Today's show spotlights field recordings made by David Evans in the 1960's and 70's. The recordings from this period were a direct result of Evans' investigation into Tommy Johnson in the late 1960’s. His research led to the book Tommy Johnson (Studio Vista, 1971) and Big Road Blues (1982). Evans recorded many men who knew or learned directly from Johnson including Roosevelt Holts, Boogie Bill Webb, Arzo Youngblood, Isaac Youngblood, Bubba Brown, Babe Stovall, Houston Stackhouse and Tommy’s brother Mager Johnson. The bulk of these artists had not been recorded previously. The field recordings Evans collected have been issued on several albums, unfortunately almost all of them are out of print. Today we feature selections from the following various artist albums: Goin' Up The Country, South Mississippi Blues, High Water Blues, Sorrow Come Pass Me Around and The Legacy of Tommy Johnson. In addition we feature tracks from the Roosevelt Holt albums Presenting The Country Blues Of, Roosevelt Holt and Friends, The Franklinton Muscatel Society plus the Jack Owens album It Must Have Been The Devil and a collection of sides by Houston Stackhouse and Carey Mason titled Big Road Blues.
Goin' Up The Country was the first collection of Evans' field recordings. All the recordings were made in 1966. As Evans wrote: “When I first made these recordings in 1966, interest in the blues in America was still largely an underground phenomenon. Britain was the center of interest and research. Consequently, I sent a tape of my best recordings to Simon Napier, the editor of the pioneering British magazine Blues Unlimited. He was sufficiently impressed with the music that he kindly arranged with Mike Vernon and Neil Slaven to have an album brought out on British Decca, Goin' Up The Country. The album was subsequently reissued and remastered on Rounder in 1975. These sides have not appeared on CD. Of these recordings, Evans wrote: “…in 1965 I began recoding and interviewing blues artists on my own, and in the summer of 1966 spent about five weeks in Louisiana and Mississippi taping older country blues styles. These fifteen performances are among the best I recorded there.” Among the performers, only a few had recorded previously: Boogie Bill Webb cut some sides for Imperial in the early 50's, Babe Stovall had recorded a full-length album and Isiah Chattman played rhythm guitar on some sides by Silas Hogan.
South Mississippi Blues collects songs recorded between 1965 and 1971 and was issued on Rounder in the mid-70's. Evans writes of this collection: “All nine performers heard here grew up and learned their music in the vicinity of Tylertown (Walthall Co.) Mississippi in the south-central part of the state near the Louisiana border. …All nine of these musicians know each other, and most have at one time or another, played together in various combinations.”
The recordings on High Water Blues were recorded between 1965 and 1970, mainly in Louisiana and Mississippi and issued on the Flyright label in 1974. Of this collection Evans writes: “ln the last ten years I've recorded hundreds of blues by dozens of performers in Mississippi and Louisiana and some of the other southern states. Some of these artists like Roosevelt Holts and Jack Owens, Iwas able to record extensively, and l have presented complete LP's of their work. But there were many others who only recorded a handful of good songs for me. …I've selected for this record the best blues from some of here artists that I met briefly some years ago.”
The Legacy of Tommy Johnson was issued on the Saysdic Mathbox label in 1972, a companion record to Evans' 1971 book titled Tommy Johnson. As Evans Writes: “The songs on this album, although they are created by twelve different musicians, were all at one time part of the repertoire of Tommy Johnson, perhaps the greatest and best remembered folk blues performer the state of Mississippi has ever produced. …Versions of Johnson’s songs derive exclusively from personal contact, though many of the artists undoubtedly heard Johnson’s records at one time or other.”
Sorrow Come Pass Me Around is a beautiful collection of spiritual and gospel songs performed in informal non-church settings between 1965-1973. Most are guitar-accompanied and performed by active or former blues artists. The songs were recorded between 1965 and 1973 . Evans writes: “Most records of black religious music contain some form of gospel singing or congregational singing recorded at a church service. This album, though, tries to present a broader range of performance styles and contexts with the hope of showing the important role that religious music plays in the Southern black communities and in the daily lives of individuals.” The album was originally issued on Advent in 1975 and has just been reissued on vinyl on the Dust-To-Digital label.
Roosevelt Holts was born in 1905 near Tylertown, Mississippi, and took up the guitar when he was in his mid-twenties. He started to get serious about music in the late 1930's when he encountered Tommy Johnson. Evans began recording Holts in 1965 resulting in two LP's (both out of print): Presenting The Country Blues (Blue Horizon,1966) and Roosevelt Holts and Friends (Arhoolie, 1969-1970) plus the collection The Franklinton Muscatel Society featuring his earliest sides through 1969 which is available on CD. In addition selections recorded by Evans appeared on the following anthologies (all out of print): Goin' Up The Country (Decca, 1968), The Legacy of Tommy Johnson (Matchbox, 1972), South Mississippi Blues (Rounder, 1974 ?), Way Back Yonder …Original Country Blues Vol. 3 (Albatros, 1979 ?), Giants Of Country Blues Vol. 3 (Wolf, 199?) and a very scarce 45 ("Down The Big Road b/w Blues On Mind") cut for the Bluesman label in 1969 that we feature today.
