Entries tagged with “Son House”.

Little Hat Jones Bye Bye Baby BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Blind Willie Johnson You'll Need Somebody on Your BondBlind Willie Johnson And The Guitar Evangelists
Willie Brown Future Blues Friends Of Charlie Patton
Charlie Patton Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1Best Of
Blind Willie McTell Love Changing BluesBest Of
Sam Collins My Road Is Rough And Rocky (How Long, How Long?)Jailhouse Blues
Son House Walking BluesLegends of Country Blues
Henry Williams & Eddie AnthonyGeorgia CrawlFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Andy Boy House Raid BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Cannon's Jug Stompers Going To GermanyMemphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stompers
Lottie Kimbrough Rolling Log BluesThe Return Of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Weaver & Beasley Bottleneck BluesCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
BluesJim & Bob (The Genial Hawaiians) St. Louis BluesBottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37
Willie Harris Never Drive a Stranger from Your Door Jackson Blues: 1928-1938
Blind Joe Reynolds Ninety Nine BluesBlues Images Vol. 2
The Sparks Brothers Down On The Levee Down On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis 2
Pigmeat Terry Black Sheep BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Lee Green Memphis Fives The Way I Feel: The Best Of Roosevelt Sykes And Lee Green
Elizabeth Johnson Be My Kid Blues American Primitive Vol. II
Mattie Delaney Tallahatchie River Blues Blues images Vol. 3
Geeshie Wiley Pick Poor Robin CleanI Can't Be Satisfied Vol 1
Jim Jackson Hesitation Blues Jim Jackson Vol. 2 (928-1930
Mae Glover I Ain't Givin' Nobody NoneI Can't Be Satisfied Vol 1
King David's Jug Band Rising Sun BluesCincinnati Blues
Mattie May Thomas Dangerous BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Charlie Patton Tom RushenPrimeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs
William Harris Bull Frog Blues The Best There Ever Was
Sam Collins Lonesome Road BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Allen Shaw Moanin' The Blues Masters of the Memphis Blues
Shreveport HomewreckersFence Breakin' BluesBottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37

Show Notes:

Blind Willie McTell: The Early Years
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Today's show is a trip down memory lane for me. I've been going through a bout of nostalgia lately, hopefully not the onset of a mid-life crisis, although I have been eying the red Corvette! Anyway, I've been thinking about my favorite country blues tracks lately, most of which I first heard in my formative years of blues collecting. These are the songs that I never get tired of and ones that I find myself revisiting over the years. This is by no means a “best of” list, just songs that I find myself continuously going back to. Many are considered blues classics, many not, and many are most often not the songs by these artists that are considered their best. There's numerous artists that I revere like Bukka White, Frank Stokes, Henry Thomas, Mississippi John Hurt that are omitted simply for the fact that I can't nail down just one song that does it for me by those artists. As I said many of these tracks I first heard when I first started picking up blues records, over twenty-five years ago (that's a hard number to swallow!). And yes I was buying country blues records back then. It was a very short jump from buying my first blues record, B.B. King – Live At The Regal ($3.99 at Tower Records) to picking up, and almost wearing out the grooves of Blind Willie McTell – The Early Years on my beloved Yazoo label. In fact Yazoo was the label where I discovered many of my favorite country blues tracks on treasured compilations like Mississippi Moaners, Guitar Wizards, Bottleneck Blues Guitar Classics, Lonesome Road Blues and The Voice Of The Blues among others. I knew that the Yazoo office was in Manhattan and I often thought about going over there but I never did – I guess I never really knew what I'd do once I got there! Also hugely influential was the piano blues series on Magpie records which made me a lifelong fan of piano blues. Several tracks from that series can be found on today's show. Still, there are a number of songs that became favorites later, for example Blind Joe Reynolds “Ninety Nine Blues” which was only discovered a few years ago (the consensus seems to be that the “B” side, “Cold Woman Blues”, is the superior track, but for me “Ninety Nine Blues” just kills me). I never did go in for what the consensus says which I suppose is reflected in today's eclectic playlist of  all-time favorites.

I count myself lucky to be living where I was when the blues bug bit me. I lived in the Bronx and it was short hop to Manhattan where there was no shortage of great record stores. I fondly remember prowling  records stores like Finyl Vinyl on Second Ave., St. Marks Records, Venus Records, Bleeker Bob's, Footlight Records and the  Jazz Record Mart (still in business and even after buying records there since I was a teenager the same guy still refuses to cut me a deal!). Then there were the book/magazine shops like Hudson News and See Hear where I could find isues of the great British blues mags like Blues Unlimited (went under right when I discovered it!), Juke Blues and Blues & Rhythm.  Of course there were a number of fine left-of-the-dial radio stations that played plenty of blues. Anyway, below are few reminisces about some of today's selections.

Little Hat Jones cut ten sides at three sessions in 1929 and 1930. All his sides are worthwhile but “Bye Bye Baby Blues” is the best thing he ever did in my opinion. When I was coming up with today’s playlist this is one of the first songs I picked. I probably first heard it on the Yazoo compilation Don't Leave Me Here: The Blues of Texas, Arkansas, & Louisiana 1927-1932.

We spin a pair of my favorite Charlie Patton songs today, "Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1" and "Tom Rushen." I'm not sure exactly what it is with the former song that I find so striking, it's not one often cited when talking about Patton's best, yet I find it incredibly compelling. Patton's vocals on this are magnificent. The 2-part number celebrates a Mississippi river boat that plied between Vicksburg and Memphis. I have to admit that I really fell under Patton's spell much later. I did own the Yazoo double LP Founder of the Delta Blues but the problem for me was that I couldn't get past the terrible sound of those records. Compare that record to the Best Of which came out just a few years back and the difference is like night and day.

