Okeh 8554 – “Mooch” Richardson – 1928

Like old Seth Richard, “Mooch” Richardson is one of the countless blues musicians whose life and times are shrouded in obscurity.  He showed up for two sessions while the Okeh company was in Memphis, producing a series of outstanding country blues recordings, then disappeared back into obscurity once they were complete.

Perhaps the only really concrete fact known about “Mooch” is that he was really James Richardson.  It has been supposed based upon his “Helena Blues”, that he hailed from Helena, Arkansas.  Historian Paul Oliver, in his Barrelhouse Blues: Location Recording and the Early Traditions of the Blues, suggested that Richardson was a pianist, based apparently upon his two-part recording of “‘Mooch’ Richardson’s Low Down Barrel House Blues”, and implying that Richardson played piano on those recordings (though he in fact did not).  In February of 1928, Richardson appeared at two consecutive sessions in Memphis for Okeh, resulting in a total of nine recordings, six of which were released.  He was backed by Lonnie Johnson either on the latter session or both, accounts differ.  Whether or not Richardson was a resident of Memphis is another unknown.  Those two record dates serve as the only hard evidence of “Mooch” Richardson, whatever became of him afterward is anyone’s guess (unless they’ve got access to better information than me).

Okeh 8554 was recorded on February 13, 1928 in Memphis, Tennessee.  There is question as to whether the guitar accompaniment is played by Richardson himself or by Lonnie Johnson; some sources state that Richardson accompanied himself on his first record date (which produced these two), and Johnson on his second, while others indicate that all of his recordings feature Johnson.  To my ear, while the guitar playing sounds a bit more “standard country blues” than Johnson’s usual style of playing—which tended to be heavy on bent notes and elaborate melodic single-string runs—it at the same time could indeed quite plausibly be him; certainly Johnson was a skilled enough musician to play in such a style.  The DAHR lists Lonnie Johnson on the first side and Richardson on the second, but both sound to be the same player, and if anything the “B” side sounds more like Johnson than the first.  The more I listen to it, the more I think it is Johnson.  It’s beautiful playing one way or the other.  Contributors to the 78 Quarterly suggested “twenty-five or more” extant copies, with this copy being one of the ones reported (at which time it was in the collection of George Paulus).

First up is the excellent “T and T Blues”, a mostly, if not entirely floating verse song drawing its name from the line “well it’s ‘T’ for Texas, lawd, I got a ‘T’ for Tennessee,” also heard in “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues”, and famously in Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel”, as well as others, including Willie Brown’s “Future Blues”.

T and T Blues, recorded February 13, 1928 by “Mooch” Richardson.

Another floating verse song, Richardson next sings “‘Mooch’ Richardson’s Low Down Barrel House Blues Part 1”.  You gotta buy another record if you want to hear part two.

“Mooch” Richardson’s Low Down Barrel House Blues Part 1, recorded February 13, 1928 by “Mooch” Richardson.

Okeh 8535 – Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five – 1927

That special time of year has come again that we celebrate the birth of the great Louis Armstrong, on the event of his 115th birthday.  Last year, we commemorated the occasion with his theme song, Sleepy Time Down South”.  This time around, we have even more excellence from Armstrong’s original Hot Five.

Louis Armstrong's Hot Five.

Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five (autographed to Muggsy Spanier).  Left to right: Armstrong, Johnny St. Cyr, Johnny Dodds, Kid Ory, Lil Armstrong.  From Jazzmen, 1939.

Louis Armstrong was born in the cradle of jazz, New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 4, 1901.  He grew up in a poor family in Storyville, and played witness to jazz in its infancy.  As a child, he made money working for a Jewish family by the name of Karnofsky, who came to treat him as one of their own.  Armstrong played as a youngster with the band of the New Orleans Colored Waif’s Home, and was instructed in cornet by Professor Peter Davis.  After leaving the home, Louis hauled coal by day and played by night, with all the jazz greats of New Orleans. “King of Cornet”, Joe Oliver, “Papa Joe” as Louis called him, came to be Armstrong’s mentor before heading north to play in Chicago in 1919.  He soon began playing in the famous brass bands of New Orleans, and on riverboats on the Mississippi.

In 1922, Armstrong received a request from Oliver to join him in Chicago.  Nervously, he obliged, and in that April, Armstrong made his first recordings with King Olivier’s Creole Jazz Band for Gennett Records.  With the Creole Jazz Band, Louis met piano player Lil Hardin, and before long the two were married.  It was Lil’s idea that Louis should leave King Oliver’s band; she believed his potential was wasted as a sideman to Oliver, and so he did.  In 1924, Armstrong left to work briefly with Ollie Powers’ band, before spending a year with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, and then with Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra (not to mention a number of other ventures on the side).  His biggest break came in 1925, when he formed his first Hot Five, and thus the first time he appeared on records as leader.  Through the rest of the 1920s, Armstrong kept busy playing and recording prolifically.  After some work with Carroll Dickerson’s orchestra in ’29, Louis left for California in 1930 to play a gig at Sebastian’s New Cotton Club in Los Angeles, California, fronting Les Hite’s orchestra.

