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.
Livin' That Wild Life: Herald/Ember Blues & Gospel Masters
Waitin' At The Station
Livin' That Wild Life: Herald/Ember Blues & Gospel Masters
Here In The Dark
Complete Recordings of T-Bone Walker 1940-1954
Hot Lips Page Trio
Thirsty Mama Blues
The Very Best Of Teddy Bunn
Champion Jack Dupree
Chain Gang Bound
Mother Of The Blues
Tallahatchie River Blues
Blues Images Vol. 3
Never Mind Blues
St. Louis 1927-1933
Blue And All Alone
Blues, Ballads And Jumpin' Jazz Vol. 2
Highway Is Like A Woman
Blues Laureate: RCA Years
I'm Gonna Wind Your Clock
Ham Hocks And Cornbread
Sonny Boy Nelson
Catfish Blues - Mississippi Blues Vol. 3
Ride 'Em On Down
Catfish Blues - Mississippi Blues Vol. 3
Cotton Patch Blues
Complete Bluebird Recordings
B & O Blues
Goin' Up The Country
Bill "Boogie Bill" Webb
Love Me Mama
Rural Blues Vol. 1
Sonny Boy Williamson
Miss Stella Brown Blues
The Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Sonny Boy Williamson
Better Cut That Out
The Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Baby Face Leroy
Red Headed Woman
The Blues World Of Little Walter
Call Me If You Need Me
With a Feeling 57-67: The Cobra, Chief & Crash Recordings
More Louisiana Swamp Blues
Walter 'Cowboy' Washington
West Dallas Woman
The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
St. Louis Jimmy
Good Luck Blues
Livin' That Wild Life: Herald/Ember Blues & Gospel Masters
Lonesome For My Baby
Livin' That Wild Life: Herald/Ember Blues & Gospel Masters
Blind Joe Reynolds
Cold Woman Blues
Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Kansas Joe McCoy
Tommy Johnson And Associates
My Woman Has A Black Cat Bone
Steel Guitar Flash
As we take a pause between theme shows we turn to a wide ranging mix show, spanning the years 1925 through 1970. We spin several thematic sets including a twin spin of sides by Sonny Boy Williamson I, a batch of sides from the recent 2-CD collection collection Livin' That Wild Life – The Herald-Ember Blues & Gospel Masters Vol. 1 and a the usual mix of excellent pre-war blues.
We spotlight a pair of superb post-war sides by Sonny Boy that come from the 4-CD JSP set The Original Sonny Boy Williamson: The Later Years 1939-1947which collects all the sides he waxed between 1944 through 1947. Talking about the 1946 session that produced one of our selections, Neil Slaven writes: "Sonny Boy's next three sessions represented his golden age- when song after song underlined his new-found maturity. Sonny Boy's Cold Chills, Hoodoo Hoodoo, Shake The Boogie, Mellow Chick Swing, Polly Put Your Kettle On, Apple Tree Swing, all benefited from the work of Blind John Davis, Eddie Boyd, Willie Lacey, Big Bill Broonzy, Ransom Knowling, Willie Dixon and Charles Sanders. These were the songs that influenced a generation of singers and laid the groundwork for the ascendancy of Chicago blues over the next decade." From his very last session, in November 1947 we spin the romping "Better Cut That Out." There's little doubt Sonny Boy would have been a major force on the vibrant Chicago blues scene of the 50's and would have thrived during the blues revival of the 60's, undoubtedly playing Europe to adoring fans. Sadly it was not to be, Sonny Boy's blazing career came to a untimely end with his murder in June 1948.
We spotlight four tracks from the fine recent 2-CD collection on Acrobat, Livin' That Wild Life – The Herald-Ember Blues & Gospel Masters Vol. 1. Herald was founded in 1951 by music veteran Fred Mendelsohn but was inactive until he took on partners Al Silverman and Jack Braverman. Herald issued some terrific blues including tracks by Little Walter, St. Louis Jimmy, Cousin Leroy and some of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ best sides. Among those tracks are cuts by St. Louis Jimmy which was originally recorded for De Luxe in 1949 and Eddie Boyd's "Lonesome For My Baby" which was first issued on Regal in 1950 before being picked up by Herald. We also feature two tracks by the mysterious Cousin Leroy. Nothing is known about him except that he cut two sides for Groove in 1955 and several for Herald and Ember in 1957. He was backed by great musicians including Larry dale, Sonny Terry and Champion Jack Dupree. Leroy's songs are mainly reworking of traditional material including the ominous "Crossroads" which incorporated Muddy Waters' "Rolling Stone" with references to the the crossroads myth:
Well I walked down, by the crossroad
Just to learn how, to play my guitar
Well a man walked up, 'son let me tune it'
That was the devil (2x)
Today's program features a set of fine blues ladies including Ma Rainey, Mattie Delaney and Georgia Boyd. Rainey first appeared onstage in 1900, singing and dancing in minstrel and vaudeville stage revues. In 1902 she married the song and dance man William "Pa" Rainey and from then on became known as Ma Rainey. The couple formed a song and dance act that included Blues and popular songs and toured the country, but primarily the South. It was not until 1923 that Ma Rainey signed a recording contract with Paramount. She was billed as the "Mother of the Blues", which wasn't far off the mark. She ended up recording 100 songs between 1923 and 1928 on Paramount Records. Nothing is known of Delaney and Boyd who each cut a lone 78. In 1930 Delaney cut two magnificent numbers for Vocalion, "Down The Big Road Blues b/w Tallahatchie River Blues" featuring herself on guitar. In 1933 Boyd cut "Never Mind Blues b/w I'm Sorry Blues" with J.D. Short laying down some tough guitar on the former.
