Sunday, July 21, 2013

J.D. Edwards on Imperial 5245

J.D. Edwards - Hobo / Cryin' (Imperial 5245)

Buried deep in the Lightnin' Hopkins discography is this almost unknown item. Probably recorded at ACA in Houston on May 27, 1953, Lightnin' wrote "Hobo," and supplies the lead guitar on both sides. Musically, this is a mess. Though Lightnin's 1953-54 group sessions were usually pretty tight rhythmically, the band here sounds like they've never played together, and the result is sloppy and amateurish. Lightnin' is playing in a different key than the rest of the group.

Two things make this record interesting, though. One is the raw, distorted tone Lightnin' gets out of his amp. This is undoubtedly the same amp he was using for his TNT session, which was recorded around the same time. Second is the other guitar. It's a steel guitar, and one immediately thinks of Hop Wilson. Discographies don't mention him, though Pete Welding recognized as early as 1968 (in his liner notes to Rural Blues Vol. 2) that it could be Wilson. I think it's definitely him.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Perry Cain with the Bill Hayes Orch. on Sittin' in With

Bill Hayes Orch. with Perry Cain, vocal - "Hurry Home Baby" (unissued) / "I'm Sorry I Was Reckless (With Your Heart)" (Sittin' in With 560)

"Hurry Home Baby" (Link to Soundcloud)

"I'm Sorry I Was Reckless (With Your Heart)" (Link to Soundcloud)

Last week, when I wrote that Perry Cain's "Big Timing Grandma" was his "second and final record," I had forgotten about his late 1949/early 1950 session with the Bill Hayes Orchestra on the Sittin' in With label. In my defense, it must be admitted that this was a forgettable session, sounding like demos intended for Charles Brown. Bob Shad's rushed field sessions in Houston produced very little in the way of good music. What is shocking about these sessions is that Shad didn't even record Houston's best bands (I.H. Smalley, Sammy Harris), even though they presumably were available, instead preferring young and inexperienced groups like Bill Hayes's and Ed Wiley's. Thus, a great opportunity was lost. It is doubly disappointing since Shad was a jazz veteran (SIW's first releases were by Chu Berry) who genuinely appreciated good musicianship. But there is little of that in evidence on the SIW singles.

The best song from this session, "Hurry Home Baby," was left unissued until 1998, when it appeared with "I'm Sorry I Was Reckless" (mistitled "Reckless") on a generic reissue entitled The Real Blues Brothers, Volume 2. What is noteworthy about this is the sound quality. Obviously taken from the master tape or disk, not a 78, it shows the huge sonic difference between what was recorded and what the final pressing sounded like.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Perry Cain on Freedom 1200

Perry Cain - "Big Timing Grandma" / "My Heart Belongs to You" (Freedom 1200)

"Big Timing Grandma" (link to Soundcloud)

"My Heart Belongs to You" (link to Soundcloud)

The first release on Freedom went completely unnoticed in the trade when it debuted in 1948, and little has changed since then. Despite all the interest in black music in Texas and jump blues generally in recent decades, "Big Timing Grandma," a decent jumper, has never been reissued. This probably has a lot to do with the availability of original copies, or lack thereof. Though many releases on the Freedom label are fairly easy to find, even now, this one never was. Bruce Bastin remembered snapping up a copy in Houston in 1965, but the package he sent to himself back in England was lost at sea. He never saw or heard of another copy.

Leadbitter's Blues Records 1943-1966 lists the personnel here as Ed Wiley and Nathaniel Haskins (saxes), Edwin "Buster" Pickens (piano), and Ben Turner (drums). The trumpeter is known, but would probably prefer to remain anonymous. It was a young band, probably the first record for most of them. Cain himself claimed to have been only 19 at the time, but if that's so, he has a mature voice for a teenager. He must have been greatly discouraged by the non-sale of this release -- it was his second and final record. The emcee at Club Matinee during that venue's glory years, Cain's better remembered today by old-timers as a longtime disc jockey at KCOH in Houston. An unrevealing interview with Cain appeared in Nothing But the Blues (Hanover, 1971).

