Entries tagged with “Sparks Brothers”.

Blind Willie McTellSavannah MamaThe Classic Years 1927-1940
Blind Willie McTellLay Some Flowers On My GraveThe Classic Years 1927-1940
James Iron Head BakerBlack BettyDeep River of Song: Big Brazos
Moses Clear Rock PlattDats All Right HoneyField Recordings Vol. 13 1933-1943
Washington (Lightnin') Long JohnField Recordings Vol. 6: Texas 1933-1958
Will BattsCountry WomanMemphis Masters: Early American Blues Classics
Jack Kelly R.F.C. BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 2
Coot Grant & Wesley Wilson Meat Cuttin' BluesRaunchy Business: Hot Nuts & Lollypops
Eva Taylor Organ Grinder BluesClarence Williams & His Orchestra Vol. 1 1933-1934
Curley Weaver Some Cold Rainy Day
Atlanta Blues
Fred McMullen Poor Stranger Blues Georgia Blues 1928-1933
Curley Weaver Tippin' TomAtlanta Blues
James ''Stump'' Johnson Steady Grindin' Down On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis Vol. 2
Sparks BrothersChicago's Too Much For MeDown On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis Vol. 2
Georgia Boyd Never Mind BluesSt. Louis 1927-1933
Joe Stone (J.D. Short)It's Hard TimeWhen The Sun Goes Down
Ruth Willis Man Of My OwnGeorgia Blues 1928-1933
Lucille BoganGroceries On The ShelfShave 'Em Dry: The Best Of Lucille Bogan
Memphis MinnieToo LateQueen Of Country Blues
St. Louis Jimmy Sitting Down, Thinking BluesSt. Louis Jimmy Oden Vol. 1 1932-1944
Walter Davis Oil Field BluesWalter Davis Vol. 1 1933-1935
Henry TownsendShe's Got What I WantSt. Louis Country Blues 1929-1937
Sonny Scott Rolling WatersWalter Roland Vol. 1 1933
Walter RolandEarly This Morning ('Bout Break Of Day)Walter Roland Vol. 1 1933
Josh WhiteBlood Red River BluesJosh White Vol. 1 1929-1933
Buddy MossHard Road BluesSlide Guitar Bottles, Knives & Steel Vol. 2
Buddy MossJealous Hearted Man BluesSlide Guitar Bottles, Knives & Steel Vol. 2
Whistlin' RufusWho's Gonna Do Your Sweet Jelly Rolling Piano Blues Vol. 6 1933-1938
Turner Parrish The FivesBarrelhouse Piano Blues & Stomps 1929-1933
Carl Rafferty Dresser With the DrawersRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 3 1931-1933
Charlie ''Specks'' McFaddenLow Down Rounders BluesTwenty First. St. Stomp: The Piano Blues Of St. Louis
Roosevelt Sykes Devil's Island Gin BluesThe Essential
The Mississippi Sheiks Show Me What You GotThe Road To Robert Johnson And Beyond
Teddy Darby Bought A Bottle Of GinBlind Teddy Darby 1929-1937

Show Notes:

Today’s show is the seventh installment of an ongoing series of programs built around a particular year. The first year we spotlighted was 1927 which was the beginning of a blues boom that would last until 1930; there were just 500 blues and gospel records issued in 1927 and increase of fifty percent from 1926 a trend that would continue until the depression. To feed the demand other record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent, which included making trips down south with field recording units. Between 1927-1930 Atlanta was visited seventeen times, Memphis eleven times, Dallas eight times, New Orleans seven times and so on. The record companies advertised their records in black newspapers, mainly in the Chicago Defender, which was the nation’s most influential black weekly newspaper. The Depression, with the massive unemployment it brought, had a shattering effect on the pockets of black record buyers. By 1931 race records were selling about a tenth as well as they had four years previously. For example, Paramount went from waxing over a hundred blues and gospel items in 1930 but only about three dozen in 1931, Columbia had no new artists and its releases were cut by over a third and Victor also cut their releases by a third. In 1932 they were half that. Things hit rock bottom in 1932 with less than 150 new issues – the lowest level since 1922. Many of the era's top sellers like Leroy Carr and Lonnie Johnson made no records at all. Labels took several measures: cutting record prices, making one take instead of two and maximizing studio time by recording lengthier sessions. As always there were still plenty of good records by artists such as Blind Willie McTell, Buddy Moss, Jack Kelly, Roosevelt Sykes, Walter Davis, J.D. Short among others.

A 1930's ad for the Perfect label. Top row: Spark Plug Smith, Weaver and McMullen, Curley Weaver, and Ruth Willis.Bottom row: Buddy Moss, Coot Grant and Sox Wilson, Fred McMullen, Joshua White. All of these artists recorded in 1933.

In order to survive the hard times, Victor for example, were forced to follow ARC-BRC and enter the cheap record market. Their 35-cent label, Bluebird, was launched of old Victor material-by Walter Davis, the Memphis Jug Band, Cannon's Jug Stompers and Rev. Gates. Victor also needed new material In the past, tent tiles a day was a good days work. Now, as a further economy, engineers were told to make maximum use of the studio facilities and their own time. Thus, on Wednesday August 2, 1933, no less than thirty-five race titles  were recorded in Chicago, by a dozen artists including Roosevelt Sykes (as Willie Kelly), the Sparks brothers,  and Walter Davis. The Walter Davis items were put out simultaneously on Bluebird, at  35 cents, and in the Victor 23250 series, at 75 cents. However, it soon became apparent that there was little point in continuing to produce 75-cent race records and at the end of 1933 the Victor race series-which had reached 23432- was withdrawn.

