Jimmy McCracklin Panic's OnModern Recordings, Vol. 2: Blues Blastin'
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 1
Jimmy McCracklin Double DealingHigh On The Blues
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 2
Jimmy McCracklin Come on Home (Back Where You Belong)I Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin She Felt Too GoodBlast 'em Dead!
Jimmy McCracklin Every Night, Every DayThe Walk: Jimmy McCracklin at His Best
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 3
Jimmy McCracklin Blues Blasters BoogieModern Recordings, Vol. 2: Blues Blastin'
Jimmy McCracklin Steppin' Up In ClassI Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin Deceivin' The Modern Recordings 1948-1950
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 4
Jimmy McCracklin I Don't CareI Had to Get with It: The Best of the Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin ThinkI Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin Just Got To KnowI Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 5
Jimmy McCracklin What's Going OnI Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Percy Mayfield Strange Things HappeningPoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield Highway Is Like A WomanPercy Mayfield Sings
Percy Mayfield Stranger In My HometownHis Tangerine and Atlantic Sides
Percy Mayfield My BluesMemory Pain
Percy Mayfield To Me Your Name Is LoveWalking on a Tightrope
Percy Mayfield The Devil Made Me Do ItBlues … And Then Some
Percy Mayfield Please Send Me Someone to LovePoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield My Jug And IHis Tangerine and Atlantic Sides
Percy Mayfield The Big QuestionPoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield Lost MindPoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield My Mind Is Trying To Leave MeWalking on a Tightrope
Percy Mayfield I Don't Want To be PresidentHis Tangerine and Atlantic Sides
Percy Mayfield The River's InvitationPoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield Weakness Is A Thing Called ManWeakness Is A Thing Called Man

Show Notes:

Today we spotlight two key figures of the post-war West coast scene, Jimmy McCracklin who passed just a few weeks back, and his contemporary, singer Percy Mayfield. In his heyday, from the late 40's through the 60's, Jimmy McCracklin led one of the toughest, hardest rocking blues bands on the West Coast. He was a prolific and witty composer, a fine singer/pianist and along the way scored a number of hits on the charts. Still he remains something of a neglected figure and his stature seems to have always been higher in the black community. It's not hard to see why Percy Mayfield has been so frequently covered and so often mentioned with admiration among his fellow blues singers; he was a master of the moody blues ballad, he had flawless timing and phrasing and as a writer his songs had a frank, penetrating insight into the dark, complex side of the human condition. While his hits were confined to the 50's, Mayfield cut a superb body of work through the 70's.

Jimmy McCracklin: Stinger Man

Jimmy McCracklin grew up in Missouri and spent his formative years in St. Louis. His earliest musical influence was pianist Walter Davis who his father took him to see as a youngster. "He could just shake me up", said McCracklin, "he was beautiful." McCracklin was a promising light heavyweight boxer and starting in 1938 spent time in the Navy during World War II. He left St. Louis and moved to the West Coast in the mid-40's. His first blues efforts were self financed recordings, making his recorded debut for the Globe logo with "Miss Mattie Left Me" in 1945. On that waxing, J.D. Nicholson played piano but afterwards most of McCracklin's output found him handling his own piano chores.

McCracklin formed his own trio, the Blues Blasters, in 1946 along with guitarist Robert Kelton and drummer Little Red. The first records under his own name were issued in 1948 on the Trilon record label with subsequent records issued on a number of tiny L.A. labels such as Down Town before landing with Modern in 1949-50, Swing Time the next year, and Peacock in 1952-54. Gradually the group was enlarged to include a full rhythm section and horns with more emphasis on the beat and plenty of honking sax. Lafayette "Thing" Thomas started playing with the band in the late 40's eventually replacing Kelton and his blistering guitar work would remain a prime ingredient in McCracklin's combo into the early '60s. By the early 50's he had a tight five piece group and was accompanying a variety of West Coast artists while gaining a strong local reputation, particularly at the Club Savoy in Richmond. The club scene was hopping in Oakland, Richmond and San Francisco with popular blues spots like the Rhumboogie, Three Sisters, Esther's Orbit Room, Shelton's Blue Mirror and Club Long Island offering steady employment.

By 1954, the pianist was back with Modern and cut a series of sessions for Bay Area producer Bob Geddins' Irma label in 1956 (many of which later turned up on Imperial). "The Walk," a rudimentary dance number with a good groove was issued on the Chess subsidiary Checker Records in 1958. The song hit big reaching number five on the R&B charts and also cracking the top ten on the pop charts. He left Chess after a few more 45's, stopping briefly at Mercury (where he cut the sizzling "Georgia Slop" in 1959, later revived by Big Al Downing) before forming his own record label in 1961, Art-Tone, scoring a big hit with "Just Got to Know." A similar follow-up, "Shame, Shame, Shame," also did well for him the next year. Those sides eventually resurfaced on Imperial whom he signed onto in 1965. He hit twice in 1965 with "Every Night, Every Day" (later covered by Magic Sam), "Think" and "My Answer" in 1966.Jimmy McCracklin: The Walk

He penned the funky "Tramp" for fellow West Coast bluesman Lowell Fulson who took it to the top of the R&B charts in 1967, only to be eclipsed by a duet cover by Stax stars Otis Redding and Carla Thomas a few months later. McCracklin went on to cut a string of LP's for Imperial, changing his sound just enough to effortlessly slip into the soul era. He signed with Stax Records in 1971 cutting the excellent album Yesterday is Gone, which was released on CD in 1992 as High on the Blues. In the 90's McCracklin recorded a pair of strong records for the Bullseye Blues label and in 1999 cut Tell It to the Judge! on Gunsmoke. He was still performing into the 2000's and I was thrilled when I got a chance to meet him and see him perform at the 2008 Pocono Blues Festival.

