ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Bobo JenkinsBad Luck and TroubleJuicy Harmonica
Bobo JenkinsTen Below ZeroA Fortune Of Blues Vol. 1
Bobo JenkinsBaby Don't You Want To GoA Fortune Of Blues Vol. 1
Baby Boy WarrenMy Special Friend BluesDetroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
Baby Boy WarrenNervy Woman BluesDetroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
T.J. Fowler Got Nobody To Tell My TroublesT.J. Fowler 1948-53
T.J. Fowler Yes I KnowT.J. Fowler 1948-53
T.J. Fowler Red Hot Blues T.J. Fowler 1948-53
Bobo JenkinsWhen I First Left Home The Life of Bobo Jenkins
Bobo JenkinsI Love That WomanThe Life of Bobo Jenkins
Bobo JenkinsYou Will Never Understand The Life of Bobo Jenkins
Baby Boy WarrenSanafeeDetroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
Baby Boy WarrenHello Stranger Detroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
Baby Boy WarrenChuck-A-LuckDetroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
T.J. FowlerLittle Baby ChildT.J. Fowler 1948-53
T.J. FowlerBack BiterT.J. Fowler 1948-53
Calvin FrazierGot Nobody To Tell My TroublesVintage Toledo Blues 1950-1980
Calvin FrazierRock House The Travelling Record Man
Calvin FrazierSweet Bread Baby Gerard Herzhaft's Blog
Boogie Woogie RedSo Much Good FeelingConversation With The Blues
Boogie Woogie RedBlues For My BabyDetroit After Hours - Vol. 1
Bobo JenkinsWatergate BluesHere I Am A Fool In Love Again
Bobo JenkinsHere I Am A Fool In Love AgainHere I Am A Fool In Love Again
Baby Boy WarrenBaby Boy Blues Detroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
Baby Boy WarrenSomebody Put Bad Luck On MeDetroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
Baby Boy WarrenStop Breakin' DownDetroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City
T.J. Fowler Say Baby SayT.J. Fowler 1948-53
T.J. Fowler Wine CoolerT.J. Fowler 1948-53
Calvin FrazierLillie MaeVintage Toledo Blues 1950-1980
Calvin FrazierWashboard Blues Pt 1Blues Rarities Vol. 3
Calvin FrazierSpecial I & IIGerard Herzhaft's Blog
Boogie Woogie RedHooty Blues Live At The Blind Pig
Boogie Woogie RedGot To Find My BabyLive At The Blind Pig
Boogie Woogie RedRed's BoogieLive At The Blind Pig

Show Notes:

Bobo JenkinsDuring and after World War II a second wave of migration took place with many people leaving the South to work in the industrial North, and Detroit became the home to many fine blues artists. While earlier artists such as Big Maceo Merriweather had to travel to Chicago to record, new record companies such as Sensation, Holiday, JVB, and Fortune had established themselves in Detroit. They became important by recording Detroit blues artists but often leased material to other labels in order to gain distribution. Today we spotlight a quintet of excellent Detroit artists who aren't particularly well known: Calvin Frazier, Bobo Jenkins, Baby Boy Warren, Boogie Woogie Red and T.J. Fowler. These artists were active from the late 40's through the 70's and all these artists worked together in different combinations over the years. Calvin Frazier played in every blues or R&B act in Detroit, playing behind today's featured artists Baby Boy Warren and T.J. Fowler and taught guitar to Bobo Jenkins. Jenkins, Warren cut scattered sides for numerous labels in the 40's, 50's and 60's, after scattered singles Jenkins formed his own label and issued his own records in the 70's. Pianist Boogie Woogie record backed Baby Warren and Clavin Frazier on record among others but recorded sparingly under his own name until the 70's when he cut two full-length albums.

Bobo Jenkins had sung in a gospel quartet and played harmonica in Mississippi, and after serving in the army decided to move to Detroit in 1944. He was befriended by John Lee Hooker, who helped Jenkins get his first song recorded with Chess Records—the politically themed "Democrat Blues" of 1954. After Chess he recorded two songs for the Boxer label in Chicago and a few for Fortune Records in Detroit but vowed that one day he would have his own recording studio, and in time, he did. “Democrat Blues” did establish him as a member of the Detroit blues scene, and he formed a band which worked regularly at the Apex Bar on Oakland, the Club Caribbe on East Jefferson and the Black Velvet in Mt. Clemens, to name a few. In addition, he played in shows along with such great national artists as Illinois Jacquet, Jimmy Reed, Mahalia Jackson, Lionel Hampton, and Louis Jordan. The first record released on Jenkins' Big Star label was his own: "You"ll Never Understand" and "Tell Me Where You Stayed Last Night." He was living in the area of Detroit that was known as "Black Bottom" and on the weekends, his house was "open" and was filled with musicians playing the blues all night long.

Baby Boy Warren
Baby Boy Warren

In 1970, Jenkins promoted the first Detroit Blues Festival on the steps of the Rackham Building stretching onto the lawn of the Detroit Art Institute. In 1972 he put out his first album on his Big Star label called The Life of Bobo Jenkins. The 1973 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival featured a special Detroit Blues Review and Jenkins was one of the stars. The next album by Jenkins came out in 1974, called Here I Am a Fool in Love Again on Big Star. In 1977 he issued an album called Detroit All Purpose Blues. In 1982, he went to Europe for his first tour, but due to poor health he returned home after the first concert. A long illness ultimately led to his death on August 14, 1984.

Born in  Lake Providence. Louisiana in August  1919, Baby Boy Warren (Robert Henry Warren) was one of eight children. Before he was one, the family moved to Memphis. His brothers Jack and Willie were good guirarists and  before he was ten Baby Boy himself showed aptitude.The brothers went to Church's (later Handy's) Park on Beaie Street to join the musicians who met up there." When I was a little kid, the man I most admired was a midget fellow," he told Mike Leadbitter and Mike Rowe. "'They called him Little Buddy Doyle. I got most of my style from  him. I admired him so much." Warren would take a train to Helena.Arkansas. to meet with the likes of Robert Lockwood, Willie Love, Peck Curris and Calvin Frazier. He a|so met Sonny Boy Williamson: "He was a hard guy to get along with: that's why Robert (Lockwood)  pulled out. Me and Peck and Sonny Boy. He'd wear the big belt with the harmonicas and when he'd get to blowing he'd have a big bath towel tied round his head…he'd perspire so much."

