Entries tagged with “Thomas Shaw”.


ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Blind Lemon JeffersonOne Dime Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonMatchbox Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonRambler BluesThe Best Of
Down Home Boys (Papa Harvey Hull & Long "Cleve" Reed)Mama You Don't Know HowNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Big Joe WilliamsPeach Orchard Mama Big Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Blind Willie McTellLast Dime BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonSee That My Grave Is Kept CleanThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonBed Spring BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonPrison Cell Blues Mean & Evil Blues
Lightnin' Hopkins Reminiscences Of Blind LemonLightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian Folkways]
Lightnin' Hopkins One Kind FavorAll The Classics 1946-1951
Son HouseCounty Farm BluesBlues Images Vol. 4
Blind Lemon Jefferson Shuckin' Sugar BluesThe Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon Jefferson Corinna Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Rabbit Foot Blues If It Ain't One Thing, It'Rabbit Foot Blues
Ramblin' ThomasNo Baby BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Blind Boy Fuller Untrue BluesBlind Boy Fuller Remastered 1935-1938
Blind Lemon Jefferson Got The Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Long Lonesome Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Hot Dogs The Best Of
Leadbelly Blind Lemon (Song)Leadbelly Vol. 6 1947
Leadbelly Silver City Bound Leadbelly's Last Sessions
Blind Lemon JeffersonBad Luck Blues The Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlack Horse Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson That Crawlin' Baby Blues The Best Of
Hattie Hudson Doggone My Good Luck Soul Dallas Alley Drag
Thomas Shaw Jack Of Diamonds San Diego Blues Jam
Mance LipscombEasy Rider BluesCaptain, Captain: The Texas Songster
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlind Lemon's Penitentiary Blues The Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlack Snake Moan Great Blues Guitarists: String Dazzlers
Pete HarrisBlind Lemon's SongTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Rev. Emmett Dickenson The Death Of Blind LemonBlues Images Vol. 6
King Solomon Hill My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon Blues Images Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Today we spotlight Blind Lemon Jefferson and the enormous influence he had on his contemporaries and countless blues artist over the ensuing decades. Although he was not the first male country blues singer/guitarist to record, Blind Lemon Jefferson was the first to succeed commercially and his success influenced previously reluctant record companies to actively seek out and record male country blues players in the hope of finding a similar talent. Throughout the ’20s Lemon spearheaded a boom in ‘race’ record sales that featured male down-home blues singers and such was the appeal of his recordings that in turn they were responsible for inspiring a whole new generation of blues singers. Researcher Bruce Bastin, known for his extensive research in the Piedmont region, said of Jefferson… “…there can have been few nascent bluesmen outside Texas, let alone within the state, who had never heard his music. Among interviewed East Coast bluesmen active during Blind Lemon’s recording career, almost all recall him as one of the first bluesmen they heard on record.” Today we spotlight some of Lemon's best numbers as well as a those artists he inspired. Lemon's influence cast a long shadow among both black and white artists and today's show is in no way comprehensive but does give a snapshot of just how big Lemon's impact was.

Jefferson was born in September 1893. By 1912, he was working over a wide area of Texas, including East Dallas, Silver City, Galveston, and Waco. Jefferson was still a teenager when he moved into Dallas. The black community in Dallas were settled in an area covering approximately six blocks around Central Avenue up to Elm Street, the center of which was Deep Ellum, a bustling thoroughfare full of bars, clubs and brothels. Mance Lipscomb saw Jefferson playing there as early as 1917. Although Jefferson’s reputation was originally made as a singer of sacred songs, the percentage of blues in his repertoire greatly increased as the years progressed. In 1925 Jefferson was discovered by a Paramount recording scout and taken to Chicago to make his first records either in December 1925 or January 1926. Jefferson's first session produced "I Want To Be Like Jesus In My Heart" b/w "All I Want Is That Pure Religion" using the name Deacon L.J. Bates. It was the second session, however, that made Jefferson a star. He recorded four songs at that session: “Booster Blues” b/w “Dry Southern Blues’, came out in or around March 1926. "Got The Blues" b/w "Long Lonesome Blues" hadn't been on sale long in the spring of 1926 when Paramount asked him to record it again because of the huge demand for the record. This was unheard of for a male blues artist. Prior to Jefferson the blues had been recorded primarily by women backed by piano or bands

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Rambler Blues
Click to Enlarge

Tony Russell describes Jefferson's impact: "Jefferson offered instead blues sung by a man playing guitar – playing it, moreover, with a busyness and variety that showed up many of those pianists and bands as turgid and ordinary. The discovery that there was an audience for Jefferson's type of blues revolutionized the music business: within a few years female singers were out of favor and virtually all the trading in the 'race' market (jazz aside) was in men with guitars." Throughout 1926 there was a constant supply of new releases from Jefferson, "Black Horse Blues", "Jack O’ Diamond Blues" and "That Black Snake Moan" were among these classic numbers.

In 1927, when producer Mayo Williams moved to OKeh Records, he took Jefferson with him, and OKeh quickly recorded and released Jefferson's "Matchbox Blues" backed with "Black Snake Moan," which was to be his only OKeh recording, probably because of contractual obligations with Paramount. Jefferson's two songs released on Okeh have considerably better sound quality than on his Paramount records at the time. When he had returned to Paramount a few months later, "Matchbox Blues" had already become such a hit that Paramount re-recorded and released two new versions. In 1927, Jefferson recorded another of his now classic songs, the haunting "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (once again using the pseudonym Deacon L. J. Bates) along with two other uncharacteristically spiritual songs, "He Arose from the Dead" and "Where Shall I Be." Of the three, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" became such a big hit that it was re-recorded and re-released in 1928. Despite his success, which allowed him to maintain a chauffeur-driven Ford and a healthy bank balance, Jefferson’s lifestyle was little affected. While he spent time in Chicago, where most of his recordings were made, he continued to work as an itinerant performer in the South.

