Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi Sheiks’

The Mississippi Sheiks consisted mainly of the Chatmon family, who came from Bolton, Mississippi and were well known throughout the Mississippi Delta; the father of the family had been a “musicianer” during times of black slavery, and his children carried on the musical spirit. Their most famous (although by no means permanent) member was Armenter Chatmon – better known as Bo Carter – who managed a successful solo career as well as playing with the Sheiks, which may have contributed to their success. The band named themselves after Rudolph Valentino’s film The Sheik (1921).

When the band first recorded in 1930, the line-up consisted of Carter with Lonnie and Sam Chatmon, and Walter Vinson. Charlie McCoy (not to be confused with Charlie McCoy, a later American musician) played later, when Bo Carter and Sam Chatmon ceased playing full time. It was Lonnie Chatmon and Vinson who formed the real centre of the group.

Charley Patton was related to the Chatmon’s.  He was Sam Chatmon’s half-brother.  The musicians were the sons of Ezell Chatmon, uncle of Charlie Patton and leader of an area string band that was popular around the turn of the century.

While playing for a white square dance in Itta Bena, Mississippi, they were discovered by local record dealer Ralph Lembo. Lembo arranged for their first OKeh recording session. In February 1930, the field recording unit of OKeh set up in Shreveport, Louisiana. Polk Brockman was the producer/manager, and was the overseer of the first session. Their biggest hits were “Sitting On Top of the World” and the legendary, “Stop and Listen Blues ..2″, the title take from the railroad crossing warning: “Stop-Look-Listen,” both written by Vinson and Carter. The majority of the Sheiks’ recordings were made by Vinson (somtimes referred to as a cousin) on vocals and guitar, and Lonnie, apparently the only family member, along with Bo, who was capable of reading music. Lonnie Chatmon died in the early 1940′s. Walter Vinson was discovered during the first blues revival during the 1960′s, made several recordings then died in 1975. Bo Carter too was found in the 1960′s, he was extremely poor and blind.

Their first and biggest success was “Sitting On Top Of The World” (1930), later to be recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, Nat King Cole, Bill Monroe, Bob Wills (numerous times), Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Cream, the Grateful Dead and Jack White, and re-done by Robert Johnson, and called Come On in My Kitchen.

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