ARTISTSONGALBUM
Clifford GibsonBeat You Doing It Clifford Gibson 1929-1931
Clifford GibsonWhiskey Moan Blues Clifford Gibson 1929-1931
Clifford GibsonTired Of Being Mistreated, Pt. 1 Clifford Gibson 1929-1931
Charley JordanStack O' Dollars BluesThe Essential
Charley JordanKeep It CleanThe Essential
Charley JordanJust A Spoonful The Essential
Barrelhouse Buck McFarlandLamp Post BluesPiano Blues Vol. 2 1927-1956
Barrelhouse Buck McFarland Weeping Willow BluesPiano Blues Vol. 2 1927-1956
Barrelhouse Buck McFarland Mercy Mercy BluesPiano Blues Vol. 2 1927-1956
Clifford GibsonIce And Snow BluesClifford Gibson 1929-1931
Clifford GibsonDon't Put That Thing On MeClifford Gibson 1929-1931
Clifford Gibson Drayman BluesClifford Gibson 1929-1931
Charley JordanHunkie Tunkie BluesThe Essential
Charley JordanTough Times BluesCharley Jordan Vol. 1 1930-1931
Charley JordanYou Run And Tell Your DaddyYou Run And Tell Your Daddy
Clifford Gibson Bad Luck DiceClifford Gibson 1929-1931
Clifford Gibson Levee Camp Moan Clifford Gibson 1929-1931
Clifford Gibson Blues Without A Dime Clifford Gibson 1929-1931
Barrelhouse Buck McFarlandMean To MeanPiano Blues Vol. 2 1927-1956
Barrelhouse Buck McFarlandReminiscences Backcountry Barrelhouse
Barrelhouse Buck McFarland20th Street BluesBackcountry Barrelhouse
Hi Henry BrownrTitanic BluesBlues Images Vol. 10
Hi Henry BrownPreacher BluesBlues Images Vol. 10
Hi Henry BrownNut Factory BluesThe Essential
Charley JordanHoney Sucker BluesThe Essential
Charley JordanHell Bound Boy BluesCharley Jordan Vol. 1 1931-1934
Clifford GibsonKeep Your Windows Pinned Clifford Gibson 1929-1931s
Clifford GibsonShe Rolls It Slow Clifford Gibson 1929-1931
Clifford GibsonLet Me Be Your Sidetrack Clifford Gibson 1929-1931
Barrelhouse Buck McFarlandLieutenant Blues Backcountry Barrelhouse
Barrelhouse Buck McFarlandGoodbye BluesAlton Blues
Barrelhouse Buck McFarland Barrelhouse BuckAlton Blues

Show Notes:

Clifford gibson: Beat You Doing ItOn today's show we spotlight several fine forgotten St. Louis blues artists of the 20's and 30's. As blues historian Paul Oliver wrote: "For some reason St. Louis has never had its due as a centre for the blues. …With its ragtime background St. Louis was a Mecca for blues pianists like Speckled Red and Henry Brown, Sylvester Palmer and Roosevelt Sykes, Peetie Wheatstraw, Barrelhouse Buck McFarland and Wesley Wallace. But it was discovered early by the guitarists too, Sylvester Weaver and Lonnie Johnson, Clifford Gibson and Charley Jordan, J.D. Short and Big Joe Williams among them. There were plenty of women singers too, like Mary Johnson and Edith Johnson, Alice Moore or St. Louis Bessie Mae Smith. And while there were big name recording stars like Walter Davis there were many very good but lesser know ones: St.Louis Jimmy, Blind Teddy Darby, Aaron "Pine Top" Sparks, Lawrence Casey, Oscar Carter and many others." And as write Don Kent noted: "The blues men who took St. Louis to be their home are responsible for some of the most magnificent country music to be recorded during the twenties. Inexplicably, the plethora of musical wealth has been left unpublicized and, blueswise, St. Louis has scarcely been tapped for all the information it could yield."

Today we spotlight guitarists Clifford Gibson, who cut close to two dozen sides, and the prolific Charley Jordan who cut roughly double that number plus a good deal of session work. We also spotlight an exceptional singer named Hi Henry Brown who Jordan back on all six of his recordings. Finally we featured sides by pianist Barrelhouse Buck McFarland who cut a handful of fine pre-war recordings and several recordings shortly before his death in the early 60's.