It's not hard to see why Percy Mayfield has been so frequently covered and so often mentioned with admiration among his fellow blues singers; he was a master of the moody blues ballad, he had flawless timing and phrasing and as a writer his songs had a frank, penetrating insight into the dark, complex side of the human condition. Songs like "River's Invitation", "Please Send Me Someone To Love", "Life Is Suicide", "My Jug And I" and "Stranger In My Own Home Town', to name just a few, were adult songs for adult listeners, filled with a darkly hued, poetic sensibility, devilish wit and hipster coolness.

As Percy Mayfield told an interviewer "Well, my native home was in Louisiana. I was born in Minden, Louisiana, August the twelfth, 1920. …And I came to California in 42'. I was properly raised in Houston. See, I went everywhere. But I never did anything like show business around there before I came to L.A. I just wanted to be a songwriter. You see, I been singin' all my life, when I was a boy growin' up I was singin' in choirs and things…" He tried his hand as a singer with the local band of George Comeau. The vocal part did not lead to success but he had written a song called "Two Years Of Torture" and with it hoped to provide a successful hit for blues and jazz vocalist Jimmy Witherspoon. He went to Al Patrick's Supreme Records label in L.A. and the folks there thought Mayfield's demo of the tune sounded good enough to be recorded by them. It was released in late 1949. Through the early months of 1950 "Two Years Of Torture" was a steady seller in California, especially in Los Angeles. By July of the year the recording master was picked up by local music entrepreneur John Dolphin and re-released on his Recorded In Hollywood label.

Percy Mayfield
Percy Mayfield

Art Rupe was impressed enough to sign Mayfield to an exclusive recording contract with his label Specialty Records. The first release for the label by Mayfield is "Please Send Me Someone To Love" backed with "Strange Things Happen." The record eventually climbed to number one on the R&B charts. By November Mayfield was a top draw in the Los Angeles area. Rupe signed Mayfield to a new five year contract. The hits came steadily as Mayfield scored with "Strange Things Happening" (#7 R&B), "Lost Love" (#2 R&B) "What a Fool I Was" (#8 R&B), "Prayin' for Your Return" (#9 R&B), "Cry Baby" (#9 R&B), and "Big Question" (#6 R&B ) cementing his reputation as one of the blues premier balladeers.

In September of 1952 while returning to Los Angeles from a date in Las Vegas, Mayfield was seriously injured in an auto accident. His career was put on hold while a long recuperation period began. A tragic result of the accident was the serious disfigurement of Mayfield's facial features which which had a profound effect on him. Even though his touring was drastically curtailed after the accident, Mayfield hung in there as a Specialty artist through 1954, switching to Chess in 1955-56 and Imperial in 1959. Around this time Mayfield went around to various labels with a song he had written. The song was called "Hit The Road, Jack", and it came to the attention of Ray Charles who was also starting his own record label called Tangerine. Charles hired on Mayfield as a writer and also gave him a chance to record for the label.

Mayfield penned some prime material for Ray Charles in the 60's including "Hide Nor Hair," "The Danger Zone," "My Baby Don't Dig Me", "At The Club", "On The Other Hand, Baby" among others. He recorded two LP's for Tangerine (with the Ray Charles band), My Jug And I and Bought Blues. This was a particularly fertile period that found Mayfield waxing gems like a funky remake of "River's Invitation" which hit #25 on the charts, the autobiographical "Stranger In My Own Home Town”, harrowing tales about his bout with alcoholism on "My Bottle Is My Companion" and "My Jug And I" and his last chart hit, the humorous "I Don't Want To Be President" (#64 R&B) released in September 1974 on Atlantic the month before Nixon resigned. Mayfield's Tangerine sides have been collected on Rhino's limited addition His Tangerine And Atlantic Sides.

Percy Mayfield: River's InvitationAfter leaving Tangerine in the late sixties Mayfield recorded a fine album for Brunswick in in 1968 called Walking on a Tightrope. Featuring guitarist Wayne Bennett and a strong band, Mayfield is in top form on the title track plus gems like "May Pain Is Here To Stay" and "P.M. Blues." In 1970 he signed to RCA Victor cutting three albums for the label: Blues…And Then Some, Percy Mayfield Sings and Weakness Is A Thing Called Man. These albums are currently out of print and generally overlooked. Where his earlier work feels timeless, these recordings sound slightly dated, however, they are very strong outings and there's a number of fine songs including "To Live The Past" (#41 R&B), "The Highway Is Like A Woman", "Weakness Is A Thing Called Man" and "The Devil Made Me Do It." Mayfield spent the rest of the 1970's in relative obscurity, unable to get a record deal. He performed on a limited basis until his death in 1984. Since his passing his stature as a songwriter continues to grow and his songs remain oft covered.


