Entries tagged with “Robert Nighthawk”.

Robert NighthawkG-ManProwling With The Nighthawk
Sonny Boy Williamson I Blue Bird BluesThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson I Vol. 1
Big Joe WilliamsRootin' Ground HogBig Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Little Brother MontgomerySanta Fe BluesLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Sonny Boy NelsonLow DownMississippi Blues Vol. 3 - Catfish Blues
Bo CarterThe Ins And Outs Of My GirlBo Carter Vol. 4 1936-1938
Robert NighthawkProwling NighthawkProwling With The Nighthawk
Sonny Boy Williamson IJackson BluesThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson I Vol. 1
Walter Davis Good GalWalter Davis Vol. 3 1937-1938
Sonny Boy NelsonLong Tall Woman
Mississippi Blues Vol. 3 - Catfish Blues
Mississippi MatildaHard Working WomanMississippi Blues Vol. 3 - Catfish Blues
Robert HillLumber-Yard BluesNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Walter DavisFifth AvenueWalter Davis Vol. 3 1937-1938
Big Joe WilliamsBrother JamesBig Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Sonny Boy Williamson I Got The Bottle Up And GoneThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson I Vol. 1
Little Brother MontgomeryThe First Time I Met You Little Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Bo Carter Bo Carter's AdviceBo Carter Vol. 4 1936-1938
Sonny Boy NelsonPony BluesMississippi Blues Vol. 3 - Catfish Blues
Chatman Brothers (Lonnie And Sam)Jumping Out BluesMississippi Sheiks Vol. 4 1934-1936
Chatman Brothers (Lonnie And Sam)If You Don't Want Me Please Don't Dog Me 'RoundMississippi Sheiks Vol. 4 1934-1936
Bo Carter All Around Man - Part 2Bo Carter Vol. 4 1936-1938
Bo Carter Pussy Cat BluesBo Carter Vol. 4 1936-1938
Bo Carter Your Biscuits Are Not Big Enough For MeBo Carter Vol. 4 1936-1938
Sonnyboy Williamson ISugar Mama Blues The Original Sonny Boy Williamson I Vol. 1
Sonnyboy Williamson IGood Morning School GirlThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson I Vol. 1
Tommy Griffin On My Way BluesCountry Blues Collector's Items 1930-1941
Walter VincsonRats Been On My CheeseRats Been On My Cheese
Annie Turner Black Pony BluesLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1954
Annie Turner Workhouse BluesLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1954
Little Brother MontgomeryA. & V. Railroad Blues Little Brother Montgomery 1930-1936Remastered
Mississippi Matilda Happy Home BluesMississippi Blues Vol. 3 - Catfish Blues
Sonny Boy NelsonStreet Walkin'Mississippi Blues Vol. 3 - Catfish Blues
Robert HillTell Me What's Wrong With YouNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Little Brother MontgomeryWest Texas BluesLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Little Brother MontgomeryLouisiana Blues, Pt. 2Little Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Little Brother MontgomeryFarish Street JiveLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1936

Show Notes:

Today's show is the first installment spotlighting great recording sessions. Today we select two sessions conducted by the Victor (issued on Bluebird) label roughly a year-and-a-half apart, one in Chicago and one in New Orleans. In the pre-war era the record companies used mobile recording units to visit southern cities and capture the music of regional performers. For example, between 1927-1930 Atlanta was visited seventeen times, Memphis eleven times, Dallas eight times, New Orleans seven times and so on. During and after the Depression field trips dropped off precipitously. We play recordings today from remarkable field sessions cut by Louisiana and Mississippi artists on October 15-16, 1936 at the St. Charles Hotel, New Orleans. Dozens of titles were cut by Lonnie and Sam Chatmon, Bo Carter, Eugene Powell (as Sonny Boy Nelson), his wife Matilda Powell (as Mississippi Matilda), Walter Vincson, Little Brother Montgomery, Annie Turner and Tommy Griffin. The other session we spotlight was conducted in Chicago on May 5, 1937 resulting in two-dozen sides by Sonny Boy Williamson I and Robert Lee McCoy (Robert Nighthawk) who were making their recording debuts, plus sides by Big Joe Williams and Walter Davis.

Big Joe Williams: Rootin' Ground Hog 78Henry Townsend recalled driving Sonny Boy Williamson I, Robert Nighthawk, Walter Davis and Big Joe Williams to Aurora, Illinois, in his 1930 A Model Ford for their 1937 sessions: "I transferred them to Aurora, Illinois. There was about eight or nine of us …we stacked them in the car like sardines." This led to a marathon recording session resulting in six songs by Nighthawk (as Robert Lee McCoy), six by Sonny Boy Williamson I, four by Big Joe Williams and eight sides by Walter Davis. It was Sonny Boy's songs, especially, "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Bluebird Blues" and "Sugar Mama Blues" which were the biggest hits. Sonny Boy would go on to cut more than 120 sides in all for RCA from 1937 to 1947.

Robert Nighthawk cut six sides at this session all of which were released at the time. The popularity of the song "Prowling Night-Hawk" was the basis for his changing his surname in the early 40's. At the time of these recordings he was going by Robert Lee McCoy.

Walter Davis was among the most prolific blues performers to emerge from the pre-war St. Louis scene, cutting over 150 sides between 1930 and 1952. Davis enjoyed a fair amount of success before a stroke prompted him to move from music to the ministry during the early '50s.

Over two days on October 15-16, 1936 Bluebird conducted sessions at the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans. Little Brother Montgomery cut eighteen sides plus backed singer Annie Turner on her four numbers (two were unissued), Sonny Boy Nelson (Eugene Powell) cut six sides under his own name as well as backing Robert Hill, who cut ten sides, and his wife Mississippi Matilda on her three sides. In addition Bo Carter cut ten sides, the Chatman brothers (Lonnie and Sam) cut twelve sides, Tommy Griffin cut a dozen sides and Walter Vincson  (as Walter Jacobs) cut two sides. As John Godrich and Howard Rye wrote in Recording The Blues: "The New Orleans session in 1936 was Victor's last substantial race field recording; in subsequent years they recorded a fair number of gospel quartets in he field, but only one or two unimportant blues singers."

Eugene Powell was born in Utica, Mississippi, December 23, 1908. He started playing the guitar at age eight. His mother ran a juke house so he grew up around music. He took the name "Sonny Boy Nelson" after his step father. His early experiences around Hollandale were with Robert Nighthawk, Robert Hill, and the great blues instrumentalist Richard "Hacksaw" Harney. In 1936 Eugene and wife "Mississippi Matilda" along with Willie "Brother" Harris traveled with the Chatmon Brothers to New Orleans to record for the Bluebird label. Bo Carter acted as agent for Nelson and Hill and received a fifth of the royalties for setting the session up.

In the 1930's Matilda Powell married musician Eugene Powell. She recorded four songs at the 1936 session, one of them, "Peel Your Banana",  went unissued. In 1952, Matilda separated from Eugene, and moved to Chicago taking their one son and five daughters with her.

Interviews with Eugene Powell by Brett Bonner and Robert Eagle elicited that Robert  Hill was from Sumrall, Mississippi, near Hattiesburg, and that in Hollandale he worked with guitarist Will Hadley. Paul Oliver noted that his harmonica playing was reminiscent of Jazz Gillum.

In late 1930, Little Brother Montgomery made his debut backing Minnie Hicks and on two songs, Irene Scruggs on four and recorded “No Special Rider blues” and "Vicksburg Blues" for Paramount. He cut four more sides for Bluebird in 1935. His next recording opportunity was in October 1936 in New Orleans where he waxed a remarkable eighteen  song session. As Chris Smith writes he was "adept at blues, jazz, stride, boogie and pop which he synthesized into a personal style that ranged easily from the bopping earthiness of "Frisco Hi-Ball" to the pearl-stringing elegance of "Shreveport Farewell." His high voice and bleating vibrato are unmistakable, especially on his signature piece, "Vicksburg Blues", a polyrhythmic showcase for his acute but never pedantic timing. It's also an example of Brother's poetry of geography; many of his songs, and even the titles of his instrumentals, are rich evocations of places he knew and the railroads that carried him between them."

Nothing is known of fifteen year-old Annie Turner who cut four sides (two unissued) at this session backed by Little Brother on piano and Walter Vincson on guitar. As Chris Smith wrote: "…Turner projects a smoldering sensuality, triumphing over her low volume dicey pitch with help from Montgomery and Vincson's wonderfully attentive accompaniment."