The slow ballad "My Heart Belongs to You" is the actual "A" side here. Did Freedom naively think they could compete with RCA-Victor? Arbee Stidham's original version of "My Heart Belongs to You" for that label debuted in Billboard's Race charts on June 12, 1948, and spent 24 weeks there, peaking at #1 on September 11. This nicely telescopes the probable period for this record's release date. After some initial missteps, Freedom would find it's footing with the more experienced Conrad Johnson band.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Conrad Johnson and his Orchestra on Freedom 1501

The Conrad Johnson Orchestra (Conney's Combo), vocal L.C. Williams - Won't You Please Come Back / I Don't Want Your Baby (Freedom 1501) 

"Won't You Please Come Back" (vocal L.C. Williams)

Here's a fine slice of jump blues/jazz from Houston bandleader Conrad Johnson. Dating from late 1948, about a year after his debut on Gold Star (heard here), "Won't You Please Come Back" is chiefly notable for its "Flyin' Home"-inspired tenor sax solo. According to Leadbitter's Blues Records 1943-1966, this is Sam Williams, but Conrad played tenor in addition to his usual alto, so I'm wondering if it isn't him. The rest of the band here may include Jimmy Vincent, trumpet; Lonnie Lyons, piano; Nunu Pitts, bass; and Al Tucker, drums. L.C. Williams was a limited vocalist, but Conrad hired him for his stage presence, which mimicked Wynonie Harris and pleased the crowds.

Conney's Combo at the El Dorado Ballroom, Houston, c. late 1940s/early 1950s. L to R: Ed Harris? (baritone sax), Jimmy Vincent? (obscured) (trumpet), Liz Gray? (vocals), Sam Williams? (tenor sax), Al Tucker? (drums), Johnnie Mae Brown? (piano). 

For some reason lost to time, the record was also pressed on the Eddie's label with different versions of both songs, the A-Side retitled "Why Don't You Come Back," and no label credit given to the band. This could have been a pressing error but I suspect record company subterfuge is at work here. Even stranger, the record was bootlegged with very poor sound (obviously using the Freedom 78 as the "master") by the nefarious Swing Mfg. Company in Paris (retitled again as "Won't You Come Back Baby"). It kind of makes sense to bootleg national hit records (if you don't care about breaking the law), as Swing did a little later with Stick McGhee's "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee," but why bootleg a local release like this one? It's one more unsolved mystery in the Texas shellac biosphere.

     Below: the alternate release of "Won't You Please Come Back," now the "A" side, on Eddie's with no band credit. 

Below: the Swing bootleg of "Won't You Please Come Back," also the "A" side, mastered from a copy of the real Freedom 1501. 

Below: Ad for the Conrad Johnson Orch. from the Houston Informer, January 3, 1953. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Swing Records vs. Atlantic in 1949

The Swing Records Manufacturing Company of Paris, Texas, has been the subject of no small amount of curious inquiry over the years. I've blogged before about their releases by Roy Lee Brown and his Musical Brownies, Homer Clemons and his Texas Swingbillies, and The Texas Rhythm Boys. Swing also occasionally forayed into bootlegging other labels. The extent of this practice is unknown, but it was surprising to learn that Stick McGhee's 1949 hit on Atlantic, "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee," was one that Swing thought they could get away with. In Robert Greenfield's biography of Ahmet Ertegun, The Last Sultan, we find this juicy passage very early on (click to enlarge):


Hoping to get one over on the New York sophisticate Ertegun, a Houston record distributor invented a lurid tale, informing him that Swing operated "in the mountains" outside Paris, where they also oversaw a moonshine still, the whole sinister operation protected by "five or six armed men on guard twenty-four hours a day." Ertegun apparently believed this tall tale, which must have been retold among the local distributors for years at parties.

There are no mountains in Paris, and Swing was located on the town's Main Street, where it is highly doubtful that bootleg whiskey was brewed up alongside bootleg records. However, the latter probably played a role in the company shutting down the following year.

Thanks to Bill McClung for bringing this passage to light.