St. Louis Blues
Complete Recorded Works (1927 1933)
Featuring the recordings of:
Jelly Roll Anderson, vocal; accompanied by (collective personnel – instrumentation used is interchangeable) Henry Johnson, violin; James Johnson, piano / celeste; Henry Moon, George Thomas (one of them is actually Lonnie Johnson using a pseudonym), guitar. Henry Johnson And His Boys: (collective personnel) Henry Johnson, violin; James Johnson, piano / celeste; Henry Moon, George Thomas (one of them is actually Lonnie Johnson using a pseudonym), guitar; one of the group, speech on 8, 9; unknown, kazoo on 8; unknown, percussion on 9. Bert “Snake Roof Hatton, vocal; accompanied probably by Lonnie Johnson, violin; unknown, piano; possibly Andrew “Babe” Webb, cornet added on 12. Jesse Johnson, vocal; with His Singers, poss. including his wife, Edith North Johnson; accompanied probably by Baby Jay (James), cornet; Ike Rodgers, trombone; unknown, piano. “Spider” Carter, vocal accompanied possibly by Peetie Wheatstraw, piano on 15; probably Charles Avery, piano on 16. “Spider” Carter, vocal accompanied possibly by Charlie Jordan, guitar. Ell-Zee Floyd, vocal accompanied possibly by Charles Avery, piano. Red Mike Bailey, vocal; accompanied by Roosevelt Sykes, piano. Jimmy Strange, vocal; accompanied by Clifford Gibson, guitar; Clifford Hayes, violin. Georgia Boyd, vocal; accompanied by J.D.Short, guitar on 23; Roosevelt Sykes (as Willie Kelly), piano on 24.
Genres: Blues, Country Blues, St Louis Blues, Blues Guitar, Country Blues Guitar, Bottleneck-slide Guitar, Blues Violin, National Guitar, Jazz Guitar, Ragtime Guitar, Jesse Johnson, Edith North Johnson, Female Blues,
Abridged from this albums original booklet notes. All of the performers on this album are obscure, except for entrepreneur Jesse Johnson and guitar stylist Lonnie Johnson. Lonnie Johnson introduced the single-string flat-picking style that he made famous; the ringing, sliding clarity of which provided inspiration for T-Bone Walker, B. B. King and a host of other moderns. But he greatly influenced his contemporaries as well, as can be heard in Clifford Gibson‘s accompaniment to Jimmy Strange, in this collection. Lonnie Johnson‘s presence on many of the Gennett records by, or accompanied by, Henry Johnson and His Boys, is aurally certain, but even the Gennett files obscure this fact by listing Lonnie – and probably all the personnel – under pseudonyms. But that doesn’t keep Henry Johnson and His Boys, with Jelly Roll Anderson, from supplying several of the high spots on this album. With his stentorian, brash, articulate delivery of often wry lyrics, combined with the Henry Johnson crew’s slide guitar on Good Time Blues, Anderson leaves a remarkable impression. The presence of a slide guitar is itself unusual on a St. Louis session. I. C. Blues is noteworthy for its being rendered in a minor key, unusual for folk blues, but less so on the jazz atmosphere typical of many St. Louis performances. The Johnson boys on their own turn in some unusual performances, too, even boast a celeste solo on Barbecue Blues and a sobbing, honking fiddle on Down Home Special. The many territory bands that used St. Louis as a hub resulted in the presence of jazz sidemen as routine accompaniment to many singers. A typical combination is the cornet and piano accompanying Bert Hatton‘s Freakish Rider, which begins with this audacious verse:
Freakish rider, freaking on your good man (2x) You try to fool your kind papa, putting talcum on your hands.
But the song on this album, with the most curious and multiple influences, is certainly Jesse Johnson‘s I Wish I Had Died In Egypt Land, where one hears gospel, jazz, children’s counting songs, echoes of The Dozens and more. Peetie Wheatstraw‘s characteristic piano can be heard supplying a standard St. Louis left-hand behind Spider Carter‘s coarse and urgent Please Please Blues, but he’s replaced by an unknown piano on Dry Spell Blues and an appealing, Charlie Jordanesque guitar, on Don’t Leave Me Blues. Carter’s voice carries more vibratos but fewer granularities on the second piece, and the difference in register on Dry Spell Blues leaves the impression of a different singer than the growler of Please Please Blues. Ell-Zee Floyd has a jazz-influenced delivery very typical of the region, with an accent similar to Josua Johnson‘s, another performer from this area, but like Spider Carter, Bert Hatton, Jimmy Strange and Georgia Boyd, no biographical details are available. We do know Georgia Boyd was accompanied by J. D. Short and that Red Mike Bailey, who also recorded as St. Louis Red Mike, was named John MacBailey and was a friend of Big Bill Broonzy‘s. Both of Bailey’s contributions to this collection are laced with humour, as one can see from this verse from Back To Memphis Tenn-O-See: I almost had a square meal the other day The man seen me coming along and moved his garbage can away. or this one from Neck Bone Blues:
I woke up this morning with a gang of neckbones in my bed (2x) She used to cooking neckbone till she put neckbones in her bread.
From Red Mike Bailey to Jesse Johnson and from Jimmy Strange to Georgia Boyd, an outstanding feature of this collection is that it makes clear what a diversity of styles could still fit comfortably within the notion of the “St. Louis Blues”.
Paul Garon Copyright 1993 & 2007 Document Records