Skip JamesDevil Got My WomanThe Complete Early Recordings
Jim ThompkinsBedside BluesSon House & The Great Delta Blues Singers
Garfield AkersJumpin' And Shoutin' BluesSon House & The Great Delta Blues Singers
James BrewerI'm So Glad Good Whiskey's BackBlues From Maxwell Street
Arvella GrayRailroad Song And John HenryBlues From Maxwell Street
Sippie WallaceYou Gonna Need My HelpSippie Wallace Vol. 2 1925-1945
Kitty GrayMy Baby's WaysTexas Piano Vol. 2 1927-1938
Lil JohnsonStavin' ChainLil Johnson & Barrelhouse Annie Vol. 3 1937
Cecil GantTrain TimeCecil Gant Vol. 7 1950-1951
Cecil GantOwl StewCecil Gant Vol. 7 1950-1951
Blind Lemon JeffersonRabbit Foot BluesBest Of
J. T. ''Funny Paper'' SmithHoppin' Toad FrogJ. T. ''Funny Paper'' Smith 1930-1931
George ToreyMarried Woman BluesMemphis Blues 1927-1938
Jimmy NolenGlad And Sorry BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Sonny ParkerShe's In The Graveyard NowRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Stavin' Chain (Wilson Jones)(Little) Liza JaneField Recordings Vol. 16 1934-1940
John 'Big Nig' BrayTrench BluesToo Late, Too Late Vol. 5 1927-1964
Walter TaylorThirty Eight and PlusRare Country Blues Vol. 2 1929-1943
Jimmy DeBerryRising Sun BluesMemphis Blues (JSP)
Jimmy DeBerry & WalterWorried, Wonderin' And GladBack
Blind Leroy GarnettMy Lovin' BluesBoogie Woogie and Barrelhouse Piano Vol. 2 1928-1930
Mozelle AldersonTight In ChicagoBarrelhouse Mamas
Raymond BarrowWalking BluesBoogie Woogie and Barrelhouse Piano Vol. 2 1928-1930
Sidney MaidenSan Quentin BluesTrouble An' Blues
Easy BabyGood Morning Mr. BluesGrab Me Another Half A Pint
Billy BranchHootchie Kootchie ManGrab Me Another Half A Pint
Leadbelly & Josh WhiteDon’t Lie BuddyLeadbelly Vol. 3 1943-1944
LeadbellyNew York CityLeadbelly Vol. 6 1947
Skoodle Dum Doo & SheffieldBroome Street BluesRare Country Blues Vol. 2 1929-1943
James TisdomCadillac BluesTexas Country Blues 1948-1951
Ralph WillisAmen BluesShake That Thing: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Jesse FullerNinety Nine Years And One DarkMove On Down The Line
Homesick JamesFayette County BluesAin't Sick No More

Show Notes:

Cecil Gant Obituary, 1951

As usual a wide range of blues on today’s program spanning from 1926 through the end of the 1970’s. We have several mini-spotlights today including twin spins of Cecil Gant, Jimmy DeBerry, Leadbelly plus a couple of album features. Up first we spin two 1950 tracks by Cecil Gant. Gant, who went by the moniker the G.I. Sing-Sation, was an army private who allegedly got his first break while performing for a war bond rally in 1944. He scored a massive hit the same year with “I Wonder” the first release on the new Gilt-Edge label. The record’s huge success prompted others to form record companies devoted to black music. Gant was a first rate ballad singer in the vein of Nat King Cole and Charles Brown but he was also a superb bluesman who could lay down some storming boogie-woogie. Gant recorded prolifically for the L.A. labels Gilt-Edge and 4 Star and in Nashville, which was probably his hometown, for Bullet, Dot and Decca, meanwhile playing in nightclubs throughout the country. Between 1944 and 1951 he waxed over 150 sides before his untimely death in 1951 at the age of 38. The Blue Moon label has provided an invaluable service by issuing all of Gant’s recordings across seven CD’s. Listening to these CD’s gives me a renewed appreciation for Gant and the series actually gains strength as it moves along.  One of today's selections, "Owl Stew", was Gant's private tribute a whorhouse on Fourth Avenue North in Nashville. As he explained, the so called " stew in Nashville" is "really the best" and "the price is low, if you get it once, youn gonna want some more." I’ll be featuring Gant more extensively on an upcoming show. For an excllent overview of Gant consult Nick Tosches' Unsung Hereos of Rock N' Roll.

