Entries tagged with “Gus Cannon”.


ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Gus Cannon Poor Boy A Long Way From HomeMemphis Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-34
Gus Cannon InterviewAmerican Skiffle Bands
Blind Blake & Gus CannonHe's In The Jailhouse NowThe Best of Blind Blake
Donald Hill Interview
Gus CannonI Met Mr. Toad Recordings Provided By Don Hill
Gus CannonShow Me The Way To Go HomeRecordings Provided By Don Hill
Gus CannonWalk Right In Recordings Provided By Don Hill
Cannon's Jug StompersMinglewood BluesRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 1
Cannon's Jug StompersViola Lee BluesWhen The Sun Goes Dow
Cannon's Jug StompersPig Ankle Strut Gus Cannon Vol. 1 1927-1928
Cannon's Jug StompersGoing To Germany Gus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Noah LewisSelling The JellyGus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Gus CannonCan You Blame The Colored ManMasters of the Memphis Blues
Gus CannonInterviewAmerican Skiffle Bands
Gus CannonMy Money Never Runs OutGood for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-37
Cannon's Jug StompersMadison Street BluesBlues Images Vol. 5
Cannon's Jug StompersBig Railroad Blues Ruckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 1
Cannon's Jug StompersHeart Breakin' BluesGus Cannon Vol. 1 1927-1928
Cannon's Jug StompersFeather BedBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Memphis Willie B. & Gus CannonSitting Here ThinkingBlues: Music from the Documentary Film
Gus Cannon Make Me A Pallet On Your FloorWalk Right In
Gus Cannon Come On Down To My HouseWalk Right In
Cannon's Jug StompersFourth And BealeGus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Cannon's Jug StompersLast Chance Blues Ruckus Juice & Chitlins Vol. 2
Cannon's Jug StompersWalk Right In When The Sun Goes Down
Gus Cannon Goin' Back (To Memphis, TN)On The Road Again
Gus Cannon Salty DogWalk Right In
Cannon's Jug StompersTired Chicken BluesGus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Cannon's Jug StompersPrison Wall BluesGus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Gus Cannon Walk Right InWalk Right In

Show Notes:

Gus Cannon
Gus Cannon circa 1920

A remarkable musician, Gus Cannon bridged the gap between early blues and the minstrel and the pre-blues that preceded it. His band of the '20's and '30's, Cannon's Jug Stompers, along with contemporaries, The Memphis Jug Band, recorded the finest jug music of the era. On today's program we spin many of the classic Jug Stompers songs, songs Gus cut under his own name, sides he cut with others, a fascinating interview Cannon did in he 50's plus we talk to Don Hill who recorded Cannon in 1961. Much of the information for today's show come from the notes to Cannon's Jug Stompers The Complete Works 1927-1930 (issued first on Herwin then Yazoo) written by  Bengt Olsson. Olsson was a fine writer, an expert on Memphis blues and these notes notes are perhaps the best piece written on Gus Cannon.  A link to the notes is provided below.

Songs Cannon recorded, notably the raggy "Walk Right In," were staples of the folk repertoire decades later, and Cannon himself continued to record and perform into the 1970's. He learned early repertoire in the 1890's from older musicians, notably Mississippian Alec Lee. The early 1900's found him playing around Memphis with songster Jim Jackson and forming a partnership with Noah Lewis, whose harmonica wizardry would be basic to the Jug Stompers' sound. In 1914, Cannon began work with a succession of medicine shows that would continue into the 1940's. His recording career began with Paramount sessions in 1927 cut under the name Banjo Joe and also made sides with Blind Blake. In 1928 he began recording as Cannon's Jug Stompers, cutting over two-dozen sides with the group through 1930 for Victor. He returned in 1956 to make a few recordings for Folkways Records and made some college and coffee house appearances with Furry Lewis and Bukka White. In 1963 the Rooftop Singers had a hit with "Walk Right In" and in the wake of that recorded an album for Stax Records in 1963. He cut a few other scattered sides before his death in 1979.

Cannon's Jug Stompers
Cannon's Jug Stompers circa 1928

Cannon's first instrument was home-made but he soon ran away from home where he played banjo around work camps. "Gus grew up with banjo & fiddle songs – 'John Henry & all that mess' – all around him, as most of his brothers (nine in all & most older than Gus) played an instrument or two & would frequently get together with other musicians in the area." Around the turn of the century Cannon was in Clarksdale where he came under the influence of Alec Lee, 15 year his senior, who played with a knife on songs like "Poor Boy" and "John Henry." "Alec Lee was the first guy I heard playing on a Hawaiian guitar ..used a knife." About two years later Cannon recalled playing down by the Sunflower river. "..I was playing for Saturday night balls – that's when us colored folks had ourselves a time. Man I played the hell out of that banjo for $2.50 a night…" Cannon wasn't playing professionally at this time, still working different day jobs.

Cannon started out with medicine shows like Dr Hangerson's , Dr Stokey's, Dr Willie Lewis' and Dr W.B. Milton. From Virginia to Arkansas, billed as Banjo Joe, he worked for some ten years, 1914 -1928. He was accompanied by Hosea Woods, a longtime friends who could play guitar, violin and cornet and also sang. "I had to have a shot of liqueur before the show. If I didn't it seemed like I couldn't be funny in front of all them people. When I had one it seemed like all them people was one and I would throw up the banjo in the air and really put on a show." In 1916 Cannon moved North of Memphis to Ripley to work on a farm. There he teamed up with local musicians harmonica player Noah Lewis and guitarist Ashley Thompson. The trio played around the area until 1920. They would be reunited when Cannon formed his jug band in Memphis in 1928.

Back in Memphis, Will Shade had started the Memphis Jug Band. They became very popular in Memphis, often playing in Church Park, where Gus saw them. The Madison Rag AdMemphis Jug Band first recorded for Victor in February 1927 and over the next four years recorded 57 sides. By 1930 there were seven different jug bands active in Memphis. In 1928 Ralph Peer from Victor, who had previously recorded the Memphis Jug Band, returned to Memphis looking for other jug bands to record. Charlie Williamson, the manager of the Palace Theater, recommended Gus. By this time Gus had had a harness made for his jug so that he could wear it around his neck and play banjo at the same time. Gus called up Noah Lewis and Ashley Thompson and on Jan 30 1928 they recorded 4 sides in an old auditorium as Cannon's Jug Stompers.

The first recordings did well and in Sept 1928 an additional 10 sides were cut; 4 on Sept. 5 with Avery replacing Thompson, 2 more on Sept. 9 and then 4 more on Sept. 20 with Hosea Woods added on kazoo. The band’s major musician was Noah Lewis who demonstrated remarkable breath control, inventiveness, and mastery of his instrument. Lewis was born in Henning, Tennessee, and raised in the vicinity of Ripley. He played in local string bands and brass bands, and began playing in the Ripley and Memphis areas with Cannon. He cut seven sides under his own name at sessions in 1929 and 1930. Recording as Noah Lewis' Jug Band, he was backed on two numbers by Sleepy John and Yank Rachell with just Estes backing him on two other numbers cut a couple of days apart. Lewis died in poverty of gangrene brought on by frostbite in Ripley, Tennessee, in 1961.  As Cannon recalled: "Lawd, he used to blow the hell outa that harp. He could play two harps at the same time …Y'know he could curl his lips 'round the harp & his nose was just like a fist. Noah, he was full of cocaine all the time – I reckon that's why he could play sou loud and aw, he was good!"

After Cannon's Jug Stompers final sessions in 1930 Cannon would no record again for over two-decades. In 1957 he recorded a few sides for Sam Charters for Folkways which includes an interview which is featured on today's show. The recordings were issued on the album American Skiffle Bands. While recording in the South in the early 1960's, producer, writer Charters was inspired not only by the sound of Furry Lewis’s guitar, but by the patterns of movement in his hands and fingers as he played. Thus Charters decided to make a film that would document aspects of the blues that couldn’t be put on a phonograph record. In the summer of 1962, Charters journeyed through St. Louis, Memphis, Louisiana, and South Carolina to shoot the film The Blues and record this soundtrack. Artists featured in addition to Lewis are J.D. Short, Baby Tate,  Sleepy John Estes and Gus Cannon who performs "Sitting Here Thinking" with Memphis Willie B.

