West Coast Blues

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

Show Notes:

Pee Wee Crayton
Pee Wee Crayton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawyer Houston Lawyer Houston Blues Lightning Special
Lawyer Houston Dallas Be Bop Blues Lightning Special
Lawyer Houston Western Rider Blues Lightning Special
Smokey Hogg Country Girl Good Morning Little School Girl 1945-1951
Smokey Hogg Long Tall Woman Deep Ellum Rambler
Smokey Hogg I Want A Roller Juke Joints Vol. 3
Frankie Lee Sims Single Man Blues Lightning Special
Frankie Lee Sims Married Woman Lucy Mae Blues
Frankie Lee Sims Lucy Mae Blues Lucy Mae Blues
Lil Son Jackson Bad Whiskey Bad Women Rockin' And Rollin' - Vol. 1
Lil Son Jackson Cairo Blues Rockin' And Rollin' - Vol. 1
Lil Son Jackson Gambling Blues Rockin' And Rollin' - Vol. 1
Lawyer Houston Lawton, Oklahoma Blues Lightning Special
Lawyer Houston Out in California Blues Lightning Special
Lawyer Houston Going Back To The Country I'm Going Back To The Country
Smokey Hogg Goin' Back To Texas Good Morning Little School Girl 1945-1951
Smokey Hogg In This World Alone Texas Guitar Killers
Smokey Hogg Penitentiary Blues Good Morning Little School Girl 1945-1951
Frankie Lee Sims I'm So Glad Lucy Mae Blues
Frankie Lee Sims Wine And Gin Bounce Lucy Mae Blues
Lil Son Jackson Homeless (Blues) (Homesick Blues) Rockin' And Rollin' - Vol. 1
Lil Son Jackson Ticket Agent Blues Rockin' And Rollin' - Vol. 1
Lawyer Houston At The Station Crying Hollywood Blues
Lawyer Houston Far East Blues Hollywood Blues
Smokey Hogg Look in Your Eyes Pretty MamaSmokey Hogg Sings The Blues
Smokey Hogg You Brought It On Yourself Midnight Blues
Smokey Hogg Believe I'll Change Towns Midnight Blues
Frankie Lee Sims She Like To Boogie Real Low4th & Beale And Further South
Frankie Lee Sims Walking With Frankie 4th & Beale And Further South
Lil Son Jackson Black and BrownRestless Blues - Volume 2
Lil Son Jackson Big Gun Blues Restless Blues - Volume 2
Smokey Hogg Pack Your GripMidnight Blues

Show Notes:

Today's show is the second of a series spotlighting some fine West Coast artists that I wanted to feature in more depth, the bulk form Texas and California, who cut sides for the myriad labels that popped up in the immediate port-war era. In California the blues thrived around around the Los Angeles, Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco Bay areas. Many of the artists were transplanted Texans who had come to California during the war year to find jobs in the booming defense industry in the Oakland-San Francisco Bay area. Today we spotlight four excellent down-home Texas artists: Frankie Lee Sims, Lil Son Jackson and Smokey Hogg, all who did the bulk of their recording for California labels and Lawyer Houston who spent time in Oklahoma and California and split his recordings between Dallas and Los Angeles.

I first heard Lawyer Houston on an Atlantic LP Texas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A. years ago and he’s a very appealing singer with a light tenor voice backing himself with some springy guitar work. Until recently nothing was known about him. Sometime before June 7th 1950, when Atlantic bought them, he recorded eight titles at Jim Beck's studio on Ross Avenue, Dallas. Beck was also from Marshall, so that may have been a factor. He cut another session in autumn 1953 in L.A. Two songs were issued from the Dallas session, the first as by Lawyer Houston, the second as by Soldier Boy Houston. In “Western Rider Blues” he sings “My name is Lawyer Houston and I'm a Private First Class” which turns out to be true.

