Scrapper BlackwellBlues Before SunriseMr. Scrapper's Blues
Scrapper BlackwellLittle Boy BlueMr. Scrapper's Blues
Shirley GriffithSaturday BluesSaturday Blues
Shirley GriffithMaggie Campbell BluesSaturday Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithBlind Lemon's BluesIndiana Ave. Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithNaptown BoogieIndiana Ave. Blues
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellBama BoundMy Heart Struck Sorrow
Pete FranklinI Got To Find My BabyGuitar Pete's Blues
Neal PatmanKey To The HighwayArt of Field Recording: Vol I
Cecil BarfieldGeorgia Bottleneck BluesArt of Field Recording: Vol I
Art Rosenbaum Interview
Yank Rachel & Shirley GriffithPeach Orchard MamaArt of Field Recording: Vol. I
Scrapper BlackwellNobody Knows When Your Down...Mr. Scrapper's Blues
Shirley GriffithRiver Line BluesSaturday Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithBig Road BluesIndianapolis Jump
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellBrook's BluesArt of Field Recording: Vol. I
Tony BryantBroke Down EngineArt of Field Recording: Vol. II
J. Easley, P. Franklin and Ray HollowayBig Leg WomanIndianapolis Jump

Show Notes:

Mission statement released after
United had been in existence for one year

The United Record Company was launched in July 1951, by Leonard Allen and Lew Simpkins, a veteran record man who had worked for the Miracle and Premium Records and brought many of their former artists to the new label. A news item in the trade press dated July 21, 1951, announces the formation of the United Recording Company. "The guiding force behind this new company is a Chicago area entertainment entrepreneur by the name of Lewis Simpkins. He had previous experience with the local Miracle and Premium labels in the Chicago areas. Simpkins is unique because he is one of the very few Black record company owners producing this music that is largely by and for the Black community. He joins the Rene Brothers in California (Excelsior and Exclusive) and soon to be executives Vivian Carter and James Bracken in nearby Gary Indiana with the Vee-Jay label."

United enjoyed early success, scoring hits by Tab Smith, Jimmy Forrest, and the Four Blazes; during its first year it was outdoing its local rival Chess on the charts. The United label took off impressively, scoring two number one R&B hits among its first ten releases: Tab Smith's "Because of You," and Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train." United formally opened for business with a long recording session on July 12, 1951. The company was able to expand and open a new imprint called States in May 1952. United and States recorded a substantial roster of jazz artists. The company also recorded a substantial amount of blues including artists like Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim, J. T. Brown, "Big" Walter Horton, J. T. Brown, Robert Nighthawk, Junior Wells and others. The label also recorded a fair bit of gospel and vocal harmony groups.During its first 2 1/2 years of operation, the company recorded 463 masters. The death of Lew Simpkins, who died suddenly on April 27, 1953, was a serious blow; Leonard Allen was left to run the enterprise with limited help until the label's demise in 1957. While the company remained fairly healthy during 1954, activity dropped off sharply after that. Of the 281 sides that the company cut during this period, 130 were done in 1954. By the end of 1956 Leonard Allen was reduced to selling off half of the house music publishing company to pay his tax bill. Too many years without hits finally brought United and States down after the company's Christmas releases in 1957. Bob Koester of Delmark Records acquired most of the label's masters in 1975 and has reissued the bulk of this material on LP and CD. I want to thank the folks at Delmark for sending me several titles that made this show possible. Below is some background on some of today's featured artists, most of which comes from the The Red Saunders Research Foundation website.