1933 was a particularly good year for the talented Atlanta artists: Blind Willie McTell, Buddy Moss and Curley Weaver. Over the course of several days in September 1933, Blind Willie recorded four sessions for Vocalion in New York City resulting in some two-dozen sides all featuring Curley Weaver.  Several sides were unissued at the time only too be issued decades later. Weaver recorded around two-dozen sides at six session in 1933 for Vocalion, Brunswick and ARC.  Some sides were unissued. Fred McMullen was recorded around th same time, cutting seven sides for Brunswick and ARC with each playing some of the others sessions. Ruth Willis, Buddy Moss and Blind Willie also show up on Weaver's sessions from this period. Moss cut some two-dozens sides at several sessions in 1933 for Brunswick and ARC in New York City. Some sessions featured fellow Atlanta friends Blind Willie McTell, Ruth Will, Curley Weaver and Fred McMullen.

Buddy Moss playing guitar in the Green County Convict Camp

Other artists who recorded prolifically during 1933 were Jack Kelly,  Roosevelt Sykes, Walter Davis, Walter Roland, Sonny Scott and Josh White. Singer/guitarist Jack Kelly was the front man of the South Memphis Jug Band, a popular string band whose music owed a heavy debt to the blues as well as minstrel songs, vaudeville numbers, reels and rags. He led the group in tandem with fiddler Will Batts, and they made their first recordings in 1933, cutting some two-dozen sides between August 1 and 3rd for Banner and ARC. Roosevelt Sykes cut two sessions in 1933 for Victor and Bluebird and was busy backing several artists like Walter Davis, Carl Rafferty, St. Louis Jimmy, Clarence Harris and Charlie McFadden. Walter Davis cut two-dozen sides in 1933 for Blue Bird all backed by Sykes. Walter Roland and Sonny Scott recorded on the same dates for Vocalion between July 18-20, 1933 and playing on each others sessions. Roland cut eighteen sides while Scott cut fourteen sides. Josh White cut a dozen sides for Brunswick in 1933.

By 1933 the era of the blues Queens was past with Bessie Smith making her last sides in 1931, Clara Smith in 1932, Rosa Henderson in 1931, although several hung in there for a bit longer like Ida Cox, Victoria Spivey and Eva Taylor who was one of the only ones to record in 1933. In 1920 Taylor moved to New York City, where she became a popular singer in the night clubs of Harlem. The following year she married pianist, publisher and producer Clarence Williams. The couple collaborated on many projects. In 1922 Taylor made her first record for the African-American owned Black Swan label, who billed her as "The Dixie Nightingale". She would continue to record dozens of Blues, Jazz and popular sides for Okeh and Columbia throughout the 1920s and 1930s. She made a handful of strong sides in 1933 backed by Clarence Williams' Jug Band which included Willie "The Lion" Smith and Banjo Ikey Robinson among others.

Among some older styles that were hanging on were some of the vaudeville styled blues, namely with some sides cut by  Coot Grant and Wesley Wilson. Coot Grant was the main stage name of Leola B. Pettigrew, a blues singer from Alabama whose legal name became Leola Wilson following her marriage to performing partner Wesley Wilson. The husband and wife, billed as Grant & Wilson, Kid & Coot, and Hunter & Jenkins, cut over sixty sides between 1925 and 1938, often backed with top jazz artists such as Fletcher Henderson, Mezz Mezzrow, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong. They also performed in musical comedies, vaudeville, traveling shows, revues, and in film.

In addition to commercial recordings there was some important non-commercial sides recorded by John Lomax for the Library of Congress. Through a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, John Lomax was able to set out in June 1933 on the first recording expedition under the Library of Congress' auspices, with Alan Lomax (then eighteen years old) in tow. In their successful grant application they wrote, that prisoners, "Thrown on their own resources for entertainment . . . still sing, especially the long-term prisoners who have been confined for years and who have not yet been influenced by jazz and the radio, the distinctive old-time Negro melodies." They toured Texas prison farms recording work songs, reels, ballads, and blues from prisoners. They also recorded music from many others not in prison. The most important find was Leadbelly but also were recorded were fine singers like  James Iron Head Baker, Moses Clear Rock Platt and Washington (Lightnin'), all of whom are featured today.

