This Historic Day In Music: “Guitar Blues”

In the late 1920’s, Blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson and Jazz guitarist Eddie Lang recorded ten landmark duets.

Lonnie and Eddie recorded their first two duets – “Two Tone Stomp” and “Have To Change Keys (To Play These Blues)” – on November 17, 1928 in the recording studios of OKeh Records at 11 Union Square in New York City.

(You can learn about Lonnie and Eddie, how that first recording session came about, the guitars they played and even listen to those duets in my This Historic Day In Music post of November 17, 2017!)

“Guitar Blues” was the title of Lonnie and Eddie’s third duet. They recorded it on May 7, 1929 in the same OKeh Records studio in New York.

Eddie plays the brief introduction to “Guitar Blues” and then provides back-up to Lonnie’s 12-string lead guitar solos. At 1:06, after four 12-bar choruses, Lonnie seamlessly slips into the role of accompanist while Eddie solos on his six-string archtop twice through the form. At 1:38, the guitarists switch places again and Lonnie takes the lead for the remaining six choruses.

In The Guitar Players: One Instrument & Its Masters In American Music (1982), author James Sallis writes “These duets are infectious, provocative music, as fresh and vigorous today as when they were recorded.”

I completely agree.

Listen for yourself.

 

“Guitar Blues” b/w “Blue Guitars” was released on OKeh Records, #8711. The artist’s credit line on the label reads: Lonnie Johnson & Blind Willie Dunn.

If you enjoyed “Guitar Blues,” stay tuned!

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A Belated Birthday Celebration

The Library of Congress was established on April 24, 1800.

On that day, “President John Adams signed an act of Congress providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. Part of the legislation appropriated $5,000 ‘for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress… and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them.’ Books were ordered from London, and the collection consisted of 740 books and 3 maps which were housed in the new United States Capitol.” (Wikipedia)

The Library of Congress today consists of three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and one in Culpeper, Virginia.

The Thomas Jefferson Building, located on First Street SE in Washington, D.C., is the main building of The Library and my favorite place in the city. Construction of the Jefferson Building began in 1890 and was first opened to the public in 1897.

Here are a few photos from some of my visits to the Jefferson Building over the years.

 

Happy 218th Birthday, Library of Congress!

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No. 8

sixstr stories was born on Sunday, April 18, 2010 in Somerville, Massachusetts.

I was visiting my daughter and casually mentioned to her that I was thinking of starting a blog. (At the time, she had a blog.) Before I knew it, she’d opened up her laptop and gone into WordPress.

She asked me if I had a name for my blog.

Fortunately, I did.

“Password?”

“Sure,” I replied.

Click, click. Tap, tap.

“There you go, Dad. You’ve got a blog!”

Here it is, eight years later, and sixstr stories is still up and running and, I believe, going strong. I may not be prolific, but I’ve never missed a month. And I still enjoy it immensely.

In my very first post, I established the sixstr stories motto: “Good music doesn’t get old.” That quote comes from Mr. Ferdinand “Jelly Roll Morton” LaMothe (1890-1941), the man who invented Jazz.

As of today – April 18, 2018 – sixstr stories contains 353 posts and has been viewed 32,432 times. I know that’s a far cry from viral, but I’ll take it.

An added bonus: it seems that the nice folks at WordPress have protected my site from 43,149 spam comments.

But, hey! Enough with the stats. This is a birthday party, isn’t it?

Well, I cannot think of a better way to celebrate sixstr stories 8th birthday than with my favorite (and probably the first) Psychedelic Rock song!

So… “Ladies and gentlemen, The Byrds.”

 

“Eight Miles High” by The Byrds was released as a single by Columbia Records on March 14, 1966. The song was written by Gene Clark, Jim (Roger) McGuinn and David Crosby.

The line-up of musicians on that recording was: Gene Clark, vocals; Jim (Roger) McGuinn, electric 12-string lead guitar and vocals; David Crosby, electric rhythm guitar and vocals; Chris Hillman, bass guitar and vocals; and Michael Clarke, drums.