Houston Stackhouse's family moved to Crystal Springs, Mississippi in the mid-1920's, where he learned songs from Tommy Johnson and his brothers and took up guitar. In the early 1930's, he moved to Hollandale, Mississippi where his cousin, Robert Lee McCullum (later known as Robert Nighthawk) lived. In 1946, Houston moved to Helena, Arkansas where he played with Sonny Boy Williamson on The King Biscuit Time show, on KFFA Radio. He played with Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, Roosevelt Sykes and Earl Hooker. He continued to play, but less frequently after he married in the late 1950's. Periodically, he returned to the King Biscuit show. In 1967 he made his first recordings cutting field recordings for George Mitchell and shortly after for David Evans that same year.
Jack Owens belonged to the pioneering generation of Bentonia bluesmen, which included Skip James and the unrecorded Henry Stuckey. Just as James’s recording career was nearing its end, Owens was beginning his, in 1966; his first album (It Must Have Been The Devil), produced by Evans, was not released until 1971 for the Testament label. The music of Owens and James, as Evans wrote, was distinguished by “haunting, brooding lyrics dealing with such themes as loneliness, death and the supernatural . . . Altogether it is one of the eeriest, loneliest and deepest blues sounds ever recorded.”
Over the years of doing this show I've played many long out-of-print records and I've finally decided to do a series of shows exclusively devoted to these records. While an impressive amount of blues has made it to the digital age, it may be surprising to some that there is a large cache of great blues albums, primarily from the 60's and 70's, that have never been reissued. I like to think of these records as sort of a hidden narrative of the blues running parallel but under the more mainstream blues or the blues records issued on some of the bigger labels, sort of the same as the field recordings I often play as compared to the commercial blues that was being issued. With the decline of CD's and the rise of digital music I have a feeling these great records will never get resurrected. The bulk of the albums featured in the series are from a slew of great small labels that issued records that probably sold in exceedingly small amounts. Over the course of these shows I'll be spotlighting albums from some of these great forgotten labels like Blue Goose, 77 Records, Albatros, Flyright, Spivey, Barrelhouse among others. For part two I'll be spotlighting a batch from Bluesville, which did have an extensive CD reissue program but left out some great titles. Below is some background on today's featuredrecords.
ABC-Paramount formed the BluesWay subsidiary in 1966 to record blues music. The label lasted into 1974, with the last new releases coming in February, 1974. The label issued over 70 albums, numerous 45's plus several titles that remain unreleased. The label has been spottily reissued on CD, usually by labels other than the parent company MCA, and in many cases these CD's themselves are out of print. The label had big names like B.B. King and John Lee Hooker but to me some of the more interesting records are by lesser knowns like Lee Jackson, Lucille Spann, L.C. Robinson and Andrew Odom. Farther Up The Road finds Odom is in fine form and the chemistry between him and Earl Hooker is faultless with Hooker getting plenty of room to cut loose. Among the highlights are the moody "Stormy Monday", the bouncing "Don't Ever Leave Me All Alone" and a crackling version of "Farther Up The Road" (two songs appear on the Earl Hooker anthology CD Simply The Best). The record wasn't treated well by the critics as Mike Leadbitter clearly expressed in a 1973 edition of Blues Unlimited: "What a bitter disappointment! Muffled sound, endless boring songs and total lack of variation. What have BluesWay done to my heroes?" The album was finally released in 1973 and virtually sank without a trace. Despite Leadbitter's assessment this is a worthwhile release and well worth resurrecting on CD.
Also from the Bluesway vaults comes Johnny Young's I Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping, Young's final recording, passing not long after this superb date. Young is in top form playing mandolin on all cuts backed by a tough band featuring stellar guitar work from Louis Myers and the debut by harp man Jerry Portnoy who is uncredited.
During the 1960's Nick Perls amassed a vast collection of blues records from the 1920's and 1930's. In 1968 he began transferring some of these onto LP, initially naming his label Belzoni but after five releases changed the name to Yazoo. Perls set up the Blue Goose Record label in the early 1970's. While on Blue Goose' sister label Yazoo Records Perls compiled rare 78 rpm recordings made in the 1920's by such singers and guitarists as Charlie Patton, Blind Willie McTell, the Memphis Jug Band, Blind Blake and Blind Lemon Jefferson, on Blue Goose Records he recorded only living artists. He cut albums by blues artists like Sam Chatmon, Son House, Yank Rachell, Shirley Griffith, Thomas Shaw and Bill Williams and Larry Johnson plus younger white blues performers like Jo Ann Kelly, Woody Mann, Graham Hine, John Lewis, Roger Hubbard, Roy Book Binder, R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders and Rory Block. The bulk of the label's output remains out of print.
