- May 1st.,1943-- David Lee Durham
- May 14th.,1934-- Grady Gaines
- May 29th.,1918-- William "Bill"/"Lazy Bill" Lucas
- May 1st.,1981-- Ethel V. Finnie
- May 15th.,2012-- Donald "Duck" Dunn
- May 31st.,2000-- Johnnie Harrison Taylor, aka "The Blues Wailer"
Some May Blues Births:
Answer to the April 2017 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for is/was Jack Owens, born as L.F. Nelson, on November 17, 1904, in Bentonia, Mississippi. The "Owens" surname came from his mother while the "Nelson" came from his father, who deserted the family when Jack was around 5 or 6 years old. While he was still in the picture his father and an uncle taught the youngster some chords on the guitar. As I stated in the question Jack also learned, as a youth, fiddle, piano, and fife, but stayed with the guitar as his instrument of choice. One of his local peers, Nehemiah "Skip" James, travelled to Jackson to get an audition with Henry Columbus "H.C." Speir, a record store owner and talent scout for several companies producing records. Out of that audition came a trip to Grafton, Wisconsin, to record several sides for Paramount Records. He had tried to get Jack to also go but Jack was not interested in traveling to perform. He chose instead to stay in Bentonia where he worked as a farmer, sold home-made bootleg liquor on the side, and ran a local in-town juke joint on weekends. He preferred to play his music on his front porch. Eventually his house became known as "Jack Owens' place, since, by then, all the furniture had been removed from the front parlor, and an opening cut in the wall, through to the kitchen, to pass through food and drinks. Some of the locals, which included Skip James and Henry Stuckey (who had taught both Skip and Jack how to play), played there sometimes. Jack would perform too, for the dancing. He could play and sing loud enough to be heard over the dancers. While playing he would keep time by stomping on the floor with his feet, a style that became known as "the Bentonia School". There's another bluesman, from Tutwiler, which is about 110 miles north of Bentonia, who used that style. Him, you probably know -- John Lee Hooker. Jack made no recordings until the late 1960's. He was first recorded one night, September 7, 1966, by musicologist David Evans. Two of those songs were released on a compilation album in 1968, "Goin' Up The Country". That album was made up of several bluesmen from Mississippi and Louisiana, with one or two songs by each, and was released on the Decca label. Jack's second album, again recorded by Evans on September 7, 1970, released in 1971, on the Testament label, featured Jack and his long-time friend, Benjamin "Blind Bud" Spires accompanying on harmonica. That album was titled "It Must Have Been The Devil". Spires was the son of Arthur "Big Boy" Spires who recorded with Chess Records in the 1950's and '60's. Jack's third album, "Jack Owens: Bentonia Country Blues", on the Albatross label, was recorded August 13 and 16, 1978, in Bentonia, by Gianni Marcucci. There was a 4th. album, "Blues From the Blue Front", recorded in April 1996, by Peter Redvers-Lee's Midnight Creeper Records, but it closed before it was released. Featured on it were Jack, Blind Bud Spires, Tommy Lee West, Mookey and Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, Cleo Pullman, and Jacob Stuckey. There are several compilations currently in print featuring a few songs by Jack. In the years after his 3rd. album, Jack performed at music festivals across the U.S.A. and Europe. He passed away on February 9, 1997, in Yazoo City, Mississippi.
Blues Question For May 2017: this bluesman, born in Mississippi, moved to Louisiana in his teens. He spent most of his life working outside the music field, but did perform, on the side. He recorded on at least four different labels, all in widely- spaced geographies and years. He performed from Massachusetts to California. He was one of 12 children and went on to have 10 of his own. Any idea who this bluesman is/was ??
Blues Trivia (kin'da, again) For May 2017: while putting together the info on/about Jack Owens, I was also looking into some old "string band" players -- James "Butch" Cage and Willie B. Thomas, who often performed together. One of their more daring tunes was "Kill That Ni@@er Dead", which was not racial, but rather about going after another man who you thought had "wronged you" with your woman. Ever curious, I kept looking and found quite a few more songs peppered with the "N" word. I found that it was also used by a lot of the Delta bluesmen. While looking through them I ran across another spot on Jack Owens, but not of that type of thing. Along with him, several other Bentonia area bluesmen were shown in reference to a cafe that opened up in Bentonia in 1948. It is the "Blue Front Cafe", where a lot of the locals and also the travelling bluesmen would perform, including Jack. It was founded by Carey and Mary Holmes, and is run today by Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, one of their sons, who is said to be the "last Bentonia School" player. The cafe is listed on the Mississippi Blues Trail. Here's the important part. While going through all of this hunting, I stumbled into a listing of a couple of videos that looked interesting. Boy, talk about under-estimating something! These two videos, about an hour long each, are time well-spent! There is a combination of historic footage not normally seen, from the early days of the development of the blues, leading into New York City, into Memphis, into Chicago, and into present-day blues-rock and blues. There is an interview with a bluesman, sitting in a chair in the side yard of the "Blue Front Cafe". As soon as I saw that spot I knew this video has to be passed on for all to made aware of and to see! Those videos are titled "Blues America, Part 1 and Part 2". If you love the blues and really want to learn more about it, watch the show, learn, and, above all, ENJOY!!
Some May Blues Passings:
Some April Blues Births:
Answer to the March 2017 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for was/is Robert Lee "R.L." Burnside, born November 23rd.,1926, in Harmontown, Mississippi. He played harmonica up until he was around 16, roughly, which is when took up the guitar. He was playing in public by age 22. One of the first people he had heard playing the blues, when he was 7 or 8 years old, was one of his neighbors, Mississippi Fred McDowell, who would, in later years, teach R.L. on the guitar. He moved to Chicago in the mid/late 1940's, where, as I listed in the question, his time there was troubled, to say the least. After that he moved south again and married Alice Mae Taylor, in 1949. He moved several times between Memphis and northern Mississippi, which is where he would eventually settle, mostly, at first, staying in remote areas. Up into the 1980's he only played music part time. His full time or day job was as a sharecropper, farming soy and/or cotton, a truck driver, or as a commercial fisherman, selling "product" door to door. In Holly Springs, R.L. played gigs in local juke joints, bars, at picnics, and at his own house parties. His first recordings were made in 1967, as field recordings, by George Mitchell. He recorded more sides in 1969, 1975, and again in 1979/80, all done stateside. In the late '70's/early '80's, he met and formed a "partnership" with another "Mississippi Hill Country" bluesman-- Junior Kimbrough. Between 1980 and 1986, he recorded almost exclusively in France and the Netherlands, while on tour there, and at least once in New Orleans, Louisiana. Those albums, and a videotape, were only released in Europe. About 10 years later, after R.L. had shut down "Burnside's Palace", he moved next door to "Junior's Place", a juke joint that Kimbrough owned in Chulahoma, which originally was a church. That venue was burned to the ground in an arson fire on April 6, 2000. In 1991 R.L. had signed with Fat Possum Records, with whom he would remain until his passing. He recorded albums in 1992, 1994,and 1996. That '96 album was with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and was credited to R.L., titled "A Ass Pocket of Whiskey". The album won critical acclaim from most, but Living Blues magazine called it "possibly the worst blues album ever made". Later, there were more recordings and also some albums put together using re-mixes of earlier recordings. After a heart attack in 2001, followed by another in 2002, he no longer played guitar but did do guest appearances/performances as a singer up into 2004. He passed away September 1, 2005, in Memphis. There are many c.d.'s and vinyl albums of his recordings available, including a 7-disc set titled "The George Mitchell Collection, Volumes 1-45", which includes the field recordings he made, along with other Mississippi bluesmen being featured.
Blues Question for April 2017: this bluesman, at a very young age, learned some blues chords on guitar. While still a child, he was also taught to play fiddle, piano, and fife. He didn't want to be a professional musician and, for years, he only played on his front porch. He worked mostly as a farmer but he did have other "sidelines". Any idea who this bluesman might be??
Blues Trivia for April 2017 (kinda): This is more for your information rather than straight trivia. When The Sound of Blue was started I had the lofty goal of having in stock every current blues recording that was available at that time, which included tapes, c.d.'s, vinyl (45's and albums), VHS tapes, and DVD’s. At that time there were roughly 6,000 items, with another 4 to 6 thousand available that were duplicates, on other labels or other formats. It didn't take too long to figure out that my initial goal was not to be. It took a little while longer for me to accept it, though. Today, just in the catalogue of one vendor from whom I purchase, there are over 18,000 available. Same problem as before, a lot of them are duplicates on different labels. Same artwork, same appearance, sometimes vastly different prices. There's another problem that pops up also: what or who you're hunting for may not show up in the genre you think it's in. I have found that when a blues fan is trying to find a particular performer/album/song, or hunting it some other way, the info they have is either incomplete or totally wrong. Biggest problem appears to be "genre" listings, as these can be determined by the artist, the record company, whoever manufactures the item, the guy who enters it in the computer at the warehouse level, and sometimes the stock boy who puts it away. When you're hunting for blues, especially today's artists, it may be listed as: blues, psycho-blues, folk, world, jazz, rap, hip-hop, soul, rock, rhythm & blues, rock & roll, oldies, pop, or even big-band. I'll give you one quick example: Chuck Berry. He was the first one I heard playing blues, on a 45: "Deep Feeling" (an instrumental using a lap steel guitar), which was the flip side of "School Day". Since his passing, I was browsing through his catalogue, and there are 93 items with him listed as the main artist and over 1,100 with him or his music/songs available. While going through that list, I found him listed under jazz, soul, rhythm & blues, rock & roll, oldies, Hawaiian, and world. Here's a little bit of trivia: Chuck first started playing in public when he was in high school, Sumner High School in St. Louis, at the school. While still in high school, he was arrested, tried, and convicted of armed robbery, for which he served 3 years, 1944-1947.
Some April Blues Passings:
Some March Blues Births:
Answer to the February Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for is/was "Earring" George Mayweather, born September 27., 1927, in Montgomery County, Alabama. He received a harmonica as a Christmas present when he was six years old. He taught himself to play it after listening to John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson I. After George moved to Chicago he met and became friends with Little Walter (Jacobs), who would teach George techniques on the harp. This was in 1949 or thereabouts. In the February Blues Blog I mentioned that he lived next door to a blues guitarist of some note. That person was Joseph Benjamin "J.B." Hutto, the uncle of both James "Pookie" Young, a bass player, and "Lil' Ed" Williams (of "Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials"), a vocalist and slide guitarist, who were half-brothers. Early in the 1950's he teamed up with Eddie "Porkchop" Hines, a percussionist, to perform at/in the Maxwell Street market. In 1952, after Little Walter had left Muddy Waters' touring band to start his own solo career, George was offered that job, but turned it down. You have to remember that this was when Muddy was just starting to get big. What if George had taken that job? Would it have made him more well-known? Who knows? At that time, however, he was mostly working with Hutto, with occaisional work as a session man in the band backing Bo Diddley (Ellas McDaniel, born as Ellas Otha Bates) on recordings. By December 1953, J.B. Hutto had brought in/ hired Porkchop Hines on percussion and Joe Custom, on 2nd. guitar. He then hired "Earring" George on harp, and named the band "J.B. Hutto and the Hawks". In January/ February of 1954, they recorded four sides. In October, they added Johnny Jones on piano and recorded two more sides. All of these were on the Chance label. George got the "Earring" moniker from "Big Bill" Hill, a Chicago radio D.J., promoter, and T.V. host of blues and other music programs. In the late 50's, George recorded several sides with Eddie "Playboy" Taylor, some of which were released as singles, but they weren't as successful as those done with Hutto. In the 1980's he moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he landed a permanent gig at the 1369 Jazz Club. In 1992 he recorded his only album, "Whup It,Whup It", on the Tone Cool Records label. He passed away in Boston on February 12th.,1995, of liver cancer.
Blues Question for March 2017: I usually give you questions about relatively "unknowns" in the blues, or ones that are mostly overlooked. How about this time I give you an easy one, even though this bluesman's life was anything but easy? Born in Mississippi, as were a lot of the blues musicians, he, at one time, moved to Chicago. That proved to be a rough time for him, as while he lived there his father, two of his own brothers, and two of his uncles were all murdered there. He, after that moved to Memphis for a time, and then back to Mississippi. He, himself, was incarcerated at/ in Parchman Farm, a prison, if you're not familiar with the name, for a murder that happened during a dispute over a crap game. He made his first recordings in 1967. Ring any bells? Any idea who this bluesman is/was??
Blues Trivia for March 2017: the music of today's "blues artists" shows the definite trend of merging rock, soul, rhythm & blues, country, jazz, and even sometimes, blues. If you go back quite a few years, however, you'll find that this is not something new. I have been told, more than a few times, that I'm a "blues purist". Well, maybe so, but I do go back to early rock & roll, rock, jazz, rockabilly, and many other genres of music, both to listen and enjoy, and for research to learn/ discover more about the blues. When you start really looking at these different genres of music, what you'll find is that they all have one thing in common-- how much each of them has been influenced by the blues! Let me give you just one example here -- Danny Gatton, guitarist. Ever hear of him? He was born September 4th.,1945, as Daniel W. Gatton Jr.. His father was also a guitarist, but gave it up to take care of his family. Danny was a teenager when he first started playing in bands. What he did was fuse be-bop, country, rock & roll, rockabilly, jazz, soul, and blues into his works. From out of his ability to do that, he was dubbed with the nickname "The Telemaster", as he played/favored a 1953 Fender Telecaster. He would later be called "the Humbler", because of his ability to out-play anyone who was foolish enough to compete with him in a match session. He has also been called "the world's greatest unknown guitarist". In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time", had him ranked at 63rd. In 2010, Gibson guitars ranked him as 27th. best of all time. He was/is recognized by Eric Clapton, Steve Earle, and Les Paul. He is also admired by Les Paul, Bill Kirchen (Hot Rod Lincoln), Albert Lee, Steve Vai, Richie Sambora, "Slash", and many others. He performed with Roy Buchanan, Jorma Kaukonen, Lonnie Mack, Alvin Lee, and Jimmie Vaughan, among others. The trivia part is that he was a mentor to an eleven year old fledgling guitarist, someone you're probably familiar with-- "Smokin'" Joe Bonamassa!! You want to know more about Danny, or how we lost him-- look him up-- you'll be surprised or, maybe, saddened.
