Entries tagged with “Guitar Nubbit”.

Dan PickettBaby How LongShake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Dan PickettYou Got to Do BetterShake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Dan PickettRide to a Funeral in a V-8Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
John LeeBlind's BluesDown Home Blues Classics Vol.5
John LeeAlabama boogieDown Home Blues Classics Vol.5
Smoky BabeYour Dice Won´t PassCountry Negro Jam Session
Smoky Babe Bad WhiskeySmoky Babe & His Friends: Hot Blues
Smoky BabeAin't Got No Rabbit DogSmoky Babe & His Friends: Hot Blues
Pinetop SlimFast LifeThe Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4
Pinetop SlimMean Old FriscoThe Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4
Pinetop SlimApplejack BoogieThe Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4
Guitar NubbitEvil Woman BluesBlues Town Story Vol. 1
Guitar NubbitGeorgia Chain Gang BluesBlues Town Story Vol. 1
Guitar NubbitLauraBlues Town Story Vol. 1
Dan PickettChicago BluesShake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Dan PickettBaby Don't You Want to GoShake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Dan Pickett99 1/2 Won't DoShake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
John Lee Baby's BluesDown Home Blues Classics Vol.5
John Lee Down At The DepotDown Home Blues Classics Vol.5
Smoky BabeOcean BluesHottest Brand Goin'
Smoky BabeInsect BluesHottest Brand Goin'
Smoky BabeHottest Brand Goin' Hottest Brand Goin'
Smoky BabeI'm Going Back To Mississippi Hottest Brand Goin'
Pinetop SlimJohn HenryThe Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4
Pinetop SlimBaby Please Don't GoThe Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4
Pinetop SlimPoor Boy The Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4
Guitar NubbitNew Orleans Blues Town Story Vol. 1
Guitar NubbitI've Got the BluesBlues Town Story Vol. 1
Guitar NubbitHard Road Blues Town Story Vol. 1
Dan Pickett Driving That ThingShake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
John Lee Take Me Back Baby, Try Me One More TimeDown At The Depot
Smoky BabeSomething Wrong With My MachineHottest Brand Goin'
Pinetop SlimI'm Gonna Carry OnThe Modern Downhome Sessions Vol. 4

Show notes: 

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).

Read Liner Notes

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.



Show Notes:

We cut a wide swath today, tackling blues spanning from 1925 through 1980. The half-dozen tracks from 1980 come from the series Living Country Blues USA. In 1980 two young German blues enthusiasts, Axel Kuestner and Siegfried A. Christmann, came to America with the idea to document the remaining country blues tradition. Living Country Blues USA Vol. 2With their station wagon and portable recording equipment they hit the road spending 2-1/2 months documenting blues, gospel, field hollers and work songs throughout the South. Hundreds of hours of tape was used and the resulting project came out as 14 LP's on the German L&R label. In 1999 Evidence Records reissued some of these sides domestically as a 3-CD set. These recordings represent one of the last large scale field recording trips to canvas the south.There's was still plenty of music to be found although it's interesting to note that two of the great field researchers, Peter B. Lowry and George Mitchell, had both called it it quits in 1980 and after Kuestner and Christmann recordings made in the field has almost become a thing of the past. For many of the artists these were their first recordings and many never recorded again. The set also contains the debut of such artists as Cephas and Wiggins (Lowry recorded them but never issued the sides )and Lonnie Pitchford who went on to greater fame. Some like Hammie Nixon and Sam Chatmon had been pre-war recording stars. Others had learned directly from the blues masters such as Cedell Davis who played with Robert Nighthawk and Arzo Youngblood and Boogie Bill Webb who learned from the legendary Tommy Johnson. The series has finally been issued on CD although the CD's don't seem to be available in the US. I was able to get copies of the few CD's I needed to complete the series and will being doing a whole show devoted to these recordings on November 9th.

Speaking of field recordings we spin some tracks recorded by John and Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress. Among those are Kelly Pace & Convicts of Cummins Farm, Gould, Arkansas singing a wonderful version of  "Rock Island Line." This was the same prison where Lomax recorded Leadbelly and supposedly Leadbelly picked up the song after hearing this group perform it. The song would become one of his most famous numbers although he didn't record it until 1937. Willie Ford & Lucious Curtis deliver a terrific slide driven version of Sylvester Weaver - Vol. 1"Payday." John and Ruby Lomax were in Natchez, MS when they made recordings by Lucious Curtis and Willie Ford in October 1940. The town was still in mourning for the victims of a terrible dance-hall fire that April in which over 200 hundred people had died, including most of the Walter Barnes Band. Lucious Curtis and Willie Ford cut fourteen sides that day. From the infamous Angola Penitentiary John Lomax recorded the accomplished Ernest Rogers on the tough "Oh Oh Low Down Dirty Dog" which unfortunately is his sole recording. Moving up to the 1970's we play a wonderful track by the obscure Rabbit Muse. Muse played ukelele and kazoo and has two 1970's LPs on the Outlet label which have yet to be released on CD. Our selection, "Jailhouse Blues", comes from the excellent compilation Western Piedmont Blues. This collection comes from a series of albums issued by the Blue Ridge Institute of Ferrum College, Virginia. I believe there was something like eight volumes in this series (not all blues) which have been issued on CD through the Global Village label. The bulk of the recordings are from the 1970's and early 1980's.

