We have been reading , amongst other things, the biography of talented poet , composer and lyricist Andy Razaf ((December 16, 1895 – February 3, 1973) .
He is best remembered these days for his work with Fats Waller on songs like “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Honeysuckle Rose” . He was responsible for at least contributing or composing over 800 songs in his lifetime.
He wrote some lyrics to the World War 2 hit In the Mood . The song is forever associated with Glenn Miller but its history and origins are complex and controversial .
Please give us a shout if the Youtube links do not work .It is frustrating that some versions of songs are restricted in some countries
Our article is not original research and has relied heavily upon the Wikipedia Page “In the Mood ”
“In the Mood” was an arrangement by Joe Garland based on a pre-existing melody. Lyrics were added by Andy Razaf. The main theme, featuring repeated arpeggios rhythmically displaced, previously appeared under the title of “Tar Paper Stomp” credited to jazz trumpeter and bandleader Wingy Manone.
Manone recorded “Tar Paper Stomp” on August 28, 1930 in Richmond, Indiana and released it as a 78 single on Champion Records as by Barbecue Joe and his Hot Dogs / Personally I cannot find any image of that but we do see it on Champion by Manone It was re-released in 1935 as by Wingy Manone’s Orchestra. The recording was re-released in 1937 as a Decca 78 single as by Wingy Manone and his Orchestra. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MK798RQKyCo
Horace Henderson used the same riff in “Hot and Anxious”, recorded by his brother’s band, Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra, on March 19, 1931, which was released on Columbia Records as by the Baltimore Bell Hops https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbtm8QVOQIQ
Fletcher Henderson And The Baltimore Bell Hops. Rex Stewart (cnt) Russell Smith Bobby Stark (tp) Benny Morton Claude Jones (tb) Russell Procope (cl as) Harvey Boone (as) Coleman Hawkins (ts cl bar) Horace Henderson (p) Clarence Holiday (g) John Kirby (tu b) Walter Johnson (d) This recording also features Coleman Hawkins taking a clarinet solo – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oJ6U5g1d8Y
Don Redman recorded “Hot and Anxious” in 1932 on Brunswick Records and we can really begin to hear the tune morphing into something else https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJi5Gg_gssU
Under copyright laws, a tune that had not been written down and registered with the copyright office could be appropriated by any musician with a good ear. Wingy Manone had brought up the issue of the similarity between “Tar Paper Stomp” and “In the Mood” to Joe Garland and to the publishing company of the song, Shapiro, Bernstein, and Company of New York. Manone also discussed the issue in Down Beat magazine. “Tar Paper Stomp” was copyrighted on November 6, 1941 as a pianoforte version by Peer International.
The first recorded version of “In the Mood” was made by Edgar Hayes and his Orchestra in 1938, with Garland participating, released as a B side to their recording of “Stardust” on Decca Records. In this recording there was a baritone sax duet rather than a tenor sax battle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_j0uBc1-ps
The riff had appeared in a 1935 recording by the Mills Blue Rhythm Band entitled “There’s Rhythm In Harlem” released on Columbia Records which had been composed and arranged their arranger and Saxophone player Joe Garland .This group was led by Lucky Millinder and financed by Irving Mills. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpQgxuT595w
Joe Marsala released a song entitled “Hot String Beans” on Vocalion in 1938 that also featured the riff from “Tar Paper Stomp”.
Image Joe Marsala, Sid Weiss, Wingy Manone, Carmen Mastren about 1935, NYC.via the Adele Girard and Joe Marsala Facebook page
Wingy Manone recorded a new song entitled “Jumpy Nerves” on April 26, 1939 that incorporated the riff from “Tar Paper Stomp” which was released as a 78 single that year on RCA Bluebird. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCAXpeGzulA.
“As pointed out by music historian Dennis Spragg of the Glenn Miller Trust, up until this time
almost all the fragments of “In the Mood” had been composed and performed by African American artists, thereby limiting their radio airplay and record sales. Eventually, seeking wider exposure, Garland would begin to pitch the memorable tune to various white bandleaders.” quote courtesy Library Of Congress
Before offering it to Glenn Miller, Garland sold the tune to Artie Shaw in 1938, who chose not to record it because the original arrangement was too long. However, he did perform it in concert. The initial Artie Shaw performance was over six minutes in length with a lackluster audience response.
The tune was finally sold in 1939 to Glenn Miller, who played around with its arrangement for a while. Although the arrangers of most of the Miller tunes are known, things are a bit uncertain for “In the Mood”. It is often thought that Eddie Durham (who contributed other arrangements on the recording date of “In the Mood”, August 1, 1939 as well), John Chalmers, Chummy MacGregor (the pianist, composer, and arranger in the Glenn Miller Orchestra) and Miller himself contributed most to the final version. According to the account by MacGregor, “all they used of the original arrangement were the two front saxophone strains and another part that occurred later on in the arrangement.” Both MacGregor and Miller were involved in creating the final arrangement: “MacGregor mentioned that additional solos were added to the original arrangement and he wrote the finishing coda. Miller probably edited some of the arrangement along with MacGregor.”
“Miller’s “In the Mood” (RCA B-10416-A), when released in July of 1940, and no doubt aided
by its high energy feel and slightly risqué title, became a success with audiences. It would go on
to be broadcast on 62 occasions by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra on their CBS program
“Chesterfield Moonlight Serenade,” on “Coca Cola Spotlight Bands,” and on remote broadcasts
for NBC and Mutual and Miller and the Band played it in Sun Valley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKb-qfwbZ2M
“In the Mood” proved to have staying power even then. Soon after its debut, everywhere you
turned, Americans were awash in the “Mood.” Though Miller never recorded the song with the
Razaf lyrics (“Who’s the lovin’ daddy with the beautiful eyes/What a pair o’ lips, I’d like to try
‘em on for size.”), other bands did. The first was, interestingly, also for RCA Records. In
November 1939, that label released a version with singing provided by the Four King Sisters.
Meanwhile, songstress Paula Kelly sang “In the Mood” accompanied by Al Donahue and his
Orchestra also that same year for a Vocalion (Columbia) release. By the end of 1940,” courtesy Library of Congress
Two editions of the sheet music are in common circulation. The 1939 publication, credited to Garland and Razaf, is in A♭ and has lyrics beginning, “Mister What-cha-call-em, what-cha doin’ tonight?” as can be heard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZ82RPiUXtU
The 1960 reprint, credited only to Garland (with piano arrangement by Robert C. Haring), is in G and has lyrics beginning, “Who’s the livin’ dolly with the beautiful eyes?”
Just before we close maybe we should say that we think that aspects of the tune have its roots further back than Wingys 1930 version .Looking in our catalogue we find on JPCD-1518-2 ” Clarinet Get Away “by O’Bryant’s Washboard Band (1925)
Jimmy O’Bryant (cl), Jimmy Blythe (p), Jasper Taylor (wb) Recorded June 1925 in Chicago, Ill Released on Paramount 12287 https://thedocumentrecordsstore.com/product/jpcd-1518-2/
Given the critical slamming I gave those first Document CDs when writing for the blues magazine, I was more than a little surprised when the reviews editor rang to say that Johnny Parth had recommended me for a job. They wanted me to write some booklet notes, and the deal was that, as payment for my services, for every set of booklet notes that I wrote I could choose ten CDs from the now huge Document catalogue. The first task was for me to write notes for four volumes of Ma Rainey CDs.
Four x ten booklet notes= forty CDs in wages.
I couldn’t be happier. I would be CD rich!!! If only I could get the local supermarket and a petrol garage to accept CDs in payment…
I accepted the task and began earnestly tapping out my first notes.
Things were going well with the work for Document, and I loved it; the research, trying to create interest with the text, informing the reader to the best of my ability. I was becoming well and truly invested in the project, and in Document’s mission.
After a while, having written a reasonable number of notes, I made a phone call to Johnny. By and large I’m not a technologically minded person, but it had occurred to me, in 1999, that as more people were bringing computers into their homes and gaining access to the world-wide-web, this influx would include the PCs of potential Document customers. I voiced this idea to Johnny, and suggested that he invest in creating a Document website from which he could sell CDs. At the time, he told me that he had no interest in the web, or computers for that matter, but if I still wanted to pursue the website idea then he would have no objection to my setting one up. I could buy CDs from Document and then start selling them online. The idea had its possibilities, and considering the rural part of the country which we were living in, I thought an internet business might not be such a bad idea. Having said that, I still came off the phone unsure as to how I felt about running such a business myself.