Some March Blues Passings:
Some February Blues Births:
Answer to the January 2017 Blues Question: The bluesman we were looking for is/was Benjamin Joe "Bennie" Houston, born November 6, 1943, in Panola, Alabama-- an area known as the "Black Belt", because of its topsoil's richness. That is the "uplands area", which runs from East Texas through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, and was the dominant cotton-producing area of the day. Bennie was the 9th. of eleven children. At the age of 4, he was given a guitar by his brother Earle, who was leaving for military service. He learned to play it by age 6. In 1962, after his graduation from high school, he moved to Chicago to join his brothers "Sweetman"(Elijah), Milton and Nathaniel, who were performing under the name "Sweetman and The Sugar Boys". He was immediately brought into the group. Sometime after his joining, his brother Nathaniel, on his way home after a gig on the South Side, was killed in an automobile accident. The remaining brothers, being superstitious, broke up the band, vowing never to play together again, so they would not all perish together. Bennie performed after that under the name "Dog Man", for a period. On finding out that that name was already being used by another performer, he switched his performing name to one that was a fictional character, a jewel thief and bank robber in the periodicals of an earlier time-- "Boston Blackie". Those stories, first published in 1914, were written by a man named Jack Boyle, whose pen-name was "No.6066", as he was in prison at the time, once for bad checks and later for robbery. Anyhow, Blackie, influenced by his brother Milton, improved his playing by sitting in with notables, such as Johnny B Moore, Lee "Shot" Williams, Little Milton (Campbell), Magic Sam (Maghett), Otis Rush, Freddy King (sometimes spelled Freddie), Kansas City Red (Arthur Lee Stevenson), Homesick James (Williamson), Little Walter (Jacobs), Hubert Sumlin (long time guitarist in Howlin' Wolf's band), and Jimmy "Fast Fingers" Dawkins. Blackie played at most of the West Side venues at one time or another. On the weekends, together with Necktie Nate (who later owned one of those clubs), he would play at the corners of Pulaski and Roosevelt Streets. Blackie was extremely dark-skinned, and Nate, joking with the fans/crowd, would offer $5.00 to anyone who was "blacker than Blackie"--- they never had to pay!! On July 11th.,1993, at around 1:00 AM, at a stage set up in a vacant lot on West 5th. Street, Boston Blackie, during an argument with one of his band members and friend of about 30 years, was shot in the eye with a .38 revolver. That friend, James Yancey "Taildragger" Jones, and Blackie had been, for sometime, arguing about money that Jones felt he was shorted for their performance at the Chicago Blues Festival in May. Jones claimed it was self-defense and that Blackie "had pulled a knife on him". Jones was charged with 1st. degree murder. I've found different records of the actual charges in his conviction. One indicates he was convicted of 2nd. degree murder. Another shows him being convicted of manslaughter. As he served 17 months in jail, the latter is probably correct. Taildragger is still performing and recording. By the way, he got that nickname from/by Howlin' Wolf because he often showed up late for gigs with "Wolf".
Blues Question For February 2017: This bluesman got his start, as did quite a few others, with a Christmas present. In his case, a harmonica, at the age of six. He would, later in life, meet a harmonicist who would give him lessons. He lived next door to a blues guitarist of some note, with whom he would perform and, later, record, while living in Chicago. He recorded only one album under his own name. Any idea who this bluesman is/was ??
Blues Trivia for February 2017: A man named Art Sheridan owned a record- pressing plant, Armour Plastics, in Chicago. He also owned American Record Distributors, located at 2011 South Michigan Avenue. He started the Chance Record Co. label in August of 1950, and opened for business in September. It started out as a 78 rpm only label. He got into trouble with the musician's union and in August of 1951 through May of 1952, he lost his license to be able to record any union musicians. For every problem, there's a solution, so to keep the business going, he started to record gospel groups and musicians, as, at that time, they were not in the union. Late in 1952, he added 45 rpm records to his offerings. Once his "ban" was lifted, he moved the record company and distribution operations to 1151 East 47th. Street. Being a businessman, Art made some deals to press/release records made by some of the smaller companies, though he did do some for Chess. One of the recordings of one of the small labels, ORA-NELL, was by a man named Little Walter J. That recording was originally done in 1947. It featured Little Walter J(acobs) on harmonica, Othum Brown on guitar, and a second guitarist named Jimmy Rogers. The "A" side was "Ora-Nell Blues", which featured Brown on vocals. The "B" side was "Just Keep Loving Her", with Little Walter on vocals. That was the first recording of both Little Walter and Jimmy Rogers. Most people think Chance did the first recording of Little Walter. Wrong again. There was, however, one bluesman of note who DID do his first recordings (six sides) at Chance Records--- J.B. Hutto and the Hawks. Chance Records was closed down in December of 1954. Sheridan went on to become a silent partner in Vee-Jay Records, who were the first to record Jimmy Reed. During Chance's short life, they recorded 360 sides and purchased/leased 44 more. Its subsidiary label, Meteor (not to be mistaken for the Bihari Brothers Meteor label), released 1. Another "spin-off" label, Sabre, released 9.
Some February Blues Passings:
Here we are-- a brand new year! Hope everyone had a good Christmas season and a safe beginning to the New Year, with, hopefully, more to follow!
Some January Blues Births:
Answer to The December 2016 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for was/is Maynard Silva, born February 20th., 1951, in Oak Bluffs, a town, which has several communities, on the island known as Martha's Vineyard, that is south of Cape Cod and is part of Massachusetts. At his birth, the family lived in the community of Vineyard Haven, where his father, Frank, worked at a gas station and managed the local cemetery. His mother, Mabel, worked at Vineyard Dry Goods. Maynard attended Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, from which he graduated in 1969. While still in that school, he met and then apprenticed with Peter Ortiz, a local sign painter. He had his musical interest peaked by his English teacher, Leroy Hazelton, who played a "Howlin' Wolf" record for him. Maynard would say in a later interview that that record and music scared him because it was so intense. He had only heard rock and roll before. Then he was further encouraged musically by his art teacher, Gene Baer, who was a boogie - woogie piano player, and explained music theory to Maynard. After graduation he entered Lindenwood College, near St. Louis. Not finding the blues scene he wanted, he travelled down-river to Memphis on weekends, where he would spend time in the clubs on Beale Street. He quit college to play blues in Memphis, which was the start of his career, around 1972, which is when he met and performed with Bukka White. From then on he was playing professionally, and touring extensively, performing with bluesmen such as Buddy Guy, J.B.Hutto, and Rick Danko. Sadly, as has happened to many musicians, he became an addict during this period. By the late 1980's he quit touring and returned to the Vineyard, started a family, and worked as a sign painter. That marriage ended in divorce, and he raised his son, Milo, on his own. In 1998 he met his second wife, a local artist, Basia Jaworski. They were married in 2007. During those years he still played local gigs and helped others to learn the music craft, as he was a great slide guitar player, as well as harmonica. He was known across the country by his usual performing outfit-- a top hat and red, high-top sneakers and the ever-present National steel guitar. He played and sang from the gut, as did the early bluesmen, not like some of today's players, who play from the head and the bank. Maynard passed away on July 16th., 2008, after a three year battle with cancer. He was 57.
January 2017 Blues Question: this bluesman had mastered the guitar by the age of 6. Born in Alabama, he migrated to Chicago to be with three of his brothers. He took his best-known stage name from a fictional character. He learned from and performed with at least twelve different big names in the Chicago blues clubs. He was only 49 years old when he passed. Any idea who this bluesman is/was??
Blues Trivia for January 2017: over the years, the music recording business in Chicago has been steady, good for some, not so good for others. Some labels have been around for a long time, while others have been/ were short-lived. One of those short-lived ones was Chief Records and its subsidiaries Profile and Age Records. They operated from 1957 to 1964. It was founded by a 25 year old R & B entrepreneur named Mel London ( 4-9-1932 / 5-16-1975). One of his main assets was a session man he had by the name of Earl Hooker, who worked closely with him. Hooker, who was recognized as one of the best blues guitarists in the Chicago area, was involved in over a dozen recording sessions. His playing was featured in at least 40 titles and over 25 singles. Twelve of those were released under his own name, with the rest showing him as a sideman for others, including Amos "Junior" Wells, A.C.Reed, Lillian Offitt, and Ricky Allen. Some of the other artists who recorded on the three different labels were Elmore James, Magic Sam (Maghett), Otis Rush, John Lee Hooker (as a sideman), and Johnny "Big Moose" Walker. Following some financial problems, the Chief and Profile labels were discontinued in late 1961. The Age label lasted until 1964. The trivia part is that on May 3rd.,1961, Earl Hooker recorded an instrumental blues (now a blues staple), called "Blue Guitar", with A.C.Reed on tenor sax, "Big Moose" Walker on organ, Lafayette Leake on piano, Earnest Johnson on bass, and Bobby Little on drums. Lo and behold, on June 27th., 1962, Muddy Waters "overdubbed" his vocal onto that track and re-named it "You Shook Me", and then released it. And, like most, you thought it was an original!! By the way, I also found a spot where someone credited it to Willie Dixon.
Some January Blues Passings:
Hi, Blues Fans: just to let you know, the 2017 blues calendars are in, featuring original blues artwork from the 1920's/'30's, and a 23 track cd of music from the same period.
Now, it's another December, the month of Christmas and New Years Eve parties, and when and where possible, family gatherings. To all, we wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Yes, I know by today's standards, that it's not politically correct, but I'm sure that with any blues fan, it is correct. What-- the song should be "Happy Holiday, Baby”? That would be a severe injustice to Charles Brown! His original vocal was with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, “Merry Christmas, Baby" (1947), on the Aladdin label, #254.
Thanks to all who attended/participated in/at the NEOBA 2016 Christmas Party. It is/was for good causes!
December Blues Births:
Answer to the November 2016 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for was/is Houston Stackhouse, born Houston Goff, September 28th.,1910, in Wesson, Mississippi. He was raised by James Wade Stackhouse, on the Randall Ford Plantation. He only found out about his biological parentage in 1976, when he applied for a passport to perform in Vienna, Austria (which was his only overseas trip). When he was around 15, his family moved to Crystal Springs. At around that point he became interested in music while listening to local musicians and records by Arthur "Blind" Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Lonnie Johnson. The local musicians from whom he learned to play guitar were brothers Tommy, Mager, LeDell, and Clarence Johnson. From the late '20's up to about 1932, Houston worked with Tommy Johnson and his own distant cousin, Robert Lee McCollum (aka Robert Lee McCoy; best known as Robert Nighthawk), who, it has been said, Houston taught to play guitar. Houston himself played guitar, violin, mandolin, and harmonica. During his career, from the early '30's through 1969, he, at various times, worked with Jimmy Rogers, The Mississippi Sheiks (2nd. group), Robert Lockwood Jr., Little Walter Jacobs, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Frank Frost, Peck Curtis, Boyd Gilmore, and Joe Willie Wilkins, to name a few. He performed, at different times, on the "King Biscuit Time" and "Mother's Best Flour Hour " programs on KFFA radio, in Helena, Arkansas. During this period he only performed in the Delta area. He did his first recording session in 1967, in Dundee, Mississippi, on the Testament label. From 1970 on he started to travel more to perform. Some of the places he played were Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York City, Boston, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Florida. He passed away September 23rd., 1980, five days short of his 70th. birthday, in Helena, Arkansas.
Blues Question For December 2016: this bluesman is of Portuguese descent. He plays slide guitar and harmonica in the late Delta/ early Chicago style. He was quoted as saying, in a 1994 interview, " it's hard to see this big explosion of BMW blues, you know? I mean Eric Clapton, a multimillionaire, singing about five long years working in a steel mill? ". His biggest influence was Booker T. Washington " Bukka " White. Any idea who this bluesman is??
Blues Trivia for December 2016: (this whole thing is trivia this time) As a blues fan, are you familiar with the Aristocrat record label? No ? I'll bet you are! It was founded in April, 1947, in Chicago, by five people: two husband and wife couples and one individual. In September of that same year, another investor bought into the company, a guy by the name of Leonard Chess. By 1948 Leonard had bought out the rest of the group, and, with one of the founding wives, Evelyn Aron, ran the company. By early 1950 Leonard and brother, Phil, became sole owners. In June of that year the company's name was changed to Chess Records. In January of 1951, the Aristocrat label was officially discontinued. During the period from 1947 into 1950, two of the artists who recorded on the Aristocrat/Chess labels were notable. One of them was Muddy Waters. The other was Robert Nighthawk (born as Robert Lee McCollum). The two competed for the top billing spot, as both were "slide" players of the same style. As Muddy won the spot, Nighthawk moved to the " United " and " States " labels. Oh, by the way, at the age of 17, Nighthawk had a son, born Samuel Lee McCollum. You may have heard the son's later name, taken from his adoptive parents-- Sam Carr, a well-known drummer who could also play bass. Carr, Frank Frost, and "Big" Jack Johnson later formed " The Jelly Roll Kings ".
