I first came across the Sparks Brothers some twenty years ago on The Piano Blues Volume Twenty: Barrelhouse Years 1928-1933, the second to last installment of the Magpie label's groundbreaking piano blues series. Featuring the arresting, high pitched vocals of Milton "Lindberg" Sparks and the sensitive, rolling piano of Aaron "Pinetop" Sparks, the songs, "Down On The Levee", "Louisiana Bound" and "East Chicago Blues", made a strong impression on me. I believe it was in the 1990's when Document got around to issuing their complete recorded works on CD.

Sparks Brothers: Down On The LeveeAaron and Marion (he changed his name to Milton in 1929) were twins born to Ruth and Sullie Gant in Tupelo, Mississippi. Soon after the twins were born Ruth married Carl Sparks. According to Cleveland Sparks, uncle of Aaron and Marion: "Piano player Aaron he learned how to play piano before he could holler and shout…it was a coloured fellow teaching him. He had a joint y'know selling bootleg whiskey back in the corner. He just had a crowd there all the time and he just learned to play. His name Arthur Johnson and he been dead so long nobody down there would know him–'cause he was a old man when he was teaching that boy." Henry Townsend, who often accompanied Marion, had this to say: "He just kept getting better and better and got to playing for illegal joints y'know. …Pinetop was doing a lot of house-party playing and uh 'cause this was a trend then. We would go from house-party to house-party and make some money to pay the rent. We'd go from place to place like that I mean it'd be announced at this party before it was over that there would be such and such a place to get their rent paid and Pinetop would play for those kind of parties where they had a piano–and I kinda went around him quite a bit." Now at that time Milton wasn't singing, Pinetop was the star when it come to singing. And so just out of nowhere Milton decided he was going to sing and he'd start. …Aaron got the name Pinetop because "He was very good at the number that Smith made [Pinetop Smith's "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie"]. Yeah he was very good with that number and as most guys do he just started to call himself Pinetop himself y'know. The nickname "Lindberg", Townsend suggests, was probably due to Milton's prowess in dancing the Lindberg or Lindy Hop. In addition to the recollections of Townsend and Cleveland Sparks, biographical background on the brothers was gleaned from their thick police files; Milton was arrested some 50 times for fighting and gambling and other minor offenses while Aaron was picked up 18 times.

The brothers cut four sessions, the first for Victor and the other three for Bluebird, between 1932 and 1935. Milton cut two songs for Decca in 1934 under the name Flyin' Lindberg. Aaron backed a number of St. Louis artists at their second session: Elisabeth Washington, Tecumseh McDowell, Dorotha Trowbridge, James "Stump" Johnson and Charlie McFadden. The brothers' led rough and tumble lives reflected in songs that dealt with gambling, jail, alcohol, woman, hoboing and railroads. In spite of their lyrics and rough background, the music the brothers made was surprisingly tender and wistful. Milton possessed a strong, nasal voice that is extremely appealing while Milton had a warm, sensitive vocal that occasionally dips into a mellow falsetto. Aaron was an exceptional and versatile piano player as Chris Smith appraises: "Aaron's playing features the steady chordal basses typical of St. Louis, and a very inventive right hand, endowed with melodic grace and propulsive energy. He was also a capable boogie player, with a singing line and a fondness for medium tempos."

Their first recording date yielded four songs under the name Pinetop and Lindberg. This was an exceptional session as Milton sings wonderfully in his high, powerful nasal voice on the sing-sing "Louisiana Bound" with superb flourishes from Aaron who lays out with a nice mid-tempo solo as Milton encourages him on. The brothers excelled at thoughtful, mid-tempo blues such as "East Chicago Blues", "4X11=44" a reference to number combination for playing policy and "I Believe I'll Make A Change." Throughout Aaron lays down some mellow, highly inventive piano work, a perfect contrast to Milton's almost wistful vocals with Milton encouraging "Pine" on with some engaging spoken patter. "East Chicago Blues" shares similarities to "Chicago's Too Much For Me" which was cut at their second session and is also notable for making reference to a 1917 riot in East St. Louis where many African-Americans were killed, with a similar riot two years later in Chicago:

I was in Chicago I had my good rags on
I'm in this town, got all my new suits in pawn

East Chicago is on fire, East St. Louis is burnin' down…

The following year the brothers were in Chicago where they cut three sides for Bluebird on August 2, 1933. At this session they cut the enduring "61 Highway" that would pass into common blues currency with it's now familiar verse:

61 Highway, longest highway that I know (2x)
It runs from New York City down into the Gulf of Mexico

"Down On The Levee" was a typically sensitive mid-tempo number featuring Milton's fine, mellow delivery and some wonderful right hand flourishes from Aaron. "Chicago's Too Much For Me" was in a similar vein with with more forceful playing from Aaron with Milton probably sharing the sentiments of many who first visited Chicago:

Going back to St. Louis
Chicago's too much for me
I may get in trouble, people don't you see
In St. Louis I had my glad rags on
Now I'm in Chicago got all my glad rags in pawn

Aaron's fine abilities as an accompanist extend to his backing a trio of St. Louis ladies. Elisabeth Washington was an appealing, slightly nasal singer with a good sense of delivery; "Riot Call Blues" and "Whiskey Blues" are Sparks Brothers: East Chicago Bluesparticularly tough blues with the latter opening with the line "Everyday I have the blues" a song that the brothers would debut two years later. Tecumseh McDowell and Dorotha Trowbridge are solid, if unexceptional singers, who stylistically bear some resemblance to the then popular St. Louis singer Alice Moore.

The next year, August 24, 1934, Milton was in Chicago where he cut two songs for Decca as Flyin' Lindburg. Milton recorded with Peetie Wheatstraw on piano, possibly Bill Lowry on violin and unknown clarinetist and guitarist. Milton's powerful vocals easily rise above the small band behind "I.C. Train Blues" (a reference to the Illinois Central) which, while a bit rough and raucous, is nonetheless quite effective. "No Good Woman Blues" is a bit more sedate but equally entertaining.

Milton was absent from a four of the eight songs which comprised their final session on July 28, 1935 which featured guitarist Henry Townsend on seven of the eight numbers. Townsend explained: "Yeah Pinetop sang–Milton was supposed to be the singer of the two when the session was drewed up. Pinetop didn't go there to sing at all–he went to play for his brother Milton. And when we got there, why, just going through measures like musicians carry on, he hummed off a tune or two. So everybody thought he should go ahead and do a number. So he went ahead and did a number. It turned out that his number was the better number after all." Aaron possessed a warm, mellow vocal heard to good effect on the marvelous, melodic "Tell Her About Me", the wistful "Workhouse Blues" and the driving boogie of "Got The Blues About My Baby." The most famous song was "Every Day I Have The Blues" sung in a wonderful high falsetto that may sound surprising to those more familiar with modern versions. Milton's numbers were not up to his usual standards although "Grinder Blues" contains a frank tribute to his wife Janie's charms:

Don't you know I got a little grinder.
She lives in St. Louis, her number is 2721 Stoddard Street.
That little woman grind me to death, boy.
I'm telling you the truth. I don't love nobody but that little woman–her name is Janie.
Hey man I feel a verse coming down

Blues I ain't gonna sing these blues no more (2x)
I got my mind on Janie, mean I swear I got to go

In the 1950's Milton rejoined the church and renounced the blues. He died in 1963. Aaron reportedly died much earlier although no death certificate has been found. There is a hint of an early death in both Cleveland Sparks' and Townsend's recollections.

Sources:

-Russell , Tony and Smith, Chris. The Penguin Guide To The Blues. Penguin Books, London, England, 2006.

-Dixon, Robert M.W., John Godrich, Howard W. Rye. Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943. 4th edition. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997.

-Rowe, Mike and O'Brien, Charlie. Well Them Two Sparks Brothers They Been Here And Gone. Blues Unlimited no. 144 (Spring 1983): 9-14.

