Melotone 7-07-64 – Big Bill – 1937

It’s come time once again to pay tribute to blues legend Big Bill Broonzy, on the (unconfirmed) anniversary of his birth.  Last time, I posted one of his earlier records, coupling his memorable flatpicked “How You Want it Done?” with “M & O Blues”, featuring his own jug band.  This time around, I present two sides from around the time when he was shifting from his country blues roots to a more urbane style.  I biographed Big Bill in that previous post, so I feel that I needn’t go over that again here.

An ever-versatile musician, the 1930s marked a period of development and transition for Big Bill Broonzy’s music.  He started out the decade playing pure country blues from back where he came from, akin to Josh White, or Buddy Moss.  His recordings from that period, like “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “How You Want it Done?” generally feature his own guitar, sometimes backed with another guitar or a piano.  Later, around the time the swing era kicked off in the middle part of the decade, Chicago evidently had an effect on him, as he started to develop a more citified style to fit with the public’s changing tastes.  Accordingly, his recordings started to swing, often backed by an instrumental ensemble with horn and rhythm, comparable to urban blues contemporaries like Peetie Wheatstraw.  He worked extensively with fellow blues people such as pianist Black Bob, Hawaiian guitar man Casey Bill Weldon, harmonica player Bill “Jazz” Gillum, and his half brother Washboard Sam.  By the end of the decade, his work had become quite sophisticated, producing some of his most memorable work, including “Key to the Highway” and “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town”.  After the end of World War II, however, as interests in folk music began to bud, Bill returned to his rural roots.

Melotone 7-07-64 was recorded on January 31, 1937 in Chicago. Illinois.  Big Bill is accompanied by a rhythm band made up of “Mister Sheiks” Alfred Bell on trumpet, Black Bob Hudson on piano, Bill Settles on string bass, Fred Williams on drums, and Broonzy’s own guitar.

First up, Big Bill plays a classic mid-1930s blues side, “Mean Old World”, an entirely different piece than the T-Bone Walker hit of the 1940s, though Walker may have found some inspiration in this Broonzy tune.

Mean Old World, recorded January 31, 1937 by Big BIll.

Next, Bill does a peppy one with a hot dance accompaniment, “Barrel House When it Rains”, featuring the piano of the mysterious Black Bob, among others noted Chicago blues figures.

Barrel House When it Rains, recorded January 31, 1937 by Big BIll.

Vocalion 03046 – Memphis Minnie, Black Bob, Bill Settles – 1935

The time has come to pay tribute to the consummate blues woman Memphis Minnie, on the 120th anniversary of her birth.

Memphis Minnie came into the world as Lizzie Douglas, one of thirteen children born to Abe and Gerturde Douglas in Algiers, New Orleans, on June 3, 1897.  She didn’t care for the name Lizzie, and took to using the name “Kid” Douglas, a nickname given by her parents, when performing.  Before she was a teenager, she learned to play banjo and guitar, and ran away to Beale Street at thirteen.  Taking to a life of music, she played street corners and toured the South with the Ringling Brothers Circus.  In 1929, she was given the moniker of “Memphis Minnie” by a Columbia record man while making her first records with her second husband Joe McCoy, who was dubbed “Kansas Joe”.  The next year saw the release of one of her most famous songs, “Bumble Bee”, of which she recorded a number of different versions.  Minnie and Kansas Joe went on to make a series of records together for Vocalion and Decca before their divorce in 1935.  Relocating to Chicago, Minnie became a staple of the nightclubs, joined Lester Melrose’s stable of blues artists, and beat Big Bill Broonzy in a cutting contest.  In the late 1930s, Minnie married Ernest Lawlars, better known as Little Son Joe, another blues artist, and they performed together as she had with her previous husband.  In 1941, she recorded some of her biggest hits, “Me and My Chauffeur Blues” and “Looking the World Over”.  Minnie continued to perform and record into the 1950s, but ill health forced her to retire thereafter.  Memphis Minnie died of a stroke, the last of several, on August 6, 1973.

Vocalion 03046 was recorded on August 22, 1935 in Chicago, Illinois.  As the label would suggest, the instrumentation features Memphis Minnie on guitar, Black Bob Hudson on piano, and Bill Settles on string bass.

