This past week Geva Theatre presented Journey to the Son: A Celebration of Son House a four-day festival that weaved together music, theatre, film, audio recordings, storytelling and lectures celebrating the life of Son House. Son lived in Rochester from 1943 through 1976 and was rediscovered here in 1964. There were fine performances by John Hammond, John Mooney, Chris Thomas King, Joe Beard, Steve Grills and others as well as musical workshops  and lectures. The biggest highlight for me was the dedication of an official Mississippi Blues Trail marker on Friday, August 28th on the corner of Clarissa and Grieg Street where Son House resided in the Corn Hill Neighborhood of Rochester. The marker is one of only a few above the Mason-Dixon line. Joining the celebration were Son's manager Dick Waterman, one of the men who tracked Son to Rochester in the summer of 1964, and Jim O'Neal founder of Living Blues magazine and research consultant for the Mississippi Trail marker project. Here's photos of both sides of the marker and a picture of Jim O'Neal and myself standing near the site of Son's apartment building which since been torn down.

Charlie SangsterTwo White HorsesBlues At Home Vol. 9
Charlie SangsterOne Cold NightBlues At Home Vol. 9
James “Son” Thomas & Eddie CusicStanding At The CrossroadsBlues At Home Vol. 10
James “Son” Thomas & Joe CooperThree Days I CriedBlues At Home Vol. 10
James “Son” ThomasFour Women BluesBlues At Home Vol. 10
Sleepy John EstesYellow Yam Blues (Take 4)Blues At Home Vol. 11
Sleepy John Estes & Hammie NixonSugar MamaBlues At Home Vol. 11
Sleepy John EstesShe Keeps Me Worried And Bothered Blues At Home Vol. 11
Mott Willis Baby Please Don't GoBlues At Home Vol. 13
Lum GuffinTrain I Ride 18 Coaches Long Blues At Home Vol. 13
William 'Do Boy' DiamondMississippi FlatBlues At Home Vol. 13
Walter Cooper & Hammie NixonBaby Please Don't Go, No. 3Blues At Home Vol. 13
Roosevelt HoltsBig Road Blues Blues At Home Vol. 13
Asie PaytonBlind ManBlues At Home Vol. 13
Jacob StuckeyIt Must Have Been The Devil (Take 2)Blues At Home Vol. 13
Memphis Willie Borum 61 Highway Blues Blues At Home Vol. 13
Mattie May ThomasDangerous BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
John DudleyCool Drink of Water BluesParchman Farm: Photographs & Field Recordings 1947–1959
Son Thomas Catfish Blues Living Country Blues: An Anthology
Frank Hovington Lonesome Road BluesGone With The Wind
Joe Savage Joe’s Prison Camp HollerLiving Country Blues Vol. 7
Chester Davis, Compton Jones & Furry LewisGlory Glory HallelujahSorrow Come Pass Me Around
John Lee ZieglerIf I Lose, Let Me LoseThe George Mitchell Collection
Jimmy Lee WilliamsHave You Ever Seen PeachesHoot Your Belly
Roosevelt CharlesWasn't I LuckyBlues, Prayer, Work & Trouble Songs
Jim Brewer Big Road BluesBlues Scene USA Vol. 4
J.B. SmithSure Make a Man Feel BadNo More Good Time in the World for Me

Show Notes:

Charlie SangsterIn the early 70's through the early 80's Gianni Marcucci made five trips to the United States from Italy to document blues with several albums worth of material issued in the the 1970's. I've corresponded with Gianni regarding those albums and he wrote that these releases were "an abuse and an offense to my effort (10 years of field research, and 13 years of re-mastering and text editing), as well as an insult to the memory of the featured artists" and that his overall experience was a "nightmare." Furthermore, he wrote, "my research has been misunderstood with the result that I received some insults and defamation, both in Europe and USA, on magazines and books." The Blues At Home series is his "peaceful reply" to those critics. The recordings heard on this series were kept in Gianni's private archive. "In order to preserve these materials I transferred to digital those I thought were best, and by 2013 [2015]  the 16-volume Blues At Home CD collection was ready for release." The material is currently available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Apple Music and CD Baby for digital download and streaming. There are plans to make these available as physical CD's as well.

