Entries tagged with “Hambone Willie Newbern”.


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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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Leroy CarrMean Mistreater MamaWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Robert JohnsonKind Hearted Woman BluesThe Centennial Edition
Elijah WaldRobert Johnson InfluencesInterview
Kokomo ArnoldSissy Man BluesBack To The Crossroads
Johnnie TempleLead Pencil BluesBack To The Crossroads
Robert JohnsonI Believe I'll Dust My BroomThe Centennial Edition
Calvin Frazier I'm In The Highway, ManMotor City Blues
Elmore JamesDust My BroomThe Complete Early Years
Robert LockwoodDust My BroomSweet Home Chicago
Larry CohnRobert Johnson Reissues & Box SetInterview
Kokomo ArnoldOld Original Kokomo BluesBack To The Crossroads
Robert JohnsonSweet Home ChicagoThe Centennial Edition
Honeyboy EdwardsSweet Home Chicago Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Larry CohnThe Complete RecordingsInterview
Robert JohnsonRamblin' On My MindThe Centennial Edition
Johnnie ShinesRamblin' Sweet Home Chicago
Tampa RedThing 'Bout Coming My WayBack To The Crossroads
Robert JohnsonCome On In My KitchenThe Centennial Edition
Son HousePreachin' The Blues Pt. 1Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Robert JohnsonPreachin' Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)The Centennial Edition
Muddy WatersCountry Blues #1/Interview The Complete Plantation Recordings
Hambone Willie NewbernRoll And Tumble BluesBack To The Crossroads
Robert JohnsonTraveling Riverside BluesThe Centennial Edition
Robert JohnsonIf I Had Possession Over Judgment DayThe Centennial Edition
Skip JamesDevil Got My WomanBlues images Vol. 3
Elijah WaldRobert Johnson & Skip JamesInterview
Robert JohnsonHell Hound On My Trail The Centennial Edition
Robert JohnsonCross Road BluesThe Centennial Edition
Larry CohnIn The StudioInterview
Robert JohnsonMe And The Devil Blues BluesThe Centennial Edition
Robert JohnsonStones In My PasswayThe Centennial Edition
Robert JohnsonFrom Four Until LateThe Centennial Edition
Elijah WaldRobert Johnson In ContextInterview
Leroy CarrWhen The Sun Goes DownBack To The Crossroads
Robert JohnsonLove In Vain BluesThe Centennial Edition

Show Notes:

You'll notice there's no Robert Johnson photo in this week's show notes . Well there was, but Steve LaVere has come knocking demanding payment for use of the photo (see the comments). LaVere was the administrator of the Johnson estate for many years and continues to earn his 50 percent (another Johnson relative earns the other half). LaVere is a much loathed figure in the blues world who's made a pretty penny from a brilliant musician who probably never had two nickels to rub together and died in a paupers grave.

Unfortunately this obsession on every minutiae of Johnson’s life has taken away the focus on his very real talents and perhaps more importantly this lopsided focus on Johnson has obscured the fact that he was very much part of a tradition; his music firmly built on the artists who came before like Lonnie Johnson and Tampa Red who don’t get a shred of the acclaim that Johnson does. As we've heard endlessly, 2011 marks the centennial of Johnson's birth which means the Johnson hysteria ramps up all over again. Still, I thought it was important to pay tribute to Johnson, who despite the hype, cut some terrific records and ranks as one of the best of the era. After not really listening to Johnson much I've been listening to him quite a bit in preparation for this show and I almost forgot how much I enjoyed his music. In addition there's a brand new Johnson collection, The Centennial Collection, a 2-CD set of everything he recorded in the best sound to date. All today's Johnson songs come from that collection. Today's show attempts to put Johnson in his proper historical context, playing many artists who directly influenced his songs like Kokomo Arnold, Leroy Carr, Skip James, Hambone Willie Newbern, Son House among others plus those directly influenced by Johnson like Robert Lockwood, Johnny shines an others. In addition we air interviews by Larry Cohn, who produced the landmark Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings and Elijah Wald author of Escaping The Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues.