I first heard “Love Changing Blues” on Blind Willie McTell – The Early Years on Yazoo. I played the hell out of this record and for whatever reason, it was this song that made a huge impression on me although, of course, I also loved the more famous “Statesboro Blues.” I distinclty remember my college roomate making fun of me for owing a record by a guy named Blind Willie McTell. I never did lecture him, just turned up the record really loud until it drive him out of the room.

Despite the fact that I’m featuring two Sam Collins cuts on today’s show, I can’t really say he’s one of my favorite artists. However the vocal performances on “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” and “Lonesome Road Blues” are magnificent. I first heard these on the Yazoo compilation Lonesome Road Blues: 15 Years in the Mississippi Delta 1926-1941. The song “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” made its first appearance on this compilation and I believed the title was given by Yazoo. How this song could be unreleased boggles my mind.

Country Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
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Yes I know, Son House's 1930 sides are acknowledged classics, and rightly so. His epic six minute version of “Walking Blues” from 1941, with a rocking band that included Willie Brown, Fiddlin' Joe Martin and Leroy Williams, is that song that floors me every time and one of my all time favorites.

I guess Texas pianist Andy Boy is an offbeat choice for favorites but his recordings really get to me. Andy Boy had a rough, expressive voice offset with his sprightly blues piano laced with ragtime flourishes. Andy Boy's songs are filled with vivid imagery, humor, clever wordplay and a times a deep pathos. Along with pianist Rob Cooper, Andy Boy plays prominently on the records of Joe Pullum, one of the era's most distinctive and imaginative vocalists. Andy Boy cut only eight sides under his own name as well as backing both Pullum and the obscure Walter 'Cowboy' Washington. I know I first him on Magpie’s The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937. I probably heard Joe Dean on one of the Magpie collections or possibly on Yazoo’s Barrelhouse Blues 1927-1936. I’m pretty sure I heard Cripple Clarence Lofton’s “Gang of Brownskin Women” on Yazoo’s Cripple Clarence Lofton & Walter Davis which sported a great photo of Lofton at the piano snapping his fingers with a huge grin on his face.

Sung by Noah Lewis who also plays the superb harmonica, "Going To Germany", is one of those dreamy blues that puts me in a trance every time I hear it. I'm guessing I first heard it on the double Cannon Jug Stompers album. I miss those great double albums that used to open up. Not quite the same experience with a CD. Lottie Kimbrough’ “Rolling Log Blues” has the same dreamy, haunting quality as “Going To Germany” and a song that always mesmerizes me.

The Yazoo compilation Bottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37 was an absolute killer. From that compilation comes Jim & Bob’s amazing “St. Louis Blues” as well as the Shreveport Homewreckers’ “Fence Breakin' Blues.”

Willie Harris’ “Never Drive a Stranger from Your Door” is a great bottleneck number. First heard this one on Yazoo’s Jackson Blues 1928-1938.

In November 1929 at the Paramount Recording Studios in Grafton, Wisconsin, four songs were recorded at 78 rpm by a Louisiana street musician named Joe Sheppard who used the name Blind Joe Reynolds. The second record recorded in Wisconsin on that day, "Ninety Nine Blues" backed with "Cold Woman Blues" has been lost since it was first released in October of 1930. No copies in any condition were ever located until just a few years ago. The recorded was eventually bought and reissued on CD by John Tefteller. I guess I’m at odds with collectors Richard Nevins (owner of Yazoo) and Pete Whelan of 78 Quarterly fame who claim "Cold Woman Blues" as the masterpiece, because for me it’s the flip, "Ninety Nine Blues.” What do those guys know anyway!?

It was through the Magpie piano series that I became a lifelong fan of piano blues. I came to the series late, my first purchase was volume 20 and I must have been around 16. The album made a huge impression on me and I even remember exactly where I purchased it; it was at one of my favorite haunts, Tower Records on West 4th St., NYC (the blues section was on the top floor, tucked behind the jazz secton. Often I was the only one back threre, which for me was perfect!). I went back and picked up as many of the rest of the albums I could find and over the years completed the entire series. That particular volume was my introduction to the Sparks Brothers who are still favorites to this day. Milton’s Spark’s high pitched voice and Aaron sensitive piano work really struck a chord, particularly on “Down In The Levee”

Now the obscure Pigmeat Terry was anthologized on one of the Magpie albums although I’m positive I didn't hear his records until much later. Terry only cut one 78 in 1935, a great record, and possessed a high, whispery, moaning voice, a bit reminiscent of the popular Joe Pullum who made his debut the prior year. His "Black Sheep Blues" is a striking tune both vocally and lyrically:

My mother's gone to glory
My father died of drinking in his sins
My sister won't notice me, she's to proud to take me in
I'm a black sheep in my family, and how they dog me around
Someday I'll get lucky and won't be found around

Allen Shaw is another great bluesman cut only one78. He has a powerful voice, somewhat like Son House, and lays down some great slide. Shame he didn’t record more. Shaw also got together on record with Hattie Hart. They engaged in one memorable session in New York, in the late summer of 1934. I heard this side first on Sony’s Slide Guitar Bottles, Knives & Steel Vol. 2 back when the major labels would occasionally issue stuff like this. I’m pretty sure those days are gone.

“Have you ever woke up with them bullfrogs on your mind?” One of the more enigmatic opening blues lines I’ve ever heard and one of the best blues ever by the mysterious William Harris (not the same as the Willie Harris mentioned above).

The Voice Of The Blues
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There were very few recorded guitar playing women blues singers recorded in the pre-war era. Mattie Delaney and Geeshie Wiley are two of the few. Both their records are extremely rare and both woman barley left a trace behind as to who they were. Wiley’s “Last Kind Words” is a masterpiece there’s no doubt, but I find myself returning to her jaunty “Pick Poor Robin Clean” with partner Elvie Thomas.“ I’m not sure where I first heard this and like William Harris’ “Bullfrog Blues” I’m not really sure what the hell the song means.

