Entries tagged with “Blind Lemon Jefferson”.


ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Blind Lemon JeffersonOne Dime Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonMatchbox Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonRambler BluesThe Best Of
Down Home Boys (Papa Harvey Hull & Long "Cleve" Reed)Mama You Don't Know HowNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Big Joe WilliamsPeach Orchard Mama Big Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Blind Willie McTellLast Dime BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonSee That My Grave Is Kept CleanThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonBed Spring BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonPrison Cell Blues Mean & Evil Blues
Lightnin' Hopkins Reminiscences Of Blind LemonLightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian Folkways]
Lightnin' Hopkins One Kind FavorAll The Classics 1946-1951
Son HouseCounty Farm BluesBlues Images Vol. 4
Blind Lemon Jefferson Shuckin' Sugar BluesThe Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon Jefferson Corinna Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Rabbit Foot Blues If It Ain't One Thing, It'Rabbit Foot Blues
Ramblin' ThomasNo Baby BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Blind Boy Fuller Untrue BluesBlind Boy Fuller Remastered 1935-1938
Blind Lemon Jefferson Got The Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Long Lonesome Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Hot Dogs The Best Of
Leadbelly Blind Lemon (Song)Leadbelly Vol. 6 1947
Leadbelly Silver City Bound Leadbelly's Last Sessions
Blind Lemon JeffersonBad Luck Blues The Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlack Horse Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson That Crawlin' Baby Blues The Best Of
Hattie Hudson Doggone My Good Luck Soul Dallas Alley Drag
Thomas Shaw Jack Of Diamonds San Diego Blues Jam
Mance LipscombEasy Rider BluesCaptain, Captain: The Texas Songster
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlind Lemon's Penitentiary Blues The Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlack Snake Moan Great Blues Guitarists: String Dazzlers
Pete HarrisBlind Lemon's SongTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Rev. Emmett Dickenson The Death Of Blind LemonBlues Images Vol. 6
King Solomon Hill My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon Blues Images Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Today we spotlight Blind Lemon Jefferson and the enormous influence he had on his contemporaries and countless blues artist over the ensuing decades. Although he was not the first male country blues singer/guitarist to record, Blind Lemon Jefferson was the first to succeed commercially and his success influenced previously reluctant record companies to actively seek out and record male country blues players in the hope of finding a similar talent. Throughout the ’20s Lemon spearheaded a boom in ‘race’ record sales that featured male down-home blues singers and such was the appeal of his recordings that in turn they were responsible for inspiring a whole new generation of blues singers. Researcher Bruce Bastin, known for his extensive research in the Piedmont region, said of Jefferson… “…there can have been few nascent bluesmen outside Texas, let alone within the state, who had never heard his music. Among interviewed East Coast bluesmen active during Blind Lemon’s recording career, almost all recall him as one of the first bluesmen they heard on record.” Today we spotlight some of Lemon's best numbers as well as a those artists he inspired. Lemon's influence cast a long shadow among both black and white artists and today's show is in no way comprehensive but does give a snapshot of just how big Lemon's impact was.

Jefferson was born in September 1893. By 1912, he was working over a wide area of Texas, including East Dallas, Silver City, Galveston, and Waco. Jefferson was still a teenager when he moved into Dallas. The black community in Dallas were settled in an area covering approximately six blocks around Central Avenue up to Elm Street, the center of which was Deep Ellum, a bustling thoroughfare full of bars, clubs and brothels. Mance Lipscomb saw Jefferson playing there as early as 1917. Although Jefferson’s reputation was originally made as a singer of sacred songs, the percentage of blues in his repertoire greatly increased as the years progressed. In 1925 Jefferson was discovered by a Paramount recording scout and taken to Chicago to make his first records either in December 1925 or January 1926. Jefferson's first session produced "I Want To Be Like Jesus In My Heart" b/w "All I Want Is That Pure Religion" using the name Deacon L.J. Bates. It was the second session, however, that made Jefferson a star. He recorded four songs at that session: “Booster Blues” b/w “Dry Southern Blues’, came out in or around March 1926. "Got The Blues" b/w "Long Lonesome Blues" hadn't been on sale long in the spring of 1926 when Paramount asked him to record it again because of the huge demand for the record. This was unheard of for a male blues artist. Prior to Jefferson the blues had been recorded primarily by women backed by piano or bands

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Rambler Blues
Click to Enlarge

Tony Russell describes Jefferson's impact: "Jefferson offered instead blues sung by a man playing guitar – playing it, moreover, with a busyness and variety that showed up many of those pianists and bands as turgid and ordinary. The discovery that there was an audience for Jefferson's type of blues revolutionized the music business: within a few years female singers were out of favor and virtually all the trading in the 'race' market (jazz aside) was in men with guitars." Throughout 1926 there was a constant supply of new releases from Jefferson, "Black Horse Blues", "Jack O’ Diamond Blues" and "That Black Snake Moan" were among these classic numbers.

In 1927, when producer Mayo Williams moved to OKeh Records, he took Jefferson with him, and OKeh quickly recorded and released Jefferson's "Matchbox Blues" backed with "Black Snake Moan," which was to be his only OKeh recording, probably because of contractual obligations with Paramount. Jefferson's two songs released on Okeh have considerably better sound quality than on his Paramount records at the time. When he had returned to Paramount a few months later, "Matchbox Blues" had already become such a hit that Paramount re-recorded and released two new versions. In 1927, Jefferson recorded another of his now classic songs, the haunting "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (once again using the pseudonym Deacon L. J. Bates) along with two other uncharacteristically spiritual songs, "He Arose from the Dead" and "Where Shall I Be." Of the three, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" became such a big hit that it was re-recorded and re-released in 1928. Despite his success, which allowed him to maintain a chauffeur-driven Ford and a healthy bank balance, Jefferson’s lifestyle was little affected. While he spent time in Chicago, where most of his recordings were made, he continued to work as an itinerant performer in the South.

In addition to his frequent recording sessions in Chicago throughout the late '20s, Blind Lemon Jefferson still performed in Texas and traveled around the South. He played Chicago rent parties, performed at St. Louis' Booker T. Washington Theater, and even worked some with Son House collaborator Rev. Rubin Lacy while in Mississippi. In late September of 1929, Jefferson went to Paramount's studios in Richmond, IN, for a fruitful session that included two songs,"Bed Springs Blues" and "Yo Yo Blues", that were also issued on the Broadway label. Jefferson was back in Chicago in December of 1929 when, sadly, he was found dead following a particularly cold snowstorm.

Blind Lemon Jefferson: 'Lectric Chair Blues
Click to Enlarge

Jefferson died in Chicago at 10 am on December 19, 1929, of what his death certificate called "probably acute myocarditis" (Lemon's death certificate was found in 2010 and published in the Frog Blues and Jazz Annual #1). Paramount Records paid for the return of his body to Texas by train, accompanied by pianist William Ezell. Jefferson was buried at Wortham Negro Cemetery (later Wortham Black Cemetery). By 1996, the cemetery and marker were in poor condition, but a new granite headstone was erected in 1997. In 2007, the cemetery's name was changed to Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery and his gravesite is kept clean by a cemetery committee in Wortham, Texas.

