Entries tagged with “Dr. Hepcat”.

Bill GreensmithInterview
Juke Boy BonnerB.U. BluesThings Ain't Right
Juke Boy BonnerWhere I LiveThings Ain't Right
Juke Boy BonnerCall Me Juke BoyGoin' Down To Louisiana
Joe DeanMexico Bound BluesDown In Black Bottom
Joe DeanI'm So Glad I'm Twenty-One Years Old Today Shake Your Wicked Knees
Dr. HepcatHattie GreenLyons Avenue Jive
Sparks BrothersLouisiana BoundSparks Brothers 1932-1935
Sparks BrothersTell Her About MeSparks Brothers 1932-1935
Juke boy BonnerYakin' in My Plans45, Blues Unlimited 101
Juke boy BonnerRunnin' Shoes 45, Blues Unlimited 101
Big Maceo Wintertime BluesBig Maceo with Tampa Red
Big Maceo Kid Man BluesBig Maceo Vol. 1 1941-1945
Big Maceo Detroit Jump Big Maceo Vol. 2 1945-1950
Big Maceo Chicago Breakdown Big Maceo Vol. 2 1945-1950
Louise Johnson By The Moon And StarsJuke Joint Saturday Night
Louise Johnson On The Wall Juke Joint Saturday Night
The Four Blazes w/ Red HollowayWomen, WomenMary Jo
Sunnyland Slimw/ Red HollowaySunnyland Slim 1952-1955

Show Notes:

Blues UnlimitedAs Bill Greensmith writes in the introduction to Blues Unlimited: Essential Interviews from the Original Blues Magazine: "Bexhill-on-Sea is a sleepy seaside town in East Sussex on the south coast of England., seemingly populated by old ladies and retired servicemen. …It was unquestionably the most unlikely of locations for the birthplace of Blues Unlimited, the world's first publication devoted solely to the blues. …Bexhill was home to both Simon Napier and Mike Leadbitter, Blues Unlimited's founding editors. …In April 1963, six months after the first AFBF [American Folk Blues Festival] toured Europe, the first issue of Blues Unlimited was published." The magazine was an outgrowth of The Journal of the Blues Appreciation Society formed in May 1962. The first issue was a success, selling out all 180 copies. By issue thirteen the run was up to one thousand and photos included for the first time. Greensmith wrote: "Researchers, discographers, and enthusiasts from Europe and the United States soon began to freely contribute articles, interviews, reviews, and information. …The early BU's managed to covey a wonderful sense of adventure; the enthusiasm was palpable. The early '60's saw the rediscovery of several artists who had recorded in the '20's and '30's, and Blues Unlimited was among the first to report the findings. …From today's vantage point it is sometimes easy to forget the time and context which BU began operating. Few blues artists had ever been the subject of an article or formal interview before appearing in BU. The magazine hit issue one hundred in 1973 and three issues later Simon Nappier stepped down with Mike Leadbetter taking sole ownership. Sadly, in November the next year Leadbitter died of meningitis at the age of 32. BU forged ahead with a five-person editorial committee talking over including Bill Greensmith. BU soldiered on until 1987 with a final double issue, 148/149.

I got into blues seriously when I was around sixteen and picked up my first Blues Unlimited right before the magazine went under. The magazine was a revelation and I even remember where I first picked it up – it was at tiny store called See Hear in the East Village that specialized in strange zines and other publications. Over the years I managed to pick up some of the back issues. The articles and reviews that appeared in the lengthy run of  Blues Unlimited are a treasure of information about the blues, much of the information remains unsurpassed, and locked away, more or less inaccessible unless you were picking up the magazine form the beginning. As far as I know you can't access back issues at any library and there is no archive online. This is why the new book is so valuable, even if it gives us just a brief look at the wealth found in those old BU's. Hopefully there will be a sequel.   On today's Show I air an interview I conducted with Bill Greensmith a few weeks back. Bill was a wonderful and knowledgeable interview. Even though we chatted for over an hour we only touched on a few of the artists (chosen by my interest) featured in the book and today's show revolves around those artists. Below is some background.

Juke Boy Bonner's musical career began as a child, singing in a gospel group and by the age of twelve he had taught himself the guitar. In 1947 he moved to Houston, winning first prize in a talent show at the Lincoln Theatre in the city. This success lead to regular gigs at lounges, bars and juke joints throughout the Houston area, however the chances to record were strictly limited and by the mid-fifties he headed for the West Coast. In 1957, Bonner made his recording debut for the Irma label, in Oakland, California cutting four sides. Just two sides were issued, "Rock With Me Baby"/"Well Baby." He returned to touring the South, frequenting bars and juke joints in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana, where he cut three sessions for Goldband Records in Lake Charles in 1960, billed as Juke Boy Bonner — The One Man Trio. Some of these sides found their way to a European release on a Storyville album and attracted attention from European blues enthusiasts. But the breaks didn't come Juke Boy's way until 1967, when sterling work primarily by editors of Blues Unlimited magazine led to recording opportunities for the small Flyright label and for an eventual European tour. During the late 60's, Bonner suffered from bouts of ill health and underwent major stomach surgery. He earned a meager living playing gigs in Houston.

