ARTISTSONGALBUM
Lil Johnson w/ Charles Avery You'll Never Miss Your Jelly Lil Johnson Vol. 1 1929-1936
Lil Johnson w/ Charles Avery Rock That Thing Lil Johnson Vol. 1 1929-1936
Lil Johnson w/ Charles Avery House Rent Scuffle Lil Johnson Vol. 1 1929-1936
Lucille Bogan w/ Charles Avery Whiskey Sellin' Woman Lucille Bogan Vol. 11923-1930
Lucille Bogan w/ Charles Avery They Ain't Walking No More Lucille Bogan Vol. 2 1930-1933
Lucille Bogan w/ Charles Avery Alley Boogie Lucille Bogan Vol. 2 1930-1933
Freddie ''Redd'' Nicholson w/ Charles Avery Tee Rolller's Rub Boogie Woogie & Barrelhouse Piano Vol. 1 1928-1932
Freddie ''Redd'' Nicholson w/ Charles Avery I Ain't Sleepy Boogie Woogie & Barrelhouse Piano Vol. 1 1928-1932
Freddie ''Redd'' Nicholson w/ Charles Avery Freddie's Got The BluesBoogie Woogie & Barrelhouse Piano Vol. 1 1928-1932
Red Nelson w/ Charles Avery Detroit Blues Red Nelson 1936-1947
Red Nelson w/ Charles Avery Grand Trunk Blues Red Nelson 1936-1947
Big Bill Broonzy w/ Black Bob Good Liqueur Gonna Carry me DownThe Young Big Bill Broonzy 1928-1935
Big Bill Broonzy w/ Black Bob Keep Your Hands Off Of HerWhen The Sun Goes Down
Charlie West w/ Black Bob Hobo Blues Rare 1930s & '40s Blues Vol. 3 1937-1948
Charlie West w/ Black Bob Rolling Stone Blues Rare 1930s & '40s Blues Vol. 3 1937-1948
Tampa Red w/ Black BobMean Old Tom Cat BluesTampa Red Vol. 6 1934-1935
Tampa Red w/ Black BobSomebody's Been Using That ThingTampa Red Vol. 6 1934-1935
Tampa Red w/ Black Bob Shake It About LittleTampa Red Vol. 6 1934-1935
Charlie McCoy w/ Black Bob Let My Peaches BeThe McCoy brothers
Vol. 1 1934-1936
Lil Johnson w/ Black Bob I'm Betting On YouLil Johnson Vol. 1 1929-1936
Fats Hayden w/ Teddy Bunn Brownskin Gal Is The Best Gal After AllTeddy Bunn 1929-1940
Ben Franklin w/ Teddy Bunn Crooked World BluesTeddy Bunn 1929-1940
Jimmie Gordon w/ Teddy Bunn Sail With MeJimmie Gordon Vol. 1938-1938
Hot Lips Page w/ Teddy Bunn Thirsty Mama BluesThe Very Best of Teddy Bunn
Cow Cow Davenport w/ Teddy Bunn That'll Get ItThe Very Best of Teddy Bunn
Lizzie Miles w/ Teddy Bunn Yellow Dog Gal BluesLizzie Miles Vol. 3 1928-39
Lizzie Miles w/ Teddy Bunn Too SlowLizzie Miles Vol. 3 1928-39
Trixie Smith w/ Ikey Robinson Trixie's Blues Trixie Smith Vol. 2 1925-1939
Victoria Spivey w/ Ikey Robinson Baulin' Water Blues, Pt. 1Victoria Spivey Vol. 3 1929-1936
Georgia White w/ Ikey Robinson The Blues Ain't Nothin' But...???The Piano Blues Vol. 13: Central Highway
Johnnie Temple w/ Ikey Robinson Jelly Roll Bert Johnnie Temple Vol. 2 1938-1940
Frankie Jaxson w/ Ikey RobinsonRock Me Mama Frankie 'Half-Pint'Jaxon Vol. 1 1926-1929

Show Notes:

Lil Johnson: Rock That ThingOn today’s program we shine the light on some superb session musicians who backed blues artists in the pre-war era. We spotlight two fine pianists in Charles Avery and Black Bob. We know little about both men, with Avery making his debut on record in 1929 and Black Bob in 1934 and both dropped off the radar by the late 30’s. Both backed many o the popular blues singers of the era, with Avey cutting just one side under his name and Black Bob cutting nothing under his own name. We also spotlight two very fine guitarists who straddled both the blues and jazz worlds, Teddy Bunn and Banjo Ikey Robinson. Both men backed both jazz musicians and blues singers in the 20’s and 30’s and both cut just a handful of sides under their own names. I'll be doing a sequel, of sorts, where we focus on famous names who were active sessions artists such as Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes, Big Bill Broonzy, Kokomo Arnold and others.

Active in Chicago in the 20's and 30's, Charles Avery worked as a session musician backing artists such as Lil Johnson, Freddie 'Red” Nicholson, Red Nelson and others. He cut one record under his own name, 1929's “Dearborn Street Breakdown.” We here him on several tracks todays including backing blues ladies Lil Johnson and Lucille Bogan as well as singers  Freddie "Redd" Nicholson and Red Nelson.

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 hit up had 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.

