ARTISTSONGALBUM
Beans Hambone BeansGood for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-37
Willie WalkerSouth Carolina RagMama Let Me Lay It On You 1926-1936
Pink Anderson and Simmie DooleyEvery Day In The Week Blues Times Ain't Like They Used to Be Vol. 4
Pink Anderson and Simmie DooleyGonna Tip Out TonightGood for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-37
Robert Higgins Prison Blues (Cold Iron Bed) Field Recordings Vol. 2 1926-1943
UnknownI've Been Pickin' And Shovellin'Nobody Knows My Name: Blues From South Carolina & Georgia
UnknownNobody Knows My NameNobody Knows My Name: Blues From South Carolina & Georgia
Floyd CouncilI'm Grievin' And I'm Worryin' Carolina Blues 1937-1945
Floyd CouncilPoor And Ain't Got A DimeCarolina Blues 1937-1945
Lil' McClintock Sow Good SeedsBlues Images Vol. 10
Cedar Creek SheikI Believe Somebody's Been Ridin' My MuleBlind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Roosevelt Antrim I Guess You're Satisfied Blind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Julius DanielsRichmond Blues Trouble Hearted Blues 1927-1944
Julius DanielsNinety-Nine Year Blues When The Sun Goes Down
Richard & Willie TriceLet Her Go God Bless HerCarolina Blues 1937-1945
Willie TriceTrembling Bed Springs Carolina Blues 1937-1945
Blind Boy Fuller Three Ball BluesBlind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Blind Boy Fuller Baby You Gotta Change Your MindBlind Boy Fuller: Remastered 1935-1938
Blind Boy Fuller Funny Feeling BluesBlind Boy Fuller: Remastered 1935-1938
Lillie Knox Got the Keys to the KingdomDeep River Of Song: South Carolina - Got The Keys To The Kingdom
Blind Gussie NesbitPure Religion Guitar Evangelists Vol.2
Jack GowdlockRollin Dough BluesStuff That Dreams are Made Of
Sonny TerryForty-Four Whistle Blues Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee 1938-48
Sonny TerryThe Red Cross StoreSonny Terry & Brownie McGhee 1938-48
Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry Knockabout Blues (Carolina Blues)Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee 1938-48
Unknown6 Months Ain't No SentenceNobody Knows My Name: Blues From South Carolina & Georgia
Arthur AndersonIf You Want To Make A Preacher CussField Recordings Vol. 9
Wheeler Bailey & Preston FulpNever Let Your Deal Go DownField Recordings Vol. 9
Josh WhiteBlack & Evil Blues Josh White 1929-33
Josh WhiteGreenville Sheik Josh White 1929-33
Rev. Gary DavisI Saw The LightReverend Gary Davis 1935-1949
Rev. Gary DavisYou Got To Go Down Reverend Gary Davis 1935-1949
Sonny JonesWon't Somebody Pacify My MindBlind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Bull City RedBlack Woman & Poison BluesBlind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Brother George And His Sanctified SingersI Feel Like Shoutin' Blind Boy Fuller Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Willie Walker - South Carolina RagThe Carolinas had a rich pre-war blues tradition with several fine blues artists from South and North Carolina making commercial recordings plus some notable recordings made in the field. Today's show is the first of two-parts, with next week's program covering the post-war era. From South Carolina several bluesman emerged from Greenville. Greenville had a string band tradition before WWI out which of came superb guitarists Gary Davis and Willie Walker. Another fine guitarist from Greenville was Josh White. Some forty miles away was Spartanburg whose best known bluesman was Pink Anderson who first recorded in 1930. Some sixty miles away was Union County which boasted several fine bluesman, most who didn't record until the post-war era such as Arthur "Peg Leg" Sam Jackson, Baby Tate and Henry Johnson. One who did record in the pre-war era was Blind Gussie Nesbit who shared a session for Victor with local musician named Jack Gowdlock in Charlotte in 1931. Also recorded at this session was South Carolina born James Albert who recorded as Beans Hambone. The Cedar Creek Sheik was from South Carolina as well, and recorded in  Charlotte in 1936. Lil' McClintock was from Clinton, some forty miles from  Spartanburg. Charlotte became a major recording center for Victor/RCA with numerous recording sessions between 1927 and 1938. One local Charlotte artist who didn't record at these sessions was Julius Daniels. The most famous and influential Carolina artist was undoubtedly Blind Boy Fuller. In Durham he developed a local following which included guitarists Floyd Council and Richard Trice, as well as harmonica player Sonny Terry and washboard player/guitarist Bull City Red. In addition to commercial recordings, field recordings in the Carolinas were captured by Alan Lomax, Edwin Kirkland and Lawrence Gellert.

We spotlight fine Greenville musicians including Gary Davis, Willie Walker and Josh White. Davis was an accomplished guitar player at an early age, supposedly playing in a string band at the age of fourteen in Greenville with legendary guitarist Willie Walker. By the late 20's Davis had moved to Durham. In 1935 storekeeper and talent scout J. B. Long, the manager of Blind Boy Fuller "discovered" Davis. "Oh, [Gary] could play the guitar up and down, any way in the world," he later recalled (from Bruce Bastin's Red River Blues). Davis exerted a considerable influence on Fuller. Davis and Fuller were among a group of Durham musicians Long escorted to New York City to record for ARC, the race music subsidiary of Columbia Records. Between July 23 and July 26 Davis recorded 15 sides (1 unissued): ten religious songs, and two blues numbers.

