This title is a blanket one that can be used for any sort of occasional short piece I might conjure up – I first used in many years back in BLUES UNLIMITED in its latter days. Often such writings are lost in the shuffle, or not “inputted” into the general knowledge, such as my bit in BU 115 dealing with my conversations with William H. Bilbro, son of Bert H. Bilbro. The son was, in 1975, a (very) White C&W guitarist/singer with rockabilly leanings. Similarly, there was published in some old time/c&w magazine in the seventies in the US (MANDOLIN NEWS?) that I remember reading at Danny McLean’s (O&S 41, 42, 63, 64) place in NC a letter where the author remembered the (very) White musician Bayless Rose arriving at a Chicago radio station for a broadcast, or leaving after one. But that’s not the subject of my sermon today, children, but something else.
Been listening to the Flyright CD, “Play My Jukebox”, and a few things were noticed while listening, like where’s the cited bass-player on the Hank Kilroy sides! And then there’s Skoodle-Dum-Doo & Sheffield. It has been accepted wisdom that the former nom-de-disque masks Seth Richard (no relation to Keith) – I don’t have the two 1929 Seth Richard sides for Columbia here with me in any form, so I cannot say for sure. The identity of “Sheffield” seems to have passed by undetected… until now (actually a few years ago, but I have not put it into writing until now!). In the song “Tampa Blues” the harmonica player/singer refers to himself as “John” (even my-eight-year old son hears this with no prompting on my part), so it can likely be said that his name is probably John Sheffield. The other guy plays guitar all the way through all four tunes, but he sings on only two of them – John Sheffield is the vocalist on the other two songs. So the amplified discography should read:
Skoodle-Dum-Doo & Sheffield
prob. Seth Richard – gtr, vo-1, speech -6. poss. John Sheffield – hca -3, vo -2, gtr -4, speech -5.
Tampa Blues -2, -3, -5 Regis S107 Gas Station Blues -1, -3 – West Kinney Street -2, -3, -6 Manor 1056 Broome Street Blues -1, -4, -5 –
Whoever the hell these two guys were, they made some exceptional Piedmont-style blues recordings in the early forties and were probably from Newark, NJ at that time. Both West Kinney and Broome are/were streets in that city in the Black neighborhoods, possibly even an intersection.
Peter B. Lowry
Published: BLUES & RHYTHM #116, Feb 1997 – p. 9.
I mention Bilbro because Bert/D.H. Bilbro recorded some exceptional harmonica solos in the late 20s that tended to be assumed by “us” to be a Black performer. My brief encounter with the son puts that theory to rest! Bert may have had some connection with the Tobacco Tags, too. My books are in boxes, so I cannot check, but one of the harp solos was named after a SC town… that’s where I headed and it worked! Using city directories and eventually a death certificate, I found the son. While nobody seems to have followed up on the Bayless Rose story, my feeling is that the journal correspondent is correct and that he, too, is not a Black musician. They both played good, though! That still leaves Phillip McCutcheon to be sorted!
Howard Rye got into a back-and-forth with me on this in the B&R “Letters” section before the most recent Godrich/Dixon was published. He felt that “John” was being used as a generic first name: I disagreed – “Mac”, “Joe”, “buddy”, “fella”, or “Jack” tend to be used in the US as generic male attention-getting names, but probably not “John”… unless you’re talking about hooker patrons! What the accepted generalization-usage of “John” is in the UK, I have no idea. The discussion sadly degenerated into name-calling and insults (Why does this always happen? Why are so many so proprietary about “their” knowledge?) and I had to let it go at that point.
Much later, Bastin sent me photocopies of the labels (Regis and Manor) of the two 78s – S. Richard gets composer credits on all four, so he’s definitively there on vo/gtr. Correspondence with Barbara Kukla (author of a fine book on jazz in Newark, NJ [KUKLA, Barbara J.: Swing City: Newark Nightlife: 1925 – 1950; Temple University Press (1991) Philadelphia.] got nothing else on Sheffield but the name… he seemed to always have been so referred to by her informants, his surname only, and was just always around! I go along with my son, Julian, on this one – John Sheffield it is! Until I am proven wrong!