ARTISTSONGALBUM
Bukka WhiteI Am In The Heavenly WayBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteThe Panama LimitedBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteSic 'Em Dogs OnBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Freddie SpruellMilk Cow BluesMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Freddie SpruellMuddy Water BluesMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Freddie Spruell4A HighwayMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordHigh Lonesome HillMississippi - the Blues Lineage
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordTimes Is Getting HardDeep River Of Song - Mississippi: Saints & Sinners
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordFarmin' Man BluesMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Bukka WhiteWhen Can I Change My ClothesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhitePinebluff ArkansasBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteShake 'Em On DownBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordMississippi River BluesMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordLonesome Highway BluesMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Freddie SpruellTom Cat BluesThe Paramount Masters
Freddie SpruellLow-Down Mississippi Bottom ManThe Paramount Masters
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordPaydayMississippi - the Blues Lineage
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordStagolee Alan Lomax: Blues Songbook
Kid BaileyRowdy BluesMasters of the Delta Blues: Friends of Charlie Patton
Kid BaileyMississippi Bottom BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Willie BrownFuture BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Willie BrownM&O BluesBlues Images Vol. 3
Willie BrownMake Me A Pallet On The FloorScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Freddie Spruell Mr. Freddie's Kokomo BluesMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Freddie Spruell Let's Go RidingMississippi Blues Vol.2 1926-1935
Bukka WhiteSleepy Man BluesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteParchman Farm BluesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteFixin' To Die BluesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Willie FordPaydayMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Lucious Curtis & Willie FordStagolee Mississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Willie FordSanta Field BluesMississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1
Bukka WhiteAberdeen Mississippi BluesBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Bukka WhiteBukka's Jitterbug SwingBukka White: The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940

Show Notes:

TBukka Whiteoday's show is the third in a series of shows devoted to great early Mississippi blues artists, most little remembered today. Mississippi produced some of the most powerful blues singers and guitarists of the 1920's and 1930's although one could say that the intense interest in Mississippi has taken the spotlight away from other regions that have equally notable blues traditions. In the past I've devoted shows to Charlie Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson but I realized that there was still several major figures I hadn't featured in depth like Bukka White, Skip James, Sam Collins and Mississippi John Hurt. I'll be spotlighting these artists alongside several fine lesser known Mississippi artists. At a later date I'll be spotlighting the rediscovery records by some of these artists. Today's shows spans the years 1926 through 1941 featuring records by Bukka White, Freddie Spruell, Lucious Curtis and partner Willie Ford, Willie Brown and Kid Bailey.

Along with Son House and Skip James, Bukka White was one of the major Mississippi bluesmen to be re-discovered during the great blues revival of the 1960’s. His early recordings made between 1930 and 1940 are among the most creative and powerful blues ever recorded. As Keith Briggs wrote in the notes to Document's Bukka White: Aberdeen Mississippi Blues: "Booker’s unique sound was a combination of solid, rocking, rhythms interspersed with vigorous guitar breaks, his ability as a bottleneck slide guitarist and his gritty, heavy voice. He favored the steel bodied National guitar as it’s volume allowed him to be audible over the noise of a good-time crowd. His songs were almost always personal and are among the most creative and descriptive to found on blues records."

White said he was born about five miles south of Houston, Mississippi. Various documents list his birth date between 1900 and 1909, but census data suggests 1904. His father John White, a multi-instrumentalist who performed at local gatherings, gave him his first guitar and other local musicians taught him his signature bottleneck slide technique. Recording agent Ralph Lembo of Itta Bena arranged for White to record his first blues and gospel songs in 1930 in Memphis. Victor only saw fit to release four of the 14 songs Bukka White recorded that day. It is very likely that it is Memphis Minnie, listed as “Miss Minnie”, who lends her voice to two of the Victor titles. Low-Down Mississippi Bottom Man

In 1937 White recorded a minor hit, “Shake ‘Em On Down,” in Chicago, but that year he was also sentenced for a shooting incident to Parchman Penitentiary, where John Lomax of the Library of Congress recorded him. It was as "Washington Barrelhouse White" that White recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax at Parchman Farm in 1939. After his release White recorded twelve of his best-known songs at a Chicago session in 1940. Among the songs he recorded on that occasion were "Parchman Farm Blues", "Good Gin Blues," "Bukka's Jitterbug Swing," "Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues," and "Fixin' to Die Blues," all classic numbers.

During the war White settled in Memphis and worked at a defense plant. Bob Dylan recorded "Fixin' to Die Blues" on his 1961 debut Columbia album, and at the time no one in the music business knew who Bukka White was. Two California-based blues enthusiasts, John Fahey and Ed Denson in 1963 addressed a letter to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." By chance, one of White's relatives was working in the Post Office in Aberdeen, and forwarded the letter to White in Memphis. Things moved quickly from there and  by the end of 1963 Bukka White was already recording on contract with Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie. After he began to tour and record again in the 1960's White, still a skilled and energetic performer, became a popular figure on the folk music circuit and traveled as far as Mexico and Europe. He passed in 1977.

Freddie Spruell recorded ten tracks for OKeh, Paramount, and Bluebird between 1926 and 1935. Spreull could well be considered the first Delta blues performer to record when he cut "Milk Cow Blues" in Chicago on June 25, 1926. He recorded two more sides in 1928, including "Tom Cat Blues," and five tracks (under the name Mr. Freddie) on April 12, 1935, a session that yielded perhaps his best song, the rag-inspired "Let's Go Riding," which featured second guitar from Carl Martin. Spruell also backs Washboard Sam on "Ocean Blues b/w Y.M.V. Blues", Sam's d 1935 debut recording for Bluebird. The only known copy of this record recently turned up. Spreull's Social Security file indicates he was born on December 28, 1893, and although he is generally considered a Mississippi bluesman, it appears he moved to Chicago with his parents as a small boy, and his ties to the Delta are more stylistic than geographical.

M&O Blues

Little is known for certain of the man whom Robert Johnson called "my friend-boy, Willie Brown" ("Cross Road Blues"). Brown is heard with Patton on the Paramount sessions of 1930 and cut "M & O Blues and" and "Future Blues" at that date. Brown's "Kickin' In My Sleep Blues" b/w "Window Blues" (Paramount 13001) and "Grandma Blues" b/w "Sorry Blues" (Paramount 13099) have yet to surface. As Dan Beaumont wrote in  Preachin' the Blues:  The Life and Times of Son House: "“M&O Blues” and “Future Blues,” are based respectively on Patton’s “Pony Blues” and “Maggie,” and show Patton’s enduring influence on Brown, which, by and by, would be another channel for Patton’s influence on House." In 1941 Alan Lomax recorded Brown with Son House, Fiddlin' Joe Martin and Leroy Williams. Brown played second guitar on three performances by the whole band, and recorded one solo, "Make Me A Pallet On The Floor." Brown died in Tunica, Mississippi in 1952 at the age of 52.

