Show Notes:

We kick today's show off with the last commercial recordings by Memphis Minnie and husband Ernest Lawlars AKA Little Son Joe. The two first began recording together back in February 1939, cutting about 70 sides together, laying down their last recordings for the J.O.B. label on October 5, 1953.  From this final session we spin the romping "Kissing In The Dark" with Minnie taking the vocal and "A Little Too Late" released under Little Son Joe's name which is the "B" side of his "Ethel Bea." He cut only a handful of sides under his name and these later numbers showcase a very fine, plaintive voiced singer and a terrific electric guitarist. Little Son Joe took up with Memphis Minnie in the late 1930's, replacing her previous husband and parJohnny Fullertner, Kansas Joe McCoy. He made a few records under his own name at sessions in 1939 and 1941, including the well-known "Black Rat Swing" but mostly appeared in a supporting role. He retired from music with Minnie in the 1950's.

We play another twin spin, this time moving up to the 1950's, with a pair of featured tracks by Johnny Fuller. Fuller was a West Coast bluesman who left behind a bunch of 1950's recordings. He was equally at home with low down blues, gospel, R&B, and rock & roll. Making the Bay Area his home throughout his career, Fuller turned in classic sides for Heritage, Aladdin, Specialty, Flair, Checker, and Hollywood. By and large retiring from the music scene in the 1960's (with the exception of one excellent album in 1974), Fuller worked as a garage mechanic until his passing in 1985. "Roughest Place In Town" is superb rendition of "Tin Pan Alley" while "Mean Old World", from the same session, is a smoldering uptempo number with some lyrics that still resonate today:

Well you think you got trouble, oughta see what I'm going through (2x)
Well I'm going through starvation, man jobs are so doggone few
Well the banks foreclosed on my home, had no place to hang my head
Well my finance man came, took my brand new Cadillac

Another double spin, of sorts, is a spotlight on two excellent out of print Bluesway LP's: Lee Jackson's Lonely Girl (Bluesway, 1974) and Andrew "Voice" Odom's Farther Up The Road (Bluesway, 1969). Guitarist/bass session man Lee Jackson played on records of Eddie Clearwater, Homesick James, J.B. Hutto, Little Walter, Shakey Jake, Johnny Shines, Sunnyland Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, Hound Dog Taylor among others. He cut a few singles of his own on small labels and one full-length LP. He was murdered in Chicago in 1979. Andrew Odom was was a great journeyman Chicago singer who recorded relatively sparingly. Odom fell in with Albert King and Johnny O'Neal on the St. Louis blues scene of the mid-'50s and  made his recording debut in 1961, singing "East St. Louis" with the band of one Little Aaron for the obscure Marlo imprint. He arrived in Chicago around 1960, hooking up with Earl Hooker and working and recording with him through the decade. Andrew OdomA single for Nation Records in 1967 (as Andre Odom) preceded his debut album for BluesWay (cut in 1969, it remained in the can for quite a while before the label finally issued it). A guest spot on Jimmy Dawkins's  All for Business, was a highlight of the '70s for the singer. He cut his own album for the French Isabel label in 1982 in the company of Magic Slim & the Teardrops (reissued by Evidence in 1993) and finished his career with the superb 1992 set for Flying Fish, Goin' to California which came out posthumously. Odom passed in December 1991.

There's some excellent vocal performances on today's program including a gorgeous reading of Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone To Love" by Dinah Washington and Johnny Moore's Three Blazers on the original 1949 version of  "How Blue Can You Get." This number was covered in 1951 by Louis Jordan which is where B.B. King first heard the song. King began using it in his live act at recorded it on his classic Live At The Regal album from 1963. Speaking of Percy Mayfield we hear Percy at his world weary best on the mellow "Ha Ha In The Daytime" his last side for Ray Charles' Tangerine label, a remake of a previously unreleased 1962 number. This one come from Rhino's Tangerine and Atlantic Sides an indispensable collection of Mayfield's 1960's sides.