I'm not going to go into Johnson's biography as there's plenty written on that already but I thought it worth quoting Tony Russell's perceptive view: "To see Johnson clearly the reader needs to steer a steady course between fanatics and debunkers, understanding the context of his music – the undeniable influence of House and Lonnie Johnson, his many allusions to records that were around him when he was learning his trade – but at the same time recognizing the skill with which he synthesized those elements, and the wholly individual character of much of his finished work. In particular, Johnson deserve to be acknowledged as the master of the complete blues:  the son conceived as a dramatic whole rather than am arbitrary sequence of scenes, of verses casually pinned to a formulaic accompaniment. Th emotional architecture of a performance like 'Come On In My Kitchen', the tender erotic plea echoed by tremulous slide guitar, or of 'Hellhound On My Trail', a distraught, fragmented reconsideration of Skip James's 'Devil Got My Woman',; the intricate interdependence of voice and guitar in 'Walkin' Blues' and 'Preachin' Blues' – all this attests to a concept of blues composition that was beyond the scope of many of Johnson's contemporaries."

"Kind Hearted Woman Blues" was the first song that Johnson recorded, and it was carefully crafted in imitation of recent hit records. It was composed as if in answer to "Cruel Hearted Woman Blues" by Bumble Bee Slim, which in turn was based on "Mean Mistreater Mama" by Leroy Carr accompanied by Scrapper Blackwell. Johnson uses the Carr melody and his guitar accompaniment echoes Carr's piano phrases in the first verse, then copies Blackwell's guitar phrases in the second verse. He then adds a musical bridge in the style of another hit record, "Milk Cow Blues" by Kokomo Arnold. "Love In Vain Blues" was another number derived from Carr. "Love in Vain" takes its musical structure from Carr's classic "When the Sun Goes Down". In the 1991 documentary film The Search for Robert Johnson, John Hammond plays Robert's recording of "Love in Vain" for the elderly Willie Mae Powell, the woman for whom it was supposedly written. Johnson moans "Oh, Willie Mae" in his last verse.

"I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" was the second song that Johnson recorded, immediately after "Kind Hearted Woman Blues". Unlike the many versions by other musicians, Johnson's original accompaniment was finger picked, and not played as a bottleneck or slide guitar. Leroy Carr’s original hit was "I Believe I’ll Make A Change" recorded in August 1934. Kokomo Arnold used the tune for two records: "Sagefield Woman Blues" recorded in September 1934 and "Sissy Man Blues" recorded in January 1935. It seems likely that Johnson owned and studied both of Arnold’s records. Another possibility is that Johnson heard Arnold in person performing a number of verses to this melody. However, Edward Komara suggests that Johnson may have begun developing his version of the song as early as 1933, since it had already been recorded by the Sparks Brothers as "I Believe I'll Make A Change" in 1932 and by Jack Kelly as "Believe I'll Go Back Home" in 1933. Arnold's version a borrows a verse from "Mr Carl’s Blues" recorded by Carl Rafferty in December 1933.The melody is somewhat different, but Paul Oliver considers it to be the same song. "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" was not covered until Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's 1949 recording entitled "Dust My Broom". In 1951, Robert Lockwood recorded "Dust My Broom" for J.O.B. on March 22 and for Mercury on November 15. Also in 1951, Elmore James made his first recording of "Dust My Broom" for the Trumpet Records label.

When celebrated bluesman Robert Johnson turned up at his mother’s door, the young Lockwood found a mentor. "He followed my momma home," Lockwood explained. "That’s how I first met him, followed my momma home. And she couldn’t get rid of him. He wouldn’t leave. He hung around there and hung around there. And he and my momma stayed together off and on for ten years." In fact, Johnson is considered by many to have been Lockwood’s stepfather. "He taught me how to play," Lockwood told the Plain Dealer. "I really appreciate that. … He didn’t like people to fool with his instrument. [But] he didn’t seem to mind me fooling with it."

Johnny Shines moved from Tennessee to Hughes, Arkansas in 1932 and worked on farms for three years putting his musical career on hold. It was this chance meeting with Robert Johnson, his greatest influence, that gave him the inspiration to return to music. In 1935, Shines began traveling with Johnson, touring the south and heading as far north as Ontario where they appeared on a local radio program. The two went their separate ways in 1937, one year before Johnson's death.