A few days later, before I had a chance to come to a decision, Johnny rang to propose a very different idea, ‘I was wondering,’ he said, ‘how would you like to have all of Document?’ Thinking that he was referring to the Document catalogue and my incomplete, but still vast collection of Document CDs, I refused on the grounds that I was perfectly happy to keep writing his booklet notes in return for the CD payments. ‘No, no’ he said. ‘What I am saying is, would you like all of Document; everything? The discussion carried on like this for a few minutes until the penny dropped. Johnny was actually offering to sell me the company. Life for the East Hull pre-fab home boy were becoming that little more bizarre. We talked a little more and Johnny suggested a price. Though I had worked in the music business, I had never been in the record business, and so didn’t know whether the number he proposed was a little or a lot, unreasonable or a bargain. ‘Yes, alright.’ I said, thinking to myself ‘I’ll worry about this tomorrow’ and with that our conversation later came to a close and I gently put down the phone. I then went into the living room. ‘I’ve just had the weirdest conversation with Johnny.’ I said to Gillian. ‘He’s just asked me if I want to buy Document. I mean, Document Records, the whole thing, the business, the company.’ Without flinching, my wife Gillian replied ‘I hope that you said yes.’
Within a few months one of the main streets in Vienna was sealed off as the world’s biggest truck was loaded up with 175,000 CDs. As we cleared the warehouse of all its stock I discovered, behind a rack of shelving, some plain, grey card sleeves, about twelve or so. They were the same size as LP covers but slightly more bulky, and when I asked Johnny what they were, he said, ‘Oh, I forgot them. They are just some of the old metal masters from when we had Document LPs.’ Delighted at this news I asked where the rest of them were. ‘I put them all for scrap years ago.’ He replied. Seeing the shock and disappointment on my face, he added ‘Why would I want to keep them? vinyl is finished and we’re never going to produce it again.’
I considered the scene, as part of Document’s history was dumped, and told him of how surprised I was that someone with such a strong collector sense had got rid of them. ‘CDs are the best,’ he replied. ‘I would never go back to vinyl.’ I taped the heavy bundle of masters together and put them into my bag, resolute that this piece of history wasn’t going into the furnace. I then walked out into the street to see the last of the CDs being loaded up. There wasn’t an inch of space left in the truck. Waving goodbye to the driver, I told him I’d see him in Scotland and I made my way to Vienna airport.
We couldn’t have gone into the record industry at a worse time. After a hundred years of an increasingly successful existence, it took its biggest and near fatal nose dive just as the ink was drying on the Document purchase agreement. Watching the rapid decline of vinyl singles and LPs was depressing, and entering into the industry via the eye of a revolutionary storm was, to say the least, exasperating and unnerving. The next ten years were made up of a heady blend of nightmares, nail biting and breath holding, mixed in with moments of great excitement, fascination and satisfaction. Despite all of this however, my biggest regret was still that I would never be responsible for any vinyl being released… Or so I thought.
The levels of music piracy were suffocating, as the switch to digital made available the easiest way to copy music at home since the industry began. And yet, after a decade of decline, it was vinyl that began to produce whispers of optimism. The first clues came five or six years ago when distributors around the world, and in particular in the U.K. and the U.S.A. informed us that the previously declining vinyl sales had suddenly started going into reverse. What’s more, record shop owners, mail order record retailers, collectors and our own Document customers started to make positive comments about vinyl making a gradual return. Sales reports are one thing but hearing statements from those involved first hand is another, and it was all the more encouraging that this interest was being particularly driven by younger music buyers, and vinyl releases by bands themselves. Despite my personal excitement, I resisted climbing onto the roof of the Document offices, bursting into song with ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ whilst holding a huge international flag bearing an LP and a 45. Much as I would have dearly loved for Document to have begun producing vinyl, I held back any decision to do so. I knew that my desire to produce LPs was, at that point being too heavily weighted by my own romantic feelings and not by any water-tight business strategy. Even so, the Siren’s song, calling ‘Gary, Gary, produce vinyl LPs and we shall be yours’ was becoming increasingly difficult to resist.
Around this time I found myself wandering into a second-hand record shop in Lancashire, England. I had visited it about a year before, but my catch had been good, and memorable enough to make it worthy of a return visit.
On this particular day the owner was wearing a black shirt, top button undone, and black ‘stay-press, casual pants.’ An old rocker who had been in the business for years, his grey hair sweeps neatly from one side of his head to the other, and underneath, his face has a certain kind of redness that suggests that he is not one hundred per cent in the best of health. He acknowledged me with a smile and a nod. Shortly after arriving, whilst quietly flipping through the LP covers, I heard his voice call from the back of the shop. “Want a mug of tea whilst your browsing, lad?” he asked in a broad Lancashire accent. Saying that I would ‘love one,’ he reappears several minutes later, bearing a chipped mug of strong tea from a tiny kitchen area, sectioned off from the rest of the shop by an ancient, heavy, curtain. “I’m trying to get the place organised,” he told me, evidently not remembering that I had already paid a visit once before, when the place was just as chaotic and disorganised then. Tall stacks of records, looking as if they might topple over at any minute, created a small maze of pathways around the shop, each having to be explored because of the vagaries of the shelving system (where there were shelves). “What ya into?” he asked. I tell him and he replied “Blues. Right, then. You’ll find blues there in those two racks, and then there’s some over there”. Then, pointing a finger into an entirely different part of the shop, “and then some over there too. Oh, and you might find some under there but I’ll have to shift them boxes so’s ya can get at ‘em. Ow’s yer tea?” I realized that he had a natural hospitality that no customer relations course could ever teach. I don’t ever want him to “get organized”, I thought to myself. For me, the place was perfect, just as it is. The chaos only added to the element of surprise when, unexpectedly, one suddenly stumbles upon a gem.
I asked him how business was doing, and he told me that it was ‘Not bad… Not brilliant.’ He went on to say that his CD sales had practically collapsed because ‘Well, they’ve been taken over by vinyl.’ This came as a surprise, ‘Aye, lots of young uns comin’ in that I’ve never seen before, comin’ in an’ asking for vinyl,’ he assured me. Even so, I could tell that business is patchier than he might have wanted to admit, in particular with many of these kind of shops, awkwardly hanging on, away from the city centers. I worried a little, and hoped that he would survive. ‘I don’t make a lot but I pay me bills and to be honest,’ he added, his face lighting up, ‘one of the reasons I keep going is because I like to chat with folk and because I get some interesting people comin’ in here, talkin’ about music and records.’
At the end of a good two hours, which feels more like mountaineering and exploration than browsing in the grown up, magical, ‘Mr Ben’ shop, I took a pile of records over to the till thinking that this was probably one of the biggest sales that he’d had for that week, at least. He added it all up in his head, no computer, no calculator, no electronic till. Did it again, to make sure, rounds it off to the nearest tenner and concluded, “You’ve done alright there, lad. There’s some good stuff there.” I thanked him for the records and the tea, and made my way home, hoping very much that the second-hand record shop will still be there on my return. It felt like those early teenage years once again, with my records in a plain polythene bag clasped securely under my arm, satisfied, curious and excited about what I will hear on them. This time though, as for a long time, I would not be stuffing them up my jumper, prior to walking in through the front door of my home.
Over the following months, encouraged by industry and media reports of the rise in vinyl record sales, we spoke more in the office about the possibility of releasing Document LPs. It was close to the Christmas of 2011, and as we monitored the situation, I received an email which puzzled me. It was from a company that I had not heard of before, Third Man Records, asking for a time when I might be available to receive a telephone call from Jack White. I only knew of one Jack White, the Jack White of the White Stripes fame, and I was sure that we couldn’t be talking about the same person… Could we? I replied to the message, giving them phone numbers of when and where I could be reached. Nothing happened. Christmas came and went and after a while I put this odd communication aside. Someone, I thought, has had an idea and then dropped it. These things happen, so I forgot all about it. A few months later, I was working from our house in the North of England when the telephone rang. Gillian took the call from downstairs. I could hear her chatting away and after a few minutes assumed that it was either some business she was dealing with or a personal call. I carried on with my work until I was interrupted by Gillian calling from the bottom of the stairs, ‘Gary, Jack White’s on the phone.’
