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My motto is; if you don't hit some 'wrong' notes once in a while you're not trying hard enough - Mitch Holder on playing live, Interviews With The Jazz Greats

Author Topic: Montana Taylor  (Read 2568 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Montana Taylor
« on: June 22, 2007, 12:36:30 PM »
In March Uncle Bud posted a list of Document CDs recently back in stock. One of which was:

Montana Taylor DOCD-5053
Midwestern piano blues and boogie, unsurpassed in strength and beauty.

As there seems to be rather more interest here for pianists than was apparent when I joined 18 months ago perhaps in light of the above the following might find interest. It's from Art Hodes's book "Selections From The Gutter" (Calif UP, 1977) and first published in Jazz Record 54, April 1947.

Rag Alley Blues
By Rudi Blesh

Last January my friend Jimmy Ernst wrote to Montana Taylor to inquire about the lost years (1928 to 1946) in the life of the great barrel house pianist, years in which his whereabouts and his fate were an unsolved mystery of the jazz world. Montana replied as follows

Dear Mr. Ernst:

Received your letter, was more than glad to hear from you. In my small way I am going to try and explain myself and my feelings to you, about "piano playing," and what I have done in the seventeen years I have not played. Started playing at the age of eighteen at and around Chicago and Indianapolis, for rent parties Played at Goosie Lees 'Rock House in Indianapolis for two dollars a night. Enjoyed it very much. I made my first recording in 1928 in Chicago, for the company Vocalion. It was "Detroit Rocks' and also "Montana Blues." Think I received a pretty rotten deal as I never got any royalties; me not knowing much about the recording business I did not get my just deserts. I became very discouraged and refused to play any more. In 1936 I came to Cleveland, just knocked about doing nothing. In the years 1942 and 1943, certain magazines carried my name and the names of my recordings.

Charlie Cow Cow Davenport had seen them and located me to give me the information. He told me about Rudi Blesh and how he wanted the original Barrel House Blues. In March, 1946, Cow Cow Davenport went, with myself, to Chicago and made a few more recordings.

Please give Art Hodes my regards and tell him to please get in touch with me. Once in a while I get a chance to play at a rent party, but very seldom.

Arthur "Montana" Taylor

The cryptic understatement of this letter tells ? more eloquently than a thousand words?of the tragic predicament that the creative folk and jazz artist has faced in America for the last twenty years. The men and women who gave the world the most significant and challenging musical development of this century were literally beaten down into oblivion during what might have been their most fruitful years.

Some (like Muggsy Spanier, Kid Ory and Art Hodes) fought on against the dollar sign that took the place of the clef sign in music. Credit that to sheer guts, for the fight looked hopeless until the last year or so. Others (like Bunk Johnson, Montana, Chippie Hill and Hociel Thomas) were no less courageous but they had only the weapon of passive resistance, the last right left to them, that of refusing to play or sing except in the way they knew to be right. Such a battle, however unequal, is never hopeless?the seeming accidents that have helped some of these great artists, looked at with perspective, are perhaps, not accidents at all.

It seemed an accident when Cow Cow told me (in December, 1945) of Montana's whereabouts. But it was no accident that Montana (from his early records) had been a bright legend of my musical life.

So I took the next train to Cleveland; went straight to Cow Cow's address on Scovill Avenue in the heart of that appalling slum district that says to you if you have ears ?Here is what you get in America if you?re black."

In a few minutes Montana came in. Short but strongly muscled and dark of skin, everything about him is quiet: his dress, his gliding way of walking, and his soft voice. His words are few and rather uncommunicative but all the time his presence spreads electrically throughout the room, a personal dynamism that I find impossible to describe. Sitting down without being asked, he began to play: "The Detroit Rocks" and "Indiana Avenue Stomp (he calls it 'Montana s Blues ). Something wonderful happened. The simple but tragically beautiful minor chords were saying something and in the compressed, instant revelation of great art I knew all about Montana Taylor?s lost years. None of the dates, none of the events, but the feel of that wasted time in Montana's own heart. Suddenly he began to sing:

Along about the break of day
Oh, baby, I said about the break of day
I felt the pillow where you used to lay . . .

Then, humming a few bars, he began to whistle the lonesome "long and short" of a far away train in the night: "I don't know where it's from; I don't know where it's going; but it's taking my baby away."

Turning on the stool he began to talk.

"I was born in 1903 in Butte, Montana ? that's where I got my name. My father had the Silver City Club there, a cabaret, and we lived in back. The gambling was upstairs.

"I was six or seven when we left and went to Chicago. In about a year we moved to Indianapolis. When I was about sixteen I began to play piano. There were two brothers, Tom and Phil Harding ? they could really play the blues. Each one had a piece and I learned it, like I learned from 'Funky Five' and 'Slick' and Jimmy Collins. All those boys played all around Indianapolis and Hammond. All the rest of the stuff I made up myself.

