Entries tagged with “Leadbelly”.

Champion Jack DupreeJunker Blues Cabbage Greens
Lil GreenKnockin' Myself Out Why Don't You Do Right? 1940-1942
Luke Jordan Cocaine Blues The Songster Tradition
Charley Jordan Just A Spoonful St. Louis Town 1929-1933
Memphis Jug Band Cocaine Habit BluesBest Of
Leadbelly Take A Whiff On Me Important Recordings 1934-1949
Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon Don't Drink It In Here How Low Can You Go: Anthology Of The String Bass
Doctor Clayton Ain't Gonna Drink No MoreDoctor Clayton & His Buddies 1946 & 1947
Clarence Williams Jerry The JunkerClarence Williams 1934
Harlem Hamfats Weed Smoker's Dream Harlem Hamfats Vol. 1 1936
Jo Jo Adams When I'm In My Tea Jo-Jo Adams 1946-1953
Buster BennettReefer Head WomanBuster Bennett 1945-1947
Cee Pee Johnson and His Band The G Man Got The T Man West Coast Jive
Josie Miles Pipe Dream Blues Gennett Jazz
Victoria Spivey Dope Head Blues Blues Images Vol. 4
Memphis Willie B.The Stuff Is Here Introducing Memphis Willie B
Carl MartinIf You're A ViperMartin, Bogan & Armstrong
Papa Charlie Jackson All I Want is a SpoonfulPapa Charlie Jackson Vol. 1 1924-26
Charlie Patton Spoonful Blues Images Vol. 12
Jazz Gillum Reefer Head Woman Roll Dem Bones 1938-1949
Curtis Jones Reefer Hound Blues Curtis Jones Vol. 2 1938-1939
Bumble Bee Slim Bricks In My PillowBumble Bee Slim Vol. 3 1934-1935
Doctor Clayton I Got To Find My Baby Doctor Clayton 1935-1942
Washboard Sam Bucket's Got a Hole in ItWhen The Sun Goes Down
Blue Lu Barker's Don't Make Me High Blu Lu Barker 1938-1939
Trixie SmithJack, I'm Mellow Trixie Smith Vol. 2 1925-1929
Leroy Carr Straight Alky Blues, Pt. 1Whiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Walter DavisSloppy Drunk Again Favorite Country Blues Guitar-Piano Duets 1929-1937
Kokomo Arnold I Can't Get Enough Of That Stuff Kokomo Arnold Vol. 2 1935-1936
Rev. Gary Davis Cocaine BluesBlues & Ragtime
Mance LipscombCocaine Done Killed My Baby Texas Songster Vol. 2
John Lee Hooker Whiskey and WimmenThe Vee-Jay Years Vol. 3
Tiny Grimes & JB SummersDrinking Beer House Party

Show Notes: 

Chicago Defender Ad, December 6, 1930

Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs pop up frequently as the subject of many blues. By far the subject of drinking comes up far more than any of the other topics with hundred upon hundreds of songs all facets of drinking. On our first two shows we spotlighted songs about booze, this time we broaden our reach, featuring songs about other illicit substances. While the topic of drugs shows up in some of the early recorded blues it seems to more associated with jazz, particularly songs about marijuana. The word dope came around during the 19th century opium craze. But by 1927, when Victoria Spivey recorded "Dope Head Blues" the term could apply to all kinds of drugs.

Today we survey a wide variety blues songs about drugs and drinking, the majority from the pre-war era. Many of today's songs were recorded between 1920 and 1933, the era of Prohibition and tightened restrictions on marijuana use, which didn't seem to have any effect on those trying to find those substances. Increased restrictions and labeling of marijuana began in many states from 1906 onward, and outright prohibitions began in the 1920's and by the mid-1930's it was regulated as a drug in every state. Local laws prohibiting cocaine appeared before the drug was banned outright in 1922. Just sixteen days after the Volstead act made Prohibition the law of the land federal agents made their first raid on a speakeasy in Chicago. By the middle of the 1920's bootlegging became a two billion a year industry in which half a million people were employed. Prohibition became the topic of songs and in 1919, even before the law came into effect, vaudeville tenor Irving Kauffman sang "Prohibition drives me insane" in the "Alcoholic Blues." More than any other music, the pleasures and pains of booze were a common topic in blues songs. Drinking was tied to blues culture with the blues thriving places known for drinking like brothels, lumber camps and juke joints.

