ARTISTSONGALBUM
Andrew and Jim Baxter K.C. Railroad BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Mississippi John Hurt FrankieAvalon Blues: The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Blue Boys Easy WinnerBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Charlie Butler Diamond JoeA Treasury Of Library Of Congress Field Recordings
Geeshie Wiley Last Kind Words BluesMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Lottie Kimbrough Wayward Girl BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Richard ''Rabbit'' Brown I'm Not JealousNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Papa Harvey Hull & Long ''Cleve'' Reed Don't You Leave Me HereThe Songster Tradition 1927-1935
Willie Walker Dupree BluesMy Rough And Rowdy Ways Vol. 1
Joe Evans & Arthur McClain Two White Horses In A LineBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Mississippi Mud Steppers Jackson StompVintage Mandolin Music
Mississippi Sarah & Daddy Stovepipe Greenville StrutRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 2: The Great Jug Bands
Henry Thomas Fox And The HoundsTexas Worried Blues 1927-1929
Henry Thomas Red River BluesTexas Worried Blues 1927-1929
Lil McClintock Furniture ManBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Gus Cannon Can You Blame The Colored ManMasters of Memphis Blues
Luke Jordan Traveling CoonThe Songster Tradition 1927-1935
Jim Jackson I'm Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own Jim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Jim Jackson I'm A Bad Bad Man Jim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Jaybird Coleman I'm Gonna Cross the River of Jordan - Some O' These DaysAmerican Primitive Vol. I: Raw Pre-War Gospel
Papa Charlie JacksonLong Gone Lost JohnBroadcasting The Blues
LeadbellyBlack Girl (In The Pines)Where Did You Sleep Last Night: Lead Belly Legacy, Vol. 1
Crying Sam Collins My Road Is Rough And RockyCrying Sam Collins 1927-1931
Jaybird ColemanI'm Gonna Cross the River of Jordan - Some O' These DaysAmerican Primitive Vol. 1
Cannon''s Jug Stompers Bring It When You ComeRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 2: The Great Jug Bands
Coley Jones Traveling ManThe Great Race Record Labels Vol. 2 - Columbia
William Moore Tillie LeeRagtime Guitar Blues 1927-1930
Cow Cow Davenport Alabama Strut Mama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here
Pink Anderson & Simmie Dooley Papa's 'Bout To Get MadGood for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Show
Alabama Sheiks Travelin' Railroad Man BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Charlie Patton Gonna Move To AlabamaBlues Images Vol. 4
Tennessee Chocolate Drops Vine Street DragBefore The Blues Vol. 2
Birmingham Jug Band Bill WilsonRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 1: The Great Jug Bands
Dallas String Band Dallas RagBefore The Blues Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Today's program is a long delayed sequel to a show I did almost exactly two years ago. I finally got motivated to do a follow-up after several interesting conversations with Stephen Wade who I interviewed on the show a couple of weeks back. In his book, The Beautiful Music All Around Us, he discusses some of the music floating around before the blues emerged as the dominant black popular music and also illustrates the huge amount of cross pollination there was between white and black music. Wade suggested that to really illustrate this cross pollination I should include some white artists. While I agree with this, the focus on this show has always  focused on African-American music, namely the music that falls in the standard blues discographies. Still you can hear the commingling of white and black music in selections today by Joe Evans and Arthur McClain (The Two Poor Boys), Mississippi Mud Steppers and the Tennessee Chocolate Drops among others.

Henry Thomas: The Fox And The HoundsAs Richard Nevins writes: "Before the Civil War there did not exist in America two distinct bodies of music, one white and one black. Both groups shared a common tradition and repertoire. …Throughout most of the 1800's black and white fiddlers were playing the same tunes the same way, white and black banjo players were playing the same tunes the  same  way …black and white guitar players were doing the same tunes in the same exact tunings …and most importantly of all, white and black fundamentalist church congregations were singing the same hymns in the same limited modal scales, the exact same scales that defined the secular ballads of that  time …and later (1910-20) became the melodic base of what was to become the blues."

"Before The Blues" is something of catch-all phrase that can mean a number of things; the fact is that prior to the blues there was quite a bit of black music on record, stretching all the way back to the 1890's, recorded both in the United States and Europe. Recent years have seen a huge amount of research into this period with several important books ( Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, "Coon Songs", and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz, Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 and Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America 1850-1920 to name a few) and and reissues of early black music issued. What I'm talking about, however, is some of the older black music styles that were captured on record in the 1920's, often labeled blues even though it was clearly something different.

