It began in Africa and was brought to America with the slaves. It portrays a condition of depression or melancholy. It is often associated with sadness, sorrow, loneliness, protest, tragedy and sexuality. It is the story of the blues.
The 'BLUES, THEN AND NOW' traces its origin from Africa in its primitive stages to the present. It profiles the men and women that sang the blues and the importance of the string band, the jug band and the washboard hand and the field recordings in prisons, in chain-gangs and on the plantations.
The Mississippi Delta has often been referred to as The Land Where the Blues Began. It is located in the northwest section of Mississippi, Riverton, Clarksdale, Tupelo, Tutwiler, Houston, Glendora, Grenada, Cleveland, Greenwood, Indiana, Greenville. Moorhead, Rolling Fork, Philadelphia, Edwards, Jackson, Vicksville, Richland, Hazelhurst, Natchez, Laurel and McComb are the towns and cities in this area. US Highway 61 runs north-south through the center of the blues delta.
The Mississippi Delta has many areas that are full of blues history. Tutwiler, MS. is where W.C. Handy first heard Charley Patton play his guitar at a railroad stop in 1902. Morehead, MS is the place where Robert Johnson was supposed to have made a deal with the devil for him to become a better guitar player and singer, and for that he would sell his soul to the devil so the legend goes.
Dockery Farms in Cleveland, MS, was the home place for many blues artists. Muddy Waters lived in a very poor shack in Stovall, MS. The gravesite of "Rice'' Miller A.K.A. Sonny Boy Williamson is located in Tutwiler, MS. Clarksdale, MS is where the legendary blues singer Bessie Smith died from an automobile accident on Highway 61. Ike Turner, W. C. Handy, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters also lived in Clarksdale MS.
It was in the Mississippi Delta where the blacks were forced to work on the docks, in the roadside for land-clearing, on plantations and as they worked they sang the blues. Often times making up their own set of words that depicted their sufferings and hardships.
It was the land that produced some of the greatest giants in our blues history. There were; Henry Sloan, Charley Patton, Eddie "Son" House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Big Joe Williams, John Lee Hooker, Sunnyland Slim, Willie Dixon, Walter "Furry" Lewis and more.
The blues however, were not limited to the men only. Women like Alberta Hunter "Ma" Rainey, Ida Cox, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Big Mama Thornton and a good deal more were heard singing the blues. They sang about drugs, alcohol, prostitution and crime.
As the blues became more and more popular with the white audiences, the black blues singers began to travel north to Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas and New York. They embellished their bands by adding additional instruments that included the bass, drums, trumpet. violin and clarinet.
During the 1960s, a new herd of blues musicians and singers were heard. There were the "Rolling Stones", the "Yardbirds", "Fleetwood Mac", "Paul Butterfield Blues Band", "Eric Clapton", "Eddie Van Hale", and many more
The blues as we know it today began as a merger between the African and European cultures. In its beginnings, it came out of the shout and the African call-and-response singing. This call-and-response adopted the three line stanza (AAB) that developed into 12 bars of music. The three basic chord progressions that came from the American culture are the I-IV-V progressions.
Further into the book you will he introduced to no less than 20 different blues progressions and the construction of the blues scale in all 12 keys. You will meet the men and women that sang the blues and the urban blues. You will read about the instrumentations of the string hand, the jug band, and the washboard band. You will read about soul music and the zydeco hands. There are chapters on rhythm and blues (R&B), rock and roll and the 1960s revival of the blues in Europe and the blues as we hear it today.
At the end of the book there will be a list of all the blues societies in the United States and in Europe and the role they play in keeping the blues alive. Today, we see more and more new blues artists springing up and performing in clubs, in concerts and recordings to a growing group of young blues devotees.
The blues is like the perpetual flame that will never blow out..
1 Chapter 0 - Origin
The blues is among the most popular form of music that is associated and identified in the chronicle of jazz. The general public however, did not recognize its presence or its importance until after World War I. In 1917, Chicago became the world's jazz center and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band under the leadership of trumpeter Nick LaRocca organized in the Windy City moved north to New York to make their first jazz recording of Tiger Rag, Livery Stable Blues and At the Jazz Band Ball.
From 1917 onward, blues became the dormant form of music throughout the country. By that time, William Christopher Handy, later to be known as the "Father of the Blues," had his "Memphis Blues," "Beale Street Blues," "Yellow Dog Blues," and the ever popular "St. Louis Blues," published. In 1905, Jelly Roll Morton had his first blues composition published, "Jelly Roll Blues," "Wolverine Blues," "Dead Man Blues," "Harmony Blues," "Black Bottom Stomp," and King Porter Stomp."
The general public categorized the blues as music that is played slow and sad. The lyrics usually told a story of depression, loneliness. sadness, sorrow, tragedy and sexuality. The field holler or cry that played a major role in jazz was also an important element in the mood of the blues. Each black slave working in the cotton field, the rice plantation or on the levee had his own holler that became his personal identification. Hollers were basically slow in tempo, without a formal rhythmic pattern and were sung by a solo voice. The melodic phrases with their minor intervals gave a melancholy character to the theme. The exact intonation of the minor notes varies according to the performer's expressions. Often they are attached with smears, slurs, glissandos (a sliding effect between two notes) or any other embellishments they may create.
With the added minor notes, the posture of harmony becomes blue, which results in blue tonality. In most American black music, mainly in jazz and the blues be it vocal or instrumental, blue tonality can he heard. The field hollers, work songs, spirituals, gospels. minstrels and ragtime have continued on with the blue tonality sound. Many of our classical and contemporary composers have applied blue tonality in their compositions. Blue tonality is the lifeblood of our American musical culture.
From where did blue tonality come? Most likely it was heard first in West Africa. The exact date of the blues is unknown.
It seems that the more we investigate its origin, the further back in time it appears. W.C. Handy said he heard the blues in 1903. Blues singer "Ma" Rainey heard and sang the blues in 1902. However, the earliest form of the blues dates back to the early 1860s and was associated with the American blacks. The development of the blues was influenced by black folk music such as the work songs, spirituals, field hollers, ring-shouts and certain popular ballads.
In the early 1890s, blues were sung in the southern states in rural areas. These "country blues" unusually had the accompaniment of a guitar. To establish a time period for the introduction of black music on this continent, we must go back to the beginning when the first boatload Negroes were brought in from West Africa.
From 1619 onward, thousands of Negroes were brought in on slave ships and unloaded on the water front sites in southern slates. Once unloaded, family members, religious and tribal groups were separated and hauled off to different plantations. The reasoning behind this separation was to eradicate whatever culture the blacks brought with them. But, what the plantation owners did not know was that they could never take away or diminish the black's love for music. Singing was their way of communication with each other. Further, it was their love fur music that helped them survive the harsh, cruel and often inhumane treatment of the slave masters.
This does not mean however, that the moment the blacks set foot on American soil they began singing the blues. What they sang while working in the fields was their own creative theme in their African dialect. Regardless of what part or Africa they came from, Dahomey, Senegal, the Congo, the Niger Delta or the Guinea Coast, they had one similarity in common and that was rhythm. The Negro soon began including fragments of the white man's music into their own musical expressions. And, before long a rich musical innovation was developing.
After many decades, this innovative process developed into the field holler, spirituals, the work song, the ring-shout and the country blues. Accepting the fact that the blues can be traced back to the spiritual or the field holler, then we may ask, "How did we get the classic 12 bar blues with its standard chord progressions?" When was it that the Negro became acquainted with the chord progressions of the Tonic (I), Subdominant (IV) and Dominant (V) that has been the accepted harmonic blues progressions?
The beginning or the blues-singing period actually began during the Civil War era. On January I., 1863, President Lincoln formally adopted the Emancipation Proclamation into law. Emancipation gave the blacks a new outlook on life. It meant freedom. No longer would they be bought, sold or forced to work as slaves. They were now able to remain at a free family unit. If they decided to remain on the plantation and work for their former owners, they would be compensated for their labor. They were free to attend the church of their choice. Their children could now get an education in schools set up for them. Families could live together in new homes instead of the slave cabins. They had the opportunity to become teachers, preachers, politicians and land owners.
The blacks were free to sing their music openly without the fear of the white man's punishment. Their freedom also gave them the right to sing and imitate the white man's eight and sixteen bar songs, along with their own hollers, spirituals, work songs, and ring-shouts. It must be noted however, that prior to the Civil War era, the blacks sang their various turns of music as solos or in unison
Blues in its infancy was a direct descendant or the shout and the African call-and-response singing. Eventually, blues adopted the three line stanza (AAB) form that developed into 12 bars. The blues harmony derived from European music influenced with its blue tonality of the shout. However, the three basic blues chords are from our American music culture, the I-IV-V, progressions. These chord changes most likely came from our religious music.
Emancipation also gave the blacks the opportunity and freedom to develop their music comparable to the white man. A classic example of this is with the Fisk Jubilee Singers from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1871, their choir director, George L. White, harmonized the spirituals of the white religious hymns with their simple chord progressions. After many rehearsals with this new spiritual sound, the Fisk Jubilee Singers toured the United States and Europe with much success. They also opened the way for other black choirs to harmonize their repertoire.
Many spirituals were written primarily as a blues composition. They are; "How Long Blues," "Precious Lord Hold My Hand," "Nobody's Fault but Mine, "St. James Infirmary," and "Hold On, Keep Your Hands on the Plow." With the Emancipation in 1863 setting the blacks free in the southern states and two years later in 1865 the 13th amendment was included in the United States Constitution abolishing slavery. They both gave a certain amount of relief to the Negroes. The Reconstruction period following the Civil War and ending in 1877, gave another rise and optimism for the blacks. They could now participate in the social, political and economic issues.
However, in the 1890s, the southern whites found it very difficult to accept the blacks as equals to them. And with their stubborn and obstinate bitterness, they have incorporated segregation laws in their state further restricting the advancements of the black people.
In 1866 the first year of the Reconstruction period, the southern whites secretly formed the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) to terrorize the blacks and tried to prevent them from voting. The Negro however, was accustomed to violence and throats from their former slave masters and began lighting back in retaliation. They further stood their ground to protect their rights and freedom. Being challenged by the blacks on every attack and threat, the Ku Klux Klan disbanded in 1871.