Born in Louisiville, Kentucky, Clifford Gibson moved to St. Louis, Missouri in the 1920's and lived there for the rest of his life. He was born to Letha and William Gibson in 1901. Bluesman James Stump Johnson reported that Gibson was a discovery of his brother Jesse, a local promoter and music store owner. Gibson cut ten sides (four have either never been found or were never issued) in June 1929, four sides in November 1929, eight sides in December 1929 and two sides in 1931. In addition he did some session work backing Ed Bell and Roosevelt Sykes and lasted long enough to wax a few scattered post-war sides in the 1950's and 60's.

Charley Jordan: It Ain't Clean
Read Liner Notes

Gibson was a guitarist to be reckoned with who's playing is unflaggingly inventive, employing a sharp, limpid tone and, while bearing a high degree of originality, was clearly influenced by Lonnie Johnson. With his unpredictable, scattershot guitar runs he also bears some comparisons to Blind Lemon Jefferson although Gibson was a more sophisticated player. Gibson's two 1931 sides find him in the company of pianist Roosevelt Sykes making a fine team on “She Rolls It Slow." Gibson and Sykes back singer R. T. Hanen (possibly Jaydee Short) on "She's Got Jordan River In Her Hip b/w Happy Day Blues" from the same year. Another fascinating collaboration from 1931 finds Gibson backing country singer Jimmie Rodgers on the unissued "Let Me Be Your Sidetrack" (the issued side features just Rodgers on guitar). Other session work by Gibson includes supporting Ed Bell on a handful of 1929 tracks and backing Jimmy Strange on a pair of 1931 numbers. Gibson stuck around long enough to wax two sides in 1951 and four more in 1960. The 1951 sides are acetates cut at Baul Studios in St. Louis and find Gibson in good shape but pale in comparison to his early work. The 1960 sides were issued on the Bobbin label under the name Grandpappy Gibson. Gibson died as few short years later in 1963, right at the heart of the folk/blues boom, and while highly regarded among collectors, more widespread claim has eluded him.

Charley Jordan is one of the many major figures in the blues of whom we knows surprisingly little. He was born in Mabelvale. Arkansas, around 1850, and is reported to have lead a hobo's life after service in the Army during World War I. By 1925, he was living in St. Louis which was to be his home for the rest of his life. In 1928 Jordan had been shot in the spine in an incident in his other occupation as a bootlegger. Of his guitar playing Chris Smith wrote: "He played it in a clean, confident three-finger expression style that owed a good deal to ragtime, but more to his extraordinary sense of rhythm.

Henry Townsend remembered Jordan well: "I never knew Charley to have another occupation other than music. …Charley was a good guitar player. I highly respected his guitar playing because he could accompany anybody. Piano, another guitar player, or what have you, he was qualified to back it up. When Charley got into music he was full-time with it. He had people everyday rehearsing, trying to put packages together, week in week out. Sometimes it would be months, maybe a year before they recorded, but they'd be there every day. He had a little organized club with people paying membership that would support him in his expense for lights, etc."

Between 1930 and 1937 Jordan waxed close to 50 sides under his own name for Victor, Vocalion, Decca and ARC. He also backed numerous St. Louis artists including Peetie Wheatstraw, Hi Henry Brown, Lee Green, St. Louis Jimmy Oden and others. Jordan also acted as a talent scout for Vocalion and Decca during the 30's. During the 40's he worked around St. Louis with Big Joe Williams but was largely retired by the end of the decade. He passed in 1954.

Buck McFarland was born in Alton, Illinois in 1903 in the same area as two other exceptional piano players, Wesley Wallace and Jabbo Williams, all three of which made names for themselves on the bustling St. Louis blues scene. McFarland was a member of Charlie Creath's Jazzomaniacs and Peetie Wheatstraw's Blues Blowers. He also led his own bands under a variety of names. Between 1929 and 1934 he made 10 records.