Sparks BrothersLouisiana BoundThe Sparks Brothers 1932-1935
Sparks Brothers East Chicago Blues Twenty First. St. Stomp: The Piano Blues Of St. Louis
Sparks Brothers4-11-44 Twenty First. St. Stomp: The Piano Blues Of St. Louis
Peetie WheatstrawThird Street's Going DownThe Essential
Peetie WheatstrawMeat Cutter Blues Peetie Wheatstraw Vol. 3
Peetie WheatstrawShack Bully StompThe Essential
Andy BoyEvil BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Andy BoyToo Late BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Andy Boy House Raid Blues The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Black Boy ShineSugarland BluesBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Black Boy ShineDog House BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937
Black Boy ShineBack Home BluesBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Jesse JamesSouthern Casey JonesPiano Blues Vol. 1 192 -1936
Jesse JamesSweet PatuniPiano Blues Vol. 1 192 -1936
Sparks BrothersDown On The LeveeDown On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis Vol. 2
Sparks BrothersChicago’s Too Much For Me Down On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis Vol. 2
Sparks BrothersTell Her About MeThe Sparks Brothers 1932-1935
Peetie WheatstrawGangster's Blues Peetie Wheatstraw Vol. 7 1940-1941
Peetie WheatstrawWorking On the ProjectThe Essential
Peetie WheatstrawPeetie Wheatstraw Stomp The Essential
Andy BoyChurch Street BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Andy BoyJive Blues Joe Pullum Vol. 2 1935-1951
Black Boy Shine Married Man BluesBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-193
Black Boy Shine Dallas Woman BluesLeroy Carr & Black Boy Shine: Unissued Test Pressings & Alternate Takes 1934-37
Black Boy Shine Brown House BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937
Jesse JamesHighway 61Piano Blues Vol. 1 192 -1936
Jesse JamesLonesome Day BluesPiano Blues Vol. 1 192 -1936
Sparks BrothersI.C. Train Blues The Sparks Brothers 1932-1935
Sparks BrothersEveryday I Have The BluesThe Modern Recordings Vol. 2
Joe Pullum w/ Andy BoyDixie My HomeJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Walter ''Cowboy'' Washington w/ Andy BoyIce Pick MamaThe Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937

Show Notes:

On today's show we spotlight five superb blues pianists active in the 1930's and who remain largely forgotten today. Peetie Wheatstraw is by far the most well known artist featured today and one of the most popular and influential artists of the 1930's. Wheatstraw recorded in every year of the 1930's save 1933, cutting over one hundred and sixty sides. The Sparks brothers were based in St. Louis, Aaron on piano and Marion on vocals, and cut four sessions between 1932 and 1935. Andy Boy was a terrific pianist and expressive singer from Galveston, Texas who cut only eight sides under his own name as well as backing singers Joe Pullum and Walter 'Cowboy' Washington. Almost nothing is known of fellow Texas pianist Black Boy Shine, aka Harold Holiday, except that he was based in a section of Houston (which may have been his home) called West Dallas. In 1936 and 1937 he recorded for Vocalion in San Antonio and Dallas, and left behind 18 sides. Jesse James was a rough, two-fisted barrelhouse pianist probably based in Cincinnati. His legacy rest on four sides he cut in 1936.

Peetie Wheatstraw

Peetie Wheatstraw was born William Bunch and during his recording career was also know under the colorful sobriquets the Devil's Son-in-law and the High Sheriff from Hell. In fact he may have been one of the key links in the identification of the blues singer and the devil. He recorded over 160 songs, usually accompanied by his own piano and provided accompaniment on records to numerous others. Between 1930 and his death in 1941 he remained immensely popular for buyers of race records and was a fixture on the vibrant St. Louis blues scene of the 30's. St. Louis chronicler Henry Townsend emphasizes this point: "Around town he was pretty well busy; his name was ringing." Popularity is one thing but influence was another and his biographer Paul Garon makes no bones about Wheatstraw's enormous influence: "His style of blues singing was magnetically influential… It is no exaggeration to say that blues singing in the late 1930's bore the mark of Peetie Wheatstraw." Those cited as being influenced by Wheatstraw ("oooh, well, well" being his signature phrase) were a diverse lot including Robert Johnson, Champion Jack Dupree, Smokey Hogg and Big Joe Williams among others.

Wheatstraw died in 1941 when the car he was riding in slammed into a standing freight car. He was virtually ignored by blues researchers after his death (prior to Garon's book, The Devil's Son-In-Law: The Story Of Peetie Wheatstraw & His Songs, the only substantial writing on him was an article by Paul Oliver in Jazz Monthly from 1959) . Garon's insightful book makes an eloquent case for Wheatstraw' place in blues history. He was perhaps the most popular urban bluesman of his era and as Garon sums up "should be judged by the majesty of his own performances…"

Wheatstraw was a solid piano player who uses his playing to adorn his songs, usually not stretching out much outside of a few more boisterous pieces such as "Shack Bully Stomp" and "Peetie Wheatstraw Stomp", both featured today. On other numbers he gives plenty of room to his talented guitarists, most notably Kokomo Arnold and Lonnie Johnson. He was also an imaginative lyricist  as we hear on some fine topical numbers such as "Working On The Project" and "Third Street's Going Down" (the street, which was being torn down, ran through a tough section of East St. Louis called the "Valley" known for its gambling houses, saloons and brothels and was also where Wheatstraw lived):

We used to have luck in the Vally, but the girls had to move out of town (2x)
Some moved in the alley, oooh, well, well, because Third Street is going down

The city hired Mr. Keeler to put a highway through that part of town (2x)
And the law told the girls to move, oooh, well, well, 'cause we're tearing Third Street down

Aaron and Marion (he changed his name to Milton in 1929) were twins born to Ruth and Sullie Gant in Tupelo, Mississippi. Soon after the twins were born Ruth married Carl Sparks. According to Cleveland Sparks, uncle of Aaron and Marion: "Piano player Aaron he learned how to play piano before he could holler and shout…it was a coloured fellow teaching him. He had a joint y'know selling bootleg whiskey back in the corner. He just had a crowd there all the time and he just learned to play." Henry Townsend, who often accompanied Marion, had this to say: "He just kept getting better and better and got to playing for illegal joints y'know. …Pinetop was doing a lot of house-party playing and uh 'cause this was a trend then. We would go from house-party to house-party and make some money to pay the rent. …Now at that time Milton wasn't singing, Pinetop was the star when it come to singing. And so just out of nowhere Milton decided he was going to sing and he'd start. …Aaron got the name Pinetop because "He was very good at the number that Smith made [Pinetop Smith's "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie"]. Yeah he was very good with that number and as most guys do he just started to call himself Pinetop himself y'know. The nickname "Lindberg", Townsend suggests, was probably due to Milton's prowess in dancing the Lindberg or Lindy Hop.

