Show Notes:

Vee-Jay was one of Chicago's most successful labels. Until the advent of Motown during the early 1960s, it was the country's largest black-owned record company. Four individuals were most responsible for the Vee-Jay, The Chicago Black Musicsuccess of the label: James Bracken and Vivian Carter who founded the company in mid-1953; Vivian's brother, Calvin Carter, who was the principal producer and A&R man; and Ewart Abner, Jr. A fifth individual, Art Sheridan, was a secret partner in the company. Vee-Jay was founded in Gary, Indiana in 1953 by Vivian Carter and James C. Bracken (later that year, Mr. & Mrs. Bracken), who used their first initials for the label's name.  In a short time, Vee-Jay was the most successful black- owned record company in the United States. By 1963, they were charting records faster than some of the major labels. They were the first U.S. company to have the Beatles. In one month alone in early 1964, they sold 2.6 million Beatles singles. Two years later, the company was bankrupt. Early on, Vee-Jay became involved in gospel music and recorded many of the top acts in the field, notably the Staple Singers, the Swan Silvertones, the Original Five Blind Boys, and the Highway QC's. Early jazz performers included Tommy Dean, Turk Kincheloe, and Julian Dash. But Vee-Jay established itself as a hitmaker with doowop groups and blues singers. The biggest groups were the Spaniels, the El Dorados, and the Dells, but the label could boast a host of lesser names, such as the Magnificents, the Kool Gents, and the Rhythm Aces. Vee-Jay in 1955 considerably expanded its stable of blues acts, adding Eddie Taylor (as a reward for his stellar accompaniment to Jimmy Reed), L. C. McKinley, Billy Boy Arnold, Morris Pejoe, Billy "The Kid" Emerson, and the great John Lee Hooker.

The bulk of today's tracks come from several fine box sets: Vee Jay, The Chicago Black Music (P-Vine), The Definitive Collection (Shout Factory), Jimmy Reed: The Vee-Jay Years (Charley) and John Lee Hooker The Vee-Jay Years (Charley). The 4-CD P-Vine collection is probably the best collection from a blues standpoint while the Shout Factory 4-CD is more of an overall view. Both Charley sets are 6-CD collections that contain everything Hooker and Reed cut for Vee-Jay. Below is some background on today's artists.

Jimmy Reed was Vee-Jay's second signing. He was born Mathis James Reed on September 6, 1925, on a Just Jimmy Reedplantation near Dunleith, Mississippi. Reed moved to Chicago in 1943, and after service in the Navy during World War II settled in Gary, Indiana. The first session in June 1953 produced no hits, but "Roll And Rhumba" (Vee-Jay 100) sold enough under both Vee-Jay and Chance imprints to keep the fledgling company interested. A second session near or at the end of the year produced Reed's first national hit, "You Don't Have to Go," which upon release in early 1955 lasted 10 weeks and went to #5 on the Billboard R&B chart. The key ingredient in the Jimmy Reed sound was the addition of guitarist Eddie Taylor who provided a firm drive to the songs. Reed soon emerged as one of the biggest blues acts in the country.

Bluesman Eddie Taylor was born in Benoit, Mississippi, on January 29, 1923. As a youngster he took up guitar. In 1943, he moved to Memphis, and worked in the Beale Street clubs. In 1949 Taylor moved to Chicago, initially playing in Maxwell Street but then moving into the clubs. In 1953 he began working with Jimmy Reed, who was a childhood friend in the Delta. His guitar work played a large role in the success of Jimmy Reed's records. Taylor also appeared on the February 1954 sessions with Floyd Jones and Sunnyland Slim and in January 1955, Vee-Jay rewarded Taylor by giving him another chance to record numbers of his own.

John Lee Hooker signed with Vee-Jay in 1955, experiencing his breakthrough session for in March 1956. There with guitarist Eddie Taylor, bassist George Washington, and drummer Tom Whitehead, he laid down one of the strongest sessions of his career. Even though "Dimples" did not make the Billboard national R&B chart, it was a genuine national hit, getting played on radio stations across the country. Hooker remained with Vee-Jay until 1964, recording a load of LPs, and producing a notable pop hit, "Boom Boom," in 1962.

Harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold first began performing on 47th Street with Bo Diddley's street band. He made his first recording in 1953 for the highly obscure Cool label." After Bo Diddley was signed to Chess in February 1955, Arnold recorded a couple of his own numbers at the end of the first Bo Diddley session, buThe Big Soult Leonard Chess did not seem interested in releasing them. So Arnold went to Vee-Jay, where he recorded his great number, "I Wish You Would" (this was really the same tune that Bo Diddley recorded on his second session as "Diddley Daddy"). The session took place on May 5, 1955; his supporting band included Henry Gray (piano), Jody Williams (electric guitar), Milton Rector (on the then-novel electric bass), and Earl Phillips (drums).