George Higgs Katie Mae BluesUnreleased
George Higgs Skinny Woman BluesUnreleased
Eddie Burns Papa' Boogie Detroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954
Eddie Burns SuperstitionTreat Me Like I Treat You

Eddie Burns Biscuit Bakin' Mama Treat Me Like I Treat You

Sam Collins Dark And Cloudy BluesJailhouse Blues
William HarrisI'm Leavin' Town(But I Sho Don't Wanna Go)The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Johnnie HeadFare Thee Blues Part 2Country Blues Collector's Items 1924 - 1928
The Two Charlies Don't Put Your Dirty Hands On Me Charley Jordan Vol. 3 1935 - 1937

The Two Charlies Bad Feeling Blues Charley Jordan Vol. 3 1935 - 1937
Effie Smith Wee Baby Brother BluesEffie Smith 1945- 53
Cecil GantMy House Fell DownCecil Gant Vol. 5 1947-1949
Ray Charles I Got A Break BabyComplete Atlantic recordings
Lonnie Clark Broke Down EngineDown In Black Bottom
Pinetop BurksJack of All Trades BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Barrelhouse Buck Got To Go BluesDevil At The Confluence
Jackie Brenston The Blues Got Me AgainThe Mistreater
Jackie Brenston Much LaterThe Mistreater
Jelly Roll MortonMake Me a Pallet on the Floor Pt. 2 The Complete Library of Congress Recordings
Willie Brown Make Me a Pallet on the Floor Mississippi Blues: Library of Congress Recordings 1940-1942
Bill WilliamsMake Me a Pallet on the Floor Low and Lonesome & Blues, Rags and Ballads
Willy Flowers Levee Camp Holler Red River Blues
Sonny Chestain Po' Boy Long Way From Home Red River Blues
Otis Spann Country BoyComplete Candid recordings
Sonny Boy Williamson II Open RoadBummer Road
Big Mama Thornton I'm Feeling AlrightBall N' Chain
Alice Moore w/ Kokomo Arnold Grass Cutter Blues Kokomo Arnold Vol. 3 1936 - 1937
Merline Johnson Pallet On The FloorThe Yas Yas Girl Vol. 1 1937-1938
Lillian Glinn Atlanta BluesLillian Glinn 1927-1929
Eddie Burns Orange DriverTreat Me Like I Treat You
Eddie Burns Hard Hearted Woman Treat Me Like I Treat You

Show Notes:

***Just a quick update regarding George Higgs. I erroneously reported that he had passed which I'm glad today is not the case. Tim Duffy, who recorded George, passed along the news.***

Eddie Burns

We open the first show of the year on a somber note with several blues deaths. On today's program we pay tribute to the recently departed George Higgs and Eddie Burns. We also lost the legendary Jimmy McCracklin who I'll be spotlighting in-depth next week. Also on deck today are twin spins by the mysterious Two Charlies and a pair by fine singer Jackie Brenston backed by Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm. There's plenty of excellent piano blues from the pre-war and post-war eras including Pinetop Burks, Lonnie Clark, Cecil Gant, Ray Charles, Otis Spann, some fine blues ladies such as Alice Moore, Lillian Glinn, Merline Johnson and Effie Smith and a batch of songs revolving around the blues standard "Make Me A Pallet On The Floor."

George Higgs was born in 1930 in a farming community in Edgecombe County near Speed, North Carolina (“a slow town with a fast name” as he is fond of saying.) and was a fine guitar and harp player in the Piedmont tradition. Throughout the 40’s and 50’s he was a popular performer at fish fries and house parties and later on performed gospel with a local quartet. Pete Lowry recorded him and partner Elester Anderson extensivley in 1979 but these sides remain unreleased. In the early 2000's he cut a pair of albums for the Music Maker label. Today's two cut were graciously sent to me by Pete Lowry and have not be released in any form before.

Eddie Burns passed on December 12th at the age of 84. Born in Belzoni, Mississippi, he grew up in the small town of Dublin, close to Clarksdale, where he became acquainted with the popular blues artists of the 30s and 40s by hearing their records in his grandfather's club. Burns left home at 16 and, after a spell in Clarksdale, moved to Waterloo, Iowa then to Detroit in 1948. At a house party he met John Lee Hooker. Burns went along to a recording session with Hooker and played harmonica on "Miss Eloise" and "Burnin' Hell." Hooker, in turn, accompanied Burns at a 1951 session but these recordings would not be issued until many years later. Burns was also developing as a guitarist, and in 1966, when he and Hooker were reunited on Hooker's Chess album The Real Folk Blues, he played guitar throughout. Burns made his debut in 1948 and through the 50's cut sides for JVB, Deluxe and Chess. He continued to cut scattered singles through the 60's. Thanks to the new international blues audience of the 1970s, Burns had the opportunity to visit Europe several times. Burns cut his last album for Delmark in 2001. Among today's featured tracks are "Papa's Boogie," his 1948 debut, a harmonica/guitar duet recorded by Bernie Bessman and leased to the Holiday label which issued it under the pseudonym Slim Pickens. We also spin both sides of his superb Checker single from 1954, "Superstition b/w Biscuit Baking Mama" (released as Big Ed and his Combo) and both sides of his 1961 Harvey single, "Orange Driver b/w Hard Hearted Woman."

The Two Charlies were Charlie Manson & Charlie Jordan who cut eight sides for the ARC label in 1936. Today we spin "Don't Put Your Dirty Hands On Me" and "Bad Feeling Blues." Nothing is known about the duo. It's generally accepted that Charlie Jordan of the Two Charlies has no connection with Charley Jordan of St. Louis.

Sam Phillips produced "Rocket 88," Jackie Brenston's debut in Memphis. The singer/saxist was backed by Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm, an group that Brenston had joined the previous year. Billed as by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, "Rocket 88" hit the top slot on brenston-much-ltrthe R&B charts and remained there for more than a month. But none of his Chess follow-ups had the same impact, though "Real Gone Rocket" was certainly a good one. After a few more Chess singles went nowhere, Brenston reunited with Turner in 1955, holding down the baritone sax chair until 1962. He cut a series of terrific sides fronting Turner's Kings of Rhythm along the way: "Gonna Wait for My Chance" and "Much Later" for Federal in 1956, "You've Got to Lose" for Chicago's Cobra label in 1958 (also doing session work there with Otis Rush and Buddy Guy), and "You Ain't the One" for Sue in 1961. After a final single for Mel London's Mel-Lon imprint, Brenston's career ran out of steam.