Blues Unlimited raised enough money for Juke Boy to cut a 45 for the Blues Unlimited label in Houston in 1967. Chris Strachwitz, owner of Arhoolie Records, on a field trip to Texas heard the record and cut an album with him in December 1967. Further sessions followed for Arhoolie in Houston during 1967, 1968 and 1969. Passport difficulties prevented him from joining the 1968 Folk Blues Festival Tour. He found his way to Europe in 1969 where he cut the album Things Ain't Right for Liberty. Throughout the early and mid-seventies his popularity grew and he continued to tour Europe as well as playing dates in Houston, however he couldn't match his European popularity at home. He became dogged by ill health, divorced from his wife and living in a small rented 10ft by 10ft room in a rundown house in the heart of Houston's black ghetto. Bonner was reduced to unloading trucks and collecting aluminum cans to make a living. The frustration and bitterness are reflected in the comments made by a longtime friend to the Houston Chronicle: "He used to say he could go to Europe and earn $1000 dollars but he couldn't make $50 in his hometown." He died in 1978. The week of his death the Houston Chronicle ran the headline: “Weldon ‘Juke Boy’ Bonner, well known in Europe, dies alone in his hometown.”

Simon Napier and Mike LeadbitterAaron and Marion (he changed his name to Milton in 1929) were twins born to Ruth and Sullie Gant in Tupelo, Mississippi. The brothers cut four sessions as the Sparks Brothers, the first for Victor and the other three for Bluebird, between 1932 and 1935. Milton cut two songs for Decca in 1934 under the name Flyin' Lindberg. Aaron backed a number of St. Louis artists at their second session: Elisabeth Washington, Tecumseh McDowell, Dorotha Trowbridge, James "Stump" Johnson and Charlie McFadden. The brothers' led rough and tumble lives reflected in songs that dealt with gambling, jail, alcohol, woman, hoboing and railroads. In spite of their lyrics and rough background, the music the brothers made was surprisingly tender and wistful. They excelled at thoughtful, mid-tempo blues such as "East Chicago Blues", "Down On The Levee" and "4X11=44" a reference to number combination for playing policy.

Milton possessed a strong, nasal voice that is extremely appealing while Milton had a warm, sensitive vocal that occasionally dips into a mellow falsetto. Aaron was an exceptional and versatile piano player as Chris Smith appraises: "Aaron's playing features the steady chordal basses typical of St. Louis, and a very inventive right hand, endowed with melodic grace and propulsive energy. He was also a capable boogie playe r, with a singing line and a fondness for medium tempos." Aaron's fine abilities as an accompanist extend to his backing a trio of St. Louis ladies. Elisabeth Washington was an appealing, slightly nasal singer with a good sense of delivery; "Riot Call Blues" and "Whiskey Blues" (1933) are particularly tough blues with the latter opening with the line "Everyday I have the blues" a song that the brothers would debut two years later. Mike Rowe with help from Charlie O'Brien wrote the definitive pice on the Sparks Brothers in Blues Unlimited 144 published in 1983. The bulk of the information came from an interview with the brothers' uncle, Aaron Sparks.

Joe Dean recorded one great 78 in 1930: “I'm So Glad I'm Twenty-One Years Old Today b/w Mexico Bound Blues" for Paramount, who dubbed him ‘‘Joe Dean from Bowling Green.’’ Dean was born in St. Louis on April 25, 1908. Raised by his widowed mother, Dean began by playing house parties and small clubs. Dean worked in a steel mill, playing intermittently, until the 1950's. He remained musically active on a part-time basis into the 1960's. He eventually became the Rev. Joe Dean and died on June 24 1981. He was interviewed by Mike Rowe for Blues Unlimited 127 in 1977.

Lavada Durst, known as Dr. Hepcat, who was a disciple of Robert Shaw but who recorded infrequently. He worked in baseball for much of his life, training players and announcing games, and it was from the latter activity that he graduated to working as a DJ, broadcasting over KVET, a white station in Austin. There he developed the persona of Dr.Hepcat, with an extraordinary line in jive talk. He also made a few records of his own, but despite his high profile on radio, it appears that these can't have sold very well, as they are extremely rare, even one issued on the comparatively major independent label Peacock; the other two were on the local Uptown label, one issued under the pseudonym of Cool Papa Smith. He made a handful of latter day recordings before passing in 1995. Dr. Hepcat was interviewed in Blues Unlimited 129 in 1978.

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.” Maceo had a profound influence on postwar Chicago piano despite a relativley sparse discography; 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.

Blues Unlimited Number OneMaceo's first session fielded 14 sides, with the first single becoming the most important of his career: "Worried Life Blues". At the conclusion of the war, Melrose immediately brought his stable of blues artists back to the studio. Maceo resumed his work with Tampa Red. Maceo recorded more sides in 1945 including his classic piano instrumental "Chicago Breakdown." Unfortunately, Big Maceo's career was cut short after he suffered a stroke in 1946 that left him almost completely paralyzed on his right side. Over the next few years, he would attempt to record several more times despite his handicap, and still remained a fine singer. Occasionally other pianists would play while he sang.

