Texas Alexander Days Is LonesomeTexas Alexander Vol. 2 1928 - 1930

Bo Carter Tellin' You 'Bout ItGreatest Hits
Mississippi SheiksIt's Done Got WetBo Carter & The Mississippi Sheiks
Lindberg Sparks I.C. Train BluesSparks Brothers 1932-1935t
Dorothy Baker Steady Grinding BluesBarrelhouse Mamas
Ernest RogersBaby Low Down, Oh Oh Low Down Dirty DogField Recordings Vol. 16 1934-1940
Blind Pete & George RyanBanty Rooster Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
John BrayTrench BluesDeep River Of Song: Louisiana
Bumble Bee SlimSail On Little Girl, Sail OnWhen The Sun Goes Down
Leroy CarrBlues Before SunriseWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Scrapper BlackwellMorning Mail BluesScrapper Blackwell Vol. 2 1934-1958
Lucille Bogan Pig Iron SallyShave 'Em Dry: The Best of Lucille Bogan
Walter Roland Big MamaWalter Roland Vol. 2 1934-1935
James “Iron Head” Baker Black BettyDeep River of Song: Big Brazos
LeadbellyTake A Whiff On MeLeadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-49
Joe PullumBlack Gal What Makes Your Head So Hard?Joe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Buddy MossSomeday BabyThe Essential Buddy Moss
Son BondsTrouble, Trouble BluesSon Bonds & Charlie Pickett 1934-1941
Bertha LeeMind Reader BluesI Can't Be Satisfied Vol 1
Charlie Patton'34 BluesPrimeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs
Mary Johnson Peepin' At The Risin' Sun Mary Johnson 1929-1936
Peetie WheatstrawThrow Me In The AlleyFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Barrelhouse Buck McFarlandMercy Mercy BluesPiano Blues Vol. 2 1927-1956
Bob CampbellStarvation Farm BluesA Richer Tradition
Memphis Jug Band Jug Band QuartetteMemphis Shakedown

Big Bill Broonzy Serve It To Me RightAll The Classic Sides
Alfoncey Harris Absent Freight Train BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 11: Texas Santa Fe
John OscarOther Man BluesChicago Piano 1929-1936
Lee GreenMemphis FivesThe Way I Feel: The Best Of Roosevelt Sykes & Lee Green
Joe McCoyI'm Going Back HomeThe Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Charlie McCoy Charity BluesAin't Times Hard: Political & Social Comment In The Blues
Moses Clear Rock PlattThat's All Right, BabyBlack Texicans
Wilson Jones (Stavin' Chain)Can't Put On My ShoesField Recordings Vol. 16 1934-1940

Show Notes:

Charlie Patton: 34 Blues

Today’s show is the eighth installment of an ongoing series of programs built around a particular year. The first year we spotlighted was 1927 which was the beginning of a blues boom that would last until 1930; there were just 500 blues and gospel records issued in 1927 and increase of fifty percent from 1926 a trend that would continue until the depression. To feed the demand other record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent, which included making trips down south with field recording units. The Depression, with the massive unemployment it brought, had a shattering effect on the pockets of black record buyers. Sales of blues records plummeted in the years 1931 through 1933. Things picked in 1934, and in addition to labels like Gennett and Columbia a new label emerged that year. Decca Records began recording in New York and Chicago in August and by the end of the year had issued dozens of race records. During this period it was the urban style of blues that dominated the market – artists such as Tampa Red, Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Minnie, Big Bill Broonzy, Bumble Bee Slim and Leroy Carr recorded prolifically. Still some down home blues artists were recorded such as Texas Alexander and Charlie Patton. In parallel to the commercial recordings were some remarkable field recording made by John Lomax for the Library of Congress. All those and more can be heard on today's program.

From 1934 until 1945 there were three main race labels, all selling for 35 cents: Decca, the Brunswick Record Corporation's Vocalion, and RCA-Victor's Bluebird. Whereas Decca had a special race series, Bluebird and Vocalion numbered blues and gospel material in their general series. Although the Gennett label went under at the end of 1934, Decca bought the Gennett material and bought the Champion trademark. Later that year they started their second race series, the Champion 5000s; it feature some reissues of Gennett blues, some reissues from Paramount as well as some material recorded by Decca. The Brunswick Record Corporation bought Columbia issuing records by Papa Charlie Jackson and the Memphis Jug Band. They also operated five "dime-store labels" – Perfect, Oriole, Romeo, Banner and Melotone which sold for 25 cents.

A sign that the market was reviving was the fact that the labels were once again sending out field recording units. Much of the activity was in Texas where Brunswick-ARC recorded Texas Alexander in San Antonio and Fort Worth, Bo Carter and the Mississippi Sheiks in San Antonio and a new artist called Joe Pullum. Texas Alexander cut sessions in 1934 in the company of the Mississippi Sheiks, the jazz band His Sax Black Tams, the guitar duo of Willie Reed and Carl Davis for a total of two dozen sides. These were his last sides until 1950 where he cut a lone 78 for the Freedom label.The popular Mississippi Sheiks cut fourteen sides on March 26 and 27th. "Black Gal What Makes Your Head So Hard?” was a huge and influential hit in 1934 for Joe Pullum. After Pullum recorded it in April 1934 it was covered by Vocalion by Leroy Carr, for Decca by Mary Johnson and Jimmie Gordon (under the pseudonym of Joe Bullum!), and by Josh White—all within ten months. Pullum went on to cut four sessions in less than two years which produced thirty songs including two sequels to "Black Gal" , yet few sold very well.

With the popularity of the urban blues it's not surprising that Leroy Carr and his imitator, Bumble Bee Slim, recorded prolifically. Slim waxed around fifty sides apiece in 1934 and Carr even more.  Slim cut sides for all three major labels in 1934. Carr cut some iconic songs in 1934 including blues classics like “Blues Before Sunrise” and “Mean Mistreater Mama” among others, most with his partner Scrapper Blackwell.

Thanks to a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, John Lomax was able to set out in June 1933 on the first recording expedition under the Library of Congress' auspices, with his son Alan in tow. John and Alan toured Texas prison farms recording work songs, reels, ballads, and blues from prisoners such as James "Iron Head" Baker, Mose "Clear Rock" Platt, and Lightnin’ Washington. In 1934, Lomax was named Honorary Consultant and Curator of the Archive of American Folk Song, and he secured grants from the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others, for continued field recordings. In September 1934, Lead Belly, who was out of prison, wrote to Lomax requesting employment, since he needed to have a job in order not to be sent back to prison. At the urging of John, Jr., Lomax engaged Lead Belly as his driver and assistant and the pair traveled the South together collecting folk songs for the next three months. We spin some remarkable sides today by James "Iron Head" Baker and  Mose "Clear Rock" , who Lomax had recorded the previous year, plus new discoveries like Wilson Jones (Stavin' Chain).