Gus Cannon
Gus Cannon listens to his first record album on Stax
Photo: Bob Williams/The Commercial Appeal files

In 1961 Dave Mangurian and Donald Hall recorded Gus Cannon, Will Shade and Laura Dukes over two days in Memphis. The recordings have been issued as bootlegs on Will Shade & Gus Cannon 1961 (Document) and  Memphis Sessions (1956 – 1961) (Wolf). It turns out that Donald Hill is a Professor at SUNY Oneonta, just a few hours from my house. I got in touch and Donald graciously made some time to talk about recording Gus and his friends over fifty years ago. Mangurian and Hall headed to Memphis after a spending time in Clarksdale where they recorded Wade Walton and spent time in jail on "suspicion" another word for "white outsiders." In Memphis they looked up Memphis Minnie and Son Joe and and managed to record Will Shade, Laura Dukes, and Gus Cannon in Shade's apartment on Fourth Street, just off Beale. "We recorded over two days. The musicians drank a lot as did some of the visitors who heard the music and joined us. We recorded a variety of configurations, including Shade on vocal, washtub bass, harmonica, and guitar; Laura Dukes, vocal and banjo-uke, Gus Cannon on vocal and banjo; and several others that came by to sing a tune or two. …Shade, Cannon and Dukes were real professionals."

In 1963, Cannon's vocals and banjo-playing were accompanied by Will Shade on jug and Milton Roby on washboard for this Stax Record release titled Walk Right In. It appears that he recorded at the Stax studio simply because he lived in the neighborhood. Only 500 copies of this album were pressed. Cannon was also featured in The Devil’s Music—A History of the Blues on BBC TV in 1976. Cannon passed in 1979, obituaries, including that published in Living Blues magazine, gave his age as ninety-six, although some reference sources give birth years of 1883 and 1885.

Related Reading:

-Cannon's Jug Stompers The Complete Works 1927-1930 [PDF] (Liner notes by Begnt Olsson)

 

 

 

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Andrew and Jim Baxter K.C. Railroad BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Mississippi John Hurt FrankieAvalon Blues: The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Blue Boys Easy WinnerBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Charlie Butler Diamond JoeA Treasury Of Library Of Congress Field Recordings
Geeshie Wiley Last Kind Words BluesMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Lottie Kimbrough Wayward Girl BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Richard ''Rabbit'' Brown I'm Not JealousNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Papa Harvey Hull & Long ''Cleve'' Reed Don't You Leave Me HereThe Songster Tradition 1927-1935
Willie Walker Dupree BluesMy Rough And Rowdy Ways Vol. 1
Joe Evans & Arthur McClain Two White Horses In A LineBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Mississippi Mud Steppers Jackson StompVintage Mandolin Music
Mississippi Sarah & Daddy Stovepipe Greenville StrutRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 2: The Great Jug Bands
Henry Thomas Fox And The HoundsTexas Worried Blues 1927-1929
Henry Thomas Red River BluesTexas Worried Blues 1927-1929
Lil McClintock Furniture ManBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Gus Cannon Can You Blame The Colored ManMasters of Memphis Blues
Luke Jordan Traveling CoonThe Songster Tradition 1927-1935
Jim Jackson I'm Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own Jim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Jim Jackson I'm A Bad Bad Man Jim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Jaybird Coleman I'm Gonna Cross the River of Jordan - Some O' These DaysAmerican Primitive Vol. I: Raw Pre-War Gospel
Papa Charlie JacksonLong Gone Lost JohnBroadcasting The Blues
LeadbellyBlack Girl (In The Pines)Where Did You Sleep Last Night: Lead Belly Legacy, Vol. 1
Crying Sam Collins My Road Is Rough And RockyCrying Sam Collins 1927-1931
Jaybird ColemanI'm Gonna Cross the River of Jordan - Some O' These DaysAmerican Primitive Vol. 1
Cannon''s Jug Stompers Bring It When You ComeRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 2: The Great Jug Bands
Coley Jones Traveling ManThe Great Race Record Labels Vol. 2 - Columbia
William Moore Tillie LeeRagtime Guitar Blues 1927-1930
Cow Cow Davenport Alabama Strut Mama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here
Pink Anderson & Simmie Dooley Papa's 'Bout To Get MadGood for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Show
Alabama Sheiks Travelin' Railroad Man BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Charlie Patton Gonna Move To AlabamaBlues Images Vol. 4
Tennessee Chocolate Drops Vine Street DragBefore The Blues Vol. 2
Birmingham Jug Band Bill WilsonRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 1: The Great Jug Bands
Dallas String Band Dallas RagBefore The Blues Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Today's program is a long delayed sequel to a show I did almost exactly two years ago. I finally got motivated to do a follow-up after several interesting conversations with Stephen Wade who I interviewed on the show a couple of weeks back. In his book, The Beautiful Music All Around Us, he discusses some of the music floating around before the blues emerged as the dominant black popular music and also illustrates the huge amount of cross pollination there was between white and black music. Wade suggested that to really illustrate this cross pollination I should include some white artists. While I agree with this, the focus on this show has always  focused on African-American music, namely the music that falls in the standard blues discographies. Still you can hear the commingling of white and black music in selections today by Joe Evans and Arthur McClain (The Two Poor Boys), Mississippi Mud Steppers and the Tennessee Chocolate Drops among others.

Henry Thomas: The Fox And The HoundsAs Richard Nevins writes: "Before the Civil War there did not exist in America two distinct bodies of music, one white and one black. Both groups shared a common tradition and repertoire. …Throughout most of the 1800's black and white fiddlers were playing the same tunes the same way, white and black banjo players were playing the same tunes the  same  way …black and white guitar players were doing the same tunes in the same exact tunings …and most importantly of all, white and black fundamentalist church congregations were singing the same hymns in the same limited modal scales, the exact same scales that defined the secular ballads of that  time …and later (1910-20) became the melodic base of what was to become the blues."

"Before The Blues" is something of catch-all phrase that can mean a number of things; the fact is that prior to the blues there was quite a bit of black music on record, stretching all the way back to the 1890's, recorded both in the United States and Europe. Recent years have seen a huge amount of research into this period with several important books ( Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, "Coon Songs", and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz, Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 and Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America 1850-1920 to name a few) and and reissues of early black music issued. What I'm talking about, however, is some of the older black music styles that were captured on record in the 1920's, often labeled blues even though it was clearly something different.

In the 1920's and 30's when black music first came on record blues scholar Paul Oliver noted that "for a dozen years a remarkable documentation of black vocal traditions was purchasable on commercial releases. …The diversity of singers, entertainers, jazz bands, preachers and other black artists represented on these records was remarkable.” Prior to the blues, reaching back to the nineteenth century there was a variety of black music before it got on record; there was ragtime, black vaudeville, minstrels, coon songs, work songs, dance tunes, medicine show entertainers, sheet music that found its way into black music and emphasis on banjo and fiddle music among other types. Songs were spread by traveling songsters, black road troupes, minstrel shows, tent shows and medicine shows. Although this music was not captured on record when it was in vogue many of these forms found their way onto records when blues was being recorded. Older musicians, born in the 1860's through the 1880's, learned early forms of black music that they brought to their records when they had the opportunity to record in the 20's and 30's. Some of it was shaped to fit the blues, the popular music of the day, while other songs remain more or less intact as performed by blacks decades prior. This was the  music of men like Henry Thomas, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, Daddy Stovepipe, Papa Charlie Jackson, the music of the jug and string bands and the music of the songsters and ballad singers. The records these men, and to a lesser extent women, recorded gives us a fascinating glimpse of the era before the rise of the blues. These older styles didn't disappear but remained parallel to the blues. An example of this is that as late as the mid-1910s the term "up-to-date coon shouter" was routinely applied to the likes of Clara Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith; but around 1916 they were redefined as "blues singers." As Richard Nevins points out: "By the early 1920's back country black musicians who were songsters conversant with a wide spectrum of American genres began  recasting the modal song part of their repertoire into Mississippi Sarah & Daddy Stovepipe: Greenville Strutblues. This transition required very little alteration and all at once they were blues musicians. Of course with the huge popularity of blues everywhere, they also commenced calling all the rest of their repertoire blues, even rags, breakdowns, and tin pan alley selections. The record companies were even worse, sticking the word blues at the end of almost all black secular music…" Below is some background on some today's artists and songs.