Baby Boy cut four records for Staff and one for Sampson (run by Idessa Malone's man, Sam Taylor, who ran Sam's Record Shop on Hastings) after which was a four year hiatus. Then in 1954, Baby Boy cut a momentous session for Joe Von Battle. Sonny Boy put on an ultimate demonstration of harmonica technique on "Chicken" (also titled "Chuck-A-Luck"). The same year, Baby Boy re-cut "Hello Stranger" as "Mattie Mae" and "Santa Fe" for Parrot subsidiary Blue Lake with the same band minus Sonny Boy and then "Somebody Put Bad Luck On Me" and Robert Johnson's "Stop Breaking Down" for the obscure Drummond label. But he was tiring of record companies: "I got messed up and screwed round and see my records changed round. I've had some tough 1uck." He quit music in 1961, partly because of a second marriage. His new wife Carrie took in the children from his first but with seven young mouths to feed, his General Motors job was more important. He belatedly toured Europe in 973 and died of a heart attack at his home on Yacama Street four years later.

T.J. FowlerAfter studying piano at home and at the Detroit Conservatory of Music, T.J. Fowler began providing musical entertainment for patrons at his father's pool hall. Fowler assembled his own hot little group in 1947 and accompanied saxophonist Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams on that artist's first recordings for the Savoy label. T.J. Fowler began making records as a leader in 1948, beginning with small labels like Paradise and Sensation and landing his own contract with Savoy in 1952, sometimes featuring singers Freddie Johnson, Alberta Adams, and Floyd "Bubbles" McVay. Fowler's ensemble was also used to back vocalist Varetta Dillard and guitarist Calvin Frazier. Near the end of 1953 Fowler took his act to Chicago to wax what are believed to have been the only recordings he ever made outside of Detroit. Issued on the States label, these sides were presented as by "T.J. Fowler and the Band That Rocks the Blues." Back in Detroit, Fowler and his men served as the backing band for T-Bone Walker and spent the next few years gigging around the Motor City and southeastern Michigan. By the end of the 1950's, Fowler was living in the industrial city of Ecorse where he ran his tiny independent Bow record label and led a jazz organ combo. Hired in 1959 by the relatively inexperienced Berry Gordy, Fowler applied his music industry know-how and managerial expertise to help Gordy create and establish the Motown record label. Fowler continued gigging with his jazz band but eventually ceased performing altogether, operating a landscaping service and settling into semi-retirement as a businessman in Detroit, where he passed away on May 22, 1982.

Boogie Woogie Red
Boogie Woogie Red, photo by Peter Yates & Jerry Del Giudice

 

Boogie Woogie Red was born Vernon Harrison in Rayville, Louisiana in October of 1924, and his family moved to Detroit when he was very young. Under the influence of local musicians Big Maceo and Dr. Clayton, Red taught himself piano, developing his keyboard style. "My style is somethin' after Macey's style. He was playin' at Brown's club on Hastings for six years straight and I learn a lot from him." At age 18, he was drawn to the blues scene in Chicago, where he jammed with Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red, and Memphis Slim. In 1946, Red returned to Detroit and for the next fourteen years played with John Lee Hooker. When the Motown sound took over and dried up the blues gigs, Red decided to give up performing. But in 1971 he did a well-received European tour and began performing regularly in the Detroit area, with occasional tours overseas. He recorded two albums for Blind Pig, both of which are now out of print: Live At The Blind Pig and Red Hot in 1977. A few other recordings appear scattered on various anthologies. He died in Detroit, in July 1992, at the age of 66.

The Frazier family. consisting of brothers Calvin and Lonnie, parents Van and Belie,arrived in Detroit from Memphis sometime late in 1936 (or early 1937). One of their cousins was Johnny Shines. Calvin met up with Robert Johnson in the mid-30's in Helena, Arkansas and, along with Shines, played and perhaps traveled around Arkansas with him. In 1938 Frazier was recorded by Alan Lomax and his playing bears the strong influence of Johnson.

FRAZIERCalvin-couv
Calvin Frazier

In the post-war era Calvin Frazier played with almost every blues or R&B act in Detroit and his guitar playing developed a more "modern" style, very influenced by the rising Californian guitar stars like T-Bone Walker. While associated with Big Maceo, Frazier should have recorded in Chicago for the Bluebird label but was ill and unable to make the trip. During 1946-47, Frazier toured with the Jungle Five Revue and played up to New York and Montreal. He is also worked during this period with Baby Boy Warren, T.J. Fowler'sband, the Jimmy Millner's Rhythm Band and  taught the guitar to Bobo Jenkins. Early in 1954, he bought himself a Stratocaster, probably one of the very first bluesman to play this type of guitar. Despite all this, Frazier recorded only sporadically under his own name and only for very small local Detroit or Toledo labels with poor distribution like Fortune, Alben and JVB. He died at the young age of 57 from a massive heart attack on September 23d, 1972, a well respected musician, with a strong reputation among his peers but largely unknown to the world.

Frazier has not been well served on record, there is no one collection of his recordings which are scattered on numerous anthologies and some have not been reissued at all. Blues scholar Gerard Herzhaft has done a great service on his blog by collecting all of Frazier's recordings in one place and is the source of some of today's featured sides.

 

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Sonny Boy WilliamsonBlue Bird BluesThe Bluebird Recordings: 1937-1938
Big Joe Williams Brother JamesBig Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Black Ivory KingThe Flying CrowSan Antonio 1937
Son Becky Mistreated Washboard BluesSan Antonio 1937
Pinetop BurksJack Of All Trades BluesSan Antonio 1937
"Roosevelt" Antrim Station Boy BluesBlind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Blind Boy FullerTruckin' My Blues Away Blind Boy Fuller: Remastered 1935-1938
Floyd 'Dipper Boy' CouncilI'm Grievin' & I'm Worryin'Blind Boy Fuller Vol. 2
Bill GaitherIn The Wee Wee Hours Bill Gaither Vol. 2 1936-1938
Peetie WheatstrawWorking On The ProjectThe Essential

Charlie Pickett Down The Highway Son Bonds & Charlie Pickett 1934-1941
Sleepy John EstesFloating BridgeI Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
Black Boy ShineWest Columbia WomanLeroy Carr & Black Boy Shine: Unissued Test Pressings & Alternate Takes 1934-1937
Andy Boy Church Street BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Jazz GillumBirmingham BluesBill ''Jazz'' Gillum Vol. 1 1936-38
Washboard SamI Drink Good WhiskeyWashboard Sam Vol. 2 1937-1938
Alice MooreNew Blue Black And Evil BluesSt. Louis Bessie & Alice Moore Vol. 2 1934-1941
Memphis MinnieLiving The Best I CanMemphis Minnie Vol. 3 1937
Victoria SpiveyOne Hour MamaThe Essential
Robert JohnsonStones In My PasswayAlberta Hunter Vol. 4 1927-46
Mose Andrews Young Heifer BluesMississippi Blues Vol.1 1928-1937
Bukka WhiteShake 'Em On DownThe Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Scotte Nesbitt Deep, Deep In The GroundRare Jazz and Blues Piano 1927-1937
Charley WestRollin' Stone BluesRare 1930s & '40s Blues Vol. 3 1937-1948
Roosevelt SykesNight Time Is the Right TimeRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 5 1937-1939
Lonnie JohnsonHard Times Ain't Gone No WhereLonnie Johnson Vol. 1 1937-1940
Tampa RedSeminole BluesYou Can't Get that Stuff No More
Casey Bill WeldonLady Doctor BluesThe Essential
Lee GreenThe Way I Feel Lee Green Vol. 2 1930-1937
Charlie Campbell Goin' Away BluesAlabama & The East Coast 1933-1937

