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Author Topic: Blues of St. Louis  (Read 12905 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Blues of St. Louis
« on: November 25, 2003, 09:52:58 AM »
Hi all,
I've been thinking a lot for a number of months about the Blues that came out of St. Louis in the pre-War and immediate post-War period.  There was tremendous variety and a number of distinctive musical qualities not frequently encountered elsewhere in Blues of that period.  In the very early or almost pre-Blues category you have Henry Spaulding, of "Cairo" and "Biddle Street", and the early Teddy Darby, like "Lawdy Lawdy Blues".  Off to the side you have Clifford Gibson, who really didn't sound like anyone else there.  You have a host of guys originally from Mississippi, like Henry Townsend, J.D. Short, Charley Jordan, possibly Lane Hardin and Hi Henry Brown, who tended to favor E as the key to play in.  Tons of piano players, too, Walter Davis, Romeo Nelson, and guys like Peetie Wheatstraw and Henry Townsend who doubled on guitar and piano.  Henry Townsend told Michael Roach when Michael interviewed him last year that he (Henry) taught Walter Davis how to play the piano!
One of the qualities I have noticed in a lot of St. Louis Blues, from Teddy Darby  to Clifford Gibson to Walter Davis right on up to the present-day Henry Townsend is a less heavy reliance on the common pool of blues lyrics than you encounter elsewhere, resulting (to my ear) in more distinctive and player-specific sounding songs.  There also seem to be more Blues with lyrics speaking to social issues than you encounter in a lot of places.  
Another quality encountered in some of the St. Louis blues is an expanded and sometimes contracted harmonic sense.  On the expanded side, you have Walter Davis, who was utterly distinctive, and such tunes as Clifford Gibson's "Don't Put That Thing On Me".  On the contracted side, you have the early Henry Townsend one-chorders like "She's Got a Mean Disposition" and "Henry Mistreated Blues", that for excitement and varied use of the right hand rival anything Charlie Patton and Big Joe Williams did.
Has anybody else been listening to this stuff?  At PT this past summer I picked up the first and last volumes of the complete Walter Davis on Document.  There are so many ideas to pursue there that it's hard to know where to start.  At the very least, he shows ways to expand the chordal vocabulary  of Blues in ways that sound both different from what we're accustomed to hearing and appropriate.  On the transcription side, such a tiny percentage of the guitar performances have been figured out that there are a tremendous number of sounds that just about nobody is doing nowadays.  I hope to transcribe a Lane Hardin tune for the next on-line lesson.  
Anybody interested in this stuff?
All Best,
John        

Offline Caindawg

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #1 on: November 25, 2003, 04:15:36 PM »
Man I haven't heard of half those guys, but the mule is big with me. Just love his spontaneity and sense for iprov.

I do a version of Henry's "Tears come Rolling Down" on my cd. (clip at http://www.canadianblues.ca/store/caindawgst01.htm)

of course I kinda moved it over to guitar with the use of my artistic license...

I sent him a copy of the cd but he's never replied...




cd

Offline lindy

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2003, 08:14:38 AM »
John:

Thanks for all the information on St. Louis players, unexplored territory for me, I recognize about half of the names you mention.  I adore the Henry Townsend version of "Cairo" that's on one of those Vestapol "Legends of Country Blues" videos; from your message it sounds like he copped it from another Henry, and I would like to hear the original.  I've been sitting on a list of CDs to buy, and will add a few in this area if you can make some recommendations.  I seem to remember Yazoo having an anthology with a St. Louis focus, any other overview CDs you know of?  

I'm not terribly surprised to hear that St. Louis CB players were distinctive. There was a vibrant jazz scene in East St. Louis in the 30's and 40's--that's where Miles Davis came from--but unlike Kansas City or Los Angeles during the 40's and 50's or New Orleans earlier, there wasn't enough cohesiveness among the players for it to be considered a "sound" (similar to "the Kansas City sound" or "the Chicago sound").  Or maybe it's just the way we categorize these things so that we don't put together all those names you mentioned and view them as something distinctive and unified from that area.  Whatever, I haven't bought a CD in at least 3 weeks, my hands are starting to shake a bit, please make a recommendation or two.

Something that struck my eye in your message was the phrase "Henry Townsend one-chorders."  For a while I've had an idea in the back of my head to ask you and maybe one or two other faculty to do a PT session called "One-chord Wonders" or "Two-chord Wonders" where y'all present just a little bit of information on a whole lot of songs that fit that description.  Let us work on the niceties when we get home.  The potential list of songs is very, very long.  Lots of opportunities to introduce past players we're not familiar with.

The last couple of weeks in New Orleans have been filled with power trios .  Last night was Tab Benoit, a great electric player, with two local blues/funk musicians. A week ago Saturday was James Blood Ulmer, best known as an outside, free-form jazz player who has recently returned to the blues.  Kind of.  Ulmer's solo version of "Trouble in Mind" was a good example of country blues from Mars or Uranus.

Ain't no country blues in the Big Easy as far as I can tell, but I'll keep looking.  Maybe that's why they put Mississippi next door.

