ARTISTSONGALBUM
Lee JacksonFishin' in My Pond Chicago Blues of the 1950's
Lee JacksonI'll Just Keep Walkin Chicago Blues of the 1950's
Lee JacksonChange of LoveBlues Party at Jump Jackson’s
Sunnyland Slim Depression Blues Blues Party at Jump Jackson’s
Roosevelt SykesYour Will Is MineSings The Blues
Roosevelt SykesGone With The WindSings The Blues
Little Johnnie Jones Prison Bound45
Little Johnnie Jones Don't You Lie To Me45
Lee JacksonJuanitaChicago Blues from C.J. Records Vol. 2
Lee JacksonPleading for LoveChicago Blues from C.J. Records Vol. 2
Lee JacksonWhen I First Came to ChicagoLonely Girl
Lee JacksonLonely Without LoveLonely Girl
Jody Williams Groan My Blues AwayCool Playing Blues
Otis SpannFive SpotBlues From The Checker Vaults
Howlin' Wolf I'll Be AroundSmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters
Howlin' Wolf EvilSmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters
Howlin' Wolf I Have A Little GirlSmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters
Jody WilliamsEasy LovinCool Playing Blues
Billy Boy ArnoldDon't Stay Out All NightThe Very Best of Blues: Vee- Jay Vol. 2
Dennis 'Long Man' BinderI'm A Lover Long Man Blues
Jody WilliamsI Feel So All Alone Cool Playing Blues
Jimmy WitherspoonAin't Nobody's BusinessSpoon So Easy
Billy StewartBilly's Blues (Part 1) The Unbelievable Billy Stewart
Bo Diddley I'm Looking for a Woman Bo's Blues
Bo Diddley Who Do You Love Bo's Blues
Jimmy Rogers One KissComplete Chess Recordings
Jimmy Rogers I Can't Believe Complete Chess Recordings
Jody WilliamsYou MayChess Blues Guitar 1949-1969
Jody WilliamsLucky LouChess Blues Guitar 1949-1969
Jody WilliamsWhat Kind of Gal Is That Chess Blues Guitar 1949-1969
Otis Rush Groaning The Blues Cobra Records Story
Harold BurrageMessed UpMessed Up ! The Cobra Recordings 1956-58
Bobby Davis Hype You Into Selling Your HeadBandera Blues And Gospel
Jody Williams Moanin' for Molasses The Chicago Years: Blues

Show Notes:

Howlin Wolf, Jody Williams, Hubert Sumlin and Drummer Earl Phillips

 

Today's program is part two of series of shows devoted to lesser known Chicago blues artists, some session artists, others who cut a handful of sides under their own name, all who are little remembered outside of die-hard collectors. We spotlighted guitarists William Lacey and Lee Cooper last week and this time out we showcase two more guitarists: Lee Jackson and Jody Williams. In the mid-1950's, Williams was one of the most sought-after session guitarists in Chicago, yet he was little known outside the music industry since his name rarely appeared on discs. His acclaimed comeback in 2000 led to a resurgence of interest in Williams’ early work. In the 50's he was briefly a member of Howlin' Wolf's band, playing on a number of classic sides as well as backing artists like Bo Diddley,  Jimmy Rogers, Otis Rush, Billy Boy Arnold and others. He cut a handful of brilliant sides under his own name as well. In the late 1960's, he quit the music business in favor of a steady day job. Lee Jackson appears in many studio sessions as a guitarist and bassist but only recorded a handful of sides under his name. His first 45 was for Cobra and after that he would wax some very good tracks for labels run by Cadillac Baby and Carl Jones as well as laying down some fine session work. In 1970, Jackson was part of the American Folk Blues Festival's European tour. He cut his first full LP for Bluesway label in the 70's and cut another album in 1977 for the T.K. label that went unissued.

Jody Williams: Lucky LouBorn in Mobile, Alabama, Joseph Leon "Jody" Williams moved with his family to Chicago when he was just 5 years old.  It was an encounter with Bo Diddley at a talent show that convinced him he should put down his harmonica and pick up a guitar. Absorbing the guitar styles of T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, and Robert Lockwood, Jody become one of the first important string benders to work in Chicago, influencing such up and coming stars as Otis Rush and Buddy Guy. Williams’ solo career began in December 1955 with the upbeat saxophone-driven "Lookin' For My Baby", released under the name Little Papa Joe on the Blue Lake label. Williams also cut "What a Fool I've Been (I Feel So All Alone)" and "Easy Lovin'" for the label. The label closed a few months later, leaving his slide guitar performance on "Groaning My Blues Away" unreleased.