Louise Johnson was barrelhouse pianist and girlfriend of Charlie Patton’s who went to Grafton to make records with Patton, Willie Brown and Son House in 1930. She cut four sides at that session, her sole recorded legacy. From the book Preachin' The Blues Dan Beaumont writes: "North of Robinsonville, Patton directed Ford to visit the Kirby plantation where they picked up a young woman named Louise Johnson, who was one of Patton’s girlfriends. Johnson sang and played piano in a barrelhouse operated by a Liny Armstrong.  Willie Brown had heard her playing, and he then introduced her to Patton who soon found time for her.  House remembered her 'nice-lookin’…’bout twenty-three, twenty-four years old.'  And like her boyfriend Patton, she 'didn’t do nothin’ but drink and play music; she didn’t work for nobody…' Somewhere along the trip her and Patton had a fight and she became House's girlfriend. "Back in Mississippi, the foursome played in a barrelhouse on the Kirby plantation near Lula for a brief time, then went their separate ways.  According to [Stephen]  Calt and [Gayle] Wardlow, House saw Louise Johnson only once after 1930. He thought she had moved to Helena, Arkansas.  Another report had her playing in the 1930's on the King and Anderson plantation near Clarksdale.  Then she vanished from view." Bob Hall and Richard Noblet wrote the definitive piece on her in Blues Unlimited 115 in 1975. No additional information has turned up on her since.

Bill Greensmith writes to in the preface to the Red Holloway interview: "The Chicago R&B and jump music scene of the 1940s and '50s happily coexisted alongside the more celebrated and familiar down-home amplified style of Muddy Waters. Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter. …In 1974 Mike Leadbitter, in a column titled 'Chicago Flipside', was one of the first people to bemoan the fact that these artists, the clubs they performed in, and the companies who were recording them were largely undocumented." Red Holloway was very much part of this scene and Bill Greensmith conducted a wonderful. candid interview with him that was published in Blues Unlimited 117 and 118 in 1976. Today we close the show with  Holloway backing The Four Blazes and Sunnyland Slim.

Andy BoyEvil BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Andy BoyChurch Street BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Walter 'Cowboy' Washington & Andy BoyIce Pick MamaThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Andy BoyHouse Raid BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Big Boy KnoxBlue Man BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Big Boy KnoxEleven Light City BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937
Son Becky Mistreated Washboard BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Son Becky Midnight Trouble BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksJack of All Trades BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksFannie Mae BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksShake the ShackSan Antonio Blues 1937
Thunder SmithSanta Fe BluesLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Thunder SmithLow Down Dirty WaysLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Leroy Ervin Rock Island BluesTexas Blues: Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings
Lee HunterBack To Santa FeTexas Blues: Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings
Sonny Boy DavisI Don't Live Here No MoreTexas Country Blues 1948-1951
Dr. HepcatI CriedHouston Might Be Heaven V
Dr. HepcatHattie GreenDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953: Texas
Dr. HepcatBoogie WoogieGiants Of Texas Country Blues Piano
Whistlin Moore AlexSometimes I Feel Worried From North Dallas To The East Side
Whistlin Moore AlexIf I Lose You WomanModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Whistlin Moore AlexNeglected WomanModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Buster PickensSanta Fe TrainEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Buster PickensJim NappyEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Buster PickensShe Caught The L & NEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Robert ShawHere I Come With My Dirty, Dirty Duckings On Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Robert ShawGroceries On My Shelf (Piggly Wiggly) Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Robert ShawThe Ma Grinder Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Grey GhostNobody Knows You When You're Down And OutGrey Ghost (Catfish)
Grey GhostWay Out On The DesertGrey Ghost (Spindletop)

Show Notes:

Back when I started this show in 2007 one of the first programs I did was one devoted to the pre-war Texas piano tradition. My interest in this was sparked again recently when I was doing research and writing the notes for a reissue of pianist Buster Pickens long out-of-print album for the Document label (just reissued  as Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions).  Pickens was an active member of the  'Santa Fe group' of pianists, knew all players but unlike some of them did not get the opportunity to record until the post-war era. In our two-part feature on Texas piano I'll be spotlighting the tradition in more depth that I did the first time out, surveying both  pre-war and post-war artists.

Pinetop Burks: Jack Of All Trades BluesThe Texas piano tradition flowered in the 1920’s and was at its peak during the 1930’s when a number of the tradition’s best players were recorded. Paul Oliver observed that “Texas was as rich in piano blues as Mississippi was in guitar blues” and “a cursory glance through the discographies will emphasize the fact that a remarkable number of blues pianists came from Texas." The pianists can be roughly grouped into schools; there was the remarkable Thomas family who made the bulk of their recordings between 1923 and 1928, one based around Dallas which included Whistlin Alex Moore, a regional style that developed around Shreveport and 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. In our second installment we spotlight members of the powerful Santa Fe group as well as a number of pianists who recorded in the post-war era.

The  'Santa Fe group' were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie.“ Mack McCormick noted that the “itinerant pack of pianists who came to be known loosely as 'the Santa Fe group,' partly because they favored that railroad and partly because a stranger asking for the name of a selection was invariably told 'That's The Santa Fe.' …They were known as The Santa Fe after the railroad that straddle Fort Bend County with a big triangle just Southwest of Houston, providing access westward to the high plains, cotton country, east to the piney-woods lumbering camps and north (pretty much following the old Chisholm Trail) to a string of cities and watering places. ”Here”, Oliver notes “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.” Others associated with the group were Victoria Spivey and Bernice Edwards.