Lindy

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2003, 10:20:41 AM »
Hi all,
I checked for good St. Louis CDs, Lindy.  Yazoo had two great anthologies, 1003 St. Louis Town, and 1030 St.Louis Blues, which contained a high percentage of the artists I mentioned.  The only problem is, I don't know if those titles survived into the present day CD era.  I checked the Document catalog, and came up with the following pertinent entries:
DOCD 5036 Backwoods Blues--not a geography-based anthology, but it has the complete recorded works of Bo Weavil Jackson, Boby Grant, King Solomon Hill and Lane Hardin, any one of which would make it worthwhile.  Grant and Hardin are exceedingly under-recorded--two titles apiece.
DOCD-5147 St.Louis Country Blues.  This might be the one to plop for.  It has Henry Spaulding's two cuts, all of Henry Townsend's pre-war solo recordings (15 titles!), and all of J. D Short's early recordings, including the great "It's Hard Time"
BDCD-6042 has the complete recordings of Teddy Darby, 20 titles.  He was a great writer and singer, with a pretty varied sound and great lyrics.
BDCD-6015 has the complete early recordings of Clifford Gibson, 23 titles.  He was a great player and singer, who specialized in Open G, Open D and E standard.  Outstanding lyricist, too.  On one of the cuts he backs up Jimmie Rodgers, the Yodeling Brakeman!
Your observations about St. Louis having an active Jazz scene are right on.  A lot of great players down through the years have come out of the greater St. Louis area, including Clark Terry, Miles Davis, and modern people like Henry Threadgill, Gregory Osby and Marty Ehrlich.  Blood Ulmer is a trip, isn't he?  I saw him a number of years ago with Ornette Coleman and it was pretty wild.
I would definitely be up for a class session at PT devoted to one or two-chord tunes, with an approach stressing right hand techniques and getting a sound as opposed to transcription per se.  The one-chorders tend to be more improvisatory anyway, so it seems to be more of an issue of getting a repertoire of moves and then playing a lot to let the rhythmic feel steep a bit and develop some richness.
I went and listened to your tune, CAINDAWG, good to hear the different approach on Henry's tune.
I hope everybody is doing fine and having a Happy Thanksgiving.
All Best,
John  

Offline waxwing

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2003, 11:38:03 PM »
Hey JohnM, et al,
Funny you should bring this up as I'm working my way through David Evans' Big Road Blues, totally at the other end of the traditional/original spectrum. I'm really enjoying his in depth sense of a local tradition, and it is enhanced by the fact that, even back when he was writing this in the '70's, he was a hell of a player. The book is filled with examples of guitar transcriptions (albeit in standard notation) that have given me a strong musical sense of the Drew tradition and the ways different players put together the elements. And lots of new material to work on. I'm just about to start the chapter on the song itself. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't, yet. If it gets too into the details at times, just skip ahead. I haven't had to.
I'm also enjoying my temporary "retired" lifestyle. Perhaps too much? Nah.
Anyway, St Louis. Well, I've known about Walter Davis since I discovered he wrote Come Back Baby, which is really the song that brought me back to the guitar, and more specifically, country blues (thank you DVR). Expanded is right, I don't know of any of the many arrangements of that tune, that capture his harmonic sense. I have vol. 5 of the Document set. You recommended Cifford Gibson to me at PT and, tho' I haven't transcribed anything from the Document CD as yet, I've listened to it quite a bit. When I listened to the mp3 of Charlie Jordan's Big Four, connected to your lesson, I thought I heard some similarities to Gibson's harmonic sense, or voicings. Think I'll take that lesson soon. I have the Document Backwoods Blues CD with Lane Hardin's two songs, tho' I admit I got it for the Bo Weavil Jackson and King Solomon Hill sides. Just gave them a listen and they have a strong pentatonic sound, eh? California Desert Blues seems to work around a C chord, but I can't find an easy way to make it work for Hard Luck Blues, where he seems to slide up to the major 3rd yet still keep the bass thumping. He rarely seems to play the 1st string in either song. Am I way off base? lots of tripled 8th note runs against a thumping bass in any event. Cool.
So why are these St. Louis players so stylistically different? Perhaps there was no strong blues tradition due to the strong jazz presence, but these players were attracted to the solo aspect of the blues they were beginning to hear from outlying areas? Yet they brought a certain jazz urbanity to the form even if they stayed relatively true to the blues harmonic structure. Great topic, John, And more great blues to learn. I listened to the Clifford Gibson CD again, too, and I've just got to choose one to start working on. The choosing seems to be the hard part. They're all great.
All for now,
John C.
« Last Edit: November 28, 2003, 11:40:32 PM by waxwing »
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Offline frankie

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2003, 07:30:22 AM »
Yazoo had two great anthologies, 1003 St. Louis Town, and 1030 St.Louis Blues, which contained a high percentage of the artists I mentioned.  The only problem is, I don't know if those titles survived into the present day CD era.

They were reissued on CD (I have both of them), but they were allowed to go out of print a couple of years ago when Shanachie/Yazoo sold the last few remaining copies they had in stock.  There might be a few online sellers that have older copies around, and I bought one of mine used, I think...  They're great compilations and worth seeking out if you'd rather not spring for the Documents.

Offline Slack

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #6 on: November 30, 2003, 11:29:20 AM »
I've got both the Yazoo CD's and agree that they are great.  Another alternative is picking them up through Emusic where Yazoo has kindly placed many of their out of print CDs.

Lane Hardin?  Cool, he certainly ranks right up there with obscure artists.  It looks like a total of two sides for Hardin, yes?  I've got a compilation (Greatest in Country Blues Vol. 3) with one of his cuts "California Desert Blues" (reminds me of H Townsend) and notice that Yazoo has another compilation (Hard Times Come Again No More Vol 1) with the other side "Hard Times Blues" - so I'll go grab that and give a listen (and be a Lane Hardin completist.)  Looking forward to the next lesson!

Hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving!