-Oliver, Paul. Blues Fell This Morning. Cambridge University Press, New York, 1960.

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[TABLE=35]

Show Notes:

We cast a wide net on today's show playing records spanning 1926 to 1976. The mix shows are usually a good indicator of some of the records I've been listening to and also usually feature some of the new reissues and records I've picked up recently. This week we spotlight a number of excellent post-war blues reissues from Ace Records as well as some recent JSP box sets .

Juke Joint BluesWe feature several tracks from JSP's 4-CD That's What They Want – Juke Joint Blues: Good Time Rhythm & Blues 1943 – 1956 which is chock full of incredible down-home blues performances by a host of unknowns and more famous artists. With this set JSP seems to be mining the same vein as Boulevard Vintage who for the past few years have been putting out intelligent, well conceived multi CD sets of post-war down home blues built around a specific geographic region. Notable from this set are two terrific early Earl Hooker tracks; "Ride Hooker Rider" with unknown vocalist and "Goin' Home To Mother" with Little Sam Davis on vocal/harmonica, both cut for the small Rockin' label out of Miami in 1953. Schoolboy Cleve's "She’s Gone" is a genuine harmonica killer and believe it or not Cleve recently cut some new recordings. In a strange coincidence I had already planned to play this track when I found out Cleve had passed away. Cleve cut a handful of sides between 1954-1963 for a series of small labels, issued some 45's on his own Cherrie label and in 2006 issued the full length CD South to West: Iron and Gold. Also from JSP is the 4-CD A Richer Tradition: Country Blues and String Band Music 1923-1942. There's some fascinating music on this set ranging from blues, string band, jug band music and it's amazing how much eclectic music was recorded before the industry became homogenized.

Ace Records is without a doubt one of the great reissue labels for post-war blues. I recently picked up a trio of their new recordings: Willie Headen – Blame It On The Blues, Cool Daddy: The Central Avenue Scene 1951-1957 Vol. 3 and R&B On Lakewood Boulevard. I've never heard of Willie Headen but he left behind a fine and varied body of work in his five year on-off-on stint with Dootsie Williams’ Dootone and Dooto labels. He's a terrific vocalist who's singing bears a strongBlame It On The Blues gospel stamp as well as similarity to Clyde McPhatter. Hopefully Ace will see fit to issue the Kent sides Headen cut in the late 1960's. Cool Daddy is the third volume in Ace's exhaustive survey of Jake Porter's Los Angles based Combo label featuring excellent tracks by Johnny Otis, Peppermint Harris, Joe Houston and slew of forgotten figures. The whole series presents a fascinating snapshot of the L.A. blues scene of the late 1940's and 50's. R&B On Lakewood Boulevard features blues and R&B from the Downey label also based in L.A. and boasts fine material by T-Bone Walker Jr. aka R.S. Rankin, Little Johnny Taylor, Ace Holder among others. We also dip back to an Ace release from a few years back, Welcome To The Club, gathering togehter some wonderful Chicago blues sides cut for the Federal label.

As usual there's a a number of vintage country blues cuts with the show kicking off with Charlie Patton's "Jim Lee Blues Part I." There's something about the way Patton sings this number that really grabs me. Then there's Garfield Akers' throbbing, intense "Dough Roller Blues" and Bo Weavil Jackson's slide masterpiece "You Can't Keep No Brown" from 1926. Little is known about these artists outside of some recollections from contemporaries. We hear some later country from Leroy Williams and Fiddlin' Joe Martin recorded for the Library of Congress in 1941 with the legendary Willie Brown on guitar. This session is most famous for the Son House recordings and in fact you can hear Son providing commentary on Martin's beautifully sung number. Unfortunately Brown was recorded solo on just one number, Make Me A Pallet On The Floor, which we played a couple of weeks ago.