Bill Williams, was a 72-year old bluesman from Greenup, Kentucky, when he made his debut for Blue Goose in the early 1970's. Stephen Calt wrote that "The previously unrecorded Williams ranks among the most polished and proficient living traditional bluesmen, and has a large repertoire embracing ragtime, hillbilly, and even pop material. He is also the only known living associate of Blind Blake, his own favorite guitarist." Williams cut just two LP's, both for Blue Goose: Low And Lonesome and The Late Bill Williams 'Blues, Rags and Ballads plus had one song on the anthology These Blues Is Meant To Be Barrelhoused. In October of 1973, nearly three years to the day of his recording debut, he passed away in his sleep.Blues Southside Chicago is one of my favorite anthologies, a superb collection of Chicago blues recorded by Willie Dixon in 1964 and originally issued on UK Decca and reissued by Flyright in 1976. Additional sides from this session appeared on Have A Good Time – Chicago Blues issued in 1970 on the Sunnyland label which is also out of print. Mike Leadbitter discusses the aim of the record in his liner notes: "This album was recorded In Chicago's Southside by Willie Dixon with one aim in mind-to provide the English enthusiast with blues played as they are played in the clubs, without gimmicks and without interfering A & R men. This album is not intended to be commercial in any way and by using top artists and top session men an LP has been produced that doesn't sound as cold as studio recordings usually do."
Roosevelt Charles was recorded by folklorist Harry Oster in 1959 and 1960 with tracks appearing on anthologies and one full-length album, the long out of print Blues, Prayer, Work & Trouble Songs. Oster wrote the following: “Classified as a habitual criminal, a four-time loser, Roosevelt Charles has spent most of his adult life (he is now 45) in prisons, principally, Angola, alternating short periods of freedom with long sentences. …Despite his lengthy police record, Charles is sensitive, personable, intelligent and imaginative – a highly gifted creator, performer and interpreter of Negro music. His rebellion against society appears at least in part the explosion which results when a driving, intensely creative man can find no outlets for his energies and talents – a particularity difficult problem for a bright but almost illiterate Negro born in the Louisiana farm country."
Robert Wilkins passed away in 1987 and it's a shame he made so few recordings in his later years. He did make one of the great albums of the blues revival, Memphis Gospel Singer cut in 1963 for the Piedmont label and sadly never issued on CD (it was reissued on vinyl in 1984 on the Origin Jazz Library label.) His early sessions for Victor in 1928, Brunswick in 1929 and Vocalion in 1935 are classics. Other post-war sides by Wilkins can be found on the out-of-print anthology This Old World's In A Hell Of A Fix, The 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival, …Remember Me (from the 1969Memphis Country Blues Festival) plus a few other scattered sides.
Guitar Gabriel AKA Nyles Jones, recorded under the latter name the superb LP, My South, My Blues, for the Gemini label in 1970.Mike Leadbitter, writing in Blues Unlimited in 1970, called the single, "Welfare Blues", the most important 45 released that year. Gabriel dropped out of sight for about 20 years and his belated return to performing was due largely to folklorist and musician Timothy Duffy, who located Gabriel in 1991. With Duffy accompanying him as second guitarist on acoustic sets and as a member of his band, Brothers in the Kitchen, Gabriel performed frequently at clubs and festivals, and appeared overseas. He recorded several albums for Duffy's Music Maker label before passing in 1996.I'm under the impression that
Arbee Stidham is held in rather low opinion among the blues collecting community. The truth is that Stidham's music isn't, for the most part, all that exciting but A Time For Blues is a terrific outing with Stidham backed by the swinging Ernie Wilkins Orchestra. A jazz-influenced blues vocalist, Stidham also played alto sax, guitar and harmonica. His father Luddie Stidham worked in Jimme Lunceford's orchestra, while his uncle was a leader of the Memphis Jug Band. Stidham formed the Southern Syncopators and played various clubs in his native Arkansas in the '30s. He appeared on Little Rock radio station KARK and his band backed Bessie Smith on a Southern tour in 1930 and 1931. Stidham frequently performed in Little Rock and Memphis until he moved to Chicago in the 40's. Stidham recorded with Lucky Millinder's Orchestra for Victor in the 40's. He did his own sessions for Victor, Sittin' In, Checker, Abco, Prestige/Bluesville, Mainstream, and Folkways in the 50's and 60', and appeared in the film The Bluesman in 1973. Stidham also made many festival and club appearances nationwide and internationally. He did occasional blues lectures at Cleveland State University in the 70's.