Show Notes:

Bukka White: Shake 'Em On DownToday’s show is the eleventh installment of an ongoing series of programs built around a particular year. The first year we spotlighted was 1927 which was the beginning of a blues boom that would last until 1930; there were just 500 blues and gospel records issued in 1927 and increase of fifty percent from 1926 a trend that would continue until the depression. To feed the demand other record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent, which included making trips down south with field recording units. The Depression, with the massive unemployment it brought, had a shattering effect on the pockets of black record buyers. Sales of blues records plummeted in the years 1931 through 1933. Things picked up again in 1934 with the companies recording full-scale again. During this period there was far less recording in the field during this period and in view of the popularity of Chicago singers there was less need.

From 1934 until 1945 there were three main race labels, all selling at 35 cents: Decca, the Brunswick Record Corporation's Vocalion, and RCA-Victor's Bluebird. There were two other labels that featured a fair number of blues during this period; the store group Montgomery Ward, with a label of the same name, drew at various times on Gennett, Decca and Bluebird and Sears Roebuck used ARC material on its Conqueror label. Race record sales were up around 15 per cent in 1937: Decca and Bluebird each put out around 120 items whilst BRC-ARC issued almost on Vocalion and another 100 on the dime-store labels.

According to John Godrich and Robert M.W. Dixon in their classic book Recording The Blues, the record companies "had three way of unearthing new talent: by placing advertisements in local newspapers, especially just before a field unit was due in a nearby town; by just relying on chance comments from singers, concerning other who might be good recording propositions; and by employing their own talent scouts, who carry out steady, systematic searches. The last method was intensively employed in the the thirties – Roosevelt Sykes, for instance, would find likely artists for Decca (or, sometimes, for Lester Melrose). But despite this, race catalogs in the thirties relied more heavily on a small nucleus of popular singers than they had in the twenties. It was the urban style of blues that now dominated the market – and as in the previous years it was artists such as Tampa Red, Kokomo Arnold, Casey Bill Weldon, Memphis Minnie, Big Bill Broonzy, Bumble Bee Slim, Peetie Wheatstraw and the Harlem Hamfats who dominated the market. Tampa cut 18 sides, Arnold , Weldon and the Hamfats cut around two-dozen sides apiece, Minnie cut 16 sides, Broonzy cut around 30 sides, Slim some 20 sides (a number unissued) and Wheatstraw a 14 sides.Pinetop Burks: Jack of All Trades

Two down home singers who could hold their own in terms of popularity against the urban artists were Sleepy John Estes and Blind Boy Fuller.  Estes made his debut for Victor in 1929 while Fuller made his debut for Vocalion in 1935. Unlike blues artists like Big Bill or Memphis Minnie who recorded extensively over three or four decades, Blind Boy Fuller recorded his substantial body of work over a short, six-year span. Nevertheless, he was one of the most recorded artists of his time and by far the most popular and influential Piedmont blues player of all time. Fuller made his debut in 1935 and over the next five years he made over 120 sides. He cut around 50 sides in 1937.

One of Fuller's associates, Floyd Council, also recorded this year. Council occasionally worked with Fuller in the ‘30s, which may have led to his first recording sessions. In late January 1937. ACR Records scout John Baxter Long heard him, playing alone on a street in Chapel Hill. It was Long who had first brought Fuller to NYC to record in July 1935. Long invited Floyd to join Fuller on his third trip to New York. Floyd agreed, and a week later the three traveled to the city. During his second visit to New York in December, Floyd was used as a second guitar only. His solo tracks were later issued under the name ‘Blind Boy Fuller’s buddy’. In all he cut six sides under his own name and seven backing Fuller.

For his third session the Decca label brought Sleepy John Estes to New York City to record in 1937 and again in 1938 where he cut eighteen songs, laying down some of his most enduring songs. He was backed by Charlie Pickett on guitar and Hammie Nixon on harmonica. Pickett cut four sides for Decca in 1937 backed by Hammie Nixon and Lee Brown.  Pickett also played guitar behind Estes on 19 numbers at sessions in 1937 and 1938. He or Estes may have played guitar behind pianist Lee Green at a 1937 session.

1937 saw a number of notable recording sessions including two by Bluebird, one in Chicago and one in San Antonio, and one by ARC in Birmingham by ARC. In Chicago on May 5, 1937 Bluebird cut a marathon recording session resulting in six songs by Robert Nighthawk (as Robert Lee McCoy), six by Sonny Boy Williamson I, four by Big Joe Williams and eight sides by Walter Davis. It was Sonny Boy's songs, especially, "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Bluebird Blues" and "Sugar Mama Blues" which were the biggest hits.

The Texas pianists known as the 'Santa Fe group' were based in the southwestern part of the state where the cities of Galveston, Houston and Richmond lie.“ Mack McCormick noted that the “itinerant pack of pianists who came to be known loosely as 'the Santa Fe group,' partly because they favored that railroad and partly because a stranger asking for the name of a selection was invariably told 'That's The Santa Fe.' 1937 was an outstanding year for the Santa Fe group of pianists: Andy Boy recorded in February for Bluebird, Big Boy Knox recorded for Bluebird in March, Black Boy Shine recorded in June for Vocalion and Son Becky and Pinetop Burks recorded at a shared session for Vocalion in October. Just a few days after Black Boy Shine was recorded in Dallas, ARC recorded Robert Johnson who recorded thirteen sides adding to the previous year's sixteen sides.

1296536396_GW48006aBetween March 3rd and April 7th 1937, ARC (The American Record Company) sent a mobile recording unit on a field trip firstly to visit Hot Springs, Arkansas and, then to Birmingham, Alabama in search of new talent that could be recorded on location instead of transporting the artists to their New York studio. Sometime between 18th and 24th March the unit arrived in Birmingham and, over a two week period set about recording a number of gospel and blues musicians. Among those were Charlie Campbell, Guitar Slim (George Bedford) and James Sherrill (Peanut The Kidnapper) all of whom were backed by the lively piano of Robert McCoy who did not record under his own name. McCoy wouldn't record again until 1963 when he was recorded by Pat Cather, a teenaged Birmingham blues fan. Cather issued two albums on his Vulcan label: Barrelhouse Blues And Jook Piano and Blues And Boogie Classics.

