Show Notes:

John Lomax Photo
John Lomax

In June 1932, they arrived at the offices of the Macmillan publishing company in New York. Here Lomax proposed his idea for an anthology of American ballads and folksongs, with a special emphasis on the contributions of African Americans. It was accepted. In preparation he traveled to Washington to review the holdings in the Archive of American Folk Song of the Library of Congress. Lomax found the recorded holdings of the Archive woefully inadequate for his purposes. He therefore made an arrangement with the Library whereby it would provide recording equipment, obtained for it by Lomax through private grants, in exchange for which he would travel the country making field recordings to be deposited in the Archive. John Lomax was paid a salary of one dollar per year for this work (which included fund raising for the Library) and was expected to support himself entirely through writing books and giving lectures.Thus began a ten-year relationship with the Library of Congress that would involve not only John but the entire Lomax family, including his second wife, Ruby Terrill Lomax, whom he married in 1934.

In July they acquired a state-of-the-art, 315-pound acetate phonograph disk recorder. Installing it in the trunk of his Ford sedan, Lomax soon used it to record, at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, a twelve-string guitar player by the name of Huddie Ledbetter, better known as "Lead Belly," whom they considered one of their most significant finds. During the next year and a half, father and son continued to make disc recordings of musicians throughout the South.

Prison Compound No. 1
Prison Compound No. 1, Angola, LA.
Leadbelly in foreground.jpg

Through a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, Lomax was able to set out in June 1933 on the first recording expedition under the Library's auspices, with Alan Lomax (then eighteen years old) in tow. In their successful grant application they wrote, that prisoners, "Thrown on their own resources for entertainment . . . still sing, especially the long-term prisoners who have been confined for years and who have not yet been influenced by jazz and the radio, the distinctive old-time Negro melodies." They toured Texas prison farms recording work songs, reels, ballads, and blues from prisoners. They also recorded music from many others not in prison.

From 1936 to 1942 Alan Lomax was Assistant in Charge of the Archive of Folk Song of the Library of Congress to which he and his father and numerous collaborators contributed more than ten thousand field recordings. During his lifetime, he collected folk music from the United States, Haiti, the Caribbean, Ireland, Great Britain, Spain, and Italy, assembling a treasure trove of American and international culture. Lomax was the first to record such legendary musicians as Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, McKinley "Muddy Waters" Morganfield, and David "Honeyboy" Edwards, as well as an enormous number of other significant traditional musicians. He also recorded eight hours of music and spoken recollection with Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton in 1938, and four hours of the same format with Woody Guthrie in 1940.

Although John Lomax would partially retire in 1940, he continued to collect folk music for the remainder of his life and published his autobiography, Adventures of a Ballad Hunter, in 1947. By the time of his death in 1948, Lomax had aided in the collection of over 10,000 folk songs for the Library of Congress.

Blind Willie McTell Photo
Blind Willie McTell, Georgia Hotel Room, 1940

From the time he left his position as head of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress in 1942 through the end of his long and productive career as an internationally known folklorist, author, radio broadcaster, filmmaker, concert and record producer, and television host, Alan Lomax amassed one of the most important collections of ethnographic material in the world. After he left the Library of Congress, Alan Lomax continued his work to document, analyze, and present traditional music, dance, and narrative through projects of various kinds throughout the world. With his father and on his own he published many books, including American Ballads and Folk Songs (1934) and Our Singing Country (1941). He received many honors and awards, including the National Medal of the Arts, the National Book Critics Circle award for his book The Land Where the Blues Began, and a "Living Legend" award from the Library of Congress. According to folklorist Roger Abrahams, he is "the person most responsible for the great explosion of interest in American folksong throughout the mid-twentieth century."

Lomax traveled through Stovall's Plantation in August of 1941 when he came acrass McKinley Morganfield, Latter to be know as Muddy Waters. Lomax recorded some two-dozen sides by Morganfield including a rendition of "I Be's Troubled," which became his first big seller when he recut it a few years later for the Chess brothers' Aristocrat logo as "I Can't Be Satisfied." Lomax returned the next summer to record him again. Lomax knocked on Son House's door in 1941 to record him for the Library of Congress on a tip from Muddy Waters. House rounded up Willie Brown, Fiddlin' Joe Martin and Leroy Williams for the session. They cut six numbers that day and next summer in July, House recorded, unaccompanied, ten more songs for Lomax.

