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Drifting Too Far From The Shore

Bob Dylan finds a direction home via American vernacular music…

( … or, young Zimmy’s first encounter

with the old weird America)

In case you missed it the first time … it’s very No Direction Homenear the beginning of the film, and clocking in at fifty seven seconds,  it goes by quickly.

The scene begins at 3.10 into Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary film, No Direction Home, and it’s over by 4.07.  It firmly sets the film’s premise as Dylan relates a seminal musical event of his youth:

 Young Bob [3.10 Dylan speaking]:  “Maybe when I was about ten, I started playing the guitar. I found a guitar… in the house that my father bought, actually.

I found something else in there, it was kind of mystical overtones. There was a great big mahogany radio, that had a 78 turntable–when you opened up the top. Radio/78 Turntable

And I opened it up one day and there was a record on there–country record–a song called “Drifting Too Far From The Shore.”

The sound of the record made me feel like I was somebody else… and er, then, uh, you know, that I, I was maybe not even born to the right parents or something.” [4.07]

Boyhood Home

Dylan’s boyhood home 1947–1959  (until he left at the age of 18)

2425 Seventh Avenue East,  Hibbing, Minnesota 55746

Interpret Dylan’s comments as you will; at the very least it’s clear that this first encounter with music from the old weird America made a strong and lasting impact on young Bobby Zimmerman, an impact that  echoes throughout his career as an acolyte of American Vernacular Music.

Young Bob

Already deep into rhythm, holding a tom-tom and clasping a drum under his left arm (sitting, right).

Young Bobby Zimmerman… near the age when he would have first heard “Drifting Too Far From The Shore.”

Bobby Zimmerman was an unusually gifted child from a small town in the upper-Midwest, when, at the age of 10 years,  he heard a country gospel song with “mystical overtones.”  He recognized it as a touchstone, the standard by which judgments are made, a song  that placed him on the path to his creative/spiritual home.

Young Bob The persona of Bob Dylan had to begin somewhere for Zimmerman, and this may be as close to where it started as we can get.  Clearly, “Drifting Too Far From The Shore” was important for him and struck a chord that continues to sound.

Had another record been on that turntable, who knows? …the ultimate outcome might have been different… although I must admit, it’s difficult to envision Dylan as the king of Minnesota polka music had the 78 held a couple of popular Lawrence Welk tunes.

The song may be seen as a beacon, guiding and inspiring young Bobby early in his life… then, again, after drifting through the ’80s, bringing him back to shore in 1992/1993 with the releases of Good As I Been to You and World Gone Wrong–his back-to-back CD albums of prewar American Vernacular music.

It can be argued that immersing himself in folk music in the early 1990s reset his muse and has positively influenced his songwriting and performing over the ensuing two-plus decades… Young Bob

It’s clear that there was no stopping him once he heard the 78 rpm record’s tight musicianship; the steady, grounded guitar, ephemeral mandolin and vocal harmony full of warnings and redemption …playing on his family’s “great big radio [with] a 78 turntable.”

With that experience, there was no changing his new-found direction, no stopping the creative birth of Bob Dylan.

Sorting out the recordings:

Ok, so we know the name of the song that lit the fire, but that begs the question …who was performing on Dylan’s copy of “Drifting Too Far From The Shore?”

“Drifting Too Far From The Shore”                                                      [as heard on the soundtrack                                                                of No Direction Home]

Drifting too far from the shore

You’re drifting too far from the shore

Come to Jesus today, let him show you the way

You’re drifting too far from the shore


Out on the perilous deep

Where dangers silently creep

And storms so violently sweep

You’re drifting too far from the shore


Drifting too far from the shore  (from the shore)

You’re drifting too far from the shore  (peaceful shore)

Come to Jesus today, let him show you the way

You’re drifting too far from the shore


Why meet a terrible fate

Mercies abundantly wait

Turn back before its to late

You’re drifting too far from the shore


Drifting too far from the shore (from the shore)

You’re drifting too far from the shore (peaceful shore)

Come to Jesus today, let him show you the way

You’re drifting too far from the shore

 Listening to the soundtrack of No Direction Home, there is little doubt that the  “Drifting” we hear is a recording by Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys… but hold it… here’s where it gets a bit murky:

Dylan was born in 1941, and if he heard the 78 of “Drifting Too Monroe LP/bbFar From The Shore” when he was ten–that would have been 1951.  Ok… but Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys didn’t record the song until 1962, releasing it in 1964…  an then, not on a 78, but rather, on an LP…  Decca, DL 4537, I’ll Meet You in Church Sunday Morning!

So how/why did the version with the Bluegrass Boys show up on the No Direction Home soundtrack?  In 2004-2005, at the time No Direction Home was produced, the 1964 version of “Drifting Too Monroe AnthologyFar From The Shore” by Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, was readily and conveniently available to Scorsese on CD, including on the Bill Monroe CD, Anthology (released late April, 2003).

Bill Monroe  Anthology

If the version of  “Drifting Too Far From The Shore” that Dylan Acuff 78/bbheard in 1951 was not performed by Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, then by whom? 

Fortunately, we know there were    but five pre-WWII recordings of “Drifting”  (and only four were released).  Roy Acuff So… based on widespread popularity and sales,  I would narrow the choice to two potential artists.  First, it could have been the popular and prolific Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys…

Roy Acuff

“Drifting Too Far From The Shore”  Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys

but more likely, I believe, it’s an earlier record featuring Bill Monroe (yes, Bill Monroe–but with his brother,  not with his later group, Bill Monroe Bros Bluebird 78/bbMonroe with the Bluegrass Boys).



Charles and Bill Monroe, the Monroe Brothers


Drifting Too Far From The Shore”    The Monroe Brothers

Given subsequent statements by Dylan (see interviews below) and the fact that it’s clearly Monroe on the soundtrack (albeit, not the correct recording), I think it’s a reasonably good bet that the influential 78 Dylan discovered in 1951 was performed by the Monroe Brothers, Charles, guitar/vocal and Bill, mandolin/vocal, Monroe Brosrecorded in 1936 in Charlotte, NC and released on Bluebird B-6363 and Montgomery    Ward M-4746.

Left to right:                              Bill And Charlie Monroe


Please notice the folk-process at work in the subtle – and not so subtle – differences in the lyrics and arrangements that are found among the four audio clips  of  “Drifting”  offered in this blog entry… 

  • Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys
  • Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys
  • The Monroe Brothers
  • Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys

A brief historical overview of “Drifting Too Far From The Shore” and Charles Ernest Moody:

“Drifting Too Far From The Shore” was written in 1923 by the gospel and string band musician/songwriter Charles Ernest Moody of Gordon County Georgia (1891-1977).

By the time the Monroe Brothers recorded in 1936, “Drifting” had been popular in hymnal/song book format for over a decade, and was well known in the Monroe Brothers cultural milieu.  Also, it’s a reasonable conjecture that the brothers might have heard the Carolina Gospel Singers version on Gennett Records, released some three years before the Monroe Brothers first recorded.  

Charles E. Moody was an oft-recorded musician as well as a prolific composer.  On the gospel side, Moody penned over 100 spiritual tunes and recorded gospel with the Moody Bible Sacred Harp Singers on the Paramount label (1929) and with The Moody Quartet on the  Vocalion label (1930).

He recorded both secular and gospel tunes with the North Georgia Four/Quartet on Paramount, Phil Reeve on Victor, and most successfully with the very popular, high selling (and mostly secular) Georgia Yellow Hammers on Victor (1927-1929). 

With the Georgia Yellow HammersYellow Hammers he sang, played guitar, and banjo-ukulele (in addition, it is thought that he possibly recorded some secular numbers with the Dixie Crackers, also on Paramount,(1929).

Although Moody published “Drifting” in gospel hymn books and was a prolific performer, he’s not known to have recorded the song.  

Georgia Yellow Hammers—C. E. Moody, top right, late ‘20s

The Five prewar 78 rpm recordings of       

“Drifting Too Far From The Shore” …

· Carolina Gospel Singers; Gennett 7188, September 1929.

· Monroe Brothers; Bluebird B-6363, Montgomery Ward-M4746, February 1936.

 MonroeBrosMW/bb· Arty Hall, ARC, 1937; unissued

· Roy Acuff; Vocalion 05297, OKeh 05297, Conqueror 9670, July 1939

· Judie & Julie; Bluebird B-8386, Montgomery Ward-M8445, August 1939.

Postwar is another matter:

… since 1946 “Drifting” has been covered well over 75 times, by the likes of:

· Jerry Garcia

· The Stanley Brothers

· Emmylou Harris

· Hank Williams

· Rose Maddox

· Ricky Skaggs

· Red Smiley

· Carl Story  and a host of others…

but never by Bob Dylan – although Dylan did use the title for an unrelated song of his own composition, released on his 1990 album, Knocked Out Loaded.

A fine cover of “Drifting Too Far From The Shore,” recently exhumed–but never released on 78–is by Hank Williams Williams[2]and the Drifting Cowboys.  Hank recorded “Drifting” in April of 1952. It was eventually released in 1998, on disc 9 of The Complete Hank Williams, a 10-CD deluxe box set, a performance of the song is available from YouTube:

(To open in a new window, right click on the above address,  then left click on “Open In New Window.”


Collecting “Drifting Too Far From The Shore”   (prices reflect excellent condition):

· 78 rpm: Carolina Gospel Singers; Gennett 7188–no comparables found for comparison, rough estimated value: $45-$60+

· 78 rpm: Monroe Brothers; Bluebird B-6363, Montgomery Ward -M4746– value range: $15-$30, Montgomery Ward somewhat less

· 78 rpm: Roy Acuff; Vocalion 05297, OKeh 05297, Conqueror 9670– value range: $6-$10

· 78 rpm: Judie & Julie; Bluebird B-8386, Montgomery Ward -M8445–no comparables found for comparison, estimated value: $10-$15, Montgomery Ward somewhat less

· LP: Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys, Decca, DL 4537, I’ll Meet You in Church Sunday Morning–value range: $15-$30+

· CD: Bill Monroe  Currently available on several CD reissues, including Rounder, Bear Family and JSP–value range: $10-$15+ for single CDs, $25 for the JSP set and $100+ for the Bear Family box set.

Dylan gets the last word:

His thoughts on folk music, The Monroe Brothers, his roots, Harry Smith Anthology, rural music, early influences and more.

RS 1987

Rolling Stone magazine  interview with Kurt Loder, November 1987  


(Dylan namechecks The Monroe Brothers, and supports the ongoing importance of Monroe and American Vernacular Music)

Loder: Do you still listen to the artists you started out with?

Dylan: The stuff that I grew up on never grows old. I was just fortunate enough to get it and understand it at that early age, and it still rings true for me… I’d still rather listen to Bill and Charlie Monroe than any current record. That’s what America’s all about to me. I mean, they don’t have to make any more new records — there’s enough old ones, you know?

PB 1966 Playboy magazine interview with Nat Hentoff,   February 1966

Hentoff: Do you feel that acquiring     a combo and switching from folk to folkrock has improved you as a performer?

Dylan: …folk music is a word I can’t use. …I have to think of all this as traditional music. Traditional music is based on hexagrams. It comes about from legends, Bibles, plagues, and it revolves around vegetables and death. There’s nobody that’s going to kill traditional music. All these songs about roses growing out of people’s brains and lovers who are really geese and swans that turn into angels–they’re not going to die.

RS 1978 Rolling Stone magazine interview   with Jonathan Cott, September, 1978

Cott: You’ve got a bigger sound now–      on record and onstage–than you’ve ever had before.

Dylan: I do–and I might hire two more girls and an elephant–but it doesn’t matter how big the sound gets as long as it’s behind me emphasizing the song. It’s still pretty simple. There’s nothing like it in Vegas–no matter what you’ve heard–and it’s anything but disco. It’s not rock & roll–my roots go back to the Thirties, not the Fifties.

RS 2001 Rolling Stone magazine interview with Mikal Gilmore, November, 2001

Gilmore: It seems that some of your most impassioned and affecting performances, from night to night, are your covers of traditional folk songs.

                                                                                                                   Dylan: Folk music is where it all starts and in many ways ends. If you don’t have that foundation, or if you’re not knowledgeable about it and you don’t know how to control that, and you don’t feel historically tied to it, then what you’re doing is not going to be as strong as it could be. Of course, it helps to have been born in a certain era because it would’ve been closer to you, or it helps to be a part of the culture when it was happening…

I think one of the best records that I’ve ever been even a part of was the record I made with Big Joe Williams and Victoria Spivey. Now that’s a record that I hear from time to time and I don’t mind listening to it. It amazes me that I was there and had done that.

Gilmore: In Invisible Republic — Greil Marcus’ book about you… Marcus wrote about the importance of Harry Smith’s legendary Anthology of American Folk Music and its influence on all of your work, from your earliest to most-recent recordings.               

Dylan: Well, he makes way too much of that.                   

Gilmore: Why do you say that?                                                  

Dylan: Because those records were around–that Harry Smith anthology–but that’s not what everybody was listening to. Sure, there were all those songs. You could hear them at people’s houses. I know in my case, I think Dave Van Ronk had that record. But in those days we really didn’t have places to live, or places to have a lot of records. We were sort of living from this place to that–kind of a transient existence. I know I was living that way. You heard records where you could, but mostly you heard other performers.

All those people [Marcus is] talking about, you could hear the actual people singing those ballads. You could hear Clarence Ashley, Doc Watson, Dock Boggs, the Memphis Jug Band, Furry Lewis. You could see those people live and in person. They were around. He intellectualizes it too much. Performers did know of that record, but it wasn’t, in retrospect, the monumental iconic recordings at the time that he makes them out to be.

It wasn’t like someone discovered this pot of gold somewhere. There were other records out that were on rural labels. Yazoo had records out. They weren’t all compiled like they are now. In New York City, there was a place called the Folklore Center that had all the folk-music records. It was like a library, and you could listen to them there. And they had folk-music books there. Certain other towns had it, too. There was a place in Chicago called the Old Town School of Folk Music. You could find the stuff there. It wasn’t the only thing that people had–that Anthology of American Folk Music. And the Folkways label itself had many other folk recordings of all kinds of people. They just were highly secretive. And they weren’t really secretive because they were trying to be secretive.

The people I knew–the people who were like-minded as myself– were trying to be folk musicians. That’s all they wanted to be, that’s all the aspirations they had. There wasn’t anything monetary about it. There was no money in folk music. It was a way of life. And it was an identity which the three-buttoned-suit postwar generation of America really wasn’t offering to kids my age: an identity. This music was impossible to get anywhere really, except in a nucleus of a major city, and a record shop might have a few recordings of the hard-core folklore music.

There were other folk-music records, commercial folk-music records, like those by the Kingston Trio. I never really was an elitist. Personally, I liked the Kingston Trio. I could see the picture. But for a lot of people it was a little hard to take. Like the left-wing puritans that seemed to have a hold on the folk-music community, they disparaged these records. I didn’t particularly want to sing any of those songs that way, but the Kingston Trio were probably the best commercial group going, and they seemed to know what they were doing.

What I was most interested in twenty-four hours a day was the rural music. But you could only hear it, like, in isolated caves [laughs], like, on a few bohemian streets in America at that time. The idea was to be able to master these songs. It wasn’t about writing your own songs. That didn’t even enter anybody’s mind.

RS 2007Rolling Stone magazine interview with Jann Wenner, May, 2007

Wenner: From the bottom up, what’s the view today?                  

Dylan: This style of music, which punctuates my music, comes from an older period of time, a period of time that I lived through. So it’s very accessible to me. Someone who was not around at that period of time, it wouldn’t be accessible to them. For them, it would be more of a revivalist thing or a historical thing. You’re from that time, too. I’m sure you know all these same things. The first time I ever went to London, which was in the early Sixties, ’61, they still had the rubble and the damaged buildings from Hitler’s bombs. That was how close the complete destruction of Europe was to the period of time when I was coming up.

Robert Johnson had just died, three years before I was born. All the great original artists were still there to be heard, felt and seen. Once that gets into your blood, you can’t get rid of it that easily.

Wenner: What gets in your blood?

Dylan: That whole culture, that period of time, that old America.

Wenner: When you write songs where you say you walk in “the mystical garden,” there’s a lot of religious imagery.

Dylan: In the mystic garden. That kind of imagery is just as natural to me as breathing, because the world of folk songs has enveloped me for so long. My terminology all comes from folk music. It doesn’t come from the radio or TV or computers or any of that stuff. It’s embedded in the folk music of the English language.

Wenner: Much of which comes from the Bible.

Dylan: Yeah, a lot of it is biblical, a lot of it is just troubadour stuff, a lot of it is stuff that Uncle Dave Macon would sing off the top of his head….

Wenner: How is it instilled in you?
It’s instilled in me by the way I grew up, where I come from, early feelings.

RS 1984Rolling Stone magazine interview with Kurt Loder, June, 1984

Loder: Did you get to see any of the original rock & roll guys, like Little Richard, Buddy Holly?

