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Gayle Dean Wardlow Interview
I was born August , , in a little town called Freer, Texas, which is down in South
Texas. My daddy worked as an oil man; he worked in the oil elds, and we were moving
around so much, Steve. My granddaddy lived down in Louisiana, you know, so my mom
built a house down there next to my granddaddy. We lived in a little town in Louisiana
called Castor. And that was close to Minden; Minden was the county seat. Later on when
I found King Solomon Hill, he was from Minden, or Sibley, right below Minden. I used to
go through those towns as a little boy!
Wasnt Percy Mayeld from Minden?
Yes, and its close to Arcadia, where Bonnie and Clyde got killed. I didnt live out there
long. My father died when I was seven years old, . And when my daddy died we moved
to Mississippi. So I grew up in Mississippi, in Meridian, the home of Jimmie Rodgers! I
started collecting records when I was about twelve years old. Roy Acu was my daddy g
ure and my hero, and I was going to jukebox companies collecting records throughout the
s, buying Roy Acu, and Id also buy Bob Wills. Id go to jukebox companies and pick
up western swing records. at western swing piano is what fascinated me. Twenty years
later I found out that the western swing piano players were taught by black piano players
Gayle Dean Wardlow. Courtesy
Gayle Dean Wardlow.
Robert M. W. Dixon Interview
I was born in Gloucesterin the UK, of courseon the th of January . I was
brought up for the rst few years in Stroud, a little town in the Cotswolds. At the age of
eight we moved to Nottingham, and I spent my formative years in Nottingham.
How I got interested in all of this, there was a trad [traditional] jazz boom in the s
in England, bands like Ken Colyer and Chris Barber and Mick Mulligan. Chris Barber had
Ottilie Patterson as a singer with his band. I remember she sang Weeping Willow Blues
and Nobody Knows You When Youre Down and Out by Bessie Smith. I had that version
of the record before I had Bessie Smith. Mick Mulligan had a man named George Melly
who sang with him. So I originally got interested in jazz. I didnt know very much about the
blues. In the late s and early s before there were many LPs, microgroove records, a
number of small companies were reissuing rpm records in Englanda company called
Tempo, another called Jazz Collectorand I was buying these, and I started making lists
of all the Jazz Collectors. I mean, I bought Jazz Collector L: Ma Rainey, See See Rider
Blues and Jealous Hearted Blues. And then there was a very exciting piano record by
Jabo Williams, Jab Blues and Pratt City Blues on L. And so I was making these lists.
Now, there wasnt a full discography of all the original recordings of blues. ere was this
McCarthy and Dave Carey, which got
as far as
Robert Dixon, 1996. Courtesy Robert M. W. Dixon.
Bob Koester Interview
When and where were you born?
October th, , in Wichita, Kansas. ere was my mom and dad, and I was one of
Was there music in your family background?
Bob Koester on the oor of the Jazz Record Mart. Courtesy
John Broven Interview
I was born in Maidstone,
Kent, England, in thats
in the southeast of England
and was raised in what was
then a little village called Pole
ate, outside of Eastbourne in
Sussex, on the south coast.
What did your parents do?
My father was an electri
Presentation of Louisiana Music Commission plaque by famed record
Mike Rowe Interview
I was born in Plymouth, Devon, in . My father was a bus conductor, and later he
worked in the dockyard, just a typical working-class family. I went to school in Plymouth.
Wasnt Plymouth one of the cities that took quite a bit of punishment during the war?
e city was a naval center with the dockyards. e whole citys center was destroyed.
Yes, Plymouth had several nights of absolutely concentrated bombing of civilian residential
areas. ere were a lot of casualties in Plymouth; I dont know how many. My father was
in the RAF [Royal Air Force] and stationed in Scotland, but my mother had a nervous
breakdown and so my father was transferred locally. en my mother, my brother, and I
moved to Cornwall, in the country, where we had relatives. And a\rer that there was no
more bombing of Plymouth. [
People talk about your earliest memories,
and they say the earliest kids can remember
is four or ve years old. Well, in my case it
was age two and a bit, because you look out
the door and you see the house across the
Mike Rowe, Chicago, 2006. Photo Robert Barclay.
Ray Flerlage Interview
First of all, Ray, how do I correctly pronounce your last name?
Well, its up for grabs in our family. But we say Fler-laydge. We used to say Fler-ledge,
and then every time I was on radio for about \reen years, every announcer would say Fler-
Ray Flerlage. Photo James Fraher.
Jim ONeal Interview
I was born November th, , in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Both of my parents were from
Jim ONeal with James Cotton, 2012. Photo by Claire Pittman
and courtesy of Webster Franklin.
Richard K. Spottswood Interview
Dick Spottswood. Courtesy Dick Spottswood.
Phil Spiro Interview
I was born in New York City in . My mother, a housewife, was also born in New York,
although her parents came from Russia. My father was born in Mawa, Russian Poland (yes,
Chris Barber Interview
I was born on the seventeenth of April in Welwyn, a small town thirty miles north
of London. My mother was a teacher and my father was an economist statistician.
You would have been a schoolboy during World War II. Can you talk about your memories
Sure, I remember it quite well. I didnt see any ghting [
]luckily, I was too young.
e war was about to begin, and we knew it was about to begin. I was from a political
family. My parents were political people, they were le\r-wing. In the US le\r wing meant
you were communist, but in the UK in the s this meant you were the only people in
the country who realized what was wrong with the Nazis. We could see war was coming.
Chris Barber and Ottilie Patterson. Courtesy Chris
David Evans Interview
I was born in Boston, January
nd, . I grew up in a sol
idly middle-class family mostly
Chris Strachwitz Interview
I was born in a little village in Lower Silesia [southwestern Poland] in . During the
Chris Strachwitz in the Arhoolie Record vault. Photo
Philip Gould. Courtesy Arhoolie Records.
List of Interviews
pril and ,
Gayle Dean Wardlow
anuary , , and
eries of Emails
ARRY LEE PEAR
University of Illinois Press
rbana, Chicago, and Springeld
arry Lee Pearson
eface by Steve Cushing
ichard K. Spottswood
Special thanks to the interviewees who sat patiently and shared generously. anks also to
the friends who made their many photos available in support of the stories. And thanks as
well to the sta at the University of Illinois Press, including Laurie Matheson.
Barry Lee Pearson
Pioneers of the Blues Revival
brings together interviews with seventeen notable blues re
searchers/collectors in a single accessible volume. eir commentary, which covers the
Whatever transgressions academia may ascribe to the pioneers of the blues revival, my
purpose in compiling this book is to acknowledge and honor the work of this select group
of early blues enthusiasts from the late s and s and to prole them as they tell
their own stories in their own words. I selected these particular individuals because I was
in\fuenced by their work during the earliest days of my exploration into bluesby their
books, their magazines, their reissued vintage recordings, and newly produced recordings
by vintage artists.
In recent years it has become stylish to disparage their eorts and the era, but I regard
their eorts as sel\fess, honorable, and positive. And talking with the seventeen interviewees
found in this manuscript has served only to reinforce that opinion. eir eorts resulted
in nancial comfort and renewed artistic acclaim for a number of prewar blues artists
and provided a new audience for postwar blues that had been eclipsed as a commercial
enterprise by doo-wop, rock n roll, and soul music. And viewed through a much wider
lens, I believe the blues revival served as a second front in the s civil rights movement,
a benign alternative to the clashes in Alabama and Mississippi, an alternative where there
Paul Oliver Interview
Well, I was born in Nottingham, England, but my family actually came from the west
of England near Wales. So that was in .
If you were born in 1927, that would make you about twelve years old when the war broke
out. Do you have any home-front experiences that you can relate?
Well, I was in the London suburbs during
much of the war, so I was there at the time of the
bombing, but it wasnt as heavy in the suburban
areas as it was in the East End of London and
Central London. We did have incendiary bombs
fall on our house, but we all put them out, and
other than that we had no serious problems.
Later in the warfrom that time on, actually
I was working in harvest camps and later in the
war in forestry and ran forestry camps for felling
trees and logging. But that was my kind of war
eort, because I was still too young to serve, and
when I was called up right at the end of the war, I
had asthma very badly and they didnt accept me.
I know that youre an expert in a couple of dif
ferent elds. Which came rstthe music or the
Well, I think probably by a year or so the music
came rst in the sense that I was already excited
by boogie-woogie in the s when I was about
ten or eleven. In fact, the rhythm of the trains was
so like boogie that I used to travel on the steam trains just to enjoy thatand put my mind
in that kind of eld. So really I started quite young in that respect. I didnt understand that
to be blues or anything; I just knew it by the popular name of the day, boogie-woogie. So
that was really up until about .
nd around about that time I had to help my father,
who was an architect, but he had been seconded to the war o\tce to help with drawing
Paul Oliver, Cheltenham, UK, July 2006. Photo Cilla
Sam Charters Interview
I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in . My family moved to California in the
fall of . I began traveling a few years later. I spent a year in Europe when I was eigh
teen. I rst went to New Orleans and began the research in December of when I was
twenty-one. I went into the army in the spring of and spent two years in Alaska. I
got out of the army two years later and spent six months in northern Alaska, then to San
Samuel Charters, 2011. Photo Henry Denander/Kamini Press.
Dick Waterman Interview
Dick Waterman at Ground Zero blues club, June 2012. Photo courtesy of Madge Marley Howell.
personalities of these people, show your photographs and bring it to a whole new genera
tion. Its the young people who werent around in the sixtiesyou owe
So I thought it over, and really the book came out in November of , which was the
Year of the Blues [by congressional proclamation]. But theres really no reason that the
book couldnt have come out earlier. ere were a few photos in it that were recent like the
en hundred in North
America sold out really quickly, within six or eight months. But it has taken me about two
and a half
Do you have any ofcial afliation with the
Nothing. No. No, no, no. In other words,
its sort of unfortunate. In other words, the
Blues Archive [at the University of Missis
sippi] knows Im here. e paradox is that
every February they do a blues seminar and
Ive never been invited to participate.
Do you have any ambitions or plans for the
I think Ill probably do a book of folk pho
tography. I, like, had lots of access to Dylan in
, , . I have a lot of photographs of Dylan,
Phil Ochs, Eric Anderson, Tim Harden,
Mother Maybelle Carter, Judy Collins, and
Buy St. Marie. So I dont know if theres a
Dick Waterman, Portland, Oregon, 2006. © 2006 Mi-
chael Hawkeye Herman. www.Hawkeye Herman.com.
strings were sold in the stores in Chicago. So if youve got a twelve-string, your guitar is
a little louder and you might attract a little more attention. So rst he records for OKeh
Gayle Dean Wardlow inter-
views another lead. Photo
as identied by John Willis, one of Joe Holmess friends. It sits on King Solomon Hill com
record by Blind Joe was found about , and once it was reissued in it was heard in
England and Clapton immediately put it on that rst Cream album.
Youve also done some research on Robert Johnson?
Two years ago I found out where Robert Johnson was really buried. I had found Robert
Johnsons death certicate back in ; I was the rst person to ever nd it. And I published
it in , and a lot of the research was done by Mack McCormickand also done by Steve
LaVere based on the death certicate information: he was born in Hazlehurst and so forth
e death certicate said no doctor was present. e only thing it gave on the death
certicate, it said burial was at a Zion Church, but it didnt say which Zion Church. About
Skip Henderson formed the Mount Zion Fund to put grave markers on unknown
graves. And the rst monument he decided to place was Robert Johnsons, based on what
Honeyboy Edwards had said: that Johnson was buried at the Mount Zion Baptist Church.
ey found a ree Forks store which was very close to the Mount Zion Baptist Church.
e death certicate said place of burial was Zion Church. It didnt say
I discovered in . I didnt discover the back side until . Dont ask me why! ere
was a front side
a back side, and I nally went back and got the back side, and on the
back side was the fact that he was buried in a homemade co\tn supplied by the county.
So she took us up to the graveme and Ace Atkins, who was with meand we went up
there with her. Later I put up a temporary monument up there, and now a benefactor has
put a thirty-seven-hundred-dollar monument out there on Johnsons real grave. eres no
doubt hes buried there, because the ree Forks store where he was supposedly playing
that night, its only about two miles from there out to Luther Wades Plantation. So they
brought him back to Luther Wades Plantation and he died in a house on the plantation.
She had no idea who Robert Johnson was. Later on she heard he was a famous blues player.
Robert Johnson is buried at Little Zion Baptist Church on Money Road. Hes not buried
at Mount Zion, which is down Highway towards Morgan City, or at Payne Chapel. We
went up there to see the real grave. She [Eskridge] took me and Ace to see the grave. And
right there was a big old water oakit was
over the grave where she said Robert
Johnson was buried.
I think its ironic that all the grafti and half bottles of whiskey are constantly found around
Johnsons grave, but nobody ever does that at Dockerys for Patton.
No, of course not! Robert Johnsons a hero. ey want to play like him. Robert Johnsons
All the copies of
seem to be hardcover. Were there ever any
paperback copies printed?
One interesting thing which I wanted to mention: there used to be a thing called
published by Bowkers in New York. I was looking through it once. Ive written quite
it now spun along. ere were
our illustrationsof singers, record
labels, contemporary advertisements,
extracts from catalogs, and the like.
In Paul got Cambridge Univer
sity Press to reissue three of the blues
paperbacks in one volume, called
Yonder Come the Blues
. He wanted
them republished without change,
each author just adding an updating
postscriptHoward Rye did one for
us. Only twenty of the original illus
trations were used, and some of these
were put in the wrong place. I said that
Id like to rewrite some bits, improve
Robert Dixon and Rosie Runaway. Courtesy Robert M. W. Dixon.
by the publisher John Davey of Oxford University Press as e triumphant outcome of
And hed bought a jukebox operators stacksomewhere in Kansasand swapped a lot of
the blues records with Rols [record store] here in Chicago, where Rose and, later, Tower
was on Wabash. In his store there was this one area with all these fascinating names: Big
magazine and Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records, both give
you credit for lighting the re under them to initiate their projects.
Bob and Sue Koester, 2013. Photo Steve Cushing.
Were there any predecessors to
that you are aware of?
Yes. ere was a magazine in Belgium called
R & B Panorama
edited by Serge Tonneau.
Another in\fuencing factor on
and Mike Leadbitter was
which was Anthony Rotante, Len Kunstadt, and Paul Sheatsley. ey operated out of
Brooklyn, New York. ey were publishing label lists of the independent labels. I remember
they did Chess/Checker; they did Modern. ose publications were very important in the
compiling of the postwar blues records discography. And
that was the early
sthat was a natural extension.
couldnt do it all. So Jim ONeal and
Amy and Bruce Iglauer all came in. ey did a tremendous job of sharing the load of blues
research. ey were very much part of it. I suppose you can say that blues research was
inspired by the jazz discographers, going right back to Brian Rust and Hugues Panassié in
the s and s. Kurt Mohr, who just died in , was another European who did some
great discographical work. e framework was there and Mike just took it one step further.
We were very lucky in England in the s because of the groundswell of interest in blues
and rhythm and blues. We started to see some of the great American blues artists come
overseas. To a man, to a woman, they were all astounded at the reception they received. ey
were treated like heroes. Here in the States there was nowhere near the adulation. ey got
a great reception and people were genuinely interested in their music. So it wasnt just the
latest hit record or latest LP which was important; it was their entire catalog. We began to
seewell, you name themMuddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Sonny
Boy Williamson, Lightning Hopkinsthe list goes on and on. at helped to cement the
interest being generated by
R & B Monthly,
and other magazines
Over here in Chicago the guy whos been the main motivator on the blues scene over
the years is Bob Koester. It seems that Paul Oliver was the similar guiding force in the UK.
Paul was an inspiration to us all. He was a generation ahead of usa little bit olderbut
There were two entries to blues:
you either came through jazz, or you
came through rock n roll. And if you
came through rock n roll, you came
much later. As a kid in school I had no
interest in pop musicor any music
at all. One day on the radio I heard a
Mike Rowe with Moody Jones and family, 1974. Photo Jim
work. It actually got very serious when I started buying records from the States rather than
records that were issued here or imported by the jazz record shops. is was the early s.
e main sources were Randys in Gallatin, Tennessee, and Ernies in Nashvilleand Jacks
Record Cellar in San Francisco. We used to get lists and catalogs from the States. By this
time there was a growing crowd of blues fans. We used to swap information. When a lot of
us started buying s, we were just buying blindwith the postwar records anyway. So we
were all discovering new artists. We would gather at somebodys house and wed each bring
a few records, and the one that sticks in my mindmy friend Dave said, I just got this new
Jimmy Rogers record. And I thought, Jimmie Rodgershes a white country singer. Whats
all this about? [
] So he put on a Chess label
record and blew us all away!
I was equal parts prewar
postwar blues fan, but I had a special interest in Chicago
and postwar down-home artists, but I suppose if I were more interested, its because the
records were more available. I could actually buy a Muddy Waters Chess , but it would
have been a struggle to buy a Robert Johnson . My other interest was blues piano and
Playboy Venson was going to be his drummer. So the gig was, I think, starting about ten
thirty. So eleven oclock, were outside Playboys apartment and throwing stones up at the
with Bob Dylan and later with Paul Buttereld and all these people where he won his
great fame and fortune and killed himself with dope. And Willie Hopkins had a chance to
become art editor of
So they all skipped Chicago, and I was sitting here with plans for a book and nobody
to plan it with. So I didnt really do anything about it except dream for a great many
ere the scenes with heavy smoke and the spotlights cutting through the smoke. A
very dramatic eect. She said, Ive never seen anything like it before. And she said, It
opened a whole new world to me. And I thought it was the usual \fattery of people, you
know, like to make you feel good. But she kept calling. And over the next ve years she kept
calling. And she nally came to Chicago with half a ton of gear that she carried in herself,
recording gear and video gear. And she taped, videotaped twelve hours of interviews with
me and she did all the work. She did the lights and sound and everything. en she told
me that she was going to use this as the text for the book that we were going to do. So we
started talking about a book.
And then Jack David of ECW Press of Toronto stopped in to see me. He wanted to do
a book on Chicago blues. And, fortunately, Lisa was in townLisa Day. And so we all sat
downJack David, Lisa Day, my wife, and myselfand hit on a plan to do a book. And Jack
David asked Lisa if she would take over the editorship of the job. So the fact that she was
the editor made the book into a dierent type of thing than I had expected to do, because
when I talked with Jack David, I told himas Ive told everybody elseyou know, I just
am tired! I just really dont want to go .
o a whole lot of work. He said, It will just be
a photo book. Youve got the prints already. It will be a simple thing. You can come up
with some song lyrics and just captions. So I said, Cool. It doesnt sound like a big job.
ou know, make special trips out to the plant just to rehearse. And I said,
No, these groups are the best groups I have, and theyve got to have the preferential slots.
an Albert King record and I spent forty-seven cents on
it. But Id heard that he played at the Fillmore and so I
thought he was somebody I should check out. And then I
listened to it and I said, Wait a minuteIve heard all this
stu before. And I was hearing licks from Eric Clapton
and Electric Flag and all kinds of other groups, and that
really turned my head around. en I started buying B.B.
Jim ONeal and Amy van Singel, vintage. Courtesy Jim ONeal.
Jim ONeal vintage photo. Courtesy Jim
see Otis Rush at Peppers was the big changing point in my life. at was more powerful
and intense than anything Id ever seenof any kind of music.
Who did Otis have in his band at that point? And who else appeared at Peppers?
I think Bobby Davis was on drums. A lot of people regarded him as a show drummer,
but he could really playOtis liked him a lot. Ernest Gatewood was on bass. Jesse Green
was around too.
And Otis was in good shape back then?
ne of the rst
times I went in there, I went with some
friends from college, and I was naive
about the whole experience. Anyway,
it was like being in a whole dierent
world. is young guy came in and sat
down at the table with us and began
beating out a rhythm on the table with
his hands and spelling Beware like we
were going to get killed. [
] But we
made it out alive.
Jim ONeal and Amy van Singel, 2012. Courtesy Jim ONeal.
Who was at Theresas when you were going there?
always more oriented toward who was still active, who was still playing. I always did have
an interest in prewar blues, and Paul Garon, who was one of the founders of
was our prewar expert. He had a great collection of s, and he had known Big Joe Wil
liams and a lot of those people too. But he was a source of information and inspiration.
I was interested in Tampa Red and the people who werent around anymore. He was still
alive, and I did manage to track him down and interviewwell, I spent time with himI
didnt do much actual interviewing. I think you spent some time with him too.
Where was Tampa when you caught up with him?
with that, and Im not. Ive always had problems with the other way the term folk music
is used, in a pseudo-anthropological way that we apply to people whom we consider exotic,
quaint, inferior, or simply other. Calling their artistry folk music seems condescending,
so its a word I avoid.
So you probably wouldnt be the ideal guy to lay out what the folk boom era was then?
Well, the folk boom or folk revival never had much to do with serious folk music, did it?
Dick Spottswood with Mississippi John Hurt. Courtesy Dick Spottswood.
the Vanguard label or somebody like that who was equipped to do business on a larger
scale. But when Piedmont started, it wasnt clear that Hurt was going to be the runaway
successful performer that he was. It took about seven or eight months to realize he was
Tell me how you discovered Robert Wilkins.
Dick Spottswood. Courtesy Dick Spottswood.
I was too young to serve in the military when the war began and too old when the war
] So I didnt serve in the military, but during the Occupation people born
just a few years earlierin or or were sent to Germany to work in the facto
ries. It was called the
Service du travail obligatoire,
or STOthe Obligatory Work Service.
was invented, with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Kenny Clark. I was very disap
pointedit wasnt a music that I liked. I didnt have any of the bop records, and I wouldnt
listen to it on the radio. For me, it got worse and worse. So I divorced bebop. [
I was already listening to blues even before bebop became popular. So even if jazz hadnt
changed, I had already discovered the blues. Even before I discovered the blues singers,
I was always interested in the blues that were played by the well-known jazz musicians.
and how vehement the ri\r was. at was about or . Charles Delaunay wanted to
promote bebop musicians and Panassié was against that. Even though my tastes didnt
favor bebop, I was on the side of Delaunay, because Panassié was too insulting. You may
not agree with someone, but its unnecessary to belittle them. ere was a jazz critic, André
Hodeir, and Panassié denounced him by calling him
, which means bad
] I agreed with Panassiés opinion of bebop, but not his style in denouncing
it. Panassié seemed to be a very angry manit was just his naturewhile Delaunay never
really responded to the attacks.