Some December Blues Passings:
Some November Blues Births
Answer To The October 2016 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for is/was Freddie Spruell, aka Papa Freddie or Mr. Freddie, born December 28th.,1893, probably in Lake Providence, Louisiana. He is regarded as the first Delta bluesman to be recorded, though he, as a boy, had moved to Chicago with his family. He is regarded as a Delta bluesman because he played in the style of the music he had heard in his youth, before the move to Chicago. The distinction of being the first two to record blues vocals goes to Mamie Smith, who recorded in August, 1920, and "Blind" Lemon Jefferson, who recorded in March, 1926. The first song Freddie recorded, "Muddy Water Blues" on the OKeh label, #9908A, on June 25th.,1926, in Chicago. His second recorded song, "Milk Cow Blues", same label, same town, but on November 17th.,1926, was #9793A. He recorded both as "Papa Freddie". Both were released as #8122. He would, later, record on the Paramount and Bluebird labels, though he only recorded over a nine year period. A couple of things about his early recordings-- "Milk Cow Blues" is generally considered by blues historians and fans to have been first written and recorded by "Sleepy" John Estes on May 13th.,1930, in Memphis. Another "oops" in blues facts. By the way, that song has been covered by many people and should be familiar to you. Some of those are Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson and Eddie Cochran(Summertime Blues), just to name a few. Another song, recorded on April 12th.,1935, in Chicago, with the featured artist shown as "Sugar Cane Johnny"(Ellis), had Freddie as the guitarist and "Washboard Sam"(Robert Brown) on washboard. That song was titled as "Who Pumped The Wind In The Doughnuts?". That song was originally recorded in New York City on January 6th.,1933, and was titled as "Mama's Doughnut", performed by "Spark Plug Smith". A few months after the 1935 version by Sugar Cane Johnny, it was recorded by Washboard Sam and re-titled again as "Who Pumped The Wind In My Doughnut", and was a hit for Sam. In the late 1920's Freddie met and married his lifetime wife. She said, in an interview years after Freddie's passing, that the last time he played was for his mother's birthday, and that his mother asked him to stop playing blues and return to the church, which he did. By 1945 he was a preacher in a Baptist church, but didn't do so often, and he never played in church. He passed away on June 19th.,1956, in Chicago, after a prolonged hospital stay. No death certificate has ever been found. One odd thing about Freddie is that he always used a 12-string guitar, where almost all other Delta bluesmen used either a 4 or 6-string guitar.
Blues Question For November 2016: this bluesman learned guitar at the age of 17, from some of the early greats in blues. He would later go on to teach and sometimes play with the latest greats. He made his first recordings at the age of 57. He's not well-known because he didn't like to travel to perform. Any ideas who this bluesman is ??
Blues Trivia For November 2016: if you read the October 2016 Trivia section, you'll remember that it covered the ABCO, Cobra, and Aritocrat labels and that it gave a start to some of the blues greats. One of those listed was "Magic Sam" Maghett, who made his first hit record, "All Your Love", in May of 1957 (featuring Willie Dixon on bass). Now we'll cover some of the trivia around Sam. His first actual recording session was backing Morris Pejoe on "Screaming and Crying" and "Maybe Blues", on the short-lived ABCO label in May of 1956. Sam would first record under his own name on the fore-mentioned "All Your Love", which was recorded on the Cobra label a few months later. Sam was drafted into the U.S.Army in 1959, and promptly deserted, which netted him six months in the stockade(jail) and a dishonorable discharge. He "rehabilitated" himself in the early 1960's and became a sought-after performer. He toured quite a bit with Charlie Musselwhite. Sam's uncle and part-time manager was "Shakey Jake" Harris. At the time Sam recorded for ABCO and Cobra records he used the pseudonym "Good Rocking Sam", but changed that to Magic Sam, which was suggested by his longtime friend and current bass player, Mack Thompson. The reason for the change being that another performer, a blues and rhythm and blues singer went by the "Good Rocking Sam" moniker. His real name was Sam Beasley, and he recorded on the Excello label, usually with the Kid King Combo, out of Memphis
Some November Blues Passings
Some October Blues Births:
Answer To The September 2016 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for is/ was William "Bill"/"Lazy Bill" Lucas, born August 29th.,1918, in Wayne, Arkansas. He was supposedly born partially blind. By 1924 the family had moved to Advance, Missouri, where he worked on a farm. By 1930 he had taught himself to play guitar, and from 1930 to 1932, he worked the streets, playing for tips. In 1932 he taught himself to play piano. In 1936 or '37 he moved to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where he worked as a "hillbilly" guitarist. He then went to Commerce, Missouri, where he performed from late 1937 through 1939. In 1940 he moved to St. Louis, where he worked the streets with "Big Joe" Williams, though Bill sometimes worked alone. In early 1941 he moved to Chicago, where he worked the Maxwell Street area with John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson (I), with whom he would tour during the 1940's. Some of the people he worked with while in Chicago were Willie Mabon, Little Walter (Jacobs), Earl Dranes, "Homesick" James (Williamson, who sometimes performed/ recorded as "Jick and His Trio"), Snooky Prior, "Little Hudson" (Shower), Little Willie Foster, and JoJo Williams. In around 1964 Bill moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he would reside until his passing. While living there he sometimes performed with George "Mojo" Buford. Also while living there; he worked the "college circuit" and festivals in the northeast. Bill recorded on the Chance, Parrot, J.O.B., Cobra, Blue Lake, Excello, Wild, Lazy, Atomic, Colt, Atomic-H, and LaSalle labels. He passed away in his sleep, at home, of natural causes, on December 12th.,1982.
Blues Question For October 2016: This bluesman performed and recorded under three different names. It has been said that he recorded two more songs, under a 4th name. One of his songs, the first he had written and recorded, has been covered by over one hundred different artists and/ or bands. Not surprisingly, its' writing has been credited to two other bluesmen, incorrectly. He eventually quit performing music and became a Baptist preacher. Any idea who this bluesman is/ was ??
Blues Trivia For October 2016: Over the years there have been many record labels associated with recording the blues, especially in the beginning. At that time , they were called "Race Records". Some of those labels you're probably familiar with, such as Victor, OKeh, Black Swan, Excello, Decca, Mercury, Paramount, King, and many others. This is one of the "lesser-known" , Cobra, and its' subsidiary, Artistic. of Chicago, founded by Eli Toscani, in 1956. That label gave the start to the careers of Otis Rush, "Magic Sam" (Maghett), Buddy Guy, "Shakey Jake" (Harris), and others. It started the "new generation" of blues artists and brought a new sound to the blues, which, eventually, would be called "The West Side Sound". The first song recorded at Cobra was "I Can't Quit You, Baby" (which has since been covered by many artists), by Otis Rush, in 1956. In 1957 Magic Sam recorded his signature tune-- "All Your Love". In 1958 Buddy Guy & His Band recorded "Sit and Cry (the Blues)", backed with "Try to Quit You Baby", on the Artistic subsidiary label. Some of the others who recorded on the Cobra/ Artistic label(s) were Walter "Shakey" Horton, Sunnyland Slim (Albert Laundrew), Lee Jackson, Little Willie Foster, Harold Burrage, Guitar Shorty (David Kearney), Betty Everett, Shakey Jake Harris, and Ike Turner. There are several bits of trivia with this label and its' owner. ABCO records was started in April of 1956, by Eli Toscano (who owned a TV repair shop), Ted Daniels (producer, songwriter, singer), and Joe Brown (owner of A.B. Record Distributing and , later, the founder/ owner of J.O.B. Records). The label lasted only four months, supposedly ending because of differences between Toscano and Brown. In July Cobra Records was started, with Ted and a new financial "partner", Howard Bedno. The trivia parts are that early in 1957, Eli hired Willie Dixon away from Chess Records, to be the talent scout, arranger, songwriter, producer, and bassist. The other part is that Cobra Records folded in 1959, when its' owner, Eli, was found in the Chicago River, wearing cement shoes, possibly because of unpaid gambling debts. Shakey Jake Harris (who got his nickname from his ability with the dice), who was a professional gambler for 15 years before starting his recording career, was quoted as earlier saying that "Eli was a crap-shootin' fool". After that Willie Dixon returned to Chess Records, and you should already know that it was the most productive time for both Willie and the Chess label.
Some October Blues Passings:
Some September Blues Births:
Answer to the August 2016 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for was/is William Paden Hensley, better known as "Washboard Willie", born July 24th.,1909, in Fort Mitchell, Alabama. The family moved shortly thereafter to Columbus, Georgia. There, by the age of six, he had mastered the drums. In those early years he went to tent, vaudeville, and minstrel shows. He sometimes performed around the area, but not professionally, on drums. Influenced by what he had seen at those shows, somewhere between 1932 and 1940, he bought a wooden framed, steel washboard. To it he attached a 4" frying pan and part of an old dog leash (to be able to suspend it from his neck). Then, using eight metal thimbles, he beat out songs. The pan, he thought, gave it a better sound. In 1945 he moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he worked washing cars at a local dealership. In 1952 he and a friend went looking to find a local blues musician named John Lee Hooker. Instead, who they found first, playing at the Harlem Inn, was Eddie "Guitar" Burns and his band. After listening to a few songs, Willie realized that the drummer was playing "off-time". Willie went out to his car, got his washboard, returned to the club, and started to play in time with the band. After he had finished playing the second song the club owner came over and booked him to play the coming weekend. It ended up with Willie and the Eddie Burns band playing there for three years. Willie's first recordings were as a sideman, with The Eddie "Guitar" Burns Band, in 1953, on the DeLuxe label of Detroit. Somewhere around that time, while working at his day job washing cars, he came up with the name for his own band--" Washboard Willie and The Suds of Rhythm" (sometimes you'll find them listed as The Super Suds of Rhythm). The name came from a laundry soap of the time, which he might have been using at his job. When they were performing in 1955, he gave "Little Sonny" Willis his start (you'll find Little Sonny listed in an earlier blog). Willie first recorded under his own name, Washboard Willie and the Suds of Rhythm, in 1956, on the J-V-B label (named after Joe Von Battle, one of the first black record producers). During his recording career, which spanned from 1953 through 1973, he recorded on the DeLuxe, J-V-B, VON, Blue Lake, Dot, Modern, Knowles, Excello, Herculon, Barrelhouse, Drummond, and Big Bear/Polydor labels. Some of those were under his own name, while others were with him as a sideman for Baby Boy Warren, Lena Hall, Louise Jackson, Henry Smith and His Blue Flames, Calvin Frazier, and Brother Will Hairston. Though most of his work was in Detroit, he did play at the Monterey Jazz Fest in California, recorded in Chicago, and toured England and Europe with The American Blues Legends in 1973. He performed in clubs and at festivals in Detroit and Ann Arbor into the mid 1980's. He passed away in Detroit on August 24th.,1991, of a heart attack.
NOTE: As I have said before, every time you dig into the history of some of the lesser-known blues artists of the past, you start running into conflicting "facts" about them. On Willie, the more I dug, the more confusing it got. He is shown as being born in 1901 and 1909, with the latter showing up more often than the former. His place of birth is another one. I picked the Fort Mitchell location because that source supposedly checked birth records. In 1813/1814, Fort Mitchell was actually a cavalry garrison to protect the people during the Creek Wars. That is located in Russell County. Another source has his birthplace as Union Springs, Alabama, which was incorporated in 1817, after the Creek Wars. It's in Bullock County, which butts up to the west side of Russell County. Still other sources show him to be born in Columbus, Georgia (the home of Fort Benning). If you're familiar with the area, if you start at Columbus, take the bridge across the Chattahoochee River, you'd be in Phenix City, Alabama (yes, Phenix is spelled correctly). From there, go 10 miles (approx.) south and you'd be in Fort Mitchell. Go another 45 to 50 (approx.) miles south and you'd be in Union Springs. They're all close together, so take your pick!
Blues Question for September 2016: This bluesman was born partially blind. He learned (self-taught) his first instrument as a youth. In his teens, he switched instruments, and learned the second one. He did a lot of recording work-- though not under his own name. He later did a few of his own. He made his first money playing music when he was 12 years old. Any idea who this bluesman is/was ??
Blues Trivia for September 2016: previously, in the above answer to the August Blues Question, I listed Joe Von Battle as a black music producer, which is correct, but there was a lot more to him than that. Born Joseph Battle on April 3rd.,1915, in Macon, Georgia, he was a trained and licensed minister. He took the "Von" part of his name as a result of being a fan of the films of Erich Von Stroheim. He kept the Von as he believed that it made him appear to be of European descent, rather than African-American, in his later business dealings. Those dealings were after, in the 1930's, he had moved to Detroit with his wife and four children. He later re-married and had four more children. Skipping all the detail between his moving to Detroit in the 30's and 1948, I’ll pick it up there. By that time, he had established Joe's Records, at 3530 Hastings Street, which was the "hotbed" of black music (blues, R&B, jazz and gospel) at that time. He had roughly 35,000 records in stock and had set up a recording studio in the back of the building. That was the birth of the J-V-B, VON, and Battle record labels. A few of the people who recorded on the different listed labels were John Lee Hooker, Baby Boy Warren, Boogie Woogie Red (Vernon Harrison), Washboard Willie, Little Sonny Willis, Calvin Frazier, Eddie "Guitar" Burns, Joe Weaver, Memphis Slim (Peter Chatman), Little Willie John, One-String Sam (Wilson), Reverand Clarence Franklin, and Brother Will Hairston. There were many others! Here's where the trivia comes in. In 1960, Hastings Street, which was THE musical area for the local musicians and fans, and all the properties thereon, were demolished to make way for the Chrysler Freeway. Not to be deterred, Joe moved his businesses to 12th.Street, on the west side of Detroit. He kept recording all the types of music he always had, up until 1966. About this time he was diagnosed with Addison's Disease and was also afflicted with chronic alcoholism. In 1967, during the "race riots", his businesses were almost totally destroyed, as they were in the area of the problems. He passed on March 26th.,1973, from the effects of his illnesses. The last bit of trivia-- the aforementioned Rev. C. L. Franklin ?-- his daughter, who you know as ARETHA, made her first recording, in 1957, at the age of 14, for/on Battle's J-V-B records label, a gospel song-- "Never Grow Old"!!
