Entries tagged with “Sonny Boy Williamson I”.


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Jazz GillumRoll Dem Bones Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Jazz GillumThe Blues What Am Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Tampa RedPlease Mr. DoctorTampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Tampa RedShe's DynamiteTampa Red Vol. 14 1949-1951
Big Bill BroonzyLeavin' DayRockin' In Chicago 1949-53
Big Bill BroonzyRambling BillThe War & Postwar Years 1945-49
Washboard SamYou Can't Make The GradeRockin' My Blues Away
Washboard SamRamblin' With That WomanWashboard Sam Vol. 7 1942-1949
Washboard SamShe's Just My SizeWashboard Sam Vol. 7 1942-1949
Sonny Boy WilliamsonWonderful TimeThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Sonny Boy WilliamsonPolly Put Your Kettle OnThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Sonny Boy WilliamsonApple Tree SwingThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Lonnie JohnsonMe And My Crazy SelfThe Original Guitar Wizard
Lonnie JohnsonNothin' Clicken' ChickenLonnie Johnson 1949
Lonnie JohnsonCan't Sleep AnymoreLonnie Johnson 1949-1952
Jazz GillumGonna Take My Rap Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Jazz GillumLook What You Are Today Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Big Bill BroonzyOld Man BluesThe War & Postwar Years 1945-49
Big Bill Broonzy I Can't WriteThe War & Postwar Years 1945-49
Tampa RedGot A Mind To Leave This TownTampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Tampa RedBig Stars Falling BluesTampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Jazz GillumTake One More Chance with Me Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Jazz GillumHand Reader Blues Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Jazz GillumYou Got to Run Me Down Bill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Lonnie Johnson It Was All In VainThe Original Guitar Wizard
Lonnie Johnson I Know It's LoveLonnie Johnson 1949-1952
Sonny Boy WilliamsonBetter Cut That OutThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Sonny Boy WilliamsonMellow Chick SwingThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Tampa Red EvalenaTampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Tampa Red Rambler's BluesTampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Big Bill BroonzyBig Bill's BoogieThe War & Postwar Years 1945-49
Big Bill BroonzyStop Lying WomanThe War & Postwar Years 1945-49
Washboard SamSoap And Water BluesRockin' My Blues Away
Washboard SamI Just Couldn't Help ItWashboard Sam Vol. 7 1942-1949

Show Notes:

Jazz GillumAs blues historian Paul Oliver noted, artists like Jazz Gillum, Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson, Washboard Sam and Sonny Boy Williamson, were "playing in the brash, confident manner of Chicago which had been developing through the 'thirties." Sam Charters characterized the sound as the "Bluebird Beat" or more unkindly as the "Melrose Mess" by Mike Rowe in his pioneering book Chicago Blues. As Rowe notes "it was a white businessman, Lester Melrose, who was really responsible for shaping the Chicago sound of the late 30's and 40's." Melrose had said "From March 1934 to February 1951 I recorded at least 90 percent of all rhythm-and-blues talent for RCA Victor and Columbia Records…" As Rowe further explains: "But Melrose had more than a large stable of blues artists under his control. Since only a few of them had regular accompanists most of them would play on each others records and thus Melrose has a completely self-contained unit… …The final stage of this musical incest was completed when they started recording each others songs." The result was a consistent, sometime cookie cutter sound, although the best artists would consistently transcend these limitations. The "Bluebird Sound" anticipated the Chicago blues of the post-war era featuring tight, smooth small band arrangements that were filled out with piano, bass drums and often clarinet or saxophone. I've always been a fan of the late period recordings by today's featured artists, in some cases a neglected or overlooked period, and today we spotlight recordings made between 1946 and 1953 which shows how their music evolved and how their sound led  to the rise of the electric Chicago blues sound of the 50's and the emergence of R&B..

Jazz Gillum is usually treated with indifference among blues critics, looked upon as a rather generic performer who typified the mainstream Chicago blues style of the 1930's and 40's. While there's some truth to this, Gillum's recordings were consistently entertaining throughout his sixteen-year recording career punctuated with a fair number of exceptional sides. Gillum was by no means a harmonica virtuoso but he was a very expressive, easygoing singer who penned a number of evocative songs backed by some of the era's best blues musicians. Gillum recorded 100 sides between 1934-49 as a leader in addition to session work with Big Bill Broonzy, Curtis Jones and the State Street Boys. Many of his records were characterized by strongly rhythmic support, credit for which must go largely to Big Bill Broonzy and later guitarist Willie Lacey.Washboard Sam

William McKinley Gillum was born in Indianola, Mississippi (B.B. King's birthplace as well) on September 11, 1904. He soon learned to play the harmonica. By 1918 he had a job in a drugstore in Greenwood, Mississippi and could often been seen on the streets playing music for tips. Five years later he migrated to Chicago. There he met guitarist Big Bill Broonzy and the two started working club dates around the city as a duo and would soon form an enduring recording partnership. Gillum made his recording debut for the Bluebird label in 1934 with "Early In The Morning" b/w "Harmonica Stomp." The records evidently didn't sell and Gillum didn't record again for two years. Gillum's recordings were very much in the Bluebird mold yet he often rose above the production line sound to record a fair number of high quality blues. Between 1934-1942 Gillum recorded 70 sides, every session featuring the fret work of Big Bill Broonzy. Gillum's most celebrated song during this period was "Key To The Highway" which he cut on May 9, 1940. Both Broonzy and Gillum claimed authorship of the song which was an enduring source of bitterness for Gillum. During World War II, there was a shortage of shellac and J.C. Patrillo, President of the American Federation of Musicians ordered a ban on all recordings. Gillum joined the Army in 1942 and served until 1945.

Gillum resumed recording in 1945 and in 1946 cut "Look On Yonder Wall" one of his most famous recordings. Starting in 1946 the brilliant William Lacey took over the guitar chores and his terrific electric work really adds a spark to Gillum's later recordings. Gillum made his last issued recordings as leader on January 25, 1949. Gillum would record once more on a 1961 date with Memphis Slim and Arbee Stidham. On March 29, 1966, during an argument, Gillum was shot in the head and was pronounced dead on arrival at Garfield Park Hospital in Chicago.

Washboard Sam recorded hundreds of records between 1935 and 1949 for the bluebird label, usually with backing by guitarist Big Bill Broonzy. Out of all the washboard players of the era, Sam was the most popular, which was due not only to his washboard talent, but also his skills as a highly imaginative songwriter and powerful, expressive vocalist. As an accompanist, Washboard Sam not only played with Broonzy, but also backed bluesmen like Bukka White, Memphis Slim, and Jazz Gillum. Sam added a phonograph turntable and a couple of cowbells to his washboard for added tone and his washboard playing is consistently driving and swinging.