In addition to his frequent recording sessions in Chicago throughout the late '20s, Blind Lemon Jefferson still performed in Texas and traveled around the South. He played Chicago rent parties, performed at St. Louis' Booker T. Washington Theater, and even worked some with Son House collaborator Rev. Rubin Lacy while in Mississippi. In late September of 1929, Jefferson went to Paramount's studios in Richmond, IN, for a fruitful session that included two songs,"Bed Springs Blues" and "Yo Yo Blues", that were also issued on the Broadway label. Jefferson was back in Chicago in December of 1929 when, sadly, he was found dead following a particularly cold snowstorm.

Blind Lemon Jefferson: 'Lectric Chair Blues
Click to Enlarge

Jefferson died in Chicago at 10 am on December 19, 1929, of what his death certificate called "probably acute myocarditis" (Lemon's death certificate was found in 2010 and published in the Frog Blues and Jazz Annual #1). Paramount Records paid for the return of his body to Texas by train, accompanied by pianist William Ezell. Jefferson was buried at Wortham Negro Cemetery (later Wortham Black Cemetery). By 1996, the cemetery and marker were in poor condition, but a new granite headstone was erected in 1997. In 2007, the cemetery's name was changed to Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery and his gravesite is kept clean by a cemetery committee in Wortham, Texas.

Several blues singer/guitarists like Thomas Shaw and Mance Lipscomb thought Jefferson’s style almost impossible to imitate with any degree of success. But there were a few recordings made in the pre-war period that managed to do so, notably Issiah Nettles (The Mississippi Moaner), who covered Lemon’s "Long Lonesome Blues" as "It’s Cold In China Blues". Willard ‘Ramblin’ Thomas (probably a one time associate of Jefferson) had a number of songs in the the vein of Lemon. Jesse Thomas' 1948 number, "Double Due Love You" opens with lyrics also taken from the Blind Lemon' "Long Lonesome Blues." Thomas also recorded Lemon's "Jack of Diamonds" in 1951.

We feature several artists today who either covered Lemon's songs or who's records clearly bear the mark of Lemon's influence.  The Down Home Boys recording of "Mama, You Don't Know How", from 1927, has Long Cleve Reed, Papa Harvey Hull and Sunny Wilson re-working Lemon's "Black Snake Moan". Blind Boy Fuller was influenced by Lemon. The opening lick to his intro to "Untrue Blues" comes right out of "Rabbit's Foot Blues” while "Meat Shakin' Woman", derives its melody from "Bad Luck Blues". According to Son House’s recollection of his 1930 Paramount session, producer Art Laibley had asked the musicians if anyone could do a version of the song. Charlie Patton and Willie Brown passed but House went back to his room with Louise Johnson, worked half the night adding his own words to Lemon's melody, and the next day recorded "Mississippi County Farm." The song became a mainstay of House's repertoire, and he recorded it again for Alan Lomax in 1942. Hattie Hudson's 1927 song, "Doggone My Bad Luck Soul" was an "answer song" to Lemon's "Bad Luck Blues" issued in 1926, and has the repeated tag-line "doggone my bad luck soul."

Today we spotlight several artists who knew Lemon first hand such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Leadbelly, Thomas Shaw and King Solomon Hill. Lightnin' Hopkins offered different account of when he met Blind Lemon but it seems to have been sometime in the early to mid-20's. From 1959 we hear "Reminiscences Of Blind Lemon" and "One Kind Favor, his cover of Lemon's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean."

It was on the streets of Deep Ellum that Lemon met up with Leadbelly. Leadbelly, in later years, was understandably proud of his relationship with Lemon. They probably met up sometime after 1910, when Leadbelly and his wife Aletta moved into Dallas. Leadbelly would play guitar, mandolin or accordion behind Lemon and he remembered topically performing the number "Fare Thee Well, Titanic" (the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912) on the streets of Dallas with Jefferson and on other occasions, dancing while Lemon would play a guitar solo version of "Dallas Rag". As a team they traveled together on the railroads from town to town earning a reasonable living. In later years Leadbelly would recall how he and Lemon “was buddies” and how.. “we’d tear those guitars all to pieces”. Their partnership certainly ended by January 1918, when Leadbelly (using the alias Walter Boyd) was indicted on a charge of murder, found guilty and thereafter became a guest of the Texas penal system.

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Cannon Ball Moan
Click to Enlarge

Thomas Shaw had already been enthralled by Jefferson's early recordings of “Long Lonesome Blues” and “Matchbox Blues” when he met Jefferson on the town square of Waco in 1926 or 1927. At Blind Jefferson's urging he bought himself a guitar and learned Jefferson's “Long Lonesome Blues”. He learned many of Jefferson's songs from a combination of listening to the records and hearing him in person. Today we play his version of Lemon's classic "Jack Of Diamonds."