A\rer the split each of them had their own music magazine:
continued to be
run by Charles Delaunay, and Panassié had the
Bulletin of the Hot Club of France
. I disliked
Panassié so much that I decided to write for
plus I thought I could make a case
for the blues with their readers. Readers of the
Hot Club of France
already were familiar with
carried on until just a few years ago, while the Swing label was taken over
in the years a\rer the war by a man named KabakianMr. Kaba, as he was known. is
is the same man who owned the Vogue label. So the Swing label and its a\tliate label Jazz
Selection were taken over by the Vogue label. Delaunay also went to work for the Vogue
label. Kaba died many years ago and none of the labels exist anymore.
thing: You have to listen very carefully to the lyrics, because blues is not just music for en
tertainment. ere is meaning, a story in the lyrics. ese are stories about being in prison,
about unemployment, and about living and traveling as a hobo. And he wrote a wonderful
Blues Fell is Morning
. Paul Oliver was a big in\fuence on me. is was another step
in my coming to a deeper understanding of the blues.
Youve told me that you spoke French and Russian, but in order to comprehend the lyrics
of blues tunes youd have to understand English. Did you speak and/or read English?
Did you have anything to do with the Chronological Classics series?
Yes. e man who produced this series, Gilles Pétard, was a friend of mine. He asked
et cetera. It would be years before the Cuban revolution made Miami into a Latin American
city, and while I lived there it was a Southern city that also had a lot of people who came
from the North. Id gone to unsegregated public schools in New York, and I went to seg
regated public schools in Miami. At school most of the kids were native Floridians with
Southern accents and attitudes, or immigrants from the North like me, with just a very
few who had Hispanic surnames, from Venezuela or Cuba. Many kids hunted snakes in
book and LP, and his Blind Willie Johnson LP, which made a profound impression on
me. ey had rooms where you could play records. ey had Library of Congress LPs. ey
I had no knowledge of computers, but I gured that if he liked working with computers,
I might like it too.
I got a job at the MIT instrumentation laboratory as a computer operator in the group that
had just started designing the guidance computer for the Apollo lunar mission. I punched
cards, changed tapes, rewired plug boards, and I even did a little programming. I barely
knew what I was doing, but I was learning about computers, and I liked it as much as Griz
had. He graduated in , and we then shared an apartment in Boston on the cheap side
of Beacon Hill, a few doors down from where the Boston Strangler had struck the month
before we moved in. I found a job as a computer operator and junior programmer with Itek,
a company that developed the rst satellite cameras. Griz was doing high-powered work at
MITRE and he could soon aord a place by himself. I couldnt, so I needed a new roommate.
Fahey and I made the same mistake about guitars. We both owned steel-body guitars,
because we had independently concluded that they ought to sound good for blues, so when
we found Booker and Son, we each put our Nationals in the hands of our rediscoveries. In
Sons case it was because we couldnt aord to buy him a good wooden guitar, and that may
also have been true in Bookers case. Both Booker and Son were happy to have a steel-body
to play, but what that accomplished was making two already sloppy guitar players sound
a bit sloppier, and somehow started a widespread belief that National steel-bodies were
the guitar of choice in the thirties, which was not remotely the case. No itinerant guitar
player in the Delta of the s could aord an expensive steel-body, and only a very few
people recorded with them in the thirties. At least it didnt seriously aect Sons or Bookers
music, which of course had been created on cheap wooden guitars with high action, but
the Nationals made them both sound muddier than necessary.
they wanted, in real time. What would
the ideal interface look like for them
other than a conventional keyboard?
By coincidence, Al was in town for
an extended period, and he was very
interested in the project. He attended
the project meeting and later came
up with a list of thoughtful ideas that
could be useful for players of stringed
instruments. On the other hand, the
experimental musicians, like the guy I
located who played bottleneck piano
Phil Spiro with wife Elaine Chow, late 2000s. Photo Michael
front-gunners. It was a very dangerous position to be in, in the nose of a B-; they mostly
got killed. ats the aireld where Glenn Miller gave his last show and the next day \few out
to Paris and didnt make it. Once, from the hill where the farm was, I wandered across the
e rumorand I believe its truewas that
graduated in as a classics major. Harvard from to was one of the hotbeds of
the folk revival and the blues revival. Id go around the coeehouses just exploring all these
new cultural opportunities, like any college freshman. I got exposed to folk musicrst
Al Wilson, Malibu, California, July 1966. Photo Marina Bokelman.
had been around on the scene, Jesse Fuller, Brownie and Sonny. en John Hurt popped up
tremendous lead. My God! Son House is still alive in Memphis! [
] So we told Phil
Spiro, who told his friend Dick Waterman. ey cooked up an expedition and got Nick
Perls. I think Nick was kind of the money man for the project. Waterman had the car, and
they went o in the summer of .
We also knew from discographies that he had recorded a piece called Clarksdale Moan,
another big clue. So we were certain he was from somewhere in the Delta. ere was a
whole album of Sons Library of Congress material, but I dont think that had been issued
at the time of his rediscovery.
Also, in regard to your conversations with the various rediscoveries, Im sure you gathered
biographical information, and youve said that you would try to generate leads to other blues
men or women who might still be alive. How much of your conversation centered on tunings?
Sure, we saw what tunings they used, what keys they played in. Of course Alan and I
tried to learn the portion of that material that appealed to us the most. It was great. You
time in , , right in there. And
there were an amazing amount of live
broadcasts in those days. I remember
a live blues broadcast from some au
ditorium in L.A. It was conducted by
Gene Norman. Some of that was actu
ally issued on Modern label s, like
Chris Strachwitz. Courtesy Arhoolie Records.
down in Southern California. ats where I really got into the rhythm and blues and the
New Orleans jazz more, because a friend of mine, Frank Demond, who still plays from time
to time with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, we would go to the Beverley Cavern. We were
there every night and I just about \funked out. He was too smarthe didnt \funkbut just
to hear the George Lewis Band every night! And they didnt have freeways back then; it took
was just lucky to grow up during that time. It was the rst time the white-Anglo world was
exposed to all this powerful music if they dared to dial into these radio stations.
ents for records I
picked up for ten cents or a quarter. I picked up anything that said blues singer with guitar
on it. [
] Nobody knew much about this stu. I knew some of the namesLightning
Hopkins, Howling Wolf. But the early stu was hard to nd, like Washboard Sam and
Jazz Gillum. But Jazz Gillum had a big hit even in the s with Key to the Highway. I
remember that being played by Jumpin George.
I remember I decided to really make a go of it a\rer hearing Lightning Hopkins in Hous
ton in , and I bought a Roberts recordera Japanese copy of an Ampex recorder, but
they le\r out all the important parts. [
recorded here in the Bay Area during the s, including a concert by Big Mama here on
issued on my Blues Classics label; I didnt like the later sides with all the saxophone. Also
I did the recording of Sonny Boy as he did the King Biscuit broadcast.
ittle Boy Blues [Robert Night
hawk?]you know, he made records for the United label, a wonderful slide guitar player. It
would have been a wonderful session, a totally missed opportunity. Yes, indeed.
Audiophile record label,
Avalons Blues, , ,
Blue Horizon record label,
Blue Lake record label,
Blue Note record label,
Blue Note Record Shop, ,
Blues and Gospel Records,
, , ,
Blues & Rhythm
Brunswick record label, , , , ,
C. J. record label,
Clapton, Eric, , , , ,
Clayborn, Rev. Edward W.,
Club , , ,
Coal Black Mare,
Cobra record label, , , ,
Coller, Derek, , ,
Collins, Lee, ,
Collins, (Cryin) Sam, , , ,
Columbia record label, , , , , , ,
, , , , , , , ,
, , , , ,
Colyer, Ken, , , ,
Come On in My Kitchen,
Music in American Life
The folk whose blues
inhabit wilderness, renew a truth.
© by the Board of Trustees
of the University of Illinois
All rights reserved
Manufactured in the United States of America
is book is printed on acid-free paper.
Library of Congress Control Number:
Tampa Red at Sacred Heart Home,
Chicago, . Photo Robert Fogt.
frame. ese two decades witnessed intense repression against blacks in the rural South.
lent s. Nevertheless, the cooling eects of some
ears have allowed scholars and
participants to look back in a more objective manner, o\ren with an eye toward their own
personal involvement, bringing a more self-re\fexive awareness to the issues. I oer some
commentary edging toward denition, but it falls far from being inclusive. Nor can it satisfy
all the contesting parties who have wrestled with the term for so many years.
white artists and audiences adopted black music, it has been commonplace throughout
the course of American history. Interest in black music is by no means exceptional. In
fact, white interest in, appreciation for, and emulation of black musical forms has been a
recurring phenomenon for generations in both the United States and Britain. Dating back
e terms blues revival and folk revival also refer to the rediscovery of Americas roots
music heritage in the s, in which blues and other forms of music from the s and
s captured on rpm records were reissued to a new audience on
and, later, CDs. Compilations by Harry Smith, Sam Charters, and others allowed a new
access to an American musical heritage that previously had been in the hands of a limited
number of collectors. To a degree it democratized these earlier recordings. And because
the artists they featured were from the pre-electric blues era, they conformed to the folk
revival ban on electric instruments.
While the reissue projects spawned countless popularized imitations of traditional music,
including blues, it also initiated a broader debate over what was to be considered authentic
as record collectors and revival performers sparred over who was the most genuine. As
early as critics argued about authenticity; in one example John Hammond Jr. was so
taken by a recording of Robert Johnson that he wrote that Johnson made Leadbelly sound
like an accomplished poseur. Although Johnson died in , he would become one of the
darlings of the folk revival, blues revival, and record collectors and provides a powerful
example of how the revivals participants were inclined to rewrite blues history according
to their own values.
ese interviews \fesh out such backstories as the discovery and progressive lionization of
country blues by tracing a pattern in which relatively obscure regional artists, particularly
those from the Mississippi Delta, were considered the most authentic and their record
ings the most valuable, even though these perceptions did not conform to the values of
the black consumer.
A\rer Columbia reissued
King of the Delta Blues Singers
in , Johnsons work was
democratized and taken up by the literary elite and the blues maa alike. is album, on
the heels of Sam Charterss
e Country Blues
, elevated Johnson to blues sainthood. It also
Handy, the rst black musician spokesperson for the blues, attempted to answer questions
about blues origins, meaning, and what clues it held about black culture. In turn, during
the latter part of the twentieth and the rst decade of the twenty-rst century, another
recordings actually were by the white singers, who began recording in . e rst queen
of the blues was Marion Harris with e St. Louis Blues that in the spring of was a
huge hit. Six months later when the rst African American performed a blues song, they
racism. It extended to the North, but it was more hidden. In the South it was open, it was
naked, and it was terrifying. So this became a great deal of the emotional spur that pushed
me into doing the work.
What initiated the various trips throughout the South after your stint in New Orleans?
I was aware that throughout the whole Southern area there was a rich vernacular music,
which was being lost. So I couldnt limit myself totally to New Orleans jazz. e book that
Jazz: New Orleans
, was a biographical dictionary of every black musician I
could nd information about who played in the city from to , when the book was
published. At the same time I was aware that there was this
world out there. So the
rst country blues I did was with the Mobile Strugglers in Alabama in , but through
my interest in jazz I had already discovered the jug bands. One of the rst great releases
by Jelly Roll Morton, Dr. Jazz, on in , actually has the Dixieland Jug Blowers on
the other side. So I knew about the Memphis Jug Band and I knew about Cannons Jug
Stompers. So in I took my tapes of what I had been recording up to New York to Moe
Asch to ask him if he would begin putting out my material, and on the way back I stopped
in Memphis. And that was my rst time in Memphis, and I found Will Shade of the old
Memphis Jug Band. I walked into his little rented room the next day, and there was Will
Shade and Charlie Burse, whod been with the Memphis Jug Band in later days,
Cannon of Cannons Jug Stompers. So I recorded them, and actually the rst recordings
of all this material came out on an album called
American Skie Bands
released in .
Its one thing to interview a living musician; its quite another task to reconstruct the
events in the life and career of a dead musician. What was the source for the Blind Lemon
What was absolutely central to my growth in this eld was the book
published in . at was essentially what the editors whod written dierent chapters
in the book had done; they had simply interviewed elderly people and created a portrait
from the various bits of material that they gotreminiscencesand with some shrewd
ness had tied it to what we could see of the scene. And also the sense, if these musicians
had recorded, could we have the record? We had no discography; this was an incredible
problem. Each record we found in those days was like nding another bit of the coastline
of a very mysterious continent, because we had no idea who had recorded, who they were,
how much they recorded, anything! We just didnt know anything. But with
went back to New Orleans in the pre-recording era and created vivid portraits of people
whose music we had never heard, whose lives we knew very little about. ey made a
legend out of Buddy Bolden, and we know less about Buddy Bolden than we do about
Shakespeare. So I was very used to this, and this had shaped me very much. I still write
like Charles Edward Smith, who wrote the romantic interludes in
. And I was
very close, nally, to Fred Ramsey, the main man behind the book; when he came to New
Orleans in , he became as much of a mentor as I ever had.
Frederick Ramsey Jr. Historic New Orleans Collection.
black audience listening to? ey were listening to the Ink Spots, to Nat Cole. What I said in
Bolden, that had never been pub
lished before. I put all that in the
. He died
shortly a\rer that of Alzheimers. He
was writing a book about Buddy
Bolden, but apparently he wasnt.
Did you have any reason to look
up to him when you were a child
Oh, yeah! When I was fourteen
I was subscribing to the
everything about jazz
seemed to appear in the
. There were columnists
and Fred Ramsey had an occasional article. ere were reviews by semi-famous critics, who
were very impressive. But they didnt review blues records; it was just jazz.
How did you rst begin to take an interest in music?
Frederick Ramsey Jr., William Russell, Charles Edward Smith. Cour-
None of these were microgroove, were they?
Oh, no! ere were some experimental sessions done with microgroove in the s,
but microgroove didnt come in until the s, beginning with s and s.
At this point your collection was essentially a jazz collection, right?
No, I started collecting blues. I stumbled onto it. I think I was twelve at the time. Some
how I had heard blues somewhereI dont know where. So I went out looking for records,
because at that time the only thing going was swing musicyou know, Harry James, Benny
Goodman. So I went into this record store in Asbury Park, New Jersey. e guy behind
the counter was so typical of small-time record shop owners and dealersvery cynical
and o\bandyou know, take-it-or-leave-it kind. Invariably they were all bald for some
] I was trying to describe the kind of music I wanted, and I said, Its kind
of sweet sounding, which actually it is. He said to me, Like this? talking about swing
records. I said, No, no, thats not it. And I kept trying to describe it, and I said, Maybe
its kind of bluesy. And he said, Oh, you mean race records. And he went under the
counter and brought out this stack of blue-label Vocalions. At that time you could play
the records and hear them in these little sort of recording booths. So I brought a bunch of
them in, and I bought two or three. at was all the money I had. I think they were like
certain jazz a peak in artistry. e whole picture of black music would be eighty percent
religious, with a special thing in sanctied singing. I think country blues was a pinnacle
in black music.
As a radio host with a large black listening audience, I can attest to the notion that there
ve always been curious to know if there was great black music in the s and what it
sounded likenobody knows. I wish recording had come in earlier, like around , that
and Sonny [Terry], and a San Francisco folk bluesman named Jesse Fuller. And he had
things. And we said, Okay. Hold on. Were on our way. And he was in Rochester, New
York, and we were in Mississippi. So we drove straight through to Rochester, New York,
and found him on June th.
Now, Phil Spiro went back to being a computer programmer and Nick Perls basically
wasnt doing much of anything, so it fell to me to nd work for our newly rediscovered
nd they would look at that little yellow Volkswagen and they
would say, You three guys come all the way from New York in that little bitty car just to
hear blues music? And wed say, Well, yeah. And they were more bemused by this than
anything. ey would shake their heads and they would say, Well, weve got it here and
youre welcome to it. And they said, ere aint a porch down here aint got some kind
of nigger sittin on it, playin away on that music. Youre welcome to it. Weve got plenty of
it down here. So we avoided any racial \fap; we never had any. It was just that they were
Robert Johnson, whose researchers and biographers included Wardlow, Charters, Oliver,
McCormick, and many others. ese artists and their work became valuable economic
properties whose reissue projects garnered Grammy Awards, popular culture notice, and
a great deal of money.
e reissue projects and the publication of Sam Charterss book,
e Country Blues
also led to a new fascination with the artists who made these early recordings, initiating
a subsequent search not just for recordings but for the artists themselves. John Estes, Son
House, John Hurt, Skip James, Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Robert Wilkins, Big Joe Williams,
Yank Rachell, and Arthur Crudup were found and entered secondary musical careers for
white audiences in coee shops, bars, and festivals throughout the country. Other, more
contemporary blues artists who had continued working for black audiences also took a
turn on the festival circuit. ese included two of the most prolic black artists of all time,
Lightning Hopkins and John Lee Hooker, who, although they were among the greatest
electric guitar players ever, were forced to go unplugged for an audience still dominated by
folk revival orthodoxy. e folk revivals prejudice against modern electric blues stemmed
in part from an attempt to compartmentalize blues and keep it in the past, as well as an
elitist antirhythm and blues, rock n roll, or anti-popular music bias. Fortunately, this bias
would not last through the s, but for some critics the focus on so-called folk blues and
the eventual acceptance of more contemporary electric stylings separate the blues revival
into at least two stages.
Despite the assertions of Sam Charters, Ralph Gleason, and others who argued that
what was then currently on black radio was the folk music of the day, confusion per
sisted. Moreover, the insistence that acoustic was folk and electric was not represented an
BBC and from their parents generation. Several forms of black Americanbased niche
music provided such options, including ski\ne, a hybrid form of traditional jazz, blues,
and other forms of American roots music.
Fans of these American forms scoured used record shops to snatch up American records
and British reissue albums and, later on, American imports issued on the London labels.
For example, British discographer John Broven, who came to blues via s rock, noted
he would hit the local record shops every Saturday morning along with countless other
youth who, although they didnt know each other at the time, were engaged in the same
Moreover, as blues evolved it became closer to rock or other forms that purists disdained.
But the purists, who accepted only older forms of jazz and blues, slowly lost ground to
critics who argued for the inclusion of more modern styles, in eect arguing for a greater
acceptance of black musical preferences and a more progressive approach to black music.
Over the years, more and more black blues artists visited Europe, drawing European writers
to do eldwork in the United States. is shi\r in blues politics demanded participatory
eldwork that British eldworkers Paul Oliver and John Broven readily undertook. ey
hooked up with American eldworkers Sam Charters, Mack McCormick, David Evans,
Chris Strachwitz, and Jim ONeal, each helping the others with their projects.
and Mike started playing guitar. We got a drummer and a bass player, and then we started telling the
owners about other blues bands. You know, Why dont you book Muddy Waters or Howlin Wolf?
So they started booking them and eventually it was seven nights a week, live blues, live electric blues
from the South Side. And then other clubs started having blues and that caused a shi\r to the North
Side, because you couldnt make any money on the South Side. So I think this was really where it
started, that whole shi\r, when they hired Big Joe for that little holiday weekend. A lot of people dont
remember Big Johns. You dont see it in any books or anything.
ese new venues signaled a signicant shi\r for blues artists in the city who had played
in black taverns on the South and West Sides. But, bolstered by their success and lured by
bigger money and new respect, the citys blues artists were drawn farther and farther from
their home stomping grounds. Soon college towns throughout the Midwest, like Ann Arbor,
Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin, were featuring blues at parties, clubs, and festivals.
In New York City a blues revival began even earlier in the s and s with the arrival
of Josh White, Leadbelly, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and the Reverend Gary Davis.
But the specter of racial inequity was never far behind, as Dawkins continued: I can
play as good as any guitar player I have seen on television thats trying to copy B. B. [King]
or copy Muddy. If he got white skin then hes on TV making ten or twelve thousand a
night. But I make ten or eight dollars a night, and color is the dierence. And thats why
I say, well, this is wrong.
e stories of Cushings interview subjects also touch on economics and the creation of
value related to the collection, evaluation, and reissuing of historical recordings; the careers
up and planning the situation from the very heavy bombing in places like Plymouth and
o that nally in I wrote and sent an article, which in fact was about
gospel music, because I felt that people werent taking any notice of it. at was published
. In those days blues was always thought of as being an in\fuence on jazz. It
still wasnt thought of as being an idiom of its own. One of the things I was intent on doing
know Big Bill well, and I think he was probably the
most inspired. He had the greatest contact with the
audiences. Josh White came over, but he was very
much playing in the kind of Greenwich Village
club idiom. And Lonnie Johnson came over, but
magazine featuring Paul Oliver article
on Howling Wolf. Courtesy Alan Balfour.
interested in trading records and so forth. So thats
a good idea how that happened.
And then from about or , I started doing a
series of articles in a magazine called
which I called Sources of African American Music.
So by that time Id really already sorted it out. And Id
got enough to be able to write about dierent tradi
tions and the dierent veins of the development of
music. I did that for a few years until Id written these
rst articles. at also was very useful, because by
doing so we made contact with various other people
who were interested and had other records. By the
mid-\ries I was beginning to think Id like to do a
book on the content of blues, you see. So I made
friends with various people. In those days if you
wanted to hear somebodys records, there was no tape
recording even or any of the technologies available
now. So one had to get on the train and visit them just
to hear a record. [
magazine. Authors collection.
I knew a lot about the subject and needed to know more. ey felt that I would stand a good
Paul Oliver, Clifton Chenier,
Cleveland Chenier, and Val-
erie Oliver, American Folk
Blues Festival, Royal Albert
Hall, London, October
1969. Photo Val Wilmer.
Coast. A\rer that I came back to St. Louis and so forth. It was several months obviously,
but it was a fantastic experience.
What type of recording equipment did you bring with you?