In the 1920's and 30's when black music first came on record blues scholar Paul Oliver noted that "for a dozen years a remarkable documentation of black vocal traditions was purchasable on commercial releases. …The diversity of singers, entertainers, jazz bands, preachers and other black artists represented on these records was remarkable.” Prior to the blues, reaching back to the nineteenth century there was a variety of black music before it got on record; there was ragtime, black vaudeville, minstrels, coon songs, work songs, dance tunes, medicine show entertainers, sheet music that found its way into black music and emphasis on banjo and fiddle music among other types. Songs were spread by traveling songsters, black road troupes, minstrel shows, tent shows and medicine shows. Although this music was not captured on record when it was in vogue many of these forms found their way onto records when blues was being recorded. Older musicians, born in the 1860's through the 1880's, learned early forms of black music that they brought to their records when they had the opportunity to record in the 20's and 30's. Some of it was shaped to fit the blues, the popular music of the day, while other songs remain more or less intact as performed by blacks decades prior. This was the  music of men like Henry Thomas, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, Daddy Stovepipe, Papa Charlie Jackson, the music of the jug and string bands and the music of the songsters and ballad singers. The records these men, and to a lesser extent women, recorded gives us a fascinating glimpse of the era before the rise of the blues. These older styles didn't disappear but remained parallel to the blues. An example of this is that as late as the mid-1910s the term "up-to-date coon shouter" was routinely applied to the likes of Clara Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith; but around 1916 they were redefined as "blues singers." As Richard Nevins points out: "By the early 1920's back country black musicians who were songsters conversant with a wide spectrum of American genres began  recasting the modal song part of their repertoire into Mississippi Sarah & Daddy Stovepipe: Greenville Strutblues. This transition required very little alteration and all at once they were blues musicians. Of course with the huge popularity of blues everywhere, they also commenced calling all the rest of their repertoire blues, even rags, breakdowns, and tin pan alley selections. The record companies were even worse, sticking the word blues at the end of almost all black secular music…" Below is some background on some today's artists and songs.

Henry Thomas, billed as "Ragtime Texas", was born in Big Sandy, Texas in 1874, and began his musical career as an itinerant songster, and recorded twenty-three songs from 1927 to 1929. He accompanied himself with the guitar and the quills, a folk instrument made from cane reeds. “Flailing his guitar”, Tony Russell writes, “in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpipes, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend.” The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 to 1929 provides, Russell notes, “a wholly absorbing picture of black-country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues.” Mack McCormick wrote one of the best pieces on Henry Thomas (Henry Thomas: Ragtime Texas – Complete Works 1927 to 1929, Herwin, 1975). Here's an excerpt: "He left behind a total of 23 issued selections which represent one of the richest contributions to our musical culture. It's goodtime music reaching out from another era: reels, anthems, stomps, gospel songs, dance calls, ballads, blues and fragments compressed in a blurring glimpse of black music as it existed in the last century. It's the songs that came out of the shifting days when freedmen and their children were remaking their lives in a hostile nation."

Born in the 1880’s, Jim Jackson was an experienced medicine show performer and occasional street singer. The Mississippi born Jackson had one of the biggest blues hits of the 20’s with his “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues.”  His recordings represent one of the richest veins of pre-blues music to be issued on record. Among these are songs like “I’m A  Bad Bad Man” which draws on a composition from 1894 and “I’m Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own” which dates to 1901. Barrelhouse pianist Speckled Red shared the stage with Jim Jackson in 1928 while touring through Mississippi and Alabama with the Red Rose Minstrels & Medicine Show. Red remembered Jackson as "a big fat feller, weighed about 235 pounds. Tall, stately feller too, and he danced, sang, played git-tar, cracked jokes." Jackson's long career with traveling shows began in 1905, and much of his repertoire was rooted in the 19th century. Among these are songs like “I’m A Bad Bad Man” which draws on a composition from 1894, “I’m Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own” which dates to 1901 and “Bye, Bye, Policeman”, played on the first show, which references a song from 1895.

Gus Cannon launched his medicine show career in 1914 when he joined Doc Stokey of Clarksdale, Mississippi. A tour with Doc Benson's show took Cannon to Chicago in 1927, Coley Jones: Travelling Manwhere he auditioned for Paramount Records and recorded a session with ace guitar picker Blind Blake. Cannon was in his mid-40's and his repertoire dates from the turn of the century on tunes like ”My Money Never Runs Out”, "Can You Blame The Colored Man" and one of the earliest blues, "Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home."

Chris Smith wrote: "[Joe] Evans & [Arthur] McClain are reported to have come from Fairmount, in eastern Tennessee, a region where blacks were outnumbered 12 to one by whites, and this goes some way to explaining the evident hillbilly influences on their music. Otherwise, all we know about 'The Two Poor Boys' is in the grooves oft heir 78s.” They cut 20 sides at sessions in 1927 and 1931.

Born circa 1880, Richard "Rabbit"  Brown spent much of his life in New Orleans where he was reported to have worked as a street singer and singing boatman on Lake Ponchartrain.  On March 11, 1927, Brown cut six sides for the recording pioneer Ralph Peer. Brown was a very much the songster and his recordings are an interesting mix of original blues, pop covers and "event" songs like his "Sinking Of The Titanic."

Born in Teoc, Mississippi in 1893, John Hurt moved to the town if Avalon at the age of two which remained his home for the rest of his life. Hurt cut two sessions in 1928 for the Okeh label and would not record again until 1963. Hurt’s repertoire includes blues from when he was growing up as well as ballads like “Stack O’ Lee” and  “Spike Driver Blues”, which references John Henry, and “Louis Collins” and “Frankie.”

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.

Crying Sam Collins was born in 1887, his stomping ground the Mississippi-Louisiana border region with a style similar to King Solomon Hill and Ramblin Thomas who were from the same region. Collins’ music draws from the era of minstrel and medicine show tradition reflected in songs like ‘Yellow Dog Blues”, “Salty Dog”, “Hesitation Blue’ and the first recorded version of “The Midnight Special.” His masterpieces, “Lonesome Road Blues” was a version of “In The Pines” which dates back to the 1870’s, and “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” which is a version of ”Long Gone.”

