This past week Geva Theatre presented Journey to the Son: A Celebration of Son House a four-day festival that weaved together music, theatre, film, audio recordings, storytelling and lectures celebrating the life of Son House. Son lived in Rochester from 1943 through 1976 and was rediscovered here in 1964. There were fine performances by John Hammond, John Mooney, Chris Thomas King, Joe Beard, Steve Grills and others as well as musical workshops and lectures. The biggest highlight for me was the dedication of an official Mississippi Blues Trail marker on Friday, August 28th on the corner of Clarissa and Grieg Street where Son House resided in the Corn Hill Neighborhood of Rochester. The marker is one of only a few above the Mason-Dixon line. Joining the celebration were Son's manager Dick Waterman, one of the men who tracked Son to Rochester in the summer of 1964, and Jim O'Neal founder of Living Blues magazine and research consultant for the Mississippi Trail marker project. Here's photos of both sides of the marker and a picture of Jim O'Neal and myself standing near the site of Son's apartment building which since been torn down.
Entries tagged with “Son House”.
Sun 30 Aug 2015
Sun 23 Aug 2015
|Jenni Werner||Literary Director, Geva Theater||Interview|
|Dan Beaumont||Author of Preachin' |
the Blues: The Life and Times of Son House
|Son House||Levee Camp Moan||Son House With Studs Terkel, Chicago 1965|
|Son House||Don't Mind People Grinnin' In Your Face||Son House With Studs Terkel, Chicago 1965|
|Son House||My Black Mama, Pt. 1||Blues Images Vol. 2|
|Son House||My Black Mama, Pt. 2||Blues Images Vol. 2|
|Son House||Death Letter||Father of the Delta Blues|
|Son House||Mississippi County Farm Blues||Blues Images Vol. 4|
|Son House||Walkin' Blues||Legends of Country Blues|
|Son House||Louise McGee||Father of the Delta Blues|
|Son House||Empire State Express||Son House With Studs Terkel, Chicago 1965|
|Son House||Pony Blues||Legends of Country Blues|
|Son House||Preachin' The Blues Part 1||Legends of Country Blues|
|Son House||The Jinx Blues Part 1||The Real Delta Blues|
|Son House||Delta Blues||Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues|
This week Geva Theatre presents Journey to the Son: A Celebration of Son House from August 26 through August 29th. The four-day festival weaves together music, theatre, film, audio recordings, storytelling and lectures to celebrate the life of Son House. There will be musical performances by John Hammond, John Mooney, Chris Thomas King, Joe Beard, Steve Grills as well as musical workshops. Another highlight will be the dedication of an official Mississippi Blues Trail marker on Friday, August 28 near the site where Son House resided in the Corn Hill Neighborhood of Rochester. There will also be the debut of the play, Revival: The Resurrection of Son House, by Keith Glover. In addition there will be lectures by author Dan Beaumont, Son's old manager, Dick Waterman, and Jim O'Neal founder of Living Blues magazine. On today's show we have several folks involved in this event in the studio including Geva's Literary Director Jenni Werner, Dan Beaumont author of Preachin' the Blues: The Life and Times of Son House, and musician Steve Grills.
When I was a teenager discovering the blues one of the first albums that really captivated me was Son House's Death Letter – I still have it – (the UK equivalent of Father of the Folk Blues), his stunning return to the studio after dropping out of sight for nearly twenty-five years. As author Dan Beaumont wrote: "In 1943 Son House left Mississippi, and, for all that is known of his life over the course of the next twenty-one years, he may well have fallen off the face of the earth. But this he did not do-instead he did the next best thing. He moved to Rochester, New York." As a teenager living in the Bronx I too knew nothing of Rochester outside the fact it was in some nether region of New York State – the farthest I had been was the Catskills, one hundred miles upstate. But as I read Dick Waterman's liner notes, Rochester and the address 61 Greig Street was burned in my memory. That was where Dick Waterman, Phil Spiro and Nick Perls finally tracked Son down on June 23rd, 1964. Waterman became Son's manager and the following year he was signed to Columbia and played the Newport Folk Festival. Son had several good years on the comeback trail; he toured the US playing folk festivals and the coffeehouse circuit and did tours of Europe as well. He also performed locally in Rochester at several different venues, all of which are long shuttered. Memories of Son's local performances are vividly burned into the memories of all who had a chance to witness him in action.
|The men who found Son House: Nick Perls, Dick Waterman, Son House, Phil Spiro.
