Tag Archives: Memphis

Documentary | The Prisonaires Doo-Wop from Prison

Doo-Wop group formed in State Penitentiary Tennessee

About The Prisonaires you could write multiple books, even make a movie that shows more action than you see nowadays. As their name suggests, this doo-wop group was formed while each member was in the State Penitentiary, Tennessee, USA. The founding member was lead singer Johnny Bragg.

While in prison the group was paraded around a variety of receptions and civic functions as demonstration of the jail’s enlightened rehabilitation programme. Back in the day they played a mix of blues, gospel and pop songs under armed guard. It was the new warden James E. Edwards who arranged two talent scouts from Sam Phillips’ Sun Records to see the group. They were subsequently driven down to Memphis in June 1953 to record a song written by Bragg and fellow inmate Robert Riley, “Just Walkin’ In The Rain”. (source Sun Records)

Formed while serving 594 years

The Prisonaires were formed when Bragg joined up with two prison gospel singers, Ed Thurman and William Stewart (each of whom was doing 99 years for murder), and two new penitentiary arrivals, John Drue Jr. (three years for larceny) and Marcell Sanders (one-to-five for involuntary manslaughter).

Sun Studio, Memphis, TN (3636820842)
About the life and legacy of the Prisonaires Cass Paley made a beautiful documentary which includes interviews with Sam Phillips Jonny Bragg. and warden James E. Edwards. A thing you probably did not know about Bragg was his training technique by putting a bucket on his head, to enlarge the echo of his voice. It gained him the Nickname “Buckethead”.

Director – Producer Cass Paley

Filmmaker and director Cass Paley is president of Cassel Productions, an independent, full-service production company that has produced numerous documentaries for American television and international broadcast over the past 20 years, including the Saga of Western Man series for ABC television and the Emmy Award winning National Geographic special, Journey to the Outer Limits.

You might know Paley as the archivist for the Roy Orbison Estate and has produced three DVD projects: Austin City Limits Concert, Roy Orbison’s Greatest Hits, and The 1973 Australian Concert.

I can highly recommend this documentary to all roots, blues and doo-wpo lovers. I have watched in any case with a whole lot of pleasure.

Fiind out more about ‘The Prisonares Documentary’  on Facebook  and the official Website.

The Documentary about “The Prisonaires”. The Prisonaires were a vocal singing group in the 1950’s made up of incarcerated inmates serving time at the maximum penal facility in Nashville, Tennessee. The Prisonaires recorded several tracks at the now famous Sun Records and several hit songs including “Just Walkin in the Rain”. Johnny Bragg and Sam Phillips brought the vocal perfection of The Prisonaires to the public through very extraordinary measures and difficult political times. Thanks to the ernest efforts of then Governor Clement’s prison reform, The Prisonaires forever changed the landscape of music history.”


Picture credit: By dbking from Washington, DC (Sun Studio, Memphis, TN  Uploaded by LongLiveRock) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Introduction by the Director – Cass Paley

The Prisonaires – Walkin’ In the Rain

The Prisonaires (Official) – That Chick’s Too Young to Fry

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Blues around Beale street Memphis Willie Nix

Blues around Beale street Memphis Willie Nix

The Baker Shop Boogie by Willie Nix was recorded in the Memphis Sun Records studio in January 1953. Willie Nix was an innovative drummer and gifted lyricist as well as vocalist. Willie Nix had as a musician an integral part in Memphis’s Beale Street blues community during the late forties and early fifties. Willie’s Boogie is a true rhythm and Blues song, with a great harmonica interlude throughout the song. Nix really brings the groove and feel of this song into your living room, car or local bar.

From Tap dancer to Bluesman

photo credit: Saturday via photopin (license)

We know Willie Nix as a great drummer, singer and Harmonica player, but Willie didn’t start his career as a musician in his teenage years he was a tap dancer with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. Nix was part of a famous minstrel family that became the home of many blues legends like Big Joe Williams, Brownie Mc Ghee, Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.

Through the Minstrels Nix became part of the group musicians who performed at Beale Street. He met Sonny Boy Williamson and together with fellow bluesman Willie Love, Joe Willie Wilkins he performed throughout the deep South as the Four Aces. (not to be confused with the fifties pop group).

Willie Nix recording career

As a bandleader of solo musician Nix recorded and played in both Memphis and Chicago, and worked with the finest bluesmen in both cities, among them Junior Parker, B.B. King, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Bobby Blue Bland. In the fifties he made a two year stop in prison. After his release from prison Nix moved back to Memphis and continued to be a local fixture in the blues community. He performed on and off until his death in 1991.

Willie Nix Memphis backing band

Willie Nix recorded Nervous Wreck in 1953 for Chance Records. His Backing band contained some of the greatest blues musicians around. Eddie Taylor on guitar, Sunnyland Slim on Piano honky tonking throughout the song. Snooky Pryor delivering a leading harmonica melody and Alfred Wallace bringin the steady drums.

Prison Bound Blues was probably sang most of Willie’s time in prison and describes prison time in a way you will only find back in blues songs. Early one morning,The blues came fallin’ down, Early one morning, The blues came fallin’ down, I was all locked up in jail, And prison bound.

allthough it is difficult to find recordings of Willie Nix around the internet or in your local recordstore, the music of Nix is absolutely worth listening. Like Joe Hill Louis, Nix’s style is truely a Memphis blues, recognisable for the rhythm, the up-tempo and the clear vocals.

Willie Nix – Prison Bound Blues

Willie Nix – Try Me One More Time

Willie Nix – Just One Mistake

Willie Nix, Truckin’ little woman

Willie Nix Lonesome Bedroom Blues (1951)

photo credit: Saturday via photopin (license)
Video Credits:I do not own the copyrights to these recordings. These videos are for historical and educational purposes.

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