Elzadie RobinsonSt Louis Cyclone BluesThe Great Race Record Labels Vol. 1
Texas Alexander Frost Texas Tornado BluesHoney Babe Let The Deal Go Down: The Best Of The Mississippi Sheiks
John Lee Hooker No Friend AroundThe Complete John Lee Hooker Vol. 3
John Lee HookerNo Mortgage On My SoulThe Complete John Lee Hooker Vol. 3
Jealous James StanchellAnything From A Foot Race To A Resting PlaceTreasury of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Lightnin' HopkinsThe Foot RaceAutobiography in Blues
Big Moose Walker Footrace Ramblin' Woman
Jimmy ReedThere'll Be A DayThe Vee-Jay Years
Bobo JenkinsI'm So Glad Trouble Don't Last AlwaysThe Life Of
Sammy LawhornHome of the BluesRockin' Rhythm 'n' Blues From Memphis
The 5 RoyalesI Got To KnowRockin' Rhythm 'n' Blues From Memphis
Sylvester PalmerMean BluesDown In Black Bottom
Hound Head HenryMy Silver Dollar MamaCow Cow Davenport: The Essential
Lightnin' HokinsThe TwisterThe Complete Prestige Recordings
Big Bill BroonzyTexas Tornado Blues The War & Postwar Years 1940-1951
Curtis Jones Decoration Day BluesCurtis Jones Vol. 1 1937-1938
Sonny Boy Williamson IDecoration BluesThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson
Dan Picket Decoration DayShake That Thing
Howlin' Wolf Decoration DaySun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
J & J DeucesSweet Woman BluesStompin' Vol 18
Otis HintonWalking Downhill Stompin' Vol 18
Long Tall LesterWorking Man Juicy Harmonica Vol. 1
Butterbeans & Susie Bow Legged PapaVaudeville Blues 1919-1941
Sister MorganHurry Down, Sunshine, and See What Tomorrow BringsToo Late, Too Late 1927-1964
Alma Henderson I've Got A Mama Down In New OrleansVocal Blues And Jazz Vol. 4
B.B. King Worry Worry Live At The Regal
Ironing Board SamI've Been UsedDouble Bang
Johnny Fuller Tin Pan Alley BluesFuller's Blues
Johnny Fuller Bad Luck Overtook MeFuller's Blues
Lonnie Johnson St Louis Cyclone BluesBroadcasting The Blues
Gospel TravelersGod's Chariot Pt. 1Get Right With God Vol. 2

Show Notes:

An eclectic mix show lined up for this Memorial Day Weekend. On deck today are a few Memorial Day songs (Decoration Day), a few tornado songs, twin spins of John Lee Hooker and Johnny Fuller as well, some interesting pre-war and post-war blues obscurities and lots more.

Lonnie Johnson: St. Louis Cyclone BluesLike many folks I was transfixed by the news coverage of the devastating tornado in Oklahoma. It got me to thinking of some blues songs that have been recorded about tornadoes over the years. There was the St. Louis Cyclone which hit five months after the flooding of the Mississippi river. The 1927 flood provoked an outpouring of songs by both whites and African-Americans. Lonnie Johnson's "St. Louis Cyclone Blues" was recorded in New York City just four days after the catastrophe. On September 29th a cyclone struck St. Louis, killing 84 people in five minutes and causing one million dollars in damage. The impact of this disaster was minimal in relation to the Mississippi flood and this is reflected in the fact that only four songs were released about the subject. In addition to Johnson there was a sermon by Rev. J.M. Gates titled "God's Wrath In The St. Louis Cyclone", Elzadie Robinson's "St. Louis Cyclone Blues" (a shorter version of Johnson's song) featuring the exceptional Bob Call on piano and "Tornado Groan" by Luella Miller. On April 9th 1934 Texas Alexander was backed by the Mississippi Sheiks on eight numbers. From this session comes "Frost Texas Tornado Blues". Most sources rate this as an F4 tornado which destroyed the tiny town of Frost, Texas on May 6, 1930 leaving 41 dead. The Houston Chronicle wrote: "Bright sunshine today brought out in bold relief such a picture of death and ruin in the little town of Frost as has never been seen in this part of the state. There was no room in the little cemetery for the dead. The cemetery was covered with debris from the houses of the living. In three minutes Tuesday afternoon a black swirling monster swept out of the southwest and completely demolished a town which has been 43 years in the building, took the lives of 23 and injured a hundred more." Lightnin' Hopkins cut "Mean Old Twister" in 1946 and today we play a version he cut in 1964 live at Swarthmore college. Hopkins' version draws from the imagery of Lonnie Johnson's song. We close the show with a gospel number that I couldn't resist playing by the Gospel Travelers called God's Chariot. This is a remarkable two-part song cut in Memphis in 1952 complete with sound effects.

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. It was declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first blues song that I could find that references Decoration Day was singer Martha Copeland's "On Decoration Day" cut in 1926. Next was Curtis Jones who cut “Decoration Day Blues” at his very first session which was not issued at the time, then Sonny Boy's version, “Decoration Day Blues” was cut five months later and cut again in 1940 as "Decoration Day Blues No. 2". Sonny Boy II covered the original Sonny Boy's version in 1963 and Howlin' Wolf covered it in 1952. Other version were recorded by John Lee Hooker, Dan Pickett, Bobo Jenkins, Dr. Ross, Sunnyland Slim, Bukka White and others.

We spin a trio of songs today revolving around a strange song, "Anything From A Foot Race To A Resting Place", recorded by the obscure Jealous James Stanchell. In Treasury of Sonny Boy Williamson: Decoration Day Blues No. 2Field Recordings Vol. 2 Mack McCormick writes about this song: “The song is Jealous James own composition, well known around Houston and Kansas City from his own singing, but not previously recorded or published. The recording came about one afternoon when Lightnin' Hopkins was scheduled to make some tapes but, as usual, found himself without an acoustical guitar. He went out and found Jealous James inviting him and his guitar to come along. After finishing “Corrine Corrina” …Lightnin' turned things over to Jealous James who sang several of his own songs, including this. Lightnin' was so delighted with it that he promptly recorded a boogie which he dubbed “The Footrace Is On” which takes its inspiration from Jealous James' song.” I have no idea where Big Moose Walker picked up the song but he obviously liked the number as he cut versions in 1960, 1961,1967 and 1969. Our version comes from the Bluesway album Rambling Woman.

The many record labels that came out of Memphis, Tennessee have mostly been well documented over the years. There has been one glaring omission and that is the Home Of The Blues record label that existed from 1960 through to 1962. In that short time the company issued approximately forty singles. The label grew out of Ruben Cherry's Home Of The Blues record store on Beale Street. Most of the recordings were made at Royal Studios and Willie Mitchell joined the label as house musician and producer. He recorded three singles for the label under his own name. Big names who recorded for the label included Roy Brown and the '5' Royales, both after their lengthy stints at King Records, and Larry Birdsong. Today's featured tracks come off a brand new 32 song survey of the label called Rockin' Rhythm 'n' Blues From Memphis.

