Monday, January 31, 2011

Townsend's Hard Luck Stories

Henry Townsend- Hard Luck Stories

"Influenced by Roosevelt Sykes and Lonnie Johnson, Henry Townsend was a commanding musician, adept on both piano and guitar. During the '20s and '30s, Townsend was one of the musicians that helped make St. Louis one of the blues centers of America.

Townsend arrived in St. Louis when he was around ten years old, just before the '20s began. By the end of the '20s, he had landed a record contract with Columbia, cutting several sides of open-tuning slide guitar for the label. Two years later, he made some similar recordings for Paramount. During this time, Townsend began playing the piano, learning the instrument by playing along with Roosevelt Sykes records. Within a few years, he was able to perform concerts with pianists like Walter Davis and Henry Brown.

During the '30s, Townsend was a popular session musician, performing with many of the era's most popular artists. By the late '30s, he had cut several tracks for Bluebird. Those were among the last recordings he ever made as a leader. During the '40s and '50s, Townsend continued to perform and record as a session musician, but he never made any solo records.

In 1960, he led a few sessions, but they didn't receive much attention. Toward the end of the '60s, Townsend became a staple on the blues and folk festivals in America, which led to a comeback. He cut a number of albums for Adelphi and he played shows throughout America. By the end of the '70s, he had switched from Adelphi to Nighthawk Records.

Townsend had become an elder statesmen of St. Louis blues by the early '80s, recording albums for Wolf and Swingmaster and playing a handful of shows every year. That's the Way I Do It, a documentary about Townsend, appeared on public television in 1984. During the late '80s, Townsend was nearly retired, but he continued to play the occasional concert until his death in 2006."

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Oh, Red!

Red Nelson- In Chronological Order (1935-1947)

"b. 31 August 1907; Sumner, (Tallahatchie, Co) MS
Nelson Wilborn, better known as Red Nelson, or Dirty Red, was born in Sumner, Mississippi, in 1907. A fine, capable vocalist, he moved to Chicago in the early 1930s and was a prominent recording artist from 1935 to 1947. His recordings with pianist Clarence Lofton, especially ‘‘Streamline Train’’ and ‘‘Crying Mother Blues,’’ are probably his best work. In the 1960s he performed locally with the MuddyWaters Band".
-Bob Hall, Routledge Encyclopedia of The Blues

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Special Streamline

Bukka White- Sparkasse In Concert

"Bukka White (true name: Booker T. Washington White) was born in Houston, Mississippi (not Houston, Texas) in 1906 (not any date between 1902-1905 or 1907-1909, as is variously reported). He got his initial start in music learning fiddle tunes from his father. Guitar instruction soon followed, but White's grandmother objected to anyone playing "that Devil music" in the household; nonetheless, his father eventually bought him a guitar. When Bukka White was 14 he spent some time with an uncle in Clarksdale, Mississippi and passed himself off as a 21-year-old, using his guitar playing as a way to attract women. Somewhere along the line, White came in contact with Delta blues legend Charley Patton, who no doubt was able to give Bukka White instruction on how to improve his skills in both areas of endeavor. In addition to music, White pursued careers in sport, playing in Negro Leagues baseball and, for a time, taking up boxing.

In 1930 Bukka White met furniture salesman Ralph Limbo, who was also a talent scout for Victor. White traveled to Memphis where he made his first recordings, singing a mixture of blues and gospel material under the name of Washington White. Victor only saw fit to release four of the 14 songs Bukka White recorded that day. As the Depression set in, opportunity to record didn't knock again for Bukka White until 1937, when Big Bill Broonzy asked him to come to Chicago and record for Lester Melrose. By this time, Bukka White had gotten into some trouble -- he later claimed he and a friend had been "ambushed" by a man along a highway, and White shot the man in the thigh in self defense. While awaiting trial, White jumped bail and headed for Chicago, making two sides before being apprehended and sent back to Mississippi to do a three-year stretch at Parchman Farm. While he was serving time, White's record "Shake 'Em on Down" became a hit.

Bukka White proved a model prisoner, popular with inmates and prison guards alike and earning the nickname "Barrelhouse." It was as "Washington Barrelhouse White" that White recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax at Parchman Farm in 1939. After earning his release in 1940, he returned to Chicago with 12 newly minted songs to record for Lester Melrose. These became the backbone of his lifelong repertoire, and the Melrose session today is regarded as the pinnacle of Bukka White's achievements on record. Among the songs he recorded on that occasion were "Parchman Farm Blues" (not to be confused with "Parchman Farm" written by Mose Allison and covered by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and Blue Cheer, among others), "Good Gin Blues," "Bukka's Jitterbug Swing," "Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues," and "Fixin' to Die Blues," all timeless classics of the Delta blues. Then, Bukka disappeared -- not into the depths of some Mississippi Delta mystery, but into factory work in Memphis during World War II.