Photo taken June 23, 1964 in front of 61 Greig Street.
Son's rediscovery in Rochester was newsworthy, making it into Newsweek, Downbeat and the May 29, 1965 edition of the Rochester afternoon newspaper, The Times-Union, with a story titled Son House Records Blues Again and a follow-up article and interview in July titled Hunt for 'Blues' Singer Of Thirties Ends in City. It must have been a bit bewildering to Son who was living a very low-key life in Rochester as Dan Beaumont notes: "There for twenty one years he lived amidst almost total obscurity. Indeed, what is known of his life in that city from 1943 to 1964 is so slight, so slender, that his biographer's task becomes well nigh impossible."
I came to Rochester in the late 1980's for college and have been up here ever since. Over the years I met numerous people who fondly recalled Son House and when I started doing my yearly radio birthday tributes to Son, it brought more people out of the woodwork who gladly shared their memories with me. So it's puzzling that the City has never honored Son in any way. At least Cab Calloway (born in Rochester in 1907) has a plaque honoring him, albeit tucked away on a nondescript side street in an equally nondescript park. For years myself and others thought someone should rectify this sorry state of affairs; a plaque, a statue or something to honor one of the pivotal figures in blues history, a major influence on both Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and who's recordings are among the most powerful in blues history. It would be a shame to let Son's memory slip back to the years before he was rediscovered in Rochester, but the sad fact is there was nothing tangible that shows he ever made this city his home for a good part of his life (1943-1976). This year finally marks a change as a Mississippi Blues Trail marker (only the 13th outside of Mississippi) will be dedicated to Son at the Corner of Grieg and Clarissa St., close to the spot where he was rediscovered. Son's actual residence at the time, 61 Grieg Street, no longer exists, a causality of urban renewal.
|Article from Rochester's Times-Union, July 14, 1964|
Back in 2007 myself and others launched the modest Hot Blues For The Homeless concert which evolved into Hot Blues For The Homeless …A Tribute To Son House. The concert was successful, raised a good amount of money for the Rochester homeless and raised some local awareness of Son House with good coverage in the local media. Out of the concert rose the Son House Apartments which provide housing for the homeless. After a few years I got burned out on the project but I'm glad a major institution like the Geva is picking up the torch.
Sun 16 Aug 2015
|James Son Thomas & Eddie Cusic||Little Red Car||Blues At Home Vol. 10|
|Eddie Cusic||Gonna Cut You Loose||Living Country Blues USA Vol. 2|
|Skip James||Sick Bed Blues||Greatest Of The Delta Blues Singers|
|Napoleon Strickland & Fred McDowell||Shake 'em on Down||Shake 'Em On Down|
|Lemon Nash||Papa Lemon's Blues||Papa Lemon|
|Lemon Nash||Gravedigger's Blues||Papa Lemon|
|Lemon Nash||Bowleg Rooster, Duckleg Hen / Sweet Georgia Brown||Papa Lemon|
|Blind Willie Johnson||Lord, I Just Can't Keep from Crying||Blind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists|
|Son House||This Little Light Of Mine||The Real Delta Blues|
|Peg Leg Sam||I Got A Home||Joshua|
|Roy Brown||Butcher Pete Part 1||Pay Day Jump The 1949-51|
|Roy Brown||Butcher Pete Part 2||Pay Day Jump The 1949-51|
|Tampa Red||If I Don't Find Another True Love||Dynamite! The Unsung King Of The Blues|
I Got My Habits On
|Dynamite! The Unsung King Of The Blues|
|Tampa Red||Evalena||Dynamite! The Unsung King Of The Blues|
|Scrapper Blackwell||D Blues||Scrapper Blackwell Vol. 2 1934-1958|
|Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell||Big Four Blues||Whiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave|
|Charlie Patton||High Water Everywhere Part 1||Blues Images Vol. 7|
|Charlie Patton||High Water Everywhere Part 2||Blues Images Vol. 7|
|Elmore James||I Need You||King of the Slide Guitar|
|Guitar Slim||Story of My Life||Sufferin' Mind|
|James Walton||Leaving Blues||A Fortune Of Blues Vol. 2|
|Ma Rainey||Log Camp Blues||Mother of the Blues|
|Bertha ''Chippie'' Hill||Hard Time Blues||Bertha 'Chippie' Hill Vol. 1 1925-1929|
|Funny Papa Smith||Seven Sisters Blues Part 1||The Original Howling Wolf Sessions|
|Funny Papa Smith||Seven Sisters Blues Part 2||The Original Howling Wolf Sessions|
|Blind Boy Fuller||Tell It To Me||Blind Boy Fuller: Remastered 1935-1938|
|Leroy Johnson||No One to Love Me||Texas Country Blues 1948-1951|
|Howlin' Wolf||Bluebird Blues||Smokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters|
|Robert Johnson||Traveling Riverside Blues||The Centennial Collection|
|Robert Nighthawk||Friar's Point Blues||Prowling With The Nighthawk|
A mix show today as we travel through the 1920's up to the 60's touching on a wide variety of blues styles. On deck today are several two part blues songs including records by Charlie Patton, Funny Papa Smith and Roy Brown. Also featured are a some tracks by Eddie Cusic who recently passed away, a trio of tracks from the obscure New Orleans musician Lemon Nash, three sides by Tampa Red from a new reissue, some fine down-home blues, a pair of songs that share a similar geography and much more.
