St. Louis Pre-war Blues



"The rhythmic brilliance, virtuosity and innovation of St. Louis musicians in the 1920's and early '30's is astonishing, even considering the high water mark of country blues of that period. Among the musicians of that city country blues developed some of its most sophisticated technicians, cheek-by-jowl with some of toughest (even out of tune) practitioners. Within the broad range of approaches, there are often linking traits that to the discerning ear instantly identify a St. Louis musician. Despite the usually "laid back" style, the musical accompaniment can be considered much more ingenuous than immediately appears. Timing and phrasing are particularly interesting, with no committment to stay within 12 bars. The predominantly Mississippi rhythmic orientation is augmented by a greater musical base in terms of exposure to different techniques and genres (including jazz), generally producing more interesting left-hand approaches. In addition, a significant number of St. Louis artists were proficient on both piano and guitar. The end result is some of the most exciting and renowned guitarists and pianists in country blues." Don Kent (1)

"For some reason St. Louis has never had its due as a centre for the blues. The city fostered piano ragtime in the early part of the century and was also a significant jazz centre where Charlie Creath's riverboat bands were based.. The tragic race riot in East St. Louis of 1919 could have killed off the life of the city, and in some respects it did: sixty-odd years later it is still an ugly urban wilderness, written off by planners and administrators alike. Blues has found a home in such environments, offering both an outlet for frustrated emotions and a release for unsatisfied creative instincts."

With its ragtime background St. Louis was a Mecca for blues pianists like Speckled Red and Henry Brown, Sybester Palmer and Roosevelt Sykes, Peetie Wheatstraw, Barrelhouse Buck McFarland and Wesly Wallace. But it was discovbered early by the guitarists too, Sylvester Weaver and Lonnie Johnson, Clifford Gibson and Charley Jordan, J.D. Short and Hig Joe Williams among them. There were plenty of women singers too, like Mary Johnson and Edith Johnson, Alice Moore or St. Louis Bessie Mae Smith. And while there were big name recording stars like Walter Davis there were many very good but lesser know ones: St.Louis Jimmy, Blind Teddy Darby, Aaron "Pine Top" Sparks, Lawrence Casey, Oscar Carter and many others." Paul Oliver (3)

"The blues men who took St. Louis to be thier home are responsible for some of the most magnificent country music to be recorded during the twenties. Inexplicably, the plethora of musical wealth has been left unpulicized and, blueswise, St. Louis has scarcely been tapped for all the information it could yield." Don Kent (4)

"The St. Louis blues scene, as reflected in recording by performers associated with it, was one of great diversity, ranging from country approaches almost wholly unafffected by contact with urban influeces on to the most contrived products of the urbane jazz-blues idiom, with just about every shading between these poles represented. Such a stylistic spread is of course to be expected of a city whose traditions were as cosmopolitan as were St. Louis. The constand influx of people into the city brought a wide variety of influences together in its music. The rural southerrn idioms assured the citys's music a solid traditional base, constantly re-emphasizing and re-asserting the values and stregths of common Negro folkways: at the same time they were tranmuted and extended through contact with the diverse non-traditional elements they encountered in the river city. The grown of small blues ensembles had the inevitable result of regularizing the music, a process which did not so much geld or debase the rough country idioms as producer a music with a different set of emphasis and conventions. The so-called city blues style did reflect a different way of life, a different set of tensions, a different environment or setting for the acting out of the drama of the American Negro experience. Life in the city was, after all, different from life in the country even if the central expreriences of prejudice, exclusion and repression were much the same in both."

"One of the earliest reports of the appearance of the blues dates from the early 1890s, when W.C. Handy recalls having been impressed by the singing of Negro guitarists there. "While sleeping on the cobblestones [on the levee] in St. Louis (1892)," he wrote, "I heard shabby guitarists picking out a tune called "East St. Louis." It had numerous one-line verses and they would sing it all night." Pete Welding (6)


Jellyroll Anderson
A group by this name recorded 30 sides for Gennett, possibly assembled solely for recording purposes. Possibly the vocals are by "Steady Roll" Johnson. (1)

Josephine Baker "b. St. Louis, 1903, made her greatest success at the Champs-Elysees Music Hall in Paris, France, Septermber, 1925, in Revue Negre (famous dance in skirt made of bananas!) settled in Paris, became extremely popular there as cabaret and revue artist, even appearing in a production of Offenbach's operette La Belle Creole; appeared with Maurice Chevalier, 1939; joined French Women's Air Force on outbreak of World War II, joined Resistance Movement after fall of France; after war she took over Chateau Milandes in Dordogne as home for refugee children; ran it with husband (conductor Jo Bouillon, m. June 3, 1947); returned to stage in Paris (Olympia Theatre, 1966) and in the French Production of Hello, Dolly in 1968." Brian Rust

Henry Brown
Born in Troy Tennessee July 25, 1906, Brown moved to St. Louis in 1918.

Like Stump Johnson, Brown learned to play the piano from the "professors" of Deep Morgan. One of them went by the name of "Blackmouth," another was named Joe (or Tom) Cross. As Brown remembered him, "he was a real old time blues player and he'd stomp 'em down to the bricks." "Deep Morgan Blues" was one of his signature pieces. I had the privilege of meeting Brown in the late sixties and hearing him play in his home. He was a lean and laconic man with a cigar "implanted" in the side of his mouth, and completely looked the part of a "barrelhouse" or "cathouse" pianist.

Henry worked clubs such as the Blue Flame Club, the 9-0-5 Club, Jim's Place and Katy Red's, from the twenties into the 30's. Recorded for Brunswisck with Ike Rogers and Mary Johson in 1929, for Paramount in Richmond and Grafton in '29 and '30. He served in the army in the early '40s, then formed his own quartet to work occasional local gigs in St. Louis area from the '50s, and worked the Becky Thatcher riverboat, St. Louis in 1965 (2) In addition to his pre-war recordings, he was recorded by Paul Oliver 1960 (77 album 12-5), by Charters with Edith Johnson in 1961 and by Adelphi in 1969.

Hi Henry Brown
Drastically under-recorded, Don Kent calls Brown "one of the pinnacles of St. Louis musicianship"(1) and says he "may have come from Pace, Mississippi. Brown is one of the greatest singers of the 20's" His three couplings for Vocalion in the early '30s are accompanied by Charlie Jordan 2nd guitar. All six sides are reissued on Document 5098. Townsend theorizes that this artist is Lane Hardin recording under a pseudonym.(4)

Olive Brown
Drummer, born St. Louis August 30, 1922. Mother was a ragtime pianist. Moved to Detroit at three months of age with frequent trips to St. Louis. Sang at Kennerly Sanctified Temple, St. Louis, 1927, went on to work with Todd Rhodes Orchestra, Earl Bostic, Cecil Gant, Tiny Bradshaw, Gene Ammons and Jackie Wilson. Recorded for Spivey c. 1965. Returned to St. Louis to play on Steckfuss/Admiral/Goldenrod riverboats from 1970 to 1973 and played on the St. Louis Ragtime Festival in '73 . (2)

Oscar Carter

Peter Joe "Doctor" Clayton
Born April 19, 1898 in Goergia [or possibly Africa]. Both parents were born in South Africa, Peter was raised in St. Louis where he began singing pop ballads in local bars through 20s into 30s then moved on to a career in Chicago where he died in 1947. (2)

E.L. Coleman
Violinist.

