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The famous Mother of the Blues doesn't want you to ever forget her-that's how much she loves her friends! So we put her picture on her latest record, 'Dream Blues.' On the other side is 'Lost Wandering Blues' by 'Ma.' Accompaniments by Pruitt Twins on those guitars that made Kansas City famous.... This is the first time, to our knowledge, that any artist's picture has ever appeared on a record. Paramount is always first with the features - Chicago Defender ad, 7 June 1924 for Ma Rainey's souvenir record

Author Topic: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304  (Read 7157 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« on: November 06, 2008, 11:49:47 PM »
Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304

Join The Army; Who?s Going Home With You; Boogie, Baby; Rufe?s Impromptu Rag: My Mother?s Grave Will Be Found; My Baby?s House; Be Glad When You?re Dead; Little Sally Jones; John Henry; Crow Jane; My Dog?s Blues; Old Hometown; The Sign of the Judgement

Some might question the point of reviewing an out-of-print CD, but I was introduced to this CD recently through the generosity of a fellow Weenie (thanks Gary) and was so impressed with Henry Johnson?s music that I thought it should be acknowledged, even on the chance that someone might have the good fortune to find the original album or one of the re-issues of it on CD. 

The album was recorded by Trix Records founder Pete Lowry in 1972, about two years prior to Henry ?Rufe? Johnson?s passing, at the relatively youthful age of 66.  Johnson was apparently recorded upon the recommendation of his friend, harmonica player Peg Leg Sam, who joins him for two numbers here.  Hearing the music on this CD makes me so thankful that Pete Lowry, much like George Mitchell in the same period, was not quite ready to assume that the country blues were dead, for the South Carolinian Henry Johnson was a major musical find, every bit in the class of such stellar country bluesmen first recorded in the LP era as Mance Lipscomb, John Jackson, Shirley Griffith and Bill Williams.

Johnson opens the program with ?Join the Army?, a churning blues in E standard with a dangerously catchy signature riff.  Johnson?s treatment of time is nothing short of spectacular, and is original to boot, as Lowry observes in the album?s liner notes.  Next up is ?Who?s Going Home With You?, a non-slide 16-bar blues in Vestapol, employing a melody more commonly know as ?Going Down The Road Feeling Bad? or ?Lonesome Road Blues? in Bluegrass circles.  ?Boogie, Baby?, for which Johnson is joined by the ebullient Peg Leg Sam, follows, and the energy with which Johnson keeps his 8-to-the-bar boogie bass in E going during the course of the almost four minute rendition has to be heard to be believed.  It is one of the only cuts I have ever heard in this style that sounds like a precursor to Del Rey?s boogie rave-ups. 

?Rufe?s Impromptu Rag?, an instrumental in C that was apparently improvised at Lowry?s request sounds like a combination of the hymn ?Where Can I Go But to the Lord? with ?Careless Love? along with a good bit of original musical connective tissue.  ?My Mother?s Grave Will Be Found? sounds like a song that Charlie Poole might have sung, and Johnson takes the novel approach of playing it with a slide in Vestapol at E, but in the key of B, so that his home position is a barre at the seventh fret.  The only other song in the style that I can readily recall that involves playing slide in a home key other than that of the open strings is Fred McMullen?s ?Wait And Listen?, which he played in Spanish with a slide, but in D. 

?My Baby?s Home? is a dark slow-medium tempo blues in E, with an especially strong vocal.  ?Be Glad When You?re Dead? finds Johnson playing a raggy accompaniment in D, standard tuning.  ?Little Sally Jones?, played in E, is a brilliant re-working of Blind Blake?s ?Low Down Loving Gal?, which Blake played in C.  This transposition of this Blake tune from Blake?s key of C to E reminds me of fellow Trix artist Willie Trice?s version of ?Diddie Wa Diddie?, played brilliantly and surprisingly in E.  I am not accustomed to hearing covers played of Blake tunes in which I prefer the more recent player?s time to Blake?s, but that is the case with Henry Johnson?s rendition of ?Little Sally Jones?. 

