Entries tagged with “Black Ace”.


ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Titus Turner Christmas Morning BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Jimmy ButlerTrim Your TreeBlues, Blues Christmas
Frankie ''Half-Pint'' JaxonChrist Was Born On Christmas Morn Blues, Blues Christmas
Tampa RedChristmas & New Year's BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Lonnie JohnsonHappy New Year DarlingBlues, Blues Christmas
Robert NighthawkMerry Christmas, Baby Masters Of Modern Blues Vol. 4
Lightnin' HopkinsMerry ChristmasBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Bukka WhiteChristmas Eve BluesMemphis Swamp Jam
Ralph WillisChristmas Blues Blues, Blues Christmas
Goree Carter Christmas BluesGoree Carter Vol. 1 1949-1950
Gatemouth Moore Gate's Christmas BluesGreat Rhythm & Blues Oldies Vol. 7
Cecil GrantHello Santa Claus Blues, Blues Christmas
Charles BrownNew Merry Christmas Baby Legend!
Leroy CarrChristmas In JailBlues, Blues Christmas
Rev. J.M. Gates Did You Spend Christmas Day In JailBlues, Blues Christmas
Bertha ''Chippie'' HillChristmas Man BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Victoria SpiveyAin't Gonna Let You See My Santa ClausBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
Butterbeans & SusiePapa Ain't No Santa ClausBlues, Blues Christmas
Sonny Parker w/ Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra Boogie Woogie Santa ClausBlues, Blues Christmas
Big Joe TurnerChristmas Date BoogieBlues, Blues Christmas
Freddy King I Hear Jingle BellsThe Very Best of Freddy King, Vol.1 1960-1961
Harry ''Fats'' Crafton w Doc Bagby Orchestra Bring That Cadillac BackBlues, Blues Christmas
Gus Jenkins and Orchestra Remember Last Xmas Jericho Alley Blues Flash! Vol.2: Blues In Los Angeles 1956-1959
Hop WilsonMerry Christmas DarlingBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
Black AceChristmas TimeBlues, Blues Christmas
Lil McClintockDon't Think I'm Santa Claus Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
LeadbellyChristmas Is CominBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
Herman Ray Xmas Blues Blues, Blues Christmas
Champion Jack DupreeMerry Christmas BluesChris Barber Presents: Lost & Found Vol .2
Jimmy WitherspoonHow I Hate To See Christmas Come Around Blues, Blues Christmas
Lee Jackson The Christmas Song Bea & Baby Records Vol.2
Clyde Lasley Santa Claus Home DrunkBea & Baby Records Vol.2
Roy Milton & His Solid SendersNew Year's Resolution BluesBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Johnny Otis OrchestraHappy New Year, BabyBlues, Blues Christmas

Show Notes:

Paramount Christmas Greetings Ad

I've been doing a Christmas blues show for many years and was always frustrated with the lack of a really good collection of early blues Christmas songs. In 2005 I hooked up with the Document label to put together a 2-CD, 52 track collection of blues and gospel songs from the 1920's to the 1950's called Blues, Blues Christmas. The record proved to be popular and a second volume was released in 2009 and this year a third volume has been issued. You can read the notes to these by visiting my writing page. Many of today's tracks come from those collections.

On October 30, 1889 banjoist Will Lyle made history by recording "Jingle Bells" – the very first Christmas record. Although no known copies of this recording survive, one of the earliest vocal examples of "Jingle Bells" does survive on an Edison brown wax cylinder entitled, "The Sleigh Ride Party." The first commercial Christmas blues record was cut by Bessie Smith. Her classic "At The Christmas Ball" inaugurated the Christmas blues tradition when it was recorded in November 1925 for Columbia. A year later, circa December 1926, the gospel Christmas tradition was launched when the Elkins-Payne Jubilee Singers recorded "Silent Night, Holy Night" for Paramount Records. After these recordings it was off to the races with numerous Christmas blues numbers recorded by singers of all stripes, a pace that continued as blues evolved into R&B and then rock and roll. It’s almost certainly the case that many of these songs were recorded at the prompting of the record companies. Like any business they were always looking for a new angle or gimmick to sell records and advertised these Christmas records boldly, often with full-page ads, in black newspapers like the Chicago Defender and magazines like Billboard.

Perhaps more than any other music, the blues is deeply enmeshed in a particular culture, entangled in the era of segregation, in the era of Jim Crow and in the era of slavery. In his classic Screening The Blues Paul Oliver wrote “for the Negro, Christmas has a deep-rooted significance beyond that of the religious meaning of the celebration itself; a more worldly one of which has none the less firmly established itself in his folkways. Since far back in slavery Christmas has signified a rest, a break in the year's routine which no other festival affords, proving an opportunity for a man to be with his family and, for a brief period at any rate, from the rigorous monotony of rural labor.” The annual Christmas Ball was something looked forward to all year and as Oliver astutely notes “there may have been a change of venue–a Harlem cellar dive for the 'quarters' and a jazz band instead of the fiddles, but there was probably little difference in kind and certainly in spirit at the Christmas Ball described by Bessie Smith…”

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Among Paramount's biggest blues stars of the 1920's were Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake who made their debuts for the label several months apart – Jefferson in December 1925 or January 1926 and Blake around August of 1926. Paramount ramped up their blues and gospel recordings considerably in 1927 and a new Jefferson and Blake record appeared every month. Paramount resorted to several novel promotions for their big artists; In 1924 Ma Rainey's sixth release was labeled "Ma Rainey's Mystery Record" with prizes given to the best title while Charlie Patton's "Screamin' And Hollerin' The Blues" was listed as by The Masked Marvel with a corresponding advert that bore a drawing of a blindfolded singer – looking nothing like Patton – and the clue that he was an exclusive Paramount artist. Similarly, so successful was Jefferson, that a special yellow and white label was produced for Paramount 12650, "Piney Woods Money Mama" b/w ‘Low Down Mojo Blues" which bore his picture and the wording "Blind Lemon Jefferson's Birthday Record." In a similar vein Christmas records can be seen as just another promotional tool with ads for these records appearing annually in black newspapers every holiday season. Befitting his stardom, Lemon's lone holiday record "Christmas Eve Blues" b/w "Happy New Year Blues", was given a full-page advertisement in the December 12th, 1928 edition of the Chicago Defender. In Paramount's 1928 late fall Dealers' Supplement the label advertised scores of "CHRISTMAS, SPIRITUAL AND SERMON RECORDS THAT ARE DEPENDABLE SALES PRODUCERS" and warned that they "SHOULD BE IN YOUR STOCKS NOW." Blind Blake received the large sized treatment in the 1929 edition of the paper for his "Lonesome Christmas Blues," (also sharing the page was Leroy Carr's "Christmas In Jail – Ain't That A Pain?") his only Christmas record. The flip was "Third Degree Blues" – apparently Blake only had enough holiday spirit for one side!

Blind Blake wishes you a Merry X-mas

The trend continued with more frequency in the 30's. Here are a few notable songs: Butterbeans & Susie "Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus" (1930), Charlie Jordan "Santa Claus Blues" ["Christmas Christmas, how glad I am you are here/ Well I ain’t had a chicken dinner for this whole round year/Shiny bones and naked bones gleaming from around my plate/ …So pass me that chicken, the turkey, duck and the goose/Well all you birds gonna be one legged when I turn you-a-loose"] (1931) and "Christmas "Christmas Blues" (1935), Kansas City Kitty & Georgia Tom "Christmas Morning Blues" (1934), Verdi Lee "Christmas "Tree Blues" (1935), Tampa Red "Christmas And New Years Blues" (1934), Peetie Wheatstraw "Santa Claus Blues" (1935), Bumble Bee Slim's "Christmas And No Santa Claus and "Santa Claus Bring Me A New Woman" (1936), Black Ace "Christmas Time Blues (Beggin' Santa Claus)" (1937), Casey Bill Weldon "Christmas Time Blues" (1937), Bo Carter "Santa Claus" (1938), Walter Davis "Santa Claus" (1935), Sonny Boy Williamson I "Christmas Morning Blues" (1938).

Mary Harris, who cut two sides for Decca at an October 31, 1935 session is most certainly Verdi Lee who cut sides on the exact same date, also in the company of fellow St. Louis musicians Peetie Wheatstraw and Charlie Jordan. It was a holiday themed session with the group cutting "Christmas Tree Blues", "No Christmas Blues", "Happy New Year Blues", "Christmas Christmas Blues" and "Santa Claus Blues" (the latter two with vocals by Jordan and Wheatstraw respectively). Paul Oliver noted that "it would be pleasant to think that each singer was inspired by the others to create a blues on the same subject but at this date, with Christmas two months away, it is more likely that it was a deliberate promotional device by Rev. J.M. Gates: Will The Coffin Be Your Santa Claus[producer] Mayo Williams."

