Entries tagged with “Tampa Red”.


ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Lucille Bogan Black Angel BluesLucille Bogan Vol. 2 1930-1933
Tampa RedBlack Angel BluesTampa Red Vol. 5 1931-1934
Robert Nighthawk Sweet Black Angel Prowling With the Nighthawk
Tampa Red Sweet Little Angel Tampa Red Vol. 14 1949-1951
B.B. KingSweet Little Angel The Vintage Years
B.B. King Sweet Little Angel Live At The Regal
Earl Hooker Sweet Brown Angel Simply The Best
Tony HollisCross Cut Saw BluesChicago Blues Vol. 1 1939-1951
Tommy McClennanCross Cut Saw BluesComplete Bluebird Recordings
Albert King Crosscut Saw Born Under A Bad Sign
Curtis Jones Tin Pan Alley BluesCurtis Jones Vol. 4 1941-53
Guitar Slim Green Alla Blues California Blues 1940-1948
Jimmy WilsonTin Pan Alley Bob Geddins' Big Town Records Story
James ReedRoughest Place In TownR&B Guitars 1950-54
Johnny FullerRoughest Place In TownWest Coast R&B And Blues Legend Vol.1
Ray Agee Tin Pan AlleyWest Coast Blues Vol. 2 1952-1957
The Sparks BrothersI Believe I'll Make A ChangeDown On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis
Jack Kelly & his South Memphis Jug BandBelieve I'll Go Back HomeJack Kelly & His South Memphis Jug Band 1933-1939
Josh WhiteBelieve I'll Go Back Home Josh White Vol. 2 1933-1935
Carl Rafferty Mr. Carl's BluesRoosevelt Sykes: The Essential
Kokomo ArnoldSagefield Woman BluesBottleneck Trendsetters
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell I Believe I'll Make A ChangeWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave: The Best of Leroy Carr
Robert Johnson I Believe I'll Dust My BroomThe Centennial Collection
Washboard SamI Believe I'll Make A ChangeWashboard Sam Vol. 4 1939-1940
Arthur Crudup Dust My BroomWhen The Sun Goes Down
Robert LockwoodDust My BroomRough Treatment: The J.O.B. Records Story
Elmore JamesDust My BroomElmore James: Early Recordings 1951-56
Robert PetwayCatfish Blues Catfish Blues: Mississippi Blues Vol. 3 1936-1942
Tommy McClennanDeep Sea BluesComplete Bluebird Recordings
Muddy Waters Rollin' StoneThe Complete Chess Recordings
Muddy Waters Still A Fool The Complete Chess Recordings
John Lee Hooker Catfish Blues John Lee Hooker: Vol. 4 Detroit 1950-51
B.B. King Fishin' After Me (Catfish Blues)The Vintage Years

Show Notes:

Johnny Fuller: Roughest Place In TownIn our first show of the year we traced the origins and evolution of several classic blues songs. I got some good feedback on the show so we today do a follow-up. On today's program we provide the history and context behind classics like “Black Angel Blues“, “Crosscut Saw“, “Tin Pan Alley“, “I Believe I'll Make A Change (Dust My Broom)“ and “Catfish Blues."

The song known today as either "Sweet Black Angel" or "Sweet Little Angel" is one of the most popular and frequently recorded songs in the blues. Although composer credits are often given to Tampa Red, whose "Black Angel Blues" appeared in March 1934, the first recorded version was Lucille Bogan’s, whose "Black Angel Blues" was recorded mid-December 1930. The two artists shared recording sessions in 1928 and 1929, and it is probably impossible at this late date to determine who originally created the song. Although Bogan’s recording credits "Smith" as the composer, she wrote many of her own songs and made be the author of the song. During the early post–World War II era, the lyrics of the song began to change. In 1949, Robert Nighthawk had gone back to the song’s prewar roots cutting the song for Aristocrat Records as "Black Angel Blues (Sweet Black Angel)", but in 1950 Tampa Red was the first to record it as "Sweet Little Angel". B.B. King did the same in 1956; he also changed the song’s final line from ". ..bought me a whiskey still" to "…gave me a Cadillac de Ville." We also spin B.B.'s classic live version from Live At The Regal. Guitar legend Earl Hooker recorded two versions during his career; 1953 saw him record "Sweet Angel (Original Sweet Black Angel)" for the Rockin’ label and in 1962 he recorded a reworked version titled "Sweet Brown Angel" for Checker, which went unreleased at the time.

