Show Notes:

ARTISTSONGALBUM
Ishman BraceySaturday BluesWhen The Sun Goes Down
Ishman BraceyLeft Alone Blues Ishman Bracey & Charlie Taylor 1928-1929
Ishman BraceyBrown Mama Blues Vintage Mandolin Music
Sam CollinsRiverside BluesJailhouse Blues
Sam CollinsYellow Dog BluesJailhouse Blues
Sam CollinsThe Jail House BluesJailhouse Blues
Otto Virgial Little Girl in RomeAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Otto Virgial Bad Notion Blues American Primitive Vol. II
Willie LoftonPoor Boy BluesBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Willie LoftonIt's Killin' MeBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Willie LoftonDirty MistreaterBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Ishman Bracey Trouble Hearted BluesTrouble Hearted Blues
Ishman Bracey The Four Day BluesJackson Blues: 1928-1938
Sam CollinsDevil In The Lion's DenJailhouse Blues
Sam CollinsPork Chop BluesJailhouse Blues
Sam CollinsHesitation BluesJailhouse Blues
The Mississippi MoanerMississippi MoanMississippi Moaners
The Mississippi MoanerIt's Cold In ChinaAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Rube LaceyMississippi Jail House GroanCountry Blues: The Essential
Rube LaceyHam Hound and GravyChasin That Devil Music
Ishman BraceyLeavin' Town BluesIshman Bracey & Charlie Taylor 1928-1929
Ishman BraceyWoman Woman BluesThe Return Of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Sam CollinsMy Road Is Rough And Rocky (How Long, How Long?)Sam Collins 1927-31
Sam CollinsLonesome Road Blues Before The Blues Vol. 1
Otto VirgialGot The Blues About Rome When the Levee Breaks
Otto VirgialSeven Year Itch Mississippi Blues Vol. 4: Delta Blues Goin' North
Willie LoftonDark Road BluesBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Willie LoftonBeer Garden BluesBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Sam CollinsSlow Mama SlowSam Collins 1927-31
Sam CollinsNew Salty DogJailhouse Blues

Today's show is the first of a series of shows devoted to great early Mississippi blues artists, most little remembered today. Ishman Bracey, Rube Lacey and Willie Lofton hailed from the fertile Jackson, MS region. Little is known of Lofton who cut eight titles in 1934 and 1935. Despite cutting only one 78 Lacey was a well-known blues performer in the Jackson area and the Delta until 1932 hen he put his guitar down and became a preacher. Crying Sam Collins was raised around McComb, Mississippi and recorded relatively extensively between 1927 and 1931. Virtually nothing is know of the obscure Otto Virgial and Isiah Nettles, who went by the moniker The Mississippi Moaner.

Ishman Bracey
 Ishman Bracey

"A rare combination of braggart, entertainer, musician, showman and eventually an ordained minister" is how Gayle Dean Wardlow, who interviewed him many times, chose to describe him in Blues Unlimited (No. 142). By Ishmon Bracey's own account to Dave Evans, he was a fighter too, "mixing it" with Saturday night drunks and the jealous lovers who came after his friend Tommy Johnson. It seems that he had always held strong religious sentiments, and had been a member of the Baptist church as a child in Byram, Mississippi. So his eventual ordination as a preacher, which was a personal relief after his "wicked ways" and life "in the world", was not so surprising.

Ishman Bracey was born in Byram, about ten miles south of Jackson, in January 1899, according to census records. He learned guitar from locals Louis Cooper and Lee Jones and moved to Jackson in the late 1920s after encountering Tommy Johnson. Bracey soon became one of the most popular musicians in the Jackson area’s vital blues scene, which consisted largely of musicians who were likewise born in small communities in the area. Jackson blues in the 1920s had a lighter feel than its counterpart in the Delta and sometimes featured the mandolin and the fiddle. Bracey and other musicians often played at dances for both black and white audiences, performing waltzes and ragtime numbers, and otherwise serenaded passersby on the busy streets of Jackson. Bracey’s music came to broader attention after he auditioned for recording agent H. C. Speir, who operated a furniture store on North Farish Street. Speir arranged for Bracey and Tommy Johnson to make their debut recordings at a session for Victor in Memphis in February of 1928. At that session and another for Victor later that year, Bracey was accompanied on guitar and mandolin by Charlie McCoy.

Crying Sam Collins Ad
Black Patti advertisement in the Chicago Defender July 2, 1927

Bracey recorded in more of a jazz mode in late 1929 and early 1930 for the Paramount label in Grafton, Wisconsin, backed by the New Orleans Nehi Boys (Charlie Taylor on piano and “Kid” Ernest Moliere on clarinet, an instrument rarely heard on Mississippi blues recordings). By the mid-‘30s many of the musicians in Bracey’s circle had left the area, and his musical partnership with Tommy Johnson ended. In later city directories he is listed as a laborer or painter. In 1963, when blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow met and interviewed him in Jackson, Bracey had been a Baptist minister for over a decade, and, although he would no longer play blues, he provided important information on the early blues scene in Jackson. He died on Feb. 12, 1970.

When Sam Collins made his recording debut in April, 1927, he was not far short of his fortieth birthday; born in Louisiana in August, 1887, he was raised, according to acquaintances located by Gayle Dean Wardlow, in McComb, Mississippi, just over the border from his native state. lt's not known when he started out in music, but by 1924 he was performing in local barrelhouses at weekends. By this time he had formed a loose and partnership with Joe Holmes from Sibley, La., who recorded for Paramount in 1932 as King Solomon Hill. Collins made his debut in 1972 cutting fives, four issued on the Black Patti label who advertised them as by "Crying Sam Collins and his Git·Fiddle." It seems likely that Collins Iearned his repertoire around the turn of the century, when he was,in his Iate teens and early twenties, for it incorporates a wide spectrum of music from that era and earlier. He cut  close to two-dozen issue sides between 1927-1931 for Black Patti, Gennett, Banner and ARC. Collins left behind a large number of unreleased sides. It's reported that Collins moved to Chicago where he died in 1949.

