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When you hear Gary play that song 50 years later, or when he was in his prime at whatever time period, and brilliant on top of it, that's a really damaging thing to the head. That causes a lot of people not to be able to play all their creative energy because they're really just playing with their own head - Jerry Ricks, Port Townsend 97

Author Topic: Walter Roland - gutbucket piano?  (Read 1648 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Walter Roland - gutbucket piano?
« on: August 25, 2006, 12:18:52 PM »
I found what follows lurking on my computer. The prose is a bit "purple" (gutbucket piano?) >:D though interesting for the fact that his daughter was interviewed.

From The Tuscaloosa News (27 Feb 2000):

Walter Roland Blazed Through Music World Then Faded
Ben Windham
Southern Lights

Walter Roland?s blues burned like a lump of hard black coal. He was one of the hottest singers in the 1930s "race" market.

He made more than 50 titles under his own name and dozens more as an accompanist to people like Josh White and Lucille Bogan, the toughest blueswoman ever to record.

But just as quickly as he blazed through the music world, he faded away. Not many people recognize his name today.

Until Dana Beyerle of the New York Times Regional Newspapers? Montgomery Bureau unearthed his death certificate, researchers weren?t sure when and where Roland was born. Even his family viewed him as a mystery man.

"See, he didn?t raise us," his daughter, Betty Frances Price of Fairfield, said in a 1995 interview. "His parents raised us."

"We saw him, but not often. He would come from ever where he was and stay sometimes a week, sometimes a month. And then, you know, we didn?t see him too much until ? I guess it was in the ?60s, and he got blind."

Born in the tiny Tuscaloosa County community of Ralph on Dec. 4, 1903, Roland probably was living in Pratt City when he signed on with the American Record Co. in 1933.

His daughter says he was self-taught on guitar, harmonica and piano, but musicologist Gayle Dean Wardlow says the recorded evidence is that Roland also learned from Jabo Williams, a legendary Birmingham pianist who made only eight recordings.

"Both men recorded the same song, 'Big Mama (Take Your Big Leg Off of Me),'" said Wardlow. "That was Williams' signature song. Roland definitely listened to Jabo; you can hear it on his records.?

Whatever the case, Roland emerged as a top keyboard man in a piano-blues town.

"He probably was the No.1 piano player in Birmingham at one time," Wardlow said.

Roland?s records included the Depression lament "Red Cross Store," later popularized by Leadbelly; the gambling song "Dices Blues" and "Early in the Morning," a pre-war blues classic:

Early in the morning, just before the break of day,
I turn over and hug my pillow where my baby used to lay.?

His collaborations with Bogan boosted his popularity. Roland?s gutbucket piano went with her back-alley vocals like gin and juice.

Together, they recorded the infamous "Shave 'Em Dry," one of the nastiest ? and funniest ? records ever made, "Stew Meat Blues," "Mean Twister" and "Pig Iron Sally."

Then came the long, hard plunge.

"Having been one of the few successful blues recording artists in Depression time, it seems strange that Roland didn?t record again after 1935," wrote researcher Bob Groom. "But the taste of blues record buyers was changing, and the bigger sound of Chicago-based bands was becoming increasingly popular."

Roland was reduced to performing on weekends or at the occasional rent party. He turned to farming, even to baby sitting, to earn a living.

I'm just as broke and hungry
As a gambler ought to be. ?

By the time he died of lung cancer in 1972, at his daughter?s home in Fairfield, he was almost totally forgotten. His blindness accelerated his slide.
 
"It was an accident," Price said.

"He was trying to be a peacemaker and got in between two people during a fight. They shot him. He had a lot of pellets the doctor had to cut out of his face."

?He could get around," Price said.
 
"He still went, he just had to have somebody to come and pick him up. ?He went ?round and did his thing ?till he couldn?t go no more."

The end came Oct. 12, 1972. His daughter was grateful for the few years she got to spend with her father.

"I liked to hear Ol? Soul play," she said, using the nickname she gave the ailing Roland.

"I?d ask him where the weird words came from that he be singing. He?d say, 'I don?t know, baby, they just be there.'"

Offline Richard

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Re: Walter Roland - gutbucket piano?
« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2006, 05:18:52 PM »
I've always like Walter Roland...... what else you got lurking on the computer then.....  ???
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline dj

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Re: Walter Roland - gutbucket piano?
« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2007, 05:34:24 AM »
Walter Roland's musical estate is administered by Steve LaVere's Delta Haze Corporation.  The DH website has a page dedicated to Roland: http://www.deltahaze.com/30/wr.html  There's a short biographical essay with a few details not contained in the post above, song copyright details, and a link to Roland's transcribed lyrics. 

Looking at the song copyrights, it's surprising how few were copyrighted in the 1930s.  Most submissions are from 1998, which must be when Delta Haze started representing Roland's estate. 

Roland's lyrics are well worth a look.  One of my favorites is House Lady Blues, where Roland scolds the proprietor of the venue in which he's playing for not serving him enough liquor:

   "Says hey house lady I been playing for you the whole night long,
   And I says you is not even give me just one drink of corn."



   

 


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