"Cross Cut Saw Blues" was first released in 1941 by Mississippi bluesman Tommy McClennan. Tony Hollins, a Mississippi bluesman and contemporary of Tommy McClennan, recorded a version of "Cross Cut Saw Blues" with similar lyrics on June 3, 1941, three months before McClennan. The song was not released at the time, but eventually appeared in 1992. In an interview, John Lee Hooker, who knew Tony Hollins, was asked "Well, did Tony Hollins or Tommy McClennan do it first? They both recorded it around the same time". Hooker responded "I think Tommy McClennan did it first."Eddie Burns knew Hollis in Clarksdale in the 40's and recalled that Tommy McClennan: Cross Cut Saw Blueshe was very popular. Burns recalled him singing "Cross Cut Saw", "Crawlin' King Snake" and "Tease Me Over" all of which he recorded in 1941. In 1966, Albert King recorded his version calling it "Crosscut Saw". The same lyrics as McClennan's "Cross Cut Saw Blues" were used, except for two verses which were replaced by guitar solos. However, King uses a different arrangement. The song was a success, reaching No. 34 in the Billboard R&B chart.

Pianist Curtis Jones composed “Tin Pan Alley Blues” which he recorded in 1941. Guitar Slim Green recorded "Alla Blues" in 1948, a retread of the Curtis Jones number. Green said that he and his partner Turner wrote it and that producer Robert Geddins stole it from him. Green and Turner's version would become some kind of West Coast national anthem. Jimmy Wilson’s mournful, bluesy voice ensured him a huge hit in California in 1953 with his version of "Tin Pan Alley," a masterpiece with an unmistakable gloomy tone. The song was soon revived under the original title by West Coast artists Ray Agee and by Johnny Fuller and James Reed under the title "Roughest Place In Town." In more recent years the song was popularized by Stevie Ray Vaughn who recorded "Tin Pan Alley (aka Roughest Place in Town)" on 1984's Couldn't Stand the Weather.

"I Believe I’ll Make a Change" was first recorded on February 25, 1932, by Aaron and Milton Sparks in Atlanta, Georgia, for Victor Records. Other musicians were to use the song’s melody on their own recordings, including Jack Kelly and His South Memphis Jug Band in 1933 (as "Believe I’ll Go Back Home,"), Josh White (1934), and Leroy Carr with Scrapper Blackwell (934). Other version of "I Believe I’ll Make a Change" continued to appear through 1942, including Washboard Sam’s rendition for Bluebird in 1939. The tune is best known today by the title "I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom," first recorded to those words by Robert Johnson on November 23, 1936, for the ARC label. Lyric antecedents for the "dust my broom" stanza can be found in songs such as "Mr. Carl’s Blues" by Carl Rafferty with Roosevelt Sykes in 1933 and "Sagefield Woman Blues" by Kokomo Arnold in 1934 for Decca. The "Dust My Broom" version of the song would continue to be played as bluesmen traveled between Mississippi and Chicago. Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup recorded one version in March 1949 for Victor, Johnson protege´ Robert Lockwood cut another in November 1951 for Mercury. Elmore James is the post–World War II musician most identified with "Dust My Broom," waxing four versions between 1951 and 1962.

