History of Blues. Part-3

The washboard and frottoir are used as a percussion instrument, employing the ribbed metal surface of the cleaning … The frottoir, also called a Zydeco rub-board, is a mid-20th century invention designed specifically for Zydeco music.

Joshua Barnes ‘Peg Leg’ Howell (b. Eatonton, Georgia, 3/5/1888; d. Atlanta, 8/11/1966) provided some insight into Georgia’s gruff songster tradition and string ensembles. With a raspy and mournful voice, he recorded a wide variety of country and southern city songs, from Rolling Mill Blues (Columbia 14438, 1929), the inspired white ballad 900 Miles, to the gambling song Skin Game Blues (Columbia 14473, 1927 ), as well as a lot of dull slow blues. But with his “Gang” (Gang), which included violinist Eddie Anthony and guitarists Henry Williams, Jim Hill, Ollie Griffin, he recorded wild country dances like “Beaver Slide Rag” (Columbia 14210, 1927), “Peg Leg Stomp “(Columbia 14298, 1927), in which Anthony’s gnashing and sawing” street “violin created a rough but touching” sound “.


String ensembles are known to have been widespread throughout the south, but they do not seem to have attracted the attention of record companies. One of the few bands that managed to record was the Texas Dallas String Band under Coley Jones. Her “Dallas Rag” (Columbia 14290, 1927) with jingling mandolins, guitar and bass violin is an exceptional example of violin ragtime, while “Shine” (Columbia 14574, 1929) demonstrates the level of popular music that bands of this type played before black and a white audience.

Still I’m Travelin’ On Mississippi Sheiks

Of the Mississippi String Ensembles, Syd Hamphill’s group, like the Wright Brothers’ Texas String Group, left no recordings. However, “The Mississippi Sheiks” made many recordings in abridged form. It was a family-run ensemble of 11 ensemble members playing a variety of instruments including clarinet and piano, as well as guitars and violins. Bo Carter (Armenter Chatmon) (born Bolton, Mississippi, 03/21/1893; d. Memphis, 09/21/1964) was the most famous. During World War I “The Mississippi Sheiks” played country dances at white celebrations. Later, three or four members of the ensemble, including Bo Carter and his brother Sam Chetmon, made several outstanding recordings, for example – “The Jazz Fidler” (Okeh 45436, 1930), “Loose Like That” (Okeh 8820, 1930), “Sales Tax “(Bluebird 5453, 1934). Some had comic elements, but they gave an incomplete idea of ​​southern string group music. Bo Carter continued his career as a solo singer, recording extensively in the 1930s; his work is distinguished by a clean, fluent guitar playing and in places a melancholy voice.

Pitcher ensembles, in which the pitcher was blown in air and thus used as a bass instrument, were popular at medical shows and village picnics due to their novelty. Usually in such an ensemble, only one jug was used, in addition to which it included string instruments and a harmonica.

Skip, Skat, Doodle-Do

However, the earliest recording band The Dixeland Jug Blowers of Louisville, Kentucky used two jugs as in Skip Skat Doodle Do (Victor 20649, 1926) and three horns as in Southern Shout (Victor 20954, 1927). Jazz clarinetist Johnny Dods played along with them on several records; jazz pianist Clarence Williams also liked the pitcher, playing along with himself in “Chizzlin Sam” (Columbia 2829, 1933). Will Shade’s Memphis Jug Band and Gus Canon’s Jug Stompers, both from Memphis, outnumbered any other early juggernaut. On the latter’s “KC Moan” (Victor 38558, 1929), the intertwining of harmonica against the background of strings and a jug is recorded, making it a masterpiece of the genre.

Banjo Joe (Gus Cannon)-Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home

Pitcher bands played songs from the Bluesman and Songster repertoire, as evidenced by the recordings of Gus Cannon or ‘Banjo’ Joe (b. Red Banks, Mississippi, 09/12/1883; d. Memphis, 10/15/1979). Canon grew up on a Mississippi plantation where, as a child, he made a banjo from a frying pan. As a teenager, he played in labor camps in the south, although he worked on the railroad himself. Around 1910, he performed in country dances and in traveling medical shows, accompanied by No Lewis, who played the harmonica. His first recordings, under the name Banjo Joe, included a satirical song about Booker T. Washington, “Can You Blame The Colored Man?” (Paramount 12571, 1927).