] Its quite amusing really, because it was impossible to purchase a portable record
ing machine right up until about a month before I le\r. But the army did already have a
portable piece of equipment, and the BBC had actually obtained one of the armys portable
a very outstanding character, although I mistook him for a pile of old rags when I rst
found him outside a saloon in Texas. en, on the other hand, one or two people were
Did I hear you say that you had interviewed Little Walter?
Yes, I did. But unfortunately my interviews with both Little Walter and Muddy Waters
were accidentally wiped clean. It made me absolutely furious about it, but they were, and it
was absolutely too late for me to be able to do anything about it. is was when I got back
to Washington. A chap wanted me to play some items on the radio, and somehow theyd
Paul Oliver watches Johnny
Shines perform at the Ann
Arbor Blues Festival. Photo
understand than the black Americans. en again, writers like John Williams and Sterling
Brown and Langston Hughes and Richard Wright were all very helpful.
So how did you transform the successful blues exhibition into the book that became
Well, the exhibition was the start of it. Obviously I didnt want to do the book as an exhi
bition, but the point about the exhibition was that it provided me with a very large number
of photographs and ephemera which I could use. I was strictly interested in obtaining those
which were contextual, that gave an indication of what the levees looked like, or what a
lumber camp looked like, and all that kind of thing, you see. I was gradually able to work
those in, and then while Id been in the States Id spent much of my time when I was in
Washington at the Library of Congress collection, going through the photographs there,
and they were very helpful. ey made all sorts of things available to me, provided I could
nd them, which I did. So it was all pieced together. A\rer the exhibition had closed down, I
just felt all this stu was really too good to waste. ats why I really embarked on the book.
When was it actually published?
It was rst published in July by Barrie and Rocklie. e Crescent Press, in the
States and in England, and a rm named ChiltonI think they were in Philadelphia
published it in the States.
Radio Ghana. at was also a very important phase for me. But it was one of the reasons
why the exhibition e Story of the Blues was somewhat delayed, because I was actually
in Africa until I got back for the opening. It was a good period; there were lots of things
happening from my point of view.
How long were these programs?
ey would vary from half an hour to an hour. I reckoned I could play six records in a
half-hour program playing half the item in each case. In an hour program I could probably
and record the country dancers and some of the large bands. I did quite a lot of recording
and did programs on African music there for the BBC as well.
Speaking of books, didnt you have a hand in some fashion in the publishing of the blues
discographies, both prewar and postwar?
Yes, I did have a hand in it. e thing was, I used to write for a magazine called
. e editor was then Albert McCarthy. McCarthy and another writer named
Dave Carey, they were doing a kind of serialized discography of jazz called Jazz Direc
tory. ey were trying to cover all blues records in it as well. I didnt think that was a
very good idea, but at least it did reveal already an amazing amount of material, because
1980 University of Memphis Blues Conference, August 1980.
: Gayle Dean Wardlow, Bruce Bastin,
Cheryl Thurber, David Evans, Bob Vinisky, Jim ONeal, Kip Lornell, Doug Seroff, and Paul Oliver. Courtesy
Of the two who worked on the prewar discography, isnt Dixon still around?
Yes, hes a professor of linguistics in Melbourne, Australia.
And John Godrich was the other author on that volume?
John, yes, John Godrich. He was very nice. He was very dierent. Its interesting. Just
to give you an idea of the span of interests of blues collectors at that time. Bob, as we said,
was a professor of linguistics, and John Godrich was kind of a clerk, and both of them
were passionate about discography. [
] ats what I liked about collecting in those
at sounded very ridiculous, but there was an exception, and that was for intermission
ddie Boyd. And some of them actually decided to stay in England or in Europe. But
then there was also the series of folk blues festivals put on by a German team and toured
the last twenty years or so. ats one of the things Im working on at the present timeIm
really writing this out of curiosityand that is the di\tcult questionof exactly where the
blues began and how it did.
Paul Oliver at Buddy Guys Legends, Chi-
cago, 1999. Photo Robert Barclay.
anybody who picks it up and cares to play it. My writing, therefore, tends to concentrate
on the period up to the s but not much a\rer that.
Well, thats very honest of you! I guess if blues is dened as a black folk music, then by
denition nobody else can play it.
Well, if you put it that way roundin the sense because of the race, but more because,
I think, of the culture. In other words, the music played a roleblues in earlier yearsin
the black community. I dont think it plays quite the same role now and hasnt done so for
a long time. Probably soul music took over, and certainly gospel did for quite a while. Rap
a stereo machine, to use only one channel and kill the other channel when I play it back to
avoid the hiss. So when I go back to listen to some of those tapes I did in the early s,
side, which was around Uptown. e whole area was later taken away for the Superdome
pianoand Edith was sitting over across the room with three or four of the business
women, very well dressed, who were just simply chatting. Shed be interrupted during the
recording because she had to take a business call. She was charming, sensible, and she had
a wonderful feeling about the recordings she had done. She was proud of them. But it was
Indian musicians at this moment. Some years these sell more than anything else. [
s always starving. If I made three thousand dollars a year I was wide-eyed. I
worked as a picture framer, part-time. .
I rode buses as a checker for the New Orleans bus
And the one oddball of all, I reissued Robert Johnson, whom nobody had ever heard of,
and I apologized for that since it was just a personal preference. en I went on with the
Ramsey had recordings; I borrowed from Fred too. It goes on today. England is where
all the great reissue programs go on today, and everything is borrowed from collectors
and borrowed from each other.
Spence solo guitar record, which sold and sold and became the key for everything else that
was done in the Bahamas during that period.
How did you nd electricity in the Bahamas?
Gasoline generators. Some of the guys hand-built these sloops, little shing boats, thirty
political in our attitudes and ideas, and anyone trying to understand Bob Dylan who doesnt
understand this misses the whole point.
What was a press run on a typical
] Well, actually it was very
easy to keep track of. Moe changed cov
ers every thousand copies. He printed
a thousand covers, and then the cover
would be either redesigned or printed
in slightly dierent colors. e printers
could never match the colors. So the
same album would appear over and
over again, but every time a dierent
color, another thousand.
Moses Asch. Photo Diane Davies/Smithsonian Collection.
Its a very di\tcult, complex issue, but there was no way he could handle it. And then I
discovered when I was there in the s that the pledge hed made that everything would
stay in print killed him. You had to press a minimum of three hundred copies at that point,
go over to Spartanburg, South Carolina, and record Pink Anderson?and anybody else
So then I went to Vanguard and said, Well, look, Im sorry that I managed to stir all this
up, but I think youre going to have to sue Southern Music for Gus Cannon. ey said,
Can you nd him? and I said, Of course. So Maynard Solomon, whos a very decent
guy, hired a really, really top Broadway showbiz copyright lawyer, and the three of us \few
to MemphisMaynard, myself, and this lawyerto talk to Gus Cannon. It was wonderful
that there was going to be a problem. With Otis Spann and Jimmy Cotton, they had just
come in o the road with Muddy, and I went down to Muddys house and hung out. ey
agreed to be included. I had recorded the band before for Prestige.
ere was a big concert at Carnegie Hall which was one of those discovery of folk
roots kind of things. I was the emcee, and Im sort of onstage delivering a story about
all of this. I opened with Son House and was going on to the Muddy Waters band, and
then it was to end up with Chuck Berry. It turns out that Muddys band had been hired
simply to accompany Chuck Berry. is was and Muddy hadnt had a hit since
, so as far as people like Chuck Berry were concerned, he [Muddy] wasnt even worth
considering. And the audience at that point was still folkies, so Carnegie Hall was lled
with people who wanted to hear an acoustic guitar. So Muddy Waterss band was
received, but just politely. What was issued sounded like commercial R & B, which it was.
But I enjoyed Muddy, and there was a big hassle with Chuck Berry over money, sitting
there on this couch, saying, Well, I do believe I have to have \reen hundred dollars before
I go out onstage. And there was all this shouting: You already had a contract! Youve
already been paid! Well, I believe that I do have to have \reen hundred dollars. Well
Doesnt the same cover photo appear on all three records?
Yeah, the picture of the El [Chicagos elevated train] platform that Annie took, its on
Ive always thought that particular shot was the most romantic and representative shot
of the Chicago blues scene ever!
She was roaming the South Side alone with her camera [
] while I was in the stu
records spread out on the table in front of me. He came over, he looked at me, he looked
down at the records, and he picked them up; they were all blues records. He looked at me
and said, You a record man? I said, Yeah. He said, Okay. He turned around and went
back and I had no trouble.
I remember doing the live album at Johnny Peppers. at was Blackstone Ranger terri
tory, a very tough gang. I remember the session went late, and we looked out the windows
recordingthe scene was dead; there hadnt been any interest in their music for several
years, though they all were still playing well! ey were just ne, ne musicians at the
height of their powers. I simply oered them this chance. eyd never heard of Vanguard
Vanguard didnt do singles; Vanguard wasnt in Chicago [
]but here was this person
oering them union scale. What I put in each one of the contracts was that we had the
Do you want to go into the subject of your political dissatisfaction and exile?
For me it hasnt been exile at all. Ive had a very rich, very full recording career in Europe.
Some of my nest recordings, unfortunately, are all in Swedish. [
] And Ive had a
very full life. I still live there and now I have dual citizenship, Swedish and American. e
en-foot intervals and look
soulful. So we did. And of course the FBI took lovely photos of all of us. But this time,
a\rer the Kent State killings, we went back and there were one hundred thousand of us,
My fourth book is coming out in Swedish in the fall, and I wrote the rst book on Swed
ish folk ddling; there had never been one before in Swedish. I had produced Fixin to
Die Rag, a great protest song in the States. I had produced a hit with a protest song in
Sweden, and it was a great song! [
As far as I know hes still alive, living in Connecticut. He became the CEO of an insurance
largest collection of records, most of which were pop things that really were of no value
and very little musical interest. But he did have a tremendous collection of jazzand,
unbeknownst to a lot of people, of rare blues too. I started out buying jazz and wound up
buying blues. He sort of treated me like a son. He said, If I were your age, Id give away my
Jake Schneider, Max
to three dierent places carrying hundreds of thousands of records. But he kept them all
cataloged and he spent most of his time there, most of Wednesdays and Saturdays, which
was when he was open. is was separate from his law o\tces. He was a divorce lawyer,
and in fact I got my divorce through Jake. It involved a trip to Mexico on the part of the
What was the biggest record you ever snared from Big Joes?
I never really snared that much from Big Joes; it was mostly Jake Schneider. e big
gest records I got from Big Joe were two Champions by a guy named ScarecrowWillie
he would drink a pint of whiskey to put himself to
sleep. So that began another decline into alcohol
ism. McKune visited Bernie Klatzko, who was an
accountant and a great friend of mine. He visited
Bernie in his o\tce, and there was this New Yorker
that Klatzko was taking care of. Bernie described
him as a typical, cynical New Yorker. is guy took
one look at McKune, and a\rer McKune le\r he said,
Now, theres a man on his way down.
nd a hundred. ey were in boxes.
rare; it was on the Columbia series. It was Frank Driggs that found out his name.
Apparently Frenchy went to Texas like Bunk Johnson, who he sounded like. He had a very
Creole-sounding name. He doesnt seem to be mentioned much in the history of New
And he did describe his blues collecting when he rst started as compares to the sex drive
of a teenager! [
Were you close to the same age?
Yes, Bernie was three or four years older and he died; he had lymphoma discovered in
the early s. He had x-ray treatments and they really didnt know how to handle it. ey
cured the lymphoma, but the scar tissue from the x-ray kept increasing and increasing,
and thats what nally killed him, ve or six years ago.
It occurs to me that your name and his name were the names we often saw on the Yazoo
label reissues. Did you guys loan records to Nick Perls?
Oh, yeah! Yeah! Actually Bernie had his own record company. He started Yazoo with Nick
Perls, but he was cut out. So then he reissued jazz and blues on another label, called Herwin,
which was named a\rer another s label. He also put out some s on Herwinof Skip
James, Son House, and Willie Brown.
It seems there is no serious record collector who has managed a successful marriage. What
are your thoughts on this subject?
Its like a seesaw. As the love interest in a woman increases, the interest in collecting
there with William Harris. en theres Jaybird Coleman, the second greatest harmonica
player and blues singer. Its a combination of the two, unaccompanied harmonica with
blues singing. He was a master at that. eres only one other harmonica player I think is
open and this giant head of an alligator came out. [
] e police were called and it
was a really big deal!
At some point didnt you have to sell your rst collection?
Yes! at was when I was really pressed for money. I was supporting two women at the
time, in two dierent apartments. One was an ex-wife. I was working, but I wasnt making
enough to cover expenses, so .
. But then I was in love, so it was easy to sell.
Where did the collection go?
Most of it wound up with Rich Nevins, who didnt buy it at the time, but I sold a bunch
to Bernie Klatzko and to Nick Perlsthats where they went. Of course, both are dead. And
Bernie sold his collection eventually to Nick Perls, and Nick Perls died and Rich Nevins
managed to buy the collection.
Didnt Gayle Dean buy somebodys collection?
He bought a lot of rare blues Paramounts from Bill Russell, who had found a mint stock
of Paramounts in Bloomingdales basement in New York City, oddly enough. [
Russell was a pioneer jazz collector and he didnt care much about the blues, but he picked
them up anyway. is was in the mid or late s he picked them up. Included were some
really rare Pattons and other things. Gayle traded piano rolls to Bill Russell. And he bought
a lot of Paramounts from John Steinerwho, in eect, bought out Paramount in around
or thereabouts. Paramount hadnt been producing records for over ten years. ere
William Russell at the Caledonia in New Orleans. Historic New Orleans Collection.
were still a few \foating around. John Steiner wanted to reissue Paramounts, mostly jazz,
so he bought the company out for practically nothing.
singer, Tillie Johnson, accompanied by a good pianist named Buddy Burton. And she
sounds like this quivering child on the record because the speed is so sped up. Just to make
it t in that ten-inch distance, they had to speed it up. I dont know why they even issued
itthe vocal is very strange.
Do you have a pitch control?
Yes, I do! It starts at rpm and will play up to ten percent faster or ten percent slower.
he was good, and I could see that he would become popular. But then I got a phone call
from a friend of mine, Frank Driggs, who was working for Columbia at the time. And
he said, Stop, because Columbia is doing a Robert Johnson reissue! So we stopped, and
thats when we put out Patton, who was much moreI hate to use this trite expression
down-to-earth, but much more interesting and varied in dierent ways, the great master,
probably. So I had a bunch of his Paramounts in decent enough shape. Bernie Klatzko had
some Paramounts and Vocalions, and on that we issued the Charley Patton. It was done
at a place called Sanders Recording Studio in Times Square, New York. He used to make
home recordings for people, so we used him. He was sort of a colorful character. en the
records were pressed up in the Bronx. Little did we know, but the guy that was pressing
them pressed a bunch of extras and was selling them on the side. [
What was a press run for an OJL release?
And for some reason a lot of people disliked what he wrote, but I thought he was really
fascinatingand good! I thought, last I heard, that he was teaching at the University
Didnt I read in the Slotnikoff [Joel Slotnikoff, publisher of
] interview that you
started OJL in response to Charterss Folkway album?
e response was the second album, which wasBill Givens came up with this title; I
. I dont know.
Youve portrayed McKune as one of your
mentors. Is there anyone youd like to claim
as a disciple?
Well, Dick Spottswood always claimed
that I was his mentor. You never know. It
could be done accidentally. A lot of English
collectors bought OJL records. Later on a lot
of people read
but who knows?
How did you decide to start
Initially I did it in response to not being
with OJL anymore. I was still collecting, and
I thought it would be interesting to have a magazine primarily for blues collectors, who
actually collected salso jazz collectors! It started in . I put out two issues and then
everything stopped. I le\r New York, went to Key West, and then at some point I decided Id
start up again with issue number three. I think that was about twenty years later. [
What was a run for
How many copies per issue?
at varied. Usually two thousand to three thousand. A couple were sold out. e Robert
Johnson issuethat was sold out, and that was reprinted again. So that totaled maybe six
thousand or seven thousand. e combined reissue of numbers one and twothat sold out
but wasnt reprinted again. ere are still issues around and Im boxing some up. eres
one distributor, City Hall Records, and Im just shipping by the box-load. Key West Printers
are kind of primitive. ey didnt put enough dryer in the ink [
], so the back cover
the phone. But in person I never really traveled that much. I enjoyed Steve Calts interviews
with Skip James. I also knew Skip James and talked a lot with him! We even played the
You discovered Son House. Where did it go from there? How did you handle this discovery?
Well, in the s the folk umbrella covered all sorts of traditional music. If you went to
a folk festival, you heard gospel, blues, Cajun, zydeco, topical folksingers, French Canadian,
and South African musicians. e folk music umbrella covered everything. e Newport
festivals from , , were just marvelous. ey were very eclectic. ere was a lot of
bluegrass and old-timey, and we did that. Mother Maybelle Carter and Bob Dylan and
Mississippi John Hurt and Cesar Chavez and the grape pickers in Californiait was re
ally a whole mixed bag. en the music fragmented so there were bluegrass festivals and
mandolin festivals and things like that. e rst blues festivals were not until much later,
but at that point it was all under the folk umbrella.
You have to realize that in that pre-Internet, pre-email, pre-fax kind of thing, we wrote
Who actually had the Son House bug? Among the three of youyou, Nick, and Philwho
was it that had the real driving force to nd Son House?
I think Phil Spiro, because Spiro actually played music. I did not and neither did Nick.
How did John Hurt reemerge? Who handled that?
e point that I would make on John Hurt or Son House or so many of the others is
they just played it the way they played it before rediscovery, no matter where they were.
eres an interesting story. George Weir, who was the promoter of the Newport festival,
who is still in his seventies, probably the greatest folk music impresario, and I was showing
him some photos and we were talking. I said to him, Out of all of the artists that you did
over the years, whats the biggest surprise you ever had? And he looked at me and he said,
Mississippi John. And I said, Really? He said, You know, those night concerts drew
seventeen or eighteen thousand people. And if they didnt like you, they didnt hesitate to
en minutes. I
House, Skip James, and I were sitting there and the door openedand it was a very small
lobbyand Clapton came striding o the elevator and he came face-to-face with Son House
and Skip James. Now, Cream had recorded Skips Im So Glad. So I did the introductions.
is is my friend, Eric. Eric, this is Son House. Eric, this is Skip James. Skip, this is a young
man from that English group that recorded your song Im So Glad. So they shook hands
all around and then a guitar came out. I think it was Skips. And Skip, who was not about to
lose the show to some young kid from England, proceeded to play Im So Glad. And just
a dazzling version of it! And then Son played a song. And then the guitar went to Eric. And
Skip basically saidand Skip would talk about himself in the third personhe said, Now,
Skip has played a song for you. Now you must play a song for Skip. And Eric, no fool, was
having no part of this. He demurred and said, no, he appreciated the invitation but he was
honored to listen and was not going to play in their presence.
Would you run through the history of how you got these guys on record?
ere was the assumption that I would go to Delmark or go to Arhoolie, but my point
was, why not shoot for the biggest and the best? In other words, if I succeed, Id try the next
one and the next one. e worst that happens is that I end up at Delmark and Arhoolie.
I knew that John Hammond, who was a developer of talent acquisition at Columbia, had
been responsible for the Robert Johnson album. And he had done his famous [From]
Spirituals to Swing concert in Carnegie Hall in , in which he tried to bring Robert
Johnson up to New York City only to nd out that Robert was dead. And I think he put
Big Bill Broonzy on the show instead. So, with John Hammond, a huge Robert Johnson
fan, I had my in there. So I made the connection and asked him if he would be interested
in Son House on Columbia. And in my book, I mentiontheres a chapter in there about
Son House and how I got Son House to Columbia Records in New York City. And we sat
in the o\tce and John came in, and he just couldnt stop talking: Oh, Son, Im so happy to
have you. Do you know Im a big fan of Robert Johnson, and I released a Robert Johnson
album, and Robert Johnson and Terraplane Blues and Come On in My Kitchen, and
Robert this and Robert that.
Now, you have to realize that Son was Roberts mentor. But Son, signicantly older, only
knew Robert as being a real pain in the ass, who, as a kid, would borrow his guitar, break
strings, unreliable, wouldnt make gigswhatever. So now fast-forward forty years or so,
and hes sitting in the o\tce of a record executive who had put out a Robert Johnson LP and
cannot stop talking about Robert Johnson and how great he was, and it just went on and on.
could see the light go on over his head. And he said, Well, of course! Well, of course! In
other words, you were making records long before him. And then he came around the
desk and he said, Im honored. Columbia Records is honored to have you. And I know
instrumentalist. If you looked into Skips recording from to his rediscovery stu in ,
his ngering and progression is exactly the same. You could say the same thing for John
Hurt. In other words, these guys have their playing down.
So how did you make the connection for him with the recording then?
Well, there really wasnt a whole lot of ghting for Skips services. Vanguard, Elektrathey
were the major folk labels of their day. Maynard Solomon wrotenot a major blues fan,
but he had an ear for that which he felt he wanted to have in the Vanguard family. And
he recorded a lot of stu that were not commercial sellers. So he thought that Skip would
be a good t. Im trying to remember where we recorded. It was a hotel ballroom on the
New Yorks Upper West Side. I dont remember the name of the hotel, but the ballroom
had good acoustics. So we went in there at night and did our recording there.
What was Skips attitude towards the idea of going back in and making more records
some thirty years later?
I dont think any of these guys really spent a lot of time introspectively looking inward.
It was a gig. It was what they did. It was the way they earned their living. In other words,
I never looked at it from a sociological point of view. ese guys were sitting and playing
And I got no callbacks. Nothing. No callbacks. And it turned out that he had told people
that he didnt like giving Dick Waterman ten percent of his money, so heres his number
in Memphis; call him directly and he will come back and play for them directly. So there
was that example. And then theres another one and another one. And nally I found that I
couldnt have disloyalty on my artists roster. And if you have a little bit of it, its only going
to poison the well. So I ended my relationship with Bukka and never spoke to him again.
Just in terms of the prewar bluesmen that were rediscovered, who was in your stable? Who
was in the roster of bluesmen when you had the most artists working?
Who were the artists that I had?
Well, see, I formed Avalon Productions in , and John [Hurt] died in . And by
Skips cancer had advanced and .
en it was Son, Skip, John, and Mance Lipscomb,
Did you have any anything to do with Junior going to Vanguard?
