Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Books and Articles => Topic started by: Bunker Hill on February 11, 2006, 10:35:41 AM

Title: Son Brimmer
Post by: Bunker Hill on February 11, 2006, 10:35:41 AM
I was excavating an ancient Blues Unlimited piece when following caught my eye in issue 11, April-May 1964 and probably recounts a visit made in Summer 1963:
Charlie Musselwhite
Will "Son Brimmer" Shade now lives in a dilapidated 2-storey building just off 4th Street between Beale and Linden. In the summer they have all the windows open trying to get a little breath of air into the two musty rooms. Son sits by the window all day and every day looking out across the city, speaking to passers by, joking with old friends and just waiting for the end of another day. His wife Jenny Mae sits silently, smoking cigarette butts, watching the door. Once a month he gets a cheque from the Government, and as soon as it's cashed he sends somebody for a half gallon of "Golden Harvest" sherry wine. and a couple of packs of cigarettes, Toward supper Son will cook up a big batch of neckbones and greens. Behind the building where Son lives are some trees and underneath are a few broken chairs and wooden boxes where people will sit all night drinking wine and singing and playing guitars. There's usually a couple fights a night down there, but the music sure does sound pretty from Son's back window. There are a lot of musicians always stopping to see Son and a great many of them are great blues musicians that should be recorded, Son can't play as well as he used to because he has had a stroke and his fingers aren't as agile as they used to be. He can't write his name no more because his hand shakes so much, but when he gets his band together he can really hold everybody. The band usually consists of violin, uke or banjo, guitar and harp. They don't play in any clubs, just at home, getting people to come over and spend their money on something to drink. Son's favourite songs are "Newport News" and "I'll get a break someday". "I'll get a break" particularly, and he puts a lot into it. Everytime he sings this one he always says that this is a 'true song and that is why it's so good to me'. Just in case you don't know the words, this is Son's version:

i ?   Now you ridin' roun' baby, Lord in your V8 Ford,
I'm thinking 'bout you baby, when you drove me from your door.
Chorus:   But I'll get a break someday, before long.
ii ?   When I had money, had friends for miles around,
Now I'm broke sick and hungry, none of my friends can be found,
Chorus:   But I'll get a break?yes somewhere?baby before long.
iii ?   I work all the winter, an' I work all the fall,
When I quit workin' took Christmas in my overalls.
iv ?   When I was sick baby, Lord Lord down in my bed,
T.B. is all I could hear the people say,
v ?   Miss'ippi river?is so deep and wide,
The one I'm lovin', she's on the other side,
vi ?   Ain't no use of cryin', an' ain't no use of wearin' no black,
You know by that Son Brimmer, cryin' ain't gonna bring her back.
Chorus:   But I'll get a break?yes somewhere, baby before long.

All this is Son's real feelings, he sincerely hopes that he will get a break someday. He hears often of Furry Lewis and Willie B. going to New York and different places, to play for concerts and a whole lot of money. He's worried about Jenny Mae because she's always sick, not able to get round much. Son says that she is all he has now and that when she's gone, he'll be right behind her.
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: Hamhound on February 11, 2006, 06:19:59 PM
Thanks for posting this Bunker Hill

This is Son Brimmer AKA Will Shade of the Memphis Jug Band yes?
It's a sad picture of poverty & dependence - he was only to live a couple more years (he died I think in 1966)

I'm given to thinking about this kind of pretty familiar story re. once-famous and extraordinarily talented musicians - Often in the context of the modern "How may thousand to I need to spend on a box to get that "real" country blues sound man?"  kind-of-ethic.

Not that there's anything wrong in buying nice instruments (or DVD's or picture books) I hasten to add  - Perhaps just changes the perspective a little.......

thanks again BH
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: uncle bud on February 11, 2006, 08:49:21 PM
Yes, thanks for this, BH. It reminds me of the awful stories of Sleepy John Estes living in desperate poverty upon rediscovery as well. There's a temptation to view our country blues heroes who were rediscovered as "stars", which today means something very different from a socio-economic standpoint, even for some lesser known artists. The stories of Peg Leg Howell come to mind as well. These kinds of details put it all into very grim prespective.

