Detroit Count Hastings Street Opera Pt 1Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
John Lee Hooker Miss Lorraine Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
John Lee Hooker Talkin BoogieDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
John Lee Hooker w/ Eddie Kirkland Pouring Down RainDetroit Special
Calvin Frazier Sweet Lucy (Drinking Woman78
T.J. FowlerGot Nobody To Tell My TroublesT.J. Fowler 1948-1958
Bobo JenkinsDemocrat BluesDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Bobo JenkinsBad Luck And TroubleDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
One String Sam Need a Hundred DollarsDetroit Blues Rarities Vol. 4: Hastings Street Blues Opera
Sylvester Cotton I'm Gone Blues Blues Sensation: Detroit Downhome Recordings 1948-1949
Detroit SlimNelly MaeDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Piano BillMilwaukee BluesDetroit Blues Rarities: Hastings Street Blues Opera Vol. 4
Baby Boy WarrenMy Special Friend Blues Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Baby Boy WarrenPlease Don't Think I'm Nosey Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Baby Boy WarrenNot Welcome Anymore Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Doctor RossThe Sunnyland Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Little Sonny I'll Love You Baby Until The Day I DieDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Eddie Burns Sittin' Here Wondering
Eddie Burns SuperstitionDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Eddie Burns Papa's Boogie Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
L.C. Green Hold Me In Your ArmsDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Sam Kelly Ramblin' Around Bues Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Walter MitchellPet Milk BluesDetroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954
Robert RichardWig Wearing WomanDetroit Blues Rarities Vol. 1: Blues Guitar Killers
Elder R. Wilson Trouble EverywhereDetroit Blues Rarities Vol. 2: Harp Suckers
Eddie Kirkland & John Lee Hooker It's Time For Lovin' To Be DoneThe Complete John Lee Hooker

Show Notes:

My first eye-opener to Detroit Blues came after picking up the album Detroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954 part of a fantastic series of regional anthologies issued on the Nighthawk label. Later on I picked up earlier anthologies like Detroit Blues: The Early 1950s on Blues Classics, Detroit Blues on Kent and Detroit Special on Atlantic. As Leroy Pierson wrote in the notes to the Nighthawk album: “Though never really a blues recording center, by the mid twenties Detroit boasted a sizable black community attracted from the South by auto industry employment. Some like Charlie Spand and Big Maceo traveled to Chicago to record, but it was not until the late forties that local bluesmen had a chance to record on their own ground. A number of small time entrepreneurs began mastering titles in their record shop basements either for lease to established companies or for release on their own obscure labels which more often than not, found their only distribution outlet on the upstairs counter. Most Detroit artists were destined for the same commercial failure that eventually overcame such operations as Staff, Sampson, JVB and Von.” John Lee Hooker was the only artists to achieve long-lasting commercial success. Success of course didn't necessarily equate to quality a case in point being the impressive output of Eddie Kirkland and Eddie Burns, both firmly in Hooker's orbit, who can be heard on some of his recordings, as well as waxing fine sides under their own names. There were others like Baby Boy Warren and Bobo Jenkins who's output should have garnered them greater fame, then there was a slew of of tough down-home bluesmen like Sylvester Cotton, L.C. Green, Walter Mitchell and Robert Richard and others as well as more uptown artists such as T.J. Fowler, Todd Rhodes and Calvin Frazier. Today's notes will cover some of the featured artists, others will be discussed in upcoming show notes. We'll be bouncing around non-chronologically between 1948 and 1962 with most of the recordings, not all, recorded in the Motor City.

In addition to the ones listed above, there have been many collections of Detroit blues over the years, and most recently the 3-CD set Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special an immaculately compiled set by blues historian Mike Rowe. The set was a big inspiration for this three-part series and many tracks will be featured over the course of the programs. The set features a terrific booklet filled with great photos and the track list is filled with iconic performances and some incredible rarities. Mike was also very gracious when I reached out to him at his London home and consented to sit down for a chat about Detroit blues, the results of which will be featured throughout this series of programs. Mike also sent me a batch of articles he wrote about the Detroit scene for Blues & Rhythm magazine.