Pianist Tommy Dean was born in Franklin, Louisiana, on September 6, 1909, and grew up in Beaumont, Texas. By the time he reached adulthood he was a full-time musician. During much of the 1930s he worked in carnivals and circuses, then near the end of the decade was hired by the Eddie Randle Band in St. Louis. He eventually left Randle and formed his own band, and by 1945 was working the clubs in Chicago. Before he joined Vee-Jay, Tommy Dean recorded for Town & Country in St. Louis, and Miracle, Chance, and States in Chicago. His band for Vee-Jay included Joe Buckner a blues singer who was born in St. Louis in 1924.

Soulful blues singer Billy "the Kid" Emerson was born William Robert Emerson in Tarpon Springs, Florida, on December 21, 1929. His first recordings were made with Sun Records in Memphis in 1954-55, when he cut "Red Hot," which subsequently became a rockabilly staple. In 1955, Emerson joined Vee-Jay Records.

A T-Bone Walker disciple, guitarist L. C. McKinley, was born on 22 October 1918, in Winona, Mississippi, but had relocated to Chicago by 1941. In the early 1950s 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 label owner Al Benson chose not to release his session. He probably also did some further session work during this period. The guitarist's next session under his name was with States, in 1954. The following year, he recorded two sessions for Vee-Jay.

Vee-Jay: The Early Years

Vee-Jay Records: The Official Website

The Vee-Jay Story

Dry Bone Shuffle Ad

Dry Bone Shuffle (MP3)

As we continue our mission to reprint the blues advertisements that appeared in the Chicago Defender we turn our attention to Blind Blake, one of the most popular bluesmen of the 1920's. His only rival in popularity was Blind Lemon Jefferson, also a Paramount artist, who had a whopping forty-four ads in the Chicago Defender between 1926 and 1930. Blake too was advertised heavily with twenty-four ads in the Chicago Defender during the same time span. Today we spotlight “Dry Bone Shuffle” recorded April 1927 and “Wabash Rag” from November 1927.

Before we discuss Blake it's worth giving some background on how Paramount advertised their records. Record collector John Tefteller provides some context: "In the mid-1920's, Paramount began advertising in the now legendary Chicago Defender, carefully promoting each new blues release with clever artwork and appropriate hype. The artwork and advertisements were produced in Wisconsin [Paramount's headquarters] and then sent to Chicago for publication. Apparently, all the printing was done by the local newspaper in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. As the Great Depression took its toll, Paramount stopped advertising in the Defender (though they continued to produce artwork and promotional materials they sent directly to record stores) and eventually folded in 1933."

So who was Blind Blake? Despite his popularity and much investigation, he remains a shadowy figure; What was his real name? Where was he from? And perhaps most mysteriously, how did he simply disappear after a final session circa June 1932? As to his name,  Bruce Bastin notes that "on occasion he is named Arthur Phelps, but copyright submissions on behalf of Chicago Music for his Paramount recordings give his name as Arthur Blake. They state his name in a variety of manners: Blind Blake ("Blake's Worried Blues"), Arthur (Blind) Blake ("Bootleg Whiskey" and "Goodbye Mama Moan"), Blind Arthur Blake ("Cold Hearted Mama Blues"), and simply Arthur Blake ("Detroit Bound")." During the recording "Papa Charlie And Blind Blake Talk About It," Papa Charlie Jackson asks him, "What is your right name?" Blake responds, "My name is Arthur Blake."

As for biographical details there is the following from his first Defender advertisement: "Early Morning Blues" is the first record of this new exclusive Paramount artist, Blind Blake. Blake, who hails from Jacksonville, Florida, is known up and down the coast as a wizard at picking his piano-sounding guitar. His 'talking guitar' they call it, and when you hear him sing and play you'll know why Blind Blake is going to be one of the most talked about Blues artist in music." The Paramount Book of the Blues (issued in 1924 and 1927 with photographs and short bios to promote Paramount recording artists like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Ma Rainey) had the following bio: "We have all heard expressions of people 'singing in the rain' or 'laughing in the face of adversity,' but we never saw such a good example of it, until we came upon the history of Blind Blake. Born in Jacksonville, in sunny Florida, he seemed to absorb some of the sunny atmosphere–disregarding the fact that nature had cruelly denied him a vision of outer things. He could not see the things that others saw–but he had a better gift. A gift of an inner vision, that allowed him to see things more beautiful. The pictures that he alone could see made him long to express them in some way–so he turned to music. He studied long and earnestly–listening to talented pianists and guitar players, and began to gradually draw out harmonious tunes to fit every mood. Now that he is recording exclusively for Paramount, the public has the benefit of his talent, and agrees, as one body, that he has an unexplainable gift of making one laugh or cry as he feels, and sweet chords and tones that come from his talking guitar express a feeling of his mood."

Blake's disappearance only adds to the aura of mystery and legend. "I figure he went back to Jacksonville when his recording contract was over," says researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow. "No one's ever found out what happened to him. Gary Davis said that Blake was hit by a streetcar, and that's the only rumor of his death that I know of. Maybe he got robbed and killed, 'cause he was blind." Josh White never saw him after 1930 and believed he was murdered in the streets of Chicago, Big Bill Broonzy thought he died in Joliet prison in 1932 while Blind John Davis suggested Blake had died in the 1930's in St. Louis, although he had been told this by Tampa Red.