Also worth noting are a number of piano blues including one by Jimmy Blythe. Blythe recorded dozens of piano rolls in the early 1920's some of which have just been reissued on Delmark's Messin' Around Blues. He began cutting records in 1924 and backed many singers including blues artists like Ma Rainey, Blind Blake and Lonnie Johnson. Jimmy Blythe died at the age of 30 from meningitis. There's also tracks by Sunnyland Slim and Roosevelt Sykes who need little introduction although pianist Curtis Jones is perhaps not as well remembered. "Lonesome Bedroom Blues” was a huge hit for Jones in 1937 and the next five years Jones was in the studio on no fewer than twenty occasions recording some hundred titles but never achieved similar success. Lyrically "Bad Avenue" is something of a precursor to "Tin Pan Alley" which Jones cut in 1941.

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Lifting the Veil

Reverend Gary Davis recorded prolifically in the post-war years starting with a few scattered sides in the 1940's, more in the 1950's and really picking up steam in the 1960's. A pleasant surprise in recent years are the number of unreleased Davis sides that have surfaced. Among the notable ones include: If I Had My Way: Early Home Recordings, Demons and Angels: The Ultimate Collection a 3-CD set featuring many unreleased treasures, Sun of Our Life – Solos, Songs, A Sermon, 1955-1957 and Document's Reverend Gary Davis: Manchester Free Trade Hall 1964.

Now comes Lifting The Veil: The First Bluesmen – Rev. Gary Davis & Peers an eclectic collection from World Arbiter that gathers up six unreleased home recordings by Davis circa 1956-1957. In addition the liner notes include a fascinating excerpt from an unknown, unpublished oral history of Davis compiled in 1951 by Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold, the wife of Alan Lomax. Another treat are four previously unknown Leadbelly tracks from a 1941 radio broadcast, when he hosted a weekly radio show. Rounding the set out are 78's from the Harry Smith Collection including sides by Gus Cannon, Buddy Boy Hawkins, Edward Thompson, Leola Wilson, Big Bill Broonzy, Ramblin' Thomas, Rube Lacey, William Moore and Charlie Patton.

The Davis sides are generally well recorded and are a nice, if minor, addition to his recorded legacy. Five of the six songs are instrumentals as Davis displays his remarkable guitar style on the propulsive "Lost John", the stately "Soldier's Drill", "Mountain Jack", the lovely "Slow Blues In E" and a driving version of his "I Didn't Want To Join The Band." "Come Down To See Me Sometime" is a gorgeously sung folk number underpinned by Davis' complex, melodic finger picking. The four Leadbelly sides are well recorded and while short, are a nice addition to his voluminous recording legacy. The most interesting is "Sermon On Pancakes", and to be honest I don't even know what to say about this surreal, wonderful number that uses pancakes as a religious metaphor ("Now this is a sermon. Big stream of molasses up in heaven and a big stream of honey, a lot of flapjack") . Leadbelly also serves up terrific versions of the traditional "The Blood's Done Signed Your Name" and "Gallows Pole" and the powerful "Leaving Blues."

The remaining tracks are blues classics that have all been reissued many times before and in generally better sound than those presented here. Also I should note that the song listed on the back as "Goin'Crazy" by Ramblin' Thomas is actually his "Sawmill Moan." One nice touch is that lyric transcriptions are provided for all the songs. The oral history included is a fascinating document and stems from a 300+ page manuscript. Davis was a true philosopher who expounds on his early life, religion, racism and human nature. World Arbiter has made the entire booklet available on their website.

All in all an interesting an eclectic collection handsomedly packaged. This is obviously a set geared towards collectors and I would imagine that the combination of unreleased tracks and the oral history will provide a compelling reason to pick up this attractive collection.

Leadbelly – Sermon On Pancakes (MP3)

Rev. Gary Davis – I Didn't Want To Join The Band (MP3)

 

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Night And Day Blues 78

One of two missing Blind Blake 78's (Paramount 13123) has been discovered. "Night And Day Blues" b/w "Sun To Sun" 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. As Drew Kent wrote in the notes to Blind Blake: All The Published Sides: "In either May or October 1931, Paramount cut four Blake sides which have vanished: Dissatisfied Blues/Miss Emma Liza and Night And Day Blues/Sun To Sun. Any record collector sharp eyed enough to uncover these is guranteed fame, but probably not fortune."