Henry Thomas, billed as "Ragtime Texas", was born in Big Sandy, Texas in 1874, and began his musical career as an itinerant songster, and recorded twenty-three songs from 1927 to 1929. He accompanied himself with the guitar and the quills, a folk instrument made from cane reeds. “Flailing his guitar”, Tony Russell writes, “in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpipes, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend.” The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 to 1929 provides, Russell notes, “a wholly absorbing picture of black-country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues.” Mack McCormick wrote one of the best pieces on Henry Thomas (Henry Thomas: Ragtime Texas – Complete Works 1927 to 1929, Herwin, 1975). Here's an excerpt: "He left behind a total of 23 issued selections which represent one of the richest contributions to our musical culture. It's goodtime music reaching out from another era: reels, anthems, stomps, gospel songs, dance calls, ballads, blues and fragments compressed in a blurring glimpse of black music as it existed in the last century. It's the songs that came out of the shifting days when freedmen and their children were remaking their lives in a hostile nation."

Born in the 1880’s, Jim Jackson was an experienced medicine show performer and occasional street singer. The Mississippi born Jackson had one of the biggest blues hits of the 20’s with his “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues.”  His recordings represent one of the richest veins of pre-blues music to be issued on record. Among these are songs like “I’m A  Bad Bad Man” which draws on a composition from 1894 and “I’m Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own” which dates to 1901. Barrelhouse pianist Speckled Red shared the stage with Jim Jackson in 1928 while touring through Mississippi and Alabama with the Red Rose Minstrels & Medicine Show. Red remembered Jackson as "a big fat feller, weighed about 235 pounds. Tall, stately feller too, and he danced, sang, played git-tar, cracked jokes." Jackson's long career with traveling shows began in 1905, and much of his repertoire was rooted in the 19th century. Among these are songs like “I’m A Bad Bad Man” which draws on a composition from 1894, “I’m Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own” which dates to 1901 and “Bye, Bye, Policeman”, played on the first show, which references a song from 1895.

Gus Cannon launched his medicine show career in 1914 when he joined Doc Stokey of Clarksdale, Mississippi. A tour with Doc Benson's show took Cannon to Chicago in 1927, Coley Jones: Travelling Manwhere he auditioned for Paramount Records and recorded a session with ace guitar picker Blind Blake. Cannon was in his mid-40's and his repertoire dates from the turn of the century on tunes like ”My Money Never Runs Out”, "Can You Blame The Colored Man" and one of the earliest blues, "Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home."

Chris Smith wrote: "[Joe] Evans & [Arthur] McClain are reported to have come from Fairmount, in eastern Tennessee, a region where blacks were outnumbered 12 to one by whites, and this goes some way to explaining the evident hillbilly influences on their music. Otherwise, all we know about 'The Two Poor Boys' is in the grooves oft heir 78s.” They cut 20 sides at sessions in 1927 and 1931.

Born circa 1880, Richard "Rabbit"  Brown spent much of his life in New Orleans where he was reported to have worked as a street singer and singing boatman on Lake Ponchartrain.  On March 11, 1927, Brown cut six sides for the recording pioneer Ralph Peer. Brown was a very much the songster and his recordings are an interesting mix of original blues, pop covers and "event" songs like his "Sinking Of The Titanic."

Born in Teoc, Mississippi in 1893, John Hurt moved to the town if Avalon at the age of two which remained his home for the rest of his life. Hurt cut two sessions in 1928 for the Okeh label and would not record again until 1963. Hurt’s repertoire includes blues from when he was growing up as well as ballads like “Stack O’ Lee” and  “Spike Driver Blues”, which references John Henry, and “Louis Collins” and “Frankie.”

Johnny Watson, alias Daddy Stovepipe was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 12th 1867 and died in Chicago, November 1st 1963. A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, he was in his late fifties when he became one of the first blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. He later recorded with his wife, Mississippi Sarah, in the 1930s and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings.

Crying Sam Collins was born in 1887, his stomping ground the Mississippi-Louisiana border region with a style similar to King Solomon Hill and Ramblin Thomas who were from the same region. Collins’ music draws from the era of minstrel and medicine show tradition reflected in songs like ‘Yellow Dog Blues”, “Salty Dog”, “Hesitation Blue’ and the first recorded version of “The Midnight Special.” His masterpieces, “Lonesome Road Blues” was a version of “In The Pines” which dates back to the 1870’s, and “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” which is a version of ”Long Gone.”

Pink Anderson & Simmie Dooley: Papa's 'Bout To Get MadBorn in 1891, Charlie Patton was older than the other Delta musicians who recorded during the golden age of the 1920s and 1930s, and he seems to have developed many of the themes that are now considered basic to the Delta blues repertoire. Remembered by history as a blues musician, Patton had grown up in the pre-blues era, and he played the full range of music required of a popular rural entertainer. Even though his recording career was sparked by the blues craze, only about half of his roughly fifty records can reasonably be considered part of that then-modern genre. The others are a mix of gospel and pre-blues music like “Runnin’ Wild Blues”, "Elder Greene", "Gonna Move To Alabama"  and “Prayer Of Death.”

Howard Armstrong was part of a whole generation of African-American string-band artists who played Americana in the 1920’s and 30’s for black and white audiences alike, everything from Tin Pan Alley tunes to gospel and blues. A field-recording team from Vocalion was in Knoxville twice between August 1929 and April 1930; setting up a temporary recording studio at radio station KNOX in downtown Knoxville’s St. James Hotel, where they recorded something approaching 100 tracks by several dozen musicians and musical groups from the region. It was during this session that a Vocalion record producer, looking for a memorable name that would spur sales, christened the Martin, Armstrong and Armstrong group, the “Tennessee Chocolate Drops.” They recorded one 78, “Knox County Stomp b/w Vine Street Drag.”

 

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Stovepipe #1 & David Crockett A Chicken Can Waltz the Gravy AroundGood For What Ails You
Beale Street Sheiks Chicken You Can Roost Behind The MoonBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Jim JacksonBye Bye PolicemanGood For What Ails You
Jim JacksonI Heard The Voice of a PorkchopGood For What Ails You
Chief ThundercloudSpoken Word The Last Medicine Show
Peg Leg SamWho's That Left Here Awhile AgoThe Last Medicine Show
Pink Anderson & Simmie DoleyPapa's 'bout to Get MadGood For What Ails You
Pink Anderson & Simmie DoleyGonna Tip Out, TonightGood For What Ails You
Beans Hambone & El Morrow BeansGood For What Ails You
Alec Johnson Mysterious CoonGood For What Ails You
Ben CovingtonAdam & Eve in the GardenGood For What Ails You
Chief ThundercloudSpoken Word The Last Medicine Show
Peg Leg Sam JacksonGreasy GreensThe Last Medicine Show
Gus CannonMy Money Never Runs Out Good For What Ails You
Cannon's Jug Stompers Bring It with You When You ComeRuckus Juice & Chitlins Vol. 2
Memphis SheiksHe's in the Jailhouse, NowThe Best Of
Frank Stokes I Got MineThe Best Of
"Big Boy" George Owens The Coon Crap GameSinners & Saints 1926-1931
Lil McClintockFurniture ManBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Henry ThomasRailroadin' SomeTexas Worried Blues
Hezekiah Jenkins Shout, You CatsGood For What Ails You
Peg Leg Sam JacksonBorn For Hard LuckThe Last Medicine Show
Peg Leg Sam JacksonHand Me DownThe Last Medicine Show
Papa Charlie JacksonScoodle Um SkooGood For What Ails You
Blind Willie McTellAtlanta StrutGood For What Ails You
Daddy Stovepipe & Mississippi Sarah The SpasmGood For What Ails You
Pink AndersonTravelin' ManMedicine Show Man
Peg Leg Sam JacksonJohn HenryThe Last Medicine Show