Several blues singer/guitarists like Thomas Shaw and Mance Lipscomb thought Jefferson’s style almost impossible to imitate with any degree of success. But there were a few recordings made in the pre-war period that managed to do so, notably Issiah Nettles (The Mississippi Moaner), who covered Lemon’s "Long Lonesome Blues" as "It’s Cold In China Blues". Willard ‘Ramblin’ Thomas (probably a one time associate of Jefferson) had a number of songs in the the vein of Lemon. Jesse Thomas' 1948 number, "Double Due Love You" opens with lyrics also taken from the Blind Lemon' "Long Lonesome Blues." Thomas also recorded Lemon's "Jack of Diamonds" in 1951.

We feature several artists today who either covered Lemon's songs or who's records clearly bear the mark of Lemon's influence.  The Down Home Boys recording of "Mama, You Don't Know How", from 1927, has Long Cleve Reed, Papa Harvey Hull and Sunny Wilson re-working Lemon's "Black Snake Moan". Blind Boy Fuller was influenced by Lemon. The opening lick to his intro to "Untrue Blues" comes right out of "Rabbit's Foot Blues” while "Meat Shakin' Woman", derives its melody from "Bad Luck Blues". According to Son House’s recollection of his 1930 Paramount session, producer Art Laibley had asked the musicians if anyone could do a version of the song. Charlie Patton and Willie Brown passed but House went back to his room with Louise Johnson, worked half the night adding his own words to Lemon's melody, and the next day recorded "Mississippi County Farm." The song became a mainstay of House's repertoire, and he recorded it again for Alan Lomax in 1942. Hattie Hudson's 1927 song, "Doggone My Bad Luck Soul" was an "answer song" to Lemon's "Bad Luck Blues" issued in 1926, and has the repeated tag-line "doggone my bad luck soul."

Today we spotlight several artists who knew Lemon first hand such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Leadbelly, Thomas Shaw and King Solomon Hill. Lightnin' Hopkins offered different account of when he met Blind Lemon but it seems to have been sometime in the early to mid-20's. From 1959 we hear "Reminiscences Of Blind Lemon" and "One Kind Favor, his cover of Lemon's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean."

It was on the streets of Deep Ellum that Lemon met up with Leadbelly. Leadbelly, in later years, was understandably proud of his relationship with Lemon. They probably met up sometime after 1910, when Leadbelly and his wife Aletta moved into Dallas. Leadbelly would play guitar, mandolin or accordion behind Lemon and he remembered topically performing the number "Fare Thee Well, Titanic" (the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912) on the streets of Dallas with Jefferson and on other occasions, dancing while Lemon would play a guitar solo version of "Dallas Rag". As a team they traveled together on the railroads from town to town earning a reasonable living. In later years Leadbelly would recall how he and Lemon “was buddies” and how.. “we’d tear those guitars all to pieces”. Their partnership certainly ended by January 1918, when Leadbelly (using the alias Walter Boyd) was indicted on a charge of murder, found guilty and thereafter became a guest of the Texas penal system.

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Cannon Ball Moan
Click to Enlarge

Thomas Shaw had already been enthralled by Jefferson's early recordings of “Long Lonesome Blues” and “Matchbox Blues” when he met Jefferson on the town square of Waco in 1926 or 1927. At Blind Jefferson's urging he bought himself a guitar and learned Jefferson's “Long Lonesome Blues”. He learned many of Jefferson's songs from a combination of listening to the records and hearing him in person. Today we play his version of Lemon's classic "Jack Of Diamonds."

King Solomon Hill was closely connected to Crying Sam Collins and Blind Lemon Jefferson and their influence is evident, to some degree, in Hill's style. "My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon"is a heartfelt tribute to someone Hill clearly admired: "Hmmm then the mailman brought a misery to my head/When I received a letter that my friend Lemon was dead." Those lines echo the opening of Lemon's “Gone Dead On You Blues”: Mmmmmm, mailman's letter brought misery to my head. Mmmmm, brought misery to my head. I got a letter this morning, my pigmeat mama was dead.” Hill ran with Lemon for about two months after he passed through Minden. Hill's widow recalled that "he sung that song a whole lot 'bout Blind Lemon. Said he loved his buddy 'some way better than anyone I know.'" On one record, “Whoope Blues” b/w Down On My Bended Knees” the subtitle on the record says “Blind Lemon's Buddy.”

In 1930 , shortly after Lemon's death, Paramount issued a double sided tribute to Lemon: “Wasn't It Sad About Lemon” by the duo Walter and Byrd was on one side while the second side was the sermon “The Death Of Blind Lemon” by Rev. Emmett Dickenson. Leadbelly recorded a number of songs about Lemon after his passing. Today we spin his "Blind Lemon (Song)" from 1947 and the marvelous "Silver City Bound" from his last session in 1948.

-A Twist of Lemon by Paul Swinton  (Blues & Rhythm, No. 121)

-Blind Lemon And I Had A Ball by Victoria Spivey  (Record Research 76, May 1966 p.9)

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Thomas ShawBaby Be A Boy Child Named Him After MeBlind Lemon's Buddy
Thomas ShawStop In The ValleyBlind Lemon's Buddy
Blind Lemon Jefferson Long Lonesome BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson One Dime Blues The Best Of
Thomas ShawAll Out And DownBorn In Texas
Thomas ShawBroke And Ain't Got A DimeBlind Lemon's Buddy
Funny Papa SmithHowling Wolf Blues - No. 1The Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Funny Papa SmithHoney BluesThe Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Thomas Shaw Last Year Was A Mighty Fine YearBorn In Texas
Thomas Shaw Ella Speed Blind Lemon's Buddy
Blind Willie JohnsonLord I Can't Just Keep From CryingThe Complete Blind Willie Johnson
Blind Willie JohnsonIf I Had My Way I'd Tear The Building Down
The Complete Blind Willie Johnson
Thomas Shaw Just Can't Keep From Crying Blind Lemon's Buddy
Thomas Shaw Worried BluesBorn In Texas
Ramblin' ThomasSo LonesomeCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics 1926-1937
Willie LaneToo Many Women BluesRural Blues Vol. 1 1934-1956
Thomas ShawMatchbox Blues Blind Lemon's Buddy
Thomas ShawHowling Wolf Blues Blind Lemon's Buddy
Smokey Hogg Penitentiary Blues Pt. 1Good Morning Little School Girl
Mance Lipscomb Ella Speed Texas Sharecropper & Songster
Thomas Shaw Prowling Ground HogBlind Lemon's Buddy
Thomas Shaw She's My Gal Do Lord Remember Me
Funny Papa Smith County Jail BluesThe Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Funny Papa Smith Fool's BluesThe Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Thomas ShawJack of DiamondsSan Diego Blues Jam
Blind Lemon Jefferson Match Box BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Jack O' Diamond Blues The Best Of
Thomas ShawDedicated To My FriendsDo Lord Remember Me

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

Thomas Shaw came to the attention of the blues world in the late 1960's when he walked into Lou Curtis' Folk Arts Rare Records shop in San Diego looking for guitar strings. Shaw was from Brennam, Texas and had learned to play guitar in the late 1920's from Blind Lemon Jefferson. He was a walking library of Texas blues, having played with Ramblin’ Thomas, J.T. “Funny Papa” Smith, Texas Alexander, and Willie “Little Brother” Lane. He also played some with a very young Mance Lipscomb. In the early 70's Curtis wrote articles about Shaw for Living Blues and Blues Unlimited magazines and Shaw's discovery garnered interest from record companies. Frank Scott came down and recorded Shaw for Advent Records in the backroom of Curtis' store. The same year saw the release of the, now long out-of-print, record on the Blue Goose label with a final record cut in 1973 for the Blue Beacon label in Holland when Shaw toured Europe. A few scattered sides appeared on anthologies before his passing in 1977. Today's show not only spotlights a batch of great sides by Shaw, but we also spin sides from many of the great Texas bluesman that he knew and played with like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Funny Papa Smith, Blind Willie Johnson, Smokey Hogg, Mance Lipscomb, Willie Lane and Ramblin' Thomas.