Freddie King were all born about the same time. So that particular wave of young musi
cians that was ready to come out of Chicago in the mid-sixties. Magic Sam just dened
charisma! And when you gure that the loss of body of work that we lost with him over
the decades is probably right up with what if? What if Hendrix had lived another forty
. when that \fame goes out.
was one of the rst guys to use city directories in the big cities. I never found anybody a\rer
the early s; they were starting to die. Everything was done by that time.
How did you start writing for
on Willie Brown and Blind Joe Reynolds. I remember that Mike Leadbitter and Simon
Napier stopped by and visited me in Mississippi. ey were on their way to Texas. is
had to be or .
Tell me how your books came about.
Chasin at Devil Music
was published in . By the way, that book has now sold
over twenty-two thousand copiesand is still selling. ats probably more than any blues
book has ever sold. A\rer I got the back side of the Robert Johnson death certicate [in
], I sent it to a friend, Jas Obrecht, at
magazine. And they published it.
ey paid me to publish the back side of the death certicate. Jas said, Why dont you do
a book? Collect all your articles and do a book? I know the guy down at Miller-Freeman.
Miller-Freeman at that time owned
magazine. Jas said, Why dont you send
a proposal to the editor at Miller-Freeman? I know him and Ill give him a call. So Ed
Komara wrote a proposal for me. We sent it to the editor, and within six weeks time the
en-year odyssey because
and forth and talked about doing a book on Mississippi bluesmen. Eventually it evolved
into a book on Charley Patton. It took him forever to nish the manuscript, but he took it
to a number of New York publishers, and nobody was interested. So somewhere around
the late s, when Nick Perls died, he was going to publish it himself. And when he
died, his label, Yazoo, was sold to Rich Nevins. Rich gave his word to Nick that he would
publish our manuscript, so he printed three thousand copies of the Charley Patton book.
It sold out, but thats all there were. But it was all written by Calt. He had the nal say-so. It
was mostly my historical research, but he had the nal say-so on contents, and his writing
pioneer jazz collector. I used to
visit him in New Orleans, and he
lived in a little old apartment. He
had great recordstons of them.
ey never did him much good.
He never wanted them to go to
a university. Guess whatwhen
he died, a museum bought them
from his brother. So I decided
to sell off enough of my great
records to buy a nice house,
and there are still a lot of great
records here. But mine was one
of best record collections in the
world. One time I gured that I had traded records with forty-nine dierent record collec
tors over a period of forty yearsjazz collectors, blues collectors, a little bit of everybody!
How did you nd that he was at Dockerys?
Well, I had found one of his wayward girlfriends somewhere near Vicksburg. I dont
remember how; somebody had told me he had an ex-wife in a little town called Bovina.
And so I went to nd herI think her name was Minnie Franklin. She had run o with
his pistol and some cash money, they said. I went there asking if she had ever known Char
ley Patton, and at rst she didnt want to say much. She had another man she lived with,
but she nally admitted shed been his girlfriend at one time. I asked what happened to
CharleyWhere did Charley die? She said he died up near Holly Ridge. I said, Wheres
Holly Ridge? She said, ats just out of Indianola. She was right about that. I asked
where he came from and she said Dockerys. I asked, Wheres Dockerys? She said, Up
there around Cleveland.
So we came from Jackson to Yazoo City, drove into the Delta, drove up to Indianola, Indi
anola up to Cleveland. And we found one of Charleys earlier wives, his rst wifea woman
named Minnie Toy. She had a daughter named China Lu. We tried to talk to her, but she was
kind of senile and she didnt say much about Charley. But Bernie went back and wrote this
up, notes on our trip. It was and this came out in on the next Charley Patton album
[on OJL]. But that was the rst information. Many people have been to Dockerys now and
take the photo of Dockerys farm. Im proud to say I was rstme and Bernie.
Has that painted grain tower always been
Yeah! It was there in ! I went back there
in with Steve Calt. We co-authored the
King of the Delta Blues Singers:
e Life and Music of Charley Patton
. I went
back there and got an original photo of Will
Dockery from his son and some coins and
paper money from Dockerys. Its hard to
believe its forty years ago.
Share with us some of the amazing trivia
about Charley Patton.
Well, his daddy owned some land. He
share-cropped on Dockery, and he was
respectable and went to church. And he
wanted Charley to be respectable, but
Charley wanted to play music. Now, whats
interesting is that in I found someone
who knew him personally. I found Rever
end Booker Miller while door-knocking in
Greenwood. It was divine intervention. I was
Steve Cushing visits Dockerys Plantation, 1988. Photo
years salary. He ran with Willie Brown some, and he had a lot of dierent wives. I believe
theyve found eight dierent marriage certicates now! I dont think he ever got a divorce; he
just went and married another one and got another marriage license. He was a tremendous
guitar player, and you cant tell that by listening to the Paramount recordings, because the
quality of that company was so poor, as you know.
How did Charley come to record?
In I found Ishman Bracey alive in Jackson. I went over to see Ishman and he was in
do a number of songs. Charley recorded fourteen songs at his rst sessionhe was that
land for the plantations. ey brought the guitars to the Delta. e black men saw it,
learned how to play itand got more attention from the women! Originally in the s
and s there was Greenville, and Natchez, and Vicksburg; they were all river ports. ey
had plantations close to the river, but in the inner Delta it was all forest.
So you challenge the notion that there ever was an earlier generation of bluesmen who were
But Ive always been amazednobody plays like Charley. He was a great bottleneck
player, but he just had so many dierent styles. And I dont think he taught too many
people. He showed Booker Miller how he played, but Booker Miller never played with a
bottleneck. I asked if he played Charleys songs, and he said, Id play with him. But did
you play them by yourself? I might play them o somewhere else. But I wouldnt try to
play them in front of Charley! He said, I never heard a man could play a guitar like he
could. He could play on one string! Hed just make one string talk. I saw guys try to go up
against Charley and hed cut em! ey couldnt stand him. Hed just run them o. He was
so good at what he did!
What have you been able to nd out about Charley, personality-wise?
One guy, Hayes McMullen, called him a squabbling scuttlebutt. He was always squab
bling, always arguing. He got in a lot of arguments. He was boisterous at times. Miller said
Charley would go into a place where he didnt know anybody, and hed try to tell jokes.
hed been poisoned, all the dierent stories. By the way, you have to remember that in those
days, if someone died, how did you hear about it? TVno! Radiono! By word of mouth
nd by the time it made its way through the community, it got turned around: he died
this way; he died that way. No! He died from the eects of rheumatic fever. He had a mitral
valve to the heart and it was leakingprobably damaged by rheumatic feverand eventu
ally his heart just stopped on him. He couldnt breathe anymore. He was about forty-four
years old; he was born in about . e census records show . eres some dispute
might start at just a couple of dollars, but once he got popularonce Charleys records
of August. When he went back that time he took Son House, Willie Brown, and Louise
Johnson up with him . . .
Tell us about that session.
Well, heres the situation. About April of Paramount was beginning to see the record
business go down. e company ownerhis name was Moserwrote to Speir. ey wanted
him to come up and they would talk about selling the company to him. He would have moved
had any money. In fact, with each of his three records, less than ten copies of each record
are known to exist. My Black Mama, there are four copies. But there is only one known
copy of the last Charley Patton record, Joe Kirby Blues. Of most of the Pattons from
and there are only two or three copies of eachthats all!
What can you tell us about Willie Brown?
Charley Patton taught him. Willie was born in . I found a death certicate on him. In
I was in college and Id learned about death certicates. So I went down to the Missis
sippi Bureau of Vital Statistics, and I put in for death certicates at a dollar a piece: Charley
Patton, Tommy Johnson, Willie Brown, and Robert Johnson. ey found everything but
Robert Johnson. Willie Browns certicate said he was born in ; he died in . He
never played the harmonica as the Willie Brown in the movie
did. But Willie
Brown was a lazy guy. He liked to play behind Charley Patton. He didnt like to sing very
much. He had a fairly weak voice. He just liked to play, and he liked to play second guitar,
not lead. He didnt have an outgoing personality like Patton. He learned from Charley and
he followed Charley around. Charley was the superior of the two musicians.
What can you tell me about Tommy Johnson?
Tommy was up in the Delta around or . He was playing up around Drew [Missis
sippi], and he
play around Charley Patton. One of his rst songs is a melody that Charley
Patton used. I dont have any doubt that he learned some of his guitar from Patton. I found
his older brother, LeDell Johnson, in Jackson in . He told me a story that when Tommy
was \reen or sixteen years old, an older woman ran o to the Delta with him to Rolling
Fork, which is above Vicksburg, and when Tommy came back he was playing Big Road
Blues. Big Road Blues is up-tempo, and if you listen to Tommy, he doesnt play up-tempo
very much. Tommy was a great bluesman, but a lazy bluesman if you think about it. He
sings Cool Drink of Water and Big Fat Mamagreat guitar and great voice! Speir said,
Nobody could sound as good as Tommy Johnson. He would throw his voice up, yodel!
Very few people know this today, but Johnson stuttered. Speir told me he stuttered. Ish
man Bracey told me he stuttered. When I found Ishman Bracey, I asked him about Tommy.
He said that Tommy would stutter until he started playing, but then he could sing without
the stutter. He always carried a chaw of tobacco in his jaw. Johnny Temple told me that a\rer
Tommy came back from Memphis a\rer his rst recording session, he came back with about
drinking that canned heat. Youd think his liver would have killed him many years before
that, because he was a hard drinker since his teenage years! People dont realize they were
drinking moonshine. ey werent drinking bonded whiskey. Mississippi was a totally dry
state in those days. Bracey told a story. ey got to Wisconsin to record for Paramount
and they had some Old Charter [whiskey] up there. Tommy had never had any bonded
whiskey in his life and he got drunk. And they were nally going to run him o [from
recording] because he kept ruining so many masters! Old Charter was the whiskey they
had. Tommy just went wild. Hed never had any bonded whiskey!
house in and he went back in the room and sat down. ey came back to check on
him and he had died of a heart attack. He was playing guitar the same night he died, so
he was still trying to play a little bit for friends and family. He was playing at one of his
relatives houses. He was down near Crystal Springs.
It seems as though there was a Crystal Springs school of bluesTommy Johnson, Houston
Stackhouse, and then Robert Nighthawk.
He taught them. Tommy taught them! ey learned from him, either in the Delta or
down in Crystal Springs. He was a guy who would freely show people how to play his
songs and his style of guitar. And they took it and began to play his music. ere were
more people playing like Tommy Johnson than there were like Patton. Very few people
played like Patton. You had the Mississippi Sheiks. ey played Stop and Listen, which
was their version of Big Road Blues. ey made it for OKeh and later for Paramount as
e New Stop and Listen Blues. Tommy Johnsons style was easier to pick up and play
than Pattons style. And Charley wasnt necessarily going to sit down and show you his
It was Depression time, and he had never put money like that up before. He put it up for
Tommy, and Tommy was supposed to show up [in court]. Speir went to Crystal Springs
looking for him. He wasnt there. He went down towards Louisiana to Tylertown. He wasnt
there. He nally found him in a little town called Angie, Louisiana, across the state line
from Tylertown. He said he walked up to him in a eld. He said, You gotta go back with
me. He put handcus on him. Tommy said, Please dont take me back. He was begging
and begging. Please dont take me back! Speir said, I got to take you back. Ill lose !
And Speir took him back and he had to stand trial.
Who was Ishman Bracey and how did you nd him?
Ishman Bracey recorded in . He ran a lot with Tommy Johnson in the s. He
Hawkeye Herman and Gayle Dean
Wardlow. Photo © 2006 Michael
had another called Leaving Town Blues. It was not quite as popular in Jackson among
bluesman. He never was. Bentonia [where James was born] is in the hill country on the
way to Yazoo City. Its not in the Delta.
Did these bluesmentalk about the country suppers and the juke joints; it would lead me to
think that there werent any white listenersat any point did white folks listen to this music?
Yeah, they listened to it some. And the thing was, you didnt have it in the Delta as much,
but if you could, you always wanted to play for the white man, because he paid more money.
Bracey told me hed rather play for a party for white people to dance to and listen than he
would for blacks, because they paid more money. But they also came up and listened on
that the church said were wrong. You either lived with the Lord or you lived with the devil.
Bracey said, I lived with the devil for a long time! Remember Robert Wilkins? It was the
same thing. He le\r blues playing, got totally out of it and never went back. He got in the
Church of God in Christ in Memphis.
How did Bracey and Tommy Johnson fall out?
Tommy wanted more money. He thought he was the bigger of the two. He would ask for
pick his brain. He remembered Charley Patton. He remembered Bracey. He remembered
Tommy Johnson and Skip James. ose stood out in his mind. But I would talk to him
about Paramount Records and who else he might have gotten on record and where they
might have been from, because I was going to go out and nd those guys. But anyway, Speir
these record advertisements in back
near these listening booths. He had his
picture taken in the store in , and
its in my book.
One of the points you made in the
bookand perhaps you can elaborate
most record players were not electric,
No, they were wind-up Victrolas.
They sold wind-up Victrolas. Now,
in a city like Jackson, once they came
in with Victrolas that
electricity, Speir later put some of those
in his listening stalls. But originally, before they began making the electric Victrolaand
Victor started about with an electric motor you could plug inbut you had the wind-up
machines, because thats all people had at their houses. ey didnt have electric Victrolas.
When they started making Victrolas in the early s, they were for people who didnt have
electricity. People who lived in the country and people who lived in the small towns, they
didnt have electricity. You wind them up! As a matter of fact, Ive never seen an electric Vic
trola in any black home I ever went in all my life! You always saw the wind-up machines. If
you were living out in the country in the Deep South, in the small towns, they didnt have rural
electric until Rural Electric Association came through with power lines a\rer World War II.
Up in the mountains in East Tennessee in the s they had those Tennessee Valley
Authority plants, but when I lived in rural Louisiana we didnt have electricity until a\rer
World War II, when they came in and put power lines in. So in rural Mississippi you bought
the wind-up Victrolas, and those electric Victrolas cost so much, how were you going to
buy them? You could buy a little suitcase model you wind-up for about .. In those days
youd pay over a hundred dollars when you bought a good Victrola. You might pay a couple
of hundred for the top-of-the-line player. It was always the black woman who worked for
the white man as a cook, or whatever she didshe had the money to buy a Victrola. Speir
Didnt Speir also sell instruments?
He sold a few guitars. He told me he sold the National guitars for thirty-two dollars, the
old metal-bodies. He sold those in the s. He didnt sell a lot of guitars, primarily records
and radios. He sold Stellas for .. As a matter of fact, he was always selling Stellas to
Charley Patton. Charley would come down and buy a new guitar. If I recall, he
Stellas to Tommy Johnson and Bracey to take and play at their recording sessions. I dont
think hed do that for everybody; theyd buy them. ey sold for .. ey were made
out of birch. Absolute best blues guitar at that time!
Was it an advantage to have a new guitar as opposed to a guitar that you were used to?
Oh, yeah! Because the old one was probably worn out. ey wear out real easy. Speir
sold Nationals for up in the thirties, and Stellas. He stayed in business until but ended
up in the furniture store business in the late s and got out of the music store business.
en he got out of the record business. He thought the record business was dead. e
record ban came along in and he thought it was all dead, so he got out and went into
the furniture business.
Had he been scouting and producing up until that time?
Johnson had the best voice; the way he sang and moaned was the most mournful sound
youd ever hear.
Did you do much research on Skip James? And did you have anything to do with nding
Most every bona de blues fan knows that during the early years of the folk boom/blues
revival one of the seminal events of that era was the rediscovery of a handful of prewar
bluesmen and that John Fahey was responsible for rediscovering two of the more promi
nent prewar bluesmen, Bukka White and then Skip James. In the case of Bukka White,
the story is legend. Fahey sent a postcard to Bukka White addressed to General Delivery
in Aberdeen, Mississippi, requesting that Bukka call him collect. Bukka had relatives in
Aberdeen, who forwarded the postcard to Bukka in Memphistry that today! John Fahey
is also given credit for rediscovering Skip, and he did. But what isnt so widely known is
that I was busy trying to nd Skip myself, and Fahey ultimately located Skip by using one
of the leads I had turned up. Heres how it happened.
We were just sitting and talking; he was telling me about Elmore James living with him. I
asked him if he had ever heard about Skip James, and he said, Oh, you mean Skippy! ats
what we called him, Skippy. Yeah, I used to play with him. Hed come down here and wed
go out and play in west Jackson. Where was Skippy from? Bentonia. Id never heard
of Bentonia, and he told me it was about thirty miles north, up by Yazoo City. I asked if
he knew what had happened to him, and Johnny told me he never had heard that Skip
had died. He told me to go up and look for Henry Son Stuckey, that Henry Stuckey and
Skippy used to play together. Stuckey was a ne guitar player. He used to back Skippy up.
So I headed immediately for Bentonia looking for Henry Stuckey, and I nally found him
living west of Bentonia about seven or eight miles out on the Big Black River. I talked to
him, and he said Yeah, Skippy was here up until two or three years ago. He owed a man
some money for a crop, and he le\r in the middle of the night. I asked if he knew where
Skippy went. He went to Tunica County somewherethats all I know. Stuckey was the
man who taught Skip James the E-minor tuning. Stuckey learned it in Europe in France
during World War I from a group of black soldiers from somewhere in the Caribbean, like
Trinidad. So he shows it to Skippy and Skippy adopts it and makes it his own.
I was still in college and working football games on Friday night, so I couldnt go im
mediately. I nally got some money in the spring of , and I headed to Tunica County to
look for Skip James. I stopped in Tunica and talked to an old gambler, who said, at guy
youre talking about used to come up here and play piano. But he moved to West Memphis.
So I headed to West Memphis. I went into a club and asked around, and they said, Yeah,
there was a guy up here, but he got run out of town by the police, either for moonshining
series of lists of records, and normally the lists of records were auctions, so you put in a bid.
shillings, which is about two dollars. So I started buying records. I then went up to Oxford
to study mathematics, and I didnt have much money, of course. So what I was doing was
buying records, o\ren from the States, and I bought an early tape recorder, a Telefunken
tape recorderthis was about or soso Id record the records and then sell them. Id
John Godrich. Courtesy Godrich Family.
John typed out some of it and I typed out some of itwe made copies for each other. I was
studying mathematics, and you dont have to work very hard, you dont tend to work many
hours in mathematics. If you work in science you have to go to the lab; if youre working on
English or history you have to write an essay every week. In mathematics you just solve a
few problems, do a few sums. I had plenty of time. I used to go out on the river at Oxford
as students do there, but I had plenty of time for typing out all these lists.
and there have since been many editions of
it, but this was the rst one. He had included
some blues singers that had jazz accompani
ments. And in September I had moved
to Edinburgh, and I came down to London
to do a course on some crazy programming
system, Fortran, that they had at the time at
IBM. John and I were doing all this discog
raphy just for our own benet. We each had
other things to do. It was just sort of a hobby.
Paul Oliver was very helpful and very close
general series, which was quite a big thingall the pop, and jazz, and hillbilly, and blues.
ere would be four or ve jazz and then four or ve blues, then four or ve country and
We had a page for every artist. For the big discography you give the date of recording,
you give the artists name, of course, and they would always be the singer for blues, and
John Godrich with Francis Wilford-Smith.
Courtesy Robert M. W. Dixon.
some useful information, but we still had to work out all the accompaniments. Lovin Sam
from Down in Bam, Sam eard accompanied by piano. Was it his own piano or was it
Cow Cow Davenport on piano? It gives you the composer credits as well: Brunswick
with the records. And aural identications always are a bit iy; its very good to have this
information, but you have to put it with other things as well. Plus we added information on
the Library of Congress records made by John Lomax and people like that, going around the
South. ese were not for commercial issue. Of course many of them have been issued since.
And we also extended the coverage in the third edition to . It started in , be
cause the rst genuine recording by an African American group in the African American
wanted to do that, we should have done it when we started, I suppose. We do have the
composer information for some but not for others. But to do it now would be such a huge
job. It would also make the book a lot bigger, but I agree in principle it should be done.
How many copiesall four editions totaledhas the book sold to this point?
I can tell you because obviously we like to document ourselves. If you look in the intro
duction to the fourth edition, page xiii, it says it ran to three printings of the rst edition,
spring and autumn and then spring . Brian Rust did , then he did another
, and then he did , and then the paper masters wouldnt print any more. So the rst
edition we had , copies. e second edition was published in the summer of , and
board Sams songsIve got a lot of respect for him as a writer. I divide blues artists into
players and writerssingers, players, and writers. Some guys are good at all three. Most
ont think he mentioned St. Louis town in any of the records
had Down on the Levee by Speckled Red, but I didnt know about Boots Place being
Bob Koester and George Spinks with dates. Courtesy Bob
the rst trad band I recorded. He later made lieuten
ant, plainclothes. Charlies parents were both killed in
holdupstwo separate holdupsand he was raised
in an orphans home. And he had this veneration for
older people, which worked very well for him when
I wanted to ask you about Speckled Red. Was he from St. Louis or Atlanta?
He grew up outside of Atlanta, and as I recall, there was a lynching and a burning of
the body in whatever the small town wasit may be in a liner note somewhereand so
the family moved to Atlanta. And then he went on the road playing piano. We know he
recorded in Chicago and Memphis and apparently wound up in St. Louis in the very early
s, possibly immediately a\rer Memphis. Red actually used to talk about working in
sporting houses: I was just in the whorehouse to make a little noise for the people, make
them know theres a party going on! He knew musicians that had never recordedJames
Hemmingway is one that comes to mind. When I played him a Charlie Spand record, he
said, Well, that sounds like . . . And he gave some nickname; hed never learned the guys
name. And of course his eyesight was very bad, so showing him pictures didnt help. He had
these nicknames, and it doesnt much matter, because none of them had ever appeared on
record. But he had one guyDad? I think it was DadDad was the rst guy he learned
from. Red had a tune called Dads Piece. I think it came out on the
reissued on the Sirens label and recorded at the same session as the Delmark Speckled Red.
be a restaurateurand actually waitress/managerand then shed go back to her job. And
then in the evening shed be there in time for dinner.
would say, Keep holy the Sabbath; close the bars at midnight. In Chicago its the much
more enlightened view [
in an Irish brogue
]: Aww, sure, its Saturday night. Let the lads
stay open an extra hour! [
] But it was good business for East St. Louis that they did
that, because the clubs could open in East St. Louis and pick up some slack.