We always spin tracks from out-of-print albums and today we spotlight a great Johnny Fuller album that someone asked me about awhile back but took some digging in my collection to find it. Fuller was a West Coast bluesman who left behind a fine batch of 1950's recordings. He was equally at home with low down blues, gospel, R&B, and rock & roll. Fuller was born in Edwards, Mississippi and moved to Vallejo, California with his family at a young age. Fuller made his debut with two gospel numbers for the Jaxyson label in 1948. His blues recording career began in 1954 with sides issued on Flair and Kent and would record prolifically for several labels through 1962. Fuller's two biggest hits, "All Night Long" and the original version of "The Haunted House," improbably found him in the late ’50s on rock & roll package shows, touring with the likes of Paul Anka and Frankie Avalon. He was essentially retired from music in the 60's and worked as a garage mechanic. We feature his excellent, and only full-length album, Fuller's Blues (Bluesmaker Records 1974) with a crack band that included Phillip Walker. Unfortunately the album has not been issued on CD. Fuller passed in 1985.

Johnny Fuller: Fullers Blues
Read Liner Notes

We play some interesting, if obscure, material from the pre-war and postwar eras. From the pre-war era we hear from some fine singers including Alma Henderson, Sister Morgan and Hound Head Henry. Henderson is only mentioned in the pre-war blues bible (Blues & Gospel Records 1902-1943) as being of little blues interest. I like her "annoying talking-singing style", as Steve Tracy labels her in the notes to Vocal, Blues & Jazz 1921-1930. Of the four tracks on this set, two feature the guitar of Lonnie Johnson while the other two, including our selection, feature the great Eddie Lang on guitar. Of Henry I couldn't say it better than writer Mike Rowe: "The buffoonish Henry was one of the, mercifully, few specialists in vocal effects; laughing, crying, imitating trains, steamboats, hounds, crowing roosters, Henry's repertoire of sounds was wide indeed (listen to his W C. Fields for instance!). When he performs (almost) straight he makes a passable blues singer – "Silver Dollar Mama" is about his best and boasts a fine Davenport accompaniment too." As for Sister Morgan I know nothing outside of delivering a fine performance on "Hurry Down, Sunshine, and See What Tomorrow Brings" backed by Will Shade on guitar. She cut two sides for Victor in 1927 both unissued at the time.

From the post-war era some fine down-home blues from some equally obscure artists. Otis Hinton is believed to have possibly been from Shreveport, LA. He made four recordings for Apollo Records in New York City in the early 50's that were never issued. It wasn't until he recorded for the small Timely label in NYC that he had a record issued in 1953. "Walking Downhill" is a killer and one wishes he recorded more. Nothing seems to be known about Lester Foster, who made two recordings in the 1950's for the Duke label as Long Tall Lester. Our featured track, "Working Man", is a knockout.

James 'Boodle It' WigginsEvil Woman BluesJuke Joint Saturday Night
James 'Boodle It' WigginsKeep A-Knockin' an You Can't Get In Piano Blues: The Essential
Papa Harvey Hull & Long Cleve ReedGang Of Brown Skin Women Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Papa Harvey Hull & Long Cleve ReedHey! Lawdy Mama – The France Blues Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Papa Harvey Hull & Long Cleve ReedTwo Little Tommies Blues Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Wesley WallaceFanny Lee Blues Down On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis
Wesley WallaceNo. 29 Down On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis
Willie HarrisWest Side BluesDown In Black Bottom
Willie HarrisWhat Makes A Tomcat Blue? Uptown Blues: A Decade Of Guitar -Piano Duets
Joe Dean Mexico Blues Down In Black Bottom
Joe Dean I'm So Glad I'm 21 Years Old Today Shake Your Wicked Knees
James 'Boodle It' Wiggins My Lovin' Blues Boogie Woogie & Barrelhouse Piano Vol. 2 1928-1930
James 'Boodle It' Wiggins Weary-Heart BluesBroke, Black And Blue
Charlie PickettCrazy 'bout My Black GalSon Bonds & Charlie Pickett 1934-1941
Charlie PickettTrembling Blues Son Bonds & Charlie Pickett 1934-1941
Papa Harvey Hull & Long Cleve ReedDon't You Leave Me Here Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Papa Harvey Hull & Long Cleve ReedMama You Don't Know How Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Papa Harvey Hull & Long Cleve ReedOriginal Stack O'Lee Blues Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Tom DicksonLabor Blues Blues Images Vol. 8
Tom DicksonDeath Bell BluesMemphis Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-34
Willie HarrisLonesome Midnight DreamA Richer Tradition
Willie HarrisNever Drive a Stranger from Your DoorA Richer Tradition
Margaret ThorntonTexas Bound BluesBarrelhouse Mamas
Margaret ThorntonJockey BluesBarrelhouse Mamas
James 'Boodle It' WigginsFrisco Bound Blues Boogie Woogie & Barrelhouse Piano Vol. 2 1928-1930
James 'Boodle It' WigginsForty-Four BluesBoogie Woogie & Barrelhouse Piano Vol. 2 1928-1930
Charlie Pickett Let Me Squeeze Your LemonSon Bonds & Charlie Pickett 1934-1941
Charlie Pickett Down The HighwaySon Bonds & Charlie Pickett 1934-1941
James 'Boodle It' WigginsCorinne, CorinnaBoogie Woogie & Barrelhouse Piano Vol. 2 1928-1930
James 'Boodle It' WigginsGotta Shave 'Em DryJuke Joint Saturday Night
Bob Call31 BluesDown In Black Bottom
Tom Dickson Happy Blues Country Blues: The Essential
Tom Dickson Worry Blues The Great Race Record Labels Vol. 3
Jim ThompkinsBedside BluesA Richer Tradition

Show Notes:

James "Boodle It" Wiggins: Keep A-Knockin' An You Can't Get In

Today's program spotlights several outstanding blues artists who recorded very little and who we know very little about. All the artists featured today recorded from one to eight titles and all left behind barley a trace of biographical information. We hear several fine pianists including Joe Dean, Wesley Wallace as well as Bob Call, Blind Leroy Garnett and Charlie Spand who back big voiced singer James Wiggins, In addition we spin the recorded output of guitarists Willie Harris, Charlie Pickett, Tom Dickson, Jim Thompkins plus  all the sides by The Down Home Boys (Papa Harvey Hull & Long Cleve Reed) and singer Margaret Thornton.

Virtually nothing is known about singer James 'Boodle It' Wiggins who cut eight sides at three sessions for the Paramount label between 1928 and 1929. Paramount placed two ads in the Chicago Defender on November 30, 1928 (Keep A-Knockin' An You Can't Get In b/w Evil Woman Blues) and January 25, 1930 ("Weary Heart Blues b/w My Lovin' Blues"). There were also two sessions on Nov. 13 and 14th 1928 that resulted in six unissued sides. Wiggins is believed to have been located in Dallas by Paramount scout R.L. Ashford who ran a music store and shoe shine parlor there. Big Bill Broonzy told Paul Oliver that Wiggins came from Louisiana. Broonzy related the following story to Oliver which appears in Screening The Blues: "Upon a return trip back home to Bogalusa in 1929, a white woman took offense when he failed to step aside for her on a public street. A local mob lynched him immediately and also shot him four times. Wiggins was a man of great strength and was actually still alive when his rope was cut down from the tree. While he survived the ordeal, he never sang about the incident."