After touring with West Coast piano player Charles Brown, Williams established himself as a session player with Chess Records. At Chess, Williams met Howlin’ Wolf, recently arrived in Chicago from Memphis, and was hired by Wolf as the first guitarist in his new Chicago-based band. A year later Hubert Sumlin moved to Chicago to join Wolf's band, and the dual guitars of Williams and Sumlin are featured on Howlin’ Wolf’s 1954 singles, "Evil Is Going On", and "Forty Four", and on the 1955 releases, "Who Will Be Next" and "Come To Me Baby." By this time, Williams was highly sought after as a session guitarist, and his virtuosity in this capacity is well illustrated by his blistering lead guitar work on Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?", a hit for Checker Records in 1956. In 1957, Williams released "You May" on Argo Records, backed with the instrumental "Lucky Lou", the extraordinary opening riff of which Otis Rush copied on his 1958 Cobra Records side "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)." Other notable session work from the 1950's include lead guitar parts on Billy Boy Arnold's "I Ain't Got You" and "I Wish You Would", Jimmy Rogers’ "One Kiss", Jimmy Witherspoon’s "Ain't Nobody's Business" and Otis Rush’s "Three Times A Fool." Also worth noting is Williams work backing Otis Spann’s storming 1954 release, "It Must Have Been The Devil b/w Five Spot", that features lead guitar work from B. B. King, one of Williams’ early heroes and a big influence on his playing.

Lee Jackson
Lee Jackson, photo by Don Peterson

The frequency with which Williams found his distinctive guitar phrases being copied without credit led to increasing disenchantment with the music business. When the distinctive riff he created for Billy Stewart's 1956 Argo release, "Billy's Blues", was appropriated by Mickey Baker for the Mickey & Sylvia hit, "Love Is Strange", Chess Records took legal action. At the conclusion of the case in 1961, Williams gained neither credit nor compensation.

Lee Jackson was born Warren George Harding in 1921 in Arkansas. He was strongly influenced by his Uncle Alf Bonner and his Aunt Cora who led a jug band and also ran a café between Helena and Memphis in which about every bluesman of the neighboring States played regularly. After some years playing with the Bonners' Jug Band, he tried his luck,under the nickname of Lee Jackson, as an itinerant musician, playing in Memphis, Florida, Saint Louis and finally Chicago. As writer Gerard Herzhaft noted: "The guitar style of Lee Jackson, sharp, jazzy, with sparse but brilliant and bluesy notes was quite original for the immediate post-war Chicago blues scene, reflecting his years playing with swinging jug bands."

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In Chicago he made his debut with Cobra in 1956, with "Fishin' in My Pond b/w I'll Just Keep Walkin'." Jackson's sides under his own name were scant, cutting scattered singles for C.J. and Bea & Baby before cutting his first album, Lonely Girl, for the Bluesway label in 1973. In 1970, Jackson was part of the American Folk Blues Festival's European tour and two sides from that event were issued on the Scout label. Around this time Jackson was part of Willie Dixon's Chicago All-Stars group and a bootleg of him with the band has been circulating for some time. In 1977, he cut another album for Ralph Bass and the T.K. label that was never released, although tracks from that session popped up on several anthologies.

Another interesting session was one captured in 1960 by Joachim Berendt that featured Lee Jackson alongside Shakey Jake, Walter Horton, Sunnyland Slim, Jump Jackson and others. These tracks were part of a 45 minute private recording circulating among collectors. Some of these tracks appeared on a German LP. From this session we play Jackson's on "Change of Love" and another track backing Sunnyland Slim. Jackson also backed pianist Little Johnny Jones on two sides that only saw the light of day years later. Jones' widow, Letha Jones, owned an acetate of  two 1964 titles and Jim O'Neal of Rooster Records licensed the rights from her to issue them on 45. Perhaps Jackson's best session work can found on the 1962 Crown release Roosevelt Sykes Sings The Blues which has been reissued by Ace. This short session was recorded in Chicago, and it features Sykes in the company a stellar band including Willie Dixon on bass, Jump Jackson on drums and Sax Mallard. By the late 70's Jackson was playing more and more in the Chicago North Side clubs and his reputation was growing among this new audience. Sadly it would be too late. Jackson was shot to death by the son of his new bride during an argument and died on July, 1st, 1979.

