The following review appears in Vintage Jazz Mart (VJM) magazine:
Since 2010 when the first volume appeared, the Frog Blues And Jazz Annual has been eagerly anticipated. Even if it didn’t appear annually, it was always worth the wait because its editor, Paul Swinton, somehow always managed to gather together a fascinating miscellany of important primary research into early blues and jazz, with galleries of historic photographs (often hitherto unseen by the majority of collectors), contemporary advertising material and sheet music, as well historic newspaper articles, magazine pieces and reminiscences. Each annual was accompanied by a CD which showcased (in exemplary sound) some of the music discussed in the book and often made available previously unheard takes and test pressings, previously unreleased field recordings and vanity pressings
This current annual is the last of the series and it is a wonderful coda to a splendid project. It contains major research articles by some of most distinguished writers on early blues and jazz including David Evan, Dean Gayle Wardlow, Chris Smith, Bob Eagle, Michael Hortig, Alex van der Tuuk, David Butters, Ate van Deldon, Brian Goggin (of this parish) and the editor himself, Paul Swinton.
A number of the major pieces here are the results of “forensic” research in official documents, especially census records, and the re-examination of older sources such as pioneering interviews from the 1960s. One of the results is “West Dallas Drag” by Bob Eagle and Michael Hortig which sheds new light on the lives (and music) of “The Santa Fee Pianists”: Black Boy Shine, Pinetop Burkes, Andy Boy, Son Becky and Joe Pullum. The article marries the vivid recollections of Buster Pickens and Robert Shaw, last survivors of the Santa Fee, with the facts rather starkly recorded in registers of births and deaths. All of this gives context to the work of these pianists and singers which I’ve long admired and collected and which is illustrated by Rob Cooper’s splendid piano solo “ West Dallas Drag” ( CD,1). It’s a pleasure to learn so much more about their lives.
“Crowing Rooster”, an exhaustive investigation by David Evans, Bob Eagle and associates of an obscure record by Walter Rhodes (CD 8), reveals larger contexts. Not only does it document the life and death (by lightning strike!) of Walter “Pat” `Rhodes, it also explores the role of the accordion in African-American music, the connection between Rhodes and Charlie Patton (“Banty Rooster Blues”) as well as the biographies of Rhodes’ brilliant accompanists - Richard and Mylon Harney ( Pet and Can). It is an engrossing read.
The pre-war blues is further documented in “Memories of Tommy Johnson” (CD 6. “Cool Drink Of Water”), a compilation of reminiscences by Johnson ’s friends and family collected in the early 1960s by Gayle Dean Wardlow, who also contributes a poignant piece on the final years of Bo Carter. It is Illustrated with informal and rather charming photographs of Carter playing for a group of white children (in 1958). Wardlow offers these as an alternative to Paul Oliver’s picture (in “Conversation With The Blues”, Cassell, 1960) of the blind Bo Carter sitting alone with his steel guitar. Wardlow argues that this picture shaped ‘the contemporary image of Bo Carter in popular memory’. To my recollection it did, but it was, back then, allied with Sam Charter’s glancing reference to him in “The Country Blues” (1959) as “Bo Carter… a ‘party blues’ singer”. Armiter “Bo” Carter was much more than that : he was an exceptional guitarist and very fine singer. Alex van der Tuuk’s essay, “Clifford Gibson”, illustrated by a Victor Test of “Don’t Put That Thing On Me” (CD 7) and an engaging photograph of Gibson and his performing dog, brings this accomplished St. Louis artist to life.
Similarly, “Altanta Black Sound” surveys the city’s rich musical culture and is splendidly illustrated with a host of photographs, some historic like that of Barbecue Bob in a suit, tie and hat ( which I first saw on the cover of “The Atlanta Blues” RBF 15 ) and the picture from 1907 of Curley Weaver with his mother, Savannah. Others, including one of his fellow researcher Bruce Bastin listening with obvious pleasure to Buddy Moss play, were taken by Peter B. Lowry who wrote this long and comprehensive overview back in 1977 for the Atlanta Historical Society Bulletin. Lowry and Bastin ( author of the classic “Red River Blues”, University of Illinois Press,1986) did much of the ground-breaking field work which documented the musical history of the eastern sea board and the article is republished here as a tribute to Peter Lowry who died last year. It’s illustrated by previously unissued field recordings made by Bastin and Lowry (CD 25. “Poor Boy” by Willie Trice and CD 26,”Ain’t Got No Mama Now” by Ernest Scott) ; both are lovely performances.