In 1936, Eugene Powell, along with Mississippi Matilda, Willie Harris and some of the Chatmon family traveled to New Orleans to record for the Bluebird label. Setting up at the St. Charles Hotel, Powell cut six sides during these sessions under the moniker Sonny Boy Nelson. Among these numbers were classics such as "Street Walkin' Woman" and our selection "Pony Blues". He also accompanied Matilda on four tracks and harmonica player Robert Hill on 10 more. It would be another 34 years before Eugene Powell would have the opportunity to record again.
Also from the pre-war era, we spin numbers by Robert Petway and his pal Tommy McClennan. Little biographical information is available on Robert Petway. He was the first to record “Catfish Blues” which became a blues standard and may have composed the song. Big Bill Broonzy reported to researcher Paul Oliver that Petway played with Tommy McClennan and that the two grew up together as kids. McClennan was born and raised on the J. F. Sligh farm about ten miles north of Yazoo City in 1908 and it seems likely from Broonzy's recollection that Petway was about the same age and raised on the same farm.
McClennan was an influence on David “Honeyboy” Edwards, who learned songs like “Catfish Blues” and "Bullfrog" from him. In another account Edwards states that he learnt “Catfish Blues” in person from Petway. McClennan was stylistically similar to Petway because the two played together often. McClennan and Petway would play at house parties, and in the juke joint at Three Forks crossroads, famous now as the place where Robert Johnson was poisoned. In 1939 McClennan moved to Chicago and had three successful recording sessions by the time Petway had his first. It seems likely that McClennan sent for Petway to come to Chicago and record. Petway recorded eight sides for Bluebird Records in 1941 and followed those up with eight more in 1942.
McClennan's brand of rough-around-the-edges blues is not far removed from singer Walter "Cowboy" Washington who Paul Oliver called a "bar-fly on the waterfront who worked as a cowpuncher." Backed by the superb piano of Andy Boy the rough voiced singer tells a gritty tale in his "West Dallas Woman" about a woman (a reference to Houston's Fourth Ward) who's "trying to make twenty-five cents just to get a half-a-pint of corn." Washington cut just four sides in San Antonio in 1937 including another gritty number, "Ice Pick Mama."
Also worth mentioning are tracks by Percy Mayfield, Hot Lips Page and Baby Face Leroy Foster. Mayfield’s main hit making period was from 1950-1952 when he scored seven top ten hits for the Specialty label including “Please Send Me Someone To Love”, the biggest hit ever for the label. Much less well known are the trio of superb records he cut for RCA in the 1970's, all unfortunately out of print: Percy Mayfield Sings Percy Mayfield (1970), Weakness Is A Thing Called Man (1970) and Blues…And Then Some (1971). 25 tracks from these albums are available on the CD Blues Laureate: RCA Years.
Between 1948 and 1952 Baby Face Leroy Foster waxed a handful absolutely terrific sides under his own name for a number fledgling Chicago labels aided by some of the windy city’s best blues musicians. In addition his vocals, drumming, and guitar playing can be found backing some of the greatest Chicago blues records of the era. His death in 1958, at the age of 38, robbed the blues world of a singular, memorable talent.
Known as a scorching soloist and powerful vocalist, Oran “Hot Lips” Page was one of the Midwest's top trumpet players. He began his professional touring career when he joined “Ma” Rainey's band in the 1920s. Page traveled the Southwest with Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox and other touring acts. From 1928 to 1931 Page was a member of the Blue Devils; in 1932 he joined Bennie Moten’s orchestra, remaining until 1935. After Moten's death, he continued to work with Count Basie. He recorded as the Hot Lips Page Trio for Bluebird in 1940 before joining Artie Shaw where he worked from 1941-1942. Starting in 1944 he recorded for Commodore and Savoy, fronting his own. In May 1949, Page traveled for the first time to Europe, where he played at the Jazz Festival in Paris. He visited Europe again in 1951 and 1952, to make a tour of Scandinavia and France. From 1952 until his health began to deteriorate in 1953, he worked various jazz shows around the United States. "Thirsty Mama Blues" from 1940 sports some melancholy blowing, a fine world weary vocal from page reminiscent of Jimmy Rushing and some knockout guitar from Teddy Bunn. It's not surprising the song is featured on the CD The Very Best Of Teddy Bunn 1937-1940.
6/16/13: Talking Blues
6/23/13: Rerun Show
6/30/13: David Evans
7/7/13: Chicago Greats
7/14/13: Field Recording Special
7/21/13: Chicago Blues 1960's I
7/28/13: Mix Show
8/4/13: Chicago Blues 1960's II
8/11/13: European Blues III
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)
Washboard Willie - Whippin' That Board (Barrelhouse)
High Water Blues (Flyright)
James 'Son' Thomas, Lee Kizart & Lovey Williams: The Blues Are Alive And Well (XTRA)
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
Victoria Spivey - Queen and Her Knights (Spivey)
Encore For The Chicago Blues (Spivey)
Way Back Yonder ...Original Country Blues Volume 2, 3 (Albatros)
I Got The Blues This Morning (Albatros)
Cary Tate - Blues From Heart (Albatros)
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)