Whatever his background there's no doubt regarding his guitar skills. Paramount boldly promoted his skills: "He accompanies himself with that snappy guitar playing, like only Blind Blake can do," read copy for "Bad Feeling Blues." The company claimed that "Blind Blake and his trusty guitar do themselves proud" on "Rumblin' & Ramblin' Boa Constrictor Blues," while "Wabash Rag" was "aided by his happy guitar." Woody Mann stated, that "playing with a terrific flair for improvisation…he is at once subtle and ornate." Gary Davis, never generous with praise, stated "I ain't heard anybody on record yet beat Blind Blake on the guitar. I like Blake because he plays right sporty." And as Tony Russell sums up: "Blind Blake's most remarkable achievement as a recording artist was that in a career lasting almost six years, in which he made about 80 sides, he was never reduced, whether by slipping skill, waning inspiration or the single-mindedness of record company executives, from a multifaceted musician to a formulaic blues player."

Blake cut quite a number of rags, even if they had "blues" in the title; "rags in blues clothing," Russell calls them. "Dry Bone Shuffle" and "Wabash Rag" fall in the rag category. Blake was backed by an unknown rattlebones percussionist ("the accompaniment of rattling bones makes it an exciting number" the ad states) for "Dry Bone Shuffle" b/w "One Time Blues" and performs solo on "Wabash Rag" b/w "You Gonna Quit Me Blues." Both of the flip sides feature a straight blues. The prominent bones player does a good job keeping pace with Blake as Blake offers running spoken encouragement:

Let's go boys
That's the way to play them bones, boy
Whup them bones into grace!

Wabash Rag Ad

Wabash Rag (MP3)

"Wabash Rag" is another lively rag taken at a slightly slower pace. Recorded in Chicago, it's a reference to Wabash Ave. ("lively as Wabash Ave. itself" the ad proclaims) located in the historic Bronzeville section on Chicago's South Side. Bronzeville was known as the "Black Metropolis" and between 1910 and 1920, during the peak of the "Great Migration," the population of the area increased dramatically when thousands of African-Americans fled the south and emigrated to Chicago in search of better opportunities.



Show Notes:

Today's program revolves around record collector John Tefteller who's record collection contains some of the rarest blues 78's in existence. I've interviewed him on two separate occasions and each time I've found him to be extremely knowledgeable regarding blues from the 1920's with a keen insight into how the record companies operated and how they marketed blues records. Due to some technical issues some of the most recent interview was not broadcast quality so I've combined some of the salvageable segments with the interview I conducted a few years back. What follows is some background on Tefteller as well as some context for today's selections.

Tefteller has been buying and selling rare phonograph records for the past 30 years. According to his website he has the world's largest inventory of blues, rhythm & blues and rock & roll 78's with over 75,000 in stock. He also has a selection of over 100,000 45's from the 1950's and early 1960's in the following categories: blues, rhythm & blues, rockabilly, rock & roll, girl groups, surf and country. His company, Blues Images, was established in 1998. As he notes: "At the time, we had no idea that in just a few short years we would have a previously unseen photograph of Charley Patton and a treasure trove of original Paramount Records label artwork. When that collection was discovered and purchased, we knew it would only be a short time before Blues Images would become a reality. The vision of this company is to provide the world with the very finest reproductions of classic Blues Images."

In addition Tefteller regularly makes his collection available to reissue companies including Yazoo as well as issuing his own CD compilations. Like Yazoo and a few other labels, Tefteller's CD's contain some of the best sounding transfers of blues 78's. Credit for this goes to Richard Nevins of  Yazoo. According to Tefteller, Nevins has about thirty different 78 needles and painstakingly tries each needle on the 78 to find out which one works best, making a test of each one. Apparently the right needle is the one that fits the groove the best and thus extracts the most music out of the grooves. After this some filtering is done, some removal of clicks and pops but unlike unlike other reissue labels they don't lop off the high end which  makes the record sound old and tinny.

Every year around June/July Tefteller, through his Blues Images imprint, publishes his Classic Blues Artwork Calendar with a companion CD that matches the artwork with the songs. The CD’s have also been one of the main places that newly discovered blues 78’s turn up. Several years ago Tefteller uncovered a huge cache of Paramount promotional material. Paramount marketed their "race records", as they were called, to African-Americans, most notably in the pages of the Chicago Defender, the weekly African-American newspaper, and sent promotional material to record stores and distributors. Tefteller bought a huge cache of this artwork from a pair of journalists who rescued them from the rubbish heap some twenty years previously. The depression essentially killed off Paramount’s advertising budget so many of these images were never sent out and hence have not been seen by anyone since they were first produced. Tefteller’s annual calendars have been the main vehicle for reprinting these ads. A book in conjunction with artist Robert Crumb is planned with the tentative title, Sellin' The Blues. "The book of all the artwork should be ready in a year or so", Tefteller said. "I am just waiting for Robert Crumb to finish his current project illustrating the Bible."