Nothing is known of Kid Bailey outside of his lone 78 "Mississippi Bottom Blues b/w Rowdy Blues." These were recorded on September 25, 1929 at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Research by Dr. David Evans, professor of music at Memphis State University, has concluded that Kid Bailey may have been a pseudonym for Willie Brown. Son House on hearing this recording instantly recognized his partner Willie Brown. Others dispute that Brown and Bailey are the same person. Gayle Dean Wardlow has said that he "found 5 different source who all saw Kid Bailey in person in Mississippi–3 of them on taped interviews including [Ishman] Bracey who saw him across the river from Jackson and talked to him in person." It seems Wardlow changed his view because in The Life And Music Of Charle Patton he and his co-author, Stephen Calt, point out that  no one interviewed in the post-war period ever knew Kid Bailey well enough to know his real name or where he was from. When Gayle Dean Wardlow and Stephen Calt were doing research in Mississippi in the 1960's, these were some of the reactions when Kid Bailey's "Rowdy Blues" was played:

Rowdy BluesMandy Wigham:  "That sounds just like Willie…  Ain't Willie makin' music on there?  I think that's Willie makin' music."

Elizabeth Moore:  "Him (meaning Willie Brown) and Son could both make that introduction on their music…  sounds like that music and that voice – pretty close there if it ain't him (Brown)."

Confusingly Wardlow also had the following memory from Moore: "Elizabeth Moore who lived in Tunica County on a plantation near Robinsonville and knew Willie Brown and Son House and Robert saw Kid and Willie Brown playing together there in a juke in Robinsonville for a few weeks together. Willie told her they had made a record together but she doubted it as she never saw it. Willie only called him "Kid." Brown is the second guitar but sounds like the lead on "Rowdy Blues" but is barely audible on the other side. That's the connection. She made those comments after she listened to the Kid Bailey record. She said that's Willie's music and it sounded like the way he played– "Rowdy Blues". She also saw Willie and Robert together on many occasions playing together. Bailey played mainly from Leland over to Moorhead and was raised up near Leland at the Triplett community just outside Leland on Highway 82. Booker Miller saw him in Moorhead. But he was only called Kid Bailey–probably a childhood nickname."

In October 1940 John Lomax and his wife came to Natchez, Mississippi from Baton Rouge to look for musicians to record. During that trip they recorded Lucious Curtis, Willie Ford and George Bolwdin. Between Curtis and Ford ten songs were recorded. "'Like I foretold you, I ain't much of a player.'" When Lucious Curtis was there, Willie "followed after" him, but he did it skillfully, watching the leader carefully." So reads the first paragraph of John Lomax's notes for the recording session. He wen on to write that "Lucious Curtis is a honky-tonk, guitar picking Negro, living on a precarious income from pick-ups at dance halls. His 'complementer" Willie Ford has a regular job at a big saw mill but had a 'sad-day' off."Curtis claimed to have made commercial records with Bo Carter but this can't be verifed.

Related Reading:

-"…Ramblin' (Blues Revue Quarterly 8, Spring 1993, p14-17) [PDF]

-Death of a Delta giant (Melody Maker of July, 1971)  [PDF]

-Mississippi Bottom Blues (Mamlish S-3802,  notes byDon Kent & Mike Stewart, 1973) [PDF]

-Willie Brown: Fare Thee Well (Bernard Klatzko, 78 Quarterly no. 2, 1968, 47–50.) [PDF]

-Mississippi River Blues: Library Of Congress Field Recordings Vol. 1 (Flyright-Matchbox SDM 230, notes by John Cowly, 1973) [PDF]

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Mississippi SheiksSitting On Top Of The World No. 2Mississippi Sheiks Vol. 1 1930
Mississippi SheiksBootleggers BluesStop And Listen
Jackson Blue BoysHidin' On MeCharlie McCoy 1928-1932
Mississippi Mud SteppersThat Lonesome Train Took My Baby AwayCharlie McCoy 1928-1932
Mississippi Mud SteppersJackson StompCharlie McCoy 1928-1932
Bo CarterEast Jackson BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Bo CarterShe's Your Cook But She Burns My Bread SometimesBo Carter Vol. 1 192 -1931
Ishman BraceyWoman Woman BluesThe Return Of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Ishman BraceySaturday BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Tommy JohnsonCool Drink Of Water BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Tommy JohnsonMaggie Campbell BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton
Walter VincsonOvertime BluesWalter Vincson 1928-1941
Leroy Carter (Walter Vincson)Black Widow SpiderWalter Vincson 1928-1941
Slim Duckett & Pig NorwoodWhen the Saints Go Marching InAlabama Black Secular & Religious Music 1927-1934
Rube LaceyHam Hound CraveScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton
Arthur PettisTwo Time BluesJackson Blues 1928-1938
Mississippi SheiksBaby Keeps Stealin' Lovin' on MeMississippi Sheiks Vol. 1 1930
Chatman Brothers (Lonnie And SamIf You Don't Want Me Please Don't Dog Me AroundBo Carter & The Mississippi Sheiks
Charley McCoyMississippi I'm Longing For YouCharlie McCoy 1928-1932
Charley McCoyYou Gonna Need MeCharlie McCoy 1928-1932
Joe McCoyLook Who's Coming Down The RoadCharlie & Joe McCoy Vol. 1 1934-1936
Skip JamesHard Time Killin' Floor BluesTimes Ain't Like They Used To Be Vol. 5
Johnnie TempleLead Pencil Blues (It Just Won't Write)The Essential
Willie LoftonDark Road BluesBig Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Luther Huff1951 BluesMemphis & The South 1949-1954
Luther HuffBulldog BluesMemphis & The South 1949-1954
Arthur "Big Boy" CrudupI WonderThe Ace Records Blues Story
Arthur "Big Boy" CrudupMy Baby Boogies All the TimeThe Ace Records Blues Story
Sam MyersSleeping In The GroundBlues Harmonica Wizards
Sam MyersMy Love Is Here To StayBlues Harmonica Wizards
Tommy Lee ThompsonHighway 80 BluesPackin' Up My Blues
Carey Lee SimmonsDoodleville BluesHigh Water Blues
John Henry BrownRed Cross StoreBig Foot Country Girl

Show Notes:

As writer Scott Barretta wrote in an article on Jackson blues: "Intersected by I-55 about halfway between Memphis and New Orleans, Jackson, the state capital of Mississippi, arguably has as grand a blues heritage as those cities and the Delta to its northwest." Jackson, Mississippi in the 1920’s was a city with a vibrant blues scene, teeming with artists such as Tommy Johnson, Walter Vincson, Ishman Bracey, Johnnie Temple, the Chatmon Brothers (Bo, Lonnie and Sam were the most prominent) Skip James and Rube Lacey. In the post-war years the city was home to artists such as Otis Spann, Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), Elmore James, Sam Myers and others. The city has also been at the cutting edge of blues recording since the 1920's, when Jackson’s H.C. Speir worked as an talent agent for Paramount and other labels that documented early Mississippi artists. The years 1927-1931 saw the first commercial recordings of many of the Jackson musicians. Most of the Jackson artists recorded elsewhere but there were several important session recorded at in Jackson at the King Edwards hotel. On today's program we we spotlight the early Jackson blues artists and feature some of the post-war artists as well.