Dylan: …late at night, I used to listen to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and Howlin’ Wolf blastin’ in from Shreveport. It was a radio show that lasted all night. I used to stay up till two, three o’clock in the morning. Listened to all those songs, then tried to figure them out. I started playing myself.

… And then, either in Minneapolis or St Paul, I heard Woody Guthrie. And when I heard Woody Guthrie, that was it, it was all over.

Loder: What struck you about him?

Dylan: Well, I heard them old records, where he sings with Cisco Houston and Sonny [Terry] and Brownie [McGhee] and stuff like that, and then his own songs. And he really struck me as an independent character. But no one ever talked about him. So I went through all his records I could find and picked all that up by any means I could. And when I arrived in New York, I was mostly singing his songs and folk songs. At that time, I was runnin’ into people who were playing the same kind of thing, but I was kinda combining elements of Southern mountain music with bluegrass stuff, English-ballad stuff. I could hear a song once and know it. So when I came to New York, I could do a lot of different stuff. But I never thought I’d see rock & roll again when I arrived here.

Loder: Did you miss it?

Dylan: Not really, because I liked the folk scene. It was a whole community, a whole world that was all hooked up to different towns in the United States. You could go from here to California and always have a place to stay, and always play somewhere, and meet people. Nowadays, you go to see a folk singer—what’s the folk singer doin’? He’s singin’ all his own songs. That ain’t no folk singer. Folk singers sing those old folk songs, ballads.

I met a lot of folk singers in New York, and there were a lot of ’em in the Twin Cities…

Loder: Could folk ever become big again?

Dylan: Well, yeah, it could become big again. But people gotta go back and find the songs. They don’t do it no more. I was tellin’ somebody that thing about when you go to see a folk singer now, you hear somebody singin’ his own songs. And the person says, “Yeah, well, you started that.” And in a sense, it’s true. But I never would have written a song if I didn’t play all them old folk songs first. I never would have thought to write a song, you know….?

The fine print:

Images and media content from my personal collection are noted with a “/bb“ at the end of the title when hovering over the image (CLICK ON IMAGE TO INCREASE VIEWING SIZE).

Other images and/or media content are deemed “open access.”  Notice of copyright protection in any Vernacular::Shellac blog does not and will not apply to open access images or media. If I have used any image or content that is copyright protected, please advise and appropriate credit will be given. All Vernacular::Shellac content, excepting that excluded above, is ©2013 by Bill Boslaugh

Inaccuracies, corrections, feedback or additions? Please let me know!

Bill Boslaugh


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New Lost City Ramblers… Risqué Double Entendre Old-Time Music

[Although this blog entry focuses on suggestive songs in old-time Parental Advisorymusic, if you are over 13 years old there should not be much that is overtly offensive here. However, if the very concept  of off-color, ribald, explicit or risqué songs bothers you, please stop reading here!]

Although I had been listening to their records for years, it was around 1969 when I finally saw The New Lost City Ramblers in concert at Portland, Oregon’s Reed College.  Thinking back on the concert, I definitely remember their sharp and twisted sense of humor; present throughout the show… especially when introducing songs, but in their choice of music as well.

I clearly recall them performing “Battleship of Maine,” “Arkansas Traveler,” “NRA Blues,” “Colored Aristocracy,”  “Brown’s Ferry Blues,” and several “earthy” or ribald tunes such as “Sal Got A Meatskin.

New Lost City Ramblers:  “Sal Got A Meatskin”

So, when I recently came across a NLCR record I was unaware of, the musical content came as no great surprise:  The record is: Earth Is Earth by The New Lost City Bang Boys.   Earth Is Earth is a difficult-to-locate extended play (EP) disk of bawdy songs released by Folkways Records in 1961, and the name of the band, New Lost City Bang Boys is, of course, a very thinly veiled nom de disque for The New Lost City Ramblers.

Earth To Earth front cover/bb Earth To Earth back cover/bb



 (click on photos/scans to enlarge)

This 7 inch mini-LP consists of four nominally off-color (or “earthy”) songs which the NLCR learned from prewar 78 rpm records. While it’s possible the Ramblers might have considered the songs a bit too suggestive for some in their record buying audience of fifty (plus) years ago, it’s more likely that their nom de disque was more of a tongue-in-cheek effort to mimic the practice many performers used when they recorded off-color songs during the 78 rpm era. 

If my memory of their live show is accurate, the release of a record featuring ribald songs would not have come as a surprise to Ramblers fans… and supporting my memory, Bill Malone in his fine book, Music From The True Vine, Mike Seeger’s Life & Musical Journey, states that the Ramblers would often include risqué songs such as “Sal Got A Meatskin” and “Women Wear No Clothes At All” in their performance playlist.

The New Lost City Bang Boys are:

Wilbur (Mike) Seeger
McKinley (John) Cohen
Delmore (Tom) Paley

Earth To Earth autographed back cover/bb

By the time this record jacket was autographed, Tracy Schwarz had replaced Tom Paley in the New Lost City Ramblers

Although we usually associate 1920s – 1930s double entendre songs with “jass” bands, jug bands and blues music, bawdy songs were also well within the “old-time” canon.

The four tunes on Earth Is Earth FF 869 are: 

Side I

  • My Sweet Farm Girl
  • Bang, Bang, Lulu

Side II

  • Then It Won’t Hurt No More
  • Women Wear No Clothes At All

Earth To Earth side one label/bb

Earth To Earth side two label/bb



The Songs:

New Lost City Bang Boys:  “My Sweet Farm Girl”

“My Sweet Farm Girl” is originally from Tom (Clarence) Ashley and Gwen Foster, recording as the Blue Ridge Mountain Entertainers. Recorded in 1931 and reminiscent of Alberta Hunter’s “My Handy Man,” it has few explicit moments among its double entendre lyrics.  “My Sweet Farm Girl” was released on the 78 rpm Banner, Romeo, Oriole, Perfect, Conqueror and Vocalion labels.

New Lost City Bang Boys: “Bang Bang Lulu”

Of the four tunes on Earth Is Earth, “Bang Bang Lulu” has lyrics which may be the most overtly bawdy, but even by today’s politically correct standards the lyrics heard here are childish or sophomoric at best (or worst). Bang Boys Lulu label/bb

“Bang Bang Lulu,” [which is said to date to the 1890s] was first recorded in 1936 by the Bang Boys (actually, Roy Acuff & His Crazy Tennesseans) on Vocalion 03372.  At that time the song was apparently deemed too off-color for gospel-touting Roy and the boys to have issued it under their own name, so someone (prudently?) came up with the (equally offensive) nom de disque, “Bang Boys” rather than releasing it as by Roy Acuff & His Crazy Tennesseans … [note, Acuff was not yet calling his band The Smoky Mountain Boys, that was still two years away, coming only after the group joined the Grand Old Opry.]

Acuff’s Bang Boys: “Bang, Bang, Lulu”

It should be noted here that the two known recorded versions of “Lulu” are relatively tame compared to most of the 50+ verses quoted in The Erotic Muse: American Bawdy Songs, Ed Cray’s 435 page, 1992 compendium of the ribald and forbidden in American folk songs. Of “Lulu,” Cray says:

“There is no standard version of “Lulu;” like so many other songs from the Southern Appalachians, “Lulu” has hundreds of floating verses. Each singer knows only a handful, to which he will add new stanzas as he thinks of them or as his neighbors sing them.”

An additional 20-odd “Lulu” verses appear in Vance Randolph’s Roll Me in Your Arms: Unprintable Ozark Folksongs and Folklore Vol.1.

“New Lost City Bang Boys:  It Won’t Hurt No More”

It Won’t Hurt No More” is from Buster Carter, banjo/vocal & Preston Young, guitar. (with the Charlie Poole group’s Posey Rorer on fiddle). It was recorded in 1931 and is a hokum tune, similar to those heard from Tampa Red and Georgia Tom Dorsey.  The 78 was released on Columbia 15702.

New Lost City Bang Boys: “Women Wear No Clothes…”

“Women Wear No Clothes At All” is a catchy fiddle tune which describes a new standard for travel attire. The entire lyric is: “Women wear no clothes at all, but they get there just the same,” repeated multiple times…  The Ramblers took the song from a 78 recorded in 1928 in Memphis by Fiddling Bob Larkin & His Music Makers.  You can find the song on OKeh 45309.

The exact number of Folkways Records FF 869 produced and/or sold is not known, but is thought to be somewhere in the lower end of the 500 – 1000 range… Roy Allen in his terrific book: Gone To The Country, The New Lost City Ramblers & The Folk Music Revival states that the album did not sell well, but does not list numbers.

For comparison, 1960 sales numbers of NLCRs four Long Play albums were as follows:

The New Lost City Ramblers………297

Old Timey Songs For Children……..46

Songs From The Depression……….340

The New Lost City Ramblers II……407

Current auction/sales indicate the value of Earth Is Earth is in the $75 – $200 range, depending on the condition of the record and jacket.


A brief addendum… Two recent books concerning the NLCRs and Mike Seeger:

I would like to close by mentioning two recently published books that I read this winter… both books are great and were timely, in that they helped inform the above subject. 

The first, written by Ray Allen and published in 2010 is titled: Gone To The Country, The New Lost City Ramblers & The Folk Music Revival.  The second is written by Bill C. Malone, published in 2011 and titled:  Music From The True Vine, Mike Seeger’s Life & Musical Journey.  Both books are well worth a read, and much to my surprise there was a good deal less content overlap than I had initially supposed.

While each of these fine books warrants a full blog entry/review, I will instead offer a thumbnail impression…  The titles say it all. 

If your primary interest is the NLCR then the Allen book is the one for you.  It is an exhaustive look at each of the Ramblers, their individual strengths and the dynamics within the group, as well as the New Lost City Ramblers relationship to the folk music revival.

Malone’s book keeps its focus on Mike Seeger and does an excellent job of detailing his coming of age within his musical biological family and his position within the Ramblers.  Also, it nicely illuminates his solo work as well as his group work outside of the New Lost City Ramblers.

It’s without reservation that I recommend an immediate trip to your favorite bookstore or library to secure copies of these books!

Earth_NLCR         Earth_Seeger

 And finally, a totally unnecessary addendum… “Bang, Bang Lulu” in pop culture:

Lulu with wings

From the official website of the World War Two 447th Bomb Group Association, here’s a B-17 bomber built by the Boeing company in October 1944, and assigned to the 708th squad. 

Lulu speaks upPer the September, 2009 International Team of Comics Historians [ITCH] blog:

“Coincidence? Or did John Stanley (creator of the Lulu comic strip) know the song “Bang Bang Lulu” and decide to include this double entendre panel as an inside joke? We may never know.”

  Lulu goes to Jamaica

Lulu goes to Jamaica…  Bang, Bang, Lulu, reggae!  —  then click on:   1)  A Side Track # 1

The fine print:

Images and media content are from my personal collection are noted with a “/bb“ at the end of the title when hovering over the image.

Other images and/or media content are deemed “open access” and will be duly credited whenever possible. Notice of copyright protection in any Vernacular::Shellac blog does not and will not apply to open access images or media. If I have used any images or content that is copyright protected, please advise and appropriate credit will be given. All Vernacular::Shellac content, excepting that excluded above, is ©2012 by Bill Boslaugh

Inaccuracies, corrections, feedback or additions? Please let me know!

Bill Boslaugh

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“Hallelujah!” Updates… Gus Cannon Verified? Frankie Jaxon Nixed?


It appears that I was in error (maybe twice) in the October 20, 2011 “Hallelujah!” blog entry.  I don’t like to propagate misinformation, and I appreciate it when readers point out my mistakes. Those times I’m in error I’ll do my best to set the record straight!

Is Gus Cannon the banjo player in “Hallelujah!” ?

I’m happy to be wrong in the first instance, because it means we now have additional support for the claim Gus Cannon was the banjo player in “Hallelujah!” and we can give him his due credit.

In my initial Hallelujah blog entry I made the following assertion:

“There is a banjo player in the film appearing before and during a wedding scene, who is reputed to be Gus Cannon — to my eye it’s not even close, this is not Cannon.”

All thanks go to music researcher and Vernacular Shellac follower Robert (Bob) Vee for shedding additional light on whether or not it’s Gus Cannon in the above mentioned wedding scene.

Gus Cannon?   Gus Cannon?

left: Cannon, banjo in hand, pays a visit to the Johnson family.

right: Cannon (left center) with banjo and jug band.

Bob relates that he was in the South during the late 70s/early 80s when a copy of “Hallelujah!” became available, and upon showing a photo of the “Hallelujah!” banjo player to two local musical contemporaries of Cannon (at different times) both immediately said “yep, that’s him [Gus]”.

Vee, a prudent researcher, insists that he would like further confirmation of Cannon’s roll in Hallelujah before calling it definitive, but 80+ years post movie release we have to acknowledge that this may be the closest we can come to giving Cannon his due respect…

Is Frankie Jaxon in the “Hallelujah!” cabaret scene ?

Bob also weighs in on the question of the appearance of Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon in the “Hallelujah!” cabaret scene:

“On another note, I would strongly disagree with the idea of Half-Pint Jaxon being in Hallelujah. I don’t think he was ever in Los Angeles professionally (the cabaret scene was filmed in Hollywood)  …I do remember reading that practically the entire group of people in the cabaret were dancers, singers, etc. from the local community.“

I have the highest regard for Vee’s input on this matter, and have to consider that he may be right about Jaxon… but in the meantime, based on the visual and aural evidence, I believe we must entertain the possibility that this is, in fact, Frankie Jaxon and I invite the reader to listen to several Jaxon recordings, then watch the “Hallelujah!” cabaret scene – listen and compare…

The “non-Jaxon” alternative would be that the gentleman in the cabaret scene is impersonating Jaxon’s look, style and voice, as well as wearing what appears to be virtually the same cap Jaxon wore two months later in the Duke Ellington film “Black and Tan Fantasy” (as well as the photo below).

Granted, none of this is proof of Jaxon appearing in “Hallelujah!” but to my eye and ear, it’s either Jaxon or someone going to a whole lot of effort to perform a very credible imitation.

Frankie Jaxon  Frankie Jaxon?

left: Photo of Frankie Jaxon on Document DOCD-5260                right:  Frankie Jaxon? from the “Hallelujah!” cabaret scene.

“Hallelujah!” began filming on location in the South (Tennessee, Arkansas & Mississippi) on October 28, 1928 and wrapped up in Los Angeles in mid-January, 1929.

We know that during that time frame, Jaxon recorded in Chicago on October 31, November 9 and November 28, 1928. 

Jaxon’s whereabouts in December, 1928 through January, 1929 are unknown but we have found no evidence of his being in Los Angeles.

Frankie Jaxon        Frankie Jaxon

Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon  bustin’ a move…

Thanks again to Bob Vee for providing the facts of the matter, as well as for holding my feet to the fire and demanding documentation, not supposition on my part.


The fine print:

Images and media content are from my personal collection are noted with a “/bb“ at the end of the title when hovering over the image.

Other images and/or media content are deemed “open access” and will be duly credited whenever possible. Notice of copyright protection in any Vernacular::Shellac blog does not and will not apply to open access images or media. If I have used any images or content that is copyright protected, please advise and appropriate credit will be given. All Vernacular::Shellac content, excepting that excluded above, is ©2011 by Bill Boslaugh

Inaccuracies, corrections, feedback or additions? Please let me know!

Bill Boslaugh


Filed under Uncategorized

Hallelujah… (the movie)


Hallelujah opening screen

OK, I have a good excuse for missing this film when it hit the theaters… my birth was still 17 years out.

I have less of an explanation as to why I didn’t run across it sometime during the next six decades: It wasn’t until 2009 and a conversation I had with Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops that I became aware of this film.

Dom was enthusiastic about the story and the music performed in the movie. Hallelujah DVD cover/bbAfter describing a couple of the scenes to me he said “here, take a look” and pulled a portable DVD player and a DVD out of his backpack. We looked at several scenes, just enough to ensure that as soon as I got home I would log onto on my computer, pull up and throw down $12 for a copy of Hallelujah.

Watching the film a week later I was not disappointed… in fact, I was delighted.  

Find the original 1929 Hallelujah Movie Trailer

at the end of this blog.

Before we go any further, I need to issue a caveat… this movie about blacks in the South was released in 1929, deep in the decades of racist Jim Crow America and although Texas-born director King Vidor’s intentions were good in this first-to-be-released, all-black-cast movie, try as he might stereotypes abound, and the realities of Jim Crow America are reflected in every frame of the movie.

There are no white faces to be seen in this film, anywhere, ever… this may be Vidor’s way of side-stepping any racially charged interactions, but whatever the motivation this movie is about African-Americans and the black folks in Hallelujah, at least those living in rural areas, seem to be living a fairly idyllic life.

