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Honey, honey, do you think I'm a fool? Think I'm gonna quit you while the weather is cool? - Will Bennett, Railroad Bill

Author Topic: Willie Hatcher  (Read 2469 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Willie Hatcher
« on: June 06, 2006, 12:49:10 PM »
Did I hear someone say "who"?;D

For those who know of this mandolin player from either his 1938 Bluebird sessions with John Lee Williamson and Speckled Red or the three tracks on "Mandolin Blues" (Testament TCD6004) might find interest in this short piece by Pete Welding from Blues Unlimited 16 (October 1964):

Willie Hatcher was born on October 28, 1909 near Clarksdale, Mississippi. He spent his earliest years there, but his family moved to Arkansas in 1916 when his father was able to purchase some land. Later they moved again; this time to Wilson, Arkansas where Willie lived until 1925, at which time he moved to St. Louis and began working as a labourer. He married young, in 1927, at a time when he was working for a plant owned by the Fisher Body Co., making automobile bodies for Chevrolets. In the early days of his marriage he was living next door to a mandolinist, and it was from this man (Hatcher does not remember his name) that Willie absorbed the fundamentals of mandolin playing. Absorbed is the correct term, for as Willie tells it he received not a particle of instruction from this man, but rather merely observed him as he played his mandolin and noted the position of his fingers for the chords. He went down to a pawnshop at 18th and Franklin one day and bought a mandolin. He proceeded to teach himself the instrument. "I didn't even know how to tune it when I got it", he said. "But I watched where he put his fingers to make chords and I did the same thing and just turned on the strings until I got it sounding right to me".

"Let me tell you now", he stated, "l never had any instruction on the mandolin. I just learned it myself. You could put some music in front of me on a stand, and I just wouldn't be able to play it. Didn't have that kind of learning, and I want to tell you the truth of the matter. But when it came to the playing by ear; well I could do that". He paused, "I could hear somebody play something or hear a record; play it over two or three times, and I could pretty near get it like they played it. That's how I learned."

Within several years Hatcher had teamed up with George Smith, a skiffle washboard player, and the two played all over the St. Louis area in the 'thirties "What we'd do" said Willie, "was to have a different route every night. Monday we'd go North, Tuesday, South, Wednesday, West, Thursday, East. Just wander along going from one tavern to another, playing a few numbers. We'd make out all right. Of course on weekend nights it didn't matter too much where you'd play; there'd be plenty of money floating about then. Most everybody got paid at the end of the week."

Walter Davis was instrumental in getting Willie to record. The pianist-singer brought Hatcher with him to Aurora, Illinois, to record for Bluebird. Hatcher remembers recording "So Unkind" and "Mean To Me" with Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Lee McCoy backing him. Willie moved to Chicago in 1948, but was never too successful as a musician. He worked on Maxwell Street for a while with guitarist, One-Legged Sam, but soon lost interest in performing actively with so little chance of monetary reward. His mandolin has been in pawn for some time now.

Offline Richard

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Re: Willie Hatcher
« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2006, 01:50:34 PM »
Keep digging BH, I love these short bio's  :)
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline dj

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Re: Willie Hatcher
« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2006, 03:00:52 PM »
Thanks for filling in a little bit of St. Louis blues history. 

I used to think of St. Louis as being a backwater in the story of the blues.  The Weenie Forums and Juke have corrected that notion and turned the city's blues scene into a minor obsession with me.   :)