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Ray CharlesMr. Charles BluesRay Charles 1953-54
Little Brother Montgomery After Hours BluesMemphis Minnie: Early Rhythm & Blues 1949
Big John & His OrchestraToo Late BluesRockin' On Acorn: Regent Vol. 1
Howlin' WolfChocolate Drop (Brown Skin Woman) Rides Again
Muddy WatersLook What You've DoneThe Complete Recordings
Joe Evans & Arthur McClainDown In Black BottomDown In Black Bottom: Lowdown Barrelhouse Piano
Bo CarterTush Hog BluesBo Carter & The Mississippi Sheiks
Harry ChatmonThese Jackson Women Will Not Treat You Right Deep South Blues Piano 1935-1937
Cliff ButlerGold Diggin' BabyBlues & Gospel Kings Vol.1 1945-50
Marylyn Scott Straighten Him Out Rockin' On Acorn: Regent Vol. 1

Gene Coy & His Killer DillersKiller DillerRockin' On Acorn: Regent Vol. 1
William Floyd DavisThe Capt'nLive At The Bootleggers
William Floyd DavisLookin' Down The RoadLive At The Bootleggers
Pillie Biling Brown Skin WomanTrouble Hearted Blues 1927-1944
Mae GloverPig Meat Mama Mae Glover 1927-1931
Barbecue BobRed Hot Mama, Papa's Going to Cool You Off Barbecue Bob Vol. 2 1928-1929
James ButlerLonesome BluesElko Blues Vol. 3
Mance LipscombCaptain, CaptainCaptain, Captain: The Texas Songster
Jimmy GrissomThey Call It The BluesYet More Mellow Cats & Kittens
Roosevelt SykesHe's Just a Gravy TrainRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 9 1947-1951
Roy BrownBlack DiamondGood Rocking Tonight: The Best Of Roy Brown
Lightnin' HopkinsAt Home BluesThe Texas Bluesman
Lightnin' HopkinsBlack and EvilTexas Blues
Josie MilesSouth Bound BluesJosie Miles Vol. 2 1924-1925
Clara SmithBlack Cat MoanThe Essential
Mary JohnsonBlack Gal BluesMary Johnson 1929-1936

Show Notes:

Rockin On Acorn-Regent Vol. 1Okay, a little radio business before we get into the notes. Today's show is our first during this year's first pledge drive. The Jazz90.1 spring 2014 membership campaign kicks off on Monday March 10th, with a goal of $50,000. Each year, Jazz90.1 must raise all operating funds through pledge drives and special events. Without support from listeners who become members, Jazz90.1 simply would not survive. For myself and the rest of the DJ's our shows are a labor of love  and if you're a regular listener, and have the means, please consider pledging. As usual lots of interesting records on deck today including some fine jump blues, lots of pre-war blues gems from the well known to the obscure, several exceptional early blues ladies, a pair of tracks from a new collection of field recordings and two superb cuts by Lightnin' Hopkins.

We spin a batch of great 1940's jump blues, a style I should probably play more of. Two cuts come from a recent collection I picked up called Rockin On Acorn-Regent Vol. 1, the first of the volumes, that gather sides from the Regent and Acorn imprints. Both labels were subsidiaries of Savoy with Regent operating between 1947 and 1964 and Acorn from 1949 through 1951.  Gene Coy & His Killer Dillers give some fine jive talking jump on "Killer Diller", Big John & His Orchestra deliver some after hour blues on "Too Late Blues" while Marylyn Scott's delivers the bouncy "Straighten Him Out." Mary DeLoatch, also known as Mary DeLoach, was a Norfolk, Virginia based gospel singer who used the name Marylin Scott or Marylyn Scott the Carolina Blues Girl when performing blues tunes. When her gospel self took over she sounded more than a little like Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She switched to exclusively religious material after 1950 and her final recording appears to have been made in 1967 when she was photographed playing an electric guitar while wearing evangelical robes. In similar vein is the always up-to-date Roosevelt Sykes on the gently jumping "He's Just A Gravy Train" with with knockout electric guitar from Henry Townsend. Then's there's Roy's Brown's relentlessly rocking "Black Diamond" from 1954.

Live At The BootleggersWe spin two tracks from a new LP on the Sutro Park label, Live At The Bootleggers. The recordings were made by Begnt Olsson in 197 1in Fayette County, Tennessee at the home of a bootlegger and include some unreleased material. Olsson taped some superb field recordings in Tennessee and Alabama between 1969 and 1974. Several years back Birdman Records (Sutro Park is an affiliated all vinyl imprint) purchased Olsson's entire library of recordings. So far the label has issued three prior releases: Old Country Blues Vol. 1, Bishop Perry Tillis: Too Close and in 2010 the Sutro Park label issued a vinyl album titled Wolf's At The Door: Lost Recordings From The Spirits Of The South which included some unreleased recordings by Olsson.

I have a soft spot for the blues ladies of the 20's and have featured them often on my show. Everybody know Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey but there were hundreds of blues ladies recorded in the first half of the decade, many forgettable and many forgotten but deserving wider recognition. Josie Miles falls in the latter category, heard in fine form on "South Bound Blues." By the early 1920's Miles was working in New York City, where she appeared in Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle's musical comedy Shuffle Along. In 1922 she made her first recordings, for the Black Swan Company, and later recorded for the Gennett, Ajax, Edison, and Banner Records labels. According to blues writer Steve Tracy, Josie Miles was characterized by "a light but forceful delivery that was not low-down but was nevertheless convincing." Her last recordings date from 1925.

Clara Smith recorded more than double the output of Miles, cutting over 120 sides over a ten year period. Looking back, I realize how often I've played Smith and how unjustly obscure she remains at least in comparison by her more famous label mate Bessie Smith. Carl Van Vechten of Vanity Fair compared them in 1926: "[Clara] employs, however, more nuances of expression than Bessie. Her voice flutters agonizingly between tones. Music critics would say she sings off key. What she really does, of course, is sing quarter tones. This she is justifiably bill as the 'World's greatest moaner.' She appears to be more of an artist than Bessie, but I suspect that this apparent artistry is spontaneous and uncalculated.One learns from her that the Negro's cry to a cruel cupid is moving and elemental, as is his cry to God, as expressed in his Spirituals." All of Smith's recordings are available on Document, six volumes in all, and are consistently strong despite some some lackluster sound quality. "Black Cat Moan" from 1927 finds her in peak from baked by the superb Bob Fuller on cornet. This recordings comes from  Clara Smith Vol. 5 1927-1929, capturing a particularity good period in Smith"s career.

Josie Miles
Josie Miles

Also featured today is is the fine singer Mary Johnson who I've also played quite a bit over the years.  Johnson  (sometimes billed as "Signifying Mary") came late to the game, making her debut in 1929, cut just shy of two dozen songs, achieved modest success and never recorded again after 1936 despite living until 1983. While it's true that Johnson wasn't in the same league as Bessie and Clara, she left behind a small, very impressive body of work that merits more attention. Johnson was a fine singer with a clear, low, moaning style that came across well on record. She also wrote a number of moving songs, many filled with vivid violent and sexual imagery and an unrelenting bleak view of the world. Johnson was blessed with superb backing musicians throughout her brief career that elevated her recordings above many of her contemporaries. She was accompanied by either Henry Brown, Judson Brown, Roosevelt Sykes, or Peetie Wheetstraw on piano, many selections featuring trombonist Ike Rodgers, guitarists Tampa Red and Kokomo Arnold and violinist Artie Mosby.