Today's title comes from Washboard Sam's "Bucket's Got a Hole in It" recorded in 1938. The song is widely attributed to Clarence Williams, who obtained a copyright in 1933. The original melody evolved from the second theme of "Long Lost Blues" published in 1914. The "Long Lost Blues" theme was a variation of "Bucket's Got a Hole in It", a motif that appears in several versions of "Keep A-Knockin." This tune later became the basis for several versions of the song, "You Can't Come In" recorded by multiple artists. However, "Bucket's Got a Hole in It" has also been attributed to Buddy Bolden, which would date it before 1906. Hank Williams had a hit for MGM when his version reached #4 on the country chart in 1949 and Ricky Nelsom cut a tame version of the song in 1958. Washboard Sam's version had lyrics that don't appear in other versions (except for Lil Johnson who did an identical song the prior year):

Gonna start a new racket
Gonna start it out right
Gonna sell moonshine in the day
An peddle dope at night

In 1885 the U.S. manufacturer Parke-Davis sold cocaine in various forms, including cigarettes, powder, and even a cocaine mixture that could be injected directly into the user's veins with the included needle. The company promised that its cocaine products would "supply the place of food, make the coward brave, the silent eloquent and render the sufferer insensitive to pain." Stevedores along the Mississippi River used the drug as a stimulant, and white employers encouraged its use by black laborers. In early 20th-century Memphis, Tennessee, cocaine was sold in neighborhood drugstores on Beale Street, costing five or ten cents for a small boxful. The Memphis Jug Band's “Cocaine Blues”, featured today, dates from the turn of the century (also known as "Take A Whiff on Me"), when cocaine was both legal and endemic in Memphis, with Lehman's Drugstore on Union the main source as Hattie Hart sings:

Went to Mr Lehman's in a lope
Saw a sign on the window said no more dope
Hey, hey, honey take a whiff on me

Champion Jack Dupree - Junker BluesLuke Jordan cut "Cocaine Blues" ("I’m simply wild about my good cocaine") in 1929 which was covered by Dick Justice almost note for note  two years later. Rev. Gary Davis recorded a version much later that he says he learnt in 1905, his version introduced the “there’s cocaine all around my brain” lyric. Other cocaine related songs featured today include Leadbelly's "Take A Whiff On Me" plus songs by Charlie Patton and Papa Charlie Jackson. Patton recorded "Spoonful" for Paramount in 1929 which is related to "All I Want Is A Spoonful" by Papa Charlie Jackson from 1925 and "Cocaine Blues" by Luke Jordan. Charley Jordan cut "Just A Spoonful" in 1930. The lyrics relate men's sometimes violent search to satisfy their cravings, with "a spoonful" used mostly as a metaphor for pleasures, which have been interpreted as sex, love, or drugs. "Spoonful" is also the title of a Willie Dixon number first recorded in 1960 by Howlin' Wolf and related to the early versions.

 Cocaine is also referenced in Champion Jack Dupree's famous "Junker Blues" along with other substances. "Junker Blues" was first recorded in 1940 by  Dupree. It formed the basis of several later songs including "The Fat Man" by Fats Domino. The song also served as a template for the classic New Orleans number "Junco Partner."Dupree also sang about drugs on songs like "Weed Head Woman" and "Can't Kick The Habit."

They call, they call me a junker
Cause I'm loaded all the time
I don't use no reefer, I'll be knocked out with that angel wine

Six months, Six months ain't no sentence
And one year ain't no time
They got boys in penitentiary doing from nine to ninety-nine

I was standing, I was standing on the corner
With my reefers in my hand
Up stepped the sergeant took my reefers out of my hand

My brother, my brother used a needle
and my sister sniffed cocaine
I don't use no junk, I'm the nicest boy you ever seen

My mother, my mother she told me
and my father told me too
That that junk is a bad habit, why don't you leave it too?

My sister she even told me
And my grandma told me too
That using junk partner was going to be the death of you

Songs about "reefer" show up in many blues songs but the term seem more associated to jazz. In 1938 Jazz Gillum cut "Reefer Head Woman" ("Mens, please don't take her around/ She will get full of reefers, and raise sand all over this town") and Curtis Jones" waxed "Reefer Hound Blues" ("I'm high off of my reefer, I'm nothing but a reefer hound") while The Harlem Hamfats cut "Weed Smoker's Dream" in 1936. At some point another set of lyrics was attached to the melody that The Harlem Hamfats had recorded as "Weed Smoker's Dream" and fashioned into "Why Don't You Do Right?" Lil Green was the first to recortd the song under that title in 1941. One of the best-known versions of the song, Peggy Lee's, was recorded in 1942, in New York with Benny Goodman which sold over 1 million copies. Speaking of Lil Green, we spin her "Knockin' Myself Out" her 1941 ode to self medication:

Listen girls and boys I got one stick
Give me a match and let me take a whiff quick
I'm gonna knock myself out, I'm gonna kill myself
I'm gonna knock myself out, gradually by degrees

Other reefer related songs played today include Memphis Willie B's "The Stuff Is Here" and Carl Martin's "If You're A Viper." Back in 1936 Martin also cut the drug themed "That New Kind Of Stuff." "The Stuff Is Here And It's Mellow” was recorded by Clarence Williams in 1934 and the following year with lyrics by Cleo Brown. "If You're a Viper" is a jazz song composed by Stuff Smith and recorded by Smith and his Onyx Club Boys in 1936. The song was a hit for Smith and is one of the most frequently covered songs about marijuana. "Viper" was Harlem slang for a pot smoker. From the 1940's we spin Doctor Clayton's "I Gotta Find My Baby ("When my head starts to aching, I grab my hat and go/Cause cocaine and reefers can't reach my case no more") and "When I'm In My Tea" recorded in 1946 by Jo Jo Adams.