Lawyer Daniel Houston was born in Marshall, Texas in 1917. He was inducted into the army in 1941 and served until 1946. He re-enlisted two months later and served until 1961. His songs “In The Army Since 1941” and “Lawton, Oklahoma Blues” are loosely autobiographical accounts of his time in the Philippines and Fort Sill near Lawton. As writer Neal Slavin notes: “Apart from their unusually informative lyrics, Houston's songs are notable for the springy rhythms with which he accompanies himself. In essence, his style is close to that of Lil' Son Jackson… …Two further songs,'Out In Califonia Blues' and 'Going To The West Coast', were prophetic; in the former, Houston announces his intention of going to Los Angeles' Central Avenue to stay at the Hotel Dunbar, after which 'I'm going out to Hollywood and become a movie star'. The move took place but the Army intervened. They needed him in Korea, where war broke out on June 25, 1950. At his second and Iast recording session, “Far East Blues” and “Leavin' Korea” indicate a familiarity with Korea and Japan which in this artist's case is virtual proof of his presence there."

Circa 1953/1954 Houston cut eight sides for the Hollywood label in Los Angeles with the sessions purchased by King Records. The sides were never issued and have been reissued for the first time, this year on the 2-CD Hollywood Blues on the JSP label. Houston's military service ended in December 1961 and he spent the rest of his Iife in various Californian communities, ending up in Lancaster, where he worked as a custodian at the California State Museum. He died of pulmonary disease on December 3, 1999. Houston's life story can be found in Blues & Rhythm magazine issue 215 written by Guido Van Rijn and Chris Smith.

For roughly a decade Smokey Hogg was a big seller, cutting a pile of records across numerous labels and retained a a loyal fan base among the black audiences who purchased his records, yet, among some blues collectors his esteem, shall we say,  is held in much lower regard. As Tony Rounce points out: "It's true that Smokey's unique, even eccentric sense of timing has always rendered him a cottonpatch apart from the majority of his peers. It's also true that many of his best records display an enjoyably ramshackle quality, which makes them sound like segments of a longer song, where his various producers just turned the tape machine on and off for when they decided they'd got enough on tape. (According to Modern Records boss Jules Bihari, that's more or less what often did happen, with Jules waving his arms frantically from the recording booth when he wanted Smokey to knock it on the head!)." Still, more often than not, Smokey put out some very appealing records, melding a rural Texas blues style with a more contemporary R&B combo sound with generally succesful results. Many of his songs reach back to the 30"s, no doubt his formative musical years, as he updates, borrows and adopts songs by Big Bill Broonzy, Peetie Wheatstraw,  John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson and others as well as contemporaries like Doctor Clayton. Little by little over the past few years, the Ace label has been restoring Smokey's reputation, issuing three CD's worth of material (over seventy songs), all with meticulous notes and featuring quite a bit of unissued material

Andrew "Smokey" Hogg was born in Cushing, Texas, in January of 1914. He grew up on the farm and was taught to play guitar by his father, Frank Hogg. While still in his teens he teamed up with the slide guitarist and vocalist B.K. Turner, aka Black Ace, and the pair travelled together playing the turpentine and logging camp circuit of country dance halls and juke joints that surrounded Kilgore, Tyler, Greenville and Palestine in East Texas. In 1937 Smokey Hogg and Black Ace were brought to Chicago, Illinois by Decca Records to record, and Hogg had his first record wwith "Family Trouble Blues b/w Kind Hearted Blues," released as by Andrew Hogg.  He did not make it back into a recording studio for over a decade. By the early 1940s he was married and making a good living busking around the Deep Ellum area of Dallas, Texas.

Hogg was drafted in the mid 1940s, and after a brief spell with the U.S. military he continued working in the Dallas area where he was becoming well known. In 1947 he came to the attention of Herb Ritter, boss of the Dallas-based record label Blue Bonnet Records, who recorded several sides with him and leased the masters to Modern Records. Hogg's first release on Modern was "Too Many Drivers b/w Country Girl", and was followed by "Unemployment Blues b/w Skinny Leg Woman." These racked up sufficient sales to encourage Modern Records to bring Hogg out to Los Angeles, California to cut more sides with their team of studio musicians that included Hadda Brooks on piano, Bill Davis on bass, and Al Wichard on drums. These sessions yielded his two biggest hits, "Long Tall Mama" in 1947 and "Little School Girl" (#9 U.S. R&B chart), in 1950. In early 1950 Hogg was fronting the Hadda Brooks trio, then later that year he led a new 7-piece combo on a West Coast tour.