"In 1972, Gianni wrote, "I worked with Lucio Maniscalchi. In 1976 Vincenzo Castella, assisted me and took the photographs. Lucio Maniscalchi  worked with me for 11 days (20-31 December 1972); Vincenzo Castella in July-August 1976. Both Maniscalchi and Castella were not interested in my research and documentary project. They left the project after the 2 field trips were done. They just randomly worked with me on those occasions. Their name was erroneously featured and emphasized on the" original LP's, "especially the name of Vincenzo Castella. I was the only responsible of the recordings, archiving, and LP edition (including, of course, all the typos, mistakes, etc.). In 1972 and 1976 Hammie Nixon helped finding some of the performers in Tennessee. In 1976 Mary Helen Looper and Jane Abraham helped in the Delta. …On December 1972, with the help of the legendary harmonica player Hammie Nixon, using a professional portable equipment, I had the chance to start recording blues in Memphis. The documentary research continued in July 1976, ending in July 1982. A series of informal sessions was held during the course of my five trips through Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana, featuring well known, but also little known, and unknown musicians."

Today's program is our second installment  (see part 1) featuring the following artists: Charlie Sangster, James “Son” Thomas, Walter Cooper, Eddie Cusic, Sleepy John Estes, Hammie Nixon, William 'Do Boy' Diamond, Mott Willis, Lum Guffin, Roosevelt Holts, Asie Payton, Memphis Willie Borum and  Jacob Stuckey. We have some extra tome time at the end of our two-part feature so we round it out with a selection of filed recording favorites featured on previous shows.Hammie Nixon

The ninth volume of the Blues At Home collection introduces Charlie Sangster, a little known artist of Brownsville, Tennessee. Belonging to a musical family, he learned how to play mandolin and guitar at the age of 12. His father, Samuel Ellis Sangster, was a blues guitarist who used to play with Sleepy John Estes and Hambone Willie Newbern; his mother, Victoria, was a gospel singer. Charlie played at the fish market and in other social situations with a circle of local musicians, including Charlie Pickett, Brownsville Son Bonds, Hammie Nixon, Yank Rachel, Sleepy John Estes, and Walter Cooper. He also knew and performed with Hambone Willie Newbern during the last part of Newbern’s life. Sangster was recorded at eight sessions between 1976 and 1980.

The tenth volume of the Blues At Home collection features Leland, Mississippi, bluesman James “Son” Thomas along with his uncle Joe Cooper, both hailing from Yazoo County, Mississippi, and Leland blues artist Eddie Cusic who passed away a few weeks back. Thomas, Cooper, and Cusic were discovered in the late ‘60s by researcher Bill Ferris, and Thomas and his uncle’s music are featured in Ferris’s book Blues from The Delta. “Son” Thomas also appeared in several blues LP anthologiesduring the late ‘60s and in some documentary films. From the ‘80s until his death in 1995, Thomas was in the folk music circuit, recording numerous albums and performing all over the world. The material was recorded during several informal sessions held in 1976, 1978, and 1982 at the artists’ homes in Leland and Greenville, Mississippi.

The eleventh volume of the Blues At Home collection features Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon. Estes was born in 1899 in Ripley, Tennessee, but spent most of his life in Brownsville, Tennessee, which he considered his home. Between 1929 and 1939, he recorded over 30 sides for Vocalion, Decca, and Bluebird. Living in poverty for the whole of his life and being completely blind by the late '40s, Estes was rediscovered in the early '60s through the referral of Big Joe Williams. He hit the blues revival circuit, making numerous recordings and performing all over the world until his death in 1977. These sessions were recorded informally at Estes' home in Brownsville in December 1972, both alone and with the accompaniment of his old-time partner Hammie Nixon.