Roosevelt Sykes, like Nighthawk, was recorded on United’s first day of sessions on July 12, 1951. He cut two additional sessions in August 1951 and March 1953. There is speculation that Nighthawk plays guitar on the first Sykes session. Robert Nighthawk was recorded by United on their very first day of sessions and two of United's first five releases were by Robert Nighthawk and his Nighthawks Band. Sales never took off and Nighthawk headed back south and wouldn't record again until 1964. Leonard Allen scoffed: "Robert Nighthawk? I didn't think nothin' of him. I didn't go into those joints where they were playing. Lew knew him- he had Robert Nighthawk in mind for the first session. So after he cut the session it did nothin'." Nighthawk recorded two sessions for United, one on July 12, 1951 and one on October 25, 1952 for its subsidiary States. His complete recordings for the label are collected on the CD Bricks in My Pillow.

Memphis Slim cut around 30 sides for United at sessions in 1952, 1953 and two in 1954. This was a particularly inspired period for Slim who added his first permanent guitarist, Matt Murphy to his band. These recordings have been reissued on the Delmark CD’s Memphis Slim U.S.A. and The Come Back. Memphis Slim had been recording since 1940. Based in Chicago during this phase of his career, he had been a mainstay at three postwar independents: first Hy-Tone, then Miracle, and finally Miracle's successor entity Premium. After Premium collapsed in the summer of 1951, Slim cut three sessions for Mercury in Chicago. Lew Simpkins, who knew Slim from the days when he was moving 78's for Miracle and Premium, brought him to United as soon as he could.

J.T. Brown also recorded during United's first day – and his "Windy City Boogie" was credited by United proprietor Leonard Allen with "saving our first money." J.T. is best remembered for the accompaniments he provided for Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Roosevelt Sykes, Johnny Shines, and J.B. Lenoir. In his liner notes for the United reissues on Delmark, Jim O'Neal remarked that he "was a bluesman. By jazz standards, he was not a great instrumentalist. His lack of sophistication, subtlety, and tonal variations prevented him from moving into more 'progressive' circles." Brown first performed as a member of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels in the South before moving to Chicago in the early 1940's.

One of the top R&B records of 1952, "Mary Jo" provided a moment in the national spotlight for one of Chicago's hottest vocal combos, The Four Blazes. The single moved rapidly to the top, displacing Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" as the #1 R&B song in the nation at the end of August. Bassist Tommy Braden was the main lead singer while all members provided backup harmony vocals. "Jelly" Holt was the founder and drummer in the group, while Floyd McDaniel and "Shorty" Hill played guitars. The Four Blazes formed in 1940 and made their recording debut with a few sides for Aristocrat in 1947 before landing at United in 1952.

In what was likely a response to Chess' success with Little Walter, United signed harp ace Junior Wells. After a youthful apprenticeship in the Aces and then the Muddy Waters band (when Little Walter went out on his own he took over the Aces, while Junior moved into his chair in Muddy's band, and appeared on one of Muddy's sessions for Chess), he was ready to make his first sides as a leader for the States subsidiary.  Down Beat's Pete Welding wrote "In their power, directness, unerring taste and utter consistency of mood, these may well be the most perfectly distilled examples of Wells' music ever recorded, taking their place alongside of those of Waters, Walter, Wolf and other masters of the period." These historic sessions also feature Louis and Dave Myers, Willie Dixon, Johnnie Jones, Fred Below and Odie Payne Jr. Recorded by United Records in 1953 and 1954 at Universal Studio in Chicago, eight sides were issued on the subsidiary States label.

Walter Horton moved to Chicago in the late 1940's, but during 1951-54 made frequent trips to Memphis to record for Modern, behind other artists and under the name Mumbles. He also made sideman appearances for Chicago-based labels, with Muddy Waters for Chess (January 1953) and Johnny Shines for JOB (the same month). He recorded under the name Big Walter Horton for the first time when he signed with United in 1954. Horton also backed singer Tommy Brown the same year. Brown's United session on August 26 featured an all-star lineup of Walter Horton (harmonica), Harold Ashby (tenor sax), Memphis Slim (piano), Lee Cooper (guitar), and Willie Dixon (bass); the drums are unknown. Brown remains an active performer.

