Okeh 8455 – Blind Lemon Jefferson – 1927

Blind Lemon Jefferson, circa 1926; as pictured in the Paramount Book of Blues.

In his all-too-brief four year recording career, Blind Lemon Jefferson produced nearly one-hundred songs that helped to define the country blues and open the door for future guitar-slinging blues singers to record their art.  All but one of those records appeared on the Paramount label—a few of which have been examined previously on Old Time Blues—this time around, we turn our attention to the odd one out.

As 1926 turned to ’27. Blind Lemon Jefferson’s recording career entered its second year.  The previous one had seen a bountiful debut, producing a total of twenty recorded songs to his credit (roughly one-fifth of his total recorded output), all for Paramount Records of Port Washington, Wisconsin.  The Texas bluesman was becoming a sensation, and other record companies soon took notice.  It wasn’t long before the Okeh record company—then a subsidiary of Columbia Records and top competitor to Paramount with their extensive catalog of popular “race” records featuring the music of black artists—was the first to act  Early in 1927, Jefferson was contacted by Atlanta-based Okeh representatives Polk C. Brockman (best remembered for orchestrating Fiddlin’ John Carson’s recording debut) and T.J. Rockwell.  They extended an invitation to Jefferson for a recording session in Atlanta, to which he obliged.  The singer arrived at his destination in mid-March, a little later than expected, for Jefferson had made an unplanned stop in Shreveport, Louisiana, as he had never “seen” the city before.  Thus, on March 14, 1927, Lemon Jefferson recorded seven songs for Okeh, and one more the next day.  The first two of those titles were released the following month, comprising Okeh 8455.  When the record began to gain steam on the market, Paramount evidently threatened legal action against Okeh for “poaching” one of their top stars, and as a result, the remaining six sides were never issued.  While the recordings are now presumed lost, what is known of those six songs reveals a rather different character than most of the material he recorded for Paramount.  Of those six titles, “Elder Green’s in Town” was a version of “Alabama Bound”, and “Laboring Man Away from Home” was a rendition of the English ballad “Our Goodman” (also recorded by others as “Cabbage Head Blues” and “Drunkard’s Special”).  “English Stop Time” was an instrumental piece similar to “Buck Dance” pieces recorded by many blues and ragtime guitarists.  “Woman’s Labor Man” (or “Laboring Man Blues”) and “‘Stillery Blues” were evidently original songs never otherwise recorded or published.  When Lemon returned to the Paramount recording laboratory in Chicago the next month, he remade “My Easy Rider” as “Easy Rider Blues”, coupled with a re-recording of “Match Box Blues”.  The company saw to it that Lemon didn’t get away again, and all of Jefferson’s further recordings were for Paramount.

Okeh 8455 was recorded on March 14, 1927, in Atlanta, Georgia.  It was first advertised for sale on April 23 of the same year.  Great efforts have been taken to coax out as much music as possible out out of this, quite frankly, wiped out record.

On the “A” side of Okeh 8455, Lemon sings a re-telling of his famous “Black Snake Moan”, one of his more popular Paramount recordings, which he had recorded about five months prior to his Okeh session.

Black Snake Moan, recorded March 14, 1927 by Blind Lemon Jefferson.

The “B” side contains Jefferson’s first recording of another of his most memorable—and most widely covered—hit songs: “Match Box Blues”.  Jefferson subsequently re-recorded two more takes of the soon-to-be blues standard upon his return to Paramount, each one noticeably different than the others.

Match Box Blues, recorded March 14, 1927 by Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Tanner ‘n’ Texas TNT-1003 – Red River Dave – 1953

One of the true blue, larger-than-life Texas characters, Red River Dave McEnery tried his hand at just about every occupation that appealed to him at one point or another: prolific songwriter, blue yodeler, rodeo cowboy, television personality, real estate agent, Shriner, ventriloquist, fine artist, truck stop preacher, and many, many more.  This brief article can only scratch the surface of the multifaceted entertainer’s storied life.

Red River Dave McEnery, as pictured on a promotional handout, c. 1940.