Two essays by Chris Smith explore the wider story of African-American music which was preserved by the Library of Congress and independent field researchers like Lawrence Gellert, whose book (1936) “Negro Songs of Protest’, framed the music in the activist context of left-wing politics. The only recordings made of a named artist (Private Odell E.Hall,) by Gellert were recorded in Camp Woolers, Texas, in 1942. (CD 20, 21). Chris Smith’s second essay “Roger Garrett: “A Man Before His Time” is a fascinating account of a murder ballad “Eaton Clan” recorded by Garrett for the Library of Congress at Parchman Farm in 1939. Smith first explored this song and its circumstances twenty years ago, but subsequent research in the federal census records (and elsewhere) has revealed much more about the Eaton murder ( a white affair) and about its chronicler, Roger Garrett who was black. An arresting photograph shows Garrett seated at the centre with a family of white instrumentalists standing round. As Chris Smith cautions, “This is a difficult image to read through the lenses of time, race and class’ but his careful and nuanced exploration of it gives us a real sense of complex cultural context(s) in which the ballad was created and transmitted.
The editor, Paul Swinton, contributes a number of pieces including an authoritative look at the history of the Memphis Jug Band (a longstanding interest of his, reflected in their complete works being available in exemplary sound on Frog Records). He traces the band’s story and ever changing personnel from first to final recordings (1927 -1934) and emphasises the pivotal role of Will Shade who was at its heart : he formed it having been inspired by a Dixie Land Jug Blowers record and was the driving personality behind its success. One of the many pleasures of this article is its “asides”: when Paul discusses the band’s recording of “Aunt Caroline Dyer” it’s illustrated with a photograph of the famous soothsayer and there’s a revealing note about the Whitewall Station, subject of an eponymous MJB recording (CD.12) One particularly arresting press photographic sequence shows jug band members entertaining Boss Crump and his white guests on a campaign train. Swinton’s expert knowledge of the band, its patrons, the places it performed - in short, the culture and world from which it came- is animated by an obvious love of the music. It made this reviewer once again play Frog DGF 15,16,18 and 62. Arlo Leach’s “Charlie Burse -The Memphis Mudcat is a superb adjunct to this. It tells the story of another key member of the MJB illustrated with family photographs and the reminiscences of his grand-children. Burse was a vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and vital presence in both live performance and in the recording studio. Leach’s attempt to identify Burse’s presence - vocally, on guitar, tenor guitar and mandolin - on the MJB’s records is another invitation to close listening.
Paul Swinton’s essay on Charlie Creath has at its core the recollections of Creath’s sister, Marge who married Zutty Singleton. They are augmented by research in the public records to produce a picture of an expressive musician whose trumpet playing recalled King Oliver. It also chronicles Creath’s addiction to gambling, his consequent involvement with organized crime and his suicide.
David Butters contributes a brace of articles that tangentially relate to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band whose “Livery Stable Blues” is commonly taken to be the first jazz record. It became the subject of a copyright dispute between the composers of the piece, Ray Lopez and Alcide Nunez, and the ODJB and their agent. The stories of Lopez and Nunez (and the wider cultural and musical world in which jazz emerged) are told here in compelling detail. The “World’s Greatest Jazz Clarinetist” recounts the life of Alcide “Yellow” Nunez, one of the oldest New Orleans jazz clarinetists, who recorded with the Louisiana Five in 1919 (CD.16). Although not as famous with latter day collectors as Johnny Dodds, Omer Simeon or Sidney Bechet, Nunez figures widely in the oral histories of New Orleans Jazz. Butters makes it clear that Nunez, unlike Dodds or Bechet, wasn’t an “improvisor” but an expert, professional player of syncopated music which aligned him with the subject of Butter’s second, longer article on cornetist Ray Lopez. Born in New Orleans, Lopez was an important figure in the white musical culture of the city, playing with pioneering groups such a Jack Laine’s Reliance Band, and Tom Brown’s Ragtime Band which brought the music they called “jass” north to Chicago in 1915. These articles meld individual biographies with a wider musical and social history.
