Leroy Foster

Between 1948 and 1952 Baby Face Leroy Foster waxed a handful absolutely terrific sides under his own name for a number fledgling Chicago labels aided by some of the windy city's best blues musicians. In addition his vocals, drumming, and guitar playing can be found backing some of the greatest Chicago blues records of the era. His death in 1958, at the age of 38, robbed the blues world of a singular, memorable talent and likely did much to hasten his unwarranted obscurity. Mike Rowe summarized his appeal in Chicago Breakdown, his classic survey of the Chicago blues scene: "He was a fine singer with a warm insinuating voice which, like the late Sonny Boy [Williamson], 'got to people'. Baby face had a curious style; high pitched, it was a mixture of Sonny Boy's and some of the eccentricities of Doctor Clayton, and between verses he kept up a constant barrage of shouts and encouragements, admonitions and asides. Baby Face's natural exuberance never trivialized his performance, and he sings movingly on bouncy up-tempo songs and slow blues alike. …He played unfussy drums in the tight, Chicago manner and guitar, not too well, in the sparse city style. But his main talents were drinking, singing and clowning and he was very popular."

Foster was first cousin to Little Johnny Jones and Little Willie Foster and came up to Chicago in 1945 in the company of Jones and Little Walter. He worked for tips on Maxwell Street before graduating to the clubs playing with the likes of Sunnyland Slim, Sonny Boy Williamson and Lee Brown. Around 1947 he became one of the founding members of the fabled "Headhunters", a group who included Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers and got their name for cutting the heads of any musicians foolish enough to cross their path. Foster first appeared on record in 1945 playing guitar on Lee Brown's "My Little Girl Blues" b/w "Bobbie Town Boogie" on the Chicago label. He pops up again with Lee Brown on a 1946 date for the Queen label, backs James (Beale Street Clark) the same year, Little Johnny Jones in 1949 ("Big Town Playboy" b/w "Shelby County Blues"), J.B. Lenoir in 1950, Little Walter in 1948 and 1950, Floyd Jones in 1948 (he plays drums on "Hard Times"), Muddy Waters in 1948 and 1949 (notably "You're Gonna Miss Me (When I'm Dead and Gone)," "Mean Red Spider," and "Screamin' and Cryin'"), Snooky Pryor in 1949, Mildred Richards in 1950 (only two copies of this rare record are known to exist) and Sunnyland Slim in 1948 and 1950.

Foster made his debut for Aristocrat at the end of 1948 with "Locked Out Boogie" b/w "Shady Grove Blues" with the record billed as Leroy Foster and Muddy Waters. Propelled by Ernest "Big" Crawford's thumping bass, "Locked Out Boogie" is an infectious, rough and tumble shuffle with Foster's engaging, lively delivery. The song is essentially a vocal version of "Muddy Jumps One" cut at the same session with the same group. The mellow "Shady Grove Blues" is sung in what would be Foster's trademark intimate, laconic style featuring Muddy's down-home guitar that was so popular with audiences and propelled him to stardom.

Rollin' and Tumblin' Part 1 Foster's next entry was a lone outing in 1949 record for J.O.B., "My Head Can't Rest Anymore" b/w "Take A Little Walk With Me" backed by Snooky Pryor on harmonica and Alfred Elkins on bass. This was a magnificent coupling again with Foster's reflective, dreamy singing backed superbly by Pryor's calm, masterful harmonica blowing as Foster encourages him on with Pryor doing the same.

In 1950 Foster cut eight remarkable sides for the small Parkway label. According to the Red Saunders Research Foundation: "Parkway is one of those small Chicago postwar blues labels that developed a legendary reputation based on a handful of recorded sides. In all, the label was in business for little more than 4 months and produced only 23 recordings, of which 14 were released at the time—four by the Baby Face Leroy Trio, four by the Little Walter Trio, two by Memphis Minnie, two by Sunnyland Slim, and two by harmonica-blowing Robert Jenkins. Just four singles are known to have come out on Parkway. …The Baby Face Leroy Trio (featuring vocals by Leroy Foster) and Little Walter sides were recorded in one 8-tune session… Most outstanding of the four Baby Face sides was the two-part "Rollin’ and Tumblin’," which ranks as one of the most exhilarating products of the Chicago postwar bar-band blues explosion (Muddy Waters and Little Walter were both in the band). The notable Little Walter Trio release featured blues harpist Little Walter on "Just Keep Lovin’ You" and "Moonshine Blues." Two other Little Walter sides were sold to Regal and not released on Parkway. …Foster played guitar on some of the sides while operating the bass drum and high-hat with pedals." "