At his first session Wiggins cut "Keep A-Knockin' An You Can't Get In" which gives our show it's title and has an interesting history. In his autobiography Born With The Blues Perry Bradford claims to be composer of the song but the first recorded version would seem to be that by Wiggins. In November 1928 Tampa Red's Hokum Jug Band cut "You Can't Come In," which singer-pianist Bert Mays had cut for Vocalion a month earlier and which evolved into Little Richard's 1957's rock 'n' roll classic "Keep A Knockin." Singer and kazoo player James "Boodle It" Wiggins had recorded essentially the same song with pianist Bob Call for Paramount in February under the title "Keep A Knockin' An You Can't Get In" but with a somewhat different melody. Clarence Williams recorded a similar but slower song, "I'm Busy and You Can't Come In," twice in September 1928, first with Eva Taylor singing and then as an instrumental. Sylvester Weaver had recorded a solo guitar piece titled "I'm Busy And You Can't Come In" in 1924, but it bears little resemblance to the tune Williams played. Bert May's record seems to have been the first to marry the melody of "Bucket's Got A Hole In It" to the lyrics of "You Can't Come In" (the same melody is also used for "Midnight Special"). Accompanying himself on slide guitar, Kokomo Arnold recorded "Busy Bootin'" his adaptation of Wiggins's "Keep A Knockin' An You Can't Get In"in April 1935, with Black Bob Hudson on piano and Big Bill Broonzy on guitar. Hudson's introduction is based on the one Bob Call used with Wiggins, but on the second verse, Johnson sings "Kinda busy and you can't come in," indicating a familiarity with Eva Taylor’s song, which Alura Mack had covered in 1929.

Writer Mike Rowe wrote: "ln a pioneering article (read full article below) in Blues Unlimited magazine  (A Handful of Keys: Boodle It One Time?) Bob Hall and Richard Noblett analyzed Wiggins' recordings and cast doubts on the accepted identifications of the pianists. They accept Leroy Garnett's presence on 'My Lovin" and 'Weary Heart' but doubt he plays on 'Forty Four Blues.' Similarly they agree Bob Call as pianist on 'Evil Woman' but not necessarily 'Keep A-Knockin'.' For Wiggins's last coupling 'Corinne Corinna' and 'Gotta Shave 'Em Dry' Charlie Spand had been suggested but no firm conclusions were drawn. Bob Call, identified on two unissued Wiggins sessions, raises other questions; can the pianist of '31 Blues' be the same Bob Call after a gap of eighteen years crops up as a band pianist on records by Arbee Stidham, Big Bill, Jazz Gillum, Robert Nighthawk and who under his own name made a couple of jump blues? It would seem so. Call was known to have gone to school to learn to read music, presumably to expand his musical potential, and moreover the age seems right; his photograph from 1958 shows a man well into his fifties. Bob Call was shrewd enough to realize a change in style was necessary – those that wouldn't change retired or disappeared, and left as few traces as when they arrived."Willie Harris: West Side Blues 78

In March/April 1927, the Starr Piano Company of Richmond, Indiana, made its first, of several, field trips to Chicago. The hundred-odd sides seem to have been made primarily for issue on J. Mayo Williams' short-lived Black Patti label. Many also appeared on Gennett and other labels, usually under pseudonyms. Among the sides recorded were some by Papa Harvey Hull and Long 'Cleve' Reed and the Down Home Boys also known as 'Sunny Boy And His Pals, a Gennet pseudonym. It's unclear where the group was from. It's been suggested that they were natives of northern Mississippi, a region that is as musically different from the Delta as it is geographically.Writer Chris Smith surmised the group might be from South Memphis around Tate and Panola counties where Garfield Akers, Joe Callicott and Frank Stokes developed their two-guitar sound. Their recorded legacy is the epitome of the songster sound, featuring a coon song ("Gang of Brown Skin Women," a retitled version of "I've Got a Gal for Ev'ry Day in the Week"), a bad man ballad ("Original Stack O'Lee Blues") and material that probably dates from circa 1900, including "Don't You Leave Me Here" (an "Alabama Bound" variant), "Mama You Don't Know How," "Hey! Lawdy Mama – The France Blues" and "Two Little Tommies Blues." The last two numbers are noteworthy for the artists' fantastic harmony singing, a characteristic much more prevalent in proto-blues material than in blues. All six of these sides are magnificent, and it's a shame that the Down Home Boys never recorded again after 1927. It's been suggested that Big Boy Cleveland, who recorded for Gennett shortly after Hull and Reed, was actually Long Cleve(land) Reed. A drawing of Papa Harvey Hull and Long 'Cleve' Reed appeared in a Black Patti advertisement published May 21, 1927.

Willie Harris cut five sides at three sessions in 1929 and 1930 for Brunswick. One of those sides was unissued. At his May 28th 1929 session he also backed singer Coletha Simpson on “ Lonesome Lonesome Blues.” Harris may also have backed Sonny Boy Nelson, Mississippi Matilda and Robert Hill at a 1936 session for Bluebird. Harris is not the same artist as William Harris who cut fourteen issued sides at four sessions for Gannet in 1927 and 1928 or Blind Willie Harris who cut one 78 in 1928.

Little is known about Charlie Pickett, who was from Brownsville, TN. Sheldon Harris reported that he was Estes cousin. Hammie Nixon had him performing in a group with Estes, Nixon, and others on the streets of Chicago in the 1930's and 1940's. Nixon told Kip Lornell in 1975, "He started preaching in St. Louis, been living in St. Louis for a couple of years. I think he's preaching in Los Angeles now." Of the song "Let Me Squeeze Your Lemon",Nixon said, "I will never forget the first time he started playing that song, how he sung a something like, 'When I got home, another nigger kicking in my stall.' The bossman told him 'don't say that no more!'" He cut four sides for Decca in 1937 backed by Hammie Nixon and Lee Brown. Pickett also played guitar behind Estes on 19 numbers at sessions in 1937 and 1938. He or Estes may have played guitar behind pianist Lee Green at a 1937 session.

Black Patti Ad

Blues pianist Wesley Wallace left behind only one 78, "Fanny Lee Blues" b/w "No. 29," recorded for Paramount in Grafton, WI, in February of 1930. Not much is known about his life, other than the fact that he probably lived just outside of St. Louis, in Alton, MO, and that he may originally have come from Arkansas. Wallace also backed Robert Peeples,  Bessie Mae Smith on record and has been suggested as the pianist behind  Sylvester Palmer although this has been disputed by Henry Townsend who knew him well. Palmer cut a lone four-song session on November 15, 1929 in Chicago for Columbia. He traveled to the Windy City with Henry Townsend: "Sylvester and I went to Chicago to record for Columbia. Sylvester Palmer had his own particular style on piano, and it was a very strange style. The one number that I think sold better was 'Do It Sloppy' I haven't heard anyone come close to playing that particular style; it has a ring more towards Cow Cow Davenport than anyone I know."  …I've heard it said that the piano player Wesley Wallace and Sylvester Palmer were one and the same person. Forget it – it's not true. At Sylvester's session I was sitting I was sitting right in the studio with him, and at my session he was right in the studio with me, and there was no other person involved." As for Wallace, Townsend had the following to say: "Wesley Wallace had beautiful coordination with what he was doing, very timely. The introduction he plays to "Fanny Lee Blues" was a typical sound of this city, that beat. "

Joe Dean recorded one great 78 in 1930: “I'm So Glad I'm Twenty-One Years Old Today b/w Mexico Bound Blues" for Paramount, who dubbed him ‘‘Joe Dean from Bowling Green.’’ Dean was born in St. Louis on April 25, 1908. Raised by his widowed mother, Dean began by playing house parties and small clubs. Dean worked in a steel mill, playing intermittently, until the 1950's. He remained musically active on a part-time basis into the 1960's. He eventually became the Rev. Joe Dean and died on June 24 1981. He was interviewed by Mike Rowe for Blues Unlimited magazine in 1977 (Blues Unlimited no. 127 Nov/Dec 1977, p. 4-9.).

