Tommy JohnsonBig Road BluesLegends of Country Blues
Tommy JohnsonCool Drink of Water BluesLegends of Country Blues
Mississippi SheiksStop and Listen BluesMississippi Sheiks Vol.1
Willie LoftonDark Road BluesMississippi Blues Vol. 2
Joe McCoyGoing Back Home BluesMemphis Minnie & Kansas Joe Vo. 4
Joe McCoyLook Who's Coming Down...Charlie & Joe McCoy Vol. 1
K.C DouglasCanned Heat BluesBig Road Blues
Jimmy BrewerBig Road BluesBlues Scene USA Vol. 4
Robert NighthawkMaggie Campbell BluesProwling With The Nighthawk
InterviewDavid EvansInterview
Arzo YoungbloodMaggie Campbell BluesLegacy of Tommy Johnson
Mager JohnsonBye And Bye BluesLegacy of Tommy Johnson
John Henry 'Bubba' BrownCanned Heat BluesLegacy of Tommy Johnson
Boogie Bill WebbDon't You Lie To MeLegacy of Tommy Johnson
Boogie Bill WebbShow Me What You Got For SaleLegacy of Tommy Johnson
Arzo YoungbloodBig Fat Mama BluesLegacy of Tommy Johnson
Mager JohnsonBig Road BluesGoin' Up The Country
Tommy JohnsonCanned Heat BluesLegends of Country Blues
Tommy JohnsonMaggie Campbell BluesMasters Of The Delta Blues
Tommy JohnsonBye, Bye BluesLegends of Country Blues
Tommy JohnsonBig Fat Mama BluesLegends of Country Blues
Houston StackhousePony BluesCatfish Blues
Roosevelt HoltsMaggie Campbell BluesPresenting The Country Blues
Shirley GriffithSaturday BluesSaturday Blues
Tommy JohnsonUntitled (Morning Prayer)Masters Of The Delta Blues
Ishman BraceyDeath of Tommy JohnsonChasin' That Devil Music

Show Notes:

For someone who recorded so little Tommy Johnson’s influence was unusually vast and long lasting; after all his recorded output only consists of six issued sides for Victor in 1928 and six issued sides for Paramount in 1929. A welcome surprise in recent years has been the discovery of several recordings of unissued material. It was Johnson’s Victor sides that were the most influential and oft covered: “Cool Drink of Water Blues”, “Big Road Blues”, “Bye-Bye Blues”, “Maggie Campbell Blues”, “Canned Heat Blues” and “Big Fat Mama.” Unlike the Paramount records these sold fairly well and were apparently the songs Johnson sang most often in person. As David Evans wrote: “For about thirty years Tommy Johnson was perhaps the most important and influential blues singer in the state of Mississippi.”

Johnson was born in 1896 in Hinds County, MS, on the George Miller plantation. Once the family moved to Crystal Springs in 1910, Tommy picked up the guitar, learning from his older brother, LeDell. By age 16, Johnson had run away from home to become a "professional" musician, largely supporting himself by playing on the street for tips. By the late teens-early '20s, Tommy was frequently playing the company of rising local stars Charley Patton, Dick Bankston and Willie Brown. Johnson spent most of the '20s playing in the company of Rubin Lacy, Charley McCoy, Son Spand, Walter Vincent, and Ishmon Bracey. He cut his first records for the Victor label at sessions held in Memphis, TN, in 1928.

He cut one session for the Paramount label in 1930, largely through the maneuvering of fellow buddy Charley Patton. Then the slow descent into alcoholism started taking its toll. He worked on a medicine show with Ishmon Bracey in the '30s, but mostly seemed to be a mainstay of the juke and small party dance circuit the rest of his days. He was playing just such a local house party in November of 1956 when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