A second Klan was organized in 1915. Anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism were added to its white supremacy. After 1920, it spread throughout the north and south. By 1930 there was an estimated 30,000 members. It still exists in several southern states, notably Georgia.
Chapter 2 – Ladies That Sang The Blues
I or some unknown reason the women blues singers never got the true recognition as the men did that they rightly deserved. Their songs were not as popular as the men except for a few like Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues," and Bessie Smith's "Down Hearted Blues." The majority of the women did not receive celebrated status as the men did.
The ladies that sang and played the blues were as talented as the men were and in several cases they excelled their male counterpart. Memphis Minnie McCoy could play the guitar better than most men and often challenged them and won. With the women, their blues was the story of their lives as they had lived it."Sippie" Wallace sang about her drug and alcohol addictions. Lucille Bogan's lyrics were about prostitution and her craving for sex. Ida Cox reveals her weakness for whiskey, moonshine and sex and Alberta Hunter exposes herself as a lesbian. And so many more had to resort to prostitution, whiskey, drugs, cocaine and cigarettes to ease the pain of their blues. But, in spite of it all, there are those whose life story will forever endure.
Gertrude `Ma' Rainey considered one of the greatest blues singers in her time. Her country style blues singing or "Lawd, I'm down Wid de Blues," was a big hit for Paramount Records. This was among the first to be identified as a "race" label, which was what black recording artists on black labels were called "Ma" Rainey. Along with blues singers, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Sara Martin, Clara Smith and a few others were among the first to develop the classic blues style. "Ma" Rainey's 1925 hit recording of "Cell Bound Blues," with her own Georgia Jazz Band is an excellent example. This was followed in 1926 with "Jealous Hearted Blues," with the Fletcher Henderson Band. "See See Rider," "Bo-Weavil Blues," and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" were also among her hits for Paramount Records.
She also sang about topics that were commonplace at the time. "Chain Gang Blues," talks about breaking the law and going to jail. "Moonshine Blues," and "Dead Drunk Blues," were about intoxication. Superstition was revealed in "Wringing and Twisting the Blues." "Hustlin' Blues," was about prostitution.
"Ma" Rainey labeled as the "Mother of the Blues," was born Gertrude Pridgett on April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia. At the age of 18 she married William "Pa" Rainey and together they performed with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. In 1905, her blues singing was the highlight of the show. She later became the first black female to be associated with the blues. It was "Ma" Rainey who discovered that Bessie Smith had talent and look Bessie under wing. Gertrude "Ma" Rainey died of a heart attack on December 22, 1939.
For the major part, women were the classic blues singers. The lyrics were invariably taken from a woman's viewpoint. On the other hand, men ruled in the country blues with two outstanding exceptions, they were; Ida May Mack and Bessie Tucker. It was however, the black female classic blues singers namely, "Ma" Rainey, Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith, and Chippie Hill to mention a few that brought blues to public notice in the United States. Bessie Tucker sang songs about prison life. Lucille Bogan sang "Low down Blues" about prostitution and lesbians. Memphis Minnie McCoy sang "The Memphis Minnie-Jitis Blues," that had reference to her illness. Later with her third husband Earnest Lawler backing her on guitar recorded "me and My Chauffer Blues" which became one of her biggest hits. It was women like these that took the blues out of the south and introduced it to the northern states, namely, Kansas City, Chicago and New York.
The turn of the century witnessed some major changes in the music industry. In 1900, the "Cake Walk" became the most popular dance. Ragtime jazz was heard throughout the United States in 1901. The Carl Lindstrom Company in Berlin, Germany, in 1904 produced the phonograph and phonograph records. 1912 was the year that Leroy "Lasses" White's "Nigger Blues," the "Dallas Blues" by Hart Wand and Lloyd Garrett and W. C. Handy's "Memphis Blues" had been published. New Orleans was hearing classic jazz in 1915, and in 1916, jazz took over in the United States. Europe welcomed the arrival of jazz in 1919.
Mamie Smith at the age of 37 made her record debut on St. Valentine's Day in 1920 when she recorded "That Thing Called Love," and "You Can't 'Keep a Good Man Down." The record did not sell as much as was expected, but enough to bring Mamie back to the studio in the summer of that year. With the band backing of her five-piece Jazz Hounds, she recorded "Crazy Blues," a composition by Perry Bradford on Okeh Records. In the first month of its release in November, the record sold 75,000 copies. With the success of "Crazy Blues," Mamie Smith was responsible for the blues craze in 1921. The 'colored' market was discovered and record companies were recording as many black artists as they could get their hands on. By 1927, about five hundred records by black talents were released annually.
Attractive Mamie paved the way for other black singers such as. Edith Wilson, Viola McCoy, Sara Martin, Clara Smith and Rosa Henderson who began recording what was now called 'race' records because sales and promotion was mainly directed to the black people. The success of "Crazy Blues" made a lot of money for Mamie and Perry Bradford who promoted the record. It must be noted however, that Mamie Smith was not the first black singer to record. There were others that preceded her. But, her records were the first to be sold to the black sales market.
Marne Smith was born in poverty on May 26, 1883, in Cincinnati, Ohio. When she acquired the wealth on her "Crazy Blues" royalties, she lived lavishly, buying expensive cars, furniture, the must expensive fashioned designs and a steady flow of lovers that kept her sexually occupied. She continued this life style until the depression.
In 1923, she recorded her last hit record. "You've Got to See Mama Every Night (Or You Won't See Mama At All)." Eventually, her money ran out and she round herself broke again. On September 16, 1946, Mamie Smith died in New York at the age of 63, penniless.
Bessie Smith began her musical career as a singer and dancer in 1912 with the Moses Stokes Minstrel Show. Gertrude "Ma" Rainey was with that same traveling troupe and had recognized the potential talents of Bessie and offered re help her along in show business. Bessie appreciated and accepted whatever assistance she could get, especially since it was free and coming from "Ma" Rainey who was the most popular blues singer in the south. Later, Bessie joined another touring show but was kicked out of the chorus line because she was too black. However, Park's Big Revue took her on in 1914. Within a short time, Bessie was the hottest attraction in the south.
Bessie Smith grew up in poverty with five brothers and sisters in Chattanooga, Tennessee where she was born in a small ramshackle cabin in 1894. Both of her parents died when she was eight years old. Growing up without parental guidance, she look to the streets for means of support. She sang and danced on busy street corners where people would throw a nickel or a dime at her. At a very early age she was introduced to a taste of liquor and sex and liked them both. They soon became a habit. Bessie learned the street language as rough as it was and also how to physically defend herself.
By the time she was 16, "Ma" Rainey with her Rainey's Rabbit Foot Minstrels took Bessie along to get additional experience and teach her how to sing with feeling and emotion. It wasn't long afterwards that Bessie left "Ma" Rainey and branched out on her own. She joined other touring groups working the black vaudeville circuit and in saloons and local theaters.
During all this exposure, Bessie was listening to the great blues singers. Besides "Ma" Rainey, there was Mamie Smith's (no relation) hit record of "Crazy Blues." Bessie was attracting attention with the public and several important ears heard her. Pianist and songwriter Clarence Williams and producer Frank Walker of New York were counted among those who claimed to have discovered her. During the decade of the 1920s, Bessie recorded with the jazz giants of that era namely, Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, James P. Johnson and Don Redman.
On February 16, 1923, Frank Walker took Bessie Smith to Columbia Record Company to record tier first record, "Down Hearted Blues" and "Gulf Coast Blues," with Clarence Williams on piano. Within six months after its release to ale public, the record sold 780,000 copies. Sales were not only sold to the blacks in the south but northern whites were buying records. Bessie's popularity grew so rapidly that people, both blacks and whites, would stand in line to see her perform. She was officially crowned by the public as the "Empress of the Blues."
In September 1923, she was called in to record "Jailhouse Blues" that turned out to be another hit. Among the classic blues singers, "Ma" Rainey, Mamie Smith, Sara Martin, Alberta Hunter, Ida Cox, Clara Smith and a few others, Bessie was considered the best of them all. During her ten-year recording career with Columbia Records with whom she had gotten out of bankruptcy with her "Down Hearted Blues." Bessie made an enormous amount of money. But she never forgot what it was like to be poor, nor did she forget where she came from. Bessie was living high. Buying everything she wanted without concern of the cost. She drank heavily and engaged in sex with both men and women. Bessie was rough, tough and often crude and irresponsible. Yet, at the same time she was passionate, generous and showed kindness to those in need.
She made one big mistake however, she entrusted her money management to her husband Jack McGee, an ex-policeman who in turn kept his pockets full and used Bessie's money to support and finance the career of his show-girl mistress. By the end of the 1920s, the blues lost its public appeal. Records were not selling. Theaters were closing down and those that remained open were not using stage shows. Bessie was back where she started. She was poor again. She had to sing at house parties to raise money to pay the rent and buy food. Her husband took off with his mistress. All the people she helped in their time of need were not there for her when she needed them. The last record Bessie recorded was in 1919. It was, oddly enough, "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," it was the story of her life.
At the beginning of the 1930s, Bessie Smith made a successful comeback. Connie's Inn, a nightclub in Harlem, New York and the Wander Inn Cafe in Philadelphia, featured Bessie in a new musical revue. Again the public couldn't get enough of her. Bessie's spirits were lifted and she began to make lots of money again. Unfortunately, in the zenith of her successful return to the blues, Bessie was killed in a car accident on Highway 61, near Clarksdale, Mississippi on September 26. l937. Richard Morgan, her latest lover and driver of her new Packard, struck an oncoming truck causing the car to turn over and sever Bessie's arm at the elbow.
A passing motorist, who happened to be a white physician from Memphis, stopped his car to render assistance to Bessie. Dr. Hugh Smith had called for an ambulance to take Bessie to the hospital. Twenty minutes or thereabouts later with no ambulance in sight, Dr. Smith put Bessie in his car to drive her to the hospital himself. However, a second accident occurred at the scene when a speeding car with a young intoxicated couple smashed into the rear of the doctor's car which in turn smashed into Bessie's Packard and overturned the doctor's car.
