Entries tagged with “Cow Cow Davenport”.

Alice mooreBlack and EvilSt. Louis Women Vol. 2 1934-1941
Ethel Waters(What Did I Do To Be So) Black & BlueEthel Waters 1929-1939
Hattie BurelsonSadie's Servant Room BluesTerritory Singers Vol. 2 1928-30
Big Bill BroonzyBlack, Brown, and WhiteBroadcasting The Blues
Otis SpannMoon Blues Sweet Giant Of The Blues
Howlin' WolfCoon On The MoonThe Back Door Wolf
Lillian GlinnBrown Skin BluesLillian Glinn 1927-1929
Barbecue BobChocolate To The BoneChocolate To The Bone
Andy BoyEvil BluesSan Antonio 1937
Robert WilkinsFalling Down BluesThe Original Rolling Stone
Tommy MclennanBottle It Up And GoThe Complete Bluebird Recodings
Bill & Mary MackBlack But Sweet, Oh God!Punch Miller & Albert Wynn 1925-1930
Furry LewisB-L-A-C-KThe Fabulous Furry Lewis
Ishman BraceySaturday BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Rosa HendersonI Have To Paint my FaceI Have To Paint my Face
Maggie jonesNorthbound BluesMaggie Jones Vol. 1 1923-1925
Cow Cow DavenportJim Crow BluesThe Essential
LeadbellyJim Crow BluesBourgeois Blues
Rev. J.M. GatesKinky Hair Is No DisgraceAre You Bound For Heaven Or Hell?
Albert HunterYou Can't Tell The Difference After DarkAlberta Hunter Vol. 4 1927-46
Louis JordanOfay & oxford Grey Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five - Chapter 4
J.B. LenoirBorn DeadAlabama Blues
John Lee HookerBirmingham BluesKennedy's Blues
Louisiana RedRide On Red, Ride OnThe Best of Louisiana Red
Dora Carr & Cow Cow DavenportBlack Girl Gets There Just The Same Cow Cow Davenport - Cow Cow Davenport: The Accompanist 1924-1929
Butterbeans & SusieBrown Skin GalButterbeans & Susie Vol. 1 1924-1925
Fats HaydenBrown Skin Gal Is The Best Gal After AllTeddy Bunn 1929-1940
Ruby SmithBlack GalSammy Price
And the Blues Singers
Juke Boy BonnerBeing Black and I'm ProudLife Gave Me A Dirty Deal
Champion Jack DupreeOh Lord What Have I DoneOh Lord What Have I Done

Show Notes:

Alice Moore: Black And Evil BluesToday's show is devoted to blues songs dealing with the topic of race. Blues of the segregation era are intrinsically tied to race but rarely do they deal with the topic of race itself. As the great blues scholar Paul Oliver wrote back in 1968: "Blacks in the United States are members of an underprivileged class, and it makes no difference if their standard of living is far higher than that of most people in Africa, India, or much of South America. For them, being below the poverty line in the world's richest nation means suffering. Ernest attempts to play the blues by white imitators notwithstanding, the blues is, inescapably, the music of the African American, and it seems undeniable that it is a cultural expression that relates back to circumstances of segregation. It's true that racial discrimination is seldom blatantly the theme of the blues-but it's never far away. …For the Black, whether he was purpled-hued or pink skinned, his color was his problem, both within the black community and in the community as a whole. It was this which determined that his whole social life should be different from his fellow Americans, for his color and his cast of feature were the outward indications of his ancestory." Today we play songs, both subtle and explicit, both humorous and serious, that deal with a variety of racial issues. Within black society there was a class system based on skin color – yellow, brown and black – and many songs deal with this topic. Other songs are more overt, dealing frankly about issues like Jim Crow and, particularly in the 60's, with the topic of civil rights. Other songs are more subtle, throwing in a interesting line or two, often hard to decipher without careful listening.

Alice Moore, Little Alice, as she was known, achieved a measure of success with her first record, "Black And Evil Blues" cut at her first session 1929 with three subsequent versions cut during the 1930's.

I'm black and I'm evil, and I did not make myself (2x)
If my man don't have me, he won't have nobody else
I've got to buy me a bulldog, he'll watch me while I sleep (2x)
Because I'm so black and evil, that I might make a midnight creep
I believe to my soul, the Lord has got a curse on me (2x)
Because every man I get, a no good woman steals him from me

Paul Oliver had this to say about the number: "At times the characteristics of African racial features and color have an ominous significance in the blues, which may hint that they are indirectly related to social problems. So the state of being 'blue' is associated with alienation, and is linked with an 'evil mind' or an inclination to violence. Both are coupled with the inescapable condition of being black." There's also, I think, a way of diffusing the negative "black" by owning it as Moore does, a way of empowering oneself by taking the negative associations of black and turning it around and even reveling in it. Moore's song was covered by Lil Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins and Leroy Ervin. Another song from the same period with a similar sentiment is "(What Did I Do To Be So) Black & Blues", originally written by Fats Waller in 1929, it was a hit for Ethel Waters in 1930. Like Moore's song this one too equates blackness with being "blue"but some of the lyrics give one an uneasy feeling:

I'm white inside, it don't help my case
'Cause I can't hide, what is on my face, oh!

I'm so forlorn, life's just a thorn
My heart is torn, why was I born?
What did I do to be so black and blue?

'Cause you're black, folks think you lack
They laugh at you, and scorn you too
What did I do to be so black and blue?

The title of today's show, Sam Chatmon's "I Have To Paint My Face", is another song tied into this theme. Chatmon's song paints being black in a negative light in contrast to being white. Chatmon's song is a bit more complicated with some of the language, it seems, drawing from the period before the blues when their was a wide variety of black music including ragtime, black vaudeville, minstrels, coon songs, work songs, dance tunes and more. Older musicians (Chatmon was born in the late 1890's), born in the 1860's through the 1880's, learned early forms of black music that they brought to their records when they had the opportunity to record in the 20's and 30's.

Say God made us all
He made some at night
That's why he didn't take time
To make us all white

I'm bound to change my name
I have to paint my face
So I won't be kin
To that Ethiopian race

Say now let me tell you one thing
That a Stumptown nigger will do
He'll pull up on young cotton
And he'll kill baby chickens too

Say when God made me
Say the moon was givin' light
I'm so doggone sorry
He didn't finish me up white

Say now when God made people
He done pretty well
But when he made a jet black nigger
He made them some hell

Say God took a ball of mud
When he got ready to make man
When he went to make you partner
I believe it slipped out his hand

Fats Hayden: Brown Skin Gal Is The Best Gal After All As mentioned above, within black society there was a class system based on skin color – yellow, brown and black – each hue having their own stereotypes. In Blues Fell This Morning, Paul Oliver had the following to say: "Blacks frequently aspired to the conditions of being white, as they saw the better jobs, the higher standard of living Whites enjoyed. Men spent large sums of money on hair-straightening  greases and combs that were supposed to remove the kinks in African hair. Woman dyed their hair to a brick-red, powdered their faces and applied artificial color in order to make their skins lighter and their complexions more 'white.' …This primitive distinction by color was passed on to Blacks themselves and their population was many times divided by grades of skin pigmentation. In the caste system that evolved from this arbitrary means of discrimination, the lighter skinned tended to be on a higher plane, whilst the extremely black-skinned mas was looked down on… To differentiate between their many shades of color they evolved many words which are applicable to certain shades: 'ashy black', 'chocolate-brown', 'coffee', 'sealskin-brown', 'brightskin', 'high yaller', 'lemon', and others… Blacks of one particular skin hue kept together and may certainly  have a had a preference for that color…" In her popular 1927 number, "Brown Skin Blues", Lillian Glinn stated her preference:

Now all high yellers you ought to listen to me
A yellow man's sweet, a black man's neat
A brownskin man will take you clear off your feet

Barbecue Bob's “Chocolate To The Bone” was an answer song cut in 1928:

So glad I'm brownskin, so glad I'm brownskin, chocolate to the bone (2x)
And I've got what it takes to make a monkey man leave his home

Black man is evil, yellow man's so low-down (2x)
I walk into these houses just to see these black men frown

I'm just like Miss Lillian, like Miss Lillian, I mean Miss Glinn, you see
I'm just like Miss Lillian, I mean Miss Glinn, you see
She said, 'A brownskin man is just all right with me'

In a similar vein was Fats Hayden's 1939 number "Brown Skin Gal Is The Best Gal After All" where he elaborates in detail to prove the song's title throwing quite a few disparaging comments on the other hues ("When a yellow gal gets old/She draw up like tripe"). Hayden's song is very similar to a number of earlier songs including Butterbeans & Susie's "Brown Skin Gal" from 1925 and Barbecue Bob's "Brown Skin Gal" from 1927. Bill & Mary Mack's "Black But Sweet, Oh God!" from 1925 has Bill asking for Mary's company and with the following reply: "Now listen hear man you too black and ugly, the type of man is out of my life." Then shes goes on about her "brown" who is "little an cute, chocolate to the bone." Jim Jackson recorded a song titled "Black But Sweet" which is likely the same song  although it was never issued. In the 1970's Furry Lewis recorded "a little jive" he claims to have made up called "B-L-A-C-K" which bears a striking resemblance to Bill & Mary Mack's number but Furry turns it around a bit:

Some people don't like their color, but I sure do like mine
I know I'm black and ugly, but gets along just fine
I was going down the street the other day, two high browns I did meet
Said ain't old Furry black but he sure looks good to me
I'm black but I'm sweet oh God

Earlier I quoted Paul Oliver mentioning that blacks tried to change their appearance to a more white aesthetic, that too is represented in songs featured today. In Ishman Bracey's "Saturday Blues" he sings:

Now, if you want yo' woman, to look like the rest
You buy her high-brown powder, Palmer's Skin Success

Cow Cow Davenport: Jim Crow BluesPalmer's Skin Success was the trade name of a popular skin bleach which claimed o be able to make you "one shade lighter." The product was advertised in black newspapers like the Chicago Defender probably not coincidentally on the same pages that advertised blues records. Then there's  Rev. J.M. Gates' "Kinky Hair is No Disgrace" which, despite the title, is more in a slapstick vaudeville vein than a black pride one. The 1960's saw a new found era in black pride with James Brown's "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud" from 1968 becoming an unofficial anthem of the Black Power movement. The same year Juke Boy Bonner cut "Being Black and I'm Proud" and Bee Houston recorded "Be Proud To Be A Black Man" in 1970. There were black pride sentiments in earlier songs like Ruby Smith on "Black Gal" from 1941. Chris Smith wrote that "it's a fascinating, uneasy mixture of self-abasement with early 'black is beautiful' ideology: "

If I had the choice of being white as a lamb
I would turn it down and stay, black as I am

'I'm just a black gal, insignificant me
But I'm just as happy as can be

I ain't seeking pity on account of being black
And if I've apologized I wanna take it back

…Furthermore, I don't believe in being what you ain't
That's why I don't lighten up with lots of chalk and paint.

Blues songs that speak directly to racial issues are relatively rare in early blues, while the 1960's saw more explicit songs dealing with the turbulent civil rights era. During the Jim Crow era, racial segregation laws were enacted between 1876 and 1965 at the state and local level that mandated racial segregation in all public facilities in Southern states. There were several songs that explicitly dealt with the topic. An early one from singer Maggie Jones, "Northbound Blues" from 1925, talks about heading away from Jim Crow:

Got my trunk and grip all packed
Goodbye, I ain't coming back
Going to leave this Jim Crow town
Lord, sweet pape, New York bound

Got my ticket in my hand
And I'm leaving dixieland

Going north child, where I can be free (2x)
Where there's no hardships, like in Tennessee

Going where they don't have Jim Crow laws (2x)
Don't have to work there, like in Arkansas

Cow Cow Davenport was another singer to make an overt statement about going North to escape Jim Crow. Accompanied by B.T. Wingfield on cornet, he recorded "Jim Crow Blues" for Paramount in 1927:

I'm tired of being Jim Crowed, gonna Leave this Jim Crow town
Doggone my black soul, I'm sweet Chicago bound

Rosa Henderson is sings about Jim Crow in "Back Woods Blues" from 1924 (Clara Smith recorded a version the same year):

Gonna see my folks, but its way too far
To ride in a dusty old Jim Crow car

Got the backwoods blues, but I don't wanna go back home
Got the backwoods blues, for a place way down in Bam
Got the blues, but I'm gonna stay right where I am

Gonna lay 'round here, where I'm at
Where there ain't no grinnin' and no snatchin' off my hat

Other songs on the subject include Josh White's "Jim Crow Train"and "Uncle Sam Says" and "Jim Crow Blues" and "Scottsboro Boys" by  Leadbelly. Jim Crow also existed in the military during both world wars and through part of the Korean war. Both Leadbelly and Josh White tackle the topic in "Uncle Sam Says", the topic also crops up in gospel songs by Blind Willie Johnson ("When the War Was On") and William And Versey Smith ("Everybody Help the Boys Come Home"). In Big Bill Broonzy's famous "Black, Brown, and White" and "I Wonder When I'll Get To Be Called A Man" he address the issue:

When Uncle Sam called me, I know'ed I'd be called a real McCoy
But I got none of this, they just called me soldier boy
I wonder when,
I wonder when,
I wonder when will I get to be called a man
Do I have to wait till I get ninety-three?
When I got back from overseas, that night we had a ball
Next day I met the old boss, he said 'Boy get you some overalls'

Howlin' Wolf - Coon On The MoonOvert political commentary became increasingly more common by the 1960's. Several blues and gospel numbers were recorded about Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. In "Birmingham Blues" John Lee Hooker forcefully sings about the Birmingham campaign which was a strategic effort by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to promote civil rights for black Americans. 1962's Louisiana Red's "Ride On Red, Ride On" is a civil rights themed blues mainly about leaving the racist south and its subject not far removed from Rosa Henderson's “Back Woods Blues” mentioned above.  Few bluesman were as outspoken and eloquent as J.B. Lenoir who cut some hard hitting topical numbers shortly before his untimely death in 1967. Here's his "Born Dead" from 1966:

Lord why was I born in Mississippi, when it's so hard to get ahead (2x)
Every black child born in Mississippi
You know the poor child is born dead

During the beginning of the space race in the early 1960's many songs appeared to cash in with space themed topics. With the landing on the moon in 1969 there were many more, but many, particularly by African Americans, took on a more political tone often contrasting the money and conditions of black people with the amount of money that went into the putting a man on the moon while ignoring the dire conditions at home. This is the topic of Gil Scott-Heron's "Whitey On The Moon" and Otis Spann's "Moon Blues." Howlin' Wolf was fascinated by space flight and asked his saxophonist Eddie Shaw to write a song on the subject. "Coon On The Moon" is more about how things have changed during Wolf's lifetime than an overt political statement. 35 years before it happened the song predicted the first black president:

You know, they called us ‘coons’—said we didn’t have no sense
You gonna wake up one morning, and a coon’s gonna be the President

Several songs featured today don't fall into any particular category but lyrically fit into the topic of today's show: There's Andy Boy who sings "I got the evil blues, prejudicy on my mind" on "Evil Blues" from 1937 and Robert Wilkins who on "Fallin' Down Blues" from 1929 sings:

If you don't believe, girl, I'll treat you right
Come and walk with me down to my loving shack tonight
I'll certainly treat you just like you was white
That don't satisfy you, girl, I'll take your life

Finally there's  Tommy McClennan who's "Bottle It Up And Go" is one of the songs most associated with him. According to Honeyboy Edwards, McClennan learned the song from Memphis Jug Band member Dewey Corley.  McClennan insisted on playing the song as he learned it in the South, ignoring Northern sensibilities when he sang the controversial lines: "Now the nigger and the white man playin' seven-up/Nigger beat the white man was scared to pick it up." Broonzy tells a story of McClennan singing these lines at a house party and being forcibly ejected, forced to leave via the window with parts of his guitar around his neck.

Pinetop SmithPine Top's Boogie WoogieShake Your Wicked Knees
Meade Lux LewisHonky Tonk Train BluesHey! Piano Man: Selected Boogie Woogie Sides Remastered
Jimmy YanceyState Street Special Jimmy Yancey Vol. 1 1939-1940
'Crippple' Clarence LoftonHouse Rent StruggleCripple Clarence Lofton Vol. 2 1935-1939
Charles AveryDearborn Street BreakdownShake Your Wicked Knees
Albert Ammons Chicago In MindHey! Piano Man: Selected Boogie Woogie Sides Remastered
Romeo Nelson Gettin Dirty Just Shakin' That ThingShake Your Wicked Knees
Cow Cow DavenportCow Cow BluesThe Essential
Hersal ThomasSuitcase BluesRoots 'N' Blues: The Retrospective 1925-1950
Pinetop Smith Jump Steady Blues
Shake Your Wicked Knees
Jimmy BlytheBoogie Woogie BluesBoogie Woogie Blues
Crippple' Clarence LoftonCrying Mother Blues Cripple Clarence Lofton Vol. 1 1935-1939
Montana TaylorIndiana Avenue StompShake Your Wicked Knees
Charles Avery, Tampa Red & Lil JohnsonHouse Rent ScuffleTampa Red Vol. 2 1929
Clarence "Jelly" JohnsonJelly's BluesLow Down Papa
Freddie ShayneOriginal Mr. Freddie BluesMontana Taylor & 'Freddy' Shayne 1929-1946
Doug SuggsDoug's Jump Piano Blues Vol. 21927-1956
Cow Cow Davenport State Street BluesCow Cow Davenport Vol. 1 1925-1929
Jimmy YanceyRolling The StoneJimmy Yancey Vol. 1 1939-1940
Jimmy BlytheChicago Stomp Boogie Woogie Blues
Pinetop SmithI'm Sober NowShake Your Wicked Knees
Clarence "Jelly" Johnson You're Always Messin' Round With My ManLow Down Papa
Romeo NelsonHead Rag HopShake Your Wicked Knees
Charles AveryChain 'Em DownBoogie Woogie & Barrelhouse Piano Vol. 2 1928-1930
Montana Taylor Detroit RocksShake Your Wicked Knees
'Crippple' Clarence Lofton Streamline TrainCripple Clarence Lofton Vol. 1 1935-1939
Pinetop SmithPinetop BluesPiano Blues Vol. 20
Meade Lux LewisBear Cat CrawlHey! Piano Man: Selected Boogie Woogie Sides Remastered
Cow Cow DavenportBack In The AlleyShake Your Wicked Knees
Jimmy Yancey Yancey LimitedJimmy Yancey Vol. 1 1939-19
Albert AmmonsShout For JoyHey! Piano Man: Selected Boogie Woogie Sides Remastered