Show Notes:

Pink Anderson & Arthur "Peg Leg Sam" Jackson

Medicine shows flourished in the years following the Civil War when America’s patent medicine industry was booming and governmental regulations were few. They were called “med shows” or “doctor shows” and music was always a crucial part of the act. Onstage musicians served up comic songs, parodies, popular favorites, novelties, folk songs, dance tunes and instrumental specialties. In the early decades of the 20th century new musical forms such as jazz and blues were added to the mix. The musical acts were designed to draw a crowd before the “doctor” would step up and offer a remedy to cure the ailments of the crowd. The medicine show acts incorporated much from the minstrel shows, which by the 1840’s, were hugely popular. By the dawn of the 20th century the medicine shows were less extravagant, often including a lecturer-manager, a song-and-dance man, a blackface comedian, a string band and perhaps a comedian or ventriloquist, traveling by truck from one obscure town to the next during the spring and summer months, playing in rented lots or an open field. Many noted bluesmen spent time on these shows including artists like Frank Stokes, Jim Jackson, Gus Cannon, Howard Armstrong and Pink Anderson. Some of the medicine show veterans made records in the 20’s and 30’s and some of their recorded output gives us a glimpse of the type of music played on these shows. Today’s show features many of these artists and the songs they performed on the medicine show circuit. The bulk of these songs and much of the notes come from the fantastic 2-CD Old Hat release, Good For What Ails You, which comes with a 72-page color booklet detailing the history of the medicine shows with a profusion of rare photographs and previously unseen photos and illustrations.

In addition we spin music and spoken word from the last traveling medicine show featuring musician Arthur "Peg Leg Sam" Jackson and Chief Thundercloud. This was one of the last true medicine shows presided over by Chief Thundercloud (Leo Kahdot) who was still hawking “Prairie King Liniment” from the tailgate of his station wagon at fairs and carnivals in the Southeast in the early 70’s. In his heyday he traveled will a full cast of comediennes, dancers, singers and musicians, numbering as many as sixteen. In later years his lone partner was Arthur “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson, a medicine show veteran who learned the ropes back in the 30’s from Pink Anderson. The duo was recorded and filmed by Pete Lowry in Pittsboro, North Carolina in 1972. A subsequent, now very rare,  2-LP set of music and spoken word was issued on the Flyright label titled The Last Medicine Show.

Doctor Franklin Street's Washaw Indian Medicine Show, Hot Springs, AK, 1919.
Onstage, in blackface, are Jim Jackson (left) and Gus Cannon (right).

From the notes to Good For What Ails You, Marshall  Wyatt writes: "A performance usually commenced at sundown, on a wooden platform framed with striped canvas and lit with kerosene torches, or possibly a string of electric lights powered by a portable generator„ As the crowd, or "tip" gathered, the banjoist might render a medley of familiar tunes, tapping time with his feet and blowing a rack-held mouth harp. Next came a rapid-fire exchange of jokes and patter between Jake and a straight man, then more music and dancing, followed by the Professor's first pitch of the evening, often for an inexpensive product like soap or candy to soften customers for things to come. The entertainment continued with specialty acts, such as mind-reading or magic, alternating with comic songs, contests, and slapstick. The doc would probably deliver three lectures at crucial intervals during the course of a two-hour show, each promoting a different remedy. Florid oratory was entertainment in itself, and many a skillful pitchman followed the advice of Fred Foster Bloodgood: "Never use one word, when four will suffice." Showmen knew that a buying fervor was best cultivated in an atmosphere of sustained excitement. Typically, as the pitchman completed his harangue, entertainers dashed into the crowd, brandishing bottles of the doctor's elixir, while a contingent of musicians remained on the platform to strike up a raucous tune. If the doctor's pitch had "turned the tip" then such calculated chaos would cement the deal. Performers, rapidly exchanged their bottles for dollar bills, and created a sense urgency with cries of  "S·o-o-ld Out, Doc!" as they rushed back to the stage to replenish their supply. The evening's performance closed with an afterpiece, often a stock comedy routine or perhaps a promised special attraction, such as snake handling or sharp shooting, saved for last in order to discourage early departures. On the final day in town, a "blow off" was not uncommon, that is, high-pressure selling used to liquidate remaining stock before moving on."

Peg Leg Sam was a member of the last authentic traveling medicine show, a harmonica virtuoso, and an extraordinary entertainer. All of today's tracks by him have been extracted from The Last Medicine Show album. Born Arthur Jackson, he acquired his nickname after a hoboing accident in 1930. His medicine show career began in 1938 and ended in the early 70's "Peg" delivered comedy routines, bawdy toasts, and monologs; performed tricks with his harps (often playing two at once); and served up plenty of blues. He cut some albums in the 70's and was the subject of the film, Born for Hard Luck which was produced by Tom Davenport in 1976. Jackson died in in 1977.

Peg Leg Sam Jackson: Born For Hard Luck

Sam's mentor, Pink Anderson, spent many years on the road with medicine shows and learned guitar from his early partner Simmie Dooley, and older musician who was born in 1881. They recorded four titles together in 1928, one of which gives today's show its title. Anderson was born in South Carolina and toured throughout the Southeast mainly with William R. Kerr’s Indian Remedy, remaining with the show for some thirty years. He was employed not only as a musician and a singer but as a dancer and comedian. Anderson was extensively recorded by Sam Charters in 1961 resulting in three albums of material.

A whole constellation of Memphis artists performed on the medicine show circuit including Jim Jackson, Gus Cannon, Will Shade and Frank Stokes. Jim Jackson, who was taught guitar by his father, and was singing, dancing, and strumming the strings to attract crowds for peddlers of patent medicine as early as 1905. By 1915, Jackson was spending more and more time on the road with minstrel shows. Tall and weighing in at 235 lbs, he commanded attention with his booming voice, a knack for telling jokes, and his friendly, and a way of putting a song across. He toured with the Red Rose, Silas Green, and Rabbit's Foot Minstrel companies, sometimes in the company of Gus Cannon, guitarists Furry Lewis, and Will Shade, and pianist Speckled Red. Jackson traveled to Chicago in October 1927 to make his first phonograph record. "Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues" which was a huge seller. Jackson made further records in 1928, 1929 and his final ones in 1930 before passing in 1937.

Read Booklet (PDF)

"My Money Never Runs Out” has roots from the turn of the century and was composed by Irving Jones and published in 1900. Jones published songs as early as 1892, several of which found their way onto race records in the 1920’s. Today we hear the song as performed by Gus Cannon who recorded the song thirty years later with his band Cannon’s Jug Stompers. Cannon launched his medicine show career in 1914 when he joined Doc Stokey of Clarksdale, Mississippi. He later joked that Stokey's tonic sold "one bottle for a quarter, or three for a dollar!" A tour with Doc Benson's show took Cannon to Chicago in 1927, where he auditioned for Paramount Records and recorded a session with ace guitar picker Blind Blake.

The origins of the song "He's In The Jailhouse Now" aren’t clear but it was performed as early as 1919 by Marshall & Davis, a black vaudeville team and became a favorite of black traveling shows and jug band in the 1920’s. The song was recorded by Jim Jackson, Gus Cannon, Whistler’s Jug Band, Blind Blake among others. Will Shade, leader of the Memphis Jug Band cut his teeth in medicine shows as did members of his band and today we spin their version of the song.

