Document video for the release of
Edwin Buster Pickens – The 1959 to 1961 Sessions

 

I've been collaborating with Document Records since 2005 when they asked me to write the notes for the Robert Nighthawk collection Prowling With The Nighthawk. The next project was the series that grew into the three double disc sets of Blues, Blues Christmas. For years I had being doing an annual Christmas program on my blues show and pitched the idea of a vintage collection of blues and gospel Christmas songs to Document. This year Document issued the third volume of Blues, Blues Christmas, the most wide-ranging collection yet, jumping genres from blues, gospel, jazz, rock, doo-wop and country. Another idea I brought to Document was to resurrect some great long out-of-print blues records. One of the first records that came to mind was pianist Buster Pickens' lone album for Heritage (HLP 1008), the self-titled Buster Pickens, which was recorded over several sessions between 1960 and 1961 and released in 1962, subsequently reissued in 1977 on the Flyright label as Back Door Blues and now appears on CD first time as Edwin Buster Pickens – The 1959 to 1961 Sessions.

Texas Piano Part 1 Texas Piano Part 2

 

A couple weeks back I got a call from Gillian from Document asking me if I was interested in putting together some podcasts. With the release of the Buster Pickens and the Christmas CD we decided to do a couple revolving around the rich Texas piano tradition and one devoted to Christmas tunes. You can hear these on the new Document podcast page. While you're there check out the great podcasts on James Booker and Christmas songs from Edison Records.

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Blind Willie McTell Just As Well Get Ready-You Got To Die-Climbing High Mountains-Tryin' To Get HomeThe Classic Years 1927-1940
Charley Patton You’re Gonna Need Somebody When You DieScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Son House Lord Have Mercy When I Come To DieThe Real Delta Blues
Brother Willie Eason I Want To Live (So God Can Use Me) Fire In My Bones
Furry Lewis When I Lay My Burden DownWhen I Lay My Burden Down
Henry Johnson Until I Found The Lord45
Leola Manning He Fans MeRare County Blues 1928-1957
Sister O.M. Terrell I'm Going To That CityGet Right With God: Hot Gospel 1947-1953
Rev. W.M. MosleyYou Preachers Stay Out Of Widow's HousesRev. W.M. Mosley 1926-1931
Hi Henry Brown Preacher BluesBlues Images Vol. 10
Big Bill Broonzy Preachin' the Blues Big Bill Broonzy
1937-1940 Vol. 2
Ralph Willis Amen BluesShake That Thing: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Papa Lightfoot When the Saints Go Marching Blues Harmonica Wizards
Julius DanielsSlippin' And Slidin' Up The Golden StreetAtlanta Blues
Skip James Jesus Is a Mighty Good LeaderBlues Images Vol. 6
Texas AlexanderJustice Blues Texas Alexander Vol. 3 1930-1950
Lightnin' Hopkins I'm Going To Build Me A Heaven Of My OwnThe Complete Prestige Recordings
Sam Collins Lead Me All The WayJailhouse Blues
Bukka WhiteThe Promise True And GrandMasters of the Delta Blues: Friends of Charlie Patton
Mother McCollum Jesus Is My Air-O-Plane Blues Images Vol. 11
Bessie SmuthOn Revival Day (A Rhythmic Spiritual)The Complete (Frog)
Lizzie MilesHold Me, ParsonLizzie Miles Vol. 3 1928-1929
Washington PhillipsDenomination Blues (Pt.1)I Am Born To Preach The Gospel
Champion Jack Dupree Deacon's PartyChampion Jack Dupree: Early Cuts
The Griffin BrothersDouble Faced DeaconBlues With A Beat
Rev. Anderson JohnsonDo You Call That Religion?Blind Willie Johnson and the Guitar Evangelists
Jaybird ColemanI'm Gonna Cross the River of Jordan - Some O' These DaysGoodbye, Babylon6
Robert Pete WilliamsChurch on Fire (No. 2)I'm Blue As a Man Can Be
Doctor Clayton Angels In HarlemAngels In Harlem
Roy BrownJudgement DayRoy Brown & New Orleans - R&B
Lloyd Price Lord, Lord, Amen!Lloyd Price 1952-1953
H-Bomb Ferguson Preaching The BluesRock H-Bomb Rock
Willie Mae Williams Where the Sun Never Goes DownFire In My Bones
Little Janice Scarred KneesWest Coast Guitar Killers Vol. 1

Show Notes:

I know blues singers don't go to heaven
'Cause Gabriel bars them out
(
Doctor Clayton, Angels In Harlem, 1946 )

Bukka White: I Am In The Heavenly WayToday's show is part two of our look at the intersection between blues and religious music. In the early 1900's, blues singing was associated with the brothel, juke joint, and the dregs of African-American society. Black church goers called it the "Devils' Music" as the following quote, told to Paul Oliver, reflects: "When she was singin' the blues I told her-she was pavin' her way to Hell," said Emma Williams of her daughter', the blues singer Mary Johnson…" This view was also shared by some former blues singers: "A man's who's singin' the blues- I think it's a sin because it cause other people to sin," said Lil Son Jackson" who gave up blues for the church. As Oliver notes, "Musically the blues and the spirituals, or the spirituals' successor, the gospel song, may have stemmed from common sources. But in the recording era, though they shared on occasion similar instrumentation and voices, they were separate and distinct."

Despite this divide, religious imagery is prevalent throughout blues music, particularly the blues of the 20's and 30's; songs talk about the devil, make fun of the preachers, deacons and reverends, use biblical imagery and speak of the afterlife, both heaven and hell in frank terms. In addition there's a slew of bluesman who struggled between blues and religion like Son House, blues artists who moonlighted by singing gospel like Charlie Patton, Blind Boy Fuller, Skip, James, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Lemon Jefferson, among many others and those bluesmen who eventually turned full time to religion like Robert Wilkins, Rev. Gary Davis, Georgia Tom, Rube Lacey, Ishman Bracey, Gatemouth Moore and many others. On the flipside are artists who straddled blues and gospel like Blind Roosevelt Graves, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and those artists who's musical language was similar to the blues artists, most notably the so-called guitar evangelists like Blind Willie Johnson, Rev. Edward Clayborn, Sister O.M. Terrell and others, plus sanctified singers and groups who's instrumentation drew from secular music like blues and jazz. We explore all this and more on today's program.