The twelfth volume of the Blues At Home collection harmonica player Hammie Nixon, performing with Sleepy John Estes, and alone on guitar and harmonica. Nixon was born in Brownsville, Tennessee. At age 11, he was able to play harmonica with Sleepy John Estes at a picnic held in Brownsville. Hammie also played with local musicians, Hambone Willie Newbern, Samuel and Charlie Sangster, Yank Rachell, and Charlie Pickett, learning harmonica from Noah Lewis and Tommy Garry. He first recordwd with Estes in 1929 for Victor. In 1934 he recorded in Chicago for Decca and Champion with Brownsville Son Bonds. He recorded with John Estes again in 1935 and 1937.  After Estes’ rediscovery in the early ‘60s, Hammie kept performing with him until John’s death in 1977. These recordings were recorded between 1972 and 1976 during informal sessions held at Hammie Nixon and Sleepy John Estes' homes in Brownsville.

113The thirteenth volume of the Blues At Home collection, features various blues artists recorded from 1976 to 1982 in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Louisiana. Mott Willis was born in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, has been associated with Tommy and Mager Johnson. Willis was recorded in  Crystal Springs, where he was discovered in the summer of 1967 making recordings for Advent and Mimosa Records which have yet to be released. Lum Guffin was a multi-instrumentalist; he played guitar as well as fife and drum music at picnics in the east Shelby County area. Discovered by Swedish researcher Bengt Olsson in the late '60s, Guffin had a Flyright Records LP devoted to him. William “Do-Boy” Diamond was born near Canton, Mississippi, in 1913. He was discovered in the '60s by George Mitchell who recorded him. Roosevelt Holts was born in 1905 near Tylertown, Mississippi, and developed his musical skill with Tommy Johnson. Discovered in the '60s, he made several recordings released on LPs and on a 45. Asie Payton never moved out of the Holly Ridge, Mississippi, area where he worked as a farmer and tractor driver for most of his life. He record for Fat Possum late in life. Memphis Willie Borum was born in 1911 in Memphis and had a central role in the jug band scene, actually playing with all the major groups and blues artists active in the City. He was rediscovered by Sam Charters in 1961, recording two LP albums for Bluesville. Jacob Stuckey was born in Bentonia, Mississippi, in 1916 and learned directly from Skip James.

The final volumes of the Blues At Home series (13-16) feature interviews by several of the artists. These are not featured on today's program.

Jenni WernerLiterary Director, Geva TheaterInterview
Dan BeaumontAuthor of Preachin'
the Blues: The Life and Times of Son House
Steve GrillsMusicianInterview
Son House Levee Camp Moan Son House With Studs Terkel, Chicago 1965
Son House Don't Mind People Grinnin' In Your Face Son House With Studs Terkel, Chicago 1965
Son House My Black Mama, Pt. 1Blues Images Vol. 2
Son House My Black Mama, Pt. 2Blues Images Vol. 2
Son House Death LetterFather of the Delta Blues
Son House Mississippi County Farm Blues Blues Images Vol. 4
Son House Walkin' Blues Legends of Country Blues
Son House Louise McGee Father of the Delta Blues
Son House Empire State ExpressSon House With Studs Terkel, Chicago 1965
Son House Pony BluesLegends of Country Blues
Son House Preachin' The Blues Part 1Legends of Country Blues
Son House The Jinx Blues Part 1 The Real Delta Blues
Son House Delta Blues Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues

Show Notes:Son House Geva Banner

This week Geva Theatre presents Journey to the Son: A Celebration of Son House from August 26 through August 29th. The four-day festival weaves together music, theatre, film, audio recordings, storytelling and lectures to celebrate the life of Son House. There will be musical performances by John Hammond, John Mooney, Chris Thomas King, Joe Beard, Steve Grills as well as musical workshops. Another highlight will be the dedication of an official Mississippi Blues Trail marker on Friday, August 28 near the site where Son House resided in the Corn Hill Neighborhood of Rochester. There will also be the debut of the play, Revival: The Resurrection of Son House, by Keith Glover. In addition there will be lectures by author Dan Beaumont, Son's old manager, Dick Waterman, and Jim O'Neal founder of Living Blues magazine. On today's show we  have several folks involved in this event in the studio including Geva's Literary Director Jenni Werner, Dan Beaumont author of Preachin' the Blues: The Life and Times of Son House, and musician Steve Grills.

