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Show Notes:

What Makes A Tom Cat Blue?Today’s show is the third installment of an ongoing series of programs built around a particular year. The bulk of the information for today’s show notes comes from the books Recording The Blues (reprinted along with two other titles in Yonder Come The Blues) by Robert M.W. Dixon and John Godrich and Blues & Gospel Records, 1890-1943 by Robert M.W. Dixon, John Godrich and Howard Rye.

The first year we spotlighted was 1927 which was the beginning of a blues boom that would last until 1930; there were just 500 blues and gospel records issued in 1927 and increase of fifty percent from 1926 a trend that would continue until the depression. The average blues or gospel record had sales in the region of 10,000. In 1928 the figure was 1,000 or so lower which was still a thriving market. Paramount, the market leader at the time, brought talent up to their northern studios. To feed the demand other record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent, which included making trips down south with field recording units. Between 1927-1930 Atlanta was visited seventeen times, Memphis eleven times, Dallas eight times, New Orleans seven times and so on. The record companies advertised their record in black newspapers, mainly in the Chicago Defender, which was the nation’s most influential black weekly newspaper.

During 1929 Victor and Bluebird were involved in field recording in Dallas where they recorded Jesse Thomas, Bessie Tucker among others and in Memphis where they recorded the Memphis Jug Band, Frank Stokes, Cannon's Jug Stompers and others and in Atlanta they recorded Blind Willie McTell among a couple others. Columbia and Okeh headed into the field and stopped in Atlanta where they recorded Lillian Glinn, Peg Leg Howell, Barbecue Bob, Sloppy Henry, Hambone, Ed Bell,  Willie Newbern, and in San Antonio they recorded Texas Alexander, Little Hat Jones, Whistlin' Alex Moore,  Oak Cliff T-Bone (T-Bone Walker) and others. Brunswick and Vocalion ventured in the field to record Leola Manning in Knoxville, Tennessee, Furry Lewis, Speckeld Red, Garfield Akers, Jim Jackson and Joe Callicott in Memphis and Lottie Kimbrough and others in Kansas City, Kansas.

Tampa Red's  "It's Tight Like That" was a huge hit in 1928 and was played and copied everywhere. He was in such demand that in 1929 he had 17 new records issued, all on Vocalion. According to Recording The Blues: "Victor and Columbia continued to concentrate on their country blues artists, and gave no signs of noticing that a new urban style was sweeping Chicago. But Paramount, as always, lost no time in exploiting the new craze. They created a group called 'The Hokum Boys' (first recorded in December 1928, only a week or two after It's Tight Like That was released) that had a variable personnel and specialized in Tampa-Red-type numbers – tunes like "Beedle Um Bum", "Somebody's Been Using That Thing" and  "It's All Worn Out."

Masked Marvel Ad

Tampa's nearest rivals were Blind Blake and Leroy Carr, with 10 apiece, and Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson, who had 9 each. Tampa was also a much in demand Session artist, heard on today's program backing Lil Johnson on "House Rent Scuffle" and Romeo Nelson on "Head Rag Hop." From the year's other popular artists we spin Blind Blake "Georgia Bound", Leroy Carr's "Naptown Blues" and Blind Lemon Jefferson's "That Crawlin' Baby Blues."

The most recorded artist of 1929 was Charlie Patton for Paramount. Paramount's New york studio having closed down in 1926, artists continued to record in Chicago until, in 1929 new studios were opened in Grafton, Wisconsin; by the Garfield Akers: Cottonfield Bluesend of the year all recordings were made here. Paramount recorded some of the greatest blues performances of the era and full credit should go to talent scouts like Henry C. Spier, a music store owner from Jackson, Mississippi. Speir scoured the south for talent and was responsible for getting Son House, Skip James and Charlie Patton on record. Paramount asked Gennett to record 14 tunes by Patton at their Richmond, Indiana studio in June 1929. "Pony Blues" b/w "Banty Rooster Blues" was the first issued. The coupling was a hit and Paramount labeled his second release, "Screamin' And Hollerin' The Blues", as by The Masked Marvel. The advert bore a drawing of a blindfolded singer and the clue that this was an exclusive paramount artists. Anyone guessing his identity would get a free Paramount record of their choice.  In all, Patton recorded 38 numbers for Paramount in 1929,  some issued the following year, with two gospel songs issued under the pseudonym Elder J.J. Hadley.

Among the notable artists who made their debut in 1929 were Clifford Gibson who recorded 10 sides for QRS and 12 sides for Victor later in the year. "Don't Put That Thing On Me" from his November 1929 session was advertised in the April 26th, 1930 edition of the Chicago Defender.  Also debuting that year was Garfield Akers backed by Joe Callicott who waxed the classic "Cottonfield Blues" Pts. 1 & 2 for Vocalion which was advertised in the February 2nd, 1930 Chicago Defender. Don Kent praised "Cottonfield Blues," saying "only a handful of guitar duets in all blues match the incredible drive, intricate rhythms and ferocious intensity." He also called Akers "one of the greatest vocalists in blues history." Other debuts included the mysterious but excellent Gene Campbell, terrific barrelhouse  players Romeo Nelson and Montana Taylor and  singer Lil Johnson among others. Others who made their debut will be spotlighted on a follow-up show including Roosevelt Sykes, Henry Townsend, Speckled Red, Sleepy Johns Estes and others. 1929 was a very good year for barrelhouse piano and in addition to those mentioned, we also play classic performances by Bob Call, Blind Leroy Garnett, Lonnie Clark and Eddie Miller. Others will be spotlight on sequels including Cow Cow Davenport, Will Ezell, Wesley Wallace, Pine Top Smith and several others.


