Entries tagged with “Chicago Defender”.


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Garfield AkersDough Roller BluesMississippi Masters
Willie HarrisNever Drive A Stranger From Your DoorA Richer Tradition
Bukka WhiteThe Panama LimitedThe Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Oliver CobbCornet Pleading Blues Pt. 1Male Blues of the Twenties Vol. 1
Willie "Scarecrow" OwensTravelling BluesJazzin' The Blues Vol. 1 1929-1937
Lena MatlockStop Bittin' Other Women In The BackJazzin' The Blues Vol. 1 1929-1937
Judson BrownYou Don't Know My Mind BluesPiano Blues Vol. 1 1927-1936
Mozelle AldersonTight In ChicagoBarrelhouse Mamas
Joe DeanI'm So Glad I’m Twenty One Years Old TodayPiano Blues Vol. 1 1927-1936
Big Bill BroonzyI Can't Be SatisfiedBig Bill Broonzy: All The Classic Sides
Ed BellCarry It Right Back HomeEd Bell 1927-1930
Pillie BollingShake It Like A DogEd Bell 1927-1930
Kansas City Kitty & Georgia TomHow Can You Have The Blues?Kansas City Kitty 1930-1934
Butterbeans & SusieTimes Is Hard (So I'm Savin' for a Rainy Day)Classic Blues & Vaudeville Singers Vol. 5 1922-1930
Memphis Minnie & Kansas JoeI Called You This MorningMemphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 2 1929-1930
Mississippi SheiksBoolegger’s BluesHoney Babe Let The Deal Go Down
Shreveport Home WreckersFence Breakin' BluesTexas Blues: Early Blues Masters from the Lone Star State
Georgia Cotton PickersShe's Coming Back Some Cold Rainy DayAtlanta Blues
Little Hat JonesBye Bye Baby BluesEarly Masters From the Lone Star State
Jim JacksonSt. Louis BluesJim Jackson Vol. 2 1928-1930
Blind BlakeHard Pushing PapaAll The Published Sides
Clara Burston1930 MamaBarrelhouse Women Vol. 1 1925-1930
Leola ManningLaying In The GraveyardRare Country Blues Vol.1
Bessie SmithMoan MournersThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Freddie Redd NicholsonYou Gonna Miss Me BluesDown In Black Bottom
Speckled RedSpeckled Red’s BluesSpeckled Red 1929-1938
John OscarWhoopee Mama BluesDown In Black Bottom
J.T. Funny Papa SmithHowling Wolf Blues No. 1J. T. ''Funny Paper'' Smith 1930-1931
Blind Willie McTellTalkin' To Myself BluesThe Classic Years 1927-1940
Bayless RoseFrisco BluesBroke, Black And Blue
Troy FergusonMama You Gotta Get It FixedRare Country Blues Vol. 4 1929-c.1953
Kokomo ArnoldPaddlin' MadelineKokomo Arnold Vol. 1 1930-1935
Famous Hokum BoysPig Meat StrutBig Bill Broonzy: All The Classic Sides

Show Notes:

Blind Willie McTell, Chicago Defender Ad,
August 27, 1930

Today’s show is the fourth installment of an ongoing series of programs built around a particular year. The first year we spotlighted was 1927 which was the beginning of a blues boom that would last until 1930; there were just 500 blues and gospel records issued in 1927 and increase of fifty percent from 1926 a trend that would continue until the depression. To feed the demand other record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent, which included making trips down south with field recording units. Between 1927-1930 Atlanta was visited seventeen times, Memphis eleven times, Dallas eight times, New Orleans seven times and so on. The record companies advertised their records in black newspapers, mainly in the Chicago Defender, which was the nation’s most influential black weekly newspaper.

