Big Road Blues Show 2/8/15: Boogie In The Park – The One Man Band Tradition

ARTIST SONG ALBUM
Stovepipe No. 1 I've Got Salvation In My Heart Stovepipe No. 1 & David Crockett 1924-1930
Stovepipe No. 1 Lonesome John Stovepipe No. 1 & David Crockett 1924-1930
Joe Hill Louis I Feel Like A Million Boogie in the Park
Joe Hill Louis Street Walkin' Woman Boogie in the Park
Jesse Fuller Just Like a Ship on the Deep Blue Sea Frisco Bound! with Jesse Fuller
Jesse Fuller Hesitation Blues Jazz, Folk Songs, Spirituals, Blues
Jesse Fuller Take It Slow And Easy The Lone Cat
Doctor Ross Dr. Ross Boogie The Memphis Cuts 1953-1956
Doctor Ross Come Back Baby The Memphis Cuts 1953-1956
Doctor Ross Chicago Breakdown The Memphis Cuts 1953-1956
Daddy Stovepipe Black Snake Blues Alabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924-1949
Daddy Stovepipe Tuxedo Blues Alabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924-1949
Juke Boy Bonner Going Back to the CountryDarling, Do You Remember Me? Going Back to the Country
Juke Boy Bonner I Live Where the Action Is The One Man Trio
Joe Hill Louis Peace Of Mind Boogie In The Park
Joe Hill Louis Boogie In The Park Boogie In The Park
Jesse Fuller Leavin Memphis Frisco Bound The Lone Cat
Jesse Fuller San Francisco Bay Blues San Francisco Bay Blues
Jesse Fuller Sleeping In The Midnight Cold Railroad Worksong
Ben Curry (Blind Bogus Ben Covington) Adam And Eve In The Garden Alabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924-1949
Ben Curry (Blind Bogus Ben Covington) Boodle De Bum Bum Alabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924-1949
Blind Joe Hill Boogie In The Dark Boogie In The Park
Abner Jay I'm a Hard Workin Man Swaunee Water And Cocaine Blues
Driftin' Slim Jackson Blues Somebody Hoo-Doo'd The Hoo-Doo Man
Driftin' Slim Mama Don't Tear My Clothes Somebody Hoo-Doo'd The Hoo-Doo Man
J.D. Short So Much Wine Blues From The Mississippi Delta
J.D. Short You're Tempting Me The Sonet Blues Story
Doctor Ross Call The Doctor A Fortune Of Blues Vol. 1
Doctor Ross Drifting Blues Call The Doctor
Juke Boy Bonner Struggle Here in Houston The Struggle
Juke Boy Bonner Life Gave Me a Dirty Deal Life Gave Me a Dirty Deal

Show Notes:

Daddy Stovepipe, Gennett Records Studio, 1924
Photograph From Talking Machine World

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As Geoge Paulus wrote in the liner notes to an album by Blind Joe Hill: "The one-man blues band, like the jug band, has all but vanished from the streets and gin mills of the cities and towns." Indeed, there doesn't seem to be much documentation on the prevalence of one-man bands and looking at the history of recorded blues, their contributions are merely a ripple in the history of recorded blues. Some information can be gleaned from liner notes and there is the book Head, Hands and Feet: A Book of One Man Bands by David Harris written a few years back that looks to be fairly comprehensive. As Pete welding wrote: "In the entire recorded history of black American folksong the number of such performers whose music has possessed anything other than curiosity or novelty value can be counted on the fingers of one hand. …One thing is certain: one-man band music is poorly represented on record. Like black string band music, it was much more commonly practiced and widely distributed through black America than its meager documentation on record would suggest, an probably for many of the same reasons. It is well known that at the very time when the largest numbers of black string bands could have been recorded by the mobile recording teams sent into the South by the record firms of the 1920's and 30's, they were largely ignored, passed over in favor of blues performers. …This one-sided emphasis tended to give us something of a distorted picture of black music."