Rubin Lacy was one of the most talented and influential artists in Mississippi blues during his short career. He was a well-known blues performer in the Jackson area and the Delta until 1932, when he put his guitar down and became a preacher. Lacy played in an elite circle that included Son Spand, Ishmon Bracey, Tommy Johnson, Charlie McCoy, and Walter Vinson. He later moved to the Delta, where he formed his own group, performed with Charley Patton, and inspired artists including Son House, Tommy McClennan, and Honeyboy Edwards. Lacy made four recordings for Columbia Records at a session in Memphis in December 1927, but none were released. The following March he traveled to Chicago, where he recorded two songs for the Paramount label, “Mississippi Jail House Groan” and “Ham Hound Crave." In 1966 blues scholar David Evans located Lacy in Ridgecrest, California, and recorded him preaching and performing gospel songs together with members of his congregation. Lacy died in 1969.

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

Big Joe Williams once recalled that Otto Virgil (or Virgial) was from the area of Columbus, MS., and could usually be found playing with another native by the name of Tom Turner. Virgial had a community in Sunflower County on Halloween Day of 1935 on his mind when he recorded four songs that also included "Got The Blues About Rome". He was probably living in Chicago at the time of his one and only session.

Mississippi Jail House Groan

The Mississippi Moaner was the name used by Isaiah Nettles when he recorded five sides for Vocalion Records in Jackson, MS, on October 20, 1935. Only one 78 from the session was ever officially released, "Mississippi Moan" b/w "It's Cold in China Blues" (a version of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Long Lonesome Blues"). A credible singer and a fine guitar player, Nettles lived in Carlisle, MS (in Claiborne County), as late as 1936, but his trail vanishes after that date.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
James "Son" ThomasHighway 61 Blues Give My Heart Ease
James "Son" ThomasCrawling KingsnakeThe Blues Are Alive And Well
James "Son" ThomasBottle 'Em Up And GoMississippi Delta & South Tenessee Blues
Turner FoddrellCrow Jane Unreleased/Pete Lowry
The Foddrell BrothersPatrick County RagPatrick County Rag
The Foddrell BrothersBoogie In The MorningPatrick County Rag
Cecil BarfieldI Woke Up CryingThe George Mitchell Collection
Cecil BarfieldHooks In The WaterSouth Georgia Blues
Cecil BarfieldTrue Love South Georgia Blues
Guitar ShortyMy Mind Never ChangedCarolina Slide Guitar
Guitar ShortyI'm Going HomeCarolina Slide Guitar
Guitar ShortyGoin' Down in GeorgiaCarolina Slide Guitar
James 'Son' ThomasCairo BluesLiving Country Blues: Vol. 5 Mississippi Delta Blues
James 'Son' ThomasMama Don't Low No Guitar Playing Round HereLiving Country Blues: Vol. 10 Country Boogie
James 'Son' ThomasCatfish BluesLiving Country Blues: Vol. 5 Mississippi Delta Blues
The Foddrell BrothersHaunted HousePatrick County Rag
The Foddrell BrothersI Got A WomanClassic Appalachian Blues From Smithsonian Folkways
Cecil BarfieldLonesome House Blues The George Mitchell Collection
Cecil BarfieldI Told You Not To Do ThatThe George Mitchell Collection
Cecil BarfieldHoochie Coochie ManUnreleased/Axel Künster
Guitar ShortyDon't Cry Baby Alone In His Field
Guitar ShortyWorking Hard Alone In His Field
Guitar ShortyHold On BabyCarolina Country Blues
James "Son" ThomasAfter The WarGateway To The Delta
James "Son" ThomasTrain Fare BluesGateway To The Delta
James "Son" ThomasHigh Brown Son Thomas Plays And Sings Delta Blues
The Foddrell BrothersLonesome Country Boy BluesThe Original Blues Brothers
The Foddrell BrothersGoing Up The CountryThe Original Blues Brothers
The Foddrell BrothersSlow DragThe Original Blues Brothers

Show Notes:

Son Thomas
James "Son" Thomas, photographed by Bill Ferris in Leland, Mississippi, 1968

The days of finding country blues performers still playing in their local communities seems to be a thing of the past and with that so too are the days of field recording.  These days hardly anyone one undertakes field recording and the sad fact is that blues has largely disappeared as integral part of African-American rural communities; most of the old timers have passed on and few of the younger generation are interested in blues, particularly traditional blues. From the 1960's through the 80's there were folklorists, researchers and dedicated fans such as David Evans, George Mitchell, Sam Charters, Chris Stratwichz, Mack McCormick, Bruce Jackson, Peter B. Lowry, Tary Owens, Art Rosenbaum, Pete Welding, Bengt Olsson, Kip Lornell, Glenn Hinson, Tim Duffy, and Axel Küstner who actively sought out and recorded rural blues. Some were hunting for the famous names who made records in the 1920’s and 1930’s, others were seeking to fill in biographical blanks regarding some of the older musicians coveted by collectors and then there were those who were seeking to document the blues tradition as it still existed in rural communities. What they recorded in the rural communities of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas and Mississippi during this period was a still thriving, if largely undocumented, blues culture. As George Mitchell wrote: "As late as 1969 a country bluesman who at least occasionally played could be located in most small towns of Georgia. In 1976, there are very few active blues musicians left in the state! In the short span of seven years, one of the world's most vital and influential forms of music as it was originally performed has all but died out in Georgia, and probably in the rest of the South as well." I would say that even up through the early 1980's were still some fine players still active. Today's program spotlights  a batch of superb artists from this period,: the Foddrell Brothers, James "Son" Thomas, Cecil Barfield and Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue).

