Entries tagged with “Leadbelly”.


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Son House Walking Blues Son House 1941-1942
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Sneaky Ways Old Time Black Southern String Band Music
Willie B. Thomas & Butch Cage Bugle Call Blues Old Time Black Southern String Band Music
Howard Armstrong; Tom Armstrong; Ted Bogan; Ikey Robinson Railroad Blues Louie Bluie
Leonard Bowles and Irvin Cook I Wish To The Lord I'd Never Been Born Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music
Leonard Bowles and Irvin Cook Momma Don't AllowBlack Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia
Joe Thompson Careless Love Family Tradition
Odell & Joe ThompsonGeorgia Buck Eight-Hand Sets & Holy Steps
Carolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad
Carolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson
Little Brother Montgomery Talkin' Blues Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus
Jimmy Yancey Tell 'Em About MeJimmy Yancey Vol. 1 1939 - 1940
Frank 'Sweet' Williams Sweet's Slow Blues Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus
Oscar "Preacher" Nelson And Newton "Hoss" Nelson Broke And Ain't Got A Dime Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
Green Paschal Trouble Brought Me DownGeorge Mitchell Collection Volumes 1-45
Big Joe Williams Back Home BluesBlues With A Message
Rev Nix It Was Tight Like ThatRev. A.W. Nix & Rev. Emmett Dickinson Vol. 2 1928-1931
Leadbelly Tight Like ThatLeadbelly's Last Sessions
McKinney's Cotton Pickers It's Tight Like That McKinney's Cotton Pickers Vol. 1
Roy Hawkins If I Had ListenedBad Luck Is Falling
T-Bone Walker Dream Girl Blues The Complete Recordings of T-Bone Walker 1940-1954
Tom Archia Downfall Blues (Whiskey)Tom Archia 1947-1948
William 'Do Boy' DiamondJust Want To Talk To YouGeorge Mitchell Collection Volumes 1-45
Fats Jefferson Love Me Blues Goin' Back To Tifton
Furry Lewis Longing BluesFurry Lewis
Mississippi Fred McDowell Dankin's FarmMy Home Is in the Delta
Willie Long Time Smith I Love You Baby BoogieGood Time Blues 1930-1941
Camille Howard The Boogie And The BluesCamille Howard Vol. 1

Show Notes: 

Chicago Piano: Chicago PlusLast week our feature was on Post-War Black String Bands but due to our pledge drive we ran of time to include all the tracks I intended to play. Today we open up with those tracks with background information to be found on the notes for last week's program. The rest of the show is mixed, featuring some great down home blues and field recordings, a few sets of fine piano blues, a set revolving around a classic blues song, a pair of tracks from a recent reissue and more.

As I was rummaging around my record collection I came across a great series of gate-fold albums that were issued in the early 70's spotlighting blues from the vaults of Atlantic Records. Theses albums feature both issued and unissued sides with excellent notes by Pete Lowry. I believe there were about a half-dozen of these including ones devoted to Blind Willie McTell, Professor Longhair, John Lee Hooker as well as anthologies based on piano blues and  Texas guitar. Today we feature sides from Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus. These sides were recorded in the early 50's, several of the sides not issued at the time of recording.  We spotlight a pair of tracks by Little Brother Montgomery, Floyd Dixon and Frank 'Sweet' Williams. Williams is the most obscure of the bunch and was a minor Chicago blues musician who's only recordings were two songs cut for Atlantic in 1951 which remained unissued until this anthology. It is assumed he was brought to the studio by Little Brother Montgomery. He may be the uncredited drummer on Montgomery 's session recorded on the same day.

We hear several other fine pianists including Willie "Long Time" Smith  and Camille Howard. Smith waxed ten sides at sessions in 1947 and  1954. Several of these sides do not seem to have been reissued, a shame as he was an exceptional vocalist  (a disciple of of the popular Dr. Clatyon for whom he recorded the tribute "My Buddy Doctor Clayton") and good piano player.

Howard was installed as the pianist for drummer Roy Milton & the Solid Senders sometime during World War II, playing on all their early hits for Art Rupe's Juke Box and Specialty labels. Rupe began recording her as a featured artist at the end of the year. Her biggest hit was the romping instrumental "X-Temporaneous Boogie" but she was also a very fine vocalist. She continued to record successfully in the early 1950's.

As we often do, we spin several superb field recordings captured in the 60's and 70's by George Mitchell, Kip Lornell and Tary Owens. We play two sides recorded by Mitchell who made some remarkable field recordings throughout the South over a twenty year period beginning in the early 1960's. What Mitchell recorded in the rural communities of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi in the 1960's amd 70's was a still thriving, if largely undocumented, blues culture. Mitchell had the passion and drive to seek out these folks, and unlike some folklorists didn't use the music to reinforce his own theories, he simply let the musicians speak for themselves and judging by the recordings they clearly responded to Mitchell's sincerity (being a southerner probably didn't hurt as well). Mitchell came along at the right time as he wrote: "As late as 1969 a country bluesman who at least occasionally played could be located in most small towns of Georgia. In 1976, there are very few active blues musicians left in the state! In the short span of seven years, one of the world's most vital and influential forms of music as it was originally performed has all but died out in Georgia, and probably in the rest of the South as well." Today we hear tracks by William "Do Boy" Diamond and Green Paschal.

William "Do Boy" Diamond was recorded in Canton, Mississippi in 1967. Diamond was a basic guitar player but possessed a great, relaxed voice. Born around 1927 in Georgia, Paschal started playing late in life, sometime in the 1950's. He was recorded by Mitchell in Talbotton, GA in 1969 and by that time had given up blues in favor of spirituals.

Kip Lornell has worked on music projects for the Smithsonian Institute, has a doctorate in ethnomusicology and is the author of several articles and books. He also did some field recordings in the in the Southeast in the 70's. Lornell recorded Fats Jefferson outside Albany, New York along with several other artists in the early 70's . These recordings were issued on the long out-of-print album Goin' Back To Tifton issued on the Flyright label in 1974.

Shortly after the death of folklorist Tary Owens on September 21, 2003, Brad Buchholz, wrote that, “Tary Owens devoted most of his life to music, though only rarely to his own. The greater mission, to Owens, was to champion the music of forgotten or unsung Texas bluesmen—to put their songs on records, to place them on a stage, to encourage a larger public to celebrate their artistry.” Funded by a Lomax Foundation grant in the 1960's, Owens traveled around Texas recording a variety of folk musicians, including guitarists Mance Lipscomb, Freddie King, and Bill Neely, as well as barrelhouse piano players Robert Shaw and Roosevelt T. Williams, also known as the “Grey Ghost.” Owens remained involved in the lives of these musicians for the next several decades and, in some cases, was largely responsible for helping rescue them from obscurity and resurrect their professional careers. Today we hear Oscar "Preacher" Nelson And Newton "Hoss" Nelson from a collection of Owen's field recordings called Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar.

We spotlight two numbers from a recent 2-CD, 50 song collection called Boogie Uproar: Gems From The Peacock Vaults. The Peacock label was founded by Don Robey in 1949 to promote his new artist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. The label was named after Robey's Bronze Peacock in Houston. Robey added the Duke label to his operation in 1952, gaining full control of the label in 1953. Today we play tracks by Bea Johnson and Elmore Nixon. I don't have any information on Johnson outside of eight sides she cut in 1949 backed by the Jim Wynn band with four of the sides going unissued. She possessed a strong, rich voice as evidenced on the moody lover's lament "No Letter Blues."

