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Gonna buy me a gun, a plane and a submarine. Gonna kill everybody that ever treated me mean - Barbecue Bob Hicks, Ease It To Me Blues 1928

Author Topic: Daddy Stovepipe  (Read 3396 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Daddy Stovepipe
« on: December 17, 2005, 10:54:44 AM »
I was searching for something particular in Blues Unlimited 9 (Feb. 1964) and chanced upon what follows which I guess must have been a belated obituary (mail by sea could take up to 6 weeks). I don't understand what all the business about How Long is driving at (perhaps one of those?"spiels") but it's a nice little vignette.

Daddy Stovepipe
Bob Koester
During the past thirty years, anyone spending a Sunday afternoon browsing through Chicago's Maxwell Street market ? the colourful open-air market where you can buy anything from a used razor blade to a set of theatre-size 35mm movie projectors ? probably saw and heard one of the oldest living blues guitarists ? Johnny Watson, or as we know him, Daddy Stovepipe.

Johnny claims to have moved to Chicago around the turn of the century, and says he was playing on the streets when he was asked to record for Vocalion, Gennet and Paramount in the mid 1920's. Relatively young bluesmen such as Big Joe Williams remember him from the late 30's. Watson called himself Daddy Stovepipe because of his habit of wearing formal attire, including a stovepipe hat. Few onlookers learned or remembered his real name.

Daddy had a spiel to go with each tune in his rather limited repertoire. Usually he would alternate between "that beautiful old Tennessee Waltz ? the song they used to ask me to play in the old barn-dance days", and "the tune they all come down here to hear me sing, that old Maxwell Street Boogie. I'm going to make me a record of that, and it'll sell me a million copies". Big Joe [Williams] could get Daddy to insert other songs, and one of the greatest I recall was his prototype version of "How Long Blues?How Long Has That Train Been Gone". Daddy recorded it in the 20's, several years before the Leroy Carr version, and, though it had a different tune from the Carr version, one can believe that it was indeed a prototype. It was certainly no less beautiful. Daddy seemed to shy away from the older blues, perhaps because they reminded him of his wife who died in a fire about 15 years ago, just a few feet from the spot near Peoria and Maxwell where Daddy could usually be found.

Little is known of Daddy's life before he came to Maxwell Street. His age had been 93 for at least five years now, and it's quite possible that he was older than that, judging by his looks and the remembrances of other blues men that "Daddy was an old man when I was a kid". He was born in Mobile, Alabama, and he once told me that he spent several years in Memphis, and his style seemed to reflect this. He recalled spending several years on The Rabbit Foot Minstrels' circuit before settling in Chicago.

Last year Daddy disappeared from the Maxwell Street sidewalks. The cops had cracked down on blues singing in the street, because some of the younger bluesmen were over eager in their soliciting of tips. He reappeared inexplicably as The Reverend Alfred Pitts, singer of spiritual and gospel songs.

In early November, 1963, Daddy entered Cook County Hospital and underwent surgery for a gall bladder ailment. On November 4, 1963, after the operation, one of the blues? most flamboyant characters passed away. His last recordings were made for Paul Oliver during his trip to the States in 1960. These were issued on a 77 Label LP in England. [actually Heritage LP 1004, see Stefan's Heritage discography - BH]

Offline Cambio

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Re: Daddy Stovepipe
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2005, 08:25:52 PM »
It's amazing to imagine some one as ancient sound as Daddy Stovepipe performing as recently as the early 1960's.  In the film "And This is Free", which is a snapshot of Maxwell Street in 1964, there are a couple of real old timers among the performers.  One of them is plays the harmonica and sings a little tune and the other hypnotizes a chicken.  I don't know if either of them are identified.
On a sidenote, my family is from the south side of Chicago and my grandparents used to frequent Maxwell St. (or Jew Town as it's known in Chicago) on the weekends.  My grandmother would always tell the story of a man who would remove corns, calluses, bunion etc. from peoples feet.  While this seems like a questionable practice in our modern time it seems like it was quite accepted down there.  The man in fact had a sheet of plywood to which he would nail some of his more impressive pieces of work.
Now all of what remained of the Maxwell St. Market is gone, taken over by the University of Chicago and high rent condominiums.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Daddy Stovepipe - in his own words
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2005, 12:22:04 PM »
For those interested here's a transcript of the brief? "speil" (to use Bob Koester's expression) he put onto tape for Don Hill in July 1960:

Now this is Daddy Stovepipe from Mobile, Alabama. My mother lived to 104 or five and papa lived to 103. They're all long-living families. I done got to 91 now. I'm the baby boy of the family. All of them dead but me. I learned to play guitar in Mobile, just the talent up. Can't read nor write, no education whatever. This is a talent I learned.