Following that engagement, he traveled from place-to-place for a period, from back to Chicago, to home in New Orleans, to California again, before embarked on a much celebrated tour of Europe in 1933.  When he returned to the states in 1935, his fame was only on the rise.  After playing swing and jazz into the post-war era, and in 1947, he assembled his All-Stars, as a revival in “dixieland” came about.  Armstrong remained steadily popular until his death in 1971.  From the 1920s into the 1960s, Armstrong his inimitable mark on music, and cemented his place as one of the greatest jazz musicians, and most beloved American icons, of all time.

Okeh 8535 was recorded December 13, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois.  The Hot Five consists of Louis Armstrong on cornet, Kid Ory on trombone, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Lil Armstrong on piano, and Lonnie Johnson on guitar.  This was the last session by the “original” Hot Five, in 1928 Armstrong organized a new group made up from members of Carroll Dickerson’s orchestra, including Earl Hines and Zutty Singleton.

Now, no matter what the question may be, the answer is right here for you, “Hotter than That”.

Hotter than That

Hotter than That, recorded December 13, 1927 by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.

On the flip-side, they play Kid Ory’s composition, “Savoy Blues”.

Savoy Blues

Savoy Blues, recorded December 13, 1927 by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.

Okeh 8557 – Lonnie Johnson – 1928

On this fine day we celebrate a man whom I consider to be one of the finest jazz and blues guitarists of all time, Mr. Lonnie Johnson, who was born on this day in 1899.  Here are two great guitar blues songs from earlier in his career.

Alonzo “Lonnie” Johnson was born February 8, 1899 in cradle of jazz, New Orleans, Louisiana into a family of musicians.  After touring Europe in 1917, Lonnie returned home to find his family dead from a flu epidemic, except for his brother, James “Steady Roll” Johnson.  Leaving New Orleans, Lonnie and his brother settled in St. Louis some years after, and performed as a duo.  In 1925, Lonnie Johnson signed a contract to record with Okeh Records, with whom he stayed until the 1930s.  Working both as an solo artist, accompanist, and sometimes band member, he went on to have a long career in music, continuing to perform until near his death in 1970.

Okeh 8557 was recorded November 9, 1927 in New York by Lonnie Johnson, accompanied by his own guitar.  Both songs are Johnson’s own compositions.

First we hear Johnson sing a tale of the high seas on “Life Saver Blues”.

Life Saver Blues

Life Saver Blues, recorded November 9, 1927 by Lonnie Johnson.

Next, Lonnie sings of being intimidated by firearm wielding ghosts in “Blue Ghost Blues”.  Lonnie Johnson later re-recorded this song for Decca in March of 1938.

Blue Ghost Blues

Blue Ghost Blues, recorded November 9, 1927 by Lonnie Johnson.

Updated with improved audio on April 27, 2018.

Okeh 8511 – “Texas” Alexander – 1927

Going back now to the music of America’s roots, I offer a classic albeit worn blues record by great bluesman “Texas” Alexander.

Alger “Texas” Alexander was born in Jewett, Texas on September 12, 1900.  Playing at functions in the Brazos River bottomlands of his home state, he sometimes worked with contemporary and fellow Texas blues musician Blind Lemon Jefferson.  Alexander traveled to New York City to make his first recordings for Okeh Records in 1927, and made many further recordings back home in Texas.  Unable to play any musical instrument, he was backed on his recordings by various sidemen and groups, including the Mississippi Sheiks for one session. Although Alexander has long been cited as serving five years in the penitentiary in Paris, Texas for the 1939 murder of his wife, modern research yields no evidence of that being true, as no records exist of Alexander serving, and in fact, no prison ever existed in Paris, Texas.  More likely, Alexander served on a county work farm for publicly singing songs with lewd lyrics.  Texas Alexander continued to record in the 1940s, and made his last recordings with Benton’s Busy Bees in 1953 before dying of syphilis the next year.

Okeh 8511 was recorded on August 11 and 12, 1927 and is “Texas” Alexander’s second issued record from his first recording session, and probably his best selling Okeh.  Alexander is accompanied by the always excellent Lonnie Johnson on guitar.  This record, as many, if not most of this type of record are, has seen better days and plays rough.  Nevertheless, the music is still audible, albeit over heavy noise.

On the first side, Alexander moans his way through the classic “Long Lonesome Day Blues”.

Long Lonesome Day Blues, recorded August 11, 1927 by "Texas" Alexander.

Long Lonesome Day Blues, recorded August 11, 1927 by “Texas” Alexander.

“Corn-Bread Blues”, a little worse for wear, features that classic line, “they cook cornbread for their husband, and biscuits (or is it ‘brisket’?) for their man.”

Corn Bread Blues, recorded August 12, 1927 by "Texas" Alexander.

Corn Bread Blues, recorded August 12, 1927 by “Texas” Alexander.

Updated with improved audio on July 1, 2017, and again on May 3, 2023.