Entries tagged with “Lazy Lester”.

Lonnie JohnsonMan Killing BroadLonnie Johnson Vol. 1 1937-1940
Bill GaitherBloody Eyed WomanBill Gaither Vol. 4 1939
Whistlin' Alex MooreIce Pick BluesWhistlin' Alex Moore 1929-1951
Walter 'Cowboy' WashingtonIce Pick MamaTexas Seaport 1934-1937
Louisiana Red Sweet Blood CallSweet Blood Call
Lazy LesterBloodstains On The WallI'm A Lover Not A Fighter
Mary Johnson Death Cell BluesMary Johnson 1929-1936
Bessie SmithSend Me To The 'Lectric ChairThe Complete Recordings
Victoria Spivey Blood Thirsty BluesVictoria Spivey Vol. 1 1926-1927
Bama StackaleeParchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings 1947-1959
Skip James 22-20 BluesComplete Early Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Got The Blues (Can't Be Satisfied)Avalon Blues: The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Charles 'Speck' Petrum Gambler's BluesCharlie ''Specks'' McFadden 1929-1937
Blind Blake Playing Policy BluesAll The Published Sides
Doctor Clayton Roaming GamblerDoctor Clayton And His Buddy 1935-1947
Lucille BoganThey Ain't Walking No MoreBarrelhouse Mamas
Memphis MinnieDown In The AlleyMemphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
Sara Martin Down At The Razor BallSara Martin Vol. 3 1924-1925
Washboard SamRazor Cuttin' ManWashboard Sam Vol. 1 1935-1936
Blind Willie McTellRazor BallAtlanta Twelve String
Walter Roland45 Pistol BluesWalter Roland Vol. 2 1934-1935
Leroy CarrShinin' PistolWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Blind Boy FullerPistol Slapper Blues Remastered 1935-1938
Will Shade She Stabbed Me With An Ice PickMemphis Jug Band Associates & Alternate Takes 1927-1930
Black Boy Shine Ice Pick And Pistol Woman Blues Black Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Pat HareI'm Gonna Murder My BabySun Records - The Blues Years 1950-1956
Roy BrownButcher PetePay Day Jump: The Later Sessions
Geeshie WileySkinny Legs BluesMississippi Masters
Josie MilesMad Mama BluesJosie Miles Vol. 2 1924-1935
Jazz GillumGonna Be Some ShootingJazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-1949
Peetie WheatstrawGangster's BluesPeetie Wheatstraw Vol. 7 1940-1941
Georgia Tom & Tampa RedCrow Jane AlleyCome On Mama Do That Dance
Jim Jackson I'm A Bad Bad ManJim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Blind Willie McTell A To Z BluesThe Classic Years 1927–1940
Bertha IdahoDown On Pennsylvania AvenueFemale Blues Singers Vol. 10
Georgia WhiteI'll Keep Sittin' On It (If I Can't Sell It)Georgia White Vol. 2 1936-1937

Show Notes: 

Victoria Spivey Ad“The blues, contrary to popular conception, are not always concerned with love, razors, dice, and death," Richard Wright wrote in 1941. While that's certainly true, there are in fact a large number of blues songs that do deal with those topics.  Today we feature a wide range of songs about violence and vice. The blues emerged at the turn of the century in the midst of virulent racism and violent repression. Blues musicians of the 1920's and 30's existed in a violent culture where fights were common and it was often common to carry a weapon. In the places where the blues were regularly performed in the early days, the juke joints, there was a considerable amount of violence. Memphis Minnie said that at juke joints she and her husband played they would “have to run at night when they start cutting and shooting.” The south was a virtual apartheid society enforced by "Jim Crow" restrictions, with widespread violence, including lynchings. An increased presence of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920's contributed to an atmosphere of fear. In the South, mobs lynched many blacks for no other reason than their having acted outside the harsh social restrictions of Jim Crow. As writer Gary Buenett wrote: "The blues enabled Southern black to process the oppression they faced, but more than that, to affirm their humanity over against a system that denied that very fact. it enabled them to state the reality of the troubles, powerlessness, dread, and despair, but at the same time assert their essential humanness through expressions of rage, humor, courage, and of course, sexuality."

Today's lurid title is courtesy of Jazz Gillum from his 1949 number "Gonna Be Some Shooting." The song is a cover of Willie "61" Blackwell's 1941 song "Machine Gun Blues" and was modified and refashioned by Sunnyland Slim as "Johnson Machine Gun." Gillum had several songs filled with violent  imagery including "I'm Gonna Take My Rap" ("I'm gonna take my pistol/And cock it in my baby's face/Gonna let some graveyard, baby be your hiding place") and "Can't Trust Myself" ("I'm gonna buy myself a pistol/I'm gonna hang it to my side/I'm going to join the gangsters/People I'm gonna live a reckless life") among others. Gillum was himself a victim of violence. He was murdered in 1966  during a street argument.  Echoing Jazz Gillum, several decades later is the harrowing "Sweet Blood Call" by Louisiana Red:

I have a hard time missing you baby, with my pistol in your mouth
You may be thinking 'bout going north, but your brains are staying south

Today's show is filled with guns, knives, razors and even ice picks. One of the more famous gun songs is Skip James' "22-20 Blues" which may have been inspired by the success of the song “44 blues” recorded by Roosevelt Sykes in 1929 as "Forty- Four Blues" and the following year by Little Brother Montgomery as “Vicksburg Blues.” In 1936 Robert Johnson covered the song as “32-20 Blues.”

