Gatemouth Moore

The world lost not only a great blues and gospel singer in May 2004, but a truly charismatic, larger than life figure when Arnold "Gatemouth" Moore passed in Yazoo City, Mississippi at the age of 90. Gatemouth summed up his talents as a blues singer this way: "I am one of the ultra-men blues singers. I am not accustomed and don't know nothing about that gut-belly stuff in the joints…I put on tuxedos, dressed up, sang intelligent…Without a doubt, and I'm not being facetious, I'm the best blues singer in the business with that singing voice. Now I can't wiggle and I can't dance, but telling a story, I don't think them other boys are in my class." Often labeled a blues shouter,with his perfect diction and huge, mellow, enveloping voice he was more accurately a blues crooner of the highest order. His heyday as a blues career was short lived, cutting a couple of dozen sides between 1945 and 1947 that saw release on Gilmore's Chez Paree, Savoy, National with his final records cut for King at the very end of 1947. His most famous number was the immortal "Did You Ever Love A Woman" although his output was consistently high cutting should-have been-classics like "I Ain't Mad at You Pretty Baby", "Walking My Blues Away", "They Can't Do This to You", "Highway 61 Blues" backed by swinging big bands featuring top flight jazz musicians such as Budd Johnson, Jimmy Hamilton, Harry Carney, Tiny Grimes, and John Hardee. His blues career came to a close in 1949 when he had a religious conversion on stage at Chicago's Club DeLisa. After walking off stage he eventually became a preacher, gospel disc jockey and gospel recording artist.

Inexplicably in 1977 he stepped back briefly into the world of blues cutting Great Rhythm & Blues Oldies Vol. 7, an exceptional album despite it's generic title. The album was produced by Johnny Otis and issued on the Blues Spectrum label. According to the notes: "Three years ago in Los Angles, Moore startled his longtime buddy, Johnny Otis, by announcing his intention to record some of his old blues. 'You can't do that, Gate, you're a minister,' Johnny protested. 'Yes, I can, ' Moore countered, 'I'm not going to be a blues singer again but it is part of my heritage and I want you to produce it.'" On the surface this is an easy album to overlook; firstly it's not available on CD, there's that generic title and a program of remakes of older material. Yet Gatemouth was in dynamic, inspired form, backed by spirited support from Johnny Otis and his son Shuggie.

Good old fashioned blues singing, the ability to really sell a song, to tell a compelling story to your audience don't seem to be the attributes favored by white fans who value instrumental prowess and equate sophistication with commercialism. Gatemouth puts on a clinic of good old fashioned blues singing on this album, refashioning his old material and delivering some fine new compositions. The album kicks off with the chugging"I Ain't Mad At You, Pretty Baby" sung with gusto. The number was first cut in 1945 and based on a real life incident as Gatemouth recalled: "I was in Washington D.C. when I wrote that one. A woman had just taken her shoe off and busted her old man across the head with it. As the cop car came to take her away, the guy ran up behind it, blood still running from his forehead, yelling 'I ain't mad at you, baby'." Gatemouth tells the following story regarding "Did You Ever Love A Woman" which he also remakes on this album: "Well, my wife wasn't home when I came back to Memphis from a trip, so I went down on Beale Street to look for her. A fellow said, 'Yeah, she’s upstairs.' I'm mad now. The band leader saw me. 'Sing something, Gate,' he said. I was looking for my wife, and I told him to turn up all the lights. I shouted out singing: 'My wife is here with another man/and I swear we’re going to fight.' That song came from me looking for Willa Mae. She got outta there too." Many have covered this song but no one sang it better than Gatemouth and here he delivers a vigorous, impassioned remake that has all the power of the original cut thirty tears previously. Those famous lines still resonate: "Did you ever love a woman/And love her with all your might/When all the time you knew she wasn't treating you right." Backed by Johnny Otis' sparkling vibes, "My Mother Thinks I'm Something" is a marvelous update of "Something I'm Gonna Be" originally cut for King in 1947. It's another great story song:

My mother thought I was something
You know folks something I gotta be
I tried so hard to make fame, so I could let my dear mother see
I tried so hard to make fame, so I could let dear Georgia see
See my mother thinks I'm something, and I declare something I gotta be

"Gate's Christmas Blues" is a silky remake of of his 1946 number "Christmas Blues" again featuring terrific vibes from Otis. 1945's "It Ain't None of Me" is remade in glorious fashion as "Somebody Got To Go" as Gatemouth bellows out the blues with that great opening line : "Say Mr. Jones, turn up all them lights/My baby's in the house with another man and I swear we gonna a fight." Newer material includes the deeply soulful blues of "Everybody Has Their Turn" which has more updated sound, the rocking "Boogie Woogie Papa" (I wonder what the congregation thought about this one?!) and a gorgeous interpretation of "Goin' Down Slow" sporting some sympathetic guitar work from Shuggie and piano from Johnny.

The album's masterpiece is "Beale Street Ain't Beale Street No More" an impassioned six minute lament on the destruction of Gatemouth's old stomping grounds. According to the liner notes this was done off-the-cuff which would make it all the more remarkable. Like many, Gatemouth cut his teeth singing the blues at the Beale Street clubs and for almost a hundred years it was the center of black urban life in Memphis. According to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History: "In 1969 the city undertook urban renewal projects, including Beale Street I and Beale Street II, which erased the area's housing, demolished 474 buildings, and placed a block-wide barrier of empty lots and parking spaces between African Americans and Beale Street. This project left a thin commercial (blue light) district between Second and Fourth Avenues, where African American businesses were forced out through condemnation of buildings and high property resale prices. The Memphis Press-Scimitar (June 10, 1979) declared "Urban renewal destroyed Beale Street." This is the backdrop of Gatemouth's passionate, bitter insider's recounting of the old street as he recalls the street in better days: "My mind run back/When it was a fast track/The old Street was jumping."He nostalgically recalls now shuttered joints like the One Minute, Pee Wee's and the Palace ("where I learned to sing the blues") and to the street's characters like Robert Henry, Little Mickey, Brother Moss, Lieutenant Lee and Memphis Ma Rainey. The song slowly builds up steam to rousing finish as he sadly concludes: "Beale Street ain't Beale Street no more/My street is gone, gone to come back no more."

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Show Notes:

A typically wide ranging show show today spanning from 1927 to 1977. We kick things off with a set featuring the brilliant boogie-woogie pianist Pete Johnson. All these tracks come from the fascinating Document collection Pete Johnson Radio Broadcasts, Film Soundtracks, Alternate Takes 1939 – c.1947. I always play some classic piano blues and we also play some great tracks by Peanut The Kidnapper, Blind Pete JohnsonJohn Davis and Lazy Bill Lucas. James Sherrill, under the name Peanut The Kidnapper, cut 4 sides for ARC in 1937 in backed by fine pianist Robert McCoy. McCoy hailed from Birmingham, Alabama, a good piano town that also boasted such players as Jabbo Williams, Walter Roland and Cow Cow Davenport. In the 30's he also accompanied Guitar Slim and Jaybird Coleman. McCoy cut two rare LP's in the early 60s' on the Vulcan label (reissued on Delmark with many previously unissued tracks as Bye Bye Blues) , his first as leader. "Walkin' and Talkin'" is a fine number Blind John Davis cut at a 1947 session. Davis backed scores of artist during the '30's and '40's including Tampa Red, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Bill Broonzy, and others. He was the first pianist to do a European blues tour (with Broonzy in 1952), returning to the continent frequently as a solo act during the '70's and '80's and recordings several albums over there as well. Lazy Bill Lucas first cut "She Got Me Walkin'" for Chance in 1953 but the version we play today comes from the excellent self titled LP he cut for Philo in 1974. After moving to Minneapolis, Lucas mounted a comeback making some recordings in the late 60's and early 70's. The Philo LP is long out of print and finds him in excellent form. The LP includes a really nice insert written by blues scholar Jeff Todd Titon. I have the two LP's he cut for Wild in 1969 and 1970 and will spotlight these in future shows.