Within the first few minutes of the call we were talking about Document, our blues heroes and enthusiastically swapping record collector stories. Jack said that some of the first records he ever bought were Document LPs, and told me a story about him buying perhaps twenty or so of them from a second-hand record shop in Detroit when he was just seventeen. I shared my own memories of Hull’s record exchanges, and of buying Roots LPs produced in Vienna by Johnny Parth. As the conversation rolled on, Jack proposed an idea, one which he had carried with him ever since picking up those LPs twenty years ago. The conversation lead to the collaboration of producing three sets of blues, vinyl, LPs. Our chat highlighted the fact that both of us had strong, shared ideas about how these LPs should be presented and who they should be aimed at. For both of us, the idea of a young Gary Atkinson or Jack White walking into a record shop, picking up one of these LPs, and being enthralled by what they heard, would be the most satisfying gain. If seasoned collectors liked them too then, that would be an unexpected bonus. We said our goodbye’s, and shortly after putting the phone down, I reflected on how I had previously resigned myself to accepting that I would never be fortunate enough to be involved in producing vinyl records, now, I was about to be an integral part of doing that very thing.
Discussions progressed over the following weeks and I decided early on that I didn’t want to just hand over the recordings, like a straight licensing deal. From the beginning, I knew that this project was going to be something special. Jack had made it clear that he wanted to make it so that every record released would remain in the catalogue ‘for as long as Third Man exists.’ Knowing what it takes to keep such a commitment, I began thinking about what I could do to help make these albums credible and interesting enough for people buying them, perhaps for generations ahead. I decided to revisit the original recordings. In addition to the Document masters already available, I had my own collection, which had been recently supplemented by two large collections of spool tapes containing twenty to thirty thousand recordings in each. These collections had been put together, back in the 1950s and 60s by two independent collectors committing their shellac 78 records, vinyl LPs, Eps and private recordings to tape.
Adding even more to this were recordings made available to me by other collectors. With all these resources to draw upon, I was able to examine and compare the condition of records, and upgrade them finished using sound restoration programs and techniques which were simply not available when the vast majority of Document productions were originally released. Thirteen albums, covering the full recorded works of Delta blues-man Charley Patton, Georgia blues-man, Blind Willie McTell and Mississippi string band The Mississippi Sheiks, were mastered up. We planned to launch the series by releasing the first volumes by each artist. I commissioned Mick Middles, music journalist and author of many excellent books covering the life and times of rock/pop artists and bands, to produce the sleeve notes. At the same time, Jack commissioned graphic artist Rob Jones to produce astonishing artwork for the record sleeves.
After a few delays, which took the launch beyond Christmas, I sat down at my computer one morning in late January 2013, and opened up a curious email sent to me by Third Man. The message was rather cryptic, merely saying something like ‘heads up’ or words to that effect, and a link which took me to a fantastic promo film on the Third Man website, narrated by Jack and announcing the arrival of the first album. I was stunned. Suddenly it was really happening. A couple of weeks later I had the finished product in my hands. I could hardly believe it. I opened the package, and without any exaggeration, it felt as if I was being catapulted back in time to forty-four years ago, when I took my fist blues LP home. I sat down, looking at the fabulous covers, and as the stylus dropped onto the vinyl, I felt the warmth sweep over me. Except this time, in a way that surpassed all of my dreams and expectations, I was partly responsible for that warmth.
Postscript: This is the last part of Confessions of a Vinyl Addict, though I am delighted to able to say that, as of writing, I have not been cured.
Whilst working, as an Office Junior at the City Engineers department of Hull City Council, I was approached by two close work friends. ‘Do you like Rory Gallagher?’ Dave asked. ‘No,’ I gave as a reply to a question, which, in my music-elitist view, needed no consideration. ‘Why not!?’ exclaimed Dave, genuinely puzzled. ‘He plays blues.’ I looked at him, mystified as to how he could come to such a ridiculous conclusion that a) Rory Gallagher played anything that could pass for blues music and that b) I would give such a singer that screamed his way through a song whilst playing screeching, electric-guitar, a microsecond of my time. Had the Hull City Corporation’s palatial Guildhall buildings have been mine, I would have told him to ‘Get out!’ Dave looked at me, obviously wanting to say more. Yet it was clear that he knew that, for the moment, he was not going to be given a way in to the impenetrable fortress of Atkinson’s world of music, despite his best of intentions.
On the Saturday afternoon following the conversation with Dave, the countryside’s tranquillity was shattered by the roaring noise of motor scooter engines. I opened the front door and to my astonishment watched a small armada of Vespas, liberally adorned with mirrors and headlights, pull into the drive of the house where I then lived with my parents, in the village of South Cave, twenty miles west of Hull. Sat as a passenger on the leading scooter was Dave, holding tightly onto a bunch of LPs. Each scooter had a driver with a passenger holding their own bundle of albums. Dave apologised for the intrusion but said that it was important. Apparently, he had been bothered by our discussion regarding Rory Gallagher or, more to the point, the lack of it. It had played on his mind for the rest of the week as to how intransigent I was about music and had decided to take matters into his own hands and demonstrate the error of my record-buying ways with a damn good record-playing session.
I had little option other than make several cups of coffee, provide a dish of Rich Tea biscuits and invite them to the usually prohibited area of my room. I was then subjected to a crash course in what one would miss out on if one bloody-mindedly stuck to one thing only in one’s life. The first thing they played me was Free Live by Free. As the record turned, Dave pointed out the intricate, relationship between the guitar playing of Paul Kossoff and the bass playing of Andy Fraser. I was a little taken aback that such things could be discussed about a rock record. Surely, this was the preserve of the blues, jazz or classical connoisseur . . . wasn’t it? Next came the Rolling Stones, Rory Gallagher, Santana and Pink Floyd. The whole afternoon was like a week in rehab. I struggled and sweated my way through, trying to resist the demons. The gathering of people in my room, with their knowing looks and appearing as if they were in some kind of trance, all focused on the sounds of Hell emanating from the sacrificial turntable, made me want to resist. A voice in my head murmured, ‘Get thee behind me Satan and be gone with your vile, rock albums.’ The whole scene was like the final chapters of a Dennis Wheatley novel. But I began to get drawn in and I found myself going with the sounds filling the room. Oh god, I was becoming enchanted. It was like two-timing. After my friends left, with their faces saying, ‘Our work is done, we must go now’, I could hardly look my blues albums in the face. What would my heroes think? What if I ended up liking this music more than I liked the blues? Could I really end up dumping my blues records; the best friends that I had?
It would not be too long before the answer came. I bought records by everyone, from Son House Mississippi John Hurt and Kokomo Arnold to Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Bob Marley and The Stranglers. My head had been turned. Everything was up for grabs. The music was played loud, particularly when everyone was out and it was just up to me and my records to entertain ourselves. When summer arrived, the windows were thrown open wide and with the help of my collection, South Cave became the Newport Blues Festival, the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival. Concerts by Free, Taj Mahal, Muddy Waters, Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt and others blasted out.
My record collecting carried on, unhindered and unabated, for the next couple of years or so. Sheridan started up another shop on Anlaby Road, Hull. Although one of the early Virgin Record stores had opened in Hull around the same time, for me, Sheridan had become the Richard Branson of second-hand vinyl-record shop owners. I was already eternally grateful to him. Would he go on to create an empire of Sheridan Second-Hand Railway, Second-Hand Airline Exchanges, and Sheridan Second Hand Banking Exchanges? Only time would tell.
This was still in the era where the working-class calendar of life was already marked off for you when you were born; ‘Go to school, leave school, get job (factory or office may be optional), get married, have kids, retire, die’. All of it being the earlier the better. By the age of nineteen I was on my way. Got job, found the girl. A year later, got married, got a mortgage, had our own bungalow and dog. We were married for fourteen years, much of it very happy but for reasons that I still cannot fathom, the records slowly began to remain in their sleeves. By the age of twenty-five we had moved over to Lancashire, set up a business, and brought our second child into the world. Within another five years the business had gone bankrupt and we had lost everything. We were left with nothing more than a few sticks of furniture and some clothes. I had a Dobro guitar and the record collection, both of which I held onto dearly to retain my sanity.
Eventually, we were both back in work. Good jobs, well paid, all expenses, the lot. I hardly noticed the transformation, as, in Thatcher’s Britain, we both, in our late twenties, began to metamorphose into a pair of grotesque, money-chasing yuppies. All artistic taste, creativity and cultural contemplation, along with the wisdom, consideration and empathy towards people that it comes with – things that we both had when we first began to go out with each other – left through the back door, helped on its way by an unceremonious kick up the arse by a £120 pair of Italian brogues. My record collecting, guitar playing and painting had stopped, replaced by an increasingly bland, mindless, status-symbol driven lifestyle. Finally, at around the age of thirty-two, I became the victim of our joint success. Like a mountain goat, grazing on grass growing by the quiet and tranquil railway line of life, I was suddenly hit by the huge, speeding locomotive of destiny, and on the front of it was written its unexpected destination: ‘Divorce Junction’.
