Robert NighthawkG-ManProwling With The Nighthawk
Sonny Boy Williamson I Blue Bird BluesThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson I Vol. 1
Big Joe WilliamsRootin' Ground HogBig Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Little Brother MontgomerySanta Fe BluesLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Sonny Boy NelsonLow DownMississippi Blues Vol. 3 - Catfish Blues
Bo CarterThe Ins And Outs Of My GirlBo Carter Vol. 4 1936-1938
Robert NighthawkProwling NighthawkProwling With The Nighthawk
Sonny Boy Williamson IJackson BluesThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson I Vol. 1
Walter Davis Good GalWalter Davis Vol. 3 1937-1938
Sonny Boy NelsonLong Tall Woman
Mississippi Blues Vol. 3 - Catfish Blues
Mississippi MatildaHard Working WomanMississippi Blues Vol. 3 - Catfish Blues
Robert HillLumber-Yard BluesNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Walter DavisFifth AvenueWalter Davis Vol. 3 1937-1938
Big Joe WilliamsBrother JamesBig Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Sonny Boy Williamson I Got The Bottle Up And GoneThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson I Vol. 1
Little Brother MontgomeryThe First Time I Met You Little Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Bo Carter Bo Carter's AdviceBo Carter Vol. 4 1936-1938
Sonny Boy NelsonPony BluesMississippi Blues Vol. 3 - Catfish Blues
Chatman Brothers (Lonnie And Sam)Jumping Out BluesMississippi Sheiks Vol. 4 1934-1936
Chatman Brothers (Lonnie And Sam)If You Don't Want Me Please Don't Dog Me 'RoundMississippi Sheiks Vol. 4 1934-1936
Bo Carter All Around Man - Part 2Bo Carter Vol. 4 1936-1938
Bo Carter Pussy Cat BluesBo Carter Vol. 4 1936-1938
Bo Carter Your Biscuits Are Not Big Enough For MeBo Carter Vol. 4 1936-1938
Sonnyboy Williamson ISugar Mama Blues The Original Sonny Boy Williamson I Vol. 1
Sonnyboy Williamson IGood Morning School GirlThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson I Vol. 1
Tommy Griffin On My Way BluesCountry Blues Collector's Items 1930-1941
Walter VincsonRats Been On My CheeseRats Been On My Cheese
Annie Turner Black Pony BluesLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1954
Annie Turner Workhouse BluesLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1954
Little Brother MontgomeryA. & V. Railroad Blues Little Brother Montgomery 1930-1936Remastered
Mississippi Matilda Happy Home BluesMississippi Blues Vol. 3 - Catfish Blues
Sonny Boy NelsonStreet Walkin'Mississippi Blues Vol. 3 - Catfish Blues
Robert HillTell Me What's Wrong With YouNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Little Brother MontgomeryWest Texas BluesLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Little Brother MontgomeryLouisiana Blues, Pt. 2Little Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Little Brother MontgomeryFarish Street JiveLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1936

Show Notes:

Today's show is the first installment spotlighting great recording sessions. Today we select two sessions conducted by the Victor (issued on Bluebird) label roughly a year-and-a-half apart, one in Chicago and one in New Orleans. In the pre-war era the record companies used mobile recording units to visit southern cities and capture the music of regional performers. For example, between 1927-1930 Atlanta was visited seventeen times, Memphis eleven times, Dallas eight times, New Orleans seven times and so on. During and after the Depression field trips dropped off precipitously. We play recordings today from remarkable field sessions cut by Louisiana and Mississippi artists on October 15-16, 1936 at the St. Charles Hotel, New Orleans. Dozens of titles were cut by Lonnie and Sam Chatmon, Bo Carter, Eugene Powell (as Sonny Boy Nelson), his wife Matilda Powell (as Mississippi Matilda), Walter Vincson, Little Brother Montgomery, Annie Turner and Tommy Griffin. The other session we spotlight was conducted in Chicago on May 5, 1937 resulting in two-dozen sides by Sonny Boy Williamson I and Robert Lee McCoy (Robert Nighthawk) who were making their recording debuts, plus sides by Big Joe Williams and Walter Davis.

Big Joe Williams: Rootin' Ground Hog 78Henry Townsend recalled driving Sonny Boy Williamson I, Robert Nighthawk, Walter Davis and Big Joe Williams to Aurora, Illinois, in his 1930 A Model Ford for their 1937 sessions: "I transferred them to Aurora, Illinois. There was about eight or nine of us …we stacked them in the car like sardines." This led to a marathon recording session resulting in six songs by Nighthawk (as Robert Lee McCoy), six by Sonny Boy Williamson I, four by Big Joe Williams and eight sides by Walter Davis. It was Sonny Boy's songs, especially, "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Bluebird Blues" and "Sugar Mama Blues" which were the biggest hits. Sonny Boy would go on to cut more than 120 sides in all for RCA from 1937 to 1947.

Robert Nighthawk cut six sides at this session all of which were released at the time. The popularity of the song "Prowling Night-Hawk" was the basis for his changing his surname in the early 40's. At the time of these recordings he was going by Robert Lee McCoy.

Walter Davis was among the most prolific blues performers to emerge from the pre-war St. Louis scene, cutting over 150 sides between 1930 and 1952. Davis enjoyed a fair amount of success before a stroke prompted him to move from music to the ministry during the early '50s.

Over two days on October 15-16, 1936 Bluebird conducted sessions at the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans. Little Brother Montgomery cut eighteen sides plus backed singer Annie Turner on her four numbers (two were unissued), Sonny Boy Nelson (Eugene Powell) cut six sides under his own name as well as backing Robert Hill, who cut ten sides, and his wife Mississippi Matilda on her three sides. In addition Bo Carter cut ten sides, the Chatman brothers (Lonnie and Sam) cut twelve sides, Tommy Griffin cut a dozen sides and Walter Vincson  (as Walter Jacobs) cut two sides. As John Godrich and Howard Rye wrote in Recording The Blues: "The New Orleans session in 1936 was Victor's last substantial race field recording; in subsequent years they recorded a fair number of gospel quartets in he field, but only one or two unimportant blues singers."

Eugene Powell was born in Utica, Mississippi, December 23, 1908. He started playing the guitar at age eight. His mother ran a juke house so he grew up around music. He took the name "Sonny Boy Nelson" after his step father. His early experiences around Hollandale were with Robert Nighthawk, Robert Hill, and the great blues instrumentalist Richard "Hacksaw" Harney. In 1936 Eugene and wife "Mississippi Matilda" along with Willie "Brother" Harris traveled with the Chatmon Brothers to New Orleans to record for the Bluebird label. Bo Carter acted as agent for Nelson and Hill and received a fifth of the royalties for setting the session up.