Lucille Bogan recorded for OKeh in 1923, for Paramount in 1927, and for Brunswick in 1928, 1929, and 1930. Although she had an uncommonly large Depression era output, she made no recordings at all in 1931 and 1932. When she switched to ARC for the 1933, 1934, and 1935 sessions, she had to use the pseudonym Bessie Jackson for contractual reasons. After the Second World War Bogan made some trial discs for a New York company. She was mad when the records were rejected and died shortly afterward in 1948. Her records find her back with fine pianists like Charles Avery, Will Ezell and later, Walter Roland.

Banjo Ikey Robinson
Banjo Ikey Robinson

The obscure singer Freddie "Redd" Nicholson recorded eight sides in 1930 (three were not issued) all backed by pianist Charles Avery. Nothing seems tobe known about him.

There's not much information on Red Nelson outside of what I gleaned from the Encyclopedia of the Blues: "Nelson Wilborn, better known as Red Nelson, or Dirty Red, was born in Sumner, Mississippi, in 1907. A fine, capable vocalist, he moved to Chicago in the early 1930's and was a prominent recording artist from 1935 to 1947. His recordings with pianist Clarence Lofton, especially "Streamline Train" and "Crying Mother Blues," are probably his best work. In the 1960's he performed locally with the Muddy Waters Band."

Very little is known about Black Bob Hudson, except that he was a ragtime-influenced blues pianist who was active from the 1920's and 1930's, and worked with a who's who of Chicago talent including  Big Bill Broonzy, Bumble Bee Slim, Jazz Gillum, Lil Johnson, Washboard Sam, Casey Bill Weldon and  Tampa Red. He was the brother of banjoist Ed Hudson, and the two frequented the same circles and recording sessions, and sometimes ended up accompanying the same singers. Both brothers were part of the Memphis Nighthawks, and Bob Hudson was also a member (with Tampa Red and other luminaries) of the Chicago Rhythm Kings. Broonzy and Black Bob cut dozens of sides together between 1934 and 1937 and Black Bob is featured on quite a number of Tampa Red sides between 1934 and 1937 .

Teddy Bunn played with many of the top jazzmen of that period on guitar or banjo and sometimes he provided vocals. Teddy Bunn rubbed shoulders with many top jazz musicians aas well as blues singers in the pre-war era. As he noted: "I have a very good ear and can usually sense what the cats are going to play a split second before they do it." Among the notable blues singers he accompanied were artists such as  Cow Cow Davenport, Lizzie Miles, Peetie Wheatstraw, Johnnie Temple and Victoria Spivey among others. In addition to an active session career, Bunn was a member of the jazz groups the Spirits of Rhythm and June 1939, and was among the very first musicians ever to record for the Blue Note record label, first as a soloist, then as a member of the Port of Harlem Jazzmen. Today we hear Bunn backing several blues singers including a pair of excellent numbers by Lizzie Miles.

Teddy Bunn
Teddy Bunn

Lizzie Miles was a fine classic blues singer from the 1920s who survived to have a full comeback in the 1950s. She started out singing in New Orleans during 1909-1911 with such musicians as King Oliver, Kid Ory, and Bunk Johnson. She recorded extensively between1922-1930. She recorded in 1939 but spent 1943-1949 outside of music and in 1950 began a comeback recording for labels such as Circle, Cook, Capitol, Verve and others before retiring in 1959.

Ikey Robinson was an excellent banjoist and singer who recorded both jazz and blues from the late '20s into the late '30s. After working locally, Robinson moved to Chicago in 1926, playing and recording with Jelly Roll Morton, Clarence Williams, and Jabbo Smith during 1928-1929. He led his own recording sessions in 1929, 1931, 1933, and 1935. His groups included Ikey Robinson and his Band (w/ Jabbo Smith), The Hokum Trio, The Pods of Pepper, Windy City Five, and Sloke & Ike. Robinson also accompanied blues singers such as Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon, Georgia White, Eva Taylor and Bertha "Chippie" Hill among others.

Related Articles:

-Charlie West  (Blues World 44, Autumn 1972)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Blind Lemon JeffersonOne Dime Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonMatchbox Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonRambler BluesThe Best Of
Down Home Boys (Papa Harvey Hull & Long "Cleve" Reed)Mama You Don't Know HowNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Big Joe WilliamsPeach Orchard Mama Big Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Blind Willie McTellLast Dime BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonSee That My Grave Is Kept CleanThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonBed Spring BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonPrison Cell Blues Mean & Evil Blues
Lightnin' Hopkins Reminiscences Of Blind LemonLightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian Folkways]
Lightnin' Hopkins One Kind FavorAll The Classics 1946-1951
Son HouseCounty Farm BluesBlues Images Vol. 4
Blind Lemon Jefferson Shuckin' Sugar BluesThe Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon Jefferson Corinna Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Rabbit Foot Blues If It Ain't One Thing, It'Rabbit Foot Blues
Ramblin' ThomasNo Baby BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Blind Boy Fuller Untrue BluesBlind Boy Fuller Remastered 1935-1938
Blind Lemon Jefferson Got The Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Long Lonesome Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Hot Dogs The Best Of
Leadbelly Blind Lemon (Song)Leadbelly Vol. 6 1947
Leadbelly Silver City Bound Leadbelly's Last Sessions
Blind Lemon JeffersonBad Luck Blues The Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlack Horse Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson That Crawlin' Baby Blues The Best Of
Hattie Hudson Doggone My Good Luck Soul Dallas Alley Drag
Thomas Shaw Jack Of Diamonds San Diego Blues Jam
Mance LipscombEasy Rider BluesCaptain, Captain: The Texas Songster
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlind Lemon's Penitentiary Blues The Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlack Snake Moan Great Blues Guitarists: String Dazzlers
Pete HarrisBlind Lemon's SongTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Rev. Emmett Dickenson The Death Of Blind LemonBlues Images Vol. 6
King Solomon Hill My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon Blues Images Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Today we spotlight Blind Lemon Jefferson and the enormous influence he had on his contemporaries and countless blues artist over the ensuing decades. Although he was not the first male country blues singer/guitarist to record, Blind Lemon Jefferson was the first to succeed commercially and his success influenced previously reluctant record companies to actively seek out and record male country blues players in the hope of finding a similar talent. Throughout the ’20s Lemon spearheaded a boom in ‘race’ record sales that featured male down-home blues singers and such was the appeal of his recordings that in turn they were responsible for inspiring a whole new generation of blues singers. Researcher Bruce Bastin, known for his extensive research in the Piedmont region, said of Jefferson… “…there can have been few nascent bluesmen outside Texas, let alone within the state, who had never heard his music. Among interviewed East Coast bluesmen active during Blind Lemon’s recording career, almost all recall him as one of the first bluesmen they heard on record.” Today we spotlight some of Lemon's best numbers as well as a those artists he inspired. Lemon's influence cast a long shadow among both black and white artists and today's show is in no way comprehensive but does give a snapshot of just how big Lemon's impact was.

