Entries tagged with “Junior Wells”.


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Julia MoodyPolice BluesTight Women And Loose Bands
Julia MoodyMidnight DanTight Women And Loose Bands
Leroy CarrEleven Twenty-Nine BluesWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave: The Best of Leroy Carr
Furry LewisJudge Harsh BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Romeo Nelson1129 Blues (The Midnight Special)Boogie Woogie & Barrelhouse Piano Vol. 2 1928-1930
Big Joe WilliamsAll I Want Is My Train Fare Home A Man Sings The Blues Vol. 1
Big Joe WilliamsCow Cow BluesA Man Sings The Blues Vol. 2
Scott Dunbar It's So Cold Up NorthBlues From The Delta
Lee KizartDon't Want No Woman Telling Me What To DoBlues From The Delta
Lovey WilliamsTrain I RideBlues From The Delta
Roosevelt SykesJivin' the JiveRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 7 1941-1944
Hal SingerDisc Jockey BoogieHal Singer 1948-51
J.B. Lenoir Everybody Is Crying About VietnamBye Bye Bird
Junior WellsVietnam BluesLookout Sam
Smoky BabeBoss Man BluesWay Back in the Country Blues
Smoky BabeGoin' Home BluesWay Back in the Country Blues
Scrapper BlackwellAlley Sally BluesScrapper Blackwell Vol. 2 1934-1958
Robert WilkinsNew Stock Yard BluesMasters of the Memphis Blues
Rocky Fuller (Louisiana Red)The Moon Won't Go DownForrest City Joe & Rocky Fuller: Memory Of Sonny Boy
Robert Pete WilliamsMidnight BoogieBye Bye Bird
Mississippi Fred McDowellI Walked All The Way From East St LouisGood Morning Little Schoolgirl
Arizona DranesI Shall Wear A CrownVintage Mandolin Music
Otis SpannMake A WaySweet Giant of the Blues
Blind Willie McTellLay Some Flowers On My GraveThe Best Of
Peetie WheatstrawBring Me Flowers While I'm LivingPeetie Wheatstraw Vol. 7 1940-1941
Sippie WallaceUp The Country BluesSippie Wallace Vol. 1 1923-1925
Blind Willie McTellStatesboro BluesThe Best Of
De Ford Bailey Up The Country BluesHistory Of Blues Harmonica 1926-2002
Co Cow DavenportPlenty Gals BluesCow Cow Davenport - The Accompanist 1924-1929
Lil JohnsonMinor BluesLil Johnson Vol. 1 1929-1936
Sippie WallaceWoman Be WiseUp The Country

Show Notes:

Julia Moody - Midnight DanToday's mix show has several themes and featured artists running throughout. On deck today we play songs revolving around the term "11-29" and spin a trio of songs based on Sippie Wallace's "Up The Country Blues." We also feature twin spins form Julia Moody, Big Joe Williams and Blind Willie McTell. We hear some fine down-home blues including previously unreleased sides from Smoky Babe and a trio of tracks from the long out-of-print Blues From The Delta album. We spin some fine piano blues by Otis Spann, Arizona Dranes, Cow Cow Davenport, Montana Taylor and Roosevelt Sykes. In addition we play several recordings from the American Fol Blues Festival.

Sippie Wallace made her first record in 1923 and her last in 1984. Thomas grew up in Houston, Texas where she sang and played the piano in her father's church. While still in her early teens she and her younger brother Hersal and older brother George began playing and singing the Blues in tent shows that traveled throughout Texas. In 1915 she moved to New Orleans and lived with her older brother George. During her stay there she met many of the great Jazz musicians like King Oliver and Louis Armstrong who were friends of her brother George. During the early 1920s she toured the TOBA vaudeville circuit where she was billed as "The Texas Nightingale". In 1923 she followed her brothers to Chicago and began performing in the cafes and cabarets around town. In 1923 she recorded her first records for Okeh and went on to record over forty songs for them between 1923 and 1929. “Up The Country Blues b/w Shorty George Blues” was her debut and an immediate success. The songs were written by her brother George. Blind Willie McTell borrowed part of the lyrics for his classic "Statesboro Blues." "Statesboro Blues" was covered famously by Taj Mahal in 1968 and The Allman Brothers in 1971. We also play De Ford Bailey's superb instrumental of "Up The Country Blues" from 1927.Interestingly, in December 1923, just a few months after Sippie's recording, a singer by the name of Tiny Franklin cut six sides backed by Wallace's brother George on piano which included versions of "Up The Country Blues" and "Shorty George Blues,”

"11-29," is a reference found in a number of blues songs dealing with the subject of court sentencing in southern states for criminal behavior. The sentence was often the maximum for a misdemeanor crime, thus keeping the convict in local confinement as long as possible. This interpretation is borne out in a number of blues songs. Blac ks were often given more severe sentences than whites in a local court of law. And the experience of either county or state incarceration during the historical period that shaped early blues lyrics was, in reality, very cruel. We play a trio of songs using the theme including Leroy Carr's "Eleven Twenty-Nine Blues", Furry Lewis' "Judge Harsh Blues" and Romeo Nelson's "1129 Blues (The Midnight Special)."  Charley Patton refers to the "11-29" jail sentence of eleven months and twenty-nine days in "Jim Lee Blues, Part 1" recorded in 1929 which I've played several tomes on the show: "When I got arrested what do you reckon was my fine?/Say they give all coons eleven twenty-nine."

A Man Sings The Blues Vol. 1
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We spotlight twin spins today by Big Joe Williams and Julia Moody. Thes Big Joe Williams  songs were released two four-song EP's on the British Jen label (A Man Sings The Blues Vol. 1 & 2). These sides were recorded in the summer of 1957 in Chicago by Erwin Helfer who plays the piano on these sides.

Not much is know about Julia Moody who cut sixteen sides between 1922 and 1925. She was known to have been involved in the stage prior and after her brief recording career. Our two songs "Midnight Dan" and "Police Blues" come from her final 1925 session and find her backed by a fine jazz band called the Dixie Wobblers. "Midnight Dan" has a dramatic feel which probably owes to Moody's stage background while Police Blues" is a wonderfully sung slow blues:

I walked to the corner, 31st and State (2x)
I was so worried til' I stayed too late
Just standing on the corner, I didn't mean no harm (2x)
Along come the policeman, and took me by my arm
Carried me to the station, and I was full of booze (2x)
That's why I'm worried about those police blues

We play a trio of songs from the album Blues From the Delta which was the companion album to the book of the same name by William Ferris. The recordings were made in the summer of 1968 and included the debut recordings James “Son” Thomas. The album also includes excellent recordings by under-recorded artists such as Lovey Williams, Scott Dunbar and Lee Kizart.

Born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, Robert Brown AKA Smoky Babe had found his way to Scotlandville, Louisiana by the age of 20. It was there that Harry Oster recorded him on several occasions between 1959-1961 with material appearing on the labels Folk-Lyric, Storyville and Bluesville. Smoky cut two full length albums: Smoky Babe and His Friends and Hottest Brand Goin' plus a few scattered sides on different anthologies. The recordings featured today are previously unreleased and have just been issue on Way Back in the Country Blues on Arhoolie Records. As the notes state: "Upon Harry’s death in 2001, his widow Caroline shipped what was understood to be the balance of his tapes. Nowhere in the pile were the unissued Smoky Babe recordings. Recently, in the early stages of preparing a box set of Harry’s work, we noticed that many other known recordings of his were missing from our collection, and reached out again to Caroline to see if any had been overlooked. The following week, a shipment of boxes arrived filled with tapes dating back to Harry’s Louisiana days. Among this last batch were several reels of Smoky Babe containing many unissued recordings as strong as anything previously available. This record represents what we feel is the best of those long lost performances."

The American Folk Blues Festival (AFBF) was an annual event, beginning in 1962, that featured the cream of American blues musicians barnstorming their way across Europe. The recordings from these tours have been collected on numerous anthologies over the years. Toda's AFBF recordings come from the Scout label which was Horst Lippmann's and Fritz Rau's label preceding L + R Records. Lippmann' and Rau were the men responsible for organizing the AFBF. Just about everything on the label was from the concerts and today we feature the following collection: Look Out Sam!Bye Bye Bird…and Up The Country!.