The Depression, with the massive unemployment it brought, had a shattering effect on the pockets of black record buyers. By 1931 race record sales accounted for only about 1% of total industry sales, as against 5% four years earlier. By the fall of 1929, the Depression closed down a lot of the large touring shows and theaters. Record companies went bankrupt and sales plummeted. However, by 1937, the industry recovered and by 1937 they were almost as many new blues records produced as the peak years of the 1920's.  The depression hit the record business hard; Columbia for example was pressing 11, 000 blues and gospel records in 1927 and by May of 1930 they were pressing 2,000 records, with the number halving by year’s end. Blind Willie Johnson's first records had sold no better than the average disc in the Columbia 1400D series – in early 1929 they would manage about 5,000 as against Barbecue Bob's 6,000 and Bessie Smith's 9,000 or 10,000. In mid-1930 the blind evangelist  became the star of the list – his records were still selling 5,000 copies, although Barbecue Bob was down to 2,000, Bessie Smith to 3,000 and the average release had initial sales of only just over 1,000. The other labels were hit equally hard: Paramount placed their last ad in the Chicago Defender in April, Victor placed its last ad in December, the Gennett imprint was discontinued in 1930 and Warner, who owned the Brunswick group of labels, discontinued field trips at the end of 1930. Despite the hard times, there was some superb records being produced and today we spotlight some of the big names of the blues along with several who remain utterly forgotten.

Bessie Smith, Chicago Defender Ad, July 2, 1930

With the gradual rundown of Paramount, Brunswick became the leader in the race market. Among their stable of artists was Leroy Carr and Tampa Red, among the era's biggest blues stars. Brunswick continued to record in the field and in 1930 they made recordings in Memphis where they recorded Memphis Minnie, Robert Wilkins, Jim Jackson and Garfield Akers among others. Today we spin Jim Jackson performing a rousing version of  "St. Louis Blues" and Garfield Akers' "Dough Roller Blues." Akers made his debut in 1929 backed by Joe Callicott and waxed the classic "Cottonfield Blues" Pts. 1 & 2 for Vocalion which was advertised in the February 2nd, 1930 Chicago Defender. In Knoxville they recorded Leola Manning and the Tennessee Chocolate Drops and in Dallas they recorded Gene Campbell.

In February 1930 the OKeh field unit called at Shreveport, Louisiana, to do some recording at  the request of a local radio station. while there, they recorded  a small black group who called themselves the Mississippi Sheiks. Their records went down so well that OKeh recorded 14 more numbers in San Antonio in August and a further 16 in Jackson, Mississippi, just before Christmas. The Mississippi Sheiks became the most popular string bands of the late '20s and early '30s. The band blended country and blues fiddle music and included guitarist Walter Vinson and fiddler Lonnie Chatmon, with frequent appearances by guitarists Bo Carter and Sam Chatmon, who were also busy with their own solo careers. The Sheiks had their first and biggest success with "Sitting on Top of the World," which was a crossover hit and multi-million seller. The Mississippi Sheiks' popularity peaked in the early '30s, and their final recording session happened in 1935 for the Bluebird label.

In 1930, when most companies were considering cutting back on their race issues, the American Record Corporation entered the field. ARC had been formed in August 1929 by the merger of three small companies: the Cameo Record corporation, whose labels included Banner and Oriole, and the Pathe Phonograph and Radio Corporation, owners of Perfect. In April 1930 ARC decided to revive the Perfect race series, and this time they made sure that they used currently popular artists singing up-to -the-minute material. In April 1930 they recorded some solo blues by Georgia Tom, and some Tampa Red styled numbers by a group called The Famous Hokum Boys that included Georgia Tom and Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy. ARC also recorded five solo records by him and issued them under the name Sammy Sampson. In September ARC had another recording session involving once again Georgia Tom, Sammy Sampson and The Famous Hokum Boys. Hokum had been hot since Tampa Red & Georgia Tom's "It's Tight Like That" was a huge smash in 1928 and the labels continued to try and cash in on the craze. "Hokum" was a common vaudeville term for rowdy comedy or clever stage business.

In February 1930 Vocalion recorded sides by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe, with the duo hitting big with "Bumble Bee" issued in May. Columbia had recorded the duo the year before but didn't issue all the titles. Once they saw how well "Bumble Bee" was selling they belatedly, in August 1930, issued the version they had recorded fourteen months previously.