Related Articles

Lee Jackson Obituary. Blues Unlimited no. 135/136 (Jul/Sep 1979): 30.

-Stephenson, Mike. “The Jody Williams Story.” Blues & Rhythm no. 184 (Nov 2003): 22–26.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Jazz Gillum Roll Dem Bones Jazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-1949
Jazz Gillum You Got to Run Me Down Jazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-1949
Sonny Boy Williamson I Mean Old HighwayLater Years 1939-1947
Sonny Boy Williamson I Shake the Boogie Later Years 1939-1947
Doctor Clayton I Need My Baby Doctor Clayton & His Buddies
Doctor Clayton Ain't Gonna Drink No MoreDoctor Clayton & His Buddies
Doctor Clayton Root Doctor Blues Doctor Clayton & His Buddies
Jazz Gillum Gonna Take My Rap Jazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-1949
Jazz Gillum Hand Reader Blues Jazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-1949
Jazz Gillum The Blues What I Am Jazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-1949
Eddie Boyd Baby What's Wrong With You Eddie Boyd 1947-1950
Eddie Boyd Chicago Is Just That Way Eddie Boyd 1947-1950
Washboard Sam Maybe You Love Me Washboard Sam Vol. 7 1942-1949
Washboard Sam Gamblin' Man Washboard Sam Vol. 7 1942-1949
Sonny Boy Williamson I Wonderful TimeLater Years 1939-1947
Sonny Boy Williamson I Sugar GalLater Years 1939-1947
Tampa Red Big Stars Are Falling Dynamite! The Unsung King Of The Blues
Tampa Red Evalena Dynamite! The Unsung King Of The Blues
Tampa Red Rambler’s Blues Down Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
Big Bill Broonzy & Washboard Sam Romance Without Finance Big Bill Broonzy & Washboard Sam
Big Bill Broonzy & Washboard Sam Little City WomanBig Bill Broonzy & Washboard Sam
Eddie Boyd Just A foolEddie Boyd 1951-1953
Eddie Boyd Four Leaf Clover Eddie Boyd 1951-1953
Eddie Boyd Third DegreeEddie Boyd 1951-1953
Big Bill Broonzy & Washboard Sam Diggin' My Potatoes Big Bill Broonzy & Washboard Sam
Big Bill Broonzy & Washboard Sam JacqulineBig Bill Broonzy & Washboard Sam
Howlin Wolf You Gonna Wreck My Life Smokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters
Howlin Wolf NeighborsSmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters
Howlin Wolf Good Rockin' DaddySmokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters
Jimmy Witherspoon Time Brings About A Change Spoon So Easy
Jimmy Witherspoon T.W.A.Spoon So Easy
Eddie Boyd That's When I Miss You SoEddie Boyd 1951-1953
Eddie Boyd Got Me Seein' DoubleEddie Boyd 1951-1953

Show Notes: 

I Need My BabyToday's program kicks off a series of shows devoted to lesser known Chicago blues artists, some session artists, others who cut a handful of sides under their own name, all who are little remembered outside of die hard collectors. We start today with two exceptional session guitarists active for just a few years in the 40's and 50's, who left their stamp on a batch of classic Chicago blues sessions and worked with some of the same artists. Up first is William James "Bill" Lacey (credited as William Lacey on record) who was an active session guitarist between the years 1946 and 1949 and after a gap returned to play on Tampa red's final commercial sessions in 1953. Lacey was born in Selma, Alabama in 1915 but it's not clear when he came to Chicago. His great guitar work can be heard on records by some of Chicago's biggest stars such as Doctor Clayton, Sonny Boy Williamson I, Eddie Boyd, Washboard Sam, Roosevelt Sykes and others. He also performed vocals and guitar as a member of the Brown Buddies playing popular music and blues to white audiences between 1944–1955. Two sides by that group were issued on 78 although they don't seem to have been reissued. Lacey passed away in Chicago in 1977, an obituary appearing in Living Blues that year.