The other, some would argue, key cultures which shaped “jass” in New Orleans - the Creole and the African-American-- are encountered in a variety of pieces. David Butters relates the life of Sam Morgan, leader of perhaps the finest band to make records of traditional New Orleans music in the 1920s (CD.2.“Short Dress Gal” ) whilst, in a reprint of a 1946 article, Robert Goffin’s tells the story of “Big Eye” Louis Nelson. Nelson didn’t record until just before his death in 1949, but his vivid memories of playing with Buddy Bolden, Freddy Keppard , Bunk Johnson, The Superior Orchestra and others bring a world of music to life. So does a brief interview with the pianist, composer and band leader, Joe Robichaux who with his New Orleans Rhythm Boys is featured here.( CD.9. “Saturday Night Fish Fry Drag”).
For many years Ate van Deldon presided over the “Ramblings” discography page of VJM which he often concluded with requests for information about the records of the multi-instrumentalist, Adrian Rollini( CD. 17“At The Jazz Band Ball”). His succinct biography of the master of the bass saxophone is the fruit of that research. Should you wish to read more, Ate’s fully documented account of his research is published as “Adrian Rollini: The Life And Music of a Jazz Rambler” (University of Mississippi Press, 2020 ).
Brian Goggin contributes two fine articles. One relates the life of the obscure tuba player Lawson Buford ( who plays on “Band Box Stomp” by Jabbo Smith.CD 22.) and opens with an illuminating short history of the tuba in jazz. The other is an extended exploration of the life and music of the arranger (and sometime sax player) Jimmy Mundy who “had one of the greatest jazz brains and was a key architect of the swing era” He can be heard playing on “Caverism” by Earl Hines and his Orchestra (CD.10).
As with the earlier annuals, this one is lavishly and colourfully illustrated with vintage advertisements, newspaper reports and articles, including a 1928 piece on Ma Rainy (complete with photograph) and a 1938 one about Blind Willie McTell from a local Statesboro paper ,“The Bulloch Herald”: both are clearly based on interviews with the artists.
One of the incidental pleasures of reading the Frog annuals has been the way in which they invite you revisit music that you know and also introduce you to artists, records and genres that you don’t. For me they’ve certainly opened doors to early jazz. Therefore, it’s worth noting a contemporary advertisement (illustrated with two wonderful photographs of Sister Rosetta Tharpe) which closes the final annual, but announces that “The Frog Occasional. Volume 1, Issue 1” is “COMING SOON!” I look forward to it! In the meantime, this farewell is unreservedly recommended.
The following review appears in B & R:
THE FROG BLUES & JAZZ ANNUAL NO.6 Paul Swinton, editor Frog Records Limited, 2022; 222pp illustrated; ISBN 978-0-9564717-5-1; £35.00 (plus postage) from www.frog-records.co_uk Complimentary CD not separately numbered (76:57) ROB COOPER: West Dallas Drag; SAM MORGAN'S JAZZ BAND: Short Dress Gal; CHAS CREATH JAZZ-O-MANIACS: Butter-Finger Blues; LONNIE JOHNSON: Fussin' And Frettin' (unissued test)/ Tomorrow Night (Paradise version); TOMMY JOHNSON: Cool Drink Of Water Blues; CLIFFORD GIBSON: Don't Put That Thing On Me (unissued test); WALTER RHODES: Crowing Rooster; JOE ROBICHAUX & HIS NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM BOYS: Saturday Night Fish Fry Drag; EARL HINES AND HIS ORCH: Cavernism #B; ABE LYMAN: Weary Weasel; MEMPHIS JUG BAND: Whitewash Station; MEMPHIS MINNIE & MEMPHIS JUG BAND: Bumble Bee Blues; PARAMOUNT ALL STARS: Hometown Skiffle #2 (unissued fragment)/ Hometown Skiffle #3; ROGER 'BURN DOWN' GARRETT: Eaton Clan (field recording); LOUISIANA FIVE: Slow & Easy; BIX BEIDERBECKE: At The Jazz Band Ball; JIMMY BLYTHE: Mister Freddy (previously unheard version from Paramount test); ODELL HALL: Fragment & Slow Blues (field recording)/ See My Baby (field recording); JABBO SMITH & HIS RHYTHM ACES: Band Box Stomp; CLARENCE WILLIAMS: Would Ya?; COW COW DAVENPORT: State Street Jive (#A test); WILLY TRICE: Poor Boy Long Way From Home (field recording); EARNEST SCOTT: Ain't Got No Mama Now (field recording). Reviewing annual No.5 back in 2017, I delivered the bad news that there would only be one more. This is it, but what a way to go out. At 222 pages, it's the biggest yet and every page earns its place. The reviewer's problem is in knowing where to start. The first article to hit you as you turn the pages is Gayle Dean Wardlow's on Tommy Johnson, presenting "memories of this great artist from the ;researcher's interviews, with brother Ledell, '. H. C. Speir, Ishman Bracey, Johnnie Temple, ~~alter Vincson/Vincent and Jack