Today's title comes from one of my favorite singers, the influential Doctor Clayton. Clayton's vocal style was widely emulated and a number of his songs became blues standards. He first recorded for Bluebird in 1935 cutting six sides four of which went unissued, not recording again until 1941. Between 1941-1942 he recorded four sessions for Bluebird and Okeh. Clayton's final recordings were in February 1946 with a small group led by "Baby Doo" Caston with a final session in August 1946 which is where today's selection, "Angels In Harlem", comes from. The song was covered by Smokey Hogg, Peppermint Harris, Little Son Willis as "Harlem Blues" and by Larry Davis as "Angels In Houston." This is a good  example of a blues song using religious imagery. Another example is Texas Alexander's "Justice Blues" from 1934. The song has lyrical similarity to a number of songs:

I've cried, Lord, my Father, Lord, our kingdom come (2x)
Send me back my woman, then my will be done

I never been to Heaven, people, but I've been told
Says, I never been to Heaven, people, but I've been told
Oh Lord, it's womens up there got their mouths chock full of gold

I'm gonna build me a Heaven, have a kingdom of my own
Gonna build me a Heaven have a kingdom of my own
So these brownskin women can cluster around my throne

The song echoed a line from House' 1930 number "Preachin The Blues:"

Ooh, I wish I had me a heaven of my own (great Godawmighty)
Then I would give all my woman a long, long happy home

These lines would crop up in other blues songs through the years including Lightnin' Hopkins' "I'm Going To Build Me A Heaven Of My Own" which we play today .Also worth noting is Alexander's mockery of the Lord's prayer. This device shows up in a number of songs including John Byrd's mock sermon "The White Mule of Sin" as he has "Sister" Jones lead the prayer:

Our father who art in heaven
The white man owed me ten dollars and I didn't get but seven
Thy kingdom come Thy will be done
I took that or I wouldn't have got none

In our first installment we played "You Shall" by Frank Stokes which uses a similar refrain:

Oh well it's our Father who art in heaven
The preacher owed me ten dollars he paid me seven
Thy kingdom come Thy will be done
If I hadn't took the seven Lord I wouldn't have gotten none

There were slew of related songs that took a cynical, humorous view of the preacher. In our first installment we featured a number of these including Arthur Anderson's "If You Want To Make A Preacher Cuss", Hambone Willie Newbern's "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)", Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe's "Preachers Blues",  Mississippi Sheiks' "He Calls That Religion", Luke Jordan's "Church Bells", Christina Gray's "The Reverend Is My Man", Frank Stokes' "You Shall", Little Esther's "The Deacon Moves In" and Louis Jordan's "Deacon Jones."  We feature  a batch more today including Hi Henry Brown's "Preacher Blues", Champion Jack Dupree's "Deacon's Party" and  The Griffin Brothers' "Double Faced Deacon:"

Well let me tell you about a deacon, top hat long tail coat (2x)
Well he preaches his best while winking at the women folk
Well he preached against gambling, said it was a sin and a shame (2x)
Well he met me in the alley, shot seven for my watch and chain

On "Preacher Blues" from 1932 Hi Henry Brown echoes a similar sentiment:

Preacher in the pulpit, bible in his hand, sister in the corner crying that my man (2x)
Preacher come to your house asking to rest his hat, next hing he wanna know sister, where your husband at? (2x)

Criticism of the preacher and religion isn't confined  to secular artists. We hear a similar complaint from  Rev. Anderson today on "Do You Call That Religion?" and "Denomination Blues" by Washington Phillips:

You're fightin' each other, and think you're doing well
And the sinners on the outside are going to hell. And that's all

 Now the preachers is preachin', and think they're doing well
All they want is your money and you can go to hell. And that's all

 Then there was Reverend A.W. Mosley who delivers the no nonsense "You Preachers Stay Out Of Widow's Houses."

You jack-legged preachers – stay out of widow's houses
Some of the mornings – some of these nights
You goin' to some widow's house
Some grass widow, that you ain't got no business there
They gonna find your body there
But you won't find yo' head
Preacher – stay out of widow's houses

Bessie Smith: On Revival DayIn the heyday of  blues popularity, the late 20's and 30's, there was a marked increase in blues imagery in recorded sermons which were hugely popular during this period. There was F.W. McGhee railing against "Shine-Drinking" and "Women's Clothes (You Can't Hide)" while Rev. Emmett Dickinson  delivered sermons with titles like "Is There Harm In Singing The Blues" and "Sermon On Tight Like That."

 There were quite a number of blues artists who recorded both blues and gospel. I'm not sure if this was commercially driven or heartfelt religious sentiment. Certainly Son House was conflicted  between the blues and religious worlds.  In his younger days House became involved with the Baptist religion, and by the time he was twenty he was preaching in a church near Clarksdale. In his mid-twenties, House heard a guitar player named Willie Wilson (sometimes Willie Williams) playing bottleneck guitar and it changed his life. House bought a battered guitar, Wilson patched it up, put it in Spanish tuning, and soon House was accompanying him. Surprisingly enough, after becoming a bluesman, House continued to preach for awhile, an unlikely combination of careers that speaks of the conflict between religion and blues that would bedevil him the rest of his life. His  "Preachin the Blues", featured in part one, is a savage attack on organized religion—specifically in the form of the Baptist church. In his rediscovery years House recorded and performed religious materiel, sometimes even doing some preaching during his shows.

House's contemporary Charley Patton not only performed and recorded religious songs but for most of his life wrestled with what he thought was a calling to be a preacher. He cut several religious songs: "Prayer of Death" (Parts 1 & 2), "Lord I'm Discouraged", "I Shall Not Be Moved", "Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker", "Some Happy Day, "Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker", "You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Die" and "Oh Death."

