Texas Alexander Vol. 2 (16th November 1928 to 9th June 1930)
Texas Alexander, vocal.
Includes performances by: Lonnie Johnson, guitar; King Oliver, cornet; Clarence Williams, piano, Eddie Lang, guitar; “Little Hat” Jones, guitar; Carl Davis, guitar; Bo Carter, violin; Walter Vincson, guitar.
Genres: Texas Country Blues, Male blues vocal, Country blues guitar.
Informative booklet notes by Paul Oliver.
Abridged booklet notes.
Recollections of those who knew Texas Alexander tend to emphasize either his lack of stature – he was about five foot tall – his heavy-set build, his large head or his coal-black complexion. Alexander was both a field hand and a store man, and his physical strength made up for his lack of height. It was rumoured in Texas that he served time in the Ramsey Unit of the “Department of Corrections” and further evidence to support this comes in some of these blues. Penitentiary Moan Blues, in particular, is of great interest, not only because it has Alger speaking, but also because it makes reference to Bud Russell; “Uncle Bud”, the “Iong-chain man” who brought convicts to the Texas prisons as Joe Turner did to the Tennessee ones.
Texas Alexander seems to have made little effort to vary his approach to blues singing, or to adjust to accompanists; they had to fall in with him, and accept, both his timing and erratic verse structure. King Oliver’s cornet responses on a couple of tracks fit a stricter mode and he, in turn, plays as if he were accompanying a “classic blues” singer. Lonnie Johnson alone is completely at ease, anticipating and elaborating with astonishing fluency; this was the period of his most remarkable guitar solos and he seems to have been at the peak of his abilities. At times a little florid, his playing serves as a contrast with Alexander’s moaning, rise-and-fall vocal lines. “Little Hat” Jones was more “country” and he seems to have wanted to speed Alger up; each time he opens up the record with his fast-flowing songster-styled guitar, and then has to slow up to fit Alexander’s singing.
His Okeh records had done extremely well and for a while he was living high on the royalties from them. When automobiles were scarcely to be seen on the back-roads, and certainly not outside black homes, Alexander is remembered coming through in a Cadillac – one of the first blues singers from the country perhaps, to flaunt this status symbol.
Little Hat Jones was his accompanist on Gold Tooth Blues, on which he seems to have adjusted at last to Alexander’s tempo, and on Johnny Behren’s Blues. Later that year, 1929, he had a notable session with guitarist Carl Davis, an occasional companion of Willie Reed and leader of the Dallas Jamboree Jug Band in later years. Davis had an arpeggio style which linked him with Lonnie Johnson and Gene Campbell, which he was flexible enough to fit around Alexander’s notably erratic song structures. These items are virtually one extended blues, with verses overlapping titles as “Texas” introduces them in more than one blues. In a number of cases he used an AABB verse pattern as on Broken Yo Yo, When You Get To Thinking and Peaceful Blues. It might also be noted that on Johnny Behren’s Blues and Texas Special he used the “matchbox” theme and the “blues come to Texas” image that are generally associated with Blind Lemon Jefferson, though he introduced his own variants of the established phrases.
Perhaps both singers drew on a common source. We’ll never know, but the evidence of his recordings reveal Texas Alexander to have been among the most individual of singers, and the least subject to the influence of others.