The identity of pianist “Black Bob” is surrounded by a great deal of uncertainty and confusion.  He is known to have been a prolific sideman for Big Bill Broonzy, Washboard Sam, Memphis Minnie, and others, and he recorded extensively for Bluebird and the American Record Corporation between 1932 and 1942, yet his real name and identity are not verified.  A number of names have been put forth, including Bob Hudson, boogie-woogie man Bob Call, Chicago pianist Bob Robinson, and others.  The most likely candidate seems to be Hudson, who recorded with the Memphis Nighthawks on the same day as Black Bob’s session with Big Bill’s Jug Busters, and made one unissued side under his own name two days later, which is reported to match stylistically with Black Bob’s playing.  Most sources, when a last name is given at all, identify Black Bob as Hudson.

First up, Minnie, Bob, and Bill beat out the swing number “Joe Louis Strut”, one of a number of tunes dedicated to the world heavyweight champion of the same name.

Joe Louis Strut, recorded August 22, 1935 by Memphis Minnie, Black Bob, Bill Settles.

One of those “number of tunes” is on the flip, on which Minnie sings solo on her tribute/plea for love to Louis, the classic “He’s in the Ring (Doing that Same Old Thing)”.

He’s in the Ring (Doing that Same Old Thing), recorded August 22, 1935 by Memphis Minnie

Vocalion 1144 – Jim Jackson – 1927

On of the great blues songsters of yesteryear was Jim Jackson.  With a strong voice and a wide repertoire ranging from blues to popular songs to hokum, he one of the most prominent blues figures of his day.

Jim Jackson was born on a farm in Hernando, Mississippi, twenty miles south of Memphis, most likely in June of 1876, though 1884 and 1890 have also been ventured as possible years.  Sometime around 1905, Jackson began playing, singing, and dancing in medicine shows around the South.  He was later a member of the famed Rabbit Foot Minstrels, and ran the Red Rose Minstrels himself.  By the 1910s, Jackson worked primarily on Memphis, Tenessee, like contemporary Frank Stokes.  His success on Beale Street was enough that he was reportedly residing in the luxurious Peabody Hotel by 1919.  In 1927, store owner and talent broker H.C. Speir secured a contract for Jackson with Vocalion records.  He made his recording debut on October 10, 1927, recording the first two parts of his “Kansas City Blues” series, which were issued as his first record.  In addition to recording for Vocalion, Jackson also worked as a talent scout for the company, notably “discovering” boogie woogie piano man Speckled Red (Rufus Perryman).  As one of Vocalions most popular race artists, the company released a “descriptive novelty” record titled “Jim Jackson’s Jamboree” featuring Tampa Red and Georgia Tom and Speckled Red, and “hosted” by Jackson. Jackson continued to record for Vocalion until 1930, and held several sessions for Victor in 1928.  He supposedly played a bit part in King Vidor’s 1929 film Hallelujah, though it’s unknown what role he played, and indeed if he appeared in the film at all.  Jackson’s last session was held in February of 1930, after which he returned to his home in Mississippi, where he continued to perform.  Jim Jackson died on December 18, 1933.

Vocalion 1144 was recorded in Chicago on October 10, 1927.  Jackson’s “Kansas City Blues” songs were among the most successful and influential blues records of their time, inspiring numerous covers by contemporaries like William Harris and Charley Patton, and latter day artists like Janis Joplin.  Some have cited it as one of the first rock ‘n’ roll records, though the musical style bears little resemblance.

First, Jackson sings the first of his four part series, “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City BluesPart 1″.

Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues - Part 1

Jim Jackson’s Kansas City BluesPart 1, recorded October 10, 1927 by Jim Jackson.

He concludes the disc with “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City BluesPart 2″.  This is the second take of this side (“34” in the runoff), which may be more scarce than the more commonly heard first take.

Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues - Part 2

Jim Jackson’s Kansas City BluesPart 2, recorded October 10, 1927 by Jim Jackson.

Okeh 6893 – Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band – 1933

Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues. From Jazzmen, 1938.

The time has come once again to honor the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith.  I’ve already covered her life in some detail previously, so this post is dedicated to her famous last session.

Bessie Smith’s career flourished throughout the roaring twenties, but was hampered by the onset of the Great Depression.  Bessie made her final recordings for the Columbia label—for whom she had recorded since her debut in 1923—near the end of 1931, as the economy continued to dive.  After two years spent touring, record producer John Hammond brought her back to the studio for a session with Okeh (a subsidiary of Columbia since 1926).  For this session, Smith was paid a non-royalty sum of $37.50 (equivalent to around $690 dollars today).  With an all-star band led by pianist Buck Washington (best known as half of the popular vaudeville duo Buck and Bubbles) assembled to accompany her, the four sides cut at that session helped bring her style into the burgeoning era of swing.  That lone Okeh session, however, proved to be her last.  Smith made no further recordings between then and her fatal car accident four years later, and in that period of time faded into obscurity; by 1936 she was working as a hostess in a Philadelphia club.