Sonny Boy Nelson: Low Down 78

Working in various configurations, Walter Vincson and Lonnie, Bo, and Sam Chatmon performed and recorded as the Mississippi Sheiks, a name inspired by a popular 1921 Rudolph Valentino film, The Sheik. A propulsive fiddler, Lonnie managed the band, while Bo, a strong, confident singer and gifted guitarist, became its biggest star. Bo 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", the latter two featured today. Carter's brothers, Lonnie and Sam, recorded as the Chatman Brothers, cutting twelve sides at this same session.

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. He cut two songs at this 1936 sessions in the company of pianist Harry Chatman. The year before pianist Harry Chatman cut ten songs under his won name across three sessions, two in New Orleans and a final one in Jackson, Mississippi.

Johnny YoungMy Baby Walked Out On Me Down Home Blues Classics: Chicago
Johnny YoungWorried Man BluesDown Home Blues Classics: Chicago
Johnny YoungMoney Taking WomanDown Home Blues Classics: Chicago
Johnny YoungLet Me Ride Your MuleGonna Pitch a Boogie Woogie
Snooky Pryor Judgment DayVee-Jay: The Definitive Collection
Snooky Pryor Someone To Love MeBlues Masters Vol. 6
Johnny YoungWhy Did You Break My HeartI Blueskvarter Vol. 1
Johnny YoungTired Of You SmilingModern Chicago Blues
Johnny YoungGreen Door BluesBlues Scene USA Vol. 3
Johnny YoungHear That Whistle BlowRamblin' On My Mind
Robert Nighthawk Lula Mae Blue Southside Chicago
Johnny YoungOne More TimeBlue Southside Chicago
Johnny YoungMoaning And Groaning Johnny Young & His Chicago Blues Band
Johnny YoungWild, Wild WomanJohnny Young & His Chicago Blues Band
Johnny YoungStealin' Johnny Young & His Chicago Blues Band
Otis SpannSarah Street Otis Spann's Chicago Blues
Carl MartinState Street Pimp No. 1Crow Jane Blues
Johnny YoungThe Sun Is Shining And This Is Maxwell Street
Johnny YoungKid Man Blues Chicago The Blues Today
Johnny YoungI'm Doing All RightJohnny Young & Big Walter: Chicago Blues
Johnny YoungRing Around My HeartJohnny Young & Big Walter: Chicago Blues
Johnny YoungStockyard BluesJohnny Young & Big Walter: Chicago Blues
Robert NighthawkBlues Before SunriseModern Chicago Blues
Robert NighthawkI'm Getting TiredMasters Of Modern Blues Vol. 4
Johnny Young Meet Me In The BottomJohnny Young & Friends
John Lee GrandersonWatch Out GirlHard Luck John
The Chicago String BandRailroad BluesThe Chicago String Band
Johnny Young Mandolin RockMandolin Blues
Johnny Young Prison boundFat Mandolin
Johnny Young Deal The Cards I Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping
Johnny Young I Know She's Kinda Slick I Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping
Johnny Young I Got To Find My BabyI Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping

Show Notes:

While there are a few modern day blues mandolin revivalists, the instrument has largely consigned to the dustbin of history. Although little-heard on commercial recordings after the 1940's, the mandolin played an important role in blues and early rural black music. The mandolin can be heard on numerous recordings of the 1920’s and 1930’s particularly on several black string band and jug band recordings. Johnny Young was the most famous of the post-war mandolin players who after waxing a couple of exciting 78's for Ora Nelle and Planet/Old Swing-Master circa 1947-48 didn't resurface on record for fifteen years. Thankfully the 1960's and 70's were a different story with Young recording for Testament, Arhoolie Vanguard, Spivey, Blue Horizon, Blues On Blues, Bluesway as well as scattered sides on anthologies and backing artists like Robert Nighthawk, Carl Martin, Big john Wrencher, Otis Spann and others. Into the 70's he cut fine records for Blue Horizon and Bluesway before his passing in 1974. Young played traditional Chicago blues, rooted in the 40's and early 50's, and didn't share much in common with more modern upstarts like Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and Magic Sam. He also had one foot in his home state of Mississippi, his music still tied to the southern blues style of the 1920's and 30's and the vibrant string band tradition. Young was born in Vicksburg Mississippi in 1917 and spent most of his childhood living near Clarksdale, Mississippi. His mother was an accomplished musician and taught him harmonica, while his uncle Anthony Williams introduced him to guitar and mandolin. He remained in this area until he turned twenty-three, when he settled in Chicago. By 1943 he was often found performing at the Plantation Club at 31st and Giles, sharing the stage with other Mississippians like Muddy Waters and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. Young's popularity really blossomed in the Maxwell Street scene, where he often played with John Brim, Snooky Pryor, Big Walter Horton, John Lee Granderson, and Floyd and Moody Jones.

We open the program with Young's earliest recordings: in 1947 for Ora Nelle he cut "Money Taking Woman" b/w "Worried Man Blues" with Johnny Williams and "My Baby Walked Out" b/w "Let Me Ride Your Mule" in 1948 for Old Swingmaster with Snooky Pryor. Young didn't surface on record again until 1956 where he played guitar behind Snooky's "Someone To Love Me b/w Judgement Day" for Vee-Jay. From this same session are four unissued sides also with Young on guitar.

Starting in 1964 Young started recording prolifically for several labels a steady pace he kept up until his death in 1974. Pete welding, who ran Testament Records, recorded Young prolifically during this period and wrote the following about him: "Another artist who served as talent scout was Johnny Young, a fine, vastly underrated singer-guitarist-mandolinist who, like Big Joe, I recorded fairly extensively over the years both as featured performer and as accompanist to others. I issued the first of the many Young recordings I made on the compilation album Modern Chicago BluesJohnny Young and Friends…presents this fine traditional blues artist in the entirety of his multi-faceted talent, as singer, guitarist and mandolinist in settings that range from solo performances to small-amplified ensembles. It's one of the albums I'm proudest of doing, and one that still gives me great listening pleasure…"

Young can be heard on several Testament anthologies including Modern Chicago Blues, Can't Keep From Crying, Mandolin Blues plus the above mentioned Johnny Young & His Friends and featured on the Testament albums of Carl Martin, John lee Granderson, Otis Spann, J.B. Hutto, Robert Nighthawk and as a member of The Chicago String Band. It's Johnny Young we owe thanks for the "rediscovery" of Carl Martin. In 1966, Pete Welding with the help of Johnny Young, recorded Martin resulting in the terrific Crow Jane with Young playing accompaniment. The Chicago String Band was a studio group put together by Welding to emulate the old time string band sound. The group cut one self-titled album featuring Big John Wrencher, hca,voc; John Lee Granderson, voc, g; Carl Martin, voc, vl, mand; Johnny Young, voc, mand; Bill Foster, g.  Some tracks that Welding cut of Young appear on non-Testament albums including cuts that appear on Storyville's Blues Scene USA Vol. 3 & 4 (one of today's cuts, "Green Door Blues, comes from vol. 3), another track on today's program, "Hear That Whistle Blow", comes from the collection Ramblin' On My Mind released on Milestone.

Read Liner Notes

There were some interesting recordings Young made in 1964 that we spotlight today. In 1964 Olle Helander and Lars Westman of Swedish Radio were on a trip to the US to document blues and jazz in Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans and San Francisco. They reached Chicago May 23rd and recorded Johnny Young accompanied by Slim Willis, Otis Spann and Robert Whitehead. These first surface sometime in the 60's on the Python album Southside Chicago. All these recordings have subsequently been issued on CD as I Blueskvarter Chicago 1964 Vols. 1-3. Young also recorded for Willie Dixon that year to interest UK promoters with touring lesser-known Chicago artists. These sides were issued on UK Decca in 1966 and issued on the album Blues Southside Chicago. Young recorded two songs and backed Robert Nighthawk on two of his numbers. Unfortunately this album has yet to bee issued on CD. Another song, "The Sun Is Shining" comes from And This Is Free a documentary which was filmed over the course of sixteen Sundays on Chicago's Maxwell Street in 1964. The Maxwell Street open air market was a seven- to ten-block area in Chicago that from the 1920s to the middle 1960's played host to various blues musicians — both professional and amateur — who performed right on the street for tips from passerbys.

In early 1966, blues history was made with the issuance of a three-volume set of new recordings produced by blues historian Samuel Charters titled Chicago: The Blues Today!. Every artist on the three volumes had recorded before but these recordings were largely their introduction to a newer,and predominately white, album-oriented audience. The series accurately portrayed a vast cross section of the Chicago blues scene as one could hear it on any given night in the mid-'60s.  Six sides appear on vol. 3 by Johnny Young's South Side Blues Band.