Blind Boy Fuller
Blind Boy Fuller

Little is known of Willie Walker who was born in South Carolina in 1896 and was playing in a string band with Gary Davis as early as 1911. Among his contemporaries like Pink Anderson, Gary Davis and Josh White, he was considered to be the finest guitarist in the region. He recorded only two sides in 1930 for Columbia, "South Carolina Rag b/w Dupree Blues."

Josh White was born in Greenville in 1914. White left home with a blind, black street singer named Blind Man Arnold and later worked with Blind Joe Taggart, and in time White quickly mastered the varied guitar stylings of all his blind masters. While guiding Taggart in 1927, White arrived in Chicago, Illinois. Mayo Williams, a producer for Paramount Records, recognized White's talents and began using him as a session guitarist. White was signed to ARC in 1930 and moved to NYC where he  began an extensive recording career.

Also from South Carolina we hear from Pink Anderson, Blind Gussie Nesbit, Jack Gowdlock, Lil' McClintock and James Albert AKA Beans. Pink Anderson, spent many years on the road with medicine shows and learned guitar from his early partner Simmie Dooley, and older musician who was born in 1881. They recorded four titles together in 1930 for Columbia. Anderson was born in South Carolina and toured throughout the Southeast mainly with William R. Kerr’s Indian Remedy, remaining with the show for some thirty years. He was employed not only as a musician and a singer but as a dancer and comedian. Anderson was extensively recorded by Sam Charters in 1961 resulting in three albums of material.Gussie Nesbit was a guitar evangelist from Spartanburg. His first recording session was in 1930 in Atlanta for Columbia. Four titles were recorded but only two were issued. Five years later he had his second and final session in New York City for Decca. Ten songs were recorded in one day, but only four made it onto shellac. Between his two sessions, Nesbit also recorded two duets with Jack Gowdlock for Victor in 1931. This was Gowdlock's only session, cutting four sides, two were unissued. Lil McClintock was from Clinton, SC, and traveled to Atlanta where he recorded four songs for Columbia on Dec. 4, 1930. Beans Hambone and his partner El Morrow cut one 78 in Charlotte, NC in 1931. His real name was James Albert who was born in South Carolina around 1880.

Performers traveled an informal circuit of cities across the Piedmont: Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia, Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina; Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; and others in between. They would take up residence in a city for several months until the area had been “played out,” and then move on. For several reasons, Charlotte became a key stop on this circuit. In 1927 Ralph Peer, executive of the Victor Talking Machine Company, began a series of southern recording trips that put his company at the forefront of pre­-war country, blues, and gospel recording. He first recorded in Charlotte on August 9, 1927, returning in 1931, 1936, twice in 1937, once in 1938 and again in 1939.

One local Charlotte artist who didn't record at these sessions was Julius Daniels. Daniels was born in Denmark, South Carolina and lived in Pineville, North Carolina, from 1912 to 1930, when he moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. He cut eight songs for Victor at two sessions in 1927 in Atlanta.

hqdefaultUnlike blues artists like Big Bill or Memphis Minnie who recorded extensively over three or four decades, Blind Boy Fuller recorded his substantial body of work over a short, six-year span. Nevertheless, he was one of the most recorded artists of his time and by far the most popular and influential Piedmont blues player of all time. Fuller could play in multiple styles: slide, ragtime, pop, and blues were all enhanced by his National steel guitar. Fuller worked with some fine sidemen, including Gary Davis, Floyd Council, Sonny Jones, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and washboard player Bull City Red. Initially discovered and promoted by Carolina entrepreneur J. B. Long, Fuller recorded for ARC and Decca. He also served as a conduit to recording sessions, steering fellow blues musicians to the studio.

Floyd Council was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and began his career playing in the streets of Chapel Hill in the mid-20s with musical brothers Leo and Thomas Strowd. Floyd occasionally worked with Blind Boy Fuller in the ‘30s, which may have led to his first recording sessions. In late January 1937 ARC Records scout John Baxter Long heard him, playing alone on a street in Chapel Hill. Long invited Floyd to join Fuller on his third trip to New York. Floyd agreed, and a week later the three traveled to the city. During his second visit to New York in December, Floyd was used as a second guitar only. His solo tracks were later issued under the name ‘Blind Boy Fuller’s buddy’. In all he cut six sides under his own name and seven backing Fuller.

Willie Trice and his brother Richard became close friends with Blind Boy Fuller and Fuller took them up to New York where they cut six sides together (two unissued) for Decca in 1937. Richard Trice recorded after the war for Savoy in 1946 as Little Boy Fuller as well as a couple of sides in 1948 and 1952/53. Richard Trice was later recorded by Pete Lowry but those recordings remain unreleased. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that Willie Trice recorded again. Blue And Rag’d, his sole album, was released on Pete Lowry's Trix label in 1973.