In the 1930's Matilda Powell married musician Eugene Powell. She recorded four songs at the 1936 session, one of them, "Peel Your Banana",  went unissued. In 1952, Matilda separated from Eugene, and moved to Chicago taking their one son and five daughters with her.

Interviews with Eugene Powell by Brett Bonner and Robert Eagle elicited that Robert  Hill was from Sumrall, Mississippi, near Hattiesburg, and that in Hollandale he worked with guitarist Will Hadley. Paul Oliver noted that his harmonica playing was reminiscent of Jazz Gillum.

In late 1930, Little Brother Montgomery made his debut backing Minnie Hicks and on two songs, Irene Scruggs on four and recorded “No Special Rider blues” and "Vicksburg Blues" for Paramount. He cut four more sides for Bluebird in 1935. His next recording opportunity was in October 1936 in New Orleans where he waxed a remarkable eighteen  song session. As Chris Smith writes he was "adept at blues, jazz, stride, boogie and pop which he synthesized into a personal style that ranged easily from the bopping earthiness of "Frisco Hi-Ball" to the pearl-stringing elegance of "Shreveport Farewell." His high voice and bleating vibrato are unmistakable, especially on his signature piece, "Vicksburg Blues", a polyrhythmic showcase for his acute but never pedantic timing. It's also an example of Brother's poetry of geography; many of his songs, and even the titles of his instrumentals, are rich evocations of places he knew and the railroads that carried him between them."

Nothing is known of fifteen year-old Annie Turner who cut four sides (two unissued) at this session backed by Little Brother on piano and Walter Vincson on guitar. As Chris Smith wrote: "…Turner projects a smoldering sensuality, triumphing over her low volume dicey pitch with help from Montgomery and Vincson's wonderfully attentive accompaniment."

Sonny Boy Nelson: Low Down 78

Working in various configurations, Walter Vincson and Lonnie, Bo, and Sam Chatmon performed and recorded as the Mississippi Sheiks, a name inspired by a popular 1921 Rudolph Valentino film, The Sheik. A propulsive fiddler, Lonnie managed the band, while Bo, a strong, confident singer and gifted guitarist, became its biggest star. Bo made his recording debut in 1928, backing Alec Johnson. Carter soon was recording as a solo artist and became one of the dominant blues recording acts of the 1930's, recording over 100 sides. He also played with and managed the family group, the Mississippi Sheiks, and several other acts in the area. Bo Carter specialized in double entendre songs, recording dozens of risqué songs like "Banana in Your Fruit Basket," "Pin in Your Cushion", "Your Biscuits Are Big Enough for Me", "The Ins And Outs Of My Girl", the latter two featured today. Carter's brothers, Lonnie and Sam, recorded as the Chatman Brothers, cutting twelve sides at this same session.

Walter Vinson rarely worked as a solo act, seemingly much more at home in duets and trios; towards that end, during the 1920's he worked with Charlie McCoy, Rubin Lacy and Son Spand before forming the Mississippi Sheiks. He cut two songs at this 1936 sessions in the company of pianist Harry Chatman. The year before pianist Harry Chatman cut ten songs under his won name across three sessions, two in New Orleans and a final one in Jackson, Mississippi.

Pinetop SmithPine Top's Boogie WoogieShake Your Wicked Knees
Meade Lux LewisHonky Tonk Train BluesHey! Piano Man: Selected Boogie Woogie Sides Remastered
Jimmy YanceyState Street Special Jimmy Yancey Vol. 1 1939-1940
'Crippple' Clarence LoftonHouse Rent StruggleCripple Clarence Lofton Vol. 2 1935-1939
Charles AveryDearborn Street BreakdownShake Your Wicked Knees
Albert Ammons Chicago In MindHey! Piano Man: Selected Boogie Woogie Sides Remastered
Romeo Nelson Gettin Dirty Just Shakin' That ThingShake Your Wicked Knees
Cow Cow DavenportCow Cow BluesThe Essential
Hersal ThomasSuitcase BluesRoots 'N' Blues: The Retrospective 1925-1950
Pinetop Smith Jump Steady Blues
Shake Your Wicked Knees
Jimmy BlytheBoogie Woogie BluesBoogie Woogie Blues
Crippple' Clarence LoftonCrying Mother Blues Cripple Clarence Lofton Vol. 1 1935-1939
Montana TaylorIndiana Avenue StompShake Your Wicked Knees
Charles Avery, Tampa Red & Lil JohnsonHouse Rent ScuffleTampa Red Vol. 2 1929
Clarence "Jelly" JohnsonJelly's BluesLow Down Papa
Freddie ShayneOriginal Mr. Freddie BluesMontana Taylor & 'Freddy' Shayne 1929-1946
Doug SuggsDoug's Jump Piano Blues Vol. 21927-1956
Cow Cow Davenport State Street BluesCow Cow Davenport Vol. 1 1925-1929
Jimmy YanceyRolling The StoneJimmy Yancey Vol. 1 1939-1940
Jimmy BlytheChicago Stomp Boogie Woogie Blues
Pinetop SmithI'm Sober NowShake Your Wicked Knees
Clarence "Jelly" Johnson You're Always Messin' Round With My ManLow Down Papa
Romeo NelsonHead Rag HopShake Your Wicked Knees
Charles AveryChain 'Em DownBoogie Woogie & Barrelhouse Piano Vol. 2 1928-1930
Montana Taylor Detroit RocksShake Your Wicked Knees
'Crippple' Clarence Lofton Streamline TrainCripple Clarence Lofton Vol. 1 1935-1939
Pinetop SmithPinetop BluesPiano Blues Vol. 20
Meade Lux LewisBear Cat CrawlHey! Piano Man: Selected Boogie Woogie Sides Remastered
Cow Cow DavenportBack In The AlleyShake Your Wicked Knees
Jimmy Yancey Yancey LimitedJimmy Yancey Vol. 1 1939-19
Albert AmmonsShout For JoyHey! Piano Man: Selected Boogie Woogie Sides Remastered

Show Notes:

During the period of today's recordings , there was a mass migration of blacks from the southern states looking for regular employment and the chance to start a new life. Thousands headed to Chicago. They, together with the emerging school of pianists, took jobs as taxi drivers, hotel porters, dish washers and other menial occupations, working at these occupations during the daytime, they supplemented their earnings by playing at rent parties in the evenings and at weekends. The boogie pianists reigned supreme at these functions and the more proficient of them were able to find additional work at the many dives and clubs which became a part of Chicago’s night life. Today's show spotlights the Chicago boogie and barrelhouse who made records in the 20's and 30's. For more detailed information on today's performers check out Peter J. Silvester's seminal The Story of Boogie-Woogie: A Left Hand Like G od.