In the 40's there was of course more blues Christmas songs but there was a new music brewing called R&B. Evolving out of jump blues in the late '40's, R&B laid the groundwork for rock & roll. The era's biggest Christmas song was undoubtedly the immortal "Merry Christmas, Baby" cut by Charles Brown & The Blazers in 1947. This perennial classic has been covered numerous times including versions by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Lena Horne , Lou Rawls, Booker T. & the MG's, Otis Redding, James Brown and countless others. Charles Brown's smooth ballad style has become synonymous with Christmas ever since remaking "Merry Christmas, Baby" many times, cutting many other Christmas songs and full length albums including 1961's Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs and Cool Christmas Blues in 1994.

Notable blues and R&B songs from this period include: Champion Jack Dupree's "Santa Claus Blues" (1945), Gatemouth Moore "Christmas Blues" (1946) [recut in 1977 as "Gate's Christmas Blues"], Little Willie Littlefield "Merry Xmas" (1949), Mabel Scott "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" (1947), Harman Ray "Xmas Blues" ["Hold it, hold it man/Don’t play me no jingle bells the way I feel this Christmas/Only kind of bells I want to have anything to do with is some of them mission bells/Man, play me the blues long, loud and lowdown"] (1947), Boll Weavil "Christmas Time Blues" (1947), Big Joe Turner "Christmas Date Boogie "(1948), Thelma Cooper "I Need A Man (For Xmas)" (1948), Smokey Hogg "I Want My Baby For Christmas" (1949), Amos Milburn "Let's Make Christmas Merry Baby" (1949), Harry Crafton "Bring That Cadillac Back" ["I let you eat my turkey on Christmas morn/When I looked around you and my Cadillac was gone"] (1949), Felix Gross "Love For Christmas" ["You can have your turkey and your dressing/Sweet cakes and apple pie/Blue Champagne and Rock & Rye/Everything that money can buy"] (1949), J.B. Summers "I Want a Present For Christmas" (1949 ["Santa Claus, Santa Claus/Hear my plea/Open up your bag and give a fine brown baby to me/ …You can stop by my chimney/Drop her in the chute/ Leave your reindeer outside/Come in and get my loot"] .

One other song from this era is the downright odd "Junior's a Jap Girl's Christmas for His Santa Claus" (1942) a Library of Congress recording by Willie Blackwell that defies categorization. Other non-R&B Christmas songs from the 40's include a few by Leadbelly such as "Christmas Is A-Coming", "The Christmas Song", "On A Christmas Day", Sylvester Cotton "Christmas Blues" (1948), Washboard Pete [aka Ralph Willis] "Christmas Blues" (1948), Alex Seward & Louis Hayes "Christmas Time Blues" (1948), Walter Davis "Santa Claus" (1949).

Clyde Lasley: Santa Came Home DrunkThere was a time you could hit the charts with an instrumental as pianist Lloyd Glenn well knew, scoring big with "Old Time Shuffle Blues" which hit #3 on the R&B charts in 1950 and "Chica Boo" which hit #1 in 1951. He seemed to have a knack for being on hit records, accompanying T-Bone Walker on his 1947 hit "Call It Stormy Monday", and in 1949 he joined Swing Time Records as A&R man, recording a number of hits with Lowell Fulson, including "Everyday I Have The Blues" and the #1 R&B hit "Blue Shadows." In sunny Los Angeles on April 1951 he waxed the shuffling "(Christmas) Sleigh Ride." Glenn's distinctive piano work can also be found on a five-song session Jesse Thomas waxed for Swingtime also in April 1951 which included "Xmas Celebration." Glenn was also present when Lowell Fulson cut his classic two-parter, "Lonesome Christmas Pt. 1 & 2 "in 1951.

The 50's produced many more Christmas gems including: Lowell Fulson's oft covered ""Lonesome Christmas" (1950), Cecil Gant "It's Christmas Time Again" and "Hello, Santa Claus"  (1950), Roy Milton "Christmas Time Blues" (1950), Johnny Otis & Little Esther Phillips "Far Away Blues" [also known as "Faraway Christmas Blues"] (1950), Jimmy Liggins "I Want My Baby For Christmas" (1950), The Nic Nacs with Mickey Champion "Gonna Have A Merry Xmas" (1950), Larry Darnell "Christmas Blues" (1950), Sonny Parker with Lionel Hampton "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" (1950), Lloyd Glenn "Sleigh Ride" (1951), Sugar Chile Robinson "Christmas Boogie" b/w "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1950), Titus Turner "Christmas Morning" (1952), Lightning Hopkins "Merry Christmas" (1953), Chuck Berry "Run, Rudolph, Run" (1958) and "Merry Christmas Baby" (1958), John Lee Hooker "Blues for Christmas" (1959).

The 60's, less so in the 70's, produced a number of strong Christmas blues songs including at least one blues classic, Little Johnny Taylor's "Please Come Home For Christmas" (1969) which has become an oft covered holiday classic. Other notable 60's songs include: Sonny Boy Williamson II "Santa Claus" (1960), Lightnin' Hopkins "Santa" (1960) and "Heavy Snow" (1962), Black Ace "Santa Claus Blues" (1960), B.B. King "Christmas Celebration" (1960), Hop Wilson "Merry Christmas, Darling" (1961), Robert Nighthawk "Merry Christmas Baby" (1964), Lowell Fulson "I Wanna Spend Christmas With You" (1967), Louis Jordan "Santa Claus, Santa Claus" (1968), Charles Brown "New Merry Christmas Baby" (1969) featuring Earl Hooker, Bukka White "Christmas Eve Blues" (1969). In the 70's: Jimmy Reed "Christmas Present Blues" (1970), Lee Jackson "The Christmas Song" (1971), Clyde Lasley "Santa Came Home Drunk (1971), Albert King "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" (1974) and "Christmas Comes But Once A Year" (1974), Eddie C. Campbell "Santa's Messin' with the Kid" (1977).

Freddy Ling: I Hear Jingle BellsThere seems to be a dearth of quality Christmas songs in the 70's and 80's. By the late 80's the rise of the CD caused the demise of the 45 record which was one of the main vehicles for putting out holiday songs. However in lieu of the 45 labels began releasing Christmas themed compilations and there have been a number of very good collections. Some of the best include: Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas (1989) from the Antone's label [reissued on Epic in 1986 and Sony in 2001], Alligator Records Christmas Collection (1992), Ichiban Blues At Christmas Vol. 1-4 (1991-97) [Best of Ichiban Blues at Christmas was issued 2002], Bullseye Blues Christmas (1995), Stony Plain's Christmas Blues (2000), Blue Christmas (2000) from the Dialtone label, Blue Xmas (2001) on Evidence. A number of artists issued Christmas themed records including Charles Brown, Huey "Piano' Smith, Johnny Adams, B.B. King and Etta James. Also with the dominance of the CD age labels went back into their vaults to put together compilations of classic Christmas blues.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Jim BledsoeWorried BluesDown South Blues 1949-1961
Jim BledsoeHot Rod BoogieDown South Blues 1949-1961
Stick Horse Hammond Little GirlAlley Special
Stick Horse Hammond Alberta Down Home Blues Classics: Texas 1946-195
Eddie & Oscar Flying Crow BluesToo Late, Too Late Vol 4 1892-1937
Black Ivory King Flying Crow BluesPiano Blues: The Essential
Pete McKinley Shreveport BluesBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Pete McKinley Whistling BluesBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Lillian GlinnShreveport Blues Lillian Glinn 1927-1929
Three Fifteen & His SquaresSaturday Night On Texas AvenueRare 1930's Blues Vol. 2
Kid WestKid West BluesI Can Eagle Rock: Jook Joint Blues Library of Congress 1940-1941
Joe HarrisEast Texas BluesI Can Eagle Rock: Jook Joint Blues Library of Congress 1940-1941
Oscar "Buddy" WoodsSometimes I Get to Thinkin' I Can Eagle Rock: Jook Joint Blues Library of Congress 1940-1941
Jim BledsoeAvenue BreakdownRural Blues Vol. 1
Jim BledsoeOld River Blues Down Home Blues Classics: Memphis And The South
Jim BledsoeStormin' And Rainin' Rural Blues Vol. 3
Shreveport HomewreckersHome Wreckin' BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Oscar "Buddy" WoodsMuscat Hill Blues Texas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Stick Horse HammondToo Late BabyDown Home Blues Classics: Memphis And The South
Stick Horse HammondGamblin' ManDown Home Blues Classics: Texas 1946-195
Jim Bledsoe & Pete McKinleyDon't Want Me BluesBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Jim Bledsoe Philippine BluesJook Joint Blues
Ramblin ThomasSo Lonesome BluesCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
King Solomon HillThe Gone Dead TrainBlues Images Vol. 3
Jesse ThomasBlue Goose BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Lonnie WilliamsNew Road BluesJook Joint Blues Vol. 5
Lonnie WilliamsTears In My Jook Joint Blues Vol. 5
Stick Horse Hammond Truck 'Em On DownAlley Special
Clarence LondonGot a Letter This MorningBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Black AceTrifling WomanI'm The Boss Card In Your Hand
LeadbellyFannin StreetLeadbelly Vol. 1 1939-1940
Pine Bluff Pete A Women Acts FunnyBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Pine Bluff Pete Uncle Sam BluesBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Jim BledsoeSad And LonelyRural blues Vol. 3
Jim Bledsoe Dial 110 Juke Joints 3

Show Notes:

Shreveport, 1920

Shreveport, Louisiana lies in the tri-state region where Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas meet. Located in the northwest corner of Louisiana, Shreveport has had a thriving music scene for many decades. On the southwest edge of Shreveport's Central Business District is a area that has long been forgotten. Blue Goose is a enclave of a much larger neighborhood called Crosstown, which was destroyed in the 1960's for the construction of Interstate 20. The remnant of Blue Goose is the remaining portion of an area that is rich in history. Blue Goose takes its name from a speakeasy that operated during prohibition. In 1942 the structure was torn down and a one story juke joint called the Silver Slipper took its place. Then later, The Ebony club. In the pre-war era artists such as Ocar "Buddy" Woods, Leadbelly, Jesse Thomas, Ramblin Thomas and the Black Ace performed in the area. Many of the musicians ended up there because they were passing through Shreveport by rail and the area was close to the tracks and the station. During the height of the post-war era, courtesy of labels like Gotham, JOB (not the Chicago label but a  home-grown Shreveport label), Pacemaker (owned by country music star Webb Pierce), Imperial, and Specialty recorded some great blues in Shreveport in the early 1950s. Today we spotight these artists as well as a few songs who make reference to the city in song.

