Silvertone 4042 – Daddy Stove Pipe – 1924

The illustrious “Daddy Stove Pipe” (not to be confused with “Stove Pipe No. 1” or “Sweet Papa Stovepipe”) holds a number of important distinctions; he was one of the earliest male country blues performers to record, he may have been the oldest, and while definitely not the most prolific, he was surely among the longest-lived.

The man ‘neath the stove pipe, Johnny Watson, was reputedly born on April 12, 1867, in Mobile, Alabama.  He’s said to have begun his musical life in Mexico around the turn of the twentieth century, playing twelve-string guitar in a mariachi band.  Later, he trouped with the Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels, which produced a fair number of prominent black entertainers of the era, including “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Butterbeans and Susie.  By the 1920s, he had taken up performing on Chicago’s Maxwell Street as a one-man band, playing guitar and harmonica and singing.  In the spring of 1924, Stove Pipe traveled to Richmond, Indiana, to cut a record at the Starr Piano Company’s “shack by the track” studio.  There, he laid down three sides, “Sundown Blues”, “Stove Pipe Blues”, and “Tidewater Blues”, of which only the first two were released.  It is evident that he hit the road after his first session, because by the time he recorded again, in 1927, he was in Birmingham, Alabama, where he waxed three more sides (of which, again, only two were issued) for Starr when they brought down their mobile recording unit.  This time around, he was billed as “Sunny Jim” and was joined by an unidentified whistler known only as “Whistlin’ Pete”.  In the 1930s, Stove Pipe settled down in Greenville, Mississippi with his wife Sarah, who joined him on the remainder of his pre-World War II recordings as Mississippi Sarah, singing and blowing the jug.  They made their first records as a duo for Vocalion in Chicago in October of 1931, waxing eight sides, all of which were released this time.  They returned to Chicago four years later for another session—which turned out to be their last—this time for Bluebird, yielding four sides, two more records.  Sarah met an untimely demise in 1937, and Daddy Stove Pipe took to traveling again, playing with Cajuns in Louisiana and Texas and returning to Mexico.  Eventually, he returned to Chicago’s Maxwell Street, and he became known as a fixture there.  He was recorded once last time in 1960 by Björn Englund and Donald R. Hill, playing and singing songs such as “The Tennessee Waltz”, producing four tracks which were released on the Heritage label LP Blues From Maxwell Street (later reissued on a number of other labels).  Watson contracted pneumonia following a gallbladder operation, and he died in Chicago on November 1, 1963.

Silvertone 4042 was recorded in Richmond, Indiana, on May 10, 1924, and originally released on Gennett 5459.  It was also issued on Claxtonola 40335.  Unfortunately, it is recorded rather faintly, which causes the harmonica and guitar to be somewhat drowned out by the surface noise on this worn copy, especially near the beginning of each side, though Watson’s vocals are still relatively prominent.  I will defend its merits in saying that I have never yet encountered a particularly clean-playing example of these sides.

On the “A” side, Watson plays and sings the delightful “Sundown Blues”.  Examination of the contemporaneous photograph depicting Daddy Stove Pipe seated next to an acoustical recording horn reveals him holding an unusual nine-string guitar, with the first, second, and third strings doubled as would be on a twelve-string guitar (as opposed to Big Joe Williams’ unique configuration), which may be the instrument played herein.

Sundown Blues, recorded May 10, 1924 by Daddy Stove Pipe.

On the reverse, Stove Pipe sings his eponymous “Stove Pipe Blues”, another arrangement of “floating” verses.  “Got the Stove Pipe Blues [and] I can’t be satisfied.”

Stove Pipe Blues, recorded May 10, 1924 by Daddy Stove Pipe.

Champion 16081 – Hokum Boys – 1930

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 (issue number six), 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 of 78 Quarterly 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 riff used in “Pig Meat Strut” was seemingly ubiquitous in hokum of this era—such that I’d dub it the “hokum riff”—and appeared in a number of Broonzy and Brasswell’s other recordings of this era, later serving 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.

Champion 15687 – Dan Hughey – 1929

Before there were folk singers like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, there was “The Kentucky Mountain Boy”, Bradley Kincaid (who performs under a pseudonym on this disc).  Equally comfortable in hillbilly attire as with round framed spectacles, tidy hair, and pressed suits, Kincaid was of a decidedly more sophisticated mold than many of the more “hillbilly” folk singers of his day, while still not succumbing to the urbanity that has in some eyes damaged the credibility of such performers as Vernon Dalhart.

Bradley Kincaid was born in Point Level, Kentucky on July 13, 1895 and made his radio debut on Chicago’s WLS National Barn Dance in 1926 and later became a member of the Grand Ole Opry on WSM in Nashville in 1945.  After a long and successful career which included giving future Grand Ole Opry star Marshall Jones the nickname “Grandpa” while working with him at a Boston radio station in 1935, Kincaid died following injuries sustained in a car accident at the ripe old age of 94 on September 23, 1989.

Champion 15687 was recorded January 28, 1929 in Richmond, Indiana by Bradley Kincaid, given the nom de disque “Dan Hughey” on this release.  It was also issued on Gennett 6761 and Supertone 9362, and later reissued on Champion 45057 by Decca.  The “A” side also appeared on Superior 2656.

One of the great classic American folk songs, Kincaid first sings “Four Thousand Years Ago”, called “The Highly Educated Man” by John A. Lomax in his American Ballads and Folk Songs.