Read Liner Notes

Like Beale Street in Memphis and Central Avenue in Los Angeles, Detroit too had a famous black strip. As Mike Rowe wrote: "…Paradise Valley, was three-quarters Black by day and, at night, became an integrated strip of bars, clubs, private clubs and restaurants which spelt Entertainment -that is music, prostitution and gambling." Clubs like The Palms, Club Harlem, the Corner Bar, Jake's, the Ace Bar, the Silver Grill, the Three Star Bar, The Flame, Sportee's Lounge and the Horseshoe Bar would host nationally renowned performers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington. The blues was relegated to rougher bars, house parties and blind pigs.

The title of today's program comes from a song by the Detroit Count. The Detroit Count (Bob White) had recorded for Bluebird in 1942 but would find greater fame with his recording of the two-part “Hastings Street Opera" in 1948:

Forest and Hastings! Sunnie Wilson, longest bar in town.
That's the onlyst bar you can walk in when you get ready to buy a bottle of beer you have to walk a mile after you get in the joint
The Willis Theater! That's the only picture show in town; if you missed the picture fifty years ago you can see it right now.
Leland and Hastings! Leland Bar! That's the only bar in town where bartenders carry pistols.
Joe's Record Shop. He got everybody in there 'cept a T-bone steak

Sunnie Wilson, owner of Forest Club, recalled: “I had local pianists play for my customers in the lounge. A local character, pianist and signer, Detroit Count came in my place about every night. His 1948 piano-rap hit  “Hastings Street Opera” talked about me an all the people along the avenue.” Joe Von Battle recorded the song in his studio on Hastings Street and leased it to King Records. It became a local hit. The Count cut only eight other sides the same year none of which are well remembered.

John Lee Hooker was by far the greatest success to come out of Detroit, and like Lightnin' Hopkins and Jimmy Reed garnered a host of emulators, none of which achieved Hooker's fame. Hooker's discovery was either by Jack Brown of Fortune Records or Bernie Besman of Pan American and Sensation. The Fortune recording of “Miss Sadie Mae” and “609 Boogie” could have been his first  although Brown wouldn't issue them because Hooker had recorded for Besman at the same time; a standard practice for Hooker. At this time Hooker was playing the local bars in a band setting but in a stroke of genius Besman recorded him solo taking advantage of the full range of his exciting and and unpredictable guitar style. From this session came the immortal “Boogie Chillen” which became a huge success.

Read Liner Notes

Eddie Burns left home at 16 and, after a spell in Clarksdale, moved to Waterloo, Iowa then to Detroit in 1948. At a house party he met John Lee Hooker. Burns went along to a recording session with Hooker and played harmonica on "Miss Eloise" and "Burnin' Hell."  "Papa's Boogie," Eddie Burns' 1948 debut, is a harmonica/guitar duet recorded by Bernie Bessman and leased to the Holiday label which issued under the Slim Pickens pseudonym. Through the 50's he cut sides for JVB, Deluxe and Chess. He continued to cut scattered singles through the 60's.

Born in Alabama, Eddie Kirkland headed to Detroit in 1943. There he hooked up with John Lee Hooker five years later, recording with him for several firms as well as under his own name for RPM in 1952, King in 1953, and Fortune in 1959. In 1961-62 he cut his first album for Tru-Sound Records. Leaving Detroit for Macon, GA, in 1962, Kirkland signed on with Otis Redding as a sideman and show opener not long thereafter.

Baby Boy Warren (Robert Henry Warren) and his family moved to Memphis before he was one. His brothers Jack and Willie were good guitarists and  before he was ten Baby Boy himself showed aptitude. "When I was a little kid, the man I most admired was a midget fellow," he told Mike Leadbitter and Mike Rowe. "They called him Little Buddy Doyle. I got most of my style from  him." Warren would take a train to Helena, Arkansas to meet with the likes of Robert Lockwood, Willie Love, Peck Curris and Calvin Frazier ans also met Sonny Boy Williamson. Warren left for Detroit in 1944. He made his recording debut for Staff in 1949, cutting more sides for the label and Sampson in 1950 and in 1954 cut a session for JVB featuring Sonny Boy Williamson. His final sides came at the end of that year for Blue Lake and Drummond.