King Solomon Hill AdAs usual there's plenty of country blues on tap including a set featuring Blind Blake. I've had Blake on the brain after hearing the news that a long lost Blake record had just been discovered. Blake plays guitar on Gus Cannon's "My Money Never Runs Out", cuts loose with Charlie Spand on "Hastings St." ("You always tellin' me about Brady Street … wonder what is on Brady … must be something there very marvelous, mm, mm, mm…") and the playful "Righteous Blues" from 1930. One of the most haunting pre-war bluesmen was the mysterious King Solomon Hill. His "The Gone Dead Train" is a masterpiece, a stunning marriage of his eerie high pitched vocals and immaculate slide playing, it's one of those songs that sticks with you long after you've heard it. Born Joe Holmes circa 1897 in McComb, Mississippi he is rumored to have roamed the south playing alongside Sam Collins, Ramblin' Thomas, Oscar Woods and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Hill signed to the Paramount label in 1932, soon traveling to Grafton, Wisconsin to record six tracks. After this lone session, Hill returned to the juke joint circuit, dying in Sibley, Louisiana in 1949. Another slide player of note, perhaps more accurately bottleneck, was the popular Kokomo Arnold who shows off his prodigious skills on the tour-de-force "Back To The Woods." We close the program with a number of artists who give us a glimpse of what the blues sounded like before it was called blues; Papa Harvey Hull, Henry Thomas, Bogus Ben Covington are musicians from an earlier era with Thomas born in 1874, making him one of the oldest artists to record a significant body of work.

We also delve into some later country blues by Scrapper Blackwell, Roy Dunn and Jim Brewer. Blackwell's "Life Of A Millionaire" is a beautiful, poignant version of "Nobody Knows You when You're Down And Out." This track comes from Document's Scrapper Blackwell, Vol. 2 (1934-1958) which features four cuts from the outset of his comeback. There's something very compelling about his latter day recordings; his playing isn't as crisp as his early work and his voice has hoarsened, yet his blues come across as somehow deeper, and more moving than his earlier work. His best rediscovery work can be found on Mr. Scrapper's Blues cut for Bluesville in 1961 a year before he was murdered.  Jim Brewer performed regularly on Maxwell Street singing both blues and religious songs. He recorded sides on a number of anthologies and cut two full length albums; Jim Brewer (Philo, 1974) and Tough Luck (Earwig, 1983), neither of which is available on CD.

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Just a quick note that in addition to hosting Big Road Blues I will also be hosting Doc's Juke Joint this week. The program airs every Sunday night from 7-10pm. Doc’s Juke Joint is a continuing tradition on WGMC started over 15 years ago by Dave Moskal, originally called Muskie’s Juke Joint. In February 2008, Greg "Doc" Lefebre took over the program and renamed it Doc’s Juke Joint.

Also just a reminder that our Spring 2008 pledge drive is underway. If you enjoy listening to the five hours of blues programming on Jazz90.1 please show your support. Jazz90.1 has set a goal of $50,000 for the drive, which runs through March 12th. We have some great blues "thank you" gifts this year. Those interested can make pledges by calling (585) 966-5299, 1-800-790-0415, or pledge securely on line at www.jazz901.org, where you can listen live any time, anywhere.

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Show Notes:

Todays show focuses on blues songs about hard times; songs about the 29’ depression, job loss, inflation, recession and welfare are just some of the themes touched upon in the songs played today. While hard times touched both whites and blacks, it always hurt the poorest, which in the segregation area meant the black population. This is the second installment of a planned series of topical blues shows; the first was one we did last year on blues songs dealing with war.

