This occasion’s serenade is provided by the obscure but outstanding string duo of Nap Hayes and Matthew Prater, who play here a couple of snappy rag numbers on mandolin and guitar.
Napoleon “Nap” Hayes and Matthew Prater were a pair of black musicians hailing from Vicksburg, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Hayes was likely born in 1885 in West Corinth, Mississippi, and Prater in New Albany in either 1886 or on June 30, 1889. With Hayes on guitar and Prater on mandolin, the two played raggy music in a style not too disparate from that of the Dallas String Band. In February of 1928, they traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to record a total of eight sides for Okeh Records, out of which all but two were issued. Half of those eight featured vocals and violin by Lonnie Johnson (though some sources, including Discography of Okeh Records, cite a different Johnson—T.C. Johnson—who recorded at the same field trip as part of the minstrel-esque trio Johnson-Nelson-Porkchop). Out of those three discs, only one was released in the 8000 “race” series, while the other two were in the 45000 “hillbilly” series. Each record was credited differently, one under their own names as Nap Hayes and Matthew Prater, another as “The Blue Boys”, and one with Johnson as “The Johnson Boys”. Of note, those sides included a piece titled “Easy Winner”, which, despite taking the name of another of his rags, was in fact a take on Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer”. That session accounted for the entirety of Hayes and Prater’s recorded legacy, and their later lives are as yet undocumented.
Okeh 45231 was recorded February 15, 1928 in Memphis, Tennessee by Nap Hayes and Matthew Prater. Hayes plays guitar, while Prater takes the raggy mandolin. I picked this record up in a junk shop, and it’s not in the most wonderful condition, but it plays quite well in spite of it. Not bad for a record that made the 78 Quarterly’s list of “The Rarest 78s”!
The duo first play Scott Joplin’s 1903 rag “Something Doing”, here styled as “Somethin’ Doin'”.
Somethin’ Doin’, recorded February 15, 1928 by Nap Hayes and Matthew Prater.
As an answer to the first tune, on the flip they play the folk rag “Nothin’ Doin'”, a little bluer—and a little cleaner playing—than the previous side. I’m hearing a bit of Lemon Jefferson’s “Black Snake Moan” interpolated in this tune (“oh-oh, honey what’s the matter now”).
Nothin’ Doin, recorded February 28, 1928 by Nap Hayes and Matthew Prater.
This record is a surprisingly obscure one considering its excellence, even in light of its extraordinary scarcity. A Google search will yield precious few results, and the upload of the only side that’s on YouTube has accrued only around five-hundred views in more than half a decade. Its rarity earned it a spot on Document Records’ “Too Late, Too Late: Newly Discovered Titles and Alternate Takes” series rather than their Hokum Boys or Big Bill Broonzy series proper, and that may be the only commercial reissue it’s ever gotten (I’m not sure). To the few who know of it (mostly a small cadre of record collectors and blues researchers), it is held in high regard as perhaps Big Bill Broonzy’s best record. I had the fortune of being enlightened to its existence some years ago, and the even greater fortune of being able to acquire a copy. I hope to shed a much needed ray of sunshine onto this gem of prewar blues guitar, and help get it some of the recognition it deserves.
In 1930, Big Bill Broonzy was under the management of Chicago “race music” impresario Lester Melrose, and playing good-time music with Georgia Tom and Frank Brasswell (or Braswell, a.k.a. “The Western Kid”) as the “Hokum Boys” (a mantle originally used by Georgia Tom and Tampa Red). Broonzy hadn’t recorded since his earliest, somewhat poorly received “Big Bill and Thomps” Paramount sessions of 1927 and ’28. Among the tunes recorded by Broonzy and the Hokum Boys were (fittingly) hokum titles like “Somebody’s Been Using that Thing” and “Eagle Riding Papa” (both of which were later covered by Milton Brown), urban blues novelties like “Mama’s Leavin’ Town”, and fast guitar rags like “Saturday Night Rub” and “Pig Meat Strut”. On the rags, Frank Brasswell’s flatpicked rhythm combined with Bill’s adept fingerpicking to make musical magic. The trio, occasionally including Delta blues man Arthur Petties, first recorded in New York for the American Record Corporation in various configurations and under various names, including “Sammy Sampson” for Bill’s solo work. Next they traveled to Richmond, Indiana to cut several sides for the Starr Piano Company’s Champion label, all ones they had made previously for the ARC, this time with Bill’s solo work credited to “Big Bill Johnson”. Those Champions were the last sides to feature Brasswell, who proceeded to drop off the face of the earth. Bill on the other hand would go on to great acclaim.
