Saturday, July 29, 2006

BluEsoterica Research Forum (June 2002-April 2006)

[This page contains all the material posted on the BluEsoterica Research Forum at from June 2002 to April 2006. New postings will appear on this blog.]


. . an off-the-wall site for immortalizing the obscure details of blues history, carrying on the legacy of the S/DDRMMOC&RBN (Stackhouse/Delta Record Mart Mail Order Catalogue & Rooster Blues Newsletter, published in Clarksdale, Mississippi, 1989-94), my "BluEsoterica" column in Living Blues magazine (1994-96, revived in 2002 in conjunction with this website), and Mike Rowe's Numerology Guide in Blues Unlimited magazine (1973-78, supposedly being resuscitated exclusively for this website).

I've invited Mike, Paul Garon, Dick Shurman, Bob Eagle, and other co-conspirators to bring up new issues designed for sufferers of blues dementia, plus reprinting inglorious scribblings of the past. To start with, we offer the beginning of BluEsoterica: the first column, from Living Blues #114, March/April 1994, and a new research proposal from Paul Garon. This and future reprints may include bits and pieces that didn't fit onto the BluEsoterica pages in LB, along with revised and updated information. Readers' questions, comments, theories, and contributions are welcome.

We will post some submissions for public discussion, but we also welcome private inquiries from researchers who may not want their material made public.

The column started out with a burst of queries in 2002, but little or no response to answer those queries. So the queries are still here on the website, if anyone out there has anything to contribute. Many other questions sent in by researchers have been answered privately.

BluEsoterica (Living Blues #114, March/April 1994)

Sometimes it strikes me that Living Blues is so serious about its mission, and its readers so worked up defending or attacking editorial policies, reviewers' opinions, or each other, that we overlook the minutely detailed, legendarily obscure, or insanely esoteric questions about the music we love.

You know, the stuff that most British blues magazines, European discographers, and Japanese collectors seem to dote on. Who played guitar on the 1924 Edna Johnson session for Gennett? Did Patton spell his name Charlie or Charley? Did he really wear his bowtie at an angle to cover the scar on his neck? And where was who when that Clarksdale mill burned down (in Patton's Moon Going Down)? Which mill was it (I've already asked the Clarksdale Fire Department!)? Why do blues artists give so many different birthdates for themselves in different interviews? Who was Monroe Moe Jackson? Was he related to Monroe Guy Jackson? Why did they take him out of the revised edition of Blues Records 1943-1970? Into how many thousand fragments did that tape of the unissued Little Walter alternate take explode when Mike Rowe and I were trying to operate the tape machine in the old Chess Records vault? Whatever happened to those pieces of tape? And shouldn't the term be "alternative take," not "alternate take"? What planet was Homesick James born on? Who stole the Robert Johnson plaque from the monument at Mt. Zion? Why doesn't Highway 61 run from Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico like the song says it does? How many Guitar Slims are there? How many Luther Johnsons? Willie Browns? Who had bigger feet, Howlin' Wolf or Sonny Boy? Whatever happened to Willie Steel? Casey Bill Weldon? Louise Johnson? Leecan & Cooksey? Shy Guy Douglas? Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon? How do I "dust my broom"? What was the first 10-inch blues LP? What was the last? Who misidentified those photos of Bob Koester's in LB 112?

It is into such matters that this column will foolishly delve. Guest columnists with mysteries to investigate, minutiae to propose, or absurdities to ponder are invited to contribute.


The largest and most intriguing extant body of still-unissued prewar blues recordings must be those in the Library of Congress' Archive of Folk Culture (formerly known as the Archive of Folk Song). I'd always wondered about some of the curious titles listed in the prewar discography, Blues & Gospel Records 1902-1943, by Dixon & Godrich, and finally had a chance to hear some of them on a recent visit to the library in Washington, D.C. Two days of listening convinced me it would take months to hear it all, but I also came away convinced that many of the titles and artists' names have been listed erroneously for years, ever since (or even before) the early editions of Dixon & Godrich in the 1960s. I looked forward to discovering what or who a "Manuwat" was, for instance, based on the entry of Manuwat Blues by singer-harmonica player Turner Junior Johnson, recorded in Clarksdale in 1942, only to find that a previous researcher (whose handwriting I recognized as that of Trix Records' Pete Lowry) had corrected the catalogue card to read Minglewood Blues. Johnson's song is based on the 1928 Cannon's Jug Stompers record; in neither version is the word "Minglewood" sung, but Johnson does introduce the song by that name.