JohnD

Offline waxwing

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2003, 12:59:55 PM »
JohnM, et al,
Well, in the clear light of a rainy San Francisco morn, I started thinking about Drop D, tuned down to about C. Say, didn't we just work on a song like that? (which the harp player I've been working with loves, BTW. So much so he talked me into playing it at my Third Thursday boat house gig. Perhaps a bit premature, as I stopped and played the intro over, but, once he came in on the harp I was fine, break and all, and folks really liked it. Thanks again, John) Anyway, the drop D tuning makes the bass work pretty easy while doing the pentatonic runs, which work fine around the D chord and make it possible to slide up to the major 3rd on the first string in Hard Times Blues. The slackness from the detuning allows bending of the minor 3rd at the first fret as well, in California Desert Blues. Well, I've just got bits and pieces so far. I could still be in left field.
All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
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Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2003, 04:12:26 PM »
Hi all,
Neat to see all the activity.  I'm pretty sure, John C., that both "Hard Times" and "California Desert" are in E standard, though tuned quite low, two whole steps, which gets you down to C.  I like both tunes really well, but am nuts about "Hard Times".  I agree, John D., that "California Desert" has a kind of Henry Townsend imprint.  I think the fact that Hardin has the strings so darn slack lets him get those really greasy, highly inflected bends, like Robert Wilkins on "Rolling Stone" or some of the Robert Pete Williams low-tuned G tuning stuff.     Keep going on the low-tuned dropped-D version you're working on, John C., I will be very interested to hear what you come up with.  I'm glad to hear that you played "New Lovin'" out with your harmonica playing friend.  Not hard to see why he would take to the tune.
I listened to the two Lane Hardin tunes today for the first time in a while.  I actually have them on a Mamlish St. Louis anthology.  Are any of you familiar with that label?  It was started by a collector named Don Kent, and generally followed the regional anthology approach of the Nick Perls-era Yazoo.  They were wonderful records, and Kent confined his tune selection to songs that had not already been re-issued by Yazoo and Origin Jazz Library, so it tended to be exceptionally rare stuff.  I lucked into the major portion of the catalog.  I'll post the titles here sometime.  They're really interesting.  Hope all of you are doing fine.  Good to hear that the Yazoo St. Louis anthologies made it into the CD era, Frank, even if they're out of print now.  Who knows, they might show up on Ebay, or could be posted as an Amazon wish.  
All best,
John      

Offline waxwing

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #9 on: December 13, 2003, 10:19:47 AM »
Hey JohnM,
Well, as soon as I read your post, I remembered you saying that pentatonic lick in the treble was a good indicator that the chord forms were in E. I guess I just couldn't get myself to hear it that low. I'm learnin', tho'. I'll keep working on ''Desert'' in Drop D, assuming you're gonna do ''Hard Times''. You're right, tho' I can't really get the expressiveness of his bends at the first fret. Now you've got me going back to some of the Tim Wilkins songs from your vid that I haven't played in a while, particularly ''Jailhouse'' and ''Fallin' Down''. Great stuff.
All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
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Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #10 on: December 14, 2003, 09:52:28 AM »
Hi John C.,
Good to hear you're going back to some Wilkins songs.  He's a particular favorite of mine, and has some great tunes I have yet to figure out, in particular "Nashville Stonewall".  
Re re-casting Lane Hardin's "Desert" in dropped D, you might find bends you prefer to the first fret of the first string at the fifth or sixth fret of the second string.  The second string is a bit looser there and a bit more bend-friendly.  I think doing songs in positions different from those in which they were originally played often yields really interesting results.  Or you can just take a song type and play it in a tuning/position in which you seldom hear it.  Why don't you ever hear someone do an 8-bar blues in C?  I don't know, but it's there to be done.  Take care.
all best,
John    

Offline Rivers

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #11 on: December 16, 2003, 11:03:20 PM »
Alvin Hart got me totally hooked on early Henry Townsend during one class. I like the way Henry capoes up 3 on the National in open D tuning and plugs away, deep dark modal blues. It's eerie hearing it coming down through the years.

Often the IVs and Vs are just implied with a lick over the top. Sounds more Delta than Delta to me. My faves are Sick With The Blues and Henry's Worried Blues.

I agree with you, both Yazoo St Louis CD comps get a lot of spin time at my house.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #12 on: January 06, 2004, 12:59:20 PM »
Hi all,
This is not so much a reply as a "heads up", I guess.  The last four days or so, I've been engrossed in figuring out Lane Hardin's "Hard Time Blues".  Yesterday afternoon I taped a lesson on it, and mailed it off to John D. this morning, so it should appear on the Weenie site reasonably soon.  I am really excited about this song and would rate it among my very favorite ones I've ever figured out.  It is in the "Cairo Blues" family, but with a lot of its own distinctive touches.  Anyhow, it is on the way.
All best,
John

Offline Slack

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2004, 08:14:40 PM »
Here is "Hard Time Blues" to keep you tided over until I get the lesson processed.? Absolutely beautiful.

Hard Time Blues MP3 - Lane Hardin

Cheers,
JohnD
« Last Edit: April 10, 2005, 09:37:46 PM by Johnm »

Offline Slack

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #14 on: January 09, 2004, 09:12:11 AM »
OK, the new lesson has been posted.? I keep thinking I have this tune in my collection but cannot find it - so I ordered the "Hard Times Come Again No More, Vol. 1" Yazoo compilation.

