Monday, February 4, 2013

PETE MCKINLEY & COUNTRY JIM - Shreveport Blues (Specialty, 1952)

PETE MCKINLEY & COUNTRY JIM - Shreveport Blues (Specialty, 1952)

Though recorded in 1952, it took twenty-one years for Pete McKinley and Country Jim's "Shreveport Blues" to reach the record-buying public.  However, having only appeared on one compilation album released in England in 1973, I suspect few people have been able to enjoy this song that name-checks a local intersection (McNeil and 4th Street) and mentions a "cold chill" inducing woman.

McNeil and 4th Street intersection, Shreveport, Louisiana, October 2007 (Source: Google Maps).

Who were David "Pete" McKinley and James "Country Jim" Bledsoe? Good question. Both had records issued in the early 1950s, yet the blues cognoscenti have yet to clearly identify either. McKinley is known to have recorded about a dozen songs which have seen the light of day…including another "Shreveport Blues" (Gotham 505). Bledsoe recorded about thirty songs, yet half of these remain unreleased. This is unfortunate especially since the unissued titles seem interesting, for example "Travis Street Blues," "Undertaker," and "I'll Be Waitin' Up There." You can view Bledsoe's discography on Stefan Wirz's "American Music" website. I don't have much to offer the Bledsoe mystery, but imagine my surprise when stumbling upon this photograph of him in a Baton Rouge antique shop in 2010.

James “Country Jim” Bledsoe photograph (circa 1950).  "Exclusive Imperial [and Specialty and Pacemaker and perhaps later Peacock] Recording Artist."

In 1973, "Shreveport Blues" appeared on a compilation album released in England titled Country Blues (Speciality SNTF 5014). The album primarily consisted of unissued songs sourced from late-night recording sessions at Shreveport's KWKH radio station. These sessions were organized by Stan Lewis and Art Rupe and featured recordings by a few local blues musicians. Lewis ran Stan's Record Shop located in downtown Shreveport at 728 Texas Street, and Rupe ran Specialty Records in Los Angeles.

Details about these recording sessions are fairly limited, but 1970s Specialty Records employee Barret Hansen (aka disc jockey Dr. Demento) did share his collected information with music historian Sam Charter, who wrote the liner notes to the Country Blues LP. Again, thanks to Stefan Wirz's "American Music" website, you can read the notes online. In 1994, Specialty released additional songs from these recording sessions on the compact disc Bloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues from Specialty (SPCD-7061-2).

As for who is doing what on this recording of "Shreveport Blues," well, that's not entirely clear either. My ears hear a guitar, harmonica, and drums, while the singer sounds like McKinley based on his other records.

Readers, now it’s time for you to help shed light on David "Pete" McKinley and James "Country Jim" Bledsoe.

P. S. Here are two more songs by Country Jim --

 Don Robey signs Country Jim to Peacock Records (Source: “Rhythm and Blues Notes,” Billboard,November 17, 1951, 35.)