|Eddie Cusic & James 'Son' Thomas 1976 Back cover of Albatros
album Mississippi Delta & South Tennessee Blues (photographer: Enzo Castella)
Eddie Cusic passed away on August 11th. Cusic was born in 1926 south of Leland, Mississippi. In the early 1950's, he formed a group called the Rhythm Aces that featured Little Milton. The group played the clubs in Greenville, Leland and in juke joints throughout the Delta. In the 1960's Cusic frequently teamed up with fellow Leland guitarist James "Son" Thomas, playing with him at picnics and other social events throughout the state. He stopped performing for awhile to provide for his family, returning to active performing after retiring from his quarry job in 1989. He became a mainstay at the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival and at the Sunflower River Festival. Cusic left behind a small recorded legacy that includes one full-length album, I Want to Boogie cut for Hightone in 1997 and reissued on the Wolf label with extra tracks, plus field recordings made by Gianni Marcucci in the 1970's and Axel Küstner in the 1980's.
I was toying around withe idea of doing a show revolving around two-part songs which in the context of this show would mean both sides of the 78. We spin perhaps one of the greatest two-part 78's, Charley Patton's "High Water Everywhere", his epic about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Paramount devoted an advertisement for the record with an illustration depicting a family sitting dejectedly on the porch of a shack, looking at the rising waters. The caption reads: "Everyone who has heard this record says that 'HIGH WATER EVERYWHERE' is Charley Patton's best and you know that means it has to be mighty good because he has made some knockouts."
Other two-parters featured today include "Seven Sisters Blues" by J. T. "Funny Papa" Smith recorded in 1931. The Seven Sisters of New Orleans were said to be a family of hoodoo women who lived and practiced in the Crescent City in the 1920's and 30's. We also spin Roy Brown's salacious tale of "Butcher Pete" from 1949:
Hey everybody, did the news get around
About a guy named Butcher Pete
Oh, Pete just flew into this town
And he's choppin' up all the women's meat
He's hackin' and wackin' and smackin' (3x)
He just hacks, wacks, choppin' that meat
|Read Liner Notes|
I have been a huge fan of Tampa Red ever since picking up the wonderful 2-LP gatefold album, Guitar Wizard, which RCA released in the mid-70's. The album had a selection of sides from the 1930's through the 50's and a terrific set of notes by Jim O'Neal. O'Neal has provided another set of excellent notes to ACE's 2-CD Tampa Red reissue, Dynamite! The Unsung King Of The Blues. This set focuses on Tampa's final commercial period, the years 1945 through 1953, a period I've always been a fan of particularly the sides with pianist Little Johnny Jones who recorded with Tampa from 1949 through 1953. The tracks here have never sounded better, having been taken from master tapes and the original metal masters. The collection also contains four unissued sides including "I Got My Habits On", "Mary Lou Blues", "I Don’t Find Another True Love" and "Evalena", the latter two from his final session in 1953. I think this version of "Evalena" is superior to the issued take, showcasing magnificent playing from Walter Horton. Later in the program we hear from Tampa again, this time in a supporting role, backing Bertha "Chippie" Hill on "Hard Time Blues" from 1928.