After listening to the tune a few times, I think that it has? to be one of the prettiest turn arounds I've heard... seems prefect in the context of the song.?I wonder how old Lane Hardin was when this was recorded - he sounds like an old man, but that may be just because of his wavering vocal style, hard to tell.? What incredibly solid playing, his guitar has so much sustain that I think it must be a resonator..??

cheers,
JohnD
« Last Edit: April 10, 2005, 09:40:01 PM by Johnm »

Offline waxwing

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #15 on: January 09, 2004, 01:18:33 PM »
Good work John M., and John D. for getting it posted. I'll probably start working on it in a couple weeks, and I'll let you know how it sounds on the Style O. I'm practicing up this week for my monthly Third Thursday and then a weekend workshop with Woody Mann and Mary Flowers. I'm looking forward to connecting with our new PT faculty member, both a fine picker and, I hear, she plays a particularly nice L-00. You're right about that great turnaround, Slack. I guess we won't have much of a lyric fest on this one as Lane is pretty clear, eh?
Well, I'm really starting to look forward to playing with everyone this summer, now that we're in the new year.
All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
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Offline Buzz

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #16 on: January 19, 2004, 08:45:48 PM »
Yo! Slack! Heah I is!

Just bought the Buddy Moss, I've tried 3 times , even with reboot, and "Buy" window won't let me buy Hard Times lesson! HELP!

I have 2 St Louis Blues CDs that are great to listen to:
1. Wolf Records: WSE110CD: St. Louis Blues:Henry Townsend, Henry Spaulding/ Charley Jordan. 2 cuts by Spaulding: Cairo Blues and Biddle Street Blues, 13 cuts by Townsend, 8 by Jordan, including Big Four and Keep It Clean, which I think is a real hoot. Makes me smile when I hear it. Would like to play it, and jam with someone on a washboard and ukelele.

2. Yazoo:1030= St. Louis Blues 1929-1935: The Depression.:Townsend's Sick with the Blues, Mistreated Blues, Poor Man Blues, Henry's Worried BLues. Also has duplicate Jordans, Big Four and Kepp it Clean, but has also:
Ho Henry Brown's Preacher's Blues, Titanic Blues, Georgia Boyd's Never Mind Blues, Peetie Wheatstraw's Sleepless Night Blues, Joe Stone's Back Door Blues. 14 cuts in all.

Ciao!
Miller

Do good, be nice, eat well, smile, treat the ladies well, and ignore all news reports--which  can't be believed anyway,

Buzz

Offline lindy

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #17 on: January 22, 2004, 11:34:55 AM »

I may be posting something that most of you already know about, but there's a site called St. Louis Blues-dot-net that has the following two pages:

Lots of pictures of Henry Townsend's 94th birthday party last October; several pics of Alvin Youngblood Hart included:

http://stlblues.net/henry_94.htm

Here's an interview conducted before Henry's 92nd birthday:

http://www.stlblues.net/henryinterview.htm

Enjoy!

Lindy

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #18 on: January 25, 2004, 12:55:22 PM »
Hi Lindy,
Thanks for the links on Henry's birthday party and the interview with him.  The interview was fascinating, especially the part where he said he ad libs everything--amazing!  I remember when he was at Port Townsend the first year he said that he did not know a single song as a set piece, that he would play the same way every time with the same lyrics.  The ad-libbing may also go toward explaining how great a lot of his lyrics are, including those on his recent recordings.  He is a thoughtful, philosophical sort of guy, and he has the rhythms and language of blues phrasing so well internalized that he can make up great lyrics on the spot.  Not a bad way to go if you can swing it . . . .
All best,
John

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #19 on: September 22, 2005, 08:43:25 AM »
Hi all,
Last week I read a book that some of you may want to check out if you have an interest in St. Louis blues in the Pre-War and immediate Post-War periods.  It is "A Blues Life", by Henry Townsend as told to Bill Greensmith, and it is published by University of Illinois Press, 145 pages.  It is a very quick and fascinating read, not only for its mention of various musicians, famous and less so, that Henry Townsend has encountered over the course of his life, but also for its depiction of times gone by and how the Black population coped with the injustice and violence they were often arbitrarily subjected to by the St. Louis police force of that era.

Henry Townsend has a great way of expressing himself and some wonderful turns of phrase.  He left home at the age of 9 (!) to avoid physical punishment for blowing snuff into the eyes of a younger cousin.  Of the episode, he says,
   "And so my daddy was gonna get me for that, and that's when I first left home.  You don't know how bad it hurts my feelings for me to think that somebody is gonna physically interfere with me, like hitting on me.  You don't know how bad it hurts me.  My heart jumps and tears in two like busting a string.  I can't stand that.  I don't dish it out and I can't stand it.  I've been whipped but it wasn't a pleasant thing for the man that whipped me--or me--I'll tell you that."
Speaking of his early days learning to play guitar, he says,
   "But now David [Pearchfield]  had got me kicked off to playing a couple of little things that indicate to me that I would learn to play the guitar someday.  It wasn't anything that I was really playing, but I had some zeal on the guitar."
Henry's thumbnail sketches of musicians, many not more than a sentence or two are priceless, and there is a tremendous temptation to quote him at length.  Here's a taste of one.
   "Lee Green really played the "44 Blues", but it was a different style from Roosevelt's, though.  He had his own style.  The truth is, personally I liked his style better than I did Roosevelt's, his little funny riffs and things--it amused me.  The similarities were there, but Roosevelt's was a little more bold than his, and I liked the little unbold."

It is sobering to read how close violence was to the surface at all times in the circumstances in which Henry lived, and indeed, he survived several attempts on his life  that were in deadly earnest, and was placed in the position of having to defend himself desperately.  His stint as the manager of a hotel exposed him to the seamier side of life, and reading about his experiences there you marvel at the life experience and ability to assess dangerous situations and respond appropriately that enabled him to make it through that period more or less unscathed.

The book is very well annotated, and in the acknowledgements thanks an anonymous source for making police records available for the project.  The information gleaned from them helps fill out the picture of the lives of the blues community in St. Louis in that period.

