Entries tagged with “Robert Wilkins”.


ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Honeyboy EdwardsBuild A CaveJuke Joint Blues
Honeyboy EdwardsDrop Down Mama Drop Down Mama
Honeyboy EdwardsRide With Me TonightI've Been Around
Bertha "Chippie" HillLonesome Weary BluesLouis Armstrong & the Blues Singers 1924-1930
Sippie WallaceLazy Man BluesLouis Armstrong & the Blues Singers 1924-1930
McKinley James Ain't Gonna Pick No Cotton 45
McKinley James Tuskegee Boogie 45
Little Sonny I Hear My Woman Callin'Harp Suckers: Detroit Blues Rarities
Alec SewardCreepin' BluesThe Bluesville Years Vol. 11
Blind Willie McTellLay Some Flowers On My GraveThe Classic Years 1927-1940
Charlie PattonSome Summer DayPrimeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs
Blind Boy FullerSombody's Been Talkin'Blind Boy Fuller Vol. 2 (JSP)
Leroy Washington Hello Stranger Wild Cherry
Leroy Washington Women Are TroubleWild Cherry
Lovey WilliamsGoing Away Blues Bothered All The Time
James BrewerBig Road Blues Chicago Blues: Live At The Fickle Pickle
Robert Wilkins I'll Go With Her BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Robert Wilkins Do Lord Remember MeMemphis Gospel Singer
Little Son WillisNothing But The BluesBlues 'N Trouble vol. 2
Robert Shaw Turn Loose My TongueBlues 'N Trouble vol. 2
Roosevelt SykesPlease Don't Talk About Me When I'm GoneClassic Sounds Of New Orleans
UnknownDon't Go To GeorgiaCap'n, You're So Mean - Negro Songs of Protest Vol. 2
UnknownWhy Didn't Somebody Tell MeCap'n, You're So Mean - Negro Songs of Protest Vol. 2
UnknownCap'n, You're So MeanCap'n, You're So Mean - Negro Songs of Protest Vol. 2
Johnny Shines Blood Ran Like Wine President Nixon's Blues
J. B. Lenoir Everybody Is Crying About VietnamPresident Johnson's Blues
The DaylightersSomething Is WrongForth Worth Shuffle - Texas RNB 1958-1964
Travis Phillips & his Wonder BoysThat's AllrightForth Worth Shuffle - Texas RNB 1958-1964
Guitar SlimHard Headed BluesWalkin' Blues
Guitar ShortyI'm Going Home Carolina Slide Guitar

Show Notes:

Today's show spans from the 1920's through 1980, covering a wide variety of recordings and styles.  Among the artists featured include a trio by the recently  departed Honeyboy Edwards, a pair by the obscure McKinley James, two by fine Louisiana guitarist/vocalist Leroy Washington and two by the great Memphis blues and gospel artists Robert Wilkins. Also on tap are a batch of fine field recordings, some classic female blues singers, a set of piano blues, some fascinating topical recordings and the usual  batch of hard to find albums.

We open things up by paying tribute to Honeyboy Edwards who just passed on August 29, 2011 in Chicago. A couple of weeks back we played his slashing version of "Sweet Home Chicago" that he cut for Sun in 1953. Today we open with "Build A Cave", Honeyboy's commercial debut cut for the ARC label in 1950 recorded under the moniker Mr. Honey (the flipside was "Who May Your Regular Be").  The song is related to Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's 1951 Cold War/the Korean War number " I'm Gonna Dig Myself A Hole" which was also recorded the same year by Robert Lockwood and is also kin to Jimmy Rogers' "The World Is In A Tangle" also the same year. We spin another early number, "Drop Down Mama", part of a four song session he cut for Chess in 1953. "Drop Down Mama" eventually surfaced on the 1970 Chess album of the same name. As far as I know the remaining three sides have never been issued.

We feature both sides of  McKinley James' 1966 45 "Tuskegee Boogie b/w Ain't Gonna Pick No Cotton." James was a blues musician who was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1935 and raised in Macon County, Alabama. "Tuskegee Boogie" rolls along at an easygoing pace, featuring some fine low-down slide guitar. McKinley began singing gospel in The Golden Four Quartet and joined The Wings of Victory two years later, where he sang and played guitar. From there he became a one-man band and played at local shows that ranged from jails to fish fries to weddings and funerals. "I was here, there and everywhere, just like Old MacDonald's farm," McKinley recalled with a laugh. In 1955, several well-known bluesmen including Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Jimmy Reed played in Tuskegee. McKinley was inspired to make a go at a blues career. Work was hard to find but he was able to get gigs singing 15 minute spots on local radio programs. In 1965, he joined a federal adult-education program and ended up playing "Tuskegee Boogie" at his class graduation party. He'd written the song in 1962 about Tuskegee's first black sheriff, Lucious Amerson and his personal war on public drunkenness.

When the teachers saw how much the audience like the song, they decided to arrange a recording session in Columbus, GA which McKinley raised the $250 to pay for. He recorded "Tuskegee Boogie" and "Ain't Gonna Pick No Cotton" which were released as a 45 on the Tomahawk label. McKinley strapped all 500 copies to his bicycle and rode around selling them for 50 cents each in Tuskegee, Notasulga and Opelika. In 1973 he recorded another 4, "Misunderstanding b/w A Closer Talk" which was distributed locally, but neither record was picked up by a larger label. Despite that, McKinley became a prominent musician in the region and played many times at the Chattahoochee Folk Festival in Columbus, GA.

Read Liner Notes

Little is known about Leroy Washington, who recorded several sessions between 1957 and 1961 for Jay Miller. He was recalled by Miller as perhaps his favorite blues guitarist. He only released a handful of sides, however, he had recorded a considerable legacy of material for Miller, which had lain unissued for decades. As Bruce Bastin wrote: "Like another fine Miller guitarist, Guitar Gable, Leroy Washington was from Opelousas. …Washington's polite, easy-going nature and keenness to record made him a highly suitable artist for Miller, who carefully built up his artist's sessions, in order to create a satisfactory potential "hit' record. Three couplings submitted by Miller to Ernie Young of the Nashboro Record Co. saw release on his Excello label in 1958-59 but Miller clearly submitted material which did not find favor." Today we play "Hello Stranger" and "Woman Are Trouble" from 1959, both unissued at the time.

I've played Robert Wilkins often on the show and today we contrast one of his pre-war songs with one of his post-war recordings. Wilkins passed away in 1987 and it's a shame he made so few recordings in his later years. He did make one of the great albums of the blues revival, Memphis Gospel Singer cut in 1963 for the Piedmont label and sadly never issued on CD (it was reissued on vinyl in 1984 on the Origin Jazz Library label.) Andy Cohen has been threatening to issue this on CD with bonus tracks but that was announced several years ago and I have no idea what the current status is. There's a few other scattered tracks available including some live cuts from the Newport Blues Festival and the 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival plus excellent sides on the Biograph CD When I Lay My Burden Down and the Adelphi CD …Remember Me. I should also mention This Old World's In A Hell Of A Fix on Biograph which has four great Wilkins sides but like the Piedmont this is long out of print.

I've always been intrigued by topical songs and and field recordings and we play both today. Awhile back I played songs by Lawrence Gellert off the album Negro Songs of Protest issued on Rounder in the 70's. Today we spin three from the follow-up album Cap'n You're So Mean, issued by Rounder in the 80's. According to Gellert's notes some of these recordings were recorded in Greenville, South Carolina in 1924. It seems likely that these recordings are actually from the 30's although according to eyewitnesses Gellert was indeed recording in South Carolina in 1924. Other recordings hail from Atlanta, Georgia and date from 1928 through 1932. As one reviewer noted: "The most interesting thing about these two albums was the outspokenness of the songs against authority. Gellert was accepted as an insider in the African American communities in which he worked and was able to record protest songs that eluded other collectors of the time." The Document label has also issued some of this material on the CD Field Recordings Vol. 9: Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky 1924 – 1939. Many of Gellert's recordings have yet to be issued.

We play a couple of more modern protest songs with Johnny Shines' "Blood Ran Like Wine" and J.B. Lenoir's "Everybody Is Crying About Vietnam" both about the Vietnam war. These songs come from companion CD's to \a fascinating series of books written by Guido Van Rijn; Roosevelt's Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on FDRThe Truman and Eisenhower Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs, 1945-1960, Kennedy’s Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on JFK , President Johnson's Blues: African American Blues and Gospel Songs on LBJ, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Vietnam 1963-1968 and the just published The Nixon and Ford Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on Vietnam, Watergate, Civil Rights and Inflation 1969-1976.

