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]

Buster Pickens Santa Fe Train Back Door Blues
Buster Pickens Rock Island BluesBack Door Blues
Juke Boy Bonner Rock With Me Oakland Blues
Juke Boy Bonner Call Me Juke Boy Going Down To Louisiana
Juke Boy Bonner No Place To Run The One More Trio
Hop Wilson I’m A Stranger Hop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!
Hop Wilson I Feel So Glad Hop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!
Hop Wilson You Don't Move Me No MoreHop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!
Luke "Long Gone" MilesCountry BoyCountry Boy
Luke "Long Gone" MilesLong GoneCountry Boy
Luke "Long Gone" MilesBad Luck Child Country Boy
Buster Pickens Mountain JackBack Door Blues
Buster Pickens She Caught The L&NBack Door Blues
Juke Boy Bonner Life Gave Me A Dirty Deal I'm Going Back To The Country
Juke Boy Bonner Going Back To The Country I'm Going Back To The Country
Juke Boy Bonner Stay Off Lyons Avenue I'm Going Back To The Country
Hop Wilson My Woman Has A Black Cat BoneHop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!
Hop Wilson A Good Woman Is Hard To Find Hop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!
Hop Wilson My Woman Done Quite Me Hop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!
Luke "Long Gone" MilesSo Sorry For To LeaveCountry Born
Luke "Long Gone" MilesNo Money, No Honey Country Born
Buster Pickens You Better Stop Your Woman (From Tickling Me Under My Chin) Back Door Blues
Buster Pickens To Have The Blues Within Conversation With The Blues
Buster Pickens The Ma Grinder No. 2 Back Door Blues
Juke Boy Bonner Struggle Here In Houston The Struggle
Juke Boy Bonner Life Is A Nightmare I'm Going Back To The Country
Juke Boy Bonner Being Black and Proud The Struggle
Luke "Long Gone" MilesHello Josephine Juke Joint Blues 1950's-1960's
Luke "Long Gone" MilesGotta Find My Baby Juke Joint Blues 1950's-1960's
Buster Pickens Jim NanppyBack Door Blues
Buster Pickens Hattie Green Back Door Blues
Hop WilsonRockin' With HopHop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

Today's show is the first 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 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. In post-war Texas much of the action coalesced in Houston, and all of today's artists have ties to that city. Today we spotlight the barrelhouse pianist Buster Pickens, lap steel guitarist Hop Wilson, singer Luke Miles who came from Louisiana to Houston before starting his recording career in California and one-man-band Juke Boy Bonner who left Houston for California in the mid-fifties.

As Paul 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. …The great days of Texas blues were in the 'twenties, when Pickens began to play for a living, and in the thirties when he was one of scores of blues pianists whose fame went before them from town, to camp, to flagstop to chock-house and honkytonk. These were the days when such pianists as Son Becky and Pinetop Burks, Andy Boy and Black Boy Shine were enjoying big local reputations, though if it had not been for a freak of chance recording they might never have been known outside Texas. Others, like Pickens himself, remained unrecorded though no less well known …Buster Pickens knew them and worked with them, changed places with them in the never-ceasing blues entertainment of the barrelhouse joints."

After serving in the military in World War II, Pickens returned to Houston and began a career as a session artist, and was relativley active between 1948-1953 backing Texas bluesmen such as Perry Cain, Bill Hayes , Goree Carter, J.D. Edwards and played on Texas Alexander's last record for the Freedom label in 1950. In addition, he performed regularly with Lightnin'" Hopkins and appears on some of Hopkins's records for Prestige/Bluesville in the early 1960's. His solo album for Heritage, the self-titled Buster Pickens, was recorded in in 1960 and reissued in the 70's on Flyright as Back Door Blues but has never appeared on CD. The sessions were organized by Paul Oliver for the Blues Reseach and Recording Project and the recording done by Mack McMcormick and Chris Strachwitz.