Elizabeth Johnson is another mystery woman who cut four sides in 1928. “Be My Kid Blues b/w Sobbin’ Woman Blues” is great record.  She’s backed by a unique band (listed as Her Turpentine Tree-O) that consisted of woodblocks, clarinet and guitar.

Mattie May Thomas waxed three remarkable acapella numbers in 1939. They were recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in the woman's camp of the  notorious Parchman Farm. Thomas' “Dangerous Blues” is a haunting, violent and sad song that gives me shivers every time I hear it.:

You keep on talking 'bout the dangerous blues.
If I had a pistol I'd be dangerous too.
Say, you may be a bully, say but I don't know.
But I fix you so you won't give me no trouble in the world I know.
She won't cook no breakfast, she won't wash no clothes.
Say, that woman don't do nothin' but walk the road.
My knee bone hurt me, and my ankle swell.
Says, I may get better but I won't get well.
Say, Mattie had a baby, and she got blues eyes.
Say, must be the captain, he keep on hanging around.
He keep on hanging around, keep on hanging around.

I’m not a huge fan of Jim Jackson but at his very last session in 1930 he cut outstanding versions of “St Louis Blues” and “Hesitation Blues.” Many have covered ““Hesitation Blues” but to me Jackson’s version will always be the definitive one.


Ora BrownJinx BluesBlues Images Vol. 9
Furry LewisBig Chief BluesBlues Images Vol. 9
Big Joe Turner Watch That JiveHave No Fear, Big Joe Turner Is Here
Jimmy WitherspoonCane RiverEvenin' Blues
Lightnin' HopkinsBeggin' Up And Down The StreetThe Rooster Crowed For England
Smokey HoggLet's Go Back To The CountryHouston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Long Gone MilesLong Gone Country Born
Son HouseI Want To Live So God Can Use Me In Seattle 1968
Son HouseEmpire State Express In Seattle 1968
Champion Jack DupreeEvery Man's A KingSonet Blues Story
Howlin' Wolf Goin' Down SlowThe Complete Recordings 1951-1969
Buster PickensSanta Fe TrainBack Door Blues
Buster PickensJim NappyBack Door Blues
Buster PickensHattie GreenBack Door Blues
Macon Ed & Tampa JoeWorrying Blues Atlanta Blues
Henry Williams & Eddie AnthonyLonesome BluesAtlanta Blues
Peetie Wheatstraw & His Blue BlowersThrow Me In The AlleyFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Pete JohnsonPete Kay BoogiePete Johnson 1947-1949
Little Willie Littlefield Hit The Road Chuck Norris Collection
Tampa RedMama Don't Allow No Easy Riders HereBlues Images Vol. 9
LeadbellyEasy RiderLeadbelly Vol. 2 1940-1943
Model T-SlimSomebody Done Voodoo The Hoodoo ManSomebody Done Voodoo The Hoodoo Man
Model T-Slim15 Years My Love Was In VainSomebody Done Voodoo The Hoodoo Man
Victoria Spivey Take Webster’s Word For It The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
Victoria Spivey & Otis SpannDiving Mama The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 2
Otis SpannShe's My BabyThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 2
Blind Willie McTellBroke Down Engine BluesThe Classic Years 1927-1940
Kid Prince Moore Pickin' Low CottonKid Prince Moore 1936-1938
Speckled RedDown On The LeveeSpeckled 1929-1938
Elijah BrownCryin' Won't Make Me Stay Ramblin' On My Mind
Elijah BrownPearline The Sound Of The Delta

Show Notes:

An eclectic mix show on tap today spanning the 1920's through the 1960's. We have several album spotlights including a pair of cuts from a newly issued Son House collection, a trio of cuts by pianist Buster Pickens from a rare LP, two by Model T-Slim and a set of sides from two LP's that the Muddy Waters band cut for Victoria Spivey's label. In addition we spotlight a few tracks from the CD that accompanies John Tefteller's 2012 Classic Blues Artwork Calendar, a pair of sides spotlighting guitarist Chuck Norris, two sides featuring violinist  Eddie Anthony and two numbers from the obscure Elijah Brown.

We open the show with two vintage numbers from the vaults of John Tefteller. Both songs come from the CD that accompanies his 2012 blues calendar. Every year around this time Tefteller, through his Blues Images imprint, publishes his Classic Blues Artwork Calendar with a companion CD that matches the artwork with the songs. The CD's have also been one of the main places that newly discovered blues 78's turn up. This year's CD includes Lane Hardin's fabulous "Cartey Blues" from the only know copy which has never been reissued before and two acetate gospel discs by Blind Joe Taggart made for private use circa 1948. I'll be playing all of these these along with other rare sides on Sept. 11 when I interview Tefteller who owns some of the rarest blues records in the world. Today we spin Ora Brown's "Jinx Blues" and Furry Lewis' classic "Big Chief Blues." Later in the program we spin a couple of Tampa Red tracks from the CD (read below).

The Buster Pickens album we spotlight today is one I've been trying to track down for some time. I want to thank Michael Hortig who was gracious enough to make a copy for me of this very hard to find record. Mike is a fellow piano blues enthusiast and has written some fine pieces on pianists for Blues & Rhythm magazine. As Paul Oliver wrote in the liner notes: "Buster Pickens is a barrelhouse pianist who has played the sawmills, the turpentine camps and the oil 'boom' towns since his childhood. He has outlasted most of his contemporaries in their tough an often dangerous life and can lay good claim to be virtually the last of the sawmill pianists. …The great days of Texas blues were in the 'twenties, when Pickens began to play for a living, and in the thirties when he was one of scores of blues pianists whose fame went before them from town, to camp, to flagstop to chock-house and honkytonk. These were the days when such pianists as Son Becky and Pinetop Burks, Andy Boy and Black Boy Shine were enjoying big local reputations, though if it had not been for a freak of chance recording they might never have been known outside Texas. Others, like Pickens himself, remained unrecorded though no less well known …Buster Pickens knew them and worked with them, changed places with them in the never-ceasing blues entertainment of the barrelhouse joints."