Tom Dickson cut six sides in Memphis in 1928 for the Okeh label. Nothing is known of him except that Joe Callicott said that he played in the Memphis area.

Margaret Thornton cut one lone record for the short-lived Black Patti label in 1927, "Texas Bound Blues b/w Jockey Blues." Thornton was a wonderful singer backed by the fine barrelhouse playing of the equally obscure Blind James Beck.

Jim Thompkins (credited in the Brunswick ledger as Peg Leg Jim Thompkins) cut two songs, “Bedside Blues” and “Down Fall Blues”, the latter never issued. When issued on 78 the flipside of “Bedside Blues” was "We Got To Get That Thing Fixed" by Speckled Red.

-A Handful of Keys: Boodle It One Time? (Blues Unlimited no. 114, Jul/Aug 1975, p. 14–15) [PDF]

Mary Johnson w/ Tampa RedDeath Cell Blues Twenty First. St. Stomp: The Piano Blues Of St. Louis
James Stump Johnson w/ Tampa RedJones Law BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 2 - Brunswick 1928-30
Texas Alexander w/ Lonnie JohnsonLong Lonesome DayTexas Alexander Vol. 1
Mooch Richardson w/ Lonnie JohnsonHelena BluesA Richer Tradition: Country Blues and String Band Music 1923-1942
Peetie Wheatstraw w/ Lonnie JohnsonTruckin' Thru TrafficPeetie Wheatstraw Vol. 5
Lil Green w/ Big Bill BroonzyJust Rockin'Lil Green -1940-1941
Charlie Spand w/ Big Bill Broonzy Rock And RyeRoots N' Blues: Booze & The Blues
Cripple Clarence Lofton w/ Big Bill BroonzyBrownskin GirlsThe Piano Blues Vol. 9: Lofton/Noble 1935-1936
Bumble Bee Slim w/ Casey Bill WeldonThis Old Life I'm Living Bumble Bee Slim Vol. 5 1935-1936
Memphis Minnie w/ Casey Bill WeldonWhen The Sun Goes DownFour Woman Blues
Leroy Henderson w/ Casey Bill WeldonGood Scuffler BluesCharley Jordan Vol.3 1935-1937
Dorothy Baker w/ Roosevelt SykesSteady Grinding BluesBarrelhouse Mamas
Teddy Darby w/ Roosevelt Sykes The Girl I Left BehindBlind Teddy Darby 1929-1937
Napoleon Fletcher w/ Roosevelt Sykes – She Showed It AllGrass Cutter BluesShe Showed It AllRoosevelt Sykes: The Essential
Alice Moore w/ Kokomo ArnoldGrass Cutter BluesKokomo Arnold Vol. 3 1936-1937
Roosevelt Sykes w/ Kokomo ArnoldThe Honey DripperRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 4 1934-1936
Peetie Wheatstraw w/ Kokomo ArnoldWorking On The Project Broadcasting the Blues
Robert Lee McCoy w/ Sonny Boy Williamson ITough LuckProwling With The Nighthawk
Yank Rachel w/ Sonny Boy Williamson II'm Wild And Crazy As Can Be Yank Rachell Vol. 1 1934-1941
Ma Rainey w/ Tampa RedBlack Eye BluesMother of the Blues
Victoria Spivey w/ Tampa RedDon't Trust Nobody Blues Victoria Spivey Vol. 3 1929-1936
Bessie Mae Smith w/ Lonnie JohnsonMy Daddy's Coffin Blues St. Louis Bessie & Alice Moore Vol. 1 1927-1929
Victoria Spivey w/ Lonnie JohnsonDope Head BluesBlues Images Vol. 4
Georgia White w/ Lonnie Johnson Alley BoogieGeorgia White Vol. 3 1937-1939
Mary Johnson w/ Roosevelt SykesRattlesnake BluesMary Johnson 1929-1936
Charlie McFadden w/ Roosevelt SykesGambler's BluesCharlie ''Specks'' McFadden 1929-1937
Washboard Sam w/ Big Bill BroonzyLife Is Just A BookWashboard Sam Vol. 6 1941-1942
Washboard Sam w/ Big Bill BroonzyMy Feet Jumped SaltyRockin' My Blues Away
Big Joe Williams w/ Sonny Boy Williamson IPlease Don't Go Big Joe Williams Vol. 1 1935-1941
Speckled Red w/ Sonny Boy Williamson IYou Got To Fix ItSpeckled Red 1929-1938
Big Bill Broonzy w/ Papa Charlie JacksonAt The Break of DayAll The Classic Sides 1928-1937
Lucille Bogan w/ Papa Charlie JacksonJim Tampa BluesLucille Bogan Vol. 1 1923-1929
Big Boy Teddy Edwards w/ Papa Charlie Jackson & Big Bill BroonzyLouise Big Boy Teddy Edwards 1930-1936
Washboard Sam w/ Big Bill Broonzy & Roosevelt SykesRiver Hip MamaRockin' My Blues Away

Show Notes:

Tampa Red
Tampa Red

A few months back I did a show called “Sideman Blues” where we shined the light on some superb session musicians who backed blues artists in the pre-war era. On today's sequel to that show we focus on some of the stars of the pre-war blues era who were also active session artists. Artists featured today include some of the era's big names such as Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red, Roosevelt Sykes, Kokomo Arnold, Sonny Boy Williamson I and others who were also very active backing others on record. Bluesmen such as Big Bill, Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson and Roosevelt Sykes in particular, backed dozens of artists, both well known and obscure on record. Many of these artists also acted in the role as talent scouts for the labels.

During his heyday in the 1920's and 30's, Tampa Red was billed as "The Guitar Wizard," and his stunning slide work on steel National or electric guitar shows why he earned the title. His 25 year recording career produced hundreds of sides: hokum, pop, and jive, but mostly blues (including classic compositions "Anna Lou Blues," "Black Angel Blues," "Crying Won't Help You," "It Hurts Me Too," and "Love Her with a Feeling"). Jim O'Neal neatly summed up Tampa's place in blues history when he wrote the following in 1975: "Few figures have been as important in blues history as Tampa Red; yet no bluesman of such stature has been so ignored by today's blues audience. As a composer, recording artist, musical trendsetter and one of the premier urban blues guitarists of his day, Tampa Red remained popular with black record buyers for more than 20 years and exerted considerable influence on many post-World War II blues stars who earned greater acclaim for playing Tampa's songs than Tampa himself often did."