Joel HopkinsGood Times Here, Better Down The RoadJoel & Lightnin' Hopkins
Joel HopkinsI Ain't Gonna Roll For The Big Hat Man No MoreJoel & Lightnin' Hopkins
Lightnin' HokinsLook Out Settegast, Here Me And My Partner ComeJoel & Lightnin' Hopkins
Lightnin' HokinsWhiskey, Whiskey Joel & Lightnin' Hopkins
Snooks Eaglin Give Me The Old Box-Car Message From New Orleans
Snooks Eaglin Every Day Blues Message From New Orleans
James BrewerI'm So Glad Good Whiskey's BackBlues From Maxwell Street
Arvella Gray Have Mercy Mister PercyBlues From Maxwell Street
Daddy StovepipeMonkey and the Baboon Blues From Maxwell Street
King David Fanny MaeBlues From Maxwell Street
The Black Ace'Fore Day Creep The Black Ace
The Black AceYour Legs' Too Little The Black Ace
Buster PickensJim Nappy Buster Pickens
Buster Pickens The Ma Grinder No. 2Buster Pickens
Joe Carter Treat Me The Way You Do Mean & Evil Blues
Big John Wrencher Special Rider BluesMaxwell Street Alley Blues
Blind Joe Hill Boogie In The Dark Boogie In The Dark
Jimmy s & Little Walter Little Store Blues (Take 1) Chicago Boogie
Sleepy Johnny EstesHarlem Hound Chicago Boogie
Billy BranchHoochie Koochie ManBring Me Another Half-A-Pint
Kansas City Red K.C. Red's In TownBring Me Another Half-A-Pint
Robert RichardMotor City BluesBanty Rooster Blues
Easy Baby So Tired Sweet Home Chicago Blues
Lyin' Joe Holley So Cold in the U.S.A. So Cold in the U.S.A.
Coy “Hot Shot” LoveHot Shot Boogie45
Boll Weevil Blues TrioThings Ain't What They Used To BeSouthside Screamers! Chicago Blues 1948-1958
Dixie Boy & His Combo One More DrinkSouthside Screamers! Chicago Blues 1948-1958
Birmingham Jones I'm GladBirmingham Jones / Kid Thomas: Blues! Harp! Boogie! 1957-1965
Wooddrow AdamsSeventh Son Down South Blues 1949-1961
Little SonnyI Hear My Woman Callin' Harp Suckers: Detroit Harmonica Blues 1948
Elder R. Wilson Better Get Ready Harp Suckers: Detroit Harmonica Blues 1948

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

Just about all the artists featured on this program have passed, so it's not often I do tributes of that kind anymore. Lately the notable passings have been the early generation of blues historians, writers, scholars, label owners, producers and promoters who added immeasurably to our knowledge of the blues. We have lost several such men recently including Mack McCormick and Steve LaVere who I paid tribute to last year. This time out we pay tribute to two more, Tony Standish who passed  December 17th of last year and belatedly, George Paulus who passed on November 14, 2014. I never had any interaction with either men, but their recordings on their respective labels were certainly and influence on me and have been featured on several past programs.

Standish ran the short-lived, but influential, Heritage label in the late 50's and early 60's. The label was groundbreaking in being one of the earliest reissues outfits, making available recordings by Papa Charlie Jackson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charlie Patton among others.  These recordings have been reissued countless times since and are not the ones we will feature today. Heritage was also groundbreaking in releasing some fantastic field recordings captured by Paul Oliver, Mack McCormick and Henry Oster and those are the recordings we will spin today.

George Paulus was a noted record collector who ran the Barrelhouse label from 1974 through the early 80's as well as it's successor, the St. George label which operated from the early 80's through the early 2000's and issued primarily modern blues and rockabilly. He also released a few bootlegs and one off labels that issued a single releases such as Delta Swing, African Folk Society, Floatin' Bridge and Negro Rhythm. All the labels had an emphasis on spotlighting unheralded Chicago and Detroit blues artists. Both Standish and Paulus were also writers (Standish was the assistant editor of Jazz Journal), not only writing the liner notes to their own releases, but contributing liners to others sets and articles in various periodicals. Some of their writings can be found at the bottom of today's show notes.

Heritage 1001, the first full-length album, was a self-titled split album between Joel Hopkins and Lightnin' Hopkins. The recordings were made by Mack McCormick in 1959 in Houston. Joel was Lightnin's older brother and first gave him a guitar. Joel traveled the south with tent shows and traveling caravans. Lightnin's other brother, John Henry also played guitar. The three were recorded together in Waxahatchie, TX in 1964. The results were issued on Arhoolie under the title Hopkins Brothers: Lightnin', Joel, & John Henry.