“Eight Miles High” was included on The Byrds’ third album, Fifth Dimension, released by Columbia on July 18, 1966.

The album pictured above, The Byrds Greatest Hits, was my first Byrds album. It was released by Columbia on August 7, 1967. (Don’t you love David Crosby’s hat?)

Finally, to each and every one of you who visit, read, follow, listen to, like and/or comment on my random musings and enthusiasms here at sixstr stories, please accept my heartfelt thanks. I am sincerely grateful for all of your support; past, present and future.

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A Ballad Of The Blues & The Electric Guitar

Verse 1

I recently found a book at my local library: Talking Guitar: Conversations With Musicians Who Shaped Twentieth-Century American Music (2017) by Jas Obrecht.

The first chapter in this extraordinary collection of interviews is titled: “Guitarchaeology: Setting The Stage.” In the section of this chapter under the heading, “The Players Adapt,” Mr. Obrecht writes about the March 1, 1938 recording session during which George Barnes became the first person to play an electric guitar on a Blues record. Mr. Barnes was part of the 4-piece ensemble that backed up vocalist Big Bill Broonzy on that Tuesday in Chicago. The two songs the quintet recorded were “Sweetheart Land” and “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame.” (See my “This Historic Day In Music” post of March 1, 2018 to listen to those fine performances.)

Then Mr. Obrecht writes: “Immediately afterward, he (George Barnes) accompanied Curtis Jones singing the same two songs.”

Verse 2

Earlier in the chapter there had been a footnote (#38) referencing an article from the April, 1995 issue of Guitar Player magazine.

The article was “Birth of the Blast: The First Electric Guitars on Record” by Dick Spottswood. In this detailed and fascinating article, Mr. Spottswood also wrote of the March 1, 1938 session stating that: “Each singer (Broonzy and Jones) recorded separate versions of ‘Sweetheart Land’ and ‘It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame,’ with Barnes credited as Hobson (Hot Box) Johnson on the Jones versions.”

Verse 3

Sure enough, in Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943 (4th edition) by Dixon, Godrich & Rye, Blues musician Curtis Jones recorded “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame” and “Sweetheart Land” on March 1, 1938. Mr. Jones sang and played piano. He was accompanied by George Gant on alto saxophone, Hobson “Hot Box” Johnson on electric guitar and an unknown string bassist.

“It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame” b/w “Little Jivin’ Woman” by Curtis Jones was issued later that year on Vocalion Records, #04027. Mr. Jones’ recording of “Sweetheart Land” was never released.

Give a listen to Curtis Jones.

 

That was, of course, electric guitarist Hobson “Hot Box” Johnson/George Barnes doing a very fine job on the opening solo of that track.

Interesting to note that the opening solo on the Big Bill Broonzy recording of “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame” was given to the tenor saxophonist. The man cutting loose on that solo was named Bill with the last name of either Osborn, Austin or Owsley, depending on the source.

Verse 4

Curtis Jones – born on August 8, 1906, in Naples, Texas – was a Blues singer, pianist, occasional guitarist and songwriter.

Mr. Jones’ recording career began in Chicago in September, 1937. His most well-known songs were “Lonesome Bedroom Blues” – released in 1937 on Vocalion Records – and “Tin Pan Alley” – released in 1941 on OKeh Records.

Curtis Jones did not record from the start of World War Two until 1953 when Parrot records issued the single “Wrong Blues” b/w “Cool Playing Blues.” His first full length album – Trouble Blues – came out in 1960 on the Bluesville label.

In 1962, Curtis Jones moved to Europe where he recorded and performed extensively until his death in Munich, Germany on September 11, 1971.

Of special note: in 1962, Bob Dylan included a rendition of “Highway 51 Blues” on his debut album for Columbia Records and credited “C. Jones” as the songwriter.

Verse 5

I found another book (this time on-line): Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy by Roger House and published in 2010 by Louisiana State University Press.

In the “Recording Sessions” section of this book, I located the entry for the March 1, 1938 sessions. It shows that Mr. Broonzy and company first recorded “Sweetheart Land” (Studio log #C-2145-2) and then cut “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame” (Studio log #C-2146-1).

