Sunday, September 5, 2010

Steve LaVere's New Robert Johnson Research

Check out Living Blues magazine's Issue #203, which details results of Steve LaVere's research into the life of blues legend, Robert Johnson.  Jason, who writes TheDeltaBlues, also published an article about LaVere's look at early census records that shed light on Johnson's short life.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Delta Blues, by Ted Gioia

I just bought a copy of Delta Blues, The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music.  The book was written by Ted Gioia and published in 2008 by W. W. Norton and Company.  Already, Delta Blues has received rave reviews including those published in The New York NewTimes, Rolling Stone, Living Blues, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Publishers Weekly, and the Dallas Morning News. The book's cover even bears a seal identifying it as "A Book Review Notable Book of the Year - The New York Times."  Nice...... 

I actually chose Delta Blues as a gift for someone special who loves blues music and its history. But since I also like blues and its amazing history, I just had to flip through its pages to see just what this book is all about. Well, let me tell you this: Delta Blues is destined to be a must-read for blues enthusiasts everywhere.  And it will likely become required reading for certain degree programs that focus on music and history.  The book is also a perfect fit as reading material in courses that explore society and culture, particularly Southern culture. 

Contained within the book's 449 pages are chapters named for some of the best known blues songs around, including "Hard Time Killin' Floor" and "Hellhound on My Trail."  Other chapters are named for locations in Mississippi that are significant not only to those who follow the blues trail, but to others who like to delve into the state's history and its influence on the development of blues as an art form.  Examples of these chapter names are "Dockery's Plantation," "Where the Southern Crosses the Dog," and "Parchman Prison." Also included in the book are a dozen or so black and white copies of actual photographs of some early blues musicians. One such photograph was taken in H.C. Speir's store in Jackson, Mississippi, a place, according to the book, that was a "magnet for blues musicians such as Robert Johnson and Skip James, who came record...."  

By writing "Delta Blues," Ted Gioia has superbly chronicled the history of a music style he believes to be "the most influential musical tradition America (has) produced." Gioia's early training was in jazz and piano, but he developed an early interest in blues music. Ultimately, it was this interest in and his lifelong dedication to exploring the history and influence of the Delta blues that led to writing this book that is destined to become a classic.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Free Concert - Willie Brown Blues Benefit - Tampa, FL - August 26, 2010

Several months ago, I was contacted by Jason, the administrator of TheDeltaBlues website.  Jason asked if I might be willing to help promote the Willie Brown Blues Benefit scheduled for Sunday, August 26, 2010, at Rick's On The River, in Tampa, Florida. I gladly agreed to do so.  According to the website, the purpose of the benefit is to raise money to have a headstone created and placed at the Good Shepherd Church in Tunica, Mississippi. Mr. Brown is currently buried in an unmarked grave.  The expected cost of the headstone is $2100.  Although the concert itself is free, money will be raised from raffles and live auctions during the concert.  A donation bucket will also be available for those who wish to make cash contributions toward the purchase of the headstone.  For more information about this concert and its worthy cause, contact Jason at

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Java Music and Books Now Open for Business!

Our new online store, offering 45s and LPs from the 50's to the 80's is now up and running. Check out our selection of Northern Soul, Blues, Jazz, R&B, Doo-Wop, Rock and Roll, and 70s and 80s Rock at Go to "advanced search," locate "seller" box, and type in "javamusic." Hit search, and all available records will be listed. We offer high quality merchandise shipped securely and expeditiously.

For additional selections of fine music and books, you can also visit us on, using search word Vance41 to see a complete listing of items for sale. We have unique offerings that include both rare records and a wide assortment of books.

Happy Shopping!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Blind Lemon Jefferson - "Father of the Texas Blues"

Blind Lemon Jefferson was a very influential blues singer and guitarist from Texas. He was one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920's and has been called "Father of the Texas Blues". He probably was born in 1897 in Coutchman, Texas, but some claim some earlier and some later dates. In his 1917 draft registration he gave his birth date as October 26, 1894, further stating that he then lived in Dallas, and that he had been blind at birth. He was one of eight children born to a sharecropper.

Jefferson began playing the guitar in his early teens and played at picnics and parties. He also became a street musician, playing in East Texas towns performing in front of barbershops and on street corners with a tin cup. By the early 1910's, Jefferson began traveling to Dallas, where he met and played with fellow blues musician Leadbelly. He was one of the most prominent figures in the blues movement developing in Dallas' Deep Ellum area.

In 1917, he moved more permanently to Deep Ellum where is met T-Bone Walker. Jefferson taught Walker the basics of blues guitar in exchange for Walker occasionally serving as a guide.
What distinguishes Jefferson from the other blues performers of his generation was his singular approach to the guitar, which established the basis of what is today known as the Texas style. He strummed or "hammered" the strings with repetitive bass figures and produced a succession of open and fretted notes, using a quick release and picking single-string, arpeggio runs. T-Bone Walker later applied this technique to the electric guitar and, combined with influences of the jump and swing blues of the regional or "Territory" jazz bands of the 1920's and 1930's, produced the modern sound.