Others featured today who recorded both blues and gospel were singer Leola Manning who's vocals seem straight out of the church. Our selection, "He Fans Me", is a religious number but bears a strong resemblance to  Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon's raunchy hit "Fan It." Then there was Crying Sam Collin who cut just a few gospel numbers although he did record several others that were not released. Similarly Julius Daniels cut a mix of blues and gospel as we feature him performing "Slippin' And Slidin' Up The Golden Street." Blind Willie McTell was another who cut a fair number of spiritual sides starting in 1933, some more in 1935 and several for the Library of Congress in 1940. He continued to cut a number of religious sides during his post-war recordings. Skip James, featured today on "Jesus Is a Mighty Good Leader" from his legendary 1931 session, continued to perform and record spiritual numbers during his rediscovery in the 1960's. At his first session in 1930 Bukka White cut two religious numbers and two blues and in advertisement in the Chicago  Defender was billed as the "Singing Preacher."

Unrelated to the Son House song, where several similarly titled songs such as Bessie Smith's "Preachin' The Blues", "Preaching The Blues" by H-Bomb Ferguson and Big Bill Broonzy's "Preachin' The Blues.” In many versions of his life, Broonzy speaks of becoming a preacher for awhile. Unlike the House song, these songs represented the blues singer delivering mock sermons. Ferguson's father was a Baptist preacher who paid for piano lessons for his son condition he learned sacred songs. But Ferguson had other ideas: "After church was over, while the people was all standing outside talking, me and my friends would run back inside and I'd play the blues on the piano." His father would not approve of his 1952 number:

Is all my bothers here, is everybody ready?
Well all you backsliders sit out there and say amen,
And when I get to preaching, you wish you had some gin
Now take old brother Johnson he says he's living right,
I saw him sneaking around with the deacon"s wife last night

Today's program features several so called guitar evangelists. There is only a slight difference between a street-corner blues singer and a sanctified street singer, since both need to hold a crowd and make a few bucks. Blind Willie Johnson is the most famous and greatest of the guitar evangelists. Others from this period include Edward W. Clayborn, A.C. & Blind Mamie Forehand, Blind Willie Brother Willie Eason: I Want To LiveHarris, Willie Mae Williams plus several who recorded slightly later like Rev. Utah Smith, Willie Eason and Sister O.M. Terrell.

In part one we spotlighted  a pair of cuts by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a tremendous guitarist and singer who did  blues sides in her early days but pretty much stuck to gospel for the rest of her lengthy recording career. It's interesting that in the early blues years there were very few guitar playing woman. The biggest name was Memphis Minnie with a few others like Mattie Delaney and Geeshie Wiley who cut a few sides. Tharpe must have been an influence in because on the gospel side there were several fine woman guitarists including Willie Mae Williams and  Sister O.M.  Terrell  both of whom are spotlighted today.

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Pine Top Smith Pine Top BluesShake Your Wicked Knees
Pine Top Smith Pine Top's Boogie WoogieShake Your Wicked Knees
Jabo Williams Polock BluesJuke Joint Saturday Night
Jabo Williams Pratt City BluesJuke Joint Saturday Night
Lee Green Maltese Cat The Way I Feel
Lee Green 44 BluesThe Way I Feel
Lee Green Dud-Low Joe The Piano Blues Vol. 18: Roosevelt Sykes & Lee Green
Henry Brown Henry Brown Blues Twenty First St. Stomp
Henry Brown Stomp Em' Down To The Bricks Down On The Levee
Mary Johnson w/ Henry Brown Peepin' At The Risin' Sun Mary Johnson 1929-1936
Judson Brown You Don't Know My Mind Blues Piano Blues Vol 1 1927-1936
Mozelle Alderson w/ Judson Brown Tight In ChicagoBarrelhouse Mamas
Louise Johnson By The Moon And StarsJuke Joint Saturday
Louise Johnson On The WallJuke Joint Saturday
Pine Top Smith I'm Sober Now Shake Your Wicked Knees
Pine Top Smith Jump Steady Blues Shake Your Wicked Knees
Jabo Williams Fat Mama BluesJuke Joint Saturday
Jabo Williams Jab's BluesJuke Joint Saturday Night
Lee Green Pork Chop BluesLee Green Vol. 2 1930-1937
Lee Green The Way I Feel BluesThe Way I Feel
Lee Green Death Bell Blues The Way I Feel
Lee Green Memphis Fives The Way I Feel
Henry Brown Eastern Chimes Blues Down On The Levee
Henry Brown & Edith JohnsonNickel's Worth of Liver The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2
Henry Brown Deep Morgan Blues Down On The Levee
Madelyn James w/ Judson Brown Longtime BluesMemphis Blues 1927-1938
Jenny Pope w/ Judson Brown Tennessee Workhouse BluesMemphis Jug Band: Associates & Alternate Takes 1927-1930
Mary Johnson w/ Judson Brown Morning Sun BluesPiano Blues, Vol. 19: Barrelhouse Women 1925-1933
Mozelle Alderson w/ Judson Brown Tight WhoopeeThe Piano Blues Vol. 5: Postscript 1927-1935
Louise Johnson Long Ways From HomeMasters Of The Delta Blues
Louise Johnson All Night Long BluesJuke Joint Saturday Night
Henry Brown Papa Slick Head Henry Brown Blues
Henry Brown Henry Brown Boogie Henry Brown Blues

Show Notes:

Pine Top Smith: pinetop's BluesOn today's program we once again spotlight several fine forgotten piano men active in the 1920's and 30's,  a tremendously fertile period for piano blues.  We spotlight six superb blues pianists active in the 1920's and 30's who remain largely forgotten today. Perhaps the best known is Pine Top Smith who first recorded the classic “Pine Top's Boogie Woogie.” Jabo Williams’ legacy rests on only eight titles cut for Paramount in the depths of the depression and display a formidable technique. Louise Johnson was a barrelhouse pianist and girlfriend of Charlie Patton’s who went to Grafton, Wisconsin to make records for Paramount with Patton, Willie Brown and Son House. She cut four sides at that session, her sole recorded legacy. Judson Brown made one solo recording, sharing the B-side of his only 78 with Freddie "Redd" Nicholson and backed several singers. Lee Green was closely associated with Roosevelt Sykes and Little Brother Montgomery. He cut over forty sides between 1929 and 1937. Henry Brown is the only artist featured today who recorded after the war. He was fixture on the St. Louis scene recoding under his own name as well as backing several singers and waxed a couple of fine albums in the 1960’s.