We spotlight a batch of fine field recordings from the 60's, 70's and 80's. The 70's is generally considered a down period for the blues which may be true commercially but there was terrific field recordings being made by folks like Pete Lowry, Kip Lornell and George Mitchell among others, and in 1980 an ambitious field trip conducted by a pair of German blues fans. One of the artists they recorded was Guitar Slim who hailed from Greensboro, North Carolina. He recorded Greensboro Rounder for Flyright in the 1970's . He was accomplished on six and twelve string and a fine piano player to boot. He made final batch of sides in 1980 as part of the Living Country Blues USA series, recordings made by two young German blues enthusiasts, Axel Küstner and Siegfried Christmann who came to America with the idea to document the remaining country blues tradition. Additional recordings by Slim have been issued on a CD called Walkin' Boogie which also features sides by Memphis Piano Red.

Pete Lowry called Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue) "One of the most spontaneous musicians around; right up there with Lightnin' Hopkins, maybe more so." He cut a pair of unissued sides for Savoy in 1952, the album long out-of-print Carolina Slide Guitar (Flyright, 1971) which is where our selection comes from and a final album for Lowry's Trix label, Alone In His Field, before passing in 1975.

From the 1960's we play Lovey Williams' "Going Away Blues" from the album Bothered All The Time (Southern Culture, 1983) which collects field recordings made in Mississippi in 1968 by William Ferris. Ferris did some good field work in Mississippi in he 1960's preserved on some fine  long out-out of-print records like Mississippi Folk Voices (Southern Culture, 1983), James 'Son' Thomas: Highway 61 Blues (Southern Culture, 1983) and James 'Son' Thomas, Lee Kizart & Lovey Williams: The Blues Are Alive

Read Liner Notes: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3

And Well (XTRA, 1970). Some of his field recordings were issued on a companion CD to his most recent book Give My Poor Heart Ease – Voices Of The Mississippi Blues.   In addition Ferris has written several books including the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture nominated for the Pulitzer prize and and Blues from the Delta.

As listeners know I always like to dredge up rare and hard to find records for the show. In that vein we spotlight some tough R&B tracks from the Krazy Kat album Forth Worth Shuffle – Texas RNB 1958-1964, a pair from the Arhoolie record Blues N' Trouble Vol. 2 including "Turn Loose My Tongue" a tremendous piano workout from Texas piano man Robert Shaw and James Brewer's rendition of "Big Road Blues" from Chicago Blues: Live At The Fickle Pickle a collection of live tracks cut at the famous club in 1963.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Son HousePreachin' The BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Charlie PattonPrayer of DeathScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Bukka White I Am In The Heavenly WayGoodbye Babylon
Robert Wilkins That's No Way To Get AlongMemphis Blues 1928-1935
Robert Wilkins Holy Ghost TrainThis Old World's In A Hell Of A Fix
Christina GrayThe Reverend Is My ManFemale Blues Singers Vol. 7 G/H 1922-1929
Bessie SmithPreachin' The BluesThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
Sister O.M. TerrellThe Bible's RightGoodbye Babylon
Monkey JoePreach, Pray And MoanMonkey Joe Vol. 1 1935-1939
Frank Stokes You ShallThe Best Of
Sister Rosetta TharpeTrouble In Mind The Original Soul Sister
Sister Rosetta TharpeDown By The Riverside The Original Soul Sister
Arthur AndersonIf You Want To Make A Preacher CussField Recordings Vol. 9
Hambone Willie NewbernNobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does )Don't Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Memphis Minnie & Kansas JoePreachers BluesMemphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vol. 2 1929-1930
Rev Anderson JohnsonGod Don't Like It Get Right With God: Hot Gospel 1947-1953
Robert JohnsonPreachin' The BluesThe Centennial Collection
John Lee Hooker Burnin' HellBurnin' Hell
Sylvester WeaverDevil BluesSylvester Weaver Vol. 2 1927
Lonnie JohnsonShe's Makin' Whoopee in Hell TonightThe Original guitar Wizard
Roosevelt GravesWoke Up This Morning (With My Mind on Jesus)Blind Roosevelt Graves 1929-1936
Roosevelt GravesNew York BluesBlind Roosevelt Graves 1929-1936
Blind Willie JohnsonYou'll Need Somebody on Your BondBlind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists
Arizona DranesI Shall Wear A CrownVintage Mandolin Music
Rev. Utah SmithGod's Mighty HandBlind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists
Josh WhitePure Religion HalliluJosh White Vol. 1 1929-33
Rev. Gary DavisYou Got To Go Down
Meet You At The Station
Georgia TomHow About YouThe Essential
Georgia TomMaybe It's The BluesThe Essential
Luke JordanChurch BellsDon't Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Ben CurryAdam And Eve In The GardenAlabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924-1949
Mississippi SheiksHe Calls That ReligionBlues images Vol. 3
Louis JordanDeacon JonesLet The Good Times Roll 1938-1954
Harlem HamfatsHallelujah Joe Ain't Preachin' No MoreHarlem Hamfats Vol. 2 1936-1937
Little EstherThe Deacon Moves In Midnight At The Barrelhouse

Show Notes:

Today's show examines the intersection between blues and religious music. In the early 1900's, blues singing was associated with the brothel, juke joint, and the dregs of African-American society. Black church goers called it the "Devils' Music" as the following quote, told to Paul Oliver, reflects: "When she was singin' the blues I told her-she was pavin' her way to Hell," said Emma Williams of her daughter', the blues singer Mary Johnson…" This view was also shared by some former blues singers: "A man's who's singin' the blues- I think it's a sin because it cause other people to sin," said Lil Son Jackson" who gave up blues for the church. As Oliver notes, "Musically the blues and the spirituals, or the spirituals' successor, the gospel song, may have stemmed from common sources. But in the recording era, though they shared on occasion similar instrumentation and voices, they were separate and distinct." Despite this divide, religious imagery is prevalent throughout blues music, particularly the blues of the 20's and 30's; songs talk about the devil, make fun of the preachers, deacons and reverends, use biblical imagery and speak of the afterlife, both heaven and hell in frank terms. In addition there's a slew of bluesman who struggled between blues and religion like Son House, blues artists who moonlighted by singing gospel like Charlie Patton, Blind Boy Fuller, Skip, James, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Lemon Jefferson, among many others and those bluesmen who eventually turned full time to religion like Robert Wilkins,  Rev. Gary Davis, Georgia Tom, Rube Lacey, Ishman Bracey, Gatemouth Moore and many others. On the flipside are artists who straddled blues and gospel like Blind Roosevelt Graves, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and those artists who's musical language was similar to the blues artists, most notably the so-called guitar evangelists like Blind Willie Johnson, Rev. Edward Clayborn, Sister O.M. Terrell and others, plus sanctified singers and groups who's instrumentation drew from secular music like blues and jazz. We explore all this and more on the first installment of a two-part feature on blues and religion.

Today's title takes its name from the famous 1930 Son House recording, "Preachin the Blues", a savage attack on organized religion—specifically in the form of the Baptist church:

Oh, I'm gonna get me religion, I'm gonna join the Baptist Church (2X)
Oh, I'm gonna be a Baptist preacher and I sure won't have to work

I'm gonna preach these blues an' I want everybody to shout
Oooo…oh, I want everybody to shout
I'm gonna do like a prisoner, I'm gonna roll my time out

Oh, in my room, I bow down to pray (2X)
But the blues came along and blowed my spirit away

Oooh, I'd've had religion on this very day (2X)
But the womens and whiskey well they would no let me pray

In his younger days House became involved with the Baptist religion, and by the time he was twenty he was preaching in a church near Clarksdale. In his mid-twenties, House heard a guitar player named Willie Wilson (sometimes Willie Williams) playing bottleneck guitar and it changed his life. House bought a battered guitar. Wilson patched it up, put it in Spanish tuning, and soon House was accompanying him. Surprisingly enough, after becoming a bluesman, House continued to preach for awhile, an unlikely combination of careers that speaks of the conflict between religion and blues that would bedevil him the rest of his life. In 1936 Robert Johnson would do his version of the number. However, in 1934, Texas Alexander cut "Justice Blues" where he sang:

I'm Gonna build me a Heaven, have a Kingdom of my own (2x)
Where these brownskin woman can cluster round my throne

The song echoed a line from House' earlier number:

Ooh, I wish I had me a heaven of my own (great Godawmighty)
Then I would give all my woman a long, long happy home

These lines would crop up in other blues songs through the years including Lightnin' Hopkins' "I'm Going To Build Me A Heaven Of My Own." House also addresses the afterlife in "My Black Mama" recorded at the same session:

Yeah it ain't no heaven now, and it ain't no burning hell
Say where I'm going when I die, can't nobody tell

In 1948 John Lee Hooker cut "Burnin' Hell", derived from the House song and featured on today's show:

Everybody talking about that burning Hell
Ain't no Heaven, ain't no burnin' Hell
When I die, where I go, can't nobody tell

Unrelated to the House song where several similarly titled songs featured today such as Bessie Smith's "Preachin' The Blues", "Preaching The Blues" by H-Bomb Ferguson and Big Bill Broonzy's "Preachin' The Blues" which we played a couple of weeks back. In many versions of his life, Broonzy speaks of becoming a preacher for awhile. Unlike the House song, these songs represented the blues singer delivering mock sermons. As Oliver notes, "If the preacher could preach his sermon for God and his congregation, the blues singer could preach the blues for the Devil and those who aligned themselves against the Church. Most preaching parodies were in comic imitation of church sermons, rather than attempts at blues parallels to religious sermons."