Shirley Griffith was a deeply expressive singer and guitarist who learned first hand from Tommy Johnson as a teenager in Mississippi. Griffith missed his opportunity to record as a young man but recorded three superb albums: Indiana Ave. Blues (Bluesville, 1964, with partner J.T. Adams), Saturday Blues (Bluesville, 1965) and Mississippi Blues (Blue Goose, 1973). The fact that all three albums are out of print goes a ways in understanding why Griffith remains so little known. He also didn't benefit all that much from the renewed blues interest of the 1960's; he never achieving the acclaim of late discovered artists like Mississippi Fred McDowell, the critical appreciation of a Robert Pete Williams or the excitement surrounding rediscovered legends like Son House, Skip James or Mississippi John Hurt. He did achieve modest notice touring clubs with Yank Rachell in 1968, performed at the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969 and appeared at the Notre Dame Blues Festival in South Bend, Indiana in 1971. Griffith passed away in 1974.
Some These Days I'll Be Gone - Take 1 [unreleased]
Blues Images vol. 10
Last Fair Deal Gone Down
The Centennial Collection
When the Levee Breaks
Mr. Freddie's Kokomo Blues
When the Levee Breaks
A fine mix showed lined up today with an emphasis on pre-war blues. Every year around this time record collector John Tefteller, through his Blues Images imprint, publishes his Classic Blues Artwork Calendar with a companion CD that matches the artwork with the songs. The CD’s have also been one of the main places that newly discovered blues 78’s turn up. In addition the calendars have also been a showcase for never before seen photos. This year marks the tenth year of the calendar and CD's and once again Tefteller has turned up newly discovered sides which I'll be featuring today including the only known copy of Washboard Sam's first record which recently turned up and an unissued Charlie Patton test pressing. Washboard Sam is backed by guitarist Freddie Spruell so I thought I'd take the opportunity to spotlight a couple of solo sides from this fine artist. Also on tap are a set of excllent early woman singers, twin spins by Barbecue Bob, the mysterious Blues Boy Rawlins, Chicago blues great Dusty Brown, a pair by Detroit harp man Little Sonny and a few of album spotlights.
"Ocean Blues b/w Y.M.V. Blues" are both sides of Washboard Sam's debut 1935 recording for Bluebird. This record comes from the only known copy of this record which just turned up and have never before been reissued before. I have to admit that I had no idea this record was missing. While nothing earth shattering, it's a very solid record aided by the guitar work of Freddie Spruell and Carl Martin. Sam went on to record hundreds of records between 1935 and 1949 for the bluebird label, usually with backing by guitarist Big Bill Broonzy. Throughout the rest of the '30s and the '40s, Sam was one of the most popular Chicago bluesmen, selling plenty of records and playing to packed audiences in the Chicago clubs. Y.M.V.refers to the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad who's predecessor was the Yazoo Delta Railway which appears in a number of blues songs as the Yellow Dog Railroad. According W. C. Handy, locals assigned the words "Yellow Dog" to the letters Y.D. on the freight trains that they saw. The Mississippi Blues Commission placed a historic marker at the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad depot site in Rosedale, Mississippi, designating it as a site on the Mississippi Blues Trail. The marker commemorates the original lyrics of Robert Johnson's "Traveling Riverside Blues" which traced the route of the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad which ran south from Friars Point to Rosedale among other stops, including Vicksburg and north to Memphis.
We also spin two sides by Freddie Spruell cut under his own name. Spruell has the distinction of being the first delta bluesman to make a record. Spruell recorded almost two years before Tommy Johnson and three years before either Charlie Patton or Garfield Akers. One of the first self-accompanied guitarists to record, Spruell lived in Chicago when he made his debut for OKeh Records in 1926. Spruell cut ten sides at sessions in 1926, 1928 and 1935 for Okeh, Paramount and Bluebird. He gave up blues for the church by the 40's and passed in 1956. All we know of Spruell comes from and interview done by intrepid blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow who interviewed Spruell's widow.
Also from the companion CD to Tefteller's calendar we spin tracks by Lil McClintock and Charlie Patton. McClintock is one of those guys I never thought much of, but after listening to the slide driven "Sow Good Seeds" I've changed my tune. We also spin his "Furinture Man" which is not on the Tefteller CD, a fascinating throwback to the coon song era. Almost nothing is known of McClintock except that he was from Clinton, South Carolina and travled to Atlanta to record four songs for Columbia on December 4, 1930. The first record released was a blues, “Furniture Man b/w Don't Think I'm Santa Claus.” His second record was gospel, “Sow Good Seeds b/w Mother Called Her Child To Her Dying Bed.” In the calendar there appears the only known photo of him, a wonderful full-length shot, which has never been reproduced before. As for the Patton song, 'Some These Days I'll Be Gone", it's from an unissued test pressing. Both the released and unreleased are included and I can't discern much difference between the two.