Read Liner Notes

After releasing a series of EP's devoted to reissuing artists like Papa Charlie Jackson, Memphis Minnie and Charlie Patton, Heritage issued new recordings by Snooks Eaglin; there was an EP titled Snooks Eaglin's New Orleans Blues with all these track appearing on the full-length album, Message From New Orleans. These were field recordings  made by Harry Oster circa 1961 in New Orleans. As far as I know these recordings have never been reissued on LP or CD since.

Heritage 1004 was titled Blues From Maxwell Street. Back in 1960 Bjorn Englund, Donad R. Hill and John Steiner documented the blues on Maxwell street by recording some of the street's stalwarts including Arvella Gray, Daddy Stovepipe, King David and James Brewer. The sessions were organized by Paul Oliver who wrote the notes to the original album. The recordings were reissued a few years back on the Document label.

Heritage 1006 was titled The Black Ace with these sessions stemming from two sessions at his Fort Worth home in 1960.The recordings were subsequently issued on Arhoolie. The Ace's real name was Babe Kyro Lemon Turner. "I throwed the 'Lemon' away", he told Paul Oliver," and just used the initials of Babe Kyro – B.K. Turner." Back in the the 1930's and 40's he was well known, at least among black audiences, in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma for his regular slot on station KFJZ out of Fort Worth. He cut two sides for the ARC label in 1936 which were never issued but had better luck the following year cutting six sides for Decca in 1937 all of which were released.

In the summer of 1960 Paul Oliver came to the United States with the aid of a State Department grant and BBC field recorder to record blues. As Oliver's journey progressed west he teamed up with Chris Strachwitz and Mack McCormick who had been roaming around Texas looking for blues singers. The recording of Buster Pickens was a result of this collaboration. Pickens lone album for Heritage, the self-titled Buster Pickens, was recorded over several sessions in 1960 and 1961 and released in 1962. It was reissued on album by the Flyright label in 1977. Three years ago I persuaded Document Records to reissue the album (Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961) and I had the pleasure of writing the liner notes.

Read Liner Notes

George Paulus released the first two Barrelhouse albums in 1974: Washboard Willie's Whippin' That Board and Big John Wrencher's Maxwell Street Alley Blues. By the mid 1940's Wrencher had arrived in Chicago and was playing on Maxwell Street and at house parties with Jimmy Rogers, Claude "Blue Smitty" Smith and John Henry Barbee. In the 1950's he moved to Detroit. In 1958 Wrencher lost his left arm as a result of a car accident outside Memphis, Tennessee. By the early 1960's he had settled in Chicago, where he became a fixture on Maxwell Street Market. During the 1960's Wrencher recorded for the Testament label backing Robert Nighthawk, and as part of the Chicago String Band. In 1969 he was recorded by George Paulus and Dick Shurman, backed by guitarist Little Buddy Thomas and drummer Playboy Vinson, who formed his Maxwell Street band of the time resulting in his Barrelhouse debut.

One of the truly great unsung heroes of the Chicago club scene of the 1950's, Joe Carter was a slide-playing disciple of Elmore James. Arriving in Chicago by 1952 it was Muddy Waters who lent Carter the money to purchase his first electric guitar. Shortly thereafter, Joe started up his first group with guitarist Smokey Smothers and Lester Davenport on harmonica, quickly establishing himself as a club favorite throughout Chicago. Carter didn't end up being documented on record until he returned to active playing in the '70's, recording his lone solo album, Mean & Evil Blues, for Barrelhouse in 1976.

Robert Richard learned the guitar and the harmonica with his uncle. Like a lot of other southerners, came to work in the automobile industry in 1942. With his brother Howard he began playing the  Hastings Street clubs. He recorded with Walter Mitchell and pianist Boogie Woogie Red in 1948, then as a sideman on many Detroit recording sessions, particularly with Bobo Jenkins. He waxed some sides under his name for Chess in Chicago but those titles were never issued. Richard gave up music but was rediscovered by George Paulus who recorded him in 1975 and 1977 for the album Banty Rooster.