As Silvester wrote: "For the purposes of clarifying the several phases which the music underwent in reaching its state of perfection in the I940's, it is helpful to consider the first generation of pianists as being active in the period up to about 1930. This would include among its members Hersal Thomas, Lemuel Fowler, Jimmy Blythe, Jimmy Yancey, Clarence Lofton, Charles Davenport, Doug Suggs, Eurreal Montgomery, Roosevelt Sykes, many'one-record pianists' and other still unknown and unrecorded piano players. It was some time after 1930 that a number of these esteemed players made their first recordings, although their influence on later pianists as leading practitioners of the art is now clearly recognizable."

Considered to be the originator of the boogie -woogie style of piano playing, Clarence "Pine Top" Smith was a vaudeville performer. From around 1920 Smith was based in Pittsburgh, and the following years he traveled with minstrel and vaudeville shows as a dancer, singer and comedian. Smith’s work on the circuits took him throughout the south where he worked with artists such as Butterbeans & Susie and Ma Rainey. In an interview with Downbeat magazine in 1939, Smith’s wife Sarah Horton said that her husband first started playing "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" in Pittsburgh. Cow Cow Davenport recommended Smith to Mayo Williams of Brunswick/Vocalion records. Smith then moved with his family to Chicago in 1928. On December 29, 1928 Smith recorded his two breakthrough hits: "Pine Top Blues" and "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie." This was the first time the phrase "boogie woogie" appeared on record. He began to devote more of his energies to playing piano and, at the urging of Charles "Cow Cow" Davenport, made a few records. On January 14 and 15, 1929 Smith recorded six more sides of his vaudeville repertoire for Vocalion records, including “I'm Sober Now” and “Jump Steady Blues.” On March 13, 1929 Pine Top made an unissued recording of "Driving Wheel Blues." Two days later, at age 25, his rising career ended. Smith was accidentally shot by a man named David Bell during a fight.

Meade Lux Lewis was one of the three great boogie-woogie pianists (along with Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson) whose appearance at John Hammond's 1938 Spirituals to Swing concert helped start the boogie-woogie craze. He played regularly in Chicago in the late '20s and his one solo record of the time, "Honky Tonk Train Blues" (1927), was considered a classic. After cutting his classic "Honky Tonk Train Blues" in 1927 Lewis gained little extra work and slipped into obscurity. John Hammond heard Lewis' record in 1935 and, after a search, found Lewis washing cars for a living in Chicago. Soon, Lewis was back on records and after the 1938 Spirituals to Swing concert he was able to work steadily, sometimes in duets or trios with Ammons and Johnson. After the boogie-woogie craze ended, Lewis continued working in Chicago and California, recording as late as 1962. Lewis led sessions through the years that have come out on MCA, Victor, Blue Note, Solo Art, Euphonic, Stinson, Atlantic, Storyville, Verve, Tops, ABC-Paramount, Riverside, and Philips.

One of the seminal boogie-woogie pianists, Jimmy Yancey was active in and around Chicago playing house parties and clubs from 1915, yet he remained unrecorded until May 1939, when he recorded "The Fives" and "Jimmy's Stuff" for a small label. By then, Yancey's work around Chicago had already influenced such younger and better-known pianists as Meade "Lux" Lewis, Pinetop Smith, and Albert Ammons. Yancey was a musician's musician, remaining mostly unknown and unheard outside of Chicago until 1936, when Meade Lux Lewis recorded one of his tunes, "Yancey Special." Three years later, producer Dan Qualey became the first to record Yancey for his new Solo Art label. After the Victor recordings, Yancey went on to record for OKeh and Bluebird. In later years, Yancey performed with his wife, blues singer Estelle "Mama" Yancey; they appeared together at Carnegie Hall in 1948. Although Yancey attained a measure of fame for his music late in life, he never quit his day job, remaining with the White Sox as a groundskeeper until just before his death.

Active in Chicago in the 20's and 30's, Charles Avery worked as a session musician backing artists such as Lil Johnson, Freddie 'Red” Nicholson, Red Nelson and others. He cut one record under his own name, 1929's “Dearborn Street Breakdown.”

Albert Ammons is best remembered as an exciting pianist who inaugurated the Blue Note record label by hammering out blues and boogie duets with Meade "Lux" Lewis. His main influences were Jimmy Blythe, Jimmy and Alonzo Yancey, Hersal Thomas, and Clarence "Pinetop" Smith, who personally encouraged the aspiring pianist. By 1934 Ammons was leading his own little group at the Club De Lisa on the South Side. Ammons became strongly identified with the boogie-woogie style after recording "Boogie Woogie Stomp" and "Swanee River Boogie" for Decca with his Rhythm Kings in 1936. Ammons next decided to take himself to New York, where he gigged regularly at Café Society (Downtown and Uptown) with Meade "Lux" Lewis and the Kansas City contingent of Pete Johnson and Big Joe Turner. In 1938 Ammons, along with Lewis and Pete Johnson created a sensation at the Spirituals to Swing concert in Carnegie Hall. Ammons, who had cut a few sides for Vocalion in 1938, recorded a series of solos and duets with Meade "Lux" Lewis on January 6, 1939, now established as the very first titles in the catalog of Alfred Lion's newly founded Blue Note label. Ammons remained active through the 40's but illness forced off the scene and when he passed away on December 2, 1949, he was only 42 years old.

Romeo Nelson moved to Chicago at the age of six. For most of his life he played piano at rent parties in the city, although he also lived in East St. Louis for a while in the early 1920s. In 1929 he made his only series of recordings for Vocalion Records: "Gettin' Dirty Just Shakin' That Thing"and "Head Rag Hop", featuring talking by Tampa Red and Frankie Jaxon.

