March 31, 2017

465 Bob Wills (1905-1975) and his Texas Playboys “Steel Guitar Rag” 1936

“Bob is a genuine father to his boys.” Wills said, “if you’ve got some mules that ain’t fed enough or well taken care of and treated right, and you try to make ‘em plough cotton, why, they’ll get about five or six acres a day done. But you take those same mules and feed em and treat ‘em fine and then switch a harness on ‘em  and put ‘em to a plow and they’ll step out and plow 10 or 12 acres a day. Musicians are just the same way as them cattle and mules” (Ruth Sheldon, Hubbin’ It: The Life of Bob Wills, 1938).

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys “Steel Guitar Rag”

464 Roy Acuff (1903-1992) and the Crazy Tennesseans “The Great Speckled Bird” 1936

“Roy Acuff states that ‘The Great Speckled Bird’ is the Bible and the Church. The interpretation of the song’s meaning, which probably concerns some fundamentalist allegorical symbol, is certainly up to the individual person and has been the subject of great discussion, especially in the South, for a long, long time…Of course ‘The Bird’ as the Acuff group has nicknamed the song, became Roy’s most requested number and his second biggest record seller. Its name graced his DC-3 airplane” (Elizabeth Schlappi, Roy Acuff: The Smoky Mountain Boy, 1978).

Roy Acuff and the Crazy Tennesseans “The Great Speckled Bird”

463 The Carter Family “Can the Circle Be Unbroken (Bye and Bye)” 1935

“A.P. (1893-1960), as he was best known to his listening audience, provided an inexhaustible supply of songs, many of which he collected from Appalachia’s remote mountain homesteads…and then ‘worked up’ with his wife, Sara (1899-1979), and sister-in-law Maybelle (1909-1978). It was Sara’s rich, expressive alto that had first attracted a producer from Victor records. At forty, she was still a riveting, dark-eyed beauty. Maybelle, the twenty-nine-year-old guitar player, was the virtuoso of the group, a fact which astonished many listeners of the 1930s, who would not believe that the agile licks and infectious rhythms were conjured by a woman” (Mark Zwonitzer, Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone, 2002).

The Carter Family “Can the Circle Be Unbroken”

462 Ethel Waters (1896-1977) “Stormy Weather” 1933 & Lena Horne (1917-2010) “Stormy Weather” 1943

The Cotton Club management signed Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, “and for the first time the club landed Ethel Waters as the headline entertainer. Waters was apparently on the fence about whether or not to do the Cotton Club show until she heard ‘Stormy Weather’…She wanted to put everything she had into it, but she knew she could handle doing that only once a night. Therefore, even though it was the club’s policy to give multiple shows, Waters stipulated that she would sing ‘Stormy Weather’ only once per evening….But finally it was the 1943 film, titled Stormy Weather, that made the song into an all-time classic, and also firmly established it as the property of Lena Horne” (Will Friedwald, Stardust Melodies, 2002).

Ethel Waters “Stormy Weather”


Lena Horne “Stormy Weather”

461 Fred Astaire (1899-1987) “Night and Day” 1932

Cole Porter (1891-1964) wrote “Night and Day” for Fred Astaire to perform in the 1932 Broadway musical, The Gay Divorce. “Astaire was first skeptical about its being a song for him and undecided about accepting a role in the show...” The tune was allegedly inspired by a friend who said “That drip, drip, drip is driving me mad” during a rainstorm. “Cole leapt up with a shot of elation on finding the perfect start for his lyric” (William McBrien, Cole Porter, 1998). The song has been recorded by Dionne Warwick, Rod Stewart, and Shirley Bassey among many pop luminaries.

Fred Astaire “Night and Day”

460 Paul Whiteman (1890-1967) Orchestra “Body and Soul” 1930

“It is incontrovertibly true that the Whiteman outfit lacked the rhythmic power and complexity of the King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, or Count Basie bands, just as the Beatles lacked the rhythmic power and complexity of Motown, Stax, and James Brown. On the other hand, both the Whiteman orchestra and the Beatles pioneered a melodic and harmonic richness that was considered revolutionary for their genres, most dramatically in works arranged by Ferde Grofe, Whiteman’s main arranger, and by the Beatles’ producer, George Martin, who considered Grofe one of his musical heroes” (Elijah Wald, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll, 2009).

“We have a racy, idiomatic, flexible American language all our own, suited to expressing the American character...Every human being has his own value, his own character. It is when this variety is released into music that music strives and grows” (Paul Whiteman, Popular Culture in America, 1926).

Paul Whiteman Orchestra “Body and Soul”

459 Mississippi Sheiks “Sitting on Top of the World” 1930

“sometimes the artists resisted what they perceived as paternalism form company men who knew little about the music. Bo Carter recalled: ‘Tell ya, we was the Mississippi Sheiks and when we went to make records in Jackson, Mississippi, the feller wanted to show us how to stop and start the records. Try to tell us when we got to begin and how we got to end. And you know…I started not to make ‘em cause he wasn’t no musicianer, so how could he tell me how to stop and start the song? We was the Sheiks, Mississippi Sheiks and you know we was famous’” (Jeff Titon, Early Downhome Blues, 1977).