Leonard Allen  recorded blues artists Morris Pejoe and Big Boy Spires in Al Smith's basement (5313 South Drexel). Although the Pejoe session was interesting enough to justify putting matrix numbers on it, Allen eventually backpedaled, most likely because of the less-than-professional sound quality. Neither saw release until Delmarkr put them out on an album in 1989. Pejoe was born Morris Pejas in Louisiana, and began his music career on the violin. After moving to Beaumont, Texas, in 1949, he switched to guitar. In 1951 he was in Chicago, performing with pianist Henry Gray. During 1952-53 he recorded three sessions for Checker, accompanied by Gray among others. The United session was held in December 1954.

Arthur "Big Boy" Spires was born in Natchez, Mississippi; he started playing guitar only in the late 1930s. Spires came to Chicago in 1943, and played house-rent parties during the decade. It was not until 1950 or 1951 that he graduated to nightclubs. He first recorded for Checker in 1952 (which produced his best known record, "Murmur Low"), and did a strong session for Chance in January 1953. In December 1953, Big Boy Spires and His Rhythm Rocking Three was advertised as the feature act in the grand opening celebration of the Palace Inn (the ad failed to list an address). The date of the Spires session for Leonard Allen seems to be December 1954 or shortly thereafter.

The most down-home blues session ever recorded by Leonard Allen featured harmonica player Alfred "Blues King" Harris and drummer James Bannister. Bannister got the vocals on "Blues and Trouble" and "Gold Digger," which were the only titles to be released from the session at the time; States 141 is a very rare record. Harris sang on the rest, which did not see issue until they appeared on a Delmark LP many years later. Bannister had made unissued recordings for Sun in Memphis and for Chess before cutting this session for States. Harris, who could sing in the B. B. King manner and often billed himself as Blues King, made one track for Modern in Memphis. He was booked into the Be-Bop Club for 6 months in 1954 when Allen recorded him. He waxed five sides for United that same year. In the late 1950's, Harris put out a single on J. Mayo Williams' low-circulation Ebony label. He dropped off the Chicago scene after 1959 and his later movements are untraced.

Other performers featured today include Jimmy Coe, Eddie Chamblee, Arbee Stidham, L.C. McKinley and Ernie K-Doe among others. United recorded several fine sax players who's music straddled the line between R&B and jazz. Many are featured on Delmark's three volume Honkers & Bar Walkers series including Jimmy Coe and Eddie Chamblee. From 1941 to 1946 Chamblee worked as a musician in Army bands; after his discharge he put together his own combo. His first notable work was on the Miracle label, particularly on the huge hit "Long Gone" by Sonny Thompson, which recorded for 1947. After Chamblee went out on his own in 1948, his records for Miracle and Premium sold well, and Lew Simpkins no doubt remembered him. In addition to putting out sides under his own name he also played on many sides backing the Four Blazes. On our selection, "La! La! La! Lady", Chamblee also takes the vocal. Arbee Stidham was the last blues artist to record for Leonard Allen, and was responsible for the very last release on States. He came to Chicago in the 1940s and his first recording for RCA Victor in 1947 produced a number one R&B hit on the Billboard race chart, "My Heart Belongs To You." Subsequently he cut sides for Victor, Checker, Sittin' With and Abco before signing with States in 1957. Only rone record was issued featuring the guitar of Earl Hooker. L. C. McKinley was T-Bone Walker disciple who made from Mississippi to Chicago in 1951. In the early 1950's he was a regular headliner at the famed 708 Club. In 1951 and 1952, he recorded as a sideman with pianist Eddie Boyd for JOB, appearing on Boyd's biggest hit, "Five Long Years." He first recorded as a leader in 1953 for the Parrot label, but Al Benson chose not to release his session. McKinley signed with States around the beginning of 1954 and cut four sides for the label. In 1955 United became the first to record Ernie K-Doe, who was living and performing in Chicago at the time under his real name, Ernest Kador. K-Doe spent nearly his entire life in New Orleans, but in 1953, after winning several singing and dancing competitions back home, he came to Chicago for a brief time to live with his mother. He met the Four Blazes at the Crown Propeller Lounge; the Blazes introduced him to A&R man Dave Clark, who was doing some work for United at the time and supervised the session. In early November he was singing at the Apex Country Club in Robbins, Illinois (13624 Claire Blvd) as "Ernest Kado." The Chicago Defender ad (12 November) was already billing him as "United Recording Artist."