Marvin and Turner Foddrell
Read Liner Notes

Born in the Yazoo County community of Eden on October 14, 1926, James "Son"Thomas made his first recordings for folklorist Bill Ferris in 1968 (earliest sides appear on the compilations Blues From The Delta and The Blues Are Alive And Well). He later traveled throughout the United States and Europe to perform at blues concerts and exhibit his artwork. Thomas died in Greenville on June 26, 1993.

Thomas was one of the most recognized local musical figures in Mississippi during the 1970s and ’80s. He performed throughout the state at nightclubs, festivals, private parties, government social affairs, colleges, and juke joints. He also toured and recorded several blues albums in Europe, and his folk art was featured at galleries in New York, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Thomas learned guitar as a youngster after hearing his grandfather, Eddie Collins, and uncle, Joe Cooper, at house parties in Yazoo County. He later saw the two blues legends he regarded as his main influences, Elmore James and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, as well as Bentonia bluesman Jack Owens.

Thomas' performances had been confined to juke joints and house parties until he met Bill Ferris, who began recording and filming Thomas and other local bluesmen in 1968. The Xtra and Matchbox labels released the first recordings of Thomas, who later made albums for the Mississippi-based Southern Culture, Rustron, and Rooster Blues labels as well as companies in France, Holland, and Germany. He also appeared in several documentary films. Among his best recordings were made by Axel Küstner and Ziggy Chrismann in 1980 and issued as the Living Country Blues USA series on the German L&R label. By 1980 Thomas was a regular on the festival circuit but had recorded little, just a handful of sides scattered on obscure anthologies. After 1980 he toured Europe, recorded prolifically, including several very strong albums.

Marvin and Turner Foddrell were born into a musical family near Stuart in the Virginia Piedmont and for the major parts of their lives played regularly only at community gatherings, never professionally. Marvin and Turner were sons of a regionally renowned mult-instrumentalist, Posey Foddrell, who was proficient on fiddle, mandolin, piano, banjo, and guitar and played both with black and integrated groups. The family had lived in the Stuart area for several generations and they rarely ventured any significant distance from their home, where Turner ran a grocery store on Highway 8, and where the brothers were "discovered" by a local deejay during one of their impromptu jams. Discovered in the 1970s', the Foddrells became a regular fixture at the annual Blue Ridge Folklife Festival at nearby Ferrum College (the college's Blue Ridge Institute recorded the brothers extensively) and were also featured at many other festivals including some in Europe. The Foddrell Brothers recorded only two commercial records: The Original Blues Brothers (1981) on Swingmaster and Patrick County Rag (1983) on Outlet. They also appeared alongside more famous traditional musicians on a number of recorded anthologies. Both brothers have since passed away. Pete Lowry recorded them extensively in 1979 but none of these recordings were ever issued. Turner’s son Lynn joined the brothers on the 1982 and 1983 performances at the Celebration of Traditional Music. After Marvin’s death, Turner had continued to perform with Lynn. With Turner succumbing to lung cancer on Jan 31, 1995, the baton was passed onto Lynn.

South Georgia Blues
Read Liner Notes

One of the the most striking musicians recorded by George Mitchell was Cecil Barfield, and I agree with Mitchell’s assessment that he was some kind of genius. Mitchell called him "probably the greatest previously unrecorded bluesman I have had the pleasure of recording during my 15 years of field research." …Cecil was illiterate, but he was a genius. He couldn't read or write, but he was a highly intelligent person. I would stay up for hours, just talking to Cecil. …People from Germany and Italy wanted to have him come play, but he was not going anywhere." He began playing blues at five years old, using a cooking oil can he had rigged up with a neck and one string. He took up guitar at 12, and started playing rag and dance pieces before developing his distinctive bottleneck style. As Mitchell recalled: "We were recording Cecil in this tiny sharecropper's shack in some guy's plantation." Needless to say the plantation owner was not happy who called the sheriff on Mitchell.

Using the name William Robertson, in fear of endangering his welfare checks, he cut the LP South Georgia Blues for Southland in the mid-70's with several other tracks appearing on Flyright’s Georgia Blues Today (reissued by Fat Possum). I imagine Barfield is an acquired taste but to me he is simply mesmerizing; his music, with his droning, lightly distorted electric guitar coupled with his powerful mushed mouth, nasal singing, is hypnotic. Barfield has some originals but his genius is in the way he transforms well known songs by Frankie Lee Sims ("Lucy Mae Blues"), Lightnin’ Hopkins ("Mojo Hand"), J.B. Lenoir ("Talk To Your Daughter") and others into something startlingly original. Mitchell recorded Barfield extensively and there were a couple of digital collections available at one point. Art Rosenbaum and Axel Küstner also record Barfield. Barfield was born in 1922 and was farmer all his life until a back injury forced him to retire.  On how he came up with his songs he told Art Rosenbaum "your heart feels a certain way, then your mind follows, then you hands follow that."

Pete Lowry called Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue) "One of the most spontaneous musicians around; right up there with Lightnin' Hopkins, maybe more so." He cut a pair of unissued sides for Savoy in 1952, the long out-of-print album  Carolina Slide Guitar (Flyright, 1971) and an album for Lowry's Trix label, Alone In His Field, before passing in 1975. During his brief period of recording he played at the Chapel Hill Blues Festival and at coffee houses in the same town. Performances of him at the Chapel Hill Blues Festival can found on the Flyright albums Carolina Country Blues and Another Man Done Gone.

Guitar Shorty
Guitar Shorty, photo by Kip Lornell.

