Entries tagged with “Cripple Clarence Lofton”.


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Bumble Bee SlimBricks In My Pillow Bumble Bee Slim Vol. 3 1934-1935
Casey Bill WeldonSomebody Changed the Lock on That DoorCasey Bill Weldon Vol. 1 1935-1936
Kokomo ArnoldPolicy Wheel BluesKokomo Arnold Vol. 2 1935-1936
Walter RolandSchool-Boy BluesThe Essential
Lucille BoganShave em' DryThe Essential
Mississippi Moaner It's Cold In China BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Lane Hardin Hard Time BluesBlues Images Vol. 8
Memphis MinnieHustlin' Woman Blues Four Women Blues
Blind Boy FullerBaby, I Don't Have to Worry ('Cause That Stuff Is Here) Blind Boy Fuller Remastered
Blind Gary Davis I Belong To The Band - Hallelujah! Goodbye Babylon
Sleepy John EstesDrop Down MamaI Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
Bo CarterWhen Your Left Eye Go to JumpingBo Carter & The Mississippi Sheiks (JSP)
Walter DavisSloppy Drunk AgainFavorite Country Blues/Piano-Guitar Duets
Willie Lofton Dirty Mistreater Big Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Johnnie TempleLead Pencil Blues (It Just Won't Write)The Essential
Joe McCoyLook Who's Coming Down The RoadWhen the Levee Breaks
Leroy Carr When The Sun Goes DownWhen The Sun Goes Down
Scrapper BlackwellAlley Sally Blues Scrapper Blackwell Vol. 2 1934-1958
Alice Moore Riverside BluesSt. Louis Bessie & Alice Moore Vol. 2 1934-1941
Barrel House Buck McFarlandWeeping Willow Blues Piano Blues Vol. 2 1927-1956
The Sparks BrothersTell Her About MeDown On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis
Joe PullumHard-Working Man BluesJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Robert Cooper West Dallas Drag No. 2Joe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Buddy MossGoing To Your Funeral In A Vee Eight Ford Buddy Moss Vol. 3 1935-1941
Blind Willie McTell Lay Some Flowers On My GraveThe Classic Years 1927-1940
Curley Weaver Tricks Ain't Walking No MoreAtlanta Blues
Big Bill BroonzyMountain BluesAll The Classic Sides 1928-1937
State Street BoysThe DozenHow Low Can You Go
Cripple Clarence LoftonBrown Skin GirlsThe Piano Blues Vol. 9
Otto Virgial Bad Notion BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Big Joe Williams Little Leg WomanBig Joe Williams Vol. 2 1945-49
Dr. ClaytonPeter's Blues Doctor Clayton & His Buddy 1933-47
Red NelsonDetroit SpecialRed Nelson 1935-1947
Freddie ShayneOriginal Mr. Freddie BluesMontana Taylor & 'Freddy' Shayne 1929-1946

Show Notes:

Casey Bill Weldon: Somebody Changed The Lock On The DoorToday’s show is the ninth 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. The Depression, with the massive unemployment it brought, had a shattering effect on the pockets of black record buyers. Sales of blues records plummeted in the years 1931 through 1933. Things picked up again in 1934 with the companies recording full-scale again. It was the urban style of blues that now dominated the market – artists such as Tampa Red, Kokomo Arnold, Memphis Minnie, Big Bill Broonzy, Bumble Bee Slim and Leroy Carr recorded prolifically. During this period there was far less recording in the field during this period and in view of the popularity of Chicago singers there was less need.

According to John Godrich and Robert M.W. Dixon in their classic book Recording The Blues, the record companies "had three way of unearthing new talent: by placing advertisements in local newspapers, especially just before a field unit was due in a nearby town; by just relying on chance comments from singers, concerning other who might be good recording propositions; and by employing their own talent scouts, who carry out steady, systematic searches. The last method was intensively employed in the the thirties – Rootlet Sykes, for instance, would find likely artists for Decca (or, sometimes, for Lester Melrose). but despite this, race catalogs in the thirties relied more heavily on a small nucleus of popular singers than they had in the twenties."

