by Billy Hutchinson
This is the land of tornadoes, thunderstorms, scorching summers, packed churches, magnolias, kudzu, pecans, cicadas, squirrels and chipmunks that outnumber the dogs and cats, trees that want to grow forever and soul food. More than two of anything is a “whole bunch”, the common greeting is “y’all”, along with the proclamation that Alabama, not Mississippi, IS “Dixie”. There’s a place called Enterprise, AL that is home to the only known monument to an agricultural pest – the Boll Weevil. Though the insect caused devastation to the cotton plants, it forced Alabama to diversify in other crops, such as peanut farming. This in turn provided diversity and prosperity.
The Boll Weevil Monument, Enterprise, Alabama. “After the boll weevil destroyed (1910-15) the area’s cotton, diversified farming was begun. In gratitude for the resulting prosperity, the city erected a monument to the boll weevil in 1919.” [from The Columbia Encyclopedia, 3rd ed., s.v. “Enterprise.”]. Series VII.1, Photographs, Box 7.1/3, file “II. Photographs–Boll weevil monument, Alabama,” USDA History Collection, Special Collections, National Agricultural Library.
Alabama, from its American Indian heritage to its Japanese car manufacturers, has seen a lot of turmoil. The civil rights of the sixties left a very bad portrayal of this state, with the effect of Rosa Parks’ refusal to go to the back of the bus, the Montgomery to Selma march, the Birmingham bombing and a strong K.K.K. stomping ground. J. B. Lenoir’s famous song, “Alabama Blues”, stated he won’t go back there. Alabama is never viewed in the same way as Mississippi or Texas where Blues music receives glorification, and yet it has contributed Gennett, ARC, Columbia, Vocalion and Okeh did some Alabama based recordings, but not on the scale of Mississippi. Too few Alabama born Blues musicians have gained national prominence. Maybe the last big name to leave us was Jerry “Boogie” McCain, and Willie King of Freedom Creek left Alabama with a void to fill. Before that, we have to look back to Johnny Shines, who although born in Frazier, TN, lived his remaining years in Alabama (almost 30yrs), and did a lot for the state’s music scene. Another adopted son was Jamaican born Eddie Kirkland, (well technically, as he was reported as being a year old by the time he lived in Alabama) another much-loved bluesman spending his life in Alabama. Add to the list Lucille Bogan, who, though born in Mississippi moved to Alabama.
The big name has to be W. C. Handy, and although he was a jazz bandleader, he did profit from his use of the Blues, coming across akin to Shakespeare and Robert Johnson in that he wasn’t above using others work to expand upon it with incredible effect. Oh yeah can’t leave out Sun Records Sam Phillips either.
When we delve back into Alabama’s Blues history, we find treasures such as George “Wild Child” Butler, Little Sonny, Butler “String Bean” May, Peanut the Kidnapper, Clarence “Pinetop” Smith, Walter Roland, Cow Cow Davenport, Jabo Williams, Big Chief Ellis, “Big” Joe Duskin, Daddy Stovepipe, Big Mama Thornton, Leola “Coot” Grant, Jaybird Coleman, George “Bullet” Williams, Ollis Martin, Rich Amerson, Horace Sprott, Blind Jesse Harris, Dan Pickett, John Lee, Leroy Dallas, Gus Jenkins, Albert Macon, Robert Burse, James “Thunderbird” Davis, Tommy Couch (Producer), Robert McCoy ,”Blind Bogus” Ben Covington, Sonny Scott and Frankie “Half Pint” Jackson, The Birmingham Jug Band. Add to that list the writer of the first recorded Blues song (“Crazy Blues”), Perry Bradford and the hugely over looked guy who taught Robert Johnson guitar – Ike Zimmerman. What does surprise many people are Blues musicians who have made their names elsewhere and yet are Alabama born, i.e., Louisiana Red, Jody Williams, James Harman, Charlie Baty, Odetta, Sam Lay, “Bobo” Jenkins, and J. J. Malone.
The field researchers, folklorists and the Library of Congress did not overlook Alabama, John and Alan Lomax combed Sumter County, as well as prisons throughout Alabama in ’37, ’39 & ’40. Harold Courtlander was in the town Livingston in Jan. & Feb. 1940. Fredric Ramsey Jr. in 1954, researchers Samuel B. Charters and Gayle Dean Wardlow have also sought out musicians and valuable information within Alabama. Mrs. Ruby Pickens Tartt, an Alabama WPA folklorist, did great work as a white woman in such racially difficult times. Samuel B. Charter’s explanation for the weakened Blues tradition within Alabama was much to do with the migration of a great number of Alabamans, fleeing the racial prejudices and poverty. In the chapter about the Depression in America in Giles Oakley’s 1976 book, “The Devil’s Music” it says, “In Birmingham, Alabama, where in January 1932 only 8,000 out of 108,000 workers were receiving normal wages and 25,000 were completely out of work, the city set up a canal construction project providing 750 jobs – there were over 12,000 applications”. He also noted that, “…; in Alabama 81 per cent of the children at school were on enforced vacation through cuts in education spending”.
One thing I found while researching was a mention of numerous recording companies using “Birmingham” to sell their artists, even though they were not from Alabama at all. Harry Charles was a salesman who later became a talent scout for Paramount Records, he went on from that to have his own furniture store in Birmingham, AL. Harry Charles had a deep Southern accent which was a very useful tool in persuading local musicians to sign up to him. Coming back up to date there are quite a lot of festivals in Alabama that either are Blues festivals or that have Blues acts, – Sam Phillips Festival and W. C. Handy Festival in Florence, The Johnny Shines Blues Festival in Holt, Bay Fest and Mobile Mardi Gras in Mobile, Kentuck Festival of Arts in Northport, Jubilee Festival in Montgomery, Annual School and Blues Festival, Panoply Arts Festival, and North Alabama “Down Home” Blues Festival and Jacees Fairground, Big Spring Jam in Huntsville, Bob Sykes BBQ & Blues Festival in Bessemer, Freedom Creek Festival in Aliceville, Battle of the Blues Bands, Magic City Blues Fest, Blues Ball and City Stages in Birmingham, Sucarochee Folklife Festival in Livingston, The Old 280 in Waverly, Business in the Front Party in the Back in Athens, Alabama Chicken and Egg Festival in Moulton, Tuscaloosa Crawfish and Blues Festival, Evening of Arts and Blues in Tuscaloosa, Bamajam Music & Arts Festival in Enterprise, Juneteenth Heritage Festival in Anniston, Black Belt Folk Roots Festival O’l Timey Blues Show in Eutaw, Frank Brown Songwriters Festival in Gulf Shores & Orange Beach and The Wetumpka River and Blues Music and Arts Festival. That may sound like a very healthy situation blues-wise, but quite a lot are not Blues only festivals, and none are amongst the best in the country, having few top draw names. The leading venues, being clubs, bars concert halls etc perhaps are more virile in the acts they put on. In Tuscaloosa – Rooster Blues, Blues 24/7, in Montgomery – Capitol Oyster Bar, in Birmingham Red Wolf, in Bessemer – Mr. Gip’s, in Huntsville Voodoo Lounge, The Nook, in Gulf Shores LuLu’s, in Mobile Blues Tavern, Saenger Theatre. I realise that my findings will not restrict themselves to Alabama alone, but I found that the Universities, National Public Radio (NPR) and the syndicated out of state shows, heavily prop up Blues radio. Also too much of Alabama Blues history languishes within University, Folklife and Heritage associations rather than being more readily available to the Blues fans – or future Blues fans.
The Alabama Blues Project has actually always been a very small struggling non-profit with a few part time staff and a small number of volunteers, interns – but a large number of working musicians who teach in the various educational programs that happen in schools, after school, libraries, universities etc.
I contacted Debbie Bond of the Alabama Blues Project (www.alabamablues.org), the most proactive Blues organisation in Alabama. Here are Debbie’s views on Alabama Blues.
I founded the ABP in 1995 with my then guitar-playing/photographer husband, Mike McCracken. Mike and I split in 2000 and he left the blues scene. I established the ABP as a non-profit in 2002 – not long after I met Rick Asherson – my British keyboard/harmonica playing husband, (through Willie King). We married on Freedom Creek and Willie was our best man and our wedding party was at the local Ruby’s juke joint). Rick and I (along with our staff, board of directors, volunteers, musician teachers) grew the organization to what it is today. The ABP has accomplished a tremendous amount over the years but there is so much left undone!
Last year Rick and I resigned from the administration of the ABP to focus on other projects – primarily our own music and eventually I plan writing up my knowledge of Alabama blues into a blog and book – and establish a permanent exhibition – an Alabama blues museum. Currently, we have a small exhibition on the blues women of the state – it travels and is up in between times at the ABP‘s office.
I have been working as a performer (primarily backing older traditional blues musicians since I moved here in 1979 from England – where I grew up from eight years old). During this time I performed and toured with many Alabama musicians – including Little Whitt and Big Bo, Johnny Shines, Jerry McCain, Eddie Kirkland, and most recently, until he passed away I was second guitar player for Willie King and the Liberators, performing in the US and Europe. Also lately backing up and doing shows with many of the Alabama blues women – including Sweet Claudette, SharBaby, Carroline Shines, BJ Miller, Rachel Edwards. It is through my work as a musician that I fell in love with Alabama blues!
Now I am doing my own music gigging (just released my own CD – getting great reviews and airplay in the US and Europe … www.debbiebond.com) and Rick and I are helping the ABP from the wings. Currently the ABP has two part time staff. The ABP has a year round after-school program, numerous one-off school performances, and fundraising/educational community events for adults, and showcases celebrating past and present Alabama blues musicians. A small aspect of what we have accomplished is a blues archive, which is really my hobby, on which I am continuing.
We are also doing various special events (a local benefit blues cruise fundraising event coming up), or another example at the end of last year we had an event planned in Dothan, Alabama. This was in collaboration with the Troy University – the first Wiregrass Blues Festival. Eddie Kirkland was to be the headliner – and it was planned he would be celebrated in his own hometown. Sadly, Eddie was killed in a car accident while returning from a gig so that part never happened. The cool thing is that Eddie did know about our plans. The Festival was dedicated to him, and we created an Eddie Kirkland commemorative exhibition text panel about his life – a live performance of Alabama blues and Blues in the School program. We are helping again this year with the second Annual Wiregrass Blues festival, in honour this time of Big Mama Thornton. It will be a line-up of blues women – including SharBaby, Rachel Edwards (an amazing young singer that came out of the blues camp) and me … and not sure who else yet!