Other pre-war artists featured today include Bo Carter and Harry Chatmon both of the famous Chatmon family. Bo was one of the most popular bluesmen of the 30's known for his risqué numbers like today's "Tush Hog Blues." Harry Chatman cut ten songs under his name in1935 across three sessions, two in New Orleans and a final one in Jackson, Mississippi. He backed Walter Visnon on two sides in 1936.

Speaking of risqué songs we play a set featuring Mae Glover, Pillie Bolling and Barbecue Bob. Bolling, an associate of Greenville singer Ed Bell, sings about his "Brown Skin Woman", Glover proclaims herself a "Pigmeat Mama" complete with some convincing yodeling and Barbecue Bob serves up the fast paced hokum blues "Red Hot Mama, Papa's Going to Cool You Off."

 

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Gus Cannon Poor Boy A Long Way From HomeMemphis Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-34
Gus Cannon InterviewAmerican Skiffle Bands
Blind Blake & Gus CannonHe's In The Jailhouse NowThe Best of Blind Blake
Donald Hill Interview
Gus CannonI Met Mr. Toad Recordings Provided By Don Hill
Gus CannonShow Me The Way To Go HomeRecordings Provided By Don Hill
Gus CannonWalk Right In Recordings Provided By Don Hill
Cannon's Jug StompersMinglewood BluesRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 1
Cannon's Jug StompersViola Lee BluesWhen The Sun Goes Dow
Cannon's Jug StompersPig Ankle Strut Gus Cannon Vol. 1 1927-1928
Cannon's Jug StompersGoing To Germany Gus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Noah LewisSelling The JellyGus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Gus CannonCan You Blame The Colored ManMasters of the Memphis Blues
Gus CannonInterviewAmerican Skiffle Bands
Gus CannonMy Money Never Runs OutGood for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-37
Cannon's Jug StompersMadison Street BluesBlues Images Vol. 5
Cannon's Jug StompersBig Railroad Blues Ruckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 1
Cannon's Jug StompersHeart Breakin' BluesGus Cannon Vol. 1 1927-1928
Cannon's Jug StompersFeather BedBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Memphis Willie B. & Gus CannonSitting Here ThinkingBlues: Music from the Documentary Film
Gus Cannon Make Me A Pallet On Your FloorWalk Right In
Gus Cannon Come On Down To My HouseWalk Right In
Cannon's Jug StompersFourth And BealeGus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Cannon's Jug StompersLast Chance Blues Ruckus Juice & Chitlins Vol. 2
Cannon's Jug StompersWalk Right In When The Sun Goes Down
Gus Cannon Goin' Back (To Memphis, TN)On The Road Again
Gus Cannon Salty DogWalk Right In
Cannon's Jug StompersTired Chicken BluesGus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Cannon's Jug StompersPrison Wall BluesGus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
Gus Cannon Walk Right InWalk Right In

Show Notes:

Gus Cannon
Gus Cannon circa 1920

A remarkable musician, Gus Cannon bridged the gap between early blues and the minstrel and the pre-blues that preceded it. His band of the '20's and '30's, Cannon's Jug Stompers, along with contemporaries, The Memphis Jug Band, recorded the finest jug music of the era. On today's program we spin many of the classic Jug Stompers songs, songs Gus cut under his own name, sides he cut with others, a fascinating interview Cannon did in he 50's plus we talk to Don Hill who recorded Cannon in 1961. Much of the information for today's show come from the notes to Cannon's Jug Stompers The Complete Works 1927-1930 (issued first on Herwin then Yazoo) written by  Bengt Olsson. Olsson was a fine writer, an expert on Memphis blues and these notes notes are perhaps the best piece written on Gus Cannon.  A link to the notes is provided below.

Songs Cannon recorded, notably the raggy "Walk Right In," were staples of the folk repertoire decades later, and Cannon himself continued to record and perform into the 1970's. He learned early repertoire in the 1890's from older musicians, notably Mississippian Alec Lee. The early 1900's found him playing around Memphis with songster Jim Jackson and forming a partnership with Noah Lewis, whose harmonica wizardry would be basic to the Jug Stompers' sound. In 1914, Cannon began work with a succession of medicine shows that would continue into the 1940's. His recording career began with Paramount sessions in 1927 cut under the name Banjo Joe and also made sides with Blind Blake. In 1928 he began recording as Cannon's Jug Stompers, cutting over two-dozen sides with the group through 1930 for Victor. He returned in 1956 to make a few recordings for Folkways Records and made some college and coffee house appearances with Furry Lewis and Bukka White. In 1963 the Rooftop Singers had a hit with "Walk Right In" and in the wake of that recorded an album for Stax Records in 1963. He cut a few other scattered sides before his death in 1979.

Cannon's Jug Stompers
Cannon's Jug Stompers circa 1928

Cannon's first instrument was home-made but he soon ran away from home where he played banjo around work camps. "Gus grew up with banjo & fiddle songs – 'John Henry & all that mess' – all around him, as most of his brothers (nine in all & most older than Gus) played an instrument or two & would frequently get together with other musicians in the area." Around the turn of the century Cannon was in Clarksdale where he came under the influence of Alec Lee, 15 year his senior, who played with a knife on songs like "Poor Boy" and "John Henry." "Alec Lee was the first guy I heard playing on a Hawaiian guitar ..used a knife." About two years later Cannon recalled playing down by the Sunflower river. "..I was playing for Saturday night balls – that's when us colored folks had ourselves a time. Man I played the hell out of that banjo for $2.50 a night…" Cannon wasn't playing professionally at this time, still working different day jobs.

Cannon started out with medicine shows like Dr Hangerson's , Dr Stokey's, Dr Willie Lewis' and Dr W.B. Milton. From Virginia to Arkansas, billed as Banjo Joe, he worked for some ten years, 1914 -1928. He was accompanied by Hosea Woods, a longtime friends who could play guitar, violin and cornet and also sang. "I had to have a shot of liqueur before the show. If I didn't it seemed like I couldn't be funny in front of all them people. When I had one it seemed like all them people was one and I would throw up the banjo in the air and really put on a show." In 1916 Cannon moved North of Memphis to Ripley to work on a farm. There he teamed up with local musicians harmonica player Noah Lewis and guitarist Ashley Thompson. The trio played around the area until 1920. They would be reunited when Cannon formed his jug band in Memphis in 1928.