Interview Pt. 1Jeff Place
Leadbelly Black GirlThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly Been So Long (Bellevue Hospital Blues) The Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 2Jeff Place
Leadbelly Irene (Goodnight Irene)The Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly CottonfieldsThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 3Jeff Place
Leadbelly Fannin StreetThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 4Jeff Pace
Leadbelly Noted RiderThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 5Jeff Place
Leadbelly Silver City BoundThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly One Dime BluesThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly & The Golden Gate Quartet Alabama BoundAlabama Bound
Interview Pt. 6Jeff Place
LeadbellyWNYC- Folk Songs of America ProgramThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 7Jeff Pace
LeadbellyRock Island LineThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
LeadbellyShorty GeorgeLeadbelly: The Remaining LOCR Vol. 3 1935
Interview Pt. 8Jeff Place
Leadbelly The TitanicThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly Jim Crow BluesThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Leadbelly The Bourgeois BluesThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 9Jeff Place
Leadbelly & Josh WhiteMother's Blues (Little Children Blues)Leadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-49
LeadbellyDiggin' My PotatoesThe Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Interview Pt. 10Jeff Place
Leadbelly I'm On My Last Go-RoundLeadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-49)
Leadbelly Don't You Love Your Daddy No More Leadbelly & Josh White (Reamaining Titles) 1937-1946
Leadbelly When a Man's a Long Way from HomeLeadbelly Vol. 5 1944-1946

Show Notes:

Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways CollectionToday's program is our first show devoted to Lead Belly who I haven't played all that much on the show over the years. I remember picking up my first Leadbelly album back in High School. It was a self-titled album on Columbia collecting some of his 1930's blues sides. For whatever reason the album didn't make much of an impression on me. It was only years later, after picking some of the collections on Document that I got a better appreciation of the sheer breadth of his repertoire and talent. Today's show is inspired by a recent 5-CD box set on the Smithsonian Folkways label, The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, that serves as an excellent career retrospective and has an informative booklet with essays by Robert Santelli and Jeff Place. We play a number of tracks from the box set plus chat with producer Jeff Place, who I spoke with a couple of weeks back.

Lead Belly's recording career began with recordings made in 1933 by John and Alan Lomax at Angola prison and after his release from prison he recorded prolifically right up until his death in 1949. Lead Belly never had much success among black audiences, his commercial blues recordings did not sell, but he found success among the folk music audience. He became a fixture in New York City's folk music scene befriending and performing with Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Woody Guthrie, and a young Pete Seeger. Lead Belly was also the first blues musician to see success in Europe when he traveled there in 1949. He died later that year in New York City.

As Robert Santelli writes in the notes: "Lead Belly was a man of contradiction and complexity. It was hard to truly know him, said the people who tried, and it was next to impossible to place him in a particular music style or form and have him remain there for long. He was a folk musician who also played the blues. He knew his share of work songs and field hollers, having sung them while picking cotton and doing farm chores. He learned prison songs while incarcerated, and he sang them like a man who had seen life’s underbelly. Spirituals and gospel tunes came naturally to him. He gave new life to old ballads whose origins were buried in the past. He could sing children’s songs when kids were present. And at house parties and local fish fries, if someone wanted to hear a few standards or a pop hit of the day, he could sing and play them too. Lead Belly moved through American music genres and song circles naturally and effortlessly, never seeing the boundaries and categories that were created for commodity’s sake by men with bow ties and clean suits. He was the very definition of a 'songster,' an old-time, old-school human jukebox of a performer and recording artist who never quite realized just what an American music treasure he had become in his life."
Huddie Ledbetter was born January 15, 1888, in the Caddo Lake District near Mooringsport in the northwest corner of Louisiana, near the Texas and Arkansas lines. Two of Huddie’s uncles, Bob and Terrell, were musicians and introduced him to new songs. His uncle Terrell gifted him a small accordion when was seven years old. He would acquire a guitar around 1903. Huddie had become adept at all sorts of musical styles, and found that he could pick up a few extra cents playing at local country dances, or “sukey jumps." By the time Huddie left Mooringsport in 1906, he had fathered two children out of wedlock and had a bad reputation locally. After some rambling to New Orleans and other places, he landed in Shreveport. Along the way he had learned all types of songs, including popular songs of the early 1900s. Around 1910, a now-married Huddie moved to Dallas, Texas. According to Charles K. Wolfe and Kip Lornell in The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly: "Sometime during his wanderings – probably late in 1910, when he was living near Dallas – Huddie acquired his first twelve-string guitar." Leadbelly told may tales of how he picked up the instrument. One of the less fanciful stories is recounted in the book: 'I saw one of those old 12-string Stellas sitting in the window of a Dallas store. The year before I heard a man play it in one of those traveling medicine shows where they sold a cure-all for fifty cent a a bottle.' Captivated by the loud, ringing sound of the instrument, Leadbelly  had spent the rest of the night hanging around the medicine show tent listening to the man play. Shortly, thereafter, when he finally saw one of the twelve-strings for sale; 'the price of the guitar was $12', he recalled, 'I had to have it.'" In 1912, he met and started playing as a duo with Blind Lemon Jefferson who in the 1920's would become one of the best-selling blues artists in the country.