Chicago Defender, Mississippi Sheiks Ad, March 28, 1931

Featured today are several recordings recorded at the King Edwards Hotel. Constructed in 1923 and renamed the King Edward Hotel in 1954, the Edwards Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi was the site of temporary studios set up by OKeh Records in 1930 and the American Record Corporation in 1935 to record blues artists Bo Carter, Robert Wilkins, Joe McCoy, Isaiah Nettles, the Mississippi Sheiks, and others. The Mississippi Sheiks also performed at the hotel, and Houston Stackhouse recalled that he played here together with fellow bluesman Robert Nighthawk and country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers. Its role as a recording studio stemmed from the fact that prior to World War II all major recording companies were located in the North, and Southern-based artists often had to travel hundreds of miles to record. An occasional solution was setting up temporary facilities at hotels, and in Jackson the OKeh and ARC companies turned to H. C. Speir, a talent scout who operated Speir Phonograph Company on nearby North Farish Street.

The Mississippi Sheiks recorded two sessions in 1930 at the hotel on December 15th and 19th. The Mississippi Sheiks were the most commercially successful black string band of the pre-war era and made close to one hundred records between 1930 and 1935. At the group’s core was fiddler Lonnie Chatmon and singer/guitarist Walter Vinson and often joined on their recording dates by Lonnie’s brothers Bo Chatmon (who recorded solo as Bo Carter) and Sam Chatmon. Along with Charlie McCoy, this group of musicians also recorded in a few different instrumental combinations and under several different names including the Mississippi Blacksnakes, the Mississippi Mud Steppers, Chatmon’s Mississippi Hot Footers, the Jackson Blues Boys among others names. As the Mississippi Mud Steppers the group cut six sides for Okeh also on December 15th, 1930. Also on this date and the following day, Charlie McCoy cut side together with Bo Carter and with the addition of Walter Vinson as the Mississippi Hot Footers. In 1928 McCoy, Carter and Vinson cut "Hidin' On Me b/w Sweet Alberta" in New Orleans under the name the Jackson Blue Boys. Also recorded in New Orleans were Lonnie Chatman and Sam Chatman, recorded as the Chatman Brothers in 1936 for Bluebird cutting twelve sides.

Chicago Defender, Bo Carter Ad, May 9, 1931

Charlie McCoy ranked among the great blues accompanists of his era and his accomplished mandolin and guitar work can be heard on numerous recordings in a wide variety of settings from the late 1920's through the early 40's. Between 1928-1931 he played on a variety of sides, many string band related, in the company of Walter Vincson and Bo Carter. Between 1929-1936 Charlie McCoy cut scattered sides under his own name or as lead in various bands.

Joe McCoy was well known for his association with his wife Memphis Minnie where he played the part of Kansas Joe. After they separated he occupied himself in small bands, singing with the Harlem Hamfats, working as a songwriter and working with his brother Charlie.

Bo Carter 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. Under his own name, backed by Walter Vinson, he cut six sides at the King Edwards hotel on December 15th, 1930.

Also during these sessions, on December 16th, 1930, Slim Duckett & Pig Norwood were recorded. Luceen (Slim) Duckett and One Leg Sam (Norwood) were residents in Jackson, Mississippi at the time of their session at the King Edward Hotel in 1930. They recorded four songs at that sessions, all spirituals. Both men were musically active in Jackson and often performed with Tommy Johnson.

Under the pseudonym, Leroy Carter, Walter Vinson cut eight sides at two session at the King Edward Hotle on October 10th and 18th, 1935 backed by pianist Harry Chatmon. 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.

For someone who recorded so little Tommy Johnson’s influence was unusually vast and long lasting; his output only consists of six issued sides for Victor in 1928 and six issued sides for Paramount in 1929. In recent years has been the discovery of several recordings of unissued material. Once Johnson's family moved to Crystal Springs in 1910, Tommy picked up the guitar, learning from his older brother, LeDell. By age 16, Johnson had run away from home to become a "professional" musician, largely supporting himself by playing on the street for tips. By the late teens-early '20s, Tommy was frequently playing the company of rising local stars Charley Patton, Dick Bankston and Willie Brown. Johnson spent most of the '20s playing in the company of Rubin Lacy, Charley McCoy, Son Spand, Walter Vincent, and Ishmon Bracey.

Ishman Bracey was born in Byram, about ten miles south of Jackson, in January 1899. He learned guitar from locals Louis Cooper and Lee Jones and moved to Jackson in the late 1920s after encountering Tommy Johnson. Bracey soon became one of the most popular musicians in the Jackson area’s vital blues scene. Bracey’s music came to broader attention after he auditioned for recording agent H. C. Speir, who operated a furniture store on North Farish Street. Speir arranged for Bracey and Tommy Johnson to make their debut recordings at a session for Victor in Memphis in February of 1928. At that session and another for Victor later that year, Bracey was accompanied on guitar and mandolin by Charlie McCoy. Bracey recorded again in 1929 and early 1930 for the Paramount label. In 1963, when blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow met and interviewed him in Jackson, Bracey had been a Baptist minister for over a decade, and, although he would no longer play blues, he provided important information on the early blues scene in Jackson.

Rube Lacey was a well-known blues performer in the Jackson area and the Delta until 1932, when he became a preacher. Lacy played in a circle that included Son Spand, Ishmon Bracey, Tommy Johnson, Charlie McCoy, and Walter Vinson. He later moved to the Delta, where he formed his own group, performed with Charley Patton, and inspired artists including Son House, Tommy McClennan, and Honeyboy Edwards. Lacy made four recordings for Columbia Records at a session in Memphis in December 1927, but none were released. The following March he traveled to Chicago, where he recorded two songs for the Paramount label, “Mississippi Jail House Groan” and “Ham Hound Crave."

Arthur Pettis recorded only six sides. He is thought to have been born around 1900, possibly in the Jackson area. He recorded two sides for Victor Records in Memphis in 1928, and in 1930 in two separate sessions in Chicago he recorded four further sides for Brunswick Records.

Johnny Temple as part of a vibrant the 1920’s Jackson scene. Often, he performed with Charlie and Joe McCoy and also worked with Skip James. Temple moved to Chicago in the early 30’s, where he quickly became part of the town’s blues scene. He made his debut in 1935. Although he never achieved stardom, Temple’s records sold consistently throughout the late 30’s and 40’s.

Willie Lofton is a virtual biographical black hole who made four records in the fifteen months between August 1934 and November 1935.It seems he came from Jackson, Miss., where he worked as a barber before journeying to Chicago. He returned south in 1942 and died in Jackson twenty years later.