Alan Lomax Photo
Alan Lomax

Alan Lomax returned to Parchman Farm in 1947-48 and made some remarkable recordings, armed with state-of-the-art technology, a cassette machine. These sides were originally issued as the LP Negro Prison Songs and reissued on CD as Prison Songs Vol. 1: Murderous Home by Rounder. Lomax gathered the prisons best lead signers for these recordings, all simply known by their nicknames: men like Bama, 22, Alex, Bull, Dobie Red, and Tangle Eye.

In 1959 and 1960, Alan Lomax revisited the American South to record traditional music in newly developed stereo sound. He recorded Delta blues, fife-and-drum ensembles, Sacred Harp singers, Ozark and Appalachian ballad singers, and prison work gangs. English folksinger Shirley Collins assisted Alan Lomax on the 1959 trip, and his daughter, Anna, accompanied him on the 1960 trip. The endeavor resulted in a seven-album series issued on Altantic Records in 1960, reissued on CD as Sounds of the South, and in a twelve-volume series on Prestige International, reissued in 1997 on Rounder Records as the Southern Journey series of the Alan Lomax Collection.

The advent of new technologies opened up new worlds for Lomax, and in the 1970s and 1980s he made a series of journeys back to the South to videotape traditional musical performances for the PBS series American Patchwork, completed and broadcast in 1990. Throughout the 90s and into the twenty-first century, Rounder records steadily worked toward reissuing a 100-CD series showcasing Lomax' most legendary field recordings. Alan Lomax continued his work lecturing, writing, and working with the Association for Cultural Equity until his death at the age of 87 on the morning of July 19, 2002.



Show Notes:

Art Rupe founded Juke Box Records in 1946, but changed the company's name to Specialty the following year to indicate that, unlike the major labels, his specialized in particular kinds of music – African-American blues and gospel. The Hollywood-based firm became a leader in both fields, with a roster that included R&B artists Roy Milton, Joe Liggins, Percy Mayfield, Guitar Slim, and Lloyd Price and gospel stars like the Pilgrim Travelers, the Soul Stirrers (featuring Sam Cooke), Brother Joe May, Alex Bradford, and the Original Gospel Harmonettes. Specialty also played a key role in the development of rock 'n' roll upon signing Little Richard in 1955. Two years later, however, Specialty lost both Richard (to religion) and Cooke (to pop music), and Rupe's interest in making new records quickly waned. He kept the label's many hits in print and compiled albums of older material until 1991, when he sold the company to Fantasy, Inc. Below is some background on today's featured artists.

Among the label's big hits were "The Honeydripper" by Joe Liggins inn 1945 and "Pink Champagne" five years later, posting many more solid sellers in between. Inspired by the success of his brother Joe, Jimmy jumped into the recording field in 1947 on Art Rupe's Specialty logo. His "Tear Drop Blues" hit the R&B Top Ten the next year, while "Careful Love" and "Don't Put Me Down" hit for him in 1949. "R.M. Blues" was a million seller for Roy Mitlon in 1945 and really got Specialty off and running. Rupe knew a good thing when he saw it, recording Milton early and often-through 1953. He was rewarded with 19 Top Ten R&B hits. Camille  Howard was installed as pianist with drummer Roy Milton & the Solid Senders sometime during World War II, playing on all their early hits for Art Rupe's Juke Box and Specialty labels (notably the groundbreaking "R.M. Blues" in 1945). Rupe began recording her as a featured artist at the end of the year. Her biggest hit was the romping instrumental "X-Temporaneous Boogie" but she was also a very fine vocalist.

Specialty signed Percy Mayfield in 1950 and he scored a solid string of R&B smashes over the next couple of years. "Please Send Me Someone to Love" was a number one R&B hit in 1950a and its equally fine flip, "Strange Things Happening" were followed in the charts by "Lost Love," "What a Fool I Was," "Prayin' for Your Return," "Cry Baby," and "Big Question."

Smokey Hogg scored a pair of major R&B hits in 1948 and 1950 for the Modern label. He was recorded extensively for a slew of labels including Exclusive, Modern, Bullet, Macy's, Sittin' in With, Imperial, Mercury, Recorded in Hollywood, Specialty, Fidelity, Combo, Federal, and Showtime.