Leadbelly was "discovered" by folklorists John Lomax and his then 18-year-old son Alan Lomax during a visit to the Angola Prison Farm in 1933. They recorded him on portable aluminum disc recording equipment for the Library of Congress. Those recordings are very poor quality. They returned to record with new and better equipment in July of the following year (1934). From those sessions we hear Leadbelly deliver a powerful version of "Take A Whiff On Me."

Stavin' Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad "Batson," (fiddler also in shot), Lafayette, La, 1934.
Photo by Alan Lomax.

Notable this year were the last recordings by Charlie Patton. Patton's last recording sessions were in New York where he cut twenty-six sides for Vocalion between January 3oth and February 1st. Seventeen of those sides were unissued. On January 31st Patton backed his common-law wife Bertha Lee on three sides, one of which was unissued.  On the morning of Saturday, April 28, 1934, Charlie Patton was buried the following day at Longswitch Cemetery, less than a mile from his last home at Holly Ridge. He was 43. Patton was a popular performer among both whites and blacks, and at Dockery's Plantation he often played on the porch of the commissary and at all-night picnics hosted by Will Dockery for residents.. In “34 Blues” Patton sang of being banished from Dockery by plantation manager Herman Jett, apparently because Patton was running off with various tenants’ women.

There were some notable piano blues recorded in 1934. St. Louis had an abundance of talented blues pianists including Henry Brown, Peetie Wheatstraw, Roosevelt Sykes, Lee Green, and Aaron "Pinetop" Sparks all who were recorded during the year. Also notable were pianists Alfoncey Harris who was recorded in Texas and John Oscar who was recorded in Chicago.

Flora MoltonBye And Bye, I'm Going To See The KingLiving Country Blues USA: Vol. 3 Flora Molton & The Truth Band
Archie EdwardsThe Road Is Rough And RockyLiving Country Blues USA: Vol. 6 Archie Edwards
Axel KüstnerInterview
Dan PickettNumber WriterShake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Dan Pickett 99 ½ Won't DoShake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Dan PickettRide to a Funeral in a V-8Shake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
J.W. WarrenOne Kind FavorUnreleased
Lottie MurrellSpoonfulOn The Road: Country Blues 1969-1974
Lottie Murrell Trouble Late Last NightLiving Country Blues USA: Introduction
Walter Brown & Joe Savage Raise Em Up HigherLiving Country Blues USA: Vol. 7 Afro American Blues Roots
Joe SavageJoe's Prison HollerLiving Country Blues USA: Vol. 9 Mississippi Moan
Eugene Powell Blues Fallin' Down On MeUnreleased

Show Notes:

Lattie Murrell

About a year ago we devoted a show to chatting and playing records with Axel Küstner. Axel and I have talked frequently since and he happens to be one of the most knowledgeable guys I've ever talked with about the blues. Axel has been documenting the blues in the south since the early 70's through his field recordings and remarkable photography. From the 70's through the 2000's Axel documented the vanishing rural southern blues scene. The fact is that even up through the 70's and early 80's there were still good blues players to be found in black southern communities. Guys like George Mitchell, Pete Lowry, Kip Lornell, Tim Duffy and Axel roamed the south and shed light on may fine players that otherwise would be unknown to the outside world. Among the artists Axel documented and spent time with were bluesmen such as Big Joe Williams, Eugene Powell, Son Thomas, Jack Owens, J.W. Warren, Other Turner, Lattie Murell, Memphis Piano Red, Boogie Bill Webb among many others.

There was much Axel and I didn't get to last time. This time out we discuss the mysterious Dan Pickett, a superb bluesman who cut a batch of terrific sides in 1949 but about whom we knew nothing about until recently. Axel played a crucial in unlocking the mystery and we talk about that and play some of Pickett's music. Pickett was from Alabama and Axel amd I discuss blues from that State including J.W. Warren who Axel recorded. We also discuss some artists he recorded as part of the Living Country Blues USA recordings he did in 1980 including Lottie Murrell, Walter Brown, Joe Savage, Archie Edwards and Flora Molton. In fact we open today's program with Molton's "Bye And Bye I'm Going To See The King" and Archie Edwards'  "The Road Is Rough And Rocky" which Axel recorded exactly thirty-two years ago on this date.  In addition we talk about Bengt Olsson, who Axel knew and who was another European who traveled around the south in the 70's recording blues.

Dan Pickett did one recording session for the Philadelphia-based Gotham label in 1949. His real name was James Founty who was born in Pike County, Alabama on August 31, 1907. Five singles were issued by the label while the rest of the titles weren't unearthed until four decades later. Details of his background, however, remained hazy for decades. In a 1987 Blues & Rhythm Magazine article, Chris Smith wrote:  "If  Founty had started early in life he might still be alive, and even still be playing. Let's hope he can be found." Axel paid particular attention and actually went to Alabama in 1993 to see what he could dig up. He ended up finding Founty's surviving family including his daughter. He obtained the only known photograph that shows Founty and some information on his life. Künster published a two page teaser about the trip in Juke Blues. A promised full-length article has yet to appear. For a more in-depth look at Pickett read the show notes to a program I aired on him last year.

Flora Molton

Alabama has been relatively overlooked by those recording blues. As writer Chris Smith explains: "Despite flourishing gospel quartet and piano traditions, the state’s blues are comparatively under-represented on ‘race’ records."  And as Paul Oliver noted: “For the recording men on their infrequent field trips, Memphis, Dallas and Atlanta were adequate (recording) centres. With talent scouts in each centre, and one placed in Jackson, they had the south 'covered' – for the commercial business of supplying enough talent for recording.  But the outcome of this was that Alabama was largely neglected by the location recording units and even by the talent scouts…"  During Axel's trip in 1980 and 1981, when he was recording blues all over the south, he simply ran out of time to make it to Alabama. If so, he reckons he probably could have gotten a couple of albums worth of material. In fact George Mitchel had offered to to introduce him to some performers. Mitchell was perhaps the only person during this period to document the rich blues tradition in the  Lower Chattahoochee River Valley region  which is comprised of eighteen counties that hug the Chattahoochee River along the Georgia/Alabama border, along with three additional counties in Georgia. Cecil Barfield, J.W. Warren, George Daniel and Albert Macon were from the region and Axel did record them although the recordings are unissued. Other artists from this region include Precious Bryant, Jim Bunkley and Jimmy Lee Harris.

Bengt Olsson first came to the United States in 1964, 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. Olsson 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. Axel recorded Lattie Murrell during for the  Living Country Blues USA project and has entertaining stories about him.