King Solomon Hill was closely connected to Crying Sam Collins and Blind Lemon Jefferson and their influence is evident, to some degree, in Hill's style. "My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon"is a heartfelt tribute to someone Hill clearly admired: "Hmmm then the mailman brought a misery to my head/When I received a letter that my friend Lemon was dead." Those lines echo the opening of Lemon's “Gone Dead On You Blues”: Mmmmmm, mailman's letter brought misery to my head. Mmmmm, brought misery to my head. I got a letter this morning, my pigmeat mama was dead.” Hill ran with Lemon for about two months after he passed through Minden. Hill's widow recalled that "he sung that song a whole lot 'bout Blind Lemon. Said he loved his buddy 'some way better than anyone I know.'" On one record, “Whoope Blues” b/w Down On My Bended Knees” the subtitle on the record says “Blind Lemon's Buddy.”

In 1930 , shortly after Lemon's death, Paramount issued a double sided tribute to Lemon: “Wasn't It Sad About Lemon” by the duo Walter and Byrd was on one side while the second side was the sermon “The Death Of Blind Lemon” by Rev. Emmett Dickenson. Leadbelly recorded a number of songs about Lemon after his passing. Today we spin his "Blind Lemon (Song)" from 1947 and the marvelous "Silver City Bound" from his last session in 1948.

-A Twist of Lemon by Paul Swinton  (Blues & Rhythm, No. 121)

-Blind Lemon And I Had A Ball by Victoria Spivey  (Record Research 76, May 1966 p.9)

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Thomas ShawBaby Be A Boy Child Named Him After MeBlind Lemon's Buddy
Thomas ShawStop In The ValleyBlind Lemon's Buddy
Blind Lemon Jefferson Long Lonesome BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson One Dime Blues The Best Of
Thomas ShawAll Out And DownBorn In Texas
Thomas ShawBroke And Ain't Got A DimeBlind Lemon's Buddy
Funny Papa SmithHowling Wolf Blues - No. 1The Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Funny Papa SmithHoney BluesThe Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Thomas Shaw Last Year Was A Mighty Fine YearBorn In Texas
Thomas Shaw Ella Speed Blind Lemon's Buddy
Blind Willie JohnsonLord I Can't Just Keep From CryingThe Complete Blind Willie Johnson
Blind Willie JohnsonIf I Had My Way I'd Tear The Building Down
The Complete Blind Willie Johnson
Thomas Shaw Just Can't Keep From Crying Blind Lemon's Buddy
Thomas Shaw Worried BluesBorn In Texas
Ramblin' ThomasSo LonesomeCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics 1926-1937
Willie LaneToo Many Women BluesRural Blues Vol. 1 1934-1956
Thomas ShawMatchbox Blues Blind Lemon's Buddy
Thomas ShawHowling Wolf Blues Blind Lemon's Buddy
Smokey Hogg Penitentiary Blues Pt. 1Good Morning Little School Girl
Mance Lipscomb Ella Speed Texas Sharecropper & Songster
Thomas Shaw Prowling Ground HogBlind Lemon's Buddy
Thomas Shaw She's My Gal Do Lord Remember Me
Funny Papa Smith County Jail BluesThe Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Funny Papa Smith Fool's BluesThe Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Thomas ShawJack of DiamondsSan Diego Blues Jam
Blind Lemon Jefferson Match Box BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Jack O' Diamond Blues The Best Of
Thomas ShawDedicated To My FriendsDo Lord Remember Me

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

Thomas Shaw came to the attention of the blues world in the late 1960's when he walked into Lou Curtis' Folk Arts Rare Records shop in San Diego looking for guitar strings. Shaw was from Brennam, Texas and had learned to play guitar in the late 1920's from Blind Lemon Jefferson. He was a walking library of Texas blues, having played with Ramblin’ Thomas, J.T. “Funny Papa” Smith, Texas Alexander, and Willie “Little Brother” Lane. He also played some with a very young Mance Lipscomb. In the early 70's Curtis wrote articles about Shaw for Living Blues and Blues Unlimited magazines and Shaw's discovery garnered interest from record companies. Frank Scott came down and recorded Shaw for Advent Records in the backroom of Curtis' store. The same year saw the release of the, now long out-of-print, record on the Blue Goose label with a final record cut in 1973 for the Blue Beacon label in Holland when Shaw toured Europe. A few scattered sides appeared on anthologies before his passing in 1977. Today's show not only spotlights a batch of great sides by Shaw, but we also spin sides from many of the great Texas bluesman that he knew and played with like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Funny Papa Smith, Blind Willie Johnson, Smokey Hogg, Mance Lipscomb, Willie Lane and Ramblin' Thomas.

Thomas Shaw only spent five years on the Texas house party circuit, leaving for San Diego in 1934, yet met an astonishing number of Texas blues legends. He was born in Brenham, Texas in 1908, a farming community between Austin and Houston. His was a musical family; his father played harmonica, guitar and accordion and Shaw learned acapella versions of spirituals on his father's knee. His uncle Fred Rogers headed up a family string band and his cousins, Willie and Bertie, were first rate blues guitarists. His older brother Leon played piano and his brother Louis played harmonica. "They played old time blues music, what you call the root of the music. 'Ella Speed', 'Take Mew Back Baby', 'See See Rider'. 'Alabama Bound', all of them songs was popular then."