Some September Blues Passings:
Some August Blues Births:
Answer To The July 2016 Blues Question: The bluesman we were looking for is/was Alexander "Alec" T. Seward (sometimes shown as Alec Stewart) aka "Blues Boy", "Blues King", "Georgia Slim", or/and "Guitar Slim". The others who used the "Guitar Slim" name were Eddie Jones, Guitar Slim Jr. (born as Rodney Glynn Armstrong and really is Eddie Jones's son), James Stephenson and Norman Green. Jones was/is probably the best-known of all, for his song "The Things That I Used To Do", which is still being covered by today's artists. Alec was born March 16, 1902, in Charles City, Virginia. Shortly after that the family moved to Newport News. There, from 1920 to 1923, he played at local parties and dances. After that time he moved to New York City, where he worked outside the music field, but did play at/for the occasional party. He did that from 1923 through the '30's. At different times during the '40's, he worked with Louis "Fat Boy" Hayes, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Leadbelly. In the '40's he only recorded with Hayes, under the names of "The Blues Boys", "The Backporch Boys", and with Hayes, featuring Alec as "Blues King". You can also find recordings of them listed as "Jelly Belly and Guitar Slim". He did a couple of recording sessions with Sonny Terry in the '50's, but he worked mostly outside music. In 1965 he recorded with Larry Johnson, featuring Johnson on harmonica, and in '66 with Sonny and Brownie. About that session, Sonny Terry was quoted as saying "There wasn't none better than him at singing". Alec passed away in New York City on May 11, 1972. He is buried in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Blues Question For August 2016: This bluesman is another of the "unsung bluesmen". He was born in Alabama and later moved to Detroit. He had mastered playing his first instrument by age 6. Most of his recording was done in Detroit, but he also recorded in Chicago and London, England. Some of his recordings can be found on DVD's of various festivals. He is shown, in error, as having written only one song of his own. Any idea of who this "forgotten" bluesman is ??
Blues Trivia For August 2016: Most all of the true blues songs are lamenting "that woman", "this man", "that train", or breaking-down cars or taxes, and/or all of the other everyday problems of life. Been that way since the beginning---still is that way, though the topics have changed. Consider "Telephone Blues", with versions credited to Bessie Smith, Sonny Terry, and Big John Wrencher, just to name a few. Now, it's "Cell Phone Blues" or "Cell Phone Man", recorded by artists such as Willie Buck, Nnenna Freelon, Michael Coghill, Cleveland Fats, and Bill Lupkin. Another is the ever-present type of blues song-- the Risque Blues, sometimes referred to as double-entendre type of songs, the meaning of which is to be interpreted by the listener. The ones I'm going to list are about the ladies, but ladies--please take no offense at them, as the female singers do the same thing about the men. Some of them are: "Big Fat Mama" by Big Joe Williams, "Big Fat Mama Blues" by Tommy Johnson, "Big Fine Girl" by Jimmy Witherspoon, "Big Butt Woman" by Blind Joe Hill, "Big Leg Blues" by Mississippi John Hurt, "Big Leg Mama" by James "Kokomo" Arnold, "Big Leg Woman" by Johnny "Geechie" Temple (a favorite of our departed friend and avid blues fan-- Fred Jones!), "Big Time Girl" by Peter Chatman, aka "Memphis Slim", and "Big Time Woman" by Roosevelt Sykes, aka "The Honeydripper". The trivia part is that one of this group of songs, "Big Hip Mamma", was done by Alec Seward, on whom I did the July Blues Question. I picked this group of songs to show the bluesmen's fondness for the ladies (and vice-versa)!
Some August Blues Passings:
As always-- Good Blues To 'Ya !!
Some July Blues Births:
Answer to the June 2016 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for was/is Joe Seneca, born Joel McGhee, in Cleveland, Ohio on January 4th.,1919. He first sang in the choir at Central High School. After high school, in his early career, he sang with a vocal group The Three Riffs, who were sometimes known as The Jungle Bugs or The Three Barons, performing in New York City after moving there. They would also perform in Boston, Cleveland, Chicago and St. Louis. He (they) recorded from 1939 to 1949, however little. Joe wrote two songs that were big hits-- "Talk to Me", recorded by Little Willie John, and "Break It to Me Gently", a 1962 hit for Brenda Lee and a 1982 hit for Juice Newton. He then went on to Hollywood to begin a new career, which started in the 1970's and went on into the '90's. We'll cover the t.v. spots first. He made several appearances as Dr. Zachariah J. Hanes, president of Hillman University, on The Cosby Show. He played Alvin Newcastle, a man afflicted with Alzheimer’s, on an episode of The Golden Girls. He played the accused, found innocent, on an episode of Matlock, titled "The Blues Singer". On that episode they, Seneca and Andy Griffith, did a duet, with acoustic guitars and vocals of "How Long, How Long Blues". His last episode on t.v. was on Law and Order, where he portrayed a blind murder witness. On the next size screen, he had an appearance on Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" video. Now, on to the big screen. In the 1982 film "The Verdict", he played Dr. Thompson. a witness for Attorney Frank Galvin, played by Paul Newman. The film was/is a really good courtroom/life drama, starring some of the big names of the time, and was nominated for 5 academy awards. In the 1985 film "Silverado" he played the father of Danny Glover's character. Joe made two films in 1988. one was Spike Lee's "School Daze", where he played President McPherson of Mission College. The film is a musical comedy drama based on Lee's experiences in college (s). It looks at members of black fraternity and sororities on a mostly black college campus on homecoming weekend, where the faculty is totally inept at it's job. The other two films are the ones for which he is best known. In 1988 he starred in the remake of 1958's "The Blob", as Dr. Christopher Meddows, the evil head of a government team. Now, on to the one all blues fans should recognize. In it, Joe played "Willie Brown", a blues guitarist/vocalist who is trying to help Eugene Martone, a classical guitarist who wants to be a bluesman, find a long-lost blues song. Willie is actually headed to a meeting to get out of his contract with the devil. This is the 1986 film "Crossroads", with Ralph Macchio playing Eugene. In the movie there's a cameo appearance by Frank Frost, harp player and member of the band "The Jelly Roll Kings". The soundtrack, still available by the way, was done by Ry Cooder and took a year to complete. This film, by the way, is what influenced "Geneva Red" to take up the blues harp. We met and spent some time with her some years back.
Blues Question for July 2016: this bluesman is credited with writing only seven songs, but he did a considerable amount of recording as a sideman. As he was one of fourteen children he didn't get into the blues until the age of about eighteen. One of the nicknames he used was used by at least four other bluesmen. Any idea who this bluesman is ??
Blues Trivia for July 2016: this is about another "blues genius" most people have never heard of. His name is "Kid" Wesley "Sox"/"Socks" Wilson, also known as Jenkins; Pigmeat Pete, born October 1st.,1893, in Jacksonville, Florida. From the age of twelve up to about nineteen, he played piano in a pit band in a local theater. Somewhere in that nineteenth year he met, teamed up with, traveled and performed with-- and married Leola B. Pettigrew, better known as Coot Grant. They remained together until he passed away on October 10th.,1958, in Cape May Court House, New Jersey, of a stroke. His "Socks" nickname came from one of his songs- "Dem Socks My Daddy Used To Wear". The "Coot" nickname came from a childhood pet name--"Cutie". From around 1912 he and Coot traveled and performed in the south, west and mid-west, making their first recording in Chicago in 1925. From there they went on to perform and record in New York City from that point up into the late 1930's/early 1940's. Socks and Coot were both good song writers and were hired by the best in that era to do so. Between them, they wrote over 400 songs. If you're a barbecue fan and go to one where period music is on in the background, one of their songs you'll probably hear is "Gimme a Pigfoot"(and a Bottle of Beer), made famous by Bessie Smith, and since then, recorded by many others--even Diana Ross. Due to illness, Socks quit performing in 1949. In 1951, he and Coot moved to Los Angeles, where they would remain until 1955, when they moved to Whitesboro, New Jersey. It has been said that while they lived in Los Angeles that they were "in financial distress". Besides Bessie, others who have recorded their songs are LaVern Baker, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Rory Block, Saffire--The Uppity Blues Women, Louis Jordan, B.B.King, Dr.John, Louis Armstrong and Count Basie, just to name a few.
Some July Blues Passings:
Comments about this Blues Blog: the bluesmen listed here, in the Answer to the Question area- Joe Seneca, and in the Trivia section- Socks Wilson, relatively unknown to most, were picked because they are a part of the "edges" or the "background" in a beautiful "painting" called the blues. Without the details, it's just another picture or just another genre of music. The blues is a living, breathing entity that needs to be fed and nurtured. Do your part to do that and, at the same time, you'll be doing yourself a favor. Go listen to some live blues in a juke joint, or some back-alley gut-bucket joint, or just some dive where blues is featured. Forget the highly polished, high-dollar "acts" and go see some real Blues. Enjoy it for what it really is about--LIFE!
Some June Blues Births:
Answer to the May 2016 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for is/was John Mayon "Johnny" "Big Moose" Walker, aka "Bushy Head", "Moose John" and "J.W. Walker", born in Stoneville, Mississippi on June 27th.,1927. He became interested in music at about 15. He took tuba lessons as a youth and later went on to learn organ, piano, vibraphone, guitar, bass and vocals. Though he was one of the "background" players, he not only had recordings of his own but also recorded/ performed with most of the great Chicago bluesmen, such as John Lee and Earl Hooker, Lefty Dizz, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Mighty Joe Young, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Jimmy Dawkins, Son Seals, Junior Wells, and Pinetop Perkins, just to name a few. He actually settled in Chicago about 1959, after many years touring/ recording with the fore-mentioned players. About the "Big Moose" nickname: him being part Native American, he had long, flowing hair (most of his life!) as a youth. He hung out at a pool hall in Greenville, Mississippi, where other youths also hung out. He asked them why they called him "Big Moose", to which the reply was "we thought it was a good fit for you". His two best-known songs are "Moose is on the Loose" and "Footrace". He suffered a massive stroke in the late 1980's and then resided in a rest home in Chicago until he passed away on November 27th., 1999.
Blues Question for June 2016: this bluesman is/was not a full-time bluesman as you know them. His professional career began with him as an R & B vocalist, in a trio, performing in New York City's fanciest clubs. From there he went into song-writing and wrote some that were hits for others. He then went into acting and did both bit parts in several sit-coms and also some major motion pictures. He is a good acoustic guitarist and vocalist. If you follow the blues at all, once you know the credits, you'll know the man! Any ideas on who he is ??
Blues Trivia for June 2016 (kinda'): instead of writing the normal trivia, I'm going to share some observations and comments on how this blog is put together. I hope to clarify what I try to do with it. Over the years, going to blues festivals, performances in clubs, or any other type of venue, if you listen to the fans or the crowd, you'll hear how well an act is being received (or not). Then as you talk with some of the people/ fans around you, chances are good that they will make some comparative comments about the earlier players (Muddy, the Wolf, the Sonny Boys, etc, on down the line). That's when different "facts" or "opinions" start to disagree. As I write these blogs, there are usually three sources, minimum, that are cross-checked to make sure the info I'm giving you is accurate and correct. That can easily get to 10 or 12 sources, because the more you dig, the more it becomes clear that some of the "facts" are someone's opinion and other sources don't bear that out as correct. Let's say that you want to check out the bio of a particular bluesman and you have a couple of books on the blues (large or small- it doesn't matter). You look up that artist's bio and it gives you the info you think is correct. In that bio is usually a list of other artists with whom the artist you're interested in has performed, so you check out some of them. Now you're in the same book, by the same author, but the info on the second person you're checking is in direct conflict with what you read in the first bio. NOW WHAT?? You check your other book and discrepancies also show up, though they may be different. OK, now we'll check the internet. What do we find? Another set of "facts", not quite like the first two inquiries results. At this point you have to keep digging until facts and info start tying things together. Sometimes you still have to guess, but you'll at least know you gave it your best shot. Want a small taste of that, already put together? Check out the earlier blog in the series about Ann Cole (shortened from Coleman), Muddy Waters, and the song " I Got My Mojo Working". That one was pretty easy, but they can get a whole lot more complex!
Some June Blues Passings:
Some May Blues Births:
Answer to the April 2016 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for is/was Otis V. Hicks, better-known as Lightnin' Slim, born March 13th.,1913, in St. Louis, Missouri. He was taught the basics of guitar by his father, when just a child. When he was 13, the family moved to St. Francisville, Louisiana (part of the Baton Rouge metro area), where Otis worked outside the music field. Eventually, he dropped out of school to work full-time, up into the 1930's. During that time he learned more on the guitar from his older brother, Layfield. In roughly 1945, he moved to Baton Rouge proper, where he started to sit in with local bands playing in small clubs and back-street ghetto (juke) joints. These gigs were part-time as he worked a regular job during the day. From the late 1940's into the '50's, he worked with Cleveland "Schoolboy Cleve" White in local clubs and on the radio. In 1954 he recorded some singles on the Feature label in Crowley, Louisiana, and on the ACE label in Jackson, Mississippi. In the mid '50's he worked with Slim Harpo (James Isaac Moore) and Jeffrey Tyson in local clubs in the Baton Rouge area. Also in the mid-"50's he recorded on the Excello label in Crowley. During those years and up into the early '60's he played local clubs and other venues with Moses "Whispering" Smith. In roughly 1965, Lightnin' moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he worked in a foundry. Records show that he was married to Slim Harpo's sister. There are other records that show that Lightnin' rented a room from Slim's sister. As I have said before, records are not always clear as to the actual facts. Lightnin' toured, performed, and recorded with Slim for the rest of his career. The touring and recording dates took them all over-- Chicago, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Sheffield, Alabama, Windsor, Canada, England, European countries and Switzerland. Besides the labels listed before, he also recorded on the Blue Horizon and Big Bear-Polydor labels overseas. He passed away on July 27th.,1974, at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, of stomach cancer. He is buried in Pontiac, Michigan. If you're not familiar with him, you need to check him out. It has been said that he was one of the five best blues musicians of the 1950's, ranked with Howlin' Wolf, Muddy, and Little Walter, and that is going some!!
Blues Question for May 2016: this bluesman was originally from Mississippi and later migrated to Chicago, but spent a lot of time travelling between the two. He played piano, organ, bass guitar, and did vocals. He made some of his own recordings but did mostly "session" work with some of the biggest names in the blues. He has a nick-name that is very similar with another bluesman, but they play different instruments. Any idea who this bluesman is ??