Between 1947 and 1958 Smokey Hogg recorded several times a year, and cut several hundred sides for a number of labels, including Modern, Exclusive, Specialty, Macy's, Independent, Sittin In With, Jade, Recorded In Hollywood, Colony, Imperial, Mercury, Combo, Top Hat, Fidelity, Federal, Show Time, Crown, Meteor, Ray's and Ebb Records. Hogg's 1952 Recorded In Hollywood release of his two-part "Penitentiary Blues," a powerful retelling of the old Texas prison song "Ain't No More Cane on the Brazos," is is generally regraded as his finest performance. Hogg's country blues style, influenced by Broonzy, Peetie Wheatstraw and Black Ace, was popular with record buyers in the South during the late 1940s and early 1950s. He continued to work and record until the end of the 1950s, but died of cancer, or possibly a ruptured ulcer, on May 1, 1960.

Frankie Lee Sims c. 1969, photo by Chris Strachwitz

Frankie Lee Sims and his family moved to Marshall, Texas when he was ten years old. His father played guitar at home and at local parties, and Frankie Lee absorbed several tunes, although it seems he didn't take guitar at all seriously until later in his teens. In 1943 he took a job as a fourth grade elementary school teacher in East Texas. That continued until America's entry into the Second World War and his induction into the Marines. On his discharge some three years later he decided to be a musician and made his way to Dallas. There, he made the acquaintance of  T-Bone Walker and Smokey Hogg. He was playing with Smokey Hogg at the Empire Room when Blue Bonnet owner Herb Rippa saw their performance and offered each man a contract. In the event, Sims had two singles issued on Blue Bonnet but Hogg's single was leased to Bullet in Nashville. The following year Sims backed Lightnin' Hopkins on a handful of Gold Star sides. It wasn't until March 1953 that Sims recorded for the Specialty label as a leader. Three sessions were cut in Dallas, the last on February 5, 1954. Johnny Vincent was working as a talent scout for Specialty at the time, so it's likely he brought Sims to the label. One single was issued from each session and the first, "Lucy Mae Blues", was a local hit.

Three years after his last Specialty session, Johnny Vincent, now the mastermind behind Ace Records, contacted him about some sessions. First up was "What Will Lucy Do", a remodeled "Lucy Mae Blues" Next came "Walkin' With Frankie", an up-tempo romp apparently thrown together in the studio. "You don't please yourself, you please the public,' he told Chris Strachwitz. "Now we made (Hey Little Girl) for the hit but now we just bull-corning on this 'Walkin With Frankie' – we just having fun. I made more money out of 'Walkin' With Frankie' than any other record I ever made." Two other singles were issued without much success and Sims also backed Mercy Baby on a pair of singles. For many years, that seemed to be the end of Frankie Lee's recording career, until three battered acetates of material recorded at New York's Belvedere Studios sometime in 1959 or 1960 were found. It's thought Sims may have accompanied Lightnin' Hopkins to New York when the latter cut an album for Bobby Robinson. The results were issued in 1985. By then, Frankie Lee had been dead for fifteen years having died at his Dallas home on May 10,1970.

Melvin Jackson was born near Tyler, Texas in August of 1915. His father Johnny Jackson was a singer and musician and it was from him that he learned the foundation of guitar playing. At about the age of sixteen he left home and settled in Dallas. In the early nineteen forties Jackson began to concentrate on the blues. Jackson was almost thirty years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army served in Europe for two years during the war and in early 1946 returned to Dallas. In 1948 Jackson finally got serious about music and searched around for opportunities to present himself to record companies. Jackson's friends persuaded him to try his luck at an amusement gallery where they had a rather primitive recording machine. He made an acetate of  "Roberta" and "2:16 Blues", a song about "some girl", which he sent off to Bill Quinn who operated Quinn Recording Company in Houston, Texas. The company was interested in recording Texas blues for its Gold Star label, and it was here that Jackson made his debut in the summer of 1948. He was called "Lil' Son" Jackson by the label and the name would stick for the rest of his life. His very first recording was "Roberta Blues b/w Freedom Blues”, the latter becoming a national hit. That initial side was followed by "Ground Hog Blues b/w Bad Whiskey-Bad Women.”. He cut more sides for Gold Star in 1949 as well as for the Sittin' In With label and Modern.