We open the show with a pair of sides by Barbecue Bob, both from Yazoo's excllent Chocalate To The Bone collection. Robert Hicks was spotted by Columbia talent scout Dan Hornsby while working at the all-white Tidwell’s Barbecue in upscale Buckhead, serenading patrons for tips and entertaining after work at private parties. Hicks began cutting for Columbia in March 1927 and was identified as “Barbecue Bob” on all but two of his 78s. For the next three years, Barbecue Bob made records every time Columbia visited Atlanta. As Sam Charters pointed out, “Over the three and a half years he was a Columbia artist, he did sixty titles, and his releases sold almost 200,000 copies. He consistently outsold every artist on the Columbia race series except Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and Blind Willie Johnson for the years he was recording.”
We spotlight a few interesting records today including sides by Blues Boy Rawlins, late period tracks by members of the Memphis Jug Band and a trio of sides from a fine down blues collection on the JSP label. Blues Boy Rawlins A-K-A "Sweet Lovin' Daddy" is something of a mystery man. He cut one LP which was released in 1978 on Shakey Jakes' Good Time label with Shakey backing him on harmonica. It's a strong set of gut-bucket blues and it's a shame he didn't record more. Apparently Rawlins played in the streets in L.A. There is a photo of him floating around on the internet with harmonica man William Clarke.
I finally tracked down a copy of the very hard to find album Will Shade & Gus Cannon 1961. These recordings were made by members of the band in 1961 at a private party in Memphis and is a charming lo-fi document. There's a companion album with more sides from this party on the Wolf label. The Memphis Jug Band were one of the most popular musical groups of the late 1920's and early 1930's cutting some 80 sides between 1927 and 1934. Eventually the band’s live engagements became less frequent, and the group could no longer get recording dates after 1934. Still, the group occasionally performed in and around Memphis for years after that, and in 1956, Will Shade and Charlie Burse made a few recordings for the Folkways label (credited as the Memphis Jug Band). In 1963 Shade recorded one last time with 79-year-old Gus Cannon, former leader of Cannon’s Jug Stompers. They recorded the album Walk Right In, on Stax Records, a result of The Rooftop Singers having made Cannon's "Walk Right In" into a number one single.
We also spin three tracks from JSP'sJuke Joints 3, a four-CD set of down-home blues sides. This is the third box set filled with raw rural blues cut for a slew of tiny labels and as the titles suggest, was probaly the sound of the blues in the late 40's and 50's to be heard in juke joints, taverns and beer joints all over the south. The lastest collection contaisn 104 tracks form well knowns like Slim Harpo and Jimmy Rogers to the uterly obscure like Johnny Beck, Hank Kilroy, Stick Horse Hammond and the like.
Freddie Keppard's Jazz Cardinals with Papa Charlie Jackson
Breaking Out of New Orleans
Mama Let Me Lay It On You
Mama Let Me Lay It On You 1926-1936
The Best There Ever Was
Sonny Boy Nelson
Mississippi Blues Vol. 3
It's pledge drive time again and as always we would love to hear from our blues listeners. Jazz90.1 receives no support from anybody but our listeners so if you enjoy the music, and have the means, please think about pledging your support. As usual during the pledge drive we have a mix show lined up for today. We open and close today by paying tribute to Big Walter Price the elder statesman of the Houston blues scene. Price, a legendary blues singer from Houston died March 8th at the age of 97. Price was already in his early forties when he made his first records, for Bob Tanner's TNT label in San Antonio. Three TNT singles were released in 1955. Later in 1955, Walter moved to Houston and joined his friend Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown at Don Robey's Peacock label. Five Peacock singles were issued in 1956-57. In 1958, Price recorded two singles for Eddie Shuler's Goldband label and the 60's saw releases on Myrl, Global, Tear Drop, Jet Stream and some fine sides for the Crazy Cajun label.
Also on today's show we spin a trio of covers of a boogie classic, spin twin spins of Rosa Henderson and Eugene Powell, play some fine blues ladies and batch of great piano blues. A couple of weeks back we played Freddie Shayne's 1935 of “Mr. Freddie Blues” and today we hear some fine covers. Shayne, the composer of "Mr. Freddie Blues" is a shadowy figure who spent his life working in Chicago. He first time on record was backing singer Priscilla Stewart on “Mr. Freddie Blues.” Shayne also made a very rare piano roll of this song. In 1935 Shayne recorded a solo record, “Original Mr. Freddie Blues b/w Lonesome Man Blues.” “Mr. Freddie Blues” became something of a boogie standard covered by many artists both as an instrumental and as a vocal. Today we hear great instrumental versions by Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis and a fine vocal performance by Wee Bea Booze from 1944 backed by pianist Sammy Price.
