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I could DIE doin' this" - Yank Rachell encouraging Dan Smith on Night Latch Blues

Author Topic: Dan Pickett  (Read 5021 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Dan Pickett
« on: September 17, 2006, 12:50:54 AM »
In a post concerning JSP box sets JohnM observed
Quote
Dan Pickett was an excellent singer, with a vocal tone reminiscent of Tommy McClennan's and an exciting, sort of "revved up" sound, both vocally and instrumentally.  He plays a lot of slide in Vestapol as well as many numbers played in E position in standard capoed very high.

Throughout the 60s and 70s the identity of Dan Pickett was the subject of much speculation amongst post war blues fans. This was all put to rest in the mid-80s when Bruce Bastin secured reissue rights with Gotham Records. What follows was published in Blues & Rhythm 30 (July 1987, p4-5):

Are You From Alabama, Tennessee Or Carolina?
The Dan Pickett Story So Far.
[NOTE This article is substantially based on my sleevenote to Krazy Kat KK 811; it seems only right to point out that neither note nor article would have been possible had not Bruce Bastin of Insterstate leased the Gotham material in the first place, and made the Gotham files on Pickett available for my use.]

The title, from a Delmore Brothers’s song, almost sums up the scope for writing about Dan Pickett until recently. His remarkable music, recorded in Gotham's Philadelphia studio in 1949, naturally prompted speculation about the man who made it, Simon Napier suggested (1) that he came from Texas; Mike Leadbitter and Neil Slaven had him down as definitely from Alabama in the first edition of "Blues Records", Bruce Bastin has noted, in both "Crying For The Carolinas" and "Red River Blues", his obvious stylistic affinities with the first East Coast and Durham. In 1978, Paul Oliver made a reasoned case (2), on the evidence then available, for Dan Pickett's being the Tennessean Charlie Pickett, resuming a recording career started in new York in 1937.

Recent evidence from Gotham files appears to support the discographers. in July 1950, an attorney named Charles R. Paul wrote to label boss Ivin Balien from Geneva, Alabama, close to the Florida state line, on behalf of his client "a musician by the name of James Founty, known professionally as Dan Pickett". [copy of letter reproduced] However, it has been pointed out (3), that Pickett appears to sing (in "Something's Gone Wrong"):

"Bye, bye Roellen, Miston Farewell to the State of Tennessee,

which might mean that he was from that state- at least when he recorded, (Roellen and Miston are small towns some twenty miles apart either side of Dyersburg, itself about seventy miles northeast of Memphis on Highway 51).

Founty/Pickett's complaint was that Ballen Record Company and Andrea Music Company were defaulting on the payment of royalties. This was not, in fact, the case, for the companies' contracts with him did not provide for any royalty. "In consideration of receiving the sum of $200, Founty hereby assigns to the Ballen Record Company eight (8) master records" says the one relating to records - which makes it odd that Gotham issued ten. The artist also agreed "not to record the same selection for any other company for a period of three years". (Normally Gotham demanded five).

This agreement was signed on 23rd August 1949, which is almost certainly the date of the recording session- if indeed there were not two or more sessions. Pickett received $5.00 from petty cash on Saturday 20th, and another $7.00 on the Monday, both described as "advance on songs", so he may have been recorded on each day, it seems unlikely that seventeen songs could have been recorded in one burst.

The above is the stock - so far - of the information on Dan Pickett, other than the discography below and the cause of all the excitement, his recordings. It's to be hoped that the appearance of an album of these, plus the leads now known to exist, will prompt a search for the man or his relatives. Meanwhile, we have the music.

McCLENNAN

This was clearly influenced by the guitar, and sometimes singing, of Tampa Red, and a similarity to Tommy McClennan's vocal style can often be detected too, though I am less certain of a direct influence here; the chief characteristic of Picketts music is a remarkable dexterity as a singer, and in combining voice and guitar, and it seems to be the sheer pleasure of being so very good at his music that produces the chuckles, asides and so on that recall McClennan. There is a leaning towards the songs of Piedmont bluesmen, while "Laughing Rag" (Gotham's first issue, incidentally) has a more general "Piedmont feel" in its raggy guitar figures. More elusive influences can also be detected, suggesting a possible acquaintance with Louisiana and South East Texas, the appearance of Texas Alexander's moan on "That's Grieving Me" and the richer chordings of "Drivin' That Thing", recalling Oscar Woods and Ed Schaffer.

It's noticeable that, despite his undeniable status as major and original musician, Dan Pickett doesn't appear to have composed many original numbers ("Laughing Rag" is his weakest effort by some margin). He seems, in fact, to be what might be termed a blues playing songster, displaying the eclecticism of the songsters, and their tendency to recompose rather that create from new, but confining his repertoire to blues, with occasional forays into ragtime and religion. Not only that, he is to a remarkable degree dependent on the use of recordings for the acquisition of songs, which are then submitted to varying degrees of deconstruction, and reassembled into vehicles for his own expression.