Frank Stokes and partner Dan Sane recorded as The Beale Street Sheiks, a Memphis answer to the musical Chatmon family string band, the Mississippi Shieks. By most accounts Stokes was already playing the streets of Memphis by the turn of the century, about the same time the blues began to flourish. As a street artist, he needed a broad repertoire of songs and patter palatable to blacks and whites. A medicine show and house party favorite, Stokes was remembered as a consummate entertainer who drew on songs from the 19th and 20th centuries with equal facility. Solo or with Sane and sometimes fiddler Will Batts, Stokes recorded 38 sides for Paramount and Victor. Of today's featured songs, “I Got Mine” was published by a white composer in 1901 and taken up by black songsters. Big Boy Owens’ "The Coon Crap Game" is a variation of the same song.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Gus CannonOn The Road AgainOn The Road Again
Furry LewisGoing Away BluesParty! At Home: Recorded in Memphis 1968
Dewey CorleyDewey's Walkin' BluesThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1
Joe DobbinsBasin Street BluesThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1
Mose VinsonYou Ain't Too OldThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1
Sam ClarkSunnyland Train BluesThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1
Bukka WhitePoor Boy Long Ways From HomeLegacy Of The Blues Vol. 1
Bukka WhiteSad Day Blues Memphis Swamp Jam
Johnny MomentKeep Our Business To Yourself I Blueskvarter Vol. 3
Earl BellTravellin' ManI Blueskvarter Vol. 3
Rev. Robert WilkinsDo Lord Remember MeMemphis Gospel Singer
Rev. Robert WilkinsThank You, Jesus Memphis Gospel Singer
Gus CannonCome On Down To My House Walk Right In
Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Gus CannonGibson Hill On The Road Again
Dewey Corley & Johnny Woods Tri-State Bus Beale Street Mess-Around
Dewley Corley & Walter Miller Fishing in the DarkBlow My Blues Away Vol. 1
Memphis Piano RedMobile Blues Memphis Swamp Jam
Laura Dukes Bricks In My Pillow Tennessee Blues Vol. 1
Nathan BeauregardKid Gal Blues The 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival
Memphis Willie B.Overseas Blues Introducing Memphis Willie B.
Memphis Willie B.Stop Cryin' Blues Introducing Memphis Willie B.
Sleepy John Estes Need More Blues Memphis Swamp Jam
Sleepy John Estes/Yank Rachell/Hammie Nixon I Wanta Tear It All the TimeNewport Blues
Willie MorrisMy Good Woman Has Quit Me The Memphis Blues Again Vol. 2
Hacksaw HarneyHacksaw's Down South BluesThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 2
Walter MillerI Don't Care What You DoThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 2
Van Hunt & Mose Vinson Jelly Selling WomanThe Memphis Blues Again Vol. 2
Furry LewisI'm Going To BrownsvilleShake 'Em On Down
Furry LewisKassie Jones and a Message from Furry Party! At Home: Recorded in Memphis 1968

Show Notes:

Liner Notes: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3 -
Pt. 4 - Pt. 5Pt. 6
Liner Notes: Pt.1Pt. 2 - Pt. 3
Pt. 4
Pt. 5Pt. 6

Today's program is devoted to the Memphis country blues recorded in the 1960's. Of course the heyday of the Memphis blues was in the 20's and 30's. Memphis is the capital city of the Mississippi Delta, which stretches out south and west of the city in the states of Mississippi and Arkansas. "The Mississippi Delta begins on the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends at Catfish Row in Vicksburg", David Cohn wrote in 1935. The Peabody also happened to be the location of several recording sessions by artists such as Furry Lewis, Charlie McCoy, Speckled Red, Robert Wilkins, Big Joe Williams, Jed Davenport, Garfield Akers, Jim Jackson and others. By the time the race market was picking up in popularity nearly every major recording company either made field trips to Memphis or attracted Memphis artists to their Northern studios. Consequently, many great blues records from this era were made in Memphis or by Memphis area musicians. Among those names were men like Furry Lewis, Frank Stokes, Robert Wilkins and the great jug bands the city was so famous for, such as the Memphis Jug band and Cannon's Jug Stompers.

During the first half of the century Beale Street was the center of blues activity in Memphis. Writing at the end of the 1960's, researcher Begnt Olsson wrote: “Some years ago Beale Street was a rough, tough, gambling, whoring, cutting, musical, living street. Money was spent on cards, woman and whiskey. The liqueur and the music flowed in the many dives along Beale; ambulances howled; men and women were killed. Expensive cars were parked outside the gambling houses.” By the 1960's urban renewal decimated Beale Street yet many old time musicians remained; veterans like Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Will Shade, Dewey Corley, Memphis Piano Red, Laura Dukes and Gus Cannon were still hanging on. During the blues revival of the 60's many went down to Memphis to record these old musicians with the results mostly issued on small specialty labels. Many of the resulting records are long out-of-print.

Among those long out-of-print albums is The Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1 & 2. The records were issued on the Adelphi label and recorded in Memphis in October, 1969 and at the Peabody Hotel in June, 1970. These are wonderful gatefold albums with excellent notes and photos. We spin  superb performances by Mose Vinson, Willie Morris, Hacksaw Harney and Van Hunt among others.

Read Liner Notes

Originally from Holly Springs, MS, Mose Vinson worked as a clean-up man and part-time pianist for Sam Phillip's Sun label in Memphis. Between sessions, Vinson would sit at the piano and play "44 Blues" so often he eventually convinced Phillips to record him in 1954. He also appeared on records by James Cotton, Walter Horton, Joe Hill Louis and others, although his own Sun sides went unreleased for 30 years. Other sides by Vinson appear on various anthologies while his first full-length CD wasn't released until 1997.

From the time he was fifteen Willie Morris began hoboing throughout the Delta playing with Delta musicians including Kokomo Arnold. He moved to Memphis in 1938 where he worked with Franks Stokes, Will Shade, Gus cannon and others. he made a few recordings in the 1960's.

When Hacksaw Harney was in his early 20's he and an elder brother worked for tips and as backing musicians in Memphis but after his brother was murdered in a juke joint, Harney took up piano tuning. Robert Lockwood Jr. claimed that Harney was well acquainted with Robert Johnson and was a major influence on him. Harney spent most of his life in relative musical obscurity but in the late 1960's he was traced by folklorists to Memphis where he made some recordings for the Adelphi label.

Van Hunt spent the 1920’s in minstrel shows and was involved in the early Memphis blues scene. She cut "Selling The Jelly" in 1930 with the Noah Lewis Jug Band which hear her reprise today backed by Mose Vinson. She made some field recordings in the 60's and 70's.

It's only fitting we open and close the show with Furry Lewis. Pete Welding wrote that Lewis' music, "engagingly direct and sincere, typifies the best that the Memphis blues has to offer. If any single performer can be said to stand as the living embodiment of the Memphis blues, a perfomer in whose music can be found the full span of that urban-rural polarity, that man is surley Furry Lewis."

Lewis was born in Greenwood, MS and moved with his mother and two sisters to Brinley Avenue in Memphis when he was a youngster. His first guitar was supposedly given to him by W.C. Handy, a Martin that he used for decades. In 1925 he got together with Will Shade, Dewey Thomas and Hambone Lewis to form an early version of the Memphis Jug Band and like Jim Jackson took to traveling with medicine shows. Vocalion talent scouts saw both men in 1927 but it was Lewis who went to Chicago first in April where he cut six sides. He and Jackson went up together in October the same year with Lewis cutting seven numbers. Just under a year later Victor recorded eight more titles by Lewis in Memphis and Vocalion brought him in the studio one last time in 1929, cutting four songs at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Thirty year would pass before Sam Charters came knocking in 1959 subsequently recordings him for Folkways that same year with two more albums following for Prestige in 1961. There was nothing rusty about his playing as he had never stopped performing for neighbors and friends. Lewis was recorded often through the 1960's, with a slew of informal recordings issued posthumously. Bob Groom wrote in his book The Blues Revival that his "return has been one of the most satisfying of the [blues] revival." He played regularly at festivals around Memphis, appeared with Burt Reynolds in the movie W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings, sang "Furry's Blues" on Johnny Carson and was the subject of a Joni Mitchell song (he didn't like it). During this period Lewis' apartment became a pilgrimage for many visitors to Memphis, from blues fans, musicians to celebrities. Lewis died in 1981 at the City of Memphis Hospital.