Robert Petway: Catfish Blues"Catfish Blues" was first recorded on March 28, 1941, by Mississippi bluesman Robert Petway for RCA Bluebird. Another version, titled "Deep Sea Blues," was made by Petway’s contemporary Tommy McClennan on September 15, 1941, also for RCA Bluebird. There s a good case for believing that Petway composed it: "He just made that song up and used to play it at them old country dances. He just made it up and kept it in his head," says Honeyboy Edwards, who learned the song from Petway in person. After the Petway and McClennan versions were released other treatments of "Catfish Blues" included John Lee Hooker (1951, Gotham) and, a bit later, by B. B. King (as "Fishin’ After Me (Catfish Blues)," 1960, Kent). Two distinctive recordings were made by Muddy Waters for Chess Records in the early 1950's. The first was "Rollin’ Stone" (1950, Chess), which was simply a retitling of the standard "Catfish" tune and lyrics. Nonetheless, the title would be adopted in 1962 by the Rolling Stones and in 1968 for the rock publication Rolling Stone. The second was "Still a Fool" (1951, Chess), featuring a two-electric guitar accompaniment.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Titus Turner Christmas Morning BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Jimmy ButlerTrim Your TreeBlues, Blues Christmas
Frankie ''Half-Pint'' JaxonChrist Was Born On Christmas Morn Blues, Blues Christmas
Tampa RedChristmas & New Year's BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Lonnie JohnsonHappy New Year DarlingBlues, Blues Christmas
Robert NighthawkMerry Christmas, Baby Masters Of Modern Blues Vol. 4
Lightnin' HopkinsMerry ChristmasBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Bukka WhiteChristmas Eve BluesMemphis Swamp Jam
Ralph WillisChristmas Blues Blues, Blues Christmas
Goree Carter Christmas BluesGoree Carter Vol. 1 1949-1950
Gatemouth Moore Gate's Christmas BluesGreat Rhythm & Blues Oldies Vol. 7
Cecil GrantHello Santa Claus Blues, Blues Christmas
Charles BrownNew Merry Christmas Baby Legend!
Leroy CarrChristmas In JailBlues, Blues Christmas
Rev. J.M. Gates Did You Spend Christmas Day In JailBlues, Blues Christmas
Bertha ''Chippie'' HillChristmas Man BluesBlues, Blues Christmas
Victoria SpiveyAin't Gonna Let You See My Santa ClausBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
Butterbeans & SusiePapa Ain't No Santa ClausBlues, Blues Christmas
Sonny Parker w/ Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra Boogie Woogie Santa ClausBlues, Blues Christmas
Big Joe TurnerChristmas Date BoogieBlues, Blues Christmas
Freddy King I Hear Jingle BellsThe Very Best of Freddy King, Vol.1 1960-1961
Harry ''Fats'' Crafton w Doc Bagby Orchestra Bring That Cadillac BackBlues, Blues Christmas
Gus Jenkins and Orchestra Remember Last Xmas Jericho Alley Blues Flash! Vol.2: Blues In Los Angeles 1956-1959
Hop WilsonMerry Christmas DarlingBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
Black AceChristmas TimeBlues, Blues Christmas
Lil McClintockDon't Think I'm Santa Claus Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
LeadbellyChristmas Is CominBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3
Herman Ray Xmas Blues Blues, Blues Christmas
Champion Jack DupreeMerry Christmas BluesChris Barber Presents: Lost & Found Vol .2
Jimmy WitherspoonHow I Hate To See Christmas Come Around Blues, Blues Christmas
Lee Jackson The Christmas Song Bea & Baby Records Vol.2
Clyde Lasley Santa Claus Home DrunkBea & Baby Records Vol.2
Roy Milton & His Solid SendersNew Year's Resolution BluesBlues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2
Johnny Otis OrchestraHappy New Year, BabyBlues, Blues Christmas

Show Notes:

Paramount Christmas Greetings Ad

I've been doing a Christmas blues show for many years and was always frustrated with the lack of a really good collection of early blues Christmas songs. In 2005 I hooked up with the Document label to put together a 2-CD, 52 track collection of blues and gospel songs from the 1920's to the 1950's called Blues, Blues Christmas. The record proved to be popular and a second volume was released in 2009 and this year a third volume has been issued. You can read the notes to these by visiting my writing page. Many of today's tracks come from those collections.

On October 30, 1889 banjoist Will Lyle made history by recording "Jingle Bells" – the very first Christmas record. Although no known copies of this recording survive, one of the earliest vocal examples of "Jingle Bells" does survive on an Edison brown wax cylinder entitled, "The Sleigh Ride Party." The first commercial Christmas blues record was cut by Bessie Smith. Her classic "At The Christmas Ball" inaugurated the Christmas blues tradition when it was recorded in November 1925 for Columbia. A year later, circa December 1926, the gospel Christmas tradition was launched when the Elkins-Payne Jubilee Singers recorded "Silent Night, Holy Night" for Paramount Records. After these recordings it was off to the races with numerous Christmas blues numbers recorded by singers of all stripes, a pace that continued as blues evolved into R&B and then rock and roll. It’s almost certainly the case that many of these songs were recorded at the prompting of the record companies. Like any business they were always looking for a new angle or gimmick to sell records and advertised these Christmas records boldly, often with full-page ads, in black newspapers like the Chicago Defender and magazines like Billboard.

