Oriole 8159 – Joshua White – 1932

In blues and folk music, one figure that stands out among the rest is Josh White, who rose from poverty to become one of the most popular Piedmont blues players of the 1930s, and eventually a major force in the folk music scene of the 1940s.

Joshua Daniel White was born on February 11, 1914 in Greenville, South Carolina, one of four children in a religious family.  When Joshua was a child, his father was beaten severely and later admitted to an asylum after evicting a white bill collector from his home.  Not long after, the young Joshua began acting as a “lead man” for blind musicianer “Big Man” John Henry Arnold, and later for other blind musicians, including Blind Blake, Blind Joe Taggart, and Blind Lemon Jefferson.  While on the road with those accomplished bluesmen, the young White picked up their guitar stylings, and soon became an accomplished player of the instrument.  His talent was recognized in 1928 by Paramount Records’ J. Mayo “Ink” Williams, who hired him to record as a session player, backing up Taggart and white country musicians the Carver Boys.  In the early 1930s, White was tracked down by the American Record Corporation to make records for their budget labels.  His mother allowed him to record for them on the condition that he did not play the “devil’s music”—blues.  White had his first session for the ARC on April 6, 1932, recording both blues and sacred music under his own name and the pseudonym “Pinewood Tom”.  Though only a teenager, White became one of the most popular Piedmont blues musicians of the day, along with Buddy Moss and Blind Boy Fuller.  Early in 1936 however, he was forced to temporarily retire from music after an injury in a bar fight, caused him to lose the use of his left hand.  After a stint as a dock worker and elevator boy, White regained full use of the hand during a card game, and returned to music.  By the 1940s, White’s style had shifted toward folk music, ascending to a status contemporaneous of Lead Belly, and he recorded with the likes of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie with the Almanac Singers, and the Golden Gate Quartet.  He also became an accompanist to torch singer Libby Holman in an unusual pairing.  During those years, White became the closest black friend of the Roosevelts, beginning with their meeting in 1940.  His left-leaning politics gained him trouble with McCarthyism in the late 1940s, harming his career.  Later in life, White was plagued by a worsening painful fingernail condition.  He died of heart failure in 1969.

Oriole 8159 was recorded on April 12, 1932 in New York City by Joshua White, one of his earliest sessions for the ARC.  On both sides, White is accompanied by an unknown piano player.  It was also issued on Perfect 0213 and Banner 32527.

First up, White sings “Lazy Black Snake Blues”, with the eighteen year old singer moaning that “he’s so doggone old.”

Lazy Black Snake Blues

Lazy Black Snake Blues, recorded April 12, 1932 by Joshua White.

On the other side, White sings of woes with his woman on “Downhearted Man Blues”.  A common theme in the blues.

Downhearted Man Blues

Downhearted Man Blues, recorded April 12, 1932 by Johsua White.

Decca 8659 – Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five – 1944

I was finally able to get a computer working to transfer my records, after the one I was using kicked the bucket, so I’m now able to post this iconic record of the 1940s.  Consider it an encore to yesterday’s performance.  However, I must ask one kind favor from all of you people, if you think this audio has a sort of high-pitched tone or crackle (other than the record’s own noise) in the background, or otherwise sounds inferior from my usual transfers, please tell me, so I can take action in bringing it back up to par should it be necessary.

Decca 8659 was recorded on March 15, 1944 and October 4, 1943, respectively.  Recordings made in 1943 are fairly uncommon, as the American Federation of Musicians began a strike that resulted in a recording ban on July 31, 1942, and lasted through most of 1943.  Decca had only settled with the union the month before this recording was made.

First up, it’s Louis Jordan’s take on Johnny Mercer’s World War II classic, “G. I. Jive”.

G.I. Jive

G. I. Jive, recorded March 14, 1944 by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.

Next is Jordan’s famous “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t (Ma’ Baby)”, another classic song of that era, and carried on to many in younger generations by way of the 1946 Tom and Jerry cartoon Solid Serenade.

Is You Is or Is You Ain't (Ma' Baby)

Is You Is or Is You Ain’t (Ma’ Baby), recorded October 4, 1943 by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.

Vocalion 1216 – Tampa Red and Georgia Tom – 1928

On July 1, we commemorate the the 117th anniversary of the birth of Thomas A. Dorsey, known in different phases of his career as “Georgia Tom”, and as the “father of gospel music.”  In his long life, he was a prolific songwriter and recording artist of both religious and secular songs.