All right, then, next question: what or where was Minglewood? In Bengt Olsson’s 1970 book Memphis Blues, West Tennessee resident David Rice remembered: “Minglewood is a sawmill place in Ashport, west of Ripley. It was torn down 15 or 20 years ago.” John “Memphis Piano Red” Williams added, “Minglewood is a box factory.” The name, however, seems to have been mangled, according to Paul Garon: A photo from the University of Louisville Photographic Archives published in Garon’s Blues and the Poetic Spirit (1975) bears the caption: “Workers at the Mengel Box Company, Louisville, Kentucky, 1920. The Mengel Box Co. also owned the town of Mengelwood, Tennessee, on the outskirts of Memphis. The town in mentioned in many blues by Memphis singers.”

In the case of Manuwat Blues, and several others, whoever first entered the title for the Library of Congress apparently couldn't decipher the words; another 1942 Clarksdale vocal/harmonica side by Jesse James Jefferson (Preacher Thomas), listed as She's A Big Sturdy Woman, turned out to be She's A Biscuit Turnin' Woman. But it also seems that, in transmitting the information to Dixon & Godrich, errors were made either in copying the names and titles (presumably by hand, since the entire folk song catalogue is indexed only on typed cards, not on computer), or in deciphering the handwriting when the information was retyped by the discographers. The Mississippi artist listed in D&G as Will Storks is in fact Will Starks (or, in Alan Lomax's book The Land Where the Blues Began, Will Stark); a Clarksdale listing credited to "Marilyn Davis & Ollie Upchurch" is by a male vocalist, Maryland Davis Upchurch, accompanied by his son Ollie Upchurch.

The most puzzling title of all is listed in D&G as Junian, A Jap's Girl Christmas For His Santa Claus (sic), by Willie Blackwell, recorded by Alan Lomax in Arkansas in 1942. The song has been released on a Library of Congress album (Folk Music in America, Volume 10: Songs of War & History, LBC 10) as Junior, A Jap Girl's Christmas For Her Santa Claus. On Travelin' Man CD 07, Mississippi Blues: Library of Congress Recordings 1940-1942, it's called Junior's A Jap's Girl Christmas For His Santa Claus (sic). (The sics appear in the printed titles in Dixon & Godrich and on the CD.) In his book, Lomax refers to the song as A Jap Girl For Next Christmas From Santy Claus, and names the artist only as "Willie B." The L of C album notes even state: "Blackwell's song has one of the most bizarre titles in the Archive of Folk Song -- a title confirmed, incidentally, by his own announcement on the original disc." The opening verse, as transcribed in the booklet to LBC 10, is: "Goodbye I got to leave you, I got to fight for America, you and my boy/Goodbye babe, I hate to leave you, I got to fight for you, America and my boy/Well well, you can look for a Jap girl's Christmas, oooh lord baby, for Junior's Santa Claus." By these interpretations, I suppose Blackwell, who was preparing to serve his country in World War II, must have intended to capture a geisha girl and bring her home to Junior; or maybe the Japanese girl's Christmas was to be celebrated with Junior or Santa in some other way. Bizarre indeed.

However, upon relistening to the track, I've decided that we've been missing the all-too-gruesome point of Mr. Blackwell's tale of sending baby Junior a Japanese Christmas present. I'm sure the last line is: "Well, well, you can look for a Jap's SKULL Christmas, oooh Lord, baby, for Junior's Santa Claus." (The title, then, with missing words filled in, would be something like [I'm Going To Send] Junior A Jap's Skull [For] Christmas For His [Present from] Santa Claus.) (The term "Santa Claus" has been used elsewhere in blues and gospel to mean the Christmas gift, not jolly St. Nick himself -- a relevant line here would be Rev. A.W. Nix's "Death might be your Santa Claus" from Death Might Be Your Christmas Gift, recorded in 1927.) The bone-chilling connection is made clear by Blackwell's third verse: "Yes, when Junior starts to teethin', baby, please write to me/When Junior starts to teething, oh baby, please write to me/Well, well, I'm gonna send him a Jap's tooth so that he can cut his [with ease?]." On that deathly holiday note, we'll end this query with another one: Whatever happened to Willie Blackwell? He showed up in Memphis in the early '70s and may have gone back to Flint, Michigan, where he'd lived earlier. Did he ever aqcuire such grisly war souvenirs as he promised in his song? Anyone with knowledge of Willie Blackwell, please let us know.