I was aware of Johnson's influence but hadn't really thought about it until recently. I was listening to some records in preparation for one of my shows, records by K.C. Douglas and Shirley Griffith, both of who were influenced by Johnson first hand. I began to dig out some other records, mainly LP's of field recordings David Evans made in the 1960's and 70's. It was David Evans investigation into Johnson in the late 1960’s that we owe a good deal of what we know about Johnson and it was through Evans’ field recordings that Johnson’s influence comes into sharper focus. Evans had this to say regarding Johnson’s influence: “Johnson exerted almost no musical influence, either in person or through his records, on blues singers outside the state of Mississippi. …Furthermore, none of his songs, was a big enough hit to enter the folk tradition significantly in its recorded from. Instead, his records tended to act as a reinforcement of the playing of men who had already learned the songs from him in person, and as a stabilizing force within the tradition. …Versions of Johnson’s songs derive exclusively from personal contact, though many of the artists undoubtedly heard Johnson’s records at one time or other.” Evans recorded many men who learned directly from Johnson including Roosevelt Holts, Boogie Bill Webb, Arzo Youngblood, Isaac Youngblood, Bubba Brown, Babe Stovall, Houston Stackhouse and Tommy’s brother Mager Johnson.

Babe Stovall

Among the records played on today's show are the following, all recorded by Evans: The Legacy of Tommy Johnson (the companion LP to Evans’ book Tommy Johnson – I want to thank Evans for making me a copy of this hard to find record), two albums by Roosevelt Holts (Presenting The Country Blues, Roosevelt Holts and Friends) , South Mississippi Blues, Goin’ Up The Country and Catfish Blues: Mississippi Blues From Jackson & Crystal Springs. Outside of Catfish Blues all the other records have never been issued on CD. Evans has done quite a bit of field recording much of it unavailable. Here's a link to a list of some of the recordings he's made.

In addition Johnson's influence can be heard on many earlier recordings. Those played on todays show include: Willie Lofton’s “Dark Road Blues” (1935), Mississippi Sheiks “Stop and Listen Blues” (1930) were covers of “Big Road Blues”, The McCoy Brothers recorded “Going Back Home” (1934) which was a version of “Cool Drink of Water Blues”, Robert Nighthawk recorded versions of “Maggie Campbell Blues” in 1953 (he also cut a version in 1964) and K.C. Douglas who recorded “Canned Heat Blues” 1961 (he cut another version in 1956).

As for Johnson's own recording they are available in their entirety (outside a a newly found title) on Document's Tommy Johnson 1928 – 1929 and JSP's Legends of Country Blues. Sound quality is good on both but even better on Yazoo's Masters Of The Delta Blues ~ Friends Of Charlie Patton and Revenant's Screamin' And Hollerin' The Blues: The Worlds Of Charlie Patton, although these feature only a few tracks.

I again want to thank David Evans for taking the time to talk with me about Tommy Johnson. If you can track down a copy, I highly recommend his book Tommy Johnson.


Ma Rainey: Mother of the Blues

A tough, forthright woman blessed with a powerful, earthy voice and a deep soulfulness, Ma Rainey waxed a remarkable body of songs between 1923 and 1938. All 111 of those songs, including alternate takes, can be found on JSP's exhaustive 5-CD Ma Rainey – Mother Of The Blues box set. Rainey was extremely consistent throughout her five-year recording career making this set particularly worthwhile and listenable. It didn't hurt that the quality of her songs is consistently high and lyrically interesting plus she was backed by outstanding musicians like Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds, Coleman Hawkins, Tommy Ladnier, Kid Ory and on later sides by Georgia Tom and Tampa Red.

For an artist of her stature Rainey hasn't been well served in the reissue market no doubt because of the poor quality of the original Paramount 78's. It's one of the great blues ironies or tragedy's if you will, that while Paramount recorded some of the greatest blues of the era the quality of their pressings was notoriously bad. Compounding the problem were the popularity of the discs which means existing copies are often quite worn. Prior to the JSP box all of Rainey's recordings could be found on five volumes on Document with adequate sound. JSP hasn't performed any miracles with their transfers but have managed some worthwhile noise reduction, sometimes subtle, occasionally fairly significant, all in the service of bringing out Rainey's vocals with better clarity. Formerly muffled numbers sound clearer and the consistent hiss, while still present, has been submerged. Songs that show improvement are "Slave To The Blues", "Titanic Man Blues", "Seeking The Blues", "Dead Drunk Blues", "Damper Down Blues", "Booze And Blues", "Honey Where You Been So Long", "Bo-Weavil Blues", "Cell Bound Blues", "Stormy Sea Blues", "Misery Blues" among several others.