Thomas Andrew Dorsey was born July 1, 1899 in Villa Rica, Georgia, the son of a preacher and a piano teacher.  He began playing piano as a young man, and relocated to Chicago in 1916, where he was educated in music at the Chicago School of Composition and Arranging.  He began working for Paramount Records as an agent and accompanist, and made his name in the blues world as “Georgia Tom.”  During his time at Paramount, he worked with Ma Rainey and the Pace Jubilee Singers.  In 1921, he heard W.M. Nix sing at the National Baptist Convention, and by the end of the 1920s, Dorsey had begun his life’s work as a composer of gospel songs, though he continued to play blues primarily at that time.  In 1928, he teamed up with guitarist Hudson Whittaker, better known as Tampa Red, and made a hit with “It’s Tight Like That”.  Following that success, he and Tampa Red became the first of many combinations of musicians to record as the “Hokum Boys,” making music in a similar vein as “Tight Like That”, and the duo remained popular into the early 1930s.  After the hokum craze ended in the 1930s, Dorsey primarily worked writing sacred songs, and worked as a musical director at several churches.  By the end of his life, his blues work was largely forgotten, and he was renowned for his sacred songs as the “father of gospel music.”  After a long career, Dorsey died in Chicago in 1993, at the age of 93.

There are a number of different versions of the hokum blues classic “It’s Tight Like That” that will pop up here at some point.  We last heard it played by Zack Whyte’s Chocolate Beau Brummels, now here’s original recording, done on in 1928 by Tampa Red and Georgia Tom, the original Hokum Boys.  This record set of a craze for so called hokum songs, that is mostly peppy songs with humorously raunchy lyrics and often very thinly veiled innuendo, which reigned in popularity over more serious blues songs for a period in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Vocalion 1216 was recorded in Chicago on two separate dates, October 16, and November 6, 1928.  It features the guitar of Hudson Whittaker: “Tampa Red”, and the piano of Thomas A. Dorsey: “Georgia Tom”, with both singing the vocals.

Recorded on the latter date, “It’s Tight Like That” was one of the biggest blues hits of the 1920s, and remains a hokum blues staple.  The label rather humorously (at least I think so) lists the composer credits for Hudson Whittaker and Thomas A. Dorsey as “Tampa – Dorsey”, some later issues corrected this error.

It's Tight Like That, recorded

It’s Tight Like That, recorded November 6, 1928 by Tampa Red and Georgia Tom.

Next, Georgia Tom sings solo, accompanied by Tampa Red on guitar on “Grievin’ Me Blues”,  one of those songs that I feel just emanates the essence of blues music.  This one was recorded on the earlier date.

Grievin' Me Blues, recorded

Grievin’ Me Blues, recorded October 16, 1928 by Georgia Tom.

Updated with improved audio on May 23, 2017.

Perfect 0207 – Big Bill & his Jug Busters – 1932

On June 26, we celebrate the probable birthday of blues legend Big Bill Broonzy.  As is the case with many early blues players, such as Lemon Jefferson, the exact date of his birth is disputed; Broonzy himself claimed to have been born in 1893, but family records stated a more probable date of 1903.  There is also mystery surrounding his place of birth, while Broonzy stated his hometown as Scott, Mississippi, recent research suggests he may have come from Arkansas.

Whatever the true details may be, he grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and learned from his uncle to play a homemade cigar box fiddle, which he played at local social functions.  In 1920, as many Southern black people did at the time, Broonzy emigrated to Chicago in search of new opportunity, where he switched from fiddle to guitar, mentored by Papa Charlie Jackson.  In Chicago, Broonzy worked odd jobs while trying make it as a musician.  In 1927, he got his break when Charlie Jackson helped him l get an audition with J. Mayo Williams of Paramount Records, and after several rejected tests, made his first released records with his friend John Thomas as “Big Bill and Thomps”.  Though his records sold poorly for the first few years, sales eventually began to pick up as he gained popularity in the Chicago blues scene in the 1930s, even playing in John Hammond’s From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and ’39, with his style evolving from his rural roots to a more urban style all the while.  Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Big Bill recorded steadily, both solo and as an accompanist.  In the late 1940s into the 1950s, Broonzy became a part of the folk music revival occurring at that time, and he toured abroad in the 1950s, starting in Europe in 1951.  His autobiography, written with the help of Yannick Bruynoghe, was published in 1955.  Broonzy died of throat cancer in August of 1958.