Music Makers Relief Foundation also comes to mind. They support current blues roots artists, some of whom have been to Port Townsend to teach. Their website is http://www.musicmaker.org/ for anyone who wants to investigate further. Just checking their website, I notice that Carl Rutherford has passed away.
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: Bunker Hill on February 11, 2006, 11:37:12 PM
This is Son Brimmer AKA Will Shade of the Memphis Jug Band yes
Sorry, yes and his wife "Jenny Mae" recorded as Jennie Mae Clayton with the Memphis Jug Band. In 1963 George Mitchell recorded a few songs of her accompanied by Shade. Only one was passable enough to release. Sad.
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: Bunker Hill on February 11, 2006, 11:48:02 PM
Yes, thanks for this, BH. It reminds me of the awful stories of Sleepy John Estes living in desperate poverty upon rediscovery as well.
In the Summer of 1962 Georges Adins, after spending time visiting Memphis Minnie and her family, went on to see Estes and his wife in Brownsville. The circumstances in which he found them was a complete shock and recounted his experiences the following year for Jazz Journal. This piece of writing is too long to post here but one image does come to mind and that is of Adins describing Estes's wife having only one dress which was a hundred years old which had been passed down through the adult female generations....in my mind's eye I can visualise a photograph of her wearing the garment!
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: Roscoe on February 12, 2006, 11:17:17 AM
hi bunker, great post. its a cryin shame a lot of those guys died broke. i was at the memphis country blues fest at overton park in 67 or 68. here is the line up as best as i can remember. rev robert wilkins, mississippi joe calicott, furry lewis, bukka white, sleepy john estes and a 90 year old blind man named nathaniel beauregard backed up by his 70 year old nephew. i can tell you this for a fact, non of those guys were millionairs by any means. i think rev wilkins might have been getting some money by then because the rolling stones recorded poor boy, but im not sure. it makes me wonder if any of those guys wives or kids get any money from reissues?
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: Bunker Hill on February 12, 2006, 12:04:52 PM
90 year old blind man named nathaniel beauregard backed up by his 70 year old nephew.
He's been the subject of discussion here in the past, but in the meantime check this out
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: Bunker Hill on February 12, 2006, 12:22:17 PM
If you look here


and scroll down to 1985 you'll see an album with a super 1963 colour slide taken by Roger S Brown  - Shade playing a washtub bass with Jennie Mae Clayton seated behind him.

There's a very good liner note by Brown on the reverse recounting his travels in Tennessee with George Mitchell. Unfortunately it's white text reversed out of black and damn near impossible to successfully scan OCR or otherwise. I wonder if Stefan can achieve it (hint, hint) - well worth the read.
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: Stefan Wirz on February 13, 2006, 01:06:10 AM
the pic of the cover is exactly 400x400 pixel and of an outstanding quality ;-) might be I own this LP and took the picture myself (which I don't know by heart) - will check this evening at home (haven't all of them here in the office ;-) and do what obviously has to be done by *someone* !!!
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: Hamhound on February 13, 2006, 04:00:29 AM
Bunker Hill - Thanks for link to Mr Wirz's seemingly inexhaustable site - I've not seen that record or photograph before - and it's a good photo, I like it - Thanks Stefan - Yes 400px sq. of photographic goodness!

Roscoe - I wish I had of been at Overton Park that year! !  oh......wow.
i think rev wilkins might have been getting some money by then because the rolling stones recorded poor boy, but im not sure
I think Rev Wilkins got nada out of the Rolling Stones "Prodigal Son" (as they titled his tune).
Brief version: Song originally credited to Jagger/Richards - Changed only after legal action - Stones claim an inadvertent error due to fuss of Decca forcing them to change the cover of the LP containing the song - Legal stuff comes not from the Reverend or 'his people', but associates of the guy connected to Vocalion who had the kind foresight to copyright the tune. - He comes up trumps - the Reverend Robert Wilkins gets zip.

I read this (in a slightly more detailed version) long ago, and stand to be corrected on the detail, but I'm pretty sure this is the gist of what happened re "That great acoustic Stones track Prodigal Son"....... ahem.

It would sort of make you mad (or sad) if you thought too long about it..