Finally, two ambulances arrived, one that the doctor called for and the other that the truck driver requested when he got to the nearest telephone. One ambulance took the white couple to the white hospital nearby and the other ambulance took Bessie to the hospital for the blacks about a quarter pf a mile further away. It made no difference which hospital she went to, with her abundant loss of blood she died on the way to the hospital. She was 53 years old. The epitaph on her gravestone read: "The greatest blues singer in the world will never stop singing."
Many blues singers from the early 1920s came from the southern or Midwestern states. There was Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, born in Athens, Georgia; Mamie Smith was from Cincinnati. Ohio, Memphis Minnie McCoy, from Louisiana, Victoria Spivey, from Texas, Ida Cox from Knoxville and Bessie Smith from Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Memphis Minnie McCoy was born Lizzie Douglas on June 3, 1896 in Algiers, Louisiana, one of 13 children. By the time she was eight years old she was singing in the street in Memphis trying to earn money to live on. She identified herself as Kid Douglas. When she was in her early teens, she was touring with the Ringling Brothers Circus for a short time. Afterwards, she worked as a prostitute earning two dollars a trick to earn extra money,
Minnie took up guitar playing and learned to play it well. Big Bill Broonzy tells the story how she heal both him and Tampa. Red in a guitar contest. He said "she way the hint woman guitarist he ever heard." In Memphis she married her first husband Joe McCoy, a Mississippi blues guitarist and mandolin player. At that time she changed her name to Memphis Minnie. She chose that name because that was the city where site got her first big break in music. Most of her blues related to topical events of the day or about her personal life. "Hustlin' Woman Blues" tells about her life as a prostitute.
Her best selling record was "Bumble Bee" in 1930 on the Vocalion label. Her next record, "Memphis Minnie-Jitis Blues" makes reference to an ailment she had at the time. In 1931, she and her husband,. Joe McCoy recorded an excellent guitar duet called "Let's Go to Town." In 1935 with her second husband guitarist "Casey Bill" Weldon, she recorded the "Joe Louis Strut." Following this in 1941 was another recording with her third husband, blues guitarist Ernest 'Lil Son' Lawler, "Me and My Chauffer Blues" on the Okeh label.
Memphis Minnie was among one of the greatest and most powerful women blues singers of all time. During the midst of her successful career she augmented her band as did Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy by adding an extra guitar, clarinet and trumpet. Minnie's health was failing and she eventually died in a Memphis nursing home on August 6, 1973. She was 77 years old.
Memphis, Tennessee, the city of the blues, welcomed into the world on September 28, 1935, Cora Walton. When she was l8 years old, she married Robert Taylor and she became know as Koko Taylor. In 1965, Willie Dixon, a talent scout for the Chess label heard Koko sing and produced her first blues session which turned out to be a million record seller, "Wang Dang Doodle." From then on Ms. Taylor was crowned "Queen of the Blues."
Prior to her success, she had moved to Chicago in 1935 and was singing with the Junior Wells Band in local clubs. She stayed on with the Wells Band along with Buddy Guy until she got that big break with Willie Dixon. In 1975, Koko was under contract with Alligator Records and released her first record for that label, "Force of Nature." With the success of that session, she was invited to appear on several talk shows including David Letterman's show. Paul Shaffer, music director for the Letterman show employed Koko to sing on his album, "Coast to Coast." This was followed by B.B. King's request for her to appear on his album, "Blues Summit." Koko's greatest thrill came on March 3, 1993, when Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago presented her with a "Legend or the Year' award and officially declared that date as ''Koko Taylor Day." Koko is still recording and every one of her releases proves that she is the "Queen of the Blues."
During the decade of the 1920s, it was the women singers that dominated the early blues recordings. Many or them came from the black vaudeville houses that provided employment for these artists. Another source of exposure for their talents was with the Theater Owner's Booking Association (T.O.B.A.) where they would perform on stage in small towns and metropolitan cities throughout the country. The 1920 were good years for the black professional performers. Some were on Broadway in New York City, while others toured Europe with an all-black show. Then there were those that were fortunate to be heard by a record talent scout or a professional songwriter who had connections with a record company to bring them into a studio for a record session.
In 1920, record promoter and songwriter Perry Bradford was instrumental in paving the way for black singers to record. He took Mamie Smith into a studio and recorded one of his songs called "Crazy Blues" on the Okeh label. The record was an immediate success that brought in fortunes for both Smith and Bradford. Quick to jump on the bandwagon on Smith's successful record, other labels started recording the black blues singers. Columbia Records in 1923 recorded Bessie Smith's "Down Hearted Blues" backed with "Gulf Coast Blues," and Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey recorded "Bo-Weavil Blues" and "Moonshine Blues" for the Paramount label in the same year.
Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith and "Ma" Rainey were the first to he identified as the "classic blues singers'". The 1920s brought on additional black ladies that sang the blues, among them were Trixie Smith from Atlanta. Georgia, whose record "Trixie's Blues" for the black Swan label in 1922. created such a stir that she, was called in for more sessions. The sides were; "My Man Rocks Me," "Railroad Blues," "Mining Camp Blues," And "Freight Train Blues."
Sara Martin, known for her showmanship and ability to please an audience, recorded her first record for the Okeh label in 1922 that became an outstanding hit. "Sugar Blues" was such a classic example of her talents that trumpeter Clyde McCoy used that song as his big band theme in the 1930s. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, she continued to record hits such as, "Joe Turner Blues," "Michigan Water Blues," "Blind Man Blues," "Hesitation Blues," and "Tony Jackson Blues." In 1928, Sara retired from the music profession and devoted her time to church activities.
Probably one of the most underrated blues singers was Ida Cox, born on February 25, 1896 in Toccoa, Georgia. By the time she was 14 years old she was singing in a minstrel show and was performing in theaters in her hometown. In 1923, Paramount Records recorded several hits with Ida, some of them were, "Graveyard Dreams Blues," "Any Women's Blues," "Lawdy Lawdy Blues," "I've Got the Blues for Rampart Street," "Coffin Blues," and "Marble Stone Blues."
Although Ida was an exceptionally good singer with accurate voice control, she would always be billed as the "Uncrowned Queen of the Blues." The explanation some musicians who had worked with Ida said that she was in the same time period of three black singers that have captured the hearts the public, namely, 'Ma' Rainey. Mamie Smith and Bessie Smith, whose recordings have by far surpassed Ida's. Then again, Cox's music was on the morbid side. The lyrics that tell about the graveyard, the coffin, the death letter, the marble stone and the bone orchard, even her biggest hit "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues" appeal only to the women who understood the lyrics. In 1944, Ida was stricken with a stroke that put her into retirement until 1961 when she was asked to do a record session with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Ida Cox died of cancer on November 10, 1967 in Knoxville, Tennessee at the age of 71. It was the outstanding black blues singers as 'Ma' Rainey, Bessie Smith., Mamie Smith and Ida Cox who had fused the bond between jazz and the blues in the 1920s.
Texas born Beulah "Sippie" Wallace enjoyed her hits of "Shorty George" and "Up the Country Blues" on the Okeh label in 1923 and then again in 1926 with "Special Delivery Blues" with Louis Armstrong accompanying her on trumpet. The success of these records was short lived. "Sippie" survived by playing gigs around town. Then in 1960 she found fame again as the featured artist on the Folk Festival Circuit where she remained until her death in 1986.
Victoria Spivey was born on October 15, 1906 in Houston,. Texas. She came from a musical family whose father was the leader of a string band in Houston, Texas. By the time she was 12 years old she was singing and playing piano at the Lincoln Theater in Dallas. As she got a little older she left Texas and traveled north to St. Louis. An agent for the Okeh Record Company heard her and contracted her to a session in 1926. The sides she recorded were; "Black Stake Blues" and "Deep Sea Diver." The record sales were high and in 1927 she recorded "T.B. Blues," a song about tuberculosis and "Dope Head Blues" relating to the cocaine users with guitarist Lonnie Johnson accompanying her. Victoria went on to do more recordings with the accompaniment of the musical giants as King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Henry "Red" Allen. Her career carried her through the 1930s and 1940s. She worked the night dub circuit and several tours throughout the country during the 1950s. Then in the 1960s, her fame was renewed again during the blues revival. She continued on singing and playing her piano up to the time of her demise. Victoria died on October 3, 1976. She was 70 years old.
Lucille Hogan, born in Birmingham, Alabama, was considered to have the most scurrilous lyrics of all the blues singers in her day. She was an outspoken woman and had the backing of the city's black mob. Her robust blues were about prostitution, lesbians, drugs and alcohol. On stage she would set the mood for her performance, so that the audience would know what to expect. Her opening dialogue was; "I got somethin' 'tween my legs could make a dead man come.' Then she followed this line with, "I fucked all night and all the night before, baby, and I feel just like I want to fuck some more."
From 1927 to 1930, Lucille was in Chicago recording for Paramount Records. The session produced "Alley Boogie," "Women Don't Need No Men" and "B.D. (meaning bull dvke) Women's Blues," both songs were about lesbians. Then in 1935, her uncensored version of "Shave `Ern Dry" was so filthy even for a 'race' record that it could only be sold as under-the-counter release using a pseudonym.. Lucille also made records using the name Bessie Jackson, during her recording sessions from 1933 to 1935, She was not alone however in this rough and tough image that she portrayed. There were 'Ma' Rainey, Bessie Smith and Victoria Spivey who also sang about murder, rape, prostitution, drugs, alcoholism and lesbians. In 1936, Lucille Bogan was killed by an automobile in the streets of Los Angeles.
The 1920s heard other ladies that sang the blues, there were; Lovie Austin, in addition to her singing she played piano with her Blues Serenaders and often backed up Ida Cox and 'Ma' Rainey on their record dates. Lucille Hegamin was a favorite with her hit record, "Arkansas Blues." "Down Home Blues," was a classic for Ethel Waters.
Dallas, Texas gave us Lillian Glinn's version of "Doggin; Me Blues" and "Brown Skin Blues." Bessie Tucker's robust songs of "Ride and Shine on the Dummy Line" and a prison blues called "Key to the Bushes." Alberta Brown from New Orleans, Birmingham's Bertha Ross and Cleo Gibson of Atlanta provided some obscure records. Helen Humes, although she later became associated as a jazz singer with Count Basie, was a teenage blues singer in 1927 Edith Wilson, Mary Stafford, Rosetta Crawford, Ilocial Thomas and Addis (Sweet Pe-ase) Spivey, Victoria's younger sister gave us memorable blues in the 1920s.