Barrelhouse Buck: Backcountry Barrelhouse
Read Liner Notes

In the late 1950's in St.. Louis, a city detective named Charlie "Lindy" O'Brien tracked down Speckled Red, an oldtime blues pianist and brother of the bluesman Piano Red. O'Brien wasn't out to arrest Red. No, he was a member of the St.. Louis Jazz Club and had been searching for all of the old forgotten bluesmen who had made the city a haven for the blues in the 1920s and '30s. One of the men Speckled Red led O'Brien to was Barrelhouse Buck McFarland. Samuel Charters called O'Brien a "part-time enthusiast" who over the "last ten or so years …helped develop the picture of the music and musicians in the St. Louis area. Over the years he had been collecting records, vert desultorily, and about the time he joined the police force in 1949 he realized there had been considerable recording in the St. Louis area. With the encouragement of a young enthusiast named Bob Koester who was at this time still living in St. Louis and active with the Blue Note Record Shop and Delmar Record Company, O'Brien began making inquiries about many of the St. Louis artists. Since that time the singers he has located have included Speckled Red, Henry Brown, Edith Johnson, Stump Johnson, Walter Davis, Mary Johnson and Barrelhouse Buck among many others, less well known."

McFarland cut his final session for Folkways and an unissued session in 1961 that was belatedly released a few years back on Delmark as Alton Blues. The recordings Charters made were released on Folkways as Backcountry Barrelhouse. He died just a few months afterward.

Don Kent calls Hi Henry Brown "one of the pinnacles of St. Louis musicianship" and says he "may have come from Pace, Mississippi. His three 78's for Vocalion in the early '30s are accompanied by Charlie Jordan 2nd guitar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
The Sparks BrothersEveryday I Have The Blues The Sparks Brothers 1932-1935
Memphis SlimNobody Loves Me Rockin' This House: Chicago Blues Piano 1946-53
Lowell FulsonEveryday I Have The BluesLowell Fulson 1948-49
Joe Williams & Count BasieEverydayComplete Clef-Verve Count Basie Fifties Studio Recordings
B.B. KingEveryday I Have The Blues Ladies & Gentlemen... Mr. B.B. King Disc
James (Beale Street) ClarkGet Ready To Meet Your Man 78
Jazz Gillum Look On Yonder Wall When The Sun Goes Down
Boyd GilmoreJust An Army BoyThe Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 1
Elmore James Look On Yonder Wall King of the Slide Guitar
Charlie SegarKey To The HighwayPiano Blues Vol. 2 1927-1956
Jazz Gillum Key To The HighwayBill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 2 1938-1941
Big Bill BroonzyKey To The HighwayThe War & Postwar Years 1940-1951
Little WalterKey To The HighwayThe Complete Chess Masters 1950-1967
Madlyn Davis & Her Hot ShotsKokola BluesParamount Jazz
Scrapper BlackwellKokomo BluesThe virtuoso Guitar Of Scrapper Blackwell
Kokomo ArnoldOld Original Kokomo BluesThe Road To Robert Johnson
Charlie McCoy Baltimore BluesThe McCoy Brothers Vol. 1
Freddie SpruellMr. Freddie's Kokomo BluesMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Robert Johnson Sweet Home ChicagoThe Centennial Collection
Big Boy Knox Eleven Light City Blues San Antonio 1937
Roosevelt SykesSweet Home ChicagoRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 10 1951-1957
Robert Lockwood Aw Aw Baby (Sweet Home Chicago)Rough Treatment: The J.O.B. Records Story
Earl HookerSweet Home Chicago Sweet Black Angel
Sara MartinAlabamy BoundSara Martin Vol. 4 1925-1928
Charles Johnson’s Original Paradise Ten & Monette MooreDon't You Leave Me HereThe Complete Charlie Johnson Sessions 1925-1929
‘‘Papa’’ Harvey Hull and Long ‘‘Cleve’’ ReedDon't You Leave Me Here Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Charlie Patton Elder Greene BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton
Big Joe WilliamsBaby Please Don't GoBig Joe Williams Vol. 1 1935 - 1941
Sam MontgomeryBaby Please Don't GoEast Coast Blues in the Thirties 1934-1939
Tampa KidBaby Please Don't GoThe McCoy Brothers Vol. 2
Vera Hall Another Man DoneThe Beautiful Music All Around Us
Muddy Waters Turn Your Lamp Down LowThe Complete Chess Recordings

Show Notes:

Today's show is a rather obvious one but for some reason I have never got around to it until now. Today we trace the origins and evolution of several classic blues songs. We provide the history and context behind classics like “Everyday I Have The Blues”, “Look On Yonder Wall”, “Key To The Highway”, “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Baby, Please Don't Go.” The impetus for this show came from blues expert Alan Balfour who I've been corresponding with for many years. While discussing Jazz Gillum he reminded me that  James Clark's  "Get Ready to Meet Your Man" was the first incarnation of "Look on Yonder Wall." To my surprise the song does not seem to have been reissued and Alan was nice enough to send an MP3 of the song which he took from a 78 copy he owned before selling it for a "silly" amount.

