Reading the May issue triggered a few things in me that I thought bore repeating. The first came from reading the review in B&R of a Harmonica Frank (Floyd) album on Edsel. The years of trying to prize out a Black culprit from various blues names to go with the name “Harmonica Frank” garnered very little, save a mention by Otis Spann (I think) of one “Black Frank”. That led nowhere, but those men tried very hard to be helpful to us (often dangerous!). And then Frank Floyd was come upon (thanks to Steve LaVere, a.o.) and the rest is history. And Black Frank who played guitar and harmonica together faded into oblivion once Mr. Floyd was located; most thought that was that.
In 1974 when I first recorded Homesick James (solo) in his North Chicago apartment, I gave him copies of all the Trix LPs that had been released thus far. Homesick took the small stack and started looking through them in the usual fashion. He stopped at one of the LPs, looked hard at the cover photo, and said, “My God, that’s Black Frank… I haven’t seen him in years! Where the hell’s he at these days?” The album was by Frank Edwards (see the new Blackwell’s Guide for a CD review), who had spent time in Chicago in the 40s. [The Wolf release is a boot.]
While there, he recorded eight sides (four issued at the time) for OKeh in 1941 with Washboard Sam backing him on the session. The recordings came about as a result of a meet with Tommy McClennan and Robert Petway in Mississippi during Frank’s travels. They persuaded him to go along North with them and their manager, Lester Melrose, arranged for the session… and the back-up. Frank stayed around Chicago for a while, meeting the likes of Big Maceo, Homesick James, Jazz Gillum, and Muddy Waters… the changing of the guard! He then hit the road again, coming in and out of town, but he didn’t go back to Chicago after 1949.
Sometime in the 70s Muddy Waters was playing a week-end at an Atlanta club (The Great Southeastern Music Hall) while I happened to be in town. I mentioned this to Frank Edwards when I saw him that trip, who said in his usual laconic way (Frank Edwards [O&S # 14, 37] defines the word!) that he hadn’t seen him in some time! So I took him along with me that night. Muddy was floored to see Frank again, so excited that he ordered a bottle of champagne for them to celebrate the occasion. They talked at great length together between sets and after the show. Both men were pleased by the unexpected reunion, as the photos I took at the time truly show (and when I get my negs down here, y’all will get a print or two). One of those serendipitous convergences that make everybody feel good, and make life so interesting!
On another front, the Crown LPs of B.B. King mentioned in Keith Briggs review were not necessarily issued after B.’s later success on ABC/Paramount. I purchased Crown LPs for $1.99 off of racks in stores and news-stands in the NYC subways (underground: UK) in the late 50s/eary 60s, well before “The Thrill Is Gone”. Besides the many King releases (he was their biggest seller in the blues realm back then… I met him first in 1964 [O&S # 33, 56] and he was then still under the Bihari banner). I also picked up LPs on Crown by the likes of Joe Turner, Roosevelt Sykes, Ike Turner, Jimmy McCracklin, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, a.o. The last sticks in my mind, not only for the music which nailed me to the floor on first hearing, but because of the cover shot of a real foxy item perched on a bar-stool! I purchased the albums in and around 42nd Street, uptown in Harlem shops like Rainbow Records, or Bobby’s Happy House of Hits, or even Danny’s Record Room. Additionally, I found them in the Black areas of New Brunswick, NJ, Brooks Records in Plainfield, NJ, or a shop in Newark, NJ whose name escapes me at the moment (O&S # 13, 21, 22, 28). They were aimed at the Black record buyer of the time who knew these artists from their singles or heard them on the radio; for us honkies were an unknown quantity in that marketplace back then. Some of the early albums had brief liner notes, while later releases only had a catalogue listing on the back.
Lastly, kudos for the research on Blind Lemon from the census materials; A good source today, along with city directories. As they say down here, good on ya’. Would that someone would try on the problem of Blind Arthur Blake, as an equally important Black artists of the 20s and even more of a biographical cipher.
Peter B. Lowry
Published: BLUES & RHYTHM #120, Jun 1997 – p. 8.
The whole Harmonica Frank “problem” came about because his singles came out on Sun, and Chess Records, and was recorded by Sam Phillips in Memphis. They were definitely blues in nature, although “odd”! Minstrel/medicine show fare, really. So tons of Black artists were asked about Harmonica Frank and nobody could come up with a solid identity, much less an inkling! The truth was a bit of a surprise to the anoraks!
Frank Edwards had a long life, recording sessions (after recording for me) for Tim Duffy’s Music Maker Relief Foundation, and dying (in Spartanburg, SC) on the road back to Atlanta after his final one! As for Blake, rumor has it that Gayle Deane Wardlow has moved to Florida and is in pursuit of Blake… I wish him well. Couldn’t ask for a more expert individual to tackle that problem and I await his results with bated breath!
The Bihari brothers were testing the waters regarding LPs for the African American market – not yet a factor for album sales. They took what seemed to be an obvious method of pressing up cheap LPs and getting them distributed to places with record racks of same; the $2.00 price was normal. That put the likes of Wolf and Elmore into a rack with 101 Strings and the like! By the time they cottoned on to heading a bit more up-market, B. was with ABC-Paramount – later on they did a bit better with Kent albums, with the vintage material programmed by the likes of Darryl Stolper and Bruce Bromberg! But this was done for the likes of us, rather than Black buyers, who had musically moved on!!