|James "Son" Thomas||Highway 61 Blues||Give My Heart Ease|
|James "Son" Thomas||Crawling Kingsnake||The Blues Are Alive And Well|
|James "Son" Thomas||Bottle 'Em Up And Go||Mississippi Delta & South Tenessee Blues|
|Turner Foddrell||Crow Jane||Unreleased/Pete Lowry|
|The Foddrell Brothers||Patrick County Rag||Patrick County Rag|
|The Foddrell Brothers||Boogie In The Morning||Patrick County Rag|
|Cecil Barfield||I Woke Up Crying||The George Mitchell Collection|
|Cecil Barfield||Hooks In The Water||South Georgia Blues|
|Cecil Barfield||True Love||South Georgia Blues|
|Guitar Shorty||My Mind Never Changed||Carolina Slide Guitar|
|Guitar Shorty||I'm Going Home||Carolina Slide Guitar|
|Guitar Shorty||Goin' Down in Georgia||Carolina Slide Guitar|
|James 'Son' Thomas||Cairo Blues||Living Country Blues: Vol. 5 Mississippi Delta Blues|
|James 'Son' Thomas||Mama Don't Low No Guitar Playing Round Here||Living Country Blues: Vol. 10 Country Boogie|
|James 'Son' Thomas||Catfish Blues||Living Country Blues: Vol. 5 Mississippi Delta Blues|
|The Foddrell Brothers||Haunted House||Patrick County Rag|
|The Foddrell Brothers||I Got A Woman||Classic Appalachian Blues From Smithsonian Folkways|
|Cecil Barfield||Lonesome House Blues||The George Mitchell Collection|
|Cecil Barfield||I Told You Not To Do That||The George Mitchell Collection|
|Cecil Barfield||Hoochie Coochie Man||Unreleased/Axel Künster|
|Guitar Shorty||Don't Cry Baby||Alone In His Field|
|Guitar Shorty||Working Hard||Alone In His Field|
|Guitar Shorty||Hold On Baby||Carolina Country Blues|
|James "Son" Thomas||After The War||Gateway To The Delta|
|James "Son" Thomas||Train Fare Blues||Gateway To The Delta|
|James "Son" Thomas||High Brown||Son Thomas Plays And Sings Delta Blues|
|The Foddrell Brothers||Lonesome Country Boy Blues||The Original Blues Brothers|
|The Foddrell Brothers||Going Up The Country||The Original Blues Brothers|
|The Foddrell Brothers||Slow Drag||The Original Blues Brothers|
|James "Son" Thomas, photographed by Bill Ferris in Leland, Mississippi, 1968|
The days of finding country blues performers still playing in their local communities seems to be a thing of the past and with that so too are the days of field recording. These days hardly anyone one undertakes field recording and the sad fact is that blues has largely disappeared as integral part of African-American rural communities; most of the old timers have passed on and few of the younger generation are interested in blues, particularly traditional blues. From the 1960's through the 80's there were folklorists, researchers and dedicated fans such as David Evans, George Mitchell, Sam Charters, Chris Stratwichz, Mack McCormick, Bruce Jackson, Peter B. Lowry, Tary Owens, Art Rosenbaum, Pete Welding, Bengt Olsson, Kip Lornell, Glenn Hinson, Tim Duffy, and Axel Küstner who actively sought out and recorded rural blues. Some were hunting for the famous names who made records in the 1920’s and 1930’s, others were seeking to fill in biographical blanks regarding some of the older musicians coveted by collectors and then there were those who were seeking to document the blues tradition as it still existed in rural communities. What they recorded in the rural communities of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas and Mississippi during this period was a still thriving, if largely undocumented, blues culture. As George Mitchell wrote: "As late as 1969 a country bluesman who at least occasionally played could be located in most small towns of Georgia. In 1976, there are very few active blues musicians left in the state! In the short span of seven years, one of the world's most vital and influential forms of music as it was originally performed has all but died out in Georgia, and probably in the rest of the South as well." I would say that even up through the early 1980's were still some fine players still active. Today's program spotlights a batch of superb artists from this period,: the Foddrell Brothers, James "Son" Thomas, Cecil Barfield and Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue).
|Read Liner Notes|
Born in the Yazoo County community of Eden on October 14, 1926, James "Son"Thomas made his first recordings for folklorist Bill Ferris in 1968 (earliest sides appear on the compilations Blues From The Delta and The Blues Are Alive And Well). He later traveled throughout the United States and Europe to perform at blues concerts and exhibit his artwork. Thomas died in Greenville on June 26, 1993.
Thomas was one of the most recognized local musical figures in Mississippi during the 1970s and ’80s. He performed throughout the state at nightclubs, festivals, private parties, government social affairs, colleges, and juke joints. He also toured and recorded several blues albums in Europe, and his folk art was featured at galleries in New York, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Thomas learned guitar as a youngster after hearing his grandfather, Eddie Collins, and uncle, Joe Cooper, at house parties in Yazoo County. He later saw the two blues legends he regarded as his main influences, Elmore James and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, as well as Bentonia bluesman Jack Owens.