Cooper, Johnson's nephew. There's another Wardlow contribution, on Bo Carter. If you've ever read anything about Walter Rhodes before, it's unlikely to have exceeded a few lines, but here we get, believe it or not, eighteen pages, credited to several distinguished names. "There's transcriptions of a 1938 article about Willie McTell. and a 1925 one about Ma Rainey. Dave Peabody contributes a short but useful interview with Frank Edwards, while Bob Eagle and Michael Hortig collate interviews with Buster Pickens and Robert Shaw, together with further research, into a short but very welcome ('history of the Santa Fee (sic) group of piano players. Precious stuff. Frog’s Editor Paul Swinton has assembled the ::;"evidence needed to determine the date when 'Hometown Skiffle' was recorded, and "whether Blind Lemon was really present at the session. Chris Smith marshals a different kind of evidence in his piece on a 1939 Library of Congress recording by Roger Garrett compelling stuff, including a photo that has to be seen to be believed - and in a separate ~_article about Odell E. Hall, also captured on a field recording, by Lawrence Gellert in 1942.
There's a nice little set of stories told by Willie Trice, pulled together by Bruce Bastin. There's a whole stack of stuff about Memphis jug bands and a survey of black music in Atlanta by Peter Lowry, a tribute to that eminent researcher and blues lover who died in 2022. And there are several other smaller blues-related features I haven't mentioned. From the texts, you can rely on that strong ring of authority and meticulous research or, in a few cases, reproduced from period sources, the charm of vintage journalistic style. Everybody and everything gets the full Frog Annual treatment, by which I mean that each article is copiously (and I mean, really copiously) illustrated: portraits of musicians, both vintage and more recent, jostle for position with images of early advertising, label shots, news cuttings and ephemera, with as much colour as possible from a largely monochrome age. In addition, there are features over several pages that consist entirely of beautiful reproductions of similar materials, a simply incredible array. Most of these you've never seen before, and any ones that you might have, are looking better than you've ever seen them - high quality reproductions, sharp and clear, often on a large scale. Add to that a generous selection of full colour blues artwork by Argentinian blues fan and artist Max Hoeffner. The visual impact is - even more than usual - quite extraordinary. The early jazz content, which makes up about half of what is here, and again gets the full treatment, is perhaps less central to B&R's concerns, although some more than others - like Sam Morgan and Kid Thomas Valentine, for example - played music that was heavy with the blues. Others in there include Charlie Creath, Adrian Rollini, Ray Lopez and Sylvester Rice. There's a feature on Walter Barnes, the band leader who died with more than 200 others in a dance hall fire, about which Howling Wolf was still singing twenty years later in 'The Natchez Burning'. There's a small gospel section, too. The accompanying CD offers something by pretty much everybody who gets a feature in the annual, often in a previously unissued recording or take. Again, those ones you might have heard before, you've probably never heard sounding this good. Listening to the Memphis Jug Band's 1928 Whitewash Station', while I type this, it's almost like Jab Jones is playing his jug right behind my left shoulder. Some things you won't have heard, though, like Odell Hall's piano songs (fine blues), and Roger 'Burn Down' Garrett's song (not at all what I was expecting}, excavated from their respective archives by Chris Smith to illuminate his remarkable studies of these recordings. There's a couple of great Lonnie Johnson rarities, and a dazzling piano solo by Jimmy Blythe from an unissued Paramount test. It's especially satisfying to know that there are still things to be discovered in the third decade of the twenty-first century. A pair of Peter Lowry and Bruce Bastin's field recordings from the 1970s add to the unheard delights, especially the one by Earnest Scott, everyone of whose recordings is listed in the ‘Blues Discography' as unissued. There's no shortage of blues content in many of the jazz sides, either, and some outstanding playing by all involved. An editorial note in the back by Paul Swinton (who deserves all the acclaim for having put this musical and visual feast together, and the five previous annuals too) holds out the prospect of occasional smaller-scale publications, the first of which is already in preparation, alongside new Frog CD releases. Now that's very good news.