|Bo Carter||Corinne Corrina||Bo Carter Vol. 1 1928-1931|
|Bo Carter||East Jackson Blues||Violin, Sing The Blues For Me|
|Bo Carter||Twist It, Baby||Bo Carter Vol. 2 1931-1934|
|Mississippi Sheiks||Alberta Blues||Mississippi Sheiks Vol.1 1930|
|Mississippi Sheiks||Sitting On Top Of The World||Blues Images Vol. 2|
|Mississippi Sheiks||Still I'm Traveling On||Mississippi Sheiks Vol.2 1930-1931|
|Walter Vincson||Overtime Blues||Walter Vincson 1928-1941|
|Walter Vincson||Gulf Coast Bay||Walter Vincson 1928-1941|
|Sam Chatmon||I Have To Paint My Face||I Have To Paint My Face|
|Sam Chatmon||God Don't Like Ugly||I Have To Paint My Face|
|Bo Carter||I Want You To Know||Bo Carter Vol. 2 1931-1934|
|Bo Carter||The Law Gonna Step On You||Bo Carter Vol. 2 1931-1934|
|Bo Carter||Tellin' You ‘Bout It||Bo Carter Vol. 2 1931-1934|
|Mississippi Sheiks||Honey Babe Let the Deal Go Down||Honey Babe Let the Deal Go Down|
|Mississippi Sheiks||Stop And Listen Blues||Stop And Listen Blues|
|Mississippi Sheiks||Baby Keeps Stealin' Lovin' on Me||Mississippi Sheiks Vol.1 1930|
|Mississippi Blacksnakes||Blue Sky Blues||Mississippi String Bands & Associates|
|Mississippi Blacksnakes||Grind So Fine||Mississippi String Bands & Associates|
|Sam Chatmon||Last Chance Shaking In The Bed With Me||The Mississippi Sheik|
|Sam Chatmon||Stretching Them Things||The Mississippi Sheik|
|Bo Carter||When Your Left Eye Go To Jumping||Bo Carter Vol. 3 1934-1936|
|Bo Carter||Mashing That Thing||Bo Carter Vol. 3 1934-1936|
|Mississippi Sheiks||Dinner Blues||Stop And Listen|
|Mississippi Sheiks||I've Got Blood in My Eyes For You||Honey Babe Let The Deal Go Down|
|Mississippi Sheiks||She's A Bad Girl||Mississippi Sheiks Vol.2 1930-1931|
|Bo Carter||All Around Man||Bo Carter Vol. 3 1934-1936|
|Bo Carter||Cigarette Blues||Bo Carter Vol. 4 1936-1938|
|Bo Carter||Who's Been Here||Bo Carter Vol. 5 1938-1940|
|Sam Chatmon||Go Back Old Devil||1970-1974|
|Sam Chatmon||'P' Stands For Push||Sam Chatman's Advice|
|Mississippi Sheiks||The World Is Going Wrong||Honey Babe Let The Deal Go Down|
|Mississippi Sheiks||Lazy Lazy River||Stop And Listen|
|Mississippi Sheiks||He Calls That Religion||Blues Images Vol. 3|
|Mississippi Sheiks||Sales Tax||When The Sun Goes Down|
|Mississippi Sheiks||It's Done Got Wet||Mississippi Sheiks Vol.3 1931-1934|
|Texas Alexander||Seen Better Days||Texas Alexander Vol. 2 1928-1930|
|Bo Carter||Arrangement For Me - Blues||Bo Carter Vol. 5 1938-1940|
The Mississippi Sheiks were the most commercially successful black string band of the pre-war era and made close to one hundred records between 1930 and 1935. Their repertoire drew upon all facets of black and white rural music: hard-edged blues, pop music, hokum, white country and traditional songs. At the group’s core was fiddler Lonnie Chatmon and singer/guitarist Walter Vinson and often joined on their recording dates by Lonnie’s brothers Bo Chatmon (who recorded solo as Bo Carter) and Sam Chatmon. Along with Charlie McCoy, this group of musicians also recorded in a few different instrumental combinations and under several different names including the Mississippi Blacksnakes, the Mississippi Mud Steppers, Chatmon’s Mississippi Hot Footers, the Jackson Blues Boys among others names. They also backed other artists like Texas Alexander, Alec Johnson and backed Bo Carter on a few of his recording dates.