Among Young's finest recordings during the 60's were two sessions done for Arhoolie. 1966 saw the release of Johnny Young And His Chicago Blues Band featuring Otis Spann, p; James Cotton, hca; Jimmy Lee Morris, b; S.P. Leary, dr. 1968 saw the release of Johnny Young & Big Walter: Chicago Blues featuring Walter Horton, hca; Lafayette Leake, p; Jimmy Dawkins, lead g; Ernest Gatewood, b; Lester Dorsie, dr. All of the Arhoolie material has been collected on the Japanese P-Vine label's Johnny Young And His Chicago Blues Band.

Between 1969 and 1973 Young recorded prolifically: Spivey (The Everlasting Blues vs. Otis Spann), a solid album for Blue Horizon (first issued on LP as Blues Masters Vol. 9, then as Fat Mandolin and finally on CD as The Complete Blue Horizon Session), 1971's Johnny Young Sings the Blues with his Gut-Bucket Mandolin on Blues on Blues (the album obviously had pressing problems which caused its withdrawal soon after release), appeared on the Bob Riedy album Lake Michigan Ain't No River and finally 1973's I Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping for Bluesway. Mike Vernon's assessment of the Blue Horizon session is right on the mark: "What you will be listening to is tough, straight ahead, no messin' Chicago blues, echoing the great 40's era, as exemplified in the work of Big Maceo Merriweather and John Lee Williamson." Young plays mandolin on the bulk of the cuts aided by members of Muddy Waters' band: Otis Spann, Sammy Lawhorn, Paul Oscher and S.P. Leary. At one time or another, every seminal Chicago blues artist who was active during the late 1960's to the early 1980's was either a member of Bob Riedy's band or was backed by his band at one time or another. The band cut two albums for Rounder in the early 70's. The general consensus ranks Young's Arhoolie recordings among his best but for my money his Bluesway album, I Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping, is one of his finest and one that gets unjustly ignored. Of course it doesn't help that the album has been long out of print and that the Bluesway label doesn't have the best reputation. Young's brawny, rippling mandolin playing is better recorded then the Blue Horizon, much more up front in the mix, and there's a crackling energy lacking in the earlier session. The band locks into a rock solid groove behind their leader: Louis Myers, Bill Warren and Richard Evans. The pianist is uncredited but may be Bob Reidy.


Tom DicksonLabor BluesBlues Images Vol. 8
Tom DicksonDeath Bell BluesMemphis Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-34
Whispering SmithOn The Dark Road CryingLouisiana Blues
Henry GrayLucky Lucky ManLouisiana Blues
Big Joe Turner Hear Comes Your IcemanBig Joe Turner Rides Again
Big Joe Turner Roll 'Em PeteBoss Of The Blues
Bruce UpshawI Wanna Love YouGeorgia Blues
Green PaschalTrouble Brought Me DownGeorgia Blues
Cliff ScottLong Wavy Hair Georgia Blues
Memphis Slim I See My Great MistakeBluebird Recordings 1940-1941
Little Johnnie JonesI Believe I'll Give It Up Live in Chicago with Billy Boy Arnold
Robert Nighthawk Back Water Blues35 Years of Stony Plain
Robert Nighthawk I'm Gonna Murder My Baby35 Years of Stony Plain
Clifford GibsonKeep Your Windows PinnedClifford Gibson 1929-1931
Charlie JordanDollar Bill BluesTimes Ain't Like They Used to Be Vol. 1
Robert HenrySomething's Wrong With My Little MachineDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
Washboard WillieWashboard BluesDetroit Blues Rarities Vol. 3: Blues Screamers & Gospel Moaners
Bobo JenkinsHere I Am A Fool In Love AgainHere I Am A Fool In Love Again
Eddie BurnsOrange DriverTreat Me Like I Treat You
Brooks Berry & Scrapper Blackwell Cold Blooded MurderMy Heart Struck Sorrow
Brooks Berry & Scrapper Blackwell Sweetest Apple On The TreeMy Heart Struck Sorrow
Tiny TopsyMiss You SoJust A Little Bit: Federal's Queens of New Breed R&B
Lula Reed Baby BabyJust A Little Bit: Federal's Queens of New Breed R&B
Little Miss JessieMy Baby Has GoneDown On Broadway And Main
Lucille HegaminArkansas BluesSongs We Taught Your Mother
Oscar 'Papa' Celestin and Sam MorganShort Dress GalOscar 'Papa' Celestin and Sam Morgan - 1925-1928
Harlem HamfatsOh RedBack To The Crossroads
Skip JamesSpecial Rider BluesTimes Ain't Like They Used to Be Vol. 4
Charlie PattonMean Black Cat BluesPrimeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs
Tom BellI Can't Eagle Rock, Lord I Can Ball the JackI Can Eagle Rock
Kid WestKid West BluesI Can Eagle Rock
Gil Scott-HeronThe Get Out Of The Ghetto BluesThe Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Show Notes:

A varied show on tap today including twin spins by obscure Memphis bluesman Tom Dickson, prime 50's sides by Big joe Turner, a pair of previously unissued sides by Robert Nighthawk and two selections by Brooks Berry & Scrapper Blackwell from a long out of print LP. In addition we feature tracks from the Arhoolie album Louisiana Blues, a trio of cuts recorde by George Mitchell from the album Georgia Blues, a pair of John Lomax field recordings plus a set of tough blues ladies and a set of 50's and 60's blues from Detroit.

From The Blues of Brooks Berry and Scrapper Blackwell: My Heart Struck Sorrow (Bluesville, 1963) we feature two tracks. This album is long out of print and tough to come by and I want to thank Alan for making me a copy of this one. Berry's recorded legacy consists of this album whose recordings stem from sessions done in 1959 and 1961 and four live tracks recorded with Blackwell in 1959. As Art Rosenbaum, who recorded this album, wrote in the notes: "Brooks met Scrapper shortly after she moved to Indianapolis and thus began a long though at times stormy friendship that was to end suddenly some fifteen months after the last of the present recordings were made. On October 6, 1962. Scrapper was shot to death in a back alley near his home. Brooks has been, during the four years I have known her, reluctant to sing blues without her friend's sensitive guitar or piano playing behind her; and she will sing less and less now that he is gone."

During a trip to Toronto in 1965 Robert Nighthawk recorded five songs in a small Toronto studio. One of these sides, "Kansas City", was first issued in 2006 on Canada's Stony Plain label on 30 Years of Stony Plain. Now Stony Plain has issued 35 Years of Stony Plain with four more sides from this session. These sides were previously unknown an do not appear in blues discographies. Richard Flohil, one of the folks responsible for bringing Nighthawk to Canada, shared these recollections: "Beverly Lewis and I had brought Robert to Toronto to play at a now-vanished Toronto club called The First Floor Club. It was in the basement of a house, and we had already brought Sleepy John Estes with Yank Rachell and Hammie Nixon, and the Muddy Waters Band, to the venue. …Beverly paid for the band to go into a small four-track studio in Toronto owned by a chap called Art Snider. It was a very small, very ill-equipped studio – but the place where Gordon Lightfoot made his first records. We cut half a dozen sides, with little idea of how we would use them." From those recordings we spin "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby" which Nighthawk previously recorded in 1964 for the Maxwell Street documentary And This Is Free while "Back Water Blues" is the old Bessie Smith number, one that Nighthawk never recorded before.

From Big Turner we highlight two great Atlantic albums; Boss Of The Blues cut in 1956 and Big Joe Turner Rides Again cut in 1959. Boss Of The Blues matched Turner for one of the last times with his long time pianist Pete Johnson and also includes a variety of top swing players, several alumni from Count Basie's band: trumpeter Joe Newman, trombonist Lawrence Brown, altoist Pete Brown, tenor saxophonist Frank Wess, guitarist Freddie Green, bassist Walter Page, and drummer Cliff Leeman. From that album we hear the quintessential big Joe number, "Roll 'Em Pete" a song the duo first recorded back in in 1939 for John Hammond's Spirituals To Swing concert at Carnegie Hall. Big Joe Turner Rides Again is another great date featuring key sidemen like the great tenor Coleman Hawkins and trombonist Vic Dickenson. From this album we showcase the lovely "Hear Comes Your Iceman."