In mid-1950 Lil' Son Jackson made the move to California's major independent label Imperial Records. He would remain with them for most of the decade. His initial recording for the label was "Ticket Agent Blues" and "True Love Blues." He would cut prolifically for the label through 1954 changing his sound by adding a small combo for backing. His "Rockin' and Rollin'," cut in December of 1950, became better known through a raft of subsequent covers as "Rock Me Baby." 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, but his comeback proved fleeting. Jackson died May 30, 1976, in Dallas, TX, from cancer.

Related Items:

Chris  Strachwitz: Frankie Lee Sims Interview (Blues Unlimited #119) [PDF]

Chris  Strachwitz: Lil' Son Jackson (Jazz Report , 1961) [PDF]

Gary Paulsen: In Rememberance of Smokey Hogg (Blues Unlimited #55) [PDF]

Guido Van Rijn & Chris Smith: Lawyer Houston (Blues & Rhythm #239) [PDF]

Buster Pickens Santa Fe Train Back Door Blues
Buster Pickens Rock Island BluesBack Door Blues
Juke Boy Bonner Rock With Me Oakland Blues
Juke Boy Bonner Call Me Juke Boy Going Down To Louisiana
Juke Boy Bonner No Place To Run The One More Trio
Hop Wilson I’m A Stranger Hop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!
Hop Wilson I Feel So Glad Hop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!
Hop Wilson You Don't Move Me No MoreHop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!
Luke "Long Gone" MilesCountry BoyCountry Boy
Luke "Long Gone" MilesLong GoneCountry Boy
Luke "Long Gone" MilesBad Luck Child Country Boy
Buster Pickens Mountain JackBack Door Blues
Buster Pickens She Caught The L&NBack Door Blues
Juke Boy Bonner Life Gave Me A Dirty Deal I'm Going Back To The Country
Juke Boy Bonner Going Back To The Country I'm Going Back To The Country
Juke Boy Bonner Stay Off Lyons Avenue I'm Going Back To The Country
Hop Wilson My Woman Has A Black Cat BoneHop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!
Hop Wilson A Good Woman Is Hard To Find Hop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!
Hop Wilson My Woman Done Quite Me Hop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!
Luke "Long Gone" MilesSo Sorry For To LeaveCountry Born
Luke "Long Gone" MilesNo Money, No Honey Country Born
Buster Pickens You Better Stop Your Woman (From Tickling Me Under My Chin) Back Door Blues
Buster Pickens To Have The Blues Within Conversation With The Blues
Buster Pickens The Ma Grinder No. 2 Back Door Blues
Juke Boy Bonner Struggle Here In Houston The Struggle
Juke Boy Bonner Life Is A Nightmare I'm Going Back To The Country
Juke Boy Bonner Being Black and Proud The Struggle
Luke "Long Gone" MilesHello Josephine Juke Joint Blues 1950's-1960's
Luke "Long Gone" MilesGotta Find My Baby Juke Joint Blues 1950's-1960's
Buster Pickens Jim NanppyBack Door Blues
Buster Pickens Hattie Green Back Door Blues
Hop WilsonRockin' With HopHop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

Today's show is the first of a series spotlighting some fine West Coast artists that I wanted to feature in more depth, the bulk form Texas and California, who cut sides for the myriad labels that popped up in the immediate port-war era. In California the blues thrived around the Los Angeles, Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco Bay areas. Many of the artists were transplanted Texans who had come to California during the war year to find jobs in the booming defense industry in the Oakland-San Francisco Bay area. In post-war Texas much of the action coalesced in Houston, and all of today's artists have ties to that city. Today we spotlight the barrelhouse pianist Buster Pickens, lap steel guitarist Hop Wilson, singer Luke Miles who came from Louisiana to Houston before starting his recording career in California and one-man-band Juke Boy Bonner who left Houston for California in the mid-fifties.