I should make a quick aside and pay tribute to the late Max Vreede who in the 1960's first discovered some of the blues advertisements while doing research for his book, Paramount 12000/13000 Series . Paramount's "race" series started with issue No 12000 and finished with No 13156. Vreede found, on microfilm,  old issues of the Chicago Defender, which contained some of the artwork. His book (long out of print) reproduced a few of the images for the first time but left much to be desired quality-wise. Tefteller purchased Vreede's papers and record collection in 1998.

Why are these old blues 78's so rare is a question Tefteller fields often. There's a few factors: African-Americans were often displaced and unable to hold on to collections, low press runs especially during the depression (although Tefteller has the Paramount files that state press runs were higher that was previously thought) and 78's were used for shellac during the war, perhaps millions (Paramount donated a warehouse full of their old records) were given to the war effort which were used to make the olive colored paint for tanks and battleships. "When you're looking at that", Tefteller told me, "you're looking at melted down Charley Patton records."

My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon 78King Solomon Hill signed to the Paramount label in 1932, soon traveling to Grafton, Wisconsin to record six tracks – two of them alternate takes – which comprise his known discography; songs like the eerie "Gone Dead Train" and "Down on Bended Knee" are masterly performances featuring Hill's eerie falsetto and raw, unorthodox guitar work. In 2002 Tefteller went to Grafton and discovered the long lost Hill 78 "My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon"/"Times Has Done Got Hard" in mint condition. Not much is known of Hill – whose real name was Joe Holmes. He was closely connected to Sam Collins and traveled with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Rambling Thomas. He roamed through Louisiana and Texas playing and in 1932 was invited to record for Paramount along with Ben Curry and Marshall Owens. After this lone session, Hill returned to the juke joint circuit, eventually vanishing from sight; reputedly a heavy drinker, he died of a massive brain hemorrhage in Sibley, Louisiana in 1949.

Jaydee Short was born in Port Gibson, MS on Dec. 26, 1902 and moved to St. Louis in 1923. He made his first recordings for Paramount in 1930. One of them, Paramount 13012 "Steamboat Rousty"/"Gittin' Up On The Hill", has yet to be located. In 1932 he recorded for Vocalion using the name Jelly Jaw Short. Peetie Wheatstraw recorded duets with "Neckbones" who is believed to be Short. In 1933, using the name Joe Stone, he recorded for Bluebird. Short recorded again in 1958 for the Delmark label and was filmed by Sam Charters for the 1963 documentary "The Blues." He died on Oct. 21, 1962 in St. Louis.

In November 1929 at the Paramount Recording Studios in Grafton, Wisconsin, four songs were recorded at 78 rpm by a Louisiana street musician named Joe Sheppard who, on the run from the law, used the name Blind Joe Reynolds. Within a year, the four songs were released on two records. Neither record sold well, but almost 40 years later, one of the two attracted the attention of Eric Clapton who heard the song "Outside Woman Blues" on a reissue album. In 1967, Clapton and his Cream bandmates Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce recorded a more modern day version of "Outside Woman Blues" on their classic LP "Disraeli Gears." The second record recorded in Wisconsin on that day, "Ninety Nine Blues" backed with "Cold Woman Blues" haCold Woman Blues 78s been lost since it was first released in October of 1930. No copies in any condition were ever located until just a few years ago. Bruce Smith, a school teacher from Ohio with an appreciation for old blues records, was attending a teachers' conference in Nashville. With an hour to kill before catching a flight home from a school conference, he wandered into the Nashville Flea Market and found the record in a stack of old 78's. The records were without sleeves and not in particularly good condition, but the price was right at $1.00 each. He purchased three records-two were common blues records of the 1930's and the third was the long lost Blind Joe Reynolds (Paramount 12983.) Unaware of its value, he purchased it simply because it "looked interesting." Not realizing quite what he had, the teacher began searching the internet to figure out exactly who Blind Joe Reynolds was and if this record might be of some significance. One site referred him to Gayle Dean Wardlow's book Chasin' That Devil Music. A chapter in that book called "A Devil of a Joe" tells the story of Blind Joe Reynolds and the significance of his recordings. It also said that there was a missing Blind Joe Reynolds recording, which turned out to be the one purchased at the flea market. Realizing he had stumbled upon a rare find, Smith contacted Tefteller for an appraisal, but ended up selling it to him for an undisclosed amount.

It appears that all of Patton's 78's have been found although there have been some significant Patton finds. Found in the material Tefteller purchased in Grafton was a full length photo of Patton. In the 1960's a small, grainy of only Patton's head was found in Georgia on a Paramount advertising flyer by blues collector Max Tarpley. It was until, the newly found photo, the only existing photo of Patton. There was also some confusion regarding how Patton spelled his name. According to Tefteller: "Final proof of this occurred in 2008 when Bernard MacMahon found Patton's original handwritten military draft papers for World War I where Mr. Patton clearly signs his name 'Charley'."