Alex “Easy Baby” Randle was born in Memphis in 1934. Both his grandmother and uncle were harmonica players. Easy Baby began playing professionally around Memphis as a teenager while doing odd jobs. Playing in the gambling houses and juke joints he befriended Howlin' Wolf, James Cotton, Joe Hill Louis and others. In 1956 he moved to Chicago and throughout the 50's, 60's and 70's played all over the Windy City while working as a mechanic. Easy Baby’s first recording appeared on the anthology Low Blows: An Anthology of Chicago Harmonica Blues with another track appearing on the anthology Bring Me Another Half-A-Pint. His full-length debut was Sweet Home Chicago issued on  Barrelhouse in 1977 (another full-length, Hot Water Cornbread and Alcohol, recorded for St. George in the late 90s, was never released).

Read Liner Notes

We featured a pair of tracks from the aforementioned Bring Me Another Half-A-Pint by the under-recorded Kansas City Red and early cut by Billy Branch. Also featured are some fine sides by little known artists such as Nate Armstrong, Sonny Boy McGhee and Earl Payton.

Blind Joe Hill was a one-man-band who recorded two albums under his own name: one on Barrelhouse (Boogie In The Dark) and one on the L+R label. Hill was part of the 1985 American Folk Blues Festival touring Europe.

There were two tantalizing albums that were titled with cover art completed by Robert Crumb but were never issued: Unknown Detroit Bluesmen Vol. 1 (BH-003) and Ain't No Stopper On My Faucet, Mama! Unknown Detroit Blues (BH-006).

Paulus had  a massive record collection (currently up for auction) filled with rare pre-war and post-war blues. Some of these rarities were issued on Barrelhouse and St. George. In 1969 Paulus, who had been a regular customer at Maxwell Street Record and Radio for several years, bought the surviving lacquers from the Bernard Abrams and his family. He subsequently released all 14 sides on an LP on his Barrelhouse label (in 1974) as Chicago Boogie, then, in improved sound, on his St. George label (1983). In the 1990's, P-Vine licensed the material for release in Japan, leading to an LP and a CD. There were also four albums of rare Detroit blues and gospel form the vaults of record producer Joe Von Battle that were issued on Barrelhouse, St. George and P-Vine..

In 1977-78 Paulus issued four various artist compilations on four different labels: After Midnight: Chicago Blues 1952-1957 (Delta Swing), Down South Blues 1949-1961 (African Folk Society), Birmingham Jones/Kid Thomas Blues! Harp! Boogie! 1957-1965 (Floatin' Bridge) and Going To Chicago: Blues 1949-1957 (Negro Rhythm). In addition there were also some similar unofficial recordings Paulus issued including an unnamed and unnumbered LP of Muddy Waters rarities that became the basis of Vintage Muddy Waters issued on Sunnyland in 1970, an album of Baby Boy Warren's complete recordings (BBW 901) and a 45 by Coy "Hot Shot" Love recorded  at Steve LaVere's Record Shop in Memphis in mid August 1973 ("Hot Shot Boogie, Foxchase Boogie b/w Freight Train Blues" issued as a 45 under the  Mr. Bo Weevil imprint). One other record Paulus produced was by Lyin' Joe Holley in 1977 titled So Cold In The USA issued on the JSP label with four other tracks from the sessions appearing on the JSP anthology Piano Blues Legends.

Related Articles

-Standish, Tony. “Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.”Jazz Journal 11, no. 6 (Jun 1958): 1–5.

-Standish, Tony. “Muddy Waters in London. Pt. 2.” Jazz Journal 12, no. 2 (Feb 1959): 3–6.

-Standish, Tony. Speckled Red: The Dirty Dozen. Denmark: Storyville SLP-117, c1960; Denmark: Storyville SLP 4038, 1985.

-Standish, Tony. “Champion Jack Dupree Talks to Tony Standish.” Jazz Journal 14, no. 4 (Apr 1961): 6–7, 40.

-Paulus, George. “Motor City Blues & Boogie.”Blues Unlimited no. 85 (Oct 1971): 4–6.

-Paulus, George. “Will Hairston: Hurricane of the Motor City.” Blues Unlimited no. 86 (Nov 1971): 21.

-Paulus, George. Robert Richard: Banty Rooster Blues. USA: Barrelhouse BH-010, 1977.

-Paulus, George. Blues Guitar Killers: Detroit 1950s. USA: Barrelhouse BH-012, 1977.

-Paulus, George. Easy Baby and His Houserockers: Sweet Home Chicago. USA: Barrelhouse BH-013, 1978; Japan: P-Vine PCD-5206, 1997.

