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Always have the guitar around and first thing in the morning when you wake up play that guitar - Reverend Gary Davis, advice to weenies

Author Topic: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend  (Read 2401 times)

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Offline banjochris

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Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« on: November 16, 2010, 09:16:11 PM »
This probably isn't exactly the right thread for this, but because of this thread I was revisiting some Henry Townsend tunes, so here goes. I don't know what the latest Dixon & Godrich has listed, but in the liner notes for the Document St. Louis Country Blues CD and on Stefan Wirz's discography, the personnel for Townsend's final pre-war session has Townsend and Robert Lee McCoy on guitars, Sonny Boy I on harp and unknown on piano. The four tunes are
Lose Your Man
All I've Got's Gone
A Ramblin' Man
Now I Stay Away

It occurred to me listening tonight, based solely on aural evidence, that the pianist is "44" Charley Taylor, who recorded with Ishman Bracey. Take a listen, especially to "All I've Got's Gone" and to Taylor's "Heavy Suitcase Blues," and see what you think.
Chris

Offline Rivers

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Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2010, 09:35:36 PM »
Just confirming it's still "Acc. unknown p." in the 4th edition of B&GR. I have Heavy Suitcase on a Yazoo piano comp, but none of those Henry tracks unfortunately so unable to compare.
« Last Edit: November 16, 2010, 09:40:34 PM by Rivers »

Offline dj

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Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #2 on: November 17, 2010, 04:31:37 AM »
Quote
It occurred to me listening tonight, based solely on aural evidence, that the pianist is "44" Charley Taylor

Interesting speculation, Chris.  The two pianists who were known to be in the studio in Aurora, Illinois on November 11, 1937 were Walter Davis (accompanying himself, with Henry Townsend on guitar, and probably accompanying Sonny Boy Williamson) and Black Bob (accompanying Washboard Sam).  Townsend and Robert Lee McCoy both recorded that day, accompanied by an unknown pianist.  

Listening to the music recorded that day, the pianist on the Townsend tracks doesn't really sound like either Walter Davis or Black Bob.  The pianist's left hand sounds like it could be Walter Davis in spots, especially in the way he handles the bar before a chord change.  But I can't off-hand think of any of his own records where Davis plays as many fast triplets with his right hand as the pianist does on the Townsend sides.  On the other hand, Black Bob, at least when he was playing with Washboard Sam that day, tended to do chords, 4 to the bar, in his left hand, which is not what Townsend's pianist is doing as I hear it.

Other pianists recording in and around Chicago in early November of that year were Georgia White, Peetie Wheatstraw, and Ollie Shepard.  I doubt Townsend's pianist is any of them.

Based purely on who was known to be in the recording studio, Walter Davis is the likeliest suspect for Townsend's pianist, but, based on aural evidence, I wouldn't be certain of that.  Does anyone else hear something in Townsend's records that would sound like Walter Davis?          
« Last Edit: November 17, 2010, 11:25:12 AM by dj »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2010, 11:05:30 AM »
Hi all,
I think the pianist on "All I Got's Gone" is Walter Davis, mostly because of the eccentricity of the treatment of blues harmony.  He plays the first verse as a one-chorder, sort of vaguely putting a IV chord bass in the 9th bar where the V chord usually shows up.  In the second verse, no V chord at all.  His left hand texture in the solo introduces a different element, is early to the IV chord, returns to the IV chord in the ninth bar and resolves early to the I.  The pianist on all of Henry's cuts from this session shows these kinds of changing interpretations of the songs' forms.
I remember reading a quote from Henry Townsend to the effect that when playing with Walter Davis, he (Henry) had to keep Walter oriented as to where he was in the form, because Walter didn't feel where the chord changes fell very dependably.  Depending on how individual a player's way of hearing and feeling the music is, riding herd on them may be a well-nigh impossible task, as these cuts show.  Sometimes you just have to hang on and assume everything will turn out okay in the end.
All best,
Johnm

Offline dj

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2010, 11:32:14 AM »
Good analysis, John.  Based on the same harmonic eccentricities, one would have to assume that the unknown pianist on Robert Lee McCoy's sides from that session was also Walter Davis.