I am also helping with research on the Wiregrass blues heritage – hoping it will be the basis for a blues trail marker.
The point is that Alabama has had an amazing blues heritage and so overlooked! When we started the ABP we had NO idea how deep this went. The more I have dug into it the more I have found. I do blame the tremendous focus on Mississippi blues – which has meant there is TONS of research on Mississippi and none on Alabama. No one asks the questions about Alabama – so much history is lost. I did interview Honey Boy Edwards who described his travels and time in Alabama and the blues scene he saw in 1939.
Through my musical collaborations with people like Johnny Shines, Eddie Kirkland, Wild Child Butler, Willie King, I realized what a rich blues culture going way back there was.
The Wiregrass thing is a perfect example. There were tent shows (some based out of Dothan, Alabama), TOBA Theatres (Empire Theatre Dothan). Eddie reported a rich blues scene, of juke houses and street musicians. In the 30’s his stepfather taught him how to play guitar. He played local juke joints and house parties, and he recounted the numerous colourful blues characters. His biggest early influences included Jewell, Martin and Ray Snell – a local blues trio, Stop and Fixit – a travelling blues duo (originally from GA but Fixit stayed and passed away in Dothan) and local musician Blind Murphy. Eddie ran off with one of the medicine shows that came through Dothan, The Silas Green Sugar Girls. Big Mama Thornton and J. W. Warren (both from Ariton) are also Wiregrass musicians. Pinetop Smith (one of the earliest proponents of boogie-woogie) was from Troy. More recently James Peterson (Lucky Petersons father), who passed away last year, had his own juke joint in Russell County and started playing in his father’s juke joint. There is an active blues scene still in Dothan. Gil Anthony’s amazing Power Hour blues show – and a constant flow of blues musicians coming through to play at the local Elks Club on their way to the still running Bradfordville Juke joint in Tallahassee, Florida.
A look at somewhere such as Selma, Alabama results in the same kind of window into the much overlooked past! Piano player Cow Cow Davenport, a pioneer of blues piano born in Anniston (well-known 1920 blues piano player and early proponent of the boogie-woogie piano style) from the same early period, reputedly kicked out of school in Selma for playing ragtime and blues! Trixie Smith (I think that was her stage name) dropped out of school in Selma to become a blues singer! It seems they both went to Selma University Baptist College where people went to become ministers or teachers. The Elite Theatre in Selma was very popular and a significant part of the TOBA Theatre circuit. The great Bessie Smith … discovered in Selma. There must have been some cool blues stuff going down in Selma! Every area had this kind of history – a lot of the oral history is sadly gone – but I hope this helps to inspire people to dig in and find out more!
I also contacted maybe the best Blues researcher of them all, Mr. Gayle Dean Wardlow, certainly the man on the ground. He was the man on the ground that other respected Blues researchers contacted either as a guide or a collaborator. In the old days, it was a bonus to have use of Gayle’s car, which had Mississippi plates. The information he gave me was on Ed Bell the Country Blues guy who recorded before the Mississippi guitarists got their chance to cut. Gayle tells us about Harry Charles who was a lesser H. C. Speirs if you like. Charles was savvy and contracted the musicians himself. The piano players he spoke of never left for Chicago as there was a boom going on in Alabama with the Birmingham and Bessemer iron works. This made Birmingham a money oasis, as it certainly bucked the trend in the South with unprecedented growth in Alabama. Here is what Gayle gave me in some of the most anticipated emails I have ever had.
Gayle Dean Wardlow
Harry Charles found Ed Bell somewhere in Alabama, didn’t remember where and recorded him, first for Paramount records and later for QRS, and Columbia under assumed names. His style is one of those unique Alabama guitar regional styles like there were in all parts of Mississippi. Steve Calt wrote some excellent notes on a 1960s Yazoo album on Alabama musicians. Seems like Bell learned guitar from or played locally with an unrecorded Joe Dean. Calt died about a year ago so you can’t find him to email. He did all of Nick Perls liner notes mostly.
There were a lot of guitar styles in Bama [Alabama]. James (Bo-Weevil) Jackson was living in Birmingham when found on street of Birmingham by Charles, as was Buddy Boy Hawkins. Charles had no interest in finding out their backgrounds or from where they originally came. Myself and Steve Calt always thought Jackson was from the Mississippi Delta cause of his style playing on Paramount “Pistol Blues/ You Can’t Keep No Brown”. He played a Delta rhythm and a bottleneck like Delta men.
Jaybird Coleman was from Bessemer and there was a story on him around 1961 by a Pat Cather from Birmingham who found a brother as I recall. He grew up in Gainesville in West Alabama and came to Bessemer in or after WW1. He published the only photo of Coleman … George Torey is another pre-war Bama bluesman who has some ties to the delta as he recorded in 1937 in Birmingham for ARC two sides and one un-issued titled “Delta Blues.” Nothing known about him, I suspect he was found on the street in Birmingham for the session … Pre-war Bobby Grant was another Charles discovery on Paramount who played bottleneck in an open tuning and Charles listened to the songs by him and thought he had found him. He, like Bell, used the term “mamlish” which seems unique to Bama musicians like Jinx did to Delta bluesmen. Charles had a deep southern accent; I was listening to him some tonight. He would often even sing a part with black quartets – he cut for Paramount . He was a real hustler in his days but as he said, the record business was crooked and he got cheated out of lot of money himself by Paramount and other companies on royalties he was to have been paid.
One I always thought was from Bama was Edward (Tenderfoot) Edwards who recorded at NYC at Gennett studios and sounds Bama to me. His records were released on Paramount. The name Tenderfoot, highly suggest a Charles name like Sluefoot Joe and Barefoot Bill for Ed Bell.
B’ham especially was full of great piano players, Charles discovered Cow Cow Davenport there, and he recorded him for many labels. Jabo Williams on Paramount was originally from Pratt City, a B’ham suburb but got recorded by Paramount through Jesse Johnson music store in St. Louis. He came back to Pratt City about 1960 and Pat Cather went looking for him. Of course, Walter Roland was a great piano player also behind Lucile Bogan (Bessie Jackson on ARC label). Try to reach Don Kent in North Carolina, who is retired now. Alabama was his research area and first love. I found John Lee who recorded in 1951 for Federal who used a knife as a slide. He recorded for Rounder Records in about 1973, but learned to play from his uncle in the 30s in south Bama from around Evergreen, where John Lee grew up. His recordings in 1951 are the best example of a pre-war Bama style recorded after WW2 … This should give you some insight. In addition, William Harris was from Miss. Delta but went to B’ham to record for Gennett in 1927 and stayed. Charles picked him up for the 1928 Gennett session while he was still in B’ham. He recorded Charles’s “Jefferson County Blues” (he wrote it) under the title “Keep Your Man Out of Birmingham.”
B’ham had many piano players who taught each other but Davenport and Jabo Williams were the two best … Davenport came from Anniston originally and moved to B’ham in early 20s.
I was fortunate to have the ear or email communication with a few world authorities in the Blues field, the next being Don Kent. Mr. Kent was one of the New York Blues mafia along with the likes of Stefan Grossman, Steve Calt, Sam Charters, John Fahey, Larry Cohn, Pete Whelan, Bernie Klatzko, Jim McKune, Tom Hoskins and Phil Spiro. He was also one of the famous apprentices to work under Bob Koester at his Chicago Jazz Record Exchange. His other list of achievements being the owner of the important though short lived Mamlish Records, a Blues historian, writer of a large number of liner notes and 78 record collector.
I travelled through Alabama while researching on Ed Bell – I put out two albums on him. While I was down there I found out about a few other artists like Wiley Barner and Walter Roland. I also found out about people you probably never heard of, well I had never heard of. I was looking mostly for guitar players, I found some that were known and others not. Some never turned up at all like Sonny Scott who was from Mississippi, but who played in Birmingham, and Bob Campbell who was from Alabama, and Marshall Owens who recorded for Paramount who made only four sides of which only two have been found. I heard of dozens and dozens of stories of gifted musicians, but never recorded. There was this one guy called Blind Morris; he was supposed to be the best guy in town, I think it was Dothan, AL. I missed out on Eli Framer who may have been from Alabama who was living in Montgomery in the 30’s, but unfortunately had left before the war, and there was no way to find him as he was an itinerant bluesman – no address basically.
I only went around Birmingham, Montgomery and Lowndes County, around Greenville, Alabama and a little bit in the south. Though I was looking for guitar players, I ran into a few local harmonica players who had never recorded. In the city in Birmingham there were a lot of piano players that I had never heard of because they were all dead, some people told me about them. Mostly in the country, there were string bands that were gone when I got there, and the black string bands were starting to fade out even in the 20’s; they may have played both black and white music. Wiley Barner told me he was in a string band in the 20’s and he played in string bands up until the 30’s, then he got religion like a lot of people did; I think he got married and had to settle down.
I would say that, partially, Alabama wasn’t as well documented because there weren’t as many talent scouts going through there. There were people at Gennett in Birmingham who recorded local talent like Jaybird Coleman, and maybe some people that were passing through. Many people recorded in Alabama who were not from there, because people like Henry Speirs recommended them to Gennett, or Harry Charles. Harry Charles was from Birmingham and was probably the biggest talent scout, he also discovered Mae Glover who also recorded as Mae Armstrong; she was kind of urban maybe like a vaudeville or medicine show singer. She was more of a trained voice, not quite as free flowing as a country blues guy, but she could do country blues because she recorded on Gennett with John Bird who I don’t think was from Alabama. Though that is not impossible, everybody thinks that a guy with a 12 string came from Georgia, but that is certainly not the case.
