Posts Tagged ‘Piedmont Blues’

Blind Willie McTell (May 5, 1898 – August 19, 1959)

 

Born William Samuel McTier (or McTear) in Thomson, Georgia, blind in one eye, McTell had lost his remaining vision by late childhood, but became an adept reader of Braille. He showed proficiency in music from an early age and learned to play the six-string guitar as soon as he could. His father left the family when McTell was still young, and when his mother died in the 1920s, he left his hometown and became a wandering busker. He began his recording career in 1927 for Victor Records in Atlanta.

 

In the years before World War II, he traveled and performed widely, recording for a number of labels under a different name for each one, including Blind Willie McTell (Victor and Decca), Blind Sammie (Columbia), Georgia Bill (Okeh), Hot Shot Willie (Victor), Blind Willie (Vocalion), Red Hot Willie Glaze (Bluebird), Barrelhouse Sammie (Atlantic) and Pig & Whistle Red (Regal).  Bridging the gap between the raw blues of the early part of the 20th Century and the more refined East Coast “Piedmont” sound, he took on the less common and more unwieldy 12-string guitar because of its volume. The style is well documented on John Lomax’s 1940 recordings of McTell for the Library of Congress, for which McTell earned ten dollars.

 

McTell is unusual, if not unique, among country bluesmen in his ability to play the guitar in both the ragtime style similar to Blind Blake, and bottleneck slide blues style.  His playing in both idioms is masterful, fluid and inventive; based on multiple recordings of the same song (for example, “Broke Down Engine”), he never played a song the same way twice. His style could almost be called “stream of consciousness,” as he would vary the bar pattern and sometimes even the rhythm and chord progression from verse to verse. McTell was also an excellent accompanist, and recorded many songs with his longtime musical companion, Curley Weaver; their recordings are some of the most outstanding examples of country blues guitar duets. See, for example, “It’s a Good Little Thing,” or “You Were Born to Die.”

In 1934, he married Ruthy Kate Williams (now better known as Kate McTell). She accompanied him on stage and on several recordings, before becoming a nurse in 1939. Most of their marriage from 1942 until his death was spent apart, with her living in Fort Gordon near Augusta, and him working around Atlanta.

Post-war, he recorded for Atlantic Records and Regal Records in 1949, but these recordings met with less commercial success than his previous works. He continued to perform around Atlanta, but his career was cut short by ill health, predominantly diabetes and alcoholism.

In 1956, an Atlanta record store manager, Edward Rhodes, discovered McTell playing in the street for quarters and enticed him into his store with a bottle of corn liquor, where he captured a few final performances on a tape recorder. These were released posthumously on Prestige/Bluesville Records as Blind Willie McTell’s Last Session.

McTell died in Milledgeville, Georgia, of a stroke in 1959.  He is buried in Thomson, Ga. and every year the Blind Willie McTell blues festival is helpd there.  In addition, Atlanta’s most prominant blues club, “Blind Willies” is named after him.

He was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1981.

McTell is best known to many folks today for songs like “Statesboro Blues” (Allman Brothers & Taj Mahal – who by the way gave himself a songwriting credit) and “Broke Down Engine Blues” (Johnny Winter). Statesboro is where McTell learned to play.  Jack White of The White Stripes considers McTell an influence (their 2000 album De Stijl was dedicated to him and featured a cover of his song “Your Southern Can Is Mine”), as did Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. Bob Dylan has paid tribute to McTell on at least four occasions: Firstly in his 1965 song “Highway 61 Revisited” in the second verse, which begins, “Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose,” referring to one of Blind Willie McTell’s many recording names; later in “Blind Willie McTell” (recorded in 1983 but released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 in 1991); then with covers of McTell’s “Broke Down Engine” and “Delia” on his 1993 album World Gone Wrong. In his song “Po’Boy”, off the 2001 album Love & Theft, Dylan again paid homage to McTell by appropriating the line “had to go to Florida dodging them Georgia laws” directly from the latter’s “Kill It Kid”.