Hersal Thomas was among the earliest architects of the boogie-woogie style leaving such a powerful impression that pianists as highly regarded as Jimmy Yancey, Albert Ammons, and Meade "Lux" Lewis claimed him as a prime influence. It was his father George who taught Hersal the fundamentals of the blues, and the youngster gave his first public performances on the streets of Houston with his big sister Beulah, who would come to be known as Sippie Wallace. When George relocated to New Orleans in 1915, he brought Beulah and Hersal with him. Word spread quickly, and Hersal was soon gigging with the region's top jazz players, including King Oliver and his promising young protégée Louis Armstrong. On February 22, 1925 he recorded his only two piano solos,"The Suitcase Blues" and "Hersal's Blues." Two days later, he and Joe Oliver backed Sippie on three Okeh recordings, and in April and June, he accompanied Hociel on her first records. In August, Hersal and Sippie traveled to New York to cut more records, with alto saxophonist Rudolph "Rudy" Jackson sitting in on the first of Hersal's only two recording sessions that took place outside of the Chicago area. On November 11, 1925 Hersal, clarinetist Johnny Dodds and banjoist Johnny St. Cyr backed Hociel as members of Louis Armstrong's Jazz Four. Armstrong and Hersal worked together on two more occasions, accompanying Hociel and Sippie during February and March 1926. Hersal's last known studio session took place on the fourth of March when he accompanied Lillian Miller on her Okeh recording of "The Kitchen Blues." The short life of Hersal Thomas came to an abrupt conclusion on July 3, 1926 while he was performing at Penny's Pleasure Palace in Detroit MI. The exact cause of his sudden death has never been verified.

Considering how many fine recording sessions he was on in Chicago in the 1920s (particularly with Johnny Dodds), it is surprising how little is known about the mysterious Jimmy Blythe. He moved to Chicago in 1918, and studied with pianist Clarence Jones. Blythe recorded dozens of piano rolls in the early '20s. He began cutting records in 1924 (Blythe's "Chicago Stomp" from that year is considered by some to be the first full-length boogie-woogie recording). During the next seven years, he made a few piano solos; backed singers Viola Bartlette and Alexander Robinson; teamed up with Dodds in several settings; led Blythe's Sinful Five; recorded with the Midnight Rounders, Jimmy Bertrand's Washboard Wizards, Lonnie Johnson, and the State Street Ramblers; and cut piano duets with Buddy Burton and Charlie Clark. Jimmy Blythe died at the age of 30 from meningitis.

Owing his nickname to a limp from which he suffered, Clarence Lofton became a favorite of early jazz collectors during the boogie-woogie craze of the late 1930's along with Meade Lux Lewis, Jimmy Yancey, Cow Cow Davenport, and many others. Born in Tennessee he lived most of his life in Chicago becoming a fixture on the Chicago nightlife scene. He owned his own nightclub called the Big Apple where he ran his own boogie school teaching youngsters the art form. Between 1935 and 1943 Lofton cut close to forty sides for Vocalion, Swaggie, Solo Art and Session. The bulk of these were solo sides with guitarist Big Bill Broonzy adding support for two sessions. In addition Lofton provided accompaniment to Red Nelson, Sammy Brown, Al Miller and Jimmy Yancey. Lofton remained on the scene cutting sides for the Gennett, Vocalion, Solo Art, Riverside, Session and Pax labels. He stayed around Chicago until his death in 1957 from a blood clot in the brain.

Montana Taylor was born in Butte, Montana, where his father owned a club. The family moved to Chicago and then Indianapolis, where Taylor learned piano around 1919. In 1929 he recorded a few tracks for Vocalion Records, including "Indiana Avenue Stomp" and "Detroit Rocks". Later he moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1936. He then disappeared from the public record for some years, during which he may have given up playing piano. However, in 1946 he was rediscovered by jazz fan Rudi Blesh, and was recorded both solo and as the accompanist to Bertha "Chippie" Hill. His final recordings were from a 1948 radio broadcast. Taylor died in 1954.

Clarence "Jelly" Johnson became an in-demand piano roll performer, cutting many performances in Chicago during the mid to late 1920's fory the Capitol Music Roll Company and issued as nickelodeon piano rolls. Johnson never cut any 78's under his own name but did back several singers including Edna Hicks, Sara Martin, Lizzie Miles, Monette Moore and others. Recently Delmark records release Low Down Papa, a collection of twenty of Johnson's piano rolls.

Freddie Shayne is a shadowy figure who spent his life working in Chicago. He first time on record was backing singer Priscilla Stewart on “Mr. Freddie Blues.” Shayne also made a very rare piano roll of this song. In 1935 Shayne recorded a solo record, “Original Mr. Freddie Blues b/w Lonesome Man Blues.” “Mr. Freddie Blues” became something of a boogie standard covered by many artists including Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, Jimmy Blythe, Art Tatum and others. In the 40's he made some recordings for the Circle label where he also backed singer Bertha “Chippie” Hill.

Jimmy Yancey 1946

Cow Cow Davenport learned to play piano and organ in his father's church from his mother who was the organist. Davenport's early career revolved around carnivals and vaudeville. He toured TOBA with an act called Davenport and Company with Blues singer Dora Carr and they recorded together in 1925 and 1926. Davenport didn't cut a 78 record until 1927 although prior to that he made a number of piano rolls between 1925 and 1927 including three versions of "Cow Cow Blues." Davenport briefly teamed up with Blues singer Ivy Smith in 1928 and worked as a talent scout for Brunswick and Vocalion records in the late 1920's and played rent parties in Chicago. They formed an act called the Chicago Steppers which lasted for some months and, in 1928, the partnership began to record for the Paramount Company. Daven venport moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1930 and toured the TOBA vaudeville circuit and recorded with Sam Price. In 1938 Davenport suffered a stroke that left his right hand somewhat paralyzed and affected his piano playing for the rest of his life, but he remained active as a vocalist until he regained enough strength in his hand to play again. In the early 1940's Cow Cow briefly left the music business and worked as a washroom attendant at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street in New York. In 1942 Freddie Slack's Orchestra scored a huge hit with "Cow Cow Boogie" with vocals by seventeen year old Ella Mae Morse which sparked the Boogie-Woogie craze of the early 1940s; this led to a revival of interest in Davenport's music. He tried to make a "comeback" in the forties and fifties but his career was often interrupted by sickness. He died in 1955 of heart problems in Cleveland.

