Great blues cities No. 4: Dallas.
|Who would have guessed they had tea rooms in Deep Ellum, Dallas, back in the 1930s|
“Thanks for sharing.” Wasser Prawda Online Magazine @wasserprawda Greifswald, Germany. 25 May 2015.
“LOVED your (How Blues Evolved) eBook series! Learned so much! Got me started off in many other directions of research and interest.”
Steve Lane, firstname.lastname@example.org Charleston, IL, USA. 5 March 2014.
Updated August 3rd 2019.
|Hart Wand. He recorded the first known blues record.|
|The legendary Lead Belly|
Aged just 16, Blind Lemon Jefferson and a 21-year-old Lead Belly are known to have played street duets in Deep Ellum, as well as busking solo. Lead Belly once said he first adapted a boogie rhythm to the guitar after first hearing boogie-woogie piano’s rolling bass in north-east Texas, around 1899. Dallas, for those unaware, lies in north-east Texas. “Boogie-woogie was known as barrelhouse in those days, Lead Belly once said.”
|Lonnie Donegan changed title to Have A Drink On Me.|
Ho, Ho, baby, take a whiff on me.”
|Henry ‘Ragtime Texas’ Thomas.|
“When you go down on Deep Ellum,
Put your money in your socks,
‘Cause them women on Deep Ellum
Sho’ will throw you on the rocks.
Oh, sweet mama,
your daddy’s got them Deep Ellum Blues.
Oh, sweet mama,
your daddy’s got them Deep Ellum Blues.”
It’s likely that both Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lead Belly were influenced by the music of Henry ‘Ragtime Texas’ Thomas while performing in Deep Ellum, Dallas. Born to freed slaves in 1874 in north-west Texas, Henry Thomas was well over 50 when he recorded his seminal collection of early African-American ‘reels, gospels, minstrel pieces, ragtime numbers and blues’ in Chicago between 1927 and 1929. The songs of Ragtime Texas Thomas would today probably be considered as country blues, and have since been covered by top bands like Canned Heat, the Grateful Dead and Lovin’ Spoonful.
In the 1920s, record companies from the main recording centres, like Chicago and New York, sent music scouts on field trips to places like Dallas to discover new blues talent. Obviously, their biggest coup was discovering Blind Lemon Jefferson performing on the streets of Deep Ellum. Jefferson would become the biggest-selling blues artist of them all, during the late 1920s. He would eclipse the popularity of such blues divas as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey who were also regular performers in Dallas.
|This looks like an old cigarette card.|
When Jefferson became famous, Lead Belly had already been banged up in jail for some 15 years, on and off, his terrible temper getting him into all sorts of trouble, including killing a cousin. Huddie Leadbetter, as he was originally known, wouldn’t be recorded until 1934 after being discovered in prison by the folk music collectors, John and Alan Lomax. Lead Belly’s sheer talent subsequently earned him a pardon.
A truly important example of blues music recorded in Dallas was a song by Texan Blind Willie Johnson in either 1927 or 1928. One of those tracks, the gospel-blues, “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” was chosen as one of the 27 examples of this planet’s greatest music sent deep into outer space on the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. Guitarist Ry Cooder once said that this Willie Johnson song was, “the most soulful, transcendent piece in all of American music.” Another Texan blues legend who did his apprenticeship on the streets of Deep Ellum, Dallas, was T-Bone Walker. In fact, T-Bone’s mother and step-father were members of the Dallas String Band. T-Bone made his recording debut with ‘Wichita Falls Blues’ and ‘Trinity River Blues’ in 1929. (See The Wartime Electric Blues of T-Bone Walker post in my archive of 5 June 2013.) And have a listen to ‘Wichita Falls Blues’ here:
|T-Bone Walker shows Jimi Henrix how it’s done.|
Other seminal blues tracks recorded in Dallas were by Robert Johnson in 1937. He had earlier recorded in San Antonio, Texas, in 1936, but in the Dallas sessions, Johnson recorded two takes of each song and it’s mainly these recordings of that have survived. These landmark 1936 and
1937 recordings were for the cut-price Vocalion label, selling at less than half the price of regular records. They would be the only recordings Robert Johnson ever made. These songs included the classic, ‘I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom’, and legendary, ‘Crossroad Blues’. While some of Johnson’s releases were moderate hits in America’s south and south west, at the time they passed virtually unnoticed, with none selling more than 5,000 copies. Robert Johnson, who was possibly murdered in August 1937 (the cause of his death is still unsubstantiated), died aged just 27. He was yet another bluesman who found success posthumously.
Wow! These old links below still work.