Boogie Uproar: Gems From The Peacock VaultsNixon's family moved to Houston in 1939, where he would remain until his death. By his early teens, he was already backing Peppermint Harris on his Gold Star debut. Thereafter he recorded with many Texas artists as a member of alto saxophonist Henry Hayes’ Four Kings, including Carl Campbell, Milton Willis, L.C. Williams, Hubert Robinson, Ivory Lee and Hop Wilson. His debut record, "Foolish Love", was made in 1949 for Sittin' In With. Other sessions followed for Peacock, Mercury Records, Savoy Records and Imperial Records, the latter in 1955. During the mid-60s, he worked with Clifton Chenier, recording on Chenier’s sessions for Arhoolie Records and with Lightnin’ Hopkins for Jewel. At other times he led his own band, working around Texas and Louisiana.

Tampa Red and Georgia had a huge hit in 1928 with "Tight Like That" which kicked started the hokum blues style which drew on jug band music and vaudeville for bouncy, rag- influenced songs that abounded with double entendres. On its release, the record was a massive hit, spawning several sequels by Tampa Red and Dorsey and countless imitations by other artists. Today we hear versions by McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Leadbelly and Rev. A.W. Nix. Nix's "It Was Tight Like That" is part of a tradition of popular blues topics that were turned into sermons such as Rev. J. M. Gates' "Dead Cat On The Line" (recorded by Tampa Red and Georgia Tom in 1934) and Rev. Emmett Dickinson's "Death Of Blind Lemon." Nix also recorded other blues based sermons including the two-part "The Dirty Dozen" and "How Long, How Long."

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Andrew and Jim Baxter K.C. Railroad BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Mississippi John Hurt FrankieAvalon Blues: The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Blue Boys Easy WinnerBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Charlie Butler Diamond JoeA Treasury Of Library Of Congress Field Recordings
Geeshie Wiley Last Kind Words BluesMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Lottie Kimbrough Wayward Girl BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Richard ''Rabbit'' Brown I'm Not JealousNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Papa Harvey Hull & Long ''Cleve'' Reed Don't You Leave Me HereThe Songster Tradition 1927-1935
Willie Walker Dupree BluesMy Rough And Rowdy Ways Vol. 1
Joe Evans & Arthur McClain Two White Horses In A LineBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Mississippi Mud Steppers Jackson StompVintage Mandolin Music
Mississippi Sarah & Daddy Stovepipe Greenville StrutRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 2: The Great Jug Bands
Henry Thomas Fox And The HoundsTexas Worried Blues 1927-1929
Henry Thomas Red River BluesTexas Worried Blues 1927-1929
Lil McClintock Furniture ManBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Gus Cannon Can You Blame The Colored ManMasters of Memphis Blues
Luke Jordan Traveling CoonThe Songster Tradition 1927-1935
Jim Jackson I'm Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own Jim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Jim Jackson I'm A Bad Bad Man Jim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Jaybird Coleman I'm Gonna Cross the River of Jordan - Some O' These DaysAmerican Primitive Vol. I: Raw Pre-War Gospel
Papa Charlie JacksonLong Gone Lost JohnBroadcasting The Blues
LeadbellyBlack Girl (In The Pines)Where Did You Sleep Last Night: Lead Belly Legacy, Vol. 1
Crying Sam Collins My Road Is Rough And RockyCrying Sam Collins 1927-1931
Jaybird ColemanI'm Gonna Cross the River of Jordan - Some O' These DaysAmerican Primitive Vol. 1
Cannon''s Jug Stompers Bring It When You ComeRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 2: The Great Jug Bands
Coley Jones Traveling ManThe Great Race Record Labels Vol. 2 - Columbia
William Moore Tillie LeeRagtime Guitar Blues 1927-1930
Cow Cow Davenport Alabama Strut Mama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here
Pink Anderson & Simmie Dooley Papa's 'Bout To Get MadGood for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Show
Alabama Sheiks Travelin' Railroad Man BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Charlie Patton Gonna Move To AlabamaBlues Images Vol. 4
Tennessee Chocolate Drops Vine Street DragBefore The Blues Vol. 2
Birmingham Jug Band Bill WilsonRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 1: The Great Jug Bands
Dallas String Band Dallas RagBefore The Blues Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Today's program is a long delayed sequel to a show I did almost exactly two years ago. I finally got motivated to do a follow-up after several interesting conversations with Stephen Wade who I interviewed on the show a couple of weeks back. In his book, The Beautiful Music All Around Us, he discusses some of the music floating around before the blues emerged as the dominant black popular music and also illustrates the huge amount of cross pollination there was between white and black music. Wade suggested that to really illustrate this cross pollination I should include some white artists. While I agree with this, the focus on this show has always  focused on African-American music, namely the music that falls in the standard blues discographies. Still you can hear the commingling of white and black music in selections today by Joe Evans and Arthur McClain (The Two Poor Boys), Mississippi Mud Steppers and the Tennessee Chocolate Drops among others.

Henry Thomas: The Fox And The HoundsAs Richard Nevins writes: "Before the Civil War there did not exist in America two distinct bodies of music, one white and one black. Both groups shared a common tradition and repertoire. …Throughout most of the 1800's black and white fiddlers were playing the same tunes the same way, white and black banjo players were playing the same tunes the  same  way …black and white guitar players were doing the same tunes in the same exact tunings …and most importantly of all, white and black fundamentalist church congregations were singing the same hymns in the same limited modal scales, the exact same scales that defined the secular ballads of that  time …and later (1910-20) became the melodic base of what was to become the blues."

"Before The Blues" is something of catch-all phrase that can mean a number of things; the fact is that prior to the blues there was quite a bit of black music on record, stretching all the way back to the 1890's, recorded both in the United States and Europe. Recent years have seen a huge amount of research into this period with several important books ( Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, "Coon Songs", and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz, Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 and Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America 1850-1920 to name a few) and and reissues of early black music issued. What I'm talking about, however, is some of the older black music styles that were captured on record in the 1920's, often labeled blues even though it was clearly something different.