Country Jim Bledsoe

Jim Bledsoe was a street singer and guitarist, he recorded for PaceMaker (Webb Pierce's label) in 1949 under the name Hot Rod Happy and ended his recording career circa 1951/1952 with recordings for Specialty and Imperial under the name Country Jim. "Avenue breakdown and "Old River Blues" (the name of a lake near the city) and "Hollywood Boogie" with a reference to the black neighborhood of Shreveport's, Mooretown (which includes an artery called Hollywood) clearly shows that Bledsoe really was a resident of Shreveport and knew the city well. Bledsoe recorded some twenty sides circa 1951/1952 for Specialty, likely recorded at KWKH studios after hours. Theses sides were not released at the time, with some being issued decades later. Among the unreleased sides were “Travis Street Blues” and “Texas Street Blues” which were named after streets in downtown Shreveport and there was also some gospel sides recorded.

Stick Horse Hammond cut three 78's, six sides, for the JOB and Gotham labels in 1950. The sides Hammond cut for JOB (not the Chicago label of the same name) were issued by Ray Bartlett a former disc-jockey at Shreveport's KWKH station about and according to country artist Zeke Clements, who discovered Hammond, “they drove around for two or three days getting him drunk enough to record.” Hammond was born Nathaniel Hammond, April 1896, Dallas, Texas, and after playing around east and central Texas in the 30's before moved to Taylortown, Louisiana in the 40's. The nickname probably derives from the fact that he wore a peg-leg. He died in Shreveport in 1964 and was buried in Taylortown.

Eddie Schaffer teamed up with Oscar "Buddy" Woods and recorded one single for Victor in Memphis in 1930 billed as the "Shreveport Home Wreckers". Two years later they cut one more record in Dallas under their names. One of their numbers was "Flying Crow Blues." Several songs make reference to the Flying Crow, a train line connecting Port Arthur, Texas to Kansas City with major stops in Shreveport and Texarkana. Black Ivory King, Carl Davis & the Dallas Jamboree Jug Band, Dusky Dailey, Washboard Sam and Oscar Woods all recorded songs about the train. Today we also spin the version by Black Ivory King, perhaps the finest version of this song.

Oscar "Buddy" Woods was a Louisiana street musician known as "The Lone Wolf" and a pioneer in the style of lap steel bottleneck blues slide guitar. It is said that Woods developed his bottleneck slide approach to playing blues guitar after seeing a touring Hawaiian troupe of musical entertainers in the early 1920s. Not long after arriving in Shreveport, Woods began a long association with guitarist Ed Schaffer, and together they performed as the Shreveport Home Wreckers. Woods and Schaffer made their first two recordings as the Shreveport Home Wreckers for Victor in Memphis on May 31, 1930. Woods cut his last five selections for the Library of Congress in 1940. John Lomax wrote the following about the session: "Oscar (Buddy) Woods, Joe Harris and Kid West are all professional Negro guitarists and singers of  Texas Avenue, Shreveport…The songs I have recorded are among those they use to cajole nickels and dimes from the pockets of listeners." Woods died in 1956.

David “Pete” McKinley had two songs released in 1950 on Gotham. “Shreveport Blues” is the earliest post-war blues to mention the city. McKinley participated in the same March 12, 1952 session for Specialty that Jim Bledsoe was involved in. Several other sides were unissued until decades later. Art Rupe of Specialty Records came to Shreveport from California at the suggestion of Stan Lewis, renting out the Studios KWKH for an all-night marathon session which began when the station signed off at 2AM. In 1948, Lewis opened a record store, Stan's Record Shop, on Texas Street in Shreveport. Lewis became a one-stop operator (other record stores would buy from him) and distributor of independent records and began to write and produce R&B and rock and roll records. In 1963, Lewis founded the Jewel label and soon after the Paula and Ronn imprints.

Art Rupe remembered “Pine Bluff Pete” as a “very black man” who had been running errands during the session. Rupe said “when it was felt the other singers couldn't perform effectively any more because of alcohol , fatigue, or both, Pine Bluff Pete asked to record. He looked like he could use the recording fee, and everybody was feeling good, so we recorded him. We never actually intended to release the records, so we paid him outright, not even getting his full name.” The name “Pine Bluff Pete” was given to him by Barry Hansen who discovered the tap in the Specialty vaults. Two of the three songs he recorded credit Jim Bledsoe as the composer and he may be playing guitar on these sides.

Ramblin' Thomas spent time in both Dallas and Shreveport. His brother Jesse said “ He spend a good time in both of them. He's mostly get a room to hisself and play in the streets, in the barbershop, on a corner or even in the alley.” In Shreveport he hung out with Joe Holmes, who in 1932 recorded as 'King Solomon Hill' for Paramount. Holmes' ex-wife, Roberta Allums told researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow, “Joe had rather play with Thomas than any other singer.” In Dallas he spent time with Blind Lemon Jefferson. Thomas cut two sessions for Paramount in 1928 and a last session for Victor in 1932.

Jesse Thomas moved to Shreveport when he was fifteen. In 1927 he moved to Dallas to stay with his brother Willard. After meeting Lonnie Johnson he turned to the guitar playing house parties. Thomas recorded sporadically from the late 1920’s through the early 1990’s and despite his longevity didn’t achieve much in the way of success or recognition. In 1929, at 18, Thomas cut four excellent sides for Victor most notably, ”Blues Goose Blues” named after a Shreveport area where Thomas performed:

 I'm goin down in old Blue Goose, even if I lose
   When you go to Shreveport town
   You can find Blue Goose and they'll car' you down
   I'm goin' down in old Blue Goose, I don't care if I lose

King Solomon Hill's legacy is the six sides he cut for Paramount in 1932: "Whoopee Blues", "Down On My Bended Knee", "The Gone Dead Train", "Tell Me Baby", "My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon" and "Times Has Done Got Hard." The last two numbers were not found until 2002 by record collector John Tefteller. King was closely connected to Crying Sam Collins and Blind Lemon Jefferson and their influence are evident, to some degree, in Hill's style.

Babe Karo Lemon Turner AKA Black Ace grew up in a farm in Hughes Springs, Texas. He took up the guitar seriously when he moved to Shreveport in the mid-1930's and met Oscar Woods from whom he learned the local slide guitar style, playing the guitar flat across the knees. By 1936 he moved to Fort Worth where he secured a gig broadcasting on local station KFJZ between 1936-1941. As his reputation grew he toured and cut six sides for Decca in 1937 (two sides recorded for ARC in 1936 were never released). War service disrupted his career and he worked a variety of jobs outside of music. Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records and Paul Oliver ventured to Fort Worth in 1960 and recorded an album by him that year. Those recordings were originally issued the following year on Black Ace's only LP. Turner passed in 1972 showing no interest to get back in the music business after his Arhoolie session.

By 1903, Lead Belly was already a "musicianer", a singer and guitarist of some note. He performed for nearby Shreveport audiences in St. Paul's Bottoms, a notorious red-light district there. Lead Belly began to develop his own style of music after exposure to a variety of musical influences on Shreveport's Fannin Street, a row of saloons, brothels, and dance halls in the Bottoms. He celebrates the street in the powerful "Fannin Street" which we feature today:

My mama told me
My sister too
Said, 'The Shreveport women, son,
Will be the death of you

Said to my mama,
'Mama, you don't know
If the Fannin Street women gonna kill me
Well, you might as well let me go

In 1937, Three Fifteen and His Squares, a music group from Shreveport, Louisiana, traveled 200 miles north for a recording session in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The musicians, led by David “315” Blunson, recorded four songs released by Vocalion Records. The lyrics to Blunson’s “Saturday Night on Texas Avenue” pay a colorful tribute to Shreveport’s African American main drag during its heyday:

In a spot in my hometown, I’d like for you to go
And get woke up, and see a great show
We smoke weed, and we say hey-hey
We drink port wine until the break of day
Saturday Night on Texas Avenue

Walk all night from place to place
Shuckin’ and jivin’ trying to get our gait
Some be truckin’ and some be doin’ the Suzie-Q
And if you stay long enough, you’ll be truckin’ too
Saturday Night on Texas Avenue

Little is known of Lonnie Williams and Clarence London. Williams recorded four songs for the Sittin' In With label in 1951. In a 1968 interview label head Bob Shad recalled Williams was recorded at a Shreveport radio station, most likely KWKH. Clarence London was a Shreveport construction worker who had been hanging around Stan Lewis' record shop, begging Lewis to record him. When Art Rupe of Specialty Records came to town, Lewis obliged. London recorded three songs and never recorded again.