They are making a crop and being paid fairly for it, they have strong family bonds, celebrate life with music and are spiritually immersed in their church, their culture and their land. Problems Hallelujah homesteadarise only when the rural folks run up against the black criminal element in town. These southern blacks are portrayed as fairly simple folk, motivated mainly by their emotional and physical needs.

  Heading back to the homestead after a day in the fields

I understand that for some readers these shortcomings might dampen your desire to watch this unpolished diamond-in- the-rough film… if that’s the case this is not the movie for you.

That said, for those of you willing to continue:   Hallelujah is an engrossing story, with plenty of interesting vernacular music, engaging characters and it offers a glimpse of rural, southern, pre-WWII black America that is both entertaining and instructive. On its release, praiseHallelujah dubois came from no less an afro-centric writer than W. E. B. Du Bois who said of the movie: “It offers a sense of real life… everyone should see Hallelujah.” It must be noted that Du Bois assessment of Hallelujah was not universal in the African-American community. I believe Hallelujah is great storytelling. It is a classic morality saga… with great music to boot.

                                                                                       W. E. B. Du Bois

  Briefly, the story line:

Taking his families cotton crop to market, eldest brother Zeke falls for a beautiful cabaret dancer/singer, Chick, but she’s only a shill, enticing him into a crooked Hallelujah! Chickcrap game. He loses all the cash he was paid for the sale of his families cotton, and to make matters worse, Zeke’s brother is killed in a shoot-out as Zeke struggles with Chick’s accomplice to regain the family cash.

Nina Mae McKinney as Chick

Following his brother’s death, Zeke has a spiritual awakening, being reborn as Brother Zekiel the evangelist.  Zeke, with his family in tow, tours the countryside preaching at revival meetings — where he once again runs into Chick — initiating a romantic/spiritual push/pull of biblical proportions. These struggles carry us through to the bitter-end consequences of temporal lust and the ultimate salvation of good over evilhallelujah baptism.


   Baptism scene


The story weaves family, love, obsession, guilt, redemption, violence, music, religion and a good chase scene into a time capsule of southern African-American life in the late 1920s. The story is supported by a musical lead cast as well as the Dixie Jubilee Hallelujah Zeke, Missy RoseSingers and others who perform jazz, blues, folk songs, work songs and spirituals throughout the film. There is scarcely a scene which does not include vernacular music of the period.


Zeke (Daniel L. Haynes) and Missy Rose (Victoria Spivey)     take a break in the cotton fields.

Directed by King Vidor, a giant of the silent era, this is his first “talkie” and was, more importantly, the first all-black film from a major studio. The making of the film was a hard sell for Vidor. No studio wanted to touch it because of the content. Ultimately, Vidor worked without pay as a part of his agreement with MGM to make the film. And, in fact the movie didn’t do very well at the box office for a variety of reasons:

  • It was virtually not shown or seen south of the Mason-Dixon line, cutting out a huge portion of the potential audience.
  • It was too risqué for the churchy folks and perhaps too churchy for a secular audience.
  • There was little appeal to the predominant white culture and the movie was not booked into small northern towns.
  • Hallelujah was released just two months before the stock market crash of October, 1929.

Much of Hallelujah was shot on location in Arkansas and Memphis… giving parts of the movie an almost documentary flavor. It would be wrong to think of this as a musical, in the current sense of the term, rather, it is a movie which emphasizes music (as well as family and faith) as important cultural facets of African-American life.

Hallelujah first day cover/bb


Hallelujah first day cover stamp/bb

  2008 United States postage stamp and first day cover celebrating Hallelujah and Black Cinema.


The lead cast was carefully chosen, primarily from black New York theater performers. Film acting was new for this cast and there is very much a “staged” feeling to the acting and dialogue. That said, the characters, though often portrayed somewhat simplistically, are engaging and for the most part fun to watch.

“Extras” used liberally throughout the film  add a level of credibility and enhance the setting and the documentary feel of the movie.


The highlights for me are several:

It was fun to see a jug band as portrayed as a realistic entertainment unit, playing for tips at harvest time… much as we know they did during the first half of the Twentieth Century. The band consists of the Dixie Jubilee Singers…banjo, three jugs with the vocal by Zeke. They do a nice job with Irving Berlin’s The End Of The Road. For those who may characterize this pop tune as inauthentic… I would invite them to check out the Dallas String Band performing Chasing Rainbows or I Used To Call Her Baby. String bands often performed popular tunes of the day, but they seldom recorded them. When recording, the record company men wanted songs they could copyright and thus better control the publishing rights. But when performing, musicians happily played what the listeners wanted to hear — and that invariably included pop tunes.

And please remember, after all, it is a commercial movie and the name Irving Berlin on the advertising was sure to pull in customers.

I must admit that I was fascinated by the cotton processing and paddlewheel boat loading Hallelujah steamboatscenes, as well as the river baptism, sawmill footage, revival meetings (both indoors  and out) and other  location shots that had a great documentary feel, looking as if they could have been filmed by the WPA in the 1930s…

 And then there is Nina Mae McKinney. She is terrific throughout. In this, her first role in front of a camera, she sings, she dances, she acts, and she’s just as cute as can be…  full of moxie, pluck and spirit.  Vidor found her in New York, a dancer in the chorus line of the play “Blackbirds.” Her dancing to the tune “Swanee Shuffle” is, by itself, enough reason to see the film. It’s difficult to believe, she was a mere 16 years old when Hallelujah was filmed!

Perhaps the high spot of the film is the cabaret scene featuring several songs by Curtis Mosby and his Dixieland Blue Blowers. The scene has an authentic flavor, the band is great… Mosby’s drum work is not to be missed and Nina Mae McKinney’s vocals and footwork are fine.

Chick and Mosby’s Blue Blowers in the cabaret… (click on black rectangle if there is no picture)


Cabaret scene, includes Swanee Shuffle.  

(please note… the DVD reissue has a much improved picture)

Among the 30-plus songs performed in Hallelujah are: William A. Fisher’s “Goin’ Home, Goin’ Home,” African-American spirituals performed by the Dixie Jubilee Singers which include; “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “Gimme that Old Time Religion,” “Let My People Go,” “Get on Board Little Children” and “Take Me To The Water.”

Irving Berlin’s “Swanee Shuffle,” and “Waiting at the End of the Road” are well integrated into the score and seem credible in context. Curtis Mosby’s Dixieland Blue Blowers performance of “Swanee Shuffle” and “Blue Blower Blues” (and background tunes) are indispensable. Other songs include a chorus or two of “Georgia Camp Meeting” on banjo and kazoo, field hollers, moans and work songs, an a cappella “St. Louis Blues” by Chick, a banjo breakdown with great tap dancing by Zeke’s young brothers and Mammy singing a fine rendition of the lullaby, “Hush-a-bye (All The Little Horses).” As is typical in movies, while some numbers are rendered complete, many of the songs are fragmentary or are heard in the background for ambiance.

Several well known and recorded musicians are reported to have had larger or smaller parts in the film. These include Gus Cannon, Jim Jackson, Victoria Spivey, The Dixie Jubilee Singers and Eubie Blake. Spivey is easy… she has a credited role throughout the film as “Missy Rose” the good, pure country girl who is the rightful heir to the affections of the lead character Zeke. Unfortunately, Spivey’s abilities as a songstress are not on display here, hers is purely an acting role – despite having released more than twenty 78s before appearing in Hallelujah.  Eubie Blake is easy too… he doesn’t appear in Hallelujah but he and his band are featured in Pie, Pie Blackbird, one of the two shorts included as an extra feature on the Hallelujah DVD. The Dixie Jubilee Singers are evident in multiple scenes throughout the film and add an authentic flavor to the proceedings, as do the extras employed form a local Tennessee Baptist church.

Hallelujah Dixie Jubilee SingersHallelujah Dixie Jubilee Singers 78/bb

Dixie Jubilee Singers were well recorded before Hallelujah.  The 78, I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray, is from 1924.

Finding Gus Cannon and Jim Jackson in the film is problematic. There are literally hundreds of extras in the film, and Memphis (home to both Cannon and Jackson) was one of the locations where Hallelujah was filmed. It is “common knowledge” on the internet that Gus Cannon and Jim Jackson are in Hallelujah, but watch as I might – and I know what they both look like – I can’t identify either of them.

There is a banjo player in the film appearing before and during a wedding scene, who is reputed to be Gus Cannon — to my eye it’s not even close, this is not Cannon. As for Jackson, he could be anywhere in the movie – or nowhere. But in his case we do have corroborating evidence of a connection to Hallelujah, in the form of a photo of Jackson meeting with King Vidor and exchanging(?)a 78 rpm record!

Hallelujah Jackson/Vidor   Hallelujah Jackson/Document CD

Jim Jackson and King Vidor holding 78 rpm record.       Cropped photo appears on Document Records CD, DOCD-5115.

The above musicians aside, I believe there’s one more well known musician who appears in the film… and this is a sightingHallelujah Frankie Jaxon which, to my knowledge, has not been reported previously in any media:   If I’m not mistaken… and I don’t think I am, Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon  has a bit part in Hallelujah, and comes close to stealing the cabaret scene.

                                                            Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon?

Jaxon first appears at 25:27 into the film, where he can be seen in the lower left of the screen (wearing a white cap) enjoying Curtis Mosby’s music. He shows up a couple more times in the scene, then at 26:24 we see a 3/4 face shot that seals the deal… its Frankie. And if that’s not enough… you can clearly hear him at 26:38, calling out in his inimitable voice, several of the type of “Jaxon-isms” he is well known for uttering on his own records (“Aw, shuffle it boy, move them things! …. Aw, walk it boy, walk it!”)

By 28:20 Jaxon’s film career was pretty much over… his October, 1929 appearance in Duke Ellington’s short film, Black and Tan Fantasy, (wearing the same cap) notwithstanding.

  Jaxon can be seen from 2:04 – 3:03 in the scene below

Jaxon can be seen from 2:04 – 3:03 in this scene


The movie, as reissued on DVD is, visually, a pleasure to watch. One could argue that some scenes are a touch dark, scratchy or (rarely) fuzzy – but for me that only adds to the feeling that I’m watching something special from the archives. Much like listening to a 78 rpm record, the patina of age enhances, rather than detracts from the total experience. 

The picture as seen on the DVD is, over all, much superior to the YouTube clips and photos included here.  


DVD Special Features:

1)  The full feature length commentary, provided by Donald Bogle (primarily) and Avery Clayton is most noteworthy. Their commentary is a fact-filled look at Hallelujah which provides an interesting perspective on the film and its place in history, some 80-plus years later.

2)  Musical short feature #1:  Pie, Pie Blackbird 1932, 10:40 Eubie Blake and his band, featuring Nina Mae McKinney and The Nicholas Brothers.

Scene from Pie, Pie Blackbird


3)  Musical short feature #2:  The Black Network 1936, 21:05. Nina Mae McKinney, The Nicholas Brothers, The Washboard Serenaders, Babe Wallace, Amanda Randolph, Bill “Basement” Brown.

Nicholas Brothers scene from The Black Network


Washboard Serenaders scene from The Black Network


And… 4)  A cool Theater Trailer.

Hallelujah Theater Trailer (click on black rectangle if there is no picture)


Do yourself a favor — see this film. It’s available for rental on NETFLIX or Blockbuster, and if you want to own a copy it’s very moderately priced (around $15 or less) at retail outlets such as or Barnes & Noble… and checking ebay, I see used copies for sale at under $5.00.

~Bill Boslaugh


Hallelujah revival 




The fine print:

Images and media content are from my personal collection are noted with a “/bb“ at the end of the title when hovering over the image.

Other images and/or media content are deemed “open access” and will be duly credited whenever possible. Notice of copyright protection in any Vernacular::Shellac blog does not and will not apply to open access images or media. If I have used any images or content that is copyright protected, please advise and appropriate credit will be given. All Vernacular::Shellac content, excepting that excluded above, is ©2011 by Bill Boslaugh

Inaccuracies, corrections, feedback or additions? Please let me know!

Bill Boslaugh

Leave a comment

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Collecting 78 rpm records


 Introduction and part 1 of the series;

Collecting 78 rpm Records:

When I became motivated to move beyond LPs and seek out 78s, all I knew was the specific genres I was interested in (prewar blues, string band, jug band, old-time hillbilly, jazz etc.), but beyond that I didn’t have a clue… (e.g. where to find 78s, what to play them on, what they were (roughly) worth, how to care for them (wash them… or not?), how to store them, what the arcane numbers on the record and label meant. How to judge the record’s grade (how could a record be graded Excellent if it was cracked?)  …..I had 101 questions and no one to turn to.

So… When I started this blog, one of my goals was to focus on the nuts and bolts of collecting 78 rpm records – especially for new collectors coming along. This was born out of my years of collecting in frustrating isolation… not really knowing what I was doing, especially so when I was first getting started.

Looking at the scope of the subject, I quickly realized that there would be a lot of ground to cover, and that smaller, serialized entries, focusing on various facets of collecting would be the way to go… better to stay with shorter chapters than turning the subject into an online book.

My first few blog entries were focused more on American vernacular music than on 78 collecting per se, but recently I wasMAC and Nipper discussing the finer points of acoustic recording listening to a favorite Internet radio program, The Antique phonograph Music Program with MAC, and something his guest said has prompted me to begin my  Collecting 78s series.

Mac and Nipper discuss the finer points of acoustic recordings

Mac was interviewing John Heneghan, record collector and member of the great East River String Band. They were talking about prewar vernacular music and record collecting, as well as Collecting east riverplaying records from Heneghan’s collection and discussing them. Moving well into the hour, Heneghan made some comments about record collecting that resonated with me and has inspired me to get started on the series… Collecting 78 rpm Records:

John Heneghan and Eden Brower of the River String Band Rendered by R. Crumb                                                                  ERSB:

The gist of what Heneghan said was,

“When I first started collecting 78s I didn’t know anyone else who did it – and I did it that way for years. And you know, you feel isolated, you feel weird… You have trouble, you know… you don’t know anything about the labels, you don’t know anything about anything and there’s nobody to talk to about it -so you start to feel like a little; I felt a little crazy at times. Am I the only one listening to this? This is nuts; you know? ……

Part of what you’re doing, it’s like, you’re an archeologist. Part of your job in collecting these records is, you know, you accumulate them, you absorb them and then you decide what is really worth keeping…. there’s a limit to what you can keep.  Stuff turns up all the time that no one has ever heard… there is still stuff that has never turned up.”

This is a terrific, highly recommended program… please give it a listen. You can hear the entire Sept. 26, 2011 show at:

For the first installment of my series on collecting 78s, I gutted, revised and updated an article I wrote a number of years ago for the Federal Cigar Jug Band website on collecting jug band 78s. It discusses how and why I first got into collecting 78s… a step we all take, and I’m betting some of this — or something like this — will resonate with you.

I will be issuing subsequent parts of “Collecting 78s” on a fairly  random basis, mixed in with other postings focused on American vernacular music… please stay tuned. 

If you would like to be notified by email as new blogs are posted, you can take advantage of “Email Subscription” at the bottom of the left-hand column.   ~Bill Boslaugh


Collecting 78 rpm Records,  Part 1:                 

My long, twisted road back to shellac…

As a kid growing up in a small semi-rural town in Western Oregon in the late 1940s, my listening choices were pop music on the radio,My 1942 Zenith radio model 8S661/bb or country music on the radio (this was pre-TV by a few years). I can’t say I disliked the popular music at that time, but my fondest memories are of hovering around our floor-model Zenith radio, listening to the country music “Skipalong” show, with Skipalong Hathaway, beaming into the radio from Eugene, 20 miles to the north. This would account for my love of Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family and their cohorts.

Around this time I also recall that when one or more of my dad’s three brothers would visit (after a few drinks they fancied themselves as the white Mills Brothers) their friend Fred – who grew up in North Carolina – would come around with his guitar and a favorite tune they would do was “Mama Don’t Allow” – not quite a traditional blues, buy hey, Washboard Sam covered it… at least three times. 

Robert “Washboard Sam” Brown, recorded for Bluebird, but in June, 1935, using the nom du disk “Ham Gravy” he put out a couple of 78’s on the Vocalion label, including “Mama Don’t Allow It, No.1 and No.2.”  In April of the next year he made it up to Bluebird by releasing Bluebird B–6355 “Don’t ‘low.” Washboard Sam as Ham Gravy/bb

 Washboard Sam/bb

 Another musical foundation stone was laid when my sister’s boyfriend gave me the first Kingston Trio album in 1958 (much later she Kingston Trio/bbmarried him and, sadly, he turned out to be, in my humble opinion, a jerk… and not very bright, well… who knew?  The good news is that there’s no chance I’ll offend him with this post, he’s   off somewhere having tea with his old friend Rush).


Dylan has some very complementary things to say about the Kingston Trio in his autobiography, Chronicles, Volume 1.       Often discounted, their influence in shaping America’s taste in vernacular music was considerable.