Robert Johnson: Sweet Home Chicago"Every Day I Have the Blues" was written by Pinetop Sparks and his brother Milton. The song was first performed in the taverns of St. Louis by the Sparks brothers and was recorded July 28, 1935 by Pinetop with Henry Townsend on guitar. In 1949 Memphis Slim recorded the song as "Nobody Loves Me." Although he used the Sparks brothers' opening verse, he rewrote the remainder of the lyrics. "Nobody Love Me" was released as the B-side to Memphis Slim's "Angel Child" single for Miracle — "Angel Child" became a hit (number six Billboard R&B chart), but "Nobody Loves Me" did not chart. However, when Lowell Fulson with Lloyd Glenn adapted Memphis Slim's arrangement, but used Sparks' earlier title, it became a hit and spent twenty-three weeks in the R&B chart, where it reached number three in 1950 Fulson's version, with sax and guitar solos, influenced B.B. King's later rendition of the song. Jazz singer Joe Williams had hits with two different recordings of the song. The first version, recorded with the King Kolax Orchestra in 1952, reached number eight in the R&B chart. In 1955 in New York, he recorded a second and perhaps the most famous version of the song with the Count Basie Orchestra, titled "Every Day." It spent twenty weeks in the R&B chart, where it reached number two. Also in 1955, B.B. King recorded "Every Day I Have the Blues" for RPM. King attributes the song's appeal to arranger Maxwell Davis: "He [Davis] wrote a chart of 'Every Day I Have the Blues' with a crisp and relaxed sound I'd never heard before. I liked it so well, I made it my theme … Maxwell Davis didn't write majestically; he wrote naturally, which was my bag. He created an atmosphere that let me relax."

"Look on Yonder Wall", or "Get Ready to Meet Your Man" as it was first named, was first recorded in 1945 by James "Beale Street" Clark.  Clark, also known as "Memphis Jimmy", was a blues pianist from Memphis, Tennessee. During the 1940's, he appeared on recordings by Jazz Gillum, Red Nelson, and an early Muddy Waters session, as well as several singles in his own name. Jazz Gillum, with whom the song is often associated, recorded a version on February 18, 1946, four months after Clark. Although the release was re-titled, it credits "James Clark" as the composer. In 1952 Boyd Gilmore cut “Just An Army Boy”, his version of the song, backed by Ike Turner on piano for the Modern label. In 1961, Elmore James recorded his version of "Look on Yonder Wall" as the flip side of "Shake Your Moneymaker" for the Fire label.

B.B. King: Everyday I Have The Blues

"Key to the Highway" was first recorded by blues pianist Charlie Segar in 1940. The song was also recorded by Jazz Gillum and Big Bill Broonzy and it was later a R&B record chart success for Little Walter in 1958. "Key to the Highway" is usually credited to Charles "Chas" Segar and William "Big Bill" Broonzy. Both Broonzy and Gillum claimed authorship of the song which was an enduring source of bitterness for Gillum. According to Broonzy, it is likely based on traditional songs: "Some of the verses he [Charlie Segar] was singing it in the South the same time as I sung it in the South. And practically all of blues is just a little change from the way that they was sung when I was a kid … You take one song and make fifty out of it … just change it a little bit." Segar's lyrics are similar or in some cases identical to those recorded by Broonzy and Jazz Gillum.

In 1941 Broonzy recorded "Key to the Highway" with Gillum on harmonica, Horace Malcolm on piano, Washboard Sam on washboard, and an unknown bassist.  Shortly after his friend Broonzy's death in 1958, in an apparent tribute to him, Little Walter recorded "Key to the Highway" as a Chicago blues. The session took place sometime in August and backing Walter (vocals and harmonica) were Muddy Waters (slide guitar), Luther Tucker (guitar), Otis Spann (piano), Willie Dixon (bass), and George Hunter or Francis Clay (drums). The song was a hit, spending fourteen weeks in the Billboard R&B chart where it reached #6 in 1958. In 2010, Big Bill Broonzy's version of "Key to the Highway" was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in the "Classics of Blues Recordings" category; in 2012, it received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.