Walter Brown & Joe Savage

Many of the artists Axel recorded on his epic 1980 trip were from an  older  tradition and the music often sounds like it was trapped in amber, virtually unchanged from the blues of fifty years ago. Certainly that's the case with musicians such as Walter Brown, Joe Savage and Boyd Rivers. Brown and Savage bring alive the era of the field and levee camp hollers that could once be heard ringing all over the south and in later years primarily survived in prisons as documented by the Lomax's, Harry Oster and Bruce Jackson. Both Brown and Savage lived hard lives and both men spent time in the notorious Parchman Farm. In fact Alan Lomax interviewed and recorded Joe Savage in Parchman in the 1940's and said of him "he was by far the youngest and most damaged." Jumping to 1980 we hear Savage recount his prison experience and sing on the harrowing "Joe’s Prison Camp Holler." Axel noted that "recording Walter Brown was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. …I had the feeling he was just waiting for somebody to come around so that he could express himself and let his music come out."  The blues is so often romanticized but there's nothing romantic about the lives of men like Brown and Savage who have led unbearably tough lives under crushing poverty and persistent racism. Brown was more of a creative, improvisational singer where as Savage reworked traditional material but was a better singer. We hear the two together on "Raise 'Em Up Higher."

-Axel Küstner Interview/Feature (edited, 120 min, MP3)

Tampa Red When Things Go Wrong With You Tampa Red Vol. 14 1949- 1951

Tampa Red It's A Brand New Boogey Tampa Red Vol. 14 1949- 1951
Tampa Red 1950 Blues Tampa Red Vol. 14 1949- 1951
Little Johnny Jones Big Town Play Boy The Aristocrat Of The Blues
Little Johnny Jones Shelby County Blues The Aristocrat Of The Blues
Muddy Waters Screamin' And Cryin' The Aristocrat Of The Blues
Muddy Waters Last Time I Fool Around With You The Aristocrat Of The Blues
Elmore James Late Hours At MidnightThe Classic Early Recordings 1951-1956
Elmore James Blues Before Sunrise The Classic Early Recordings 1951-1956
Little Johnny Jones I May Be WrongThe Classic Early Recordings 1951-1956
Little Johnny Jones Sweet Little Woman The Classic Early Recordings 1951-1956
Howlin' Wolf Tail DraggerComplete Chess Recordings
Albert KingBe On Your Merry WayDoor To Door
Tampa Red Early In The Morning Tampa Red Vol. 14 1949- 1951
Tampa Red She's Dynamite Tampa Red Vol. 15 1951 -1953
Tampa Red Rambler's Blues Tampa Red Vol. 15 1951 -1953
Little Johnny Jones Doin' The Best I Can Messing With The Blues: Atlantic Blues
Little Johnny Jones Hoy Hoy Messing With The Blues: Atlantic Blues
Billy Boy Arnold & Little Johnny Jones My Little Machine Live at the Fickle Pickle
Billy Boy Arnold & Little Johnny Jones Goin' To The River Live at the Fickle Pickle
Big Joe Turner TV MamaMessing With The Blues: Atlantic Blues
Jimmy RogersChicago BoundComplete Chess Recordings
Eddie TaylorI'm Sitting Here Big Town Playboy
Little Johnny Jones Worried Life BluesLittle Johnny Jones with Billy Boy Arnold
Little Johnny Jones She Wants to Sell My Monkey Little Johnny Jones with Billy Boy Arnold
Little Johnny Jones Chicago BluesMessing With The Blues: Atlantic Blues
Little Johnny Jones Wait BabyMessing With The Blues: Atlantic Blues
Elmore James Happy HomeThe Classic Early Recordings 1951-1956
Elmore James Make A Little LoveThe Classic Early Recordings 1951-1956
Little Johnny Jones Love Me With A Feeling Little Johnny Jones with Billy Boy Arnold
Little Johnny Jones Ouch!Little Johnny Jones with Billy Boy Arnold
Little Johnny Jones Prison Bound Blues 45
Little Johnny Jones Don’t You Lie To Me 45

Show Notes:

Little Johnny Jones
Little Johnny Jones and his wife Letha

Johnny Jones may never have made it past his 40th birthday but in that time he established himself as one of the finest piano players in Chicago. As perhaps the greatest of the post-war Chicago pianists, Otis Spann said of Jones: "My favorite piano player – I hate to say it, he was my first cousin, dead now and gone, we were two sisters' children – is Johnnie Jones.  I wind up teaching him, but he beat me at my own game." And as Bruce Igluaer wrote: "His fellow bluesmen remember him well, though, mostly as the pianist at Sylvio's, the huge tavern at Lake & Oakley that was the blues capital of Chicago's West Side during the 50's„ Johnnie played there with Elmore, with the Wolf, with second Sonny Boy Williamson, with Billy Boy Arnold, and with Magic Sam. Most nights Sylvio's had three bands, and Johnny would play with all of them! Dressed immaculately and with his hair and mustache perfectly groomed, he would open the shows singing his favorite risque classics, "The Dirty Dozens" and "Love Her With A Feeling." Billy Boy remembers, "He didn't sit there like a lot of piano players and just play– he rocked with the rhythm, he bounced. He used to sing "Dirty Mother F'or Ya" and that would just crack the house up! Johnnie and Elmore had Sylvio's sewed up five nights a week!"

Best known for his rock steady accompaniment in Elmore James’ band he also backed just about everyone else worth mentioning on the Chicago scene. The handful of times he stepped in front as leader produced a number of excellent sides and more than a few classics. We spin all of the sides Johnny cut as a leader, some superb live recordings by him and hear him backing artists such as Tampa Red, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, J.B. Hutto, Jimmy Rogers and Big Joe Turner.

Little Johnny Jones: Big Town Playboy 78 Jones came to the city in 1946, at the age of 22, already an accomplished pianist. Friends recall his talking about his mother, Mary, who played piano in church in Jackson, Mississippi, and his father, George, an amateur guitarist and harp player. But Johnnie"s greatest influence was obviously the immensely popular Big Maceo Merriwether. When Johnnie first came to Chicago, he sought out Big Maceo and the other bluesmen 'who had put hit records for the RCA Bluebird label during the 30's and 40's – Tampa Red, Jazz Cillum, and the original Sonny Boy (John Lee) Williamson.  Big Maceo took Jones under his wing, honing Johnnie's piano technique and calling him his "son." In fact, it was Maceo who introduced Johnnie to his future wife, Letha Bethley. And it was Tampa Red who encouraged Johnnie to get a union card, and then hired him on his first gig, at the C&T Lounge at 22nd & Prairie, in 1947. After Big Maceo suffered a stroke, Johnnie took over the piano stool on Tampa's records, too.

Between 1949 and 1953 Jones and Tampa cut a number of sides together, including the popular "Early In The Morning", with Jones taking the lead vocal, and "Sweet Little Angel." By the time Johnnie Jones had taken over the piano chair in Tampa Red's band in March 1949 Tampa had been a recording star for twenty years. Outside of a national hit in 1949 Tampa's career was on the wane and his recording career essentially ended in 1953 outside of two disappointing albums for Bluesville in 1960. Certainly Tampa's partnership with Big Maceo from 1945 to 1947 has been justly praised pairing Maceo's rolling, thundering piano with Tampa's ringing slide ranking them in the upper ranks of great piano/guitar duos. Less celebrated is the teaming of  Jones and Tampa. Clearly the infusion of new blood, chiefly Jones' rolling two fisted-piano playing and insinuating, warm vocal refrains he supplied plus the addition of drummer Odie Payne added an exciting new charge to Tampa's music. Jones also played the clubs with Tampa often working at the Peacock and C&T.