From the 1970's we play some fine downhome blues form Guitar Gabriel plus excellent field recordings by James Davis and Albert Macon with Robert Thomas recorded by the tireless George Mitchell. Guitar Gabriel is familiar to some collectors as Nyles Jones, the name under which he recorded the superb LP, My South, My Blues, for the Gemini label in 1970.He dropped out of sight for about 20 years and his belated return to performing was due largely to folklorist and musician Timothy Duffy, who located Gabriel in 1991. With Duffy accompanying him as second guitarist on acoustic sets and as a member of his band, Brothers in the Kitchen, Gabriel performed frequently at clubs and festivals, and appeared overseas. He recorded several albums for Duffy's Music Maker label before passing in 1996. Albert Macon began teaching Robert Thomas to play blues guitar when Thomas, who was nine years younger than Macon, was about 15 years old. For over The Real Delta Blues40 years the two men played music together at fish fries, parties and festivals around Georgia. The two men also received national and international attention, playing such venues as the Knoxville World's Fair and the American Blues Festival in the Netherlands and the WDR Blues Festival in Bonn, Germany. Macon and Thomas recorded Blues and Boogie from Alabama on the Dutch Swingmaster label as well as captured by George Mitchell

As usual there's plenty of vintage blues from the 1920's and 1930's. On tap today are classic performances by Henry Thomas, Tommy Johnson, Georgia White, Sleep John Estes, William Moore and all-time blues classics in Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues" and Pinetop Smith's "Pine Top's Blues." We also jump ahead to hear Son House on a 1964 performance of "Pony Blues" (34 years after his recording debut for Paramount) which comes from the excellent Blue Goose LP The Real Delta Blues, a great collection of early rediscovery sides that unfortunately has yet to make it to CD.




Show Notes:

Elmore James

Elmore James was undoubtedly the most influential slide guitarist of the postwar period. Although his early death from heart failure kept him from enjoying the fruits of the '60s blues revival like his contemporaries Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf did, Elmore was hugely influential on a generation of guitar players. James always gave it everything he had, everything he could emotionally invest in a number. The fact is that over his twelve-year recording career it can be argued that he never really cut a bad performance. Between 1951 and 1963 James cut about 100 sides for labels like Trumpet, Modern, Chess, Chief, Meteor and Fire. Backing him was one of the greatest Chicago blues bands,the Broomdusters, named after James' big hit, and featuring Little Johnny Jones on piano, J.T. Brown on tenor sax and Elmore's cousin, Homesick James on rhythm guitar. This talented combo was often augmented by a second saxophone on occasion while the drumming stool changed frequently. On later recordings his band would include pianist Johnny "Big Moose" Walker, guitarist Eddie Taylor and Sam Myers on harp. In addition James backed a few artists, particularly in the early years, including Sonny Boy Williamson II, Willie Love and later bandmate Little Johnnie Jones. Today's show spotlights not only great sides James cut under his own name but several sides by his talented bandmates and associates.

With a few months left on his Trumpet contract, Elmore was recorded by the Bihari Brothers for their Modern label subsidiaries, Flair and Meteor, but the results were left in the can until James' contract ran out. In the meantime, Elmore had moved to Chicago and cut a quick session for Chess, which resulted in one single being issued and just as quickly yanked off the market as the Bihari Brothers swooped in to protect their investment. This period of activity found Elmore assembling the nucleus of his great band the Broomdusters and several fine recordings were issued over the next few years on a slew of the Bihari Brothers'owned labels with several of them charting.

Bledding HeartJames was born in Canton, MS on January 27, 1918. He came to music at an early age, learning to play bottleneck on a homemade instrument. By the age of 14, he was already a weekend musician, working the various country suppers and juke joints in the area. He would join up and work with traveling players coming through like Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson. By the late '30s he had formed his first band and was working with Sonny Boy until WW II broke out, spending three years stationed with the Navy in Guam. When he was discharged, he picked off where he left off, moving for a while to Memphis, working in clubs with Eddie Taylor and his cousin Homesick James. James was first recorded by Lillian McMurray of Trumpet Records in 1951 at the tail end of a Sonny Boy session doing his classic "Dust My Broom." Legend has it that James didn't even stay around long enough to hear the playback, much less record a second side. McMurray stuck a local singer (BoBo "Slim" Thomas) on the flip side and the record became the surprise R&B hit of 1951, making the Top Ten. James also backed Trumpet artists Willie Love and Tiny Kennedy the same year.

By the late 1950's James had established a beach-head in the clubs of Chicago as one of the most popular live acts and regularly broadcasting over WPOA under the aegis of disc jockey Big Bill Hill. In 1957, with his contract with the Bihari Brothers at an end, he recorded several successful sides for Mel London's Chief label, all of them later being issued on the larger Vee-Jay label.

In May of 1963, Elmore returned to Chicago, ready to resume his on-again off-again playing career — his records were still being regularly issued and reissued on a variety of labels — when he suffered his final heart attack. His wake was attended by over 400 blues luminaries before his body was shipped back to Mississippi.

