Whiskey Headed Woman 78

We concluded part one with the recording of "Bottle It Up And Go", one of McClennan's most enduring numbers. McClennan's first session was probably his strongest and as Neil Slaven notes "there's a subtle diminution of commitment as the five sessions progress, as though alcohol had begun to erode his skills." His first session is littered with references to Mississippi and Chicago and he's clearly aware of the importance of recording in Chicago as the spoken aside in his first number, "You Can Mistreat Me Here", attest: "Take your time and play it right, f' you're in Chicago." His most evocative number in this regard is "Cotton Patch Blues" as he sings about the woman he left behind in Mississippi:

I left my baby in Mississippi, pickin' cotton down on her knees (2x)
She says, If you get to Chicago all right, please right me a letter if you please

I said "baby, that's all right, baby that's all right for you (2x)
You'll just keep pickin' cotton right there, oh babe, until I get through

Baby, when I get to Chicago, I do swear I'm sure gonna take a change (2x)
If I don't never get back to Mississippi, I'm sure gonna change your name

"Brown Skin Girl" is another number filled with striking imagery delivered with plenty of conviction:

Now I got a brownskin girl, with her front tooth crowned with gold (2x)
Spoken: take your and make this one right because it's the best one you got
She got a lien on my body and a mortgage on my soul
Now friend don't ever let your good girl fix you like this woman got me (2x)
Spoken: how she got you then?
Got me stone crazy about her, as a doggone fool can be
Now I ain't going to tell nobody, baby about the way you do
Say you always keep some fat mouth following you

McClennan also turns in several songs associated with other singers including his take on "Sweet Home Chicago", titled "Baby, Don't You Want to Go", an updated version of Bukka White's  1937 hit titled "New Shake 'em on Down" and rips through a ferocious reading of of Sonny Boy I's "Whiskey Headed Blues" titled "Whiskey Headed Woman." Given the erratic nature of McCLennan's style the session may well have been a difficult one as perhaps the spoken introduction to the session's final song, "Baby, Please Don't New Highway 51 78Tell On Me", indicates: "Now get out this here. This is the last one you got now. When you play these blues, you ain't got to play no more. Let's get on like you like it. These your own blues you makin' now. Y'know this is what your wife likes, yeah …You don't need to hurry now, just take your time and play it right cos you ain't got to play 'nother'n after this."

The following year McCLennan was brought back for two session, one on May 10, 1940 and the following on December 12th. The earlier session features a bassist, probably Ransom Knowling or Alfred Elkins, who seems to have flummoxed McClennan as he exhorts him twice on "My Baby's Gone" to "take your time and play it right man." The ideas seem less fresh on these sessions, particularly the second, with a series of remakes such as Curtis Jones' "New Highway No. 51", "Whiskey Headed Man", Sonny Boy I's "New Sugar Mama"and Sleepy John Estes' "Drop Down Mama." To be fair McClennan's "New Highway No. 51" is a nice reworking, featuring the evocative line: "Now yon come that Greyhound, with it's tongue sticking out on the side." One of the better songs from these sessions is the humorous "She's Just Good Huggin' Size":

Lord, I try to give that little woman, everything that she tells me she need (2x)
But she would hold her a conversation with every lowdown dirty man she meet

That little woman she won't wash now now she won't even iron my clothes (2x)
Spoken: Lord have mercy now!
She won't do nothing I tell her but keep them big feets in the road

 McCLennan was brought back for two more eight-song sessions; one on September 15, 1940 and his last on February 20, 1942. The 1941 session produced one of McCLennan's most enduring recordings, "Cross Cut Saw Blues", although according to Honeyboy Edwards he got the song from Hacksaw Harney. "Deep Blue Sea Blues" was a version of his buddy Robert Petway's "Catfish Blues" which he had cut just a few months prior while "Travelin' Highway Man" is a thinly veiled reworking of his earlier "New Highway No. 51." On his final session he shares studio time with Petway who recorded immediately after McClennan. The two can be heard together on the rousing juke joint blues of "Boogie Woogie Woman" with Alfred Elkins plunking away on bass for an exhilarating performance. For McCLennan's final session he found some more melodic material such as "Roll Me, Baby" and the catchy "I Love My Baby." "Shake It Up and Go" harks back to "Bottle It Up And Go" but with less fire while "Bluebird Blues" is a nice reading of Sonny Boy I's famous number.