In the 1920's and 30's when black music first came on record blues scholar Paul Oliver noted that "for a dozen years a remarkable documentation of black vocal traditions was purchasable on commercial releases. …The diversity of singers, entertainers, jazz bands, preachers and other black artists represented on these records was remarkable.” Prior to the blues, reaching back to the nineteenth century there was a variety of black music before it got on record; there was ragtime, black vaudeville, minstrels, coon songs, work songs, dance tunes, medicine show entertainers, sheet music that found its way into black music and emphasis on banjo and fiddle music among other types. Songs were spread by traveling songsters, black road troupes, minstrel shows, tent shows and medicine shows. Although this music was not captured on record when it was in vogue many of these forms found their way onto records when blues was being recorded. Older musicians, born in the 1860's through the 1880's, learned early forms of black music that they brought to their records when they had the opportunity to record in the 20's and 30's. Some of it was shaped to fit the blues, the popular music of the day, while other songs remain more or less intact as performed by blacks decades prior. This was the  music of men like Henry Thomas, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, Daddy Stovepipe, Papa Charlie Jackson, the music of the jug and string bands and the music of the songsters and ballad singers. The records these men, and to a lesser extent women, recorded gives us a fascinating glimpse of the era before the rise of the blues. These older styles didn't disappear but remained parallel to the blues. An example of this is that as late as the mid-1910s the term "up-to-date coon shouter" was routinely applied to the likes of Clara Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith; but around 1916 they were redefined as "blues singers." As Richard Nevins points out: "By the early 1920's back country black musicians who were songsters conversant with a wide spectrum of American genres began  recasting the modal song part of their repertoire into Mississippi Sarah & Daddy Stovepipe: Greenville Strutblues. This transition required very little alteration and all at once they were blues musicians. Of course with the huge popularity of blues everywhere, they also commenced calling all the rest of their repertoire blues, even rags, breakdowns, and tin pan alley selections. The record companies were even worse, sticking the word blues at the end of almost all black secular music…" Below is some background on some today's artists and songs.

Henry Thomas, billed as "Ragtime Texas", was born in Big Sandy, Texas in 1874, and began his musical career as an itinerant songster, and recorded twenty-three songs from 1927 to 1929. He accompanied himself with the guitar and the quills, a folk instrument made from cane reeds. “Flailing his guitar”, Tony Russell writes, “in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpipes, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend.” The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 to 1929 provides, Russell notes, “a wholly absorbing picture of black-country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues.” Mack McCormick wrote one of the best pieces on Henry Thomas (Henry Thomas: Ragtime Texas – Complete Works 1927 to 1929, Herwin, 1975). Here's an excerpt: "He left behind a total of 23 issued selections which represent one of the richest contributions to our musical culture. It's goodtime music reaching out from another era: reels, anthems, stomps, gospel songs, dance calls, ballads, blues and fragments compressed in a blurring glimpse of black music as it existed in the last century. It's the songs that came out of the shifting days when freedmen and their children were remaking their lives in a hostile nation."

Born in the 1880’s, Jim Jackson was an experienced medicine show performer and occasional street singer. The Mississippi born Jackson had one of the biggest blues hits of the 20’s with his “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues.”  His recordings represent one of the richest veins of pre-blues music to be issued on record. Among these are songs like “I’m A  Bad Bad Man” which draws on a composition from 1894 and “I’m Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own” which dates to 1901. Barrelhouse pianist Speckled Red shared the stage with Jim Jackson in 1928 while touring through Mississippi and Alabama with the Red Rose Minstrels & Medicine Show. Red remembered Jackson as "a big fat feller, weighed about 235 pounds. Tall, stately feller too, and he danced, sang, played git-tar, cracked jokes." Jackson's long career with traveling shows began in 1905, and much of his repertoire was rooted in the 19th century. Among these are songs like “I’m A Bad Bad Man” which draws on a composition from 1894, “I’m Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own” which dates to 1901 and “Bye, Bye, Policeman”, played on the first show, which references a song from 1895.

Gus Cannon launched his medicine show career in 1914 when he joined Doc Stokey of Clarksdale, Mississippi. A tour with Doc Benson's show took Cannon to Chicago in 1927, Coley Jones: Travelling Manwhere he auditioned for Paramount Records and recorded a session with ace guitar picker Blind Blake. Cannon was in his mid-40's and his repertoire dates from the turn of the century on tunes like ”My Money Never Runs Out”, "Can You Blame The Colored Man" and one of the earliest blues, "Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home."

Chris Smith wrote: "[Joe] Evans & [Arthur] McClain are reported to have come from Fairmount, in eastern Tennessee, a region where blacks were outnumbered 12 to one by whites, and this goes some way to explaining the evident hillbilly influences on their music. Otherwise, all we know about 'The Two Poor Boys' is in the grooves oft heir 78s.” They cut 20 sides at sessions in 1927 and 1931.

Born circa 1880, Richard "Rabbit"  Brown spent much of his life in New Orleans where he was reported to have worked as a street singer and singing boatman on Lake Ponchartrain.  On March 11, 1927, Brown cut six sides for the recording pioneer Ralph Peer. Brown was a very much the songster and his recordings are an interesting mix of original blues, pop covers and "event" songs like his "Sinking Of The Titanic."

Born in Teoc, Mississippi in 1893, John Hurt moved to the town if Avalon at the age of two which remained his home for the rest of his life. Hurt cut two sessions in 1928 for the Okeh label and would not record again until 1963. Hurt’s repertoire includes blues from when he was growing up as well as ballads like “Stack O’ Lee” and  “Spike Driver Blues”, which references John Henry, and “Louis Collins” and “Frankie.”

Johnny Watson, alias Daddy Stovepipe was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 12th 1867 and died in Chicago, November 1st 1963. A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, he was in his late fifties when he became one of the first blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. He later recorded with his wife, Mississippi Sarah, in the 1930s and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings.

Crying Sam Collins was born in 1887, his stomping ground the Mississippi-Louisiana border region with a style similar to King Solomon Hill and Ramblin Thomas who were from the same region. Collins’ music draws from the era of minstrel and medicine show tradition reflected in songs like ‘Yellow Dog Blues”, “Salty Dog”, “Hesitation Blue’ and the first recorded version of “The Midnight Special.” His masterpieces, “Lonesome Road Blues” was a version of “In The Pines” which dates back to the 1870’s, and “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” which is a version of ”Long Gone.”

Pink Anderson & Simmie Dooley: Papa's 'Bout To Get MadBorn in 1891, Charlie Patton was older than the other Delta musicians who recorded during the golden age of the 1920s and 1930s, and he seems to have developed many of the themes that are now considered basic to the Delta blues repertoire. Remembered by history as a blues musician, Patton had grown up in the pre-blues era, and he played the full range of music required of a popular rural entertainer. Even though his recording career was sparked by the blues craze, only about half of his roughly fifty records can reasonably be considered part of that then-modern genre. The others are a mix of gospel and pre-blues music like “Runnin’ Wild Blues”, "Elder Greene", "Gonna Move To Alabama"  and “Prayer Of Death.”

Howard Armstrong was part of a whole generation of African-American string-band artists who played Americana in the 1920’s and 30’s for black and white audiences alike, everything from Tin Pan Alley tunes to gospel and blues. A field-recording team from Vocalion was in Knoxville twice between August 1929 and April 1930; setting up a temporary recording studio at radio station KNOX in downtown Knoxville’s St. James Hotel, where they recorded something approaching 100 tracks by several dozen musicians and musical groups from the region. It was during this session that a Vocalion record producer, looking for a memorable name that would spur sales, christened the Martin, Armstrong and Armstrong group, the “Tennessee Chocolate Drops.” They recorded one 78, “Knox County Stomp b/w Vine Street Drag.”

