Entries tagged with “Baby Doo Caston”.

Stephen WadeInterview
Kelly PaceRock Island Line The Beautiful Music All Around Us
LeadbellyRock Island Line Leadbelly Vol: 4 1944
Nashville Washboard Band Soldier's JoyThe Beautiful Music All Around Us
Nashville Washboard Band Kohoma Blues Too Late, Too Late Vol. 10 1926-1951
Blind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band Buffalo GalBlind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band
Vera Hall Another Man Done GoneThe Beautiful Music All Around Us
Willie TurnerNow Your Man Done Gone Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1: Secular Music
Big Joe Williams Please Don't Go Big Joe Williams Vol. 1 1935-41
Baby Doo Caston I'm Gonna Walk Your LogChicago Blues Vol. 2 1939-1944
Leadbelly & Golden Gate Quartet Alabama BoundAlabama Bound
Dennis Gainus You Gonna Look Like A Monkey A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Grover Dickson & Group Grizzley Bear A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Dudley Alexander and Washboard Band Baby, Please Don't Go A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Joel HopkinsBetter Down The Road A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Jack Jackson & Lightnin' Hopkins The Slop A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Mance Lipscomb Tom Moore's Farm A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 2
R.C. Forest & Gozy Kilpatrick Tin Can Alley A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 2
R.G. WIlliams & Group Hammer RingA Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Prisoners Chopping In The New Ground Negro Prison Camp Worksongs
Prisoners Go Down Old HannahNegro Prison Camp Worksongs
Jesse "G.I. Jazz" Hendricks and groupRattlerNegro Folklore from Texas State Prisons
Johnny Jackson & Group Raise 'Em Up Higher Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons

Show Notes:

The Beautiful Music All Around UsOn today’s program we spotlight some great field recordings captured between the 1930’s through the 1960’s. In the first hour we talk with Stephen Wade about his new book The Beautiful Music All Around Us which presents the fascinating back stories of thirteen performances captured on Library of Congress field recordings between 1934 and 1942. Through prodigious research, Wade sought out the performers on these recordings, their families, fellow musicians, and others who remembered them and reconstructs their lives and how the music was tied to the larger community. Wade is also known for his long-running stage performances of Banjo Dancing and On the Way Home. He also produced and annotated the Rounder CD collections A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings and Black AppalachiaIn the second hour we spotlight field recordings made by Mack McCormick and others around Houston plus recording made Texas prisons  by Bruce Jackson in the 1960’s and  Pete & Toshi Seeger, John Lomax Jr., Chester Bower and Fred Hellerman in 1951.

Through the dilegence of a relatively small number of dedicated researchers we know an amazing amount of information about early blues musicians. I'm no expert on country music but I imagine the case is similar. For all our knowledge there are many gaps; a fair number of the blues artists were itinerant musicians, traveling from town to town, or state to state and the other factor comes down to the fact that the white establishment wasn't all that concerned with documenting African-Americans, and if they were listed on census records, court documents, etc. that information is often inaccurate. The artists and songs Wade covers in The Beautiful Music All Around Us were biographical blanks, leaving leaving behind little of their origins, and seemingly impervious to discovery after so many decades. Through dogged research Wade has been able to flesh out the lives of folks like Bozie Sturdivant, Ora Dell Graham and Kelly Pace and find the origins and stories behind iconic songs such as "Rock Island Line" and "Another Man Done Gone." Our show has always focused on African-American music but Wade's book covers much wider territory, and illustrates the cross pollination there was between white and black music. Our focus for the first hour plus is some of the African-American artists covered in Wade's book: Kelly Pace, Nashville Washboard Band and Vera Hall.

In October 1934 John Lomax set up his recording equipment at Cummins State Prison in Little Rock, Arkansas  and recorded a group led by Kelly Pace singing "Rock Island Line." The story of that song and its singer is one of my favorite chapters in Wade's book, fleshing out Kelly from those who knew him, he comes across as fascinating, talented man who simply could not stay out of trouble, spending half his life behind bars. "My brother," said Kelly's brother Lawrence, "was a songster. He sang all sort of songs – songs of the church, of the blues, dance songs, work songs …You couldn't beat him working. He didn't wait till the dew is off. He'd say 'I'm going to get 400 pounds of cotton.' And when you was done half-way, he done cut out and coming back. …Kelly, he was something else.'"