Thus "Chicago Blues" recreates, not just Tampa Red's "Chicago Moan", but the version he performed on the 1929 Victor promotional record "Jim Jackson's Jamboree - Part II". (Pickett even uses Jim Jackson's introduction of "the man with the golden guitar", which presumably provoked the outlandish suggestion that Red might be the second guitarist on "Number Writer".) "Baby Don't You Want To Go" derives from two versions. "Old Original Kokomo Blues", recorded by the eponymous Mr. Arnold in 1934, is unsurprising, a much less likely source is "Mr. Freddie's Kokomo Blues", cut the following year by FreddieSpruell, and far from being a big seller which seems to have inspired the use of "Mary had a little lamb". Neither of the sources dared to sing the alphabet (!) however, and neither is responsible for Pickett's brilliant accompaniment.

It's less easy to find a source for the well known gospel song "991/2 Won't Do", but the general influence of Rev. E. W. Clayborn seems clear. He was among the first of the guitar evangelists to record (between 1927 and 1929), and as such his records sold well. It has been suggested (5) that Clayborn was from Alabama, but I don't think a direct influence is likely; religious music doesn't seem to have been a major part of Pickett's life (it didn't stop him recording "l Can Buy It (The Stuff Is Here)") and "991/2 " is basically a medley of favourites, such as a street singers might keep up his sleeve to meet requests. (It's also such livelier and more rhythmically free than any of Clayborn's work.)

ESTES

The Piedmont influence is seen in the stunning "Ride To A Funeral In A V-8" which picks up a 1935 Buddy Moss recording (much to Moss annoyance when it was played to him in 1969 in the hop e of a lead to Pickett!`s,). "Lemon Man" is from Blind Boy Fuller's 1937 record, "Let Me Squeeze Your Lemon" (though I wonder if Sonny Boy Williamson's "Until My Love Come Down" of the following year was en route.) Namesake Charlie Pickett probably acquired the song from Fullers record too, and his associate Sleepy John Estes may be Pickett's source for "That's Grieving Me, "which Estes cut in 1938 as "Easin' Back To Tennessee", "Drivin' That Thing" sounds very like "Step It Up And Go" (1940), Fuller's most famous number, and `'You Got To Do Better" strongly resembles SonnyJones' 1939 version of "Love Me With A Feeling", though I suspect this is because both sound like Tampa Red's 1938 original.

"Baby How Long" and "Number Writer" are greatly changed by comparison with their sources. The former is Leroy Carr's big hit of 1928 given a "Tommy McClennan" treatment. "Number Writer" is Bumble Bee Slim's "Policy Dream Blues" from 1935, subjected to the full Dan Pickett treatment, which makes it verbally almost indecipherable, and musically unnerving-always seeming about to collapse under the pressure of his virtuosity, but never quite doing so.

Leory Carr's partner, Scrapper Blackwell, is the source for "Early One Morning" a version of his 1928 recording, "Penal Farm Blues", while Peetie Wheatstraw's influence is obvious on "Something Gone Wrong". The song is a mutation of Casey Bill Weldon's 1936 hit, "We're Gonna Move (To The Outskirts Of Town)", incorporating a line from Wheatstraw's 1936 "Santa Fe Blues" and, intriguingly, using his enigmatic word "fairase" Wheatstraw uses it to describe dance hall girls, but here it seems to refer to a train. Finally, "Decoratin Day" is from Sonny Boy Williamson, who cut "Decoration Blues" in 1938. Additionally, it incorporates lies from Robert Johnson's 1936 "Terraplane Blues", it's worth remembering that Johnson's current hero status was by no means reflected in contemporary record sales. l wonder if Johnson and Founty/Pickett ever met?

Most of James Founty's apparent sources were recorded between 1934 and 1938, which probably gives a clue to the period during which he learned his repertoire. If he started early in life, he might still be alive, and even still playing. Let's hope he can be found.
NOTES
(1) Notes to Postwar Blues PWB3.
(2) "Blues Unlimited" 129, March/April 1979, p.26.
(3) Bruce Bastin to the author.
(4) "Blues Records", 1st edn., Hanover, 1968.
(5) Peter Whelan, quoted in Bernard Klatzko, notes to Herwin 206.
(6) Bruce Bastin, conversation with the author.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Dan Pickett
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2006, 09:54:33 AM »
Thanks very much for this information, Bunker Hill.  I had noticed the surprising Freddie Spruell influence and the Tampa Red, but had not picked up on the full extent to which Dan Pickett was a "record player".  This is really fascinating stuff.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Dan Pickett
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2006, 09:59:09 AM »
Quote
Most of James Founty's apparent sources were recorded between 1934 and 1938, which probably gives a clue to the period during which he learned his repertoire. If he started early in life, he might still be alive, and even still playing. Let's hope he can be found.
It should perhaps be stated that this final remark from Chris Smith set a German researcher off on the trail of the Founty family who he finally tracked down in Alabama ten or so years later. Dan Pickett's descendants produced documents giving his date and place of birth (Pike Co, Alabama, 31 Aug 1907) and death (Boaz, Alabama, 16 Aug 1967). I guess this information must now be included in the notes to the box set. Apparently there are also photographs which, afaik, are still to be published.