Clarence "Pine Top" Smith first performed in public in Birmingham about the age of fifteen. He worked as a pianist at house parties in Troy, Alabama before moving on to Birmingham, where he sometimes worked with Robert McCoy. From around 1920 Smith was based in Pittsburgh, and the following years he traveled with minstrel and vaudeville shows as a dancer, singer and comedian.  He traveled throughout the south where he worked with artists such as Butterbeans & Susie and Ma Rainey. He began to devote more of his energies to playing piano and, at the urging of Charles "Cow Cow." In in interview with the Chicago Tribune pianist Cow Cow Davenport and Vocalion Records talent scout reported that he first saw Pinetop Smith in Pittsburgh  "I happened to hit in Pittsburgh at the Star Theater on Wylie Avenue. … I went with a friend of mine to the Sachem Alley, and there I found Pinetop Smith."

In an interview with Downbeat magazine in 1939, Smith’s wife Sarah Horton said that her husband first started playing "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" in Pittsburgh. Cow Cow Davenport recommended Smith to Mayo Williams of Brunswick/Vocalion records. Smith then moved with his family to Chicago in 1928. On December 29, 1928 Smith recorded his two breakthrough hits: "Pine Top Blues" and "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie." This was the first time the phrase "boogie woogie" appeared on record. On January 14 and 15, 1929 Smith recorded six more sides including "I'm Sober Now" and "Jump Steady Blues." On March 13, 1929 Pine Top made an unissued recording of "Driving Wheel Blues." Two days later, at age 25, Smith was accidentally shot by a man named David Bell during a fight that broke out in a dancehall.Lee Green: 44 Blues

Leothus Lee Green was an early contemporary of Little Brother Montgomery and a mentor to Roosevelt Sykes. Born in Mississippi around 1900, Green worked as a clothes presser in Vicksburg while perfecting his piano technique. Soon he was traveling and earning a living by playing piano. Montgomery knew him in Vicksburg, and claimed to have taught him the "44 Blues" in Sondheimer, LA, back in 1922. Sykes first heard Green in 1925. Green taught Sykes how to really play the blues and is usually credited with teaching the "44 Blues" to Sykes. All three men recorded the number;  Sykes and  Montgomery chose to record their versions of “44 blues” at their debut sessions, Sykes cutting it first in June 1929 as "Forty- Four Blues", Green as "number Forty-Four Blues" in August at his second session the same year and the following year by Montgomery as “Vicksburg Blues.”

Sykes and Green became traveling and gigging companions, circulating throughout the region for several years. Green made his first four recordings in Richmond, IN, for Gennett and Supertone on July 10, 1929, just weeks after Sykes cut his first sides for OKeh in New York. Excepting for a brief excursion to New York in August 1937, Green performed and recorded mainly in or near Chicago. He cut 24 sides for Vocalion in 1929 and 1930, and 14 titles for Decca between August 1934 and September 1937. His last records were made for the Bluebird label in Aurora, IL, on October 11, 1937.

Jabo Williams was a highly talented pianist/vocalist hailing from Birmingham, Alabama. In the early 1930s, north Alabama, including the mill towns of Birmingham and Huntsville, had a distinctive group of blues pianists including Walter Roland, Robert McCoy and Cow Cow Davenport.  It's not clear if he was discovered there or when he  relocated to St. Louis. In St. Louis he may have been  recommended to Paramount Records by local record store owner and talent scout Jesse Johnson. Paramount went out of business in 1932, the same year Williams recorded so his records were likely pressed in small quantities which makes them extremely rare.  In the only known photograph of Williams he's seen in a wide-brimmed hat and in the company fellow Birmingham pianist Robert McCoy. In St. Louis he was well remembered by pianist Joe Dean as a slim, medium-brown man who played piano in a pool hall on 15th and Biddle.

As pianist/researcher Bob Hall notes, Williams was a "forthright, two-handed pianist in the barrelhouse tradition, who used mostly eight-to-the bar boogie bass patterns and highly individual treble phrases, including a characteristic coda with which he ended many of his pieces. 'Ko Ko Mo Blues Parts 1 and 2' has similarities to the later 'Sweet Home Chicago' and is a medium boogie with a lazy, slurred vocal. 'Pratt City Blues,' which is a different tune from the Chippie Hill title, refers to a suburb of the Ensley District of Birmingham. Both this boogie and the stride ‘‘Jab Blues’’ are outstanding instrumental compositions with a relentless drive. 'My Woman Blues' and 'Polock Blues' revert to medium boogie tempo, the latter taking its name from a part of East St. Louis. Williams shared a disregard of bar lengths with his fellow Birmingham pianist Walter Roland, who subsequently recorded another of Williams’ songs, 'House Lady Blues.' 'Fat Mama Blues' is a bawdy house song having a lyrical piano melody and an unusual bass line, ending with a characteristic Williams coda." Some of Williams' records are in such rough shape, like "Ko Ko Mo Blues Parts 1 and 2", (only two known copies) they are virtually unplayable.

Henry Bown: Henry Brown BluesIn A Left Hand Like God: A Study of Boogie-Woogie Peter Silvester wrote: "Henry Brown was a living model for the qualities most apparent in the St. Louis boogie-woogie style. He employed an economic left hand of single notes or sparse chords for slow numbers and a rumbustious walking bass for faster ones." Brown learned to play the piano from the "professors" of the notorious Deep Morgan section of St. Louis. One of them went by the name of "Blackmouth," another was named Joe (or Tom) Cross. As Brown remembered him, "he was a real old time blues player and he'd stomp ‘em down to the bricks." "Deep Morgan Blues" was one of his signature pieces. By the age of sixteen Brown had acquired enough technique to be able to play the buffet flats in the 1920's and was soon in regular demand there. He was able to make enough money to survive, allowing him the sleep during the day and play all night. Brown worked clubs such as the Blue Flame Club, the 9-0-5 Club, Jim's Place and Katy Red's, from the twenties into the 30's. He recorded for Brunswick with Ike Rogers and Mary Johnson in 1929, for Paramount in ‘29 and ‘30, behind singer Alice Moore in 1929 and 1934 as well as backing others such singers as Jimmy Oden, Bessie Mae Smith and others.

