Sunday, December 4, 2011

ALEX SNOOK JONES - For My Worst (Blue Boy, circa 1965)

Alex “Snook” Jones apparently spent more time playing piano around Shreveport than hanging out in studios cutting records. Nevertheless, he did leave a small legacy of recordings.

Around 1965, Jones recorded a 45 issued on Blue Boy Records. The credits state that he composed both songs while Harding Guyon Demarais (aka Dee Marais) handled the publishing. No other records have surfaced on this label, so perhaps it was a vanity project financed by Jones. The guitar playing reminds me of Shreveporter Jesse Thomas, though I’ve yet to uncover evidence supporting his involvement.

Blue Boy Records 1001 (circa 1965)
Alex Snook Jones
TM 1316 For My Worst (Alex Jones) (Heads Up Music BMI)
TM 1317 Mean Old Greyhound (Alex Jones) (Heads Up Music BMI)

While Jones received top billing on the Blue Boy record, he had previously surfaced in 1959 as an accompanist to singer Johnny Gosey on his 45 released on Wilson Evans's label, MOA (Music of America).

Around 1964, British architect and blues historian, Paul Oliver visited Shreveport in search of guitarist Oscar Woods. Oliver struck out—Woods had died in 1955. He learned this information from Alex Jones, who told Oliver that he served as a pallbearer at Woods’s funeral. Now we’ve made it to 2011, and I’m not sure if Jones is still alive. I just ran across a death record for a person with his name that passed away in Shreveport in 1988. If Jones is gone, I wonder if any local musicians served as his pallbearers.

In closing, a few additional pieces of “Snook” memorabilia have surfaced over the years…a business card, a photograph, and programs.

Alex (Snook) Jones And His Shreveport Night Hawks business card, undated.

Alex "Snook" Jones photograph, undated.

Delane Anderson, "Moonlighting 'Til Midnight," Centenary Conglomerate
(Shreveport, LA), September 20, 1973.  Thanks to Taylor Caffery.

Thirty minutes of Alex Jones.
Shreveport's "First Annual Blues Fest" lineup at Veterans Park.
("The First Annual Blues Fest." Program, 1979.)

Snook Jones...opening entertainment for Jesse Thomas, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, etc.
Shreveport's "Blues Fest" lineup at Hirsch Coliseum, 1981.
("Blues Fest Schedule." 1981.)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

BUDDY JONES – Shreveport County Jail Blues (Decca, 1937)

“The master of the smut-song in the 1930s was a man named Buddy Jones,” according to Nick Tosches in his book Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock ‘n Roll. How did Jones earn this enviable title? By recording salacious songs such as “She’s Selling What She Used To Give Away,” “Easy Rollin’ Sue,” “Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama,” “Butcher Man Blues,” and “Streamlined Mama.” To be fair, Donald Lee Nelson’s assessment of Jones’s repertoire is more evenhanded: “The Jones musical portfolio had a number of suggestive pieces delivered tongue-in-cheek, a few reworks of [Jimmie] Davis’ [early] recordings, several [Jimmie] Rodgers standards, an occasional tear-jerker, some “beer joint heartache,” and a couple of talking blues.” This comment appears in the liner notes of an excellent Buddy Jones compilation LP issued in 1984 titled Louisiana Honky Tonk Man (Texas Rose, 2711). In 2008, these notes were published in the book Shreveport Sounds in Black and White, edited by Kip Lornell and Tracey E. W. Laird.

Buddy Jones was born Oscar Bergan Riley in 1906 in North Carolina. Sometime after his father’s death, his family moved to Port Arthur, Texas. Buddy and his brother Buster learned to play music from their stepfather, and the three performed at house parties and dances in their hometown. Taking their pastime a step further, Buddy and Buster left home and became itinerant musicians touring with tent shows and circuses.