Show Notes:

During the period of today's recordings , there was a mass migration of blacks from the southern states looking for regular employment and the chance to start a new life. Thousands headed to Chicago. They, together with the emerging school of pianists, took jobs as taxi drivers, hotel porters, dish washers and other menial occupations, working at these occupations during the daytime, they supplemented their earnings by playing at rent parties in the evenings and at weekends. The boogie pianists reigned supreme at these functions and the more proficient of them were able to find additional work at the many dives and clubs which became a part of Chicago’s night life. Today's show spotlights the Chicago boogie and barrelhouse who made records in the 20's and 30's. For more detailed information on today's performers check out Peter J. Silvester's seminal The Story of Boogie-Woogie: A Left Hand Like G od.

As Silvester wrote: "For the purposes of clarifying the several phases which the music underwent in reaching its state of perfection in the I940's, it is helpful to consider the first generation of pianists as being active in the period up to about 1930. This would include among its members Hersal Thomas, Lemuel Fowler, Jimmy Blythe, Jimmy Yancey, Clarence Lofton, Charles Davenport, Doug Suggs, Eurreal Montgomery, Roosevelt Sykes, many'one-record pianists' and other still unknown and unrecorded piano players. It was some time after 1930 that a number of these esteemed players made their first recordings, although their influence on later pianists as leading practitioners of the art is now clearly recognizable."

Considered to be the originator of the boogie -woogie style of piano playing, Clarence "Pine Top" Smith was a vaudeville performer. From around 1920 Smith was based in Pittsburgh, and the following years he traveled with minstrel and vaudeville shows as a dancer, singer and comedian. Smith’s work on the circuits took him throughout the south where he worked with artists such as Butterbeans & Susie and Ma Rainey. In an interview with Downbeat magazine in 1939, Smith’s wife Sarah Horton said that her husband first started playing "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" in Pittsburgh. Cow Cow Davenport recommended Smith to Mayo Williams of Brunswick/Vocalion records. Smith then moved with his family to Chicago in 1928. On December 29, 1928 Smith recorded his two breakthrough hits: "Pine Top Blues" and "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie." This was the first time the phrase "boogie woogie" appeared on record. He began to devote more of his energies to playing piano and, at the urging of Charles "Cow Cow" Davenport, made a few records. On January 14 and 15, 1929 Smith recorded six more sides of his vaudeville repertoire for Vocalion records, including “I'm Sober Now” and “Jump Steady Blues.” On March 13, 1929 Pine Top made an unissued recording of "Driving Wheel Blues." Two days later, at age 25, his rising career ended. Smith was accidentally shot by a man named David Bell during a fight.

Meade Lux Lewis was one of the three great boogie-woogie pianists (along with Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson) whose appearance at John Hammond's 1938 Spirituals to Swing concert helped start the boogie-woogie craze. He played regularly in Chicago in the late '20s and his one solo record of the time, "Honky Tonk Train Blues" (1927), was considered a classic. After cutting his classic "Honky Tonk Train Blues" in 1927 Lewis gained little extra work and slipped into obscurity. John Hammond heard Lewis' record in 1935 and, after a search, found Lewis washing cars for a living in Chicago. Soon, Lewis was back on records and after the 1938 Spirituals to Swing concert he was able to work steadily, sometimes in duets or trios with Ammons and Johnson. After the boogie-woogie craze ended, Lewis continued working in Chicago and California, recording as late as 1962. Lewis led sessions through the years that have come out on MCA, Victor, Blue Note, Solo Art, Euphonic, Stinson, Atlantic, Storyville, Verve, Tops, ABC-Paramount, Riverside, and Philips.

One of the seminal boogie-woogie pianists, Jimmy Yancey was active in and around Chicago playing house parties and clubs from 1915, yet he remained unrecorded until May 1939, when he recorded "The Fives" and "Jimmy's Stuff" for a small label. By then, Yancey's work around Chicago had already influenced such younger and better-known pianists as Meade "Lux" Lewis, Pinetop Smith, and Albert Ammons. Yancey was a musician's musician, remaining mostly unknown and unheard outside of Chicago until 1936, when Meade Lux Lewis recorded one of his tunes, "Yancey Special." Three years later, producer Dan Qualey became the first to record Yancey for his new Solo Art label. After the Victor recordings, Yancey went on to record for OKeh and Bluebird. In later years, Yancey performed with his wife, blues singer Estelle "Mama" Yancey; they appeared together at Carnegie Hall in 1948. Although Yancey attained a measure of fame for his music late in life, he never quit his day job, remaining with the White Sox as a groundskeeper until just before his death.

Active in Chicago in the 20's and 30's, Charles Avery worked as a session musician backing artists such as Lil Johnson, Freddie 'Red” Nicholson, Red Nelson and others. He cut one record under his own name, 1929's “Dearborn Street Breakdown.”

Albert Ammons is best remembered as an exciting pianist who inaugurated the Blue Note record label by hammering out blues and boogie duets with Meade "Lux" Lewis. His main influences were Jimmy Blythe, Jimmy and Alonzo Yancey, Hersal Thomas, and Clarence "Pinetop" Smith, who personally encouraged the aspiring pianist. By 1934 Ammons was leading his own little group at the Club De Lisa on the South Side. Ammons became strongly identified with the boogie-woogie style after recording "Boogie Woogie Stomp" and "Swanee River Boogie" for Decca with his Rhythm Kings in 1936. Ammons next decided to take himself to New York, where he gigged regularly at Café Society (Downtown and Uptown) with Meade "Lux" Lewis and the Kansas City contingent of Pete Johnson and Big Joe Turner. In 1938 Ammons, along with Lewis and Pete Johnson created a sensation at the Spirituals to Swing concert in Carnegie Hall. Ammons, who had cut a few sides for Vocalion in 1938, recorded a series of solos and duets with Meade "Lux" Lewis on January 6, 1939, now established as the very first titles in the catalog of Alfred Lion's newly founded Blue Note label. Ammons remained active through the 40's but illness forced off the scene and when he passed away on December 2, 1949, he was only 42 years old.

Romeo Nelson moved to Chicago at the age of six. For most of his life he played piano at rent parties in the city, although he also lived in East St. Louis for a while in the early 1920s. In 1929 he made his only series of recordings for Vocalion Records: "Gettin' Dirty Just Shakin' That Thing"and "Head Rag Hop", featuring talking by Tampa Red and Frankie Jaxon.

Hersal Thomas was among the earliest architects of the boogie-woogie style leaving such a powerful impression that pianists as highly regarded as Jimmy Yancey, Albert Ammons, and Meade "Lux" Lewis claimed him as a prime influence. It was his father George who taught Hersal the fundamentals of the blues, and the youngster gave his first public performances on the streets of Houston with his big sister Beulah, who would come to be known as Sippie Wallace. When George relocated to New Orleans in 1915, he brought Beulah and Hersal with him. Word spread quickly, and Hersal was soon gigging with the region's top jazz players, including King Oliver and his promising young protégée Louis Armstrong. On February 22, 1925 he recorded his only two piano solos,"The Suitcase Blues" and "Hersal's Blues." Two days later, he and Joe Oliver backed Sippie on three Okeh recordings, and in April and June, he accompanied Hociel on her first records. In August, Hersal and Sippie traveled to New York to cut more records, with alto saxophonist Rudolph "Rudy" Jackson sitting in on the first of Hersal's only two recording sessions that took place outside of the Chicago area. On November 11, 1925 Hersal, clarinetist Johnny Dodds and banjoist Johnny St. Cyr backed Hociel as members of Louis Armstrong's Jazz Four. Armstrong and Hersal worked together on two more occasions, accompanying Hociel and Sippie during February and March 1926. Hersal's last known studio session took place on the fourth of March when he accompanied Lillian Miller on her Okeh recording of "The Kitchen Blues." The short life of Hersal Thomas came to an abrupt conclusion on July 3, 1926 while he was performing at Penny's Pleasure Palace in Detroit MI. The exact cause of his sudden death has never been verified.