 

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Stephen WadeInterview
Kelly PaceRock Island Line The Beautiful Music All Around Us
LeadbellyRock Island Line Leadbelly Vol: 4 1944
Nashville Washboard Band Soldier's JoyThe Beautiful Music All Around Us
Nashville Washboard Band Kohoma Blues Too Late, Too Late Vol. 10 1926-1951
Blind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band Buffalo GalBlind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band
Vera Hall Another Man Done GoneThe Beautiful Music All Around Us
Willie TurnerNow Your Man Done Gone Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1: Secular Music
Big Joe Williams Please Don't Go Big Joe Williams Vol. 1 1935-41
Baby Doo Caston I'm Gonna Walk Your LogChicago Blues Vol. 2 1939-1944
Leadbelly & Golden Gate Quartet Alabama BoundAlabama Bound
Dennis Gainus You Gonna Look Like A Monkey A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Grover Dickson & Group Grizzley Bear A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Dudley Alexander and Washboard Band Baby, Please Don't Go A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Joel HopkinsBetter Down The Road A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Jack Jackson & Lightnin' Hopkins The Slop A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Mance Lipscomb Tom Moore's Farm A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 2
R.C. Forest & Gozy Kilpatrick Tin Can Alley A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 2
R.G. WIlliams & Group Hammer RingA Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Prisoners Chopping In The New Ground Negro Prison Camp Worksongs
Prisoners Go Down Old HannahNegro Prison Camp Worksongs
Jesse "G.I. Jazz" Hendricks and groupRattlerNegro Folklore from Texas State Prisons
Johnny Jackson & Group Raise 'Em Up Higher Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons

Show Notes:

The Beautiful Music All Around UsOn today’s program we spotlight some great field recordings captured between the 1930’s through the 1960’s. In the first hour we talk with Stephen Wade about his new book The Beautiful Music All Around Us which presents the fascinating back stories of thirteen performances captured on Library of Congress field recordings between 1934 and 1942. Through prodigious research, Wade sought out the performers on these recordings, their families, fellow musicians, and others who remembered them and reconstructs their lives and how the music was tied to the larger community. Wade is also known for his long-running stage performances of Banjo Dancing and On the Way Home. He also produced and annotated the Rounder CD collections A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings and Black AppalachiaIn the second hour we spotlight field recordings made by Mack McCormick and others around Houston plus recording made Texas prisons  by Bruce Jackson in the 1960’s and  Pete & Toshi Seeger, John Lomax Jr., Chester Bower and Fred Hellerman in 1951.

Through the dilegence of a relatively small number of dedicated researchers we know an amazing amount of information about early blues musicians. I'm no expert on country music but I imagine the case is similar. For all our knowledge there are many gaps; a fair number of the blues artists were itinerant musicians, traveling from town to town, or state to state and the other factor comes down to the fact that the white establishment wasn't all that concerned with documenting African-Americans, and if they were listed on census records, court documents, etc. that information is often inaccurate. The artists and songs Wade covers in The Beautiful Music All Around Us were biographical blanks, leaving leaving behind little of their origins, and seemingly impervious to discovery after so many decades. Through dogged research Wade has been able to flesh out the lives of folks like Bozie Sturdivant, Ora Dell Graham and Kelly Pace and find the origins and stories behind iconic songs such as "Rock Island Line" and "Another Man Done Gone." Our show has always focused on African-American music but Wade's book covers much wider territory, and illustrates the cross pollination there was between white and black music. Our focus for the first hour plus is some of the African-American artists covered in Wade's book: Kelly Pace, Nashville Washboard Band and Vera Hall.

In October 1934 John Lomax set up his recording equipment at Cummins State Prison in Little Rock, Arkansas  and recorded a group led by Kelly Pace singing "Rock Island Line." The story of that song and its singer is one of my favorite chapters in Wade's book, fleshing out Kelly from those who knew him, he comes across as fascinating, talented man who simply could not stay out of trouble, spending half his life behind bars. "My brother," said Kelly's brother Lawrence, "was a songster. He sang all sort of songs – songs of the church, of the blues, dance songs, work songs …You couldn't beat him working. He didn't wait till the dew is off. He'd say 'I'm going to get 400 pounds of cotton.' And when you was done half-way, he done cut out and coming back. …Kelly, he was something else.'"

Handbill
Handbill from lecture given at the Library of
Congress (click to enlarge)

Wade also unlocks the origins of that famous song: 'Rock Island Line' begin its journey in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the repair shops of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Based on a traditional form and arising within a commercial setting, the song, like a trunk line whose branches radiate across the countryside, soon moved beyond this work site making new stops, shifting its contents, and streamlining its load. It migrated from a gospel quartet that the Arkansas prisoners performed to a rhythmic fable that Huddie Ledbetter created as he traveled with John Lomax as chauffeur, auto mechanic, and musical demonstrator. Eventually the song reached an incalculable number of players, singers, and listeners via skiffle, rock and roll, country, pop, and the folksong revival."

John Work IV recalled to Wade when his father, John Work III, welcomed a quartet of street musicians called the Nashville Washboard Band into his home in 1942. As Wade writes "the musicians faced them in a row, seated side by side, lodged between the Works' radio set on one end and their Steinway parlor grand on the other. One band member chorded his banjo-mandolin, and another the guitar, but Work IV fixed most on the string bass a third member of the band had cobbled together from a length of laundry wire, a broomstick, and a lard can. …[T]he band's fourth member, who was blind, sat between, who was blind, set between two washboards mounted on a sawhorse and hinged in the shape of a V. He had attached to them an assemblage of frying pans, tin plates, and a metal bell, each registering different tones. Wearing sewing thimbles on his fingers, he tapped, clocked, and hammered this clattering array of stove-top resonators and corrugated surfaces." John Work IV recollected "These people were the music. …They could just play on and on, and the house would reverberate." Twenty years after a group calling themselves Blind James Campbell And His Nashville Street Band were recorded by Chris Strachwitz for Arhoolie Records. The group members knew the earlier group, linking the two in a long, if largely undocumented, tradition of black street bands.

Treasury of Field Recordings Vol. 1 Treasury of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Read Liner Notes Pt.1 / Pt. 2

In 1940, in Livingston, Alabama, Vera Hall sang "Another Man Done" twice into John Lomax's recording machine. The song became Hall's signature number and when Alan Lomax included the number for one of the Folk Archive's first releases the song entered the mainstream, recorded by Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, John Mayall, Odetta and numerous others. In the chapter on Vera Hall, Wade provides background on Hall, the conditions she grew up in and the meaning behind the song. "When Vera recorded "Another Man Done" she told John Lomax that she learned it from her guitar-playing husband. …When writer-collector Harold Courlander came to Livingston in February 1950, he recorded both Vera singing 'Another Man Done,' as well as someone she knew: Willie Turner, a twenty-seven-year-old  confined at Camp Livingston. With his two fellow inmates, he sang and recorded 'Now Your Man Done Gone,' a piece they otherwise sang on the county road gang. …Two days before Courlander recorded Willie Turner at Camp Livingson, he stopped forty miles away in Marion, Mississippi. There he recorded a singer identified in his notes "only as Cora, who sang 'Baby Please Don't Go' . . . the same song, but with some variance in the lyrics." That song was first recorded commercially by Big Joe Williams in 1935. These songs "fit within a larger family of songs that "fit within a larger family of songs that include 'I'm Alabama Bound,' 'Don't Ease Me In,' 'Don't Leave Me Here,' and 'Elder Greene's in Town.' This network of songs that arises by the late nineteenth century uses a consistent verse pattern and, largely, a recurring subject matter."