In June 1915, Huddie was involved in an altercation and was sentenced to 30 days on a chain gang. Huddie escaped and fled to New Orleans, and then back to Mooringsport. He could not stay there, and so, traveling with his wife, he began going by the name Walter Boyd and went to live with relatives in DeKalb, Texas. In December 1917, Lead Belly found himself in a confrontation, a gun was fired, and Will Stafford lay dead. 78-rpm-rare-blues-leadbelly-record-alabama-bound-on-hmv-mh-160-must-see-ee_5789957Huddie claimed it was self-defense but was sentenced to between 7 and 30 years in a Texas prison. He began at the Shaw State Prison and later was transferred to the notorious Sugarland Prison. He was released in 1925.

He would be free for just five years; in 1930 another fight landed him in Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison for six to ten. Lead Belly became known around the prison for his singing and guitar playing. John and Alan Lomax arrived at Angola on July 16. Lead Belly was suggested to them as a good singer to record, and they realized they had really made a “find.” The Lomaxes made 12 recordings and returned the following July to record 15 more songs. He had a special one prepared, “Governor O.K. Allen.” He asked if John Lomax would deliver a recording of the song to Allen’s office. Lead Belly had previously written asking for a pardon as well. It is not known whether Allen listened to the song, but Lead Belly was officially granted a pardon on July 25, 1934.

He returned to Shreveport and began to lobby John Lomax for a job. Alan was suffering from an illness, and John needed a driver. In the fall, performing this role, Lead Belly took off with them on a recording trip. He would sometimes warm up the prisoners by singing his songs and showing them the kinds of things Lomax wanted. Lomax was anxious to present his new discovery to a meeting of the Modern Language Association in Philadelphia, which launched the flurry of sensationalism that accompanied Lead Belly’s arrival on the scene. Finally it was the big move to New York. In 1935, the Lomaxes had lobbied for Lead Belly to sign a recording contract with the American Recording Corporation (ARC). Of the 43 songs Lead Belly recorded for ARC, only six saw the light of day.

In breadth and number, the greatest collection of songs Lead Belly ever recorded were the hundreds he did for the Library of Congress. The two Lomaxes were acting as his managers and took two thirds of the cut. Eventually there was a falling out and Leadbelly moved to Shreveport then Dallas. He eventually decided to give New York City another try. During the same time period, Lead Belly was being introduced to singers in New York who came from a strong protest song background. In April 1939, Lead Belly recorded a session for the small Musicraft Records and the following year for the Library of Congress. Throughout 1941 and early 1942, Lead Belly had a weekly show on WNYC’s The American School of the Air called Folk Songs of America. He also made recordings for RCA in 1940, some backed by the Golden Gate Quartet.

The commercial labels that recorded Lead Belly didn’t know how to market his music. For better or worse, Lead Belly’s strongest audience turned out to be the music fans involved in the folk revival, mainly in New York. City. Around this time Leadbelly Leadbelly Columbia Albumbegan recording for Moe Asch and his Asch label. Lead Belly recorded mainly for Asch for the rest of his life. In 1945, Asch Records went out of business and was followed by Asch’s second label, Disc Recordings of America. Lead Belly continued to record for Disc. During that time and for years to come Lead Belly’s apartment at 414 East 10th Street was a hub of musical activity. His niece Tiny Robinson remembers “it being like a friendly hotel that would receive musical guests like Sonny and Brownie, Bill Broonzy, Burl Ives, Eartha Kitt, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Harry Belafonte."

In 1948 Lead Belly was recorded extensively  by Fredric Ramsey. These sides were eventually released by Smithsonian Folkways as a 4-CD set titled Lead Belly's Last Sessions. In the late 1940's, Lead Belly began to feel something was physically wrong. In 1948, at a show in Paris during his trip to Europe, he found he could not continue playing his guitar. He was taken to a Parisian doctor who diagnosed Leadbelly with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He died in New York at Bellevue Hospital a little over a year later on December 5, 1949.