Like Shines, Calvin Frazier was another running partner of Johnson's. Frazier was born in Osceola, Arkansas, and originally performed with his own brothers. Befriending Johnny Shines, in 1930 they jointly travelled to Helena, Arkansas where they met Robert Johnson. The threesome moved on to Detroit, Michigan, performing hymns on local radio stations. Frazier and Johnson returned south where they played along with the drummer, James 'Peck' Curtis. In 1938, he was recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress. His recordings included "Lily Mae", a revised version of Johnson's "Honeymoon Blues","Highway 51", a version of "Dust My Broom" and "I'm In The Highway, Man" a version of Terraplane Blues."

"Ramblin' On My Mind" uses the melody made popular by the hit record "M & O Blues" by Walter Davis. Johnson composed two songs to this melody "Ramblin' On My Mind" and "When You Got A Good Friend." We play this back to with Shines' powerful 1951 update, "Ramblin'. cut for the JOB label.

Scrapper Blackwell recorded "Kokomo Blues" in 1928 which was transformed into "Old Kokomo Blues" by Kokomo Arnold before being redone as "Sweet Home Chicago" by Robert Johnson. The song also has roots in the 1927 Madlyn Davis song "Kokola Blues" and Jabo Williams 1932 song "Ko Ko Mo Blues." Tommy McClennan's "Baby Don't You Want To Go" (1939) and Walter Davis' "Don't You Want To Go" (1941) were early numbers both based on Johnson's chorus. Honeyboy was a friend of Robert Johnson and was supposedly present on the fateful night Johnson drank the poisoned whiskey that took his life. We spin his version of "Sweet Home Chicago" " cut in 1952 for Sun but not issued at the time.

The "Come On In My Kitchen" melody is based on the song cycle by the string band the Mississippi Sheiks, "Sitting on Top of the World" (1930). Johnson's arrangement on slide guitar is based on Tampa Red's recording of "Things 'Bout Coming My Way." Tampa Red had also recorded an instrumental version in 1936.

Johnson picked up "Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)" and "Walking Blues" from Son House. As House's biographer, Dan Beaumont, writes: "Due to his live performances, the song was heard and learned by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Johnson lifted the riff from "My Black Mama" and set the lyrics of "Walking Blues" to that accompaniment. Waters seems to have worked from both artists. In any case, through those intermediaries, the song became the most covered piece among House’s recordings. …Since House's Grafton recording of "Walking Blues" was never released by Paramount (was only found in 1989 on a test disc) Johnson must have learned the lyrics from House’s live performances of it in the Robinsonville area. Johnson basically straightened out House’s musical accompaniment, in the process creating a song that would, by and by, become a blues standard. Johnson also recorded "Preachin’ Blues," in this instance remaining closer to the House original. Since that record sold very poorly (only one copy has ever been found), it is likely again that Johnson learned the piece from House in person. It is apparent that Johnson also tried to emulate House’s vocal style."

Johnson followed Johnny Temple and Joe McCoy in adapting Skip James's song "Devil Got My Woman." Johnson's "Hell Hound On My Trail" is inspired by the James number, either through James' record or indirectly through Johnnie Temple. According to a biography of Skip James, from recorded taped interviews, Joe McCoy was responsible for the first recording of this song but it was not released until 1940. According to guitarist John Miller, Temple's first recorded number, "Lead Pencil Blues", was very forward-looking number–a shuffle with duet guitar accompaniment in which the guitar laying down the time was employing the classic riff associated with Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago" and countless blues since then." Temple cut the song six months before Johnson's  "Sweet Home Chicago" but the actual origins of the riff are impossible to discern.  of Johnson's "32-20" is also based on a Skip James song, "22-20 Blues" which James recorded on piano.

The original version of "Cross Road Blues" remained out of print after its initial release until the appearance of The Complete Recordings in 1990. In 1961, producer Frank Driggs substituted the previously unreleased alternate take on the first reissue of Johnson's work, the long-playing album King of the Delta Blues Singers.