Blues From The Delta
Read Liner Notes

We feature terrific piano blues and gospel piano today from Otis Spann, Arizona Dranes, Cow Cow Davenport, Montana Taylor and Roosevelt Sykes. Leaving Muddy Waters’ group in 1968, Otis Spann made a flurry of recordings, including an album with Fleetwood Mac as his backing band. It was at this point Bob Thiele invited him to record for his Bluestime label. The album, Sweet Giant Of The Blues, has now been reissued by Ace Records. Unfortunately, his health had been compromised by years of alcohol abuse and he died a few months after these recordings at the age of 40.

Arizona Dranes born was born blind in 1889 or 1891. Between 1926 and 1928, Dranes recorded sixteen numbers for OKeh Records and soon became a gospel music star. Unfortunately, her recording career suffered due to misunderstandings between Dranes and the record company’s executives. After 1928 and until her death in 1963, Dranes served the Church of God in Christ by performing at churches around the country, quickly falling into near-complete obscurity (her last public appearance, where she was billed as the “Famous Blind Piano Player,” was in 1947).

Cow Cow Davenport, Montana Taylor and Roosvelt Sykes were some of the great early piano players. We hear Taylor playing superbly behind Lil Johnson's debut record "Minor Blues" which went unissued and hear Davenport on "Plenty Gals Blues" backing obscure singer Memphis Joe (Joe Byrd). Roosevelt Sykes is heard on the jumping "Jivin' the Jive" from 1944 backed by a combo that included Ted Summit on guitar and Jump Jackson on drums.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Son SimmsRosalie The Complete Plantation Recordings
Sunnyland Slim & Muddy WatersFly Right, Little GirlSunnyland Slim 1947-1948
Muddy Waters & Sunnyland Slim Little Anna MaeThe Aristocrat Of The Blues
Little Johnny JonesShelby County BluesThe Aristocrat Of The Blues
Muddy WatersWhere's My Woman BeenThe Aristocrat Of The Blues
Jimmy RogersLudella Sunnyland Slim: The Classic Sides 1947-53
Othum Brown & Little Walter I Just Keep Loving Her Blues World Of Little Walter
Leroy Foster Muskadine Blues (Take A Walk With Me)Leroy Foster 1948-1952
Leroy Foster Rollin' And Tumblin' - Part 1Leroy Foster 1948-1952
Muddy Waters Stuff You Gotta WatchThe Complete Chess Recordings
Little Walter Can't Hold Out Much Longer The Complete Chess Masters 1950-1967
Muddy Waters They Call Me Muddy Waters The Complete Chess Recordings
Jimmy RogersAct Like You Love MeThe Complete Chess Recordings
Muddy WatersGone to Main Street The Complete Chess Recordings
Junior WellsTomorrow NightBlues Hit Big Town
Muddy WatersShe's All Right The Complete Chess Recordings
Walter HortonOff The WallBlues Harmonica Giant: Classic Sides 1951-1956
Jimmy RogersIf It Ain't Me (Who Are You Thinking Of) The Complete Chess Recordings
Pat HareI'm Gonna Murder My Baby Sun Records:The Blues Years 1950-1958
Muddy WatersGood NewsThe Complete Chess Recordings
Muddy Waters Don't Go No Further The Complete Chess Recordings
Otis Spann I'm Leaving You Chess Piano Greats
Otis SpannIt Must Have Been The Devil Complete Candid Otis Spann/Lightin' Hopkins Sessions
James CottomWest Helena Blues Chicago The Blues Today
Muddy Waters My Dog Can't BarkThe Complete Chess Recordings
Luther JohnsonLonesome Day BluesPiano Blues Vol. 1 192 -1936
George "Harmonica" SmithI.C. Train Blues The Sparks Brothers 1932-1935
Otis Spann & Victoria SpiveyDiving MamaThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 2
Otis Spann & The Muddy Waters BandShe's My BabyThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 2
The Muddy Waters BandChicago SlideThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 1
Mojo BufordWatch Dog Chicago Blues Summit

Show Notes:

Muddy Waters was a larger then life figure who became a star in the late 1940's and remained a huge presence on the blues landscape until his death in 1983. When Muddy arrived in Chicago from the Delta in 1943 he was just another struggling musician trying to establish himself. Pete Welding described his early years: "After several years of playing to slowly increasing audiences, first at houseparties and later in small taverns dotted throughout Chicago's huge, sprawling South and West Side black-belt slums, he had begun to record. …After several exploratory recordings made in the company of pianist Sunnyland Slim and bassist Ernest "Big" Crawford which made absolutely no impression on the record-buying public, Waters suddenly scored with the single "I Can't Be Satisfied/I Feel Like Going Home." And it is with this record that the history of the modern Chicago blues properly begins. Over the next few years, Waters gathered around him a group of like-minded, country-reared musicians with whom he proceeded to make blues history." On today's feature we deflect the spotlight away from Muddy to shine on some of the remarkable bluesman who apprenticed in Muddy's band. Among those featured today include Sunnyland Slim, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Otis Spann and others. Along the way we'll also contrast a few sides under Muddy's name that prominently feature his bandmates.

An early edition of the Muddy Waters Band, with Waters (left),
Otis Spann (piano) and Jimmy Rogers (far right)

Our opening track, "Rosalie", goes way back to 1942 when Muddy Waters was recorded for the Library of Congress alongside Son Simms. Delta bluesman Henry "Son" Sims is best known as the fiddler who played with Charley Patton and Muddy Waters. Born in Anguilla, Mississippi in 1890, Sims played the violin, mandolin, guitar and piano. Although he led a rural string band called the Mississippi Corn Shuckers for several years, the first recording that Sims did was with Patton, who asked him to come along to Wisconsin for a 1929 Paramount session. Sims also recorded under his own name on two separate occasions; during the Patton session when he cut four songs, and several years later with McKinley Morganfield AKA Muddy Waters backing him or his first session in 1941, again in 1942 and with Muddy backing him on a session listed by the Son Simms Four in 1942.

Muddy Waters with one of his Library
of Congress recordings

Muddy and Sunnyland Slim first recorded for Aristocrat together on four songs in1947, each taking the vocals on two numbers resulting in classic s"Gypsy Woman" and "little Anna Mae" sung by Muddy and "Johnson, Machine Gun" and "Fly Right, Little Girl" sung by Sunnyland. Both appeared again with each other on 1948 sessions. Both Sunnyland and Muddy together also backed St. Louis Jimmy and Jimmy Rogers during this period.

Muddy backed Little Johnny Jones on his first record "Big Town Playboy b/w Shelby County Blues" in 1949. During the same period Jones backed Muddy on a three song session including the track we feature, "Where's My Woman Been." Jones and Muddy can also be heard backing Jimmy Rogers on another featured cut, "Ludella", cut for Regal in 1949 and unissued at the time.

Little Walter made his debut for the tiny Ora-Nelle logo ("I Just Keep Loving Her") in the company of Jimmy Rogers and guitarist Othum Brown. Walter joined forces with Muddy Waters in 1948. He arrived in Chicago in 1946 and joined forces with Muddy Waters in 1948. Along with Rogers and Baby Face Leroy Foster, this talented group became informally known as the Headhunters. They would saunter into Southside clubs, mount the stage, and proceed to calmly "cut the heads" of whomever was booked there that evening. By 1950, Walter was firmly entrenched as Waters' studio harpist at Chess (long after Walter had split the Muddy Waters band, Leonard Chess insisted on his participation on Muddy's records). Walter cut his breakthrough 1952 R&B hit "Juke" at the tail-end of a Waters session. Suddenly, Walter was a star on his own. From 1952 to 1958, Walter notched 14 Top Ten R&B hits.