Lawrence Casey
Guitarist, known as Papa Eggshell, according to his one-time associate, Henry Brown, because he was bald.(1)

James Crutchfield
Singer and piano player with recordings on the Dutch Swingmaster label
"I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on May 25, 1912 but I come to know myself in Beaumont, Texas. The first piano player I met was Peg Top, a good blues player. At that time people called me Buck because I was a pretty good dancer. There was Frank Wallace, I play a piece in his style called "Pearly Mae." I picked up the Barrelhouse blues from a top piano player by the name of Dick Moore. My mother and I used to stay at different lumber and sawmill camps out in Louisana and Texas. My daddy left us and I been raised by my stepfather who I loved a lot. We lived at Maryvillle and then I moved to Boglousa LA where I saw the Montgomery brothers play and I learned some from Little Brother who used to play the Forty-four Blues. From Bogalusa I went to Shaw, Mississippi and played with Elmore James and Boyd Gilmore in places like Goodman or out in the coutnry. I came to St. Louis in 1948. (5)
Crutchfield passed away in December, 2001. Inhis later years he played at the Venice Cafe every Wednesday (accompanied by the great Bennie Smith). James has an LP on the Munich label in Germany, one on Dutch Swingmaster, and is represented by six cuts on the Delmark "Biddle Steet Barrelhousin'" release, where he is accompanied on some cuts by James "Bat The Hummingbird" Robinson playing drums.

James Crutchfield passed away December 8th, 2001.

Here's an interview with him.

Daddy Hotcakes (George Montgomery)

Singer, guitarist, born Rehovat, Georgia, May 15, 1894. Recorded by Charters in St. Louis May 12 and 13, 1961 with assistance from Charlie O'Brien. Charters exclaims that Montgomery was the most improvisational artist he'd ever encountered, even more so than Lightnin' Hopkins or Robert Pete Williams. The recordings (Folkways Album JS 3814 available from Smithsonian/Folkways 955 L'Enfant Plaza 2600, Washington DC 20560 202-287-3262) include solo performances as well as a small combo of harmonica and washboard.

Montgomery grew up on a farm, then left and worked as a hod carrier, railroad laborer and saw mill hand. He was in the Helena, Arkansas area in 1918 when he decided to come to St. Louis. He worked for the Royal American Shows as a fire eater, and in 1937 was briefly on the radio in St. Louis. Charlie Jordan offered to take him to New York to record for ARC but there was confusion about the time and place and Montgomery missed the trip. In 1942 he worked as a street singer and played for tips riding on the trolley cars, ususally with a harmonica player or washboard player. He also had one cut on a Rhino LP(14)

Willie Dukes
Recorded "Sweet Poplar Bluff Blues," was born in St. Louis

Teddy "Blind Blues" Darby
(aka Blind Squire Turner) His actual name was Theodore Roosevelt Darby.
"Came up from Mississippi and settled in St. Louis in the 20's. Later sides were influenced by Wheatstraw but his earlier work, especially "Lawdy Lawdy Worrried Blues" are restrained, delicate and imaginative, showing the influence of his Memphis days. (4)

Teddy Darby was born in Henderson Kentucky, in 1902. His family moved to St. Louis while he was still a child. His mother taught him to play the guitar, but he was more inclined toward bootlegging. He spent a year in a reformatory and later another year in the city workhouse--both sentences were for selling moonshine. In 1926 Darby lost his eyesight because of glaucoma. Soon after going blind, he took up the guitar again. By the late twenties, he was a mainstay of the local blues scene. He moved to East St. Louis and began a longtime association with Peetie Wheatstraw, backing him on guitar when Charley Jordan was unavailable.

Darby renounced the blues for the church in the late 1930s. We called him "Preacher Darby" said Henry Brown. He remained in East St. Louis and became an ordained deacon at the King Solomon Holy House of Prayer.

Walter Davis
Walter Davis was born on a cotton farm near Grenada, Mississippi on March 1, 1910. He learned the rudiments of blues in Delta juke joints. An extroardinary singer/piano player, Davis was often Henry Townsend's playing partner

Jesse Johnson heard Walter playing at J.C.'s night club in the Valley in East St. Louis and recruited him for Victor who brought him to New York: "So after he gave me fifty dollars I knew he meant business, because he wasn't just giving away fifty dollars. Then I got ready to go to New York. Why I was a little frightened, but after they got me in that studio they had taken me up and I was sittin' there lookin' out of the window--I think on the thirty-fifth floor of Victor's building--just touching the piano along. So after a while a different kind of feelin' come over me. So I told the engineers I was ready and they turned me on. But Roosevelt Sykes accompanied me on my first recordin'--M and O Blues."

His best known recording, the train blues standard, "Sunnyland Blues" was released in 1931. His recording career spanned twenty three years, from 1930 to 1953 during which he recorded over 150 blues sides.

Clifford Gibson
Clifford Gibson was born April 17, 1901 in Louisville, KY and moved to St. Louis in the 1920s. where he was discovered, as was nearly all the city's talent, by Jesse Johnson of the DeLuxe Music Shop on Market Street. An accomplished guitarist, Gibson showed the influence of Lonnie Johnson. The themes of his music centered on mistreatment by women and gambling.

He recorded 8 sides for QRS and another 12 for Victor in 1929, all in New York. He was recorded as an accompanist in Louisville in 1931 on two sides with R.T. Hansen (probably J.D. Short) and one, (Let Me Be Your Sidetrack) with country artist Jimmie Rodgers.

He was a familiar figure on the streets of St. Louis, playing for tips with his performing dog as a crowd puller, almost up to his death on December 21, 1963. He recorded two 45s for St. Louis' Bobbin label in 1960.

Joel Slotnikoff (adapted from Mike Rowe’s liner notes to Document CD BDCD-6015 "Clifford Gibson Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order 1929-1931" and a few tidbits from Sheldon Harris' "Blues Who’s Who")

Irene Gibbons
Born in St. Louis January 22, 1895 and performing here before the turn of the century!, Gibbons went on to fame under the stage name Eva Taylor, and married pianist/leader/composer Clarence Williams.