As Elijah Wald notes in an interview "After the book came out, somebody suddenly pulled up this recording of a song called "Four O'Clock Blues," recorded by a Memphis trumpet player named Johnny Dunn in 1922, so fourteen years before Robert Johnson recorded "From Four Till Late," fifteen years. And it's clearly the same song. It has no lyric, but clearly around Memphis they were doing this song that Robert Johnson recorded as "From Four Till Late," and we just didn't happen to hear it. We aren't in Memphis. But if you listen to Johnny Dunn's version from 1922, it's clearly the same song."

-Larry Cohn Interview (edited, 12 min, MP3)

-Elijah Wald Interview (edited, 22 min, MP3)

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Son HousePreachin' The BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Charlie PattonPrayer of DeathScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Bukka White I Am In The Heavenly WayGoodbye Babylon
Robert Wilkins That's No Way To Get AlongMemphis Blues 1928-1935
Robert Wilkins Holy Ghost TrainThis Old World's In A Hell Of A Fix
Christina GrayThe Reverend Is My ManFemale Blues Singers Vol. 7 G/H 1922-1929
Bessie SmithPreachin' The BluesThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Sister O.M. TerrellThe Bible's RightGoodbye Babylon
Monkey JoePreach, Pray And MoanMonkey Joe Vol. 1 1935-1939
Frank Stokes You ShallThe Best Of
Sister Rosetta TharpeTrouble In Mind The Original Soul Sister
Sister Rosetta TharpeDown By The Riverside The Original Soul Sister
Arthur AndersonIf You Want To Make A Preacher CussField Recordings Vol. 9
Hambone Willie NewbernNobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does )Don't Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Memphis Minnie & Kansas JoePreachers BluesMemphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 2 1929-1930
Rev Anderson JohnsonGod Don't Like It Get Right With God: Hot Gospel 1947-1953
Robert JohnsonPreachin' The BluesThe Centennial Collection
John Lee Hooker Burnin' HellBurnin' Hell
Sylvester WeaverDevil BluesSylvester Weaver Vol. 2 1927
Lonnie JohnsonShe's Makin' Whoopee in Hell TonightThe Original guitar Wizard
Roosevelt GravesWoke Up This Morning (With My Mind on Jesus)Blind Roosevelt Graves 1929-1936
Roosevelt GravesNew York BluesBlind Roosevelt Graves 1929-1936
Blind Willie JohnsonYou'll Need Somebody on Your BondBlind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists
Arizona DranesI Shall Wear A CrownVintage Mandolin Music
Rev. Utah SmithGod's Mighty HandBlind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists
Josh WhitePure Religion HalliluJosh White Vol. 1 1929-33
Rev. Gary DavisYou Got To Go Down
Meet You At The Station
Georgia TomHow About YouThe Essential
Georgia TomMaybe It's The BluesThe Essential
Luke JordanChurch BellsDon't Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Ben CurryAdam And Eve In The GardenAlabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924-1949
Mississippi SheiksHe Calls That ReligionBlues images Vol. 3
Louis JordanDeacon JonesLet The Good Times Roll 1938-1954
Harlem HamfatsHallelujah Joe Ain't Preachin' No MoreHarlem Hamfats Vol. 2 1936-1937
Little EstherThe Deacon Moves In Midnight At The Barrelhouse

Show Notes:

Today's show examines the intersection between blues and religious music. In the early 1900's, blues singing was associated with the brothel, juke joint, and the dregs of African-American society. Black church goers called it the "Devils' Music" as the following quote, told to Paul Oliver, reflects: "When she was singin' the blues I told her-she was pavin' her way to Hell," said Emma Williams of her daughter', the blues singer Mary Johnson…" This view was also shared by some former blues singers: "A man's who's singin' the blues- I think it's a sin because it cause other people to sin," said Lil Son Jackson" who gave up blues for the church. As Oliver notes, "Musically the blues and the spirituals, or the spirituals' successor, the gospel song, may have stemmed from common sources. But in the recording era, though they shared on occasion similar instrumentation and voices, they were separate and distinct." Despite this divide, religious imagery is prevalent throughout blues music, particularly the blues of the 20's and 30's; songs talk about the devil, make fun of the preachers, deacons and reverends, use biblical imagery and speak of the afterlife, both heaven and hell in frank terms. In addition there's a slew of bluesman who struggled between blues and religion like Son House, blues artists who moonlighted by singing gospel like Charlie Patton, Blind Boy Fuller, Skip, James, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Lemon Jefferson, among many others and those bluesmen who eventually turned full time to religion like Robert Wilkins,  Rev. Gary Davis, Georgia Tom, Rube Lacey, Ishman Bracey, Gatemouth Moore and many others. On the flipside are artists who straddled blues and gospel like Blind Roosevelt Graves, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and those artists who's musical language was similar to the blues artists, most notably the so-called guitar evangelists like Blind Willie Johnson, Rev. Edward Clayborn, Sister O.M. Terrell and others, plus sanctified singers and groups who's instrumentation drew from secular music like blues and jazz. We explore all this and more on the first installment of a two-part feature on blues and religion.