You talk about your forty-four-forty, buddy it'll do very well
But my thirty-two-twenty, Lord is a burning hell

Woman were the target of much of the violence as evidenced in numerous other songs including Leroy Carr's "Shinin' Pistol" ("I'm going to get me a shiny pistol with a long shiny barrel/I'm going to ramble this town over until I find my girl") and Blind Boy Fuller's "Pistol Slapper Blues" ("And I feel like snapping my pistol in your face/Let some brownskin woman be here to take your place"). Walter Roland's "45 Pistol Blues", on the other hand, is for protection when he heads down to a part of town that must be very close to the well known Tin Pan Alley or maybe Crow Jane Alley:

I'm going over to Third Alley, Lord but I'm going to carry my .45 (2x)
Because you know ain't many men go there and come back alive
They will shoot you and cut you, Lord they will knock you down
Lord, they will shoot you and cut you, Lord they will knock you down

And you can ask anybody ain't that the baddest place in town
Mens carry .38s, womens carry their razors too (2x)

Alex Moore - Ice Pick bluesRazors, despite Richard Wright's protest, crop up quite a bit in blues. There was Washboard Sam's "Razor Cuttin' Man",  Edith Wilson's "Rules and Regulations 'Signed Razor Jim'", Jazz Gillum's "Long Razor Blues", Perline Ellison's "Razor Totin' Mama", Helen Gross' "Bloody Razor Blues" as well as a school of related songs from the pre-blues era. Around the turn of the century there was the "bully song" or more formally "The Bully of the Town" or "Looking for the Bully." There were several songs published with 'Bully" in the title around this period. Paul Oliver noted that the song "reinforced the stereotypes of the razor-totin', watermelon-suckin', chicken-stealin' 'nigger' of that period." The core of the story is an altercation, usually with a razor, between the bully and a rival with the action usually happening at a dance or ball. In the blues era several songs drawn on these earlier sources including Sara Martin's "Down At The Razor Ball" (1925), Blind Willie McTell's "Razor Ball" (1930) and Washboard Sam's "Down At The Bad Man's Hall" (1941). The most famous related song, however, is the Willie Dixon penned "Wang Dang Doodle" (1960) which draws its inspiration from the Sara Martin number. Another razor song is "A To Z Blues" which has the protagonist literally carving the entire alphabet in the victim's body. The song was recorded by Butterbeans & Susie, Josie Miles, Blind Willie McTell and Charley Jordan under the title "Cutting My ABCs."

Ice picks are not something that immediately comes to mind as a weapon (does anybody gets ice delivered to their home anymore?) but they crop up in several songs: Whistlin' Alex Moore "Ice Pick Blues", Walter 'Cowboy' Washington "Ice Pick Mama" ("Every time I meet Roberta she's got an ice pick in her hand/And all frowned up, an wanna kill some poor, poor man"), Will Shade "She Stabbed Me With An Ice Pick" and Black Boy Shine "Ice Pick And Pistol Woman Blues."

Domestic violence is a common theme in many early blues. That being said, there were no shortage of woman who sang songs that turned the tables on the men. Among those featured today are Mary Johnson's  "Death Cell Blues" ("I killed my man last year, lord, the man I really love/He did not treat me right, now he's with the good lord above"), Victoria Spivey's "Blood Thirsty Blues" and Bessie Smith's "Send Me To The 'Lectric Chair":

Judge you wanna hear my plea
Before you open up your court
But I don't want no sympathy
'Cause I'm done, cut my good man's throat

Spivey had several lurid titles including “Blood Thirsty Blues”, “Murder in the First Degree” and “Blood Hound Blues.” Okeh Records  ran a a striking newspaper advertisement for "Bloodthirsty Blues."  The ad is laid out like an authentic news report with graphic illustration and eye-catching titles such as “I Have Killed my Man”, “Never Seen So Much Blood” and “Bloodthirsty Woman Confesses!” The lyrics are equally sensational:

Blood, blood, blood look at all that blood
Blood, blood look at all that blood
Yes I killed my man
A lowdown good for nothing cuss
I told him blood was in my eyes
And still he wouldn’t listen to me

Bill Gaither used similar imagery in his "Bloody Eyed Woman" cut more than a decade later. Spivey didn't have the market corned on that kind of imagery as evidenced in Geeshie Wiley's "Skinny Leg Blues":

I’m gonna cut your throat babe, gonna look down in your face (2x)
Aaaaaaaaa, gonna look down in your face
I’m gonna let some lonesome graveyard be your restin’ place

Josie Miles had an apocalyptic vision in "Mad Mama Blues" from 1924:

Wanna set the world on fire
That is my one mad desire
I’m a devil in disguise
Got murder in my eyes

Now I could see blood runnin’
hrough the streets (2x)
Could be everybody
ayin’ dead right at my feet

As Angela Y. Davis wrote: "The performance of the classic blues women-especially Bessie Smith-were one of the few cultural spaces in which a tradition of public discourse on male violence had been previously established. …The blues women of the 1920s…fail to respect the taboo of speaking on speaking publicly about domestic violence …Women's blues suggest emergent feminist insurgency in that they unabashedly name the problem of male violence and so usher it out of the shadows of domestic life where society had kept it hidden and beyond public or political scrutiny." Daphne Duval Harrison has noted that women's blues in the 1920s "introduced a new, different model of black women-more assertive, sexy, sexually aware, independent, realistic, complex, alive. …They saw a world that did not protect the sanctity of black womanhood, as espoused in the bourgeois ideology; only white white or middle or upper-class women were protected by it. They saw and experienced injustice as jobs they held were snatched away when white women refused to work with them or white men returned from war to reclaim them. They pointed out the pain of sexual and physical abuse and abandonment."

