Tuesday, April 7, 2015
While yesterday's post featured "Risky Blues", an LP on the "King Blues Master Series" comprised mostly of postwar rhythm & blues, today attention is turned to a collection from the same series featuring two fairly obscure Piedmont singer/guitarists. Both artists performed and recorded under many pseudonyms. Edward P. Hughes recorded for King as Paul Howard and was also known as Carolina Slim, Country Paul, Jammin' Jim, and Lazy Slim Jim. Ralph Willis also appears record as Alabama Slim, Washboard Pete, and Sleepy Joe. Wikipedia biographies of Hughes and Willis are here and here.
The original King edition of this album was first released in 1970 but, as with "Risky Blues", the present copy is a Gusto edition dated 1976. For some inexplicable reason, the latter jacket omits the liner notes; fortunately I was able to find a scan of the original King back slick and have included it in the download folder. The notes from that scan (by William "Hoss" Allen of WLAC Radio, Nashville) are as follows:
There are several things immediately evident on listening to the recorded efforts of Paul Howard and Ralph Willis. First, the similarity of the beat, “a flat slap” effect peculiar to the Carolinas or in “geechee” country. Secondly, in the inflection of the lyrics. This is odd because Paul Howard died in his early twenties and Ralph Willis did not record these sides until he was in his late forties.
They were both however, from “geechee” or “gulla” country. This is a rather isolated strip extending from Savannah Georgia to the Carolinas The area was settled, according to the only research available, probably by Angolese slaves or those brought from the Angola province of West Africa. Angola became “gulla” to the black man, a pigeon language of French, and English with African intonations. Both “gulla” and “geechee” are popular slang terms in the aforementioned area. “Geechee” is probably the best known and while it is undoubtedly derived from “gulla”, nobody seems to know why or when. Paul Howard and Ralph Willis, however, were both steeped in the tradition of Spanish moss, dirt yards, and rickety shacks.
Their blues themes don’t differ too much from the Delta Blues, except in the rhythm patterns which never vary. There are numerous changes in the “goonbay” beats of the Bahamas and the “calypso” of the West Indies but the “geechee” seems to lay down a rhythm pattern and never wanders from it.
Both of the artists traveled extensively up and down the Atlantic Coast but as far as is known their paths never crossed. It is interesting to see how their approach and treatment of certain tunes are so much alike. Take for instance Paul Howard’s “SIDEWALK BOOGIE” and Ralph Willis’s “GONNA HOP ON DOWN THE LINE”. Paul Howard is continually upset with the fact that his “baby is gone” or that “he has to die”. These are the dominant simplicities in “ONE MORE TIME”, “AIN’T IT SAD”, and “YOUR PICTURE DONE FADED”. On the other hand, Ralph Willis does wander lyrically to his vocal demise about how his woman “throws away his money” in “WHY DID YOU DO IT” and infidelity in “DOORBELL BLUES”.
Musicians, especially black, have long been known for their sense of fair play and were never reluctant to “borrow” from some other artist’s rendition. So it’s especially interesting to hear how these two interpret predominantly public domain tunes. In other words, the relationship of the black listener to the music that he regards as “his” has always been a very deep and personal one no matter who the artist how the interpretation might have traveled from the original.
Call it what you like, back-door, cotton-field, or down-home blues. If you are a real ‘bed-rock’ blues fan, I guarantee that Paul Howard and Ralph Willis will give you an extensive journey and convincing experience into what the blues really are.
1. Paul Howard-Your Picture Done Faded
2. Paul Howard-Sidewalk Boogie
3. Paul Howard-Black Cat Trail
4. Paul Howard-Mother Dear Blues
5. Ralph Willis-Gonna Hop On Down The Line
6. Ralph Willis-Do Right
7. Paul Howard-Since I Seen Your Smiling Face
8. Paul Howard-I'll Never Walk In Your Door
9. Paul Howard-One More Time
10. Paul Howard-Ain't It Sad
11. Ralph Willis-Door Bell Blues
12. Ralph Willis-Why'd You Do It