Considering how many fine recording sessions he was on in Chicago in the 1920s (particularly with Johnny Dodds), it is surprising how little is known about the mysterious Jimmy Blythe. He moved to Chicago in 1918, and studied with pianist Clarence Jones. Blythe recorded dozens of piano rolls in the early '20s. He began cutting records in 1924 (Blythe's "Chicago Stomp" from that year is considered by some to be the first full-length boogie-woogie recording). During the next seven years, he made a few piano solos; backed singers Viola Bartlette and Alexander Robinson; teamed up with Dodds in several settings; led Blythe's Sinful Five; recorded with the Midnight Rounders, Jimmy Bertrand's Washboard Wizards, Lonnie Johnson, and the State Street Ramblers; and cut piano duets with Buddy Burton and Charlie Clark. Jimmy Blythe died at the age of 30 from meningitis.

Owing his nickname to a limp from which he suffered, Clarence Lofton became a favorite of early jazz collectors during the boogie-woogie craze of the late 1930's along with Meade Lux Lewis, Jimmy Yancey, Cow Cow Davenport, and many others. Born in Tennessee he lived most of his life in Chicago becoming a fixture on the Chicago nightlife scene. He owned his own nightclub called the Big Apple where he ran his own boogie school teaching youngsters the art form. Between 1935 and 1943 Lofton cut close to forty sides for Vocalion, Swaggie, Solo Art and Session. The bulk of these were solo sides with guitarist Big Bill Broonzy adding support for two sessions. In addition Lofton provided accompaniment to Red Nelson, Sammy Brown, Al Miller and Jimmy Yancey. Lofton remained on the scene cutting sides for the Gennett, Vocalion, Solo Art, Riverside, Session and Pax labels. He stayed around Chicago until his death in 1957 from a blood clot in the brain.

Montana Taylor was born in Butte, Montana, where his father owned a club. The family moved to Chicago and then Indianapolis, where Taylor learned piano around 1919. In 1929 he recorded a few tracks for Vocalion Records, including "Indiana Avenue Stomp" and "Detroit Rocks". Later he moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1936. He then disappeared from the public record for some years, during which he may have given up playing piano. However, in 1946 he was rediscovered by jazz fan Rudi Blesh, and was recorded both solo and as the accompanist to Bertha "Chippie" Hill. His final recordings were from a 1948 radio broadcast. Taylor died in 1954.

Clarence "Jelly" Johnson became an in-demand piano roll performer, cutting many performances in Chicago during the mid to late 1920's fory the Capitol Music Roll Company and issued as nickelodeon piano rolls. Johnson never cut any 78's under his own name but did back several singers including Edna Hicks, Sara Martin, Lizzie Miles, Monette Moore and others. Recently Delmark records release Low Down Papa, a collection of twenty of Johnson's piano rolls.

Freddie Shayne is a shadowy figure who spent his life working in Chicago. He first time on record was backing singer Priscilla Stewart on “Mr. Freddie Blues.” Shayne also made a very rare piano roll of this song. In 1935 Shayne recorded a solo record, “Original Mr. Freddie Blues b/w Lonesome Man Blues.” “Mr. Freddie Blues” became something of a boogie standard covered by many artists including Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, Jimmy Blythe, Art Tatum and others. In the 40's he made some recordings for the Circle label where he also backed singer Bertha “Chippie” Hill.

Jimmy Yancey 1946

Cow Cow Davenport learned to play piano and organ in his father's church from his mother who was the organist. Davenport's early career revolved around carnivals and vaudeville. He toured TOBA with an act called Davenport and Company with Blues singer Dora Carr and they recorded together in 1925 and 1926. Davenport didn't cut a 78 record until 1927 although prior to that he made a number of piano rolls between 1925 and 1927 including three versions of "Cow Cow Blues." Davenport briefly teamed up with Blues singer Ivy Smith in 1928 and worked as a talent scout for Brunswick and Vocalion records in the late 1920's and played rent parties in Chicago. They formed an act called the Chicago Steppers which lasted for some months and, in 1928, the partnership began to record for the Paramount Company. Daven venport moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1930 and toured the TOBA vaudeville circuit and recorded with Sam Price. In 1938 Davenport suffered a stroke that left his right hand somewhat paralyzed and affected his piano playing for the rest of his life, but he remained active as a vocalist until he regained enough strength in his hand to play again. In the early 1940's Cow Cow briefly left the music business and worked as a washroom attendant at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street in New York. In 1942 Freddie Slack's Orchestra scored a huge hit with "Cow Cow Boogie" with vocals by seventeen year old Ella Mae Morse which sparked the Boogie-Woogie craze of the early 1940s; this led to a revival of interest in Davenport's music. He tried to make a "comeback" in the forties and fifties but his career was often interrupted by sickness. He died in 1955 of heart problems in Cleveland.

Related Articles:

-Tell My Story: The Life and Music of Meade Lux Lewis by Michi Hortig (Blues & Rhythm #201) [PDF]

Cow Cow Davenport5th Street Blues Boogie Woogie Blues
Cow Cow DavenportJim Crow BluesThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportCow Cow BluesThe Essential
Charlie SpandSoon This Morning Dreaming The Blues
Charlie SpandGood GalDreaming The Blues
Charlie SpandBack To The Woods BluesDreaming The Blues
Cripple Clarence LoftonYou Done Tore Your Playhouse DownCripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.1 1935-1939
Cripple Clarence LoftonStrut That Thing Cripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.1 1935-1939
Cripple Clarence LoftonBrown Skin GirlsCripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.1 1935-1939
Walter RolandRed Cross BluesLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Walter RolandPenniless BluesLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Walter RolandJookit JookitLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Cow Cow DavenportChimes BluesThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportThat'll Get ItThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportState Street JiveThe Essential
Charlie SpandThirsty Woman BluesCharlie Spand: 1929-1931
Charlie SpandMoanin' The BluesDreaming The Blues
Charlie SpandHastings St.Dreaming The Blues
Cripple Clarence LoftonLofty BluesCripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.2 1939-1943
Cripple Clarence LoftonI Don't KnowBoogie Woogie Piano: Chicago-New York 1924-45
Walter Roland45 Pistol BluesLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Walter RolandEarly This Morning ('Bout Break Of Day)Lucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Walter RolandRailroad StompWalter Roland: Vol. 1 1933
Cow Cow DavenportMama Don't Allow No Easy RidersThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportRailroad BluesThe Essential
Charlie SpandRoom Rent BluesDreaming The Blues
Charlie SpandAin't Gonna Stand For ThatDreaming The Blues
Cripple Clarence LoftonCrying Mother Blues Broadcasting The Blues
Cripple Clarence LoftonStreamline Train Cripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.2 1939-1943
Walter RolandHouse Lady BluesWalter Roland: Vol. 1 1933
Walter RolandBig MamaLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential

Show Notes:

Today's show spotlights a quartet of great, mostly little remembered, barrelhouse and boogie pianists who's heyday was in the 1920's and 30's. Piano blues records were very popular on record in the 20's and 30's and by the early 1940's there was a full-fledged Boogie-Woogie craze. Today's pianists plied their trade in the juke joints, clubs and rent parties of Chicago, Detroit and down south. Today's best known artist is undoubtedly Cow Cow Davenport who's "Cow Cow Blues" has become a standard. Also on deck are the extroverted piano work of the colorful Cripple Clarence Lofton and the more subtle and technically adept playing of once popular race artists, Walter Roland and Charlie Spand. The bulk of today's notes come from Peter Silvester's A Left Hand Like God: A History of Boogie-Woogie Piano and from the liner notes to Francis Smith's groundbreaking 21 volume piano series on the Magpie label.

While the piano blues is something of a declining art form it flourished on record in the 1920’s-30’s and with the boogie-woogie craze of the 1940’s. To quote Peter J. Silvester’s A Left Hand Like God: A History of Boogie-Woogie Piano: "Originating in barrelhouses and entertainment spots that served the black labor force who worked in the lumber and railroad industries throughout the deep south, it could be heard later at rent parties in Chicago, buffet flats in St. Louis and other black urban centers like Birmingham, Al and several towns in Texas among others. When the music evolved into boogie-woogie entering New York nightclubs like Café Society, pianists such as Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons became stars. In the 1940’s the boogie-woogie craze hit big but faded by the 1950’s."