Many of the early woman blues singers had a strong vaudevillian streak but Rainey's output is dominated by the blues, something by her own account she added to her act in 1902. Like Charlie Patton did, Rainey's was a decidedly downhome southern viewpoint, no doubt really connecting with southern audience on songs about the Bo-Weavil ("Bo-Weavil Blues"), Hoo-Doo ("Southern Blues", "Louisiana Hoo-Doo Blues", "Black Cat, Hoot Owl Blues"), jail ("Chain Gang Blues", "Cell Bound Blues"), plus self explanatory numbers like "Levee Camp Moan", "Log Camp Blues" and "Moonshine Blues." Rainey tackled a wide range of topics in a poetic, direct, and sometime arresting fashion; sexuality in "Sissy Man Blues", "Don't Fish In My Sea", the lesbian proclamation of "Prove It to Me Blues", prostitution in "Hustlin' Blues", spousal violence in "Black Eye Blues" and "Sweet, Rough Man." While there's a somber tone to much of the music she had innate sense of swing, showcased on numbers like "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom", "Hellish Rag" and "Hear Me Talking to You." As mentioned Rainey was blessed with better bands than most female singers; there were the great horn players mentioned above, jug groups and guitarists like Miles Pruitt, Blind Blake and Tampa Red on a terrific batch of sides from 1928 at the tail end of Rainey's recording career. Spending time with this box set also makes clear Rainey's influence, not only recording songs that became standards like "See See Rider" and "Bo-Weavil Blues" but also her influence on male country blues singers; "Booze And Blues" was transformed by Charlie Patton into "Tom Rushen Blues, "Last Minute Blues" echoed in Willie Brown's "Future Blues" as well as lyrically influencing artists as diverse as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charlie Hicks, Robert Johnson and others.

Ma Rainey – Mother Of The Blues ranks as one of JSP's more impressive and important reissues. This is a set to savor with timeless music that retains a high artistic quality from start to finish, improved sound that brings Rainey's magnificent voice closer to the surface and an unbeatable budget price. The only knock is that a set like this deserves a first class set of notes and Max Haymes' booklet fails to deliver. It's a odd mix of dry academic writing and fannish praise that fails to do justice to the material.

Booze And Blues (MP3)

Yonder Comes The Blues (MP3)

Black Eye Blues (MP3)






-=Christmas Images=-

Show notes:

I've been doing a Christmas blues show for something like the past dozen years and was always frustrated with the lack of a really good collection of early blues Christmas songs. Luckily in 20o5 I hooked up with the Document label to put together a 2-CD, 52 track collection of blues and gospel songs from the 1920's to the 1950's. The result was Blues, Blues Christmas and the majority of today's show comes from that collection. For some reason the CD is currently out of stock so good luck finding a copy – and no I don't have any extras!

[This is an updated version of an article I wrote in 2006]

"Hurray for Christmas" exclaims Bessie Smith on her classic "At The Christmas Ball", which lays claim to being the first recorded Christmas blues song cut way back in 1925. Little did Bessie know that a tradition was born and through the years there have been hundreds of blues Christmas songs recorded by both well-established artists and a host of up-and-coming hopefuls. Record companies were quick to see the possibilities, often advertising these boldly in the trade papers of the day. The familiar blues themes of loneliness and hard times are always more acute during the holidays. Christmas themes are usually split between the "I want my baby for Christmas" variety and the "Its Christmas and I don’t have a lousy dime" lament. Surprisingly there’s a relative scarcity of gospel Christmas songs although there were plenty of Christmas sermons in the early years when recorded sermons were in vogue. In addition there’s a rich vein of New Year’s songs usually revolving around the hope that upcoming year will be better than the last.