Bukka White, Chicago Defender Ad, November 11, 1930

Among some of the other major blues artists who cut records in 1930, we spin tracks by Blind Willie McTell, Bessie Smith, Bukka White, Big Bill Broonzy and Blind Blake. White made his debut in 1930 for Victor, cutting two 78’s, one blues coupling and one gospel under the name Washington White. His “I Am In The Heavenly Way” was advertised on October 11, 1930 in the Chicago Defender. Blind Blake, one of the most popular bluesmen of the 1920’s. His only rival in popularity was Blind Lemon Jefferson, also a Paramount artist. Blake was advertised heavily in the Chicago Defender between 1926-30,with twenty-four ads appearing. He cut some 80 sides before mysteriously disappearing after a final session circa June 1932. In her heyday Bessie Smith was the highest paid black entertainer in America. She was advertised as The Empress of the Blues a title hard to argue with. She recorded prolifically between 1923-1931 with a final four-song session in 1933. Broonzy made his debut in 1928 and was an in demand session guitarist as well as waxing hundreds of sides under his own name. Today we spin Broonzy's superb "I Can't Be Satisfied" as well as "Pig Meat Strut" in the company of The Famous Hokum Boys.  The group was a studio outfit that consisted of Big Bill Broonzy, Georgia Tom, Frank Braswell who cut close to two-dozen sides in 1930 .

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Whill The Coffin Be Your Santa Claus?

Will The Coffin Be Your Santa Claus? (MP3)

As we creep closer to Christmas we turn our attention to a pair of uplifting Christmas sermons advertised in the December 17th, 1927 edition of the Chicago Defender: Rev. J.M. Gates' "Will The Coffin Be Your Santa Claus?" and Rev. A.W. Nix's "Death May Be Your Christmas Present." The idea of Christmas themed blues and gospel numbers stretches back to the very dawn of the recorded genres. "Hooray for Christmas" exclaims Bessie Smith to kick off her soon to be classic "At The Christmas Ball", which 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. For some reason there's far fewer gospel Christmas songs although there were plenty of Christmas sermons in the 1920's and 1930's when recorded sermons rivaled blues in popularity among black audiences. Going hand in hand with Christmas is quite a number of New Year's songs, a good vehicle for juxtaposing the problems of the past year with the glimmer of hope that that the upcoming year will bring better fortune. In fact the other side of Rev. Nix's selection is "Mind Your Own Business (A New year's Sermon)." Whether these artists sung these numbers as part of their regular repertoire is unclear but 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 boldly, often with full-page ads, in black newspapers like the Chicago Defender. Just about every November and December the Chicago Defender had advertisements either for specific blues and gospel Christmas records or more general ads from record companies wishing buyers holiday greetings. For example Paramount placed large sized ads wishing Christmas greetings which featured pictures of the label's stars like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ma Rainey, Papa Charlie Jackson and Blind Blake among others. 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." As for Rev. Gates he was advertised in the Chicago Defender twenty-seven times between 1926 and 1930 while Rev. A.W. Nix was advertised on ten different occasions between 1927 and 1928.

The popularity of recorded sermons is explained in the book Recording The Blues: "The great gospel boom had been in late 1926; Rev. J.C. Burnett's first record on Columbia – "Downfall Of Nebuchadnezzar" and "I've Even Heard Of Thee", exactly the same titles as on his earlier Meritt release – sold 80,000 copies soon after its release in November 1926; this was four times as many as the normal sale of a Bessie Smith record, and Bessie was still outselling just about every other blues singer. …In 1927 one third of the 500 releases were gospel items; the figure dropped to about a quarter in 1928 and remained at this level for the next two years."