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Show Notes:

Big Joe WilliamsAs protégé David "Honeyboy" Edwards described him, Big Joe Williams in his early Delta days was a walking musician who played work camps, jukes, store porches, streets, and alleys from New Orleans to Chicago. He recorded through five decades for Vocalion, Okeh, Paramount, Bluebird, Prestige, Delmark, and many others. Big Joe was born in Crawford, MS and settled in St. Louis by 1925 where he married blues singer Bessie Mae Smith and worked with Walter Davis, Robert Lee McCoy and Henry Townsend. Little is known of his early years although by he apparently began traveling young, supposedly running away from home to join the Rabbit Foot Minstrels.  Along the way he worked the lumber mills, levee camps, plantations, gambling dens and brothels. By the late 20’s he earned a considerable reputation in Mississippi. Honeyboy recalls his first sight of Big Joe: "…Big Joe Williams was playing at Black Rosie's dance. Joe wasn't wasn't nothing but a hobo then, running down the streets. I went over to Rosie's and there he was playing. He was in his thirties, had a red handkerchief around his neck, and he was playing a little pearl-necked Stella guitar; he was playing the blues. He played "Highway 49", and I just stood and looked at him. I hadn't heard a man play the blues like that! …Nine strings, he always had those nine strings on his guitar. That's something he invented himself. He bored holes at the top of the neck of the guitar and made himself a nine-string guitar. That's what he played all the time." …He was playing "Brother James", all of them old numbers like that. "Brother James", "Highway 49", Stack O' Dollars."  …'Baby Please Don't Go", Milkcow Blues."

In St. Louis it was Walter Davis who got Big Joe signed to Bluebird as well as Robert Lee McCoy. Bg Joe’s first session for Bluebird, on February 25, 1935, yielded 6 tunes. This initial session finds Joe playing solo except for  "Somebody's Been Borrowing That Stuff" with Henry Townsend on second guitar. Joe wouldn't be heard solo on record again for some time. As John Miller noted: "Big Joe's playing on these two sessions is quite amazing.  Everything is in Open G tuning, so a certain sameness of tonality and very pared back harmonic content results, but Joe's rhythmic imagination and ability to execute his ideas in the moment has never been equaled in this genre.  His right hand approach combines powerful thumb popping of bass notes and lines with vigorous runs in the treble and an array of strumming and brushing techniques that has to be heard to be believed." The second session, on October 31, 1935, resulted in four more tunes, and was done with a line-up of Joe joined by Dad Tracy on one-string fiddle and Chasey Collins on washboard. That second session included the first recorded version of “Baby Please Don’t Go.” Big Joe backed Chasey Collins on two numbers at the same date; "Atlanta Town" and "Walking Blues" are superbly sung blues with excellent playing by Joe and makes one wish Collins had recorded more.

Rootin' Ground Hog 78Sonny Boy I and Big Joe first recorded together May 5, 1937. This was a marathon recording session. Robert Lee McCoy cut six sides at this session with backing by Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Joe Williams. The May 5th sessions were also Sonny Boy Williamson's first and Nighthawk and Joe Williams backed him on this legendary session that produced such enduring classics as "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Blue Bird Blues" and "Sugar Mama". In addition Big Joe Williams recorded eight sides under his own name with Nighthawk and Sonny Boy backing him and Nighthawk also backed Walter Davis on an eight-song session. Big Joe backed Sonny Boy again for two sessions in March and June 1939 which yielded 18 sides.

In the 1940’s Sonny Boy backed Big Joe on sessions on March and June 1941. Big Joe and Sonny Boy reunited for a four-song session together on July 12, 1945 with Jump Jackson on drums and a twelve-song session on July 22 1947 with Ransom Knowling on bass and Judge Riley on drums. As Tony Russell noted about these sessions: "The half-dozen tracks they cut at a session in 12/41, including definitive interpretations of '[Baby] Please Don't Go', "Highway 49' and 'Someday Baby',  confirm them as one of the great blues partnerships. They continued recording together until 1947, the delicate architecture of their duets solidly buttressed by bass and drums. It isn't off said, but it seems likely that driving trio and quartet sides like 'Drop Down Blues' (1945) or 'King Biscuit Stomp' (1947) were listened to attentively by some of the younger musicians then finding their voice in Chicago's clubs or on Maxwell Street."