Santa Claus Blues: The 1920's & 30's

Christmas Eve Blues AdThe earliest Christmas blues songs that I tracked down date from 1925. On Oct. 8 of that year Eva Taylor featured with Clarence Williams' Trio cut "Santa Claus Blues" for the Okeh label and recut the tune again on Oct. 16 with a slightly larger band, the Clarence Williams' Blue Five. Both versions feature Louis Armstrong on cornet. The song is more pop than blues however. On Nov. 18 Bessie Smith cut At The Christmas Ball [Lyrics] for Columbia. She recut the song again Dec. 9 but this version remained unissued. Many blues artists from the 20's cut Christmas songs including: Elzadie Robinson "The Santa Claus Crave" (1927), Victoria Spivey "Christmas Mornin' Blues" (1927), Blind Lemon Jefferson "Christmas Eve Blues" (1928), Bertha Chippie Hill "Christmas Man Blues" (1928), Blind Blake "Lonesome Christmas Blues" (1929), Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers w/ Frankie 'Half Pint' Jaxon Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn (1929) [Lyrics].

The trend continued with more frequency in the 30's. Here are a few notable songs: Butterbeans & Susie Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus (1930), Charlie Jordan "Santa Claus Blues" ["Christmas Christmas, how glad I am you are here/ Well I ain’t had a chicken dinner for this whole round year/Shiny bones and naked bones gleaming from around my plate/ …So pass me that chicken, the turkey, duck and the goose/Well all you birds gonna be one legged when I turn you-a-loose"] (1931) and "Christmas "Christmas Blues" (1935), Kansas City Kitty & Georgia Tom "Christmas Morning Blues" (1934) [Lyrics], Verdi Lee "Christmas "Tree Blues" (1935), Tampa Red "Christmas And New Years Blues" (1934), Peetie Wheatstraw "Santa Claus Blues" (1935), Bumble Bee Slim's "Christmas And No Santa Claus and "Santa Claus Bring Me A New Woman" (1936), Black Ace "Christmas Time Blues (Beggin' Santa Claus)" (1937), Casey Bill Weldon "Christmas Time Blues" (1937), Bo Carter "Santa Claus" (1938), Walter Davis "Santa Claus" (1935) [Lyrics], Sonny Boy Williamson I "Christmas Morning Blues" (1938).

Merry Christmas Baby: The 40's & 50's

Pramount AdIn the 40's there of course was more blues Christmas songs but there was a new music brewing called R&B. Evolving out of jump blues in the late '40s, R&B laid the groundwork for rock & roll. Notable blues and R&B songs from this period include: Gatemouth Moore "Christmas Blues" (1946), Little Willie Littlefield "Merry Xmas" (1949), Mabel Scott "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" (1947), Harman Ray Xmas Blues ["Hold it, hold it man/Don’t play me no jingle bells the way I feel this Christmas/Only kind of bells I want to have anything to do with is some of them mission bells/Man, play me the blues long, loud and lowdown"] (1947), Boll Weavil "Christmas Time Blues" (1947), Big Joe Turner Christmas Date Boogie (1948), Thelma Cooper "I Need A Man (For Xmas)" (1948), Smokey Hogg "I Want My Baby For Christmas" (1949), Amos Milburn "Let's Make Christmas Merry Baby" (1949), Harry Crafton "Bring That Cadillac Back" ["I let you eat my turkey on Christmas morn/When I looked around you and my Cadillac was gone"] (1949), Felix Gross "Love For Christmas" ["You can have your turkey and your dressing/Sweet cakes and apple pie/Blue Champagne and Rock & Rye/Everything that money can buy"] (1949), J.B. Summers "I Want a Present For Christmas" ["Santa Claus, Santa Claus/Hear my plea/Open up your bag and give a fine brown baby to me/ …You can stop by my chimney/Drop her in the chute/ Leave your reindeer outside/Come in and get my loot"] (1949).

How I hate To See Xmas Come Around 78The era's biggest Christmas song was undoubtedly the immortal "Merry Christmas, Baby" cut by Charles Brown & The Blazers in 1947. This perennial classic has been covered numerous times including versions by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Lena Horne , Lou Rawls, Booker T. & the MG's, Otis Redding, James Brown and countless others. Charles Brown's smooth ballad style has become synonymous with Christmas ever since remaking "Merry Christmas, Baby" many times, cutting many other Christmas songs and full length albums including 1961's "Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs" and "Cool Christmas Blues" in 1994. One other song from this era is the downright odd "Junior's a Jap Girl's Christmas for His Santa Claus" (1942) a Library of Congress recording by Willie Blackwell that defies categorization. Oher non-R&B Christmas songs from the 40's include a few by Leadbelly such as "Christmas Is A-Coming" [Lyrics], "The Christmas Song", "On A Christmas Day", Sylvestor Cotton "Christmas Blues" (1948), Washboard Pete [aka Ralph Willis] "Christmas Blues" (1948), Alex Seward & Louis Hayes "Christmas Time Blues" (1948), Walter Davis "Santa Claus" (1949).