Champion 16081 was recorded on May 2, 1930 in Richmond, Indiana. The Hokum Boys are Big Bill Broonzy (recording for the Starr Piano Co. as “Big Bill Johnson”) and Frank Brasswell on guitars. It sold a total of 959 copies, of which only a handful are known to exist today. As such, it is listed in the “Rarest 78s” section of 78 Quarterly (No. 6), and while the total number of existing copies was not estimated at the time, a current estimate places the number at “fewer than ten known copies.” More popular versions of both tunes were recorded for the American Record Corporation the previous month (and both, in my opinion, are not near as good as these). There is some debate as to the correct playback speed for these recordings, with suggestions from my esteemed colleagues Mr. Russ Shor of Vintage Jazz Mart and Mr. Pete Whelan ranging from the standard 78.26 RPM to 83 RPM. Based on an E chord on a guitar in standard tuning, my best estimate would be that they should play at approximately 80 RPM, to which I’ve set the transfers posted herein.
First up, Bill and Frank get hot on Broonzy’s classic rag composition “Saturday Night Rub” with a performance described by blues guitar teacher Woody Mann as “one of the most hard-driving rag tunes ever recorded.” Midway through, Bill utters those immortal words, “I’m gonna play this guitar tonight from A to Z!”
Saturday Night Rub, recorded May 2, 1930 by the Hokum Boys.
“Pig Meat Strut” on the “B” side is perhaps my favorite guitar instrumental (though there’s some stiff competition from Blind Blake, William Moore, Bayless Rose, Frank Hutchison, and others). Bill and Frank’s “Famous Hokum Boys” version of the rag for the ARC, recorded a little less than a month before this one, is often hailed as one of his best (I say phooey), but it sounds like a hot mess compared to this masterpiece! The riffs in “Pig Meat Strut” were used in a number of Broonzy and Brasswell’s recordings of this era, and later served as the basis for Big Bill’s popular “Hey Hey” in 1951. Interestingly, a nearly identical melody was also used by Texas blues man Little Hat Jones in his “Kentucky Blues”, recorded only a month after this one, though any actual connection between the two is unknown to me.
Man, did they get in the groove and how!
Pig Meat Strut, recorded May 2, 1930 by the Hokum Boys.
Cow Cow Davenport, circa 1940s. Magazine clipping from “The Jazz Record”.
April 23 marks the 122nd anniversary of the birth of the Man that Gave America Boogie Woogie, Charles “Cow Cow” Davenport. Since it also marks my own birthday, that makes it a very special occasion, and thusly, I hope to offer a very special presentation.
Charles Edward Davenport was born in Anniston, Alabama on April 23, 1894. He took up the piano at the age of twelve. Davenport’s father was a pastor, and opposed his son’s musical interests, sending him away to a seminary to continue in his father’s work. The young Charles was kicked out the the seminary for playing ragtime. He began his professional career playing boogie woogie piano in medicine shows and touring the TOBA vaudeville circuit. In 1924, Davenport made his debut recordings as an accompanist for his vaudeville partner Dora Carr for Okeh Records, recording his trademark composition, “Cow Cow Blues”, one of the earliest instances of boogie woogie piano on record, from which he got his nickname. After Okeh, Cow Cow several records for Paramount, and recorded fairly prolifically, solo and as an accompanist. By the later 1920s, he was working with a new partner, Ivy Smith, and recording for Vocalion records, with whom he made a larger number of sides. He also worked as a talent scout for Vocalion, bringing in such talent as Clarence “Pine Top” Smith. Composed by Davenport were such classics as “Mama Don’t Allow It” and supposedly “You Rascal You”, which he claimed to have sold to Sam Theard. In the early 1930s, he took up in Cleveland, Ohio, which remained his home for the rest of his life. In 1938, Davenport suffered a stroke that caused minor paralysis in his right hand that forced him to temporarily retire from music and take menial jobs, and impeded his playing for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, he continued to perform and record. In 1942, his name was put up in lights when Freddie Slack’s Orchestra had a smash hit with “Cow Cow Boogie”, no doubt taking its name from the aging piano man. His final years plagued by ill health, Cow Cow Davenport died of heart failure on December 12, 1955 in Cleveland.