Lee (Leothus) Green
Nicknamed "Porkchop", Green was one of the finest St. Louis stylists, and the admitted greatest single influence on Roosevelt Sykes. "Train No. 44" recorded with Sykes was a personal variant of the "Vicksburg Blues" theme, Green's version of "44 Blues" earned him Little Brother Montgomery's undying bitterness for recording it first. Brother, who helped develop the theme and taught it to Green, speaks of him as "that tailor" (Green's profession in Vicksburg) rather than as a musician." (1)

Lane Hardin
Little is known of this artist whose one coupling for Bluebird B-6242 Hard Time Blues/California Desert Blues was recorded in Chicago Sunday 28 July 1935 and is reissued on Document 5036. According to Henry Townsend, Lane Hardin was a "metalworker" probably inferring he worked in a steel mill. Townsend further states that Hardin was "from down South." Hardin was recorded after the war as "Leroy Simpson" (13 Highway) released on Kent 9004 "Blues From The Deep South."

Mary Harris

Leroy Henderson

Laurence Henry "...was discovered by a St. Louis Jazz Club member (perhaps Charlie O'Brien?) and used to play their meetings in the mid '50s. I recall his playing more in the stride style of James P. Johnson but here he is definitely barrelhousin'...He's from Edwardsville Illinois." Bob Koester from the liner notes to "Biddle Street Barrelhousin'" where Henry is represented by two cuts.

Clarence "Windy" Johnson
Singer and guitar, Lonnie's nephew, recorded for Adelphi. Frequently played with harmonica player Andrw Cauthen. Proficient on a number of stringed instruments.

Edith North Johnson
Jesse Johnson's wife Edith, born January 2, 1903, recorded eighteen great blues recordings in 1928/29 as "Edith North Johnson", "Hattie North" and "Maybelle Allen." In 1961 she recorded with Henry Brown for Sam Charters, released on Folkways FS 3815 "The Blues In St. Louis." Charters hears a naive sincerity to her singing which he attributes to the fact that she was not a professional singer.

James "Steady Roll" Johnson

James "Stump" Johnson
(aka Shorty George, aka "Snitcher Roberts") "James J. Johnson was born on 17 January 1902 in Clarksville, Tennessee. His parents were Henry Frank Johnson and Betty Boxley Johnson. Young James was nicknamed "Stump" because of his small stature. He had two brothers: Jesse, born in Clarksville on May 12,1883, and Harry who was two years younger than Stump. Around 1909 The Johnson family moved from Tennessee to St. Louis.

Here James was influenced by Son Long, a legendary pianist from the coloured red-light district, whom James called the real originator of boogie woogie. In 1925 Jesse Johnson married Edith North

James Johnson told Paul Oliver in 1960 "I had learned to play the blues by just hangin' roun' the pool room where they have an ole piano, just pickin' it up for myself.

Boots on the levee was one of the most popular places in the city of St. Louis because all the riverboats would come in there and dock and all the 'ristocratic people would come down there for slummin' and enjoyment. They were very, very tough places though and they were shootin' dice and drinkin' whiskey and enjoyin'; themselves and it could get kind o'rough. (Oliver: Conversation With The Blues, p.96)

Arthur E. Satherly, a talent scout for QRS, discovered Stump playing at his brother Jesse's music store on Market St. In 1929. "The Duck's Yas Yas" on QRS became a hit, James recorded three more versions of it, and it was covered in '29 by Tampa Red, and several others. The flip side, "The Snitchers Blues" was also covered by Red as "Friendless Blues."

In September and October of 1929 James, Jesse and Edith went to Richmond, Indiana, to make more records. They took along Ike Rodgers and cornet player "Baby" James whom Edith remembers as a "cute little brownskin boy with curly hair." According to recent information he moved from St. Louis to Elkhorn, Illinois. Baby James also teamed up on records with Teddy Darby, Will Ezell and Roosevelt Graves."

His last pre-war recordings were made in Chicago on 2 August 1933 for Bluesbird, in the company of Dorthaa Trowbridge, J.D. Short and Pinetop Sparks.

In the forties James was enlisted in the army. The war over he married Sarah Pigues, born on 18 July 1913. She met Stump in the DeLuxe restaurant which Jesse and Edith operated in St. Louis and where Stump helped out. Sarah now states that gambling was much more important to James than music.

In November 1954 Stump was redicovered by Charles "Lindy" O'Brien through police contacts and interviewed by Bob Koester. Soon afterwards Stump's shoeshine parlor and Edith's DeLuxe Cafe were leveled as part of a slum clearance project. After Jesse's death from cerebral apoplexy on 15 February 1946, Edith married Harry Johnson.

James later worked in the tax collection department at St. Louis City Hall and as a policeman in Wellston, a little town on the edge of St. Louis.

Interviewed by Oliver, he said "I thought I was cute when I was young and wasn't working then; I had a lot of girl friends and I knowed nothin' about work, and didn't ever thought I would ever have to work. And when I was recordin' I was getting hold of so much money, gamblin' and playin' the races and what not--but it's altogether different now!" (9)

In 1954 Paul Affeldt, publisher of Jazz Report, recorded "Snitchers Blues," issued on Affeldt's Euphonic label. The unissued recodings from this session are included on van Rijn's Agram 2007.

In 1965 James married Ann Lashley . By that time he was working as a License Collector--City Deputy. After a long illness the end came on December 5, 1969 when he died in the VA Hospital from carcinoma of the oesophagus. He had been a Mason of the 33rd (highest) degree and was buried on 12 December in the National Cemetery in Jefferson Barracks. Funeral services had been held the day before at 8 PM in the Metropolitan Mt. Zion Church in St. Louis with Dr. Arthur Marshall Jr. officiating.(9)

Lonnie Johnson
Lonnie Johnson moved to St. Louis from his native New Orleans in November 1925) (6) He worked with Charlie Creath's Jazz-O-Maniacs Band on Mississippi riverboat SS St. Paul out of St. Louis 1920-22. Recorded with Creath for Okeh in St. Louis, 1925. Worked with his brother James "Steady Roll" Johnson at Katy Red's Club, East St. Louis 1925 (2)

"In a city with many musical influences, few wielded as strong an influence as Lonnie Johnson. If St. Louis could be said to have a dominant figure, it was undoubtedly Lonnie. His impeccable guitar style impressed both Clifford Gibson and Henry Townsend, as well as exerting a tremendous stylistic influence on the field as a whole (touching such otherwise separate figures as Rambling Thomas, Robert Johnson and Josh White.) His too-little recorded piano contributed weightily to the St. Louis style. Early recognition fm jazz collectors (for his work with Eddie Lang, Duke Ellington and Charlie Creath, among others) myopically typed him as a fugitive jazz guitarist... Lonnie may well be the only St. Louis musican to have recorded with [mandolin]" and was also proficient on banjo a violin. (4)

Jesse Johnson
Talent scout for Okeh, record store owner. Jesse also recorded "I Wish I Had Died In Egyptland Parts 1 and 2" recorded in Richmond, Indiana September 7, 1929 although Edith, his wife, denied that he did to van Rijn.

Mary Johnson
Lonnie Johnson's wife. Mary's mother, Emma Williams was born and raised under plantation conditions at Eden Station eleven miles north of Yazoo City, Mississippi about 1880. <12> At the turn of the century she married a man called Smith <2>. In 1905 their daughter Mary was born near Jackson, Mississippi. After a few years Smith died and Emma and Mary moved to St. Louis in 1915.

