|Skip James||Four O'Clock Blues||The Complete 1931 Session|
|Robert Johnson||From Four Until Late||The Centennial Collection|
|Memphis Piano Red||Standing At The Crossroads||Blues At Home 4|
|Memphis Piano Red||Barrelhouse Blues (Take 2)||Blues At Home 4|
|Geeshie Wiley||Eagles On A Half||I Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1|
|Elvie Thomas||Motherless Child Blues||Mississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35|
|Lee Kizart||I Got the World in a Jug, Baby, and the Stopper in My Hand||The Blues Are Alive And Well|
|Otis Spann & Walter Horton||Bloody Murder||The Story Of The Blues Vol. 1|
|Little Brother Montgomery||Cow Cow Blues||Vocal Accompaniments & Early Post-War Recordings 1930-1954|
|Memphis Slim||Four O'Clock Blues||Memphis Slim and the Real Boogie-Woogie|
|Priscilla Stewart||P. D. Q. Blues||Priscilla Stewart 1924-1928|
|Hilda Alexander & Mamie McClure||He's Tight Like This||George Williams & Bessie Brown Vol. 2 1925-1930|
|Lil Johnson||I Lost My Baby||When The Sun Goes Down|
|Billie Holiday||Billie's Blues (I Love A Man)||Complete Billie Holiday Lester Young 1937-1946|
|John Lee Hooker||My Baby's Got Somethin'||The Complete John Lee Hooker Vol. 3|
|Eddie Shaw||I've Got To Tell Somebody (2nd version)||Have Blues, Will Travel|
|Texas Alexander||Boe Hog Blues||Texas Alexander Vol. 1 1927-1928|
|Bumble Bee Slim||Smokey Mountains Blues||Bumble Bee Slim Vol. 4 1935|
|Willie Dukes||Sweet Poplar Bluff Blues||Male Blues of the Twenties Vol. 1|
|Shorty Bob Parker||So Cold In China||Kid Prince Moore 1936-1938|
|Jimmy Lee Harris||Rabbit On A Log||George Mitchell Collection Volume 5|
|Big John Henry Miller, Jimmy Lee Miller||Down Here By Myself||BluesScene USA Vol. 4 Mississippi Blues|
|Big Joe Williams||North Wind Blues||Big Joe Williams Vol. 1 1935-1941|
|Little Buddy Doyle||Hard Scufflin' Blues||Memphis Harp & Jug Blowers 1927-1939|
|Ellis Williams||Smokey Blues||Great Harp Players 1927-1936|
|Minnie Wallace||Field Mouse Stomp||Memphis Harp & Jug Blowers 1927-1939|
|Charlie Sangster||Moaning The Blues||Blues At Home 9|
|Charlie Sangster||Hesitation Blues (Take 2)||Blues At Home 9|
|Kid Brown And His Blues Band||Bo-lita||American Primitive Vol. II: Pre-War Revenants|
|Birmingham Jug Band||Kickin' Mule Blues||Jaybird Coleman & The Birmingham Jug Band 1927 - 1930|
While the heart of this program is our weekly theme shows, where I get to dig deep into a particular theme or topic, the monthly mix show give me a bit of a breather and the opportunity to tackle things that don't fit in to our theme shows. The mix shows also usually feature an artist or theme that I plan to feature more in-depth at a future date. One of the things I plan to explore in a series of shows later this year is the remarkable field recordings captured by Giambattista Marcucci in the South in the 70's and 80's. From those recordings we spotlight terrific sides by Memphis Piano Red and Charlie Sangster. Also on deck are some knockout pre-war blues including recordings by Skip James and Robert Johnson that share a common theme, and two ladies, Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thoms, who were recently the subject of an extraordinary article in the New York Times of all places. Along the way we spin a set of fine piano blues, hear from a batch of strong blues women and several fine early bluesmen, both well known and utterly obscure.