Some have commented that Blake's considerable talents went in decline by 1930. There may be some truth to this although "Righteous Blues" cut circa December, 1930 finds Blake in peak form. Thankfully Old Hat has provided sound samples of the newly discovered sides and they find Blake in fine form. Both are straight ahead mid-tempo blues numbers with "Night And Day Blues" finding Blake in particularly good voice and laying down a fine solo. After this session Blake simply vanished without a trace. Several years ago I talked with blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow who hinted that he had solved the mystery of Blake's disappearance – of course he didn't tell me! Perhaps one day all will be revealed.

There have been some great blues discoveries in recent years including a lost Blind Willie McTell record issued this year plus records by Son House, Blind Joe Reynolds and King Solomon Hill. There are still records to be found, most famously a pair of lost Willie Brown 78's.

The Blake records were acquired by Old Hat 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. I'm happy to hear Old Hat now owns the records as the company has issued some terrific collections featuring great sound and incredibly researched booklets. Make sure to visit the Old Hat Website for more details.

Miss Emma Liza Ad

An ad for the missing Blake record "Miss Emma Liza."
Image from the 2006 Classic Blues Artwork Calendar.

 

 

 

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Juke Joint Blues Lightnin' Special

In previous posts I've spotlighted some of JSP's pre-war blues box sets but for the past couple of weeks I've been captivated by a pair of recent post-war ones; Juke Joint Blues: Good Time Rhythm & Blues 1946-1953 and Lightning Special: Volume 2 of the Collected Works. The music spans a fascinating period, roughly the first decade of post-war blues, when the blues was evolving into what would be called R&B and a short hop later to rock and roll. The music on these sets however is a throwback; this is rough and tumble down-home blues geared towards an audience that was still eager to hear earthy rural blues. Many of these listeners were still in the south while many other were transplanted southerners still eager to hear the older styles. These were exciting times with numerous small labels throwing their hat in the ring to try to cash in on the market. Some labels became famous like Sun, Modern, Excello, King and had a fair bit of success while others like Rockin', Miltone, Delta remain all but forgotten outside of hardcore collectors. And of course there were plenty of artists eager to give it a go with down-home artists like Lightning Hopkins, Li'l Son Jackson, John Lee Hooker and Smokey Hogg achieving a good amount of success while the vast majority toiled with little or no luck, cutting a handful of sides and drifting back into obscurity. Both these sets collect some exciting, rawboned music by the famous and forgotten making for a varied and immensely entertaining survey of the blues in the immediate post-war era circa 1946 to 1956. Neil Slaven's notes are typically informative with the Hopkins being particularly interesting. It should be noted that most of these sides have appeared elsewhere and potential buyers may have to way the sets' merits against what they already own. In a way JSP seems to be stepping on the toes of the Boulevard Vintage label which for the past few years has been issuing excellent, well annotated multi-CD sets of down-home blues divided into different geographic regions and there's much overlapping between the two labels (I'm far too lazy to actually count duplications but there’s quite a number).