As Leadbelly sang, Relax Your Mind which is exactly what I'm doing this week (and last). I'll be back next week with a spotlight on the United/States label, a Chicago outfit who released some great blues records in the 1950's. Big Road Blues will still air this week with Mike Caito taking over the reins. For those who tune in to Doc's Juke Joint, which airs immediately after my show, you probably know him as Doc's excellent backup man. Oh, and speaking of Leadbelly, I just finished Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell's terrific The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly which I highly recommend.

Leadbelly – Relax Your Mind

Alabama SheiksTravelin' Railroad Man BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Andrew & Jim BaxterK. C. Railroad BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Bo CarterEast Jackson BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Bo CarterTellin' You ‘Bout ItBo Carter Vol. 2 1931-1934
Frank StokesRight NowViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Frank StokesI'm Going Away BluesBest Of Frank Stokes
Jack KellyWorld Wandering BluesMemphis Shakedown
Mobile StrugglersMemphis BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Peg Leg HowellNew Jelly Roll BluesAtlanta Blues
Peg Leg HowellBeaver Slide RagViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Johnson BoysViolin BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Tom NelsonBlue Coat BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Tommie Bradley & James ColeAdam And EveViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Alec JohnsonSister Maude MuleFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Charlie McCoyYour Valves Need GrindingCharlie McCoy 1928-1932
Joe McCoyLook Who's Coming Down The RoadCharlie & Joe McCoy Vol. 1
Henry Williams & Eddie AnthonyLonesome BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Henry Williams & Eddie AnthonyGeorgia CrawlFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Mississippi SheiksBed Spring PokerMississippi Sheiks Vol. 3 1931
Mississippi SheiksBootlegger's BluesMississippi Sheiks Vol. 1 1930
Big Joe WilliamsWorried Man BluesFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
State Street BoysRustlin' ManFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Kansas City Blues StompersString Band BluesFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Peetie WheatstrawThrow Me In The AlleyFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Tennessee Chocolate DropsKnox County StompFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Sloppy HenryLong Tall, Disconnected MamaAtlanta Blues
Macon Ed & Tampa JoeWringing That ThingPeg Leg Howell Vol. 2 1928-1930
Macon Ed & Tampa JoeWorrying BluesPeg Leg Howell Vol. 2 1928-1930
Henry "Son" SimsTell Me Man BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Charlie PattonRunnin' Wild BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Mississippi SheiksLazy Lazy RiverFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Texas AlexanderFrost Texas Tornado BluesTexas Alexander Vol. 3
Wilson Jones (Stavin' Chain)Can't Put My Shoes OnField Recordings Vol. 16 1934-1940

Show Notes:

It was Lonnie Johnson who gave the title to today's program when exclaimed, “Violin, sing the blues for me!” during a recording session for Okeh Records in 1928, released under the name the Johnson Boys. The title was also used for a collection of violin blues on the Old Hat label which we feature extensively on today's show. We also feature a number of tracks from Old Hat's companion CD, Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow! The violin once played a significant role in the early history of recorded blues. As collector Marshall Wyatt points out, “the violin once held center stage in the rich pageant of vernacular music that evolved in the American South… and the fiddle held sway as the dominant folk instrument of both races until the dawn of the 20th century.” Today, outside of a few exceptions, African-American music has mostly abandoned the violin to white country fiddlers. Many black musicians active during the 1920s and ’30s came from a string-band tradition rooted in the 19th century, an era predating the blues when fiddles and banjos were the predominant instruments, and guitars a rarity. Black fiddlers and string bands were still common in the South throughout the 1920s, were not entirely ignored by the record industry, but were they were certainly under-represented. Some black string bands incorporated blues into their repertoires in order to keep abreast of trends. As the record business began to rebound in the mid-1930s, musical trends became rapidly modernized due to the spreading influence of mass media, and black fiddlers found even fewer recording opportunities. Below you will find some background on some of today's featured artists.