OthBlind Willie McTell - Razor Baller vices covered today include prostitution and gambling. The most well known prostitution song is probably "Tricks Ain't Walking No More." The song is a prostitute’s lament due to a dwindling supply of customers or "tricks." Lucille Bogan recorded this song three times during 1930 including today's version "They Ain't Walking No More." Curley Weaver, Buddy Moss, Kid Coley and Memphis Minnie, among others, recorded versions of the song. Othe songs sharing this theme include Memphis Minnie's "Down In Alley" ("Met a man, asked me did I want to pally/Yes, baby, let's go down in the alley"), Georgia White's " I'll Keep Sittin' On It (If I Can't Sell It)" and Bertha Idaho's "Down On Pennsylvania Avenue" about Baltimore’s seedy side where you "can’t tell the he’s from the she’s."

Now if you want good lovin’, and want it cheap
Just drop around about the middle of the week
When the broads is broke and can’t pay rent
Get good lovin’ boys for fifteen cents
You can get it every night on Pennsylvania Avenue

Gambling features in numerous songs with quite a few dealing with playing policy. Policy is an illegal numbers game that was hugely popular at the end of the nineteenth and in the first few decades of the twentieth century. Basically you'd pick three numbers and hope they hit. The name comes from the practice of allowing bettors to make an “insurance policy” bet on tomorrow's numbers to offset potential losses, a gambler could make a policy bet that his ticket would come up blank insuring he would get something back on a losing ticket. Eventually the entire game came to be called policy. "Numbers, numbers 'bout to drive me mad/Thinkin' about the money that I should have had" sings Blind Blake on "Playing Policy Blues."

While we don't touch on it much today, the blues has a number of "bad man" ballads about violent men and outlaws like John Henry, Railroad Bill, Frankie and  Stagolee. Recorded in Parchman Farm in 1959, we hear Bama sing "Stackalee." The song about the murder of Billy Lyons by "Stag" Lee Shelton in St. Louis, Missouri at Christmas, 1895. The song was first published in 1911, and was first recorded in 1923. Long Cleve Reed and Harvey Hull recorded "Original Stack O'Lee Blues" in 1927, Furry Lewis cut "Billy Lyons And Stack O'Lee" the same year and Mississippi John Hurt recorded a version in 1928.

Lightnin' SlimBad LuckIt's Mighty Crazy
Schoolboy CleveI'm HimThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 5
Slim HarpoThis Ain't No Place For MeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 4
Lightnin' SlimTrip To Chicago The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 12
Lazy Lester Whoa Now I Hear You Knockin'!: The Excello Singles
Boogie JakeI Don't Know Why The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 42
Lightnin' SlimTom Cat BluesIt's Mighty Crazy
Slim HarpoI'm A King Bee The Excello Singles Anthology
Lazy LesterSugar Coated Love I Hear You Knockin'!: The Excello Singles
Jimmy DotsonI Wanna Know The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 3
Slim Harpo Don't Start Cryin' Now
The Excello Singles Anthology
Tabby ThomasHoodoo PartyThe Excello Story,Vol. 4: 1961-1975
Jimmy Anderson Naggin'The Excello Story,Vol. 4: 1961-1975
Sylvester BuckleyMumblin' Blues The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Lazy LesterA Word About Women I Hear You Knockin'!: The Excello Singles
Silas HoganI'm Going In The Valley Trouble: The Excello Recordings
Silas HoganDry Chemical BluesSwamp Blues
Arthur 'Guitar' KellyHow Can I Stay When All I Have Is GoneSwamp Blues
Clarence EdwardsCooling BoardSwamp Blues
Whisperin' Smith I Tried So Hard The Real Excello R&B
Jimmy Anderson It's Half Past Midnight The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 42
Silas Hogan Every Saturday NightTrouble: The Excello Recordings
Whisperin' SmithCryin' Blues The Real Excello R&B
Silas HoganDark Clounds Rollin'Trouble: The Excello Recordings
Jimmy AndersonRats And Roaches On Your MindDeep Harmonica Blues
Henry GrayShowers Of RainSwamp Blues
Whispering SmithCold Black MareSwamp Blues
Lazy lesterPoor Boy BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 16
Slim HarpoTip On In (Part 1) The Excello Singles Anthology
Silas HoganHoo Doo Man Blues Live In Baton Rouge At The Speakeasy
Guitar KellyI Got A Funny FeelingLouisiana Blues
Henry GrayCold ChillsLouisiana Blues

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

Jay Miller operated a small studio and record label (Feature) out in Crowley, Louisiana. He had been recording some regional music in the early fifties when he first heard Lightnin’ Slim at WXOK in Baton Rouge. Miller has said that Lightnin’s music “did something to me”, and he recorded Lightnin’s “Bad Luck” in the Spring of 1954.There was no way Miller could keep up with the demand for the record, and he hooked up with Ernie Young and worked out a deal that would lease the material he was recording back in Crowley to Excello Records for release and distribution. Soon Miller’s studio became ground zero for the sound known as “swamp-blues.” One of the regions Miller tapped into was the fertile Baton Rouge blues scene eighty miles to the East. Today we feature many of the great Baton Rouge artists Miller recorded including Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, Silas Hogan, Whisperin' Smith, Jimmy Anderson and several others.

