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.)

8 comments:

  1. For more Country Jim, check out Gerard Herzhaft's "COUNTRY JIM BLEDSOE/ SHREVEPORT BLUES" blog post.

    http://jukegh.blogspot.fr/2012/10/country-jim-bledsoe-shreveport-blues.html

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    1. Dear Chris
      Thank you very much for this wonderful article about Country Jim and Pete Mc kinley with a stunning photo of Mr Bledsoe himself. And of course for the link to my blog and the lines I've written about Country Jim. I don't think that Country Jim is present on the version of "Shreveport blues" above, onmy Pete Mc Kinley playing the guitar and the harp (with a rack probably) plus a drummer. A fine track nevertheless. I am of course very interested to have a mp3 copy of Plantation blues by Country Jim. That would complete the comp I've made on my blog. Why wouldn't you feature it in your blog first and I'd take it in mine after? I love very much your stunning blog, dedicated to the very musical soul of the city of Shreveport. All the best

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  2. Gerard, I am glad you enjoyed this post on Country Jim and Pete McKinley. Here are the songs you requested:

    Country Jim - Plantation Blues (Imperial 5091, IM-189)

    Country Jim - Rainy Morning Blues (Imperial 5062, IM-146)

    As for the musicians on "Shreveport Blues" that I posted, you may be correct. It is possible that the LP liner notes are wrong, and the song does not feature Bledsoe. However, I can't be sure. After listening again, I notice the singer mentions "Jimmy" at [1:18]. I wonder if this was done because James Bledsoe was also playing the song...or simply because Bledsoe attended the recording session...or who knows!

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing these rare sides!

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  3. Dear Chris
    The liner notes of the old British LP are of course outdated. All the subsequent editions of the Blues Discography (Eyeball Publishers) states the fact that Pete Mc Kinley is the singer/guitarist/harmonicist of Shreveport blues. As you, I'm quite sure that Country Jim was in the studio for the recording day is the same and, aurally at least, the drummer is also the same as behind Jim. The picture of Country Jim you have unearthed is awesome! Wow! It should be published in blues magazines. As I guess you live in Shreveport, is it absolutely nonsense to think that there are still living relatives of Mr Bledsoe who could give some more bio and fact informations about this great bluesman?
    Anyway, your blog and your work are wonderful!
    All the best
    Gérard Herzhaft

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  4. Prior to his death, the great soul singer Reuben Bell told me that Jim Bledsoe was still alive and living in the Cedar Grove neighborhood of Shreveport. This would have been about 2003 or so. Unfortunately, it would be the last conversation I ever had with Reuben Bell, who was soon diagnosed with cancer, and died shortly thereafter. Researchers hypothesize a 1929 birth date for Bledsoe, so it's not inconceivable that he could still be living. The Shreveport City Directories for the era show a David McKinley as an auto mechanic, who is likely the man in question. All of these Specialty sessions were instigated by Stan Lewis, and likely consisted of musicians who hung around the record shop.

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  5. That is an interesting little story. Now you mention that David Pete McKinley also recorded a Shreveport Blues for the Gotham label but it's a completely different song. Funny thing is, that he recorded that same year which means that McKinley recorded two different songs with the same title for two different recording companies. (Source: http://www.78discography.com/Gotham500.htm ).

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  6. David "Pete" McKinley's promotional material stated that he was a nephew of Bessie Smith.

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