During this period Jones also played piano behind Muddy Waters on a 1949 Aristocrat (soon to become Chess) session resulting in the tracks: "Screamin' and Cryin", "Where's My Woman Been" and "Last Time I Fool Around With You." At the tail end of this session Jones cut his lone 78 for the label "Shelby County Blues b/w Big Town Playboy” with Muddy Waters, Baby Face Leroy and Jimmy Rogers backing him up on both sides. Throughout the 50's and 60's Jones backed a who's who of Chicago artists including Howlin' Wolf, Junior Wells, Albert King, Lee Jackson, Jimmy Rogers, Magic Sam and  Eddie Taylor among others.

Jones' most famous association began in 1952 when he became the pianist for Elmore James and His Broomdusters. He remained with James through 1956 playing on classic recordings for the Bihari brothers’ Meteor, Flair and Modern labels as well as dates for Checker, Chief and Fire. The Broomdusters (with saxist J.T. Brown and drummer Odie Payne) held court on the West Side playing at Sylvio’s for five years. It was this association with James that resulted in his second stint as leader recording in 1953 for Flair. "I May Be Wrong" and "Sweet Little Woman" were issued as Johnny Jones and the Chicago Hound Dogs with backing from Elmore James and J.T. Brown.

Jones last official stint as leader came in 1953 when Atlantic Records came through Chicago and teamed Elmore and the Broomdusters behind Big Joe Turner resulting in the classic "TV Mama." Once again he recorded a couple of sides at the tail end of a session resulting in four songs: "Chicago Blues", 'Hoy Hoy', "Wait Baby" and "Doin' the Best I Can (Up the line)." Jones was backed by the full Broomdusters plus Ransom Knowling on bass.

Jones wasn’t caught on tape again until 1963 where he was working with Billy Boy Arnold in a Chicago folk club called the Fickle Pickle run by Michael Bloomfield. Norman Dayron recorded Johnny on portable equipment which has been released on the Alligator record titled Johnny Jones with Billy Boy Arnold. A few additional sides appear on the Flyright LP Live At The Fickle Pickle. Jones last session was recorded in 1964 and is something of a mystery. Possibly backed by Boyd Atkins on sax and Lee Jackson guitar he cut three songs: "Prison Bound Blues", "Don't You Lie to Me" and "I Get Evil" the last being unissued. "Prison Bound Blues b/w Don't You Lie to Me" was subsequently issued on Rooster Records as a 45 in 1980. Letha Jones, Johnnie's widow, had an acetate of this and Jim O'Neal of Rooster Records licensed the rights from her to issue the 45.

Little Johnny Jones
Little Johnny Jones, Otis Spann & George 'Mojo' Buford, Chicago, late 1950's. Source: Living Blues 42 (1979), p. 24 ("Courtesy Letha Jones")

In 1964 Jones did some recording with Eddie Taylor and rejoined Howlin'Wolf's band who he was set to tour Europe with later in the year. Jones died from lung cancer November, 19, 1964 leaving a huge space on the Chicago scene. Mike Leadbitter wrote at the time of Jones death, "In a Chicago full of guitarists and with comparatively few top-rate pianists, the death of Little Johnny Jones is a great loss, as it is to us, who were never really given a chance to appreciate him."

James Brewer I’m So Glad Good Whiskey’s BackBlues From Maxwell Street

Daddy StovepipeThe Monkey And The BaboonBlues From Maxwell Street
Blind Arvella GrayA RoughneckConversation With The Blues
Blind Arvella GrayHave Mercy Mr. PercyBlues From Maxwell Street
Will ShadeDays of 1900/Newport News BluesConversation With The Blues
Boogie Woogie RedSo Much Good FeelingConversation With The Blues
Little Brother Montgomery Walking Basses/Dud Low Joe/The First Vicksburg BluesConversation With The Blues
Roosevelt Sykes They Call Him "Pork Chops"/Forty-Four BluesConversation With The Blues
Otis SpannOnly Places They Can Go/People Call Me LuckyConversation With The Blues
Sunnyland SlimGot The Blues About My BabyThe La Salle Chicago Blues Recordings Vol. 1
Robert Lockwood TalkingConversation With The Blues (vinyl)
Robert Lockwood Take A Little Walk With MeConversation With The Blues (vinyl)
Sunnyland SlimGot The Blues About My BabyLa Salle Chicago Blues Recordings Vol.1
J.B. Lenoir My Father's Style/So It Rocked On/Move to Kansas CityConversation Conversation With The BluesWith The Blues
Brother John SellersMove Back! For WhatConversation With The Blues
Robert Curtis SmithStella RuthI Have To Paint My Face
Robert Curtis SmithMost Reason I SingConversation With The Blues
Robert Curtis SmithI Hope One Day My Luck Will Change Conversation With The Blues
Sam ChatmonI Have To Paint My FaceI Have To Paint My Face
K.C. DouglasBig Road Blues I Have To Paint My Face
Jasper LoveThe SlopI Have To Paint My Face
Willie ThomasA Little Different Conversation With The Blues
Butch Cage & Willie ThomasOne Dime Blues I Have To Paint My Face
Big Joe WilliamsMarried Woman BluesLive at the Fickle Pickle
Jewel Long Frankie and AlbertRural Blues Vol. 2 1951-1962

Lil Son JacksonThe Onliest WayConversation With The Blues
Lil Son JacksonJohnnie MaeBlues Came To Texas
Buster Pickens To Have The Blues WithinConversation With The Blues
Buster Pickens Mountain JackBack Door Blues
Mance LipscombBlues In The BottleConversation With The Blues
Mance LipscombSugar Babe (It's All Over Now)Texas Sharecropper and Songster
Mance LipscombBig Boss ManTexas Sharecropper and Songster
Black Ace Black Ace InterviewBroadcasting The Blues
Black Ace I Am The Black AceI'm The Boss Card In Your Hand
Black Ace Golden SlipperI'm The Boss Card In Your Hand
Alex Moore Chock House Days/Come and Get MeConversation With The Blues
Alex Moore Going Back To Froggy BottomFrom North Dallas To The East Side
Henry TownsendWhat Have I Commited? Conversation With The Blues
Henry BrownHenry Brown BluesHenry Brown Blues
Stump johnsonStump Johnson InterviewBroadcasting The Blues
Henry BrownDeep Morgan Is Delmar NowHenry Brown Blues

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

At the time of the publication of Paul Oliver's first book, Blues Fell This Morning, Oliver hand not visited the United States. As Oliver notes: "Its publication prompted Berha Von Allman of the American Embassy to draw my attention to the Foreign Specialist grant program. With a small grant and modest royalties the trip was made possible …For an enthusiast in Europe who did not live in the United States and in fact, for a middle-class white American too, blues records provided virtually the prime source for enjoyment of the music and information on its performers and content. Many singers interested me greatly as performers and as blues poets – Whistling Alex Moore, Lightin Hopkins and J.B. Lenoir, who recorded respectively in the 20s, 40s and 50s, among them. It was important for me to try and seek out these singers and many others whose records I had enjoyed and knew by heart. …The opportunity before me was one where I could take a synchronic slice through the blues phenomenon. It might be the last occasion when such a cross-section in time, culture and tradition was possible, I believed. Without a doubt, it was imperative to make the trip."