Gatemouth Moore AdThe 50's produced many more Christmas gems including: Lowell Fulson's oft covered ""Lonesome Christmas" (1950), Cecil Gant It's Christmas Time Again (1950), Roy Milton "Christmas Time Blues" (1950), Johnny Otis & Little Esther Phillips "Far Away Blues" [also known as "Faraway Christmas Blues"] (1950), Jimmy Liggins "I Want My Baby For Christmas" (1950), Larry Darnell Christmas Blues (1950), Sonny Parker w/ Lionel Hampton "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" (1950), Lloyd Glenn "Sleigh Ride" (1951), Sugar Chile Robinson "Christmas Boogie b/w Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1950), Titus Turner Christmas Morning (1952), Lightning Hopkins "Merry Christmas" (1953), Chuck Berry "Run, Rudolph, Run" (1958) and "Merry Christmas Baby" (1958), John Lee Hooker "Blues for Christmas" (1959).

Please Come Home For Christmas Baby: The 60's To The Present

The 60's, less so in the 70's, produced a number of strong Christmas blues songs including at least one blues classic, Little Johnny Taylor's "Please Come Home For Christmas" (1969) which has become an oft covered holiday classic. Other notable 60's songs include: Sonny Boy Williamson II "Santa Claus" (1960), Lightnin' Hopkins "Santa" (1960), Black Ace "Santa Claus Blues" (1960), B.B. King "Christmas Celebration" (1960), Hop Wilson "Merry Christmas, Darling" (1961), Robert Nighthawk "Merry Christmas Baby" (1964), Lowell Fulson "I Wanna Spend Christmas With You" (1967), Louis Jordan "Santa Claus, Santa Claus" (1968), Charles Brown "New Merry Christmas Baby" (1969) featuring Earl Hooker, Bukka White "Christmas Eve Blues" (1969). In the 70's: Jimmy Reed "Christmas Present Blues" (1970), Lee Jackson "The Christmas Song" (1971), Albert King "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" (1974) and "Christmas Comes But Once A Year" (1974), Eddie C. Campbell "Santa's Messin' with the Kid" (1977).

James Brown's Funky ChristmasThere seems to be a dearth of quality Christmas songs in the 70's and 80's. By the late 80's the rise of the CD caused the demise of the 45 record which was one of the main vehicles for putting out holiday songs. However in lieu of the 45 labels began releasing Christmas themed compilations and there have been a number of very good collections. Some of the best include: "Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas" (1989) from the Antone's label [reissued on Epic in 1986 and Sony in 2001], "Alligator Records Christmas Collection" (1992), "Ichiban Blues At Christmas Vol. 1-4" (1991-97) ["Best of Ichiban Blues at Christmas" was issued 2002], "Bullseye Blues Christmas" (1995), "Stony Plain's Christmas Blues" (2000), "Blue Christmas" (2000) from the Dialtone label, "Blue Xmas" (2001) on Evidence. A number of artists issued Christmas themed records including Charles Brown, Huey "Piano' Smith, Johnny Adams, B.B. King and Etta James. Also with the dominance of the CD age labels went back into their vaults to put together compilations of classic Christmas blues. Many of the songs listed earlier in this article can be found on these collections and the best of these will be listed below.

Let Me Hang My Stocking On Your Christmas Tree

Christmas blues as sexual metaphor? Of course! The blues has always been loaded with double entendres and Christmas blues offers plenty of examples: Roosevelt Sykes "Let Me Hang My Stocking In Your Christmas Tree" (1937), Jimmy Butler Trim Your Tree ["I’m gonna bring along my hatchet/My beautiful Christmas balls/I’ll sprinkle my snow up on your tree and hang my mistletoe on your wall"] (1955), Clarence Carter "Back Door Santa" (1968), "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" by Albert King (1974) and Sir Mack Rice (1982), Rufus Thomas "I’ll Be Your Santa, Baby" (1982) and Sonny Rhodes the same year, Chick Willis "(All I Want for Christmas Is To) Lay Around and Love On You" (1991).