Jefferson was born in September 1893. By 1912, he was working over a wide area of Texas, including East Dallas, Silver City, Galveston, and Waco. Jefferson was still a teenager when he moved into Dallas. The black community in Dallas were settled in an area covering approximately six blocks around Central Avenue up to Elm Street, the center of which was Deep Ellum, a bustling thoroughfare full of bars, clubs and brothels. Mance Lipscomb saw Jefferson playing there as early as 1917. Although Jefferson’s reputation was originally made as a singer of sacred songs, the percentage of blues in his repertoire greatly increased as the years progressed. In 1925 Jefferson was discovered by a Paramount recording scout and taken to Chicago to make his first records either in December 1925 or January 1926. Jefferson's first session produced "I Want To Be Like Jesus In My Heart" b/w "All I Want Is That Pure Religion" using the name Deacon L.J. Bates. It was the second session, however, that made Jefferson a star. He recorded four songs at that session: “Booster Blues” b/w “Dry Southern Blues’, came out in or around March 1926. "Got The Blues" b/w "Long Lonesome Blues" hadn't been on sale long in the spring of 1926 when Paramount asked him to record it again because of the huge demand for the record. This was unheard of for a male blues artist. Prior to Jefferson the blues had been recorded primarily by women backed by piano or bands

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Rambler Blues
Click to Enlarge

Tony Russell describes Jefferson's impact: "Jefferson offered instead blues sung by a man playing guitar – playing it, moreover, with a busyness and variety that showed up many of those pianists and bands as turgid and ordinary. The discovery that there was an audience for Jefferson's type of blues revolutionized the music business: within a few years female singers were out of favor and virtually all the trading in the 'race' market (jazz aside) was in men with guitars." Throughout 1926 there was a constant supply of new releases from Jefferson, "Black Horse Blues", "Jack O’ Diamond Blues" and "That Black Snake Moan" were among these classic numbers.

In 1927, when producer Mayo Williams moved to OKeh Records, he took Jefferson with him, and OKeh quickly recorded and released Jefferson's "Matchbox Blues" backed with "Black Snake Moan," which was to be his only OKeh recording, probably because of contractual obligations with Paramount. Jefferson's two songs released on Okeh have considerably better sound quality than on his Paramount records at the time. When he had returned to Paramount a few months later, "Matchbox Blues" had already become such a hit that Paramount re-recorded and released two new versions. In 1927, Jefferson recorded another of his now classic songs, the haunting "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (once again using the pseudonym Deacon L. J. Bates) along with two other uncharacteristically spiritual songs, "He Arose from the Dead" and "Where Shall I Be." Of the three, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" became such a big hit that it was re-recorded and re-released in 1928. Despite his success, which allowed him to maintain a chauffeur-driven Ford and a healthy bank balance, Jefferson’s lifestyle was little affected. While he spent time in Chicago, where most of his recordings were made, he continued to work as an itinerant performer in the South.

In addition to his frequent recording sessions in Chicago throughout the late '20s, Blind Lemon Jefferson still performed in Texas and traveled around the South. He played Chicago rent parties, performed at St. Louis' Booker T. Washington Theater, and even worked some with Son House collaborator Rev. Rubin Lacy while in Mississippi. In late September of 1929, Jefferson went to Paramount's studios in Richmond, IN, for a fruitful session that included two songs,"Bed Springs Blues" and "Yo Yo Blues", that were also issued on the Broadway label. Jefferson was back in Chicago in December of 1929 when, sadly, he was found dead following a particularly cold snowstorm.

Blind Lemon Jefferson: 'Lectric Chair Blues
Click to Enlarge

Jefferson died in Chicago at 10 am on December 19, 1929, of what his death certificate called "probably acute myocarditis" (Lemon's death certificate was found in 2010 and published in the Frog Blues and Jazz Annual #1). Paramount Records paid for the return of his body to Texas by train, accompanied by pianist William Ezell. Jefferson was buried at Wortham Negro Cemetery (later Wortham Black Cemetery). By 1996, the cemetery and marker were in poor condition, but a new granite headstone was erected in 1997. In 2007, the cemetery's name was changed to Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery and his gravesite is kept clean by a cemetery committee in Wortham, Texas.