David Largus McEnery was born in San Antonio, Texas, on December 15, 1914, one of at least six children born to Gerald and Stella McEnery.  As a youth, he began his entertaining career partaking in Texas’ national sport—rodeo—by spinning a rope and singing cowboy songs, drawing inspiration for the latter from the early greats of country music like Jimmie Rodgers and Vernon Dalhart.  While still in his teens, McEnery made his radio debut on KABC in San Antonio, before going on the road at sixteen to strike it big as a cowboy star.  He made his way to the East Coast, where he earned the nickname “Red River Dave” from his frequent performances of “Red River Valley” on Petersburg, Virginia’s WPHR.  In 1936, he began his ascent to fame when he yodeled cowboy songs from the Goodyear blimp over WQAM in Miami, Florida.  He arrived in New York around 1938 and remained there for several years, broadcasting over stations WOR, WMCA, and WEAF.  During those years, he officially endorsed the Gretsch Synchromatic guitar, and for a while the company offered a signature “Red River Dave Special” archtop years before Chet Atkins’s association with the company.

Foreshadowing his later output, McEnery wrote “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight” in tribute to the lost aviatrix following her 1937 disappearance, which won him greater fame and remains one of his most popular and best known compositions to this day.  He sang that song on a pioneering television broadcast at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, becoming—as he would later bill himself—the “world’s first television star.”  While in New York, Red River Dave began his recording career on January 18, 1940, for Decca, going on to cut fourteen titles for the company over the course of that year.  Subsequently, he recorded more prolifically for the Musicraft, Savoy, Continental, and M-G-M labels from 1944 into the early 1950s.  1944 brought him another song success in the form of the patriotic wartime number “I’d Like to Give My Dog to Uncle Sam” (also known as “The Blind Boy’s Dog”) on Savoy.  But it was surely his radio performances that won Red River Dave his greatest fame during his life.  After World War II, Dave returned to home to Texas, where he began an association with the long-running western swing group the Texas Top Hands.  In the middle of the 1940s, he broadcast for a time on the Mexican border blaster station XERF in Villa Acuña, just across the border from Del Rio.  He also ventured to Hollywood, where he appeared in the feature films Swing in the Saddle and Echo Ranch, as well as a series of soundies.  In his hometown of San Antonio, he hosted regular radio and television shows on WOAI.  Beginning in the mid-1950s, most of his recording activities were conducted with local Texas labels such as Tanner ‘n’ Texas.  Thereafter, his musical output began to shift away from the traditional cowboy and hillbilly material that  and toward his own brand of eccentric and often rather morbid topical songs about current events.

Over the course of the 1950s, his repertoire evolved from standard material such as “San Antonio Rose” and “Cotton Eyed Joe” to the likes of “James Dean (The Greatest of All)” and “The Ballad of Emmett Till”.  His songs increasingly reflected his patriotic, conservative, and staunch,y anti-communist politics, as heard in such numbers as “The Bay of Pigs”, “The Great Society”, and “The Ballad of John Birch”.  For a time in the mid-1960s, Dave turned his attention toward being a “dynamic real estate salesman,” even billing himself on contemporaneous records as “Singing Cowboy Realtor.”  Though sales of his private press 45 RPM singles were usually fairly poor, Dave continued to record and publish his old-time yodeling songs about current events all the way into the 1980s, with numbers like “The Pine-Tarred Bat (Ballad of George Brett)”, “The Ballad of E.T.”, and “The Night Ronald Reagan Rode With Santa Claus”.  In total, McEnery penned more than a thousand songs over the course of his life, many of which were never commercially recorded, and are now likely lost to time; in one 1946 publicity stunt, he wrote fifty-two songs in twelve hours while handcuffed to a piano.  Later in his life, he broadened his horizons to include oil painting, usually western landscapes, which he sometimes sold.  At the age of eighty-seven, David McEnery died in his native San Antonio.

Tanner ‘n’ Texas TNT-1003 was probably recorded in late 1953—presumably in San Antonio, Texas—and was released in November of that year.  The same coupling of songs was later issued on Decca 29002, featuring a different take of “The Red Deck of Cards”, but seemingly the same take of “Searching for You, Buddy”.  Those recordings were reportedly made on December 22, 1953, but it is unclear if that date produced the TNT or Decca take..

On “The Red Deck of Cards”, Dave re-worked the classic “Deck of Cards” war story popularized by T. Texas Tyler into one of the earliest of his anti-communist pieces, marking a shift in his recording career from (frankly sometimes rather bland) western themed “citybilly” songs towards the frequently politically-charged topical folk songs for which he would become known in later years.

The Red Deck of Cards, recorded 1953 by Red River Dave.

Dave sings on the B-side, a war song also of his own composition: “Searching for You, Buddy”. Though contextually connected to the Korean War, the song makes no reference to any conflict in particular, the song could easily apply to any war.

Searching for You, Buddy, recorded 1953 by Red River Dave.