Would love to read the Roger Brown liner notes if re-producing them is possible
Best to all,
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: Roscoe on February 13, 2006, 09:51:16 AM
thanks for the link to the album pics from the 68 fest in memphis. i sure would like to hear that record sometime. youd have hoped that if any of the rockers would have given credit where credit is due it would have been the stones.
thanks. roscoe
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: Stefan Wirz on February 14, 2006, 11:18:47 AM
And here are the results of the German jury - Just joking - I meant: Here are the results of my OCRing for the first time since some four years (was a pleasure to regain that ability ;-)
(https://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/proxy.php?request=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wirz.de%2Fmusic%2Fsouthlan%2Fgrafik%2Fslp141.jpg&hash=f42e7ddd389359f6ce0148239f457c88f535d5ce) (https://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/proxy.php?request=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wirz.de%2Fmusic%2Fsouthlan%2Fgrafik%2Fslp14b1.jpg&hash=22d0290566e5004e695f5e16fdcecdf3a63884ab)
start of quote (from liner notes of Southland SLP 14)
"George Mitchell and I made our second trip to Memphis to visit Will Shade & Co. in the summer of 1962 we got off to a seemingly inauspicious start. As we climbed the stairs to his room behind Fourth and Beale we were greeted with a gruff ?What are you doin' in my house?" Fortunately, the harsh tone was feigned and immediately gave way to a broad grin and warm handshakes. Nevertheless, Will -Son Brimmer to his friends- was troubled, for his common?law wife, Jennie Mae Clayton, had just been admitted to the hospital.
As callow 17 year olds, we had made our first trip to Memphis without as much as a camera. Wiser by six months, we came armed with a borrowed tape recorder this time and were looking forward to putting it to use on Will, Charlie Burse, Gus Cannon, and Furry Lewis. That was to prove problematical, however. For one thing, the founder of Cannon's Jug Stompers, who was pushing 80, had moved, and when we finally found his new place he was in his shorts and so soused that it took him a half hour to find his pants. Back on Beale, a lot of cajoling ensued in an effort to get his banjo tuned before any recording was done. I can still see Will Shade shaking his head in amused disgust and saying, I can't tune the harp!
The next night was Furry Lewis' turn. He was in fine fettle, but his guitar was in hock. Luckily, our friend, Jim Lester, had joined us and had brought his along, albeit a Sears Roebuck model with a missing string. As those who listen to this album will discover, it takes more than that to deter a determined Furry Lewis or significantly diminish his effectiveness. As luck would have it, however, we still had to contend with a mistrustful Mrs. Burse and an untimely blown fuse before things got rolling, but the stirring candlelit session turned out to be well worth the wait,
A few days later, our meager resources almost totally depleted, we bade Will farewell to go home, or so we thought. Actually, inspired by his chance remark that Sleepy John Estes was still living near Brownsville, we decided on the spur of the moment to brave a ride up there before heading back to Atlanta. Not knowing that he had been rediscovered a few months before, we considered an encounter highly improbable. When the first person we asked volunteered to hop in the car and direct us to where he lived, we were nearly incredulous; when we were face to face with him moments later, we were practically delirious. To our surprise he was blind, but he was otherwise hale and hardy and very eager to play. At 58 he had lost neither his famed vocal prowess nor his facility on the guitar. In fact, he was in better form that day than he was at any other recording session between 1941 and his death. Having sent a little boy to fetch his instrument from his shack, he sat down in the home of some neighbors and proceeded to reel off three previously recorded songs and two others with remarkable verve. Ironically, our good luck was tempered by a severe shortage of tape. We had only 16 minutes worth left, and it ran out after three stanzas of the gripping Mailman Blues. To make matters worse, we were unable to reward him properly for this terrific treat. We emptied our wallets of their last few dollars; he asked for whiskey but had to settle for two Pabst tall boys.
The following summer, George Mitchell again visited Will Shade and Jennie Mae Clayton. This time he was accompanied by Charlie Musselwhite, whom Shade coached on the harmonica. This was no doubt the first and last time Jennie Mae recorded since her memorable session with the Memphis Jug Band in 1927 Likewise, this version of "Kansas City Blues? and the catchy ?Jump and Jive? were Son Brimmer's last sides. When George returned to Memphis in 1966, Jennie Mae and Charlie Burse were dead, and Will lay dying in the hospital.
The songs featured on this album are selections from those informal sessions, whose casual atmosphere is fitting in that it affords a little extra insight into the natural blues scene that lingered on in Memphis and its environs. The slight background noise is a small price to pay for the feel of this milieu.