Several blues singer/guitarists like Thomas Shaw and Mance Lipscomb thought Jefferson’s style almost impossible to imitate with any degree of success. But there were a few recordings made in the pre-war period that managed to do so, notably Issiah Nettles (The Mississippi Moaner), who covered Lemon’s "Long Lonesome Blues" as "It’s Cold In China Blues". Willard ‘Ramblin’ Thomas (probably a one time associate of Jefferson) had a number of songs in the the vein of Lemon. Jesse Thomas' 1948 number, "Double Due Love You" opens with lyrics also taken from the Blind Lemon' "Long Lonesome Blues." Thomas also recorded Lemon's "Jack of Diamonds" in 1951.

We feature several artists today who either covered Lemon's songs or who's records clearly bear the mark of Lemon's influence.  The Down Home Boys recording of "Mama, You Don't Know How", from 1927, has Long Cleve Reed, Papa Harvey Hull and Sunny Wilson re-working Lemon's "Black Snake Moan". Blind Boy Fuller was influenced by Lemon. The opening lick to his intro to "Untrue Blues" comes right out of "Rabbit's Foot Blues” while "Meat Shakin' Woman", derives its melody from "Bad Luck Blues". According to Son House’s recollection of his 1930 Paramount session, producer Art Laibley had asked the musicians if anyone could do a version of the song. Charlie Patton and Willie Brown passed but House went back to his room with Louise Johnson, worked half the night adding his own words to Lemon's melody, and the next day recorded "Mississippi County Farm." The song became a mainstay of House's repertoire, and he recorded it again for Alan Lomax in 1942. Hattie Hudson's 1927 song, "Doggone My Bad Luck Soul" was an "answer song" to Lemon's "Bad Luck Blues" issued in 1926, and has the repeated tag-line "doggone my bad luck soul."

Today we spotlight several artists who knew Lemon first hand such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Leadbelly, Thomas Shaw and King Solomon Hill. Lightnin' Hopkins offered different account of when he met Blind Lemon but it seems to have been sometime in the early to mid-20's. From 1959 we hear "Reminiscences Of Blind Lemon" and "One Kind Favor, his cover of Lemon's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean."

It was on the streets of Deep Ellum that Lemon met up with Leadbelly. Leadbelly, in later years, was understandably proud of his relationship with Lemon. They probably met up sometime after 1910, when Leadbelly and his wife Aletta moved into Dallas. Leadbelly would play guitar, mandolin or accordion behind Lemon and he remembered topically performing the number "Fare Thee Well, Titanic" (the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912) on the streets of Dallas with Jefferson and on other occasions, dancing while Lemon would play a guitar solo version of "Dallas Rag". As a team they traveled together on the railroads from town to town earning a reasonable living. In later years Leadbelly would recall how he and Lemon “was buddies” and how.. “we’d tear those guitars all to pieces”. Their partnership certainly ended by January 1918, when Leadbelly (using the alias Walter Boyd) was indicted on a charge of murder, found guilty and thereafter became a guest of the Texas penal system.

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Cannon Ball Moan
Click to Enlarge

Thomas Shaw had already been enthralled by Jefferson's early recordings of “Long Lonesome Blues” and “Matchbox Blues” when he met Jefferson on the town square of Waco in 1926 or 1927. At Blind Jefferson's urging he bought himself a guitar and learned Jefferson's “Long Lonesome Blues”. He learned many of Jefferson's songs from a combination of listening to the records and hearing him in person. Today we play his version of Lemon's classic "Jack Of Diamonds."

King Solomon Hill was closely connected to Crying Sam Collins and Blind Lemon Jefferson and their influence is evident, to some degree, in Hill's style. "My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon"is a heartfelt tribute to someone Hill clearly admired: "Hmmm then the mailman brought a misery to my head/When I received a letter that my friend Lemon was dead." Those lines echo the opening of Lemon's “Gone Dead On You Blues”: Mmmmmm, mailman's letter brought misery to my head. Mmmmm, brought misery to my head. I got a letter this morning, my pigmeat mama was dead.” Hill ran with Lemon for about two months after he passed through Minden. Hill's widow recalled that "he sung that song a whole lot 'bout Blind Lemon. Said he loved his buddy 'some way better than anyone I know.'" On one record, “Whoope Blues” b/w Down On My Bended Knees” the subtitle on the record says “Blind Lemon's Buddy.”

In 1930 , shortly after Lemon's death, Paramount issued a double sided tribute to Lemon: “Wasn't It Sad About Lemon” by the duo Walter and Byrd was on one side while the second side was the sermon “The Death Of Blind Lemon” by Rev. Emmett Dickenson. Leadbelly recorded a number of songs about Lemon after his passing. Today we spin his "Blind Lemon (Song)" from 1947 and the marvelous "Silver City Bound" from his last session in 1948.