We jumped up to the 50's and 60's to spotlight several fine performers based in Jackson including Luther and Percy Huff, Tommy Lee Thompson, Arthur Crudup, Sam Myers and some field recordings made by David Evans in the late 60's. Luther Huff and his and younger brother Percy learned how to play guitar from an older brother and a cousin. Soon they were playing at fish fries and picnics with their older relatives. Luther bought himself a mandolin in 1936 and taught himself how to play it. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 and after being discharged moved to Detroit. Percy stayed in Jackson where he was employed as a taxicab driver. On a visit to Jackson in 1950, Luther ran across Sonny Boy Williamson (II), and told him he needed train fare to get back to Detroit. Sonny Boy hooked Luther and Percy up with Trumpet Records where they recorded four sides in January & February of 1951.

Sam Myers: Sleeping In The GroundAfter his long stint with Victor began winding down, Arthur Crudup did some moonlighting in 1952, recording for no less than three independent labels. All these sessions took place in Jackson, Mississippi and at the time Arthur was fanning back home in Forest and finding times pretty tough.

Sam Myers cut “Sleeping In The Ground b/w My Love Is Here To Stay” for Ace in 1957 with Tommy Lee Thompson on guitar. Thompson himself cut two sides for the Delta label in Jackson, MS in 1953 and three unissued sides for Ace the same year also in Jackson.

David Evans made some fine field recordings in the late 60's. The recordings from this period were a direct result of Evans' investigation into Tommy Johnson. His research led to the book Tommy Johnson (Studio Vista, 1971) and Big Road Blues (1982). Evans recorded many men who knew or learned directly from Johnson including Roosevelt Holts, Boogie Bill Webb, Arzo Youngblood, Isaac Youngblood, Bubba Brown, Babe Stovall, Houston Stackhouse and Tommy’s brother Mager Johnson. Evans found John Henry Brown in California in 1967 and wrote that "he was one of the best and most modern guitarists in Jackson, Ms, in the 1930's and 1940's. He son was the jazz and blues guitarist Mel Brown and plays on Brown's Big Foot Country Girl album. Evans also recorded Carey Lee Simmons who was a Jackson associate of John Henry Brown. His song ”Doodleville Blues” refresh to a section of Jackson that Simmons lived in.

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Skip JamesFour O'Clock BluesThe Complete 1931 Session
Robert JohnsonFrom Four Until LateThe Centennial Collection
Memphis Piano RedStanding At The CrossroadsBlues At Home 4
Memphis Piano RedBarrelhouse Blues (Take 2)Blues At Home 4
Geeshie WileyEagles On A HalfI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Elvie ThomasMotherless Child BluesMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Lee KizartI Got the World in a Jug, Baby, and the Stopper in My HandThe Blues Are Alive And Well
Otis Spann & Walter HortonBloody MurderThe Story Of The Blues Vol. 1
Little Brother MontgomeryCow Cow BluesVocal Accompaniments & Early Post-War Recordings 1930-1954
Memphis SlimFour O'Clock BluesMemphis Slim and the Real Boogie-Woogie
Priscilla Stewart P. D. Q. BluesPriscilla Stewart 1924-1928
Hilda Alexander & Mamie McClureHe's Tight Like ThisGeorge Williams & Bessie Brown Vol. 2 1925-1930
Lil JohnsonI Lost My BabyWhen The Sun Goes Down
Billie HolidayBillie's Blues (I Love A Man)Complete Billie Holiday Lester Young 1937-1946
Floyd JonesPlayhouse1948-1953
John Lee HookerMy Baby's Got Somethin'The Complete John Lee Hooker Vol. 3
Eddie Shaw I've Got To Tell Somebody (2nd version)Have Blues, Will Travel
Texas AlexanderBoe Hog Blues Texas Alexander Vol. 1 1927-1928
Bumble Bee SlimSmokey Mountains BluesBumble Bee Slim Vol. 4 1935
Willie DukesSweet Poplar Bluff BluesMale Blues of the Twenties Vol. 1
Shorty Bob ParkerSo Cold In ChinaKid Prince Moore 1936-1938
Jimmy Lee HarrisRabbit On A LogGeorge Mitchell Collection Volume 5
Big John Henry Miller, Jimmy Lee MillerDown Here By MyselfBluesScene USA Vol. 4 Mississippi Blues
Big Joe WilliamsNorth Wind BluesBig Joe Williams Vol. 1 1935-1941
Little Buddy DoyleHard Scufflin' BluesMemphis Harp & Jug Blowers 1927-1939
Ellis WilliamsSmokey BluesGreat Harp Players 1927-1936
Minnie WallaceField Mouse StompMemphis Harp & Jug Blowers 1927-1939
Charlie SangsterMoaning The BluesBlues At Home 9
Charlie SangsterHesitation Blues (Take 2)Blues At Home 9
Kid Brown And His Blues BandBo-lita American Primitive Vol. II: Pre-War Revenants
Birmingham Jug BandKickin' Mule BluesJaybird Coleman & The Birmingham Jug Band 1927 - 1930

Show Notes:

Memphis Piano Red: Blues At Home 4While the heart of this program is our weekly theme shows, where I get to dig deep into a particular theme or topic, the monthly mix show give me a bit of a breather and the opportunity to tackle things that don't fit in to our theme shows. The mix shows also usually feature an artist or theme that I plan to feature more in-depth at a future date. One of the things I plan to explore in a series of shows later this year is the remarkable field recordings captured by Giambattista Marcucci in the South in the 70's and 80's. From those recordings we spotlight terrific sides by Memphis Piano Red and Charlie Sangster. Also on deck are some knockout pre-war blues including recordings by Skip James and Robert Johnson that share a common theme, and two ladies, Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thoms, who were recently the subject of an extraordinary article in the New York Times of all places. Along the way we spin a set of fine piano blues, hear from a batch of strong blues women and several fine early bluesmen, both well known and utterly obscure.

One of my favorite Robert Johnson songs is "From Four Until Late" which has a very appealing melody. The song always felt to me like it was related to other songs and it all clicked while skimming through Elijah Wald's fascinating Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. Wald had this to say: "Paul Garon points out that "From Four Until Late" has exactly the same melody as Johnny Dunn's "Four O'Clock Blues," an instrumental recorded in 1923. …David Evans notes that Son House or Skip James (House, probably) in the 1960s referred to this melody as the 4 O'Clock Blues." Charley Patton's "Tom Rushen Blues" and "High Sheriff Blues" (both influenced by Ma Rainey's "Booze and Blues") use variants of the melody. So does Skip James's "Yola My Blues Away," which is a 'harmonized' variant, and related pieces include James's "Four O'Clock Blues" and the 1941 version by Fiddlin" Joe Martin under the title "Fo' Clock Blues." Evans points out that Martin may have gotten the tune from Son House or Willie Brown, and Johnson could have learned it from any of these sources." Today we feature the Robert Johnson number, Skip James' "Four O'Clock Blues" and a version later in the show by Memphis Slim.