At the same time, through my work, I had become friends with Gillian. I first met her when, late on a winter’s afternoon, I visited a small graphic-design business that she helped run from her home, a Victorian terraced house just to the north of Manchester. I looked around her office, as we spoke and noticed one or two things that made me suspect that she might be into music. I broached the subject and she replied by asking me what sort of music I was into. This question had always been an awkward one for me in the past. During the sixties and early seventies mentioning the word ‘blues’ in Hull usually drew a blank expression. At the most someone might have a stab at it. ‘Oh right, yeh. Me dad’s got some Acker Bilk records.’ Or ‘What, ya mean like Sarah Vaughan?’ And then there was the standard, ‘I ‘ate blues. It’s all the same and it’s so bloody miserable.’
Surprised to hear such a question, having not been asked it for some years, I thought I would play it safe. I had learned to reply ‘jazz’, rather than ‘blues’. It was less complicated, and I usually didn’t have to explain myself any further. ‘I’m into Jazz,’ I remarked. Preparing myself for the inevitable, I was completely wrong-footed when she replied, ‘What kind?’ and then reeled off a small but very credible list of jazz musicians that she liked. A little stunned, I decided to let my guard down and venture a little more information. ‘Well, I do like jazz. In fact, I like all sorts of stuff, but my main love is the blues.’ There was an uncomfortable silence, and I thought to myself, ‘That’s torn it, this conversation will stop right here.’ As I began preparing my ’Lovely to meet you, I’ll be back in touch’ speech, Gillian stood up and said, ‘Follow me.’ We walked from her front room into the hallway and then into the dining room. ‘What the hell’s going on?’ I wondered. She went to the back of the room where there were two original built-in cupboards on either side of the chimney breast. First, she opened wide the two doors to the left cupboard followed by those to the one on the right. Whilst gazing ahead of me, I slowly stooped slightly and gently and quietly placed my briefcase on the floor. There in front of me was a huge LP collection. In it was nearly every Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Reed album produced. Eventually we became a couple and the record collecting kicked back in with a vengeance.
I stood, looking at the cupboard shelves, filled with hundreds of blues LPs. For the first time in years, I had found a kindred spirit. I felt a jolt of energy inside of me and I sensed a flicker of a flame coming form the ashes of my life. My record collection would also be introduced to another one and between them there would arrive more albums. I was in love.
By the mid-nineties we were living in Scotland. I had begun to write for various magazines, mainly as a reviewer. Having enthusiastically told one magazine’s review editor that I was interested in early blues and gospel music – ‘The earlier and more obscure, the better – I received a small package of Document CDs. The first I gave my attention to was a full album of very obscure 1920s by two Afro-American Preachers (sermons with Singing). Their complete recordings were laid out in chronological order. Outraged, I paced over to the computer and began to write my review. I strafed the page with such words as ‘ridiculous’, ‘appalling’ and ‘unlistenable’. Why would anyone in their right mind, I asked in disbelief, want to reissue the complete works of such a group, using recordings that were at best uncomfortable listening, partly because of the performances and original quality of the sound recordings, and at worse impossible listening because of the terrible condition of the original records used for transfers to produce the masters?
The remainder of the CDs in the package were part of a seemingly endless A to Z of obscure female blues singers who had made only two to perhaps half a dozen recordings, mainly during the 1920 and ‘30s. My review gave them little better treatment than the preachers and their congregations, now laying, verbally bullet riddled, in their Perspex CD case.
When the magazine arrived, I went straight to the review section, satisfied with my literary outburst and ready to bask in the glory of seeing my thoughts and comments in print. And there it was. But then I realised that a huge amount of other Document CD reviews was there, throughout several review pages. My eyes began to narrow as I tried to take it in and make sense of it all. As I read the other reviews, it became clear that this Document label was unlike anything else I had come across in all of my years of collecting. I spoke to the reviews editor, who told me that the owner of the label, Johnny Parth, was a mad Austrian who appeared to be on a mission from God to reissue every blues and gospel recording made, from the first, dating from the late nineteenth century, to at least 1943, following all that were in the appropriate discographies covering that period. After that it was difficult to listen to and understand what the editor was saying. The phone was held limply in my hand as I gazed into the far distance, my jaw having dropped slightly.
It became clear to me that at nearly seventy years old Johnny was a serious collector of the scariest kind. Indeed, one of his albums, produced on vinyl, prior to the CD era, had a plain white, card sleeve, and as part of the title on the LP label it simply said, ‘For Serious Collectors Only’. Worryingly, he meant it.
In the past, I noticed that record collectors (perhaps this is unique to blues collectors but I suspect not) had a natural urge to start amassing the tracks of particular artists, scattered throughout their collections, on records, spool tapes, cassettes etc., in a certain way. And this was it: the full recorded works in chronological order. This was what the Document label was doing, because Johnny was just doing what came naturally as a serious collector. As a result, the Document label was not trying to pander to anyone; it was not following the commercial norm. It was making available, in a natural and recognisable way, the complete history of early blues, gospel and spirituals recordings, from the very beginning through to World War 2 and beyond. With each and every CD booklet came informed notes by experts and a detailed discography. It didn’t cherry-pick. It wasn’t interested in “best-ofs”. This was an attempt to preserve, for as long as possible, an Afro-American musical heritage. The best, the good, the worst, everything. Realising this, I became hooked. Here was everything that I had been looking for from my first days of record collecting. Though my preference was still for vinyl and shellac, from then on my reviews of Document CDs became far more positive, little knowing what lay ahead.
Next week, the fourth and final posting of ‘Confessions of a Vinyl Addict’, in which my life in music and records is changed completely by two international phone calls.
The first albums that I bought were cheap, ‘budget range’ ones. The Marble Arch label was owned by Pye Nixa, which had licensed material from Chess records in the early 1960s. As a schoolboy in the late 1960s, I could just about afford these, at 14s 11d, that’s just short of 75p or $1.14. My first purchase was a compilation simply titled The Blues, which had several of the Chess heavyweights on it, including Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Little Walter and my first introduction to the mighty Elmore James with his powerful, electric slide-guitar opening to ‘Sunnyland’. From there on, each Saturday, I went into town on a record-buying trip. Quickly, I devised an expedition route taking me round all of the city’s record shops, the grand finale being Hammond’s department store where, on most Saturdays, it would be mayhem in the record department on the top floor. Everyone would be crammed around a pentangle shaped island of record racks filled with LPs and in the centre of the pentangle were staff, often struggling to serve one customer after another. Around the perimeter of the department were several listening booths, which would invariably have queues of teenagers waiting outside clutching their next prospective purchase. With very little money in my pocket, early forays consisted of little more than gazing longingly at LP sleeves. Eagerly, my eyes took mental snapshots of covers, fonts, titles, sleeve notes and their writers, musicians, producers, recording studios, record company names, everything and anything that would help unpick the mysteries of this huge realm of record collecting that lay in front of me.
No sooner had I exhausted the offerings of the budget labels, then I made a wonderful discovery – a ‘book and record exchange’. Newly opened on Carr Lane just south of the city centre, it was run by a chap called John Sheridan, a brooding, quiet-spoken man. With lengthy, grey, hair, sometimes tied in a ponytail. I could never quite tell whether he was friend or foe. A little daunting, both visually and characteristically, he was not unlike the Professor Dumbledore character played by Richard Harris in the Harry Potter movies, and this walk-in magic box of vinyl could have been comfortably placed in Diagon Alley. Late, on a cold December afternoon, in 1969, as a fresh-faced thirteen-year-old, I walked into the shop and found the blues section. Immediately, I practically passed out, having come across Blind Willie McTell’s 1940 Library of Congress sessions on the Storyville label. Completely beside myself, I walked up to the counter and handed the empty sleeve over to Sheridan. He looked down at the sleeve over his wire-rimmed glasses, studied it for a moment and then looked back up at me. ‘You want this?’ he asked in his soft Irish voice. The word ‘this’ was accentuated by him glancing down at the sleeve and then quickly back at me. It was as if to say, ‘Do you know what this is?’ My ears detected a tone of menace, perhaps concern, as though he’d said, ‘You young fool. Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?’ The LP was put into a plain brown paper bag and with it I stepped back out into the darkening wintry air. As I walked quickly away I felt, for the first time, an odd sense of having just done something that wasn’t quite right, something that was quite at odds with my contemporaries. Why were my hands soaked with nervous sweat? Why was my heart thumping? Why did I have a sense of excitement and guilt mixed together? It was practically as if Sheridan had metamorphosed into a shady drug dealer and the drug was vinyl.
