Friday, March 18, 2016

Sleepy John Estes - 1990 - Complete Recorded Works (1929-1941)

Sleepy John Estes 
Complete Recorded Works (1929-1941)

Vol 1 1929 - 1937

Sleepy John Estes
101. The girl I love, she got long curly hair
102. Broken-hearted, ragged and dirty too
103. Divin` duck blues

James 'Yank' Rachel
104. Little Sarah

Sleepy John Estes
105. Black mattie blues

James 'Yank' Rachel
106. T-bone steak blues

Sleepy John Estes
107. Milk cow blues
108. Street car blues

James 'Yank' Rachel
109. Expressman blues

Sleepy John Estes
110. Whatcha doin`?
111. Poor John blues
112. Stack o` dollars
113. My black gal blues
114. Sweet mama (James Yank Rachel, vocal)
115. Down south blues
116. Stop that thing
117. Someday baby blues
118. Who`s been telling you Buddy Brown blues?
119. Married woman blues
120. Drop down mama
121. Government money
122. I wanta tear it all the time
123. Vernita blues
124. I ain`t gonna be worried no more

Vol 2 1937 - 1941

Sleepy John Estes
201. Floating bridge
202. Need more blues
203. Jack and Jill blues
204. Poor man`s friend (T model)
205. Hobo jungle blues
206. Airplane blues
207. Everybody oughta make a change
208. Liquor store blues
209. Easin` back to Tennessee
210. Fire department blues (Martha Hardin)
211. Clean up at home
212. New someday baby
213. Brownsville blues
214. Special agent (Railroad police blues)
215. Mailman blues
216. Time is drawing near
217. Mary come on home
218. Jailhouse blues
219. Tell me how about it (Mr Tom's blues)

The Delta Boys
220. Drop down (I don't feel welcome here)
221. Don't you want to know
222. You shouldn't do that
223. When the saints go marching in

Sleepy John Estes
224. Lawyer clark blues
225. Little Laura blues
226. Working Man Blues

Sleepy John Estes Vol 1 24th September 1929 to 2nd August 1937

Sleepy John Estes, vocal, guitar.
Includes: Johnny Hardge, piano; James Yank Rachel, mandolin; Jab Jones, piano, Tee harmonica; Hammie Nixon, harmonica.

Sleepy John Estes Volume 2 (2nd August to 24th September 1941)

Sleepy John Estes, vocal, guitar.
With contributions by; Hammie Nixon, harmonica; Charlie Pickett, guitar; Robert (Nighthawk) Lee McCoy, harmonica, Son Bonds, vocal, kazoo, guitar; Raymond Thomas, imitation bass, vocal; and others...

John Norris of Jazz Beat Magazine once wrote of Sleepy John Estes .The emotional impact of his singing is overwhelming and when he really gets wound up in his music he sings with great power. Sleepy John Estes was in many ways the personification of the blues. His pleading vocals were always on the point disintegrating into a cry either of help or of joy. His guitar playing, which could either be used as a thumping rhythm or as a remarkable, strong and precise lead, were a direct line to the life of poverty that he lived and his experiences in the Brownsville, Tennessee where he was born and where he died. This is the first of two volumes covering Sleepy John Estes early and, arguably, his best recordings, which he made between 1929 and 1941 before he slipped into obscurity until being re-discovered during the great blues revival of the 1960s.

These recordings show John as an innovator and like Big Joe Williams, Sonny Boy Williamson (John Lee) and Big Bill Broonzy he was willing and able to move on with the times, bringing his music from the country and into the city (Chicago). Like Big Joe, Sleepy John was as comfortable playing with a band as he was playing solo. The recordings on Volume One have the feel of a string band with the ever present James Yank Rachel on mandolin. Also present on several tracks are Jab Jones playing stomping barrelhouse. piano and Hammie Nixon on harmonica. Elsewhere harmonica is provided by the mysterious Tee.

The total sound of these early sides is extraordinary. When Estes and his band hit an up-tempo piece, as on Cow Cow Blues or Watcha Doin?, the effect is both precarious and thrilling at the same time. In among the slow blues such as autobiographical Street Car Blues and Poor John Blues are the stomping Stop That Thing and I Want To Tear It Down. The success of another up-beat number, Drop Down Mamma lead to its re-issue by public demand on 78 in Britain during the 1940s. This is low down blues and good time music at their best.

The second cd begins with Sleepy John Este's account of how he came close to drowning when a car he was riding in skidded off a temporary bridge. It's typical of the man, in that it deals with events and people from his immediate experience and in its constricted, emotional singing, matched by Hammie Nixon's melancholy harmonica. It's typical also in the element of paradox involved; this terrifying experience is recounted to the tune of Careless Love (a tune he later used to sing about the fact that he'd gone "Stone Blind"!)
John Norris of 'Jazz Beat Magazine' once wrote of Sleepy John Estes "The emotional impact of his singing is overwhelming and when he really gets wound up in his music he sings with great power."

Sleepy John Estes was in many ways the personification of the blues. His pleading vocals were always on the point of disintegrating into a cry, either of help or of joy. His guitar playing, which could either be used as a thumping rhythm or as a remarkable, strong and precise lead, were a direct line to the life of poverty that he lived and his experiences in the Brownsville, Tennessee, where he was born and where he died.

Volume Two of his recordings continues to reveal Sleepy John Estes as a significant blues artist of the pre-war blues era. In addition to long time friend and music companion Hammie Nixon, several tracks find Sleepy John in the company Robert Lee McCoy, also known as Robert Nighthawk, Son Bonds and there is the possibility of an appearance of Charlie Pickett. Between them they produce some excellent blues such as Brownsvillle Blues, Hobo Jungle Blues and Special Agent. Drop Down is one of two recordings to feature the lively washboard playing of Ann Sortier, the girlfriend of Robert Lee McCoy. There is the strange, semi-religious blues Time Is Drawing Near. Tell Me How About It has some explicit things to say about "Mister Tom" and his son-in-law "Mister Robert", making its chorus heavily ironic. Don't You Want To Know has all the originality of Estes' more serious lyrics e.g. the reference to Major Bowes, who ran a radio talent show.

Born John Adams Estes, January 25, 1904, in Ripley, TN, (died June 5, 1977); one of about sixteen children; parents were poor sharecroppers; married with five children.