Leroy Foster was first cousin to Little Johnny Jones and Little Willie Foster and came up to Chicago in 1945 in the company of Jones and Little Walter. Muddy and Foster first teamed up together backing Homer Harris and James "Beale Street" Clark at 1946 sessions. Foster aslo plays on several of Muddy's sessions during 1948 and 1949. Muddy is also is heard on vocal on the classic two-part "Rollin' And Tumblin'" at a 1950 Foster session which also features Little Walter.

Jimmy Rogers

Jimmy Rogers settled in Chicago during the early '40s and began playing professionally around 1946, gigging with Sonny Boy Williamson, Sunnyland Slim, and Broonzy. Rogers was playing harp with guitarist Blue Smitty when Muddy Waters joined them. When Smitty split, Little Walter joined the group and Rogers switched over to second guitar. He first played with Muddy Waters on an Aristocrat 78 in 1949 and remained his rhythm guitarist on record into 1955. Rogers began cutting his on records for Chess in 1950 and stayed withe label through 1959.

In 1950 Junior Wells passed an impromptu audition for guitarists Louis and David Myers at a house party on the South Side, and the Deuces were born. When drummer Fred Below came aboard, they changed their name to the Aces. Little Walter left Muddy Waters in 1952 (in the wake of his hit instrumental "Juke"), and Wells jumped ship to take his place. That didn't stop the Aces (who joined forces with Little Walter) from backing Wells on his initial sessions for States Records in 1955 with Muddy also moonlighting on guitar. On record Wells only backed Muddy on one 1952 session and a one off song in 1955 called "Mannish Boy."

Walter Horton played on a 1953 session backing Muddy, including the number we spin today,"She's All Right", and reunited with Muddy for the 1978 album I'm Ready. Horton recorded several sides for Sam Phillips in 1951, which were leased to Modern/RPM. The following year he recorded with longtime friend Johnny Shines, and was invited to settle permanently in Chicago by Eddie Taylor. In early 1953, not long after arriving, Horton got a chance to record and tour with Muddy Waters, since regular harpman Junior Wells had been drafted into military service. However, he was fired by year's end for breaking band commitments or due to excessive drinking or playing too many side gigs, depending on the account.

The first recorded glimpse of Pate Hare occurs when he showed up at Sam Phillips' Memphis Recording Service sometime in 1953 to play on James Cotton's debut session for the Sun label. After working with Cotton and numerous others around the Memphis area, Hare moved North to Chicago and by the late '50's was a regular member of the Muddy Waters band, appearing on the legendary Live at Newport album and numerous sessions backing Muddy between 1956 and 1960. After moving to Minneapolis in the '60's to work with fellow Waters bandmate Mojo Bruford, Hare was convicted of murder after a domestic dispute, spending the rest of his life behind bars. In one of the great ironies of the blues, one of the unissued tracks Pat Hare left behind in the Sun vaults was entitled, "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby."

Otis Spann migrated to Chicago from Mississppi in 1946 or 1947. Spann gigged on his own and with guitarist Morris Pejoe before hooking up with Waters in 1952. His first Chess date behind Muddy began on the 1953 number "Blow Wind Blow." His own Chess output was limited to a 1954 single, "It Must Have Been the Devil," that featured B.B. King on guitar, and sessions in 1956 and 1963 that remained in the can for decades. Spann looked elsewhere and recorded prolifically for labels like Candid, Prestige, Storyvill, British Decca, Bluesway, Vanguard and others. He finally turned the piano chair in the Waters band over to Pinetop Perkins in 1969, but fate didn't grant Spann long to achieve solo stardom. He was stricken with cancer and died in April of 1970 at the age of forty.

James Cotton had some big shoes to fill when he stepped into Little Walter's slot as Muddy Waters' harp ace in 1954, but for the next dozen years, he filled the role in fine fashion. Cotton made his debut for the Sun label in 1953, "Straighten Up Baby" and "Cotton Crop Blues." When Waters rolled through Memphis minus his latest harpist (Junior Wells), Cotton hired on and went to Chicago. Unfortunately for Cotton, Chess Records insisted on using Little Walter on the great majority of Waters' waxings until 1958, when Cotton blew behind Waters on "She's Nineteen Years Old" and "Close to You." At Cotton's suggestion, Waters had added an Ann Cole tune called "Got My Mojo Working" to his repertoire.

Luther "Georgia Boy/Snake Boy" Johnson played for a while with Elmore James and was a regular fixture in the Muddy Waters band by the mid-'60s. Johnson cut two albums in the late 60's backed by Muddy Waters and members of Muddy's band. During this period he also backed Otis Spann and George Smith on sessions.

George Smith played in a number of bands including one with a young guitarist named Otis Rush, and later went on the road with the Muddy Waters Band after replacing Henry Strong. In 1954, he was offered a permanent job at the Orchid Room in Kansas City where, early in 1955, Joe Bihari of Modern Records (on a scouting trip) heard Smith, and signed him to Modern. These recording sessions were released under the name Little George Smith. In 1966, while Muddy Waters was on the West Coast, he asked Smith to join him and they worked together for a while. Smith's first album on World Pacific, A Tribute to Little Walter, was released in 1968 backed by members of the Muddy Waters band and Muddy himself. Smith also spent some time on the road with Muddy in the early 70's, popping up on some live recordings from this period.

We devote a set today to some interesting records made by the late 60's Muddy Waters Band made for the Spivey label. The band cut two albums for Victoria Spivey's Spivey label: The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band (1966) and The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 2 (1968). These records have been issued on CD on the Japanese P-Vine label with several extra tracks. Thalbums feature the following lineup:

Vol 1: Victoria Spivey, voc; Otis Spann, voc, p, org; George Smith, voc, hca; Luther Johnson, voc, g; Samuel Lawhorn, g; Francis Clay, dr

Vol 2: Otis Spann, Lucille Spann, Luther Johnson, Sammy Lawhorn, Little Sonny Wimberley, S.P. Leary, Paul Oscher, Pee Wee Madison, Willie Smith

Mojo Buford spent several stints in the employ of Muddy Waters and was his harpist of choice in the final edition of the Waters band. Buford played with Muddy Waters as early as 1959, but a 1962 uprooting to Minneapolis to front his own combo, and cut a couple of solid but extremely obscure LPs for Vernon and Folk-Art, removed him from the Windy City scene for a while. Buford returned to Waters' combo in 1967 for a year, put in a longer stint with him during the early '70s, and came back for the last time after Jerry Portnoy exited with the rest of his mates to form the Legendary Blues Band. Buford passed in October of 2011. Our selection by Buford, "Watch Dog", comes from the excellent 1979 album Chicago Blues Summit which features Muddy bandmates Pee Wee Madison, Sammy Lawhorn, and Sonny Rogers.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Elmore JamesIt Hurts Me TooVee-Jay: The Definitive Collection
Elmore JamesThe Twelve Year Old BoyKing Of The Slide Guitar
Elmore JamesComing Home King Of The Slide Guitar
Junior WellsTwo Headed Woman Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
G. DavyDid You Ever Love SomeoneBest Of Chief Records
Junior Wells Come On In This HouseMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Junior Wells Little By Little Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Lillian OffittWill My Man Be Home Tonight Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Lillian OffittOh MamaBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior WellsCalling All Blues Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Junior WellsMessing With The KidMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Elmore JamesKnocking At Your DoorKing Of The Slide Guitar
Earl HookerBlues In D NaturalBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior WellsI'm A StrangerMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Magic SamEvery Night About This Time Magic Sam: With a Feeling -The Cobra, Chief & Crash Recordings
Junior WellsSo TiredMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Junior WellsYou Sure Look Good To Me Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Earl HookerRockin' WildBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior Wellst Hurts Me Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Magic SamYou Don't Have To WorkMagic Sam: With a Feeling -The Cobra, Chief & Crash Recordings
Earl HookerThis Little Voice Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Ricky AllenRemember The Time Remember The Time
Ricky AllenYou'd Better Be SureRemember The Time
Earl HookerBlue Guitar Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Earl Hooker Swear To Tell The Truth Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior WellsPrison Bars All Around MeMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Elmore JamesCry For Me BabyKing Of The Slide Guitar
Ricky AllenOuch! Remember The Time
Ricky AllenCut You A-Loose Remember The Time
Earl Hooker That Man Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Jackie Brenston & Earl HookerWant You to Rock MeBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Earl Hooker The Leading BrandBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963

Show Notes:

Mel London (left) & Ricky Allen (right)
 

Melvin R. London was born in Mississippi on April 9, 1932. His initial interest in music led him to write R&B material, and he rapidly set up his own Melva Music  publishing firm. He began operations for Chief Records in 1957. In march of that year, twenty-five year old London was noted in the rhythm & blues trade press, which said "United Distrib's Mel London turned into a triple threat man with Chief's 'Man from The Island.' London penned the Calypso number, published it, and owns the label, not to mention he's the distributor's promotion man, too." They somehow failed to mention that he was the performer on the song as well. London set up Chief's offices at 1510W. Thirteenth St. in Chicago in April of 1957. Chief Records (together with its Profile and Age subsidiaries) was an independent record label that operated from 1957 to 1964. London served as producer and wrote several of the label's best-known songs.

