15, 1929. At the same session he sat in on guitar for an additional nine tracks by Texas Alexander. OKeh brought Jones back six days later to record four more tunes and again a year later, on June 14, 1930, when he four more. For whatever reason, Jones never recorded again, leaving behind a legacy of ten songs, plus nine more as a sideman for Texas Alexander. He died in Naples, TX, in 1981.

Rambling Thomas was the brother of Jesse Thomas. Thomas was discovered by recording scouts playing in Dallas, but prior to that had performed in San Antonio and Oklahoma. Thomas cut 16 sides for Paramount in 1928 and four sides for Victor in 1932.

Among the other performers heard today are fine woman singers like Lillian Glinn, Hattie Burleson, Bobbie Cadilliac, Hattie Hudson, jug and string bands like the Dallas String Band and Frenchy's Stringband. Hattie Burleson was from Dallas and waxed only seven sides. She was discovered by fellow Dallas singer Lillian Glinn while she was singing spirituals in church. Glinn was born in 1900 in Dallas, Texas where she made her first recordings in 1927, recording 22 sides until December 1929.


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