There is a connection between the albums featured in the second hour: A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1 & 2, Negro Prison Camp Worksongs and Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons. As Mack McCormick writes in the notes to A Treasury Of Field Recordings: "The various collecting projects which have funneled into this final selection were initiated in 1951 when Pete Seeger visiting Houston, bringing together Ed Badeaux, John Lomax Jr., Chester Bower and Harold Belikoff, resulting in the founding of the Houston Folklore Group. At that time recordings were made at two of the Texas prison farms." The recordings McCormick is talking about resulted in the album Negro Prison Camp Worksongs with some songs from that session appearing on A Treasury Of Field Recordings. The recordings Bruce Jackson made over a decade later for the album Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons were recorded at the same Texas prisons and it's likely some of the same prisoners were recorded.

Negro Prison Camp Worksongs
 Read Liner Notes

A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1 & 2 were compiled by Mack McCormick and issued on the British 77 label in 1960. Sponsored by the Houston Folklore Group and the Texas Folklore Society, these Fields recordings were collected around Houston by McCormick and other collectors like Ed Bradeux, Pete Seeger, John Lomax and others. The 36 selections contained in this set were drawn from over 400 items recorded over a nine year period. The original recordings are housed at the University of Texas and the Library of Congress. As the notes state it portrays "A panorama of the traditions around Houston – the city and its neighboring bayous, beaches, prisons, plantations, plains and piney woods…” And as John Lomax writes about this collection “This is one good, long look at the guts of America – songs sung by those who make them up and pass them along, showing the character of themselves, the flavor and spirit of their lives.” Below is information on some of the albums' performers.

Joel Hopkins was Lightnin's older brother and first gave him a guitar. Joel traveled the south with tent shows and traveling caravans. Lightnin's other brother, John Henry also played guitar. The three were recorded together in Waxahatchie, TX in 1964. The results were issued on Arhoolie under the title Hopkins Brothers: Lightnin', Joel, & John Henry .

As Mack McCormick writes in the notes: "When his wife is away at church, Jack Jackson will sit down at his piano and sing "sinful" songs. Sometimes when she has an evening prayer meeting he'll invite someone like Lightnin' over to 'kick it around.' Lightnin' has ceased working with pianists (though he stills plays primarily in jook joints (for dancing) and Jack has established himself in business on the corner of Milam and Prarie in Houston's downtown business district."

Tom Moore was a powerful plantation owner who farmed land along the Brazos river in Texas. Asked about the song, sung on this collection by Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins, he replied: "They're happy people – they don 't always mean what they sing. He laughed deprecatingly, 'Only I best never catch one of them singing that song.'" As McCormick notes: “In order to protect him [Mance Lipscomb] and his family, his name is withheld from his recording of 'Tom Moore's Farm'. …The simple fact is that the singer and Tom Moore are neighbors, the one a poor laborer, the other a powerful and vindictive man who has long felt the song to be a thorn in his side.”

Recorded by Pete & Toshi Seeger in the winter of 1951 at two Texas prison farms, Negro Prison Camp Worksongs, released on the Folkways label, represents some of the oldest and most traditional work songs found among African American prison communities in the southern United States. In 1951, when Pete Seeger as one of the successful Singing group, The Weavers, was booked to appear at a Houston hotel ballroom, he wrote John Lomax, Jr. suggesting that he ask permission for them to visit the nearby prison farms with recording equipment. The governor granted permission and the group, with Chester Bower providing the tape machine and assisting, visited Ramsey and Rechine farms on consecutive Sunday afternoons.

Negro Folklore From Texas State Prisons
 Read Liner Notes

A couple of months back we devoted half a show to recordings made by Bruce Jackson in the 60's at Texas prisons. Today we feature selections from Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons (Elektra, 1965) which I omitted last time. Jackson wrote: “I started recording in Texas prisons in July 1964. I think Texas had about 12,000 prisoners in 14 prisons back then …My primary interest in Texas was the black convict worksongs, which seemed to me to be part of an unbroken musical tradition going back to West Africa….”

-Stephen Wade Interview/Feature  (75 min,. mp3)

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Blind Lemon JeffersonOne Dime Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonMatchbox Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonRambler BluesThe Best Of
Down Home Boys (Papa Harvey Hull & Long "Cleve" Reed)Mama You Don't Know HowNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Big Joe WilliamsPeach Orchard Mama Big Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Blind Willie McTellLast Dime BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonSee That My Grave Is Kept CleanThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonBed Spring BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonPrison Cell Blues Mean & Evil Blues
Lightnin' Hopkins Reminiscences Of Blind LemonLightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian Folkways]
Lightnin' Hopkins One Kind FavorAll The Classics 1946-1951
Son HouseCounty Farm BluesBlues Images Vol. 4
Blind Lemon Jefferson Shuckin' Sugar BluesThe Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon Jefferson Corinna Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Rabbit Foot Blues If It Ain't One Thing, It'Rabbit Foot Blues
Ramblin' ThomasNo Baby BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Blind Boy Fuller Untrue BluesBlind Boy Fuller Remastered 1935-1938
Blind Lemon Jefferson Got The Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Long Lonesome Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Hot Dogs The Best Of
Leadbelly Blind Lemon (Song)Leadbelly Vol. 6 1947
Leadbelly Silver City Bound Leadbelly's Last Sessions
Blind Lemon JeffersonBad Luck Blues The Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlack Horse Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson That Crawlin' Baby Blues The Best Of
Hattie Hudson Doggone My Good Luck Soul Dallas Alley Drag
Thomas Shaw Jack Of Diamonds San Diego Blues Jam
Mance LipscombEasy Rider BluesCaptain, Captain: The Texas Songster
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlind Lemon's Penitentiary Blues The Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlack Snake Moan Great Blues Guitarists: String Dazzlers
Pete HarrisBlind Lemon's SongTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Rev. Emmett Dickenson The Death Of Blind LemonBlues Images Vol. 6
King Solomon Hill My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon Blues Images Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Today we spotlight Blind Lemon Jefferson and the enormous influence he had on his contemporaries and countless blues artist over the ensuing decades. Although he was not the first male country blues singer/guitarist to record, Blind Lemon Jefferson was the first to succeed commercially and his success influenced previously reluctant record companies to actively seek out and record male country blues players in the hope of finding a similar talent. Throughout the ’20s Lemon spearheaded a boom in ‘race’ record sales that featured male down-home blues singers and such was the appeal of his recordings that in turn they were responsible for inspiring a whole new generation of blues singers. Researcher Bruce Bastin, known for his extensive research in the Piedmont region, said of Jefferson… “…there can have been few nascent bluesmen outside Texas, let alone within the state, who had never heard his music. Among interviewed East Coast bluesmen active during Blind Lemon’s recording career, almost all recall him as one of the first bluesmen they heard on record.” Today we spotlight some of Lemon's best numbers as well as a those artists he inspired. Lemon's influence cast a long shadow among both black and white artists and today's show is in no way comprehensive but does give a snapshot of just how big Lemon's impact was.