Charley Jordan
"Archetypal of a branch of St. Louis guitar embracing Alfred Field, Papa Eggshell and others... Memphis background" (1) "It would apper from his photo that Jordan was born about 1900" (4) [Jordon came] from Helena, Arkansas, was said to have been a bootlegger in the twenties (Kent from Big Joe) He limped as the result of a bullet wound, acted as a talent scout for Decca in the thirties, ran a rehearsal studio for local talents" He is reputed to have been shot to death on Ninth St. in 1954. recorded extensively with Wheatstraw.(4) "Charley Jordan was born in Memhis around 1890. Died of pneumonia in '54.

Keghouse
Recorded vocals in Memphis in February and November of '29 with "Jaybird" piano, and on the first session, Lonnie Johnson gtr. per Document 582.

Verdi Lee

Mama Lou A St. Louis brothel singer identified by legend with a seminal ragtime song called "The Bully." (Seroff/Abbott)

Charlie Manson Charlie Manson was one of The Two Charlies who released Got Your Water On/Don't Put Your Dirty Hands On Me, on ARC 6-06-61 and I Couldn't Stay There/Pork Chop Blues on ARC 6-09-61(the other one being Charlie Jordan, though not the St. Louis Charley Jordan)). He recorded Nineteen Women Blues on Saturday April 11, 1936, ARC unissued released on Yazoo L1040, singing and playing guitar.

George and Ethel McCoy
Brother/sister guitar vocal duet, they were Memphis Minnie's niece and nephew, with recordings on Swingmaster and Adelphi. Quite possibly children of Big Joe's

They are included in the St. Louis pre-war section as they both played acoustically in open G in a decidedly prewar style. They were residents of East St. Louis. They have both passed away in recent years.

Katherine C. McDavid
McDavid recorded "Underground Blues" and "Sweet Woman Blues," St. Louis, MO, November 4, 1925, Miles Davis [no, not that Miles Davis] piano.

Tecumseh McDowell
Young singer from Arkansas, (poss aka Dolly Martin recorded with Ike Rodgers and Henry Brown, poss aka Tee McDonald recorded with Henry Brown.)

Thomas "Barrel House Buck" McFarland
Born in Alton, Illinois, in 1903 and was active on the St. Louis blues scene through the 1930's. He moved to Detroit in 1951 and has been inactive musically since, save for a documentary recording he made for Folkways Records, under Charters' supervision in 1961 (6)He died in '62. The Folkways (3554) was recorded Alton, Il. 12 May '61 per Blues Records, inconsistant with Welding's Detroit information.

Arthur McKay

Charlie "Specks" McFadden

"Little" Alice Moore

Alice Moore ranks with Mary Johnson as one of the two best female blues singers in St. Louis during the pre-WWII period. Alice Moore's recording career can be divided into two time periods (1927-29 and 1934-37). The first set of recordings was made for Paramount and the latter ones were made for Decca. The Paramount recordings feature accompaniments by Henry Brown on piano and Ike Rodgers' gut-bucket trombone. The first Decca recordings feature Brown and Rodgers, but most of the Decca recordings feature her boyfriend, Peetie Wheatstraw, and some of the best have Wheatstraw with Kokomo Arnold.

Moore's singing technique is typical of the St. Louis style with its nasal quality, but the way that she stretches out the vowels and her spoken comments gives her a unique sound. For example, in Dark Angel, she says, "here comes Peetie drunk again". Little Alice wrote most of her own songs. Many recordings by other artists are attributed to L.A. Moore and A. LaMoore, which would appear to be pseudonyms for Little Alice Moore. For example Charlie Jackson recorded Tailor Made Lover in 1929, which is attributed to LaMoore. In S.O.S. Blues, Moore sings "Alice Moore is my real right name", which might be a reference to the earlier pseudonyms.

Moore's songs are typical of the time period. They generally focus on relationships or trying to make a living in tough economic times.  Blue, Black and Evil was her biggest hit, and she recorded three different versions. The song begins, "I'm blue, black, and evil, and I did not make myself".

Those who have not listened to Moore's recordings are missing something. The Paramount recordings are rare, but the Decca recordings are available at a moderate price. The performances for Decca are better because her ability improved over time, and Decca produced better sounding records than Paramount. Nevertheless a Paramount record is a joy to any collector.

Robert Nighthawk
Born Robert Lee McCoy Nov 30, 1909, Helena, Arkansas, died November 5, 1967 Helena, Arkansas. Nighthawk played St. Louis a lot during the 30's and 50's at Ned Love's.

St. Louis Jimmy (James Burke) Oden
--Soul Bag has an interesting article by Jacques Demetre, using letters from Jimmy. From one of these dated 1960: he moved to St Louis from Mississippi on being orphaned at 8 years old, and was raised by an older sister. He worked as a shoeshine boy in a barbershop from age 9, then as a busboy (translated back from French, he says 'I had to clear away plates in restaurants'), then as a waiter for the Fred Harvey chain. ( BTW, there's the link we've been looking for between St Louis Jimmy and Judy Garland - she starred in 'The Harvey Girls', which premiered 'The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe'!) Later he worked - again as a waiter, if I read it right - at Grand Central Station in New York. He moved to Chicago in 1933 and in 1960 had been there ever since (and stayed there till he died, I believe). 'Conversation with the Blues' covers some of the same ground. Hope this helps. Chris Smith (chris@skerries.demon.co.uk)
RST Blue Documents 2058 "St. Louis Jimmy Oden" shows he recorded with Sykes, Henry Brown, Charlie Jordan as well as with Chicago artists and was known as "Old Man Oden" before the "St. Louis Jimmy" sobriquet was applied. Sheldon Harris asserts he was raised here, played house parties with Big Joe Williams, worked with Sykes in local bars into the 30's and recorded with him for Champion. He moved to Chicago in 1933.(2)

Sylvester Palmer
"One of the most eccentric of all St. Louis pianists before his untimely death. He is one of the few pianists whose left-hand work can be directly attributed to the influence of Wesley Wallace...The fluidity of his irregular timing is quite amazing." (1) On Document 529 it is suggested that Palmer may have been a pseudonym for Wallace himself.

Robert Peeples
"Fat Greasy Baby" (1930) for Paramount, vocal with Henry Brown, piano. No known biographical information.
Document 529 also suggests Peeples may have been a pseudonym for Wesley Wallace.