As Lowry wrote: "Born John Henry Fortescue in the town of Beihaven, N.C. at an unknown ttme, Shorty is possibly in his early forties. I am convinced that Shorty has no idea how old he is, and isn't of major importance. He now lives in Elm City. N.C. a very small town between Rocky Mount and Wilson – he lives in poverty in a house next to one of the fields he often works in…  the white man across the way owns it all. Life is hardly romantic, unless one is masochistic and likes starving, getting drunk, and waking in jail on occasions. When not working, he drinks, plays in the streets (that's how McLean met him the first time), or often in a church on Sunday (with his wife Lena)." As Danny McClean recalled: "I first met Shorty in the summer of 1970. There he was, just walking down the street playing guitar with Lena tagging along behind him. Shorty didn't sound like Blind Boy Fuller or Gary Davis or pick like Elizabeth Cotton. He played better when I first met him than he has since. He played really beautiful slide – weird things like maybe only Robert Johnson could have done. All the best things I heard him do never got on to tape it seems. They happened riding to his house in my car or on a visit when I didn't bring a tape recorder. He isn't nervous when he plays to a tape but it's never as good."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Teddy Moss Easy PapaBarrelhouse Piano Blues and Stomps 1929-1933
Earl McDonald's Original Louisville Jug BandRocking Chair BluesClifford Hayes & The Louisville Jug Bands Vol. 2
Tiny ParhamJim Jackson's Kansas City Blues Tiny Parham 1926-1929
Jimmy WitherspoonPast Forty BluesThe Blues Is Now
Arbee StidhamStandin' In My WindowA Time For Blues
Junior ParkerI Just Got To KnowBlues Man
Rev. Gary Davis If I Had My WayIf I Had My Way: Early Home Recordings
Rabbit MuseRocking Chair BluesMuse Blues
Lovey Williams Baby, Let Me Ride in Your AutomobileThe Blues Are Alive And Well
Jack Owens with Bud SpiresCan't See, BabyIt Must Have Been the Devil
Jack Owens with Bud SpiresHard TimesIt Must Have Been the Devil
Clara SmithWanna Go HomeThe Essential
Baby Benbow Don't Blame MeFemale Blues Singers Vol. 2 1920-1928
Edith Wilson & Johnny DunnHe Used To Be Your Man But He's My Man NowJohnny Dunn Vol. 2 1922-1928
Sloke & IkeChocolate Candy BluesBanjo Ikey Robinson 1929-1937
Walter G. PichonDoggin' That Thing Teddy Bunn 1929-1940
Lonnie JohnsonFour Shots Of GinThree Kings And The Queen
Roosevelt Sykes & Victoria SpiveyThirteen HoursThree Kings And The Queen
Blind Lemon JeffersonRising High Water BluesBlues Images Vol. 1
Kokomo ArnoldThe Mule Laid Down And Died Vaudeville Blues 1919-1941
Washboard SamYellow, Black And BrownWashboard Sam Vol. 2 1937-1938
Junior Parker Feelin' GoodMystery Train
Junior Parker Love My BabyMystery Train
Little Brother Montgomery Chinese Man Blues Little Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Charlie McCoyLet My Peaches BeCharlie & Joe McCoy Vol. 1
Gatemouth MooreHey Mr GatemouthHey Mr. Gatemouth
Gatemouth MooreI Come To The Garden And I'm Going ThroughAfter Twenty One Years
Mary JamesGo 'way Devil Leave Me Alone, Pt. 1-2Field Recordings Vol. 8: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississipi
Florence WhiteCold Rocks Was My PillowFemale Blues Singers Vol. 14 1923-1932

Show Notes:

All kinds of interesting records on deck today including a couple of sets devoted to guitarist Floyd Murphy and harmonica blower Bud Spires who recently passed. We spin quite a number of tracks from some great out-of-print records, a twin spin of Gatemouth Moore, some fine early harmonica blues, a batch of great blues ladies and more.

Jack Owens & Bud Spires
Jack Owens & Bud Spires photo by David Evans circa 1969-1970

Bud Spires passed away March 20th. Bud Spires is the son of Arthur “Big Boy” Spires who recorded for Chess Records during the 1950's and 60's. Bud was born May 20th, 1931 just north of Bentonia in Anding, MS. He played with his good friend Jack Owens for over 30 years, from 1967 until Jack passed away in 1997. In the book The Land Where the Blues Began, Alan Lomax describes Spires: "Bud was a one-man, red-hot singing orchestra, accompanying himself o the harmonica, putting rough, bluesy chords after some lines and squealed comments to underscore the sexiest images. Sometimes his instrument almost disappeared in his mouth as he both blew and sucked notes out of its metal reeds." He and Owens were first recorded in 1970 by David Evans the results issued on Testament's It Must Have Been the Devil. In more recent years he recorded behind Jimmy "Duck" Holmes of Bentonia.

Floyd Murphy passed away on March 27. Floyd was the brother of Matt Murphy and worked with many Memphis greats like James Cotton, Junior Parker, Rufus Thomas, Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, Johnny Ace, Willie Nix, Bobby Blue Bland and many others. Murphy recorded classic sides with singer/harmonica player Junior Parker and The Blue Flames for Sam Phillips' including "Feelin' Good" and "Mystery Train." He also recorded with Rufus Thomas and Eddie Snow. In the early 60's, Murphy recorded the VeeJay Records release of Birdlegs and Pauline's tune "Spring" which rose to number 18 on the R&B charts. For the next 30 years Murphy has continually performed throughout the Midwest. In 1990 Floyd collaborated with his brother Matt "Guitar" Murphy on the CD Way Down South for Antoine's Records.