The criticism of the preacher in House' song is reflected in a slew of related songs that took a cynical, humorous view of the preacher: Arthur Anderson's "If You Want To Make A Preacher Cuss", a field recording captured by Lawernce Gellert, Hambone Willie Newbern's "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)", Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe's "Preachers Blues", Hi Henry Brown's "Preacher Blues", Bob Robinson's "The Preacher Must Get some Sometimes", Mississippi Sheiks' "He Calls That Religion", Luke Jordan's "Church Bells", Christina Gray's "The Reverend Is My Man", Frakn Stokes' "You Shall", Little Esther's "The Deacon Moves In" and Louis Jordan's "Deacon Jones." The Mississippi Sheiks deliver a litany of problems with the preacher in "He Calls That Religion" which opens:

Well the preacher used to preach to try and save our souls
But now he preaches just to buy jelly roll
Well he calls that religion, but I know he's going to hell when he dies

and concludes:

Old Deacon Johnson was a preachin' king
they caught him round the house tryin' to shake that thing
Well he calls that religion, but I know he's going to hell when he dies

The subject of many of these songs was the preacher doing the very things he was railing against in his sermons, namely reveling in liqueur and sex as the Sheiks refer to it with the common blues term, "jelly roll." In "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)" Newbern sings:

Nobody knows what the good deacon's doing
I declare when the lights go out

While Luke Jordan sang:

And that lowdown dirty deacon
Stole my girl and gone

There was another song of this type that has roots in a widely known song that dates from before the turn of the century, called "Po' Mourner" or "You Shall Be Free." An early stanza went:

Some folks say a nigger won't steal
But I caught two in my cornfield

This was transposed to "preacher" in blues songs as in "You Shall" by Frank Stokes:

Oh well it's our Father who art in heaven
The preacher owed me ten dollars he paid me seven
Thy kingdom come Thy will be done
If I hadn't took the seven Lord I wouldn't have gotten none

Oh well some folks say that a preacher won't steal
I caught about eleven in the watermelon field Just a cutting and a slicing got to tearing up the vine
They's eating and talking most all the time

Oh well you see a preacher lay behind the log
A hand on the trigger got his eye on the hog
The hog said mmm he gun said zip
Jumped on the hog with all his grip

Now when I first went over to Memphis Tennessee
I was crazy about the preachers as I could be
I went out on the front porch a walking about
Invite the preacher over to my house

He washed his face he combed his head
And next thing he want to do was slip in my bed
I caught him by the head man kicked him out the door
Don't allow my preacher at my house no more

In the first verse Stokes uses the Lord's Prayer to make fun or the preacher. A variation of this also turns up in a Texas Alexander song "Justice Blues" which was mentioned earlier. The line "some folks say that a preacher won't steal" is one that also appears in another of today's featured songs, "Preacher's Blues", by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy. The caricature of the lecherous deacon persisted as evidenced by Louis Jordan's 1943 send up "Deacon Jones" (selected verses):

Who gets all the chicken breast
And leaves all the gizzards for the rest?
Deacon Jones, yes yes yes

And when a sister's feeling blue,
Who's always there to woo?
Deacon Jones, oh yeah

And before any of the church money is spent,
Who takes out his usual ten percent?
You guessed it … Deacon Jones

There was also  Little Esther's "The Deacon Moves In" from 1951:

Look out there Deacon
Do you really think I'm gonna weaken
Well now, sister pigeon
If you really want that true religion
You betta do what I say and see things my way

Later in the song one of the band members announces that "prayer meeting is downstairs." Also from 1953 was Wynonie Harris' "The Deacon Don't Like It." The latter song is related to the song "God Don't Like It" which was recorded by Blind Willie McTell in 1935, Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1939 and Rev.Anderson Johnson in 1953 which is the one we feature today. The song starts by railing against drinking:

So many people say they done cut whiskey out, just let them have a little wine
Lord they get sorta drunk every once in awhile, they must been drinking moonshine
But God don't like it (I don't either), sin ain't it a shame

And later takes takes a jab at the preacher, similar to the blues songs mentioned above:

Well the preacher went to the sister's house, she asked him to rest his hat
Now he began to laugh and grin said sister tell me where your husband at
But God don't like it (I don't either), sin ain't it a shame

Johnson cut two sessions in the 50's playing remarkable steel guitar gospel for the labels Angel and Glory. He began preaching as a child and in later years became noted for his folk art murals. He passed in 1998.

Today's program features several so called guitar evangelists. There is only a slight difference between a street-corner blues singer and a sanctified street singer, since both need to hold a crowd and make a few bucks. Blind Willie Johnson is the most famous and greatest of the guitar evangelists. Others from this period include Edward W. Clayborn, A.C. & Blind Mamie Forehand, Blind Willie Harris plus several who recorded slightly later like Rev. Utah Smith, Willie Eason and Sister O.M. Terrell.  Also worth mention is pianist Arizona Dranes who's playing has strong affinities to blues. Smith,Terrell and Dranes are all represented today.

Smith first was a traveling evangelist out of the Churches Of God In Christ before he settled in New Orleans. There he founded the Two Wings Temple and the song "Two Wings" became his theme song. Smith oftentimes used two wings while singing this song. Even before he came to New Orleans he played an electric guitar. He toured the South and was famous for this particular song. Smith recorded "Two Wings" first in 1944, but the 1953 recording is the more famous one. Sister Rosetta Tharpe stated Smith being one of the great "old" guitar players in gospel music.

Terrell was an itinerant "Holy Ghost Preacher" who recorded six sides for Columbia Records in 1953, and never recorded again. From the Depression years of the 1930's to the'50s, Sister Terrell lived the life of an itinerant evangelist and supported herself with her music.

Arizona Dranes is the most important performer for introducing 'hot' piano style to African American gospel music," says blues historian David Evans. Dranes had been living in Dallas when she was discovered by a traveling Okeh talent scout in early 1926. At the time, most gospel performances were vocal only or accompanied by guitar, but Dranes stood out with her boogie-woogie piano. Her inaugural session featured the vocals of blues singer Sara Martin. Dranes became Okeh's biggest gospel star. She began recording in 1926 with OKeh Records, first as a solo artist and later with choirs and various other artists and groups. Although she last recorded in 1928, she continued touring through the 1940s.

Everyone knows the story of Robert Johnson and the crossroads and his songs like "Hellhound On My Trail" and Me And The Devil" but devil references in blues songs were common in the 30's and 40's. Clara Smith sung "Done Sold It To The Devil" as early as 1924. Artists like Peetie Wheatstraw (who went by the nicknames The Devil's Son-In-Law and The High Sheriff of Hell), Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson, Sippie Wallace, Bessie Smith, Sylvester Weaver and others all used devil imagery in their songs. We play a trio of such songs today as performed Weaver, Lonnie Johnson (a prime influence on Robert Johnson) and Washboard Sam.

Several artists started off as blues artists and only to renounce the music for the spiritual world like Robert Wilkins, Rube Lacey, Ishman Bracey, Gatemouth Moore and others while others seem to have a foot in both worlds like Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Roosevelt Graves among others. There were also many blues singers who recorded the occasional gospel sides, sometimes under their own name but often under a pseudonym, such as Charlie Patton, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Willie McTell, Skip James, Son Bonds and numerous others. Then there were the gospel artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe who flirted with blues and gospel.

Charlie  Patton for instance, not only performed and recorded religious songs but for most of his life wrestled with what he thought was a calling to be a preacher. He cut several religious songs (some as Elder J.J. Hadley): "Prayer of Death" (Parts 1 & 2), "Lord I'm Discouraged", "I Shall Not Be Moved", "Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker", "Some Happy Day, "Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker", "You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Die" and "Oh Death."