Read Liner Notes

In 1962 Pickens appeared in the movie The Blues. His promising new career in the blues revival, however, was ended when he was murdered a few years later, at age forty-eight, as a result of a barroom dispute about a dollar on November 24, 1964, in Houston. There are several unissued sides from the Pickens session and unfortunately I doubt they will surface anytime soon. There is also an interview with Pickens (conducted by Paul Oliver) which has only surfaced as a snippet on the Conversation With The Blues album that accompanied the book of the same name.

Weldon Bonner was born in Bellville, Texas on March 22nd 1932, to a sharecropping mother and father. His father died when Juke Boy was an infant, leaving his mother to raise nine children, until she died when Weldon was six years old. He moved in with a farming family and began chopping cotton. His musical career began as a child, singing in a gospel group and by the age of twelve he had taught himself the guitar. In 1947 he moved to Houston, winning first prize in a talent show at the Lincoln Theatre in the city. This success lead to regular gigs at lounges, bars and juke joints throughout the Houston area, however the chances to record were strictly limited and by the mid-fifties he headed for the West Coast.

In 1957, Bonner made his recording debut for the Irma label, in Oakland, California cutting four sides with Lafayette "Thing" Thomas on guitar and accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica. Just two sides were issued, "Rock With Me Baby"/"Well Baby" on Irma 111, as by Juke Boy Barner and Group. He returned to touring the South, frequenting bars and juke joints in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana, where he cut three sessions for Goldband Records in Lake Charles in 1960, billed as Juke Boy Bonner — The One Man Trio. Some of these sides found their way to a European release on a Storyville album and attracted attention from European blues enthusiasts. But the breaks didn't come Juke Boy's way until 1967, when sterling work primarily by editors of Blues Unlimited magazine led to recording opportunities for the small Flyright label and for an eventual European tour. During the late 60's, Bonner suffered from bouts of ill health and underwent major stomach surgery. He earned a meager living playing gigs in Houston.

Read Liner Notes

Blues Unlimited magazine raised enough money for Juke Boy to cut a 45 for the Blues Unlimited label in Houston in 1967. Chris Strachwitz, owner of Arhoolie Records, on a field trip to Texas heard the record and cut an album with him in December 1967. Further sessions followed for Arhoolie in Houston during 1967, 1968 and 1969. Passport difficulties prevented him from joining the 1968 Folk Blues Festival Tour. He found his way to Europe in 1969 where he cut the album Things Ain't Right for Liberty. Throughout the early and mid-seventies his popularity grew and he continued to tour Europe as well as playing dates in Houston, however he couldn't match his European popularity at home. He became dogged by ill health, divorced from his wife and living in a small rented 10ft by 10ft room in a rundown house in the heart of Houston's black ghetto. Bonner was reduced to unloading trucks and collecting aluminum cans to make a living. The frustration and bitterness are reflected in the comments made by a longtime friend to the Houston Chronicle: "He used to say he could go to Europe and earn $1000 dollars but he couldn't make $50 in his hometown." He died in 1978. The week of his death the Houston Chronicle ran the headline: “Weldon ‘Juke Boy’ Bonner, well known in Europe, dies alone in his hometown.”

Hop Wilson was born Hardin Wilson on April 27, 1927 in Grapeland, Texas. He learned how to play guitar and harmonica as a child. He was nicknamed "Harp" at an early age for his frequent harmonica playing. Over time "Harp" became "Hop." When he was 12 years old, he received his first steel guitar from his brother. Little is known of his early years. Hop served in the US Army during WWII. After his discharge from the Army, he decided to pursue a career as a blues musician and in the 50’s moved to Houston.

He began performing with Ivory Lee Semien's group in the late '50s. Wilson and Semien were sent to see Eddie Shuler at Goldband records in 1958 on the recommendation of a local record distributor. They cut several sessions with a number of sides not issued at the time. All of the material has been issued on Ace the label as Hop Wilson & His Budies – Steel Guitar Flash!. Sometime in 1958 Semien started his own studio and issued records under his own Ivory label. Semien recorded fourteen sides by Wilson, three issued as singles. Wilson was approached in the 60’s to record again but refused to record again. Wilson died in 1975 and was buried in his hometown of Grapeland, Texas.