-A Twist of Lemon by Paul Swinton  (Blues & Rhythm, No. 121)

-Blind Lemon And I Had A Ball by Victoria Spivey  (Record Research 76, May 1966 p.9)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Easy Baby Good Morning Mr. Blues Grab Me Another Half Pint
Easy Baby So Tired Sweet Home In Chicago
Easy Baby Madison Street Boogie Sweet Home In Chicago
Kansas City Red Standing Around CryingOriginal Chicago Blues
Kansas City Red K.C. Red's In TownGrab Me Another Half Pint
Big John Wrencher Tell Me Darling 45
Big John Wrencher Trouble Makin' Woman 45
Big John Wrencher Runnin' Wild 45
Joe Carter It Hurts Me Too Mean & Evil Blues
Joe Carter I'm WorriedMean & Evil Blues
Kansas City Red Lula Mae Old Friends
Kansas City Red Lightnin' Struck The Poor House Old Friends
Easy Baby Last Night Sweet Home In Chicago
Easy Baby Call Me Easy Baby If It Ain't One Thing, It's Another
Easy Baby If It Ain't One Thing, It's Another If It Ain't One Thing, It's Another
Kansas City Red Moon Is Rising Down On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis 2
Kansas City Red Mean Black SpiderOriginal Chicago Blues
Big John Wrencher Maxwell Street Alley Blues Maxwell Street Alley Blues
Big John Wrencher Can't Hold Out Much Longer And This Is Maxwell Street
Big John Wrencher I'm A Root Man Big John's Boogie
Joe Carter Anna LeeThat Ain't Right
Joe Carter Treat Me The Way You Do Mean & Evil Blues
Easy Baby She's 19 Years Old Sweet Home In Chicago
Easy Baby You Gonna Miss Me Sweet Home In Chicago
Big John Wrencher Conductor Took My Baby To Tennessee Maxwell Street Alley Blues
Big John Wrencher Rockin' Chair Blues Maxwell Street Alley Blues
Big John Wrencher Rough/Tough Boogie Maxwell Street Alley Blues
Chicago String Band w/ Big John Wrencher Don't Sic Your Dog On Me Chicago String Band

Show Notes:

Easy Baby: Sweet Home Chicago
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On today's program we spotlight a quartet of fine, if unheralded, bluesman who were active on the Chicago blues scene of the 1960's and 1970's Today we spotlight two superb harmonica men: Easy Baby and Big John Wrencher. Easy Baby was singing and playing the blues since the 50's, first in Memphis then Chicago, but didn't make his recorded debut until the mid-70's. He cut a small but impressive legacy which we feature today. Wrencher cut a few scattered sides in the 60's before making a a terrific album in 1969 and some strong sides in the 70's Much less documented on record are singer/drummer Kansas City Red who snag with Robert Nighthawk in the 40's but cut only a handful of sides staring in the 70's. Joe Carter was a powerful Elmore James inspired guitarist who cut a lone record in 1975 and a few other scattered sides. The artists featured today worked together in various combinations, all recorded in the 70's for George Paulus' Barrelhouse label and none achieved much in the way of star billing.

Alex “Easy Baby” Randle was born in Memphis in 1934. Both his grandmother and uncle were harmonica players. Easy Baby began playing professionally around Memphis as a teenager while doing odd jobs. Playing in the gambling houses and juke joints he befriended Howlin' Wolf, James Cotton, Joe Hill Louis and others. In 1956 he moved to Chicago and throughout the 50's, 60's and 70's played all over the Windy City while working as a mechanic.

Not long after Easy Baby wen to Chicago he meet his idol, Littltle Walter, at Ricky’s Show Lounge. After sitting in with Walter the two became friends and Walter showed him quite a bit on harp. Easy did a stint with Muddy Waters and had his own band which usually included Smokey Smothers on guitar,Baby Dimples on drums and George Austin on guitar. Over the years the personnel changed and included Jo Jo Williams and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Between 1962 and 1974 he worked in a band with guitarist “Big Red” Smith on Chicago’s West Side.

Easy Baby’s first recording appeared on the anthology Low Blows: An Anthology of Chicago Harmonica Blues with another track appearing on the anthology Bring Me Another Half-A-Pint. His full-length debut was Sweet Home Chicago issued on George Paulus' Barrelhouse label in 1977 with the band consisting of Eddie Taylor, el g; Mac Thompson, b; Kansas City Red, dr. Easy performed at the 1998 and 2000 Chicago Blues Festivals and recorded one more superb album, If It Ain't One Thing, It's Another for Wolf in 2000.He recorded a few more sides in 2001 that appeared on the anthology Harmonica Blues Orgy on the Random Chance label. He passed in 2009.

Big John Wrencher: Maxwell Street Alley BluesJohn Thomas Wrencher was born in Sunflower, Mississippi. He became interested in music as a child, and taught himself to play harmonica at an early age, and from the early 1940's was working as an itinerant musician in Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois. By the mid 1940's he had arrived in Chicago and was playing on Maxwell Street and at house parties with Jimmy Rogers, Claude "Blue Smitty" Smith and John Henry Barbee. In the 1950's he moved to Detroit, where he worked with singer/guitarist Baby Boy Warren, and formed his own trio to work in the Detroit and Clarksdale, Mississippi areas.

In 1958 Wrencher lost his left arm as a result of a car accident outside Memphis, Tennessee. By the early 1960's he had settled in Chicago, where he became a fixture on Maxwell Street Market, in particular playing from 10am to 3pm on Sundays. In 1964 he appeared in a documentary film about Maxwell Street, titled And This Is Free; performances by Wrencher recorded in the process of making the film were eventually issued on the three CD set And This Is Maxwell Street.