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

Several of the old time jug musicians were still in Memphis in the 1960's. Renewed interest drew several out if the woodwork to record including Will Shade, Gus Cannon and Dewey Corley.

Will Shade got his first taste of blues music in 1925 when he first heard recordings by the Dixieland Jug Blowers, a jug band from Louisville, Kentucky. He then convinced a few of the local musicians, though still reluctant, to join him in creating yhe Memphis Jug Band. Shade himself played the guitar, washtub bass and the harmonica.The Memphis Jug Band had a fluid membership during the nearly 40 years that it was active. Between 1927 and 1934, the Memphis Jug Band recorded over 100 sides All the while, though, Shade was the backbone of the group, as he was the one responsible for finding new members to keep the jug band alive.blues revivalists found Shade and his old cohorts still playing together into the early 1960s and released several field recordings. The band during this period usually included Shade's long time friend Charlie Burse, whom Shade had picked up in 1928 as a vocalist and tenor guitarist, and sometimes included old rival Gus Cannon. Shade also appeared as an accompanist on Cannon's "comeback" album, Walk Right In, recorded by Stax Records in 1963.

Gus Cannon's band of the '20s and '30s, Cannon's Jug Stompers, were one of the best jug bands of the era. Songs they recorded, notably the raggy "Walk Right In," were staples of the folk repertoire decades later. Cannon learned early repertoire in the 1890s from older musicians. The early 1900s found him playing around Memphis with songster Jim Jackson and forming a partnership with Noah Lewis, whose harmonica would be basic to the Jug Stompers' sound. In 1914, Cannon began work with a succession of medicine shows that would continue into the 1940s, and where he further developed his style and repertoire. His recording career began with Paramount sessions in 1927. He continued to record into the '30s as a soloist and with his incredible trio, which included Noah Lewis along with guitarists Hosea Woods or Ashley Thompson. (Side projects included duets with Blind Blake and the first ever recordings of slide banjo.) Often obliged to find employment in other fields than music, Cannon continued to play anyway, mostly around Memphis. He resumed his stalled recording efforts in 1956 with sessions for Folkways. Subsequent sessions paired him with other Memphis survivors like Furry Lewis.

Dewey Corley was the leader of the Beale Street Jug Band from the '30s onward, and played jug, washtub bass and kazoo. In his later years, he also acted as an A&R man, helping record companies such as Adelphi scout out missing Memphis blues legends such as Hacksaw Harney and guitarist Willie Morris. Corley was influenced by Will Shade, joining Shade's Memphis Jug Band and was also a member of Jack Kelly's South Memphis Jug Band and also backed quite a few of the city's diverse bluesmen in duo and trio settings. His own Beale Street Jug Band was a most successful venture and became a fixture in Memphis for nearly three decades. He cut several fine sessions in the 60's and 70's.

Among the other big names residing in Memphis during this period were Bukka White, Robert Wilkins and Sleepy John Estes, all who had significant pre-war recording careers.

Read Liner Notes

The letter was addressed to: "Booker T. Washington White, (Old Blues Singer), C/O General Delivery Aberdeen , Miss." and forwarded to him by a relative. That was how John Fahey and Ed Denson found Bukka White in 1963 who was now living in Memphis. In 1930 Bukka White met furniture salesman Ralph Limbo, who was also a talent scout for Victor. White traveled to Memphis where he made his first recording. After a stint in Parchman Farm (he recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax there in 1939) he returned to Chicago cutting twelve sides in 1940. Then, Bukka disappeared dropped from the music scene, finding factory work in Memphis during World War II. Things moved quickly from the time Bukka White met up with John Fahey and Ed Denson; by the end of 1963 Bukka White was already recording on contract for Arhoolie Records. He recorded prolifically and thrived on the folk festival and coffeehouse circuit of the 1960s. He passed in 1977.

Like several of the former bluesmen turned gospel artists, Reverend Robert T. Wilkins recorded only sparingly in later years; he cut one full length album Memphis Gospel Singer in 1964 plus several sides on various anthologies. His early sessions for Victor in 1928, Brunswick in 1929 and Vocalion in 1935 are classics.

Sleepy John Estes was born in Ripley, Tennessee but was a longtime resident of Memphis. He made his debut in 1929 and made his last pre-war recording session taking place in 1941. Outside of a session for Sun in 1952 he was largely out of music until the 1960's.

We spotlight a number of fine little recorded Memphis artists who were recorded during this period. Among those are Earl Bell, Memphis Piano Red, Nathan Beauregard, Laura Dukes and Memphis Willie B.

Earl Bell was born in Hernando, MS, 22 miles from Memphis. He was recorded at the prompting of Dewey Corley. He made a handful of sides in the 60's, some with Corley and some with Memphis Sonny Boy.

John "Piano Red" Williams was born in Germantown, TN in 1905 and moved to Memphis with his family when he was nine. Red spent many years hoboing and met many roadhouse piano players. He recorded sparingly, with scattered sides on various anthologies.

During the folk and blues revival of the 1960s Nathan Beauregard was "discovered" in Memphis by Bill Barth, who convinced him to work as a musician again. It was widely advertised at the time that Beauregard was around one hundred year old but recent research suggests he was twenty years younger. In the short time between his "discovery" in 1968 and his death in 1970, he played at various folk and blues festivals and on a number of compilation albums on such labels as Blue Thumb, Arhoolie and Adelphi.

A lifelong Memphis musician, Laura Dukes was known as "Little Laura" or "Little Bit" for her diminutive stature. Her father, who played drums for W.C. Handy's band, put Dukes on the stage by the time she was five years old, where she proved to be a fine singer and performer. During the 1920's and 1930's, she performed for medicine shows, carnivals, and circuses. She also regularly performed on Beale Street during those years. Also during this time, she met the bluesman, Robert Nighthawk and the two spent several years traveling together and performing. She became a regular performer around Beale Street with the Memphis Jug Band, along with Will Shade and Will Batts. In 1961 she made some recordings with Will Shae and Gus Cannon (available on the out-of-print LP's Memphis Sessions 1956-1961 on Wolf and  Will Shade & Gus Cannon 1961 on Document), some unreleased sides in 1964, our selection which was recorded for the Albatross label in 1972 and appeared in the BBC-TV documentary The Devil's Music – A History of the Blues. Dukes passed in 1992.

Sam Charters recorded Memphis Willie B. through the help of Will Shade. "Usually I stop by Will's whenever I'm in Memphis, and over the years he's led me to other singers like Gus Cannon, Charlie Burse and Furry Lewis. …I stopped by in April 1961 …he mentioned that one of the blues singers he's known in the 1930s has stopped by his place a few weeks before. 'Charters recorded Borum at a session at the Sun studios for Prestige's Bluesville label, with one more session to follow. The albums were issued as Introducing Memphis Willie B. and Hard Working Man Blues. Borum, was a mainstay of the Memphis blues and jug band circuit. He took to the guitar early in his childhood, being principally taught by his father and Memphis medicine show star Jim Jackson. By his late teens, he was working with Jack Kelly's Jug Busters. This didn't last long, as Borum joined up with the Memphis Jug Band. Sometime in the '30s he learned to play harmonica, being taught by Noah Lewis, the best harp blower in Memphis and mainstay of Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers. Willie B. began working on and off with various traveling Delta bluesmen, performing at various functions with Rice Miller, Willie Brown, Garfield Akers, and Robert Johnson. He finally got to make some records in 1934 for Vocalion backing Hattie Hart and Allen Shaw, but quickly moved back into playing juke joints and gambling houses with Son Joe, Joe Hill Louis and Will Shade until around 1943, when he became a member of the U.S. Army. Memphis Willie B. passed in 1993.