Heart Breakin’ Blues by Gus Cannon (1928, Banjo blues)

The first recordings of Canon’s Jug Stompers, in which Canon plays a bass tune on a pitcher to himself, were made in 1928. Canon pronounced vowel diphthongs curiously, as can be judged by “Heart Breakin ‘Blues” (Victor 38523, 1928) or the swift “Feather Bed” (Victor 38515, 1928). “Minglewood Blues” (Victor 21267, 1928) features Noah Lewis’s sensual harmonica playing. Their performances were carefully thought out as a whole; this can be seen by comparing two takes of “Viola Lee ‘Blues” (Victor 38523, Victor RCX 202, 1928). For the last 40 years of his life, Canon worked as a janitor on the streets of Memphis.

Jack Kelly and his South Memphis Jug Band Doctor Medicine (1933)

Jack Kelly’s South Memphis Jug Band was simpler than Canon’s, such as Highway No. 61 Blues (Melotone 12773, 1933); but the members of this spontaneously created ensemble were still performing in the 60s. Jug groups formed in other states, including the Birmingham Jug Band of Alabama, who recorded the adorable Gettin ‘Ready For Trial (Okeh 8856, 1930) and the Cincinnati Jug Band, led by guitarist Bob Colman on the Newport Blues (Paramount 12743, 1929 ).

As well as “jugs”, such instrumental groups as “jugs” belonged to the “washing-and-water” groups, which included a rigid board as a rhythm instrument, along the grooves of which a nail, fork or thimble was dragged, which produced a loud, harsh sound. The early “washboard” groups also included string instruments, often adding such improvised instruments as a tub for bass, comb and paper, and a harmonica. Such bands were “close relatives” of the children’s “Spasm bands” from New Orleans; the white band under the direction of Stalebread Lacoume in 1897 proved to be the best “documented” band, although it may not have had a performer on the board.

Diamond Ring Blues (feat. The Washboard Trio)

Typical numbers performed by folk washboard ensembles include Walter Taylor’s Diamond Ring (Gennett 7157, 1930) and Atlanta Town (Bluebird 6187, 1935) Washboard Trio and Chasey Collins. Washboard play was often accompanied by blues singing, and at least one Washboard singer Sam (Robert Brown) played on the board and sang like the rasping “Rack ’em Back” (Bluebird 8044, 1938) or “Levee Camp Blues “(Bluebird 8909, 1941).

Memphis Jug Band-On The Road Again

In the “pitcher” and “washboard” groups sometimes women sang, among them – Jenny Clayton, Hattie Hart; Laura Dykes has played ukulele with Wil Butts, Jack Kelly and the South Memphis Jug Band. While female folk blues singers made records, there were far fewer records than male singers. The exceptions were: the polyphonic Bessie Tucker from Texas, who sang mostly about prisons, and Lucille Bogan (Bessie Jackson) from Birmingham, Alabama, who sang blues about all kinds of vices.

Minnie McCoy (Douglas) (b. Algers, Louisiana, 06/03/1896; d. Memphis, 08/06/1973) holds the same position in the ranks of women country blues singers as Bessie Smith in vaudeville; no other woman has reached such a height as she. She was the only significant female instrumentalist to play the guitar in the powerful, swaying rhythmic manner typical of Memphis musicians. Under the name Kid Douglas, she earned her living on the streets of Memphis from the age of 8. Her voice was strong, with a wide mid-range, and her guitar playing was surprisingly clear, as evidenced by the “Bumble Bee” (Vocalion 1476, 1930).

Memphis Minnie-Memphis Minnie-Jitis Blues

Many of her blues were topical or autobiographical; “Memphis Minnie-jitis Blues” (Vocalion 1588, 1930) talked about her illness. Her best recordings include guitar duets with her first husband, Mississippi blues guitar and mandolin player Joe McCoy, including the exceptional Let’s Go To Town (Vocalion 1660, 1931). She then married Casey Bill guitarist Weldon, with whom she recorded the delightful “Joe Louis Strut” (Vocalion 3046, 1935). Her third husband, Ernest ‘Lil Son’ Lawler, was also the blues guitarist accompanying her on “Me And My Chauffeur Blues” (Okeh 06288, 1941). She lived in Chicago for nearly thirty years, where she organized her Monday Blues Parties for singers.