In 1959 Earl Hooker teamed up with Junior Wells and producer Mel London. As Sebastian Danchin wrote in his superlative biography Earl Hooker – Blues Master: "The period between 1959 and 1963 was a productive one, both in terms of quality and quantity. Through Mel London, Hooker was involved in over a dozen recording sessions, and his playing was featured on some forty titles and twenty-five singles, a dozen of which were released under his own name, the rest being ascribed to Junior Wells, A.C. Reed, Lillian Offitt, and Ricky Allen." According to A.c. Reed "Hooker met London when I was on the road with Dennis Binder and 'em, because when I come back, he was already associated with Mel London and he got me into recordin' with Mel London. It was a studio band 'cause we's about the best musicians he had to record behind peoples. Everybody played on everybody's record. Anybody that would record, we'd play on it."

As Danchin wrote: "Earl didn't have a one-way relationship with London; his superlative guitar contributions played their role in the development of London's business, but at the same time it was through London that Hooker was able to bequeath future generations a testimony to his highly creative genius, in the form of blues classics like "Blue Guitar", "Blues in D Natural", "Little By Little", "Messin' With The Kid",  and "Will My Man Be Home Tonight."

In 1957, Junior Wells hooked up with producer Mel London, who owned the Chief and Profile logos. Wells was one of London's favorite blues artists. Wells hooked up with Earl Hooker after his last label,United/States, folded in 1957 and after his previous guitarist, Syl Johnson had left. The association resulted in many of Wells' most enduring sides, including "I Could Cry" and the rock & rolling "Lovey Dovey Lovely One" in 1957, the grinding national R&B hit "Little by Little" (with Willie Dixon providing vocal harmony) in 1959, and the R&B-laced classic "Messin' with the Kid" in 1960 (sporting Earl Hooker's immaculate guitar work). Wells' harp was de-emphasized during this period on record in favor of his animated vocals.“Little By Little' became a national hit, peaking at #23 on the R&B Billboard charts. The flip, “Come On In This House” also became a hit, played extensively on black radio stations in Chicago. Wells would continue to perform and record several of his Chief and Profile songs ("Messin' with the Kid," "Come on in This House," and "It Hurts Me Too") during his career.

Billboard Jan 23, 1961 Ad

1960-1961 was a high water point for the collaboration between Hooker and Wells with the two waxing some impressive material including "Calling All Blues", "Messin' With The Kid", "I'm A Stranger and "The Things I'd For You" among others. "Cut You Loose," another London composition, was a hit for Ricky Allen; the song reached #20 in 1963. Next to Wells, Allen had the most singles on the label (all on Age). A native of Nashville, Ricky Allen was influenced by Earl Gaines and Larry Birdsong before relocating to Chicago in 1960. There, he promptly became a part of Earl Hooker's musical circle, joining him on the roster of Mel London's Age imprint. Allen's local popularity was reflected in frequent visits to the recording studio – he cut over forty titles for labels including Age, USA, 4 Brothers, and Bright Star. Allen cut several local and national hits like "You Better Be Sure", "Ouch!" and "Cut You A Loose" which hit #20 on the R&B charts and #126 on the pop charts. After disbanding his band in the early 70's he drifted off into blues obscurity.

Chief was plagued by financial problems. First to be discontinued were the Chief and Profile labels; finally the Age label was discontinued in 1964 and the company went out of business. During its seven years of operation, Chief/Profile/Age released about eighty singles (including reissues) from approximately thirty-seven artists. Later, various singles (including reissues) by Chief artists would be released by All-Points Records, Mel/Mel-Lon Records, Bright Star Records, and Starville Records, but none had the impact of the originals.

By 1963 London had a role with the U.S.A. label, possibly as a producer. by the end of the decade he was working a s shipping clerk for United Record Distributors. Neil Slaven noted that London "most of the time drove a delivery truck. He was by no means bitter about this situation and retained fond memories of the artists he'd recorded and the record he'd made." In the early 70's London had some plans to reissue his earlier material but no longer had the original masters. London said in a 1973 interview: "hell, I never though there'd be a call for that stuff." London died of cancer in May 1975 at the age of forty-three.

The Chief label boasted a catalog of forty-one singles, the last one being reissues of items released at an earlier stage. Chief was an eclectic label that included efforts by pop and rockabilly artists, yet its best selling issues-with the exception of a minor rock 'n' roll hit by Tobin Matthews-were blues numbers featuring Earl Hooker's inventive playing. The liking that  that London took to Hooker's playing soon prompted him to use him as his "house" guitarist, using his band every time he set up and R&B session. However he never trusted Hooker's singing, never once issuing a vocal by him. Advertised in Cash Box from April 14, 1962, "Blue Guitar", was a record sold usually well for an instrumental blues side. Before the Spring was over, every band in the Chicago blues belt included the song in their repertoire. The song was then used as the instrumental backing to Muddy Waters' "You Shook Me."

To record, Mel London used Chicago's finest studio, Universal Recording. As Big Moose Walker noted "Somethin' like twenty years ago, that was the best studio in the city. …I'd say like nine or ten o'clock at night, we'd be done through by twelve, it depend on on how many we'd be cuttin'.  …Sometimes we go in there, I would do somethin' like one, and then maybe RickyAllen would do one, and maybe he might have junior Wells doin' one."

London was also running the Profile label at the same time which also folded around the same time. Chief was aimed at the R&B market while Profile aimed more towards pop. That same year London formed his Age label. The Age label issued twenty-five singles through 1964 by Ricky Allen, Earl Hooker and A.C. Reed among others while Profile issued fifteen singles.

London recorded five titles at his initial session with Elmore James. "Knocking At Your Door" was not released at the time because London had nothing to pair it with. Elmore was called back to the studio by London in the Fall, cutting "Cry For Me Baby" b/w "Take Me where You Go"featuring Syl Johnson on lead guitar. The number were released in December and reissued almost immediately on Vee-Jay. All in all, James cut seven sides for chief. James was among the first signed to the label, entering the studio in April, 1957. “The Twelve Year Old Boy” and “Coming Home” were the first songs recorded. These songs were paired for issue as Chief's second release. The single was distributed by bigger independent, Vee-Jay who also reissued the single on its own label. The next release was 'It Hurts Me Too” which Elmore had cut twice before and was originally recorded by Tampa Red in 1941.

Lillian Offit made her debut cutting a handful of sides for Excello in 1957 and 1958. By 1959 she was in Chicago where she teamed up with Earl Hooker. The group went in the studio in February 1959. “Will My Man Be Home Tonight” became one of Chief's best sellers and a local hit in Chicago. The group recorded again in May of the same year.

Other blues artists who cut sides for London included Magic Sam who cut eight sides for Chief across three sessions in 1960 and 1961, G. "Davy" Crockett and Hooker associates A.C. Reed, Big Moose Walker and Jackie Brenston of "Rocket 88" fame who fronts Hooker's band Want "You To Rock Me" b/w "Down In My Heart.".