Mississippi-born John T. Brown was a member of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels down south before arriving in Chicago. By 1945, Brown was recording behind pianist Roosevelt Sykes and singer St. Louis Jimmy Oden, later backing Eddie Boyd and Washboard Sam for RCA Victor. He debuted on wax as a bandleader in 1950 on the Harlem label, subsequently cutting sessions in 1951 and 1952 for Chicago's United logo as well as JOB. Brown backed Elmore James and pianist Little Johnny Jones on the Meteor and Flair lbels in 1952 and 1953. Meteor issued a couple of singles under Brown's own name. After a final 1956 date for United that laid unissued at the time, Brown's studio activities were limited to sideman roles. In January of 1969, he was part of Fleetwood Mac's Blues Jam at Chess album, even singing a tune for the project, but he died before the close of that year.

Johnny Jones arrived in Chicago from Mississippi in 1946 and was influenced greatly by pianist Big Maceo.Jones followed Maceo into Tampa Red's band in 1947 after Maceo suffered a stroke. In addition to playing behind Tampa Red from 1949 to 1953, he backed Muddy Waters on his 1949 classic "Screamin' and Cryin'" and later appeared on sides by Howlin' Wolf. It's Elmore James that he'll forever be associated with; the pianist played on James' classic 1952-56 Chicago sessions for the Bihari brothers' Meteor, Flair, and Modern labels, as well as dates for Checker, Chief, and Fire. James only had a few opportunities to record under his own name; Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, and Leroy Foster backed Jones on his 1949 Aristocrat label classic "Big Town Playboy", while Elmore James and saxist J.T. Brown were on hand for Jones's 1953 Flair coupling "I May Be Wrong"/"Sweet Little Woman." The rocking "Hoy Hoy," his last commercial single, was done in 1953 for Atlantic and also featured James and his group in support. Jones continued to work in the clubs (with Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Syl Johnson, Billy Boy Arnold, and Magic Sam, among others) prior to his 1964 death of lung cancer at the age of 40.

Something Inside Of MeJames "Homesick" Williamson was playing guitar at age ten and soon ran away from his Tennessee home to play at fish fries and dances. His travels took the guitarist through Mississippi and North Carolina during the 1920s, where he crossed paths with Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Boy Fuller, and Big Joe Williams. Settling in Chicago during the 1930s, Williamson played local clubs and cut his first sides in 1952-53 for Chance Records. Homesick also worked extensively as a sideman, backing harp great Sonny Boy Williamson and during the 1950s with his cousin, Elmore James. Homesick backs Elmore on sessions for Chief in 1957, Fire in 1959, Chess in 1960 and again for Fire in 1960 and 1961. Homesick's own recordings included 45s for Colt and USA in 1962, a fine 1964 album for Prestige, and four tracks on a Vanguard anthology in 1965. Homesick was recording and touring up until shortly before his death in 2006.

Eddie Taylor is best know for his guitar work on the great majority of Jimmy Reed's Vee-Jay sides during the 1950s and early '60s, and he even found time to wax a few classic sides of his own for Vee-Jay during the mid-'50s. But Taylor's records didn't sell in the quantities that Reed's did, so he was largely relegated to the role of sideman (he recorded behind John Lee Hooker, John Brim, Elmore James, Snooky Pryor, and many more during the '50s) not cutting his first full-length record until the early 1970's. Taylor backed Elmore on sessions in 1956 for Modern and for Chief in 1957.

During the ‘50s Johnny "Big Moose" Walker played with many local Greenville, MS bluesmen, joined Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm in Clarksdale and sat in with the King Biscuit Boys in Helena, Arkansas and worked the Mississippi juke joints with Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson. He traveled extensively with Earl Hooker. Walker's first studio date was with Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson, for Trumpet Records in Jackson, Mississippi that went unissued. In 1955 Ike Turner taped Moose in a Greenville club; two of those sides, credited to J.W Walker, appeared years later on the Kent Label. He cut his first 45, as Moose John, for Johnny Otis' Ultra label, also in 1955. Moose recorded even more after Sunnyland Slim brought him to Chicago. He backed Earl Hooker, Ricky Allen, Lorenzo Smith and others on local sessions. Willie Dixon took Moose to New York in 1960 to do some studio work for Prestige/Bluesville. Moose rejoined Elmore James at Silvio's on the West Side and went to New Orleans with Elmore to record for Bobby Robinson's Fire label. At another session for Robinson, Moose sang a few himself. He cut some singles during the ‘60s and waxed his first album in 1969 when he and Earl Hooker went to Los Angeles to record for ABC Bluesway. He remained active until the 1980's before suffering a stroke.