The spontaneity of these performances is perhaps best exemplified by Will Shade's "Wine-headed Man;" the first stanza of which (LOOkahere, Mr. Brown, where'd you stay last night? Your hair's all rumpled, you ain't treatin' me right) was accidentally erased. A word about its genesis is in order here. The ever jocular Shade had a weakness for Golden Harvest Sherry, and this extemporaneous composition was his way of saying good morning to us after a day during which we had failed to supply him with any. The combination of traditional verses with original ones tailored to the situation at hand is a tribute to his lyric inventiveness and a good example of his sense of humor.
Shade is of course at his best on the harmonica, and with "The Train? he pulls off a masterful musical embodiment of railroad sounds. Note the soulful blow for help and the piercing tones -a Shade trademark- of the answer. The finale, which depicts the locomotive gaining momentum, is enough to leave the listener short of breath. This is
the work of a pro.
Recorded examples of the long and intimate post Memphis Jug Band collaboration between Will Shade and Charlie Burse are rare The "Beale Street Shuffle? stands with ?Take Your Fingers Off It? and ?Kansas City Blues? as monuments to their fertile relationship. For my money, when Charlie Burse cuts loose on his trusty tenor guitar he is unmatched for sheer rhythmic power. When one hears numbers like these, one understands that Charlie's claim to Will, That Banjo Joe can't keep up with us was neither an empty boast nor denigration. Few musicians half Cannon's age could hold stride with these high?riding veterans. Enjoy the infectious swing and the jaunty, bouncy style of this instrumental by Burse ably backed on second guitar by his old partner, Son Brimmer.
I've not seen that Will Shade's partnership with Jennie Mae Clayton goes even farther back. She proved that she was a singer of high caliber with the Memphis Jug Band in 1927, and we heard her lay down a mean ?Oh Ambulance Man? thirty?five years later. As ?What Must I Do? attests, she was given to lustful lyrics for her age (over 70) I vividly recall the first time I heard her sing live. She injected herself into a song her husband was playing with I got the next verse. It went:
I wonder why I love my long tall man so well (2)
Every time he loves me he makes my belly swell.
On this album we hear her still sporting an impressive vibrato with her one lung shortly before her death. She was quite a gal, in the best sense of that word.
The recently deceased but immortal Furry Lewis is well represented here. On side 1 he demonstrates his slide technique with brass tubing, most exuberantly on ?Fare Thee Well, Old Tennessee?. "Brownsville Blues? will remind many of the popular ?Roll and Tumble Blues? of which it is a variant. The contrast between these fine blues and the rag on side 2 illustrates the diversity of this collection. Its tasty picking and mellow singing are enhanced by Son Brimmer's very nice plucking on his ?streamlined" oil can bass (see cover photo).
Will Shade's last recordings were ?Kansas City Blues? and ?Jump and Jive?. The former needs no introduction. ?Jump and Jive?, on the other hand, though it may not be one of his masterpieces musically, has considerable novelty value and is intriguing in several respects. The asthmatic stung of lyrics, a feat in itself, sets it apart stylistically. As for subject matter, it seems to be about whorehouse heroics, and one can surmise that it is a throwback to the days of wide?open prostitution on Beale. Be that as it may, this tune is fun to listen to and is apt to grow on you.
Let it not be said that I gave Gus Cannon short shrift in my remarks. He is the oldtimer on this album, and while the traditional ?Boll Weevil Blues? is hardly the capstone of his distinguished recording career, it does bear his distinct personal stamp: the strong, deep voice and his good old-fashioned strumming. Age and booze notwithstanding, he remained an imposing figure visually and aurally and was always entertaining.
With all due respect to the other legendary characters here, the centerpiece of Tennessee Legends belongs to the great Sleepy John Estes One of the things that makes this session so distinctive is that it's the only one pre- or postwar on his own turf. And turf is not insignificant here, especially when you consider that his footwork is damn near as impressive as his singing and playing This floor with its uncanny resemblance to a bass drum was perfect for the tapping foot of a bluesman. A word of explanation on the missing beginning of ?Rats in my Kitchen?, including the stanza about the mean '61-'62 rats, is in order. Estes was raring to go and tore into the first song before George had a chance to set the level and press the record button. ?Special Agent? is a slow version of his 1938 hit. As if to prove that he could still do up-tempo stuff, he continued with the lively ?Mr. Pat? a pleasing example of his proclivity to lyrics drawn from his locale. The beautiful ?Floating Bridge? heard here shows best that Estes was in 1930s form on that summer afternoon. Compare it to the 1935 recording and you will find that the only thing missing is the harmonica.
Roger S Brown
University of New Hampshire"
end of quote
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: uncle bud on February 14, 2006, 12:54:50 PM
Stefan, thanks for scanning that. Great stuff.