Jefferson was born in September 1893. By 1912, he was working over a wide area of Texas, including East Dallas, Silver City, Galveston, and Waco. Jefferson was still a teenager when he moved into Dallas. The black community in Dallas were settled in an area covering approximately six blocks around Central Avenue up to Elm Street, the center of which was Deep Ellum, a bustling thoroughfare full of bars, clubs and brothels. Mance Lipscomb saw Jefferson playing there as early as 1917. Although Jefferson’s reputation was originally made as a singer of sacred songs, the percentage of blues in his repertoire greatly increased as the years progressed. In 1925 Jefferson was discovered by a Paramount recording scout and taken to Chicago to make his first records either in December 1925 or January 1926. Jefferson's first session produced "I Want To Be Like Jesus In My Heart" b/w "All I Want Is That Pure Religion" using the name Deacon L.J. Bates. It was the second session, however, that made Jefferson a star. He recorded four songs at that session: “Booster Blues” b/w “Dry Southern Blues’, came out in or around March 1926. "Got The Blues" b/w "Long Lonesome Blues" hadn't been on sale long in the spring of 1926 when Paramount asked him to record it again because of the huge demand for the record. This was unheard of for a male blues artist. Prior to Jefferson the blues had been recorded primarily by women backed by piano or bands

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Rambler Blues
Click to Enlarge

Tony Russell describes Jefferson's impact: "Jefferson offered instead blues sung by a man playing guitar – playing it, moreover, with a busyness and variety that showed up many of those pianists and bands as turgid and ordinary. The discovery that there was an audience for Jefferson's type of blues revolutionized the music business: within a few years female singers were out of favor and virtually all the trading in the 'race' market (jazz aside) was in men with guitars." Throughout 1926 there was a constant supply of new releases from Jefferson, "Black Horse Blues", "Jack O’ Diamond Blues" and "That Black Snake Moan" were among these classic numbers.

In 1927, when producer Mayo Williams moved to OKeh Records, he took Jefferson with him, and OKeh quickly recorded and released Jefferson's "Matchbox Blues" backed with "Black Snake Moan," which was to be his only OKeh recording, probably because of contractual obligations with Paramount. Jefferson's two songs released on Okeh have considerably better sound quality than on his Paramount records at the time. When he had returned to Paramount a few months later, "Matchbox Blues" had already become such a hit that Paramount re-recorded and released two new versions. In 1927, Jefferson recorded another of his now classic songs, the haunting "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (once again using the pseudonym Deacon L. J. Bates) along with two other uncharacteristically spiritual songs, "He Arose from the Dead" and "Where Shall I Be." Of the three, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" became such a big hit that it was re-recorded and re-released in 1928. Despite his success, which allowed him to maintain a chauffeur-driven Ford and a healthy bank balance, Jefferson’s lifestyle was little affected. While he spent time in Chicago, where most of his recordings were made, he continued to work as an itinerant performer in the South.

In addition to his frequent recording sessions in Chicago throughout the late '20s, Blind Lemon Jefferson still performed in Texas and traveled around the South. He played Chicago rent parties, performed at St. Louis' Booker T. Washington Theater, and even worked some with Son House collaborator Rev. Rubin Lacy while in Mississippi. In late September of 1929, Jefferson went to Paramount's studios in Richmond, IN, for a fruitful session that included two songs,"Bed Springs Blues" and "Yo Yo Blues", that were also issued on the Broadway label. Jefferson was back in Chicago in December of 1929 when, sadly, he was found dead following a particularly cold snowstorm.

Blind Lemon Jefferson: 'Lectric Chair Blues
Click to Enlarge

Jefferson died in Chicago at 10 am on December 19, 1929, of what his death certificate called "probably acute myocarditis" (Lemon's death certificate was found in 2010 and published in the Frog Blues and Jazz Annual #1). Paramount Records paid for the return of his body to Texas by train, accompanied by pianist William Ezell. Jefferson was buried at Wortham Negro Cemetery (later Wortham Black Cemetery). By 1996, the cemetery and marker were in poor condition, but a new granite headstone was erected in 1997. In 2007, the cemetery's name was changed to Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery and his gravesite is kept clean by a cemetery committee in Wortham, Texas.

Several blues singer/guitarists like Thomas Shaw and Mance Lipscomb thought Jefferson’s style almost impossible to imitate with any degree of success. But there were a few recordings made in the pre-war period that managed to do so, notably Issiah Nettles (The Mississippi Moaner), who covered Lemon’s "Long Lonesome Blues" as "It’s Cold In China Blues". Willard ‘Ramblin’ Thomas (probably a one time associate of Jefferson) had a number of songs in the the vein of Lemon. Jesse Thomas' 1948 number, "Double Due Love You" opens with lyrics also taken from the Blind Lemon' "Long Lonesome Blues." Thomas also recorded Lemon's "Jack of Diamonds" in 1951.

We feature several artists today who either covered Lemon's songs or who's records clearly bear the mark of Lemon's influence.  The Down Home Boys recording of "Mama, You Don't Know How", from 1927, has Long Cleve Reed, Papa Harvey Hull and Sunny Wilson re-working Lemon's "Black Snake Moan". Blind Boy Fuller was influenced by Lemon. The opening lick to his intro to "Untrue Blues" comes right out of "Rabbit's Foot Blues” while "Meat Shakin' Woman", derives its melody from "Bad Luck Blues". According to Son House’s recollection of his 1930 Paramount session, producer Art Laibley had asked the musicians if anyone could do a version of the song. Charlie Patton and Willie Brown passed but House went back to his room with Louise Johnson, worked half the night adding his own words to Lemon's melody, and the next day recorded "Mississippi County Farm." The song became a mainstay of House's repertoire, and he recorded it again for Alan Lomax in 1942. Hattie Hudson's 1927 song, "Doggone My Bad Luck Soul" was an "answer song" to Lemon's "Bad Luck Blues" issued in 1926, and has the repeated tag-line "doggone my bad luck soul."

Today we spotlight several artists who knew Lemon first hand such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Leadbelly, Thomas Shaw and King Solomon Hill. Lightnin' Hopkins offered different account of when he met Blind Lemon but it seems to have been sometime in the early to mid-20's. From 1959 we hear "Reminiscences Of Blind Lemon" and "One Kind Favor, his cover of Lemon's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean."

It was on the streets of Deep Ellum that Lemon met up with Leadbelly. Leadbelly, in later years, was understandably proud of his relationship with Lemon. They probably met up sometime after 1910, when Leadbelly and his wife Aletta moved into Dallas. Leadbelly would play guitar, mandolin or accordion behind Lemon and he remembered topically performing the number "Fare Thee Well, Titanic" (the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912) on the streets of Dallas with Jefferson and on other occasions, dancing while Lemon would play a guitar solo version of "Dallas Rag". As a team they traveled together on the railroads from town to town earning a reasonable living. In later years Leadbelly would recall how he and Lemon “was buddies” and how.. “we’d tear those guitars all to pieces”. Their partnership certainly ended by January 1918, when Leadbelly (using the alias Walter Boyd) was indicted on a charge of murder, found guilty and thereafter became a guest of the Texas penal system.

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Cannon Ball Moan
Click to Enlarge

Thomas Shaw had already been enthralled by Jefferson's early recordings of “Long Lonesome Blues” and “Matchbox Blues” when he met Jefferson on the town square of Waco in 1926 or 1927. At Blind Jefferson's urging he bought himself a guitar and learned Jefferson's “Long Lonesome Blues”. He learned many of Jefferson's songs from a combination of listening to the records and hearing him in person. Today we play his version of Lemon's classic "Jack Of Diamonds."