Also noted in the entry is that “Sweetheart Land” was released on Vocalion records #04041. (It was backed with “I Want You By My Side.”)

Then Mr. House lists Big Bill Broonzy’s recording of “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame” as: “ARC unissued.”

The American Record Company was one of several labels that released Mr. Broonzy’s recordings in the 1930’s and it seems that, for some reason, they decided to take a pass on “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame.” Didn’t they know it was one of the first Blues records to feature an electric guitar?

Big Bill Broonzy’s recording of “It’s a Low Down Dirty Shame” did not see the light of day until Columbia Records issued it on their “Roots N’ Blues” series album Good Time Tonight (CK 46219) in 1990.

Verse 6

Of all the numbers in this post – years of publication, dates of recording sessions, record company catalogue numbers of 78’s and albums, recording studio log numbers of songs and their “takes” – I find that two of them are especially significant. They are…

04027: the Vocalion Records catalogue number for the Curtis Jones record of “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame” and…

04041 – the Vocalion Records catalogue number for the Big Bill Broonzy record of “Sweetheart Land.”

If a record company’s catalogue numbers are indicative of the chronological order in which their records were released, then Curtis Jones’ recording of “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame” is the first time anyone heard an electric guitar on a Blues record.

The End.

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This Historic Day In Music: “Sweetheart Land” & “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame”

On March 1, 1938, singer/guitarist Big Bill Broonzy entered the NBC studios in Chicago, Illinois.

Mr. Broonzy was a popular Chicago-based Blues musician who’d cut his first record in 1927. The names of the musicians playing piano, tenor sax and string bass on this March 1st session are uncertain, but it is known that the person playing electric guitar was 16-year-old George Barnes, the soon-to-be staff guitarist at the NBC studio.

The songs recorded that day – “Sweetheart Land” and “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame” – were written by Mr. Broonzy.

These energetic, vibrant recordings mark the first time an electric guitar was used on a Blues record.

Listen for yourself.

 

 

 

P.S.: On March 18, 1938, The Kansas City Five, with Eddie Durham on guitar, cut the first Jazz records featuring an electric guitar. See my post from March 18, 2017 – “This Historic Day In Music: The Kansas City Five” – for more details.

P.S.S.: “Good music doesn’t get old.”

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This Historic Day In Music: Mary Chapin Carpenter

Songwriter, singer & guitarist Mary Chapin Carpenter has performed at the Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, three times over the past five summers.

She shared the stage with singer/songwriter Marc Cohn on Wednesday, July 24, 2013 and did an “acoustic” show accompanied by pianist Jon Carroll and electric guitarist Duke Levine on Saturday, July 12, 2014. Most recently, on Thursday, August 3, 2017, Ms. Carpenter rocked the Prescott Park stage backed by an excellent 4-piece band.

Here’s a photo my wife took at the 2017 show.

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed each of these musically magical events: the extraordinarily well-crafted songs; the flawless, intricately detailed singing and playing of truly gifted musicians; and the enveloping-yet-crystal-clear sound reinforcement. Set in the gorgeous outdoor waterfront venue of Prescott Park, each evening was also blessed with the kind of perfect summer weather that one can only find in southeast New Hampshire.

The most memorable evening of them all for me was the acoustic show on July 12, 2014.

Of the three, this concert seemed to be more about Ms. Carpenter’s songs.

She of course played her hits: “Passionate Kisses,” “The Hard Way,” “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” and “I Feel Lucky.” But she also played the “deep cuts” – the album tracks that really showcased her outstanding talent as a lyricist: “Transcendental Reunion,” “The Moon and St. Christopher,” “Halley Came To Jackson” and “John Doe No.24.”

But then there was the moment, about midway through her set, when Ms. Carpenter put down her acoustic guitar, Mr. Levine left the stage and Mr. Carroll cast a sparkling handful of notes from his grand piano out into the warm evening air.

This is the song that followed.

Listen for yourself.