Sonny Terry was born in Greensboro, NC. He began traveling to nearby Raleigh and Durham, performing on street corners for tips. In 1934, he befriended Blind Boy Fuller who convinced Terry to move to Durham, where the two immediately gained a strong local following. Between 1937 and 1940 he backed Fuller on over two-dozen sides. A year later, Terry would be back in New York taking part in John Hammond's legendary Spirituals to Swing concert. Upon returning to Durham, Terry continued playing regularly with Fuller and also met his future partner, guitarist Brownie McGhee, who would accompany Terry off and on for the next two decades.

Lil McClintock
Lil McClintock Ad from John Teftteller's
2013 Blues Images Calendar

In late 1940 Brownie McGhee came into contact with washboard player Bull City Red who in turn introduced McGhee to J.B. Long. Long got him a recording contract with OKeh/Columbia in 1940; his debut session in Chicago produced a dozen tracks over two days. Long's principal blues artist, Blind Boy Fuller, died in 1941, precipitating Okeh to issue some of McGhee's early efforts under the alias of Blind Boy Fuller No. 2. McGhee cut a moving tribute song, "Death of Blind Boy Fuller," shortly after the passing. McGhee's third marathon session for OKeh in 1941 paired him for the first time with Sonny Terry.

Bull City Red, whose real name was George Washington, is best known as a sometimes sideman on washboard to the likes of Blind Boy Fuller, Sonny Terry, and Blind Gary Davis. Red led an otherwise blind group that included Fuller, Sonny Terry and, for a time, Blind Gary Davis as well, and with help from their manager, J.B. Long, landed a contract with Vocalion. At one point in their history, Red, Fuller, Terry, and guitarist Sonny Jones performed together as "Brother George and His Sanctified Singers," and made several recordings of gospel-themed material. Red cut more than a dozen sides showing off his skills as a singer and guitarist as well as on the washboard, between 1935 and 1939.

Those who recorded in the field in the Carolinas were Alan Lomax, Edwin Kirkland and Lawrence Gellert. Gellert was among the first to make recordings in the field in the 1920's, although the issued recordings are all from the 1930's. It wasn't until the 70's that his recordings were finally issued. Kirkland, and his wife Mary, made several hundred field recordings between 1935 and 1939 in Tennessee, the Carolinas, Kentucky and Georgia.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Johnny Woods & Fred McDowellMy Jack Don't Need No WaterBlow My Blues Away Vol. 1
Johnny Woods & Fred McDowellStanding At The Back DoorEight Years Ramblin
Johnny Woods & Fred McDowellShake Em'' On DownMississippi Delta Blues Jam In Memphis, Vol. 1
Mable HilleryIt's so Hard to be a NiggerIt's so Hard to be a Nigger
Mable HilleryBow Legged RoosterIt's so Hard to be a Nigger
Lattie Murrell SpoonfulLive At The Bootleggers
Lattie Murrell I Got A Gal Cross The Bottom Living Country Blues: Vol. 4 Tennessee Blues
Eugene Powell Worried BluesThe Roots of It All: Acoustic Blues Vol. 4
Eugene Powell Pony Blues (Santa Fe)Blues At Home Vol. 3
Mable HilleryUp the Road So NastyIt's so Hard to be a Nigger
Mable HilleryLonesome RoadIt's so Hard to be a Nigger
Mable HilleryMr. President It's so Hard to be a Nigger
Johnny Woods & Fred McDowellI Be's Troubled The George Mitchell Collection Vols 1 - 45
Johnny Woods & Fred McDowellLong Haired DoneyMama Says I'm Crazy
Johnny WoodsThree O'clock In The Morning45
Mable Hillery & John HunterThat's All RightJohn's Island, South Carolina: Its People & Songs
Mable Hillery & Skip JamesMary, Don't You Weep
Mable Hillery & Bill FarrowTrouble in Mind
Lattie MurrellBlues For Mattie MaeOn The Road Again
Lattie MurrellWolf's At Your DoorWolf's At The Door
Eugene PowellPoor Boy Blues (Take 3)Blues At Home Vol. 3
Eugene PowellMeet Me In The BottomBlues At Home Vol. 3
Eugene Powell & Sam ChatmonHow Long Delta Blues Festival '79
Johnny Woods Going Up the Country So Many Cold Mornings
Johnny WoodsSo Many Cold MorningsSo Many Cold Mornings
Johnny WoodsShe's Loving Another ManGoing Down South
Lattie MurrellCatfish BluesLive At The Bootleggers
Lattie MurrellTrouble Late Last Night Living Country Blues: Vol. 10 Country Boogie
Mable HilleryHow Long This Train Been Gone
Mable Hillery & Mississippi John HurtSalty Dog
Mable Hillery & All Star GroupBye Bye BabyBlues Masters DVD

Show Notes:

Johnny Woods
Johnny Wood, Olive Branch, Mississippi, 1972
(Photo by Tom Pomposello)

Today's show is part of a semi-regular feature I call Forgotten Blues Heroes that spotlights great, but little remembered blues artists that don't really fit into my weekly themed shows. Today's recordings are mainly from the 60's and 70's and showcase artists who recorded sparingly, and in many cases the recordings are long-out-of-print, originally issued on small specialty labels. We hear from several fine down-home bluesmen including harmonica blower Johnny Woods who recorded mostly as an accompanist to better known players, Lattie Murrell who left behind just a handful of field recordings and Eugene Powell, the only artist to record in the pre-war era and was under recorded in later years. Mable Hillery is the outlier here, a terrific singer who worked as part of the Georgia Sea Island Singers before striking out on her own, in a brief but impressive career.