So we were on our way to a jam and I had to stop for directions. I stopped at a place that
looked like it had been a gas station with a house. So I walk in and theres an old bar, with
a crap game going beyond the bar. I ask directions but I hear music coming from upstairs.
Its One-Arm John Wrencher as a sideman with James DuShays String Wizards. at
and-a-half-hour gigand two meals. So I didnt need the hundred dollars. I would buy
records with the hundred dollars, and then on the second Monday of the month I would
was the band at the Pin-Up Room over on Olive just o of Grand Avenue. By the time I
got to doing it, the band had moved to the Windemere Club at Delmar and DeBaliviere
I remember I went down to the Columbia distributors and paid a . for some Columbia
ten-inch LPsthey sold for about . then. e next night I bought the Sunday papers,
and theres this double-truck ad: Entire catalog of Columbia Records ten-inch LPs at .!
] I stormed into Columbia on Monday, and they said, Oh, you can buy anything
you want for a dollar. But almost all the inventory was over at Sticks, Baer, and Fuller, a
St. Louis department store. [
At that point I had had covers printed for an album by Walt Giord. We had issued one
George Lewis record. I bought the George Lewis masters. We had covers printed for the
second George Lewis record, the Walt Giord, and an album called
Motor City Reveille
Orleans. He had a good mic and a Concertone recorder, and three tracks appeared on
Any idea when he added those strings?
Well, he added those strings so other people couldnt play the instrument. And he didnt
quite understand how it was tuned. Youd ask him, and he just tuned them like he thought
they should be tuned. [
] I dont know enough about the instrument to say anything
more, but he didnt want anybody playing his instrument, and that was his wayit made
guarantee thats got to be her. She lived with her mothershe had been Lonnie Johnsons
ents apiece and
sold them for three-eighty-ve.
Bob Koester at Sey-
mours Record Shop,
forerunner of his Jazz
Record Mart. Cour-
tesy Bob Koester.
ditorium. ey moved the bookstore over to the Wabash side, so I had to move out. ats
when we moved to Seven West Grand. I think I only issued one record while on Wabash;
that was the Walt Giord traditional jazz record. e business at Seymours was really good
for the rst six or eight months, and then it slacked o quite a bit. I went on a binge and
recorded seven albumstwo each with Albert Nicholas and Ira Sullivan. Jimmy Forrest
with Grant Green, and one with John Young.
And when we moved over to Grand and State I really had a tough rst year. I remember
we bought thirteen thousand Prestige s for two cents apiece. It was Prestige, United, and
States\reen thousand with the two added labels. Two cents apiece! at was nice. ere
were some I just threw away. I got ve hundred copies of a Billy Taylor on Prestige. ey
didnt sell very well. At rst I would just throw them in the trash whenever I needed a paper
] e sleeves might cost more than the pressing. Prior to that, when I was still
at Seymours, Id bought United Records Distributors inventory. He just waved his hand at
about four or ve thousand records and said, Wanna give me sixty bucks for all that crap?
were sold eventually to the Fantasy label, and they have the rights to those toowhatever
Riverside kept in print. And John made another deal with Arnold Kaplan; he sold him the
Paramount Eagle. He sold the Paramount trademark to ABC. He was suing ABC, and the
deal was they would buy the Paramount logo from him for a certain amount of moneyand
Bob Koester at Jazz Record Mart counter. Courtesy Bob Koester.
titles, just him with guitar. e second time and the third session were done the same
daythe rst session with Knocky Parker added to John and Hammie Nixon and Ed
Wilkinson, the bass player.
strapped the bass to the top of the car and we got there. E. D. Nunn of Audiophile Records
had been recording another one of Knocky Parkers ragtime albums. Knocky was a profes
sor at Kentucky Wesleyan, I believe, who had played with the Light Crust Dough Boys and
Bill Boyds Cowboy Ramblers. He had recorded extensively with them in the s. He was
an ardent blues fan. He once came to St. Louis just so he could play four-hand piano with
Speckled Red. I cant imagine anybody else capable of doing itor wanting tobut he did!
Anyway, he was nishing up his album. We had to wait a little while until he nished up
this last tune. And he asked if he could sit in. He loved Sleepy John, and he really loved blues!
God bless him! He became known as a ragtime guy, and he really wasnt that particular about
ere were two waiters there whod made blues records. One wasRed Nelson. Muddy
called one of the waiters up on stage and he did Dirty Mother Fuyer. It was a long time
ago. I asked Muddy, Where else can I hear blues? Muddy asked me, How are you
nd Indiana. It was a two-block walk. ereve been times since then I
wouldnt want to do that walk.
I later learned that one of the things we had going for us was that in those days cops
would be much harder on anyone black committing a crime against a white person. Im
not too proud to say we took full advantage of that; we didnt even realize that was the case.
So wed walk to Peppers and to the other places, and we tried to organize rides. I would
go around and hear a lot of tradFranz Jackson at the Red Arrow out on Harlem and
irty-ninth; Art Hodes at half a dozen dierent places. George Brunis was always at the
on Bryn Mawr. Up and down North Broadway there were gigs. In fact, for a long time,
I, Don Kent, and Paul Garon, and Leon Kellert would waste our Friday nights listening to
] until one in the morning, two in the morning. We could have been out
hearing live music! But Saturday was generally the night to go listening to live music. I was
generally out in the clubs on Saturday nights. And then when I found out about eresas,
I was there Saturday
money and not have to pay income tax, which was nice because it saved me some money
and well talk about the new record. I went down to the club, and I said, e rst thing we
en minutes of additional material and
some alternate tracks that weve issued since then. e
en minutes included a Buddy
. We got two stars on each record. By the time the Sam album came out, I told
the editor, Look, could you at least send the record to someone else? And they printed
a second review, a good review. Paul Buttereld once told me, Aw, that Magic Samhes
just doing that James Brown shit. I didnt mind that. To me James Brown is a blues singer.
You may not want to put him on your show, but hes a blues singer. Its like gospelblues
but with four more bars.
I always thought
and couldnt make it at the last minute. But who do you use to replace Otis Spann if Sykes
is out of town? [
] So Per came to the studio and sat in, and it worked out very well.
With a piano in a mix you want to try and bring it down. Its one of the few times I
do exert my personal taste. I cant tell someone how to play it, but I know how I want to
hear it. And I have arguments with other label owners about how loud the guitar should
be. Some guys like the guitar to be louder than the voice. To me, blues is a verbal/vocal
olm, and these guys knew how to record blues. eyd done it before and they had a lot
of good ideas. ey didnt want to wire the guitars directly into the console. ey knew to
it was literally under the tracks. It was a shallow building, a one-story building; I suspect
its still there. Turners was two storefronts; most blues bars were once storefronts. In most
situations ones a storefront, and it was always a bar. And the other one was once a store.
And this second storefront is usually where the band was, Peppers was. Quite a number of
joints were like that. Turners was two storefronts with the bar located in the middle. It was
a horseshoe-shaped bar with the bandstand at the end of the bar, and behind the bandstand
were the washrooms. And if you went around to the other side of the bar there was another
lways have to explain my use of the word simple, meaning uncomplicated. He
was a straightforward man who loved his wife very much, who didnt have an ounce of
feeling of being in show business. He had, to my knowledge, never played in clubs. We
went out to the Key Largo once, where whoever it was that was appearing asked him to sit
in later in the show and didnt put him up until the club was almost empty.
He would say that his lyrics came out of the sky, which was like the Bukka White record
en I looked in the
paper that day and saw a record chart, and there was
Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley. at was . at sparked my interestwhat was
all this about? en my father purchased a radiogram which included a record player. e
rst records he brought homeI can rememberwere Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino,
Only You by the Hilltoppers, and Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley. ose were
the old s. And we were o and running.
It was a con\fuence of events. I guess all these things are. At grammar school there
were a few keen rock n roll fans, but one of them was Mike Leadbitter, who became the
magazine. So we were there as teenagers. Mike had already
assumed a fascination for American music, particularly with rock n roll, and then taken it
into rhythm and blues. We had the big pop hit artists like Elvis Presley and Guy Mitchell,
then the Everly Brothers. Mike was already starting to dig beneath the surface with his
intrigue and natural instinct for searching out. And I just liked the feel of the rock n roll
and rhythm and blues records that were coming out at the time.
How and where did you guys listen?
Mike actually lived in Bexhill and I lived in Polegate, which was about a twenty-mile
train journey every day to grammar school and back home again. But Mike lived in Bexhill
in a company called the British South Africa Company. It was a mining company in South
Top and also the advertisements and information about disc jockeys, distributors,
one-stops, and jukebox operators. So that was opening our eyes even further. So when
Mike wrote to me and said, Can you help with the discography? I said, I just got hold
magazines, and that was it! He had to see them, and we arranged to
me in touch with Jay Miller, who recorded
some of the great blues artists like Lightning
Slim, Lonesome Sundown, and Lazy Lester
and Slim Harpo. So I wrote an article on
Jay Miller based on those letters, but also
based on the records that Id been buying. It
was done, if you like, from a record collec
tors viewpoint. So I didnt actually do any
interviews. Remember this is . America
was three thousand miles away on another
continent, but it was very much from a fans
Just to take the thread through, my inter
est in writing these articles and doing a few
record reviews manifested itself in a trip to
New Orleans in , when I started research
for my book,
Walking to New Orleans
Books, ]. Its
now published in the States as
Rhythm & Blues in New Orleans
[by Pelican Publishing
Company]. at was really the rst book on New Orleans rhythm and blues music. en
the US publishers asked me to do a follow-up, and I wrote
South to Louisiana: e Music
of the Cajun Bayou
. at came out in . So from small acorns the rst article was on Jay
D. Miller, from Crowley, Louisiana, and Excello Records, and in I nished up writing
a full-scale book on south Louisiana music.
e magazine was printed on the same duplicating machine that the Blues Appreciation
Mike Leadbitter and Simon Napier. Courtesy Mike Rowe.
How long did you actually stay with the magazine?
I continued right through until the late s. My banking career was taking root,
and there was a period when I was transferred by the bank up to Weybridge in Surrey,
away from the home. I lost a little bit of touch with Mike and Simon, and for a year or
two I did hardly anything research-wise while nishing bank exams, but I always saw
as a very interesting and fascinating
I was always
ave to say as time goes on, Im just more and more
aware of his geniusto think that he invented blues discography and launched this maga
zine. Classical and jazz were the elitist musics. Rock n roll and rhythm and blues were
totally ignored by the academic institutions as inferior. And it seemed as though rock n
roll was destined to die out as had been predicted; they said it wouldnt last. But rock n
roll is here to stay. Mike really was responsible for sparking the interest in blues in Eng
landin Europeand contributed in sparking the interest in the States as well. His work
is seen in
but its also seen in his blues records discography [
], which is the bible of blues discography. e rst one [
was published in by Hanover Books, and it still stands up forty years later. He really
The original book was authored by Leadbitter and Slaven, referring to Neil Slaven. Can
you talk about the role that Neil played in the research for the book?
e research work was Mikes, and Neil came into it when the rst
magazine. You might say that
was in a sense the ospring of
old. His legacy was very much
. If it hadnt been for him and his business
sense, combined with his love of the music, I doubt that
would ever have
become the institution that it became. It nurtured young writers and researchers who then
took it a step further.
have correspondents in the States?
Yes, we did. Again, Mike became very interested in the history of the Delta and the
Delta blues. I guess today everyone knows about Robert Johnson and Robert Junior
Lockwood and Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James. But in the early s the
research books were not there, and so you had to do the research for yourself, and
became a central forum for interested parties. Subscribers came not just from
England but from the rest of the world, including the United States. Once you had an
American write insay, for example, Jim ONeal was an early subscriberyoud write to
Jim and nd out that his interest was in Delta blues. So Mike struck up a relationship and
a subscriber, and it was pure circumstance that his mother, Connie, ran a record label in
New Orleans in the early s. We had no idea that his mother had a record labelFrisco.
So that was a good start. On that rst trip, during the rst three or four days the rst
like Little Brother Montgomery, who had the most amazing memory. Big Joe Williams,
despite the incredible life hed led, was another mine of information. Well, all right, some
of it may have been a bit exaggerated, but a lot of it was on the money. Others werent very
good at talking and werent used to being interviewed; other people just talked, and they
were a joy to talk to.
Ks Boogie Disease, and he said, I will publish it. And eventually thats how it appeared
under the Edison Books imprint.
We have a picture of what the book entails, what purpose it really serves. When did it
occur to you that that would be the purpose, the mission of that book?
I think all I planned to do was really lay down a rst rough dra\r of the history of postwar
Chicago blues. And I expected there would be further volumes that would certainly super
sede it. ere werent. I cant even believe that theres been nothing written since , yeah.
Do you see any shortcomings in the book?
Oh, God, yes. [
Mike Rowe with Jim ONeal 1974. Photo Amy van Singel.
What were some of the major hurdles in doing the research and in assembling it in a co
hesive manner that began to draw a picture?
Its the timelines, I guess. At any given time, take a snapshot of Chicago, all the bands
was playing that night at the Black and White Lounge on Ogden Avenue. And it just
How about some adventures that youve had with musicians out there when you were here?
You told me about seeing Floyd and Johnny Shines. Who were the other musicians you saw?
What do you want? e stories of madness?
is is the other thing, you see, we didnt really touch on today that we were interested
in. We were serious about research and that. But we liked to have fun as well. And there
were moments .
ere were just things that happened that really sort of tickled us, and
weve enjoyed ever since. I mean, perhaps its a case of you had to be there, but Ill try.
ere was a great moment with Sunnyland Slim at Jimmy Walkers house, and Sunnyland
came in. Sunnyland had some of the JOB [record company] tapes. Jewel [record company]
bought most of them, but Michael, Joe Browns son, had been sort of just hunting the odd
tape here and there. And Sunnyland had one of the JOB master tapes. And he bought this
from Michael, and I think there was probably about a quarter of it not used. And he and
Jimmy had this long discussion about what he was going to do with it. And it went on
and on. You know, more and more bizarre. And then nally JimmyJimmy hit on it, and
he said, Sunny, Ill tell you what you do. He said, Yeah, whats that? Jimmy said, Put
Panel discussion at Chicago Blues Festival, 2005.
: Neil Slaven, Mike Rowe, moderator Jim ONeal, Bill
Greensmith, and Bob Hall. Photo Robert Barclay.
Just out of curiosity, with the experience you were going through and your identication
with black Americans, did that strain your marriage? Did being a black-white American not
go over big at home?
Now is the time for obfuscation. I would like to say that I was faultless here, but I was not
faultless. My marriage had been a little weak, and with my interest in the black community
it became weaker. But I would not say that it was the racial strain or the racial dierence
that caused the split. We were splitting anyway. We were having some insurmountable dif
culties. And we remained friends the rest of our lives. We have always remained friends.
name Kingsblood meant that he was descended from royalty, but he found that instead he
was descended from blacks. And this terrible shock disintegrated his marriage too. And
I was asked to play the role of Kingsblood. And when it appeared in
reprinted it and
had reprinted it, and that ruined my job at the Pullman
Company, because the people in the o\tce saw Flerlage as Kingsblood, the black man, the
white black man. And they said to my father, Isnt that your son? And he comes to me
and he says, Whats this? I said, Well, this is the best job Ive had to date! And, oh, he
was unhappy. As a matter of fact, it led to one-sided sticus. And so I then concentrated
still more on other jobs.
My goodness, were talking about light-years ago, arent we? It would be not so much of
a leap today, since culture seems to have moved closer and closer, or white culture seems
to be black culture by and largeat least entertainment-wise.
Yes. Right. Every encounter I had tended to cement my conviction. I had a chance to
interview Paul Robeson, and I have never, never run into a human being with as powerful
an aura, if you want to call it an aura. He just vibrated not only power, but you could say
humanity. Like Marian Anderson, you had the feeling when you talked to Paul Robeson that
he was looking at you as his equivalent, white or black. You had the feeling that humanity
sort ofyours and his meshed, and you could see it working the same with women as with
men. I mean, my God! Youd see him waiting to go to the airport and there would be crowds
of people around him, and perhaps more white women than anybody else. [
ried to make conversation. I would
talk about this, I realized instantly that he knew more about it than I did. Id switch to
another subject; he knew more about it than I did. Switch to a third subject; he knew more
about it than I did. I never hit a subject that Robeson didnt know a damn sight more than I
against Paul Robeson was one of the great tragedies of our time, I think. I saw a show in
which Harry Belafonte said very much the same thing, you know. And he said the people
that destroyed Paul Robeson are still out there. And I presume so.
When you talk to these people, did they have any clue as to who you were and the path
you were on? Do you think they had any notion of that?
] I dont know how they did;
didnt! If they knew the path I was on, I didnt know
the path I was on. You just play it by ear. But Ive always felt, you know, a lot of times people
ect, theyre asking, How do you have the moxie to walk into all these places as
though you belong there? And especially when you are with .
n my case, when I was
with a black woman, they would o\ren feel tentative. And Id say, Damn! You know, you
just go there like thats where you should be! You know, you look at somebody. eyre not
going to challenge you if they know you know that you .
oure where you ought to be.
You belong there just as much as they do. Why challenge you? No point!
I was just thinking, its many years later, but I know when I got out of high school I went
to the South Side, and I was the only white face for miles. Of course, this was, again, three or
four decades from the time you were doing it. And I dont think it was quite so uncommon
at that point. But even that, at that point, to me it was like a different world!
Well, it was. It was a very di\tcult thing at rst. I remember when I rst went to Chicago
and went on the South Side and went to visit this beautiful lady. And I was up there to visit
this beautiful lady at that time. And I was going to visit her no matter what. But I got o
the El, and the only compromise that I made was that I put on a big wide-brimmed hat.
] I dont know how that would help me with my light skin and blue eyes, but I put on
snt going down, because thats why I was here. You know, I was
going to go down, but it was .
ne of the funniest stories, one of the strangest stories I have. ere
was a very black guy, one of a group of friends that I had friendly associations with. My
wife at the time, a black woman, took me to all these aairs. And this guy was known as a
preacher. Im not sure exactly what his occupation was, but he was known as a preacher.
And he was telling some stories, some of the in jokes in which they use the N-word and
all this kind of stu, black among black. And he was using all the words, and somebody
walked over to him and whispered in his ear [
] and he turned and he looked at
me. His eyes just popped! He had thought that because of my association and because of
my ease in that .
pite of my whiteness, I was black. And he was telling these stories.
He could not believe hed been telling these stories with a white guy sitting there. But we
got over the problem very quick, you know.
Of course, nowadays there are a lot of television programs in which you see people, if
possible, whiter than myself with lighter eyes than myself, which you look at now and they
say theyre black. And you still nd it very di\tcult to believe. But with all the intermixture
emember a guy named Jazz Gillum. Ever
hear of Jazz Gillum?
Was it Stidham?
Arbee Stidham and James Brewer? Was it James Brewer?
It was Big Bill Broonzy.
Well, in any event, I knew Broonzy, but I never photographed Broonzy. I knew him
when I was at
. But at any rate, Gillum was not performing anywhere. And
I was used to photographing people performing. But in this particular case he was not
performing, so I asked him to come over to the place we were livingLake Meadows. So
Broonzy came over and he had this very formal type hat on, and he looked like a guy who
think he was at a low ebb. I think
he was at a low ebb. As I say, it looked like he might be living anywhere he could, as his
clothes looked very disordered and they were dirty and crummy. But he still wore the
hat and he still .
e looked like a guy who was accustomed to being sharp. I think the
pictures in the book will show that heres a guy that was accustomed to looking sharp, you
know. When I took pictures of him, he had the old hornyou know, the old acoustic horns
and all that kind of stu to add color to the photos. And so at any rate, I found him an
interesting guy. He was the guest who came to dinner and stayed a little too long. [
Well, I think the reason I ask that is because I believe that he was regarded as mentally
unstable by the time of his death. Was it about 1966, I think?
That somehow basically just doing irrational things led to his death.
Oh, I see.
And I just wondered .
. When was it that you actually . . .
About three years earlier. At the time I talked with him, I did not have that impres
sion. Neither did my wife. You know, we just gured he stuck around a little too long
for our other social arrangements. We had other stu that was going to go on, but Jazz
liked it there and .
e only thing I could say about irrationality is that I did have an
appointment with him to come back and he didnt show. And some weeks or months
later I got a postcard indicating that he had tried to come visit us and we werent there.
But he did not come when he was expected. And you know, he didnt leave a card at the
time. I got this card indicating that he had come. So that was irrational but not totally
nutty, you know.
Well, a lot of times in the black community, when you head for irrationality, its in no un
certain terms. Its not a subtle thing. I guess Billy Boy Arnold was the fellow who is saying
t he saw Jazz in a tarpaper shack and it was 100 out and 110 in the shack, and he was
stoking a re.
Oh, God! ats too bad. Sorry to hear that.
Can I ask you some impressions of some other people that you have photographs here?
So you think he was a talent, not just a novelty?
Oh, no. No, I think he was an astonishing musician! I think he was a geniusnot using
it loosely, but a person so gi\red in so many areas I would tend to think of having a kind
of genius. And I think he had it. A nutty guy but very, very nice, friendly, easy .
know, if you saw him with Wolf or Muddy or John Lee Hooker, he was irresistible in his
admiration for them. He would talk to them, and the adoration in his eye just broke down
any of their resistance. He looked at them, you know, like he was looking at a minor god,
and they would give him anything he wanted. Tell him all the things that were going to
help him take their business away, in a sense, make more money than they made.
