Texas Blues

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.



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.


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