☙ No. 1/2 – Euday Bowman – 1948

A foremost figure of Texas ragtime, Euday L. Bowman is best known as the composer of one of the most widely performed rags in history: “12th Street Rag”.  Yet despite his renown as a composer, Bowman life and times have proved remarkable elusive, and much of the information regarding his life is of questionable accuracy.  This article will attempt to regurgitate only the legitimate facts, but I cannot indubitably guarantee their veracity.

Euday Bowman, author of “Twelfth Street Rag,” at Fort Worth’s Frontier Fiesta, 06/23/1937 [negative badly deteriorating, cracked, and channeled]. Original image part of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries. Identifier: AR406-6 06/23/1937 1061. (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Euday Louis Bowman was born on November 9, 1886 (according to early documents, though some sources suggest 1887 instead), near Fort Worth in Tarrant County, Texas, and was raised in the vicinity of Webb, which has since been engulfed by the city of Arlington.  His family was prominent in the area’s history, and the town of Webb was originally named Bowman Springs after some of his ancestors (a name which lives on in that of a street and a park in Arlington).  In his earliest years, he lived with his grandparents, with whom he may have begun his lifelong association with Kansas City by accompanying his grandfather on periodic visits to the Missouri town. Following his parents’ divorce in 1905, Euday moved from the family farm to the big city of Fort Worth, where he lived with his piano teacher sister, Mary, who taught him to play the instrument on which he later wrought acclaim.  Around the turn of the century, Bowman began to make a name for himself in the same fashion as many other great ragtime piano men—like Jelly Roll Morton—as an itinerant piano picker in many seedier joints such as those of Fort Worth’s infamous “Hell’s Half Acre”, as well as at private parties and most likely any other sort of venues he could.  Meanwhile, he supported himself financially with various labor jobs.

In 1914, Bowman self-published “12th Street Rag”—his first published piece of music—which he claimed to have composed all the way back in 1905, perhaps in a shoeshine parlor off of the Fort Worth street of the same name.  In the years immediately following, he subsequently put out “10th Street Rag”, “11th Street Rag”, “Fort Worth Blues”, “Kansas City Blues”, and many other compositions.  He set up the Bowman and Ward Music Publishing Company to handle these publications, though it seems to have been somewhat short-lived, as in 1916, he sold “12th Street Rag” for three-hundred dollars to J.W. Jenkins Sons Music Company of Kansas City, and the same firm would later handle many more of his compositions.  He traveled frequently to Kansas City to promote his music, and his name name would ultimately become as well associated with there as with Fort Worth (or perhaps, quite wrongly, even more so).  He married his first wife in 1920, though the union was not to last, and they were separated within a year.

In the 1920s, Bowman’s work shifted with the public’s changing tastes away from ragtime and toward blues, and though he composed a fair number, he formally published few pieces after 1921.  While never much of a recording artist, Bowman made test recordings of “12th Street Rag” for the Starr Piano Company in Richmond, Indiana, on February 2, 1924, and for the American Record Corporation in Dallas on December 8, 1938.  Neither of these were commercially issued, though Bowman privately pressed some copies of the former recording in the late 1940s.  A 1923 Gennett recording of “12th Street Rag” credited to Richard M. Jones is also believed by some to have actually been Bowman’s hands at the piano.  In 1937, he reattained the rights to his now-popular “12th Street Rag” with hopes of recouping the royalties he rightfully deserved, but the paydays were slow to come, and he nonetheless continued to struggle financially for some time.

Always a hit with jazz bands and ensembles and performers of most every other genre, “12th Street Rag” was brought to new heights of fame with trombonist and bandleader Pee Wee Hunt’s Capitol record of the piece, which became one of the largest selling records of 1948.  In the wake of that record’s success, Bowman produced a record of his own, featuring a new song on the front, and the famous rag on the back.  His first big royalty check from Hunt’s record early in 1949, and things started looking up for Euday, who celebrated with a new car and a new wife.  Sadly, these good times were short-lived; his marriage fell apart after only a month, and his health began to deteriorate.  Nevertheless, he continued to travel to promote his music and push for his deserved recompense.  While away up in New York on one such venture, Bowman contracted pneumonia, and died at the age of sixty-three on May 26, 1949 (exactly sixteen years to the day after the Big Apple claimed the life of Jimmie Rodgers, as it happened).