Back in Memphis, Will Shade had started the Memphis Jug Band. They became very popular in Memphis, often playing in Church Park, where Gus saw them. The Madison Rag AdMemphis Jug Band first recorded for Victor in February 1927 and over the next four years recorded 57 sides. By 1930 there were seven different jug bands active in Memphis. In 1928 Ralph Peer from Victor, who had previously recorded the Memphis Jug Band, returned to Memphis looking for other jug bands to record. Charlie Williamson, the manager of the Palace Theater, recommended Gus. By this time Gus had had a harness made for his jug so that he could wear it around his neck and play banjo at the same time. Gus called up Noah Lewis and Ashley Thompson and on Jan 30 1928 they recorded 4 sides in an old auditorium as Cannon's Jug Stompers.

The first recordings did well and in Sept 1928 an additional 10 sides were cut; 4 on Sept. 5 with Avery replacing Thompson, 2 more on Sept. 9 and then 4 more on Sept. 20 with Hosea Woods added on kazoo. The band’s major musician was Noah Lewis who demonstrated remarkable breath control, inventiveness, and mastery of his instrument. Lewis was born in Henning, Tennessee, and raised in the vicinity of Ripley. He played in local string bands and brass bands, and began playing in the Ripley and Memphis areas with Cannon. He cut seven sides under his own name at sessions in 1929 and 1930. Recording as Noah Lewis' Jug Band, he was backed on two numbers by Sleepy John and Yank Rachell with just Estes backing him on two other numbers cut a couple of days apart. Lewis died in poverty of gangrene brought on by frostbite in Ripley, Tennessee, in 1961.  As Cannon recalled: "Lawd, he used to blow the hell outa that harp. He could play two harps at the same time …Y'know he could curl his lips 'round the harp & his nose was just like a fist. Noah, he was full of cocaine all the time – I reckon that's why he could play sou loud and aw, he was good!"

After Cannon's Jug Stompers final sessions in 1930 Cannon would no record again for over two-decades. In 1957 he recorded a few sides for Sam Charters for Folkways which includes an interview which is featured on today's show. The recordings were issued on the album American Skiffle Bands. While recording in the South in the early 1960's, producer, writer Charters was inspired not only by the sound of Furry Lewis’s guitar, but by the patterns of movement in his hands and fingers as he played. Thus Charters decided to make a film that would document aspects of the blues that couldn’t be put on a phonograph record. In the summer of 1962, Charters journeyed through St. Louis, Memphis, Louisiana, and South Carolina to shoot the film The Blues and record this soundtrack. Artists featured in addition to Lewis are J.D. Short, Baby Tate,  Sleepy John Estes and Gus Cannon who performs "Sitting Here Thinking" with Memphis Willie B.

Gus Cannon
Gus Cannon listens to his first record album on Stax
Photo: Bob Williams/The Commercial Appeal files

In 1961 Dave Mangurian and Donald Hall recorded Gus Cannon, Will Shade and Laura Dukes over two days in Memphis. The recordings have been issued as bootlegs on Will Shade & Gus Cannon 1961 (Document) and  Memphis Sessions (1956 – 1961) (Wolf). It turns out that Donald Hill is a Professor at SUNY Oneonta, just a few hours from my house. I got in touch and Donald graciously made some time to talk about recording Gus and his friends over fifty years ago. Mangurian and Hall headed to Memphis after a spending time in Clarksdale where they recorded Wade Walton and spent time in jail on "suspicion" another word for "white outsiders." In Memphis they looked up Memphis Minnie and Son Joe and and managed to record Will Shade, Laura Dukes, and Gus Cannon in Shade's apartment on Fourth Street, just off Beale. "We recorded over two days. The musicians drank a lot as did some of the visitors who heard the music and joined us. We recorded a variety of configurations, including Shade on vocal, washtub bass, harmonica, and guitar; Laura Dukes, vocal and banjo-uke, Gus Cannon on vocal and banjo; and several others that came by to sing a tune or two. …Shade, Cannon and Dukes were real professionals."

In 1963, Cannon's vocals and banjo-playing were accompanied by Will Shade on jug and Milton Roby on washboard for this Stax Record release titled Walk Right In. It appears that he recorded at the Stax studio simply because he lived in the neighborhood. Only 500 copies of this album were pressed. Cannon was also featured in The Devil’s Music—A History of the Blues on BBC TV in 1976. Cannon passed in 1979, obituaries, including that published in Living Blues magazine, gave his age as ninety-six, although some reference sources give birth years of 1883 and 1885.

Related Reading:

-Cannon's Jug Stompers The Complete Works 1927-1930 [PDF] (Liner notes by Begnt Olsson)

 

 

 

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Alice mooreBlack and EvilSt. Louis Women Vol. 2 1934-1941
Ethel Waters(What Did I Do To Be So) Black & BlueEthel Waters 1929-1939
Hattie BurelsonSadie's Servant Room BluesTerritory Singers Vol. 2 1928-30
Big Bill BroonzyBlack, Brown, and WhiteBroadcasting The Blues
Otis SpannMoon Blues Sweet Giant Of The Blues
Howlin' WolfCoon On The MoonThe Back Door Wolf
Lillian GlinnBrown Skin BluesLillian Glinn 1927-1929
Barbecue BobChocolate To The BoneChocolate To The Bone
Andy BoyEvil BluesSan Antonio 1937
Robert WilkinsFalling Down BluesThe Original Rolling Stone
Tommy MclennanBottle It Up And GoThe Complete Bluebird Recodings
Bill & Mary MackBlack But Sweet, Oh God!Punch Miller & Albert Wynn 1925-1930
Furry LewisB-L-A-C-KThe Fabulous Furry Lewis
Ishman BraceySaturday BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Rosa HendersonI Have To Paint my FaceI Have To Paint my Face
Maggie jonesNorthbound BluesMaggie Jones Vol. 1 1923-1925
Cow Cow DavenportJim Crow BluesThe Essential
LeadbellyJim Crow BluesBourgeois Blues
Rev. J.M. GatesKinky Hair Is No DisgraceAre You Bound For Heaven Or Hell?
Albert HunterYou Can't Tell The Difference After DarkAlberta Hunter Vol. 4 1927-46
Louis JordanOfay & oxford Grey Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five - Chapter 4
J.B. LenoirBorn DeadAlabama Blues
John Lee HookerBirmingham BluesKennedy's Blues
Louisiana RedRide On Red, Ride OnThe Best of Louisiana Red
Dora Carr & Cow Cow DavenportBlack Girl Gets There Just The Same Cow Cow Davenport - Cow Cow Davenport: The Accompanist 1924-1929
Butterbeans & SusieBrown Skin GalButterbeans & Susie Vol. 1 1924-1925
Fats HaydenBrown Skin Gal Is The Best Gal After AllTeddy Bunn 1929-1940
Ruby SmithBlack GalSammy Price
And the Blues Singers
Juke Boy BonnerBeing Black and I'm ProudLife Gave Me A Dirty Deal
Champion Jack DupreeOh Lord What Have I DoneOh Lord What Have I Done