"One Time Blues" was recorded in March 1927 by Blind Blake for Paramount. Freddie Spruell had sung it as an alternate theme to end his record ‘‘Milk Cow Blues’’ on June 25, 1926. Several groups of blues were to use this melody. The most prominent was "Kokomo Blues,’’ first recorded by Madlyn Davis in November 1927 (mistitled "Kokola Blues,"), with a second recording by guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in June 1928. "Ko Ko Mo Blues" parts 1 and 2 was recorded by Jabo Williams for Paramount in 1932. Other "Kokomo" versions include Lucille Bogan' 1933 unissued number, Charlie McCoy (as "Baltimore Blues," 1934), Kokomo Arnold ("Kokomo Blues", 1934), and Big Boy Knox (as ‘"Eleven Light City", 1937). The set of lyrics with which the tune has long flourished is "Sweet Home Chicago," first recorded by Robert Johnson in November 1936. The lyrics evolving from the "Kokomo" group of songs.  Frank Busby cut "'Leven Light City (Sweet Old Kokomo)" in 1937 for Decca. The first post-war versions of the song were ‘‘Sweet Home Chicago’’ by Roosevelt Sykes recorded in 1954 followed by Robert Lockwood's "Aw Aw Baby (Sweet Home Chicago)" in 1955.

Madyln Davis: Kokola Blues

Big Joe Williams will forever be identified with "Baby Please Don’t Go," his own composition , but the melody actually emerged in 1925 out of Tin Pan Alley as "Alabamy Bound" by Ray Henderson, with lyrics by B. G. DeSylva and Bud Green. Both Lucille Hegamin and Sara Martin recorded versions of the song in 1925. The song soon found its way into more rural and downhome repertoires, sometimes as "Alabamy Bound" and sometimes as "Elder Greene." Charlie Patton recorded "Elder Greene Blues" in 1929 and Pete Harris recorded "Alabama Bound" for the Library of Congress in 1934. Harris’s version of "Alabama Bound" includes several lines about Elder Greene. Leadbelly also recorded "Alabama Bound" for the Library of Congress in 1935.

An intermediate step in the evolution of "Alabamy Bound" into "Baby, Please Don’t Go" was its almost immediate transformation into "Don’t You Leave Me Here." In this new guise, Thomas Morris was credited with writing the music, with Freddie Johnson composing the lyrics, first performed by Monette Moore, vocalist for Charles Johnson’s Original Paradise Ten, in 1927. The song became quite popular with down-home singers as either "Don’t Leave Me Here" or "Don’t You Leave Me Here.""Papa" Harvey Hull and Long "Cleve" Reed recorded a version on the Black Patti label the same year as Moore. Henry Thomas recorded it in 1929 and included a few lines from "Alabama Bound." Tampa Red recorded his version in 1932, Merline Johnson recorded hers in 1938, and Washboard Sam recorded a version in 1937. The most influential version, however, was Big Joe Williams’s 1935 recording of "Baby Please Don’t Go" which he cut again in 1941 and 1947, both backed by Sonny Boy Williamson. The first two artists to record "Baby Please Don’t Go" after Big Joe Williams were Sam Montgomery, who recorded it in the spring of 1936 and Tampa Kid, who recorded it in the fall of 1936. By the end of the Korean War, "Baby Please Don’t Go" had become a blues standard, and more than fifty versions were recorded. From the post-war era we spin Muddy Waters' 1953 version titled "Turn Your Lamp Down Low."

Another song that ties into this family of song is “Another Man Done Gone” first recorded by Vera Hall by John Lomax for the Library of Congress. In his book The Beautiful Music All Around Us author Stephen Wade talks bout this song: "When Vera recorded "Another Man Done" she told John Lomax that she learned it from her guitar-playing husband. …When writer-collector Harold Courlander came to Livingston in February 1950, he recorded both Vera singing 'Another Man Done,' as well as someone she knew: Willie Turner, a twenty-seven-year-old  confined at Camp Livingston. With his two fellow inmates, he sang and recorded 'Now Your Man Done Gone,' a piece they otherwise sang on the county road gang. …Two days before Courlander recorded Willie Turner at Camp Livingson, he stopped forty miles away in Marion, Mississippi. There he recorded a singer identified in his notes "only as Cora, who sang 'Baby Please Don't Go' . . . the same song, but with some variance in the lyrics."