Alabama-style sort of falls into two groups, it is a little bit of East Piedmont Style, kinda like Carolina style. Someone like Walter Rowans – good finger picker, and Pillie Bolling who wasn’t as good a finger picker sort of plays that way. Other players like Ed Bell plays more like a Mississippi guy. You get influences, but it is hard to say there was an Alabama style, because there is not enough of it. People like John Lee who recorded for Federal also sounds like he could have come from Mississippi, but he was influenced by Lightnin’ Hopkins on one he did, and then another one sounded like Furry Lewis, but he would introduce them like, “This is one like my Father or Grandfather played”. He started playing in the forties, but he was still pretty young in the 60’s or 70’s. He did five sides, two of them are obviously copies from records, and the other three have no known antecedents that I know of anyway. Oh, one is actually, “Baby Please Don’t Go”, but it isn’t played anything like Big Joe Williams, and it has panpipes on it. I had limited money in those days … well I still have limited money, but also limited time, I was more interested in going after the next thing. I hope it was some help, because in comparison to like Georgia, you didn’t get a lot, but like Kentucky, Alabama didn’t get a lot. There weren’t as many people there promoting Alabama musicians outside of Gennett, and they weren’t terribly concerned, they just did it promoting guys they thought would sell records at a record store. Atlanta on the other hand was such a hub for recording that they virtually recorded everyone who applied.
I entitled this piece “Alabama Blues”, as I wanted to give as broad a picture as possible on the subject. With that in mind I contacted a rising star in Blues music Alabama Mike (Benjamin), not just on his take on why Alabama never gets enough credit for it’s Blues, but why uncommonly he uses his home state as part of his stage name while forging his career in California.
I’m glad that you are shining the spotlight on Alabama blues and here is my take on what is happening. The reason why I attached the state of Alabama as my moniker is because I feel that for some reason unknown to me Alabama is been unjustly underrated as a reputed blues capital of the south. By that, I mean when the blues is spoke of its either Chicago, Mississippi Delta, Memphis mainly and Alabama gets dissed. Nobody ever mentions that the man credited for teaching the so-called King of the Delta Blues (Robert Johnson) Ike Zimmerman was from Alabama. What’s holding Alabama back as a blues state is the fact that the people of this era don’t invest in it because they are trying to live down the truth about it. This is because of the plight of black people which was where the music derived from but its happening in all other genres of music too so I just cant put my finger on it. I do follow the Alabama Blues Project, and I miss Willie King and the great work he was so passionate about – Blues in Schools. I can say this I’m going to do my part in holding up my home state as my vanguard wherever I go and keep Bluuuuzzin It Up!!!
Roger Stephenson is the President of the Magic City Blues Society in Birmingham, AL [www.magiccityblues.org]. Roger is an ex-pat originally from Harrogate in England, and has lived in the states many years. He has arranged gigs in and around Birmingham, and is a performance photographer. I asked Roger about the lack of Blues Societies in Alabama, what makes Birmingham special, what the current scene is like and who is there to replace Willie King and Jerry “Boogie McCain?
It’s a struggle to get people to volunteer their time. It’s a lot of work organizing a blues society. Folks like to belong to an organization and enjoy the events. However, it takes a bigger commitment and more hard work than most are willing to give to run a successful society. The MCBS is lucky to have a few devoted members willing to donate many hours of their time. We are lucky. Our blues society is a non-profit organization, staffed entirely by unpaid volunteers.
There are other blues societies in Alabama. The Gulf Coast Blues Society started a couple of years ago. The Alabama Blues Project is technically a blues society, but has mainly concentrated on a Blues in the Schools program and organizing the annual Freedom Creek festival. The Alabama Jazz and Blues Society in Montgomery exists but perhaps only has a single event each year. We are by far the most active Society in Alabama promoting the Blues.
Birmingham has a long history of music. It was the industrial centre of the state. The manufacture of pig iron and steel allowed the town prosper in the 20’s, 30’s & 40’s. The town was of course segregated until the mid 60’s. The wealthy white population wanted the arts, the symphony, big band swing and theatre. The black workers frequented the clubs, bars, juke joints and shot houses that sprang up around the factories and poor neighbourhoods. Many of these establishments had a piano and itinerant musicians would play Boogie Woogie for not much more than beer and food. At weekends, there would be house parties and a Bluesman would come to entertain the crowd. Folks would dance, drink and party. The blacks were not welcome in much of the town. They couldn’t frequent the white establishments. If they were out at night, they were hassled by the police. A neighbourhood house party was ideal.
A lot of blues was played and stayed. Birmingham became an incubator for excellent musicians.
Well the Iron industry ended in the late 60’s. The town became economically depressed. Today it has reinvented itself. The largest employer is the University of Alabama. The town is renowned for its excellent hospitals, specialist clinics and medical research. Close by are the Mercedes and Honda factories. There are few juke joints and shot houses remaining.
Many of the town’s bars still have music, many until early in the morning. There are bars primarily patronized by blacks and others mainly by whites. Every one regardless of race or origin is welcome. The split today comes more from the style of music. Southern Rock, Chicago or delta blues will be in the white bars, and Soul Blues and R&B in the black bars. There is plenty of high quality live music to be heard if you look for it.
I don’t know of anyone [who is likely to replace Willie King]. I don’t know there ever will be. Those musicians came from a different time and place. Willie King wasn’t only a musician he was also someone who worked tirelessly to help his poor black belt community. Before TV, computer and cell phones, the world was different. Mississippi has a few musicians that do stand out to me as doing something a little different; the likes of Cedric Burnside, Lightnin’ Malcolm and Grady Champion.
Mississippi has done a great job of creating a blues trail. They even have an app for your iPhone so you can find all the markers and historic sites. Alabama hasn’t had a cohesive approach to this point. Some things have been accomplished. There are some markers and some museums. There are many gaps. There isn’t a documented trail. Many musicians who had significant impact on the history of today’s blues have fallen into obscurity. They need to be remembered. Their histories need to be documented while the information is still available in the memories of the older generation. It’s a huge undertaking. I hope to find a few people to help. It will take time. I’m starting to list all the Alabama blues musicians. We’ll rank them and then start to build a trail. We’ll try to get funding for markers. I hope to get the information onto the Magic City Blues Society’s website. I have plenty of ideas, if you know of anyone interested in helping, let me know.
Microwave Dave is a seasoned Alabama Blues musician, with many well received CD’s in the music press under Mircrowave Dave and the Nukes [www.microwavedave.com]. Here is his take on Alabama Blues.
As for Alabama artists, my personal feeling is that there has never been a single identifiable style to pin on the state’s blues music. Mississippi has the Delta (and now Hill Country) styles, the Carolinas and Georgia were home to the Piedmont style pickers, and Louisiana, of course, is its own musical universe. Unfortunately, there’s not really an indigenous characteristic of blues music that comes from Alabama, and that may be why the state is not a blues centre, even though it has had such excellent practitioners of the art, such as the recently deceased Jerry “Boogie” McCain.
I think if people expect the music to continue the type of profile it had in the 90s and first half of the 2000s they are being unrealistic. After the 60s blues boom — which was launched first by the folk music fad and the ‘folkifying’ of blues artists like Mississippi John Hurt, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins etc. Then fed by the British love for electric blues — blues went nearly completely underground again in the 70s while arena rock and disco were the main popular forms (alongside the never-dying country music idiom). The Fabulous Thunderbirds got cranked up in the late 1970s and survived almost as a cottage industry until the style became stylish, again primarily through the fascination with SRV’s performance of the music.
In my own case, our band’s music has evolved over twenty-four years from straight blues covers to the stuff we play now, which is not blues to some folks. I call it progressive blues or blues by-products. I think our current release is being reviewed in Blues Matters; it will be interesting to see what is said about it, as the UK has never shown any interest in what we do, except for those visiting here who see us live.
Finally yet importantly is Bob Eagle, a serious researcher, Blues historian and author, who though busy sent me a summary (yeah summary) of what he had collated on Alabama Blues.
I found two of Walter Roland’s daughters (Kent found the other one), Lucille Bogan’s son, spoke to Wiley Barner and Robert McCoy etc, and probably many others, if I put my mind to it.
Attached is a summary of Alabama connections, which you may want to dig into:
ALABAMA has been a very important State for Gospel music, but relatively less influential in recent decades as a source of blues music.
The traditional song, ALABAMA BOUND, carries the sense more of rambling rather of specifically going to Alabama. Examples include: BAMA BOUND BLUES by Ida Cox; ALABAMA BOUND BLUES by Ethel Ridley (recorded 23 June 1923); Papa Charlie Jackson; Charlie Patton; ALABAMA BOUND by Bowlegs (Library of Congress); ALABAMA BOUND by Uncle Rich Brown.
Apart from ALABAMA BOUND, there are a number of sings which mention the State, including ALABAMA MIS-TREATER by Davenport And Carr (OKeh #8306, recorded 11 March 1926); ALABAMA STRUT by Cow Cow Davenport And Ivy Smith (Vocalion #1253, recorded 16 July 1928); ALABAMA MISTREATER by Cow Cow Davenport (Vocalion #1227, recorded 25 October 1928); THE BLUES SINGER FROM ALABAM by Bessie Brown (Brunswick #4346, recorded about April 1929); ALABAMMY MISTREATED by Iva Smith (Gennett #7231, recorded 7 June 1930); ALABAMA SCRATCH by the Harum Scarums (Paramount #13054, recorded in about January 1931); ALABAMA HUSTLER by Sam Tarpley (Gennett unreleased, recorded 30 August 1930; and Paramount #13062, recorded about January 1931); and I’VE GOT A MAN IN THE ‘BAMA MINES by Sweet Pease (Spivey: BLUEBIRD #B-7224, recorded 11 October 1937), which inspired Jazz Gillum’s “answer”, I’M THAT MAN DOWN IN THE MINE (BLUEBIRD #B-7718, recorded 16 June 1938).
In 1920, Alabama produced crops valued at $304,348,638, compared to $336,207,156 worth produced in Mississippi. However, in Alabama only 95,203 farmers out of 256,099 (37%) were non-white, while in Mississippi, 161,219 out of 272,101 (59%) were non-white. The only other states with larger numbers of non-white farm operators in 1920 were South Carolina (109,610 out of 192,693, or almost 57%) and Georgia (130,187 out of 310,732, or almost 42%).