The Mississippi Sheiks grew out of a string band formed by members of the highly musical Chatmon family, who resided on the Gaddis and McLaurin plantation just outside the small town of Bolton, Mississippi. The father of the family was Henderson Chatmon, a sharecropper of mixed racial origins who had been a fiddler since the days of slavery. With his wife Eliza, he reportedly had thirteen children, eleven of which were sons who all played musical instruments. From around 1910 until 1928, seven of them formed a string band known as the Chatmon Brothers, and they performed at country dances, parties and picnics. As Sam Chatmon related to Paul Oliver in 1960: "We started out from our parents-it's just a gift that we had in the family. …I played bass violin for them, and Lonnie, he played lead violin and Harry he played second violin. And my brother Larry, he beat the drums. And my brother Harry, he played the piano you see. And my brother Bo he played the guitar too and he even used to play tenor banjo. And I played guitar. We just pick up and play any instrument and play one to another. We came from Bolton, Mississippi, we were raised up there; and so, many of us played some numbers and some played others, so we named ourselves the Mississippi Sheiks."
It's been stated that the Chatmon clan also included two half-brothers; one named Ferdinand and the other Charlie Patton. It's claimed in an interview with Sam Chatmon that he claimed Ferdinand recorded under the name Alec Johnson. Johnson recorded six sides for Columbia in 1928 backed by Bo Carter, Charlie McCoy and Joe McCoy. As for Patton the source is again Sam Chatmon and this is discussed at length in the biography King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton. There's no question that Patton knew the family well; Sam claimed that his father, Henderson, had had an affair with Annie Patton and so was also Charlie's father. The Patton family members interviewed said no, and the book advances the theory that one of Patton's brothers was more likely an illegitimate Chatmon than Charlie was. The authors seem to think that Sam Chatmon was just trying to boost himself with the Patton story. Sam Chatmon also mention a brother named Edgar who he said recorded under the name Leroy Carter. A Leroy Carter did cut two sides in 1935 (six sides went unissued) and its always been assumed that this was a pseudonym for Walter Vinson.
The central figure of the group was Lonnie, an accomplished fiddler who played a variety of musical styles. By the time of World War I, he had learned to read music and was purchasing sheet music in nearby Jackson and teaching popular tunes to his brothers. The Chatmon Brothers gained wide popularity among both black and white audiences. Around 1921, Lonnie recruited the Chatmon's neighbor, Walter Vinson, to play with the group. By 1928 the seven-piece Chatmon Brothers had dissolved and Lonnie and Walter began performing regularly as a duo.
In February 1930 the OKeh field unit called at Shreveport, Louisiana, to do some recording at the request of a local radio station. While there, they recorded a small black group (Bo Carter was with the duo at the time ) who called themselves the Mississippi Sheiks. The group cut their two biggest hits at this session: “Sitting On Top Of The World” which spawned many cover versions and “Stop And Listen” derived from Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues." Showing their versatility, two numbers, “The Sheik Waltz” and “The Jazz Fiddler” were listed in Okeh’s hillbilly catalog and marketed to white listeners. Their records went down so well that OKeh recorded 14 more numbers in San Antonio in August. In December 1930, they were in Jackson ,Mississippi, near to home, when the Okeh field unit came by and recorded a further 16 selections. The Sheiks remade their two hits, "Sitting On Top Of The World" and "Stop And Listen" and the depression themed "Times Done Got Hard." Chris Smith suggests that "Honey Babe Let The Deal Go Down" may have been prompted by a record company request for a version of "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down Blues", the Charlie Poole song widely known in the Southeastern states by both blacks and whites from Poole's 1925 recording.