One of my favorite Robert Johnson songs is "From Four Until Late" which has a very appealing melody. The song always felt to me like it was related to other songs and it all clicked while skimming through Elijah Wald's fascinating Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. Wald had this to say: "Paul Garon points out that "From Four Until Late" has exactly the same melody as Johnny Dunn's "Four O'Clock Blues," an instrumental recorded in 1923. …David Evans notes that Son House or Skip James (House, probably) in the 1960s referred to this melody as the 4 O'Clock Blues." Charley Patton's "Tom Rushen Blues" and "High Sheriff Blues" (both influenced by Ma Rainey's "Booze and Blues") use variants of the melody. So does Skip James's "Yola My Blues Away," which is a 'harmonized' variant, and related pieces include James's "Four O'Clock Blues" and the 1941 version by Fiddlin" Joe Martin under the title "Fo' Clock Blues." Evans points out that Martin may have gotten the tune from Son House or Willie Brown, and Johnson could have learned it from any of these sources." Today we feature the Robert Johnson number, Skip James' "Four O'Clock Blues" and a version later in the show by Memphis Slim.
Geeshie Wiley recorded "Last Kind Word Blues" and "Skinny Leg Blues" in Grafton, Wisconsin for Paramount Records in March of 1930, with Elvie Thomas backing her on second guitar. Thomas also recorded two songs for Paramount at the session, "Motherless Child Blues" and "Over to My House," Wiley, providing second guitar and vocal harmonies. In 1931 Wiley and Thomas returned to Grafton to record two more sides for Paramount, "Pick Poor Robin Clean" and "Eagles on a Half." Nothing was known about either woman until recently when John Sullivan, based on the research of Mack McCormick, published a lengthy article in the New York Times Magazine titled The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie that sent shock waves through the small group of blues scholars and collectors who care about this kind of thing.
As Sullivan wrote: "Yet despite more than 50 years of researchers’ efforts to learn who the two women were or where they came from, we have remained ignorant of even their legal names. Their myth was they didn’t have anything you could so much as hang a myth on. The objects themselves — the fewer than 10 surviving copies, total, of their three known Paramount releases, a handful of heavy, black, scratch-riven shellac platters, all in private hands — these were the whole of the file on Geeshie and Elvie…" It's an amazing piece of research, although, ethically the author is on shaky ground. Matt McCormick's daughter wrote a scathing retort published in the New York Observer. For his part, Sullivan wrote a defense in the same magazine. Like many blues collectors, I would love if McCormick's massive archive was made available, I imagine it holds the clues to many blues mysteries and would add immeasurably to out knowledge of blues history. But the bottom line is that it's his research, acquired painstakingly over decades with no outside assistance and he can do what he pleases with it. Sullivan's comment that “You’re not allowed to sit on these things for half a century, not when the culture has decided they matter” and that "Mack McCormick committed a theft—through negligence or writer’s block or whatever reasons of his own—far graver than my citation of interviews L.V. granted him decades ago" is self serving and simply wrong. What culture demands it? There's a handful of collectors and blues fans who care at all about this. I would hardly call that a demanding culture. Sullivan showed a self serving lack of integrity as far as I'm concerned.
Gianni Marcucci came to the States in the 70's and captured some exceptional field recordings in the 70's and 80's in Tennessee and Mississippi. The original albums that collected these recordings are long been out-of-print. All these recordings will be issued as 15 volume series both digitally and on CD on his Mbirafon imprint. I've been corresponding with Marcucci and with his help will be doing an in-depth series of shows on these recordings. At Marcucci's prompting I've pushed this show back until he completes his issuing of the Blues At Home series.In the meantime we play great sides by Memphis Piano Red and Charlie Sangster.
John Williams (a.k.a. Memphis Piano Red) was born an albino in Germantown, Tennessee, in 1904 in a family with 11 children, six of whom played musical instruments. He learned how to play piano at the age of 13 from one of his sisters and was influenced by local Germantown piano blues players. In 1930 he moved to Memphis where he started his musical activity, playing often in Beale Street bars. He hoboed and rode freight trains for more than 25 years, visiting various states, developing a solid barrelhouse piano technique coupled with strong, heartfelt singing. He never had the chance to record 78 rpm race records, and was discovered in the late '60s during blues revival . He recorded sparingly, with scattered sides on various anthologies. These recordings were recorded during two long sessions held in 1972 and 1978 at his home in Memphis. These sessions are now available digitally as Blues At Home 4.