Echford "Lee" Cooper was a talented guitarist, whose session work revealed a skilled musician who was capable of playing just about anything — at least according to Eddie Boyd, who worked and recorded with him extensively. Boyd also commented that Cooper played Jazz with another popular combo — Zip, Zap & Zoe, and also drummer Kansas City Red. Background on Cooper is sketchy but it's likely he was born in the mid-20's in Mississippi. In the 40's he worked with the Hi-De-Ho Boys (his photo appeared in the Chicago Defender, listed as a guitarist with the Hi-De-Ho Boys), a Jazz group founded in Saint Louis by guitarist Lefty Bates. The bulk of Cooper's session work was done between 1953 and 1954 finding him backing Eddie Boyd, Howlin' Wolf, Big Bill Broonzy & Washboard Sam's on their Chess album, Jimmy Witherspoon and others. Like Lacey, he didn't cut any records under his own name. It seems Cooper passed sometime in the mid to late 1960's.

Today's show does not include everything by the two guitarists; there are some sides that Cooper and Lacey played on where they are not particularly prominent so these sides are omitted for today’s show. Among those left out were sessions Lacey did with Roosevelt Sykes and Arbee Stidham and sides Cooper did with Walter Horton.v220022b4

Jazz Gillum is usually treated with indifference among blues critics, looked upon as a rather generic performer who typified the mainstream Chicago blues style of the 1930's and 40's. While there's some truth to this, Gillum's recordings were consistently entertaining throughout his sixteen-year recording career punctuated with a fair number of exceptional sides. Gillum recorded 100 sides between 1934-49 as a leader in addition to session work with Big Bill Broonzy, Curtis Jones and the State Street Boys. Gillum joined the Army in 1942 and served until 1945. He resumed recording that year and in 1946 cut "Look On Yonder Wall" one of his most famous recordings. Starting in 1946 the brilliant William Lacey took over the guitar chores and his terrific electric work really adds a spark to Gillum's later recordings.

Easily the most important harmonica player of the pre-war era, John Lee Williamson almost single-handedly made the harmonica a major instrument, leading the way for the amazing innovations of Little Walter and others who followed. Sonny Boy signed to Bluebird in 1937 and recorded prolifically for Victor both as a leader and behind others in the vast Lester Melrose stable. Sonny Boy cut more than 120 sides in all for RCA between 1937 to 1947. Lacey appeared on sessions in 1946 and 1947.

Doctor Clayton worked strictly as a vocalist (by some accounts he could play piano and ukulele), employing an impressive falsetto technique, later refined into a powerful, swooping style that was instantly recognizable. In addition he was an unparalleled songwriter, writing mostly original material with a rare wit, intelligence and social awareness. Clayton's vocal style was widely emulated and a number of his songs became blues standards.  After his 1942 sessions the Petrillo ban put a temporary ban on recording activity and Clayton was out of the studio for several years. Clayton got off to a bad start for a February 1946 session when all four numbers were rejected. His next session was in August 1946 with a small group featuring William Lacey on guitar with all six sides issued.

Eddie Boyd made his way to Chicago by 1941 where he backed Sonny Boy Williamson on his 1945 classic "Elevator Woman," also accompanying Bluebird stars Jazz Gillum and Tampa Red on wax. Boyd made his debut in 1947 recording debut for RCA as well; he stayed with Victor through 1949. William Lacey did some session work for Boyd in 1948. Boyd cut "Five Long Years" in 1952 which was released on JOB Records, where it topped the R&B charts during 1952. Al Benson signed Boyd to a contract with his Parrot imprint and promptly sold the pact to Chess. In 1953 he hit big again with Third Degree” featuring Lee Cooper on guitar. Cooper played on several sides with Boyd in 1953 and 1954. In a 1971 interview in Blues Unlimited, Boyd called him the "best" of all the guitarists who played for him, adding, "He could play anything playable."

Jimmy Witherspoon made his debut recordings with Jay McShann in 1945 and 1946. His own first recordings, using McShann's band, resulted in a number one R&B hit in 1949 with "Ain't Nobody's Business, Pts. 1 & 2" on Supreme Records. Live performances of "No Rollin' Blues" and "Big Fine Girl" provided 'Spoon with two more hits in 1950. The mid-'50s were a lean time, with his style of shouting blues temporarily out of fashion; singles were tried for Federal, Chess, Atco, Vee Jay, and others, with little success. Lee Cooper plays guitar on some of Witherspoon's 1954 Chess sides.