I don't know if the book is still available, but it was published recently, in 1999, so it may be.  It is worth tracking down.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #20 on: September 22, 2005, 12:18:18 PM »
Hi all,
Last week I read a book that some of you may want to check out if you have an interest in St. Louis blues in the Pre-War and immediate Post-War periods.? It is "A Blues Life", by Henry Townsend as told to Bill Greensmith, and it is published by University of Illinois Press, 145 pages.? It is a very quick and fascinating read, not only for its mention of various musicians, famous and less so, that Henry Townsend has encountered over the course of his life, but also for its depiction of times gone by and how the Black population coped with the injustice and violence they were often arbitrarily subjected to by the St. Louis police force of that era.
Henry Townsend has a great way of expressing himself and some wonderful turns of phrase.?
Indeed he does and it's a super book. It seems he's always had a way with words. Here is a snippett from an interview by Paul Oliver as published on p.106 of Screening The Blues (Cassell 1965). It was conducted in St. Louis in July 1960 when Townsend was working as a debt collector. His A1/Grade1 club explanation has always tickled me:

Then I joined up with Roosevelt Sykes and started playin' with his organization and from that to Walter Davis and I follered him through the entire course of his musical career. And then I was on my own again. So I work in these places in St Louis like at 14th and Cass. It's a fairly decent tavern, and I guess the capacity is about two-three hundred people?not to be seated of course, that's standin' room. And they have a small band in there and they have every week-end, Friday, Saturday and they do have Sundays, and it's I could say a Grade 1 place. It's not A1 but Grade 1. And now they have a decent crowd there, each week-end. Of course through the week you know how it go, people is workin' so they don't have too much of a crowd. And other places that I worked such as the Bolo Club and so on?that's a rental hall: it's for different organizations that have clubs and so forth and I have been booked by Masonics and other local organizations and well one or two times I was at the Western Waiters Club. An A 1 place it is. It's fireproof and everything, well?it's one of the outstanding clubs for coloured in the city of St Louis.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #21 on: September 22, 2005, 12:30:24 PM »
Quote
Indeed he does and it's a super book. It seems he's always had a way with words. Here is a snippett from an interview by Paul Oliver as published on p.106 of Screening The Blues (Cassell 1965). It was conducted in St. Louis in July 1960
Sorry, for the life of me can't think why I wrote Screening The Blues - meant Conversation With The Blues.
(Admin question from a newbie please - how does one edit after having posted? Or doesn't one?)

Offline dj

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #22 on: September 22, 2005, 01:27:34 PM »
John M,

   Thanks for reviving a great thread.  I've been driving around for the last few weeks with the St Louis Country Blues, Backwoods Blues, Volume 1 of Charlie Jordan, and Blind Teddy Darby CDs in the car while trying to learn to play Lane Hardin's Hard Time Blues (from your online lesson), some Charlie Jordan, and, most recently Henry Spaulding's Cairo Blues, and for the first time have begun thinking of St Louis Blues as a genre and not just a collection of different artists. 

   I've been rereading Henry Townsend's book as an accompaniment to my listening, and I must say I've been pretty impressed with it.  I love his description of Walter Davis's playing.  In your original post in this thread, you said :

Quote
Another quality encountered in some of the St. Louis blues is an expanded and sometimes contracted harmonic sense.  On the expanded side, you have Walter Davis, who was utterly distinctive...

Here's what Henry Townsend has to say about Davis:

"He crosses the tonic and I stay direct on the tonic.  Walter used G, B, and D - that's his chords for G, G is the tonic.  I use G, B, and D in another form, same key but mine is up.  His D is lower than the G.  He also added a C to his."

And Slack had this to say about Lane Hardin:

Quote
he sounds like an old man, but that may be just because of his wavering vocal style

According to Townsend, "Lane could have been slightly older than me, but not by much," which would put him in his mid to late 20s when he recorded.

By the way, the book is still in print.

And Bunker Hill:  At the top right of your post there's a button marked Modify.  Click that to edit your message.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2005, 01:36:59 PM by dj »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #23 on: September 22, 2005, 02:52:35 PM »
I'm really glad to see the enthusiasm for St. Louis blues in general,? and Henry Townsend in particular, Bunker Hill and David, and you're right, Bunker Hill, the Grade 1/A-1 distinction is rich.? Honestly, Henry is so interesting and thoughtful a speaker that you can practically quote him at random and be perfectly entertained.? He is also candid enough to relate stories that don't always show himself in the best possible light, a very rare trait!?
I should mention, too, for folks who may have missed it, that a very strong CD of Henry was released recently on Bob West's Arcola label.? I posted a review of it in the Reviews section of the Forum.? If you are a serious fan of country blues, you'll want to have the CD.? It is excellent.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: September 22, 2005, 11:24:15 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #24 on: September 23, 2005, 09:09:38 AM »
Hi all,
Bunker Hill and Stefan, thanks for the links to the Teddy Darby and Henry Townsend discographies.  I've seen Henry's discography there before, but I had never seen Teddy Darby's.  Is that a recent addition to the site, Stefan?  You are right, Bunker Hill, it is quite interesting.  I was shocked to see the unreleased Testament recordings from 1960 shown there--I had no idea he had recorded anything that late.  Does anyone know the current disposition of those recordings?  I assume they were done by Pete Welding, who is now deceased.  If the performances are of a caliber that justifies it, it would be wonderful to have those recordings issued by somebody.  I'd be grateful for any information on the recordings made at that session.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #25 on: September 23, 2005, 10:45:57 AM »
Hi all,
Bunker Hill and Stefan, thanks for the links to the Teddy Darby and Henry Townsend discographies.? I've seen Henry's discography there before, but I had never seen Teddy Darby's.? Is that a recent addition to the site, Stefan?? You are right, Bunker Hill, it is quite interesting.? I was shocked to see the unreleased Testament recordings from 1960 shown there--I had no idea he had recorded anything that late.? Does anyone know the current disposition of those recordings?? I assume they were done by Pete Welding, who is now deceased.? If the performances are of a caliber that justifies it, it would be wonderful to have those recordings issued by somebody.? I'd be grateful for any information on the recordings made at that session.
All best,
Johnm
This will need a thumb through Blues Unlimited to confirm, but off the top of my head I think that Welding reported to BU in the mid-60s that the recording session with Darby (instigated by Big Joe Williams) was not suitable for release. I can't recall what reason he gave - technical quality or otherwise. I think he may have reiterated this when he wrote about Darby for Blues World magazine in 1970.
I'll see if I can hunt it down, but don't hold your breath! :)