"Make Me a Pallet on the Floor" is a song, according to the Encyclopedia of the Blues, that most likely dates from the end of the nineteenth century. Its earliest known appearance is in the 1908 piano ragtime composition "Southern Rag Medley No. 1" by black concert pianist Blind Boone. The lyrics first appear in a 1911 article by folklorist Howard Odum who had transcribed them from a performance he had heard in Mississippi a few years before. The first recording to quote the melody was a 1917 Columbia disk by W. C. Handy’s band of "Sweet Child." It was Handy who first published a song version of "Make Me a Pallet" in 1923 and retitled ‘‘Atlanta Blues.’’ This version was recorded by several blues singers including Lillian Glinn who's version we feature today. In the later 1920's,"Make Me a Pallet" appeared in blues recordings by Ethel Waters, Virginia Liston, Mississippi John Hurt (as "Ain't No Tellin'"), Willie Harris (as "Never Drive A Stranger From Your Door") among others. There were many versions in the post-war era as well. Today we spin versions by Jelly Roll Morton, who cut a four-part version for the Library of Congress in 1938, each successive version dirtier than the previous, a  magnificent 1941 version by Willie Brown also cut for the  Library of Congress and a post-war version by Bill Williams a one-time running buddy of Blind Blake.

The West Coast had a thriving blues and jazz scene in the 1940’s and 50’s with most of the activity centering around the Los Angeles, Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco Bay areas. There were several strains of blues that rose to prominence including a moody, after hours brand of piano blues popularized by the inimitable Charles Brown. Brown’s influence was profound, setting the stage for fellow pianists like Amos Milburn, Floyd Dixon, Little Willie Littlefield, Ivory Joe Hunter, Roy Hawkins and Cecil Gant among others . There's was also something of a trend circa the mid to late 40's of boogie- woogie blues ladies, most based around the Los Angles area. Among those active during this period were Camille Howard, Betty Hall Jones,  Hadda Brooks, Vivianne Green, Effie Smith among others. Today we hear from Cecil Gant and Effie Smith.

Gant was a first rate ballad singer in the vein of Nat King Cole and Charles Brown but he was also a superb bluesman who could lay down some storming boogie-woogie. Gant recorded prolifically for the L.A. labels Gilt-Edge and 4 Star and in Nashville, which was probably his hometown, for Bullet, Dot and Decca, meanwhile playing in nightclubs throughout the country. Between 1944 and 1951 he waxed over 150 sides before his untimely death in 1951 at the age of 38. Today we spin "My House Fell Down" from 1950, a terrific bluesy number sporting fine guitar from an unknown guitarist.

Willie Brown: Make Me A Pallet On The FloorDuring WWII Effie Smith had been featured on several AFRS "Jubilee" radio transcriptions and, after touring with Benny Carter's Orchestra in early 1945, her own solo recording career began with sides for the G&G and Gem labels, with small bands organised by Johnny Otis. Smith went on to record for Aladdin, Miltone, an unissued session for Modern, and then Decca. Smith didn't get any Billboard R&B chart action until the 1960's, when two of her own, self-produced comedy records made the charts: the two-part "Dial That Telephone." During the late 1960's and early 1970's she was employed by Stax Records to handle promotion work, behind the scenes, until her premature death in 1977 in Los Angeles, from cancer. Her early sides can be found on Effie Smith 1945- 53 on the Classics label.

Pee Wee Crayton Central AvenueThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Louella BrownThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Texas HopThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Big Mama Thornton Cotton Picking Blues1950-1953
Big Mama Thornton Let Your Tears Fall Baby1950-1953
Big Mama Thornton They Call Me Big Mama1950-1953
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Motor Head Baby1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Half Pint of Whiskey1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson What's Goin' On1952-1955
Pee Wee Crayton Blues After HoursThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Change Your Way of Lovin'The Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Rockin' The BluesThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Big Mama Thornton Walking Blues1952-1955
Big Mama Thornton Hard Times1952-1955
Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson I Love to Love You 1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Hot Little Mama1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Too Tired1952-1955
Pee Wee Crayton The Telephone Is RingingTaste of the Blues, Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton When It Rain It PoursComplete Aladdin & Imperial Recordings
Big Mama Thornton Willie Mae's Blues1950-1953
Big Mama Thornton I Smell A RatHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama Thornton Rockaby BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Someone Cares for Me Hot Just Like TNT
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Don't Touch Me (I'm Gonna Hit the Highway)Hot Just Like TNT
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Those Lonely, Lonely NightsHot Just Like TNT
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Three Hours Past MidnightHot Just Like TNT
Big Mama Thornton Stop A-Hoppin' on Me Hound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Pee Wee Crayton Do Unto OthersComplete Aladdin & Imperial Recordings
Johnny "Guitar" Watson One Room Country ShackThe Original Gangster of Love: The Keen Records Sessions
Pee Wee Crayton Runnin' WildComplete Aladdin & Imperial Recordings
Big Mama Thornton Yes, BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Gangster of LoveThe Original Gangster of Love: The Keen Records Sessions
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Looking BackThe Original Gangster of Love: The Keen Records Sessions

Show Notes:

Pee Wee Crayton
Pee Wee Crayton

Today's show is the third of a series spotlighting some fine West Coast artists that I wanted to feature in more depth, the bulk form Texas and California, who cut sides for the myriad labels that popped up in the immediate port-war era. In California the blues thrived around around the Los Angeles, Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco Bay areas. Many of the artists were transplanted Texans who had come to California during the war year to find jobs in the booming defense industry in the Oakland-San Francisco Bay area. Connie Crayton was a transplanted Texan who relocated to Los Angeles in 1935, later moving north to the Bay Area. He signed with the Bihari brothers' L.A.-based Modern logo in 1948, and continued through the 50's cutting fine sides for Imperial and Vee-Jay. Big Mama Thornton was born in Alabama, spent several years singing with Sammy Green's Georgia-based Hot Harlem Revue before relocating to Houston in 1948. In Houston she recorded for the locally based Peacock label through the end of the 50's before settling in San Francisco. Johnny Watson was born in Houston and started playing the jule joints as a teenager, performing as a vocalist, pianist, and guitarist . He moved to Los Angeles around 1950 where he made his debut for Federal in 1952.

Connie Crayton was a transplanted Texan who relocated to Los Angeles in 1935, later moving north to the Bay Area. Crayton told interviewer John Breckow, "We got to be real good friends", speaking of T-Bone Walker. According to another Pee Wee interview, T-Bone "showed me how to string up the guitar to get the blues sound out of it. T-Bone was gonna try to help me learn how to play. My timing was real bad. T-Bone helped me with my timing. He would play the piano or the bass and show me how to play in time." The two went on to stage friendly battles, and when T-Bone's health problems interfered with his gigs late in life, Crayton was on call to fill in whenever he was available. Pee Wee was also influenced by Charlie Christian who he saw perform in 1941 and John Collins who worked with the Nat King Cole Trio. In 1946 he joined Ivory Joe Hunter’s band and appeared on a half-dozen recordings issued on the Pacific label.

Crayton signed with the Bihari brothers' L.A.-based Modern logo in 1948, quickly hit with the instrumental "Blues After Hours" , which topped the R&B charts in late 1948. "Texas Hop" trailed it up the charts shortly thereafter, followed the next year by "I Love You So." But Crayton's brief hitmaking reign was over soon over. After recording prolifically at Modern to no further commercial avail, Crayton moved on to Aladdin and, in 1954, Imperial. Under Dave Bartholomew's production, Crayton made some of his great waxings in New Orleans: "Every Dog Has His Day," "You Know Yeah," and "Runnin' Wild” among others.

In 1957 he hooked up with Vee-Jay in Chicago cutting some find sides, including one of his best, "The Telephone Is Ringing." The next decade brought Pee Wee his least glorious musical period as he mostly drove a truck and played locally. A fine LP he recorded didn't even credit him, appearing under the name of The Sunset Blues Band. Johnny Otis showcased Pee Wee in a memorable program at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival (issued on Epic), leading to a comeback LP on Vanguard (The Things I Used To Do), and Otis later recorded an LP by Pee Wee for his Blues Spectrum label. Pee Wee continued to record sporadically and added some prestigious festivals and international tours to his resume. Pee Wee's last two albums were recorded in Riverside, California for Murray Brothers, at the instigation of the label's A & R man, blues harpist Rod Piazza. Pee Wee passed in 1985.

Big Mama Thornton was born in Ariton, Alabama and her introduction to music started in a Baptist church, where her father was a minister and her mother a church singer. Thornton left Alabama at age 14 in 1941, following her mother's death. She joined Sammy Green's Hot Harlem Revue. She spent seven years with them in which she toured the South. In 1948, she settled in Houston, Texas, where she hoped to further her career as a singer She was also a self-taught drummer and harmonica player, and frequently played each instrument onstage. Thornton began her

Big Mama Thornton: I Smell  A Ratrecording career in Houston, signing a recording contract with Peacock Records in 1951.

While working with another Peacock artist, Johnny Otis, she recorded "Hound Dog," written by young songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as requested by Johnny Otis. The record was produced by Johnny Otis, and went to number one on the R&B chart. Although the record made her a star, she saw little of the profits. She continued to record for Peacock until 1957 and performed with R&B package tours with Junior Parker and Esther Phillips.

Her career began to fade in the late 1950's and early 1960's. She left Houston and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she mostly played local blues clubs. In the arly-'60s she cut 45s for West Coast labels like Irma, Bay-Tone, Kent, and Sotoplay. In 1966, Thornton recorded Big Mama Thornton With The Muddy Waters Blues Band and in 1968 the album Ball 'n' Chain. Thornton performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966 and 1968, and at the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1979. In 1965 she performed with the American Folk Blues Festival package in Europe. While in England that year, she recorded Big Mama Thornton in Europe and followed it up the next year in San Francisco with Big Mama Thornton with the Chicago Blues Band. Both albums came out on the Arhoolie label. She record through the 70’s, most notably for Vanguard, before passing in 1984. The funeral was led by her old friend, now Reverend Johnny Otis, and many artists paid tribute.

Johnny Watson was born in Houston on February 3, 1935. His father was a pianist who instructed his son in the rudiments of music, and at age 11 Watson was given a guitar by his grandfather, a preacher who disapproved of the blues and made the gift conditional on his never playing that most secular of musical forms. But "that was the first thing I played," Watson recalled in an interview. As a youth, Watson had heard the blues guitar of fellow Texan T- Bone Walker. He was also influenced by guitarist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Moving with his family to Los Angeles around 1950 and entered and won a variety of talent contests and shows. This exposure led to work as a sideman (sometimes still on piano) in various West Coast jump blues and jazz bands of the time, including those led by Chuck Higgins and Amos Milburn. Watson debuted on the Federal label in 1953, billed as "Young John Watson", cutting three sessions for the label through 1954.