Red Headed Woman" and "Boll Weevil" were paired for release on Parkway 104 featuring Little Walter,Red Headed Woman Muddy Waters and possibly Jimmy Rogers. "Boll Weevil" is in the best southern blues meets Chicago tradition as Foster relates a well worn theme that has been covered by Ma Rainey and Charlie Patton among others. "Red Headed Woman" is a chugging, wailer that crackles with energy, boasting stupendous blowing from Walter.

Perhaps the most outstanding record was"Rollin' And Tumblin' – Part 1 & 2" issued as Parkway 501. The record was as primal and raw as anything waxed up North resembling more of a southern field recording than a commercial Chicago blues record. Part 1 was a wordless moaning and humming by all participants while Foster sings the verses on the second. According to the Red Saunders website: "Waters had been playing in clubs with this lineup in the previous months, and was frustrated by Leonard Chess’s lack of interest in recording it. The session, reportedly, did not take place in a regular studio. Muddy Waters' biographer, Robert Gordon, declared that it took place in a 'warehouse.'" This bit of moonlighting on Muddy's part got him into trouble as Mike Rowe relates from a story told to him by Jimmy Rogers: "Leonard [Chess] didn't want Muddy to use that slide on any other label-but here's Muddy slipped off and cut this thing and Leonard heard it y'know. Then Muddy had to record this same number by himself on Chess." Foster also plays drums on four Little Walter numbers for Parkway: "Bad Actin' Woman", "I Just Keep Loving Her", "Muskadine Blues" and "Moonshine Blues."

Again according to the Red Saunders website: "…Leroy Foster returned to JOB after Parkway failed in the middle of 1950 (he had quit Muddy Waters' band after recording for Parkway, in the mistaken belief that his Parkway releases would establish him as a bandleader). Backed by Sunnyland Slim and Robert Jr. Lockwood, Foster cut "Pet Rabbit" b/w "Louella" in 1951 and "Late Hours At Midnight" b/w "Blues Is Killin' Me" in 1952. All four songs are built in the same slow, deep blues mold and once again Foster's laid back, conversational singing casts a compelling, powerful spell over the listener nicely counterpointed by Sunnyland's rumbling piano.

All of Leroy Foster's sides under his own name, plus the four Little Walter Parkway sides, can be found on Leroy Foster 1948-1952 on the Classics label. Stayed tuned in the next month or two as we spotlight Foster's music on an upcoming radio program.

My Head Can't Rest Anymore (MP3)

Boll Weevil (MP3)

Red Headed Woman (MP3)

Rollin' And Tumblin' – Part 1 (MP3)



Show Notes:

Hopkins Photo
Luke Miles, Lightnin' Hopkins and Chris Strachwitz

Today’s show spotlights the music of Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins. Outside of one 1959 side, our focus is roughly on Hopkins' first decade of recording (1946-1956), a prolific period which found him cutting close to 200 sides geared for the black market on a variety of different labels. After his "rediscovery" by folklorist Mack McCormick in 1959 Hopkins became an international star. In addition we also play a number of Hopkins’ buddies, those that Hopkins worked with or had a connection to like Frankie Lee Sims, Luke Miles, L.C. Williams, Thunder Smith and others.