My brother was a musician. He played the harp and guitar but he wasn't playing as good as I. I was blowing the harp long before I learned how to play the guitar.

I left Mobile in 1900 and I came here following this World Fair. I played my way up, all 988 miles, in the 'car box' (railroad boxcar). They had the old hobos. They would steal a ride. When the freight train would stop they would take me out of the car box and carry me in the yard station and play for them yard fellows. The police and sheriff would be watching them. They fed us with the buckets. Them people brought them biscuits and eggs. They said, 'Lord, we ain' gonna let you go hungry.' Then they'd put me right back and they'd say, 'I'm carrying him on into Chicago.' I had my guitar, a big twelve string guitar. I play twelve string guitar better than I play a six.

I went to Galveston, Texas and went across (the border) with three more Mexicans and they loved my music so! They use to play bass violin and lead violin and guitar. Carried me over there and I'd never been over there! I got over there and they learned me how to play and I played it better than the boy with the lead violin. I can play Spanish music which is 'South of the Border,' 'Cielito Lindo': I play it and sings it.

I was with W.C. Handy in St. Louis. You see, I was there and I roomed at his house and I caught a whole lot of the stuff from him. His stuff - that's hard playing - that 'St. Louis Blues': 'I hate to see that evening sun go down...' Sometime white folks call on it out there and I play it. I don't go for many blues because it's too hard a work.

There was another man in St. Louis and they all say me and him must be twins. He plays a harp and a guitar too. His name was Freddie Spence. He was a pianist too. Oh, he's just like me with a harp and a guitar. He can't beat me and I can't beat him. We've been tested! We got fifty dollars a piece for buckin' at one another. I was drinking high powered whiskey then.

I played at the Worlds' Fair. I had a wonderful job there and then a boy blowed a trumpet: Oh, if I had him with me this evening!

Now I play on the streets, on Maxwell Street. Oh, I goes all over. They come after me in automobiles - the white folks - on every holiday. Then I got two more fellows that play with me and they're wonderful: Tommy Stewart and then this boy plays the washboard here. His wife got burnt up here...Eddie Hines.

I play them all, all that stuff. I got a thousand numbers. You know, there ain't no end to them. I play old Christian numbers. They got plenty Christians, black and white. That would sell more than them fox trots and blues would sell.

Oh, I've got blues but I don' like blues much. I don't like to play them. I got blues I made myself. Blues are like a man and his gal fell out, you know. He was worried and she was worried and they fell out. And they went back I play n but I don' care much about
blues. People don't call for that much now, at least where people. Them wineheads ain' got nothing to give you. The white folks, that's where your money is. Remember the 'alley'? That's were they keep them (the blues), in the alley all day. You get thirty cents out of them. You can play for them all day and you get thirty cents. That's all you're gonna get...and some more wine.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2005, 12:31:24 PM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Daddy Stovepipe
« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2012, 11:57:02 PM »
The date of Daddy Stovepipe's birth, 12-04-1867, in Eric's Blues Dates jumped out at me. I thought it might be a good excuse to remind us of him via this six year old topic.

Perhaps someone more technically adept than myself can add something from YouTube.

Offline JohnLeePimp

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Re: Daddy Stovepipe
« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2012, 04:07:42 AM »
...I take it he didn't make any records later on

here's a clip and song:





[attachment deleted by admin]
...so blue I shade a part of this town.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Daddy Stovepipe
« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2012, 04:13:37 AM »
Just the job. Thanks.

In answer to your question concerning later recordings, just a couple - here's the Stovepipe discography http://www.wirz.de/music/stovefrm.htm with one of the  YouTube at top of page - which wasn't there last time I looked (three years or so ago).
« Last Edit: April 12, 2012, 04:17:44 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Pan

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Re: Daddy Stovepipe
« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2012, 04:16:04 AM »
Perhaps someone more technically adept than myself can add something from YouTube.