On today's show we spotlight one-man band recordings made between the 1920's through the 70's. It should be noted that there are a number of artists like Papa George Lightfoot, Driftin' Slim, Washboard Willie and others who performed as one-man bands but recorded with bands in the studio. Today we hear from a few one-man bands from the pre-war era including Stovepipe #1, Daddy Stovepipe and Bogus Ben Covington and from the post-war era John Hill Louis, Doctor Ross, Jesse Fuller, Juke Boy Bonner, Driftin' Slim, J.D. Short, Abner Jay and and Blind Joe Hill.

From the pre-war era we spotlight music from Stovepipe #1, Daddy Stovepipe and Bogus Ben Covington. Sam Jones is remembered by elderly Cincinnati residents as a wanderer whose distinctive look (a stovepipe hat) and sound (one man band guitarist, harmonica and kazoo player blowing through a stovepipe to achieve a unique sound) made him a popular street performer. He cut sessions in 1924 as a one man band and in 1927 with guitarist DaviJoe Hill Louisd Crockett. On December 11, 1930 Stovepipe with David Crockett went into the studios with a group who called themselves King David's Jug Band. They cut six sides for the Okeh label.

Johnny Watson, alias Daddy Stovepipe was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 12th 1867 and died in Chicago, November 1st 1963. By the 1920's he was working as a one-man band on Maxwell Street in Chicago, where he acquired the name "Daddy Stovepipe" from the characteristic top hat he wore. A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, he was in his late fifties when he became one of the first blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. n 1927 he made more recordings, this time in Birmingham, Alabama for Gennett Records. He made more recordings back in Chicago in 1931 for the Vocalion label with his wife, "Mississippi Sarah", a singer and jug player and made more recordings with her in 1935. He spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings.

Ben Covington or Ben Curry is said to have been born in Alabama but to have worked mainly in Mississippi and Chicago. According to Big Joe Williams he got his nickname of "Bogus Ben" because he insisted on impersonating a blind person whilst performing on street corners and in minstrel shows. In 1928 he recorded for Paramount. He recorded again in, 1929, this time for Brunswick. It is possible that he recorded for Paramount again in 1929, this time using the name "Memphis Ben". A final session recorded in 1932 for Paramount and credited to Ben Curry is usually accepted as being by the same Bogus Ben. After this session he may have moved to Pennsylvania and is said to have died there around 1935.

Doctor RossThree of the big names in one-man bands after the war were Joe Hill Louis,  Doctor Isiah Ross and Jesse Fuller. Joe Hill Louis was born Lester (or possibly Leslie) Hill on September 23, 1921 in Raines, Tennessee. He picked up Harp first and by the late '40's, his one-man musical attack was a popular attraction in Handy Park and on WDIA, the Memphis radio station where he hosted a 15-minute program billed as The Pepticon Boy. Louis’ recording debut was made for Columbia in 1949, and his music was released on a variety of labels through the 1950's, most notably recording for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records,for whom he recorded extensively as a backing musician for a wide variety of other singers as well as under his own name. "Boogie in the Park" (recorded July 1950 and released August 1950) was the only record ever released on Sam Phillips' early Phillips label before founding Sun Records. Louis cut sides for Checker Records, Meteor and Ace with his final records cut for House Of Sound shortly before his death from tetanus in Memphis in August 1957.

Born and raised in Georgia, Jesse Fuller began playing guitar when he was a child, although he didn't pursue the instrument seriously. In his early twenties, Fuller eventually settled down in Los Angeles and then moved to San Francisco where he worked various odd jobs around the Bay Area, he played on street corners and parties. Fuller's musical career didn't properly begin until the early '50's, when he decided to become a professional musician at the age of 55. Performing as a one-man band, he began to get spots on local television shows and nightclubs. Fuller's career didn't take off until 1954, when he wrote "San Francisco Bay Blues." The song helped him land a record contract with the independent Cavalier label, and in 1955 he recorded his first album, Folk Blues: Working on the Railroad with Jesse Fuller. The album was a success and soon he was making records for a variety of labels, including Good Time Jazz and Prestige. In the late '50s and early '60s Jesse Fuller became one of the key figures of the blues revival, helping bring the music to a new, younger audience. Throughout the '60s and '70s he toured America and Europe, appearing at numerous blues and folk festivals, as well as countless coffeehouse gigs across the U.S. Fuller continued performing and recording until his death in 1976.