Read Liner Notes

Born in Lachute, Louisiana in 1925, Luke Miles spent his youth working on a cotton plantation, becoming enamored with the blues through listening to the radio as a teenager. He moved to Houston in 1952. In the liner notes to his only full length LP, Country Born (World Pacific, 1965), he said: “I went to Houston for one reason. I went to see Lightnin’ Hopkins. That’s what I went for and that’s what I did. Lightnin’ Hopkins taught me just about everything about blues singing. The first time I ever sang in front of an audience was in 1952 with Lightnin’. The first day I met Lightnin’ he named me “Long Gone” …and I’ve been Long Gone Miles ever since.” The two appear together on the Lightnin’ Hopkins album Country Blues, a collection of recordings made by Mack McCormick in 1959.

By 1961 Miles moved from Houston and was in Los Angles where he cut some 45’s for the Smash label. In 1962 he teamed up with guitarist Willie Chambers, who he would perform with regularly during 1962 and 1963, often at Sugar Hill in San Francisco and at the Ash Grove. Several of these Ash Grove performances can be heard on the Concert Vault website.

He cut a an album for World Pacific in 1965 called Country Born and then cut singles for the Two Kings label in 1965 and Kent in 1969. In the 80’s the Sundown label issued an album called Country Boy featuring early singles and unissued material. Miles’ whereabouts after 1970 where unknown but in 2008 a CD of live material cut in Venice, CA in 1985 was issued. Miles passed in 1987 in Los Angeles.

Snooky Pryor & Moody JonesStockyard BluesGonna Pitch A Boogie Woogie
Snooky Pryor & Moody JonesKeep What You GotGonna Pitch A Boogie Woogie
Snooky Pryor & Moody JonesSnooky and Moody's BoogieGonna Pitch A Boogie Woogie
Johnny YoungMy Baby Walked OutDownhome Blues Classics: Chicago
Baby Face LeroyTake A Little Walk1948-1952
Snooky Pryor & Moody JonesTelephone BluesGonna Pitch A Boogie Woogie
Snooky Pryor Boogy FoolGonna Pitch A Boogie Woogie
Moody JonesRough TreatmentGonna Pitch A Boogie Woogie
Snooky PryorReal Fine BoogieGonna Pitch A Boogie Woogie
Snooky PryorGoing Back on the RoadGonna Pitch A Boogie Woogie
Sunnyland SlimBack To KoreaSunnyland Slim & His Pals
Sunnyland SlimGoing To MemphisSunnyland Slim & His Pals
Homesick James12 St. StationChicago Slide Guitar Legend
Willie NixAll By YourselfDownhome Blues Classics: Chicago
Willie NixNo More Love Downhome Blues Classics: Chicago
Snooky PryorCryin' ShameGonna Pitch a Boogie Woogie
Snooky PryorCrosstown BluesDownhome Blues Classics: Chicago
Willie NixNervous WreckDownhome Blues Classics: Chicago
Willie NixJust Can't Stay Downhome Blues Classics: Chicago
Floyd JonesSchooldays On My Mind1948-1953
Floyd JonesAin't Times Hard 1948-1953
Snooky Pryor Judgment DayVee Jay, The Chicago Black Music
Snooky Pryor Uncle Sam Don't Take My ManGonna Pitch A Boogie Woogie
Floyd JonesAny Old Lonesome Day1948-1953
Floyd JonesFloyd's Blues1948-1953
Snooky Pryor Dangerous WomanBig Bear Sessions
Snooky Pryor I Feel AlrightBig Bear Sessions
Snooky Pryor Mighty Long TimeAnd The Country Blues
Homesick JamesFayette County BluesAin't Sick No More

Show Notes:

In his obituary for the Guardian, Tony Russell wrote: "Snooky Pryor, who has died aged 85, was the last of the group of harmonica players who distinguished the Chicago blues scene of the 1940s and 50s. If not quite the equal of men like Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Walter "Shakey" Horton or Junior Wells, he was none the less a player with a distinctive sound, and his contributions to the early development of the Chicago blues-band idiom are held in high regard. In particular, the recordings he made in the late 40s, both in his own name and accompanying the singers Floyd Jones and Johnny Young, established him among blues enthusiasts of the 1960s as one of the defining figures of the primeval Chicago scene."

