|Dan Pickett||Baby How Long||Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953|
|Dan Pickett||You Got to Do Better||Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953|
|Dan Pickett||Ride to a Funeral in a V-8||Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953|
|John Lee||Blind's Blues||Down Home Blues Classics Vol.5|
|John Lee||Alabama boogie||Down Home Blues Classics Vol.5|
|Smoky Babe||Your Dice Won´t Pass||Country Negro Jam Session|
|Smoky Babe||Bad Whiskey||Smoky Babe & His Friends: Hot Blues|
|Smoky Babe||Ain't Got No Rabbit Dog||Smoky Babe & His Friends: Hot Blues|
|Pinetop Slim||Fast Life||The Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4|
|Pinetop Slim||Mean Old Frisco||The Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4|
|Pinetop Slim||Applejack Boogie||The Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4|
|Guitar Nubbit||Evil Woman Blues||Blues Town Story Vol. 1|
|Guitar Nubbit||Georgia Chain Gang Blues||Blues Town Story Vol. 1|
|Guitar Nubbit||Laura||Blues Town Story Vol. 1|
|Dan Pickett||Chicago Blues||Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953|
|Dan Pickett||Baby Don't You Want to Go||Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953|
|Dan Pickett||99 1/2 Won't Do||Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953|
|John Lee||Baby's Blues||Down Home Blues Classics Vol.5|
|John Lee||Down At The Depot||Down Home Blues Classics Vol.5|
|Smoky Babe||Ocean Blues||Hottest Brand Goin'|
|Smoky Babe||Insect Blues||Hottest Brand Goin'|
|Smoky Babe||Hottest Brand Goin'||Hottest Brand Goin'|
|Smoky Babe||I'm Going Back To Mississippi||Hottest Brand Goin'|
|Pinetop Slim||John Henry||The Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4|
|Pinetop Slim||Baby Please Don't Go||The Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4|
|Pinetop Slim||Poor Boy||The Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4|
|Guitar Nubbit||New Orleans||Blues Town Story Vol. 1|
|Guitar Nubbit||I've Got the Blues||Blues Town Story Vol. 1|
|Guitar Nubbit||Hard Road||Blues Town Story Vol. 1|
|Dan Pickett||Driving That Thing||Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953|
|John Lee||Take Me Back Baby, Try Me One More Time||Down At The Depot|
|Smoky Babe||Something Wrong With My Machine||Hottest Brand Goin'|
|Pinetop Slim||I'm Gonna Carry On||The Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4|
Today's program spotlights five great lesser known artists, three who recorded in the late 40's and early 50's, and two who recorded in the early 60's. The mysterious Dan Pickett and Pinetop Slim waxed a handful of brilliant sides in 1949, John Lee cut four terrific sides in 1951 while Smoky Babe cut a couple of fine albums in the 60's and Guitar Nubbit cut a few remarkable singles around the same period. All of these artist recorded sparingly and are little known outside hardcore blues collectors who hold their recordings in high esteem. Pickett, Slim and Lee were stylistic throwbacks who's brand of solo guitar driven country blues was almost indistinguishable from the blues of the 20's and 30's when the music was in its commercial heyday. The style was waning by the time these men recorded, indeed their records were commercial flops, but you couldn't fault the record companies who were trying to tap into the same market that produced hits for then contemporary artists like Lightnin' Hopkins, Smoky Hogg and John Lee Hooker. By the time Smoky Babe recorded in the early 60's his brand of blues was wholly out of favor with the black record buying public and his records were marketed to the then burgeoning white blues market. Guitar Nubbit is a curious case. His style was certainly a throwback yet his records were issued on Skip White's tiny Bluestown with a commercial market in mind. The object of today's show is basically a way to lump together artists I admire who have slim recorded outputs and don't fit into some of our other theme shows.