Shaw first played harmonica before picking up guitar in the early 20's. The first song he mastered was “Out And Down”, a ragtime song that was played locally by his brother Louis and later recorded as “One Dime Blues” by Blind Lemon Jefferson. Shaw had already been enthralled by Jefferson's early recordings of “Long Lonesome Blues” and “Matchbox Blues” when he met Jefferson on the town square of Waco in 1926 or 1927. “I followed all around that evening there, and then I started talkin' to him, and naturally me being a kid he's askin' me different things: 'You like the way I play this guitar?' I told him 'I love it!' …Say: 'How would you lie to do it?' I say: 'I sure wish I could do it!' He says: 'Well you can.' I say: 'I don't know.' He says: 'Yes, you can …go and find you a guitar.' .'..When you hear (of) me in town, you come where I am.' At Blind Jefferson's urging he bought himself a guitar and learned Jefferson's “Long Lonesome Blues”. He learned many of Jefferson's song from a combination of listening to the records and hearing him in person.

In 1925 Blind Lemon Jefferson was discovered by a Paramount recording scout and taken to Chicago to make his first records either in December 1925 or January 1926. Though he was not the first country blues singer/guitarist, or the first to make commercial recordings, Jefferson was the first to attain a national audience. Jefferson’s first session produced "I Want To Be Like Jesus In My Heart" b/w "All I Want Is That Pure Religion" using the name Deacon L.J. Bates. It was the second session, however, that made Jefferson a star. "Got The Blues" b/w "Long Lonesome Blues" hadn't been on sale long in the spring of 1926 when Paramount asked him to record it again because of the huge demand for the record. This was unheard of for a male blues artist. Prior to Jefferson the blues had been recorded primarily by women backed by piano or bands. Tony Russell describes Jefferson's impact: "Jefferson offered instead blues sung by a man playing guitar – playing it, moreover, with a busyness and variety that showed up many of those pianists and bands as turgid and ordinary. The discovery that there was an audience for Jefferson's type of blues revolutionized the music business: within a few years female singers were out of favor and virtually all the trading in the 'race' market (jazz aside) was in men with guitars."

In the towns of Moody and nearby Temple, Shaw met Blind Willie Johnson whom he learned “Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying.” " My father and Blind Willie Johnson used to work together, they both composed songs. My daddy would write 'em and make 'em into ballets and they'd sell 'em for fifteen cents a copy."  After spending a year in his mother's home of Brenham in the late 20's, Shaw began traveling as an itinerant cotton picker. It was in 1929 that he started playing for parties on the weekends. On one of these trips in the town of Vernon he ran into Ramblin' Thomas at a party where the two were goaded into a guitar contest which Shaw claims to have won. "The people went wild, I guess, 'cause I was a kid …what they really went wild over, me bein' able to play some of Blind Lemon Jefferson"s stuff …" Most Texas bluesman, he said, nvere played Jeffereson's songs. While living in Fort Worth in 1929 he played again with Thomas and met Willie Lane (who he knew only as Little Brother) at a house party.

Willard "Ramblin" Thomas was born around 1900, probably in Texas but possibly in Louisiana. Very little is known about him except that he recorded eighteen tracks for Paramount and Victor between 1928 and 1932. Willie Lane was a Texas blues guitarist who recorded five sides in 1949 and displays the influences of Ramblin' Thomas and J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith respectively on "Prowlin' Ground Hog" and "Howling Wolf Blues." In fact, he had accompanied Smith during a 1935 recording session for Vocalion, the results never being released, under the moniker "Little Brother."

Around 1930 Shaw met J.T. “Funny Papa” Smith. Shaw and Smith went on to play weekend house parties, each devising second guitar parts behind the others' vocal and leads. Smith promised to include Shaw in on of his recording sessions in 1931 but Smith was hauled off to face a murder charge and never returned to the area. Smith was a minstrel who wandered about the panhandle region, performing at fairs, fish fries, dances and other community events (often in the company of figures including Tom Shaw, Texas Alexander and Bernice Edwards.Between 1930 and 1931 he had recorded some twenty issued sides. Evidently Smith's commercial billing as "Funny Paper Smith" was a gaffe on the part of record company officials. When Texas bluesman Thomas Shaw met him in Wickoffs, Oklahoma, the name "Funny Papa Smith" was plainly stitched on his stovepipe hat and the work-overalls he customarily wore as the overseer of a local plantation. He was better known simply as Howling Wolf", the title of his debut recording. "That's the one that made him famous," Shaw said of the song.

Shaw's belated debut was recorded in 1969 or 70 and issued in 1972 on the Blue Goose label, titled Blind Lemon's Buddy. Subsequent albums included Born In Texas issued in 1972 on Advent then later on Testament, and Do Lord Remember Me released in 1973 on the Blues Beacon label (recorded in a Holland studio with one cut recorded live at Bajes Blues Club in Amsterdam). Tow other cuts appeared on the compilation San Diego Blues Jam issued in 1974 on Advent then later on Testament and four cuts that appear on the Ultimate Blues Collection Volume 3 on Ziggy Christmann's Ornament label. As Shaw noted of his recording career, it should have happened forty years earlier: “I was a guitar player then, brother …didn't nobody run into me-wanna mess with me. No sir …But I just can't play now.” He remains proudest of his ability to recreate the sound of Blind Lemon, saying of the style “ I went through hell and high water to get it.”