Pink Anderson & Simmie Dooley: Papa's 'Bout To Get MadBorn in 1891, Charlie Patton was older than the other Delta musicians who recorded during the golden age of the 1920s and 1930s, and he seems to have developed many of the themes that are now considered basic to the Delta blues repertoire. Remembered by history as a blues musician, Patton had grown up in the pre-blues era, and he played the full range of music required of a popular rural entertainer. Even though his recording career was sparked by the blues craze, only about half of his roughly fifty records can reasonably be considered part of that then-modern genre. The others are a mix of gospel and pre-blues music like “Runnin’ Wild Blues”, "Elder Greene", "Gonna Move To Alabama"  and “Prayer Of Death.”

Howard Armstrong was part of a whole generation of African-American string-band artists who played Americana in the 1920’s and 30’s for black and white audiences alike, everything from Tin Pan Alley tunes to gospel and blues. A field-recording team from Vocalion was in Knoxville twice between August 1929 and April 1930; setting up a temporary recording studio at radio station KNOX in downtown Knoxville’s St. James Hotel, where they recorded something approaching 100 tracks by several dozen musicians and musical groups from the region. It was during this session that a Vocalion record producer, looking for a memorable name that would spur sales, christened the Martin, Armstrong and Armstrong group, the “Tennessee Chocolate Drops.” They recorded one 78, “Knox County Stomp b/w Vine Street Drag.”

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Little Willie LittlefieldTrouble Around MeKat On The Keys
Little Willie Littlefield Mello Cats The Modern Recordings Vol 2
Little Willie LittlefieldJim Wilson's BoogieGoing Back To Kay Cee
Mooch Richardson Big Kate Adams BluesCountry Blues Collector's Items 1924-1928
Blanche Johnson2.16 Blues Elzadie Robinson Vol.1 1926-1928
Jazz GillumBig Katy AdamsBill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 2 1938-41
Joel Hopkins I Ain't Gonna Roll For The Big Hat Man No MoreRural Blues Vol. 2 1951-1962
Leroy ErvinRock Island LineDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
John HoggGot A Mean Evil WomanTake A Greyhound Bus And Ride
Willie CarrOutside Friend The Sun Blues Box (Bear Family)
Shy Guy DouglasHip Shakin' Mama (Shy Guy's Back In Town)The Sun Blues Box (Bear Family)
Joseph Dobbin & The Four Cruisers On Account Of YouThe Sun Blues Box (Bear Family)
Walter VincsonThe Wrong ManWalter Vincson 1928-1941
Joe McCoyWell, WellCharlie & Joe McCoy Vol. 1
Two Poor BoysDown In Black Bottom The Two Poor Boys 1927-1931
Arthur GriswoldWhat The Judge Did To Me Vintage Toledo Blues
Calvin Frazier & Barbara BrownI Need Love Vintage Toledo Blues
Edmonia HendersonBrownskin ManMeaning In The Blues
Alberta Jones Wild Geese BluesGennett Jazz 1922-1930
Lizzie WashingtonFall Or Summer BluesGennett Jazz 1922-1930
Buddy Guy Buddy's BluesBuddy And The Juniors
Arlean BrownI Love My Man Sings The Blues In The Loop
John BrimGo AwayChicago Downhome Harmonica Vol. 1
Furry Lewis Why Don't You Come Home BluesGood Morning Judge
Cat IronGonna Walk Your LogCat-Iron Sings Blues and Hymn
Lost John HunterY-M And V Blues The Sun Blues Box (Bear Family)
Unknown ArtistGot Me A Horse And WagonThe Sun Blues Box (Bear Family)
Billy “Red” Love It Ain't No More The Sun Blues Box (Bear Family)
Irene Scruggs You've Got Just What I wantGennett Jazz 1922-1930
Barbecue Bob With Nellie FlorenceJacksonville BluesChocolate To The Bone
Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker & Otis SpannBlues JamSuper Black Blues

Show Notes:

Little Willie LittlefieldAnother mix show chock full of great and rare records. We kick off with a trio of sides from the recently passed Little Willie Littlefield, a great pianist and vocalist who emerged when the West Coast was jumping in the late 1940's. Also featured today are two sets from Bear Family's epic 10-CD box set, The Sun Blues Box 1950-1958, a set devoted to songs about the Kate Adams steamboat, some fine pre-war blues, excellent down-home tracks from the post-war era, several fine blues ladies and close with a long jam between some blues greats.

There were several strains of blues that rose to prominence on the West Coast in the 40's including a moody, after hours brand of piano blues popularized by the inimitable Charles Brown who himself was influenced by Nat King Cole. Brown’s influence was profound, setting the stage for fellow pianists like Amos Milburn, Floyd Dixon, Ivory Joe Hunter, Cecil Gant, Roy Hawkins and Little Willie Littlefield.  Littlefield possessed a distinctive smokey voice and was equally at home on moody numbers like "Trouble All Around Me" to romping piano pieces like "Jim Wilson's Boogie." While Littlefield remained  active in Europe he never got the high profile comeback treatment his contemplates Charles Brown received or to a lesser extent Floyd Dixon. Littlefield has been well served on reissues by the Ace label which has released three collections of his vintage sides: Kat On The Keys, Going Back To Kay Cee, Boogie and Blues And Bounce: The Modern Recordings Vol. 2.