1937 was an outstanding year for the Santa Fe group of pianists: Andy Boy recorded in February for Bluebird, Big Boy Knox recorded for Bluebird in March, Black Boy Shine recorded in June for Vocalion and Son Becky and Pinetop Burks recorded at a shared session for Vocalion in October. Among the best of the Santa Fe group were Andy Boy of Galveston and Rob Cooper of Houston. Andy Boy had a rough, expressive voice offset with his sprightly blues piano laced with ragtime flourishes. He waxed eight sides in 1937 under his own name as well as backing singer Joe Pullum on eleven sides in 1935 and the obscure Walter 'Cowboy' Washington.

Little is known of Big Boy Knox who recorded four sides in 1937. Son Becky and Pinetop Burks recorded at a shared session for Vocalion in October 1937. Becky's real name was Leon Calhoun born in Wharton, Texas in 1910. He's remembered playing along the Piney woods border with Louisiana. He's backed by an unknown guitarist and washboard player oh his six titles. Conish 'Pinetop' Burks was born near Richmond, Texas in 1907. He possessed a formidable technique as he displays on the six titles he cut for Vocalion in 1937.

Thunder Smith: Santa Fe BluesAfter World War II the Texas piano tradition virtually evaporated. Several, however, did record in the post-war era including Wilson “Thunder” Smith. Smith plays piano behind Lightnin' Hopkins on his first two sessions for Aladdin in 1946 and 1947 and Hopkins backed Smith on a four song session for Aladdin in 1946 with Smith cutting one session apiece in 1947 for Gold Star and in 1948 for Down Town. He was murdered in Houston in 1963. His “Santa Fe Blues” indicates ties to the Santa Fe group.

Bill Quinn, owner of the Houston based Gold Star label, recorded two piano players: Leroy Ervin in 1947 and Lee Hunter in 1948. Another pianist from the older generation was Sonny Boy Davis who recorded two sides for the Talent label in 1949 backed by guitarist Rattlesnake Cooper.

Lavada Durst, known as Dr. Hepcat, who was a disciple of Robert Shaw but who recorded infrequently. He worked in baseball for much of his life, training players and announcing games, and it was from the latter activity that he graduated to working as a DJ, broadcasting over KVET, a white station in Austin. There he developed the persona of Dr.Hepcat, with an extraordinary line in jive talk. He also made a few records of his own, but despite his high profile on radio, it appears that these can't have sold very well, as they are extremely rare, even one issued on the comparatively major independent label Peacock; the other two were on the local Uptown label, one issued under the pseudonym of Cool Papa Smith. He made a handful of latter day recordings before passing in 1995.

In part one of our spotlight on Texas piano we played a pair of pre-war number by Whistlin Alex Moore, the best known Dallas pianist. Moore's career spanned from 1929 until 1988, recording in every decade except the 1970's. He was rediscovered by Chris Strachwitz in 1960, recording an album for Arhoolie and making his way to Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival by the end of the decade. Back in 1951 in Dallas he cut a few titles for the RPM label including two of which we spin today.

As Paul Oliver wrote: "Buster Pickens is a barrelhouse pianist who has played the sawmills, the turpentine camps and the oil 'boom' towns since his childhood. He has outlasted most of his contemporaries in their tough an often dangerous life and can lay good claim to be virtually the last of the sawmill pianists. Pickens lone album, for Heritage, the self-titled Buster Pickens, was recorded over several sessions in 1960 and 1961 and released in 1962, later reissued in 1977 on the Flyright label as Back Door Blues and now appears on CD for the first time courtesy of Document Records. Liner notes for the new reissue were written by your truly.

Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
 Read Liner Notes

Robert Shaw was born in Stafford, Texas in 1908 and in his mid-teens started playing with members of the Santa Fe Group and greatly influenced by his friend Black Boy Shine. Shaw wasn't recorded until 1963 when he was tracked down by Mack McCormick.

Roosevelt Williams, better know as the Grey Ghost, was born in Bastrop, Texas in 1903. He outlived his contemporaries passing at the age of 92 in 1996. He traveled to the area dances and roadhouses by riding empty boxcars. He would seem to appear out of nowhere and then disappear immediately after performing, which earned him the nickname, "Grey Ghost. He wasn't properly documented until 1965 when he was recorded by Tary Owens. Those recordings saw daylight in the late 80's, reviving Williams' career. Owens arranged for Williams to make a CD of new recordings at the age of 89, Which was released in 1992.