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After serving in the military in World War II, Pickens returned to Houston and made his first record, accompanying Texas" Alexander (Alexanders' last record for the Freedom label in 1950). In addition, he performed regularly with Lightnin'" Hopkins and appears in some of Hopkins's records for Prestige / Bluesville in the early 1960s. He backed other  Texas artists in the 40's and 50's such as Perry Cain, Bill Hayes and Goree Carter among others. His solo album for Heritage, Buster Pickens, was recorded in in 1960, and reissued in the 70's on Flyright as Back Door Blues but has never appeared on CD. In 1962 Pickens appeared in the movie The Blues. His promising new career in the blues revival, however, was ended when he was murdered a few years later, at age forty-eight, as a result of a barroom dispute about a dollar on November 24, 1964, in Houston.

There are several unissued sides from the Pickens session and unfortunately I doubt they will surface anytime soon. There is also an interview with Pickens (conducted by Paul Oliver) which has only surfaced as a snippet on the Conversation With The Blues album that accompanied the book of the same name. Through Michael Hortig I may have access to this and will incorporate this in a more in-depth look at Pickens' music.

We feature two cuts today from Son House – In Seattle 1968, a 2-CD live concert has just been released by Arcola Records. The CD includes Son House's 1968 Seattle concert, vintage recordings plus an interview that label owner Bob West did with Son at the same time. Bob Groom and Dick Waterman have authored the liner notes for this release. This makes a nice companion to the new Son House biography, Preachin' The Blues, which has been getting excellent reviews.

We also spin two numbers by Model T-Slim from the album Somebody Done Voodoo The Hoodoo Man on Flyright.These recordings were made by independent record man Jerry Hooks from L.A. crica 1966-67. During his career Elmon Mickle was known by a variety of nicknames: Harmonica Harry, Model T Slim, Drifting Smith, but the stage name that stuck best was Driftin’ Slim. Born Feb. 24, 1919, to Eva and William Mickle, Mickle said, “I didn’t have to work on no sharecropper or nothing like that.” While still in his late teens, Mickle persuaded John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson I to coach him on harmonica. Later in life, Driftin’ Slim would brag he could perform every number John Lee Williamson ever recorded. Mickle lived and played in Little Rock in the 1940s and early ’50s. During this time, he cut songs like “My Little Machine” at area radio stations KDRK and KGHI. Mickle also recorded several tracks at a North Little Rock music store in the early 1950s with Ike Turner. Mickle moved to Los Angeles in 1957 and was based out of California for the rest of his career. He continued playing a variety of instruments and recorded for smaller labels like Wonder, Kent, Elko plus a fine album for Bluesville in the late 60's titled Somebody Hoo-Doo'd The Hoo-Doo Man. Mickle really found his voice when performing as a one-man band — singing and playing harmonica, guitar, hi-hat and bass drum. Mickle died in 1977 in California.

Chuck Norris worked in Chicago until the mid-'40s, when he moved out to the West Coast. He soon became one of the in-demand musicians in Hollywood backing artists such as Ray Agee, Charles Brown, Floyd Dixon, Roy Hawkins, Duke Henderson, Helen Humes, Etta James, Pete Johnson, Litle Willie Littlefield, Percy Mayfield, Johnny Otis, Johnny Watson, Jimmy Witherspoon and many others. From time to time he did sessions on his own for labels like Atlantic, Mercury, Imperial, Aladdin and others between 1947 and 1953. Norris had a live record released in 1980 on the European Route 66 label. Today we hear him rip it up behind pianists Pete Johnson and Little Willie Littlefield.

The Muddy Waters band cut two albums for Victoria Spivey's Spivey label which we spotlight today: The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band (1966) and The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 2 (1968). The label was was the brainchild of noted author, historian, discographer, producer and publisher Len Kunstadt and his partner Victoria Spivey. In the mid 1950’s, Len Kunstadt and Victoria Spivey became companions and formed Spivey Records in 1961. After Spivey’s death in 1976, Kunstadt carried on the label, mixing newly discovered artists with classic bluesmen until his death in 1996. Most sessions took place at New York’s famous Cue Studios, while some happened late at night at Victoria and Lenny's home studio. Spivey put out some very eclectic records, with varying quality but through Spivey's connections she managed to get top notch artists to record for her including Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes, Otis Spann, Memphis Slim among many others. The label was slated to bee issued on CD several years ago (www.spiveyrecords.com) but nothing has materialized. One of these days I'll get around to doing a feature on the label. The Muddy Waters records are the only ones I know that have been issued on CD on the Japanese P-Vine label with several extra tracks. Here's the band list for the two volumes:

Vol 1: Victoria Spivey, voc; Otis Spann, voc, p, org; George Smith, voc, hca; Luther Johnson, voc, g; Samuel Lawhorn, g; Francis Clay, dr

Vol 2: Otis Spann, Lucille Spann, Luther Johnson, Sammy Lawhorn, Little Sonny Wimberley, S.P. Leary, Paul Oscher, Pee Wee Madison, Willie Smith

Elijah Brown made a handful of recordings for Pete Welding in 1965. As welding wrote: "Big Joe Williams, that tirelessly peripatetic bluesman, had directed me to Elijah Brown, an elderly Mississippi-born singer and guitarist whose gripping bottleneck guitar work on a poor, dimly-recorded tape made on a home recorder under Big Joe's supervision — so poorly recorded, in fact, as to allow only the faintest glimmer of the man's work to shine through — had nonetheless excited me greatly." Of his music Welding noted "…In that wistful, gentle voice was carried the rich, intense strain of the Delta blues in all its purity and emotional potency. Even more remarkable was his guitar playing — plangent and insinuating, the rhythms simple yet lilting, not far removed from those of work songs and early country dance pieces. This was the sound of the unadulterated old Mississippi blues, the music of the time and the place of Charlie Patton, Son House and Willie Brown — stark and unadorned, piercingly beautiful in its directness and gentle power." In all eleven songs were record with six having never been issued.