This custom vanity pressing, emblazoned with a printers’ flower and numbered individually on each side, was ostensibly produced sometime in 1948—the year before Bowman’s death.  The exact date and location of recording are unknown, and some sources suggest it may have been recorded as early as the 1920s.  Indeed, Bowman did release a 1920s acoustical recording of “12th Street Rag” (apparently the one he recorded for Gennett in 1924) on his personal “Bowman” label around the late 1940s.  This disc however, appears by every indication—for example, the presence of a lead-in groove—to be of post-war manufacture.  The matrix numbers, engraved by hand (in the master, not the individual pressing) in the runout area, are “A-1839” and “ELB #1” on “No. 1”, and  “A-1840” and “ELB #2” on “No. 2”, respectively.

On the side numbered “1”, Bowman plays and sings a raggy twelve bar blues song called “Baby Is You Mad at Me”, drawing heavily on traditional blues “floating lyrics”. Bowman filed the copyright for the song—subtitled “(Mazie Tell Me True)”—on August 8, 1945.  Listening to this song, it’s not too hard to imagine how inaccurate rumors were disseminated that Bowman was a light-skinned black.

Baby is You Mad at Me, recorded 1948 by Euday Bowman.

On “No. 2” Bowman plays his own arrangement—the original and definitive arrangement, that is—of his ubiquitous “12th Street Rag”.  Some say it was named in honor of Fort Worth’s 12th Street—which ran directly through the aforementioned “Hell’s Half Acre” red light district—others claim its namesake was the same in Kansas City; I favor the former case (though I may admittedly be biased).  Unlike the cornball renditions by the likes of Pee Wee Hunt and many others, in its composer’s hands, the piece shows its true colors as a gritty, hard-driving, yet elegant, Texas beer hall rag, not too unlike the barrelhouse music heard from Seger Ellis or Herve Duerson.  If you enlarge the image of the label and look very closely, you will see that it was faintly autographed by Bowman.

12th Street Rag, recorded 1948 by Euday Bowman.

Montgomery Ward M-7348 & M-7350 – Uncle Dave Macon – 1937

‘Uncle Dave Macon, the Dixie Dewdrop, King of the Hillbillies, and Star of WSM’s Grand Ole Opry!’ Photograph and original caption from Songs and Stories of Uncle Dave Macon, 1938.

The last time we heard from the famed “Dixie Dewdrop”, Uncle Dave Macon, it was with two of his earliest recordings.  This time around, let us turn our attention to thirteen years later, at the height of the Great Depression, and the height of his fame.

In 1938, Macon, a favorite performer in the Southern states who had appeared on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry since its start in 1925, published a book of his songs and stories, fittingly titled Songs and Stories of Uncle Dave Macon.  Selling the books for twenty-five cents each, within its pages Macon reminisced about his early days, writing, “at my advanced age I realize more keenly the great mental powers of youth, and could I command an audience of the youth of our land today, I would say to them: ‘Learn the beautiful things of life in your early years—from Holy Writ we learn.  Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth.'”  Also included in the folio were twenty-four of Macon’s popular songs, and several pictures of him, some with his son Dorris.  Concurrently, Macon had turned over a new page in his prolific recording career, becoming an exclusive RCA Victor artist in 1935, with most of his recordings appearing on their Bluebird label and client label for Montgomery Ward.

Montgomery Ward M-7348 and M-7350 were recorded on August 3, 1937 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Uncle Dave’s second session for RCA Victor.  Macon is accompanied by his own banjo, an unknown guitar and second vocal (the two likely belonging to the same individual) on M-7348, and an unknown fiddler on M-7350-B.  I would assume the guitarist to be Uncle Dave’s son Dorris Macon, but since this was not suggested in Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942, I assume Mr. Russell had good reason to nix the possibility.

Alongside a large volume of the secular, minstrel type material that he’s probably best remembered for, Macon also recorded numerous sacred songs in his almost fifteen year career as a recording artist.  Straight out of Songs and Stories, on the “A” side Macon recounts the Parable of the Prodigal Son in a jubilant rendition of “Honest Confession is Good for the Soul”.

Honest Confession is Good for the Soul, recorded August 3, 1937 by Uncle Dave Macon.

On “B”, and also in the book, he sings another sanctified song on “Fame Apart from God’s Approval”, but you don’t have to be a religious person to enjoy the gospel as it was preached by that songster from days of old.

Fame Apart From God’s Approval, recorded August 3, 1937 by Uncle Dave Macon.

