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)


  1. Just wanted to say, great post, chock full of all kinds of good stuff. Buddy's "Rockin' Rollin' Mama" I believe contains one of the earliest uses of the phrase, "rock and roll".

    "Waves on the ocean, waves in the sea/ But that gal of mine rolls just right for me/ Rockin' rollin' mama, I love the way you rock and roll"

  2. Love that "Shreveport County Jail Blues" - great post Chris! Kathryn

  3. Austin, thanks. I have seen Jones's "Rockin' Rollin' Mama" cited as an early use of the term. Now, I'm trying to remember a nice resource that systematically examined early references to rock and roll...and I'm coming up empty. However, I did just run across this book, which covers the subject:

    The Golden Age of Rock 'N' Roll By Richard Havers, Richard Evans

  4. FYI:
    Jelly Roll Morton And Red Hot Peppers Shreveport Stomp
    'Shreveport Farewell' ('Little Brother' Montgomery

  5. It's kind of shocking that a respectable veteran of the police force would be buried in an unmarked grave.

    Fascinating that two of Shreveport's most notable musicians would be buried with no tombstone (Utah Smith being the other one).

  6. Thanks for your patience... The Thanksgiving mixes have been re-upped at long last. Enjoy :)

    Peace and blessings.

  7. Comment from Chris Smith:

    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. "The Dictionary of American Regional English", sv "high five," says: "1968 [answer to a question about] Joking names … for a county or city jail [from a white informant in Clarksville, Texas, born 1912], High five – the floor of the courthouse where the jail is. [Fred Tarpley, ‘From Blinky to Blue-John: A Word Atlas of North-East Texas’, page] 271 neTx, High five (sometimes called high fi by folk analogy) originally referred to the jail on the fifth floor of a county court house, but the term has been extended to include the jail on any of the upper floors of a municipal building."

  8. Very interesting. Always appreciate such meticulous research. I was born in Dallas in 1949, so these fairly nearby events are all the more interesting. Russell Farley

  9. I spent summers with my Uncle Buddy and Aunt Lucille in Shreveport. I enjoyed many "jam sessions" with famous name musicians when they came to town and came out for dinner and music. I have been surprised to learn, here in later years, what an important musician he was. To me, he was just Uncle Buddy, who could do an amazing spontaneous Talking Blues about whoever was in the room, and had very interesting musician friends (like Hank Williams) who were kind enough to a 9-year-old girl to encourage me to sing with them in the living room.