After his session for the Federal label he hooked up with RPM, a subsidiary of Modern, cutting several sessions for the label through 1956. He scored his first hit in 1955 for RPM with a note-perfect cover of New Orleanian Earl King's two-chord swamp ballad "Those Lonely Lonely Nights." One day, Watson and company co-owner Joe Bihari went to see the 1954 Sterling Hayden film "Johnny Guitar," and Watson acquired the nickname that would stick with him for his entire performing career.Johnny Watson was born in Houston on February 3, 1935. His father was a pianist who instructed his son in the rudiments of music, and at age 11 Watson was given a guitar by his grandfather, a preacher who disapproved of the blues and made the gift conditional on his never playing that most secular of musical forms. But "that was the first thing I played," Watson recalled in an interview. As a youth, Watson had heard the blues guitar of fellow Texan T- Bone Walker. He was also influenced by guitarist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Moving with his family to Los Angeles around 1950 and entered and won a variety of talent contests and shows. This exposure led to work as a sideman (sometimes still on piano) in various West Coast jump blues and jazz bands of the time, including those led by Chuck Higgins and Amos Milburn. Watson debuted on the Federal label in 1953, billed as "Young John Watson", cutting three sessions for the label through 1954.

Those Lonely Lonely NightsWatson toured with such luminaries as Little Richard and acquired a reputation for exciting stage theatrics. "I used to play the guitar standing on my hands," he recalled in an interview. "I had a 1 50-foot cord and I could get on top of the auditorium–those things Jimi Hendrix was doing, I started that." During this period he also began to style himself as the "Gangster of Love," after the title of a 1957 single Watson cut for the Keen label. Watson scored a number six rhythm-and-blues hit with "Cuttin' In" on the King label in 1962. During the 1960s he also teamed frequently with vocalist Larry Williams, with whom he toured successfully in Britain as well as in the U.S. and recorded the much-covered "Mercy Mercy Mercy" in 1967.

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Ashley Thomas Sweet PeaceOld Country Blues Vol. 1
Perry TillisKennedy MoanToo Close
Dewey CorleyLast NightOn The Road – Country Blues 1969-1974
William FloydEvery time I Need YouSouthern Comfort Country
Walter MillerSherman's BluesOld Country Blues
Lattie Murrell Howling In The Moonlight45
Lattie Murrell When A Gal Cross The BottomOld Country Blues
Lincoln JacksonBig Fat WomanOld Country Blues
William Davis Floyd Why Did I Have To Leave Cairo?Southern Comfort Country
Joe TownsendTake Your Burdens To The LordSouthern Comfort Country
David Johnson Let The Nation Be FreeSouthern Comfort Country
Lum GuffinJohnny WilsonOn The Road Again
Walter Miller Stuttgart ArkansasOn The Road Again
Lattie MurrellSpoonfulOn The Road Again

Show Notes:

On today’s program we spotlight field recordings taped mainly in the 70’s in Alabama, Tennessee and Florida. In the first hour we hear recordings from a new reissue on the Dust-To-Digital label, Drop on Down in Florida: Field Recordings of African American Traditional Music, 1977 – 1980. This an expanded reissue of a 2-LP set that first came out in 1981. The expanded reissue includes nearly 80 previously-unreleased minutes of music on 28 new tracks, plus numerous photos and a lengthy booklet. In a addition we chat with Dwight Devane who was involved in putting together the original 2-LP set, Blaine Wade the State Folklorist from Florida and Lance Ledbetter from Dust-To-Digital.

Florida, probably due to geography, was not well documented in terms of blues recordings. The popularity of blues was growing rapidly in the 1920's and to feed the demand record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent, which included making trips down south with field recording units. Between 1927-1930 Atlanta was visited seventeen times, Memphis eleven times, Dallas eight times, New Orleans seven times and so on.  No trips, however made it down to Florida. There was field recordings done in the pre-war era, most notably 1935  recordings made by Alan Lomax,  Elizabeth Barnicle and Zora Neal Hurtson that resulted in recordings for the Library of Congress. In the mid-70's the Flyright label issued this material on the LP's Out In The Cold Again: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 3 and Boot That Thing: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 4. In the 1960's and 70's there was much field recording work done by men such as David Evans (who was involved in this project), Peter Lowry, George Mitchell, among others, but none ventured to Florida. This sparseness of recordings makes  Drop on Down in Florida all the more valuable.

Emmett Murray (left) and Johnny Brown (right)

For the second hour we hear recordings by Bengt Olsson who taped some superb field recordings in Tennessee and Alabama between 1969 and 1974. He was also a very good writer as the liner notes he wrote prove and also authored the classic Memphis Blues and Jug Bands which was published in 1970 by Studio Vista and now long out-of-print. His life's work, Memphis Blues, was slated to be published by Routledge in 2008 but with Olsson's passing in January of that year it looks like the book has been permanently shelved. Olsson first came to the United States in 1969, first to Chicago and then to Memphis were he made some recordings. Olsson was back in 1971, where he made recordings in Memphis and Alabama. He recorded several talented artists including Lum Guffin (his album Walking Victrola was issued on Flyright), Lattie Murrell and Perry Tillis among others.

In addition to the Lum Guffin record, Olsson's recordings have been issued on three compilations on the Flyright label. Some of these recordings appear on the CD On the Road – Country Blues 1969-1974. Several years back Birdman Records purchased Olsson's entire library of recordings. So far the label has issued two releases: Old Country Blues Vol. 1 and Bishop Perry Tillis: Too Close. In 2010 the Sutro Park label issued a vinyl album titled Wolf's At The Door: Lost Recordings From The Spirits Of The South which included some unreleased recordings by Olsson.