I took my LP home and seconds after the stylus kissed the vinyl of my new friend, in my bedroom, I was hit by the driving sound of McTell’s first few intense bars of music, played with great zeal on his Stella 12-string guitar. It had an immediate and life-changing effect on me; the nearby River Humber turned into the Mississippi, the flat, fertile farmland around me became the Delta, and Hull, as anyone could surely see, had turned into Memphis, or was it Atlanta or Jackson? I could never quite tell. Life was now an ongoing explosion of discovery as more and more music came into my bedroom, served on a platter of vinyl.
By the time that I was fifteen I had become a nigh-on unbearable purist. It was vintage, pre-war blues recordings from the 1920s and ’30s or nothing. I had stopped watching Top of the Pops and had no interest in what was happening in the charts. The whole thing was a tedious, puerile abomination. Anyone not able to understand the sublime integrity of the records I was prepared to trade my soul for was, in my eyes, little more than an imbecile.
It was clear to all concerned, including friends and family, that my collecting habits had become serious and possessed a worrying air of longevity. My mother had become concerned about how I was spending my money. My father put up a case for my defence, but he had an ulterior motive. Some years later, he confessed that when I used to go to him, appealing that I had found a bunch of ‘must buy’ records and was short by a pound or two, he would subsidise me, convinced that I would eventually tire of all of this and the collection would become his. Sadly, his plan backfired on him and he never saw his vision come true. Yet, even though my mother’s concerns had been, to some extent, alleviated, I was very mindful of them and would return home from a Saturday record-buying binge with an odd looking, twelve-inch square, flat chest, having stuffed my latest haul up my jumper to dodge parental customs and excise. It was then a quick-paced walk to the stairs, which I would ascend, two or three at a time, trying to remain calm and without raising any suspicion.
Things got even better. Shortly after, Sheridan opened up a second, bigger shop a mile or so from the north-west of the city centre on Princess Avenue. It was a shrewd move. This Victorian, double-fronted shop, with its large windows, was situated within the university student’s accommodation area. By this time, I had left school and had settled into my first ‘proper job’, as an office junior in the huge Dickensian accounts section of the City Engineers Department of the Hull Corporation. The wonderful thing about this was that we had an hour and a half for lunch. Instead of having an electronic clocking on/off machine there was a register, a large book with a pencil tied to it. The lunch period stretched over three hours, from twelve to three o’clock. There were around fifty people in that office, many young teenagers like me. Shortly after starting, I was told by my young colleagues that if I wanted a long lunch all I had to do was ask someone who was staying in the office over lunch to sign me back in at 1:30. Consequently, I would often sign out at 12:00 and go on a three-hour record-browsing rampage, usually making a bee line for Sheridan’s Princess Avenue shop.
It was the uncertainty, the not knowing what would be trawled up in the nets, as I bobbed around the book and record exchanges on those lunchtime and Saturday expeditions that created the excitement leading up to a “find”. The majority of records were from established collections and were usually a few years old, at least. This gave me a chance to do some catching up on many wonderful releases that appeared before I became a collector. One such LP I bought at that time was a Sonny Terry album on the Topic label, released in 1964, having been released in the USA on the Folkways label by Moses Asch in 1958. Some records had been brought in from bigger cities and were far more interesting than what I could buy, new, in town – such as a 1957 copy of Jesse Fuller’s rare Frisco Bound album on Cavalier. And get this, it was SIGNED ‘Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller’ on the front.
Visiting the Princess Avenue shop, nestled deep within student-bedsit land, it didn’t take long for me to work out the weak points in the student fiscal calendar. I soon learned that those students who liked blues and had brought with them some excellent LPs from afar, also had a tendency to hit a financial crisis at around Christmas, Easter and the end of the semester. Although I admired their musical taste and sympathised with their impecuniousness, the advantage proved time and again to be mine. Going through the racks was like panning for gold. Striking it lucky depended on a sequence of events. For example; Blues LP owning student from one of the country’s bigger cities, after considering various options, is now attending Hull University. Student decides, at last minute, not to return to family home for the break and unexpectedly meets girl or boy of his or her dreams at Christmas or New Year’s Eve party. Student develops relationship. With relationships comes happiness, good times, festivals, pubs, cinemas, clubs, endless phone calls etc. By Easter student is lost in heady romantic whirl which has cost quite a bit more than student expected or budgeted for, but for the moment he or she doesn’t care. Eventually, after a reluctant look at student’s bank statement, student starts to wake up from ‘to hell with the money, I’m in love’ dream. Student is brought out of his or her trance by their rapidly depleting bank balance. They are back in the bedsit room and find, under discarded fish-and-chip paper and empty cans, the deadly, final demand for rent. Student franticly calculates how many weeks to go before the summer break and considers options. Parents? Luck has run out. New partner? Too early into relationship. Try and get job back working behind bar of nearby pub? They won’t have student back because of that disgraceful behaviour towards one of the customers and then not turning up the next day for work. Despite reducing weekly food budget and living on a diet of cheese on toast and the odd tin of beans, student has suddenly arrived at a fiscal crisis. Last option is the nuclear one. Go to Sheridan’s on Princess Avenue and get money for blues LPs. Meanwhile, record-buying fiend, Atkinson, walks into the shop and BINGO! With a slight tremble in my hand and an intent stare at the covers that, only hours before, lived in student’s nearby bedsit, I hear the stylus settle down onto the vinyl and I swear that Robert Johnson and all his Delta blues chums begin the opening bars of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’. The whole predictable process has been like the effect of a butterfly flapping its wings on the other side of the planet. Indeed, the student would probably agree that my having struck gold in the vinyl mine was the result of his chaos. Like a vulture perched on a telegraph wire biding its time, all Atkinson had to do was wait for financial disaster to hit before he would swoop on his prey and gorge himself on another orgy of sound.
Two labels were of particular interest to me in the early days. One was the Yazoo label, based in New York, which had been established by Nick Perls, a young, independently wealthy East Coast collector of old blues records. Yazoo albums were very well put together with excellent sound restoration, re-mastering and informative sleeve notes. The Roots label was equally interesting, but compared to Yazoo its LPs had an anarchic quality about them. There were no concessions towards sound restoration and no sleeve notes whatsoever. Only occasionally would original recording dates be shown. Nevertheless, of the two labels, Roots albums seemed to dig deeper into the recorded legacy of obscure blues recordings. The only other information given on the backs of Roots record sleeves was a mysterious Viennese address and the name Johnny Parth. Little did I know, as I bought these records, second-hand as a young teenager, that this name would mean a great deal to me some twenty-five years later.
In 2013 I was asked to write a piece for the book publisher Faber. The inspiration for the request was a collaboration between Document Records and Jack White’s Third Man Records which had just taken place. What was required of me by Faber was an insight into how I became a record collector and how, many years later, I received a phone call from Jack White asking me if I would work with him in producing some pre-war blues albums on vinyl. This also happened to be during the early days of the current vinyl revival.
Of course, the bulk of this story goes hand in hand with my addiction to music and in particular, the blues, which began as a passion for me when I was a child and with that I have adapted the piece so that it focuses more on my early days of discovering this wonderful music and how it effected me. With these scribbles, I hope that you too will be inspired and join in by telling how you first encountered the music which means a great deal to you; perhaps blues, jazz, gospel, old-time country or anything else. What was the first record that you bought? How did you first hear this music? Do you have any stories about a particular record buying experience? What effect has the music had on you and your life?…
Confessions of a Vinyl Addict
By Gary Atkinson
Part 1: Warmth and catching the record collecting bug
Talk to any collector of vinyl records, or those who fondly reminisce about the days of singles, EPs and albums, and it is a safe bet that sooner or later, in their attempt to describe just what it is that puts vinyl up and above any other format that carries the recorded sound of music, they will use the adjective ‘warm’. ‘I don’t know what it is. It’s got that warmth; do you know what I mean?’ Yes, I do, but unless you have heard it and experienced it radiating from the speakers, like the comforting warmth of a 1960s three-bar electric fire on a cold winter’s day, then it is difficult to articulate what is meant by it. Being caught in its glow is quite a difficult thing to describe. I dare say that someone with a PhD in physics might be able to tell you exactly what it is, in scientific terms: the average decibel range, the frequency, how it hits the ear drums and sets off our sensory system within that part of our brain that takes care of, well, that sort of thing. You can hear it when the stylus makes contact with the outer perimeter of a vinyl disc, the ‘lead-in groove’. Straight away and for a few seconds before the anticipated music begins, there it is – the sound of warmth. If one needs a visual metaphor, it is like watching the cream being poured onto the back of a polished, silver teaspoon, before it caresses and delicately glides over the dark, whiskey-laden coffee that lies beyond.