At last I'm able to return a favor for Bunker Hill  :D

Here you go:

The wonderful "Sundown Blues" from 1924:



"The Spasm", with Mississippi Sarah, from 1935:



Cheers

Pan

Edited to add: I see the JohnLee beat me to it!  :)
« Last Edit: April 12, 2012, 04:17:32 AM by Pan »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Daddy Stovepipe
« Reply #7 on: April 12, 2012, 05:04:07 AM »
They are coming fast and furious, thanks.  :o

All I can do is provide the late Keith Briggs's 1993 booklet notes to the wonderful Document CD

Alabama is the "deep" south. By the 1920s it had been cotton country for longer than anybody alive could remember. It was also a retarded backwater slow in achieving the prosperity that came to other parts of the United States and this was reflected in the conditions experienced by it's large black population. Along with the Mississippi Delta it was an area where blacks often lived in the cultural isolation of small, often all-black, rural communities where the African influence remained strong. It had it's own blues tradition but this never saw the wide commercial exposure that was accorded to certain other strains before it became more-or-less submerged in the flood of recordings that took place with the economic revival and the attendant migrations to the cities which occurred as the century progressed.

Covington is a county in central south Alabama and it may well be the source of the name used by Bogus Ben Covington. He was almost certainly the same marl as the one known as Ben Curry but it seems unlikely that we'll ever be sure which, if either, was his real name. It is reported that Covington was actually born in Mississippi, probably in the area of Columbus, around 1900. He had his background in the world of the medicine show, where he was well-known for his rendition of the gospel parody "I Heard The Voice Of A Pork Chop", and the half-world of the streets, where, according to Big Joe Williams he earned the sobriquet "Bogus" by pretending to be blind while he begged for handouts. It is probable that Covington was also the mysterious Memphis Ben who recorded for Paramount in November 1928 without either of his two titles being issued. These titles were "Adam And Eve", and "Hot Dog". "Adam And Eve" was the flip-side of Covington's first recording, "Pork Chop", while a track titled "Hot Dog" was recorded by Ben Curry in 1932 and issued on Pm 13122 - but no copy of the disc has turned up as yet. Bogus Ben hoboed around a lot and his last known appearance was at the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago in 1934. It is reported, but not substantiated, that he died about a year later in Homer City, Pennsylvania.

The longer career, and life, of Johnny Watson, aka Daddy Stovepipe, makes him a much easier man to account for. He was born in Mobile on 12th April 1867 and died 96 years later, in Chicago, on 1 November 1963. Like Covington he found a niche for himself on the medicine show circuit where he appeared as a one-man band playing guitar, harmonica, jug and kazoo. He also worked the streets as he wandered around the south from city to city. Calculated from the above dates his age would have been around 57 by the time he came to record, with his wife Mississippi Sarah, for Gennett in 1924. In 1927 he recorded for them again, this time in the company of one "Whistling Pete", and saw the name Sunny Jim used on the Champion record label. Jimmy seems to have been a name he preferred to Johnny. Although some have suggested that he wore a stovepipe hat at one time, just exactly what the derivation of his nick-name "Daddy Stovepipe" may have been defies speculation. In his later years he was to be found busking at the famous Maxwell Street market in Chicago, sometimes working as a religious singer under the name Rev. Alfred Pitts. Paul Oliver saw him there in the early 1960s and described his eye-catching style of dress; caught up in the blues revival of those days Daddy Stovepipe made appearances before appreciative white audiences just prior to his death which was caused by bronchopneumonia.

The almost under-ground continuation of the string band tradition in Alabama was underlined by the final two recordings appearing on this disc. The Mobile Strugglers were recorded in 1949 and their work was issued on the obscure American Music label. Just who this record, "Memphis Blues", was aimed at in post-war Alabama remains a conumdrum. It would be fascinating to know how well it sold.



Offline jostber

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Re: Daddy Stovepipe
« Reply #8 on: March 11, 2014, 11:36:49 AM »
Was Daddy Stovepipe the earliest born(1867) blues artist to have recorded?

Offline LucyStag

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Re: Daddy Stovepipe
« Reply #9 on: December 02, 2014, 11:02:36 PM »
That is sure the earlier date of a blues birth for a singer I've ever seen.

"The Spasm" was the first track of a compilation I got some years ago. And I played it on my college radio show more than once. Great tune.

It's somehow strange to be able to enjoy a song that came out of someone born in 1867. Strange and awesome.


 


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