Offline oddenda

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2010, 04:36:37 PM »
Could the pianist be Henry himself? He played!

pbl

Offline Johnm

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #6 on: November 17, 2010, 04:42:44 PM »
The only thing is that Henry is playing guitar on the cuts, Peter B.
All best,
Johnm

Offline banjochris

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #7 on: November 17, 2010, 09:03:00 PM »
It's interesting, because although the left hand, as John and dj both point out, does sound like Davis at times (although some of his usual riffs I don't hear), the right hand to me on these tunes doesn't sound anything like him to me. Going back and listening to Taylor, he doesn't have the harmonic ambiguity going on in the bass on his solo sides, so it probably isn't him, but the riffs and mid-verse turnarounds esp. in "All I've Got's Gone" are very reminiscent of him. I have Vol. 5 and 7 of Davis on Document, plus the "Essential" 2-disc Document set, and nothing on those sounds quite like the right hand on these tracks. I'd like to get the rest of his stuff, but are there any records where we know it's Davis for sure accompanying someone where he sounds like this?
Chris

Offline dj

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #8 on: November 18, 2010, 05:44:53 AM »
I agree, a lot of evidence points to Walter Davis as the pianist on Townsend's songs, but that right hand is a problem. 

Just a thought: if the pianist in question isn't Walter Davis, could it be Aaron Sparks?  He was from St. Louis, and his playing had a lot of resemblance to Walter Davis', but with an expanded vocabulary in the right hand.  He'd recorded with Henry Townsend before, in 1935 (Walter Davis was at this session, too).  And he was under contract with Bluebird, so may have shown up at a Bluebird session with some St. Louis buddies but not had the chance to record under his own name.   

Offline unezrider

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #9 on: November 18, 2010, 11:36:03 PM »
hello friend,
in the discography section from the jsp box 'the original sonny boy williamson', it says "poss. walter davis - piano" on the townsend tracks from nov. 11, 1937. however in the liner notes it reads more assuredly, "Walter Davis (who recorded eight titles later the same day) is particularly forceful throughout, pushing the other musicians with florid right-hand inventions that frequently overshadow the harmonica contributions, be they by Sonny Boy or an unknown with a very similar technique."
"Be good, & you will be lonesome." -Mark Twain

Offline hortig78rpm

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #10 on: November 19, 2010, 09:04:47 AM »
just a note on the "mystery pianist". it is definitley walter davis, for during that time he worked together with townsend in st.louis and shared the same day with townsend an own session. davis , like many other pianists changed their usual style, when beeing an accompanist. charlex taylor too far is a mississippi pianist and there are no similaries
to the townsend records. same for black bob, whose striding jump-style does`nt leave any
similar note on the townsend records. at last, aaron "pinetop"sparks. he was closely related with townsend, but a look at his death certificate reads: died 5.11.1935 due to syphilistic heart disease.

regards
mike 

Offline dj

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #11 on: November 19, 2010, 09:50:57 AM »
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Aaron "Pinetop" Sparks... a look at his death certificate reads: died 5.11.1935 due to syphilitic heart disease.

Well, I guess that crosses him off the list.  Thanks for the info, Mike.  All the info I have on Aaron Sparks comes from the notes to Document Sparks Brothers CD, which state that nothing is known about Aaron after 1935. 

Offline hortig78rpm

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #12 on: November 19, 2010, 06:43:48 PM »
aroon sparks: born 22.5.19o6 in tennessee, father carl, mother ruth, both from mississippi.resident in st.louis since 1923, married to betty.

there also had been a nice article on the spark-twins several "decades" ago in blues unlimited, based on an interjew with an uncle by mike rowe, providing more infos on the lifes of both

mike

Offline dj

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #13 on: November 20, 2010, 04:34:02 AM »
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All the info I have on Aaron Sparks comes from the notes to Document Sparks Brothers CD

I spoke too soon there.  Both of the Sparks brothers make appearances in Henry Townsend's autobiography and in Devil At The Confluence, though the biographical data for them in the latter book is slim.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #14 on: November 20, 2010, 08:19:36 AM »
Both of the Sparks brothers make appearances in Henry Townsend's autobiography
Which you thoughfully posted here http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=60&topic=2649.msg20189#msg20189 four years ago

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #15 on: November 20, 2010, 08:29:47 AM »
there also had been a nice article on the spark-twins several "decades" ago in blues unlimited, based on an interjew with an uncle by mike rowe, providing more infos on the lifes of both
mike
Blues Unlimited 144 (Spring 1983 p. 9-12). 87 year old Uncle Aaron Cleveland Sparks, "discovered" by retired St Louis policeman Charlie O'Brien in 1977 and interviewed September that year.

Offline Stefan Wirz

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #16 on: November 23, 2010, 10:18:56 AM »

Offline jostber

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #17 on: November 23, 2010, 11:17:38 AM »
More on the Sparks Brothers:

http://sundayblues.org/archives/122

The most frequently arrested early blues brothers in history?






Offline hortig78rpm

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Re: Mystery Pianist with Henry Townsend
« Reply #18 on: November 23, 2010, 10:13:37 PM »
great article, but they are wrong. the death certificate has been found....

regards
mike

 


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