Recorded sermons were among the most popular and best selling of the "race records" in the 1920’s and 1930’s. These records provided a fascinating look into the views and concerns of black America at a time when very few outlets existed for black expression. Rev. J.M. Gates was the most popular and prolific of them all, waxing some two hundred titles between 1926 and 1941, which accounted for a staggering quarter of all sermons recorded during this period. His sermons appeared on a variety of labels (Victor, Bluebird, Okeh, Gennett), though Gates often re-recorded his most popular sermons such as "Death's Black Train Is Coming," "Oh Death Where Is Thy Sting," "Goin' to Die with the Staff in My Hands" for multiple labels. Born in 1885, Gates ministered at Atlanta's Calvary Church. A testament to his popularity was the fact that he was given the biggest African-American funeral Atlanta had seen until Martin Luther King's. Gates was first recorded by a Columbia field unit that went to Atlanta in 1926. Four sermons were recorded including "Death's Black Train Is Coming" and when the record was released it was an instant success. These were the first sermons recorded with singing. The advance pressing order for the record was 3,675 copies and when the remaining two sides from Gates' Atlanta session were issued the advance order was 34,025. According to Recording The Blues: "As soon as he saw how well Gates' first disc was selling, Polk Brockman – the Atlanta talent scout who had engineered the first OKeh field trip three year earlier – visited the preacher at his home and signed an exclusive contract with him (Columbia had neglected to do so). …Brockman took Gates and some members of his congregation up to New York about the beginning of September and had him record for no less than five different record companies – OKeh, Victor, BBC's Vocalion, Pathe and Banner. Gates recorded forty-two sides within the space of two or three weeks… In a nine month period – from September 1926 to June 1927 – sixty records of sermons were put pout by the various companies, and no less than forty of them were by Rev. J.M. Gates!"

it's not surprising that Gates cut more Christmas sermons than anyone including: "You May Be Alive Or You May Be Dead, Christmas Day" (1927), "Where Will you Be Christmas Day" (1927), "Did You Spend Christmas Day In Jail?" (1929), "Will Hell Be Your Santa Claus" (1939) and "Gettin' Ready For Christmas Day" (1941) which was his last recorded sermon.

Death May Be Your christmas Present Ad

Death May Be Your Christmas Present (MP3)

Rev. A.W. Nix was one of the great singing preachers whose fiery, earthshaking sermons are enough to send any sinner running for salvation. Nix made his mark with his first coupling, the incredibly intense "Black Diamond Express to Hell Pts. I & II" in 1927. This was one of the best known and popular sermons with Parts 3 and 4 issued in 1929 and parts 5 and 6 in 1930. He cut fifty sermons for Vocalion through 1931, railing against sinners in sermons with provocative titles like "Goin' To Hell And Who Cares", "The Fat Life Will Bring You Down", "Jack The Ripper" and "Hot Shot Mamas And Teasing Browns." He had a special affinity for the holidays as evidenced in recordings like "Death Might Be Your Christmas Gift", "That Little Thing May Kill You Yet (Christmas Sermon)", "Begin A New Life On Christmas Day – Part 1 & 2" and "How Will You Spend Christmas?"

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Everybody's Blues Ad

Everybody's Blues (MP3)

Rock Island Blues (MP3)

Hey baby, tell me what's the matter now (2x)
Lord you tryin' to quit me, baby and you don't know how

I ain't got no good girl, ain't got no lady friend (2x)
I ain't go nobody to say, “Furry, where you been?”

If you don't want me, won't you tell me so (2x)
Then you won't be bothered with me round your house no more

Hey-ey baby, you don't treat me right (2x)
Ah the way you treat me, take my appetite

I'd rather see my coffin come rollin' from my door (2x)
Lord than to hear my good girl says “I don't want you no more”

Ba-aby, what you goin' do with me? (2x)
Way you doin' me baby, I declare I sure can't be

(Everybody's Blues, 1927)

After a brief hiatus we resume our continuing exploration of the blues advertisements that appeared in the Chicago Defender and turn our attention to the legendary Furry Lewis. Lewis was promoted in the Chicago Defender on five occasions; in July and August 1927 and April and June of 1928. Lewis' first advertisement was for "Everybody's Blues", a rather small ad dwarfed by a large Paramount ad for Papa Charlie Jackson's "Skoodle Um Skoo." Perhaps because of the sales of that record he was granted larger ad space for "Sweet Papa Moan" and "Jellyroll" also cut at this first session. The year Lewis made his debut was the beginning of a blues boom that would last until 1930; there were just 500 blues and gospel records issued in 1927 and increase of fifty percent from 1926 a trend that would continue until the depression. To feed the demand record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent which included making southern excursions with field recording units. Memphis was a prime destination with record companies visiting the city eleven times during this period.