I've played the neglected blues queen Rosa Henderson several times on the program. I think it's hard for modern listeners to appreciate some of these early woman singers. The problem is twofold; the earliest records, before 1925, were recorded acoustically which doesn't make for a great listening experience and the other problem is that unless the singer was one of the big names, like Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey, the available recordings are usually presented in pretty rough shape, with little or no mastering done to spruce them up. Several years back the Document label issued a series of very well mastered 2-CD sets under the title The Essential. I picked up the Rosa Henderson one just recently and it's great to hear her in much improved sound. Henderson, began recording in 1923, sometimes using such pseudonyms as Flora Dale, Mamie Harris, Rosa Green, Sarah Johnson, Sally Ritz, Bessie Williams, Josephine Thomas, and Gladys White on her records. In the late 1920's she started gradually dropping out of the music scene although she continued performing now and then into the mid-1930's. She cut close to one hundred sides between 1923 and 1932 with fine backing by musicians like Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Metcalf, Fats Waller, and James P. Johnson and had some very good songs. Henderson deserves a higher profile and if you're interested, The Essential is the place to start.
Speaking of the ladies we also spin sides by Alberta Hunter, Victoria Spivey and Little Miss Janice. The Hunter selection is from Chicago: The Living Legends cut for Riverside in 1961 and backed by Lovie Austin and her Blues Serenaders. Lovie Austin and band the Blues Serenaders accompanied many of the Classic Blues singers of the 1920s, including Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter, and Ethel Waters. Austin's song "Down Hearted Blues" was a big hit for Bessie Smith. The Serenaders recordings used many of Chicago's best hot musicians including, Johnny Dodds, Tommy Ladnier, Kid Ory, Natty Dominique, and Jimmie Noone.
From 1936 we spin Spivey's jazzy "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" backed by Her Hallelujah Boys who were actually, Dot Scott's Rhythm Dukes, featuring the great growling trumpet of Randolph Scott.
Little Miss Janice is a mystery. What little is know about her is that she came from Texas, she played guitar and she had a knack for songwriting. After this recording for Proverb, she went on to cut for Paul Gayten’s Pzazz label. Johnny Adams covered “Scarred Knees” on his first LP for Rounder and Esther Phillips did a great cover on her album From A Whisper To A Scream.
Together with his half brother Ben on a mandolin, Eugene Powell began to play as a novelty act at picnics and suppers and for prisoners at Mississippi State Penitentiary. The Powell Family, again, moved to Hollandale in Washington county in the early 1920's. This is when Eugene Powell began his formative years with the Chatmon Family who formed the popular Mississippi Sheiks. His early recordings stem from one session cut on October 15, 1936 at the St. Charles Hotel, New Orleans, LA where he cut sides as Sonny Boy Nelson and also backed artists Mississippi Matilda and Robert Hill. He recorded again from the 70's through the 90's, his recordings appearing on numerous anthologies. He passed in 1997.
As always we hear some excellent piano blues with tracks by Robert McCoy, Otis Spann and Sunnyland Slim. Alabama barrelhouse blues pianist Robert McCoy had two rare LP's in the early 60's on the Vulcan label. Delmark has reissued this material on CD as Bye Bye Baby. These were his first recordings as leader although he recorded at a 1937 session backing fellow Alabama artists Guitar Slim, Charlie Campbell and Peanut The Kidnapper. Our selection, "Gone Mother Blues", is superb reading of the Leroy Carr number.
We spin a tracks from two great Chicago pianists, Sunnyland Slim and Otis Spann. Slim's "Get to Hip to Yourself" comes from the oddly titled Plays The Ragtime Blues on Bluesway which was released in 1972. Despite the title this is an exceptionally strong, well recorded set of Chicago blues finding Sunnyland backed superbly by Carey Bell and The Aces (Louis Myers, Dave Myers and Fred Below). From the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival we hear Otis Spann on the romping "Spann's Blues."
I've been listening to some vintage jazz lately, in particular the 4-CD set Breaking Out of New Orleans 1922-1929 which features terrific sides by Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, Sam Morgan's Jazz Band, Celestin's Original Tuxedo Orchestra and Freddie Keppard's Jazz Cardinals who we feature today. After playing with the Olympia Orchestra Keppard joined Frankie Dusen's Eagle Band, taking the place recently vacated by Buddy Bolden. Soon after Bolden was off the music scene Keppard was proclaimed "King Keppard" as the city's top horn player. About 1914 Joe "King" Oliver won a musical "cutting contest" and claimed Keppard's crown. Keppard made recordings in Chicago between 1924 and 1927 including two versions of "Salty Dog" from 1926 featuring Papa charlie Jackson. The performance concluded with a rousing aside of “Papa Charlie done sung that song!” Jackson first cut the song in 1924 which made him a recording star. Old-time New Orleans musicians from Buddy Bolden’s era recalled hearing far filthier versions of “Salty Dog Blues” long before Papa Charlie’s recording.