Driftin' Slim
From back cover of Flyright FLY 559; Photographer: Frank Scott  

Born Charles Isaiah Ross on October 21, 1925 in Tunica, Mississippi, he took early inspiration from the music of Robert Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller, and Sonny Boy Williamson I; primarily a harpist, hence his nickname "The Harmonica Boss",  he only added the other instruments in his arsenal in order to play a USO show while a member of the Army during World War II. Upon his release from the military, Ross settled in Memphis, where he became a popular club fixture as well as the host of his own radio show on station WDIA. During the early '50s, Ross recorded his first sides for labels including Sun and Chess; in 1954 he settled in Flint, Michigan, where he went to work as a janitor for General Motors, a position he held until retiring. He recorded some singles with Fortune Records during this period, including "Cat Squirrel" and "Industrial Boogie". In 1965 he cut his first full-length LP, Call the Doctor, and that same year mounted his first European tour. Ross won a Grammy for his 1981 album Rare Blues, and subsequently enjoyed a resurgence of popularity and critical acclaim towards the end of his career. He passed in 1993.

Another acclaimed one man band artist is Juke Boy Bonner. In 1957, Bonner made his recording debut for the Irma label, in Oakland, California. He returned to touring the South, frequenting bars and juke joints in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana, where he cut three sessions for Goldband Records in Lake Charles in 1960, billed as Juke Boy Bonner — The One Man Trio. Some of these sides found their way to a European release on a Storyville album and attracted attention from European blues enthusiasts. But the breaks didn't come Juke Boy's way until 1967, when sterling work primarily by editors of Blues Unlimited magazine led to recording opportunities for the small Flyright label and for an eventual European tour. During the late 60's, Bonner suffered from bouts of ill health and underwent major stomach surgery. He earned a meager living playing gigs in Houston. Blues Unlimited magazine raised enough money for Juke Boy to cut a 45 for the Blues Unlimited label in Houston in 1967. Chris Strachwitz, owner of Arhoolie Records, on a field trip to Texas heard the record and cut an album with him in December 1967. Further sessions fJuke Boy Bonnerollowed for Arhoolie in Houston during 1967, 1968 and 1969. He found his way to Europe in 1969 where he cut the album Things Ain't Right for Liberty. Throughout the early and mid-seventies his popularity grew and he continued to tour Europe as well as playing dates in Houston, however he couldn't match his European popularity at home. Bonner was reduced to unloading trucks and collecting aluminum cans to make a living. The frustration and bitterness are reflected in the comments made by a longtime friend to the Houston Chronicle: "He used to say he could go to Europe and earn $1000 dollars but he couldn't make $50 in his hometown." He died in 1978. The week of his death the Houston Chronicle ran the headline: “Weldon ‘Juke Boy’ Bonner, well known in Europe, dies alone in his hometown.”

Among the other artists featured today are Driftin' Slim, J.D. Short, Blind Joe Hill and Abner Jay. While these artists seemed to have performed as one-man bands, most of them did their recordings within a band context except Joe Hill. Slim made his first sides in the earliest 50's backed by legendary band consisting of himself on harmonica, Baby Face Turner and Crippled Red (Junior Brooks) on guitars and Bill Russel on drums.His only true one-man band recordings were in the late 60's for Milestone which issued his only full length album, Somebody Hoo-Doo'd The Hoo-Doo Man, recorded by Pete Welding in 1966 and 1967. Short cut some classic sides for Paramount and Vocalion in the 30's and made some one-man band recordings when recorded by Sam Charters in the early 60's. Jay began playing in medicine shows at the age of 5 and in 1932 joined the Silas Green from New Orleans Minstrel Show. Jay went on to lead the WMAZ Minstrels on Macon radio from 1946–56 before going solo. Common instruments on Jay's recordings include harmonica, drum kit, a six-string banjo and the bones. For many years, Jay released his music and monologues through his own record label, Brandie Records, and in later year issued recordings on Mississippi Records.

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