Tampa was a very busy session guitarist mainly in the early years of his career, circa 1928-1929. Among those he backed include Big Maceo, Lucille Bogan, Bertha "Chippie" Hill, Lil Johnson, Frankie Jaxon, Victoria Spivey, Romeo Nelson, Ma Rainey, Mary Johnson and many others. Tampa's work behind underrated singer Mary Johnson has always been among my favorites. Johnson cut six sides at two sessions in 1930. The April 8, 1930 was outstanding do in large part to the shimmering slide guitar of Tampa and the excellent piano of the under recorded Judson Brown. The two work beautifully behind Johnson on the mournful "Three Months Ago Blues" with Tampa shinning on "Dawn Of Day Blues" and the magnificent "Death Cell Blues."

Lonnie Johnson was a true musical innovator who's remarkable recording career spanned from the 1920's through the 1960's. During that time his musical diversity was amazing: he played piano, guitar, violin, he recorded solo, he accompanied down home country blues singers like Texas Alexander, he played with Louis Armtrong's Hot Fives, recorded with Duke Ellington, duetted with Victoria Spivey and cut a series of instrumental duets with the white jazzman Eddie Lang that set a standard of musicianship that remains unsurpassed by blues guitarists. In Johnson's single-string style lie the basic precedents of such jazz greats as Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, while being a prime influence on bluesman as diverse as Robert Johnson, Tampa Red and B.B. King. Thus Johnson enjoys the rare distinction of having influenced musicians in both the jazz and blues fields. Like Tampa, Johnson backed dozens of artists on record including Texas Alexander, Jimmie Gordon, Merline Johnson, Alice Moore, Victoria Spivey, Peetie Wheatstraw, Johnnie Temple and a host of others.

Big Bill Broonzy
Big Bill Broonzy

As Bob Riesman wrote in his biography of Big Bill Broonzy: "…Bill's recording career took off in this era, and his prodigious output was nearly unmatched among blues musicians. From 1934 until 1942, when the combination of a musicians’ union ban and the diversion of shellac to the war effort halted virtually all recording for two years, Bill averaged better than thirteen double-sided 78 rpm records each year as a featured artist. In addition, he played on an average of forty-eight sides each year as a sideman. In other words, for nearly a decade, he averaged one new Big Bill record a month, and he appeared on two more as a studio guitarist. …As 'Big Bill,' he was one of the most productive and popular artists in the business, with a name that was familiar to his audiences and reinforced by his easily recognized singing style. At the same time, he became the first-call studio guitarist for dozens of recording sessions that Lester Melrose organized for several record companies, particularly Bluebird. In that capacity, he was an integral part of the distinctive sound of numerous musicians, including some of the most popular artists of the era. Two artists whose careers were interwoven with Bill’s were Washboard Sam and Jazz Gillum. Bill played guitar on a most every one of the more than 150 recordings that Sam made over a period of twenty years, as well as on many of the sides that Gillum recorded."

Broonzy's 40's work with Washboard Sam really hit a high point with Big Bill laying down some lengthy, swinging amplified guitar on featured tracks like "Life Is Just A Book", "My Feet Jumped Salty" and "River Hip Mama." Washboard Sam recorded hundreds of records between 1935 and 1949 for the bluebird label, usually with backing by guitarist Big Bill. In 1932, Sam moved to Chicago, initially he played for tips, but soon he began performing regularly with Broonzy. Within a few years, Sam was supporting Broonzy on the guitarist's Bluebird recordings. Soon, he was supporting a number of different musicians on their recording sessions, including pianist Memphis Slim, bassist Ransom Knowling, and a handful of saxophone players, who all recorded for Bluebird. In 1935, Sam began recording for both Bluebird and Vocalion Records. Throughout the rest of the '30s and the '40s, Sam was one of the most popular Chicago bluesmen, selling plenty of records and playing to packed audiences in the Chicago clubs.

Broonzy was also prominent on the recordings of Lil Green who's "Just Rockin'" we feature today. Her professional career was launched around 1940, when the manager of a Chicago club hired her on the spot after a group of her friends had arranged for a bandleader to call her up from the audience to sing.By May 1940 Green had come to the attention of Lester Melrose, who brought her into the studio to record on the Bluebird label. He assigned a trio of musicians to back her, including Big Bill, Simeon Henry on piano, and New Orleans veteran Ransom Knowling on bass. That session produced her first hit, "Romance in the Dark." As Broonzy noted in his autobiography: "I played for Lil Green for two years as her guitar player. I wrote some songs for her, like "My Mellow Man" and "Country Boy," "Give Your Mama One More Smile" and some more that I fixed up for her.

Roosevelt Sykes
Roosevelt Sykes

In 1929 Roosevelt Sykes met Jesse Johnson, the owner of the Deluxe Record Shop in St. Louis. Sykes, who at the time performed at an East St. Louis club for one dollar a night, quickly accepted Johnson's invitation to a recording session in New York. In the early 1930s, Sykes moved to Chicago. During the Depression years, he recorded for several labels under various pseudonyms. For the Victor label, he recorded as Willie Kelly on the classic 1930 side "32-20 Blues." Two years later, he cut his popular number "Highway 61 Blues" for Champion, the subsidiary label of Gennett Records. During the 1930's, Sykes served as a back-up pianist for more than thirty singers including Mary Johnson and James "St. Louis Jimmy" Oden. Through the recruiting efforts of Mayo "Ink" Williams, Sykes signed with Decca Records in 1934. His 1936 Decca side "Driving Wheel Blues" emerged as a blues classic. Sykes settled in Chicago in 1941 and, within a short time, became a house musician for the Victor/Bluebird label. Although the label marketed him as the successor to Fats Waller, who recorded on the same label and died in 1943, Sykes found success as the creator of his own style and remained active as a session man.

Sonny Boy Williamson was already a harp virtuoso in his teens. He learned from Hammie Nixon and Noah Lewis and ran with Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell before settling in Chicago in 1934. Sonny Boy signed to Bluebird in 1937. Henry Townsend recalled driving Sonny Boy, Robert Nighthawk, Walter Davis and Big Joe Williams to Aurora, Illinois, in his 1930 A Model Ford for their 1937 sessions: "I transferred them to Aurora, Illinois. There was about eight or nine of us …we stacked them in the car like sardines." This led to a marathon recording session resulting in six songs by Nighthawk (as Robert Lee McCoy), six by Sonny Boy Williamson I, four by Big Joe Williams and eight sides by Walter Davis. It was Sonny Boy's songs, especially, "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Bluebird Blues" and "Sugar Mama Blues" which were the biggest hits. Sonny Boy recorded prolifically for Victor both as a leader and behind others in the vast Melrose stable (including Robert Lee McCoy and Big Joe Williams, who in turn played on some of Williamson's sides). Sonny Boy cut more than 120 sides in all for RCA from 1937 to 1947

Kokomo Arnold was born in Georgia, and began his musical career in Buffalo, New York in the early 1920's. During prohibition, Kokomo Arnold worked primarily as a bootlegger, and performing music was a only sideline to him. Nonetheless he worked out a distinctive style of bottleneck slide guitar and blues singing that set him apart from his contemporaries. In the late 1920's, Arnold settled for a short time in Mississippi, making his first recordings in May 1930 for Victor in Memphis under the name of "Gitfiddle Jim." Arnold moved to Chicago in order to be near to where the action was as a bootlegger, but the repeal of the Volstead Act put him out of business, so he turned instead to music as a full-time vocation. From his first Decca session of September 10, 1934 until he finally called it quits after his session of May 12, 1938, Kokomo Arnold made 88 sides.Arnold also did session work backing Peetie Wheatstraw, Roosvelt Sykes, Alice Moore, Mary Johnson and others.