Rabbit Muse: Muse Blues
Read Liner Notes

My shows are always littered with great blues records that are long out-of-print and today we spotlight some excellent ones by Rabbit Muse, Lovey Williams, Junior Parker, Arbee Stidham and some recordings from the Spivey label. Rabbit Muse, was in born 1908 and learned soprano ukulele from a childhood friend before transferring to baritone and setting out on a career that spanned seven decades. Despite this long career he recorded only two albums: Muse Blues in 1976 and Sixty Minute Man in 1977 both on the Outlet label.

The Lovey Williams track comes from The Blues Are Alive And Well, a collection of sides recorded by William Ferris in 1968 and includes sides by James "Son" Thomas and Lee Kizart. Ferris wrote the following about Williams: "Lovey Williams has led the most isolated life of the three singers on this record, having never been over fifty miles away from Morning Star, his birthplace and present home. Lovey lives in a sharecropper's home with his wife and ten children and performs his blues in the homes of friends. …Lovey learned to 'blow the blues' from his father who was also a sharecropper." A couple of spoken pieces and performances appear on the album Bothered All The Time which are from the same session. As far as I can tell these are the only recordings he made.

Junior Parker was an extraordinary blues singer and harmonica player who laid down some superb material over the course of a twenty year career (1952-1971) before his life was cut short just prior to his fortieth birthday. Before he passed he sailed into the 1970's in promising fashion cutting a pair of terrific albums; You Don't Have To Be Black To Love The Blues circa 1970/1971 for Groove Merchant and I Tell Stories Sad And True for United Artists which was released in 1972. One record I don't think I've played before is Blues Man cut for the Minit label in 1969. Parker is backed by a great uncredited band and delivers a superb performance on Jimmy McCracklin's "I Just Got To Know" featured today.

Arbee Stidham is held in rather low opinion among the blues collecting community. The truth is that Stidham's music isn't, for the most part, all that exciting but A Time For Blues is a terrific outing with Stidham backed by the swinging Ernie Wilkins Orchestra. Stidham cut sessions for Victor, Sittin' In, Checker, Abco, Prestige/Bluesville, Mainstream, and Folkways in the 50's and 60', and appeared in the film The Bluesman in 1973. Stidham also made many festival and club appearances nationwide and internationally. He did occasional blues lectures at Cleveland State University in the 70's. He passed away in 1988.

Three Kings And The Queen
Read Liner Notes

I've been threatening to do a feature on the Spivey label for years and this year I'm finally getting around to it – really! Spivey Records was a blues record label, founded by blues singer Victoria Spivey and her partner and jazz historian Len Kunstadt in 1961. Spivey Records released a series of blues and jazz albums between 1961 and 1985. The label recorded a wide variety of blues musicians who were friends of Spivey and Kunstadt, including Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Memphis Slim, Little Brother Montgomery and many others. Spivey died in 1976. The label became dormant after the death of Len Kunstadt in 1996. Today's track come from the 1962 album Three Kings And The Queen probably most famous for having a young Bob Dylan backing Big Joe Williams.

I've always had a soft spot for the larger-than-life Gatemouth Moore who summed his talents as a blues singer this way: "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." 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. His heyday as a blues career was short lived, cutting a couple of dozen sides between 1945 and 1947 that saw release on Gilmore's Chez Paree, Savoy, National with his final records cut for King at the very end of 1947. 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. Gatemouth cut two LP's in the 70's: for Bluesway he cut the gospel record After Twenty One Years and for Johnny Otis' Blues Spectrum label he cut the blues album Great Rhythm & Blues Oldies Vol. 7 in 1977 both long out-of-print.

We hear from several fine blues ladies today including Edith Wilson, Clara Smith, Minnie Wallace, Florence White and Mary James. Edith Wilson and Johnny Dunn deliver a rousinng version of "He Used To Be Your Man But He's My Man Now." Wilson and trumpet player Johnny Dunn first worked together in the musical revue "Put And Take" in 1921 and then went on to perform in Lew Lesile's Plantation Revue in 1922. The group toured the TOBA vaudville circuit in 1921. Perry Bradford set up the recording sessions at Columbia for Wilson to compete with the Okeh's Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds records. Instrumental records were also released without Wilson under the name of Johnny Dunn and his Original Jazz Hounds. Dunn had also been a member of Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds.

Mary James LOC

I've written about Clara Smith before and she gives a mesmerizing performance on backed by just a reed organ giving the recording a haunting quality. Florence White was a powerful singer who cut one fine 78 in 1927 backed the  superb piano of Simeon Henry who would ably back singer Lil Green in the 1940's. Mary James was recorded in the Sewing Room at Parchman Farm Penitentiary in 1939. She's featured today on the spine chilling "Go 'way Devil Leave Me Alone" backed by "four girls." Minnie Wallace was a known associate of the Memphis Jug Band and on 1936's ebullient "Field Mouse Stomp" she's backed by a blues super group that includes Will Shade, Robert Wilkins and Harry Chatman.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
George And Ethel McCoyMary Early In The Morning
George And Ethel McCoy'Way Down SouthEarly In The Morning
George And Ethel McCoyMiss Baker's BluesEarly In The Morning
Johnny Shines; Sunnyland Slim; Backwards Sam FirkTwo Long Freight TrainsReally Chicago Blues
Walter Horton; Honeyboy Edwards; Johnny Shines Way Cross TownReally Chicago Blues
John Lee Granderson; Big Joe Williams; Backwards Sam FirkStop Breaking DownReally Chicago Blues
Sunnyland Slim; Johnny Shines; Backwards Sam FirkCuttin' OutReally Chicago Blues
Sunnyland Slim; Big Joe Williams; Johnny Shines; Backwards Sam FirkBye Bye BabyReally Chicago Blues
Furry Lewis Why Don't You Come Home BluesOn The Road Again
Furry Lewis On The Road AgainOn The Road Again
Bukka WhiteGibson HillOn The Road Again
Rev. Gary DavisOut On The Ocean SailingO, Glory - The Apostolic Studio Sessions
Rev. Gary DavisRight NowO, Glory - The Apostolic Studio Sessions
Mose VinsonBullfrog Blues The Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 1
Sam ClarkSunnyland Train BluesThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 1
Dewey CorleyDewey's Walkin' BluesThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 1
Willie Morris My Good Woman Has Quit MeThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 2
Hacksaw HarneyHacksaw's Down South BluesThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 2
Van Hunt & Mose VinsonJelly Selling WomanThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 2
Sleepy John Estes Drop Down MamaThe Memphis Blues Again, Vol. 2
Arthur Weston & George RobersonHighway 49Things Have Changed - Anthology of Today's Blues from St. Louis
Clarence JohnsonBaby Let Me Come Back HomeThings Have Changed - Anthology of Today's Blues from St. Louis
Henry BrownHenry's JiveThings Have Changed - Anthology of Today's Blues from St. Louis
Henry TownsendBiddle Street BluesHenry T. Music Man
Henry TownsendCairo BluesHenry T. Music Man