Washboard Sam (born Robert Brown) was the illegitimate son of Frank Broonzy, who also fathered Big Bill Broonzy. Sam was raised in Arkansas, working on a farm. He moved to Memphis in the early '20s to play the blues. While in Memphis, he met Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon and the trio played street corners, collecting tips from passerby's. In 1932, Sam moved to Chicago. Initially he played for tips, but soon he began performing regularly with Big Bill Broonzy. Within a few years, Sam was supporting Broonzy on the guitarist's Bluebird recordings. Soon, he was supporting a number of different musicians on their recording sessions, including pianist Memphis Slim, bassist Ransom Knowling, and a handful of saxophone players, who all recorded for Bluebird. In 1935, Sam began recording for both Bluebird and Vocalion Records. Throughout the rest of the '30s and the '40s, Sam was one of the most popular Chicago bluesmen, selling plenty of records and playing to packed audiences in the Chicago clubs. In 1953, Washboard Sam recorded a session for Chess Records and then retired. In the early '60s, Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim tried to persuade Sam to return to the stage to capitalize on the blues revival. Initially, he refused, but in 1963 began performing concerts in clubs and coffeehouses in Chicago; he even played a handful of dates in Europe in early 1964. He cut his last sides in 1964 before passing in 1966.

Sonny Boy Williamson I
Sonny Boy Williamson I

Easily the most important harmonica player of the pre-war era, John Lee Williamson almost single-handedly made the harmonica a major instrument, leading the way for the amazing innovations of Little Walter and others who followed. Already a harp virtuoso in his teens, he learned from Hammie Nixon and Noah Lewis and ran with Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell before settling in Chicago in 1934. Sonny Boy signed to Bluebird in 1937. He recorded prolifically for Victor both as a leader and behind others in the vast Melrose stable (including Robert Lee McCoy and Big Joe Williams, who in turn played on some of Williamson's sides). Sonny Boy cut more than 120 sides in all for RCA from 1937 to 1947. John Lee was popular enough that by the 1940s, another blues harp player, Aleck/Alex "Rice" Miller, who was based in Helena, Arkansas, began also using the name Sonny Boy Williamson.

His first recording session was supported by the great Big Joe Williams, at the beginning of his distinguished career playing delta blues guitar. After this session Sonny Boy alternated between guitar and piano backups, occasionally using both at the same session. His most frequent accompanists were Big Bill Broonzy and the record company's "house" piano player Blind John Davis. Other famous accompanists over the years were Eddie Boyd, Yank Rachel, Big Maceo and Willie Dixon. But some say the best accompanist was Joshua Altheimer, a piano player who played on the seven numbers of a 1940 session and then died the next year. Writer Pete Welding noted that the only significant difference between Big Joe Williams and Sonny Boy and those of say Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf is the matter of electric amplification. Othewise all the ingredients are the same: guitar, harp, bass and drums. He continues, "Big Joe and John Lee stand as vital, connecting links between the older Mississippi style and those of the postwar years." Sonny Boy Williamson wouldn't live to reap any appreciable rewards from his inventions. He died at the age of 34, while at the zenith of his popularity (his romping "Shake That Boogie" was a national R&B hit in 1947 on Victor), from a violent bludgeoning about the head that occurred during an apparent mugging on the South side. "Better Cut That Out," another storming rocker later appropriated by Junior Wells, became a posthumous hit for Williamson in late 1948. Williamson's style had a profound influence on those who followed including Billy Boy Arnold, Junior Wells, Little Walter, and Snooky Pryor among many others.

Lonnie Johnson's place in blues history would have been immortalized if even if he had never recorded past the 1930's. It certainly would have made blues critics life easier who generally tend to dismiss Johnson's later recordings. Unfortunately, for them, Johnson persisted hooking up with the King label in the late 1940's, enjoying the biggest commercial success of his career and after a fallow period in the 1950's made a full fledged comeback in the 1960's before passing in 1970.

In latter years Lonnie Johnson couldn't win with blues or jazz fans. In the 1960's the blues and folk audience looked away in embarrassment when he sang "How Deep Is the Ocean," "My Mother's Eyes," or "Red Sails in the Sunset." The jazz crowd dismissed him as a relic. Supposedly Duke Ellington, with whom Johnson recorded with in 1928, declined to appear with this "old blues guy" when he guest-starred with Ellington's band at Town Hall in 1961. The New York Daily News caught the flavor of the moment with the headline "The Janitor Meets the Duke." As singer Barbara Dane noted: "…He was a very sophisticated player in a moment when the world was looking for the rough and earthy Delta players."

Lonnie Johnson
Lonnie Johnson

Today we spotlight sides waxed during Johnson's stint with King records which ran from 1947 through 1952 and resulted in close to seventy issued sides. When Johnson signed with King in 1947 his music and music in general was changing. By 1947 he had switched to electric guitar, was incorporating more ballads into his repertoire while the music was in transition from blues to R&B. It is true that Johnson reworked several of his earlier songs and perhaps over relied on a few signature guitar phrases during this period. Still, while many were unprepared for the changing musical times, Johnson seamlessly sailed into the new era not only achieving commercial success but also cutting music of a consistently high artistic caliber.

