Show Notes:

Houston Stackhouse
Houston Stackhouse

We cut a wide swath on today's mix show with recordings spanning1928 to 1979. We have a pair of twin spins including a pair of cuts by Houston Stackhouse. I recently wrote a piece on Stackhouse for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas and have been listening to his music quite a bit lately.  Stackhouse never achieved much in the way of success yet he was a pivotal figure on the southern blues scene from the 1930's through the 1960's who worked with, or knew, just about every significant blues musician during that period. He was greatly influenced by Tommy Johnson who he met in the 1920's. In the 1930's he met Robert Nighthawk, whom he taught how to play guitar. In 1946 Nighthawk asked Stackhouse to join him in Helena where he would stay for almost twenty-five years. For a year he was a member of Nighthawk's band. After splitting with Nighthawk in 1947 he joined with drummer James "Peck" Curtis who was working on KFFA's King Biscuit Time. In 1948 Sonny Boy Williamson (the program started with him in 1941) rejoined the show and the group performed all over the delta. Stackhouse played with all the important musicians who passed through Helena including Jimmy Rogers and Sammy Lawhorn, both whom he tutored on guitar, as well as Elmore James, Earl Hooker, Willie Love, Ernest Lane and Roosevelt Sykes. Unlike many of his fellow bluesmen, Stackhouse remained in the south continuing to perform locally as well as working regular jobs through the 1950's. In 1967 field researcher George Mitchell recorded Stackhouse in Dundee, Mississippi. The group, calling themselves the Blues Rhythm Boys, consisted of "Peck" Curtis and Robert Nighthawk and marked the final recordings of Nighthawk who died a few months later. A week later field researcher David Evans recorded Stackhouse in Crystal Springs with long time partner Carey "Ditty" Mason. In the 1970's Stackhouse began taking part in the blues revival, touring with Wilkins throughout the decade as The King Biscuit Boys, traveling with the Memphis Blues Caravan, playing various festivals and making a lone trip overseas to Vienna in 1976. He recorded for Adelphi in 1972 with various live tracks appearing on compilations. He died in 1980.

The other twin spin today is a pair of cuts by Blind Willie McTell and his longtime partner Curley Weaver. Both tracks come from Document's Blind Willie McTell & Curley Weaver: The Post-War Years 1949 – 1950. All tracks on this CD have been remastered in 2008 with three additional tracks and excellent booklet notes by David Evans. It's McTell's early sides that are most revered by collectors but these later sides find the versatile McTell in excellent shape playing a broad repertoire of blues, gospel and pop tunes. The under recorded Weaver is no slouch either as he proves on the bouncy, ragtime flavored "Trixie" a version of the oft covered "Trix Ain't Walking No More."

As usual there's a good chunk of sides from the 1920's and 30's including sides by Lonnie Johnson, Johnnie Temple,  Tommy Johnson, Oscar "Buddy" Woods, Rube Lacey and Lane Hardin. "Violin Blues" was issued as The Johnson Boys which consisted of Lonnie Johnson on violin and vocals, Nap Hayes on guitar and Mathew Prater on mandolin. This is a wonderful low-down number with a great vocal by Johnson and superb mandolin by Prater. Also from the same session is the wailing "Memphis Stomp" which I'll have to play at a later date. Johnson is also listed as playing guitar on "Good Suzie (Rusty Knees)" by Johnnie Temple although his playing is submerged. Temple delivers a great vocal on this number although I have no idea what the title means.  Born and raised in Mississippi, 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. Temple moved to Chicago in the early 30's, where he quickly became part of the town's blues scene. Often, he performed with Charlie and Joe McCoy. In 1935, Temple began his recording, releasing "Louise Louise Blues" the following year on Decca Records. Although he never achieved stardom, Temple's records, issued Living Legends LPon a variety of record labels, sold consistently throughout the late 30's and 40's. In the 1950's, his 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.

We also play some latter day country blues By Bukka White, K.C. Douglas with Sidney Maiden, Soldier Boy Houston and Robert Pete Williams. White's "Black Bottom" comes from the fine out of print LP Living Legends featuring live performances by Skip James and Big Joe Williams recorded at the Cafe Au Go Go in New York City in 1966. I first heard Soldier Boy Houston (Lawyer Houston was his real name) on an Atlantic LP years ago and he’s a very appealing singer with a light tenor voice backing himself with some springy guitar work. His songs are captivating tales packed with loads of descriptive detail, much seemingly based on his real life experiences. His eight issued sides can be found on Lightning Special: Volume 2 of the Collected Works.

