Covered by many, yet understood by few, “Midnight Special” was traditionally a folk song which originated among prisoners. The country-blues version, sung by Bill Cox, hums along like a freight train, encouraging the light of the powerful locomotive to inspire those out of their destitution.
Born in January of 1900 in Allatoona, Georgia, Clayton McMichen had his great success recording with Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers and Hometown Boys, and also as a solo artist. His solo effort performance of “Grave In The Pines” is a starkly sweet and sincere lament to a fallen love. McMichen performed regularly in Louisville, Kentucky until retiring in 1955, and later returning to the stage at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964.
In the American songbook, there are Standards and there are Standards. This would be a front cover of Standard Magazine. “All of Me” by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons was first recorded by singer Ruth Etting.
This was later recorded and performed by many others including Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and even Frank Sinatra. Mildred Bailey’s lilting vocal helped put this great song on the map, with this early recording by Paul Whiteman’s orchestra.
Born in Canada in 1900, keyboardist and composer Hartzel “Tiny” Parham grew up mostly in Kansas City. As a young man, Parham relocated to Chicago where he established himself as a bandleader and also worked as an arranger and talent scout for Paramount Records. He cut numerous sides for Victor Records, under the name Tiny Parham and His Musicians. Here is one of those classic sides, the ebullient and musically very advanced “Washboard Wiggles.” You had to be on your toes to keep up with this cat, and they were, and they did! Enjoy.
John Len Chatman, better known as Memphis Slim, started his life in (you guessed it) Memphis, Tennessee before emigrating to Paris, France in the 1960’s. He made over 500 recordings in his career, for Bluebird, Okeh, Miracle, and other original blues and folk labels, teaming up with Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Bill Broonzy, Willy Dixon and many other blues greats along the way. This early recording of “I Just Landed In Your Town” features an incredible vocal and piano performance by Memphis Slim, accompanied only by guitar.
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.