Four Thousand Years Ago

Four Thousand Years Ago, recorded January 28, 1929 by Dan Hughey.

On the reverse, Kincaid sings “Liza Up In the ‘Simmon Tree”.  This is one of those folk songs that bears great lyrical similarity to other songs; for example, “shoes and stockings in her hand and her feet all over the floor” can be heard in Wendell Hall’s “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo'”, and “well, I wouldn’t marry a poor girl, I’ll tell you the reason why…” is similar to the lyrics of “Chewing Gum”, as sung by the Carter Family.

Liza Up in the Simmon Tree

Liza Up in the ‘Simmon Tree, recorded January 28, 1929 by Dan Hughey.

Updated on June 15, 2017.

Gennett 5395 – Bernie Cummins and his Toadstool Inn Orchestra – 1924

Today, March 14, we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the prolific bandleader Bernie Cummins with his first record.

Bernie Cummins, Circa 1930.

Bernie Cummins, circa 1926.

Born in Akron, Ohio in 1900, drummer Bernie Cummins had an extraordinarily long career as a bandleader, he organized his first band in 1919, and recorded fairly steadily from the middle of the 1920s until the 1940s, and working until the demise of the big band in the late 1950s.  This record, I believe, was the first of those many.  Cummins recorded first with Gennett in his native Midwest, switching to Brunswick later, and moving to Victor at the end of the 1920s, then Columbia in the mid-1930s, recording on the side for the Plaza/ARC budget labels along the way.  I believe he was with Vocalion in the late 1930s, and I’m not certain where he went after that.  At one point early in his career, Cummins served briefly as manager of the Wolverine Orchestra, most famous for featuring the talent of a young Bix Beiderbecke, and recommended the Wolverines to replace his band following his engagement with the Cinderella Roof ballroom in New York City.  Cummins died in 1986.

Gennett 5395 was recorded January 28, 1924 in Richmond, Indiana by Bernie Cummins and his Toadstool Inn Orchestra.  The full personnel of the band is unclear, but it included Bernie on drums, his brother Walter on banjo, and Karl Radlach on piano.  The Toadstool Inn was a speakeasy in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Home Folks Blues” is an energetic jazz number with plenty of “doo wacka doo” in it.

Home Folks Blues

Home Folks Blues, recorded January 28, 1924 by Bernie Cummins and his Toadstool Inn Orchestra.

On the flip, the play an instrumental of “Ida” (Sweet as Apple Cider), every bit as fine as the first side, though I believe I prefer the former.

Ida

Ida, recorded January 28, 1924 by Bernie Cummins and his Toadstool Inn Orchestra.

Champion 15714 – Smoke Jackson and his Red Onions – 1929

Recorded on this day in 1929, herein is one of my favorite discs, though the condition is rather lacking, owing to a heavily scratched surface from many years of unsleeved storage. “Smoke Jackson and his Red Onions” is a pseudonym for Zack Whyte’s Chocolate Beau Brummels, a fine Midwestern territory band.  The 78 Quarterly estimated “at least 15” copies of this record in their “Rarest 78s” article.  While it may likely not be quite that scarce (although there surely are at least fifteen copies), it’s still far from a common disc.

Zack Whyte was born in 1898 in Richmond, Kentucky, and attended Wilberforce College, where he played banjo with Horace Henderson’s Collegians. He started leading his own Cincinnati-based bands in 1923, and eventually formed the Chocolate Beau Brummels, a territory band that recorded six sides with Gennett in 1929, and helped to bring several greats including Sy Oliver and Herman Chittison to prominence. Whyte retired from music in 1939 and died in 1967.

These two superb sides of Champion 15714 were recorded in Richmond, Indiana on February 26, 1929.  This Champion issue sold 9,060 copies.  It was also issued on Gennett 6797 and Supertone 9368 under the pseudonym “Eddie Walker and his Band.”  The Chocolate Beau Brummels consist of the star-studded lineup of Zack Whyte directing and playing banjo, Bubber Whyte (his brother?), Henry Savage, and the great Sy Oliver on trumpets, Floyd Brady on trombone, Clarence Paige, Ben “Snake” Richardson, and Earl Tribble on alto saxes, Al Sears on tenor and baritone sax, the always excellent Herman Chittison on piano, Montgomery Morrison on tuba, and William Benton on drums.

Beginning with side “A”, the Chocolate Beau Brummels play a stomping rendition of Hudson Whittaker and Thomas A. Dorsey’s (a.k.a. Tampa Red and Georgia Tom) hit “It’s Tight Like That”. I believe this is the second take, and it really gets in the groove.

It's Tight Like That, recorded February 26, 1929 by Zack Whyte and his Chocolate Beau Brummels.

It’s Tight Like That, recorded February 26, 1929 by Smoke Jackson and his Red Onions.

A bit worse for wear than the previous, on the flip-side they play a masterful rendition of Joe “King” Oliver’s “West End Blues”, with a beautiful piano intro by Herman Chittison and some fine banjo by the leader.  The label splits the composer’s credit between Oliver and publisher Clarence Williams.  I believe this one is the third take, but with Gennett’s lack of any identifying marks in the “dead wax”, it’s hard to be sure.

West End Blues, recorded February 26, 1929 by Zack Whyte and his Chocolate Beau Brummels.

West End Blues, recorded February 26, 1929 by Smoke Jackson and his Red Onions.

Updated with improved audio on April 22, 2018.