We featured some 1951 recordings which are complimented by tenor saxophonists Ray Felder and Wilbur "Red" Prysock: "It Was All in Vain" and "Me and My Crazy Self" are sublime blues ballads featuring some of Johnson's best vocal performances plus some nice guitar and tenor echoing off each other beautifully. Johnson concluded his King stint with a four song session in June 1952. Here Johnson is backed by trumpet, three tough saxes, and a kicking rhythm section headed by pianist Todd Rhodes. Backed by a wailing, full bodied band Johnson croons mightily on "I'm Guilty", "You Can't Buy Love" and the soaring "Can't Sleep Any More" the only number on which he solos for any length.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Mary Johnson w/ Tampa RedDeath Cell Blues Twenty First. St. Stomp: The Piano Blues Of St. Louis
James Stump Johnson w/ Tampa RedJones Law BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 2 - Brunswick 1928-30
Texas Alexander w/ Lonnie JohnsonLong Lonesome DayTexas Alexander Vol. 1
Mooch Richardson w/ Lonnie JohnsonHelena BluesA Richer Tradition: Country Blues and String Band Music 1923-1942
Peetie Wheatstraw w/ Lonnie JohnsonTruckin' Thru TrafficPeetie Wheatstraw Vol. 5
Lil Green w/ Big Bill BroonzyJust Rockin'Lil Green -1940-1941
Charlie Spand w/ Big Bill Broonzy Rock And RyeRoots N' Blues: Booze & The Blues
Cripple Clarence Lofton w/ Big Bill BroonzyBrownskin GirlsThe Piano Blues Vol. 9: Lofton/Noble 1935-1936
Bumble Bee Slim w/ Casey Bill WeldonThis Old Life I'm Living Bumble Bee Slim Vol. 5 1935-1936
Memphis Minnie w/ Casey Bill WeldonWhen The Sun Goes DownFour Woman Blues
Leroy Henderson w/ Casey Bill WeldonGood Scuffler BluesCharley Jordan Vol.3 1935-1937
Dorothy Baker w/ Roosevelt SykesSteady Grinding BluesBarrelhouse Mamas
Teddy Darby w/ Roosevelt Sykes The Girl I Left BehindBlind Teddy Darby 1929-1937
Napoleon Fletcher w/ Roosevelt Sykes – She Showed It AllGrass Cutter BluesShe Showed It AllRoosevelt Sykes: The Essential
Alice Moore w/ Kokomo ArnoldGrass Cutter BluesKokomo Arnold Vol. 3 1936-1937
Roosevelt Sykes w/ Kokomo ArnoldThe Honey DripperRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 4 1934-1936
Peetie Wheatstraw w/ Kokomo ArnoldWorking On The Project Broadcasting the Blues
Robert Lee McCoy w/ Sonny Boy Williamson ITough LuckProwling With The Nighthawk
Yank Rachel w/ Sonny Boy Williamson II'm Wild And Crazy As Can Be Yank Rachell Vol. 1 1934-1941
Ma Rainey w/ Tampa RedBlack Eye BluesMother of the Blues
Victoria Spivey w/ Tampa RedDon't Trust Nobody Blues Victoria Spivey Vol. 3 1929-1936
Bessie Mae Smith w/ Lonnie JohnsonMy Daddy's Coffin Blues St. Louis Bessie & Alice Moore Vol. 1 1927-1929
Victoria Spivey w/ Lonnie JohnsonDope Head BluesBlues Images Vol. 4
Georgia White w/ Lonnie Johnson Alley BoogieGeorgia White Vol. 3 1937-1939
Mary Johnson w/ Roosevelt SykesRattlesnake BluesMary Johnson 1929-1936
Charlie McFadden w/ Roosevelt SykesGambler's BluesCharlie ''Specks'' McFadden 1929-1937
Washboard Sam w/ Big Bill BroonzyLife Is Just A BookWashboard Sam Vol. 6 1941-1942
Washboard Sam w/ Big Bill BroonzyMy Feet Jumped SaltyRockin' My Blues Away
Big Joe Williams w/ Sonny Boy Williamson IPlease Don't Go Big Joe Williams Vol. 1 1935-1941
Speckled Red w/ Sonny Boy Williamson IYou Got To Fix ItSpeckled Red 1929-1938
Big Bill Broonzy w/ Papa Charlie JacksonAt The Break of DayAll The Classic Sides 1928-1937
Lucille Bogan w/ Papa Charlie JacksonJim Tampa BluesLucille Bogan Vol. 1 1923-1929
Big Boy Teddy Edwards w/ Papa Charlie Jackson & Big Bill BroonzyLouise Big Boy Teddy Edwards 1930-1936
Washboard Sam w/ Big Bill Broonzy & Roosevelt SykesRiver Hip MamaRockin' My Blues Away

Show Notes:

Tampa Red
Tampa Red

A few months back I did a show called “Sideman Blues” where we shined the light on some superb session musicians who backed blues artists in the pre-war era. On today's sequel to that show we focus on some of the stars of the pre-war blues era who were also active session artists. Artists featured today include some of the era's big names such as Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red, Roosevelt Sykes, Kokomo Arnold, Sonny Boy Williamson I and others who were also very active backing others on record. Bluesmen such as Big Bill, Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson and Roosevelt Sykes in particular, backed dozens of artists, both well known and obscure on record. Many of these artists also acted in the role as talent scouts for the labels.

During his heyday in the 1920's and 30's, Tampa Red was billed as "The Guitar Wizard," and his stunning slide work on steel National or electric guitar shows why he earned the title. His 25 year recording career produced hundreds of sides: hokum, pop, and jive, but mostly blues (including classic compositions "Anna Lou Blues," "Black Angel Blues," "Crying Won't Help You," "It Hurts Me Too," and "Love Her with a Feeling"). Jim O'Neal neatly summed up Tampa's place in blues history when he wrote the following in 1975: "Few figures have been as important in blues history as Tampa Red; yet no bluesman of such stature has been so ignored by today's blues audience. As a composer, recording artist, musical trendsetter and one of the premier urban blues guitarists of his day, Tampa Red remained popular with black record buyers for more than 20 years and exerted considerable influence on many post-World War II blues stars who earned greater acclaim for playing Tampa's songs than Tampa himself often did."

Tampa was a very busy session guitarist mainly in the early years of his career, circa 1928-1929. Among those he backed include Big Maceo, Lucille Bogan, Bertha "Chippie" Hill, Lil Johnson, Frankie Jaxon, Victoria Spivey, Romeo Nelson, Ma Rainey, Mary Johnson and many others. Tampa's work behind underrated singer Mary Johnson has always been among my favorites. Johnson cut six sides at two sessions in 1930. The April 8, 1930 was outstanding do in large part to the shimmering slide guitar of Tampa and the excellent piano of the under recorded Judson Brown. The two work beautifully behind Johnson on the mournful "Three Months Ago Blues" with Tampa shinning on "Dawn Of Day Blues" and the magnificent "Death Cell Blues."

Lonnie Johnson was a true musical innovator who's remarkable recording career spanned from the 1920's through the 1960's. During that time his musical diversity was amazing: he played piano, guitar, violin, he recorded solo, he accompanied down home country blues singers like Texas Alexander, he played with Louis Armtrong's Hot Fives, recorded with Duke Ellington, duetted with Victoria Spivey and cut a series of instrumental duets with the white jazzman Eddie Lang that set a standard of musicianship that remains unsurpassed by blues guitarists. In Johnson's single-string style lie the basic precedents of such jazz greats as Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, while being a prime influence on bluesman as diverse as Robert Johnson, Tampa Red and B.B. King. Thus Johnson enjoys the rare distinction of having influenced musicians in both the jazz and blues fields. Like Tampa, Johnson backed dozens of artists on record including Texas Alexander, Jimmie Gordon, Merline Johnson, Alice Moore, Victoria Spivey, Peetie Wheatstraw, Johnnie Temple and a host of others.

Big Bill Broonzy
Big Bill Broonzy

As Bob Riesman wrote in his biography of Big Bill Broonzy: "…Bill's recording career took off in this era, and his prodigious output was nearly unmatched among blues musicians. From 1934 until 1942, when the combination of a musicians’ union ban and the diversion of shellac to the war effort halted virtually all recording for two years, Bill averaged better than thirteen double-sided 78 rpm records each year as a featured artist. In addition, he played on an average of forty-eight sides each year as a sideman. In other words, for nearly a decade, he averaged one new Big Bill record a month, and he appeared on two more as a studio guitarist. …As 'Big Bill,' he was one of the most productive and popular artists in the business, with a name that was familiar to his audiences and reinforced by his easily recognized singing style. At the same time, he became the first-call studio guitarist for dozens of recording sessions that Lester Melrose organized for several record companies, particularly Bluebird. In that capacity, he was an integral part of the distinctive sound of numerous musicians, including some of the most popular artists of the era. Two artists whose careers were interwoven with Bill’s were Washboard Sam and Jazz Gillum. Bill played guitar on a most every one of the more than 150 recordings that Sam made over a period of twenty years, as well as on many of the sides that Gillum recorded."

