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He [Ted Bogan] was playing with picks that you put on your fingers and I didn't like that as an accompaniment, so I made him throw them away and I told him I would play the lead and he would play the accompaniment - Carl Martin on hooking up with Ted Bogan (Blues & Rhythm #218 Stompin' In Knox County)

Author Topic: Jesse James  (Read 3146 times)

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Offline dj

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Jesse James
« on: January 18, 2007, 03:11:31 PM »
A while back, in the thread on favorite singers, I posted that the pianist Jesse James was "a biographical cypher".  In response to a post on Tommie Bradley, Bunker hill mentioned Steven Tracey's book Going To Cincinnati.  I looked it up, and found a "used" (but apparently never touched) hardcover copy for $8.00.  I've only just started it, but it looks like a good book - lots of information on artists like Stovepipe Number 1 (Sam Jones)/David Crockett/King David's Jug Band and Kid Cole/Bob Coleman/Walter Coleman/The Cincinnati Jug Band.  There are also a few pages on Jesse James, and he's now a bit less of a biographical cipher.  Though it's not known where he was born, he was active in Cincinnati in the 1930s.  To quote Tracey:

"It isn't known whether Jesse James was his real name or not.  It was the only name Pigmeat Jarrett knew him by, but Pigmeat does not know the real names of many of his old musical acquaintances....  Although Karl Gert zur Heide collected some information that James lived in Memphis and worked and even broadcast out of Little Rock, Arkansas, Jarrett insisted that James, a "good fellow", stayed in Cincinnati on Fourth Street, moving to Kentucky around 1955.  In later years, James had trouble sitting, much less playing, because of bad hemorrhoids, but he could still play the last time Pigmeat saw him, over 30 years ago:

"Jesse James.  Me and him run together for a pretty good while...like I played here, he played there.  Now they get me up there next, on this Friday, I'll be up there and he'd be down here.  Now Saturday, he would be down here and I'd be up there.  They would change around like that, you know.  In different places.  And at McLemore's and in the Farm House, that was up - this was in Lockland.  This is up in the Farm House and down to John Tyson's, that's where the still was at.  You understand what I mean, make the moonshine, where you got all the moonshine at, you know.  If I tell you this, you won't believe it, but (they) clean the slop jars so, so if the law run in, they ain't gonna f**k with the slop jar.  Cause they'd think it's, you know.  But it's moonshine.

The interview with Jarret was conducted in 1988, so Jarret probably last saw James around 1958.

(And thanks for the tip, Bunker hill!)
         

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Jesse James
« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2007, 01:47:36 AM »
I was thumbing through the Routledge Encyclopedia Of The Blues and spotted pianist Bob Hall's entry for James which, in my humble estimation, is a fair appraisal:

JAMES, JESSE
b. Unknown
d. Unknown

Jesse James is a shadowy figure who recorded four sides for Decca in June 1936. He is also believed to be the pianist on three adjacent matrices by Walter Coleman, in which case he was probably involved in the Cincinnati blues scene. James was an exciting, if somewhat undisciplined, two-fisted barrelhouse pianist, with a hoarse, declamatory vocal style. He seems to have relied mostly on traditional material, as exemplified by his vigorous treatment of "Southern Casey Jones." In James's version, Jones is described unflatteringly as a "natural born Eastman" (someone who did not work or lived off a woman's earnings) and his wife appears only too willing to accept the compensation for his death and take another husband. The explicit "Sweet Patuni" was understandably not issued at the time, but surfaced many years later on a bootleg "party" record. On "Highway 61," also unissued, James is accompanied by an unknown jug player, who also participated in the subsequent Walter Coleman recordings. The legend that James was a convict, brought to the studio under guard for the session, and that he broke down before it was completed is wholly unsubstantiated. This fanciful story appears to have been based on the lyrics of "Lonesome Day Blues," which contain several references to prison life. The latter, which has an outstanding piano introduction and a walking octave bass accompaniment, also contains the line: "I've been to the Nation, 'cross the Territor (y)," apparently a reference to a Native American reservation. (page 503)