Share
ARTISTSONGALBUM
Lightnin' HopkinsGoin' Back To FloridaLightnin' Hopkins
Lightnin' HopkinsI Growed Up With The BluesComplete Prestige/Bluesville Recordings
Daddy HotcakesStrange Woman BluesThe Blues in St. Louis Vol. 1
Henry TownsendTired Of Being MistreatedTired Of Being Mistreated
J.D. ShortYou're Tempting MeThe Sonet Blues Story
J.D. ShortSo Much WineBlues from the Mississippi Delta
Billie and De De PierceMarried Man BluesMusic of New Orleans Vol. 3
Edith Johnson & Henry BrownNickel's Worth of LiverThe Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2
Edith Johnson & Henry BrownHenry Brown BluesThe Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2
Barrelhouse Buck20th Street BluesBackcountry Barrelhouse
Speckled RedUncle Sam's BluesThe Barrel-House Blues of Speckled Red,
Pink AndersonYou Don't Know My MindCarolina Medicine Show Hokum & Blues
Pink AndersonThat’s No Way to DoMedicine Show Man
Baby TateSee What You Done DoneSee What You Done Done
Jesse FullerRed River BluesJesse Fuller's Favorite
Furry LewisPearlee BluesFurry Lewis
Furry LewisKassie JonesFurry Lewis
Memphis Willie B.Uncle Sam BluesHard Working Man Blues
Robert Pete WilliamsCome Here Sit Down on My KneeLegacy of the Blues Vol. 9
Billy Boy ArnoldTwo Drinks Of WineMore Blues On The South Side
Homesick JamesThe Woman I'm Lovin'Blues on the South Side
Buddy GuyA Man And The BluesA Man And The Blues
Otis SpannSometimes I WonderChicago The Blues Today!
J.B. HuttoMarried Woman BluesChicago The Blues Today!
Junior WellsHelp MeChicago The Blues Today!
Otis RushIt’s My Own FaultChicago The Blues Today!
Johnny YoungOne More TimeChicago The Blues Today!
Johnny ShinesDynaflowChicago The Blues Today!

Show Notes:

At Izzy young's Folklore Center, MacDougal Street, NYC,
l-r Sam charters, Izzy Young, Memphis Willie B., Furry
Lewis, and Gus cannon, 1964 (Photo by Ann Charters)

Samuel Charters played a central role in the folk revival of the 1950's and 1960's. His fieldwork, extensive liner notes, production efforts, and books served as an introduction to many who had never heard of artists like Lightnin' Hopkins and Robert Johnson. Charters was born in 1929 and graduated from Sacramento City College in 1949. In 1951, at the age of 21, he moved to New Orleans. After a two-year stint in the Army, he began to study jazz, but soon felt himself drawn to rural blues. Encouraged by fellow jazz researcher Frederic Ramsey, Charters began recording jazz and blues artists in 1955. The following year Folkways Records began issuing his recordings. Charters  work as a field recorder and researcher  would be poured into his first book in 1959, The Country Blues. "…The Country Blues was the first full-length treatment of the topic," wrote Benjamin Filene in Romancing the Folk, "and its evocative style inspired thousands of whites to explore the music." Unlike the more formal music histories written by Paul Oliver, Charters' book was a popular history designed to pass on his enthusiasm for the blues to others. A companion album, also titled The Country Blues, would simultaneously be released on Folkways' RBF reissue series for which Charters produced about twenty albums. His other claim to fame during this period was his re-discovery, after a lengthy search, of Sam Lightnin' Hopkins who he recorded for Folkways in 1959.

In the 60's Charters wrote several books including The Poetry of the Blues and The Bluesmen. A 1961 trip for Prestige Records yielded records by Furry Lewis, Memphis Willie B., Baby Tate and Pink Anderson. Charters visited St. Louis to do recording sessions in 1961 and 1962 resulting in several albums by Henry Townsend, Henry Brown and Edith Johnson, Dady Hotcakes, J.D. Short, Speckled Red and Barrelhouse Buck. In 1963 he was hired by Prestige as an A&R representative, and oversaw the Bluesville and Folklore series.

Sam charters recording Sleepy John Estes,
Brownsville, TN, 1962 (Photo by Ann Charters)

Charters' Prestige recordings of Homesick James, Billy Boy Arnold, and Otis Spann were some of the first electric blues releases aimed at the revival market. He continued in this vein as an independent producer for Vanguard with the influential three-volume anthology Chicago: The Blues Today as well as solo albums by Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, James Cotton and Charlie Musselwhite.

In the early 70's Charters moved to Sweden where he worked as a producer for Sonet. The twelve-volume series Legacy of the Blues resulted in a similarly titled book. He also recorded zydeco albums during this period by Clifton Chenier and Rockin' Dopsie.

On today's program we track recordings charters made from the late 1950's through the early 70's'. Much of the background on today's artists come from Charters' own writings, either taken from the original liner notes or Walking A Blues Road: A Blues Reader 1956-2004 a collection of his writings issued in 2004. The First half of the show is devoted primarily to acoustic blues artists. As Charters wrote: "In the first years of the blues rediscoveries there was a heady level of excitement just at finding that the blues was more than names on old phonograph records. For any of us who had come to the blues through our interest in classic jazz or through our involvement in the folk movement, the modern electric blues was considered with some wariness as an intrusion on the 'folk' spirit of the blues. For myself, there was also a sense of urgency. The younger blues artists in places like Chicago or Detroit could wait – whatever we thought of their style of the blues. The older blues artists who were still living in rented rooms or tenement apartments in cities like Memphis or Atlanta didn't have so many years ahead of them, and if we didn't save their stories and their music their rich legacy would slip away from us."

"My life as a record producer began with a duet session that I set up and recorded with Billie and Dee Dee [Pierce] in the spring of 1954. …The material from the session was released by Folkways as part of the series I recorded and complied with some tracks done by other field collectors in the city titled The Music of New Orleans. Billie and Dee Dee were included in Volume Three of the series, Music of the Dance Halls… …If you're interested in the old New Orleans jazz styles there are still a dozen places to hear bands, even if most of them don't have music every weekend, and you never know who's going to play unless one of the musicians calls you. What we knew about Luthjen's was that every night on the weekends Billie Pierce would be sitting on the bench of the place's much battered piano and singing the blues, and her husband Dee Dee Pierce would be sitting on an old kitchen chair beside her,  adding the lyric trumpet fills that are an indispensable musical complement to the classic blues style." From the above mentioned album we play "Married Man Blues."

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

We spin  a pair of cuts by Lightnin' Hopkins who Charters located after a lengthy period of not recordings. "On a windy winter morning in January 1959 I was driving along Dowling Street, in Houston, Texas. I stopped at a red light and a car pulled up beside mine. The window was rolled down, and a thin, nervous man, wearing dark glasses, leaned toward me.

'You lookin' for me?'
'Are you Lightnin'?'
'Lightnin", I said, 'I sure am.'

"I had been looking for lightnin' Hopkins, off and on, for the five years that had passed since I first heard him on record. …I was in and out of Houston for the next five years, recording, interviewing musicians, and asking about Lightnin' Hopkins. …When I finally found him he was anxious to begin recording again, and after I'd rented an acoustic guitar for him  I carried the tape recorder I had in the trunk of my car into his shabby room on Hadley Street. He sang all afternoon, becoming more emotional and even more musically exciting as the hours passed." The results were issued on a self-titled album on Folkways.  The results helped introduced his music to an entirely new audience. Soon after Hopkins went from gigging at back-alley gin joints to starring at collegiate coffeehouses, appearing on TV programs, and touring Europe. He was recording more prolifically then ever, laying down albums for World Pacific, Vee-Jay,Bluesville, Bobby Robinson’s Fire label, Candid, Arhoolie, Verve and, in 1965, the first of several LP’s for Stan Lewis’ Shreveport-based Jewel logo. During the 70's his recording activity slowed, cutting just a handful of sessions for verve and Sonet with several live collections issued. He was still touring widely and made trips to Mexico, Japan and Germany.  After a final gig at Tramps in New York in November 1981 he returned to Houston where his health declined rapidly. He passed January 30, 1982.