Sleepy John Estes was one of the most individual of all recorded blues singers. He sang with phrasing that fairly dripped with expressiveness in a high crying tone that seemed often like he was speaking to the listener. The songs he wrote were well suited to this treatment, dealing frequently with his and his neighbors' lives in Brownsville, Tennessee. Estes recorded from the late 1920s through the 1930s when he was one of the most popular artists on the Decca label, until 1941 when his brand of country blues, the down-home music of rural blacks, had become something of an anachronism. His discovery by the fold revivalists of the 1960s rescued him from poverty and gave him a second musical career that lasted nearly 15 years, during which he again became one of the most popular and best-loved bluesmen.
John Adam Estes was born near Ripley, Tennessee on January 25, 1904. His parents were sharecroppers who had sixteen children. Like his brothers and sisters, Estes grew up working his parents' fields. There was little time for school. The most traumatic event of his childhood occurred during a baseball game when a stone struck him in the eye. He lost his vision completely in one eye and his other grew worse and worse until, by his fifties, he was left completely blind. Some say his poor eyesight gave him the appearance that led his friends to nickname him "Sleepy;" others say it was just his penchant for falling asleep on the bandstand during his gigs.
Estes' father, who played guitar, was probably the first musician he ever heard. His father showed Estes a few chords, let him play his guitar occasionally, and taught him his first song, a ditty called "Chocolate Drop." Before long Estes had built his own cigar-box instruments on which he practiced. In 1915 the Estes family moved to Brownsville where John hooked up with David Campbell, a local musician who showed him a little more about playing the guitar. Before long Estes was playing local fish fries, frolics, and house parties in the area. A decisive influence was another local musician, Hambone Willie Newbern. Newbern has won a minor place in blues history as the composer of "Roll and Tumble," which became a blues standard eventually recorded by postwar Chicago artists such as Baby Face Leroy and Muddy Waters, and even the British rock group Cream. Newbern took Estes under his wing and before long they were performing together up and down the Mississippi, hitting points as far-flung as Como, Mississippi, down in the Delta.
The Blues Found a Voice
Despite all his blues schooling, Estes' guitar playing remained rudimentary at best. It never reached the expressiveness, invention, or power of Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, or Bukka White. It was merely a convenient vehicle to accompany his singing. But it was his singing that propelled his career. Estes' voice produced a high, plaintive cry that was ageless-it could have been a decrepit old man singing or a teen whose voice had not yet broken. It was a wail, full of pain and pathos. Its sound alone articulated everything the blues represented: loss, despair, loneliness, hurt.
By 1919 he was a popular performer around Brownsville. Reason enough, when his father passed away, for Estes to walk away from the farming he despised. Though Estes wasn't a particularly strong instrumentalist, he managed to surround himself with others who were. He met James "Yank" Rachell around 1920 when he heard another musician was playing a frolic he had expected to be his. His intention was to run off the newcomer. Instead he liked what he heard, and he and Rachell teamed up and started playing square dances and house parties around town, for whites and blacks alike. Rachell had been playing guitar when Estes first heard him, but he soon switched to his second instrument, mandolin.
Later in the 1920s Estes met harmonica player Hammie Nixon, an important figure in the development of blues harmonica. Nixon learned to play from Noah Lewis, the first great modern harp player, and went on to teach James "Sonny Boy" Williamson, one of the first to adapt the harp to urban blues. Estes and Nixon traveled and played together occasionally in the early and mid-1920s. Around the same time Estes met Son Bonds, a Brownsville guitarist. Estes would use these three men on virtually all of his records, up into the late 1960s in the case of Nixon and Rachell.
Every autumn Estes made it a point to play in Memphis, when the city was overflowing with money from the harvest. On one trip, he and Rachell teamed up with Jab Jones, an occasional member of the Memphis Jug Band, to cash themselves in on the jug band fad. They formed the Three J's Jug Band, with Estes singing and playing guitar, Rachell on mandolin, and Jones blowing jug. They were good enough to catch the attention of Jim Jackson, one of the most popular musicians in Memphis. Jackson offered to act as their agent around Memphis. For reasons known only to them-perhaps they were worried that Jackson would cheat them-they refused the offer, preferring to fend for themselves.
A Session of Masterpieces
When the jug craze petered out toward the end of the 1920s, Jones switched back to his first instrument, piano. That was how they recorded at Estes' first session in 1929 with the Victor label. The music they made is some of the most unique and interesting in country blues. Jones' deft piano provided the foundation of the music. Rachell soared above on his mandolin, with Estes in between with his keening voice and solid double-time strumming on guitar. It was, in the words of Don Kent's liner notes to I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More, "a session of masterpieces." It produced a cover of a blues chestnut, "Milk Cow Blues," but Estes version never got around to mentioning the cow! It produced an Estes original, "Street Car Blues," possibly the only blues ever written on the subject. Estes' version of Newbern's "Roll and Tumble," entitled "The Girl I Love She Got Long Curly Hair," was Estes' first single and turned out to be one of his most popular as well. The three musicians were reportedly paid $300 each for the session, a royal sum at the time for most any musician. They pocketed the cash and headed straight to the notorious river town, West Helena, Arkansas, where they quickly squandered all of it on drinking, gambling, and general carousing. Rachell had to pawn his watch to get back to Brownsville.
Estes' records were popular and their sales were good, at least until the Depression deepened and the poor could no longer afford luxuries like phonograph records. Estes made his base in Brownsville where he continued to live and perform, while making regular sorties into Arkansas and Missouri. He went up to Chicago occasionally as well and even claimed to have played for gangster Al Capone, who Estes said was crazy about blues. Despite the popularity of his 1929 records, Estes was not able to record again during the first three years of the 1930s. When he heard that Nixon and Son Bonds had just returned from recording in Chicago, he persuaded Nixon to return to the Windy City and set up a session for him. Finally, in 1934 Estes returned to the studio with Hammie Nixon to record for the Decca label. At the session Estes cut "Someday Baby" and "Drop Down Mama," songs that went on to become blues standards, recorded by the likes of Big Joe Williams, Big Maceo, Big Boy Crudup, and Muddy Waters.
After the 1934 session Estes moved to Chicago where he lived for most of the 1930s. His popularity grew. In 1937 his photo graced the cover of Decca's race record catalog. At his next sessions Estes' song-writing style, in which he would sing directly of his own life and that of his Brownsville friends and neighbors, began to take shape. In 1937 he recorded "Floating Bridge," about being swept off a bridge by a raging river and rescued at the last minute by Hammie Nixon. In 1938 he wrote "Fire Department Blues" about his neighbor Martha Hardin. "She's a hard-working woman, her salary is very small/Then when she pay up her house rent, that don't leave anything for insurance at all/Now I wrote Martha a letter, five days later it returned back to me/You know little Martha's house done burned down, she done moved over Bedford Street."
His last session in 1941 saw his musical chronicle of Brownsville in full flower. He sang about a local lawyer, Mr. Clark, who worked as hard for the poor who couldn't pay as much as for the rich who could. He sang about little Laura whose sexual fantasies had a way of all coming true. And he sang about how machines were pushing sharecroppers off the land around town.
Times Changed
That session was Estes' last for some 20 years. Times were changing, not only down on the farm, but in music too. By the 1940s Estes was a vestige of a music-the pure country blues-that had all but died out and been replaced by more sophisticated blues, the so-called "urban blues." Estes disappeared back down into Tennessee. He and Hammie Nixon reportedly made a trip to Memphis to record for Sam Phillips Sun label in 1948, but little came of it.
Sleepy John Estes was all but forgotten until the folk revivalists of the 1950s set out to track down as many of the old recording artists as they could find. Unfortunately, inaccurate rumors about Estes abounded. In his biography, Big Bill Blues, Big Bill Broonzy wrote that as a child he had seen Estes play at a railroad camp. Estes was 20 years older than he was, Broonzy wrote, and long dead. Imagine the surprise when filmmaker David Blumenthal finally found Estes, tracked down on a tip from Big Joe Williams via Memphis Slim. He looked like a man in his seventies, but he was only 58-eleven years younger than Broonzy! He was found in a ramshackle shack on an abandoned farm with his wife and five children, "living in harsh poverty that was deeply disturbing to see," wrote Samuel Charters in Sweeter Than The Showers Of Rain.
Estes' career somehow picked up where it had left off. Producer Bob Koester took over, setting up appearances at festivals. The most important was the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, when he was reintroduced to the world. He went on to tour Europe twice in 1964 and 1968 with the American Folk Blues Festival. He was a celebrated guest at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969. And in November, 1974 he became the first country bluesman to perform in Japan. Estes made records regularly, up to his death practically, the best being three he did for the Delmark label in Chicago. He frequently worked with his old partners, Yank Rachell and Hammie Nixon, in the 1960s. Sleepy John Estes died on June 5, 1977.
by Gerald E. Brennan

James 'Yank' Rachel
James "Yank" Rachell was the primary exponent of blues mandolin, although he also played guitar, violin, harp and sang expertly well. Born on a farm outside Brownsville, Tennessee, Yank Rachell picked up the mandolin at the age of eight, mainly teaching himself; an early encounter with "Hambone" Willie Newbern early on helped him as well. Rachell began to work dances with singer and guitarist Sleepy John Estes in the early '20s. In early 1929, he co-formed the Three J's Jug Band with Estes and pianist Jab Jones. The Three J's Jug Band were an instant hit and managed to work the dances during the lucrative jug-band craze in Memphis and traveled often to Paducah, Kentucky. The group recorded 14 sides credited jointly to Estes and Rachell for Victor for 1929 and 1930.