Sonny and Brownie/bbIt must have been around 1962, a girlfriend drug me to Portland to see Harry Belafonte’s well-oiled stage show. I have only vague memories of Belafonte, but what I remember most vividly is his opening act… a blind harmonica player helped on stage by a guitar player with  a pronounced poliolytic limp.

It was, of course, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee; my first real taste of the blues. I was already listening to Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez and through them Bob Dylan, but seeing Sonny and Brownie was enough to seal the deal… They hooked on an earlier style of folk blues. 

Then, in 1965, while living on Henry Street in New York’s Lower East Side – within walking distance of Greenwich Village – I began to seriously move toward what would be one of my life-long passions, collecting American vernacular music on 78rpm records. That movement toward collecting 78s was propelled along by a love affair with Jug Band music.

Friends in New York who knew I was into folk music (which generically included country blues, old-time music etc.) turned me on to Jim Kweskin and The Jug Band’s first Vanguard album. I was immediately Jim Kweskin Jug Band/bbcaptivated by the sound. This record was a stunning synthesis of jug band, country, folk, jazz, blues, medicine-show and turn of the [last] century pop. With good humor and great musicianship this album tied it all together and was a huge influence in the folk world… not to mention on me personally.


 Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band… arguably, one of the most  important and influential bands of the 1960s

During the mid-60’s New York City was a Mecca for what we now call roots music. A quick look at the performance roster of Greenwich Village’s blues-oriented Cafe Au-Go-Go during that time includes, among others: Big Joe Williams, Son House, Skip James, John Lee Hooker, Dave Van Ronk, Junior Wells, Muddy Waters, Phil Ochs, Richie Havens, Jesse ‘Lone Cat” Fuller, Howlin Wolf, T-Bone Walker, David Blue, Bukka White, The Blues Project, Paul Butterfield’s Blues Band, Jesse Colin Young and The Youngbloods, and of course, Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band.

Although I saw a few of these acts perform at the Au-Go-Go… and more over the years in other settings, I kick myself for not seeing each and every one of the above when I had the chance.

But even more egregious is the list of performers that I missed  1966 Newport Folk Festival souvenir booklet/bbwhen I went to the Newport Folk Festival the next summer (July 21, 22, 23, 24, 1966).


  80 page souvenir booklet from the 1966 Newport Folk Festival


I blame youthful folly for the fact that I spent my time seeing the current cream of the folkies, performers like; Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Carolyn Hester, rather than the elders.

Buffy, Pete, Jack and the rest were – and are – all great talents and I’m happy I was able to see them perform in their prime, but the list of those I had the opportunity to see, but didn’t, is awe inspiring!  It includes some of those I missed in NYC as well as others, including:  Clark Kessinger, Deford Bailey, JimmySkip James 78/bb Driftwood, Dock Boggs, Bukka White, Joseph Spence, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, Rev. Pearly Brown and Skip James. I remember assuming that I would see the others in due time. As it worked out, Son House was the only one on the list who I eventually saw perform… back in Portland in 1969.

For me, the highlight of the Newport Folk Festival was, no surprise, Kweskin at Newport Folk FestivalKweskin’s Jug Band performance on Sunday night. Early in the evening, Kweskin and Mel Lyman (and maybe Fritz Richmond?) backed Pete Seeger on a couple of songs, then the full Jug Band was terrific as the Sunday night headliner.

Kweskin’s Jug Band at the Newport Folk Festival…  (L to R) Mel Lyman, Maria and Geoff Muldaur, Jim Kweskin, Fritz Richmond (behind Kweskin) and Bill Keith.

I moved back to Portland, Oregon in late the early fall of 1966 and took my enhanced interest in vernacular music of all types, especially jug band music, with me. In addition to numerous  prewar blues and old-time hillbilly LPs, I soon had records by the Even Dozen Van Ronk's Ragtime Jug Stompers/bbJug Band, Van Ronk’s Jug Stompers and the True Endeavor Jug Band, as well as, eventually, the other Kweskin Jug Band records. And… I was pleased to see that Portland had become a hot-bed of folk/blues/jug band/roots music activity (and continues to be so to this day!).

 Dave Van Ronk’s Ragtime Jug Stompers

LP liner-notes were often a treasure trove of information and I’ve always been an avid reader… fortunately, my love of  liner-notes on LPs gave me a whole list of names to check out… those who had recorded blues, jug band, old-time/hillbilly, jazz and string band music in the 1920s and 1930s: Gus Cannon, Charlie Patton, Tampa Red, Memphis Jug Band, Memphis Minnie, Dixieland Jug Blowers and many, many others.

This led to my purchasing the reissue LPs of the original 1920s and ’30s musicians. The collections on Origin, RBT, Arhoolie, Folkways, RCA Vintage, Blues Classics, etc. were great. I loved the reissues; those tunes, the voices, the lyrics (hard as they were for me to understand and interpret at times), and that old compressed, scratchy mono sound. Federal Cigar Jug Band poster, circa 1968 - Bob Bailey/bb

Although I had not yet begun to collect the music on 78s, I was listening to the next best thing… and, in the jug band/old-time spirit,  I was plunking along on a washtub bass and huffing on a jug with Portland’s (still active) Federal Cigar Jug Band

In the early 1970s my collecting took a setback when I, like many others, moved up into the hills of Oregon to “get back to the land” and live communally. We had no electricity and we made our own music. So, thinking there was no need for records, I sold my entire collection. That was, in retrospect of course, a big, big mistake. After coming back to civilization a few years later, I began to pick up some used blues, jug band, and old-time albums, but sadly, much of what I had previously True Endeavor Jug Band/bbowned was no longer in print or obtainable. Many of these 1960’s reissue LPs remain elusive to the collector — try to find a decent copy of the True Endeavor Jug Band on Prestige or Jolly Joe and his Jug Band on Piedmont.

The great and underappreciated True Endeavor Jug Band

Beginning in the 1980s, with the advent of the CD and the extensive reissue programs of Document, Yazoo, RST, Origin Jazz Library and others, vintage vernacular music became available as never before. Along with availability came technologically improved clarity and fidelity (though some of my neo-Luddite friends would argue these last points).

I was, and am, very appreciative of the LP and CD reissues and I own many of them. But many years ago something happened to take me 180 degrees in the other direction, away from digital and back to analog.

I was at a local record meet, sifting through the tables of records when I spotted a pile of 78s. Of course, I knew that 78s were the pre-45 rpm and pre-LP medium for recorded music, and that most of my favorite music was originally released on 78. In fact, as a child the first records in our house had been my older sister’s pop and rock & roll 78s.  

When I took those dusty 78s into my hands I was amazed at my immediate reaction: This was IT!  The real thing!  Not a reissue on LP or CD, but the actual record, which was purchased some 70 or 80+ years ago for as much as 75 cents or a dollar (about a day’s wage for a working person), and played on a steel-needle, wind up phonograph.  It was a wonder to me that those fragile old records My first 78... Jimmie Rodgers/bbstill existed at all.  I’d not been looking for 78s… but there they were.  The stack contained  several 78s by “Blue Yodeler” Jimmie Rodgers (the highly influential synthesizer of country, pop, jazz & blues music)… and I couldn’t put them down.  At that moment I became hooked on collecting 78s.Jimmie Rodgers/bb

  Still, I had no idea where to look  for more 78s, what to pay for them (or what they were actually worth) or how to clean, protect and store them. In fact I didn’t even have a machine to play them on…  but that didn’t matter, nothing was going     to stop me!

A month or so later, I happened to notice an advertisement for an auction of 78s in Downhome Music’s Roots & Rhythm mail order catalog. I was soon to find out that (at that time) mail auctions were the main way collectable 78s were being bought and sold.  This has, of course, changed drastically with the advent of on-line auctions via the Internet.

I sent for the Downhome auction sheet and I was excited to find that it listed hundreds of records by country and urban blues singers, gospel, classic female blues singers, country string bands, early (1920s and 30s) jazz and best of all, one 78 by the Memphis Jug Band! That was the good news. The bad news was that while the minimum bid for most of the records was $6, the minimum bid for the MJB record (Okeh 8958, “My Business Ain’t Right” b/w “Gator Wobble”, in excellent condition) was $30, which at the time sounded like a whole lot to me.

Still, I really wanted an original jug band 78, so…Among my first 78s/bb   

     Among my first 78s/bbAmong my first 78s/bb     Among my first 78s/bb           Among my first 78s/bb     Among my first 78s/bb

         A few of my earliest 78s….  

from Downhome Music’s Roots & Rhythm mail auction.

throwing good sense and the family budget to the wind, I bid $55. Within a couple of weeks I was notified that I was high bidder and that I had won the Memphis Jug Band record! I also had winning bids on records by Lead Belly, Yank Rachell, Dave Tarras, Mamie Smith, Gid Tanner and several other records…. the hunt was on! 

Since that time I have learned a great deal about collecting 78’s, I’ve found some terrific records & terrific music, and in the process have greatly enhanced my knowledge of, and appreciation for American vernacular music.


 Part 2 of Collecting 78 rpm Records will focus on:

  • the pros and cons of collecting 78s
  • finding the right phonograph
  • hunting  78s – where to look:  mail auctions, junking, ebay
  • plus more…

~ Bill Boslaugh



The fine print:

Images and media content from my personal collections are noted with a “/bb“ at the end of the title when hovering over the image.

Other images and/or media content are deemed “open access” and will be duly credited whenever possible. Notice of copyright protection in any Vernacular::Shellac blog does not and will not apply to open access images or media. If I have used any image or content that is copyright protected, please advise and appropriate credit will be given. All Vernacular::Shellac content, excepting that excluded above, is ©2011 by Bill Boslaugh

Inaccuracies, corrections, feedback or additions?   Please…  let me know!

Bill Boslaugh

Leave a comment

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2011 Frog Blues and Jazz Annual

The 2011 Frog Blues and Jazz Annual #2 is now available and is, in a word, breathtaking.

Because of its recent release, I will mainly focus on issue #2, although much the same can be said of the still-in-print (barely… only a few copies remain) initial offering, Frog Blues and Jazz Annual #1.

Frog #1 cover      Frog #2 cover

If you are a fan of pre-WWII Blues and/or Jazz, if you are a 78 rpm record collector, or if you are simply enamored of the musical history of the first half of the 20th Century and its vernacular art and culture, this is for you… Save yourself a little time, forget the rest of the blog – go to one of the links below and order your copies of the Frog Blues & Jazz Annual – these issues are not to be missed!

Physically, the Annuals are substantial. Their size is something between a magazine and a softbound book, roughly 8.5 inches by 11.75 inches with 178 pages of heavy, glossy paper stock. While there is a lot of color in each issue, the original images are often black and white… and here they are reproduced beautifully. 

Frog Ed Bell 78Another feature that I find very helpful (and which renders the Annual more book-like than magazine-like) is the comprehensive four page index which greatly enhances the Frog Annuals value as a scholarly resource tool.

Ed Bell aka Barefoot Bill aka Sluefoot Joe

Frog. Why are these Annuals titled The “Frog” Blues and Jazz Frog Charlie KyleAnnual?   They are edited (and  contributed to) by Paul Swinton, owner of Great Britain’s Frog Records… one of England’s premier prewar jazz and jazz/blues reissue record companies.  I have a suspicion why the record company was named Frog, but not wanting to jump to any conclusions, I’ll leave  that to Paul Swinton to explain.

Mystery man Charlie Kyle…

recorded for Victor in 1928

Here, ripped from the contents page of Annual #2, are a few of the articles and features from among the 30-plus entries.

  • Harry Gennett In His Own Words
  • From the Islands To The Delta:  The Steel Guitar Story
  • The McCoy Brothers  (Charlie & Joe) 
  • New Orleans Voices
  • Lemuel Fowler
  • American Roots Artwork
  • The C&MA Gospel Quintette
  • When The Moon Creep Over The Mountain:  Highways in the Early Blues
  • Walter Barnes and the Natchez Fire
  • Dallas Rag Bag Frog Tampa Red
  • The Truth About Robert Johnson
  • Blues & Jazz Advertised
  • Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon
  • Blind Joel Taggart
  • King Oliver’s Last Tour
  • Ed Bell – Barefoot Bill – Sluefoot Joe

Very rare photo of guitar wizard,

Tampa Red

But as they say on the TV infomercials: That’s Not All!  Each Annual comes with a companion CD featuring 26 cuts that reflect and enhance the articles in the Annual.  The 2011 CD features tunes by:

  • King Oliver
  • State Street Stompers
  • Memphis Jug BandFrog CD
  • Walter Barnes Royal Creolians
  • Blind Joe Taggart 
  • Cookies Gingersnaps
  • Ed Bell
  • Savoy Bearcats
  • Casey Bill & His Orchestra
  • Jazz Gillum
  • … and 16 additional selections.

                                                                 Accompanying CD to

                                                   The Frog Blues & Jazz Annual No. 2

I’m tempted to elaborate on a few of my favorite articles, but it would be much easier to pick out the one or two which did not hold my interest… but my disinterest in those few articles, I believe, had more to do with my personal tastes than with any deficit in the article’s content. 

The fact is, the articles are uniformly engaging, they are fact filled and virtually without exception the articles are supported with photographs, discographies, illustrations, graphics and each Annual has something I love…  a number of images of 78 rpm record labels.

Now for the bad news…. although their cost reflects their quality, these limited edition Annuals are not inexpensive.

A quick look at  shows that both issues are available, #1 at a cost of $205 and #2 at $70! Keep in mind that Amazon prices change with great regularity.

But don’t despair, there’s good news! Both issues are currently available on the Frog Records website for roughly $50 each – yes, expensive… yet priceless.

Frog Big Bill



Frog sets the record straight…


This familiar photo, has heretofore wrongly attributed personnel:

It is actually (L to R) Sonny Boy Williamson, Walter Davis and Big Bill Broonzy.


My only complaint… and it’s not about what’s in the Annual, rather, it’s about what’s not in the Annual  [ok… this may be like complaining about a Mercedes because it doesn’t fly];  my only complaint – and it’s really more of a wish – is this… I want The Frog Jazz and Blues Annual to become The Frog Blues, Hillbilly and Jazz Annual!

Seventeen years ago, I recall Virginia songster John Jackson telling me that when he would listen to 78s in the 1930s, he wouldn’t know and couldn’t tell who was white and who was black. Years later he was surprised when he saw a photo of Uncle Dave Macon, having assumed he too was black… and the same with Jimmie Rodgers, who Jackson loved until the day he died. I would argue that in many respects — from instrumentation to lyrical content — 1920-40 blues has as much in common with 1920-40 hillbilly music as it does with 1920-40 jazz. And I’m sure that many fans of American vernacular music would agree …and would love to see old-time hillbilly music covered in the Frog Annual.

I would ask Mr. Swinton and his contributors to give Dock Boggs, Charlie Poole, Frank Hutchison, Sam & Kirk McGhee, Milton Brown, Ernest Stoneman, The Carter Family, Tom Ashley and Jimmie Rodgers the same loving academic scrutiny they give King Oliver, Barefoot Bill, Sydney Bechet, the Graves Brothers and Robert Johnson.

For too long we’ve arbitrarily divided vernacular music along color lines and there is no rhyme nor reason to continue with the practice. Granted, many if not most of us have musical genre we are most deeply interested in… for me it’s prewar blues, string band and old-time hillbilly music – but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy Frenchy’s String Band, Louis’ Hot Five or Curtis Mosby’s Blue Blowers  ….and I dare say that many prewar jazz and blues fans regard old-time hillbilly music similarly.

…that said, please pay little or no attention to my wishful whining about genre inclusion and treat yourself to these magnificent Annuals today – they are terrific!

~Bill Boslaugh



The fine print:

Images and media content: The large majority of images and media content are from my personal collection, these are noted with a “/bb“ at the end of the title when hovering over the image.

Other images and/or media content are deemed “open access” and will be duly credited whenever it is possible. Notice of copyright protection in any Vernacular::Shellac blog does not and will not apply to open access images or media. If I have used any images or content that is copyright protected, please advise and appropriate credit will be given. All Vernacular::Shellac content, excepting that excluded above, is ©2011 by Bill Boslaugh

Inaccuracies, corrections, feedback or additions? Please let me know!

Bill Boslaugh


Filed under Uncategorized

Jake Leg on 78 rpm records

or…  I’ve Got Those Jake Leg,

Jake Walk, Limber Leg Blues.

Jamaica Ginger:

By 1930 tincture of Jamaica Ginger had been around a long time.  As early as the middle 1800s, essence of ginger root extracted into alcohol was an official product listed in the United States Pharmacopeia.  Ginger extract was used for maladies such as dyspepsia (upset stomach, indigestion), runny nose and to promote menstrual flow… in some cases, especially dyspepsia, it was reasonably effective.


Peeling harvested ginger in Jamaica/bb 

                               1920s era postcard:

         Peeling harvested ginger in Jamaica

 Much of the ginger was produced in Jamaica and imported to the US, where it was processed into a tincture by mixing five grams of  ginger (powder or resin) per milliliter of alcohol… yielding a concoction with a minimum of 70% — to as much as 90% –- alcohol. 