The brothers cut four sessions, the first for Victor and the other three for Bluebird, between 1932 and 1935. Milton cut two songs for Decca in 1934 under the name Flyin' Lindberg. Aaron backed a number of St. Louis artists at their second session: Elisabeth Washington, Tecumseh McDowell, Dorotha Trowbridge, James "Stump" Johnson and Charlie McFadden. The brothers' led rough and tumble lives reflected in songs that dealt with gambling, jail, alcohol, woman, hoboing and railroads. In spite of their lyrics and rough background, the music the brothers made was surprisingly tender and wistful. They excelled at thoughtful, mid-tempo blues such as "East Chicago Blues", "Down On The Levee" and "4X11=44" a reference to number combination for playing policy.

Milton possessed a strong, nasal voice that is extremely appealing while Milton had a warm, sensitive vocal that occasionally dips into a mellow falsetto. Aaron was an exceptional and versatile piano player as Chris Smith appraises: "Aaron's playing features the steady chordal basses typical of St. Louis, and a very inventive right hand, endowed with melodic grace and propulsive energy. He was also a capable boogie player, with a singing line and a fondness for medium tempos." Aaron's fine abilities as an accompanist extend to his backing a trio of St. Louis ladies. Elisabeth Washington was an appealing, slightly nasal singer with a good sense of delivery; "Riot Call Blues" and "Whiskey Blues" (1933) are particularly tough blues with the latter opening with the line "Everyday I have the blues" a song that the brothers would debut two years later.

Andy Boy, from Galveston Texas, was part of a group of Texas pianists dubbed the Santa Fe group who acquired their name not only because they rode the Santa Fe from job to job, but also because, according to the Houston Pianist Robert Shaw, "anyone inquiring the name of a selection was invariably told, "that's the 'Santa Fe'." As blues scholar Paul Oliver wrote: "…There is a broad stylistic and thematic similarity in the music of the pianists who followed the Santa Fe through the barrelhouses of Ford Bend, Houston and Galveston counties, and down in the Brazos Bottoms. …Immediately recognizable with its rolling basses, its often ragtimey blues accompaniments, its anticipatory beat—this is the Santa Fe group." This group travelled the branches of the Santa Fe line to the lumber camps, oil fields and towns. In the cities "they were to be heard in the red light district of Galveston's Post Office Street or Church Street, on Houston's West Dallas Street or in Richmond's Mud Alley."

Among the best of the Santa Fe group were Rob Cooper of Houston, and Andy Boy of Galveston. Both men show the influence of Hersal Thomas and both men's style share strong ragtime elements. Stylistically, Oliver notes, "Andy Boy (Boy was his surname) and Rob Cooper were a few years older than Hersal Thomas" and "careful listening to the playing of Andy Boy reveals hints of the connection between them; in spite of the themes that he sang and played with their somewhat more modern sound, Galveston born Andy Boy was a pianist whose formative years were spent in the company of Hersal and his fellow pianists."

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.

One of his most memorable numbers was the rollicking "House Raid Blues"  (a close cousin to Little Hat Jones' "Kentucky Blues") as Andy Boy wittily describes a police break-in at Charlie Shiro's Galveston club: "

Then out the widow I did hop
Followed closely by a cop
Then around the corner I did run
I heard the shot from some law's gun
Said it ain't no use in shooting, ‘cause I ain't gonna be here long

Then I was long gone, from Kentucky, long gone
Got away lucky and I left so keen
I left like a submarine, couldn't hardly be seen

The vigorously sung "Church Street Blues" was perhaps his finest number where he evocatively sang: "Going down to the Gulf/Watch the waves come in . . ." and "I was born and raised in that good old seaport town/Where we all had fun and stomped The Grinder down." In the sombre "Evil Blues" he sang: "I got the evil blues, prejudicy on my mind" and was in quite a different frame of mind on the bouncy "Jive Blues" where he sings "Now the good book says thou shall not break the ten commandment law/I'm gonna break the ten commandments on you're jaw."