?John Henry? follows, played as per usual in Vestapol with a slide, but believe me, that is the only aspect of this rendition that is usual.  Henry Johnson does a hilariously entertaining, long and involved recitation on this song.  DJ alluded to it in the ?John Henry? thread earlier as being his favorite version of the song, and after hearing this rendition, I concur.  Henry Johnson cracks up laughing at the end of it, and you can see why--it?s just brilliant. 

?Crow Jane? follows, and is one of the high points of the program.  Johnson plays it for a full five minutes, and for an 8-bar blues, that is a long damn time.  Like Furry Lewis, John Hurt, Ishmon Bracey, Skip James and others, Henry Johnson likes to go long at the end of the form, thriving on a riff and playing it to his heart?s content.  In the course of the rendition, Johnson sings many verses I have never heard sung elsewhere, which is somewhat surprising for a rendition of such an evergreen.  A quality of his playing is strongly in evidence here that I also associate with the playing of Mance Lipscomb:  both players had such huge imaginations and bags of tricks that their renditions tended to continue changing from beginning to end, rather than being a loop of the same nifty pass through the form, over and over.  I don?t know that I could say that this is the best version of ?Crow Jane? I?ve ever heard, but I have no problem saying that it is my favorite. 

For ?My Dog?s Blues?, Johnson is once again joined by the irrepressible Peg Leg Sam, and here?s another case where Johnson sounds like he could keep coming up with different verses into the next millenium.  ?Old Hometown? is an up-tempo country song, played in G, and the program concludes with the very strong ?The Sign of the Judgement?, which bears no musical resemblance to Kid Prince Moore?s ?Sign of Judgement?.

This is a perfectly wonderful CD by a spectacular musician who had so much to offer, different approaches to playing, different kinds of material, strong singing, and a thrilling vitality to everything he did that just draws you in, as you hear the intelligence and strength of personality with which he shaped his renditions.  I?m very sorry that I missed this recording when it first came out, and more sorry yet that I never had an opportunity to see Henry Johnson play in person, but I am so glad and thankful that Pete Lowry took the time and made the effort to document Henry Johnson?s music.  We can wish that Henry Johnson?s music was documented to the extent that Mance Lipscomb?s music was, album after album, but it?s not going to happen , and you know what?  This one album is a hell of lot.

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: August 07, 2009, 08:54:07 AM by Johnm »

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2008, 02:16:48 AM »
Yes, this is a fine record and worth searching out.

I bought it on LP when it first came out and remember writing to Pete Lowry about the origins of the Blake track and the choice of instruments - in this instance I'm with you, John when it comes to resophonic instruments and feel a wooden-bodied guitar would have sounded better than the National.  Pete kindly wrote back to me, explaining the choice of guitar was Rufe's.

I subsequently got a copy of the reissue on CD from a magazine for review purposes and gave the LP to a friend.  On reflection, I think maybe I should have kept the LP and given him the CD (analog[ue] rules, OK).
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline dj

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2008, 03:26:59 AM »
Good review, John.

If I could only keep one record of country blues recorded after 1960, I think "The Union County Flash!" would be it.  It's too bad Henry Johnson wasn't discovered 10 years earlier.  If he'd made the 60s coffehouse/festival circuit, he would have been a star.

 

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2008, 06:46:43 AM »

Offline lindy

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #4 on: November 07, 2008, 07:21:52 AM »

This was the first "pure" acoustic/country blues LP I ever bought, creating the addict that I am today. I still find myself singing the refrain to Little Sally Jones when I'm mindlessly walking down the street or otherwise generally not paying attention: "That hateful lovin' gal of mine," which I have a stronger association with Johnson than with Blake. Henry being from South Carolina makes me wonder if he ever crossed paths with Pink Anderson, who spent his last years there. Would've been a powerful meeting. Thanks for the review, I was totally wrong about "My Mother's Grave," but that's not unusual.