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Yank Rachell Texas TommyYank Rachell Vol. 1 1934 1938
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Martin, Bogan & Armstrong You Don't Know My MindBarnyard Dance
Carl MartinState Street Pimp #2 Crow Jane Blues
Martin, Bogan & Armstrong Salty Dog Barnyard Dance
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Howard ArmstrongEthnic Music (Spoken)
Louie Bluie & Ted BoganThat'll Never Happen No MoreLouie Bluie Film
Howard ArmstrongWith The Medicine Show (Spoken)
Banjo Ikey RobinsonSlocum BluesBanjo Ikey Robinson 1929-37
Howard ArmstrongPlaying On Maxwell Street (Spoken)
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Martin, Bogan & ArmstrongNobody Knows You When You're Down & Out Martin Bogan & Armstrong
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Howard ArmstrongJohn HenryLouie Bluie
Spoken/Louie Bluie & Ted BoganState Street RagTimes Ain't Like They Used To Be Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes To Soundtrack

Today's show is inspired by Terry Zwigoff's wonderful first film, Louie Bluie, an idiosyncratic documentary on the life of  Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong.  I saw this film for the first time many years ago and again just recently when the film was belatedly released on DVD by Criterion. Howard Armstrong proved to be a true renaissance man, excelling in a variety of artistic endeavors during his amazing 80-year career including storytelling, poetry and painting. He managed to conquer nearly every genre of music, learned to play multiple instruments and spoke several languages. One of his most celebrated accomplishments involved learning traditional folk songs in their native tongues and then performing them flawlessly to the astonishment of ethnic audiences. 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. Today's show has plenty of music and spoken commentary from Armstrong as well as music from musical cronies like Ted Bogan, Yank Rachell, Carl Martin and Banjo Ikey Robinson.

Armstrong’s family was a musical one. Howard’s father was one of fifteen siblings, all of whom played one or more stringed instruments. Howard picked up his father’s mandolin and quickly learned his chords and harmonies. Howard’s mother sang and his older sisters sang and played in a little family combo. By the time he was in his early teens Howard, (on fiddle and mandolin) organized his younger brothers into a family string band. During this time he frequently played with the Martin brothers (his fiddle mentor, Roland Martin and Roland’s multi-instrumental brother, Carl) in Knoxville. Armstrong’s first recording experience was for the well-known Vocalion label. 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/ Vine Street Drag.”

From the left: Lee Crocket, Francis Lee, Howard and Roland.

Sometime in 1930 or 1931, Howard was given the name “Louie Bluie,” a name he adopted for performing and recording, a stage name he carried the rest of his life. While performing at a house party in West Virginia, an inebriated lady approached the band, giving each of them nicknames; Carl Martin she dubbed “Duke Ellington,” Ted Bogan became “Ted Lewis,” and coming last to Howard she said, “I know you’re Armstrong, but not Louis Armstrong, you’re just plain old Louie Bluie.” Between the April 3rd, 1930 recording session in Knoxville, and the March 23rd, 1934 recording session for the Bluebird Label in Chicago, IL,Armstrong, usually worked with both Ted Bogan and Carl Martin. By 1933, Howard was residing in Chicago,  primarily playing the streets, clubs and rent parties, as well as rubbing shoulders with Chicago blues players such as Bumble Bee Slim, Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie. He was as comfortable playing and singing pop songs as he was with old-time county, blues or jazz. But he didn’t stop there, he also performed novelty tunes, ethnic and gospel songs as well as rags. In 1934, as Louie Bluie and Ted Bogan, he recorded "State Street Rag/Ted’s Stomp" and "There’s Nothing in This Wide, Wide World For Me/ I’m Through With You" for the Bluebird. No copy of the latter has been found.

After serving in World War II, Armstrong moved to Detroit and worked in the auto industry until 1971. With a revival of interest in oldtime African American music, Martin, Bogan and Armstrong reunited to perform. The band recorded, performed at clubs and festivals and went on a tour of South America sponsored by the U.S. State Department. They played together until Martin's death in 1979. The group recorded three albums together: The Barnyard Dance, Martin, Bogan & Armstrong and That Old Gang of Mine.

In 1985 Terry Zwigoff released Louie Bluie, his documentary on Howard Armstrong. Zwigoff was a collector of 1920's and 1930's recordings and was particularly obsessed with “State Street Rag,” which he had taped so that he could play it back repeatedly, and slowly, in order to catch all the notes and pick them out on his own mandolin. “The record took on the mystique for me of something really special. I don’t know how else to describe it,” Zwigoff says. His first idea was to write a feature article on Louie Bluie for the London-based publication Old Time Music. But he needed to track down his subject. “State Street Rag” didn’t credit Louie Bluie by his real name. Luckily, “Ted Bogan” was not a pseudonym. Zwigoff looked him up in the Chicago phone book and, sure enough, he was there—and Bogan put Zwigoff in touch with his friend and partner Howard Armstrong. In 1979, Zwigoff started filming Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong, using up his life savings in the first few weeks. He followed the musician over the next five years, documenting his life and capturing a wonderful character in full swing.

From left to right: Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong, Yank Rachell, Banjo Ikey Robinson,
Ted Bogan and Tom Armstrong.

"Well, Howard Armstrong and Ted Bogan went back together to the ‘20s",  Zwigoff  told the Fretboard Journal. "They also played with Carl Martin, who I got to meet, but he died just before we started filming. Carl was going to be a huge part of this film. He and Armstrong had this wonderful bantering relationship that I thought would be the heart of the movie. I said, “Oh, God, what am I gonna do now?” …I started thinking, since I played mandolin, “Are there any other black mandolin players still alive?” …Then I remembered Yank Rachell. I had a few of his Victor records with Sleepy John Estes from the 1920s and those are all masterpieces. Somebody had told me was still alive and living in Indianapolis. I tracked him down and I got him to come to Chicago. He never met Armstrong and Bogan before. I introduced him the night before we started filming and they hit it off. …anjo Ikey Robinson was a little bit reticent to be in this film. He said, “Well, you know, I have a reputation in jazz.” Indeed, he did. He was a heavyweight guy in the world of jazz. He recorded with Jelly Roll Morton. He played with everybody from Louis Armstrong to Fletcher Henderson to Coleman Hawkins. He didn’t want to sort of frivolously get in together with a bunch of guys he never heard of, who might just be a bunch of like, you know, bumbling idiots who could barely play. But once he met these guys and liked them personally, and heard ‘em play, he came around. It’s the kind of music Ikey Robinson started out playing before he played jazz. He played country music around the house with his family band as well. I think he grew up appreciating it. So he took to it, and the guys hit it off. But a lot of people think they’re all old friends that go back to the ‘20s, that all of them had known each other for 60 years, when in fact a couple of them had just met the night before."

Outside of his recordings with Armstrong, Ted Bogan recorded just a handful of sides under his own name: a 45 he shared with Carl Martin on the Rocky Road imprint (recorded live at the University of Chicago Folk Festival), a handful of sides for the Testament label in the 60's, two which appear on the Carl Martin album Crown Jane and one cut on the anthology Mandolin Blues.