But people like Muddy were very philosophical about that. He was aware that some
guys like Mike would make more money than he was making, probably. But he said, Still
more or less aware of. I wasnt even aware then of Spann or any of these other peopleI
was not. Later I found out that the sidemen that I photographed were kind of interesting
too. You know, they were part of the band.
recognized me! Oh, Muddy recognized me. [
] Clear across the opera house! But
I look at a picture
of Marc PoKempners book,
Down at eresas
. Hes got a picture of Muddy about ten
years a\rer the last shot I took of Muddy. And I just look at that picture and I just love it,
I remember when I was photographing Spannjust a little insignicant thing. But I
walk up the hall and Muddys sitting there in the kitchen with part of his family. And hes
all strippedhes wide open here. And I look at the son-of-a-bitch. He looks like a prize
ghter! I said, God damn! Hes the same age that I am, born in , and he looks like he
could take on Joe Louis or Mohammed Ali and here I am all, you know, going to pot. And
hink rather than calculated I would say sophisticated, urbane.
Hes very experienced in the ways of the world, you know. Not down-home anymore, like
Muddy still was kind of down-home in some ways. I liked both of the guys very much.
But I feel more .
ts hard to say. I like them both very much. Maybe I feel a little more
for Folkways, he did not change. And thats a plus. But also, its all sounds soI dont know
the word .
disingenuous. He always sounded so utterly unsophisticatedso
phisticated in his singing. e way he sang sort ofjust out. You know, just untempered in
any wayvery interesting. A little like some of the oriental people who sing just wide open,
just wide open with no tempering of the voice, but very interesting. And his piano styleIve
never quite fathomed what it is about his piano style that makes so many musicians say, Hes
one of the
of them! I can hear greatness in Otis Spann. And I could hear greatness
in Jimmy Yancey. And Art HodesI love Art Hodess playing. Brother, with the best will in
the world, and I have a deep feeling for Bro, buthis wife called him L. B., by the waybut
. Ive never quite understood the power of his music.
In other words, youve had to take the words of the people whose music you
Sunnyland and Spann, who Im sure all pointed to him and said, Hes light-years ahead of us.
Yes, yes. But to me its incomprehensible. [
] You know, the power of his .
. I can
hear everything hes doing, but I cant understand the great power of it versus that of Spann.
Spann just goes right to my gut. You know, if I see a record with a nine-minute blues by
Welding and Mike and I said, Well, its worth sticking around. So we stuck around, and
Muddy did show. But I didnt have any ll light. And I did not make the correct adjust
ment. Maybe I couldnt.
Rhythm and Blues
magazine went out of business then. And I had sent them the only
. shit! [
] I mean, incredible guys! Anyhow, Jim took these things home. I was
And other stu of that same session with B. B. King, also light-struck from dierent
angles and also in the book. And one of them, I still am not sure had any justication for
being printed. But Lisa Day, who has this fantastic eyeshes the lm editor who pushed
me into this bookshe wanted the thing printed full negative instead of cropped tight. Im
entioned intensication, but about all it does is increase the
ot of people ask me, you know, Little Walter had a very fero
cious reputation. You know, he was a .
ace all scarred up with knife wounds. And I guess
t any rate, at Mr. Lees Lounge, I went in there, and it was great
for available light. Like I said, I started out wanting to do everything with available light.
No ll-in light, you know, just percent reality. So I went there without any ll-in
light and it was a dark place. It was a dark dive, and there were no accommodations for
I guess I just had my two Leicas there. I didnt have any
of the lenses that .
uper-sensitive lenses that I later got. But I realized that I couldnt
take anything with normal exposures, because there just was not enough light. And they
t wasnt a slow
shutter, but in terms of the light, it was a slow shutter. And every time Wolfs head moved
or he went through his usual gyrations, what happened on the lm was there was a streak
e used some of
his language that I dont think we can put on here .
ut he said, Fuckfuck all that stu.
He said, It looked like an x-ray! He said, I dont want to print anything that looks like
a god-damned x-ray! So he turned it down and printed some of the less interesting stu.
But somebodyI guess it was
magazine, I believeprinted some of the blurry
stu. And Wolf had apparently seen it. I dont think I showed it to him. But at any rate,
he hated it! And when I went to interview him with Welding, with Mike for
magazine, Welding wasnt there. First thing he said was, Im no animal! Im a man!
I said, Well, you know, you use the name Howling Wolf, and some of your performance
would make you think . . . He said, Look, if you had wanted to see what Wolf was really
like, youd have come to Silvios. I said, Well, okay. How about I come to Silvios? When
should I come? He said, Come next Sunday. So, in other words, I have an invitation by
Wolf to go to his lair. [
It was so funnyI was so shook up by the opportunity, I went over there. is time
Bloomeld wasnt with me. And I wanted to carry a bunch of stu. I had a whole bunch
nd I was in so interested in doing this session. I got over there and unpacked all
my stu, and Id forgotten to bring any lm! [
] So I got him to agree that I would
come back the next week. So a\rer going there without any lm, I went the next time.
And he was very nice about it. And I walked in Silvios and sat down, and Hubert Sumlin
comes over to me with his nice big smile and puts a sixteen-ounce tumbler and lls it
with hundred-proof bourbon. I had made some comment about liking bourbon and they
took me seriously. [
] So I started this session with sixteen ounces of bourbon, and
I was trying to be very clever about it, just a little at a time, a little at a time. en when
going to resent the camera this time. And he did a lot of his antics, but also there was a lot
of camaraderie that a lot of people didnt realize happened with Wolf and his crowd too.
seen Wolf. Ive seen Muddy. Ive never seen blues this intense! And it just struck me that
you talked about how it affected you. And I just wondered if youd give voice to that here.
Yes. I really wish somebody would do a series based on the sequence that I have of .
ll subservient-type smiling. And I didnt have
too much idea of what he was going to be like. I think I might have heard some records.
But I always liked the idea of one .
one artist, one instrument. You know? ats the pure
I found my baby laying on the cooling board, and I say to my baby, Baby, I love you more
than I love myself.
And it just brings tears to your eyes, because its just like hes reliving
e we werent there, that we would have had the same experience that
we both profess with Son House if wed seen Robert Johnson or if wed seen Charlie Patton
in person? The intensity is like a bolt from the blue.
eres a dierent kind of intensity. I think hes .
eyd say, Okay, you heard Son House when
he was over the hill, when he was past his prime. I say, Oh, God! If he was past his prime,
for Christs sake, I dont think I could have stood it when he was in his prime! Because it
would just be like molten steel.
Did you use
as a template? And
if so, were there things you felt you needed to do
different, or thought, We can improve on that?
Just by the fact that they were in England, thou
sands of miles away from the actual artists, except
when they were on tour or visiting over there, it
gave them a whole dierent perspective. e articles
were like Were on a blues safari and heres our stop
in dangerous Neverland. And
more orientated on records and discography, which
I was always interested in too. We always thought
that the advantage
would have was that
we were right there where the blues artists lived.
We could talk to them; we could do interviews and
Bruce Iglauer in Alligator Records ofce. Courtesy Bruce
Iglauer and Alligator Records.
we needed a place to interview someone, which we did a few times. He was always there with
information, and he gave me my rst paying writing gigwriting liner notes for a Magic Sam
album. He was crucial to the genesis of
but he wasnt the creative force behind it.
en you would leave space and cut out a black square wherever the photos would go
black cardboard or construction paper. en you would give the photos to the printer
ferent ways we had to come up with to make moneyeventually thats where the
Cookout came from. at was an event that we had every year at the club B.L.U.E.S.
of in-depth interview. ere had been features on particular artists, but they were usually
shorter and they were in the writers words, o\ren not even quoting the musicians. ere
I always nd that delightfulguys that I think are good artists and also have a sense of
the history. Ive always felt that about Billy Boy Arnold.
I agree. Billy Boy has an amazing sense and a perspective on the whole history too. He
can tell you what happened when, and how that in\fuenced who, and what that means
I think the last time I talked with him he told me a story about a recording session with
Blind John Davis and Big Joe Williams, and how Big Joe was being particularly belligerent
until Blind John stood up and slapped him and got Big Joe back in line. And Big Joe was
regarded as a rough character in his own right, and here a blind man slaps him down. We
research we do, that helps in the interview toowhen you can dredge up some kind of
of records on his label and he wanted to sell them. We told him he should advertise them
in our magazine, so he started advertising them and people would write in. He found out
there was some interest. So he decided he would do an album, and he announced in one
of his ads in
that you could order this album from Cadillac Babyexcept that
the album didnt exist. And people started writing in, so he decided he would go into the
might as well be over there and really be into it. I had a little money from selling the house
Where did the Billy The Kid Emerson 45 come from?
Billy the Kid was one of those artists that was kind of o the scene when we got into it,
and I was somehow introduced to him. He was one of those artists that had a lot to say,
a great recording history, and so we did a
interview with him. He had some
tapes he wanted to do something with. Mostly they were tapes of himself, but he had some
sides with Matt Murphy and with Lacey Gibson on guitar. We never did get around to
doing a whole album on him, because a\rer the came out he got back into the church,
became a preacher, and said that the bishops told him he shouldnt be messing with the
blues anymore. I believe hes back in Florida now.
e rst Rooster Blues sessions were in ; the rst records came out in . Origi
around the Delta for a place to have a business. We ended up in Clarksdale because thats
these regular trips down to Memphis and Mississippi just to interview people and report
on what was going on.
Willie Nix was what Lee Jackson, a Chicago player, always described as a little aviatic,
which meant that he was a little \fighty or in a dierent worldor had a dierent mind-
ears ago. In Willie Nixs mind it was
still like that. In the end it was kind of sad nobody knew much about him. When he died,
we just heard that he diedin , I think.
Werent you also a fan of Ike Turner?
I always had an admiration for Ike Turners music, regardless of what happened in
try to talk to himto try and interview him. He would sit still a little while, but he was
was unveiled in Philadelphia, where the civil rights workers were murdered in , the
white mayor talked about it as part of a healing process for the community.
Ive always regarded the work in documenting and promoting the blues as a benign sec
ond front to the civil rights movement, a unique opportunity to associate, and hopefully to
ommunicate, an alternative to the confrontation of the 1960s. Does this work generate a
similar sense for you?
Yes, for me it does, especially since I grew up in Alabama when all of that civil rights
activity was going on. It seemed kind of far removed to me at the time, since Mobile was
fairly calm compared to what we were seeing on the news from Selma and Birmingham.
So when I got into the blues a few years later and saw what a struggle the black musicians
were still facing, becoming an advocate for the blues gave meand all of us at
an opportunity to do our part to support a form of civil rights and artistic rights
in our own small way. I also realized that the white attraction to black music was, or could
be, a factor in improving race relations, although there were some negative feelings too
over the fact that white bands o\ren made a lot more money than the black blues artists
whose songs they were singing. at was one of the reasons we tried to focus
on the African American tradition.
Later when I was living in Clarksdale, when Patti Johnson and I were concentrating on
recording and promoting Delta blues, we were making some kind of statement on behalf
Wilkins assigned publishing rights for his songs to Wynwood Music, as had John Hurt,
Dorsey Dixon, Skip James, Bukka White, and several people who were writing original
Wasnt there some involved litigation concerning the John Hurt estate?
What happened was that John Hurt seems to have remarriedor at least had a common-
law relationship with the woman who was always presented as his wife, a very smart and
lovely lady named Jessie Cole, who claimed to be a distant relation of Nat Cole. But it turns
out he had married a lady named Gertrude around . She lived well past the century
mark and claimed in a lawsuit that they were never divorced. She claimed to have papers,
Most of the collectors that Ive talked with over the years have told tales of managing their
collections: stories of the logistics of owning and moving so many records, stories of divorce
and having to sell their collections. Have you ever had similar experiences?
I sure have. I wasnt somebody who had a whole lot of resources I could use to collect
records. I couldnt compete with the guys like Pete Whelan and Nick Perls, who had money
that collectors havent found so far. It sounds like a load of money, but this collector has
Do they receive and archive commercial recordings as well?
e Archive of American Folk Song has been rebranded as the Archive of Folk Culture.
Its not in charge of published products, which go to the Motion Picture, Broadcasting,
and Recorded Sound Division.
The other night I had a record that you and Bruce Bastin did with Frank Hovington.
Oh, Id forgotten about Frank! ats a record Im really proud of. at record almost didnt
What did you record on?
foreign-language material in the United States, including cylinders made at the Worlds
Fair in Chicago in and later eld recordings. e cuto was July , . A\rer that
the nature of record production changed very greatly. So it turned out that, with multiple
indexes, there was enough material for seven volumes.
What years were you actually working on this series of discographies?
I worked full-time on them for ve yearsfrom to and then on an as-needed
basis until the book was published in . Ive been logging new information ever since,
and an updated online edition now looks possible.
two to appreciate that Lester Flatt was just as great as Earl Scruggs and that there was more
to the music than just high-speed virtuosity. By I was listening to more retro-style
country music. e best part is that was popular music from my own generation being
made then and there in my own time. I could hear it live, on radio, and on new records,
and it was great stu I could relate to. So I liked that and I also liked avant garde classical
musicthe \ries were a very good time for that music too.
music programmer and a much better radio host than I am, took the program over and the
station really grew it. It was WAMUs primary income source until
hold in the s, and news, public aairs, and lightweight weekend entertainment came
to dominate NPR. Today WAMU supports a Bluegrass Country channel twenty-four/seven
renew [for] another twenty-eight years. at provided protection for over half a century.
Why does recorded music need to be protected any longer than that? e people who want
access include historians, institutions, people who want to hear and study older music.
France and was very unhappy. He told me, I think I am really in love with her and want
Champion Jack Dupree and son with Marcel Chauvard, New
to me and told me that he was glad to read
the article and invited us, if we ever came to
New York, to stay at his home. So Marcel and
I stayed with Jack Dupree for almost a week.
He took us to clubs and introduced us to
many blues musicians. We saw Sammy Price
magazine cover. John Lee Hooker outside Joe
us to a good blues club, and his friend took us to see Buddy Guy. ere was another club
Mayo Williams gave us an address for Kokomo Arnold. e rst time we went to his
home but he wasnt there. e landlady told us to come back the next day and we nally
caught up with him. At rst he really didnt want to speak about his career as a musician.
He told us he had nothing to do with music anymorehed forgotten all about it and didnt
want to speak about it. But Marcel and I showed him the articles we had done in
magazinewe carried a supply of
Kokomo Arnold at home, Chicago, 1959. Photo Jacques
days. What more do I need? At the end of the interview a bunch of children from the
neighborhood came to see Kokomo and wanted him to play. So he told us the interview
was over, that he had to go play with the kids. He was a picturesque man. [
is brings up a point about the blues revival that has not had the attention that it de
serves: that the record collectors made it all possible. Without them, almost all the great
old guys would have disappeared into the dust of history, simply forgotten. Without the
record collectors and their research and reissues of the early sixties, like the OJLs, there
would not have been much of a blues revival. An enormous debt is owed to Sam Charters
and Harry Smith and Moe Asch in this regard, but it was the OJL reissues that energized
wider interest in the music among neophytes like me. Also, they enhanced the popularity
of the music a\rer the spate of rediscoveries and stimulated the major record companies
to open their vaults to a degree. e OJLs, particularly the incredible
Really! e Country
, changed everything. Bringing giants like Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, and Son
House into the game added a new dimension.
With the history of country blues opening up with each reissue LP, our horizons widened
and our tastes became more individual and well-dened. Al and I both appreciated the jug
bands, the guys of the Georgia twelve-string school, like Barbecue Bob and Blind Willie
McTell, and the ragtime guys, like Blind Blake and especially William Moore (too sad for
the public was our catch phrase), but our main focus was the old Delta blues greats: Patton,
House, Robert Johnson, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson. We werent sure where Skip James
tted in, but we knew he was great. Not all of our musical heroes were on . ere was Howl
ing Wolf, Big Joe Williams, and John Lee Hooker, all still making records. And Lomaxs eld
recordings on Atlantic and later Prestige had great music that was only about ten years old,
and some of it was the equal of what we heard on OJL, particularly Fred McDowells work.
McDowell was the complete musical package, very original yet very traditional, great
voice, and guitar that was both economical and explosive. He could make you dance around
Phil Spiro and Al Wilson at the Loft coffeehouse, Boston, Massachu-
suppose in this case he was having trouble recalibrating one of his assumptions. Since those
early days, Ive o\ren seen Al referred to in print as Alan, which of course was his given
name. But the only people I ever heard who actually called him Alan were his parents, and
[as] far as I recall, he always introduced himself as Al.
of the folk scene hangers-on like me ended up at the Waldorf when the coeehouses closed.
It was large and comfortable. You met people there without trying to; there was always
someone you knew, usually sitting with someone you didnt know, but introductions were
natural. us I would run into people I knew well and people I knew from around at the
Waldorf or the coeehouses.
gen Bug. We drove straight through to Memphis.
In Memphis we found that Ma Rainey was not in, so we went with Booker to visit friends
of his and we did some taping. It was two or three days before we found Ma Rainey at
home. She said that she had found out that Son had been in Memphis to visit relatives
whose names she had not learned, and that he had le\r town for parts unknown. Our hot
leadthe only reason for the tripwas a dead end.
We were discouraged, but since we were there we decided to check a slim older lead.
Gayle Dean Wardlow and Bernard Klatzko, while searching for information about Charley
Patton, had learned that House had lived in Lake Cormorant, Mississippi, or so it said
in an OJL reissue LP. We enlisted the aid of Reverend Robert Wilkins, another recently
rediscovered bluesman who lived in Memphis, and had been found by Dick and Louisa
Spottswood. He proved to be an old friend of Sons and agreed to help us. With him, we
went to check out Lake Cormorant.
Lake Cormorant was a virtually nonexistent town about twenty miles south of Memphis,
o highway . We pulled o and spoke with a group of women who were chopping
cotton. Reverend Wilkins was from that area, and he quickly found out that House had
relatives in Lake Cormorant. Another woman told us that Sons brother-in-law or cousin
or some sort of relative lived a few miles away, on a nearby plantation. e people we spoke
with there had heard of Son House but did not know of any relatives of his. Someone said
that Son had gone to New York years ago but had been back a few times to visit. ey
suggested that we see Fiddling Joe Martin, who lived near Claks [
] store. Martin, they
said, used to play with Son.
Martins place was easy to nd, but Fiddling Joe had gone shing. He had been picked up
by someone using Woodrow Adamss car. Although Woodrow was o working, he would
know who was using his car, and perhaps where Joe was.
Adams worked as a tractor driver on a
large plantation. For three hours the four
We said we would visit Brown Senior in the hospital, and Joe agreed to try Brown Junior,
who lived nearby in Robinsonville.
Brown Senior was in the hospital for what was said to be a minor ailment, and we were
allowed to visit him. Reverend Wilkins again went with us and made things happen. Brown
Senior didnt have Sons address, but he was sure that Son lived in Rochester, New York.
We still needed an address, and it was back to Mississippi to see what Joe might have
Saw him last year .
Oh, yes, he still plays the old music .
Hardly believing our luck, we went back to Memphis and sent this telegram: If you are
the Son House who recorded for Paramount in the thirties and the Library of Congress in
the forties, please call person-to-person collect in Memphis.
But Smith had made a mistake in the address, and the telegram could not be delivered.
bered those exact words, but other than the cigar, he looked and sounded remarkably
like my uncle Jack. e oddest thing about this was that in my job at Itek, a photo-optical
company, nearly every senior person I worked with had once worked in Rochester or at
least had gone to university in RochesterKodak, Xerox, Wollensak, Bausch and Lomb,
University of Rochesterthe city was the optics capital of the US. Nobody at work had
article incorrectly attributed Bookers information to Als questioning. It
was actually David Evans who had asked the important questions about Son, not Al. I never
thought to ask either David or Al about this at the time, simply assuming it was Al. Forty-
odd years later, David mentioned in passing that he had been the one who had asked Booker
about Son. I was dumbfounded and embarrassed about my error. Ive taken every opportunity
since then to rectify that error. Why didnt Al say anything? Maybe it was because he didnt
think such credits were important, or perhaps he never read my article, or perhaps because
hes an alcoholic with a tremor and needs medical assistance if he is to have a career, and,
fortunately, we have a doctor at our disposal who instantly directs us to a top neurologist
who saves the day. We have no money to buy Son a decent guitar of his own, but I happen
to have one available for free that enhances his onstage image and becomes identied with
him. What an implausible story!
But the medication helped with
the tremor to the point where
Son felt ready for Newport, and
we did too, if more than a little
uncertain of the outcome.
It took years of hard work by
many people long before to
discover the remnants of coun
try blues, but if you look for a
starting point for what has been
called the blues revival, the
Newport is a great candi
date. An unprecedented number
of rst-rank country blues musi
cians were assembled under one
roof to appear before the largest
audience ever to hear such musicliterally under one roof, as most of them were staying
at one of the huge old Newport houses that the festival used to accommodate performers.
Newport Folk Festival 1968, with Taj Mahal and Phil Spiro. Photo Dick
all blacks managed it perfectly either. But the whole story was there. I read that book, and I
read it and read it again. And if you read that book, you didnt need to read anything else. I
was the original jazz kid. I was thirteen! en I wanted to hear some records of this music.
Before World War II in Britain jazz records did not sellnot muchnor blues records
either. By the end of the s all the blues records were on what they called the race
list, and many of the great jazz records were in the race series too. Of course, in England
that didnt make any dierence. e British division of RCA Victor, HMVHis Masters
Voiceissued records now and again, like Jelly Roll Morton, which in America had ap
peared in the race series and would only be found in stock in a store in a black area. In
Britain they were in stock here and there, but not much. e people who bought them then
in Britain would almost certainly have been students, medical students; they like more
extreme things and they have inquiring minds.
It so happened that Royston, where my school was, was only fourteen miles from Cam
bridge, one of our great universities. e point is that one of the few places in Britain where
a record store would have jazz records in stock was in Cambridge, and there was Iin
Cambridge. I was learning the violin by this time. My father had played the violin when
he was in school, and he bought me a violin when I was at the school in Royston. ere
was nothing to do around there at all, so perhaps I might try practicing the violin. I used
to have to go for a violin lesson every week, and the violin teacher in the area was an old
How many of these records were by British bands, and how many by American bands?
None. I didnt buy British bands. I knew about jazz. I bought real ones! [
British companiesParlophone, which basically speaking was the equivalent of OKeh
and Columbia labels in Americaand HMV, which was RCA Victor. On the Parlophone
label there were Bessie Smith records and Louis Armstrongs Hot Seven [his early band].