Other recordings today feature Lacey playing guitar on Tampa Red's final commercial recordings for RCA on Sept. 1, 1953. Lee Cooper replaced Willie Johnson in Howlin' Wolf's band on a 1954 session resulting in the three terrific songs, all featured today. After Cooper Jody Williams stepped in for a bit. We'll hear from Williams and others on next week's show.

 

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MixcloudJust a head's up that there's no new show this week but there are plenty of older shows to check out. We've been making big strides in getting our older shows uploaded to Mixcloud and currently have over two hundred shows available. Big Road Blues has been on the air since mid-2007 so  as you can imagine there's a large number of shows archived. Eventually we'll have all of them uploaded outside of a few that didn't get recorded due to technical reasons. You can find all the shows on the Mixcloud website and you'll also find an embedded player above each week's post.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
James RussellI Had Five Long YearsPrison Worksongs
Robert Pete WilliamsSome Got Six MonthsAngola Prisoner's Blues
Hogman MaxeyStagoleeAngola Prisoner's Blues
Otis WebsterBoll Weevil BluesCountry Negro Jam Session
Smokey Babe & Sally DotsonYou're Dice Won’t PassCountry Negro Jam Session
Butch Cage & Willie ThomasJelly RollCountry Negro Jam Session
Billie & DeDe PierceNobody Knows When You're Down And OutGulf Coast Piano
Billie & DeDe PierceJelly RollGulf Coast Piano
Speckled RedEarly In The MorningPrimitive Piano
Snooks EaglinCountry Boy Down New OrleansCountry Boy Down New Orleans
Robert Pete WilliamsJust Tippin' InI'm Blues As A Man Can Be
Smokey BabeI’m Goin' Back To MississippiHottest Brand Goin'
Emanuel DunnWorking on the Levee, Pt. 1Prison Worksongs
Guitar WelchHighway 61Angola Prisoner;s Blues
Robert Pete WilliamsMississippi Heavy Water BluesCountry Negro Jam Session
Snooks EaglinMama Don't You Tear My ClothesCountry Boy Down New Orleans
Smokey BabeOcean BluesHottest Brand Goin'
Herman E. JohnsonI Just Keep Wanting YouLouisiana Country Blues
Rev. Rogers, Big Louisiana, & Jose SmithStewballPrison Worksongs
Guitar WelchFast Life WomanAngola Prisoner's Blues
Clarence EdwardsSmokestack Lightnin’Country Negro Jam Session
Robert Pete WilliamsPardon Denied AgainI'm Blues As A Man Can Be
Otis WebsterThe Boss Man BluesCountry Negro Jam Session
Butch Cage & Willie ThomasBugle Call BluesOld-Time Black Southern String Band Music
Odea MatthewsThe Moon Is RisingAngola Prisoner's Blues
Roosevelt CharlesWasn't I Lucky Blues, Prayer, Work & Trouble Songs
Clarence EdwardsYou Don't Love MeCountry Negro Jam Session
A Capella GroupAngola BoundAngola Prisoner's Blues

Show Notes:

oster-thomas-cage
Willie B. Thomas, Harry Oster, and Butch Cage 1960 (photographer: David Gahr)

Harry Oster was teaching at Louisiana State University a well-received lecture on Old World traditional ballads prompted a colleague to suggest that he apply for a grant to collect local folklore. "Before long," he recalled, "I found a profusion of unusual material – ancient French ballads, Cajun dance music, Afro-French spirituals… I got the idea that I should issue with my own funds a long-playing record to be called A Sampler of Louisiana Folk Songs." This and succeeding records such as Folk Songs of the Louisiana Acadians, the first LP of Cajun music, appeared under the auspices of the Louisiana Folklore Society, which Oster created with a couple of friends. Later recordings were on his own label, Folk-Lyric. Oster's greatest discovery came on a trip to the state penitentiary at Angola. Oster found many impressive blues singers, among them Robert Pete Williams. The singer's intense improvised narratives about prison life and the events that had brought him there, were presented to the world on the 1959 album Angola Prisoner's Blues. Oster was also the first to record Snooks Eaglin, the fiddle-and-guitar duo Butch Cage and Willie Thomas, blues guitarist Smokey Babe and Georgia street musician Reverend Pearly Brown. Oster left Louisiana in 1963 to teach at the University of Iowa, where he remained until his retirement in 1993, working on the American Dictionary of Folklore and pursuing his passion of making and disseminating records. His Folk-Lyric catalogue was acquired by Arhoolie Records and has largely been transferred to CD.

