Memphis Blues Vol.1 1928-1935 (1990)
01 - Rolling stone - part 1 Listen
02 - Rolling stone - part 2 Listen
03 - Jail house blues Listen
04 - I do blues Listen
05 - That`s no way to get along Listen
06 - Alabama blues Listen
07 - Long train blues Listen
08 - Falling down blues Listen
09 - Nashville stonewall blues Listen
10 - Police sergeant blues Listen
11 - Get away blues Listen
12 - I`ll go with her blues Listen
13 - Dirty deal blues Listen
14 - Black rat blues Listen
15 - New stock yard blues Listen
16 - Old Jim Canan` Listen
17 - Losin` out blue Listen
18 - Death bell blues Listen
19 - Worry blues Listen
20 - Happy blues Listen
21 - Labor blues Listen
22 - I couldn`t help it Listen
23 - Moanin` the blues Listen
Robert Wilkins, vocal, guitar
Tim Dickson, vocal, guitar
Allen Shaw, vocal, guitar
The city of Memphis has been linked with the blues since W.C. Handy updated 'Boss' Crump's political campaign song of 1909 and published it as 'The Memphis Blues' in 1912. This was, of course, a formal composition but when 'race' recordings really took off in the 1920's a whole underworld of blues activity was discovered to be in existence in the city, centred on the 'black' thoroughfare of Beale Street.
Beale was rough; joints such as Pee Wee's, The Hole In The Wall and Jim Canan's revelling in a reputation for having a man for breakfast' everyday - even though 'you never find a dead Nigger on Beale'. The implication being that bodies were quickly hauled out and dumped elsewhere. But there was another side to the Memphis Blues. It was born from the “Country Blues” that were drawn in by Afro-Americans from outlying rural areas looking for work and bringing their music with them.
It is quite obvious to anyone with functioning ears that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had heard the late-'20s song entitled "That's No Way to Get Along" by the Reverend Robert Wilkins, because the Rolling Stones album track "Prodigal Son" is a direct copy, at least to the point in the road where the imitation of Wilkins' guitar style hits a technical roadblock. Yet the early pressings of the Stones' cover listed the writers as Jagger and Richards, a deception that was only corrected following legal action. According to the Stones, the mistake was inadvertent and happened because the original artwork for the Beggars Banquet album had to be redone. Because a publisher connected with the original Vocalion label had nabbed the actual collecting rights to the song, this unfortunately did not result in a financial windfall for Wilkins. And although he took great advantage of the '60s roots music revival and performed both concerts and new recordings in the absolute prime of his musical power, there is no way that every pimply high school kid who sat around listening to the Stones' "Prodigal Son" actually was lucky enough to get a taste of the real thing.
A mix of Afro-American and Cherokee Indian, Wilkins hailed from De Soto County, MS, famous stomping grounds for Delta blues. His later fight with the powerful Rolling Stones probably didn't seem like much of a hassle compared to what he went through growing up. His father was kicked out of the state due to bootlegging activities. His mother made a better choice with her second husband, the fine guitarist Tim Oliver, who taught his new stepson plenty. Other country blues musicians would come by the house to jam, the source of further musical knowledge hanging in the air. By the time he was 15, Wilkins was performing and making money at dances and parties. He relocated to Memphis with his mother when he was in his early twenties, this simple geographical movement north having the expected effect of an equal mix of the Delta blues and Memphis styles. He has stayed in Memphis ever since, mingling with many of the great blues talents who passed through, including Charley Patton and Furry Lewis. He taught Memphis Minnie a good deal of her guitar style. Wilkins' early performing life included touring with small vaudeville and minstrel shows. In 1928, he met Ralph Peer of the Victor label and was invited to cut four songs. One result of these releases was Wilkins being invited to perform on a one-hour radio program, making him apparently the first black artist to make a live radio appearance in Memphis. Vocalion, a main rival in the "race" records business, dispatched a microphone-toting field unit about a year later, doing the competition better by recording eight new Wilkins songs as the Roaring Twenties roared out. These sessions produced the aforementioned "That's No Way to Get Along," which he himself had no qualms about re-titling "Prodigal Son" on his own new versions of the song recorded in the '60s. The song's status as a hit gave him particular license as its creator to push it heavily during his later career revival and a ten-minute version recorded for the Piedmont album Memphis Gospel Singer is one of the rare masterpieces of extended blues. His first batch of recording activity continued in 1935, when he recorded five more blues songs, backed this time by a second guitarist and a wonderful spoons player. During this year, his philosophy of life went through a radical switch, the catalyst being the casual violence and sleazy atmosphere of one of the typical house party gigs that he played. Apparently, it was enough to make him believe this music really was an instrument of Satan. He joined the Church of God in Christ and became a minister with a speciality in healing and herbal remedies, his wares ranging from gospel to gingko.