Charlie Sangster' sides come from the ninth volume of the Blues At Home series, featuring this little known artist of Brownsville, Tennessee. Charlie Sangster, born in this small Tennessee town in 1917, earned his living as a farmer. Belonging to a musical family, he learned how to play mandolin and guitar at the age of twelve. His father, Samuel Ellis Sangster, was a blues guitarist who used to play with Sleepy John Estes and Hambone Willie Newbern; his mother, Victoria, was a gospel singer. Charlie played at the fish market and in other social situations with a circle of local musicians, including Charlie Pickett, Brownsville Son Bonds, Hammie Nixon, Yank Rachel, Sleepy John Estes, and Walter Cooper. He also knew and performed with Hambone Willie Newbern during the last part of Newbern’s life. With only the exclusion of five years in Indiana and a period of time in Europe serving with the U.S. Army during World War II, he spent most of his life in Brownsville, living in the house where he was born, where Marcucci discovered him through referral by Hammie Nixon. Marcucci recorded eight sessions between 1976 and 1980, plus an interview in 1982, just one year before his death. He was recorded in 1980 by Axel Kunster.
|Ad in the Chicago Defender, Feb 19 , 1927|
We spin several forgotten blues ladies today including Priscilla Stewart and Lil Johnson. Stewart is considered a second tier blues singer I suppose but here's something about her singing I find very appealing. Virtually nothing is known about her other than she recorded 25 performances between 1924-1928. In the majority of the cases, she is accompanied by pianist Jimmy Blythe. Unlike many of the other blues ladies from the period, Priscilla Stewart doesn’t seem to have come from a stage background since no mention can be found of her appearing in stage revues of the time. As Alan Balfour writes in the notes to Document's collected CD of her recordings: "'P.D.Q.' was originally an instrumental recorded in November 1926 for Victor by cornet player Thomas Morris. The following month the copyright holders ran a competition to find lyrics for the tune, even offering a prize of a Radiola. On February 12th, 1927 the Chicago Defender announced that the winning lyricist was John Simson. Given the subject matter of the song, Mr. Simson must have misunderstood P.D.Q. to be a railroad (like P.P.B. for Pennsylvania, Poughkeepsie & Boston), rather than the common abbreviation for 'pretty damn quick' ! Nevertheless, in March Vocalion recorded the song with Clarence Lee fronting the Clarence Williams band and Paramount followed shortly afterwards with Priscilla Stewart’s rendition. Paramount undoubtedly hoped such topicality would bring vast sales but it is unlikely that the recording achieved such – it certainly didn’t bring the singer any fame. Priscilla Stewart’s recording career was brief and unspectacular and although she may not have been in the same league as many of her famous contemporaries, somebody at Paramount thought it worth the company’s time and investment to record her. That being the case she certainly deserves the belated recognition that this release will hopefully bring."
Lil Johnson first recorded in Chicago in 1929, accompanied by pianists Montana Taylor and Charles Avery on five songs. She did not return to the recording studio until 1935. From her second session onwards, she had a partnership with the ragtime influenced pianist "Black Bob" Hudson, who provided ebullient support to Johnson's increasingly suggestive lyrics. In 1936 and 1937, she recorded over 40 songs, mostly on the Vocalion label, some featuring Big Bill Broonzy on guitar and Lee Collins on trumpet. Our selection, "I Lost My Baby", is a swinging number most likely featuring Black Bob and Big Bill Broonzy.
Several fine male blues singers spotlighted today including sides by the well known Texas Alexander and Bumble Bee Slim and the obscure Willie Dukes and Shorty Bob Parker. Alexander delivers a fine performance on "Boe Hog Blues" featuring impeccable guitar from Lonnie Johnson while Bumbe Slim sings "Smokey Mountain Blues" in his best Leroy Carr manner backed the superb guitar work of Scrapper Blackwell, Carr's longtime partner. Nothing is known of Dukes and Parker who both waxed six sides in 1930.