McClennan and Gang
L to R: Elmore James, Sonny Boy, Tommy McClennan, Little Walter

 McClennan remained in Chicago and seemed to follow the path of Tommy Johnson, a slave to alcohol who lived long after he recorded but never stepped into a studio again. Honeyboy remembers seeing McClennan singing at Turner's on 40th and Indiana during the late 40's: "He played a little bit and he sang, but he didn't play too long 'fore he just …Tommy just dranked so much he just, he couldn't…" Honeyboy encountered his old friend one more time: "One day in 1962 I was down around Twenty-Second street and Clark at a big junkyard. …I went with some boys to sell some scrap iron and who do I see there but Tommy McClennan! Tommy was living out there in a truck trailer made into kind of a house. " Honeyboy tried to look after him but "he studied drinking all the time. …He asked me to take him back to that [hobo] Jungle. I carried him back down there. …Later on I heard he had taken sick, that he was in the hospital. …Tommy died in that hospital in 1962. …That alcohol was what Tommy was living for, but it ate him plumb up." Big Joe Williams took Mike Bloomfield to see McClennan and he recalled "he was just like a skeleton but his eyes were like hot coals burning at you. And his music was like that, too – it had a savage, searing sound. He was a fierce man."

 McClennan has been well served on record with all his recordings appearing on RCA's excellent 2-CD set Bluebird Recordings 1939-1942, which may be out of print, and also available on two individual Document CD's, Tommy McClennan, Vol. 1: Whiskey Head Woman and Tommy McClennan, Vol. 2: Cross Cut Saw. Single disc collections appear on EPM and Acrobat.

Cotton Patch Blues (MP3)

Whiskey Head Woman (MP3)

Cross Cut Saw Blues (MP3)

I Love My Baby (MP3)

Boogie Woogie Woman (MP3)


Bottle Up And Go 78

 I first stumbled upon the music of Tommy McClennan by accident. In my early record buying days one of my favorite haunts was Tower Records at Broadway and West 4th Street in NYC which had a terrific blues section. I think I was looking for a Tommy Johnson record and somehow got him and Tommy McClennan confused. I wound up taking home the LP Cotton Patch Blues 1939 – 1942 on the British Travelin' Man label which sported an evocative sepia toned cover of cottonfields complete with cotton pickers and and overseer riding a horse. I soon realized my mistake but my disappointment was dispelled when the raw, direct sounds of the first track, "You Can Mistreat Me Here", hit me and was truly floored when I heard the third number, "Bottle It Up and Go." I've been a fan ever since.

 McClennan is a contradiction; at once wholly individualistic with his powerhouse gravel-throated voice, sprinkled with frequent entertaining spoken asides propelled by an exciting, rudimentary guitar style while on the other hand derivative, with a repertoire mostly drawn from other artists. Despite his limited bag of songs, his limited guitar prowess (despite the boastfully titled "I'm a Guitar King"), McClennan made it work through the sheer force of his outsized personality and his intense commitment to his material. His record label, Bluebird, and the record buying public obviously saw something in McClennan as he cut forty sides (at five eight-song sessions), everyone issued at the time, between 1939 and 1942.

At the time Cotton Patch Blues was released in 1984 writer Alan Balfour noted that "what little is known of Tommy McClennan's life is based, as is so often the case, on the recollections of others." McClennan is remembered by bluesmen like Big Joe Williams, Big Bill Broonzy, Jimmy Rogers and most importantly Honeyboy Edwards. Our knowledge of McClennan has been expanded since then with the release of Honeyboy Edwards' 1997 autobiography, The World Don't Owe Me Nothing, where he put pen to ink,  recollecting at length about his old friend and partner.

