Kendra Steiner Editions

March 30, 2017

PERRY BRADFORD AND THE BLUES SINGERS in Chronological Order, 1923-1927 (Document DOCD-5353)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 5:29 pm

PERRY BRADFORD AND THE BLUES SINGERS

in Chronological Order, 1923-1927 (Document Records, DOCD-5353)

all songs written & produced by Bradford, who plays piano and supervised the sessions

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1          –Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools*      Fade Away Blues      

2          –Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools*      Day Break Blues       

3          –Ethel Ridley Liza Johnson’s Got Better Bread   

4          –Ethel Ridley Here’s Your Opportunity Blues      

5          –Ethel Ridley Memphis, Tennessee           

6          –Ethel Ridley If Anybody Here Wants A Real Kind Of Woman  

7          –Julia Jones  Liza Johnson’s Got Better Bread Than Sally Lee 

8          –Julia Jones  That Thing Called Love      

9          –Julia Jones  Deceitful Blues        

10        –Julia Jones  Here’s Your Opportunity    

11        –Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools*      Charlestown, South Carolina        

12        –Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools*      Hoola Boola Dance 

13        –Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools*      Lucy Long     

14        –Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools*      I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle       

15        –Louise Vant I’m Tired Of Everything But You   

16        –Louise Vant I Wouldn’t Be Where I Am If You Hadn’t Gone Away    

17        –Louise Vant Do Right Blues         

18        –Louise Vant Just A Little Bit Bad

19        –Louise Vant I’ve Learned To Do Without You Now      

20        –Louise Vant Want A Little Lovin’

21        –Louise Vant Pensacola Blues       

22        –Louise Vant New Crazy Blues      

23        –Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools*      Original Black Bottom Dance        

24        –Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools*      Kansas City Blues    

25        –Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools*      All That I Had Is Gone        

26        –Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools*      Lucy Long

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the record that started it all for recorded blues

Most blues fans know the story of how Document Records was stiffed by a major distributor who refused to pay for product already sold and then simply kept all the product that had been fronted by the label, causing Document to have severe cash flow problems and then to have some massive sales of their catalogue items to raise some funds. I took advantage of two of those sales buying 20 or more items each time, and it allowed me to sample some of the lesser-known gems in the Document library (I already have hundreds of Document LP’s and CD’s). One of those was this fascinating and enjoyable collection of sides written and produced by Perry Bradford, who also plays piano on all of them and, presumably, supervised the recording sessions.

If you love the blues, you should thank Mr. Bradford, because without his influence, the first blues record by an African-American artist—-MAMIE SMITH, in 1920—-would not have happened, and Mamie Smith’s success opened the door for the many other Black blues singers who followed in her footsteps. So many people think about males in terms of early blues–they may say, “well, Blind Lemon Jefferson first recorded in 1926, right? Was that the first one?” Others may know of Sylvester Weaver and other pioneers. However, there were literally HUNDREDS of recordings made and released by Black blues-singing WOMEN in the 1920-1923 period, before most of those men recorded. These blues-singing ladies were generally accompanied by pianists, though sometimes by a small band, and this style of music has come to be known as “Classic Blues”—-artists like Clara Smith, Lucille Hegamin, Alberta Hunter, Trixie Smith, Ethel Waters, Lena Wilson, and many others were among the first blues recording artists, and their records sold widely in that pre-1925 period. Unfortunately, few casual “blues fans” today would think of this genre when the word BLUES comes to mind. It’s not totally forgotten—-Jim Cullum would feature it on his long-running public radio jazz program (broadcast from here in San Antonio, I’m proud to say) with fine vocalists such as Topsy Chapman, and some vocalists with a sense of the tradition, such as Catherine Russell (daughter of the great pianist/composer/bandleader Luis Russell), display roots in the Classic Blues genre, though they perform a wide variety of jazz-based material.

Document Records has released comprehensive chronological CD series on all of the major figures in the genre, and for the minor figures, there are fourteen alphabetical compilation CD’s called FEMALE BLUES SINGERS, which cover ALL the bases, with ladies in any number of styles on records that can be great or not-so-great. This material is all out there for those who want it–you can sometimes find those compilations (or the single artist ones devoted to Mamie Smith, Alberta Hunter, etc.) for reasonable prices at used record stores, where they’ve sat on the shelf for a few years, and really, everyone who loves the blues should own at least ONE volume of that series, as well as a Mamie Smith album.

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Perry Bradford’s 1965 autobiography

Perry Bradford was a major player in the early-to-mid 20’s, riding the wave of popularity in the genre he himself helped to create with that 1920 Mamie Smith record. This 26-track compilation collects Bradford’s rollicking small-band instrumental records from 1923, 1925, and 1927, with his JAZZ PHOOLS, with sessions backing female vocalists on songs he wrote and on which he plays piano. The three vocalists featured are all excellent bluesy singers, handling a variety of novelty songs, double-entendre songs, and popular “blues” ditties that would be perfect for some vaudeville review and which I’d guess Perry Bradford’s publishing company has sheet music available for. With the instrumentals spread throughout the album, the CD is a great listen, and truly a hidden gem in the Document catalogue.

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MAMIE SMITH, the mother of recorded blues

Two other excellent 1920’s reissue labels have similar albums devoted to Perry Bradford, Frog Records in the UK and Timeless Records in Holland, both of which feature some of the material on the Document album mixed with other material not on the album. The serious fan would probably want to get all three, and you’d probably wind up with 40-42 different songs among the three.

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Bradford, whose roots go back to the Minstrel Show days (!!!!), was really a jack-of-all trades….he even sings a few songs here in a spirited, jivey style, and with his stage and live performance background, I’d bet he could also do a fine comedy routine and a soft-shoe dance if required. Performers back then had to do a little bit of everything to survive. We are fortunate that Mr. Bradford published an autobiography in 1965 called BORN WITH THE BLUES: PERRY BRADFORD’S OWN TRUE STORY. Like the late Eubie Blake, Bradford (who lived until 1970) undoubtedly had a wealth of memories of the details of a world of African-American entertainment that was long gone even by the 1930’s, and which is not that well-documented. I have not read the book (the cheapest used copies are $35, and it has not been made available on Google Books), but I look forward to doing so. To make a reference that anyone reading this will know, Bradford was the co-writer of “Keep A Knockin,” recorded widely from the late 20’s on, but best remembered today by Little Richard’s sizzling-hot verion from 1957.

Like many pianist/songwriters of the era who worked with female blues singers, Bradford used the singers to pretty much advertise his songs (people still bought songs, not performers, for the most part during this period), and like many of the early jazz musicians (The Original Indiana Five, for instance), he would take the same songs and record them again, sometimes with slight changes in the song title, for other labels before the first label had the chance to release it. He’d also try the same song with different singers, and you can hear both approaches on this album.

Like the pioneers of silent film, who were doing original things and blazing trails before any established rules and conventions existed, but who are rarely recognized today (the many female action stars of the 1910’s and early 1920’s seen in incredibly popular serials, such as Pearl White, Ruth Roland, Helen Holmes, etc., also rarely get their due today, even though someone like Pearl White pretty much create the category of  “action star”–another example of women pioneers not getting their due, alas), so many of the early creative spirits in the recording industry are pretty much forgotten today except to a handful of specialists….check out this excellent and entertaining album of Perry Bradford. The joy and enthusiasm of the performers and of the era come through clearly.

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