Johnny Woods was born in a small Mississippi town called Looxahoma, just west of Mississippi Highway 35. His harmonica playing first gained notoriety in the 1960s as a duet partner with fellow blues revival discovery guitarist/singer Mississippi Fred McDowell. They recorded together first for George Mitchell in 1967, for Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie Records, Swingmaster and in 1972 for  Oblivion Records. Stylistically, Woods' music sprang from the same North Mississippi Fife and drum blues band tradition as McDowell's. However, personal problems kept him rooted in the Delta, primarily working as a farm hand and sharecropper. After McDowell's death in July 1973, Woods faded away until George Mitchell paired him again with another late Mitchell Mississippi Delta discovery, R. L. Burnside, himself a McDowell disciple. Together they recorded the Swingmaster album and video, Going Down South. Woods died in Olive Branch, Mississippi in 1990.

Lattie Murrell
Lottie Murrell, Somerville, Tennessee, September 1978
(Photo by Axel Küstner)

Regarding Lottie Murrell, Axel Küstner wrote: "Down in Somerville, about 25 miles South of Brownsville, there is Lottie Murrell. Looking every inch THE Country Blues man ('Cat Diesel Power" cap, overalls, cowboy boots, with a battered guitar, complete to the half pint whiskey bottle in his backpocket) he rides around with his buddies on weekends, playing his guitar and drinking beer and whiskey. He never plays a song the same way twice and constantly makes up new verses about people he knows and what is happening around him. In Somerville he is called 'Wolf' because he is best known for his versions of Howlin' Wolf tunes." Murell was first recorded by Begnt Olsson in 1971 in Sommerville, TN. These recordings were first issued on compilations on the Flyright label. Siegfried A. Christmann and Axel Küstner recorded him in 1980, tracks appeared on the Living Country Blues series.

Raised on a Delta plantation in Lombardy, Mississippi, Eugene Powell began playing guitar at age seven. His family relocated to Murphy, Mississippi, near Hollandale, and Powell associated with area musicians Sam and Lonnie Chatmon and Bo Carter. Powell ran his own juke joint and played with many musicians traveling through the area in the early 1930s, including Robert Nighthawk, Houston Stackhouse, and Richard ‘‘Hacksaw’’ Harney. Through arrangements made by Carter, Powell made six recordings for the Bluebird label in 1936 under the pseudonym Sonny Boy Nelson, and accompanied wife Mississippi Matilda and harmonica player Robert Hill on numerous others. Powell moved to Greenville in the 1940s and played with several bands until the early 1950s, when he separated from his wife. He remained largely musically inactive until 1972 when he performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. Powell made few recordings during the following twenty years, with only the Italian LP Police in Mississippi Blues on Albatros. This has been reissued recently with additional songs as Blues At Home Vol. 3. A few other recordings appeared on anthologies. He rarely performed in public during the remaining years of his life, but often welcomed blues fans and musicians from around the world into his home. Eugene Powell died of a brain hemorrhage caused by a fall at age eighty-nine.