Like other seaboard Piedmont players, McTell’s music is lighter sounding than the Delta Blues and very danceable. Very ragtimey sounding with a touch of Appalachian ballads and string music thrown in. What distinguished McTell from crowd was his fast and clean style of playing.
McTell played the vaudeville and Medicine Show circuit, often with his wife Kate. McTell made his first recordings in 1927 and eventually recorded over 120 songs in 14 sessions. Beginning in 1931, McTell had Curley Weaver as his side man. Ya always knew when Curley was going to solo when you heard McTell shout “Kick it Six.” Even after Weaver struck out on his own, McTell would still yell that line and just leave the space where Weaver’s solo would have been.

McTell was one of the few bluesmen to continue playing and recording after World War II. His last session was in 1956.

James James “Curley” Weaver
1906 – 1962
Curley was born in Newton County and came to Atlanta in 1925 by railroad to join his boyhood friends Charlie and Robert Hicks. He first recorded in 1928, and performed and recorded extensively with Buddy Moss and Blind Willie McTell. Like Moss and McTell, Weaver was also a member of both the Georgia Cotton Pickers and the Georgia Browns. His daughter, Cora Mae Bryant, who performed his music in many blues scenes in Georgia until she passed away on Oct. 30th, 2008, also frequently accompanied him.

Charlie Hicks (aka ‘Laughing’ Charlie Lincoln) (1900-1963)

Charlie Lincoln was born Charlie Hicks in Walnut Grove, GA, in 1900. When he was young, his parents moved the family to Newton County. He and younger brother Robert (who later became known as BBQ Bob Hicks) first showed an interest in music. Their family wasn’t too musical, so they were soon taking guitar lessons from a woman named Savannah “Dip” Weaver. They instantly became friends with her young son James, better known as Curley, and often practiced together.  After a while, these three were often seen playing at local frolics and fish fries with a young harmonica wizard named Eddie Mapp, who had moved to the area about 1922. Charlie moved to Atlanta in 1923, the first of his circle of Newton County friends to do so. He married, settled down, and got steady work, first in a foundary, then a bakery, and finally at a paint factory. He only played music on the side, and one wonders if his wife had anything to do with that. Unlike his easy-going younger brother, Charlie Hicks did not make friends easily; he kept to himself, got moody at times, and was not like the laguhing character on some of his recordings. When he did play around Atlanta, he often worked with Robert, Curley, and Eddie (or some combination thereof) and rarely played with other musicians.

After his younger brother’s first hit, Charlie was brought into the studios with him to record for Columbia in 1927. He recorded with his brother as part of The Georgia Cotton Pickers and as a duet in addition to making his own records. Columbia released his records under the names “Charlie (or Charley) Lincoln” and “Laughing Charley”. No one could say why “Lincoln” was used, though it was the maiden name of Eddie Mapp’s mother. He recorded steadily over the next three years, though only three of his own records were released.

His brother’s death from pneumonia in 1931 hit him hard, coming two years after his mother’s and one year after his sister-in-law’s. His sister recalled that “he was just a different Charlie altogether”, and his life fell apart. His marriage broke up (his wife later dying of pneumonia as well), and after his father’s death in 1935, he became an alcoholic. By 1955 he had already attacked two or three persons with a knife. Then on Christmas Day, his trouble deepened. He was in a rough section of town and, according to him, tried to stop a man from beating his common-law wife. When the man threw a bottle, Charlie shot him. Eyewitnesses said that Charie shot the man for no apparent reason. He was found guilty and given twenty years. In prison, he continued to play his twelve-string, though he’d only play religious songs. Big Joe Williams recalled meeting a twelve-string player at the prison, but didn’t realize that he was “Charlie Lincoln”. Hicks’ parole was was turned down after seven years; soon after that, he died of a brain hemorrhage.