Read Liner Notes

We hear some excellent field recordings today from George Mitchell and John Lomax. From the album Georgia Blues on Rounder we spotlight a trio of songs recorded in 1967 by Mitchell. As Mitchell writes: "In 1967, I traveled a thousand miles-from Minnesota to Mississippi-to record blues in the Delta region. The following year I moved to Columbus, Georgia, a city of 175,000 on the Alabama line. I had lived there over a year before my wife Cathy and I finally decided to spend a Sunday afternoon searching for blues singers in the surrounding small towns. We did not really\y expect to fins any blues singers that day. But we did, and we spent our spare time for the next eight months searching for bluesman all over the Lower Chattaoochee Valley, the impoverished southwest section of Georgia. We never visited a town were we were not led to at least one blues musician." From the album I Can Eagle Rock: Jook Joint Blues Library of Congress Recordings 1940-1941 we ply excellent tracks by Tom Bell and Kid West. These recordings were the last made by Lomax for the library of Congress. As John Cowley write in the notes: "Alabama has been ill served in the investigation of regional blues traditions. Recordings made for the Lomaxes by Tom Bell in 1940 are, therefore, doubly important.  …As the titles to his performances indicate, Tom was an experienced dance musician, whose repertoire also included blues and ballad-like songs…" In Shreveport Lomax encountered Kid West, Oscar "Buddy" Woods and Joe Harris. Woods was the only one who had recorded commercially having made some great records in the 30's in variety of settings.

Also heard today are some top notch woman blues singers including Tiny Topsy, Lula Reed, Little Miss Jessie and Lucille Hegamin. The Tiny Topsy and Lula Reed sides come from the recent Ace CD Just A Little Bit: Federal's Queens of New Breed R&B. Tiny Topsy died at the young age of 34. Her entire output consisted of just seven singles: five on Federal between 1957 and 1959, one on Chess subsidiary Argo in 1961 and the final release, a year before her untimely death in 1963. Throughout her career, Lula was backed almost exclusively by the band of pianist Sonny Thompson, who eventually became her husband. Unlike Topsy, Ohio-born Lula’s career is better documented on CD reissues, her earlier sides for King Records having featured on Ace’s I'll Drown In My Tears. After departing King in 1956, she and Sonny spent the later part of the 1950's in recording limbo, apart from a short stint at Chess in 1958 where Lula featured on three unsuccessful Argo releases. Her recording career reignited when she returned to King in 1961 where she did several notable duest with Freddie King.

Stacy Johnson, Benny Sharpe, Little Miss Jesse

Little Miss Jesse (Jesse Smith) started in gospel and moved to R&B, making a name for herself on the St. Louis scene. Jesse worked with several bands and became an Ikette in the Ike and Tina Turner Revue in 1962. She left in 1966 to form the Mirettes and in the 70's was a member of Dr. John's backing vocal group. The storming gospel soaked "My Baby Has Gone" is unfortunately the only number cut under her own name.

Lucille Hegamin was the second person to make a Blues record after the initial success of Mamie Smith's breakthrough recordings in 1920. Hegamin's first record was "Jazz Me Blues" and "Everybody's Blues" on the Arto label. Lucille's next record came out a few months after her first record and was "Arkansas Blues" and "I'll Be Good But I'll Be Lonesome". "Arkansas Blues" was one of the most popular records of 1921. It was such a hit that Mamie Smith recorded a cover version of Hegamin's hit that same year and the Mound City Blue Blowers would also have a hit with it in 1924. In all, Lucille Hegamin recorded 68 selections between1920-26, two songs in 1932 and appeared on part of the1961 Bluesville album Songs We Taught Your Mother. From that album we hear her fine remake of "Arkansas Blues."

As always we play a number of fine pre-war blues including two sides by the utterly obscure Tom Dickson. Dickson waxed six sides in Memphis in 1928, two were unissued. Virtually nothing is known about Tom Dickson, apart from a remembrance by Mississippi’s Joe Callicott, who said he played "…around Memphis." We also feature exceptional  songs by Clifford Gibson, Charlie Jordan, Skip James and Charlie Patton. I'm always looking for the best sounding versions when I'm preparing for the show and hear we have the best sounding versions I've heard of Skip's "Special Rider Blues" taken form Yazoo's Times Ain't Like They Used To Be Vol. 4 and Patton's "Mean Black Cat" taken from Yazoo's Charlie Patton: Primeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs.

Featured today are a batch of fine Detroit bluesmen: Robert Henry, Washboard Willie, Eddie Burns and Bobo Jenkins. African-Americans began arriving in drove in Detroit by the 1920?s, most settling in an area called Black Bottom, later named Paradise Valley. From the turn of the century until its demise by urban renewal in the early 1960?s, Hastings Street remained the center of business for Detroit’s east side community, made up largely of Jewish entrepreneurs and small black business owners. Lined with two-story family-owned shops and corner taverns, Hastings teemed by day with shoppers; at night it became transformed, into, what John Lee Hooker later described, as a “rough wide-open street.” Burns enjoyed a modestly successful musical career with a dozen records to his credit and a decade of weekend club gigs often with John Lee Hooker who waxed some of his best performances with Burn’s harmonica in support. It wasn’t until Washboard Willie AKA William Hensley was 31 years old that he decided to buy a washboard and begin to make music on it. In 1948 he moved north to Detroit and wasn’t until 1952, that he and a friend were out one night looking for John Lee Hooker, when they came upon Eddie Burns and his little group, playing at the Harlem Inn. After hearing the drummer playing out of time, Willie got his washboard from the car, and began playing along with the band. By the second song, the bar owner offered Hensley a job playing the washboard for the weekend. The band played there for three years. In 1956, he and Calvin Frazier recorded for Joe Von Battle. He continued to record for Von Battle from 1957 to 1962. In 1973, he toured with the American Blues Legends ’73 Tour, traveling all over Europe. He died on August 24, 1991, at the age of 82, in Detroit. In 1954 Jenkins, with the help of John Lee Hooker recorded "Democrat Blues"  for Chess Records. He recorded two more singles for the Boxer label in Chicago and Fortune Records in Detroit. he eventually formed his own label where he several albums including the Here I Am A Fool In Love Again, of which we play the title track.

We wrap up the show today with a track by Gil Scott-Heron who passed on May 27. Although he called himself a "bluesologist" he wasn't a blues artists in the traditional sense yet I remained a long time fan of his music. I was probably a senior in High School when I heard "Winter In America" on the radio. The song made a deep impression and I ran out the next and picked up a couple of his albums. His records, at least through the 70's and 80's, were consistently good and his songs always got me thinking. It's sad hat at the end of his life he fell into the very traps he sang about so eloquently in songs like "The Bottle" and "Home Is Where The Hatred Is." Still, he spoke truth to power and he did it with brains and a poetic touch. You'll be missed Gil.


Robert NighthawkG-ManProwling With The Nighthawk
Walter DavisGood Gal Walter Davis Vol. 2 1935-1937
Big Joe WilliamsBrother JamesBrother James
Sonny Boy Williamson IJackson BluesThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol.1
Sonny Boy Williamson IGot the Bottle Up And GoneThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol.1
Robert Nighthawk Prowling Night HawkProwling With The Nighthawk
Robert Nighthawk Every Day And NightProwling With The Nighthawk
Robert Nighthawk Take It Easy BabyProwling With The Nighthawk
Speckled RedDown On The LeveeSpeckled Red 1929-1938
Sleepy Johns EstesDrop Down (I Don't Feel Welcome Here)Sleepy John Estes Vol. 2 1937-1941
Big Joe & His Washboard BandI'm Through With YouCharlie & Joe McCoy Vol. 2
Robert NighthawkFriar's Point BluesProwling With The Nighthawk
Robert NighthawkSweet Black Angel The Aristocrat Of The Blues
Robert NighthawkReturn Mail BluesThe Aristocrat Of The Blues
Robert NighthawkAnnie Lee Blues (Anna Lee)The Aristocrat Of The Blues
Ernest LaneOn Robert NighthawkThe Aristocrat Of The Blues
Robert NighthawkJackson Town GalThe Aristocrat Of The Bluese
Robert Nighthawk Crying Won't Help YouBricks In My Pillow
Robert Nighthawk Kansas City Bricks In My Pillow
Robert Nighthawk Maggie Campbell Bricks In My Pillow
Robert NighthawkThe Moon Is Rising Bricks in My Pillow
Robert NighthawkYou Missed A Good ManBricks in My Pillow
Robert NighthawkBricks in My PillowBricks in My Pillow
Robert Nighthawk Cheating And Lying BluesAnd This Is Free
Robert NighthawkInterview Pt. 1 (edited)And This Is Free
Johnny YoungThe Sun Is ShiningAnd This Is Free
Gordon Quinn Interview/And This Is Free
Robert NighthawkTake It Easy, Baby And This Is Free
Robert Nighthawk Crowing Rooster BluesMasters Of Modern Blues vol. 4
Robert Nighthawk Interview Pt. 2 (edited)And This Is Free
Robert Nighthawk I'm Gettin' Tired Masters Of Modern Blues vol. 4
Robert Nighthawk Lula Mae Blues Southside Chicago
Houston Stackhouse Cool Water Blues Masters Of Modern Blues vol. 4
George MitchellOn Robert Nighthawk
Houston StackhouseBig Fat MamaMasters Of Modern Blues vol. 4
Robert Nighthawk & the Blues Rhythm BoysYou Call Yourself A CadillacMississippi Delta Blues: Blow My Blues Away Vol. 1

