Today's show is a sequel to a show I did about a year ago on the early Texas piano players. Today's program is wider ranging look at the early Texas blues scene. The title comes from Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Got The Blues" recorded in 1926. To quote Tony Russell from the Penguin Guide To Blues: "All the companies involved in the blues business in the '20s and '30s made frequent recording trips to Dallas and San Antonio, and the music they collected and issued is a rich, colorful mixture of theatre and club artists, street singers and pianists circuit-riding the logging camps."
In the 1920's Dallas became a recording center primarily because it is a geographical hub. The major race labels, those catering to a black audience, held regular sessions in Dallas. Okeh, Vocalion, Brunswick Columbia, RCA, and Paramount sent scouts and engineers to record local artists once or twice a year. Quite a number of sessions were also recorded in San Antonio with a few others cut in Fort Worth. Engineers came into the city, set up their equipment in a hotel room, and put the word out. As a result of Jefferson's commercial success, blues singers from around the south flocked to Dallas with the hope of being recorded. In addition to Blind Lemon Jefferson, there were other important blues musicians, who recorded in Dallas during the heyday of Deep Ellum and Central Tracks. These included Lillian Glinn, Little Hat Jones, Texas Alexander, Jesse Thomas, Ramblin Thomas, Sammy Hill, Otis Harris, Willie Reed, Oscar "Buddy" Woods, Black Ace and the young T-Bone Walker.
Blind Lemon Jefferson's records sold thousands of copies to blacks in the urban ghettos of the North, but in Dallas Jefferson was recognized primarily as street singer who performed daily with a tin cup at the corner of Elm Street and Central Avenue. Despite his limited commercial success in Dallas, he had a great influence on the development of Texas blues. Leadbelly credited him as an inspiration, as did T-Bone Walker. What distinguishes Jefferson from the other blues performers of his generation was his singular approach to the guitar, which established the basis of what is today known as the Texas style. Little is known about Jefferson's early life. He must have heard songsters and bluesmen, like Henry "Ragtime Texas" Thomas and "Texas" Alexander. Both Thomas and Alexander traveled around East Texas and performed a variety of blues and dance tunes. Legends of his prowess as a bluesman abound among the musicians who heard him, and sightings of Jefferson in different places around the country are plentiful. By his teens, he began spending time in Dallas. About 1912 he started performing in the Deep Ellum and Central Track areas of Dallas, where he met Leadbelly. The two became musical partners in Dallas and the outlying areas of East Texas. Jefferson was known to perform almost daily at the corner of Elm Street and Central Avenue in Dallas. In 1925 Jefferson was discovered by a Paramount recording scout and taken to Chicago to make records. Though he was not the first blues singer-guitarist, or the first to make commercial recordings, Jefferson was the first to attain a national audience. His extremely successful recording career began in 1926 and continued until 1929. He recorded 110 sides. Jefferson is widely recognized as a profound influence upon the development of the Texas blues tradition and the growth of American popular music. His significance has been acknowledged by blues, jazz, and rock musicians, from Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and T-Bone Walker to Bessie Smith. Jefferson died in Chicago on December 22, 1929.
Evidence suggests Henry Thomas was an itinerant street musician, a musical hobo who rode the rails across Texas and possibly to the World Fairs in St. Louis and Chicago just before and after the turn of the century. Most agree he was the oldest African-American folk artist to produce a significant body of recordings, supposedly born in 1874. Thomas's repertoire bridged the 19th and 20th centuries, providing a compelling glimpse into the pre-blues era. The 23 songs he cut for Vocalion between 1927 and 1929 include a spiritual, ballads, reels, dance songs, and blues.On many of his pieces, he simultaneously played the quills or panpipes, a common but seldom-recorded African-American folk instrument indigenous to Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. His lead-in on "Bull Doze Blues" was reworked 40 years later by Canned Heat in their version of "Going Up the Country."