Cora Perkins
"...obscure...recorded backed by Lonnie Johnson, DeLouis Searcy, piano and "Steady Roll" on violin." (4)

Rufus G. Perryman (aka: "Detroit Red"/"Speckled Red") (organ/piano). Born: Oct. 23, 1892, LA. Moved to Detroit as a youth. Worked in Hampton, Georgia in early 1930's and returned to Detroit in 1927. In 1941, moved to St. Louis and died there on January 2, 1973. Reference: Cohassey, Detroit Blues, Vol. 3, No 1, p.12. Wolfgang Spider, Detroit Blues Society

"...was born in Monroe, LA, October 23, 1892 but his family moved to Georgia when he was very young, rambled north to Detroit where he learned a lot of piano from the elusive "Dad." Red recorded in Memphis and Chicago for Brunswick and eventually moved to St. Louis in the early '30s. In December of 1938 Walter Davis carried Red, Robert Nighthawk, and Sonny Boy Williamson to the Aurora studions to record for Bluebird. He played cheap taverns for tips but after his rediscovery was able to make a tour of Europe, play the University of Chicago Folk Festival and make regular appearances on St. Louis' Gaslight Square in the '60s. He died January 2, 1973. Red is best known for "Dirty Dozens" and "Right String But The Wrong Yo Yo". This from Bob Koester's liner notes to the new (4-00) Delmark CD Biddle Street Barrelhousin', a must-have for lovers of St. Louis blues piano.

Yank Rachell
Yank spent significant time in St. Louis.

James "Bat The Humming-Bird" Robinson born Algiers, Louisiana December 25, 1903, died St. Louis, MO March 2, 1957. His father, John Richard, was a pianist. He moved to Memphis where he was raised, learned piano and drums from his father as a youth, moved to Chicago about 1922, frequently worked with Bertha "Chippie" Hill, Eppie Moan, Elzadie Robinson and others in local club dates. Worked with Louis Armstrong att he Sunset Cafe. Moved to St. Louis about 1930, frequently worked outside music, with occasional touring with various medicine shows, early 30s into 50s; recorded Champion label, Richmond, IN 1931, occasionally worked with James Crutchfield in local club dates, St. Louis, 1955, (one of these dates was recorded and is newly released on Delmark's Biddle Street Barrelhousin' CD) and in Dollar Bill group in local club dates c 1957. Recorded for the Tone label in St. Louis. Died of tuberculosis and buried in the Oakdale Cemetery, Lemay, MO. "Bat the Humming-Bird" refers to his style of singing. Harry Oster adds that it is specifically his humming which can be heard on "Bat's Blues" on Folk Lyric LP 117. Not to be confused with Cow Cow Davenport who also used the pseudonym "Bar the Hummingbird. "He had a little trick of singing that set him apart, a falsetto "throat whistle" which his friends called "humming." Paul Oliver, Riverside album 8809. Robinson can be heard playing piano on Erwin Helfer's "Primitive Piano."2

Ike Rogers
Trombonist Rogers is best known for his work with Henry Brown

Irene Scruggs
Born Dec 7, 1901 in Mississippi, she was reportedly raised in St. Louis. She recorded with Clarence Williams on Okeh 1924 and with King Oliver band for Vocalion in 1926, with Lonnie Johnson for Okeh in St. Louis in '27. Worked St. Louis clubs with her own band late twenties. She recorded as "Chocolate Brown" for Paramount, toured with Little Brother Montgomery. Reportedly moved to France then Germany.(2)

J.D. "Jelly Jaw" Short
"One of the more archaic sounding of the Delta musicans, JayDee Short relocated in St.Louis in 1923. Born Port Gibson, Mississippi in 1902. He started playing guitar in Hollendale under the tutorage of Willie Johsson, and developed his own style while a young man in the Clarskale area." "It's Hard Time" is perhaps the greatest blues song that takes the depression as its theme. It would appear..that Joe Stone is actually a pseudonym for JayDee Short.(4)

aka Neckbones, poss. "Spider" Carter, poss. Ell-zee Floyd, poss R.T. Hanen.

Big Joe's cousin. Recorded with Joe for Koester in the 50s [Delmark 609] and in '60 by Charters. Last session cut for Folkways shoutly before he died in '62. Six titles for Paramount in June of 1930. Only one has turned up. "Either from a nervous condition, or from the application of a vocal technique, Short's lower jaw trembled vigourously when he sang, imparting a marked vibrato to his voice which has been an identifying characteristic, and earned him his nickname." (8)

J.D. were his given initials which had no names atached to them, hence he was knows as "Jaydee" (8) "He was born on Boxing Day, 1902 at Port Gibson, Mississippi on the plantation of "Old Man Ikens, right up the hill from the old brick-kiln. He first learned to play harmonica and later, piano and guitar, which he learned in Hollandale. His parents, migrant farmers, moved to Clarksdale where Short heard many guitarists. After learning a few chords, he made himself a harness out of, he claimed, "an ol' clos rack" and fitted himself out as a one man band.

When he was 21 he moved to St. Louis and got a job in a brass foundry, playing in his spare time with other St. Louis-based men in the ensueing years, including Spaulding, Stump Johnson, Peetie Wheatstraw and others. During this period he learned to play E-flat clarinet, saxophone and drums and gradually moved out of the blues for a while to play with Douglas Williams' Orchetra, based in East St. Louis. Douglas Williams made two dozen titles for Victor 1928-30 and was a clarinetist himself. to play clarinet with Williams, J.D. Short must have been quite accomplished.

When the Williams band broke up he returned to blues, working with David "Honeyboy" Edwards in the late thirties. Then The United States entered the War, and though he was forty yers old he joined up, and was soon training with the 92nd division. But in an obstacle course his age showed; he suffered an injury which led to the amputation of some of his toes and a medical discharge. Life afterwrds was, as it had often been for Jaydee, pretty rough.

He salvaged junk in the streets, carting it on tenth hand pick-up trucks, scraping a living for himself and his wife, Lola Belle. He revived his one-man band act, playing a toy drum and cymbals attached to the harness which held his harmonica, and playing guitar the while. His cousin, Big Joe WIllimas, worked with him intemittently in an irrascible, fitful partnership. They were together when Big Joe brought him along for Koester to hear.

J.D. Short died on October 21, 1962 in St. Louis after a heart attack. They honoured his brief sojourn in the US Army and he was buried at the Jefferson Barracks Cemetaery. (8)

Bessie Mae Smith
"St. Louis Bessie" aka Blue Belle, aka Mae Belle Miller
In the notes to Matchbox 223 Oliver surmises she was of rural origins. She recorded in St. Louis in May of 1927 with, probably, De Loise Searcy piano and Lonnie Johnson guitar, and again in December 12 of that year in Chicago. She recorded again in Chicago the following December and in Grafton, Wisconsin in 1929 with Wesley Wallace on piano, and in Chicago twice in 1930.

Little is known of her life, save Big Joe's statement that "she was my old lady" which Oliver surmises to imply a common law partnership.

Oliver points out that her imagery was at times erotic and at times morbid., including snakes, eels, death and violence. He goes on to point out ambiguity as to titles as by Mae Belle Miller, Steamline Mae, Mary Belle Smith and Bessie Martin, all of which may have been Bessie.