As Big Joe sailed into the 50's, recording opportunities weren't as plentiful probably due to the fact he did nothing to update his sound to the changing musical times. Among the most notable recordings was an eight-song session in 1951 cut for the Jackson, MS based Trumpet label. Joe is in terrific form on numbers like "Delta Blues", the evocative "Whistling Pines" and "Over Hauling Blues." In the 50’s he also recorded for Specialty and Vee-Jay. Just prior to the folk-blues boom, Big Joe recorded extensively for Delmark at sessions in 1958 and 1961. Piney Woods Blues and Stavin’ Chain are among his best from this period, both recorded at the beginning of 1958 and feature the excellent J.D. Short who was a cousin of Big Joe.

Piney Woods BluesBy the 1960's Joe was became much in demand as the blues revival picked up steam. He performed at festivals, clubs and coffeehouses through the country as well as playing overseas as part of the American Folk Blues Festival. He recorded prolifically during this period for labels such as Bluesville, Spivey, Storyville, Folkways, Testament, Takoma, Arhoolie, Adelphi among others.  Among his best albums from the 1960's  are Tough Times on Arhoolie which has been reissued on CD as Shake Your Boogie which adds some tracks from a 1969 session. He recorded songs like "Mean Stepfather" and "Brother James" before but rarely as powerful as these versions. We play several interesting sides from the 1960's including a pair from Blues Roots: The Mississippi Blues Vol. 1 on Storyville recorded circa 1964/65. These sides were recorded in St. Louis and Chicago by Pete Welding. Most of these men like Coot Venson and Arthur Weston were musical associates of Big Joe while Bert and Russ Logan were uncles of his.

Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Lightnin' Hopkins and Big Joe Williams were involved in a jam session for World Pacific cut in Los Angles in 1960. This material has been reissued under many titles including Down South Summit Meetin', First Meetin’, Southern Meetin’ among others. They also recorded together live at the Ash Grove in Hollywood in 1961 which was issued as Blues Hoot. From these sessions we spin "Ain’t Nothin’ Like Whiskey" and "Blues For Gamblers."

Also from this period we spotlight Big Joe's pal Shortstuff Macon. The liner notes to his Folkways album had this to say: "Short Stuff has now begun traveling the sparse and fickle concert circuit with Big Joe Wiilliams, who, in a trip back to Mississippi, 'discovered' him, liked his 'deep down' music, remembered his father and mother, and decided to take him with him. Since then, the two bluesmen have been making do with whatever work they could get—living from day to day, hour to hour, on the whims and generosity (sometimes curiosity) of friends interested in blues, college student aficionados, and the small, folk record companies." That comes from  the notes to Hell Bound And Heaven Sent in 1964 with backing from Big Joe. From that album we spin the excellent "Short Stuff's Corrina." The same year they cut sides for the Spivey label which were issued on a album called Mr. Shortstuff. He appears again on the album Goin’ Back to crawfor4Crawford from 1971. Goin’ Back to Crawford was produced by Big Joe in his hometown of Crawford, MS in 1971 by gathering talented relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances to hopefully present their songs to the wider world. Big Joe performs on seven of his own tracks and backs several of the artists including Shortstuff Macon who died two years after these recordings.

In the 1970's Big Joe continued to record for labels like Storyville, Sonet, Bluesway, L+R and others. By 1982 he was back in Mississippi where he passed in December of that year. Joe was buried in a private cemetery outside Crawford near the Lowndes County line. His headstone was primarily paid for by friends and partially funded by a collection taken up among musicians at Clifford Antone's nightclub in Austin, Texas, organized by California music writer Dan Forte, and erected through the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund on October 9, 1994. Joe's old pal Charlie Musselwhite, delivered the eulogy at the unveiling. Williams' headstone epitaph proclaims him "King of the 9 String Guitar."



Show Notes:

An varied set of blues on today's program including some notable female singers,  several fine piano players and some fascinating field recordings. We spin two today tracks by the great Sippie Wallace that were cut almost forty years apart. From 1929 we play Sippie's magnificent, swaggering "I'm A Mighty Tight Woman" featuring Johnny Dodds on clarinet which outshines her original version cut three years prior.  We jump ahead to 1966 for "Woman Be Wise" from the album of the same name. These recordings are recorded on tour in Denmark with Little Brother Montgomery and if anything Sippie sounds stronger than she does on her earlier recordings. Wallace was born and raised in Houston and as a child  sang and played piano in church. Before she was in her teens, she began performing with her pianist brother Hersal Thomas. By the time she was in her mid-teens, she had left Houston to pursue a musical career. In 1923, Sippie, Hersal, and their older brother George moved to Chicago. By the end of the year, she had secured a contract with OKeh Records. Her first two songs for the label, "Shorty George" and "Up the Country Blues," were hits and Sippie soon magpie-4451-frontbecame a star. Sippie’s recordings featured jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Eddie Heywood, King Oliver, and Clarence Williams; both Hersal and George Thomas performed on Sippie's records as well. Between 1923 and 1927, she recorded over 40 songs for OKeh. She stopped performing in the 30’s and outside of a couple of sides in 1945 didn’t return to performing until the 60’s. She continued to perform and record until shortly before her death in 1986.