Little Willie Littlfield died on June 23 in the Netherlands at the age of 81. He was already a veteran when he waxed "K.C. Loving" in 1951, the original version of "Kansas City" although it only charted when Wilbert Harrison picked it up seven years later resulting in a huge smash. After a few sides for Eddie's and Freedom, Littlefield moved over to the Modern label in 1949, scoring with two major R&B hits, "It's Midnight" and "Farewell." Littlefield proved a sensation upon moving to L.A. during his Modern tenure, playing at area clubs and touring with a band that included saxist Maxwell Davis. After a few 1957-58 singles for Oakland’s Rhythm logo, little was heard from Little Willie Littlefield until the late 1970’s, when he began to mount a comeback at various festivals and on the European circuit. He eventually settled in the Netherlands, where he remained active musically.

The Kate Adams, actually the third riverboat with that name, was built in Pittsburgh in 1898. The big sidewheeler was 240 feet long, with a pair of tall smokestacks, three grand decks, and a main cabin stretching more than 175 feet, that was lighted with newfangled electric chandeliers. Workers along the river swore they could recognize that distinctive clang 14 miles away. Some 2,000 people greeted the Lovin' Kate, as the boat came to be known, when she first arrived to join the Memphis and Arkansas River Packet Company. The Kate ferried cotton, cargo, and passengers up and down the Mississippi river. The Kate Adams burnt to the ground on January 8, 1927. Several songs reference the steamboat including the three we feature today: Mooch Richardson "Big Kate Adams Blues",  Blanche Johnson  (Elzadie Robinson) "2.16 Blues" and Jazz Gillum's "Big Katy Adams." The Gillum song imagines a race between the Kate Adams and the Jim Lee which was another Mississippi steamboat. The Jim Lee was immortalized in Charlie Patton's "Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1 & 2."


Nearly 30 years after the original Sun Blues Box was released on LP, it's back as a 10-CD set on Bear Family with much more than was on the original set. The Charley label originally issued this as a 3-LP set in 1983, then as a 9-LP set in 1985 then in 1996 as an 8-CD set. From the Bear Family press release: "Recently discovered music from well-known artists … and incredible artifacts like Sam Phillips narrating a radio commercial for a West African herbalist who would soon be jailed for selling bogus patent medicine. Recordings produced by Phillips but issued on Chess, RPM, Trumpet and other labels were unavailable in 1983, but are now included. Researcher Steve LaVere finally allowed the world to hear the Sun audio and see the Sun-related photos he collected back in the late 1960s. In fact, the entire blues research community came together to make this a once-in-a-lifetime blues experience!" The set come with an exhaustive, illustrated booklet that I have only had a chance to glance at so far. After thirty years of reissues this should be the last word on the Sun blues story. Included today are tracks that have not appeared on the previous box sets.

We have some excellent Chicago blues featured today including a great album I picked up recently by Arlean Brown called Sings The Blues In The Loop and one by Buddy Guy. Brown's album was issued sometime in the early 70's and feature an all-star Chicago band including Little Mack Simmons, Detroit Junior and Lonnie Brooks. Brown was a Chicago singer who, in addition to the album, also released some 45's. Brown was 51 when she recorded the 45 "I'm a Streaker.” It launched her career in music after selling a purported 78,000 copies, and the former cab driver and corner-grocery owner became part of a revue run by harmonica player Mack Simmons at Pepper's Hideout — and eventually broke out with her own Arlean Brown X-Rated Revue. It appears her album was self-pressed and reissued in 1977 on the Black Magic label. I have been unable to find out much else about her or what happened to her after the 70's.

Arlean Brown: Sings The Blues In The LoopBuddy Guy had reportedly come to the end of the road with Vanguard Records, which had released his previous three albums, including 1968's acclaimed A Man and the Blues. Guy had asked Michael Cuscuna, a 20-year-old college student he'd befriended, to help produce his final Vanguard album, but when that project ran into problems, Cuscuna went to Blue Thumb. That label provided a meager budget for the album that bought a day of studio time, but didn't allow for a band beyond the three stars and drummer Fred Below. Guy played acoustic guitar, Junior Mance added jazzy keyboard flourishes, and Wells laid down some fine harp. The all-acoustic Buddy & the Juniors was recorded on December 18 of 1969, and on December 19 they mixed this album.

Another collection I picked up recently was a 4-CD set on JSP called Gennett Jazz 1922-1930All the 78's come from collector Joe Bussard's collection – if you haven't seen the documentary on him, Desperate Man Blues, it's well worth checking out. There's blues interest here with several fine, lesser known, blues ladies included. Today we feature selections by Lizzie Washington, who cut fourteen sides at session in 1927 and 1929, Edmonia Henderson, who cut just over a dozen sides between 1923 and 1926 and Alberta  Jones who cut sixteen sides, other sides were unissued, between 1923 and 1930 all for the Gennett label.

We conclude the show with a lengthy blues between jam between Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker and Otis Spann. In 1969, Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker and Otis Spann got together and did a jam session that was released as Super Black Blues in 1969 on the Bluestime label. Also on the record in a supporting role is the great George “Harmonica” Smith. A second volume was recorded live at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1970 featured Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson instead of Otis Spann. As blues jams go, this is a very good one. Big Joe did a number of these type of things in the 70's for Pablo with mixed results – the one with Pee Wee Crayton (Everyday I Have The Blues), though, is worth checking out.