Eddie Anthony's gut-bucket fiddle is heard today on "Worrying Blues" listed as by Macon Ed and Tampa Joe and on "Lonesome Blues" with partner Henry Williams. Macon Ed was Eddie Anthony but the identity of Tampa Joe is unknown. Anthony worked with Peg Leg Howell throughout the 1920s' and early 1930's. Macon Ed and Tampa Joe cut eight sides together in 1930. He also recorded one 78 "Georgia Crawl b/w Lonesome Blues" with Henry Williams. Anthony died in Atlanta, Georgia in 1934.

Also worth mentioning are a couple of easy rider songs: Leadbelly's "Easy Rider" and Tampa Red's "Mama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here"  (we play both version Tampa cut in 1929: as Tampa Red & Georgia Tom and as Tampa Red and his Hokum Jug Band). One of the fascinating things about the old blues to me is the lyrics but there's plenty of slang that's tough to decipher. Easy Rider's pretty easy to figure out – heck most of these terms are about sex, but here's what Stephen Calt wrote in his blues dictionary, Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary: "Although easy rider almost certainly lost most of its 1920s currency in black speech, it was nevertheless recorded by Folb as a 1960s/1970s teenage term denoting a 'sexually promiscuous female.' A slang for a sexually forward or promiscuous female, easy dates to the turn of the 18th century." The term was also used by female singers.



Leroy CarrMean Mistreater MamaWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Robert JohnsonKind Hearted Woman BluesThe Centennial Edition
Elijah WaldRobert Johnson InfluencesInterview
Kokomo ArnoldSissy Man BluesBack To The Crossroads
Johnnie TempleLead Pencil BluesBack To The Crossroads
Robert JohnsonI Believe I'll Dust My BroomThe Centennial Edition
Calvin Frazier I'm In The Highway, ManMotor City Blues
Elmore JamesDust My BroomThe Complete Early Years
Robert LockwoodDust My BroomSweet Home Chicago
Larry CohnRobert Johnson Reissues & Box SetInterview
Kokomo ArnoldOld Original Kokomo BluesBack To The Crossroads
Robert JohnsonSweet Home ChicagoThe Centennial Edition
Honeyboy EdwardsSweet Home Chicago Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Larry CohnThe Complete RecordingsInterview
Robert JohnsonRamblin' On My MindThe Centennial Edition
Johnnie ShinesRamblin' Sweet Home Chicago
Tampa RedThing 'Bout Coming My WayBack To The Crossroads
Robert JohnsonCome On In My KitchenThe Centennial Edition
Son HousePreachin' The Blues Pt. 1Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Robert JohnsonPreachin' Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)The Centennial Edition
Muddy WatersCountry Blues #1/Interview The Complete Plantation Recordings
Hambone Willie NewbernRoll And Tumble BluesBack To The Crossroads
Robert JohnsonTraveling Riverside BluesThe Centennial Edition
Robert JohnsonIf I Had Possession Over Judgment DayThe Centennial Edition
Skip JamesDevil Got My WomanBlues images Vol. 3
Elijah WaldRobert Johnson & Skip JamesInterview
Robert JohnsonHell Hound On My Trail The Centennial Edition
Robert JohnsonCross Road BluesThe Centennial Edition
Larry CohnIn The StudioInterview
Robert JohnsonMe And The Devil Blues BluesThe Centennial Edition
Robert JohnsonStones In My PasswayThe Centennial Edition
Robert JohnsonFrom Four Until LateThe Centennial Edition
Elijah WaldRobert Johnson In ContextInterview
Leroy CarrWhen The Sun Goes DownBack To The Crossroads
Robert JohnsonLove In Vain BluesThe Centennial Edition

Show Notes:

You'll notice there's no Robert Johnson photo in this week's show notes . Well there was, but Steve LaVere has come knocking demanding payment for use of the photo (see the comments). LaVere was the administrator of the Johnson estate for many years and continues to earn his 50 percent (another Johnson relative earns the other half). LaVere is a much loathed figure in the blues world who's made a pretty penny from a brilliant musician who probably never had two nickels to rub together and died in a paupers grave.

Unfortunately this obsession on every minutiae of Johnson’s life has taken away the focus on his very real talents and perhaps more importantly this lopsided focus on Johnson has obscured the fact that he was very much part of a tradition; his music firmly built on the artists who came before like Lonnie Johnson and Tampa Red who don’t get a shred of the acclaim that Johnson does. As we've heard endlessly, 2011 marks the centennial of Johnson's birth which means the Johnson hysteria ramps up all over again. Still, I thought it was important to pay tribute to Johnson, who despite the hype, cut some terrific records and ranks as one of the best of the era. After not really listening to Johnson much I've been listening to him quite a bit in preparation for this show and I almost forgot how much I enjoyed his music. In addition there's a brand new Johnson collection, The Centennial Collection, a 2-CD set of everything he recorded in the best sound to date. All today's Johnson songs come from that collection. Today's show attempts to put Johnson in his proper historical context, playing many artists who directly influenced his songs like Kokomo Arnold, Leroy Carr, Skip James, Hambone Willie Newbern, Son House among others plus those directly influenced by Johnson like Robert Lockwood, Johnny shines an others. In addition we air interviews by Larry Cohn, who produced the landmark Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings and Elijah Wald author of Escaping The Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues.