Geeshie Wiley recorded "Last Kind Word Blues" and "Skinny Leg Blues" in Grafton, Wisconsin for Paramount Records in March of 1930, with Elvie Thomas backing her on second guitar. Thomas also recorded two songs for Paramount at the session, "Motherless Child Blues" and "Over to My House," Wiley, providing second guitar and vocal harmonies. In 1931 Wiley and Thomas returned to Grafton to record two more sides for Paramount, "Pick Poor Robin Clean" and "Eagles on a Half." Nothing was known about either woman until recently when John Sullivan, based on the research of Mack McCormick, published a lengthy article in the New York Times Magazine titled The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie that sent shock waves through the small group of blues scholars and collectors who care about this kind of thing.New York Times Magazine

As Sullivan wrote: "Yet despite more than 50 years of researchers’ efforts to learn who the two women were or where they came from, we have remained ignorant of even their legal names. Their myth was they didn’t have anything you could so much as hang a myth on. The objects themselves — the fewer than 10 surviving copies, total, of their three known Paramount releases, a handful of heavy, black, scratch-riven shellac platters, all in private hands — these were the whole of the file on Geeshie and Elvie…" It's an amazing piece of research, although, ethically the author is on shaky ground. Matt McCormick's daughter wrote a scathing retort published in the New York Observer. For his part, Sullivan wrote a defense in the same magazine. Like many blues collectors, I would love if McCormick's massive archive was made available, I imagine it holds the clues to many blues mysteries and would add immeasurably to out knowledge of blues history. But the bottom line is that it's his research, acquired painstakingly over decades with no outside assistance and he can do what he pleases with it. Sullivan's comment that “You’re not allowed to sit on these things for half a century, not when the culture has decided they matter” and that "Mack McCormick committed a theft—through negligence or writer’s block or whatever reasons of his own—far graver than my citation of interviews L.V. granted him decades ago" is self serving and simply wrong. What culture demands it? There's a handful of collectors and blues fans who care at all about this. I would hardly call that a demanding culture. Sullivan showed a self serving lack of integrity as far as I'm concerned.

Gianni Marcucci came to the States in the 70's and captured some exceptional field recordings in the 70's and 80's in Tennessee and Mississippi. The original albums that collected these recordings are long been out-of-print. All these recordings will be issued as 15 volume series both digitally and on CD on his Mbirafon imprint. I've been corresponding with Marcucci and with his help will be doing an in-depth series of shows on these recordings. At Marcucci's prompting I've pushed this show back until he completes his issuing of the Blues At Home series.In the meantime we play great sides by Memphis Piano Red and Charlie Sangster.

John Williams (a.k.a. Memphis Piano Red) was born an albino in Germantown, Tennessee, in 1904 in a family with 11 children, six of whom played musical instruments. He learned how to play piano at the age of 13 from one of his sisters and was influenced by local Germantown piano blues players. In 1930 he moved to Memphis where he started his musical activity, playing often in Beale Street bars. He hoboed and rode freight trains for more than 25 years, visiting various states, developing a solid barrelhouse piano technique coupled with strong, heartfelt singing. He never had the chance to record 78 rpm race records, and was discovered in the late '60s during blues revival . He recorded sparingly, with scattered sides on various anthologies. These recordings were recorded during two long sessions held in 1972 and 1978 at his home in Memphis. These sessions are now available digitally as Blues At Home 4.

Charlie Sangster' sides come from the ninth volume of the Blues At Home series, featuring this little known artist of Brownsville, Tennessee. Charlie Sangster, born in this small Tennessee town in 1917, earned his living as a farmer. Belonging to a musical family, he learned how to play mandolin and guitar at the age of twelve. 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. With only the exclusion of five years in Indiana and a period of time in Europe serving with the U.S. Army during World War II, he spent most of his life in Brownsville, living in the house where he was born, where Marcucci discovered him through referral by Hammie Nixon. Marcucci recorded eight sessions between 1976 and 1980, plus an interview in 1982, just one year before his death. He was recorded in 1980 by Axel Kunster.

Priscilla Stewart: PDQ Blues
Ad in the Chicago Defender, Feb 19 , 1927

We spin several forgotten blues ladies today including Priscilla Stewart and Lil Johnson. Stewart is considered a second tier blues singer I suppose but here's something about her singing I find very appealing. Virtually nothing is known about her other than she recorded 25 performances between 1924-1928. In the majority of the cases, she is accompanied by pianist Jimmy Blythe. Unlike many of the other blues ladies from the period, Priscilla Stewart doesn’t seem to have come from a stage background since no mention can be found of her appearing in stage revues of the time. As Alan Balfour writes in the notes to Document's collected CD of her recordings: "'P.D.Q.' was originally an instrumental recorded in November 1926 for Victor by cornet player Thomas Morris. The following month the copyright holders ran a competition to find lyrics for the tune, even offering a prize of a Radiola. On February 12th, 1927 the Chicago Defender announced that the winning lyricist was John Simson. Given the subject matter of the song, Mr. Simson must have misunderstood P.D.Q. to be a railroad (like P.P.B. for Pennsylvania, Poughkeepsie & Boston), rather than the common abbreviation for 'pretty damn quick' ! Nevertheless, in March Vocalion recorded the song with Clarence Lee fronting the Clarence Williams band and Paramount followed shortly afterwards with Priscilla Stewart’s rendition. Paramount undoubtedly hoped such topicality would bring vast sales but it is unlikely that the recording achieved such – it certainly didn’t bring the singer any fame. Priscilla Stewart’s recording career was brief and unspectacular and although she may not have been in the same league as many of her famous contemporaries, somebody at Paramount thought it worth the company’s time and investment to record her. That being the case she certainly deserves the belated recognition that this release will hopefully bring."

Lil Johnson first recorded in Chicago in 1929, accompanied by pianists Montana Taylor and Charles Avery on five songs. She did not return to the recording studio until 1935. From her second session onwards, she had a partnership with the ragtime influenced pianist "Black Bob" Hudson, who provided ebullient support to Johnson's increasingly suggestive lyrics. In 1936 and 1937, she recorded over 40 songs, mostly on the Vocalion label, some featuring Big Bill Broonzy on guitar and Lee Collins on trumpet. Our selection, "I Lost My Baby", is a swinging number most likely featuring Black Bob and Big Bill Broonzy.

Several fine male blues singers spotlighted today including sides by the well known Texas Alexander and Bumble Bee Slim and the obscure Willie Dukes and Shorty Bob Parker. Alexander delivers a fine performance on "Boe Hog Blues" featuring impeccable guitar from Lonnie Johnson while Bumbe Slim sings "Smokey Mountain Blues" in his best Leroy Carr manner backed the superb guitar work of Scrapper Blackwell, Carr's longtime partner. Nothing is known of Dukes and Parker who both waxed six sides in 1930.