HMV had Jelly Roll Morton and Duke EllingtonI bought those. I didnt even want Glenn
]that wasnt jazz! I was very strict. So thats what I was buying, and some
And when I heard him play, I thought, My God, it
be done! I never thought it was
even worth trying, because the original players were all so amazingand so extraordinarily
skillful, with all those wonderful ideas. And I always thought, You cant do that if you
on the BBC, which by that time had a
[program] once a week at six thirty on
Saturday evenings, for an hour. We played on that a couple of times. At that time we were
comparable to an American band like Lu Watters. I didnt like that band too much; the
blues part was missing. So then I had this amateur band going. We started up in , when
Chris Barber and band on tour with Sonny Terry and Brownie
McGhee. Courtesy Chris Barber.
So a\rer a year I became the leader of the band and it carried on from there. And by that
time Pat Halcoxthe guy who couldnt join up with us in the rst placehad convinced
his parents that he would do all right and make a decent living, because we already were.
So all of a sudden, within a year, the music that we playedwhich the English media, who
had a genius for stupid nicknameshad named what we call traditional jazz trad. And
within a year we were the biggest live attraction in show business in Britain. e rst two
years that we did it, none of the other players in popular music even noticed what was
going on. Youd think that they would try and copy our band, but, no, it took them two
years to do it. So we had it by ourselves for two years.
Part of the success was because jazz could spread through all the clubs that were called jazz
clubs, or blues clubs, or beat clubslike the Cavern in Liverpool. Most of my jazz friends
played in the Cavern, and the Beatles were one of the local amateur bands that played during
intermission. e reason that it could take ounlike America, where in a place that sold
alcohol you had to prove your age with an ID cardin Britain, although you couldnt sell
a drink to people under eighteen, people over sixteen were allowed to be there, like with a
family, as long as you didnt sell a drink to them. So if people decided to have a jazz club night
in these little dance hall pubs, kids over sixteen could be there. In America kids over sixteen
had nowhere to go. And the traditional jazz thing just struck a chord with the British public.
In when we just got started, reallywas the rst time we did shows with Big Bill
Broonzy. I must tell you that the ski\ne group with Lonnie Donegan and Dickie Bishop
myself on bass and Ron on drums and Big Billwas an absolutely wonderful sound. I
couldnt persuade our recording manager to record it. He insisted on recording Big Bill
with musicians who couldnt play that type of music at all. He did the same thing with
Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee later. Because I had records with Sleepy John Estes,
Lonnie Johnson, Brownie McGhee, and Big Bill, to me that was a part of the music, and I
wanted a band that could cultivate that as well.
My rst amateur band was based on the King Oliver Creole Jazz Band in the repertoire
and lineup on those marvelous records of King Oliver. Olivers band had two trum
wanted to able to do that too. It was part of what you had to do. If you couldnt understand
that, you couldnt possibly understand New Orleans jazz. Its all part of it; they go hand
Ive read that your band became the most popular and successful in the UK during this
period. Perhaps you can talk about the bands popularity.
Actually it wasnt just in the UK, but in all of Europe. Well, a\rer World War II Britain
was still rationing food and clothes and things until , which was quite a long time to
go without luxuries. And popular music was still rmly based in s dance music. Our
honest, and less funky feeling. It swept the whole of Europe, quite extraordinary at the time.
most of the jazz bands used to huddle in one corner, because they felt awkward being
spread out on the stage. But my band instinctively lled the stage up by spreading out and
felt comfortable doing that. So that made us look extremely good on stage compared to the
other bands. So that was a part of it, but only a part. It really was just the right moment.
I started leading the band in May of . e rst thing we did was record an album
for Decca. Wed made an album for Decca with Ken Colyer playing a year earlier, which
was quite special. en we bust[ed] up, and as we were busting up, Ken Colyers brother
was talking to a man from Decca about doing a second record, but he didnt mention that
all the band was leaving. [
] e man then came and chased me. We signed Ken up.
What about you? Well do onewell do a record. Love to! So we did an album, and
the album contained Lonnie Donegan, the banjo player, playing guitar and singing Rock
Island Line, which I played the bass on and which became a large hit record. at was
on our rst album. e fans liked the jazz we playedand the ski\ne group, as we called
itand that caught on somewhat. We had quite a monopoly in the business, really.
In the time span we were talking about, 1954 to 1959, how many records did your band
manage to make?
We made quite a few. We were involved with dierent companiesabout twenty albums,
Chris Barber and band with Howling Wolf and Hubert Sumlin. Courtesy Chris Barber.
so far away from anything that they understood as popular music that they just couldnt
believe it, so it took them a year to put out a single of Rock Island Line. We sold a whole
lot of LPs, and we should have just stuck with those, because if you bought the LP you got
Rock Island Line, two tracks of the ski\ne/blues stu, and six tracks of the band. And if
a guy in Belfast who was a great, serious jazz enthusiast who used to, when there were
any youngsters around, play them all these red-hot jazz and blues records and make them
play properly and think seriously about them. en she heard a record of the Ken Colyer
Bandthe rst and only album we did with Ken Colyer. She said, at sounds good. I
must go to London and nd them! So she came over.
She was teaching art for a living at that time, and she came to London to try and nd
us. She found us and came up and sang with the bandand it was very good. We oered
they called them angry young men. And the playwright John Osburn wrote this play
It could be di\tcult for them. We didnt want to embarrass them and have them not
know what to do, even if I knew that all they needed to do was what they did perfectly
most bands wouldnt have known
what to do with Muddys numbers,
but we did. I know when he did the
rst concert with us we hadnt had
time to rehearse with him in New
castle, North England. He turned up
there and we told him what we were
doing. He heard us playing the rst
half of the concert playing jazz from
New Orleans, that kind of stu. He
didnt say anything much about it.
He didnt say, Whats that shit? or
Can I get some of that! I said to
him, Were going to start o with
Hoochie Coochie Man. He said,
Yeah, yeah, yeah. [
Chris starts to
sing the opening ris.
]. Yeah, yeah.
I said, What key? A. Okay.
So the second part of the show we
just did three songs and then called
on our guests. It happened that par
ticular theater, when you came on
the stage, there were windows in the door, so you could see what was going on. And of
course we could see them. ere were Muddy and Otis Spann peering through these
two windows and listening to the Dixieland we were playing. So I announced them and
we played the opening ri. [
Chris sings the ominous opening ri
.] And their two faces lit
up like watermelon eaters! ey knew we were on their wavelength. So we kept playing
and they came out. We dropped [the] volume down. It was the most impressive, exciting
feeling. ey didnt expect us to know or care about their music. We had a great time
How big was the theater?
It seated three thousand; it was a concert hall. It was actually the city hall of Newcastle-
upon-Tynein the North of England. It was a venue for concerts, and wed been there
more than anybody else, actually, because we were so popular. I remember when we rst
got going in , and we played that concert hall in Newcastle ve times in one year. It
was full every time. In recent years Ive been over there playing as an extra musician in Van
Morrisons band. Van Morrison has, for years, been the biggest attractionan established
artist, drawing people to his concerts all the time. He played Newcastle twice in one year
and that was it. We didnt realize how popular we were. We could have been more forceful
in our demands on some promoters, couldnt we? [
Ottilie Patterson and Muddy Waters. Photo Terry Cryer. Courtesy
How did you make contact with Big Bill Broonzy?
Well, Big Bill had been brought to Europe. I believe the rst time hed been brought to
Europe by the Belgian guysYannick Bruynoghe. ey had contacted him in America.
ey found him and brought him over to Europe. e rst time I saw him he did a concert
in London, in a big concert hall. e concert was Mahalia Jackson with Mildred Falls, Big
Bill, and an English jazz band opening the show. I went to that concert, and it was funny
In England a jazz club might hold three or four hundred people. But we played somewhere
almost every day.
How long were your tours with Bill?
When he came in , he been brought over by the guys in Belgium. Jumping Jazz in
You know, in England, because of the colonies, weve always had lots of black people
in Britainnot huge numbers, but a lot. And most of the black people there had money
because they were government people. is goes back to , to a Jamaican guy called
Larry Constantine. He was a preacher, but he worked for the government and he went to
a restaurant in . He made a reservation, and when he got in there they wouldnt serve
him. He took them to court and won the case. e restaurant was ned. So there has been
a basis for many years against racial discrimination.
Did you make records with them while they were there?
Many. We have three CDs out called
Lost & Found
. ose were the recordings of our
with Sonny Boy Williamson II. eyre all valuable. You can even see bits of them on
YouTube. ey came out two years ago, totally unexpected to me. Blues magazines tend to
know what the real thing is, and you didnt expect them to be terribly welcoming to Brit
ish people, who have a reputation for being sti-upper-lip types. Every blues magazine in
America gave us ve stars for that record. In fact, one said, Id like to give you ten stars, but
Im only allowed to give you veso I give you ve! e best review we had came from
a guy who played guitar in Muddys band, Bob Margolin. He reviewed records for
] in America. He gave us a brilliant review. It seems to me he understood
where we were at; he saw the point of why we did what we did.
e rst time we were in Chicago, we went to America with the band in February . It
Indiana. We came in and Muddy was immediately very welcoming. He announced us as his
friends from the state of England [
tearing up, voice breaking
] quite warming! It meant that she had
conveyed not just what the words were, but what it meant: you dont want to go down there,
but you somehow would like to do it. Do you see what I mean? Southbound. His audience
wasnt joking; its just what they did. ey would have done that if Muddy had sung that.
Eventually we did play there with the band. e next time we were over, he brought us in and
we played our normal stu there, and they loved it. We got standing ovations! And that was
from Muddys crowdnobody elses. Nobody knew we were coming. Muddys crowd was
older, rst-generation immigrants from the South. e place only held about sixty people,
and as Muddy said, My crowd drinks whiskey! [
About or we were in the States, and Ottilie and I were staying in Muddy Waterss
house on Lake Park. And Muddy had a gig in Gary, Indiana. So I went along as a member
of the band. We went along in the Chevy station wagon with Killer, his bodyguardwho
really wasnt a bodyguard at alland Jimmy, who was his mascotJimmy Oden, St. Louis
club. e people were dressed beautifully. at was the time when black people in America
do a lot of Babes stu; several of
his pieces are staples in my rep
ertoire. But he was another guy
All those interviews bore
fruit in publications: Son House
through Al Wilsons articles and
Al Wilson with Fred McDowell, Malibu, California, November 1966.
Photo Marina Bokelman.
been around and living with some junkies in Cambridge and was disgusted with them.
ey were stealing from him and things like that. I think he steered clear of that stu,
musical similarities in the blues of various artistsespecially the Mississippi artiststhat
seemed to suggest connections, either direct in\fuence from one another or a type of col
lective participation in some folk tradition. And becoming a student of folklore in the
folklore and mythology program at UCLA was an opportunity to investigate this.
Tommy Johnson especially seemed very central to the concept of a blues tradition. His
blues in particular seemed very connected; they had lots of similarities to blues of other
an occasional song or two, perhaps represented by Jimmy Holmes, who is active now. In
fact, I made the rst recordings of Jimmy in , I believe. Como and Senatobia seemed
free spirit, and there were several other free spirits in the department. So I guess with my
unorthodox background I t in as well as anybody. We also had quite a crew at UCLA.
My professor was D. K. Wilgus, the ballad scholar of an older generation, who was mostly
interested in Anglo-American music but included country and western musicand folk
music on commercial recordsthe relationship of folk and popular music. at was a
fairly radical interest within folk music. D. K. himself was sort of an ex-radical back in
the thirties and a campus le\rist at Ohio State. He had made a pilgrimage to Mexico City
John and Barry and Al and I went out to Johns girlfriends birthday party in San Ber
nardino, at which John got drunk and proceeded to beat her up. We had to drive John
home and he was puking out the window. I was the only one who could drive. Barry had a
motor scooter, Al couldnt drive [
], so I was the designated driver for the Great San
help of my professors, and I wrote a dissertation in and got the degree in early .
e dissertation was called Tradition and Creativity in the Folk Blues, and in a slightly
condensed version this became my book
Big Road Blues
. e title of my dissertation became
the subtitle of the book
Big Road Blues
. e book wasnt published until ; there were
some delays at the University of California PressI dont remember quite why. en about
a year a\rer I got my interdisciplinary degree, UCLA did actually establish a folklore PhD.
Big Road Blues
drew upon the Tommy Johnson research but didnt focus on biography
so much. I had gathered more biographical information on Tommy Johnson in the years
book came out in . I continued to go back and interview Mott
Willis and Mager Johnson and others, but in
Big Road Blues
I concentrated more on the
songs and traditionbasically how the tradition worked, how people used traditional ele
ments, what some called formulas of musical elements and lyrical elements to put those
labels had just gone down; and the Memphis scene seemed like it had collapsed, but it
generated a lot of attention doing so. ere seemed to be this sense that we need to make
a preservation eort before all this disappears. So he basically made a proposal for a PhD
program, outlined what it would be, and gave it this regional emphasisthe only way he
was playing; and his brother, who was kind of a drunk but played good harp, was over
Robert was paroled in or
for some brief appearances, and then
he had to come back. He was actu
ally paroled to a farmer or a planta
tion ownerhe worked for a white
farmerbut his ability to go out of state
to perform was limited. It was kind of
a halfway house system. It was convict
labor, a vestige of the Jim Crow system,
but it gave him some limited freedom.
I think he got his full freedom in
or , and it could be that his tour
to California was his rst real extended
time out of Louisiana. He was amazed at the mountains. He rode the bus out there; hed never
seen the ocean. He was probably the most isolated artist to come on the scene, in terms of
experience in the world and white people. I think most of his interactions with white people
Marina Bokelman, Malibu, California, July 1966. Photo David
gotten in from Victor Records. at was way out of our league nancially [
he was willing to be interviewed for a much smaller compensation. We interviewed H. C.
Spier with Gayle Wardlow. Spier lived in Pearl City, just across the river from Jackson. I found
Johnny Temple and interviewed him. I didnt do much recording in Jackson except for Ishman
Bracey. And then we found Tommy Johnsons other brother, LeDell Johnson, and recorded an
interview with him and a few songs, mostly sanctied tunes. He was a preacher by that time.
en we went on to Bentonia. When Skip James stayed with Al and me earlier in ,
in the spring, he told us about Cornelius Bright, who lived right there in town. We found
him just asking around and recorded him. And Cornelius told us about Jack Owens, this
older guy that lived out in the country. So the next night Cornelius took us out there to
Jacks and we recorded him. at was a major discovery of mine. I revisited Jack many
wasnt needed anymore. ey moved and nobody had telephones. It was just very hard to
nd people in the Delta.
We came back to Crystal Springs, and I did nd Mott Willis, a second cousin of Tommy
Johnsons. He was a little bit older than Tommy and a wonderful musician, who also gave
a lot of information as well as recorded music. I would say he was the best discovery of
, and I revisited him a number of times in subsequent years. Also in Crystal Springs
we found Houston Stackhouse. George Mitchell had recorded Stackhouse just a few days
He was living in Mound Bayou, and he told me he was kin to Fiddling Joe Martin, a name
that I knew from the Son House Library of Congress recordings. I believe Dick Waterman,
Phil Spiro, and Nick Perls had interviewed Fiddling Joe when they were looking for Son
House. I thought Fiddling Joe was somebody I should interview, and he was living up in
Robinsonville. We went up there and he was playing with Woodrow Adams at the time.
I did a nice session with Woodrow Adams, my rst experience with electric blues and
recording a band. I had a mono Nagra tape recorder that I had borrowed from UCLA. So I
tried to record a whole band with one microphone. [
] Well, it was only a three-piece
band: Fiddling Joe on drums, Woodrow on either harmonica or electric guitar and vocals,
and a younger nephew of Woodrows playing bass lines on a guitar. It was very primitive
electric Delta blues music. is was at Woodrows house, and his wife was pregnant and
about a day from giving birth, and she was groaning in the next room while we were
playing blues. ere were liberal quantities of moonshine there. Fiddling Joe got roaring
there; I think Stackhouse had given me his address. I got a long interview from him. It
didnt have much to do with Tommy Johnson, but he knew a lot of blues artists and I ran
a lot of names by him. I got a lot of interesting information from somebody who knew
Stackhouse and Sonny Boy II. It was more modern blues than I was usually interested in,
but Im glad I did the interview.
en I went on to Memphis and stayed with Furry Lewis for two or three nights in his
apartment on Fourth and Beale. at was an experience too. He recorded and we got a
very nice session and interviewed him. at interview I transcribed. Meanwhile I came
been an area in \fux; people had always moved around a lot. People came in there to work
and moved on. It was all exaggerated around , , .
Anyway, I nally got to Fred McDowell in . I went to Como. Id heard George Mitch
ells recordings from that area in ; the fe-and-drum tradition was still thriving. As far
as traditional music went, that was the mother lode. I think Alan Lomax had recognized
that already on his trip, following up on the earlier recordings of Sid Hemphill he had
done in . en Alan traced Sid again in and through him found Fred McDowell, the
Pratchers, the Young brothers, and so on. We knew through Fred McDowell that a lot of
that was still around. George happened into it in and found R. L. Burnside. But George
didnt seem to be doing anything further with it. In I had hoped to record Joe Callicott.
I had heard through the grapevineagain through Gayle Wardlows researchthat Joe
was around Nesbit. Unfortunately, Joe had died a little bit earlier. So I went to Como and
visited Fred, who was gracious as always.
Fred had stayed with Marina and me back in , and I had seen him on tour a few
Napoleon Strickland, R. L. Burnside, Abe Young, David Evans. Senato-
bia, Mississippi. c.1980. Photo Cheryl Thurber.
Afro-American Folk Music from Tate and Panola Counties, Mississippi
album title! [
Ranie was really good. I later tried to promote him on the circuit, but he was already,
large repertoire. I wish I had worked more with Eli. I visited and recorded him on three
dierent trips. He was an artist with good potential and in fact did make many recordings,
of which only a handful have been issued. I dont believe anyone else ever recorded Eli. He
played the guitar and a bit of harmonicaand a mouth bow, which may have been the rst
recordings of an African American mouth bow in the United States. He also could play
to Savannah, Georgia, because it was like Bostonan old colonial city. [
] ey had
time on their hands and asked me if there was anything they could do to help my research.
I knew Blind Willie McTell had some connection to Statesboro, Georgia, which is not far
from Savannah. So I suggested they start asking around about Blind Willie McTell and see
tenor banjo, Buck Lanier. And we found a guy in Porthole, Georgiaits a little town near
StatesboroIra Coney, Tiny Coney they called him. He was a younger blues singer/
guitarist; by that I mean in his forties. He had known McTell slightly. McTell was more of
his fathers generation, who had been a musician as well. Tiny played gospel on Sundays
and blues during the week, in a somewhat more modern style, though he had some solo
material; he even had some Bahamian music. He worked on the docks in Savannah with
some guys from the Bahamas. He had an interesting repertoire that he didnt do much
anymore, but he could still recall it. ose were people we found, and I reinterviewed
Kate McTell in omson but again couldnt nd any musicians that amounted to anything
around there. So for the investment of the grant money in terms of nding musicians, I
wasnt entirely satised.
Of the various artists and sessions you recorded during your eldwork, what has been
issued on record or CD?
Ive had several albums of my eld recordings issued. e rst one was on British Decca,
later on Rounder, called
Goin Up the Country
. at was in . And then later that
same year I had one by Roosevelt Holts on Blue Horizon, Mike Vernons label in Great
pressed on the Blues Man labelBlues Man number . I thought this thing could make
some money and satisfy Roosevelt; he might have some kind of career.
So I sent a couple of boxes to Roosevelt. He was living in Bogalusa, and he took it up
around Tylertown, where he had a lot of friends. Well, he had spent some time in Parch
man in the s for murder, and so as far as the Mississippi authorities were concerned,
he was an ex-con. So he was selling his record to his friends. And Roosevelt had kind of a
big mouthhe used to brag a lot about himselfand the cops got word that he was around
weekend in August. So we went there, and who should be there but Alan Lomax with his
crewa sound truck and video crew. [
] What I thought was going to be another
great picnic and wed be the only outsiders, and there was Alan Lomax. He had recorded
Jack Owens and several other people on that trip. And I think that Bess expected that I
would put people like Jack Owens on these s.
My own thought was to nd people a little bit younger who might still have some com
with. Hammie Nixon, on the other hand, was a wonderful personjust this jolly old guy.
I learned a lot about entertainment from Hammie, and I loved playing with him. We had
David Evanss one-room country shack, August 1966.
Photo Marina Bokelman.
I went to Texas in . A year later it gave out. It would over-modulate everything, and I
couldnt gure out what the hell I was doing. Apparently some circuitry in it went out of
control. It ruined a couple of sessions.
ere was a bunch of piano players we recorded in HoustonBuster Pickens was one
of themand also one session with Lightning, but it was so chaotic anyway. You see, I had
Can you tell me about Mack McCormick?
He was an extraordinarily well informed person
: Mack McCormick, Lightning
Hopkins, Luke Long Gone Miles, and unknown.
Courtesy Arhoolie Records.
because I saw that on the records as composer credit. So Bob suggested we go to the library
and look at old phone books.
ere he was listed in the early s and we phoned that numberand there he was! An
other time I stopped on the corner where some black guys were playing cards or dominoes.
is was in Fort Worth too. I asked them, Any of you ever heard a guy called Little Brother?
I heard him on a on the Talent label; the Talent label was based in that area. And one of
them said, What you want with him? ey all thought we were bill collectors, or sheris,
or some such thing. I said, Well, I like this record I have by him. And so one of them came
up to me and said, He used to hang around with Black Ace. Now, Black Ace was a name
Paul Oliver had sent me. Prior to our trip in , Paul sent me this long list of people who
made records back in the s and s in Fort Worth or Dallas. And I remembered Black
Tim Moore [Tom Moores
same evening, in Mances little shack. at became my rst record. I had recorded other
stu before. I had recorded Lil Son Jackson on my way down but didnt nish the thing. I
back. And he shined his light in there. All right, but we dont drive with them niggers here.
Bob Geddins. Photo Pat Monaco.
Courtesy Dan Kochakian.
So where did your adventures with Paul and Valerie ultimately lead you?