I always slip in a few prime barrelhouse number, this time out we spin excellent tracks by Jabo Williams and Barrel House Welsh. I've been featuring Williams quite a bit on my mix show. He was a terrific player who cut only eight sides that appear to be extremely rare, with few in absolutely terrible shape. "Polock Blues", which takes its name from a section of East St. Louis, is a marvelous mid-tempo blues. Nolan Welsh recorded as Barrel House Welch on three sides for Paramount in 1928-29 and as Nolan Welsh on sides in 1926, two with Louis Armstrong. He really gives those "Chicago women" the business on his forceful "Larceny Woman Blues." From the wonderful album Country Negro Jam Session we hear Robert Pete Williams & Robert "Guitar" J. Welch reviving Barbecue Bob's 1927 classic, "Mississippi Heavy Water Blues."

Swingin' The BluesMoving up to the 1950's and 1960's we play classic Chicago blues from Jimmy Rogers, Muddy Waters,  Jimmy Reed, Floyd Jones, Little Johnnie Jones plus excellent sides from Gatemouth Brown, Professor Longhair, Gene Phillips and  John Lee Hooker. Jimmy Rogers' shuffling "Look-A-Here" sports superb piano from Otis Spann as does Muddy's 1965 gem "I Got a Rich Man's Woman" a great lesser known tune featuring  James Cotton and Sammy Lawhorn and Pee Wee Madison on guitars. Over in Texas we play Gatemouth's torrid instrumental "Boogie Uproar", Earl Hooker's vicious instrumental "Alley Corn", from New Orleans the tough "Longhair Stomp" by Professor Longhair and from the West Coast it's Gene Phillips & His Rhythm Aces on the low-down "My Baby's Mistreatin' Me"featuring some great guitar from Phillip who's guitar skills were not spotlighted nearly enough. If you're a fan of West Coast blues I highly recommend the two Phillips collections on Ace, Swinging The Blues and Drinkin' And Stinkin'. We close out with terrific topical number by John Lee Hooker, "Birmingham Blues" cut for Vee-Jay in 1963. The Birmingham campaign was a strategic effort by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to promote civil rights for black Americans. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, and aimed at ending the city's segregated civil and discriminatory economic policies, the campaign lasted for more than two months in the spring of 1963. To provoke the police into filling the city's jails to overflowing, Martin Luther King, Jr. and black citizens of Birmingham employed nonviolent tactics to flout laws they considered unfair.


Alice Moore

We left off our look at Alice Moore with two sessions she cut in 1934. After 1934 Henry Brown and Ike Rodgers no longer accompanied Alice on record with the piano chair filled for most of the remaining sessions by the popular Peetie Wheatstraw. Moore cut two sessions in July 1935 for a total of six songs with Wheatstraw on the piano for the first session, switching to guitar on the second session as Jimmy Gordon sits behind the piano stool. Once again Moore revises her signature song, this time titling it "Blue Black And Evil Blues." One of the session's best numbers is the typically mournful but lovely "S.O.S. Blues (Distress Blues):"

And I can't use hoodoo, don't know no tricks at all (2x)
And I will do anything lord, to get that mule back in my stall
Spoken: Oh if I only was a gypsy. Oh babe I could read his mind. Play 'em Peter, play 'em for me now.
Yes to lose my love, is putting me in distress
And I'm not ashamed to tell you, I'm sending out and S.O.S.

"Death Valley Blues" is a cryptic and dark number:

Let me go down in death valley, and hear the death bells ring (2x)
And holler, death oh death, oh death where is thy sting
And it's please don't, take this pillow out from under my head
For I live hard I die hard, tell you I would rather be dead

There a few St. Louis artists who use this theme, although they differ lyrically, including Lonnie Johnson on his "Death Valley Is Just Half Way To My Home", Lee Green's "Death Alley Blues" and Bessie Mae Smith's "Death Valley Moan." Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup also cut "Death Valley Blues."

As Guido Van Rijn notes: "One year later Peetie was back at the piano. On 22 May 1936 James "Kokomo" Arnold (1901-1969) played the guitar. While Wheatstraw continues his continuous melodic lines, Arnold keeps the volume of his guitar somewhat down during the singing, and comes back full force to fill the gaps." Arnold's bold playing works exceptionally well on their six song collaboration with Moore sounding particularly forceful and confident as evidenced on the salacious "Grass Cutter Blues:"

And I woke up this morning, and the rain was falling fast (2x)
And I began to wish that, ask some good man to cut my grass
And it's daddy, daddy, what am I going to do
Can you see for yourself, Alice don't want 'nother grass cutter but you

The themes of rootlessness and trying to latch on to a good man to keep her from going astray are perfectly summed up in the evocative "Dark Angel Blues" where she also gives Peetie some good natured ribbing:

And I'm a little dark angel, and I'm drifting through this land (2x)
And the reason I'm driftin', trying to find a real good man
They call me little dark angel, I am my mama's baby child
But I want a good man ,to keep me from runnin' wild
Spoken: Well, well, well. People look who is here. Here comes Peetie drunk again. Boy when are you gonna stop drinkin' whiskey? Just stay drunk all the time, all the time. Oh someday you'll quit.