Broonzy's 40's work with Washboard Sam really hit a high point with Big Bill laying down some lengthy, swinging amplified guitar on featured tracks like "Life Is Just A Book", "My Feet Jumped Salty" and "River Hip Mama." Washboard Sam recorded hundreds of records between 1935 and 1949 for the bluebird label, usually with backing by guitarist Big Bill. In 1932, Sam moved to Chicago, initially he played for tips, but soon he began performing regularly with Broonzy. Within a few years, Sam was supporting Broonzy on the guitarist's Bluebird recordings. Soon, he was supporting a number of different musicians on their recording sessions, including pianist Memphis Slim, bassist Ransom Knowling, and a handful of saxophone players, who all recorded for Bluebird. In 1935, Sam began recording for both Bluebird and Vocalion Records. Throughout the rest of the '30s and the '40s, Sam was one of the most popular Chicago bluesmen, selling plenty of records and playing to packed audiences in the Chicago clubs.

Broonzy was also prominent on the recordings of Lil Green who's "Just Rockin'" we feature today. Her professional career was launched around 1940, when the manager of a Chicago club hired her on the spot after a group of her friends had arranged for a bandleader to call her up from the audience to sing.By May 1940 Green had come to the attention of Lester Melrose, who brought her into the studio to record on the Bluebird label. He assigned a trio of musicians to back her, including Big Bill, Simeon Henry on piano, and New Orleans veteran Ransom Knowling on bass. That session produced her first hit, "Romance in the Dark." As Broonzy noted in his autobiography: "I played for Lil Green for two years as her guitar player. I wrote some songs for her, like "My Mellow Man" and "Country Boy," "Give Your Mama One More Smile" and some more that I fixed up for her.

Roosevelt Sykes
Roosevelt Sykes

In 1929 Roosevelt Sykes met Jesse Johnson, the owner of the Deluxe Record Shop in St. Louis. Sykes, who at the time performed at an East St. Louis club for one dollar a night, quickly accepted Johnson's invitation to a recording session in New York. In the early 1930s, Sykes moved to Chicago. During the Depression years, he recorded for several labels under various pseudonyms. For the Victor label, he recorded as Willie Kelly on the classic 1930 side "32-20 Blues." Two years later, he cut his popular number "Highway 61 Blues" for Champion, the subsidiary label of Gennett Records. During the 1930's, Sykes served as a back-up pianist for more than thirty singers including Mary Johnson and James "St. Louis Jimmy" Oden. Through the recruiting efforts of Mayo "Ink" Williams, Sykes signed with Decca Records in 1934. His 1936 Decca side "Driving Wheel Blues" emerged as a blues classic. Sykes settled in Chicago in 1941 and, within a short time, became a house musician for the Victor/Bluebird label. Although the label marketed him as the successor to Fats Waller, who recorded on the same label and died in 1943, Sykes found success as the creator of his own style and remained active as a session man.

Sonny Boy Williamson was already a harp virtuoso in his teens. He learned from Hammie Nixon and Noah Lewis and ran with Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell before settling in Chicago in 1934. Sonny Boy signed to Bluebird in 1937. Henry Townsend recalled driving Sonny Boy, Robert Nighthawk, Walter Davis and Big Joe Williams to Aurora, Illinois, in his 1930 A Model Ford for their 1937 sessions: "I transferred them to Aurora, Illinois. There was about eight or nine of us …we stacked them in the car like sardines." This led to a marathon recording session resulting in six songs by Nighthawk (as Robert Lee McCoy), six by Sonny Boy Williamson I, four by Big Joe Williams and eight sides by Walter Davis. It was Sonny Boy's songs, especially, "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Bluebird Blues" and "Sugar Mama Blues" which were the biggest hits. Sonny Boy recorded prolifically for Victor both as a leader and behind others in the vast Melrose stable (including Robert Lee McCoy and Big Joe Williams, who in turn played on some of Williamson's sides). Sonny Boy cut more than 120 sides in all for RCA from 1937 to 1947

Kokomo Arnold was born in Georgia, and began his musical career in Buffalo, New York in the early 1920's. During prohibition, Kokomo Arnold worked primarily as a bootlegger, and performing music was a only sideline to him. Nonetheless he worked out a distinctive style of bottleneck slide guitar and blues singing that set him apart from his contemporaries. In the late 1920's, Arnold settled for a short time in Mississippi, making his first recordings in May 1930 for Victor in Memphis under the name of "Gitfiddle Jim." Arnold moved to Chicago in order to be near to where the action was as a bootlegger, but the repeal of the Volstead Act put him out of business, so he turned instead to music as a full-time vocation. From his first Decca session of September 10, 1934 until he finally called it quits after his session of May 12, 1938, Kokomo Arnold made 88 sides.Arnold also did session work backing Peetie Wheatstraw, Roosvelt Sykes, Alice Moore, Mary Johnson and others.

Papa Charlie Jackson
Papa Charlie Jackson

"Papa" Charlie Jackson was a six-string banjo player who was one of the earliest and most successful of the solo blues singer/instrumentalists. Jackson settled in Chicago on the famed Maxwell Street around 1920 where he began earning a living by playing on street corners and at house parties. In 1924 he cut his first solo sides "Papa's Lawdy Blues" and "Airy Man Blues" for the Paramount label. During this period Jackson also became a sideman with many of the hot groups in and around Chicago. He also recorded with Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Bumble Bee Slim, Big Bill Broonzy and others before his subsequent death around 1938.