Mabel Hillery
Read Liner Notes

Mable Hillery, born July 22, 1929 in La Grange, Troupe County, just southwest of Atlanta, Georgia. She married Will Adams in 1950 and moved to Brunswick, Georgia, near St Simons in the Georgia Sea Islands, about 1960. In 1961 she, joined the Georgia Sea Islanders. Between 1961 and 1965 she toured the college circuit of campuses, coffee houses, church basements, and festivals, from Berkeley to Philadelphia, from the Ash Grove in Los Angeles to the Café à Go-Go in New York City. In 1966, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto produced a film, Blues Special, for its TV series, Festival. Highlights from those sessions have been released on Blues Masters, a DVD whose performers include Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Willie Dixon, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Otis Spann, Sunnyland Slim, and Mable Hillery. In the late 60s, Mable often performed on Johns Island with the Sea Island Singers, and from 1966 through 1975, she sang throughout the South, not only on college campuses but in prisons as well. In 1968, after touring in England, where Mable did TV and concert dates and made an album for the record label Xtra.Other tracks by Hillery appear alongside the Georgia Sea Island Singers and on various anthologies. Hillery, 46 years of age, died of a heart attack, at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan, on  April 27.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Big Chief EllisDices, DicesRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Big Chief EllisBig Chief's BluesRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Dan Pickett Baby How LongShake That Thing! - East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Dan Pickett 99 1/2 Won't DoShake That Thing! - East Coast Blues 1935-1953
John LeeDown At The DepotRural Blues Vol. 1 1934-1956
John LeeAlabama Boogie Rural Blues Vol. 1 1934-1956
Rich AmersonBlack WomanNegro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1
Joe BrownMama Don't Tear My ClothesNegro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1
Red Willie SmithKansas City BluesNegro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1
Robert McCoyGone Mother BluesBye Bye Baby
Robert McCoyBye Bye BabyBye Bye Baby
Horace SprottSmoked Like LightningMusic from the South Vol. 2
Philip Ramsey and Horace SprottI Feel Good Now, Baby Music from the South Vol. 5
Albert Macon & Robert ThomasDon't Nothing Hurt Me But My Back and SideGeorge Mitchell Collection Vol. 2
Albert Macon & Robert ThomasMean Old FriscoUnissued Recording by Axel Künster
Perry Tillis Kennedy MoanOn The Road Again
David Johnson Let The Nation Be FreeSouthern Comfort Country
Davie Lee Meet Me in the Bottoms Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 6
Vera HallBlack WomanClassic Blues from Smithsonian
J.W. WarrenRabbit On A LogLife Ain't Worth Livin'
J.W. WarrenHoboing Into HollywoodUnissued Recording by Axel Künster
Wild Child Butler Axe and the WindMr. Dixon's workshop
Jerry McCainEast of the SunStrange Kind Of Feelin'
East York School (Ala.) I'm Goin' Up North Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1
Willie Turner Now Your Man Done GoneNegro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1
Enoch Brown Complaint Call Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1
Moochie ReevesKey To The HighwayThe Rural Blues: A Study Of The Vocal And Instrumental Resources
Mobile Strugglers Memphis BluesAlabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924-1949
Johnie LewisBaby, Listen to Me HowlAlabama Slide Guitar
Johnie LewisYou Gonna Miss MeAlabama Slide Guitar
Lonzie ThomasDragaround No. 1The George Mitchell Collection Volumes 1-45
Jimmy Lee HarrisDon't The Moon Look Lonesome #1 George Mitchell Collection Vol. 5
Eddie HodgeSitting On Top of The WorldThe George Mitchell Collection Vols. 1-45
John Lee Blind's Blues Rural Blues Vol. 1 1934-1956
Dan Pickett Ride to a Funeral in a V-8 Shake That Thing! - East Coast Blues 1935-1953

Show Notes:

John LeeBlues writer Chris Smith noted that “Alabama attracted many folklorists, from John Lomax on down, seeking the oldest styles of black music in a state which long had a reputation for backwardness, poverty and racism. …Despite flourishing gospel quartet and piano traditions, the state’s blues are comparatively under-represented on 'race' records.” And as Paul Oliver underscored: "…Alabama was largely neglected by the location recording units and even by the talent scouts…." In the post-war era the recording companies no longer recorded on location and most folklorists focused on nearby Mississippi rather than Alabama. Still, several fine Alabama artists made commercial records in the immediate post-war era including pianist Big Chief Ellis and exceptional guitarists such as Dan Pickett who cut records for Gotham in 1949 and John Lee who recorded for Federal in 1951. In later years a pair of harmonica players made their mark, Jerry McCain beginning in the 1950's and Wild Child Butler in the 60's. Some notable field recordings were made in the post-war era including recordings in the 1950's by Harold Courlander, Fredric Ramsey and Sam Charters. Begnt Olsson did some recording in Alabama in the 70's while  George Mitchell recorded several fine Alabama bluesmen in the 80's. Axel Küstner did some field recordings in the 90's and 2000's which have not been issued. I want to thank him for giving me permission to play a couple of these unissued  sides.

Those who made commercial recordings made their recordings out of state including Big Chief Ellis, Dan Pickett and John Lee. A self-taught player, Big Chief Ellis performed at house parties and dances during the 1920's. He traveled extensively for several years, working mostly in non-musical jobs. After a three-year army stint from 1939–1942, Ellis settled in New York. He started recording for Lenox in 1945, and also did sessions for Sittin' In and Capitol in the 1940's and 50's, playing with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee for Capitol. Though Ellis reduced his performance schedule after moving from New York to Washington D.C., his career got a final boost in the early 1970's. He recorded for Trix and appeared at several folk and blues festivals until his death in 1977.

Negro Folk Music of Alabama Vol.1 Negro Folk Music of Alabama Vol. 3
Read Liner Notes (PDF) Read Liner Notes (PDF)

Dan Pickett did one recording session for the Philadelphia-based Gotham label in 1949. His real name was James Founty who was born in Pike County, Alabama on August 31, 1907. Five singles were issued by the label while the rest of the titles weren't unearthed until four decades later (with some alternate takes of some issued titles to boot). He passed away in Boaz, Alabama on August 16, 1967, a few days short of his 60th birthday. Decades after his death, Pickett a biographical mystery. Blues researcher Axel Küstner went to Alabama in 1993 to see what he could dig up. He found Founty's surviving family, obtained the only known photograph that shows Founty and was able to piece together some information on his life. Künster published a two page teaser about the trip in Juke Blues where he wrote: "Until the whole story is published in Juke Blues, I'll just tell you this much: [Founty was] a classic rambler in the best blues tradition…"Künster wrote that over fifteen years ago and still no full article has been written. In 2010 John Jeremiah Sullivam wrote an article on Pickett for The Oxford American that published the Pickett photo, transcribed an interview with Künster and provided a bit more information on Pickett's life.