Texas Alexander was well known in the Texas Brazos River bottomlands when he started recording in 1927. Unable to play himself, Alexander used a variety of accompanists including Little Hat Jones, Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang to the string band blues of the Mississipi Sheiks and the full on jazz of King Oliver's New Orleans band. Alexander's performing and recording career continued into the '30s with sessions for Vocalion. In 1940, he was sent to the state pen at Paris, TX, for killing his wife. After his release in 1945 he spent time in Houston, joining his cousin Lightnin' Hopkins for live shows and recording for the Freedom label with pianist Buster Pickens. By 1954 he was back in the bottomlands where he died of syphilis.
Oscar "Buddy" Woods was a Louisiana street musician known as "The Lone Wolf" and a pioneer in the style of lap steel bottleneck blues slide guitar. Not long after arriving in Shreveport, Woods began a long association with guitarist Ed Schaffer, and together they performed as the Shreveport Home Wreckers. Woods and Schaffer made their first two recordings as the Shreveport Home Wreckers for Victor in Memphis on May 31, 1930. From this first session up until his last, a field recording for the Library of Congress made on October 8, 1940, Oscar "Buddy" Woods was involved in the making of no less than 35 sides. The impact of Oscar "Buddy" Woods on the development of bottleneck slide playing was crucial; one musician he took under his wing around 1930 was Texas native Babe Lemon Karo Turner, who later assumed the name Black Ace. The Black Ace honed his skills playing at community functions during the '20s, then worked with Smokey Hogg at dances in Greenville, TX in the '30s. Hogg and Buddy Woods were frequent partners for Turner. Turner had a show on Fort Worth radio station KFJZ from 1936 – 1941. He recorded for Decca in 1937. After a stint in the army during the early '40s, Turner's jobs were mostly non-musical. He did make a 1960 LP for Arhoolie. Turner took his nickname from the 1936 recording "Black Ace."Rambling Thomas was the brother of Jesse Thomas. Thomas was discovered by recording scouts playing in Dallas, but prior to that had performed in San Antonio and Oklahoma. Thomas cut 16 sides for Paramount in 1928 and four sides for Victor in 1932.
J.T. "Funny Paper" Smith was a pioneering Texas blues guitarist who was also a gifted composer and singer. A contemporary of such legends as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Dennis "Little Hat" Jones, next to nothing concrete is known of his life; assumed to have been born in East Texas during the latter half of the 1880s, he was a minstrel who wandered about the panhandle region, performing at fairs, fish fries, dances and other community events (often in the company of figures including Tom Shaw, Texas Alexander and Bernice Edwards). Smith settled down long enough to record some 22 songs between 1930 and 1931, among them his trademark number "Howling Wolf Blues, Parts One and Two"; indeed, he claimed the alternate nickname "Howling Wolf" some two decades before it was appropriated by his more famous successor, Chester Burnett. His career supposedly came to an abrupt end during the mid-'30s, when he was arrested for murdering a man over a gambling dispute; Smith was found guilty and imprisoned, and is believed to have died in his cell circa 1940.
|Little Hat Jones
George "Little Hat" Jones was born October 5, 1899, in Bowie County, TX. He was a well-known street singer in San Antonio in the mid-'20s, and made his first recordings there on June 15, 1929. At the same session he sat in on guitar for an additional nine tracks by Texas Alexander. OKeh brought Jones back six days later to record four more tunes and again a year later, on June 14, 1930, when he four more. For whatever reason, Jones never recorded again, leaving behind a legacy of ten songs, plus nine more as a sideman for Texas Alexander. He died in Naples, TX, in 1981.
Rambling Thomas was the brother of Jesse Thomas. Thomas was discovered by recording scouts playing in Dallas, but prior to that had performed in San Antonio and Oklahoma. Thomas cut 16 sides for Paramount in 1928 and four sides for Victor in 1932.
Among the other performers heard today are fine woman singers like Lillian Glinn, Hattie Burleson, Bobbie Cadilliac, Hattie Hudson, jug and string bands like the Dallas String Band and Frenchy's Stringband. Hattie Burleson was from Dallas and waxed only seven sides. She was discovered by fellow Dallas singer Lillian Glinn while she was singing spirituals in church. Glinn was born in 1900 in Dallas, Texas where she made her first recordings in 1927, recording 22 sides until December 1929.