Two months after his father's death, Josh White left home with a blind, black street singer named Blind Man Arnold, who he had agreed to lead across the South to collect coins after performances. Over the next eight years, he rented the boy's services out to different blind street singers, including Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, and Blind Joe Taggart (Taggart cut close to three-dozen sides, all religious, except for two most likely cut by him under the pseudonym Blind Percy & His Blind Band). While guiding Taggart in 1927, White arrived in Chicago. Mayo Williams, a producer for Paramount Records, recognized White's talents and began using him as a session guitarist. He backed up many artists for recordings before recording his first popular Paramount recording as well as recording with Taggert.Late in 1930, New York's ARC Records sent two A&R men to find Joshua White. They found him at his mother's home in Greenville, NC. After promising Mrs. White that they would not record the "Devil's Music", and only have Josh record religious songs, she finally agreed to sign a contract for $100. White moved to New York City, billed as "Joshua White – The Singing Christian". Within a few months, after recording all of his religious repertoire, ARC explained to White that he could make more money if he also recorded the blues repertoire he had learned, in addition to working as a session man for other artists. White, at 18 and still underage, signed a new contract under the name "Pinewood Tom" in 1932 and began cutting blues.

Early musical experiences at Center Raven Baptist Church in Gray Court, South Carolina, were at the core of strong religious convictions that helped Gary Davis cope with blindness, and in 1937 he was ordained as minister of the Free Baptist Connection Church in Washington, North Carolina. For years he toured as a singing gospel preacher and also sang on the streets, mostly in Durham. During this period he crossed paths and eventually recorded with Blind Boy Fuller and other "Piedmont style" musicians, including Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. By 1940 Reverend Davis had found his way to New York City, where he was ordained minister of Missionary Baptist Connection Church. Here his recording career began in earnest, cutting numerous albums for a variety of labels.

"Georgia Tom" Dorsey first gained recognition as a blues pianist in the 1920s and later became known as the father of gospel music for his role in developing, publishing, and promoting the gospel blues. He registered his first religious piece in 1922 and became director of music at New Hope Baptist Church, where he fused sacred music with his blues technique. Dorsey continued playing the blues as well, and in 1924 Ma Rainey chose him to organize and lead her Wild Cats Jazz Band. However, Dorsey's greatest blues success came in 1928 when "Tampa Red" brought him the lyrics to a song called "It's Tight like That," and the two had an instant, hit. Under the name "Georgia Tom," Dorsey recorded more than sixty sides with Tampa Red, in addition to accompanying many famous blues performers, including Scrapper Blackwell, Big Bill Broonzy, Frankie Jaxson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Memphis Minnie, and Victoria Spivey. In 1932 he renounced blues music. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Dorsey worked extensively with Mahalia Jackson, establishing Jackson as the preeminent gospel singer and Dorsey as the dominant gospel composer of the time.

Not long after Robert Wilkins made his final blues sessions in 1935 his philosophy of life went through a radical switch, the catalyst being the casual violence and sleazy atmosphere of one of the typical house party gigs that he played. Apparently, it was enough to make him believe this music really was an instrument of the devil. Shortly after he joined the Church of God in Christ. He recorded only sparingly in later years; he cut one full length album Memphis Gospel Singer in 1964 plus several sides on various anthologies. He reworked "That's No Way To Get Along" on his 1964 album, Memphis Gospel Singer, into the gospel song "Prodigal Son" which was covered by the Rolling Stones on their 1968 Beggars Banquet album.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is widely acclaimed among the greatest Sanctified gospel singers of her generation. She was a flamboyant performer whose music often flirted with the blues and swing, she was also one of the most controversial talents of her day, shocking purists with her leap into the secular market—by playing nightclubs and theaters, pushing spiritual music into the mainstream. Tony Heilbut, in his book The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times, wrote that Tharpe "could pick blues guitar like a Memphis Minnie." He added that "her song style was filled with blues inversions, and a resonating vibrato. She bent her notes like a horn player, and syncopated in swing band manner. Above all, she had showmanship. … And, starting in 1938, she triumphed as no gospel singer has done since."

Roosevelt Graves hailed from southeastern Mississippi, born in 1909 without the ability to see. By his teens, he was a 12-string guitar playing street musician performing with his half-blind brother and guide Aaron (not Uaroy, as has often been reported), who backed him on tambourine and harmony vocals. H.C. Spier, the talent broker from Jackson, apparently played a role in securing recording sessions for "Blind Roosevelt Graves and Brother," as they were dubbed, first with Paramount in 1929 and later with ARC in 1936. The duo recorded both blues and religious music.

Joe McCoy is probably best know for the many sides he recorded with wife Memphis Minnie and later sang lead for the popular Harlem Hamfats. He seemed to have a short lived conversion and recorded several sermons as Hallelujah Joe. Within a year of cutting his sermons he he cut " Hallelujah Joe Ain't Preachin' No More" with the harlem Hamfats:

Hallelujah Joe (Hallelujah Joe responses throughout)
Ain't preachin' no mo'
Everybody though he was true
When he preach that song about What You Gonna Do?
Hallelujah Joe, ain't preachin' no mo'
He's swinging now so he a
in't gonna preach no mo'

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Robert WilkinsGet Away BluesTrouble Hearted Blues
Robert WilkinsI Wish I Was In HeavenWhen I Lay My Burden Down
Champion Jack DupreeTee-Na-Nee-NaBarrelhouse Blues And Boogie Woogie Vol. 4
Champion Jack DupreeGravier Street RagBarrelhouse Blues And Boogie Woogie Vol. 1
Smokey HoggIn This World AloneTexas Guitar Killers
T-Bone WalkerBaby Broke My HeartTexas Guitar Killers
Lowell FulsonBlues Don't Leave MeTexas Guitar Killers
Tommy JohnsonLonesome Home Blues (Test)Blues Images Vol. 8
John D. FoxWorried Man BluesMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Big Chief Ellis Dices, DicesRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Square WaltonPepper Head Woman Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Bobbie HarrisFriendly AdviceRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Duke Bayou (Alec Seward)Rub a Little BoogieRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
James P. JohnsonSnowy Morning Blues Snowy Morning Blues
James P. Johnson w/ Anna RobinsonHungry BluesJames P. Johnson 1938-1942
Country JimOld River BluesDown Home Blues Classics Vol.5: Memphis & The South
Johnny ShinesRed SunToo Wet Too Plow
Hammie NixonYeller YamsTennessee Blues Vol. 2
Memphis SlimChicago New Home Of The BluesBarrelhouse Blues And Boogie Woogie Vol. 5
Sunnyland SlimGet Further Little BrotherBarrelhouse Blues And Boogie Woogie Vol. 1
Blind Joe ReynoldsThird Street Woman BluesMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Mississippi MoanerIt's Cold In China BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
The Beale Street Sheiks Half Cup of TeaBlues Images vol. 2
Sonny Boy Williamson IIAll My Love In VainThe Chess Years Box Set
Sonny Boy Williamson IICross My HeartThe Chess Years Box Set
Walter Bradford Reward For My babySun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Houston BoinesCarry My Business OnSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Eddie SnowMean Mean WomanSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Henry GrayThat Ain't RightEarly Raw Electric Blues Masters
Hop WilsonA Good Woman is Hard to FindSteel Guitar Flash
Roosevelt CharlesCane Choppin' Blues, Prayer, Work & Trouble Songs
Roosevelt CharlesMean Trouble Blues Blues, Prayer, Work & Trouble Songs
Pinetop SmithJump Steady BluesShake Your Wicked Knees
Pinetop PerkinsPinetop's Boogie Woogie Memphis Blues (Important Postwar Recordings)

Show Notes:

A varied batch of blues today including artist spotlights of Robert Wilkins, James P. Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Roosevelt Charles and album features with tracks from the 4-CD set New York Blues 1945-1956 Rub a Little Boogie, Texas Guitar Killers and selections from Storyville's Barrelhouse Blues And Boogie Woogie series.

Robert Wilkins

Like several of the former bluesmen turned gospel artists, Reverend Robert T. Wilkins recorded only sparingly in later years; he cut one full length album Memphis Gospel Singer in 1964 plus several sides on various anthologies. His early sessions for Victor in 1928, Brunswick in 1929 and Vocalion in 1935 are classics. Wilkins employs plenty of variety on these early recordings and on our selection, "Get Away Blues", lays down a steady droning riff reminiscent of Garfield Akers. "I Wish I Was In Heaven", recorded decades later, finds Wilkins' playing and singing to have lost nothing in the intervening years. As Peter Aschoff writes in the notes to When I Lay My Burden Down: "By the time in the 1960's when Hernando, Mississippi's, Robert Wilkins entered the studio to record the four tracks that close this CD, his religious conversion had put many years between him and the songs that had originally shown him to be one of the most innovative and startlingly original songwriters and performers in pre-war blues. …While his lyrics may have changed, his fluid guitar playing remained firmly rooted in the rhythmically complex picking style of his early secular recordings, and his singing still made use of the unexpected twists phrasing and timing that have always marked Wilkins'  music."