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Willie Hatcher
« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2006, 11:37:36 PM »
I used to think of St. Louis as being a backwater in the story of the blues. 
Oh it's not been that bad, just think of all those folk Paul Oliver interviewed in the summer of 1960 - Henry Brown, Henry Townsend, St Louis Jimmy, Mary Johnson, Edith Johnson to name but some. Who helped him locate all these? None other than a St Louis policeman named Charlie O'Brien! It was the same cop who a couple of years later tracked down Barrelhouse Buck (McFarlane) for Sam Charters.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Willie Hatcher
« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2006, 08:34:40 AM »
Speaking of obscure St. Louis backwater types, I've just discovered Papa Egg Shell, real name Lawrence Casey, on the  Rare Country Blues vol 4 disc from Document. Holy moly. Talk about a fellow we should have heard more from. He only has four sides, is an excellent guitar player and very good singer. His I'm Goin' Up the Country Part 1 and 2 is probably the best take on the Kansas City Blues theme I've heard. Very exciting snapped strings, spiffy guitar part. He's really good. I'm very surprised he wouldn't have been recorded more, because the talent is clear to anyone who's got ears. These four tracks are worth the price of the CD itself. I'm also surprised I've never heard any of this on any St. Louis compilation, particularly the guitar-keen Yazoo label. Maybe they've done something on their more recent Times Ain't Like They Used to Be discs.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Willie Hatcher
« Reply #5 on: June 09, 2006, 09:52:49 AM »
Speaking of obscure St. Louis backwater types, I've just discovered Papa Egg Shell, real name Lawrence Casey, on the  Rare Country Blues vol 4 disc from Document. Holy moly. Talk about a fellow we should have heard more from. He only has four sides, is an excellent guitar player and very good singer. His I'm Goin' Up the Country Part 1 and 2 is probably the best take on the Kansas City Blues theme I've heard. Very exciting snapped strings, spiffy guitar part. He's really good. I'm very surprised he wouldn't have been recorded more, because the talent is clear to anyone who's got ears. These four tracks are worth the price of the CD itself. I'm also surprised I've never heard any of this on any St. Louis compilation, particularly the guitar-keen Yazoo label. Maybe they've done something on their more recent Times Ain't Like They Used to Be discs.
When Paul Oliver spoke with and recorded Henry Brown in summer 1960 Papa Egg Shell came into the conversation:

Facing a recording machine and microphone after so many years was at first a disturbing experience for Henry Brown, whose last recordings had been made with Alice Moore a quarter of a century ago. He was anxious to record new items and he wanted to make a varied selection. We let him take his time whilst he worked out introductions and bass figures that he wished to use. Then, when he was satisfied he swung into a fast blues with confidence, pressed home a relentless boogie with a powerful left hand, or composed a long thoughtful slow blues.

The years have not affected his playing; the sombre bass patterns, the suspensions and the simple but moving treble passages are as fine as ever. I asked him about the title "Papa Slick Head". Henry laughed and said "That's the name of a feller used to play guitar round St. Louis." Making a guess on a theory I have held privately for a while I ventured "His name wasn't Lawrence Casey was it?" and surprised both Henry and myself when he admitted that it was. I had long thought that "Papa Egg-Shell" was probably a pseudonym for a bald headed man and the name of "Slick Head" almost certainly fitted the same description. Casey, it appears, was well-known in St. Louis in the early 'Thirties though he recorded little. "See here, he was with me on that Stompin' 'em down to the bricks record" Brown added. A long while ago when I last heard the disc I had noted that someone calls to the guitarist?in fact Brown calls to him? and refers to his "pickin'" on the instrument, a phrase which apparently led some past researcher to the conclusion that one "Pickens" was on guitar; and so it is printed in JD [Jazz Directory - BH]. Of Papa Egg-Shell in the post-war years Henry Brown knew nothing definite but had the idea that "he's still around I guess".
(Extracted from longer piece in Jazz Monthly, January 1961 p.13-14)

Offline Johnm

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Re: Willie Hatcher
« Reply #6 on: December 24, 2006, 04:34:25 PM »
Hi all,
I just picked up the Testament Mandolin Blues" CD Bunker Hill alluded to in the first post on this thread today, and have been enjoying it.  For his three tracks on it, Willie Hatcher is backed by John Lee Granderson on guitar.  Hatcher favors the key of G on the mandolin.  Unfortunately, the duo's very lively version of "Crawdad" ends too quickly with a fade, probably necessitated by some screw-up late on in the track.  The CD also has performances on mandolin by Yank Rachell, Carl Martin, Ted Bogan and Johnny Young.  Its number is Testament TCD 6004, and interested parties could probably get it from Roots & Rhythm, they seem to have a good line on Testament releases.
All best,
Johnm

 


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