The 1930s came in with another wave of blues singers. Ivy Anderson, Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald. Teddy Grace, Alberta Hunter and Georgia White continued to keep the blues alive with such outstanding hits as "Trouble in Mind," "Dupree Blues," "Your Worries ain't Like Mine,"I'll Keep Sitting On It," and "Daddy Let Me Lay It On You." The 1930s also saw the death of some of the greats. Clara Smith and Lucille Bogan in 1935, Bessie Smith in 1937, and 1939 was the end for Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey.
Some of the blues women who survived the 1920s and 1930s began to include pop ballads along with the blues in their repertoire in the 1940s. Mamie Smith was among them until her death in 1946. Lil Green, the Mississippi born sweetheart, started the 1940s with a tremendous success with "Romance in the Dark." She continued her success with another hit written by Joe McCoy, Memphis Minnie's first husband called "Why Don't You Do Right-Like Some Other Men Do?" The following year the same song became a bigger hit with Peggy Lee's version with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Lil went on to record for Victor„Atlantic and Aladdin Records. She toured the country with musicians like Big Bill Broonzy, Ramon Knowling, Henry Simeone, and Clyde Bernhardt and with the Tim Bradshaw Band. Lil was a religious woman who didn't drink or smoke. But somehow, she was implicated in a juke joint murder and had to do some time in prison. At the age of 35, she died in Chicago in 1954.
The 1940s heard the sounds of Sister Rosetta Tharpe who combined her gospels and blues singing with the Lucky Millinder's Band. Muriel Nicholls (Wee Bea Booze) made a cover
ecord of 'Ma' Rainey's 1924 hit, "See See Rider." Pearl Bailey, Sarah Vaughan. Camille Howard, Una Mac Carlisle, Savannah Churchill and Dinah Washington joined the ranks of female performers in the 1940s. Their library included ballads, rhythm and blues and jazz. This began to have more of an appeal to the audience than just the blues alone.
Willie Mae (Big Mama) Thornton was born on December 11, 1926 in Montgomery, Alabama. 1n 1941 at the age of 14, she left home to go on the road with the Hot Harlem Revue. She taught herself how to play the drums and harmonica and she played them well enough to be featured as an instrumentalist on stage. In 1953, Big Mania Thornton recorded "Hound Dog" on the Peacock label with band leader Johnny Otis. It was an immediate success hitting the number one spot on the rhythm and blues charts. In 1956, Elvis Presley made a cover record with "Hound Dog" that became an international sensation. Thornton was a hard belting blues singer, similar to her idol Memphis Minnie McCoy. She toured throughout Europe and the United States until her demise on April 25, 1984. She was 58 years old.
Alberta Hunter was born on April 1, 1895 in Memphis, Tennessee. As early as 1912 she was singing in nightclubs in Chicago. In 1921 she wrote and recorded her first song, "Down Hearted Blues." Two years later that song became Bessie Smith's number one hit. On her recording sessions Alberta used the best musicians available, Fletcher Henderson, Eubie Blake, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Sidney Bechet. She was a talented songwriter and recorded rnost of her own songs. "Chirping the Blues," "Down South Blues," "Experience Blues" and "My Castle's Rockin'." She recorded with several record companies at the same time using a different name for each label. She was Alberta Prime on the Biltmore label, on Gennett Records she was Josephine Beatty and for the Okeh, Victor and Columbia labels she used her own name.
She was also very active in stage shows. She replaced Bessie Smith in the "How Come?" revue of 1921 and also starred in "Showboat" with Paul Robeson at the London Palladium in 1928-29. While performing iii the Dreamland Café on South State Street in Chicago, she was billed as the "Sweetheart of Dreamland." She continued to perform until the time of her death on October 17, 1984, in Roosevelt, New York. She was 89 years old.
Ruth Weston, better known as Ruth Brown was born on January l2, 1928 in Portsmouth, Virginia. In 1945, when she was 17 years old she left home to join the Lucky Millinger's Orchestra. She stayed with the band for one month and decided to go out on her own as a solo artist. It was a good move for her. In 1950 Atlantic Records released her first big hit, "Teardrops in My Eyes." She became the top female rhythm and blues (R&B) singer. She continued to release hit after hit for the label, "Marna He Treats Your Daughter Mean," "Lucky Lips," "So Long," "Am I Making the Same Mistake Again," and 'It's A Good Day for the Blues."
Ruth Brown has done it all. She was named "Miss Rhythm," won a Tony award for her performance in "Black and Blue" on the Broadway stage in New York City. She received a Grammy for her "Blues on Broadway" album. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1999 she was hospitalized for cancer and the operation proved successful. In 2003, at the age of 75, she was still singing the music she loves.
Bonnie Raitt, Hannah Sylvester, Viola Wells. Valerie Wellington. Lynn White, Denise LaSalle, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Margie Evans and Elizabeth Cotton were also among the great ladies or the blues. They sang about anxieties, hopes, desires and frustrations. They sang about oppression, depression and sexual behavior. They sang about gambling, drinking, prostitution and murder. And as they were traveling from state to state with the "Medicine Show" or the vaudeville circuit, they were spreading the blues to the public. They were the women who were called the classic blue singers.
Chapter 3 – Men That Sang the Blues
The 1950s brought on an abundance of blues singers from the south to settle in northern cities. With the appearance of Charley Patton. 'Son' House, Muddy Waters, "Howlin" Wolf, Robert Johnson and now John Lee Hooker, it seems that the Delta has claimed more famous artists than any other region in the south.
John Lee Hooker, born on August 22, 1917 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he remained until the age of 30. In I947, he migrated north to Detroit stopping along the way in Memphis and Cincinnati to work in the factories to earn traveling money before arriving at his final destination in Detroit. While in Detroit, John could often be seen and heard playing his guitar on the corner of Hastings Street and Piquette Avenue where people would put money in a hat he had sitting on the sidewalk.
John Lee was gifted with a pleasant rich voice that was very effective on slow blues as can be heard on his ''Cold Chills All Over Me," on the Modern label. His first record, "Boogie Chiller" for Modern Records was an immediate success, which proved that he could do fast, rhythmic tunes as well as slow ballads. Initially, all of his records were recorded on the 78RPM records. But, in 1959 on the Riverside label he recorded his first LP (long playing) album. "Black Snake" proved to be a true typical session of blues music and was highly accepted by the public.
John Lee 1looker was an illiterate man who had no loyalty to any one record company. His philosophy was, "if they would pay me, I would play." And so it was, he recorded with big and small companies. It made no difference if the owners were black or white. He would also use a different name for each label. For instance, for the Gotham and Staff labels, his name was Johnny Williams. He was Texas Slim for King Records and John Lee Booker for the Chance label. Johnny Lee was for Deluxe and Birmingham Sam on Regent and Savoy Records. John Lee Booker was also used for the Gone label. The Boogie Man for Acorn
Records and his own name John Lee Hooker for Chess Records. In his career he had recorded more than four hundred sides that were released to the music buying market.
During the years of his recordings, Hooker had many hits; "I'm In the Mood" was his biggest hit. Others were, "I Love You, Honey," "No Shoes," "Boom Boom," "Hobo Blues" and "Crawling King Snake." Hooker continued to make albums and in 1989 he received an award for "The Healer" on which he featured the talents of Robert Cray, Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt. In January 1991, John Lee Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He continued to remain active into the late 1990s. On June 21, 2001 John Lee Hooker, the greatest of all bluesmen, died peacefully in his sleep in his home in the San Francisco Bay area in California.
Sam Hopkins was born in Centerville, Texas on March 12, 1912. He got the nickname "Lightnin' while performing with pianist Willie 'Thunder' Smith. Their music was so fast and loud that at the end of each song, people said that they sound like thunder and lightning that came out of the sky. He learned how to play the guitar at an early age and decided to leave home and travel from town to town and, state to state picking up some money along the way with his singing and playing.
In 1946, talent scout Anne Cullen for Aladdin Records brought Hopkins into the studio for a session of his original songs. From that time on, he was probably the most recorded blues artist around. Sam was a prolific songwriter. He could compose blues on any subject on the spot. Hopkins however, had no concept on the form or what music was to be. He was not consistent with his rhythm or number of beats in a measure. Like his counter-part, John Lee Hooker, he had no loyalty to any person or company.
He had written more than two hundred songs that included many hits such as, "Short Haired Woman" and "Big Mama Jump" in 1947 for Gold Star Records. For Jax Records he recorded "Coffee Blues." "Policy Game" was on the Decca label. "Lonesome in Your Heart" for Herald Records and for Folkways Records he recorded "Penitentiary Blues." Hopkins was not a smart businessman in the music field. He would go into the studio and record on occasions with as many as 30 of his original songs, got paid as little as fifty dollars for the whole session and then gave the producer or the record company the rights to his songs.
Back in Texas, Hopkins was singing on street corners collecting money in a cup or he would sing in local bars for free drinks. Stun was bitter against society and certain white people. In 1948, he recorded "Tom Moore's Farm" for Gold Star Records. The song was about how Hopkins arid his wife worked for a white landowner that cheated them out of money and mistreated them. Earlier in his youth, Sam spent some time on Houston County Prison Farm for his involvement with a white married woman. During the early 1950s, he was on a short hiatus when the blues music lost some of its public appeal. Then in 1959, Sam recorded "Have You Ever Seen a One-Eyed Woman Cry?" for the 17 label. In 1971 he was involved in a car accident, but he continued to remain active with his brand and style of the blues until his death on January 30, 1982 when he died of cancer. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.
Guitarist Jimmy Rogers was one of the key musicians in the Muddy Waters band in Chicago. Jimmy was an outstanding guitarist and was often called upon to record and perform with other blues artists, such as; Howlin' Wolf. Willie Dixon, Junior Wells, T-Bone Walker, 'Sonny Boy' 'Rice' Williamson, Sunnyland Slim and Chuck Berry. Jimmy was born as James A. Lane in Ruleville. Mississippi on June 3, 1924. The Roger name was his stepfather's which Jimmy preferred to use. At the age of seven, he was playing the harmonica. At I1 years old he was playing the guitar. Jimmy gained a lot of experience by playing with other musicians that included John Lee Hooker, Robert Nighthawk and Snooky Pryor.