Cow Cow Davenport is remembered most for his famous song "Cow Cow Blues" which has elements of the style that would flourish as boogie-woogie. Davenport learned to play piano and organ in his father's church from his mother who was the organist and it looked like he was going to follow in the family footsteps until he was expelled from the Alabama Theological Seminary in 1911 for playing Ragtime at a church function. Davenport's early career revolved around carnivals and vaudeville. His first break in pursuit of his objective came when he was offered work as a pianist at a club on 18th Street. Unable to read music, he began to compose his own tunes and to improve his keyboard skills, but he could still play in only one key. With a larger repertoire and a sharper technique he now began to tour the mining towns of Alabama playing in the honky-tonks. It was at one of these establishments hat he was heard by Bob Davies, a trained pianist, who ran a touring company called the 'Barkroot Carnival'. Davies invited Davenport to join the show as the pianist. One of the requirements was to accompany the women singers, which necessitated being able ro play in several keys. Davies took Davenport under his wing and began to teach him.

He toured TOBA with an act called Davenport and Company with Blues singer Dora Carr and they recorded together in 1925 and 1926. The act broke up when Carr got married. Davenport didn't cut a 78 record until 1927 although prior to that he made a number of piano rolls between 1925 and 1927 including three versions of "Cow Cow Blues." Cow Cow was desperate for money, so he negotiated with a piano-roll company, called the Vocal Style, to make some piano rolls of his new composition. Neither Mr Miller, the owner, nor any of the musical stores in Cincinnati, where the company was situated, would handle the piano rolls, so Cow Cow traveled from house to house selling them. He managed t o do this successfully o an equal-share basis with the manufacturer until he had repaid the cost of cutting the rolls. As the rolls sold well, Miller included 'Cow Cow Blues' on the company's catalog  of piano rolls. We open our show with one of those rolls, "5th Street Blues", which was made in 1926.

As for Cow Cow's most famous song it came about when Dora left. He was deeply upset by this, so much so that he composed the "Railroad Blues", which finally took form as the "Cow Cow Blues". The new name was said to have been inspired by a section in the music where Charles was trying to use musical imagery to describe the signalman boarding the engine from the front of the train where the cow catcher was situated. During one theater engagement shortly after he had composed the number, and while playing the section, he sang, 'Nobody rocks me like my Papa Cow Cow do.' There was no particular reason why he introduced the expression "cow cow" but the name stuck and thereafter Charles was known to his fellow-pianists and his friends as "Cow Cow" Davenport.

Davenport briefly teamed up with Blues singer Ivy Smith in 1928 and worked as a talent scout for Brunswick and Vocalion records in the late 1920's and played rent parties in Chicago. They formed an act called the Chicago Steppers which lasted for some months and, in 1928, the partnership began to record for the Paramount Company. Among these sides were "Jim Crow Blues", a reflection of Davenport's racist experiences in the South:

I'm tired of being Jim Crowed, gonna Leave this Jim Crow town
Doggone my black soul, I'm sweet Chicago bound

Yes I'm leaving here from this old Jim Crow town
I'm going up North where they say money grows on trees
I don't give a doggone if my black soul is free
I'm going where I don't need no baby

Jimmy Yancey(left) listens to Charlie Spand,
Chicago, 1940's. Photo from A Left Hand Like God.

He moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1930 and toured the TOBA vaudeville circuit and recorded with Sam Price. In 1938 Davenport suffered a stroke that left his right hand somewhat paralyzed and affected his piano playing for the rest of his life, but he remained active as a vocalist until he regained enough strength in his hand to play again. In the early 1940's Cow Cow briefly left the music business and worked as a washroom attendant at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street in New York. In 1942 Freddie Slack's Orchestra scored a huge hit with "Cow Cow Boogie" with vocals by seventeen year old Ella Mae Morse which sparked the Boogie-Woogie craze of the early 1940s; this led to a revival of interest in Davenport's music. He tried to make a "comeback" in the forties and fifties but his career was often interrupted by sickness. He died in 1955 of heart problems in Cleveland.

Despite his popularity, Charlie Spand remains a shadowy figure despite numerous attempts to uncover his story. The first factual information about Charlie Spand is his residence in Detroit, Michigan, where he played piano on Hastings and Brady Streets in the Black Bottom, Detroit’s black section. Together with pianists James Hemingway, Hersal Thomas and Will Ezell, Spand formed the boogie nucleus of the city. He likely also performed in Chicago as well during this period.

Spand’s recording career started for Paramount on 6th June, 1929; during the next two years he recorded 24 songs. He cut two titles at this first session: "Soon This Morning Blues" and "Fetch Your Water" with the accompanying guitarist thought to have been Blind Blake. Probably recorded by Paramount on the suggestion of Blake, Spand's first record was a hit. After three records he was considered important enough to be included on the Paramount "sampler" "Home Town Skiffle" alongside such established artists as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Papa Charlie Jackson, the Hokum Boys, Will Ezell and Blind Blake." By 1929 Spand had moved to Chicago, and recorded "45th Street Blues" at Grafton in 1930, the title being an indication of his recent Chicago address. In September 1930 Spand traveled to Grafton to record some more titles for Paramount, six in total. Spand’s last session for the Paramount label was recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin in July 1931, by which time the company was on its last legs.

Nothing much is known about Spand’s activities during the 1930's, although it is rumored that he returned to Detroit. Boogie-woogie was in full swing by the late 1930's. Artists like Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Jimmy Yancey embraced the popularity of boogie-woogie and were subsequently recorded during the 1939-1940 period. Spand may have taken advantage of the revival of interest in piano blues and boogie-woogie. He got the opportunity to do two separate recording sessions for OKeh, on 20th and 27th June, 1940, recording a total of eight songs, including a remake of his "Soon This Morning." No major rediscovery story resulted and no coverage was given on the whereabouts of Spand, in contrast to Lofton and Yancey. After his final 1940 sessions there is concrete information about Spand. Several sources believed that he died in Chicago around 1975.

Regarding his style,  Bob Hall and Richard Noblett write in the Piano Blues vol. 16: "His playing was typical of the Detroit pianists of his day, essentially consisting of two main styles, an insistent rolling-boogie using a walking octave bass in the key of F or occasionally in the key of Bb,and a deliberate, at times almost majestic, barrelhouse style using a stride piano bass …it is however, his lyrics that set Span apart from his contemporaries. Not only have numbers like "Soon This Morning" become blues standards, but we hear in his work very strong indications of the future direction of the music. His songs frequently have a continuity which come from a genuine sense of poetry rather than the mere stringing together of traditional verses. Spand was in fact one of the first real blues song-writers, foreshadowing the work of such 'thirties artists as Leroy Carr."

Cripple Clarence Lofton (left) and Jimmy Yancey,
c. 1950's. Photo from  A Left Hand Like God.

Cripple Clarence Lofton was born as Albert Clemens in Tennessee in 1887, although he is most closely associated with his adopted hometown of Chicago, where he was a popular entertainer noted for his energetic performing style that, in addition to piano playing and singing, included tap dancing, whistling, and finger-snapping.A description of Lofton is provided in an excerpt from Boogie Woogie by William Russell:

"No one can complain of Clarence's lack of variety or versatility. When he really gets going he's a three-ring circus. During one number, he plays, sings, whistles a chorus, and snaps his fingers with the technique of a Spanish dancer to give further percussive accompaniment to his blues. At times he turns sideways, almost with his back to the piano as he keeps pounding away at the keyboard and stomping his feet, meanwhile continuing to sing and shout at his audience or his drummer. Suddenly in the middle of a number he jumps up, his hands clasped in front of him, and walks around the piano stool, and then, unexpectedly, out booms a vocal break in a bass voice from somewhere. One second later, he has turned and is back at the keyboard, both hands flying at lightning- like pace. His actions and facial expressions are as intensely dramatic and exciting as his music."

Owing his nickname to a limp from which he suffered, he became a favorite of early jazz collectors during the boogie-woogie craze of the late 1930's along with Meade Lux Lewis, Jimmy Yancey, Cow Cow Davenport, and many others. Born in Tennessee he lived most of his life in Chicago becoming a fixture on the Chicago nightlife scene. He owned his own nightclub called the Big Apple where he ran his own boogie school teaching youngsters the art form. Between 1935 and 1943 he cut close to forty sides for Vocalion, Swaggie, Solo Art and Session including exuberant pieces such as “Brown Skin Girls,” “Policy Blues,” “Streamline Train,” and “I Don’t Know,” the latter a number one R&B hit for Willie Mabon in 1952. The bulk of these were solo sides with guitarist Big Bill Broonzy adding support for two sessions. In addition Lofton provided accompaniment to Red Nelson, Sammy Brown, Al Miller and Jimmy Yancey. Lofton remained on the scene cutting sides for the Gennett, Vocalion, Solo Art, Riverside, Session and Pax labels. He stayed around Chicago until his death in 1957 from a blood clot in the brain.