Among the featured piano blues today is a terrific solo version of  "Up the Country Blues" by Little Brother Montgomery. This recording comes from the album The Piano Blues – Unissued Recordings Vol. 1 on Magpie, a collection of recordings made in 1960 in England. Other pianists spotlighted include Leroy Carr, Peetie Wheatstraw, Cripple Clarence Lofton, Detroit Count, Cleo Brown and Dan Burley. Carr's "I Ain't Got No Money Now" cut in 1934 is a beautifully sung depression era gem set to the template of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out." Peetie Wheatstraw is exuberant on the rocking "Shack Bully Stomp"  from 1938 backed by Lonnie Johnson. Sung by red Nelson, "Crying Mother Blues", is a moving, poetic number underpinned by the rolling boogie piano of Cripple Clarence Lofton:

Dear mother's dead and gone to glory, my old dad gone straight away (2x)
Only way to meet my mother, I will have to change my lowdown ways

Tombstones my pillow, graveyard gonna be my bed (2x)
Blue skies gonna be my blanket and the pale moon gonna be my spread

We jump ahead to the late 1940's for tracks by the Detroit Count, Cleo Brown and Dan Burley. African-Americans began arriving in droves in Detroit by the 1920’s, most settling in an area called Black Bottom, later named Paradise Valley. Some of the earliest blues took place in the bars, brothels and house parties in Paradise Valley. One who played in those joints was the Detroit Count,the stage name of pianist Bob White who arrived in Detroit in 1938. He made his name with his 1948 song “Hastings Street Opera” a humorous description of the people and places of the famous street. He cut a total of six songs in 1948 plus a pair of unissued sides for King. our selection, "Detroit Boogie", is a storming update of the classic "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie." Dan Burley was a strong pianist who cut his teeth in the Chicago rent parties and barrelhouses, a sound reflected in 1946's " Fishtail Blues" back by Brownie and Sticks McGhee. Cleo Brown, made recordings in the '30s and '40s, then entered the studios once again in the late '80s after being rediscovered living in Colorado. Following the family move to Chicago in 1919, she began formal studies music on piano. By the early '20s, she was working professionally in clubs and tent shows as well as broadcasting live with her own regular radio show. By the early '30s, she was well-established and for the next two decades she worked almost non-stop, performing in cities across the United States and holding forth regularly in clubs such as New York's Three Deuces. She recorded prolifically in 1935-36 for Decca and made further sessions in 1949, 50 and 51.

Negro Songs Of ProtestAmong the field recordings played on today's program are a trio of marvelous recordings made by Lawrence Gellert of unnamed/documented singers. According to Gellert's notes some of these recordings were recorded in Greenville, South Carolina in 1924. It seems likely that these recordings are actually from the 30's although according to eyewitnesses Gellert was indeed recording in South Carolina in 1924. Other recordings hail from Atlanta, Georgia and date from 1928 through 1932. As one reviewer noted: "The most interesting thing about these two albums was the outspokenness of the songs against authority." Gellert was accepted as an insider in the African American communities in which he worked and was able to record protest songs that eluded other collectors of the time.” "Boogie Lovin'" is the first of eight pieces apparently played by the same guitarist.  As Bruce Harrah-Conforth wrote in the notes to a collection of these recordings: "Through his collection we get a chance to examine blues as they were performed within the Black community, as influenced by, and as influence to the 'race record' industry. In all probability the people Gellert recorded never went on to become anything more than what they were, members of their community. As such, the music they made is really the folk blues: blues without the intervention of commercial urbanity." There are many more recordings by Gellert that have yet to be issued. Some of these recordings appear on the Document collection Field Recordings, Vol. 9: Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky (1924-1939) (this includes all the recordings on the album Nobody Knows My Name issued on the Heritage label in 1984). Gellert's initial release of these recordings was originally prepared for release on the Timely label titled Negro Songs of Protest but jackets were never printed and the only copies of the record which left Gellert's apartment went to friends or to others who had heard about it by word of mouth; the total was about 40 discs. This material was issued on LP by Rounder in the 70's with a follow-up album in the 80's titled Cap'n You're So Mean.

Other field recordings include some wonderful stringband music from Butch Cage and Willie B. Thomas recorded by Henry Oster in 1959, Blind Willie McTell performing "Delia" for Alan Lomax in 1940 in an Atlanta hotel room for John Lomax and Furry Lewis in fine form on "East St. Louis Blues" in 1968 from the album At Home In Memphis. We also hear the lone recording by Hayes McMullen who was interviewed and recorded by blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow. McMullen knew several of the early delta bluesman such as William Harris, Charlie Patton, Willie Brown and Ishman Bracey. We also hear from Lum Guffin who was first recorded in the 1970’s by Swedish researcher Bengt Olsson when he was 70 and again in 1980 by Axel Kunster for the Living Country Blues series. The LP Walking Victrola was his sole record, released on the Flyright label in 1973. Some of these recordings appear on the CD On The Road Again.