After the record business was flattened by the depression, the Three J's broke up. Estes and harmonica player Hammie Nixon went on to Chicago to seek their fortune in the nightclubs, but Yank Rachell decided to try his hand at farming and also worked for the L&N Railroad. Ironically, it was Rachell who was next to record -- during a stopover in New York Rachell teamed up with guitarist Dan Smith and laid down 25 titles for ARC in just three days, though only six of them were issued.

Shortly before the ARC date, Yank Rachell had discovered a kid harmonica player that he believed had real talent, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. They worked together at the Blue Flame Club in Jackson, Tennessee starting in 1933. In 1934 Williamson went north to Chicago. With the success of Williamson's first Bluebird dates of 1937, Rachell decided to join Sonny Boy in Chicago for sessions in March and June of 1938. Yank Rachell also contributed four sides of his own to each session, and then 16 more in 1941 with Sonny Boy backing him up. Some of the 1941 tracks are among his best: "It Seem Like a Dream," "Biscuit Baking Woman," and "Peach Tree Blues" were all successes for both Rachell and Bluebird.

But in 1938, while working in St. Louis with Peetie Wheatstraw, Yank Rachell had married and started to raise a family. During the peak of his musical career, Rachell kept his day job and did not lead "the life," at least not the same one that claimed his friend Sonny Boy Williamson on June 1, 1948. After Williamson's murder, Rachell drifted away from music and relied solely on straight jobs to make his living, settling permanently in Indianapolis in 1958. His wife passed away in 1961, and afterward he began to resume performing. In 1962, Rachell was re-united with Nixon and Estes, and the three of them began tearing up the college and coffeehouse circuit, recording for Delmark as Yank Rachell's Tennessee Jug Busters. Estes died in 1977, and from that time Rachell worked mainly as a solo act. Yank Rachell was a long-time regular at the Slippery Noodle in Indianapolis, and recorded only sporadically in his last years. Nonetheless, he was working on a new album when he died at age 87

Various Artists - 1990 - Memphis Blues Vol.1 1928-1935 (1990)

Various Artists 
Memphis Blues Vol.1 1928-1935 (1990)

Robert Wilkins
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

Tom Dickson
18 - Death bell blues Listen
19 - Worry blues Listen
20 - Happy blues Listen
21 - Labor blues Listen

Allen Shaw
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.

Robert Wilkins

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.

Tom Dickson
"Worry Blues" 
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.

Allen Shaw
Anyone out there any info?

Frank Stokes - 1990 - Memphis Rounder: The Complete Victor Recordings in Chronological Order (1928-1929)

Frank Stokes
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.

Born January 1, 1888, in White Haven, Tennessee, two miles north of the Mississippi state line, Frank Stokes was raised in Tutwiler, Mississippi, after the death of his parents. As a youth Stokes learned to play guitar before moving to Hernando, Mississippi, home to guitarists Jim Jackson, Dan Sane, Elijah Avery (of Cannon's Jug Stompers), and Robert Wilkins. In Hernando, Stokes worked as a blacksmith, traveling to Memphis on the weekends to play guitar.

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.

The Beale Street Sheiks - 1990 - The Beale Street Sheiks (Stokes & Sane) 1927 -1929

The Beale Street Sheiks
The Beale Street Sheiks (Stokes & Sane) 1927 -1929

01. You shall (4771)
02. It`s a good thing (4772)
03. Sweet to mama
04. Half cup of tea
05. Beale town bound
06. Last go round
07. Jazzin` the blues
08. You shall (20043)
09. It`s a good thing (20044)
10. Mr. Crump don`t like it
11. Chicken you can roost behind the moon
12. Blues in D
13. Ain`t goin` to do like I used to do
14. Hunting blues
15. Rockin` on the hill blues
16. Fillin` in blues - part 1
17. Fillin` in blues - part 2
18. Wasn`t that doggin` me
19. Jumpin` on the hill

Frank Stokes, vocal, guitar.
Dan Sane, vocal, guitar.

It was in 1927 that Frank Stokes and Dan Sane made their first recordings for Paramount, by which time they were one of the tightest guitar duos in blues, with Sane’s flat-picked embellishments sliding through Stokes’ strong but nimble rhythms like fish through the sea. “Jazzin’ The Blues”, whose title defers to fashion, has one sung verse, but is thereafter an instrumental showpiece, with Stokes calling out the chord changes (doubtless already agreed) to Sane. Outside music, Stokes worked as a blacksmith, and his guitar playing has a metalworker’s combination of strength and precision. He was also blessed with an exceptionally powerful voice, and impressive breath control, as may be heard on It’s “A Good Thing”. The two men were billed as the Beale Street Sheiks, and Stokes songs often refer to Memphis, as on “Beale Town Bound” and “Mr. Crump Don’t Like It”, a topical adaptation of “Mama Don’t Allow” that refers to local politician E.H. Crump, a segregationist, but one who realised the value of black votes. Along with the blues that became popular when they were growing up, Stokes and Sane played older, medicine show and minstrel songs like “Last Go Round”. “You Shall” includes verses that date back to slavery, and “Chicken, You Can Roost Behind The Moon” is related to a song published in 1899. In his blues, Stokes projects an image of himself as a rounder, playing the field with women; “It’s A Good Thing” is a sly, extended joke on this image, with Stokes attacking prostitution, but concluding that “one woman’ll never do” for him.
In 1928, the duo switched to Victor (see Document DOCD-5013), but they returned to Paramount for one session in 1929, from which six songs were issued, with a seventh surviving as a test pressing. They were still combining blues with the hokum of the medicine show and the street: “Wasn’t That Doggin’ Me” lies somewhere between the two, and “Rockin’ On The Hill Blues” features crosstalk that still sounds funny and spontaneous, even when Sane uses the most overworked slogan of black music in the ‘20s, “Tight like that!” They were fond of a little figure in dotted rhythm; it occurs several times on their records, never more effectively than on “Hunting Blues”, where it appropriately mimics the hunters’ horn call.
Original 78 rpm records of the Beale Street Sheiks fall into the “extremely rare” category, suggesting that their records sold in low quantities, perhaps poorly. Perhaps the duo’s style sounded a little aged for the record buying public who also had the choice of the merriment and “low down, dirty blues” of the Memphis Jug Band or the slick slide guitar playing of the young Furry Lewis or the driving blues of the feisty Memphis Minnie. Yet the music of the Sheiks is regarded as a pure delight and a wonderful insight into blues carried forward by two older men who were there at the beginning.