We went all the way back through Mississippi and southern Mississippi to New Orleans
and then back to Baton Rouge with Harry Osterthen back to Houston, back up through
Navasota, and to Fort Worth and Dallas for Alex Moore and Black Ace. And then we drove
west. By that time I had a god-damned trailer full of s [
], and my car couldnt
make it up the grade when we came to the California borderthats a big steep grade. I
remember we had to go back down the hill, and I had to hire a truck to pull me over the
] We nally wound up in Reno, Nevada, where my family was living. I
think that Paul and Valerie \few back from there. But Ive seen him many times since then.
How and when did your record company start?
e Arhoolie thing happened as we were driving back from recording Mance Lipscomb.
at was really the rst amazing recording I did. I had recorded Son Jackson earlier, but
I didnt think the Son Jackson was all that great. I was thinking of names like Delta or
Southern or Gulf, and Mack suddenly said, How about Arhoolie? And I said, Ar-
] And then he explained to me where that appearedon that Library of
Congress record Negro Work Songs & Calls. And I said, Well, maybe thats not a bad
idea. I cut out the
in there, and then my friend Wayne Pope designed that little guitar
insignia, and thats how Arhoolie was born. e rst recordings were done in , and
the rst records were issued in the fall of , in September or October.
What would an initial run be on an Arhoolie record?
I think I pressed and we had them pressed at Record Research Cra\r down in Los An
Chris Strachwitz with Mance Lipscomb.
Courtesy Arhoolie Records.
doing some interesting things. We want to do some real folk music, and were going to issue
some of Big Bill Broonzys things. Can we license your Mance Lipscomb record? I said, No,
I kind of like the record, but you can go record him yourself; hes got a lot more songs. So
she contacted Mack McCormick, and I think they made their records in Houston. And when
Chris Strachwitz with Big Joe Williams. Courtesy Arhoolie Records.
his . I hung it up from the ceiling in front of Big Joes singing and his amp. He was so
torn up that night because of the whole thing about being arrested and having somebody
go [post] his bailhe was on parole. He was totally spooked out and under such emotional
stress. I dont think hes ever made a more powerful record than that one. I even had his
wife sing a couple of spirituals. Im putting out another record by her about the Oakland
blues. at was unbelievable. And the guy that brought him, he came from Texas, and I
asked him if he knew Tom Moore. He said, Oh, yeah. And he knew the best version
of Tom Moore. I taped it, but I made the fatal mistake of sending that original tape to
Mack McCormick; I knew he was collecting all these versions of Tom Moore. He never
sent it back to me! [
] at still pisses me o to this day.
You had records by guys in the Bay Area. How did those happen? How about Mercy Dee
Somebody told me there was this piano player in or near Watsonville, which is south
of Santa Cruz. Anyway, I went down there and there was this guy with a big turban on his
], playing in a cocktail lounge for a bunch of gringos. ere werent any black
folks there. Of course, by the rst note, I knew who it was. He couldnt change his style to
play like Nat Coleno way! [
] I said, You must be Mercy Dee. He said, Yes, sir.
Ive got to record you. I kept in touch with him, and he moved to Stockton.
ere was this guy, Ken Goldstein, he put out records for Prestige. He told me he wanted
a full LP of Mercy Dee. I cant recall if I had recorded Mercy Dee rstI think so. Anyway,
babyOkay, Im gonna play this record. Call up and tell me should I shake it or break it?
Should I shake or break this record? You want me to shake it? Okay, Ill keep playing this
he had. So I called up Bill Quinn and asked him if he had his studio available the next day,
and he said, Yeah. I told Cli, Bring yourself and that drummer. at sounds fantastic.
He said, All right, Ill be there!
e next day Im at Bill Quinns studio, and here comes Cli\ron Chenier with not just a
drummerwho was real goodbut with a whole god-damned band! A guitar player, a
piano player, and an electric bass player. e electric bass player plugs in his piece-of-shit
amp, and it goes, Putt-putt-putt. e god-damned cone had separated from the paper!
played it on the Houston station and over in Louisiana. at sucker got on all the jukeboxes.
e \fipside was Zydeco Sont Pas Sale. at record was really the one that made him the
king of zydeco. It was an old song that they all knew. But it was so toughjust him, the
drummer, and the rubboard. He made that accordion talk.
He did a couple more, including the French Waltz. One side of the LP was the wonderful
French stu, and the other side was what he called rock n roll, like Keep on Scratching
or some silly thing. at rst album did nicely, especially the singles, Louisiana Blues
and Zydeco Sont Pas Sale. And I think he nally became proud of being the king of this
I went to Chicago, and Willie Dixon was really helpful with the Littlejohn record. Id
seats, and from the rear came in the pilot and co-pilot and the personnel. And Lightning
suddenly turns to me and says, Chris, are these people going to \fy this airplane? And I
said, Yeah, I think theyre probably perfectly trained for this. Later on, when we landed
in Frankfort, poor Lightning was totally incapable of playing. When we got to our hotel,
he tried playingand couldnt. We called a doctorand he couldnt nd anything wrong
In Stockholm during the daytime we were all sitting around doing nothing. Sonny Boy
came down, and we all ask him, Where are you going? [
Chriss Sonny Boy imitation
Oh, the newspaper wants to talk to me about some shit, you know. So he went on his
way. And when he came back I asked him, Hey, man, what did you tell them? Oh, they
just want to know how long my dick isand that kind of shit! [
] I dont think he
ever told a true story in his life!
Chris Strachwitz. Photo Alain McLaughlin.
Death Upon a Spear
Decca record label, , , , , , ,
, , , , ,
Decca record label, British,
Delauney, Charles, ,
Delmark record label, , , , ,
, , , , , ,
Delta Big Four,
Deluxe Music Shop,
Deluxe Record Shop,
Deluxe Taxi Cab Company,
Ernies Record Shop, ,
Estes, Sleepy John, , , , , , ,
, , , , , , , , ,
Ethnic Music on Records
Eureka Brass Band, ,
Evans, David, , , ,
Every Time I Feel the Spirit,
Excello record label, ,
Excelsior record label,
Fahey, John, , , , ,
Fantasy record label,
Ferris, Bill, ,
Festival of Britain,
Fi\ry Miles of Elbow Room,
Filmore West, , ,
Fire record label,
Flatt (Lester) and Scruggs (Earl), ,
Flyright record label, , , ,
Foggy Bottom Breakdown,
Foggy Mountain Breakdown,
Folklyric record label, ,
Folk Music in America
(LP), , ,
Gold Star record label, ,
Goldstein, Ken, , , ,
Gone Dead Train,
Goodman, Benny, ,
Good Morning Blues,
Good Morning Little School Girl,
Grant, Leola B. Coot,
Green, Archie, ,
Hogg, Smokey, ,
Holiday, Billie, , , ,
Hollywood Show Lounge,
Holmes, Joe, .
King Solomon Hill
Holts, Roosevelt, , , ,
Holy Modal Rounders,
Homesick James [Williamson], , , , ,
Home Town Ski\ne,
Hoochie Coochie Man,
, , , , ,
Hooker, Earl, , ,
Hooker, John Lee, , , , , ,
, , ,
Hopkins, Sam Lightning, , , , ,
, , , , , , ,
Horton, Big Walter, , ,
Hoskins, Tom, , ,
Hot and Bothered,
Hot Fox record label,
House, Eddie Son, , , , , , ,
, , , , , , , ,
, , , , , ,
House Un-American Activities Committee,
Hovington, Frank, ,
Jaxon, Frankie Half-Pint,
Jazz: A History of the New York Scene
Jazz: New Orleans,
, , ,
Jazz at Massy Hall
Jazz Collector record label,
Jazz Document record label,
, , , ,
Kelly, Jo Ann,
Kent, Don, , ,
Keppard, Freddy, , ,
Key Largo Club,
Keynote record label,
Key to the Highway, , ,
KFVD (radio station),
Little Walter (Marion Jacobs), , , , ,
, , ,
magazine, , , , ,
, , ,
Lloyd, A. L.,
Lockwood, Robert, Jr., , ,
Lo\r, e (coee house),
Lo\ron, Crippled Clarence, ,
Lomax, Alan, , , , , , , , ,
Lomax, John, ,
Lomax, John, Jr.,
London American record label,
London record label,
Lonesome Sundown, ,
Look Back in Anger
Los Pinguinos del Norte (Penguins of the
Lost & Found
Melotone record label,
Melrose, Lester, , ,
Memphis Blues and Jug Bands
Memphis Blues Caravan,
Memphis Jug Band, , ,
Memphis Minnie, , , , ,
Memphis Slim, , , , ,
Mercury record label,
Merritt record label,
National guitars, ,
Negro Worksongs and Calls
Nelson, Dirty Red, ,
Never Ending Song of Love,
Nevins, Rich, ,
New Lost City Ramblers,
New Stop and Listen Blues,
Newport Folk Festival, , , , , , , ,
Nighthawk, Robert, , , ,
Nix, Rev. A.W.,
Nix, Willie, ,
Nixon, Hammie, , , , , ,
Peacock Jazz Club,
Peer, Ralph, ,
Red Arrow Club, ,
Red Lightning record label,
Red River Blues
Reed, Jimmy, , , , ,
Reed, Long Cleve,
Renard, Henry, ,
Reprise record label,
Research Cra\r (pressing plant),
Reynolds, Blind Joe, , ,
Rhythm & Blues in New Orleans
Rhythm & Blues
magazine, , ,
Rhythm and Blues Panorama
Rice, Rev. D. C.,
Spirituals to Swing Concert,
Spires, Arthur Big Boy,
Spiro, Phil, , , , ,
Spivey, Victoria, , ,
Spottswood, Dick, , , , ,
Spottswood, Louisa, , , ,
Spruell, Papa Freddie,
Spruill, Wild Jimmy,
Stackhouse (store), ,
Stackhouse, Houston, , , , , , ,
Stackhouse record label,
States record label, ,
Stax record label,
Stein and Day Publishers,
Steiner, John, , , , ,
Stewart-Baxter, Derek, ,
St. Louis Argus (newspaper),
St. Louis Blues, , ,
St. Louis Jazz Club, ,
St. Louis Jimmy (James Oden), , , ,
St. Louis Music Company,
St. Marie, Buy,
Stockholm Slim (Per Notini),
Stones in My Passway,
Stop and Listen,
Story of the Blues
Story of the Blues (exhibition),
Testament record label, ,
Walking to New Orleans
Worlds Fair in Chicago (),
Wrencher, Big John, ,
Wright, Richard, ,
Wright Aeronautical Corporation,
WXFM (radio station),
Wyatt, Bill, ,
XERB (radio station),
X record label,
X Vault record label,
Yazoo record label, , , ,
Yellow Dog Blues,
Yonder Come the Blues
You Know You Didnt Want Me,
Young, Johnny (mandolinist), ,
Young, Johnny (pianist),
Young, Mighty Joe, , ,
Youngblood, Arzo, ,
Young Womans Blues,
Zydeco Sont Pas Sale,
Blues Before Sunrise
for over thirty years. He is the author
Blues before Sunrise: e Radio Interviews
is a professor of English at the University of Maryland and the
Jook Right On: Blues Stories and Blues Storytellers
Music in American Life
Only a Miner: Studies in Recorded Coal-Mining Songs
Great Day Coming: Folk Music and the American Le\r
. Serge Deniso
John Philip Sousa: A Descriptive Catalog of His Works
aul E. Bierley
e Hell-Bound Train: A Cowboy Songbook
Oh, Didnt He Ramble: e Life Story of Lee Collins, as Told to Mary Collins
dited by Frank J. Gillis and John W. Miner
hilip S. Foner
Stars of Country Music: Uncle Dave Macon to Johnny Rodriguez
dited by Bill C. Malone and Judith McCulloh
Git Along, Little Dogies: Songs and Songmakers of the American West
ohn I. White
: Folksongs of the Lower Border
San Antonio Rose: e Life and Music of Bob Wills
arles R. Townsend
Early Downhome Blues: A Musical and Cultural Analysis
e Todd Titon
An Ives Celebration: Papers and Panels of the Charles Ives Centennial Festival-Conference
dited by H. Wiley Hitchcock and Vivian Perlis
Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War
ena J. Epstein
Joe Scott, the Woodsman-Songmaker
dward D. Ives
Jimmie Rodgers: e Life and Times of Americas Blue Yodeler
Early American Music Engraving and Printing: A History of Music Publishing in America
from to , with Commentary on Earlier and Later Practices
ichard J. Wolfe
Sing a Sad Song: e Life of Hank Williams
oger M. Williams
Long Steel Rail: e Railroad in American Folksong
Resources of American Music History: A Directory of Source Materials from Colonial Times
to World War II
. W. Krummel, Jean Geil, Doris J. Dyen, and Deane L. Root
Tenement Songs: e Popular Music of the Jewish Immigrants
ance Randolph; edited and abridged by Norm Cohen
Oscar Sonneck and American Music
dited by William Lichtenwanger
Bluegrass Breakdown: e Making of the Old Southern Sound
Bluegrass: A History
eil V. Rosenberg
Music at the White House: A History of the American Spirit
lise K. Kirk
Red River Blues: e Blues Tradition in the Southeast
Good Friends and Bad Enemies: Robert Winslow Gordon and the Study of American Folk-
Fiddlin Georgia Crazy: Fiddlin John Carson, His Real World, and the World of His Songs
Americas Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present (rev. d ed.)
Secular Music in Colonial Annapolis: e Tuesday Club,
ohn Barry Talley
Bibliographical Handbook of American Music
. W. Krummel
Goin to Kansas City
athan W. Pearson, Jr.
Susanna, Jeanie, and e Old Folks at Home: e Songs of Stephen C. Foster
from His Time to Ours (d ed.)
illiam W. Austin
Songprints: e Musical Experience of Five Shoshone Women
Paul Hindemith in the United States
My Song Is My Weapon: Peoples Songs, American Communism, and the Politics
Chosen Voices: e Story of the American Cantorate
eodore omas: Americas Conductor and Builder of Orchestras,
e Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing and Other Songs Cowboys Sing
ollected and edited by Guy Logsdon
Crazeology: e Autobiography of a Chicago Jazzman
ud Freeman, as Told to Robert Wolf
Voices of the Jazz Age: Proles of Eight Vintage Jazzmen
Pickin on Peachtree: A History of Country Music in Atlanta, Georgia
ayne W. Daniel
edited by omas McGeary
Ethnic Music on Records: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the United States,
ichard K. Spottswood
Downhome Blues Lyrics: An Anthology from the PostWorld War II Era
e Todd Titon
Ellington: e Early Years
at Half-Barbaric Twang: e Banjo in American Popular Culture
Hot Man: e Life of Art Hodes
rt Hodes and Chadwick Hansen
e Erotic Muse: American Bawdy Songs (d ed.)
Barrio Rhythm: Mexican American Music in Los Angeles
e Creation of Jazz: Music, Race, and Culture in Urban America
urton W. Peretti
Charles Martin Loe\ner: A Life Apart in Music
Club Date Musicians: Playing the New York Party Circuit
ruce A. MacLeod
Opera on the Road: Traveling Opera Troupes in the United States,
atherine K. Preston
e Stonemans: An Appalachian Family and the Music at Shaped eir Lives
van M. Tribe
Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined
dited by Neil V. Rosenberg
e Crooked Stovepipe: Athapaskan Fiddle Music and Square Dancing in Northeast Alaska
and Northwest Canada
Traveling the High Way Home: Ralph Stanley and the World of Traditional Bluegrass
Carl Ruggles: Composer, Painter, and Storyteller
Never without a Song: e Years and Songs of Jennie Devlin,
atharine D. Newman
e Hank Snow Story
ank Snow, with Jack Ownbey and Bob Burris
Milton Brown and the Founding of Western Swing
ary Ginell, with special assistance
from Roy Lee Brown
Santiago de Murcias Códice Saldívar No. : A Treasury of Secular Guitar Music
from Baroque Mexico
raig H. Russell
e Sound of the Dove: Singing in Appalachian Primitive Baptist Churches
everly Bush Patterson
Heartland Excursions: Ethnomusicological Re\fections on Schools of Music
Doowop: e Chicago Scene
Blue Rhythms: Six Lives in Rhythm and Blues
Go Cat Go! Rockabilly Music and Its Makers
Twas Only an Irishmans Dream: e Image of Ireland and the Irish in American Popular Song
illiam H. A. Williams
Democracy at the Opera: Music, eater, and Culture in New York City,
Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians
Woody, Cisco, and Me: Seamen ree in the Merchant Marine
Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American
illiam J. Mahar
Going to Cincinnati: A History of the Blues in the Queen City
teven C. Tracy
Pistol Packin Mama: Aunt Molly Jackson and the Politics of Folksong
Sixties Rock: Garage, Psychedelic, and Other Satisfactions
e Late Great Johnny Ace and the Transition from R & B to Rock n Roll
ames M. Salem
Tito Puente and the Making of Latin Music
Juilliard: A History
Understanding Charles Seeger, Pioneer in American Musicology
dited by Bell Yung
and Helen Rees
Mountains of Music: West Virginia Traditional Music from
dited by John Lilly
Alice Tully: An Intimate Portrait
A Blues Life
enry Townsend, as told to Bill Greensmith
Long Steel Rail: e Railroad in American Folksong (d ed.)
e Golden Age of Gospel
ext by Horace Clarence Boyer; photography by Lloyd Yearwood
Aaron Copland: e Life and Work of an Uncommon Man
Louis Moreau Gottschalk
Race, Rock, and Elvis
ichael T. Bertrand
eremin: Ether Music and Espionage
ohn H. McDowell
e Bill Monroe Reader
dited by Tom Ewing
Music in Lubavitcher Life
and Neil V. Rosenberg
at Old-Time Rock & Roll: A Chronicle of an Era,
lise K. Kirk
ill C. Malone
John Alden Carpenter: A Chicago Composer
Heartbeat of the People: Music and Dance of the Northern Pow-wow
My Lord, What a Morning: An Autobiography
Marian Anderson: A Singers Journey
Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History
Henry Cowell, Bohemian
heryl L. Keyes
Marian McPartlands Jazz World: All in Good Time
Robert Johnson: Lost and Found
arry Lee Pearson and Bill McCulloch
Bound for America: ree British Composers
Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry,
Burn, Baby! BURN! e Autobiography of Magnicent Montague
with Bob Baker
Way Up North in Dixie: A Black Familys Claim to the Confederate Anthem
oward L. Sacks
and Judith Rose Sacks
e Bluegrass Reader
dited by omas Goldsmith
Colin McPhee: Composer in Two Worlds
arol J. Oja
Robert Johnson, Mythmaking, and Contemporary American Culture
atricia R. Schroeder
Composing a World: Lou Harrison, Musical Wayfarer
eta E. Miller and Fredric Lieberman
harles A. Sengstock Jr.
Dewey and Elvis: e Life and Times of a Rock n Roll Deejay
Come Hither to Go Yonder: Playing Bluegrass with Bill Monroe
Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories
e Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa
aul E. Bierley
Maximum Clarity and Other Writings on Music
en Johnston; edited by Bob Gilmore
Staging Tradition: John Lair and Sarah Gertrude Knott
ichael Ann Williams
Homegrown Music: Discovering Bluegrass
tephanie P. Ledgin
Tales of a eatrical Guru
e Music of Bill Monroe
eil V. Rosenberg and Charles K. Wolfe
Pressing On: e Roni Stoneman Story
oni Stoneman, as told to Ellen Wright
onathan C. David, with photographs by Richard Holloway
Live Fast, Love Hard: e Faron Young Story
Air Castle of the South: WSM Radio and the Making of Music City
raig P. Havighurst
Traveling Home: Sacred Harp Singing and American Pluralism
Where Did Our Love Go? e Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound
Lonesome Cowgirls and Honky-Tonk Angels: e Women of Barn Dance Radio
ristine M. McCusker
California Polyphony: Ethnic Voices, Musical Crossroads
e Never-Ending Revival: Rounder Records and the Folk Alliance
ichael F. Scully
ess Lomax Hawes
Working Girl Blues: e Life and Music of Hazel Dickens
azel Dickens and Bill C. Malone
Charles Ives Reconsidered
ayle Sherwood Magee
e Haylo\r Gang: e Story of the National Barn Dance
dited by Chad Berry
Country Music Humorists and Comedians
Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock n Roll Pioneers
Music of the First Nations: Tradition and Innovation in Native North America
dited by Tara Browner
with Terry Trilling-Josephson
George Gershwin: An Intimate Portrait
Life Flows On in Endless Song: Folk Songs and American History
obert V. Wells
I Feel a Song Coming On: e Life of Jimmy McHugh
King of the Queen City: e Story of King Records
on Hartley Fox
Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America,
eter C. Muir
Hard Luck Blues: Roots Music Photographs from the Great Depression
Restless Giant: e Life and Times of Jean Aberbach and Hill and Range Songs
illian M. Rodger
Sacred Steel: Inside an African American Steel Guitar Tradition
obert L. Stone
Gone to the Country: e New Lost City Ramblers and the Folk Music Revival
e Makers of the Sacred Harp
avid Warren Steel, with Richard H. Hulan
Woody Guthrie, American Radical
George Szell: A Life of Music
Bean Blossom: e Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroes Bluegrass Festivals
omas A. Adler
Crowe on the Banjo: e Music Life of J. D. Crowe
Henry Mancini: Reinventing Film Music
e Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience
en Sings My Soul: e Culture of Southern Gospel Music
e Accordion in the Americas: Klezmer, Polka, Tango, Zydeco, and More!
dited by Helena Simonett
Bluegrass Bluesman: A Memoir
osh Graves; edited by Fred Bartenstein
One Woman in a Hundred: Edna Phillips and the Philadelphia Orchestra
ary Sue Welsh
e Great Orchestrator: Arthur Judson and American Arts Management
ames M. Doering
Charles Ives in the Mirror: American Histories of an Iconic Composer
avid C. Paul
dward P. Comentale
urphy Hicks Henry
arren R. Hofstra
William Sidney Mount and the Creolization of American Culture
hristopher J. Smith
Bird: e Life and Music of Charlie Parker
Making the March King: John Philip Sousas Washington Years,
In It for the Long Run
Yankee Twang: Country and Western Music in New England
liord R. Murphy
Pioneers of the Blues Revival
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