Thomas Shaw only spent five years on the Texas house party circuit, leaving for San Diego in 1934, yet met an astonishing number of Texas blues legends. He was born in Brenham, Texas in 1908, a farming community between Austin and Houston. His was a musical family; his father played harmonica, guitar and accordion and Shaw learned acapella versions of spirituals on his father's knee. His uncle Fred Rogers headed up a family string band and his cousins, Willie and Bertie, were first rate blues guitarists. His older brother Leon played piano and his brother Louis played harmonica. "They played old time blues music, what you call the root of the music. 'Ella Speed', 'Take Mew Back Baby', 'See See Rider'. 'Alabama Bound', all of them songs was popular then."

Shaw first played harmonica before picking up guitar in the early 20's. The first song he mastered was “Out And Down”, a ragtime song that was played locally by his brother Louis and later recorded as “One Dime Blues” by Blind Lemon Jefferson. Shaw had already been enthralled by Jefferson's early recordings of “Long Lonesome Blues” and “Matchbox Blues” when he met Jefferson on the town square of Waco in 1926 or 1927. “I followed all around that evening there, and then I started talkin' to him, and naturally me being a kid he's askin' me different things: 'You like the way I play this guitar?' I told him 'I love it!' …Say: 'How would you lie to do it?' I say: 'I sure wish I could do it!' He says: 'Well you can.' I say: 'I don't know.' He says: 'Yes, you can …go and find you a guitar.' .'..When you hear (of) me in town, you come where I am.' At Blind Jefferson's urging he bought himself a guitar and learned Jefferson's “Long Lonesome Blues”. He learned many of Jefferson's song from a combination of listening to the records and hearing him in person.

In 1925 Blind Lemon Jefferson was discovered by a Paramount recording scout and taken to Chicago to make his first records either in December 1925 or January 1926. Though he was not the first country blues singer/guitarist, or the first to make commercial recordings, Jefferson was the first to attain a national audience. Jefferson’s first session produced "I Want To Be Like Jesus In My Heart" b/w "All I Want Is That Pure Religion" using the name Deacon L.J. Bates. It was the second session, however, that made Jefferson a star. "Got The Blues" b/w "Long Lonesome Blues" hadn't been on sale long in the spring of 1926 when Paramount asked him to record it again because of the huge demand for the record. This was unheard of for a male blues artist. Prior to Jefferson the blues had been recorded primarily by women backed by piano or bands. Tony Russell describes Jefferson's impact: "Jefferson offered instead blues sung by a man playing guitar – playing it, moreover, with a busyness and variety that showed up many of those pianists and bands as turgid and ordinary. The discovery that there was an audience for Jefferson's type of blues revolutionized the music business: within a few years female singers were out of favor and virtually all the trading in the 'race' market (jazz aside) was in men with guitars."

In the towns of Moody and nearby Temple, Shaw met Blind Willie Johnson whom he learned “Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying.” " My father and Blind Willie Johnson used to work together, they both composed songs. My daddy would write 'em and make 'em into ballets and they'd sell 'em for fifteen cents a copy."  After spending a year in his mother's home of Brenham in the late 20's, Shaw began traveling as an itinerant cotton picker. It was in 1929 that he started playing for parties on the weekends. On one of these trips in the town of Vernon he ran into Ramblin' Thomas at a party where the two were goaded into a guitar contest which Shaw claims to have won. "The people went wild, I guess, 'cause I was a kid …what they really went wild over, me bein' able to play some of Blind Lemon Jefferson"s stuff …" Most Texas bluesman, he said, nvere played Jeffereson's songs. While living in Fort Worth in 1929 he played again with Thomas and met Willie Lane (who he knew only as Little Brother) at a house party.

Willard "Ramblin" Thomas was born around 1900, probably in Texas but possibly in Louisiana. Very little is known about him except that he recorded eighteen tracks for Paramount and Victor between 1928 and 1932. Willie Lane was a Texas blues guitarist who recorded five sides in 1949 and displays the influences of Ramblin' Thomas and J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith respectively on "Prowlin' Ground Hog" and "Howling Wolf Blues." In fact, he had accompanied Smith during a 1935 recording session for Vocalion, the results never being released, under the moniker "Little Brother."

Around 1930 Shaw met J.T. “Funny Papa” Smith. Shaw and Smith went on to play weekend house parties, each devising second guitar parts behind the others' vocal and leads. Smith promised to include Shaw in on of his recording sessions in 1931 but Smith was hauled off to face a murder charge and never returned to the area. Smith was a minstrel who wandered about the panhandle region, performing at fairs, fish fries, dances and other community events (often in the company of figures including Tom Shaw, Texas Alexander and Bernice Edwards.Between 1930 and 1931 he had recorded some twenty issued sides. Evidently Smith's commercial billing as "Funny Paper Smith" was a gaffe on the part of record company officials. When Texas bluesman Thomas Shaw met him in Wickoffs, Oklahoma, the name "Funny Papa Smith" was plainly stitched on his stovepipe hat and the work-overalls he customarily wore as the overseer of a local plantation. He was better known simply as Howling Wolf", the title of his debut recording. "That's the one that made him famous," Shaw said of the song.

Shaw's belated debut was recorded in 1969 or 70 and issued in 1972 on the Blue Goose label, titled Blind Lemon's Buddy. Subsequent albums included Born In Texas issued in 1972 on Advent then later on Testament, and Do Lord Remember Me released in 1973 on the Blues Beacon label (recorded in a Holland studio with one cut recorded live at Bajes Blues Club in Amsterdam). Tow other cuts appeared on the compilation San Diego Blues Jam issued in 1974 on Advent then later on Testament and four cuts that appear on the Ultimate Blues Collection Volume 3 on Ziggy Christmann's Ornament label. As Shaw noted of his recording career, it should have happened forty years earlier: “I was a guitar player then, brother …didn't nobody run into me-wanna mess with me. No sir …But I just can't play now.” He remains proudest of his ability to recreate the sound of Blind Lemon, saying of the style “ I went through hell and high water to get it.”