Bob Dylan recorded "Fixin' to Die Blues" on his 1961 debut Columbia album, and at the time no one in the music business knew who Bukka White was -- most figured a fellow who'd written a song like "Fixin' to Die" had to be dead already. Two California-based blues enthusiasts, John Fahey and Ed Denson, were more skeptical about this assumption, and in 1963 addressed a letter to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." By chance, one of White's relatives was working in the Post Office in Aberdeen, and forwarded the letter to White in Memphis.

Things moved quickly from the time Bukka White met up with Fahey and Denson; by the end of 1963 Bukka White was already recording on contract with Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie. White wrote a new song celebrating his good fortune entitled "1963 Isn't 1962 Blues" and swiftly recorded three albums of material for Strachwitz which the latter entitled Sky Songs, referring to White's habit of "reaching up and pulling songs out of the sky." Nonetheless, even White knew he couldn't get away with making up all his material regularly in performance, so he also studied his 78s and relearned all the songs he'd written for Lester Melrose. Although Bukka White was practically the same age as other survivors of the Delta and Memphis blues scenes of the 1920s and '30s, he didn't look like someone who belonged in a nursing home. White was a sharp dresser, in the prime of health, was a compelling entertainer and raconteur, and clearly enjoyed being the center of attention. He thrived on the folk festival and coffeehouse circuit of the 1960s.

By the '70s, however, Bukka White couldn't help getting a little bored with his celebrity status as an acoustic bluesman. White's tastes had grown with the times, and he would have loved to have played an electric guitar and fronted a band, as his old acquaintance Chester Burnett (aka Howlin' Wolf) and Bukka's own cousin, B. B. King, had been already doing successfully for years. But he only needed to look at what happened to his friend Bob Dylan's career for a lesson on what happens to folk blues artists who try and "go electric." So, Bukka White stayed on the festival circuit to the end of his days, beating the hell out of his National steel guitar, and sometimes his monologues would go on a little long, and sometimes his playing was a little more willfully eccentric than at others. Patrons would wait patiently to hear Bukka play "Parchman Farm Blues," although some of them were under the mistaken impression that they had paid their money to hear an artist who had originated a number that Eric Clapton made famous.

Blues purists will tell you that nothing Bukka White recorded after 1940 is ultimately worth listening to. This isn't accurate, nor fair. White was an incredibly compelling performer who gave up of more of himself in his work than many artists in any musical discipline. The Sky Songs albums for Arhoolie are an eminently rewarding document of Bukka's charm and candor, particularly in the long monologue "Mixed Water." "Big Daddy," recorded in 1974 for Arnold S. Caplin's Biograph label, likewise is a classic of its kind and should not be neglected."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Eagle Rockin'

Little Brother Montgomery- No Special Rider

Album Review:
"Barrelhouse piano player Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery played boogie from the crowds as a touring, pre-teen performer. Also a vocalist, Montgomery began his half-century of recording in the Depression with such songs of loss as "Vicksburg Blues" and "No Special Rider." On these 1969 recordings, rich, full-throated Jeanne Carroll ("Penny Pinching Blues") appears on four of the 12 tracks. She carefully enunciates her way through a rendition of Ma Rainey's "You Gotta See Your Mama Every Night." The excellent blues vocalist and pianist Little Brother Montgomery, an influence to Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, and Skip James, here guides us from his home through the tradition of classic early, post-ragtime piano blues."

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Monday, January 17, 2011

When My Earthly Trials Are Over

Mississippi John Hurt- Last Sessions

Album Review:
"Recorded in New York during February and July of 1966, the 17 songs on this collection represent Mississippi John Hurt's final studio efforts. It is astonishing that this man, in the final months of his life, could do 17 songs that were the equal of anything he had done at his first sessions 45 years earlier, his playing (supported on some tracks with producer Patrick Sky on second guitar) as alluringly complex as ever and his voice still in top form. Hurt is brilliant throughout, his voice overpowering in its mixture of warmth, gentleness, and power, and in addition to the expected crop of standards and originals, he covers songs by Bukka White ("Poor Boy, Long Ways from Home") and Leadbelly ("Goodnight Irene") -- all of it is worthwhile, with some tracks, such as "Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me," especially haunting."