Today's title takes its name from the famous 1930 Son House recording, "Preachin the Blues", a savage attack on organized religion—specifically in the form of the Baptist church:

Oh, I'm gonna get me religion, I'm gonna join the Baptist Church (2X)
Oh, I'm gonna be a Baptist preacher and I sure won't have to work

I'm gonna preach these blues an' I want everybody to shout
Oooo…oh, I want everybody to shout
I'm gonna do like a prisoner, I'm gonna roll my time out

Oh, in my room, I bow down to pray (2X)
But the blues came along and blowed my spirit away

Oooh, I'd've had religion on this very day (2X)
But the womens and whiskey well they would no let me pray

In his younger days House became involved with the Baptist religion, and by the time he was twenty he was preaching in a church near Clarksdale. In his mid-twenties, House heard a guitar player named Willie Wilson (sometimes Willie Williams) playing bottleneck guitar and it changed his life. House bought a battered guitar. Wilson patched it up, put it in Spanish tuning, and soon House was accompanying him. Surprisingly enough, after becoming a bluesman, House continued to preach for awhile, an unlikely combination of careers that speaks of the conflict between religion and blues that would bedevil him the rest of his life. In 1936 Robert Johnson would do his version of the number. However, in 1934, Texas Alexander cut "Justice Blues" where he sang:

I'm Gonna build me a Heaven, have a Kingdom of my own (2x)
Where these brownskin woman can cluster round my throne

The song echoed a line from House' earlier number:

Ooh, I wish I had me a heaven of my own (great Godawmighty)
Then I would give all my woman a long, long happy home

These lines would crop up in other blues songs through the years including Lightnin' Hopkins' "I'm Going To Build Me A Heaven Of My Own." House also addresses the afterlife in "My Black Mama" recorded at the same session:

Yeah it ain't no heaven now, and it ain't no burning hell
Say where I'm going when I die, can't nobody tell

In 1948 John Lee Hooker cut "Burnin' Hell", derived from the House song and featured on today's show:

Everybody talking about that burning Hell
Ain't no Heaven, ain't no burnin' Hell
When I die, where I go, can't nobody tell

Unrelated to the House song where several similarly titled songs featured today such as Bessie Smith's "Preachin' The Blues", "Preaching The Blues" by H-Bomb Ferguson and Big Bill Broonzy's "Preachin' The Blues" which we played a couple of weeks back. In many versions of his life, Broonzy speaks of becoming a preacher for awhile. Unlike the House song, these songs represented the blues singer delivering mock sermons. As Oliver notes, "If the preacher could preach his sermon for God and his congregation, the blues singer could preach the blues for the Devil and those who aligned themselves against the Church. Most preaching parodies were in comic imitation of church sermons, rather than attempts at blues parallels to religious sermons."

