Cripple Clarence Lofton Vol 1 1935 – 1939
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Research has pin-pointed Clarence’s birth to March 28th 1887 in Kingsport, Tennessee. He moved to Chicago around 1917 at the age of forty. Surprisingly, it was not until he was in his late forties when he first recorded, for Vocalion, in April 1935.
In the company of Big Bill Broonzy he cut two tracks utilising themes that would recur time and again throughout his eight year career on record. On this occasion both piano performances were subservient to his hoarse vocals which were taken at a break-neck pace on Strut That Thing, the number being driven along by an unknown washboard player, and more reflectively on Monkey Man Blues which was enhanced by Big Bill’s distinctive guitar work.
Ten days after that session a recording was made for Bluebird by what appeared to be a man named Adam Wilcox employing the pseudonym Albert Clemens. The title recorded was Policy Blues and aural evidence makes it almost certain that the performer was Clarence Lofton moonlighting under a double disguise and trying to mask his memorable piano style by playing in a key he seldom used. Clarence was in the studio for ARC, again in the company of Broonzy, in July 1935 when he cut the jaunty boast Brown Skin Girls and walked the basses behind his blues You Done Tore Your Playhouse Down. Also in the studio on that date were Amos Easton, (Bumble Bee Slim) and “Red” Nelson Wilburn but the pianist on their recordings does not seem to be Lofton. However Clarence is certainly the pianist on the tracks cut by Red Nelson on February 4th and 6th 1936. This combination of a fine vocalist and brilliant pianist produced the classic Streamline Train on which Clarence plays a variant of “Cow Cow Blues” that he later recorded himself, both with and without a vocal.
The guitarist on those four sides was Al Miller whose activities on record dated back to 1927 and Clarence sat in with an unknown clarinettist (possibly Odell Rand on a bad day) and a bass-player to form Miller’s Swing Stompers for It’s Got To Be Done and Juicy Mouth Shorty. The benefit was all theirs.
The next six sides on this release were recorded at a private party on some unknown date in the late 30s. This is Clarence, the extrovert entertainer, in his natural environment. He storms his way through his own version of Streamline Train and an updated “Strut That Thing” now titled I Don’t Know under which name Willie Mabon would make it an R&B hit in 1953. When these cuts came to light, years after they were recorded, the instrumentals were allocated different titles by different sets of collectors.
The jazz label Solo Art was the next to commit Clarence’s work to wax when they recorded thirteen sides by him in 1939. The four that they issued were all Lofton staples and included an idiosyncratic version of “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” (BDCD-6007) that had his name indelibly written all over it.