As for his playing style, Peter Silvester writes:  "Lofton was an eclectic performer who played in two keys, C and G. While his pounding style and interpretation were his own he obtained inspiration from the themes of other pianists. His most compelling composition, 'Streamline Train', was inspired by 'Cow Cow Blues', while 'Pinetop's Boogie-woogie' was transformed into a very powerful and almost unrecognizable number. He was an undisciplined pianist and would often begin playing a new chorus before he had fully completed the one he was playing. The twelve-bar pattern would sometimes be reduced to ten, as was the case in 'I Don't Know' or eleven and a half bars, as in some interpretations of 'Streamline Train'. What he lacked in discipline, however, he more than made up for with vivacity and exuberance. I n some respects he can be compared to players like Jimmy Yancey and Montana Taylor, because their playing was untouched by time and their recordings reflected accurately the closed community of the rent party. None of them was required to perform relentlessly for the public, as Johnson, Ammons and Lewis were obliged to do when they became commercially popular. Lofton remained untouched by commercialism to the end."

As Bob Hall and Richard Noblett write in the Piano Blues vol. 6: "In the annals of the blues there are many artists who have made outstanding contributions to the music, but whose personal lives remain a mystery. Just such a man is Walter Roland, who during the Depression, recorded over ninety issued sides for ARC as a soloist and accompanist."As for his style and influence, they write: "…There is no doubt that Roland was a major and highly influential figure in his time, and his recorded output contains compositions which have become part of the repertoire of a host of younger musicians. …He was a highly accomplished pianist capable of playing in two distinct styles. The first employed a simple rolling boogie woogie bass, most often in the key of F, played in a variety of tempos. The second, less common barrelhouse style employed a stride piano bass of alternating octaves and chords, usually in the key of E. Throughout Roland's work certain distinctive treble phrases emerge, and particularly striking is his use of repeated single note staccato triplets, foreshadowing the use of the same device by the post-war Chicago pianists."

Roland was born at Ralph, Tuscaloosa County, Alabama on 20 December 1902 (according to his Social Security documents) or 4 December 1903 (according to his death certificate). Roland was one of the most technically proficient of all blues pianists, and in addition he displayed considerable feeling in his playing and singing. He was also an able guitarist, and recorded several titles backing his own vocals and those of others, playing guitar. Roland was said to have been based in the 1920's or 1930's around Pratt City, near Birmingham, Alabama.

Walter Roland

Although his recording career began in 1933, it is evident that Walter was already an accomplished musician with a fully formed style. Roland partnered Lucille Bogan when they recorded for the A R C labels between 1933 and 1935, in the course of which, he recorded in his own right. Walter's first disc, "Red Cross Blues" has since become a blues standard, versions having been recorded by Sonny Scott, Sonny Boy Williamson, Champion Jack Dupree, Robert McCoy, Forest City Joe, and many others. In 1933, he was recorded at New York City for the American Record Company, and he had apparently traveled to the session with Lucille Bogan and guitarist Sonny Scott. His best-selling recording was "Early This Morning", a reworking of an earlier Paramount recording by Charlie Spand, "Soon This Morning", but Walter was successful enough to continue recording until 1935.

At some later time, possibly as late as 1950, Walter became a farmer. Roland was reputedly playing guitar as a street singer in the 1960's. As well as Birmingham, he worked around Dolomite and the Interurban Heights, around Brighton and elsewhere. In about the late 1960's, Walter was trying to be a peacemaker in a domestic argument between a neighboring husband and wife and one of the disputing parties fired a shotgun, with the result that Walter was blinded by buckshot. By 1968, Walter had retired from music because of his blindness, and was cared for by his daughters at Fairfield, near Miles College. In 1968, he applied for an old age pension. He died there of bronchogenic carcinoma on 12 October 1972.

Related Articles:

-Charlie Spand – Back To The Woods by Alex van der Tuuk (Blues & Rhythm No. 217, 2007) (PDF)

-Cripple Clarence Lofton In Memoriam by Albert J. McCarthy (Jazz Monthly, November 1957 p. 31-32) (PDF)

-Walter Roland Blazed Through Music World Then Faded by Ben Windham (Tuscaloosa News Feb 27, 2000) (PDF)

-The Piano Blues Vol. 6: Walter Roland 1933-1935 (JPG)

-The Piano Blues Vol. 9: Lofton/Noble 1935-1936 (JPG)

-The Piano Blues Vol. 16: Charlie Spand 192-1931 (JPG)

Smith Casey Shorty GeorgeAlan Lomax: Blues Songbook
Lottie Murrell Wolf's At Your DoorWolf's At The Door: Lost Recordings From The Spirits Of The South
Laura SmithMy Best Friend Stole My Man And GoneLaura Smith Vol .1 1924-1927
Laura SmithDon't You Leave Me HereLaura Smith Vol .1 1924-1927
Johnny ShinesI Believe I Make A ChangeChicago Blues Festival 1972
Hound Dog TaylorHeld My Baby Last NightHound Dog Taylor &The HouseRockers
Priscilla Stewart Mecca FlatsThe Great Race Record Labels Vol. 1
Lizzie MilesToo Slow BluesJazzin' the Blues Vol. 5 1930-1953
Irene ScruggsMy Back To The WallI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Buddy Moss Someday Baby (I'll Have Mine)Buddy Moss Vol .2 1933-1934
Charley PattonPea Vine BluesBlues Images Vol. 8
Tony HollinsWine-O-Woman Chicago Blues Vol. 1 1939-1951
Brownie McGheeMy Last SuitThe Best Of Brownie McGhee
Driftin' Slim & His Blues BandJackson BluesSomebody Hoo-Doo'd The Hoo-Doo Man
Eugene RhodesTalkin' About My TimeTalkin' About My Time
Eugene RhodesWorking on the LeveeTalkin' About My Time
Eugene RhodesWho Went Out The BackTalkin' About My Time
Black Boy ShineBed And Breakfast BluesBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Sylvester PalmerBroke Man BluesSt. Louis Barrelhouse Piano 1929-1934
Cow Cow DavenportStruttin' The BluesCow Cow Davenport Vol. 1 1925-29
John "Bubba" BrownCanned Heat BluesLegacy of Tommy Johnson
Mel Brown w/ John "Bubba" BrownRed Cross Store Big Foot Country Girl
Edna WinstonI Got A Mule To RideLeona Williams & Edna Winston
Eva Taylor & Clarence WilliamsTerrible BluesEva Taylor Vol. 2 1923-1927
Victoria SpiveyBaulin' Water Blues Pt. 1Victoria Spivey Vol. 3 1929-1936
Sonny Boy & LonnieBig Moose Blues (Double Crossin' Blues)Carolina Blues & Gospel 1945-1951
Sonny Boy & LonnieTalking Boogie (Talkin' Blues - Release Me Baby)Carolina Blues & Gospel 1945-1951
Billy Bizor She Stays Drunk All The TimeBlowing My Blues Away
Sonny TerryTater Pie Sonny Is King
Henry TownsendPoor Man Blues Broadcasting The Blues
Charley Lincoln Country BreakdownThe Great Race Record Labels Vol. 2
Lewis BlackSpanish BluesThe Great Race Record Labels Vol. 2
Viola McCoy Papa, If You Can't Do Better (I'll Let A Better Papa Move In)Viola McCoy Vol. 2 1924-1926

Show Notes:

I do these mix shows once a month and never know how they're going to take shape until they're finished. Spanning from the 1920's through the 70's, today's program covers plenty of territory;  spotlighted are a number of fine early blues ladies, most long forgotten, like Laura Smith, Priscilla Stewart, Irene Scruggs, Edna Winston, Eva Taylor and Viola McCoy as well as several known and obscure bluesmen from the same period like Charley Patton, Buddy Moss and Leadbelly. Also on tap are multiple spins by little known artists such as Eugene Rhodes, John "Bubba" Brown and Sonny Boy & Lonnie. In addition we hear an excellent set of piano blues and some great field recordings past and present.

Let's turn to the blues ladies first as we feature two tracks by the obscure Laura Smith. As researcher Chris smith wrote: "Even today, writers on the female blues singers of the '20s usually find it necessary to mention in passing that Clara, Bessie, Mamie and Trixie Smith were unrelated. There was a widespread belief among their contemporary audience that they were sisters, and the record industry doesn't seem to have discouraged it. OKeh saw it as a way to market Laura Smith's records, advertising her as 'the first of that famous blues-singin' Smith family'…" Smith was appearing in a revue by 1920, toured widely and between 1924 and 1927 cut thirty sides for Okeh and Pathe. In 1929 she signed with Paramount Pictures and moved to Los Angeles. The Chicago Defender reported the completion of her first film the following year but no  copy has surfaced. Taken on her own terms, Smith was a forceful singer with a rich, full voice her to good effect on 1924's "My Best Friend Stole My Man And Gone" while she turns in a more subtle performance on a gorgeous version of "Don't You Leave Me Here" sung in a husky, engaging manner with fine backing by clarinetist Tom Morris and pianist Luke Johnson.