Brown served in the army in the early 40's, then formed his own quartet to work occasional local gigs in St. Louis area from the 50's, and worked the Becky Thatcher riverboat in 1965. In addition to his pre-war recordings, he was recorded by Paul Oliver in 1960 (Henry Browm Blues, 77 Records and reissued on CD by Southland), by Sam Charters with Edith Johnson in 1961 (The Blues in St. Louis Vol. 2: Henry Brown and Edith Johnson), cut some sides for the Euphonic label in the 50's (some appear on the Delmark reissue Biddle Street Barrelhousin') and some final sides for Adelphi in 1969.

Louise Johnson was barrelhouse pianist and girlfriend of Charlie Patton’s who went to Grafton to make records with Patton, Willie Brown and Son House in 1930. She cut four sides at that session, her sole recorded legacy. From the book Preachin' The Blues Dan Beaumont writes: "North of Robinsonville, Patton directed Ford to visit the Kirby plantation where they picked up a young woman named Louise Johnson, who was one of Patton’s girlfriends. Johnson sang and played piano in a barrelhouse operated by a Liny Armstrong.  Willie Brown had heard her playing, and he then introduced her to Patton who soon found time for her.  House remembered her 'nice-lookin’…’bout twenty-three, twenty-four years old.'  And like her boyfriend Patton, she 'didn’t do nothin’ but drink and play music; she didn’t work for nobody…' Somewhere along the trip her and Patton had a fight and she became House's girlfriend. "Back in Mississippi, the foursome played in a barrelhouse on the Kirby plantation near Lula for a brief time, then went their separate ways.  According to[Stephen]  Calt and [Gayle] Wardlow, House saw Louise Johnson only once after 1930. He thought she had moved to Helena, Arkansas.  Another report had her playing in the 1930's on the King and Anderson plantation near Clarksdale.  Then she vanished from view."

Judson Brown only made one solo recording in 1930, "You Don't Know My Mind Blues", and had to share the b-side of his one and only 78 with Freddie "Redd" Nicholson performing his "Tee Roller's Rub". Brown did appear on some recordings by Mary Johnson for Brunswick the same year as well as backing singers Mozelle Alderson, Madelyn James, Charlie Nickerson and Jenny Pope. The singers he worked with suggest a Memphis background but according to researcher Bob Eagle he was from Georgia and merely passed through Memphis, ending up in Chicago, where he died in 1933. The pre-war Memphis piano scene is no well documented although a few pianists from Memphis appear on record such as Jab Jones who recorded with the Memphis Jug band and Yank Rachell and Sleepy John Estes  and Blind Clyde Church who waxed one 78 for Victor.

Related Reading:

-Henry Brown:Henry Brown Blues [PDF] (Liner notes by Paul Oliver)

-Pinetop Smith [PDF]  (Jazz Record, March 1962 by John Bentley)

-The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2: Henry Brown and Edith Johnson [PDF]  (Liner notes by Samuel Charters)

-The Piano Blues Vol. 18: Roosevelt Sykes/Lee Green 1929-1930 [JPG]  (Liner notes by Bob Hall and Richard Noblett)

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Robert Pete WilliamsLevee Camp BluesBlues at Newport 1964
Mississippi Fred McDowell Lord I'm Going Down SouthBlues at Newport 1964
Mississippi John Hurt Sliding Delta Blues at Newport 1964
George Carter Ghost Woman BluesBlues Images Vol. 11
Walter DavisCan't See Your Face Walter Davis Vol. 5 1939-1940
Lonnie JohnsonBlue Ghost Blues Lonnie Johnson Vol. 1 1937-1940
Buddy Guy This Is The EndCobra Records Story
Sonny Boy WilliamsonUnseen EyeThe Chess Years Box
Barrelhouse Buck McFarlandLamp Post BluesPiano Blues Vol. 2 1927-1956
Charlie SpandGood Gal Favorite Country Blues Guitar: Piano Duets 1929-1937
Eddy Kelly's Washboard BandCome On 'Round To My House, BabyCarolina Blues 1937-1945
Hokum Boys & Jane Lucas Hip Shakin' Strut Georgia Tom Dorsey: The Essential
Trixie Smith Praying BluesTrixie Smith Vol. 1 1922-1924
Sister Rosetta Tharpe On My WaySister Rosetta Tharpe Vol. 7
Sister O.M. Terrell I'm Going to That CityGet Right With God: Hot Gospel 1947-1953
Louisiana Red Had A Date With Barbara Last NightMidnight Rambler
Hop WilsonDrop Down MamaDrop Down Mama
Dave BartholomewAnother MuleDave Bartholomew 1952-1955
Elmore JamesQuarter Past NineEarly Recordings 1951-1956
Earl HookerThe Leading BrandBlue Guitar
Jim Brewer Liberty BillJim Brewer
Guitar ShortyMy Mind Never ChangedCarolina Slide Guitar
Jimmy T-99 NelsonSecond Hand FoolCry Hard Luck
Charles BrownEverybody's Got TroublesThe Complete Aladdin Recordings
Jimmy WitherspoonI Done Found OutUrban Blues Singing Legend
Gatemouth MooreSomebody Got To GoGreat Rhythm & Blues Oldies Vol. 7
Blind PercyFourteenth Street Blues Blues Images Vol. 11
Blind Joel Taggart Precious Lord Blues Images Vol. 9

Show Notes:

It's pledge drive time at the station so I usually run mix pogram so the drive doesn't cut short our usual theme shows. Lots of interesting records on deck today including a bunch of songs from the Newport Folk Festival, a batch of fine pre-war sides, some gospel that falls on the bluesy side, some strong down-home blues, a number of fine blues belters and some hard hitting post-war electric blues.

Blind Joe Taggart AcetateWe open the show with a trio of sides from the 1964 Newport Folk Festival from the 2-CD The Blues At Newport 1964 Complete Edition which collects two albums that originally came out on Vanguard in 1965. The Newport Folk Festival began in 1959 as a counterpart to the previously established Newport Jazz Festival. Prior to 1964 blues were not well represented at the festival. That changed by 1964 when several important blues artists who recorded in the 20's and 30's were rediscovered. Featured were the first major festival appearances by Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Robert Pete Williams and Robert Wilkins plus Mississippi John Hurt, who performed the previous year, as well as performances Rev. Gary Davis, John Lee Hooker, Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry (they performed in 1959 at the first festival ) and others.