Little Son Willis Nothing But The Blues Down Home Blues Classics: California & The West Coast 1948-1954
Alex Moore Neglected Woman Whistling Alex Moore 1929-51
Dr. Hepcat Hattie Green Houston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Wright Holmes Good Road BluesDown Behind The Rise 1947-1953
Jesse ThomasDouble Due Love You Down Behind The Rise 1947-1953
Junior BrooksLone Town Blues Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 1
Jimmy DeBery Before LongDeep South Blues Piano 1935-1937
Manny NicholsNo One To Love MeDown Home Blues Classics: Texas 1946-1954
Blind Willie McTellEast St. Louis Blind Willie McTell & Curley Weaver: The Post War Years
Johnny Beck You Gotta Lay Down Mama Down Home Blues Classics: Texas 1946-1954
Dennis McMillon Paper Wooden Daddy New York City Blues 1940-1950
Schoolboy Cleve She's GoneDown Home Blues Classics Vol.5: Memphis & The South 1949-1954
Pee Wee Hughes Country Boy Jook Joint Blues
Papa Lightfoot Wine, Whiskey & Women Blues Harmonica Wizards
Goldrush All My Money GoneRural Blues Vol. 1 1934- 1956
Leroy Ervin Blue, Black and Evil Texas Blues ( Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings)
Big Charlie Bradix Numbered Days The Travelling Record Man
Pete Franklin Down Behind the Rise Down Behind The Rise 1947-1953
Walter Bradford Reward For My Baby Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Charley BookerWalked All NightSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Frank Edwards Gotta Get Together Jook Joint Blues
Henry Hill & Doctor Ross That Ain't Right Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Joe Hill LouisWe All Gotta Go SometimeSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
John Lee Down At The Depot Rural Blues Vol. 1 1934- 1956
Dan Pickett 99 1/2 Won't Do Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Pinetop Slim Applejack Boogie Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Big Boy SpiresAbout To Lose My Mind Chicago Slickers 1948-1953
Otis HintonWalking Downhill Black Cat Trail
Frankie Lee SimsWalking With Frankie 4th & Beale And Further South
Luther HuffBulldog Blues Down Home Blues Classics Vol.5: Memphis & The South 1949-1954
Lane HardinKeep 'em Down The Modern Down Home Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Boyd Gilmore Ramblin' On My Mind The Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 1
Baby Face Turner Blue Serenade The Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 2
Willie NixLonesome BedroomThe Traveling Record Man

Show Notes:

Down Behind The Rise
Read Liner Notes

In the immediate post-war era the music was rapidly changing, R&B was on the rise and and older blues styles were falling out of fashion. Yet for awhile at least, there was still a market for rural down home blues as evidenced by the popularity of artists like Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker and Smokey Hogg. Between 1944 and 1964, more than 600 record companies tried their hands at recording blues. Many failed or had limited success while others grew and became major players. Paul Vernon wrote that this was “the last grand hurrah of local blues recorded for, and often by, local entrepreneurs, neither folkloric nor college oriented, but music for the culture from which it grew." Today we spotlight some of my down home blues favorites spanning the years 1947 through 1957.

A good number of today's tracks come from two album series that made a big impression on me; one was on the Nighthawk label which issued a series of great anthologies in the late 70's. I discovered these a bit later at my college radio station which had the entire series. I was particularly drawn to Down Behind The Rise 1947-1953 which introduced me to Jesse Thomas, Wright Holmes and Johnny Beck, all of whom are featured today. All of these sides have since been reissued on many different collections. The other series was Kent's Anthology of Blues, a twelve volume set of albums, some spotlighting single artists, others anthologies of great down home blues. I discovered numerous great artists from that series including Willie Nix, Pinetop Slim, Charlie Bradix, Baby Face Turner, Junior Brooks, Boyd Gilmore and Charley Booker, all artists featured today. The series was resurrected in grand fashion by Ace Records over the course of six CD's with terrific notes by Jim O'Neal and loads of additional tracks.

I should also mention the Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1956, a nine LP box set that I picked up back in High School at Bleeker Bob's in Greenwich Village. I have played this set endlessly over the years and today spin several tracks from that box including Walter Bradford, Charley Booker, Henry Hill & Doctor Ross and Joe Hill Louis. Below is is some information on a few of today's featured performers.

Wright Holmes: Good Road BluesWright Holmes was born in Hightower, TX. on July 4, 1905. In 1930 he moved to Houston where he started playing in clubs on Dowling Street and also broadcasted on KTRH. In 1947 he made two recordings for Bill Quinn's Gold Star label but Quinn didn't issue the recordings because he thought that Holmes sounded too much like Lightnin' Hopkins who was his top selling blues artist. Later that year, another man named Abe Conley recorded four songs by him at his studio. Conley sold the masters to Miltone. Two of the songs were issued on Miltone. Miltone was later bought out by Gotham who reissued the two songs and issued one other with another song never issued.

Jesse Thomas recorded sporadically from the late 1920's through the early 1990's and despite his longevity didn't achieve much in the way of success or recognition. In 1929, at 18, Thomas cut four excellent sides for Victor.By the post-war era Thomas had developed a brilliant, highly individual style unlike anyone else. Between 1948-1958 Thomas cut sides for nine different West Coast labels. Thomas' "Double Due Love You" was a song made a big impression when I first heard it on Down Behind The Rise.

Modern Records' partner Joe Bihari had made his first field trip to the South around September 1951 following the breakdown in relations with Sam Phillips. This was after Rocket "88" by Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner ended up on Chess instead of Modern, and became a #1 R&B smash hit. Until then Phillips had been recording Modern's Memphis-area artists including B.B. King, Joe Hill Louis and Rosco Gordon. Following the split with Phillips, Bihari hit paydirt with B.B. King's "3 O'Clock Blues," thus encouraging Bihari to authorize further trips in the South. The Biharis launched a new label for these field recordings, Blues & Rhythm, in February 1952. The first major reissue of this material was in 1969 and 1970, issued as the Anthology Of The Blues 12-volume LP series on Kent. In later years Joe Bihari said: "I was a gutsy kid who wasn't afraid of anything, traveling during a period where there was immense segregation and discrimination against African Americans. Indeed, I am proud of myself for doing what I could to resist this horrific prejudice. Looking back, I think I made major contributions to this rich music that we have all over America – and all my hard work paid off as this blues music is now recognized worldwide."