Share
ARTISTSONGALBUM
Stephen WadeInterview
Kelly PaceRock Island Line The Beautiful Music All Around Us
LeadbellyRock Island Line Leadbelly Vol: 4 1944
Nashville Washboard Band Soldier's JoyThe Beautiful Music All Around Us
Nashville Washboard Band Kohoma Blues Too Late, Too Late Vol. 10 1926-1951
Blind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band Buffalo GalBlind James Campbell & His Nashville Street Band
Vera Hall Another Man Done GoneThe Beautiful Music All Around Us
Willie TurnerNow Your Man Done Gone Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1: Secular Music
Big Joe Williams Please Don't Go Big Joe Williams Vol. 1 1935-41
Baby Doo Caston I'm Gonna Walk Your LogChicago Blues Vol. 2 1939-1944
Leadbelly & Golden Gate Quartet Alabama BoundAlabama Bound
Dennis Gainus You Gonna Look Like A Monkey A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Grover Dickson & Group Grizzley Bear A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Dudley Alexander and Washboard Band Baby, Please Don't Go A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Joel HopkinsBetter Down The Road A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Jack Jackson & Lightnin' Hopkins The Slop A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1
Mance Lipscomb Tom Moore's Farm A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 2
R.C. Forest & Gozy Kilpatrick Tin Can Alley A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 2
R.G. WIlliams & Group Hammer RingA Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Prisoners Chopping In The New Ground Negro Prison Camp Worksongs
Prisoners Go Down Old HannahNegro Prison Camp Worksongs
Jesse "G.I. Jazz" Hendricks and groupRattlerNegro Folklore from Texas State Prisons
Johnny Jackson & Group Raise 'Em Up Higher Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons

Show Notes:

The Beautiful Music All Around UsOn today’s program we spotlight some great field recordings captured between the 1930’s through the 1960’s. In the first hour we talk with Stephen Wade about his new book The Beautiful Music All Around Us which presents the fascinating back stories of thirteen performances captured on Library of Congress field recordings between 1934 and 1942. Through prodigious research, Wade sought out the performers on these recordings, their families, fellow musicians, and others who remembered them and reconstructs their lives and how the music was tied to the larger community. Wade is also known for his long-running stage performances of Banjo Dancing and On the Way Home. He also produced and annotated the Rounder CD collections A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings and Black AppalachiaIn the second hour we spotlight field recordings made by Mack McCormick and others around Houston plus recording made Texas prisons  by Bruce Jackson in the 1960’s and  Pete & Toshi Seeger, John Lomax Jr., Chester Bower and Fred Hellerman in 1951.

Through the dilegence of a relatively small number of dedicated researchers we know an amazing amount of information about early blues musicians. I'm no expert on country music but I imagine the case is similar. For all our knowledge there are many gaps; a fair number of the blues artists were itinerant musicians, traveling from town to town, or state to state and the other factor comes down to the fact that the white establishment wasn't all that concerned with documenting African-Americans, and if they were listed on census records, court documents, etc. that information is often inaccurate. The artists and songs Wade covers in The Beautiful Music All Around Us were biographical blanks, leaving leaving behind little of their origins, and seemingly impervious to discovery after so many decades. Through dogged research Wade has been able to flesh out the lives of folks like Bozie Sturdivant, Ora Dell Graham and Kelly Pace and find the origins and stories behind iconic songs such as "Rock Island Line" and "Another Man Done Gone." Our show has always focused on African-American music but Wade's book covers much wider territory, and illustrates the cross pollination there was between white and black music. Our focus for the first hour plus is some of the African-American artists covered in Wade's book: Kelly Pace, Nashville Washboard Band and Vera Hall.

In October 1934 John Lomax set up his recording equipment at Cummins State Prison in Little Rock, Arkansas  and recorded a group led by Kelly Pace singing "Rock Island Line." The story of that song and its singer is one of my favorite chapters in Wade's book, fleshing out Kelly from those who knew him, he comes across as fascinating, talented man who simply could not stay out of trouble, spending half his life behind bars. "My brother," said Kelly's brother Lawrence, "was a songster. He sang all sort of songs – songs of the church, of the blues, dance songs, work songs …You couldn't beat him working. He didn't wait till the dew is off. He'd say 'I'm going to get 400 pounds of cotton.' And when you was done half-way, he done cut out and coming back. …Kelly, he was something else.'"

Handbill
Handbill from lecture given at the Library of
Congress (click to enlarge)

Wade also unlocks the origins of that famous song: 'Rock Island Line' begin its journey in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the repair shops of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Based on a traditional form and arising within a commercial setting, the song, like a trunk line whose branches radiate across the countryside, soon moved beyond this work site making new stops, shifting its contents, and streamlining its load. It migrated from a gospel quartet that the Arkansas prisoners performed to a rhythmic fable that Huddie Ledbetter created as he traveled with John Lomax as chauffeur, auto mechanic, and musical demonstrator. Eventually the song reached an incalculable number of players, singers, and listeners via skiffle, rock and roll, country, pop, and the folksong revival."