When I was a teenager discovering the blues one of the first albums that really captivated me was Son House's Death Letter – I still have it – (the UK equivalent of Father of the Folk Blues), his stunning return to the studio after dropping out of sight for nearly twenty-five years. As author Dan Beaumont wrote: "In 1943 Son House left Mississippi, and, for all that is known of his life over the course of the next twenty-one years, he may well have fallen off the face of the earth. But this he did not do-instead he did the next best thing. He moved to Rochester, New York." As a teenager living in the Bronx I too knew nothing of Rochester outside the fact it was in some nether region of New York State – the farthest I had been was the Catskills, one hundred miles upstate. But as I read Dick Waterman's liner notes, Rochester and the address 61 Greig Street was burned in my memory. That was where Dick Waterman, Phil Spiro and Nick Perls finally tracked Son down on June 23rd, 1964. Waterman became Son's manager and the following year he was signed to Columbia and played the Newport Folk Festival. Son had several good years on the comeback trail; he toured the US playing folk festivals and the coffeehouse circuit and did tours of Europe as well. He also performed locally in Rochester at several different venues, all of which are long shuttered. Memories of Son's local performances are vividly burned into the memories of all who had a chance to witness him in action.

Son House rediscovery
The men who found Son House: Nick Perls, Dick Waterman, Son House, Phil Spiro.
Photo taken June 23, 1964 in front of 61 Greig Street.

Son's rediscovery in Rochester was newsworthy, making it into Newsweek, Downbeat and the May 29, 1965 edition of the Rochester afternoon newspaper, The Times-Union, with a story titled Son House Records Blues Again and a follow-up article and interview in July titled Hunt for 'Blues' Singer Of Thirties Ends in City. It must have been a bit bewildering to Son who was living a very low-key life in Rochester as Dan Beaumont notes: "There for twenty one years he lived amidst almost total obscurity. Indeed, what is known of his life in that city from 1943 to 1964 is so slight, so slender, that his biographer's task becomes well nigh impossible."

I came to Rochester in the late 1980's for college and have been up here ever since. Over the years I met numerous people who fondly recalled Son House and when I started doing my yearly radio birthday tributes to Son, it brought more people out of the woodwork who gladly shared their memories with me. So it's puzzling that the City has never honored Son in any way. At least Cab Calloway (born in Rochester in 1907) has a plaque honoring him, albeit tucked away on a nondescript side street in an equally nondescript park. For years myself and others thought someone should rectify this sorry state of affairs; a plaque, a statue or something to honor one of the pivotal figures in blues history, a major influence on both Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and who's recordings are among the most powerful in blues history. It would be a shame to let Son's memory slip back to the years before he was rediscovered in Rochester, but the sad fact is there was nothing tangible that shows he ever made this city his home for a good part of his life (1943-1976). This year finally marks a change as a Mississippi Blues Trail marker (only the 13th outside of Mississippi) will be dedicated to Son at the Corner of Grieg and Clarissa St., close to the spot where he was rediscovered. Son's actual residence at the time, 61 Grieg Street, no longer exists, a causality of urban renewal.

Son House Times-Union
Article from Rochester's Times-Union, July 14, 1964

Back in 2007 myself and others launched the modest Hot Blues For The Homeless concert which evolved into Hot Blues For The Homeless …A Tribute To Son House. The concert was successful, raised a good amount of money for the Rochester homeless and raised some local awareness of Son House with good coverage in the local media. Out of the concert rose the Son House Apartments which provide housing for the homeless. After a few years I got burned out on the project but I'm glad a major institution like the Geva is picking up the torch.