Blind Willie McTell - 1990 - Complete Recorded Works Vols.1-3 (1927-1935)

Blind Willie McTell 
Complete Recorded Works Vols.1-3 (1927-1935)

Volume 1 1927 - 1931

101. Writin` paper blues
102. Stole rider blues
103. Mama, `tain`t long fo` day
104. Mr. McTell got the blues (tk. 1)
105. Mr. McTell got the blues (tk. 2)
106. Three women blues
107. Dark night blues
108. Statesboro blues
109. Loving talking blues
110. Atlanta strut
111. Travelin` blues
112. Come on around to my house mama
113. Kind mama
114. Teasing brown (Harris & Harris, vocal)
115. Drive away blues
116. This is not the stove to brown your bread (Harris & Harris, vocal)
117. Love changing blues
118. Talkin` to myself
119. Razor ball
120. Southern can is mine
121. Broke down engine blues
122. Stomp down rider
123. Scarey day blues

Volume 2 1931 - 1933

201. Rough Alley blues (Ruth Willis, vocal)
202. Experience blues (Ruth Willis, vocal)
203. Painful blues (Ruth Willis, vocal)
204. Low rider`s blues
205. Georgia rag
206. Low down blues (Ruth Willis, vocal)
207. Rollin` mama blues
208. Lonesome day blues
209. Mama, let me scoop for you
210. Searching the desert for the blues
211. Warm it up to me
212. It`s your time to worry
213. It`s a good little thing
214. You was born to die (w. Curley Weaver)
215. Lord have mercy if you please
216. Don`t you see how this world made a change
217. Savannah mama
218. Broke down engine
219. Broke down engine no. 2 (take 3)
220. My baby`s gone
221. Love-makin` mama (take 1)
222. Death room blues (take 2)
223. Death cell blues Listen
224. Lord, send me an angel (take 1)

Volume 3 1933 - 1935

301. B and O blues no. 2 (take 1)
302. B and O blues no. 2 (take 2)
303. Weary hearted blues
304. Bell Street lightnin`
305. Southern can mama
306. Runnin` me crazy
307. East St. Louis blues (Fare you well)
308. Ain`t it grand to be a Christian
309. We got to meet death one day (take a)
310. We got to meet death one day (take b)
311. Don`t let nobody turn you around
312. I got religion, I`m so glad
313. Dying gambler
314. God don`t like it
315. Bell Street blues
316. Let me play with yo` yo-yo
317. Lay some flowers on my grave
318. Ticket agent blues
319. Cold winter day
320. Your time to worry
321. Cooling board blues
322. Hillbilly Willie`s blues

Blind Willie McTell, vocal, 12-string guitar, 6-string guitar.
With contributions by:
Curly Weaver, vocal guitar.
Ruby Glaze, vocal.
Kate McTell, vocal.

If Robert Johnson was the king of the Mississippi blues and Blind Lemon Jefferson was the king of the Texas blues then the Royal Crown of the Georgia blues must go to Blind Willie McTell. In addition, he was also a king of the twelve string guitar on which he played some of the deepest “country blues”, intricate “ragtime” and some of the finest “bottleneck slide guitar” to have been recorded.

This three CD set covers the early years of this unique and extraordinary blues musician who, though revered by many including, Taj Mahal, The Alman Brothers, Bob Dylan and Jack White, all of who have covered his songs, has never been imitated. There is now a thriving annual blues festival dedicated to the memory of Blind Willie Mctell which take place in his home town of Thomson, Georgia.

This set demonstrates the wide breadth of Blind McTell’s repertoire with some of the best blues on record, including the remarkable Mama, Tain’t Long Fo’ Day, the celebrated Statesboro Blues, the low down Broke Down Engine and the enchanting Travelin’ Blues. There are enthralling ragtime numbers including; Georgia Rag, Southern Can Is Mine and Atlanta Strut. McTell was equally at home playing religious pieces, similar to the guitar evangelists of the time including his good friend the great Blind Willie Johnson. We Got To Meet Death One Day, I Got Religion, I'm So Glad and God Don't Like It are just a few which demonstrate that McTell was a fine all-rounder.

Joining him on some of the tracks are Ruby Glaze, his wife Kate, his close companion Curly Weaver and others.

Atlanta is a strange city, one of many contrasts. Today once can see a scar seared in the middle of the black southern area in which is located Atlanta Stadium. Edging on the scar and the needed arteries is the black ghetto - Decatur Street is not far off, and that is the main street in that section of town. Another contrast is the relative affluence of the city ensconced in a state full of army bases, red dirt, kudzu, and poor people. Atlanta is a good city, but it is a bit on the strange side - though this may be due to its context.
There has been a great deal of musical activity in Atlanta, and many of the good bluesmen lived and / or recorded there. Being at the southern end of the Piedmont belt (geopgraphically and musically) resulted in there being a regional modification of the prevalent Piedmont style. This was most popularized by Blind Boy Fuller, and was recorded commerically from the late twenties into the fifties. In addition, there were strictly local talents, as well as "passers through."

In the twenties there were a great many musicians in and about town. People such as Peg Leg Howell, Eddie Anthony, "Barbecue Bob" (Robert Hicks), Eddie Mapp, Fred McMullen, Charlie Lincoln (Charlie Hicks), Ruth Willis, Buddy Moss, and Curley Weaver were found at parties, dances, and suppers. They were also found on record - especially on the original Columbia and Okeh - and seemingly sold rather well. Howell, Anthony, et al. worked in the stringband tradition, while the Hicks brothers tended to work solo, or with each other, depending on the circumstances, and they all had a connection to Atlanta's best, Blind Willie McTell.

McTell was a true twelve-string guitar wizard - he backed up some of the above, and used Moss, McMullen, and especially Curley Weaver as second to him. He recorded some eighty blues and gospel songs from 1927 to 1936, and made a couple of sessions after that - the last being in 1956. His finger-picking style on his awkward instrument is instantly recognized, as is his use of a bottleneck on it on occasion. He is a masterful, mysterious musician of whom little is known.

Connoisseurs of post-war "Rhythm and Blues" and blues were long intriqued by an early Atlantic record released on 78 under the name of "Barrelhouse Sammy - The Country Boy" It was instantly obvious that the pseudonym hit the identity of that great blues singer of the 1920's and 1930's, Blind Willie McTell. What they didn't know was how many other titles Atlantic had recorded, the only clue lying in the gap of two master control numbers between Kill It Kid (A320) and Broke Down Engine Blues (A323), the two titles on 78.

When Pete Lowery, Mike Leadbitter and myself visited Atlantic in 1959 our intent was simple but our hope of sucess or cooperation, from past experience, in doubt. We wanted to see the early company files covering the years before Atlantic was a giant corporation and take down missing discographical details to fill in our knowledge of the company's activities and plug gaps in Mike's book (with Neil Slaven), Blues Records 1943-66. Some companies dislike (not unnaturally) strangers peering through their past, but Atlantic didnt mind as a phone call by Mike brought a positive "come over and have a look" response. However, many companies do not have vital information on their acitivities of twenty years ago; they didn't keep files very accurately and often what they did keep was lost, stolen, mislaid or destroyed! We held our breath as we made our way! Upon arrival in the mid-morning, we were shown out into a hall where the master books are kept. Mostly these are impressive ledgers, looking suitably important to document the huge hits and important jazz Atlantic has recorded. Lying there among these was a quarto-bound writing book rather like those used in schools. This contained, in a painstaking pen, hand-written details of Atlantic's first sessions. Our excitement increased as we at first glanced, and then, suitably ensconced in one of the studios, studiously pored over the contents. Possibly the most important news was that the lone 78 of McTell came from a session of no less than 15 titles! The next question of course, did they still exist? Originally recorded into acetate discs on location in Atlanta, the consensus of opinion was that they didn't. Atlantic staff had already looked, but it was a big job. Eventually they were found in good shape and the last great block of titles recorded commercially by this superb artist can at last be heard by the record buyer, twenty-plus years after they were recorded.