As Paul Oliver wrote in the liner notes to Buster Pickens sole album: "Buster Pickens is a barrelhouse pianist who has played the sawmills, the turpentine camps and the oil 'boom' towns since his childhood. He has outlasted most of his contemporaries in their tough an often dangerous life and can lay good claim to be virtually the last of the sawmill pianists. …The great days of Texas blues were in the 'twenties, when Pickens began to play for a living, and in the thirties when he was one of scores of blues pianists whose fame went before them from town, to camp, to flagstop to chock-house and honkytonk. These were the days when such pianists as Son Becky and Pinetop Burks, Andy Boy and Black Boy Shine were enjoying big local reputations, though if it had not been for a freak of chance recording they might never have been known outside Texas. Others, like Pickens himself, remained unrecorded though no less well known …Buster Pickens knew them and worked with them, changed places with them in the never-ceasing blues entertainment of the barrelhouse joints."

After serving in the military in World War II, Pickens returned to Houston and began a career as a session artist, and was relativley active between 1948-1953 backing Texas bluesmen such as Perry Cain, Bill Hayes , Goree Carter, J.D. Edwards and played on Texas Alexander's last record for the Freedom label in 1950. In addition, he performed regularly with Lightnin'" Hopkins and appears on some of Hopkins's records for Prestige/Bluesville in the early 1960's. His solo album for Heritage, the self-titled Buster Pickens, was recorded in in 1960 and reissued in the 70's on Flyright as Back Door Blues but has never appeared on CD. The sessions were organized by Paul Oliver for the Blues Reseach and Recording Project and the recording done by Mack McMcormick and Chris Strachwitz.

Read Liner Notes

In 1962 Pickens appeared in the movie The Blues. His promising new career in the blues revival, however, was ended when he was murdered a few years later, at age forty-eight, as a result of a barroom dispute about a dollar on November 24, 1964, in Houston. There are several unissued sides from the Pickens session and unfortunately I doubt they will surface anytime soon. There is also an interview with Pickens (conducted by Paul Oliver) which has only surfaced as a snippet on the Conversation With The Blues album that accompanied the book of the same name.

Weldon Bonner was born in Bellville, Texas on March 22nd 1932, to a sharecropping mother and father. His father died when Juke Boy was an infant, leaving his mother to raise nine children, until she died when Weldon was six years old. He moved in with a farming family and began chopping cotton. His musical career began as a child, singing in a gospel group and by the age of twelve he had taught himself the guitar. In 1947 he moved to Houston, winning first prize in a talent show at the Lincoln Theatre in the city. This success lead to regular gigs at lounges, bars and juke joints throughout the Houston area, however the chances to record were strictly limited and by the mid-fifties he headed for the West Coast.

In 1957, Bonner made his recording debut for the Irma label, in Oakland, California cutting four sides with Lafayette "Thing" Thomas on guitar and accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica. Just two sides were issued, "Rock With Me Baby"/"Well Baby" on Irma 111, as by Juke Boy Barner and Group. He returned to touring the South, frequenting bars and juke joints in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana, where he cut three sessions for Goldband Records in Lake Charles in 1960, billed as Juke Boy Bonner — The One Man Trio. Some of these sides found their way to a European release on a Storyville album and attracted attention from European blues enthusiasts. But the breaks didn't come Juke Boy's way until 1967, when sterling work primarily by editors of Blues Unlimited magazine led to recording opportunities for the small Flyright label and for an eventual European tour. During the late 60's, Bonner suffered from bouts of ill health and underwent major stomach surgery. He earned a meager living playing gigs in Houston.