We’ve since learned the answers to a few questions posed above. (Some of the questions which were written for the column in 1994 were cut from the published version in LB, such as “What ever happened to . . .?” The late Shy Guy Douglas, one of those mystery artists, has since been documented on some Nashville blues/R&B reissues.) Monroe Moe Jackson, Highway 61, and the subject of blues artists’ birthdates were discussed in subsequent BluEsoterica columns. A new edition of the prewar discography, Blues and Gospel Records 1890-1943 by Robert M.W. Dixon, John Godrich, & Howard Rye, was published in 1997, making note of some of the Library of Congress errors listed above but still listing the Blackwell song as Junian, A Jap’s Girl Christmas For His Santa Claus [sic].

The Library of Congress, meanwhile, has made some progress in cataloguing its collections of field recordings, and has even posted an excellent site online at, entitled “Southern Mosaic: The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip.” Which will lead us to another listening misadventure . . . next time.

Name: Jim O’Neal
Date: 6/24/2002



"Who will help me make the bread," said the Little Red Hen. Well, we all know how that ended! Even so, I'm going to jump in a suggest a project even while declining the position of project leader.

Several people have echoed Paul Oliver's complaint that it's too bad we don't know where all the 78s in our collections came from. When the records first came out of the South (or "the field" as some would call it) and went into the first great collections: Klatzko, Whalen, McKune, et al. (not to mention Koester, Thompson, and others), no note was made of where the record was found. True. And even later generations tended to commit the same sin: the Perls generation did little to record the source of the records in their collections.

But is it really too late? Obviously it's too late to draw on the memories of Klatzko, McKune and Perls, but those of us who are still alive have access to two sources: our memories of where specific items came from (admittedly subject to well-known vagaries) and labels on the 78s we currently own. For example, I remember quite vividly all the details of certain finds, and I'm sure other collectors do, too. And many of the records in my possession have labels on them indicating where they were sold: Sam's Tailor Shop says one. Often we remember what cities we found our records in, and often the records themselves bear ownership labels that give the residence of the owner.

A compilation of this information would be an enormous job, just as it would be enormously valuable. For many collectors, going through their own records could be a pretty big job right there! But it's a project worth doing, before any more of us--and our memories--die.

Name: Paul Garon
Date: 6/23/2002



Paul Garon has also asked that we announce his forthcoming revised and expanded edition of his 1971 book The Devil’s Son-In-Law: The Story of Peetie Wheatstraw and His Songs. Paul would like to hear from anyone who has information on Peetie that did not appear in the original book.

For a copy of Paul and Beth Garon’s mail order catalogue of rare blues and jazz books and radical literature, please contact:

Beasley Books (ABAA)
1533 W. Oakdale
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 472-4528
(773) 472-7857-FAX


While we’re at it, I’ll add these names to the list – I’m looking for unpublished material, reminiscences from other artists or sources, photos, memorabilia, newspaper ads or clippings, or just comments or insights that researchers, collectors, and fans may want to share on the following artists:


>>listings from Jacksonville FL & Tampa FL city directories in the 1920s as Hudson Whittaker;

>>information, including death dates, on his parents, John and Elizabeth Woodbridge, who were killed in an auto accident; also any information on his grandparents;

>>death date of his wife and business manager, Frances;

>>any surviving relatives in Georgia or Florida.





Name: Jim O'Neal
Date: 7/13/2002


August 16, 2002-February 2, 2005:
And a few more odds and ends:

* BRIGHT STAR FLOUR: This was one of at least three brands of flour that sponsored blues broadcasts on KFFA radio in Helena, Arkansas, in the 1940s. King Biscuit Flour and the King Biscuit Time show are well known in blues lore, and I found Mother's Best Flour in a Mississippi grocery store in the 1990s (although I don't know if it's still being marketed). But I've never seen a sack of Bright Star Flour -- does anyone have a flour sack, or a photo, or other information on Bright Star?