Friars Point is a small town in Coahoma County, Mississippi with an outsized role in blues history. Mississippi was one of only three states that continued prohibition after 1933 making Friars Point a popular weekend hangout because it was across the river from Helena, Arkansas where liqueur was legal and hence became an active bootlegging center. Another reason was there was curfew in Clarksdale, one of the Delta's main towns. Muddy Waters recalled: "Twelve O'Clock, you better be out of there, get off the streets. The great big police come down Sunflower street with that big cap on, man, waving that stick…That's why all this country stuff, people go out in the country. Friars Point'd go up to four o'clock in the morning, sometimes all night." Muddy Waters also said that the only time he saw Robert Johnson play was on the front porch of Hirsberg's Drugstore in Friars Point. In "Traveling Riverside Blues" Robert Johnson sang: "Just come on back to Friars Point, mama, and barrelhouse all night long/I got womens in Vicksburg, clean on into Tennessee (2x)/ But my Friar's Point rider, now, hops all over me." Friars Point seems to have been a regular stop on the circuit Delta bluesmen would travel from town to town through towns like Rosedale, Jackson, Clarksdale, Greenville and others. The Mississippi Blues Commission placed a Blues Trail marker in Friars Point in recognition of musician Robert Nighthawk, who at various times called Friars Point home and where one of his marriages took place. In 1940, Nighthawk recorded "Friars Point Blues", singing of "going back to Friars Point, down in sweet old Dixie Land." Nighthawk's son, drummer Sam Carr, was born in Friars Point.
Last year Arhoolie released a terrific CD by the little known Lemon Nash titled Papa Lemon. Born in 1898, Nash started on guitar, then violin, before turning to ukulele in his late teens. In the 1920's he signed on with a medicine show shilling blood tonic for an Indian chief and a legless cowboy where he honed both his music and comedy routines. Somewhere in these early years he played with the mysterious Richard "Rabbit" Brown (of whom he says: "Rabbit played so bad I had to let him go") who cut six sides for Victor in New Orleans in 1927. Nash's recordings were captured between 1956 and 1961 by both New Orleans jazz archivist Richard B Allen and folklorist Dr Harry Oster. Outside of these sides only a few other sides by Nash have been issued on the 504 record label which specialized in New Orleans jazz. Nash passed away in 1969, a virtual unknown outside his small circle of family and friends. Nash was a true songster playing a charming variety of traditional numbers including blues, pop and gospel.
We play several heavy hitters on today's show including Son House and Skip James who both recorded legendary sessions for Paramount in the 1930's; House in 1930 and James in 1931, and both were rediscovered in 1964 and soon hit the blues revival circuit. In a couple of weeks I'll be doing a feature on Son House as our local theater is celebrating his legacy with an ambitious four-day event. Today's Skip James recording was recorded in 1964 in Falls Church, VA at the home of musicologist Dick Spotswood. These were James' first recordings since 1931. The sessions were completed the following year, issued in 1965 as Greatest Of The Delta Blues Singers, first on on Spotswood's Melodeon label then on the Biograph label which acquired Melodeon in 1970.
Sun 8 Mar 2015
|Jimpson and Group||Murderer’s Home||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|22 and Group||It Makes A Long Time Man Feel Bad||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Foots||Hollers||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Josephine Parker||I Got A Man In New Orleans||Jailhouse Blues|
|Lucille Walker||Shake 'em on Down||Jailhouse Blues|
|Beatrice Tisdall||Workhouse Blues||Jailhouse Blues|
|Wade Walton||Parchman Farm||Shake 'Em On Down|
|Joe Savage||Joe’s Prison Camp Holler||Living Country Blues USA Vol. 9|
|The Confiners||Harmonica Boogie||The Devil's Music|
|Bama||Stackalee||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Tangle Eye||Tangle Eye’s Blue||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Floyd Batts||Lucky Song||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Big Charlie Butler||It's Better To Born Lucky||Mississippi: Saints & Sinners|
|Dobie Red & Group||Rosie||Mississippi: Saints & Sinners|
|Bukka White||Parchman Farm Blues||The Complete Bukka White|
|Bukka White||When Can I Change My Clothes||The Complete Bukka White|
|Bama||I’m Going Home||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Clarence Alexander||Disability Boogie Woogie||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|John Dudley||Cool Drink of Water Blues||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Eva White||No Mo' Freedom||Jailhouse Blues|
|Mattie May Thomas||No Mo' Freedom||American Primitive Vol. II|