As Joe Bihari remembers, it was on a trip to Atlanta in 1949 that he conducted his first on-the-road session after he just happened to hear a guitarist playing on the street there. The bluesman he discovered was Pine Top Slim. "I took him right into our distributor's office and I recorded him at the local radio station where Zeas Sears was the top jock" "Applejack Boogie b/w I'm Gonna Carry On" were released on a short-lived Modern subsidiary called Colonial in 1949. The Biharis shelved the rest of the Pine Top Slim session, and it was only when Frank Scott and Bruce Bromberg compiled the historic Kent Anthology of the Blues LP series  that the rest of the material resurfaced.

Blues From The Deep SouthFor a long time it was thought Lane Hardin's 1935 record, "California Desert Blues b/w Hard Time Blues" was the only record he ever recorded. Unknown to most collectors Hardin cut a vanity record circa 1948. The record was found by collector Steve LaVere sometime in the 1990's in Los Angeles and purchased by Tefteller and has since been reissued. In around 1950 a group of artists sent in a batch of unlabeled acetates that were discovered at Modern in 1970. These recordings have remained a focal point for intense discussion ever since. When these sides were first issued on Kent's Blues From The Deep South LP, Arkansas Johnny Todd and Leroy Simpson were invented for two sides released. It turns out that Todd is actually Lane Hardin.

Junior Brooks (nicknamed "Crippled Red") was from Pine Bluff, AR. He worked the local club scene with his fellow musicians Baby Face Turner, Elmon "Driftin' Slim" Mickle, and Sunny Blair. The Bihari brothers held two sessions in Little Rock in 1951 and '52 to record some of the local talent. Brooks made four recordings at the 1951 sessions. He died shortly afterward. Also from this session we feature tracks by Baby Face Turner and Boyd Gilmore.

Years ago, I don't remember where, I picked up a record on Arhoolie's Blues Classic series called Juke Joint Blues. There were  some great sides on that record but the one I played over and over was Dr. Hepcat's rollicking, humorous "Hattie Green", a totally unique rendition of this classic Texas blues  number. Born in Austin, Texas, January 9, 1913, as Lavada Durst he  learned to play the piano as a child and emulated the styles he heard growing up. "I was self-taught," he recalls "I used to slip across the street to the church house and one-finger that piano. From Robert Shaw (Arhoolie CD 377), Durst learned the rudiments of what is now referred to as the Texas barrelhouse piano style. He worked part time as a disc jockey from 1948 to 1963 on KVET radio in Austin. On the air, he used the call name “Dr. Hepcat,” and during his show, which featured primarily rhythm and blues and jazz, he used to jive talk to pique the interests of his listeners in making introductions to records, public service announcements, and commercials. He cut a handful of sides in 1949 and latter day sides.

Now I remember exactly where I snagged a copy of Dan Pickett: 1949 Country Blues. I was at my favorite record shop, Finyl Vinyl, on New York's Second Avenue in the Village and they had the album displayed on the wall reserved for notable new records. Most times I walked in there without a plan, just poking around and always leaving with some albums tucked under my arm. This time I had been looking for this album after reading an intriguing review in Juke Blues magazine. Dan Pickett did one recording session for the Philadelphia-based Gotham label in 1949. His real name was James Founty who was born in Pike County, Alabama on August 31, 1907. Five singles were issued by the label while the rest of the titles weren't unearthed until four decades later (with some alternate takes of some issued titles to boot). No one is certain what he did after his one and only session as far as his life. He passed away in Boaz, Alabama on August 16, 1967, a few days short of his 60th birthday.

Jess Thomas: D Double Due Love YouIn strange twist I became friends decades later with Axel Küstner who played a big part in unraveling the mystery behind Pickett. Küstner went from his home in Germany to Alabama in 1993 to see what he could dig up. He found Founty's surviving family and also the lawyer's son, who had his father"s papers, though Founty's file was missing. He obtained the only known photograph that shows Founty and some information on his life. Künster published a two page teaser about the trip in Juke Blues where he wrote: "Until the whole story is published in Juke Blues, I'll just tell you this much: [Founty was] a classic rambler in the best blues tradition…"Künster wrote that over fifteen years ago and still no full article has been written. I've been trying to gently prod him into writing the full article – maybe someday! In 2010 John Jeremiah Sullivam wrote an article on Pickett for The Oxford American that published the Pickett photo, transcribed an interview with Künster and provided a bit more information on Pickett's life.