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

Charters visited St. Louis to do recording sessions in 1961 and 1962 resulting in several fine albums of material. As Charters wrote: “I first visited St. Louis on the long research trip for The Country Blues in January 1959 …We were in the city again for two recordings trips, the first in May of 1961, and the second, to film J.D. Short for the documentary film The Blues, in the summer of 1962. Two of the albums, by Henry Townsend and Barrelhouse Buck, were released at the time of recording. One album, with J.D. Short, was released as part of the Legacy of the Blues series in 1973, and the other albums were released by Folkways in 1984.

George “Daddy Hotcakes” Montgomery was born in Georgia and came moved to St. Louis in 1918. He began singing the blues as a youngster and worked as an entertainer during the 1920’s. Sometime in the late 30’s he had an opportunity to record through blues artist and talent scout Charlie Jordan but the recording session fell through. He was still occasionally playing parties when Charters recorded him in 1961. These are his only recordings. As Charters wrote: "I am still also as surprised -when I listen to what we recorded in his room over the next two or threes days – at the complete, natural spontaneity of his blues. …Using his imagination and a store of familiar blues phrase to help him through occasional hesitations he simply made up the songs as he went along. I had some of the same experience when I recorded Lightnin' Hopkins and Robert Pete Williams but even as loose and free as they were with their blues I still could anticipate most of what they were going to do. With George, however, I never could be sure what might come next if I asked him to repeat anything." …The songs George recorded in his room – as far as I know these were his only recordings -made me conscious again of the haphazard circumstances that left their mark on what we knew of the blues. How many singers were there like George, who missed a recording trip because they didn't get the times right? How many were there who never were heard by anyone who knew where to send them to get their songs on record?" these recordings were issued on Folkways under the title The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 1: Daddy Hotcakes (originally planned to be issued on Bluesville).

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

While in St. Louis Charters cut an excellent album by veteran bluesman Henry Townsend backed his friend Tommy Bankhead. The results were issued on Bluesville as Tired of Being Mistreated and on Folkways as The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 3: Henry Townsend.  Townsend was one of the only artists to have recorded in every decade for the last 80 years.  He first recorded in 1929 and remained active up to 2006. "One of the things that was most intriguing for me about working with Henry was that this was the first time I'd ever recorded anyone playing an electric guitar. …The first blues they ran down together wiped out an lingering prejudices I had against electric instruments. It wasn't electric guitars that had changed the blues. It was the life in the African American ghettos, the new society, experiences of the people who created the blues that had changed, and it was the new instrument and their changes sound that expressed the new conditions of  their lives."

Charters also recorded  a fine session by Edith Johnson and Henry Brown. The results were issued on the album The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2: Henry Brown and Edith Johnson – Barrelhouse Piano and Classic Blues. Edith Johnson recorded eighteen sides in 1928/29 as “Edith North Johnson”, “Hattie North” and “Maybelle Allen.” Henry Brown worked clubs such as the Blue Flame Club, the 9-0-5 Club, Jim’s Place and Katy Red’s, from the twenties into the 30’s. Recorded for Brunswisck with Ike Rogers and Mary Johnson in 1929, for Paramount in Richmond and Grafton in ‘29 and ‘30. He served in the army in the early ’40s, then formed his own quartet to work occasional local gigs in St. Louis area from the ’50s, and worked the Becky Thatcher riverboat, St. Louis in 1965. In addition to his pre-war recordings, he was recorded by Paul Oliver in 1960 and by Adelphi in 1969.

J.D. Short recorded two sessions in the early ’30s for Paramount and Vocalion, then quickly faded into obscurity. Charters recorded Short at his transplanted home base of St. Louis in 1961. As Charters writes in the notes: “The recording that we did in his house that summer – mostly in the kitchen to get away from the noises in the street – was his last, but we didn’t have any idea of it. I was filming him for a sequence in The Blues and trying to get his ideas about the backgrounds and the aesthetics of the blues for The Poetry Of The Blues so we recorded a lot of music – new versions of songs he’d done before – new songs – and his own comments about the styles and the music.” Short unexpectedly passed away shortly after this session at the age of 60. Charters' recordings of Short can be found on the albums J.D. Short and Son House: Blues from the Mississippi Delta and album as part of  The Legacy of the Blues series released in the 70's.

St. Louis was always a good piano blues town, and in addition to recording Henry Brown, Charters also captured Barrelhouse Buck and Speckled Red. Barrelhouse Buck McFarland cut his final session for Folkways and an unissued session in 1961 that was belatedly released a few years back on Delmark. The recordings Charters made were released on Folkways as Backcountry Barrelhouse. He died shortly afterward. McFarland was born in Alton, Illinois in 1903 in the same area as two other exceptional piano players, Wesley Wallace and Jabbo Williams, all three of which made names for themselves on the bustling St. Louis blues scene. McFarland got his shot in the recording studio waxing ten sides; two for Paramount in 1929, two for Decca in 1934 and four more for Decca in 1935, which were not issued. Speckled Red (born Rufus Perryman) was born in Monroe, LA, but he made his reputation as part of the St. Louis and Memphis blues scenes of the ’20s and ’30s. In 1929, he cut his first recording sessions. One song from these sessions, “The Dirty Dozens,” was released on Brunswick and became a hit in late 1929. In 1938, he cut a few sides for Bluebird. In the early ’40s, Red moved to St. Louis, where he played local clubs and bars for the next decade and a half. Charlie O’Brien, a St. Louis policeman and something of a blues aficionado “rediscovered” Speckled Red on December 14, 1954, who subsequently was signed to Delmark Records as their first blues artist. Several recordings were made in 1956 and 1957 for Tone, Delmark, Folkways, and Storyville record labels. The recordings Charters made were issued on Folkway under the title The Barrel-House Blues of Speckled Red.

Charters also spent time in Memphis getting to know and record some of the city's pre-war blues recording artists. "Will Shade, the guitar and harmonica player who had organized the Memphis Jug Band for victor Records in 1927, had remembered Furry in a conversation in February 1959. …I looked out the window,  over the roofs toward Beale Street, and said to him, thinking out loud as much as anything else, 'I certainly would like to have heard some of those old blues singers, Jim Jackson, Furry Lewis, John Estes, Frank Stokes…' Will leaned out of his chair and called to his wife, Jennie Mae, who was working in the kitchen. 'Jennie Mae, when was the last time you saw that fellow they call 'Furry'?' '…Furry Lewis you mean? I saw him just last week.'" Charters eventually found Furry: "He no longer had a guitar and he hadn't played much in twenty years, but when I asked him if he could sing and play he straightened and said, 'I'm better now than I ever was.'"  Lewis returned to the studio under Charters' direction, first cutting a self-titled album for Folkways in 1959 and then two albums for the Prestige/Bluesville label in 1961.

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

Read Liner Notes

In South Carolina Charters made important recordings by Pink Anderson and Baby Tate. Anderson was born in South Carolina and early on sang in the streets for pennies. He was self-taught as a guitarist 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 recorded four titles in 1928 with his partner Simmie Dooley but did not make another record until 1950 for Riverside, sharing an album with Rev. Gary Davis. Anderson continued to work at parties, street fairs, and medicine shows during the first half of the 1950s before retiring for a time due to ill health. But in 1961 the Bluesville label sent Charters to record him. He recorded three albums of unaccompanied performances by Anderson, documenting him in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Carters also recorded one album by Anderson that was issued on Folkways as Carolina Medicine Show Hokum And Blues. Anderson stayed active on a part-time basis up until the time of his death in 1974.