Lindy

Offline doctorpep

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2008, 03:55:52 PM »
This is my favorite Trix disc! I really enjoy "John Henry" and "Crow Jane", as they truly show that even the most often-covered Blues songs remain originals in the hands of great men (and women) who play(ed) Blues.
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

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Offline oddenda

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #6 on: November 07, 2008, 07:19:05 PM »
Campbell followers -

         VINDICATION AT LAST!! I feel better after that. As Bruce Bastin wrote to me last week, Henry "Rufe" Johnson was "perhaps the finest acoustic guitarist I ever heard/saw". I cannot disagree with that. He was a marvel - played guitar, Hawai'ian guitar, piano, harmonica, banjo, and probably some other things that we didn't find out about. I never heard his banjo playing, but apparently it was as good as his guitar playing - it happened when he was with Danny McLean, and Bastin... he grabbed Danny's banjo, saying "I used to play one of those!" He then demonstrated, put it down, and picked up wherever they had left off, leaving Bruce and Danny with their jaws in their respective laps! One thing not commented upon is that he had a fantastic voice... one of the best; the closest I came to one like that was John Cephas (also a great picker), or Tarheel Slim (as a singer).

          I recorded him in some depth at his house in Union, SC, or at Peg Lag Sam's in Jonesville, before his death: There are also concert tapes, including a small one where he plays piano, and also harp (stuck in his mouth, like Harmonica Frank) w. his guitar. Rufe was a marvel and I was EXTREMELY fortunate to have known and recorded him. More later.

Peter B.
« Last Edit: November 07, 2008, 08:18:46 PM by oddenda »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2008, 09:01:17 PM »
Thanks for your post, Pete, and I meant everything I said about Henry Johnson--wow!  He really was sensational, and you're right, I didn't give his vocals enough emphasis in the review.  What a thrill it must have been to hear him for the first time and to realize what a special musician he was.  In my opinion, this CD should never be out of print--it is a crucial document of one of the great singers and players in the style.  I would be very interested to know what else you recorded by Henry Johnson.  I will send you a personal message to pursue this further.
All best,
Johnm 

Offline doctorpep

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #8 on: November 07, 2008, 11:34:17 PM »
Don't worry about not being able to obtain the cd! I bought the disc 6 months ago through an independent seller on Amazon.com. You can get the cd for under four bucks via Amazon!
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

http://www.hardluckchild.blogspot.com/

Offline oddenda

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #9 on: November 08, 2008, 02:35:33 AM »
pep -

          And I don't get nothing! Such is life. Price and value are not equilibrated, are they? You show immaculate taste in your choice of favorite Trix release: While I cannot choose between my "children", it has been one of which I'm most proud. His "John Henry" is a breath of fresh air and is the only version I ever released [and I have MANY on tape! EVERYbody knew it.] - it also seriously nailed Alan Lomax to his chair (as did "Peg's Fox Chase"; direct quote on that one - "My god, he's better than Sonny Boy Terry"), not something to ignore. He was hard to impress. The third thing that did so that I played him was a Savoy LP of Rev. C.J. Johnson... a trifecta!

John -

          Rufe was a monster, in a nice way. I only used one cut ("Little Sally Jones") from the session he did with my Gibson SJ because he became slightly out-of-tune; there may be some from the "little" concert. While my ear was good, I missed it in the excitement of his creating. Possibly today's Pro Tools technology can tweak that. There's more stuff in storage. The little concert I taped preceded the "fabled" Chapel Hill three-day extravaganza - it was just Willie Trice, Peg Leg Sam, and Rufe - by three to four months. Look forward to hearing from you.

Lindy -

          You sure got lucky first time out of the box... certainly the cover art could have been more "grabby"! To the best of my knowledge he never played with Pink, although he may have heard him in a medicine show. Rufe never left Union County until Bruce and I gathered him up. Recordings, concerts, club gigs... he had a grand time.

dj -

          In the time remaining, he was a star. He and Sam did radio commercials for a seller of used trailers/caravans in Union! Gigs at The Endangered Species, a small club near Chapel Hill (so did Guitar Shorty, and Willie Trice) - and the two concerts. His death (obviously) precluded him going further afield, but he would have if things had been different. I imagined he and Peg as a dynamite duo travelling around when Rufe retired from his job at the Union Co. hospital, not knowing that that job locale was what kept him alive for as long as he managed. By then he was ready, but; he wasn't in the 30s when the Stapleton Brothers (an OTM group ) tried to get him to go along to one of their recording sessions!

pp -

          Blame Fuller for the popularity of the National - at least mine sounds MUCH more mellow than most, and records beautifully... as does the SJ Gibson (see "what guitars..." entry). Still have them both here in Oz... all others in storage, including an old J-50 Gibson in need of some repair. His was, I think, a Silvertone electric... played it through my old Fender Princeton amp. Since I did all my own engineering with limited technological abilities, there was no compression on my LP master tapes, so they were full range; made for good CD masters, in fact!