Some Blues Trivia for May 2016: if you've made the "blues pilgrimage" to Clarksdale, Mississippi, there are probably some facts concerning the town with which you are not familiar. There was a local bluesman, born in Clarksdale, who did some recordings there in a "dis-used" Greyhound bus station at 302 Third Street. His name was Ike Turner. There were other locals present as well, one of which was Clayton Love (check the February 2015 Blues Blog). Most all of the other musicians at those sessions had Ike listed as a sideman on piano or guitar, so I'm assuming that Ike was the one who put those sessions together. Those sessions were done in the mid-'50's, before Ike took the Kings of Rhythm on the road. In 1943 there was a twenty year old man who had just graduated from Martin Barber College in Memphis, Tennessee, who settled in Clarksdale, opened a barbershop called "Big Six" at 304 Fourth Street. His name was Wade Walton and he played guitar, harmonica, organ, and the razor strop. In the off-work hours Wade performed with Ike Turner & the Kings of Rhythm in the Clarksdale area up into the mid-'50's. By that time the barbershop was doing well and was considered to be "the place" ,as far as music was concerned, in Clarksdale. People came, not just for haircuts, but also to listen to Wade play blues, or to sit in with him and play also. Some of his customers included Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson II and R.C.Smith. In 1989 the shop was moved to 317 Issaquena Avenue, which was, by the way, the previous location of W.C.Handy's house. One other little bit of trivia-- at/in those bus station sessions, Ike's sax player was Raymond Hill. Name doesn't ring a bell ?? OK, how about this-- in the late 1950's, when the Kings of Rhythm band was on the road, Hill had a son, Craig, with an eighteen-year-old girl he was dating, named Anna Mae Bullock. What-- still doesn't ring a bell ?? OK, how about if I give you her later adopted stage name-- Tina Turner !! Anna Mae and Hill split after a fight. It upset Ike and the other band members enough that they proceeded to beat Hill and when one of the members fell with him, it broke Hill's leg so severely that he had to return to Clarksdale. A few years later, after Ike changed Anna Mae's stage name to Tina (to capitalize on a t.v. personality Sheena) and Tina married Ike, he adopted Craig and gave him his last name. By the way, Ike claimed to have been married 14 times, but only the one with Tina was legal.
Some April Blues Births:
Answer to the March 2016 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for is/was Don "Sugarcane" Harris, born as Don Bowman on June 18th.,1938, in Pasadena, California. The Squires, basically a doo-wop group, shortly after their forming, would include Bowman. They recorded between October of 1954, through April of 1956, on several different small labels. The first Squires recording was on the Kicks 1 label and didn't list Bowman in the credits, but did credit it to Dewey Terry. Bowman's name would show up on the next recording, on the Mambo 105 label, and was a 78 rpm record. That was in May of 1955. Some sources list Bowman as the founder of the Squires, but, due to what I just listed, I believe the group was formed by Terry and Bowman joined him shortly after that. The Squires broke up in 1957 but Don and Dewey stayed together. The pair had signed a contract, late in '56, with Art Rupe's Specialty label, so they went on for two years playing rock and roll. They both played guitar and sometimes Dewey would play piano. Don played guitar or bass, whenever or whichever was needed. As a sidebar, Dewey was taught guitar by one of the '50's blues greats-- Eddie "Guitar Slim" Jones (best known for his song "The Things That I Used To Do". As a pair, Don and Dewey's music was considered too loud and too "harsh" to get much radio airplay. Some of the other artists at Specialty at the same time were Guitar Slim, Little Richard, Lloyd Price and Larry Williams. The music producer there was a guy named Sonny Bono. Some of the songs written and recorded by "Don and Dewey" were "Jungle Hop", "A Little Love", "Justine", "I'm Leaving It (All) Up To You", "Farmer John", "Big Boy Pete", and "KoKo Joe"(that one written by Sonny Bono). You should recognize some of those songs, as they were recorded and made hits by others, such as Dale and Grace, The Searchers, The Premiers, The Righteous Brothers ( their act was based on Don and Dewey's), The Olympics and others. "Big Boy Pete", for example, was recorded, with different lyrics, by The Kingsmen (of Louie, Louie fame), as "The Jolly Green Giant". As the duo, Don and Dewey, they toured with The Johnny Otis Show in the late '50's into the early "60's. They then toured with Little Richard (about the same time Jimi Hendrix was in Richard's band). They split up as a pair in 1960, but did play and record together, backing other artists. By this time Bowman was now Don "Sugarcane" Harris. The "Sugarcane" nickname was given him by Johnny Otis, because of his reputation as a ladies’ man. By this time, Harris was mostly playing the electric violin. From 1964 through 1998, he was hard at work. Besides making 8 of his own albums (1970-1976), he was featured/performed on two albums with Little Richard, two with Johnny Otis, nine with John Mayall (and the Bluesbreakers), six with Frank Zappa, and one each with John Lee Hooker, Freddie Roulette, and the Sonny Terry/ Brownie McGhee duo, and with six other bands, all scattered over 20 different labels. Some of his recordings were done in the studio, with others being done while live and on tour. If you noticed some of those names that he was recording with, you probably picked up on the fact that he was doing a lot of different types of music. There was also a lot of variation of what he was doing on those recordings: he would play any of his instruments-- guitar, violin, horn, harp, or piano, as a lead or backing player, or he would be doing lead or backing vocals. If he was using his preferred instrument, the electric violin, he would sometimes use a bow and get it to sound either like what it was or like a harmonica, or he would "finger-pick" it and have it sound like a ukulele. He passed away November 30th.,1999, of pulmonary failure.
Blues Question For April 2016: This blues musician was born and raised on a farm near St. Louis, Missouri, one of four children. He was taught to play guitar by his older brother. He eventually ended up living in Detroit, Michigan. He also did extensive touring to perform. He recorded on at least five labels. Any idea who this bluesman is ??
Blues Trivia for April 2016: We are all familiar with the most common instruments used by blues musicians-- guitar, harmonica (sometimes called a Mississippi Saxophone or a pocket piano), bass, keyboard, horns (usually trumpet or saxophone) and droms. Now, forget all that and go back to the earlier days of the blues--acoustic, no amps. Early bluesmen moved around all the time, so being able to bring the instrument along, without too much trouble, made the most common ones at that time, small, stringed ones, the guitar, mandolin, violin and banjo. The other easy one to carry was the harmonica. Piano players weren't so lucky-- they usually got to play either in the studio, on recording sessions, or at venues on the T O B A or vaudeville circuits, because those had a band/orchestra "pit". One of the early piano players was Charles Edward "Cow Cow" Davenport, born April 23rd.,1894, in Anniston, Alabama. His first recordings were done in 1924, his last in 1946. In late 1930 he moved from the South to Cleveland, Ohio, where he would own a music-record shop until sometime in 1932, when he would be travelling/ performing in the South. Somewhere between 1933 and 1935, he moved back to Cleveland, where he would now own and operate a cafe. He travelled/ performed up into 1948, when he opted to work outside the music field. He is credited with 24 songs, but said that he wrote more than that, but sold the songs and rights to them. The trivia part is, in steps, that his father, Clement, was a preacher, and his mother was an organist. Cow Cow learned the organ by age eleven, on his own. At twelve years old he started to take piano lessons. His father, however, did not approve of the "lifestyle" of musicians and sent "Charles" to Alabama Theological Seminary, Selma University, Selma, Alabama, in 1910. Cow Cow was later expelled from there because he, at a social function at the university, changed the musical accompaniment of the hymns to a rag-time and boogie-woogie style of play. It obviously turned out to be a definite no-no!!
Some April Blues Passings:
Some March Blues Births:
Answer to the February 2016 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for is/was Willie Love, born November 4th.,1906, in Duncan, Mississippi. As I stated in the question, he was raised on a farm, where he continued to live for almost thirty years. In the mid- 1930's he left home to hobo through the areas around Belzoni, Drew, Tunica and Clarksdale, working in juke joints and barrelhouses. His career from 1938 to 1953 is a little hard to track correctly, but I'll do the best I can. From 1938 to 1940 he toured with the Barber Parker Silver Kings Band. Also in the late 30's he worked with Pinetop Perkins, Doc Ross and sometimes by himself in juke joints, gambling joints and clubs in the Greenville and Indianola areas. He often performed on King Biscuit Time on KFFA radio in Helena, Arkansas from 1942 to roughly 1946. He also performed with the King Biscuit Time Boys in jukes and on streets in the area. In the mid 40's he formed his own group, Willie Love and the Three Aces and toured/played from the Tunica/Greenville area to Memphis, Tennessee and through the Delta area. He appeared on WGVM radio in Greenville in 1948-49 with Elmore James. In 1949-50 he toured with Sonny Boy Williamson II, Willie Nix and Joe Willie Wilkins as the "Four Aces". Love appeared on KWEM radio, in West Memphis, Arkansas, with Sonny Boy on the Hadacol Show and also on his own show, The Broadway Furniture Store Show. (Check ot the song "Drinkin Hadacol" by Little Willie Littlefield) He often worked outside the music field from 1949 into the 50's. His first recordings were in January of 1951 as the piano player on Sonny Boy's recordings on Lillian McMurray's Trumpet Records label in Jackson, Mississippi. (Sonny Boy's "Pontiac Blues" was written about Lillian's car) Love also recorded under his own group's name- Willie Love and the Three Aces in December of '51, also on the Trumpet label. A couple of things about "the Three Aces": this group did several recording sessions with Trumpet and, depending on the person who was running a particular session, their Three was written out or just shown as 3, and, secondly, there were 14 different people in that group at different times, on different recordings. The recordings were all done with a mixture of three sidemen. In 1952 Love performed in Detroit, Michigan, with Baby Boy Warren. Also in '52 and into'53, he toured with Sonny Boy, working juke joints in Louisiana and Texas. His last recordings were done on April 14th.,1953, on the Trumpet label, with Sonny Boy, in Houston, Texas. He passed away on August 19th.,1953, in Jackson, Mississippi, of bronchopneumonia. He was an influence to Clayton Love, also a piano player. Willie's brothers, Jasper and Eddie, were also musicians. Andrew Love, not known to be a relative, was a saxophone player who was a session player at Stax Records. Andrew went on to join The Memphis Horns.
Blues Question for March 2016: this bluesman studied classical violin, as a youth, for ten years, then went on to learn guitar, harmonica and piano. Both of his parents were entertainers. He formed his first band at the age of 18. He eventually went on to partner with another individual who also played guitar and piano. This duo wrote and recorded many songs together, but never had a hit record of their own. A number of their songs were recorded by others who did have hits with them. Throughout his/their career, they both performed/toured with some of the biggest names in the music field. Any idea who this bluesman is/was ??
Blues Trivia for March 2016: there are many, many songs in different genres of music, including blues, that have been "borrowed", outright stolen and/or copied by other artists. It's probably happened in blues more than any other field, as many of the early blues artists were illiterate. It even happened to some of the brightest, most well-educated in the field, such as W.C. Handy. Some of the early players couldn't read or write. "Trust me, just make your mark on this line and we’ll have a contract, and I'll take care of everything" was probably heard many times in the early days. By the same token, however, the performers were not always "above board" in their dealings, either. Take the song "I've Got My Mojo Working". If you've been listening to the blues for any length of time and you hear that song, you'd probably think that's a Muddy Waters song. Many moons ago I thought the same thing. As it turns out, we're both wrong, as it was first recorded by Ann Cole and the Suburbans on the Baton label of Sol Rabinowitz, in April of 1956. Muddy recorded his version on December 1st., 1956. Muddy's was the first one released, by Chess Records. Ann's was released in 1957. At that point litigation was started and the court eventually ruled in Ann's favor. The song was actually written by Preston Foster. He was, as of 1998, still receiving the royalties on that song. By the way, it has since been covered/recorded by well over a hundred individuals and/or bands/groups. Never assume, the next time you hear a "blues standard" by a well-known artist, that you are hearing the original. Check it out for yourself-- you might be surprised!!
Some March Blues Passings:
Some February Blues Births:
Answer to the January 2016 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for is/was Arbee Stidham, born February 9th., 1917, in DeVall's Bluff, Arkansas. His father, Luddie, worked with the Jimmy Lunceford Band. His uncle, Ernest Stidham, was the leader of the Memphis Jug Band. Arbee went to Perry City Training School (a gradeschool) and then on to Dunbar High School in Little Rock. He formed his own band, the Southern Syncopators, at the age of 12, then, at 13, he and the band went on to back Bessie Smith for 2 years (1930-31). At that time he was playing alto sax in the band and they performed in the Little Rock and Memphis, Tennessee areas, from the 1930's into the 40's. In the mid 40's he moved to Chicago, where he recorded on the Victor label. In 1947 he recorded the song "My Heart Belongs To You", which made it to the #1 spot on the R & B charts in 1948. It was to be his only real hit. In trying to achieve that success again, he recorded on the Victor (again), Sittin-In-With, Checker, ABCO, States, Bluesville-Prestige, Folkways, and Mainstream labels, but never made it. In the early 1950's he was injured in a car accident and was no longer able to play the sax. In about 1954 he took up the guitar to keep playing music. As luck would have it, he fell under the tutelage of Big Bill Broonzy and became a good guitarist himself. He recorded with the Lefty Bates and Ernie Wilkins Bands. He also performed and recorded all over the U.S.A. and abroad, both in clubs and at festivals. He often performed and recorded with Memphis Slim (Peter Chatman)(organ or piano) and William "Jazz" Gillum (harmonica). In the late 1960's he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he did some recording in 1973. In that same year he had the lead role in the film short "The Bluesman". That footage looks like it may have been shot in Cleveland. He sometimes lectured on the blues at Cleveland State University through the mid 70's. Both in Chicago (to which he later returned) and Cleveland, he frequently worked outside the music field. He stated that his main influences were DeFord Bailey and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson (I), both harmonica players. He passed away on April 26th.,1988, in Cook County, Illinois. If you want to get a true feeling about the blues, check out the video collage on Arbee Stidham Pawn Shop youtube, that displays during the song. You'll see early downtown shots, not the main streets, but not far from them. Included are some of the blues- famous Maxwell Street. Also, pay attention to the words in the song: they tell a story born in the blues. By the way, the sax you'll hear in the song is none other than King Curtis. Check out Curtis' instrumental "Heavenly Blues"!