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Blues Unlimited magazine raised enough money for Juke Boy to cut a 45 for the Blues Unlimited label in Houston in 1967. Chris Strachwitz, owner of Arhoolie Records, on a field trip to Texas heard the record and cut an album with him in December 1967. Further sessions followed for Arhoolie in Houston during 1967, 1968 and 1969. Passport difficulties prevented him from joining the 1968 Folk Blues Festival Tour. He found his way to Europe in 1969 where he cut the album Things Ain't Right for Liberty. Throughout the early and mid-seventies his popularity grew and he continued to tour Europe as well as playing dates in Houston, however he couldn't match his European popularity at home. He became dogged by ill health, divorced from his wife and living in a small rented 10ft by 10ft room in a rundown house in the heart of Houston's black ghetto. Bonner was reduced to unloading trucks and collecting aluminum cans to make a living. The frustration and bitterness are reflected in the comments made by a longtime friend to the Houston Chronicle: "He used to say he could go to Europe and earn $1000 dollars but he couldn't make $50 in his hometown." He died in 1978. The week of his death the Houston Chronicle ran the headline: “Weldon ‘Juke Boy’ Bonner, well known in Europe, dies alone in his hometown.”

Hop Wilson was born Hardin Wilson on April 27, 1927 in Grapeland, Texas. He learned how to play guitar and harmonica as a child. He was nicknamed "Harp" at an early age for his frequent harmonica playing. Over time "Harp" became "Hop." When he was 12 years old, he received his first steel guitar from his brother. Little is known of his early years. Hop served in the US Army during WWII. After his discharge from the Army, he decided to pursue a career as a blues musician and in the 50’s moved to Houston.

He began performing with Ivory Lee Semien's group in the late '50s. Wilson and Semien were sent to see Eddie Shuler at Goldband records in 1958 on the recommendation of a local record distributor. They cut several sessions with a number of sides not issued at the time. All of the material has been issued on Ace the label as Hop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!. Sometime in 1958 Semien started his own studio and issued records under his own Ivory label. Semien recorded fourteen sides by Wilson, three issued as singles. Wilson was approached in the 60’s to record again but refused to record again. Wilson died in 1975 and was buried in his hometown of Grapeland, Texas.

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Born in Lachute, Louisiana in 1925, Luke Miles spent his youth working on a cotton plantation, becoming enamored with the blues through listening to the radio as a teenager. He moved to Houston in 1952. In the liner notes to his only full length LP, Country Born (World Pacific, 1965), he said: “I went to Houston for one reason. I went to see Lightnin’ Hopkins. That’s what I went for and that’s what I did. Lightnin’ Hopkins taught me just about everything about blues singing. The first time I ever sang in front of an audience was in 1952 with Lightnin’. The first day I met Lightnin’ he named me “Long Gone” …and I’ve been Long Gone Miles ever since.” The two appear together on the Lightnin’ Hopkins album Country Blues, a collection of recordings made by Mack McCormick in 1959.

By 1961 Miles moved from Houston and was in Los Angles where he cut some 45’s for the Smash label. In 1962 he teamed up with guitarist Willie Chambers, who he would perform with regularly during 1962 and 1963, often at Sugar Hill in San Francisco and at the Ash Grove. Several of these Ash Grove performances can be heard on the Concert Vault website.

He cut a an album for World Pacific in 1965 called Country Born and then cut singles for the Two Kings label in 1965 and Kent in 1969. In the 80’s the Sundown label issued an album called Country Boy featuring early singles and unissued material. Miles’ whereabouts after 1970 where unknown but in 2008 a CD of live material cut in Venice, CA in 1985 was issued. Miles passed in 1987 in Los Angeles.