In the summer of 1960 Paul Oliver came to the United States with the aid of a State Department grant and BBC field recorder with the idea, as he writes of “putting on tape the conversation and music of blues artists in the country and the cities, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. Some of the blues singers were famous, or had been, whilst others were unknown and destined to remain so. … The blues singers of the Mississippi Delta or East Texas Piney woods may have sung and played in different styles from those currently working in Chicago or Detroit but between them was a common bond of feeling and expression which lay at the root of the blues.” Oliver began his trip in the east hitting Detroit, Chicago, Memphis and St. Louis before joining forces with collector Chris Stratwichz who would found Arhoolie records, and researcher Mack McCormick. The trio, and Oliver’s wife Valerie, traveled through Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas where they record the Black Ace, Alex Moore, K.C. Douglas, Buster Pickens, Lil Son Jackson, Mance Lipscomb, Sam Chatmon and others. "Far from inhibiting the speakers the BBC field recorder excited genius interest as a piece of equipment and encouraged many a blues singer to summon his memories and address his observations with clarity and confidence." On his return to England Oliver produced BBC radio-documentaries on his experiences and compiled the conversations he had with blues singers in his groundbreaking book, Conversation with the Blues. Today we go back in time, traveling along with Oliver, tracing his route and playing the blues and conversation he recorded.

Oliver began his journey at Harvard where he interviewed Professors Raiford Logan and Sterling Brown, stopped briefly in Washington D.C. before spending a couple of days in New York City. There he interviewed Sam Price, Victoria Spivey and John Lee Hooker. On July 7th he was in Detroit where interviewed and taped performances by Boogie Woogie Red, Eddie Kirkland and Floyd Taylor. The only material issued from these encounters is an brief interview segment from John Lee Hooker and a performance by Boogie Woogie Red which we feature today. Boogie Woogie Red played piano on many records made by John Lee Hooker and he also recorded himself on the Fortune label.

Between July 9th and the 16th Oliver was in Chicago where he did recordings on Maxwell Street, his friend John Steiner's home at and at Muddy Waters' house. The Maxwell Street recordings resulted in the album Blues From Maxwell Street issued on the Heritage label on issued for the first time on CD on the Document label. In the liner notes Oliver wrote: ”The blues singers of Maxwell Street are many, and many are transitory figures, here today, hopping a freight train tomorrow. Amongst the best a familiar figures are Blind Grey, Blind Brewer, King David and Daddy Stovepipe, and these are the singers who are featured on this documentary of one of the most colorful Negro streets in the United States.”

James Brewer was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi on 1920 and moved to Chicago in the 1940's where he spent the latter part of his life busking and performing both blues and religious songs at blues and folk festivals, on Chicago's Maxwell Street and other venues. By the early 1950's he settled in St. Louis playing streetcars and taverns and also joined a washboard band for a spell. By the mid-50's he was back in Chicago where he married his wife Fannie. Brewer's new mother-in-law bought him an electric guitar and amplifier. Returning to Maxwell Street he devoted himself exclusively to religious music. In 1962, however, he was offered an opportunity to play blues at a concert at Northwestern University and also began a regular gig at the No Exit Cafe which lasted for two decades. He went on to play major festivals and clubs in the United States, Canada and Europe. He was recorded by Swedish Radio in 1964, cut sides for Testament plus cut the full-length albums Jim Brewer (Philo, 1974) and Tough Luck (Earwig, 1983).

Arvella Gray was born James Dixon in Somerville, Texas. He spent the latter part of his life performing and busking blues and gospel music at Chicago's Maxwell Street. In the '60s, he recorded three singles for his own Gray label. Gray's only album, 1973's The Singing Drifter was reissued on the Conjuroo record label in 2005. Gray died in Chicago in September 1980, at the age of 74.

Johnny Watson, alias Daddy Stovepipe was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 12th 1867 and died in Chicago, November 1st 1963. A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, he was in his late fifties when he became one of the first blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. He later recorded with his wife, Mississippi Sarah, in the 1930s and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings.

"I Met Sunnyland Slim in St. Louis Jimmy's basement rooms where he lived underneath's Muddy Water's house. We had a solid two-day session of blues there, with singers, guitarists and pianists wandering in, playing for a while until their places were taken by other visitors. My field recorder was working overtime as a veritable 'Who's Who' of Chicago blues took part in the music. …The liqueur flowed and so did the music. John Steiner recorded it 'as it came' with as little interference with the informality of the session as was possible; glasses were filled, emptied and filled again; jibes, shouts and comments went on tape with the music. The result was 'authentic blues' – the blues and boogie of Chicago as it was then and is today, played and sung by some of the best exponents, no holds barred, without fake or 'folk.'” Also rerecorded were Roosevelt Sykes who was taped at "John Steiner's Chicago home and at Muddy Water's, playing for me the 44 Blues and Jesse Bell's West Helena Blues."

July 17th found Oliver in New York again taping interviews and music with J.B. Lenoir and Brother John Sellers and in Philadelphia interviewing Lonnie Johnson. He was back in Chicago on the 18th to interview Eddie Boyd and Albert Wynn. It was then down to Memphis where between the 20th and 22nd he taped interviews and music by Gus cannon, Will Shade, Bo Carter, Dewey Corley and Robert Henry. Then it was down to Clarksdale from the 23rd through the 25th.

A chance meeting with Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, at Wade Walton's Big 6 Barber Shop in Clarksdale led to the discovery of an exceptional blues singer named Robert Curtis Smith. The following year Strachwitz recorded him again, resulting in the magnificent 1961 Bluesville album, Clarksdale Blues, his lone full-length album that has yet to be issued on CD. The record didn't seem to make much of an impact, sinking without a trace and over the year becoming highly collectible. His earliest sides from 1960 appear on the collection I Have to Paint My Face which we feature today as well as a short spoken piece by Smith. Smith disappeared from the blues world not long after these recordings but 30 years later he was rediscovered living in Chicago. He had given up blues in the passing years, but he continued to play in church and was recorded performing gospel numbers in 1990 on the anthology From Mississippi to Chicago. Smith passed in 2010.