Sam Myers cut his first sides for Ace in 1957 and played both drums and harp behind slide guitar great Elmore James at a 1961 session for Bobby Robinson's Fire label in New Orleans. In 1960 he cut a single for Robinson's Fury label and another in 1961 backed by Elmore James and Big Moose Walker. Most listeners know Myers as the frontman for Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets, which lasted for some 20 years before Myers passed in 2006.



Show Notes:

Charlie McCoy ranked among the great blues accompanists of his era and his deft mandolin/guitar work can be heard on numerous recordings from the late 1920's through the early 1940's. His younger brother Joe McCoy was another great sideman whose slide style was most notably preserved on the landmark recordings he cut with his wife Memphis Minnie between 1929 and 1934. Charlie McCoy was recording regularly by the late 1920's, often alongside Walter Vincson and sat in with many other Delta bluesmen that passed through the Jackson area in the years to follow, appearing on guitar and mandolin. He made notable recordings on mandolin backing  Ishman Bracey, Tommy Johnson, his sister-in-law Memphis Minnie, Big Bill Broonzy, Curtis Jones, Monkey Joe, Mary Butler and others. Between 1936 and 1939 he also cut a number of sessions with the groups Papa Charlie's Boys and the Harlem Hamfats, the latter featuring Joe McCoy as lead vocalist on most sides. Charlie McCoy also cut scattered sides under his own name between 1929 and 1935, some with his brother, but made no more recordings after 1942, passing in 1950, at the age of 44. Joe McCoy died of heart disease in Chicago, only a few months before his brother Charlie. They are both buried in Restvale Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. Today's program spans the years 1928 through 1942, finding the brothers playing in a wide variety of settings and styles.

Jackson, Mississippi in the 1920’s was a city with a vibrant blues scene, teeming with artists such as Tommy Johnson, Walter Vincson, Ishman Bracey, Johnnie Temple, the Chatmon Brothers (Bo, Lonnie and Sam were the most prominent) Skip James and Rube Lacey. Lacey recalled McCoy being among the best of this talented group: "But I really believe Charlie got to be a better musician than I was. He was young, but he got to be about the best musician there was in our band, Charlie McCoy. He was wonderful. He could play anything pretty well you sing. …He was good as I ever want to see."

Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe McCoy
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe McCoy

The years 1927-31 saw the first commercial recordings of many of the Jackson musicians. Most extensively recorded were the Chatmons, Walter Vincson and Joe and Charlie McCoy. McCoy first recorded in 1928, strictly as an accompanist, backing singer Rosie Mae Moore, Tommy Johnson and Ishman Bracey, all of whom are featured in our opening set. Moore was a powerful, rough voiced singer who receives excellent guitar support from McCoy stretches out quite a bit on "School Girl Blues", "Staggering Blues"and who’s playing owes a strong debt to Rube Lacey. Better yet were the four magnificent songs he backed Tommy Johnson on over a two day period: "Cool Drink of Water Blues" "Big Road Blues", "Bye, Bye Blues" and "Maggie Campbell Blues." McCoy’s second guitar is superb, not only duplicating Johnson’s guitar part but as, David Evans notes, uses "a flat pick and often strums the strings like a mandolin on his bass part, occasionally doing the same on the treble strings as a beautiful contrast." McCoy also backed Bracey in very similar fashion on his two numbers, "Saturday Blues" and "Left Alone Blues." Johnson, Bracey and McCoy returned on Friday, August 31, 1928 for another session for Victor. For whatever reason McCoy didn’t back Johnson but did play mandolin on Bracey’s "Trouble Hearted Blues" and "Brown Mama Blues." McCoy’s playing is subdued on the beautiful, somber "Trouble Hearted Blues" but his bold, rippling mandolin is heard loud and clear on the equally fine "Brown Mama Blues."

Between 1928-1931 Charlie played on a variety of sides, many string band related, in the company of Walter Vincson and Bo Carter. In November 1928 Carter, McCoy and an unknown pianist backed singer Alec Johnson on four of six sides. Johnson's music harks back to an earlier pre-blues era. As Tony Russell notes they "form a lively and expressive pit orchestra to accompany a set of antique minstrel songs and a couple of blues." McCoy's playing is superb on the blues"Miss Meal Cramp Blues" and older sounding material like "Sister Maud Mule", and he rather discomforting "Mysterious Coon." Also in November of the same year Carter, Vincson and McCoy backed singer Mary Butler on four numbers. Butler may in fact be Rosie Mae Moore who McCoy backed in February of the same year. McCoy plays mandolin on three of the four tracks including the tough minded "Electrocuted Blues (Electric Chair Blues)", "Bungalow Blues" and "Mary Blues." The session isn't quite as strong as the earlier session.