Sam Hopkins was a Texas country bluesman of the highest caliber whose career began in the 1920's and stretched all the way into the 1980's. His earliest blues influence was the legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson who he met around 1920, of whom Hopkins recalled "When I was just a little boy I went to hanging around Buffalo, Texas Blind Lemon he'd come and I'd just get alongside and start playing ". Throughout the '20s and '30s he traveled around Texas, usually in the company of recording star Texas Alexander. The pair was playing in Houston's Third Ward in 1946 when talent scout Lola Anne Cullum came across them. She cut Alexander out of the deal and paired Hopkins with pianist Wilson "Thunder" Smith, getting the duo a recording contract for the Los Angles based Aladdin label. They recorded as "Thunder and Lightnin'", a nickname Sam was to use for the rest of his life. A load of other labels recorded Hopkins after Aladdin, both in a solo context and with a small rhythm section: Modern/RPM (his ”Tim Moore's Farm" was an R&B hit in 1949); Gold Star (where he hit with "T-Model Blues" that same year); Sittin' in With ("Give Me Central 209" and "Coffee Blues" were national chart hits in 1952) and its Jax subsidiary; the major labels Mercury and Decca; and, in 1954, someGold Star 78 of his finest sides for the New York based Herald label. Hopkins' dropped out of sight for a three year stint in the late 50's. Fortunately, folklorist Mack McCormick rediscovered the guitarist, who he presented as a folk-blues artist. Pioneering musicologist Sam Charters produced Hopkins in a solo context for Folkways Records in 1959, cutting an entire LP in Hopkins' tiny apartment (on a borrowed guitar). The results helped introduced his music to an entirely new audience. By the early 1960’s Hopkins went from gigging at back-alley gin joints to starring at collegiate coffeehouses, appearing on TV programs, and touring Europe. He was recording more prolifically then ever, laying down albums for World Pacific, Vee-Jay, Bluesville, Bobby Robinson's Fire label, Candid, Arhoolie, Verve and, in 1965, the first of several LP's for Stan Lewis' Shreveport-based Jewel logo.

L.C. Williams was a singer/tap dancer who also occasionally drummed behind Hopkins. He arrived in Houston in 1945 and was one of the many characters who hung around in Lightning’s orbit sitting on stoops drinking beer and wine, shooting the breeze with passers-by. He made his first record in 1947 with Hopkins on piano and guitar. Hopkins plays guitar on a four-song session for Gold Star in 1948 wih Williams making some final sides for Eddie’s and Freedom between 1948-1950. He died in Houston of TB in 1960.

Frankie Lee Sims 78Frankie Lee Sims claimed to be a cousin of Lightnin' Hopkins. Sims cut his first 78s for Blue Bonnet Records in 1948 in Dallas, but didn't taste anything resembling regional success until 1953, when his "Lucy Mae Blues" did well down south. Sims recorded fairly prolifically for Los Angeles-based Specialty into 1954, then switched to the Ace label in 1957 to cut great rockers like "Walking with Frankie" and "She Likes to Boogie Real Low." He recorded for Bobby Robinson in late 1960 but these sides were unreleased and didn't surface until decades later when they were released on the British Krazy Kat label. Robinson ran the NYC based labels Fire, Fury and Enjoy. Sims died at age 53 in Dallas of pneumonia.

Thunder Smith plays piano behind Hopkins on his first two sessions for Aladdin in 1946 and 1947, never achieving the success that Hopkins did. Hopkins backed Smith on a four song session for Aladdin in 1946 with Smith cutting one session apiece in 1947 for Gold Star and in 1948 for Down Town. He reportedly died in Houston in 1965.

Luke "Long Gone" Miles was born in Louisiana in 1925 and moved to Houston in 1952. In the liner notes to his only full length LP ) "Country Born" (World Pacific, 1965) he said: “I went to Houston for one reason. I went to see Lightnin’ Hopkins. That’s what I went for and that’s what I did. Lightnin’ Hopkins taught me just about everything about blues singing. The first time I ever sang in front of an audience was in 1952 with Lightnin’. The first day I met Lightnin’ he named me “Long Gone” …and I’ve been Long Gone Miles ever since.” By 1961 Miles was in Los Angles were he cut some 45’s for Smash. After the World Pacific LP he cut singles for Two Kings in 1965, Kent in 1969 before supposedly leaving L.A. in 1970 where he wasn’t heard from again.

The bulk of the Lightnin' Hopkins sides played todaycome from two JSP box sets: Lightning Hopkins: All The Classics 1946-1951 and Lightning Special: Volume 2 of the Collected Works. In addition the latter box sets also collects a number of sides by L.C. Williams, Frankie Lee Sims and Thunder Smith.