Okeh 6893 was recorded on November 24, 1933 in New York City.  It was originally issued on Okeh 8949, this reissue dates to 1952.  In the band accompanying Bessie is the almost legendary lineup of Frank Newton on trumpet, Jack Teagarden on trombone, Chu Berry on tenor sax, Buck Washington on piano, Bobby Johnson on guitar, and Billy Taylor on string bass.  Benny Goodman was recording in an adjoining studio that day, and sat in for this session, but I’m not sure if he can be heard on these two sides.  The songs on both sides were composed by Wesley “Sox” Wilson.

First up, Bessie is at her all-time best on the legendary “Gimme a Pigfoot”.

Gimme a Pigfoot, recorded November 24, 1933 by Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band.

Next, she gives another great performance on the classic “Take Me For a Buggy Ride”.

Take Me For a Buggy Ride, recorded November 24, 1933 by Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band.

Victor 19639 – Connie Boswell/Boswell Sisters – 1925

In 1925, the Boswell Sisters had made quite a name for themselves in their hometown of New Orleans.  Three years prior, they had won a talent contest for WAAB radio, which earned them a three day gig at the Palace Theatre.  They were regularly engaged around town, particularly at functions of the Young Men’s Gymnastic Club, whose promotive director had taken a shine to the Bozzies.  It was a YMGC function where the sisters were noticed by vaudeville headliners Van and Schenck, who were at the time playing at the Orpheum.  They loved the Boswells’ act, and promised to pull some strings in their favor when they returned to New York.  Very soon after that, they cut their first record.  E.T. King of the Victor Talking Machine Company was in town with mobile recording equipment, just in from Houston on the first such “field trip” they ever made (though not the first recording session held in New Orleans).  The Boswell Sisters were the first artists to record for Victor in New Orleans, they cut three sides, “You Can Call Me Baby All the Time”, “I’m Gonna Cry (The Cryin’ Blues)”, and “Pal o’ Mine” on March 22, 1925, followed by “Dad” and “Nights When I Am Lonely” on the 25th.  Only two of those five were issued.  Other artists to record on the historic New Orleans field trip were Tony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys, Piron’s New Orleans Orchestra, and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings.  Reportedly the Boswells’ record was mistaken for a “race” record, and as a result kept out of many record stores.  Nonetheless, the sisters were eager to head to Camden and cut a few more, though fate held them in New Orleans until 1928.

Victor 19639 was recorded on March 22 and 25, 1925 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  These recordings were made acoustically, shortly before Victor commenced mainstream electrical recording (though they had made several prior to these).  It is the Boswell Sisters first record, as well as their only record made in the 1920s.

Tragically, this record arrived in my possession broken in three pieces, the result of incompetent packing (one of the worst jobs I’ve ever seen), and can be seen on the “wall of shame” on Old Time Blues’ guide to packing 78s.  I couldn’t allow a record this rare and this great to remain in pieces however, so I set about repairing it.  After warming up by repairing two other broken discs, I carefully lined up the grooves, setting the pieces as tightly together as possible, and superglued the edges and run-out to hold it together.  Fortunately, it tracked, and played with clicks.  After transferring, I painstakingly removed every click the cracks caused, and equalized out the rest of the thumps.  The end result exceeded my every expectation of what this broken record could sound like.  A few slight clicks still remain, but I believe you’ll find that it sounds quite clean, all things considered (seeing as it has the equivalent of four cracks to the label in it).

First, in the style of her idol Mamie Smith, seventeen-year-old Connie belts out “I’m Gonna Cry (Cryin’ Blues)”, accompanied on piano by her sister Martha.  Young Vet joins in later on to help Connie vocally imitate a hot instrumental break.

I'm Gonna Cry (Cryin' Blues)

I’m Gonna Cry (Cryin’ Blues), recorded March 22, 1925 by Connie Boswell.

Next, all the sisters join in on “Nights When I Am Lonely”, which features the Bozzies’ trademark style of scat known as “-ggling” (that’s pronounced “gulling”).  On this side, they are accompanied on piano by Vitaly Lubowski, who had recorded the previous day with Tony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys.

Nights When I Am Lonely

Nights When I Am Lonely, recorded March 25, 1925 by the Boswell Sisters.