"It was about 1923 when I began to play for keeps. There was a dive ? corner of Indiana Avenue and Rag Alley in Indianapolis ? called The Hole in the Wall. I made my first money there. Then I began playing at rent parties, too, around Senate Avenue and on Blake Street.

"I was playing one day in a music store on Indiana Avenue when Guernsey walked in. He was the record company's talent scout and he signed me up. Then I went over to Chicago and recorded six numbers but two never got issued."

A few dollars for recording and then the depression came and the bottom dropped out of jazz music. Even Bessie Smith?s records scarcely sold. Seventeen lost years and Montana is in Chicago again, in a recording studio way up in the Opera House building. Montana doesn't want to rehearse very much. He seems impatient to record as if this were a ritual that would wipe out the dead past time.

So here's my chance to test my recording theories. A new sort of "balance" that is not the studio sort of thing that, after all, is only a convention to which we're accustomed. No, a liveness, a sense of "presence" that will make the player seem to be in the room with each one who plays his record. And, above all, the relaxation of playing as the artist feels it; get all the inspiration in and take a little mistake or two as a part of the real inventive process.

You test a little and then tell the engineers, "Take down everything that happens at 33 1/3 "And you go out into the studio with your pianist and let him play while you sit on a stool with a stop watch and signal when it's time for the last chorus. It's as simple as that?if you have a great artist.

You begin at 2:30 and at 3:05 Montana is through. You've cut seven masters on this one day, and the engineers come rushing out. Excited? They can't believe it happened, not after the three hour sessions they put in day after day with the swing bands to get one master, maybe.

But there they are, seven of them being played back while Montana sits alone with his head in his hands and just listens. Then you name the ones that just happened there with no names: the one that Montana hummed and whistled has to be called "In The Bottom"; a slow drag sounds to Montana "the way you feel", "'Fo' Day"; another is named "Rag Alley Drag" to commemorate Montana's first job.

So you have the records ? a few precious minutes of the great art of a man who ? given the chance ? could pour it out endlessly for all who would listen. That's something you do for posterity and for those who, today, have the time and the will to listen to soft, clipped tones, to rhythmic chords, so jubilant yet so deeply sad; to music that speaks ever so quietly something that we need very much to hear amidst the roar of machinery and the clamors of war or armed peace. You can pay Montana a little royalty now and then and hope that seventeen years shall have given the world enough time to catch up with a great artist of our day.
 

Offline dj

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Re: Montana Taylor
« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2007, 01:28:10 PM »
Thanks for that, Bunker Hill.  For some reason I didn't pick up the Montana Taylor disk when I was ordering a lot of the stuff that was newly back in stock.  I regret that now.  Though I suppose the only harm done is that I'll someday have to pay full price for it.   :)

 

Offline Johnm

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Re: Montana Taylor
« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2007, 11:55:49 PM »
Yes, I will echo dj's thanks, Bunker Hill.  That is an interesting piece.  It's always mysterious when artists have a long hiatus out of the public eye.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Montana Taylor
« Reply #3 on: June 23, 2007, 12:35:59 AM »
May also help add to MTJ3's list of published citations to that fellow Guernsey! ;D

Offline MTJ3

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Re: Montana Taylor
« Reply #4 on: June 23, 2007, 09:00:04 AM »
May also help add to MTJ3's list of published citations to that fellow Guernsey! ;D

Absolutely.  Thanks.  Karl Gert zur Heide's notes to the CD state that Guernsey "discovered" Taylor, but he does not give a specific source for that statement (although he does acknowledge Blesh's article), so for all I could tell the statement was mere hearsay or, er, uh, ahem, based on a statement by Champion Jack Dupree (who was also acknowledged in the notes).  It's great to get it directly from the source and to be able to make a correct or more accurate attribution on that index card.

I have mentioned to BH how ironic and frustrating it is that it is, as a number of us know, so infernally difficult for us to gain access to materials in periodicals such as Jazz Record, Jazz Monthly, [Fill in the blank] Blues, and Blues [fill in the blank] on this side of the pond.  Viewed in that context, BH's postings are especially to be prized.  On the other hand, there are some resources, and I have no excuse for not having picked up Hodes's book before now.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Montana Taylor
« Reply #5 on: June 23, 2007, 11:21:59 AM »
Thanks.  Karl Gert zur Heide's notes to the CD state that Guernsey "discovered" Taylor, but he does not give a specific source for that statement (although he does acknowledge Blesh's article), so for all I could tell the statement was mere hearsay or, er, uh, ahem, based on a statement by Champion Jack Dupree (who was also acknowledged in the notes).  It's great to get it directly from the source and to be able to make a correct or more accurate attribution on that index card.
Coincidently one the earliest published appreciations of CJD was in Jazz Record (issue 28, Sept 1947, p. 24) as follows:

Champion Jack Dupree
By Pete Kaufman

PIANO pounding, blues shouter Champion Jack Dupree, born in New Orleans, was raised in that same waif?s home that claimed Louis Armstrong for a year and a half. His first musical influence was a New Orleans piano player called Drive 'em Down. Jack used to follow Drive 'em Down around, singing the blues?while Drive 'em Down played. This was in 1922 and Jack was 12. Several years later Drive 'em Down got killed. Jack picked up his way of playing piano and after awhile he was playing the same stuff

Jack tried his hand at prize fighting for a number of years. That's where he picked up the nickname 'Champion'. But he got tired of getting knocked around and in 1940 'he turned to music as a profession, his last fight was in Indianapolis in 1939, in which he knocked out Battling Bozo in the tenth round.

His first professional engagement as a musician was at the Indianapolis Cotton Club. From there he drifted into New York and made his first records in 1941, on Okeh label. Among these was Cabbage Greens No. 1 (which Columbia is planning to reissue this autumn), Dupree Shake Dance, Cabbage Greens No. 2, Big Time Mama, Weedhead Woman, and Angola Blues. He next recorded on Joe Davis label, made an album of four records (Davis album No. 3), and a number of single records. He made one side for Asch, the 12 inch Too Evil To Cry.

Jack lists among his favorite records Looking The World Over by Memphis Minnie, Key to the Highway by Jazz Gillum, Andy Lou by Tampa Red, Heart Of Steel by Lonnie Johnson.

Big Bill and Tampa Red are two of his favorite blues singers, and Pete Johnson, Memphis Slim, and Blind John Davis are piano players he particularly admires. And he calls Brownie McGhee the best blues guitar player he has seen around.

Like a great majority of the blues artists, Jack never had a lesson in his life. He doesn't know one note from another on the piano. He claims there are only two different keys he knows?the black ones  and the white ones. But he can really pound those blues out, and that?s what counts.

[Don't you just love the Tampa song title "typo" for Anna Lou? I think the Lonnie title is probably meant to be Heart Of IRON - BH]

Offline dj

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Re: Montana Taylor
« Reply #6 on: June 23, 2007, 03:46:20 PM »
Quote
I have mentioned to BH how ironic and frustrating it is that it is, as a number of us know, so infernally difficult for us to gain access to materials in periodicals such as Jazz Record, Jazz Monthly, [Fill in the blank] Blues, and Blues [fill in the blank] on this side of the pond.

I think the problem is the same on both sides of the pond.  Articles printed in periodicals pretty much disappear the month after they're published, seldom to be seen again.  That's why we love Bunker Hill, his magazine collection, and his scanner so much.   :D

Offline Rivers

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Re: Montana Taylor
« Reply #7 on: June 23, 2007, 03:50:15 PM »
A big 'Amen' to that, and thanks BH for posting the original Montana piece which I found quite sad yet inspiring.
« Last Edit: June 23, 2007, 03:51:51 PM by Rivers »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Montana Taylor
« Reply #8 on: June 24, 2007, 01:21:05 AM »
I think the problem is the same on both sides of the pond.  Articles printed in periodicals pretty much disappear the month after they're published, seldom to be seen again.  That's why we love Bunker Hill, his magazine collection, and his scanner so much.  :D
Prior to the publication of Robert Ford's Blues Bibliography in 1999 locating such items was down to my "mind's eye", memory and hours of page turning. Now it's merely a matter of taking a book from the shelves and locating the artist/subject entry therein. I see from Amazon Com that the second edition of Robert's work was supposedly published on 20th, but I digress.

Offline dj

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Re: Montana Taylor
« Reply #9 on: June 24, 2007, 04:18:13 AM »
Quote
I see from Amazon Com that the second edition of Robert's work was supposedly published on 20th, but I digress.

A digression, but an important one.  Thanks for mentioning this!

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Montana Taylor
« Reply #10 on: June 24, 2007, 08:19:51 AM »
Quote
I see from Amazon Com that the second edition of Robert's work was supposedly published on 20th, but I digress.
A digression, but an important one.  Thanks for mentioning this!
Given that after a decade of work Robert never expected to find a publisher for the first one (then only a "brave" individual who probably lost out), it's astonishing that Routledge even considered the prospect of publishing a revision. I suspect that the price indicates a limited print run aimed at a library, rather than "retail", marketplace.

OK, let normal service resume.

 


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