Alabama bluesman, John Lee was born May 24, 1915, in Lowdnes County, AL. He learned his distinctive knife slide guitar style from his uncle, Ellie Lee, and spent the 1930s playing jukes and house parties before settling in Montgomery in 1945. Federal's Ralph Bass auditioned him there, and impressed with what he heard, recorded five sides in 1951: "Down At The Depot", "Baby Please Don't Go", "Alabama Boogie", "Baby Blues" and "Blind's Blues." Two unreleased sides, "In My Father's House" and "Slappin' The Boogie" were issued a few years back on the JSP compilation Devil's Jump: Indie Label Blues 1946-1957. By 1960 John Lee had retired from active performing. It was blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow who tracked him down in 1973 after a three year search. Wardlow wrote his story in Blues Unlimited in 1975 (Down at the Depot: The Story of John Lee). He recorded the album Down At The Depot for Rounder Records in the early 70's. During his comeback John Lee performed at Boston's Down East Festival and the National Folk Festival in Washington.

The "Mobile Strugglers" on the porch with neighbors, Mobile, Alabama, Sunday afternoon, July 18, 1954. Left to right: Moochie Reeves, Ollie Crenshaw, Tyler Jackson. From the book A Language of Song by Sam Charters.

 

There has been some good field work done in Alabama, although it pales in comparison to nearby states such as Georgia and especially Mississippi. On his travels and through research grants, Harold Courlander pursued his interest in ethnohistory and folklore by collecting stories, making recordings, and writing books and articles about a variety of African cultures. The result of his travels and studies was the publication of more than thirty-five books and many sound recordings. Courlander also took numerous field trips to the south, recording folk music in the 1940s and 1950s. From 1947–1960, he served as a general editor of Ethnic Folkways Library and recorded more than 30 albums of music from different cultures. In 1950, he did field recordings in Alabama which resulted in the six album series, Negro Folk Music of Alabama for the Folkways label.

Music from the South, Vol. 2
Read Liner Notes (PDF)

Another Folkways researcher was Frederic Ramsey. Perhaps his greatest discovery was Horace Sprott. Alabama songster and harmonica player Horace Sprott was born February 2, 1890, the son of former slave Bessie Ford, and his surname was taken from the Sprott Plantation where he was born. Ramsey encountered Sprott in Marion, AL, in 1954, and recorded him in seven sessions held in April and May of that year. Ramsey recorded in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana under a Guggenheim grant with the results issued on the ten album series, Music from the South released on Folkways.Two albums of the series were solely devoted to Sprott's recordings.

Sam Charters recorded Alabama artists Moochie Reeves and the Mobile Strugglers for Folkways. The Mobile Strugglers first recorded for Bill Russell's American Music label in 1949 and were recorded again by Sam Charters in 1954. Charters recorded one song by Moochie Reeves in Mobile, Alabama in 1954 of which he wrote: "The recording was done in a back-yard in Mobile, Alabama, late in the afternoon, with dozens of neighbors dancing to the music away from the microphone and the children keeping carefully quiet so they could sit behind the musicians' chairs while they were playing. It captures much of the easy going style of these small instrumental groups playing the rural blues." The song was issued on the Folkways anthology The Rural Blues: A Study Of The Vocal And Instrumental Resources and the compilation The Country Blues Vol. 2 which sports Reeves ' photo on the cover.

George Mitchell recorded prolifically in the field and did some recordings in Alabama. Among those he recorded from the state were J.W. Warren, Albert Macon & Robert Thomas, Jimmy Lee Harris, Lonzie Thomas and Eddie Hodge. One of he J.W. Warren cuts and one of the  Albert Macon & Robert Thomas featured today are unissued recordings made by Axel Küstner and used by permission (got late word from Axel that "Mean Old Frisco", featured today, has been issued on the recent Bear Family compilation, The Roots Of It All Acoustic Blues Vol. 4)

Bengt Olsson who first came to the United States in 1969, first to Chicago and then to Memphis were he made some recordings. Olsson was back in 1971, where he made recordings in Memphis and Alabama. He recorded several talented artists including Lum Guffin (his album Walking Victrola was issued on Flyright), Lattie Murrell, David Johnson and Bishop Perry Tillis, the latter two recorded in Alabama. Olsson record Tillis and Johnson (they were neighbors) in Coffee County, Alabama after randomly picking the place on the map. In addition to the Lum Guffin record, Olsson's recordings have been issued on three compilations on the Flyright label.