George 'Harmonica' SmithTelephone Blues Harmonica Ace
George 'Harmonica' SmithSometimes You Win When You LoseBlowing The Blues
George 'Harmonica' SmithLove LifeHarmonica Ace
Champion Jack DupreeOverhead BluesMe And My Mule
Little Johnny TaylorSomewhere Down The LineThe Galaxy Years
George 'Harmonica' SmithThe Blues Is My Roots West Coast Down Home Harmonica
George 'Harmonica' Smith I Don't KnowBlowing The Blues
George 'Harmonica' SmithAstatic StompNow You Can Talk About Me
Sunnyland Slim Got To Get To My BabySlim's got His Thing Goin' On
Dave AlexanderHighway 59Oakland Blues
Long Gone Miles Gotta Find My Baby Juke Joint Blues
Long Gone Miles Hello JosephineJuke Joint Blues
George 'Harmonica' SmithBlues For Reverend King Of The Blues...
George 'Harmonica' SmithTimes Won't Be Hard AlwaysBlowing The Blues
George 'Harmonica' SmithBlues In The DarkHarmonica Ace
Muddy Waters You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never HadAuthorized Bootleg
Muddy Waters Just To Be With YouThe Lost Tapes
George 'Harmonica' Smith West Helena WomanTribute to Little Walter
George 'Harmonica' Smith Going Down SlowTribute to Little Walter
George 'Harmonica' Smith Too Late Tribute to Little Walter
Otis Spann Down On Sarah Street Down To Earth
Big Mama ThorntonOne Black RatThe Way It Is
Big Joe TurnerNight Time is the Right Time Turns On The Blues
George 'Harmonica' SmithEarly One Monday MorningHarmonica Ace
George 'Harmonica' SmithBlowing The BluesBlowing The Blues
George 'Harmonica' SmithMiss O'Malley's RallyBlowing The Blues
George 'Harmonica' SmithMississippi River BluesThe Complete Blue Horizon Sessions

Show Notes:

George 'Harmonica' Smith was one of the most gifted contemporaries of Little Walter and Big Walter yet has received a fraction of their recognition. He was a powerful, inventive and swinging harmonica player and a superb singer. Likely his recognition would be higher if he wasn't based in L.A. He cut his first records for modern in the mid-50's which achieved some success. For the rest of the 50's and 60's he cut a slew of fine singles for small West Coast labels that didn't do much to raise his profile. By the late 60's he had a cut a couple of LP's and was quite active on record in the early and late 70's, keeping relatively quiet in the middle part of that decade. Smith was fairly active as a session player and today we hear him backing his occasional employer Muddy Waters as well as Champion Jack Dupree, Little Johnny Taylor, Big Mama Thornton, Sunnyland Slim, Luke Miles, Otis Spann and others. Smith had a profound influence on the style of younger west coast harmonica players like Johnny Dyer, Kim Wilson, James Harmon and in particular, Rod Piazza and William Clarke.

Allen George Smith was born on April 22nd , 1924 in Helena, Arkansas to Jessie and George Senior. His guitar and harmonica playing mother was something of a role model in his musical upbringing, helping him master the finer points of the harmonica. Around the age of twelve he was hoboing throughout he delta. During this period he was a semi-professional musician playing picnics and fish fries. With the help of a local musician, Smith continued to work in and out of the music business whilst holding down a Job as a projectionist in the town of Itta Bena. He found a way to utilize the amplifier and speaker taken from, presumably, a disused projector and, to amplify the sound of his harmonica. This makes him one of the pioneers in the amplified harmonica.

At the age of twenty-five Smith moved to Chicago. He got a job working with David and Louis Myers and then hooked up with Otis Rush. Smith and Little Walter became really close during this period. Both played chromatic as their chosen and preferred instrument. Unlike Walter, it was proving difficult for Smith to make a break through. Following the departure of Little Walter from Muddy Waters' band, Smith was to fill the vacated harmonica chair when fill-in Henry Strong was stabbed to death by a jealous girlfriend. For whatever reason, his stint with Waters was short-lived and he never recorded with him. Before leaving Chicago, Smith was involved in a Otis Spann session recorded at the end of 1954 which resulted in "It Must Have Been The Devil b/w Five Spot." Smith plays on the former holding his own among heavyweights B.B. King, Jody Williams, Willie Dixon and Earl Phillips.

In 1954, he was offered a permanent job at the Orchid Room in Kansas City where, early in 1955, Joe Bihari of Modern Records (on a scouting trip) heard Smith, and signed him to Modern. These recording sessions were released under the name Little George Smith, and included classics like "Telephone Blues" and "Blues in the Dark." The relative success of these first recordings, resulted in Smith touring with many of the leading Rhythm & Blues acts of the time. While on the tour, he recorded with Champion Jack Dupree in November of 1955 in Cincinnati, producing "Sharp Harp" and "Overhead Blues", the latter we spin on today's program. Smith's excellent Modern sides are collected on Harmonica Ace: The Modern Masters on the Ace label. This disc is aptly described by note-writer Ray Topping as "a lasting memorial to one of the last great harp players of the postwar blues scene."