In the early 1930s, Buddy Jones settled in Shreveport, Louisiana, and secured a radio show on KRMD. Around this time, he also befriended another local radio performer – singer Jimmie Davis. Davis moved to Shreveport in 1927 to teach at Dodd College (present day First Baptist Church School). By the early 1930s, Davis worked in city government as clerk of court and had already sung on nearly a dozen 78s issued on Victor Records as well as the local Doggone label. His connections led to Buddy Jones’s first appearance on records. At a recording session in May 1931 held in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jones and Davis sung duets on a few songs accompanied by guitar playing courtesy of both Jones and Snoozer Quinn. Speaking of Quinn, I highly recommend you check out Kathryn D. Hobgood Ray’s webpage devoted to her ancestor:

Buddy Jones with his embroidered “Buddy Jones” shirt. Caption when photograph published in the local paper: “Jimmie Davis and his Cowboy Pioneers will inaugurate a series of regular Sunday afternoon programs over KWKH beginning today at 4:45 p. m. The members of the group, pictured above, are, from left to right, Bill Harper, Claudette Mitchell, Charles Mitchell, Jimmie Davis, Buddy Jones, Ernest Hatley and A. B. Rische, with Tex Swaim, the “cowboy cut-up” seated amid the guitars. A number of Jimmie’s own 30 or more compositions will be featured on this afternoon’s broadcast.” (“Today’s Radio Programs,” Shreveport Times, November 22, 1936.)

During the mid 1930s, Jones joined the Shreveport Police Department Traffic Squad and continued playing music with Jimmie Davis, who was then recording for Decca Records. In February 1937, Jones climbed a rung on the music industry ladder and recorded a few songs for Decca issued under his own name. Thus began a productive relationship between Jones and the record label. Over the next four years, Decca released 35 of his records, in other words, 70 Buddy Jones songs. Most of the recording sessions were held in nearby Texas cities (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio), and included brother Buster on steel guitar. For an in-depth list of these sessions, check out Praguefrank’s website for a Buddy Jones discography. During this time period, his photo was prominently featured on the cover of Decca’s Hill Billy Catalog published in 1940. An earlier 1938 Decca catalog supplement described him as “the favorite blues singer of Dixie.”

Buddy Jones top right, Jimmie Davis top left. (Decca Hill Billy Records catalog, 1940.)

Jones’s song “Shreveport County Jail Blues” was recorded in December 1937 at a session in Dallas. As locals would be quick to point out, the title alone is an exercise in incongruities. [Note: See 6/19/2015 update at end of post. It sheds light on the lyrics.] Not only are there no counties in our state (instead Louisiana has parishes), there is not even a Shreveport Parish (Shreveport, a city, is located in Caddo Parish). The lyrics also offer a puzzling discrepancy: “the fifth floor in the Shreveport County Jail.” At the time of the recording--in fact, since 1928--Shreveport’s jail was located on the top floor of the Caddo Parish Courthouse. This top floor represents an elevation of more than five floors. So, why all these lyrical errors? Why not? For one, maybe the record buying public could identify the meaning of a county easier than a parish. In any event, if you’re expecting accurate information in song lyrics, you probably have bigger problems in life. A final note about the song: it presents an interesting scenario considering Jones’s occupation. Here we have a policemen singing about a man going to jail…and possibly being transferred to the penitentiary and sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Buddy Jones's place of employment. (Caddo Parish Courthouse postcard, postmarked 1949.)

Buddy Jones's office, Shreveport Police Department Traffic Squad room. Jones at far left. Inspirational car crash photographs pinned to the wall. (Photograph dated 1948.)

As for Jones’s demise, his life ended at the intersection of Pierremont Road and Creswell Avenue. While driving, he had a heart attack and hit a pole.

Jones makes the front page. Pallbearers included Jimmie Davis.
("Heart Attack Kills Officer Driving Auto," Shreveport Times, October 21, 1956.)

In 2007, I visited Forest Park Cemetery seeking Jones’s final resting place. A staff member found his entry in their database, retrieved the plot information, and we walked to the location. “Well, here it is,” and the guide pointed at the ground. We stared at the grass for a few seconds – no tombstone.


Update 4/14/2018:
On today's return visit to the cemetery, we found his tombstone!