Show Notes:

I've been an admirer of Robert Nighthawk for a long time and many years ago devoted a website to him at a time when I couldn't find that much information on him on the web. The site has grown over the years and includes just about every scrap of information on the man. Over the years I managed to interview several people who knew Nighthawk, including his daughter, his son, drummer Sam Carr, his ex-wife, his one time pianist Ernest Lane plus others. Several years back I had the opportunity to write the booklet for the CD compilation, Prowlin' Wth The Nighthawk, on the Document label. Today's show spans his entire career, from the 1930's when he went by the name Robert Lee McCoy, to the brilliant postwar sides he cut as Robert Nighthawk plus sides accompanying blues greats like Sonny Boy Williamson I, Speckled Red, Big Joe Wiilliams, Houston Stackhouse and others. Along the way we'll also hear interviews with those who knew Nighthawk plus part of a recorded interview with Nighthawk himself. The below notes come from my Nighthawk website and the liner notes from the Document collection.

Ernest Lane, Robert Nighthawk and Nighthawk's wife
Ernest Lane, Robert Nighthawk and Nighthawk's wife
Hazel McCollum circa late 1940's

Robert Nighthawk was one of the blues premier slide guitarists playing with a subtle elegance and a fluid, crystal clear style that was instantly recognizable. Nighthawk influenced a generation of artists including Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Earl Hooker and supposedly Elmore James. In many ways Nighthawk was the archetype of the classic bluesman spending his entire adult life rambling all over the South with frequent trips to the North playing a never ending string of one nighters punctuated by sporadic recording dates. Nighthawk's recording dates brought him only limited success but he remained popular in the South his entire life. It seems that every blues musician of consequence who emerged from the delta from the 30's through the 60's recalls running across Nighthawk. For all his visibility Nighthawk remains a shadowy figure; for one he never stayed in Chicago long enough to establish himself, he was interviewed only briefly and unlike many artists didn't appreciably benefit from the blues boom of the 1960's. Above all it was his ceaseless wandering that likely stopped him from achieving greater fame.

Pianist Walter Davis, who had been recording since 1930, was responsible for getting Nighthawk signed to the Bluebird label. Henry Townsend provided the transportation that transferred them to Aurora, Illinois. The musicians entered the studios on May 5, 1937 for a marathon recording session. Nighthawk cut six sides with backing by Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Joe Williams. The May 5th sessions were also Sonny Boy Williamson's first and Nighthawk and Joe Williams backed him on this legendary session that produced such enduring classics as "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Blue Bird Blues" and "Sugar Mama". In addition Big Joe Williams recorded eight sides under his own name with Nighthawk and Sonny Boy backing him and Nighthawk also backed Walter Davis on an eight-song session. All in all, Nighthawk would back Sonny Boy on 23 sides at three sessions, two sessions in 1937 and one session in 1938.

Nighthawk (known as Robert Lee McCoy during this period) recorded for Bluebird and Decca between 1937 and 1940 both under his own name and as an accompanist. This was Nighthawk's busiest period on record, recording 22 sides for Bluebird in 1937 and 4 sides for Decca in 1940 and many sides as a session musician backing up such artists as Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Joe Williams, Sleepy John Estes and many others. Nighthawk recorded three lengthy sessions at Bluebird's Aurora Illinois studios. All three Bluebird sessions find Nighthawk with different accompanists with the exception of Sonny Boy Williamson who plays harmonica on every session.

Nighthawk had developed a distinctive single string style that is heard to good effect on these sides. He also plays some bottleneck most notably on the opening passages of "G-Man", "Don't Mistreat Your Woman" and "Prowling Night-Hawk." It was this latter song popularity that was the basis for his changing his surname in the early 40's. On June 5, 1940 he stepped into the studio again this time recording four sides for Decca as "Peetie's Boy." The name "Peetie's Boy" likely coming from his association with Peetie Wheatstraw.These represent Nighthawk's last pre-war sessions and produced the beautiful "Friars Point Blues" featuring his finest slide work to date and only a few steps removed from the magnificent slide work he would be famous for in later years.

When Nighthawk stepped into the Aristocrat studios on November 10, 1948 it had been eight years since he last recorded under his own name. In the intervening years his sound had undergone a transformation when he amplified his guitar in the early 1940's and mastered his brilliant slide technique. In 1948, with the help of Muddy Waters, Nighthawk began recording for Aristocrat later to become Chess. "I put him on the label" Waters stated. "Well I taken him to my company, you know and I helped him get on a record. Yeah, I taken him around to Chess, and then Chess heard him play, and he liked it." His session on July 12, 1949 was possibly his best. He waxed five sides that included "Black Angel Blues (Sweet Black Angel)" (based on Lucille Bogan's "Black Angel Blues" from 1930 and covered by Tampa Red in 1934 with the same title) and "Annie Lee Blues (Anna Lee)" based on Tampa Red's "Anna Lou Blues" from 1940. The pairing became a double-sided hit.

In 1951 Nighthawk signed on with United Records. United was founded in 1951 by A&R man Lew Simpkins and his financial partner Leonard Allen. United recorded him on their very first day of sessions and two of United's first five releases were by "Robert Nighthawk & His Nighthawks Band." Robert Nighthawk's complete recordings for the United label are collected on Bricks in My Pillow on the Delmark label. Nighthawk recorded two sessions for United, one on July 12, 1951 and one on October 25, 1952 for its subsidiary States.

While these recordings are more stylistically diverse than his Chess sides they also contained fewer originals. Most of these songs had been in his repertoire for years. Nighthawk originally recorded "Take It Easy Baby" back in 1937 for Bluebird, "The Moon is Rising" was a staple of his King Biscuit shows and was a remake of Ivory Joe Hunter's 1945 hit "Blues At Sunrise" while "Nighthawk Boogie" was his theme song on the broadcasts. "You Missed A Good Man" was another song Nighthawk likely picked up from Tampa Red who recorded it in 1935.

After a long absence Nighthawk returned to Chicago in 1964 and recorded several times including a blistering set taped live on Maxwell St. in conjunction with the filming of Mike Shea's 1964 documentary And This is Free. Maxwell St. was at the heart of Chicago's black ghetto and was a bustling open air market. Nighthawk really stretches out on some of his old classics including the stunning medley of his two biggest hits "Anna Lee/Sweet Black Angel" as well as a storming reprise of his "Take it Easy Baby. " Nighthawk shows off his wide repertoire playing Big Joe Turner's "Honey Hush", Dr. Clayton's "Cheating and Lying Blues" and Percy Mayfield's "I Need Love So Bad." In 1999 the 2-CD set And This Is Maxwell Street was released in Japan on the P-Vine label and issued in 2000 in the US by Rooster Records with an additional CD containing a 44 minute interview of Nighthawk conducted by Mike Bloomfield. The set contains all the original unedited recordings made in conjunction with the film. In addition to Nighthawk there are fine performances by Johnny Young, Big John Wrencher, Blind Arvella Gray, Carey Bell, Big Mojo Elem, James Brewer, Carrie Robinson and Little Arthur King. Nighthawk present on 22 of the 30 selections. In addition to playing some of these sides on today's program, we also hear an interview snippet from Gordon Quinn who was the sound engineer on the documentary.

Robert Nighthawk Maxwell Street
Robert Nighthawk Live On Maxwell Street

Pete Welding had formed Testament Records in the early 1960's as one of the handful of pioneering labels started by blues enthusiasts. He recorded Nighthawk with his partners Johnny Young and John Wrencher on October 14, 1964 cutting seven sides. In 1964 Nighthawk was recorded at a concert at the University of Chicago with Little Walter and Johnny Young. The song Testament sides and some of the concert selection can be found on the CD Masters of Modern Blues Vol. 4 – Robert Nighthawk/Houston Stackhouse. Hightone Records, which has been reissuing the Testament catalog, has come out with Down Home Slide and Down Home Harp which contain four previously unreleased live Nighthawk tracks from this same concert. Welding said of this session that it "resonates in my mind as perhaps the single finest one I was ever privileged to do…This is my favorite Testament session."