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #26 on: December 30, 2005, 05:19:27 AM »
This has made me realize that I have read little about the St Louis blues scene and the artists based there. At least, not that I remember.-G- Can anyone recommend a book which might cover this area, say, in the manner that Bastin covers the Piedmont? Thanks.
Very poorly served in published form but can't speak for the internet. Bill Greensmith's biography of Henry Townsend is good for reminiscences of personalities and music scene. Apart from Harriet Ottenheimer's chapter "The Blues Tradition In St. Louis." (Black Music Research Journal (Fall 1989 p135-151) and another in Popular Music And Society (Summer 1990, 87-96) which examined prewar blues in St. Louis, that's about it. Unless one takes in to account the copious notes accompanying two Mamlish St Louis compilations and the biographical data as collected on Clifford Gibson by Steve Calt and published on the 1972 Yazoo LP sleeve.
Perhaps when Mike Rowe, Bill Greensmith and Steve Franz have finished compiling their 'Best of Blues Unlimited" tome the latter two St Louis residents may care to consider one about their city's blues scene. ;D

Offline waxwing

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #27 on: December 30, 2005, 10:42:51 AM »
Thanks Bunker. Perhaps I need to start making better use of the San Francisco Public Library.
All for now.
John C.
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Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #28 on: January 17, 2006, 11:26:57 AM »
Hi all,
I've been thinking of a couple of sort of mysterious St. Louis blues figures:  Oscar Carter and Hi Henry Brown.  Carter accompanied Roosevelt Sykes on some of his early recordings.  Based strictly on his sound, Henry Townsend identified him as Clifford Gibson, many years later, though Sykes himself insisted that Oscar Carter was a real player and not Clifford Gibson recording under a pseudonym. 
Hi Henry Brown, who recorded a number of duets with Charley Jordan, is also a mystery, primarily because Henry Townsend can not recall having ever seen or met him.  And at this stage of the game, Henry Townsend not being able to remember an early St. Louis blues musician automatically qualifies such a musician for "mystery" status, since there is practically no one else remaining from that generation who could identify such players. 
Does anyone know of any recorded appearances by Oscar Carter apart from those on which he backed Roosevelt Sykes?  And has any additional information every surfaced on Hi Henry Brown?
All best,
Johnm

Offline dj

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #29 on: January 17, 2006, 02:21:48 PM »
Oscar Carter recorded one title under his own name.  Deceitful Woman Blues, with Carter on vocal and guitar accompanied by Roosevelt Sykes on piano, was recorded on Friday June 14, 1929 at the same session as Carter's 4 accompaniments to Sykes.  The song was unissued.

It might be interesting to look at the 1930 census to see if we can find a record of either man.  I'll try to do that in the next few days.

Offline LB

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #30 on: January 18, 2006, 08:23:22 AM »
Johnm,

Very enjoyable topic and thread. An entirely new playground. I know absolutely nothing about these players but it sounds like a good direction. Thanks for the heads up and the information and all the other posts.

LB

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #31 on: March 10, 2006, 09:21:27 AM »
I've always listened to Lane Hardin's recorded songs and said "There's someone I wish had recorded more".  Well, maybe he did.  I just came across an online catalog description for Ace CDCHD 1057: "The Modern Downhome Blues Sessions, Volume 4", which reads in part:

"In around 1950 a group of artists sent in a batch of unlabelled acetates that were discovered at Modern in 1970. These recordings have remained a focal point for intense discussion ever since. Kent required names for the "Blues From The Deep South" LP, so Arkansas Johnny Todd and Leroy Simpson were invented for two sides released. This time around we hear all four performances including "Simpson's" unissued Bluebird Blues and the totally superb 13 Highway. His perfect diction and the intense double tempo guitar heard behind the voice always seemed to hint that he only sang, while several commentators noted that "Todd" sounded uncannily like Lane Hardin who recorded just two sides for Bluebird in 1935. While "Todd" performs very different hokum-styled pieces here, the guitar behind Simpson is identical to that heard on Hardin's mesmerising California Desert Blues (now available via a BMG reissue) which has a vocal that is clearly identical to our "Todd". Jim offers more evidence and insights but clearly "Todd" is Hardin while "Simpson" (still an unknown) is accompanied by Hardin."  ("Jim" is Jim O'Neal, who wrote the liner notes.)