Another great double shot is a pair of tracks by Jimmy DeBerry and Walter Horton cut some twenty years apart. In the 1920’s in Memphis DeBerry hung around with Will Shade and members of the Memphis Jug Band plus legendary figures like Frank Stokes and Jack Kelly. In 1939 the American Record Company set up a field unit in Memphis and recorded Little Buddy Doyle, Jack Kelly, Charlie Burse and ten sides by Jimmy DeBerry and His Memphis Playboys. During the 50’s he worked with Walter Horton as Jimmy & Walter and the duo recorded for Sun in 1953. That year he played on the classic instrumental "Easy" and cut our selection "Before Long" issued as by Jimmy & Walter. The track "Worried, Wonderin' And Glad" was cut circa 1972-73 and comes from the album Back, The Compete Memphis Sessions Vol.2 – 1972 the second of two hard to find albums (the first was titled Easy) DeBerry and Horton cut on the Crosscut label. There are some fine moments on these albums although it should be noted that DeBerry’s timing is idiosyncratic to say the least and the sound quality leaves much to be desired. However, DeBerry is a marvelous singer as he proves on the gorgeous "Before Long" backed by Houston Stokes’ sparse drumming. Twenty year later his voice is more weathered but still expressive and Horton, as always, is superb. The Crosscut sessions were DeBerry’s last. He passed in 1985.

We also pick a pair of fine 1940’s tunes by Leadbelly. Leadbelly  had a vast repertoire that incorporated  ballads, worksongs, spirituals, blues-maxwell-lpcowboy songs, children’s songs and of course blues. Thankfully Leadbelly was recorded in depth in a recording career that stretched from 1934 until his death in 1949. The Document  label alone has issued over a dozen CD’s devoted to his music. Our selections come from the Document collections Leadbelly Vol. 3 1939-1947 and Leadbelly Vol. 6 1947. The latter entry (comprising two Folkways albums from 1947 and a session of unknown origins from the same year) is particularly strong and where "New York City" comes from, a song he originally cut back in 1940. "Don't Lie Buddy"is a wonderful 1944 collaboration between Josh White and Leadbelly.

We spotlight a couple of compilation LP’s (both unavailable on CD) today including two tracks from Blues From Maxwell (read notes – PDF) on the Heritage label and two from Grab Me Another Half A Pint on the Barrelhouse imprint. The music on Blues From Maxwell Street was organized by blues scholar Paul Oliver in 1960 and features tracks by Arvella Gray, James Brewer, Daddy Stovepipe and King Davis. Not only is there some great music but the album also serves as an important document of several fine bluesman who collectively recorded very little. These were also Daddy Stovepipe’s final recordings. His real name was Johnny Watson and he was born in 1867, making him the oldest artist on record. He made his debut in 1924 and more sides in 1931 and 1935 featuring his wife Mississippi Sarah on these later sessions. As Oliver wrote in the notes: "The blues singers of Maxwell Street are many, and many are transitory figures, here today, hopping a freight train tomorrow. Amongst the best and most familiar figures on the street are Blind Grey, Blind Brewer, King David and Daddy Stovepipe … and these are the singers who are featured on this documentary of one of the most colorful Negro streets in the United States." Both Brewer and Gray were recorded live on Maxwell Street in 1964 for the documentary And This Is Free. Those wonderful recordings were issued several years ago on the 3-CD And This Is Maxwell Street and the footage has is now available on DVD. As for Oliver I’m glad to report that the blues preeminent scholar has just released a new book, Barrelhouse Blues that is currently sitting on my desk waiting to be read.

Give Me Another Half A Pint LPGrab Me Another Half A Pint features several excellent lesser-known Chicago artists including Kansas City Red, Sonny Boy McGhee, Alex Randle AKA Easy Baby and the first recordings by a young Billy Branch. "Good Morning Mr. Blues" finds Easy Baby in commanding form. Easy cut just two albums but they’re both knockouts; Sweet Home Chicago Blues cut for Barrelhouse in 1977 features Kansas City red and Eddie Taylor and If It Ain’t One Thing, It’s Another was cut for Wolf in 2000 featuring Taylor’s son on guitar. Easy also appears on the compilation Low Blows. Sadly Easy passed just a month ago. For his part Branch is tough as nails on his two numbers including a gritty reworking of the classic "Hoochie Koochie Man" sporting some new lyrics:

I came to Chicago, in the summer of 69’
I didn’t smoke no reefer, I didn’t drink no wine
When the summer was over, I was a changed man
Now I can turn up a bottle and they call me reefer Dan
And you know I’m here, everybody knows I’m here
Cause’ I’m your Hootchie Cootchie man everybody knows I’m here

As always there’s plenty of blues from the 1920’s and 30’s including cuts by Skip James, Kitty Gray, J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith, Walter Taylor, plus couple of artists who recorded for the Library of Congress among others. Skip James cut just 18 sides (James claimed to have cut 26 sides) for Paramount in 1931 and they remain among the rarest and most treasured blues recordings of the era. James worked as a traveling musician work camps, farms and whorehouses as a pianist. He also earned money as a bootlegger and gambler. In 1964 he made storied a comeback at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival and cut several albums before his death in 1969. He hung on just long enough to hear Cream record his classic "I’m Glad"

Practically nothing is known of Texas bluesman J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith and not even a photo has been discovered. He cut 20 sides at sessions in 1930, 1931 plus a batch of unreleased sides in 1935. Thomas Shaw who played with Smith in Okalahoma remembered Smith as a plantation overseer and convicted murderer.  His debut single, the two-part  "Howlin’ Wolf Blues" was a big hit. A June 1931 letter from Brunswick to dealers called it "the biggest selling record on the market today. …It is true that this is a Race Record and you might think therefore that its sales would be confined to your colored trade. Not so. You will be surprised how many white folk will buy it."

Even less is known about some of our other featured artists. Walter Taylor was from Western Kentucky where he was associated with 12-string guitarist John Byrd. Walter cut 7 sides with a trio that included Byrd, heard to good effect on the jaunty hokum number "Thirty Eight and Plus" plus 5 others as a duet with Byrd using the name Washboard Walter. There’s seems to be some disagreement if Washboard Walter and Walter Taylor are the same person. For what it worth I think they are. You can decide for yourself by picking up the excellent Rare Country Blues Vol. 2 1929-1943 on Document. Also from that compilation we play "Broome Street Blues" one of four sides cut in 1943 by the duo of Skoodle Dum Doo & Sheffield who display some stunning interplay between guitar and harmonica plus a keen lyric sense:

I’ve got the Broome Street blues
I been sweeping all over town
I done swept up the gal I love now, I believe I’ll settle down

Kitty Gray and her Wampus Cats cut nine sides (two unissued) at an October 30, 1937 date in San Antonio. The great slide guitarist Oscar "Buddy" Woods plays guitar on the session and is in fine form on "My Baby’s Ways."  Woods also cut a 78 under his own name at the same session. Both sides by Stavin’ Chain (Wilson Jones) and John "Big Nig" Bray were recorded in 1934 just a few months apart In Louisiana by John Lomax for the Library of Congress. Bray's "Trench Blues" is a fascinating song about World War I. Bray actually served in France, one of some 50,000 black troops who were in Europe. Another singer to have served was "Kingfish" Bill Tomlin who cut "Army Blues" about his experiences.


Whistler's Jug BandLow Down BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Whistler's Jug BandJug Band SpecialRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 2
Memphis Jug BandStealin', Stealin'Ruckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 2
Memphis Jug BandOn The Road AgainMemphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Memphis Jug BandWhitehouse Station BluesMemphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Cannon's Jug StompersViola Lee BluesMemphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Cannon's Jug StompersMinglewood BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Cannon's Jug StompersBig Railroad BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Birmingham Jug BandGerman BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 2
Birmingham Jug BandBill WilsonRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Birmingham Jug BandCane Brake BluesJaybird Coleman & Birmingham Jug Band 1927-1930
Ben FergusonPlease Don't Holler, MamaRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Ben FergusonTry And Treat Her RightRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
John HarrisGlad And Sorry BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Louisville Jug BandShe's In The Graveyard NowRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Jed DaveportSave Me SomeMemphis Shakedown
Jed DaveportYou Ought To Move Out Of TownRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Cincinnati Jug BandNewport BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
King David's Jug BandRising Sun BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 2
King David's Jug BandTear It DownRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Noah Lewis's Jug BandTicket Agent BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Noah Lewis's Jug BandSelling the JellyRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 2
Kaiser CliftonCash Money BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Minnie WallaceThe Old Folks Started ItRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 2
Cannon's Jug StompersLast Chance BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 2
Cannon's Jug StompersGoing To GermanyMemphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Cannon's Jug StompersWalk Right InMemphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Jack KellyCold Iron BedRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Jack KellyR.F.C. BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 2
Daddy StovepipeGreenville StrutRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 2
Daddy StovepipeThe SpasmGood For What Ails You
Memphis Jug BandK.C. MoanMemphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers
Memphis Jug BandCocaine Habit BluesRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 1
Memphis Jug BandYou May Leave, But This Will Bring You BackRuckus Juice & Chittlins Vol. 2