Another notable discovery was pianist Jasper Love who was related to pianist Willie Love who cut some great records fro the Jackson base Trumpet label in the 50's. The recordings that comprise the collection I Have To Paint My Face stem from this trip and are available on Arhoolie Records. Among those recorded were Sam Chatmon, K.C. Douglas, Big Joe Williams, Butch Cage & Willie Thomas, Robert Curtis Smith and others. The Chatmon sides were his first post-war sides, and arguably his best, and he would record prolifically through the 70's and was quite active on the festival circuit.

Butch Cage & Willie Thomas were recorded in Louisiana where Olive found himself for a few days in the first week of August. He also interviewed Billie and Dede Pierce during this period. Between the 9th and 11th he was in Houston where interviews were done with Lightnin' Hopkins and Luke "Long" Gone Miles were conducted as well as interview and music from pianist Buster Pickens. As Oliver wrote in the liner notes to Buster Pickens sole album: "Buster Pickens is a barrelhouse pianist who has played the sawmills, the turpentine camps and the oil 'boom' towns since his childhood. He has outlasted most of his contemporaries in their tough an often dangerous life and can lay good claim to be virtually the last of the sawmill pianists." His solo album for Heritage, the self-titled Buster Pickens, was reissued in the 70's on Flyright as Back Door Blues but has never appeared on CD. The sessions were organized by Paul Oliver and the recording done by Mack McCormick and Chris Strachwitz.

By the second week of August Strachwitz, McCormick and Oliver were in Navasota, Texas. Oliver recalls the events vividly: "'Just wait. We've got something for you to hear that will set you back on your ears! Exasperatingly, Mack McCormick and Chris Stratchwitz would say very little else, about their new-found 'discovery' but their ill-suppressed excitement was assurance enough that we were soon to hear something special. It was August 1960. A few weeks before, Chris and Mack had been on a search for songsters and blues singers in East Texas. A man named 'Peg Leg' had told them that the best guitar picker around was Mance Lipscomb, an opinion that was confirmed by others in the area. …Much of the music that Mance played for them that evening was recorded and issued on Arhoolie F 1001 'Mance Lipscomb – Texas Sharecropper and Songster'; the balance of the record was taped when Mack and Chris took my wife and me to visit him on 11 August." Soon after Lipscomb's name quickly became well known among blues and folk music fans and he appeared at numerous festivals and coffeehouse and made several more recordings for Arhoolie. In the late 1960s. Lipscomb passed in 1976.

By the 14th they were in Fort Worth, Texas where they encountered B.K. Turner aka the Black Ace. The Black Ace was well known in the 30's and 40's, at least among black audiences, in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. He cut two sides for the ARC label in 1936 which were never issued but had better luck the following year cutting six sides for Decca in 1937 all of which were released. It was these sides that would later garner him notice among blues collectors and which led to a fleeting comeback. Comeback is probably not the right word as Turner had no interest in playing blues full time again although thankfully he was persuaded to record two sessions at his Fort Worth home which were issued as The Black Ace on Arhoolie (reissued on CD as Black Ace: I'm The Boss Card In Your Hand).

Other artists recorded in Texas included Lil Son Jackson, Alex Moore and Jewell Long.  Since quitting the music business Jackson had been working for an auto parts shop and did not want to be disturbed and bothered by music related people. As Chris Stratwitchz writes: “That July o f1960 Lil' Son Jackson recalled many of his earlier recordings, once I had brought in some of his Gold Star 78s, which I had just found in Ft. Worth. He also came up with a few more personal and traditional songs which he had not previously recorded.” The results were issued on a self-titled album on Arhoolie.

Of Alex Moore, Oliver wrote: “When I first heard his records, a dozen years ago, I was attracted by their unique quality and hoped that I one day meet the man whose memorable blues had so enriched the Columbia and Decca catalogs. After pursuing many false leads and encountering a number of setbacks I finally found him seated on the screened porch of a small bar situated scarcely a hundred yards from the street where he was born in North Dallas, Texas.” After finding a piano, Oliver writes, “a few moments were all that was necessary to prove that Alex Moore was a finer blues player than, on the evidence of his records, at any time in his life.”

Regarding Jewel Long, Oliver wrote he "lived in the tough, unlovely, racially tense little community of Sealy, Texas." Of himself, Long said "I been playin' guitar, little piano most of my life.I come up, under John Thomas, used to play a twelve string here. And my brother, he was a ragtime player, pianist in these parts. He was a noted muscianer, my brother and I learned a bit of piano from him. I used to play for country suppers in the Brazos Bottom, play for jukes and like that. Frankie and Albert, Ella Speed – those old songs, and them old cotton-patch blues."

From August 24th through the 29th Oliver was in St. Louis conducted interviews with Edith Johnson, Mary Johnson, Walter Davis, Henry Townsend, Speckled Red, Henry Brown and others. As Oliver writes of his trip to St. Louis: “A mile and a half from the river there is a large open triangle on Franklin where a number of roads meet and where the rectilinear monotony of the street planning is broken. It is a crowded, bustling forum where colored children dart around the knots of laughing, chattering people in the hot, dusty street. Less than a block away on Easton lives a legendary figure in the story of blues piano, Henry Brown. To find him in this maze of streets would require the skill of a detective – and did, for his whereabouts were traced by Charlie O'Brien of the Police Department, a few years ago. Charlie and I again went in search of him. Finally interrupting him in a game of pool in a joint on the corner of Easton and Garrison.”The recordings Oliver taped were issued originally on the 77 label and have since been issued on CD. The session was recorded at Pinkey Boxx's Beauty Parlor in St. Louis. 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. Recorded for Brunswisck with Ike Rogers and Mary Johnson in 1929, for Paramount in Richmond and Grafton in ‘29 and ‘30.

The bulk of today's notes come from the liner notes Oliver wrote for the recordings released during the trip, as well as from the book Conversation With The Blues. As Oliver notes: "Some of the experiences and results of research were worked into articles and record sleeve notes. A selection was published in my book  Blues Off  The Record: Thirty Years of Blues Commentary. Less evidently, perhaps, a great deal of the information gathered was Incorporated into The Story of The Blues."