I found myself listening quite a bit lately to the recordings of James P. Johnson. Johnson was a pioneer of the stride style of jazz piano and a model for Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Art Tatum and Fats Waller. Johnson composed many hit tunes including "Charleston" and "Carolina Shout" and remained the acknowledged king of New York jazz pianists until he was dethroned by Art Tatum. Before 1920 Johnson made dozens of superb player piano roll recordings. He developed into a fine accompanist, the favorite of Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith. Ethel Waters wrote in her autobiography that working with musicians such as Johnson " …made you want to sing until your tonsils fell out". His 1921 phonograph recordings of "Harlem Strut", "Carolina Shout" and "Keep off the Grass" were among the first jazz piano solos to be put onto record. The majority of his phonograph recordings of the 1920's and early 1930's were done for Black Swan and Columbia. He continued to record through the 40's. Johnson permanently retired from performing after suffering a severe, paralyzing stroke in 1951 and passed in 1955. Today we spin his "Snowy Morning Blues" from 1930, a song he recorded several times over the years. We also spin "Hungry Blues" as he accompanies singer Anna Robinson.

"Hungry Blues," a selection from a politically charged stage show with words by Langston Hughes, is a beautiful statement against segregation and inequity, invoking "…a brand new world, so clean and fine, nobody's hungry and there ain't no color line…." The show was called De Organizer. It dealt with the plight of Afro-American workers as they attempted to unionize. Anna Robinson was remembered by Milt Hinton as a merry libertine who partied hard. Strung out on narcotics, she was brutally murdered in an alley. This and the flip side, "Harlem Woogie", are the only recordings Robinson ever made.

Read Liner Notes

Well over a year back I did show revolving around the recordings made by folklorist Harry Oster and I was searching through my collection in vain trying to find the album he cut of the remarkable singer Roosevelt Charles. Well better late than never, we spin two tracks from this wonderful record. Charles was recorded by folklorist Harry Oster in 1959 and 1960 with tracks appearing on anthologies and one full-length album, the long out of print Blues, Prayer, Work & Trouble Songs. Oster wrote the following: “Classified as a habitual criminal, a four-time loser, Roosevelt Charles has spent most of his adult life (he is now 45) in prisons, principally, Angola, alternating short periods of freedom with long sentences. …Despite his lengthy police record, Charles is sensitive, personable, intelligent and imaginative – a highly gifted creator, performer and interpreter of Negro music. His rebellion against society appears at least in part the explosion which results when a driving, intensely creative man can find no outlets for his energies and talents – a particularity difficult problem for a bright but almost illiterate Negro born in the Louisiana farm country.”

Today we feature four sides from the excellent 4-CD JSP set Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-1956. This is a collection of down-home blues from artists who migrated from the Eastern states like the Carolinas to New York but still retained their country roots to a degree. The most famous artists are Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Champion Jack Dupree who in addition to sides under their own name, appear on the records of many of the other artists on this collection. Other artists on this set include fine sides Big Chief Ellis, Alec Seward, Carolina Slim, Boby Gaddy, Bobbie Harris and others. From Ellis we hear "Dices, Dices," which he and McGhee recorded for Lenox in 1945. Our version was later recorded live on February 19 1949, at a WYNC Jazz Festival (they were the only bluesmen  present),  prefaced by a conversation between McGhee and Rudi Blesh. Little is known of Bobbie Harris who may have been from South Carolina and cut sides for several New York labels. He's a fine singer as expressed on the steamy R&B of our selection, "Friendly Advice", Backed by Dupree and McGhee and an unknown, but wailing tenor man. We also play the title track, the wild, romping "Rub A Little Boogie" sung by Alec Seward and again featuring Dupree and McGhee. Square Walton is another mystery man who cut a lone four-song session in 1953. "Pepper Head Woman" may be my favorite, a rough and tough number backed by Big Chief Ellis and Mickey Baker.

From the Storyville label we hear great piano numbers from Champion Jack Dupree, Sunnyland Slim and Memphis Slim. Karl Knudsen, a dedicated jazz fan, founded his Storyville Records label in Copenhagen in 1952 just as the groundswell for a blues and jazz revival began to sweep through Europe. Initially, the label simply reissued archival material from the States, but as more and more veteran blues and jazz players began touring Europe (and in many cases, relocating there permanently), he began setting up recording sessions with them, and Storyville ended up with an impressive catalog of original jazz and blues sessions from master performers. He recorded extensively some fine piano players including Champion Jack Dupree, Little Brother Montgomery, Speckled Red, Memphis Slim and others. A few years back Storyville issued five volumes of piano material under the title Barrelhouse Blues and Boogie Woogie which is where all our tracks come from.

While rooting around my collection I stumbled upon the 2-CD set Texas Guitar Killers. This was part of Capitol's ongoing development of its vaults, produced by the late Pete Welding. The 39 cuts feature T-Bone Walker, Gatemouth Brown, Lowell Fulson, Lightnin' Hopkins, Smokey Hogg and Pee-Wee Crayton, with sides drawn from their stints with Imperial and Aladdin spanning the years 1945-1953. Hogg is in fine form on the plaintive "In This World Alone", T-Bone at his best on "Baby Broke My Heart" while Fulson hollers the blues on on the stomping "Blues Don't Leave Me."

We conclude the show with a couple of Pinetops; Smith and Perkins. Clarence "Pine Top" Smith was one of the earliest pianists to recorded a boogie-woogie piano solo. His 1928 tune "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" was the first recording to be labeled as such and and had a great deal of influence on all future pieces in that style. Pine Top toured the minstrel and TOBA vaudeville circuits throughout the 1920's performing with Mamie Smith and Butter Beans and Susie and other vaudeville acts. He was also a frequent solo performer at rent parties, taverns and whorehouses. Smith was accidentally shot to death at a dance in Chicago in 1929. He was twenty-five years old and left behind just eleven sides.

Pinetop Perkins died on march 21, he was 97. In 1943 Mr. Perkins moved to Helena, Ark., to work Robert Nighthawk. He later joined Sonny Boy Williamson’s King Biscuit Boys, before moving on to the band of the slide guitarist Earl Hooker. He also appeared on the recordings that Nighthawk made for the Chess label and that Hooker made for Sun in the 1950s. It was for Sun, in 1953, that he cut his first version of “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie,” the song that furnished him with his nickname and the number we feature today. When the pianist Otis Spann left Muddy Waters’s band in 1969 it was Perkins who took his place.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Long Gone Miles 38 Pistol Blues38 Pistol Blues
Johnnie Brown I'm Gonna Stop (Foolin' Around)Jumpin' The Blues
Lefty 'Guitar' Bates Rock AlleyGuitar Star
Henry Townsend Things Have Changed Mule
Bukka White Gibson Hill Big Daddy
Robert Wilkins Remember MeRemember Me
Eddie Mack Divorce Me COD BluesTyphoon
Stomp Gordon Fat Mama Blues1952-1956
John Jackson Poor BoyBlues & Country Dance Tunes From Virginia
John Jackson Trucking Little Baby Don't Let your Deal Go Down
Peete Wheatstraw What More Can a Man DoPeetie Wheatstraw Vol. 5
Tommie Bradley Pack Up Her Trunk Blues The Virtuoso Guitar Of
Lloyd Glenn After Hours Pt. 11954-1957
Pee Wee Crayton When It Rains It PoursComplete Aladdin & Imperial Recordings
Jesse Thomas Long TimeJesse Thomas 1948-1958
T.J. Fowler Got Nobody To Tell My Troubles1948-1953
Pigmeat Pete Hard Times Coot Grant & Wesley Wilson Vol. 2 1928-1931
Coot Grant & Wesley Wilson Whippin' The Wolf Coot Grant & Wesley Wilson Vol. 3 1931-1938
Coot Grant & Mezz Mezzrow Evil Gal Blues Mezz Mezzrow 1947
Louisiana Red Where Is My Friend The Best Of Louisiana Red
Louisiana Red Working Man Blues Lowdown Back Porch Blues
Augustus "Track Horse" Haggerty Hattie Green Texas Field Recordings 1934-1939
Carl Martin Crow JaneCarl Martin & Willie '61' Blackwell 1930-1941
Curtis Jones Schoolmate BluesCurtis Jones Vol 1. 1937-1938
Big Joe Williams Jinx BluesOld Sawmill Blues
Big Joe Williams Ramblin' And Wanderin' Blues Old Sawmill Blues
Merline JohnsonBad Whiskey BluesOkeh Chicago Blues
Lil Green You've Been A Good Old Wagon1947-1951
Jane TurnerDanger BluesRusty Bryant 1952-54
Robert Johnson Come On In My KitchenThe Complete Recordings
Johnny Shines Tennessee Woman Blues Okeh Chicago Blues
D.A. Hunt Lonesome Old JailRural Blues Vol 1 1934-1956
Luther Huff Bulldog BluesDown Home Blues Classics Vol.5
Snooky & Moody BoogieDown Home Blues Classics Vol.1 1943-1953

Show Notes:

As we take a breather between theme shows, we offer a mix show that casts a wide net,  spanning the 1920's through the 1970's. We spotlight several artists today including three songs devoted to the husband and wife team of Coot Grant and Wesley Wilson and twin spins of John Jackson, Louisiana Red and Big Joe Williams.  In addition we spin some fine blues ladies, a selection of excellent pre-war blues and some superb down-home blues from the post-war era.