1937 was a productive year but there's been some confusion as to who plays on these sessions. Guido Van Rijn offers the following account: "The last Alice Moore recordings were made during four sessions in 1937. Alice Moore 78'sThere is an unknown string bass on these recordings who accents the first and third beats and plucks and slaps mainly in a four to the bar rhythm. All these recordings are credited to 'Jordan' so we may safely assume that Charley Jordan was present. The accompanists are not very audible. The guitar is probably played with a flat-pick. The melody of the piano is followed with single string runs on the highest strings, frequent choking of the blue notes and an occasional lower bass string run. Sometimes there is a chordal intermezzo on the highest strings. The guitarist must have known Peetie's playing very well as the two form a real team. I think Charley Jordan is the guitarist on the 1937 Alice Moore dates. …On 26 March 1937 Alice recorded "Don't Deny Me Baby" on which Peetie's name is mentioned again. On the tenth session of 26 October 1937 the piano is certainly not by Peetie Wheatstraw. In the solos the right hand switches from higher to lower octaves, uses tremolos and sliding notes. There is a simple octave bass in the left hand and now and then the melody is retarded. This session is clasped in between two Roosevelt Sykes sessions. I have no doubt about the presence of Roosevelt Sykes here. The bass player is far more interesting than his colleague of the eighth and ninth sessions. He has more rhythmic variations and a far greater propulsive power thanks to the use of dotted eighth notes. The guitarist plays hardly audible chords and boogie runs on the lower strings in the first position."

Among the notable songs were "Hand In Hand Woman" which finds Moore kinder to men but overtly aggressive towards women:

I'm gonna get me partner, just to run hand in hand (2x)
But I ain t gonna get no woman, gonna get me partner man
I just came here to tell you girls, I don't run hand in hand
Please take my advice, get yourself another man
Because that's my man, and he is just my type
And the clothes he wears on his back, they cost me ten dollars a yard
I'm tired of telling you girls, I don't run hand in hand
The last girl I run hand and hand with, is the girl that stole my man
These hand in hand woman, they's ain't no friend to you
They will take your good man, leave you with these hand in hand blues

More typical are tales of no good men as in "Too Many Men:"

These men, these men, they just won't let me be (2x)
I'm gonna pack my suitcase, and beat it back to Tennessee
If you got too many men, they will stay right on your trail
They will get you into trouble ,and no one will go your bail
When you got too many men, you can't even sleep at night
Every time you step on the street, some of them want to start a fight
When these men get mad, you don't know what to do
They will hypnotize or beat you, and keep you in trouble too
So take my advice girls, don't have too many men

While "Midnight Creepers" takes a more ominous viewpoint:

These times is so dangerous, til' a woman can't walk the streets (2x)
There is some dangerous man, trying to make a low down sneak
I'm going to buy me bulldog, he'll watch me while I sleep
Just to keep these dangerous men, from making a midnight creep

Better watch your step girls, when you goes out at night (2x)
Because these dangerous men, they sure has got to be too tight
I was scared last night, and the night before
But I got me good man, don't have to be scared no more

Moore's demise is sketchy as Guido Van Rijn notes: "In 1960 Henry Townsend stated that Alice Moore had died ten or twelve years previously. This would mean that she died c. 1950. Early in 1954 reports came in that she was still in St. Louis, but no trace of her was found. In 1969 Mike Stewart confirmed that Alice Moore was dead." Alice Moore's complete output can be found on the following Document collections: St. Louis Bessie & Alice Moore Vol 1 1927 – 1929, St. Louis Bessie & Alice Moore Vol 2 1934 – 1941 and Kokomo Arnold Vol 3 1936 – 1937.


-Rijn, Guido Van. Lonesome Woman Blues: The Story of Alice Moore, Blues & Rhythm, No 208 (2007), p. 20-21.

-Townsend, Henry and Greensmith, Bill. A Blues Life. University of Illinois Press, Urbana & Chicago, 1999.

-Dixon, Robert M.W., John Godrich, Howard W. Rye. Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943. 4th edition. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997.

-Oliver, Paul. Conversation With The Blues. Horizon Press, New York, 1965.