Show Notes:

Liner Notes: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3
Pt. 4 - Pt. 5Pt. 6
Liner Notes: Pt.1Pt. 2 - Pt. 3
Pt. 4
Pt. 5Pt. 6

I've been meaning to get around to the Adelphi label, a fine label that issued a small batch of excellent blues albums in the late 60's and early 70's. I was looking through Stefan Wirz's discography of the label and realized I had in fact all the albums so I figured now was the time. Not to mention that several have been long out-of-print which gives me an opportunity to make these heard by a wider audience. Our show will stick to the albums  by the black blues artists, omitting the records by white artists, which is has always been the focus here on Big Road Blues. In the late 1990's and early 2000's Adelphi issued a number of unreleased recordings from the 60's on CD marketed as the Blues Vault Series and due to time constraints I'll been spotlighting those on a future show.

Adelphi was founded by siblings Gene and Carol Rosenthal, who were country blues enthusiasts. The Adelphi crew made extensive field recordings in 1969, from Chicago to St. Louis, Memphis, and the Mississippi Delta, in search of prewar blues artists. A few of these were released as compilations representing talent recorded at each major stop: Really Chicago’s Blues, The Memphis Blues Again, and Things Have Changed, which featured the artists from St. Louis. Individual albums by Little Brother’ Montgomery, George and Ethel McCoy, and Furry Lewis with Bukka White and Gus Cannon were released in the early 1970's, as were recordings by folk artists, including Roy Book Binder, Paul Geremia, and Chris Smither.

George & Ethel McCoy
George & Ethel McCoy photo by Joel Slotnikoff

 

Some of the label's most interesting recordings are on the three regional anthologies.  The Memphis Blues Again Vol. 1 & 2 were  recorded in Memphis in October, 1969 and at the Peabody Hotel in June, 1970. By the 1960's urban renewal decimated Beale Street yet many old time musicians remained; veterans like Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Will Shade, Dewey Corley, Memphis Piano Red, Laura Dukes and Gus Cannon were still hanging on. During the blues revival of the 60's many went down to Memphis to record these old musicians with the results mostly issued on small specialty labels like Adelphi. Things Have Changed was recorded in East St. Louis, Illinois and St. Louis in 1969 and is an anthology of St. Louis artists including Henry Townsend, George & Ethel McCoy, Henry Brown, Arthur Weston and others. The 2-LP set Really Chicago Blues is a collection of informal acoustic blues featuring Johnny Shines, Honeyboy Edwards, Big Joe Williams, John Lee Granderson and Sunnyland Slim performing in different configurations. Both The Memphis Blues Again and Really Chicago Blues albums have been reissued on the Echo Music label but not on CD.

Really Chicago Blues
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All of the individual artists record have been reissued on CD except for the exceptional Early In The Morning by the under-recorded George and Ethel McCoy. George and Ethel McCoy were a brother and sister duo who lived in St. Louis and who's aunt was Memphis Minnie. From the Adelphi website: "The Adelphi crew were enchanted with the pair's music style, the result of a lifetime of playing together, but it was not until Ethel performed "Meningitis Blues" that the dots were connected. Mike Stewart asked if Ethel had learned the song from one of Memphis Minnie's 78 records and was stunned by Ethel's reply: 'No. She taught us the song. She was our Auntie.'" Early In The Morning is their first album and the duo was recorded again in 1981 with the results issued on Swingmaster.

Thirty years would pass after his last recording session before Sam Charters came knocking on Furry Lewis' door in 1959 subsequently recordings him for Folkways that same year with two more albums following for Prestige in 1961. There was nothing rusty about his playing as he had never stopped performing for neighbors and friends. Lewis was recorded often through the 1960's, with a slew of informal recordings issued posthumously. Bob Groom wrote in his book The Blues Revival that his "return has been one of the most satisfying of the [blues] revival."Furry appears on the album On The Road Again alongside Bukka White who returned to performing in the early 60's. The letter was addressed to: "Booker T. Washington White, (Old Blues Singer), C/O General Delivery Aberdeen , Miss." and forwarded to him by a relative. That was how John Fahey and Ed Denson found Bukka White in 1963 who was now living in Memphis and made his last recordings in 1940. Also on the record is Gus Cannon and Dewey Corley. Corley was the leader of the Beale Street Jug Band from the '30s onward, and played jug, washtub bass and kazoo. In his later years, he also acted as an A&R man, helping record companies such as Adelphi scout out missing Memphis blues legends such as Hacksaw Harney and guitarist Willie Morris.