Eugene Moss ,”Buddy,” “Gene”
Jan 26, 1914, in Jewell, Georgia, October 19, 1984, in Atlanta, Georgia
played Harmonica, Guitar (and vocals)

Buddy Moss, born Eugene Moss, was born in 1914 in Jewell, Georgia. He was one of twelve children from a sharecropping family in Warren county. When he was four years old his family moved to Augusta, Georgia, where he taught himself how to play the harmonica in order to entertain people at parties. He spent the next ten years in Augusta until he picked up and moved to Atlanta where he met up with the likes of Barbecue Bob and Curley Weaver. They were impressed with Moss’s aptitude on the harmonica at such a young age, and Moss accompanied them with the Georgia Cotton Pickers in a recording session at the Campbell Hotel in Atlanta in December 1930. This was Moss’s first recording experience ever. Moss stayed busy for the next three years teaching himself how to play the guitar and in January 1933, Moss put out his own record through the American Recording Company in New York City.

Paul Oliver said, “His first titles revealed him as a competent guitarist with a swinging style that made effective use of bass string rhythms and of raising a note by ‘hammering on.’”  This first recording session consisted of eleven tunes, and by mid-September 1933 he was recording another twelve songs. This time, however, Curley Weaver and Blind Willie McTell were accompanying him. The summer of 1934 saw Moss outselling everyone in the industry and continued to do that when he teamed up with Josh White in 1935. Moss was arrested that year however for either murdering his wife or fighting to the death with one of his rivals, depending on which source you read. He was released from the Georgia prison system six years later due to good behavior and a good word from James Baxter Long, Blind Boy Fuller’s “manager.” This may have been due to the fact that Blind Boy Fuller was dying and Long needed another star.

Moss moved to Elon College, west of Burlington, North Carolina, where he worked and lived in Long’s home, working in the fields during the weekdays and in Long’s store on the weekends. When World War II commenced and the government banned the use of shellac used in 78 rpm discs, the industry collapsed. This created a huge decline in recorded blues during this period. Moss worked odd jobs through the rest of his life such as elevator conductor, truck driver, and tobacco farmer. In 1964, however, Moss visited Josh White at one of his concerts at Emory College (Emory University, or Oxford College of Emory University?). Moss was recognized by the academics there and asked to play in festivals such as the Newport Folk Festival in 1966 and the Atlanta Blues and Grass Roots Festival in 1976. Moss had had a hard life and did not wish to continue touring. Eugene Moss died October 19, 1984, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Blind Boy Fuller (born Fulton Allen) (July 10, 1907February 13, 1941) was an American blues guitarist and vocalist. He was one of the most popular of the recorded Piedmont blues artists with rural Black Americans.  He born in Wadesboro, North Carolina

 

He worked as a labourer, but began to lose his eyesight in his mid-teens. According to researcher Bruce Bastin:

 

“While he was living in Rockingham he began to have trouble with his eyes. He went to see a doctor in Charlotte who allegedly told him that he had ulcers behind his eyes, the original damage having been caused by some form of snow-blindness”.

 

However, there is an alternative story that he was blinded by an ex-girlfriend who threw chemicals in his face.

 

By 1928 he was completely blind, and turned to whatever employment he could find as a singer and entertainer, often playing in the streets. By studying the records of country blues players like Blind Blake and the “live” playing of Rev. Gary Davis, he became a formidable guitarist, and played on street corners and at house parties in Winston-Salem, Danville, and then Durham, North Carolina. In Durham, playing around the tobacco warehouses, he developed a local following which included guitarists Floyd Council and Richard Trice, as well as harmonica player Saunders Terrell, better known as Sonny Terry (eventually from the duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee) and washboard player/guitarist George Washington.

 

In 1935, Burlington record store manager and talent scout James Baxter Long discovered him and secured him a recording session with the American Recording Company (ARC). Allen, Davis and Washington recorded several tracks in New York City, including the traditional “Rag, Mama, Rag”. To promote the material, Long decided to rename Allen as “Blind Boy Fuller”, and also named Washington “Bull City Red”.