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
James "Pee wee" MadisonLast NightThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Otis SpannWonder WhyThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Muddy Waters BandBlues For SpiveyThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Otis SpannDiving MamaThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Otis SpannShe's My BabyThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band, Vol. 2
Babe StovallMy Brown Is A MistreaterEncore! for the Chicago Blues
Big Joe WilliamsMove Your HandEncore! for the Chicago Blues
John Henry BarbeeSix Week Old BluesEncore! for the Chicago Blues
Olive BrownWoman's LamentEncore! for the Chicago Blues
J.B Lenoir Korea BluesEncore! for the Chicago Blues
Roosevelt SykesDirty Mother Fuyer Encore! for the Chicago Blues
Big Joe WilliamsDrifting BluesKings and the Queen Volume Two
Memphis SimEuropean BluesKings and the Queen Volume Two
Roosevelt SykesSleeping All Day BluesKings and the Queen Volume Two
Bukka White Brownsville Tennessee Spivey's Blues Cavalcade
Johnny Shines, Big Walter Horton & Sunnyland SlimNidnight DarlingSpivey's Blues Cavalcade
Buster BentonI Must Have A Hole In My HeadThe All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band
Carey BellOne Day You're Going To Get LuckyThe All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band
Larry JohnsonMy Hoodoo DoctorThe All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band
Victoria SpiveyI'm Taking OverThe All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band
Otis SpannI'm AccusedUp in the Queen's Pad
Otis SpannVicksburg BluesUp in the Queen's Pad
Sunnyland SlimBlues Drive Me Out Of My MindVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Cryin' Marie DixonThree O'Clock In The MorningVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Lonnie JohnsonBe CarefulKings and the Queen Volume Two

Show Notes:

Victoria Spivey
Victoria Spivey


Spivey Records was a blues record label, founded by blues singer Victoria Spivey and her partner and jazz historian Len Kunstadt in 1961. The label was originally called Queen Vee Records, changing the name to Spivey records the following year. I believe only a couple of 45's were issued under the Queen Vee imprint. Spivey Records released a series of blues and jazz albums between 1961 and 1985. Most sessions took place at New York’s famous Cue Studios, some happened late at night at Victoria and Lenny's home studio while others took place at informal setting like hotel rooms or even at Willie Dixon's home in Chicago. Spivey put out some very eclectic records, with varying quality but through Spivey's connections she managed to get top notch artists to record for her including Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes, Otis Spann, Memphis Slim among many others. Spivey died in 1976 but the label continued until the death of Len Kunstadt in 1996. The whole catalog included some forty albums. Today is part two of our selective look at the Spivey label, focusing on the records and sessions done before Spivey passed away. The bulk of the Spivey catalog has never been issued on CD. Below is a summary of today's featured albums.

10084 10104
Read Liner Notes Read Liner Notes

Spivey's companion Len Kunstadt was the editor and publisher of Record Research magazine, which he founded in the late 1950's and was Spivey's agent, manager and long time partner. In an interview with Norbert Hess he had this to say: "Victoria knew the musicians and scouted for new talent. This went on for 16 years. In my opinion, from 1961 up to her death in 1976, she was more creative than ever before. Her fantastic way of winning over Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters for our company, and her concern for Bob Dylan. Sometimes I thought she was crazy. I could tell a lot of stories. The musicians would have killed for her. At first, they didn't like her, but after a split second they became her fans up to the very end. She was sometimes a little difficult because she was a genius."

Victoria Spivey & Muddy Waters Band
Photo from Otis Spann's 1967 Bluesway session: l to r – Otis Spann, Lucille Spann, Len Kunstadt, Victoria Spivey and Muddy Waters (photo by Denns Chalkin).

Before summarizing today's featured albums it's worth giving some background on Spivey's career. Spivey learned to play piano and sing when she was quite small, and by age twelve she was performing at the Lincoln Theatre, until the manager discovered she couldn’t read music. She continued to play at house parties and clubs, learning from local musicians such as John Calvin, and occasionally sharing a gig with Blind Lemon Jefferson. By age twenty, she had moved to St. Louis, where she made her first record for OKeh, the legendary "Black Snake Blues." The year 1928 saw Spivey teaming up with Lonnie Johnson to record a number of double-entendre vocal duets that sold quite well, but she continued to write songs and record for OKeh until she took time off to appear in King Vidor’s film Hallelujah in 1929. When she returned to the recording studio in late 1929, she was under contract to Victor. Spivey continued to record throughout the 1930s, for both Decca and Vocalion, and as her recording career ended, she hit the road, traveling with the Olsen and Johnson’s "Hellzapoppin’" troupe, owning a club in East St. Louis, and finally retiring to work in the church. But in the 1960's she came out of retirement to appear at clubs such as Gerdes Folk City. Before forming her label she reunited with Lonnie Johnson appearing on his album Idle Hours for Bluesville in 1961, he in turn backed her on her album Woman Blues and she also appeared on Songs We Taught Your Mother alongside Alberta Hunter and Lucille Hegamin. There was also a session for Folkways in 1962. Beginning in 1962 Spivey wrote a semi-regular column in Record Research called Blues Is My Business.

Victoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo was the eleventh record on the Spivey label. The album comprises of sessions recorded at Willie Dixon home in Chicago in 1969 and sessions done in New York in 1970. Dixon is helped out by hs Blues All Stars which include Sunnyland Slim, Johnny Shines, Clifton James and Cryin’ Marie Dixon. Accoring to the notes there's big news: "ATTENTION: SMOKEY HOGG IS NOT DEAD!!" At least that's what Victoria Spivey thought when she "rediscovered" him in Brooklyn, N.Y. and what Len Kunstadt thought when he penned the liner notes for the album. Smokey actually passed in 1960 and this was Willie Anderson Hogg. He calimed to have recorded in the pre-war era but these sides for Spivey are his only know legacy.

Read Liner Notes

The Muddy Waters band cut two albums for Victoria Spivey's Spivey label: The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band (1966) and The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 2 (1968). The Muddy Waters records are the only ones I know that have been issued on CD. These came out on the Japanese P-Vine label with several extra tracks. Today we feature tracks from the second volume. Muddy Waters is listed as "Main Stream" for contractual reasons and probably doesn't play on all the tracks. These sessions were recorded after a 1966 date at New York's Cafe Au Go Go. The performance was written up by Len Kunstadt in Record Research 83 (1967) and concludes with "Victoria Spivey, perhaps their greatest fan, and a lucky devil, was fortunate to capture some of the sounds of Otis, George, Luther, Sammy and Francis for the latest release on the Spivey label." As Kunstadt wrote of their live performance: "There was a combustible spark in the atmosphere – and every time Muddy would hit the stand and tell the throng 'He Had Been Mistreated' or he was the 'Hootchie Cootchie Man' or he would confide in you about his 'Five Long Years' the audience exploded into applause and rapport. Muddy and his band were keyed to greatness. OTIS SPANN, Muddy's 'Little Brother', was the anchor man and cohesive agent of the group with his brilliant dominant blues piano."

Otis Spann appears on several Spivey albums including both volumes of the The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters albums, The Everlasting Blues vs. Otis Spann and Up In The Queen's Pad. As Spivey wrote in a column in Record Research magazine in 1970 shortly after Otis' passing: “He was like a son, a brother and what a pal. Otis came into my life in 1963 during that American Folk Blues Festival (same one with Lonnie!) that toured all over Europe. …The European tour was really fine but Otis and his crazy lovable ways made it wonderful.”