O. Buddy Jones tombstone, 2018
(Forest Park Cemetery, Shreveport, La.)


Update 6/19/2015:
It seems that Hattie Burleson's "High Five Blues" (Paramount 13050-B, matrix L615) served as the template for Jones's song, "Shreveport County Jail Blues." Burleson, a singer from Dallas, Texas, recorded "High Five Blues" in 1930. The lyrics sung by Burleson are virtually identical to those sung and "written" by Buddy Jones in 1937. This offers one explanation why Jones's Shreveport jail lyrics do not match the description of Shreveport's jail.

Hattie Burleson "High Five Blues" (Paramount 13050-B)


Update 6/20/2015:
Many thanks to reader Chris Smith for his message (see comments section below).  Smith notes, "Gene Autry also covered Burleson's song, as "Dallas County Jail Blues" (Banner 33201 et al, 14 April 1931.) I suspect that he was an intermediary between Burleson and Jones."

Gene Autry "Dallas County Jail Blues" (Oriole 8070-A)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


THE SENSATIONAL GOLDEN KNIGHTS OF SHREVEPORT, La. – Thank You Jesus (Hosanna, circa 1965)

In 2009, I stumbled across a local gospel 45 that I’d never heard of before:

“Thank You Jesus” (songwriter: J. Richards)
“You’ve Been So Good” (songwriter: M. Peters)
(Hosanna 8024, circa 1965)

I’ve yet to determine the identity of the Sensational Golden Knights, but I did realize the Dallas, Texas, address listed on this Hosanna label also served as the home of Rapturea Records, who issued gospel releases, too. Perhaps one succeeded the other.

In 2010, I ran across a new piece of information about the Sensational Golden Knights after attending Ponderosa Stomp. One of the highlights of the show was catching a last-minute addition to the bill—The Relatives, who hailed from Dallas, Texas. That night the group put on an impressive set of gospel funk…something perfected during their heyday in the early 1970s.

Later, I picked up the group’s LP “Don’t Let Me Fall” released by Heavy Light Records in 2009. It contains each of The Relatives’ singles from the 1970s and five previously unreleased songs. While reading the liner notes this caught my attention:
After a stint as associate minister at a Dallas church, [Gean] West began touring with the Sensational Golden Knights in 1958 and a year later was singing with the Mighty Golden Voices. By 1961 the gospel group had settled in St. Paul, Minnesota and West hit the road with the Southernaires, a vocal group out of Shreveport, Louisiana.
It’s not clear to me if West actually appears on the Sensational Golden Knights 45 issued on Hosanna. I’m also not sure about the release date; circa 1965 seems about right. I had hoped to clear up some of these mysteries at the Ponderosa Stomp 2011. However, I recently learned that the Relatives are no longer on this year’s schedule. Perhaps others can shed some light on this situation.

While you're at it, check out Andrew Dansby's article "The Relatives: Earth-Shaking Gospel" published in August 2010.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

JOHNNY HARRIS – Ripsaw (Wanted, 1962)

Johnny ‘Ray’ Harris was born in Louisiana January 9, 1932. By 1960 he found himself a Shreveport fireman looking to crack the music business on his own. In February of that year he released “Tired of Crawling, Gonna Start to Run” b/w “When a New Love is Born, Does an Old Love Die” on his own Ray records via Starday records custom pressing “PD” series. On the night of July 30, 1960 he found himself performing on the famed Louisiana Hayride stage no doubt supporting his newly released “Dog Gone” b/w “Cajun Weekend” (Ray 601, 1960). This performance can be heard in the YouTube clip below.

Johnny’s third and final release on his own Ray label “No More Hurtin’” b/w “In Memory of Johnny Horton” (Ray 602, 1960) paid homage to one of the Hayride’s greatest stars, Johnny Horton, who had just passed away in a horrible car accident in November of 1960 while returning to Shreveport after a show in Austin, TX.

A few other unissued recordings from this period are gathered on the White Label LP “Rockin’ in Louisiana, vol. 2”. These sides show the incredible raw musicianship of players in the area and the varied influences they all draw upon. The sound is a blend of rural Cajun South Louisiana, sophisticated New Orleans, East Texas & Delta Blues combined with the raw yelp of Hillbilly Country & Western all up against the face of a burgeoning Rock n Roll scene.