James Son Thomas & Eddie CusicLittle Red CarBlues At Home Vol. 10
Eddie CusicGonna Cut You LooseLiving Country Blues USA Vol. 2
Skip James Sick Bed BluesGreatest Of The Delta Blues Singers
Napoleon Strickland & Fred McDowellShake 'em on DownShake 'Em On Down
Lemon NashPapa Lemon's BluesPapa Lemon
Lemon NashGravedigger's BluesPapa Lemon
Lemon NashBowleg Rooster, Duckleg Hen / Sweet Georgia BrownPapa Lemon
Blind Willie JohnsonLord, I Just Can't Keep from CryingBlind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists
Son HouseThis Little Light Of Mine The Real Delta Blues
Peg Leg Sam I Got A Home Joshua
Roy Brown Butcher Pete Part 1Pay Day Jump The 1949-51
Roy Brown Butcher Pete Part 2Pay Day Jump The 1949-51
Tampa RedIf I Don't Find Another True LoveDynamite! The Unsung King Of The Blues
Tampa Red
I Got My Habits On
Dynamite! The Unsung King Of The Blues
Tampa RedEvalenaDynamite! The Unsung King Of The Blues
Scrapper BlackwellD BluesScrapper Blackwell Vol. 2 1934-1958
Leroy Carr & Scrapper BlackwellBig Four BluesWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Charlie PattonHigh Water Everywhere Part 1Blues Images Vol. 7
Charlie PattonHigh Water Everywhere Part 2Blues Images Vol. 7
Elmore JamesI Need YouKing of the Slide Guitar
Guitar SlimStory of My LifeSufferin' Mind
James WaltonLeaving BluesA Fortune Of Blues Vol. 2
Ma Rainey Log Camp Blues Mother of the Blues
Bertha ''Chippie'' HillHard Time Blues Bertha 'Chippie' Hill Vol. 1 1925-1929
Funny Papa Smith Seven Sisters Blues Part 1The Original Howling Wolf Sessions
Funny Papa Smith Seven Sisters Blues Part 2The Original Howling Wolf Sessions
Blind Boy FullerTell It To Me Blind Boy Fuller: Remastered 1935-1938
Leroy JohnsonNo One to Love MeTexas Country Blues 1948-1951
Howlin' Wolf Bluebird BluesSmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters
Robert Johnson Traveling Riverside Blues The Centennial Collection
Robert NighthawkFriar's Point Blues Prowling With The Nighthawk

Show Notes:

A mix show today as we travel through the 1920's up to the 60's touching on a wide variety of blues styles. On deck today are several two part blues songs including records by Charlie Patton, Funny Papa Smith and Roy Brown. Also featured are a some tracks by Eddie Cusic who recently passed away, a trio of tracks from the obscure New Orleans musician Lemon Nash, three sides by Tampa Red from a new reissue, some fine down-home blues, a pair of songs that share a similar geography and much more.

Eddie Cusic & James 'Son' Thomas 1976 Back cover of Albatros
album Mississippi Delta & South Tennessee Blues (photographer: Enzo Castella)

Eddie Cusic passed away on August 11th. Cusic was born in 1926 south of Leland, Mississippi. In the early 1950's, he formed a group called the Rhythm Aces that featured Little Milton. The group played the clubs in Greenville, Leland and in juke joints throughout the Delta. In the 1960's Cusic frequently teamed up with fellow Leland guitarist James "Son" Thomas, playing with him at picnics and other social events throughout the state. He stopped performing for awhile to provide for his family, returning to active performing after retiring from his quarry job in 1989. He became a mainstay at the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival and at the Sunflower River Festival. Cusic left behind a small recorded legacy that includes one full-length album, I Want to Boogie cut for Hightone in 1997 and reissued on the Wolf label with extra tracks, plus field recordings made by Gianni Marcucci in the 1970's and Axel Küstner in the 1980's.

I was toying around withe idea of doing a show revolving around two-part songs which in the context of this show would mean both sides of the 78. We spin perhaps one of the greatest two-part 78's, Charley Patton's "High Water Everywhere", his epic about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Paramount devoted an advertisement for the record with an illustration depicting a family sitting dejectedly on the porch of a shack, looking at the rising waters. The caption reads: "Everyone who has heard this record says that 'HIGH WATER EVERYWHERE' is Charley Patton's best and you know that means it has to be mighty good because he has made some knockouts."