Lightnin' Slim recorded for 12 years as an Excello artist, from 1954 to 1965, starting out originally on Miller's Feature label. Slim was born with the name Otis Hicks in St. Louis, MO, on March 13, 1913. After 13 years of living on a farm outside of the city, the Hicks family moved to Louisiana, first settling in St. Francisville where he took to the guitar.In 1946 he moved to Baton Rouge, playing on weekends in local ghetto bars, and started to make a name for himself on the local circuit. At the beginning of the 50's he was working with harmonica player Schoolboy Cleve in tow, Lightnin' and Schoolboy working club dates and broadcasting over the radio together. While riding on a bus sometime in the mid-'50s, Lazy Lester met guitarist Lightnin' Slim, who was searching for his AWOL harpist. The two's styles meshed seamlessly, and Lester became Slim's harpist of choice.  As the late '60s found Lightnin' Slim working and living in Detroit, a second career blossomed as European blues audiences brought him over to tour, and he also started working the American festival and hippie ballroom circuit with Slim Harpo as a double act. When Harpo died unexpectedly in 1970, Lightnin' went on alone, recording sporadically, while performing as part of the American Blues Legends tour until his death in 1974.

Read Liner Notes

In the large stable of blues talent that Jay Miller recorded for Excello, no one enjoyed more mainstream success than Slim Harpo. Researcher/Writer Bruce Bastin writes: "Slim Harpo was one of the finest bluesmen to achieve recognition from Jay Miller's recordings in Crowley, Louisiana and although he gained greater success after he had left Miller, he never made records of the same quality." He had been playing full-time as a musician since the late 1940's, calling himself Harmonica Slim and frequently playing around Baton Rouge with Lightning Slim.

Miller had used a number of harmonica players to back Lightning Slim and late in 1955 Lightning brought with him his own man, Harmonica Slim (Slim Harpo), for a session. Harpo’s first record, “I’m A King Bee”, became a double-sided R&B hit in 1957. Even bigger was “Rainin’ in My Heart,” which made the Billboard Top 40 pop charts in the summer of 1961. In the wake of the Rolling Stones covering “I’m a King Bee” on their first album, Slim had the biggest hit of his career in 1966 with “Baby, Scratch My Back” which made Billboard’s Top 20 pop charts. Follow-ups “Tip on In” and “Tee-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu,” were both R&B charters.

By the end of the 60’s Harpo contacted Lightnin’ Slim, who was now residing outside of Detroit, MI. The two reunited and formed a band, touring together as a sort of blues mini-package to appreciative white rock audiences until the end of the decade. The New Year beckoned with a tour of Europe (his first ever) all firmed up, and a recording session scheduled when he arrived in London. Sadly he died suddenly of a heart attack on January 31, 1970.

As Jay Miller recalled, "One day Lightnin' Slim walked into my studio to cut a record session, accompanied by a tall, slender young stranger, introduced to me as Leslie Johnson …I learned that Lightnin' had met Leslie on a bus to Crowley, but had not heard him sing or play. Having a few minutes before the session, I put Leslie in the studio and the rest of us went into the control room to listen. When I turned on the equipment and signaled him to begin, I was surprised by what I heard. It was so much more than what I expected. I was immediately convinced that this was an artist of great potential."

Lazy Lester recorded first in 1957 and fifteen Excello releases ensued over the next nine years until Miller found Lester too unreliable to use. Miller found that Lester was equally talented on guitar and drums, and he became a stalwart of Miller's session bands. Lester appeared on Miller-produced songs by Lightnin' Slim, Slim Harpo, Katie Webster, Lonesome Sundown and artists as varied as Nathan Abshire and Johnny Lano.

Lightnin' Slim

In 1962, at the ripe old age of 51, Silas Hogan was introduced by Slim Harpo to producer Jay Miller and his recording career finally began in earnest. Hogan recorded for Excello from 1962 to early 1965, seeing the last of his single releases issued late that year. As Ray Templeton wrote: "Outside of the big four – Lightning Slim, Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown and Slim Harpo – Silas Hogan is the most important of the downhome blues artists Jay Miller recorded, whether you measure importance in numbers of singles issued (Hogan had eight releases on Excello) or in terms of quality and consistency." Regarding his musical background, Hogan said: "…I'd been living in the country, there was some old people there picking guitar. And that's how I learned, following them. …They were real bluesmen, the old way-back stuff. When we were playing back yonder, we were playing them house parties, they didn't have as many juke joints as they have now. …I played all night for  for seventy-five cents." After performing with Guitar Kelly he started gaining prominence in the Baton Rouge are when he formed the Rhythm Ramblers in 1956. Also in the group was harmonica man Sylvester Buckley (Buckley recorded four sides circa 1962/63 for Jay Miller that were unissued). Buckley laid down sympathetic support on several of Hogan's Excello releases while Whispering Smith played harmonica on several others.