John Work IV recalled to Wade when his father, John Work III, welcomed a quartet of street musicians called the Nashville Washboard Band into his home in 1942. As Wade writes "the musicians faced them in a row, seated side by side, lodged between the Works' radio set on one end and their Steinway parlor grand on the other. One band member chorded his banjo-mandolin, and another the guitar, but Work IV fixed most on the string bass a third member of the band had cobbled together from a length of laundry wire, a broomstick, and a lard can. …[T]he band's fourth member, who was blind, sat between, who was blind, set between two washboards mounted on a sawhorse and hinged in the shape of a V. He had attached to them an assemblage of frying pans, tin plates, and a metal bell, each registering different tones. Wearing sewing thimbles on his fingers, he tapped, clocked, and hammered this clattering array of stove-top resonators and corrugated surfaces." John Work IV recollected "These people were the music. …They could just play on and on, and the house would reverberate." Twenty years after a group calling themselves Blind James Campbell And His Nashville Street Band were recorded by Chris Strachwitz for Arhoolie Records. The group members knew the earlier group, linking the two in a long, if largely undocumented, tradition of black street bands.

Treasury of Field Recordings Vol. 1 Treasury of Field Recordings Vol. 2
Read Liner Notes Pt.1 / Pt. 2

In 1940, in Livingston, Alabama, Vera Hall sang "Another Man Done" twice into John Lomax's recording machine. The song became Hall's signature number and when Alan Lomax included the number for one of the Folk Archive's first releases the song entered the mainstream, recorded by Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, John Mayall, Odetta and numerous others. In the chapter on Vera Hall, Wade provides background on Hall, the conditions she grew up in and the meaning behind the song. "When Vera recorded "Another Man Done" she told John Lomax that she learned it from her guitar-playing husband. …When writer-collector Harold Courlander came to Livingston in February 1950, he recorded both Vera singing 'Another Man Done,' as well as someone she knew: Willie Turner, a twenty-seven-year-old  confined at Camp Livingston. With his two fellow inmates, he sang and recorded 'Now Your Man Done Gone,' a piece they otherwise sang on the county road gang. …Two days before Courlander recorded Willie Turner at Camp Livingson, he stopped forty miles away in Marion, Mississippi. There he recorded a singer identified in his notes "only as Cora, who sang 'Baby Please Don't Go' . . . the same song, but with some variance in the lyrics." That song was first recorded commercially by Big Joe Williams in 1935. These songs "fit within a larger family of songs that "fit within a larger family of songs that include 'I'm Alabama Bound,' 'Don't Ease Me In,' 'Don't Leave Me Here,' and 'Elder Greene's in Town.' This network of songs that arises by the late nineteenth century uses a consistent verse pattern and, largely, a recurring subject matter."

There is a connection between the albums featured in the second hour: A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1 & 2, Negro Prison Camp Worksongs and Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons. As Mack McCormick writes in the notes to A Treasury Of Field Recordings: "The various collecting projects which have funneled into this final selection were initiated in 1951 when Pete Seeger visiting Houston, bringing together Ed Badeaux, John Lomax Jr., Chester Bower and Harold Belikoff, resulting in the founding of the Houston Folklore Group. At that time recordings were made at two of the Texas prison farms." The recordings McCormick is talking about resulted in the album Negro Prison Camp Worksongs with some songs from that session appearing on A Treasury Of Field Recordings. The recordings Bruce Jackson made over a decade later for the album Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons were recorded at the same Texas prisons and it's likely some of the same prisoners were recorded.

Negro Prison Camp Worksongs
 Read Liner Notes

A Treasury Of Field Recordings Vol. 1 & 2 were compiled by Mack McCormick and issued on the British 77 label in 1960. Sponsored by the Houston Folklore Group and the Texas Folklore Society, these Fields recordings were collected around Houston by McCormick and other collectors like Ed Bradeux, Pete Seeger, John Lomax and others. The 36 selections contained in this set were drawn from over 400 items recorded over a nine year period. The original recordings are housed at the University of Texas and the Library of Congress. As the notes state it portrays "A panorama of the traditions around Houston – the city and its neighboring bayous, beaches, prisons, plantations, plains and piney woods…” And as John Lomax writes about this collection “This is one good, long look at the guts of America – songs sung by those who make them up and pass them along, showing the character of themselves, the flavor and spirit of their lives.” Below is information on some of the albums' performers.

Joel Hopkins was Lightnin's older brother and first gave him a guitar. Joel traveled the south with tent shows and traveling caravans. Lightnin's other brother, John Henry also played guitar. The three were recorded together in Waxahatchie, TX in 1964. The results were issued on Arhoolie under the title Hopkins Brothers: Lightnin', Joel, & John Henry .

As Mack McCormick writes in the notes: "When his wife is away at church, Jack Jackson will sit down at his piano and sing "sinful" songs. Sometimes when she has an evening prayer meeting he'll invite someone like Lightnin' over to 'kick it around.' Lightnin' has ceased working with pianists (though he stills plays primarily in jook joints (for dancing) and Jack has established himself in business on the corner of Milam and Prarie in Houston's downtown business district."

Tom Moore was a powerful plantation owner who farmed land along the Brazos river in Texas. Asked about the song, sung on this collection by Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins, he replied: "They're happy people – they don 't always mean what they sing. He laughed deprecatingly, 'Only I best never catch one of them singing that song.'" As McCormick notes: “In order to protect him [Mance Lipscomb] and his family, his name is withheld from his recording of 'Tom Moore's Farm'. …The simple fact is that the singer and Tom Moore are neighbors, the one a poor laborer, the other a powerful and vindictive man who has long felt the song to be a thorn in his side.”