He was born in Lambert, Mississippi, spent parts of his early life in Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois, and had a spell of army service in the early 1940s before settling in Chicago. He had been playing the harmonica since he was 14, and gigged in the evenings and at weekends, in clubs like the Jamboree and the 708, with a circle of musicians that included Floyd and his cousin Moody Jones, pianist Sunnyland Slim and guitarists Eddie Taylor and Homesick James. His style on the harmonica was derived in roughly equal parts from John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson and Aleck Miller (aka Sonny Boy Williamson #2). He got the idea of amplifying his harmonica while serving in the military during World War II, and in 1945 began performing at the Maxwell Street market with portable PA system he purchased at a store at 504 South State. As the first to amplify a harmonica, Pryor should rightly be recognized as a blues pioneer. As he boasted to Living Blues, "I started the big noise around Chicago." In the late 40's he cut a batch of great sides for small Chicago labels such as Marvel, Swingmaster and JOB.

Between 1950 and 1954 Pryor recorded steadily, cutting fine sides for JOB, Parrot, Ve-Jay backed by Chicago legends like Homesick James, Floyd Jones and Eddie Taylor. During this period he also backing Floyd Jones, Moody Jones and Sunnyland Slim on their records. He cut a few final sides in 1956, several unissued, for Vee-Jay before retiring from music for a spell in 1962.

Frustrated with the rough, low paying life of a bluesman, he dropped out of the music scene in the mid-1960s to become a carpenter and by 1967 relocated to Ullin, Illinois, to raise his large family. A chance encounter with the editors of Living Blues magazine in 1971 prompted a brief comeback that included a European tour and recordings for Today, Big Bear, and BluesWay in 1973. Remaining fairly inactive for the next fifteen years, Pryor was coaxed out of retirement in 1987 and recorded for Blind Pig. Throughout the 1990s, he recorded albums for Antone’s, Electro-Fi, and Blind Pig, and played sporadically at clubs and festivals. He passed in 2006.

Snooky's early partner, Moody Jones, played guitar and bass. He was born in Earle, Arkansas on April 8, 1908. Jones got his grounding in blues guitar by learning Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson songs. He moved north to Wolf Island, Missouri, then to East St. Louis, and arrived in Chicago in 1939. He developed his musicianship further in the Maxwell Street market, playing with his first cousin, guitarist Floyd Jones, as well as Snooky Pryor, Johnny Shines, Robert Nighthawk and others. After recording with Pryor, Moody Jones never had another release under his name. He appeared on several sessions for JOB in 1951 and 1952. He sang three numbers on a session that took place on April 28, 1952, but were not issued. Moody Jones continued to record for JOB through January 1953; then he gave up the blues and joined a gospel group. He later became a minister. Jones died in Chicago on March 23, 1988.

Guitarist Floyd Jones, was Moody Jones's cousin, and specialized in dark, blues that often spoke to tough times like "Stockyard Blues," "Dark Road," "Hard Times." He was born on July 21, 1917, in Marianna, Arkansas, and after several years of dabbling with the guitar began playing it in earnest after Howlin’ Wolf gave him an instrument. Through much of the 1930s and early 1940s he worked the South as an itinerant musician and settled in Chicago in 1945. He began playing on Maxwell Street and in non-union venues with such artists as Little Walter, John Henry Barbee, and Sunnyland Slim. In the fall of 1946, Jones teamed up with Snooky Pryor, soon joined by Moody Jones. The three were playing in a club on Sedgwick, when Chester Scales happened by and offered to record the trio, having remembered seeing Snooky on playing on the street sometime earlier. However, on the day of the session, Floyd Jones missed out on recording "Telephone Blues" and "Boogie," because he could not be located. Scales made up for it by recording the trio with Floyd Jones as the leader on "Stockyard Blues" and "Keep What You Got," two classics of postwar Chicago blues written by Jones. Much to Jones’s everlasting distress, when the record was released, Scales put Snooky and Moody down on the label as the main artists, and listed Floyd as mere vocalist. He also claimed composition credit on both titles.