Olsson recorded Lum Guffin between 1972 and 1974, with a few tracks appearing on anthologies and the rest on his only ful-length album, Walking Victrola, issued on the Flyright label in 1973. Further field recordings were made in 1978 by Gianni Marcucci and issued on his Albatros label. Guffin performed as a street musician around Binghampton, Memphis during the depression with his sometime partner, mandolin player ‘Chunk’ McCullough or at home for various social gatherings, picnics, dances, etc. Guffin also performed in a fife and drum band during the time of these recordings. He passed in 1993.

Read Liner Notes

Dewey Corley was the leader of the Beale Street Jug Band from the '30s onward, and played jug, washtub bass and kazoo. In his later years, he also acted as an A&R man, helping record companies such as Adelphi scout out missing Memphis blues legends such as Hacksaw Harney and guitarist Willie Morris. Corley was influenced by Will Shade, joining Shade's Memphis Jug Band and was also a member of Jack Kelly's South Memphis Jug Band and also backed quite a few of the city's diverse bluesmen in duo and trio settings. His own Beale Street Jug Band was a most successful venture and became a fixture in Memphis for nearly three decades. He cut several fine sessions in the 60's and 70's. Ashley Thompson was another jug band veteran, part of the vital jug band scene in Memphis in the '20s and '30s, working as a guitarist and vocalist in Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers.

Dewey Corley introduced Olsson to many of the city's overlooked older blues musicians. In Somerville, Tennessee, 1971, Olsson set up shop in a bootlegger's shack to record Lattie "The Wolf" Murrell, whose nickname stems from his great ability to mimic the vocal mannerisms of Howlin' Wolf. Murrel was record again in 1980 by Axel Kunster.

In the early 70 Begnt Olsson found himself in Coffee County, Al in search of blues musicians. They were soon pointed to the house of Joe Perry Tillis. Tillis had recently become blind but was travelling and playing blues just a few years prior. Now he was playing just gospel and spiritual music. They made some reel to reel recordings that day and came back to record more a few weeks later. In 1972 Olsson hired musicologist Bill Bart to record Tillis and found that Tillis had amplified his music. In his younger days Tillis had played blues all over the southeast and as far as California. During his travels he met Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and sometimes in the 40’s met Blind Willie Johnson whom he performed a couple of shows with. Tillis and his wife formed their own church in the late 70’s through. He regularly recorded his services on cassette. Tillis passed at the age of 85 in 2004.

Big MaybelleMy Big MistakeThe Complete OKeh Sessions
Mickey Baker Spininn’ Rock BoogieIn The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Louis JordanCaldonia 56'In The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Larry DaleMidnight HoursIn The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Sammy Price & His Bluescians Rib JointRib Joint
Mickey & SylviaNo Good LoverIn The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Eddie MackLast Hour BluesEddie Mack 1947-1952
Tiny KennedyCountry BoyR&B From The Radio Corporation Volumes 1
H-Bomb FergusonWork For My BabyRock H-Bomb Rock
Mickey BakerMidnight Midnight The Wildest Guitar
Nappy BrownIs It Really You?Night Time Is The Right Time
Sammy Price & His Bluescians Juke JointSammy Price & His Bluescians
Buddy JohnsonSomedayBuddy and Ella Johnson: 1953-1964
Little EstherYou Can Bet Your LifeLadies Sing The Blues
Annisteen AllenWantedAnnisteen Allen 1945-53
Larry DalePlease Tell MeHarlem Heavies
Paul WilliamsWoman Are The Root of All EvilPaul Williams Vol. 3 1952-1956
Mickey Baker Bandstand StompRock With A Sock
Square WaltonPepper-Head WomanRub A Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Brownie McGhee Love's a DiseaseRub A Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Mckey BakerShake Walkin’ Rock With A Sock
Larry Dale You Better Heed My WarningIn The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Roy GainesWorried About You BabyGroove Jumping
Mr. BearThe Bear Hug In The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Big Red McHouston & His orchestraI’m Tired R&B From The Radio Corporation Volumes 1
Sammy Price & His Bluescians Kansas City Boogie Woogie StompRib Joint
Eddie Riff Ain’t That Lovin’ YouMickey Baker: Essential Blues Masters
Sammy Price & His Bluescians Bar-B-Q SauceRib Joint
Mickey BakerRock With A Sock Rock With A Sock
Champion Jack DupreeStumbling BlockIn The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Big Red McHouston & His OrchestraStranger BluesIn The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Big MaybellePitifulThe Complete OKeh Sessions
Varetta DillardSo Many WaysLadies Sing the Blues
Sammy Price & His Bluescians LeveeRib Joint

Show Notes:

Mickey Baker and Sylvia Vanderpool (Mickey & Sylvia)

Mickey Baker, who has died aged 87, was one of the most versatile and prolific guitarists of his era. I was a fan of baker's guitar playing even before I knew his name. When I first seriously started buying blues records it didn't take me long to figure out that the great guitar playing on those 50's records I was buying of Big Maybelle, Nappy Brown and numerous others was the work of the prolific Mickey Baker. During the 1950s, any producer making R&B or rock'n'roll records in New York would have Baker's name in his contacts book, and he played on innumerable sessions for Atlantic, Savoy and other labels, accompanying vocal groups including the Drifters and the Coasters and blues singers such as Champion Jack Dupree, Nappy Brown, Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker. Among the many hit records to which he made original and distinctive contributions were Ruth Brown's “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean”, the Coasters' “I'm a Hog for You” and Joe Turner's “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” Today we spotlight Baker's bluesier records, as we hear him on great records by Big Maybelle, Nappy Brown, Larry Dale, Sammy Price, Champion Jack Dupree, Louis Jordan and many others.