-Paulus, George. Harp Suckers! Detroit Harmonica Blues 1948. USA: St. George STG-1002, 1983.

-Paulus, George. Southside Screamers: Chicago, 1948–58. USA: St. George STG 1003, 1984.

-Paulus, George. “Late Hours with Little Walter.” Blues & Rhythm no. 133 (Oct 1998): 10–12.


Blind Willie & Curley Weaver Georgia RagThe Classic Years 1927- 1940
Blind Willie & Curley Weaver Warm It Up To MeThe Classic Years 1927- 1940
Lucille Bogan & Walter Roland Groceries On The ShelfShave 'Em Dry: The Best
Lucille Bogan & Walter RolandBaking Powder BluesShave 'Em Dry: The Best
Big Joe Williams & Sonny Boy Williamson IIThrow a Boogie Woogie Big Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Big Joe Williams & Sonny Boy Williamson IIDon't You Leave Me HereBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Big Joe Turner & Pete JohnsonLow Down DogRadio Broadcasts 1939-1947
Big Joe Turner & Pete Johnson Roll 'Em PeteRadio Broadcasts 1939-1947
Sleepy John Estes & Hammie NixonDown South BluesI Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
Sleepy John Estes & Hammie NixonNeed More BluesJailhouse Blues
Sleepy John Estes & Hammie NixonStop That Thing I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
The Sparks BrothersLouisiana BoundDown On The Levee
The Sparks BrothersEast Chicago Blues Twenty First. St. Stomp
The Sparks BrothersDown On The Levee Twenty First. St. Stomp
Willie Ford & Lucious Curtis High Lonesome Hill Mississippi Blues 1940-42
Willie Ford & Lucious Curtis Times Is Getting HardDeep River Of Song Mississippi: Saints & Sinners
Butch Cage & Willie B ThomasMean Old FriscoRaise A Ruckus Tonight
Butch Cage & Willie B ThomasBugle Call BluesOld Time Black Southern String Band Music
Butch Cage & Willie B ThomasForty Four BluesI Have to Paint My Face
Skoodle Dum Doo & SheffieldWest Kinney Street BluesPlay My Juke Box
Skoodle Dum Doo & SheffieldBroome Street BluesDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
Nugrape Twins The Road Is Rough & RockySinners & Saints 1926-1931
Nugrape Twins Got Your Ice Cold NugrapeAmerican Primitive Vol. II
John Cephas & Phil WigginsReno FactoryLiving Country Blues USA: Introduction
John Cephas & Phil WigginsPony BluesLiving Country Blues Vol. 1
John Cephas & Phil Wiggins Ain't Got No Lovin Baby NowLiving Country Blues Vol. 1
Big Joe Turner & Pete JohnsonJohnson & Turner BluesHave No Fear, Big Joe Turner Is Here
Big Joe Turner & Pete Johnson Rebecca Big Joe Turner 1941-1946
Big Joe Williams & Sonny Boy Williamson II King Biscuit StompBig Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Big Joe Williams & Sonny Boy Williamson II I'm a Highway ManBig Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Lucille Bogan & Walter RolandShave 'Em DryShave 'Em Dry: The Best
Lucille Bogan & Walter RolandJump Steady DaddyShave 'Em Dry: The Best
Blind Willie & Curley Weaver Good Little ThingThe Classic Years 1927- 1940
Blind Willie & Curley Weaver Don't Forget It Don't Forget It: The Post War Years

Show Notes:

Today's show is part two of a spotlight on some great blues partners that made commercial and non-commercial recordings between the 1920's on up. On part one we spotlighted some of the more famous partnerships such as Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and Tampa Red and Georgia Tom. Big names this time out include Big Joe Turner and  Pete Johnson who first partnered in Kansas City in the 1920's and made some great sides together starting in the 30's and ending in the 1950's.  Blind Willie McTell and Curley Weaver also had a long partnership, with Weaver and McTell backing one another on many sessions in the 1930's, with a final batch of recordings in 1950.  Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon recorded prolifically together in the 1930's, resuming recording again in the 1960's during the blues revival.  Butch Cage and Willie Thomas had been playing together for some time before Harry Oster began recording them in 1959. He continued to recorded them in the 1960's and the duo performed together until Cage's death in 1975. We hear from some talented siblings today including the wonderful Nugrape Twins and the Sparks Brothers. Others heard from today include Lucille Bogan and pianist Walter Roland who recorded extensively together between 1933 to 1935, and the team of Big Joe Williams and Sonny Boy Williamson, stars in their own right, who cut some great records together particularly in the 1940's. Other heard from today include Willie Ford and Lucious Curtis who recorded together and individually for the Library of Congress, the under-recorded Skoodle Dum Doo and Sheffield and John Cephas and Phil Wiggins who performed and recorded together for three decades.