Tommy McClennanThe following is taken from Honeyboy's memoir which paints a vivid portrait of his old pal: "It was out in Wildwood plantation when I first met Tommy McClennan. Tommy would come out there and play the guitar a while and bump on the piano. He could play the guitar pretty good, but he sure wasn't no piano player. He threw the people; he had them dancing and hollering. …He could play that guitar, and he could holler; Tommy had a big mouth.  …Tommy played the guitar and gambled, shot dice, played cards. …Tommy was dark and had big eyes like a frog. He was real little, about four and ten, just touched me right along there about the shoulder. Tommy didn't weigh a bit over 115 pounds. …I and Tommy, we be together all the time. And when he wasn't with me he was with Robert Petway. …Tommy and Robert was about the same size. They'd come down the street with two guitars, looking like midgets. Now Robert could beat Tommy playing but Tommy could holler more than Robert. …I learned a few licks from Tommy, a few numbers he made. He mad the 'Bullfrog Blues' and Petway made 'The Catfish Blues.' …Robert and Tommy McClennan and me, we'd be together all the time. On days we wasn't out playing at the whiskey houses or on the streets; we'd be at Tommy's house drinking and playing cards, and one of us sitting in the corner practicing some song. …Tommy, he wasn't really a guitar picker; he was mostly a frailer, and played a few chords in the key of C, running chords with that big loud voice. …Tommy McClennan and me played both sides of town [Greenwood, MS]. We used to serenade in the white neighborhoods. We'd walk down the street amongst all those old houses, strumming our guitars, and we'd see them curtains fly back and they'd chuck nickels and dimes out in the street for us. We'd play 'Tight Like That', little jump-up songs for them. Then we'd go back across the river where we come from, raise hell and drink, holler our asses off all night long, singing the 'Cotton Patch Blues' in them shotgun houses in our part of town."

 McClennan arrived in Chicago in 1939 supposedly through the intervention of Big Bill Broonzy who told Bluebird talent scout Lester Melrose he ought to look him up. Again, Honeyboy picks up the tale: "I missed Lester Melrose when he came through Greenwood looking for musicians to record. …He picked up Tommy McClennan then and Tommy recorded 'Bottle It Up And Go' for him. He recorded Tommy, Robert Petway, a gang of musicians through the South." "Bottle It Up And Go" is one of the songs most associated with McClennan although according to Honeyboy he learned the song from Memphis Jug Band member Dewey Corley and in turn taught it to McClennan.  McClennan insisted on playing the song as he learned it in the South, ignoring Northern sensibilities when he sang the controversial lines:

Now the nigger and the white man playin' seven-up
Nigger beat the white man was scared to pick it up 

Broonzy tells a story of McClennan singing these lines at a house party and being forcibly ejected, forced to leave via the window with parts of his guitar around his neck. McClennan is obviously pleased with this act of defiance, barley able to contain himself as he chuckles throughout the rest of the song. It's a bravo performance with McClennan hollering out the blues with gusto, using his guitar to finish his verses, offering a running commentary with his spoken asides and finishing up with an energetic bit of trademark scatting. Jimmy Rogers, who met McClennan in Vance, MS commented on his scatting perhaps half-seriously: "Little Richard sneaked around there and stole 'be-bop-a-lu-bop' and 'be-bam-boom'. That was Tommy."

Bottle It Up And Go (MP3)




Show Notes:

 Black Snake Moan Ad

Today's show is a sequel to a show I did about a year ago on the early Texas piano players. Today's program is wider ranging look at the early Texas blues scene.  The title  comes from Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Got The Blues" recorded in 1926. To quote Tony Russell from the Penguin Guide To Blues: "All the companies involved in the blues business in the '20s and '30s made frequent recording trips to Dallas and San Antonio, and the music they collected and issued is a rich, colorful mixture of theatre and club artists, street singers and pianists circuit-riding the logging camps."

In the 1920's Dallas became a recording center primarily because it is a geographical hub. The major race labels, those catering to a black audience, held regular sessions in Dallas. Okeh, Vocalion, Brunswick Columbia, RCA, and Paramount sent scouts and engineers to record local artists once or twice a year. Quite a number of sessions were also recorded in San Antonio with a few others cut in Fort Worth. Engineers came into the city, set up their equipment in a hotel room, and put the word out. As a result of Jefferson's commercial success, blues singers from around the south flocked to Dallas with the hope of being recorded. In addition to Blind Lemon Jefferson, there were other important blues musicians, who recorded in Dallas during the heyday of Deep Ellum and Central Tracks. These included Lillian Glinn, Little Hat Jones, Texas Alexander, Jesse Thomas, Ramblin Thomas, Sammy Hill, Otis Harris, Willie Reed, Oscar "Buddy" Woods, Black Ace and the young T-Bone Walker.