A few weeks ago I spotlighted several numbers from he vaults of collector John Tefteller who's record collection contains some of the rarest blues 78's in existence. Every year around this time Tefteller, through his Blues Images imprint, publishes his Classic Blues Artwork Calendar with a companion CD that matches the artwork with the songs. The CD’s have also been one of the main places that newly discovered blues 78’s turn up. Today we spotlight the gorgeous "Ghost Woman Blues" a twelve string blues by George Carter. Nothing is known of him other then he cut four sides for Paramount in 1929. Bruce Bastin related that when Edward "Snap" Hill, a boyhood friend of Curley Weaver and the Hicks brothers was played a tape of one of Georg Carter's songs it prompted him to say: "He's from Atlanta" although he knew nothing about him.  It turns out that there's been a recent cover of "Ghost Woman Blues" by a group called The Low Anthem. I've actually been checking them out a bit – I think I've become a fan. (shhh …don't tell the blues police!)

Int the same set as the George Carter number we spin two moody masterpiece about haunted love. First up is Lonnie's Johnson's magnificent "Blue Ghost Blues" (Johnson cut this first in 1927 but today we spin his 1938 version) beautifully sung and played by a man who still doesn't get his proper due:

I've been in this haunted house, for three long years today (2x)
Blue ghost has got my shack surrounded, oh lord and I can't get away
I feel cold arms around me, ice lips upon my cheek (2x)
My lover is dead, how plainly plain I can hear her speak
(whispered: Lonnie, sweet Lonnie)

My windows beginning rattling, my door knob is turning round and round (2x)
My lover's ghost has got me and I know my time won't be long

Walter Davis is probably more neglected than Lonnie although he was very popular among black audiences, cutting hundreds of sides between his 1930 debut and his final 1952 session. "Can't See Your Face" is a poignant number from 1939:

Your old picture has faded, mama that hangs up on the wall (2x)
It's been hanging there so long, I can't see your face at all
Even my old house seems haunted, mama and there ain't nobody around (2x)
Sometime it seems like at  night, that the old house is falling down
I can hear my back door slamming, I can hear a little baby crying (2x)
All I wonder baby, have you got me on your mind

We spin two tracks today from Blind Joe Taggart. Taggart made his first records for Vocalion in June 1927 then went to Paramount in 1928. He continued recording in the 30's but vanished after a final session for Decca in 1934. A few years back an acetate Taggart made in 1948 turned up and was issued by John Tefteller on the CD hat accompanies the 2009 calendar. Taggart did cut one blues 78, "Coal River Blues b/w Fourteenth Street Blues under th psedonymn Blind Percy and His Blind Band in 1927 with the latter cut featured today and comes from the latest Tefteller CD.

Walter Davis
Walter Davis circa 1942

In an interview in Fretboard Journal Tefteller talked about the post-war record: "It means that Blind Joe Taggart went into a recording studio in Chicago — probably on Maxwell Street, because they had several studios there back then. For a few dollars you could pay to have a record made. You would walk into the booth where they had the microphone set up, you would sit down, you would play your song, and it would be cut directly from the microphone directly onto that acetate record.  There would be not necessarily any other copies made, and if there were other copies made, they would have been made from that. But it was never commercially released; it was never put out on a record with an actual label. The songs are 'Precious Lord,' spelled 'Preshious Lord' on the label, and 'Little Black Train.' My theory is that he was going to take that dub and go around to the different record companies on Record Row in Chicago, and try to get himself a contract to record again. He could walk into Chess — I think it was called Aristocrat in the late 1940s — he could walk into Chess or Aristocrat, or one of those independent labels with this acetate, and say, 'You know, I used to make records back in the '30s for Paramount, they sold fairly well. Here’s my latest recording. You might want to consider issuing this.' And I think that’s what this is. It was discovered in a stack of lousy 1970s rock LPs. It’s miraculous it survived. It came so close to being lost forever."

We play a few other sides today with a religious bent including music from Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sister O.M. Terrell and a number by Trixie Smith. We spin Sister Rosetta's "On My Way" from 1961. Tharpe cut some fantastic records and I never tire of listening to her. There was a time when she wasn't well served on reissues but now just about everything she released is available on CD. Our selection comes from the seventh and final collection on the French Fremmeaux & Associes label that collects all of Tharpe's recordings through 1961.

Sister O.M. Terrell is far less known but her guitar style is very reminiscent of Tharpe's.  Terrell taught herself to play the guitar and began writing gospel songs and singing them on Atlanta's Decatur Street. From the Depression years of the 1930's to the Eisenhower '50's, she lived the life of an itinerant evangelist and supported herself with her music. In 1953 she recorded six sides for Columbia who for some reason released them in its country music series. She was eventually tracked down to the door of a nursing home in Conyers, Georgia by musicologist Bruce Nemerov. She passed in 2006 at the age of 95.

"Praying Blues" from 1924 is one of Trixie Smith's finest numbers backed by a great band that included trombonist Charlie Green, Don Redman on clarinet and Fletcher Henderson on piano.  A few weeks back I did a program called I Want Plenty Grease In My Frying Pan – Forgotten Blues Ladies Pt. 3 and someone asked me about Trixie Smith. I've never really given her much of a listen but I've been listening to her collected recordings on Document and it's a bit of a mixed bag but she has more then a few outstanding songs. I'll be spotlighting more of her on upcoming shows.

Smith was born in Atlanta and around 1915 moved north to New York to work in show business. At first she worked in minstrel shows and on the TOBA vaudeville circuit. In 1922 Smith made her first recordings for the Black Swan label and later that year she won a blues singing contest in New York beating out Lucille Hegamin and others with her song "Trixie's Blues." In 1924 Smith made her debut for Paramount, cutting twenty sides for the label through 1926. She recorded a final batch of sides in 1938 and 1939.

Jimmy Nelson: Watch ThatAction=We feature seveal tough post-war guiarists today including Buddy Guy's smoldering "This Is The End" for Cobra. Guy released two singles in 1958 on Cobra's Artistic Records subsidiary. Other heavy hitters include Elmore James' "Quarter Past Nine", Dave Bartholomew's "Another Mule" sporting great guitar work from Pee Wee Crayton and Earl Hooker's knockout instrumental "The Leading Brand."