Johnny Vincent, the New Orleans promotion man for Specialty discovered Guitar Slim and brought him to the attention of Art Rupe. The result of the session was "The Things That I Used to Do". Vincent had used a little-known piano player named Ray Charles to arrange and play on the recording. The song was a smash hit. Unfortunately, in spite of some powerful follow-up recordings, Guitar Slim's career faded, and he died in 1959, having drunk himself to death at the age of 32.

In 1952, Rupe made his first field trip to the south, being impressed with the music of Fats Domino on another Los Angeles-based label, Imperial. He went to Fats' hometown of New Orleans to search for talent. He announced on a radio show that he was looking for talent and for artists to come to Cosimo Matassa's recording studio for auditions. The auditions had not produced anything worthy of recording, and Rupe was packing up to head back to Los Angeles when a 17 year old named Lloyd Price came in and sang his own composition, "Lawdy Miss Clawdy." Rupe canceled his plane ticket home and stayed in New Orleans to record the song. He got Fats Domino to play piano and Dave Bartholomew to assemble the other backing musicians. The record became the #1 R&B record for 1952 on both the Billboard and Cash Box charts, and Lloyd Price was the Cash Box "Best New R&B Singer of 1952."

Bumble Bee Slim was one of the more popular and prolific blues artists of the 1930's. He relocated to Los Angeles in the early '40s. During the '50s, Slim cut some West Coast blues for Specialty and Pacific Jazz, which failed to gain much interest. For the rest of his career, he kept a low profile, playing various Californian clubs. He died in 1968.

After success at Modern and Aladdin, Floyd Dixon jumped to the Specialty label, making his debut in mid-1953 with our featured track, "Hard Living Alone." "Hole in the Wall" followed by year's end, but neither was a hit, and when the same fate befell 1954's "Ooh Ee, Ooh Eee," the company terminated his contract.

Mercy Deed Walton debuted on record in 1949 with "Lonesome Cabin Blues" for the tiny Spire logo, which became a national R&B hit. Those sides were cut in Fresno, but Los Angeles hosted some of the pianist's best sessions for Imperial in 1950 and Specialty in 1952-53. His "One Room Country Shack" was a huge R&B hit in 1953 and has become a blues standard.

Billed as Earl Johnson, Earl King, debuted on wax in 1953 on Savoy. Johnson became Earl King upon signing with Specialty the next year (label head Art Rupe intended to name him King Earl, but the typesetter reversed the names!). He had more success when he jumped to the Ace label; "Those Lonely, Lonely Nights," proved a national R&B hit.

In 1954, Clifton Chenier signed with Elko Records.He had a regional hit single, "Cliston's Blues" and "Louisiana Stomp." His first national attention came with his first single for the Specialty record label, "Ay Tete Fille (Hey, Little Girl)," a cover of a Professor Longhair tune, released in May 1955. The song was one of 12 that he recorded during two sessions produced by Bumps Blackwell, best known for his work with Little Richard.

Professor Longhair made great records for Atlantic in 1949, Federal in 1951, Wasco in 1952, and Atlantic again in 1953. After recuperating from a minor stroke, Longhair came back on Lee Rupe's (the ex-wife of Specialty Records' owner Art Rupe) Ebb logo in 1957 which were also released on Specialty.



Show Notes:

jim jackson's Kansas City Blues

Today's show is the first installment of an ongoing series of programs built around a particular year. The bulk of the information for today's show notes comes from the books Recording The Blues (reprinted along with two other titles in Yonder Come The Blues) by Robert M.W. Dixon and John Godrich and Blues & Gospel Records, 1890-1943 by Robert M.W. Dixon, John Godrich and Howard Rye.

The year 1927 was the beginning of a blues boom that would last until 1930; there were just 500 blues and gospel records issued in 1927 and increase of fifty percent from 1926 a trend that would continue until the depression. Paramount, the market leader at the time, brought talent up to their northern studios. To feed the demand other record companies conducted exhaustive searches for new talent, which included making trips down south with field recording units. Between 1927-1930 Atlanta was visited seventeen times, Memphis eleven times, Dallas eight times, New Orleans seven times and so on. The record companies advertised their record in black newspapers, mainly in the Chicago Defender, which was the nation's most influential black weekly newspaper.