Other two-parters  featured today include "Seven Sisters Blues" by J. T. "Funny Papa" Smith recorded in 1931. The Seven Sisters of New Orleans were said to be a family of hoodoo women who lived and practiced in the Crescent City in the 1920's and 30's. We also spin Roy Brown's salacious tale of "Butcher Pete" from 1949:

Hey everybody, did the news get around
About a guy named Butcher Pete
Oh, Pete just flew into this town
And he's choppin' up all the women's meat

He's hackin' and wackin' and smackin' (3x)
He just hacks, wacks, choppin' that meat

Tampa RedTampa Red
Read Liner Notes

I have been a huge fan of Tampa Red ever since picking up the wonderful 2-LP gatefold album, Guitar Wizard, which RCA released in the mid-70's. The album had a selection of sides from the 1930's through the 50's and a terrific set of notes by Jim O'Neal. O'Neal has provided another set of excellent notes to ACE's 2-CD Tampa Red reissue, Dynamite! The Unsung King Of The Blues. This set focuses on Tampa's final commercial period, the years 1945 through 1953, a period I've always been a fan of particularly the sides with pianist Little Johnny Jones who recorded with Tampa from 1949 through 1953. The tracks here have never sounded better, having been taken from master tapes and the original metal masters. The collection also contains four unissued sides including "I Got My Habits On", "Mary Lou Blues", "I Don’t Find Another True Love" and "Evalena", the latter two from his final session in 1953. I think this version of "Evalena" is superior to the issued take, showcasing magnificent playing from Walter Horton. Later in the program we hear from Tampa again, this time in a supporting role, backing Bertha "Chippie" Hill  on "Hard Time Blues" from 1928.

Friars Point is a small town in Coahoma County, Mississippi with an outsized role in blues history. Mississippi was one of only three states that continued prohibition after 1933 making Friars Point a popular weekend hangout because it was across the river from Helena, Arkansas where liqueur was legal and hence became an active bootlegging center. Another reason was there was curfew in Clarksdale, one of the Delta's main towns. Muddy Waters recalled: "Twelve O'Clock, you better be out of there, get off the streets. The great big police come down Sunflower street with that big cap on, man, waving that stick…That's why all this country stuff, people go out in the country. Friars Point'd go up to four o'clock in the morning, sometimes all night." Muddy Waters also said that the only time he saw Robert Johnson play was on the front porch of Hirsberg's Drugstore in Friars Point. In "Traveling Riverside Blues" Robert Johnson sang: "Just come on back to Friars Point, mama, and barrelhouse all night long/I got womens in Vicksburg, clean on into Tennessee (2x)/ But my Friar's Point rider, now, hops all over me." Friars Point seems to have been a regular stop on the circuit Delta bluesmen would travel from town to town through towns like Rosedale, Jackson, Clarksdale, Greenville and others. The Mississippi Blues Commission placed a Blues Trail marker in Friars Point in recognition of musician Robert Nighthawk, who at various times called Friars Point home and where one of his marriages took place. In 1940, Nighthawk recorded "Friars Point Blues", singing of "going back to Friars Point, down in sweet old Dixie Land." Nighthawk's son, drummer Sam Carr, was born in Friars Point.

Last year Arhoolie released a terrific CD by the little known Lemon Nash titled Papa Lemon. Born in 1898, Nash started on guitar, then violin, before turning to ukulele in his late teens. In the 1920's he signed on with a medicine show shilling blood tonic for an Indian chief and a legless cowboy where he honed both his music and comedy routines. Somewhere in these early years he played with the mysterious Richard "Rabbit" Brown (of whom he says: "Rabbit played so bad I had to let him go") who cut six sides for Victor in New Orleans in 1927. Nash's recordings were captured between 1956 and 1961 by both New Orleans jazz archivist Richard B Allen and folklorist Dr Harry Oster. Outside of these sides only a few other sides by Nash have been issued on the 504 record label which specialized in New Orleans jazz. Nash passed away in 1969, a virtual unknown outside his small circle of family and friends. Nash was a true songster playing a charming variety of traditional numbers including blues, pop and gospel.

Lemon NashWe play several heavy hitters on today's show including Son House and Skip James who both recorded legendary sessions for Paramount in the 1930's; House in 1930 and James in 1931, and both were rediscovered in 1964 and soon hit the blues revival circuit. In a couple of weeks I'll be doing a feature on Son House as our local theater is celebrating his legacy with an ambitious four-day event. Today's Skip James recording was recorded in 1964 in Falls Church, VA at the home of musicologist Dick Spotswood. These were James' first recordings since 1931. The sessions were completed the following year, issued in 1965 as Greatest Of The Delta Blues Singers, first on on Spotswood's Melodeon label then on the Biograph label which acquired Melodeon in 1970.


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