During the time period covered by this show, there were several songs that had Shreveport in the title. Today we spin "Shreveport Blues" sung  in 1928 by Lilillian Glinn which makes reference to Shreveport's Texas Avenue. A different song with the same title was recorded by Virginia Liston in 1923. Other songs include Little Brother Montgomery's "Shreveport Farewell", Jelly Roll Morton's "Shreveport" and "Shreveport Stomp", Clarence Williams' "Shreveport Blues" and Leadbelly's "Shreveport County Jail Blues" to name a few examples.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
James Brewer I’m So Glad Good Whiskey’s BackBlues From Maxwell Street

Daddy StovepipeThe Monkey And The BaboonBlues From Maxwell Street
Blind Arvella GrayA RoughneckConversation With The Blues
Blind Arvella GrayHave Mercy Mr. PercyBlues From Maxwell Street
Will ShadeDays of 1900/Newport News BluesConversation With The Blues
Boogie Woogie RedSo Much Good FeelingConversation With The Blues
Little Brother Montgomery Walking Basses/Dud Low Joe/The First Vicksburg BluesConversation With The Blues
Roosevelt Sykes They Call Him "Pork Chops"/Forty-Four BluesConversation With The Blues
Otis SpannOnly Places They Can Go/People Call Me LuckyConversation With The Blues
Sunnyland SlimGot The Blues About My BabyThe La Salle Chicago Blues Recordings Vol. 1
Robert Lockwood TalkingConversation With The Blues (vinyl)
Robert Lockwood Take A Little Walk With MeConversation With The Blues (vinyl)
Sunnyland SlimGot The Blues About My BabyLa Salle Chicago Blues Recordings Vol.1
J.B. Lenoir My Father's Style/So It Rocked On/Move to Kansas CityConversation Conversation With The BluesWith The Blues
Brother John SellersMove Back! For WhatConversation With The Blues
Robert Curtis SmithStella RuthI Have To Paint My Face
Robert Curtis SmithMost Reason I SingConversation With The Blues
Robert Curtis SmithI Hope One Day My Luck Will Change Conversation With The Blues
Sam ChatmonI Have To Paint My FaceI Have To Paint My Face
K.C. DouglasBig Road Blues I Have To Paint My Face
Jasper LoveThe SlopI Have To Paint My Face
Willie ThomasA Little Different Conversation With The Blues
Butch Cage & Willie ThomasOne Dime Blues I Have To Paint My Face
Big Joe WilliamsMarried Woman BluesLive at the Fickle Pickle
Jewel Long Frankie and AlbertRural Blues Vol. 2 1951-1962

Lil Son JacksonThe Onliest WayConversation With The Blues
Lil Son JacksonJohnnie MaeBlues Came To Texas
Buster Pickens To Have The Blues WithinConversation With The Blues
Buster Pickens Mountain JackBack Door Blues
Mance LipscombBlues In The BottleConversation With The Blues
Mance LipscombSugar Babe (It's All Over Now)Texas Sharecropper and Songster
Mance LipscombBig Boss ManTexas Sharecropper and Songster
Black Ace Black Ace InterviewBroadcasting The Blues
Black Ace I Am The Black AceI'm The Boss Card In Your Hand
Black Ace Golden SlipperI'm The Boss Card In Your Hand
Alex Moore Chock House Days/Come and Get MeConversation With The Blues
Alex Moore Going Back To Froggy BottomFrom North Dallas To The East Side
Henry TownsendWhat Have I Commited? Conversation With The Blues
Henry BrownHenry Brown BluesHenry Brown Blues
Stump johnsonStump Johnson InterviewBroadcasting The Blues
Henry BrownDeep Morgan Is Delmar NowHenry Brown Blues

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

At the time of the publication of Paul Oliver's first book, Blues Fell This Morning, Oliver hand not visited the United States. As Oliver notes: "Its publication prompted Berha Von Allman of the American Embassy to draw my attention to the Foreign Specialist grant program. With a small grant and modest royalties the trip was made possible …For an enthusiast in Europe who did not live in the United States and in fact, for a middle-class white American too, blues records provided virtually the prime source for enjoyment of the music and information on its performers and content. Many singers interested me greatly as performers and as blues poets – Whistling Alex Moore, Lightin Hopkins and J.B. Lenoir, who recorded respectively in the 20s, 40s and 50s, among them. It was important for me to try and seek out these singers and many others whose records I had enjoyed and knew by heart. …The opportunity before me was one where I could take a synchronic slice through the blues phenomenon. It might be the last occasion when such a cross-section in time, culture and tradition was possible, I believed. Without a doubt, it was imperative to make the trip."

In the summer of 1960 Paul Oliver came to the United States with the aid of a State Department grant and BBC field recorder with the idea, as he writes of “putting on tape the conversation and music of blues artists in the country and the cities, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. Some of the blues singers were famous, or had been, whilst others were unknown and destined to remain so. … The blues singers of the Mississippi Delta or East Texas Piney woods may have sung and played in different styles from those currently working in Chicago or Detroit but between them was a common bond of feeling and expression which lay at the root of the blues.” Oliver began his trip in the east hitting Detroit, Chicago, Memphis and St. Louis before joining forces with collector Chris Stratwichz who would found Arhoolie records, and researcher Mack McCormick. The trio, and Oliver’s wife Valerie, traveled through Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas where they record the Black Ace, Alex Moore, K.C. Douglas, Buster Pickens, Lil Son Jackson, Mance Lipscomb, Sam Chatmon and others. "Far from inhibiting the speakers the BBC field recorder excited genius interest as a piece of equipment and encouraged many a blues singer to summon his memories and address his observations with clarity and confidence." On his return to England Oliver produced BBC radio-documentaries on his experiences and compiled the conversations he had with blues singers in his groundbreaking book, Conversation with the Blues. Today we go back in time, traveling along with Oliver, tracing his route and playing the blues and conversation he recorded.

Oliver began his journey at Harvard where he interviewed Professors Raiford Logan and Sterling Brown, stopped briefly in Washington D.C. before spending a couple of days in New York City. There he interviewed Sam Price, Victoria Spivey and John Lee Hooker. On July 7th he was in Detroit where interviewed and taped performances by Boogie Woogie Red, Eddie Kirkland and Floyd Taylor. The only material issued from these encounters is an brief interview segment from John Lee Hooker and a performance by Boogie Woogie Red which we feature today. Boogie Woogie Red played piano on many records made by John Lee Hooker and he also recorded himself on the Fortune label.

Between July 9th and the 16th Oliver was in Chicago where he did recordings on Maxwell Street, his friend John Steiner's home at and at Muddy Waters' house. The Maxwell Street recordings resulted in the album Blues From Maxwell Street issued on the Heritage label on issued for the first time on CD on the Document label. In the liner notes Oliver wrote: ”The blues singers of Maxwell Street are many, and many are transitory figures, here today, hopping a freight train tomorrow. Amongst the best a familiar figures are Blind Grey, Blind Brewer, King David and Daddy Stovepipe, and these are the singers who are featured on this documentary of one of the most colorful Negro streets in the United States.”

James Brewer was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi on 1920 and moved to Chicago in the 1940's where he spent the latter part of his life busking and performing both blues and religious songs at blues and folk festivals, on Chicago's Maxwell Street and other venues. By the early 1950's he settled in St. Louis playing streetcars and taverns and also joined a washboard band for a spell. By the mid-50's he was back in Chicago where he married his wife Fannie. Brewer's new mother-in-law bought him an electric guitar and amplifier. Returning to Maxwell Street he devoted himself exclusively to religious music. In 1962, however, he was offered an opportunity to play blues at a concert at Northwestern University and also began a regular gig at the No Exit Cafe which lasted for two decades. He went on to play major festivals and clubs in the United States, Canada and Europe. He was recorded by Swedish Radio in 1964, cut sides for Testament plus cut the full-length albums Jim Brewer (Philo, 1974) and Tough Luck (Earwig, 1983).

Arvella Gray was born James Dixon in Somerville, Texas. He spent the latter part of his life performing and busking blues and gospel music at Chicago's Maxwell Street. In the '60s, he recorded three singles for his own Gray label. Gray's only album, 1973's The Singing Drifter was reissued on the Conjuroo record label in 2005. Gray died in Chicago in September 1980, at the age of 74.