Guitarist Baby Tate recorded only a handful of sessions, spending the bulk of his life as a sideman, playing with musicians like Blind Boy Fuller, Pink Anderson, and Peg Leg Sam. When he was 14 years old, Tate taught himself how to play guitar. Shortly afterward, he began playing with Blind Boy Fuller, who taught Tate the fundamentals of blues guitar. For most of the '30s, Baby played music as a hobby, performing at local parties, celebrations, and medicine shows. Tate picked up music again in 1946, setting out on the local blues club circuit. In the early '50s, Baby moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he performed both as a solo act and as a duo with Pink Anderson. In 1962, Charters recorded Tate for the album, See What You Done Done for Bluesville. The following year, he was featured in Charters' documentary film, The Blues. For the rest of the decade, Baby Tate played various gigs, concerts, and festivals across America. With the assistance of harmonica player Peg Leg Sam, Baby Tate recorded another set of sessions in 1972. Pete Lowry recorded him extensively in 1970 but theses sides remain unreleased. He died on August 17, 1972.

Charters first foray into recording Chicago electric blues were a batch of albums for Prestige/Bluesville including sessions by Otis Spann, Homesick James and Billy Boy Arnold. Born in Chicago, Billy Boy was gravitated who was a big influence. Still in his teens, Arnold cut his debut 78 for the obscure Cool logo in 1952. "Arnold made an auspicious connection when he joined forces with Bo Diddley and played on the his two-sided 1955 debut smash "Bo Diddley"/"I'm a Man" for Checker. That led, in a roundabout way, to Billy Boy's signing with rival Vee-Jay Records. Arnold's "I Wish You Would," utilizing that familiar Bo Diddley beat, sold well and inspired a later famous cover by the Yardbirds. Thhe group also took a liking to another Arnold classic on Vee-Jay, "I Ain't Got You." Other Vee-Jay standouts by Arnold included "Prisoner's Plea" and "Rockinitis," but by 1958, his tenure at the label was over. Other than an excellent Samuel Charters-produced 1963 album for Prestige, More Blues on the South Side, Arnold retained a low profile until signing with Alligator in the 90's.

Homesick James was playing guitar at age ten and soon ran away from his Tennessee home to play at fish fries and dances. His travels took the guitarist through Mississippi and North Carolina during the 1920s, where he crossed paths with Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Boy Fuller, and Big Joe Williams.Settling in Chicago during the 1930s, Williamson played local clubs. Williamson made some fine sides in 1952-53 for Chance Records. James also worked extensively as a sideman, backing harp great Sonny Boy Williamson in 1945 at a Chicago gin joint called the Purple Cat and during the 1950s with his cousin, Elmore James. He also recorded with James during the 1950s. Homesick's own output included 45's for Colt and USA in 1962, and the album for Blues On The South Side produced by Charters.

"I came to Chicago for the first time in the winter of 1959, as part of the long research trip for the book The Country Blues. …For the next few years I was in and out of Chicago – and after so many nights down on the south side listening to the  bands, I was becoming more and more impatient to go into a recording studio to document some of the unforgettable music I was hearing. But the companies I was involved with – Folkways and Prestige – either didn't have the money for the sessions, or they weren't ready to record the electric blues." Fortunately Charters  hooked up with Vanguard Records who were more receptive to the idea.

In early 1966, Vanguard issued three-volume set, Chicago/The Blues/Today!. Every artist on the three volumes had recorded before (some, like Otis Rush and Junior Wells, had actually seen small hits on the R&B charts), but these recordings were largely their introduction to a newer — and predominately white — album-oriented audience. This series accurately portrayed a vast cross section of the Chicago blues scene as one could hear it on any given night in the mid-'60s. Rather than record full albums (which Charters had neither the budget nor the legal resources to pull off), each artist simply came in for a union-approved session of four to six songs, with each volume featuring three different groupings. Other notable records Charters cut for Vanguard include Buddy Guy's A Man And The Blues,the guitarist's first album away from Chess and Junior Wells' It's My Life Baby, a mix of studio recordings and live tracks recorded at Pepper's Lounge in Chicago.

Charters and his family moved to Sweden in1971 and began working with a local record company called Sonet. He was eventually asked to do a blues series for the label. The series, Legacy of the Blues, ran to twelve albums with Charters producing the series as well as writing extensive liner notes for each. The notes were expanded for a book of the same name which was published in 1975. The entire series has been reissued on CD by Verve in 2006. As was often the case, Charters was able to coax some exceptional performances resulting in some  excellent albums by Memphis Slim, Robert Pete Williams and Snooks Eaglin.

Share
ARTISTSONGALBUM
Scrapper BlackwellBlues Before SunriseMr. Scrapper's Blues
Scrapper BlackwellLittle Boy BlueMr. Scrapper's Blues
Shirley GriffithSaturday BluesSaturday Blues
Shirley GriffithMaggie Campbell BluesSaturday Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithBlind Lemon's BluesIndiana Ave. Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithNaptown BoogieIndiana Ave. Blues
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellBama BoundMy Heart Struck Sorrow
Pete FranklinI Got To Find My BabyGuitar Pete's Blues
Neal PatmanKey To The HighwayArt of Field Recording: Vol I
Cecil BarfieldGeorgia Bottleneck BluesArt of Field Recording: Vol I
Art Rosenbaum Interview
Yank Rachel & Shirley GriffithPeach Orchard MamaArt of Field Recording: Vol. I
Scrapper BlackwellNobody Knows When Your Down...Mr. Scrapper's Blues
Shirley GriffithRiver Line BluesSaturday Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithBig Road BluesIndianapolis Jump
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellBrook's BluesArt of Field Recording: Vol. I
Tony BryantBroke Down EngineArt of Field Recording: Vol. II
J. Easley, P. Franklin and Ray HollowayBig Leg WomanIndianapolis Jump

Show Notes:

Mission statement released after
United had been in existence for one year

The United Record Company was launched in July 1951, by Leonard Allen and Lew Simpkins, a veteran record man who had worked for the Miracle and Premium Records and brought many of their former artists to the new label. A news item in the trade press dated July 21, 1951, announces the formation of the United Recording Company. "The guiding force behind this new company is a Chicago area entertainment entrepreneur by the name of Lewis Simpkins. He had previous experience with the local Miracle and Premium labels in the Chicago areas. Simpkins is unique because he is one of the very few Black record company owners producing this music that is largely by and for the Black community. He joins the Rene Brothers in California (Excelsior and Exclusive) and soon to be executives Vivian Carter and James Bracken in nearby Gary Indiana with the Vee-Jay label."

United enjoyed early success, scoring hits by Tab Smith, Jimmy Forrest, and the Four Blazes; during its first year it was outdoing its local rival Chess on the charts. The United label took off impressively, scoring two number one R&B hits among its first ten releases: Tab Smith's "Because of You," and Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train." United formally opened for business with a long recording session on July 12, 1951. The company was able to expand and open a new imprint called States in May 1952. United and States recorded a substantial roster of jazz artists. The company also recorded a substantial amount of blues including artists like Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim, J. T. Brown, "Big" Walter Horton, J. T. Brown, Robert Nighthawk, Junior Wells and others. The label also recorded a fair bit of gospel and vocal harmony groups.During its first 2 1/2 years of operation, the company recorded 463 masters. The death of Lew Simpkins, who died suddenly on April 27, 1953, was a serious blow; Leonard Allen was left to run the enterprise with limited help until the label's demise in 1957. While the company remained fairly healthy during 1954, activity dropped off sharply after that. Of the 281 sides that the company cut during this period, 130 were done in 1954. By the end of 1956 Leonard Allen was reduced to selling off half of the house music publishing company to pay his tax bill. Too many years without hits finally brought United and States down after the company's Christmas releases in 1957. Bob Koester of Delmark Records acquired most of the label's masters in 1975 and has reissued the bulk of this material on LP and CD. I want to thank the folks at Delmark for sending me several titles that made this show possible. Below is some background on some of today's featured artists, most of which comes from the The Red Saunders Research Foundation website.

Roosevelt Sykes, like Nighthawk, was recorded on United’s first day of sessions on July 12, 1951. He cut two additional sessions in August 1951 and March 1953. There is speculation that Nighthawk plays guitar on the first Sykes session. Robert Nighthawk was recorded by United on their very first day of sessions and two of United's first five releases were by Robert Nighthawk and his Nighthawks Band. Sales never took off and Nighthawk headed back south and wouldn't record again until 1964. Leonard Allen scoffed: "Robert Nighthawk? I didn't think nothin' of him. I didn't go into those joints where they were playing. Lew knew him- he had Robert Nighthawk in mind for the first session. So after he cut the session it did nothin'." Nighthawk recorded two sessions for United, one on July 12, 1951 and one on October 25, 1952 for its subsidiary States. His complete recordings for the label are collected on the CD Bricks in My Pillow.