These female folk blues singers have earned love and respect for their masculinity and their own approach to music; femininity was replaced by boasting of sexuality. Black women were supposed to raise children and keep an eye on the house; black men often had to move from place to place in order to get a job at least for the season; male blues singers were more accustomed to a free lifestyle. They introduced the city north to the blues.


Although blues is usually associated with playing the guitar, the history of the genre also knows southern blues pianists. Some, like Skip James, have played guitar and piano: his Little Cow And Calf Is Gonna Die Blues (Paramount 13085, 1931) is typical of his manner of broken rhythms and unfamiliar phrasing. For many southern bluesmen, playing the piano was completely natural.

Whistlin’ Alex Moore

Whistlin Alex Moore (born Dallas, 11/22/1899) was one of the most original performers. He made his living as a junk dealer in Dallas, as well as playing in bars and saloons. His blues are memorable for unusual poems that distinguish Texans’ poetic style, such as “West Texas Woman” (Columbia 14496, 1929) and the moderately erotic “Blue BlooKer Blues” (Columbia 14596, 1929).

Moore’s blues tended to be contemplative, while Charles ‘Cow Cow’ Davenport (b. Anniston, Alabama, 04/23/1894; d. Cleveland, 12/3/1955) was rough. Davenport played in Atlanta cabarets and clubs and toured with itinerant troupes before World War I. His strong, punching technique is influenced by ragtime (“Atlanta Rag” (Gennett 6869, 1929)) as well as “Back In The Alley” style (Vocalion 1282, 1929). and the stage performance brought him “Cow Cow Blues” (Vocalion 1198, 1928) – a powerful, mid-tempo, imitation of a train with expressive “rising” phrases and deliberate dissonances.

Chain ‘Em Down – PB Composer Blind Leroy Garnett On Paramount 12879-A

The nuances and flexibility inherent in the blues are relatively easily conveyed by the guitar; reproduction of the blues ornament is possible only by “crushing” the keys (striking them out of order) and creating a blues rhythm using syncopation and clearly accented rhythmic phrases. Perhaps the style of piano blues was partly derived from ragtime; the “pub” style, as well as the music played in the bars and saloons of logging camps and southern towns, there are similarities to impromptu ragtime. “Chain ’em Down” (Paramount 12879, 1929) Blind Leroy Garnett or “Barrel House Man” (Par amount 12549, 1927) by Texas pianist Will Ezell demonstrate this connection. The word “tavern” has been used synonymously for “rough” and “raw” (undeveloped), as in “Low Down Barrel House Blues” (Okeh 8554, 1928) and as the stage name for several blues artists (Nolan Welch, Buck McFarland, Bukka White ).

A variation of the piano style, pub music was usually performed in 4/4 time with ragtime bass figures or accompanied by powerful improvised left-hand accompaniment known as stomping to create bass variations.

Speckled Red The Dirty Dozen (1929)

Notable recorded examples include “The Dirty Dozen” (Brunswick 7116, 1929) Speckled Red (Rufus Perryman); and “Soon This This Morning” (Paramount 12790, 1929) by Charlie Spand; both musicians worked in Detroit after leaving the South. “Diggin My Potatoes” (Bluebird 8211, 1939) Washboard Sam featuring Joshua Altheimer (piano) and “Shack Bully Stomp” (Decca 7479, 1938) Peetie Wheatstraw (William Bunch) confirm the persistence of this style. Many “tavern” themes became standard and were performed by blues pianists for a long time.

Bessie Smith-New Orleans Hop Scop Blues

Bass figures played an important role in the development of piano blues; The “walking” bass of broken or scattered octaves repeating throughout the blues progression set the stage for countless improvisations. They are reportedly used by 19th century ragtime pianists and first appeared in print in the 11th issue of Reg Madley magazine (1909). Bass figures were used by Artie Matthews in his Ragtime Rag (published 1913) and in his Weary Blues (1915). George Thomas (father of Sippy Wallace) composed “New Orleans Hop Scop Blues” (1911, published 1916) with a “walking” bass and (under the pseudonym Clay Custer) recorded for the first time a song characteristic of this genre – “The Rocks” (Okeh 4809, 1923).