Two down home singers who could hold their own in terms of popularity against the urban artists were Sleepy John Estes and Blind Boy Fuller.  Estes made his debut for Victor Mississippi Moaner: It's So Cold In Chinain 1929 while Fuller made his debut for Vocalion in 1935. Unlike blues artists like Big Bill or Memphis Minnie who recorded extensively over three or four decades, Blind Boy Fuller recorded his substantial body of work over a short, six-year span. Nevertheless, he was one of the most recorded artists of his time and by far the most popular and influential Piedmont blues player of all time. Fuller made his debut in 1935 and over the next five years he made over 120 sides.

Gary Davis was a major influence on Blind Boy Fuller. In the late 1920's he was one of the most renowned practitioners of the East Coast school of ragtime guitar. He backed Fuller on second guitar at at his third 1935 session.

With the popularity of the urban blues it's not surprising that Leroy Carr and his imitator, Bumble Bee Slim, recorded prolifically. In 1934 Slim waxed around fifty sides and roughly the same number in 1935.  Our selection, “Bricks In My Pillow”, was recorded in July in 1935 and covered by Big Bill Broonzy in December of the same year and in later years recorded by Robert Nighthawk. Leroy Carr died in 1935 at the age of 30. In February he cut his final eight song session. Scrapper Blackwell cut just over two-dozen sides under his own name between 1928 and 1935. He backed several other artists on record including Georgia Tom, Bumble Bee Slim, Black Bottom McPhail and Josh White among several others. He retired from the music industry not long after Carr’s death, making a brief comeback in the late 50's.

Big Bill Broonzy recorded around tw0-dozen sides in 1935 all featuring the prominent piano of Black Bob. Very little is known about Black Bob Hudson, except that he was a ragtime-influenced blues pianist who was active from the 1920's and 1930's, and worked with a who's who of Chicago talent including  Big Bill Broonzy, Bumble Bee Slim, Jazz Gillum, Lil Johnson, Washboard Sam, Casey Bill Weldon and  Tampa Red. Broonzy was also an active session guitarist and today we hear him backing the State Street Boys and pianist Cripple Clarence Lofton.

Lane Hardin: Hard Time BluesAlso featured today are a trio of musicians hailing from Jackson, Mississippi who recorded in Chicago. Johnnie Temple was part of a vibrant the 1920’s Jackson, MS scene, a city teeming with artists such as Tommy Johnson, Walter Vincson, Ishmon Bracey, the Chatmon Brothers, Skip James and Rube Lacey. Often, he performed with Charlie and Joe McCoy and also worked with Skip James. Temple moved to Chicago in the early 30’s, where he quickly became part of the town’s blues scene. From Temple's first session we spin his classic "Lead Pencil Blues" cut for Vocalion backed on second guitar by Charlie McCoy. Willie Lofton was also from Jackson which was the town he left when he traveled north to Chicago in the mid 1930's. He had two recording sessions in Chicago in August of 1934 and November of 1935 that produced eight sides. We also feature Joe McCoy's "Look Who's Coming Down The Road", recorded as Georgia Pine Boy, a variation on Tommy Johnson's "Maggie Campbell Blues."

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Little Hat Jones Bye Bye Baby BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Blind Willie Johnson You'll Need Somebody on Your BondBlind Willie Johnson And The Guitar Evangelists
Willie Brown Future Blues Friends Of Charlie Patton
Charlie Patton Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1Best Of
Blind Willie McTell Love Changing BluesBest Of
Sam Collins My Road Is Rough And Rocky (How Long, How Long?)Jailhouse Blues
Son House Walking BluesLegends of Country Blues
Henry Williams & Eddie AnthonyGeorgia CrawlFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Andy Boy House Raid BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Cannon's Jug Stompers Going To GermanyMemphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stompers
Lottie Kimbrough Rolling Log BluesThe Return Of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Weaver & Beasley Bottleneck BluesCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
BluesJim & Bob (The Genial Hawaiians) St. Louis BluesBottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37
Willie Harris Never Drive a Stranger from Your Door Jackson Blues: 1928-1938
Blind Joe Reynolds Ninety Nine BluesBlues Images Vol. 2
The Sparks Brothers Down On The Levee Down On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis 2
Pigmeat Terry Black Sheep BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Lee Green Memphis Fives The Way I Feel: The Best Of Roosevelt Sykes And Lee Green
Elizabeth Johnson Be My Kid Blues American Primitive Vol. II
Mattie Delaney Tallahatchie River Blues Blues images Vol. 3
Geeshie Wiley Pick Poor Robin CleanI Can't Be Satisfied Vol 1
Jim Jackson Hesitation Blues Jim Jackson Vol. 2 (928-1930
Mae Glover I Ain't Givin' Nobody NoneI Can't Be Satisfied Vol 1
King David's Jug Band Rising Sun BluesCincinnati Blues
Mattie May Thomas Dangerous BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Charlie Patton Tom RushenPrimeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs
William Harris Bull Frog Blues The Best There Ever Was
Sam Collins Lonesome Road BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Allen Shaw Moanin' The Blues Masters of the Memphis Blues
Shreveport HomewreckersFence Breakin' BluesBottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37