Carl Martin's main instrument was mandolin but he also mastered the guitar, and according to those who saw him perform, could play anything with strings. Martin not only performed solo, but also spent much of his career in a trio featuring Ted Bogan (guitar) and Howard Armstrong (violin). The trio enjoyed a career that spanned five decades and was known under several different monikers, including the Four Keys, the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, and the Wandering Troubadours. Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong initially traveled all over the south entertaining at medicine shows, county fairs, and on the radio. When they couldn't get an actual paying gig, they would play for tips in local taverns. In the late '30s, they followed the great migration to Chicago where they would eventually go their separate ways, occasionally playing together. Martin cut sides under his own name in the 30's as well as backing Tampa Red,Bumble Bee Slim, Washboard Sam and others. He recorded again in the 60's for the Testament label, resulting his only full-length album. Following years of playing solo, Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong reunited in the early '70s and played the folk and blues festival circuit all over the country. Martin passed away in Pontiac, MI, on May 10, 1979.

Banjo Ikey Robinson, Howard Armstrong, Tom Armstrong and Ted Bogan
play "My Four Reasons."

Ikey Robinson was an excellent banjoist, guitarist and singer who was versatile enough to record both blues and jazz in the 20's and 30's. Unfortunately he spent long periods off record after the swing era leading him to be less well known that he should be. He moved to Chicago in 1926 where he worked with Clarence Williams, Jelly Roll Morton and Jabbo Smith. He lead his own sessions in 1929, 1931, 1933 and 1935 with groups such as the Hokum Trio, The Pods of Pepper, Windy City Five, and Sloke & Ike. He led small groups form the 40's on. He was rediscovered in the 70's, reuniting with Jabbo Smith, touring Europe and playing with Howard Armstrong as well.

If Armstrong's resurgence began when he reconnected with Carl Martin and Ted Bogan in the early 1970's, the second half of his  resurgence began with the 1985 release of Louie Bluie. At the age of 86, Armstrong made his final album, the wonderful Louie Bluie released in 1995 on the Blue Suit label, earning him a W.C. Handy Award nomination. From 1985, through the remainder of his life, Howard Armstrong was recognized and honored for his contribution to American vernacular music and performed regularly at various venues as well as teaching and performing at sites such as West Virginia’s Augusta Heritage Center at Davis and Elkin’s College, and Port Townsend, Washington’s Centrum Country Blues and Fiddle Tunes workshops and festivals. There was another film, Sweet Old Song In 2002 which premiered on the PBS series P.O.V. He died in Boston, Massachusetts, aged 94, following a heart attack.

Related Articles:

-Louie Bluie-Pt. 1 & Pt. 2 by Terry Zwigoff (78 Quarterly 5 and 6) [PDF]

A part three was promised but never published

-An American Songster

Lonnie JohnsonAnother Night To Cry American Folk Blues Festival 1962-65
Mark MillerInterview
Lonnie JohnsonLonnie's Traveling LightSpivey's Blues Parade
Lonnie Johnson Mr. Blues Walks Stompin' At The Penny
Lonnie Johnson Bring It On Home To MamaStompin' At The Penny
Lonnie JohnsonFalling Rain Blues Complete Folkways Recordings
Lonnie Johnson I want To Talk To You WHAT-FM Radio Broadcast
Valaida SnowIf you Don't Mean It1940-1953
Valaida SnowI Ain't Gonna Tell 1940-1953
Original Washboard Band & Julie DavisJasper Taylor Blues
Johnny Dodds 1927-1928
Original Washboard Band & Julie DavisGeechie River BluesJohnny Dodds 1927-1928
Blind Boy FullerFunny Feeling BluesBlind Boy Fuller: Remastered 1935-1938
Dennis McMillonGoin' Back HomeDown Home Blues Classics Vol.6: New York & The East Coast States
Bessie SmithJ.C. Holmes BluesThe Complete (Frog)
Lottie KimbroughRolling Log BluesI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
John Lee HookerHow Can You Do It The Classic Early Years 1948-1951
Lightnin' HopkinsDon't Need No JobLightnin' Special Vol. 2
Eli FramerGod Didn't Make No Monkey ManThe Songster Tradition 1927-1935
Charlie PattonGoing To Move To AlabamaScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Sonny Boy Williamson IITemperature 110The Complete Chess Recordings
Sonny Boy Williamson IISomebody Help MeThe Complete Chess Recordings
Eddie King Blues Band &. Mae Bee May Buttermilk And CornbreadThe Blues Has Got Me

Show Notes:

First off I just want to thank those who've supported the show during our pledge drive. As we move into week two of the pledge drive I hope to hear from some more of you. Today's show is a mix show of sorts although we do have a short feature on Lonnie Johnson. Today we spotlight some late period Lonnie Johnson sides inspired by Mark Miller's new book, Way Down That Lonesome Road: Lonnie Johnson in Toronto, 1965-1970. In addition we'll play part of interview I did with Mark a couple of weeks back. Toronto was Lonnie Johnson’s last stop in a career of stops, at least the eighth city in which he lived for any length of time. Johnson traveled north for a brief appearance at the New Gate of Cleve in May 1965 and returned for a longer engagement at the Penny Farthing in June. Over the next five years — the last five years of his life — he rarely left the city again. In part a biographical study and in part a social history, Way Down That Lonesome Road follows Johnson from the generous welcome that he received from Toronto’s critics on his arrival and the successes and failures that followed.

Johnson's contract with King Records ended in 1952 and the rest of the 50's were a down time for him. He spent much of the decade outside of music working construction or toiling as a janitor. His fortunes changed with the assistance of Chris Albertson who got Johnson back on record and performing again. Between 1960 and 1962 he cut five albums for the Bluesville label, three of which were produced by Albertson, and showed that Johnson had lost little despite several years outside of music. He spent the early 1960's working a busy schedule that eventually took him back to Europe for the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival.  As he said to Valerie Wilmer in 1963: "I have enough work now back in the States to do me for the next fifteen years." Despite the boast the second half of the 60's found Johnson scuffling and recording sparingly. The latter part of the 60's saw far fewer recordings; there were sides cut for the Folkways label in 1967, some scattered sides for Victoria Spivey's Spivey label and the album Stompin' At The Penny with the Metro Stompers. All of today's sides come from the 60's including a gorgeous version of "Another Night To Cry" recorded at the American Folk Blues Festival in 1963 and "I want To Talk To You" from a 1960 radio broadcast. The latter cut  comes from Chris Albertson.  In the 50's Albertson was a disc jockey at WHAT-FM a Philadelphia station that offered jazz around the clock, seven days a week . After meeting Lonnie Johnson and Elmer Snowden, he wrote: "I also asked my newfound friends to appear live on my Sunday afternoon WHAT show, and they did that on several occasions. That was fifty years ago, but—and who says miracles don't happen—some of my airchecks have survived in the recesses of a closet.” Chris was kind of enough to let me air these recordings about a year ago and I thought it was fitting to revisit one of these recordings again.