Extract of Jamaica Ginger – formulated to be taken a drop or two at a time – was, in effect, a bitter and unpalatable 160 proof drink, two ounces of which would contain the equivalent of four shots of whiskey.  However, as long as alcohol beverages were readily available, there was no need to use Jamaica Ginger as an alcohol source or substitute. 


Late 1880s Jake advertising card/bb

1880s Jamaica Ginger trading card

(duck… 1880s slang for feeling good)


America goes dry, Jamaica Ginger helps meet the demand for alcohol:

This all changed in 1919 when, following the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the National Prohibition Act (aka the Volstead Act) was passed by Congress.  This Act prohibited the manufacture and sale of beverages which contained alcohol — leaving one massive loophole… alcohol could be used in preparations which were designated for medicinal and other non-beverage uses.

Those with economic resources could readily find imported or bootleg alcohol to meet their needs, and those with fewer resources – but who lived in more rural settings – could depend on their needs being met by friends or family with a neighborhood whiskey still.  This left others, especially the hard-core alcoholics among the urban and small-town poor, to find less savory alcohol-containing products, and they turned to what was available, including; Sterno (canned heat), shoe polish, perfumes, after-shaves and alcohol-based medications such as Jamaica Ginger extract (or jake, as it was known on the street).

Adulterated Jake; Medical Emergency:

In an effort to increase sales by making their product more palatable to the alcohol-seeking consumer, a number of producers of Jamaica Ginger extract sought to find ways to reduce the bitter taste of the product by reducing the amount of ginger and replacing it with a chemical which had similar properties and which would pass what meager inspection was being done by governmental agencies.2 Fluid Ounce Jake Packaging/bb

Initially, the adulterant of choice was caster oil… difficult to detect and tolerable to consume.  But caster oil was not cheap and a residue could sometimes be detected in the neck of the bottle. Other chemicals were sought.

In 1928 two Boston brothers-in-law, Max Reisman and Harry Gross, petty criminals and bootleggers, set up a full-time business producing and wholesaling Jamaica Ginger extract; and almost from the beginning they sought ways to cut corners and maximize their profits.  By mid-summer 1929 they were looking to replace the castor oil adulterant in their product, and after a good deal of trial and error … and black-market research, they settled on a chemical Sulkin's Jamaica Ginger Extract/bbknown as Lindol (or TCOP), a fuel additive and plasticizer used in paints.  Lindol met their needs for being non-detectable, and was thought to be harmless, having been tested on monkeys and dogs with no ill effects to either of those species. 

In January, 1930 Gross and Reisman bought enough Lindol to produce six hundred and forty thousand bottles of contaminated Jamaica Ginger.  They shipped the tainted product within a month and the untoward effects of their crime became evident almost immediately. 

F Brown's Jamaica Ginger Extract/bbIn late February, 1930, patients began showing up in doctors offices and hospitals with an odd set of symptoms…  they were initially seen in Oklahoma – but soon in scattered areas throughout the entire nation east of the Mississippi: Johnson City, Tennessee; Wichita, Cincinnati, Topeka, Mississippi, New England, Rhode Island.  The number of impacted individuals is thought to be roughly 50,000 to 100,000, with many tens of thousands of cases of permanent paralysis.

Raised printing reads:   F  BROWN’S   ESS OF JAMAICA GINGER   PHILADA

The primary complaints included a numbness below the knees and foot-drop, or inability to use their feet.  Dan Baum, in his 2003 article in The New Yorker describes it well:  “The patient’s feet dangled like a marionette’s, so that walking involved swinging them forward and slapping them onto the floor.”  This produced an exaggerated “zombie-like” shuffle and led to descriptions of the malady such as “jake walk,” and “jake leg.  Some patients could not walk at all, others were similarly effected in their upper extremities.  The other devastating symptom of jake poisoning  was impotence… this symptom was almost universally termed “limber leg.” 

The jake-poisoning symptoms, once acquired, were for the most part, life-long and improved only rarely, in a very few cases.

Jake Leg Walk at 78 rpm:  

It is little wonder that the jake leg epidemic became fodder for the “event song” on 78 rpm records.  Event songs were a common genre of vernacular music… a type of “newspaper of the air” that often told the stories of catastrophes such as train wrecks, murders,  floods, wars, cyclones, epidemics, ship sinkings, kidnappings and the passing of celebrities such as Will Rogers or Rudolph Valentino.  Victor 40304 Allen Brothers Jake Walk Blues/bb

Timeliness was important in event  songs and the case of tainted Jamaica Ginger poisoning was no exception. In fact, the songs describing jake poisoning played an important informative role in spreading the news about tainted jake and limiting the epidemic. 

Bluebird B-5001  Allen Brothers Jake Walk Blues/bb

Allen Brothers “Jake Walk Blues” was initially released on the Victor label in late spring or early summer of 1930, then released on Victor’s discount Bluebird label in 1933.

Although Jake had been mentioned as an intoxicant in song prior to the epidemic, the first post-poisoning 78 rpm jake leg song to hit a Victrola was Ishman Bracey’s “Jake Liquor Blues” on Paramount 12941, recorded in March or April of 1930, some sixty to ninety days after the first documented case of Jamaica Ginger extract poisoning. 

That was quickly followed by the Allen Brothers Victor 40303 recording of “Jake Leg Blues” on the 5th of June, 1930 and Narmour & Smith’s recording of “Jake Leg Rag” and “Limber Neck Blues” on June 6th, 1930.  The Mississippi Sheiks great  “Jake Leg Blues” on Okeh followed on June 10th, 1930. Byrd Moore’s Gennett 17091 recording of “Jake Leg Blues” on September 7th, rounded out the first wave of 1930 recordings.

JAKE WALK BLUES, The Allen Brothers

Jake Walk Blues Lyrics from Stash-110 insert/bb


       Lyrics…          Jake Walk Blues



  The Allen Brothers


From the 1977

Stash  ST-110  LP



















On 78 rpm:


  • Whistler and His Jug Band: “Jail House Blues” (Sept. 25, 1924 Gennett 5614)
  • Lemmuel Turner: “Jake Bottle Blues” (Feb. 9, 1928, Victor 40052). Instrumental 
  • Tommy Johnson: “Alcohol and Jake Blues” (December, 1929, Paramount 12950)



  • Ishman Bracey: “Jake Liquor Blues” (Mar/Apr. 1930, Paramount 12941)
  • Ray Brothers: “Jake Leg Wobble” (May 28, 1930, Victor 40291)
  • Allen Brothers: “Jake Walk Blues” (June 5, 1930, Victor 40303)
  • Narmour & Smith: “Jake Leg Rag” (June 6, 1930, Okeh 45469). Instrumental.
  • Narmour & Smith: “Limber Neck Blues” (June 6, 1930, Okeh 45548). Instrumental.
  • Mississippi Sheiks: “The Jake Leg Blues” (June 10,1930, Okeh 8939)
  • Byrd Moore: “Jake Leg Blues” (Sept. 27, 1930, Gennett 17091)
  • Ray Brothers: “Got That Jake Leg Too” (Nov. 21, 1930, Victor 23508)
  • Gene Autry: “Bear Cat Papa Blues” (April 16, 1931, Conqueror 7838 – and many other labels)
  • Dave McCarn & Howard Long: “Bay Rum Blues” (May 19, 1931, Victor 23566).
  • Mississippi Sarah & Daddy Stovepipe: “Jake Leg Blues” (October 21,1931, Vocalion 1676)
  • Asa Martin: “Jake Walk Papa” (April 5, 1933, Champion 16627)
  • Willie Lofton: “Jake Leg Blues” (August 24, 1934, Decca 7076)
  • Maynard Britton: “Jake Walk Blues” (1937, Library of Congress 1522)
  • Maynard Britton: “Jake Leg Blues” (1937, Library of Congress 1524) [Britton is the only recording artist on this list to have been a victim of jake poisoning.]
  • Lightning Hopkins: “Jake Head Boogie” (September, 1951, RPM 346)
  • Black Ace: “Beer Drinkin’ Woman” (August 14, 1960, Arhoolie LP 1017).  [this is on an LP and was not issued on 78 rpm]

“Jake Bottle Blues”  Lemuel Turner/bb  "Jake Leg Wobble" The Ray Brothers/bb

“Jake Bottle Blues”  Lemmuel Turner  ~  “Jake Leg Wobble”  The Ray Brothers

Two April 2012 additions to the Vernacular::Shellac archives.

 The records look pretty beat up, but both play better than they appear…  two nice instrumentals. 


The above 78s are all more or less valuable to collectors, owing, in part, to the subject matter and the inherent popularity of the recording artist, e.g. Tommy Johnson…  as well as to the slow record sales during the Great Depression which severely limited phonograph record production and sales.

  • Per Jerry Osborne, author of the OFFICIAL PRICE GUIDE TO RECORDS, in his 11/3/2008 Q&A column “Ask Mr. Music”:

“All 16 of these 78s have significant value, though five are more pricey than the others:

   Tommy Johnson – “Alcohol and Jake Blues” ($3,000)

   Ishman Bracey – “Jake Liquor Blues” ($2,000)

   Mississippi Sheiks – “The Jake Leg Blues” ($1,500)

   Maynard Britton – “Jake Walk Blues”($1,000)

   Maynard Britton – “Jake Leg Blues” ($1,000)  

The remaining are in the $100 to $500 range.” 

I would add that the average value of collectable 78s has increased significantly since Osborn’s 2008 Q&A column ..… by perhaps as much as 25% to 50% — or more. 

The Autry and Hopkins 78s and the Black Ace LP, which Osborne did not mention, are significantly less valuable than the other 78s… they are perhaps in the $20 – $50 range.


Now for the good news concerning jake song availability:

Jake Walk Blues, Stash ST-110/bb   Jake Walk Blues, reverse, Stash ST-110/bb    In 1977 the Stash Record Company of Brooklyn released Stash ST-110, Jake Walk Blues, a   15-song compilation including the majority of jake-related songs released on 78 rpm records. 

However, one song is conspicuous by its absence;  Mississippi Sarah & Daddy Stovepipe’s: “Jake Leg Blues” (October 21,1931, Vocalion 1676).  Not only is it not to be found on Stash-110, it does not appear to have been re-released in any medium and may not be available in any format today.

While the majority of these songs appear on CD reissue (especially in the Document catalog) The 1977 the Stash LP record is long out of print and has not, to my knowledge, been re-released on digital media.

78 rpm Jake Discography - 1977 Stash ST-110 insert/bb

78 rpm Jake Discography

from the 1977  Stash ST-110 LP insert

Jake and Woody:

Although I can find no evidence that he ever recorded a song about jake, Woody Guthrie had first hand experience with Jamaica Ginger extract.  On pages 39 & 39 of Ramblin’ Man, Ed Cray’s excellent 2003 Guthrie biography,  he relates that Woody moved to Pampa, Oklahoma in 1929 and took a night clerk position in a flophouse in the wide-open “Little Juarez” section of town,  … and for spending money he took an additional job:

“At Art Huey’s outdoor root beer stand.  Most often the root beer was laced with a vile and sometimes lethal potion known as “jake.”  Woody lasted only long enough to sample the wares, get roaring drunk, and then be fired.  Guthrie found a second job as a nominal soda jerk in ‘Shorty’ Harris’s purported drugstore in a tough part of town…  Once again Guthrie was selling jake …at the soda fountain, in a Coca-Cola or a Nehi soda.”     

And, per Cray’s footnote:

Guthrie would later write a  Jake Walk  blues that concluded:

       Jamaica Ginger in a cold root beer

       Make your eyes see double and your ear sound


       It’ll paralyze your dindong too.

       I’m a jake walk Daddy with the jake walk blues.   

A text of the song is in the Guthrie Archive, Songs1, Box 2, Folder “J”

[To my knowledge, though Guthrie penned the lyrics, he never recorded the song – bb]

Jake and Elephants:

Although Woody does not make an appearance, a Woody Guthrie type character would have fit right into the great 2006 novel of Depression Era circus life, Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. 

One of Gruen’s important secondary characters Water for Elephants/bbis a man who’s circus name is Camel.  Camel is a functioning alcoholic who would find his drink where he could and jake was one of his sources.  One of the book’s plot lines has Camel falling victim to jake leg, and his handicap is such that the circus management can not tolerate his drag on their bottom line and he faces the danger of being tossed… (literally), off the circus train. 

Jacob, the book’s main male character, is befriended by Camel early in the story and Camel is instrumental in Jacob’s getting a job with the circus. How Jacob supports and protects Camel after he succumbs to the ravages of jake poisoning reveals much about Jacob’s character. 

It is obvious that Gruen did her homework.  Jake first appears in the book when Camel offers Jacob a drink:

He passes me the bottle.

“What the hell is this?” I say, staring at the brackish liquid.

“It’s jake,” he says, snatching it back.

“you’re drinking extract?”

“Yeah, so?”

We sit in silence for a minute.

“Damn Prohibition,” Camel finally says. “This stuff used to taste just fine till the government decided it shouldn’t. Still gets the job done, but tastes like hell…”

Weeks later Jacob (who knows something about medicine) is called to Camel’s sick bed:

I make out Camel’s figure in the corner, huddled on a pile of feed sacks. I walk over and kneel down, “What’s up Camel?”

“I don’t rightly know, Jacob. I woke up a few days ago and my feet was all floppy. Jes’ can’t feel ‘em right.”

“Can you walk?”

“A bit. But I have to lift my knees real high ‘cuz my feet are so floppy.”

His voice drops to a whisper. “It ain’t just that, though,” he says. “It’s other stuff, too.”

“What other stuff?”

His eyes grow wide and fearful. “Man’s stuff. I can’t feel nothing… in front.”

Jacob’s bunkmate, the dwarf clown, Walter, is the more worldly wise of the two and has it figured out:

“…What are his symptoms?”

“Loss of feeling in his legs and arms, and… well, other stuff, too.”

“What other stuff?”

I glance downward. “You know…”

“Aw, shit, says Walter. He sits upright. “That’s what I thought. You don’t need a doctor. He’s got jake leg.”

“He’s got what?”

“Jake leg. Jake walk. Limber leg. Whatever – it’s all the same thing.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Someone made a big batch of bad jake – put plasticizers in it or something. It went out all over the country.  One bad bottle, and you’re done for…”

There’s a good deal more jake related information and action to follow, and if you’ve not yet read Water for Elephants, do yourself a favor… it’s a great story and Gruen does a terrific job of capturing life on the fringes during the Great Depression, and of weaving the jake leg story into the heart of vernacular America.


 Dr. Morgan, pharmaco-ethnomusicologist:

Dr. John Morgan, pharmaco-ethnomusicologistIn doing research for this posting, I would like to give all due credit to the late Dr. John Morgan, lover of early American vernacular music and tireless investigator of the jake leg tragedy and its relationship to blues and hillbilly tunes released on 78 rpm records. 

Dr. Morgan was a professor at the City University of New York Medical School who, over thirty-plus years, collected the known 78 rpm releases which document the jake leg epidemic of 1930 – 1931.  In addition, he researched the epidemic itself and met with a number of the survivors of Jamaica Ginger poisoning. 

Morgan’s research was well documented in a great September, 2003 New Yorker article written by Dan Baum: “Jake Leg, How The Blues Diagnosed a Medical Mystery.”

And, finally, please give a listen to the excellent National Public Radio... support it!September 13, 2003 NPR interview of Dr. Morgan  by Michele Norris on All Things Considered:





The fine print:  

Images and media content: The large majority of images and media content are from my personal collection, these are noted with a “/bb“ at the end of the title when hovering over the image.

Other images and/or media content are deemed “open access” and will be duly credited whenever it is possible. Notice of copyright protection in any Vernacular::Shellac blog does not and will not apply to open access images or media. If I have used any images or content that is copyright protected, please advise and appropriate credit will be given. All Vernacular::Shellac content, excepting that excluded above, is ©2011 by Bill Boslaugh

Inaccuracies, corrections, feedback or additions?  Please let me know!

Bill Boslaugh


Filed under Uncategorized

An American Songster Part Two… Howard & Jimmy:


As a follow-up to my 7/29/11 blog featuring Howard Armstrong, I’d like to take a closer look at Jimmy Borsdorf, Howard’s frequent West Coast accompanist.

Howard Armstrong, Jimmy Borsdorf and Brian Williams/bb

Howard Armstrong, Jimmy Borsdorf

and Brian Williams

Port Townsend Blues Fest – 1994


Roughly the last 15 years of his life, Howard Armstrong became something of a regular – certainly a favorite – at Port Townsend, Washington’s Centrum Country Blues and Fiddle Tunes workshops and festivals.

When appearing at Port Townsend, away from his home base of Detroit, (later, Boston), Howard would perform – as well as give workshops – with other workshop staff musicians.

In the 1990s he was paired several times with Jimmy Borsdorf, a legendary fiddler, singer, and multi-instrumentalist… famous for playing what her called “cowboy gypsy music.”