Over the next few years, a series of memorial LP's honoring Lead Belly were released by both the new Folkways label and Stinson Records, and many of Lead Belly’s numerous friends took part in memorial concerts. The band the Weavers, featuring Pete Seeger, celebrated Lead Belly’s music on stage, recording “Rock Island Line,” “Silvy,” and “Goodnight Irene” (among others). "Goodnight Irene” became a huge hit in 1950.

Blind Willie McTellDark Night BluesThe Classic Years 1927-1940
Blind Willie McTellLoving Talking BluesBest Of
Blind Willie McTellMama, Let Me Scoop For YouBest Of
Seth RichardsLonley Seth BluesRare Country Blues Vol. 1 1928-1937
Seth RichardsSkoodeldum BluesRare Country Blues Vol. 1 1928-1937
Ed Andrews Time Ain't Gonna Make Me Stay A Richer Tradition
Julius Daniels Ninety-Nine Year BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Willie BakerNo No BluesCharley Lincoln 1927-1930 & Willie Baker 1929
George CarterGhost Woman BluesBlues Images Vol. 11
George CarterWeeping Willow BluesBlues Images Vol. 11
Freddie SpruellMilk Cow BluesMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Charlie KyleKyle's Worried BluesRare Country Blues Vol. 1 1928-1937
Uncle Bud WalkerStand Up Suitcase BlueMississippi Moaners
Charlie HicksDepot BluesCharley Lincoln 1927-1930 & Willie Baker 1929
Charlie HicksMama, Don't Rush MeCharley Lincoln 1927-1930 & Willie Baker 1929
Too Tight HenryThe Way I Do Rare Country Blues Vol. 3 1928-1936
Too Tight HenryCharleston Contest pt 1 Rare Country Blues Vol. 3 1928-1936
Barbecue BobHow Long Pretty MamaThe Essential
Barbecue BobBarbecue BluesChocolate To The Bone
Barbecue BobGoing Up The CountryChocolate To The Bone
Winston Holmes & Charlie TurnerKansas City Dog WalkKansas City Blues 1924-1929
Louis LaskyHow You Want Your Rollin' DoneBlues Images Vol. 3
John Byrd & Washboard WalterBilly Goat BluesRare Country Blues Vol. 2 1929-1943
John Byrd & Washboard WalterOld Timbrook BluesRare Country Blues Vol. 2 1929-1943
Mae Glover & John ByrdI Ain't Givin' Nobody NoneI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Leadbelly The Bourgeois BluesLeadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-49
Leadbelly New York CityLeadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-49
Leadbelly Noted Rider BluesThe Remaining LOCR Vol. 5 1938-1942
Blind Willie McTellSearching The Desert Blues Best Of
Barbecue BobCalifornia BluesChocolate To The Bone
Lonnie Johnson & Eddie LangMidnight Call Blues Lonnie Johnson Vol. 5 1929-1930
Lonnie JohnsonUncle Ned, Don't Use Your HeadLonnie Johnson Vol. 7 1931-1932

Show Notes:

Kings of the Twelve StringToday's show was inspired by a query from a listener who asked me about an album called Kings of the Twelve String. The album was in the catalog of the Piedmont, Gryphon, and Chesapeake labels in the 1960's and was then reissued twice by Flyright, first in 1973 and then again in 1978. I have the latter copy on Flyright and there was apparently a twelve page booklet which unfortunately my copy does not have. So on today's program we spotlight some great 12-string blues performances from the pre-war era, featuring several tracks from the Kings of the Twelve String album.

In the he 19th and early 20th century twelve-strings were regarded as “novelty” instruments. It was not till the 1920's and the 1930's that 12-string guitars became a major part of blues and folk music, where their sound made them ideal as solo accompaniment for vocalists such as Lead Belly and Blind Willie McTell. According to Charles K. Wolfe and Kip Lornell in The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly: "The twelve-string in general was introduced into the United States from Mexico and Latin America, which had a long and complex history of double-stringed instruments. By 1900 a company a company called Lyon and Healy was producing them for sale in the states, and a 1928 catalog listed five different models under various brand names." The first recording of a male country blues singer seems to have been by a twelve-string guitarist called Ed Andrews who was recorded for Okeh in Atlanta in March or April 1924. However, in the history of the blues, artists who played the 12-string as their primary instrument were relatively few. For some reason Atlanta was the home of several 12-string players including Blind Willie, Barbecue Bob, Charlie Hicks, Julius Daniels, Willie Baker and George Carter. Other 12-string players featured today include Freddie Spruell, Uncle Bud Walker, Too Tight Henry, John Byrd and some exceptional performances by Lonnie Johnson among others.