The criticism of the preacher in House' song is reflected in a slew of related songs that took a cynical, humorous view of the preacher: Arthur Anderson's "If You Want To Make A Preacher Cuss", a field recording captured by Lawernce Gellert, Hambone Willie Newbern's "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)", Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe's "Preachers Blues", Hi Henry Brown's "Preacher Blues", Bob Robinson's "The Preacher Must Get some Sometimes", Mississippi Sheiks' "He Calls That Religion", Luke Jordan's "Church Bells", Christina Gray's "The Reverend Is My Man", Frakn Stokes' "You Shall", Little Esther's "The Deacon Moves In" and Louis Jordan's "Deacon Jones." The Mississippi Sheiks deliver a litany of problems with the preacher in "He Calls That Religion" which opens:

Well the preacher used to preach to try and save our souls
But now he preaches just to buy jelly roll
Well he calls that religion, but I know he's going to hell when he dies

and concludes:

Old Deacon Johnson was a preachin' king
they caught him round the house tryin' to shake that thing
Well he calls that religion, but I know he's going to hell when he dies

The subject of many of these songs was the preacher doing the very things he was railing against in his sermons, namely reveling in liqueur and sex as the Sheiks refer to it with the common blues term, "jelly roll." In "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)" Newbern sings:

Nobody knows what the good deacon's doing
I declare when the lights go out

While Luke Jordan sang:

And that lowdown dirty deacon
Stole my girl and gone

There was another song of this type that has roots in a widely known song that dates from before the turn of the century, called "Po' Mourner" or "You Shall Be Free." An early stanza went:

Some folks say a nigger won't steal
But I caught two in my cornfield

This was transposed to "preacher" in blues songs as in "You Shall" by Frank Stokes:

Oh well it's our Father who art in heaven
The preacher owed me ten dollars he paid me seven
Thy kingdom come Thy will be done
If I hadn't took the seven Lord I wouldn't have gotten none

Oh well some folks say that a preacher won't steal
I caught about eleven in the watermelon field Just a cutting and a slicing got to tearing up the vine
They's eating and talking most all the time

Oh well you see a preacher lay behind the log
A hand on the trigger got his eye on the hog
The hog said mmm he gun said zip
Jumped on the hog with all his grip

Now when I first went over to Memphis Tennessee
I was crazy about the preachers as I could be
I went out on the front porch a walking about
Invite the preacher over to my house

He washed his face he combed his head
And next thing he want to do was slip in my bed
I caught him by the head man kicked him out the door
Don't allow my preacher at my house no more

In the first verse Stokes uses the Lord's Prayer to make fun or the preacher. A variation of this also turns up in a Texas Alexander song "Justice Blues" which was mentioned earlier. The line "some folks say that a preacher won't steal" is one that also appears in another of today's featured songs, "Preacher's Blues", by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy. The caricature of the lecherous deacon persisted as evidenced by Louis Jordan's 1943 send up "Deacon Jones" (selected verses):

Who gets all the chicken breast
And leaves all the gizzards for the rest?
Deacon Jones, yes yes yes

And when a sister's feeling blue,
Who's always there to woo?
Deacon Jones, oh yeah

And before any of the church money is spent,
Who takes out his usual ten percent?
You guessed it … Deacon Jones

There was also  Little Esther's "The Deacon Moves In" from 1951:

Look out there Deacon
Do you really think I'm gonna weaken
Well now, sister pigeon
If you really want that true religion
You betta do what I say and see things my way

Later in the song one of the band members announces that "prayer meeting is downstairs." Also from 1953 was Wynonie Harris' "The Deacon Don't Like It." The latter song is related to the song "God Don't Like It" which was recorded by Blind Willie McTell in 1935, Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1939 and Rev.Anderson Johnson in 1953 which is the one we feature today. The song starts by railing against drinking:

So many people say they done cut whiskey out, just let them have a little wine
Lord they get sorta drunk every once in awhile, they must been drinking moonshine
But God don't like it (I don't either), sin ain't it a shame

And later takes takes a jab at the preacher, similar to the blues songs mentioned above:

Well the preacher went to the sister's house, she asked him to rest his hat
Now he began to laugh and grin said sister tell me where your husband at
But God don't like it (I don't either), sin ain't it a shame

Johnson cut two sessions in the 50's playing remarkable steel guitar gospel for the labels Angel and Glory. He began preaching as a child and in later years became noted for his folk art murals. He passed in 1998.