The number of non-white farm operators in Alabama in 1910 had been 110,443 (16% higher than in 1920). Although the ravages of the boll weevil were ultimately felt harder throughout the Black Belt of central Alabama than in most other locations, those ravages occurred later than in states to the West. The boll weevil arrived in 1915 but its effects did not reach a peak until around 1922. The impact of the boll weevil therefore cannot wholly explain the district’s failure to develop as a strong blues centre along the lines of the Yazoo Delta of Mississippi.
Instead, it seems that the most fertile area, the Black Belt, had been spoiled by poor farming methods. The land value of Alabama farmland in black hands was considerable lower than its counterpart in Mississippi, and the most reasonable explanation is that the land had ceased to be fully productive.
The highest land value per acre in Alabama in 1920 was $53.52, in Madison County (in the Tennessee Valley/ Highland Rim), compared with a Mississippi high in Coahoma County, with a 1920 land value figure of $242.91 per acre.
The huge exodus of tenant farmers from the southern states also seems to have begun at least a decade earlier in Alabama than in Mississippi. Perhaps the conditions of life were harsher in Alabama, but more likely, the exodus became an economic necessity some years earlier than in Mississippi.
There is some evidence that the Black Belt had earlier been a centre for blues music. In addition, Ike Zimmerman, from southern Alabama, moved to Mississippi and was an influence in the early 1930s upon Robert Johnson. There is evidence of blues piano traditions, perhaps especially in the Anniston area.
At first sight, the obvious music centre of the State is Jefferson County, including the county seat of Birmingham and the mining centre of Bessemer. Perhaps because of the concentration of coal mining, by analogy with Wales, the music of the area emphasized singing and particularly group singing. The populace leaned heavily towards religious music also, and Birmingham was an early centre for quartet singing groups.
Performers thought or known to be from somewhere in the State include: Alabama Sheiks; The Amerson Children; Howard Burgess; Boss Clark; Rev. Edward Clayborn; John Daniels; Evangelist Singers of Alabama; Napoleon Fletcher; A. C. Forehand; Blind Mamie Forehand; The Golden Voices of Alabama; Warren Gray; Eddie Harris; Jimmy Lee Harris; Will Henley; Emerson Houston (see Muscle Shoals); possibly Papa Harvey Hull; Isaiah ‘Little Shot’ Jones (born 1931); the late Willie James Lyons (born 1938); Eddie “King” Milton; Mary Lou “Mae Bee May” Milton; A. B. Stanton; John Sykes; Arthur Tucker; and Odelle Turner.
Because Alabama is a political entity, rather than a social one, there is no absolute stylistic similarity between performers from the State. However, it is still instructive to examine some of the traditions found in Alabama.
The southern APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS have been the most prolific area of Alabama for blues and gospel activity, mainly because of the population attracted by the industry around Birmingham.
The following counties fall (2003) within the purview of the Appalachian Regional Commission: Bibb, Blount, Calhoun, Chambers, Cherokee, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Colbert, Coosa, Cullman, De Kalb, Elmore, Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Hale, Jackson, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Macon, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Morgan, Pickens, Randolph, St. Clair, Shelby, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Walker, and Winston.
The south-westerly trending hills and valleys forming the Appalachian Ridge and Valley complex, and the Piedmont Upland to its east, occupy the eastern half of the Appalachian region. The western half is occupied by the Highland Rim of the Tennessee Valley and by the surrounding rolling hills forming the Cumberland Plateau. This Cumberland Plateau and Highland Rim area comprises Blount, Colbert, Cullman, Fayette, Franklin, Jackson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Morgan, Pickens, Tuscaloosa, Walker, and Winston Counties.
THE TENNESSEE RIVER VALLEY has had minimal blues activity but has more recently been a center for soul recordings at Muscle Shoals.
Taken by geographical feature, perhaps the earliest centre of blues activity was THE BLACK BELT of central Alabama, although only slight evidence remains. The deep Black Belt prairie clay soil stretches across Alabama in a belt about 60 miles wide. It typically occurs in Autauga, Bullock, Dallas, Elmore, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Montgomery, Perry, Sumter, and Wilcox Counties. It also extends into northeastern Mississippi. The Black Belt soil is overlaid in places by the alluvial soils brought down from the southern Appalachians by the Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Alabama Rivers.
Another early centre of activity is the WIREGRASS area of southeastern Alabama. The Wiregrass Archives defines the Wiregrass district as including Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston, and Pike Counties.
THE CANEBREAK area is in southwest Alabama. Presumably, it includes Baldwin, Butler, Conecuh, Crenshaw and Mobile, counties.
THE PINEY WOODS of the Alabama coastline have had some blues activity but not of the magnitude of the Louisiana or Texas coastlines. Although there are some French-speaking blacks in and around Mobile, there is no evidence of a Zydeco tradition.
Location of Oak Grove plantation (Fitzpatrick family).
Autaugaville: George Butler was born at Autaugaville in 1936.
Prattville city (3,505 black residents in 2000 – mainly in Autauga County): location (2003) of Ward Chapel AME Church, 130 West Fourth Street – pastor Rev. Bruce L. Nix, Sr.
Washington Beat (near Fair Place): location (1920) of Peely Bolling (thought to be Pillie Bolling).
Location of Ellison plantation (Ellison family).
Baldwin County is the presumed place of death of Pillie Bolling.
Foley: location (2002) of Straight Path COGIC (Pastor Anthony Henderson)
Location of Comer plantation (Comer family).
Clayton has been the site of some activity.
Eufaula: location (2002) of Brown Memorial COGIC (Pastor William Brown)
BIBB COUNTY (1920 black population 7,817)
Location of Yeager plantation (Yeager family).
Brent city (2,013 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Centreville city (568 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
West Blocton town (268 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
BLOUNT COUNTY (1920 black population 1,418)
Oneonta city (413 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Bolling is the possible birthplace of Pillie Bolling, who was born in 1906. He appears to have been based in Autauga County by 1920, and to have died in Baldwin County in 1979.
Garland was the birthplace of the (postwar) Carter Brothers.
Georgianna featured Jimmy Rowles; Hiram (Hank) Williams
Greenville: location (1920) of Rufus Payne.
Greenville is mentioned by Barefoot Bill from Alabama (possibly Jimmie Lee) in SQUABBLIN’ BLUES; and also featured Ed Bell (who may be the same as Barefoot Bill).
CALHOUN COUNTY (1920 black population 12,089)
Willie Guy Rainey was born there in 1901.
Alexandria CDP (360 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Anniston city (11,821 black residents in 2000): birthplace of Cow Cow Davenport; Calvin Bostick; James Harmon; (1910) of Lucius “Lucky” Millinder.
Anniston: location (2002) of Victory Headquarters COGIC (Pastor – Supt. Charles Gregory, Sr.); (2002) of Zion Temple COGIC (Pastor – Supt. Noco Walls, Sr.)
Anniston: location (2003) of Gaines Chapel AME Church, 404 East “A” Street – pastor Rev. Benjamin L. Little;
Hobson City town (814 black residents in 2000): celebrated by Cow Cow Davenport in HOBSON CITY BLUES;
Jacksonville city (1,696 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Oxford city (1,442 black residents in 2000 – partly in Talladega county): apparent birthplace (1894) of Ollis Martin.
Piedmont city (480 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Saks CDP (1,375 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Weaver city (227 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
West End – Cobb Town CDP (785 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
CHAMBERS COUNTY (1920 black population 19,724)
Cusseta: birthplace of Billy Earl McClelland (white slide guitarist – by 2000, he was based at West Point, Georgia 31833, after having been based at Nashville and Memphis).
Huguley CDP (743 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
La Fayette city (2,176 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Lanett city (4,231 black residents in 2000): probable residence (1920) of Raymond Barrow.
Valley city (2,647 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
CHEROKEE COUNTY (1920 black population 2,079)
Centre city (322 black residents in 2000): last residence of white hillbilly harp player, Palmer B. McAbee.
Ellis: location (1900) of white hillbilly harp player, Palmer B. McAbee.
CHILTON COUNTY (1920 black population 3,963)
Clanton city (1,561 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Jemison town (438 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Lisman: location (1918) of Emerson Houston.
Lisman: location (2002) of Lisman COGIC (Pastor Solomon Smith)
Precinct 10: location (1900) of Andrew Everett.
Silas: birthplace (1892) of Andrew Everett.
Toxey: location (2002) of Springhill COGIC (Pastor Roy Coleman)
Coffeyville: Reuben Hytower (deceased); Roy Hytower (to Chicago);
Coffeyville: location (2002) of Coffeyville COGIC (Pastor James Whigham)
Jackson was a possible base for Papa Harvey Hull (1920s).
Thomasville: location (2002) of Thomasville COGIC (Pastor Jimmy Allen)
CLAY COUNTY (1920 black population 3,179)
Ashland city (407 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Lineville city (907 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
CLEBURNE COUNTY (1920 black population 735)
Heflin city (355 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Elba: location (1970s) of Perry Tillis (later, Bishop Joe Perry Tillis).
Elba: place of death (1997) of David Johnson;
Elba: location (2002) of Harris Temple COGIC (Pastor William K. Ellison)
Enterprise: birthplace (1921) of J. W. Warren (who died in 2003).
Enterprise: location (1997) of Leon “Little Jimmy Reed” Atkins.
COLBERT COUNTY (1920 black population 11,152)
Location of Belmont Plantation; of Cunningham Plantation; and of The Oaks plantation.
Cherokee town (250 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Leighton city (468 black residents in 2000): birthplace (1941) of Percy Sledge.
Muscle Shoals city (1,689 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Muscle Shoals has been a site for soul recordings, including performers such as Lattimore Brown, Aretha Franklin.
Sheffield city (2,530 black residents in 2000): birthplace of Calvin Lewis (songwriter for Percy Sledge).
Tuscumbia city (1,768 black residents in 2000): featured Henry Hankins.
Tuscumbia: location (2002) of New Life COGIC (Pastor – Supt. Larry Anderson).
Evergreen was the birthplace of Herman Autrey. It was location of Coley Smart (Squire?), who taught John Lee the guitar. It was also the location of Clements Lee, Ely Lee and John Lee, after about 1922.
COOSA COUNTY (1920 black population 5,806)
Goodwater city (1,197 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Jordan: location (1920) of Perry Tillis’ family, including Perry (born 1919).