But is was also his extraordinary voice which gave him his popularity in every town he visited. His repertoire reached beyond the blues form into rags and dance pieces. Jefferson traveled extensively and seems to have met a great many bluesmen, from Robert Wilkins to Son House, who remembers meeting him not only in Texas but also in the Delta area, Memphis and beyond.

In late 1925 or early 1926, he was taken to Chicago, Illinois to record his first tracks. Two gospel recording were released under the name Deacon L. J. Bates. This led to a second recording session in March, 1926. His first release under his own name, "Booster Blues" and "Dry Southern Blues" were hits and led to the release of two other songs "Got the Blues" and "Long Lonesome Blues", which became a runaway success, with sales in six figures. Between 1926 and 1929, 43 records were issued, all but one for Paramount Records. Studio techniques and quality were infamously bad, sounding as if they had been recorded in a hotel room. He re-recorded his hits "Got the Blues" and Long Lonesome Blues" in superior facilities and subsequent releases used that version.
Due mainly to his popularity, along with Blind Blake and Ma Rainey, Paramount became the leading recording company for the blues. He was reportedly unhappy with his royalties and in 1927 he moved to Okeh Records. They quickly recorded and released "Matchbox Blues" and "Black Snake Moan", which was to be his only recording for Okeh, because of his contractual obligations. Also in 1927, he recorded another of his now classic songs, the haunting "See That My Grave is Kept Clean". It was such a hit, it was re-recorded in 1928.

As his fame grew, so did the stories regarding his life. T-Bone Walker stated that as a boy, he was employed by Jefferson to lead his around the streets of Dallas. A Paramount employee stated that Jefferson was a womanizing sloppy drunk. On the other hand, Jefferson's neighbors report that he "warm and cordial", and singer Rube Lacy states that Jefferson refused to play on Sunday.
The best of what he did became the bedrock of the country blues, and his songs later became standards recorded many hundreds times over - often scoring hits for rock 'n' roll performers from Lonnie Donegan to Bob Dylan and The Beatles.

He died in 1929, probably from a heart attack suffered during the time of a chilling cold in Chicago. Jefferson became a legend who's career never suffered the hardships of the Depression, or the gradual shift of popularity away from country blues to other forms of musical entertainment. But he will always be known as "The Father of the Texas Blues".

Sources: Blues-Keeping the Faith, The Handbook of Texas and Wikipedia

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Robert Johnson - King of the Delta Blues Singers

Robert Johnson was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, May 11, 1911, but spent most of his early life in levee camps and on plantations in the Northern Delta. He moved with his family to Memphis in 1914, staying there until 1918, when his stepfather sent him to live at the Abbay and Leatherman Plantation near Robinsonville, Mississippi. There Johnson began playing harmonica and associating with older blues musicians. He followed local bluesman Willie Brown to parties and fish fries, accompanying him on many songs. Soon Johnson was playing with Brown and his partner, Charley Patton, when Patton came to town.

He was very young when he jumped into marriage in 1929; she was 15, he was 18. The marriage was short lived, in that the mother and baby died in childbirth a year later.

During this time of mourning Johnson met bluesman Son House, who had been released from prison at Parchman Farm. House's guitar playing had a profound effect on Johnson and he abandoned the harmonica for the guitar. Johnson tagged along with Brown and House to Memphis to play for tips at Church's Park. House and Brown would belittle Johnson for his lack of guitar skills when they had been drinking. So Johnson left and returned to Hazlehurst.

While in Hazlehurst in 1931, Johnson married an older woman, Caletta Craft, who supported him, during which time he practiced his picking and learned new songs from phonograph records. He had a excellent ability to pick up tunes on his first hearing.

There are several stories on how Johnson became so proficient at playing the guitar. There is a story that he met and practiced with Ike Zimmerman and that he learned to play the guitar while sitting on tombstones in a graveyard. Another, more popular story, was that Johnson, who was branded with a burning desire to become a great blues musician, was instructed to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large black man (the Devil) who took the guitar and tuned it, giving him the mastery of the guitar, and handed it back to him in return for his soul. In exchange, Johnson became able to play, sing and create the greatest blues anyone had ever heard.

He and Caletta took to the road, but before long, he deserted her and severed all ties with her and her family. His wanderlust took him to coal yards, speakeasies, camps and taverns in the Midwest and East Coast. He returned in 1933, demonstrating his proficiency and was accepted as a truly outstanding bluesman.

