|Pine Top Smith||Pine Top Blues||Shake Your Wicked Knees|
|Pine Top Smith||Pine Top's Boogie Woogie||Shake Your Wicked Knees|
|Jabo Williams||Polock Blues||Juke Joint Saturday Night
|Jabo Williams||Pratt City Blues||Juke Joint Saturday Night
|Lee Green||Maltese Cat||The Way I Feel|
|Lee Green||44 Blues||The Way I Feel|
|Lee Green||Dud-Low Joe||The Piano Blues Vol. 18: Roosevelt Sykes & Lee Green|
|Henry Brown||Henry Brown Blues||Twenty First St. Stomp
|Henry Brown||Stomp Em' Down To The Bricks||Down On The Levee
|Mary Johnson w/ Henry Brown||Peepin' At The Risin' Sun||Mary Johnson 1929-1936|
|Judson Brown||You Don't Know My Mind Blues||Piano Blues Vol 1 1927-1936|
|Mozelle Alderson w/ Judson Brown||Tight In Chicago||Barrelhouse Mamas|
|Louise Johnson||By The Moon And Stars||Juke Joint Saturday|
|Louise Johnson||On The Wall||Juke Joint Saturday|
|Pine Top Smith||I'm Sober Now||Shake Your Wicked Knees|
|Pine Top Smith||Jump Steady Blues||Shake Your Wicked Knees|
|Jabo Williams||Fat Mama Blues||Juke Joint Saturday|
|Jabo Williams||Jab's Blues||Juke Joint Saturday Night|
|Lee Green||Pork Chop Blues||Lee Green Vol. 2 1930-1937|
|Lee Green||The Way I Feel Blues||The Way I Feel|
|Lee Green||Death Bell Blues||The Way I Feel|
|Lee Green||Memphis Fives||The Way I Feel|
|Henry Brown||Eastern Chimes Blues||Down On The Levee|
|Henry Brown & Edith Johnson||Nickel's Worth of Liver||The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2|
|Henry Brown||Deep Morgan Blues||Down On The Levee|
|Madelyn James w/ Judson Brown||Longtime Blues||Memphis Blues 1927-1938|
|Jenny Pope w/ Judson Brown||Tennessee Workhouse Blues||Memphis Jug Band: Associates & Alternate Takes 1927-1930|
|Mary Johnson w/ Judson Brown||Morning Sun Blues||Piano Blues, Vol. 19: Barrelhouse Women 1925-1933|
|Mozelle Alderson w/ Judson Brown||Tight Whoopee||The Piano Blues Vol. 5: Postscript 1927-1935|
|Louise Johnson||Long Ways From Home||Masters Of The Delta Blues|
|Louise Johnson||All Night Long Blues||Juke Joint Saturday Night|
|Henry Brown||Papa Slick Head||Henry Brown Blues|
|Henry Brown||Henry Brown Boogie||Henry Brown Blues|
On today's program we once again spotlight several fine forgotten piano men active in the 1920's and 30's, a tremendously fertile period for piano blues. We spotlight six superb blues pianists active in the 1920's and 30's who remain largely forgotten today. Perhaps the best known is Pine Top Smith who first recorded the classic “Pine Top's Boogie Woogie.” Jabo Williams’ legacy rests on only eight titles cut for Paramount in the depths of the depression and display a formidable technique. Louise Johnson was a barrelhouse pianist and girlfriend of Charlie Patton’s who went to Grafton, Wisconsin to make records for Paramount with Patton, Willie Brown and Son House. She cut four sides at that session, her sole recorded legacy. Judson Brown made one solo recording, sharing the B-side of his only 78 with Freddie "Redd" Nicholson and backed several singers. Lee Green was closely associated with Roosevelt Sykes and Little Brother Montgomery. He cut over forty sides between 1929 and 1937. Henry Brown is the only artist featured today who recorded after the war. He was fixture on the St. Louis scene recoding under his own name as well as backing several singers and waxed a couple of fine albums in the 1960’s.
Clarence "Pine Top" Smith first performed in public in Birmingham about the age of fifteen. He worked as a pianist at house parties in Troy, Alabama before moving on to Birmingham, where he sometimes worked with Robert McCoy. From around 1920 Smith was based in Pittsburgh, and the following years he traveled with minstrel and vaudeville shows as a dancer, singer and comedian. He traveled throughout the south where he worked with artists such as Butterbeans & Susie and Ma Rainey. He began to devote more of his energies to playing piano and, at the urging of Charles "Cow Cow." In in interview with the Chicago Tribune pianist Cow Cow Davenport and Vocalion Records talent scout reported that he first saw Pinetop Smith in Pittsburgh "I happened to hit in Pittsburgh at the Star Theater on Wylie Avenue. … I went with a friend of mine to the Sachem Alley, and there I found Pinetop Smith."