His musical idols were Tampa Red, 'Big Maceo' Merriweather, Lonnie Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie McCoy. When he arrived in Chicago in 1938, he began playing in blues clubs on weekends and house parties during the week. In 1945, Muddy Waters came into town and Jimmy introduced him to all the club owners and other blues singers and musicians. Throughout the late 1940s and into the 1950s, the group called the Headhunters played the Chicago area nightly. The popular band included Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, Sunnyland Slim, Elgin Evans and Leroy Foster. Eventually, they changed the name and it became the Muddy Waters Band.
Chess Records however, was interested in doing Jimmy's song, "Ludella" with Jimmy, Little Walter and 'Big' Crawford. The record turned out to he a big hit. During the late 1960s, 'race' records lost its public appeal and blues artists found gigs harder to come by. Jimmy however, found a secular job or managing an apartment building. For a while it seemed that Jimmy's music career was over. But in the mid 1980s, "Ludella" was re-released on the Antone label and was awarded the best traditional blues album. Jimmy wa delighted over his musical resurrection. He formed a new band and toured the United States and Europe. The band personnel were; Jimmy Rogers, Piano Willie, Bassist Bob Stroger, Ted Harvey (drums), Jimmy Rogers Jr. on guitar and harmonica player Madison Slim. Jimmy had made an impact on such notables as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Church Berry. Jimmy Rogers and Muddy Waters are credited with establishing the Chicago Blues Rand.
Early in the 1950s, Floyd Dixon was celebrating two hits, "Telephone Blues" and "Call Operator 210" for the Aladdin label Floyd, a self taught pianist was noted for his barrel house style of playing and played the blues with a slight touch of jazz. Born in Marshall, Texas in 1929, Dixon moved to California when he was 13 years old. By the time he was 19, in l948, Modem Records called him in for a session that turned out his first big hit, "Dallas Blues." Other hits followed such as "Opportunity Knocks" and "Tired, Broke and Busted," for the R&B Record Companies.
Dixon credits his successful music career to Charles Brown, Louis Jordan, Joe Liggins and Ruth Brown. "Mr. Magnificent" as he was known was constantly on tour promoting his records. Two young artists who later turned out to be superstars, namely. B.B. King and Ray Charles were on tour with Floyd's band. After a four year hiatus from 1970 to 1974, Dixon resumed his career in Sweden and became an international star while touring Europe from 1974 to 1980. In 1984, Floyd was given the Billboard Blues award for his hit, "Hey Bartender." The southern California Blues Society requested that Floyd play at their Piano Summit in 1989. And in 1993, he was privileged to receive the rhythm and blues foundation's pioneer career achievement award. His latest album release, "Wake Up and Live" on Alligator Records is truly an indication of his title, "Mr. Magnificent."
At the age of nine. Junior Wells lived in Chicago with his mother. He got interested in music and brought his first harmonica for twenty-five cents at a Rexall drug store when he was 14 years old. He asked `SonnyBoy" Rice Miller Williamson I, to teach him how to play the harmonica. "Sonny Boy" played some notes on the instrument and then told Junior to play the same notes. Naturally, Wells couldn't play them and Sonny Boy took the cheap harmonica and smashed it to the ground and sent Junior home crying.
Wells got a job on a soda truck and was earning $1 50 for the whole week. He went to the pawn shop where there was a good marine band harmonica in the window for two dollars. Junior told the owner that he must have that harmonica but all he had was $1.50, and he would work in the store for the other fifty cents The owner turned his offer down. When the owner turned his attention to another customer, Junior took the harmonica leaving the $1.50 on the counter and ran out of the pawn shop.
The next day Junior was in court with the shop owner. The judge asked Wells why he did what he did and Junior responded with, "I just had to have that harmonica." The judge asked Junior to play something for him. After hearing Wells play the harmonica, the judge reached inside his pocket and gave the shop owner the fifty cents and dismissed the case. Junior however, did not know how to stay out of trouble. He joined up with the Calumet Aces gang that went after other street gangs to start a fight. Constantly in and out of court, the judge finally got tired or talking to him and told his mother that he would have to send the boy away to juvenile detention if he didn't stay out of trouble. After pleading with the judge not to send her little boy away, Junior's mother contacted Muddy Waters and Tampa Red whom she had met personally when Junior took her to hear his music idols to act as his legal guardian. They took responsibility for him. Junior felt secure knowing that others had a personal interest in him, and he began to stay out of trouble and to develop his musical talents.
Amos Wells Blakemore was born on December 9, 1934 in West Memphis. Arkansas. While still. in his teens, John Lee (Sonny Boy) Williamson and Little Walter gave him lessons on how to play the harmonica properly. Junior played well enough to get into Muddy Waters' prestigious band. In 1958 Junior teamed up with guitarist Buddy Guy and recorded his first released album featuring "Hoo Doo Man Blues." Junior became popular with the white audience in his night club and college appearances. There was a demand for this dynamic duo of Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. In 1966, they toured Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival. In 1967-68, the State department organized a tour for them in Africa. Australia had them in 1973 and Japan in 1975. They were an opening act for the Rolling Stones in 1970.
Junior's songs were of a current topical nature, there were, "Vietcong Blues," "The Hippies Are Trying," and "Drinkin' TNT `n" Smoking Dynamite." Currently he's on tour with a band of his own and in 1993 he recorded his first album with his band, "Better Off With the Blues," followed with a second album, "Everybody Getting' Some," featuring outstanding artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Brian Jones and the White Trash Horns. It was his third album however, that got him a Grammy nomination, "Come on in This House." Because of the care and concern with a troubled kid, people like Muddy Waters, Tampa Red, Willie Dixon, Elmore James, Otis Spann, Big Maceo and Sunnyland Slim who have helped to get his act together had produced a blues superstar.
Robert Calvin Bland was born on January 27, 1930 in Rosemark, Tennessee. He was destined to be the most influential among the best of the blue's singers. Growing up in Rosemark, he sang the spirituals in his church and joined a gospel group called the Miniatures. In 1947 at the age of 17, Bobby moved into Memphis at the same time that other potential superstars did. To expand his musical training he would sing the blues with a touch of his spiritual and gospel sound at the Palace Theater amateur show and would always walk away with the first prize.
B.B. King took a liking to Bobby and gave him a job as his valet and chauffeur. King enjoyed having Bobby around. Then in 1949, B B. King, John Alexander (Johnny Ace), Roscoe Gordon, Willie Nix and Earl Forest formed a group, so that they could perform on the black radio station WDIA. They called themselves, "The Beale Streeters." Through the Beale Streeters exposure, Bobby was building up quite a reputation as a blues singer. He took to the road with Johnny Ace for a short time. Then Ike Turner produced a record session for Bobby Bland on Chess Records in 1950. The results of that session created a demand by the public for more of Bland's records.
In 1952 the Biharis Brothers were impressed with Bobby's singing and took him into their studio to record some sides for their Biharis label. The session produced "Crying All Night Long" and "Drifting from Town to Town." With the success of this release everyone wanted Bobby Bland. But it was James Mattis, a Memphis disc jockey who got him and signed Bobby to his record company on Duke Label. By the end of 1952, Bobby got a "greeting" notice from Uncle Sam to join the army for the Korean War.
Two and a half years later in 1955, Bobby was released from the army and marched right into Duke's recording studio and recorded "Army Blues," "Lost Lover Blues" and "It's My Life Baby." It was Duke's new owner Don Robey who gave Bobby the nickname "Blue." Bobby with his mellow pleasing baritone voice produced many hits for the Duke Label. From the years of 1950 – 1970, he had no fewer than 36 best sellers that landed on the
rhythm and blues (R&B) chart. Among his big records were, "Do I Have a Witness'?" "Lead Me On' Yield Not to Temptation." "These Hands (Small but Mighty)" and his first national bestseller "Farther up the Road."
In 1981, Bobby was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Eleven years later in 1992 with the many more hit albums that got on the R&B charts, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Then five years later on February 26, 1997, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Bobby "Blue" Bland was awarded the "Lifetime Achievement" Grammy. Today, Bobby gives thanks to those who steered him in the right direction. They are B.B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson, Roy Acuff, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Ernest Tubbs, Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin's father Rev. C.L. Franklin.
Johnny Johnson was born in Fairmount, West Virginia in 1924. When he was four years old his mother bought an upright piano as a piece of furniture even though no one in the family had any musical talent. But when little Johnny sat at the piano and started playing with the keys, he was amazed and so were his parents when a simple melody came out of the sound board. Little Johnny knew from that day forward that music was going to be his career. He would sit at the piano every day and practice for hours at a time. After finishing high school, Johnny moved to Detroit and in 1942 he was in the U.S. Marine Corps playing in the band. When World War II was over in 1945, Johnny moved back to Detroit where he met T-Bone Walker who taught him how to play the blues on the piano. He picks it up quickly and before long was playing with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Memphis Slim, Etta James and Little Walker.
In 1948, Johnny took to the road and settled down in St. Louis. During a New Year's Eve party, Johnny hired a guitar player to join the band, the player was Chuck Berry. That musical blend became the most popular band in St. Louis. The blend that created the magic was Johnny's jazz and boogie piano style combined with Chuck's hillbilly and rhythm and blues sound. Together, they created the new sound that has become Rock and Roll. Chuck Berry was contacted by Chess Records to do a session. Johnson joined Berry for the recording and the results were the classic hits of, "Maybellene," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Oh, Carol," "Little Queenie," "Memphis, Tennessee," "School Days," "Roll over Beethoven," "Rock and Roll Music" and "Johnny B Goode."
Johnny Johnson and Chuck Berry have been on tours together for the next 28 years. Then one day, Keith Richard invited Johnny to join him at a record session that produced his first album, "Talk is Cheap." Not long after that Music Masters Records called Johnny in for a record date that produced his album "Johnny Be Bad." Invited to play on that session were Keith Richard, Eric Clapton, Bernard Fowler, Bernie Worrell and Steve Jordon. His next album for Music Masters called "Johnny Be Back," had the talents of Max Weinberg, Al Kooper, Buddy Guy, Steve Jordon, Phoebe Snow and John Sebastian. Johnny Johnson is still active today.