We have a set of superb blues singers on deck today including Gatemouth Moore, Jimmy T-99 Nelson, Jimmy Witherspoon and Charles Brown.  I fist heard Moore on a great 2-LP set, The Shouters – Roots Of Rock 'N' Roll Vol. 9, and have been a fan ever since.  Often labeled a blues shouter, with his perfect diction and huge, mellow, enveloping voice he was more accurately a blues crooner of the highest order. I'll let Gatemouth speak for himself: "I am one of the ultra-men blues singers. I am not accustomed and don't know nothing about that gut-belly stuff in the joints…I put on tuxedos, dressed up, sang intelligent…Without a doubt, and I'm not being facetious, I'm the best blues singer in the business with that singing voice. Now I can't wiggle and I can't dance, but telling a story, I don't think them other boys are in my class."

Moore's blues career came to a close in 1949 when he had a religious conversion on stage at Chicago's Club DeLisa. After walking off stage he eventually became a preacher, gospel disc jockey and gospel recording artist. Inexplicably in 1977 he stepped back briefly into the world of blues cutting Great Rhythm & Blues Oldies Vol. 7, an exceptional album despite it's generic title. The album was produced by Johnny Otis and issued on the Blues Spectrum label. Today's selection, "Somebody got To Go", comes from that album.

Jimmy 'T-99' Nelson is another favorite singer of mine. I became a fan of Jimmy Nelson many years ago after hearing an LP collection of his early sides on the Ace label. I always hoped he would start recording again and in 1999 he issued the terrific Rockin' And Shoutin' The Blues. I interviewed Jimmy when that record came out and it was one of the best interviews I ever did and subsequently spoke with him again in 2005.

Blessed with a booming voice and a hip delivery, Nelson cut a swath of fine sides for Modern's RPM and Kent imprints in the early 50's and 60's but only scored big with his signature "T-99 Blues." After getting dropped from Modern Nelson bounced through a number of small labels before giving up music in the 60's. From his RPM days we feature his "Second Hand Fool."

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Richard "Rabbit" Brown James Alley BluesNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Richard "Rabbit" Brown Never Let The Same Bee Sting You TwiceNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Boogie Bill Webb Bad Dog Rural Blues Vol. 3
Boogie Bill Webb Drinkin' And Stinkin' Roosevelt Holts & Friends
Snooks Eaglin Country Boy Down In New OrleansCountry Boy Down In New Orleans
Snooks Eaglin Mama Don't You Tear My ClothesCountry Boy Down In New Orleans
Arzo Youngblood Four Women Blues Goin' Up The Country
Arzo Youngblood Bye And Bye Blues Goin' Up The Country
Babe Stovall Woman Blues Babe Stovall Story
Babe Stovall I'm Gwine To New Orleans Babe Stovall
Babe Stovall The Ship Is At The Landing The Old Ace
Newton Greer Born Dead Harmonica Williams with Little Freddie King
Harmonica Williams & Little Freddie KingBaby Don't You Know Harmonica Williams with Little Freddie King
Richard "Rabbit" Brown Sinking Of The Titanic Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Richard "Rabbit" Brown I'm Not Jealous Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Boogie Bill Webb BoogieRual Blues Vol. 3
Boogie Bill WebbBig Road Blues Living Country Blues USA – Introduction
Snooks Eaglin Mailman PassedCountry Boy Down In New Orleans
Snooks Eaglin Lonesome RoadI Bluskvarter Vol. 3
Arzo Youngblood I Can't Be Successful Living Country Blues USA – Introduction
Arzo Youngblood Goin Up The Country Living Country Blues:Vol. 7
Lemone Nash New Orleans Blues The Country Blues -Storyville Blues Anthology Vol.10
Edgar Blanchard & Papa LightfootCreole Gal Blues Down Home Blues Classics 1943-1953
Monroe Vincent AKA Polka Dot Slim Ain't Broke, Ain't Hungry Forest City Joe & Polka Dot Slim: Downhome Delta Harmonica
Pee Wee Hughes Sugar Mama Juke Joint Blues: Good Time Rhythm & Blues 1943 -1956
Pee Wee HughesI'm A Country Boy Juke Joint Blues: Good Time Rhythm & Blues 1943 -1956
Babe Stovall Going Away To Wear You Off My Mind The Old Ace
Babe Stovall Worried Blues The Old Ace
Babe Stovall See See Rider South Mississippi Blues
Harmonica Williams & Little Freddie KingHighway 82 Harmonica Williams with Little Freddie King
Little Freddy King The King Special Harmonica Williams with Little Freddie King
Harmonica Williams & Little Freddie KingJuke Boy Harmonica Williams with Little Freddie King

Show Notes:

Richard Rabbit Brown: James Alley BluesI had been toying around with the idea of this show for awhile and was finally inspired to put this  together after reading Scott Baretta's article, "Downhome New Orleans Blues", a couple of months back in Living Blues magazine. New Orleans has always been a music city, and some would say jazz was its most significant invention, formed around the dawn of the twentieth century and passed on to the rest of America and the world thereafter. That being said, anyone who's listened o the early New Orleans jazz records knows that blues was the bedrock for many of the bands such as Oscar 'Papa' Celestin, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Louis Dumaine, The Chicago Footwarmers, Freddie Keppard and Johnny Dodds among others.

Certainly before the war the blues not well documented on record outside of early performers like Richard "Rabbit" Brown, Lizzie Miles and Blu Lu Barker. Even in the 1940's the scene was dominated by jazz and dixieland bands like Kid Thomas, Billie and De De Pierce, George Lewis and John Handy. During the 1940's and into the 1950s a distinctly New Orleans approach to blues and R&B emerged. Usually piano-driven and backed by inventive rhythms that showed the marked influence of second-line marching and brass bands. While surrounding states like Mississippi, Texas had significant downhome blues scenes that's not the case with New Orleans. Today's show documents some of the few downhome New Orleans  bluesmen who made records including the pre-war blues of  Richard “Rabbit” Brown, and post-war sides by Snooks Eaglin, Boogie Bill Webb, Arzo Youngblood, Babe Stovall and others. Below is some background on today's featured performers.