Show Notes:

In the few years they were popular on race records, over a dozen or so jugbands made scores of records in a variety of different lineups.  Paul Oliver noted that by “half-spitting, half-vocalizing into it a player could produce a fruity, resonant sound not dissimilar to that of a tuba.” Memphis boasted a number of important jugbands including Cannon’s Jug Stomper’s, the Memphis jug band and groups led by Jed Davenport, Jack Kelly and Noah Lewis. Louisville was another rich area that claimed bands such as the Dixieland Jug Blowers, Phillip’s Louisville Jug Band, the Kentucky Jug Band and groups fronted by Clifford Hayes, Earl McDonald and Whistler AKA Buford Threlkeld. The Louisville jug outfits were strongly jazz oriented. Other groups included the Birmingham Jug Band, the Cincinnati Jug Band, King David’s Jug Band, the duo of Daddy Stovepipe and Mississippi Sarah. The dominant repertoire of the groups was blues but they also performed common-stock tunes, rags, reels and jazz. There were also a few white groups that used jugs.

Dixieland Jug Blowers
Dixieland Jug Blowers

The origins of jug bands can be traced to Louisville, Kentucky around the turn of the century. It was around the turn of the century when the Cy Anderson Jug Band first appeared on the streets of Louisville, becoming an immediate smash. Between 1900 and 1909 the band played riverboats, carnivals and parties using Louisville as their home base. It was Earl McDonald who took the reins from the Cy Anderson Jug Band and even took lessons from member B.D. Tite. McDonald formed his own band and proved himself a shrew promoter, headlining dates in New York and Chicago. Also based in Louisville was Clifford Hayes who took up the violin at an early age and joined Earl McDonald’s Louisville Jug Band in 1914. Both men backed singer Sara Martin on ten sides in 1924 listed as Sara Martin and Her Jug Band. The two men had a falling out and thereafter led separate bands. Among the bands Hayes worked with were the Dixieland Jug Blowers and the Old Southern Jug Band.  The Dixieland Jug Blowers were the most sophisticated of the jug bands even employing clarinetist Johnny Dodds on record. Hayes left jugband music for a spell, taking up alto sax in the 20’s but returned to the music and was still leading a jug band when he passed circa 1955.  Vocalist Ben Ferguson and John Harris both recorded with the Louisville Jug Band. Ferguson cut two sides for Victor in 1931 backed by the band while John Harris cut two sides for Victor in 1931 including one with the Louisville Jug Band. These performances featuring Hayes and McDonald were their final collaboration.

Whistler and His Jug Band was a long-lasting and popular group that recorded for several labels from the mid-'20s through the early '30s, and influenced many of the jug bands that followed. The group was formed in 1915 in Louisville, KY by guitarist, vocalist and whistler Buford Threlkeld. The band first entered the recording studios in September 1924 when they traveled to Richmond, IN to cut several sides for the Gennett label. The second recording trip for Whistler & His Jug Band took them to St. Louis in April 1927. On this trip, the jug band recorded 10 songs for Okeh.  In June, 1931the band got to record in their hometown of Louisville

Memphis Jug Band 2-LP (Yazoo 1067)

The last of the Louisville bands to record was the Phillips Jug Band/Kentucky Jug Band a creation of saxophonist Hooks Tilford. He had previously played in brass bands and worked with Ma Rainey who he recorded with in 1925. The following year he formed his first jug band. He recorded three sessions in 1930 under the name the Phillips Jug Band and the Kentucky Jug Band.