In addition to the Lonnie Johnson book, Mark Miller has written several other books including High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm: The Life and Music of Valaida Snow. Mark was nice enough to send me a copy and also pointed me to two terrific blues numbers Snow waxed for Chess in 1953 which we spotlight today.

Raised on the road in a show-business family, she learned to play cello, bass, banjo, violin, mandolin, harp, accordion, clarinet, trumpet, and saxophone at professional levels by the time she was 15. She also sang and danced. After focusing on the trumpet, she quickly became so famous at the instrument that she was named "Little Louis" after Louis Armstrong, who used to call her the world's second best jazz trumpet player besides himself. She played concerts throughout the USA, Europe and China. Her most successful period was in the 1930s when she became the toast of London and Paris. Around this time she recorded her hit song, "High Hat, Trumpet, and Rhythm." She performed in the Ethel Waters show, "Rhapsody In Black", in New York. In the mid-30s she made films with her husband, Ananias Berry, of the Berry Brothers dancing troupe. After playing New York's Apollo Theater, she revisited Europe and the Far East for more shows and films. She cut dozens of sides between the early 30's and early 50's.

We have some other fine blues ladies on tap today including sides by Lottie Kimbrough, Bessie Smith and Julia Davis. Lottie Kimbrough was born in 1900 in Kansas City, Missouri, and enjoyed a recording career between the years 1924 to 1929. She was a famously large woman, nicknamed "the Kansas City Butter-ball", and throughout her career, she recorded and performed under several pseudonyms. She started performing professionally in the early 1920's singing in the city's red light district clubs and speakeasy's. She shared her first recording session for Paramount with the legendary Ma Rainey in 1924. In the same year there followed recording sessions for the Kansas City based Merrit Records, which was was owned by performer and promoter Winston Holmes. The two soon began to collaborate further, recording in Richmond, Indiana, and Holmes provided yodels, bird calls, and train whistles on the 1928 masterpieces "Lost Lover Blues" and "Wayward Girl Blues. She recorded prolifically during this period, recording for Gennett, using her own name, and under different other names she also recorded for Champion, Supertone and Superior. She made her final recordings in 1929 and by 1930 had disappeared from the Kansas City music scene.

Singer Julia Davis cut one 78 for Paramount in 1924 and onefinal terrific record in 1928, "Jasper Taylor Blues b/w Geechie River Blues", backed by the Original Washboard Band featured washboard player Jasper Taylor and the legendary Johnny Dodds on clarinet.

Today we play Bessie Smith's "J.C. Holmes Blues" a version of the more famous Casey Jones number. Smith is backed superbly by Charlie Green on trombone and Louis Armstrong on cornet.

Also featured today is music from Eddie King who passed on March 14, 2012. Kingwas working with bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon, which lead to his first recordings playing  second guitar  on several Sonny Boy Williamson II sides in 1960. The next major period in his career was as lead guitarist with Koko Taylor for more than two decades. In 1969, he and bassist Bob Stroger formed Eddie King & the Kingsmen, a group that worked together off and on for the next 15 years, overlapping with the Taylor stint. King had two fine albums under his name: The Blues Has Got Me issued on the Dutch Double Trouble label on 1987 in partnership with his sister Mae Bee Mae and 1997's Another Cow's Dead which won a W.C. Handy Award for best comeback album of the year. Our selection, "Buttermilk And Cornbread", comes from the earlier record and is a fine reworking of Lucille Spann's "Country Girl." We also spin Sonny Boy Williamson's "Temperature 110" and "Somebody Help Me" from 1960 featuring King and Luther Tucker on guitars and Otis Spann on the piano.

Big Walter Price If Blues Was MoneyThe Crazy Cajun Recordings
Big Walter Price To The Married MenThe Crazy Cajun Recordings
Big Walter Price Gamblin' WomanG.L. Crockett Meets Big Walter Price
Mississippi SheiksStop And ListenTommy Johnson & Associates
Willie LoftonDirty MistreaterTommy Johnson & Associates
Pete Johnson Mr. Freddy Blues1944-1946
Wee Bea BoozeMr. Freddie Blues Boogie Woogie Piano Vol. 2 1938-1954
Meade Lux Lewis Mr. Freddie BluesHey Mr. Piano Man
Lazy Lester All Because of YouJuicy Harmonica
Eddie BurnsBiscut Bakin' Mama
Juicy Harmonica
Little Daddy WaltonSpend My MoneyJuicy Harmonica
Alberta HunterMoanin' Low Chicago - The Living Legends
Victoria SpiveyI'll Never Fall in Love AgainVictoria Spivey Vol. 3 1929-1936
Little Miss JaniceScarred KneesWest Coast Guitar Killers Vol. 1
Jack Owens B & O BluesGoin' Up The Country
Short Stuff MaconShort Stuff's CorrinaHell Bound And Heaven Sent
Robert McCoy Gone Mother BluesBye Bye Blues
Sunnyland Slim Get to Hip to Yourself Plays The Ragtime Blues
Otis SpannSpann´s Blues American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1965
Rosa HendersonDo Right BluesThe Essential
Rosa HendersonPoplar Bluff BluesThe Essential
Monte Easter & Jimmy Nolen Slow Freight Back HomeMonte Easter Vol. 2
Cecil GantIt Ain't Gonna Be Like ThatCecil Gant Vol. 7 1950-1951
Freddie Keppard's Jazz Cardinals with Papa Charlie JacksonSalty DogBreaking Out of New Orleans
Walter Coleman Mama Let Me Lay It On YouMama Let Me Lay It On You 1926-1936
Willie HarrisBullfrog BluesThe Best There Ever Was
Sonny Boy NelsonLow DownMississippi Blues Vol. 3

Show Notes:

It's pledge drive time again and as always we would love to hear from our blues listeners.  Jazz90.1 receives no support from anybody but our listeners so if you enjoy the music, and have the means, please think about pledging your support. As usual during the pledge drive we have a mix show lined up for today. We open and close today by paying tribute to Big Walter Price the elder statesman of the Houston blues scene. Price, a legendary blues singer from Houston died March 8th at the age of 97. Price was already in his early forties when he made his first records, for Bob Tanner's TNT label in San Antonio. Three TNT singles were released in 1955. Later in 1955, Walter moved to Houston and joined his friend Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown at Don Robey's Peacock label. Five Peacock singles were issued in 1956-57. In 1958, Price recorded two singles for Eddie Shuler's Goldband label and the 60's saw releases on Myrl, Global, Tear Drop, Jet Stream and some fine sides for the Crazy Cajun label.