Recorded by Pete & Toshi Seeger in the winter of 1951 at two Texas prison farms, Negro Prison Camp Worksongs, released on the Folkways label, represents some of the oldest and most traditional work songs found among African American prison communities in the southern United States. In 1951, when Pete Seeger as one of the successful Singing group, The Weavers, was booked to appear at a Houston hotel ballroom, he wrote John Lomax, Jr. suggesting that he ask permission for them to visit the nearby prison farms with recording equipment. The governor granted permission and the group, with Chester Bower providing the tape machine and assisting, visited Ramsey and Rechine farms on consecutive Sunday afternoons.

Negro Folklore From Texas State Prisons
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A couple of months back we devoted half a show to recordings made by Bruce Jackson in the 60's at Texas prisons. Today we feature selections from Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons (Elektra, 1965) which I omitted last time. Jackson wrote: “I started recording in Texas prisons in July 1964. I think Texas had about 12,000 prisoners in 14 prisons back then …My primary interest in Texas was the black convict worksongs, which seemed to me to be part of an unbroken musical tradition going back to West Africa….”

Stephen Wade Interview/Feature  (75 min,. mp3)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Walter HortonCan't Help Myself Blues Southside Chicago
Johnny Young One More TimeBlues Southside Chicago
Homesick JamesCrutch And CaneBlues Southside Chicago
Billy Boy Arnold & Johnny JonesGoing To The RiverChicago Blues: Live At The Fickle Pickle
Billy Boy Arnold & Johnny JonesSloppy DrunkChicago Blues: Live At The Fickle Pickle
Howlin' WolfSugar MamaBlues From Big Bill's Copacabana
Muddy WatersSitting And ThninkingBlues From Big Bill's Copacabana
Muddy WatersWee, Wee Baby Blues From Big Bill's Copacabana
Johnny Young The Sun Is Shining And This Is Maxwell Street
Big John WrencherCan´t Hold Out Much LongerAnd This Is Maxwell Street
Carey BellI'm Ready And This Is Maxwell Street
L.C. McKinleyMind Your BusinessHave A Good Time
Homesick James Little And Low Have A Good Time
Walter HortonHave A Good TimeHave A Good Time
Earl Hooker Peppers Other ThingLive At Peppers Lounge Vol. 2
Lonnie Brooks Sweet Little AngelLive At Peppers 1968
Sunnyland SlimEverytime I Get To Drinking Blues Southside Chicago
Robert NighthawkLula MaeBlues Southside Chicago
Eddie BoydLosing HandBlues Southside Chicago
James BrewerBig Road Blues Chicago Blues: Live At The Fickle Pickle
John Henry BarbeeTell Me Baby Chicago Blues: Live At The Fickle Pickle
Maxwell Street JimmyLong-Haired DoneyChicago Blues: Live At The Fickle Pickle
Little Johnny JonesWorried Life BluesLive In Chicago With Billy Boy Arnold
Little Johnny JonesOuch! Live In Chicago With Billy Boy Arnold
Robert Nighthawk I Need Love So BadAnd This Is Maxwell Street
Robert Nighthawk Cheating And Lying BluesAnd This Is Maxwell Street
Muddy WatersClouds In My HeartBlues From Big Bill's Copacabana

Show Notes:

Blues Southside Chicago
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Today show is part two in a series of shows devoted to Chicago blues of the 1960's. Today we spotlight several collections of Chicago blues recorded in the 1960's some of which are somewhat rare or not particularly well known. Among the studio albums we spotlight today are Blues Southside Chicago and its companion album Have A Good Time – Chicago Blues. In addition we feature some great live blues from the albums Chicago Blues: Live At The Fickle Pickle, Little Johnny Jones and Billy Boy ArnoldBlues From Big Bill's Copacabana, Live At Peppers Lounge, And This Is Maxwell Street among a few others.

Blues Southside Chicago Is a superb collection of Chicago blues artists recorded by Willie Dixon in 1964 and originally issued on UK Decca and reissued by Flyright in 1976. Additional sides from this session appeared on Have A Good Time – Chicago Blues issued in 1970 on the Sunnyland label which is also out of print. Mike Leadbitter discusses the aim of the record in his liner notes: "This album was recorded In Chicago's Southside by Willie Dixon with one aim in mind-to provide the English enthusiast with blues played as they are played in the clubs, without gimmicks and without interfering A & R men. This album is not intended to be commercial in any way and by using top artists and top session men an LP has been produced that doesn't sound as cold as studio recordings usually do." In a 1977 interview pianist Henry Gray recalled this session: "I remember, in 1964, Willie Dixon was asked by an English company to produce a couple of so-called Southside Chicago sessions. [Dixon was a very close friend of Howlin' Wolf and they talked together about that;] Wolf was not personally interested but he induced me to go and support some of the artists chosen by Dixon…Poor Bob Woodfork, Robert Nighthawk, Shakey Horton. That was issued on British Decca label. Yeah, I think it was representative of the kind of music we were playing in the Southside clubs at that time."

Walter Horton always sounded best on other people's records but comes across magnificently on "Can't Help Myself" which opens with a lengthy upper register harmonica solo before Horton's plaintive, impassioned vocals kick in. Horton's harmonica work is stunning and it's a shame he gets consistently overshadowed by Little Walter.