Sources:

-Liner notes to Blind Lemon's Buddy by Stephen Calt

-From The Vaults… Thomas Shaw Interview by Guido van Rijn (Blues & Rhythm #193, October 2004)

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Myra Taylor I'm In My Sins This MorningSwinging Small Combos - Kansas City Style Vol. 3
Myra Taylor Tell Your Best Friend Nothin' Swinging Small Combos - Kansas City Style Vol. 3
Myra Taylor The Spider And The FlySwinging Small Combos - Kansas City Style Vol. 3
Blind Lemon JeffersonLong Lonesome BluesThe Complete Classic Sides
The Mississippi Moaner It's Cold In China BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Jesse ThomasDouble Due Love You Jesse Thomas 1948-1958
Mr. Bo & His Blues BoysIf Trouble Was Money45
Fenton RobinsonDirectly From My Heart To YouSomebody Loan me A Dime
Geechie WileySkinny Leg BluesMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Margaret ThorntonTexas Bound BluesBarrelhouse Mamas
Mary Johnson No Good Town Blues Twenty First St. Stomp: The Piano Blues Of St. Louis
Sippie Wallace I'm A Mighty Tight WomanWhen The Sun Goes Down
Howlin' Wolf I'll Be AroundSmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters
Howlin' Wolf Who Will Be Next Smokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters
Hubert Sumlin No Title Boogie American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1965
Big Joe Williams & Mary WilliamsOakland BluesHear Me Howling! Blues, Ballads & Beyond
Juke Boy BonnerGoin' Back To The CountryArhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Charlie PattonMagnolia BluesTimes Ain't Like They Used to Be Vol. 4
Cannon's Jug StompersViola Lee BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Kokomo ArnoldBack To The WoodsBottleneck Trendsetters
Lee Shot Williams Drop Your LaundryChicago Blues & Deep Soul Legend
Lee Shot Williams I'm Tore UpChicago Blues & Deep Soul Legend
Lee Shot Williams Hello BabyChicago Blues & Deep Soul Legend
J.B. Lenoir I've Been Down For So LongJ.B. Lenoir 1951-1958
Eddie BoydBaby What's Wrong With YouComplete Recordings 1947-1950
Jimmy YanceyRollin' the StoneHey! Piano Man
Rudy Foster Black Gal Makes ThunderJuke Joint Saturday Night
James ''Boodle It'' WigginsGotta Shave 'Em Dry Juke Joint Saturday Night
Lafayette ThomasStanding In The Back Door CryingThe Modern Recordings Vol. 2
Jimmy McCracklinNight And Day Jimmy McCracklin 1951-54
Sonny Boy Williamson III Got to Cut OutAmerican Folk Blues Festival 1962-1965\Disc 4\American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1965
Wild Child Butler Gravy ChildWild Child
Little Mac SimmonsWoman Help MeChicago Blues Harmonica Wizard
Howard TateHow Blue Can You Get?Get It While You Can: The Legendary Sessions

Show Notes:

We close out the year on a somber note as we pay tribute to several recently passed blues artists: Kansas City legend Myra Taylor, blues and R&B singer Lee Shot Williams, legendary guitarist Hubert Sumlin and singer Howard Tate. Also on tap are great pre-war blues including Blind Lemon Jefferson and a couple of his admirers, a quartet of fine blues ladies and a batch of superb piano players. We also spin more contemporary blues including a trio of ace harmonica blowers and some hard hitting sides form the 60's and 70's.

Myra Taylor and Charlie Parker (left)

Myra Taylor, one of the final links to Kansas City’s heyday as a jazz mecca, died December 9th in Kansas City. She was 94.In the 1930's, she became a regular in the clubs in the 12th and Vine, 18th and Vine and 12th and Woodland districts, where she performed along with musicians as a dancer. There, she mingled with the likes of Big Joe Turner, Pete Johnson, Bennie Moten, Lester Young, Jimmy Rushing and Count Basie. Her career as a singer began in the early 1930s in Kansas City, which led to a stint through the Midwest with Clarence Love and his band. In 1937, she moved to Chicago, where she worked with jazz greats Warren “Baby” Dodds, Lonnie Johnson, Roy Eldridge and Lil’ Hardin Armstrong. She recorded ten sides at two sessions in 1946 and 1947. We open the show with a trio of her 40's sides: the silky "I'm In My Sins This Morning", "Tell Your Best Friend Nothin'" a reworking of "Don't Advertise Your Man" (a 20's anthem sung by Clara Smith, Sippie Wallace and Rosa Henderson) and the swinging "The Spider And The Fly."

The death of Hubert Sumlin made a bigger splash than Taylor's, garnering obituaries in many major papers. Sumlin died Dec. 4 at the age of 80. Sumlin began appearing on Howlin’ Wolf’s recordings in 1954, first appearing on "Baby How Long? b/w Evil Is Goin' on" alongside fellow guitarist Jody Williams. Sumlin’s partnership with Howlin’ Wolf lasted until the singer’s death in 1976. Speaking of their collaborations in a 1989 interview with Living Blues magazine, Sumlin said: “Hubert was Wolf, Wolf was Hubert. I got to where I knew what he wanted before he asked for it, because I could feel the man.”  He met Howlin’ Wolf while still a teenager, when Mr. Sumlin was performing in and around West Helena, Ark., with the blues harmonica player James Cotton, and first recorded with him, under the supervision of Sam Phillips, at Sun Studios in 1953. Sumlin also made more than a dozen albums under his own name; the first was recorded in Europe in 1964, and the last in 2007. Today we showcase a pair of early numbers with Wolf, "I'll Be Around" (1954) and "Who Will Be Next" (1955) plus Hubert's own "No Title Boogie" recorded at the 1964 American Folk Blues Festival when he was touring Europe with Wolf.

Hubert Sumlin and Howlin' Wolf

In recent years Lee Shot Williams was best known for such raunchy songs as “Meat Man” and “Starts With a P,” but he had a long career as a blues and R&B singer in Chicago where he first recorded in 1962 with a style similar to Bobby “Blue” Bland. His best known hits were “You’re Welcome to the Club” (1962) and “I Like Your Style” (1967). We spin a pair of blistering early sides, "I'm Tore Up" (1963)" featuring Bobby King on guitar and "Hello Baby" (1962) featuring Freddie Robinson on guitar and Mack Simmons on harmonica and the from the 70's his raunchy "Drop Your Laundry" (he updated the number on his stellar 1995 album, Cold Shot, released on the Black Magic label.

We close out the show with a soulful rendition of  "How Blue Can You Get?" (1966) by Howard Tate. Tate, who in collaboration with producer and songwriter Jerry Ragovoy, recorded such late 1960's soul classics as “Ain’t Nobody Home,” “Stop” and “Get It While You Can,” died Dec. 2 at 72. After struggling with cocaine addiction and homelessness, Tate became a preacher only to re-emerge in 2003 with the critically acclaimed album Rediscovered.

It's hard to overestimate the influence and popularity of Blind Lemon Jefferson who began recording in 1926. His records made him nationally known among the black audiences who bough race records as influencing many blues artists. In December 1925 or January 1926, he was taken to Chicago to record his first tracks. Jefferson's first two recordings from this session were gospel songs ("I Want to be like Jesus in my Heart b/w "All I Want is that Pure Religion"), released under the name Deacon L. J. Bates. This led to a second recording session in March 1926. His first releases under his own name, "Booster Blues" and "Dry Southern Blues," were hits; this led to the release of the other two songs from that session, "Got the Blues" and "Long Lonesome Blues," which also became hits. The latter number reworked by two of our featured artists; The Mississippi Moaner and Jesse Thomas. The Mississippi Moaner was the name used by Isaiah Nettles when he recorded five sides for Vocalion Records in Jackson, MS, on October 20, 1935. Only one 78 from the session was ever released, "Mississippi Moan" b/w "It's Cold in China Blues" (the song title was a lyric used in Blind Lemon's song). Jesse Thomas remarkable 1948 number, "Double Due Love You" opens with a tongue twisting run of words (taken from the Blind Lemon song) that is sort of a vocal equivalent to his knotty guitar phrases.

