Saturday, January 30, 2010

Jesse Lockett on Gold Star 650

Jesse Lockett (with the) Will Rowland Orchestra - Run Mr. Rabbit Run / Cold Blooded Woman (Gold Star 650)

"Run Mr. Rabbit Run"

Jesse Lockett is strangely absent from the extensive literature devoted to Texas blues history. It's strange because Lockett made the first blues record released by a Texas label ("Blacker the Berry" on Gulf 3000, 1945) and was apparently well-known on the Houston black music scene in the 1940s. But, as far as I know, none of his four singles have ever been reissued; all are rare and pretty much forgotten today. The only mention of Lockett on the web is not for his commercial records but instead his April, 1939 Texas prison recording for John Lomax (heard here). This makes Lockett one of only two performers recorded at a Lomax Texas prison field session who later had a commercial recording career. (Who was the other? Hint: it wasn't Leadbelly.)

Lockett was out of jail by the early '40s. The Houston Informer wrote on July 31, 1943, that "Jesse Lockett, the blues shouter and composer, has returned to the Lincoln Theatre stage show after filling an engagement at the exclusive ofay nitery on the outskirts of town. Returning on the zoom, Lockett has knocked up some more of his low down numbers and (is) really blowing his tops."

"Run Mr. Rabbit Run" was singled out for praise by John "Sid" Thompson, the Informer columnist who wrote a weekly column ("Ye Nite Lifer") devoted to the nightlife of black Houston in the 1940s. Sid, somewhat confusedly, observed in his January 8, 1949 column that “Jesse Lockett, hefty blues singer, who is a native Houstonian, has returned to the city from California, where he went to cut a few records. Jesse is still doing the blues and his latest, which should get somewhere, is 'Run Little Rabbit Run' (sic ). A catchy tune with lots of blues tempo it still has a bit of be-bop. Have him sing it when you see him.” Elsewhere in the column, Sid notes the presence of an out-of-town band, Will Rowland, but doesn't specify that they were the backing band on "Rabbit": “Listen to the traveling band of Will Rowland, who came to Houston via Beaumont from Los Angeles. A seven piece combo, the band did jump a little but not in the class of recent small bands heard here. One of those fine girls (of the Jane Russell type). Elsie Jones, entertained with the group.”

(Sid's implication that Locket recorded "Rabbit" in California would appear to be false. Bill Quinn only rarely released masters that he didn't record himself at his Telephone Road studio.)

The title of Lockett's other Gold Star release with Rowland, "Reefer Blues," may provide a clue as to why he was in jail in 1939.

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