Today we play several sides by Blind Willie McTell and the music of his fellow Atlanta bluesmen, just about all who were inspired by McTell. Like Memphis, Atlanta was a staging post for musicians on their way to all points. It’s not surprising then that the first country blues musician, Ed Andrews, was recorded there in 1924. The company that recorded him, Okeh, barbecue bob 2was one of many to send their engineers to Southern cities to record local talent. Companies like Victor, Columbia, Vocalion and Brunswick made at least yearly visits until the depression. McTell was born in Thomson, Georgia, near Augusta, and raised near Statesboro. He played a standard six-string acoustic until the mid-'20s, and never entirely abandoned the instrument, but from the beginning of his recording career, he used a 12-string acoustic in the studio almost exclusively. He was A major figure with a local following in Atlanta from the 1920's onward, he recorded dozens of sides throughout the 1930s' under a multitude of names — all the better to juggle "exclusive" relationships with many different record labels at once — including Blind Willie, Blind Sammie, Hot Shot Willie, and Georgia Bill, as a backup musician to Ruth Mary Willis. Willie's recording career began in late 1927 with two sessions for Victor records, eight sides including "Statesboro Blues." He recorded prolifically through the 1930's a did a session for the Library of Congress in 1940 under the supervision of John Lomax. The newly founded Atlantic Records took an interest in Willie and cut 15 songs with him in Atlanta during 1949. The one single released from these sessions, however, didn't sell, and most of those recordings remained unheard for more than 20 years after they were made. In 1950, along with his friend Curley Weaver, he cut sides for Regal. McTell cut his final sides for record store owner Ed Rhodes in 1956, who had begun taping local bluesmen at his shop in Atlanta in the hope of releasing some of it. These turned out to be the only tapes he saved, out of all he'd recorded.

Barbecue Bob was the name given by Columbia Records talent scout Don Hornsby to Atlanta blues singer Robert Hicks. Hicks is widely credited as being the singer who more than any helped to popularize Atlanta blues in its formative period. Born to a family of sharecroppers in Walnut Grove, GA, Robert Hicks and his brother, Charley "Lincoln" Hicks relocated with them to Newton County. There the Hicks brothers came in contact with Savannah "Dip" Weaver and her son, Curley Weaver. With the Weavers, the Hicks boys learned to play guitar and sing. Robert Hicks was the first of this group to "break out"; Hicks' first Columbia record, "Barbecue Blues," recorded in Atlanta on March 25, 1927 and was a big hit. Over the next three years he made 62 sides for Columbia. Hicks died in 1931 of pneumonia. He was only 29. His brother, Charley, cut a total of twelve sides between 1927 and 1930.

Among the other Atlanta artists featured are Willie Baker, George Carter, Julius Daniels and Ed Andrews. Baker was a contemporary of the Hicks brothers and cut nine sides in 1929.  He was remembered to play around Patterson, Georgia, and it is possible that he saw Robert Hicks play in a medicine show in Waycross, Georgia. Other than tOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhat, nothing further is known. Nothing is known of George Carter other then he cut four sides for Paramount in 1929. Bruce Bastin related that when Edward "Snap" Hill, a boyhood friend of Curley Weaver and the Hicks brothers was played a tape of one of Georg Carter's songs it prompted him to say: "He's from Atlanta" although he knew nothing about him. Julius Daniels cut eight songs for Victor at two sessions in 1927. The aforementioned Ed Andrews left behind two songs in 1924, "Barrel House Blues b/w Time Ain't Gonna Make Me Stay."

Unlike Atlanta there were few Mississippi artist who recorded on the 12-string. Among those featured today are Uncle Bud Walker, Freddie Spruell and transplanted Mississippian John Byrd. Walker cut one 78, "Look Here Mama Blues" b/w "Stand Up Suitcase Blues", recorded on July 30, 1928, in Atlanta, GA, and released by OKeh Records. Freddie Spruell recorded ten tracks for OKeh, Paramount, and Bluebird between 1926 and 1935. Spruell could well be considered the first Delta blues performer to record when he cut "Milk Cow Blues" in Chicago on June 25, 1926. Spruell also backs Washboard Sam on "Ocean Blues b/w Y.M.V. Blues", Sam's 1935 debut recording for Bluebird. Spreull's Social Security file indicates he was born on December 28, 1893, and although he is generally considered a Mississippi bluesman, it appears he moved to Chicago with his parents as a small boy, and his ties to the Delta are more stylistic than geographical.

John Byrd was born in Mississippi around the 1890's era. At some time in his youth he relocated to Louisville, Kentucky. It may have been in Louisville where he became friends with "Washboard" Walter Taylor. He made his debut recordings in 1929 as a solo gospel artist cutting one record for Gennett as "Rev. George Jones and his Congregation". That record was issued but during the same period other recordings by him or as a member of "Washboard Walter's Trio" were unissued. Byrd and Taylor moved on to Paramount Records where Byrd cut his only solo 78 in 1930. He also found session work as a guitarist backing singer Mae Glover.