Jelly Roll QueenAfter neglecting the race market, Victor decided to jump in the field in 1926 with negligible results. Victor's fortunes turned around when they hired Ralph Peer who had been responsible for building up the race and hilliby catalogs for OKeh. In February 1927 Peer ventured out with the Victor filed unit to Atlanta, Memphis and finally New Orleans. Among the artists recorded in Memphis were the Memphis Jug Band, Furry Lewis and Frank Stokes. In Atlanta recordings were made by Julius Daniels, Blind Willie McTell and others. In New Orleans the major find was songster Richard "Rabbit" Brown who recorded six sides.

Early in 1927 Mayo Williams, who had built up the Paramount catalog, formed his Black Patti label. The recordings were made by Gennett, with half the material issued on Gennett's own labels. Black Patti Records debuted with advertisements in May of 1927, with some two dozen discs said to already be available. The repertory included jazz, blues, sermons, spirituals, and vaudeville skits, most (but not quite all) by African American entertainers. A total of 55 different discs were manufactured. Williams found running his own label not as lucrative and easy as he had hoped, and closed up operations before the end of 1927. Among the notable blues artists recorded were Papa Harvey Hull, Sam Collins, Clara Smith, Jaybird Collins among others.

When Black Patti folded in August 1927, Vocalion quickly hired him as a talent scout. Williams hit pay dirt with Jim Jackson's "Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues" which was released in December 1927 and was an immediate hit.

Gennett began recording blues in 1923 but was the only major label not to have a separate race series. Gennett recorded most of their recordings at their Richmond, Indiana and New York studios. They made one group of recordings in the South in Birmingham Alabama in 1927. Among those recorded during this trip were Jay Bird Coleman, Daddy Stovepipe,, William Harris and Joe Evans.Other artists to appear on the label included Sam Collins and Cow Cow Davenport.

Columbia's race records  were primarily issued on the 1400-D series which ran from December 1923 through April 1933. The first country blues singer to appear on the series was Peg Leg Howell who was recorded in Atalanta in November 1926 and the following year in April.  Also recorded in April 1927 were Robert Hicks aka Barbecue Bob. According to Robert M.W. Dixon John Godrich in their book Recording The Blues, 10, 850 copies of "Barbecue Blues" b/w "Cloudy Sky Blues" were pressed. Initial sales were so good that Hicks was called to New York in the middle of June to record 8 more numbers, and when Columbia returned to Atlanta in November they not only recorded a further 8 selections by Barbecue Bob, but also 6 by his brother Charley Lincoln, who sang the same sort of songs in very much the same style. In December 1927 the Columbia field unti went to Dallas and Memphis.  Notable artists recorded in Dallas inluded Blind Willie Johnson, the Dallas String Band, Lillian Glinn while Memphis yielded important recordings by Reubin Lacy and Pearl Dickson.

TB Blues

In 1926 Columbia and OKeh merged but the labels were run by separate management for three years after the merger and did not compete for the same artists. Since 1927 OKeh had been issuing a new record every six weeks by Lonnie Johnson and issued some two-dozen sides by him in 1927. Johnson also backed other OKeh artists that year including Texas Alexander and Victoria Spivey. OKeh also recorded two sessions by Blind Lemon Jefferson, exclusively a Paramount artist, but these were never issued. Today's show features tracks by all these artists as well as the duo of Butterbeans & Susie who cut close to 70 sides for the label between 1924 and 1930.

The only race company that made no field trips was Paramount. Despite this Paramount remained the market leader in records released and singers recorded. Paramount issued records by the many of the blues biggest stars. In 1927 the label issued records by Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake both of whom were extensivley advertised in the Chicago Defender. Other big names were Ma Rainey, Lucille Bogan Ida Cox, and Papa Charlie Jackson.



Show Notes:

John Cephas
John Cephas, Photo by Tom Pich for National Endowment of the Arts

A somber note hangs over today's show as we pay tribute to the recently departed John Cephas and Snooks Eaglin. John Cephas, best known as the guitarist and singer with the duo Cephas & Wiggins died March 4th. He was 78. Both Cephas and Wiggins were born in Washington, D.C., although Wiggins was a quarter century younger than his partner; they met at a jam session in 1977, and both performed as regular members of Big Chief Ellis' band prior to Ellis' death. The duo had been recording since the early 80's, cutting records for Flying Fish, Rounder and most recently Alligator. The tracks featured today were the first by Cephas, cut in the mid-70's by Pete Lowry but never released at the time. Lowry has given me permission to play these cuts which are not available anywhere else. Lowry recorded Cephas & Wiggins extensively in 1980 and recorded Cephas in-depth in 1976.