With Walter Vincson he cut sides as the Mississippi Mud Steppers, with the addition of guitarist Sam Hill (plus Bo Carter and Sam Chatmon on one track) as the Mississippi Blacksnakes and with Carter and Vincson as the Jackson Blue Boys. With the Mississippi Mud Steppers he cut the remarkable instrumental "Jackson Stomp", based on the seminal "Cow Cow Blues", (the song was modified as "The Lonesome Train That Took My Baby Away" at a Charlie McCoy session with Bo Carter on guitar). The song is a dazzling, virtuoso mandolin performance. McCoy further showcases his versatility on a trio of waltzes, playing mandolin on "Alma Waltz (Ruby Waltz)" and plays banjo on two numbers. With the Mississippi Blacksnakes his robust mandolin is heard on the bawdy "Grind So Fine" and the country tinged "Blue Sky Blues" both boasting terrific vocals from Vincson. Two days after the first Blacksnakes session the group recorded again with Bo Carter as the vocalist and either McCoy or Sam Hill on guitar. This is a bluesier session with McCoy again on mandolin/banjo with his mandolin heard in fine form on "It Still Ain't No Good (New It Ain't No Good)" and "Easy Going Woman Blues." One more song by the group, "Bye Bye Baby Blues", was cut the following day featuring fine slide from McCoy. The two tracks cut as the Jackson Blue Boys are interesting for featuring singing from Carter, Vincson and McCoy in unison and taking solo turns with McCoy playing mandolin.

It Is So Good - Part 2 78Between 1929-1936 Charlie cut scattered sides under his own name or as lead in various bands. By the early 1930's many of the Jackson musicians began to disperse, either heading to the delta or like Johnnie Temple and Charlie McCoy to Chicago. By 1932 all of McCoy's recordings were waxed up North. He did cut several sessions between 1929-1930 in Memphis and Jackson. The bulk of the recordings again feature McCoy's pals Walter Vincson and Bo Carter on material that ranges from hokum, blues and string band. Billed as Charlie McCoy with Chatman's Mississippi Hot Footers they cut hokum sides in the vein of the immensely popular "It's Tight Like That" such as "It Ain't No Good – Part 1 & II" and "It Is So Good – Part 1 & II" the latter sporting prominent mandolin from McCoy. When not sharing the vocals with his partners, McCoy proves himself a fine reedy singer on straight blues numbers such as "You Gonna Need Me" and the superb "Last Time Blues" where he lays down some watery slide playing. With Carter on violin McCoy delivers "Your Valves Need Grinding"managing to sound wistful and racy at the same time, the string band blues of "Blue Heaven Blues" and takes it solo on the low down "Gland Hand Blues" framed by some imaginative guitar figures. The highlight from a December 15, 1930 session is "That Lonesome Train Took My Baby Away" a rippling mandolin showcase based on the theme of "Cow Cow Blues" and wonderfully sung by McCoy. Four days later, on a duet with Bo Carter, he cut a pair of interesting topical numbers: "The Northern Starvers Are Returning Home" and "Mississippi I'm Longing For You" both with a strong country feel.

By the early 1930's Charlie was in Chicago where he settled in as a much in demand session musician although he managed a few sides under his own name. In February 1930, As Papa Charlie McCoy, he cut the excellent "Times Ain't What They Used To Be" playing terrific banjo with guitar from either his brother Joe or Tampa Red. The following day, with Georgia Tom on piano, he cut "Too Long" an insinuating, bluesy pop song that proved to be a sizable hit. In 1934 under the pseudonym Mississippi Mudder he waxed the bouncy "Candy Man Blues", the wonderful hard time blues of "Charity Blues" featuring some strong piano from Chuck Segar, "Baltimore Blues" a variation on the "Sweet Old Kokomo/Sweet Home Chicago" theme with brother Joe on guitar and the moody slide driven "Motherless & Fatherless Blues." In 1936 he led a group listed as Papa Charlie's Boys (Papa Charlie); McCoy is in superb form on vocal and jazzy mandolin on a sparkling remake of "Too Long", "Let My Peaches Be" and "You Can't Play Me Cheap" laying down some acrobatic mandolin solos, and the heartfelt "Gypsy Woman Blues."