wee-willieFrom the 1950's we spin tracks by Larry Darnell and Wee Willie Wayne who both recorded in New Orleans. We spin Wayne's wailing "Tend To Your Business", his only hit which reached # 2 on the Billboard R&B charts in 1951.  In the mid-40's Darnell settled in New Orleans, working in the Dew Drop Inn. One night in 1949 Darnell's act was caught by Fred Mendelsohn, co-founder and A&R director for the Regal record label who was in town scouting for new talent. He later recalled: "Darnell was doing a song called 'I'll Get Along Somehow' originally popularized by Andy Kirk. He added a recitation that sent the dames screaming and hollering." Darnell was hired on the spot where three titles were cut in early September 1949. Presented in two parts, "I'll Get Along Somehow" made it to number two on the Billboard R&B chart not long after "For You My Love" hit number one and scored a few other hits along the way. After Regal folded he bounced through labels like Okeh, Savoy, Deluxe Argo and others. He passed in 1984. Our selection, "Sundown", is a great showcase for his powerful pipes featuring some excellent backing vocals. Also from the 1950's are great tracks by Brownie McGhee, John Lee Hooker,  Helen Humes and B.B. King among others.

Also worth mention are recordings featuring Stovepipe No. 1.  Stovepipe No. 1 was Sam Jones who played harmonica, guitar and stovepipe. Possibly born in the 1880’s he  spent his life in Cincinnati. He cut a dozen sides in 1924, with several unissued, plus a few sides in 1927. He recorded as a one man band, with guitarist David Crockett and with the jug bands; King David’s Jug Band cut six sides in 1930 and most likely the Cincinnati Jug Band.


Bumble Bee SlimSail On, Little Girl, Sail OnThe Essential
Bumble Bee SlimBricks In My PillowThe Essential
Bumble Bee SlimPolicy Dream BluesThe Essential
Bumble Bee SlimEverybody's FishingThe Essential
Johnnie TempleLead Pencil BluesThe Essential
Johnnie TempleGonna Ride 74The Essential
Johnnie TempleBig Leg WomanThe Essential
Johnnie TempleDown In MississippiThe Essential
Bill GaitherPains In My HeartThe Essential
Bill GaitherPins And NeedlesBill Gaither Vol. 1 1935-1936
Bill GaitherTired Of Your Line Of JiveThe Essential
Joe PullumBlack Gal What Makes Your Head So Hard?Joe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Joe PullumCows, See That Train Comin'Joe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Joe PullumHustler's BluesJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Doctor ClaytonDoctor Clayton BluesDoctor Clayton 1935-1942
Doctor ClaytonWatch Out MamaDoctor Clayton 1935-1942
Doctor ClaytonCheating And Lying BluesDoctor Clayton 1935-1942
Doctor ClaytonGotta Find My BabyDoctor Clayton 1935-1942
Bumble Bee SlimRamblin' With That WomanThe Essential
Bumble Bee SlimThis Old Life I’m LivingThe Essential
Bumble Bee SlimFast Life BluesThe Essential
Johnnie TempleGood Time Suzie (Rusty Knees)The Essential
Johnnie TempleBelieve My Sins Have Found Me OutBroke, Black & Blue
Johnnie TempleOlds 98Chicago Boogie
Bill GaitherTee-Ninecy Mama (Little Sweet Mama)Bill Gaither Vol. 4 1939
Bill GaitherStoney Lonesome GraveyardBill Gaither Vol. 2 1936-1938
Bill GaitherI'm Behind The 8 Ball NowThe Essential
Joe PullumHard-Working Man BluesJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Joe PullumMississippi Flood BluesJoe Pullum Vol. 1 1934-1935
Joe PullumIce Man BluesJoe Pullum Vol. 2 1935-1951
Doctor ClaytonAin't No Business We Can DoDoctor Clayton 1935-1942
Doctor ClaytonOn the Killin' FloorDoctor Clayton 1935-1942
Doctor ClaytonAngels In HarlemDoctor Clayton & His Buddies
Doctor ClaytonDoctor Clayton & His Buddies

Show Notes:

Today’s program spotlights five popular blues artists of the 1930’s and 40’s, some who represent something of the mainstream blues sound of the period while others are more indvidulistic; Bumble Bee Slim, Bill Gaither, Joe Pullum , Doctor Clayton and Johnnie Temple. The death of hugely popular Leroy Carr in 1935 was a profound shock to the blues world. Carr had a lasting influence on may blues artists including Amos Easton, who went by Bumble Bee Slim and Bill Gaither who called himself “Leroy’s Buddy.”  Both men recorded extensively throughout the 1930’s. Joe Pullum scored a massive hit with “Black Gal What Makes Your Head So Hard?” but despite strong material his subsequent sides didn’t sell well. Pullum was one of the most original vocalists of the 30’s and the same can be said of singer Doctor Clayton in the 1940’s. Clayton’s records sold well  and his recordings and style highly influential.  Johnnie Temple was a significant player in the “race” record business in the 1930’s and 40’s, scoring sizable hits with “Louise Louise Blues” and “Big Leg Woman.”