Blind Lemon Jefferson's records sold thousands of copies to blacks in the urban ghettos of the North, but in Dallas Jefferson was recognized primarily as street singer who performed daily with a tin cup at the corner of Elm Street and Central Avenue. Despite his limited commercial success in Dallas, he had a great influence on the development of Texas blues. Leadbelly credited him as an inspiration, as did T-Bone Walker. What distinguishes Jefferson from the other blues performers of his generation was his singular approach to the guitar, which established the basis of what is today known as the Texas style. Little is known about Jefferson's early life. He must have heard songsters and bluesmen, like Henry "Ragtime Texas" Thomas and "Texas" Alexander. Both Thomas and Alexander traveled around East Texas and performed a variety of blues and dance tunes. Legends of his prowess as a bluesman abound among the musicians who heard him, and sightings of Jefferson in different places around the country are plentiful. By his teens, he began spending time in Dallas. About 1912 he started performing in the Deep Ellum and Central Track areas of Dallas, where he met Leadbelly. The two became musical partners in Dallas and the outlying areas of East Texas. Jefferson was known to perform almost daily at the corner of Elm Street and Central Avenue in Dallas. In 1925 Jefferson was discovered by a Paramount recording scout and taken to Chicago to make records. Though he was not the first blues singer-guitarist, or the first to make commercial recordings, Jefferson was the first to attain a national audience. His extremely successful recording career began in 1926 and continued until 1929. He recorded 110 sides. Jefferson is widely recognized as a profound influence upon the development of the Texas blues tradition and the growth of American popular music. His significance has been acknowledged by blues, jazz, and rock musicians, from Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and T-Bone Walker to Bessie Smith. Jefferson died in Chicago on December 22, 1929.

Henry Townsend 78Evidence suggests Henry Thomas was an itinerant street musician, a musical hobo who rode the rails across Texas and possibly to the World Fairs in St. Louis and Chicago just before and after the turn of the century. Most agree he was the oldest African-American folk artist to produce a significant body of recordings, supposedly born in 1874. Thomas's repertoire bridged the 19th and 20th centuries, providing a compelling glimpse into the pre-blues era. The 23 songs he cut for Vocalion between 1927 and 1929 include a spiritual, ballads, reels, dance songs, and blues.On many of his pieces, he simultaneously played the quills or panpipes, a common but seldom-recorded African-American folk instrument indigenous to Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. His lead-in on "Bull Doze Blues" was reworked 40 years later by Canned Heat in their version of "Going Up the Country."

Texas Alexander was well known in the Texas Brazos River bottomlands when he started recording in 1927. Unable to play himself, Alexander used a variety of accompanists including Little Hat Jones, Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang to the string band blues of the Mississipi Sheiks and the full on jazz of King Oliver's New Orleans band. Alexander's performing and recording career continued into the '30s with sessions for Vocalion. In 1940, he was sent to the state pen at Paris, TX, for killing his wife. After his release in 1945 he spent time in Houston, joining his cousin Lightnin' Hopkins for live shows and recording for the Freedom label with pianist Buster Pickens. By 1954 he was back in the bottomlands where he died of syphilis.

Oscar "Buddy" Woods was a Louisiana street musician known as "The Lone Wolf" and a pioneer in the style of lap steel bottleneck blues slide guitar. Not long after arriving in Shreveport, Woods began a long association with guitarist Ed Schaffer, and together they performed as the Shreveport Home Wreckers. Woods and Schaffer made their first two recordings as the Shreveport Home Wreckers for Victor in Memphis on May 31, 1930. From this first session up until his last, a field recording for the Library of Congress made on October 8, 1940, Oscar "Buddy" Woods was involved in the making of no less than 35Black Ace sides. The impact of Oscar "Buddy" Woods on the development of bottleneck slide playing was crucial; one musician he took under his wing around 1930 was Texas native Babe Lemon Karo Turner, who later assumed the name Black Ace. The Black Ace honed his skills playing at community functions during the '20s, then worked with Smokey Hogg at dances in Greenville, TX in the '30s. Hogg and Buddy Woods were frequent partners for Turner. Turner had a show on Fort Worth radio station KFJZ from 1936 – 1941. He recorded for Decca in 1937. After a stint in the army during the early '40s, Turner's jobs were mostly non-musical. He did make a 1960 LP for Arhoolie. Turner took his nickname from the 1936 recording "Black Ace."Rambling Thomas was the brother of Jesse Thomas. Thomas was discovered by recording scouts playing in Dallas, but prior to that had performed in San Antonio and Oklahoma. Thomas cut 16 sides for Paramount in 1928 and four sides for Victor in 1932.