Despite several busy years in the recording studio and a couple of medium-sized hits ("Somebody Changed The Lock On My Door" and "We Gonna Move (To The Outskirts of Town)"), very little is known about Casey Bill Weldon. It was assumed he was the Will Weldon who played with the Memphis Jug Band but that remains in dispute. Between 1927 and 1935 he cut just over 60 sides for Victor, Bluebird and Vocalion. He was also an active session guitarist, appearing on records by Teddy Darby, Bumble Bee Slim, Memphis Minnie, Peetie Wheatsraw and others.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Dr. Hepcat Hattie Green Houston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Lonny LyonsDown In The GroovyHouston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Joe 'Papoose' FritzReal Fine GirlHouston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Lightnin' HopkinsHello EnglandThe Rooster Crowed In England
Lightnin' HopkinsBlues For Queen ElizabethThe Rooster Crowed In England
Lightnin' HopkinsGoin' To Galveston The Rooster Crowed In England
George Clarke Prisoner BluesBroke, Black And Blue
Vol StevensVol Stevens BluesMemphis Jug Band & Cannon's Jug Stomper s
Joe Williams/Yank Rachel/ Sonny Boy Williamson I Haven't Seen No WhiskeyYank Rachell Vol. 2 1934-1941
Big Joe Williams Stella BluesBack To The Roots
Big Joe Williams Watergate Blues Back To The Roots
Brownie McGheeFour O'Clock In The MorningNew York Blues And R&B 1947-1955
Lane HardinKeep 'em DownModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Buddy Moss I Got a Woman, Don't Mean Me No GoodAtlanta Blues Legend
Andy BoyEvil BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport
Pinetop BurksSun Down BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe
Bill HayesI'm Just Another FoolHouston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Lee GravesCloudy Weather BluesHouston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Willie HolidayI've Played This TownHouston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951
Champion Jack DupreeJackie P. BluesChampion Jack Dupree: Early Cuts
Turner Parrish The FivesMama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here
Jimmy RogersIf It Ain't Me (Who Are You Thinking Of)Complete Chess Recording
Sonny Boy WilliamsonWest Memphis BluesCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides
Peg Leg Sam & Louisiana RedGoing Train BluesJoshua
Papa LightfootJump The BoogieJuke Joint Blues: Good Time Rhythm & Blues 1943-1956
Kid BaileyRowdy BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Ishman BraceyLeavin' Town BluesIshman Bracey & Charlie Taylor 1928-1929
Fiddlin' Joe MartinGoing To FishingMississippi Blues 1940-42
Sara MartinGot To Leave My Home BluesSara Martin Vol. 3 1924-1925
Berta "Chippie" Hill & Freddie ShayneHow Long BluesMontana Taylor & Freddy Shayne 1929-1946
Swamp Dogg Mama's Baby, Daddy's MaybeTotal Destruction To Your Mind

Show Notes

A varied mix show today spanning the mid-20's through the mid-70's. Quite a number of Texas bluesmen are featured today including two sets from the recent 4-CD JSP collection, Houston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951, which gathers many lesser known artists mixed with better known artists like Peppermint Harris and Smokey Hogg. In addition there's three from an excellent long out-of-print Lightnin' Hopkins album and some early Texas piano players. Also on tap are a pair of cuts by the prolific Big Joe Williams, several fine piano men, some terrific harp blowers and some excellent down home blues from the pre-war and post-war eras.

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JSP's Houston Might Be Heaven: Rockin' R&B In Texas 1947-1951 is a valuable collection pulling together numerous obscure Houston bluesmen who's output has been scattered on various anthologies; artists like Dr. Hepcat, Lonnie Lyons, I.H. Smalley, Willie Holiday, Conrad Johnson and Joe 'Papoose' Fritz among many others. After World War II several Houston independent labels were started. The earliest to record blues was Gold Star, founded by Bill Quinn in 1946 as a hillbilly label. In 1947 Quinn decided to enter the "race" market by recording Lightnin' Hopkins. By the early 1950's, competition among independent record labels in Houston was intense. Macy's, Freedom, and Peacock (as well as Bob Shad's New York-based Sittin-In-With label) were all involved in recording local and regional blues musicians such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Gatemouth Brown, Goree Carter, Lester Williams, Peppermint Harris and Big Walter Price. Of the Houston-based independent labels, Peacock emerged as the most prominent.

One of the artists I want to mention from the set is Dr. Hepcat, who's "Hattie Green" opens our show. Born in Austin, Texas, January 9, 1913, as Lavada Durst he learned to play the piano as a child and emulated the styles he heard growing up. "I was self-taught," he recalls "I used to slip across the street to the church house and one-finger that piano. I had heard Meade Lux Lewis and Pete  Johnson on record, and around Austin, I heard a lot of piano players, Baby Dotson, Black Tank, and Boots Walton." Durst worked  part time as a disc jockey from 1948 to 1963 on KVET radio in Austin. On the air, he used the call name “Dr. Hepcat.” He cut two sessions for Uptown in 1949 and another session for Peacock the same year. He made some final recordings in the 80's and passed in 1995.

Speaking of Houston, we spin a trio of sides by Lightnin' Hopkins which I don't think I've played before. The tracks come from the long out-of-print album The Rooster Crowed In England issued on the British 77 Records label in 1959. The bulk of these recordings were made in 1959 with a couple waxed in 1954. As Mack McCormick wrote in the notes: “This album was prepared with the frank intention of arousing interest among the public and agencies who govern the European concert halls. …Until only a few months before making these recordings, Sam Lightnin' Hopkins knew of England only vaguely as a place 'over across the water' …a place he'd heard of thru friends who visited there while in the army. He was startled and dubious when I told him that some of the greatest enthusiasm for the blues was centered in places 'over across that water.'” We open the set with, "Hello England" a brief spoken introduction where he addresses the British people: "I'm Sam Lightnin' Hopkins, blues singer from Texas, singing the blues for 77 Records in England and I'm hoping that each and every one will enjoy em' if they hear them because I'm long wanting to come over there which I probably will come over there someday…" We also play his "Blues For Queen Elizabeth" where he states his hope to play for her and her husband some day and we conclude the set with a 1954 cut "Goin' To Galveston" backed by some rollicking piano. Apparently this issued on a Document CD c. 1998 which was strictly limited edition of 100 copies, never sold, but given away at Document wrap party in Vienna. that release was titled Lightnin' Hopkins 1954 & 1959 with extra tracks from other places.

We go back to 1937 with tracks by Texas pianists Andy and Pinetop Burks. Andy Boy cut only eight sides under his own name in 1937 as well as backing both Joe Pullum and Walter 'Cowboy' Washington. Pinetop Burks cut six songs the same year. Both men were from the so-called “Santa Fe group” who were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie. Here was where the music thrived and pianists could be found like Son Becky, Rob Cooper, Black Boy Shine, Big Boy Knox, Robert Shaw, Buster Pickens and the singers who worked with them.

We feature a pair of tracks from the Big Joe Williams album Back To The Roots (also issued as Watergate Blues). These recordings were recorded in 1973 in Berlin and 1978 in Crawford and Mashulaville, Mississippi by Siegfried A. Christmann and Axel Küstner. I was inspired to play these sides from a very nice letter I got from Axel Küstner which included some of his wonderful photos of bluesmen and the Williams CD. Küstner and his friend Siegfried A. Christmann were responsible for the remarkable Living Country Blues USA albums which were issued across 12 LP's (one double set) on the German L+R label between 1980 and 1981.In 1980 the duo came to America with the idea to document the remaining country blues tradition. With their station wagon and portable recording equipment they hit the dusty road spending a couple of months documenting blues, gospel, field hollers and work songs throughout the South. In addition Küstner is a fine photographer and has taken thousands of photos of bluesmen through the years.