Bricks In My Pillow 78Bumble Bee Slim was a prolific singer who was one of the most-recorded and best-selling blues artists of the 1930s. His work exemplifies the beginnings of what came to be known as the Chicago style. Yet as Bill Barlow writes in  Looking Up At Down, that although he was the "most prolific" blues artist of the period he "had the least impact on Chicago's blues culture, in part because, he never lived there for long." He was born Amos Easton in Brunswick on May 7, 1905. When he was about fifteen, Easton joined the Ringling Brothers' circus and traveled around the South and Midwest for two years. Returning to Georgia, he worked at a variety of jobs and was married briefly before heading north on a freight train. In 1928 he settled in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he most likely met pianist Leroy Carr, who with guitarist Scrapper Blackwell formed one of the most innovative blues duos of the period. Easton, now using the stage name Bumble Bee Slim, was impressed by Carr's singing and by Blackwell's guitar technique. A solid singer and excellent songwriter, Slim owed a large part of his success in his ability to emulate  Leroy Carr. He was, alas, derivative and as Paul Oliver noted his music seemed merely an “echo” of Carr’s “fatalism.” Slim issued a few tribute records dedicated to Carr: "The Death of Leroy Carr", "Last Respects" and "My Old Pal Blues." In the latter he sings:

I woke up this morning, couldn't hardly get out of my bed (2x)
When I heard the news, that Leroy Carr was dead
I run to the window, and I fold back the blind (2x)
I stood there wondering, and just could not keep from crying

After refining his skills by playing halls and rent parties, Slim moved to Chicago, where he made his first record, "Chain Gang Bound," for Paramount Records in 1931. The following year his song "B&O Blues" was a hit for Vocalion Records. "I made my audition… down at 666 [S.] Lake Shore Drive on the 11th floor" Slim recalled. The "contract "wasn't much. It couldn't be, 'cause in those days you could buy a record for 25 cents" The deal called for "forty tunes a year." Between 1934 and 1937 Slim recorded more than 170 titles. His regular backing band included pianists Jimmie Gordon, Myrtle Jenkins, Black Bob, Honey Hill, or, on occasion, Peetie Wheatstraw. Willie Bee James was a regular on guitar but he also employed Casey Bill Weldon, Big Bill Broonzy, Bill Gaither and Scrapper Blackwell. In 1934 he did some sessions with Carl Martin and Ted Bogan. Howard Armstrong, who worked with Martin and Bogan,  refered to Slim as "one of those good old Georgia boys… well liked, nice looking… a prolific songwriter" who "overnight would write two songs sometimes. " Several of Slim's songs have been revived including "Sail On Little Girl, Sail On", "Brick In My Pillow", "Everybody's Fishing" among others.

By 1937 Slim had become frustrated with the record business. He returned to Georgia, then relocated to Los Angeles, California, in the early 1940s, apparently hoping to break into motion pictures. He soon went back to blues music, however. Moving back to Los Angles he cut four sides for the Specialty label with two appearing on it’s sister imprint, Fidelity in 1951. An ad appeared in the September 1951 issue of Billboard: "Blues singer Amos Easton has come out of retirement and inked a five year term pact with Specialty Records. Diskery's first sides on the warbler are Strange Angel and Lonesome Trail Blues and will be on the racks September 10." Those were followed by two more before he made his final recording, the album Bumble Bee Slim: Back In Town, for Pacific Jazz in 1962. He died of Pneumonia on June 8, 1968.


Blues guitarist Bill Gaither cut well over a hundred sides for Decca and OKeh between 1931 and 1941. Gaither was close to the blues pianist Leroy Carr, and following Carr's death in 1935, he recorded under the moniker Leroy's Buddy for a time. A fine guitarist who possessed a warm, expressive voice, Gaither was also at times a gifted and inventive lyricist. He was often partnered with pianist George "Honey" Hill, and the duo patterned themselves after Carr and his guitarist, Scrapper Blackwell. Among Gaither's many sides are three tributes to Carr: " "Leroy Carr's Blues,"  "Life of Leroy Carr" and "After the Sun's Gone Down." In The latter he sings:

It was in the evening, it was in the evening we used to talk face to face
When Leroy Carr told me, someday you'll have to take my place

Gaither was a fine singer and as Tony Russell notes "made the bulk of his recordings before he was 30, and his voice never lost the freshness of youth, so that when he sings reflective numbers in the Carr idiom he often sounds like Carr's sunnier younger brother." Gaither was clearly attuned to the musical trends of the day with "Bad Luck Child" in the mold of Joe Pullum's hit “Black Gal What Makes Your Head So Hard?” , alludes to Bumble Bee Slim's hit "Bricks In My Pillow" in his "Gravel In My Bread", updates Johnnie Temple's "Big Leg Woman" with "Another Big Leg Woman" and faithfully covers Big Maceo's "Worried Life Blues." He was capable of transcending imitation as evidenced on worthy compositions like the jaunty "Pins And Needles" and "Bloody Eyed Woman" and more melancholy fare like  "Rocky Mountain Blues", "Pains In My Heart", "Old Coals Will Kindle", "Stony Lonesome Graveyard" and the insightful topical blues of  "I'm Behind The 8 Ball Now." In 1940 Gaither returned to Louisville where he ran a radio repair shop. Army service overseas in 1942-1945 left him with a nervous condition that prevented him from making music. He went back to Indianapolis where he worked in a cafe. He died in 1970.