Papa Charlie Jackson
Papa Charlie Jackson

"Papa" Charlie Jackson was a six-string banjo player who was one of the earliest and most successful of the solo blues singer/instrumentalists. Jackson settled in Chicago on the famed Maxwell Street around 1920 where he began earning a living by playing on street corners and at house parties. In 1924 he cut his first solo sides "Papa's Lawdy Blues" and "Airy Man Blues" for the Paramount label. During this period Jackson also became a sideman with many of the hot groups in and around Chicago. He also recorded with Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Bumble Bee Slim, Big Bill Broonzy and others before his subsequent death around 1938.

Despite several busy years in the recording studio and a couple of medium-sized hits ("Somebody Changed The Lock On My Door" and "We Gonna Move (To The Outskirts of Town)"), very little is known about Casey Bill Weldon. It was assumed he was the Will Weldon who played with the Memphis Jug Band but that remains in dispute. Between 1927 and 1935 he cut just over 60 sides for Victor, Bluebird and Vocalion. He was also an active session guitarist, appearing on records by Teddy Darby, Bumble Bee Slim, Memphis Minnie, Peetie Wheatsraw and others.

J.B. Smith & Group Sure Makes A Man Feel BadI'm Troubled With A Diamond: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 1
Joseph 'Chinaman' Johnson & GroupDrop 'em DownOld Rattler Can't Hold Me: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 2
Houston Paige & GroupDown The LineOld Rattler Can't Hold Me: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 2
J.B. Smith Poor Boy Old Rattler Can't Hold Me: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 2
Johnny Jackson & Group Yellow GalI'm Troubled With A Diamond: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 1
Johnny Johnson & GroupIn The BottomWake Up Dead Man
Benny Richardson & GroupGrizzly Bear Wake Up Dead Man
Eugene Rhodes If She's Your WomanTalkin' About My Time
Eugene Rhodes Whosoever Will, Let Him ComeTalkin' About My Time
Eugene Rhodes Talkin' About My TimeTalkin' About My Time
Eugene Rhodes Don't Talk Me to DeathTalkin' About My Time
J.B. SmithI Got Too Much Time For the Crime I DoneEver Since I Have Been a Man Full Grown
Babe Stovall The Ship Is At The Landing Sorrow Come Pass Me Around
Robert “Nighthawk” JohnsonCan't No GraveSorrow Come Pass Me Around
Willard Artis “Blind Pete” Burrell Do Lord Remember Me Sorrow Come Pass Me Around
Chester Davis/Compton Jones/Furry LewisGlory Glory HallelujahSorrow Come Pass Me Around
Willie Menifee & Mance Lipscomb If I Get Lucky MamaRuff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
T.J. Jackson Out And DownRuff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
Mance Lipscomb Papa Lightfoot Angel Child Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
Nathaniel “Bill” Barnes Jack Of Diamonds Is A Hard Card To PlayRuff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
Babe Stovall Worried Blues Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
Grey Ghost Lonesome Traveler Grey Ghost
Grey Ghost A Good Gal Is Hard To FindGrey Ghost
Grey Ghost Hold That Train, Conductor Grey Ghost

Show Notes:

J.B. Smith: Ever Since I Have Been a Man Full Grown
Read Liner Notes (PDF)

On today's show we spotlight some remarkable field recordings from the 1960's and 70's. During the first hour we play recordings made in Texas prisons in the 60's by scholar Bruce Jackson. Jackson is a professor in the University of Buffalo's Department of English and has written or edited more than 30 books in the fields of folklore, ethnography, sociology and photography. Several collections of his field recordings have been issued although the bulk are long out-of-print. In the second hour we feature selections from the albums Sorrow Come Pass Me Around, Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar and a collection of recordings made by pianist the Grey Ghost. Sorrow Come Pass Me Around is a collection of spiritual and gospel songs recorded between 1965-1973 by David Evans performed by active or former blues artists. Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar is a collection of Texas field recordings capture by Tary Owens. Owens also recorded the Grey Ghost in 1965, eventually issuing these recordings in the 1980's.

Bruce Jackson wrote: “I started recording in Texas prisons in July 1964. I think Texas had about 12,000 prisoners in 14 prisons back then …My primary interest in Texas was the black convict worksongs, which seemed to me to be part of an unbroken musical tradition going back to West Africa….Black convicts in Texas mostly called them 'river songs,' not 'worksongs.' That’s because all of the plantation prisons in Texas used to be located on the Brazos River or the Trinity River. Since I was interested in worksongs and since that tradition was already on the wane, I concentrated on prisons for long-term convicts and multiple recidivists, prisons populated by men who had been in for a long time or who had been in several times previously. I started out on the Ramsey farm, southwest of Houston, and visited Retrieve and Sugarland which aren’t far from the Ramsey. I also worked on Eastham, the Walls (the only prison in Texas with a wall around it), Wynne (at that time, a prison for physically infirm and geriatric inmates) and Ellis, all of them in or near Huntsville, which is 70 miles north of Houston. …The large plantations in the U.S. South were based on West African agricultural models and, with one major difference, the black slaves used worksongs in the plantations exactly as they had used them before they had been taken prisoner and sold to the white men. The difference was this: in Africa the songs were used to time body movements and to give poetic voice to things of interest because people wanted to do their work that way; in the plantations there was added a component of survival. If a man were singled out as working too slowly, he would often be brutally punished. The songs kept everyone together, so no one could be singled out as working more slowly than everyone else.”

Wake Up Dead Man
Read Liner Notes (PDF)

J.B. Smith was recorded by Jackson in 1965 at Texas’s Ramsey Prison Farm. From the liner notes: "Smitty – J.B. Smith – is eleven years into a forty-five year sentence that begun in 1954; he is 48 years old. This is his fourth time in prison in Texas and he does not expect to be paroled for some time.” Jackson wrote in his  book Wake Up Dead Man that, when he met him, Smith had already been in prison three times on burglary and robbery by assault charges. At the time of the recording, he was back in for the murder of his girlfriend, an act Smith recalled being born of “insane jealousy mixed up with love “So many of us do that,” he told Jackson, referring to his crime. “Lot of fellas in here today on those same terms.” The murder, according to Jackson, brought Smith back to Ramsey with “a forty-five-year sentence, which, because of his age, looked pretty much like life.” Jackson did continue, parenthetically: “He was paroled in 1967, lived in Amarillo for a while and did some preaching. I heard recently (1972) that he’d returned to prison for a parole violation.”

J.B. Smith noted that “the oldtimers still sing. That is, if whoever is carrying (in charge of) the squad will let them. In some cases the boss won’t let them sing. …The young men don’t get a chance to work with the older men and they haven’t experienced working with older men. A lot of them have never been in the system before. And the crews they work with don’t even know the songs, the worksongs that they work by. But once they get to working with the older men, they learn the songs and they try to carry them on when they can. But like I said, in most cases they can’t because they’re not permitted."