When the Wall Street crash occurred at the end of October 1929 there were many stories of lost fortunes, of bankrupt financiers throwing themselves from skyscraper buildings. Those who bore the brunt were the poor, and of those the black population was the worst off. As steel mills ceased to operate and factories were closed down, thousands of workers, many of whom were seasonal employees, were laid off. Few were members of unions, and there was no protection against unemployment. "The Panic Was On" as Hezekiah Jenkins sang in 1931:

What this country is coming to
I sure would like to know
If they don't do something bye and bye, the rich will live and the poor will die
Doggone, I mean the panic is on

Can't get no work, can't draw no pay
Unemployment getting worser every day
Nothing to eat no place to sleep
All night long folks walking the street
Doggone, I mean the panic is on

The shantytowns constructed from waste materials that sprang up around the cities were named “Hoovervilles” after President Hoover. In J.D. Short’s “It’s Hard Time” he sings:

Now we have got a little city that we calls ‘down in Hooverville’
Times have got so hard, people ain’t got no place to live

WPA Blues

Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated in March 1933 and took many measures in his first hundred days to combat the depression. In June he established the Public Works Administration (PWA) for which over $3 billion was appropriated. PWA projects were largely engaged in construction projects like sewage plants, flood control and bridge building. Under the PWA was an alphabet soup of agencies with acronyms like PWA, CCC, CWA, CCC and others. Later came the WPA which replaced direct relief and built over a half million miles of roads, a hundred thousand bridges and even more pubic buildings. Many blues songs deal with this topic. In his "Charity Blues" Charlie McCoy sums up the situation:

I Said you ain’t got no money and you got no place to stay
You got to get you a job on the P.W.A.
The rent man keeps askin’ ‘When is you goin-a pay’
(2x)
I said ‘Just as soon as I get my money from the W.P.A.

In "Don't Take Away My P.W.A" Jimmy Gordon shared a similar sentiment:

Lord, Mister President listen to what I’m going to say (2x)
You can take away all he alphabet but please leave the P.W.A.

Not everyone had kind words about the situation. Relief rates were often unequal among blacks and whites. In some instances black families were getting only a third of the sums that whites got. In "Let's Have A New Deal" Carl Martin had this to say:

Everybody’s crying ‘let’s have a new deal’
Relief stations closing down – I know just how you feel
If you went to the relief workers and put in a complaint, 8 times out of 10, you know, they’ll say they can’t
They won’t give you no dough, won’t hardly pay your rent, and it ain’t costin’ them one dog-gone cent

In "Working on The Project" Peetie Wheatstraw complained:

Working on he project with pay-day three or four weeks away (2X)
Now how can you make ends meet, ooh well, well, when you can’t get no pay?

While the entry in WW II eased the pressure on many who were drafted or employed in the plants, it was largely the white population who benefited. Many were still "On The Killin' Floor" as Doctor Clayton described in 1942:

Please give me a match to light this short that I found
I know it looks bad for me, picking tobacco off the ground
I was in my prime not so very long ago
But high priced whiskey and woman done put me on the killin' floor

Eisenhower Blues Truman became President in 1945. Inflation was a major reason Truman’s popularity dropped from 87% after his election to 32% by the time he was up for re-election. In addition, after the war prices began to rise and opportunities lessen. Prices rose 38% between 1946 and 1948.Among the songs that deal with this period are Jimmy Witherspoon's "Money’s Getting Cheaper" (1947), Louis Jordan's "Inflation Blues" (1947), Roosevelt Sykes' "High Price Blues" (1945), Sunnyland Slim's "Bad Times (Cost of Living)" (1949), Smokey Hogg's "High Priced Meat" (1947) and Ivory Joe Hunter's "High Cost Low Pay Blues" (1947).