J.T. "Funny Paper" Smith was a pioneering Texas blues guitarist who was also a gifted composer and singer. A contemporary of such legends as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Dennis "Little Hat" Jones, next to nothing concrete is known of his life; assumed to have been born in East Texas during the latter half of the 1880s, he was a minstrel who wandered about the panhandle region, performing at fairs, fish fries, dances and other community events (often in the company of figures including Tom Shaw, Texas Alexander and Bernice Edwards). Smith settled down long enough to record some 22 songs between 1930 and 1931, among them his trademark number "Howling Wolf Blues, Parts One and Two"; indeed, he claimed the alternate nickname "Howling Wolf" some two decades before it was appropriated by his more famous successor, Chester Burnett. His career supposedly came to an abrupt end during the mid-'30s, when he was arrested for murdering a man over a gambling dispute; Smith was found guilty and imprisoned, and is believed to have died in his cell circa 1940.

Little Hat Jones
Little Hat Jones

George "Little Hat" Jones was born October 5, 1899, in Bowie County, TX. He was a well-known street singer in San Antonio in the mid-'20s, and made his first recordings there on June 15, 1929. At the same session he sat in on guitar for an additional nine tracks by Texas Alexander. OKeh brought Jones back six days later to record four more tunes and again a year later, on June 14, 1930, when he four more. For whatever reason, Jones never recorded again, leaving behind a legacy of ten songs, plus nine more as a sideman for Texas Alexander. He died in Naples, TX, in 1981.

Rambling Thomas was the brother of Jesse Thomas. Thomas was discovered by recording scouts playing in Dallas, but prior to that had performed in San Antonio and Oklahoma. Thomas cut 16 sides for Paramount in 1928 and four sides for Victor in 1932.

Among the other performers heard today are fine woman singers like Lillian Glinn, Hattie Burleson, Bobbie Cadilliac, Hattie Hudson, jug and string bands like the Dallas String Band and Frenchy's Stringband. Hattie Burleson was from Dallas and waxed only seven sides. She was discovered by fellow Dallas singer Lillian Glinn while she was singing spirituals in church. Glinn was born in 1900 in Dallas, Texas where she made her first recordings in 1927, recording 22 sides until December 1929.

John Henry Ad John Henry Ad

John Henry (MP3)

Cottonfield Blues (MP3)

I've always been intrigued by the old blues advertisements and have been collecting them for some time. The bulk of these appeared in the Chicago Defender and I'm fortunate to have access to all the old back issues through a university library.  Other ads stem from promotional material sent by the record companies to record stores and distributors. Outside of scanning ads from the Chicago Defender I've grabbed additional ads from books, periodicals and the web. It should also be mention that record collector John Tefteller uncovered a huge cache of Paramount promotional material a few years back. 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 evocative ads available in his Classic Blues Artwork Calendars since 2004 with a book of these advertisements planned for the future.

As writer Elijah Wald summarizes: "For roughly ten years, from the dawn of the blues recording boom in 1920 until the Depression temporarily destroyed the 'race record' industry, blues was the most popular music in black America, and the Chicago Defender was the principle venue for record advertisements aimed at African American consumers." Wald has compiled a handy index of Chicago Defender ads on his website.

Lonesome Mama Blues
Mamie Smith Ad, 1922

The following background is taken from the Chicago Defender website: "On May 5, 1905, Robert Sengstacke Abbott founded the Chicago Defender in a small kitchen in his landlord's apartment, with an initial investment of 25 cents and a press run of 300 copies. The Chicago Defender's first issues were in the form of four-page, six-column handbills, filled with local news items gathered by Abbott and clippings from other newspapers. Five years later, the Chicago Defender began to attract a national audience. By the start of World War I, the Chicago Defender was the nation's most influential Black weekly newspaper, with more than two thirds of its readership base located outside of Chicago." The paper began publishing on a daily basis in 1956.