Joe McCoy was well known for his association with his wife Memphis Minnie where he played the part of Kansas Joe. During the late 1920's Minnie began playing guitar with a variety of ad hoc jug bands during the jug band craze. Minnie also began a common law marriage with Kansas Joe McCoy. Their very first session yielded the hit song "Bumble Bee" (later recorded by Muddy Waters as "Honey Bee"), and McCoy would be her musical partner for the next six years. Between 1929 and 1934 (they divorced in early 1935) they cut around one hundred sides together. Joe McCoy never recorded under his own name, instead performing under various pseudonyms; Georgia Pine Boy, Hallelujah Joe, Big Joe McCoy and His Washboard Band, and The Mississippi Mudder. Other names he used from time to time included Hillbilly Plowboy, Mud Dauber Joe and Hamfoot Ham.

Let's Get Drunk And Truck 78After Joe and Minnie separated Joe occupied himself in small bands, singing with the Harlem Hamfats, working as a songwriter and working with his brother Charlie. The Harlem Hamfats were based in Chicago, and were put together by record producer and entrepreneur J. Mayo Williams simply for the purpose of making studio recordings. The band usually consisted of: Joe McCoy (guitar, vocals), Charlie McCoy (guitar, mandolin), Herb Morand (trumpet, vocals), John Lindsay (bass), Odell Rand (clarinet), Horace Malcolm (piano), Freddie Flynn and Pearlis Williams (drums). The band's sound blended blues, dixieland and swing jazz. Led by Morand and Joe McCoy, the main songwriters, the group initially provided instrumental backing to artists including Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon, Rosetta Howard, and Johnny Temple. Their first major hits were "Oh! Red", recorded in April 1936, and "Let's Get Drunk And Truck" (originally recorded by Tampa Red), recorded in August of the same year. "Oh! Red" was popular enough to be covered by Count Basie, The Ink Spots, Blind Willie McTell and, later, Howlin' Wolf.

Joe and Charlie recorded, with Joe as lead bill, for Decca in 1934 as The Mississippi Mudder (Mud Dauber Joe) on notable numbers like "Evil Devil Woman Blues" a smoother version of Skip James' "Devil Got My Woman" with mandolin like guitar from Charlie and "Going Back Home Blues" strongly influenced by Tommy Johnson. Three sessions in 1941-1942 are listed as Big Joe And His Rhythm a group containing, at times, Robert Lee McCoy, Washboard Sam, Ransom Knowling, Alfred Elkins, Amanda Sortier and Harman Ray. The music is hard to define with Tony Russell dubbing it "skiffle Blues" and describing it this way: "the blend of perky harmonica, stolid rhythm guitar and washboard produces an unusual but shallow ensemble sound and, although it is somewhat freshened by the addition of Charlie McCoy's mandolin…the half dozen examples…may for some listeners be all the late Joe McCoy they need." Overall the music is entertaining particularity a follow-up to the Hamfat's popular "Oh! Red" in "Oh Red's Twin Brother", the prominent mandolin of "I'll Get You Off My Mind" and "It Ain't No Lie" once again featuring the "Cow Cow Blues" motif and "Bessie Lee Blues."

Washboard SamGoing Back To ArkansasWashboard Sam Vol. 4 1939-40
Washboard SamDigging My Potatoes No. 2Washboard Sam Vol. 4 1939-40
Washboard SamTraveling ManWashboard Sam Vol. 5 1940-41
Jazz GillumKey To The HighwayJazz Gillum Vol. 2 1938-41
Jazz GillumWhiskey Headed BuddiesJazz Gillum Vol. 3 1941-46
Jazz GillumLook on Yonder WallJazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Sonny Boy WilliamsonI Been Dealing With The DevilSonny Boy Williamson Vol.3 1939-41
Sonny Boy WilliamsonJivin' The BluesSonny Boy Williamson Vol.3 1939-41
Sonny Boy WilliamsonShe Was A DreamerSonny Boy Williamson Vol.4 1941-45
Sonny Boy WilliamsonI'm Gonna Catch You SoonSonny Boy Williamson Vol.4 1941-45
Washboard SamEvery Tub Stands On Its Own BottomWashboard Sam Vol. 5 1940-41
Washboard SamLife Is Just A BookWashboard Sam Vol. 5 1940-41
Washboard SamDown At The Bad Man's HallWashboard Sam Vol. 5 1940-41
Jazz GillumThe Blues What AmJazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Jazz GillumLook What You Are TodayJazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Jazz GillumGonna Be Some ShootingJazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Sonny Boy WilliamsonI Have Got To GoSonny Boy Williamson Vol.4 1941-45
Sonny Boy WilliamsonG.M. & O. BluesSonny Boy Williamson Vol.4 1941-45
Sonny Boy WilliamsonSonny Boy's JumpSonny Boy Williamson Vol.4 1941-45
Washboard SamI'm Not The LadWashboard Sam Vol. 6 1941-42
Washboard SamMy Feet Jumped SaltyWashboard Sam Vol. 6 1941-42
Washboard SamFlying Crow BluesWashboard Sam Vol. 6 1941-42
Jazz GillumRoll Dem BonesJazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Jazz GillumGonna Take My RapJazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Jazz GillumYou Got to Run Me DownJazz Gillum Vol. 4 1946-49
Sonny Boy WilliamsonStop Breaking DownSonny Boy Williamson Vol.5 1945-47
Sonny Boy WilliamsonElevator WomanSonny Boy Williamson Vol.5 1945-47
Sonny Boy WilliamsonYou're An Old LadySonny Boy Williamson Vol.5 1945-47
Washboard SamGet Down BrotherWashboard Sam Vol. 7 1942-49
Washboard SamRiver Hip MamaWashboard Sam Vol. 7 1942-49
Washboard SamRed River Dam BluesWashboard Sam Vol. 7 1942-49
Washboard SamSoap And Water BluesWashboard Sam Vol. 7 1942-49
Sonny Boy WilliamsonHoodoo HoodooSonny Boy Williamson Vol.5 1945-47
Sonny Boy WilliamsonWonderful TimeSonny Boy Williamson Vol.5 1945-47
Sonny Boy WilliamsonMellow Chick SwingSonny Boy Williamson Vol.5 1945-47