Jackson recorded an entire album devoted to smith titled Ever Since I Have Been a Man Full Grown issued on Takoma in 1965. As far as I know this is the only LP devoted to a single unaccompanied singer of prison worksong. As Jackson wrote: “He had been a member of groups doing work songs I had recorded at Ramsey during the summers of 1964 and 1965, when I returned in November 1965 he offered to tap some of the songs when he was working alone picking cotton or cutting sugarcane. He knows all the group songs and their melodies – he used to sing lead back in the days when he was younger and worked lead hoe…” Other songs by Smith appear on the anthologies I'm Troubled With A Diamond: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 1 and Old Rattler Can't Hold Me: Texas Prison Songs Vol. 2. In addition to Smith, we spotlight several tracks from the latter collections; both of these were cassette only releases issued in 1990 with only 250 copies of each produced. We also spin two tracks from Wake Up Dead Man the companion to the book – "making it in Hell", says Bruce Jackson, is the spirit behind the sixty-five work songs gathered in this remarkable book.

Today we feature selections from all those albums that were issued of Bruce Jackson's recording except for one omission. I left off Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons (Elektra, 1965) which I did not locate until the show was already assembled. I will feature this on another field recording show at some point.

Sorrow Come Pass Me Around
Read Liner Notes (PDF)

Jackson also recorded Eugene Rhodes who was doing a ten- to 25-year stretch at the Indiana State Prison, which was where the album Talkin' About My Time was recorded, 15 songs and a little talking that was eventually released on the Folk-Legacy label in 1963. In the '20s and '30s, Rhodes had traveled through the south as a one-man band, including a harmonica rack with a special mount on the side for a horn, a foot pedal powered drum, and of course, a guitar. He reportedly played in the Dallas area, where he claims to have met Blind Lemon Jefferson. He also crossed paths with Blind Boy Fuller in the Carolinas and Buddy Moss in Georgia.

At some point by the end of the year I plan to devote a show to the field recordings of David Evans. Today we spotlight Sorrow Come Pass Me Around a beautiful collection of spiritual and gospel songs performed in informal non-church settings between 1965-1973. Most are guitar-accompanied and performed by active or former blues artists. The songs were recorded between 1965 and 1973 . Evans writes: “Most records of black religious music contain some form of gospel singing or congregational singing recorded at a church service. This album, though, tries to present a broader range of performance styles and contexts with the hope of showing the important role that religious music plays in the Southern black communities and in the daily lives of individuals.” The album was originally issued on Advent in 1975 and has just been reissued on vinyl on the Dust-To-Digital label.

Our show concludes with recordings made by Tary Owens. Shortly after the death of folklorist Tary Owens on September 21, 2003, Brad Buchholz, wrote that, “Tary Owens devoted most of his life to music, though only rarely to his own. The greater mission, to Owens, was to champion the music of forgotten or unsung Texas bluesmen—to put their songs on records, to place them on a stage, to encourage a larger public to celebrate their artistry.” Funded by a Lomax Foundation grant in the 1960's, Owens traveled around Texas recording a variety of folk musicians, including guitarists Mance Lipscomb, Freddie King, and Bill Neely, as well as barrelhouse piano players Robert Shaw and Roosevelt T. Williams, also known as the “Grey Ghost.” Owens remained involved in the lives of these musicians for the next several decades and, in some cases, was largely responsible for helping rescue them from obscurity and resurrect their professional careers.

Owens wrote:  "In 1962 and 1963 while a graduate student at Indiana University, I did some folklore and sociology research in prisons in Missouri and Indiana. I decided it might be interesting a southern prison system to see what had happened to the various traditions documented by John A. and Alan Lomax and Herbert Halpert in the 1930's." In the sixties Jackson received a four-year fellowship to Harvard Society of Fellows that gave him “the resources to work anywhere I wanted; that’s when I started working in Texas, mostly recording music and then looking at the prison cultural scene.”

Ruff Stuff: The Roots Of Texas Blues Guitar
Read Liner Notes (PDF)

From an article in National Geographic magazine: "He says he got the name Grey Ghost back when he was hired to play in various small towns. Someone would meet every arriving train or bus, but Williams was never aboard–yet mysteriously he would show up in time to perform. 'They said like a ghost I come up out of the ground, and then I was gone," he grinned. "I had come and gone by freight train. I would put overalls over my suit and tie, and that's the way I traveled.'" Williams was born in Bastrop, Texas and received only basic musical training when he was a teenager. He traveled to the area dances and roadhouses by riding empty boxcars. In 1940, author William A. Owens made a live recording of Williams singing "Hitler Blues," a song written by Williams. The song received mention in Time and was broadcast by BBC Radio on a program hosted by Alistair Cooke in 1940 about the American musical response to World War II. There's an entire chapter devoted to Grey Ghost in Owens's third volume of autobiography Tell Me A Story, Sing Me A Song; A Texas Chronicle. In 1965 Owens recorded several Grey Ghost songs. After decades of relative obscurity, Owens tracked down Grey Ghost again in the mid-1980s. Williams was long retired, but Owens not only issued the 1965 recordings on his Catfish Records label in 1987, but also convinced Williams, now 84, to start playing again and introduced him to a new generation of blues fans. Owens arranged for Williams to make a CD of new recordings at the age of 89. which was released in 1992 on Owens' Spindletop label. The City of Austin proclaimed December 7, 1987, as Grey Ghost Day, and he was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame in 1988. Williams performed regularly until the time of his death in Austin at the age of 92 in 1996.

Related Material:

-Tary Owens, Texas Folklorist and Musician A Life Remembered by Ruth K. Sullivan (Austin-American Statesman, March, 2000) [PDF]

Drifting SlimDown South Blues The Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 1
Drifting SlimMy Little Machine The Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 1
Baby Face TurnerBlues SerenadeThe Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 2
Junior Brooks She's The Little Girl For MeThe Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 1
Sunny BlairStep Back BabyThe Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 2
Papa LightfootAfter AwhileDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
Papa LightfootMean Ol' TrainBlues Harmonica Wizards
Joe Hill LouisShe Treats Me Mean and EvilThe Be-Bop Boy with Walter Horton and Mose Vinson
Joe Hill LouisShe Comes to See Me Sometime The Be-Bop Boy with Walter Horton and Mose Vinson
Joe Hill LouisBoogie In The ParkBoogie In The Park
Boyd Gilmore Believe I'll Settle DownSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Boyd Gilmore Ramblin' On My Mind The Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 1
Boyd Gilmore All In My Dreams The Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 2
Drifting SlimGood Morning BabyThe Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 2
Drifting SlimMy Sweet WomanThe Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 2
Joe Hill LouisTiger ManThe Be-Bop Boy with Walter Horton and Mose Vinson
Joe Hill LouisWe All Got To Go SometimeThe Be-Bop Boy with Walter Horton and Mose Vinson
Joe Hill LouisKeep Away From My Baby Boogie In The Park
Papa Lightfoot Blue LightsBlues Harmonica Wizards
Papa Lightfoot When The Saints Go Marching Blues Harmonica Wizards
Baby Face Turner Gonna Let You GoThe Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 2
Sunny BlairFive Foot Three BluesThe Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 1
Baby Face Turner Best DaysThe Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 2
Junior BrooksLone Town BluesThe Modern Downhown Blues Sessions Vol. 1
Drifting Slim15 Years My Love Was In VainSomebody Done Voodoo The Hoodoo Man
Drifting SlimSomebody Done Voodoo The Hoodoo ManSomebody Done Voodoo The Hoodoo Man
Joe Hill LouisShe's Takin All My Money Jook Joint Blues
Joe Hill LouisEyesight To The Blind Boogie In The Park
Joe Hill LouisHydromatic WomanSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Papa Lightfoot Jump The BoogieBlues Harmonica Wizards
Papa Lightfoot Wine, Women, Whiskey Juicy Harmonica Vol. 3
Papa Lightfoot My Woman Is Tired of Me Lyin' Goin' Back to the Natchez Trace