During the 1960's Wrencher recorded for the Testament label backing Robert Nighthawk, and as part of the Chicago String Band. In 1969 he recorded for Barrelhouse Records, backed by guitarist Little Buddy Thomas and drummer Playboy Vinson, who formed his Maxwell Street band of the time resulting in the album, Maxwell Street Alley Blues. Wrencher toured Europe with the Chicago Blues Festival in 1973 and with the American Blues Legends in 1974, and during the latter tour recorded an album in London for the Big Bear label, backed by guitarist Eddie Taylor and his band. During a trip to Mississippi to visit his family in July 1977, Wrencher died suddenly of a heart attack in Wade Walton's barber shop in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Arthur Stevenson was born in Drew, Mississippi and owed his Kansas City sobriquet to a brief trip to that city after being rejected from the service in 1942. His first musical inspiration was David “Honeyboy” Edwards and by the early 1940’s he was hanging around with Robert Nighthawk. One night the band’s drummer took ill right before a gig and he offered to fill in despite never having played drums before. He ended up playing drums for Nighthawk until around 1946. After his split with Nighthawk he briefly hooked up with Honeyboy Edwards. He had uncanny knack for hustling gigs and began singing by this period. In the 50’s he formed a band with Earl Hooker and pianist Ernest Lane.

Kansas City Red moved to Chicago in the 50’s, occasionally sitting in with Muddy Waters. He formed a group with Walter Horton that included Johnny Young and Johnny Shines. During this period he played with Robert Lockwood Jr., Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Reed, Floyd Jones, Blind John Davis, Elmore James and others. Starting with the Club Reno, he managed a number of Chicago bars and owned a couple as well.

Bring Me Another Half-a-PintThrough the 70’s and 80’s Kansas City Red held down stints at a number of Chicago clubs. His recorded legacy is slim with a handful of sessions for Barrelhouse, JSP and Earwig. Sides by him appear on the above mentioned anthology,  Bring Me Another Half-A-Pint, a few tracks on the album Original Chicago Blues (the other sides by Joe Carter) and the album called Old Friends featuring Honeyboy Edwards, Walter Horton and Floyd Jones. His last major engagement was at the 1991 Chicago Blues Festival where he finally received some overdue recognition. He died of cancer on his 65th birthday May 7, 1991.

One of the truly great unsung heroes of the Chicago club scene of the 1950's, Joe Carter was a slide-playing disciple of Elmore James. Born in Georgia, Carter came under the early tutelage of local player Lee Willis, who showed the youngster various tunings and how to use a thumb pick. Arriving in Chicago by 1952 it was Muddy Waters who lent Carter the money to purchase his first electric guitar. Shortly thereafter, Joe started up his first group with guitarist Smokey Smothers and Lester Davenport on harmonica, quickly establishing himself as a club favorite throughout Chicago. Sadly, Carter never recorded with this group, or any other configuration, during his heyday. A contract with Cobra Records was offered (with a young Freddie King being added in the studio to his regular group), but Joe declined, as he felt the money would in no way equal what he was pulling down in club work.

Carter didn't end up being documented on record until he returned to active playing in the '70's, recording his lone solo album, Mean & Evil Blues, for the Barrelhouse label in 1976. Other sides appeared on the album Original Chicago Blues  and on an anthology of Ralph Bass recordings titled That Ain't Right. Carter retired from playing in the late '80's after a bout with throat cancer. He died in Chicago in 2001.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Little Hat Jones Bye Bye Baby BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Blind Willie Johnson You'll Need Somebody on Your BondBlind Willie Johnson And The Guitar Evangelists
Willie Brown Future Blues Friends Of Charlie Patton
Charlie Patton Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1Best Of
Blind Willie McTell Love Changing BluesBest Of
Sam Collins My Road Is Rough And Rocky (How Long, How Long?)Jailhouse Blues
Son House Walking BluesLegends of Country Blues
Henry Williams & Eddie AnthonyGeorgia CrawlFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Andy Boy House Raid BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Cannon's Jug Stompers Going To GermanyMemphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stompers
Lottie Kimbrough Rolling Log BluesThe Return Of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Weaver & Beasley Bottleneck BluesCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
BluesJim & Bob (The Genial Hawaiians) St. Louis BluesBottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37
Willie Harris Never Drive a Stranger from Your Door Jackson Blues: 1928-1938
Blind Joe Reynolds Ninety Nine BluesBlues Images Vol. 2
The Sparks Brothers Down On The Levee Down On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis 2
Pigmeat Terry Black Sheep BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Lee Green Memphis Fives The Way I Feel: The Best Of Roosevelt Sykes And Lee Green
Elizabeth Johnson Be My Kid Blues American Primitive Vol. II
Mattie Delaney Tallahatchie River Blues Blues images Vol. 3
Geeshie Wiley Pick Poor Robin CleanI Can't Be Satisfied Vol 1
Jim Jackson Hesitation Blues Jim Jackson Vol. 2 (928-1930
Mae Glover I Ain't Givin' Nobody NoneI Can't Be Satisfied Vol 1
King David's Jug Band Rising Sun BluesCincinnati Blues
Mattie May Thomas Dangerous BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Charlie Patton Tom RushenPrimeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs
William Harris Bull Frog Blues The Best There Ever Was
Sam Collins Lonesome Road BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Allen Shaw Moanin' The Blues Masters of the Memphis Blues
Shreveport HomewreckersFence Breakin' BluesBottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37

Show Notes:

Blind Willie McTell: The Early Years
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Today's show is a trip down memory lane for me. I've been going through a bout of nostalgia lately, hopefully not the onset of a mid-life crisis, although I have been eying the red Corvette! Anyway, I've been thinking about my favorite country blues tracks lately, most of which I first heard in my formative years of blues collecting. These are the songs that I never get tired of and ones that I find myself revisiting over the years. This is by no means a “best of” list, just songs that I find myself continuously going back to. Many are considered blues classics, many not, and many are most often not the songs by these artists that are considered their best. There's numerous artists that I revere like Bukka White, Frank Stokes, Henry Thomas, Mississippi John Hurt that are omitted simply for the fact that I can't nail down just one song that does it for me by those artists. As I said many of these tracks I first heard when I first started picking up blues records, over twenty-five years ago (that's a hard number to swallow!). And yes I was buying country blues records back then. It was a very short jump from buying my first blues record, B.B. King – Live At The Regal ($3.99 at Tower Records) to picking up, and almost wearing out the grooves of Blind Willie McTell – The Early Years on my beloved Yazoo label. In fact Yazoo was the label where I discovered many of my favorite country blues tracks on treasured compilations like Mississippi Moaners, Guitar Wizards, Bottleneck Blues Guitar Classics, Lonesome Road Blues and The Voice Of The Blues among others. I knew that the Yazoo office was in Manhattan and I often thought about going over there but I never did – I guess I never really knew what I'd do once I got there! Also hugely influential was the piano blues series on Magpie records which made me a lifelong fan of piano blues. Several tracks from that series can be found on today's show. Still, there are a number of songs that became favorites later, for example Blind Joe Reynolds “Ninety Nine Blues” which was only discovered a few years ago (the consensus seems to be that the “B” side, “Cold Woman Blues”, is the superior track, but for me “Ninety Nine Blues” just kills me). I never did go in for what the consensus says which I suppose is reflected in today's eclectic playlist of  all-time favorites.

I count myself lucky to be living where I was when the blues bug bit me. I lived in the Bronx and it was short hop to Manhattan where there was no shortage of great record stores. I fondly remember prowling  records stores like Finyl Vinyl on Second Ave., St. Marks Records, Venus Records, Bleeker Bob's, Footlight Records and the  Jazz Record Mart (still in business and even after buying records there since I was a teenager the same guy still refuses to cut me a deal!). Then there were the book/magazine shops like Hudson News and See Hear where I could find isues of the great British blues mags like Blues Unlimited (went under right when I discovered it!), Juke Blues and Blues & Rhythm.  Of course there were a number of fine left-of-the-dial radio stations that played plenty of blues. Anyway, below are few reminisces about some of today's selections.

Little Hat Jones cut ten sides at three sessions in 1929 and 1930. All his sides are worthwhile but “Bye Bye Baby Blues” is the best thing he ever did in my opinion. When I was coming up with today’s playlist this is one of the first songs I picked. I probably first heard it on the Yazoo compilation Don't Leave Me Here: The Blues of Texas, Arkansas, & Louisiana 1927-1932.

We spin a pair of my favorite Charlie Patton songs today, "Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1" and "Tom Rushen." I'm not sure exactly what it is with the former song that I find so striking, it's not one often cited when talking about Patton's best, yet I find it incredibly compelling. Patton's vocals on this are magnificent. The 2-part number celebrates a Mississippi river boat that plied between Vicksburg and Memphis. I have to admit that I really fell under Patton's spell much later. I did own the Yazoo double LP Founder of the Delta Blues but the problem for me was that I couldn't get past the terrible sound of those records. Compare that record to the Best Of which came out just a few years back and the difference is like night and day.

I first heard “Love Changing Blues” on Blind Willie McTell – The Early Years on Yazoo. I played the hell out of this record and for whatever reason, it was this song that made a huge impression on me although, of course, I also loved the more famous “Statesboro Blues.” I distinclty remember my college roomate making fun of me for owing a record by a guy named Blind Willie McTell. I never did lecture him, just turned up the record really loud until it drive him out of the room.

Despite the fact that I’m featuring two Sam Collins cuts on today’s show, I can’t really say he’s one of my favorite artists. However the vocal performances on “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” and “Lonesome Road Blues” are magnificent. I first heard these on the Yazoo compilation Lonesome Road Blues: 15 Years in the Mississippi Delta 1926-1941. The song “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” made its first appearance on this compilation and I believed the title was given by Yazoo. How this song could be unreleased boggles my mind.

Country Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
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Yes I know, Son House's 1930 sides are acknowledged classics, and rightly so. His epic six minute version of “Walking Blues” from 1941, with a rocking band that included Willie Brown, Fiddlin' Joe Martin and Leroy Williams, is that song that floors me every time and one of my all time favorites.

I guess Texas pianist Andy Boy is an offbeat choice for favorites but his recordings really get to me. Andy Boy had a rough, expressive voice offset with his sprightly blues piano laced with ragtime flourishes. Andy Boy's songs are filled with vivid imagery, humor, clever wordplay and a times a deep pathos. Along with pianist Rob Cooper, Andy Boy plays prominently on the records of Joe Pullum, one of the era's most distinctive and imaginative vocalists. Andy Boy cut only eight sides under his own name as well as backing both Pullum and the obscure Walter 'Cowboy' Washington. I know I first him on Magpie’s The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937. I probably heard Joe Dean on one of the Magpie collections or possibly on Yazoo’s Barrelhouse Blues 1927-1936. I’m pretty sure I heard Cripple Clarence Lofton’s “Gang of Brownskin Women” on Yazoo’s Cripple Clarence Lofton & Walter Davis which sported a great photo of Lofton at the piano snapping his fingers with a huge grin on his face.