Also on today's show we spin a trio of covers of a boogie classic, spin twin spins of Rosa Henderson and Eugene Powell, play some fine blues ladies and batch of great piano blues. A couple of weeks back we played Freddie Shayne's 1935 of  “Mr. Freddie Blues” and today we hear some fine covers.  Shayne, the composer of "Mr. Freddie Blues" is a shadowy figure who spent his life working in Chicago. He first time on record was backing singer Priscilla Stewart on “Mr. Freddie Blues.” Shayne also made a very rare piano roll of this song. In 1935 Shayne recorded a solo record, “Original Mr. Freddie Blues b/w Lonesome Man Blues.” “Mr. Freddie Blues” became something of a boogie standard covered by many artists both as an instrumental and as a vocal. Today we hear great instrumental versions by Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis and a fine vocal performance by Wee Bea Booze from 1944 backed by pianist Sammy Price.

I've played the neglected blues queen Rosa Henderson several times on the program. I think it's hard for modern listeners to appreciate some of these early woman singers. The problem is twofold; the earliest records, before 1925, were recorded acoustically which doesn't make for a great listening experience and the other problem is that unless the singer was one of the big names, like Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey, the available recordings are usually presented in pretty rough shape, with little or no mastering done to spruce them up. Several years back the Document label issued a series of  very well mastered 2-CD sets under the title The Essential. I picked up the Rosa Henderson one just recently and it's great to hear her in much improved sound. Henderson, began recording in 1923, sometimes using such pseudonyms as Flora Dale, Mamie Harris, Rosa Green, Sarah Johnson, Sally Ritz, Bessie Williams, Josephine Thomas, and Gladys White on her records. In the late 1920's she started gradually dropping out of the music scene although she continued performing now and then into the mid-1930's. She cut close to one hundred sides between 1923 and 1932 with fine backing by musicians like Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Metcalf, Fats Waller, and James P. Johnson and had some very good songs. Henderson deserves a higher profile and if you're interested, The Essential is the place to start.

Speaking of the ladies we also spin sides by Alberta Hunter, Victoria Spivey and Little Miss Janice. The Hunter selection is from Chicago: The Living Legends cut for Riverside in 1961 and backed by Lovie Austin and her Blues Serenaders. Lovie Austin and band the Blues Serenaders accompanied many of the Classic Blues singers of the 1920s, including Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter, and Ethel Waters. Austin's song "Down Hearted Blues" was a big hit for Bessie Smith. The Serenaders recordings used many of Chicago's best hot musicians including, Johnny Dodds, Tommy Ladnier, Kid Ory, Natty Dominique, and Jimmie Noone.

From 1936 we spin Spivey's jazzy "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" backed by Her Hallelujah Boys who were actually, Dot Scott's Rhythm Dukes, featuring the great growling trumpet of Randolph Scott.

Little Miss Janice is a mystery. What little is know about her is that she came from Texas, she played guitar and she had a knack for songwriting. After this recording for Proverb, she went on to cut for Paul Gayten’s Pzazz label. Johnny Adams covered “Scarred Knees” on his first LP for Rounder and Esther Phillips did a great cover on her album From A Whisper To A Scream.

Together with his half brother Ben on a mandolin, Eugene Powell began to play as a novelty act at picnics and suppers and for prisoners at Mississippi State Penitentiary. The Powell Family, again, moved to Hollandale in Washington county in the early 1920's. This is when Eugene Powell began his formative years with the Chatmon Family who formed the popular Mississippi Sheiks. His early recordings stem from one session cut on October 15, 1936 at the St. Charles Hotel, New Orleans, LA where he cut sides as Sonny Boy Nelson and also backed artists Mississippi Matilda and Robert Hill. He recorded again from the 70's through the 90's, his recordings appearing on numerous anthologies. He passed in 1997.

As always we hear some excellent piano blues with tracks by Robert McCoy, Otis Spann and Sunnyland Slim. Alabama barrelhouse blues pianist Robert McCoy had two rare LP's in the early 60's on the Vulcan label. Delmark has reissued this material on CD as Bye Bye Baby. These were his first recordings as leader although he recorded at a 1937 session backing fellow Alabama artists Guitar Slim, Charlie Campbell and Peanut The Kidnapper. Our selection, "Gone Mother Blues", is superb reading of the Leroy Carr number.

We spin a tracks from two great Chicago pianists, Sunnyland Slim and Otis Spann. Slim's "Get to Hip to Yourself" comes from the oddly titled Plays The Ragtime Blues on Bluesway which was released in 1972. Despite the title this is an exceptionally strong, well recorded set of Chicago blues finding Sunnyland backed superbly by Carey Bell and The Aces (Louis Myers, Dave Myers and Fred Below). From the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival we hear Otis Spann on the romping "Spann's Blues."

I've been listening to some vintage jazz lately, in particular the 4-CD set Breaking Out of New Orleans 1922-1929 which features terrific sides by Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, Sam Morgan's Jazz Band, Celestin's Original Tuxedo Orchestra and Freddie Keppard's Jazz Cardinals who we feature today. After playing with the Olympia Orchestra Keppard joined Frankie Dusen's Eagle Band, taking the place recently vacated by Buddy Bolden. Soon after Bolden was off the music scene Keppard was proclaimed "King Keppard" as the city's top horn player. About 1914 Joe "King" Oliver won a musical "cutting contest" and claimed Keppard's crown. Keppard made recordings in Chicago between 1924 and 1927 including two versions of "Salty Dog" from 1926 featuring Papa charlie Jackson. The performance concluded with a rousing aside of “Papa Charlie done sung that song!” Jackson first cut the song in 1924 which made him a recording star. Old-time New Orleans musicians from Buddy Bolden’s era recalled hearing far filthier versions of “Salty Dog Blues” long before Papa Charlie’s recording.


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