Juke Joint Blues: Good Time Rhythm & Blues 1946-1953, there's a mouthful of a title, is perhaps a bit loose thematically but gathers together 212 tracks of vintage down-home blues from performers based all over the map, predominantly from the south. JSP has done a marvelous job compiling this box which boasts nary a dud in the bunch and generally quite good sound-wise. There's plenty of well known performers like down-home stalwart Lightning Slim who's somber blues are heard to fine effect on half a dozen tracks including downtrodden gems like "I Can't Live Happy" and "I Can't Be Successful" but rocks to good effect on "Bugger Bugger Boy" modeled on Muddy's "Hootchie Cootchie Man." Slim employed a number of fine harmonica partners, many of whom are featured here; there's Lazy Lester belying his name on the pounding "Lester's Stomp", there's the marvelous country tinged "Pebble In My Shoe", the only record by Wild Bill Phillips and terrific sides by the still active Schoolboy Cleve who blows some wild, wide toned harp on the torrid "She's Gone" and puts it way in the alley on "Strange Letter Blues" laying down some stunningly raw, over amped harmonica. Of course when it comes to raw, over amped harmonica nobody beats Papa Lightfoot who's vicious "Wine, Women, Whiskey" sounds like he's singing and playing from the bottom of a garbage can and who can resist a line like "come on baby talk some trash to me." His "Jump the Boogie" and the chugging "Mean Old Train" are almost as ferocious. There's quite a number of talented harp players including classic sides by the still active Jerry McCain including his blistering "Courtin' In a Cadillac" and the menacing "That's What They Want" ("They don't want no man ain't got no cash/They’ll tell you right quick they don't mess with trash/That's what they want/Money honey"). Lesser-known but first rate are the four sides Little Sam Davis cut for the Miami based Rockin' label in 1953 backed by a young Earl Hooker. Davis was an expressive singer who reminds me a bit of Baby Face Leroy and fine upper register harp player who shines on "Goin' Home To Mother" and the throbbing "1958 Blues. Hooker cut some sides under his own name at the same session which are collected here including wild instrumentals "Alley Corn" and "On the Hook", the bopping "Ride Hooker Ride" with a fine, unknown smoothed voiced singer while Hooker takes the vocals on the magnificent cover of "Sweet Black Angel" showing his mastery of Robert Nighthawk's style. Getting back to great harp men there's some marvelous tracks by the sparsely recorded Coy Hot Shot Love and Ole Sonny Boy who's style is reminiscent of Papa Lightfoot, even sparking conjecture that he might indeed be Lightfoot although my ears say no. In addition to Hooker there's also a passel of terrific guitarists like Johnny Lewis aka Joe Hill Louis who cooks on the Elmore James styled "Jealous Man", Lafayette Thomas who's moody instrumental "Deep South Guitar Blues" I believe is seeing the light of day for the first time, Wright Holmes who's "Good Road Blues" showcases a unorthodox guitarist who sounds like nobody I know and bottleneck ace John Lee who's 1951 Federal session has been justly celebrated, sounding like a date that could have been recorded fifteen years earlier. Speaking of which there's a few pre-war recording artists that make the cut including the last sides by the under appreciated Clifford Gibson, three numbers by Texas piano man Alex Moore including a pair of rippling boogies and Skoole-Dum-Doo & Sheffield which masks the identity of Seth Richard who first recorded back in 1929.

Most of the music on Lightning Special: Volume 2 of the Collected Works was recorded in Texas cities like Dallas and Houston with a batch also cut in the recording centers of New York and Los Angles. This set is a perfect compliment to the above set gathering up 106 sides of dusty, down-home Texas blues recorded between 1951 and 1956. This set is a sequel to JSP's Lightning Hopkins: All The Classics 1946-1951, which was issued a few years back. The title is something of a misnomer as it not only features Hopkins but also some of his associates and like minded peers such as Thunder Smith, Lil' Son Jackson, Soldier Boy Houston, Frankie Lee Sims, Manny Nichols, Ernest Lewis, L.C. Williams and J.D. Edwards. Hopkins is of the course the star and during the first decade of his career, 1946 to 1956, he laid down his greatest music for a myriad of small labels like Sittin' In With, Herald, Aladdin, TNT, Gold Star and several others. The tricky thing about Lightning is that he makes it sounds so easy as he pulls down a seemingly endless storehouse of tales and antidotes from his life and community and casually tosses off some amazing guitar licks. Much of it was improvisatory and rooted in the way he worked the local clubs as Chris Strachwitz noted on his first trip to Houston to see Lightning': " He would just improvise constantly, that whole evening. …He was simply the community poet who would tell people what they like(d) to hear. And he would argue with the woman in front of him, "Whoa, woman, you in the black dress!" And then he would just go into this musical tirade about her, and she would yell back at him! It was real two-way communication. It was like a church service in a totally non church atmosphere." Lightning's genius was the way he translated this to his studio recordings. Sure he would tell his interviewers: "It's people that move me. I don't like playing to the wall. …I need the amen. Like a preacher preaching, if he don't get the amen he can't do it. …They get me in that big room and they go watch me through the glass wall and I don't feel like nothing. Oh, course those records are good, 'cause everything I do is good – but they ain't the best. The best only happens when I'm feeling easy." Lightning must have been feeling pretty easy during this period maintaining an exceptionally high standard particularly on some remarkable sides for Herald such as ruminative numbers like "Shine On Moon", "Remember Me", "Lonesome in Your Home", "Life I Used to Live" plus stomping boogies like "Had a Gal Called Sal", "Moving On Out Boogie" and the wild "Hopkins Sky Hop." Also quite good are a pair of 1956 numbers he waxed for Chart before a three year absence from the studio and an interesting duet from 1954; "Walkin' the Streets" and "Mussy Haired Woman" are a perfect marriage of vocals and over-amped guitar while "That's Alright Baby" features the down-home vocals of Ruth (Blues) Ames is the only female duet that I think I've ever heard him perform.