Although it seemed like a radical change in lifestyle, the actual musical effects were almost nil. He went on playing guitar exactly the same way, but just stuck to a repertoire of gospel numbers. Often the meat of an old guitar arrangement would be re-cooked with a different broth. The sexy "My Baby" was changed into the devout "My Lord," for example. His efforts in this style hold up well in comparison to the monsters of gospel blues such as Blind Willie Johnson or Blind Joe Taggart, and Wilkins also has the light-fingered steel-string charm of Reverend Gary Davis or Mississippi John Hurt. The continuing guitar workout as a minister meant his chops were in plenty fine shape when he was "rediscovered" in the '60s. A better description would be to say he was lured from the churches back out into the secular concert world. Of all the blues musicians unearthed during this period -- some of whom looked like they had literally been pulled out of the ground -- Wilkins was one of the easiest to find. Based on a rumor that Wilkins had been corresponding with an elderly British blues collector, which he actually hadn't, another blues enthusiast checked the Memphis phone book and found Wilkins' name right there. Hmm, if only finding Blind Joe Death could be so easy. Wilkins performed recorded plenty of gospel material along with the blues, including cutting a full album devoted to sacred songs. The grandson of this great bluesman wrote a biography of Wilkins, entitled To Profit a Man, which was published in Memphis by Museum Publishing in 1995.
an in-depth study of Tom Dickson's
recorded output by Max Haymes
With the acquisition of a fairly ‘vintage’ re-issue L.P. called “Jumping On The Hill 1928-41”, (it must be ten years old at least!), I thought I had also acquired an extra, fifth track by Tom Dickson. This was because the track in question, “Worry Blues”, featured some slow, laid-back guitar in complete contrast to the ‘four’ tracks I already had. I then set about preparing an article discussing which one of the un-issued sides in B. & G. R. I had just received My preparation included transcribing all of the Dickson sides I now had. It was when I reached the fourth side on an even older L.P. “Memphis Blues Vol.1” on Roots R.L.323, that I realized the true situation. The latter album listed “Worry Blues” on the record label, on the record cover, and on the accompanying note of track listings. It was obviously Roots’ intention to re-issue this title which would complement the Yazoo re-issue of “Labor Blues”. Also, it has always been, as far as I know, Roots’ policy not to duplicate where possible. In the 40 albums of pre-war material in the R.L.300 series, they were invaluable for filling in important gaps in my collection. Unfortunately, the gremlins got to work, and what appears on my copy of Roots R.L.323 is another copy of “Labor Blues”!
However, by this time I had completed three parts of the article. So I would like to turn this into an in-depth survey of Tom Dickson’s available recorded output (all four of ‘em!). This will serve the purpose of a tribute to at least one of the Blues singers from whom I have gained, over the years, so much pleasure, strength of my inner self, and a deeper awareness of my fellow-man, via a different race and culture. This, I achieved from a deeper understanding of the Blues; a cause which I hope, by my small contribution, will be taken up by other Blues collectors.
Virtually nothing is known about Tom Dickson, apart from a remembrance by Mississippi’s Joe Calicot, who said he played “…around Memphis,”(1). The unidentified sleeve-note writer/s tentatively suggests an Alabama origin by the singer’s use of the word “mamlish”. Obviously making connections with Alabamian Ed Bell’s “Mamlish Blues”. But Bobby Grant who is acknowledged (if at all) as a Delta Blues man, also uses the word “mamlish” on his “Nappy Head Blue&’. (see Yazoo L-l00l). Don Kent reiterates the Joe Calicot quote but adds nothing else, in his notes to Yazoo L-1002,
Policy Wheel’s note writer says Dickson “…recorded six songs in 1928, of which four were issued.”(2). One of Dickson’s first couplings, for Okeh records, was “Death Bell Blues”/”Happy Blues” on OK 8590. Both titles were re-issued on Yazoo L-l002.
Anyone out there any info?