Thomas' performances had been confined to juke joints and house parties until he met Bill Ferris, who began recording and filming Thomas and other local bluesmen in 1968. The Xtra and Matchbox labels released the first recordings of Thomas, who later made albums for the Mississippi-based Southern Culture, Rustron, and Rooster Blues labels as well as companies in France, Holland, and Germany. He also appeared in several documentary films. Among his best recordings were made by Axel Küstner and Ziggy Chrismann in 1980 and issued as the Living Country Blues USA series on the German L&R label. By 1980 Thomas was a regular on the festival circuit but had recorded little, just a handful of sides scattered on obscure anthologies. After 1980 he toured Europe, recorded prolifically, including several very strong albums.
Marvin and Turner Foddrell were born into a musical family near Stuart in the Virginia Piedmont and for the major parts of their lives played regularly only at community gatherings, never professionally. Marvin and Turner were sons of a regionally renowned mult-instrumentalist, Posey Foddrell, who was proficient on fiddle, mandolin, piano, banjo, and guitar and played both with black and integrated groups. The family had lived in the Stuart area for several generations and they rarely ventured any significant distance from their home, where Turner ran a grocery store on Highway 8, and where the brothers were "discovered" by a local deejay during one of their impromptu jams. Discovered in the 1970s', the Foddrells became a regular fixture at the annual Blue Ridge Folklife Festival at nearby Ferrum College (the college's Blue Ridge Institute recorded the brothers extensively) and were also featured at many other festivals including some in Europe. The Foddrell Brothers recorded only two commercial records: The Original Blues Brothers (1981) on Swingmaster and Patrick County Rag (1983) on Outlet. They also appeared alongside more famous traditional musicians on a number of recorded anthologies. Both brothers have since passed away. Pete Lowry recorded them extensively in 1979 but none of these recordings were ever issued. Turner’s son Lynn joined the brothers on the 1982 and 1983 performances at the Celebration of Traditional Music. After Marvin’s death, Turner had continued to perform with Lynn. With Turner succumbing to lung cancer on Jan 31, 1995, the baton was passed onto Lynn.
|Read Liner Notes|
One of the the most striking musicians recorded by George Mitchell was Cecil Barfield, and I agree with Mitchell’s assessment that he was some kind of genius. Mitchell called him "probably the greatest previously unrecorded bluesman I have had the pleasure of recording during my 15 years of field research." …Cecil was illiterate, but he was a genius. He couldn't read or write, but he was a highly intelligent person. I would stay up for hours, just talking to Cecil. …People from Germany and Italy wanted to have him come play, but he was not going anywhere." He began playing blues at five years old, using a cooking oil can he had rigged up with a neck and one string. He took up guitar at 12, and started playing rag and dance pieces before developing his distinctive bottleneck style. As Mitchell recalled: "We were recording Cecil in this tiny sharecropper's shack in some guy's plantation." Needless to say the plantation owner was not happy who called the sheriff on Mitchell.
Using the name William Robertson, in fear of endangering his welfare checks, he cut the LP South Georgia Blues for Southland in the mid-70's with several other tracks appearing on Flyright’s Georgia Blues Today (reissued by Fat Possum). I imagine Barfield is an acquired taste but to me he is simply mesmerizing; his music, with his droning, lightly distorted electric guitar coupled with his powerful mushed mouth, nasal singing, is hypnotic. Barfield has some originals but his genius is in the way he transforms well known songs by Frankie Lee Sims ("Lucy Mae Blues"), Lightnin’ Hopkins ("Mojo Hand"), J.B. Lenoir ("Talk To Your Daughter") and others into something startlingly original. Mitchell recorded Barfield extensively and there were a couple of digital collections available at one point. Art Rosenbaum and Axel Küstner also record Barfield. Barfield was born in 1922 and was farmer all his life until a back injury forced him to retire. On how he came up with his songs he told Art Rosenbaum "your heart feels a certain way, then your mind follows, then you hands follow that."
Pete Lowry called Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue) "One of the most spontaneous musicians around; right up there with Lightnin' Hopkins, maybe more so." He cut a pair of unissued sides for Savoy in 1952, the long out-of-print album Carolina Slide Guitar (Flyright, 1971) and an album for Lowry's Trix label, Alone In His Field, before passing in 1975. During his brief period of recording he played at the Chapel Hill Blues Festival and at coffee houses in the same town. Performances of him at the Chapel Hill Blues Festival can found on the Flyright albums Carolina Country Blues and Another Man Done Gone.
|Guitar Shorty, photo by Kip Lornell.|
As Lowry wrote: "Born John Henry Fortescue in the town of Beihaven, N.C. at an unknown ttme, Shorty is possibly in his early forties. I am convinced that Shorty has no idea how old he is, and isn't of major importance. He now lives in Elm City. N.C. a very small town between Rocky Mount and Wilson – he lives in poverty in a house next to one of the fields he often works in… the white man across the way owns it all. Life is hardly romantic, unless one is masochistic and likes starving, getting drunk, and waking in jail on occasions. When not working, he drinks, plays in the streets (that's how McLean met him the first time), or often in a church on Sunday (with his wife Lena)." As Danny McClean recalled: "I first met Shorty in the summer of 1970. There he was, just walking down the street playing guitar with Lena tagging along behind him. Shorty didn't sound like Blind Boy Fuller or Gary Davis or pick like Elizabeth Cotton. He played better when I first met him than he has since. He played really beautiful slide – weird things like maybe only Robert Johnson could have done. All the best things I heard him do never got on to tape it seems. They happened riding to his house in my car or on a visit when I didn't bring a tape recorder. He isn't nervous when he plays to a tape but it's never as good."