 

That was again Jon Carroll accompanying Ms. Carpenter’s vocals.

“Only A Dream” is from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s fourth album, Come On, Come On. That 12-song collection was recorded at Bias Studios in Springfield, Virginia and released by Columbia Records on June 30, 1992.

“Only A Dream” was released on December 6, 1993 as the B-side of the single featuring “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her.” This was the sixth of seven singles released from Come On, Come On.

Two tracks from Come On, Come On won Grammy Awards. “Passionate Kisses” was voted Best Country Song with the Grammy going to its author Lucinda Williams and “I Feel Lucky” earned Ms. Carpenter the award for Best Female Vocal Country Performance.

Mary Chapin Carpenter is the only artist to have won the Grammy Award for Best Female Vocal Country Performance four years in a row. (1992-1995)

Mary Chapin Carpenter was born on February 21, 1958, in Princeton, New Jersey. She is the daughter of Mary Bowie Robertson and Chapin Carpenter, Jr.

She recorded and released her first album, Hometown Girl, in 1987. Her next and 15th album, Sometimes Just The Sky, is scheduled for release on March 30, 2018.

Happy Birthday, Mary Chapin Carpenter!

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Two Kings, Two Birthdays, Two Songs

Lead Belly and Sam Cooke.

The “King of the 12-String Guitar” and the “King of Soul.”

Last week, as I read the birthday entries for those two artists on my January list of “Historic Days In Music” – January 20, 1888 for Lead Belly and January 22, 1931 for Sam Cooke – two songs came to mind; two excellent, very different, and decidedly noteworthy songs.

The songs that started dancing through my head were “Relax Your Mind” and “Having A Party.”

I first heard Lead Belly’s “Relax Your Mind” as performed by Happy & Artie Traum. I discovered the brothers’ spirited rendition on my cassette copy of the 1994 Sony Music/Legacy album titled Bring It On Home, Vol.1.

Lead Belly recorded “Relax Your Mind” as part of a long and productive recording session in October of 1948. Sadly, it would prove to be his last recording session.

The session was one of several that had been arranged by Jazz historians Fred Ramsey and Charles Edward Smith. Ramsey had turned his New York City apartment into a recording studio, inspired by his purchase of a brand new reel-to-reel magnetic tape recorder. (This was cutting edge technology in 1948!) The duo started recording Lead Belly with this new machine in late September and, when the sessions ended in October, found they had compiled a collection of over 90 songs!

But Fred Ramsey and Charles Smith had recorded more than just Lead Belly’s songs.

Since recording to magnetic tape did not have the time limitation of recording direct to disc – one side of a blank recording disc could only hold three to five minutes of music while a reel of seemingly-endless magnetic tape could hold up to thirty minutes! – Ramsey and Smith were able to capture and preserve the stories that Lead Belly would tell about each song the way he did when he played them in concert.

This recording of “Relax Your Mind” includes one of those stories.

Sit back and listen.

 

Lead Belly died on December 6, 1949. His recording of “Relax Your Mind” was released in 1953 by Folkways Records as part of a series of three, 2-disc sets collectively titled Leadbelly’s Last Sessions. (Smithsonian Folkways released the complete collection in 1994 on the 4-CD set pictured above.)

Sam Cooke’s “Having A Party” became permanently entrenched in my musical consciousness after attending a concert by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes in the late 1970’s. The band’s knockout version of the song was one of the highlights of their live shows.

Sam Cooke himself got the party started on April 26, 1962 at RCA Studio 1 in Hollywood, California. He cut his classic “Bring It On Home To Me” in the same session.

Arranger and conductor Rene Hall put together an 18-piece ensemble for the recording of “Having A Party”: three guitarists, two bass guitarists, two cellists, two violists, six violinists, one pianist, one drummer and one saxophone player. Lou Rawls added back-up vocals to Sam’s lead.

Give a listen.

 

“Having A Party” – b/w “Bring It On Home To Me” – was released by RCA Records on May 8, 1962 on a 7″, 45-rpm single. The record reached the #4 position on Billboard”s Hot R&B Sides chart and #17 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Two kings, two birthdays, two songs.