Harold Holiday, known as Black Boy Shine, was one of the acknowledged leaders among the Santa Fe group of pianists. He recorded more prolifically then the rest; cutting 18 issued sides in 1936 and 1937 as well as leaving a batch of unissued sides in the can. As Paul Oliver noted: "He played in a mellow style, with a subtler release than the sharp snap favoured by several of the piano men, and he sang in a slightly world-weary voice of the days when the "Chophouse" operated on West Dallas Street. It was a haven for pianists down on their luck, where the proprietor would prepare soup and sandwiches for them, and cook any rabbits they'd managed to club on the waste lots that still dotted the black wards of the city." He describes this vividly in one of his best numbers, "Dog House Blues: "

Well I'm going to the Dog House, down On West Dallas Street (2x)
When I get broke and hungry, I know I can get a feed

"When times were better", Oliver wrote, "and the barrelhouses were open again, Shine was to be found at Sugarland, near the sugar refineries and the State Farm Unit, or way out at Richmond. The latter is a run-down, predominately black township still, an unlovely place of old buildings fronting on the railroad tracks close to the Brazos River. Behind the tracks the roads fall back steeply for a couple of blocks to the old haunt of hustlers and whores, Mud Alley. There on Mud Alley was the Brown House, Shine's base when he wasn't travelling…" Both places feature in Shine's songs; In "Sugarland Blues" he sings "I dump sugar all day/Clean until broad daylight/I done everything for that woman/Still she don't treat me right" and in "Brown House Blues" he sings "Woke up this morning with the muddy alley blues/ I lost all my money and my alley shoes/I was playing boogie-woogie and having my fun" and then goes on describe a raid in detail, obviously a common occurrence in these kind of joints. In general his lyrics vividly reflect the harsher side of black life such as songs like "Hobo Blues" and "Ice Pick and Pistol Woman Blues.”

It was once believed that Jesse James was a convict, brought to the studio under guard to make his four recordings in 1936. This "information" was originally given to Paul Oliver by Sammy Price in 1960 who was a member of Decca's A&R staff in the 30s. This romantic idea probably came from the lyrics of "Lonesome Day Blues:"

I'm going to the Big House and, I don't even care
Don't you hear me talking to 'em, scolding to my death
I'm going in the morning and I don't even care
I might get four, five years, Lord and I might get the chair

Some got six months, some got a solid year
You hear me talking to ya buddy what made you stop by here
Some of them got six months partner, and some got a solid year
But I believe my partner, Lord got lifetime here

James was probably Cincinnati-based, as he accompanied titles by Walter Coleman on the same date as his own session, June 3, 1936. James was a rough, two-fisted barrelhouse pianist, with a hoarse, declamatory vocal delivery, equally suited to the anguished "Lonesome Day Blues", a robust version of "Casey Jones" as "Southern Casey Jones", "Highway 61" and the ribald "Sweet Patuni", which was issued much later on a bootleg party single.

Mississippi John HurtGot The Blues (Can't Be Satisfied)Avalon Blues
Skip JamesCrow JaneToday!
Guitar NubbitGeorgia Chain GangBlues Town Story Vol. 1
Babe StovallWorried BluesRuff Stuff - Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
Scott DunbarIt's So Cold Up NorthGive My Poor Heart Ease
The Sparks BrothersDown On The LeveeDown On The Levee
Charlie ''Speck'' PertumWeak-Eyed BluesCharlie ''Specks'' McFadden 1929-1937
Mack Rhinehart & Brownie StubblefieldTPN MoanerDeep South Blues Piano 1935-1937
Montana Taylor & Bertha 'Chippie' HillMistreatin' Mr. DupreeThe Circle Recordings
Memphis SlimI Am The BluesThe Sonet Blues Story
Memphis SlimEl CapitanBad Luck & Trouble
Blind Connie WilliamsPapa's Got Your Bath Water OnI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Drink SmallYou Can Call Me CountryI Know My Blues Are Different
Arvella GrayHave Mercy, Mr. Percy Pt. 2Blues From Maxwell Street
Ma RaineyLeaving This MorningMother Of The Blues
Mary JohnsonFriendless Gal BluesMary Johnson 1929-1936
Bessie SmithSlow And Easy ManThe Complete Recordings (Frog)
The Four BlazesWomen, WomenMary Jo
Jimmy WitherspoonYou Gotta Crawl Before You WalkSings the Blues Sessions
Blind Lemon JeffersonOne Dime BluesThe Best Of
Blind Willie McTellMama, 'Taint Long Fo' DayThe Classic Years 1927 - 1940
Peg Leg HowellAway From HomePeg Leg Howell Vol. 2 1928-1930
Rev. Gary DavisI'm Throwin' Up My HandsMeet You At The Station
Sonny TerryCrow JaneThe Folkways Years 1944-1963
Jr. WellsI’m A StrangerMessin' With The Kid
Homesick JamesFayette County BluesAin't Sick No More
L.C. RobinsonStop NowHouse Cleanin' Blues
Charlie PattonMean Black CatPrimeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs
Charlie PattonElder Greene BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Blind Pete & George RyanBanty RoosterBlack Appalachia
Buster BennettI'm A Bum AgainBuster Bennett 1945-1947
Joe "Mr. Google Eyes" AugustRough And Rocky RoadThe Very Best Of
Hattie BurlesonSadie's Servant Room BluesSunshine Special
Hattie HudsonBlack Hand BluesI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1

Show Notes:

We cover a wide swath of blues spanning from 1927 through 1976. Along the way we spotlight some fine piano blues, several superb blues ladies, lots of pre-war blues including twin spins of Charlie Patton and two by Memphis Slim. Among the featured piano players are a couple from St. Louis; Aaron "Pinteop" Sparks and Charlie McFadden. According to Henry Townsend McFadden could play a little piano but on his records deferred to others including Roosevelt Sykes, Eddie Miller and Aaron "Pinteop" Sparks. McFadden was a marvelous vocalist who possessed a plaintive, laid back delivery and was a good lyricist to boot. McFadden used the name "Speck" Pertum when he recorded for Brunswick, nicknamed for the glasses he always wore. Based in St. Louis, he toured extensively with Roosevelt Sykes, traveling as far south as Texas. McFadden cut two-dozen sides between 1929 and 1937 for a variety of different labels. According to Townsend he passed sometime in the early 1940's.