Bo Carter, who played guitar and violin, was one of the most popular bluesmen of the ’30’s, cutting over a hundred sides between 1928 and 1940. He also worked with his brothers, Lonnie and Sam Chatmon, in the popular Mississippi Sheiks band. The Mississippi Sheiks were one of the most popular string bands of the late ’20s and early ’30s with a repertoire that drew upon all facets of black and white rural music: blues, pop music, hokum, white country and traditional songs. Their rendition of “Sitting on Top of the World” has become an enduring standard. The group consisted of guitarist Walter Vinson and fiddler Lonnie Chatmon, with frequent appearances by guitarists Bo Carter and Sam Chatmon, who were also busy with their own solo careers.In addition to featuring several tracks by Bo Carter and Mississippi Sheiks, we also hear the Sheiks backing Texas Alexander on the topical "Frost Texas Tornado Blues." On April 9th 1934 the group backed Alexander on eight numbers.

Beginning in 1926, Peg Leg Howell performed a number of guitar blues for Columbia Records in Atlanta, but he also joined with his “Gang” to record rollicking stomps and rags, led by Eddie Anthony's wailing fiddle. Our selection, both sides of a 78, "New Jelly Roll Blues" b/w "Beaver Slide Rag" were recorded on April 8, 1927 and advertised in the Chicago Defender. He arrived in the city in 1923 and was recorded by Columbia in November 1926. Howell's first session featured him solo and are certainly appealing but it’s the rough, exciting stringband music he recorded with His Gang that really grabs attention. The gang consisted of Henry Williams on guitar and the infectious alley fiddle of Eddie Anthony. The duo backed Howell on two dozen sides. Williams apparently died in jail in January 1930 while serving time for vagrancy and Anthony passed in 1934, after which Howell gave up music. Henry Williams & Eddie Anthony cut one 78 together in 1928, the stupendous "Lonesome Blues" b/w/ "Georgia Crawl." Singer Sloppy Henry cut sixteen sides between 1924 and 1929. At a 1928 session he was backed by Peg Leg Howell and Eddie Anthony, heard to good effect on the colorfully titled "Long Tall, Disconnected Mama" in which Anthony exclaims "I got good chicken and this vio-leen." Eddie Anthony also recorded as Macon Ed with the mysterious Tampa Joe, cutting eight sides in 1930.

Will Batts was a fine fiddler based in Memphis who worked with Frank Stokes and Jack Kelly. Frank Stokes and partner Dan Sane recorded as The Beale Street Shieks, a Memphis answer to the musical Chatmon family string band, the Mississippi Shieks. Stokes was already playing the streets of Memphis by the turn of the century, about the same time the blues began to flourish. A medicine show and house party favorite, Stokes was remembered as a consummate entertainer who drew on songs from the 19th and 20th centuries. Solo or with Sane and sometimes fiddler Will Batts, Stokes recorded 38 sides for Paramount and Victor. 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.