May the farce be with you all -

     Peter B.
« Last Edit: November 10, 2008, 08:41:33 PM by oddenda »

Offline NotRevGDavis

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #10 on: November 12, 2008, 08:23:05 PM »
When I was searching for Henry Johnson for John I found two unopened cd's. I have had the disc for a few years but I'm always searching for Trix stuff so others can enjoy.
I don't know a fair way to give it away so I figured since I'm going to be in South Carolina until Sunday PM me if you're interested and I'll figure out a fair way to give it out when I get home, and, I'll have a data base for future finds.
I refuse to accept payment I'm just trying to spread the music.
Got the name, still workin' on the licks!

Offline doctorpep

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #11 on: November 13, 2008, 07:22:35 PM »
That's very generous of you! Somebody go and get that disc! =)

Is "Sally Jones" related to Bo Carter's "My Baby" at all? I just heard the Carter song and something about the two recordings sounds similar, though I don't know what exactly it is. Thanks.
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

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Offline frankie

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #12 on: November 14, 2008, 06:36:38 PM »
?My Mother?s Grave Will Be Found? sounds like a song that Charlie Poole might have sung

Does anyone else hear a similarity between "My Mother's Grave Will Be Found" and Booker White's "Poor Boy?"

Offline oddenda

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #13 on: November 17, 2008, 02:19:56 AM »
Folks -

          Rufe and Sam enjoyed their fifteen minutes of fame greatly. It was Sam who told me that Henry's kidneys failed and he swelled up horribly before he died. Apparently he'd had serious medical problems in the past - the fact that he worked at Union Co. Hospital enabled him to be carried to the ER quickly whenever he collapsed at work! Without that buffer, I (and we) would never have heard him. After Baby Tate died in the summer of 1972, Bruce and I sought out Peg Leg Sam at his home in Jonesville, SC. He told us of a good guitar player from Union - we all went down there to find him. First stop was the hospital, but with no luck; Sam's request for Rufe Johnson was often mis-heard as "Ruth" and it became obvious that such a motley trio as we were being looked upon with suspicion. So off we went to the local Black barber shop where Henry often went after work - he had not arrived that day, so we waited. Eventually he showed and I handed him my somewhat beat-up "truck" guitar (a Gibson LG-1 - see "Guitars" thread under The Unwound Third below). Rufe ran off a few runs, played a few tunes, and we knew then and there that we had hit pay-dirt! The rest is history... and as I tend to say, he was a lovely man, too (actually most were, except Buddy Moss).

yrs,
     Peter B.

johnm... still waiting to hear from you
« Last Edit: November 17, 2008, 04:42:28 AM by oddenda »

Offline Lignite

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Re: Henry Johnson/The Union County Flash!--Trix 3304
« Reply #14 on: November 17, 2008, 08:00:02 PM »
I was lucky enough to be enrolled at The University Of North Carolina in the early 1970s and began my first public performances at a small basement bar in Chapel Hill called The Endangered Species that featured acoustic music five nights a week. Bruce Bastin was also enrolled at the time getting his graduate degree in folklore and was bringing all of his, Pete Lowry's and Danny McLean's blues discoveries to town for public performances on a fairly regular basis. On any given night I could walk down to The Species and catch Henry Johnson, Peg Leg Sam or Guitar Shorty playing for a small appreciative (often noisy) audience where the musicians were paid by passing the hat. The Henry Johnson shows were always a special treat and one night they even had him teamed with Peg Leg Sam performing as a duo. I remember Guitar Shorty stumbling off the stage at the end of his show to wild applause proclaiming loudly "Guitar Shorty put on a good show for you, didn't he?!!!" Those were really good old days. We all kind of took it for granted and thought they would last forever not realizing how special and short lived they would really be.
Lightnin'

 


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