Memphis Rounder: The Complete Victor Recordings in Chronological Order (1928-1929)
01. Downtown blues (take 1) Listen
02. Downtown blues (take 2) Listen
03. Bedtime blues Listen
04. What`s the matter blues Listen
05. Mistreatin` blues Listen
06. It won`t be long now (take 1) Listen
07. It won`t be long now (take 2) Listen
08. Nehi mamma blues Listen
09. I got mine Listen
10. Stomp that thing Listen
11. `Tain`t nobody`s business if I do - part 1 Listen
12. `Tain`t nobody`s business if I do - part 2 (take 1) Listen
13. `Tain`t nobody`s business if I do - part 2 (take 2) Listen
14. Take me back Listen
15. How long Listen
16. South Memphis blues Listen
17. Bunker hill blues Listen
18. Right now blues Listen
19. Shiney town blue Listen
20. Frank Stokes' Dream Listen
21. Memphis Rounders Blues Listen
Frank Stokes vocal, guitar
Dan Sane, guitar; Will Batts, violin.
With nearly forty songs issued on record, some of them in two parts, Frank Stokes was one of the most extensively recorded of the Memphis blues singers of the 1920s; only Jim Jackson's total of recordings is comparable, and many of Jackson's were remakes of 'Kansas City Blues'. Like Jackson, Stokes blends blues with songs from the medicine shows and from the ragtime days of his childhood. Not only was his repertoire one of the most interesting of its time, it was superbly sung, and backed, whether solo, in partnership with Dan Sane, or with Will Batts, by some of the most accomplished and appropriate blues and ragtime playing on record.
When Victor's field recording unit came to Memphis early in 1928, among the black musicians waiting for it was Frank Stokes. Not only was his repertoire one of the most interesting of its time, it was superbly sung, and backed, whether solo, in partnership or with Will Batts, by some of the most accomplished and appropriate blues and ragtime playing on record. He had already made records for Paramount with his regular partner, Dan Sane (see Document DOCD-5012), and it was probably with Sane that he cut his first session for Victor.
At this session, in February 1928, the emphasis was on blues, rather than the older songs that were also part of Stokes' repertoire; but when Victor returned in August, to record Stokes solo, he played I Got Mine, one of a body of pre-blues songs about gambling, stealing and living high. More up to date was Nehi Mamma Blues, which puns on the Nehi soft drink and the knee high skirts that were the fashion sensation of the jazz Age. Dan Sane rejoined Frank Stokes for the second day of the August 1928 session, and they produced a remarkable two-part version of Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do, a song well known in versions by Bessie Smith and Jimmy Witherspoon, but one which pre-dates blues recording.
Possessed of a powerful voice and driving guitar style, Stokes busked on the streets of Memphis playing a variety of minstrel tunes, early blues, ragtime numbers, breakdowns, and popular songs of the day. His breadth of musical knowledge made him the embodiment of the rural black musical tradition up to the early twentieth century. Stokes joined forces with fellow Mississippian Garfield Akers as a blackface songster, comedian, and buck dancer in the Doc Watts Medicine Show, a tent show that toured the South during World War I.
Tiring of the road, Stokes settled in Oakville, Tennessee, to work as a blacksmith, an occupation that allowed him to play dances, picnics, fish fries, saloons, and parties at his leisure. During the 1920s he teamed with guitarist Dan Sane, joining Jack Kelly's Jug Busters to play white country clubs, parties and dances, and playing Beale Street together as the Beale Street Sheiks. This group first recorded the stomping party music they performed on the streets in August 1927. The fluid guitar interplay between Stokes and Sane, combined with a propulsive beat, witty lyrics, and Stokes's stentorian voice, make their recordings irresistible. Their duets also influenced Memphis Minnie in her duets with husband Kansas Joe McCoy. The Sheiks recorded again a year later in the Memphis Auditorium (a session where Furry Lewis also recorded), waxing more fine blues and adding to their considerable stature. They continued to busk the streets, playing Church's Park (now W.C. Handy Park) on Beale Streetin addition to the usual round of parties, fish fries, and suppers. Stokes's last recording session was again in Memphis in 1929, but the race-record-buying public's rapidly changing tastes lessened his commercial appeal. He was still a popular performer, however, appearing in medicine shows, the Ringling Brothers Circus, and other tent shows during the 1930s and 1940s. During the 1940s, Stokes moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi, and occasionally worked with Bukka White in local juke joints.
Frank Stokes died in Memphis, Tennessee, September 12, 1955. He is buried in Hollywood Cemetery.