Handbill from lecture given at the Library of
Congress (click to enlarge)

Wade also unlocks the origins of that famous song: 'Rock Island Line' begin its journey in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the repair shops of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Based on a traditional form and arising within a commercial setting, the song, like a trunk line whose branches radiate across the countryside, soon moved beyond this work site making new stops, shifting its contents, and streamlining its load. It migrated from a gospel quartet that the Arkansas prisoners performed to a rhythmic fable that Huddie Ledbetter created as he traveled with John Lomax as chauffeur, auto mechanic, and musical demonstrator. Eventually the song reached an incalculable number of players, singers, and listeners via skiffle, rock and roll, country, pop, and the folksong revival."

John Work IV recalled to Wade when his father, John Work III, welcomed a quartet of street musicians called the Nashville Washboard Band into his home in 1942. As Wade writes "the musicians faced them in a row, seated side by side, lodged between the Works' radio set on one end and their Steinway parlor grand on the other. One band member chorded his banjo-mandolin, and another the guitar, but Work IV fixed most on the string bass a third member of the band had cobbled together from a length of laundry wire, a broomstick, and a lard can. …[T]he band's fourth member, who was blind, sat between, who was blind, set between two washboards mounted on a sawhorse and hinged in the shape of a V. He had attached to them an assemblage of frying pans, tin plates, and a metal bell, each registering different tones. Wearing sewing thimbles on his fingers, he tapped, clocked, and hammered this clattering array of stove-top resonators and corrugated surfaces." John Work IV recollected "These people were the music. …They could just play on and on, and the house would reverberate." Twenty years after a group calling themselves Blind James Campbell And His Nashville Street Band were recorded by Chris Strachwitz for Arhoolie Records. The group members knew the earlier group, linking the two in a long, if largely undocumented, tradition of black street bands.

Treasury of Field Recordings Vol. 1 Treasury of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Read Liner Notes Pt.1 / Pt. 2

In 1940, in Livingston, Alabama, Vera Hall sang "Another Man Done" twice into John Lomax's recording machine. The song became Hall's signature number and when Alan Lomax included the number for one of the Folk Archive's first releases the song entered the mainstream, recorded by Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, John Mayall, Odetta and numerous others. In the chapter on Vera Hall, Wade provides background on Hall, the conditions she grew up in and the meaning behind the song. "When Vera recorded "Another Man Done" she told John Lomax that she learned it from her guitar-playing husband. …When writer-collector Harold Courlander came to Livingston in February 1950, he recorded both Vera singing 'Another Man Done,' as well as someone she knew: Willie Turner, a twenty-seven-year-old  confined at Camp Livingston. With his two fellow inmates, he sang and recorded 'Now Your Man Done Gone,' a piece they otherwise sang on the county road gang. …Two days before Courlander recorded Willie Turner at Camp Livingson, he stopped forty miles away in Marion, Mississippi. There he recorded a singer identified in his notes "only as Cora, who sang 'Baby Please Don't Go' . . . the same song, but with some variance in the lyrics." That song was first recorded commercially by Big Joe Williams in 1935. These songs "fit within a larger family of songs that "fit within a larger family of songs that include 'I'm Alabama Bound,' 'Don't Ease Me In,' 'Don't Leave Me Here,' and 'Elder Greene's in Town.' This network of songs that arises by the late nineteenth century uses a consistent verse pattern and, largely, a recurring subject matter."