Standard recording contracts, or any contract which involves the production and distribution or licensing of a sound recording, carry a ‘Territory’ clause outlining where in the world the recordings will be sold or used, for example, either as records or in films or TV advertisements. In the distant past, it was not unusual for the territory to be defined as ‘the world’. However, within the last couple of decades this clause has been broadened out and in some cases states ‘the world together with the universe which may from time to time be visited or occupied by man’. This additional wording is an attempt to cover any type of electronic or digital transfer of music downloaded via satellites some 150 to 450 miles up in space, whizzing around the planet at a decent 17,000 mph. You don’t find any of that warmth in outer space.
As the digital revolution erupted and poured into the average household with CD players, and computers with CD-burning abilities and access to the Internet, for a time it looked like the digital carving knife of the recording process and the silver CD that it would be served on would cut out the warmth for ever. The clearest thing that could be heard with the advent of the digital CD was the death knell for vinyl. Ironically, after the record industry had more or less thrown vinyl out with the metal master’s electroplating bath water, some of the early rock and pop CDs featured the scratch and crackle sounds of vinyl, including albums by Beck and Gomez. Yet, though such noises (becoming something of a soundtrack for the retro era) came through loud and clear, the subtle sound of warmth, like a record’s organic, steady breath, was no longer there.
I have tried to imagine young teenagers inviting their friends, girlfriends or boyfriends up to their bedrooms, sweeping a hand in front of their computer screen or iPod and proudly saying ‘So, what do you think to my record collection?’ Surely, one of the best ways to get to know someone, break the ice, discover what someone is about, acquire an insight into what makes them tick, was to flick casually through their record collection, with such comments as, ‘I’ve got this, it’s great,’ or, ‘Brilliant, I didn’t know you had this,’ or, ‘Bloody awful!’ followed by smiles and a mixture of dissent and amusement as you pretended to Frisbee the offending article across the room. Real gems would be met with ecstatic groans and gasps of admiration. Records carry within their grooves every emotion known to the human race, from hot passion to cold dejection, from elation to despair. Curiously, the records themselves can create passionate feelings and intense debate themselves, with stories being told about where they were bought, the description of the record shop, the occasion, who they were with and even the weather at the time. For the first few years of collecting I wrote the date, where I bought the LP and, occasionally, how much I bought it for on the inside of every LP sleeve, along with my signature. A practice which I now regret stopping, because pulling an inner-sleeve out of those earlier purchases brings back some marvelous memories. Now one can go into someone’s home and not have any clue as to whether they are huge music fan or not. Gone are the experiences, memories, the full gamut of emotions of a person’s life presented there in a tangible, tactile, three-dimensional form. With a record collection, there on the shelves is the music, but there also is the companion that you share the music with – the record. So often I have not only heard the phrase ‘I love my music’ but also ‘I love my records’, as if these were two separate entities, inexorably brought together. Will anyone in the future be talking about the joy of downloading? Is it really as exciting as going to the record shop for a browse, a pre-planned or unexpected purchase? Will they talk about how they gazed at the WAV file, absorbing the design of the icon, which is just the same as millions of others, before playing it? And will we ever hear the phrase that has people nodding knowingly in agreement, ‘I love my MP3s’?
I was born at the time when 78 rpm shellac records, the CD of the day, were coming towards the end of their fifty-year reign. Although vinyl had been around for a few years, it was not until the late 1950s that the new vinyl ‘single’ or ’45’, as it was also known, began to sell in great quantities. By the end of the fifties it was all over for the heavy, easily breakable, ten-inch 78, and there was no looking back for the new, easily portable and practically indestructible 45.
When I left the Cottingham Road maternity hospital in Hull, East Yorkshire, having recently been born there, in January 1956, records were already waiting for me at home: rock and roll 78s by Elvis Presley and Bill Haley, skiffle by Lonnie Donegan, Johnny Duncan, Chris Barber and others were all there in quantity. But then there were records from where my father’s heart truly lay – jazz and blues. Jazz by people like King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory; blues by such artists as Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, Bessie Smith, Roosevelt Sykes, Fats Domino, Jimmy Yancey and more. There were also new vinyl 45 EPs by the likes of the Everly Brothers and many of the names that were already on the 78s.
By the time that I was about four years old, my father and I were already having record-playing sessions. Before I could read I would choose records according to how attracted I was to the colours and design of the labels. I clearly remember choosing Brunswicks because of their dark, chocolaty colour and ornate design. ‘Georgia Bo Bo’ by Louis Armstrong became an early favourite, as did the riotous ‘Steamboat Stomp’ by Jelly Roll Morton, initially chosen by me not because of Jelly Roll’s fantastic skills and artistry as a jazzman but because of the curious little dog sitting by the horn of a gramophone on the red HMV label.
My father loved this music. He was not an expert on it. He wasn’t bothered about who recorded what when. Matrix numbers, issue numbers, labels or recording dates were not important to him. All that mattered was the music. It was his fix. Even though he lived over 3,000 miles away from where this music came from and a world away from the society and lifestyle that went towards creating it, he seemed to instinctively empathise with it and those that performed it, and as I later learned more and more about this music, the more I realised that his instinctive, self-educated understanding of it was so correct.
By the time that I was seven or eight years old, he would explain in his own layman’s way, as the records played, how a piece of music would work. ‘OK, so the band has established the melody. They’re all going with it, but, now listen, each one of the band is going to play their own interpretation of the tune. Here comes the piano player –‘ He would pause and let me take it in. ‘Now, here comes the clarinet player. He’s playing the same thing but he plays it differently to the piano player –‘ Another pause as we both listened, and so on. Finally, he would say ‘And now they’re all going to come back together and all of those interpretations will become one sound, but if you listen you can still hear each musician putting in their own version.’ It is only now, looking back, that I realise that I was already, at such a young age, getting my own private lectures on jazz, blues, syncopation, improvisation, and so much more. But I wasn’t self-consciously a blues fan. It was all quite normal to me – for this music to be played in the house, with all of the family loving it. In fact, as I began to visit my friend’s houses, I found it increasingly odd that this music was not being played in them.
When I was eight my brother, Mike, six years older than me, began to buy ‘singles’ at a fairly regular rate. Again, his leaning was towards the blues. Over the next few years the Atkinson record library swelled with additions by the likes of the Spencer Davis Group, the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, the Rolling Stones and the Animals.
The first record that I purchased was ‘Love Is Strange’ / ‘Man With Money’ by the Everly Brothers, which I bought (with my own money) at the age of nine. The record shop was owned by a blind chap. He wore a brown dust coat and would courteously ask, in a soft, well spoken voice, ‘Would you like to listen to it?’ There was no listening booth. Instead, there was a record player, with its lid up, sat on the counter. Carefully, but without one wrong move, the old chap would put the record of your choice onto the turntable, steadily lower the stylus, and then listen to the record with you. ‘Would you like that?’ he would ask, as the record came to an end and the automated mechanism clattered its way to putting the tone arm back onto its rest. This was 1965. Happier and safer days one might say, but it wasn’t. Later, perhaps only by a few months, the blind old man was mugged, beaten up in his own shop and left for dead with the till cleared out.