But it was his recordings that were to have the widest impact. He recorded twice, once in San Antonio, Texas in November, 1936 and again in Dallas in June, 1937. Listening to commercial records yielded him artistic dividends. The 29 songs recorded during those two sessions display an appreciation for the medium by being tight, thematically coherent and short enough for one side of a 78 disc. The performances were unequalled. Bottleneck leads alternating with driving rhythms and lyrics sung in a high tense voice created masterpieces of the genre. When the recordings were over, Johnson presumably returned home with cash in his pocket, probably more money than he'd ever had at one time in his life.

He was quite young, 27, when his life was cut short when he was poisoned at a juke joint in Three Forks, Mississippi. There are a number of accounts and theories regarding the events preceding Johnson's death. One of these is that one evening Johnson began flirting with a woman at a dance. One version of this rumor says that she was the wife of the juke joint owner, who unknowingly provided Johnson with a bottle of poisoned whiskey from her husband. Researcher Mark McCormick claims to have interviewed Johnson's poisoner in the 1970's, and obtained a tacit admission of guilt from the man. When Johnson was offered an open bottle of whiskey, his friend and fellow blues legend, Sonny Boy Williamson knocked the bottle out of his hand, warning him that he should never drink from an offered bottle that had already been opened. Johnson allegedly said "don't ever knock a bottle out of my hand." Soon after, he was offered another open bottle and accepted it, and it was that bottle that was laced with strychnine. David "Honey Boy" Edwards, another famous bluesman was also present, and essentially confirms this account.

After feeling ill, he was helped back to his room in the early morning hours. Over the next three days, his condition steadily worsened and witnesses reported that he died, August 16, 1938, in a convulsive state of severe pain, symptoms that are consistent with strychnine poisoning.

The precise location of his grave remains a source of ongoing controversy, and three different markers have been erected at supposed burial sites outside Greenwood. Research in the 1980's and 90's strongly suggests Johnson was buried in the graveyard at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, north of Greenwood.

Robert Johnson is considered to be the "Grandfather of Rock 'n' Roll. His vocal phrasing, original songs and guitar style have influenced a broad range of musicians. He is ranked 5th in Rolling Stone's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of all time.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Beale Street - The Rebirth

1982 was the beginning of the rebirth of Beale Street. John Elkington headed the new commercial development, when at the time, there was only two businesses that were operating between Second and Fourth in the heart of the Beale Street district. Only one survived the decade. Only A. Schwab continued its century-long tradition of selling dry goods from the same storefront.

In 1983, Senator John Ford pushed a bill through that allowed alcoholic drink purchasers to buy a drink between Second and Fourth on Beale Street and legally carry it on the street. This helped in transforming Beale Street back to its earlier position as an entertainment center for the city. This measure allowed visitors and locals to enjoy the music and spirit in a more relaxed, carefree and open environment.

Another important decision made in 1983 was to allow businesses to be opened on Sunday. This made possible full weekend utilization of the entertainment district and allowed a more "inclusive" approach to Beale Street. Also, in 1987, a special board of the National Park Service voted to continue the Historic Landark status between Second and Fourth Streets.

Other attractions that helped in the rebirth of Beale Street was the moving of W.C. Handy's "shotgun" type home to Fourth and Beale and and the Walk-of-Fame with its notes than lined the sidewalks between Second and Fourth. Among the earliest honorees were W. C. Handy, Memphis Silm, Nat D. Williams, Furry Lewis and B. B. King.

In 1988, John Elkington summed up the goals of Beale Street as (1) Returning commerce to the street, (2) the street would become the music and entertainment center of the community and (3) it would be become a place where citizens of all races would be welcome.

It isn't hard to see the connection between Beale Street and the blues. Rural blacks came to the city to find work and less oppression. Their music traveled with them in their head, hands and hearts. A good example is that of B. B. King coming to Memphis to find his cousin, Bukka White.

The connection between the blues and rock 'n' roll is a little less obvious. Rock 'n' roll is what happened when whites tried to sing the blues. Rythm and blues is what happened when blacks speeded up the blues and added special touches. Stax Records became one of the foremost rythm and blues recording studios in the early 1960's with artists like Otis Redding, Issac Hayes and Rufus and Carla Thomas. None of this music would have happened if not for Beale Street

The buildings of Beale Street today include the folowing famous establishments: Alfred's on Beale, Alley Cats, A. Schwab, B.B, King's Blues Club, Beale Street Tap Room, The Black Diamond, Blues City Cafe and Band Box, Club 152, Dyer's Famous Hamburgers, Double Duece, Eel Etc. Fashions, Hard Rock Cafe, King's Palace Cafe, Memphis Music, Mr. Handy's Blues Hall, New Daisy Theatre, New York Pizza, Pat O'Briens, People's Billard Club, The Pig on Beale, Psychics of Beale Street, Rum Boogie Cafe, Shake Shack, Silky O Sullivan's, Strange Cargo, Tater Red's and Wet Willies

And if you want to experience a real "Blues Happening" visit Beale Street on May 1, 2 and 3, 2009 for the Beale Street Music Festival. It's the Mardi Gras of the Mid-South.