Show Notes:

Come on baby take a little swing with me (2x)
We gonna jump awhile, 'cause things ain't what they used to be
(Papa Lightfoot, Jump The Boogie)

Model T. Slim
Read Liner Notes

Today's show spotlights a batch of rough and tumble blues artists who cut some great down-home blues records in the South during the 50's and 60's. At the heart of today's show are some remarkable sides cut for the Modern label in the years 1951-52 when Ike Turner was employed by the Bihari brothers, owners of the Modern label, to record new talent for the label. At a session held in Greenville, Mississippi in January of '52 he recorded the tough juke joint blues of Boyd Gilmore, and in the spring of '52 Turner and Jules Bihari hit Little Rock, Arkansas where they recorded a bunch of musicians that revolved  Drifting Slim and guitarist Baby Face Turner. They also recorded harmonica blower Sunny Blair and guitarist Junior Brooks who were part of the same circle. Also featured today is Joe Hill Louis, the great one man band who cut some terrific sides for labels like Sun, Modern and Checker and harmonica ace George Papa Lightfoot who waxed some wild sides for a slew of different labels through the 50's.

Drifting Slim was born Elmon Mickle on February 24, 1919 in Keo, Arkansas. He first became interested in singing the blues in his late teens when he saw a performance in town by John Lee 'Sonny Boy' Williamson, together with Yank Rachell. He was so impressed by Sonny Boy's renditions of 'Sugar Mama" and 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" that he would never be satisfied until he could sing and play these numbers just like Sonny Boy. He spoke to Sonny Boy after the show, who promised to spend the night with Boyd Gilmore Adhim and teach him to play. During them mid-forties, Elmon and Sonny Boy became firm friends and played frequently together at local clubs and dances. In 1952, Elmon formed his now legendary band consisting of himself on harmonica, Baby Face Turner and Crippled Red on guitars and Bill Russel on drums. Crippled Red is better known by the name he used on record – Junior Brooks. Sunny Blair joined the band very shortly afterwords, having been taught by Elmon to play the harmonica. Almost immediately after the first recording session, Junior Brooks died of a heart attack, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and so Elmon started to practice on the guitar in order to fill in. Sometime later he also learned to play the drums and became a one-man band. In 1957, he decided to leave Arkansas and so he and his wife packed their things and set off for Los Angeles. His first recordings in Los Angeles were for J.R. Fullbright's Elko label, other sides were cut for his own label E.M., also some titles on the J. Gems label and he also was recorded by Jerry Hooks, an independent black record producer in Los Angeles circa 1966/67 (collected on the Flyright album Somebody Done Voodoo The Hoodoo Man). In the late 60's Milestone issued his only full length album, Somebody Hoo-Doo'd The Hoo-Doo Man, recorded by Pete Welding in 1966 and 1967. Mickle died in 1977.

Guitarists Baby Face Turner and Junior Brooks with Sunnv Blair ( real name Sullivan Jackson) on harmonica were from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Bill Russel completed the band on drums . The first session saw two sides each by Blair, Brooks and Mickle issued on Modern and RPM, with Baby Face Turner playing lead guitar on them all . Mickle played harmonica on one side of the Brooks and saw his own sides issued as by Drifting Smith; both being Sonny Boy Williamson I songs. A second session on April 6 saw further sides by Blair, Turner and Mickle issued with Ike Turner on piano. This time Mickie's pseudonym, on RPM, was Drifting Slim. Unissued sides recorded under Blair's and Turner's names were first made available on a Kent LP and eventually issued on CD.

Boyd Gilmore was supposedly a cousin of Elmore James and may have had some connection to Robert Johnson and Robert Lockwood. Gilmore recorded seven sides for Modern in 1952 plus some alternate takes backed by Ike Turner on piano on on some sides. In 1953 he cut another version of “Believe I'll Settle Down” for Sun backed by Earl Hooker, Pinetop Perkins and Willie Nix that was a superior to the Modern version. Gilmore passed in 1976. Baby Face Turner's legacy rests on just three sides (one other record, an acetate of the song “44 Blues”, was cut but never found) and he playing guitar on records by Sonny Blair, Junior Brooks and Drifting Slim. Musician CeDell Davis recalled Turner: “He was such a good guitar player …He was one of the old-timers, played nothin' but the old-time Delta cotton patch stuff." Turner was reportedly murdered in Mississippi sometime in the early to mid-60's. Blair cut just four sides at sessions in 1952 and 1952 as well as backing Drifting Slim on record. He went on to play with the King Biscuit Boys in Helena, Arkansas. Blair died in 1966.

Joe Hill LouisBorn Alexander Lightfoot in Natchez, Mississippi,he taught himself harmonica as a child. Lightfoot earned a living early on shining shoes on the river docks but soon graduated to the more lucrative work of playing music for tips. His first opportunity to record came in 1949 in Houston for the Peacock label, but the two resulting sides were not issued. The following year he recorded as "Papa George" in Natchez for the tiny Sultan label, and in 1952 he recorded for the Aladdin imprint in New Orleans. Lightfoot then worked with Champion Jack Dupree and toured and recorded with him through 1953. Lightfoot returned to New Orleans to record for Imperial in 1954. After an unissued date for Jiffy as "Little Papa Walter," he traveled to Atlanta for a 1955 session for Savoy. It is theorized that two songs cut by "Ole Sonny Boy" for Excello in 1956 were actually by Papa Lightfoot, although no existing label documentation verifies it. By the late 50's he had left music. Steve LaVere tracked down the Lightfoot in Natchez, cutting the album Goin' Back to the Nachez Trace for Vault in 1969. Lightfoot appeared at the 1970 Ann Arbor Blues Festival and was on the verge of an anticipated comeback when he died the following year of cardiac arrest at age forty-seven.

Papa Lightfoot: Wine, Women, WhiskeyJoe Hill Louis was born Lester (or possibly Leslie) Hill on September 23, 1921 in Raines, Tennessee. He ran away from home at age 14, living instead with a well-heeled Memphis family. A fight with another youth that was won by young Hill earned him the "Joe Louis" nickname. He picked up Harp first and by the late '40s, his one-man musical attack was a popular attraction in Handy Park and on WDIA, the Memphis radio station where he hosted a 15-minute program billed as The Pepticon Boy. Louis’ recording debut was made for Columbia in 1949, and his music was released on a variety of independent labels through the 1950s, most notably recording for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records,for whom he recorded extensively as a backing musician for a wide variety of other singers as well as under his own name. "Boogie in the Park" (recorded July 1950 and released August 1950) was the only record ever released on Sam Phillips' early Phillips label before founding Sun Records. Louis cut sides for Checker Records, Meteor and Ace with his final records cut for House Of Sound shortly before his death from tetanus in Memphis in August 1957.

Related Material:

-Drifting Slim Discovered by Frank Scott (Blues Unlimited 40, January 1967 p. 5-7) [PDF]

-Alexander Papa George Lightfoot! by Steve C La Vere (Blues Unlimited 68, January 1969 p.12) [PDF]


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