According to his union file Homesick James was born in 1924; according to himself it might have been 1914 or 1910 or even 1905; 1910 seems the most probable. In his professional life he tended to call himself Homesick James Williamson, but his surname seems likely to have been Henderson.He claimed to have played in the 1930s with blues notables such as Memphis Minnie, Sleepy John Estes and Sonny Boy Williamson I, which may well have been true, and to have recorded in 1939 with the diminutive Memphis street-singer, Little Buddy Doyle, which almost certainly was not. As the blues writer David Whiteis comments: "He was a bluesman of the old school, through and through – a trickster from his heart."

At some time during the late 1930's or 40's he moved to Chicago, where he had a day job in a steel mill. During the 1950's he played in the city's clubs, often with the harmonica player Snooky Pryor (obituary, November 10 2006) or with the pianist Lazy Bill Lucas, who accompanied him on his first recordings for the Chance label. During the late 1950's and early 60's he played bass guitar in Elmore's band, experience that prompted him to record some of the other man's material, such as "Set a Date" and "Crossroads." Issued in Britain, these singles – possibly his best work – helped to raise his profile among blues enthusiasts. Soon after Elmore's death, Homesick recorded his first album, Blues on the South Side (1964). The spread of blues enthusiasm throughout Europe in the 1970's provided Homesick with numerous bookings, and he made at least five visits during the decade, often working in a duet with Pryor. Several live cuts from their tour appear on the album Big Bear album American Blues Legends. They also appear together on Snooky's And The Country Blues (1973), Homesick James' Ain't Sick No More (1973) and a pair of albums in the 70's for the Big Bear label. All of the Big Bear sides plus bonus cuts were issued on the 2-CD set the Big Bear Sessions. Little was heard from him in the 1980's, but he greeted the 1990's with a salvo of albums for various labels. He passed in 2007.

Of his pal Snooky, Homesick told Chris Millar in 1994: "Me and Snooky been playing nearly fifty tears. I'd known Snooky for many years., from every time I used to go through his place, a plantation down there in Vance, Mississippi. We were just like brothers man, me and Snooky usedto finish playing in the clubs early in the morning and go off fishing."

John O. Young, known as "Man" because he played mandolin as well as guitar, was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on January 1, 1918. In the mid-1930s he played with a string band in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. He said he worked with Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon in Tennessee before moving to Chicago in 1940. In Chicago, he claimed to have performed with such notables as Memphis Minnie and Big Bill Broonzy, but one has to wonder how many of these were club dates, as Young was still essentially a street musician. By the late 1940s, he had become a regular in the Maxwell Street scene, playing with a cousin, guitarist Johnny Williams, along with Snooky Pryor, Floyd Jones, and Moody Jones. Pryor backs hom on one 78 for Swingmaster cut in 1948.

Born in Memphis, Willie Nix first entered performing as a tap dancer at age 12, and as a teenager during the late '30s, he toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels Shows as a dancing comedian. He appeared in various variety venues during the early '40s, and performed on streets and parks around Memphis. In 1947, Nix appeared with Robert Lockwood, Jr. on a Little Rock, AR radio station, and subsequently worked with Sonny Boy Williamson II, Willie Love and Joe Willie Wilkins as the Four Aces in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.Nix joined B.B. King and Joe Hill Louis for appearances on Memphis radio, and worked with The Beale Streeters during the late '40s. He made his first records in Memphis for RPM in 1951, and cut sides for Chess Records' Checker offshoot in 1952. Sam Philips signed him up as "the Memphis Blues Boy" for Sun in early 1953, as a singing drummer with a band, and he later cut sides for Art Sheridan's Chance label in Chicago which featured Snooky Pryor. He worked with Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, Johnny Shines, and Memphis Slim during the mid '50s, but at the end of the decade was back in Memphis, and did a short stretch in prison late in the decade. Nix's health and abilities deteriorated during the '60s and '70s, and he hoboed around, performing occasionally, telling tall tales about his life and generally acting erratically.


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