Today's show is the second of two devoted to the blues recordings Alan Lomax made (early recordings were made with his father, John Lomax) starting in the early 1930's and concluding in the late 70's. The shows were inspired by the first biography of Lomax, Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World, written by John Szwed, professor of music and jazz studies at Columbia University who has written books about jazz giants Miles Davis and Sun Ra.Mr. Szwed was gracious enough to sit down with me and chat at length about his book which can be heard over the course of the two programs.
Last week's program concluded with recordings Lomax made of Big Bill Broonzy in Paris. During his time overseas Lomax compiled and edited an 18-volume LP series for Columbia Records anthologizing world folk music. His collecting and his collaborations for this project — with Diego Carpitella in Italy, Seamus Ennis in Ireland, Peter Kennedy in England, and Hamish Henderson in Scotland — laid the foundations for folk song revivals in those countries. Lomax, Kennedy, and their friends introduced scores of listeners to British and world folk music through BBC radio and television.
Returning to the United States in 1958, Lomax set out on two more long field trips through the American South in 1959 and 1960, resulting in nineteen albums issued on the Atlantic and Prestige labels in the early 1960's. He secured support from the Ertegun brothers who ran Atlantic Records. Atlantic had also begun recording in stereo in 1959, and, as fans of early jazz and rhythm and blues, the Erteguns were personally invested in Alan’s project. Accompanied by the young British folksinger Shirley Collins (Collins documented the trip in her memoir America Over The Water), whom he had met in London several years earlier, Lomax left New York City in late August of 1959. Lomax called it his Southern Journey and during the trip they recorded performers such as Almeda Riddle, Hobart Smith, Wade Ward, Charlie Higgins and Bessie Jones and culminating in the discovery of Mississippi Fred McDowell.
For the next two months the pair traveled through Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, and North Carolina, making over seventy hours of recordings. The project was shorter than every other major recording trip of Lomax’s career, but it is among the crowning achievements of his legacy. It marked the first-ever stereo recordings made of American traditional music in the field, at last doing justice to the sonic complexity of the Georgia Sea Island ring shouts, the many-voiced work songs of the Southern prison farms, and the thunderous hymnody of the Sacred Harp. It gleaned the debut recordings of farmer and bluesman Fred McDowell. When Lomax returned to New York City in late October, he prepared seven LPs for Atlantic, which were soon released as the Southern Folk Heritage Series. As Lomax wrote: "This was 1959 and I finally had German mikes and a Cadillac of a recorder and was doing stereo – the first stereo field recordings made in the South. You should hear the recordings – for me, a life’s dream realized."
After the Atlantic Record series there was much music left over, however, and Lomax ultimately made an arrangement with Prestige Records to issue another series entirely – twelve LP volumes under the title Southern Journey. This series also drew on recordings Alan and his daughter Anna made on a tour through coastal Georgia and Virginia in the spring of 1960. The Atlantic and Prestige albums were proof that many old-timers were still alive and making music, and Lomax succeeded in involving these tradition-bearers directly in the folk revival. He arranged for appearances at the Newport Folk Festival by Almeda Riddle, Fred McDowell, Hobart Smith, Ed Young, and Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers, all of whom became frequent performers at other revival events.
In September, 1959, Lomax encountered Fred McDowell, the greatest discovery of his trip. The recordings were captured outdoors on a front porch, and even though Lomax was recording him at a semi-professional speed on his tape deck (7 1/2 inches per second as opposed to the then-standard 15 ips), seldom did McDowell's subsequent recordings capture this much ambiance. Loose and informal, these sides showcase Fred solo and working in tandem with guitarist Miles Pratcher. McDowell, for his part, was happy to have some sounds on records, but continued on with his farming and playing for tips outside of Stuckey's candy store in Como for spare change. It wasn't until Chris Strachwitz, folk-blues enthusiast and owner of the fledgling Arhoolie label, came searching for McDowell to record him that the bluesman's fortunes began to change dramatically. McDowell recorded steadily through the 70's and played at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival and in Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival. He passed in 1972.
Forest City Joe was another notable bluesman Lomax stumbled upon. Blues harpist Forest City Joe was heavily influenced by John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. Joe was remembered as a "great harp player" by Muddy Waters. Joe was raised in the area around Hughes and West Memphis, AR, and even as a boy played the local juke joints in the area. He hoboed his way through the state working roadhouses and juke joints during the 1940s. Beginning in 1947, he also began working the Chicago area, and a year later had his one and only session for the Chess brothers’ Aristocrat label. Lomax recorded his final sides in 1959 and Joe passed away in 1960.