The Sparks BrothersThe Sparks brothers were based in St. Louis and cut four sessions, the first for Victor and the other three for Bluebird, between 1932 and 1935. Milton cut two songs for Decca in 1934 under the name Flyin’ Lindberg. Aaron backed a number of St. Louis artists at their second session: Elisabeth Washington, Tecumseh McDowell, Dorotha Trowbridge, James “Stump” Johnson and Charlie McFadden.Townsend remembered the brothers well:   “He [Marion] just kept getting better and better and got to playing for illegal joints y’know. …Pinetop was doing a lot of house-party playing and uh ’cause this was a trend then. We would go from house-party to house-party and make some money to pay the rent. We’d go from place to place like that I mean it’d be announced at this party before it was over that there would be such and such a place to get their rent paid and Pinetop would play for those kind of parties where they had a piano–and I kinda went around him quite a bit.” Now at that time Milton wasn’t singing, Pinetop was the star when it come to singing. And so just out of nowhere Milton decided he was going to sing and he’d start. …Aaron got the name Pinetop because “He was very good at the number that Smith made [Pinetop Smith's "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie"]. Today's selection, “Down On The Levee”, is a typically sensitive mid-tempo number featuring Milton’s fine, mellow delivery and some wonderful right hand flourishes from Aaron.

Mack Rhinehart and Brownie Stubblefield were a piano/guitar team that cut a dozen sides in 1936 and 1937. Rhinehart also recorded solo as Blind Mack in 1935 but only two of his ten  sides were ever released.  According to Blues & Gospel Records some twenty-two sides by the duo remain unissued. Nothing is known about the duo although noted researcher David Evans called Rhinehart "a major artist" with "an outstanding recorded legacy."

Better known is Montana Taylor who was born Arthur Taylor in Butte, Montana, where his father owned a club. The family moved to Chicago and then Indianapolis, where Taylor learned piano around 1919. Later he moved to Cleveland, Ohio. By 1929 he was back in Chicago, where he recorded a few tracks for Vocalion Records, including "Indiana Avenue Stomp" and "Detroit Rocks". He then disappeared for some years but was rediscovered by jazz fan Rudi Blesh, and was recorded both solo and as the accompanist to Bertha "Chippie" Hill who sings on today's track, "Mistreatin' Mr. Dupree." His final recordings were from a 1948 radio broadcast. Taylor died in 1954. Taylor's final recordings are collected on the CD Circle Recordings on the Southland label.

Bertha "Chippie" Hill

We showcase several fine blues ladies including stars Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith plus lesser known singers like Mary Johnson, Hattie Burleson and Hattie Hudson. From 1928 we hear Bessie in top form in "Slow And Easy Man." The Columbia Records 1927 catalog gave prominence to Bessie as "The Empress of the Blues" and listed a full three pages of her recordings. The advertising read: "Wherever the blues are sung, there you will hear the name of Bessie Smith, best loved of all the Race's blues singers. Bessie has the knack for picking the songs you like and the gift of singing them the way you want them sung. Every year this famous 'Empress of the Blues' tours the country appearing before packed houses."  Like Bessie Ma Rainey made her debut in 1923. Born in 1886, she said that she added blues in her act in 1902 and by the 1920's it certainly dominated her repertoire. Our selection, "Leaving This Morning", is one of eight numbers she cut in 1928 backed by the team of Tampa Red and Georgia Tom Dorsey.

Of the lesser known ladies, Mary Johnson of St. Louis (sometimes billed as “Signifying Mary”) made her debut in 1929. She cut just shy of two-dozen songs, achieved modest success and never recorded again after 1936 despite living until 1970. Johnson was blessed with superb backing musicians throughout her brief career that elevated her recordings above many of her contemporaries. She was accompanied by either Henry Brown, Judson Brown, Roosevelt Sykes, or Peetie Wheetstraw on piano, many selections featuring trombonist Ike Rodgers, guitarists Tampa Red and Kokomo Arnold and violinist Artie Mosby. Hattie Burleson and Hattie Hudson both hail from Dallas. Hudson cut one 78 in Dallas in 1927.Texas blues singer Hattie Burleson recorded four tracks in Dallas, TX, for Brunswick Records in October 1928. Two years later she recorded three sides in Grafton, WI, for Paramount Records. Little else is known about her life, save that she lived in the famed Deep Ellum area of downtown Dallas, where she operated a dancehall for a time. Her "Sadie’s Servant Room Blues" is a rare protest song dealing with domestic service:

Missus Jarvis don't pay me much
They give me just what they think I'm worth
I'm gonna change my mind, yes change my mind
Cause I keep the servant room blues all the time

I receive my company in the rear
Still these folks don't want to see them here
Gonna change my mind, yes change my mind
Cause I keep the servant room blues all the tim

We spin a pair of tracks apiece by Memphis Slim and Charlie Patton. From Slim we play tracks form two excellent 1960's records: Sonet Blues Story cut for Verve in 1967 and  Bad Luck & Trouble cut for Candid in 1961 a session he shared with Jazz Gillum and Arbee Stidham. The former session is a nice date featuring excellent contributions from guitarist Billy Butler and tenor man Eddie Chamblee. Slim is in majestic form on today's number, "I Am The Blues." The latter date finds Slim running through some favorites and offering up some spoken commentary about the songs' originators like Leroy Carr, Big Maceo and Curtis Jones.