 

Over the next five years Fuller made over 120 sides, and his recordings appeared on several labels. His style of singing was rough and direct, and his lyrics explicit and uninhibited as he drew from every aspect of his experience as an underprivileged, blind Black person on the streets — pawnshops, jailhouses, sickness, death — with an honesty that lacked sentimentality. Although he was not sophisticated, his artistry as a folk singer lay in the honesty and integrity of his self-expression.

 

A decade younger than Blind Blake, he was not as accomplished on the guitar, but was a much more expressive singer.  His music sounded older and less urban, more directly linked to the country traditions.

 

In April 1936, Fuller recorded ten solo performances, and also recorded with guitarist Floyd Council. The following year, having auditioning for J. Mayo Williams, he recorded for the Decca label, but then reverted to ARC. Later in 1937, he made his first recordings with Sonny Terry. In 1938 Fuller, who was described as having a fiery temper, was imprisoned for shooting a pistol at his wife, wounding her in the leg, causing him to miss out on John Hammond’s “Spirituals to Swing” concert in NYC that year (which I believe is the same one that Robert Johnsons was scheduled to appear at before he died). While Fuller was eventually released, it was Sonny Terry who went in his stead, the beginning of a long “folk music” career. Fuller’s last two recording sessions took place in New York City during 1940.

Fuller underwent a suprapubic cystostomy in July 1940 (probably an outcome of excessive drinking) but continued to require medical treatment. He died at his home in Durham, North Carolina on February 13, 1941 at 5:00 PM of pyemia due to an infected bladder, GI tract and perineum, plus kidney failure.

He was so popular when he died that his protégé Brownie McGhee recorded “The Death of Blind Boy Fuller” for the Okeh label, and then reluctantly began a short lived career as Blind Boy Fuller No. 2 so that Columbia Records could cash in on his popularity.

Blind Boy Fuller’s final resting place is Grove Hill Cemetery, located on private property in Durham, North Carolina. State records indicate that this was once an official cemetery, and Fuller’s interment is recorded. The only remaining headstone is that of Mary Caston Langey.

Fuller’s repertoire included a number of popular double entendre “hokum” songs such as “I Want Some Of Your Pie”, “Truckin’ My Blues Away” (the origin of the phrase “keep on truckin’”), and “Get Your Yas Yas Out” (adapted as “Get Your Ya-Yas Out” for a later Rolling Stones album title), together with the autobiographical “Big House Bound” dedicated to his time spent in jail. Though much of his material was culled from traditional folk and blues numbers, he possessed a formidable finger-picking guitar style. He played a steel National resonator guitar. He was criticised by some as a derivative musician, but his ability to fuse together elements of other traditional and contemporary songs and reformulate them into his own performances, attracted a broad audience.

 

He was an expressive vocalist and a masterful guitar player, best remembered for his uptempo ragtime hits including “Step It Up and Go.” At the same time he was capable of deeper material, and his versions of “Lost Lover Blues”, “Rattlesnakin’ Daddy” and “Mamie” are as deep as most Delta blues. Because of his popularity, he may have been overexposed on records, yet most of his songs remained close to tradition and much of his repertoire and style is kept alive by other Piedmont artists to this day.

 

 

Robert Hicks, better known as Barbecue Bob lived from September 11, 1902 till October 21, 1931.  His nickname came from the fact that he was a cook in a barbecue restaurant. One of the two extant photographs of Bob show him playing his guitar while wearing a full length white apron and cook’s hat.

He was born in Walnut Grove, Georgia (west of Atlanta, a little bit north of Covington and Oxford, Ga.).  He and his brother, Charlie Hicks, together with Curley Weaver, were taught how to play the guitar by Curley’s mother, Savannah “Dip” Weaver. Bob began playing the 6-string guitar but picked up the 12-string guitar after moving to Atlanta, Georgia in 1923-1924. He became one of the prominent performers of the newly developing early Atlanta (Pre-Piedmont) blues style.