Several fine harp men are spotlighted today including George Clarke, Walter Horton, Peg Leg Sam and George Papa Lightfoot. From the pre-war era we hear Clarke's "Prisoner Blues", one of three songs he cut for Blue Bird in 1936. I don't know anything about Clarke but he was an engaging singer and fine harmonica player who plays in an assured down home style that reminds me a bit of the great Noah Lewis. Walter Horton gets plenty of room to cut loose on Jimmy Rogers' "If It Ain't Me (Who Are You Thinking Of)" and who cut it as "That Ain't It" on the Alligator album Big Walter Horton With Carey Bell. Peg Leg Sam was a member of what may have been the last authentic traveling medicine show, a harmonica virtuoso, and an extraordinary entertainer. Born Arthur Jackson, he acquired his nickname after a hoboing accident in 1930. His medicine show career began in 1938, and his repertoire -finally recorded only in the early '70s. Lightfoot cut Sessions for Peacock in 1949 (unissued), Sultan in 1950, and Aladdin in 1952 and a 1954 date for Imperial."  Singles for Savoy in 1955 and Excello the next year (the latter billed him as "Ole Sonny Boy") closed out Lightfoot's '50s recording activities. Producer Steve LaVere tracked down Lightfoot in Natchez, cutting an album for Vault in 1969 called Natchez Trace and issued on Ace on CD in the 90's.

Not everyone can be the main attraction and there are many talented blues figures who shined in supporting roles. Willie Brown, Joe Willie Wilkins and Lafayette Thomas come immediately to mind. In the vein we spin tracks by Vol Stevens and Fiddlin' Joe Martin. Vol Stevens played guitar, bajo-mandolin, mandolin,violin, jug and sang and cut just one record under his own name in 1928 for victor, "Vol Stevens Blues b/w Baby Got The Rickets." He also backed the Memphis Jug Band on many sides between 1927 and 1928, plus backing Will Weldon, the Mississippi Sheiks, Charlie Burse and the Picaninny Jug Band. Fiddlin’ Joe Martin played mandolin on Son House's, Alan Lomax recording sessions in 1941, taking the lead vocal on a couple of numbers. He also worked with Charlie Patton, Memphis Minnie, Howlin' Wolf and back Woodrow Adams, playing drums on all his sessions. He passed in 1975.

We play some interesting and mysterious down home blues from the postwar and pre-war periods. There's "Rowdy Blues" by Kid Bailey who cut one record in Memphis in 1929, "Rowdy Blues b/w Mississippi Bottom Blues." Bailey was remembered by (among others) Ishmon Bracey and Walter Vinson. Many believe Baily is actually Willie Brown, partner of both Charlie Patton and Son House. Then there's Arkansas Johnny Todd. In around 1950 a group of artists sent in a batch of unlabeled acetates that were discovered at Modern in 1970. These recordings have remained a focal point for intense discussion ever since. When these sides were first issued on the Blues From The Deep South LP, so Arkansas Johnny Todd and Leroy Simpson were invented for two sides released. It turns out that Todd is actually Lane Hardin who cut the classic "Hard Time Blues b/w California Desert Blues" in 1935. He also backs Leroy Simpson who still remains a mystery.

As a precursor to next week's show on Indianapolis blues we spotlight Turner Parrish and Champion Jack Dupree. In the pre-war era Indianapolis was a fine blues piano town and both Parrish and Dupree where part of that scene. Little is known of Parrish who cut eight sides between 1929 and 1933 and also backed singer Teddy Moss. Sometime in the early 30's Champion Jack Dupree left New Orleans and eventually found his way to Indianapolis here he found work at the Cotton Club (named after the famous one in Harlem) who's resident bluesman was Leroy Carr. In early 1940, he was seen by Lester Melrose who signed him up to record for Okeh in Chicago. The result was two-dozen recordings for the label through 1941. His Indianapolis residency ended when he was drafted at the end of 1941 and after his discharge he settled in New York.

We conclude the show with Swamp Dogg's "Mama's Baby, Daddy's Maybe." Swamp Dogg's brand of bluesy soul and R&B usually falls outside of what I play but I couldn't resist playing this one as Swamp Dogg comes to town to perform next week. I happen to be a big fan and have never got the opportunity to see him so I'm looking forward to this one.

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Show Notes:

Today's program is inspired by a new biography of Big Bill Broonzy called I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy by Bob Riesman. Today we spin a cross section of Broonzy sides from the 30's through the 50's and we'll also be chatting and spinning records with the author in the second hour of the show. Last year I spoke with Roger House who authored the Broonzy biography Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy. In Blue Smoke, House put Broonzy's life in a broad context, not only telling Broonzy's life story but using it as a way to tell a much larger story; a history of black America in the first half of the 20th Century, from sharecropping to the Great Migration. In contrast this new biography is a much more detailed, fuller portrait of  Broonzy, stripping away the layers of mystery about Broonzy's life, vividly portraying his life as he moved from the South to Chicago, following his series of groundbreaking tours of Europe and fully succeeds in bringing Big Bill's remarkable life into sharp focus. The second half of today's program features songs selected by the author. During the first half I've selected a varied set of Broonzy tracks, with no duplication from the previous show, plus several numbers backing some of Chicago's top artist like Washboard Sam,  Lil Green and Sonny Boy Williamson I. The bulk of today's notes are taken from the book.

As Riesman writes of Broonzy: "…He had been one of the leaders of the Chicago blues world of the 1930s and ’40s, well before the rise of Chess Records and the figures who made that label deservedly famous. During his trailblazing European tours of the 1950s, he had been an early and powerful inspiration to British musicians such as Eric Clapton and Ray Davies. American artists from Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash identified Bill as an influence, and he had helped to launch folk music revivals in both the United States and Great Britain. As I began to look more closely at Bill’s life and work, it soon became clear that Bill’s legacy included at least two significant areas in addition to his recordings. He had demonstrated through his handwritten autobiography, Big Bill Blues, that his skill with words extended beyond songwriting. From his descriptions of his upbringing in the rural South to his observations on racial injustice, he expressed himself with clarity, insight, and wit. Bill had also served as a mentor to many younger blues musicians, to whom he offered guidance and encouragement. Muddy Waters, in particular, identified him as a role model, saying of Bill: 'Mostly I try to be like him.'"

…Broonzy arrived in Chicago in the early 1920's. Bill’s move to Chicago had thrust him squarely in the midst of one of the country’s most dynamic centers of African American music. Cabarets featuring jazz artists like Jelly Roll Morton had flourished on the South Side since before World War I. Through the 1920s, bands that featured some of the most prominent and creative of the transplanted New Orleans jazz players—Joe "King" Oliver, Sidney Bechet, the young Louis Armstrong—performed in venues such as the Royal Gardens Lincoln Gardens), the Plantation Café, and the Dreamland Café. Vaudeville performers such as Butterbeans and Susie appeared at the Grand Theater at Thirty-first and State, which also was the site of sold-out shows for singer Bessie Smith when her touring schedule brought her to Chicago." By the mid-20's the solo male blues artists rose to prominence with the enormous popularity of Blind Lemon Jefferson. "It was in the midst of this influx of male singer/players that Bill reentered the music business, and he chose his mentor well. 'I didn’t play any for a few years until I met Charlie Jackson in 1924.' …By late 1928 he had found a mentor, mastered a new instrument, located a musical partner, cut two records for a record company with national distribution, and acquired a memorable performing name."