|Mattie May Thomas||Dangerous Blues||American Primitive Vol. II|
|Charlie Patton||Spoonful||The Best of Charlie Patton|
|Ed Lewis||Levee Camp Holler / Interview||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Bama||Levee Camp Hollers||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Clarence Alexander||Prison Blues||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Beatrice Perry||I Got a Man on the Wheeler (Levee Camp Blues)||Jailhouse Blues|
|Hattie Goff||Oh Mr. Dooley, Don't 'Rest Me||Jailhouse Blues|
|Group Of Women Prisoners||If There's Anybody Here Wants to Buy Some Cabbage||Jailhouse Blues|
|Bridges Lee Cole||Hollers||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Bama||I Don't Want You Baby||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Grover Wells and Group||Rosie||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Son House||County Farm Blues||The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of|
|Franks Evans||Red River Blues||Mississippi: The Blues Lineage|
|Bukka White||Sic 'Em Dogs On||Mississippi Blues and Gospel: Field Recordings 1934-1942|
|John Dudley||Clarksdale Mill Blues||Southern Journey, Volume 3: 61 Highway Mississippi|
|Henry Ratcliff||Look for Me In Louisiana||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Ed Lewis & Prisoners||I'll Be So Glad When the Sun Goes Down||I'll Be So Glad When the Sun Goes Down|
|Mary James||Go 'Way Devil Leave Me Alone||Jailhouse Blues|
|Five Woman||Penitentiary Blues (Rickentiest Superintendent)||Jailhouse Blues|
|Leroy Miller||Berta, Berta||Southern Journey, Volume 3: 61 Highway Mississippi|
|Floyd Miller||Dangerous Blues||I'll Meet You On That Other Shore|
Today's show is inspired by by the recent release on Dust-To-Digital, Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959. The set collects sides recorded by Alan Lomax in the 40's and 50's at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. Much recording was done at Parchman beginning in the 1930's and the prison has inspired many songs. Today we feature some of those songs and recordings spanning 1930 through 1962.
For decades the prison operated essentially as a for-profit cotton plantation and harsh working and living conditions made Parchman Farm notorious. Folklorists Alan Lomax, his father John A. Lomax, Herbert Halpert, and William Ferris all made recordings at Parchman. The Lomax's first visited Parchman in 1933 and returned numerous times to record blues, work songs, spirituals, and personal interviews with inmates. Herbert Halpert made some remarkable recordings by female inmates recorded in the prison’s sewing room in 1939. Other notable recordings include a 1939 session with bluesman Bukka White while he was serving time. Alan Lomax went back to Parchman to record in 1947, 1948 and 1959. In the late 60's William Ferris made recordings at Parchman.
In 1958 Alan Lomax wrote: “A few strands of wire were all that separated the prison from adjoining plantations. Only the sight of an occasional armed guard or a barred window in one of the frame dormitories made one realize that this was a prison. The land produced the same crop; there was the same work for blacks to do on both sides of the fence. And there was no Delta black who was not aware of how easy it was for him to find himself on the wrong side of those few strands of barbed wire. … These songs are a vivid reminder of a system of social control and forced labor that has endured in the South for centuries, and I do not believe that the pattern of Southern life can be fundamentally reshaped until what lies behind these roaring, ironic choruses is understood.” A report in the New York Post in 1957 confirms Lomax's impression: "The state penitentiary system at Parchman is simply a cotton plantation using convicts as labor. The warden is not a penologist, but an experienced plantation manager. His annual report to the legislature is not of salvaged lives; it is a profit and loss statement, with the accent on profit." Reform finally came in 1972 when federal judge William C. Keady found that Parchman Farm violated the Constitution and was an affront to "modern standards of decency."
|Read Liner Notes|
Regarding the recordings that make up the bulk of today's show, Bruce Jackson writes: "Black prisoners in all the Southern agricultural prisons in the years of these recordings participated in two distinct musical traditions: free world (the blues, hollers, spirituals and other songs they sang outside and, when the situation permitted, sang inside as well) and the work-songs, which were specific to the prison situation, and the recordings in this album represent that complete range of material, which is one of the reasons this set is so important: it doesn’t just show this or that tradition within Parchman, but the range of musical traditions performed by black prisoners. I know of no other album that does that."