Which brings us to "Ripsaw" b/w "Cajun Blues" (Wanted, 711) as twisted a piece of swampy-blues-rockabilly to ever step out of the region. The haunting harmonica and off kilter singing weren’t going to land it on the Billboard Hot 100, but something special was captured on this little piece of wax nonetheless. It’s some sort of twisted Davy Crockett tale through the lens of the swamp.

Everything here sounds a little later than 1960, and some clues pop out upon inspection of the label. The name Marais and La Dee Music point to Dee Marais, a local record man who recorded talent at local studios and sometimes in the back of his Bayou Records shop. Dee ran several great Shreveport labels including Murco, Hy-Sign and Peermont, which I’m sure we’ll dig into on this blog soon enough.

As for Johnny ‘Ray’ Harris, not much else is known. He died March 19, 1983 in Shreveport. A fireman and a singer, we have his self-released Ray records and the odd backwoods greatness of RIPSAW to remember him by.

Johnny Ray Harris & Dorothy Mae Raines Harris

P.S. - After seeing this post my buddy Chris Brown dug up this fantastic item - the original lead sheet for RIPSAW!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

CHICO CHISM AND HIS JETANAIRS - Hot Tamales and Bar-B-Que (Clif, 1957)

CHICO CHISM AND HIS JETANAIRS - Hot Tamales and Bar-B-Que (Clif, 1957)

Legend has it that drummer Napolean F. “Chico” Chism entered this world on a riverboat in Shreveport, Louisiana, on May 23, 1927. Public records suggest he was the offspring of Napolean Chism and Willie Mae Thomas, who married on September 27, 1926, and lived at 221 Agurs Row. This street (now named Fontenauc) runs alongside Cross Bayou, so perhaps the riverboat claim isn't far from the truth. While his upbringing may be a bit of a mystery, Chism’s music was preserved on a few locally released 45s in 1956 and 1957. Of these records, he led the band and received top billing once:

(Clif 102, 1957)

"Hot Tamales and Bar-B-Que” celebrates two rich subjects––food and Texas Avenue. The latter served as a main transportation route lined with multicultural businesses. The National Register of Historic Places marker installed at the 800 block of Texas Avenue in 1979 emphasizes this point: “Preserved commercial block dating from between 1899 and 1917. Many early ethnic businesses were housed here, including Black, Jewish, Chinese, and Arab merchants.” Further down the street in the 1000 block lay a major African American district containing the Calanthean Temple, Antioch Baptist Church, and the Star Theater.

Chism’s 45, recorded at Mira Smith’s RAM recording studio, appeared on Clif Hagin’s short-lived label, Clif. Upon its release, Billboard published this colorful review:

(Billboard, July 1, 1957, p. 64)

Outside of his recordings, few other traces of Chism’s Shreveport days have surfaced. Ernest Lampkins recalled playing with Chism at Ernest Palmisano's Supper Club when his band’s regular drummer was unavailable. Lampkins also remembered a period when Chism disappeared for awhile. Then, while driving past the penal farm prison on West 70th Street, he spotted Chism picking beans near the road. He stopped the car and called out “Chico!” Chism responded, “Get me outta here, I ain’t did nothing!” A prison guard cut the conversation short by yelling “Get to work over there!”

Only one photograph of Chism has surfaced from his Shreveport days. It depicts him playing in a band on a KTBS television show titled “Jockey Jim’s Sepia Showcase.” James Randolph Waters (aka Jockey Jim) lived in Shreveport during the 1950s and spun records over KANV, KANB, and KOKA. The undated photo appears in Willie Burton’s book The Blacker the Berry: A Black History of Shreveport. (Shreveport, La: The Times, 2002).

Chism appears to have left Shreveport in the 1960s. By the 1970s, he was living in Chicago, and worked as Howlin’ Wolf’s last drummer. In 1986, he relocated to Phoenix, where he continued to play music until he passed away on January 28, 2007. These later years are well-documented by his friend Bob Corritore at “Chico Chism Remembered” , “Chico Chism Photos” , “Chico Chism Photo Remembrances” , and “More Chico Chism Remembrances.”

For those seeking a copy of “Hot Tamales and Bar-B-Que” without the pops and scratches, check out the compact disc Red River Blues (Ace 725).