Andalusia: reported birthplace (1914) of Charlie West (probably in the country north of the town: see Gantt Township);
Andalusia: John Lee (location, about 1930s – he died at Montgomery).
Copperas Head (Precinct 14): location (1910) of the family of the future Perry Tillis.
Gantt Township: location (1920) of Charlie West;
Panola: birthplace of Alabama Red (Curtis Ray).
CULLMAN COUNTY (1920 black population 443)
Colony town (360 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Hanceville: birthplace of Candi Staton;
Ariton: location (2000) of J. W. Warren (born around 1922);
Ariton: place of death (2003) of J. W. Warren;
Daleville: location (2002) of Light of the World COGIC.
Ozark: has been a centre for black Sacred Harp singing. It featured people such as the Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers; Pauline Jackson Driggs; McKenzie Ernst; Emma Mae Jackson; Kathryn King; Leola Whitehurst; Alice Williams; Dewey Williams (1898 – 1995); and Paul Zinman.
Ozark: location (2003) of Clopton Circuit AME Church – pastor Rev. J. H. Walker;
Dallas County perhaps had the largest number of black tenant farmers in Alabama, as well as a large black population in general.
The largest slaveholders in 1860 included: John Bentley (155 slaves, at Burnsville); James Boykin (242 slaves, at Portland); R. H. Boykin (161 slaves, at Portland); James M. Calhoun (168 slaves, at Carlowville); Estate of T. B. Carson (150 slaves, at Pence); S. M. Hill (180 slaves, at River); William T. King (157 slaves, at Old Town); J. E. Matthews (284 slaves, at Cahaba Town); W. P. Molett (351 slaves, at Cahaba Town); A. Saltmarsh (300 slaves, at Cahaba Town); and L. B. Vasser (179 slaves, at Pleasant Hill).
Bogue Chitto (south-west of Selma, near Alabama River): location (1950) of Rev. E. D. Tuckey.
Orrville: birthplace (1913) of W. L. Richardson.
Selma: Wiley Barner was born at Selma in 1899 or 1900, as was (1915) Willie Lacey; (1925) Mattie Moss Clark; and Bill Moss. Betty Fikes was active there in the 1970s.
Selma: birthplace or possible birthplace (1915) of Peter Norfleet; (1916) of Arthur Norfleet; (1924) of Nathaniel Norfleet; (1925) of Joseph Norfleet; (about 1926) of George Norfleet; and (1927) of Junius Norfleet. See Marion and Scotts, Perry County.
Selma: location (2002) of Gospel Tabernacle COGIC (Pastor John Grayson)
Tyler: birthplace (1929) of Clarence Fountain.
DE KALB COUNTY (1920 black population 771)
Collinsville town (266 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Fort Payne city (586 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Fyffe: The Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, possibly a white group, recorded at Fyffe in about the 1970s.
ELMORE COUNTY (1920 black population 11,944)
Location of Herren Hill plantation (Herren family).
Coosada town (588 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Millbrook city (1,777 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Prattville city (3,505 black residents in 2000 – mainly in Autauga County): nothing known.
Santuck: location (2002) of Sweetwater Baptist Church.
Speigner: Will “Stovepipe” Bennett recorded gospel at Speigner in 1934.
Tallassee city (869 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Wetumpka (1,661 black residents in 2000): birthplace (1930) of Andrew Thrasher (of the Drifters);
Wetumpka: location of the Thrasher Wonders; location (2001) of Robert Henderson of WAPZ Radio, and presumably of Lee Fields.
Atmore Prison was the site of some Library of Congress recordings (1930s).
Brewton: birthplace of Walter “Maxdog” Potter.
ETOWAH COUNTY (1920 black population 7,528)
Attalla city (872 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Gadsden city (13,252 black residents in 2000): has been the home (and birthplace in 1930) of Jerry McCain (and his band, The Upstarts; and of his brothers Roosevelt McCain and Walter McCain; and Chris Collins. Compare Willie Hightower of Too Late Music, 900 Central Avenue, Gadsden, Alabama 35901 (1974).
Gadsden: location (2003) of Handy Chapel AME Church, 901 Rogers Street – pastor Rev. Jodie Jones, Jr.;
Rainbow City city (296 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
FAYETTE COUNTY (1920 black population 2,481)
Fayette city (1,151 black residents in 2000): location (2002) of Elston Driver (shaped note singer).
Fayette: location (2002) of McConnell Chapel.
FRANKLIN COUNTY (1920 black population 1,418)
The largest slaveholders in 1860 included: Robert A. Goodloe (156 slaves); and Robinson & Vinson (150 slaves).
Russellville city (1,009 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Slickrock Ford (sic) may be a location referred to by Lucille Bogan in HUNGRY MAN’S SCUFFLE.
Geneva: featured James “Dan Pickett” Founty in 1950.
Hartford: location (2002) of Manor Temple COGIC (Pastor William Brown)
Pera: location (1930) of Perry Tillis.
Samson: location (1995 and 2001) of Bishop Joe Perry Tillis.
Boligee had activity.
Clinton was the birthplace (1919) of Bunk Pippens; and Levon Hall (of The Band) has been active there.
Eutaw: Bunk (“Bunky Boy”) Pippens was based at Eutaw in the 1980s. Eutaw was the site of the Kirkwood Plantation, the plantation house of which was near completion by 1860. At that date the Kirkwood plantation was owned by Foster Mark Kirksey, who had in 1845-1848 been the sheriff of Greene County.
Eutaw: place of death (1988) of Levert Hicks (see West Greene beat);
Forkland was the birthplace of Bobo Jenkins, who recalled Black Robert being active there. The Rosemount plantation thrived in about 1835, when Williamson Allen Glover owned it.
Lewiston may be the town referred to by Buddy Boy Hawkins in his song, SNATCH IT AND GRAB IT.
Pleasant Ridge: possible location (1930) of Jeff Horton.
Pleasant Ridge: Jeff Jones was active at Pleasant Ridge in 1983.
Union: Clarence Davis has been active at Union.
West Greene Beat: location (1930) of Levert Hicks;
HALE COUNTY (1920 black population 17,896)
Akron town (422 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Cedarville: location (1900) of Alfonse Harris (alias Alfoncy Harris);
Greensboro (1,663 black residents in 2000): P. Dunn, M. A. Gooden, and Julia Johnson were all recorded at Greensboro, which was the birthplace of Little Sonny Willis.
Greensboro: location (1930) of Rev. Alonzo L. Tooson (AME).
Greensboro: location (2003) of St. Thomas AME Church;
Moundville town (636 black residents in 2000 – partly in Tuscaloosa County): nothing known.
Newbern (178 black residents in 2000): possible location (1920) of Jimmie Lee (alias Barefoot Bill from Alabama).
White Oak plantation was situated in Henry County.
Ashford: was the home of Joe Patterson.
Ashford: location (2003) of Grant Chapel AME Church, 7th Avenue Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard;
Dothan: featured Raymond Hayle; Blind Murphy; Eddie Kirkland.
Dothan: location (2003) of Park Chapel AME Church, 1000 Montana Street – pastor Rev. Oliver Allen, Jr.
JACKSON COUNTY (1920 black population 3,008)
Bridgeport city (219 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Scottsboro city (788 black residents in 2000): birthplace of Nolan Strong.
Slick Rock Hollow (sic) may be a location referred to by Lucille Bogan in HUNGRY MAN’S SCUFFLE.
Stevenson city (396 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
JEFFERSON COUNTY (1920 black population 130,391)
Adamsville city (1,133 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Bessemer city (20,638 black residents in 2000): location (prewar) of Bessemer Harmony Four; Bessemer Sunset Four (also known as Bessemer Quartet); Bessemer Big Four (1941); Bessemer Melody Boys;
Bessemer: birthplace of Alex Bradford; (1916) of James Hill;
Bessemer: place of death (1989) of Tom Lacey;
Bessemer: location (2002) of McAdory Temple COGIC.
Bessemer: location (2003) of Ward Chapel AME Church, 431 South 24th Street – pastor Rev. Turner A. Reynolds;
BIRMINGHAM (178,372 black residents in 2000) and its neighbouring cities form a focus for blues activity and a more important focus for gospel activity (particularly for male quartets). Birmingham is colloquially known as “The Magic City”, and its blues society is the Magic City Blues Society.
Birmingham had 126,338 black residents (over 41% of the city’s total population) at the 1970 Census, when its metropolitan area had a population of 767,230. The city and its suburbs previously relied very heavily upon the steel industry but has now diversified into chemicals and food processing.
Jefferson County is the birthplace of: Annie Bailey; John Anderson Jr.; Inez Andrews; Jean Austin; Dud Bascomb; Paul Bascomb; Prof. Alex Bradford; Charlie Bridges; Piney Brown (Columbus Perry); Jimmy Carter (1932); Mitty Collier (1941); Birmingham George Conner; Gene Connors; Joe Duskin; Good Rockin’ Charles Edwards; Wilbert Ellis; John Grimes; Wilbur Harden; Shelton Hemphill; Minnie Hicks’ husband; Ace Holder; Gus Jenkins; M. Lillian McGriff; Bobby Nunn; Avery Parrish; King Porter (James A. Pope, 1916); Carl Pruitt; Bobby Scott; Rev. Charles Taylor; Bruce Upshaw; Billy Valentine; Eddie Ware; Hibert “Alabama” Watson; James “Piano ‘C’ Red” Wheeler; Jody Williams; Leola B. Wilson.