Singer, guitarist and harmonica player Will Shade founded the Memphis Jug Band circa 1925/26 to play in the city’s parks, streets and taverns. The idea was to get together a band “something like the boys in Louisville.” When early in 1927 the Victor record company decided to send a field recording unit into the South to record blues, gospel and white country music, it struck gold in Memphis with the city’s pre-eminent jug band, led by Will Shade, also known as ‘Son Brimmer’. Highly respected A & R man Ralph Peer had visited Memphis some months earlier and had auditioned and been impressed by the Memphis Jug Band. His confidence was rewarded with very good sales of their first two records. They recorded more prolifically than any other jugband, cutting 80 odd sides between 1927-1934. They drew from a large pool of local talent with 19 musicians recorded under the band’s name. An early unrecorded incarnation supposedly included Frank Stokes and Furry Lewis. The bands popularity led them to also perform at political rallies, store openings and other civic affairs. They performed at  gigs at like the Chickasaw Country Club, the Hunt Polo Club and at conventions at the Peabody Hotel. They were also hired regularly by Edward H Crump, the local political boss, for private parties and by food stands and restaurants to attract people. They played on the back of trucks advertising Colonial Bread and Schlitz. By the late 30’s jugband music’s popularity ebbed but Shade was still working into the 1950’s and in the last decade of his life made a number of documentary recordings. Shade passed in 1966.

Two artists connected to the Memphis Jug Band were professional gambler Kaiser Clifton and vaudville veteran Minnie Wallace. Clifton cut four sides for Victor in 1930 backed by members of the Memphis Jug Band including Will Shade. Wallace also cut sides backed by members of the Memphis Jug Band including Will Shade in 1929 and 1935. She cut six sides in total plus several sides that were never issued.

Cannon's Jug Stompers
Cannon's Jug Stompers

With popularity of the Memphis Jug band a number of other jug bands had organized in Memphis, including Cannon's Jug Stompers, Jed Davenport's Beale Street Jug Band  and Jack Kelly's Jug Band (later known as The South Memphis Jug Band). The city boasted at least eight jug bands by the end of the 20’s. Harmonica player and singer Jed Davenport is believed to be a medicine show entertainer who was active in Memphis in the 1920’s and 30’s.  He cut two solo sides in 1929 and six sides in 1930 with his Beale Street Jug Band. This was probably and principally a studio conceived recording group as it included; Joe McCoy, and musical (and for a time life) partner of Memphis Minnie and another singer/guitarist who had already recorded, Henry L. Castle, known as Too Tight Henry, Minnie herself was probably in there somewhere too, playing guitar.Also in 1930 Davenport cut two sides with a group called the Beale Street Rounders. Jack Kelly is believed to be from North Mississippi but spent most of his life in Memphis where he sang on the streets and worked with musicians like Frank Stokes, Dan Sane, Will Batts and later Little Buddy Doyle and Walter Horton. In 1933 he cut 14 sides by the South Memphis Jug Band which included Will Batts on violin, Dan Sane on guitar and D.M. Higgs on jug. He cut ten more sides in 1939 with Batts, and Little Son Joe. Kelly’s last known sides were made in 1952 with Walter Horton for the Sun label titled as by Jackie Boy & Little Walter.

Although they sold fewer records, in musical terms Cannon’s Jug Stompers rivaled the Memphis Jug Band. In the early years of the last century Gus Cannon traveled the South with medicine shows. In the late 1920’s, based in Memphis, he formed Cannon’s Jug Stompers. The band played in the streets and parks of Memphis or in outlying west Tennessee towns like Brownsville and Ripley. Cannon first recorded sides for Paramount with Blind Blake in 1927 before recording in 1928 with the Jug Stompers. The group made their final recordings in 1930. Cannon sang and played banjo and jug with the harmonica blower Noah Lewis playing a prime role and as well as singing on some numbers. In addition to recording with Cannon’s Jug Stomper’s, harmonica blower and singer Noah Lewis cut four solo sides in 1929, two in 1930 as Noah Lewis’s Jug Band and two more in 1930 with Sleepy John Estes. After his recording career, Cannon lived in obscurity for some 30 years until his composition “Walk Right In” was recorded in 1963 by the Rooftop Singers and was a hit. After that he did some further recording including the album Walk Right In in 1963 alongside Will Shade for the Stax label. Cannon passed in 1979.

Johnny Watson AKA Daddy Stovepipe was born in 1867 and was from Mobile, Alabama. He was a traveling musician who played harmonica, guitar and sang. He cut three solo sides in 1924, two in 1927, eight sides in 1931 including two with his wife Mississippi Sarah and a four song 1935 session again with his wife on two numbers. In later years he performed on Chicago’s Maxwell Street where he was last recorded in 1960. Those songs appeared on the album Blues From Maxwell Street that has not been issued on CD. He passed in 196


Stovepipe No. 1 was Sam Jones who played harmonica, guitar and stovepipe and likely was the common denominator in the Cincinnati Jug Band led by Walter Coleman and King David’s Jug Band. 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 King David’s Jug Band (also featuring Crockett) who cut six sides in 1930 and on the two instrumentals the Cincinnati Jug Band cut in 1929.