The bass figures were easily recognizable; even eighth notes, dotted eighths and half-eighths, and triplets were used. The right-handed configurations were both rhythmic and melodic, with harsh passages and sequences in 3’s and 6’s.

There are several recordings of unusual, virtuoso performers, for example, an imitation of the N 29 train (Paramount 12958, 1930) by Wesley Wallace, which uses the 6/4 time signature in the bass clef and 4/4 in the treble. The achievement of such a pinnacle of art became possible thanks to the independence of the “right-handed” improvisations from the “left-handed” uniformly repetitive rhythm, which, perhaps, also created the basis for stunning dissonances and frequent cross rhythms. Disjointed sounds and “shattered” or “squashed” notes occurred when adjacent keys were struck in rapid order, such as in “Honky tonk Train blues” (Paramount 12896, 1927) by Mead Lux ​​Lewis, one of the first recordings to record the speed a piano style known as “boogie woogie”.

Mead Lux Lewis plays “Honky Tonk Train Blues”

In all likelihood, “boogie-woogie” was born in the South, where he was chosen by pub pianists for his loudness and impulsiveness. It is characterized by the use of a progression of blues chords – a powerful repeating “left-handed” figure. There are many such bass models, but the most common ones are “double vision” of a simple blues bass and “walking” bass in broken octaves.

Pine Top Smith, December 1928: PineTop’s Boogie Woogie

Clarence ‘Pine Top’ Smith (b. Troy, Alabama, 01/11/1904; d. Chicago, 03/15/1929) was the first to popularize this style, and the original edition of Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie (Vocalion 1245, 1928) was possibly the most important and most imitated blues record. This is a piano solo part with spoken comments, and was supposed to be the accompaniment to the dance. In addition to being a musician, Smith was also an entertainer, as is evident from his monologue in “Now I Ain’t Got Nothin ‘At All” (Vocalion 1298, 1929) His only “Pine Top Blues” (Vocalion 1245 , 1928) is sustained in the traditional blues key, where the author sings in a high, even impatient and childish voice. Although Smith influenced Albert Emmons – a pianist who used the very powerful and energetic rhythm of the “left-handed” figures of the “walking” bass, which later became popular in jazz – his playing is more soft, slightly swaying. At the age of 25, Smith was shot and killed during a scandal at the Masonic Lodge where he performed.

Head Rag Hop

The first generation of boogie-woogie pianists, known for their “walking” bass and 8-bar rhythms, recorded several significant examples; including “Head Rag Hop” (Vocalion 1447, 1929) by Romeo Nelson, “Indiana Avenue Stomp” (Vocalion 1419, 1929) by Arthur “Montana” Taylor, “Dearborn Street Breakdown” (Paramount 12896, 1929) by Charles Avery.

Cripple Clarence Lofton – Brown Skin Girls

Several representatives of this genre recorded and several years later, among them was the ‘Cripple’ Clarence Lofton (b. Kingsport, Tennessee, 03/28/1887; d. Chicago, 01/09/1957) – one of the earliest blues and boogie-woogie pianists. In 1917 he moved to Chicago and became known as a “rolling” party pianist, later playing in his own saloon on State Street. Despite his clubfoot, he was a dynamic performer: he danced, whistled, sang and tapped out rhythms while playing the piano. His early recordings included “Brown Skin Girls” (Melotone 6-11-66, 1935) with guitarist Big Bill Brunzi and (with an unknown washboard) “Strut That Thing” (Vocalion 02951, 1935) – one of the most energetic examples recorded “tavern” boogie, enriched with his characteristic raspy voice. Lofton also accompanied Red Nelson (Nelson Wilborn, b. 1907), on whose “Streamline Train” album (Decca 7171, 1936) he played a version of “Cow Cow Blues” using powerful walking bass figures.