From the 1956 film Low Light, Blue Smoke

"By the mid-1930s, the musical tastes of African American record buyers were changing. Instead of solo performers accompanying themselves on guitar, records increasingly featured ensembles, usually with a piano. …Bill's recording career took off in this era, and his prodigious output was nearly unmatched among blues musicians. From 1934 until 1942, when the combination of a musicians’ union ban and the diversion of shellac to the war effort halted virtually all recording for two years, Bill averaged better than thirteen double-sided 78 rpm records each year as a featured artist. In addition, he played on an average of forty-eight sides each year as a sideman. In other words, for nearly a decade, he averaged one new Big Bill record a month, and he appeared on two more as a studio guitarist. …As 'Big Bill,' he was one of the most productive and popular artists in the business, with a name that was familiar to his audiences and reinforced by his easily recognized singing style. At the same time, he became the first-call studio guitarist for dozens of recording sessions that Lester Melrose organized for several record companies, particularly Bluebird. In that capacity, he was an integral part of the distinctive sound of numerous musicians, including some of the most popular artists of the era. Two artists whose careers were interwoven with Bill’s were Washboard Sam and Jazz Gillum. Bill played guitar on a most every one of the more than 150 recordings that Sam made over a period of twenty years, as well as on many of the sides that Gillum recorded."

We spin several tracks with Broonzy in a supporting role including two superb 1941 sides, "Life Is Just A Book" and "Flying Crow Blues." Broonzy rarely sounded better as a session guitarist then the sides he cut with Washboard Sam, particularly the early 40's sides where he was given plenty of room to lay down some supple, inventive amplified guitar.  Broonzy played on several sessions backing Sonny Boy Williamson I and today we spin "Mellow Chick Swing" from 1947 as Sonny Boy exhorts "take it away Big Bill" where he steps up and put down a fine amplified solo. We also hear Broonzy backing Lil Green on the 1940 gem "Just Rockin'." As Riesman writes: "Bill played an important role in Lil Green’s meteoric rise from obscurity to national headliner in the early 1940s, and he maintained a personal connection with her even after her star faded. …Bill played guitar on all of the sides Green recorded before the 1942 recording ban."

Big Bill Broonzy Performs "Hey Hey"

Riesman notes that Broonzy "was a prolific songwriter, which was a crucial element of the industrial-style production process. Bill’s various estimates of the number of songs that he wrote throughout his career ranged from 250 to 360. In addition to the ones Bill himself sang, other Melrose artists recorded songs that Bill had written. The list included the Yas Yas Girl, Lil Green, and Washboard Sam… …In addition, Melrose was constantly on the lookout for new talent, both to generate records and to increase the stream of royalties flowing into his publishing companies. He relied on a small number of musicians to serve as his eyes and ears in identifying prospective artists. Along with pianist Roosevelt Sykes, Bill was at the top of his list. …few other blues songwriters of his era produced as much material of as consistently high a level of quality as Bill did. If there had been the blues equivalent of a Tin Pan Alley in Chicago in the 1930s and '40s, Bill would have been recognized as one of its most prominent figures."

"In 1946 Bill performed for more white audiences than he ever had before. He still made records that were marketed primarily to African American buyers, and he continued to appear in Chicago clubs where it would have been unusual to see a white face. …After a sustained run of nearly twenty years as one of the most prolific artists in the blues recording world, he was creating a new professional identity. He was increasingly immersed in a world of folk songs that he played on an acoustic guitar, requiring him to assemble and master a very different repertoire than the one he had been performing and recording for decades." In 1951, Broonzy took his first tour of Europe, where he was met with enthusiasm and appreciation. "On his return to Chicago, Bill began a stretch in his career that would last for several years in which he straddled his two audiences, one black and one white. He cut records for predominately African American buyers as both a featured performer and a sideman, releasing sides under band names such as Big Bill and His Rhythm Band, and Big Bill Broonzy & His Fat Four. He continued to appear at the clubs where he was an established name, such as Ruby’s Tavern on the West Side and the Hollywood Rendezvous on the South Side. At the same time, he was becoming a familiar figure to the politically engaged folk-music fans who attended the People’s Songs hootenannies in Chicago."

His appearances in Europe introduced the blues to European audiences and were especially influential in London’s emerging skiffle and rock blues scene. Broonzy’s success also set the stage for later blues artists such as Sonny Boy Williamson II and Muddy Waters to play European venues. Broonzy toured Europe again in 1955 and 1957. As Riesman observers: "Bill had crafted a persona for himself that would bring him international acclaim and steady work for the rest of his career. By highlighting the key elements of his rural origins, his firsthand knowledge of the musical sources of the blues, his membership in a finite and shrinking set of blues singers, and his desire to call attention to musicians whose work he could vouch for, Bill had secured a unique and powerful status."

-Listen to the Bob Riesman interview (MP3, 1 hour)

-View photos from the book

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Magic Sam Call Me If You Need Me With a Feeling 57-67: The Cobra, Chief & Crash Recordings
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Eddie Boyd Lonesome For My BabyLivin' That Wild Life: Herald/Ember Blues & Gospel Masters
Blind Joe Reynolds Cold Woman Blues Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Kansas Joe McCoy Joilet Blues Tommy Johnson And Associates
Hop Wilson My Woman Has A Black Cat Bone Steel Guitar Flash

Show Notes:

As we take a pause between theme shows we turn to a wide ranging mix show, spanning the years 1925 through 1970. We spin several thematic sets including a twin spin of sides by Sonny Boy Williamson I, a batch of sides from the recent 2-CD collection collection Livin' That Wild Life – The Herald-Ember Blues & Gospel Masters Vol. 1 and a the usual mix of excellent pre-war blues.

We spotlight a pair of superb post-war sides by Sonny Boy that come from the 4-CD JSP set The Original Sonny Boy Williamson: The Later Years 1939-1947 which collects all the sides he waxed between 1944 through 1947. Talking about the 1946 session that produced one of our selections,  Neil Slaven writes: "Sonny Boy's next three sessions represented his golden age- when song after song underlined his new-found maturity. Sonny Boy's Cold Chills, Hoodoo Hoodoo, Shake The Boogie, Mellow Chick Swing, Polly Put Your Kettle On, Apple Tree Swing, all benefited from the work of Blind John Davis, Eddie Boyd, Willie Lacey, Big Bill Broonzy, Ransom Knowling, Willie Dixon and Charles Sanders. These were the songs that influenced a generation of singers and laid the groundwork for the ascendancy of Chicago blues over the next decade." From his very last session, in November 1947 we spin the romping "Better Cut That Out." There's little doubt Sonny Boy would have been a major force on the vibrant Chicago blues scene of the 50's and would have thrived during the blues revival of the 60's, undoubtedly playing Europe to adoring fans. Sadly it was not to be, Sonny Boy's blazing career came to a untimely end with his murder in June 1948.