According to Charles K. Wolfe and Kip Lornell in The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly: "Sometime during his wanderings – probably late in 1910, when he was living near Dallas – Huddie acquired his first twelve-string guitar." Leadbelly told may tales of how he picked up the instrument. One of the less fanciful stories is recounted in the book: 'I saw one of those old 12-string Stellas sitting in the window of a Dallas store. The year before I heard a man play it in one of those traveling medicine shows where they sold a cure-all for fifty cent a a bottle.' Captivated by the loud, ringing sound of the instrument, Leadbelly  had spent the rest of the night hanging around the medicine show tent listening to the man play. Shortly, thereafter, when he finally saw one of the twelve-strings for sale; 'the price of the guitar was $12', he recalled, 'I had to have it.'"

v20658b4Others featured artists include Seth Richards, Charlie Kyle, Too Tight Henry, Louis Lasky, Winston Holmes and Charlie Turner and Lonnie Johnson. Seth Richards recorded a couple tracks under his real name in 1928, which would be his last recordings until he recorded as Skoodle Dum Doo and Sheffield in 1943. Kyle was said to have been from Texas and may have traveled to Memphis in 1928 along with female blues singers Bessie Tucker and Ida Mae Mack to record. Six of his songs were recorded, only four were issued resulting in two 78's. Born in Georgia in 1899 'Too Tight' toured extensively during the 1920's as with both Blind Blake and Blind Lemon Jefferson. In Memphis he worked with Jed Davenport. He was considered at the time as a master of the 6 and 12-string guitar. He recorded one 78 in 1928 and one in 1930. In the early 1940's he became a popular and regular performer on a Memphis based radio show. Lasky cut fives sides in 1935 as well as backing Anna Lee Chisholm, Big Bill, Memphis Minnie and Washboard Sam. It's been suggested he was a influence on Big Bill's guitar style. Nothing is known about Lasky's background but his style suggests a older musician. Turner played rack harmonica and guitar, and was an accomplished player of blues and ragtime and Holmes sang, and played guitar. Holmes backed Kansas singer Lottie Kimbrough at a 1926 session and cut six sides with Charlie Turner at a 1928 session. 12-string guitar was not Lonnie's primary instrument but he did play it on his historic duets with Eddie Lang ("Midnight Call Blues" – my favorite of the duets and a the favorite of Lonnie biographer Dean Alger) and to dazzling effect on his 1931 classic, "Uncle Ned, Don't Use Your Head", both featured today.

Bo Carter Who's Been Here?Greatest Hits 1930-1940
Big Bill BroonzyGood Time TonightGood Time Tonight
Kokomo ArnoldGoin' Down in Galilee (Swing Along With Me)Kokomo Arnold Vol. 4 1937-1938
Merline Johnson & The Louisiana KidSeparation BluesMerline Johnson Vol. 2 1938-1939
Trixie SmithFreight Train BluesCharlie Shavers & The Blues Singers 1938-1939
Rosetta TharpeRock MeThe Original Soul Sister
Pete Johnson Roll 'EmPete Johnson 1938-1939
Meade Lux LewisHonky Tonk Train BluesFrom Spirituals To Swing
Joe Turner & Pete JonsonLow Down DogFrom Spirituals To Swing
Washboard SamYellow, Black And BrownWashboard Sam Vol. 2 1937-1938
Jazz Gillum Boar Hog BluesThe Bluebird Recordings 1934-1938
Blind John DavisJersey Cow BluesBlind John Davis 1938-1939
Shorty Bob ParkerThe Death of Slim GreenKid Prince Moore 1936-1938
Tampa RedLove with a FeelingThe Essential
Lonnie JohnsonBlue Ghost BluesLonnie Johnson Vol. 1 1937-1940
John Henry BarbeeSix Weeks Old BluesMemphis Blues 1927-1938)
Big Joe WilliamsPeach Orchard MammaBig Joe Williams Vol. 1 1935-1941
Blind Boy Fuller Funny Feeling Blues Blind Boy Fuller Remastered 1935-193
LeadbellyNoted Rider BluesLeadbelly - The Remaining LOCR Vol. 5 1938-1942
Monkey JoeNew York CentralMonkey Joe Vol. 1 1935-1939
Curtis JonesAlley Bound BluesCurtis Jones Vol. 2 1938-1939
Memphis MinnieGood BiscuitsMemphis Minnie Vol. 4 1938
Georgia WhiteThe Blues Ain't Nothin' But...???Georgia White Vol. 3 1937-1939
Speckled RedEarly In The MorningSpeckled Red 1929-1938
Peetie WheatstrawShack Bully StompThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportRailroad BluesThe Essential
Oscar WoodsJames Session BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star
Harlem HamfatsI Believe I'll Make A ChangeHarlem Hamfats Vol. 3 1937-1938
Jimmie GordonFast LifeJimmie Gordon Vol. 2 1936-1938
George CurryMy Last Five DollarsFrank ''Springback'' James & George Curry 1934-1938
Johnnie TempleGonna Ride 74Johnnie Temple Vol. 1 1935-1938
Son BondsOld Bachelor BluesSon Bonds & Charlie Pickett 1934-1941
Sleepy John EstesSpecial Agent (Railroad Police Blues)I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More 1929-1941
Sonny Boy WilliamsonDecoration BluesThe Bluebird Recordings 1937-1938
Yank RachelI'm Wild And Crazy As Can BeThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol.1