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.
|The only known photo of Dan Pickett. From left: Alex Griffen, Mary Griffen, Betty Jean Griffen, Dan Pickett, and Nancy Griffen. Albertville, Alabama (ca. 1960). Collection of Axel Künster. Click to enlarge.|
None of Pickett's records were successful; it seems they were pressed in quantities of at most five hundred. The label decided to release the weakest number first, "laughing Rag." Billboard panned it: "A curious laughing blues with Southern guitar backing doesn't come off. Laughter is forced and mechanical, making for a dull, repetitious side." Pickett's repertoire was derived almost exclusively from 30’s recordings synthesizing those styles into a unique sound of his own. He drew upon mostly east coast blues sources including Blind Boy Fuller and Buddy Moss.
In the 80's blues researcher Bruce Bastin (author of Red River Blues and owner of Flyright Records) bought what was left of the old Gotham Records catalog, acquiring reissue rights as well as original tapes, including never-before-heard Dan Pickett sides. More important in this context, though,, Bastin got the company's correspondence. He let friend and fellow blues researcher Chris Smith look through the files where he discovered the identity of Pickett via a letter from a lawyer. The lawyer was asking Gotham for royalties on behalf of his client, "a musician by the name of James Founty, known professionally as Dan Pickett." It was a letter from Founty to an attorney named Charles R. Paul dated July, 1950. Founty claimed that the label had defaulted on royalty payments, but upon investigation royalties had not been included in the contract between Founty & Gotham. The label paid him for the session and that was it. The contract also stipulated that he not record any of the same titles for another label for three years. That should of have been the last of their worries, because Founty, probably disgusted with the whole affair, never recorded again. Smith published his finding in 1987 in Blues & Rhythm Magazine where he noted: If Founty had "started early in life he might still be alive, and even still be playing. Let's hope he can be found." Blues researcher Axel Kustner paid particular attention and actually went 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. 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 which is where I've taken my information from.
According to Künster: "In Geneva [Alabama], traveling with his friend the blues guitarist Eleanor Ellis, he came to a "big tree with a bunch of old men sitting around it playing checkers. He asked if they knew James Founty or Dan Pickett. "the last time I saw him," one said, "he was walking down the street with his guitar on his back." Another man told Künster that Pickett's daughter was alive and worked in a filing station on that same street. Künster walked into the little convenience-store area holding out a tape player. It had Dan Pickett's voice coming from it. Pickett's daughter, Jacquelyn, stood behind the counter. She hadn't heard her father's voice in thirty-eight years. The last time she'd seen him, it was 1955, she was eight years old. He was pressing his hand to a bus window, with tears in his eyes, as she rode away with her mother. At the cash register, she herself began to weep." "When I first met her", Künster said, "she had no idea what happened to him." She hadn't know for sure her father was dead. "She told me i closed that chapter of her life for her, that I gave her back her daddy."
Künster also found various children of Founty's and other relatives as well as his first and last wives. He also found singer who's seen "Dan Pickett" or in one case – that of the blues guitarist J.W. Warren, even played with him. None of theses people knew very much about him. Warren noted that he "was a big clown with a guitar" and that he lived the rough-and-tumble life, exposed to violence like a lot of other Southern blues singers. Other facts: He played harmonica (although not on his recordings, spent time in Florida broadcasting, playing live at a radio station, was nicknamed Bumble Bee for a song he did called "Bumble Bee" (not recorded) and toward the end of his life worked for wealthy white people in Boaz, Alabama. Founty's niece spoke of his funeral in Boaz which was attended by many white people. Reportedly he was very well liked and respected by his employers. He is buried in Albertville, Alabama which is marked with a simple but decent headstone. His death certificate mentioned a last wife, Betty Jean Founty. She was still alive and gave Künster the only known photograph of Founty.
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Alabama bluesman, John Lee was born May 24, 1915, in Lowdnes County, AL. He learned his distinctive knife slide guitar style from his uncle, Ellie Lee, and spent the 1930s playing jukes and house parties before settling in Montgomery in 1945. Federal's Ralph Bass auditioned him there, and impressed with what he heard, recorded five sides in 1951: "Down At The Depot", "Baby Please Don't Go", "Alabama Boogie", "Baby Blues" and "Blind's Blues." He also recorded the album Down At The Depot for Rounder Records in the early 70's.