Show Notes:

Blind Willie McTell: The Early Years
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Today's show is a trip down memory lane for me. I've been going through a bout of nostalgia lately, hopefully not the onset of a mid-life crisis, although I have been eying the red Corvette! Anyway, I've been thinking about my favorite country blues tracks lately, most of which I first heard in my formative years of blues collecting. These are the songs that I never get tired of and ones that I find myself revisiting over the years. This is by no means a “best of” list, just songs that I find myself continuously going back to. Many are considered blues classics, many not, and many are most often not the songs by these artists that are considered their best. There's numerous artists that I revere like Bukka White, Frank Stokes, Henry Thomas, Mississippi John Hurt that are omitted simply for the fact that I can't nail down just one song that does it for me by those artists. As I said many of these tracks I first heard when I first started picking up blues records, over twenty-five years ago (that's a hard number to swallow!). And yes I was buying country blues records back then. It was a very short jump from buying my first blues record, B.B. King – Live At The Regal ($3.99 at Tower Records) to picking up, and almost wearing out the grooves of Blind Willie McTell – The Early Years on my beloved Yazoo label. In fact Yazoo was the label where I discovered many of my favorite country blues tracks on treasured compilations like Mississippi Moaners, Guitar Wizards, Bottleneck Blues Guitar Classics, Lonesome Road Blues and The Voice Of The Blues among others. I knew that the Yazoo office was in Manhattan and I often thought about going over there but I never did – I guess I never really knew what I'd do once I got there! Also hugely influential was the piano blues series on Magpie records which made me a lifelong fan of piano blues. Several tracks from that series can be found on today's show. Still, there are a number of songs that became favorites later, for example Blind Joe Reynolds “Ninety Nine Blues” which was only discovered a few years ago (the consensus seems to be that the “B” side, “Cold Woman Blues”, is the superior track, but for me “Ninety Nine Blues” just kills me). I never did go in for what the consensus says which I suppose is reflected in today's eclectic playlist of  all-time favorites.

I count myself lucky to be living where I was when the blues bug bit me. I lived in the Bronx and it was short hop to Manhattan where there was no shortage of great record stores. I fondly remember prowling  records stores like Finyl Vinyl on Second Ave., St. Marks Records, Venus Records, Bleeker Bob's, Footlight Records and the  Jazz Record Mart (still in business and even after buying records there since I was a teenager the same guy still refuses to cut me a deal!). Then there were the book/magazine shops like Hudson News and See Hear where I could find isues of the great British blues mags like Blues Unlimited (went under right when I discovered it!), Juke Blues and Blues & Rhythm.  Of course there were a number of fine left-of-the-dial radio stations that played plenty of blues. Anyway, below are few reminisces about some of today's selections.

Little Hat Jones cut ten sides at three sessions in 1929 and 1930. All his sides are worthwhile but “Bye Bye Baby Blues” is the best thing he ever did in my opinion. When I was coming up with today’s playlist this is one of the first songs I picked. I probably first heard it on the Yazoo compilation Don't Leave Me Here: The Blues of Texas, Arkansas, & Louisiana 1927-1932.

We spin a pair of my favorite Charlie Patton songs today, "Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1" and "Tom Rushen." I'm not sure exactly what it is with the former song that I find so striking, it's not one often cited when talking about Patton's best, yet I find it incredibly compelling. Patton's vocals on this are magnificent. The 2-part number celebrates a Mississippi river boat that plied between Vicksburg and Memphis. I have to admit that I really fell under Patton's spell much later. I did own the Yazoo double LP Founder of the Delta Blues but the problem for me was that I couldn't get past the terrible sound of those records. Compare that record to the Best Of which came out just a few years back and the difference is like night and day.