Offline blueshome

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Re: Dan Pickett
« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2006, 11:34:33 AM »
I recollect seeing an article on Dan Pickett in the last few years which had a photo and an interview, I think with his daughter. Unlike BH neither my memory nor my "filing system" are any help. Think Juke Blues or Living Blues.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Dan Pickett
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2006, 11:46:06 PM »
I recollect seeing an article on Dan Pickett in the last few years which had a photo and an interview, I think with his daughter. Unlike BH neither my memory nor my "filing system" are any help. Think Juke Blues or Living Blues.
Located it. It was in Juke Blues 32 1995 contained in a feature by Axel Kustner (the German researcher I mentioned) entitled Goin' Down South.

Offline blueshome

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Re: Dan Pickett
« Reply #5 on: September 18, 2006, 02:38:00 AM »
What a system BH - I'll hum it, you sing it. Better still post the photo.

Offline jharris

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Re: Dan Pickett
« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2006, 05:21:36 AM »
Judging from the notes to the JSP it doesn't appear that Neil Slaven is aware of the Juke Blues article which is suprising.

I wrote the entry for Dan Picket for the Encyclopedia of the Blues. It was Chris Smith who sent me the Juke Blues article. Here follows my response and his reply:

I received the article the other day- thanks! The info given on Pickett was pretty bare bones but the author says that all the mysteries have been solved and a fuller article on the man would appear in the future. Has he written that promised article yet?

No, and I'm sure he never will. Actually, I've heard the interview tapes (it was my complaining about nobody bothering to go look for Pickett that set Axel on the trail!), and there's not much to add to what's in Juke Blues. Pickett lived all the clichés about rambling blues singers; he would disappear for years and come back saying nothing about where he'd been, and he ran two families in ignorance of each other.

-Jeff H.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Dan Pickett
« Reply #7 on: September 18, 2006, 10:41:58 AM »
What a system BH - I'll hum it, you sing it. Better still post the photo.
Oh yes got this down to a fine art now. I'll probably get sent to the Tower of London for this but here's what's said in JB32 (p.13).

Talkin' 'bout Dan Pickett: on the two trips in 1993 I finally did some 'heavy research' on this highly acclaimed but very obscure artist and have now completely solved the mysteries and speculations surrounding this fascinating bluesman! Since field work done by folklorist Glenn Hinson in the 1980s in Philadelphia, PA (where Pickett recorded for Gotham in 1949) yielded absolutely no information on Pickett, I focused on the two other known facts about him—his probable real name of James Founty and the small town of Geneva, AL, where he had obviously lived around 1950—as a starting point for my research. With some streaks of almost unbelievable luck, I have now located his only surviving brother and two sisters, Mr Grover Pickett, Mrs Emma Jean Lampley and Mrs Minnie Mae Lampley, his first and last wives, Mrs Essie Mae Turner and Mrs Betty Jean Griffin, as well as his children, Mrs Cathy Founty, Mr Rex Founty and Mrs Jacqueline Brooks. I also found his death certificate, grave, and one family snapshot from the late 1950s with James Founty in it! Rev. Tillis and David Johnson immediately recalled having seen him when they heard his music and J.W. Warren even used to play with him!

I have some more leads to various people who used to know him, but unfortunately it now seems highly unlikely that I will be able to find the tapes that he supposedly recorded during the early 1960s for some of the white folks he used to work for! Until the whole story is published in Juke Blues, I'll just tell you this much: a classic rambler in the best blues tradition, our man was born on August 31, 1907 in Pike County, AL, and passed away on August 16,1967 in Boaz, AL.

[I've tried scanning the photo - the daughter holding the Pickett photo reproduces a treat but DP appears as a series black, grey and white "swirls". I get the same effect solely scanning the Pickett photo element. Methinks my image scanning software isn't sophisticated enough...]