Aaron "Pinetop" Sparks
(Marion) Milton "Lindberg" Sparks
Aaron and Marion were twins born May 22, 1910 to Ruth and Sullie Gant in Tupelo, Mississipi. Soon after the twins were born Ruth married Carl Sparks. "Aaron learned how to play piano before he could holler and shout...it was a coloured fellow teaching him. He had a joint y'know selling bootleg whiskey back in the corner. He just had a crowd there all the time and he just learned to play. His name Arthur Johnson and he been dead so long nobody down there would know him--'cause he was a old man when he was teaching that boy." Aaron Cleveland Sparks, uncle of Aaron and Marion.

"He just kept getting better and better and got to playing for illegal joints y'know." This was about when Henry Townsend ran into him and he would often accompany Pinetop.

Townsend: "Pinetop was doing a lot of house-party playing and uh 'cause this was a trend then. We would go from house-party to house-party and make some money to pay the rent. We'd go from place to place like that I mean it'd be announced at this party before it was over that there would be such and such a place to get their rent paid and Pinetop would play for those kind of parties where they had a piano--and I kinda went around him quite a bit."

Violation of the Bone Dry Law was an obvious occupational hazard and Marion was first arrested on July 23, 1928 and Pinetop November 10, 1928. Marion had further arrests for fighting and for gambling.

When he was arrrested again on November 16, 1929 he gave his name as Milton Sparks. Whether he decided to change his name in view of his growing police record is conjectural but from then on, while his family would still call him Marion, Milton was the name by which he was known among his Bluesmen peers.

Now at that time Milton wasn't singing, Pinetop was the star when it come to singing. And so just out of nowhere Milton decided he was going to sing and he'd start.

The name "Lindberg" hadn't croped up before either. It would not have been uncommon in St. Louis anyway after Charles Lindbergh's epic 1927 flight but Henry suggests it was probably due to Milton's prowess in dancing the Lindberg or Lindy Hop, which itself was named after the famous aviator.

Aaron got the name "Pinetop" because "He was very good at the number that [Pinetop] Smith made. Yeah he was very good with that number and as most guys do he just started to call himdself Pinetop himself y'know. (Townsend).

It was as Pinetop and Lindberg then that their first session was cut in February 1932 for Victor in Atlanta. Lyrically the songs all dealt with leaving or changing one's ways.

By the time of their first recordings Aaron was already an accomplished pianist and he must have been recognized as a valuable accompaniest too for at thier next session with five pianists participating (Walter Davis, Jesse Bell, Stump Johnson and Roosevelt Sykes--as Willie Kelly --were the others) Pinetop's ten accompaniments out of nineteen outnumbered even Sykes'.

This was a mammoth affair involving no less than thirteen St. Louis artists and thirty-five titles in Chicago, August 2, 1933 for Bluebird, Victor's cheap label, and Aaron accompanied five artists as well as cutting three sides with Milton as the Sparks Brothers.

There was a lot of new talent at this session including five women singers of no great distinction and it's tempting to imagine the men had brought along their girl-friends.

Whatever, Aaron accompanied Elizabeth Washington, Dorotha Trowbridge and Tecumseh McDowell, an eighteen year old girl from Arkansas and the only one known on the "scene."

She'd been arrested the previous year after a fight with her boyfriend and the following year she was picked up in a swoop on a gamling house at 2248a Washington with four other women and twenty-eight men. The women singers seemed to be influenced by Alice Moore...

[St. Louis was fast] but other towns were faster and "Chicago's Too Much For Me" was a not unusual sentitment for artists visiting the city and their first experience of the "fast track." Their other song from the sesion, "61 Highway" was another that would pass into the common currency of the Blues. Sykes had recorded a "Hightway 61 Blues" (Champion 16586) the previous year but this was different in lyric and melody and it was the Sparks Brothers who coined the now very familiar verse:

"61 Highway, longest hightway that I know (x2)
It runs from New York City down into the Gulf of Mexico."


1932 or 1933 were hardly the most propitious years to start a recording career but it's clear that the records were influential on other artists and recording anyway added to the brothers' local reputation.

Five feet eleven, 151 pounds and dark skinned they were difficult to tell apart, which may have presented problems for the St. Louis Police Department where they were becoming equally well known.

Their personalities were different though as Uncle Aaron says..of Pinetop "Oh yes he was a nice boy. He was a better boy than Marion was--'cause Marion'd fight in a minute and Pinetop wouldn't"

This was supported for Marion's approximately fifty arrests for Peace Disturbance, Gambling and other minor offences. For destruction of property in 1930 he was served 90 days in the workhouse and when picked up with a friend at 23rd and Carr on suspicion in July 1934 they were described "Both men are well known police characters and associates of thieves and have been arrested numerous times as suspects."

The next month though Milton was in Chicago recording for Decca as Flyin' Lindburg. This was another huge session of mainly St. Louis artists which had occupied most of the preceding week and week-end. On Friday 24th August Marion recorded with Peetie Wheatstraw on piano, possibly Bill Lowry on violin and unknown clarinetist and guitarist.

Interestingly at this session there were sides by Tee McDonald (probably Tecumseh McDowell), Dorothey Baker (probably Dorotha Trowbridge) and Dolly Martin (probably Tecumseh McDowell again.

The pseudonyms may have been necessary if a Bluebird contract was still in force (although it was a few weeks over a year previously they'd recorded for Bluebird) or they may have hoped to record again for them. In the event though for Bluebird's next session of St. Louis talent in July 1935 only Walter Davis and the Sparks Brothers were recalled from the 1933 session.

This was to be their last recording date. It was also the first time Pinetop sang unaccompanied by Milton. Henry Townsend who was at the session as an accompanist explains: "Yeah Pinetop sang--Milton was supposed to be the singer of the two when the session was drawed up. Pinetop didn't go there to sing at all--he went to play for his brother Milton. And when we got there, why, just going through measures like musicians carry on, he hummed off a tune or two. So everybody thought he should go ahead and do a number. So he went ahead and did a number. It turned out that his number was the better number after all."

In fact all of Pinetop's numbers were better than Milton's and, moreover, with his warm, mellow voice compared to Milton's very nasal tones he was the more attractive singer of the two. "Tell Her About Me" with its superb melody and wistful vocal and "Got The Blues About My Baby" a heavier midtempo boogie were his best sides but incrediby the session produced yet another Blues standard. He sang "Every Day I Have The Blues" in a high falsetto and it's a shock to hear this moving performance for the first time as the song was originally conceived.

Milton's songs, two accompanied by Walter Davis and two by Aaron, were more ordinary but "Grinder's Blues" contains an extraordinarily frank tribute to Janie again:

"Don't you know I got a little grinder.
She lives in St. louis, her number is 2721 Stoddard Street.
That little woman grind me to death, boy.
I'm telling you the truth. I don't love nobody but that little woman--her name is Janie.
Hey man I feel a verse coming down

Blues I ain't gonna sing these Blues no more (x2)
I got my mind on Janie, mean I swear I got to go"

Whilst the Ina of "Ina Blues" was probably fictitious Janie certainly was flesh and blood for at his 1934 arrest Milton gave Janie as his wife and address of 2721 Stoddard . It was obviously an enduring relationship too as the St. Louis City Directories list Milton and his wife Janie as late as 1947-48.