I first heard “Love Changing Blues” on Blind Willie McTell – The Early Years on Yazoo. I played the hell out of this record and for whatever reason, it was this song that made a huge impression on me although, of course, I also loved the more famous “Statesboro Blues.” I distinclty remember my college roomate making fun of me for owing a record by a guy named Blind Willie McTell. I never did lecture him, just turned up the record really loud until it drive him out of the room.

Despite the fact that I’m featuring two Sam Collins cuts on today’s show, I can’t really say he’s one of my favorite artists. However the vocal performances on “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” and “Lonesome Road Blues” are magnificent. I first heard these on the Yazoo compilation Lonesome Road Blues: 15 Years in the Mississippi Delta 1926-1941. The song “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” made its first appearance on this compilation and I believed the title was given by Yazoo. How this song could be unreleased boggles my mind.

Country Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
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Yes I know, Son House's 1930 sides are acknowledged classics, and rightly so. His epic six minute version of “Walking Blues” from 1941, with a rocking band that included Willie Brown, Fiddlin' Joe Martin and Leroy Williams, is that song that floors me every time and one of my all time favorites.

I guess Texas pianist Andy Boy is an offbeat choice for favorites but his recordings really get to me. Andy Boy had a rough, expressive voice offset with his sprightly blues piano laced with ragtime flourishes. Andy Boy's songs are filled with vivid imagery, humor, clever wordplay and a times a deep pathos. Along with pianist Rob Cooper, Andy Boy plays prominently on the records of Joe Pullum, one of the era's most distinctive and imaginative vocalists. Andy Boy cut only eight sides under his own name as well as backing both Pullum and the obscure Walter 'Cowboy' Washington. I know I first him on Magpie’s The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937. I probably heard Joe Dean on one of the Magpie collections or possibly on Yazoo’s Barrelhouse Blues 1927-1936. I’m pretty sure I heard Cripple Clarence Lofton’s “Gang of Brownskin Women” on Yazoo’s Cripple Clarence Lofton & Walter Davis which sported a great photo of Lofton at the piano snapping his fingers with a huge grin on his face.

Sung by Noah Lewis who also plays the superb harmonica, "Going To Germany", is one of those dreamy blues that puts me in a trance every time I hear it. I'm guessing I first heard it on the double Cannon Jug Stompers album. I miss those great double albums that used to open up. Not quite the same experience with a CD. Lottie Kimbrough’ “Rolling Log Blues” has the same dreamy, haunting quality as “Going To Germany” and a song that always mesmerizes me.

The Yazoo compilation Bottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37 was an absolute killer. From that compilation comes Jim & Bob’s amazing “St. Louis Blues” as well as the Shreveport Homewreckers’ “Fence Breakin' Blues.”

Willie Harris’ “Never Drive a Stranger from Your Door” is a great bottleneck number. First heard this one on Yazoo’s Jackson Blues 1928-1938.

In November 1929 at the Paramount Recording Studios in Grafton, Wisconsin, four songs were recorded at 78 rpm by a Louisiana street musician named Joe Sheppard who used the name Blind Joe Reynolds. The second record recorded in Wisconsin on that day, "Ninety Nine Blues" backed with "Cold Woman Blues" has been lost since it was first released in October of 1930. No copies in any condition were ever located until just a few years ago. The recorded was eventually bought and reissued on CD by John Tefteller. I guess I’m at odds with collectors Richard Nevins (owner of Yazoo) and Pete Whelan of 78 Quarterly fame who claim "Cold Woman Blues" as the masterpiece, because for me it’s the flip, "Ninety Nine Blues.” What do those guys know anyway!?