Whatever you do, DO NOT MISS WATCHING AND LISTENING TO PAWN SHOP!!
Blues Question for February 2016: this bluesman, though born, raised, and worked on a farm, was interested in music as a youth. I'm not sure who influenced his piano, as some have said that it was Leroy Carr. Others believe he spent time with and performed with Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins. At any rate, he is shown to have recorded 19 songs under his own name, which I believe is incorrect. He is, however, best known for his accompaniment of an extremely well-known "frontman". There are at least five other musicians with the same last name, though only two are related to him. Any idea who this bluesman is ??
Some Blues Trivia for February 2016: one of the piano players I listed in the above question is Leroy Carr, born March 27th., 1905, died April 29th.,1935 (30 years old), was/is a considerable influence to a large number of bluesmen over the years. He partnered up with Francis "Scrapper" Blackwell in 1927. In 1928 the duo recorded a song that became an "instant best-seller" (claimed to be over a million copies), "How Long, How Long Blues". The duo recorded it several more times, using similar but varied titles. The line in different versions of the song, "How long that evening train been gone", is a metaphor for a lover who has left. If you've listened to the blues for more than a week then you've probably heard some version of that song, as it has been recorded by over 150 different artists and/or bands over the years. The song was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1988, in the category of "Classics of Blues Recordings--singles or album tracks. In 2012 the song received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award that honors "recordings of lasting qualitative or historical significance". There are three bits of trivia about this song: first, it inspired the later compositions "Come on in My Kitchen", by Robert Johnson and "Sitting on Top of the World", by the Mississippi Sheiks; second, the song is based on a 1925 recording by Ida Cox with "Papa" Charlie Jackson--"How Long Daddy", and third, Muddy Waters stated that it was the first song he learned to play, by listening to the Leroy Carr record.
Some February Blues Passings:
First thing in January-- Let's wish the best of luck to Mojo Theory, in the band category, and Luther Tramell & John Sutton, in the solo/duo category, at the upcoming International Blues Challenge in Memphis!!
Some January Blues Births
Answer to the December 2015 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for is/was William McKinley Gillum, aka Bill McKinley, but best-known as "Jazz" Gillum, born September 11th., 1904, in Indianola, Mississippi, also the birthplace of many prominent bluesmen. Although I mentioned in the original question that he played harmonica, he didn't learn to play it until later in his life. That would be at the age of six. The first instrument he learned to play was the harmonium (a pedal operated pump, reed type, organ). His parents had died when he was an infant and he was raised by an uncle, Ed Buchanan, until the age of seven. At that age, he ran away from home to live with relatives in Charleston, Mississippi, where he worked as a field hand from 1911 to mid-1915. He then moved to Minter City and lived there from 1915 to 1918. He then moved to Greenwood, where he lived from 1918 to 1923. Both of those were in Mississippi. The entire time he lived in Mississippi, he worked outside the music field, but did play the occasional gig and in the street for tips. In 1923 he moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he sometimes worked with "Big" Bill Broonzy and other bluesmen, as a sideman. Gillum recorded from the 1920's into the 1930's as a sideman for several of the local bluesmen, on the Bluebird/Arc labels. In 1940 he did the first recording of the blues standard, "Key to the Highway", featuring Big Bill Broonzy on guitar. Gillum's version of that song was recorded a few months later by Broonzy and that has become the "standard" of that song. Gillum would go on to record on the Vocalion, Victor, Folkways, and Candid labels. He recorded an early version, in 1946, of the song "Look on Yonder Wall", which featured Big Maceo (Major Merriweather) on piano. That song was later made famous by "T-Bone Walker". You can find Gillum, as a sideman, on recordings by Broonzy, Memphis Slim (Peter Chatman), Arbee Stidham and various others. He performed/ recorded up until 1961. From then on, he worked outside the music field. He died on March 29th., 1966, from a gunshot wound to the head during an argument in the street. By the way, his daughter, Ardella Williams, is an active blues singer in Chicago.
Blues Question for January2016: This bluesman was born in Arkansas. His father and an uncle were both musicians. He played harmonica, alto sax, clarinet, and guitar, all of which, except the guitar, he learned as a child. By his early teens he formed his own band/group. He recorded on at least nine labels and was the featured artist in a film. He lived in Cleveland, Ohio for a time. He wrote roughly 30 songs. Any idea who this bluesman is/was ??
Blues Trivia for January 2016: This trivia is to illustrate the interaction between several bluesmen: Frank Stokes, Garfield Akers, Dan Sane, Mississippi Joe Callicott, and Bukka White and how some of them worked together in the Doc Watts Medicine Show, Jack Kelly's Jug Busters, and the Beale Street Sheiks. I'm focusing on three of them-- Akers, Callicott, and Stokes. Akers, born 1901, in Brights, Mississippi, was a guitarist and singer. He recorded only 4 songs (we have those in stock). Two of these, Cottonfield Blues, parts 1 & 2, are thought to have been based on a song performed earlier by Henry Thomas. Akers' recordings were a duet with Mississippi Joe Callicott, where the two played off each others leads. It has been said that this is one of the best guitar "duels" ever done. Keep in mind though, that these were done in 1929. Akers and Callicott were best friends, up until they parted ways in the late 1940's. Akers died possibly somewhere between 1953 and 1959. When Callicott heard about Akers' death, he quit performing until the late 1960's and his "rediscovery". Akers also toured and performed with Frank Stokes in the Doc Watts Medicine Show. Stokes, while partnered with Dan Sane, performed in the fore-mentioned groups. Stokes also performed as a street singer in Church's Park (W C Handy Park) on Beale Street in Memphis. He later toured/played with Memphis Willie B (William Borum), and later, in and around Clarksdale, Mississippi, with Bukka White. Stokes was an influence in the playing of Akers, Callicott, and Jim Jackson. Though it's probably not clear, my intent with this is to show that blues musicians, from the earliest ones up to today's current players have several things in common. They work and play hard, they love the music, they try to make a living at it, and, most importantly, work together, even when they are sometimes, rivals.
Some January Blues Passings:
First off—a big THANK YOU to all who take the time to read this blog spot on the NEOBA site. I hope it helps add to your understanding of the blues and of its people. Thanks also goes to Andy Pressler, the president of NEOBA, for adding the artists/tunes that appear in the blog. All of that takes time and work. Also, we at The Sound of Blue hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving (and have no regrets as to how much you ate!) and will have a safe, enjoyable and Merry Christmas.
Some December Blues Births:
Answer to the November 2015 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for was/is Moses “Whispering” Smith, born January 25th.,1932, in Union Church, Mississippi. He started playing harmonica at 14 years of age and went on to work with a small band, in local jukes, through the 1950’s in Brookhaven, Mississippi. He moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1957 and worked mostly outside the music field. He teamed up with Lightnin’ Slim (Otis Hicks) and occasionally, Silas Hogan, to sometimes work local clubs/jukes. He went on with his own group to work in clubs in Baton Rouge, Monroe and Shreveport. He recorded on the Excello label in Crowley and then in Baton Rouge on the Arhoolie and Excello labels. He played festivals, concerts, t.v. and radio shows in Switzerland, England and all over Europe. While in London he recorded on the Big Bear/Polydor label (now in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England). He remained active in music in the 1970’s, but was inactive in the 1980’s due to ill health, until he passed on April 28th.,1984, in Baton rouge. It has been said he never reached his potential due to his appearance in his later life. I’m not sure that that was due to his illness or some other problem. Although a good harp player, his most recognizable quality was his deep, raspy voice, which was in the in the quality of the best “blues shouters”. That voice belied his “Whispering” nickname. By the way, he both wrote and recorded more songs than you can find listed in any printed records of his discography.
Blues Question for December 2015: this bluesman is incorrectly shown to have recorded on only five labels. He recorded on quite a few more as a “sideman” or session player, sometimes not listed in the credits. He first learned to play one instrument before he taught himself to play the harmonica at the age of six. He went on to record and/or perform with some of the “big names” of the blues at that time and some “unknowns” (who would later be well-known). Though his life was short, you have probably heard him without knowing it. Any idea who this bluesman is/was ??
Blues Trivia for December 2015: if you have listened to the blues or 1950’s rock and roll for a while, you’ve heard the song “Stagger Lee”. There is so much trivia connected to this song that I’m going to try to just hit the highlights of its history. It was first recognized in an 1897 newspaper story published in the Kansas City Leavenworth Herald as being titled “Stack-a-Lee” and was being performed by “Professor Charlie Lee, the piano thumper”. The first “printed” version was in 1911. It was first recorded by Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians in 1923. The first recording with lyrics, however, was done by Lovie Austin in 1924 and was titled “Skeeg-A-Lee Blues”. What is now considered to be the definitive version of it was recorded in 1928 by Mississippi John Hurt. If you and I had nothing better to do and lots of space and time, I could list the over 430 versions that have been recorded to this date, by all types of musicians and in a lot of different genres of music. And now, about its actual beginning—it’s a true story (mostly), with variations in the lyrics, depending on what the performer thought they should be. “Stagger Lee” was actually Lee Shelton, an African-American pimp, who lived in St. Louis, Missouri. His nickname was “Stag Lee” or “Stack Lee”, which came from the fact that he went “stag” (indicating he had no friends). Supposedly, he took the nickname from a riverboat named the “Stack Lee”, owned by the Lee family. The boat was known for its on-board prostitution. He was the “captain” of a black “Four Hundred Club”, which had a “questionable” reputation. The club’s name was taken from Ward McAllister, self-appointed “judge” of New York society, who said there were only 400 people in New York that mattered. Shelton and an acquaintance, William “Billy” Lyons, were drinking in the Bill Curtis Saloon (located in the fore-mentioned club), on Christmas night in 1895. Lyons was a member in the St. Louis underworld, as was Shelton. As such, they were “business” rivals. They eventually got into an argument, during which Billy Lyons took Shelton’s Stetson hat. Shelton then shot Lyons, took back his hat and left the saloon. Lyons died from his injuries. Shelton was arrested, charged, tried and convicted of murder in 1897. He was pardoned in 1909 but went back to prison in 1911 for assault and robbery. He died in jail in 1912.
AND YOU THOUGHT IT WAS JUST A SONG !!
Some December Blues Passings:
Some November Blues Births:
Answer to the October 2015 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for was/is John Pickens “Bobo” Jenkins, born January 7th.,1916, in Forkland, Alabama. By the age of 5 he was singing in the choir of the family church. At the age of 11, he formed his own gospel quartet and performed in local churches, at local funerals, and at “friendship” schools (those were/are schools that show no discrimination to students, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender, religion, etcetera). In his twelfth year he ran away from home ending up, at that time, in Memphis, Tennessee, and worked outside the music field. He hoboed through Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas through the 1930’s. He worked with Sonny Boy Williamson at KFFA radio, in Helena, on the King Biscuit Time show in 1941. He joined the army in 1942. When he was discharged in 1944, he settled in Detroit, Michigan, where he worked for Packard and also managed a garage. He then went on to work for Chrysler for 27 years, which he said is where he wrote almost all his songs while listening to the rhythm of the assembly line machines. He learned guitar and harmonica in the late 1940’s. Bobo was a gifted and poetic songwriter. He wrote his first song “Democrat Blues”, on Election Day in 1952. With the assistance of another Detroit bluesman, a John Lee Hooker, he recorded it in 1954 for Chess Records, basically to voice his displeasure with people voting for Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, to be president, the first Republican to do so in 20 years. He was outspoken about the way government people were doing things as he later wrote “Watergate Blues”. The song “Democrat Blues” is the one he is best known for. The labels he recorded for were Chess, Fortune, Boxer, and his own—Big Star. In the 1970’s he owned/operated “Fort Boulevard Recreation Bowling Alley and Bar”. Hollywood stars have nothing on him—he was married 10 times, the first one at the age of 14!! He passed away on August 15th.,1984, at the age of 68, in Detroit, of high blood pressure and diabetes.
Blues Question for November 2015: this bluesman, though he recorded on 5 labels, is not well known and there was/is not a lot of his work recognized. He worked both in the music field and outside of it. One of his most notable recordings is “Texas Flood”, though he is not the original artist who recorded it, nor is Stevie Ray Vaughan. Any idea who this bluesman is/was ??
Blues Trivia for November 2015: as mentioned in the Blues Births section, an artist, not well known to some, Candye Kane started out her musical career at USC’s music conservatory’s junior opera program, but she found that she didn’t care for opera and dropped out. From there she got into the punk rock scene in the early 1980’s. She became friends with the artists and went on to perform with some of them. Some of those bands were popular at that time. Included in that list were Black Flag, Social Distortion, The Circle Jerks, Los Lobos, The Blasters, and Lone Justice. In 1985 she signed with CBS on a developmental deal, billed as a country performer. CBS dropped her when they found out about her earlier work as a stripper, an adult model, and an adult film star. In the years 1983 through 1985, she was featured in over 150 videos and/or magazines. In 1986 while still writing songs, she accidentally discovered the blues of Big Maybelle, Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, Bessie Smith, and Ruth Brown. Candye has written 7 songs that have been used in T.V. shows and movies. She performs/tours worldwide over 250 days each year. You can often hear her music on “B.B. King’s Bluesville” on XM radio. The trivia part is that in March of 2008 she revealed that she was diagnosed with having pancreatic cancer. On April 18th.,2008 she had surgery to resect it, and in August 2009, she performed in Dublin, Ireland for the World Congress on Down’s Syndrome, with their United by Music charity. After having a “rough and tumble” youth, she is now an activist and philanthropist for many and varied causes. She performs in the basic style of the women singers that I listed earlier, who she had “discovered”. Check her out!!
Some November Blues Passings:
Some October Blues Births:
Answer to the September Blues Question: There was no specific question, the reason for that being that the answer to the August question about Jesse Fuller and the August trivia about W.C.Handy took up a lot of bytes, so I opted to not ask the regular style question. However, I did ask if anyone recognized to whom the nickname of “Killer-Diller”, which was shortened to “Killer”. That person was/is Jerry Lee Lewis. His first big hit was “Whole Lotta’ Shakin’ Going On” in 1957. Did you know it was originally recorded in 1954 by Big Maybelle (Mabel Louise Smith)? Jerry Lee was influenced by music coming out of a black juke joint, Haney’s Big House, which was across the tracks from where he lived when he was a young boy.