Sung by Noah Lewis who also plays the superb harmonica, "Going To Germany", is one of those dreamy blues that puts me in a trance every time I hear it. I'm guessing I first heard it on the double Cannon Jug Stompers album. I miss those great double albums that used to open up. Not quite the same experience with a CD. Lottie Kimbrough’ “Rolling Log Blues” has the same dreamy, haunting quality as “Going To Germany” and a song that always mesmerizes me.

The Yazoo compilation Bottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37 was an absolute killer. From that compilation comes Jim & Bob’s amazing “St. Louis Blues” as well as the Shreveport Homewreckers’ “Fence Breakin' Blues.”

Willie Harris’ “Never Drive a Stranger from Your Door” is a great bottleneck number. First heard this one on Yazoo’s Jackson Blues 1928-1938.

In November 1929 at the Paramount Recording Studios in Grafton, Wisconsin, four songs were recorded at 78 rpm by a Louisiana street musician named Joe Sheppard who used the name Blind Joe Reynolds. The second record recorded in Wisconsin on that day, "Ninety Nine Blues" backed with "Cold Woman Blues" has been lost since it was first released in October of 1930. No copies in any condition were ever located until just a few years ago. The recorded was eventually bought and reissued on CD by John Tefteller. I guess I’m at odds with collectors Richard Nevins (owner of Yazoo) and Pete Whelan of 78 Quarterly fame who claim "Cold Woman Blues" as the masterpiece, because for me it’s the flip, "Ninety Nine Blues.” What do those guys know anyway!?

It was through the Magpie piano series that I became a lifelong fan of piano blues. I came to the series late, my first purchase was volume 20 and I must have been around 16. The album made a huge impression on me and I even remember exactly where I purchased it; it was at one of my favorite haunts, Tower Records on West 4th St., NYC (the blues section was on the top floor, tucked behind the jazz secton. Often I was the only one back threre, which for me was perfect!). I went back and picked up as many of the rest of the albums I could find and over the years completed the entire series. That particular volume was my introduction to the Sparks Brothers who are still favorites to this day. Milton’s Spark’s high pitched voice and Aaron sensitive piano work really struck a chord, particularly on “Down In The Levee”

Now the obscure Pigmeat Terry was anthologized on one of the Magpie albums although I’m positive I didn't hear his records until much later. Terry only cut one 78 in 1935, a great record, and possessed a high, whispery, moaning voice, a bit reminiscent of the popular Joe Pullum who made his debut the prior year. His "Black Sheep Blues" is a striking tune both vocally and lyrically:

My mother's gone to glory
My father died of drinking in his sins
My sister won't notice me, she's to proud to take me in
I'm a black sheep in my family, and how they dog me around
Someday I'll get lucky and won't be found around

Allen Shaw is another great bluesman cut only one78. He has a powerful voice, somewhat like Son House, and lays down some great slide. Shame he didn’t record more. Shaw also got together on record with Hattie Hart. They engaged in one memorable session in New York, in the late summer of 1934. I heard this side first on Sony’s Slide Guitar Bottles, Knives & Steel Vol. 2 back when the major labels would occasionally issue stuff like this. I’m pretty sure those days are gone.

“Have you ever woke up with them bullfrogs on your mind?” One of the more enigmatic opening blues lines I’ve ever heard and one of the best blues ever by the mysterious William Harris (not the same as the Willie Harris mentioned above).

The Voice Of The Blues
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There were very few recorded guitar playing women blues singers recorded in the pre-war era. Mattie Delaney and Geeshie Wiley are two of the few. Both their records are extremely rare and both woman barley left a trace behind as to who they were. Wiley’s “Last Kind Words” is a masterpiece there’s no doubt, but I find myself returning to her jaunty “Pick Poor Robin Clean” with partner Elvie Thomas.“ I’m not sure where I first heard this and like William Harris’ “Bullfrog Blues” I’m not really sure what the hell the song means.

Elizabeth Johnson is another mystery woman who cut four sides in 1928. “Be My Kid Blues b/w Sobbin’ Woman Blues” is great record.  She’s backed by a unique band (listed as Her Turpentine Tree-O) that consisted of woodblocks, clarinet and guitar.

Mattie May Thomas waxed three remarkable acapella numbers in 1939. They were recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in the woman's camp of the  notorious Parchman Farm. Thomas' “Dangerous Blues” is a haunting, violent and sad song that gives me shivers every time I hear it.:

You keep on talking 'bout the dangerous blues.
If I had a pistol I'd be dangerous too.
Say, you may be a bully, say but I don't know.
But I fix you so you won't give me no trouble in the world I know.
She won't cook no breakfast, she won't wash no clothes.
Say, that woman don't do nothin' but walk the road.
My knee bone hurt me, and my ankle swell.
Says, I may get better but I won't get well.
Say, Mattie had a baby, and she got blues eyes.
Say, must be the captain, he keep on hanging around.
He keep on hanging around, keep on hanging around.

I’m not a huge fan of Jim Jackson but at his very last session in 1930 he cut outstanding versions of “St Louis Blues” and “Hesitation Blues.” Many have covered ““Hesitation Blues” but to me Jackson’s version will always be the definitive one.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
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.

 

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