Once a week I will be presenting an ad or two with some background as well as audio clips. I don't plan on putting these up in any particular order and will omit the large number of early ads mainly devoted to the classic female singers like Ethel Waters, Ida Cox, Sara Marin, Alberta Hunter, Lucille Hegamin and the like.  Since I'm doing a show on early Texas blues today I thought I'd reproduce the ads for Henry Thomas' magnificent two-part 78 debut, "John Henry" b/w "Cottonfield Blues" cut on July 1, 1927. Vocalion seem to have had faith in this new artist issuing separate ads for both sides. In 1928 Thomas issued six sides with Vocalion placing four ads in the Chicago Defender.

Henry Thomas, nicknamed "Ragtime Texas", was born in 1874 in Big Sandy, Texas by most accounts, a town which lies roughly between Dallas and Shreveport. The 1874 date marks him as one of the eldest-born blues performers on record. The honor for oldest goes to Johnny "Daddy Stovepipe" Watson born in Alabama in 1867 and who first recorded in 1924. "Flailing his guitar", Tony Russell writes, "in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpies, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend." The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 to 1929 provides, Russell notes, "a wholly absorbing picture of black-country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues." Thomas embodied the term songster, cutting blues, rags, country stomps, refashioned coon songs and square Henry Thomas 78dance numbers. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him from a former railroad conductor, "Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I'd always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was  a regular hobo, but I'd carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket." Speaking of his famous "Railroadin' Some", William Barlow calls it the most "vivid and intense recollection of railroading" in all the early blues recorded in the 1920's. As for his guitar, Stephen Calt ranked his work "with the finest dance blues ever recorded…its intricate simultaneous treble picking and drone bass would have posed a challenge to any blues guitarist of any era." The pan pipes also linked him to an earlier era and are most evocative in perhaps his best-known composition, "Bull Doze Blues", a song reworked by Canned Heat as "Going Up The Country", some 40 years after the original. After making his final recordings in Chicago in 1929, Henry Thomas disappeared completely from sight. Befitting his near-mythic stature some reports claim to have seen him perform as late as the mid-1950's on Texas street comers. It is believed that he most likely passed away sometime during this period. All of Thomas' recordings can be found on Texas Worried Blues on Yazoo and Henry Thomas ('Ragtime Texas') 1927-1929 on Document with little difference in sound quality although the Yazoo features detailed notes by Stephen Calt.



Show Notes

***Shortened show due to Rochester Jazz Festival live broadcast***

Plenty of pre-war and country blues on today's program. The show opens with a trio of excellent piano numbers by James 'Boodle It' Wiggins, Montana Taylor and Cow Cow Davenport. I know absolutely nothing about James 'Boodle It' Wiggins (I have no idea what that nickname means but I like the way it sounds!) but he was a wonderfully expressive, heavy voiced singer who cut eight issued sides for Paramount in 1928 and 1929. He's backed by an excellent unlisted piano player, who if I had to guess is likely Bob Call who plays on Wiggins' two tracks from his first Paramount session. Montana Taylor's "Whoop And Holler Stomp" is a rollicking barrelhouse number featuring the exuberant vocals of the Jazoo Boys. Taylor only cut two 78's in 1929 for Vocalion, all excellent, and made a comeback in 1946 cutting Overhauling Bluessome fine sides for the Circle label. Cow Cow Davenport is best remembered for his famous "Cow Cow Blues", one of the earliest recorded examples of Boogie-Woogie. He was a dazzling piano player as he proves on the relentless "Slum Gullion Stomp."

We play a couple of twin spins today by Leadbelly and Big Joe Williams. Leadbelly's "When A Man's A Long Way From Home" is a stomping boogie guitar number that opens with the following monologue: "Now I'm gonna sing you the blues when a man is a long ways from home and a stranger in a town. And that brings the boogie-woogie about, which what the boogie-woogie come from right now, I'm gonna show you where it come from and I've been playing it for 35 years." From a few year earlier is a wonderful rendition of "Alabama Bound" backed by the Golden Gate Quartet. You wouldn't think this pairing would work but there was some real magic in the studio and this number is a stunner. The two Big Joe numbers come from the excellent 5-CD set, Big Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues, on JSP which collects everything Big Joe cut between 1935-1951 plus the complete period sides by Tommy McClennan, Robert Petway and Honeyboy Edwards. The shuffling "Wanita" features drummer Jump Jackson and the wailing harp of Sonny Boy Williamson I while "Overhauling Blues" is a fine solo number cut for Trumpet in 1951.