Blues Question for October 2015: This bluesman, born in Alabama, started out at a young age singing gospel music. Growing up, he worked mostly outside the music field. Later he served in the U.S.Army and , later still, owned a bowling alley/bar and then founded a recording studio. He started out performing as a singer and later learned to play the guitar and harmonica. Any idea who this bluesman was /is ??
Blues Trivia for October 2015: Alden “Allen” Bunn, aka Allen Bunn and/or Tarheel Slim, was born September 24th.,1924, in Bailey, North Carolina. His father, Henry, was a guitarist and his mother, Leonia, was a church singer. He learned guitar at 12 years of age. He mostly sang in the gospel groups The Gospel Four, the Southern Harmonaires (his own group), and with The Selah Jubilee Singers from the early 1940’s up to 1950, when he moved to New York City. There he performed with the Four Barrons (an R&B group) and recorded with the Larks (originally the Four Barrons) on the Apollo label. He also recorded on that label with Sonny Terry in 1952. He recorded with his future wife, Anna Sanford, as The Lovers, both pop songs and R&B. He also recorded R&B songs with another group, The Wheels. The Tarheel Slim name first showed up in 1957/1958. He and Anna would become known as Tarheel Slim and Little Ann when they recorded on/for the Fire-Fury labels. Besides the Fire-Fury and Apollo labels he also recorded on the Continental, Regal, Decca, Red Robin, Lamp, Aladdin, Premium, Jubilee(mostly as a session man), Atco, Trix, and Flyright labels over the years. His best blues recordings are/were on the Trix & Flyright labels. In 1952 he toured/performed with the Percy Mayfield (known as “the Poet of the Blues) package show, as a member of the Larks. The trivia part is that when he started to use the Tarheel Slim name, he recorded some rockabilly (as in Jerry Lee Lewis,etc.) songs. Most notable among them are “Number Nine Train” and “Wildcat Tamer”. A very talented performer who is, for the most part, unknown and underrated. Sadly, he passed on August 21st.,1977, in a Bronx, New York hospital, of pneumonia.
Some October Blues Passings:
First, a short note of thanks. On behalf of the North East Ohio Blues Association (NEOBA) and The Sound of Blue, I would like to thank all who attended the 2nd. Annual Blues Picnic. Both of these organizations were started with the stated purpose of “keeping the blues alive”, and we both continue to do so. This is for the benefit of both the fans and the musicians involved and the picnic jam session is for the two groups to interact while enjoying some good food. Again, thanks to all who attended and if you didn’t, WHY NOT?, as it was listed in the Akron Beacon Journal as the #1 place to be.
Some September Blues Births:
· September 3rd.,1919—Charlie Booker
· September 17th.,1906—“Blind” James Campbell
· September 23rd.,1927—Joseph “Mighty Joe” Young
Answer to the August 2015 Blues Question: The bluesman were looking for was/is Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller, born March 12th.,1896, in Jonesboro, Georgia. He made his first instrument at age 5, a stringed mouth bow. At age 10 he ran away from home to work outside the music field in Atlanta. At age 22/23 he lived/ worked in Cincinnati, Ohio. At age 26 he moved permanently to California, first in Santa Monica, then to Los Angeles, and finally to Oakland. Although he did perform all over California, he didn’t get fully active in the music field until the early 1950’s. Though he worked mostly outside the music field from 1906 up into the 1960’s at the jobs I mentioned in the August Blues Question, he also worked as a tap dancer, a hot-dog stand attendant, selling cloth-covered wooden snakes he made, and as a shipyard laborer. In the early 1950’s when he started playing/performing more regularly, he did so as a one-man band, playing drums, guitar, harmonica, kazoo, washboard, and hi-hat (a foot-operated cymbal). He would, when lying in bed late at night, try to think of a way to accompany his 12-string guitar work with some sort of variable note bass instrument, other than drums. He came up with an instrument, named by his wife, Gertrude, a foot-diller, later shortened to the fotdella. It was shaped like a box, with a rounded top similar to a double bass, utilizing 6 bass strings, each struck by a felt-covered “hammer”(like a piano), each one operated by a separate pedal, giving him 6 different bass notes. The name given to it by his wife, foot-diller, was adapted from the then-current expression “killer-diller”, which meant that something was “really good”. Anyone remember what rock & roll performer at that time was known as “killer-diller”? As I mentioned in the Blue Question some of Jesse’s songs have become blues standards. Most notable of those is “San Francisco Bay Blues”, which is currently available on the recordings of at least 60 different performers. From the early 1960’s Jesse toured/played all over the U.S.A., Canada, Ireland, England, and Europe, up until 1971. He was mostly inactive in the music field after that, because of different illnesses. He passed away January 26th.,1976, of heart disease. Oh, by the way, he wrote the soundtrack of the movie “The Great White Hope”.
Blues Trivia for September 2015: William Christopher Handy, born November 16th.,1873, in Florence, Alabama, is most often spoken of and recognized as the father of the blues. If you recall last month’s trivia section, Sam Phillips, eventual founder of Sun Records, was also from Florence. Although in his life Mr. Handy learned to play the cornet (for which he is best known), the piano, and the trumpet, his first instrument was a guitar. His father, Charles Barnard Handy, a pastor at a small church in Guntersville, made him return it to the store from which he had purchased it. His father believed that musical instruments were “the tools of the devil”, so with the offensive guitar gone, his father enrolled W,C. in organ lessons. That endeavor was short-lived and the younger Handy learned to play the cornet, practicing whenever he could. To make sure he had a trade in which he could support himself (and later a family), he apprenticed in carpentry, plastering, and as a shoemaker. From 1892 to 1895, he was in different bands and organized others of his own, to play/perform in Alabama, Indiana, Illinois, and other nearby states. In 1896, while playing at a barbeque in Henderson, Kentucky, he met Elizabeth Price, who he married on July 19th.,1896, and eventually they had 6 children. In 1909 he wrote a song called “Mr. Crump”, for the campaign for mayor of Memphis, the city in which the Handy family was currently living. In 1912 the song was re-titled “Memphis Blues” and is credited as being the first blues song published. In 1912 he wrote a song called “Yellow Dog Rag”, the title coming from a railroad spur line of the Southern, named the Yazoo Delta, hence, the Y.D.. In 1919, on the 3rd. recording release of the song, it was re-titled “Yellow Dog Blues”, and was the best-selling of one of his compositions to date. In 1914 he wrote the “St. Louis Blues” and in 1916, the “Beale Street Blues”. In 1917 he moved the family to New York, living in Harlem. In 1937 he and Elizabeth were divorced. In 1943 he was blinded in an accidental fall from a subway platform. In 1954, sometime after the death of Elizabeth, he married his secretary, Irma Louise Logan, who he said, had become his eyes. He passed away on March 28th.,1958, of bronchial pneumonia. Over 25,000 people attended the funeral at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. I could easily write a couple of hundred pages about the man and his achievements but space on this end and time on the reader’s end wouldn’t be conducive to that end. BUT, 2 points of trivia (out of many): his compositions were basically 12 bar verses (what is sometimes called “belly-bumpin’”music), but in his case, these verses were sometimes bridged with an 8 or 16 bar melody, which, at that time, gave his music a unique sound. This combination is credited as the birth of jazz. The 2nd. bit of trivia is that he wrote “Beale Street Blues” as a goodbye to the street, which was to be done away with. The thing is that BEALE AVENUE was the correct name of it at that time. Because of the popularity of the song, it was re-named as Beale Street. It is because of those events that the street still exists as it does today. I’d do a trivia section on it, but there’s just no way. You have to go see, enjoy, and live it to comprehend what it has done for the blues!! Also, by the way, “Yellow Dog Blues”, by Joe Darensbourg, released on a transparent blue 45 in 1957, was #3 on the pop charts at that time.
Some September Blues Passings:
· September 1st.,1977—Ethel Waters
· September 18th.,1966—Will Shade, aka Son Brimmer
· September 20th.,1989—Charlie Booker
Some August Blues Births:
Answer to the July 2015 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for is/was James “Yank” Rachell, aka “Poor Jim”, born March 16th.,1910, in Brownsville, Tennessee. His first instrument was a mandolin, at the age of 8. By the age of 9 he had taught himself to play it and sometimes worked local gigs with “Hambone” Willie Newbern. Later that year,1919, he teamed up with “Sleepy” John Estes with whom he performed roughly through 1929. The two would, later in their careers, team up again for gigs and to record for a number of different labels. During his career Yank would also team up with John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson (I), Dan Smith, Peetie Wheatstraw (aka The Devil’s Son-in-law), Shirley Griffith and others while working festivals/tours. In his early years, when not performing, he worked sometimes as a farmer, sometimes as a railroad man for the L & N (Louisville-Nashville) Railroad. In 1958 he moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, which would be home for the rest of his life, when not touring. He performed all over the U.S.A., Canada, Europe, England, and Germany. He passed away on April 9th.,1997, in Indianapolis, of kidney failure and heart problems. Three little footnotes here. 1st., he played guitar, harmonica, mandolin, and violin. He was known to throw his mandolin in the air and hit the next notes or chord when he caught it. 2nd., about that first instrument and how he got it. His family had given him a pig to raise. When he saw the mandolin for sale, he asked the man “how much to buy it ?”. The man replied $5.00. Yank traded him for the pig. When he got home his mother was upset that he had done that. It has been said that she told Yank “in the Fall when we’re eating pork you can eat that mandolin”. And 3rd., if you read the July Blog, you should have noticed that I stated that he was from Texas. My error, my bad. I was thinking of Brownsville, Texas for some reason. Sorry!
Blues Question for August 2015: This bluesman, from Jonesville, Georgia, played at least 7 different instruments, one of which he invented. He is credited with writing at least 25 songs, some of which have become standards (one of them redone/recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary). He also worked as a tent stretcher, a railroad worker, in movies—both as an extra and as the featured performer, and on various television shows. Any idea who this bluesman is/was ??
Blues Trivia for August 2015: Samuel “Sam” Cornelius Phillips, born January 5th.,1923, on a farm near Florence, Alabama, to tenant farmer parents, the youngest of 8 children. After his father’s death, Sam had to quit Coffee High School, near Florence, to take care of his mother and aunt. He worked in a grocery store and then at a funeral parlor. After that, in the mid to late ‘40’s, he worked at two different radio stations. On January 3rd.,1950, he opened the Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union Ave.(the Peabody Hotel is at 149). The Sun Records part wasn’t added until 1952. Since the recording service was intended primarily for amateurs to perform/record, they came from all over. Many of them are names you know today. Some years later Sam was reported as saying “Elvis was the 2nd. best talent I discovered. The best was Howlin’ Wolf”. Some of the other artists who got their start at Sun were B.B.King, Junior Parker, Jackie Brensten and His Delta Cats (led by a 19 year old Ike Turner, to record “Rocket 88”, which referred to the 88 piano keys, not that model of Oldsmobile!), James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, Rosco Gordon, “Little Milton”, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Charlie Rich, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Warren Smith, Sonny Burgess, and Billy Lee Riley, to name a few. Sun produced 226 singles in it’s 16 year existence. In 1955, Sun was having financial difficulties and that’s when Sam sold Elvis’s contract to RCA, for the paltry sum of $35,000. After that sale, Sam started losing his artists. On December 4th.,1956, he had booked a recording session with Jerry Lee Lewis playing piano for a recording of Carl Perkins. Elvis stopped in to visit. Sam saw an opportunity, so he called Johnny Cash and had him come in also. That session was billed as “The Million Dollar Quartet” (we stock that disc). The money Sam got from the sale of Elvis’s contract he invested in a new “start-up” business known as Holiday Inn, a good move, as it enabled Sam to multiply his investment money several times over. Over the years Sam and his family opened up the Sun Studio Café, with locations around Memphis, and then several radio stations around Florence, Georgia. He passed away at St.Francis Hospital, in Memphis, of respiratory failure on July 30th.,2003, one day before Sun Studios was declared a national landmark, and weeks before his former colleague Johnny Cash, on September 12th.,2003. There is a lot more information on Sam than there is room to print here but I tried to give you some of the main points in the room we have. Next month’s trivia is on William Christopher Handy.
Some August Blues Passings:
Some July Blues Births:
· July 1st, 1915—“Big” Willie James Dixon
· July 18th, 1929—Jalacy “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins
· July 30th, 1940—“Big” Jack Johnson, aka The Oilman
Answer To The June 2015 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for is/was Arthur “Sam“ Jackson, aka “Peg-leg Sam” or “Peg Pete”, born December 18th.,1911, in Jonesville, South Carolina. In the blues question I had stated earlier that he had hoboed all over the U.S. and other countries. When doing so in the “States” he would most often hop a freight train, as did a lot of the bluesmen of the period. On one of those rides he fell off and lost part of a leg, hence the nickname. In his travels he would perform in the streets, at picnics and fairs, even on ships while in route to other countries. He did this type of travelling from about 1921 up into 1972. While in the U.S. during that time he chose to work in “medicine shows”, stating that it paid the best over other venues. Some of the ones he performed with were the “Doc” Thompson Carnival, the Emmet Smith Medicine Show, “Doc” W R Frank “Smiley” Kerr’s Indian Remedy Company Medicine Show (that one was with him performing with Pink Anderson—the Pink of Pink Floyd). The last group he travelled/ performed with was the Chief Thundercloud Medicine Show (the Chief’s real name was Leo Kahdot, a Potowatomie Indian from Oklahoma). Peg-leg recorded with that group and then with Rufe Johnson and Louisiana Red (Red was in last month’s blog). From 1972 on, until his passing on October 27th.,1977, in Jonesville, of natural causes, he mostly played at festivals and occasionally in the recording studio. He has stated that his two main influences were Pink Anderson and Elmon “Keg-Shorty” Bell (an Atlanta harp player).