M&O Blues AdA close friend of Charley Patton, Willie Brown played second guitar on many of Patton's records and Patton played second guitar on at least one of his. Brown had a small amount of success, selling perhaps a few hundred copies of "M&O Blues" simply because the song became a big seller by Walter Davis. Brown made two other records, both of which have yet to be found. Not one single copy of is known to exist of Paramount 13001 "Grandma Blues"/"Sorry Blues", which was not even known to exist until Tefteller found Paramount artwork advertising this record in 2002, or Paramount 13099 "Kickin' In My Sleep Blues"/"Window Blues." Tefteller has offered a $20, 000 reward for either of those records in playable condition.

In 1930, Arthur Laibley who had produced Charley Patton's last session for Paramount, stopped in Lula to arrange another session with Patton. Patton was famous throughout the Delta and had already recorded close to forty sides for Paramount. Patton told Laibley about Son House and two other musicians Willie Brown and Louise Johnson. The group headed to the Paramount studios in Grafton, WI, where House recorded six songs at the session. Two songs, "Clarksdale Moan"/"Mississippi County Farm Blues" were issued as a 78, but no copy has ever been found until just a couple of years ago. Circumstances are hazy as to it's discovery but apparently the collector who had it owned it for some time before making the disclosure. All the collector has said was that the record was found in the south. Tefteller has since purchased the record. Could there be another missing Son House record? Tefteller had this to say: "There was a notation in Max Vreede's files of a Son House/Skip James double sided coupling on Paramount. He assigned it to be one of the missing numbers, but there was no information as to song titles or where he got the information. Son House, in interviews in the 60's, insists that he recorded 16 songs for Paramount which would be eight 78's. There are four records (eight sides) known and accounted for…along with a one sided test for "Walking Blues" but there sure could be another one issued on one of the missing numbers and also the others could exist on test pressings but none have been found (outside of "Walkin' Blues")."

In 2007 Tefteller issued what is apparently the only known copy of Blind Willie McTell & Mary Willis' "Talkin' To You Wimmen' About The Blues." The track and it's flip side, "Merciful Blues", was issued on the CD that accompanies Tefteller's 2008 blues artwork calendar. To quote Tefteller: "the record…apparently has not been heard by anyone since its release back in the late fall of 1931. I have had this record in my collection for almost ten years. I had no idea that it was potentially a one-of-a-kind record! …Late last year, legendary Blues reissue producer Larry Cohn called me about his upcoming Blind Willie McTell box set. He told me he would like to borrow certain records from my collection …I sent him a list of what I had. To my amazement, he called immediately with the comment, "I've never heard the Mary Willis record!" Apparently, there is no master in the Columbia vaults. Cohn is aware of no other copy of the record anywhere. Finding this hard to Talkin' To You Wimmen' About The Blues 78believe, I started calling "all the usual suspects" and sure enough, none of them had the record or had ever heard it."

"Night And Day Blues" b/w "Sun To Sun" (Paramount 13123) was discovered in 2007 when it was retrieved from an old steamer trunk in a trailer park in Raleigh, NC, and acquired by Old Hat Records. In either May or October 1931, Paramount cut four Blake sides and the other record for this session, "Dissatisfied Blues"/"Miss Emma Liza" has also never been found. The Blake records were acquired by Old Hat Records along with records by Charley Jordan, Buddy Moss, Tampa Red, Memphis Minnie, Bessie Jackson, Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell, Casey Bill, Georgia Tom, and the duo of Daddy Stovepipe & Mississippi Sarah, to name just a few. Tefteller had this to say regarding other possible missing Blake sides: "In a Paramount recording ledger which was found in the 60's, there are notations of at least six more songs that Blake recorded for Paramount but were never released and no tests have ever been found. They could exist on tests but we will never know for sure until one turns up."

Issued on Tefteller's newest CD are two test pressings of "Home Town Skiffle" a super group of Paramount's biggest selling artists including Charley Spand, Will Ezell, The Hokum Boys, Papa Charlie Jackson and Blind Blake. According to Tefteller: "Paramount, however, told a lie on this one – claiming on both the record label and the ad that Blind Lemon Jefferson appears on this record. Not true! Collectors long suspected that Blind Blake simply imitates Jefferson's guitar licks and they are correct! Newly discovered test pressings of other takes of the song reveal this. We include one of those complete tests on this year's CD so you can clearly hear for yourself that Jefferson was not in the room for these sessions."

A welcome surprise in recent years has been the discovery of several Tommy Johnson recordings of unissued material. In 1985 an untitled Tommy Johnson test pressing was found and issued on Document as "Boogaloosa Woman"/"Morning Prayer." Yazoo has issued "Morning Prayer" with the title "Button Up Shoes." In around 2001 yet another important batch of records came to light. A box of unissued Paramount and QRS test pressings (the QRS material likely obtained by Paramount from Art Satherley in 1930/31) has been found by an antique dealer in Wisconsin. Tefteller purchased the Tommy Johnson test pressing of "I Want Someone To Love Me" for over $12,000. The record has since been issued on the CD that accompanies the 2004 Blues Images calendar. Our selection today is "Alchohol And Jake Blues." The flip side is "Ridin' Horse Blues" and is the only known copy of this 78 which was issued as Paramount 12950 purchased by Tefteller in November 2007.