Playing with Howard at Port Townsend Jimmy mainly performed Jimmy Borsdorf (far right) with R.Crumb’s DeLuxe String Orch./bbon guitar, leaving the fiddle and mandolin duties to Howard.  In 1994 Brian Williams supported Howard and Jimmy on bass and they were billed as “Howard Armstrong and the Vanilla Chocolate Drops.”

Armstrong had worked with Borsdorf previously   at Port Townsend and their musical rapport was excellent.


Jimmy Borsdorf (far right) with R. Crumb’s DeLuxe String Orch. – 1974



Hawks & Eagles promotional drawing by R. Crumb/bb

Jimmy and Nancy by R. Crumb — 1978


Borsdorf, from Chico, California also performed regularly in Northern California, with his wife Nancy, as one half of the duo, Hawks and Eagles.  He had also performed with R. Crumb’s DeLuxe Orchestra.  To complete the circle… it is said that Jimmy gave his cello to Terry Zwigoff (prior to Zwigoff’s production of Louie Bluie) who took his place in Crumb’s group.

             Jimmy, Suzy Thompson and Howard 1994/bb           Jimmy, Suzy Thompson and Howard 1994/bb

Howard Armstrong leading workshops with Jimmy and the incomparable Suzy Thompson

– another Vanilla Chocolate Drop emeritus –

Centrum Country Blues week, 1994


In the mid-90′s Jimmy contacted me concerning a Carl Martin recording I was selling and we corresponded a number of times, trading a number of recordings in the process.

To give a sense of Howard and Jimmy’s relationship, I’m including an audio file, below, of one of the songs Jimmy sent me. The song is captured on a decidedly lo-fi recorder, in Jimmy’s room.  Howard is teaching Jimmy a song he had recently written… a song he was wanting to perform in concert.

With Howard on guitar and Jimmie playing fiddle, the song is a novelty number, titled “Ain’t Gonna Throw This Away.” 

Lyrics follow.


Ain’t Gonna Throw This Away

Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong

Howard Armstrong, guitar, vocal; Jimmy Borsdorf, fiddle



Spoken: Howard “You want to do, ah… “Ain’t Gonna Throw This Away?  This is one I wrote.  It (goes) something like?) … yeah”


You know, a little boy was eatin’ an apple.

He started to throw that core away. 

Then he took, one more look, somebody, heard him say:

I ain’t gonna throw this away, (not me). Ain’t gonna throw this away.  There’s a whole heap more apple on this old apple core – I ain’t gonna throw this away.

Ain’t gonna throw this away, ain’t gonna throw this away.

Whole heap more apple on this old core – I ain’t gonna throw it away


You know, a blind man was eating in the county house, he found a rat tail in his stew.  He heard somebody shout: “you better throw that out.  I’ll be gosh durned iffin’ I do.

Ain’t gonna throw this away, (not me). Ain’t gonna throw this away.  You know when we eat, they don’t give us much meat – I ain’t gonna throw this away.

Ain’t gonna throw this away (no way), ain’t gonna throw this away.  When we eat,they don’t give us much meat – ain’t gonna throw this away


You know Uncle Ben, was sippin’ gin, layin’ out thar, in the shade.  Great big bug dropped in his jug, you outta heard the splash it made.

He says, I ain’t gonna throw this here away. I just ain’t gonna throw this here good stuff away.

This alcohol, ain’t hurt a’tall – I ain’t gonna throw it away

Ain’t gonna throw this away, ain’t gonna throw this away

This alcohol, ain’t hurt a’tall – and ain’t gonna throw it away

….. [Howard, direction to Jimmy… “now you adlib it a little” ]

—– Instrumental break  ———————————————-

You know, Old Reverend Jones went hunting, tramped through the woods all day.  Now, what ol’ Rev. shot, wasn’t so doggoned hot, but somebody heard ol’ Rev. say:

What did he say?  He said: I ain’t gonna throw this here away. I just ain’t gonna throw this here good fowl away. Buzzard stew will have to do – but I ain’t gonna throw it away.

Ain’t gonna throw this away, ain’t gonna throw this away

Buzzard stew will have to do – ain’t gonna throw this away.

…Let’s go to England…


Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her muckets and her huckets.  Along came a great big spider, and dropped… right in her bucket.

She says: I ain’t gonna throw this away. Can’t afford to throw this away.  I’ll have this jerk for my dessert – but I’m not gonna throw it away.

I’m not gonna throw this away, ain’t gonna throw this away

I’ll have this jerk for my dessert – but I’m not gon’ to throw it away.

I’m not gonna throw this away, ain’t gonna throw this away

I’ll have this jerk for my dessert – but I’m not gon’ to throw it away.



Jimmy: “That’s a great song… I never heard that!”

Howard: “I know you didn’t, I wrote the crazy thing!”


Howard and Jimmy 1994 workshop - Port Townsend/bb

Jimmy and Howard in workshop,

Port Townsend Blues Week, 1994


Hawks & Eagles CD/bbHawks & Eagles CD/bb

Hawks & Eagles CDs

Sad to say, Jimmy was lost to colon cancer — much too young, at the age of 55 — in January of 2005.  He is missed by those who knew him… Jimmy was a gifted musician, a force of nature with a “larger-than-life” personality.

I don’t believe any of Jimmy and Nancy’s music as Hawks & Eagles is currently available, nor is any of Jimmy’s work with Howard Armstrong available.  Unfortunately, my efforts to contact Jimmy’s wife, Nancy Bray Borsdorf, for further information have failed.  It is believed that she has recently been performing as a member of Horse Sense with veteran performer Justin Bishop.

Please check them out at:

And take a look at the article profiling Horse Sense at the Sacramento News Review Online website:

 5/31/2012 update:

I have received word from Jimmy’s wife, Nancy Bray Borsdorf, who kindly sent the posters below, and the following:  

”When Jimmie joined up with Howard Armstrong it was the height of his happiness and the prime of his musical career… thank you for keeping the musicians’ stories alive.”

Love, Nancy Bray Borsdorf

Borsdorf Hawks7

Above: Hawks & Eagles promo sheet…

Illustration/Lettering by R. Crumb

Borsdorf Hawks8

Variant of Hawks & Eagles illustration by R. Crumb, including Chris Loizeaux, right


The fine print…

Images and media content: The large majority of images and media content are from my personal collection, these are noted with a “/bb” at the end of the title when hovering over the image.

Other images and/or media content are deemed “open access” and will be duly credited whenever possible. Notice of copyright protection in any Vernacular::Shellac blog does not and will not apply to open access images or media.  If I have used any images or content that is copyright protected, please advise and appropriate credit will be given.  All Vernacular::Shellac content, excepting that excluded above is ©2011 by Bill Boslaugh

Inaccuracies, corrections, feedback or additions?  Please let me know!

Bill Boslaugh

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An American Songster:


Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong

March 4th, 1909 ~ July 30th, 2003

American Songster

.… from 78 rpm to DVD ….

According to blues researcher and historian Paul Oliver, a songster was an entertainer… one who:

“Provided music for every kind of social occasion in the decades before phonographs and radio. They were receptive to a wide variety of songs and music; priding themselves on their range, versatility and capacity to pick up a tune, they played not only for the black communities, but for whites too, when the opportunities arose, Whatever else the songster had to provide in the way of entertainment, he was always expected to sing and play for dances. This over-riding function bound many forms of black secular song together, Social songs, comic songs, the blues and ballads, minstrel tunes and popular ditties all had this in common and whether it set the time for a spirited lindy-hopping or for low-down, slow dragging across a puncheon floor, the music of black secular song could almost always be made to serve this purpose.”

Songsters & Saints/bb

Paul Oliver’s exceptional 1984 book:
Songsters & Saints —
Vocal Traditions on Race Records.
Cambridge University Press

I would add, that songsters were to be found in both the white and black prewar music traditions; be it Mance Lipscomb or Uncle Dave Macon, Jimmie Rodgers, Memphis Minnie or the Memphis Jug Band… what they all had in common was a profound colorblindness when it came to choosing the songs they would perform, showing little regard for the racial origins or the genre of the tune (recording was often another matter, where performers were expected to hew more closely to their hillbilly or blues roots).

VERNACULAR::SHELLAC is, in large part, the home of the songster, a delightful mish-mash of prewar blues, old-time, hillbilly, string band, jug band, jazz, novelty songs and pop – from both black and white traditions. Though there are others on the short list… no one in the latter days of the 20th Century personified the songster more elegantly than Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong.


I‘m afraid this blog entry may tax the attention span of the most robust reader… but once I began assembling data it became clear that to tell a coherent biography and to enumerate a discography would take more than a page or two.  I pledge to be less wordy in future posts.  Also, unfortunately, I suspect there may be factual errors in this biography and discography of Howard Armstrong. The source material available, including multiple interviews with Armstrong and those who knew and performed with him, magazine articles, liner notes, documentaries, personal conversations, and innumerable other sources, are rife with contradictions, errors and confabulations.

In most, if not all cases, I have been able to sort through the chaff and come up with what I believe to be the most accurate information and conclusions, and have, I believe, documented some previously little known information.

However, one major area of dispute remains to be definitively resolved… and, oddly, in all my research I’ve not seen one case of this being mentioned or seen as an issue of contention. The question is: Besides Howard Armstrong and Carl Martin, who was the third musician who recorded with the Tennessee Chocolate Drops in 1930 at the St. James Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee? Was it Roland Martin or Roland Armstrong? …and what instruments were played by which musicians? Both musicians have been cited by authoritative sources as the third member of the Tennessee Chocolate Drops.


To my knowledge there is no definitive answer to this question.  Given what is known, I have my best guess as to which of the two Rolands to credit and will give my reasons (as well as an airing of some of the conflicting data), in the discography.  I will, of course, eagerly welcome any documented information concerning this question… as well as any other corrections of factual errors that may have inadvertently crept through…



William Howard Taft Armstrong was born on the 4th day of March, 1909 (the inauguration day of 27th President of the USA, William Howard Taft) in Dayton, Tennessee — the town which would gain a degree of notoriety sixteen years later as the site of the infamous Scopes Monkey trial. When Howard was three years old his family moved 90 miles northeast to the Smoky Mountains community of LaFollette, TN.

LaFollette, was something of a boom town… a company town, recently developed by the LaFollette brothers, it provided workers for their blast furnace and the population of nearly 300 in 1900 had grown to over 3000 by 1920.

At its peak, the LaFollette blast furnace was one of the largest in the Southern United States and the LaFollettes employed some 1500 people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Ironically their blast furnace failed at the height of the roaring twenties but the city of LaFollette actually continued to grow and prosper during the Great Depression as the region’s coal mines were developed and many small factories and businesses took advantage of the collapse of the LaFollette brother’s empire.

young Howard, self-portrait, painting

Howard takes some quiet time under his house to work on a painting.

A constant throughout his life, Armstrong was a prolific and very talented graphic artist.

                                                                      Original art by Howard Armstrong


The Armstrong’s were a musical — and industrious — family… Howard’s father, Tom, was a blast furnace laborer, hotel cafe waiter and part-time, eventually full time, preacher. Howard’s father was one of fifteen siblings, all of whom played one or more stringed instruments. Tom played both the mandolin and banjo. During Howard’s earliest years, Tom Armstrong led a little family musical combo that would play around the community, but he became less involved in the families musical pursuits after the blast furnace folded and he took a job as a waiter at the Grand Morgan Hotel in Jellico, TN; some 30 miles to the north, on the Tennessee – Kentucky border. Tom’s involvement in music diminished further as he began spending more time with his ministerial work. He eventually passed both his mandolin and banjo on to Howard.

Howard eagerly picked up his father’s idle mandolin and, along with a few instructions, he quickly learned his chords and harmonies. Howard’s mother sang and his older sisters, Ella, Clara and Robbie sang and played in a little family combo that would serenade LaFollette’s families of means for cash tips and bartered foodstuffs. During this period of his improving mandolin playing, Howard also became enamored of the fiddle playing of Knoxville’s blind fiddler Roland Martin. Martin, who would later become a playing partner of Howard’s, frequently made his way to LaFollette to entertain (for tips) the area coal miners on payday.

Supporting his son’s talents, Howard’s father carved a fiddle out of a wooden box, a curtain rod was requisitioned for a bow and the project was completed thanks to the donation of some tail hair from a nearby pony… producing a more-than-serviceable fiddle with, according to Howard, “a nice tone.”


Armstrong Brothers String Band

The Armstrong Brothers String Band,
aka the “Wandering Troubadours” circa 1925
From the left:
Lee Crocket (L.C.), Francis Lee (F.L.), Howard
and Roland.

By the time he was in his early teens Howard, (on fiddle and mandolin) organized his younger brothers into a family string band. Brother Roland played a homemade upright bass, L.C. played the guitar and six year old F.L. held down the ukulele/banjo-uke chair. The family band played mainly for upper-class blacks and for white folks (many of them immigrant) because, according to Howard; “that’s where the money was.” Consequently Armstrong’s repertoire, from an early age, consisted of a wide range of old time music, fiddle and square-dance tunes, blues, pop, gospel and a variety of ethnic tunes (e.g. he knew enough Polish, Italian , German and Chinese — and enough of several other languages — to pull out a tune or two on request).

The Armstrong Brothers String Band became known in the middle-Tennessee region, at least as far away as Knoxville, 40 miles to the south, where they were invited to broadcast over the local “dawn to dusk” radio station WORL. Beginning when he was around 12 years of age, it became Howard’s habit that as soon as school was out, he would hit the road, on his own, during the summertime months, playing with other musicians in the towns and cities around LaFollette. During this time heHoward circa 1928 frequently played with the Martin brothers (his fiddle mentor, Roland Martin and Roland’s multi-instrumental brother, Carl) in Knoxville.

                                                              Howard circa 1928

With Carl Martin on bowed bass, guitar or mandolin, Howard Armstrong on primarily fiddle and mandolin — as well as variable other family and friend musicians — the string band, then known as The Four Keys, became regulars… performing in public places and passing the hat around on Knoxville’s Vine Street, as well as other communities in the Cumberland area of Tennessee.


Armstrong’s first recording experience was for the well-known Brunswick-Blake-Collender companies’ Vocalion label. A field-recording team from Vocalion was in Knoxville twice between August 1929 and April 1930; setting up a temporary recording studio at radio station KNOX in downtown Knoxville’s St. James Hotel, where they recorded something approaching 100 tracks by several dozen vernacular musicians and musical groups from the region.

Deep in the depression, it is estimated that Vocalion pressed roughly 500 copies of each recording… indeed, it’s no wonder most of these 78s are very rare today.

Field recording of American vernacular music is a story in itself; one I hope to address here at a later time. Briefly; as might be expected, over the first several years of recording race and hillbilly music, most recordings were done in major northern cities, primarily New York and Chicago, where bulky recording facilities were located. As recording technology improved and transportation became more reliable, it soon became possible to take the recording studio to the regional performers…. a process that was more fruitful and economical than taking individual performers out of their native environs and recording them individually in the north.

The first field recording was of Fiddlin’ John Carson, who recorded “Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane”/”That Old Hen Cackled and The Rooster’s Goin’ To Crow” in Atlanta in June of 1923. Over the years much of the best vernacular music was recorded during trips to towns and cities such as St. Louis, MO, Charlotte, NC, Bristol, TN, Memphis, TN, Dallas, TX, Cincinnati, OH, Richmond, VA, Atlanta, GA… and many others… including the St. James Hotel sessions of 1929 and 1930 in Knoxville,TN.

(Fiddlin’ John Carson was immensely popular in the south and it’s no coincidence Howard Armstrong performed the fiddle tune, “Cacklin’ Hen,” throughout his career. “Cacklin’ Hen” is a direct descendent of Carson’s ”That Old Hen Cackled and The Rooster’s Goin’ To Crow” and was recorded by Howard’s Tennessee contemporaries Joe Evans and Arthur McClain [The Two Poor Boys] in 1931 as “Old Hen Cackle.”)

Knoxville's St. James Hotel/bbKnoxville's St. James Hotel postcard back/bbKnoxville's St. James Hotel/bb

Vintage postcard views of Knoxville’s
St. James Hotel,
site of the Tennessee Chocolate Drops
1930 recording session
(and the home of radio station KNOX).


In his Living Blues interviews, Howard recalls that:

“The record companies had advance agents that would come through; talent scouts. They’d pick up a lot of black kids that had a good voice and could sing the blues.”

Howard recounts more of the story in Terry Zwigoff’s 78Quarterly article:

“One day, the Brunswick Recording Company [parent company of the Vocalion label] had put a notice up in Knoxville [that said] “If you have any talent, such and such an agent is coming through, and I remember this woman, Leola Mannings was there, and her husband told me that we better be down to Jean’s Barber Shop. That’s where most musicians managed to be ’cause we gathered and they made us welcome there. They [Brunswick talent scouts] were going to be there to pick up some talent… And the talent scouts there heard about our group and had us record.”