Dr. Hepcat Hattie Green Houston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Lonny LyonsDown In The GroovyHouston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Joe 'Papoose' FritzReal Fine GirlHouston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Lightnin' HopkinsHello EnglandThe Rooster Crowed In England
Lightnin' HopkinsBlues For Queen ElizabethThe Rooster Crowed In England
Lightnin' HopkinsGoin' To Galveston The Rooster Crowed In England
George Clarke Prisoner BluesBroke, Black And Blue
Vol StevensVol Stevens BluesMemphis Jug Band & Cannon's Jug Stomper s
Joe Williams/Yank Rachel/ Sonny Boy Williamson I Haven't Seen No WhiskeyYank Rachell Vol. 2 1934-1941
Big Joe Williams Stella BluesBack To The Roots
Big Joe Williams Watergate Blues Back To The Roots
Brownie McGheeFour O'Clock In The MorningNew York Blues And R&B 1947-1955
Lane HardinKeep 'em DownModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Buddy Moss I Got a Woman, Don't Mean Me No GoodAtlanta Blues Legend
Andy BoyEvil BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport
Pinetop BurksSun Down BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe
Bill HayesI'm Just Another FoolHouston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Lee GravesCloudy Weather BluesHouston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Willie HolidayI've Played This TownHouston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Champion Jack DupreeJackie P. BluesChampion Jack Dupree: Early Cuts
Turner Parrish The FivesMama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here
Jimmy RogersIf It Ain't Me (Who Are You Thinking Of)Complete Chess Recording
Sonny Boy WilliamsonWest Memphis BluesCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides
Peg Leg Sam & Louisiana RedGoing Train BluesJoshua
Papa LightfootJump The BoogieJuke Joint Blues: Good Time Rhythm & Blues 1943-1956
Kid BaileyRowdy BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Ishman BraceyLeavin' Town BluesIshman Bracey & Charlie Taylor 1928-1929
Fiddlin' Joe MartinGoing To FishingMississippi Blues 1940-42
Sara MartinGot To Leave My Home BluesSara Martin Vol. 3 1924-1925
Berta "Chippie" Hill & Freddie ShayneHow Long BluesMontana Taylor & Freddy Shayne 1929-1946
Swamp Dogg Mama's Baby, Daddy's MaybeTotal Destruction To Your Mind

Show Notes

A varied mix show today spanning the mid-20's through the mid-70's. Quite a number of Texas bluesmen are featured today including two sets from the recent 4-CD JSP collection, Houston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951, which gathers many lesser known artists mixed with better known artists like Peppermint Harris and Smokey Hogg. In addition there's three from an excellent long out-of-print Lightnin' Hopkins album and some early Texas piano players. Also on tap are a pair of cuts by the prolific Big Joe Williams, several fine piano men, some terrific harp blowers and some excellent down home blues from the pre-war and post-war eras.

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

JSP's Houston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951 is a valuable collection pulling together numerous obscure Houston bluesmen who's output has been scattered on various anthologies; artists like Dr. Hepcat, Lonnie Lyons, I.H. Smalley, Willie Holiday, Conrad Johnson and Joe 'Papoose' Fritz among many others. After World War II several Houston independent labels were started. The earliest to record blues was Gold Star, founded by Bill Quinn in 1946 as a hillbilly label. In 1947 Quinn decided to enter the "race" market by recording Lightnin' Hopkins. By the early 1950's, competition among independent record labels in Houston was intense. Macy's, Freedom, and Peacock (as well as Bob Shad's New York-based Sittin-In-With label) were all involved in recording local and regional blues musicians such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Gatemouth Brown, Goree Carter, Lester Williams, Peppermint Harris and Big Walter Price. Of the Houston-based independent labels, Peacock emerged as the most prominent.

One of the artists I want to mention from the set is Dr. Hepcat, who's "Hattie Green" opens our show. Born in Austin, Texas, January 9, 1913, as Lavada Durst he learned to play the piano as a child and emulated the styles he heard growing up. "I was self-taught," he recalls "I used to slip across the street to the church house and one-finger that piano. I had heard Meade Lux Lewis and Pete  Johnson on record, and around Austin, I heard a lot of piano players, Baby Dotson, Black Tank, and Boots Walton." Durst worked  part time as a disc jockey from 1948 to 1963 on KVET radio in Austin. On the air, he used the call name “Dr. Hepcat.” He cut two sessions for Uptown in 1949 and another session for Peacock the same year. He made some final recordings in the 80's and passed in 1995.

Speaking of Houston, we spin a trio of sides by Lightnin' Hopkins which I don't think I've played before. The tracks come from the long out-of-print album The Rooster Crowed In England issued on the British 77 Records label in 1959. The bulk of these recordings were made in 1959 with a couple waxed in 1954. As Mack McCormick wrote in the notes: “This album was prepared with the frank intention of arousing interest among the public and agencies who govern the European concert halls. …Until only a few months before making these recordings, Sam Lightnin' Hopkins knew of England only vaguely as a place 'over across the water' …a place he'd heard of thru friends who visited there while in the army. He was startled and dubious when I told him that some of the greatest enthusiasm for the blues was centered in places 'over across that water.'” We open the set with, "Hello England" a brief spoken introduction where he addresses the British people: "I'm Sam Lightnin' Hopkins, blues singer from Texas, singing the blues for 77 Records in England and I'm hoping that each and every one will enjoy em' if they hear them because I'm long wanting to come over there which I probably will come over there someday…" We also play his "Blues For Queen Elizabeth" where he states his hope to play for her and her husband some day and we conclude the set with a 1954 cut "Goin' To Galveston" backed by some rollicking piano. Apparently this issued on a Document CD c. 1998 which was strictly limited edition of 100 copies, never sold, but given away at Document wrap party in Vienna. that release was titled Lightnin' Hopkins 1954 & 1959 with extra tracks from other places.

We go back to 1937 with tracks by Texas pianists Andy and Pinetop Burks. Andy Boy cut only eight sides under his own name in 1937 as well as backing both Joe Pullum and Walter 'Cowboy' Washington. Pinetop Burks cut six songs the same year. Both men were from 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 Son Becky, Rob Cooper, Black Boy Shine, Big Boy Knox, Robert Shaw, Buster Pickens and the singers who worked with them.