With the arrival of Mike’s EPs and LPs came the added bonus of some sketchy but nevertheless significant and welcome information to be found in the sleeve notes. They gave clues about those who were influencing the blues boom of the early 1960s. Odd names like Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Slim Harpo and Howlin’ Wolf were cropping up, along with Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson. At the same time, Mike was visiting a folk and blues club in town. Whilst the electric British ‘R ‘n’ B’ bands were mimicking their heroes and bringing their music to a new and delighted audience, so too were musicians performing material by the older pre-war blues artists. By the late 1960s and early 70s, Mike was bringing home LPs by people such as Jo-Ann Kelly and Stefan Grossman. Notes found on the back of LPs by these artists brought attention to stranger names – Memphis Minnie, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Son House, to name a few. But the LP Mike bought that had the greatest effect on me was Oh, Really! by Mike Cooper. For some reason, despite all that I had heard before, this album, with its hard-hitting country blues, bottleneck playing at full throttle on an old 1927 National resonator guitar practically blew me off my feet and into another dimension. I had heard nothing like it before. It had the effect of a starting pistol. Something went off in my head and that was it. Perhaps it was the timing; where I was in life, hormones, fertile imagination, an explosion of creativity going on in my head. I don’t know. The effect of that album was an event waiting to happen. My brain had been filling up with highly inflammable music over the years and all that it was waiting for was someone to unwittingly stroll in and light a match. That someone was Mike Cooper and the match was Oh Really! With that I started to buy vinyl with a vengeance. It was 1969, I was thirteen and I was yet to hear Son House…
Today, 21st March we are remembering the late great Eddie James “Son” House, Jr. (March 21, 1902– October 19, 1988) We thought we would revisit and update one of our articles written (in 2005 ) by our friend and former member of staff Kevin Witt
Son House music CDs
Son House CDs available from Document Records. Document Records have 3 Son House CDs in it`s back catalogue. Each link will take you through to a page with a more comprehensive description of the particular Son House music CD title you are interested in:
Son House and the Great Delta Blues Singers 1928 – 1930. DOCD-5002. Son House and the other seven artists on this collection have something special to offer within the country blues genre. Have you ever put an album into a player and been shocked as a surge of intensity, both beautiful and at the same time disturbing hits you like nothing before? You’re mesmerized, finding it hard to believe that this is a man, relying on little more than his relentless, pounding rhythmic guitar playing and his own dark, rich, voice. These are the first few seconds of Son House’s My Black Mama Part 1 recorded for Paramount in 1930 and just a hint to what is to come.
Son House At Home. The Legendary 1969 Rochester Recordings. DOCD-5148 Features the informal recordings of Son House and his wife Evie which were made by Steve Lobb at their Rochester home a few months before Son embarked on his second European tour. They remind us of the remarkable return to music of one of the greatest Mississippi Blues Singers.
Click here for further information https://thedocumentrecordsstore.com/product/DOCD-5148/
Son House Live At The Gaslight Cafe Jan 3rd 1965. DOCD-5663
Previously unreleased “in concert” recordings of the Mississippi blues marvel Son House, music associate of Charley Patton. Son House taught Robert Johnson and has inspired musicians from Muddy Waters to Johnny Winters and many others. Son House is known as the father of the Mississippi Delta Blues.. Click here for further information https://thedocumentrecordsstore.com/product/DOCD-5663/
A brief Son House biography
Eddie James `Son` House was born on March 21, 1902, near Clarksdale, Mississippi. Son House was the second of three brothers . When he was around seven or eight years old, his parents separated, and his mother took the boys south to Tallulah, Louisiana.
His first public appearances were preaching as a Southern Baptist near Lyon, Mississippi, in the twenties. In 1922-23 he stared work at the Commonwealth Steel Plant in East St. Louis, Missouri. He then moved to Louisiana to work on a horse farm in 1925. It wasn’t until 1926 that Son House started to play guitar and working as a hired musician in Mississippi.
It was during this period that he started to get recognition by playing with Charley Patton, Willie Brown and other well-known musicians. He even played for a while with Robert Johnson. Son House first recorded three tunes for Paramount in Grafton, Wisconsin, in 1930, they were; `My Black Mama` (1 & 2), `Preachin` The Blues` (1 & 2), `Dry Spell Blues` (1 & 2), as well as an unreleased version of Walking Blues.
His good friend Willie Brown traveled to Grafton with him and recorded `Future Blues` at this same session. Lyrically and musically they were masterpieces.
Even so, the Paramount records didn’t sell that well (as a result they are some of the rarest Blues 78s).
Consequently Son House didn’t record again until August of 1941, and again in July 1942 when Alan Lomax made some field recordings of Son and Willie with a small string band.
These sessions included tracks such as ensemble pieces like `Levee Camp Blues` and `Government Fleet Blues` that offer a glimpse of Son and Willie together.
There were also solo performances from these sessions like `Shetland Pony Blues` (can you hear the train in the background?) and `The Jinx Blues` (1&2) which are among Son`s best. There is a lot to learn from these sessions, musically and otherwise, Fo`Clock Blues is reminiscent of Tommy Johnson`s `Cool Drink of Water` and the first words of Camp Hollers hint at where Howlin` Wolf might have got `Killing Floor` from.
In 1943 Son House moved north to Rochester, New York, where he worked for the New York Central Railroad as a rivet heater in boxcar assembly. After the death of his musical partner Willie Brown, Son House had given up the guitar altogether and faded from public view until the country blues revival in the 1960s when he was “re-discovered” in 1964 by blues aficionados Dick Waterman, Nick Perls and Phil Spiro.
Before long Son House was playing the coffeehouse circuit after being tutored for a while by Al Wilson (of Canned Heat) and the Newport Folk Festival. In 1965 he signed a contract with Columbia records. Decades of hard working and living had slowed the hands of the old bluesman, but the field-holler rage of his voice remained.
These 1965 recordings for Columbia are a testament to his power; songs like `Death Letter` and `John The Revelator` leave the listener with no doubt as to the potency of the man`s music. People were amazed with the intensity of this music coming from a man thought then to be in his sixties.
As it turns out, House was most likely almost eighty years old when these recordings were made (the conflicting accounts of his age are thought to stem from the time he apparently lied about his age, saying he was younger, to get the job with New York Central Railroad).
He subsequently toured extensively in the US and Europe and continued to record until 1976.
In this year Son House moved to Detroit and in 1980 he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. Ill health plagued his later years and Son House died in 1988. It was Son House who, more than anyone else, invented the Delta Blues.
Unlike some blues guitarists of the 1920s and 30s, he was not a virtuoso, and there is nothing technically impressive about his playing. He more than made up for this by his innovative style, featuring very strong, repetitive rhythms, often played with the aid of a bottleneck, coupled with singing that owed more than a nod to the hollers of the chain gangs. The music of Son House, in contrast to that of, say, Blind Lemon Jefferson, was emphatically a dance music, meant to be heard in the noisy atmosphere of a barrelhouse or other dance hall.
Dick Waterman said of his playing; “When he played, his eyes rolled back in his head and he went somewhere else. Whether it was Robinsonville in the `30`s or wherever, he transported himself back without any trickery and became the essence of Delta. ” He would then finish the song, blink his eyes, and then re accustom himself to where he was at the time.” – Dick Waterman, remembering Son House.
Last year when we were preparing a free winter themed E.P as a download for the holiday season , “Cold Weather Papa” by Emma Johnson seemed like a good choice . The track appears on our CD DOCD-5654 Classic Blues & Vaudeville Singers Vol 5 1922 – 1930. Once we played it , however, it was clear that Emma Johnson was not an African-American vocalist and this was not a classic blues track in the sense that we would understand today . It was the rolling R in the word Spring that gave it away for us ! We wanted to know more .
We tracked down the original 78 which is EDISON 51267 EMMA JOHNSON COLD WEATHER PAPA IN E 1924 backed with Ernest Hare – BLACK STAR LINE . We knew that Hare was part of the 1920’s comic team The Happiness Boys but what of Emma Johnson ? Well, she was none other than Helen Clark the popular contralto vocalist . She is all but forgotten today but once she was popular and prolific . She started her recording career with Zonophone in early 1911 but soon moved to Victor where she remained until 1930 cutting such diverse pieces as O wert thou in the cauld blast to In the Orient, featuring Tony Sarg’s Marionettes. Her specialty seems to have been hymns and Christian music and she appeared on no less than 10 (separate ) Victor releases (1929) of The Crucifixion . Under the name of Emma Johnson , however , Clark cut a number of records for Edison with titles that fooled many a modern collector into believing that she was a black Blues singer .She also made a number of recordings under the name of Jane Collins and Grace Wood . It was not uncommon for these big stars to use pseudonyms when recording for other labels ;it was a way to get round their “exclusive ” recording contracts . This got us thinking about the term BLUES . We know what it means today and we naturally associate it with African American performers and suffering . Go to Wiki or any scholarly work and this view will be reflected and expanded upon but if we go back and look at the actual usage of this term and the recordings in 1920s and prior we find something more complex . In fact we are working on a forthcoming blog on this very topic . For now, however, it is interesting to speculate on who is really who on some of our Female Blues , Jazz and Vaudeville Singers CDs . We have many volumes of rare and sometimes obscure recordings made by woman whom earlier collectors have deemed to be black Blues ,Jazz or Vaudeville Singers .