Show Notes:

For today's show we head to Memphis circa the 1920's and 30's. Memphis was was loaded with talent, many of which made records. Spotlighted today are artists such as Frank Stokes, Furry Lewis, Robert Wilkins, Memphis Jug Band , Gus Cannon and several others.

Jazzin' The BluesIn the notes to Yazoo's Memphis Masters, Don Kent writes: "Of all the Southern cities that flourished with traditional blues in the period between the world Wars, none offered more dazzling diversity and top-drawer quality musicians than Memphis. The city’s geographical and economic position in the 1920’s was as the center of cotton and agricultural transactions, insuring a flow of itinerant laborers, especially during the fall harvest. Following the jobs and money, musicians came from Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas countryside. …The size of Memphis, and the pool of talent on which it was able to draw, attracted record companies who sought salable talent to offer their customers. Beale Street, with it’s wide-open vice, gambling and barrelhouses, was an attraction in itself to the rural out-of-towner intent on a good time and, since the early 1900’s, a gathering place for musicians looking for work. There is a pronounced ragtime and country-dance flavor to Memphis blues, in addition to vaudeville, medicine show, jazz and pop influence as well as the different regional styles brought by musicians from other areas. Most of the musicians who established roots in Memphis knew each other, played together."

The show kicks off with several tracks by Frank Stokes. As Don Kent notes: "If there was any one person who epitomized Memphis blues, it would have to be Frank Stokes, whose diversified repertoire seemed to embody black rural music up to the point of his recording." Stokes was already playing the streets of Memphis by the turn of the century, about the same time the blues began to flourish. A medicine show and house party favorite, Stokes, either solo, with Dan Sane (as The Beale Street Sheiks) and sometimes fiddler Will Batts, Stokes recorded 38 sides for Paramount and Victor between 1927 and 1929.

Mr. Crump Don't Like It 78Furry Lewis was another major Memphis figure. Lewis's musical start took place on Beale Street in the late teens, where he began his career. Lewis's recording career began in April 1927, with a trip to Chicago to record for the Vocalion label, which resulted in five songs. In October of 1927 Lewis was back in Chicago to cut six more songs. Lewis gave up music as a profession during the mid-'30s, when the Depression reduced the market for country blues. At the end of the 1950's blues scholar Sam Charters discovered Lewis and persuaded him to resume his music career. Gradually, as the 1960s and the ensuing blues boom wore on, Lewis emerged as one of the favorite rediscovered stars of the 1930s, playing festivals, appearing on talk shows, and recording.

Robert Wilkins was another prominent Memphis bluesman who, like Lewis, was originally born in Mississippi but made his fame in Memphis. Wilkins' early performing life included touring with small vaudeville and minstrel shows. In 1928, he met Ralph Peer of the Victor label and was invited to cut four songs. Vocalion recorded eight new songs the following year. In 1935 he cut four more sides for Vocalion and shortly afterwards joined the Church of God in Christ and became a minister. Wilkins was rediscovered in the 1960's and performed and recorded gospel material along with the blues. In 1964 he recorded the wonderful Memphis Gospel Singer for the Piedmont label which unfortunately has not been issued on CD.

Born in Hernando, Mississippi in 1890, Jackson took an interest in music early on, learning the rudiments of guitar from his father. By the age of 15, he was already steadily employed in local medicine shows and by his 20's was working the country frolic and juke joint circuit, usually in the company of Gus Cannon and Robert Wilkins. After joining up with the Silas Green Minstrel Show, he settled in Memphis, working clubs with Furry Lewis, Gus Cannon, and Will Shade. The 1920s found him regularly working with his Memphis cronies, finally recording his best-known tune, "Kansas City Blues" and a batch of other classics by the end of the decade. He also appeared in one of the early talkies, Hallelujah!, in 1929.