Born circa 1880, Richard "Rabbit" Brown spent much of his life in New Orleans where he was reported to have worked as a street singer and singing boatman on Lake Ponchartrain. On March 11, 1927, Brown cut six sides for the recording pioneer Ralph Peer. Brown was a very much the songster and his recordings are an interesting mix of original blues, pop covers and event songs like his "Sinking Of The Titanic" and "Mystery of the Dunbar's Child." Brown passed away in 1937. It's been suggested that Brown also be he man behind Blind Willie Harris who cut "Does Jesus Care? b/w Where He Leads Me I Will Follow" for Victor in New Orleans in 1929. In  the notes to Dust-To-Digital's Goodbye Babyblon box set the following is noted: "Two swallows don't make a summer either, but the resemblance of Willie Harris' voice and guitar to those of Richard 'Rabbit' Brown suggest the existence of a local shared troubadour style.  The voice on this track and the accompanying side Does Jesus Care is strikingly similar to the 5 titles recorded by Brown in New Orleans in March 1927.  This is B.W.H's only recording."

Babe Stovall
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Lemon Nash played with Richard "Rabbit" "Brown in the 1920's. Nash was one of the few musicians who remembered Brown. In an interview in 1959 he recalled that Brown made his money playing on the streets of New Orleans' sporting district. He was a regular at Mama Lou's on Lake Pontchartrain. If "business was slow and [Brown] need a ride home, he would turn in a false fire alarm." The firemen answered the call and found out it was only their friend, who sang to them as they went back to the station. "He knew all the firemen," Nash recalled, and they did not seem to mind the inconvenience. For Nash, Brown seems to have been a comic figure with little musical talent. He "played so badly, I had to let him go," Nash remembered. "He just hit the guitar and yell." Brown was "what you call a clown man." Nash was a veteran of many string bands of and cut a handful of sides in 1959 and 1960 including today's featured track "New Orleans Blues".

Born in 1907 in Tylertown, MS, Babe Stovall was the youngest of 11 children, most of them musicians. Stovall learned guitar when he was around eight years old, and was soon playing breakdowns, frolics, and parties in the area, even meeting and learning "Big Road Blues" from Tommy Johnson. He moved to Franklinton, LA, in the 1930's, and split his time between there and Tylertown for several years, picking up whatever work he could as a farmhand. In 1964 he moved to New Orleans, where he was "discovered" working as a street singer in the French Quarter. He recorded an LP for Verve in 1964, simply titled Babe Stovall (re-released on CD by Flyright in 1990), and did further sessions in 1966 (released on CD by Southern Sound as The Babe Stovall Story) and with Bob West in 1968 (which form the basis of The Old Ace: Mississippi Blues & Religious Songs, released on Arcola in 2003), and became active on the folk and blues college circuit, as well as holding down a house gig at the Dream Castle Bar in New Orleans. He passed in 1974.

Boogie Bill Webb was born in Jackson, Mississippi, his greatest influence was Tommy Johnson. He settled in New Orleans in 1952. Webb obtained a recording contract with Imperial Records, after his friendship with Fats Domino led to his introduction to Dave Bartholomew. In 1953 Webb released his debut single, "Bad Dog" and three other songs at this session. Frustrated by lack of recognition, Webb relocated to Chicago, where he worked in various factories. Webb returned to New Orleans in 1959 to work as a stevedore, performing music infrequently. However, in the late 60's he recorded several songs for the folklorist David Evans, which appeared on several anthologies. In the 1970's Webb began performing in Europe. Finally in 1989, with financial assistance from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Webb released his only full-length record, Drinkin' and Stinkin'. Webb died in New Orleans in August 1990, at the age of 66.

Snooks Eaglin: New Orleans Street Singer
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Azo Youngblood was a pal of Boogie Bill Webb and learned guitar as a teenager from Tommy Johnson who married Youngblood's aunt. Youngblood was first recorded in 1966 by David Evans with songs appearing on the anthology Goin' Up The Country on Decca and other sides on the collection The Legacy Of Tommy Johnson. He was recorded a final time in 1980 by Axel Küstner and Siegfried Christmann with songs appearing on the Living Country Blues USA series of albums.

In 1947, at the age of 11, Snooks Eaglin won a talent contest organized by the radio station WNOE by playing "Twelfth Street Rag". Three years later, he dropped out of the school for the blind to become a professional musician. In 1952, Eaglin joined the Flamingos, a local seven-piece band started by Allen Toussaint.He stayed with The Flamingos for several until the mid-1950's. The first recordings under his own name came when Harry Oster, a folklorist from Louisiana State University, found him playing in the streets of New Orleans. Oster made recordings of Eaglin between 1958 and 1960 during seven sessions which later became records on various labels including Folkways, Folklyric, and Prestige/Bluesville. He started waxing R&B records for Imperial Records with the help of producer Dave Bartholomew in 1960 and stuck with the label through 1963. Eaglin's resurgence came with his signing to Black Top in the 80's where he cut a series of great records though the 90's.

We spotlight several cuts from the LP Harmonica Williams with Little Freddie King cut for the Ahura Mazda label in 1971. This is supposedly the first electric blues album recorded in New Orleans and marks the debut of Little Freddie King. It would take until 1995 before King made his full-length debut with Swamp Boogie. In addition to Williams and King there is a powerful version of J.B. Lenoir's "Born Dead" sung by Newton Greer. Greer was a local club owner and a blues singer who often worked with local groups.

A guitarist and band leader, Edgar Blanchard was a permanent feature of the New Orleans music scene from the 40s to the 60s. In 1947 he was in charge of the resident band at the Down Beat Club on Rampart Street, with Roy Brown as one of the vocalists. Blanchard’s most well-known band was the Gondoliers. Although he frequently played on sessions, Blanchard seldom recorded under his own name. "Creole Gal" is the only downhome song he recorded, this one featuring Papa Lightfoot on harmonica.
Harmonica Williams with Little Freddie King
Monroe Vincent AKA Polka Dot Slim was born in Woodville, MS., and was influenced by the harmonica playing of Sonny Boy Williamson I. Vincent made his debut in 1956 recording a single for Excello as Vince Monroe. In 1957 he recorded over two dozen sides for the Zynn label but only released two recordings. Vincent returned to recording in 1965 and the following year waxing two singles for Instant & Apollo. Even after his recording career stalled, he remained a fixture on the New Orleans performing scene up until about 1976.

Nothing is known about Pee Wee Hughes.  Hughes cut four sides for the Deluxe label in 1949 in New Orleans.

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