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Friday, January 14, 2011

I Don't Want Your Greenback Dollar

Clarence "Tom" Ashley & Tex Isley- Play And Sing American Folk Music

"A medicine show performer in the 1910s and 1920s, Clarence (Tom) Ashley influenced the urban folk revival when his early recordings were included on the Folkways album Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952. Although he had retired from the medicine show circuit in 1943, he made a successful comeback in the early '60s when he recorded a pair of albums that introduced influential flatpicking guitarist Arthel "Doc" Watson.

Ashley, who took his last name from the maternal grandfather who raised him, was inspired by the jokes and songs that he heard played by transients who boarded in his family home. His mother's two older sister taught him songs and instructed him on the banjo. Joining his first medicine show in 1913, Ashley traveled by horse and buggy through the southern Appalachian region, playing songs while "the doc" sold his elixirs. In 1914, he married Hettie Osborne and settled in Shouns, TN.

Although he supplemented his income as a musician by farming and working at a sawmill, Ashley continued to perform. By 1927, Ashley was performing with numerous string bands, including the Blue Ridge Entertainers. He recorded as a member of Byrd Moore & His Hot Shots and the Carolina Tar Heels. His solo debut came in 1929 when he recorded "The Cuckoo Bird" and "The House Carpenter" for Columbia. Signed to a solo contract by both Columbia (as Clarence Ashley) and Victor (as Tom Ashley), he recorded for both labels until 1933.

Retiring from the medicine shows in 1943, Ashley bought a truck and, with his son J.D., hauled coal, furniture, and lumber. His performances were limited to working as a comedian with Charlie Monroe's Kentucky Partners and the Stanley Brothers.

While his songs were revived by string band instrumentalists in the 1950s, Ashley disappeared almost completely from the music scene. Attending the Union Grove Old Time Fiddlers Convention in 1960, he met folklorist Ralph Rinzler, who, with folk song collector Eugene Earle, set up a recording session at Ashley's daughter's home in Saltville, VA. Ashley invited Watson to accompany him on guitar. The session marked the acoustic guitar debut for Watson, who had previously played electric guitar in rockabilly and country bands. Beginning in 1961, Ashley and Watson, joined by fiddler Fred Price, performed at northern folk festivals, coffeehouses, and clubs. Their concert at New York'sTown Hall was recorded and released as their second album. Ashley recorded an additional album with fiddler Tex Isley."

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Minimum Wage Blues

Robert Curtis Smith- Clarksdale Blues

"A chance meeting with Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, at the Big 6 Barber Shop in Clarksdale led to the magnificent 1961 Bluesville album Clarksdale Blues, his lone full-length album. The record didn’t seem to make much of an impact, sinking without a trace and over the year becoming highly collectible.

In the liner notes Mack McCormick wrote: 'Robert Curtis Smith is a hard working farm laborer in upper Mississippi. He supports a wife and eight children by driving a tractor ($3 a day top) during the farming season, by hunting rabbits in the winter. He has a borrowed guitar with which he sings of women he has loved, lost, discarded, or found worthy of erotic praise. …The status quo in his world is to sap the strength and exploit the weakness of Negroes. It is a far more vicious crime than the occasional lynching since the end result is the massive weakening of a strong people. Ideas of inferiority are fed to him hand-in-hand with conditions that patently are inferior. Badly deprived of constitutional privilege and the minimum wage, and lacking the know-how to correct his situation, Smith’s way of life is astonishingly out of step with modern times.'"

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Roll My Time On Out

Eugene Rhodes- Talkin' About My Time

"If there is a more obscure country blues artist than this fellow, then he is probably locked up somewhere, as well, one hastens to add, because that was the situation when blues scholar Bruce Jackson first discovered Eugene Rhodes. He was doing a ten- to 25-year stretch at the Indiana State Prison, which was where a remarkable album was recorded of 15 songs and a little talking that was eventually released on a label even more obscure than the bluesman, if such a thing is possible. By the time Rhodes was discovered, he seemed like he was in his late 50s and apparently nervously dispaired "them old alley blues" that nobody wanted to hear anymore now that all the public wanted was jazz. His opinions as expressed to his recording producer do well in indicating his cultural isolation as a prisoner, because he was apparently unaware of the huge white audience for country blues that existed in the '60s, a time when an elderly black gent with a slide on his finger would be considered "cool," although it is unsure whether that judgment would extend all the way to the tough-looking prisoner pictured in grimy black and white on the cover of his album Talkin' 'Bout My Time.