Johnny Watson, alias Daddy Stovepipe was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 12th 1867 and died in Chicago, November 1st 1963. A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, he was in his late fifties when he became one of the first blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. He later recorded with his wife, Mississippi Sarah, in the 1930s and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings.

"I Met Sunnyland Slim in St. Louis Jimmy's basement rooms where he lived underneath's Muddy Water's house. We had a solid two-day session of blues there, with singers, guitarists and pianists wandering in, playing for a while until their places were taken by other visitors. My field recorder was working overtime as a veritable 'Who's Who' of Chicago blues took part in the music. …The liqueur flowed and so did the music. John Steiner recorded it 'as it came' with as little interference with the informality of the session as was possible; glasses were filled, emptied and filled again; jibes, shouts and comments went on tape with the music. The result was 'authentic blues' – the blues and boogie of Chicago as it was then and is today, played and sung by some of the best exponents, no holds barred, without fake or 'folk.'” Also rerecorded were Roosevelt Sykes who was taped at "John Steiner's Chicago home and at Muddy Water's, playing for me the 44 Blues and Jesse Bell's West Helena Blues."

July 17th found Oliver in New York again taping interviews and music with J.B. Lenoir and Brother John Sellers and in Philadelphia interviewing Lonnie Johnson. He was back in Chicago on the 18th to interview Eddie Boyd and Albert Wynn. It was then down to Memphis where between the 20th and 22nd he taped interviews and music by Gus cannon, Will Shade, Bo Carter, Dewey Corley and Robert Henry. Then it was down to Clarksdale from the 23rd through the 25th.

A chance meeting with Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, at Wade Walton's Big 6 Barber Shop in Clarksdale led to the discovery of an exceptional blues singer named Robert Curtis Smith. The following year Strachwitz recorded him again, resulting in the magnificent 1961 Bluesville album, Clarksdale Blues, his lone full-length album that has yet to be issued on CD. The record didn't seem to make much of an impact, sinking without a trace and over the year becoming highly collectible. His earliest sides from 1960 appear on the collection I Have to Paint My Face which we feature today as well as a short spoken piece by Smith. Smith disappeared from the blues world not long after these recordings but 30 years later he was rediscovered living in Chicago. He had given up blues in the passing years, but he continued to play in church and was recorded performing gospel numbers in 1990 on the anthology From Mississippi to Chicago. Smith passed in 2010.

Another notable discovery was pianist Jasper Love who was related to pianist Willie Love who cut some great records fro the Jackson base Trumpet label in the 50's. The recordings that comprise the collection I Have To Paint My Face stem from this trip and are available on Arhoolie Records. Among those recorded were Sam Chatmon, K.C. Douglas, Big Joe Williams, Butch Cage & Willie Thomas, Robert Curtis Smith and others. The Chatmon sides were his first post-war sides, and arguably his best, and he would record prolifically through the 70's and was quite active on the festival circuit.

Butch Cage & Willie Thomas were recorded in Louisiana where Olive found himself for a few days in the first week of August. He also interviewed Billie and Dede Pierce during this period. Between the 9th and 11th he was in Houston where interviews were done with Lightnin' Hopkins and Luke "Long" Gone Miles were conducted as well as interview and music from pianist Buster Pickens. As 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." His solo album for Heritage, the self-titled Buster Pickens, was reissued in the 70's on Flyright as Back Door Blues but has never appeared on CD. The sessions were organized by Paul Oliver and the recording done by Mack McCormick and Chris Strachwitz.

By the second week of August Strachwitz, McCormick and Oliver were in Navasota, Texas. Oliver recalls the events vividly: "'Just wait. We've got something for you to hear that will set you back on your ears! Exasperatingly, Mack McCormick and Chris Stratchwitz would say very little else, about their new-found 'discovery' but their ill-suppressed excitement was assurance enough that we were soon to hear something special. It was August 1960. A few weeks before, Chris and Mack had been on a search for songsters and blues singers in East Texas. A man named 'Peg Leg' had told them that the best guitar picker around was Mance Lipscomb, an opinion that was confirmed by others in the area. …Much of the music that Mance played for them that evening was recorded and issued on Arhoolie F 1001 'Mance Lipscomb – Texas Sharecropper and Songster'; the balance of the record was taped when Mack and Chris took my wife and me to visit him on 11 August." Soon after Lipscomb's name quickly became well known among blues and folk music fans and he appeared at numerous festivals and coffeehouse and made several more recordings for Arhoolie. In the late 1960s. Lipscomb passed in 1976.

By the 14th they were in Fort Worth, Texas where they encountered B.K. Turner aka the Black Ace. The Black Ace was well known in the 30's and 40's, at least among black audiences, in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. He cut two sides for the ARC label in 1936 which were never issued but had better luck the following year cutting six sides for Decca in 1937 all of which were released. It was these sides that would later garner him notice among blues collectors and which led to a fleeting comeback. Comeback is probably not the right word as Turner had no interest in playing blues full time again although thankfully he was persuaded to record two sessions at his Fort Worth home which were issued as The Black Ace on Arhoolie (reissued on CD as Black Ace: I'm The Boss Card In Your Hand).

Other artists recorded in Texas included Lil Son Jackson, Alex Moore and Jewell Long.  Since quitting the music business Jackson had been working for an auto parts shop and did not want to be disturbed and bothered by music related people. As Chris Stratwitchz writes: “That July o f1960 Lil' Son Jackson recalled many of his earlier recordings, once I had brought in some of his Gold Star 78s, which I had just found in Ft. Worth. He also came up with a few more personal and traditional songs which he had not previously recorded.” The results were issued on a self-titled album on Arhoolie.

Of Alex Moore, Oliver wrote: “When I first heard his records, a dozen years ago, I was attracted by their unique quality and hoped that I one day meet the man whose memorable blues had so enriched the Columbia and Decca catalogs. After pursuing many false leads and encountering a number of setbacks I finally found him seated on the screened porch of a small bar situated scarcely a hundred yards from the street where he was born in North Dallas, Texas.” After finding a piano, Oliver writes, “a few moments were all that was necessary to prove that Alex Moore was a finer blues player than, on the evidence of his records, at any time in his life.”

Regarding Jewel Long, Oliver wrote he "lived in the tough, unlovely, racially tense little community of Sealy, Texas." Of himself, Long said "I been playin' guitar, little piano most of my life.I come up, under John Thomas, used to play a twelve string here. And my brother, he was a ragtime player, pianist in these parts. He was a noted muscianer, my brother and I learned a bit of piano from him. I used to play for country suppers in the Brazos Bottom, play for jukes and like that. Frankie and Albert, Ella Speed – those old songs, and them old cotton-patch blues."

From August 24th through the 29th Oliver was in St. Louis conducted interviews with Edith Johnson, Mary Johnson, Walter Davis, Henry Townsend, Speckled Red, Henry Brown and others. As Oliver writes of his trip to St. Louis: “A mile and a half from the river there is a large open triangle on Franklin where a number of roads meet and where the rectilinear monotony of the street planning is broken. It is a crowded, bustling forum where colored children dart around the knots of laughing, chattering people in the hot, dusty street. Less than a block away on Easton lives a legendary figure in the story of blues piano, Henry Brown. To find him in this maze of streets would require the skill of a detective – and did, for his whereabouts were traced by Charlie O'Brien of the Police Department, a few years ago. Charlie and I again went in search of him. Finally interrupting him in a game of pool in a joint on the corner of Easton and Garrison.”The recordings Oliver taped were issued originally on the 77 label and have since been issued on CD. The session was recorded at Pinkey Boxx's Beauty Parlor in St. Louis. Brown worked clubs such as the Blue Flame Club, the 9-0-5 Club, Jim’s Place and Katy Red’s, from the twenties into the 30’s. Recorded for Brunswisck with Ike Rogers and Mary Johnson in 1929, for Paramount in Richmond and Grafton in ‘29 and ‘30.

The bulk of today's notes come from the liner notes Oliver wrote for the recordings released during the trip, as well as from the book Conversation With The Blues. As Oliver notes: "Some of the experiences and results of research were worked into articles and record sleeve notes. A selection was published in my book  Blues Off  The Record: Thirty Years of Blues Commentary. Less evidently, perhaps, a great deal of the information gathered was Incorporated into The Story of The Blues."