What songs come to mind when you think about Lead Belly and Sam Cooke?

JTLYK: January 20, 1888 is not the only date considered to be Lead Belly’s birthday. The others are: January 21 & 29, 1885; January 15 & 21, 1888; January 20, 1889 (the date on his gravestone); and January 23, 1889 (the date Lead Belly himself wrote on his draft registration card in 1942).

 

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This Historic Day In Music: Elizabeth Cotten

It’s been five years since I last celebrated Elizabeth Cotten’s birthday here on sixstr stories.

I think it’s time to do so again.

On January 5, 1893, in the town of Carrboro, North Carolina (right next to Chapel Hill), George and Louise Nevills welcomed their fifth child, Elizabeth, into the world.

When Elizabeth (or “Babe” or “Sis” as her family called her) was seven years old, she started playing around with her brother’s five-string banjo. When she was eleven, her brother moved out and took his banjo with him. Missing that banjo – but now really wanting a guitar – Elizabeth went to work doing household chores for a woman in Chapel Hill. On a salary of $.75 to $1.00 a month, she eventually saved up the $3.75 needed to buy herself a guitar of her own.

Elizabeth taught herself how to play. She developed a unique style in which she held her guitar left-handed and upside down. She picked out songs and “tunes” using just the thumb and first finger of her left hand. Before long, Elizabeth started writing her own songs, one of which she called “Freight Train.”

At the age of 15, Elizabeth married Frank Cotten. At the age of 16, she gave birth to their daughter and only child, Lillie. With her new life, responsibilities and pressure from her church to stop playing those “worldly songs,” guitar playing soon became a thing of the past.

Decades later, thanks to a miraculous string of events – see my post of January 5, 2011 for more details – Elizabeth Cotten regained her guitar playing skills. An album of her songs and tunes – Folksongs And Instrumentals With Guitar – was released on Folkways Records in 1958. Elizabeth became a successful and highly-regarded recording and performing artist and continued recording and performing well into her 80’s.

In 1983, Arhoolie Records released a posthumous album of live recordings from the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s. Elizabeth Cotten – Live! was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album in 1984. It is an utterly charming and amazing record of her songs, stories and inimitable guitar playing.

Here is a track from that album. Listen for yourself!

 

Elizabeth Cotten’s unique style of guitar playing became known as “Cotten picking.” To this day, it continues to thrill and inspire countless guitarists around the world.

Elizabeth passed away on June 29, 1987 in Syracuse, New York.

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Quotations Marked 6

From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens:

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that, while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”

British author Charles Dickens (1812-1870) wrote A Christmas Carol – originally titled A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas – in 1843. The novella was published in London on December 19, 1843. The 6000 copies of its first printing sold out in one day.

As 2018 unfolds before us, may we all, every now and then, become contagious.

Happy New Year!

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A Little Christmas Polka

Must Be Santa! The Rounder Christmas Album is one of my all-time favorite Christmas collections. Released in 1995 by Rounder Records – the legendary-and-still-going-strong Cambridge, Massachusetts-based label – this 19-track album contains a recording that is one of my family’s favorites, too: “Must Be Santa (Polka)” by Brave Combo.

Give a listen! (I dare you to sit still.)

 

“Must Be Santa” was written by Hal Moore and Bill Fredericks. It was first recorded and released in 1960 by Mitch Miller of Sing Along With Mitch fame.

Brave Combo is a band from Denton, Texas. Founded in 1979 by guitarist/accordionist/keyboard player Carl Finch, Brave Combo presented this high-energy rendition of “Must Be Santa” on their 1992 Rounder album, It’s Christmas, Man!

“Must Be Santa (Polka)” features: Carl Finch on guitar, keyboards, accordion & vocals; Bubba Hernandez on bass & vocals; Jeffery Barnes on saxophones, clarinet, guitar, organ & vocals; and Mitch Marine on drums, percussion & vocals.

A very Merry Christmas to you and yours from everyone here at sixstr stories.

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