In October 1931, the Sheiks and Bo Carter were on the road again, traveling to Atlanta for a session which Bo remembered as one of the rare occasions on which he got drunk along with the others. In October 1931, over the course of two days in Atlanta, the Sheiks waxed 14 sides including several we feature today: the bleak "The World Is Going Wrong", the bouncy hokum of "She's A Bad Girl" plus other notable songs including the dark and powerful "Livin' In A Strain" which was unissued at the time and the gorgeous popular styled "Lazy Lazy River" sporting some tremendous fiddle from Lonnie.
The Mississippi Sheiks wrapped up their two days in Atlanta with four titles which show off Walter Vinson's guitar playing to particular advantage, as well as including some clever lyrics like "Bed Spring Poker" and "I've Got Blood In My Eyes For You" which was one of four titles from these sessions issued on Columbia, the parent company of Okeh, which by 1932 was releasing material by popular Okeh artists like the Sheiks and Lonnie Johnson in an attempt to stave off the catastrophic fall in sales induced by the Depression. The gambit failed and Columbia's race series ended in October 1932. As Chris Smith notes: "Around the time Columbia 14660-D was released, in June 1932, the Sheiks were recording for Paramount, which was in turn to terminate its 12/13000 race series towards the end of that year. The last two discs issued were both by the Missjssippi Sheiks; all through the Depression they had been favourites with black record buyers, and it's not surprising that they were Paramount's last throw of the dice." Most of the material the group cut for Paramount were remakes and rewrites. There were some notable exceptions including the piano/guitar duet "I'll Be Gone, Long Gone", some flat out terrific playing by Walter and Lonnie on "She's Crazy About Her Lovin'" and "He Calls That Religion", a stinging attack on the clergy:
Well, the preacher used to preach
To try to stay atoned
But now he's preachin' just to buy jellyroll
Well, he calls that religion
Yes, he calls that religion
Well, he calls that religion
But I know he's goin' to hell when he dies
Even in the depths of the depression in 1933 the popular Sheiks cut an 8 song session for Columbia but only two numbers were issued including the excellent "Show Me What You Got." The Sheiks wrapped up their recording career with two sessions in San Antonio in March of 1934 that yielded 14 sides and a final 8 sides in New Orleans in January 1935 with all of these tracks seeing release. While the Sheiks sales were declining they were still cutting superb music including "It's Done Got Wet" a joyful celebration noting the end of prohibition, Walter Vinson singing convincingly on the dark "I Am The Devil", and the topical numbers "Sales Tax" and "I Can't Go Wrong."
On April 9th 1934 Texas Alexander was backed by the Mississippi Sheiks on eight numbers. The lineup featured Bo on violin, Sam Chatman and Walter Vinson on guitars. Lonnie seems to be absent from this session. Highlights include “Seen Better Days”, “Texas Troublesome Blues”, “Last Stage Blues” and “Frost Texas Tornado Blues”, a topical blues dealing with a tornado which destroyed the tiny town of Frost, Texas on May 6, 1930 leaving 41 dead.
Bo Carter made his recording debut in 1928, backing Alec Johnson. Carter soon was recording as a solo artist and became one of the dominant blues recording acts of the 1930's, recording over 100 sides. He also played with and managed the family group, the Mississippi Sheiks, and several other acts in the area. Bo Carter specialized in double entendre songs, recording dozens of risqué songs like "Banana in Your Fruit Basket," "Pin in Your Cushion", "Your Biscuits Are Big Enough for Me", "The Ins And Outs Of My Girl" and "Ram Rod Daddy" among many others.