Blues Question for July 2015: this bluesman was born, raised, and worked on a farm. He got his first instrument at eight years of age and at nine years of age he was a “sideman” at local country dances, suppers, and fish fries. His first recordings were at age nineteen. Over his career he recorded on at least seven different labels, as a solo performer, a duo, and as a band member. He was known for bantering, clowning and shouting back and forth with his audiences. He toured and performed all over the U.S., Canada, and Europe. He penned at least fifteen original songs. One of his four children is a gospel singer. Any idea who this man is/was ?? I’ll give you this much—he’s originally from Texas
Blues Trivia for July 2015: Sometimes the trivia will be regarding places or things that are not about just the performers. If you’ve been to Memphis, there are four places you should have seen: usually first and most obviously Beale Street with its various nightspots and museums. Then, second, the Peabody Hotel, which is the focal point for this trivia session. Its present location is not the original building, but is an exact duplicate of it. The original was at the corner of Main and Monroe streets, built in 1869. It closed in 1923. The current one, at 149 Union Avenue, was built in 1925. It went bankrupt in 1965 and was sold in a foreclosure auction, to the Sheraton Hotels chain. It closed again in 1973. It was sold by the county in 1975 to Edward Hanover, who then sold it to his son-in-law, Jack A.Belz, for the same amount he paid for it-- $400,000.00. Belz spent $25 million renovating it and re-opened it in 1981. This hotel should be remembered for two good reasons: first, that blues musicians of the period were recorded in that hotel in 1929/1930, and second, for the Peabody ducks, a tradition which began in 1933. By the way, the ducks now have had built, just for them, a “suite” of their own, on the top of the hotel, complete with it’s own staff. The third place to see is the W.C. Handy Home and Museum on Beale Street, a location to which it was moved in 1980, from its original location on Jeanette Place. The fourth place to see is Sun Records, which started out life as the Memphis Recording Service, at 706 Union Avenue. It was founded by Samuel Cornelius “Sam” Phillips on January 3rd.,1950. Next month’s trivia section will be on Sam Phillips and Sun Records. Oh, by the way, these places to see in Memphis are all equally important, so choose your own order.
Some July Blues Passings:
· July 1st, 1977—Robert Henry “Baby Boy” Warren
· July 15th, 1997—“Big John” Thomas Wrencher
· July 27th, 1974—Otis V. “Lightnin” Slim” Hicks
SOME JUNE BLUES BIRTHS:
· June 2,1917—Leonard “Baby Doo” Caston, aka “Baby Doo”/”Baby Duke”
· June 13,1928—Lafayette Earl “The Thing” Thomas
· June 30,1936—David “Dave” Von Ronk
ANSWER TO THE MAY 2015 BLUES QUESTION: the bluesman we were looking for is/was Iverson “Red” Minter, aka Playboy Fuller, Cryin’ Red, Iverson Boy, Guitar Red, Richard Lee Fuller, Rockin’ Red, Walkin’ Slim, Elmore James Jr., and Rocky Fuller. If you look for his recordings however, you’ll find him listed under his best-known name—Louisiana Red. He was possibly born March 23rd.,1936, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, but other sources list his birthplace/date as Bessemer, Alabama, on March 23rd.,1930. Which is correct ?—I don’t know. If you were at that birth, please let me know which is correct. As I stated in the question originally, he had lost both parents by age 5, and lived with his grandmother, in New Orleans, for a short period. At or around the age of 11/12, he lived briefly in Waco, Texas, before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was just 13/14 when he sat in with Muddy Waters, in the late 40’s. He supposedly served a year in the reformatory in 1950(?). He joined the U.S. Army in 1951 and was assigned to the 82nd.Airborne and trained as a parachutist. Part of that unit was transferred to Korea, where he was then attached to the 3rd.Infantry Division. He stayed in the Army until 1958. He returned stateside to Detroit, Michigan, where he would often sit in with John Lee Hooker from late ’58 into ’59. He was then on to Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he worked with James Wayne Nighthawks. From there it was on to Brooklyn, New York, where he worked with Jimmy Reed, in the early ‘60’s. From that point, it was southbound, performing in Georgia and Florida into the early ‘70’s. Then, again, early ‘70’s, up into 1981, he toured/performed mostly in the northeastern states (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania), with the occasional show in Atlanta. In the mid to late ‘70’s he also toured/performed in Canada, France, Germany, England, Switzerland, and Japan. In 1981 he made Hanover, Germany his home, though he frequently returned to the U.S. to perform at festivals, with occasional club dates and recording work. He passed away February 25th.,2012, in Hanover Germany, after having a stroke which led to a coma. He stated his two main influences were Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins and Jimmy Reed.
JUNE 2015 BLUES QUESTION: This bluesman taught himself to play the harmonica at the age of 9. At 10 years of age he ran away from home and hoboed throughout the U.S.A., Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, during which he worked mostly outside the music field. He was recorded as a sideman on three different labels and was also recorded in a video of a music festival in Philadelphia. He has been known or recognized as a master of the French harp, a singer and dancer, and as an amazing story-teller. Any idea who this man is/was ??
BLUES TRIVIA FOR JUNE2015: You’ve probably never heard of a bluesman by the name of Douglas Elijah “Doug” Quattlebaum. He was born January 22nd.,1927, in Florence, South Carolina. Somewhere between the ages of 3 to 5 he would take a stick, put a nail in each end, tie a piece of screen wire (yes, screens were actually made of metal!) to one, stretch it tight, and fasten the other end to the other nail and strum a tune on it. From that he graduated to the home-made “cigar box” guitar that most of the early bluesmen started out with. He got his first real guitar at the age of 14, from his step-father who taught him the only chord he knew, after the family moved to Philadelphia. Most of his early career was as an accompanist to the gospel groups The Haze Quartet, The Charity Gospel Singers, The Bells of Joy gospel singers, The Harlem Gospel Singers, The Ward Singers gospel group, and The Musicalaires gospel group. He was recorded while performing with some of these groups. During this same time, he occasionally worked as a preacher. Enough background—on to the trivia, and there is a lot of it, but it is all tied together. In the early ‘50’s Doug cut several sides for the local Philly label Gotham Records. None of them, at that time, were chart-toppers. Two of those cuts, however, titled “Lizzie Lou” and “Longing For My Baby”, are highly sought-after by blues record collectors today. During the early to late ‘50’s he continued to perform with the various gospel groups and work a “day job”. That job was driving a Mr. Softee ice cream truck in the south side of Philly, often referred to as “the Black Quarter”. He would park his truck in the street, next to the sidewalk, hook up a small amplifier he’d hooked up to the truck, plug in a cheap microphone, and proceed to play the pop music of the day, with an occasional blues song thrown in, all in an effort to build a crowd, which it always did, so he could sell his wares. A man named Herb Gart heard about Doug, went to hear him, and was impressed. Herb got Doug’s contact info and called a friend of his, Peter J “Pete” Welding, to tell him about Doug. Pete, a Philly native, was working as a journalist for Down Beat magazine, with occasional articles for other magazines, including Rolling Stone. He was putting together a show to feature black musicians playing their “folk music” for local educational FM radio station WHYY. Pete took the info from Herb, got in touch with Doug, and arranged a meeting, which then turned into several. A friend of Pete’s also attended the meets, Kenneth S “Ken” Goldstein, who was also highly impressed with Doug’s musical abilities. Somewhere during those meetings, Doug agreed to do an album, which ended up being produced jointly by Pete and Ken. One of the problems with doing an album is “front money”, which includes studio time, all things related to production and distribution, and possibly wages paid somewhere along the line. Those funds weren’t readily available to them at that time, so Pete somehow found a local Philly businessman who was willing to help. That man was Maurice Strauss, known as “Moe”. Keep that name in mind. Ever heard of Emanuel Rosenfeld or Graham Jackson ? No? You know them as Manny, Moe, and Jack, the founders and owners of a Philly auto parts store. That store is now a national chain known as “Pep Boys”. With everything now in place, they set up a recording date of November 27th.,1961, at the Philly studios of Prestige/ Bluesville. Of note here is that Doug had stated in one of their meetings that his influence in playing was Blind Boy Fuller, a North Carolina bluesman. On this album Doug used the same type of instrument that Blind Boy Fuller had—a National steel-bodied resonator guitar. In three hours, Mel Kaiser, the recording engineer, recorded 14 songs, 4 of which were Doug’s originals (Sweet Little Woman; Come Back Blues; Love My Baby and Worried Mind Blues), the other 10 were covers or Doug’s interpretations of them, with some of them done in their original style. The album was titled later as “Softee Man Blues”. Another bit of noteworthy trivia here is that Pete Welding moved to Chicago in 1962. With encouragement from Bob Koester, founder/owner of Delmark Records and The Jazz Record Mart, founded Testament Records to record blues artists. One other little bit of trivia—remember my mention of the man who gave Doug his first guitar at the age of 14, his step-father? Well, that man was the brother of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. Big Boy Crudup is considered to be the father of rock & roll. Three of his songs were “That’s All Right, “My Baby Left Me” and “So Glad You’re Mine”, which were covered by Elvis Presley and became hits for Elvis. No royalties went to Crudup until well after his passing, when his family finally won their lawsuit.
SOME JUNE BLUES PASSINGS:
· June 1, 1968—Carl Davis
· June 16, 1970—Alonzo “Lonnie” Johnson
· June 25, 1971—Elton Island Spivey, aka the Za Zu Girl
Some May Blues Births:
· May 1, 1924—Mabel Louise Smith aka Big Maybelle or Mamie Webster
· May 15, 1938—Larry Johnson
· May 26,1883—Mamie Smith, born as Mamie Robinson
Answer to the April 2015 Blues Question: the bluesman we were looking for is/was Charles W Thomas, aka Jimmy (James) Davis, Maxwell Street Jimmy, and is best known as Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis. Born March 2nd.1925, in Tippo, Mississippi. His first instrument was a home-made guitar, at 14. A little over a year later he was touring with the Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels, with whom he worked as a buck dancer. That type of dancing was the forerunner of what we know today as tap dancing and was also the foundation of what today is known as clogging. From 1946, when he moved to Detroit, to about 1952, he sat in with John Lee Hooker, from whom he learned guitar. From late 1952 to late 1954/early 1955, he hoboed throughout the south, mainly working in the Clarksdale/Greenville, Mississippi area. He moved to and settled in Chicago in the mid ‘50’s. He owned and operated The Knotty Pine Grill, which was located on Maxwell Street. He would often perform in front of the Grill, in the street, for tips. He recorded for the Testament label in 1964-65. He had recorded two songs for Sun Records in 1952, but they were never released. He recorded a self-titled album for Elektra Records in 1965 or ’66. Wolf Records released a compilation album which included some songs featuring him that were recorded in 1988 &’89. He passed away on December 28th. 1995, of a heart attack. NOTE: there is some confusion regarding his “born as” original last name. There are records that show it being Thomas and other records that show it as being Thompson. I went with Thomas because (A) it was the most common name used in the area where he was born, and (B) because it was the one which was indicated in most of the records I checked in regard to this discrepancy.
May 2015 Blues Question: This bluesman, like many others, had a rough childhood. His mother died when he was one week old. Five years later, his father was lynched by the KKK. He lived for a short time with his grandmother, then went to an orphanage, where he taught himself to play harmonica. He went on to record on at least ten different labels. He also toured/performed all over the eastern half of the U.S.A. and Europe. Any idea who this man is/was??
Blues Trivia for May: I decided to go with a slightly different track this month. When I first heard and then got interested in the blues in the 1950’s, it was on the old AM radio stations, as FM was not readily available yet. The first ones I remember from that were by Ivory Joe Hunter (his real name): “ I Almost Lost My Mind” and “ Since I Met You, Baby”, the latter, by the way, often covered in later years by Magic Slim (Morris Holt) when doing live shows on tour. After I got a portable record player (a Steelman) that played 16, 331/3, 45 and 78 rpm records, I started to buy 45’s. The 16 rpm records were for use in the cars of that time that had under-dash record players as an option. One of the artists I bought was Chuck Berry. On the “B” side of “School Day” was an instrumental called “Deep Feeling”. Later on, I bought another of his records for the “A” side and proceeded to wear out the “B” side which was “Blue Feeling”, which was another blues instrumental. At that time there was a female vocalist who flip-flopped between rhythm & blues and rock & roll. Her first recording was under her first “stage name”—“Little Miss Sharecropper”, in 1949. She changed her stage name to Bea Baker when she recorded for OKeh Records in 1951. She then went to Atlantic Records under her real name—(Delores) Lavern Baker, where her first hit, in 1955, was “Tweedlee Dee”, #4 on the R&B charts. In 1956 she had a #1 on the R&B charts –“Jim Dandy”, which sold over a million copies. She did an album in 1958 – “Lavern Baker Sings Bessie Smith”, which is all blues standards. She did another album in 1959 – “Blues Ballads”. In 1965 she did a duet recording, a single, with Jackie Wilson – “Think Twice”, of which there were/are three versions, one of which is “X” rated. The mildest of the other two versions was done so it could get airplay without being censored. I do stock the clean version and the X-rated one also, the latter of which you have to ask to see as it is not on display. That one is on a compilation disc, along with 27 other performers/songs (some of whom you wouldn’t believe would do them!) that is referred to as the dirtiest of the dirty blues. Anyhow, I could write several pages about the life of this woman, but I’ll cut it short here. Lavern passed away March 10th. 1997, of cardiovascular disease, in New York. The little trivia part of this is that she married comedian Slappy White in 1959. Sadly, they were divorced in 1969.
"Clean" version below
Some May Blues Passings:
· May 1,1960 – Andrew “Smoky”/”Smokey” Hogg
· May 15, 2012 – Donald “Duck” Dunn
· May 30, 1976 – Melvin “Lil Son” Jackson
NOTE: At sometime in the near future I’m going to add a small section to this blog: “Some Great Blues Sidemen”, which will include recording studio and stage players, travelling band members, etcetera.
Proprietor of The Sound of Blue record shop in Kent, Ohio.