We spin several rather obscure blues ladies today including Margaret Thornton, Mary Johnson, Geeshie Wiley plus the better known Sippie Wallace. Thornton cut one lone record for the short-lived Black Patti label in 1927, "Texas Bound Blues b/w Jockey Blues." Thornton was a wonderful singer backed by the fine barrelhouse playing of the equally obscure Blind James Beck. St. Louis singer Mary Johnson is in superb form on "No Good Town Blues" backed by pianist Judson Brown. Brown  who cut just one side under his own name for Brunswick in 1930 as well as backing singers such as Jenny Pope and  Mozelle Alderson. Don Kent wrote in the notes to Mississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35 that "If Geeshie Wiley did not exist, she could not be invented: her scope and creativity dwarfs most blues artists. She seems to represent the moment when black secular music was coalescing into blues." We feature her haunting "Skinny Leg Blues" which is worth quoting in full:

And I’m a little bitty mama, baby and I ain’t built for speed
Cryin’ I’m a little bitty mama, baby and I ain’t built for speed
Aaaaaaah and I ain’t built for speed
I’ve got everything that a little bitty mama needs

I’ve got little bitty legs, keep up these noble thighs (2x)
Aaaaaah, keep up these noble thighs
I’ve got somethin’ underneath them that works like a bo' hog's eye

But when you see me comin’, pull down your window blind (2x)
You see me comin’, pull down your window blind
So your next door neighbor sure can hear you whine

I’m gonna cut your throat baby, gonna look down in your face (2x)
Aaaaaaaaa, gonna look down in your face
I’m gonna let some lonesome graveyard be your restin’ place

Among the triumvirate of boogie-woogie pioneers, which include  Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons, Jimmy Yancey is my favorite. Yancey had a more delicate and subtle style then his hard driving peers as heard to good effect on the marvelous "Rollin' The Stone" from 1939. Far more obscure are Rudy Foster who cut one 78 for paramount in 1930. "Black Gal Makes Thunder" is a driving barrelhouse romp with the enigmatic lyric "black gal makes it thunder, yellow gal makes it fall down rain." James "Boodle It" Wiggins was a wonderfully expressive, heavy voiced singer who cut eight issued sides for Paramount in 1928 and 1929. His "Gotta Shave 'Em Dry" is an infectious number with terrific backing from pianist charlie Spand. As Paul Oliver noted in his Screening The Blues: "Shave 'Em Dry" …seems to have been favored by women though a number of men also sang it on record. As a term 'shave 'em dry' appears to have layers of meaning; at one level it refers to mean and aggressive action but as a sexual theme it refers to intercourse without preliminary love-making. Big Bill Broonzy put it succinctly: 'Shave 'em dry is what you call makin' it with a woman; you ain't doin' nothin', just makin' it.'" Among those who cut versions were Lucille Bogan, Ma Rainey, Lil Johnson and Papa charlie Jackson.

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Lane HardinI'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal YouModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Lane HardinKeep 'em DownModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Leroy Simpson & Lane Hardin13 HighwayModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Leroy Simpson & Lane HardinBluebird BluesModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
King Solomon HillMy Buddy, Blind Papa LemonBlues Images Presents Vol. 2
Blind Lemon JeffersonFence Breakin' Yellin' BluesBlues Images Presents Vol. 9
Tommy JohnsonLonesome Home Blues – Test Blues Images Presents Vol. 8
Jaybird ColemanSave Your Money – Let These Women GoBlues Images Presents Vol. 8
Furry LewisCannon Ball Blues – Alternate Take Blues Images Presents Vol. 8
Blind Joe ReynoldsNinety Nine BluesBlues Images Presents Vol. 2
Jenny PopeMr. Postman BluesBlues Images Presents Vol. 9
Blind Willie McTell & Mary Willis Talkin' to You Wimmen About the BluesBlues Images Presents Vol. 5
Teddy Darby Lawdy Lawdy Worried Blues Blues Images Presents Vol. 9
Charley Patton Jesus Is A Dying Bed MakerBlues Images Presents Vol. 9
John TeftellerInterview
Lane HardinCalifornia Desert Blues Blues Images Presents Vol. 9
Lane HardinHard Times Blues Blues Images Presents Vol. 9
Lane HardinCartey Blues Blues Images Presents Vol. 9
Papa Charlie JacksonPapa, Don't Tear Your PantsBlues Images Presents Vol. 9
Harum Scarum Come On In (Ain't Nobody Here)Blues Images Presents Vol. 9
Blind Joel TaggartPrecious LordBlues Images Presents Vol. 9
Blind Joel TaggartLittle Black TrainBlues Images Presents Vol. 9
Tampa RedMama Don't Allow No Easy Riders HereBlues Images Presents Vol. 9

Show Notes:

Today's program revolves around record collector John Tefteller who's record collection contains some of the rarest blues 78's in existence. We'll be chatting with John in the second hour who I've interviewed previously and each time I've found him to be extremely knowledgeable regarding blues from the 1920's with a keen insight into how the record companies operated and how they marketed blues records. According to his website he has the world's largest inventory of blues, rhythm & blues and rock & roll 78's with over 75,000 in stock. Every year around this time Tefteller, through his Blues Images imprint, publishes his Classic Blues Artwork Calendar with a companion CD that matches the artwork with the songs. The CD’s have also been one of the main places that newly discovered blues 78’s turn up. This year marks the ninth year of the calendar and CD's and once again Tefteller has turned up newly discovered sides which I'll be featuring today. Among those are newly discovered sides by the mysterious Lane Hardin (I'll be playing all of Hardin's records today), guitar evangelist Blind Joe Taggart and as well as other records found in the past few years. Several years ago Tefteller uncovered a huge cache of Paramount promotional material. Paramount marketed their "race records", as they were called, to African-Americans, most notably in the pages of the Chicago Defender, the weekly African-American newspaper, and sent promotional material to record stores and distributors. Tefteller bought a huge cache of this artwork from a pair of journalists who rescued them from the rubbish heap some twenty years previously and has been reprinting the artwork in his annual calendars.

For decades Lane Hardin has been one of those tantalizing, mysterious blues figures who cut a handful of brilliant, garnered much interest among collectors yet has remained a cipher, resistant to all research attempts.  Now seventy-five years after his debut we  get to hear a previously unknown Hardin side and a recently published article has given his life shape. For a long time it was thought his 1935 record, "California Desert Blues b/w Hard Time Blues" was the only record Hardin ever recorded. The record is very scarce with only five or six known copies. Tefteller purchased a copy at auction recently for $5,500. Unknown to most collectors Hardin cut a vanity record circa 1948 – the A-side is Hardin's “Cartey Blues” while the B-Side is by Hardin's stand up bass player (credited to Don Tempo). The record was found by collector Steve LaVere sometime in the 1990's in Los Angeles and purchased by Tefteller.

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,  Arkansas Johnny Todd and Leroy Simpson were invented for two sides released. It turns out that Todd is actually Lane Hardin. We play both of those numbers today: "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You" and Keep 'em Down." Hardin also backs Leroy Simpson on "13 Highway" and "Bluebird Blues" which we also feature. The identity of Simpson remains a mystery. All these sides have been reissued on the CD Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4.

Only one person seems to have ever been interviewed about Hardin who actually knew him. That was Henry Townsend who remembered him from the 1930's St. Louis scene. As Townsend told Bill Greensmith in his autobiography, A Blues Life: "Now Lane Hardin was one of the least known (n) musicians around the city , because he had come into the city and hadn't exposed himself much. He had a job at Lewins Metal Company and hadn't been exposed by his music until he ran across (Peetie) Wheatstraw's buddy, Neckbones, who also worked over there. They got to  talking and found out about playing music, and that's how he got be discovered. They would meet at different houses and just do something for their own personal entertainment, but not for jobs that I know of. Lane Hardin also played out at McKnight's place in Kinloch. Lane could have been slightly older than me, but not by much. He lived on Biddle Street about Thirteenth or Fourteenth -they had built a little row of new houses, and he lived there."