Sources:

-Liner notes to Blind Lemon's Buddy by Stephen Calt

-From The Vaults… Thomas Shaw Interview by Guido van Rijn (Blues & Rhythm #193, October 2004)

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Jerry McCain Things Ain't RightJook Joint Blues: Good Time Rhythm & Blues
Jerry McCain That's What They WantJook Joint Blues: Good Time Rhythm & Blues
Jerry McCain She's ToughTuff Enuff - Ace (MS.) Blues Masters Vol. 3
Irene Scruggs Home Town BluesSugar Foot Stomp
Victoria SpiveyShowered With The BluesVictoria Spivey Vol. 3 1929-1936
Mamie SmithCrazy With The BluesCrazy Blues: The Best Of Mamie Smith
Bill Crosby Sneaking Woman BluesChicago Jump Bands: Early R&B Vol. 1 1945-1953
Charles GrayI'm A Bum Again Chicago Jump Bands: Early R&B Vol. 1 1945-1953
The Big Three TrioAppetite BluesA Shot in the Dark: Nashville Jumps
Thomas Shaw Born In TexasBorn In Texas
Thomas Shaw Prowling Ground HogBlind Lemon's Buddy
Sammy LawhornAfter Hours
After Hours
Cleo PageLeaving Mississippi Leaving Mississippi
Fred McDowell Black MinnieYou Got To Move
Jessie Mae HemphillI'm So Glad You Don't Know What's On My Mind Mississippi Blues Festival
Bukka WhiteGood Gin BluesAberdeeen Mississippi Blues
Bukka WhiteAberdeen Mississippi BluesAberdeeen Mississippi Blues
B.B. KingBroken PromiseMore B.B. King
Frankie Lee SimsWell Goodbye Baby4th & Beale And Further South - Ace (MS.) Blues Masters Vol.2
T.J. FowlerWine CoolerT.J. Fowler 1948-1953
Robert Johnson Phonograph BluesThe Centennial Collection
Buddy MossJoy RagThe Essential
Sylvester Cotton Cotton Field BluesBlues Sensation: Detroit Downhome Recordings 1948-1949
Sylvester Cotton I TriedBlues Sensation: Detroit Downhome Recordings 1948-1949
Texas Alexander CrossroadsTexas Alexander Vol. 2 1928-1930
Elmore JamesStanding At The Crossroads King Of The Slide Guitar
Johnny ShinesStanding At The CrossroadsStanding At The Crossroads
Jerry McCainSteadyTuff Enuff - Ace (MS.) Blues Masters Vol. 3
Jerry McCainCourtin' In A CadillacJook Joint Blues: Good Time Rhythm & Blues

Show Notes:

Once again we open and close today show on a sad note with the passing of Jerry "Boogie" McCain. McCain died at the age of 81 on March 28, 2012. A lifelong resident of Gadsden, Alabama, McCain began playing music semi-professionally in his teens. During the 1950's cut singles such as "Wine-O-Wine", "Stay Out of Automobiles", "Courtin' in a Cadillac" and other numbers for the Trumpet and Excello labels. Record collectors discovering southern downhome blues in the 196'0s were especially excited by his coupling of the harmonica instrumental "Steady" and "She's Tough" (1960)."She's Tough" was covered, almost 20 years later by the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and recalled in the title of the group's later album Tuff Enuff. In the 1960's McCain made further recordings for Okeh and Jewel but soon afterwards his recording career faded, not to be fully revived until the late 1980's, when he signed with the Ichiban label and made several albums. He had to wait longer than many of his contemporaries to be invited to Europe, but after his first trip in 1990 he was often booked for festivals and club engagements. His last album, and one of his best, This Stuff Just Kills Me (2000) was cut for Music Maker and produced by Mike Vernon with an all-star cast.

Also on tap today are a batch of fine blues queens from the 20's, twin spins by Bukka White, Thomas Shaw, Sylvester Cotton, some fine small band blues from the 40's, some fine latter day down-home blues and a trio of songs about the crossroads.

Jazz great Mary Lou Williams recalls coming across the young Irene Scruggs: "In St. Louis, our show picked up a young blues singer named Irene Scruggs… …Irene had not long settled in St. Louis, and was starting out to become one of St. Louis' finest singers." Scruggs got to sing with a number of Joe "King" Oliver's bands that played in St. Louis in the mid 1920's. She first recorded in 1924 and in 1926 she reignited her working association with Oliver. Two of the songs that Scruggs wrote, "Home Town Blues" and "Sorrow Valley Blues", were both recorded by Oliver. She recorded again for Okeh in 1927, this time with Lonnie Johnson. Scruggs formed her own band in the late 1920's, and appeared regularly performing around the St. Louis area. Using the pseudonym, Chocolate Brown, she recorded tracks with Blind Blake and by the early 1930's, Little Brother Montgomery took over as her accompanist on both recordings and touring work. Her recording career finished around 1935. In the 40's she left for Europe where she stayed for the remainder of her life.

Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds 1922. Left to right: unknown, Bubber Miley,unknown, unknown, Mamie Smith, Coleman Hawkins, unknown, unknown.