Read Liner Notes

Encore! for the Chicago Blues was the ninth album on the Spivey label and a sequel to Chicago Blues
A Bonanza All Star Blues LPreleased in 1964. According to the notes: "This album is a sequel anthology to Spivey LP 1003 which commentated Victoria Spivey's first visit to Chicago in over 25 years. An informal blues party was given by host Willie Dixon in which such colorful talented artists as Homesick James, St. Louis Jimmy, Sunnyland Slim, Washboard Sam, Koko Taylor, Evans Spencer, John Henry Barbee and Willie himself, Miss Spivey by recording for her youthful record company. …Most of the artists are back again. In addition bonus tracks from studio and field recordings by other fine performers supplement the 'regulars'."

Kings And The Queen Volume Two was issued in 1970 and a sequel to Three Kings And The Queen issued several years earlier. Some of these sessions are likely from the same as the first volume and others probably later. Once again Bob Dylan appears alongside Victoria and Big Joe on a couple of songs. Alos appearing are Lonnie Johnson, Memphis Slim and Roosevelt Sykes. Both volumes of have been reissued on the European Doxy label on 180 gram vinyl only releases.

Spivey's Blues Cavalcade was issued in 1970 and the fifteenth album on the Spivey label. This is a grab bag of tracks with some of these recorded in the 60's – leftover tracks from previous Spivey albums.

By the end of the 1960s, Willie Dixon was eager to try his hand as a performer again, a career that had been interrupted when he'd gone to work for Chess as a producer. He recorded an album of his best-known songs, I Am the Blues, for Columbia Records, and organized a touring band, the Chicago Blues All Stars, to play concerts in Europe. Among the albums he cut during this period was 1973's Victoria Spivey presents The All Star Blues World of Maestro Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues Band. This is a terrific outing spotlighting a great band that included Buster Benton, Carey Bell, Lafayette Leake and Larry Johnson.

Victoria Spivey began endorsing Otis Spann, telling the world of his genius – in her own inimitable way – via the pages of of her column in Record Research, and sporadically recording him for her Spivey Records label between 1967 and 1969. The sessions that comprise Up In The Queen's Pad were recorded in 1968 and 1969 at Spivey's home in Brooklyn backed by guitarist Sammy Lawhorn. The album was issued posthumously, possibly around 1980. One other song from this session appears on the album Spivey's Blues Showcase.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Victoria SpiveyMy DebtBuddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Hannah SylvesterBasket of BluesBuddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Lucille HegaminNumber 12Buddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Victoria SpiveyGrant SpiveyVictoria Spivey & Her Blues
Victoria SpiveyNew York MoanVictoria Spivey & Her Blues
John Henry BarbeeEarly In The MorningChicago Blues -A Bonanza All Star Blues
Homesick JamesQueen's RockChicago Blues -A Bonanza All Star Blues
Victoria SpiveyBrown SkinThree Kings And The Queen
Big Joe WilliamsNo Partnership WomanThree Kings And The Queen
Roosevelt SykesThis Is A New WorldThree Kings And The Queen
Lonnie JohnsonMr Johnson's Guitar TalksThree Kings And The Queen
Lonnie JohnsonFour Shots Of GinThree Kings And The Queen
Shortstuff MaconMoaninIntroducing Mr. Shortstuff
Shortstuff MaconGreat Big LegsIntroducing Mr. Shortstuff
Victoria SpiveyEvery Dog Had Its DayQueen and Her Knights
Victoria SpiveyWe Both Got To DieQueen and Her Knights
Victoria Spivey & Memphis SlimI'm A TigressQueen and Her Knights
Little Brother MontgomeryWest Texas BluesQueen and Her Knights
Otis Spann Ain’t Nobody’s BusinessThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
Victoria SpiveyTrouble HurtsThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
Luther JohnsonCreepin’ SnakeThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
George SmithLookout VictoriaThe Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band
Roosevelt SykesDresser DrawersVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Victoria SpiveyBlack GalVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Smokey HoggBells Are ToningVictoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo
Walter HortonInter-Mision StateSpivey's Blues Parade
Sippie Wallace I'm A Mighty Tight WomanSpivey's Blues Parade
Victoria SpiveyJetSpivey's Blues Parade
Lonnie JohnsonLonnie's Traveling LightSpivey's Blues Parade

Show Notes:

 

Spivey LogoSpivey Records was a blues record label, founded by blues singer Victoria Spivey and her partner and jazz historian Len Kunstadt in 1961. The label was originally called Queen Vee Records, changing the name to Spivey records the following year. I believe only a couple of 45's were issued under the Queen Vee imprint. Spivey Records released a series of blues and jazz albums between 1961 and 1985. Most sessions took place at New York’s famous Cue Studios, some happened late at night at Victoria and Lenny's home studio while others took place at informal setting like hotel rooms or even at Willie Dixon's home in Chicago. Spivey put out some very eclectic records, with varying quality but through Spivey's connections she managed to get top notch artists to record for her including Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes, Otis Spann, Memphis Slim among many others. Spivey died in 1976 but the label continued until the death of Len Kunstadt in 1996. The whole catalog included some forty albums. Today is part one of our selective look at the Spivey label, focusing on the records and sessions done before Spivey passed away. The bulk of the Spivey catalog has never been issued on CD.

Spivey's companion Len Kunstadt was the editor and publisher of Record Research magazine, which he founded in the late 1950's and was Spivey's agent, manager and long time partner. In an interview with Norbert Hess he had this to say: "Victoria knew the musicians and scouted for new talent. This went on for 16 years. In my opinion, from 1961 up to her death in 1976, she was more creative than ever before. Her fantastic way of winning over Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters for our company, and her concern for Bob Dylan. Sometimes I thought she was crazy. I could tell a lot of stories. The musicians would have killed for her. At first, they didn't like her, but after a split second they became her fans up to the very end. She was sometimes a little difficult because she was a genius."

Spivey Records Adspivey-ad
One of the many ads featured in Record Research magazine. Spivey had a semi-regular column called Blues Is My Business.

Before summarizing today's featured albums it's worth giving some background on Spivey's career. Spivey learned to play piano and sing when she was quite small, and by age twelve she was performing at the Lincoln Theatre, until the manager discovered she couldn’t read music. She continued to play at house parties and clubs, learning from local musicians such as John Calvin, and occasionally sharing a gig with Blind Lemon Jefferson. By age twenty, she had moved to St. Louis, where she made her first record for OKeh, the legendary "Black Snake Blues." The year 1928 saw Spivey teaming up with Lonnie Johnson to record a number of double-entendre vocal duets that sold quite well, but she continued to write songs and record for OKeh until she took time off to appear in King Vidor’s film Hallelujah in 1929. When she returned to the recording studio in late 1929, she was under contract to Victor. Spivey continued to record throughout the 1930s, for both Decca and Vocalion, and as her recording career ended, she hit the road, traveling with the Olsen and Johnson’s "Hellzapoppin’" troupe, owning a club in East St. Louis, and finally retiring to work in the church. But in the 1960's she came out of retirement to appear at clubs such as Gerdes Folk City. Before forming her label she reunited with Lonnie Johnson appearing on his album Idle Hours for Bluesville in 1961, he in turn backed her on her album Woman Blues and she also appeared on Songs We Taught Your Mother alongside Alberta Hunter and Lucille Hegamin. There was also a session for Folkways in 1962. Beginning in 1962 Spivey wrote a semi-regular column in Record Research called Blues Is My Business.

Buddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues
Read Liner Notes

Buddy Tate Invites You To Dig A Basket of Blues, issued in 1962, was the first album on the Spivey label. As Len Kunstadt wrote in the liner notes: "This may well be the very first record company ever organized and owned by a Negro vintage blues queen." The album featured 1920's blues queens Hannah Sylvester, who first recorded in 1923 and Lucille Hegamin who in November 1920 became the second African-American blues singer to record, after Mamie Smith. This is an excellent album with all three ladies in fine form backed by a good band with a horn section that included Buddy Tate, Eddie Barfield and Dick Vance

Victoria Spivey & Her Blues is the second Spivey album, recorded in 1962, and featuring Spivey backed by Eddie Barfield and Pat Wilson who both appear on the previous record. According to the notes: "When Miss Spivey entered the recording studio in February of 1962 she demanded absolute freedom, 'to sing the way she damned please.' …She really had the blues that day and she wanted the recording engineer to capture all of it on tape. Without reservation, she was granted all her demands. This recording session was on the tail end of a tough year for Miss Spivey where sickness, disappointment (both personal and in business) and loneliness had taken its toll. She wrote hundreds of blues in 1961 because she really had them. These were not thought of as for commercial exploitation but were blues written as an escape mechanism for a troublesome world." The Queen is in excellent form on a set of very personal songs; "Grant Spivey" is a dedication to her father, "Talk About Moanin'" is about her early Texas mentor Robert Calvin while "Buddy Tate" is dedicated to her longtime musical friend.

Three Kings And The Queen
Read Liner Notes

According to the notes from Chicago Blues -A Bonanza All Star Blues: "All these blues sounds you will hear were luckily captured at a reunion in honor of Quenn Victoria Spivey by many of he old blues buddies at a real down-to-earth romping blues party with all the clamor of merriment, clinking glasses, shuffling feet, knocks at every door." The recordings were done in Chicago on Spivey's first visit to the city in 25 years and put together by Willie Dixon. The album features great artists like Homesick James, Willie Dixon, St. Louis Jimmy, Sunnyland Slim and others but suffers from poor recording.

The fourth Spivey album was Three Kings And The Queen featuring pianist Roosevelt Sykes, guitarists Lonnie Johnson , Big Joe Williams, and Victoria Spivey on four vocal selections apiece. With the exception of the closing "Thirteen Hours" (which has Spivey joining Sykes for a piano duet) and a pair of Big Joe Williams tracks (which feature the harmonica of Bob Dylan), all of the performances are unaccompanied. This is a strong outing with everyone in good form. This was not Dylan's first recording session as he had already recorded his debut album Bob Dylan for Columbia Records on March 19, 1962. In in 1965 column in Record Research Spivey recollected back to her first meeting with Dylan: "I was just thinking about little BOB DYLAN. The years flashed backed to 1961 when I furst met him at Gerde's Folk City in Greenwich Village, New York City. He was the sweetest kid you would ever want to meet. He would say Moms, this Moms, that Moms, always trying to get my attention. He was a doll. I was so proud of him then because he really had some talent which was just ready to explode. And did it! Just a couple of years later he was on his way to becoming a world idol in his field. …Bob knew about my little record company SPIVEY and my plans to record Big Joe, and he wanted 'in too.' What a sight as little Bob was carrying Big Joe's unusual guitar to the studio! And did they play well together! …Yes, this is Bob before Dame fortune was to reward him for his great talent."

Spivey Records AdMuddy, Victoria, SpannMuddy, Victoria, SpannSpann, Spivey, Muddy
Otis Spann, Victoria Spivey and Muddy Waters, 1964. Spann holds a copy of the Spivey album Chicago Blues.

Regarding Short Stuff Macon the liner notes to his Folkways album (Hell Bound And Heaven Sent) had this to say: "Short Stuff has now begun traveling the sparse and fickle concert circuit with Big Joe Williams, who, in a trip back to Mississippi, 'discovered' him, liked his 'deep down' music, remembered his father and mother, and decided to take him with him.” The same year those recordings were made they cut sides for the Spivey label which were issued on the album called Introducing Mr. Shortstuff. He appeared one final time on the album Goin’ Back to Crawford alongside Big Joe and others on a 1971 session.

Queen and Her Knights was the sixth Spivey release, issued in 1965, and features Spivey alongside Lonnie Johnson, Memphis Slim, Sonny Greer and Little Brother Montgomery. This is another strong album featuring Spivey in fine form particularly on the playfully risque "I'm A Tigress", a duet with Memphis Slim. Slim delivers a fine rendition of 'TB Blues" amd Lonnie and Little Brother are in typically good form.

The Muddy Waters band cut two albums for Victoria Spivey's Spivey label: The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band (1966) and The Bluesmen of the Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band Vol. 2 (1968). The Muddy Waters records are the only ones I know that have been issued on CD. These came out on the Japanese P-Vine label with several extra tracks. In a column in Record Research after Otis Spann died, Spivey had this recollection of the session: "One day I asked Otis if he would make an LP for my little company. And before I could catch my breath his answer was this, 'you are my mother and nobody better not try to stop me.' I was very happy so we set the date – and he got the band together. And the morning that the recording was to be, at 11 AM, I walked into the Go Go blub and there was my child sitting there with his little head on the table with his own coat over his shoulders. I heard he had been there all night long to make sure he would not disappoint me. Tears almost came to my eyes. We went to the studio with the rest of the boys. They gave me some session. Otis and the band were playing SOME blues and I mean THEY WERE PLAYING!"

Victoria Spivey Presents The All Stars BLUES WORLD of Spivey Records in Stereo was the eleventh record on the Spivey label. The album comprises of sessions recorded at Willie Dixon home in Chicago in 1969 and sessions done in New York in 1970. Dixon is helped out by hs Blues All Stars which include Sunnyland Slim, Johnny Shines, Clifton James and Cryin’ Marie Dixon. Accoring to the notes there's big news: "ATTENTION: SMOKEY HOGG IS NOT DEAD!!" At least that's what Victoria Spivey thought when she "rediscovered" him in Brooklyn, N.Y. and what Len Kunstadt thought when he penned the liner notes for the album. Smokey actually passed in 1960. The imposter was Willie Anderson Hogg. who calimed to have recorded in the pre-war era but these sides for Spivey are his only know legacy.

Spivey's Blues Parade was the twelfth album on the Spivey label recorded in a variety of locations: the Walter Horton track was recorded in an informal session in a New York hotel room while the track featuring Sonny Boy Williamson was recorded in Germany during the 1963 AFBF.

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