« Last Edit: September 18, 2006, 10:44:43 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Dan Pickett
« Reply #8 on: September 20, 2006, 05:11:08 PM »
Hi all,
In listening to the Dan Pickett "Baby How Long", I was haunted by the feeling that it was reminding me of an earlier version of that song that was not in the Leroy Carr mold.  I finally figured out what it was:  George Torey's "Lonesome Man Blues".  The two cuts are pitched identically (which is probably happenstance), but there is something about Pickett's version that makes me think he was familiar with Torey's version, perhaps via a performance.  Wasn't Torey recorded in Birmingham?  And it appears that Pickett (James Founty), though living the life of an itinerant bluesman, was from Alabama originally.  Pickett learned a lot from records, but I wonder if in this instance, he might have learned in person from the even-more-mysterious George Torey.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: September 20, 2006, 09:59:06 PM by Johnm »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Dan Pickett
« Reply #9 on: September 20, 2006, 11:35:23 PM »
In listening to the Dan Pickett "Baby How Long", I was haunted by the feeling that it was reminding me of an earlier version of that song that was not in the Leroy Carr mold.  I finally figured out what it was:  George Torey's "Lonesome Man Blues".  The two cuts are pitched identically (which is probably happenstance), but there is something about Pickett's version that makes me think he was familiar with Torey's version, perhaps via a performance.  Wasn't Torey recorded in Birmingham?  And it appears that Pickett (James Founty), though living the life of an itinerant bluesman, was from Alabama originally.  Pickett learned a lot from records, but I wonder if in this instance, he might have learned in person from the even-more-mysterious George Torey.
That's interesting, you might be onto something there. Torey was recorded in Birmingham, 2 April 1937 when Pickett would have been 30.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Dan Pickett
« Reply #10 on: January 11, 2008, 11:19:44 PM »
Hi all,
I've been listening to Dan Pickett a lot lately.  His complete works are included in the JSP set, "Shake That Thing".  I was really impressed with him when I first heard him, but after more listening, I really think he was sensational.  It appears that all of his songs were recorded in sessions from August 20-23 in 1949, 17 tracks in total.  Everything that he recorded was played either slide in Vestapol or capoed up in E position in standard tuning. 
In many ways, Pickett was like most present-day practitioners of Country Blues in that his repertoire is comprised almost exclusively of covers that he learned from records.  This is not to say that his versions of the songs he recorded are assiduous copies of his sources; rather, everything is translated into his own style, sense of phrasing, and way of making notes with his voice and guitar.  I know I've stated elsewhere here my usual preference for older singers of the blues, but after listening to Pickett's recordings, I have to concede that there really is something to be said for the best young singers in the style, too.  Pickett had a kind of super-charged energy in his singing that grabs your ear and won't let go.  He excelled at rapid, patter-style passages, and spat them out with gusto.  He had a trick he employs on a couple of songs of doing some kind of rhythmic vocal clicking that is really terrific.  He was also an expert player, with an accurate, stinging slide style, and tremendous time.  My favorite of his tracks is a slide religious number, "99 and 1/2 Won't Do", that borrows it's melody from "When I Lay My Burden Down", but is considerably more exciting.  Dan Pickett must have been sensational in person.  For those of you who haven't heard his music yet, but have been to Port Townsend in the past couple of years, I would say Pickett's energy reminds me of Terry Bean, who is a dynamo in his own right.  If you like high energy singing and playing of the blues, you owe it to yourself to seek out Dan Pickett's music.
All best,
Johnm     
« Last Edit: January 11, 2008, 11:49:39 PM by Johnm »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Dan Pickett
« Reply #11 on: January 12, 2008, 01:57:17 AM »
Couldn't agree more John.

For those who might not be into box sets it's well worth seeking out the Dan Pickett Collectables CD. Here's the 'review' in the Penguin Guide:

1949 Country Blues
Collectables COL-CD-5311

Dan Pickett is a paradox. His songs derive almost entirely from '30s commercial recordings (his one original, 'Laughing Rag' , is a ghastly exception), and repertoire and playing alike make his admiration for Tampa Red obvious. Among others, Pickett also borrowed from Kokomo Arnold, Sonny Boy Williamson 1, Bumble Bee Slim, Buddy Moss and Robert Johnson (whose Terraplane Blues he incorporates into Moss's 'Ride To A Funeral In A V-8 !); and yet his recordings are some of the most original downhome blues of their time, or any other. Pickett's guitar is unpredictable, fluid and perfectly integrated with his singing, which is passionate, declamatory, and as exuberant as his playing, often cramming a remarkable number of syllables into a line. Pickett takes other people's songs apart and rebuilds them, and although the originals are still recognizable, they are radical]y transformed, becoming the unmistakable, astonishing music of Dan Pickett. There are alternative takes (one, alas, is of 'Laughing Rag') and an additional song on the VAC East Coast Blues (Collectables COL CD-5324).

[see link to Stefan's Pickett discography earlier in this topic. BH]

Offline Rivers

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Re: Dan Pickett
« Reply #12 on: January 12, 2008, 06:33:34 AM »
Just wanted to chip in and say thank you all for highlighting Dan Pickett. I find I have zero recordings by him and look forward to tracking down his stuff. This is one of the great aspects of weenie campbell.

 


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