Roosevelt Sykes – Runnin’ The Boogie 1970 France (Live video)

Roosevelt Sykes (born Elmar, Arkansas, 01/31/1906; d. New Orleans, 07/11/1983), who was almost 20 years younger than Lofton, was one of his generation of blues pianists. At 15, he ran away from home to play in restaurants in Louisiana and Mississippi, often with Lee ‘Porkchops’ Green, who taught him how to play 44 Blues (Okeh 8702, 1929). The rising bass figures of this distinctly bluesy theme, pioneered by Sykes, have become the standard. A strong, easy-to-listen pianist, he was the first to play other popular blues including “32-20 Blues” (Victor 38619, 1930), recorded under the pseudonym Willie Kelly, and “Highway 61 Blues” (Champion 16586, 1932). His records sold well, and he was one of the most recorded blues pianists. He often accompanied other performers – Mary Johnson, Edith Johnson, Jimi Oden.

Although Sykes lived in St. Louis, he often stayed in Chicago on his travels, where he first got before a friend and rival throughout his life, Eurreal Wilford ‘Little Brother’ Montgomery (b.Kentwood, Louisiana, 18.06. 1904; d. Chicago 6.09.1985). Montgomery was the son of a brothel keeper, so he happened to listen to many blues pianists. He had an excellent acoustic memory. In addition to the blues, he played ragtime, jazz and new things to the accompaniment of the Sam Morgan Jazz Orchestra in New Orleans, and toured with jazz bands including Clarence Desdun’s Joyland Revelers upon arriving in Chicago in 1928.

Little Brother Montgomery Vicksburg Blues (1930)

His first recording of Vicksburg Blues (Paramount 13006, 1930) was his version of 44 Blues (already recorded by Sykes). He proved himself to be a master of bass figures and a graceful “right-handed” playing simulating a train (“Frisco Hi-ball Blues” (Vocalion 02706, 1931)). Later, on a trip south in October 1936, Montgomery recorded no fewer than 18 pieces in one sitting – an unprecedented achievement made even more remarkable by the exceptional quality of the recorded material. In “Something Keeps A-Morryin ‘Me” (Bluebird 6658, 1936), the voice has a typical pitch, low whinnying, and the piano accompaniment is reminiscent of Earl Hines; on the other hand “Farish Street Jive” (Bluebird 6894, 1936) – strongly gravitates towards ragtime and boogie-woogie.

Although some musicians kept in touch with their native southern states, where they fled from the harsh northerly winds, hundreds of blues artists were served in Chicago and Detroit during the first decade after World War I. The influx of immigrants drove up rental prices, and pianists played for beer and tips at “rented” self-help parties. Pianists and guitarists have created many blues bands: Clarence Spund with Blind Blake, Big Bill Brunzi with Bob Black, Thomas Dorsey with Tampa Red.

Documentary clip on Thomas Dorsey

Thomas A. Dorsey (Georgia Tom) (b. Will Rica, Georgia, 1899) is unique in his significant contributions to the development of both blues and gospel, was the son of a “renaissance” priest. Until 1910, he grew up in Atlanta under the influence of local non-recording blues pianists, and when he moved north during the First World War, he played the piano in clubs in Gary, Indiana. He later studied at the Chicago College of Composition and Arrangement and became an agent for Paramount.

The Best Of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (1923 recordings)

At the time, his repertoire included, among others, “Riverside Blues” (Okeh 40034, 1923), recorded by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. In 1923 Dorsey joined Les Hight’s Whispering Serenades as pianist, composer and arranger, and soon formed his own Wildcat’s Jszz Band, a line-up that worked with Ma Rainey. Slide guitarist Tampa Red (Hudson Whittaker) also recorded with her and Dorsey. Their unpretentious song “Tight Bike That” (Vocalion 1216, 1928), published under the Tampa Reda name alone, has proven itself one of the best-selling blues records; she combined sly urban sophistication and country humor, inspiring many other recordings. Some of them were lewd songs, including “Selling That Stuff” (Paramount 11714, 1928) by the Hokum Boys and “Terrible Operation Blues” (Decca 7259, 1930) with Jane Lucas.

TERRIBLE OPERATION BLUES by Georgia Tom and Hannah May 1930

This is the new form of blues: performing without any serious intention. Healthy lust was expressed through cheap-impact techniques that mildly ridiculed village manners while helping southern migrants cope with urban life. With the help of another Hokum Boys member, Big Beal Brunzi, Thomas Dorsey and Tampa Red were able to keep recording even when, due to the financial collapse in October 1929, blues recording largely ceased.

— History of Blues Music: Part 3 —

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