John Tefteller Interview [edited version] (MP3)

Pete Lowry & Tarheel Slim Pete Lowry & Tarheel Slim
Pete Lowry & Tarheel Slim 1970's, photos by Valerie Wilmer

I suppose it sounds rather romantic spending your time roaming around the south with a tape recorder recording blues but for all the rewards and exciting discoveries it's a stressful enterprise, not to mention a precarious way to make a living. These days hardly anyone one does it anymore and the sad fact is that blues has largely disappeared as integral part of African-American rural communities; most of the old timers have passed on and few of the younger generation are interested in blues, particularly traditional blues. Much has been written about John and Alan Lomax who scoured the south and beyond making landmark recordings for the Library of Congress from the 1930's through the 1960's. Less well known are those that followed in the Lomax's footsteps; there was folklorists and researchers such as David Evans, Sam Charters, Gayle Dean Wardlow, Art Rosenbaum, Bruce Bastin, Bengt Olsson, Dick Spottswood, Kip Lornell, Glenn Hinson, Tim Duffy, Siegfried A. Christmann and Axel Küstner. Some were hunting for the famous names who made records in the 1920’s and 1930’s, others were seeking to fill in biographical blanks regarding some of the older musicians coveted by collectors and then there were those who were seeking to document the blues tradition as it still existed in rural communities, men like George Mitchell and Peter B. Lowry. This was a very different undertaking than 1960's blues revival which sought out and put back on the circuit such legendary artists of the past as Son House, Skip James, Bukka White and Mississippi John Hurt. As Lowry told me "the 'collector's mentality' is behind so much of the research done on various forms of 'roots' music, even jazz to an extent. …It was those who made the rarest recordings who got the attention." And as Mitchell lamented, "Too many people went to Mississippi."

Trix LogoBelying the fact that he was born on April Fool's Day and signs off his e-mails with "may the farce be with you", Peter B. Lowry is an extremely fastidious, dedicated blues scholar. Lowry did not go to Mississippi, did not discover long lost bluesmen from the 1920's but in his voluminous research, writing and recording has charted his own path, becoming perhaps the most renowned expert on the blues of the Southeast and is credited with coining the term Piedmont Blues. Between 1969 and 1980 he amassed hundreds of photographs, thousands of selections of recordings, music and interviews in his travels through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. It would take more time and space than I have to relate all of Lowry's research and writing – the man's Curriculum Vita is twenty-six pages! – instead focusing on the primary outlet for his recordings, his Trix label.

As for the nature of field recording itself it's worthwhile to quote Bruce Bastin, author of the classic Red River Blues and running mate of Lowry's,  on some of his experiences: "Armchair research can never replace the infectious pleasure of personal contact, or indeed the streetwise experiences of fieldwork at the very edges of existence. …Talk to Bengt Olsson about his times in Tennessee and Alabama. Talk to Pete Lowry about his (sadly unsuccessful) endeavors to record Buddy Moss… Talk also to us about our meeting with rednecks in Edgecomb County, North Carolina…or with Newton County, Georgia, police for 'consorting with blacks'… " On the other hand were plenty of positive experiences: "How do you replace memories of hearing Guitar Shorty perform at Chapel Hill's Endangered Species bar, packed with professors and 'kitty money'… Or watching a genuinely excited Buddy Moss play a stunning 'Chesterfield' on his battered guitar one hot August afternoon at his home? Or seeing Henry Johnson play slide guitar flat across his lap, Hawaiian style, at home and some time later stroll into Chapel Hill's TV station with a petrified Elester Anderson, casually watch a quartet finish playing Mozart and pack up, then settle down to back Elester (whom he'd never met before) on 'Red River Blues'… Or of tracing Floyd Council via the local cab company's switchboard? Or meeting the truly larger-than-life character Peg Leg Sam?"

Peg Leg Sam, from the film Born For Hard Luck

It's useful to provide some background on Lowry's activities just prior to setting up Trix. Most of what follows is extracted from my correspondence with Lowry in response to questions I posed and by its nature is highly condensed. "I had not attempted field recording prior to 1970… Bastin and I hooked up in 1969 to look for 78's using my car as our transport in the SE (successfully)…and went back the next year. I figured that I should do more than just drive the car, so I purchased a tape recorder (Uher 4200, 1/2 track stereo, 5" reels). A series of pieces for Blues Unlimited came out of the '69 trip. …Bruce and I were focused in 1970 on collecting material for a book, as he had been asked to do one in the Studio Vista series off of our BU series of articles, resulting in Crying for the Carolines [the basis for Red River Blues]. We WORKED for a solid month, doing library research (city directories were helpful, especially when there were back issues – in the old days, there was (c) after a name for 'colored', so that helped eliminate similar names. Then, vital statistics also were not so closed to non-family members – folks who helped us in the early years had to stop [legally] later on). Next-of-kin were often still findable. Those research tools were suggested by Gayle Dean Wardlow. We started with a copy of Godrich & Dixon and known names, likely 'home' locations of those who had made recordings pre-war, and worked from there. …There was NOBODY 'working' the SE when we attacked it, for Mitchell had wandered off to the sainted MS stuff, where the little work being done was being done. We broke 'new' ground, if you will, in part encouraged by BU editor Simon Napier. …Most of the info Bruce used for his books came from my/our work…"