Albert Macon & Robert ThomasA couple of other artists worth mentioning are Robert McCoy and Johnie Lewis. McCoy was born in 1912 in Aliceville, AL but raised on Birmingham's North Side and by 1927 was a well-known local artist. Between March 3rd and April 7th 1937, ARC Company sent a mobile recording unit on a field trip firstly to visit Hot Springs, Arkansas and, then to Birmingham, Alabama in search of new talent. Sometime between 18th and 24th March the unit arrived in Birmingham and, over a two week period set about recording a number of gospel and blues musicians. Among those were Charlie Campbell, Guitar Slim and James Sherrill (Peanut The Kidnapper) all of whom were backed by the piano of Robert McCoy who did not record under his own name. In 1963 McCoy was recorded by Pat Cather, a teenaged Birmingham blues fan. Cather issued two albums on his Vulcan label: Barrelhouse Blues And Jook Piano and Blues And Boogie Classics. Some of these recordings were reissued on Delmark several years back.

Johnie Lewis was born on a farm near Eufaula, Alabama but spent much of his life playing at various small clubs around Chicago. He was recorded in Chicago in 1970 and 1971 resulting in the album Alabama Slide Guitar issued on Arhoolie.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Long John HunterStrange Feeling Ooh Wee Pretty Baby
Long John HunterSo Long Ooh Wee Pretty Baby
Long John HunterBorder Town Blues Ooh Wee Pretty Baby
Earl Thomas Sugar Girl Blues Piano Blues Vol. 6 1933-1938
George HannahAlley Rat Blues Piano Blues Vol. Vol. 3 1924-c.1940's
Kingfish" Bill TomlinMean and Unkind BluesBarrelhouse Piano Blues and Stomps 1929-1933
Peg Leg' Ben Abney Way Down In TownPiano Blues Vol. 6 1933-1938
Jim Bunkley Segregation BluesJim Bunkley & George Henry Bussey: George Mitchell Collection
Jim Bunkley Blues Came From TexasJim Bunkley & George Henry Bussey: George Mitchell Collection
George Henry Bussey Blues Around My BedJim Bunkley & George Henry Bussey: George Mitchell Collection
L.C. GreenRemember Way BackJuicy Harmonica Vol. 3
Hop WilsonI Ain't Got No WomanSteel Guitar Flash
Blue Smitty Cryin'Drop Down Mama
Joe Houston Shuckin'Combo Records Vol. 3: Central Ave Scene 51-57
Joe Houston Jumpin' The BluesTexas Blues Vol. 2: Rock Awhile
Joe Houston Houston ShuffleRockin' At The Drive-In
Edmonia HendersonWho's Gonna Do Your LovingLovie Austin 1924-26
Ford & Ford Skeeg-A-Lee BluesLovie Austin 1924-26
Lovie Austin & Her Blues Serenaders Lovie Austin 1924-26Lovie Austin 1924-26
The Florida Kid I'm Going Back On The FarmGoing Back On The Farm: Bues In Chicago 1940-1942
Carolina SlimAin't It SadRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Will Ezell & Slim Tarpley Alabama HustlerWill Ezell 1927-1931
Will Ezell Playing The DozenWill Ezell 1927-1931
Clarence GarlowJumping For JoyHouston Jump 1946-51
Elmore NixonMarried Woman BluesHouston Might Be Heaven
Mojo WatsonI Kept On TryingBlues Guitar Blasters, Vol. 1
Ida Cox Wild Women Don't Have The BluesThe Essential
Alberta Hunter With Lovie Austin And Her Blues Serenaders Downhearted Blues Alberta Hunter with Lovie Austin and Her Blues Serenaders
Ollis Martin Police And High Sheriff Come Ridin' HomeEssential Alabama Blues 1926-1952
J.B. Smith Poor Boy, Number TwoNo More Good Time in the World for Me

Show Notes:

Long John HunterThe past few months have seen numerous deaths in the blues community including several collectors and researchers such as Don Kent, George Paulus, Mack McCormick and Steve LaVere plus musicians such as Otis Clay, Long John Hunter and Joe Houston. Today we pay tribute to the latter two gentlemen as well as spotlighting artists such as L.C. McKinley, several pianists including Lovie Austin, some fine field recordings plus lots more.

Long John Hunter died on January 4th at the age of 84.  Hunter made his debut in 1954 with a single for Don Robey's Houston-based Duke label, "She Used to Be My Woman b/w Crazy Baby," which preceded his move to El Paso in 1957. He found employment playing at the Lobby Club in Juárez, Mexico where he remained there for over thirteen years. Hunter's recording output was slim, a few obscure singles waxed from 1961 to 1963 for the tiny Yucca logo out of Alamogordo, New Mexico. His 1992 full-length debut for Spindletop, Ride With Me, was the first step in gaining him greater recognition. A pair of albums released later in the decade for Alligator, Border Town Legend (1996) and Swinging from the Rafters (1997), exposed him to wider audience. His last album was released in 2009. Back in the 90's Norton issued a collection of his early singles, Ooh Wee Pretty Baby!.

