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.
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.
The Mississippi Sheiks from Bolton, Mississippi were a popular band in their time, and their recorded songs have been covered by an impressive list of artists that includes Howlin’ Wolf, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Harry Belafonte and Bob Dylan. Three of the Sheiks were brothers Lonnie, Sam, and Armenter Chatmon, the latter of whom is famously known as Bo Carter, who enjoyed a successful solo career while he managed and was a part time member of the band. This recording of “Please Baby” captures their distinct blend of country, folk, and blues.
Guitarist Tommie Bradley and fiddler James Cole recorded “Where You Been So Long?” in Richmond, Indiana. Their music, a unique blend of blues, vaudeville, hillbilly fiddling, and Tin Pan Alley style jazz, provides the perfect backdrop to their sparkling vocal harmonies. There’s so much energy in this track, it puts you right in the room with them nearly a century ago. Another priceless gem from the wayback machine. Enjoy and share.
“Avalon Blues” was the last song recorded by Mississippi John Hurt in the 1920’s. Named for Hurt’s hometown of Avalon, Mississippi, this song provided clues that folk musicologist Tom Hoskins used to locate the legendary bluesman in the early 1960’s. That meeting led to Hurt’s appearance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, which re-launched his career and gained him international recognition. After that, Mississippi John Hurt performed extensively, even recording three new albums and appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, before his death in 1966. Hurt’s home in Avalon is now open to the public as The Mississippi John Hurt Museum.
Mississippi blues legend Big Joe Williams testifies on the real value of a Stack O’ Dollars, on this astonishing early Delta blues recording.
Williams’ unique 9-string steel guitar rhythm, alongside a haunting fiddle lead, provides the perfect accompaniment to his searing vocal. Joe Williams continued to tour and perform for decades after recording this and numerous other sides for various early record labels. This song is as relevant today as it has ever been.