Show notes:

As blues historian Paul Oliver noted, artists like Jazz Gillum, Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson, Washboard Sam and Sonny Boy Williamson, were "playing in the brash, confident manner of Chicago which had been developing through the 'thirties." Sam Charters characterized the sound as the "Bluebird Beat" or more unkindly as the "Melrose Mess" by Mike Rowe in his pioneering book Chicago Blues. As Rowe notes "it was a white businessman, Lester Melrose, who was really responsible for shaping the Chicago sound of the late 30's and 40's." Melrose had said "From March 1934 to February 1951 I recorded at least 90 percent of all rhythm-and-blues talent for RCA Victor and Columbia Records…" As Rowe further explains: "But Melrose had more than a large stable of blues artists under his control. Since only a few of them had regular accompanists most of them would play on each others records and thus Melrose has a completely self-contained unit… …The final stage of this musical incest was completed when they started recording each others songs." The result was a consistent, sometime cookie cutter sound, although the best artists would consistently transcend these limitations. The "Bluebird Sound" anticipated the Chicago blues of the post-war era featuring tight, smooth small band arrangements that were filled out with piano, bass drums and often clarinet or saxophone. Today's show spotlights three Bluebird artists who were a force on the 1940's Chicago scene: Washboard Sam, Sonny Boy Williamson I and Jazz Gillum.

WASHBOARD-SAM-1931Washboard Sam recorded hundreds of records between 1935 and 1949 for the bluebird label, usually with backing by guitarist Big Bill Broonzy. Out of all the washboard players of the era, Sam was the most popular, which was due not only to his washboard talent, but also his skills as a highly imaginative songwriter and powerful, expressive vocalist. As an accompanist, Washboard Sam not only played with Broonzy, but also backed bluesmen like Bukka White, Memphis Slim, and Jazz Gillum. Sam added a phonograph turntable and a couple of cowbells to his washboard for added tone and his washboard playing is consistently driving and swinging. Washboard Sam (born Robert Brown) was the illegitimate son of Frank Broonzy, who also fathered Big Bill Broonzy. Sam was raised in Arkansas, working on a farm. He moved to Memphis in the early '20s to play the blues. While in Memphis, he met Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon and the trio played street corners, collecting tips from passerby's. In 1932, Sam moved to Chicago. Initially he played for tips, but soon he began performing regularly with Big Bill Broonzy. Within a few years, Sam was supporting Broonzy on the guitarist's Bluebird recordings. Soon, he was supporting a number of different musicians on their recording sessions, including pianist Memphis Slim, bassist Ransom Knowling, and a handful of saxophone players, who all recorded for Bluebird. In 1935, Sam began recording for both Bluebird and Vocalion Records. Throughout the rest of the '30s and the '40s, Sam was one of the most popular Chicago bluesmen, selling plenty of records and playing to packed audiences in the Chicago clubs. In 1953, Washboard Sam recorded a session for Chess Records and then retired. In the early '60s, Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim tried to persuade Sam to return to the stage to capitalize on the blues revival. Initially, he refused, but in 1963 began performing concerts in clubs and coffeehouses in Chicago; he even played a handful of dates in Europe in early 1964. He cut his last sides in 1964 before passing in 1966.