Related Article:

-Willie, Furry & Gus by Jim Delehant , Jazz Journal 1965 ( PDF)

-Furry's Blues by Stanley Booth, Playboy 1970 (PDF)

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Henry ThomasRun, Mollie, RunTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasOld Country StompTexas Worried Blues
Gus Cannon My Money Never Runs OutGood for What Ails You
William Moore Ragtime MillionaireBroadcasting The Blues
Luke Jordan Pick Poor Robin CleanBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Texas Alexander Levee Camp MoanBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Andrew & Jim Baxter Bamalong BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Bogus Ben Covington Adam And Eve In The GardenAlabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924 - 1949
Frank Stokes Chicken You Can Roost Behind The MoonBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Frank Stokes I Got MineThe Best of Frank Stokes
Peg Leg Howell Beaver Slide RagViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Henry Williams & Eddie Anthony Georgia CrawlFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Daddy Stovepipe & Mississippi Sarah The SpasmGood For What Ails You
Bo Chatman Good Old Turnip Greens Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Beans Hambone & El Morrow BeansGood For What Ails You
Cannon's Jug Stompers Feather BedBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Jim Jackson I Heard the Voice of a PorkchopGood For What Ails You
Jim Jackson Bye, Bye, PolicemanGood For What Ails You
Richard ''Rabbit'' Brown Never Let The Same Bee Sting You TwiceNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Papa Harvey Hull Hey! Lawdy Mama -The France BluesNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Pink Anderson & Simmie Dooley Gonna Tip Out, TonightGood For What Ails You
Mississippi John Hurt Stack O'Lee Blues Avalon Blues - 1928 Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Spike Driver’s BluesAvalon Blues - 1928 Recordings
Furry Lewis Kassie JonesBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Joe Evans & Arthur McClain John HenryBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Alec Johnson Next Week SometimeMississippi Strings Bands & Associates
Hambone Willie Newbern Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Stovepipe #1 & David Crockett A Chicken Can Waltz the Gravy AroundGood For What Ails You
Crying Sam Collins Lonesome Road BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Charlie Patton Elder GreenScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Mississippi Sheiks He’s In The Jailhouse Now Mississippi Sheiks Vol. 2 1930-1931
Blind Blake Champaign Charlie Is My Name The Best of Blind Blake
Hezekiah Jenkins Shout, You CatsGood For What Ails You

Show Notes:

This show originally aired 11/7/10

The blues emerged around  1900, rapidly became very popular and was widespread by the teens. When recording started, there were still musicians around who performed material from the older traditions – men generally called songsters. Originally a 'songster' was a songbook but the term was adapted by African-Americans to mean a singer, as Howard Odum noted in  1911: "In general 'songster' is used to denote any Negro who regularly sings or makes songs: 'musicianer' applies often to the individual who claims to be expert with the banjo or fiddle." In the 1920's and 30's when black music first came on record blues scholar Paul Oliver noted that "for a dozen years a remarkable documentation of black vocal traditions was purchasable on commercial releases. …The diversity of singers, entertainers, jazz bands, preachers and other black artists represented on these records was remarkable.” Prior to the blues, reaching back to the nineteenth century there was a variety of black music before it got on record; there was ragtime, black vaudeville, minstrels, coon songs, work songs, dance tunes, medicine show entertainers, sheet music that found its way into black music and emphasis on banjo and fiddle music among other types. Songs were spread by traveling songsters, black road troupes, minstrel shows, tent shows and medicine shows. Although this music was not captured on record when it was in vogue many of these forms found their way onto records when blues was being recorded. Older musicians, born in the 1860's through the 1880's, learned early forms of black music that they brought to their records when they had the opportunity to record in the 20's and 30's. Some of it was shaped to fit the blues, the popular music of the day, while other songs remain more or less intact as performed by blacks decades prior. This was the  music of men like Henry Thomas, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, Daddy Stovepipe, Papa Charlie Jackson, the music of the jug and string bands and the music of the songsters and ballad singers. The records these men, and to a lesser extent women, recorded gives us a fascinating glimpse of the era before the rise of the blues. These older styles didn't disappear but remained parallel to the blues. An example of this is that as late as the mid-1910s the term "up-to-date coon shouter" was routinely applied to the likes of Clara Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith; but around 1916 they were redefined as "blues singers." Eventually these older styles were eclipsed by the popularity of blues although these older styles were still being performed in black communities into the 60's, 70's and beyond.

I've long been fascinated by this, for lack of a better term, pre-blues material and today's program will be the first installment of a multi-part feature. I'm far from an expert on the black musical styles before the blues but luckily I was able to draw on some excellent books, several of which have been published in recent years. In addition to these books, I finally got around to reading Paul Oliver's excellent Songsters And Saints published in 1984 and a valuable resource for today's program. Since then several superb books have been published; Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, "Coon Songs", and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz, Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 and Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America, 1850-1920. In addition there are several fine anthologies of pre-blues recordings. Among those featured today are Before The Blues Vol. 1-3 on Yazoo, Document's 3-CD set Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice: Blues, Ballads, Rags And Gospel In The Songster Tradition plus several on Old Hat including the 2-CD Good For What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-1937, Folks He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!: Vintage Fiddle Music 1927-1935 and Violin, Sing The Blues For Me: African-American Fiddlers, 1926-1949. Below is some background on some today's artists and songs.

Henry Thomas, billed as "Ragtime Texas", was born in Big Sandy, Texas in 1874, and began his musical career as an itinerant songster, and recorded twenty-three songs from 1927 to 1929. He accompanied himself with the guitar and the quills, a folk instrument made from cane reeds. “Flailing his guitar”, Tony Russell writes, “in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpies, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend.” The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 to 1929 provides, Russell notes, “a wholly absorbing picture of black-country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues.” Thomas embodied the term songster, cutting blues, rags, country stomps, refashioned coon songs and square dance numbers. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him from a former railroad conductor, “Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I’d always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was a regular hobo, but I’d carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket.”

The song "Pick Poor Robin Clean" has shadowy origins but it likely dates to the turn of the century. The song was picked up by songster Luke Jordan who recorded the number in 1927. The song was also recorded by Elvie Thomas & Geechie Wiley in 1931. Jordan was born January 28, 1892 , possibly either Appomattox or Campbell county, Virginia he died June 25, 1952, Lynchburg, Virginia. The blues scene in pre-war Virginia was poorly documented at the time and few of its members managed to record. Post-war research by Bruce Bastin reveals that Jordan was a key figure in the blues enclave centered around Lynchburg. Victor Records discovered him in 1927 and he recorded for them in Charlotte, North Carolina, in August of that year. Jordan's records sold well enough to justify transporting him to New York for a further two sessions in November 1929.

Frank Stokes and partner Dan Sane recorded as The Beale Street Shieks, a Memphis answer to the musical Chatmon family string band, the Mississippi Shieks. By most accounts Stokes was already playing the streets of Memphis by the turn of the century, about the same time the blues began to flourish. As a street artist, he needed a broad repertoire of songs and patter palatable to blacks and whites. A medicine show and house party favorite, Stokes was remembered as a consummate entertainer who drew on songs from the 19th and 20th centuries with equal facility. Solo or with Sane and sometimes fiddler Will Batts, Stokes recorded 38 sides for Paramount and Victor. Of today's featured songs, “I Got Mine” was published by a white composer in 1901 and taken up by black songsters while “Chicken You Can Roost Behind The Moon” has its roots in a song published in 1899. “Chicken” was a Coon song, a genre of music popular primarily in the 1880’s and 1890’s, that presented a racist and stereotyped image of blacks that were sung by both whites and blacks.