There has been a fair bit of material that Oliver recorded in 1960 that has been released. Here is a list of the albums and CD's where this material can be found:

-Conversation with The Blues (issued on LP as a companion to the book and also as a CD to the 1997 reprint of the book. Some tracks on the LP are not on the CD)

-Broadcasting The Blues (a companion to the book of the same name, this contains several of Oliver's interviews from the 1960 trip)

-Blues From Maxwell Street (originally issued on the Heritage, this has just been issued on CD by the Document label)

-Sunnyland Slim and Little Brother Montgomery: Chicago Blues Session  (originally issued on the 77 label and subsequently issued on Wolf, Polydor and Southland)

-Henry Brown: Henry Brown Blues  (originally issued on the 77 label and subsequently issued on CD by Southland)

-Alex Moore (issued on CD as From North Dallas To The East Side)

I Have To Paint My Face  (issued on CD by Arhoolie)

-Lil Son Jackson (issued on CD by Arhoolie as Blues Come To Texas)

-The Black Ace (issued on CD by Arhoolie as I'm The Boss Card In Your Hand)

-Buster Pickens (first issued on Heritage then in the 70's as Back Door Blues on Flyright but not available on CD)

-Mance Lipscomb: Texas Sharecropper and Songster (issued on CD by Arhoolie)

-Rural Blues Vol.  2 1951-1962 (contains the Jewell Long sides recorded during Oliver's trip)

Lawyer Houston Lawyer Houston Blues Lightning Special
Lawyer Houston Dallas Be Bop Blues Lightning Special
Lawyer Houston Western Rider Blues Lightning Special
Smokey Hogg Country Girl Good Morning Little School Girl 1945-1951
Smokey Hogg Long Tall Woman Deep Ellum Rambler
Smokey Hogg I Want A Roller Juke Joints Vol. 3
Frankie Lee Sims Single Man Blues Lightning Special
Frankie Lee Sims Married Woman Lucy Mae Blues
Frankie Lee Sims Lucy Mae Blues Lucy Mae Blues
Lil Son Jackson Bad Whiskey Bad Women Rockin' And Rollin' - Vol. 1
Lil Son Jackson Cairo Blues Rockin' And Rollin' - Vol. 1
Lil Son Jackson Gambling Blues Rockin' And Rollin' - Vol. 1
Lawyer Houston Lawton, Oklahoma Blues Lightning Special
Lawyer Houston Out in California Blues Lightning Special
Lawyer Houston Going Back To The Country I'm Going Back To The Country
Smokey Hogg Goin' Back To Texas Good Morning Little School Girl 1945-1951
Smokey Hogg In This World Alone Texas Guitar Killers
Smokey Hogg Penitentiary Blues Good Morning Little School Girl 1945-1951
Frankie Lee Sims I'm So Glad Lucy Mae Blues
Frankie Lee Sims Wine And Gin Bounce Lucy Mae Blues
Lil Son Jackson Homeless (Blues) (Homesick Blues) Rockin' And Rollin' - Vol. 1
Lil Son Jackson Ticket Agent Blues Rockin' And Rollin' - Vol. 1
Lawyer Houston At The Station Crying Hollywood Blues
Lawyer Houston Far East Blues Hollywood Blues
Smokey Hogg Look in Your Eyes Pretty MamaSmokey Hogg Sings The Blues
Smokey Hogg You Brought It On Yourself Midnight Blues
Smokey Hogg Believe I'll Change Towns Midnight Blues
Frankie Lee Sims She Like To Boogie Real Low4th & Beale And Further South
Frankie Lee Sims Walking With Frankie 4th & Beale And Further South
Lil Son Jackson Black and BrownRestless Blues - Volume 2
Lil Son Jackson Big Gun Blues Restless Blues - Volume 2
Smokey Hogg Pack Your GripMidnight Blues

Show Notes:

Today's show is the second 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. Today we spotlight four excellent down-home Texas artists: Frankie Lee Sims, Lil Son Jackson and Smokey Hogg, all who did the bulk of their recording for California labels and Lawyer Houston who spent time in Oklahoma and California and split his recordings between Dallas and Los Angeles.

I first heard Lawyer Houston on an Atlantic LP Texas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A. years ago and he’s a very appealing singer with a light tenor voice backing himself with some springy guitar work. Until recently nothing was known about him. Sometime before June 7th 1950, when Atlantic bought them, he recorded eight titles at Jim Beck's studio on Ross Avenue, Dallas. Beck was also from Marshall, so that may have been a factor. He cut another session in autumn 1953 in L.A. Two songs were issued from the Dallas session, the first as by Lawyer Houston, the second as by Soldier Boy Houston. In “Western Rider Blues” he sings “My name is Lawyer Houston and I'm a Private First Class” which turns out to be true.

Lawyer Daniel Houston was born in Marshall, Texas in 1917. He was inducted into the army in 1941 and served until 1946. He re-enlisted two months later and served until 1961. His songs “In The Army Since 1941” and “Lawton, Oklahoma Blues” are loosely autobiographical accounts of his time in the Philippines and Fort Sill near Lawton. As writer Neal Slavin notes: “Apart from their unusually informative lyrics, Houston's songs are notable for the springy rhythms with which he accompanies himself. In essence, his style is close to that of Lil' Son Jackson… …Two further songs,'Out In Califonia Blues' and 'Going To The West Coast', were prophetic; in the former, Houston announces his intention of going to Los Angeles' Central Avenue to stay at the Hotel Dunbar, after which 'I'm going out to Hollywood and become a movie star'. The move took place but the Army intervened. They needed him in Korea, where war broke out on June 25, 1950. At his second and Iast recording session, “Far East Blues” and “Leavin' Korea” indicate a familiarity with Korea and Japan which in this artist's case is virtual proof of his presence there."

Circa 1953/1954 Houston cut eight sides for the Hollywood label in Los Angeles with the sessions purchased by King Records. The sides were never issued and have been reissued for the first time, this year on the 2-CD Hollywood Blues on the JSP label. Houston's military service ended in December 1961 and he spent the rest of his Iife in various Californian communities, ending up in Lancaster, where he worked as a custodian at the California State Museum. He died of pulmonary disease on December 3, 1999. Houston's life story can be found in Blues & Rhythm magazine issue 215 written by Guido Van Rijn and Chris Smith.

For roughly a decade Smokey Hogg was a big seller, cutting a pile of records across numerous labels and retained a a loyal fan base among the black audiences who purchased his records, yet, among some blues collectors his esteem, shall we say,  is held in much lower regard. As Tony Rounce points out: "It's true that Smokey's unique, even eccentric sense of timing has always rendered him a cottonpatch apart from the majority of his peers. It's also true that many of his best records display an enjoyably ramshackle quality, which makes them sound like segments of a longer song, where his various producers just turned the tape machine on and off for when they decided they'd got enough on tape. (According to Modern Records boss Jules Bihari, that's more or less what often did happen, with Jules waving his arms frantically from the recording booth when he wanted Smokey to knock it on the head!)." Still, more often than not, Smokey put out some very appealing records, melding a rural Texas blues style with a more contemporary R&B combo sound with generally succesful results. Many of his songs reach back to the 30"s, no doubt his formative musical years, as he updates, borrows and adopts songs by Big Bill Broonzy, Peetie Wheatstraw,  John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson and others as well as contemporaries like Doctor Clayton. Little by little over the past few years, the Ace label has been restoring Smokey's reputation, issuing three CD's worth of material (over seventy songs), all with meticulous notes and featuring quite a bit of unissued material

Andrew "Smokey" Hogg was born in Cushing, Texas, in January of 1914. He grew up on the farm and was taught to play guitar by his father, Frank Hogg. While still in his teens he teamed up with the slide guitarist and vocalist B.K. Turner, aka Black Ace, and the pair travelled together playing the turpentine and logging camp circuit of country dance halls and juke joints that surrounded Kilgore, Tyler, Greenville and Palestine in East Texas. In 1937 Smokey Hogg and Black Ace were brought to Chicago, Illinois by Decca Records to record, and Hogg had his first record wwith "Family Trouble Blues b/w Kind Hearted Blues," released as by Andrew Hogg.  He did not make it back into a recording studio for over a decade. By the early 1940s he was married and making a good living busking around the Deep Ellum area of Dallas, Texas.