Jimmy Dotson was a small part of an active Baton Rouge blues scene of the 1950’s. Dotson cut sessions for Miller circa 1957 through 1960. Dotson said: "The Baton Rouge blues scene in the '50s was nice, we had a following, we played from club to club. I played drums for Lightnin' Slim for a while and with Slim it fluctuated, I was a kind of utility musician. If they needed a drummer I'd go play drums, if they needed a bass player, a guitar … I couldn't play any too good on any of them but I could fit in. But they had a tremendous following, Lightnin' Slim and Slim Harpo. They would go from club to club, sometimes we would play Sunday afternoon somewhere back over North Baton Rouge in the park area from two o'clock to six and the place would be full of people. OK then we would go across the river (to Port Allen) and they'd just line up in cars and follow us across the river! It was fantastic, it really was."

Tabby Thomas is one of the best known blues musicians in Baton Rouge, and had, since the late 1970's, operated his own blues club there, Tabby's Blues Box. He was born in the city on January 5th, 1929. Thomas probably spans a longer recording history with Jay Miller than anyone else. He cut in 1954 for Miller's Feature label and cut a final session for Miller in 1980. His Feature disc didn't sell too well but he returned to make a number of discs there in the 1960's including his best-known number, "Hoodoo Party", a small southern hit in 1962.

Whisperin' Smith cut four singles for Excello in 1963-64 and backing Silas Hogan on records during the same period. He was introduced to Jay Miller by Lightnin' Slim. Smith was born in Mississippi and settled in Baton Rouge in 1957. He made more records in the 70's appearing on the Swamp Blues LP for Blue Horizon and cutting the album Over Easy in 1971 also for Blue Horizon. During this period he played in Europe appearing as part of the American Folk Blues Festival and at the Montreux Blues Festival.As John Broven noted: "Smith's best moments came when he played behind Lightnin' Slim in Europe. With arms flailing, body weaving, and legs ducking, his performance was animation itself, a throwback to the country dance juke joint workouts of yesteryear." Smith passed in 1984.

Slim Harpo

Harmonica player Jimmy Anderson modeled his sound on Jimmy Reed and cut all his sessions for Miller circa 1962 and 1964. As John Broven wrote: "Jimmy Anderson, a younger artist from Baton Rouge, was too much in jimmy Reed's shadow to succeed." Anderson quit recording In 1964, feeling that he was being gypped out of royalties. He continued to play for a few years , taking up the guitar, but when he appeared at the 1991 Utrecht Blues Estafette, Jimmy had been out of music for 20 years.

We spotlight several tracks from the album Swamp Blues, a fine sampling of the vibrant blues scene in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the summer of 1970. It was originally issued as a double LP in 1970 and has been reissued on CD by the Ace label. Recorded over the course of four hot August days, the sessions were produced by R&B monthly editor and Blue Horizon boss Mike Vernon. Swamp Blues isn't technically an Excello Records product, but many of the veteran blues artists included had strong ties to the label. Featured artists include Whispering Smith, Silas Hogan, Arthur "Guitar" Kelley', Clarence Edwards and Henry Gray.

Another swamp blues revival session was recorded in April of 1970,in Baton Rouge by Terry Pattison and Chris Strachwitz just a few months before the Swamp Blues session recorded for Blue Horizon. Pattison was actually instrumental in the above mentioned Swamp Blues session as well. Issued as Louisiana Blues on the Arhoolie label, the set features the same artists as well: Whispering Smith, Silas Hogan, Arthur "Guitar" Kelley',  Clarence Edwards and Henry Gray.

The same artists were also featured on the long out-of-print LP, Blues Live In Baton Rouge At The Speakeasy issued on Excello. Excello was still issuing records through the mid-70's. The album was recorded circa 1972 live at The Speak-Easy in Baton Rouge. From this album we spin Silas Hogan delivering a fine rendition of "Hoo Doo Blues."

Read Liner Notes: Pt. 1 Pt. 2Pt. 3Pt. 4

Henry Gray was originally born in Alsen, Louisiana, outside of Baton Rouge. Gray became a stalwart of the Chicago blues scene, playing behind Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter before embarking on a twelve year stint with Howlin' Wolf. In 1968 he returned to Alsen to take care of his ailing father. He began playing the with a group called the Cats in local juke joints and made regular appearances at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  Outside of recording the above sessions, he didn't record again until 1977.

The Baton Rouge scene chugged along after these early 1970's sessions; artists like Lightnin' Slim and Whisperin' Smith continued to record sporadically in the 70's (Smith made his final single in 1983), Tabby Thomas recorded Baton Rouge artists for own label in the 70's and his popular juke joint, Tabby's Blues Box operated until 2004 and was a showcase for local players. Throughout the 90's Raful Neal remained active, performing and recording until passing in 2004. Nine of Neal's 11 children inherited his blues-playing prowess and play professionally, most famously Kenny Neal. Lazy Lester and Henry Gray have cut several albums over the years and both still remain active.

Related Items:

Mike Vernon's Blues Super Session At Baton Rouge (Sounds, Oct 10, 1970, p.32)