On September 16, 1935, one of 16 children in a family, William Arnold was born in Chicago, Illinois. At a very early age, Arnold taught himself how to play the harmonica by listening to his idol John Lee (Sonny Boy) Williamson. When he was 12, Billy met 'Sonny Boy' personally and was encouraged to continue to play the harmonica. A tragedy entered into Billy's life when he heard that 'Sonny Boy' was brutally beaten and died from his injuries on June 1, 1948. In honor and respect for his hero, Billy added the "Boy" tag to his name.
After years of listening to the masters of the blues singers and musicians, Billy Boy, made an enormous impression with his harmonica playing. By the time he was 15, he was playing with Bo Diddley. Billy Boy was an immediate hit with the public. He further went on to play with Otis Rush and Johnny Shines. Billy Boy made several records with Bo Diddley and the most popular record was "Pretty Thing," Arnold left Diddley to record his own album. After making several unsuccessful sides on the Vee Jay label, he was dropped from their list of artists. Fortunately, the British group, the Yard birds heard Billy Boy's record and they made a cover record of it that was a hit in England. The Yard birds at that time featured a young Eric Clapton doing "Wish You Would," "I Was Fooled" and "I Ain't Got You." Billy's compositions "Bad Boy" and "Don't Stay out All Nigh,." was sung by Mick Jagger prior to his joining the Rolling Stones.
Billy Boy enjoyed the publicity of these overseas hits that gave him some recognition in the Chicago area. He formed a little band of his own but still found it difficult to compete with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter for night club jobs. On June 25, 1963 Arnold teamed up with Earl Hooker, Mighty Jo Young and pianist Johnny Jones to perform on a show that was recorded for a future release. The success of that show gave Billy Boy another chance to record. Prestige Records took Billy into the studio along with Mighty Joe Young on guitar, pianist Lafayette Leake, Jerome Arnold on bass and drummer Junior Blackman to record his first album. This session turned out to be a big hit in Europe. Billy continued to tour throughout Europe for the rest of the 1960s.
In 1972, Arnold and a host of other blues artists put together a show and toured Europe. It was evident that the British especially took to the blues very strongly. For the next 20 years, Billy enjoyed his notoriety in Europe. In 1993, Alligator Records released Arnold's "Back Where I Belong" and an updated version of his "1 Wish You Would." Both releases enjoyed a successful sales market. In 1995, Billy recorded his big hit "Eldorado Cadillac." Billy Boy continues to tour Europe and back home in Chicago. He enjoys the acceptance of his hometown audience.
Albert Luandrew (Sunnyland Slim) was instrumental in the development of the Chicago sound blues. Sunnyland earned respect among other blue men like 'Little Brother' Montgomery, Peter 'Doctor' Clayton, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Lonnie Johnson and many more by working his way through the lumber camps and the levee. Sunnyland Slim was an outstanding barrel house piano player.
Born on September 5, 1907 in the Delta area of Mississippi his father was the highly respected local preacher. At the age of 15, Slim was playing the blues in juke joints and house parties in his neighborhood. In the late 1920s, Sunnyland Slim took to the road. Traveling north to Memphis, he was sharing the spotlight with notables like 'Ma' Rainey, 'Sonny Boy' Williamson, and 'Little Brother' Montgomery.
He arrived in Chicago in 1940 and began recording immediately for various labels using a different name for each record company, which incidentally, was the accepted practice. When Sunnyland recorded his first sides for Victor Records in 1947 he used the name, Doctor Clayton's buddy. In that same year, Victor called him in for another session at which time Slim insisted on using the then unknown Muddy Waters on guitar. The name he used for that session was Sunnyland Slim and Muddy Waters.
From the years 1947 to 1956, Sunnyland managed to have at least one or two releases for each year. During his lifetime, he had written and recorded more than 250 songs. He recorded for all the existing blues record companies there. Following the Victor label there were Aristocrat. Cobra, Club 51, Opera, Chance, Regal, Job. Apollo, Mercury, Vee Jay, Blue Label, Constellation, Sunny and Hytone. On all his sessions he was sure to use Willie Dixon on bass, Big Bill, Little Walter and Lonnie Johnson. His most popular songs were, "Back to Korea Blues," "Brown Skin Woman," and "Woman Trouble Blues."
During his illustrious career, Sunnyland toured the United States and Europe with success into the 1990s On his last performance in a local blues club in Chicago, he had taken a hard physical fall that landed him in the hospital. Unfortunately, he never recovered from that accident and on June 4. 1995, Sunnyland Slim died. He was 87 years old.
Willie Dixon started his professional career as a boxer. In 1935 Willie participated in a boxing tournament and won the Golden Gloves Award the following year. Leonard Castor (Baby Duo) a local guitarist got Dixon interested in music and taught him how to play the bass which Leonard had designed for him. That was the end of Willie's boxing career.
Dixon, born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 1, 1915 was destined to be a legend in blues history. During his early years, young Willie would travel aimlessly throughout the south and northeastern states picking up odd john along the way. At the age of 14, he got caught stealing bathroom fixtures from empty houses that got him a one year sentence in the work camp. After leaving the work camp, Willie was encouraged to sing with a local gospel choir and toured Mississippi with the group. This was his first musical experience. But he still wanted to fight in the ring. He was good enough to get four professional fights and be used as a sparring partner for Joe Louis.
It was however, Leonard Castor, who convinced Willie to quit the ring and put his talents to music. Dixon took his advice and began to seriously practice the string bass. After World War II, Willie was playing in a traveling musical trio. In 1947 Willie was the bass player with Memphis Slim and his House Rockers that was recording for the Miracle Label in Chicago. 1948 was the year that Willie along with Robert Nighthawk the former guitarist with the Muddy Waters band recorded his own song, "Wee Wee Baby," for Columbia Records. In 1951, Chess Records employed Dixon as their talent scout, record producer, arranger, studio musician and bandleader. Willie left Chess Records in 1956 to work for Cobra Records. Three years later in I959, Dixon returned to Chess Records. While there he was kept busy writing songs for Chess artists such as Little Walter, 'Sonny Boy' Williamson, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B Good" and "Sweet Little Sixteen."
That year (1959) Willie and Memphis Slim recorded "Willie's Blues" his first album for Blueville Records. In l962, the American Folk Blues Festival toured Europe and England, featuring the duo of Dixon and Memphis Slim. Willie was always quick to give a helping hand to the young British groups. His "Little Red Rooster" was the Rolling, Stone's first hit In the early 1970s, Dixon formed his new band and called it the Chicago Blues All Stars. They spent most of their time on the road and recording albums for several recording companies. In 1977, Willie was diagnosed as having diabetes that required his right leg just above !he knee to be amputated. This did not slow Willie down. He was determined to go back on the road and continue to make records. His "Hidden Charms" album won him the Grammy in 1989 for the best traditional blues recording. He continued to record up to his death on January 29, 1992. He was 77 years old.
Chapter 4 - SONGSTERS
During the time period immediately following the Reconstruction Era, a group of black American songsters were entertaining the public with their rendition or the ballads, minstrel songs, coon songs, ragtime pieces, dance tunes and reels. Those who played an instrument would accompany themselves. The non-musician would employ someone to accompany them usually with a guitar, fiddle or banjo.
When the second generation or songsters became of age, they combined the older selection of songs with the newly-added blues. Many of them were called upon to make recordings. Among the first to do so wan Texan Henry Thomas with his early black ballad, "John Henry" on Vocalion Records in 1927 who provided his own accompaniment on guitar. Following close behind Henry Thomas was Frank Stokes from Memphis, a professional blacksmith by trade and an excellent guitarist. He along with Dan Sane another guitarist formed the Memphis duo and was known as the Beale Street Sheiks.
The recorded several sessions for Paramount Records from 1927 to 1929. Among their hit songs were, "You Shall," "Clicken, You Can't Roost behind the Moon," and "Mr. Crump Don't Like It," a song about Memphis Mayor E. H. Crump, composed by W. C. Handy who later changed the name to "Memphis Blues."
Walter 'Furry' Lewis of Greenwood, Mississippi settled down in Memphis in the early 1920s and was the musical blues life blood of Beale Street. He played with the touring W. C. Handy's band and whenever the tent shows would come into town. Among the black songsters who recorded in the late 1920s, 'Furry' Lewis was the most tireless performer associated Memphis, Mississippi and active in bringing back the black music to Beale Street.
During the blues lean years of the 1940s, 'Furry' went to work for the Memphis Sanitation department as a street cleaner earning fifteen cents an hour pushing a broom in the gutters in the same street his music was once performed. In 1916 when Lewis was only 23 years old he was living the life as a hobo hopping freight trains to go in any direction the train was traveling. However, on one uneventful day while attempting to hop on a freight car his foot got caught in the railroad coupling and he lost his leg under the wheels of the freight train.
Being a womanizer, 'Furry' was asked by a long time friend why he didn't get married and settle down. "Why?" he responded, "should I bother getting a wife when the man next door got one just as good." During the 1920s, Lewis wrote many songs and was often seen and heard playing guitar on the Memphis street corners for tips. At best, he was a master songwriter and took great pain in composing lyrics for his music. From his "Mistreatin' Mamma," came the lyrical line, "I got nineteen women; all I want's one more/Just one more sweet mamma, and I'll let the nineteen go." Yazoo Label, "In His Prime" 1927-28.
In addition to his blues, Lewis enjoyed playing folk ballads. Three of his favorites were, "John Henry," "Kassie Jones" and "Stack O' Lee." His recording career lasted only three years from 1927-29 and turned out hits that included "I Will Turn Your Money Green" and "Pearless." However, in 1959 he was rediscovered by Sam Charters and began a new recording career until his demise in 1980 at the age of 88. During his lifetime he performed as a medicine-show songster traveling with the medicine show.
Jim Jackson did much of his work traveling with the medicine shows. Born in Hernando, Mississippi close to Memphis, Jim recorded "He's In the Jailhouse Now," "Traveling Man," "I'm a Bad Bad Man"and "I Heard the Voice of a Pork Chop." His biggest hit was, "Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues" recorded in two parts for the Vocalion Label.