Perhaps more than any other music, the blues is deeply enmeshed in a particular culture, entangled in the era of segregation, in the era of Jim Crow and in the era of slavery. In his classic Screening The Blues Paul Oliver wrote “for the Negro, Christmas has a deep-rooted significance beyond that of the religious meaning of the celebration itself; a more worldly one of which has none the less firmly established itself in his folkways. Since far back in slavery Christmas has signified a rest, a break in the year's routine which no other festival affords, proving an opportunity for a man to be with his family and, for a brief period at any rate, from the rigorous monotony of rural labor.” The annual Christmas Ball was something looked forward to all year and as Oliver astutely notes “there may have been a change of venue–a Harlem cellar dive for the 'quarters' and a jazz band instead of the fiddles, but there was probably little difference in kind and certainly in spirit at the Christmas Ball described by Bessie Smith…”

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Among Paramount's biggest blues stars of the 1920's were Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake who made their debuts for the label several months apart – Jefferson in December 1925 or January 1926 and Blake around August of 1926. Paramount ramped up their blues and gospel recordings considerably in 1927 and a new Jefferson and Blake record appeared every month. Paramount resorted to several novel promotions for their big artists; In 1924 Ma Rainey's sixth release was labeled "Ma Rainey's Mystery Record" with prizes given to the best title while Charlie Patton's "Screamin' And Hollerin' The Blues" was listed as by The Masked Marvel with a corresponding advert that bore a drawing of a blindfolded singer – looking nothing like Patton – and the clue that he was an exclusive Paramount artist. Similarly, so successful was Jefferson, that a special yellow and white label was produced for Paramount 12650, "Piney Woods Money Mama" b/w ‘Low Down Mojo Blues" which bore his picture and the wording "Blind Lemon Jefferson's Birthday Record." In a similar vein Christmas records can be seen as just another promotional tool with ads for these records appearing annually in black newspapers every holiday season. Befitting his stardom, Lemon's lone holiday record "Christmas Eve Blues" b/w "Happy New Year Blues", was given a full-page advertisement in the December 12th, 1928 edition of the Chicago Defender. In Paramount's 1928 late fall Dealers' Supplement the label advertised scores of "CHRISTMAS, SPIRITUAL AND SERMON RECORDS THAT ARE DEPENDABLE SALES PRODUCERS" and warned that they "SHOULD BE IN YOUR STOCKS NOW." Blind Blake received the large sized treatment in the 1929 edition of the paper for his "Lonesome Christmas Blues," (also sharing the page was Leroy Carr's "Christmas In Jail – Ain't That A Pain?") his only Christmas record. The flip was "Third Degree Blues" – apparently Blake only had enough holiday spirit for one side!

Blind Blake wishes you a Merry X-mas

The trend continued with more frequency in the 30's. Here are a few notable songs: Butterbeans & Susie "Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus" (1930), Charlie Jordan "Santa Claus Blues" ["Christmas Christmas, how glad I am you are here/ Well I ain’t had a chicken dinner for this whole round year/Shiny bones and naked bones gleaming from around my plate/ …So pass me that chicken, the turkey, duck and the goose/Well all you birds gonna be one legged when I turn you-a-loose"] (1931) and "Christmas "Christmas Blues" (1935), Kansas City Kitty & Georgia Tom "Christmas Morning Blues" (1934), Verdi Lee "Christmas "Tree Blues" (1935), Tampa Red "Christmas And New Years Blues" (1934), Peetie Wheatstraw "Santa Claus Blues" (1935), Bumble Bee Slim's "Christmas And No Santa Claus and "Santa Claus Bring Me A New Woman" (1936), Black Ace "Christmas Time Blues (Beggin' Santa Claus)" (1937), Casey Bill Weldon "Christmas Time Blues" (1937), Bo Carter "Santa Claus" (1938), Walter Davis "Santa Claus" (1935), Sonny Boy Williamson I "Christmas Morning Blues" (1938).