There is a connection between the albums featured in the second hour: A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1 & 2, Negro Prison Camp Worksongs and Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons. As Mack McCormick writes in the notes to A Treasury Of Field Recordings: "The various collecting projects which have funneled into this final selection were initiated in 1951 when Pete Seeger visiting Houston, bringing together Ed Badeaux, John Lomax Jr., Chester Bower and Harold Belikoff, resulting in the founding of the Houston Folklore Group. At that time recordings were made at two of the Texas prison farms." The recordings McCormick is talking about resulted in the album Negro Prison Camp Worksongs with some songs from that session appearing on A Treasury Of Field Recordings. The recordings Bruce Jackson made over a decade later for the album Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons were recorded at the same Texas prisons and it's likely some of the same prisoners were recorded.

Negro Prison Camp Worksongs
 Read Liner Notes

A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1 & 2 were compiled by Mack McCormick and issued on the British 77 label in 1960. Sponsored by the Houston Folklore Group and the Texas Folklore Society, these Fields recordings were collected around Houston by McCormick and other collectors like Ed Bradeux, Pete Seeger, John Lomax and others. The 36 selections contained in this set were drawn from over 400 items recorded over a nine year period. The original recordings are housed at the University of Texas and the Library of Congress. As the notes state it portrays "A panorama of the traditions around Houston – the city and its neighboring bayous, beaches, prisons, plantations, plains and piney woods…” And as John Lomax writes about this collection “This is one good, long look at the guts of America – songs sung by those who make them up and pass them along, showing the character of themselves, the flavor and spirit of their lives.” Below is information on some of the albums' performers.

Joel Hopkins was Lightnin's older brother and first gave him a guitar. Joel traveled the south with tent shows and traveling caravans. Lightnin's other brother, John Henry also played guitar. The three were recorded together in Waxahatchie, TX in 1964. The results were issued on Arhoolie under the title Hopkins Brothers: Lightnin', Joel, & John Henry .

As Mack McCormick writes in the notes: "When his wife is away at church, Jack Jackson will sit down at his piano and sing "sinful" songs. Sometimes when she has an evening prayer meeting he'll invite someone like Lightnin' over to 'kick it around.' Lightnin' has ceased working with pianists (though he stills plays primarily in jook joints (for dancing) and Jack has established himself in business on the corner of Milam and Prarie in Houston's downtown business district."

Tom Moore was a powerful plantation owner who farmed land along the Brazos river in Texas. Asked about the song, sung on this collection by Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins, he replied: "They're happy people – they don 't always mean what they sing. He laughed deprecatingly, 'Only I best never catch one of them singing that song.'" As McCormick notes: “In order to protect him [Mance Lipscomb] and his family, his name is withheld from his recording of 'Tom Moore's Farm'. …The simple fact is that the singer and Tom Moore are neighbors, the one a poor laborer, the other a powerful and vindictive man who has long felt the song to be a thorn in his side.”

Recorded by Pete & Toshi Seeger in the winter of 1951 at two Texas prison farms, Negro Prison Camp Worksongs, released on the Folkways label, represents some of the oldest and most traditional work songs found among African American prison communities in the southern United States. In 1951, when Pete Seeger as one of the successful Singing group, The Weavers, was booked to appear at a Houston hotel ballroom, he wrote John Lomax, Jr. suggesting that he ask permission for them to visit the nearby prison farms with recording equipment. The governor granted permission and the group, with Chester Bower providing the tape machine and assisting, visited Ramsey and Rechine farms on consecutive Sunday afternoons.

Negro Folklore From Texas State Prisons
 Read Liner Notes

A couple of months back we devoted half a show to recordings made by Bruce Jackson in the 60's at Texas prisons. Today we feature selections from Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons (Elektra, 1965) which I omitted last time. Jackson wrote: “I started recording in Texas prisons in July 1964. I think Texas had about 12,000 prisoners in 14 prisons back then …My primary interest in Texas was the black convict worksongs, which seemed to me to be part of an unbroken musical tradition going back to West Africa….”