temple-docBorn and raised in Mississippi, Johnny Temple learned to play guitar and mandolin as a child. By the time he was a teenager, he was playing house parties and various other local events. He was part of a vibrant the 1920’s Jackson, MS scene, a city  teeming with artists such as Tommy Johnson, Walter Vincson, Ishmon Bracey, the Chatmon Brothers, Skip James and Rube Lacey. Often, he performed with Charlie and Joe McCoy and also worked with Skip James. Temple moved to Chicago in the early 30’s, where he quickly became part of the town’s blues scene.  In 1935, Temple began his recording career, releasing “Louise Louise Blues”, his biggest hit, the following year on Decca Records. He also recorded "Lead Pencil Blues" at his first session a song that was the first to employ the bottom-string boogie bass figure generally credited to Robert Johnson. Although he never achieved stardom, Temple’s records sold consistently throughout the late 30’s and 40’s. He had another sizable hit with 1938's "Big Leg Woman." While Temple's recordings became somewhat formulaic, his delivery, as Tony Russell notes set him apart: "with its Southern accent, pronounced vibrato and momentary octave laps at word-endings, was set against urbane small-group settings giving his records a character that distinguished them from much contemporary blues." He never fully shook off regional style of Jackson, singing numerous references to the city at his debut session and paid tribute to his roots in songs like Skip James' "The Evil Devil Blues" (a version "Devil Got My Woman") and "Cherry Ball Blues", "Mississippi Woman's Blues" with its similarities to Ishmon Bracey's "Saturday Blues" and the nostalgic "Down In Mississippi." As David Evans describes him in his liner notes as "someone who gave further life to a highly idiosyncratic and regional music and exposed elements of it to a larger audience that could never have been reached by its original creators." Several of Temple's songs have been oft-covered including "Lead Pencil Blues", "Louise, Louise",  "Big Leg Woman" and "Gonna Ride 74."

In 1946 Temple cut some up-to-date sides for King with trumpet, tenor and piano, several of which were only issued decades later. In 1947 he cut an acetate of just himself on guitar for the Ora Nelle label, “Olds “98” Blues”, which Tony Russell notes "has some of the rockabilly drive of an early Sun recording." In 1950 he cut a lone 78 for Miracle and cut some unissued songs for Chess. In the 1950’s, Temple’s recording career stopped, but he continued to perform, frequently with Big Walter Horton and Billy Boy Arnold. He moved back to Mississippi where he played clubs and juke joints around the Jackson area for a few years before he disappeared from the scene. He died in 1968.

Joe Pullum LP“Black Gal What Makes Your Head So Hard?”  was a huge and influential hit in 1934. After Pullum recorded it in April 1934 it was covered by Vocalion by Leroy Carr, for Decca by Mary Johnson and Jimmie Gordon (under the pseudonym of Joe Bullum!), and by Josh White—all within ten months. Black gal is supposed to have been a traditional Texas theme, but Victoria Spivey calls Pullum's "the original one." That was 'about 1925, yet neither Victoria nor Bernice Edwards, both members of  a clique that played West Texas from Galveston to Houston' with Pullum and others, chose to record the song at their sessions in the '20s. In a review of a record by Texas pianist Robert Shaw that appeared in her Blues Is My Business column in Record Research, Victoria Spivey reminisced about the early days.  "At first it made me very sad and blue as it brought back my carefree days in Texas in the early 20's when we were all playing the whiskey joints, gay houses and picnics. We all loved each other then. Had no animosity in our hearts. These were the days of lazy, offbeat blues piano and singing. I was a member of a clique that played West Texas from Galveston to Houston to Richmond to Sugarland. There were Anthony (sic) Boy, Joe Pullum, Houston, Bernice Edwards, Pearl Dickson and myself. …On BLACK GAL, my buddy, Robert 'Fud' Shaw, must have really improvised the lyrics as it is very different from the original one by Joe Pullum. I first heard Joe sing this about 1925. In fact I was there in his house in the bloody 5th Ward in Houston, Texas when Joe was making up the words. It was at the time when I had a 6 month job with Miss Weaver in this same bloody 5th. Listen to Joe Pullum's Bluebird recording and you will hear it right." Robert Shaw had this to say about the song's origins: "We was on a party and there were three or four girls there. An old black girl there, man she was, you talk about a handsome baby, she was a baby! Feet, eyes, legs, nose, mouth, everything fit! …So Joe Pullum says to this black girl;  'Say black girl!' She didn't say nothin'. Said 'black girl!.' She just kept on walkin'. He said: 'What make your doggone head so hard'? All right! Now, there was a boy down there named Purdue (Robert Cooper) and Shine (Harold Holiday aka Black Boy Shine) and myself and Joe Pullum. Well, we went down to that party-house. Here Purdue come up playin' the blues and this gal come in the door, the same black gal and Joe Pullum here he come (sings falsetto): 'Black gal, black gal, woman, what makes your nappy head so hard, I would come to see you but your bad man has me barred.' Joe Pullum brought that song up. …I bet he sold a million records and that song come out of two men and a half-a-pint of whiskey."