Mary Harris, who cut two sides for Decca at an October 31, 1935 session is most certainly Verdi Lee who cut sides on the exact same date, also in the company of fellow St. Louis musicians Peetie Wheatstraw and Charlie Jordan. It was a holiday themed session with the group cutting "Christmas Tree Blues", "No Christmas Blues", "Happy New Year Blues", "Christmas Christmas Blues" and "Santa Claus Blues" (the latter two with vocals by Jordan and Wheatstraw respectively). Paul Oliver noted that "it would be pleasant to think that each singer was inspired by the others to create a blues on the same subject but at this date, with Christmas two months away, it is more likely that it was a deliberate promotional device by Rev. J.M. Gates: Will The Coffin Be Your Santa Claus[producer] Mayo Williams."

In the 40's there was of course more blues Christmas songs but there was a new music brewing called R&B. Evolving out of jump blues in the late '40's, R&B laid the groundwork for rock & roll. The era's biggest Christmas song was undoubtedly the immortal "Merry Christmas, Baby" cut by Charles Brown & The Blazers in 1947. This perennial classic has been covered numerous times including versions by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Lena Horne , Lou Rawls, Booker T. & the MG's, Otis Redding, James Brown and countless others. Charles Brown's smooth ballad style has become synonymous with Christmas ever since remaking "Merry Christmas, Baby" many times, cutting many other Christmas songs and full length albums including 1961's Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs and Cool Christmas Blues in 1994.

Notable blues and R&B songs from this period include: Champion Jack Dupree's "Santa Claus Blues" (1945), Gatemouth Moore "Christmas Blues" (1946) [recut in 1977 as "Gate's Christmas Blues"], Little Willie Littlefield "Merry Xmas" (1949), Mabel Scott "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" (1947), Harman Ray "Xmas Blues" ["Hold it, hold it man/Don’t play me no jingle bells the way I feel this Christmas/Only kind of bells I want to have anything to do with is some of them mission bells/Man, play me the blues long, loud and lowdown"] (1947), Boll Weavil "Christmas Time Blues" (1947), Big Joe Turner "Christmas Date Boogie "(1948), Thelma Cooper "I Need A Man (For Xmas)" (1948), Smokey Hogg "I Want My Baby For Christmas" (1949), Amos Milburn "Let's Make Christmas Merry Baby" (1949), Harry Crafton "Bring That Cadillac Back" ["I let you eat my turkey on Christmas morn/When I looked around you and my Cadillac was gone"] (1949), Felix Gross "Love For Christmas" ["You can have your turkey and your dressing/Sweet cakes and apple pie/Blue Champagne and Rock & Rye/Everything that money can buy"] (1949), J.B. Summers "I Want a Present For Christmas" (1949 ["Santa Claus, Santa Claus/Hear my plea/Open up your bag and give a fine brown baby to me/ …You can stop by my chimney/Drop her in the chute/ Leave your reindeer outside/Come in and get my loot"] .

One other song from this era is the downright odd "Junior's a Jap Girl's Christmas for His Santa Claus" (1942) a Library of Congress recording by Willie Blackwell that defies categorization. Other non-R&B Christmas songs from the 40's include a few by Leadbelly such as "Christmas Is A-Coming", "The Christmas Song", "On A Christmas Day", Sylvester Cotton "Christmas Blues" (1948), Washboard Pete [aka Ralph Willis] "Christmas Blues" (1948), Alex Seward & Louis Hayes "Christmas Time Blues" (1948), Walter Davis "Santa Claus" (1949).

Clyde Lasley: Santa Came Home DrunkThere was a time you could hit the charts with an instrumental as pianist Lloyd Glenn well knew, scoring big with "Old Time Shuffle Blues" which hit #3 on the R&B charts in 1950 and "Chica Boo" which hit #1 in 1951. He seemed to have a knack for being on hit records, accompanying T-Bone Walker on his 1947 hit "Call It Stormy Monday", and in 1949 he joined Swing Time Records as A&R man, recording a number of hits with Lowell Fulson, including "Everyday I Have The Blues" and the #1 R&B hit "Blue Shadows." In sunny Los Angeles on April 1951 he waxed the shuffling "(Christmas) Sleigh Ride." Glenn's distinctive piano work can also be found on a five-song session Jesse Thomas waxed for Swingtime also in April 1951 which included "Xmas Celebration." Glenn was also present when Lowell Fulson cut his classic two-parter, "Lonesome Christmas Pt. 1 & 2 "in 1951.