S.O.S. Blues (Distress Blues) (MP3)

Hand In Hand Women (MP3)

Midnight Creepers (MP3)

Too Many Men (MP3)

Grass Cutter Blues (MP3)

Dark Angel (MP3)



Show Notes:

Harmonica Blues

Although the harmonica was present in many pre-war recordings, it became a dominant force in the 1950's, when it was amplified by the likes of Big Walter Horton, Little Walter and Snooky Pryor. As such many players and fans seem to think that blues harmonica began with Little Walter and are unaware of the rich early tradition of harmonica recordings. In the early days harmonica soloists were common who played now forgotten pieces like train imitations and set pieces like Lost John, Fox Chase, Mama Blues and other call-and-response pieces that featured the harmonica over the voice, if the voice was used at all. We hear many of these players on today's program including DeFord Bailey, George "Bullet" Williams, William McCoy, Alfred Lewis and Sonny Terry. We also feature early harmonica/vocalists like Daddy Stovepipe, Jaybird Coleman and Jazz Gillum. In addition we hear some great accompanists like Rhythm Willie, Robert Cooksey and Blues Birdhead. There were also play tracks by several notable harmonica players who worked in jug bands like Noah Lewis, Jed Davenport and Eddie Mapp. It was John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson who defined the language of modern blues harmonica playing so it's fitting we end with a few of his numbers. Below is some brief background on some of today's performers.

Bobby Leecan (who sang, and played guitar and kazoo) performed in a duo with harmonica player Robert Cooksey. Leecan and Cooksey teamed up for the first time in 1926 to cut sides for Victor, their recording output inhabiting a borderland between blues, vaudeville, and jazz. They are believed to have been based out of Philadelphia. Cooksey first entered the studio in the spring of 1924, when he backed up blues singer Viola McCoy on sessions for Vocalion. That puts him within months of the very first recording of harmonica ever made, the Clara Smith recording "My Doggone Lazy Man," which featured harmonica player Herbert Leonard. The following year, he backed up Sara Martin on Okeh label. It was two years later when he finally teamed up with Leecan.

Johnny Watson, alias Daddy Stovepipe, was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1867 and died in Chicago, in 1963. A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, he was in his late fifties when he became one of the first blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. He later recorded with his wife, Mississippi Sarah, in the 1930's and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings.

Deford Bailey
DeFord Bailey

DeFord Bailey cut several records in 1927-1928, all of them harmonica solos. Emblematic of the ambiguity of Bailey's position as a black recording artist is the fact his arguably greatest recording, "John Henry", was released separately in both RCA's 'race' and 'hillbilly' series. Bailey was a pioneer member of the WSM Grand Ole Opry, and one of its most popular performers, appearing on the program from 1927 to 1941. During this period he toured with many major country stars, including Uncle Dave Macon, Bill Monroe, and Roy Acuff. Bailey was fired by WSM in 1941 because of a licensing conflict with BMI-ASCAP which prevented him from playing his best known tunes on the radio. This effectively ended his performance career, and he spent the rest of his life shining shoes, cutting hair, and renting out rooms in his home to make a living. Though he continued to play the harp, he almost never performed publicly. One of his rare appearances occurred in 1974, when he agreed to make one more appearance on the Opry. This became the occasion for the Opry's first annual Old Timers' Show.

Singer and harpist Noah Lewis was a key figure on the Memphis jug band circuit of the 1920's. Upon moving to Memphis, he teamed with Gus Cannon, becoming an essential component of Cannon's Jug Stompers. On a series of sides cut in the first week of October 1929, Lewis made his debut as a name artist, cutting three great harmonica solos as well as "Going to Germany," which spotlighted his fine vocal style. He also cut a few sides under his own name between 1929-30. As the Depression wore on Lewis slipped into obscurity, living a life of extreme poverty; his death on February 7, 1961 was a result of gangrene brought on by frostbite.

As a child, Jaybird Coleman, taught himself how to play harmonica and would perform at parties, both for his family and friends. Coleman served in the Army during World War I and after his discharge moved to the Birmingham, AL area. While he lived in Birmingham, he would perform on street corners and occasionally play with the Birmingham Jug Band. Jaybird made his first recordings in 1927 for Gennett. For the next few years, he simply played on street corners. Coleman cut his final sessions in 1930 on the OKeh label. During the 1930's and 1940's, Coleman played on street corners throughout Alabama. By the end of the 1940's he had disappeared from the blues scene. In 1950 Coleman died of cancer.

Realizing his eyesight would keep him from pursuing a profession in farming, Sonny Terry decided instead to be a blues singer. He began traveling to nearby Raleigh and Durham, performing on street corners for tips. In 1934, he befriended the popular guitarist Blind Boy Fuller. Fuller convinced Terry to move to Durham, where the two immediately gained a strong local following. By 1937, they were offered an opportunity to go to New York and record for the Vocalion label. A year later, Terry would be back in New York taking part in John Hammond's legendary Spirituals to Swing concert. Upon returning to Durham, Terry continued playing regularly with Fuller and also met his future partner, guitarist Brownie McGhee, who would accompany Terry off and on for the next two decades.