Howlin' WolfEvil Complete Recordings 1951-1969
Lazy Lester BloodstainsI'm A Lover Not A Fighter
Pat HareI'm Gonna Murder My BabySun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Lonnie JohnsonBlue Ghost BluesLonnie Johnson: Vol. 1 1937 -1940
Lightnin' HopkinsBlack Ghost BluesComplete Prestige / Bluesville Recording
Johnny FullerBlack CatWest Coast R&B And Blues Legend Vol.1
Howlin' Wolf Moanin' At Midnight Complete Recordings 1951-1969
B.B. KingBad LuckThe Vintage Years
Hop WilsonMy Woman Has A Black Cat BoneSteel Guitar Flash
Victoria SpiveyBlood Thirsty BluesVictoria Spivey: Vol 1 1926-1927
Lil JohnsonMurder In The First DegreeLil Johnson: Vol. 2 1936-1937
Smokey HoggBorn On The 13thAngels In Harlem
Lightnin' HopkinsMojo HandMojo Hand
Baby Boy WarrenSomebody Put Bad Luck On MeDetroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
Robert JohnsonHell Hound On My TrailThe Centennial Collection
Tampa RedWitchin' Hour BluesThe Essential
Casey Bill WeldonI've Been TrickedCasey Bill Weldon: Vol. 3 1937-1938
Esther PhillipsNo Headstone On My GraveThe Country Side of Esther Phillips
Jimmy WitherspoonEndless SleepBaby, Baby, Baby
Rev. Emmett DickinsonYou Midnight Joy RidersRev Emmett Dickinson 1929-1930
Sylvester Weaver Devil BluesSylvester Weaver: Vol. 2 1927
Charlie Burse & His Memphis MudcatsHell's HighwayMemphis Shakedown: More Jug Band Classics
Billy Bird Down In the CemeteryLet Me Tell You About The Blues - Atlanta
Charlie SegerLonesome Graveyard BluesPiano Blues Vol. 2 1927-1956
Blind Willie McTell Lay Some Flowers On My Grave
The Classic Years 1927-1940
Memphis Minnie
Hoodoo Lady Memphis Minnie Vol. 2 1935-1936
Sonny Boy WilliamsonHoodoo HoodooThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol.2
Gene PhillipsSuperstitious WomanDrinkin' And Stinkin'
Roy BrownUp Jumped The DevilMighty Mighty Man
Bessie SmithHaunted House BluesThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Ma RaineyBlack Cat, Hoot Owl BluesMother of the Blues
Leola Manning Laying in the GraveyardRare Country Blues Vol.1

Show Notes:

Today's show is devoted to Halloween. Today we spin a wide range of songs from the 20's through the 60's. We'll hear songs about evil, Bad luck, bloody murder (both by men and woman), Hoodoo, Mojo Hands, Black Cat Bones, graveyards, the devil, Hell, superstition, haunted houses, gypsy woman and more.

Among the themes running through today's are that of hoodoo. Hoodoo, also known as conjure, is a form of predominantly African-American traditional folk magic that developed from a number of separate cultures and magical traditions. The goal of hoodoo is to allow people access to supernatural forces to improve their daily lives by gaining power in many areas of life, including luck, money, love, divination, revenge, health, employment, and necromancy. Many blues musicians have referred to hoodoo in their songs. In addition to the expected terms "hoodoo" and "mojo", other conjure words in blues songs include "jinx", "goofer dust", "nation sack", "black cat bone", "John de conkeroo" (John the Conqueror root), "graveyard dirt", and "black spider dumplings." We play several songs with these themes including Hop Wilson "My Woman Has A Black Cat Bone", Lightnin' Hopkins "Mojo Hand", Memphis Minnie "Hoodoo Lady", Muddy Waters "Gypsy Woman", Sonny Boy Williamson "Hoodoo Hoodoo" and  Casey Bill Weldon "I've Been Tricked."

The term black cat bone and mojo show up in a number of blues songs. The notorious black cat bone charm is strongly identified with African American hoodoo. Hoodoo doctors claimed that every black cat has within its body one bone that will either grant the owner invisibility or can be used to bring back a lost lover. To secure this bone, they said, a black cat must be thrown alive into a cauldron of boiling water at midnight. A mojo is the staple amulet of African-American hoodoo practice, a flannel bag containing one or more magical items. In Lightnin' Hopkins' classic "Mojo Hand" he sings:

I'm goin' to Louisiana, and get me a mojo hand (2x)
I'm gonna fix my woman so she can't have no other man

(John Lee) Sonny Boy Williamson sang a similar verse in his "Hoodoo Hoodoo":

One night I'm goin' down in Louisiana
And buy me another mojo hand
All because I got to break up my baby
From lovin' this other man

Mojos figure in numerous blues songs: Ida Cox "Mojo Hand Blues", Coot Grant & Wesley Wilson "Keep Your Hands Off My Mojo", Barbecue Bob "New Mojo Blues" and of couse Muddy Waters "Got My Mojo Working."

Murder also shows up in quite a number of blues songs. One of the more haunting numbers is "Bloodstains" originally cut by Frank 'Honeyboy' Patt for Specialty in 1953. Today we spin Lazy Lester's version circa cut 1958/59 which retains the memorable opening line:

Sheets and pillows torn to pieces, bloodstain all over the wall (2x)
Well, I know I wasn't injured when I left this mornin', I didn't leave the phone out in the hall

We also spin Victoria Spivey's "Blood Thirst blues" a haunting 1927 tale of murder:

Blood, blood look at all that blood (2x)
Yes I killed my man, a low down good for nothing cur

Along the same vein are Lil Johnson's "Murder In The First Degree" (1936) and Pat Hare's "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby" (1954). Unfortunately in Hare's case, life imitated art. Sixteen years later Hare shot his girlfriend during a domestic dispute. When a police officer was dispatched to the scene, Hare also shot and killed him. He was sentenced to life in prison for the two killings. In 1980, he died in prison of cancer.