Vocalion 1198 was recorded in Chicago on July 16, 1928 featuring Cow Cow Davenport on piano assisted by his vaudeville partner, Ivy Smith on one side. Two known takes of each side were recorded that day, and both are presented here. Takes “A” come from the original issue, and takes “B” are from the 1943 reissue on Brunswick 80022.
Davenport first plays solo on his eponymous song “Cow Cow Blues”, deriving its name from the cowcatchers mounted on the front of old steam engines.
Cow Cow Blues, recorded July 16, 1928 by Cow Cow Davenport.
On the reverse, Davenport is joined by the vocals of his stage partner Ivy Smith on “State Street Jive”. “What kinda piano player is this?” Smith asks on take “B” of this tune.
State Street Jive, recorded July 16, 1928 by Cow Cow Davenport and Ivy Smith.
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to uncover several of these single sided early Victor records at one of my regular haunts. Though they’re a little out of the scope of what I usually collect, they certainly are interesting, as they are all well over one hundred years old! Since they only have one side each, I thought it best to post two of them here at a time. These two are a pair of rags composed by Arthur Pryor and played by his military band.
Arthur Pryor, the trombone virtuoso, was one of Victor’s most popular artists around the turn of the century. He rose to prominence during the 1890s as a soloist with John Philip Sousa’s band, and took his first solo at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Pryor left Sousa’s Band in 1902 and soon began his association with the Victor Talking Machine Company. During the 1900s and 1910s, Pryor’s Band was one of the most popular in the United States.
Dating these early records is not my strong suit, but going by the matrix number of B-793, and the apparent take number of 2, this copy Victor 4069 was recorded April 26, 1903, mostly likely in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This record features Arthur Pryor’s famous composition (though its title would not be so acceptable today), “Coon Band Contest”. This one is, unfortunately, quite noisy, but not too shabby for a nearly 113 year old shellac disc!
Coon Band Contest, recorded April 26, 1903 by Arthur Pryor’s Band.
With the matrix B2818, it appears that Victor 4525 was recorded October 18, 1905, also in Philadelphia. This one features the rag tune “Razzazza Mazzazza”, and plays considerably better than the first disc. It’s pretty fun music, too!
Razzazza Mazzazza, recorded October 18, 1905 by Arthur Pryor’s Band.
UPDATE: Diligent experts have identified these tunes as “Down Yonder” (first side), and “The Waltz You Saved For Me” (second side). Thank you, for your great assistance, Messrs. Chalfen, Johnston, and Bosch!
Here’s another home recording that I found along with that old time fiddle one, it features two very familiar sounding, and quite enjoyable piano solos whose names I cannot seem to place. I’m hoping someone out there can help me identify the names of the pieces being played. If any of you treasured readers out there can put a name with them, I’ll update the article with special thanks.
This Wilcox-Gay Recordio home recording disc is completely unmarked, making it impossible for me to offer any information on its artist or date. The copyright date of 1950 would likely place it in that vicinity as far as dating goes. As is often the case with these home recordings, sound quality is on the low end, and there is quite a bit of noise, but these aren’t too bad, all things considered.
This side sounds especially familiar to me, but I just can’t put my finger on the title. At first I though it was “Waiting on the Robert E. Lee”, but it doesn’t seem to quite fit that tune.
Thanks to a reader’s identification, this tune seems to be L. Wolfe Gilbert’s 1921 composition “Down Yonder”.
Down Yonder, recorded ? by unknown pianist.
This little ditty, too, sounds quite familiar, but again, I just can’t quite think of the title, if I ever knew what is was called. Some talking can be heard in the background of this one at one point.
The Waltz You Saved for Me, recorded ? by unknown pianist.