Pseudonyms were a McTell stock-in-trade, having used Blind Sammie (for Columbia in the late twenties / early thirties), Georgia Bill (for Okeh at the same time), Hot Shot Willie (for Victor in 1932), Blind Willie (for Vocalion in the thirties and Regal in the fifties), Pig 'n' Whistle Red (for Regal again) and Barrelhouse Sammy for Atlantic. He reverted back to Blind Willie McTell when recording for Decca in 1935, and the Library of Congress (for John Lomax) in 1940. As this was the name on the first records made for Victor in 1927 it has come to be taken as "his own" but what he called himself most of the time is beyond our direct knowledge. In conversations with people who knew him (i. e. Buddy Moss, Piano Red, and others in the Atlanta area), he is always referred to as "Blind Wille" - his full name appearing occasionally in the City Directory. All this tells little about the gentleman, but that he recorded prolifcally before the Second World War and knew how to dodge contract commitments!

Little is really known about McTell, born May 5, 1901 in Statesboro, Georgia, but he was best-known in Atlanta where reports of his activities have been preserved, notably via recordings he made for the Library of Congress by John Lomax in 1940. These recordings, only made available to the public in the mid 1960's, reveal for the first time the depth of McTell's songbag. A "last session" done non-professionally in 1955 was unearthed and released by Prestige in 1960 which underlined his breadth of repertoire and cuased consternation among the collectors who had hitherto regarded McTell as purely a "blues singer". The 1949 session issued here reinforces this impression even more.

John Lomax's interview at the Library of Congress session with McTell, who was probably blind from infancy, reveals a quick-wittedness quite in accordance with reports of his uncanny sense of direction. After locating McTell, Lomax was unable to get back to his hotel -

"Ill show you, said totally blind Willie. Between us and the hotel, there were six or eight right-angled cross streets and two places where five or six streets crossed. Chatting all the while with me, Blind Willie called every turn, even mentioning the location of the stop-lights. He gave the names of buildings as we passed them. Stored in his mind was an accurate detailed photograph of Atlanta."1

This ability allowed him to travel, apparently unhindered by his affliction, to far and distant parts following carnivals, circuses, and medicine shows during the first half of the century.

Other similar remembrances come from Buddy Moss, Herb Abramson and Piano Red - the latter remembering Wilie taking him to Augusta to record for Vocalion in 1938. It was Red's firsttrip out of the Atlanta area! Buddy "related on story of McTell taking them (i.e. Moss and Curley Weaver) clear across New York once and said thaat after one subway ride, he could find his way back again. Apparently McTell was quite independent and needed no one to lead him . . .he just catch a buss and ride . . . 'the only thing to confuse him was a ten-dollar bill.'."2

It is interesting that in the early '20's he attended a school for the blind in Macon attended by the great hillbilly artist Riley Puckett, and speculation as to the identity of the "darkey in Atlanta" who taught Puckett his guitar tour de force Darkey's Wail, is intriguing.

McTell played a twelve-string guitar most of the time, giving his songs a deep, rich background, but with a lightness of touch and variability not associated with other contemporaries of the twelve such as Barbecue Bob, Willie Baker, or Charlie Lincoln with their hard chordal approach. He sounds like no other artist, nor does he apparently subscribe to the trends set by other artists in the developmental period in recorded blues, men like Big Bill Broonzy or Blind Blake.

This is a point open to some conjecture - he no doubt heard Blind Lemmon Jefferson or his records (as seen by his version of One Dime Blues), and some blues artists of the Piedmont region play similarly when the pick up a twelve-string. Jefferson and Blake were prodigious influences on blues singers in the 20's . . . how much being hard to gauge. Atlanta records of the 20's and 30's are usually instantly recognizable; so is McTell, he is apart from the rest - a great folksinger, blues singer and guitarist whose immense talent has only been fully appreciated in recent years. Why Alan Lomax, who did so much to promote Leadbelly, overlooked a similar opportunity with McTell, is hard to understand; he haas the compelling dramatic voice of the best bluesmen coupled with the wit and imagery of the greatest folk-poet. This facet was at least remembered by Ahmet Ertegun, and the songs of this album are the result.

Sam Charters mentions this McTell session in his 1959 book The Country Blues. "The Atlantic record, Broke Down Engine Blues and Kill It Kid on Atlantic 891 was oone of the most perplexing records in the blues field. He simply walked into the Atlantic studios in 1949, auditioned and recorded without any reference to his remarkable past." This is a lovely but apocryphal study. The Erteguns of Atlantic records started out as jazz fans and collectors of records - they even published a small magazine while in California. From this background Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson began the company in 1947 - stressing jazz and jazz-based releases. It was their distributor in Atlanta who alerted Ahmet to Blind Willie's presence in town. Realizing this was the same who many blues and gospel sides pre-war, he went down and recorded him there. The two sides issued are excellent, but were not exactly a commercial proposition in 1949. A lone black man singing and playing in that style wasn't a seller and the remainder of the session was never issued. Such songs as Broke Down Engine Blues, with its rich double meanings, or Dying Crapshooters Blues, an incredible funeral chant which goes back to variants collected in the 19th century and probably older, do give an indication of McTell's ability. Little Delia is a brilliantly told story while several other items are reworkings of well-loved themes such as Blind Lemon's Last Dime Blues or the eternal Pinetop's Boogie Woogie given McTell's personalized guitar treatment.

At the time these records were made, McTell was very closely allied too another fine Atlanta artist, Curley Weaver, whose presence here on some numbers here is uncertain, but possible. He may be on guitar on one or two titles - they played so closely together it is often hard to separate them. Willie does call out on several numbers "take it six" or some similar command, but this may be out of habit rather than a second guitar being present.

The twelve-string guitar gives such a very full sound and what sounds like another guitarist could be a touch of echo. McTell's religious bent, folling a dual role taken by countless blues artists like Jefferson or Charlie Patton, many of whom changed their name when they donned the "cloth", is well illustrated by five oof the titles on Side 2. His style changes little, but for the use of a bottleneck, his attack or feeling not at all; whether he had a deep religious sense or not we shall never know, for a half-century of singing for his meals on the streets all over the Eastern states had no doubt taught him to sing like he meant it, whatever the subject. Of necessity was no doubt born the patience, sensitivity, and observation which made this man a giant among folk artists. It is a terrible shameit took him so long, as it has other great artists in many other fields, to gain the recognition he so richly deserved while alive. Though still alive as late as 1966 it seems likely that McTell is dead, though how, when and where we still do not know. All he left us is his beautiful music, a heritage whose worth will be accentuated by the release of these superb performances.