Stephen Wade Interview/Feature  (75 min,. mp3)

Rev. Gary DavisEvening Sun Goes DownPure Religion & Bad Company
Bate TateIf I Could Holler Like a Mountain...Blues - Music from the Documentary Film By Sam Charters
Skip JamesHard Time Killin' Floor BluesComplete Early Recordings
Lane HardinHard Time BluesBackwoods Blues
Do Boy DiamondHard Time Blues #2George Mitchell Collection Vol. 3
Alec SewardCreepin' BluesCreepin' Blues
Sonny's StorySonny's StorySonny's Story
Sonny Boy WilliamsonNo Nights By MyselfCool Cool Blues -The Classic Sides
Jimmy ReedHigh And LonesomeThe Vee-Jay Years
Luke JonesFeelin' Low DownLuke Jones & Red Mack - West Coast R&B 1947-1952
Red MackJust Like Two Drops Of WaterLuke Jones & Red Mack - West Coast R&B 1947-1952
Fenton RobinsonSay You're Leavin'Chicago Blues of the 1960's
Morris PejoeScreaming & CryingChicago Blues Guitar Killers
Lonnie PitchfordLast Fair Deal Going DownNational Downhome Blues Festival Vol. 1
Robert LockwoodThis Is The BluesComplete Trix Recordings
Bessie SmithI'd Rather Be Dead And Buried In...The Complete Recordings (Frog)
Trixie ButlerJust a Good Woman Through With the BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Lizzie MilesYellow Dog Gal BluesLizzie Miles Vol.3 1928-1929
Mississippi Fred Mcdowell61 HighwayFirst Recordings
Mississippi Fred McdowellGoing Down the RiverFirst Recordings
Lee GreenThe Way I Feel BluesThe Way I Feel Blues
Leroy CarrHow Long Has That Evening Train...How Long Has That Evening Train...
Memphis SlimIn The Evenin'Bad Luck & Trouble
Memphis SlimI Left That Town - Harlem BoundMemphis Slim and the Honky-Tonk Sound
Papa Harvey Hull & Long 'Cleve' ReedOriginal Stack O'Lee BluesThe Songster Tradition 1927-1935
Henry ThomasCottonfield BluesTexas Worried Blues
State Street BoysMidnight SpecialBig Bill Broonzy Vol. 3 1934-1935
Willie LaneBlack Cat RagRural Blues Vol. 1 1934-1956
Black AceI Am The Black AceI'm The Boss Card In Your Hand
Lightnin' HopkinsDevil Jumped The Black ManWalkin' This Road by Myself
Crying Sam CollinsLonesome Road BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Crying Sam Collins AugustSlow, Mama, SlowThe Slide Guitar 2 - Bottles, Knives & Steel
St. Louis JimmyPoor Boy BluesI Blueskvarter Vol. 2
Yank RachellEvery Night And DayI Blueskvarter Vol. 1
Rosetta HowardToo Many DriversRosetta Howard 1939-1947
Baby Doo CastonThe Truth About The BluesThe Truth About The Blues

Show Notes:

A typical mix show lined up for today, which means another wide ranging set of blues spanning the 1920's on up. Today we spin some Piedmont styled blues by several fine bluesmen, spotlight some out-of-print LP's plus play some twin spins of Mississippi Fred McDowell, Memphis Slim, Crying Sam Collins and a trio of tracks revolving around Baby Doo Caston.

Unlike blues artists like Big Bill or Memphis Minnie who recorded extensively over three or four decades, Blind Boy Fuller recorded his substantial body of work over a short, six-year span. Nevertheless, he was one of the most recorded artists of his time and by far the most popular and influential Piedmont blues player of all time.  In 1935 a new manager, J. B. Long, was brought in to run the United Dollar Store on Durham's West Club Boulevard.  One day, hoping to attract farmers from the tobacco warehouses to his store, he heard a blind bluesman Fulton Allen (Blind Boy fuller), playing the guitar. During Long's summer vacation an improbable sextet headed for New York to record: Long, his wife and daughter, Blind Boy Fuller, Gary Davis, and George Washington (Bull City Red). Davis recorded three sessions over three days for ARC; only the first session was blues and the other gospel. Today we spin tracks by several in Fuller's orbit including Gary Davis, Sonny Terry and Baby Tate. Our opening number, "Evening Sun Goes Down", comes from the excellent album Pure Religion & Bad Company cut for the Folkways label. Baby Tate met and played with Blind Boy Fuller’s in the 30’s. Tate's track, " f I Could Holler Like a Mountain Jack," comes from the soundtrack album Blues – Music from the Documentary Film By Sam Charters shot by Charters in 1962 and featuring Baby Tate, J.D. Short, Pink Anderson, Sleepy John Estes, Gus Cannon and Memphis Willie B. From Sonny Terry we hear "Sonny's Story" the title track from his wonderful 1960 Bluesville album. Terry is largely playing solo acoustic, with J.C. Burris joining in for harmonica duets every so often; Sticks McGhee and drummer Belton Evans also play on a few cuts.