In an interview with Downbeat magazine in 1939, Smith’s wife Sarah Horton said that her husband first started playing "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" in Pittsburgh. Cow Cow Davenport recommended Smith to Mayo Williams of Brunswick/Vocalion records. Smith then moved with his family to Chicago in 1928. On December 29, 1928 Smith recorded his two breakthrough hits: "Pine Top Blues" and "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie." This was the first time the phrase "boogie woogie" appeared on record. On January 14 and 15, 1929 Smith recorded six more sides including "I'm Sober Now" and "Jump Steady Blues." On March 13, 1929 Pine Top made an unissued recording of "Driving Wheel Blues." Two days later, at age 25, Smith was accidentally shot by a man named David Bell during a fight that broke out in a dancehall.
Leothus Lee Green was an early contemporary of Little Brother Montgomery and a mentor to Roosevelt Sykes. Born in Mississippi around 1900, Green worked as a clothes presser in Vicksburg while perfecting his piano technique. Soon he was traveling and earning a living by playing piano. Montgomery knew him in Vicksburg, and claimed to have taught him the "44 Blues" in Sondheimer, LA, back in 1922. Sykes first heard Green in 1925. Green taught Sykes how to really play the blues and is usually credited with teaching the "44 Blues" to Sykes. All three men recorded the number; Sykes and Montgomery chose to record their versions of “44 blues” at their debut sessions, Sykes cutting it first in June 1929 as "Forty- Four Blues", Green as "number Forty-Four Blues" in August at his second session the same year and the following year by Montgomery as “Vicksburg Blues.”
Sykes and Green became traveling and gigging companions, circulating throughout the region for several years. Green made his first four recordings in Richmond, IN, for Gennett and Supertone on July 10, 1929, just weeks after Sykes cut his first sides for OKeh in New York. Excepting for a brief excursion to New York in August 1937, Green performed and recorded mainly in or near Chicago. He cut 24 sides for Vocalion in 1929 and 1930, and 14 titles for Decca between August 1934 and September 1937. His last records were made for the Bluebird label in Aurora, IL, on October 11, 1937.
Jabo Williams was a highly talented pianist/vocalist hailing from Birmingham, Alabama. In the early 1930s, north Alabama, including the mill towns of Birmingham and Huntsville, had a distinctive group of blues pianists including Walter Roland, Robert McCoy and Cow Cow Davenport. It's not clear if he was discovered there or when he relocated to St. Louis. In St. Louis he may have been recommended to Paramount Records by local record store owner and talent scout Jesse Johnson. Paramount went out of business in 1932, the same year Williams recorded so his records were likely pressed in small quantities which makes them extremely rare. In the only known photograph of Williams he's seen in a wide-brimmed hat and in the company fellow Birmingham pianist Robert McCoy. In St. Louis he was well remembered by pianist Joe Dean as a slim, medium-brown man who played piano in a pool hall on 15th and Biddle.
As pianist/researcher Bob Hall notes, Williams was a "forthright, two-handed pianist in the barrelhouse tradition, who used mostly eight-to-the bar boogie bass patterns and highly individual treble phrases, including a characteristic coda with which he ended many of his pieces. 'Ko Ko Mo Blues Parts 1 and 2' has similarities to the later 'Sweet Home Chicago' and is a medium boogie with a lazy, slurred vocal. 'Pratt City Blues,' which is a different tune from the Chippie Hill title, refers to a suburb of the Ensley District of Birmingham. Both this boogie and the stride ‘‘Jab Blues’’ are outstanding instrumental compositions with a relentless drive. 'My Woman Blues' and 'Polock Blues' revert to medium boogie tempo, the latter taking its name from a part of East St. Louis. Williams shared a disregard of bar lengths with his fellow Birmingham pianist Walter Roland, who subsequently recorded another of Williams’ songs, 'House Lady Blues.' 'Fat Mama Blues' is a bawdy house song having a lyrical piano melody and an unusual bass line, ending with a characteristic Williams coda." Some of Williams' records are in such rough shape, like "Ko Ko Mo Blues Parts 1 and 2", (only two known copies) they are virtually unplayable.