By 1945 he was living in Montgomery, AL. There was little competition at local parties and night spots as he recalled: "There wasn't a person in town who could run me off playing, black or white." In the early winter months of 1951 he heard an announcement over local radio station WMGY by talent scout Ralph Bass, asking talent with original material to audition for records. The results were the four sides that made his reputation. "Alabama Blues" was written as an answer to Lightnin' Hopkins' then current "New York Boogie." His slide masterpiece "Blind Blues" was not scheduled for the session by Bass heard the song in a studio rehearsal and promptly added it. By 1960 John Lee had retired from active performing. It was blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow who tracked him down in 1973 after a three year search. During his comeback John Lee performed at Boston's Down East Festival and the National Folk Festival in Washington.
Born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, Robert Brown AKA Smoky Babe had found his way to Scotlandville, Louisiana by the age of 20. It was there that Harry Oster recorded him on several occasions between 1959-1961 with material appearing on the labels Folk-Lyric, Storyville and Bluesville. As Oster wrote in the liner notes to his Bluesville album: “In February 1960 I was present at a jam session in Scotlandville at the house of the sister of Robert Pete Williams, Mable Lee. …Smoky, who lives a short distance from Mable Lee Williams, swaggered in – a muscular wiry man of about 5’ 8”, wearing a hat tilted at a rakish angle. His guitar was in pawn so I loaned him mine. As soon as he played a few bars, rich, full, resonant, and excitedly rhythmic, I knew here was an outstanding bluesman." In Smoky Babe and His Friends Oster wrote: "Despite his rough and poverty-stricken life, Smoky is full of high exuberance, a joy of life, which he expresses in his dance -provoking style. Although several of the blues on this record are sad in text, the overall effect of his performing is a vivid communication of his basic philosophy, that even under the most squalid and depressing circumstances, life is very much worth living."
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Smoky cut two full length albums: Smoky Babe and His Friends and Hottest Brand Goin' plus a few scattered sides on different anthologies. According to Blues Discography 1943-1970t there are some two-dozen sides that remain unissued. After these recordings nothing is known about him other then his passing in 1975. Lazy Lester, who appears on some of Smoky's recordings, said "he drank himself to death."
As Joe Bihari of Modern Records 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 in 1969 that the rest of the material resurfaced. Five tracks, including an alternate take of "Applejack Boogie" appeared on the Blues From the Deep South volume. All the tracks Pinetop Slim recorded were issued completely on Ace's The Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4..
It was blues researcher Peter Lowry who brought the Guitar Nubbit to the attention of collectors. I asked him about this and he offered the following recollection: "Ah, Guitar Nubbit! The year was 1964 and I was a graduate student at Rutgers in Biology. While driving around New Brunswick, NJ, I happened upon a combination shoe shine parlor/record store – it was downstairs half a flight from the front of the four-story house, on the road-side. You essentially went under the porch from the side! I found 45s of often interesting stuff, and not always stuff that I heard on WNJR out of Newark. They had Nubbit's single on the Bluestown label ("GA Chain Gang")… I ended up buying all that they had after hearing the first copy I purchased. Then, I sent a copy to Mike Leadbitter, editor of Blues Unlimited, for whom I was just beginning to write. They were a mystery. Someone traced the label to Chicago (!), and others tried to track down the publishing company. No luck. I don't remember who finally got onto Skippy White, a Boston DJ, and found out that it was his label (there were a couple more Nubbit discs [Alvin Hankerson], and a couple of singles by Hibbard "Alabama" Watson).
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Born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in 1925. At the age of nine, he moved to Georgia, until he moved to Boston in 1946. Nubbit worked a number of jobs in Boston before he became a barber. His shop in Roxbury was located a few doors from Skip White's record store. One day, the two had a chance meeting, and from then on White was "the main man who got me interested in blues." It was Skip who gave him the nickname, Nubbit, as part of his right thumb is missing. On one of Skip White's later visits to Nubbit's shop, he played Skip some tapes of his playing. "He heard it and went wild over it… flipped his wig and went for it." Skip recorded several 45's by Nubbit on his Bluestown label in the early sixties. Several recordings remain unissued from this period. He doesn't seem to have recorded after this and passed in 1995.