It was during this session that a Vocalion record producer, looking for a memorable name that would spur sales, christened the Martin, Armstrong and Armstrong group, the “Tennessee Chocolate Drops.”

Sometime in 1930 or 1931, Howard was given the name “Louie Bluie,” a name he adopted for performing and recording, a stage name he carried the rest of his life. In a story he was very fond of telling; while performing at a house party in West Virginia, an inebriated, but high-toned young lady (daughter of an undertaker) approached the band, giving each of them nicknames… Carl Martin she dubbed “Duke Ellington,” Ted Bogan became “Ted Lewis,” and coming last to Howard she said, “I know you’re Armstrong, but not Louis Armstrong, you’re just plain old Louie Bluie.”

Between the April 3rd, 1930 recording session in Knoxville, and the March 23rd, 1934 recording session for the Bluebird Label in Chicago, IL, Howard, usually with both Ted Bogan and Carl Martin — and at times with others — played throughout the Southeastern US, honing their craft in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas… playing for a time with a medicine show (Dr. Leon D. Bondrya – The ‘Hindu’ Physician), as well as at house parties, picnics, dances, in clubs, barbershops. Eventually, by 1933, Howard was residing primarily in Bluebird 8593 -- State Street Rag, from popsike.comChicago, IL, playing the streets, clubs and rent parties, as well as rubbing shoulders with Chicago blues players such as Bumble Bee Slim, Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie; and playing in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.


Bluebird 8593 Recorded Chicago, March 23rd, 1934

Howard’s wide-ranging repertoire was influenced by his early experiences growing up in small-town Tennessee, then touring throughout the southeastern states and eventually spending formative years in Chicago. In addition, he was among the first generation to be influenced by phonograph records and the radio.

A songster’s ability to cater to the desires of his fan base was a key factor in his popularity… Howard was able to perform in multiple genres and would play whatever it took for those listening to “put chips on his hips” (put money in his pockets).

He was as comfortable playing and singing pop songs as he was with old-time county, blues or jazz. But he didn’t stop there, he also performed novelty tunes, ethnic and gospel songs as well as rags. There was a great deal of cross-pollination in his music… folk songs became blues, pop became jazz and jazz became pop. He could easily move from an old-time fiddle tune like “Cacklin’ Hen” to pop-jazz such as “Lady be Good,” then back to “Railroad Blues” or a novelty song like “I Ain’t Gonna Throw This Away” or one of his patented rags, such as “State Street Rag” or “Knox County Stomp.”

All of his influences were filtered through the sensibility of the acoustic string band; fiddle, guitar, bass, mandolin, banjo, perhaps a jug or two, bones, ukulele, piano – maybe an accordion… and more. Howard was fond of saying that he was proficient on twenty-two instruments – he and his bandmates were adept at playing whatever was available and whatever the crowd wanted to hear.

In Chicago, Armstrong was able to use his multicultural talents to assist his string band in performing in Italian, German, Polish and other of Chicago’s ethnic enclaves. But despite their talents, paying venues continued to dry up as the Great Depression deepened throughout the mid 1930s, and in 1935, following his 1934 recording session with Ted Bogan for Bluebird, Howard returned to Tennessee to play a gig (that had initially been his brother’s) with Steve Roberts’ New York Rhythm Boys. Howard filled in as the bass player in the seven-piece band, began selling his services as a sign painter and artist, taught music on the side and settled into life in the small town of Sparta (some 500 miles south of Chicago and 110 miles to the west/southwest of his hometown, LaFollette). He eventually married a young woman named Celestine Crook and with her had a son, Tommy Lee… further tying him to life in Sparta.

Around 1940, as Howard describes it in the Living Blues #171 article, the white businessmen of Sparta thought so much of his abilities that they convinced him it would, financially, be a really good idea to expand his horizons and take a job in Hawaii. Taking their advice Howard signed on as a civil service employee and shipped out to a town he’d never heard of… Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.


Howard lived in Hawaii for the better part of two years, roughly 1940 to 1942, where he worked as a welder in the Navy yards, and also picked up sign painting jobs. He was a witness to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and took that as a sign that it was time to get back to the relative safety of the states. In later years, mentioning his time in Hawaii was a part of his stage patter during live shows and he always maintained “You’ll Never Find Another Kanaka Like Me” in his repertoire.

Moving back to the mainland, he returned briefly to Chicago – where his wife was living – only to find her in a relationship with another man… evidently, per Howard, a ruffian and a bruiser. Howard took this as evidence that the relationship was not salvageable and that the prudent thing to do was keep on moving. He settled in Detroit, where he worked for Chrysler on the assembly line, eventually retiring in 1971. Although there was little or no professional call during the fifties and sixties for a songster such as Armstrong, he never let proficiency on his instruments lapse; playing frequently for himself, friends and family. Throughout his middle years, as was true his entire life, he continued his obsession with art, and was able to supplement his Chrysler income with revenue from sign painting.

Following retirement, he reunited with Ted Bogan and Carl Martin, both of whom lived in Chicago and who were marginally Bogan, Martin and Armstrong in the 1970s active Chicago blues scene… Martin having recorded as a member of the Chicago String Band for Pete Welding’s Testament Records as recently as 1966 and both Martin and Bogan having recorded for Rounder Records in February, 1972 with Sam Chatmon and Walter Vinson as members of the New Mississippi Sheiks.

                  Bogan, Martin and Armstrong in the 1970s

Taking advantage of the growing interest in folk/old time music and acoustic blues, Martin, Bogan and Armstrong had a successful run as a mixed-vernacular old-time string band… recording several LPs, performing at festivals and clubs and acting as ambassadors for the music on a South American tour under the auspices of the US State Department.

Below, from “Clark,” a fan, Martin, Bogan and Armstrong on YouTube: recorded at an informal jam session with Jethro Burns, another one of Steve Goodman’s mentors, at the University of Chicago folk festival sometime in the late 70’s. Carl Martin is singing, Ted Bogan playing guitar and Howard Armstrong playing fiddle. Martin has put down his mandolin to allow room for Burns to play:

nice solo from Howard at end of clip…


Vocal by Bogan, mandolin by Martin, art and fiddle by Howard





Two events in the spring of 1979 were to dramatically move Armstrong’s career in a new direction.

Carl Martin died in May of 1979, putting the future of Martin, Bogan and Armstrong in limbo… and, string band musician and 78 rpm record collector Terry Zwigoff became obsessed with the musicianship on his copy of Louie Bluie’s 1934 Bluebird recording.Terry Zwigoff  

Zwigoff, with the thought of writing an article about Armstrong for Tony Russell’s British Old Time Music magazine, met and interviewed Howard Armstrong.


             How Terry Zwigoff felt when he began filming Louie Bluie

 After an initial interview with Armstrong, Zwigoff quickly realized that it would take more than a magazine article to do justice to the Louie Bluie story. Against all odds, and with zero experience, Zwigoff jumped headfirst into making a movie featuring Howard, rather than the initially planned magazine article.

Spending over five years and his last cent, he produced a masterpiece.

San Francisco premier of Louie Bluie/bb

R. Crumb poster for San Francisco premier of

Louie Bluie


Much has been written about that movie, Louie Bluie, and the process of its making, so rather than recount the movie making process (or the 5-star movie) here, I would recommend taking a look at the recent and fascinating (Spring 2011) Zwigoff interview in Fretboard Journal.

The Fretboard Journal interview coincides with the Criterion Collection’s release of the 1985 movie, Louie Bluie… now, for the first time, on DVD. Even if you already own Louie Bluie on VHS, stop what you are doing right now and buy yourself a copy of the DVD! Beyond the terrific movie itself, the DVD’s great mono sound and high-definition image are terrific… sharp and vivid. But what you will really enjoy are the special-edition features, especially Zwigoff’s very fascinating hour of audio commentary and an additional thirty-plus minutes of unused footage.

If Howard’s renaissance began when he reconnected with Carl Martin and Ted Bogan in the early 1970s … the second half of Armstrong’s renaissance began with the 1985 release of the film, Louie Bluie.

From 1985, through the remainder of his life, Howard Armstrong was recognized and honored for his contribution to American vernacular music and performed regularly at various venues as well as teaching and performing at sites such as West Virginia’s Augusta Heritage Center at Davis and Elkin’s College, and Port Townsend, Washington’s Centrum Country Blues and Fiddle Tunes workshops and festivals.


Howard Armstrong art:  Postcard promoting Centrum's Festival of American Fiddle Tunes/bb

Howard Armstrong art:
Pomoting Centrum’s Festival of
American Fiddle Tunes.
Subject: D.L Menard (the Cajun Hank Williams)
and The Louisiana Aces


It was as an attendee at Port Townsend’s Country Blues Workshops in 1994 and 2000 that I had the pleasure of spending a week each of those years watching and participating as Howard Armstrong taught, lectured, socialized, performed, told stories and chatted one-to-one with workshop participants such as myself.

Ironically, three years later, it was during the week of Port Townsend’s 2003 Blues fest that Howard died. His death was mourned and his life was celebrated by all, including many on staff that year who had performed with Howard in various settings.




Howard began a twenty year relationship with Barbara Ward (Boston fabric sculptor/artist, dancer, musician, children’s book author), meeting her at a performance in 1983. Howard was 73. Ward suspected he was around 50, and he did not correct her misperception for several years. Armstrong later said that he thought Barbara was in her mid-20s… she was actually 43.

Howard and Barbara, sharing their loves…

music, art, and themselves

Howard and BarbaraHoward moved from Detroit to Boston to be with Barbara in 1996, they married in February, 2001. Barbara was the enduring love of his life, and played a large part in supporting both his art and music in his last decades. The story of their relationship is lovingly told in the 2002 documentary film, Sweet Old Song.

Sweet Old Song (2002) by Leah Mahan.

Sweet Old Song (2002) by Leah Mahan Sweet Old Song contrasts with the more earthy, ribald tone of Louie Bluie, and, filmed roughly 20 years later, Sweet Old Song covers some of the same territory as Louie Bluie, but from a different perspective. It tells the story of the same remarkable, artist/musician/world traveler/story teller/American treasure… although clearly the same spirit, this is an aging Louie Bluie in a changing America, as engagingly evidenced by the 2000 trip Howard and Barbara made to LaFollette.


Howard leading a 2000 workshop at Centrum's Country Blues week in Pt. Townsend, Washington

Howard leading a 2000 workshop at Centrum’s Country Blues week in Pt. Townsend, Washington during filming for Sweet Old Song


It’s clear that Barbara kept Howard vital, on track, and focused; a daunting, and at times thankless task (Howard accurately characterizes himself as being – at times – “an old grouch”). He was, of course, much more than just an old grouch… this film captures his many facets and is a fitting addendum to Zwigoff’s Louie Bluie.

Howard, with Barbara’s able support and encouragement, was able to remain healthy and active, continuing both his performing and his artwork well into 1993. Armstrong died Wednesday, July 30th, 2003, in Boston from complications related to a heart attack in March of 2003.

Despite his passing, the legacy of Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong lives on. His music is readily available on vinyl and compact disc (good luck finding a Howard Armstrong 78!) – as well as digital downloads and he can be experienced in Louie Bluie and Sweet Old Song.

And, thankfully, there are rumors of a book-length biography in the works… as well as a book of his art and a children’s story, done in collaboration with Barbara Armstrong.

There is a yearly Louie Bluie Festival in Howard’s home town of LaFollette, TN  and a play of his life – Between a Ballad and a Blues – has been written, produced and performed.




One of many interesting features of the no longer published 78 Quarterly magazine was their ongoing “A thru Z” feature, 78Q Presents The Rarest 78s. It’s always daunting to look up a record I was hoping to find one day, only to be told… “there are fewer than five known copies.” Unfortunately, that’s the case with all known 78′s that feature Howard Armstrong. Although I doubt that an Armstrong 78 will ever come my way, it is comforting to see in the following discography just how much of his music is available digitally and on vinyl.

But before we jump into the discography, I’d like to take a stab at the question I posed at the beginning of this blog… who were the musicians that recorded as the Tennessee Chocolate Drops on April 3rd, 1930 in Knoxville?

· The bible of prewar blues discography, Dixon, Godrich, and Rye’s Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943 lists the St. James Session participants [Tennessee Chocolate Drops] as: Howard Armstrong-violin, Carl Martin-string bass and Roland Martin-guitar.

· The gold-standard CD, Document DOCD 5229, lists the St. James Session participants [Tennessee Chocolate Drops] as: Howard Armstrong-violin, Carl Martin-guitar and Roland Armstrong-string bass.

As one reads through the hundreds of citations delineating the personnel on that session, you will almost always find one of the above line-ups quoted, but there is a third option, one seen much less frequently, that I give the most credence… that is: Howard Armstrong-violin, Carl Martin- string bass and Roland Armstrong – guitar.

It is universally agreed that Howard Armstrong played fiddle during the session, and that Carl Martin was present – but the question arises, did Carl Martin play guitar or string bass? Then that leave us with Roland… but which one? Martin or Armstrong… and on what instrument… guitar or string bass?

Other sources support both instrumental/personnel line-ups but careful reading of Howard Armstrong interviews, especially the Terry Zwigoff interviews of Howard in the 1990 78 Quarterly, Volume 1, #5 strongly support the following, third configuration:

[the following is condensed from five paragraphs in 78Quarterly – it is chronological, coherent and garnered from Zwigoff’s interviews between 1979 and 1985 when Howard’s memory was still quite sharp]:

“My brother Roland and I met a guy in Knoxville named Carl Martin. He was the younger brother of the blind fiddler Roland Martin… Carl played all the string instruments, and I especially admired his bass playing… And so, we formed a band called “The Tennessee Chocolate Drops,” me on fiddle, Carl on bass and my brother Roland [Armstrong] on guitar. …the talent scouts there heard about our group and had us record up on Gay and Vine [site of the St. James Hotel]… this was 1930. …I think the highlight on that record was Martin’s bass playing.

Zwigoff reinforces this configuration in his commentary on the 2010 release of the Criterion Collection edition of Louie Bluie, when he says the following concerning the matter: (“the… family band recorded at the St. James hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee for the Brunswick/Vocalion company. After the Tennessee Ramblers got done playing, Armstrong and his band were next up. Those days they were named the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, and it was Howard, and his brother Roland on guitar I think, and Carl Martin, I think, played bass.

This is strong evidence for the line-up of Howard on fiddle, Carl Martin on bass and Roland Armstrong on guitar, however, not strong enough to be iron-clad, as evidenced by this promotional material from Blue Suit Records in 1995, when they released what turned out to be Armstrong’s last CD:

“When Howard was 14 he met Roland and Carl Martin in Knoxville and began travelling and playing in their band during the summer, returning to go to school in the fall. Roland Martin was a blind fiddle player and he inspired Howard to learn the instrument. In 1930 they [Howard and the Martin brothers] recorded four sides in Knoxville as the Tennessee Chocolate Drops.” [Italics mine].



Tennessee Chocolate Drops

Knoxville, TN (St. James Hotel) Thursday April 3rd, 1930

Howard Armstrong, violin; Roland Armstrong, guitar; Carl Martin, string bass

Vocalion 1517 — Knox County Stomp/ Vine Street Drag – est. fewer than five known copies

(Re. the title, “Vine Street Drag” … Armstrong once remarked to me that the actual title was “Vine Street Rag,” but it had been misunderstood and documented incorrectly by the Vocalion recording engineer. BB)

Tennessee Trio

Vocalion 1572 — (same as Vocalion 1517 above, released with name and catalog number changes for the hillbilly trade) – est. fewer than five known copies


Louie Bluie and Ted Bogan

Chicago, IL   Friday March 23rd, 1934

Howard Armstrong, violin; Ted Bogan, guitar, vocal


Bluebird B-5490 — There’s Nothing in This Wide, Wide World For Me/ I’m Through With You – evidently released, but there are no known copies of BB B-5490

Howard Armstrong, mandolin; Ted Bogan, guitar

Bluebird 8593 -- State Street Rag, from


Bluebird B-5593 — State Street Rag/Ted’s Stomp – estimated fewer than five known copies



Image:  (


Howard Armstrong with Bumble Bee Slim?


Armstrong always insisted that he recorded (on 78 rpm records) with Amos (Bumble Bee Slim) Easton, however, he is not given direct credit on any Bumble Bee Slim 78 rpm record label and incontrovertible evidence has not been produced to substantiate his claims.

That said, Howard is referenced as a probable or possible accompanist for Bumble Bee Slim in Document Records liner notes, as well as in Dixon, Godrich, and Rye’s Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943 discography entries for Bumble Bee Slim.

One likely date for this pairing would have been on Thursday, March 22nd, 1934 when Slim recorded for the Vocalion label in Chicago. Liner notes for Document Records DOCD-5261 credit Ted Bogan as the possible guitar player and Howard Armstrong as the probable mandolin player on the eight songs Bumble Bee Slim recorded on that date.