On August 10, 1920, in New York City, Mamie Smith recorded a set of songs all written by the African American songwriter, Perry Bradford, including "Crazy Blues" and "It's Right Here For You (If You Don't Get It, 'Tain't No Fault of Mine)", on Okeh Records. It was the first recording of vocal blues by an African American artist, and the record became a best seller, selling a million copies in less than a year. In his autobiography, Born With The Blues, Perry Bradford wrote: "When my jazz band played for Mamie Smith to record the "Crazy Blues, we had no arrangements. They were what I called 'hum and head arrangements.' I mean we would listen to the melody and harmony of the piano and each man picked out his harmony notes. It was crude, but the sound that Mamie and my Jazz Hounds planted that February morning in 1920 had such 'down home' original corn in it that it has sprouted, grown and thrived all down through the years." The success of Smith's record prompted record companies to seek to record other female blues singers and started the era of what is now known as classic female blues. Smith continued to make a series of popular recordings for Okeh throughout the 1920's. Today we spin her terrific, hard swinging, "Goin' Crazy With The Blues" from 1926.

After the war dozens of small labels sprouted to serve the demand for blues and R&B records, many failed or had limited success while others grew and became major players. While down-home artists like John Lee Hooker and Lightnin' Hopkins found popularity there were also loads of small R&B combos hitting the market. Today we hear a trio of 40's combos including the popular Big Three Trio and the lesser known Bill Crosby and his Band,  Charles Gray & His Rhumboogie Five and T.J. Fowler's band. William J. "Bill" Crosby was a Chicago vocalist whose career remains obscure. Crosby made two sessions for Columbia in Chicago in 1945 and 1946. We spin his humorous "Sneaking Woman Blues." The short-lived Rhumboogie label was the very first R & B independent to come out of the Chicago area. It was named for the famous night club of the same name which was noted for being part owned by world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis. In early 1946 Rhumboogie issued # 5001, two tunes by Charles Gray & His Rhumboogie Five ( a pseudonym for Buster Bennett who takes the vocals). The songs were "I'm A Bum Again" and "Crazy Woman Blues" of which we play the former:

I used to eat fried chicken, and steaks big enough for two
But now I'm lucky, if I could buy some groundhog stew

T.J. Fowler assembled his own band and in 1947 accompanied saxophonist Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams on that artist's first recordings for the Savoy label. Fowler began making records as a leader in 1948, beginning with small Detroit labels like Paradise and Sensation and landing his own contract with Savoy in 1952, sometimes featuring singer Alberta Adams. Fowler's ensemble also used outstanding guitarist Calvin Frazier who back in the 30's ran with Robert Johnson. In Detroit, Fowler and his men served as the backing band for T-Bone Walker and spent the next few years gigging around the Motor City and southeastern Michigan.

We spin some excellent post-war country blues today by Sylvester Cotton, Thomas Shaw, Cleo Page and Jessie Mae Hemphill among others. Sylvester Cotton was a contemporary of John Lee Hooker (one of the Cotton sides was actually credited to Hooker when issued), and, like Hooker, performed solo with their guitar. The sides were cut in Detroit in 1948 and 1949 by recorded by Bernie Besman who ran the Sensation label. All of his recordings, along with contemporary Andrew Dunham, can be found on the Ace label's Blues Sensation: Detroit Downhome Recordings 1948-1949.

Thomas Shaw spent about five years on the Texas house party circuit in the 1920's and early 1930's before moving to San Diego in 1934. Shaw met many great Texas bluesmen including Smokey Hogg, T-Bone Walker, Mance Lipscomb, Blind Willie Johnson, Ramblin' Thoms, JT "Funny Papa" Smith and Blind Lemon Jefferson who he was clearly a disciple of. He met Jefferson in Waco, Texas in 1926 or 27. JT "Funny Papa" Smith offered to let Shaw play on one of his records in 1931 but Smith was sent to jail on a murder charge. In the 1960's and 70s he recorded excellent albums for the Advent, Blue Goose and Blues Beacon labels before passing in 1977.

Not much is known about Cleo Page who seems to have been based in L.A.. In the 50's he cut some singles under different names and backed some west coast artists on record and cut several tough singles in the early 70's. Some of these were issued on the LP Leaving Mississippi which came out on JSP in 1979, the same year Page passed away on L.A..

Jesse Mae Hemphill was born near Como and Senatobia, Mississippi,in northern Mississippi just east of the Mississippi Delta. She began playing the guitar at the age of seven and also played drums in various local Mississippi fife and drum bands. Her musical background began with playing snare drum and bass drum in the fife-and-drum band led by her grandfather, Sid Hemphill. Aside from sitting in at Memphis bars a few times in the 1950's, most of her playing was done in family and informal settings such as picnics with fife and drum music. The first field recordings of her work were made by blues researcher George Mitchell in 1967 and David Evans in 1973. Evans went on to produce her debut album, She-Wolf, in 1981. She recorded and toured prolifically in the 80's across the US and Europe.

‘‘Straight Alky Blues’’ was composed and first recorded by Leroy Carr in 1929. It provided the melodic basis and, to a lesser extent, a lyric basis for ‘‘Black River Blues’’ by Roosevelt Sykes (1929) and for ‘‘Cross Road Blues’’ by Robert Johnson. Johnson's was released by Vocalion in 1937. His second take was performed at a less hurried tempo and with greater care on the guitar, but it was not released until 1961 as the lead track of the LP King of the Delta Blues Singers. ‘‘Cross Road Blues’’ was introduced to white rock musicians by Cream, who included a live recording from a Fillmore East concert on their 1968 two-LP set Wheels of Fire. Today we play variations on the songs by Elmore James, Johnny Shines and Texas Alexander. Alexander's song has little to do with Johnson's version, except for the opening line:

Lord, I was standin' at the crossroad, I was tryin' my best to get a ride (2x)
Nobody seemed to know me, everybody was passin' by