Of the lesser know artists on today’s program are the Birmingham Jug Band band who recorded 8 rough and ready sides on December 11, 1930. Jaybird Coleman was once though to be a member of the group but this has largely been discredited. Alabama bluesman Ollis Martin is another name hypothesized to have snad and played harmonica on the band’s records.

Today recordings come primarily from three excellent collections: Ruckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 1 &  2: The Great Jug Bands on Yazoo are hands down the best collections of jug band music available with an outstanding track selection, excellent sound and informative notes while JSP's 4-CD set Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers is a superb box. JSP's 4-CD sequel, Memphis Shakedown: More Jug Band Classics is almost equally worthwile.


[TABLE= 117]

Show Notes:

On today’s show we spin multiple tracks by several performers including opening with a trio by Cripple Clarence Lofton plus twin spins of Georgia Tom and Jack Kelly. I’ve long been a fan of Lofton, a hugely entertaining boogie-woogie pianist. In fact when I was asked to contribute to the Encyclopedia of the Blues I chose Lofton as one of the entries to write. As William Russell famously wrote, Lofton was “ a three-ring circus” who would enliven a performance with dancing, whistling, finger snaps and drumming on the body of the piano. As Peter Silvester wrote in A Left Hand Like God: “What he lacked in discipline, however, he more than made up for with vivacity and exuberance.” Of his recordings we play his rowdy “Brown Skin Girls” complete with whistling, scat singing and Big Bill Broonzy’s bouncy fretwork and the rollicking instrumental “House Rent Struggle.”  “Sweetest Thing Born” sports a fine vocal from Red Nelson who cut three other superb numbers with Lofton including the masterpiece “Crying Mother Blues” which we played a few weeks back. Lofton’s politically incorrect nickname stemmed from a congenital lameness in his leg that made him walk with a pronounced limp. Born in Tennessee he lived most of his life in Chicago becoming a fixture on the Chicago nightlife scene. He owned his own nightclub called the Big Apple where he ran his own boogie school teaching youngsters the art form. Between 1935 and 1943 he cut close to forty sides for Vocalion, Swaggie, Solo Art and Session. Lofton remained on the scene cutting sides for the Gennett, Vocalion, Solo Art, Riverside, Session and Pax labels. He stayed around Chicago until his death in 1957 from a blood clot in the brain.

Jack Kelly was born in Mississippi but spent his life playing in the streets of Memphis with musicians such as Frank Stokes, Will Batts and Walter Horton among others. In 1933 he cut 14 sides with his South Memphis Jug Band. Kelly cut another session in 1939 and a final one in 1952 for the Sun label with Walter Horton credited as by Jackie Boy & Little Walter. “Country Woman” has a wonderful world-weary vocal from Will Batts and a gentle drive propelled by the guitars of Kelly and Dane Sane while “World Wandering Blues” is sung powerfully in Kelly’s gruff voice backed by Batts’ ragged, wailing violin as he boasts:

I am in this world, wandering from town to town (2x)
Well if I find my baby, I’m gonna run her just like she was a hound
Well if you play the violin, I will do the howlin’
Well, be late at night, these women will start to prowlin’

Georgia Tom Dorsey arrived in Chicago in 1916 where he went to music college and worked as a band pianist for Ma Rainey among others. In 1928 he began recording under his own name and as a session pianist. His duet with Tampa Red that year on “It’s Tight Like That” was a massive hit and provided the men with several years of lucrative recording work. In 1930 he founded his own gospel publishing company and left blues altogether in 1932 devoting himself to gospel which he did for almost a half century. During his blues playing days most of his work was confined to hokum and novelty items with Tampa Red and groups like the Hokum Boys and the Famous Hokum Boys. On slower blues he was often quite exceptional as on a fine eight-song session with guitarist Scrapper Blackwell recorded in early 1930. From that session we showcase the wistful “Mississippi Bottom Blues” and the touching “Gee, But It's Hard” with outstanding contributions from Blackwell, particularly on the latter number.

As usual we play several fine pianists including Montana Taylor, Frank “Springback” James and Speckled Red. Montana Taylor is best remembered for his instrumentals although he proved himself a fine singer on his rediscovery in 1946. From that date we hear his poignant “I Can’t Sleep” cut for the Circle label. There’s also a live recording of this song from a This Is Jazz broadcast from the same year. All of Taylor’s sides can be found on Document’s Montana Taylor & 'Freddy' Shayne 1929-1946.