Show Notes:

 1938 Decca Cataloge
1938 Decca Catalog

Today’s show is the twelfth installment of an ongoing series of programs built around a particular year. The first year we spotlighted was 1927 which was the beginning of a blues boom that would last until 1930; there were just 500 blues and gospel records issued in 1927 and increase of fifty percent from 1926 a trend that would continue until the depression. To feed the demand other record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent, which included making trips down south with field recording units. The Depression, with the massive unemployment it brought, had a shattering effect on the pockets of black record buyers. Sales of blues records plummeted in the years 1931 through 1933. Things picked up again in 1934 with the companies recording full-scale again. During this period there was far less recording in the field during this period and in view of the popularity of Chicago singers there was less need. From 1934 until 1945 there were three main race labels, all selling at 35 cents: Decca, the Brunswick Record Corporation's Vocalion, and RCA-Victor's Bluebird. There were two other labels that featured a fair number of blues during this period; the store group Montgomery Ward, with a label of the same name, drew at various times on Gennett, Decca and Bluebird and Sears Roebuck used ARC material on its Conqueror label. Race record sales were up around 15 per cent in 1937. Sales were a bit down by 1938 with an average of eight race records a week, down from seven a week from the previous year.

From 1934 until 1945 there were three main race labels, all selling at 35 cents: Decca, the Brunswick Record Corporation's Vocalion, and RCA-Victor's Bluebird. There were two other labels that featured a fair number of blues during this period; the store group Montgomery Ward, with a label of the same name, drew at various times on Gennett, Decca and Bluebird and Sears Roebuck used ARC material on its Conqueror label. Race record sales were up around 15 per cent in 1937: Decca and Bluebird each put out around 120 items whilst BRC-ARC issued almost on Vocalion and another 100 on the dime-store labels.

According to John Godrich and Robert M.W. Dixon in their classic book Recording The Blues, the record companies "had three way of unearthing new talent: by placing advertisements in local newspapers, especially just before a field unit was due in a nearby town; by just relying on chance comments from singers, concerning other who might be good recording propositions; and by employing their own talent scouts, who carry out steady, systematic searches. The last method was intensively employed in the the thirties – Roosevelt Sykes, for instance, would find likely artists for Decca (or, sometimes, for Lester Melrose). But despite this, race catalogs in the thirties relied more heavily on a small nucleus of popular singers than they had in the twenties. It was the urban style of blues that now dominated the market – and as in the previous years it was artists such as Tampa Red, Spirituals to Swing ConcertKokomo Arnold, Washboard Sam, Jazz Gillum, Memphis Minnie, Big Bill Broonzy, Peetie Wheatstraw and the Harlem Hamfats who dominated the market. Tampa cut 26 sides, the Hamfats cut around numbers under there own name as well as backing other singers, Peetie Wheatstraw cut 17 sides, Washboard Sam cut over two-dozen sides, Jazz Gillum cut a dozen numbers and Broonzy cut around two-dozen sides. Several big name artists had their careers end during this period including Bumble Bee Slim who's last sides were cut in 1937 (he would record again in the 50's and 60's), while Kokomo Arnold and Casey Bill weldon cut their finals sessions in 1938.

We spin  a few tracks today from a groundbreaking concert held in New York City in 1938. From Spirituals to Swing was the title of two concerts presented by John Hammond in Carnegie Hall on 23 December 1938 and 24 December 1939. The event was dedicated to singer Bessie Smith, who died a year before in a car accident in Virginia. The concerts included performances by Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson, Helen Humes, Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, Mitchell's Christian Singers, the Golden Gate Quartet, James P. Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Terry. The idea was a history, starting with spirituals and leading up to big swing bands, involving African American performers. Hammond had difficulty gaining sponsorship for the event because it involved African American artists and an integrated audience. However, The New Masses, the journal of the American Communist Party, agreed to finance it. The boogie-woogie craze of the late 1930s and early 1940s dates from these concerts. Johnson and Turner, along with Lewis and Ammons, continued as an act after the concerts with their appearances at the Cafe Society night club, as did many of the other performers.

As in the previous year the blues market was dominated by Chicago singers but there several down-home singers recorded. wo down home singers who could hold their own in terms of popularity against the urban artists were Sleepy John Estes and Blind Boy Fuller. Fuller cut twenty-two sides in 1938 for Vocalion. Estes cut an eight song session on April 22, 1938 and at the same session Son Bonds cut one 78 backed by Estes. Other down-home singers featured today include Big Joe Williams, Leadbelly and John Henry Barbee.