The 50's produced many more Christmas gems including: Lowell Fulson's oft covered ""Lonesome Christmas" (1950), Cecil Gant "It's Christmas Time Again" and "Hello, Santa Claus"  (1950), Roy Milton "Christmas Time Blues" (1950), Johnny Otis & Little Esther Phillips "Far Away Blues" [also known as "Faraway Christmas Blues"] (1950), Jimmy Liggins "I Want My Baby For Christmas" (1950), The Nic Nacs with Mickey Champion "Gonna Have A Merry Xmas" (1950), Larry Darnell "Christmas Blues" (1950), Sonny Parker with Lionel Hampton "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" (1950), Lloyd Glenn "Sleigh Ride" (1951), Sugar Chile Robinson "Christmas Boogie" b/w "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1950), Titus Turner "Christmas Morning" (1952), Lightning Hopkins "Merry Christmas" (1953), Chuck Berry "Run, Rudolph, Run" (1958) and "Merry Christmas Baby" (1958), John Lee Hooker "Blues for Christmas" (1959).

The 60's, less so in the 70's, produced a number of strong Christmas blues songs including at least one blues classic, Little Johnny Taylor's "Please Come Home For Christmas" (1969) which has become an oft covered holiday classic. Other notable 60's songs include: Sonny Boy Williamson II "Santa Claus" (1960), Lightnin' Hopkins "Santa" (1960) and "Heavy Snow" (1962), Black Ace "Santa Claus Blues" (1960), B.B. King "Christmas Celebration" (1960), Hop Wilson "Merry Christmas, Darling" (1961), Robert Nighthawk "Merry Christmas Baby" (1964), Lowell Fulson "I Wanna Spend Christmas With You" (1967), Louis Jordan "Santa Claus, Santa Claus" (1968), Charles Brown "New Merry Christmas Baby" (1969) featuring Earl Hooker, Bukka White "Christmas Eve Blues" (1969). In the 70's: Jimmy Reed "Christmas Present Blues" (1970), Lee Jackson "The Christmas Song" (1971), Clyde Lasley "Santa Came Home Drunk (1971), Albert King "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" (1974) and "Christmas Comes But Once A Year" (1974), Eddie C. Campbell "Santa's Messin' with the Kid" (1977).