Simon A. Napier
editor Blues Unlimited

1. John A. Lomax, Library of Congress Recordings - Biograph Records
2. Bastin & Lowry, Blues Unlimited, #67 Nov. 1969 "Tricks Ain't Working No More - Part I"

Charley Patton - 1990 - Complete Recorded Works (1929-1934)

Charley Patton 
Complete Recorded Works (1929-1934)

101. Mississippi boweavil blues
102. Screamin` and hollerin` the blues
103. Down the dirt road blues
104. Pony blues
105. Banty rooster blues
106. It won`t be long
107. Pea vine blues
108. Tom Rushen blues
109. A spoonful blues
110. Shake it and break it (but don`t let it fall mama)
111. Prayer of death - part 1
112. Prayer of death - part 2
113. Lord I`m discouraged
114. I`m goin` home
115. Going to move to Alabama
116. Elder Greene blues (take 1)
117. Elder Greene blues (take 2)
118. Circle round the moon
119. Devil sent the rain blues
120. Mean black cat blues

Charley Patton
201. Frankie and Albert
202. Some these days I`ll be gone (take 1)
203. Some these days I`ll be gone (take 2)
204. Green River blues

Henry Sims
205. Farrell blues
206. Come back corrina

Charley Patton
207. Hammer blues (take 1)
208. Hammer blues (take 2)
209. Magnolia blues
210. When your way gets dark
211. Heart like railroad steel
212. Some happy day
213. You`re gonna need somebody when you die
214. Jim Lee blues - part 1
215. Jim Lee blues - part 2
216. High water everywhere - part 1
217. High water everywhere - part 2
218. Jesue is a dying-bed maker
219. I shall not be moved (take 1)
220. Rattlesnake blues

Charley Patton
301. Running wild blues

Henry Sims
302. Tell me man blues
303. Be true be true blues

Charley Patton
304. Joe Kirby
305. Mean black moan
306. Dry well blues
307. Some summer day - part i
308. Moon going down
309. Bird nest bound
310. Jersey bull blues
311. High sheriff blues
312. Stone pony blues

Bertha Lee
313. Yellow bee

Charley Patton
314. Mind reader blues
315. 34 blues
316. Love my stuff
317. Revenue man blues
318. Oh death (Patton and Lee)
319. Troubled `bout my mother (Patton and Lee)
320. Poor me
321. Hang it on the wall

Includes performances by; Henry Sims, vocal, violin; Bertha Lee, vocal; Willie Brown, guitar.

Patton is considered, with some justification, to be the archetypal, Mississippi Delta blues singer / guitarist. His guitar playing, including his bottleneck slide guitar technique, coupled with his gritty vocal delivery created a mixture of some of the most primitive yet sublime recordings to be made in the "pre-war blues" era. Many of his recorded performances are so powerful as to be unsurpassed within the genre. At the same time he had an overpowering presence that embodied the very essence of the Mississippi Blues. Equally, he can well be thought of as a songster, in view of his wide-ranging repertoire of blues, ballads, rags, spirituals and popular songs that he displays on his recordings which are presented on Document's three volumes of Charley Patton's recordings. Certainly, he was a showman and entertainer whose live performances could be sombre, melancholy, intense or humorous. Yet he differs from his "songster" contemporaries like Mississippi John Hurt and Mance Lipscomb in that he used solid blues as a vehicle for an intensely personal musical expression. These three volumes present all of his issued recordings. His original 78 rpm records are extremely rare. In many cases there are only single known copies which are now the prized possessions of collectors.

Volume one is full Patton classics beginning with the stunning Mississippi Boweavil Blues with Charley increasing the speed of the tempo to fever pitch, gasping at the end of his lines and playing frenetic slide guitar, lap style, hitting the notes perfectly way beyond the twelfth fret. There's certainly no hint of debut performance nerves here. Spoonful Blues demonstrates another remarkable slide guitar performance and there is little wonder that the song was picked up by many others such as his great admirer Howling Wolf (Chester Burnett) and 1960's British super group; Cream led by Eric Clapton. The ragtime showpiece Shake It and Break It is a lively affair and conjures up the image of Charley doing the "clowning" during his live performances that so appalled his friend Son House. This entailed Charley playing his guitar behind his back and between his legs. Jimi Hendrix was doing exactly the same thing forty years later, though its not known that Charlie set light to his guitar! The CD covers all of Charley2s first session for Paramount and the first six recordings made for Paramount in late 1929 on which he is accompanied by the violin player Henry Simms who can also be found accompanying Muddy Waters on Library of Congress Recording made in Mississippi thirteen years later (Document DOCD-5146 'Muddy Waters (1941 - 1946)').

At his second recording session Charley recorded Green River Blues, which is possibly one of his older pieces. Farrell Blues, a tribute to his hometown, and the venerable Come Back Corrina feature vocals by fiddler Henry Sims. These are pleasant, if unadventurous performances with Patton confining himself to a strummed guitar accompaniment.
The two takes of Hammer Blues (correctly titled “Hammock Blues”) are very similar and exude a curious feeling of enervation. Magnolia Blues and When Your Way Gets Dark are virtually alternative takes of the same song, with shimmering slide guitar playing and snapped bass strings. Sadly, the only surviving copy of Heart Like Railroad Steel has a great deal of surface noise but this fails to mask what is an exceptional performance, even by Patton’s own high standards.
Completing the session were two sanctified pieces, Some Happy Day, with slide echoing the voice, and You’re Gonna Need Somebody When You Come To Die. A further day’s session produced another 10 Patton masters plus 2 more Sims vocals. The 2-part Jim Lee Blues celebrates a Mississippi river boat that plied between Vicksburg and Memphis. It includes fragments of “Red River Blues” and “Poor Boy” and even verses that connect it with black minstrelsy.
More typical of the latter-day Patton is the 2-part High Water Everywhere, a graphic account of the 1927 Mississippi River flood which sounds completely spontaneous, even though recorded nearly three years after the event and almost certainly not totally improvised in the studio. This gripping tour-de-force was, deservedly, very popular.
Rattlesnake Blues, a May 1930 release, was one of the best of the Patt

Volume three features the last nine sides released on the Paramount label and twelve sides which Charley recorded for the American Record Company and released on the Vocalion label. Henry Simms is with him on five of the Paramount sides giving a string band feel to the performances whilst the great Mississippi guitarist and Robert Johnson's "friend" Willie Brown (Document DOCD-5002) gives his contribution most notably on Moon Going Down and Bird Nest Bound. Charley's common-law wife Bertha Lee is the lead vocalist on Yellow Bee and Mind Reader Blues and provides vocal support on the two religious titles Oh Death and Troubled 'Bout My Mother. This CD and the collection of all of Charley Patton's released recordings presented on Document, is rounded off with the reflective Poor Me createing a strange melancholy mood which is then, perhaps characteristically shrugged off by the ragtime dance tune Hang It On The Wall.

If the Delta country blues has a convenient source point, it would probably be Charley Patton, its first great star. His hoarse, impassioned singing style, fluid guitar playing, and unrelenting beat made him the original king of the Delta blues. Much more than your average itinerant musician, Patton was an acknowledged celebrity and a seminal influence on musicians throughout the Delta. Rather than bumming his way from town to town, Patton would be called up to play at plantation dances, juke joints, and the like. He'd pack them in like sardines everywhere he went, and the emotional sway he held over his audiences caused him to be tossed off of more than one plantation by the ownership, simply because workers would leave crops unattended to listen to him play any time he picked up a guitar. He epitomized the image of a '20s "sport" blues singer: rakish, raffish, easy to provoke, capable of downing massive quantities of food and liquor, a woman on each arm, with a flashy, expensive-looking guitar fitted with a strap and kept in a traveling case by his side, only to be opened up when there was money or good times involved. His records -- especially his first and biggest hit, "Pony Blues" -- could be heard on phonographs throughout the South. Although he was certainly not the first Delta bluesman to record, he quickly became one of the genre's most popular. By late-'20s Mississippi plantation standards, Charley Patton was a star, a genuine celebrity.