Pianist Frank James cut 18 sides at five sessions between 1934 through and 1937. Nothing definite is known about him other than he was clearly influenced by the popular Leroy Carr. He delivers a moving performance on “Will My Bad Luck Ever Change?.”  Speckled Red got his start playing in rent parties, brothels and clubs in Detroit in the early 20’s. In 1928 he joined the Red Rose Minstrel Show, which included Jim Jackson. He played with Jackson and Tampa Red in Memphis in 1929-30 and it was there in 1929 that he made his recording debut for Brunswick.  He scored a hit with “The Dirty Dozen”, the first recorded version of the song. He recorded next for Bluebird in 1938. He began recording again at the beginning of the blues revival with sessions in 1956-57 for Tone and Delmark. He made further recordings for Folkways and Storyville among others. He passed in 1973. “Speckled Red's Blues” comes from a 1930 session and showcases his powerhouse vocals, and rollicking, exciting piano technique.

A few weeks back we paid tribute on our program to the influential singer Doctor Clatyon. Clayton’s influence can be heard on covers of his songs by B.B. King and Smoky Hogg. King’s “Hold That Train” comes from the album My Kind Of Blues, which King called his favorite at one point. King greatly admired Clayton and covered several of his songs. Andrew Hogg was born in Texas and in the 30’s and ran with guitarist the Black Ace playing for dances in small East Texas towns. In 1937 he waxed a solitary 78 and wouldn’t record again until 1947. Hogg only scored two R&B hits but was a consistent seller who cut hundreds of records for numerous labels through the late 50’s. He passed in 1960. Our selection, “I Declare”, is a remake of Clayton’s “I Need My Baby” which B.B. King also covered under the title “Walking Doctor Bill.” In 1951 Hogg also recorded a version of “Walking Doctor Bill.”. He also covered Clayton’s “Angels In Harlem” as “Angels In Houston.”

There’s several great guitarists featured today including T-Bone Walker and Lonnie Johnson. In a 1947 Record Exchanger article, T-Bone noted his favorite blues singers and had this to say about Johnson: “Wonderful blues singer. Don’t ever leave him out. Sharpest cat in the world, wore a silk shirt blowing in the wind in the winter nice head of hair, and a twenty-dollar gold piece made into a stickpin.” From 1952 we hear T-Bone in prime form on “I Miss You Baby.” We jump up to 1956 and hear T-Bone backing guitarist/vocalist R.S. Rankin on “You Don't Know What You’re Doin “ for Atlantic. As for Lonnie we turn to 1937 to hear his gorgeous instrumental “Got the Blues for the West End.”

Also worth noting are a pair of superb tracks by early woman blues singers Clara Smith and Trixie Smith. Although overshadowed by Bessie Smith, Clara Smith was a magnificent and popular singer who cut over 120 sides between 1923 and 1929. She died of heart disease in 1935 at the age of 41.”It's Tight Like That” is knockout, rousing version of this oft-covered number sung with gusto and some great trombone form Charlie Green. Trixie Smith moved to New York when she was 1920 and won a blues-singing contest in 1922. She cut close to 50 sides between 1922 and 1939 including the popular hit “Freight Train Blues.” After a 1926 she didn’t record again until 1938, returning in fine fashion as we hear on her remake of “Trixie’s Blues” featuring a marvelous guitar solo by Teddy Bunn. She passed a few years later in 1943.


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Show Notes:

Today’s mix show shines the light on several fine woman blues singers of the 20’s and 30’s as well as a batch of exceptional piano players. We open and close the program by spotlighting some famous singers and some utterly forgotten. Among the most famous are Victoria Spivey and the incomparable Bessie Smith. Smith made her debut in 1923 scoring a huge hit that year with “Down Hearted Blues.” Her sales were so impressive that record companies immediately sent talent scouts down south for similar blues ladies, opening the door for singers like Clara Smith, Ma Rainey, Ida Cox and Sippie Wallace. These woman singers dominated the market for the first half of the 20’s. Our selection, I'm Down In The Dumps”, comes from Bessie's final four-song session in 1933. Victoria Spivey made her debut relatively late, in 1926 and recorded prolifically through 1937.