As John Miller made clear, Carter was a also a superb guitarist: "He played with absolute facility in a variety of tunings and keys and his harmonic sense was unique in the Country Blues. …Whatever you may think of the “single entendre” aspect of some of his lyrics, when you really listen to what Bo Carter was doing, it become perfectly obvious that he was one of the great masters of Country Blues, and a player of unusual versatility, subtlety and imagination. As with other players of his generation, the origins of Bo’s music are shrouded in mystery, and it is very unlikely we’ll ever find an explanation for the harmonic richness of his music, so different from other musicians of his region. Bo’s right hand approach was different, too, picking with all fingers and moving fluidly between alternation, thumping and runs with his thumb." Miller teaches the songs of Carter on the DVD's the Guitar of Bo Carter and wrote some of the liner notes to the three Bo Carter anthologies issued on Yazoo in the late 60's and early 7o's. These albums, I imagine, played a major role in enhancing Carter's reputation.
While several of Bo's double entendre songs are featured today, we also spin a number of his other songs including "Corinne Corrina", the first recording of this standard, and "East Jackson Blues" both featuring Bo on violin backed by Charlie McCoy and Walter Vinson. Bo had a knack for penning incredibly catchy, melodic numbers including featured tracks like "I Want You To Know", "Twist It, Baby", "The Law Gonna Step On You", "Who's Been Here" and "Tellin' You 'bout It" backed by Lonnie's wailing fiddle.
On his landmark trip to the United States in 1960, Paul Oliver came across Bo Carter and recounted the following in Conversation With The Blues: "Sharing a corner in the bare, shot-gun building on South 4th Street where Will Shade lived, was an ailing, blind, light-skinned man whom the occupants knew only as Old Man. By a lucky hunch I guessed he might be Bo Carter and the sick man brightened to hear his name. At first he could hardly hold down the strings of his heavy steel guitar with its worn fingerboard. But he slowly mastered it and in a broken voice, that mocked the clear and lively singing on his scores of recordings under his own name and with the Mississippi Sheiks, he recalled incidents from his varied life and some of the songs that had made him one of the most famous of blues singers. Baby When You Marry he had recorded nearly thirty years before (OK 8888) in 1931 and in the years since he had worked on medicine shows, farmed and begged."
As Carter related: "Well, we called us the Mississippi Sheiks, all of us Chatmons, cause my name's Bo Chatman only they called me Bo Carter. We toured with the band right through the country; through the Delta, through Louisiana down to New Orleans… …Tell ya, we was the Mississippi sheiks and when we went to make the records in Jackson, Mississippi, the feller wanted to show us how to stop and start the records. Try to tell us when we got to begin and how we got to end. And you know, I started not to make 'em! I started not to make 'em 'cause he wasn't no muscianer, so how could he tell me to stop and start the song? We was the Sheiks, Mississippi Sheiks and you know we was famous."
|Bo Carter, 1960, Photo By Paul Oliver|
Sam Chatmon survived to begin performing and recording again in the1960's. Chatmon began playing music as a child, occasionally with his family’s string band, as well as the Mississippi Sheiks. Sam launched his own solo career in the early ’30s. While he performed and recorded on his own, he would still record with the Mississippi Sheiks and with his brother Lonnie. Throughout the ’30s, Sam traveled throughout the south, playing with a variety of minstrel and medicine shows. He stopped traveling in the early ’40s, making himself a home in Hollandale, Mississippi, where he worked on plantations. For the next two decades, Chatmon was essentially retired from music and only worked on the plantations. When the blues revival arrived in the late ’50s, he managed to capitalize on the genre’s resurgent popularity. In 1960, he signed a contract with Arhoolie and he recorded a number of songs for the label. The earliest of these were recorded in 1960 and issued on the album I Have To Paint My Face. As Mack McCormick wrote in the liner notes: "With Bo (who is credited with composing Corrine Corrina) ailing and feeble in Memphis, and the other brothers dead or scattered, Sam Chatman lives in a shotgun house across the tracks in Hollendale, Mississippi, working variously as a yard man, day laborer and truck driver. Adding the scarce but vital element of the near-forgotten minstrel songs to this collection, these are Chatman's only recordings in the past 25 years."
Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, he recorded for a variety of labels, as well as playing clubs and blues and folk festivals across America.In 1972 he cut the album The New Mississippi Sheiks, reuniting with Walter Vinson, cut the excellent The Mississippi Sheik for Blue Goose in the early 70's as well as albums for Rounder, Albatros and Flying Fish among others. Chatmon passed in 1983.