Although Patton was roughly five foot, five inches tall and only weighed a Spartan 135 pounds, his gravelly, high-energy singing style (even on ballads and gospel tunes it sounded this way) made him sound like a man twice his weight and half again his size. Sleepy John Estes claimed he was the loudest blues singer he ever heard and it was rumored that his voice was loud enough to carry outdoors at a dance up to 500 yards away without amplification. His vaudeville-style vocal asides -- which on record give the effect of two people talking to each other -- along with the sound of his whiskey- and cigarette-scarred voice would become major elements of the vocal style of one of his students, a young Howlin' Wolf. His guitar playing was no less impressive, fueled with a propulsive beat and a keen rhythmic sense that would later plant seeds in the boogie style of John Lee Hooker. Patton is generally regarded as one of the original architects of putting blues into a strong, syncopated rhythm, and his strident tone was achieved by tuning his guitar up a step and a half above standard pitch instead of using a capo. His compositional skills on the instrument are illustrated by his penchant for finding and utilizing several different themes as background accompaniment in a single song. His slide work -- either played in his lap like a Hawaiian guitar and fretted with a pocket knife, or in the more conventional manner with a brass pipe for a bottleneck -- was no less inspiring, finishing vocal phrases for him and influencing contemporaries like Son House and up-and-coming youngsters like Robert Johnson. He also popped his bass strings (a technique he developed some 40 years before funk bass players started doing the same thing), beat his guitar like a drum, and stomped his feet to reinforce certain beats or to create counter rhythms, all of which can be heard on various recordings. Rhythm and excitement were the bywords of his style.

The second, and equally important, part of Patton's legacy handed down to succeeding blues generations was his propensity for entertaining. One of the reasons for Charley Patton's enormous popularity in the South stems from his being a consummate barrelhouse entertainer. Most of the now-common guitar gymnastics modern audiences have come to associate with the likes of a Jimi Hendrix, in fact, originated with Patton. His ability to "entertain the peoples" and rock the house with a hell-raising ferociousness left an indelible impression on audiences and fellow bluesmen alike. His music embraced everything from blues, ballads, ragtime, to gospel. And so keen were Patton's abilities in setting mood and ambience, that he could bring a barrelhouse frolic to a complete stop by launching into an impromptu performance of nothing but religious-themed selections and still manage to hold his audience spellbound. Because he possessed the heart of a bluesman with the mindset of a vaudeville performer, hearing Patton for the first time can be a bit overwhelming; it's a lot to take in as the music, and performances can careen from emotionally intense to buffoonishly comic, sometimes within a single selection. It is all strongly rooted in '20s black dance music and even on the religious tunes in his repertoire, Patton fuels it all with a strong rhythmic pulse.

He first recorded in 1929 for the Paramount label and, within a year's time, he was not only the largest-selling blues artist but -- in a whirlwind of recording activity -- also the music's most prolific. Patton was also responsible for hooking up fellow players Willie Brown and Son House with their first chances to record. It is probably best to issue a blanket audio disclaimer of some kind when listening to Patton's total recorded legacy, some 60-odd tracks total, his final session done only a couple of months before his death in 1934. No one will never know what Patton's Paramount masters really sounded like. When the company went out of business, the metal masters were sold off as scrap, some of it used to line chicken coops. All that's left are the original 78s -- rumored to have been made out of inferior pressing material commonly used to make bowling balls -- and all of them are scratched and heavily played, making all attempts at sound retrieval by current noise-reduction processing a tall order indeed. That said, it is still music well worth seeking out and not just for its place in history. Patton's music gives us the first flowering of the Delta blues form, before it became homogenized with turnarounds and 12-bar restrictions, and few humans went at it so aggressively.

Skip James - 1994 - The Complete Paramount Recordings 1931

Skip James 
The Complete Paramount Recordings 1931 

01. Devil got my woman
02. Cypress grove blues
03. Cherry ball blues
04. Illinois blues
05. Four o`clock blues
06. Hard-luck child
07. Hard time killin` floor blues
08. Yola my blues away
09. Jesus is a mighty good leader
10. Be ready when he comes
11. Drunken spree
12. I`m so glad
13. Special rider blues
14. How long buck
15. Little cow and calf is gonna die blues
16. What am I to do blues
17. 22-20 blues
18. If you haven`t any hay get on down the road

Skip James; vocal, guitar, piano.

Skip James (b. June 21, 1902 near Bentonia, Mississippi, d. Oct. 3, 1969 in Philadelphia) was an American blues singer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter. He was born Nehemiah Curtis James. As a youth he heard local musicians such as Henry Stuckey and the brothers Charlie and Jesse Sims, and began playing the organ in his teens. He worked on road construction and levee-building crews in his native Mississippi in the early 1920s, and wrote what is perhaps his earliest song, "Ilinois Blues," about his experiences as a laborer. Later in the '20s he sharecropped, and made bootleg whiskey in the Bentonia area. He began playing guitar in open E-minor tuning and developed a three-finger picking technique that he would use to great effect on his recordings. In addition, he began to practice piano-playing, drawing inspiration from the Mississippi blues pianist Little Brother Montgomery.

In early 1931 James auditioned for the Jackson, Mississippi record-shop owner and talent scout H. C. Speir, who placed blues performers with a variety of record labels, including Paramount Records. On the strength of this audition, Skip James traveled to Grafton, Wisconsin to record for Paramount. These recordings are among the most famous and idiosyncratic ever made in the blues idiom. "I'm So Glad" was derived from a 1927 song by Art Sizemore and George A. Little entitled "So Tired," which had been recorded by both Gene Austin and, as "I'm Tired of Livin' All Alone," by Lonnie Johnson. But, as James' biographer, Stephen Calt, maintains, the finished product was totally original, "one of the most extraordinary examples of fingerpicking found in guitar music." The other pieces recorded at Grafton, such as "Devil Got My Woman," "Special Rider Blues," and "22-20," were of similarly high quality both vocally and instrumentally, and are the recordings upon which James' subsequent reputation lay. There are only a very few copies known to exist of James' Paramount 78s.

For the next thirty years James recorded nothing, and drifted in and out of music. He was virtually unknown to listeners until about 1960. In 1964 blues enthusiasts John Fahey, Bill Barth and Harry Vestine found him in Tunica, Mississippi. According to Calt, the "rediscovery" of both Skip James and of Son House at virtually the same moment was the start of the "blues revival" in America. In July 1964 James, along with other blues performers, appeared at the Newport Folk Festival. He recorded for the Takoma, Melodeon and Vanguard labels, and played engagements throughout the remainder of the decade. Cream recorded a version of "I'm So Glad," providing James the only windfall of his career. (Cream based their version on James' simplifed '60s recording, not on the original 1931 recording.)

Skip James has often been called one of the exponents of the Bentonia School of blues playing, which was later carried on by a guitarist and singer named Jack Owens. Calt, in his 1994 biography of James, I'd Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues, maintains that there was indeed no style of blues that originated in Bentonia, and that this is simply a notion of later blues writers who overestimated the provinciality of Mississippi during the early twentieth century, when railways linked small towns, and who failed to see that, in the case of Owens, "the 'tradition' he bore primarily consisted of musical scraps from James' table." Whatever the truth is regarding the origins of James' style, or of the "Bentonia School," he certainly stands as one of the most original of all blues performers.

This collection duplicates what is found on both the Document and Yazoo releases, and it matters little which one you pick up. All three come from the same sources, and all have the same amount of snaps, cracks, and hailstone hiss in all the same places. Don't let that stop you, though, because these are beautiful and maverick performances, and essential for a good blues collection.

Furry Lewis - 1990 - Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order (1927-1929)

Furry Lewis 
Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order (1927-1929)

01. Everybody`s blues
02. Mr. Furry`s blues
03. Sweet papa moan
04. Rock Island blues
05. Jelly roll
06. Billy Lyons and Stack O`Lee
07. Good looking girl blues
08. Why don`t you come home blues?
09. Falling down blues
10. Big chief blues
11. Mean old bedbug blues
12. Furry`s blues
13. I will turn your money green (tk. 1)
14. I will turn your money green (tk. 2)
15. Mistreatin` mama
16. Dry land blues
17. Cannon ball blues
18. Kassie Jones - part 1
19. Kassie Jones - part 2
20. Judge Harsh blues (tk. 1)
21. Judge Harsh blues (tk. 2)
22. John Henry (The steel driving man) -1
23. John Henry (The steel driving man) -2
24. Black gypsy blues
25. Creeper`s blues

Furry Lewis; vocal, guitar, bottleneck-slide guitar.