jgn10034[1]
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Oster formed his Folk-Lyric label in 1959 and in an interview described the label’s genesis: “Eventually I heard that RCA had a customs pressing plant in Indianapolis and I started sending stuff to them and getting stuff professionally printed. I would send out review copies to major newspapers like New York Times, Down Beat Magazine, Saturday Review, and some newspapers. They gave them good attention and I got in touch with some distributors. My label was essentially one-man operation. I would find performers, record them, edit the tapes, take photographs, write liner notes, etc. I would generally press about 300 copies. I borrowed $5,000 from a bank to subsidize the operation. I also did some assignments for other companies, and that helped finance it also. I did one record for Elektra which was eventually sold to Folkways. I did some for Prestige Bluesville and Prestige International.”

Oster explained to an interviewer his approach to field recording: “I actually operated rather differently than some of people who've found old time blues singers. Usually they track down someone who recorded in '20s or 0s and disappear from sight for a while. I sort of went about it in a quite different way, which in fact produced some interestingly different results, more offbeat performances and more unusual repertoire. Anyhow, I talked to a psychologist who'd done some research in a prison and he suggested I go see the head of institutions for the state and get his permission to get access to the prison and ask him to spell out the specific privileges that I wanted to have, lot of which should be the right to call out a specific convicts, in other words, to get someone excused from work for the day or afternoon so he could be interviewed and recorded by me. The head of institution was quite cooperative and friendly, probably influenced by the fact that I was teaching in a state university. He wrote to the warden and asked him to cooperate with me. The warden was cooperative too and he suggested the good way to proceed would be to start with the recreational director and go down from there. They had a choir of black singers who did spirituals and he said that would be a good place to make contacts. I started there and they gave me some leads on prison work songs and I started going into the different camps. These camps were not maximum security camps and people worked in fields in in daytime.”

robertpete-bluesas
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The recordings on Angola Prisoner’s Blues were recorded in 1959 and 1960 at Camp H in Louisiana’s Angola Prison. An impromptu studio was set up in the tool room. Oster uncovered many fine bluesman like Hogman Maxey, Guitar Welch, Otis Webster, Roosevelt Charles and most importantly Robert Pete Williams. Roosevelt Charles was classified a habitual criminal and spend most of his adult life in prison. Charles was recorded extensively by Oster both in Agola and on the outside in 1959 and 1960. A full album of his recordings appeared on Vanguard which is long out of print with other cuts showing up on various anthologies. Many of his sides remain unissued. Oster considered Charles one of his most gifted finds. Another talented performer was Robert Welch, called “Guitar” and “King of the Blues” by the other convicts and was born in Memphis in 1896. He learned from the records of Lonnie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson and played in bands starting in the late 30’s.

Robert Pete Williams, however, was in a class by himself as Oster wrote in the liner notes: “The blues of Robert Pete Williams are more original, more directly personal, and more evocative in their expression of love, frustration, and despair.” Williams did some playing at house parties in the 30’s. In 1956, Williams shot and killed a man in a local club. Williams claimed the act was in self-defense, but he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was sent to Angola prison, where he served for two years before being discovered by Oster and Richard Allen. The pair recorded Williams performing several of his own songs, which were all about life in prison. Impressed with the guitarist's talents, Oster and Allen pleaded for a pardon for Williams. The pardon was granted in 1959, after he had served a total of three and a half years. For the first five years after he left prison, Williams could only perform in Lousiana, but his recordings — which appeared on Folk-Lyric, Arhoolie, and Prestige, among other labels — were popular and he received positive word of mouth reviews. In 1964, Williams played his first concert outside of Louisiana — it was a set at the legendary Newport Folk Festival. Williams' performance was enthusiastically received and he began touring the United States, often playing shows with Mississippi Fred McDowell. During the 60’s and 70’s he performed at several festival including the 1966 American Folk Blues Festival. He passed in 1980.