The Reverend Gary Davis was one of the most renowned practitioners of the East Coast school of ragtime guitar; 35 years later, despite two decades spent playing on the streets of Harlem in New York, he was still one of the giants in his field and an inspiration to dozens of modern guitarist/singers including Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and Jorma Kaukonen, Larry Johnson, David Bromberg, and Ry Cooder, who studied with Davis. Davis recorded prolifically in the post-war years starting with a few scattered sides in the 1940's, more in the 1950's and really picking up steam in the 1960's. O, Glory – The Apostolic Studio Sessions was recorded in 1969 and features Davis wife Annie and his Harlem neighbor and pupil Larry Johnson on harmonica.

Things Have Changed
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Henry Townsend, who has died aged 96 in 2006, had been the last blues musician who could trace his recording career back to the 1920s, having sat down before a recording microphone in November 1929 to sing his "Henry's Worried Blues" for Paramount. He recorded steadily, if not prolifically, through the decades cutting fine sides with Walter Davis through the 50's, a superb record for Bluesville in the 60's and in 1980 one of his finest records, Mule for the Nighthawk label. The Adelphi record, originally titled Henry T. Music Man and reissued on CD as Cairo Blues, was his second full-length album. The album also features Backwards Sam Firk (Mike Stewart), Henry Brown and Vernell Townsend.

Out of all the Adelphi albums the weakest is Little Brother Montgomery's No Special Rider recorded in 1969. Montgomery was an exceptional pianist and vocalist who first recorded in 1930 cutting"No Special Rider Blues b/w Vicksburg Blues" for Paramount. Montgomery's not at his best on this session and vocalist Jeanne Carroll is not a compelling blues singer.

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Robert WilkinsDo Lord Remember MeProdigal Son
Dick Spotswood Interview
Robert WilkinsThank You, Jesus Prodigal Son
Robert WilkinsFalling Down BluesMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert WilkinsIt Just Suits MeProdigal Son
Robert WilkinsOld Jim CanaanMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert WilkinsJesus Will Fix It Allright Prodigal Son
Robert WilkinsThat's No Way To Get AlongMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert WilkinsProdigal Son Prodigal Son
Robert WilkinsRollin' Stone (Part 1)Memphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert WilkinsI'll Go With Her BluesMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Robert Wilkins Losin' Out BluesMemphis Blues Vol. 1 1928-1935
Frank Stokes & Dane Sane'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do, Part 1Memphis Masters
Frank Stokes & Dane SaneMr. Crump Don't Like ItMemphis Masters
Frank Stokes & Dane SaneIt's A Good Thing Memphis Masters
Joe CalicottFare Thee Well BluesMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Garfield AkersCottonfield Blues (Pt. 1)ConversatioMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Garfield AkersDough Roller BluesMississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-35
Jim JacksonJim Jackson's Kansas City Blues Jim Jackson Vol. 1 1927-1928
Jim JacksonWhat A Time Jim Jackson Vol. 2 1928-1930
Jim JacksonHesitation Blues Jim Jackson Vol. 2 1928-1930
Minnie WallaceThe Cockeyed WorldRuckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 2: The Great Jug Bands

Show Notes:

Robert Wilkins: Prodigal Son Robert Wilkins: Memphis Gospel Singer
Read Liner Notes (preview) Read Liner Notes

 

Robert Wilkins cut one of the great albums of the blues revival, Memphis Gospel Singer recorded in 1964 for the Piedmont label and now finally issued issued on CD as Prodigal Son by Bear Family. Around 1964 Dick Spottswood, who had been instrumental in finding Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James a few before, set out to track down Robert Wilkins. After finding Wilkins he brought him up to Washington D.C. to record for his Piedmont label. Spottswood has written an excellent 28 page booklet for the new reissue and today we are joined by Dick as we spotlight this great album and chat about his old friend. We'll also be playing Wilkins' early classic sides: for Victor in 1928, Brunswick in 1929 and Vocalion in 1935. Wilkins was born in Hernando, Mississippi some twenty miles from Memphis and birthplace of an important group of musicians who helped establish Memphis as a major blues center in the 1920's. In addition to Wilkins these included Jim Jackson, Dan Sane, who was the partner of Frank Stokes and Garfield Akers and his partner Joe Calicott. We feature these artists in the second hour.

Wilkins was born south of Memphis in Hernando, Mississippi, in 1895. His father fled the area to avoid prosecution for bootlegging. In 1898 his mother remarried a farmer named Oliver, who helped raise Robert until he was fifteen. His earliest musical memories were of his grandfather's fiddle on the wall and the guitar-playing teenagers who came around at night to serenade his older sisters. "They would be playing in the front yard or on the porch," Wilkins told Pete Welding in Blues Unlimited. "They were dancing in the dust and up on the porches, and like that. Played the 'Buck Time' and all different things. One I never will forget is one called 'The St. Louis Buck.' And they would buck-dance off of that and cut so many different steps." By age nine Robert was playing music on a Jew's harp. Around 1911 after a neighbor broke a guitar over his wife's head, Robert's mother bought the remains of the instrument and had it reassembled for her son. The first song he learned, "I Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down," would remain in his repertoire for a half-century. He claimed tRobert Wilkins: Rolling Stone-Part 1hat watching others play enabled him him to pick his own tunes almost straight away. "The one I learned under, he's the only one I ever saw who picks with two fingers like I do. His name was Aaron Taylor but we all called him 'Buddy. Most of the old tunes I play, that's the way he played them-'Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down.' I got the 'Frisco Train' behind him, I got the 'St. Louis Buck' behind him, and 'Jesse James' behind him, and 'Casey Jones'- all those songs I played behind him. So many of them I can't remember 'cause he could play 'most anything you ever heard on guitar. Within the year Robert was playing at picnics and fish fries and serenading door to door.For white dances he played -"what you call a drag dance" music.