Mississippi Sheiks “Sitting on Top of the World”

458 Eddie James “Son” House (1902-1988) “My Black Mama” (parts 1 & 2) 1930

“Son” House and Charley Patton “made an unlikely pair: while Patton was an incorrigible kidder who ‘didn’t believe in what he’s sayin’ his-self,’ House was a relatively gloomy man who was guilt-ridden about singing blues. They passed considerable time as drinking companions, and their friendship on House’s part was (he stated) solely due to Patton’s generosity with a liquor bottle” (Stephen Calt, Gayle Wardlow, King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton, 1988).

“Son” House “My Black Mama” (part 1)

“Son” House “My Black Mama” (part 2)

457 Charley Patton (1891?-1934) “Pony Blues” 1929

“Patton’s uncanny liveliness as a performer gave his music an intangible and inimitable dimension that elevated it above ‘house’ entertainment and probably made him the singular attraction he was…Jazz guitarist Woody Mann terms Pony Blues ‘the most perfect blues recording ever made’…It was obviously a song that was very dear to Patton, for he played it with sheer love” (Stephen Calt, Gayle Wardlow, King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton, 1988).

Charley Patton (1891?-1934) “Pony Blues”

456 Gus Cannon’s (1883/4?-1979) Jug Stompers “Walk Right In” 1929

“The strength of the Jug Stompers was the variety of their material.” They “produced a stunning set of records that covers nearly the whole gamut of black American music of the time.” Gus “Banjo Joe” Cannon “was the son of a slave and some of his records retain archaic overtones from the years before the blues.” His song, “Walk Right In,” became “an international pop hit in 1963 for the Rooftop Singers” (Encyclopedia of the Blues, 2006).

Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers “Walk Right In”

March 24, 2017

455 Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) “St. Louis Blues” 1929

“With his 1929 version, Armstrong has moved to a very different universe from the one he inhabited some four years earlier…Certainly ‘St. Louis Blues’ has now become an ebullient dance number fusing a Latin quality with a gutsy, funky blues sound, to the point of anticipating what was to come more than twenty years later with early rock ‘n’ roll” (Joshua Berrett, Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz, 2004). 

Louis Armstrong “St. Louis Blues”

454 Clarence “Pine Top” Smith (1904-1929) “Pine-Top’s Boogie Woogie” 1928

“Although he was far from the first to play in this style, Smith’s record firmly associated the word [boogie] in the public’s mind with the insistent eight-to-the-bar bass…Smith was on the brink of an illustrious career when he was shot, depriving the world of an exceptional talent” (Encyclopedia of the Blues, 2006). 

Clarence “Pine Top” Smith “Pine-Top’s Boogie Woogie”

453 Memphis Jug Band “Stealin’ Stealin’” 1928

A number of jug bands performed in Memphis and other cities. The Memphis Jug Band was “the firs of the bands” in Memphis, “organized by a man named Will [“Son”] Shade and his wife, Jennie Mae Clayton Shade, who sang with the band.” They once traveled to Chicago with an act featuring jungle costumes and a defanged rattlesnake, but the show closed soon after the snake tried to escape, scattering the audience. The “heart of the band was the musicianship and the enthusiasm of Son and Charlie Burse. They drank hard together , played hard together, and created a new musical style” (Samuel Charters, The Country Blues, 1975). 

Memphis Jug Band “Stealin’ Stealin’”

452 Furry Lewis (1893/9?-1981) “Kassie Jones” 1928

“seldom has Lewis’s occupation as both sanitation worker and musician informed understandings of his music. Yet, when Lewis recorded ‘Kassie Jones’—perhaps his most legendary performance—he gave personal voice to a collective black masculine experience at the hands of the white economy...Lewis transformed a traditional folk song into a subtle political expression of black laborers’ struggles to maintain their identities as workers and men” (Robert Hawkins, Callaloo, 2008). 

Furry Lewis “Kassie Jones”

451 Arthur Collins (1864-1933) and Byron Harlan (1861-1936) “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” 1911

Irving Berlin (1888-1989) was at first astonished at the song’s popularity. “The trick, unconsciously played, was in capturing a nervous restlessness that was in the air, a dancing virus…It was, in fact, a clarion-call summons to everybody to come take part in some twentieth-century fun. A similar summons became the anthem of 1950s youth when rock&roll arrived: Bill Haley, the square-dance caller instructing his hon’ to get her glad rags on and ‘Rock Around the Clock’” (Ian Whitcomb, Irving Berlin and Ragtime America, 1988). Collins and Harlon were popular duet singers, noted for their vaudeville and minstrel show performances. 

Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”

March 10, 2017

450 Mississippi John Hurt (1892-1966) “Frankie and Johnny” 1928

“One of Hurt’s closest musical associates was white neighbor and fiddler William Thomas Narmour (1889-1961)…Hurt would later describe how Narmour awoke him at one o’clock in the morning to inform him that a man from New York wanted to hear him play. An incredulous Hurt, thinking it was some sort of joke, was surprised to discover that Narmour was indeed telling the truth.” The Okeh recording agent provided money for Hurt’s recording trip to Memphis. Narmour “promised to deliver Hurt to the train station on time” (Daniel Fleck, Old-Time Herald, 2010). 

Mississippi John Hurt “Frankie and Johnny”

449 Bessie Smith (1894-1937) “Empty Bed Blues” 1928

“A tour de force of blatant double-entendres, the record was allegedly banned in Boston, but that was probably just a promotional ploy…perhaps in order to heighten curiosity and, thus, sales… ‘Empty Bed Blues’ was one of Bessie’s biggest on-stage hits and a major factor in the success of the early 1928 theater tour” (Chris Albertson, Bessie, 2003).

Bessie Smith “Empty Bed Blues (part 1)”
Bessie Smith “Empty Bed Blues (part 2)”

448 DeFord Bailey (1899-1982) “Pan American Blues” 1927

“One of the biggest stars of the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville’s iconic showcase of country music, was a 4-foot-11 black harmonica player named DeFord Bailey…But when Bailey traveled with the Opry in the South, the rules of Jim Crow still applied. Opry favorite Uncle Dave Macon sometimes claimed Bailey was his valet so that the harp star could stay in a hotel instead of sleeping in a car” (American History, 2007). 

DeFord Bailey “Pan American Blues”

447 Paul Robeson (1898-1976) “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” 1926

“My own people—many of them—have felt that the old Spirituals were not in keeping with the aspirations of the modern Negro. They feel that white audiences approach the Spirituals in a patronizing spirit. Perhaps this is true, but it is what they take with them from a concert that means most. The distinctive gift of the Negro has made to America has not been from the brilliantly successful colored men and women who, after all, have done only what white people are doing. It is from the most humble of our people that the music now recognized as of abiding beauty has emanated” (Paul Robeson, The Undiscovered Paul Robeson: An Artist’s Journey, 2001). 

Paul Robeson “Swing Low,  Sweet Chariot”

446 Bessie Smith (1894-1937) with Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) and Fred Longshaw “St. Louis Blues” 1925

“with Longshaw’s harmonium lending a delightful country church air to the proceedings, the two voices—Bessie and Louis—blend so effectively that one might mistake this effort for the fruit of a long and happy association rather than a first meeting” (Chris Albertson, Bessie, 2003). 

Bessie Smith with Louis Armstrong and Fred Longshaw “St. Louis Blues”

445 Fisk Jubilee Singers “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” 1909

“The saga of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers is one of the most remarkable chapters in the annals of African American music. This unassuming chorus from a small southern college was the first performing group to bring black music suitable for the concert stage to an American public that had previously seen the race mostly through the prism of minstrel stereotypes…The great and lasting contribution of the Fisks was the introduction of the spiritual to America’s musical literature” (Tim Brooks, Richard Spottswood, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919, 2004). 

Fisk Jubilee Singers “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”

444 Dinwiddie Colored Quartet “Down on the Old Camp Ground” 1902

The group was formed in 1898 as a means of raising funds for the Dinwiddie Normal and Industrial School for black youth. It later began performing in vaudeville and black theaters. In 1902, the group made the “first jubilee recordings ever made by Victor (Talking Machine Company)…’Down on the Old Camp Ground’ was a “performance so contemporary sounding that one modern writer has called it, ‘the first rhythm and blues vocal group record’” (Tim Brooks, Richard Spottswood, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919, 2004). 

Dinwiddie Colored Quartet “Down on the Old Camp Ground”

443 Unique Quartette “Mama’s Black Baby Boy” 1893

“The Unique Quartette was the first black quartet to record commercially…it was a professional quartet with extensive stage experience and an interesting and distinctive repertoire. The quartet appears to have been founded by Joseph M. Moore in the mid-1880s, and performed primarily in the greater New York City area” (Tim Brooks, Richard Spottswood, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919, 2004). 

Unique Quartette “Mama’s Black Baby Boy”

442 Maurice Williams (1938- ) and the Zodiacs “Stay” 1960

“The group started in 1955 as high school students in Lancaster, South Carolina. At that time they were calling themselves the Royal Charms. They appeared locally in clubs, colleges, and universities.” After a successful recording audition in Nashville, they changed their names to the Gladiolas and then to the Zodiacs when told their former record producer, Excello, owned the name “Gladiola” (Mitch Rosalsky, Encyclopedia of Rhythm & Blues and Doo-Wop Vocal Groups, 2000). 

Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs “Stay”

441 The Ventures “Walk Don’t Run” 1960

Guitarists Don Wilson and Bob Bogle of Seattle recorded the song. Wilson’s mother, Josie, “financed ‘Walk Don’t Run,’ helped market it and gave the group its name…A state champion wrestler in his high school days, Wilson brought an athletic approach to his instrument that helped define the group’s sound” (Gary Eskow, Mix, 2016). 

The Ventures “Walk Don’t Run”