Hogg was drafted in the mid 1940s, and after a brief spell with the U.S. military he continued working in the Dallas area where he was becoming well known. In 1947 he came to the attention of Herb Ritter, boss of the Dallas-based record label Blue Bonnet Records, who recorded several sides with him and leased the masters to Modern Records. Hogg's first release on Modern was "Too Many Drivers b/w Country Girl", and was followed by "Unemployment Blues b/w Skinny Leg Woman." These racked up sufficient sales to encourage Modern Records to bring Hogg out to Los Angeles, California to cut more sides with their team of studio musicians that included Hadda Brooks on piano, Bill Davis on bass, and Al Wichard on drums. These sessions yielded his two biggest hits, "Long Tall Mama" in 1947 and "Little School Girl" (#9 U.S. R&B chart), in 1950. In early 1950 Hogg was fronting the Hadda Brooks trio, then later that year he led a new 7-piece combo on a West Coast tour.

Between 1947 and 1958 Smokey Hogg recorded several times a year, and cut several hundred sides for a number of labels, including Modern, Exclusive, Specialty, Macy's, Independent, Sittin In With, Jade, Recorded In Hollywood, Colony, Imperial, Mercury, Combo, Top Hat, Fidelity, Federal, Show Time, Crown, Meteor, Ray's and Ebb Records. Hogg's 1952 Recorded In Hollywood release of his two-part "Penitentiary Blues," a powerful retelling of the old Texas prison song "Ain't No More Cane on the Brazos," is is generally regraded as his finest performance. Hogg's country blues style, influenced by Broonzy, Peetie Wheatstraw and Black Ace, was popular with record buyers in the South during the late 1940s and early 1950s. He continued to work and record until the end of the 1950s, but died of cancer, or possibly a ruptured ulcer, on May 1, 1960.

Frankie Lee Sims c. 1969, photo by Chris Strachwitz

Frankie Lee Sims and his family moved to Marshall, Texas when he was ten years old. His father played guitar at home and at local parties, and Frankie Lee absorbed several tunes, although it seems he didn't take guitar at all seriously until later in his teens. In 1943 he took a job as a fourth grade elementary school teacher in East Texas. That continued until America's entry into the Second World War and his induction into the Marines. On his discharge some three years later he decided to be a musician and made his way to Dallas. There, he made the acquaintance of  T-Bone Walker and Smokey Hogg. He was playing with Smokey Hogg at the Empire Room when Blue Bonnet owner Herb Rippa saw their performance and offered each man a contract. In the event, Sims had two singles issued on Blue Bonnet but Hogg's single was leased to Bullet in Nashville. The following year Sims backed Lightnin' Hopkins on a handful of Gold Star sides. It wasn't until March 1953 that Sims recorded for the Specialty label as a leader. Three sessions were cut in Dallas, the last on February 5, 1954. Johnny Vincent was working as a talent scout for Specialty at the time, so it's likely he brought Sims to the label. One single was issued from each session and the first, "Lucy Mae Blues", was a local hit.

Three years after his last Specialty session, Johnny Vincent, now the mastermind behind Ace Records, contacted him about some sessions. First up was "What Will Lucy Do", a remodeled "Lucy Mae Blues" Next came "Walkin' With Frankie", an up-tempo romp apparently thrown together in the studio. "You don't please yourself, you please the public,' he told Chris Strachwitz. "Now we made (Hey Little Girl) for the hit but now we just bull-corning on this 'Walkin With Frankie' – we just having fun. I made more money out of 'Walkin' With Frankie' than any other record I ever made." Two other singles were issued without much success and Sims also backed Mercy Baby on a pair of singles. For many years, that seemed to be the end of Frankie Lee's recording career, until three battered acetates of material recorded at New York's Belvedere Studios sometime in 1959 or 1960 were found. It's thought Sims may have accompanied Lightnin' Hopkins to New York when the latter cut an album for Bobby Robinson. The results were issued in 1985. By then, Frankie Lee had been dead for fifteen years having died at his Dallas home on May 10,1970.

Melvin Jackson was born near Tyler, Texas in August of 1915. His father Johnny Jackson was a singer and musician and it was from him that he learned the foundation of guitar playing. At about the age of sixteen he left home and settled in Dallas. In the early nineteen forties Jackson began to concentrate on the blues. Jackson was almost thirty years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army served in Europe for two years during the war and in early 1946 returned to Dallas. In 1948 Jackson finally got serious about music and searched around for opportunities to present himself to record companies. Jackson's friends persuaded him to try his luck at an amusement gallery where they had a rather primitive recording machine. He made an acetate of  "Roberta" and "2:16 Blues", a song about "some girl", which he sent off to Bill Quinn who operated Quinn Recording Company in Houston, Texas. The company was interested in recording Texas blues for its Gold Star label, and it was here that Jackson made his debut in the summer of 1948. He was called "Lil' Son" Jackson by the label and the name would stick for the rest of his life. His very first recording was "Roberta Blues b/w Freedom Blues”, the latter becoming a national hit. That initial side was followed by "Ground Hog Blues b/w Bad Whiskey-Bad Women.”. He cut more sides for Gold Star in 1949 as well as for the Sittin' In With label and Modern.

In mid-1950 Lil' Son Jackson made the move to California's major independent label Imperial Records. He would remain with them for most of the decade. His initial recording for the label was "Ticket Agent Blues" and "True Love Blues." He would cut prolifically for the label through 1954 changing his sound by adding a small combo for backing. His "Rockin' and Rollin'," cut in December of 1950, became better known through a raft of subsequent covers as "Rock Me Baby." He gave up the blues during the mid-'50s after an auto wreck, resuming work as a mechanic. Arhoolie Records boss Chris Strachwitz convinced Jackson to cut an album in 1960, but his comeback proved fleeting. Jackson died May 30, 1976, in Dallas, TX, from cancer.

Related Items:

-Chris  Strachwitz: Frankie Lee Sims Interview (Blues Unlimited #119) [PDF]

-Chris  Strachwitz: Lil' Son Jackson (Jazz Report , 1961) [PDF]

-Gary Paulsen: In Rememberance of Smokey Hogg (Blues Unlimited #55) [PDF]

-Guido Van Rijn & Chris Smith: Lawyer Houston (Blues & Rhythm #239) [PDF]


« Previous PageNext Page »