The issue now at hand was, who were the songsters and who were the bluesmen. It was axiomatic at those times that if you were black and you sang you were inevitably a bluesman. But the songsters took offense to that theory, contending that bluesmen sing only the blues, whereas, the songsters sang a variety of songs that included the blues. Papa Charlie Jackson admits to being a songster even though he sang the blues as did Mississippi John Hurt. John made several successful records for the Okeh Label in 1928 and was comfortable with the identity of being a songster.
Leadbelly on the other hand stopped calling himself a songster and wanted to be identified as a bluesman. So, the question came up, who were the songsters and who are the bluesmen. Blind Lemon Jefferson, a constant companion with Leadbelly, wanted to be remembered as a country songster.
Charley Patton was born on May 1, 1891 in Edwards or Bolton, Mississippi. In his early teen years he learned how to play the guitar. He was fascinated with the blues and enjoyed singing them as he accompanied himself with the guitar He had cornpassion for the blacks and sang about their brutal and unfit conditions they had to endure in the south. "Down the Dirt Road Blues," was one such example of how he felt.
Charley was a very difficult man to get along with. He had drinking problems, an uncontrollable temper and was married eight times. Putting his personal lire aside however, it was his music that influences such great artists as Howlin' Wolf, Big Joe Williams, Bukka White, Tommy Johnson and his musical partner Willie Brown. Charley Patton was known to be the first great bluesman that came out of the Mississippi Delta. He died of heart failure on April 28, 1934. He was 43 years old. On his tombstone it reads; "The voice of the Delta." The foremost performer of early Mississippi blues whose songs became cornerstones of American music.
Blind Arthur Blake, a songster who recorded over 80 tunes for Paramount Records that included dance music, instrumental music, ballads and the blues. While traveling with the medicine show, one of Arthur Blake's hit, "Come on Boys Let's Do That Messin' Around," was the public's favorite for dancing.
Medicine shows were actually a vendor's rneans of providing entertainment to attract a crowd with the sole purpose of selling elixir that was supposed to be a cure for all ailments. These shows provided employment for the local songsters, blues singers and musicians. It was not uncommon for blacks and whites to perform together on the same stage. The shows also attracted a mixed audience of blacks and whites. Jimmy Rogers, a performer, was popular among the black people because he did all he could to help them in their music and also in finding work for them in various shows and nightclubs.
Among the well known songsters, were Dan Sine, Gus Cannon, Walter 'Furry' Lewis, John Lee Hooker, Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters. Sam 'Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Terrell, Bill Williams, Brownie McGhee, Luke Jordon, Mance Lipscomb, Dock Boogs, Frank Hutchinson, Fiddling John Carson, Johnny (Daddy Stovepipe) Watson, Jaybird Coleman, Uncle Dave Macon, Roy Acuff, Hank Williams and Jimmy Rushing.
Mini-minstrel shows that travel from town to town often featured blues and some older songs. What these shows were doing was spreading the blues around. The blues singers only sang and played the blues. They were eventually replacing the songsters. The public was more inclined to listen to music that they could relate to. The blues gave a description of disasters, personal experiences, prostitution, drugs, lesbianism, gambling, alcoholism, sex and prison life. The black singers revealed in song where they stood in society.
The southern states of Mississippi. Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana. and Georgia have produced more blues singers and musicians than anywhere else in the country. Southern folk blues often called country blues, rural blues or down home blues, all had the same identity as that of folk music. As the blues singers became acquainted with the southern folk songs, they began to sing the blues Lyrics to the folk blues thereby spreading the blues further out towards the north, Many of the southern songsters that came from the deep rural areas such as the Mississippi Delta have migrated to the ghettos or the black sections of the larger cities to earn their keep by singing on street corners and enjoying the freedom to express their sexual pleasures.
Record companies took note of the wide spread interest in the blues and began recording many artists for their labels. Papa Charlie Jackson and Blind Lemon Jefferson were among the first to bring rural blues to the black population. Jefferson lost his sight in early childhood and was constantly escorted by his friends. As a young man, T-Bone Walker would pass the tin cup around the crowd that gathered while Lemon was singing. Leadbelly, his closest friend, was his traveling companion and Victoria Spivey would always accompany him at house parties. She would handle the money that he received as tips in addition to his wages.
Victoria was also very close to Jefferson, she often remarked, "He may be blind, but he sure knew how to "feel his way around."
Furthering the blues along on record labels were Willard `Rambling" Thomas, Alger 'Texas' Alexander. Lonnie Johnson and Dennis 'Little Hat' Jones. From the Mississippi Delta area were songsters, Charley Patton, an extremely talented blues singer and Willie Brown. Tommy Johnson had worked with Patton on the Dockery Plantation. Charley was the inspiration for younger singers then would follow. There were Chester Burnett (Howlin' Wolf), Eddie 'Son' House, Bukka White, Bo Weevil Jackson and `Crying' Sam Collins. They all had their share in exposing the blues to the public by their recordings.
The recording and the spreading the blues were at its peak in the 1920s. But it took a national disaster to bring it to a halt. The Wall Street Stock Market crash of October 1929 put a stop to most record companies. in the early 1930s when the nation was recovering from its crisis, Vocalion Records teamed up Leroy Carr and guitarist Scrapper Blackwell and recorded "Midnight Hour Blues" and "Hurry Down Sunshine," both compositions became successful, just like Carr and Blackwell's previous hits, "How Long Blues" and "Prison Bound." Unfortunately, Carr died of alcoholism and Blackwell was murdered 30 years later.
The 1930 continued on with another wave of songsters to promote the southern folk blues. Among them were Peetie Wheatstraw (William Bunch) who was referred to as the spokesman for the poor black people. He often sang about their problems with subjects like unemployment, gambling, alcoholism, prostitution, bootleggers, and hitching rides on railroads.
James 'Kokomo' Arnold, John Adams (Sleepy John) Estes, was popular with the success of their Victor recordings. North Carolina's contribution to the southern blues was 'Blind Boy' Buller (Fulton Allen) Buddy Moss and Blind Gary Davis. Fuller was accompanied by Sonny Terry (Sanders Terrell) a blind harmonica player from Greensboro, Georgia. They worked together as a team until Fuller's death in 1941.
It was Columbia, Victor and Okeh Records that dispatched mobile recording vans to the south to search out the many blues singers who were discovered as they were working on the cotton plantations. In many cases, much at the talent would have been lost if not for the field recordings, a subject to be discussed in another chapter.
During the 1930s, Chicago was the hub for the blues songsters. Reigning as king at the time was 'Big Bill' Broonzy (William Lee Conley) 'Big Bill' came from the Delta area in Mississippi where he was born in 1893 and traveled north to Chicago in 1920 as a fiddle player. Broonzy learned to play the guitar so that he could accompany himself while he sang. In the 1930s, he was in the recording studios more than anyone else. In 1932 he recorded "Big Bill Blues" for the Champion Label "Friendless Blues" for Bluebird Records was recorded in 1934. He sang "Keep Your Hands off Her" and "Good Jelly" for Bluebird in 1935.
Mid-way through the 1930s, guitarist Tampa Red had expanded his usual trio, guitar, piano and string bass by adding a trumpet and clarinet He was the first to record with five-piece blues band. His Chicago Five as it was called, recorded "Let's Get Drunk and Truck" for Bluebird Records. The song was a fast dancing arrangement which introduced a new approach lo urban blues.
Although Tampa's 1928 version of "It's Tight Like That" with his trio, it paved the way how Chicago Blues would be played in the 1930s. The rhythmic beat of the song makes this one of the best city blues for Chicago's songsters to emulate. Along the same line of thought, Leroy Cares "How Long, How Long Blues" also recorded in 1928 with guitarist Francis "Scrapper" Blackwell, was successful followed with the urban blues of "Blues before Sunrise" recorded in 1914. His soul-searching lyrics were for the benefit, of his country audiences who would soon be boarding a train heading north.
Carr, Blackwell and Tampa Red were the main influences of making the urban blues a commercial success, especially in Chicago. Lonnie Johnson a truly urban bluesman recorded city titles in the early 1930s that exposed the feminine deception, "Not the Chump I Used to Be,""Beautiful but Dumb" and "Men, Get Wise To Yourself." Robert Johnson on the other hand look pride in emulating the music of Charley Patton and 'Son' House. He also became acquainted with the urban blues by listening to the records of Peetie Wheatstraw and Lonnie Johnson.
Robert Johnson was born on May 8, 1911 in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. He was the son of sharecropping parents, but decided that that was not going to be his life-style. There's a folk legend about Robert that he wanted to be the best guitar player ever and was willing to sell his soul to the devil. That meeting, so the legend goes, took place at mid-night at the Mississippi crossroads.
n time he learned to master his guitar playing ability. He was able to do things with the guitar easily that other guitarist found difficult to do. Robert traveled throughout Mississippi and Arkansas and played in every juke joint along the way. His first recording on the Vocalion Label was "Terraplane Blues" which became an immediate success. He died from poison by a jealous husband of a woman he was entertaining with on August 13. 1938 in Greenwood, Mississippi He was only 27 years old. On January 23, 1986, Robert Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Joseph Vernon (Big Joe) Turner of Kansas City, Missouri was born on May 18, 1911 was listed among the main influences on the blues after World War 11. Known as the "Singing Bartender" where he got his start working in Kansas City clubs. So irnpressive was his singing that we went on the road with the big bands of Bennie Morton, Andy Kirk, and Count Basie singing his style of the urban blues. Turner was a loud, forceful 'shouter' but his 1943 Decca record of "Lucille" gave evidence that he could also sing a sentimental song.
'Big Joe' Turner was kept busy for the next two decades traveling with bands and small somewhat like jazz groups, that complimented his jazz-blues. "Old Piney Brown is Gone" for Swing-Time Records in 1949 was reminiscent of his hometown of Kansas City. His 1954 Atlantic release of "Shake Rattle and Roll" was the doorway to Rock and Roll. 'Big Joe' Turner died in Inglewood, California on November 24, 1985. He was 74 years old.
