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I think I heard the Bob Lee boat when she moaned - Charlie Patton, Hammer Blues

Author Topic: Uncle Bud - Historically speaking?  (Read 5130 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Uncle Bud - Historically speaking?
« on: February 09, 2006, 11:56:45 AM »
I was playing for someone the Mack McCormick compilation Unexpurgated Folk Song Of Men (Raglan LP51, 1960) and after the visitor left couldn't resist scanning pages 8-9 of the accompanying booklet in which he traces the lineage of Uncle Bud (Bud Russell) recordings. Maybe of interest to our Uncle Bud, if nobody else  :):

UNCLE BUD: Across the United States people sing the antics of Uncle Bud, a character who gets himself mixed up with such diverse songs as "Springfield Mountain" ("Uncle Bud ran 'cross the field, rattlesnake bit him in the heel") and "Salty Dog":

Scaredest I ever was in my life,
Uncle Bud came home and caught me kissing his wife:
Oh, salty dog, you salty dog.

The scholars have printed reports of him, quaintly bowdlerized:

There's corn in the field, there's corn in the shuck,
There's girls in this world ain't never been touched.
O Bud, Uncle Bud, O Bud, O Bud, O Bud.

But in Texas these songs have become associated with one individual, the notorious Bud Russell - the prison transfer man who used to collect convicted men from each of the state's 254 far-flung counties and transport them to the Huntsville prison "walls" and thence to the convict farms spread out along the Brazos river bottoms. To Texans, Uncle Bud is at once the familiar old lecher, and the grim figure who comes to town with chains andshackles - as described in a verse of "The Midnight Special":

"Yonder comes Bud Russell."
"How in the world do you know?"
"Tell him by his big hat
And his .44."
He walked into the jailhouse
With a gang o' chains in his hands,
I keard him tell the captain,
"I'm the transfer man."

Among Texans past the age of 40 there is hardly one that has not joked about Uncle Bud or nodded his head in sad acknowledge as a blues singer described him, as in such lines as those sung by Waco-bred pianist Mercy Dee (Arhoolie F1007):

Uncle Bud swore he never saw a man that he couldn't change his ways,
When I say Uncle Bud, I mean Bud Russell?the king-pin and boss way back in red heifer days.

Or by James Tisdom:

Uncle Bud will shoot you with a pistol, he'll whip you with a single-tree,
Got all them boys shouting, crying "Lord, please have mercy on me."

Or by Lowell Fulson:

You oughta been on the river?oh, nineteen and ten, When Bud Russell drove pretty women like be did ugly men.

The list could be extended to include lines about Bud Russell from Smokey Hogg, Manny Nichols, Lightnin Hopkins, Buster Pickens, and many others. In the song with which Lead Belly begged a pardon of Governor Pat Neff, thus literally singing his way out of the Texas prisons, he builds sympathy for his case by telling how Bud Russell had carried him off from the Bowie County jail in 1918: Bud Russell, which traveled all over the seate and carried the men on down the state penitentiary, had me going on down. Had chains all around my neck, and I couldn't do nothing but wave my hands."

When Bud Russell retired newspapers across the state gave the story prominent space, the Associated Press carrying this eulogy on May 28, 1944:

Blum, Texas. (AP)?Uncle Bud, known to every peace officer?and most everybody else - in Texas, has retired to the life of a stock farmer, after nearly forty years of service with the State's prison system, three decades of which he spent as chief transfer agent.

Russell and his one-way wagon traveled 3,900,000 miles. And from the county jails of Texas and other states, he delivered 115,000 persons to the prison system.

Russell retired at the age of 69, which he certainly doesn't look. He quits one of the toughest jobs of them all, still with his humor intact, and with ill will toward none?not even the prisoners who gave him trouble.

When he started to work with the prison system, he transported convicts on the trains and could take as high as 80 at a time. Then he switched to trucks, the capacity of which was from 26 to 28.

And did he watch those pennies for the state! He spent an average of nine cents per meal for prisoners by buying wholesale, and drove a truck 223,000 miles on two sets of tires.

Russell has handled practically all the noted prisoners of Texas?Clyde and Buck Barrow, Raymond Hamilton ? just about everybody except Bonnie Parker. For some reason, Bonnie never made Bud's one-way wagon.

But they were all the same to Bud Russell. They had to behave themselves while they were on his truck, and when they did, he had a word of praise. But he never really got mad at a prisoner until he mistreated a relative or annoyed the citizenship. He told the tough guys, "You're just forty years too late, if you think you are tougher than I am," and kept an eagle eye on his flock of jail birds every minute of the way.

That he was confident of his marksmanship was attested when he told an officer who examined his gun and found only one bullet: "Well, I came for only one prisoner, you know."

With a song that mocks him and insults his wife, Texans have found it a little easier to live with Uncle Bud roaming up and down the highways. But this gay song is never far away from the thought with which Texas Alexander prefaced his recording of "Penitentiary Moan Blues" in 1928:

Mama?she told me to stay at home, and I wouldn't . . . She told me to stay at home and I said I couldn't . . .But now, mama, Bud Russell's got me?And I cannot help myself.
« Last Edit: February 09, 2006, 11:58:16 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Slack

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Re: Uncle Bud - Historically speaking?
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2006, 01:04:46 PM »
Sounds lke our Uncle Bud - a real lecher!  :P

Very interesting Bunker, never knew that history - thanks for posting!

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Uncle Bud - Historically speaking?
« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2006, 02:25:33 PM »
Thanks for that, Bunker Hill. I was only familiar with the Uncle Bud in various songs from Tampa Red, Kokomo Arnold etc. In my defense, the nickname was bestowed on me at Port Townsend. While it's not one I would have chosen, it has stuck. For the record, I've done none of the things ascribed to the various incarnations of Uncle Bud.  But then again, the Weenies rarely bring their wives to Port Townsend. :P

Offline jphauser

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Re: Uncle Bud - Historically speaking?
« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2014, 06:46:26 PM »
About 10 years ago, I corresponded by e-mail with Robert H. Russell, Uncle Bud Russell's great grandson.  According to him, Uncle Bud was a good man despite how he may have been characterized in song and legend.  He pointed to a newspaper article about Uncle Bud's retirement which mentioned that Uncle Bud refrained from shooting down an escaped convict once out of fear that he might hit "an innocent negro."  The article can be found by clicking on the link below which will take you to a webpage that Robert Russell created about Uncle Bud.

Also, see Russell's comment at the bottom of the webpage below.  He claims that Uncle Bud treated his prisoners fairly and humanely, and mentions that he is writing a book about him.

I don't know whether to believe him or not, but either way Uncle Bud is a part of blues history.

Jim Hauser


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