In Atlanta, Hicks worked a variety of jobs, playing music on the side. While working at Tidwells’ Barbecue in a north Atlanta suburb (Buckhead for those familiar).  He would often play as well as cook for the patrons, who often then brought him to parties to play after work.   Hicks came to the attention of Columbia Records talent scout Dan Hornsby. Hornsby was on his way to make some recordings in New Orleans, and decided to record other artists that he found along the way.  Hornsby recorded him and decided to use Hicks’s job as a gimmick, having him pose in chef’s whites and hat for publicity photos and dubbing him “Barbecue Bob”. Bob and his “Barbecue Blues” became a hit and granered him future recordings.

During his short career he recorded 68 78-rpm sides. He recorded his first side, “Barbecue Blues”, in March 1927. The record quickly sold 15,000 copies and made him the best selling artist for Columbia up to that date. Despite this initial success, it was not until his second recording session, in New York during June 1927, that he firmly established himself on the race market. At this session he recorded “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues”, a song inspired by the flooding of the Mississippi at that time – the same floods that inspired Charley Patton’s “High Water Everywhere” at close to the same time. This song, as well as his other blues releases, gained considerable popularity, and his records sold much better than those of other local blues musicians.

The two part duet with crosstalk, “It Won’t Be Long Now” was recorded with his brother Charlie (a/k/a Charlie Lincoln, or Laughing Charlie) in Atlanta on 5 November 1927. In April 1928 Bob recorded two sides with the female vocalist Nellie Florence, whom he had known since childhood, and also produced “Mississippi Low Levee Blues”, a sequel to “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues”. In April 1930, he recorded “We Sure Got Hard Times Now”, which contains bleak references to the early effects of The Depression. Although Barbecue Bob remained predominantly a blues musician, he also recorded a few traditional and spiritual songs including “When the Saints Go Marching In”, “Poor Boy, Long Ways from Home” and “Jesus’ Blood Can Make Me Whole”.  It was Barbecue Bob that brought Charley Hicks, Buddy Moss, Curley Weaver, and Eddie Mapp to Columbia Records’ attention.

Barbecue Bob also recorded as a member of The Georgia Cotton Pickers in December 1930, a group that included guitarist Curley Weaver and harmonica player Buddy Moss. As a group they recorded a handful of sides including their own adaptation of Blind Blake’s “Diddie Wa Diddie” (recorded as “Diddle-Da-Diddle”) and the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Sitting on Top of the World” (recorded as “I’m On My Way Down Home”).  These were the last recordings that Bob recorded.  They were recorded in December of 1930.  The depression hit the record industry hard, blues and other race records in particular.

He died in Lithonia, Georgia, of a combination of tuberculosis and pneumonia brought on by influenza, at the age of 29, on October 21, 1931, just as his guitar playing was becoming more inventive and original. His recording of “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues”(about the 1927 flood) was apparently played at his graveside before burial.

Bob developed a “flailing” or “frailing” style of playing guitar more often associated with the traditional clawhammer banjo (as did his brother, and, initially, Curley Weaver). He used a bottleneck regularly on his 12-string guitar, playing in an elemental style that relied on an open Spanish tuning (open G) reminiscent of Charley Patton.  He had a strong voice that he embellished with growling and falsetto, and a percussive singing style.

Bob had some influence on Atlanta blues musicians such as the young Buddy Moss (who played harmonica with him on The Georgia Cotton Pickers recordings), but his way of playing was quickly overshadowed by the finger-picked Piedmont blues style that rose in popularity by the late 20s/early 30s as can be heard in the development of the recordings of Curley Weaver. Barbecue Bob’s “Motherless Child Blues” was recorded and performed on stage by Eric Clapton. Bob’s elder brother, Charley, also played blues and was recorded by Columbia under the name “Laughing” Charley Lincoln. However, he never received the same acclaim as his brother.

IF ANYONE CAN FIND AN ADDRESS for Tidwell’s Barbecue (circa 1926), I’d love to know.  I can run down to wherever that is and snap some pictures.  I can’t seem to find anything on Google!

More videos and songs to listen to