We spotlight four tracks  from the fine recent 2-CD collection on Acrobat, Livin' That Wild Life – The Herald-Ember Blues & Gospel Masters Vol. 1. Herald was founded in 1951 by music veteran Fred Mendelsohn but was inactive until he took on partners Al Silverman and Jack Braverman. Herald issued some terrific blues including tracks by Little Walter, St. Louis Jimmy, Cousin Leroy and some of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ best sides. Among those tracks are cuts by St. Louis Jimmy which was originally recorded for De Luxe in 1949 and Eddie Boyd's "Lonesome For My Baby" which was first issued on Regal in 1950 before being picked up by Herald. We also feature two tracks by the mysterious Cousin Leroy. Nothing is known about him except that  he cut two sides for Groove in 1955 and several for Herald and Ember in 1957.  He was backed by great musicians including Larry dale, Sonny Terry and Champion Jack Dupree. Leroy's songs are mainly reworking of traditional material including the ominous "Crossroads"  which incorporated Muddy Waters' "Rolling Stone" with references to the the crossroads myth:

Well I walked down, by the crossroad
Just to learn how, to play my guitar
Well a man walked up, 'son let me tune it'
That was the devil
(2x)

Today's program features a set of fine blues ladies including Ma Rainey, Mattie Delaney and Georgia Boyd. Rainey first appeared onstage in 1900, singing and dancing in minstrel and vaudeville stage revues. In 1902 she married the song and dance man William "Pa" Rainey and from then on became known as Ma Rainey. The couple formed a song and dance act that included Blues and popular songs and toured the country, but primarily the South. It was not until 1923 that Ma Rainey signed a recording contract with Paramount. She was billed as the "Mother of the Blues", which wasn't far off the mark. She ended up recording 100 songs between 1923 and 1928 on Paramount Records. Nothing is known of Delaney and Boyd who each cut a lone 78.  In 1930 Delaney cut two magnificent numbers for Vocalion, "Down The Big Road Blues b/w Tallahatchie River Blues" featuring herself on guitar.  In 1933 Boyd cut "Never Mind Blues b/w I'm Sorry Blues" with J.D. Short laying down some tough guitar on the former.

In 1936, Eugene Powell, along with Mississippi Matilda, Willie Harris and some of the Chatmon family traveled to New Orleans to record for the Bluebird label.  Setting up at the St. Charles Hotel, Powell cut six sides during these sessions under the moniker Sonny Boy Nelson. Among these numbers were classics such as "Street Walkin' Woman" and our selection "Pony Blues". He also accompanied Matilda on four tracks and harmonica player Robert Hill on 10 more. It would be another 34 years before Eugene Powell would have the opportunity to record again.

Also from the pre-war era, we spin numbers by Robert Petway and his pal Tommy McClennan. Little biographical information is available on Robert Petway. He was the first to record “Catfish Blues” which became a blues standard and may have composed the song. Big Bill Broonzy reported to researcher Paul Oliver that Petway played with Tommy McClennan and that the two grew up together as kids. McClennan was born and raised on the J. F. Sligh farm about ten miles north of Yazoo City in 1908 and it seems likely from Broonzy's recollection that Petway was about the same age and raised on the same farm.

McClennan was an influence on David “Honeyboy” Edwards, who learned songs like “Catfish Blues” and "Bullfrog" from him. In another account Edwards states that he learnt “Catfish Blues” in person from Petway. McClennan was stylistically similar to Petway because the two played together often. McClennan and Petway would play at house parties, and in the juke joint at Three Forks crossroads, famous now as the place where Robert Johnson was poisoned. In 1939 McClennan moved to Chicago and had three successful recording sessions by the time Petway had his first. It seems likely that McClennan sent for Petway to come to Chicago and record. Petway recorded eight sides for Bluebird Records in 1941 and followed those up with eight more in 1942.

McClennan's brand of  rough-around-the-edges blues is not far removed from singer Walter "Cowboy" Washington who Paul Oliver called a "bar-fly on the waterfront who worked as a cowpuncher." Backed by the superb piano of Andy Boy the rough voiced singer tells a gritty tale in his "West Dallas Woman" about a woman (a reference to Houston's Fourth Ward)  who's "trying to make twenty-five cents just to get a half-a-pint of corn." Washington cut just four sides in San Antonio in 1937 including another gritty number, "Ice Pick Mama."

Also worth mentioning are tracks by Percy Mayfield, Hot Lips Page and Baby Face Leroy Foster. Mayfield’s main hit making period was from 1950-1952 when he scored seven top ten hits for the Specialty label including “Please Send Me Someone To Love”, the biggest hit ever for the label. Much less well known are the trio of superb records he cut for RCA in the 1970's, all unfortunately out of print: Percy Mayfield Sings Percy Mayfield (1970), Weakness Is A Thing Called Man (1970) and Blues…And Then Some (1971). 25 tracks from these albums are available on the CD Blues Laureate: RCA Years.

Between 1948 and 1952 Baby Face Leroy Foster waxed a handful absolutely terrific sides under his own name for a number fledgling Chicago labels aided by some of the windy city’s best blues musicians. In addition his vocals, drumming, and guitar playing can be found backing some of the greatest Chicago blues records of the era. His death in 1958, at the age of 38, robbed the blues world of a singular, memorable talent.

Known as a scorching  soloist and powerful vocalist, Oran “Hot Lips” Page was one of the Midwest's top trumpet players. He began his professional touring career when he joined “Ma” Rainey's band in the 1920s. Page traveled the Southwest with Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox and other touring acts. From 1928 to 1931 Page was a member of the Blue Devils; in 1932 he joined Bennie Moten’s orchestra, remaining until 1935. After Moten's death, he continued to work with Count Basie. He recorded as the Hot Lips Page Trio for Bluebird in 1940 before joining Artie Shaw where he worked from 1941-1942. Starting in 1944 he recorded for Commodore and Savoy, fronting his own. In May 1949, Page traveled for the first time to Europe, where he played at the Jazz Festival in Paris. He visited Europe again in 1951 and 1952, to make a tour of Scandinavia and France. From 1952 until his health began to deteriorate in 1953, he worked various jazz shows around the United States. "Thirsty Mama Blues" from 1940 sports some melancholy blowing, a fine world weary vocal from page reminiscent of Jimmy Rushing and some knockout guitar from Teddy Bunn. It's not surprising the song is featured on the CD The Very Best Of Teddy Bunn 1937-1940.

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