In the August 2011 issue of Blues & Rhythm magazine Tony Russell published a lengthy article on Hardin, essentially reconstructing his life from public records. It's an impressive piece of research that traces Hardin's life from his birth in Kentucky to working as a deck hand on steamboats, to a residence in St. Louis from the late 1910's through the 30's (documentation includes  a lengthy police record), to a stint in Illinois and finally traces him to Los Angeles by the 40's. Hardin passed in 1975 and it's a shame no one ever tracked him down to document his story.

The other big find on Tefteller's new CD is the only existing copy of a crudely recorded acetate,  by pre-war gospel legend Blind Joe Taggart. The disc was found by collector Robert Buchholz shoved between some old 70's rock and roll records at what remains of Chicago's Maxwell Street Market. It was put on sale on ebay where it was purchased by Tefteller. Taggart made his first records for Vocalion in June 1927 then went to Paramount in 1928. He continued recording in the 30's but vanished after a final session for Decca in 1934. The new calendar also contains the only known photograph of Taggart, published for the first time.

We feature several other numbers from the latest CD including sides by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Jenny Pope, Teddy Darby, Charlie Patton, Papa Charlie Jackson and Harum Scarum. We round out the show with tracks from some of Tefteller's prior CD's including recently found sides by Tommy Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Joe Reynolds and others.

Jenny Pope was married to Will Shade leader of the famous Memphis Jug Band. Pope cut six sides at three sessions in 1929 and 1930. She may have recorded with the Memphis Jug Band under the name Jennie Clayton.

Teddy Darby recorded from 1929 until 1937 under the names of "Blind Teddy Darby", "Blind Darby", "Blind Blues Darby" and "Blind Squire Turner" for the Paramount, Victor, Bluebird, Vocalion and Decca labels. In 1960 he was "rediscovered" and recorded by Pete Welding of Testament Records, yet the recordings from this session were never released. In the late 1930s he gave up the blues and became an ordained deacon.

Papa Charlie Jackson was the first commercially successful male blues singer. Jackson is believed originally to have come from New Orleans before relocating to Chicago sometime in the early 1900's. He became a very successful street performer, especially on the Near West Side, where he routinely played at the famed Maxwell Street market. His popularity eventually led to him being signed by the Paramount label, where he waxed more than 60 sides between 1924 and 1929. Jackson also did session working backing artists such as Ida Cox, Lottie Beaman, Ma Rainey, Big Bill Broonzy and others.

Issued as Paramount 13104, Harum Scarum's "Come On In (Ain't Nobody Here) " was released in January 1931 and is extremely rare. No copy has been discovered on Paramount however the record was reissued on Varsity, a company from the 1930's that gathered up old masters they found interesting and issued them again. The Harum Scarums recorded four songs and consisted of Big Bill Broonzy, Georgia Tom and Mozelle Alderson.

King Solomon Hill signed to the Paramount label in 1932, soon traveling to Grafton, Wisconsin to record six tracks (two of them alternate takes). In 2002 Tefteller went to Grafton and discovered the long lost Hill 78 "My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon b/w Times Has Done Got Hard" in mint condition. Not much is known of Hill – whose real name was Joe Holmes. He was closely connected to Sam Collins and traveled with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Rambling Thomas. After his lone session, Hill returned to the juke joint circuit, eventually vanishing from sight; reputedly a heavy drinker, he died of a massive brain hemorrhage in Sibley, Louisiana in 1949.

A welcome surprise in recent years has been the discovery of several Tommy Johnson recordings of unissued material. In 1985 an untitled Tommy Johnson test pressing was found and issued on Document as "Boogaloosa Woman"/"Morning Prayer." Yazoo has issued "Morning Prayer" with the title "Button Up Shoes." In around 2001 yet another important batch of records came to light. A box of unissued Paramount and QRS test pressings (the QRS material likely obtained by Paramount from Art Satherley in 1930/31) has been found by an antique dealer in Wisconsin. Tefteller purchased the Tommy Johnson test pressing of "I Want Someone To Love Me" for over $12,000. The record has since been issued on the CD that accompanies the 2004 calendar. Today's featured track,is a test pressing of "Lonesome Home Blues" which was issued on the CD that accompanies the 2010 calendar.

In November 1929 at the Paramount Recording Studios in Grafton, Wisconsin, four songs were recorded at 78 rpm by a Louisiana street musician named Joe Sheppard who used the name Blind Joe Reynolds. Within a year, the four songs were released on two records. Neither record sold well, but almost 40 years later, one of the two attracted the attention of Eric Clapton who heard the song "Outside Woman Blues" on a reissue album. In 1967, Clapton and his Cream bandmates Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce recorded a more modern day version of "Outside Woman Blues" on their classic LP Disraeli Gears. The second record recorded in Wisconsin on that day, "Ninety Nine Blues" backed with "Cold Woman Blues" has been lost since it was first released in October of 1930. No copies in any condition were ever located until just a few years ago. The recorded was eventually bought and reissued on CD by John Tefteller.

In 2007 John Tefteller issued what is apparently the only known copy of Blind Willie McTell & Mary Willis' "Talkin' To You Wimmen' About The Blues." The track and it's flip side, "Merciful Blues", was issued on the CD that accompanies Tefteller's 2008 blues artwork calendar. To quote Tefteller: "the record…apparently has not been heard by anyone since its release back in the late fall of 1931. I have had this record in my collection for almost ten years. I had no idea that it was potentially a one-of-a-kind record! …Late last year, legendary Blues reissue producer Larry Cohn called me about his upcoming Blind Willie McTell box set. He told me he would like to borrow certain records from my collection …I sent him a list of what I had. To my amazement, he called immediately with the comment, "I've never heard the Mary Willis record!" Apparently, there is no master in the Columbia vaults. Cohn is aware of no other copy of the record anywhere. Finding this hard to believe, I started calling "all the usual suspects" and sure enough, none of them had the record or had ever heard it."

-John Tefteller Interview/Feature (edited, 53 min, MP3)

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
J.T. Smith Howling Wolf Blues No. 1 The Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
J.T. Smith County Jail BluesThe Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
J.T. Smith Honey Blues The Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Texas AlexanderDeep Blue Sea BluesTexas Alexander Vol. 1927-1928
Texas AlexanderThe Risin' SunTexas Alexander Vol. 1927-1928
Texas AlexanderSabine River Blues Texas Alexander Vol. 1927-1928
Henry ThomasTexas Worried Blues Texas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasCottonfield BluesTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasRailroadin' SomeTexas Worried Blues
Gene Campbell Somebody's Been Playin' PapaGene Campbell 1929-1931
Gene Campbell Robbin' and Stealin' BluesGene Campbell 1929-1931
Gene Campbell Overalls Papa BluesGene Campbell 1929-1931
Blind Lemon JeffersonOne Dime BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonMatch Box BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonThat Crawlin' Baby Blues The Best Of
J.T. SmithSeven Sisters Blues Part 1The Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
J.T. SmithFool's BluesJ. T. ''Funny Paper'' Smith 1930-1931
J.T. SmithHoppin' Toad FrogThe Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Texas Alexander Boe Hog BluesTexas Alexander Vol. 1927-1928
Texas Alexander Johnny Behren's BluesTexas Alexander Vol. 2 1928-1930
Texas Alexander Seen Better Days Texas Alexander Vol. 2 1928-1930
Henry ThomasWoodhouse BluesTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasDon't Ease Me InTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasBull Doze BluesTexas Worried Blues
Gene Campbell "Toby'' Woman BluesToo Late Too Late Vol. 2
Gene Campbell Face to Face Blues Gene Campbell 1929-1931
Gene Campbell Wedding Day Blues Gene Campbell 1929-1931
Blind Lemon Jefferson'Lectric Chair BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonSee That My Grave Is Kept CleanThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonRambler BluesThe Best Of
Henry Thomas Bob McKinneyTexas Worried Blues
Texas AlexanderTell Me Woman Blues Texas Alexander Vol. 2 1928-1930
Blind Lemon JeffersonLong Lonesome BluesThe Best Of