There were a number of artists "who hung out in Lightning’s orbit" like drummer/singer/tap dancer L.C. Williams. Williams was a strong singer, often back by Lightning on guitar and piano, who cut a number of excellent sides between 1947 and 1951. Eight sides are collected here including moody down-home numbers like "Strike Blues", "The Lazy J" and boogies like "You Can't Take It with You Baby" and the bouncy "Boogie All the Time." When Lola Ann Cullum decided to take Lightning and pianist Thunder Smith to Los Angeles to record for Aladdin she had Smith in mind to be the star. Smith was a solid pianist and appealing singer, if not star material, as he displays on the half dozen sides here including the rollicking "Little Mama Boogie" and fine mid-tempo fare like "Big Stars are Falling" and "West Coast Blues" one of several numbers with Lightning on guitar. Frankie Lee Sims claimed to be a cousin of Lightning but the association helped him little on the charts. Sims possessed a wonderful gravelly voice and a powerful boogie guitar style. His four session 1948 debut for Blue Bonnet is included, and while solid, doesn't match the terrific sides he waxed for Specialty and Ace. Nothing is known of J.D. Edwards but Lightning backs him on pair of numbers including the stomping "Hobo" with Lightning unleashing some torrid over-amped guitar. One artist that's sadly overlooked is singer Luke "Long Gone" Miles a Lightning protégé who cut some fine sides for Smash and World Pacific in the early 1960's. Unfortunately Miles made his recordings a tad late to make it on to this set which, like all JSP sets, takes advantage of the European 50 year copyright law.

Lightning's personal connection to the other artists are tenuous outside of a similar style; Lil' Son Jackson recorded for Gold Star and was right up there in sales with Lightning', Manny Nichols was a powerful, rough voiced singer who brings to mind Tommy McLennan, Ernest Lewis worked in a similar vein although "In My Girlish Days" finds him backing a marvelous, mysterious singer who went by the handle singer Miss Country Slim. I found myself quite captivated by Soldier Boy Houston's (Lawyer Houston was his real name) eight sides. I first heard him 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: "In the Army Since 1941", "Lawyer Houston Blues" ("My name is Lawyer Houston and I'm a private first class/It seem like everywhere I go I got to have a special privilege pass'), "Lawton, Oklahoma Blues" (When I re-enlisted in the Army/They send down to Fort Sill/We'll I learned that the women in Lawton will get a good soldier killed").

 

Schoolboy Cleve – Strange Letter Blues [From Juke Joint Blues] (MP3)

Earl Hooker – Ride, Hooker, Ride [From Juke Joint Blues] (MP3)

Lightning Hokins – Walking The Streets [From Lightnin' Special] (MP3)

J.D. Edward – Hobo [From Lightnin' Special] (MP3)

 

 

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