”My Money Never Runs Out” also has roots from the turn of the century and was composed by Irving Jones and published in 1900. Jones published songs as early as 1892, several of which found their way onto race records in the 1920’s. Today we hear the song as performed by Gus Cannon who recorded the song thirty years later with his band Cannon’s Jug Stompers. Cannon launched his medicine show career in 1914 when he joined Doc Stokey of Clarksdale, Mississippi. He later joked that Stokey's tonic sold "one bottle for a quarter, or three for a dollar!" A tour with  Doc Benson's show took Cannon to Chicago in 1927, where he auditioned for Paramount Records and recorded a session with ace guitar picker Blind Blake. ”My Money Never Runs Out” was advertised, with a short extract on the back cover by another piece by Irving Jones called “Ragtime Millionaire.” The song may be one of the earliest to make reference to the blues. We hear the song today as recorded by William Moore who recorded the number for Paramount in 1928. A resident of Tappahannock, Virginia, Moore recorded sixteen sides for Paramount in 1928.

Peg Leg Howell was born in 1888, arrived in Atlanta in 1923 and was recorded by Columbia in November 1926. The first session featured Howell solo and are certainly appealing but it’s the rough, exciting stringband music he recorded with His Gang that really grabs attention. The gang consisted of Henry Williams on guitar and the infectious alley fiddle of Eddie Anthony. Williams and Anthony recorded together without Howell on “Georgia Crawl” b/w “Lonesome Blues” on April 19, 1928. Unfortunately the trio only made a handful of recordings as Williams apparently died in jail in January 1930 while serving time for vagrancy and Anthony passed in 1934, after which Howell gave up music. Many of Howell’s blues verses date to shortly after the turn of the century. “Georgia Crawl” may be related to a song published in 1913 as the 'Georgia Grind", a later done by pianist Jimmy Blythe with the song picked up by several bands and singers including Duke Ellington's Washingtonians and Louis Armstrong. It's impossible to say where the duo picked up the tune.

Pink Anderson spent many years on the road with medicine shows and learned guitar from his early partner Simmie Dooley, and older musician who was born in 1881. They recorded four titles together in 1928. Anderson was born in South Carolina and toured throughout the Southeast with a variety of medicine shows during 1915-1945, picking up work wherever he could. He was employed not only as a musician and a singer but as a dancer and comedian. Anderson was extensively recorded by Sam Charters in 1961 resulting in three albums of material. From the notes to the compilation Good For What Ails You, Marshall Wyatt gives us some background on the medicine show: " Medicine shows flourished in the years following the Civil War when America's patent medicine industry was booming, and governmental regulations were few. Often called "med shows" for short, or simply "doctor shows," they were also extolled as "psysic operas" and their route was known as the "kerosene circuit" for the fuel that illuminated their stages at night. Whatever the name, music was always a crucial ingredient. Onstage, musicians served up a variety of comic songs, parodies, popular favorites, novelties, folk songs, dance tunes, and instrumental specialties. In the early decades of the 20th century, new musical forms, such as as jazz and blues, were added to the mix. …Such noted bluesmen as Sleepy John Estes, Sonny Terry, and Big Joe Williams spent time with the med shows, as did a whole constellation of Memphis singers and jug-band musicians, including Will Shade, Jim Jackson, and Frank Stokes.

Born in the 1880’s, Jim Jackson was an experienced medicine show performer and occasional street singer. The Mississippi born Jackson had one of the biggest blues hits of the 20’s with his “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues.”  His recordings represent one of the richest veins of pre-blues music to be issued on record. Among these are songs like “I’m A  Bad Bad Man” which draws on a composition from 1894 and “I’m Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own” which dates to 1901. Barrelhouse pianist Speckled Red shared the stage with Jim Jackson in 1928 while touring through Mississippi and Alabama with the Red Rose Minstrels & Medicine Show. Red remembered Jackson as "a big fat feller, weighed about 235 pounds. Tall, stately feller too, and he danced, sang, played git-tar, cracked jokes." Jackson's long career with traveling shows began in 1905, and much of his repertoire was rooted in the 19th century. "Bye, Bye Policeman" quotes the chorus of Ernest Hogan's "La Pas Ma La", published in 1895.

Born circa 1880, Richard "Rabbit"  Brown spent much of his life in New Orleans where he was reported to have worked as a street singer and singing boatman on Lake Ponchartrain.  Our selection, “Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice” was based on a song published in 1900. On March 11, 1927, Brown cut six sides for the recording pioneer Ralph Peer. Brown was a very much the songster and his recordings are an interesting mix of original blues, pop covers and "event" songs like his "Sinking Of The Titanic."

Born in Teoc, Mississippi in 1893, John Hurt moved to the town if Avalon at the age of two which remained his home for the rest of his life. Hurt cut two sessions in 1928 for the Okeh label and would not record again until 1963. Hurt’s repertoire includes blues from when he was growing up as well as ballads like “Stack O’ Lee” and  “Spike Driver Blues”, which references John Henry, and “Louis Collins” and “Frankie.”

Furry Lewis was a Memphis singer who was born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1893. He joined Jim Jackson on a medicine show as early as 1906 and worked such shows regularly for the next fifteen years. Prior to honing his musical skills he worked the shows as a comedian, sold corn medicine and liniment oils, or did vaudeville sketches, often in blackface. In 1927, Lewis made two trips to Chicago alongside his old friend Jim Jackson, with the purpose of cutting records for Vocalion. The sessions produced five sides in April and another six later in October of that year. Over the next two years, a total of 23 sides in all were recorded by Lewis for both the Vocalion and Victor labels.

Johnny Watson, alias Daddy Stovepipe was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 12th 1867 and died in Chicago, November 1st 1963. A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, he was in his late fifties when he became one of the first blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. He later recorded with his wife, Mississippi Sarah, in the 1930s and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings.

Daddy Stovepipe, Gennett Records Studio, 1924
Photograph From Talking Machine World

Hambone Willie Newbern had just one session, in Atlanta in 1929, at which he immortalized himself by making the first recording of "Roll And Tumble Blues". He was born about 1899, so John Estes, to whom Newbern gave some guitar tips believed. They met in Mississippi, working on medicine shows, and songs like "She Could Toodle.Oo", "Way Down In Arkansas" and "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)" come from that background. Newbern was also capable of writing very personal blues like "Dreamy·Eyed Woman", and "Shelby County Workhouse Blues."

Crying Sam Collins was born in 1887, his stomping ground the Mississippi-Louisiana border region with a style similar to King Solomon Hill and Ramblin Thomas who were from the same region. Collins’ music draws from the era of minstrel and medicine show tradition reflected in songs like ‘Yellow Dog Blues”, “Salty Dog”, “Hesitation Blue’ and the first recorded version of “The Midnight Special.” His masterpieces, “Lonesome Road Blues” was a version of “In The Pines” which dates back to the 1870’s, and “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” which is a version of ”Long Gone.”

Born in 1891, Charlie Patton was older than the other Delta musicians who recorded during the golden age of the 1920s and 1930s, and he seems to have developed many of the themes that are now considered basic to the Delta blues repertoire. Remembered by history as a blues musician, Patton had grown up in the pre-blues era, and he played the full range of music required of a popular rural entertainer. Even though his recording career was sparked by the blues craze, only about half of his roughly fifty records can reasonably be considered part of that then-modern genre. The others are a mix of gospel and pre-blues music like “Runnin’ Wild Blues”, "Elder Greene" and “Prayer Of Death.”

Alec Johnson and Ben Covington were two other artists who's repertoire drew on a pre-blues song book. While nothing is know of Johnson’s background, the six sides he cut in 1928 strongly reflect the minstrel and coons songs just before the turn of the century; songs like “Next Week Sometime” which was published in 1905 while “Mysterious Coon” harks back to an even earlier period. Covington worked in minstrel shows and earned his name for pretending to be blind to help him earn extra money. According to bluesman Big Joe Williams, Covington toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, as well as various medicine shows and carnivals, and even worked as a sideshow attraction known as "The Human Pretzel." He recorded about a dozen sides between 1928 and 1932,  playing harmonica, banjo and mandolin.

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