Jazz Gillum is usually treated with indifference among blues critics, looked upon as a rather generic performer who typified the mainstream Chicago blues style of the 1930's and 40's. While there's some truth to this, Gillum's recordings were consistently entertaining throughout his sixteen-year recording career punctuated with a fair number of exceptional sides. Gillum was by no means a harmonica virtuoso but he was a very expressive, easygoing singer who penned a number of evocative songs backed by some of the era's best blues musicians. Gillum recorded 100 sides between 1934-49 as a leader in addition to session work with Big Bill Broonzy, Curtis Jones and the State Street Boys. Many of his records were characterized by strongly rhythmic support, credit for which must go largely to Big Bill Broonzy and later guitarist Willie Lacey. William McKinley Gillum was born in Indianola, Mississippi (B.B. King's birthplace as well) on September 11, 1904. He soon learned to play the harmonica. By 1918 he had a job in a drugstore in Greenwood, Mississippi and could often been seen on the streets playing music for tips. Five years later he migrated to Chicago. There he met guitarist Big Bill Broonzy and the two started working club dates around the city as a duo and would soon form an enduring recording partnership. Gillum made his recording debut for the Bluebird label in 1934 with "Early In The Morning" b/w "Harmonica Stomp." The records evidently didn't sell and Gillum didn't record again for two years. Gillum's recordings were very much in the Bluebird mold yet he often rose above the production line sound to record a fair number of high quality blues. Between 1934-1942 Gillum recorded 70 sides, every session featuring the fret work of Big Bill Broonzy. Gillum's most celebrated song during this period was "Key To The Highway" which he cut on May 9, 1940. Both Broonzy and Gillum claimed authorship of the song which was an enduring source of bitterness for Gillum. During World War II, there was a shortage of shellac and J.C. Patrillo, President of the American Federation of Musicians ordered a ban on all recordings. Gillum joined the Army in 1942 and served until 1945. Gillum resumed recording that year and in 1946 cut "Look On Yonder Wall" one of his most famous recordings. Starting in 1946 the brilliant William Lacey took over the guitar chores and his terrific electric work really adds a spark to Gillum's later recordings. Gillum made his last issued recordings as leader on January 25, 1949. Gillum would record once more on a 1961 date with Memphis Slim and Arbee Stidham. On March 29, 1966, during an argument, Gillum was shot in the head and was pronounced dead on arrival at Garfield Park Hospital in Chicago.

Jazz GillumEasily the most important harmonica player of the pre-war era, John Lee Williamson almost single-handedly made the harmonica a major instrument, leading the way for the amazing innovations of Little Walter and others who followed. Already a harp virtuoso in his teens, he learned from Hammie Nixon and Noah Lewis and ran with Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell before settling in Chicago in 1934. Sonny Boy signed to Bluebird in 1937. He recorded prolifically for Victor both as a leader and behind others in the vast Melrose stable (including Robert Lee McCoy and Big Joe Williams, who in turn played on some of Williamson's sides). Sonny Boy cut more than 120 sides in all for RCA from 1937 to 1947. John Lee was popular enough that by the 1940s, another blues harp player, Aleck/Alex "Rice" Miller, who was based in Helena, Arkansas, began also using the name Sonny Boy Williamson. His first recording session was supported by the great Big Joe Williams, at the beginning of his distinguished career playing delta blues guitar. After this session Sonny Boy alternated between guitar and piano backups, occasionally using both at the same session. His most frequent accompanists were Big Bill Broonzy and the record company's "house" piano player Blind John Davis. Other famous accompanists over the years were Eddie Boyd, Yank Rachel, Big Maceo and Willie Dixon. But some say the best accompanist was Joshua Altheimer, a piano player who played on the seven numbers of a 1940 session and then died the next year. Writer Pete Welding noted that the only significant difference between Big Joe Williams and Sonny Boy and those of say Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf is the matter of electric amplification. Othewise all the ingredients are the same: guitar, harp, bass and drums. He continues, "Big Joe and John Lee stand as vital, connecting links between the older Mississippi style and those of the postwar years." Sonny Boy Williamson wouldn't live to reap any appreciable rewards from his inventions. He died at the age of 34, while at the zenith of his popularity (his romping "Shake That Boogie" was a national R&B hit in 1947 on Victor), from a violent bludgeoning about the head that occurred during an apparent mugging on the South side. "Better Cut That Out," another storming rocker later appropriated by Junior Wells, became a posthumous hit for Williamson in late 1948. Williamson's style had a profund influence on those who followed including Billy Boy Arnold, Junior Wells, Little Walter, and Snooky Pryor among many others.


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