There has been a fair bit of material that Oliver recorded in 1960 that has been released. Here is a list of the albums and CD's where this material can be found:

-Conversation with The Blues (issued on LP as a companion to the book and also as a CD to the 1997 reprint of the book. Some tracks on the LP are not on the CD)

-Broadcasting The Blues (a companion to the book of the same name, this contains several of Oliver's interviews from the 1960 trip)

-Blues From Maxwell Street (originally issued on the Heritage, this has just been issued on CD by the Document label)

-Sunnyland Slim and Little Brother Montgomery: Chicago Blues Session  (originally issued on the 77 label and subsequently issued on Wolf, Polydor and Southland)

-Henry Brown: Henry Brown Blues  (originally issued on the 77 label and subsequently issued on CD by Southland)

-Alex Moore (issued on CD as From North Dallas To The East Side)

I Have To Paint My Face  (issued on CD by Arhoolie)

-Lil Son Jackson (issued on CD by Arhoolie as Blues Come To Texas)

-The Black Ace (issued on CD by Arhoolie as I'm The Boss Card In Your Hand)

-Buster Pickens (first issued on Heritage then in the 70's as Back Door Blues on Flyright but not available on CD)

-Mance Lipscomb: Texas Sharecropper and Songster (issued on CD by Arhoolie)

-Rural Blues Vol.  2 1951-1962 (contains the Jewell Long sides recorded during Oliver's trip)

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Mance LipscombFreddieTexas Songster
Big Joe WilliamsMean Step Father Tough Times
Robert Curtis SmithDon't Drive Me AwayArhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Sam ChatmonI Have To Paint My Face I Have To Paint My Face
Lil Son JacksonI Walked From DallasBlues Come To Texas
Black Ace Golden Slipper I'm The Boss Card In Your Hand
Mercy Dee Lady LuckArhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Alex MooreBoogieing In StrasbourgArhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Lightnin' Sam Hopkins I Got a Brother in WaxahachieThe Hopkins Brothers
Lightnin' Sam Hopkins Meet You At The Chicken ShackTexas Blues
John JacksonBear Cat BluesDon't Let Your Deal Go Down
Bukka WhiteAlabama Blues Sky Songs
Fred McDowellWrite Me a Few LinesArhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Clifton ChenierI'm A Hog For You60 Minutes With The King Of Zydeco
Blind James CampbellBaby Please Don't GoAnd His Nashville Street Band
Juke Boy BonnerGoin' Back To The Country Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Johnny LittlejohnDreamSlidin' Home
Johnny Young Wild, Wild Woman Johnny Young And His Chicago Blues Band
Earl Hooker Earl's Blues The Moon Is Rising
L.C. RobinsonUps And DownsUps And Downs
Big Mama ThorntonLittle Red Rooster In Europe
Bee HoustonThings Gonna Get BetterThe Hustler
Henry GrayThe Blues Won't Let Me Take My RestLouisiana Blues
Johnnie LewisHobo BluesAlabama Slide Guitar
Piano Red You Ain't Got A ChanceArhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
David AlexanderSuffering With The Lowdown BluesThe Dirt On The Ground
Big Joe DuskinCincinnati StompCincinnati Stomp
K.C. DouglasYou're Crying Won't Make Me StayMercury Blues
J.C. Burris One Of These Mornings (I'm Checkin' Out)Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Furry LewisJudge Boushay BluesMemphis Swamp Jam

Show Notes:

Mr. Strachwitz in Arhoolie's record vault.
Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Arhoolie Records is celebrating its 50th year and I thought it would be a good opportunity to do a spotlight on the label who's records have been heard often on my show. Today's feature will obviously focus on the label's blues recordings. While the label reissued many vintage recordings and issued recordings made by others, most notably folklorist Harry Oster, today's focus will be on the recordings made specifically for the Arhoolie label itself. There's of course no way to do justice to the label in a two-hour show and I'll likely do a second installment down the road. The bulk of the Arhoolie catalog has been reissued on CD, almost always with bonus or unreleased tracks with the CD's often having a different title than the original LP's, sometimes combing multiple LP's onto one CD. On a related note I recently picked up a copy of the new Arhoolie 4-CD box set, Hear Me Howling!, which contains dozens of unreleased recordings and I'll be featuring cuts from this collection on an upcoming show.

Arhoolie Records was founded in 1960 and has issued some 400 albums and recorded more than 6,500 songs,the vast majority of which were captured by founder Chris Strachwitz himself. His field recordings have helped popularize numerous branches of Americana roots music, from Tex-Mex and Cajun to blues and folk. Strachwitz did many of his most important recordings with down home artists such as Texas bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins and zydeco king Clifton Chenier on field trips through the South beginning 50 years ago. It was during his summer vacation of 1959 that Strachwitz used this trip as a pretense for his pilgrimage to see personal hero, Lightnin' Hopkins, in Houston. Seeing the legendary Texas bluesman on his home turf at watering holes such as Pop's Place and the Sputnik Club inspired him to begin his own label in earnest, although, ironically, he would not be able to record Lightnin' himself for a couple of years because he was "unaffordable." Arriving in Houston in the summer of 1960 for his second visit, he was disappointed that Hopkins, was back in California at a folk festival. Fortunately during the trip, with the aid of Mack McCormick,  he stumbled upon songster Mance Lipscomb. Lipscomb was recorded virtually on the spot, in his house. Texas Songster and Sharecropper became Arhoolie's first release as #1001 (the first of five volumes devoted to Lipscomb). Over the years the label has recorded a wide range of bluesmen such as Big Joe Williams, Black Ace, Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Johnny Young, L.C. Robinson, Earl Hooker, Big Mama Thornton and many others. Strachwitz's interest in recording blues waned by the late 60's and early 70's as he reflected: "I just found it didn't kick me in the ass like the old stuff did. I just found it formulaic." There were some later blues records including late 70's records by Charlie Musselwhite and The Charles Ford Band, a 1985 record by Katie Webster and a 1991 recording by pianist Dave Alexander.

Mance Lipscomb
Mance Lipscomb
Credit: Chris Strachwitz
 

Lipscomb was born April 9, 1895 to an ex-slave father from Alabama and a half Native American mother. Lipscomb spent most of his life working as a tenant farmer in Texas and was "discovered" and recorded by Mack McCormick and Chris Strachwitz in 1960. Lipscomb's name quickly became well known among blues and folk music fans. He appeared at the Texas Heritage Festival in Houston in 1960 and 1961, then capitalized on his California connection and made appearances for three years running (1961-63) at the large Berkeley Folk Festival held at the University of California. In between festival appearances he appeared at folk coffeehouses in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, and he made several more recordings for Arhoolie. In the late 1960s, as interest in the blues mounted, Lipscomb experienced still greater success. He appeared at the Festival of American Folklife, held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1968 and 1970, and he performed at other large festivals, including the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1970 and the Monterey Jazz Festival in California in 1973. Among the many musicians who became Lipscomb fans was vocalist Frank Sinatra, who issued a Lipscomb recording, Trouble in Mind, on his Reprise label in 1970. Lipscomb passed in 1976.

Strachwitz finally managed to record Hopkins for his Arhoolie label in 1961 and recorded him sporadically through 1969. By the 60's Hopkins music was increasingly geared towards the new white audience that was embracing blues and this is reflected in the nearly dozen LP's he cut for the Bluesville label. His Arhoolie recordings from this period, however, hark back to the raw sound of his early records that first captured Strachwitz's attention. Hopkins cut several fine albums for Arhoolie including the self-titled Lightnin' Sam Hopkins, an album featuring one with Hopkins' brothers and the other with Barbara Dane, The Texas Bluesman, Lightning Hopkins in Berkeley and Po' Lightning.

In addition to Lipscomb and Hopkins, another major down home blues artist Strachwitz recorded was Fred McDowell.  In September, 1959, Alan Lomax encountered Fred McDowell, the greatest discovery of his famous "Southern journey." McDowell, for his part, was happy to have some sounds on records, but continued on with his farming and playing for tips outside of Stuckey’s candy store in Como for spare change. It wasn’t until Strachwitz came searching for McDowell to record him that the bluesman’s fortunes began to change dramatically. He recorded McDowell between 1964 and 1969 resulting in the albums Mississippi Delta Blues, Fred McDowell Vol. 2, Fred McDowell And His Blues Boys and  Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning.

It was through Lightnin' Hopkins that Strachwitz met Clifton Chenier, who would become the label's most recorded artist. "Ay Yi Yi"/"Why Did You Go Last Night?" was the initial single and in 1965 Arhoolie issued Chenier's full-length debut, Louisiana Blues and Zydeco. Although they continued to work together until the early '70s, Chenier and Strachwitz differed artistically. While Chenier wanted to record commercial-minded R&B, Strachwitz encouraged him to focus on traditional zydeco. The label issued over a dozen albums by Chenier including 1976's Bogalusa Boogie, with his new group, the Red Hot Louisiana Band which eventually garnered the album an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Chenier reached the peak of his popularity in the '80s. In 1983, he received a Grammy award for his album, I'm Here!, recorded in eight hours in Bogalusa, LA. The following year, he performed at the White House. Chenier passed in 1987.