Walter Vinson rarely worked as a solo act, seemingly much more at home in duets and trios; towards that end, during the 1920's he worked with Charlie McCoy, Rubin Lacy and Son Spand before forming the Mississippi Sheiks. While Vinson, by his own testimony this is the correct spelling, variations on his records include Walter Jacobs, Walter Vincent and Walter Vincson. In 1929 he recorded with Bo Carter and Charlie McCoy as Chatman's Mississippi Hot Footers with the most interesting number being the solo "Overtime Blues" displaying his prodigious guitar talents. A 1930 session was listed under Walter Jacobs And The Carter Brothers backed by Bo and Lonnie while a two 1936 sessions found him in the company of pianist Harry Chatman on a four song session and possibly backed by Little Brother Montgomery on two sides including "Rats Been On My Cheese", certainly a novel metaphor for adultery. Vinson concluded his pre-war work with a four-song 1941 session for Bluebird backed by Robert Lee McCoy (Nighthawk) on harmonica which is notable for the lovely, beautifully sung "Gulf Coast Bay."
While an active club performer during the early 1940's, by the middle of the decade he had begun a lengthy hiatus from music, which continued through 1960, at which point he returned to both recording and festival appearances. He made some recordings for the Riverside label in 1961 and a decade later teamed up with Sam Chatman plus Carl Martin and Ted Bogan to record an album called The New Mississippi Sheiks issued on Rounder in 1972. Hardening of the arteries forced Vinson into retirement during the early ’70s; he died in Chicago in 1975.
|Sam Chatmon, The Mississippi Sheik, Blue Goose Records
As mentioned earlier, members of the Sheiks recorded under several different names between 1928 and 1931 including the Mississippi Blacksnakes, the Mississippi Mud Steppers, the Jackson Blues Boys and backed artists Sam Hill and Alec Johnson. The bulk of these sides can be found on the Document collection Mississippi String Bands & Associates. Between 1928-1931 Charlie McCoy played on a variety of sides, many string band related, in the company of Walter Vinson and Bo Carter. In November 1928 Carter, McCoy and an unknown pianist backed singer Alec Johnson on four of six sides. In November of the same year Carter, Vinson and McCoy backed singer Mary Butler on four numbers. Butler may in fact be Rosie Mae Moore who McCoy backed in February of the same year. With Walter Vinson they cut sides as the Mississippi Mud Steppers, with the addition of guitarist Sam Hill (plus Bo Carter and Sam Chatmon on one track) as the Mississippi Blacksnakes and with Carter and Vinson as the Jackson Blue Boys. With the Mississippi Blacksnakes McCoy's robust mandolin is heard on the bawdy “Grind So Fine” and the country tinged “Blue Sky Blues” both boasting terrific vocals from Vinson. Two days after the first Blacksnakes session the group recorded again with Bo Carter as the vocalist and either McCoy or Sam Hill on guitar. This is a bluesier session with McCoy again on mandolin/banjo with his mandolin heard in fine form on “It Still Ain’t No Good (New It Ain’t No Good)” and “Easy Going Woman Blues.” One more song by the group, “Bye Bye Baby Blues”, was cut the following day featuring fine slide from McCoy. The two tracks cut as the Jackson Blue Boys are interesting for featuring singing from Carter, Vinson and McCoy in unison and taking solo turns with McCoy playing mandolin.
In 1935 Pianist Harry Chatman cut ten songs across three sessions, two in New Orleans and a final one in Jackson, Mississippi. Bo Carter appears on the two song first session while Walter Vinson backs Harry on the four song second session. The final session was done solo. His second session was his strongest, turning in solid numbers like "Hoo Doo Blues" and "Deep Blue Ocean Blues ", a fine rendition of "Nobody's Business." Harry also backed Leroy Carter on two sides in 1935 (six sides went unissued), a likely a pseudonym for Walter Vinson.