In 1964 Nighthawk recorded for Willie Dixon to interest UK promoters with touring lesser-known Chicago artists. These sides were issued on UK Decca in 1966 and issued on the album Blues Southside Chicago album which has not been issued on CD. Nighthawk cut two songs for this session: "Merry Christmas" and "Lula Mae." Today we spin the latter number which was a song originally recorded by Tampa Red in 1944.

Nighthawk credits Houston Stackhouse with teaching him guitar: "I started guitar in 1931…. Guy lived down in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, he, name a Houston Stackhouse, he learned me to play." Stackhouse emphasized: "I learned him how to play guitar, back in the 30's. I'd say, You ain't gon' eat nothin’ till you get these notes right…He done got bad with it then when he come back from Chicago." In 1967 George Mitchell recorded Nighthawk's last sides playing in Houston Stackhouse's combo, mostly playing bass due to declining health. The music harks back to Nighthawk and Stackhouse's early delta days. Tommy Johnson's influence looms large with five of his songs being covered. In a way Nighthawk's life had come full circle; he was once again playing with Stackhouse who taught how to play guitar, Stackhouse in turn learned directly from Tommy Johnson and here were the two old friends performing the songs of Johnson together one final time. Nghthawk died less than two months after these recordings on Nov. 5 1967 of congestive heart failure at the Helena hospital. He was buried in Helena's Magnolia cemetery. "He loved Helena,said Sam Carr, "that's the reason I buried him there."

Related Articles (word docs):

-Prowling With The Nighthawk Liner Notes Pt. 1 * Liner Notes Pt. 2

-A Note On Robert Nighthawk by Don Kent (Blues Unlimited no. 42)


Frankie JaxonChrist Was Born On...Blues, Blues Christmas
Titus TurnerChristmas Morning BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Roy MiltonNew Year's ResolutionBlues, Blues Christmas
Mickey ChampionGonna Have A Merry XmasBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Jimmy ButlerTrim Your TreeBlues, Blues Christmas
Big Joe TurnerChristmas Date BoogieBlues, Blues Christmas
Leroy CarrChristmas In JailBlues, Blues Christmas
Rev. A.W. NixHow Will You Spend ChristmasBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Lowell FulsonLonesome Christmas (part 1)Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Hop WilsonMerry Christmas DarlingSteel Guitar Flash
Charles BrownNew Merry Christmas BabyLegend!
Harman RayXmas BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Champion Jack DupreeSanta Clause BluesChampion Jack Dupree: Early Cuts
Clyde LasleySanta Claus Home DrunkBea & Baby Records Vol. 2
Lonnie JohnsonHappy New Year DarlingBlues, Blues Christmas
Robert NighthawkMerry ChristmasBlues Masters Vol. 4
Cecil GantHello Santa ClausBlues, Blues Christmas
Jimmy WitherspoonHow I Hate To See Xmas...Blues, Blues Christmas
Larry DarnellChristmas BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Butterbeans & SusiePapa Ain't No Santa ClausBlues, Blues Christmas
Mary HarrisNo Christmas BluesBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Julia LeeChristmas SpiritsKansas City Star
Bukka WhiteChristmas Eve BluesMiss. Delta Blues Jam in Memphis Vol. 2
Goree CarterChristmas TimeThe Complete Recordings Vol. 1
Lightnin' HopkinsMerry ChristmasBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Smokey HoggMy Christmas BabyBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Felix GrossLove For ChristmasBlues, Blues Christmas
Harry CraftonBring That Cadillac BackBlues, Blues Christmas
Johnny OtisHappy New Year BabyBlues, Blues Christmas
J.B. SummersI Want A Present For ChristmasBlues, Blues Christmas
Sonny ParkerBoogie Woogie Santa ClausBlues, Blues Christmas
Freddie KingChristmas TearsVery Best of Freddy King, Vol. 1
Albert KingChristmas Comes But Once...It's Christmas Time Again

Show Notes:

xmasblues2-sm bluesxmas-sm

I've been doing a Christmas blues show for something like the past dozen years and was always frustrated with the lack of a really good collection of early blues Christmas songs. Luckily in 2005 I hooked up with the Document label to put together a 2-CD, 52 track collection of blues and gospel songs from the 1920's to the 1950's. The result was Blues, Blues Christmas and. Two  years ago Document contacted me about writing the notes to a sequel, Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2, another 2-CD set although I did not compile the tracks for this one (I did make a couple of suggestions which were included). I'm happy to say that this has been released last year and it also appears that Blues, Blues Christmas is now back in stock and has been remastered.

Santa Claus Crave

The idea of Christmas themed blues and gospel numbers stretches back to the very dawn of the recorded genres. "Hooray for Christmas" exclaims Bessie Smith to kick off her soon to be classic "At The Christmas Ball", which inaugurated the Christmas blues tradition when it was recorded in November 1925 for Columbia. A year later, circa December 1926, the gospel Christmas tradition was launched when the Elkins-Payne Jubilee Singers recorded "Silent Night, Holy Night" for Paramount Records. After these recordings it was off to the races with numerous Christmas blues numbers recorded by singers of all stripes, a pace that continued as blues evolved into R&B and then rock and roll. For some reason there's far fewer gospel Christmas songs although there were plenty of Christmas sermons in the 1920's and 1930's when recorded sermons rivalled blues in popularity among black audiences. Going hand in hand with Christmas is quite a number of New Year's songs, a good vehicle for juxtaposing the problems of the past year with the glimmer of hope that that the upcoming year will bring better fortune. Whether these artists sung these numbers as part of their regular repertoire is unclear but it's almost certainly the case that many of these songs were recorded at the prompting of the record companies. Like any business they were always looking for a new angle or gimmick to sell records and advertised these boldly, often with full-page ads, in black newspapers like the Chicago Defender.

Christmas Eve Blues 78

Santa Claus Blues: The 1920's & 30's

The earliest Christmas blues songs that I tracked down date from 1925. On Oct. 8 of that year Eva Taylor featured with Clarence Williams' Trio cut "Santa Claus Blues" for the Okeh label and recut the tune again on Oct. 16 with a slightly larger band, the Clarence Williams' Blue Five. Both versions feature Louis Armstrong on cornet. The song is more pop than blues however. On November 18th Bessie Smith cut At The Christmas Ball [Lyrics] for Columbia. She recut the song again Dec. 9 but this version remained unissued. Many blues artists from the 20's cut Christmas songs including: Elzadie Robinson "The Santa Claus Crave" (1927), Victoria Spivey "Christmas Mornin' Blues" (1927), Blind Lemon Jefferson "Christmas Eve Blues" (1928), Bertha Chippie Hill "Christmas Man Blues" (1928), Blind Blake "Lonesome Christmas Blues" (1929), Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers w/ Frankie 'Half Pint' Jaxon "Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn" (1929)

Paramount Christmas

Among Paramount's biggest blues stars of the 1920's were Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake who made their debuts for the label several months apart – Jefferson in December 1925 or January 1926 and Blake around August of 1926. Paramount ramped up their blues and gospel recordings considerably in 1927 and a new Jefferson and Blake record appeared every month. Paramount resorted to several novel promotions for their big artists; In 1924 Ma Rainey's sixth release was labeled "Ma Rainey's Mystery Record" with prizes given to the best title while Charlie Patton's "Screamin' And Hollerin' The Blues" was listed as by The Masked Marvel with a corresponding advert that bore a drawing of a blindfolded singer – looking nothing like Patton – and the clue that he was an exclusive Paramount artist. Similarly, so successful was Jefferson, that a special yellow and white label was produced for Paramount 12650, "Piney Woods Money Mama" b/w ‘Low Down Mojo Blues" which bore his picture and the wording "Blind Lemon Jefferson's Birthday Record." In a similar vein Christmas records can be seen as just another promotional tool with ads for these records appearing annually in black newspapers every holiday season. Befitting his stardom, Lemon's lone holiday record "Christmas Eve Blues" b/w "Happy New Year Blues", was given a full-page advertisement in the December 12th, 1928 edition of the Chicago Defender. In Paramount's 1928 late fall Dealers' Supplement the label advertised scores of "CHRISTMAS, SPIRITUAL AND SERMON RECORDS THAT ARE DEPENDABLE SALES PRODUCERS" and warned that they "SHOULD BE IN YOUR STOCKS NOW." Blind Blake received the large sized treatment in the 1929 edition of the paper for his "Lonesome Christmas Blues," (also sharing the page was Leroy Carr's "Christmas In Jail – Ain't That A Pain?") his only Christmas record. The flip was "Third Degree Blues" – apparently Blake only had enough holiday spirit for one side!