I'm not going to go into Johnson's biography as there's plenty written on that already but I thought it worth quoting Tony Russell's perceptive view: "To see Johnson clearly the reader needs to steer a steady course between fanatics and debunkers, understanding the context of his music – the undeniable influence of House and Lonnie Johnson, his many allusions to records that were around him when he was learning his trade – but at the same time recognizing the skill with which he synthesized those elements, and the wholly individual character of much of his finished work. In particular, Johnson deserve to be acknowledged as the master of the complete blues:  the son conceived as a dramatic whole rather than am arbitrary sequence of scenes, of verses casually pinned to a formulaic accompaniment. Th emotional architecture of a performance like 'Come On In My Kitchen', the tender erotic plea echoed by tremulous slide guitar, or of 'Hellhound On My Trail', a distraught, fragmented reconsideration of Skip James's 'Devil Got My Woman',; the intricate interdependence of voice and guitar in 'Walkin' Blues' and 'Preachin' Blues' – all this attests to a concept of blues composition that was beyond the scope of many of Johnson's contemporaries."

"Kind Hearted Woman Blues" was the first song that Johnson recorded, and it was carefully crafted in imitation of recent hit records. It was composed as if in answer to "Cruel Hearted Woman Blues" by Bumble Bee Slim, which in turn was based on "Mean Mistreater Mama" by Leroy Carr accompanied by Scrapper Blackwell. Johnson uses the Carr melody and his guitar accompaniment echoes Carr's piano phrases in the first verse, then copies Blackwell's guitar phrases in the second verse. He then adds a musical bridge in the style of another hit record, "Milk Cow Blues" by Kokomo Arnold. "Love In Vain Blues" was another number derived from Carr. "Love in Vain" takes its musical structure from Carr's classic "When the Sun Goes Down". In the 1991 documentary film The Search for Robert Johnson, John Hammond plays Robert's recording of "Love in Vain" for the elderly Willie Mae Powell, the woman for whom it was supposedly written. Johnson moans "Oh, Willie Mae" in his last verse.

"I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" was the second song that Johnson recorded, immediately after "Kind Hearted Woman Blues". Unlike the many versions by other musicians, Johnson's original accompaniment was finger picked, and not played as a bottleneck or slide guitar. Leroy Carr’s original hit was "I Believe I’ll Make A Change" recorded in August 1934. Kokomo Arnold used the tune for two records: "Sagefield Woman Blues" recorded in September 1934 and "Sissy Man Blues" recorded in January 1935. It seems likely that Johnson owned and studied both of Arnold’s records. Another possibility is that Johnson heard Arnold in person performing a number of verses to this melody. However, Edward Komara suggests that Johnson may have begun developing his version of the song as early as 1933, since it had already been recorded by the Sparks Brothers as "I Believe I'll Make A Change" in 1932 and by Jack Kelly as "Believe I'll Go Back Home" in 1933. Arnold's version a borrows a verse from "Mr Carl’s Blues" recorded by Carl Rafferty in December 1933.The melody is somewhat different, but Paul Oliver considers it to be the same song. "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" was not covered until Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's 1949 recording entitled "Dust My Broom". In 1951, Robert Lockwood recorded "Dust My Broom" for J.O.B. on March 22 and for Mercury on November 15. Also in 1951, Elmore James made his first recording of "Dust My Broom" for the Trumpet Records label.

When celebrated bluesman Robert Johnson turned up at his mother’s door, the young Lockwood found a mentor. "He followed my momma home," Lockwood explained. "That’s how I first met him, followed my momma home. And she couldn’t get rid of him. He wouldn’t leave. He hung around there and hung around there. And he and my momma stayed together off and on for ten years." In fact, Johnson is considered by many to have been Lockwood’s stepfather. "He taught me how to play," Lockwood told the Plain Dealer. "I really appreciate that. … He didn’t like people to fool with his instrument. [But] he didn’t seem to mind me fooling with it."

Johnny Shines moved from Tennessee to Hughes, Arkansas in 1932 and worked on farms for three years putting his musical career on hold. It was this chance meeting with Robert Johnson, his greatest influence, that gave him the inspiration to return to music. In 1935, Shines began traveling with Johnson, touring the south and heading as far north as Ontario where they appeared on a local radio program. The two went their separate ways in 1937, one year before Johnson's death.

Like Shines, Calvin Frazier was another running partner of Johnson's. Frazier was born in Osceola, Arkansas, and originally performed with his own brothers. Befriending Johnny Shines, in 1930 they jointly travelled to Helena, Arkansas where they met Robert Johnson. The threesome moved on to Detroit, Michigan, performing hymns on local radio stations. Frazier and Johnson returned south where they played along with the drummer, James 'Peck' Curtis. In 1938, he was recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress. His recordings included "Lily Mae", a revised version of Johnson's "Honeymoon Blues","Highway 51", a version of "Dust My Broom" and "I'm In The Highway, Man" a version of Terraplane Blues."

"Ramblin' On My Mind" uses the melody made popular by the hit record "M & O Blues" by Walter Davis. Johnson composed two songs to this melody "Ramblin' On My Mind" and "When You Got A Good Friend." We play this back to with Shines' powerful 1951 update, "Ramblin'. cut for the JOB label.

Scrapper Blackwell recorded "Kokomo Blues" in 1928 which was transformed into "Old Kokomo Blues" by Kokomo Arnold before being redone as "Sweet Home Chicago" by Robert Johnson. The song also has roots in the 1927 Madlyn Davis song "Kokola Blues" and Jabo Williams 1932 song "Ko Ko Mo Blues." Tommy McClennan's "Baby Don't You Want To Go" (1939) and Walter Davis' "Don't You Want To Go" (1941) were early numbers both based on Johnson's chorus. Honeyboy was a friend of Robert Johnson and was supposedly present on the fateful night Johnson drank the poisoned whiskey that took his life. We spin his version of "Sweet Home Chicago" " cut in 1952 for Sun but not issued at the time.