In the '20s and '30s, Rhodes had traveled through the south as a one-man band, including a harmonica rack with a special mount on the side for a horn, a foot pedal powered drum, and of course, a guitar. He reportedly played in the Dallas area, where he claims to have met Blind Lemon Jefferson. He also crossed paths with Blind Boy Fuller in the Carolinas and Buddy Moss in Georgia, the effects of his traveling adventures turning into seasonings in which the spirits of musical influences are nimbly suggested in his own picking. Although the history of the blues contains several happy tales of prisoners set back out into the world based on their brilliant performances, the release of this artist's album had no such result. He also seems not to have left much of a trail after being released from prison, if he ever was. He is not the same Eugene Rhodes who was the "singing minister" behind the album I Don't Need a Reason."

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Richard Harney's Guitar

Richard "Hacksaw" Harney- Sweet Man

Biography/Album Review:
"Richard 'Hacksaw' Harney was born in Money, MS, on July 16, 1902. He passed away on Christmas morning in 1973 of stomach cancer.
Hacksaw was regarded by many musicians as the best guitarist in the Delta."
-Robert Palmer, Deep Blues

"I really think that Hacksaw was a big influence with Robert [Johnson]. He was the only somebody who could compete with him... He played the guitar very, very well."
-Robert Lockwood, Jr., Living Blues

"His talent, virtuosity and flair rank him with the likes of Robert Johnson, Blind Blake, Reverrend Gary Davis and Blind Willie Johnson. And yet, if it were not for these Adelphi/Blues Vault tapes, he would be a blues equivalent of Buddy Bolden, the unrecorded giant whose mysterious legend enlivens early jazz lore."
-Larry Hoffman.

"Adelphi Records is pleased to present this ten song collection demonstrating the guitar wizardry of Richard Hacksaw Harney, the musician's musician from the motherland of American Music. Hacksaw was sought out by blues researchers in the 1960's because of the high esteem with which his contemporaries regarded him, many of whom were still awed by recollections of his occasional, impromptu appearances in Delta jukes or on the legendary King Biscuit Time radio show in Helena, Arkansas. In 1969, Adelphi's traveling studio followed the Harney reputation from Chicago to Jackson and back to Memphis, where Hacksaw was finally located, with the assistance of a posse of aging but enthusiastic blues musicians. Their persistence was amply rewarded by his sparkling and complex finger-picking playing.

Errata: In the liner notes, we mistakenly attribute the nickname 'Hacksaw' as originating during the artist's brief career in boxing. Pinetop Perkins set the record straight by reminding us that this outstanding musician (equally stunning as a piano player) supported himself by tuning and repairing pianos. "He always carried a little hacksaw with him, and he could grab a piece of anything and make a new key with that hacksaw. He taught me how to repair a piano."
-Adelphi Records

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Hot Dogs & Jelly Rolls

The Famous Hokum Boys- Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1 (1930)

"While the Famous Hokum Boys has turned up as a name for various regional old-time music and country-blues groups, the most famous group utilizing the name was a loose-knit aggregation of blues singers that were actually better known under their own names. Yet Georgia Tom, Tampa Red, and Big Bill Broonzy may have wanted the somewhat more anonymous cover of a combo name in order to release their raunchiest material, including the number "It's Tight Like That." By the time the latter ditty was cut in the late '20s, blues or so-called "race records" was established as an area where sexy, sometimes downright nasty lyrics, were a stock-in-trade. Georgia Tom, also known under his real name of Thomas Dorsey, particularly may have wanted some kind of a cover to prevent his high-profile gospel and religious singing career from being corrupted. The ruse hardly worked, however, but the result actually turned out to be a sort of a canonization of Dorsey and the Famous Hokum Boys by later advocates of what became known as "contemporary Christian music," in which it was alright, even desired, for the performer to touch on steamy subjects such as lust and adultery. "It's entirely arguable that Christian music would not exist if it were not for the Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey," a magazine devoted to the contemporary Christian genre even wrote. The term "hokum" is said to have been invented by the Famous Hokum Boys as a new descriptive term for the type of material the band was coming up with, but has since evolved into a minimally used expression for something corny, low-brow, or kitschy, with little reference to sex -- or gospel."

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