I guess I'll have to start saving my pennies for this.   :)

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #32 on: March 10, 2006, 10:47:21 AM »
These recordings have remained a focal point for intense discussion ever since.
Just to muddy the waters somewhat, here is the first to kick off the debate concerning singers appearing on those two Kent LPs. It come from Blues Unlimited 112 (March/April 1975) which attempted to make a case for Pinetop Slim being Lane Hardin:

Pinetop Slim ? A Tentative Identification.
John Cowley
A singular performer, judging by recorded evidenced, Pinetop Slim ranks as one of the top post war 'country' blues enigmas. Frank Scott has reported that 'Pinetop Slim was discovered in 1949 by Joe Bihari. He was playing and singing on a street corner in Atlanta, Georgia and Joe took him to a radio station to record . . .' [sleeve notes to Blues From The Deep South, Kent (LP) 9004, 1969 ]. According to his discography in Blues Records (p. 379), Slim recorded seven titles at this session on Wednesday 23 February 1949. Of these seven titles, four - together with an unlisted one, Fast Life - are available on the Kent album. Interestingly this album has an alternate take of Applejack Boogie to the one issued on 78 (Colonial 106) and reissued on Country Blues Classics Vol. 2 [Blues Classics (LP) 6]. Alternate takes of other titles may therefore exist. In BU 73 (June 1970) Frank Scott stated that Slim had recorded ten titles at this session so Fast Life could be one of three undocumented titles or possibly Wonder If I'm Right Or Wrong mistitled.

On all his issued recordings, Slim plays the guitar using a very distinctive 'bottleneck' technique. In this instance, judging by other recordings I have heard on which the performer produces a similar 'bottleneck' sound (for example Reverend Jack Harp; Baby Tate) the slider he uses is probably the back edge of a knife or a like metal implement. As well as an easily distinguishable guitar technique Slim has a recognizably vibrant and occasionally guttural singing voice.

I have heard no other post war blues recordings by persons sounding remotely like Pinetop Slim (although this obviously does not mean that none exist). There is however one pre war blues artist who might well be either Slim himself or a close influence; that is Lane Hardin.

At a Chicago session for Bluebird on Sunday 28 July 1935, Hardin recorded two songs, Hard Time Blues and California Desert Blues. They were issued on Bluebird B 6242. A total of twenty six titles were cut at this session and some of the other participants, Walter Davis, Big Teddy Edwards, Pinetop and Milton Sparks are known to have come from St. Louis and it is conceivable that Hardin may have travelled with them. It is likely that he was a rambler, judging by the lyrics to his one reissued title California Desert Blues [Roots (LP) RL 319] which also suggest that he had memories of the First World War for they refer to the Hindenburg Line. Thus if Hardin had been an active participant in that war, by 1935 he would probably have been in his late thirties.

Aural comparison of California Desert Blues with Pinetop Slim's recordings of fourteen years later shows some resemblance between the two, for both Slim and Hardin have similar voices and guitar techniques. Differences that do exist could be accounted for by the fourteen year gap in recording dates. Certainly Slim's repertoire, which includes such pre-blues titles such as John Henry and Poor Boy Long Way From Home, suggests that he may have been just over fifty years old when he recorded - the age Hardin might have been in 1949.

Hardin's Hard Time Blues may provide further clues (can anyone supply a tape?), so too may Joe Bihari. He might remember Pinetop Slim's approximate age - for Slim was the first artist Joe recorded in the 'field'. There is also the matter of the tradition that Hardin (and Slim, if they are two different persons) represents. Are there any more performers who play 'bottleneck' guitar in this distinctive way and if so, do they come from a specific localized area? Whether or not Slim and Hardin are one and the same person, their blues recordings are definitely of a high quality.

Frank Scott suggests that Slim was an Atlanta bluesman but this seems improbable for he sounds unlike any known Atlanta stylist. He might however be from further south, from Alabama or Florida, those most undocumented of southern blues states.

There is no irrefutable evidence that Pinetop Slim is Lane Hardin, only the aural connections I have suggested so the subject is worth further investigation, if only to disprove my theory!

[30 years later his theory seems to have been finally disproved :) BH]
« Last Edit: March 10, 2006, 10:49:49 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #33 on: March 10, 2006, 01:11:08 PM »
Yes, I saw this CD in a store awhile back and didn't pick it up because I was already buying too many CDs. I meant to post about it, since I didn't recall anyone ever alluding to more recordings by Lane Hardin, but forgot. As I recall, the liner notes do identify Todd as Lane Hardin (the store I shop at has their CDs open for perusal, with the discs behind the counter). I don't remember exactly what they say, but there's no other reason for that information to be in my head.

(edited for confusion of names)
« Last Edit: March 10, 2006, 01:12:44 PM by uncle bud »

Offline blueshome

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #34 on: March 11, 2006, 04:32:16 AM »
I have this CD and the notes do make the link between Lane Hardin and Todd. I lent it to JMM at EBA Bluesweek last year and if my memory serves, he also felt it could be Hardin. On re-listening to the 30's recordings I have little doubt.


Phil

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #35 on: March 11, 2006, 11:35:58 AM »
Hi all,
As Phil says, he loaned me the CD at EBA Blues Week last summer.  As I recall, there were two cuts tentatively credited to Lane Hardin.  On one of the them, the guitar was so different from his two early recordings that I would be leery of identifying him as the player.  The other cut, though, sounded very much to be the same singer and player who had done "Hard Times" and "California Desert" several years down the line.  The singing, in particular, seemed unmistakeable.  Lane Hardin had a very unusual timbre to his voice, and this singer sounded exactly like him.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #36 on: September 15, 2008, 07:27:28 PM »
Hi all,
I have been listening a lot the last couple of days to a St. Louis bluesman who was new to me, though I'm sure some of you have heard of him before:  Arthur Weston.  I picked up his Testament Records CD, "Arthur Weston--Pea Vine Whistle", TCD6005, from Roots & Rhythm ( www.rootsandrhythm.com), and it is terrific.  The first eleven cuts, which feature Arthur singing and accompanying himself on guitar, solo, are by far the most interesting portion of the CD's 20 song (!) program.  On the remaining nine cuts, Arthur Weston is joined by Big Joe Williams on guitar and either George Robertson or Andrew Cauthen, both of whom are strong players, on harmonica.