Lowry set up the Trix Records label in 1972 starting with a series of 45's with LP's being released by 1973. It lasted about a decade as an active label dealing mainly with Piedmont blues artists from the Southeastern states with seventeen albums in its catalog at the time of their sale to Joe Fields of Muse Records. Trix issued albums by the following artists: Eddie Kirkland, Peg Leg Sam, Frank Edwards, Henry Johnson, Willie Trice, Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue), Robert Jr. Lockwood, Pernell Charity, Tarheel Slim, Roy Dunn, Homesick James, Big Chief Ellis, Honeyboy Edwards and the anthology Detroit After Hours, a collection of Detroit piano players. "I spent an interesting decade", Lowry wrote, "burned myself out, and haven't really been back since 1980. Sales of TRIX LPs were disappointing, but, master of timing, I started up when the second-to-last blues boom was drying up and quit before the most recent one took off! I am proud of each and every release…" 1978 was the last year Trix releases were assembled; Lowry didn't go out in the field in 1978 although he did capture quite a number of recordings in 1979 and one lengthy session in 1980. Lowry wrote that "there have been no more recording sessions since this date. This single session was done during my final southeastern trip during the summer of 1980."

Baby Tate
Baby Tate, photo by Pete Lowry

I've written extensively (as well as devoting a show with interview) to the recordings of George Mitchell who started recording several years prior to Lowry and ending roughly around the same time. On Oct. 12th I will be devoting an entire show to the Trix catalog and, like Mitchell, there will certainly be a sequel as two hours is not enough time to do justice to Lowry's recordings. Mitchell has written, and related to me, that by around 1976 he noted a sharp decline in blues in rural communities. This is somewhat at odds with the fact that Lowry recorded fairly extensively during this period. Also in 1980 two Germans, Siegfried A. Christmann and Axel Küstner, came to the States to embark on a recording trip through the south which resulted in fourteen LP's under the title Living Country Blues (just issued on CD and distilled into a domestic 3-CD set back in 1999 on the Evidence label). While it may be impossible to quantify, the fact is there was quite a bit of quality blues players to be found and quite a number of them in the Southeast region as Lowry optimistically stated in a 1973 article written by Valerie Wilmer: "'I never really believed all that stuff about the blues being dead,'" he said, 'As with other celebrities who said 'my death has been greatly exaggerated', so the blues. I think it's been submerged beneath the overlay of modern black pop music, but hell-you go down through Georgia and the Carolinas and there's still country-suppers. Peg Leg Sam still goes around busking in the streets, blowing his harp and collecting quarters and dollars.'" In addition to the seventeen issued Trix albums there is sufficient material for another 40 to 50 CD's. Some of Lowry's recordings have appeared on the Flyright label including tracks on Another Man Done Gone and The Last Medicine Show which includes spoken monologue and musical performances of Peg Leg Sam working the last active medicine show with Chief Thundercloud. There's also a wonderful film called Born For Hard Luck which features some fine performances of Sam including some footage working the same medicine show.  In March 1973 Lowry recorded the entire three day Fine Arts Festival, University Of North Carolina, Chapel Hill which resulted in the Flyright albums Carolina Country Blues and Blues Come To Chapel Hill (the concert featured Guitar Shorty, Willy Trice, Henry Johnson, Elester Anderson, Eddie Kirkland, Tarheel Slim amongst others).

The same Valerie Wilmer article also goes on to explain how Lowry operated in the field: "Lowry will be back from his third field trip in 12 months at the end of the year. He does all his traveling by Volkswagen bus, accompanied by a faithful hound and no less than eight guitars. One such trip lasted five months and netted enough material for 20 albums, all of which he will be processing himself. 'I said, 'Christ, I've got an awful lot of stuff here-there's no sense in farting around with other people, I'll do it myself.' The guitars are needed because often the people he encounters have not played for a while or else their existing instrument may be in bad shape, rattling or buzzing. 'I've always tried to keep a clean sound on my recordings unlike most of the so-called field work'… I'm not just an out-and-out field recorder, nor do I use a studio as such. I usually say that the best sound-quality stuff I do is sort of in a Holiday Inn recording studio in whatever town I happen to be staying. You know, if it's not too cool where they're living or something, we go back to the hotel room.'"