Among the other female singers we spotlight are Margaret Johnson, Lizzie Miles, Elizabeth Johnson, Lil Johnson, Lillie Mae Kirkman and Merline Johnson. Margaret Johnson cut 26 sides between 1923-1927 and worked with some top players including Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong. Little in known of her life outside of the fact she worked the vaudeville circuit throughout the 1920’s. Johnson was a powerful, expressive singer as she proves on 1924’s “Nobody Knows The Way I Feel Dis Mornin'” easily cutting through the limitations of the acoustic recording process to deliver a rousing performance. Lizzie Miles was another distinctive singer who worked in early jazz band, circuses and minstrel shows between 1909 and 1921 before launching her recording career. She recorded extensively between 1922 and 1929 and again in 1939. She came out of retirement in 1950. She’s in superb form on “The Man I Got Ain't The Man I Want “ featuring some tasteful playing from guitarist Teddy Bunn. After making a few records in 1929, Lil Johnson didn’t surface again on record until 1935, cutting some 60 sides through 1937. Merline Johnson was one of the most prolific female artists of the 30’s, cutting almost 100 songs, yet little is known about her background.  Known as The Yas Yas Girl, she recorded with some of Chicago’s top musicians including Big Bill Broonzy, Black Bob, Casey Bill Weldon, Ransom Knowling, Blind John Davis and others. “Bad Whiskey Blues” comes form a final unissued 1947 session with Big Bill Broonzy and Blind John Davis.

We showcase several fine piano players including a couple apiece by the popular Walter Davis and Curtis Jones. Walter Davis was one of the most recorded artists of the era, cutting some 160 sides between 1930 and 1941. He came to St. Louis in 1925 and became a protégé of Roosevelt Sykes who played on his first six sessions. Davis continued to record steadily through the 1940’s until his final sessions in 1952. ‘Things Ain't What They Used To Be” is a rare topical blues from Davis illustrating the problems of black soldiers returning from the war only to confront the same old prejudices:

I spent two years in the European country, way out across the deep blues sea (2x)
And since I been round here, don’t seem like home to me

Curtis Jones scored a huge hit in 1937 with “Lonesome Bedroom Blues.” The song remained in Columbia’s catalog until the demise of the 78 rpm record in the late fifties and eventually to become a blues standard. In 1929, Curtis Jones left Dallas working his way through the Mid and Southwest via Kansas City, then traveling to New Orleans where he finally made his way to Chicago. Arriving there in 1936, he formed his own group and began playing at rent parties and in Southside joints or bars and was soon spotted by Vocalion talent scout Lester Melrose. Over the next five years Curtis Jones was in the studio on no fewer than twenty occasions, recording some hundred titles, proving himself a very imaginative songwriter. His career picked up during the 60's blues revival where he cut several records and eventually moved to Europe where he remained until his death in 1971. It’s easy to underestimate Jones with the seemingly sameness of his songs, yet he was an imaginative, often startling lyricist as he proves on our selections: “Down In The Slums” and particularly “Alley Bound”:

I have been singing sentimental, songs all over town (2x)
And I haven’t made no headway so you know I’m alley bound
I done made every beer tavern, I done stopped at every liquor store
So I try the alley, and stop by the bootleggers door
The bootlegger tells me, that the g-men have been around
And broke up all the moonshine, and poured the ice on the ground

In addition to two songs we play under Jones’ name, we also find him backing Lillie Mae Kirkman’s on her provocative “Hop Head Blues”:

I said daddy, daddy, daddy, you the meanest man I’ve ever seen (2x)
You use hop and reefer, and you even use morphine
Believe I smoke my reefer, but they don’t take no effect on me
I can smoke them every morning, be as happy as any woman can be
Reefer’s all right to smoke, but they treat you so low down
Doctor said if I didn’t quit I’d be six feet down in the ground

We spin a trio of great piano records from 1929 including Eddie Miller’s seductive “Good Jelly Blues.” The other side contains the marvelous “Freight Train Blues”, his two finest recordings. Nolan Welsh cut six sides between 1926 and 1929 including two featuring Louis Armstrong. Montana Taylor’s “Indiana Avenue Stomp b/w Detroit Rocks” has to rank as some of the finest barrelhouse numbers of the era. He was rediscovered in 1946, cutting some material for the Circle label.

We move up to the 50’s and 60’s to hear fine performances from Lightnin’ Hopkins  and Big Mama Thornton. As I was putting the program together I was watching the news about the wildfires outside of L.A. and immediately though of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ great “Burnin’ In L.A “ from 1961. From 1963 we play “Mercy” by Big Mama Thornton, and with all respects to “Hound Dog” and “Ball And Chain”, this is one of her finest, if unheralded numbers featuring a terrific uncredited guitarist.


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