King Solomon Hill was closely connected to Crying Sam Collins and Blind Lemon Jefferson and their influence is evident, to some degree, in Hill's style. "My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon"is a heartfelt tribute to someone Hill clearly admired: "Hmmm then the mailman brought a misery to my head/When I received a letter that my friend Lemon was dead." Those lines echo the opening of Lemon's “Gone Dead On You Blues”: Mmmmmm, mailman's letter brought misery to my head. Mmmmm, brought misery to my head. I got a letter this morning, my pigmeat mama was dead.” Hill ran with Lemon for about two months after he passed through Minden. Hill's widow recalled that "he sung that song a whole lot 'bout Blind Lemon. Said he loved his buddy 'some way better than anyone I know.'" On one record, “Whoope Blues” b/w Down On My Bended Knees” the subtitle on the record says “Blind Lemon's Buddy.”

In 1930 , shortly after Lemon's death, Paramount issued a double sided tribute to Lemon: “Wasn't It Sad About Lemon” by the duo Walter and Byrd was on one side while the second side was the sermon “The Death Of Blind Lemon” by Rev. Emmett Dickenson. Leadbelly recorded a number of songs about Lemon after his passing. Today we spin his "Blind Lemon (Song)" from 1947 and the marvelous "Silver City Bound" from his last session in 1948.

-A Twist of Lemon by Paul Swinton  (Blues & Rhythm, No. 121)

-Blind Lemon And I Had A Ball by Victoria Spivey  (Record Research 76, May 1966 p.9)

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Jim BledsoeWorried BluesDown South Blues 1949-1961
Jim BledsoeHot Rod BoogieDown South Blues 1949-1961
Stick Horse Hammond Little GirlAlley Special
Stick Horse Hammond Alberta Down Home Blues Classics: Texas 1946-195
Eddie & Oscar Flying Crow BluesToo Late, Too Late Vol 4 1892-1937
Black Ivory King Flying Crow BluesPiano Blues: The Essential
Pete McKinley Shreveport BluesBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Pete McKinley Whistling BluesBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Lillian GlinnShreveport Blues Lillian Glinn 1927-1929
Three Fifteen & His SquaresSaturday Night On Texas AvenueRare 1930's Blues Vol. 2
Kid WestKid West BluesI Can Eagle Rock: Jook Joint Blues Library of Congress 1940-1941
Joe HarrisEast Texas BluesI Can Eagle Rock: Jook Joint Blues Library of Congress 1940-1941
Oscar "Buddy" WoodsSometimes I Get to Thinkin' I Can Eagle Rock: Jook Joint Blues Library of Congress 1940-1941
Jim BledsoeAvenue BreakdownRural Blues Vol. 1
Jim BledsoeOld River Blues Down Home Blues Classics: Memphis And The South
Jim BledsoeStormin' And Rainin' Rural Blues Vol. 3
Shreveport HomewreckersHome Wreckin' BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Oscar "Buddy" WoodsMuscat Hill Blues Texas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Stick Horse HammondToo Late BabyDown Home Blues Classics: Memphis And The South
Stick Horse HammondGamblin' ManDown Home Blues Classics: Texas 1946-195
Jim Bledsoe & Pete McKinleyDon't Want Me BluesBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Jim Bledsoe Philippine BluesJook Joint Blues
Ramblin ThomasSo Lonesome BluesCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
King Solomon HillThe Gone Dead TrainBlues Images Vol. 3
Jesse ThomasBlue Goose BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Lonnie WilliamsNew Road BluesJook Joint Blues Vol. 5
Lonnie WilliamsTears In My Jook Joint Blues Vol. 5
Stick Horse Hammond Truck 'Em On DownAlley Special
Clarence LondonGot a Letter This MorningBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Black AceTrifling WomanI'm The Boss Card In Your Hand
LeadbellyFannin StreetLeadbelly Vol. 1 1939-1940
Pine Bluff Pete A Women Acts FunnyBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Pine Bluff Pete Uncle Sam BluesBloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty Records
Jim BledsoeSad And LonelyRural blues Vol. 3
Jim Bledsoe Dial 110 Juke Joints 3

Show Notes:

Shreveport, 1920

Shreveport, Louisiana lies in the tri-state region where Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas meet. Located in the northwest corner of Louisiana, Shreveport has had a thriving music scene for many decades. On the southwest edge of Shreveport's Central Business District is a area that has long been forgotten. Blue Goose is a enclave of a much larger neighborhood called Crosstown, which was destroyed in the 1960's for the construction of Interstate 20. The remnant of Blue Goose is the remaining portion of an area that is rich in history. Blue Goose takes its name from a speakeasy that operated during prohibition. In 1942 the structure was torn down and a one story juke joint called the Silver Slipper took its place. Then later, The Ebony club. In the pre-war era artists such as Ocar "Buddy" Woods, Leadbelly, Jesse Thomas, Ramblin Thomas and the Black Ace performed in the area. Many of the musicians ended up there because they were passing through Shreveport by rail and the area was close to the tracks and the station. During the height of the post-war era, courtesy of labels like Gotham, JOB (not the Chicago label but a  home-grown Shreveport label), Pacemaker (owned by country music star Webb Pierce), Imperial, and Specialty recorded some great blues in Shreveport in the early 1950s. Today we spotight these artists as well as a few songs who make reference to the city in song.

Country Jim Bledsoe

Jim Bledsoe was a street singer and guitarist, he recorded for PaceMaker (Webb Pierce's label) in 1949 under the name Hot Rod Happy and ended his recording career circa 1951/1952 with recordings for Specialty and Imperial under the name Country Jim. "Avenue breakdown and "Old River Blues" (the name of a lake near the city) and "Hollywood Boogie" with a reference to the black neighborhood of Shreveport's, Mooretown (which includes an artery called Hollywood) clearly shows that Bledsoe really was a resident of Shreveport and knew the city well. Bledsoe recorded some twenty sides circa 1951/1952 for Specialty, likely recorded at KWKH studios after hours. Theses sides were not released at the time, with some being issued decades later. Among the unreleased sides were “Travis Street Blues” and “Texas Street Blues” which were named after streets in downtown Shreveport and there was also some gospel sides recorded.

Stick Horse Hammond cut three 78's, six sides, for the JOB and Gotham labels in 1950. The sides Hammond cut for JOB (not the Chicago label of the same name) were issued by Ray Bartlett a former disc-jockey at Shreveport's KWKH station about and according to country artist Zeke Clements, who discovered Hammond, “they drove around for two or three days getting him drunk enough to record.” Hammond was born Nathaniel Hammond, April 1896, Dallas, Texas, and after playing around east and central Texas in the 30's before moved to Taylortown, Louisiana in the 40's. The nickname probably derives from the fact that he wore a peg-leg. He died in Shreveport in 1964 and was buried in Taylortown.

Eddie Schaffer teamed up with Oscar "Buddy" Woods and recorded one single for Victor in Memphis in 1930 billed as the "Shreveport Home Wreckers". Two years later they cut one more record in Dallas under their names. One of their numbers was "Flying Crow Blues." Several songs make reference to the Flying Crow, a train line connecting Port Arthur, Texas to Kansas City with major stops in Shreveport and Texarkana. Black Ivory King, Carl Davis & the Dallas Jamboree Jug Band, Dusky Dailey, Washboard Sam and Oscar Woods all recorded songs about the train. Today we also spin the version by Black Ivory King, perhaps the finest version of this song.