Show Notes:

To quote Tony Russell from the Penguin Guide To Blues: "All the companies involved in the blues business in the '20s and '30s made frequent recording trips to Dallas and San Antonio, and the music they collected and issued is a rich, colorful mixture of theatre and club artists, street singers and pianists circuit-riding the logging camps." In the 1920's Dallas became a recording center primarily because it is a geographical hub. The major race labels, those catering to a black audience, held regular sessions in Dallas. Okeh, Vocalion, Brunswick Columbia, RCA, and Paramount sent scouts and engineers to record local artists once or twice a year. Quite a number of sessions were also recorded in San Antonio with a few others cut in Fort Worth. Today we spotlight five of those artists: J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith, Texas Alexander, Henry Thomas, Gene Campbell and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

As Stephen Calt And Woody Man wrote in the notes to Funny Papa Smith: The Original Howling Wolf 1930-1931: "J.T. Smith ranks among the most significant Texas blues guitarists of the Twenties, along with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Little Hat Jones. His works are decidedly less offbeat than those of of the latter musicians; instead, they are practically definitive of what is known as Texas blues-playing. although Smith himself lived in Oklahoma at the time of his recording sessions. What little is known of him points up the possibility that he a pioneer of this very style, for he is believed to have been born more than a decade before the turn of the century. …Smith's lyrics were no less extraordinary than the variety of his blues-playing, and he remains one of the few recorded bluesman who could not only claim originality for his efforts but who made a real art of blues composition.

Smith was a minstrel who wandered about the panhandle region, performing at fairs, fish fries, dances and other community events (often in the company of figures including Tom Shaw, Texas Alexander and Bernice Edwards). Any lasting recognition Smith might have earned from a wide blues audience was undercut by a Depression recording debut and a recording career that  was short-circuited after the artist (an avid gambler) murdered a man in a gambling fracas. Between 1930 and 1931 he had recorded some twenty issued sides, more than any Texas artist of the period besides the even more obscure Gene Campbell. Evidently Smith's commercial billing as "Funny Paper Smith" was a gaffe on the part of record company officials. When Texas bluesman Tom Shaw met in Wickoffs, Oklahoma – a small town in the southwest corner of the state, between Grandfield and Frederick – te name "Funny Papa Smith"  was plainly stitched on his stovepipe hat and the work-overalls he customarily wore as the overseer of a local plantation. He was better known simply as Howling Wolf", the title of his debut recording. "That;s the one that made him famous," Shaw says of the song, which Smith recorded in two two-part versions.

…Shaw dates the killing episode to the latter part of 1930, but it more likely occurred the following year, as the first phase of Smith's recording career continued until the spring of 1931. In 1935 he recorded some eighteen sides (including Life In Prison Blues) but none of the works were released. A Fort Worth bluesman known as "Little Brother" who accompianed him on that date afterwards did a postwar version of Howling Wolf as Willie Lane." It's though smith passed away in 1940.

Texas Alexander was a Texan through and through, born in Jewett, Texas in 1900, passing in 1954 in Richards some seventy miles south (both towns lie about halfway between Dallas and Houston) and who was vividly remembered by fellow Texas bluesmen such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Lowell Fulson, Buster Pickens and Frankie Lee Sims. Alexander didn't play an instrument, although he did carry a guitar around in case their was a guitarist around who could accompany him when he sang on city streets or bars. Alexander's songs had a distinctly rural, southern viewpoint as evidenced in song titles such as "Corn-Bread Blues", "Levee Camp Moan Blues", "Farm Hand Blues", "Bantam Rooster Blues", "Bell Cow Blues", "Work Ox Blues", "Rolling Mill Blues" and "Prairie Dog Hole Blues" among others. "To the renters and 'croppers", Oliver wrote, "who had left the farms and bottom land plantations for the city, the voices of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Rambling Thomas or Texas Alexander were singing for them, sharing their own experiences and predicament. Crowds would cluster round them on Central Tracks and the coins would clatter-nickels and dimes-in their hats and tin cups." Alexander's lyrics are consistently interesting, often drawing on traditional motifs but stamped forcefully with his own personality, many of which finding their way into common blues parlance. Throughout his songs there is a frankness about sexuality that goes beyond the stock double entendre as well as strong anti-religious streak.Alexander was popular and prolific, cutting sixty-four issued sides between 1927 and 1934, first for Okeh and then for Vocalion. He had he good fortune to work with superb accompanists such as guitarists Little Hat Jones, Lonnie Johnson, Eddie Lang, Carl Davis, Willie Reed to the string band blues of the Mississippi Sheiks and the jazz bands of King Oliver and the mysterious His Sax Black Tams. Alexander didn't fare well in the post-war era; he was supposedly passed over by an Aladdin talent scout in favor of his then partner Lightnin' Hopkins (a demo tape was purportedly made) and made one final, rather unsatisfactory record for the Freedom label in 1950 before passing in 1954.

Alexander made his greatest records in the company of Lonnie Johnson at six sessions cut for Okeh between August 1927 and November 1928 at recording dates in San Antonio and New York City. Alexander's erratic sense of timing made him a challenge to work with as Lonnie Johnson related to Paul Oliver: "He was a very difficult singer to accompany; he was liable to jump a bar, or five bars, or anything. You just had to be a fast thinker to play for Texas Alexander. When you been out there with him you done nine days work in one! Believe me, brother, he was hard to play for."

All of Texas Alexander's recordings have been reissued on three volumes on the Matchbox label with good notes from Paul Oliver but rather uneven mastering. Unfortunately there is no single CD collection of Alexander's since Catfish's 98° Blues has been deleted. Also worth noting is the LP Texas Troublesome Blues on Agram which contains a very detailed booklet on Alexander's life and music. The Agram booklet written by Guido Van Rijn incorporated most of Lawrence Brown's 1981 research conducted with friends and relatives in Richards, Texas (Alexander's last residence 1951-54) which may be the only source where that information can found.

It was Mack McCormick who uncovered just about all we know about Henry Thomas which was published in the notes to Henry Thomas – "Ragtime Texas": Complete Recorded Works – 1927 to 1929 in Chronological Order on the Herwin label (read the entire notes below). McCormick's quest for information on Thomas began with an an encounter of a man he met in Houston in 1949 that he later became convinced was Henry Thomas. he even made a wire recording of the man which is now buried somewhere in McCormick's vast archive. As McCormick wrote: "As more of those old recordings came to light it became apparent that Henry Thomas was a singular and important figure. He left behind a total of 23 issued selections which represent one of the richest contributions to our musical culture. it"s goodtime music reaching out from another era: reels, anthems, stomps, gospel songs, dance calls, ballads, blues and fragments compressed in a blurring glimpse of black music as it existed in the last century. It's the songs that came out of the shifting days when freedmen and their children were remaking their lives in a hostile nation."Furthermore, "Ragtime Texas" was apparently the nickname by which he was known by other transients who rode the rails. McCormick explains, It's a hobo moniker. It isn't so much a musical designation as it is an assumed title of the same order as "Chicago Red" and "T-Bone Slim" and other such celebrities. It's a name to be written on water towers and box cars. Moreover it's a moniker remembered in parts of Oklahoma and Louisiana and Texas, but known best along a 150-mile strip of East Texas. This is the area he came from and it's here that fragments of his story have turned up."