Birmingham: birthplace (1897) of Lucille Bogan (née Anderson, raised at Amory, Mississippi); (1914) of Claude Jeter; (1917) of Bedile Goldsmith; (1918) of Sammy Lowe; (1925) of Willie Love; (1928) of Dorothy Love Coates (née McGriff); (1937) of Lillian McGriff; (1935) of Sam Lay; (1942) of Eddie Levert; (1961) of James Taylor;
Song references: Jefferson County landmarks are referred to in songs including: JEFFERSON COUNTY (composed by Sid Harris) recorded by Priscilla Stewart (1926) and Bo Weavil Jackson (1926: issued as performed by Sam Butler); PRATT CITY BLUES by Bertha “Chippie” Hill (1926 and 1929) and the same title by “Jabo” Williams (1932); THIRD ALLEY BLUES by Iva Smith (1927); SNATCH IT BACK BLUES by Buddy Boy Hawkins (1927); KEEP YOUR MAN OUT OF BIRMINGHAM by William Harris (1928); BIG ROCK JAIL by Barefoot Bill (1929); SEVENTH ST. ALLEY STRUT by Marshall Owens (1931); 45 PISTOL BLUES by Walter Roland (1935); EIGHTH AVENUE BLUES by Peanut The Kidnapper (1937); BESSEMER BLUES by Tampa Red (1939); BIRMINGHAM BOUNCE (composed by hillbilly performer Hardrock Gunter) performed by Amos Milburn (1950); WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, PRATT CITY SPECIAL and BESSEMER RAG, all by Robert McCoy (1962). Erskine Hawkins’ hit song, TUXEDO JUNCTION, (which was composed by Buddy Feyne – Erskine Hawkins – William Johnson – Julian Dash, and is set to the melody of ALABAMA JUBILEE), refers to the Birmingham district of that name.
There is also a Birmingham district called WEST END, but Louis Armstrong’s composition, WEST END BLUES, reportedly relates to a resort spot of that name overlooking Lake Pontchartrain, north from New Orleans, Louisiana, active during the first two decades of this century.
Prewar Recording Activity: The Gennett label had a link with the E. E. Forbes Piano Company of Birmingham, and one Jimmy Allen was talent scout for the company’s 1927 Birmingham session: Wiley Barner with Will Jennings; Jaybird Coleman; Daddy Stovepipe and Whistling Pete; Dunham’s Jubilee Singers (also known as the Bessemer Blues Singers); Joe Evans and Arthur McClain; Rev. J. F. Forest; William Harris with Joe Robinson; Ollis Martin; Mount Sinai Jubilee Quartet alias the Bessemer Harmony Four; R. D. Norwood; and Bertha Ross, backed by Vance Patterson. Brunswick/ Vocalion recorded some performers at Birmingham in 1928: Bessemer Sunset Four (also known as Bessemer Quartet); Golden Leaf Quartet; and Rev. I. B. Ware; as well as some hillbilly performers. The Library of Congress recorded Tom Bradford at Birmingham in 1934; and the Bessemer Big Four in 1941.
- R. Calaway held a session at Birmingham for A R C in 1937 using Theodore White as a talent scout: William Blevins Quartet; Bogan’s Birmingham Busters; Charlie Campbell; Georgia Slim; Guitar Slim; Peanut The Kidnapper; Ravizee Singers; Mack Rhinehart & Brownie Stubblefield; George Torey; and, reputedly, Lucille Bogan; and Willie Hagood.
Postwar Recording at Birmingham: John Daniels’ Quartet (possibly white) recorded for Bama label. Tiger Records #100 featured the “C.I.O. SINGERS” alias Sterling Jubilees (1952). Lawrence Shaul recorded for Reed #1049 in 1959. Jerry McCain may have recorded at Birmingham for REX (1961). Piney Brown recorded for TUNE, but possibly at Nashville, Tennessee. The Vulcan label featured Lizzie Coleman (about 1964, unreleased); Robert McCoy (1958 and 1962); Charlie Barker (1964: unreleased); and Dave Miles (about 1964, unreleased). ARHOOLIE featured James Phillips (recorded 1962); Soul – O featured Robert McCoy and Marcus Ingram (1963).
Blues Activity: Performers active in the area in the 1920s and earlier also include: Charles Anderson; Lucille Bogan; Dora Carr; Cow Cow Davenport; Cleo Gibson; Iva Smith; Pinetop Smith; Delaware “Ivory” Williams; Mozelle Alderson; May Armstrong; Mildred Austin; Bogus Ben Covington; Ben Curry; Julia Johnson; Slim Reedy; Sam Tarpley; James Wiggins.
Birmingham: location (1930) of Haywood Henry (1130 4th Street); and of Rev. William H. Baker (1122 4th Street).
Active, or probably active, in the 1930s were: “Babyface”; John Bell; Birmingham Jug Band (recorded at Atlanta in 1930); Bob Campbell; “Cherryville”; Lucille Bogan; George Curry; Edgewater Crows; Frank Hines; Willie Priest Ivin; Marshall Owens; Walter Roland; Sonny Scott; “Tragg”; Theodore Roosevelt “Po’ Joe” White; “Jabo” Williams.
Working there in the 1940s were: Banjo Bill; Martin Barnett; Lucille Bogan; Eddie Clearwater and Tom Triplett; Clarence Curry; Lee Golden; James Summerfield.
In the 1950s, active artists probably included: Wild Child Butler with “Big Bee” and “Drumming Cleve” (1956 to 1964); Elmer Parker; Del Thorne.
In the 1960s and 1970s, performers probably included: Dot Adams; Frank Adams; Lee Aikerson (returned from Chicago); Alabama Red; Tom Anderson; King Jesse Ellston; Jesse Larkins; Dave McConico; Robert McCoy; Roscoe Robinson; Odis Spencer.
In the 1980s: Frederick Knight Productions.
Birmingham: place of death (1989) of Dave McConico.
Gospel Activity included, in the 1920s: Birmingham Jubilee Singers alias Alabama Four and Sugar Cane Four; A. C. Forehand; Blind Mamie Forehand; Rolling Mill Four; Arthur Lee Turner; and (possibly) Rev. Jim Beal; Georgia Lee Stafford.
In the 1930s, the area featured: Will Bailey; the Bessemer Melody Boys; Joe Coleman; L. V. Cox; Arizona Dranes with Bishop Williams; Fairfield Travelling Stars; Famous Blue Jay Singers of Birmingham; Claude Jeter.
In the 1940s: Apollo Boys Choir of Birmingham; Rev. Sandy Davis; Ensley Jubilee Singers; Rev. Paul Exkano, originally from New Orleans; Four Great Wonders; Happy Hitters of Birmingham; Leo Manley’s Heavenly Gospel Singers alias Stars of Harmony; Kings of Harmony (of Birmingham, Alabama); Original Gospel Harmonettes; Walter Patton; Protective Harmoneers; Aldridge “Cap” Stanfield; Jim Steele.
In the 1950s: Bessemer Big Four (backing Rev. Gatemouth Moore for CORAL #65096); Evangelist Singers of Alabama; Willie Love.
In the 1960s and 1970s: John Alexander; Carl Coates; Dorothy Love Coates; Eunice Cook; Johnny Gaines; The Harmonizing Five; Henry Holston; Rozetta Johnson; Sam Johnson; Tom Lacy; Eddie Levert; Sam Lewis; Herbert Pickard; Dock Terry; Joe Washington.
In the 1980s, The Four Eagle Gospel Singers; the Gospel Sunlites of Birmingham; The Harps of Memory; the Sterling Jubilees.
In the 1990s, location of Rev. J. T. Hutton.
Birmingham: location (2002) of East Birmingham COGIC (Pastor – Bishop Peter Wren); (2002) of Emanuel Temple COGIC (Pastor – Bishop O. L. Meadows); (2002) of Grace Covenant COGIC (Pastor – Supt. Michael L. Frazier)
Birmingham: location (2003) of Bryant Chapel AME Church, 3521 Spaulding Street SW – pastor Rev. Tommy Hagler; Emanuel AME Church, 922 4th Street North – pastor Rev. Willie D. Kemp; Grant Chapel AME Church, 6931 Division Avenue – pastor Rev. James R. Rumph; Payne Chapel AME Church, 1825 Center Way South – pastor Rev. Farrell J. Duncombe; St. John AME Church, 708 15th Street South; St. Luke AME Church, 2801 21st Avenue North; St. Paul AME Church (Smithfield), 300 Fourth Court North – pastor Rev. Cornelius C. Cummings;
Brighton city (3,244 black residents in 2000): birthplace (1911) of Silas Steele.
Center Point CDP (5,521 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Cottage Hill (now a section of Pleasant Grove): was the location of Walter Roland’s ex-wife in about the 1940s.
Edgewater CDP (446 black residents in 2000): compare The Edgewater Crows.
Fairfield city (11,171 black residents in 2000): location (prewar) of Wiley Barner; Fairfield Travelling Stars;
Fairfield: location (2002) of Fairfield First COGIC (Pastor Rodney Feagins);
Forestdale CDP (4,826 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Fultondale city (352 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Graysville city (542 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Helena city: see Shelby County, Alabama.
Homewood city (3,831 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Hoover city (4,248 black residents in 2000 – partly in Shelby County): nothing known.
Hueytown city (2,380 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Irondale city (2,481 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Leeds city (1,663 black residents in 2000 – partly in Shelby County and St. Clair County): nothing known.
Lipscomb city (1,612 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
McDonald Chapel CDP (312 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Midfield city (3,347 black residents in 2000): location (2002) of Free Will COGIC (Pastor Eugene Starks)
North Johns town (84 black residents in 2000): birthplace (1928) of Isaac “Dickie” Freeman.
Pinson CDP (419 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Pleasant Grove city (1,442 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Pratt City: birthplace (1901) of Charlie Bridges.
Tarrant city (1,315 black residents in 2000): location (2003) of Miles Memorial AME Church, 1000 Jackson Boulevard – pastor Rev. James C. Smith.
Vestavia Hills city (454 black residents in 2000 – partly in Shelby County): nothing known.
Warrior city (488 black residents in 2000 – partly in Blount County): nothing known.
Woodward: possible location (1900) of Lem Fowler.
LAMAR COUNTY (1920 black population 2,850)
Millport town (394 black residents in 2000): George “Bullet” Williams reportedly hailed from Millport.
Sulligent city (469 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Vernon city (271 black residents in 2000): location (2002) of New Zion COGIC (Pastor – Supt. Marry R. Johnson).
LAUDERDALE COUNTY (1920 black population 8,117)
Florence city (6,963 black residents in 2000): birthplace (1902) of Homer Smith; (1940) of Albert “Junior” Lowe; and of Andrew Lane.
Florence: location (2002) of Morrow Memorial COGIC (Pastor – Supt. Larry Anderson)
Lexington was the location (2000) of Woodrich Publishing Co., operated by Woody Richardson, in 1974 based at Rogersville.