Memphis Slim cut around 30 sides for United at sessions in 1952, 1953 and two in 1954. This was a particularly inspired period for Slim who added his first permanent guitarist, Matt Murphy to his band. These recordings have been reissued on the Delmark CD’s Memphis Slim U.S.A. and The Come Back. Memphis Slim had been recording since 1940. Based in Chicago during this phase of his career, he had been a mainstay at three postwar independents: first Hy-Tone, then Miracle, and finally Miracle's successor entity Premium. After Premium collapsed in the summer of 1951, Slim cut three sessions for Mercury in Chicago. Lew Simpkins, who knew Slim from the days when he was moving 78's for Miracle and Premium, brought him to United as soon as he could.

J.T. Brown also recorded during United's first day – and his "Windy City Boogie" was credited by United proprietor Leonard Allen with "saving our first money." J.T. is best remembered for the accompaniments he provided for Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Roosevelt Sykes, Johnny Shines, and J.B. Lenoir. In his liner notes for the United reissues on Delmark, Jim O'Neal remarked that he "was a bluesman. By jazz standards, he was not a great instrumentalist. His lack of sophistication, subtlety, and tonal variations prevented him from moving into more 'progressive' circles." Brown first performed as a member of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels in the South before moving to Chicago in the early 1940's.

One of the top R&B records of 1952, "Mary Jo" provided a moment in the national spotlight for one of Chicago's hottest vocal combos, The Four Blazes. The single moved rapidly to the top, displacing Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" as the #1 R&B song in the nation at the end of August. Bassist Tommy Braden was the main lead singer while all members provided backup harmony vocals. "Jelly" Holt was the founder and drummer in the group, while Floyd McDaniel and "Shorty" Hill played guitars. The Four Blazes formed in 1940 and made their recording debut with a few sides for Aristocrat in 1947 before landing at United in 1952.

In what was likely a response to Chess' success with Little Walter, United signed harp ace Junior Wells. After a youthful apprenticeship in the Aces and then the Muddy Waters band (when Little Walter went out on his own he took over the Aces, while Junior moved into his chair in Muddy's band, and appeared on one of Muddy's sessions for Chess), he was ready to make his first sides as a leader for the States subsidiary.  Down Beat's Pete Welding wrote "In their power, directness, unerring taste and utter consistency of mood, these may well be the most perfectly distilled examples of Wells' music ever recorded, taking their place alongside of those of Waters, Walter, Wolf and other masters of the period." These historic sessions also feature Louis and Dave Myers, Willie Dixon, Johnnie Jones, Fred Below and Odie Payne Jr. Recorded by United Records in 1953 and 1954 at Universal Studio in Chicago, eight sides were issued on the subsidiary States label.

Walter Horton moved to Chicago in the late 1940's, but during 1951-54 made frequent trips to Memphis to record for Modern, behind other artists and under the name Mumbles. He also made sideman appearances for Chicago-based labels, with Muddy Waters for Chess (January 1953) and Johnny Shines for JOB (the same month). He recorded under the name Big Walter Horton for the first time when he signed with United in 1954. Horton also backed singer Tommy Brown the same year. Brown's United session on August 26 featured an all-star lineup of Walter Horton (harmonica), Harold Ashby (tenor sax), Memphis Slim (piano), Lee Cooper (guitar), and Willie Dixon (bass); the drums are unknown. Brown remains an active performer.

Leonard Allen  recorded blues artists Morris Pejoe and Big Boy Spires in Al Smith's basement (5313 South Drexel). Although the Pejoe session was interesting enough to justify putting matrix numbers on it, Allen eventually backpedaled, most likely because of the less-than-professional sound quality. Neither saw release until Delmarkr put them out on an album in 1989. Pejoe was born Morris Pejas in Louisiana, and began his music career on the violin. After moving to Beaumont, Texas, in 1949, he switched to guitar. In 1951 he was in Chicago, performing with pianist Henry Gray. During 1952-53 he recorded three sessions for Checker, accompanied by Gray among others. The United session was held in December 1954.

Arthur "Big Boy" Spires was born in Natchez, Mississippi; he started playing guitar only in the late 1930s. Spires came to Chicago in 1943, and played house-rent parties during the decade. It was not until 1950 or 1951 that he graduated to nightclubs. He first recorded for Checker in 1952 (which produced his best known record, "Murmur Low"), and did a strong session for Chance in January 1953. In December 1953, Big Boy Spires and His Rhythm Rocking Three was advertised as the feature act in the grand opening celebration of the Palace Inn (the ad failed to list an address). The date of the Spires session for Leonard Allen seems to be December 1954 or shortly thereafter.

The most down-home blues session ever recorded by Leonard Allen featured harmonica player Alfred "Blues King" Harris and drummer James Bannister. Bannister got the vocals on "Blues and Trouble" and "Gold Digger," which were the only titles to be released from the session at the time; States 141 is a very rare record. Harris sang on the rest, which did not see issue until they appeared on a Delmark LP many years later. Bannister had made unissued recordings for Sun in Memphis and for Chess before cutting this session for States. Harris, who could sing in the B. B. King manner and often billed himself as Blues King, made one track for Modern in Memphis. He was booked into the Be-Bop Club for 6 months in 1954 when Allen recorded him. He waxed five sides for United that same year. In the late 1950's, Harris put out a single on J. Mayo Williams' low-circulation Ebony label. He dropped off the Chicago scene after 1959 and his later movements are untraced.

Other performers featured today include Jimmy Coe, Eddie Chamblee, Arbee Stidham, L.C. McKinley and Ernie K-Doe among others. United recorded several fine sax players who's music straddled the line between R&B and jazz. Many are featured on Delmark's three volume Honkers & Bar Walkers series including Jimmy Coe and Eddie Chamblee. From 1941 to 1946 Chamblee worked as a musician in Army bands; after his discharge he put together his own combo. His first notable work was on the Miracle label, particularly on the huge hit "Long Gone" by Sonny Thompson, which recorded for 1947. After Chamblee went out on his own in 1948, his records for Miracle and Premium sold well, and Lew Simpkins no doubt remembered him. In addition to putting out sides under his own name he also played on many sides backing the Four Blazes. On our selection, "La! La! La! Lady", Chamblee also takes the vocal. Arbee Stidham was the last blues artist to record for Leonard Allen, and was responsible for the very last release on States. He came to Chicago in the 1940s and his first recording for RCA Victor in 1947 produced a number one R&B hit on the Billboard race chart, "My Heart Belongs To You." Subsequently he cut sides for Victor, Checker, Sittin' With and Abco before signing with States in 1957. Only rone record was issued featuring the guitar of Earl Hooker. L. C. McKinley was T-Bone Walker disciple who made from Mississippi to Chicago in 1951. In the early 1950's he was a regular headliner at the famed 708 Club. In 1951 and 1952, he recorded as a sideman with pianist Eddie Boyd for JOB, appearing on Boyd's biggest hit, "Five Long Years." He first recorded as a leader in 1953 for the Parrot label, but Al Benson chose not to release his session. McKinley signed with States around the beginning of 1954 and cut four sides for the label. In 1955 United became the first to record Ernie K-Doe, who was living and performing in Chicago at the time under his real name, Ernest Kador. K-Doe spent nearly his entire life in New Orleans, but in 1953, after winning several singing and dancing competitions back home, he came to Chicago for a brief time to live with his mother. He met the Four Blazes at the Crown Propeller Lounge; the Blazes introduced him to A&R man Dave Clark, who was doing some work for United at the time and supervised the session. In early November he was singing at the Apex Country Club in Robbins, Illinois (13624 Claire Blvd) as "Ernest Kado." The Chicago Defender ad (12 November) was already billing him as "United Recording Artist."

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