We feature a pair of tracks from the Big Joe Williams album Back To The Roots (also issued as Watergate Blues). These recordings were recorded in 1973 in Berlin and 1978 in Crawford and Mashulaville, Mississippi by Siegfried A. Christmann and Axel Küstner. I was inspired to play these sides from a very nice letter I got from Axel Küstner which included some of his wonderful photos of bluesmen and the Williams CD. Küstner and his friend Siegfried A. Christmann were responsible for the remarkable Living Country Blues USA albums which were issued across 12 LP's (one double set) on the German L+R label between 1980 and 1981.In 1980 the duo came to America with the idea to document the remaining country blues tradition. With their station wagon and portable recording equipment they hit the dusty road spending a couple of months documenting blues, gospel, field hollers and work songs throughout the South. In addition Küstner is a fine photographer and has taken thousands of photos of bluesmen through the years.

Several fine harp men are spotlighted today including George Clarke, Walter Horton, Peg Leg Sam and George Papa Lightfoot. From the pre-war era we hear Clarke's "Prisoner Blues", one of three songs he cut for Blue Bird in 1936. I don't know anything about Clarke but he was an engaging singer and fine harmonica player who plays in an assured down home style that reminds me a bit of the great Noah Lewis. Walter Horton gets plenty of room to cut loose on Jimmy Rogers' "If It Ain't Me (Who Are You Thinking Of)" and who cut it as "That Ain't It" on the Alligator album Big Walter Horton With Carey Bell. Peg Leg Sam was a member of what may have been the last authentic traveling medicine show, a harmonica virtuoso, and an extraordinary entertainer. Born Arthur Jackson, he acquired his nickname after a hoboing accident in 1930. His medicine show career began in 1938, and his repertoire -finally recorded only in the early '70s. Lightfoot cut Sessions for Peacock in 1949 (unissued), Sultan in 1950, and Aladdin in 1952 and a 1954 date for Imperial."  Singles for Savoy in 1955 and Excello the next year (the latter billed him as "Ole Sonny Boy") closed out Lightfoot's '50s recording activities. Producer Steve LaVere tracked down Lightfoot in Natchez, cutting an album for Vault in 1969 called Natchez Trace and issued on Ace on CD in the 90's.

Not everyone can be the main attraction and there are many talented blues figures who shined in supporting roles. Willie Brown, Joe Willie Wilkins and Lafayette Thomas come immediately to mind. In the vein we spin tracks by Vol Stevens and Fiddlin' Joe Martin. Vol Stevens played guitar, bajo-mandolin, mandolin,violin, jug and sang and cut just one record under his own name in 1928 for victor, "Vol Stevens Blues b/w Baby Got The Rickets." He also backed the Memphis Jug Band on many sides between 1927 and 1928, plus backing Will Weldon, the Mississippi Sheiks, Charlie Burse and the Picaninny Jug Band. Fiddlin’ Joe Martin played mandolin on Son House's, Alan Lomax recording sessions in 1941, taking the lead vocal on a couple of numbers. He also worked with Charlie Patton, Memphis Minnie, Howlin' Wolf and back Woodrow Adams, playing drums on all his sessions. He passed in 1975.

We play some interesting and mysterious down home blues from the postwar and pre-war periods. There's "Rowdy Blues" by Kid Bailey who cut one record in Memphis in 1929, "Rowdy Blues b/w Mississippi Bottom Blues." Bailey was remembered by (among others) Ishmon Bracey and Walter Vinson. Many believe Baily is actually Willie Brown, partner of both Charlie Patton and Son House. Then there's Arkansas Johnny Todd. In around 1950 a group of artists sent in a batch of unlabeled acetates that were discovered at Modern in 1970. These recordings have remained a focal point for intense discussion ever since. When these sides were first issued on the Blues From The Deep South LP, so Arkansas Johnny Todd and Leroy Simpson were invented for two sides released. It turns out that Todd is actually Lane Hardin who cut the classic "Hard Time Blues b/w California Desert Blues" in 1935. He also backs Leroy Simpson who still remains a mystery.

As a precursor to next week's show on Indianapolis blues we spotlight Turner Parrish and Champion Jack Dupree. In the pre-war era Indianapolis was a fine blues piano town and both Parrish and Dupree where part of that scene. Little is known of Parrish who cut eight sides between 1929 and 1933 and also backed singer Teddy Moss. Sometime in the early 30's Champion Jack Dupree left New Orleans and eventually found his way to Indianapolis here he found work at the Cotton Club (named after the famous one in Harlem) who's resident bluesman was Leroy Carr. In early 1940, he was seen by Lester Melrose who signed him up to record for Okeh in Chicago. The result was two-dozen recordings for the label through 1941. His Indianapolis residency ended when he was drafted at the end of 1941 and after his discharge he settled in New York.

We conclude the show with Swamp Dogg's "Mama's Baby, Daddy's Maybe." Swamp Dogg's brand of bluesy soul and R&B usually falls outside of what I play but I couldn't resist playing this one as Swamp Dogg comes to town to perform next week. I happen to be a big fan and have never got the opportunity to see him so I'm looking forward to this one.