The trend continued with more frequency in the 30's. Here are a few notable songs: Butterbeans & Susie "Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus" (1930), Charlie Jordan "Santa Claus Blues" ["Christmas Christmas, how glad I am you are here/ Well I ain’t had a chicken dinner for this whole round year/Shiny bones and naked bones gleaming from around my plate/ …So pass me that chicken, the turkey, duck and the goose/Well all you birds gonna be one legged when I turn you-a-loose"] (1931) and "Christmas "Christmas Blues" (1935), Death May Be Your christmas Present AdKansas City Kitty & Georgia Tom "Christmas Morning Blues" (1934) [Lyrics], Verdi Lee "Christmas "Tree Blues" (1935), Tampa Red "Christmas And New Years Blues" (1934), Peetie Wheatstraw "Santa Claus Blues" (1935), Bumble Bee Slim's "Christmas And No Santa Claus and "Santa Claus Bring Me A New Woman" (1936), Black Ace "Christmas Time Blues (Beggin' Santa Claus)" (1937), Casey Bill Weldon "Christmas Time Blues" (1937), Bo Carter "Santa Claus" (1938), Walter Davis "Santa Claus" (1935), Sonny Boy Williamson I "Christmas Morning Blues" (1938).

Mary Harris, who cut two sides for Decca at an October 31, 1935 session is most certainly Verdi Lee who cut sides on the exact same date, also in the company of fellow St. Louis musicians Peetie Wheatstraw and Charlie Jordan. It was a holiday themed session with the group cutting "Christmas Tree Blues", "No Christmas Blues", "Happy New Year Blues", "Christmas Christmas Blues" and "Santa Claus Blues" (the latter two with vocals by Jordan and Wheatstraw respectively). Paul Oliver noted that "it would be pleasant to think that each singer was inspired by the others to create a blues on the same subject but at this date, with Christmas two months away, it is more likely that it was a deliberate promotional device by [producer] Mayo Williams."

Merry Christmas Baby: The 40's & 50's

In the 40's there of course was more blues Christmas songs but there was a new music brewing called R&B. Evolving out of jump blues in the late '40s, R&B laid the groundwork for rock & roll. The era's biggest Christmas song was undoubtedly the immortal "Merry Christmas, Baby" cut by Charles Brown & The Blazers in 1947. This perennial classic has been covered numerous times including versions by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Lena Horne , Lou Rawls, Booker T. & the MG's, Otis Redding, James Brown and countless others. Charles Brown's smooth ballad style has become synonymous with Christmas ever since remaking "Merry Christmas, Baby" many times, cutting many other Christmas songs and full length albums including 1961's Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs and Cool Christmas Blues in 1994.

Gatemouth Moore Ad

Notable blues and R&B songs from this period include: Champion Jack Dupree's "Santa Claus Blues" (1945), Gatemouth Moore "Christmas Blues" (1946) [recut in 1977 as "Gate's Christmas Blues"], Little Willie Littlefield "Merry Xmas" (1949), Mabel Scott "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" (1947), Harman Ray Xmas Blues ["Hold it, hold it man/Don’t play me no jingle bells the way I feel this Christmas/Only kind of bells I want to have anything to do with is some of them mission bells/Man, play me the blues long, loud and lowdown"] (1947), Boll Weavil "Christmas Time Blues" (1947), Big Joe Turner "Christmas Date Boogie "(1948), Thelma Cooper "I Need A Man (For Xmas)" (1948), Smokey Hogg "I Want My Baby For Christmas" (1949), Amos Milburn "Let's Make Christmas Merry Baby" (1949), Harry Crafton "

Bring That Cadillac Back" ["I let you eat my turkey on Christmas morn/When I looked around you and my Cadillac was gone"] (1949), Felix Gross "Love For Christmas" ["You can have your turkey and your dressing/Sweet cakes and apple pie/Blue Champagne and Rock & Rye/Everything that money can buy"] (1949), J.B. Summers "I Want a Present For Christmas" ["Santa Claus, Santa Claus/Hear my plea/Open up your bag and give a fine brown baby to me/ …You can stop by my chimney/Drop her in the chute/ Leave your reindeer outside/Come in and get my loot"] (1949).

One other song from this era is the downright odd "Junior's a Jap Girl's Christmas for His Santa Claus" (1942) a Library of Congress recording by Willie Blackwell that defies categorization. Oher non-R&B Christmas songs from the 40's include a few by Leadbelly such as "Christmas Is A-Coming" [Lyrics], "The Christmas Song", "On A Christmas Day", Sylvestor Cotton "Christmas Blues" (1948), Washboard Pete [aka Ralph Willis] "Christmas Blues" (1948), Alex Seward & Louis Hayes "Christmas Time Blues" (1948), Walter Davis "Santa Claus" (1949).

Santa Claus There was a time you could hit the charts with an instrumental as pianist Lloyd Glenn well knew, scoring big with "Old Time Shuffle Blues" which hit #3 on the R&B charts in 1950 and "Chica Boo" which hit #1 in 1951. He seemed to have a knack for being on hit records, accompanying T-Bone Walker on his 1947 hit "Call It Stormy Monday", and in 1949 he joined Swing Time Records as A&R man, recording a number of hits with Lowell Fulson, including "Everyday I Have The Blues" and the #1 R&B hit "Blue Shadows". In sunny Los Angeles on April 1951 he waxed the shuffling "(Christmas) Sleigh Ride." Glenn's distinctive piano work can also be found on a five-song session Jesse Thomas waxed for Swingtime also in April 1951 which included "Xmas Celebration." Glenn was also present when Lowell Fulson cut his classic two-parter, "Lonesome Christmas Pt. 1 & 2 "in 1951.

The 50's produced many more Christmas gems including: Lowell Fulson's oft covered ""Lonesome Christmas" (1950), Cecil Gant It's Christmas Time Again (1950), Roy Milton "Christmas Time Blues" (1950), Johnny Otis & Little Esther Phillips "Far Away Blues" [also known as "Faraway Christmas Blues"] (1950), Jimmy Liggins "I Want My Baby For Christmas" (1950), The Nic Nacs with Mickey Champion "Gonna Have A Merry Xmas" (1950), Larry Darnell "Christmas Blues" (1950), Sonny Parker with Lionel Hampton "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" (1950), Lloyd Glenn "Sleigh Ride" (1951), Sugar Chile Robinson "Christmas Boogie" b/w "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1950), Titus Turner "Christmas Morning" (1952), Lightning Hopkins "Merry Christmas" (1953), Chuck Berry "Run, Rudolph, Run" (1958) and "Merry Christmas Baby" (1958), John Lee Hooker "Blues for Christmas" (1959).

Please Come Home For Christmas Baby: The 60's To The Present

The 60's, less so in the 70's, produced a number of strong Christmas blues songs including at least one blues classic, Little Johnny Taylor's "Please Come Home For Christmas" (1969) which has become an oft covered holiday classic. Other notable 60's songs include: Sonny Boy Williamson II "Santa Claus" (1960), Lightnin' Hopkins "Santa" (1960) and "Heavy Snow" (1962), Black Ace "Santa Claus Blues" (1960), B.B. King "Christmas Celebration" (1960), Hop Wilson "Merry Christmas, Darling" (1961), Robert Nighthawk "Merry Christmas Baby" (1964), Lowell Fulson "I Wanna Spend Christmas With You" (1967), Louis Jordan "Santa Claus, Santa Claus" (1968), Charles Brown "New Merry Christmas Baby" (1969) featuring Earl Hooker, Bukka White "Christmas Eve Blues" (1969). In the 70's: Jimmy Reed "Christmas Present Blues" (1970), Lee Jackson "The Christmas Song" (1971), Clyde Lasley "Santa Came Home Drunk (1971), Albert King "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" (1974) and "Christmas Comes But Once A Year" (1974), Eddie C. Campbell "Santa's Messin' with the Kid" (1977).