One final record worth mentioning is by Sammy Lawhorn, who spent most of his career as a session guitarist. Lawhorn was born in Little Rock, Arkansas and worked down south with Driftin' Slim and with Sonny Boy Williamson II on the King Biscuit Time radio program. After being discharged from the army in 1958 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee and did recording sessions with The "5" Royales, Eddie Boyd, Roy Brown and Willie Cobbs. He relocated to Chicago the early 1960's,  and found regular work as a club sideman to Junior Wells, Otis Rush and Elmore James, which led to him sitting in with Muddy Waters band on a couple of occasions. By October 1964, Lawhorn was invited to join Waters band on a full time basis. Over the next decade, he subsequently played on a number of Waters' albums including Live At Mister Kelly's, The London Muddy Waters Sessions, The Woodstock Album, and Folk Singer. Lawhorn's career started to be hampered by his drinking and Waters fired him in 1973. Lawhorn died in April 1990, at the age of 54. The only album issued under his own names was a solid, low key affair titled After Hours issued on the Isabel label recorded in he early 80's. Today we play the title track.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Big John Wrencher Trouble Makin' Woman 45
Big John Wrencher Runnin' Wild 45
Mississippi SheiksStill I'm Traveling OnHoney Babe Let The Deal Go Down
Red Nelson Black Gal StompRed Nelson 1935-1947
Blind John Davis Jersey Cow Blues Blind John Davis 1938-1952
Thomas Shaw Born In TexasBorn In Texas
Thomas Shaw All Out And DownBorn In Texas
Muddy WatersStandin' Around CryinOne More Mile
Larry JohnsonFour Woman BluesFast & Funky
J.W. Warren Hoboing Into HollywoodLife Ain't Worth Livin'
Guitar Slim War Service Blues Greensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim Lovin Home BluesGreensboro Rounder
Blue Smitty Sad StoryDrop Down Mama
Floyd JonesPlayhouseDrop Down Mama
Howlin' Wolf Decoration DaySun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Mattie May ThomasBig Mac From MacamereAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Bessie Smith I've Got What It Takes (But It Breaks My Heart To Give It Away)The Complete Recordings (Frog)
Ruth Willis Man of My OwnCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
Shakey Jake HarrisA Hard Road to TravelFurther On Up The Road
T-Bone Walker You Don't Know What You're DoingT-Bone Blues
Fats JeffersonLove Me BluesGoin' Back To Tifton
Buddy DurhamBlues All Around My HeadGoin' Back To Tifton
Tiny BradshawKnockin' BluesBreakin' Up the House
Louis JordanBuzz Me Good Times Live 1948-49
Gatemouth BrownShe Winked Her EyeBoogie Uproar: Texas Blues & R&B 1947-54
Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerryElectrocution BluesBack
Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerryEverybody's Fishin'Back
Ramblin' ThomasSo LonesomeCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
Big Joe WilliamsMeet Me Around The CornerBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Brownie McGheeCholly BluesThe Folkways Years 1945-1959
Lucille SpannCountry GirlCry Before I Go

Show Notes:

Blues Unlimted 106 – Big John Wrencher Cover

Today's show is the first blues show of the fall membership drive and we hope to hear from our loyal blues listeners. On deck for today's mix show are a fine batch of Chicago blues from Big John Wrencher, Muddy Waters, Blue Smitty, Floyd Jones and Lucille Spann. We also spotlight twin spins by down-home bluesmen Guitar Slim (Stephens) and Thomas Shaw, rare latter day tracks by the duo of Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerry, a trio of tough blues ladies and more.

We open up with obscure 45 from the great one-armed harp blower Big John Wrencher. The sides were recorded by Big John in 1974 during his European tour  and I believe it's Eddie Taylor on guitar. They were released in 1979 in France as part of a six single Coca Cola Promo that covered various styles of popular music. Big John became a recognizable fixture  on Chicago's  Maxwell Street open air market which was  a seven-to ten-block area in Chicago that from the 1920's to the mid-'60s played host to various blues musicians, both professional and amateur, who performed right on the street for tips from passerby. Most of them who started their careers there (like Little Walter, Earl Hooker, Hound Dog Taylor, and others) and moved up to club work. Despite his enormous playing and performing talents, the discography on Wrencher remains thin. His first official recordings surfaced on a pair of Testament albums from the '60s, featuring him as a sideman role behind Robert Nighthawk. His only full album, Maxwell Street Alley Blues, surfaced in the early '70s on the Barrelhouse label. After years of vacillating between his regular Maxwell Street gig and a few appearances on European blues festivals, Wrencher decided to go back to Mississippi to visit family and old friends in July of 1977. There he died from a heart attack at the age of 54.

Claude "Blue Smitty" Smith allegedly taught Muddy Waters, already an accomplished slide guitar player in the 1940s, how to finger the fretboard of his instrument. Smitty cut just a few sides for Chess (under the name Blue Smitty & His String Men) in 1952 which were unissued at the time. From the session we play the doomy "Sad Story."

Jumping ahead twenty years we play a superb cut by Muddy Waters. "Standin' Around Cryin" comes from the 2-CD set One More Mile which includes 11 tracks from a 1972 Radio Lausanne broadcast featuring Muddy with Louis Myers on acoustic second guitar and Mojo Buford on harp. These are stunning performances and worth the price of this disc alone.