"Why was it so successful?", Tony Russell wrote. " First, it introduced a new singing style; Pullum's voice was pitched very high and clear, yet it always sounded relaxed, and his timing was impeccable. The effect—plaintive, appealing, penetrating—was like that of a muted trumpet solo, piercing its way through the blues, occasionally soaring in sudden leaps." He was also a witty lyricist, writing several topical blues like "Joe Louis Is The Man", "Bonus Blues", "Mississippi Flood Blues" and "CWA Blues." The piano accompaniment was first rate as Russell notes: "…The piano-playing behind Pullum is always satisfying stuff, whether the work of Andy Boy (who was on the third and longest session) or that of Robert Cooper (on the other three).”

Pullum went on to cut four sessions in less than two years which produced thirty songs including two sequels to "black gal" , yet few sold very well. Pullum performed on Houston radio station KTLC with his pianist, Preston Chase, known as Peachy. "Pullum and Peachy" became household names although for some reason Chase does not appear on Pullum's records. Pullum headed to California probably in the 40’s where he cut a record for Swingtime in 1948. He supposedly cut a demo for Specialty in 1953. He died in 1964.

clayton-killDoctor 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. Clayton moved to Chicago with partner Robert. Clayton was supposed to record for Decca but ended up hooking up with Lester Melrose of Bluebird. As Lockwood related later: "Doctor Clayton started singin', and Melrose had a baby. …He had to have Doctor Clayton! Yeah! Lester Melrose heard Doctor Clayton sing, and he went crazy." 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. In 1941 he cut his most covered number, "Confessin' The Blues" which has become a blues standard.  Many of Clayton's songs deal with tough times that many still felt even after the depression. 1942's "On The Killing Floor"no doubt spoke for many and also seems to echo  his own reckless lifestyle:

Please give me a match to light this short that I found
I know it looks bad for me, picking tobacco off the ground
I was in my prime not so very long ago
But high priced whiskey and woman done put me on the killin' floor
Lord it's zero weather and I ain't got a lousy dime
I'm walking from door to door and I can't find a friend of mine

From the same session was another down-and-out tale, "Ain't No Business We Can Do":

I went down to Eli, got my suit out of pawn
Took the last little change I had left, and put some new shoes on
I took a real slow stroll, right down the avenue
A high yeller asked me, could she go 'long too
I said, "Hey good-lookin' have you got any cash on you?
'Cos if you broke like me, ain't no business we can do"

Prices goin' up every day, all kind of meat is too high
If you ain't rich or got a good job, neckbones is all you could buy
The best friend you got, will even tell you a lie
And let me tell you buddy, you better keep some kinda cash on you
'Cos when you broke, outdoors and hungry ain't no business you can do

He cut a pair of topical  songs including  "Pearl Harbor Blues" and "41' Blues." In "'41 Blues" Clayton offers his solution to end hostilities:

War is raging in Europe, up on the water, land and in the air
If Uncle Sam don't be careful, we'll all soon be right back over there
This whole war would soon be over if Uncle Sam would use my plan
Let me sneak in Hitler's bedroom with my razor in my hand

In "Pearl Harbor Blues" he had this to say:

On December the seventh, nineteen hundred and forty one
The Japanese flew over Pearl Harbor, dropping bombs by the ton
This Japanese is so ungrateful, just like a stray dog on the street
Well he bite the hand that feeds em', soon as he get enough to feed

Doctor Clayton: Ain't No Business We Can DoOther numbers from the period were the oft covered "Cheating And Lying Blues",  "Gotta Find My Baby",  "Watch Out Mama", "Moonshine Woman Blues" (covered by B.B. King in 1959 as "The Woman I Love" with an overdubbed version charting in 1968) and "Ain't No Business We Can Do."  Slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk was recorded playing "Cheating And Lying Blues" in 1964 live on Maxwell Street which also combined the lyrics form "Ain't No Business We Can Do" and Pat Hare's 1954 "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby" was a direct descendant of "Cheating And Lying Blues" ("I'm gonna murder my baby if she don't stop cheating and lying/Well I'd rather be in the penitentiary than to be worried out of my mind"). Clayton's final recordings were in February 1946 with a small group led by "Baby Doo" Caston with a final session in August 1946. These sessions included the original versions of oft-covered songs such as "Root Doctor", "Angels in Harlem" (covered by Smokey Hogg, Peppermint Harris and by Larry Davis as "Angels In Houston"), "Hold That Train Conductor" (covered by B.B. King in 1961) and "I Need My Baby" (covered by B.B. King as "Walking Dr. Bill" and Smokey Hogg as "I Declare") and perhaps ironically "Aint Gonna Drink No More." Also cut during this period was "Copper Colored Mama" which King covered as "The Woman I Love" in 1954.

Clayton’s records were steady sellers and he regularly appeared at Chicago clubs such as Sylvios working with Robert Lockwood and Sunnyland Slim and toured in a bus with his likeness on the side. Attesting to this popularity was Sunnyland Slim who recorded as "Doctor Clayton's Buddy" on his debut 1947 sessions and Willie Long Time Smith who in 1947 recorded the tribute, "My Buddy Doctor Clayton." Clayton died on January 7th 1947 in Chicago, of pulmonary tuberculosis at Chicago's Cook County Hospital. According to Big Bill only ten people attended Clayton's funeral including himself and Tampa Red.


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