Show Notes:

Alice Moore: Black And Evil BluesToday's show is devoted to blues songs dealing with the topic of race. Blues of the segregation era are intrinsically tied to race but rarely do they deal with the topic of race itself. As the great blues scholar Paul Oliver wrote back in 1968: "Blacks in the United States are members of an underprivileged class, and it makes no difference if their standard of living is far higher than that of most people in Africa, India, or much of South America. For them, being below the poverty line in the world's richest nation means suffering. Ernest attempts to play the blues by white imitators notwithstanding, the blues is, inescapably, the music of the African American, and it seems undeniable that it is a cultural expression that relates back to circumstances of segregation. It's true that racial discrimination is seldom blatantly the theme of the blues-but it's never far away. …For the Black, whether he was purpled-hued or pink skinned, his color was his problem, both within the black community and in the community as a whole. It was this which determined that his whole social life should be different from his fellow Americans, for his color and his cast of feature were the outward indications of his ancestory." Today we play songs, both subtle and explicit, both humorous and serious, that deal with a variety of racial issues. Within black society there was a class system based on skin color – yellow, brown and black – and many songs deal with this topic. Other songs are more overt, dealing frankly about issues like Jim Crow and, particularly in the 60's, with the topic of civil rights. Other songs are more subtle, throwing in a interesting line or two, often hard to decipher without careful listening.

Alice Moore, Little Alice, as she was known, achieved a measure of success with her first record, "Black And Evil Blues" cut at her first session 1929 with three subsequent versions cut during the 1930's.

I'm black and I'm evil, and I did not make myself (2x)
If my man don't have me, he won't have nobody else
I've got to buy me a bulldog, he'll watch me while I sleep (2x)
Because I'm so black and evil, that I might make a midnight creep
I believe to my soul, the Lord has got a curse on me (2x)
Because every man I get, a no good woman steals him from me

Paul Oliver had this to say about the number: "At times the characteristics of African racial features and color have an ominous significance in the blues, which may hint that they are indirectly related to social problems. So the state of being 'blue' is associated with alienation, and is linked with an 'evil mind' or an inclination to violence. Both are coupled with the inescapable condition of being black." There's also, I think, a way of diffusing the negative "black" by owning it as Moore does, a way of empowering oneself by taking the negative associations of black and turning it around and even reveling in it. Moore's song was covered by Lil Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins and Leroy Ervin. Another song from the same period with a similar sentiment is "(What Did I Do To Be So) Black & Blues", originally written by Fats Waller in 1929, it was a hit for Ethel Waters in 1930. Like Moore's song this one too equates blackness with being "blue"but some of the lyrics give one an uneasy feeling:

I'm white inside, it don't help my case
'Cause I can't hide, what is on my face, oh!

I'm so forlorn, life's just a thorn
My heart is torn, why was I born?
What did I do to be so black and blue?

'Cause you're black, folks think you lack
They laugh at you, and scorn you too
What did I do to be so black and blue?

The title of today's show, Sam Chatmon's "I Have To Paint My Face", is another song tied into this theme. Chatmon's song paints being black in a negative light in contrast to being white. Chatmon's song is a bit more complicated with some of the language, it seems, drawing from the period before the blues when their was a wide variety of black music including ragtime, black vaudeville, minstrels, coon songs, work songs, dance tunes and more. Older musicians (Chatmon was born in the late 1890's), born in the 1860's through the 1880's, learned early forms of black music that they brought to their records when they had the opportunity to record in the 20's and 30's.

Say God made us all
He made some at night
That's why he didn't take time
To make us all white

I'm bound to change my name
I have to paint my face
So I won't be kin
To that Ethiopian race

Say now let me tell you one thing
That a Stumptown nigger will do
He'll pull up on young cotton
And he'll kill baby chickens too

Say when God made me
Say the moon was givin' light
I'm so doggone sorry
He didn't finish me up white

Say now when God made people
He done pretty well
But when he made a jet black nigger
He made them some hell

Say God took a ball of mud
When he got ready to make man
When he went to make you partner
I believe it slipped out his hand

Fats Hayden: Brown Skin Gal Is The Best Gal After All As mentioned above, within black society there was a class system based on skin color – yellow, brown and black – each hue having their own stereotypes. In Blues Fell This Morning, Paul Oliver had the following to say: "Blacks frequently aspired to the conditions of being white, as they saw the better jobs, the higher standard of living Whites enjoyed. Men spent large sums of money on hair-straightening  greases and combs that were supposed to remove the kinks in African hair. Woman dyed their hair to a brick-red, powdered their faces and applied artificial color in order to make their skins lighter and their complexions more 'white.' …This primitive distinction by color was passed on to Blacks themselves and their population was many times divided by grades of skin pigmentation. In the caste system that evolved from this arbitrary means of discrimination, the lighter skinned tended to be on a higher plane, whilst the extremely black-skinned mas was looked down on… To differentiate between their many shades of color they evolved many words which are applicable to certain shades: 'ashy black', 'chocolate-brown', 'coffee', 'sealskin-brown', 'brightskin', 'high yaller', 'lemon', and others… Blacks of one particular skin hue kept together and may certainly  have a had a preference for that color…" In her popular 1927 number, "Brown Skin Blues", Lillian Glinn stated her preference:

Now all high yellers you ought to listen to me
A yellow man's sweet, a black man's neat
A brownskin man will take you clear off your feet

Barbecue Bob's “Chocolate To The Bone” was an answer song cut in 1928:

So glad I'm brownskin, so glad I'm brownskin, chocolate to the bone (2x)
And I've got what it takes to make a monkey man leave his home

Black man is evil, yellow man's so low-down (2x)
I walk into these houses just to see these black men frown

I'm just like Miss Lillian, like Miss Lillian, I mean Miss Glinn, you see
I'm just like Miss Lillian, I mean Miss Glinn, you see
She said, 'A brownskin man is just all right with me'

In a similar vein was Fats Hayden's 1939 number "Brown Skin Gal Is The Best Gal After All" where he elaborates in detail to prove the song's title throwing quite a few disparaging comments on the other hues ("When a yellow gal gets old/She draw up like tripe"). Hayden's song is very similar to a number of earlier songs including Butterbeans & Susie's "Brown Skin Gal" from 1925 and Barbecue Bob's "Brown Skin Gal" from 1927. Bill & Mary Mack's "Black But Sweet, Oh God!" from 1925 has Bill asking for Mary's company and with the following reply: "Now listen hear man you too black and ugly, the type of man is out of my life." Then shes goes on about her "brown" who is "little an cute, chocolate to the bone." Jim Jackson recorded a song titled "Black But Sweet" which is likely the same song  although it was never issued. In the 1970's Furry Lewis recorded "a little jive" he claims to have made up called "B-L-A-C-K" which bears a striking resemblance to Bill & Mary Mack's number but Furry turns it around a bit:

Some people don't like their color, but I sure do like mine
I know I'm black and ugly, but gets along just fine
I was going down the street the other day, two high browns I did meet
Said ain't old Furry black but he sure looks good to me
I'm black but I'm sweet oh God

Earlier I quoted Paul Oliver mentioning that blacks tried to change their appearance to a more white aesthetic, that too is represented in songs featured today. In Ishman Bracey's "Saturday Blues" he sings:

Now, if you want yo' woman, to look like the rest
You buy her high-brown powder, Palmer's Skin Success

Cow Cow Davenport: Jim Crow BluesPalmer's Skin Success was the trade name of a popular skin bleach which claimed o be able to make you "one shade lighter." The product was advertised in black newspapers like the Chicago Defender probably not coincidentally on the same pages that advertised blues records. Then there's  Rev. J.M. Gates' "Kinky Hair is No Disgrace" which, despite the title, is more in a slapstick vaudeville vein than a black pride one. The 1960's saw a new found era in black pride with James Brown's "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud" from 1968 becoming an unofficial anthem of the Black Power movement. The same year Juke Boy Bonner cut "Being Black and I'm Proud" and Bee Houston recorded "Be Proud To Be A Black Man" in 1970. There were black pride sentiments in earlier songs like Ruby Smith on "Black Gal" from 1941. Chris Smith wrote that "it's a fascinating, uneasy mixture of self-abasement with early 'black is beautiful' ideology: "

If I had the choice of being white as a lamb
I would turn it down and stay, black as I am

'I'm just a black gal, insignificant me
But I'm just as happy as can be

I ain't seeking pity on account of being black
And if I've apologized I wanna take it back

…Furthermore, I don't believe in being what you ain't
That's why I don't lighten up with lots of chalk and paint.

Blues songs that speak directly to racial issues are relatively rare in early blues, while the 1960's saw more explicit songs dealing with the turbulent civil rights era. During the Jim Crow era, racial segregation laws were enacted between 1876 and 1965 at the state and local level that mandated racial segregation in all public facilities in Southern states. There were several songs that explicitly dealt with the topic. An early one from singer Maggie Jones, "Northbound Blues" from 1925, talks about heading away from Jim Crow:

Got my trunk and grip all packed
Goodbye, I ain't coming back
Going to leave this Jim Crow town
Lord, sweet pape, New York bound

Got my ticket in my hand
And I'm leaving dixieland

Going north child, where I can be free (2x)
Where there's no hardships, like in Tennessee

Going where they don't have Jim Crow laws (2x)
Don't have to work there, like in Arkansas

Cow Cow Davenport was another singer to make an overt statement about going North to escape Jim Crow. Accompanied by B.T. Wingfield on cornet, he recorded "Jim Crow Blues" for Paramount in 1927:

I'm tired of being Jim Crowed, gonna Leave this Jim Crow town
Doggone my black soul, I'm sweet Chicago bound

Rosa Henderson is sings about Jim Crow in "Back Woods Blues" from 1924 (Clara Smith recorded a version the same year):

Gonna see my folks, but its way too far
To ride in a dusty old Jim Crow car

Got the backwoods blues, but I don't wanna go back home
Got the backwoods blues, for a place way down in Bam
Got the blues, but I'm gonna stay right where I am

Gonna lay 'round here, where I'm at
Where there ain't no grinnin' and no snatchin' off my hat

Other songs on the subject include Josh White's "Jim Crow Train"and "Uncle Sam Says" and "Jim Crow Blues" and "Scottsboro Boys" by  Leadbelly. Jim Crow also existed in the military during both world wars and through part of the Korean war. Both Leadbelly and Josh White tackle the topic in "Uncle Sam Says", the topic also crops up in gospel songs by Blind Willie Johnson ("When the War Was On") and William And Versey Smith ("Everybody Help the Boys Come Home"). In Big Bill Broonzy's famous "Black, Brown, and White" and "I Wonder When I'll Get To Be Called A Man" he address the issue:

When Uncle Sam called me, I know'ed I'd be called a real McCoy
But I got none of this, they just called me soldier boy
I wonder when,
I wonder when,
I wonder when will I get to be called a man
Do I have to wait till I get ninety-three?
When I got back from overseas, that night we had a ball
Next day I met the old boss, he said 'Boy get you some overalls'

Howlin' Wolf - Coon On The MoonOvert political commentary became increasingly more common by the 1960's. Several blues and gospel numbers were recorded about Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. In "Birmingham Blues" John Lee Hooker forcefully sings about the Birmingham campaign which was a strategic effort by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to promote civil rights for black Americans. 1962's Louisiana Red's "Ride On Red, Ride On" is a civil rights themed blues mainly about leaving the racist south and its subject not far removed from Rosa Henderson's “Back Woods Blues” mentioned above.  Few bluesman were as outspoken and eloquent as J.B. Lenoir who cut some hard hitting topical numbers shortly before his untimely death in 1967. Here's his "Born Dead" from 1966:

Lord why was I born in Mississippi, when it's so hard to get ahead (2x)
Every black child born in Mississippi
You know the poor child is born dead

During the beginning of the space race in the early 1960's many songs appeared to cash in with space themed topics. With the landing on the moon in 1969 there were many more, but many, particularly by African Americans, took on a more political tone often contrasting the money and conditions of black people with the amount of money that went into the putting a man on the moon while ignoring the dire conditions at home. This is the topic of Gil Scott-Heron's "Whitey On The Moon" and Otis Spann's "Moon Blues." Howlin' Wolf was fascinated by space flight and asked his saxophonist Eddie Shaw to write a song on the subject. "Coon On The Moon" is more about how things have changed during Wolf's lifetime than an overt political statement. 35 years before it happened the song predicted the first black president:

You know, they called us ‘coons’—said we didn’t have no sense
You gonna wake up one morning, and a coon’s gonna be the President

Several songs featured today don't fall into any particular category but lyrically fit into the topic of today's show: There's Andy Boy who sings "I got the evil blues, prejudicy on my mind" on "Evil Blues" from 1937 and Robert Wilkins who on "Fallin' Down Blues" from 1929 sings:

If you don't believe, girl, I'll treat you right
Come and walk with me down to my loving shack tonight
I'll certainly treat you just like you was white
That don't satisfy you, girl, I'll take your life

Finally there's  Tommy McClennan who's "Bottle It Up And Go" is one of the songs most associated with him. According to Honeyboy Edwards, McClennan learned the song from Memphis Jug Band member Dewey Corley.  McClennan insisted on playing the song as he learned it in the South, ignoring Northern sensibilities when he sang the controversial lines: "Now the nigger and the white man playin' seven-up/Nigger beat the white man was scared to pick it up." Broonzy tells a story of McClennan singing these lines at a house party and being forcibly ejected, forced to leave via the window with parts of his guitar around his neck.

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