Blind Willie McTell was a major figure with a local following in Atlanta from the 1920's onward, recording dozens of sides throughout the 1930's under a multitude of names — all the better to juggle "exclusive" relationships with many different record labels at once — including Blind Willie, Blind Sammie, Hot Shot Willie, and Georgia Bill, as a backup musician to Ruth Mary Willis. McTell's recording career began in late 1927 with two sessions for Victor records, eight sides including "Statesboro Blues." McTell's sometime partner, Curley Weaver, was a younger contemporary who made his debut for Columbia in 1928. Weaver and McTell first recorded together in 1931, recording extensively together in 19333 with McTell backing Weaver on some 1935 sides. The two didn't record together again until a 1950 session for the Regal label where they recorded as a duo and solo.

Lucille Bogan got off to a rather shaky start on her two 1923 sessions. The feisty, boisterous singing she became known for came into much better focus when she returned to the studio in 1927 backed by papa Charlie Jackson on fine numbers like "Sweet Patinua", "Jim Tampa Blues" and "Cravin' Whiskey Blues." As Tony Russell writes in the Penguin Guide To Blues: "Over the next few years she constructed a persona of a tough-talking narrator – 'They call me Pig Iron Sally, 'cause I live in Slag Iron Ally, and I'm evil and mean as I can be,' she sings in 'Pig Iron Sally' – who knew the worlds of the lesbian and the prostitute. She reports from the former in 'Women Don't Need No Men' and 'B.D. Woman's Blues', and the latter in 'Tricks Ain't Walking no More' – best heard in the affectingly somber version titled 'They Ain't Walking No More' …and 'Barbecue Bess.' Other notable recordings are 'Coffee Grindin' Blues' …and the first recording of  'Black Angel Blues,' which after a great change became a blues standard." On these recordings she finds strong backing from pianists Will Ezell and Charles Avery. "…Thanks to the generally better sound quality and the ever sympathetic accompaniment of Walter Roland, her mid-30s recordings …are the most approachable." Roland backed Bogan on dozens of sides between 1933 and 1935 and cut over forty sides under his own name during this period.

Both Big Joe Williams, who made his debut in 1935, and Sonny Boy Williamson I, who made his debut in 1937, had successful recording careers of their own, but teamed up on several occasions until Sonny's untimely death in 1947. Big Joe backed Sonny Boy at his first Bluebird session in 1937 and Sonny Boy backed Big Joe at the same session. Big Joe also backed Sonny Boy on sessions in 1938. As a team, their  best collaborations were in the 1940's; trio sides in 1941 backed by Alfred Elkins on bass, another trio session in 1945 backed by drummer Jump Jackson and a final session in 1947 with Ransom Knowling on bass and Judge Riley on drums.

Pete Johnson began his musical career in 1922 as a drummer in Kansas City before switching to piano. From 1926 to 1938 he worked as a pianist, often working with Big Joe Turner. An encounter with record producer John Hammond in 1936 led to an engagement at the Famous Door in New York City. In 1938 Johnson and Turner appeared in the From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall. After this show the popularity of the boogie-woogie style was on the upswing. Johnson worked locally and toured and recorded with Turner, Meade Lux Lewis, and Albert Ammons during this period.  In 1945 Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson established a bar in Los Angeles, The Blue Moon Club. That same year Turner contracted with National Records cutting some of their finest sides for the label through 1947. Johnson wasn't as active in the 1950's although he did some recording with Big Joe, notably the 1956 Boss of the Blues album for Atlantic.