It was through the Magpie piano series that I became a lifelong 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; it was at one of my favorite haunts, Tower Records on West 4th St., NYC (the blues section was on the top floor, tucked behind the jazz secton. Often I was the only one back threre, which for me was perfect!). 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. That particular volume was my introduction to the Sparks Brothers who are still favorites to this day. Milton’s Spark’s high pitched voice and Aaron sensitive piano work really struck a chord, particularly on “Down In The Levee”

Now the obscure Pigmeat Terry was anthologized on one of the Magpie albums although I’m positive I didn't hear his records until much later. Terry only cut one 78 in 1935, a great record, and possessed a high, whispery, moaning voice, a bit reminiscent of the popular Joe Pullum who made his debut the prior year. His "Black Sheep Blues" is a striking tune both vocally and lyrically:

My mother's gone to glory
My father died of drinking in his sins
My sister won't notice me, she's to proud to take me in
I'm a black sheep in my family, and how they dog me around
Someday I'll get lucky and won't be found around

Allen Shaw is another great bluesman cut only one78. He has a powerful voice, somewhat like Son House, and lays down some great slide. Shame he didn’t record more. Shaw also got together on record with Hattie Hart. They engaged in one memorable session in New York, in the late summer of 1934. I heard this side first on Sony’s Slide Guitar Bottles, Knives & Steel Vol. 2 back when the major labels would occasionally issue stuff like this. I’m pretty sure those days are gone.

“Have you ever woke up with them bullfrogs on your mind?” One of the more enigmatic opening blues lines I’ve ever heard and one of the best blues ever by the mysterious William Harris (not the same as the Willie Harris mentioned above).

The Voice Of The Blues
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There were very few recorded guitar playing women blues singers recorded in the pre-war era. Mattie Delaney and Geeshie Wiley are two of the few. Both their records are extremely rare and both woman barley left a trace behind as to who they were. Wiley’s “Last Kind Words” is a masterpiece there’s no doubt, but I find myself returning to her jaunty “Pick Poor Robin Clean” with partner Elvie Thomas.“ I’m not sure where I first heard this and like William Harris’ “Bullfrog Blues” I’m not really sure what the hell the song means.

Elizabeth Johnson is another mystery woman who cut four sides in 1928. “Be My Kid Blues b/w Sobbin’ Woman Blues” is great record.  She’s backed by a unique band (listed as Her Turpentine Tree-O) that consisted of woodblocks, clarinet and guitar.

Mattie May Thomas waxed three remarkable acapella numbers in 1939. They were recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in the woman's camp of the  notorious Parchman Farm. Thomas' “Dangerous Blues” is a haunting, violent and sad song that gives me shivers every time I hear it.:

You keep on talking 'bout the dangerous blues.
If I had a pistol I'd be dangerous too.
Say, you may be a bully, say but I don't know.
But I fix you so you won't give me no trouble in the world I know.
She won't cook no breakfast, she won't wash no clothes.
Say, that woman don't do nothin' but walk the road.
My knee bone hurt me, and my ankle swell.
Says, I may get better but I won't get well.
Say, Mattie had a baby, and she got blues eyes.
Say, must be the captain, he keep on hanging around.
He keep on hanging around, keep on hanging around.

