Legend has it that “Bogus” Ben Covington earned his title by pretending to be a blind man on the minstrel circuit. Very little is known about Ben Covington, but it is also suspected he and Ben Curry, who recorded one of the earliest versions of the Dirty Dozens, were one and the same person. Convington was also known as “The Human Pretzel.” With so many monickers, who needs a definitive bio? Bogus Ben Covington’s blues reflections on “Adam And Eve In The Garden” were not your average Sunday School fare! Just a banjo, a fiddle, and Bogus Ben’s distinctive voice. Enjoy!
Joe and Cléoma Falcon’s “Allons a Lafayette” is probably the first commercial Cajun music recording ever released. The record is credited to Joseph Falcon, and in their day it was considered improper for a woman to perform in dancehalls. But this didn’t stop them. The couple performed extensively in southern Louisiana and Texas in the 1920’s and 30’s, together enjoying a large following and becoming a major and lasting influence on Cajun music. Cléoma played guitar, Joe played accordion, and they both sang. First released on Columbia Records, this song has since been recorded by many Cajun artists and remains a standard of the genre.
Several decades before Bob Dylan recorded his breakthrough “Highway 61 Revisited” album, the folk-blues song “Highway No. 61” was interpreted by numerous blues singers including Charlie Pickett, Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy, The Sparks Brothers and others. Jack Kelly & His South Memphis Jug Band recorded this classic version with fiddler Will Batts on vocal duties. According to Dylan, when he told his record label the title of his new album in 1965, they didn’t understand it, and only agreed to let him call the record what he wanted after to he went all the way “up the fucking ladder” to insist on it. The rest is history.
This uptempo instrumental romp from Syd Valentine’s Patent Leather Kids features some expert piano, banjo, and trumpet work. The players perform solo and together in a tightly arrangement they called “Rock And Gravel.” Hailing from Indianpolis, Indiana, the group’s main personnel were Syd Valentine, James Helm and Paul George. When the trio played live however, they often had as many as ten pieces in their orchestra. They recorded six songs accompanying Blues singer Hattie Snow, and a few more instrumentals on their own, on the same day that this number was recorded. Enjoy!
Another important figure in early Jug Music, Clifford Hayes was born in 1895 in Glasgow, Kentucky. Hayes played fiddle with the Earl McDonald Jug Band in nearby Louisville, the birthplace of Jug music. He later started his own band, and recorded with Sarah Martin and other notables. Jug music was a huge social and musical phenomenon in the late 19th and early 20th century, which happened to coincide with the dawn of recorded music. We are fortunate to have these clear audio glimpses into the past, and “Dance Hall Shuffle” more than lives up to its name. Such a great ensemble performance of piano, guitar, banjo, washboard, fiddle and the kitchen sink.
King David’s Jug Band was a popular attraction in Cincinnati, Ohio’s West End in the early 20’th century. Named for guitarist David Crockett, the group also featured Sam “Stovepipe” Jones on, well, just about everything. As a “one-man band” performing in speakeasies during prohibition and on the street, Jones played guitar, harmonica and kazoo (through a stovepipe!) all at once, while sporting a stovepipe hat (of course!). As King David’s Jug Band, they recorded six sides for Okeh Records. “Sweet Potato Blues,” provides a glimpse of this eccentric and very talented act.
Named after the Quality Cafe in Los Angeles, Harvey Brooks Quality Four was one of several bands formed by pianist Harvey Brooks with clarinet and sax man, Paul Howard. Here is their instrumental version of the classic American murder ballad, “Frankie and Johnny.” This song has been recorded and released both vocally and instrumentally a whopping 256 times at least, by a who’s-who of music greats from America and around the world. This was one of the first.
The “King Of Ragtime Guitar,” Blind Blake makes his 6-string sing on this swinging uptempo blues rag, “Hookworm Blues,” which also features the piano stylings of Alex Robinson. Blake’s vocal interlaces with the piano and guitar patterns to complete a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. This track really boogies, and it’s another fine example of an early blueprint for rock and roll. Famous for his innovative guitar work, Blind Blake recorded about 80 sides for Paramount Records.
The Dixieland Jug Blowers fused the traditional Jug Band lineup of jug, banjo, guitar and fiddle, with jazz woodwinds, brass and piano. In fact the band was a combo of two separate groups run by jug player Earl McDonald and fiddler Clifford Hayes. Their musical innovations, immortalized on Victor Records, influenced other groups including the Memphis Jug Band. The “oompa oompa” tuba and carefree melodic interplay on “Boodle-Am Shake” set up a cartoonish vocal refrain perfectly, on this classic and joyous recording.
Born on a farm in Eatonton, Georgia in March of 1888, Joshua Barnes Howell taught himself to play guitar at the age of 21. He took the name “Peg Leg” after losing his right leg when he was shot in a fight. Howell then moved to Atlanta to pursue music full-time and in 1926 he was discovered and recorded by Columbia Records. On “Peg Leg Stomp” as on a series of releases through the 1920’s, Howell was accompanied by Eddie Anthony on fiddle and Henry Williams on guitar. Decades later, during the 1960’s blues revival, Peg Leg Howell was rediscovered by George Mitchell, who recorded him again.
Born in Philadelphia in 1897, Bobby Leecan was an influential steel string guitarist whose style embraced blues, vaudeville, jug music and Dixieland jazz. Leecan recorded numerous sides for Victor and other early record labels, often with his collaborator, harmonica virtuoso Robert Cooksey. The uptempo instrumental “Washboard Cut Out” features washboard, guitar, banjo, cello, fiddle and harmonica, all as lead and rhythm instruments in a tightly arranged romp. It’s an impressive feat of combo playing and we are thrilled to share this digital transfer of the original release from Electrola Records.
To say Bessie Smith was a superstar in her time is no overstatement. She had no less than fifteen chart-topping hits on Columbia Records, starting with her debut single “Downhearted Blues” which went to number one and sold over 2 million copies, a staggering number back then. “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” is one of Smith’s later hits, featuring her majestic vocal performance, expertly accompanied by by Porter Grainger on piano and Lincoln Conoway on guitar. This digital transfer from a 78 RPM record is clean as a whistle, and the track is an absolute gem.
In his long career, Big Bill Broonzy wrote and copyrighted over 300 songs. Many were original, some were adaptations of folk songs in the oral tradition. You can hear in this early Broonzy recording of “How You Want It Done,” the seeds of rock and roll guitar playing which would later sprout in the hands of Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and many others in the 1950’s. We’re fortunate to have a nice clean digital copy to enjoy today.