Every autumn Robert would play the traveling medicine shows. He recalled hearing a tenor banjo around 1912, when  Gus Cannon came through. "I played on a stage with him and Jim Jackson," Wilkins told Welding. "They would dance, blacken their face and crack a lot of funny jokes, and play the guitars. Within a few years Wilkins felt he had outstripped all other players in town. "I overran all the old musicians I learned under," he said. "I was mostly the leading songster and blues player there in Hernando."

Robert and his family moved to Memphis in 1915. In the mid·1920's he got a job with the Pullman service., traveling  around the country for three years until he got laid off. He met up with Son Joe Lawlars and then in his words, "I begin to play music for all occasions." He met the Rev. Lonnie McIntorsh on Third and Beale one day and McIntorsh asked if he was interested in making records. The pair went into a furniture store on the corner and Wilkins rehearsed some numbers for the manager. "They loved the music so well and my singing! When the recorder come, they recommended me to him. They set up in an auditorium on Main and Poplar Streets." This was for Victor, when I did 'I Told My Rider' [unissued] and 'Rolling Stone.' That was the one they issued-'Rolling Stone.' The second day they was there I did 'Jail House Blues' and 'I Do Blues.' That was in September, and about the first of November I heard 'Rolling Stone.' The release of "Rolling Stone" opened up musical doors: "We would just bust music all over town-at pig stands, sporting houses while they was having a good time, and all like that," he told Welding. "Hotels-the Claridge, Blackstone, the Medical Arts Building, Peabody just any place. I played for all occasions; they called me for everything."Robert Wilkins: That's No Way To Get along Ad

untitleduntitledIn late September 1929 Wilkins journeyed to the Peabody Hotel to record his classic "That's No Way to Get Along" for Brunswick, as well as "Falling Down Blues," the ragtimey "Alabama Blues," and downhome "Long Train Blues." At his final Brunswick session the following February, he cut "Nashville Stonewall Blues", Police Sergeant Blues", "Get Away Blues" and "I'll Go With Her Blues." Five years elapsed before, as Tim Wilkins, in the company of Son Joe and "Kid Spoons", he recorded five titles for Vocalion, including "New Stock Yard Blues" and "Old Jim Canan's."

The following spring Wilkins gave up playing guitar after witnessing unnerving violence at a house party. "I just hung it on the wall," he explained to Welding. "Said, 'I'm not going to play anymore.' It was just a sudden thing. Look like something appealed to me, and I heard it-said, 'Don't do it anymore.'" He married Ida Mae Harris and devoted himself to helping raise their five sons and two daughters. A family belief holds that in 1942 he promised God that he'd give up playing blues if his wife survived a life-threatening illness. With her recovery, Wilkins kept his promise and turned increasingly towards the church, becoming a minister of the Church pf God in Christ in 1950. The denomination's encouragement of music enabled him to perform gospel songs on electric guitar. While he no longer performed 12-bar blues, he remodeled his old blues arrangements into gospel songs: "Old Jim Canan's" was morphed into "I'm Going Home to My Heavenly King." "That's No Way to Get Along" metamorphosed into an epic retelling of the gospel of Luke entitled "Prodigal Son" while the guitar lines of "I'll Go With Her" echoed in "I'll Go With You."

Around 1964 Dick Spottswood launched a search for Wilkins. "I had gotten a tip that he was in Memphis," Spottswood explains. "I looked in the telephone book and found two Robert Wilkins there. I wrote a letter to each of them saying, 'Hey, if you're the Robert Wilkins who made 'Nashville Stonewall Blues' in the '20s, boy, would we like to hear from you.' A week or two later, the phone rang and the voice said, 'This is Rev. Wilkins.'" Dick arranged for Wilkins to come to Washington, D.C., to record his self-titled debut LP for the Piedmont label. The centerpiece of the album was his epic nine-minute plus "Prodigal Son" famously recorded by the Rolling Stones on their 1968 album  Beggars Banquet. The story goes that Wilkins was properly credited on the original graffiti-laden, bathroom-themed cover, but that credit was lost when the cover art was changed to an invitation-themed design. The credit later was restored in Wilkins’ name, but only after legal action was taken. Four additional songs from the Piedmont session appeared on the Biograph album This Old World's In A Hell Of A Fix and these also appear on the Bear Family reissue. Otherwise, Wilkins' post-war discography is slim with a full-length album released on Gene Rosenthal's Genes imprint in the 90's plus a handful of scattered live and studio sides on several different anthologies.

Robert Wilkins Newport 1964
Rev. Robert Wilkins, Newport, 1964

Rev. Wilkins hit the folk circuit, appearing at Newport in 1964 (two sides appear on Vanguard's Blues At Newport) and the Memphis Country Blues Festival in 1966 and 1968 (three tracks appear on the Blue Horizon record The 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival). Even after the Rolling Stones covered "Prodigal Son" Wilkins steadfastly refused to play the blues. "No, my conscience won't let me do it," he explained to Pete Welding. "It's something within. My children even, and all of my friends that know me, say: 'It looks like you could just go and play the blues, make two or three records of the blues.' 'If that was me,' they say, 'I wouldn't miss the money.' Well, it looks good, but then I have scripture say: 'What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?'" Rev. Wilkins never did return to blues and lived into his nineties, passing away on May 30, 1987.

Related Reading:

-Dick Spottswood Interview/Feature (68 min., MP3)

- Rev. Robert Wilkins (Blues Unlimited no. 13, Jul 1964 by Richard K. Spottswood) [PDF]

-Reverend Robert Wilkins: An Interview. Pt. 1. – 6 (Blues Unlimited no. 51-56, 1968 by Pete Welding) [PDF]

Rev. Robert Wilkins (Victrola and 78 Journal no. 11, 1997: 8–13 by Jas Obrecht) [PDF]

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