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.
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.
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.
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.
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.