Hammie Nixon, born Hammie Nickerson in Brownsville, Tennessee, began his music career with jug bands in the 1920's. He is best known as a harmonica player, but he also played the kazoo, guitar and jug. He played with Sleepy John Estes for half a century, first recording with Estes in 1935 for Decca Records, recording again with Estes in 1937. During the blues revival period they began performing  and recording again starting with a 1962 session for Delmark.. They cut numerous recordings together until Estes passing in 1977. In 1964 they played both the the Newport Folk Festival and the American Folk Blues Festival.

Butch Cage & Willie B. Thomas, photo by Harry Oster

The Sparks brothers, Aaron and Marion (he changed his name to Milton in 1929), were twins born to Ruth and Sullie Gant in Tupelo, Mississippi. Both brothers were fine singers, and Aaron learned piano at school, becoming an exceptional accompanist in the St. Louis tradition.The brothers cut four sessions, the first for Victor and the other three for Bluebird, between 1932 and 1935. Milton cut two songs for Decca in 1934 under the name Flyin' Lindberg. Aaron backed a number of St. Louis artists at their second session: Elisabeth Washington, Tecumseh McDowell, Dorotha Trowbridge, James "Stump" Johnson and Charlie McFadden. Their recording careers ended in 1935, and Aaron died soon after, though Marion lived  until 1963.

In October 1940 John Lomax and his wife came to Natchez, Mississippi from Baton Rouge to look for musicians to record. During that trip they recorded Lucious Curtis, Willie Ford and George Bolwdin. Between Curtis and Ford ten songs were recorded. "When Lucious Curtis was there, Willie "followed after" him, but he did it skillfully, watching the leader carefully." So reads the first paragraph of John Lomax's notes for the recording session. He went on to write that "Lucious Curtis is a honky-tonk, guitar picking Negro, living on a precarious income from pick-ups at dance halls. His 'complementer" Willie Ford has a regular job at a big saw mill but had a 'sad-day' off." Curtis claimed to have made commercial records with Bo Carter but this hasn't be verified.

Fiddler James "Butch" Cage was one of the last artists in the black string band tradition. Born on March 16, 1894, in Hamburg, Mississippi, Cage's first real instrument was a cane fife. He moved to southwest Louisiana following the devastating Mississippi floods of 1927, eventually settling in Zachary, where he worked a succession of menial jobs while playing string band music at house parties and church functions, often in conjunction with guitarist Willie B. Thomas. Musicologist Harry Oster heard Butch Cage and Willie Thomas playing in Zachary in 1959 and recorded them extensively. The duo was also a huge hit at the 1960 Newport Folk Festival.

Both men were born in Washington D.C. John Cephas, who was 24 years older than Phil Wiggins, grew up in Bowling Green, Virginia. They first met at a jam session at the Smithsonian's Festival of American Folklife in 1976 and played together with "Big Chief" Ellis appearing together an album on Pete Lowry's Trix label. Lowry was the first to record Cephas, although those recordings were never issued. When Ellis died, they decided to continue as a duo. They were first recorded in 1980 by Siegfried Christmann and Axel Küstner for the German L&R label. Their first U.S. release, the album Dog Days of August, was issued by Flying Fish Records in 1986. They cut their final album in 2008, with Cephas passing the following year.

Phil Wiggins & John Cephas, photo by Axel Küstner

Seth Richards, possibly from Virginia, recorded a couple of tracks under his real name in 1928 ("Lonely Seth Blues b/w Skoodeldum Doo"), which would be his last recordings until he recorded four songs as Skoodle Dum Doo & Sheffield in 1943 for the Regis label. John Sheffield played harp while Seth Richard played guitar and sang.

It’s possible the Nugrape Twins were Matthew and Mark Little, born September 16, 1888, in Tennille, Georgia. Matthew died in 1962 and Mark in 1965. The Nugrape Twins recorded six tracks for Columbia Records between 1926 and 1927; four gospel numbers and two versions of "I Got Your Ice Cold NuGrape." The latter song was mentioned in a 1926 Columbia catalog.


I just want t wish everyone a happy holiday and to thank all our loyal  listeners who enjoy the show we've put out weekly for the past ten years. Big Road Blues will be off the next two weeks although we will airing shows from our archives those weeks. In the meantime have a great holiday and behave yourselves – you don't want to be like Leroy Carr and spend Christmas in jail!

I'll leave you with a  Christmas show we aired a few years back. 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, a third volume in 2013 and finally a fourth volume in 2015. Most of today's tracks come from those collections. You can read the liner notes to those collections by visiting my writing page.



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