* TALAHO SYRUP: Another radio sponsor of a Sonny Boy Williamson show, in Mississippi. (Could be spelled TALLY HO or something similar.) Are there any bottles, ads or photos of this product out there?

* BEN HARPER: Just curious -- there was a blues singer named Ben Harper who recorded in Los Angeles in the 1960s; is the current recording artist Ben Harper any relation?

* MAGIC SAM: Dick Shurman, who wrote the liner notes for a new Delmark compilation of Magic Sam sides, asks: Why wasn't Sam on Shakey Jake's Bluesville LP sessions? Legal reasons? (Sam and Jake regularly worked together in Chicago at the time.)

* BOBBY “GUITAR” BENNETT: What ever happened to BOBBY “GUITAR” BENNETT, who made several blues and soul 45s in the ‘60s and ‘70s, including the title track of the reissue compilation When Girls Do It? For the past 30 years I have been asking sources around Philadelphia, where Bennett was reportedly based, but no one has been able to tell us anything yet.

* CLARENCE ASHE: Another one I’ve been curious about for years, Clarence Ashe specialized in monologues of tragicomic blues situations, one of which found him employed giving baths to dogs! In another, he sings “My horse went blind and my mule went lame.” He recorded for Zell Sanders’ J&S label in New York, but I have a copy of one early J&S 45 that has a Montgomery, Alabama address. (Some J&S sides were also released on Chess and ABC-Paramount). Percy Welch, the Macon, Georgia bandleader who gave Little Richard his first job, has co-composer credit on one of Ashe’s records. Does anyone know more about Clarence Ashe?

* DIXIE BLUES BOYS: This two-harmonica blues group has long been a mystery among collectors. The two sides of their 1955 single for Modern’s Flair subsidiary, along with some unreleased material, are on the Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Volume 3 CD. Their identities were finally confirmed when Ace Records’ John Broven found the original contract they had signed with Modern, revealing the names of four members: Charles S. Johnson, Ozie Saxton, Dan Winston, and Clarence Wilkins. (A fifth musician was also present on the session: the lineup included two harps, guitar, upright bass, and drums. The band may have traveled from the South or Midwest to Los Angeles, and at least some of them stayed there. Guitarist Stormy Herman remembered Saxton and “Leonard” as a harmonica team in L.A. in the mid-’50s, and said Saxton played on his Dootone record.) Further information on the group is still sketchy. They have flown so far under the blues radar that they may have been an itinerant band, traveling from town to town, setting up on the streets or finding jobs at clubs and restaurants. Census and death records reveal an Ozie or O.Z. Saxton who born in Arkansas on Sept. 28, 1905, lived in Leflore County, Mississippi, in 1930, had a Social Security card issued in Missouri, and died at Vernon Convalescent Hospital in Los Angeles on Oct. 28, 1983 – his death certificate listed his occupation as “musician.” One Dan Winston was born in Louisiana on May 25, 1913, with a Social Security number issued in Louisiana; he died in L. A. on Oct. 8, 1979. Suggested points of origin or later bases of operations for the group include Monroe, Louisiana, Itta Bena, Mississippi, Helena, Arkansas, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Thanks to Eric LeBlanc and Bob Eagle for census and death records research. Any information on these folks would be appreciated.

* PINE TOP SLIM, LEROY SIMPSON, ARKANSAS JOHNNY TODD, BIG BILL DOTSON, and BIG CHARLEY BRADIX are among the artists who will appear on the Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Volume 4 anthology. Little information has turned up on these artists so far. Pine Top Slim was reportedly discovered on the streets of Atlanta by producer Joe Bihari; Billboard magazine reported in March 1952 that Dotson was recommended to Modern by DJ Johnny Martin of WLOU in Louisville, Kentucky; Bradix (1911-1981) was a Dallas, Texas pianist who had 78s on Blue Bonnet, Colonial, and Aristocrat; and Leroy Simpson and Arkansas Johnny Todd were names made up by reissue compilers Frank Scott and Bruce Bromberg back in 1969 when they found unidentified acetates in the Modern vaults. The Simpson and Todd tracks were issued on the Kent LP Blues From the Deep South; the Biharis didn’t want them released simply as “Unidentified Artists,” so Frank and Bruce devised bluesy-sounding names for the phantoms. If you have any idea who these artists really are, or any info about Pine Top Slim, Charlie Bradix, or Big Bill Dotson, please let me know!