Read Liner Notes

Coot Grant was the main stage name of Leola B. Pettigrew, a  blues singer  from Alabama whose legal name became Leola Wilson following her marriage to performing partner Wesley Wilson. The pair met and began performing together in 1905 and were wed in 1913. Coot had been involved in show business  since she was a child, beginning as a dancer in vaudeville. Her husband, who played both piano and organ, was performing as early as 1905. He performed under a variety of stage names including Catjuice Charlie in a duo with Pigmeat Pete, as well as Kid Wilson, Jenkins, Socks, and Sox Wilson. The husband and wife, billed as Grant & Wilson, Kid & Coot, and Hunter & Jenkins, cut over sixty sides between 1925 and 1938, often backed with top jazz artists such as Fletcher Henderson, Mezz Mezzrow, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong. They also performed in musical comedies, vaudeville, traveling shows, revues, and in film. The couple published many songs, most famous of which is "Gimme a Pigfoot," recorded by singer Bessie Smith's at her final session in 1933. On her own, Grant also recorded country blues including some collaborations with guitarist Blind Blake in 1926. The careers of both she and her husband began to falter in the mid-'30s, with the pair returning to the studios only briefly in 1938, and again a decade later when Mezzrow hired them to perform and write material for his new King Jazz label. Grant kept performing following her husband's retirement in 1948, but eventually dropped out of sight and no details have been discovered about her death. The music of Coot Grant and Wesley Wilson draws on the vaudeville tradition of the henpecked man and domineering woman, with much of the material suggestive in nature. Listening to their music, and that of contemporaries like Butterbeans and Susie, gives a fascinating insight into black music before it was captured on record and the ways this music made its way on to the race records of the 20's and 30's. That being said one has to carefully wade through much monotonous material to find some worthwhile gems.  We open the set with Wesley Wilson using the pseudonym Catjuice Charlie with a partner who may be Bobby Leecan on 1931's "Hard Times." Wilson offers some humorous  but pointed commentary interspersed with duetting with his partner on this number cut in the depths of the depression:

Boy, I ain't never seen times so hard in all my life before
Since 1907, that's been twenty three years ago
I saw a black cat sitting in an alley on top of a milk can, eating a red onion and crying like a natural man

From 1933 we hear Coot in fine form on lyrically imaginative "Whippin' the Wolf" a song she would revive for a 1947 session with Mezz Mezzrow. From that session we spin "Evil Gal Blues" which fins Coot's voice a bit more frayed but still able to deliver a rousing, sassy performance.

We move up to the 1960's to hear three twin spins by John Jackson, Big Joe Williams and Louisiana Red. For much of his life, Jackson played for country house parties in Virginia, or around the house for his own amusement. Then in the '60s he encountered the folk revival, becoming the Washington, D.C. area's best-loved blues artist. He made his debut in 1965 for Arhoolie with Blues and Country Dance Tunes from Virginia followed by the equally strong Country Blues & Ditties. His eclectic repertoire embraced the music of his guitar heroes Willie Walker (who once visited his father's house), Blind Boy Fuller, and Blind Blake. Besides the blues, rags, and dance tunes associated with these masters, Jackson played ballads, country songs, and what he termed "old folk songs," such as "The Midnight Special." Jackson recorded several albums, his last for Alligator in 1999 and passed a few years later of liver cancer on January 20, 2002. From his Arhoolie debut we spin a marvelous slide version of "Poor Boy" and the ragtime flavored "Trucking Little Baby" from the Arhoolie album John Jackson In Europe.

As protégé David “Honeyboy” Edwards described him, Big Joe Williams in his early Delta days was a walking musician who played work camps, jukes, store porches, streets, and alleys from New Orleans to Chicago. He recorded through five decades for Vocalion, Okeh, Paramount, Bluebird, Prestige, Delmark, and many others. Among his many fine dates is the one recently reissued for the first time on CD as Old Sawmill Blues. This is a reissue of a terrific Big Joe date from 1964 originally issued on Storyville and recorded in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was originally issued under the title  Portraits in Blues Vol. 7: Ramblin' And Wanderin' Blues and reissued on album several times under different titles.  Williams is well recorded and plays with a focused intensity on mostly traditional fare like our selections, Jinx Blues and Ramblin' And Wanderin' Blues, the latter a song that could well sum up his peripatetic life.

Read Liner Notes

Louisiana Red began recording for Chess in 1952 under the moniker Rocky Fuller, then joined the Army. After his discharge, he played with John Lee Hooker in Detroit for almost two years in the late '50s, and continued through the '60s and '70s with recording sessions for Chess, Checker, Atlas, Glover, Roulette, L&R, and Tomato, among others. Lowdown Back Porch Blues was his first full-length album, and one of his finest, cut in 1963. Among the album's many high points are those with a political edge, "Red's Dream" (an updating of Big Bill Broonzy's "Just A Dream") and "Ride On, Red, Ride On." Nearly fifty years down the line the album remains something of a minor classic. Louisiana Red moved to Hanover, Germany in 1981, and maintained a busy recording and performing schedule through the subsequent decades and has recorded a batch of fine records in the 2000's. We also play a track form The Best Of Louisiana Red which collects sides Red cut between 1965 and 1973. From that collection we spin the moving, slide driven, "Where Is My Friend?" musically based on Elmore James' version of  "It Hurts Me Too."

We spin several post-war recordings by artists who made their reputations in the 20's and 30's: Robert Wilkins, Henry Townsend and Bukka White. As Wilkins' daughter recalled: "…in the month of February, 1964, when the young white men came to the house to ask Daddy to play the blues, the answer was uncomplicated. Daddy sat there and listened to their promises of fortune and fame. When they finished, he looked at them, smiled and said, ‘What would it profit a man to gain the entire world and lose his soul?’ Like several of the former bluesmen turned gospel artists, Reverend Robert T. Wilkins refused opportunities to remake his hits from the late 20's and mid 30's. He could not, however, resist the chance to reach a new audience with the Lord's message, so he took the old melodies and melded them with a gospel message (most famously retitling hie pre-war recording "That's No Way To Get Along" as "Prodigal Son" which was recorded under that title in 1968 by the Rolling Stones). He recorded only sparingly in later years; he cut one full length album Memphis Gospel Singer in 1964 plus several sides on various anthologies. Today's track, "Remember Me" comes from sides cut between 1969 and 1971 and released in the 90's on the Adelphi label.

Henry Townsend, who has died aged 96 in 2006, had been the last blues musician who could trace his recording career back to the 1920s, having sat down before a recording microphone in November 1929 to sing his "Henry's Worried Blues" for Paramount. He was born in Shelby, Mississippi, but grew up in St Louis. As a boy he worked for a bootlegger and in his late teens he became interested in playing the guitar and began to infiltrate a circle of musicians that included Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes and Peetie Wheatstraw. He recorded steadily, if not prolifically, through the decades cutting fine sides with Walter Davis through the 50's, a superb record for Bluesville in the 60's and in 1980 one of his finest records, Mule for the Nighthawk label. Townsed plays piano and guitar and is joined by his wife Vernell on vocals and Yank Rachell on a couple of numbers who plays mandolin and guitar. On today's show we feature the wonderful "Things Have Changed" with Henry's economical piano and expressive vocals backed by Yank's sparkling mandolin work and occasional vocal interjections.

Forty three years after his recording debut, Bukka White remains an electrifying performer on our selection "Gibson Hill" from his the album Big Daddy, his last album recorded in 1973 for Biograph.  Bukka's reputation stems from the fourteen sides he cut between 1937 and 1940, some of the most powerful country blues of the era, with Bukka playing with tremendous drive, consistency and creativity on songs that went on to be etched in blues history like "Parchman Farm Blues" and "Fixin' To Die Blues." After a lengthy time out of the spotlight, he resumed his career in 1963 as he immortalized on the song "1962 Isn't 1963." For about a decade he performed and recorded with little loss of the power and authority of his early records, cutting strong albums for Takoma and Arhoolie among others. Big Daddy is no exception with Bukka playing a 1930's steel bodied National, performing and singing with passion.