Baker was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and spent some of his youth in institutions, from which he ran away to New York, where for a time he got by as a pool-hall hustler. "Around the age of 19," he later recalled, "I decided to make a change in my life. I was still washing dishes, but I was determined that I wanted to be a jazz musician." His preferred instrument was the trumpet but he could not afford one, so he bought a cheap guitar from a pawnshop and learned some chords from a hillbilly songbook. In time he moved on to the standard repertoire and started playing progressive jazz. Then, while on the west coast, he went to a gig by the singer and guitarist Pee Wee Crayton and encountered the blues. "I asked Pee Wee, 'You mean you can make money playing that stuff?' So I started bending strings."

Inspired by the successful model of the guitarist Les Paul and the singer Mary Ford, he formed a duo with the singer Sylvia Vanderpool (later Sylvia Robinson). Mickey & Sylvia's recording of “Love Is Strange”, a million-selling hit in 1956-57. In the wake of "Love Is Strange", he and Vanderpool opened a nightclub, started a publishing company and generally tried to take more charge of their performing lives than was usually possible for black artists. But their personal relationship was stormy and Baker was tired of playing forgettable music for teenagers. Early in the 60s, he moved to France.

Many of today's tracks are longtime favorites including a batch of tough sides by the unsung Larry Dale who waxed some potent blues and R&B sides under his own name and some knockout session guitar backing a slew of New York artists. "It's kinda funny how I learned to play the guitar", Dale said in an interview. "Brownie McGhee would let me come up on his bandstand and sit in the back and playing all kind of bad notes until I learned where the changes were. And then I got so where I could play pretty good. And I could always sing good, If I could sing and leave the guitar alone I was good, but if I tried to play the guitar …Bobby Schiffman told me 'You just sing, leave the guitar alone. you'll make it'. But he didn't know I was determined to learn the guitar. So I bought B.B King records, people that played guitars; and I learned how to play. Then Mickey Baker he taught me a lot. …Well before then Mickey taught me a lot about guitar. And then it's a funny thing, after Mickey taught me then I had to teach him how to play the blues!" We hear Dale taking the vocals with Baker on guitar on tough numbers like "Midnight Hours", "Please Tell Me", "You Better Heed My Warning", all cut under Dale's name, and Dale taking the vocals on sides attributed to Big Red McHouston (alias Mickey Baker),  "I'm Tired" b/w "Where Is My Honey" cut for the Groove label.

Another favorite record of mine is the now out-of-print 2-LP set Rib Joint. Baker backed piano pounder Sam Price on a series of instrumental sides for the Savoy label in 1956 and 1959. The sides feature great session players including King Curtis, Leonard Gaskin, Panama Francis Al Casey and Kenny Burrell among others. We spin several selections from these sessions including "Rib Joint", "Kansas City Boogie Woogie Stomp", "Bar-B-Q Sauce" and "Juke Joint."

During the period covered in this show, Baker recorded only a handful of sides under his own names, fifteen sides between 1952 and 1956. In addition to the above mentioned Big Red McHouston sides, the rest of the sides  are instrumentals and today we spin several of those including "Shake Walkin'", "Bandstand Stomp" and "Rock With A Sock." In addition he cut his only full-length album from this period, 1959's The Wildest Guitar and all instrumental outing issued on Atlantic.

Among the earliest sides I heard Baker on those backing Big Maybelle, Nappy Brown and Champion Jack Dupree. Baker appears on several Big Maybelle sessions in 1954, 1955 and 1956 and backs Nappy Brown's on his 1952 debut plus sessions in 1955 and 1960. Baker backs Jack Dupree on sessions in 1953 and 1955 and the two reunited for a session in London in 1967 for the Decca label.

Baker backed a number of veteran artists who were trying to update their sound for the new rock and roll craze including Amos Milburn, Wynonie Harris, Big Joe Turner and Louis Jordan. Turner sailed into the rock and roll era rather seamlessly, scoring a big hit with “Shake, Rattle and Roll” with Baker on guitar. Although not commercially successful, Baker and Louis Jordan cut some rocking records during this period. In 1956, Mercury Records signed Jordan, releasing two LP's and a handful of singles. Jordan's first LP with Mercury, Somebody Up There Digs Me, showcased updated rock n' roll versions of previous hits such as "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens","Choo Choo Ch'Boogie", "Salt Pork, West Virginia", "Beware!" and a scorching "Caldonia" which we feature today; its follow-up, Man, We're Wailin' (1957), featured a more laid back "late night" sound. Although Mercury intended for this to be a comeback for Jordan, the comeback did not turn out to be a success, and the label let Jordan go in 1958.

A couple of lesser known New York artists worth mentioning are Eddie Mack and Mr. Bear. Mack was part of the Brooklyn blues scene in the late 40's and early 50's but his subsequent career is a mystery. He fronted various groups by Cootie Williams & His Orchestra (he replaced Eddie Vinson), Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra and others. He cut some two-dozen sides between 1947-1952. Mickey Baker appears on Mack's final four sides for the Savoy label which are among his best.

Teddy McRae, also known as Mr. Bear, cut a few isolated titles as a leader, including two songs for King in 1945, six for Groove in 1955 and two numbers for Moonshine in 1958, and recorded with Champion Jack Dupree from 1955-56. Prior to this he was an important an arranger and tenor-saxophonist for several bands including Cab Calloway, Jimmie Lunceford, Lionel Hampton and Chick Webb's.


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