We close today's show with the track "Country Girl" from the wife of Muddy's long time pianist Otis Spann. Mahalia Lucille Jenkins began as a church gospel singer in Mississippi and continued to practice when her family moved to Chicago around 1952. She met Otis Spann in the 1960’s with the two beginning a musical collaboration and would later marry. Lucille and Otis performed regularly at college gigs and would record together until Otis passed in 1970. Lucille continued to work in music performing at the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival and making a few recordings before passing in 1994. Cry Before I Go was cut for Bluesway in 1973 and is her only full length album, never issued on CD. She also waxed a couple of 45's in the 70's.

The heyday of country blues was the 20's and 30's  when an incredible number of talented blues musicians got their shot at glory cutting records for the burgeoning race record market. The music eventually fell by the wayside, swept aside by changing musical trends. Yet the style never really went away and with a new found interest among white listeners came a number of men armed with portable equipment to document this music that still thrived in black communities. Roughly from the early 60's through the early 80's a prodigious amount of recording was done and issued on small specialty labels. Unfortunately a good amount of this material has never made it to the CD age. Today we spin some long out-of-print sides recorded by Kip Lornell as well as fine sides from this era by Tom Shaw and J.W. Warren.

Kip Lornell has worked on music projects for the Smithsonian Institute, has a doctorate in ethnomusicology and is the author of several articles and books. He also did some field notable field recording in the 70's. I want to thank Kip for making me a copy of the extremely hard to find Guitar Slim album. James “Guitar Slim” Stephens was born on March 10, 1915, near Spartanburg, South Carolina. He began playing pump organ when he was only five years old, singing spirituals he learned from his parents and reels he heard from his older brother pick on the banjo. Within a few years, Slim was playing piano. When he was thirteen, he began picking guitar, playing songs he heard at local house parties and churches. A few years later he joined the John Henry Davis Medicine Show, playing music to draw crowds. For in the next twenty or so years, he moved throughout the eastern United States living in such cities as Richmond, Durham, Louisville, Nashville, and Waterbury, Connecticut. In 1953 he arrived in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he lived for the remainder of his life playing both guitar and piano–singing the blues at house parties and spirituals at church. His lone LP, Greensboro Rounder, was issued in 1979 by the Flyright label and is a real lost gem. In 1980 he was recorded by Axel Kunster and Ziggy Christmann which was issued as part of the Living Country Blues series on the L&R label. Slim passed in 1989.

Lornell also made some recordings in the early 70's in Albany, NY of all places. These appeared on two Flyright LP's: Goin' Back To Tifton and North Florida Fives. Lornell also wrote a three part feature on the Albany blues scene in Living Blues magazine between 1973 and 1974. I don't have the latter record but we do spin two tracks from the former album.

Tom Shaw spent about five years on the Texas house party circuit in the 1920's and early 1930's before moving to San Diego in 1934. Shaw met many great Texas bluesmen including Smokey Hogg, T-Bone Walker, Mance Lipscomb, Blind Willie Johnson, Ramblin' Thoms, JT "Funny Papa" Smith and Blind Lemon Jefferson who he was clearly a disciple of. He met Jefferson in Waco, Texas in 1926 or 27. JT "Funny Papa" Smith offered to let Shaw play on one of his records in 1931 but Smith was sent to jail on a murder charge. In the 1960's and 70s he recorded for the Advent, Blue Goose and Blues Beacon labels before passing in 1977.

J.W. Warren was born in 1921 in Enterprise, AL. In a family of eleven children, he was the only one to take up music, starting at the age of fifteen or sixteen and was soon playing blues pieces at local juke joints and barbecues. . "I came up the hard way. I never had a break whatsoever. In other words, I never had a break in my life. I was born in the wrong part of the world and then again I didn't go any place else. …didn't do anything with the talent I had because I didn't have much education. When you got a back break like I had you doubt yourself, you know it's rough man!" Warren was recorded at his home in Ariton, AL in 1981, and 1982, by folklorist George Mitchell and made some sides in the 90's for Music Maker.

We spotlight a trio of tough blues ladies with tracks by Ruth Willis, Mattie May Thomas and Bessie Smith. Willis'  first session was for Columbia in Atlanta in October 1931, when she was accompanied by Blind Willie McTell on four tracks: "Rough Alley Blues", "Talkin' To You Wimmen About The Blues", "Experience Blues" and 'Painful Blues." The first two were issued as a single on the OKeh label, billed as by Mary Willis, accompanied by Blind Willie McTell; the other two tracks were issued as a Columbia single as by Ruth Day accompanied by Blind Sammie. A week later she made another OKeh single, "Low Down Blues b/w Merciful Blues", accompanied this time Curley Weaver, and issued as by Mary Willis. She had one more day in the studio in January 1933 where she cut "I'm Still Sloppy Drunk b/w Man Of My Own." Willis died the same year as Curley Weaver (1962), and three years after McTell.

Mattie May Thomas waxed three remarkable acapella numbers in 1939. They were recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in the woman's camp of the  notorious Parchman Farm.

Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerry Reunion in Memphis Aug 29 1972

Jimmy DeBerry and Walter Horton cut two very hard-to-find albums circa 1972-1973 in Memphis called Easy and Back. DeBerry cut some material in the pre-war era and some terrific sides for Sun in the 1950's, both solo and with Walter Horton including playing on Horton's classic "Easy." These albums are bit of a mixed bag but there are several great moments.

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