In contrast, "Aaron didn't have no wife. He just had women. He'd go and stay with this one till she quit him. He go and get him another, soon after she quit him--that's the way he lived." Pinetop fitted the traditional romantic stereotype of the Blues man--hard drinker, no job and no steady woman, often in trouble with the law Aaron lived his life in the joints playing piano and outside of them he hardly seemed to exist.

[A joint called The Dirty Inn east of Jefferson on Delmar is referred to by Joe Dean, Uncle Aaron remembers it as The Hole In The Wall, Pinetop also frequently played a place called Blue Heaven in Kinloch, a former slave community out by the airport]

[The twins also had a sister, Jimmie Lee, who sang with them and Townsend remembers her as being better than either of them]

Pinetop lived at 3139 Franklin. He died long before Milton but no death certificate has been found. There is a hint of an early death in both Uncle Aaron's and Townsend's recollections.(10)

Henry Spaulding
Recorded only one session, Chicago May 9, 1929, producing the classic "Cairo Blues," later covered by Townsend and others, and "Biddle Street Blues." The blocks of Biddle near the Mississippi river were near to Deep Morgan.

"From Mississippi" (4) Worked in and around Cairo, worked extensively with Townsend. "He died in the 30's. Townsend remembers Spaulding as an older man, and therefore Spaulding may have originated the "Cairo Blues" melody which was also used by Townsend, Jordan, Hi Henry Brown and Lane Hardin." (4) Big Joe WIlliams and Henry Townsend have both recalled that Spauding was from Future City, Illinois. He died shortly after his two recordings. (6)

Victoria Spivey
Victoria Spivey's connection with St. Louis bears mentioning. Per Sheldon Harris, she recorded for Okeh here in 1926 and from '26 to '29 worked as a staff writer for the St. Louis Publishing Company. She also briefly owned a club in East St. Louis in the mid forties. Harris feels she influenced Edith and Mary Johnson and Alice Moore.

Doug Suggs
pianist, referred to by Bob Koester and Harris who calls him a "Chicago pianist," but says he was born in St. Louis, Dec 3, 1894. Not to be confused with James Douglas Suggs, a guitarist. The notes to Harry Oster's Primitive Piano LP on his Folk-Lyric label state that he was an "ear player" influenced most of all by Claude Brown, the composer of "Sweet Patootie, a number that reached Chicago's South Side via Doug. He adds that Suggs supplemented his income by working as a porter at the Sox Ball Park in the summer and at the Merchandise Mart in the winter.

Roosevelt Sykes
Gulfport, Mississippi was his second home, where he played at the Beverly Lounge with Townsend (3)
Sykes was a major figure in St. Louis as well and further material will be posted here.

Henry Townsend
Patriarch of the St. Louis blues, Townsend played with Robert Johnson, has recorded in every decade for seventy years Born October 27, 1909 in Shelby Mississippi, his parents moved him to Cairo, Illinois at an early age. As a teenager he would go to East St. Louis to hear Lonnie Johnson play with his brother "Steady Roll" on piano. "It was Lonnie's playing that impressed Henry. Henry had know Henry Spaulding since his early youth in Cairo. Townsend worked with Spaulding for many years at the Golden Lily Club on Market Street. He cut four titles November 15, 1929, a session arranged by a locasl imnpressario who lived at 15th and Biddle, Sam Woolf. Henry was twenty. "He recorded "Long Ago Blues" as the result of auditioning in a record shop when he was nineteen" (4)

"Indeed..Townsend ranks with Patton, Buddy Boy Hawkins and Ramblin Thomas for imaginative, unconventional blues artistry. [His] string snapping techniques are more pronounced than those of any other bluesman besides Scrapper Blackwell and Henry Spaulding, whose top string, Townsend reports, often broke under the strain of his vigorous snapping." (7)

Henry teamed up with Sykes and traveled extensively with him, recorded with him in Louisville, Kentucky a couple of years later. (3) Worked extensively with Walter Davis. Worked with Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson. The three recorded together November 11, 1937 in Aurora, Illinois.

First two releases Columbia 14,000, two for Paramount 13,000, a single for Bluebird in '35 and one in '37.

Filmed (for "The Blues" but the footage didn't make it into the finished product.and recorded (May 17, 1961, Technosonic St. Louis) by Charters for Folkways

Tom Turpin rag time pianist (c. 1873-1922.) owned the Rosebud Cafe on Market Street in the ragtime era per Koester.<13>

Pretty Boy Walker
Little is known of Walker, who recorded "The Breaks I'm Getting" with Peetie Wheatstraw backing, and later, two mock sermons.

Wesley Wallace pianist. Recorded for Paramount.

Booker T. Washington pianist. Mentioned by Koester as a St. Louis player.

Charles Washington banjoist!

Elizabeth Washington

Sylvester Weaver

Arthur Weston

St. Louis, Missouri and East St. Louis, Illinois were major stops on the route north for southern blacks migrating north. With it's ragtime history, St. Louis was the home of many fine piano players and developed a reputation for piano/guitar duets like Henry Townsend with Walter Davis and Charley Jordan with Peetie Wheatstraw. But along with this more sophisticated sound, many players with more rural styles stopped here as well. Big Joe Williams, a chronic rambler, spent much time in St. Louis and knew these more rural players such as George and Ethel McCoy, who may be his children, and Arthur Weston and George Robertson whom he recorded.

Little is known of either man. Mike Stewart, who recorded the pair for Adelphi called them among "the least talkative" artists he had ever encountered. They came to the makeshift recording studio set up in a motel room, played their songs, and left. Weston was also recorded by Pete Welding, issued in 1997 by Testament.

Clarence Johnson and Andrew Cauthen who also recorded on those Adelphi sessions remember little of Weston and Robertson other than the facts that Weston died in the 90s in a nursing home in his 90s placing his date of birth near the beginning of the century and that Weston walked with a limp, the result of wearing the wrong shoes to work at a steel mill, and having molten steel fall on the top of his foot. This single fact would tie him to the recurrent theme of leaving the rural south for an industrial job in the north.

In the forties and fifties, "East St. Louis was nothin' but joints" Johnson said, The Top Hat, Dick's on Broadway, Slick's Lakeside, the Harlem Club in Brooklyn were some of these. Weston and Robertson are sufficiently accomplished to presume they played in public occassionally

Peetie Wheatstraw
William Bunch was born December 21, 1902 in Ripley, Tennessee, and died December 21, 1941 in East St. Louis, Illinois of fatal injuries from an automobile accident. Known as "the Devil's Son-In-Law," and "the High Sheriff from Hell." Proficient on piano and guitar, he had many recordings for Vocalion and Decca, often accompanied by guitarist Charley Jordan. He operated The St. Louis Club with Big Joe Williams.