Papa Ain't No Santa Claus

Leroy Carr AdThose who listen to the blues know it's not all doom and gloom. The blues are laced with humor and that comes across in many blues Christmas songs: Butterbeans & Susie "Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus" (1930) [Lyrics], Big Jack Johnson "Rudolph Got Drunk Last Night" (1990), Clyde Lasley "Santa Claus Home Drunk", Billy Ray Charles "I Been Double Crossed By Santa Claus", Louis Armstrong "Zat You Santa Claus."

Empty Stocking Blues

Not everyone enjoys the holidays and many people suffer from the Christmas blues. If you want to wallow in your depression here's an appropriate blues soundtrack: Leroy Carr Christmas In Jail – Ain't That A Pain? (1929) [Lyrics], Jimmy Witherspoon "Christmas Blues" [alternately titled "How I Hate To See Christmas Come Around"] (1947), Jimmy Grissom "Christmas Brings Me Down" (1948), Floyd Dixon "Empty Stocking Blues" (1950), "Sonny Boy's Christmas Blues" ["Unless you come home to me/I'll be drunk all day Christmas Day"]" (1951), Lowell Fulson's two-part "Lonesome Christmas" (1951), Freddie King's classic two sided 45 "Christmas Tears b/w I Hear Jingle Bells" (1961), Jerry McCain & B.B. Coleman "Sad, Sad Christmas" (1992).

Will The Coffin Be Your Santa Claus?

Death May Be Your christmas Present AdRecorded sermons were among the most popular and best selling of the "race records"in the 1920’s and 1930’s. These records provided a fascinating look into the views and concerns of black America at a time when very few outlets existed for black expression. Rev. J.M. Gates was the most popular and prolific of them all, waxing some two hundred titles between 1926 and 1941, which accounted for a staggering quarter of all sermons recorded during this period. Notable sermons from this period include: Rev. Edward Clayborn "The Wrong Way To Celebrate Christmas" (1928) [Lyrics], Rev. A.W. Nix "Death Might Be Your Christmas Gift" (1927), or these three by Rev. J.M. Gates: "You May Be Alive Or You May Be Dead, Christmas Day" (1927), "Will The Coffin Be Your Santa Claus?" (1927), "Did You Spend Christmas Day In Jail?" (1929).

Happy New Year Darling

While there's far more Christmas songs, New Year has inspired a number of noteworthy songs: Blind Lemon Jefferson "Happy New Year Blues" (1928), Mary Harris with Peetie Wheatstraw "Happy New Year Blues" (1935) [Lyrics], Smokey Hogg "New Years Eve Blues" (1947), Lonnie Johnson Happy New Year, Darling["It seems a long time since I been fightin' the Japs 'cross the deep blue sea/Yes, that's why I'm so glad darlin', to have a li'l wife still waitin' for me/It's so great to have you darlin', to have a li'l wife like you/My three brothers couldn't make it but they say happy new year to you"] (1947), Johnny Otis "Happy New Year, Baby" (1947), Lil’ Son Jackson "New Year’s Resolution" (1950), Roy Milton New Year’s Resolution Blues ["I’m gonna deal them from the bottom/Ain’t going to play it fair at all/Please believe me pretty baby/I’m going to have myself a ball/Going to give up my apartment, and you know they’re hard to find/ I don’t want no last year’s memories running through my weary mind"] (1950), Lightnin' Hopkins "Happy New Year" (1953) [Lyrics], Charles Brown "Bringing In A Brand New Year" (1993), Lil Ed and Dave Weld "New Year’s Resolution" (1996).

Notable Christmas Blues Compilations

Blues, Blues Christmas (Document): Comprehensive 2-CD collection of jazz, blues, boogie-woogie and gospel recordings dedicated to the season. Collects 52 numbers spanning from 1925 to 1955 including tracks by Bessie Smith, Leroy Carr, Rev. J.M. Gates, Butterbeans & Susie, Lonnie Johnson, Roy Milton, Larry Darnell, Cecil Gant, Lightnin' Hopkins and many, many others.