Both Lonnie Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy are best remembered for their guitar playing but both also played violin and luckily recorded with the instrument. By the time Lonnie Johnson recorded his "Violin Blues", he was already one of the most prolific and influential musicians in blues. Johnson himself led a long and illustrious career as a guitarist, and is primarily remembered for his dazzling guitar work. But it was the violin that first captured his imagination, and his early career in New Orleans was spent honing his skills as a fiddler, first in his father’s string band, then as a young professional performing on excursion boats along the Mississippi. Johnson signed with Okeh in 1925, and played violin on nearly two-dozen early recordings. The State Street Boys were a studio group who cut eight sides in 1935. The group consisted of Big Bill Broonzy (who plays violin on our selection “Rustlin’ Man” plus four others), Jazz Gillum, Carl Martin and others. Martin was also a member of the The Tennessee Chocolate Drops, a group consisting of Howard Armstrong, Ted Bogan and Carl Martin.

Charlie McCoy ranked among the great blues accompanists of his era and his accomplished mandolin and guitar work can be heard on numerous recordings in a wide variety of settings from the late 1920’s through the early 40’s. His brother Joe McCoy was well known for his association with his wife Memphis Minnie where he played the part of Kansas Joe. Between 1929 and 1934 (they divorced in early 1935) they cut around one hundred sides together. After Joe and Minnie separated Joe occupied himself in small bands, singing with the Harlem Hamfats, working as a songwriter and working with his brother Charlie. Charlie McCoy's "Your Valves Need Grinding" features the violin of Bo Carter while Joe McCoy's "Look Who's Coming Down The Road", a version of Tommy Johnson's "Maggie Campbell", features a rousing unknown violinist.

Andrew & Jim Baxter

We play several fine, little known, rural string bands on today's program. The fiddle-guitar duo known as the Alabama Sheiks cut two records for Victor, which were released in 1931, a time when industry sales were crippled by the Great Depression. Another duo was the father and son team Andrew and Jim Baxter, of Calhoun, Georgia. The duo cut sides for Victor between 1927-29, and even waxed one tune with a white string band, The Georgia Yellow Hammers. Rural string band the Mobile Strugglers got started just as the major record companies began to lose interest in string bands. The group featured two fiddlers, Charles Jones and James Fields, and included guitarist Paul Johnson, banjo picker Lee Warren and Wesley Williams on double bass. The Mobile Strugglers recorded seven songs for the American Music label in 1949. Wilson Jones, who wnet by the moniker Stavin' Chain, led a fine stingband judging by the group's six recordings. The group was recorded in Louisiana by John Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1934.

You don't expect to hear the violin in the context of Delta blues but there are some recorded example. At his second recording session on Oct. 31, 1935 Big Joe Williams was backed by fiddle player Chasey Collins. Collins in turn was backed by Williams on two numbers. Delta bluesman Henry "Son" Sims is best known as the fiddler who played with Charley Patton. Although he led a rural string band called the Mississippi Corn Shuckers for several years, the first recording that Sims did was with Patton, who asked him to come along to Wisconsin for a 1929 Paramount session. Sims also recorded under his own name on two separate occasions; during the Patton session when he cut four songs, including our selection "Tell Me Man Blues," and several years later with guitarist and singer McKinley Morganfield, (who later became known as Muddy Waters).

Our survey of blues violin players end about mid-century when that kind of music on commercial records became virtually extinct. Eventually, a few black fiddle players returned to the studio, most often for small specialist labels. Among those include Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown who first recorded on fiddle in 1959 for the Peacock label in Houston, Butch Cage of Mississippi who worked with Willie Thomas and recorded extensively by folklorist Harry Oster, L.C. Robinson who made records for Bluesway and Arhoolie in the 1970's and Howard Armstrong who renewed his career in the 1970s playing mandolin and fiddle with old pals Carl Martin and Ted Bogan on albums for Rounder and Flying Fish.


As Gabriel Brown sang, I'm Gonna Take It Easy this week and take a break from the show. Big Road Blues will still air this week with Mike Kincaid taking over the reins. For those who tune in early you may have heard Mike on his great show Foreground Music which airs 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM. Since this week's program was already put together Mike will be doing the show devoted to stringband blues, a fascinating look at the violin in blues spanning the 1920's through the 1940's.

Gabriel Brown – I'm Gonna Take It Easy


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