Oscar "Buddy" Woods was a Louisiana street musician known as "The Lone Wolf" and a pioneer in the style of lap steel bottleneck blues slide guitar. It is said that Woods developed his bottleneck slide approach to playing blues guitar after seeing a touring Hawaiian troupe of musical entertainers in the early 1920s. Not long after arriving in Shreveport, Woods began a long association with guitarist Ed Schaffer, and together they performed as the Shreveport Home Wreckers. Woods and Schaffer made their first two recordings as the Shreveport Home Wreckers for Victor in Memphis on May 31, 1930. Woods cut his last five selections for the Library of Congress in 1940. John Lomax wrote the following about the session: "Oscar (Buddy) Woods, Joe Harris and Kid West are all professional Negro guitarists and singers of  Texas Avenue, Shreveport…The songs I have recorded are among those they use to cajole nickels and dimes from the pockets of listeners." Woods died in 1956.

David “Pete” McKinley had two songs released in 1950 on Gotham. “Shreveport Blues” is the earliest post-war blues to mention the city. McKinley participated in the same March 12, 1952 session for Specialty that Jim Bledsoe was involved in. Several other sides were unissued until decades later. Art Rupe of Specialty Records came to Shreveport from California at the suggestion of Stan Lewis, renting out the Studios KWKH for an all-night marathon session which began when the station signed off at 2AM. In 1948, Lewis opened a record store, Stan's Record Shop, on Texas Street in Shreveport. Lewis became a one-stop operator (other record stores would buy from him) and distributor of independent records and began to write and produce R&B and rock and roll records. In 1963, Lewis founded the Jewel label and soon after the Paula and Ronn imprints.

Art Rupe remembered “Pine Bluff Pete” as a “very black man” who had been running errands during the session. Rupe said “when it was felt the other singers couldn't perform effectively any more because of alcohol , fatigue, or both, Pine Bluff Pete asked to record. He looked like he could use the recording fee, and everybody was feeling good, so we recorded him. We never actually intended to release the records, so we paid him outright, not even getting his full name.” The name “Pine Bluff Pete” was given to him by Barry Hansen who discovered the tap in the Specialty vaults. Two of the three songs he recorded credit Jim Bledsoe as the composer and he may be playing guitar on these sides.

Ramblin' Thomas spent time in both Dallas and Shreveport. His brother Jesse said “ He spend a good time in both of them. He's mostly get a room to hisself and play in the streets, in the barbershop, on a corner or even in the alley.” In Shreveport he hung out with Joe Holmes, who in 1932 recorded as 'King Solomon Hill' for Paramount. Holmes' ex-wife, Roberta Allums told researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow, “Joe had rather play with Thomas than any other singer.” In Dallas he spent time with Blind Lemon Jefferson. Thomas cut two sessions for Paramount in 1928 and a last session for Victor in 1932.

Jesse Thomas moved to Shreveport when he was fifteen. In 1927 he moved to Dallas to stay with his brother Willard. After meeting Lonnie Johnson he turned to the guitar playing house parties. Thomas recorded sporadically from the late 1920’s through the early 1990’s and despite his longevity didn’t achieve much in the way of success or recognition. In 1929, at 18, Thomas cut four excellent sides for Victor most notably, ”Blues Goose Blues” named after a Shreveport area where Thomas performed:

 I'm goin down in old Blue Goose, even if I lose
   When you go to Shreveport town
   You can find Blue Goose and they'll car' you down
   I'm goin' down in old Blue Goose, I don't care if I lose

King Solomon Hill's legacy is the six sides he cut for Paramount in 1932: "Whoopee Blues", "Down On My Bended Knee", "The Gone Dead Train", "Tell Me Baby", "My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon" and "Times Has Done Got Hard." The last two numbers were not found until 2002 by record collector John Tefteller. King was closely connected to Crying Sam Collins and Blind Lemon Jefferson and their influence are evident, to some degree, in Hill's style.

Babe Karo Lemon Turner AKA Black Ace grew up in a farm in Hughes Springs, Texas. He took up the guitar seriously when he moved to Shreveport in the mid-1930's and met Oscar Woods from whom he learned the local slide guitar style, playing the guitar flat across the knees. By 1936 he moved to Fort Worth where he secured a gig broadcasting on local station KFJZ between 1936-1941. As his reputation grew he toured and cut six sides for Decca in 1937 (two sides recorded for ARC in 1936 were never released). War service disrupted his career and he worked a variety of jobs outside of music. Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records and Paul Oliver ventured to Fort Worth in 1960 and recorded an album by him that year. Those recordings were originally issued the following year on Black Ace's only LP. Turner passed in 1972 showing no interest to get back in the music business after his Arhoolie session.

By 1903, Lead Belly was already a "musicianer", a singer and guitarist of some note. He performed for nearby Shreveport audiences in St. Paul's Bottoms, a notorious red-light district there. Lead Belly began to develop his own style of music after exposure to a variety of musical influences on Shreveport's Fannin Street, a row of saloons, brothels, and dance halls in the Bottoms. He celebrates the street in the powerful "Fannin Street" which we feature today:

My mama told me
My sister too
Said, 'The Shreveport women, son,
Will be the death of you

Said to my mama,
'Mama, you don't know
If the Fannin Street women gonna kill me
Well, you might as well let me go

In 1937, Three Fifteen and His Squares, a music group from Shreveport, Louisiana, traveled 200 miles north for a recording session in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The musicians, led by David “315” Blunson, recorded four songs released by Vocalion Records. The lyrics to Blunson’s “Saturday Night on Texas Avenue” pay a colorful tribute to Shreveport’s African American main drag during its heyday:

In a spot in my hometown, I’d like for you to go
And get woke up, and see a great show
We smoke weed, and we say hey-hey
We drink port wine until the break of day
Saturday Night on Texas Avenue

Walk all night from place to place
Shuckin’ and jivin’ trying to get our gait
Some be truckin’ and some be doin’ the Suzie-Q
And if you stay long enough, you’ll be truckin’ too
Saturday Night on Texas Avenue

Little is known of Lonnie Williams and Clarence London. Williams recorded four songs for the Sittin' In With label in 1951. In a 1968 interview label head Bob Shad recalled Williams was recorded at a Shreveport radio station, most likely KWKH. Clarence London was a Shreveport construction worker who had been hanging around Stan Lewis' record shop, begging Lewis to record him. When Art Rupe of Specialty Records came to town, Lewis obliged. London recorded three songs and never recorded again.

During the time period covered by this show, there were several songs that had Shreveport in the title. Today we spin "Shreveport Blues" sung  in 1928 by Lilillian Glinn which makes reference to Shreveport's Texas Avenue. A different song with the same title was recorded by Virginia Liston in 1923. Other songs include Little Brother Montgomery's "Shreveport Farewell", Jelly Roll Morton's "Shreveport" and "Shreveport Stomp", Clarence Williams' "Shreveport Blues" and Leadbelly's "Shreveport County Jail Blues" to name a few examples.

Share