We return again to Charlie Patton who we spotlighted at the end of November. I never get tired of listening to Patton and this time we spin a couple of tracks I didn't get to last time: "Elder Greene" and "Hammer Blues." "Elder Greene" was likely a song Patton picked up from his mentor Henry Sloan.  As David Evans noted the song is "related melodically to versions of "Alabama Bound," a song that Patton’s niece identified in Sloan’s repertoire. Of the latter number Evans writes  "'Hammer Blues' there are brief mentions of serving a sentence on a road gang and being shackled in preparation for a train ride to Parchman Penitentiary in northern Sunflower County. It is not known whether these verses refer to an experience of Patton or of one or more of his friends."

We play some more modern blues, relatively speaking, from the 1960's. Among those are cuts by L.C. Robinson (House Cleanin’ Blues) and Homesick James (Ain’t Sick No More) cut for the Bluesway label. ABC-Paramount formed the BluesWay subsidiary in 1966 to record blues music. The label lasted into 1974, with the last new releases coming in February, 1974. The label issued over 70 albums, numerous 45's plus several titles that remain unreleased. The label has been ill served reissue wise with only a handful of releases issued on CD, usually by labels other than the parent company MCA, and in many cases these CD's themselves are out of print. MCA has largely left the catalogue languish. The BluesWay label has a decidedly mixed reputation, cutting many very good records and many downright bad ones. At some point I'll be doing a feature on the Bluesway label.

Blind Lemon JeffersonSunshine SpecialThe Complete Classic Sides
Black Ivory KingThe Flying CrowBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Jack RangerT.P. Window BluesDallas Alley Drag
Kelly PaceRock Island LineField Recordings Vol. 2
LeadbellyMidnight SpecialAlabama Bound
Bukka WhiteStreamline SpecialThe Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Cripple Clarence LoftonStreamline TrainCripple Clarence Lofton Vol. 1 1935-1939
Henry ThomasRailroadin' SomeGood For What Ails You
Leroy CarrMemphis TownSloppy Drunk
Charlie McCoyThat Lonesome Train Took...Charlie McCoy 1928-1932
Furry LewisKassie JonesBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Jesse JamesSouthern Casey JonesPiano Blues Vol. 1 1927-1936
Two Poor BoysJohn HenryAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Lucille BoganT& NO BluesLucille Bogan Vol. 2 1930-1933
Sparks BrothersI.C. Train BluesThe Sparks Brothers 1932-1935
Little Brother MontgomeryA. & V. Railroad BluesLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Eddie MillerFreight Train BluesDown On The Levee
Hound Head HenryFreight Train SpecialCow Cow Davenport - The Accompanist 1924-1929
Trixie SmithFreight Train BluesTrixie Smith Vol. 2 1925-1939
Martha CopelandHobo BillMartha Copeland Vol. 1 1923-1927
Will BennettRailroad BillSinners & Saints 1926-1931
Sam CollinsYellow Dog BluesWhen The Levee Breaks
Robert JohnsonLove In VainThe Road to Robert Johnson
Willie BrownM&O BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Roosevelt SykesThe Train Is ComingRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 5 1937-1939
Cow Cow DavenportRailroad BluesCow Cow Davenport Vol. 2 1929-1945
Sylvester WeaverRailroad Porter BluesSylvester Weaver Vol. 2
Sleepy John EstesSpecial Agent (Railroad Police Blues)I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
Billiken JohnsonSun Beam BluesDallas Alley Drag
Andrew and Jim BaxterKC Railroad BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
George NobleThe Seminole BluesChicago Piano 1929-1936
Pink Anderson & Simmnie DooleyC.C. and O. BluesA Richer Tradition
Blind Willie McTellTravelin' BluesThe Classic Years 1927-1940

Show Notes:

When a woman get the blues, she goes to her room and hides (2x)
When a man gets the blues, he catches a freight train and rides
(Trixie Smith, Freight Train Blues)

For southern Blacks the appeal of the railroads has always been both a real and a symbolic one. For them the train was a symbol of power, of freedom and escape.  As blues historian Paul Oliver wrote: “In the slavery periods when they were unable to travel between districts without written ‘bonds’ from their owners, the snorting engines, with brilliant furnaces traces their progress and clouds of black smoke that hung in the still air above the tracks long after the screaming whistles had died away, inspired them in awe which their descendants still retain.” This image carried on, in the hard times of the 1920's and 1930s', when the southern Blacks struggled to make a living and saw the northern cities as their saviors, where work was plentiful and a better life was to be had. As the blues developed, the railroad featured prominently in the songs. Numerous songs were sung about individual trains such as the Flying Crow, the Sunshine Special and the Panama Limited, many simply abbreviated like the C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio), T&P (Texas Pacific) or the L&N (Louisville and Nashville), many songs dealt with the hobos who rode the rails, others dealt with working for the railroad while other songs retold the famous railroad ballads of John Henry, Railroad Bill and Casey Jones. Today’s show will spotlight all of these types of railroad blues.