I’m not a huge fan of Jim Jackson but at his very last session in 1930 he cut outstanding versions of “St Louis Blues” and “Hesitation Blues.” Many have covered ““Hesitation Blues” but to me Jackson’s version will always be the definitive one.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Big Bill Broonzy & Black BobI Can't Make You Satisfied All The Classic Sides
Cripple Clarence Lofton & Big Bill BroonzyBrown Skin GirlsCripple Clarence Vol.1 1935-1939
Charlie Spand & Blind BlakeHastings St. All The Published Sides
Will Ezell & Roosevelt GravesJust Can't StayWill Ezell 1927-1931
Roosevelt Sykes & Clifford GibsonTired Of Being Mistreated Roosevelt Sykes Vol. 1 1929-1930
St Louis Jimmy Poor Boy BluesJimmy Oden 1 Vol. 1932-1944
Roosevelt Sykes & Kokomo ArnoldThe Honey Dripper The Essential
Oscar "Buddy' Woods & the Wampus Cats Don't Sell It, Don't Give It AwayFavorite Country Blues Guitar: Piano Duets 1929-1937
Rufus & Ben QuillianGood Feeling BluesUptown Blues: A Decade Of Guitar Piano Duets 1927-1937
Walter Davis & Henry Townsend Sloppy Drunk AgainFavorite Country Blues Guitar: Piano Duets 1929-1937
Bill Gaither & Honey HillPins And Needles Bill Gaither Vol. 1 1935-1936
Coletha SimpsonLonesome Lonesome Blues
Blue Girls Vol. 1 1924-1930
Georgia WhiteNew Hot NutsGeorgia White Vol. 1 1930-1936
Mack Rhinehart & Brownie StubblefieldIf I Leave Here RunningDeep South Blues Piano 1935-1937
Joe EvansShook It This Morning BluesDown In Black Bottom
Leroy Carr & Scrapper BlackwellI Believe I'll Make a ChangeWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Leroy Carr & Scrapper BlackwellPapa's On The House TopSloppy Drunk
Georgia Tom & Scrapper BlackwellGee, But It's Hard Georgia Tom Vol. 2 1930-1934
Lovin' Sam Theard I Ain't No Ice ManLovin' Sam Theard 1929-1936
Big Maceo & Tampa RedCounty Jail BluesBig Maceo Vol. 1
Frank "Springback" James & Willie Bee JamesPoor Coal LoaderThe Piano Blues Vol. 12
Curtis Jones & Willie B. JamesDrinking And Thinking BluesCurtis Jones Vol. 1 1937-1938
Charlie West & Black BobHobo BluesRare 1930's & 40's Blues Vol. 3
Lil JohnsonHouse Rent Scuffle Shake Your Wicked Knees
Willie Harris & Charles AveryWest Side BluesDown In Black Bottom
Red NelsonDetroit SpecialRed Nelson 1935-1947
Leroy HenderonGood Scuffler Blues Charley Jordan Vol. 3 1935-1937
Bumble Bee Slim This Old Life I'm Living Bumble Bee Slim Vol. 5 1935-1936
Peanut The Kidnapper (James Sherrill) & Robert McCoyEighth Avenue Blues Alabama & The East Coast 1933-1937
Leola ManningThe Blues Is All WrongFavorite Country Blues Guitar: Piano Duets 1929-1937
Walter Roland & Sonny ScottRailroad Stomp Walter Roland Vol. 1 1933
Bo Carter & Harry ChatmanWhen Your Left Eye Go To JumpingBo Carter Vol. 3 1934 - 1936

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

Today's show is a companion to the guitar duets show we aired a couple of weeks back. This time we spotlight some great piano/guitar duets from the 20's through the 40's. The style was popularized by the huge success of pianist Leroy Carr and his guitarist Scrapper Blackwell who's recordings were immensely popular and influential. The duo recorded hundreds of sides between 1928 and 1935. Many artists patterned themselves after the duo including recording artists Bill Gaither, Bumble Bee Slim, Frank "Springback” James all of whom we feature today. There were a number of excellent guitar/piano teams, most relatively short-lived such as Big Bill Broonzy with mysterious pianist Black Bob, Tampa Red with pianist Georgia Tom in the late 20's and 30's and with pianist Big Maceo in the 40's, and the lengthy partnership of Walter Davis and guitarist Henry Townsend. For the majority of today's selections I've chosen sides where both the pianist and guitarist play on equal terms.

Between 1928 and 1935 Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell cut a remarkably consistent body of work of hundreds of sides, notable for the impeccable guitar/piano interplay. Teamed with the exemplary guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in Indianapolis, Leroy Carr became one of the biggest blues stars of his day, composing and recording almost 200 sides during his short lifetime. Carr met guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in Indianapolis in 1928 and the duo began performing together. Shortly afterward they were recording for Vocalion, releasing “How Long How Long Blues” before the year was finished. The song was an instant, surprise hit. For the next seven years, Carr and Blackwell would record a number of classic songs for Vocalion, including “Midnight Hour Blues,” “Blues Before Sunrise,” “Hurry Down Sunshine,” “When The Sun Goes Down,” and many others. Blackwell did some moonlighting away from Carr, cutting his own sides and backing other artists. We also feature him cutting loose on "Gee, But It's Hard" as he backs pianist Georgia Tom.

One disciple of Carr was guitarist Bill Gaither who cut well over a hundred sides for Decca and OKeh between 1931 and 1941. Gaither was close to the blues pianist Leroy Carr, and following Carr’s death in 1935, he recorded under the moniker Leroy’s Buddy for a time. A fine guitarist who possessed a warm, expressive voice, Gaither was also at times a gifted and inventive lyricist. He was often partnered with pianist George “Honey” Hill, and the duo patterned themselves after Carr and his guitarist, Scrapper Blackwell. Our selection, the bouncy "Pins And Needles", is fine showcase for their well honed interplay.