In 1947-48 Alan Lomax made these remarkable recordings at Parchman Farm, armed with state-of-the-art technology, a cassette machine. These sides were originally issued as the LP Negro Prison Songs and reissued on CD as Prison Songs Vol. 1: Murderous Home by Rounder with a companion volume following later. The bulk of this material appears on the Dust-To-Digital collection and there are also some unreleased recordings. Lomax gathered the prisons best lead signers for these recordings, all simply known by their nicknames: men like Bama, 22, Alex, Bull, Dobie Red, and Tangle Eye. Returning to the United States in 1958 (after 10 years abroad), Lomax set out on two more long field trips through the American South which resulted in nineteen albums issued on the Atlantic and Prestige International labels in the early 1960's. He traveled from the Appalachians to the Georgia Sea Islands, from the Ozarks to the Mississippi Delta, recording blues, ballads, breakdowns, hymns, shouts, chanteys, and work songs. Among those recordings were more material recorded at Parchman Farm.
Both Alan and his father began recording in prisons as early as 1933. Through a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, John Lomax was able to set out in June 1933 on the first recording expedition under the Library of Congress' auspices, with Alan Lomax (then eighteen years old) in tow. In July 1933 they acquired a state-of-the-art, 315-pound acetate phonograph disk recorder and proceeded to tour Texas prison farms recording work songs, reels, ballads, and blues from prisoners. During the next year and a half, father and son continued to make disc recordings of musicians throughout the South, touring Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola where they found Leadbelly and made recordings at Parchman. The Lomax's recorded at Parchman throughout the 30's. One of the most famous bluesman they recorded was Bukka White. In 1937 White recorded a minor hit, “Shake ‘Em On Down,” in Chicago, but that year he was also sentenced for a shooting incident to Parchman, where John Lomax recorded him performing two numbers in 1939. After his release White recorded twelve songs at a Chicago session in 1940. Among the songs he recorded were two songs about his time in prison: "Parchman Farm Blues" and "When Can I Change My Clothes?."
I've always been fascinated by the females who recorded at Parchman and whom I first heard on the album Jailhouse Blues on the Rosetta label. These recordings were made in May and June 1939 by Herbert Halpert in the sewing of the Woman's Camp in Parchman. Camp 13 was the woman's camp where white and black women occupied separate wards. The women's primary work was making clothes for the prisoners, mattresses and bedding. The woman also did canning and helped out in the fields. The Parchamn women were asked to sing a song, any song they chose. There were no restrictions about length or subject, but most of the songs were short and some merely fragments. The best of those singers is the remarkable Mattie May Thomas. Thomas was a senior member at Parchman for she had served twice before. She recorded four sides. One of the songs she sings, "Dangerous Blues", was also recorded by Parchman prisoner Floyd Batts and Joe Savage. John Lomax recorded some woman at Parchman in 1936.
There were a number of blues singers like Bukka White who did time at Parchman including Son House and Joe Savage, both featured today. After allegedly killing a man in self-defense, House spent time in prison in 1928 and 1929. According to Dan Beaumont in Preaching The Blues at "some point in possibly in 1927, but more likely in 1928 …at a boisterous 'frolic,' House shot and killed a man. …At the trial House claimed self-defense, but that defense failed and he was convicted and sentenced to time at the state prison, Parchman Farm." In 1930 House recorded "County Farm Blues" and recorded it again for Alan Lomax in 1942 for the Library of Congress.
|Parchman Farm, September 1959|
Joe Savage appears in the 1978 Alan Lomax documentary The Land Where the Blues Began. Savage spent several years in the Parchman State Penitentiary, and speaks on film about the brutality he faced while serving time. He was recorded in 1980 by Axel Küstner and Siegfried Christmann and issued as part of the Living Country Blues USA series of albums. From those recordings we play the powerful "Joe’s Prison Camp Holler."
Other Parchman related songs featured today included sides by Wade Walton and the Confiners. Clarksdale barber/musician Walton recorded the talking blues "Parchman Farm" on his long-out-of-print album, Shake 'Em on Down. On it he talks about bringing two white folk-song collectors (Dave Mangurian and Donald Hill) from California to the prison in 1958. In 1961, the Electro Record Company of Hattiesburg, MS released a single, the instrumental "Harmonica Boogie b/w Toss Bounce" by the Confiners a group of Parchman prisoners who were let out for public appearances.