Where Will You Be Christmas Day? (Dust To Digital): Fine collectiof rare early Christmas gems by Leroy Carr, Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, Butterbeans and Susie, Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers, Lightnin' Hopkins, Kansas City Kitty, Bessie Smith and many others.

Soul Christmas (Atlantic): This 1991 reissue includes eight of the original 11 tracks included on the Atco 1968 release with 11 more tracks added from the Atlantic vaults. An essential set that includes Otis Redding's "White Christmas" and "Merry Christmas, Baby", Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa", Joe Tex's "I'll Make Every Day Christmas (For My Woman)" and others.

Blue Yule: Christmas Blues and R&B Classics (Rhino): A killer 18-song compilation. Includes hard to find tracks by John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Hop Wilson, Big Jack Johnson and other gems.

It's Christmas Time Again (Stax)
: A great collection of funky blues and soul from the Stax catalog. Standout tracks include "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" with versions by Mack Rice and Albert King plus Rufus Thomas' "I'll Be Your Santa Baby'" and Little Johnny Taylor's "Please Come Home for Christmas"

Merry Christmas, Baby (Paula): Some real gems on here although some can be found on other compilations. Includes fine songs like Johnny And Jon's "Christmas in Vietnam", Charles Brown's "Please Come Home for Christmas", Lowell Fulson's "Lonesome Christmas" parts 1 & 2 plus songs by Big Joe Williams, Sugar Boy Crawford, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Reed and others.

Jingle Blues (Platinum): Entertaining collection from the House of Blues. Includes a wide variety of styles by artists such as Bessie Smith, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Witherspoon, B.B. King, Amos Milburn and others.

James Brown's Funky Christmas (Polygram): What would Christmas be without this funky collection? This 17-track compilation includes selections cut between 1966-1970. Highlights include "Go Power at Christmas Time", "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" and "Hey America" (It's Christmas Time).

Christmas Blues (Savoy): Fine Christmas blues from the vaults of Savoy like Gatemouth Moore's "Christmas Blues", Jimmy Butler's rocking "Trim Your Tree", the country blues of Ralph Willis' "Christmas Blues" and several other vintage tunes.

Rhythm & Blues Christmas (Hollywood): Budget priced collection that includes Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby," Freddie King's "Christmas Tears/I Hear Jingle Bells", Mabel Scott's "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" and others.


Taking a cue from a Peetie Wheatstraw song I've got those "Ice And Snow Blues" today. As I look out the window today the snow is falling fast and heavy with no let up in sight. Unfortunately I'll have to play it safe and stay home which means no show today. Today's show was going to be a feature on singers Junior Parker and Bobby Bland which will be pushed back to January 6th. Make sure to tune in next week for our Christmas blues show.

Peetie Wheatstraw – Ice And Snow Blues (MP3)

I Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping Complete Blue Horizon Recordings

While there are a few modern day blues mandolin revivalists, the instrument has largely consigned to the dustbin of history. Although little-heard on commercial recordings after the 1940s, the mandolin played an important role in blues and early rural black music. The mandolin can be heard on numerous recordings of the 1920’s and 1930’s particularly on several black string band and jug band recordings. Johnny Young was the most famous of the post-war mandolin players who after waxing a couple of exciting 78's for Ora Nelle and Planet/Old Swing-Master circa 1947-48 didn't resurface on record for fifteen years. Thankfully the 1960's and 70's were a different story with Young recording for Testament, Arhoolie Vangaurd, Spivey, Blue Horizon, Blues On Blues, Bluesway as well as a number of of other scattered sides. Young played traditional Chicago blues, rooted in the 40's and early 50's, and didn't share much in common with more modern upstarts like Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and Magic Sam. He also had one foot in his home state of Mississippi, his music still tied to the southern blues style of the 1920's and 30's and the vibrant string band tradition.