Rogersville was the location (1974) of Woodrich Publishing Co., operated by Woody Richardson, in 2000 based at Lexington. It was presumably the location of the Sensational Harmoneers, featuring Jerry Townsend.
LAWRENCE COUNTY (1920 black population 6,739)
Courtland town (311 black residents in 2000): location (2002) of Grace Tabernacle COGIC.
Hillboro town (500 black residents in 2000 – out of 608 total): nothing known.
Moulton city (489 black residents in 2000): residence of Bessie Smith’s parents (1870 and 1880).
North Courtland town (779 black residents in 2000 – out of 799 total): nothing known.
Town Creek town (416 black residents in 2000): birth place of Andrew C. “Moohah” Williams.
Lonzie Thomas was active born in Lee County in 1921, blinded at age 22, and was still active there in 1981, when George Mitchell recorded him.
Auburn featured (1974) Ching Ching Richardson (twin brother of Soko).
Opelika has been the scene of some activity, including Lonzie Thomas.
LIMESTONE COUNTY (1920 black population 9,628)
Ardmore: birthplace (1950) of Aaron Wilburn.
Athens city (3,464 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Quid Nunc Township (not far from Decatur, in nearby Morgan County): probable location (1930) of Henry Woodruff.
Although no details of their identities are known, local black blues men influenced the Delmore Brothers (Alton and Rabon).
Fort Deposit town (866 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Fostoria: has had activity.
Gordonville town (305 black residents in 2000 – out of 318 total): nothing known.
Hayneville town (1,006 black residents in 2000 – out of 1,177 total): nothing known.
Lowndesboro (35 black residents in 2000): birthplace (1927) of Johnny Fields;
Mosses town (1,077 black residents in 2000 – out of 1,101): nothing known.
Mount Willing: was the birthplace (1915) of the late John A. Lee (Federal and Rounder recording artist); and location (until 1922) of his father, guitarist Clements Lee, and his brother Ely. Other members of the Lee family were musicians.
St. Clair has had activity.
White Hall town (994 black residents in 2000 – out of 1,014): nothing known.
MACON COUNTY (1920 black population 19,614)
Midway: is the location of the 11,000 acre Enon Plantation, which by 1997 had become an expensive hideaway resort.
Notasulga town (297 black residents in 2000): birthplace (1929) of George ‘King’ Scott (Five Blind Boys of Alabama).
Shorter town (290 black residents in 2000 – out of 355 total): nothing known.
Society Hill: residence (1980s) of Albert Macon (born 1920); and Robert Thomas (born 1929);
Tuskegee city (11,310 black residents in 2000 – out of 11,846 total): is the birthplace of Eddie McFarland and (1949) of Lionel Ritchie.
Tuskegee: location of B. T. Foote (born 1908 – deceased by 1991); McKinley James; Albert Macon (born 1920); and Robert Thomas (born 1929);
MADISON COUNTY (1920 black population 17,483)
Madison County: birthplace (1955) of Augusta James.
Harvest CDP (573 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Huntsville city (47,642 black residents in 2000): birthplace (1926) of Roosevelt Childress; (1927) of James Holland; (1965) of Mervyn Warren.
Huntsville is the subject of a song by Evans and McClain in a 1931 recording, while Little Richard attended theological college there from 1958.
Huntsville: location (2002) of Beirne Avenue COGIC (Pastor – Supt. Dave Draper, Sr.); (2002) of Bibleway COGIC (Pastor Reginald Roberts); (2002) of Fountain of Life COGIC (Pastor James Strong); (2002) of Right Way COGIC (Pastor Jesse Draper).
Huntsville: location (2003) of St. John AME Church, 229 Church Street;
Madison city (3,798 black residents in 2000): location (2002) of Cathedral of Faith COGIC (Pastor Hugh E. Mitchell)
Madison: possible location (1930) of Willie Lacey;
Madison: location (2003) of Grady – Madison AME Church, 911 Miller Boulevard – pastor Rev. William N. Jackson;
Meridianville CDP (387 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Moores Mill CDP (962 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
New Haven: location (2002) of Inspirational Zion COGIC (Pastor Kenneth Washington, Jr.)
Redstone Arsenal CDP (749 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Triana town (396 black residents in 2000 – out of 458 total): nothing known.
Beulah Bryant hailed from Marengo County.
Demopolis: birthplace (1901 or 1903) of Booker T. Wingfield; location (1991) of The Gospel Harmonettes of Demopolis, Alabama;
Dixons Mills: birthplace (1920 or 1921) of Ray Agee.
Dixons Mills: nearby location to the place of death (1957) of Levi Sebury, Jr (better known as Levi Seabury).
Jefferson: may be the birthplace (1932) of Jimmy “Peanuts” Carter of the Blind Boys of Alabama.
Macon (aka Prairieville, east of Demopolis): location (1900) of Alex Chaney (probably Alex Channey)
Old Spring Hill may be the birthplace of Rev. S. A. P. Davis.
Shiloh: location (1870) of Thomas Pritchett, later the father of Gertrude “Ma Rainey” Pritchett – to Russell County.
Shiloh: location (1930) of Ray Agee and his family.
Thomaston: birthplace (1910) of Spencer Jackson.
MARION COUNTY (1920 black population 621)
Guin city (283 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Hamilton city (515 black residents in 2000): possible location of Harry Rutledge.
MARSHALL COUNTY (1920 black population 1,287)
Albertville city (353 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Guntersville city (631 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Mobile has featured: David Alexander; Jimmy “Guitar” Allen; “Barefoot”; “Blind Figures”; Charley Campbell; Willie Carter; Jesse “Monkey Joe” Coleman; Lewis Coleman; Tom Couch (club-owner/ promoter: Harlem Duke Social Club); Archie Crawford; Ollie Crawford; “Daddy Stovepipe”; Ike Darby (1960s – moved to Memphis); Bubba Dexter; Loggy Dexter; Willie Doss (1960s); Eli Framer (Freeman: 1920s); Willie Freeman; Lil Greenwood; Phil H. “Phil Gordon” Gulley (1985); Tall Paul Hankins (1970s); Roy Hytower (wrongly reported as Roy Hightower: moved to Chicago); Sax Kari (1970s); Charley King; Thomas Langston; Benny Lewis (1975); Moses Mason (but see East Carroll Parish, Louisiana); Blind Peanut Miller (Peanut the Kidnapper?); Bernard Odom; “Pigtail”; John “Jabo” Starks; T. T. Scott; Claude Trenier; Cliff Trenier; Big Joe Wade; Lee Warren; Johnny “Daddy Stovepipe” Watson; Marshall York.
Gospel performers active at Mobile have included: Elder Charles D. Beck; Ravizee Singers; Yvonne Reed; Irene Johnson Ware; E. Tiny Watkins.
Mobile was reputedly the birthplace of “Baby Face Leroy” Foster, but this is disputed and he may have been raised at Mobile.
Mobile: location (2002) of First COGIC (Pastor J. H. West); (2002) of Showers of Blessings COGIC.
Mobile: location (2003) of St. Paul AME Church, 1251 Montrose Street; and St, Stephen AME Church, 2707 Josephine Street – pastor Rev. Lionel C. Green;
Plateau: possible location (1930) of Bubba Dexter (as “Junior Dexter”, aged 23).
Prichard was the birthplace (1914) of Maxwell “Buddy” Lucas; and of the late James “Thunderbird Davis” Huston.
Prichard: location (1990s) of Lil Greenwood.
Prichard: location (2002) of Latter Rain COGIC (Pastor M. Fleming).
Toulminville: location (1930) of Archie Crawford and of Ollie Crawford; and of John E. Crisp;
Perdue Hill: birthplace (1911) of Rev. Dan Smith;
Kilby Prison was the site of some recordings made for the Library of Congress.
Montgomery: location (1930) of Vance Humphries.
Montgomery has seen activity by Eddie Butler; George “Wild Child” Butler; Clarence Carter; Andre “Fats” Ford (including 1975 and 1985); Porter Ellis; Eugene Foster; Charles Griffin; Charles T. Higgins; Vance H. Humphries (at least from 1930 until his death in 1992); Frankie Jaxon; Sam “Stovepipe #1” Jones; Clifford Laws; John A. Lee (from 1945, but musically active only to about 1955, then in the early 1970s, now deceased); Earring George Mayweather (birthplace, 1928); Bobby Moore; Rufe “Tee – Tot” Payne (died 1939: influenced Hank Williams, Sr.); Rev. D. C. Rice (deceased); J. Von Taylor Productions; Big Mama Thornton (moved to California – deceased); C. W. Thornton; Willie Williams.
Charles E. (“Chuck Elliott”) Wernsing, Disc Jockey at WGNY radio, and Federal Records talent scout, was there in the 1950s and in 1972.
Montgomery was the birthplace (1896) of Lillian Paige Goodner; Eddie Coles (1910); Nat “King” Coles (1917); bandleader Joe Morris (1922); Earring George Mayweather (birthplace, 1928).
Montgomery was the place of death (1939) of Rufus Payne (alias Rufe “Tee – Tot” Payne); (1972) Rev. D. C. Rice; (1992) of Vance H. Humphries; (1994) of Lillian Paige Goodner;
Montgomery: location (2002) of Capitol City COGIC (Pastor Michael Robinson); (2002) of Gospel Tabernacle COGIC (Pastor Clifford Terrell).
Montgomery: location (2003) of St. Peter AME Church, 512 Liberty Street – pastor Rev. Letitia W. Watford;
MORGAN COUNTY (1920 black population 7,736)
Decatur city (10,548 black residents in 2000): birthplace (1892) of Robert Burse, Jr.; (1901) of Charlie Burse; (1935) of Earl Gaines.
Decatur: location (1930) of white musicians Alton Delmore, aged 22, and Raybon Delmore, aged 12.
Hartselle city (620 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Laceys Spring: location (2002) of Crutcher Temple COGIC (Pastor Strong).
Heards Beat: location (1930) of Wilson Bolling (aged 62);
Marion: Robert Cole (Coleman?) may have been born there, 1910. First Independent Holy Church of God (1950s); Will Harris (Howe?: died 1951?); Will Howe (died 1951); Mozelle Moore (Miree? male?); Dave Thomas (deceased);
Horace Sprott was active at Marion, although he was born at Sprott.