"His style of blues singing was magnetically influential upon all those who came in contact with him or heard his records."
Paul Garon's "The Devil's Son-In-Law" Studio Vista Ltd, 1971 covers Wheatstraw in depth.

"While Peetie's later records became highly stylized, his earlier records incorporated more elements in both vocal and piano. His piano is considerably more forceful..and his vocal utilizes growls, falsetto, erratic phrasing and a harder edge without especial consistency. (1)

Bukka White
Date: Thu, 19 Feb 1998 15:28:36 -0500
From: Sean_Styles@nps.gov (Sean Styles)
Subject: Re[2]: Bukka
To: Joel Slotnikoff

Two sources: Sheldon Harris _Blues Who's Who_ (my copy is Da Capo Press, 1987) sez Bukka obtained "frequent work in local honky tonks/pool rooms/barrelhouses, St. Louis, MO, from c1921" The other is my reviewer, Dr. Fred Hay, anthropologist at Appalachia State who considers Bukka's time in St. Louis during the early 20s to be very important to his development.

Sean--

Jessie White

Joe Lee "Big/Po" Joe Williams
Big Joe was born in Crawford, Mississippi and rambled up and down the Mississippi, playing his intense and powerful music on his 9-string guitar, producing, recording and talent-scouting (for Pete Welding, Bob Koester and Gene Rosenthal, among others.) Joe spent significant time in St. Louis.

Born October 16, 1903, Crawford, Mississippi. Joe played his distinctive 9-string guitar and also accordion, harmonica and kazoo. His father was John "Red Bone" Williams, a Cherokee Indian and his mother was Cora Lee. He was born on a farm on the edge of Knoxford Swamp outside of Crawford, one of sixteen children. He was interested in music at an early age and learned on homemade guitar and flute at about five years of age.

He left home to hobo through Mississippi working outside music with frequent work as singer,dancer and guitarist at picnics, roadhouses, dances, fish fries, levee and railroad camps from 1915 into the '20s. He worked with the Birmingham Jug Band and frequently toured with Little Brother Montgomery working the brothel circuit through Mississippi and Louisiana through the twenties. He recorded for Vocalion in Memphis in 1929, frequently worked with St. Louis Jimmy at local house rent parties in St. Louis that same year, worked with the Birmingham Jug Band at jukes and on the streets of Bessemer, Birminham and Tuscaloosa from the late twenties into the thirties, and recorded with them for Okeh in Atlanta in 1930. He recorded for Paramount in Grafton, Wisconsin in 1932. In that same year he worked with Honeyboy Edwards through Mississippi and Louisiana.1933 saw him reach Chicago where he played with Bogus Ben Covinton at the Century of Progress Exposition and recorded for Bluebird for whom he continued to record for another ten years.

Together with Peetie Wheatstraw he operated the St. Louis Club where the two would perform around 1939 and continued as a single into the forties. He frequently worked with Bill Lucas in local streets in St. Louis 1941. He formed his own group which included Muddy Waters working local clubs and jukes in the Clarksdale, Mississippi area around '41. He frequently worked with Charley Jordan in St. Louis in the '40s. He recorded with Sonny Boy Williamson for Columbia in Chicago in '47 and for Bullet in St. Louis in '49. He recorded for the Oldie Blues label in St. Louis around '51-'52, appeared on the Studs Terkel I COME FOR TO SING Show on local Chicago TV in the early '50s, recorded for Trumpet in Jackson in '52, for Vee Jay in Chicago in '56. He recorded for Bob Koester when it was still "Delmar" in St. Louis in 1957-8 and for Chris Strachwitz for Arhoolie in '59.

By the sixties he had hit the coffee house and folk festival circuit, and recorded for Bluesville.

He formed a trio to work dance halls and local clubs in St. Louis from 1962. and went on the American Folk Blues Festival to Europe in '63. Koester recorded him again, this time with Yank Rachell in '63. He recorded for many other labels as well during the '60s including Adelphi, Milestone, Testament, Spivey, Folkways World Pacific and others. He made return trips to Euroope, appeared on TV shows and films, was on the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in '69, recorded again for Koester in '70-'72, appeared on the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in '72, toured with the American Folk Blues Festival again that year.(2)

"Over the decades, Big Joe's expressive powers have deepened into an extraordianrily refined and complete interaction of voice and guitar" Pete Welding, Milestone album 63813.

Jabo Williams
"Jabo Williams, born in Pratt City, Alabama, was an early boogie-woogie piano player whose few recordings reveal a raw and wild style with rolling bass runs and rag-flavored right-hand riffs. Although Williams was born in Pratt City, Alabama, just outside of Birmingham, he is most closely associated with the St. Louis school of boogie-woogie pianists, since it was there that he became a popular club entertainer and recording artist.

Almost nothing else is know of Williams's life, other than the recordings he made for the Paramount label in the early 1930s. "Pratt City Blues" and "Jab's Blues" were his most noted Paramount sides. Williams ended his tenure with Paramount in 1932. After that, he vanished from the St. Louis blues scene." (11)



1. Don Kent, notes to Mamlish 3805 "Good Time Blues"
2. Sheldon Harris, "Blues Who's Who"
3. Paul Oliver, notes to Wolf 117 "Henry Townwend and Henry Spaulding (1929-37)"
4. Don Kent, notes to Yazoo 1003 "St. Louis Town 1929-1933"
5. James Crutchfield, notes to Swingmaster 2109 "James Crutchfield"
6. Pete Welding, notes to OJL-20 "The Blues In St. Louis 1929-1937"
7. Stephen Calt, Nick Perls, Mike Stewart, notes to Yazoo 1030 "St. Louis Blues 1929-1935: The Depression"
8. Paul Oliver, notes to Wolf 118 "J.D. Short (1930-33)"
9. Guido van Rijn and Hans Vergeer, notes to Agram 2007 "James "Stump Johnson "The Duck's Yas -Yas-Yas"
10.Sparks brothers material is mostly verbatim from Mike Rowe and Charlie O'Brien's article in Blues Unlimited 144 (Spring '83): "Well them two Sparks Brothers they been here and gone" The Sparks brothers Uncle Aaron, brother to their stepfather, and Henry Townsend are the two main informants. Charlie O'Brien, a former lieutenant in the St. Louis police provided much useful information drawn from police and city records which Rowe places appropriately into the context of the Sparks brothers' story. Charlie O'Brien passed away in 2009.
11. Robert Santelli "The Big Book Of Blues"
12. Paul Oliver "Interview With Emma Williams", St. Louis, MO 25th August 1960 Conversation With The Blues, London: Jazz Book Club 1965 quoted by Guido van Rijn, Cor van Sliedregt and Hans Verrgeer in the liner notes to Agram 2014 Mary Johnson, "I Just Can't Take It."
14. Samuel Charters' liner notes for Folkways cassette 03814.



I don't have one of those handy fill-out forms but I would appreciate your help with this page. Additions, corrections, suggestions, amplifications welcomed by e-mail: joelslot@bluesworld.com

Illustrations on this page are by Kevin Belford.