Deford Bailey
Sonny Boy Williamson I

John Lee Williamson is regarded as "the first truly virtuosic blues harmonica player", "who brought the harmonica to prominence as a major blues instrument." Generally regarded as the original "Sonny Boy", John Lee Williamson was born in Jackson, Tennessee on March 30, 1914. He hoboed with Yank Rachell and John Estes through Tennessee and Arkansas in the late 1920's and early 1930's. He worked with Sunnyland Slim in Memphis in the early 1930's. John Lee Williamson moved to Chicago in 1934 where he worked Maxwell Street and as a sideman with numerous blues groups at the local clubs. His first recording, made in May of 1937 at the Leland Hotel in Aurora, Illinois for the Bluebird label, is also the first recording of "Good Morning Little School Girl", which has become a much recorded blues classic tune. Bluebird recorded him until 1945 when Victor recorded him into 1947. Williamson worked frequently with Muddy Waters from 1943 and toured with Lazy Bill Lucas through the 1940's. He recorded with Big Joe Williams for the Columbia label in Chicago in 1947. In 1948 upon leaving the Plantation Club in Chicago after playing a gig, he was mugged and beaten. He died of a fractured skull and other injuries on June 1, 1948 and is buried in Jackson, Tennessee.

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 was by no means a harmonica virtuoso – he had a kind of wheezy high-pitched sound – he was certainly no Sonny Boy Williamson I and certainly no "Harmonica King" as he boasts in "Gillum's Windy Blues." Yet he was a very expressive, easygoing singer who penned a number of evocative songs backed by some of the era's best blues musicians. 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.

Throughout the show we also play a number of little recorded, shadowy figures such as George "Bullet" Williams, William McCoy, Alfred Lewis, Blues Birdhead, Ollis Martin and Eddie Mapp. George "Bullet" Williams was originally from Alabama. He cut one session for paramount in 1928. Ollis Martin cut one side in 1927 for Gennet. He was active around the Birmingham area in the latter part of that decade, also showing up on two gospel sides the same year by Jaybird Coleman. Blues Birdhead's real was James Simons who cut one 78 for Okeh in 1929. Alfred Lewis cut one issued 78 in 1930 for Okeh.


A;ice MooreBefore World War II St. Louis was a thriving blues town. Henry Townsend, who was an integral part of  the St. Louis blues scene during its formative years, had this to say: "It was a whole lotta fun. You didn't find a dead place in town. Sometimes we'd just get together as a group and just do jamming, you know. Sometimes the jam sessions would last four or five hours. Henry Brown would show up, Peetie Wheatstraw, Robert Johnson was there for a while, and of course Robert Nighthawk, Big Joe Williams, and my main man, Sonny Boy. St. Louis was a hot town for blues in those days, just like Chicago." Likely encouraged by the discovery of Lonnie Johnson in 1925 the record companies began to focus on St. Louis artists and by 1930 most of the artists of consequence had made their recording debuts. Artists such as Lonnie Johnson, Peetie Wheatstraw, Roosevelt Sykes and Walter Davis went on to enjoy prolific recording careers while the majority are little remembered today, just names on dusty records. St. Louis also boasted some superb woman singers like Bessie Mae Smith, Mary Johnson, Edith North Johnson and one of the city's best, Alice Moore.

Little Alice, as she was known, achieved a measure of success with her first record, "Black And Evil Blues" cut at her first session 1929 with three subsequent versions cut during the 1930's. In all she cut thirty-six sides: Two sessions for Paramount in 1929 and nine sessions (the final one went unissued) for Decca between 1934 and 1937. The recording gap was likely due to the depression. Moore possessed a penetrating, pinched nasal tone and tendency to elongate certain words that added to the somber intensity of her songs which were almost always taken at a funeral pace. Mike Stewart and Don Kent described her style this way: "Her singing style, with its particular stresses, and choppy, exclaimed phrasing, was not especially unusual. No one, however, converted it to quite such a mannerism." She had the good fortune to record with the city's best musicians including pianists Henry Brown, Peetie Wheatstraw, Jimmie Gordon, possibly Roosevelt Sykes as well as guitarists Lonnie Johnson, Kokomo Arnold and trombonist Ike Rodgers. On record Moore sang mostly hard bitten tales of no good, dangerous men and desperate love in bleak songs like "Lonesome Women Blues", "S.O.S. Blues (Distress Blues)" "Midnight Creepers" and "Too Many Men." Prison and prostitution are recurring themes in songs such as "Prison Blues", "Cold Iron Walls", "Serving Time Blues" and "Broadway St. Woman Blues." On record Moore creates a persona of a vulnerable, good woman at the mercy of a cruel world and predatory, indifferent men while at other times she displays the harder shell of a jaded, good-time woman. She sang with conviction, often addressing woman listeners with pointed advice, frequently punctuating her songs with spoken asides and speaking directly to her accompanists.