Henry Thomas, nicknamed "Ragtime Texas", was born in 1874 in Big Sandy, Texas by most accounts, a town which lies roughly between Dallas and Shreveport. The 1874 date marks him as one of the eldest-born blues performers on record."Flailing his guitar", Tony Russell writes, "in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpies, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend." The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 to 1929 provides, Russell notes, "a wholly absorbing picture of black-country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues." Thomas embodied the term songster, cutting blues, rags, country stomps, refashioned coon songs and square dance numbers. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him from a former railroad conductor, "Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I'd always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was a regular hobo, but I'd carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket." Speaking of his famous "Railroadin' Some", William Barlow calls it the most "vivid and intense recollection of railroading" in all the early blues recorded in the 1920's. As for his guitar, Stephen Calt ranked his work "with the finest dance blues ever recorded…its intricate simultaneous treble picking and drone bass would have posed a challenge to any blues guitarist of any era." The pan pipes also linked him to an earlier era and are most evocative in perhaps his best-known composition, "Bull Doze Blues", a song reworked by Canned Heat as "Going Up The Country", some 40 years after the original. After making his final recordings in Chicago in 1929, Henry Thomas disappeared completely from sight. Befitting his near-mythic stature some reports claim to have seen him perform as late as the mid-1950's on Texas street corners. It is believed that he most likely passed away sometime during this period. All of Thomas' recordings can be found on Texas Worried Blues on Yazoo and Henry Thomas ('Ragtime Texas') 1927-1929 on Document with little difference in sound quality although the Yazoo features detailed notes by Stephen Calt.


The following was extracted from Paul Swinton's A Twist Of  Lemon in issue 121 of Blues & Rhythm magazine (read the entire article below): "Although he was not the first male country blues singer/guitarist to record, Blind Lemon Jefferson was the first to succeed commercially and his success influenced previously reluctant record companies to actively seek out and record male country blues players in the hope of finding a similar talent. Throughout the’20s Lemon spearheaded a boom in ‘race’ record sales that featured male down-home blues singers and such was the appeal of his recordings that in turn they were responsible for inspiring a whole new generation of blues singers." Jefferson was the most heavily advertised blues artist, just behind Lonnie Johnson and Bessie Smith, with forty-four ads appearing in the Chicago Defender between 1926 and 1930.During the course of his career recorded 110 sides including alternate takes.

Jefferson was still a teenager when he moved into Dallas. The black community in Dallas were settled in an area covering approximately six blocks around Central Avenue up to Elm Street, the centre of which was Deep Ellum, a bustling thoroughfare full of bars, clubs and brothels. In its heyday, guitarists like Little Hat Jones and Funny Papa Smith were among the numerous blues artists seen on these streets. …Jefferson continued to travel far and wide, followed the cotton crops and visited most of the major cities in the South. …Occasionally he would have a young man to ‘lead’ for him (both the young Josh White and Aaron ‘T Bone’ Walker were both employed in this capacity at one time) and as he moved from state to state, he would occasionally hitch up with other musicians.

By 1925 Paramount Records was doing good business with its ‘race’ series. It mainly consisted of big-selling female vaudeville blues singers like Ida Cox and Ma Rainey, banjo player ‘Papa’ Charlie Jackson and various Jazz outfits. They had managed to set up some unique distribution arrangements, being the first company to instigate a mail order service and also to secure major southern wholesalers for their ‘race’ records. The majority of their affairs were handled in either Port Washington, Wisconsin, by Art Liably, whose official title was ‘recording director’, but who mainly took charge of sales, or in Chicago by Mayo Williams (the first ever coloured executive in a white recording company), who had control of Artists & Repertoire. Liably had secured a deal with Dallas record store manager R. T. Ashford to sell Paramount records. Soon after, either Ashford or possibly pianist Sam Price (who at this time was working as a salesman under Ashford), contacted Liably with the suggestion that they record a local celebrity. In due course Jefferson was bought to the studio in Chicago and one of the most successful recording careers of the pre-war era began. Jefferson’s first release, ‘Booster Blues’ & ‘Dry Southern Blues’, came out in or around March 1926. It captured the imagination of black record buyers and became a massive hit. …Throughout 1926 there was a constant supply of new releases from Jefferson, ‘Black Horse Blues’, ‘Jack O’ Diamond Blues’ and ‘That Black Snake Moan’ were among these classic numbers. At times there was a near perfect harmonic and rhythmic counterpoint between voice and guitar and after the delivery of each line, instead of a repetitive fill, Jefferson produced a staggering array of original licks and single string runs. …So popular were Jefferson’s releases, that on more than one occasion the masters that pressed a particular 78 became so overused and worn out that Jefferson would have to return to the studio to re-make the title.

The continuing successful sales of Jefferson’s records and the resulting increase in his fame would seem to have guaranteed large attendances for the personal appearances that he made throughout the country and especially in his home state. …Although Jefferson is said to have remained a resident of Dallas, Texas, he traveled north on so many occasions, it is not surprising that current research by Chris Henderson suggests that Jefferson spent some time resident in South Calumet Avenue, on Chicago’s South Side12 and a recent interview with the son of Paramount founder/ president Otto Moeser revealed that BLJ would stay at the Moeser residence on Grand Avenue, Port Washington, Wisconsin. In the last year of his life Jefferson was as popular as ever and still traveling extensively." Lemon's last recording session was on Tuesday 24th September 1929. Swinton notes that drawing from various sources, "it seems reasonable to conclude that BLJ probably died of a heart attack on or around the 18/19th December 1929. …After BLJ’s death, none of the northern newspapers printed the news of his demise, in fact for a couple of months, Paramount continued to issue records and accompanying advertisements as if nothing had happened."

Virtually nothing is known about vocalist-guitarist Gene Campbell other than the fact he recorded 24 solo selections (two songs are lost). Campbell recorded on five sessions in Dallas and Chicago within a 14-month period between 1929 and 1931. What happened to him after the final Jan. 23, 1931 record date is not known. Tony Russell wrote the following about Campbell: " Many echoes in his vocal and instrumental phrasing and tone reveal Campbell as a student of the work of Lonnie Johnson – not only Johnson's own records but also his accompanists to Texas Alexander ….There are also fleeting similarities in Campbell's guitar playing to that of Little Hat Jones and, in 'Robbin' and Stealin' Blues', Carl Davis. …There is something striking about his work -and in this respect it is impossible not to be reminded of J.T. Smith, a contemporary and fellow Texan who recorded for the same company – namely, his literacy and his ability to stay focused on the subject of the subject of a song and not fall back on formulaic verses."

-A Twist Of  Lemon by Paul Swinton,  Blues & Rhythm No. 121 (PDF)

-Henry Thomas – "Ragtime Texas": Complete Recorded Works notes by Mack McCormick (PDF)
(you may have to magnify and rotate to read this but it's well worth the effort)

Share