Lewis was actually born in Greenwood, MS and moved with his mother and two sisters to Brinley Avenue in Memphis when he was a youngster. Before he was ten he had fashioned a guitar from a cigar box and screen wire. His first guitar was supposedly given to him by W.C. Handy, a Martin that he used for decades, "until I just absolutely wore it out completely" as he recalled." Lewis played around Beale Street in speakeasies, taverns, dance halls and house parties and worked the countryside at suppers, frolics and fish fries. In 1925 he got together with Will Shade, Dewey Thomas and Hambone Lewis to form an early version of the Memphis Jug Band and like Jim Jackson took to traveling with medicine shows. Vocalion talent scouts saw both men in 1927 but it was Lewis who went to Chicago first in April where he cut six sides with "The Panic's On" remaining unissued. He and Jackson went up together in October the same year where Jackson cut his famous "Kansas City Blues" with Lewis cutting seven numbers including the unissued "Casey Jones." Asked in later years if Jim Jackson was still alive in 1959, the year Lewis was rediscovered, Lewis quipped "he been dead so long he near about ready to come back." Just under a year later Victor recorded eight more titles by Lewis in Memphis and Vocalion brought him in the studio one last time in 1929, cutting four songs at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.

Jelly Roll Ad

Jellyroll (MP3)

Mr Furry's Blues (MP3)

While playing the blues at nights and occasional recordings, Lewis kept a day job at the city's Sanitation Department which he secured in 1923 and kept until he retired in 1968. "When I first started there, the city didn't have trucks, I drove a mule and a car for the city. I was a street cleaner, I hauled garbage, I worked on the city dump and I worked washing streets."

Thirty year would pass before Sam Charters came knocking in 1959 subsequently recordings him for Folkways that same year with two more albums following for Prestige in 1961. There was nothing rusty about his playing as he had never stopped performing for neighbors and friends. Lewis was recorded often through the 1960's, with a slew of informal recordings issued posthumously. Bob Groom wrote in his book The Blues Revival that his "return has been one of the most satisfying of the [blues] revival." He played regularly at festivals around Memphis, appeared with Burt Reynolds in the movie W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings, sang "Furry's Blues" on Johnny Carson and was the subject of a Joni Mitchell song (he didn't like it). During this period Lewis' apartment became a pilgrimage for many visitors to Memphis, from blues fans, musicians to celebrities.  Lewis died in 1981 at the City of Memphis Hospital. In the liner notes to Shake 'Em On Down, Pete Welding wrote that Lewis' music, "engagingly direct and sincere, typifies the best that the Memphis blues has to offer. If any single performer can be said to stand as the living embodiment of the Memphis blues, a perfomer in whose music can be found the full span of that urban-rural polarity, that man is surley Furry Lewis."

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Bessie Smith - Backwater Blues

Back-Water Blues (MP3)

The 1927 flood inundated 27,000 square miles along the lower reaches of the Mississippi River populated by more than 900,000 people. For a period of months in the spring and summer of 1927, water covered the whole vast flood plain of the lower Mississippi River and its tributaries. It swallowed up nearly all of cotton country, making a lake of the tens of thousands of square miles of the Mississippi Delta. Some 700,000 people were driven from the land, the great majority of them black sharecroppers and tenant farmers. The 1927 flood provoked an outpouring of songs by both whites and African-Americans. Many blues songs were written directly about the flood itself while others dealt with related matters like levee work, refugee camps and other natural disasters. The four record companies-Columbia, OKeh, Paramount and Victor engaged in a sweepstakes of sorts to see which one could come up with the biggest original "race record" song hit dealing with this 1927 flood. Columbia took the lead from the start. According to David Evans: "Their most popular blues artist, and probably the most popular of any label, Bessie Smith, had already recorded 'Back-Water Blues' and 'Muddy Water,' and Columbia had these two records on the market by the time the levees broke in the South in April." In fact "Back-Water Blues" was recorded on February 17, 1927, some two months before the levees actually broke. Through some impressive detective work Evans determined that Bessie was actually singing about flooding in Nashville in December 1926, the effects of which she witnessed first hand. This flood contributed to the rising waters of the Mississippi River that reached flood stage four months later. Nonetheless "Back-Water Blues" was the biggest hit of the flood related songs and has become a blues standard. Again from Evans: "On June 18, 1927, the Baltimore Afro-American reported that 'Back-Water Blues' and 'Muddy Water (a Mississippi moan)' are probably in the fore of best sellers of the past week. Both are by Bessie Smith. Some owners of the record shops attribute the present popularity of these records to the publicity given to the Mississippi river floods which are laying waste to many former haunts of record buyers." It also didn't hurt that the record was advertised extensively in the black press including the above advertisement from the Chicago Defender. It's not hard to see why Bessie's account resonated with the public, providing a personal feel to the disaster:

When it rains five days and the skies turn dark as night (2x)
Then trouble's takin' place in the lowlands at night

I woke up this mornin', can't even get out of my door (2x)
There's been enough trouble to make a poor girl wonder where she want to go

Then they rowed a little boat about five miles 'cross the pond (2x)
I packed all my clothes, throwed them in and they rowed me along

When it thunders and lightnin' and when the wind begins to blow (2x)
There's thousands of people ain't got no place to go

Then I went and stood upon some high old lonesome hill (2x)
Then looked down on the house were I used to live

Backwater1 blues done call me to pack my things and go (2x)
'Cause my house fell down and I can't live there no more

Mmm, I can't move no more (2x)
There ain't no place for a poor old girl to go

Blue Belle - High Water Blues

High Water Blues (MP3)

OKeh Records first entry in the flood sweepstakes was "South Bound Water" recorded on April 25 by their biggest blues star Lonnie Johnson only four days after the levee broke at Greenville. As Evans notes: "The bursting of the levee above Greenville, Mississippi, on April 21 was the defining event of the 1927 flood, and the great rush to record flood songs began only after this catastrophe." On May 3 Johnson cut "Back-Water Blues" a cover of the Bessie Smith hit which was issued as the flip side of "South Bound Water", another flood song. The record was advertised in the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender. Johnson returned to the flood theme several times including "Low Land Moan", "The New Fallin' Rain Blues" and "Broken Levee Blues", one of the few flood songs with a streak of protest.  OKeh also recorded and advertised "High Water Blues" in  by Blue Belle featuring Lonnie Johnson on guitar and advertised in the Chicago Defender on August 13, 1927. Bessie Mae Smith recorded variously as St. Louis Bessie, Blue Belle and Streamline Mae. Her 18 sides recorded between 1927-1930 showcase a strong singer who used some striking imagery in her songs.

Several other flood songs were advertised in the Chicago Defender including Barbecue Bob's "Mississippi Heavy Water Blues", Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Rising High Water Blues" and Charlie Patton's two-part "High Water Everywhere" of which Paramount devoted one of it's last advertisements to this record which became a surprise hit at the dawn of the Great Depression. I'll be reproducing these ads in a future installment of our ongoing exploration of the Chicago Defender blues ads.

Lonnie Johnson - Backwater Blues

Back Water Blues
(MP3)

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Sylvester Weaver: Teasing Brown Blues Ad

Teasing Brown Blues (MP3)

Gonna Ramble Blues (MP3)

In our continuing exploration of the blues advertisements that appeared in the Chicago Defender we turn our attention to versatile guitarist Sylvester Weaver, known as "the Man with the Talking Guitar",  who has the distinction of making the first solo recordings of blues guitar playing. Weaver first recorded in New York in 1923, where in October of that year he accompanied vaudeville blues singer Sara Martin on two numbers, "Longing for Daddy Blues" and "I've Got to Go and Leave My Daddy Behind," for Okeh. Two weeks later, Weaver cut his first pair of solo recordings, "Guitar Blues" and "Guitar Rag" for the same label. The Sara Martin selections represented the first time on record that a popular female singer had been backed up solely by guitar, and were an immediate success. Weaver's guitar was mentioned in Martin's ads; one was advertised as "the first blue guitar record" while another made note of his "big, mean, blue guitar." In a January 8, 1924 Chicago Defender ad the depiction shows a headshot of Martin alongside a drawing of a little black girl listening to an old black man with a guitar in front of a run down wooden shack. Elijah Wald conjectures that "a possible explanation is that they [Okeh] had been having some success  with white 'hillbilly' records and were testing the waters to see if there was a similar market for rural styles in the black community. …By 1924, the basic style of the blues queens was thoroughly established, and the record companies were hunting around for novelties that might set their products apart." Weaver's own records were advertised in the Chicago Defender three times in 1927 (one alongside Sara Martin) and twice in 1928.