In A Left Hand Like God: A Study of Boogie-Woogie Peter Silvester wrote: "Henry Brown was a living model for the qualities most apparent in the St. Louis boogie-woogie style. He employed an economic left hand of single notes or sparse chords for slow numbers and a rumbustious walking bass for faster ones." Brown learned to play the piano from the "professors" of the notorious Deep Morgan section of St. Louis. One of them went by the name of "Blackmouth," another was named Joe (or Tom) Cross. As Brown remembered him, "he was a real old time blues player and he'd stomp ‘em down to the bricks." "Deep Morgan Blues" was one of his signature pieces. By the age of sixteen Brown had acquired enough technique to be able to play the buffet flats in the 1920's and was soon in regular demand there. He was able to make enough money to survive, allowing him the sleep during the day and play all night. Brown worked clubs such as the Blue Flame Club, the 9-0-5 Club, Jim's Place and Katy Red's, from the twenties into the 30's. He recorded for Brunswick with Ike Rogers and Mary Johnson in 1929, for Paramount in ‘29 and ‘30, behind singer Alice Moore in 1929 and 1934 as well as backing others such singers as Jimmy Oden, Bessie Mae Smith and others.
Brown served in the army in the early 40's, then formed his own quartet to work occasional local gigs in St. Louis area from the 50's, and worked the Becky Thatcher riverboat in 1965. In addition to his pre-war recordings, he was recorded by Paul Oliver in 1960 (Henry Browm Blues, 77 Records and reissued on CD by Southland), by Sam Charters with Edith Johnson in 1961 (The Blues in St. Louis Vol. 2: Henry Brown and Edith Johnson), cut some sides for the Euphonic label in the 50's (some appear on the Delmark reissue Biddle Street Barrelhousin') and some final sides for Adelphi in 1969.
Louise Johnson was barrelhouse pianist and girlfriend of Charlie Patton’s who went to Grafton to make records with Patton, Willie Brown and Son House in 1930. She cut four sides at that session, her sole recorded legacy. From the book Preachin' The Blues Dan Beaumont writes: "North of Robinsonville, Patton directed Ford to visit the Kirby plantation where they picked up a young woman named Louise Johnson, who was one of Patton’s girlfriends. Johnson sang and played piano in a barrelhouse operated by a Liny Armstrong. Willie Brown had heard her playing, and he then introduced her to Patton who soon found time for her. House remembered her 'nice-lookin’…’bout twenty-three, twenty-four years old.' And like her boyfriend Patton, she 'didn’t do nothin’ but drink and play music; she didn’t work for nobody…' Somewhere along the trip her and Patton had a fight and she became House's girlfriend. "Back in Mississippi, the foursome played in a barrelhouse on the Kirby plantation near Lula for a brief time, then went their separate ways. According to[Stephen] Calt and [Gayle] Wardlow, House saw Louise Johnson only once after 1930. He thought she had moved to Helena, Arkansas. Another report had her playing in the 1930's on the King and Anderson plantation near Clarksdale. Then she vanished from view."
Judson Brown only made one solo recording in 1930, "You Don't Know My Mind Blues", and had to share the b-side of his one and only 78 with Freddie "Redd" Nicholson performing his "Tee Roller's Rub". Brown did appear on some recordings by Mary Johnson for Brunswick the same year as well as backing singers Mozelle Alderson, Madelyn James, Charlie Nickerson and Jenny Pope. The singers he worked with suggest a Memphis background but according to researcher Bob Eagle he was from Georgia and merely passed through Memphis, ending up in Chicago, where he died in 1933. The pre-war Memphis piano scene is no well documented although a few pianists from Memphis appear on record such as Jab Jones who recorded with the Memphis Jug band and Yank Rachell and Sleepy John Estes and Blind Clyde Church who waxed one 78 for Victor.
Related Reading: –Henry Brown:Henry Brown Blues [PDF] (Liner notes by Paul Oliver) –Pinetop Smith [PDF] (Jazz Record, March 1962 by John Bentley) –The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2: Henry Brown and Edith Johnson [PDF] (Liner notes by Samuel Charters) –The Piano Blues Vol. 18: Roosevelt Sykes/Lee Green 1929-1930 [JPG] (Liner notes by Bob Hall and Richard Noblett)
–Henry Brown:Henry Brown Blues [PDF] (Liner notes by Paul Oliver)
–Pinetop Smith [PDF] (Jazz Record, March 1962 by John Bentley)
–The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2: Henry Brown and Edith Johnson [PDF] (Liner notes by Samuel Charters)
–The Piano Blues Vol. 18: Roosevelt Sykes/Lee Green 1929-1930 [JPG] (Liner notes by Bob Hall and Richard Noblett)