The general consensus ranks his Arhoolie recordings among his best but for my money his Bluesway album, I Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping, is one of his finest and one that gets unjustly ignored. Of course it doesn't help that the album has been long out of print and that the Bluesway label doesn't have the best reputation. Producer Al Smith has been the target of much of the animosity against the label summed up writer Pete Lowry in a 1974 Living Blues review: "Here was a strange man-I don't know if he was any kind of bass player, but he surely produced some screwed-up sessions. I won't go into artist "relations," but merely deal with the sessions; there have been some predictable characteristics. Lousy liner notes, replete with phonetic spelling (to be kind), incomplete or wrong personnel data, as well as often incomplete or disordered listings of the tunes… As for the records themselves, they varied from good to near disasters. The results of Al's Special Ninety Minute Album Sessions included inconsistent levels on instruments, as if the warm up/test stuff was mixed for release (as was most likely the case!), some strange sounding stuff (out-of-synch echo units), and just total lack of programming. Al seems to have assembled albums in the order recorded, with no concept of the album as a programmed whole. For an artist to survive this sort of "production" he had to be damn good, or be having a better than average day in the studio."

Fat MandolinIn 1969 Young cut a record for Blue Horizon that was titled Fat Mandolin in the UK. I've had the US version for years which goes under the less inspired title of Blues Masters Vol. 9. My impression of this one has been less than favorable although admittedly I hadn't listened to it in years. Apparently I'm not the only one as Mike Vernon relates: "To the best of my recall, the album got little press coverage. It was, of course, certainly reviewed by the blues magazines of the time but with little real enthusiasm." Now with the release of Johnny Young: The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions it's time for a reassessment. For his part, Young had scorn for both labels: "Them people really cheated me, man. You know how much they gave me to make the LP? $50."

After listening to the The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions I've revised my opinion of theses sessions and have to say they hold up quite well although I don't think they rival the Bluesway and Arhoolie recordings. Mike Vernon's assessment is right on the mark: "What you will be listening to is tough, straight ahead, no messin' Chicago blues, echoing the great 40's era, as exemplified in the work of Big Maceo Merriweather and John Lee Williamson." Young plays mandolin on the bulk of the cuts aided by members of Muddy Waters' band: Otis Spann, Sammy Lawhorn, Paul Oscher and S.P. Leary. Young was a warm, powerful singer and magnificent mandolin player. Thankfully this set features a good dose of his rippling mandolin work on numbers like "Moaning And Groaning", "Lula Mae" which suffers from a very abrupt fade, "Prison Bound" and a rocking version of "Stealin' that fades just when things are really cooking. The latter track is one of three unreleased tracks, the others, "Go Ahead On (With That Funky Broadway Sound", a slow number despite the title, and "Johnny's Mess Around" are fun but a bit loose and aimless. The band, as to be expected is very good and of course Spann is always a joy to hear. While overall a very solid set, there's a spark missing, a sense of excitement and energy that's lacking.

That spark is clearly evident on I Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping a 1973 outing that was to be his final album. Young died the following year. Young's brawny, rippling mandolin playing is better recorded then the Blue Horizon, much more up front in the mix, and there's a crackling energy lacking in the earlier session. The band locks into a rock solid groove behind their leader: Louis Myers, Bill Warren and Richard Evans. The pianist is uncredited but may be Bob Reidy who Young had been playing with for several years and who appears on a Blues On Blues LP from around the same time period. Young plays mandolin on every track and there's an innate sense of swing beginning with the chugging title track, not only an instrumental showcase for Young's mandolin prowess but also for the band, including blistering guitar from Myers and in-the-pocket drumming from Bill Warren. Several of the same songs appear on both albums with the Bluesway versions superior; those include "Lend Me Your Love", "Train Fare Out Of Town" and a knockout version of "Deal The Cards." There's not a bad track to be found with favorites going to "I Gotta Find My Baby", "Stop Breaking Down" and the jumping shuffle "I Know She's Kinda Slick." Vocally young has rarely sounded better and the album as a whole serves as a clinic on blues mandolin playing.

Just about everything Young cut is worthwhile and despite some caveats I would certainly recommend the Blue Horizon set. Blue Horizon has been doing a superb job with their reissue series with all the releases boasting excellent sound and notes plus bonus tracks. Now if only someone would do this for the Bluesway catalog which, outside of a few which have made it onto CD, have languished in the cut out bin for far too long.

Moaning And Groaning [Blue Horizon](MP3)

Stealin' [Blue Horizon](MP3)

Deal The Cards [Bluesway] (MP3)

I Know She's Kinda Slick [Bluesway](MP3)



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