Little is known of Moore's background and what is known comes from her arrest files and the recollections of her contemporaries. In fact a photograph of her was published for the first time just recently having been discovered in a 1934 Decca catalog with the caption "Alice Moore, Little Alice From St. Louis." According to Bill Greensmith: "In March 1925 Alice was arrested twice. The first occasion was on 7 March for 'suspicion of gambling.' She gave her address as 2016 Walnut Street, her age as twenty-one, and her birthplace as Tennessee. …She was arrested again on 27 March, although instead of being charged she was sent to the 'Health Department.' Alice was living at 2118 Randolph Street when on 19 September 1926 she was arrested and charged with 'disturbing the peace.'" Henry Townsend told Paul Oliver in 1960: "She was a real nice girl. She was real devoted to her blues singing. From my point of it she was pretty well a nice mixer with the public and a fairly intelligent girl. They used to call her Little Alice – well she was quite small I think at the time they adopted the name to her as Little Alice, but later I think she defeated that name, by getting quite some size – she got extra size before she died about ten or twelve years ago. Henry Brown has played for Alice Moore, for a fact I think he started her out, and she was a devoted blues singer." In 1986 Townsend told Bill Greensmith: "I remember Alice Moore. She was a beautiful person, a kind-hearted person. She was a very nice looking black gal. She was almost what you would call a pretty girl. She had a beautiful smooth skin like velvet. I think that had a lot to do with her death too. It sounds kinda off the wall, but sometimes a lot of things are against a person that don't have an understanding about how to handle it. I think it contributed to her living a little fast. Alice Moore, Ike Rodgers, and Henry Brown was a trio. I never worked with them, but I was around them quite a bit. …Alice seemed to be slightly my senior, but not by no big difference. But from maturity, she seemed to be a little more mature than I was. Her 'Black And Evil' was a hit right away, that first one. She was a pretty black woman ain't no doubt about that but the evil part, she wasn't evil, I don't think. But I never was her man, and that's the only way you're ever going to find that out. She may have been, but she never did show it on the surface; she always showed kindness, everybody like her. I don't know how Alice died or why. It appears to me like I would have heard about it or somebody would have said something about it, as many people that knew her and me. I'm inclined to believe that whenever she died, it was one of the times that I was away for some reason. A lot of the stuff Alice recorded Henry Brown worked with her, but Jimmy Gordon played piano on one of her sessions." In 1960 Henry Brown recalled those days: "Henry Townsend played guitar and Little Alice sang. We'd play joints on Franklin … Delmar …Easton … spots in East St. Louis  – like the Blue Flame Club."

Moore's first four sessions feature complimentary backing from Henry Brown and trombonist Ike Rodgers. Rodgers played rough "gutbucket" trombone, using a variety of tin cans, liquor glasses and other mutes of his own devising. Before moving to Decca in 1934 Moore cut ten songs at two sessions for Paramount in August, 1929 and possibly November of that year. "Black And Evil Blues" was a hit from this session, a dark song underscored by Rodgers' mournful trombone that would set the tone for many subsequent songs. The song was covered by Lil Johnson in 1936 and Leroy Ervin in 1937. Paul Oliver had this to say about the number: "At times the characteristics of African racial features and color have an ominous significance in the blues, which may hint that they are indirectly related to social problems. So the state of being 'blue' is associated with alienation, and is linked with an 'evil mind' or an inclination to violence. Both are coupled with the inescapable condition of being black. …That her hearers identified  with her theme was evident in the popularity of the blues, which she made four times in different versions."

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

Notable form these first two sessions are four songs dealing with prison, a place Moore, as mentioned above, knew well: "Prison Blues", "Cold Iron Walls", "Serving Time Blues" and "Broadway St. Woman Blues."  In "Prison Blues" she sings:

The judge he sentenced me, and the clerk he wrote it down (2x)
My man said I'm sorry for you babe, that you are county farm bound
Six months in jail, and a month on the county farm (2x)
If my man had a been any good, he would have went my bond

She offers some pointed advice in "Cold Iron Walls:"

My friends, my friends you let this world of crime alone (2x)
For crime my friends, will keep you from your happy home
My baby, law outnumbers you, a thousand to one
And when he gets you, pay for the crime that you have done
When I was in my crime, they's as nice as they can be
And now I am in trouble, they have gone back on me
Spoken: Oh blow these blues for me. Nobody know the way I feel. Everybody take my advice.