Many of today's initial sides come from a fruitful meeting with blues historian Paul Oliver. As Strachwitz writes: "In the summer of 1960 I met up with British blues aficionado, author, and vernacular architecture scholar, Paul Oliver and his wife Valerie at the legendary Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN. Paul was making this trip, his first to the USA, to produce a series of radio programs to be broadcast by the BBC and interviewing historic blues musicians at the source was a major goal of his trip. Paul had sent me in advance a list of names of blues singers who had recorded in Dallas and Fort Worth in the 1920s and ’30s, hoping I would perhaps do a little research on my way to Texas from the West Coast. Driving with Bob Pinson (now of the Country Music Foundation Library) into Texas, we both made many inquiries which led to meeting Lil’ Son Jackson and Black Ace, a singer who accompanied himself on a National steel guitar. With Mack McCormick I was fortunate to meet and record the remarkable Mance Lipscomb and later on the return trip to the West Coast with Paul, we also met Alex Moore in Dallas, an extraordinary character and pianist from the early era in blues history, as well as many other artists in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

In addition to the above mentioned Alex Moore, Strachwitz recorded several fine pianists over the years like Mercy Dee Walton, Piano Red, Dave Alexander (who later changed his name to Omar Sharriff) and Big Joe Duskin. Walton was from Texas who had played piano around Waco from the age of 13 before hitting the coast in 1938. Once there, the pianist gigged up and down the length of the Golden State before debuting on record in 1949 with "Lonesome Cabin Blues" for the tiny Spire logo, which became a national R&B hit. He cut sessions for Imperial in 1950 and Specialty in 1952-53. After a lengthy layoff, Walton returned to the studio in 1961, recording prolifically for Arhoolie (some of this material ended up on the Bluesville album A Pity And A Shame). Walton passed in 1962.

Piano Red was Willie Perryman, the much younger, brother of Rufus Perryman aka Speckled Red. His career started with a bang when he sold an alleged million copies of "Red's Boogie/'Rockin' With Red" in 1951. He hit a second time with "Dr. Feelgood" and he took the name for his own. Strachwitz pried Red loose from his band and recorded him alone at the piano in 1972 resulting in the album Piano Red: "Dr. Feelgood" All Alone With His Piano.

Omar Shariff is a Texas-born pianist who moved to the San Francisco area in the '60s. He made two excellent albums in the 70's for Arhoolie in 1972 as Dave Alexander (The Rattler and The Dirt On The Ground), then  disappeared from the recording world for twenty years. Alexander (now as Omar Shariff) made a final recording for the label in 1991 titled The Raven which contains seven tracks form his earlier Arhoolie albums.

In his younger days Joe Duskin performed in clubs in Cincinnati and across the river in Newport, Kentucky. While serving in the US Army in World War II, he continued to play and, in entertaining the US forces, met his idols Johnson, Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. In the early 1970's Duskin began playing the piano at festivals in the US and across Europe. By the late 70's,  with the reputation for his concert playing now growing, his first recording, Cincinnati Stomp, was released on Arhoolie Records featuring recording sessions done in 1977 and 1978. He recorded several more albums before passing in 2007.

Strachwitz made some superb urban blues records in the late 60's and early 70's. As he  wrote: "As Back in 1968, I told Buddy Guy, who was playing in a Berkeley club, that I was interested in recording his favorite neglected giants of Chicago Blues. I had met Buddy in Europe while touring with the American Folk Blues Festival and found him to be a tasteful and exciting player (and one of the nicest people I ever met). Buddy's prompt response was: Earl Hooker and John Littlejohn! " Hooker was recorded in 1968 and 1069 resulting the excellent Two Bugs And A Roach featuring Freddie Roulette, Louis Myers, Pinetop Perkins, Carey Bell and Andrew Odom. The posthumous Hooker and Steve (recorded in 1969)  came out in 1975 featuring keyboardist Steve Miller. In 1998 Arhoolie issued the CD The Moon Is Rising which contained the entirety of Hooker and Steve plus some unreleased live recordings. Johnny Littlejohn's discography is frustratingly inconsistent but hands down his Arhoolie album, 1968's John Littlejohn's Chicago Blues Stars (issued on CD as Slidin' Home), is his best outing.

Strachwitz also recorded Chicago bluesman Johnny Young. He was recorded at two sessions in '65. Producer Pete Welding surrounded him with the best that Chicago had to offer, including two thirds of the then Muddy Waters Band of 1965: Otis Spann, SP Leary, Jimmy Cotton with Jimmy Lee Morris on bass, and for a '67 session, Walter Horton, Jimmy Dawkins, Lafayette Leake, Ernie Gatewood on bass and Lester Dorsie on drums. The sessions resulted in the albums Johnny Young And His Chicago Blues Band and Johnny Young And Big Walter: Chicago Blues. The CD Johnny Young – Chicago Blues contains the entirety of the former and most of the latter album.

Also recorded were a some tough West Coast artists: L.C. Robinson,  Bee Houston and Big Mama Thornton. Robinson was born and raised in east Texas, and later relocated to California. Robinson played guitar and fiddle, but he was really known for his incredible steel guitar style. On one of his Arhoolie sessions he is backed by the Muddy Waters band, on another by his own trio issued on the alum Ups And Downs (issued on CD as Mojo In My Hand which includes an unissued radio performance). His only other full length session was House Cleanin' Blues for the Bluesway label in the early 70's.

Texas born, Los Angeles blues guitarist Bee Houston became known as Big Mama Thornton's guitarist during the waning years of her career. He cut his lone album, The Hustler,  for Arhoolie in the 70's. The CD version contains not only the entire LP but also most of a second, earlier but unissued session.

Big Mama Thornton was recorded on October 20, 1965, at Wessex Studio in London, England resulting in the album In Europe (the CD version contains six extra sides) featuring Eddie Boyd, Buddy Guy, Big Walter Horton, Fred Below and Jimmy Lee Robinson. Big Mama Thornton Vol. 2: The Queen At Monterey (reissued on CD as Big Mama Thornton – With the Muddy Waters Blues Band, 1966 with seven extra cuts)was recorded in 1966 backed by the Muddy Waters band: James Cotton,  Otis Spann,  Muddy Waters, Sammy Lawhorn, Luther Johnson and Francis Clay.

Some of the other Arhoolie artists featured today include John Jackson, James Campbell, K.C. Douglas and J.C. Burris. For much of his life, John Jackson played for country house parties in Virginia, or around the house for his own amusement. Then in the ’60s he encountered the folk revival, becoming the Washington, D.C. area’s best-loved blues artist. He made his debut in 1965 for Arhoolie with Blues and Country Dance Tunes From Virginia followed by Country Blues & Ditties and John Jackson In Europe.

A bluesy group of street musicians from Nashville, Tennessee, James Campbell and his group played a hybrid of hillbilly, jazz, blues, old time popular, skiffle, and jug band elements. This assemblage of street musicians was originally recorded in 1963 and issued on the album as Blind James Campbell And His Nashville Street Band. The band worked road houses, on the streets of Nashville, at parties, a well as other social functions.

Born and raised on a family farm near Sharon, MS, K.C. Douglas was deeply influenced by the 1920's recordings of Delta bluesman Tommy Johnson. Relocating to Vallejo, CA, in 1945, Douglas found employment in the naval shipyards. Within a couple of years, he gravitated to the San Francisco/Oakland blues scene. His first recordings were issued on the Oakland-based Downtown label in 1948.He cut some of his best sides for Bluesville in the 60's as well as scattered sides for Arhoolie. In 1974 he the album The Country Boy for the label and issued on CD in 1998 as Mercury Blues with many unreleased tracks.

The nephew of Sonny Terry, Johnny "J.C." Burris was also a blues harmonica player, though he didn't record too much. Burris did some performing in New York in the 1950's and worked on recording sessions with Terry, Sticks McGhee, and other artists on Folkways Records. At the end of the decade, he relocated to California, finding some work in folk clubs in San Francisco before a stroke in 1966 robbed him of his use of his right side. Several years later, he regained his mobility on his right side, and in 1973, he began performing again, recording some solo unaccompanied material in 1975-1976 that appears on Arhoolie's Blues Professor album. He continued playing at schools, clubs, and festivals until his death in 1988.

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J.D. Short

I suppose it sounds rather romantic spending your time roaming around the south with a tape recorder recording blues but for all the rewards and exciting discoveries it’s a stressful enterprise, not to mention a precarious way to make a living. These days hardly anyone one does it anymore and the sad fact is that blues has largely disappeared as integral part of African-American rural communities; most of the old timers have passed on and few of the younger generation are interested in blues, particularly traditional blues. Much has been written about John and Alan Lomax who scoured the south and beyond making landmark recordings for the Library of Congress from the 1930’s through the 1960’s. Less well known are those that followed in the Lomax’s footsteps; there was folklorists and researchers such as David Evans, Sam Charters, Gayle Dean Wardlow, Art Rosenbaum, Pete Welding, Chris Strachwitz ,Bruce Bastin, Bengt Olsson, Dick Spottswood, Kip Lornell, Glenn Hinson, Tim Duffy, Siegfried A. Christmann and Axel Küstner. Some were hunting for the famous names who made records in the 1920’s and 1930’s, others were seeking to fill in biographical blanks regarding some of the older musicians coveted by collectors and then there were those who were seeking to document the blues tradition as it still existed in rural communities, men like George Mitchell and Peter B. Lowry. This was a very different undertaking than 1960’s blues revival which sought out and put back on the circuit such legendary artists of the past as Son House, Skip James, Bukka White and Mississippi John Hurt. The field recordings made during this era were a sort of a parallel undercurrent to the more famous artists. What they recorded in the rural communities of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi in the 1960’s was a still thriving, if largely undocumented, blues culture.