Eisenhower was elected President in 1953. In the spring of 1954 the U.S. suffered a modest recession. The most bitter attack on the President was “Eisenhower Blues” by J.B. Lenoir:

Hey everybody, I was talkin' to you
I ain't tellin' you jivin', this is the natural truth
Mm mm mm, I got them Eisenhower blues
Thinkin' about me and you, what on earth are we gonna do?

Taken all my money, to pay the tax
I'm only givin' you people, the natural facts
I only tellin' you people, my belief
Because I am headed straight, on relief
Mm mm mm, I got them Eisenhower blues
Thinkin' about me and you, what on earth are we gonna do?

Ain't go a dime, ain't even got a cent
I don't even have no money, to pay my rent
My baby needs some clothes, she needs some shoes
Peoples I don't know what, I'm gonna do
Mm mm mm, I got them Eisenhower blues
Thinkin' about me and you, what on earth are we gonna do?

In "Everybody Wants To Know (Laid Off Blues) " he was even more militant:

You rich people listen, you better listen real deep:
If we poor peoples get so hungry, we gonna take some food to eat

By 1954 there were three million people on the dole. The specter of the depression haunted many of the blues songs of the Eisenhower years. Jimmy McCracklin, who had experienced the depression as a child, pronounced the “Panic’s On”:

The panic’s on, wonder what are we going to do?
Lord, it reminds me of nineteen and thirty-two

"Tough Times" was recorded the same year by John Brim who sang a similar refrain:

Things like times getting tough like 32’

As the 1960 presidential election campaign got under way, the 1960-1961 recession began. John F Kennedy’s 1960 campaign promise “ to get America moving again “ referred to the American economy. Though Richard Nixon came to office preoccupied with foreign policy, he soon had to grapple with an economy that threatened him with political defeat when the economy dipped into recession. We wrap up the show with several songs from this period: Freddie King "(The Welfare) Turns Its Back On You" (1962), Jimmy Lee Robinson "Times Is Hard" (1962), Little Wolf Jr. (King Solomon) "Inflation Blues" (1970), Jimmy Dawkins "Welfare Blues" (1971) and Mighty Joe Young "Hard Times" (1966).

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The complete Blue Horizon Sessions Curtis Jones In London

By the time he succumbed to a heart attack in 1971 Curtis Jones was a sad, embittered man who – rightly I would say – viewed himself as the forgotten man of the blues, watching from the sidelines while others from his era were greeted with far more enthusiasm and fame. His passing was greeted with little fanfare and in a final indignity his grave was unceremoniously sold eight years later because no one had paid for its upkeep.

The intervening years have done nothing to raise to Jones' profile; his records have not been well represented on the reissue market and mention of his music to fellow blues fans is often greeted with indifference. To put it frankly his records are considered "boring" by most blues fans. The very qualities which made him popular among the black record buying public of the 1930's and 1940's were not exactly the qualities white enthusiasts prized. His talents were perhaps too subtle for the new white audience: his deep, unfussy piano playing was very much in the service of the song and decidedly unshowy, he was an expressive singer with a high, tight tenor with a way of putting across a song that really connected with the audience and he was an exceptional, imaginative lyricist. As Tony Russell wrote, somewhat uncharitably, in the Penguin Guide To Blues: "…Over the next four years [1937-1941] Jones turned out dozens of blues-and-trouble compositions, sung in the bleak Texas manner of men like Black Boy Shine to tidy, unexciting piano accompaniments."Closer to the mark was Paul Oliver who in the notes to In London wrote: "He is the bluesman's blues singer. All that he plays and sings is blues, but it cannot be lightly asserted that he represents the blues of Texas, where he was born, or of the West where he worked for some years. His is not merely 'Chicago blues', though he lived there for a quarter of a century. And how does one type a blues singer who has made Paris, France, his home?"