Slim also recorded the next day, Friday March 23rd, in Chicago… this time for the Bluebird label. According to Dixon, Godrich, and Rye — as evidenced by the matrix numbers issued that day — Slim recorded the four sides preceding and the two sides following Armstrong and Bogan’s recording of “State Street Rag” and “Ted’s Stomp.” Records show two guitars present, but uncredited, on the six sides Slim recorded March 23rd, the assumption, unsubstantiated, is that Armstrong and Bogan were the accompanists. BB Slim_Crumb

Further, liner notes for  Document Records DOCD-5262 credit Howard Armstrong as the probable violin player on one song during Slim’s Tuesday September 6th session, “Blues Blues,” issued on Decca 7098.



                                                                R. Crumb: Bumble Bee Slim

Bumble Bee Slim and His Three Sharks

Chicago, IL March 22, 1934

Amos Easton (Bumble Bee Slim), vocal; accompanied by: (unknown) clarinet on East St. Louis Blues and Busy Devil; Jimmy Gordon, (possible), piano; Ted Bogan, (possible), guitar; Howard Armstrong (probable), mandolin.


Vocalion 2713 The New B&O Blues/Busy Devil

Vocalion 2728 Someday Things Will Be Breaking My Way/Baby So Long

Vocalion 2742 Runnin’ Drunk Blues/East St. Louis Blues

Vocalion 2773 Lost Confidence Blues/Wrecked Life Blues


Bumble Bee Slim

Chicago, IL March 23, 1934

Amos Easton (Bumble Bee Slim), vocal; accompanied by: (unknown), piano; (two unknowns, Ted Bogan, (probable), guitar; Howard Armstrong (probable), guitar); (unknown), third guitar on Dead And Gone Mother.


Bluebird 5517 Squalling Panther Blues/ Dead And Gone Mother

Bluebird 5563 Sad And Lonesome/Bye Bye Baby Blues

Bluebird 5475 Sail On Little Girl, Sail On/Step Child


Bumble Bee Slim


Chicago, IL September, 1934

[on the “Blues Blues” side only] Amos Easton (Bumble Bee Slim), vocal; accompanied by: (unknown), piano; Howard Armstrong (probable) or Carl Martin (possible), violin/plucked violin or mandolin.


Decca 7098 Blues Blues/The Death Of Leroy Carr


Armstrong also reported recording 78 rpm records in Chicago with Big Bill Broonzy, but unfortunately there is no documented evidence

to corroborate that claim.




Martin Bogan & Armstrong The Barnyard Dance/bbThe Barnyard Dance, autograph/bb

Martin Bogan & Armstrong The Barnyard Dance

Rounder Records #2003~ 1972

Carl Martin, mandolin; Ted Bogan, guitar; Howard Armstrong, fiddle; L.C. Armstrong, bass



1. Lady be Good

2. Carl’s Blues

3. Corrina, Corrina

4. Barnyard Dance

5. Cacklin’ Hen

6. Sweet Georgia Brown



1. French Blues

2. Mean Mistreatin’ Mama

3. Old Man Mose

4. Alice Blue Gown

5. Knox County Stomp


Martin Bogan & Armstrong/bb

Martin Bogan & Armstrong

Flying Fish #003 ~ 1974

Player credits not given in liner notes, assumed to be as per jacket photo:

Carl Martin, mandolin; Ted Bogan, guitar; Howard Armstrong, fiddle; Tom Armstrong, bass



1. Let’s Give A Party

2. Chinatown

3. Do You Call That A Buddy

4. They Cut Down The Old Pine Tree

5. If You’se A Viper

6. Sweetheart Of Sigma Chi



1. Blue Ridge Mountain Blues

2. Naggin Woman

3. Mexicali Rag

4. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out

5. You’ll Never Find Another Kanaka Like Me


Steve Goodman Jessie's Jig and Other Favorites/bb

Steve Goodman Jessie’s Jig and Other Favorites

Asylum 7E-1037 ~ 1975

Steve Goodman, guitar, vocal; Jethro Burns, mandolin; Jeff Gutcheon, piano; Hugh McDonald, electric bass; Sheldon Plotkin, drums; Carl Martin, mandolin, vocal; Ted Bogan, acoustic guitar; Howard Armstrong, fiddle.



5. Mama Don’t Allow It


Mama Don’t Allow It – Martin, Bogan and Armstrong with the Steve Goodman band–1975 (nice fiddle solo by Howard)


Martin Bogan & the Armstrongs That Old Gang of Mine/bb

Martin Bogan & the Armstrongs That Old Gang of Mine

Flying Fish #056 ~ 1978

Carl Martin, mandolin; Ted Bogan, guitar; Howard Armstrong, fiddle; Tom Armstrong, bass; With: Steve Goodman-electric and acoustic guitar; Jethro Burns- mandolin; Jeff Gutcheon-piano; Hugh McDonald- electric bass; Sheldon Plotkin-drums; Howard Levy-harmonica



1. Yes Pappy Yes

2. In the Bottom

3. Marie

4. Ice Cream Freezer Blues

5. That Old Gang of Mine



1. Jamaica Farewell

2. I’d Do Most Anything for You

3. Nagging Woman Blues

4. Sheik of Araby, The

5. Streets of Old Chicago


Louie Bluie Soundtrack LP, autographed/bbLouie Bluie autograph, close-up/bb

Louie Bluie Soundtrack – LP

Arhoolie 1095 ~ 1985

Howard Armstrong, vocal, fiddle; Ted Bogan, vocal, guitar; Tom Armstrong, bass;

With: “Banjo” Ikey Robinson, vocal, banjo; James “Yank” Rachell, vocal, mandolin; Willie Sievers, piano; Bob Cose, guitar; Mary Shepard, piano; Elsie Loweroy, vocal



1. New State Street Rag

2. Nothing In This Wide World For Me

3. That’ll Never Happen No More

4. Ted’s Stomp

5. My Four Reasons

6. Barushka

7. 38 Pistol Blues

8. Darktown Strutter’s Ball



1. When He Calls Me I Will Answer

2. Vine Street Drag

3. My Gal Sal Medley

4. State Street Rag

5. Du, Du Liechst Mir Im Herzen

6. Railroad Blues

7. Cacklin’ Hen

8. Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams




Martin Bogan Armstrong Flying Fish CD/bb

Martin Bogan Armstrong, autograph, close-up/bb

Martin, Bogan and The Armstrongs – That Old Gang of Mine

Carl Martin, mandolin, vocal; Ted Bogan, guitar, vocal; Howard Armstrong, fiddle, vocal; Tom Armstrong, bass

Flying Fish FF70003 ~ 1992


This CD Covers both LPs, Martin, Bogan and Armstrong and That Old Gang of Mine, with the exception of “Naggin Woman” and “Mexicali Rag” from Martin, Bogan and Armstrong


1. Yes Pappy Yes

2. In the Bottom

3. Marie

4. Ice Cream Freezer Blues

5. That Old Gang of Mine

6. Jamaica Farewell

7. I’d Do Most Anything for You

8. Nagging Woman Blues

9. Sheik of Araby, The

10. Streets of Old Chicago

11. Let’s Give a Party

12. Chinatown

13. Do You Call That a Buddy?

14. They Cut Down the Old Pine Tree

15. If You’se a Viper

16. Sweetheart of Sigma Chi

17. Blue Ridge Mountain Blues

18. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out

19. You’ll Never Find Another Kanaka Like Me


Carl Martin Complete Recorded Works/bb

Carl Martin Complete Recorded Works

Document DOCD-5229 ~ 1994

Carl Martin, bass; Ted Bogan, guitar; Howard Armstrong, fiddle, mandolin; Roland Armstrong, guitar


Tennessee Chocolate Drops

1. Knox County Stomp

2. Vine Street Drag


Louie Bluie & Ted Bogan

3. State Street Rag

4. Ted’s Stomp


Bumble Bee Slim Complete Recorded Works, Volume 1/bb

Bumble Bee Slim Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1

Document DOCD-5261 ~ 1994

Amos Easton (Bumble Bee Slim), vocal; accompanied by: (unknown) clarinet on East St. Louis Blues and Busy Devil; Jimmy Gordon, (possible), piano; Ted Bogan, (possible), guitar; Howard Armstrong (probable), mandolin.


14. Someday Things Will Be Breaking My Way

15. Baby So Long

16. Lost Confidence Blues

17. The New B and O Blues

18. Wrecked Life Blues

19. Runnin` Drunk Blues

20. East St. Louis Blues

21. Busy Devil


Amos Easton (Bumble Bee Slim), vocal; accompanied by: (unknown), piano; (two unknowns, Ted Bogan, (probable), guitar; Howard Armstrong (probable), guitar); (unknown), third guitar on Dead And Gone Mother.


22. Squalling Panther Blues

23. Sail On, Little Girl, Sail On

24. Dead And Gone Mother


Bumble Bee Slim Complete Recorded Works, Volume 2/bb

Bumble Bee Slim Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 2

Document DOCD-5262 ~ 1994  

Amos Easton (Bumble Bee Slim), vocal; accompanied by: (unknown), piano; (two unknowns, Ted Bogan, (probable), guitar; Howard Armstrong (probable), guitar);


1. Step Child

2. Sad and Lonesome

3. Bye Bye Baby Blues


Amos Easton (Bumble Bee Slim), vocal; accompanied by: (unknown), piano; Howard Armstrong (probable), or Carl Martin (possible), violin/plucked violin or mandolin.

9. Blues Blues


Paul Geremia Self Portrait In Blues/bb

Paul Geremia Self Portrait In Blues

Red House Records RHR CD 77 ~ March 1995

Paul Geremia, guitar, piano, harmonica, vocal; Rory McLeod, upright bass;


Howard Armstrong, fiddle:

4. Midnight Hour Blues

9. Live Wire Blues

11. Drive Away Blues

12. Where Did I Lose Your Love


Howard Armstrong, Mandolin:

5. Shake It And Break It


Howard Armstrong, Quote:



 Howard Armstrong Louie Bluie/bbLouie Bluie ...  autograph, close-up/bb

Howard Armstrong Louie Bluie

Blue Suit Records BS-106D  ~ March 1995

Howard Armstrong, fiddle, mandolin, vocal;

With: Ralphe Armstrong, bass; Ray Kamalay, guitar, background vocals; John Rockwood, harmonica


1. Lady Be Good

2. St. Louis Blues

3. You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You

4. John Henry Intro – (spoken)

5. John Henry

6. Sittin’ on Top of the World

7. Howard’s Rag

8. Louie Bluie – (spoken)

9. Louie Bluie Blues

10. This Little Song of Mine

11. Dinah

12. Wading Through Deep Water

13. Bogan’s Secret – (spoken)

14. Chinatown

15. Betty & Dupree

16. Instruments – (spoken)

17. Summertime

18. When He Calls Me I Will Answer


Before The Blues - Volume 2 - Various Artists/bb

Before The Blues – Volume 2 – Various Artists

Yazoo 2016 ~ 1996


Louie Bluie & Ted Bogan

Howard Armstrong, mandolin, Ted Bogan, guitar

15. State Street Rag



 Times Ain't Like They Used To Be - Volume 2 - Various Artists/bb

Times Ain’t Like They Used To Be – Volume 2 – Various Artists

Yazoo 2029 ~ 1997

Howard Armstrong, mandolin, Ted Bogan, guitar

20. State Street Rag


Louie Bluie Soundtrack - CD/bb

Louie Bluie Soundtrack – CD

Arhoolie CD 470 ~ 1998

Howard Armstrong, vocal, fiddle; Ted Bogan, vocal, guitar; Tom Armstrong, bass;


With: “Banjo” Ikey Robinson, vocal, banjo; James “Yank” Rachell, vocal, mandolin; Willie Sievers, piano; Bob Cose, guitar; Mary Shepard, piano; Elsie Loweroy, vocal; Sleepy John Estes, guitar, vocal


1. New State Street Rag

2. Nothing In This Wide World For Me

3. That’ll Never Happen No More

4. Ted’s Stomp

5. My Four Reasons

6. Barushka

7. 38 Pistol Blues

8. Darktown Strutter’s Ball

9. When He Calls Me I Will Answer

10. Vine Street Drag

11. My Gal Sal Medley

12. State Street Rag

13. Du, Du Liechst Mir Im Herzen

14. Railroad Blues

15. Cacklin’ Hen

16. Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams

17. Vine Street Drag (2)

18. The Girl I Love

19. Milk Cow Blues

20. When You Feel Down And Out


Carl Martin & Brownie McGhee - Carolina Blues

Carl Martin & Brownie McGhee – Carolina Blues

Wolf 114 ~ 1998

Carl Martin, bass; Ted Bogan, guitar; Howard Armstrong, fiddle, mandolin; Roland Armstrong, guitar


Tennessee Chocolate Drops

1. Knox County Stomp

2. Vine Street Drag


Violin Sing The Blues For Me - Various Artists/bbViolin sing... autograph, close-up/bb

Violin Sing The Blues For Me – Various Artists

Old Hat Records CD1002 ~ 1999

Carl Martin, bass; Howard Armstrong, fiddle; Roland Armstrong, guitar


Tennessee Chocolate Drops

11. Vine Street Drag


Rare Blues Blue Boot #1

Rare Blues Blue Boot #1

Blue Suit Records ~ 2002

Howard Armstrong, mandolin, vocal;

With: Ralphe Armstrong, bass; Ray Kamalay, guitar, background vocals


5. La Cucaracha (spoken intro)

6. La Cucaracha


Rare Blues Blue Boot #2

Rare Blues Blue Boot #2

Blue Suit Records ~ 2002

Howard Armstrong, mandolin, vocal;

With: Ralphe Armstrong, bass; Ray Kamalay, guitar, background vocals


4. Louie Bluie Blues (spoken intro)

5. Louie Bluie Blues


 Rags, Breakdowns, Stomps & Blues/bb

Rags, Breakdowns, Stomps & Blues

Document DOCD-32-20-3 ~ 2003

Howard Armstrong, mandolin; Ted Bogan, guitar


Louie Bluie & Ted Bogan

1. State Street Rag


A Richer Tradition - Various Artists/bb

A Richer Tradition – Various Artists

JSP7798B ~ 2007

Carl Martin, bass; Howard Armstrong, fiddle; Roland Armstrong, guitar


Tennessee Chocolate Drops

15. Knox County Stomp




Louie Bluie VHS/bbLouie Bluie VHS, autograph, close-up/bb

Louie Bluie

1985 VHS ~ Terry Zwigoff ~ Pacific Arts Video


Sweet old Song dvd-cover

Sweet Old Song

2002 VHS ~ 2009 DVD ~ Leah Mahan


Louie Bluie DVD/bb

Louie Bluie

2010 DVD ~ Terry Zwigoff ~ Criterion Collection



Credits and Thanks to:





Terrapin Tim Volem: For his sharp eye and sharp pencil

Dixon, Godrich, and Rye Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943 Oxford University Press

Tony Russell Country Music Records, A Discography, 1931-1942 Oxford University Press

R.R. McLeod’s 11 volume series, Document Blues Lyrics books

Meade, Spotswood and Meade Country Music Sources: A Biblio-Discography of Commercially Recorded Traditional Music Southern Folklife Collection, University of North Carolina

Blues Access Magazine:

No. 35 Fall 1998

A Conversation with the Erstwhile Minstrel Singer Howard Armstrong

by David Feld


78 Quarterly:

LOUIE BLUIE The Life And Music Of Howard Armstrong as told to Terry Zwigoff

Volume 1, Number 5 1990

Volume 1, Number 6 1991

(Three part article, but no third installment was forthcoming)


Living Blues:

Howard Armstrong: The Interview By John Anthony Brisbin

Issue 169, Volume 34, Number 5 – Sept/Oct. 2003

Issue 170, Volume 34, Number 6 – Nov/Dec. 2003

Issue 171, Volume 35, Number 1 – Jan/Feb. 2004


The HistoryMakers interview:

177 minutes/92 segments, filmed April 12, 2003 at the Armstrong home, The Piano Factory, Boston, MA Interviewed by Larry Crowe, video by Scott Stearns


Fretboard Journal: 

Interview of Terry Zwigoff

Spring 2011


Blues Mandolin Website:


The Centrum/ The Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Workshops and Festival and the Centrum/ The Port Townsend American Fiddle Tunes Workshops and Festival for the yeas of presenting Howard Armstrong as a faculty member and festival performer.


Liner notes on the various LPs and CDs cited in the Discography

And, of course, the films:

Louie Bluie

Sweet Old Song

Images/content: The large majority of images are from my personal collection, these are noted with a “/bb“ at the end of the image title when hovering over the image.
Other images are deemed “open access” and will be duly credited whenever it is possible. Notice of copyright protection in any VernacularShellac blog does not and will not apply to open access images. If I have used any images or content that is copyright protected, please advise and appropriate credit will be given. All VernacularShellac content, excepting that excluded above, is ©2011 by Bill Boslaugh


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