Cannon's Jug StompersIn addition to the above mentioned bluesman, Memphis had a jug band scene. Among those who recorded, and who we feature today, are the Memphis Jug Band, Cannon's Jug Stompers and the South Memphis Jug Band. One of the definitive jug bands of the '20s and early '30s, the Memphis Jug Band was comprised of Will Shade, Will Weldon, Hattie Hart, Charlie Polk, Walter Horton, and others, in various configurations. Guitarist/harpist Will Shade formed the Memphis Jug Band in the Beale Street section of Memphis in the mid-'20s. A few years after their formation, Shade signed a contract with Victor Records in 1927. Over the next seven years, Shade and the Memphis Jug Band recorded nearly 60 songs for the record label. A remarkable musician, who could play five-string banjo and jug, Gus Cannon led the Cannon's Jug Stompers in'20s and '30s. The early 1900's found him playing around Memphis with songster Jim Jackson and forming a partnership with Noah Lewis. He cut close to three dozen sides between 1927-1930. He continued to record into the '30s as a soloist and with his incredible trio, which included Noah Lewis along with guitarists Hosea Wood or Ashley Thompson. He resumed his stalled recording efforts in 1956 with sessions for Folkways. Subsequent sessions paired him with other Memphis survivors like Furry Lewis. Singer/guitarist Jack Kelly was the front man of the South Memphis Jug Band. He led the group in tandem with fiddler Will Batts, and they made their first recordings in 1933, followed in 1939 by a second and final session. Although the South Memphis Jug Band's lineup changed frequently, Kelly remained a constant, leading the group in various incarnations until as late as the mid-'50s.

Cocaine Habit Blues


This mini documentary was used as the introduction for Ernest Lane
when he played at the Soul Serenade, January 17th, 2008

Here's a question: what does Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker, Canned Heat and the Monkees have in common? The answer is pianist Ernest Lane who's played with them all in a long and varied music career. It would be some fifty years after playing on his first record that Lane cut 2004's "The Blues Is Back!", his first full length record.

Growing up in Clarksdale Lane had the right background for a bluesman; his father was a barrelhouse pianist, his boyhood friend was Ike Turner and Pinetop Perkins was a friend of the family who showed the youngster a thing or two. Ike fell in love with the piano when he peered in at The King Biscuit Boys, featuring boogie pianist Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins, rehearsing in the basement of his buddy Ernest Lane's house. As he recalled: "Man, I never seen nobody's fingers move that fast on a piano," he said. "I didn't even know what a piano was then, and I saw that dude, man. He was playing piano, and they was rehearsin' at John Lane's house. Ernest Lane and I was the same age, and we was comin' home from school and we heard this noise. And we went over there, and boy, these guys-this guy was playing piano so fast, man, I couldn't hardly see his fingers! And I said, 'Damn, man! I wanna do that!' Lane said, 'Me too!' Anyway, we started talkin' to Pinetop, and he started teaching us different little boogie-woogie things." When he was just a teenager Lane hooked up with legendary slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk. Nighthawk eventually took him to Chicago where his solid piano work graced a number of sides cut for the Chess label in 1948-49 including the blues classic "Sweet Black Angel." After Nighthawk he played with Earl Hooker, Houston Stackhouse and others before heading to the California in 1956. There he worked with Jimmy Nolen, George "Harmonica" Smith and was recruited by old buddy Ike Turner to be a member of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. After leaving Ike he joined a group called the Goodtimers who eventually wound up backing the Monkees for about a year on tour. Through the late 60's/early 70's he played and recorded for Canned Heat before giving up music altogether. Recently Lane has been featured on a 2000 release by Eddie C. Campbell, played on Ike Turner's comeback record and toured the US and Europe with Ike's band.

I first spoke to Ernest several years before he issued his comeback record when I was doing some research into Robert Nighthawk. When he issued his record I interviewed him on my Bad Dog Blues radio show. Here's a link to that interview that starts off with some music from the record:

Ernest Lane Interview 7/25/04 (mp3)

While doing research into Robert Nighthawk several years ago, I became friendly with Nighthawk's daughter who I eventually met in Chicago. Her mother was still living in Chicago as well but didn't want to talk about "that man" as she conveyed to me through her daughter. She finally did talk to me on the phone years later and I believe I was the only who she ever talked to about her years with Nighthawk. When I was in Chicago the daughter showed me a glossy photo of her mother, Ernest and Nighthawk which as far as I know has never been published before. In looking at the above documentary I see a similar (it may be the same – my memory's a bit foggy) photo used which I thought I would reproduce.

Nighthawk Photo

Ernest Lane, Robert Nighthawk and Nighthawk's wife Hazel McCollum circa late 1940's


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.


-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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