Perfect 0207 was recorded March 29 and 30, 1932 in New York City, at Big Bill’s first and second session for the American Record Corporation under his own name (excepting some 1930 recordings under the name Sammy Sampson and as a part of the Hokum Boys).  The Jug Busters side features W.E. “Buddy” Burton on kazoo, piano by Black Bob Hudson, and Jimmy Bertrand on washboard.  The identity of the jug player is unknown.

“How You Want it Done?”, recorded March 29, is a fantastic side with stupendous flatpicked guitar by Big Bill, an unusual method for blues playing.  It’s likely that Broonzy picked up this song, along with its flatpicking style, from his contemporary Louie Lasky, who later recorded it in 1935, though Bill recorded it earlier.  Big Bill first recorded this song in 1930 for Gennett, then for Paramount in ’31 (of which no copies have been located)  This recording was also featured on the last record in Vocalion’s race series (1745).  It remained in Broonzy’s repertoire for many years, and he was filmed performing it in 1957.

How You Want it Done?, recorded

How You Want it Done?, recorded March 29, 1932 by Big Bill.

Recorded one day after the first side, Big Bill is accompanied by a jug band on “M & O Blues”, referring of course to the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.  The authorship of this song is often credited to Walter Davis.  It’s worth noting that there was another “M & O Blues” sung by legendary Delta bluesman Willie Brown which was an entirely different song.  Though the label looks prettier, this side unfortunately has some pretty bad stripped grooves that make a lot of noise in brief but quite intrusive passages, but it does clean up a bit as it plays.  Heck, the Document Records transfer is quite noisy, so cut me a little slack!

M & O Blues, recorded

M & O Blues, recorded March 30, 1932 by Big Bill & his Jug Busters.

Updated with improved audio on June 21, 2017.

Columbia 14222-D – Barbecue Bob – 1927

Up there with Blind Lemon Jefferson in the pantheon of 1920s blues music stands Robert Hicks, better known as Barbecue Bob, an Atlanta native that found fame in the late 1920s as one of the top “race” stars for Columbia records.  Over the course of his short recording career, Hicks waxed sixty-eight sides.

Born September 11, 1902 in Walnut Grove, Georgia, Robert Hicks and his brother Charlie, along with Curley Weaver, learned to play guitar from Weaver’s mother.  While working as a pitmaster at an Atlanta barbecue joint, Hicks was discovered by Columbia records talent scout Dan Hornsby (who also worked as a musician and is known for his association with Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers.)  Taking his recording name from his work, he made his first recording in March 1927, titled “Barbecue Blues”, which may have been named by the Columbia staff to fit his gimmick, as the lyrics make no reference to barbecue in any way.  Hicks went on to record many more sides between then and December 1930, both solo and as part of Georgia Cotton Pickers.  Robert Hicks died from tuberculosis and pneumonia on October 21, 1931.

Columbia 14222-D was recorded June 15, 1927 in New York City by Barbecue Bob, accompanied by his own twelve-string guitar.  The DAHR says that both takes 1 and 2 of both sides were issued, these are both first takes.  These are the first two sides from Barbecue Bob’s second recording session, and his second issues record.  This was probably one of the most successful country blues records of the 1920s.

It is said that the record of “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues” was played at Hicks’ funeral in 1931.  The song makes reference to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States.  Beginning in April 1927, the floods caused widespread devastation in the Mississippi Delta, submerging more than 23,000 square miles and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.  The disaster and its widespread effects were chronicled in a number of songs of the era, including this one.  Hicks’ witty songwriting stands out in the line, “Mississippi shakin’, Lou’siana sinkin’, whole town’s a-ringin’, Robert Hicks is singing.”

Mississippi Heavy Water Blues, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Mississippi Heavy Water Blues, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Following a similar structure as the previous song, on “Mamma You Don’t Suit Me!”, Hicks sings of his gal, who drives a Willys-Knight and “doesn’t suit him like his other mama did.”

Mama You Don't Suit Me, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Mama You Don’t Suit Me, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Updated with improved audio on October 14, 2017.