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Andy BoyEvil BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Andy BoyChurch Street BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Walter 'Cowboy' Washington & Andy BoyIce Pick MamaThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Andy BoyHouse Raid BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Big Boy KnoxBlue Man BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 4: The Thomas Family 1925-1929
Big Boy KnoxEleven Light City BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe 1934-1937
Son Becky Mistreated Washboard BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Son Becky Midnight Trouble BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksJack of All Trades BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksFannie Mae BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Pinetop BurksShake the ShackSan Antonio Blues 1937
Thunder SmithSanta Fe BluesLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Thunder SmithLow Down Dirty WaysLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Leroy Ervin Rock Island BluesTexas Blues: Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings
Lee HunterBack To Santa FeTexas Blues: Bill Quinn's Gold Star Recordings
Sonny Boy DavisI Don't Live Here No MoreTexas Country Blues 1948-1951
Dr. HepcatI CriedHouston Might Be Heaven V
Dr. HepcatHattie GreenDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953: Texas
Dr. HepcatBoogie WoogieGiants Of Texas Country Blues Piano
Whistlin Moore AlexSometimes I Feel Worried From North Dallas To The East Side
Whistlin Moore AlexIf I Lose You WomanModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Whistlin Moore AlexNeglected WomanModern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 4
Buster PickensSanta Fe TrainEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Buster PickensJim NappyEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Buster PickensShe Caught The L & NEdwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
Robert ShawHere I Come With My Dirty, Dirty Duckings On Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Robert ShawGroceries On My Shelf (Piggly Wiggly) Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Robert ShawThe Ma Grinder Texas Barrelhouse Piano: The Ma Grinder
Grey GhostNobody Knows You When You're Down And OutGrey Ghost (Catfish)
Grey GhostWay Out On The DesertGrey Ghost (Spindletop)

Show Notes:

Back when I started this show in 2007 one of the first programs I did was one devoted to the pre-war Texas piano tradition. My interest in this was sparked again recently when I was doing research and writing the notes for a reissue of pianist Buster Pickens long out-of-print album for the Document label (just reissued  as Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions).  Pickens was an active member of the  'Santa Fe group' of pianists, knew all players but unlike some of them did not get the opportunity to record until the post-war era. In our two-part feature on Texas piano I'll be spotlighting the tradition in more depth that I did the first time out, surveying both  pre-war and post-war artists.

Pinetop Burks: Jack Of All Trades BluesThe Texas piano tradition flowered in the 1920’s and was at its peak during the 1930’s when a number of the tradition’s best players were recorded. Paul Oliver observed that “Texas was as rich in piano blues as Mississippi was in guitar blues” and “a cursory glance through the discographies will emphasize the fact that a remarkable number of blues pianists came from Texas." The pianists can be roughly grouped into schools; there was the remarkable Thomas family who made the bulk of their recordings between 1923 and 1928, one based around Dallas which included Whistlin Alex Moore, a regional style that developed around Shreveport and the so-called 'Santa Fe group' who were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie. In our second installment we spotlight members of the powerful Santa Fe group as well as a number of pianists who recorded in the post-war era.

The  'Santa Fe group' were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie.“ Mack McCormick noted that the “itinerant pack of pianists who came to be known loosely as 'the Santa Fe group,' partly because they favored that railroad and partly because a stranger asking for the name of a selection was invariably told 'That's The Santa Fe.' …They were known as The Santa Fe after the railroad that straddle Fort Bend County with a big triangle just Southwest of Houston, providing access westward to the high plains, cotton country, east to the piney-woods lumbering camps and north (pretty much following the old Chisholm Trail) to a string of cities and watering places. ”Here”, Oliver notes “was where the music thrived and pianists could be found like Pinetop Burks, Son Becky, Rob Cooper, Black Boy Shine, Andy Boy, Big Boy Knox, Robert Shaw, Buster Pickens and the singers who worked with them like Walter 'Cowboy' Washington and Joe Pullum.” Others associated with the group were Victoria Spivey and Bernice Edwards.

