Leecan and Cooksey Guitar Keys and Positions

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compiled by John Miller

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Bobby Leecan & Robert Cooksey's complete recordings, done from September 1926 to October 1927, have been collected on two Document CDs: Volume 1 is DOCD-5279, and Volume 2 is DOCD-5280. They were enormously skilled musicians working in a very Jazzy style of Blues, with lots of Ragtime influence. Robert Cooksey was a remarkable harmonica player, equally comfortable playing straight or cross harp, and a lovely bird-like tone in his upper register. Bobby Leecan worked primarily as an accompanist, using a flat-pick to great effect. His harmonic sophistication puts him in the class of Papa Charlie Jackson, or perhaps even beyond him, and that is really saying something. A lot of Leecan's playing is startlingly modern sounding.

Despite being popular enough to record close to fifty sides either under their own names or backing a variety of singers, evidently almost next to nothing is known about Leecan & Cooksey in the biographical sense--not even where they came from, though some people have hypothesized Philadelphia or New York. Anyone have the time and inclination to do some digging through birth/death records in those cities?

I am omitting the first four songs from the Document Volume 1 disc in this listing because Leecan was not included in the sessions, and he is such an integral part of the combo's sound that these four cuts really seemed as though they came from somewhere else. I should say that I am dubious of some of the personnel listings on these recordings. On several tracks Leecan is shown playing tenor banjo, with Alfred Martin on guitar, yet Martin played mandolin, which is tuned to the same intervals as tenor banjo on several tracks, and his supposed guitar-playing sounds just like Leecan, even to the extent of using some of Leecan's pet (and very difficult) licks.


Volume 1

TRACK TITLE SESSION DATE KEY/POSITION
1 Black Cat Bone Blues 9/27/26 G
2 Dirty Guitar Blues 9/27/26 C
3 When My Wants Run Out 10/18/26 Verse: F, C and G. Chorus: Bflat
4 Talk 'Bout Somethin' That's Gwine To Happen 10/18/26 Bflat
5 Need More Blues Take 1 11/22/26 F
6 Need More Blues, Take 2 " F
7 Whiskey and Gin Blues, Take 1 " D
8 Whiskey and Gin Blues, Take 2 " D
9 Big Four " D minor/F
10 South Street Stomp, Take 1 " F, B flat
11 South Street Stomp, Take 2 " F, B flat
12 I Wants A Real Man 12/26--1/27 A minor/C
13 Scrubbin' Blues " G
14 Good Woman Blues 2/14/27 C
15 Second Handed Blues " C
16 Dead Drunk Blues " G
17 Dollar Blues 3/22/27 C
18 Maxwell And Peoria Blues " G
19 South Street Blues " C
20 Hock My Shoes
"
G



A few notes on the music:

"When My Wants Run Out" and "Talk 'Bout Somethin' That's Gwine To Happen" are duets pairing the vocalists Elizabeth Smith and Sidney Easton, operating in a bantering manner somewhat akin to Sally Dotson with Smoky Babe, though much less "country".

The multiple take tunes from the 11/22/26 session are all sensational, with "South Street Stomp" perhaps taking the honors. The session was recorded in Camden, New Jersey, right across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, where South Street is a famous street. Maybe Leecan and Cooksey were close to home there.

The personnel listed for the 3/22/27 session shows Robert Cooksey paired with Alfred Martin on guitar, and apparently the sides were issued under the name "Martin and Robert". If that was Alfred Martin on those sessions, he sure sounded like Bobby Leecan, though he might not be as clean in his playing and touch as Leecan.


Volume 2

TRACK TITLE SESSION DATE KEY/POSITION
1 Wash-board Cut Out 4/5/27 C
2 Shortnin' Bread " C
3 Midnight Susie " G
4 Apaloosa Blues " C
5 Ain't She Sweet, Take 1 5/24/27 B flat
6 Ain't She Sweet, Take 2 " B flat
7 Don't Let Your Head Hang Down " C
8 Royal Palm Special " C
9 Blue Harmonica " A minor/C
10 Macon Georgia Cut Out 6/27 E minor/G
11 Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out " C
12 Memphis Shake 7/27 C
13 My Old Daddy's Got A Brand New Way To Love " C
14 Kansas City Shuffle " C
15 Black Cat Bone " G
16 Mean Old Bedbug Blues, Take 1 10/27/27 G
17 Mean Old Bedbug Blues, Take 2 " G
18 Cold Morning Shout " A minor/C
19 Suitcase Breakdown " C
20 Dallas Blues, Take 1 " C
21 Dallas Blues, Take 2 " C
22 El Watson's Fox Chase 5/7/28 F#


A couple of points about these tunes:

* Leecan does not play on "El Watson's Fox Chase". It is a harmonica duet between Robert Cooksey and El Watson.

* For the tunes recorded at the 10/27/27 session, Leecan is shown as playing tenor banjo and Alfred Martin is listed as the guitarist. It's possible, but I don't know about that.

* The key of B flat held no fears for Bobby Leecan. On the two takes of "Ain't She Sweet" he is jaw-droppingly adroit. I wonder if the choice to record so many tunes in G and C standard was driven by the desire to keep Cooksey from having to spend too much money loading up on harmonicas in different keys?

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