Weaver was born in 1897 in Louisville, Kentucky, a resident of "Smoketown", a neighborhood one mile southeast of downtown Louisville. "Smoketown" has been a historically black neighborhood since the Civil War. With its shotgun houses and narrow streets, the neighborhood was a densely populated area with a population of over 15,000 by 1880. African American property ownership was rare, with most living in properties rented from whites. Weaver immortalized the area in the 1924 recording "Smoketown Strut." His 1923 recording of "Guitar Rag" was later re-invented by Bob Wills into "Steel Guitar Rag" and became a country standard. In fact Weaver's work lies stylistically between blues and country music, having considerable impact on both musical genres. Through the end of 1927 Weaver recorded a total of 26 solo sides, and on some of the later ones he was joined by guitarist Walter Beasley in who's company he recorded his greatest blues instrumentals, "St. Louis Blues" and "Bottleneck Blues." Weaver cut over two dozen selections accompanying Sara Martin through 1927 and also backed singer Helen Humes on eight sides in 1927. In addition Weaver cut a record with E.L. Coleman and one with Virginia Liston. Weaver retired from music after 1927, working as a chauffeur in Louisville. He was almost totally forgotten by the time he died in 1960. An interesting footnote is the discovery of a scrapbook Weaver kept of his musical activities. Some of the contents were published in Living Blues Magazine in 1982.

Sylvester Weaver: Penitentiary BoundBlues Ad

Penitentiary Blues (MP3)

Can't Be Trusted Blues (MP3)

"Gonna Ramble Blues" b/w "Teasing Brown Blues" was recorded on April 7, 1927 under the name Sally Roberts, a pseudonym for Sara Martin while "Can't Be Trusted Blues" b/w "Penitentiary Bound Blues" was cut on August 31 of the same year. The first pairing are exceptional mid-tempo blues sung with power and feeling by Martin. Martin came out of the stage show and vaudeville tradition and it took some time for her to get her bearings singing blues.  Of her first collaboration with Weaver, Tony Russell notes that what "is interesting about these records is not so much Weaver's deliberate guitar (and banjo) playing as the power it has to draw Martin still further from her vaudeville background and towards the kind of singing recently introduced on records by Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith." The latter pairing spotlights Weaver playing solo and show off his rich baritone and deliberate diction on two slow tempo blues, a tempo he stuck almost exclusively with his entire career. Weaver was an interesting, novel lyricist as he demonstrates on "Can't Be Trusted Blues:"

I don't love nobody, that's my policy (2x)
I'll tell the world that nobody can get along with me
I can't be trusted, can't be satisfied
(2x)
The men all know it and pin their women to their side
I will sure back-bite you, gnaw you to the bone
(2x)
I don't mean maybe, I can't let women alone

Pull down your windows and lock up all your doors (2x)
Got ways like the devil, papa's skating on all fours

and "Penitentiary Bound Blues:"

Thought I was goin' to the workhouse, my heart was filled with strife (2x)
But I'm goin' to the penitentiary, judge sentenced me for life
There'll be rock walls around me, burnin' sand below
(2x)
There forever, got no other place to go

Goodbye, here's the jailer with the key
(2x)
Farewell to freedom, tain't no use to pity me

Gonna get my number, 4-11-44
(2x)
Soon be an inmate, steel upon my door

Killed my triflin' woman, folks I done commit a crime
(2x)
Nothin' will release me but old Father Time

The number 4-11-44 was a popular combination for playing policy (laying bets on combinations of numbers) and it's odd that Weaver uses it in such a context.  Several blues songs mention this combination including Papa Charlie Jackson's "Four-Eleven-Forty-Four" recorded in 1926. A few months later Weaver would cut another fine prison number,"Rock Pile Blues."

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