Columbia, Victor. Decca, Vocalion and Okeh Record companies had the monopoly in the recording industry. But after World War II, smaller black owned companies began to branch out in the south and the west coast. Blues by nature, has always been considered as black music. All their recordings were listed as `race' records, segregating them from records or ale white artists. Then on June 25, 1949, Billboard magazine officially suspended the term 'race" and replaced it with rhythm and blues. The new term rhythm and blues (R&B) can now be applied to all forms of black recordings, folk, jazz, pop, or big bands. This transformation was in the making in New York in the early 1940s, then in Los Angeles around 1945, with Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston and Newark following by the end of the decade.
Louis Jordon, known as the "Father of Rhythm and Blues" made a million record seller with his "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" in I946.Louis was also the originator of 'Jive' music or 'good times' music. The lyrics are usually witty or insinuating as some of his titles will indicate, "Let The Good Times Roll,"The Chick's Too Young to Fry," "Who Put Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine?"
T-Bone Walker was born in Linden, Texas in 1910. He joined the Les Hite band and recorded some or his urban blues, "I Wonder Why She Don't Write to Me," "I Love My Baby" and "T-Bone Blues.'" Walker was a main attraction for the Les Hite band and together they grew in popularity. In 1950, Imperial Records signed T-Bone to a four-year contract and recorded several sides. There were: "Pony Tail," "Hard Way," "Yes, Got a Teenaged Baby, She Likes to Wear Her Sloppy Joes" and "Bobby Sox Blues," which was later revised as "Sweet Little Sixteen" for Chuck Berry. In 1975, T Bone died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California. He was 65 years old.
McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters) was born on April 4, 1915 in Rolling Folk, Mississippi in the Mississippi Delta area. At the young age of seven or eight he taught himself how to play the harmonica. At the age of 17, he learned to play the guitar. He emulated the sounds and techniques of 'Son' House and Robert Johnson. In 1947 Muddy recorded his urban blues of "I Can't Be Satisfied" and "1 Feel Like Going Home," for the Aristocrat label. Over the tears Muddy recorded many hits, "Got My Mojo Working," "I Just Want to Make Love to You," "She's nineteen years old," and "I'm Ready." Muddy's final public appearance was at an Eric Clapton show in 1982 when he was stricken with a heart attack and died on April 30, 1983. He was 68 years old. In appreciation to his contribution to the blues, the City of Chicago renamed East 43rd Street to Muddy Waters Drive on August 2, 1985. In 1988, Clarksdale, Mississippi declares April 21, as McKinley "Muddy Waters" Morganfield as "Appreciation Day." On September 1, 2000, Muddy Waters was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
During this time period of the late 1940s, bluesmen Sam 'Lightnin' Hopkins, Charles Brown, Frankie Lee Sims, Jimmy Rogers and John Lee Hooker were also working the nightclubs and concert tours. Women songsters were gaining in popularity during the 1940s and 50s. Ruth Brown, 'Big Maybelle' Smith and Willie 'Big Mama' Thornton were among them. Joining the women were Clarence `Gaternouth' Brown, Eddie 'Mister Clearhead' Vinson, Roy 'Professor Longhair' Byrd arid Roy Brown. All of their recordings from 1949 through the 1950s were listed on the rhythm and blues charts. With this generation of songster's recordings, their attention was aimed at the teenage record buyers. Both blacks and whites would flock to the local theater or concert hall to hear then sing in person.
"Doo-Wop" groups began to emerge from the street corners and stoops of all major cities that became part of the rhythm and blues sound in the 1950s. There were, The Drifters, The Penguins and the Harptones. Talent scouts were canvassing schoolyards, public parks, subway stations, tenement hallways, front stoups and amateur contests for potential artists.
`Little Walter' Jacobs from Alexandria, Louisiana in 1930 was an accomplished harmonica player by the time he was eight years old. In his teen years, he traveled north and settled in Chicago by 1947. There he recorded "Ora Nelle Blues." In 1952, he sang "Mean Old World" for Checker Records and Bluelights in 1954 with Robert Lockwood playing guitar.
Chester Arthur (Howlin' Wolf) Burnett was born on June 10, 1910 on a plantation in West Point, Mississippi. Howlin' was a big man, 6'3" and 300 pounds with a rough gravelly voice. At times he would enter the stage on his hands and knees and howl like a wolf, ergo, the nickname Howlin' Wolf. He is credited with some fine recordings, "Spoonful," "Back Door Man," "Killing Floor" and "Smokestack Lightning." The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton were influenced with Howlin's performance. His last engagement was with B.B. King. He died from kidney failure on January 10, 1976 at the age of 66. In 1991 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
B.B. King was appearing on the WDIA Radio Station with the Joe Hill Louis band in 1951. The station's management recognized his talent and offered him his own show on what called the "Mother Station of the Negro." The show created a demand for the public to hear and see more of B.B. King. In 1951, he recorded "B.B. Blue." "Three O'clock Blues and "Boogie Boogie Woman" were recorded in 1952. There was no stopping King. He took to the road in 1954 and in the first year of his tours, he earned close to a quarter of a million dollars.
Record companies were eager to expose their 'star' singers where over 200 clubs came alive on Chicago's south side. Bobby 'Blue' Bland, Little Junior Parker, Jimmy Reed, Eddie Taylor, Buddy Guy and Sam 'Magic Sam' Maghett were heard nightly in one club or another. Chicago became the reservoir of black talent. Music from pool halls, taverns and nightclubs would flood the streets. You could hear Mamie Smith singing "Crazy Blues" or Louis Armstrong's trumpet blaring "Struttin' with Some Barbecue." Alberta Hunter often worked at Dago Frank's nightclub that was a hangout for pimps and prostitutes. Blind Arvella Cray would find his corner on lively Maxwell Street playing his guitar. Valerie Willington was a permanent fixture at Brady's Blues Lounge located at 47th Street and Martin L. King Drive.
Big Joe Williams was born on October 16, 1903 in Crawford, Mississippi. He was raised in the Mississippi Delta and was respected as a fine guitar player and singer. In the early 1930s he began his recording career making hit records that kept him in the studio until his demise in 1982. His big hit was a song he had written, "Please Baby Don't Go." In his early years, Big Joe traveled throughout the south hopping freight trains playing in juke joints and had spent some time in jail. He later joins the Birmington Jug Band and traveled with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels Revue. In 1941, Williams recorded another hit record. "Crawlin' King Snake." During the decade of the `60s, he toured Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival and in 1974 he toured throughout Japan Big Joe Williams died on December 17, 1982. In 1992, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame.
Eddie James "Son" House was born on March 21, 1902 in Riverton. Mississippi. He was a popular bluesman that carne out of the Mississippi Delta. In 1930, "Son" recorded "My Black Mama," "Preachin' the Blues, and "Dry Spell Blues." He later teamed up with his best friend Willie Brown and together they traveled and played every juke joint they came upon. When his partner, Willie Brown died, "Son" took his death hard. He gave tip his blues life and quit playing and singing. After some time had passed, Al Wilson of Canned Heat convinced "Son" to resume his blues life again. On his return to the stage, "Son" was better than ever. He played and sang with feeling and emotion. Eddie James "Son" House died on October 19, 1988. He was 86 years old.
Booker T. Washington White, commonly known as Bukka White was burn on November 12, 1909 in Houston, Mississippi. He was another one of the great blues men that came from the Mississippi Delta. Being an ex-boxer., he led a hard life. But on stage during his performances he enjoyed the limelight and the attention from his audiences. He had an active career playing in colleges and coffee houses and traveling with the American Folk Life Festival tours. In 1940 Bukka recorded two hits on the Vocalion Label, "So Help Me God," and "I Got Down to It." White remained active until his death on February 26, 1977 in Memphis. Tennessee. He was 68 years old.
John Estes was born on January 25, 1904 in Ripley, Tennessee. In the early 1920s, Estes along with Yank Rachell a mandolin player and Hammie Nixon a harmonica and jug player joined a jug band in Memphis. John a fine singer and guitarist got the nickname 'Sleepy' because he was constantly taking naps. In 1929 he got a recording contract with Victor Records and recorded several sides.
During the early 1930s, he moved to Chicago and started to record for Decca Records. In 1940, 'Sleepy' John recorded "Someday, Baby" for the Bluebird Label. The song was his first big hit. With the success of that record John moved back to his hometown in Tennessee. In the early 1950s, Estes became totally blind and lost all interest in singing and playing the guitar.
After living in poverty for more than ten years, 'Sleepy' John Estes was convinced by his fellow musicians to re-activate his career again. The results were great. He appeared in two documentaries, "Citizen South, Citizen North," in 1962 and "The Blues" in 1963. For the Delmark Label he recorded the album "The Legend of 'Sleep' John Estes." He began performing in concerts, nightclubs and the blues festivals. His career was soaring. He traveled with the Newport Folk Festival, the American Folk Blues Festival and the Ann Arbor Blues Festival. During the 1970s, 'Sleepy' was on tour in Europe and Japan. He died in 1977 at the age of 73.
Lernon. Jefferson was born in Couchman, Texas in 1897. He was born blind at birth. With his guitar, Jefferson could always be heard singing on street corners in his hometown. During the 1920s he established a reputation as being among the most popular blues recording artist. His records on the Paramount Label were big sellers to the buying public both in the United States and Europe. Some of his successful records were, "Long Lonesome Blues," "Shuckin' Sugar Blues," "Jack O'Diamond Blues," and "Blind Lemon's Penitentiary Blues."
He was an inspiration for many of the young black musicians growing up to become a part of the blues era. Many of them tried to emulate his style of playing but soon found it more difficult than they imagined. Leadbelly, a competent musician was a constant traveling companion with Jefferson. Together they toured the Mississippi Delta and Memphis. It was in Chicago in 1930 that Blind Lemon Jefferson died. However, it was Jefferson's desire to be buried in his home state of Texas. His good friend pianist Will Ezell brought the body back home and buried him in Wortharn, Texas. The inscription on his headstone reads; "Lord, its one kind favor I'll ask of you. See that my grave is kept clean." He was 33 years old.
In the midst of all this activity were model T's, Studebakers, Buicks and streetcars clanging through the traffic. Horse driven buggies were dodging around streetcars, and people were coming and going from every direction. This was Bronze town, the center of the black community.