On M-7350, Uncle Dave first sings “Two in One Chewing Gum”, also appearing in Songs and Stories.  He first recorded “(She Was Always) Chewing Gum” for Vocalion in 1924; the “two in one” part referring to Dave’s humorous rendering of the immensely popular “Nobody’s Darlin’ but Mine” that follows the titular song.

Two in One Chewing Gum, recorded August 3, 1937 by Uncle Dave Macon.

Finally, Dave and an unknown fiddle player get hot on the old-time number “Travelin’ Down the Road”, a melody that’s “just as loose, as loose as a goose!”  This tune is the only one out of these four songs that’s not included in Songs and Stories of Uncle Dave Macon, so I’ll have to offer you all one of his stories instead…

“When prohibition struck Tennessee, and the apple business became an unprofitable one, two Warren county farmers, disgusted with poor land and poorer prices, set out for Texas in a wagon drawn by mules.  In Texas, they were dazed by the enormous plains, rolling away in every direction as far as the eye could see.  Undaunted, they pressed on for West Texas, where reports held out promises of prosperity.

After a week of travel, deeper and deeper into the heart of the great plains, a sand and dust storm came upon them—in a short time they could not see even the tips of the mules’ ears.  One of the men turned to the other and said: ‘Bill, hold the mules, while I get down and pray.’

Bill climbed down, held the mules, and the other dropped to his knees: ‘Oh, Lord, here we are, out in the middle of this prairie; lost!  Lord, we don’t know where we are.  We don’t know.’

Bill was unusually anxious, and interrupted—’Hey, He knows where we are!  Tell Him something, brother, tell him something.'”

Travelin’ Down the Road, recorded August 3, 1937 by Uncle Dave Macon.

Paramount 12389 – Bo Weavil Jackson – 1926

The life and times of the musician known as Bo Weavil Jackson are shrouded beneath a veil of mystery and obscurity; even his true identity remains an uncertainty.  In fact, it would be difficult to know less about a person.  He made six records, had a remarkably poorly lit photograph taken of him, and then disappeared into oblivion.  This intrigue, of course, only serves to enhance his appeal as a bluesman, much as it might confound historians.

The man called “Bo Weavil” is said to have truly been named James Jackson (or perhaps James Butler or Sam Butler) and is believed to have hailed from Alabama, probably born sometime in the 1890s.  Queries of public records reveal far too many possible results to be narrowed down by the few vague details known.  Indeed, he referred to Birmingham in his “Jefferson County Blues”.  He was playing for spare change on a Birmingham street corner when he was “discovered” by record salesman and talent scout Harry Charles in 1926, who referred him to Chicago to make some records for Paramount, by whom he was promoted as having “come down from the Carolinas.”  There, he waxed six sides, including a version of “When the Saints Come Marching Home” and perhaps the first recording of “Crow Jane”, which are counted among the earliest recordings of country blues by a male performer, in the wake of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s historic debut recordings with the same company only a few months prior.  The following month, Bo Weavil headed to New York to cut another six sides for Vocalion (two of which were unissued but exist in the form of test pressings), this time under the moniker “Sam Butler”.  His recordings reveal that he was a nimble slide guitarist with a unique approach to performance, and his repertoire consisted of a mixture of blues and sacred songs.  What became of Bo Weavil after his brief recording career drew to a close is entirely unknown; perhaps he went back home to Alabama, perhaps he started a new life in New York, perhaps he got run over by a freight train trying to hobo his way back south—we may never know.  Purportedly, another man adopted the moniker of “Bo Weavil Jackson” in the Mississippi Delta in the decade following “Sam Butler’s” recording career.

Paramount 12389 was recorded around August of 1926 in Chicago, Illinois.  It is Bo Weavil Jackson’s first released record, consisting of his third and first recorded sides, respectively, and quite certainly his best-selling.

Firstly, Bo Weavil Jackson demonstrates his eccentric and unpredictable slide guitar work on his tour de force “You Can’t Keep No Brown” (though the last line in the song coupled with the absence of the title verse suggests that perhaps it should have been titled “Long Distance Blues”).  He recorded an entirely different version of this song for Vocalion, but this one, if you could compare the two, is the superior version in my opinion.

You Can’t Keep No Brown, recorded c. August 1926 by Bo Weavil Jackson.

On the “B” side, Bo Weavil sings “Pistol Blues”, which is in actuality a rendition of the folk blues “Crow Jane”; while Julius Daniels’ 1927 recording of “Crow Jane Blues” is often credited as the first recording of the song, Bo Weavil’s predates it by more than a year.

Pistol Blues, recorded c. August 1926 by Bo Weavil Jackson.