Read Notes 1 Read Notes 1 Read Notes 2 Read Notes 3

It's worth mentioning a couple of LP's that are featured today. Guitar Star on the Red Lightnin' label has long been a favorite of mine, collecting valuable late 50's and 60's sides by Fenton Robinson, Mighty Joe Young, Johnny Littlejohn, Wayne Benett, Lefty Bates and others. I've played selections from this one several times and today we spin the blistering "Rock Alley" by guitarist Lefty Bates who recorded very little under his own name. Bates was raised in St. Louis and, while still in high school formed a vocal and string band. This group migrated to Chicago in 1936, recorded on Decca, and worked several clubs regularly up until 1950. During this period, Bates served in the Second World War and formed his own combo when he got out. This led to a stint in the combo Aristo-Kats, who cut a series of sides for RCA Victor. There were very few recordings released under his own name, including a solitary release on Boxer in 1955, another on United several years later, and two sides done on Apex at the close of the '50s. For many years he was a stalwart at Chicago blues clubs such as the legendary Theresa's, and appeared in the second guitar position on many records by blues giants such as Tampa Red, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy. Bates can also be heard doing session work for Chicago labels like Vee-Jay, Chance and Club 51.

We also play two tracks from the superb two album set Okeh Chicago Blues, a terrific selection of blues cut for the Okeh label between 1934 and 1947 with marvelous notes by Jim O'Neal. I'm pretty sure just about all these sides have been reissued on CD but at the time of this release numerous tracks were released for the first time including great sides by Merline Johnson, Johnny Shines, Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie and Big Joe Williams among others. From that record we play "Bad Whiskey Blues" by Merline Johnson and "Tennessee Woman Blues" by Johnny Shines. The liner notes offer the following about Johnson from the recollections of pianist Blind John Davis: "…Big Bill would have to take her home so his wife could watch her so she wouldn't go and get drunk. But when she hit that microphone, though, boy, she was on her way." Despite the efforts of her family in Milwaukee to keep her under control, John says, "She'd get to thinkin' about Chicago, they'd wake up the next morning and Merline'd be in Chicago. She used to call me up and just cuss and laugh." Her only postwar session, which remained unissued by Okeh, included the drinking number "Bad Whiskey Blues," which could well have served as her theme song. "She didn't like good whiskey," Davis laughs. "You could go out there in Jewtown and get moonshine and still hear it foamin' in the glass. It was still fermenting. She was crazy about it. But she was a nice person." Her heyday was in the late 30's and early 40's, waxing 70 sides between 1937 and 1941.

As for Johnny Shines we again turn to the liner notes: "Johnny Shines has long been a magnificent singer-guitarist in the Delta blues tradition, but unlike other premier country blues recording artists, his reputation is based more on recent albums than on early 78's. Shines' first session, for Columbia in 1946, was unissued for 25 years; his second, for Chess, was assigned a release number but probably was never issued at the time; finally, J.O.B. put out two poorly distributed records in the early '50's, and that was it for Johnny Shines until his album debut for Vanguard in 1965. Even before he came to Chicago in 1941, Shines had been writing letters to record companies. 'I am sorry that they weren't interested', he says, 'because at that time I was strictly strong,  and that's all I wanted to do then, was play the blues.'" "Tennessee Woman Blues" is a powerful delta blues number with vocals, particularly the falsetto, eerily reminiscent of his old running partner Robert Johnson. Just listen to our selection by Johnson, "Come On In My Kitchen", if you want proof.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Mississippi John Hurt Avalon Blues The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Got The Blues (Can't Be Satisfied) The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Richland Woman Blues Live!
Mississippi John Hurt Monday Morning Blues Library Of Congress Recordings Vol.2
Bukka White Sic 'Em Dogs On The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Aberdeen Mississippi Blues The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Poor Boy Long Ways From Home Legacy of the Blues
Bukka White Sad Day Blues Mississippi Delta Blues Jam in Memphis, Vol. 2
Bukka White Alabama Blues Sky Songs
Furry Lewis Billy Lyons And Stack O'Lee Masters Of Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Big Chief Blues Masters Of Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis The Medicine Shows Furry Lewis
Furry Lewis Pearlee Blues Furry Lewis
Joe Callicott Fare Thee Well Blues Mississippi Masters
Joe Callicott Traveling Mama Blues Broke, Black And Blue
Joe Callicott Laughing To Keep From Crying Ain't A Gonna Lie To You
Joe Callicott Let Your Deal Go Down Ain't A Gonna Lie To You
Mississippi John Hurt Louis Collins The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Ain't No Tellin' The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Trouble All My Day Library Of Congress Recordings Vol.1
Mississippi John Hurt Make Me A Pallet The Best Of Mississippi John Hurt
Bukka White Parchman Farm Blues The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Bukka's Jitterbug Swing The Vintage Recordings
Furry Lewis Kasie Jones Pt. 1Masters Of The Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Judge Harsh Blues Masters Of The Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Good Morning Judge Good Morning Judge
Furry Lewis Going Away Blues Party! At Home: Recorded in Memphis
Robert Wilkins Police Sergeant BluesMasters Of Memphis Blues
Robert Wilkins Falling Down Blues Masters Of Memphis Blues
Robert Wilkins Prodigal Son Memphis Gospel Singer

Show Notes:

Around 1960 a considerable interest for all folk sources for American music evolved among students in the Northeast, and soon spread to the whole country. While the blues revival is almost always tied to the 1960's it should be noted that white appreciation of the blues, or at least the folksier aspect of blues goes back further with considerable interest generated by Leadbelly in the late 30’s and 40's who attained success playing at concerts and benefits for an audience of leftist folk music aficionados mostly in New York City. Josh White and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee were also part of this scene and played alongside Woody Guthrie and a young Pete Seeger. At the start of the 1950's, Bill Broonzy became part of a touring folk music revue formed by Win Stracke called I Come for to Sing, which also included Studs Terkel and Lawrence Lane. Terkel called him the key figure in this group. The group had some success thanks to the emerging folk revival movement. The exposure made it possible for Broonzy to tour Europe in 1951 where Broonzy was greeted with standing ovations and critical praise wherever he played. The tour marked a turning point in his fortunes, and when he returned to the United States he was a featured act with many prominent folk artists such as Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and Leadbelly. In addition to Broonzy, who made many folk oriented record in the 50's, pre-war artists like Pink Anderson, J.D. Short, Rev. Gary Davis and Scrapper Blackwell among others were also recorded by the end of the 50's.

The blues revival doesn't refer to the rebirth of the music, the blues never went away, and certainly the electric brand of blues was still popular in urban centers like Chicago, but a new found interest in the music among young white listeners. In a addition there was a small band of enthusiasts who began to collect what information they could on the blues artists of the past. Writers like Samuel Charters and Paul Oliver wrote serious studies of the blues while other like Chris Strachwitz and John Fahey formed labels and tracked down these older blues artists. Many of these men would double as writers, producers, promoters and managers fueled by their passion for the music. At first limited to the traditional repertoire of American folk songs such as those gathered in the review Sing Out and expressing itself as the Newport Folk Festival, this movement soon became interested in other sources such as bluegrass, ragtime, and the blues, specifically acoustic country blues, which lost popularity after WW II.

The acoustic blues revival allowed numerous artists rediscovered on that occasion to begin a new career, in particular some blues giants of the 20's and 30's like Son House, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Rev. Gary Davis and too a lesser extent artists like Robert Wilkins and Joe Callicott. Other bluesmen whose careers were at a standstill, due to waning interest among black audiences, adapted their style to the times, including artists like Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Williams, Memphis Slim,  Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and even Muddy Waters for a brief spell. In addition several down-home artists who had not previously recorded were brought to light, most importantly Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell and Robert Pete Williams.  Several record companies sprang up to document the music, most importantly Prestige/Bluesville that released around a hundred albums between 1960 and 1964. Other labels included Arhoolie, Testament and Piedmont among others. The blues revival spread to Europe, most notably in the form of the American Folk Blues Festival, a remarkable traveling caravan that toured Europe through the 60's and beyond.  Although it should be noted that Muddy Waters had toured England in 1958 and Big Bill Broonzy had toured Europe starting as far back as 1951. By the mid-60's the blues revival began to encompass electric blues and labels like Delmark and Vanguard issued acclaimed records by several artists. Today's show, however, focuses on the early, still acoustic focused part of the blues revival and with all today's featured artists having recorded in the pre-war era. In part one we spotlight well known artists like Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Furry Lewis plus fine artists who  a lower profile during the revival like Joe Callicott and Robert Wilkins.