We play a cut by an associate of Terry's, Alec Seward who was born in  Charles City, VA. When he turned 18, he packed up and moved to New York with the intention of professionally playing music. Along the way, Seward struck up a friendship with Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. He also came in contact with Louis Hayes. The two began performing as the Blues Servant Boys, Guitar Slim & Jelly Belly, and the Backporch Boys. Over the next two decades, Seward played and recorded with Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. He also released an album on Blueville, Creepin' Blues in 1965 and today we spin the title track. The remainder of the '60s found Seward playing live whenever possible and working the folk/blues festivals that had become popular in that decade. He passed in 1972.

Among the twin spins are a pair of Mississippi Fred McDowell's debut recordings. McDowell was brought to wider public attention when he was discovered and recorded in 1959 by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins. Many fine albums ensued by in many ways these initial recordings are his best. We also spin a couple by Memphis Slim including his majestic 1961 reading of Leroy Carr's "In The Evenin'" as he opens by saying "The one an only Leroy Carr, one of the greatest tunes he ever made." This comes from the superb album Bad Luck & Trouble waxed for Candid in 1961. From the previous year we hear the rollicking "I left That Town – Harlem Bound" from the out-of-print LP Memphis Slim and the Honky-Tonk Sound, one of several fine records Slim cut for the Folkways label.

Traveling back to the pre-war era we spotlight a pair of cuts by Crying Sam Collins. One of the earliest generation of blues performers, Collins developed his style in South Mississippi. His recording debut single ("The Jail House Blues," 1927) predated those of legendary Mississippians such as Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson and was advertised by Black Patti as "Crying Sam Collins and his Git-Fiddle." Collins did not become a major name in blues — in fact his later records appeared under several different pseudonyms — but his bottleneck guitar pieces were among the first to be compiled on LP when the country-blues reissue era was just beginning. Sam Charters wrote in The Bluesmen: "Although Collins was not one of the stylistic innovators within the Mississippi blues idiom, he was enough part of it that, in blues like 'Signifying Blues' and 'Slow Mama Slow,' he had some of the intensity of the Mississippi music at its most creative level." In addition to playing the above mentioned "Slow Mama Slow" we also play "Lonesome Road Blues" (a version of "In The Pines"), a haunting number that ranks as one of Collins' masterpieces. The only other track that even approaches this is Collins' "My Road Is Rough And Rocky (How Long, How Long?)" (his version of "Long Gone") which I've played on previous programs. I first heard these numbers on Yazoo's Lonesome Road Blues and they remain among my favorite pre-war blues sides.

I've been listening lately to the music of Baby Doo Caston, who will probably always remain in the shadow of his more famous friend and collaborator, Willie Dixon. A few back a played a great tune by the Big Three Trio, which featured both men, and recently I dug out of my collection of couple of nice LP's Caston cut just prior to his passing. Caston was born in Sumrall, Mississippi and raised in Meadville, Mississippi from age eight. He lived in Chicago from 1934 to 1936 but then moved back to Mississippi after his family relocated to Natchez. In 1938 he returned to Chicago, where he met with Mayo Williams, a producer for Decca Records. Williams recorded him in a trio with Gene Gilmore and Arthur Dixon; Dixon introduced him to his brother, Willie Dixon. Willie and Caston then formed the Five Breezes who cut eight sides for Bluebird in 1940.Among the better tracks the by group was "My Buddy Blues" a fine lowdown war themed number which we spin today:

I have signed my name
It won't be long before I go
I woke up this morning
The mailman had my numbers at my door

If you're twenty-one, buddy
I advise you not to hide
Because when that wagon roll 'round
I declare you've got to ride

Uncle Sam he's callin' fer you
And you know you got to go
He's callin' for all you jitterbugs
Like he never called before

The charity s been taken care of you
For a very long, long time
Now, Uncle Sam is calling you
And you know what's on his mind

Also in 1940 Caston recorded his first solo record for Decca, the tough delta styled "I'm Gonna Walk Your Log" backed by the topical "The Death Of Walter Barnes", both featuring Robert Nighthawk on harmonica. The latter number memorialized one of the deadliest fires in American history which took the lives of over 200 people, including bandleader Walter Barnes and nine members of his dance orchestra, at the Rhythm Club in Natchez, MS on April 23, 1940. News of the tragedy reverberated throughout the country, especially among the African American community, and blues performers have recorded memorial songs such as "The Natchez Fire", "The Natchez Burning" and "The Mighty Fire" ever since. The Five Breezes disbanded in 1941, and Caston began playing in the Rhythm Rascals. After the war, he recorded under his own name as well as for Roosevelt Sykes and Walter Davis, and did myriad studio sessions. He also recorded again with Dixon as the Four Jumps of Jive and the Big Three Trio, playing in both groups. The Big Three Trio recorded for Columbia Records and Okeh Records. The group also backed singer Rosetta Howard at two 1947 sessions.  From the second session we play "Too Many Drivers." The Big Three Trio's last sides were recorded in 1952, but the group didn't officially break up until 1956. Caston continued performing for decades afterwords, returning to perform with Dixon in 1984. He also released the albums, Baby Doo's House Party and The Truth About The Blues, shortly before his death in 1987.  From the latter record we feature the title track.

We feature a set of songs about hard times, which seems as topical as ever; from the depression we hear Lane Hardin's "Hard Time Blues" (1935) and Skip James, who sang for many on his  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" (1931) :

Hard times is here
An everywhere you go
Times are harder
Than ever been before

You know that people
They are driftin' from door to door
But they can't find no heaven
I don't care where they go

Lonnie Pitchford, Photo by Axel Kunster

As for Lane Hardin he cut one pre-war record,  “Hard Time Blues b/w California Desert Blues” in 1935. In around 1950 a group of artists sent in a batch of unlabeled acetates that were discovered at Modern in 1970. These recordings have remained a focal point for intense discussion ever since. When these sides were first issued on the Blues From The Deep South LP (reissued on the Ace CD Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 5), the name Arkansas Johnny Todd and Leroy Simpson were invented for two sides released, as the artists identities were unknown. After some detective work it turns out that Arkansas Johnny Todd is actually Lane Hardin. We move up to 1967 for our final hard times number as Do Boy Diamond sings "Hard Time Blues #2." Diamond was living on his "boss man's" farm, outside of Canton, Mississippi, north of Jackson, when George Mitchell recorded him in 1967.

We also play a set featuring Lonnie Pitchford and Robert Lockwood. Pitchford was an obscure Delta blues player until he was "discovered" by ethnomusicologist Worth Long. He began to attract crowds playing the music of Robert Johnson, on his one-stringed didley bow. Pitchford began playing Johnson's tunes after meeting guitarist Robert Jr. Lockwood at the World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. Lockwood showed Pitchford some basic Johnson chord changes and arrangements, and for several years after that, Pitchford was accompanied by the late Alabama bluesman Johnny Shines, as well as Lockwood. Pitchford was also an accomplished six-string guitarist and piano player. He cut one full-length album All Around Man, for Rooster Blues, as well as several compilations including some excellent tracks on the Living Country Blues series.. Pitchford was voted as one of Living Blues magazine's "top 40 under 40" new blues players to watch. Unfortunately, his life was cut short in 1998 at the age of 43.