Curtis Jones
Courtesy American Folk Music Occasional, 1970

Our story picks up in Europe where Jones settled in the early 1960's after almost twenty years without stepping into a studio, outside of a couple of 1953 sides for Parrot. Before packing his bags for Europe he waxed a pair of fine stateside comeback records; Trouble Blues (Bluesville, 1960) and Lonesome Bedroom Blues (Delmark, 1962) which found his talents undimmed by the passage of time. Over in Europe he would record two more superb albums; In London (Decca, 1963) and Now Resident In Europe (Blue Horizon, 1968) reissued, remastered and rounded out with unissued sides as Curtis Jones: The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions. It was Mike Vernon who we have to thank for both sessions as he writes in the excellent liner notes: "To be totally honest, Curtis Jones represented a bygone era and his particular style and sound was not at one with the current trends and developments in the blues world at the time. …It should be remembered that I, in particular, had been the only producer who had the courage to record him – not once, but twice. Most others might well have not taken the risk, if the truth were to be told."

I, for one, am glad he took the chance as it paid off handsomely. The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions consists of the original ten songs plus brief interview, a batch of alternate takes and the previously unissued "Blues On The Scene." Backed by a strong rhythm section of Brian Brocklehurst on upright bass and Dougie Wright on drums, Jones is in superb form stretching out with some gorgeous piano solos and singing marvelously on this well recorded date that features songs he hadn't recorded before. Jones sounds particularly extroverted on a number of selections including the shuffling "You Don't Have To Go" stretching out with some sparkling piano work, the insistent drive of "Cherie", positively cooks on the bouncy, declamatory "Gee, Pretty Baby" and delivers the spirited, inventive instrumental "Dryburgh Drive" (named after the street the studio resided on). Jones is at his plaintive best on the lovely ballad "I Want To Be Your Slave" and displays his skills as a guitarist on several sparse numbers. Guitar was his first instrument and he first revealed his talent on the instrument on his Decca album. His picking is basic but effective on on solo numbers such as "Morocco Blues", "Jane", "Blues On The Scene" and the heartfelt, beautifully sung "Soul Brother Blues." As on all of the Blue Horizon reissues, packaging is excellent with lengthy notes, nice photos and pristine sound.

Now Resident In EuropeListening to The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions prompted me to reacquaint myself with In London which I hadn't listened to in ages. I've been informed that this has made it on to CD on the Deram label which may itself be out of print although copies look to be still available. Despite extremely lean times, Jones sailed into his 1960's comeback as an artist at the height of his powers as he ably demonstrates on In London backed by sympathetic band featuring bassist Jack Fallon, drummer Eddie Taylor and Alexis Korner on guitar on a few numbers. The program is a mix of old classics like "Lonesome Bedroom Blues", Alleybound Blues", "You Got Good Business" plus items he had been playing for his European audiences, numbers like Percy Mayfield's “Please Send Me Someone To Love”, the rollicking instrumental, "Young Generation Boogie", based on the Ray Charles instrumental "Rockhouse" and the charming "Syl-Vous Play Blues." Jones revives classic piano pieces including an elegant version of "The Honeydripper", "Curtis Jones Boogie", his version of the timeless "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" and the rocking "Shake It Baby." Of the guitar pieces, "Skid Row" is the standout, the kind of seedy life blues tale Jones so excelled at conjuring up. Paul Oliver provides a fine set of notes for the original LP which have been reprinted in Blues Off The Record.

Both of these records come recommended and one hopes that the reissue of The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions will spark some renewed interest in Curtis Jones although that may be, admittedly, wishful thinking. I'll be spotlighting the music of Jones in an upcoming radio program so keep an eye out. For a well written piece on Jones I make available, with the author's permission, an article written in Jefferson magazine no. 124, 2000: Curtis Jones: The Lonesome Bedroom Blues (PDF)

You Don't Have To Go [Blue Horizon Sessions] (MP3)

Soul Brother Blues [Blue Horizon Sessions] (MP3)

Shake It Baby [In London] (MP3)

Syl-Vous Play Blues [In London] (MP3)

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