Offline Stefan Wirz

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Re: Jesse James
« Reply #2 on: August 12, 2007, 04:37:39 AM »
what about the following note in Goergen Antonsson's discography of one Earl Thomas: 'It is suggested on the cover to RST BD-2052 that Earl Thomas is the same artist as Jesse James' ?!? Any further proof for that assertion ('both' recorded for Decca in June 1936) - any counterevidence ?!?
Stefan

Offline dj

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Re: Jesse James
« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2007, 06:19:12 AM »
Vocally, Earl Thomas and Jesse James are two different people.  Was the suggestion that it it was James on piano backing Thomas?  To me, the pianist on Thomas's sides has a much lighter touch than James did. 

I think Chris Smith, in his notes to Document CD 5645, Piano Blues, Volume 6, put it very well:  "It has been suggested that Thomas is the Cincinnati pianist Jesse James, but surely this proposal cannot have been made with much conviction."
« Last Edit: August 12, 2007, 07:38:31 AM by dj »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Jesse James
« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2007, 07:28:08 AM »
Vocally, Earl Thomas and Jesse James are two different people.  Was the suggestion that it it was James on piano backing Thomas?  To me, the pianist on Thomas's sides has a much lighter touch than James did. 
What is actually written in the personnel on back sleeve is:

Earl Thomas (=Jesse James?), vcl/pno. Chicago, 24 June and 7 July 1936.

I seem to remember that whoever reviewed this 1989 LP for Blues & Rhythm amusingly ripped this theory to shreds using ears and logic. Much as you have done.

Offline Stefan Wirz

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Re: Jesse James
« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2007, 07:47:11 AM »
what learns me that ? (as we here in Germany say ;-): A question mark marks a question, doesn't it? It does indicate neither a 'suggestion' nor a 'theory', hence every 'shred-ripping' to me seems kind of superfluous ...
Stefan

Offline dj

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Re: Jesse James
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2007, 08:07:21 AM »
Stefan, forgive me, my German is very bad, but I think the (=Jesse James?) means "könnte er die gleiche Person wie Jesse James sein?", or in English "Might he be the same person as Jesse James?".  Which is a suggestion that Earl Thomas and Jesse James might be the same person.   

Offline dj

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Re: Jesse James
« Reply #7 on: August 12, 2007, 12:28:31 PM »
Quote
"I've been to the Nation, 'cross the Territor (y)," apparently a reference to a Native American reservation.

By the way, this is undoubtedly a reference to the Indian Territory, roughly the eastern half of present-day Oklahoma, which was colloquially known as the Indian Nation.  This became part of the Oklahoma Territory in 1890 and part of the state of Oklahoma in 1906.  For another usage, Woody Guthrie sang: "Way down yonder on the Indian Nation, riding my pony on the reservation, in the Oklahoma hills where I belong".     

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Jesse James
« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2012, 09:44:31 PM »
I thought I'd give this a bump given that Stefan has created a discography http://www.wirz.de/music/jamjefrm.htm

Offline JohnLeePimp

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Re: Jesse James
« Reply #9 on: January 05, 2012, 05:35:23 AM »
I don't get it... so is it believed that Jesse James was the singer on walter coleman's recordings? doesn't much sound like him to me
...so blue I shade a part of this town.

Offline dj

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Re: Jesse James
« Reply #10 on: January 05, 2012, 09:02:52 AM »
Not the singer.  Possibly the piano player, as he was a fellow Cincinnatian in the studio on the same day:  "Walter Coleman, voc, g; poss. Jesse James, p; unknown, jug" 

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Jesse James
« Reply #11 on: January 05, 2012, 12:21:52 PM »
The German EP notes contain the infamous tale of James being taken from jail still in his prison clothes to the Decca studio. This "information" was originally given to Paul Oliver by Sammy Price in 1960 who was a member of Decca's A&R staff in the 30s. I guess Price provided Oliver what he thought Oliver would like to hear.  >:D

 


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