Today's abbreviated show is part two of our look at field recordings made in the 1960's and 70's. Today's program spotlights recordings made by Paul Oliver, David Evans, Sam Charters, William Ferris, Fredric Ramsey Jr. and Bruce Jackson. In the second hour we present Truckin' My Blues an hour-long special which introduces listeners to the stories and sounds of four older Southern bluesmen—and to the efforts of Tim Duffy, founder of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, to help lift these musicians from poverty and obscurity.

In the opening set we spin a couple of tracks recorded by Sam Charters.  Charters' fieldwork, extensive liner notes, production efforts, and books served as an introduction to many who had never heard of artists like Lightnin' Hopkins and Robert Johnson. Charters also began his work as a field recorder during the '50s, and this research would result in his first book in 1959, The Country Blues. "…The Country Blues was the first full-length treatment of the topic," wrote Benjamin Filene in Romancing the Folk, "and its evocative style inspired thousands of whites to explore the music." A companion album, also titled The Country Blues, would simultaneously be released on Folkways. Charters compiled vintage blues reissues, produced numerous albums and did extensive field recording, much of it released on the Folkways label.

Baby Tate's "When I First Started Hoboing" comes from the film The Blues (read loner notes) which  was begun as, Charters wrote, " an effort to document aspects of the blues that couldn't be put on to a phonograph record. In 1961 and 1962 I was doing a great deal of recording in the South, and in Memphis I became interested in not only the sound of Furry Lewis's guitar style, but in the patterns of movement in his hands and fingers as he played. Out of this came the long trip through St. Louis, Memphis, Louisiana, and South Carolina in the summer of 1962 that led to the film. It was shot under very severe limitations of equipment and film knowledge with a hand held Bolex 16 mm camera, and the sound track was recorded with a portable Ampex machine and a small battery operated Uher. The Blues was finished early in 1963, and was premiered at the University of Chicago Folk Festival in January, 1963"

J.D. Short recorded two sessions in the early '30s for Paramount and Vocalion, then quickly faded into obscurity. Charters recorded Short at his transplanted home base of St. Louis in 1961 while Charters was passing through the area making similar field recordings of Henry Townsend, Barrelhouse Buck Edith North Johnson, Henry Brown, and Daddy Hotcakes. Short's recordings have recently been reissued on CD as part of the Sonet Blues Story. As Charters writes in the notes: "The recording that we did in his house that summer – mostly in the kitchen to get away from the noises in the street – was his last, but we didn't have any idea of it. I was filming him for a sequence in 'The Blues' and trying to get his ideas about the backgrounds and the aesthetics of the blues for 'The Poetry Of The Blues' so we recorded a lot of music – new versions of songs he'd done before – new songs – and his own comments about the styles and the music." Short unexpectedly passed away shortly after this session at the age of 60. Short also did a 1958 session with pal Big Joe Williams which was released on Delmark as Stavin' Chain Blues.

Also in the first set we play a recording by another early field recorder, Frederic Ramsey. Ramsey traveled all over the South photographing black life.Much of his fieldwork is to be found in Music From the South, a 10-volume set of recordings that was released on Folkway. His book "Been Here and Gone," about black culture was published in 1960.In 1958, folklorist Frederic Ramsey, Jr. recorded someone named Cat-Iron in Buckner's Alley in Natchez, Mississippi. Ramsey wrote a detailed poetic description of his discovery of Cat-Iron for The Saturday Review which, alas, offered no background on the artist. A biographic cipher, Cat-Iron's sole testament is Cat-Iron Sings Blues and Hymns, described in the 1958 Folkways catalogue as "old-time Negro songs and guitar style."

We also play a pair of tracks from the CD accompanying William Ferris' new book, Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues. Ferris has written and edited 10 books, including the influential Blues from the Delta, and created 15 documentary films, most of which deal with African-American music and other folklore representing the Mississippi Delta. Ferris has produced several albums and made numerous field recordings.

On part one of this feature we played several recordings made by David Evans. It was Evans’ investigation into Tommy Johnson in the late 1960’s that we owe a good deal of what we know about Johnson and it was through Evans’ field recordings that Johnson’s influence comes into sharper focus. Evans began making field recordings in 1965 when he spent about five weeks taping blues artists in Mississippi and Louisiana. The collection Goin’ Up The Country released on Decca in 1968 collects some of the best performances he recorded. The album was reissued in 1976 on Rounder and Rounder also released South Mississippi Blues in 1973, another collection of field recordings from the same period. The Legacy of Tommy Johnson (1972) was issued as  the companion LP to Evans’ Tommy Johnson biography. Today's selection, Ranie Burnette's "Shake ‘Em On Down", comes from the album Afro-American Folk Music From Tate And Panola Counties, Mississippi . The collection is a survey of the hill country, just east of the more famous Mississippi Delta, which has been compiled from recordings made by David Evans in 1969 -71, together with three takes from Alan Lomax’s famous 1942 visit there.

The earliest tracks come from 1960 and were made by Paul Oliver and Chris Strachwitz and come from the albums Conversations With The Blues, a companion to Oliver’s landmark book, and recordings the men made of Alex Moore and the Black Ace which were subsequently issued on Arhoolie Records. Conversation With The Blues is a series of interviews in the artists own words, compiled from interviews with over sixty blues singers. In the Summer of 1960 blues scholar Paul Oliver and his wife made a trip through Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas to interview and record older blues artists for a series of programs sponsored by the BBC. Among those recorded were Sam Chatmon, K.C. Douglas, Big Joe Williams, Butch Cage & Willie Thomas, Robert Curtis Smith among several others.Oliver was also in Chicago were he organized a recording session resulting the album Blues From Maxwell Street which features tracks by Arvella Gray, James Brewer, Daddy Stovepipe and King Davis.

Born in Hughes Springs, Texas, Babe Kyro Lemon AKA Black Ace was raised on the family farm, and taught himself to play guitar, performing in east Texas from the late 1920s on. During the early 1930s he began playing with Smokey Hogg and Oscar "Buddy" Woods, a Hawaiian-style guitarist who played with the instrument flat on his lap. In 1937 Turner recorded six songs Decca Records in Dallas, including the blues song "Black Ace". In the same year, he started a radio show in Fort Worth, using the cut as a theme song, and soon assumed the name. In 1941 he appeared in The Blood of Jesus, an African-American movie produced by Spencer Williams Jr. In 1943 he was drafted into the United States Army, and gave up playing music for some years. However, in 1960, Arhoolie Records owner Chris Strachwitz and paul Oliver persuaded him to record an album for Arhoolie (reissued on CD as I Am The Boss Card In Your Hand). His last public performance was in a 1962 documentary, The Blues, and he died of cancer in Fort Worth, in 1972.

In 1929, Alex Moore made his debut recordings for Columbia Records and recorded again in 1937 for Decca Records. It was 1951 before Moore recorded again with RPM/Kent. However, throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Moore performed in clubs in Dallas and occasionally other parts of Texas. He was recorded by Paul Oliver and Chris Stratwichz in 1960 (reissued as From North Dallas To The East Side), and those subsequent recordings saw him obtain nationwide recognition.

Our final selection, the nearly ten minute "I Got Too Much Time For The Crime I Done", comes from the remarkable album Ever Since I Have Been a Man Full Grown issued on  Takoma in 1965. The recording was made by Bruce Jackson in 1965 at Texas’s Ramsey Prison Farm of a fellow named Johnnie B., or J. B., Smith. As far as I know this is the only LP devoted to a single unaccompanied singer of prison work-song. From the liner notes: "Smitty – J.B. Smith – is eleven years into a forty-five year sentence that begun in 1954; he is 48 years old. This is his fourth time in prison in Texas and he does not expect to be paroled for some time. For him, a song like “No More Good Time in the World for Me”, though it draws heavily on the general inmate song vocabulary, is completely personal; the situation applies to him almost without qualification.” J.B. Smith: “The oldtimers still sing. That is, if whoever is carrying (in charge of) the squad will let them. In some cases the boss won’t let them sing. …The young men don’t get a chance to work with the older men and they haven’t experienced working with older men. A lot of them have never been in the system before. And the crews they work with don’t even know the songs, the worksongs that they work by. But once they get to working with the older men, they learn the songs and they try to carry them on when they can. But like I said, in most cases they can’t because they’re not permitted."

In the second half of the program we air Truckin’ My Blues Away. From the notes: "This music-rich hour-long special introduces listeners to the stories and sounds of four older Southern bluesmen—and to the efforts of Tim Duffy, founder of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, to help lift these musicians from poverty and obscurity. The musicians cover a wide swath of the South: Boo Hanks from Virgina, Va.; Captain Luke from Winston-Salem, N.C.; Eddie Tigner from Atlanta; and Little Freddie King from New Orleans. In their own words and performances, these men bring us the story of a music, an era and a culture that are uniquely American.The program is co-produced and co-written by Richard Ziglar and Barry Yeoman, who traveled around the South collecting interviews and field recordings of the musicians. Yeoman, who co-produced our Gracie Award-winning program 'Picking Up the Pieces,' narrates."

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