Today's program features several so called guitar evangelists. There is only a slight difference between a street-corner blues singer and a sanctified street singer, since both need to hold a crowd and make a few bucks. Blind Willie Johnson is the most famous and greatest of the guitar evangelists. Others from this period include Edward W. Clayborn, A.C. & Blind Mamie Forehand, Blind Willie Harris plus several who recorded slightly later like Rev. Utah Smith, Willie Eason and Sister O.M. Terrell.  Also worth mention is pianist Arizona Dranes who's playing has strong affinities to blues. Smith,Terrell and Dranes are all represented today.

Smith first was a traveling evangelist out of the Churches Of God In Christ before he settled in New Orleans. There he founded the Two Wings Temple and the song "Two Wings" became his theme song. Smith oftentimes used two wings while singing this song. Even before he came to New Orleans he played an electric guitar. He toured the South and was famous for this particular song. Smith recorded "Two Wings" first in 1944, but the 1953 recording is the more famous one. Sister Rosetta Tharpe stated Smith being one of the great "old" guitar players in gospel music.

Terrell was an itinerant "Holy Ghost Preacher" who recorded six sides for Columbia Records in 1953, and never recorded again. From the Depression years of the 1930's to the'50s, Sister Terrell lived the life of an itinerant evangelist and supported herself with her music.

Arizona Dranes is the most important performer for introducing 'hot' piano style to African American gospel music," says blues historian David Evans. Dranes had been living in Dallas when she was discovered by a traveling Okeh talent scout in early 1926. At the time, most gospel performances were vocal only or accompanied by guitar, but Dranes stood out with her boogie-woogie piano. Her inaugural session featured the vocals of blues singer Sara Martin. Dranes became Okeh's biggest gospel star. She began recording in 1926 with OKeh Records, first as a solo artist and later with choirs and various other artists and groups. Although she last recorded in 1928, she continued touring through the 1940s.

Everyone knows the story of Robert Johnson and the crossroads and his songs like "Hellhound On My Trail" and Me And The Devil" but devil references in blues songs were common in the 30's and 40's. Clara Smith sung "Done Sold It To The Devil" as early as 1924. Artists like Peetie Wheatstraw (who went by the nicknames The Devil's Son-In-Law and The High Sheriff of Hell), Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson, Sippie Wallace, Bessie Smith, Sylvester Weaver and others all used devil imagery in their songs. We play a trio of such songs today as performed Weaver, Lonnie Johnson (a prime influence on Robert Johnson) and Washboard Sam.

Several artists started off as blues artists and only to renounce the music for the spiritual world like Robert Wilkins, Rube Lacey, Ishman Bracey, Gatemouth Moore and others while others seem to have a foot in both worlds like Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Roosevelt Graves among others. There were also many blues singers who recorded the occasional gospel sides, sometimes under their own name but often under a pseudonym, such as Charlie Patton, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Willie McTell, Skip James, Son Bonds and numerous others. Then there were the gospel artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe who flirted with blues and gospel.

Charlie  Patton for instance, not only performed and recorded religious songs but for most of his life wrestled with what he thought was a calling to be a preacher. He cut several religious songs (some as Elder J.J. Hadley): "Prayer of Death" (Parts 1 & 2), "Lord I'm Discouraged", "I Shall Not Be Moved", "Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker", "Some Happy Day, "Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker", "You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Die" and "Oh Death."

Two months after his father's death, Josh White left home with a blind, black street singer named Blind Man Arnold, who he had agreed to lead across the South to collect coins after performances. Over the next eight years, he rented the boy's services out to different blind street singers, including Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, and Blind Joe Taggart (Taggart cut close to three-dozen sides, all religious, except for two most likely cut by him under the pseudonym Blind Percy & His Blind Band). While guiding Taggart in 1927, White arrived in Chicago. Mayo Williams, a producer for Paramount Records, recognized White's talents and began using him as a session guitarist. He backed up many artists for recordings before recording his first popular Paramount recording as well as recording with Taggert.Late in 1930, New York's ARC Records sent two A&R men to find Joshua White. They found him at his mother's home in Greenville, NC. After promising Mrs. White that they would not record the "Devil's Music", and only have Josh record religious songs, she finally agreed to sign a contract for $100. White moved to New York City, billed as "Joshua White – The Singing Christian". Within a few months, after recording all of his religious repertoire, ARC explained to White that he could make more money if he also recorded the blues repertoire he had learned, in addition to working as a session man for other artists. White, at 18 and still underage, signed a new contract under the name "Pinewood Tom" in 1932 and began cutting blues.