Cemetery and graveyards are the topic of many blues songs. Today we hear Billy Bird's "Down In the Cemetery", Charlie Seger's "Lonesome Graveyard Blues", Leola Manning "Laying in the Graveyard", Esther's Phillips "No Headstone On My Grave" and Blind Willie McTell's "Lay Some Flowers On My Grave", a beautifully poetic number:

You must lay some flowers on my grave (2x)
My mother and father have gone
Left me in this world alone
You must lay some flowers on my grave

My father was a roll sport and a gambler too
And he left me hear just singing the blues
I hope my heart will change
I don't want to die the same
You must lay some flowers on my grave

Put a wreath of flowers at my right side
Then you'll know that McTell's satisfied
Put a bouquet in my breast
You know the poor boy's gone to rest
You must lay some flowers on my grave

Now when this old building is fallin' down
Just lay me six feet in the cold cold ground
Wrap me up in silent clay
'Cause I come here to die one day
Hot mama, lay some flowers on my grave

Put a morning glory at my head and feet
Then you'll know that McTell's gone to sleep
On my headboard write my name
I  left a many girl's heart in pain
Hot mama, lay some flowers on my grave

Now snatch the pillow from under my head
Don't grieve and worry after the days I'm dead
When I bid you this last goodbye
Don't none of you womens cry
You just lay some flowers on my grave

Now when I'm gone to come no more
And old pallbearers lay me low
When you hear that coffin sound
You'll know McTell is in the ground
Hot mama, lay some flowers on my grave

Now when the poor boy's dead and gone
I'm left in this old world all alone
When you hear that church bell toll
You'll know McTell's dead and gone
Hot mama, lay some flowers on my grave

One of the enduring blues myths is that of Robert Johnson and the devil but before "Hellhound On My Trail" (1937) and "Me And The Devil Blues" (1937) the devil popped up in quite a number of songs: Clara Smith "Done Sold My Soul to the Devil" (1924), Sylvester Weaver "Devil Blues" (1927), Texas Alexander "Blue Devil Blues" (1928), Robert Peeples "Wicked Devil's Blues" (1929), Skip James "Devil Got My Woman" (1931), Peetie Wheatstraw "Devil's Son-In-Law" (1931), Mississippi Sheiks "I Am the Devil" (1934), Casey Bill Weldon "Sold It To The Devil" (1937) and more. Weaver's "Devil's Blues" is a particularly imaginative and humorous number:

Had a dream while sleeping, found myself way down below, my Lord,
I had a dream while sleeping, found myself way down below
Couldn't get to Heaven, Hell's the place I had to go

Devil had me cornered, stuck me with his old pitchfork (2x)
And he put me in an oven, thought he had me for roast pork

Hellhounds start to chasin' me and I was a runnin' fool
Hellhounds start to chase me and I was a runnin' fool
My ankles caught on fire, couldn't keep my puppies cool

Four thousand devils with big tails and sharp horns, my Lordy,
Saw a thousand devils with tails and sharp horns
Everyone wandered, tried to step on my corns

For miles around I heard men scream and yell, my Lord,
For miles around, heard men scream and yell
Couldn't see a woman, I said, "Lord, ain't this Hell?"

This number was updated by Lazy Bill Lucas in 1954 for Chance as "I Had A Dream."

As for superstitions like bad luck, ghosts and black cats the blues has those kinds of topics in spades. Today we feature numbers such as Gene Phillips "Superstitious Woman", Ma Rainey "Black Cat, Hoot Owl Blues", Johnny Fuller "Black Cat", B.B. King "Bad Luck", Smokey Hogg "Born On The 13th", Lightnin' Hopkins "Black Ghost Blues" and Lonnie Johnson "Blue Ghost Blues" among others. Johnson cut several versions of  the chillingly poetic  "Blue Ghost Blues" but I think his 1938 version was the best:

Mmmmmm, something cold is creepin' around (2x)
Blue Ghost is got me, I feel myself sinkin' down

Black cat and a owl, come to keep my company (2x)
He understands my troubles, mmm, and sympathize with me

I been in this haunted house, for three long years today (2x)
Blue Ghost is got my shack surrounded, oh Lord, and I can't get away

I feel cold arms around me, and ice lips upon my cheeks (2x)
My lover is dead, how plainly plain I can hear her speak.

Oh Lonnie, oh Lonnie oh Lonnie, sweet Lonnie [spoken words – falsetto voice]
That's my baby [spoken words Lonnie Johnson]

My windows begin rattlin', my doorknob is turnin' round an' round (2x)
My lover's ghost is got me, and I know my time won't be long



Show Notes:

Today's program is the first in a series of harmonica shows I have in the pipeline. A couple of listeners have wondered why I haven't done any harmonica features. As I looked backed I realized they were right although it certainly wasn't intentional. Today's program is a loosely themed tribute to a batch of great downhome harmonica blowers from the late 1940's through the 1960's. On deck today we spin rocking and raw sides by Papa Lightfoot, Coy "Hot Shot" Love, George "Harmonica" Smith,  Forest City Joe, Jerry McCain, Schoolboy Cleve, Lazy Lester, Kid Thomas and several others.