Lomax also made a few more sides by Vera Hall, who had been recorded previously by both Lomax's. John Lomax met Hall in the 1930's and recorded her for the Library of Congress. Lomax wrote that she had the loveliest voice he had ever recorded. The British Broadcasting System played Halls recording of "Another Man Done Gone" in 1943 as a sampling of American folk music. The Library of Congress played the song the same year in commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1948, with the help of Alan Lomax, Hall traveled to New York and performed on May 15 at the American Music Festival at Columbia University. During the course of this trip, Lomax interviewed Hall on several occasions.
Lomax set out to that that the music he and his father documented in the 1930's and 40's was still thriving in the south. As he wrote: "People were saying that Southern folk song was dead, that the land that had produced American jazz, the blues, the spirituals, the mountain ballads and the work songs had gone sterile." He proved them wrong.
At the fiftieth anniversary of Lomax's Southern Journey one would expect some sort of commemoration but the event passed with barley a mention. Adding insult to injury was the fact that not a single release of Southern Journey material was currently in print. The following year, however, five new LPs commemorating the event were issued by Portland, Oregon’s Mississippi Records a label who have built a cult following issuing an eclectic mix of quirky LP only releases. The release were issued in association with the Alan Lomax Archive and included a number of unreleased recordings. Several of these albums are featured on today's program.
Lomax returned to the south in 1978 with Worth Long, and John Bishop. They collaborated with the Mississippi Authority for Educational Television to produce the program Land Where the Blues Began. Finished in 1979 and broadcast on PBS in 1980; the program won awards and played in numerous festivals. In 1990 was broadcast again on PBS, re-edited as part of the American Patchwork series. As Lomax wrote of the project: "Today we give a platform to this vital folk culture and its creators. These people witnessed the birth of the blues. They lived them. This haunting music, laughing at life’s ironies, and set to a dancing beat. This amazing mix of Europe and Africa is America’s most distinctive song style. It’s also the product of the folk culture of the Mississippi Delta. We visit picnics and revivals. We meet the black pioneers who helped to carve Mississippi out of the wilderness with their work on farm, river, railroad and levee, creating a new music out of their loneliness and their deprivation. Music that, once heard, can never be forgotten." The program featured performances by Sam Chatmon, Jack Owens & Bud Spires, Eugene Powell (Sonny Boy Nelson), Belton Sutherland, Othar Turner, Napoleon Strickland, and Joe Savage. In 2010 the program was issued on DVD which presented the original version with more than three hours of additional material, which has never been available before.
In 1993 Lomax's bookThe Land Where the Blues Began, one the national Book Award. Throughout the '90s and into the 21st century, Rounder Records steadily worked toward reissuing a 100-CD series of his recordings and andSounds of the South, a four-CD set of Lomax’s 1959 recordings was reissued by Atlantic Records in 1993. Lomax received the National Medal of Arts from President Reagan in 1984; the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for Nonfiction for The Land Where the Blues Began (1993); the Folk Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award (1995); an Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy from Tulane University (2001); and a Grammy Trustees’ Award in 2003. In 2000 he was made a Library of Congress Living Legend. He retired in 1996 to live in Florida with his daughter and grandson, and died there on July 19, 2002.
I'm always on the hunt for good blues records. Below is a list of some records I'm currently looking for. Purchase or trade is fine and I don't mind getting a copy on disc or swapping digitally.
Blues From The Delta (Matchbox)
James 'Son' Thomas, Lee Kizart & Lovey Williams: The Blues Are Alive And Well (XTRA)
Big Joe Williams (XTRA)
Big Joe Williams - Blues From The Mississippi Delta (Blues On Blues)
Mabel Hillary - It's So Hard To Be A Nigger (XTRA)
Snooks Eaglin - Message to New Orleans (Heritage)
The Foddrell Brothers - Patrick County Rag (Outlet)
Rabbit Muse - Sixty Minute Man (Outlet)
John Tinsley - Country Blues Roots Revisted (Outlet)
Victoria Spivey - Queen and Her Knights (Spivey)
Encore For The Chicago Blues (Spivey)
The Legacy Of Tommy Johnson (Saydisc Matchbox )
Memphis Sessions 1956-1961 (Wolf)
Texas Piano Professors (Catfish)
Catfish, Carp & Diamonds: 35 Years of Texas Blues (Catfish)
George & Ethel McCoy - Early In The Morning (Adelphi)
Things Have Changed: An Anthology of Today's Blues from St. Louis (Adelphi)