She sings of overt violence in "Serving Time Blues:"

I laid in jail, oh baby, the whole night long (2x)
I cut my man, because he would not come back home
I told the sergeant, that he could take me to jail
Because that (?) doggone good man, to come and go my bail

The judge he slammed the door, said poor girl then rolled his eyes (2x)
And now little girl, you got to serve your time
Six bits ain't no dollar, six months ain't no great long time
I am going to the workhouse, baby just to serve my time

There's an allusion to prostitution in "Broadway St. Woman Blues" which is reinforced by the St. Louis police files and the observations of Henry Townsend:

I was standing on a corner, just between Broadway and Main (2x)
And a cop walked up, and he asked poor me my name
I told the cop, my name was written on my (?)
And I'm a good-time woman, and I sure don't have to (?)
He said I'll take you to the jail, and see what he will do (2x)
He may give you five years, and he may take pity on you
He took me to the jail, with my head hanging low
And the judge said hold your head up, for you are bound to go

"Loving Heart Blues" from her second session is another harsh number that may also allude to prostitution:

Oh Lord if you ever, please make my babe understand (2x)
Understand that I love him, do anything for him I can
I would pawn my clothes for him, walk the street the whole night long
And I would steal for him, although I know it's wrong
This world can be cruel babe, cruel as cruel can be

Guido Van Rijn notes that "on 17 November 1930 Alice probably recorded for Victor under the pseudonym Alice Melvin. Although these four songs remain unissued, two of the titles, ‘Lonesome Woman Blues' and 'Trouble Blues' were to be recorded by Alice Moore on 24 August 1934." Moore cut two songs apiece at her first Decca sessions in1934, cut six days apart. The records are listed as "Little Alice From St. Louis."  "Black Evil Blues" was a remake of her popular number while "Riverside Blues" features some lovely imagery and is lyrically unlike anything else she recorded. There is no trombone on this song, instead featuring the violin of Artie Mosby a St. Louis violinist of the 1920's and 30's. Guido Van Rijn suggests that he may have been classically trained. Moore's singing is also different, less nasal and more gritty as she sings:

And it's water, water, water, water rolls everywhere (2x)
I can catch this water, but sure can't catch my man
I see a moon in this river, and a moon shining up above
But I don't like the moonlight, without the one I love
And I wish I could swim, Little Alice could only float
I would jump in the river, and swim down to his boat

And I'm sitting by a river, taking off both of my shoes (2x)
Want to jump in this river, and get rid of these riverside blues

On "Trouble Blues" she's sassy and assertive despite her troubles as she sings:

Spoken: Now let me tell you about me
Now it's Alice, Alice, Alice, Alice Moore is my real right name
All the men like Little Alice, just because she can boot that thing




Show Notes:

On the last mix show we spotlighted recordings by the recently passed Lula Reed and this week starts on a similarly somber tone as we spin sides by the recently departed Chuck Carbo. R&B singer Chuck Carbo passed away on July 11th after a lengthy battle with cancer. I first became acquainted with Carbo with the two excellent comeback records he cut for Rounder: Drawers Trouble (1993) and The Barber's Blues (1996). I recall these records getting quite a bit of play on my radio program at the time. I soon tracked down his early recordings with the Spiders, a fabulous New Orleans vocal group who had a string of R&B hits in the 1950's, led by Carbo and his brother Chick. Just about all these sides can be found on Bear Family's 2-CD The Imperial Sessions. After the Spiders Carbo cut a number of 45's, only a few that I'm familiar with, and Just Got To Know 45returned to music after a long absence. We open today with a trio of great sides by Carbo and the Spiders and conclude the show with a track by Carbo fronting The Clowns and a 45 he cut under his own name.

We have a couple of twin spins on today's program with sides by Jimmy McCracklin and Big Joe Turner. In his heyday, from the late 1940's through the 1960's, he led one of the toughest, hardest rocking blues bands on the West Coast. He was a prolific and witty composer, a fine singer/pianist and was a real pioneer in defining the soul-blues style made so popular by Little Milton, Bobby Bland and others. With a pair of excellent records in the 1990's for Bullseye he achieved some wider exposure although during his hit making days he remained something of a neglected figure with a stature that seems to have always been higher in the black community. At 87, McCracklin is still active and I was thrilled to get a chance to see him at this year's Pocono Blues Festival. We go back to 1947 to hear Big Joe Turner teaming up with Wynonie Harris on "Blues" as Wynonie has this to say to Big Joe: "Yes the girl that used to sleep with you, Joe Turner she's sleeping with Mr. Blues now." This is one of four songs Turner and Harris recorded together for Imperial in 1947. We jump ahead a few years to hear Big Joe's "Sweet Sixteen" from 1952.