Tarheel Slim
Tarheel Slim, photo by Pete Lowry

A portion of the Trix catalog are recordings in the Piedmont style as Lowry explains in the same article: "This slightly ragtime-based kind of guitar is what a lot of white people are playing and listening to," he explained. "I'm trying to hook on to that because it is the essence of the Piedmont style." Still, there's a fair bit of diversity to be found including some piano blues (Lowry didn't find many piano players or female performers for that matter) including a self titled Big Chief Ellis album and Detroit After Hours – Vol. 1 (the result of extensive taping he did at an after-hours piano joint in Detroit), the Mississippi-by-way-of-Chicago blues of Honeyboy Edwards, the sophisticated jazzy blues of Robert Jr. Lockwood (Does 12 and Contrasts remain probably his best recordings) and a pair of fine records by Eddie Kirkland with his mix of John Lee Hooker styled blues and a more contemporary approach. The other Trix albums are a mix of great discoveries like Roy Dunn, Guitar Shorty (the album Carolina Slide Guitar came out in 1971, two years before he recorded for Trix), Henry Johnson, Peg Leg Sam, Pernell Charity all whom had never recorded before and those that had made commercial records like Tarheel Slim, Frank Edwards, Willie Trice and Homesick James. Many of the artists who had albums released were recorded extensively by Lowry and in most cases there is enough material in the can for follow-up records. In fact Lowry's unreleased recordings far exceed the released recordings. Lowry was gracious enough to send me his master recording list, a year by year breakdown of his recording activities. Among those whose recordings went unreleased are artists who should be familiar to collectors such as Richard Trice, Pink Anderson, John Cephas, Phil Wiggins, Cecil Barfield, Marvin and Turner Foddrell, John Snipes, Dink Roberts. Other names include Elester Anderson, Charlie Rambo, Earnest Scott, Clifford Lee "Sam" Swanson and George Higgs (who has since made recordings for Music Maker) among many others. Among Lowry's regrets "is that I never got my one jazz album out before Maurice Reedus died…" Reedus was Robert Jr. Lockwood's great, long time sax player heard to good effect on Lockwood's two Trix records. Reedus' record was mixed and mastered and titled Get Outta Town, Man (Trix 3318). Baby Tate was another artist close to Lowry's heart who he recorded extensively but only issued one 45. Again from the Valerie Wilmer article: "Baby Tate was one of his closest musician friends and his untimely death last year grieved Lowry considerably. 'My plan last Summer was to really record him in depth,' he explained. ' He was just an incredible person and a wonderful person to deal with. I can't say I'm satisfied with what I've got on tape because I know he could do three times more and a lot better. But just having been around him and dealt with him and lived with him, there's a degree of satisfaction.'"

As Lowry stated in the same article: "…I know I'm not going to get rich. I'll be lucky if I break even, but I've met an awful lot of good people, a lot of good musicians, and dammit-they should be heard. It's that simple." The Trix label is a testament to these amazing musicians and to one man's passion and dedication to get this music out to the wider world. Fortunately the entire Trix catalog has been issued on CD which include the original liner notes plus some follow-up information about the artists. Sadly the majority of the artists have since passed on. As for the vast amount of unreleased recordings, Lowry says that "to date, nobody has evidenced any interest in my stuff – I'm not surprised." On our Trix program on October 12th, in addition to the released material, I'll also be featuring some of these unreleased recordings which Lowry was gracious enough to send me.

Peg Leg Sam – Who's That Left Here ' While Ago (MP3)

Big Chief Ellis – Prison Bound (MP3)

Tarheel Slim – Some Cold Rainy Day (MP3)

Frank Edwards – Chicken Raid (MP3)

Pernell Charity – War Blues (MP3)

Robert Jr. Lockwood – Selfish Ways (MP3)

Roy Dunn – Move To Kansas City (MP3)

Willie Trice – My Baby's Ways (MP3)

Guitar Shorty – Working Hard (MP3)



Show Notes:

Houston Stackhouse
Houston Stackhouse

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

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

As usual there's a good chunk of sides from the 1920's and 30's including sides by Lonnie Johnson, Johnnie Temple,  Tommy Johnson, Oscar "Buddy" Woods, Rube Lacey and Lane Hardin. "Violin Blues" was issued as The Johnson Boys which consisted of Lonnie Johnson on violin and vocals, Nap Hayes on guitar and Mathew Prater on mandolin. This is a wonderful low-down number with a great vocal by Johnson and superb mandolin by Prater. Also from the same session is the wailing "Memphis Stomp" which I'll have to play at a later date. Johnson is also listed as playing guitar on "Good Suzie (Rusty Knees)" by Johnnie Temple although his playing is submerged. Temple delivers a great vocal on this number although I have no idea what the title means.  Born and raised in Mississippi, Temple learned to play guitar and mandolin as a child. By the time he was a teenager, he was playing house parties and various other local events. Temple moved to Chicago in the early 30's, where he quickly became part of the town's blues scene. Often, he performed with Charlie and Joe McCoy. In 1935, Temple began his recording, releasing "Louise Louise Blues" the following year on Decca Records. Although he never achieved stardom, Temple's records, issued Living Legends LPon a variety of record labels, sold consistently throughout the late 30's and 40's. In the 1950's, his recording career stopped, but he continued to perform, frequently with Big Walter Horton and Billy Boy Arnold. He moved back to Mississippi where he played clubs and juke joints around the Jackson area for a few years before he disappeared from the scene. He died in 1968.

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

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

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


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