Though little is known or presented about Arthur Weston in the biographical sense, based purely on his sound you would pretty much have to peg him as a transplanted Mississippian like Charley Jordan, Henry Townsend or J.D. Short.  In the solo portion of the CD's program, Arthur Weston plays four songs out of E position in standard tuning:  "Pea Vine Whistle", "Cryin' Won't Make Me Stay", "Stack O' Dollars" and "Gonna Tell You".  All of these tracks are excellent, but the middle two, in particular, are superlative.  Arthur Weston's sense of time was strong, distinctive and nuanced, and he was able to execute his ideas.  His "Stack O' Dollars" compares favorably with the best of E blues from any period, and that is saying something.  He sang in a raspy baritone with some strategic phlegm rattling around in there.  His "Gonna Tell You" opens with one of the all-time great "Huh?" taglines I have heard in the blues:
   I'm gonna tell you, baby, like the Dago told the Jew (2)
   You can't be my woman, Lord, and someone else's too
For the remainder of Arthur Weston's solo pieces, and the ensemble portion of the program, he plays in Spanish tuning.  He had some real variety in Spanish, playing "Poor Boy" in lap-style slide, "Pure Religion" in conventional slide, and conventional fretting on the other numbers.  He excelled at thumb-popping of his bass strings, and the solo portion of the program is beautifully recorded.  Arthur Weston was also particularly strong at phrasing an instrumental rendering of the melody right under his singing, something that's effective if done well, but hard to do really well.  His "Throw Your Arms Around Me" is a great boogie number, and the very strong "Indeed I Do" is a sort of re-working of "Someday Baby".
The remainder of the program, while perfectly fine, effaces the more distinctive aspects of Arthur Weston's music.  Part of the problem is that Big Joe Williams was such a strong player and rhythmic dynamo that he swept all else before him.  Probably the most exciting number in this later portion of the program is a delirious version of "Meet Me In The Bottom", in which Joe Williams' impulse to keep things moving along bumps into Arthur Weston's tendency to phrase his vocal long and behind the beat.  The result is a kind of  exciting and really fun shambles of a type that doesn't show up very often on records--more's the pity!
I really like Arthur Weston's music and would recommend it very strongly to anyone who likes players out of Mississippi who were in their sixties in the '60s.  Arthur Weston sounds sort of like the guy down the block from you that played music, if you lived in a Southern or Eastern city back then and were incredibly lucky.  And at a price of less than $10.00 for the CD from Roots & Rhythm, I feel like I got more than my money's worth halfway through my first time through the CD.
All best,
Johnm 
   
           
« Last Edit: September 15, 2008, 07:30:23 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #37 on: September 10, 2010, 08:34:42 AM »
Hi all,
I've been listening a lot to Arthur Weston lately, and I think his music is even stronger than I originally thought it to be.  His "Stack O' Dollars", is really spectacular, my favorite version of a song with other very strong versions by Charley Jordan and Sleepy John Estes.  I originally thought Arthur Weston's version was in E, standard tuning, but after more listening, it sounds more like cross-note tuning, for which there was certainly precedence in the playing of Henry Townsend.  Arthur Weston's time-keeping and the integration of his vocal with his accompaniment on "Stack O' Dollars" is about as good as it gets. 
Cross-note is a funny identification, for it is done, to a great extent, by noting  the absence, of a IV chord, or more particularly, a low root for the IV chord.  Since the lowest root for the IV chord in cross-note lives at the fifth fret of the sixth string, it is effectively taken out of the picture as a note that is practical to employ in the bass.
As noted on the previous post, Arthur Weston's CD on the Testament label, "Arthur Weston--Pea Vine Whistle" has been available in the past from www.rootsandrhythm.com, and if it is still available, it is definitely worth picking up.  It's one of the strongest country blues recordings from the '60s and '70s, I think.
All best,
Johnm   

Offline Michael Cardenas

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #38 on: November 29, 2010, 04:30:06 PM »
I only wish for all the sophistication St. Louis had in its sound that more players could have had gumption to take Arthur Weston's approach. On average I prefer the vocal style of the more popular St. Louis players, but Weston's guitar playing is Blues exemplar.
LISTEN TO BLUES MUSIC

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #39 on: February 07, 2014, 08:55:24 AM »
Hi all,
One thing that I've noticed about the players coming out of St. Louis and recording in the '20s and '30s is the absence of religious songs among their recorded works.  Henry Townsend, Clifford Gibson, Teddy Darby, Charley Jordan, Papa Eggshell, and Jaydee Short did not record a single religious song between them.  When you look at players from other areas, such a choice is much less common.  It would be interesting to know how it happened to turn out that way, and whether the choice not to record any religious songs reflected some mindset common to these St. Louis musicians or was just happenstance.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #40 on: December 22, 2016, 09:54:07 AM »
Hi all,
I have a recording personnel question for anyone who has a copy of D,G & R:  Which of the Sparks Brothers cuts had Henry Townsend playing guitar?  I'd appreciate that information from anyone who has it.  Thanks!
All best,
Johnm

Offline harry

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #41 on: December 22, 2016, 10:19:04 AM »
Tell Her About Me
Workhouse Blues
Grinder Blues
Every Day I Have The Blues
I Wake Up In The Morning
Got The Blues About My Baby
Ina Blues
Erie Train Blues

   

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #42 on: December 22, 2016, 11:14:42 AM »
Thanks, Harry!
All best,
Johnm