Priscilla Stewart was a contemporary of Smith, cutting two-dozen sides for Paramount between 1924 and 1928, most backed by the great pianist Jimmy Blythe. Stewart was frustratingly inconsistent, but at her best, she sang the blues in a nasal voice that could be tough yet tender as on our selection, "Mecca Flat Blues" from 1924.  Stewart recorded some other fine numbers, notably  "Mr. Freddie Blues" and "Delta Bottom Blues." All of Stewart's records are collected on the Document label, several in pretty bad shape which doesn't help Stewart's legacy. Our version of "Mecca Flat Blues" is taken from the album The Great Race Record Labels Vol. 1 which contains an excellent transfer.

Eva Taylor started out as child actor in a traveling revue that toured the world visiting Europe, Australia and New Zealand between 1900 and 1920. In 1920 she moved to New York City, where she became a popular singer in the night clubs of Harlem. The following year she married pianist, publisher and producer Clarence Williams. In 1922 Taylor made her first record for the Black Swan label, who billed her as "The Dixie Nightingale". She would continue to record dozens of Blues, Jazz and popular sides for Okeh and Columbia throughout the 1920's and 1930's. She was the lead singer on several of Williams' classic Blue Five recording dates, including the famous sessions that brought Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet together in 1924 and 1925. During the late 1920's Eva had her own radio show on NBC in New York. She retired from show business in the early 1940's, but continued to make occasional concert and night club appearances. Our track, 1924's "Terrible Blues", is bouncy vaudeville styled number in the vein of Butterbeans and Susie propelled by clarinetist Tom Morris and Buddy Christian on banjo.

Like so many of the early female Blues recording artists Viola McCoy's roots were in vaudeville and musical theater. She moved to New York sometime in the early 1920s and worked as a cabaret singer. She graduated to musical theater sometime around 1922 and seemed to constantly be appearing in different musical revues in the New York area until the mid-30s. McCoy's recorded prolifically, some sixty sides, between 1923 and 1927 for a variety of different labels. McCoy is in peak form on 1926's lively "Papa, If You Can't Do Better (I'll Let A Better Papa Move In)" sporting crackling clarinet from Louis Metcalf.

Jumping up just a few years we hear from the men, who were dominating the field by then, with tracks by Henry Townsend, Charley Lincoln and Charley Patton among others. "Poor Man Blues" comes from Townsend's first four-song session for Columbia in 1929. He also cut two sides for Paramount the same year. Lincoln, heard on "Country Breakdown", was the brother of Robert Hicks AKA Barbecue Bob, who he recorded with on a couple of sides. Lincoln cut ten sides for Columbia between 1927 and 1928. Patton has been heard often on the program and today's featured track, "Pea Vine Blues", is from a newly uncovered copy. According to collector John Tefteller: "It was taken from a nearly perfect copy that turned up and was graciously loaned to us this year by Philadelphia collector Dan Wheeler. Prior to Wheeler's find, the best copy was well-battered and thus quite noisy." This version can be found on the CD which accompanies Tefteller's 2011 blues calendar.

We have some interesting sets today including ones devoted to Eugene Rhodes, John "Bubba" Brown and Sonny Boy & Lonnie. I was reminded of the Rhodes record, Talkin' About My Time, after reading a thread about him on one of the blues forums and decided to dig it out. When blues scholar Bruce Jackson first discovered Rhodes in 1962 he was doing a ten to 25-year stretch at the Indiana State Prison, which was where this charming album was recorded of 15 songs and a little talking that was eventually released on a the tiny Folk-Legacy label. In the '20s and '30s, Rhodes had traveled through the south as a one-man band. He reportedly played in the Dallas area, where he claims to have met Blind Lemon Jefferson. He also crossed paths with Blind Boy Fuller in the Carolinas and Buddy Moss in Georgia. This album has never been issued on CD as far as I know.

We spin a pair of cuts featuring John "Bubba" Brown. Brown was the father of noted guitarist Mel Brown, who cited him as a major influence. Brown traveled with Tommy Johnson and the Chatmon Brothers in his early days. He was first recorded by David Evans who captured four sides by him in1967, two of which were Tommy Johnson numbers. In 1968 his son Mel Brown was signed to the major label ABC/Impulse/Bluesway, and churned out a series of fine albums including The Wizard, I’d Rather Suck My Thumb, Blues For We, Mel Brown’s Fifth, and Big Foot Country Gal. The latter two albums featured vocals by Mel's father. "Red Cross Store" comes from the latter album while "Canned Heat Blues" comes from the Legacy of Tommy Johnson, both of which have not been issued on CD.

The ten recordings made in 1945 under the moniker Sonny Boy & Lonnie were recorded in New York featuring the electrically amplified guitarists Teddy "Sonny Boy" Smith and Sam Bradley, or their pianist Lonnie Johnson, who should not be confused with the famous blues guitarist. Unfortunately very little information has come to light regarding these musicians. The music is fascinating, but hard to get a handle on with influences coalescing around Lonnie Johnson, Cecil Gant and Louis Jordan. Our track, "Big Moose Blues (Double Crossin' Blues)," and "South West Pacific Blues (Hot Cornbread And Blackeyed Peas)" are topical World War II numbers.

Also worth mentioning are a pair of field recordings made over thirty years apart. From the 70's we hear Lottie Murrell's "Wolf's At Your Door" the title track from a new vinyl collection of recordings made Begnt Olsson. Murrell's nickname stems from his great ability to mimic the vocal mannerisms of Howlin' Wolf, was based in Somerville, Tennessee. He was recorded there in the 70's by Swedish researcher Begnt Olsson and in 1980 by the Germans Axel Küstner and Siegfried Christmann who were recording blues throughout the South. Backtracking to 1939 we hear Smith Casey's mesmerizing "Shorty George." Casey cut the song and ten others for John Lomax in 1939. The recordings were made in Clemons State Prison Farm in Brazoria, Texas.  Traditionally the Shorty George was the train that took convicts (and visitors) to and from the prison. Leadbelly recorded a song by the same name about the train, a different song than the one Casey sang. Just to add some confusion, Sippie Wallace recorded a song by the same title which is unrelated to the other two.

I always like to throw in some piano blues in the mix and this time out we spread out geographically and hear Cow Cow Davenport who hailed from Alabama, Sylvester Palmer from St. Louis and Black Boy Shine form Texas. Cow Cow Davenport was one of several excellent piano players based around Birmingham who got on record including Jabbo Williams, Walter Roland and Robert McCoy. Palmer cut a lone four-song session on November 15, 1929 in Chicago for Columbia. He traveled to the Windy City with Henry Townsend who recalled Palmer well: "Sylvester and I went to Chicago to record for Columbia. Sylvester Palmer had his own particular style on piano, and it was a very strange style. The one number that I think sold better was 'Do It Sloppy' I haven't heard anyone come close to playing that particular style; it has a ring more towards Cow Cow Davenport than anyone I know." Almost nothing is known of Black Boy Shine, aka Harold Holiday, except that he was based in a section of Houston, TX (which may have been his home) called West Dallas. In 1936 and 1937 he recorded for Vocalion in San Antonio and Dallas, and left behind 18 sides.

Little Brother MontgomeryVicksburg BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 1 Paramount
Charles AveryChain 'Em DownThe Piano Blues Vol. 1 Paramount
Blind Blake & Charlie SpandHastings St.The Piano Blues Vol. 1 Paramount
Lucille BoganAlly BoogieThe Piano Blues Vol. 2 Brunswick
Mozelle AldersonTight In ChicagoThe Piano Blues Vol. 2 Brunswick
Louise JohnsonBy The Moon And The StarsThe Piano Blues Vol. 1 Paramount
Charles 'Speck' PetrumHarvest Moon BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 2 Brunswick
Eddie MillerFreight Train BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 2 Brunswick
Bert MaysYou Ca'’t Come InThe Piano Blues Vol. 3 Vocalion
Dan StewartNew Orleans BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 3 Vocalion
Cow Cow DavenportBack In The AlleyThe Piano Blues Vol. 3 Vocalion
Joe DeanI'm So Glad I'm 21 Years Old TodayThe Piano Blues Vol. 3 Vocalion
Lee GreenMemphis FivesThe Piano Blues Vol. 3 Vocalion
Pinetop SmithPine Top's Boogie WoogieThe Piano Blues Vol. 3 Vocalion
Romeo NelsonHead Rag HopThe Piano Blues Vol. 3 Vocalion
Leroy CarrAlabama Woman BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 7: Leroy Carr
Walter RolandEarly This MorningThe Piano Blues Vol. 6 - Walter Roland
Turner ParrishTrenchesThe Piano Blues Vol. 5: Postscript
Joe PullumCows, See That Train Comin'The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport
Andy BoyHouse Raid BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport
Cripple Clarence LoftonStrut That ThingThe Piano Blues Vol. 9 Lofton/Noble
Alfoncy HarrisAbsent Freight Train BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11 Texas Santa Fe
Black Boy ShineBrown House BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11 Texas Santa Fe
Pinetop BurksJack Of All TradesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11 Texas Santa Fe
Pigmeat TerryBlack Sheep BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 13: Central Highway
Peetie WheatstrawShack Bully StompThe Piano Blues Vol. 13: Central Highway
Georgia WhiteThe Blues Ain't Nothin' But...The Piano Blues Vol. 13: Central Highway
Whistlin' Alex MooreBlue Bloomer BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 15: Dallas
Charlie SpandSoon This Morning BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 16 - Charlie Spand
Jabo WilliamsPratt City BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 17 - Paramount Vol. 2
Pinetop and LindbergEast Chicago BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 20 - Barrelhouse Years
Stump Johnson & Dorothy TrowbridgeSteady Grindin'Piano Blues Vol. 17 - Paramount Vol. 2
Bumble Slim w/ Myrtle JenkinsSomebody LosesPiano Blues Vol. 17 - Paramount Vol. 2
Speckled RedThe Dirty Dozen No. 2The Piano Blues Vol. 20 - Barrelhouse Years
Henry BrownHenry Brown BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 1 Paramount