Marion: possible birthplace (1915) of Peter Norfleet; (1916) of Arthur Norfleet; (1924) of Nathaniel Norfleet; (1925) of Joseph Norfleet; (about 1926) of George Norfleet; and (1927) of Junius Norfleet. See Scotts Beat.
Oakmulgee was the location (1954) of Wilson Bolling, and presumably his place of death (1955).
Scotts Beat: location (1930) of members of The Norfleet Brothers; Scott Station is located between Coleman and Zimmerman stations.
Severe Beat: location (1930) of Harry Rutledge (aged 30) and of Horace Sprott (aged 31).
Sprott: birthplace (about 1890 or 1898) of Horace Sprott.
Uniontown: residence of Levi Seabury, Jr., at the time of his death (1957).
Uniontown Beat: probable location (1930) of Will Harris (aged 56).
PICKENS COUNTY (1920 black population 12,324)
Aliceville city (1,708 black residents in 2000): birthplace of Joe McCoy (Robert McCoy’s father); birthplace (1910) of Robert McCoy.
Aliceville: location of Benny Houston (1950s – to Chicago); Milton Houston (1950s – to Chicago);
Carrollton town (440 black residents in 2000): birthplace (1954) of Donald Ray Hill.
Dancy: location of Alabama Red (1970s); and of Birmingham George Conner (1970s);
Gordo town (676 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Macedonia town (267 black residents in 2000 – out of 291 total): nothing known.
McMullen town (66 black residents in 2000 – out of 66): nothing known.
Memphis: possible birthplace of Charlie Spann’s father.
Pickensville town (417 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Reform city (888 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Linville: location (2002) of New Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church.
Troy was the birthplace of Pinetop Smith; and (1942) of Willie Joe Ligon.
RANDOLPH COUNTY (1920 black population 5,936)
Roanoke city (2,610 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Wadley town (213 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Wedowee town (247 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Cottonton was the birthplace of Mrs. Iola Lewis Pugh (1924 or 1926);
Hatchechubbee: was the location of the Dixieland plantation.
Jernigan (Precinct 9): location (1930) of Iola Lewis (later, Iola Pugh)
Phenix City: birthplace (1933) of Albert “Bill” Sumbry; location of M. C. Jakes, Roscoe Robinson; M. C. Sumbry, Jr., Albert “Bill” Sumbry; and Roosevelt Sumbry (all to about 1950); featured Rev. D. Charlie Grant in the 1970s.
Phenix City: residence (about 1950) of Seesa Vaughn, who taught Jimmy Lee Harris.
Phenix City: location (1960s) of Joseph “Jo Jo Benson” Hewell.
Phenix City: residence (1980s) of Jimmy Lee Harris and his brother Eddie.
Pittsview: birthplace (1908) of William Grant, who later moved to Phenix City.
Seale: birthplace (1935) of Jimmie Lee Harris – later at Phenix City.
Uchee: possible birthplace (1882) of Gertrude “Ma Rainey” Pritchett.
Uchee: probable location (1870) of Ella Allen, later the mother of Ma Rainey.
- CLAIR COUNTY (1920 black population 4,449)
Ashville town (600 black residents in 2000).
Ashville: Rufus Willis Cobb (1829-1913) was raised on the Ashville plantation, which was operated by his parents. He went on to become governor of the State.
Margaret town (381 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Moody town (307 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Pell City city (1,471 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Ragland town (326 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
SHELBY COUNTY (1920 black population 7,044)
Alabaster city (2,250 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Calera city (629 black residents in 2000): location (2003) of Grants Chapel AME Church, 1250 Woodbine Avenue – pastor Rev. Verlon D. Houston.
Columbiana city (650 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Harpersville town (465 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Helena city (515 black residents in 2000 – partly in Jefferson County): nothing known.
Hoover city – see Jefferson County.
Lake Purdy CDP (451 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Montevallo city (1,249 black residents in 2000): James “Piano ‘C’ Red” Wheeler was born (1933) and raised at Montevallo.
Montevallo is the site of Alabama College.
Pelham city (571 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Vincent town (323 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Sumter County was the county of birth (1893) of Wayne “Buzzin’” Burton.
Jesse Daniels and Bo McGee were active in Sumter County during 1983.
Boyd: Clabe Amerson recorded there;
Emelle: birthplace (1928) of Big Bo McGee.
Gainesville: Jaybird Coleman (reported birthplace, 1896); Olice Thomas (birthplace, 1926);
Gaston: location (1910 and 1930) of Houston Townsend;
Jones Bluff: possible location (1930) of Jessie Harris.
Livingston: Rich Amerson; Joe Brown; James Clark; Blind Jesse Harris; Jeff Horton; Vera Hall Ward (1905 – 1964) all recorded at Livingston.
Panola was the birthplace of Benny Houston, Elijah Houston, Milton Houston and the late Nathan Houston.
Payneville: location (1930) of Betty Atmore, Mattie Bell and Mandy Tartt.
Sumterville: Harriett McClintock.
York: Red Willie Smith (recorded there, 1950s); Huston Townsend (recorded there, 1950).
TALLADEGA COUNTY (1920 black population 17,398)
The county was the reported birthplace (1919) of Bishop Joe Perry Tillis (by 1920 at Jordan, Coosa County), and of Bill Johnson.
Childersburg city (1,465 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Lincoln city (1,238 black residents in 2000): location (2002) of St. Mark COGIC (Pastor T. Huffman)
Mignon CDP (298 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Munford CDP (669 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Oxford city – see Calhoun County.
Sylacauga city (3,647 black residents in 2000): reported birthplace (1919) of Perry Tillis.
Talladega city (6,402 black residents in 2000): is the site of Talladega College, previously the Talladega Institute for the Deaf and Blind. The Institute was the impetus for the creation in 1939 of the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, initially led by Velma Traylor.
The Five Blind Boys of Alabama included, in its early days, Rev. Paul Exkano, Johnny Fields, Clarence Fountain, George Scott and Olice Thomas.
TALLAPOOSA COUNTY (1920 black population 10,070)
Alexander City city (4,258 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Camp Hill town (1.081 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Dadeville city (1,448 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Jackson’s Gap town (221 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Tallassee city – see Elmore County.
TUSCALOOSA COUNTY (1920 black population 19,780)
Fosters: presumably location of the plantation owned by Joshua Hill Foster (1839-1904), who was a landowner in Tuscaloosa County.
Fosters: location (2000) of Little Whitt.
Holt CDP (1,930 black residents in 2000): location of Johnny Shines (from late 1960s with his wife Hattie); “Tut” also was active there.
Moundville town – see Hale County.
Northport city (5,058 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Ralph: birthplace (1902) of Walter Roland and of Little Whitt;
Tuscaloosa city (33,287 black residents in 2000): birthplace (1930) of Bob Lee;
Tuscaloosa: location of Blind Buddy Bailey; Franklin Bell (drums – to Los Angeles); Willie King; Mike McCracken (2000); Big Bo McGee (2000); Candy Martin Shines (1960s to at least 2000); Johnny Shines (with Candy Martin Shines, to his death in 1992); Vera Hall Ward; “Little Whit” (Jolly Wells).
Tuscaloosa: presumed location of plantation owners Robert Jemison Jr. (1802-1898) and John S. Kennedy (flourished 1858-1892).
Tuscaloosa: location of Stillman College;
WALKER COUNTY (1920 black population 8,190)
Cordova city (321 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Dora city (402 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Jasper city (1,965 black residents in 2000): location (2002) of New Bethel COGIC (Pastor – Supt. Marry R. Johnson).
Parrish town (321 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Haleyville city (62 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Malcolm is a possible base of Papa Harvey Hull (1920s).
Archerville Village: residence (1920) (and possible birthplace, 1911) of David McConico.
Camden: location (2002) of Peace Temple COGIC.
Furman: location (2002) of Hope Well Community COGIC (Pastor Ezell Powell).
Gee’s Bend: Annie Bendulf (1941 – also spelled Bendulph); Jake Bendulf (1941); Nancy Bendulf (1941); Patrick Bendulf, Sr. (1941); Frank Benning (recorded there); Little Cary (1941); Rev. Wm. Cary (1941); W. & M. Coleman (recorded there); Rev. Richard Gregg’s wife (1941); Stokes T. Haynes (recorded there); Millie Irby (recorded there); Beatrice Jenkins (1941); S. Kennedy (recorded there); Mary Max Major (1941); Needom Mooney (1941); Martha Moseley (1941); Ada Pettway (1941); Clint O. Pettway (1941); Deacon Collin Petway (aged 48 in 1920); Curtis Pettway (1941); Ernest Pettway (1941); Jorina Pettway (1941); Lee Pettway, Jr. (1941); ‘Uncle’ Lee Pettway, Sr. (1941); Little Pettway (recorded there); Lucy T. Pettway (1941); Martha Jane Pettway (1941); Mattie Pettway (1941); Minniefield Pettway (1941); Nolan Pettway (1941); Ollie Grove Pettway (1941); Rev. Paul S. Petway (aged 40 in 1920 – shown as Paul S. Pettway in 1941); Rinell Pettway (1941); Fannie Pharr (1941); Oliver Pharr (1941 recorded there); Robert R. Pierce (recorded there); Frank Titus (recorded there); Sally Titus (recorded there); Dave Williams (1941).
Snow Hill: birthplace (1938 or possibly 1941) of Nathaniel “Guitar Slim” Savage, later of Cleveland, Ohio.
WINSTON COUNTY (1920 black population 81)
Haleyville (61 black residents in 2000): nothing known.
Essay Compilation (this page) © Copyright 2012 Billy Hutchinson. All rights reserved.
Contributions to this essay are © copyright of the respective authors. All Rights Reserved.
I suggest listening to the mp3’s from the Alabama Radio series via a link from www.arts.state.al.us.
Gayle Dean Wardlow interviewed Harry Charles though the quality isn’t too good the subject matter is. musicman.mtsu.edu/…/Wardlow/…/cpm_94048_tta182k_010101_pr…
Alabama artists on www.musicmaker.org
Paramount Records www.paramountshome.org
The Starr Gennett Foundation www.starrgennett.org
Alabama artists and Don Kent’s Mamlish records liner notes www.wirz.de