Snooks Eaglin passed away on February 18th. In true New Orleans fashion he was given a full jazz funeral send off. I first encountered Snooks via his terrific Black Top Records of the late 1980's and 90's. After the label's demise Snooks only recorded one more album, The Way It Is, in 2001 which happens to be one of my favorites. Fans of Snooks' later electric records may be surprised that his earliest records (1958-1959) which are all acoustic. From that period we spin the charming "Country Boy Down In New Orleans" from the wonderful Snooks Eaglin: The Sonet Blues Storyalbum of the same name on Arhoolie. We also play the soulful "By The Water" cut for Imperial in 1960 and "I Get The Blues When It Rains" from 1971's The Sonet Blues Story.

We do a bit of compare and contrast today by playing two versions of the classic "How Blue Can You Get?", one by Louis Jordan and the other by B.B. King.  Johnny Moore's Three Blazer's cut the original version in 1949 which we played on the program a couple of weeks back. It was covered in 1951 by Louis Jordan which is where B.B. King first heard the song. King began using it in his live act at recorded it on his classic Live At The Regal album from 1963.

There's plenty vintage blues from the 1920's and 30's including a trio of sides from Atlanta artists Peg Leg Howell, Sloppy Henry and Barbecue Bob.  Like Memphis, Atlanta was a staging post for musicians on their way to all points. It's not surprising then that the first country blues musician, Ed Andrews, was recorded there in 1924. The company that recorded him, Okeh, was one of many to send their engineers to Southern cities to record local talent. Companies like Victor, Columbia, Vocalion and Brunswick made at least yearly visits until the depression. Between 1927-1930 Atlanta was visited seventeen times by the record companies. Among the bluesmen to record in Atalanta in the 1920's, the first to arrive in the city was Joshua Barnes Powell, known as Peg Leg because of a shooting accident in 1916. We also hear Peg Leg in the Barbecue Bob: Chocalate To The Bonecompany of singer Sloppy Henry. Henry cut sixteen between 1924 and 1929 for the Okeh label. Within a year or so of Howell's arrival in Atlanta, Robert Hicks came to the city. He learned guitar, as did his older brother Charlie, and their friend Curley Weaver from the latter's mother Savannah Weaver. Hicks earned his nickname from his day job as the chef of a barbecue restaurant and Columbia photographed him for their publicity material in his work apron.  As Barbecue Bob he became the most heavily recorded Atlanta bluesman of the 1920's with his records selling steadily for Columbia until his untimely death in 1931.

We also feature some fine blues ladies including Susie Hawthorne, one half of the popular Butterbeans & Susie, Lucille Bogan and Bessie Smith. Butterbeans and Susie were a comedy duo that began touring with the Theatre Owners Booking Association (TOBA) and later moved to vaudeville before signing with Okeh Records. They cut close to 70 sides for the label between 1924 and 1930. Our track, "He Likes It Slow", from 1926 features Louis Armstrong on cornet. From the same year we play Bessie Smith's "Them 'Has Been' Blues." This cut comes form the the eight volume series on the Frog label that collects all of Bessie's recordings.  Sound quality on this series is outstanding, noticeably better then Columbia's series, which is interesting since Columbia had the actual masters to work with. The Frog series is a testament to the skills of engineer John R.T. Davies and label owner David French, who commissioned collectors for the best available originals. Sadly Davies and French both passed before the completion of the series. From Lucille Bogan we spin her classic "Shave 'Em Dry." This of course is the  clean version. The unreleased version is extremely explicit and if aired would surely be the end of my broadcasting career!

Butterbeans & Susie
Butterbeans & Susie

We close out our show with a stunning version of "Prodigal Son" by Robert Wilkins recorded live at Newport in 1964.  During the 1920's and 1930's, Tim Wilkins was one of the most popular blues artists associated with Beale Street. He left the blues world to become an ordained minister. When the Rolling Stones recorded Wilkins' "Prodigal Son" in the early '60s (originally titled "That's No Way To Get Along"), blues researchers found Wilkins at home in Memphis, ministering to the congregation at the Lane Avenue Church of God in Christ and performing gospel songs at street corner revivals. He returned to recording with the album Memphis Gospel Singer in 1964, a classic record that yet to make it to CD. He performed at several festivals including Newport in 1964 and the Memphis Country Blues Festival in 1968. He passed in 1987.


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