Walter "Furry" Lewis (1893– 1981) personified the relaxed and intimate character of the early blues. A master of multiple guitar techniques, he was most notably an impressive bottleneck guitarist who echoed his vocal phrasings with an expressive set of sliding notes. He was able to give his performances a spontaneity, subtlety, and feeling that made him, in the words of blues historian Sam Charters, one of "only a handful of singers [of his era] with the creative ability to use the blues as an expression of personal emotion."

According to most sources, Lewis was born March 6, 1893, in Greenwood, in the Mississippi delta. Around the turn of the century Lewis' family moved the hundred and fifty or so miles upriver to Memphis, Tennessee. The boy his friends and family called "Furry" (for some long forgotten reason) grew up in an atmosphere charged with the energy of nascent African American musics. It was an era in which ragtime and the first incarnations of jazz met the folk songs of Appalachia and the spiritual and "work song" vocal traditions of former slaves. The intersection of these forms created a diverse and vibrant cultural landscape in the Southern USA, as migrations of rural agricultural laborers spread what were once regional musics far beyond their initial origins. The city of Memphis, and the Beale Street neighborhood in particular, developed an almost mythical status as a musical mecca. In a time when recorded music was rare, Beale Street served as a kind of marketplace for music and musicians, where performers of various styles and techniques could go to inspire, and be inspired. It was this climate that nurtured the young Furry Lewis' talent, exposing him to the repertoire and techniques that he would eventually make his own.

Influenced by the fiercely emotive styles of early Memphis blues, which typically involved stories of heartache sung by solitary, working class men, Lewis began performing at house parties, fish fries, dances, and other gatherings, becoming popular with both black and white audiences. As his popularity as a local performer grew, Lewis began to travel around the South, often with itinerant "medicine shows" that included him in vaudeville acts. Paying a respectable $2 a night, these shows developed his talents as a performer, and taught him a number of guitar and vocal styles that would later define his unique musical inflection. After the shows (which usually ended before midnight), a world of juke joints, speakeasies, and late night parties provided ample opportunities for a young Furry Lewis to play more and improve his art. In 1917, while trying to hop onto a moving train, Lewis slipped and fell underneath. The accident nearly killed him and led to the amputation of his leg. Though forced by the accident to wear a prosthesis for the rest of his life, it proved a minor setback to his musical career, and he continued gigging around the South throughout the early 1920s.

As the first blues records by artists like Mamie Smith filtered southward from the urban black populations of Chicago and New York, the so called country blues of the Mississippi delta began to stand out in contrast. The singers of "country blues" distinguished themselves from these original "city blues" artists with a less repetitive and more fluid structure and the improvisatory freedoms of singer guitar instrumentation. By 1924, the Chicago based Paramount Record Company began to take interest in this style, and recorded the first examples of the genre. In 1927, Furry Lewis traveled to Chicago and recorded twelve songs for the Vocalion label between May and October. After returning to Memphis, he laid down twelve more cuts for the Vocalion and Victor labels between August 1928 and September 1929. Many of these recordings were later collected on Furry Lewis In His Prime (Yazoo 1050). In addition, the two part "Kassie Jones" he recorded in 1928 was included on Folkways Records' Anthology of American Folk Music. Though these records display a masterful grasp of the blues, Lewis' early recordings faded slowly into relative obscurity, compounded by the woes of the Depression that made life as a traveling musician increasingly difficult, and ultimately impossible, to sustain.

Around 1930, Lewis took a job with the City of Memphis, working odd jobs as a laborer and effectively retiring from the professional music scene, although he did play the occasional party. By the time he was located by Sam Charters in early 1959, Lewis no longer owned a guitar. Charters relates the story behind his "rediscovery" and recording of Lewis that year in the liner notes of Folkways Records' Furry Lewis (FW03823), the album that resulted from their meeting. Though he hadn't played much in well over twenty years, Lewis sounds undiminished, and reveals the brilliance that defined his early career. As Charters describes, "A great blues singer brings to his music an emotion and imagination that doesn't depend on technical display. As singers mature their music often achieves a new expressiveness."

Lewis maintained his expert ability to improvise his musical performance and expressive technique to reflect the emotion of the moment's quintessential elements of the rural blues. Charters observes, "Rather than trying to remember a carefully worked out arrangement, he simply uses whatever verses and musical styles suit the mood he is building." Lewis' deft application of "slide" and "Hawaiian" guitar techniques allows him to manipulate the blues over a number of different styles, depending on the mood. The slide style in particular lies at the heart of Lewis' musical freedom, providing a second melodic voice to complement his own. By sliding an implement (often a pocket knife or bottleneck) along the higher strings, while leaving lower strings in an "open" tuning, he achieved a vocabulary through which the guitar could augment the expressiveness of a song.

As Charters' recordings gained notoriety and interest grew in early rural blues as a commercially viable music, Furry Lewis began a second career, recording and touring again, and releasing two full length albums, Back on my Feet Again and Done Changed My Mind in 1961. He toured during the 1970s as the opening act for rock musician Leon Russell. He also toured with a traveling rock ensemble group called the Alabama State Troupers, who packaged differing styles of music mixed with rock. Joni Mitchell's song "Furry Sings the Blues" was written after a visit to Lewis' rooming house in Memphis during the 1970s. Before his death, in 1981, Lewis had also appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1974, and in the Burt Reynolds film WW & The Dixie Dance Kings in 1975. In 1973 he was named an Honorary Colonel of the State of Tennessee, an honor also bestowed upon such legendary performers as Duke Ellington and Elvis Presley. Even after his death, Furry Lewis' music would influence a new generation of artists who remained true to the emotional purity of the early blues. His unique style endures as a superb example of the ability of these seminal musicians to translate raw emotion into a potent and vital art. As Charters perceptively describes, "To hear fully the subtlety in Furry's singing is to gain an insight not only into the singer, but into the creative process of the blues itself."

At his debut session, Lewis sang only blues, probably in line with fashion and record company demand, but as well as singing blues, he preserved the songster's repertoire of ballads, and at each of the three sessions he recorded in the 1920s, one each year from 1927 to 1929, he made valuable versions of well known ballads. As a blues singer, he brought to the form a talent for grotesque imagery. But one always feels that he is laughing at some of these images. He never lets his tough guy fantasy obscure the real world of poverty, and of women who are not the compliant beings of his dreams; the homicidal bedbugs of Creeper's Blues are an elaboration of the daily reality of pests, and the same could be said of the fictional Judge Harsh and the real Southern system.
Lewis was a fast and fluent guitar player; occasionally, his ideas were faster than his fingers could execute, but he was adept at recovering from such brief stumbles. His playing was forceful, combining Mississippi Delta percussiveness with intricate, ragtimey patterns, sometimes using a drone, bass that functions as much rhythmically as harmonically; compare Kassie Jones (as it was spelled on the record label) or I Will Turn Your Money Green. Sometimes, his accompaniments featured mellifluous slide playing; Why Don't You Come Home and Cannon Ball Blues are fine examples. Furry Lewis was one of the first blues singers to be relocated by researchers and from 1959 onwards he made many recordings. His first and finest recordings, though, are those on this CD, made when he was a young man and full of clever verbal and musical notions.