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Amos Easton, known professionally as Bumble Bee Slim, was another artist who molded himself after Leroy Carr. While he played guitar on his first session in 1931, afterwards he stuck to vocals, often employing a shifting piano/guitar backing that included pianists such as Myrtle Jones, Jimmie Gordon, Horance Malcolm and Black Bob and guitarists such as Willie Bee James, Big Bill Broonzy, Carl Martin, Casey Bill Weldon and Bill Gaither. "This Old Life I'm Living" is one of my favorite numbers by Easton sporting immaculate lap steel from Casey Bill Weldon and piano from Myrtle Jenkins.

Chicago blues pianist Frank "Springback" James made records with four different companies during the 1930's, playing and singing in a style that revealed a strong Leroy Carr influence. He cut 18 sides between 1934 and 1938. He often worked with guitarist Willie B. James. Despite being a prolific session guitarist, nothing is known of James who backed artists such as Bumble Bee Slim, Merline Johnson, Curtis Jones, Tampa Red, John Henry Barbee and others. We hear James today backing Curtis Jones on "Drinking And Thinking Blues" (he appears on several of Jones' 30's sessions), backing Red Nelson on "Long Ago Blues" with pianist Charles Avery and playing behind Charlie West on "Hobo Blues" along with pianist Black Bob.

There were a number of notable guitar/piano teams, some relatively long lasting, others more fleeting; among them we spotlight recordings by Walter Davis and Henry Townsend, Big Bill Broonzy and Black Bob, Big Maceo and Tampa Red, Walter Roland and Sonny Scott, Mack Rhinehart and Brownie Stubblefield and Charlie Spand and Blind Blake. Walter Davis and Henry Townsend played on numerous sessions together from the 1930's through the 1950's. Today we we feature the uncharacteristically uptempo "Sloppy Drunk Again."

Very little is known about Black Bob Hudson, except that he was a blues pianist who was active from the 1920's and 1930's. While he didn't cut any sides under his own name he backed a staggering number of renowned artists such as Big Bill Broonzy, Bumble Bee Slim, Jazz Gillum, Lil Johnson, Washboard Sam, Casey Bill Weldon, Tampa Red and many others. Broonzy and Bob cut dozens of sides together between 1934 and 1937.

Blues writer Chris Smith wrote the following about Big Maceo: “On both slow blues and boogies, Big Maceo played powerful, sometimes challengingly chromatic bass figures and anvil-sparkling right-hand flourishes and solos. He could be a jovial singer, but more typical were husky, plaintive, fatalistic accounts of trouble with women and the law.  …His playing and Tampa Red’s amplified guitar foreshadow the sound of postwar Chicago.” His short career spanned the years 1941 through 1950, where he recorded just over three dozen sides as well as backing partner Tampa Red on eighteen sides and providing session work behind Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jazz Gillum and John & Grace Brim.

Walter Roland recorded over ninety issued sides for ARC as a soloist and accompanist. Roland partnered Lucille Bogan when they recorded for the ARC labels between 1933 and 1935, in the course of which, he recorded in his own right. He recorded several sides with guitarist Sonny Scott including our selection, the rollicking instrumental "Railroad Stomp."

Mack Rhinehart and Brownie Stubblefield were a piano/guitar team that cut a dozen sides in 1936 and 1937. Rhinehart also recorded solo as Blind Mack in 1935 but only two of his ten sides were ever released.  According to Blues & Gospel Records some twenty-two sides by the duo remain unissued. Nothing is known about the duo although noted researcher David Evans called Rhinehart "a major artist" with "an outstanding recorded legacy."

*The superb "West Side Blues" by Willie Harris and Charles Avery provides today's show title with the spoken aside probably by Coletha Simpson. Harris along with pianist James Williams backs Simpson on "Lonesome Lonesome Blues" which is also featured today.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
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)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
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)

Read Liner Notes

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.

Read Liner Notes

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.

Read Liner Notes

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.

Read Liner Notes

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)

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