Goin' Back To The Natchez TraceThanks to a handful of terrific 1950's sides, the name of Papa Lightfoot was revered by 1960's blues enthusiasts. Producer Steve LaVere tracked him down in Natchez, MS cutting an album for Vault in 1969. His comeback was short-lived and he died in 1971. He cut sessions for Peacock in 1949 (unissued), Sultan in 1950, and Aladdin in 1952 preceded an amazing 1954 date for Imperial in New Orleans that produced Lightfoot's "Mean Old Train," "Wine Women Whiskey" and a wild "When the Saints Go Marching In."  His final pre-rediscovery sides were cut for Savoy in 1955. We also play a cut by Ole Sonny Boy who was once though to be a pseudonym for Papa Lightfoot but is now thought to be J.D. Horton who cut two sides under that name in 1952 for Bullet and two sides as Ole Sonny Boy for Excello in 1956.

Schoolboy Cleve passed away earlier this year and this set is a belated tribute to him. Cleve cut a handful of sides between 1954-1963 for a series of small labels, backed Lightnin' Slim on some mid-50's sides, issued some 45's on his own Cherrie label and in 2006 released the full length CD South to West: Iron and Gold.

Coy "Hot Shot" Love lived on Gayoso Street in Memphis, an itinerant musician and sometime sign-painter who got his one moment of glory in the recording studio on January 8, 1954, when he entered Sam Phillips' Sun Studios to record "Wolf Call Boogie" b/w "Harmonica Jam," backed by Mose Vinson at the piano, Pat Hare on guitar, Kenneth Banks on bass, and Houston Stokes on the drums. Love survived for decades after his one claim to recorded music Strange Letter Blueslegend, and died in a car accident in Interstate 55.

In his early teens, George Smith started hoboing around the the South and later joined Early Woods, a country band and also worked with a gospel group in Mississippi called the Jackson Jubilee Singers. He was supposedly one of the first to amplify his harp. He played in a number of bands including one with a young Otis Rush and later went on the road with the Muddy Waters Band. 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, and included "Telephone Blues" and "Blues in the Dark." In the late '50s he recorded for J&M, Lapel, Melker, and Caddy under the names Harmonica King or Little Walter Junior. He also worked with Big Mama Thornton on many shows. In 1960, Smith met producer Nat McCoy who owned the Sotoplay and Carolyn labels, with whom he recorded ten singles under the name of George Allen. In 1966, while Muddy Waters was on West Coast, he asked Smith to join him and they worked together for a while, recording for Spivey Records. Smith's first album on World Pacific was A Tribute to Little Walter released in 1968. In 1969 he an album for Bluesway, and later made use of Smith as a sideman for his Blues Times label, including sets with T-Bone Walker, and Harmonica Slim. Smith met Rod Piazza and they formed the Southside Blues Band, later known as Bacon Fat. In 1969, Smith signed with U.K. producer Mike Vernon and did the "No Time for Jive album." Smith was less active in the 1970's appearing with Eddie Taylor and Big Mama Thornton. Around 1977, Smith became friends with William Clarke and they began working together. Their working relationship and friendship continued until Smith died on October 2, 1983.

George "Harmonica" Smith

William Clarke, Smith's protege, writes "He had a technique on the chromatic harp where he would play two notes at once, but one octave apart. He would get an organ-type sound by doing this. George really knew how to make his notes count by not playing too much and taking his time by letting the music unfold easily. He could also swing like crazy and was a first-class entertainer. I have heard from a friend that they had seen George Smith in the 1950s playing a club in Chicago, tap dancing around everybody's drinks on top of the bar while playing his harp.He played a huge role in advancing blues harmonica and should never be forgotten. You can hear the influence of George Smith in most everyone playing blues harmonica today, whether directly or indirectly."

As a youngster, Little Walter was Jerry McCain's main man on harp, an instrument McCain began playing at age five. In 1953 McCain made his debut for the Trumpet label in Jackson, MS, with "East of the Sun" b/w "Wine-O-Wine." McCain's 1954 Trumpet encore was "Stay Out of Automobiles" b/w "Love to Make Up." McCain signed with Excello in 1955 cutting some terrific sides through 1957. One of his best-known records is his two-sided 1960 gem for Rex Records, "She's Tough" b/w "Steady." The Fabulous Thunderbirds later covered the A-side. McCain waxed three 45's for OKeh in Nashville in 1962 and a series of sides between 1965-1968 for Stan Lewis' Shreveport-based Jewel label. After too many years spent in obscurity, McCain rejuvenated his fortunes in 1989 by signing with Ichiban Records. More recently he has cut several records for the Music Maker label.

Kid Thomas was born in 1934, in Sturgis, Mississippi and moved to Chicago at a young age and by the late '40s and early '50s he was blowing harp at Cadillac Baby's and a dozen other clubs. According to all accounts, he appears to have sat in with everybody at one time or another during the early to mid-'50s; Muddy Waters, Elmore James, and Bo Diddley among others. He made his debut for Federal in 1957. Two years later he move to L.A. where he cut for several small labels with little success. In 1970 he was shot by a man whose son he had killed in a car accident.

Forest City Joe was heavily influenced by John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. He was born in Hughes, AR, on July 10, 1926 and played the local juke joints in the area as a youngster. He hoboed his way through the state working road houses and juke joints during the 1940s, and late in the decade hooked up with Big Joe Williams, playing with him around St. Louis, MO. 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. He also appeared with Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy II on radio shows in the West Memphis area. When he returned to Chicago in 1949, he began working with the Otis Spann Combo, appearing at the Tick Tock Lounge and other clubs in the city until the mid-'50s. He returned to Arkansas and gave up music, except for occasional weekend shows with Willie Cobbs, playing in poolrooms and on street corners. He recorded for Atlantic Records in 1959, and was still performing until his death in 1960, in a truck accident while returning home from a dance.