We play a a couple of twin spins by guitarists Sylvester Weaver and Guitar Nubbit. Weaver cut over two dozen selections accompanying Sara Martin through 1927.  Sara Martin began her career as a vaudeville singer around 1915 in Illinois. In 1922 she was signed to a recording contract with Okeh Records. Martin was said to have excelled as a live performer and was a star on the TOBA circuit in the early 1920's. While primarily a popular singer Martin could get low down on the blues and was billed as the "famous moanin' mama" as well as "the colored Sophie Tucker" reflecting her dual roles as a blues and vaudeville performer. She toured the country until the early 1930's and recorded with Okeh until 1928. In the early 1930's Marin retired from show business. She died in 1955. The solo "Penitentiary Bound Blues" features one of Weaver's best vocals.

Regarding Guitar Nubbit, it was Peter Lowry who brought the obscure bluesman 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 Guitar Nubbit LPstuff, 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). They were quite anachronistic for the day! Right up there with Atlantic recording McTell in 1949 – hardly great commercial potential, no matter how good was the music!" I've attached below a couple of articles I found on Nubbit.

In addition to the aforementioned Sara Martin, today's program also spotlights a several excellent blues ladies including Victoria Spivey, Mae Glover, Big Mama Thornton, Olive Brown, Laurie Tate and Lucille Spann. "Dirty T.B. Blues" backed by a crack band is Spivey's follow-up to her popular "T-B Blues" from 1927 and she also cut "TB's Got Me" in 1936.  Mae Glover's sassy, bouncy "I Ain't Givin' Nobody None" features the excellent guitar work and spoken accompaniment of John Byrd as Glover tells her man:

I'll Wash you your clothes in the morning, cook jellyroll at night
When you come, home try to be so doggone nice

She cut two-dozen sides but only one short session with Byrd, a shame as those are her best sides. Moving on up we spin a pair by Big Mama Thornton; "Rockabye" finds Big Mama backed by Johnny Otis' band with Johnny himself on vibes and some vicious fret work from Pete "Guitar" Lewis while 1967's "Don't Do Me This Way" finds her in more soulful vein. I know nothing about big voiced Olive Brown outside the fact that she cut a handful of sides in the the late 1940's, 50's and 60's. "Roll Like A Big Wheel" is a tough rocker sporting a ripping tenor player that comes from the fine LP Don't Freeze On Me: Independent Womens Blues on the Rosetta Label. Lucille Spann was a fine gospel-inflected singer, although she occasionally indulges in histrionics, who spent most of her in the giant shadow cast by her husband Otis, "Cry Before I Go" is the title track off her very good, and only, album cut for Bluesway in the early 1970's. Like most of the Bluesway catalog this one remains out of print.

Also worth mention are cuts by two obscure pre-war blues artists, Oliver Cobb and Ollie Shepard. Cobb was a St. Louis trumpet player and singer who patterned himself after Louis Armstrong. He cut one 78 in 1929 for Brunswick and one 78 in 1930 for Paramount. Henry Townsend remembered him many years later: "Oliver Cobb worked around St. Louis quite a bit-he was a pretty famous guy around here. …Oliver Cobb was more jazz than blues. He could play blues, but seemingly his desire was to be in the jazz field. But even at the time he got more call for blues styles. That's why he got a chance to go up on the session, because he kinf iof put himself into the category of playing the blues, and that's what was in demand. …He was a great imitation of Louis Armstrong…the closest I've heard…" According to Townsend, Cobb drowned shortly after his June 1930 recording session with Paramount. "The Duck's Yas Yas Yas" is a wonderful risque blues firmly in the Armstrong mold. Despite recording close to four-dozen sides between 1937 and 1941, little is known about singer/pianist Ollie Shepard.Shepard rarely rose above the ordinary by "Drunk Again", backed by his Kentucky Boys and Lonnoe Johnson, finds him in good voice on this number which is one of best efforts.

Guitar Nubbit – Boston's Own (Word Doc)

Guitar Nubbit – Re-Living The legend (Word Doc)

Guitar Nubbit – From Blues Unlimited 17 (Word Doc)