The "Come On In My Kitchen" melody is based on the song cycle by the string band the Mississippi Sheiks, "Sitting on Top of the World" (1930). Johnson's arrangement on slide guitar is based on Tampa Red's recording of "Things 'Bout Coming My Way." Tampa Red had also recorded an instrumental version in 1936.

Johnson picked up "Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)" and "Walking Blues" from Son House. As House's biographer, Dan Beaumont, writes: "Due to his live performances, the song was heard and learned by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Johnson lifted the riff from "My Black Mama" and set the lyrics of "Walking Blues" to that accompaniment. Waters seems to have worked from both artists. In any case, through those intermediaries, the song became the most covered piece among House’s recordings. …Since House's Grafton recording of "Walking Blues" was never released by Paramount (was only found in 1989 on a test disc) Johnson must have learned the lyrics from House’s live performances of it in the Robinsonville area. Johnson basically straightened out House’s musical accompaniment, in the process creating a song that would, by and by, become a blues standard. Johnson also recorded "Preachin’ Blues," in this instance remaining closer to the House original. Since that record sold very poorly (only one copy has ever been found), it is likely again that Johnson learned the piece from House in person. It is apparent that Johnson also tried to emulate House’s vocal style."

Johnson followed Johnny Temple and Joe McCoy in adapting Skip James's song "Devil Got My Woman." Johnson's "Hell Hound On My Trail" is inspired by the James number, either through James' record or indirectly through Johnnie Temple. According to a biography of Skip James, from recorded taped interviews, Joe McCoy was responsible for the first recording of this song but it was not released until 1940. According to guitarist John Miller, Temple's first recorded number, "Lead Pencil Blues", was very forward-looking number–a shuffle with duet guitar accompaniment in which the guitar laying down the time was employing the classic riff associated with Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago" and countless blues since then." Temple cut the song six months before Johnson's  "Sweet Home Chicago" but the actual origins of the riff are impossible to discern.  of Johnson's "32-20" is also based on a Skip James song, "22-20 Blues" which James recorded on piano.

The original version of "Cross Road Blues" remained out of print after its initial release until the appearance of The Complete Recordings in 1990. In 1961, producer Frank Driggs substituted the previously unreleased alternate take on the first reissue of Johnson's work, the long-playing album King of the Delta Blues Singers.

As Elijah Wald notes in an interview "After the book came out, somebody suddenly pulled up this recording of a song called "Four O'Clock Blues," recorded by a Memphis trumpet player named Johnny Dunn in 1922, so fourteen years before Robert Johnson recorded "From Four Till Late," fifteen years. And it's clearly the same song. It has no lyric, but clearly around Memphis they were doing this song that Robert Johnson recorded as "From Four Till Late," and we just didn't happen to hear it. We aren't in Memphis. But if you listen to Johnny Dunn's version from 1922, it's clearly the same song."

-Larry Cohn Interview (edited, 12 min, MP3)

-Elijah Wald Interview (edited, 22 min, MP3)

Dan Beaumont Interview
Son HouseI Want To Live So God Can Use MePrivate Recordings Vol. 1
Son HouseNew Pony BluesPrivate Recordings Vol. 1
Son HouseSon's Blues Pt. 1 Private Recordings Vol. 1
Son HouseMy Black Mama Pt. 1 & 2Blues Images Vol. 2
Rube LacyHam Hound Crave Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Son HouseMississippi County Farm BluesBlues Images Vol. 4
Charlie Patton34 BluesPrimeval Blues, Rags and Gospel Songs
Son HousePreachin' The Blues Pt. 1 & 2Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Willie BrownFuture BluesMasters of the Blues: Friends of Charlie Patton
Robert JohnsonPreachin' Blues (Up Jumped The Devil) The Centennial Collection
Muddy WatersCountry Blues (Number One)/Interview #1The Complete Plantation Recordings
Son HouseDepot BluesLegends of Country Blues
Son HouseBetween Midnight and DayDelta Blues & Spirituals

Show Notes:

Over the years I've done several shows devoted to Son House but this one is a bit special. Within a week or so after this show airs the first biography devoted to Son House will hit the shelves, Preachin' the Blues: The Life and Times of Son House, by Dan Beaumont. Dan is an Associate Professor in History and Religion & Classics at the University of Rochester. Dan is also a good friend of mine so I feel a personal connection to the book.  I offered encouragement and helped by feeding Dan a steady stream of old documents and recordings and putting him in touch with folks who were instrumental in shaping the book. Since Dan began writing the book in 2006 and I've read numerous drafts so it was fascinating to see the book take shape and get better and better with each new reworking. While I'm certainly biased I feel Dan has done a terrific job on a complicated man. Son was born and came to notoriety in the deep south during the first decades of the 20th century when segregation permeated every layer of black life yet he attained regional fame, was revered by artists like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and after a long stretch of anonymity resurfaced to acclaim across the United States and Europe. It's a compelling story that Dan tells well as we read about Son's struggle between the church and the blues, his stint in Parchman, playing the juke joints in the small Mississippi towns with Charlie Patton and his life long friend Willie Brown, recording for Alan Lomax and his triumphant return after twenty years of obscurity. We touch on all that and more as Dan sits in with for the entire show as we chat and spin tunes by Son House and those in his orbit. I've written extensively about Son in the past (see the below links) so today I'll talk a bit about the music featured today with some quotes from Dan's book.

The book opens with a chapter called The Second Coming of the Son so we open the show with a trio of sides from Son's rediscovery period. These sides come from Son House Vol. 1 (1965 – 1970) issued on Private Records in 1987. This one, and the second volume, may be tough to track down but contain several very good performances including our opener, the a cappella "I Want To Live So Go Can Use Me" from a 1969 Seattle date, a superb rendition of "New Pony Blues" cut at Newport in 1966 or 67 and "Son's Blues Pt. 1" from 1968.  "Pony Blues" was a number Son picked up from Patton. Regarding the song, Dan writes: "…Patton’s staple after 1910 was certainly blues.   Evidence for this is seen in his two most famous songs, "Pony Blues" and "Maggie" both of which he was performing by the middle of that decade, by which time both he and those songs were already well-known throughout the Delta.  Both songs were subsequently picked up and performed by numerous other Mississippi musicians, and their influence is only one aspect of Patton’s primacy in the Delta Blues."