After touring in support of his first records the tour closed out on the West Coast and the Bihari brothers took Smith into the studio again, this time to work with saxophonist and arranger Maxwell Davis. Smith settled in Los Angeles for the rest of his life. In the late '50s he recorded for J&M, Lapel, Melker, and Caddy under the names Harmonica King or Little Walter Junior. Smith also worked with Big Mama Thornton on many shows. In 1960, Smith met producer Nat McCoy who owned the Sotoplay and Carolyn labels, and with whom he recorded ten singles under the name of George Allen. The bulk of these sides have been collected on Blowin' The Blues which has been issued on P-Vine, Official and the El Segundo labels. There are some real gems on this collection unfortunately sound quality is not always the best and some of the personnel is unknown. When James Cotton left Muddy Water’s band in 1966 he asked Smith to join him and they worked together for a while, recording for Spivey Records under the title The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band. Several years back Geffen/Chess issued Authorized Bootleg featuring Smith with Muddy recorded November 4-6, 1966 at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. Smith was captured with the band again in 1971 live at Washington and Oregon University and posthumously issued as The Lost Tapes on Blind Pig. Smith moved to Chicago to play with Waters. As before, it didn’t last, and Smith went back to Los Angeles. But he stayed friends with Muddy, and when Little Walter died two years later, Muddy’s band backed Smith on his highly regarded Tribute to Little Walter album on World Pacific.

Smith also appeared on the World Pacific album by Sunnyland Slim, Slim's Got His Thing Goin' On and the compilation Oakland Blues backing David Alexander and L.C. Robinson. In 1969, Bob Thiele produced an album of Smith on Bluesway, ..Of the Blues, and later made use of Smith as a sideman for his Blues Times label, including sets with T-Bone Walker and Harmonica Slim. Smith also recorded on the two albums Otis Spann recorded for Bluesway. Smith met the young Rod Piazza in the late 60's, and they launched the Southside Blues Band, which toured with Big Mama Thorton . In 1970 British producer Mike Vernon met the band, signed them to a European tour, and changed their name to Bacon Fat. They recorded a couple of albums for Vernon. All this material has been reissued on the 2-CD set George Smith & Bacon Fat: The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions. In 1969 Luke “Long Gone” Miles and Smith recorded a batch of great songs for Kent, the bulk of which went unissued. The same year he backed Big Mama Thornton, Big Joe Turner and was involved in the Super Black Blues jam album with T-Bone Walker, Otis Spann and Big Joe Turner. In 1970 he cut the album No Time For Jive and the same year he backed Big Joe Turner on the Kent album Turns On The Blues. In 1971 Smith cut the album Arkansas Trap. In 1972 he appeared on Eddie Taylor's I Feel So Bad and backed Big Mama Thornton again in 1975 on the album Jail. Through the 70's and early 80's he remained active working on record with Jimmy Witherspoon, Phillip Walker and others.

Around 1977, Smith became friends with William Clarke and they began working together. Their working relationship and friendship continued until Smith died on October 2, 1983. Of Smith, Clarke said: "He had a technique on the chromatic harp where he would play two notes at once, but one octave apart. He would get an organ-type sound by doing this. George really knew how to make his notes count by not playing too much and taking his time by letting the music unfold easily. He could also swing like crazy and was a first-class entertainer. …I have never heard George play a song the same way twice. He was very creative and played directly from his heart. He admired all great musicians but had his own sound and style. He was a true original. Mr. Smith would always give 100-percent on-stage whether or not there were 1 or 1,000 people listening. This was his performing style, always." His last studio album was Boogie'n With George produced by protege Rod Piazza.

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Tom Townsley describes Smith's technique in the following manner: "He often approached his soIos by using his tongue-blocked octave technique to imitate hom section riffs (as opposed to copying the single notes of a soloist). This gave his playing incredible power. He also knew how to coax a variety of tonal shadings and subtle pitch variations out of a single note by combining bends and microphone manipulation. He built suspense by phrasing his attack just behind the beat. As a result, his tunes swung relentlessly."


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