Early musical experiences at Center Raven Baptist Church in Gray Court, South Carolina, were at the core of strong religious convictions that helped Gary Davis cope with blindness, and in 1937 he was ordained as minister of the Free Baptist Connection Church in Washington, North Carolina. For years he toured as a singing gospel preacher and also sang on the streets, mostly in Durham. During this period he crossed paths and eventually recorded with Blind Boy Fuller and other "Piedmont style" musicians, including Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. By 1940 Reverend Davis had found his way to New York City, where he was ordained minister of Missionary Baptist Connection Church. Here his recording career began in earnest, cutting numerous albums for a variety of labels.

"Georgia Tom" Dorsey first gained recognition as a blues pianist in the 1920s and later became known as the father of gospel music for his role in developing, publishing, and promoting the gospel blues. He registered his first religious piece in 1922 and became director of music at New Hope Baptist Church, where he fused sacred music with his blues technique. Dorsey continued playing the blues as well, and in 1924 Ma Rainey chose him to organize and lead her Wild Cats Jazz Band. However, Dorsey's greatest blues success came in 1928 when "Tampa Red" brought him the lyrics to a song called "It's Tight like That," and the two had an instant, hit. Under the name "Georgia Tom," Dorsey recorded more than sixty sides with Tampa Red, in addition to accompanying many famous blues performers, including Scrapper Blackwell, Big Bill Broonzy, Frankie Jaxson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Memphis Minnie, and Victoria Spivey. In 1932 he renounced blues music. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Dorsey worked extensively with Mahalia Jackson, establishing Jackson as the preeminent gospel singer and Dorsey as the dominant gospel composer of the time.

Not long after Robert Wilkins made his final blues sessions in 1935 his philosophy of life went through a radical switch, the catalyst being the casual violence and sleazy atmosphere of one of the typical house party gigs that he played. Apparently, it was enough to make him believe this music really was an instrument of the devil. Shortly after he joined the Church of God in Christ. He recorded only sparingly in later years; he cut one full length album Memphis Gospel Singer in 1964 plus several sides on various anthologies. He reworked "That's No Way To Get Along" on his 1964 album, Memphis Gospel Singer, into the gospel song "Prodigal Son" which was covered by the Rolling Stones on their 1968 Beggars Banquet album.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is widely acclaimed among the greatest Sanctified gospel singers of her generation. She was a flamboyant performer whose music often flirted with the blues and swing, she was also one of the most controversial talents of her day, shocking purists with her leap into the secular market—by playing nightclubs and theaters, pushing spiritual music into the mainstream. Tony Heilbut, in his book The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times, wrote that Tharpe "could pick blues guitar like a Memphis Minnie." He added that "her song style was filled with blues inversions, and a resonating vibrato. She bent her notes like a horn player, and syncopated in swing band manner. Above all, she had showmanship. … And, starting in 1938, she triumphed as no gospel singer has done since."

Roosevelt Graves hailed from southeastern Mississippi, born in 1909 without the ability to see. By his teens, he was a 12-string guitar playing street musician performing with his half-blind brother and guide Aaron (not Uaroy, as has often been reported), who backed him on tambourine and harmony vocals. H.C. Spier, the talent broker from Jackson, apparently played a role in securing recording sessions for "Blind Roosevelt Graves and Brother," as they were dubbed, first with Paramount in 1929 and later with ARC in 1936. The duo recorded both blues and religious music.

Joe McCoy is probably best know for the many sides he recorded with wife Memphis Minnie and later sang lead for the popular Harlem Hamfats. He seemed to have a short lived conversion and recorded several sermons as Hallelujah Joe. Within a year of cutting his sermons he he cut " Hallelujah Joe Ain't Preachin' No More" with the harlem Hamfats:

Hallelujah Joe (Hallelujah Joe responses throughout)
Ain't preachin' no mo'
Everybody though he was true
When he preach that song about What You Gonna Do?
Hallelujah Joe, ain't preachin' no mo'
He's swinging now so he a
in't gonna preach no mo'

Share
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:

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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