Show Notes:

Some piano player, I'll tell you that
(Ivy Smith, Alabama Strut)

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On December 4, 2009 Francis Wilford-Smith died and today we pay tribute to him. Smith was an avid collector of 78 records, a broadcaster on BBC Radio 3 (Aspects of the Blues) and the compiler of some excellent piano blues LP's on the British label Magpie Records, drawing all the material from his own collection. Today's selections all come from Smith's groundbreaking 21 volume series he started in 1977 and issued on the Magpie label, a subsidiary o of the Flyright label. Subsequently his collection was used for a piano blues series on Yazoo issued on CD. He had one of the largest collections of piano blues 78's in the world. Smith also field recorded Roosevelt Sykes and Little Brother Montgomery at his home in Sussex in 1960, yielding two 1980s LP's of the latter: These Are What I Like: Unissued Recordings Vol. 1 and Those I Liked I Learned: Unissued Recordings Vol. 2. Smith made a good living from cartoons published under the pen name 'Smilby' in Playboy, which allowed him to outbid others for rare 78s. Wilford-Smith was 82, had suffered from Parkinson's disease since 1994, and spent his last years in a nursing home. He died asleep in bed.

On a personal note, it was through the Magpie series that I became a life long fan of piano blues. I came to the series late, my first purchase was volume 20 and I must have been around 16. The album made a huge impression on me and I even remember exactly where I purchased it – Tower Records on West 4th St., NYC. I went back and picked up as many of the rest of the albums I could find and over the years completed the entire series. The series had everything you would want; each thematically well assembled, excellent liner notes (brief introductions by Smith) by Bob Hall, Paul Oliver and Richard Noblett and superb transfers.

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Before I give some background on the individual volumes, its worth quoting Wilford-Smith from his introduction to the series:  "The well-merited reissue of so many excellent blues guitar records over the past few years has had, perhaps, one unfortunate and unintentional – in that it caused the pianist to be unfairly overshadowed. This album marks the start of a series which, it is hoped, will put into perspective the role of the piano in blues history and do justice to the memory of the many fine pianists who have so enriched the music. We are only using 78 originals from my own collection, thus giving the listener the rare chance to hear records; at their best. No dubs, no tape-tracks that have wandered in and out of   half-a-dozen tape collections before being issued with that all too familiar dead and muffled cotton-wool-in-the-ears sounds. No ordinary filtering of any sort has been done in any misguided attempt t0 'improve' the quality, and each listener is left free to filter to his own taste. Surface noise there may be, but freshness and vitality are not strained away. The selection of records both here and throughout the series will be essentially subjective and reflect my own taste, but l shall endeavor to include a wide-ranging variety of piano styles and treatments to give as broad as possible a picture of the whole blues piano scene."

More or less, we work our way through the series volume by volume. The first volume and volume 17 are devoted to Paramount and as Smith writes: "…We start with Paramount, almost unchallenged as the greatest blues label, and its piano content lives up to its reputation. Here are joys indeed  -  and some of the greatest blues piano ever recorded.  Spand, Little Brother, Ezell,  Louise Johnson, Wesley Wallace, Garnett.  …I think the playing here must satisfy the most critical lover of the blues." From those volumes we spin tracks by Little Montgomery, Charles Avery, Charlie Spand, Louise Johnson, Henry Brown and Jabo Williams.

"…The second volume", Smith writes, "in our Piano Blues Series, will  be found very different in character to Volume One.  … Here on Brunswick a large  proportion of  the  piano blues bear a strong family resemblance and emotional  unity. This perhaps because several of the artists would seem to hail from the St. Louis area, and share that  hollow-chorded easy-rocking piano style." The Piano Blues Vol. 3 is devoted to the Vocalion label which was founded in 1916 and acquired by Brunswick in 1925. These are particularly strong volumes and we included several tracks from these collections including Eddie Miller, Charles "Speck" Pertum, Lucille Bogan, Mozelle Alderson, Romeo Nelson and Joe Dean among others.

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Next to St. Louis, one of the most musically rich piano regions was Texas as Paul Oliver observed:  “Texas was as rich in piano blues as Mississippi was in guitar blues …A cursory glance through the discographies will emphasize the fact that a remarkable number of blues pianists came from Texas.” Four volumes in the series are devoted to the piano blues of Texas: The Piano Blues Vol. 4 – The Thomas Family 1925-1929, The Piano Blues Vol. 8 – Texas Seaport 1934-1937, The Piano Blues Vol. 11 – Texas Sante Fe 1934-1937 and The Piano Blues Vol. 15 – Dallas 1927-1929. The Texas pianists, Oliver notes, "…can be grouped into 'schools', characterized by certain similarities of style and approach, that were partly a reflection of the environments in which they worked, of their friendships and associations with other pianists, and by the isolation of Texas from other states.” One school was the so-called “Santa Fe group” who were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie. Here was where the music thrived and pianists could be found like Pinetop Burks, Son Becky, Rob Cooper, Black Boy Shine, Andy Boy, Big Boy Knox, Robert Shaw, Buster Pickens and the singers who worked with them like Walter “Cowboy” Washington and Joe Pullum. The other important school was a cluster of pianists and singers based in Dallas such as Alex Moore, Texas Bill Day, Neal Roberts Willie Tyson, and singer Billiken Johnson. The earlier Texas piano tradition is documented on The Piano Blues Vol. 4 – The Thomas Family 1925-1929. As David Evans states: “It is likely that no family has contributed more personalities to blues history than the Thomas family of Houston, Texas, whose famous members included George W. Thomas, his sister Beulah “Sippie” Wallace, their brother Hersal Thomas, George’s daughter Hociel Thomas, and Moanin’ Bernice Edwards who was raised up in the family.”

Several volumes in the series are devoted to individual artists or a cluster of artists: The Piano Blues Vol. 6 – Walter Roland 1933-1935, The Piano Blues Vol. 7 – Leroy Carr 1930-1935, The Piano Blues Vol. 9 – Lofton-Noble 1935-1936 (Cripple Clarence Lofton and George Noble), The Piano Blues Vol. 12 – Big Four 1933-1941 (Little Brother Montgomery, Walter Davis, Roosevelt Sykes, Springback James) and The Piano Blues Vol. 18 – Roosevelt Sykes/Lee Green 1929-1930.

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Among the other volumes in the series we play tracks from The Piano Blues Vol. 5 – Postsript 1927-1935, The Piano Blues Vol. 13 – Central Highway 1933-1941, The Piano Blues Vol. 14 – The Accompanist and The Piano Blues Vol. 20 – Barrelhouse Years 1928-1933. Among the tracks we spin from these collections are Turner Parrish's remarkable "The Trenches" who Bob Hall calls "an eccentric and probably unschooled pianist with nevertheless a considerable technique", Georgia White accompanying herself on piano on the boisterous "The Blues Ain't Nothin' But…", the obscure Pigmeat Terry who sings magnificently on the moving "Black Sheep Blues" accompanied by his own piano and the wonderful Pinetop and Lindberg's "East Chicago Blues."

The piano blues series officially concluded with The Piano Blues Vol. 21 – Unfinished Boogie 1938-1945 which collects unreleased recordings of Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis. As mentioned previously two collections of recordings by Little Brother Montgomery were made at Smith's home in 1960 and were the final albums issued on the Magpie imprint. Yazoo Records launched their own piano blues series also using 78’s from Smith’s collection. As far as I can tell the series has stopped but they issued seven excellent collections.

Related Articles:

Notes to The Piano Blues Vol. 8 – Texas Seaport 1934-1937, The Piano Blues Vol. 11 – Texas Sante Fe 1934-1937 and The Piano Blues Vol. 15 – Dallas 1927-1929 (Word Doc)