1937 was an outstanding year for the Santa Fe group of pianists: Andy Boy recorded in February for Bluebird, Big Boy Knox recorded for Bluebird in March, Black Boy Shine recorded in June for Vocalion and Son Becky and Pinetop Burks recorded at a shared session for Vocalion in October. Among the best of the Santa Fe group were Andy Boy of Galveston and Rob Cooper of Houston. Andy Boy had a rough, expressive voice offset with his sprightly blues piano laced with ragtime flourishes. He waxed eight sides in 1937 under his own name as well as backing singer Joe Pullum on eleven sides in 1935 and the obscure Walter 'Cowboy' Washington.

Little is known of Big Boy Knox who recorded four sides in 1937. Son Becky and Pinetop Burks recorded at a shared session for Vocalion in October 1937. Becky's real name was Leon Calhoun born in Wharton, Texas in 1910. He's remembered playing along the Piney woods border with Louisiana. He's backed by an unknown guitarist and washboard player oh his six titles. Conish 'Pinetop' Burks was born near Richmond, Texas in 1907. He possessed a formidable technique as he displays on the six titles he cut for Vocalion in 1937.

Thunder Smith: Santa Fe BluesAfter World War II the Texas piano tradition virtually evaporated. Several, however, did record in the post-war era including Wilson “Thunder” Smith. Smith plays piano behind Lightnin' Hopkins on his first two sessions for Aladdin in 1946 and 1947 and Hopkins backed Smith on a four song session for Aladdin in 1946 with Smith cutting one session apiece in 1947 for Gold Star and in 1948 for Down Town. He was murdered in Houston in 1963. His “Santa Fe Blues” indicates ties to the Santa Fe group.

Bill Quinn, owner of the Houston based Gold Star label, recorded two piano players: Leroy Ervin in 1947 and Lee Hunter in 1948. Another pianist from the older generation was Sonny Boy Davis who recorded two sides for the Talent label in 1949 backed by guitarist Rattlesnake Cooper.

Lavada Durst, known as Dr. Hepcat, who was a disciple of Robert Shaw but who recorded infrequently. He worked in baseball for much of his life, training players and announcing games, and it was from the latter activity that he graduated to working as a DJ, broadcasting over KVET, a white station in Austin. There he developed the persona of Dr.Hepcat, with an extraordinary line in jive talk. He also made a few records of his own, but despite his high profile on radio, it appears that these can't have sold very well, as they are extremely rare, even one issued on the comparatively major independent label Peacock; the other two were on the local Uptown label, one issued under the pseudonym of Cool Papa Smith. He made a handful of latter day recordings before passing in 1995.

In part one of our spotlight on Texas piano we played a pair of pre-war number by Whistlin Alex Moore, the best known Dallas pianist. Moore's career spanned from 1929 until 1988, recording in every decade except the 1970's. He was rediscovered by Chris Strachwitz in 1960, recording an album for Arhoolie and making his way to Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival by the end of the decade. Back in 1951 in Dallas he cut a few titles for the RPM label including two of which we spin today.

As Paul Oliver wrote: "Buster Pickens is a barrelhouse pianist who has played the sawmills, the turpentine camps and the oil 'boom' towns since his childhood. He has outlasted most of his contemporaries in their tough an often dangerous life and can lay good claim to be virtually the last of the sawmill pianists. Pickens lone album, for Heritage, the self-titled Buster Pickens, was recorded over several sessions in 1960 and 1961 and released in 1962, later reissued in 1977 on the Flyright label as Back Door Blues and now appears on CD for the first time courtesy of Document Records. Liner notes for the new reissue were written by your truly.

Edwin "Buster" Pickens: The 1959 to 1961 Sessions
 Read Liner Notes

Robert Shaw was born in Stafford, Texas in 1908 and in his mid-teens started playing with members of the Santa Fe Group and greatly influenced by his friend Black Boy Shine. Shaw wasn't recorded until 1963 when he was tracked down by Mack McCormick.

Roosevelt Williams, better know as the Grey Ghost, was born in Bastrop, Texas in 1903. He outlived his contemporaries passing at the age of 92 in 1996. He traveled to the area dances and roadhouses by riding empty boxcars. He would seem to appear out of nowhere and then disappear immediately after performing, which earned him the nickname, "Grey Ghost. He wasn't properly documented until 1965 when he was recorded by Tary Owens. Those recordings saw daylight in the late 80's, reviving Williams' career. Owens arranged for Williams to make a CD of new recordings at the age of 89, Which was released in 1992.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
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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