The title of today's program comes from the song by Henry Thomas. Thomas, nicknamed “Ragtime Texas”, was born in 1874 in Big Sandy, Texas. The 1874 date marks him as one of the eldest-born blues performers on record. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him from a former railroad conductor, “Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I’d always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was a regular hobo, but I’d carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket.” Speaking of his famous “Railroadin’ Some”, William Barlow calls it the most “vivid and intense recollection of railroading” in all the early blues recorded in the 1920’s.

Among the famous railroad songs featured today are two associated with Leadbelly, "Rock Island Line" and 'Midnight Special", and the folk ballads Casey Jones, John Henry and Railroad Bill. John Lomax recorded "Rock Island Line" at the Cummins State Prison farm, Gould, Arkansas, in 1934 from its convict composer, Kelly Pace. Leadbelly, who was with Lomax at the time, rearranged it in his own style, and made commercial recordings of it in the forties. The song refers to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Lyrics appearing in the "Midnight Special" were first recorded in print by Howard Odum in 1905. The song was first commercially recorded on the OKeh label in 1926 as "Pistol Pete's Midnight Special" by Dave "Pistol Pete" Cutrell and the following year by bluesman Sam Collins. In 1934 Lead Belly recorded a version of the song at Angola Prison for John and Alan Lomax, who mistakenly attributed it to him as the author. Leadbelly recorded at least three versions of the song, including the one we feature with the Golden Gate Quartet.

John Luther "Casey" Jones was an American railroad engineer from Jackson, Tennessee who worked for the Illinois Central Railroad. On April 30, 1900, he alone was killed when his passenger train collided with a stalled freight train at Vaughan, Mississippi on a foggy and rainy night. His dramatic death trying to stop his train and save lives made him a folk hero who became immortalized in a popular song. We spin two versions on today's program: "Kassie Jones Pt. 1" by Furry Lewis and "Southern Casey Jones" by Jesse James.

John Henry is an American folk hero, notable for having raced against a steam powered hammer and won, only to die in victory with his hammer in his hand. He has been the subject of numerous songs, stories, plays, and novels. The truth about John Henry is obscured by time and myth, but one legend has it that he was a slave born in Missouri in the 1840s and fought his notable battle with the steam hammer along the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in Talcott, West Virginia. On today's show we play a version by the duo The Two Poor Boys.

The legend of Railroad Bill arose in the winter of 1895, along the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad line in southern Alabama. Based loosely on the exploits of an African American outlaw known as "Railroad Bill," tales of his brief but action-filled career on the wrong side of the law have been preserved in song, fiction, and theater. He has been variously portrayed as a "Robin Hood" character, a murderous criminal and a nameless victim of the Jim Crow South. He was never conclusively identified, but L&N detectives claimed he was a man named Morris Slater. Today we spin  "Railroad Bill" by Will Bennett.

Featured today are several songs about specific trains or railroad lines. Our opening track "Sunshine Special" by Blind Lemon Jefferson refers the train of the same name which was inaugurated by the Missouri Pacific Railroad on December 5, 1915, providing service between St. Louis, Little Rock, and destinations in Texas. The Sunshine Special served as the flagship of Missouri Pacific Railroad's passenger train service. Several songs make reference to the Flying Crow, a train line connecting Port Arthur, Texas to Kansas City with major stops in Shreveport and Texarkana. Black Ivory King, Carl Davis & the Dallas Jamboree Jug Band, Dusky Dailey, Washboard Sam and Oscar Woods all recorded songs about the train. Other songs dealing with specific trains featured today include Jack Ranger's "T.P. Window Blues" ( Texas Pacific Railroad), Lucille Bogan's "T& NO Blues" (Texas and New Orleans Railroad), Sparks Brothers' "I.C. Train Blues" (Illinois Central Railroad), Little Brother Montgomery's "A. & V. Railroad Blues" (Alabama & Vicksburg Railroad), Willie Brown's "M&O Blues" (Mobile and Ohio Railroad), Billiken Johnson's "Sun Beam Blues" (Sunbeam was a named passenger train operated from 1925 to 1955 between Houston and Dallas by the Texas and New Orleans Railroad), Andrew and Jim Baxter's "K C Railroad Blues" (Kansas City Southern Railway), George Noble's "The Seminole Blues" (Seminole Gulf Railway), and Pink Anderson & Simmnie Dooley's "C.C. and O. Blues" (Chesapeake and Ohio). Sam Collins' "Yellow Dog Blues" seems to refer to two trains. In 1903 W.C. Handy related how he heard a lean, raggedy, black guitarist in Tutwiler’s railroad depot, singing of going to where the "Southern cross the Yellow Dog." The “Southern” was the Southern Railway which began operations in 1894.“The Dog” was the Yellow Dog, a name for the Yazoo Delta Railroad which opened in 1897.

Several songs like Bukka White's " Special Streamline" and Cripple Clarence Lofton's "Streamline Train" refer to streamliners. A streamliner is any vehicle that incorporates streamlining to produce a shape that provides less resistance to air. The term is most often applied to certain high-speed railway trainsets of the 1930's to 1950's. For a short time in the late 1930s, the ten fastest trains in the world were all American streamliners.

Other trains immortalized in blues songs will be featured in the sequel to today's show; trains such as the Cannon Ball (an Illinois Central passenger train routing between Chicago and New Orleans, now known as the City of New Orleans), the Santa Fe (Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway), the Seaboard (The Seaboard Coast Line Railroad), the Katy (the Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Texas line), the Big four (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad ) and the New York Central among others.