Freddy Ling: I Hear Jingle BellsThere seems to be a dearth of quality Christmas songs in the 70's and 80's. By the late 80's the rise of the CD caused the demise of the 45 record which was one of the main vehicles for putting out holiday songs. However in lieu of the 45 labels began releasing Christmas themed compilations and there have been a number of very good collections. Some of the best include: Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas (1989) from the Antone's label [reissued on Epic in 1986 and Sony in 2001], Alligator Records Christmas Collection (1992), Ichiban Blues At Christmas Vol. 1-4 (1991-97) [Best of Ichiban Blues at Christmas was issued 2002], Bullseye Blues Christmas (1995), Stony Plain's Christmas Blues (2000), Blue Christmas (2000) from the Dialtone label, Blue Xmas (2001) on Evidence. A number of artists issued Christmas themed records including Charles Brown, Huey "Piano' Smith, Johnny Adams, B.B. King and Etta James. Also with the dominance of the CD age labels went back into their vaults to put together compilations of classic Christmas blues.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
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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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Kokomo Arnold Coffin Blues Kokomo Arnold Vol. 3 1936-1937
Big Bill BroonzyFalling RainAll The Classic Sides
Tampa RedStormy Sea BluesThe Essential
Josephine ParkerI Got A Man In New OrleansField Recordings, Vol. 8: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi 1934-1947
Alice Moore Grass Cutter Blues Kokomo Arnold Vol. 3 1936-1937
Black Boy ShineBrown House BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937
Mack Rhinehart & Brownie StubbliefieldBroke And HungryDeep South Blues Piano 1935-1937
Little Brother Montgomery Santa Fe BluesLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Bo CarterBo Carter's AdviceGreatest Hits
Chatman Brothers If You Don't Want Me, Please, Don't Dog Me AroundBo Carter & The Mississippi Sheiks
Willie Williams'Twas On a Monday Field Recordings Vol. 1: Virginia 1936-1941
J. WilsonBarrel House BluesRed River Blues 1934-1943
James Henry DiggsFreight Train BluesVirginia Traditions: Southwest Virginia Blues
Charlie McCoy Let My Peaches BeCharlie & Joe McCoy Vol. 1 1934-1936
Harlem HamfatsMy Daddy Was a Lovin' ManHarlem Hamfats Vol. 1 1936
Lil JohnsonMy Stove's In Good Condition Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts & Lollypops
Victoria Spivey Black Snake Swing Victoria Spivey Vol 3 1929-1936
Jimmie Strothers & Joe Lee Lord Remember Me Field Recordings, Vol. 8: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi 1934-1947
Blind Roosevelt GravesWoke Up This MorningAmerican Primitive Vol. I: Raw Pre-War Gospel
Blind Boy Fuller (I Got a Woman, Crazy for Me) She's Funny That Way Blind boy Fuller: Remastered 1935-1938
The Two CharliesDon’t Put Your Dirty Hands On Me Charley Jordan Vol. 3 1935-1937
Walter ColemanMama Let Me Lay It On YouCincinnati Blues
Red NelsonCrying Mother BluesBroadcasting the Blues
Bill Gaither Pins And NeedlesBill Gaither Vol. 1 1935-1936
Ozella JonesI Been a Bad, Bad Girl (Prisoner Blues)Alan Lomax: Blues Songbook
Memphis MinnieI'm A Bad Luck WomanMemphis Minnie Vol. 2 1935-1936
Peetie WheatstrawWorking Man (Doing’ The Best I Can)Peetie Wheatstraw Vol. 3
Bumble Bee SlimThis Old Life I'm LivingBumble Bee Slim Vol. 5 1935-1936
Casey Biil Weldon Somebody Changed the Lock on That DoorCasey Bill Weldon Vol. 1 1935-1936
Oscar WoodsLone Wolf BluesTexas Slide Guitars: Oscar Woods & Black Ace 1930-1938
Robert JohnsonLast Fair Deal Gone DownThe Centennial Collection
Sonny Boy NelsonPony BluesCatfish Blues: Mississippi Blues Vol. 3 1936-1942
Washboard SamMixed Up BluesWashboard Sam Vol. 1 1935-1936
The Hokum BoysNancy JaneThe Hokum Boys Vol. 2 & Bob Robinson 1935-1937
Lemuel JonesPo' FarmerField Recordings, Vol. 8: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi 1934-1947
Elinor Boyer You're Gonna Need My Help SomedayField Recordings, Vol. 8: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi 1934-1947

Show Notes:

Walter Coleman: Mama Let Me Lay It On YouToday’s show is the tenth 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. The Depression, with the massive unemployment it brought, had a shattering effect on the pockets of black record buyers. Sales of blues records plummeted in the years 1931 through 1933. Things picked up again in 1934 with the companies recording full-scale again. It was the urban style of blues that now dominated the market – artists such as Tampa Red, Kokomo Arnold, Memphis Minnie, Big Bill Broonzy, Casey Bill Weldon, Bill Gaither  and Bumble Bee Slim recorded prolifically. Blind Boy Fuller was one of the few down-home artists whose sales could compete with urban artists (he cut ten titles in 1936).

Leroy Carr, who epitomized the urban blues, passed away in 1935 with the recording companies trying to cede the mantle to artists such as Bumble Bee Slim and Bill Gaither. Blues guitarist Bill Gaither cut well over a hundred sides for Decca and OKeh between 1931 and 1941. Gaither was close to the blues pianist Leroy Carr, and following Carr's death recorded under the moniker Leroy's Buddy for a time.

Casey Bill Weldon and Kokomo Arnold were two of the popular Chicago guitarists, alongside the well established Tampa Red.  Between 1927 and 1935 Weldon 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. 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 Casey Bill Weldon: Somebody Changed the Lock on That Doorbacking Peetie Wheatstraw, Roosvelt Sykes, Alice Moore (heard backing her on today's "Grass Cutter Blues"), Mary Johnson and others.