Tenor sax man Joe Houston passed on Dec. 28th at the age of 89. Born July 11, 1926, in Bastrop, Texas, as a teenager  Houston was hired by Chicago bandleader King Kolax. He subsequently worked the road with the likes of Savannah Churchill, Wynonie Harris, Big Joe Turner, Amos Milburn, even a young Little Richard. In 1949, inspired by the sudden outbreak of honking sax hitmakers such as Big Jay McNeely, Paul Williams and Hal Singer, Houston switched from alto to tenor sax and developed a supercharged, aggressive new sound. After Los Angeles’ Modern Records leased his 1951 “Blow Joe Blow” from Texas indie Macy, Houston moved to L.A., where he spent the rest of his life and career. Houston became a staple on the Central Avenue club circuit, playing on innumerable shows, dances, record dates and frequent coast-to-coast tours. He cut a slew of instrumentals for Modern, Crown and a dozen other labels. He scored his only two chart hit singles in 1952 with "Worry, Worry, Worry", and "Hard Time Baby" both of which peaked at #10 on Billboard's R&B singles chart. If you're looking for Houston's vintage recordings the Ace label has issued two excellent collections: Blows Crazy and Rockin' At The Drive In.

Joe Houston
Joe Houston

We feature two sets by pianist/bandleader Lovie Austin today. Austin was the house musical director for Paramount in the the early 1920's. In 1923, Lovie Austin decided to make Chicago her home, and she lived and worked there for the rest of her life. Her early career was in vaudeville, where she played piano and performed in variety acts. Accompanying blues singers was Lovie's specialty, and she can be heard on recordings by Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter and others. She led her own excellent band, the Blues Serenaders, which usually included trumpeters Tommy Ladnier, Bob Shoffner, Natty Dominique, or Shirley Clay on cornet, Kid Ory or Albert Wynn on trombone, and Jimmy O'Bryant or Johnny Dodds on clarinet, along with banjo and occasional drums. The band recorded for Paramount between 1923 and 1926. Austin's skills as songwriter can be heard in the classic "Down Hearted Blues", a tune she co-wrote with Alberta Hunter. Singer Bessie Smith turned the song into a hit in 1923. In 1961 she recorded Alberta Hunter with Lovie Austin's Blues Serenaders, as part of Riverside's Living Legends series. She passed away in Chicago in 1972.

We play several other fine, if obscure, piano players today including  a pair by Will Ezell plus sides by Peg Leg Ben Abney, George Hannah, "Kingfish" Bill Tomlin and Earl Thomas. Born in Texas, pianist Ezell played in the jukes around Shreveport before moving to Detroit and Chicago. He was a frequent accompanist for Paramount Records and even took Paramount’s star, Blind Lemon Jefferson's body back to Texas for burial. Ezell cut sixteen sides for the label between 1927 and 1929 and backed artists such as Lucille Bogan, Elzadie Robinson, Bertha Henderson, Blind Roosevelt Graves and others. The other pianists left behind just a handful of sides and little or no biographical information. Abney cut six sides in Charlotte, NC on June 22, 1936. In his song, "Way Down in Town," he sings "Way Down in Polack Town," which echoes Jabo Williams' 1932 number "Polock Blues." The reference also shows up in songs by Clifford Gibson and Big Joe Williams. Polack Town was a name given to a black section of St. Louis. Hannah recorded for Vocalion in 1926 and Paramount in 1929 and 1930, "Kingfish" Bill Tomlin cut four sides for Paramount in 1930, while Earl Thomas left behind four sides for Decca in 1936.

L.C. McKinley relocated to Chicago in 1941 and began playing professionally around 1947.  In the early 1950's, McKinley was a regular performer at the 708 Club, where he variously topped the bill or played accompaniment in the first half of 1954 with the Ernest Cotton Trio. He began a working association with Eddie Boyd in the early 1950's and, in 1952, McKinley and Cotton backed Boyd on the latter's recording of "Five Long Years." McKinley backed Boyd on several other sides as well as backing Curtis Jones during this period. In 1953 he recorded for Parrot Records, although his work was not released, he signed to States Records in 1954,  in 1955, hooked up with Vee-Jay Records and in 1959 he cut sides for Bea & Baby Records. McKinley made his last recordings in 1964. He died in Chicago in January 1970, aged 51.

J.B. Smith: No More Good Time in the World for MeWe hear some fine field recordings by Jim Bunkley, George Henry Bussey and J.B. Smith. Both Jim Bunkley and George Henry Bussey were from Georgia and were recorded in the field in 1969 by George Mitchell. As Mitchell wrote in the liner notes: "Sadly, this album is a memorial to Jim Bunkley. He was killed in a head-on collision on a rainy day in October, 1970. I learned of his death about a month later when I visited his home to tell him his recordings were going to be issued." The recordings by Bunkley and Bussey were first issued on a shared album on the Revival label then subsequently on Rounder and most recently by Fat Possum. 50 years ago, Bruce Jackson first went to Ramsey State Farm in Rosharon, Texas, to record the unaccompanied songs of J.B. Smith, an inmate serving 45 years there for the murder of his wife. He returned the following June in 1966 to record more, and that year John Fahey’s Takoma Records released an LP, Ever Since I Have Been A Man Full Grown. No More Good Time In the World For Me, is a recent new two-disc set from Atlanta’s Dust-to-Digital issued last year, which includes the original LP plus 15 more sides. Maybe the reissue of the year?

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