Other artists on the Vol. 4 whose careers have been better documented are include Jesse Thomas from Shreveport, Louisiana; Dallas pianist Alex Moore, and Dallas guitarist Little (Lil’) Son Jackson. Any unpublished material or memorabilia from these artists would be welcome too, and acknowledged in the liner notes.

Name: Jim O'Neal
Dates: 8/16/2002 to 2/2/2005



For a forthcoming biography of Blind Willie McTell, Michael Gray (author of Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan seeks any information, particularly anecdotal and unpublished. Many thanks in advance.

Michael Gray
Pear Tree House
Tinley Garth
York YO62 6AR
TEL 44 1751 433439
FAX 44 1751 433360

Name: Michael Gray
Date: 8/24/2002



For a forthcoming biography of Ralph S. Peer, Richard M. Sudhalter seeks all information, particularly anecdotal and primary-source matter, published and unpublished, about Peer's relations with the various blues artists he recorded for Okeh and Victor. Particularly important is any direct reminiscence by the artists involved about Peer's approach to recording them, his business arrangements with them, and his overall manner. All thanks in advance.

Richard M. Sudhalter, author of *Lost Chords* and *Stardust Melody*

Name: Richard M. Sudhalter
Date: 8/26/2002



In October 1928, at a Columbia field session in Johnson City, Tennessee, Frank Walker recorded two sides by a man named Ellis Williams. Both were released on the 14,000 series; Williams was probably the only blues musician to record at the session (except for a possible unreleased band called The Queen Trio). Has anybody ever found out anything about him? He's not on any of the SSDI rolls.

Any help appreciated.

Name: Charles Wolfe
Date: 8/29/2002


who WAS it made up this song?

Is anyone able to understand Baby Face Leroy (or the version of the song form which he may have borrowed the lyrics) on "Boll Weevil" where he tells Muddy Waters and Little Walter what to say if anyone asks them who made up the song?

Name: Dick shurman
Date: 4/25/2005


Lightnin' Hopkins

for a forth coming biography of Lightnin' Hopkins I'm looking for previously unpublished interviews and/or documents, contracts, adverts, lyrics, anything related his life, etc. Thanks.

Name: Tim O'Brien
Date: 10/30/2005


Andrew Brown - Brave 45

Who owns or knows someone who owns a copy of ANDREW BROWN's BRAVE 45 - a copy or a copy of the label will earn you a free 2 cd BOX of BIG BROWNS BLUES by ANDREW BROWN (available this year 2006)

Name: Gerrit Robs
Date: 3/6/2006


a Harmonica you all must see!

Hi folks...sorry to put a "commercial" thing here, but i'm sure you'll all agree item number 7408651580 I listed on ebay today is worth having a look at! details follow, thanks much. The rarest blues harmonica you could imagine and a "missing link" between the acoustic delta blues of Sonny Boy Williamson and the electric amplified blues of Little Walter (!!!) Yes, believe it or not, a RESONATOR is soldered to the harmonica so it could be heard over the din of a juke-joint. Purchased in Alabama land of Jaybird Coleman and Bullet Willams (two early and somewhat mysterious Alabama harmonica players of the late 1920's and early 1930's) and likely dating to that period based on the ORIGINAL PAINT rust and wear. I can not read the brand name of the harmonica itself, I can make out the words "easy blowing" and "germany" so those of you who are harmonica scholars and collectors will probably be able to make it out or identify. Those of you who have studied the emergence of the blues know folks such as Muddy Waters biggest problem was being heard over the crowd at jukes and rent parties, the electric guitar solved that problem and created Chicago and Electric blues. In a similar manner, the microphone took the "mississippi saxophone" of early delta blues players into a new realm when Little Walter and others plugged in. This "make-do" resonator I believe was an attempt to add musical volume to the instrument but it is certainly the only one I have ever seen and as such is quite a find. The metal bowl or hubcap type metal resonator is 7 inches across the opening and 5 inches tall. The harmonica itself is well-soldered into the piece and is 4 inches long. There is genuine age, wear and signs of legitimate vintage use, this is no recent concoction (although it is such a need idea I don't doubt there will one day be others! and YES...IT DOES STILL PLAY.

Name: Jim Linder
Date: 4/19/2006


Copyright © 2006 All Rights Reserved.


Post a Comment

<< Home