Santa Claus DrunkThere seems to be a dearth of quality Christmas songs in the 70's and 80's. By the late 80's the rise of the CD caused the demise of the 45 record which was one of the main vehicles for putting out holiday songs. However in lieu of the 45 labels began releasing Christmas themed compilations and there have been a number of very good collections. Some of the best include: Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas (1989) from the Antone's label [reissued on Epic in 1986 and Sony in 2001], Alligator Records Christmas Collection (1992), Ichiban Blues At Christmas Vol. 1-4 (1991-97) [Best of Ichiban Blues at Christmas was issued 2002], Bullseye Blues Christmas (1995), Stony Plain's Christmas Blues (2000), Blue Christmas (2000) from the Dialtone label, Blue Xmas (2001) on Evidence. A number of artists issued Christmas themed records including Charles Brown, Huey "Piano' Smith, Johnny Adams, B.B. King and Etta James. Also with the dominance of the CD age labels went back into their vaults to put together compilations of classic Christmas blues. Many of the songs listed earlier in this article can be found on these collections and the best of these will be listed below.

Let Me Hang My Stocking On Your Christmas Tree

Christmas blues as sexual metaphor? Of course! The blues has always been loaded with double entendres and Christmas blues offers plenty of examples: Roosevelt Sykes "Let Me Hang My Stocking In Your Christmas Tree" (1937), Jimmy Butler Trim Your Tree ["I’m gonna bring along my hatchet/My beautiful Christmas balls/I’ll sprinkle my snow up on your tree and hang my mistletoe on your wall"] (1955), Clarence Carter "Back Door Santa" (1968), "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" by Albert King (1974) and Sir Mack Rice (1982), Rufus Thomas "I’ll Be Your Santa, Baby" (1982) and Sonny Rhodes the same year, Chick Willis "(All I Want for Christmas Is To) Lay Around and Love On You" (1991).

Papa Ain't No Santa Claus

Those who listen to the blues know it's not all doom and gloom. The blues are laced with humor and that comes across in many blues Christmas songs: Butterbeans & Susie "Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus" (1930) [Lyrics], Big Jack Johnson "Rudolph Got Drunk Last Night" (1990), Clyde Lasley "Santa Claus Home Drunk", Billy Ray Charles "I Been Double Crossed By Santa Claus", Louis Armstrong "Zat You Santa Claus."

Empty Stocking Blues

Not everyone enjoys the holidays and many people suffer from the Christmas blues. If you want to wallow in your depression here's an appropriate blues soundtrack: Leroy Carr "Christmas In Jail – Ain't That A Pain?" (1929), Jimmy Witherspoon "Christmas Blues" [alternately titled "How I Hate To See Christmas Come Around"] (1947), Jimmy Grissom "Christmas Brings Me Down" (1948), Floyd Dixon "Empty Stocking Blues" (1950), "Sonny Boy's Christmas Blues" ["Unless you come home to me/I'll be drunk all day Christmas Day"]" (1951), Lowell Fulson's two-part "Lonesome Christmas" (1951), Freddie King's classic two sided 45 "Christmas Tears" b/w "I Hear Jingle Bells" (1961), Jerry McCain & B.B. Coleman "Sad, Sad Christmas" (1992).

Will The Coffin Be Your Santa Claus?

Will The Coffin Be Your Santa Claus?

Recorded sermons were among the most popular and best selling of the "race records"in the 1920’s and 1930’s. These records provided a fascinating look into the views and concerns of black America at a time when very few outlets existed for black expression. Rev. J.M. Gates was the most popular and prolific of them all, waxing some two hundred titles between 1926 and 1941, which accounted for a staggering quarter of all sermons recorded during this period. It’s not surprising that Gates cut more Christmas sermons than anyone including: “You May Be Alive Or You May Be Dead, Christmas Day” (1927), "Will The Coffin Be Your Santa Claus?" (1927), “Where Will you Be Christmas Day” (1927), “Did You Spend Christmas Day In Jail?” (1929), “Will Hell Be Your Santa Claus” (1939) and “Gettin’ Ready For Christmas Day” (1941) which was his last recorded sermon. Rev. A.W. Nix also had a special affinity for the holidays as evidenced in recordings like "Death Might Be Your Christmas Gift" (1927), "Begin A New Life On Christmas Day – Part 1 & 2" (1928), "That Little Thing May Kill You Yet (Christmas Sermon)" (1929) and "How Will You Spend Christmas?" (1930). Also notable is Rev. Edward Clayborn's "The Wrong Way To Celebrate Christmas" (1928) and Rev. Emmett Dickinson's "Christmas – What Does It Mean To You" (1930).

Happy New Year Darling

While there's far more Christmas songs, New Year has inspired a number of noteworthy songs: Blind Lemon Jefferson "Happy New Year Blues" (1928), Mary Harris with Peetie Wheatstraw "Happy New Year Blues" (1935), Smokey Hogg "New Years Eve Blues" (1947), Lonnie Johnson "Happy New Year, Darling" ["It seems a long time since I been fightin' the Japs 'cross the deep blue sea/Yes, that's why I'm so glad darlin', to have a li'l wife still waitin' for me/It's so great to have you darlin', to have a li'l wife like you/My three brothers couldn't make it but they say happy new year to you"] (1947), Johnny Otis "Happy New Year, Baby" (1947), Lil’ Son Jackson "New Year’s Resolution" (1950), Roy Milton New Year’s Resolution Blues ["I’m gonna deal them from the bottom/Ain’t going to play it fair at all/Please believe me pretty baby/I’m going to have myself a ball/Going to give up my apartment, and you know they’re hard to find/ I don’t want no last year’s memories running through my weary mind"] (1950), Lightnin' Hopkins "Happy New Year" (1953), Charles Brown "Bringing In A Brand New Year" (1993), Lil Ed and Dave Weld "New Year’s Resolution" (1996).

Notable Christmas Blues Compilations

Blues, Blues Christmas (Document): Comprehensive 2-CD collection of jazz, blues, boogie-woogie and gospel recordings dedicated to the season. Collects 52 numbers spanning from 1925 to 1955 including tracks by Bessie Smith, Leroy Carr, Rev. J.M. Gates, Butterbeans & Susie, Lonnie Johnson, Roy Milton, Larry Darnell, Cecil Gant, Lightnin' Hopkins and many, many others.

Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2 (Document): Comprehensive 2-CD collection of jazz, blues, boogie-woogie and gospel recordings dedicated to the season. Collects 44 numbers spanning from 1925 to 1955 including tracks byBlind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Jesse Thomas, Cecil Gant, Fats Waller, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Lil Son Jackson, Lightnin' Hopkins and many, many others.

Where Will You Be Christmas Day? (Dust To Digital): Fine collection rare early Christmas gems by Leroy Carr, Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, Butterbeans and Susie, Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers, Lightnin' Hopkins, Kansas City Kitty, Bessie Smith and many others.

Soul Christmas (Atlantic): This 1991 reissue includes eight of the original 11 tracks included on the Atco 1968 release with 11 more tracks added from the Atlantic vaults. An essential set that includes Otis Redding's "White Christmas" and "Merry Christmas, Baby", Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa", Joe Tex's "I'll Make Every Day Christmas (For My Woman)" and others.

Blue Yule: Christmas Blues and R&B Classics (Rhino): A killer 18-song compilation. Includes hard to find tracks by John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Hop Wilson, Big Jack Johnson and other gems.

It's Christmas Time Again (Stax)
: A great collection of funky blues and soul from the Stax catalog. Standout tracks include "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" with versions by Mack Rice and Albert King plus Rufus Thomas' "I'll Be Your Santa Baby'" and Little Johnny Taylor's "Please Come Home for Christmas"

Merry Christmas, Baby (Paula): Some real gems on here although some can be found on other compilations. Includes fine songs like Johnny And Jon's "Christmas in Vietnam", Charles Brown's "Please Come Home for Christmas", Lowell Fulson's "Lonesome Christmas" parts 1 & 2 plus songs by Big Joe Williams, Sugar Boy Crawford, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Reed and others.

Jingle Blues (Platinum): Entertaining collection from the House of Blues. Includes a wide variety of styles by artists such as Bessie Smith, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Witherspoon, B.B. King, Amos Milburn and others.

James Brown's Funky Christmas (Polygram): What would Christmas be without this funky collection? This 17-track compilation includes selections cut between 1966-1970. Highlights include "Go Power at Christmas Time", "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" and "Hey America" (It's Christmas Time).

Christmas Blues (Savoy): Fine Christmas blues from the vaults of Savoy like Gatemouth Moore's "Christmas Blues", Jimmy Butler's rocking "Trim Your Tree", the country blues of Ralph Willis' "Christmas Blues" and several other vintage tunes.

Rhythm & Blues Christmas (Hollywood): Budget priced collection that includes Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby," Freddie King's "Christmas Tears/I Hear Jingle Bells", Mabel Scott's "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" and others.