Mississippi John Hurt grew up in the Mississippi hill country town of Avalon, population under 100, north of Greenwood, near Grenada. He began playing guitar in 1903, and within a few years was performing at parties, doing ragtime repertory rather than blues. In the early '20s, he teamed up with white fiddle player Willie Narmour, playing square dances. Hurt was spotted by a scout for Okeh Records who passed through Avalon in 1927, who was supposed to record Narmour, and was signed to record after a quick audition. Of the eight sides that Hurt recorded in Memphis in February of 1928, only two were ever released, but he was still asked to record in New York late in 1928. Mississippi John Hurt might've lived and died in obscurity, if it hadn't been for the folk music revival of the late '50s and early '60s. A scholar named Tom Hoskins discovered that Mississippi John Hurt, who hadn't been heard from musically in over 35 years, was alive and living in Avalon, MS, and sought him out, following the trail laid down in Hurt's song "Avalon Blues." After his rediscovery a series of concerts were arranged, including an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, where he was greeted as a living legend. A tour of American universities followed as did a series of recordings: first in a relatively informal, non-commercial setting intended to capture him in his most comfortable and natural surroundings, and later under the auspices of Vanguard Records. Hurt took the opportunity, playing concerts and making new records of old songs as well as material he'd never before laid down. Vanguard got out a new album, Today!, in 1966, from his first sessions for the label. Additionally, the tape of a concert that Hurt played at Oberlin College in April of 1965 was released under the title The Best of Mississippi John Hurt. Hurt got in one more full album, The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt, released posthumously, and a record assembled from his final sessions, Last Sessions, also issued after his death. In addition Hurt was extensively recorded for the Library of Congress in 1963. These recordings have been issued by Fuel 200 on two double CD sets: D.C. Blues: Library of Congress Recordings 1 & 2.

In the notes to Bukka White – The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940, Keith Briggs writes that Bukka's "recordings made between 1930 and 1940 are among the most creative and dynamic blues ever recorded. These early sessions have always been revered as being among the finest in blues history with his last recording date being referred to as the last great pre-war country blues recording session. Booker’s unique sound was a combination of solid, rocking, rhythms interspersed with vigorous guitar breaks, his ability as a bottleneck slide guitarist and his gritty, heavy voice. He favoured the steel bodied National guitar as it’s volume allowed him to be audible over the noise of a good-time crowd. His songs were almost always personal and are among the most creative and descriptive to found on blues records."

In 1930 Bukka White met furniture salesman Ralph Limbo, who was also a talent scout for Victor. White traveled to Memphis where he made his first recordings, singing a mixture of blues and gospel material under the name of Washington White. Victor only saw fit to release four of the 14 songs Bukka White recorded that day. As the Depression set in, opportunity to record didn't knock again for Bukka White until 1937, when Big Bill Broonzy asked him to come to Chicago and record for Lester Melrose. By this time, Bukka White had gotten into some trouble — he later claimed he and a friend had been "ambushed" by a man along a highway, and White shot the man in the thigh in self defense. While awaiting trial, White jumped bail and headed for Chicago, making two sides before being apprehended and sent back to Mississippi to do a three-year stretch at Parchman Farm. While he was serving time, White's record "Shake 'Em on Down" became a hit. It was as "Washington Barrelhouse White" that White recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax at Parchman Farm in 1939. After earning his release from Parchman Farm in 1940, he returned to Chicago with 12 newly minted songs to record for Lester Melrose. These became the backbone of his lifelong repertoire, and the Melrose  session today is regarded as the pinnacle of Bukka White's achievements on record. Among the songs he recorded on that occasion were "Parchman Farm Blues" Good Gin Blues," "Bukka's Jitterbug Swing," "Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues," and "Fixin' to Die Blues."These would be his last recordings for nearly a quarter century.

Two California-based blues enthusiasts, John Fahey and Ed Denson addressed a letter in 1963 to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." By chance, one of White's relatives was working in the Post Office in Aberdeen, and forwarded the letter to White in Memphis. Things moved quickly from the time Bukka White met up with Fahey and Denson; by the end of 1963 Bukka White was already recording on contract with Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie. White wrote a new song celebrating his good fortune entitled "1963 Isn't 1962 Blues” and swiftly recorded material for Fahey's Takoma label (Mississippi Blues) and sessions for Arhoolie (Sky Songs Vol. 1 & 2). He thrived on the folk festival and coffeehouse circuit of the 1960s. Big Daddy, was his final record cut for the Biograph label in 1974. He passed in 1977.

Walter "Furry" Lewis was born in Greenwood, MS, sometime between 1893 and 1900 — the exact year is in dispute, as Lewis altered this more than once. The Lewis family moved to Memphis when he was seven years old, and Lewis made his home there for the remainder of his life. Lewis' real musical start took place on Beale Street in the late teens, where he began his career. He also began playing traveling medicine shows during this period. Lewis' recording career began in April 1927, with a trip to Chicago with fellow guitarist Landers Walton to record for the Vocalion label, which resulted in five songs, also featuring mandolin player Charles Jackson on three of the numbers. In October of 1927, Lewis was back in Chicago to cut six more songs, this time with nothing but his voice and his own guitar. He made a lengthy session in 1928 and cut few final songs in 1929. Lewis gave up music as a profession during the mid-'30s, when the Depression reduced the market for country-blues.

Fortunately, Furry found work as a municipal laborer in Memphis during the '20s, and continued in this capacity right into the '60s. In the intervening years, he played for friends and relatives, living in obscurity. At the end of the '50s, however, folksong/blues scholar Sam Charters discovered Lewis and persuaded him to resume his music career. He first recorded Lewis for Folkways in 1959 on a self-titled album. Lewis returned to the studio under Charters' direction and cut two albums for the Prestige/Bluesville labels in 1961. Gradually, as the '60s and the ensuing blues boom wore on, Lewis emerged as one of the favorite rediscovered stars from the '30s, playing festivals, appearing on talk shows, and being interviewed. Furry Lewis became a blues celebrity during the '70s, following a profile in Playboy magazine and appearances on The Tonight Show, and managed a few film and television appearances. Lewis recorded extensively in the 50’s and 70’s, often in informal settings, with albums issued on Blue Horizon, Adelphi, Southland and with several posthumous recordings issued. Lewis died in Memphis in 1981.

Joe Callicott waxed a lone 78 in Memphis in 1929, “Fare Thee Well Blues b/w Traveling Mama Blues”, and a year later played second guitar on Garfield Akers’ “Cottonfield Blues Parts 1 & 2.” It was field recorder George Mitchell who found Callicott in Nesbit, Mississippi off Highway 51 not far from Hernando and short distance from Brights where Garfield Akers was supposedly born. Callicott’s “comeback” was about as short as his first recording career, lasting from the summer of 1967 through the summer of 1968; he recorded nineteen sides for Mitchell either late August or early September, four sides at the 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival and seventeen sides for Blue Horizon in 1968. As Paul Oliver wrote: “A wider recognition came almost too late but Joe appeared at the 1968 Memphis Blues Festival and was looking forward to a European trip. Back at his home, with the birds whistling and witnessed by his wife and their bellcow, he recorded his last testament; he died early in 1969 and with him went the last echoes of Mississippi country music of the earliest phase of the blues.”

Robert Wilkins was born in Hernando, a small town in northern Mississippi, which nonetheless managed to contribute such musicians as Frank Stokes, Jim Jackson, Garfield Akers and Joe Callicott to the story of the Blues. Wilkins worked in Memphis during the Roaring Twenties, sharing billing with Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie (whom he claimed to have tutored), Son House, and other musicians for local shows. He also organized a jug band to capitalize on the "jug band craze" then in vogue. His first sessions for the Victor label in 1928 yielded the droning, one-chord "Rolling Stone," whose title, if not structure, later inspired Muddy Waters. In September 1929, Wilkins recorded for the Brunswick label in Memphis's Peabody Hotel, where he waxed the notable "That's No Way To Get Along," a song he would record later as "The Prodigal Son." The recording industry was hit hard by the Great Depression and as sales slackened, so did recording opportunities. Wilkins continued to play Memphis during the early 1930s, with occasional stints in the medicine show wagon and an informal appearance at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. In 1935, he was offered an opportunity to record for the Vocalion label in Jackson, Mississippi, with Little Son Joe and "Kid Spoons." The output was a varied collection of song styles, including "Old Jim Canan's," a celebration of the gambling parlor formerly located at 340 Beale Street.

Wilkins quit music in 1936 and in 1950 became a minister in the Church of God in Christ. He was rediscovered in 1964, made a few recordings on scattered anthologies and played the festival circuit for the spell but stuck strictly to spiritual music. In 1964 he cut his lone album, the classic Memphis Gospel Singer, which has yet to be issued on CD. Wilkins passed in 1987.

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