We now know , for instance, that Flo Bert who appears on Classic Blues, Jazz & Vaudeville Singers Vol 2 1920 – 1926 was indeed a white vaudevillian rather than a Blues singer . “Sophie “Flo” Bert ( Dec. 2, 1898 Pennsylvania, USA-Apr. 8, 1981 Los Angeles ) was a female vaudeville singer, whistler and comedienne who was active in the New York area in the Teens and 1920s.”She billed herself as “4 foot, 9″ of Ragtime”. Her partner in vaudeville was her future husband Elmer Brendle a comedian who spoke with a fractured-Swedish accent and used the stage name El Brendel “the Yumpin’ Yiminy”. They had a hit act at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1920 called “Cinderella On Broadway”. They married in 1924. Bert’s recordings were the first “Blues” records released on the Paramount label (according to Red Hot Jazz .Com) The records issued on the Famous label were released under the name of Alice Johnson . Flo also appeared in “A Fantasy of the Great White Way,” which opened June 24, 1920 and ran for 126 performances. She played Miss Moffet in “Humpty Dumpty Lane,” “The Silver Slipper Ball” and “Watteau Land.” She also played the roles of Amy in “Lies” and the First Mate in “Caproni Station.” Of course,we have to remember that when these recordings were first put together for the Document Records label there were no computers or internet . It was often difficult to find information about the more obscure artists. Even those artists we think of today as being well known were shadowy figures to many in Europe in the 1980s . If one wanted to know anything ,one had to either use the telephone or more likely write a letter to another collector . There were books about Blues and Jazz and of course there was the then ” bible for collectors ,”Blues and Gospel Records 1902 -1943 by Dixon, Robert M.W. & Godrich, John but this was a discography not a Who’s Who. Now everything is different and we have facts and images at our finger tips but it still comes as an exciting surprise when we find that things are not quite as they seem in our catalogue . Part of the work that went into creating the new website was listening to 30 seconds or so of each track .It was quite an onerous undertaking and we were rather snow blind/deaf after the first 200 CDs but we did find some more anomalies in the recordings . We are going back ,revisiting the lesser known female vocalists in the catalogue and we will let you know what and more importantly who we come up with . If you think you know of others in the catalogue who are not as they are generally believed to be ,please let us know .
Communication Blues – From A World Before The Internet!
We have put together and made available a free CD, as part of our celebrations in launching the new Document Records Store website, making available CDs and for the first time, downloads, from the mighty Document Records catalogue. It must be said that one of the most crucial elements in Document’s survival has been the internet. Some may call it a necessary evil; a double-edged sword. Whatever one’s view might be, it has, over the years, brought Document to a very large and ever growing fan base and followers of the music held, dearly, in the Document Catalogue. This is a process that continues, unabated. And with the internet has come the amazing ability to communicate to fans of this music around the world, informing them of what is in the catalogue, what is new and of offers, discounts and the like. Yet, it is more than that, with the use of social media, we can communicate something of the personality, character and thinking of those that are behind the scenes at Document in a way that no one could have dreamed of when the label was first created, back in 1985. Which raises a question that will be asked more and more by generations to come; how did people communicate before the advent of the internet?
Bringing into play such devices as a telephone or a letter, has long been a technique used by playwrights for stage and radio. In one short scene, the audience can learn of a whole saga, or be given major hints and clues to a “Who’s done it” without a cast having to play out the complete enactment of a plot. For the blues singer, written communication by letter can bring news of joy or heartache. When the Memphis Jug Band recorded ‘Got A Letter From My Darling’ in 1930 (‘Memphis Jug Band Vol. 3: 1930’). They were gleeful that the writer was missing the reader; asking if he could “…hurry home?”. Yet, both intensity and anguish can be heard in the voice of Son House, along with the, pacing, restless, accompaniment of his guitar on ‘Death Letter’, as he recalls receiving the devastating news that the one that he loves “…is dead”. (DOCD-5663 ‘Son House Live At The Gaslight Café, Jan 3rd 1965’ and DOCD-5689 ‘Field Recordings Vol. 17 – Son House: 1941-1942).
The fact that a letter, in a song, is being written or received gives the listener a clear sense that the singer is alone, perhaps feeling desperately lonely, miles away from their loved ones. Bumble Bee Slim is in a mood to write a letter to his folks “back home”. It has been some time since he left there a troubled man. Woman troubles and a decline in his self-esteem are all part of a downward path that he has been on since leaving but It might be that he has had time to think and has finally decided to break his silence with his mother. The question is; how would his letter be received by his mother and would he be welcomed back into the family home?
Both Charlie Burse and Lead Belly were clearly delighted by their radios. At the beginning of the 1930s there were twelve million radios in households across the U.S.A. Yet, in 1930 the aggregate ownership of radios by Black American families was only 1.7 percent, compared, rather tellingly, to the national ownership figure of 40 per cent. By the time that Charlie Burse had recorded his ‘Radio Blues’ in 1939 the country’s radio ownership had gone up to twenty-eight million. Despite this, in the same year not one of the nation’s seven hundred and seventy-eight radio stations were owned or operated by black Americans. Within the short time of their radio’s presence, it would seem that both Charlie and Lead Belly had become very attached to them. What it was that Charlie’s radio represented is difficult to tell (Surely a breakdown in communication there.) but at least he is able to tell us that he loves it and that it has such a mellow tone. Well, that’s good to know. Lead Belly is a little more pragmatic, urging the listener to “Turn yo’ radio on, so you hear what’s going on” (What, and stop listening to this record?) though credibility takes something of a tumble as he continues “Lord, it said in the Bible eighty years ago, “You wouldn’t have thought it was a radio””. Admittedly, I’m a little lost here but there again I’m an Atheist and not completely read up on these things.That aside, Lead Belly certainly comes across as being very enthusiastic about the device, repeatedly telling us to get it turned on. Hang on a sec. Not too loud, is it?
Admittedly, compared to today, two-way communication, beyond shouting distance was, up until the end of the 20th century, rather limited. Even so, a far more scientific method than pen and paper was the telephone. Whilst Fats Waller was writing letters to himself in 1935, it was Chuck Berry who, in 1959, was asking “long distance information” (not Google but the telephone operator) on the phone to connect him to a number in ‘Memphis Tennessee’.
Joe Pullum had a busy time of it on the phone “last night”. Evidently, he had been brooding for some time as the result of his “woman” having given him the blues. Here, in the U.K. the TV ads for the major telephone company used to say that “It’s good to talk” and with that in mind that’s what Joe decided to do. Curiously, Joe informs us that the ladies phone number was “1,2,3”, which is a little difficult to believe. Surprisingly, she answered the phone but Joe, who is just about to tell us what she said sings “… she told me dry” and then, ironically, dries and doesn’t finish the line. Anyway, whatever she said, Joe isn’t happy about. So much so, that he decides to ring the Police Station, “the number” he tells us is “2,4,9”. Yes, well, whatever. He asks the police to help “find that woman of mine”. Whether they do assist him remains anyone’s guess but in the final verse Joe tells us that he is “so cold alone, since I received that bad news over my telephone”.
To bring things a little more up to date (by Document Records catalogue standard) we have the 1957 recording of Roosevelt Syke’s ‘Sputnik Baby’. Roosevelt must have been quite excited and inspired by Russia’s “communication” satellite ‘Sputnik 2’. This, the second of two satellites was launched early November, 1957, yet he managed to record ‘Sputnik Baby’ and have it released in the remainder of the same year. Typically, many objects have been used as sexual metaphors in the blues; from coffee grinders to motorcar engines. Here, Roosevelt manages to grasp the latest in science technology and uses it to compare the attributes of his “Satellite Baby” with Sputnik 2 and its including the “speed” of them both.
Finally, we couldn’t resist including the words of Bo Weevil Jackson, who also recorded under the name of Sam Butler. This is partly because this is an exceptional recording, particularly for 1926, with its astounding bottle-neck guitar playing but mainly because of its penultimate verse:
I’m going to write a letter, mail it in the air
I’m going to write a letter, going to mail in the air Because the March wind blows, blows news everywhere
Well, the timing is right. It is, after all, March as we release the new Document Records website. But more to the point; he says that he’s going to mail a letter in the air!? Surely, that’s not possible… isn’t it?