Speaking of Patton we play his "34 Blues" which describes Patton getting kicked off Dockery's plantation and subsequently moving to Lula were he would meet Son, an encounter that changed Son's life dramatically. As Dan writes: "Plantation owners tolerated the presence of musicians like Patton since their popularity helped to appease the plantation work force—unless and until their presence became a nuisance.  Witness Patton’s "34 Blues" which concerns his eviction from Dockery’s plantation when his womanizing began to cause too many disputes.  Dockery’s plantation was 'way down in Sunflower,' as one of Patton’s songs had it, 'Sunflower' being  Sunflower County, some forty miles south-southeast of Clarksdale.  And it was in that vicinity that many of the places referred to in his songs are found, Belzoni, Carrolton, for example.  However, some time probably in late 1929 he moved north to Lula, then a hamlet of perhaps four or five hundred people."

In interviews Son mentioned three musicians who influenced him, Willie Wilson and James McCoy who never recorded and Rube Lacey who cut one 78 in 1928, "Mississippi Jail House Groan" b/w "Ham Hound Crave", the latter number featured today. "According to House, McCoy taught him what would become his two most important pieces, "My Black Mama" and "Preachin' the Blues," the former apparently an a cappella song. …For the two songs House learned from McCoy became his two finest pieces. His versions of "Preachin' the Blues" and "My Black Mama"—later to be retitled "Death Letter Blues"—are both peak performances not only in Delta Blues, but in the realm of the blues period. So completely did House stamp his personality on the two songs that not even Robert Johnson's restyled recordings of them, as fine as they are, have ever replaced House's versions as definitive."

We of course play Johnson's "Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)" back to back with  Muddy Waters' "Country Blues (Number One)" which he picked up from Johnson's record (we play a snippet of interview with Alan Lomax where he talks about the song in relation to Son and Johnson) )"Walkin' Blues" and Johnson in turned got the song from Son House. "Due to his live performances, the song was heard and learned by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Johnson lifted the riff from "My Black Mama" and set the lyrics of "Walking Blues" to that accompaniment. Waters seems to have worked from both artists. In any case, through those intermediaries, the song became the most covered piece among House’s recordings. …Since House's Grafton recording of "Walking Blues" was never released by Paramount (was only found in 1989 on a test disc) Johnson must have learned the lyrics from House's live performances of it in the Robinsonville area. Johnson basically straightened out House's musical accompaniment, in the process creating a song that would, by and by, become a blues standard. Johnson also recorded "Preachin' Blues," in this instance remaining closer to the House original. Since that record sold very poorly (only one copy has ever been found), it is likely again that Johnson learned the piece from House in person. It is apparent that Johnson also tried to emulate House’s vocal style."

Son House & wife Evie
Son House & wife Evie, Newport Folk Festival, 1966
Photo courtesy of Dick Waterman

From the legendary 1930 Paramount session we play Son's  "My Black Mama Pt. 1 & 2", "Preachin' The Blues Pt. 1 & 2", "Mississippi County Farm Blues" and Willie Brown's "Future Blues." From this session Son's "Clarksdale Moan" and "Mississippi County Farm Blues," were released as Paramount 13096, but only found a few years ago while Brown's "Kickin' In My Sleep Blues" b/w "Window Blues" (Paramount 13001) and "Grandma Blues" b/w "Sorry Blues" (Paramount 13099) have yet to surface.

In 1941 and 1942 House was recorded by Alan Lomax who was led to him on a tip from Muddy Waters several days prior. From the 1942 we spin "Depot Blues." "The recording was done in Clarksdale, and this time House performed alone for Lomax, recording nine more tracks: "Low Down Dirty Dog Blues," "Depot Blues," "American Defense," "Am I Right Or Wrong," "Walking Blues," County Farm Blues," "The Pony Blues," and two versions of "The Jinx Blues." As he had the previous year, Lomax also interspersed the music with interview questions. Many of them concerned Robert Johnson—in the intervening year Lomax’s interest in Johnson had, if anything, only increased—and House’s responses hit on the same major points he would make when interviewed in the 1960s; he emphasized Johnson’s rapid progress on the guitar, his good looks and his womanizing. He told Lomax that he suspected Johnson had been poisoned by a jealous woman."

We conclude our show with two tracks from his rediscovery period: "Empire State Blues" from the Father of the Folk Blues issued on Columbia in 1965 and "Between Midnight and Day" recorded in London in 1970 at the 100 Club and first issued on the album John The Revelator and on CD by Capitol as Delta Blues & Spirituals. "Dick Waterman wrote that House had offers from smaller record labels, but the release of the first Robert Johnson album on Columbia gave him hope that House might sign a contract with that label. House and Waterman met with John Hammond, Columbia’s best jazz and blues producer. Hammond was involved with, among other artists during his long career, Bessie Smith, Count Basie, Bill Broonzy, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The meeting produced an agreement, and House signed a contract with Columbia Records was for one record. It was a measure of the seriousness of the project that Hammond took it on. …The Columbia session was to be House's last studio recordings. The rest of House’s recordings in the period between 1965 and 1970 fall into three categories. Recordings that were usually part of compilations on other labels and consisted of live recordings made at folk festivals and coffeehouse appearances. Bootlegs and private recordings later issued with either the agreement of House or his estate."

Related Links:

-Dan Beaumont Feature (mp3, 2 hours)

-Big Road Blues Show 5/31/09: Son House – The Blues Ain't No Monkey Junk

-Big Road Blues Show 6/1/08: Son House & Pals – Preachin' The Blues

-Son House Discography

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'