Of the recorded blues groups, the swinging, jazzy sound of  the Harlem Hamfats fit right in with the times. The Hamfats were a crack studio band formed in 1936 by black talent scout Mayo Williams. Its main function was backing jazz and blues singers such as Johnny Temple, Rosetta Howard, and Frankie "Half Pint" Jackson for Decca Records; The Hamfats' side career began when its first record "Oh Red" became a hit. The band included brothers Joe and Charlie McCoy ,leader Herb Morand, Odell Rand, and John Lindsay, Horace Malcolm and drummers Pearlis Williams and Freddie Flynn .

Among the popular woman of the day were Memphis Minnie, Georgia White, Lil Johnson while Victoria Spivey was one of the last hold outs from the era of the 1920's blues queens. Lil Johnson first recorded in Chicago in 1929 on five songs. She did not return to the recording studio until 1935. In 1936 and 1937, she recorded over 40 songs, mostly on the Vocalion label, some featuring Big Bill Broonzy on guitar and Lee Collins on trumpet. Spivey updated her sound and waxed twelve sides in 1936 with a swinging band that featured the aforementioned Lee Collins. Spivey's "Black Snake Swing", backed by her Hallelujah Boys, was a jazzy remake of a song she recorded at her very first session in 1926.

From 1934 until 1945 there were three main race labels, all selling at 35 cents: Decca, the Brunswick Record Corporation's Vocalion, and RCA-Victor's Bluebird. There were two other labels that featured a fair number of blues during this period; the store group Montgomery Ward, with a label of the same name, drew at various times on Gennett, Decca and Bluebird and Sears Roebuck used ARC material on its Conqueror label. According to John Godrich and Robert M.W. Dixon in their classic book Recording The Blues, the record companies "had three way of unearthing new talent: by placing advertisements in local newspapers, especially just before a field unit was due in a nearby town; by just relying on Sonny Boy Nelson: Pony Blueschance comments from singers, concerning other who might be good recording propositions; and by employing their own talent scouts, who carry out steady, systematic searches. The last method was intensively employed in the the thirties – Rootlet Sykes, for instance, would find likely artists for Decca (or, sometimes, for Lester Melrose). But despite this, race catalogs in the thirties relied more heavily on a small nucleus of popular singers than they had in the twenties. …There was far less recording in the field in the 'thirties; in view of the popularity of the Chicago singers there was less need." Decca, for example, seems to have only gone South once, to New Orleans in 1936, where they recorded Walter Vincson and Oscar Woods.

Then there was Bluebird who over two days on October 15-16, 1936 conducted sessions at the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans. Little Brother Montgomery cut eighteen sides plus backed singer Annie Turner on her four numbers (two were unissued), Sonny Boy Nelson (Eugene Powell) cut six sides under his own name as well as backing Robert Hill, who cut ten , and his wife Mississippi Matilda on her three sides. In addition Bo Carter cut ten sides, the Chatman brothers (Lonnie and Sam) cut twelve sides, Tommy Griffin cut a dozen sides and Walter Vincson  (as Walter Jacobs) cut two sides. As John Godrich and Howard Rye wrote in Recording The Blues: "The New Orleans session in 1936 was Victor's last substantial race field recording; in subsequent years they recorded a fair number of gospel quartets in he field, but only one or two unimportant blues singers."

ARC made field recordings in 1936 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Fort Worth Texas and San Antonio where they recorded Black Boy Shine and Robert Johnson. 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. Johnson recorded sixteen sides in November and a final thirteen sides in June the next year.

Record Sales Chart
Graph showing number of blues and gospel records issued by year from
the book Recording The Blues (click to enlarge)

The year 1936 saw some notable field recordings captured by John Lomax who traveled through Virginia, South Carolina and Florida collecting primarily from convicts. Recordings featured today include Ozella Jones' "I Been a Bad, Bad Girl (Prisoner Blues)", Josephine Parker's "I Got A Man In New Orleans" recorded in Parchman Farm, James Henry Diggs, who's "Freight Train Blues" features two guitars and a bugle and Jimmie Strothers, a blind banjo and guitar player from Virginia who recorded 15 tracks for Alan Lomax and Harold Spivacke.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
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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