There's plenty of other early country blues including "Cross Cut Saw" by the above mentioned Tommy McClennan. McClennan was part of the last wave of down-home blues guitarists to record for the major labels in Chicago, recording prolifically for Bluebird between 1939-1942. He left a powerful legacy that included "Bottle It up and Go," "Cross Cut Saw Blues," "Deep Blue Sea Blues" (aka "Catfish Blues"), songsJ.T. Funny Papa Smith covered by numerous artists. Other interesting tracks include numbers by Mississippi Sarah & Daddy Stovepipe and J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith. 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 1930s and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings. There is very little information about the background of J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith. He was born in Texas, between 1880 and 1890, an itinerant bluesman who played the parties, fish fries and juke joints, often in the company of Texas Alexander and Dennis "Little Hat" Jones. He made nearly twenty recordings in a two-year period between 1930-1931. Amongst these was his trademark song "Howling Wolf Blues" (in a letter to dealers from Brunswick, the record, they said, was "the biggest selling record on the market today") , and occasionally he was billed as The Howling Wolf. Shortly after his last recording session in 1931 he was purportedly involved in a fight at a gambling joint and killed a man. He was sent to the Texas Penitentiary and his blues career was effectively over. He died some years later, possibly in 1940 or thereabouts. He was a deft guitar picker, expressive singer and a talented, imaginative lyricist who deserves wider recognition.

Also on deck are some fine latter day country blues performers. I recently wrote a post about Joe Callicott who's long been a favorite. "Joe's Troubled Blues" comes from his final session in 1968 for Blue Horizon. All Roosevelt Holt & Friendsthese sides plus eight unissued sides can be found on the CD Furry Lewis & Mississippi Joe Callicott: The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions. Another fine Mississippi bluesman was James "Son" Thomas. Thomas grew up on a farm in Mississippi and played in juke joints and barrelhouses before he began recording in the late '60s. Thomas made festival appearances in the '70s and '80s and recorded for a slew of small labels. Unfortunately many of his records are out of print. He died in 1993. We also play a cut by Boogie Bill Webb who was influenced first hand by Tommy Johnson. Moving from Mississippi, he settled in New Orleans in 1952, where longtime friend Dave Bartholomew helped Webb land a deal with Imperial Records. In 1968 he recorded several songs for folklorist David Evans later issued on the Arhoolie LP Roosevelt Holts and His Friends which is where today's cut, "Drinkin’ And Stinkin’", comes from. In 1989, thanks to funding from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, he also issued his first full-length LP, the Flying Fish release Drinkin' and Stinkin', but he died on August 22, 1990, at the age of 66.

On the post-war front we feature some distinctive singers like Dinah Washington, Big Joe Turner and Percy Mayfield. Well regarded in jazz circles, Washington was certainly a fine blues singer as she proved on albums like Back To The Blues, Sings The Blues and the excellent Dinah Washington SingsPercy Mayfield RCA Bessie Smith. Big Joe Turner needs no introduction and is in peak form on 1948's "Mardi Gras Boogie" sporting some fabulous boogie piano from the peerless Pete Johnson. Percy Mayfield was a much admired blues singer/song writer but the fine records he waxed for RCA in the 70's have been overlooked. The albums Mayfield cut for the label in 1970 and 1971 (Percy Mayfield Sings, Percy Mayfield, Weakness Is a Thing Called Man, and Blues and Then Some) were excellent. Mayfield's writing and voice remained in fine shape, and he was surrounded by terrific bands featuring musicians such as Eric Gale, Chuck Rainey, Pretty Purdie, Snooky Young, and Richard Tee to name a few plus full horn sections and female backing vocalists. A couple of years back the Raven label finally issued some of these sides on the 25 track Blues Laureate: The RCA Years.

The show also includes two gospel numbers by artists who's music had a close affinity to blues; Rev.Gary Davis and Blind Willie Johnson. Davis did occasionally play blues but Johnson did not. It's not unusual for blues artists to dabble in blues. Among those who crossed the line were Charlie Patton, Bukka White, Blind Willie McTell, Mississippi John Hurt, Sam Collins and others. Many other quit the blues life for the religious life such as Robert Wilkins, Georgia Tom (Thomas Dorsey), Ishman Bracey among others.


« Previous PageNext Page »