The album Prison Worksongs focuses on recordings of worksongs recorded in Agola Prison and on the outside between 1959 and 1963. By this point the prison worksong was a dying tradition but Oster managed to record some fine material. "I’'ve always been fascinated with black worksongs, “ Oster recalled, “group work songs, and I had heard that they were essentially extinct in the regular world because of mechanization of farming, and the only place to find them would be in southern prison farms. I decided it would be a good idea to do some recordings in the prison camp in Angola, and I made my first trip there in 1957.”

prison-worksongs
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The songs on the album Country Negro Jam Session were recorded in Southwestern Louisiana between 1959 and 1962, some in Angola Prison, others at house parties around Baton Rouge (the remaining 5 titles on CD reissue were recorded by Chris Strachwitz and Paul Oliver in 1960). In it's earliest incarnation, the first 14 tracks of the 25 title program were released on Dr. Oster's now-defunct Folk Lyric label, and then re-released on Arhoolie intact after Chris Strachwitz purchased the Folk Lyric catalog. Oster did a series of field recordings, informal jams with a group of obscure blues men and women, only one of whom, Robert Pete Williams, won fame. Otis Webster was recorded extensively by Oster in 1959 and 1960 all in Angola Prison. Many of the sides remain unissued. Willie B. Thomas (vocal & guitar) and James ‘Butch' Cage (vocal & fiddle) make up a good part of Country Negro Jam Session. The duo’s string band music is reminiscent of Peg Leg Howell and his gang and the two play not only blues but also pop, and religious music. They also back singer/guitarist Clarence Edwards on several numbers. Butch Cage was born in 1894 near Meadville, MS, and whom Oster describes aptly in the liner notes as "a great representative of the now virtually extinct 19th century black fiddle tradition", while Willie B. Thomas was born near Lobdell, LA in 1912.

Born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, Robert Brown AKA Smoky Babe had found his way to Scotlandville, Louisiana by the age of 20. It was there that Oster recorded him on several occasions between 1959-1961 with material appearing on the labels Folk-Lyric, Storyville and Bluesville. As Oster wrote in the liner notes to his Bluesville album: “In February 1960 I was present at a jam session in Scotlandville at the house of the sister of Robert Pete Williams, Mable Lee. …Smoky, who lives a short distance from Mable Lee Williams, swaggered in – a muscular wiry man of about 5’ 8”, wearing a hat tilted at a rakish angle. His guitar was in pawn so I loaned him mine. As soon as he played a few bars, rich, full, resonant, and excitedly rhythmic, I knew here was an outstanding bluesman.” Nothing is know about his later life.

New Orleans pianist and singer Billie Pierce played jazz and blues with her cornetist husband Dede. The two recorded and toured extensively in the 1950’s and 60’s. Oster issued an LP of them titled Gulf Coast Blues with some other titles appearing on the anthology Primitive Piano that also has tracks by Bat Robinson and Speckled Red. Billie Pierce was a marvelous blues, ragtime, and jazz pianist and a very expressive singer who grew up in Florida where she accompanied Bessie Smith at a Pensacola theatre in the early 1920s. She later moved to New Orleans where she played professionally in honky tonks and later spent much time working for Preservation Hall and touring all over the world with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Her husband, De De Pierce was one of the most joyful and powerful New Orleans trumpeters as well as a superb vocalist specializing in the unique, regional Creole French patois.

countrynegro
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Blind from boyhood, Snooks Eaglin played everything he heard on records and the radio, be it jazz, blues, pop or country. When not playing R&B in the New Orleans clubs, Eaglin busked with an acoustic guitar, which is how Harry Oster first encountered him. Besides issuing an LP of Eaglin’s on his Folk-Lyric label, Oster licensed material to other companies with material appearing on labels like Storyille and Bluesville. In an interview Oster recalls how he came across Eaglin: “I heard of him through Richard B. Allen who was first associate curator and then curator of the Jazz Archive in the Tulane University. He had encountered Snooks Eaglin who was young blind man singing on the porch of his house. Snooks Eaglin was different than performers like Robert Pete Williams for example. He actually was not a real specialist in blues, he was a popular performer and he wanted to be more popular. And he was. But he could do a lot of blues and he had a wonderful memory. His father said that he didn't really make up songs. He was like a mockingbird, he had everybody's song but his own.”

Other artists featured today include Herman E. Johnson of Scotlandville who was recorded in 1961 and Clarence Edwards. Johnson's tracks appeared on the LP Louisiana Country Blues alongside sides by Smoky Babe. Born near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Clarence Edwards began playing blues in the area in his teens. He was taped by Oster between 1959 and 1962 and by Chris Strachwitz for Arhoolie in 1970. He quit music for a stretch and cut his debut album in 1990. He did festival appearances in the US and Europe before his death in 1993.

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