Callow 17-year-olds? I had no idea George Mitchell was so young when engaged in these adventures. He made some great, historic recordings. I shudder to think what I was accomplishing at 17.

I think, but am not sure, the tracks by Furry Lewis referred to here are available on the Fat Possum Good Morning Judge CD. The tracks by the others are not available to my knowledge, though I'd love to be corrected.
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: Hamhound on February 14, 2006, 08:10:05 PM
Would like to second Uncle Bud's thankyou there Stefan - A most interesting read.

OCR'ing after a 4 year break?  Well, it's like riding a bike - you never truly forget... :D

I wonder how the artists (or their relatives or descendants) were paid?

Or do you think a belated supply of Golden Harvest sherry could have been it?
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: Bunker Hill on February 14, 2006, 11:42:28 PM
Stefan, thanks for scanning that. Great stuff.

Callow 17-year-olds? I had no idea George Mitchell was so young when engaged in these adventures. He made some great, historic recordings. I shudder to think what I was accomplishing at 17.
If you look at the link below it's to a UK 70s label that came into being soley in an attempt to make available some of the Mitchell recordings. Sadly Revival were ahead of their time and sales were poor to say the least. I think they did better when sub-licenced them to Rounder:


Yes it's that man Stefan again....
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: Bunker Hill on March 11, 2006, 01:42:11 AM
Yes, thanks for this, BH. It reminds me of the awful stories of Sleepy John Estes living in desperate poverty upon rediscovery as well.
Thought I'd resurrect this briefly in the light of something I've just come across in Derrick Stewart-Baxter's blues column in Jazz Journal February 1964:

A few months back (September) I wrote an article on Sleepy John Estes and the sorry plight he was in. Several readers wrote offering suggestions, and quite recently the editor had a letter from blues authority George Adins, who first brought to our notice the conditions under which John was living. Adins writes: "It has been suggested that something like a benefit concert should be organised to help John Estes. That would be a very nice thing to do, and I am willing to give any help I can to further this suggestion. Maybe part of the proceeds could go to Memphis Minnie whom I met in Memphis and who is in bad shape. A couple of weeks ago I got a letter from her asking for money. The problem is how to organise such a benefit concert and how to convince British musicians to give their services free".

I fully support George Adins with regard to his suggestions regarding Memphis Minnie, a wonderful singer who is virtually unknown in this country. Many blues artists have given us hours of pleasure. Now is the time to come to their aid. I am sure once the ball is given a kick, British musicians will be only too willing to co-operate. Mr. Adins' address for any who wish to help is 59 Blvd. de Smet de Naeyer; Courtra, Belgium. I have already had some offers and suggestions, and need hardly say, that I will do anything I can to help.
Title: Re: Son Brimmer
Post by: uncle bud on May 23, 2007, 10:59:53 AM
Having just received my Roots and Rhythm newsletter for May 2007, I thought I'd take a turn reviving this thread to note that this latest missive from R&R (always very informative) includes a re-issue from Fat Possum of the recordings found on Southland LP 14 discussed earlier in the thread. So the Mitchell recordings of Will Shade, Charlie Burse, Furry Lewis, Sleepy John Estes, and Gus Cannon, all recorded in '62-'63, are available again. Despite a roster that would have a Memphis blues fan going into palpitations, Frank Scott from R&R, whose reviews are usually quite accurate IMO, isn't particularly enthusiastic about the recordings. "Not a great album but definitely worth a listen," sez Frank who still gives it a "recommended" rating.

The disc is Tennessee Recordings - Fat Possum 1092, 15 tracks, 44 min. $9.98 from R&R
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