Certainly one of the highlights is the two marvelous songs by Robert Nighthawk. "Lula Mae" is a cover of the 1944 Tampa Red song and it was Tampa who was Nighthawk's main influence. This is an exceedingly tough Chicago blues with Nighthawk's heavy, gloomy vocals hanging over the song punctuated by the waling amplified harp of Walter Horton. "Merry Christmas" (Nighthawk cut another version for Testament the same year) is more of the same again with some extroverted playing by Horton.

Johnny Young, who plays second guitar on the above sides, was a pal of Nighthawk's and the two often played together on Maxwell Street. Young was a brilliant mandolin and guitar player who like Nighthawk was sadly under recorded. Backed by the same band as Nighthawk, Young is in fine form on the stripped down, heartfelt "Little Girl" laying down some intricate mandolin work while the shuffling "One MoreFolk Festival of the Blues Time" virtually pops out of the speakers again with some dazzling harp from Horton.

Like Nighthawk, Homesick James was a bottleneck guitarist but with a more rudimentary technique, owing quite a bit to his cousin Elmore James. By the time of these recordings he was relatively under recorded with some scattered singles and one full length album cut for Prestige a few months prior. The combination of Homesick's ringing bottleneck and emotionally charged vocals make a potent force on "Got To Move" and "Crutch And Cane" a thinly disguised version of "Look On Yonder Wall."

Leadbitter calls the piano blues a dying art form and these days the tradition is hanging on by a lifeline. Back then there was still numerous fine piano men including Henry Gray (still with us thankfully) and Willie Mabon who back some of the other artists on this collection and Sunnyland Slim and Eddie Boyd who get two sides apiece under their own names. Sunnyland is in commanding form, hollering out the blues with abandon on the shuffling "I Got To Get To My Baby" and the regal "Everytime I Get To Drinking" a number he first waxed back in 1949, both sporting marvelous solos by Buddy Guy. Boyd is in equally strong form on "Losing Hand" and the bouncy "Where You Belong" again with outstanding contributions from Buddy guy.

Little Johnny Jones recorded little under his own name, never making it past his 40th birthday. Luckily Jones was caught on tape in 1963 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. Additional tracks from this recording appear on Chicago Blues – Live At The Fickle Pickle, a long out of print LP on the Flyright label. The Fickle Pickle was a club on Rush Street in Chicago managed at one time by Michael Bloomfield. Regulars included Big Joe Willies, St. Louis Jimmy, James Brewer, Billy Boy Arnold, Little Johnny Jones, J.B. Lenoir and others.

Originally released as Folk Festival of the Blues on Chess's Argo subsidiary, then reissued as Blues from Big Bill's Copacabana, this is a live document of a steamy night in a Chicago blues club. Chicago blues disc jockey Big Bill Hill intros the band and the assembled stars (one of whom, Little Walter, is nowhere to be found on this disc), then Buddy Guy's band rips into "Wee Wee Baby," and sung in three-part harmony by Buddy, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. Some of the tracks here are ringers; Sonny Boy Williamson's "Bring It On Home" and a stray Buddy Guy track are actually studio takes with fake applause dubbed on. But the two from Howlin' Wolf and everything here from Muddy are live.

And This Is Maxwell Street is a three-disc set features the street recordings from the 1964 Mike Shea film documentary, And This Is Free, plus a slew of previously unreleased performances of equal importance. These recordings were recorded live on Chicago's Maxwell Street, a mecca for bluesman trying to hustle a few bucks from the passing crowd. The 30 tracks contain wonderful performances by Maxwell Street regulars such as Robert Nighthawk, Johnny Young, Carey Bell, Arvella Gray, Big John Wrencher and several others.

Chicago Blues: Live At The Fickle Pickle
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After a long absence Nighthawk returned to Chicago in 1964 and recorded several times including a blistering set taped live on Maxwell St. in conjunction with the filming of Mike Shea's 1964 documentary "And This is Free." Maxwell St. was at the heart of Chicago's black ghetto and was a bustling open air market. Above all it's the music of legendary slide man Robert Nighthawk who dominates these recordings playing on 22 of the 30 tracks. In an interview done by Mike Bloomfield, Nighthawk, reflected on what brought him back to Maxwell Street: "Lately I went back to Maxwell St.- I been playing off and on for 24 years now. Most all music more or less starts right off from Maxwell St. and so you wind up going back there. …See it's more hard to play out in the street than it is in a place of business, but you have more fun in the street, looks like. Well, so many things you can see, so many different things going on, I get a kick out of it, I guess."

In 1975 Rarities Records put out two boottleg albums: Live At Peppers Lounge Vols. 1 & 2. The recordings were made in 1969 at Pepper's Lounge in Chicago. While the records have some good music the credits are incorrect; Little Walter and Eddie Taylor do not appear on these records despite the credits. The club featured great blues musicians, including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Shakey Jake, Otis Rush, Junior Wells, Magic Sam, and Buddy Guy.  Waters was a mainstay in the 1960's, and Chicago locals could catch his show for eight dollars. In 1971, the club moved to 1321 S. Michigan Avenue. Today we play a great Earl Hooker cut from the second volume. Unfortunately I couldn't locate my copy of the first volume so instead we play a killer  my cut by Lonnie Brooks recorded at Peppers in 1968.

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