On today's show we spotlight recordings from two recent releases: Blues Images Presents Vol. 6 and And This Free. Blues Images Presents Vol. 6 is the companion CD to the latest blues calendar put out by record collector John Tefteller. Several years back Tefteller uncovered a huge cache of Paramount promotional material. Paramount marketed their "race records", as they were called, to African-Americans, most notably in the pages of the Chicago Defender, the African-American newspaper, and sent promotional material to record stores and distributors. Tefteller bought a huge cache of this artwork from a pair of journalists who rescued them from the rubbish heap some twenty years previously. The depression essentially killed off Paramount's advertising budget so many of these images were never sent out and hence have not been seen by anyone since they were first produced. Tefteller has been making these gorgeous ads available in his Night & Day BluesClassic Blues Artwork Calendar since 2004 and the 2009 version has just been printed. The accompanying CD is a collection of songs that match the artwork. For pre-war blues fans these CD's are eagerly anticipated as that always include some newly discovered sides. This year is no exception with newly discovered titles by Blind Blake, Ben Curry and two test recordings of the Paramount All Star's "Home Town Skiffle." The Blind Blake sides were discovered in 2007 and I'm very glad to be able to play "Night And Day Blues" a very nice laid back number sporting some fine guitar solos. We also play one of the "Home Town Skiffle" tests which was a group consisting of The Hokum Boys, Georgia Tom, Will Ezell, Blind Blake, Charlie Spand and Papa Charlie Jackson. This was made as a sampler to advertise Paramount artists. It was thought Blind Lemon Jefferson was on this but he is clearly not after listening closely to these test recordings.

After languishing out of print for many years, Mike Shea's legendary film on Chicago's Maxwell Street Market, And This Is Free, has finally been reissued. Housed in a soft covered fold out set is a two disc set containing the 50 minute documentary And This Is Free, the 30 minute documentary Maxwell Street: A Living Memory, some fascinating archival footage, an interview with sound man Gordon Quinn, a separate CD of performances by artists associated with Maxwell Street. Form the CD we play Blind Percy & His Blind Band's "Fourteenth Street Blues" which is supposedly a pseudonym for Blind Taggart who recorded primarily gospel material.

Southside Blues JamThe most recent song on today's show is Junior Wells' "Trouble Don't Last Always" cut circa 1969/1970. The song comes from Southside Blues Jam which is easily one of Wells' best records from this era featuring longtime partner Buddy Guy along with Otis Spann. Spann's rumbling, two-fisted piano adds much to this date and is his last studio recording before his untimely death in April 1970. Fittingly the album is dedicated to Spann.

Among the other early blues we spin are fine sides by Bayless Rose, Blind Willie McTell, Leroy Carr, Little Brother Montgomery, J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith plus blues ladies Victoria Spivey and Merline Johnson. The mysterious Bayless Rose recorded 3 sides in 1930 plus several unissued sides and there's some dispute if Rose is a white or black performer. "Frisco Blues" is a gorgeous instrumental sporting some amazing quick fingered playing and crystal clear, fluid tone. I've played Little Brother often on the show and today's selection, "No Special Rider Blues", was cut in 1960 but is a reprise of a song he cut at his very first session for Paramount back in 1930. This version comes from the Bluesville album Tasty Blues, one of his finest records and featuring the wonderful guitar of Lafayette Thomas. Montgomery also shows up on another song we play, "Ethel Bea", by Little Son Joe which also features Joe's wife, Memphis Minnie. Speaking of piano blues we play Leroy Carr's timeless "Midnight Hour Blues." Little is known about Merline Johnson who was one of the most prolific female blues artists of the 1930's. She recorded over 70 sides between 1937 and 1941and on our selection, "He May Be Your Man" she's ably supported by Blind John Davis and Lonnie Johnson. I've been listening quite a bit to J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith who cut twenty issued sides between 1930 and 1931. He was a superb singer/guitarist and a marvelous lyricist as he shows on the salacious "Hoppin' Toad Frog:"

I'm harmless as I can be, I stays out of all peoples way (2x)
I'm just a little old toad, I'm gonna hop back to my home someday

I'll hop down in your basement, don't mean to harm a single soul (2x)
I'll shake all of your ashes, then shovel you in some brand new coal

I don't have no friend, by myself I'm always on the road (2x)
Just let me hop for you one time mama and you'll keep me for your little old toad

Mama would you let a poor little old toad frog hop down in your water pond (2x)
I'll dive down and come right out and I won't stay in your water long

I ain't no bottle stopper, I ain't no police copper, I ain't no cradle rocker, you know I ain't the baby's papa
But I know for my self, in your front yard is where I get my load
Well you talk you like my hoppin', why don't you keep me for your little toad

Mama do you know one thing, your water tank is just deep enough (2x)
I can dive down to the bottom, take my time and then tread right back up


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